Monday, June 26, 2017

A bookish melody...

The book:  The Ballroom by Anna Hope
The setting:  Sharston Asylum, England, 1911
The main characters: 

     1. Ella Fay, a mill girl, newly arrived
"Was she mad, then, for breaking a window? Mad for kicking and biting those men? Was that all it took? ... She felt a power in her then. The same feeling she'd had in the mill, but now it took root, lifting her spine. It was dark, she was alone, but her blood was beating; she was alive. She would study it, this place, this asylum. Hide inside herself. She would seem to be good. And then she would escape. Properly, this time. A way they wouldn't expect. And she would never go back."
     2. John Mulligan, Irish, one of Sharston's "chronic" patients
"(John) did not want to sleep. Knew what was waiting for him there:  a woman and a child. Dan's stories did not frighten him; neither did Brandt and his threats. It was what was inside him that did .... he thought of where he was. And how long he had been there. And what was simple broke apart and became a shattered, sharded thing."
     3. Dr. Charles Fuller, a young doctor and musician
"Charles was content. He had escaped his family. Wrested the rudder of his life from his father's hands. And now here he was, five years later, first assistant medical officer, with a salary of five pounds a week, and a newly appointed bandmaster and head of music. It had been his first action in his new post to institute a program of pianism in the day rooms:  an hour a week in each, carried out by himself. He believed he was already seeing a positive effect among the patients. He had great plans for the orchestra, too; under his care he was determined to see the ballroom thrill and live as never before."
The verdict:  This is a book that should be savored, not merely read. Anna Hope's writing is magical, and I love the way she lets Ella's and John's story slowly unfold over the course of this novel. Their relationship is sweet and poignant, especially considering they're locked up in an asylum for lunatics, (although they both seemed sane to me). Besides examining human nature at close range, this book also delves into the disturbing idea of eugenics which seemed to be a popular scientific theory in 1911. The Ballroom also chronicles how those deemed mad were treated a hundred years ago. I found all the various aspects of this well-written novel entirely absorbing:  I rooted for the characters, took umbrage at their treatment, and hoped for a happy ending for all. If I were rating this book on Goodreads, I'd give it 4 out of 5 stars. It's not exactly a light-hearted happy-go-lucky novel, but it is a compelling and moving one. And I'm very glad that I read it...and that I got to read it with Bettina.. Be sure to visit her blog and check out her awesome review. Then go check out this book.

Happy Reading!

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Loving Summer...

While I love the splendors of spring and autumn, summer has always been my favorite time of year. When I was growing up, summer conjured up magical days of Popsicles (preferably banana), time with friends, sprinklers to run through on hot August days, swim lessons, bike rides, and playing games outside at night, with plenty of hours left over in which to daydream and read. Sometimes I miss those days. But summer still has a lot to love about it:
Bells Canyon

  • Finally packing away my winter coat and pulling out my flip-flops
  • Time off from work
  • Falling asleep to the sound of crickets chirping
  • The smell of rain on hot pavement
  • Hiking my favorite mountain trails
  • Photographing the wildflowers
  • Picking that first bowl of ripe strawberries from my garden
  • Black-chinned hummingbirds at my feeder
  • Tiger swallowtail butterflies in my lavender
    Tiger Swallowtail
  • Endless skies of blue
  • Celebrating Pioneer Day
  • Birdwatching along the river
  • Campfire S'mores
  • Sparklers on the 4th of July
  • Grilling burgers in the backyard
  • Reading outside in my favorite chair
  • Watching the sunset
  • Longer days and starry nights

What do you love about summer?
Hope you all have a great one!

Monday, June 19, 2017

A bookish journey to Egypt...

Chronicle of a Last Summer by Yasmine El Rashidi is the coming of age story of a young girl growing up in Cairo, Egypt, and also that of her family. Told over the course of three pivotal summers, it is also the story of Egypt's recent political turmoil and of this girl's and her family's struggle to survive all these changes. I found it to be a compelling story of love and loss--full of memories of the past and idealistic hopes for the future--and an unflinching look at the very real cost of freedom. El Rashidi's prose is spare, but so effective. I couldn't put this book down. It's a fascinating novel, and I learned a lot about life in Cairo and how Egypt's many revolutions have affected its citizens. It's a place I've always wanted to visit, and after reading this book, I almost feel like I have. Here are a few snippets to give you a taste of El Rashidi's writing:

"Grandmama said that to have a sip of the Nile is like drinking ancient magic. If you make a wish it comes true."
"The police would come sometimes and take things. They took the cart of the peanut seller on our street. They took the kiosk by the school that sold chocolates and Cleopatra cigarettes by the one. They took the man who worked for Uncle Mohsen. They also took the boy who cleaned cars at the garage next door. In the cartoon Abla Fatiha they told us that if we were naughty they would take us too." 
"Over lunch Dido says the only way our lives will change is if we demand it. People like our cousin in America are the reason we're in stagnation. Leaving is the greatest evil. Then silence."
"I think of Uncle, warning Dido and me that in life we have to assess things and always take a position. I wonder if my position is too often ambiguous...I think a lot about what it means to be a witness, the responsibility of it. I wonder about my writing, if fiction is a political statement or simply no position. Is the silence of objectivity and being an observer, witness, the same as complicity? This question occupies me...(Uncle) would tell me that to be a witness to history is a burden for the chosen."
Happy Reading!

Friday, June 16, 2017

June's Bookish Art...

Anselm Feuerbach -- Palo e Francesca

"...there's all heaven and earth in a book..."
--Christopher Morley, The Haunted Bookshop

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Bookish suspense...

"I'm tired of collecting the dead."


Known as The Human Bloodhound, Magnus "Steps" Craig is part of the FBI's elite three-man Special Tracking Unit. He can find the lost and abducted. He can even find the dead. And he doesn't need physical clues or footprints in order to track them down; he can follow the essence they leave behind.
"...my special gift. I see the hidden; I see the shine, every touch, every footfall, every hand on a wall. Some might call it an aura, I just call it life energy; either way it leaves its soft glowing trace on everything we come in contact with... sometimes it's chartreuse, or muddy mauve, or flaming coral, or crimson baked-earth. Every shine is different and specific to a person..."
So when Steps stumbles across a distinctive black shine at his local mall, he quickly recognizes it as belonging to a killer he's seen before; a killer he's been trying to catch for ten years. Now he and his partner are not only on the trail of this elusive murderer from Step's past, the one they've dubbed "Leonardo", but they've got another serial killer to hunt down in the Pacific Northwest. This one has been abducting and killing young women with brunette hair and leaving a sad face behind at each scene as his calling card. And they've got to hurry before the Sad Face killer murders his latest victim, a young woman named Lauren whose shine is pure gold.  No wonder Steps can't sleep at night.

Collecting the Dead by Spencer Kope is a crazy good mystery/thriller. I love Magnus "Steps" Craig; he's such an appealing character:  complicated, a bit haunted, smart, and funny. His secret tracking ability is pretty cool, too. And I really like his friendship with his partner, Special Agent Jimmy Donovan. They make a great team! Besides having great characters, this novel is also suspenseful, fast-paced, smart, well-written, and very entertaining. I was hooked from the first page to the last. I hope Kope hurries up and writes his next book about this unforgettable and completely awesome character because I already can't wait to read it.

Happy Reading!


Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna

The Main Ingredients:
        * Summertime, 1944, in Door County, Wisconsin
        * a cherry orchard in need of laborers
        * German prisoners of war
        the Christiansen family:  parents Thomas and Charlotte, their teen-age daughter, Kate, who wants to be a writer, and Ben, their son, who's fighting overseas in Italy
        * a lighthouse
        * a murder
        * lies and secrets
        * love and romance

My thoughts:

I have mixed feelings about this book. It was the historical setting that first drew me to this novel, and spunky Kate--with her love of books and her desire to go to college--that kept me reading. (I liked her dad, too.) I had a much harder time sympathizing with, or even liking, her mother, Charlotte. What I enjoyed most was reading about Kate's adventures and newfound romance, but the book focused more on Charlotte and the family's struggles to keep their cherry orchard going and somehow survive the hard times at home caused by the War. Then, towards the end, the story takes a much darker turn than I was expecting. So I didn't end up loving this one, though I do think it's a pretty good historical fiction read, and certainly a memorable one.

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Another bookish list...

I love books. And bookstores. I also love books about bookstores. And, as an unapologetic bookworm, I have to admit I even love reading books about books and reading. (Almost as much as I love bookish lists.) So in the interest of combining all these loves in one post, here's my list of 10 bookishly bookish reads:

The "bookstore" books:

The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch
Three Things You Need to Know About Rockets by Jessica Fox.
     (Which is not at all about rockets, but about love and romance and a bookstore in Scotland.)
Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins
     (This one takes place in Hay-on-Wye in Wales!)
The Yellow-Lighted Bookstore by Lewis Buzbee
Shelf Life by Suzanne Strempek Shea

All of the above titles are memoirs about books and bookstores...if you like that kind of thing. Which I do.

"I am the unique sum of
the books I have read.
I am my literary DNA."
--Susan Hill  
          The "Reading" Reads:

Howard's End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading From Home by Susan Hill
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
Reading the OED by Ammon Shea
    (This crazy guy actually read the entire Oxford English Dictionary!)
The Reading Promise by Alice Ozma
The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

"Is it wrong to prefer books to people? A book is
like a guest you have invited into your home, except
you don't have to play pictionary with it."     
--Andy Miller        


A bonus eleventh recommendation:

Happy Reading!