Thursday, May 26, 2016

Something Happened on My Way through May

Yes, indeed.  I fell in love with spring in the Adirondacks all over again.
You see, May last year, I scrambled to finish grading papers and exams for my final semester at the college. The very next day my 4-month-long, grueling professional genealogy course began--and I had not a free moment until Labor Day in early September.

So this year I have found that I am literally going wild with excitement observing all the spring wildflowers again, I'm fascinated taking stock of the state of my forest in different habitats, and also am thrilled to construct new, interesting trails to take advantage of the beauty on our land. Of course I still have to work, so I limit these activities on weekdays to 90 minutes. And weekends, I allow myself much more time still. So it's probably no surprise that I'm not reading as much as I was in March--a stellar reading month--11 books without a single dud.

So, it's no wonder that right now I'm enjoying the forest ecologist Bernd Heinrich's The Trees in My Forest. He writes about his personal studies on his 100+ acres in northwestern Maine, and his land is very similar to our land in the Adirondack Mountains of northern New York. He is probably the best-known and most widely read nature writer in the Northeastern U.S.

I'm still reading L is for Lawless by Sue Grafton, but am eager to finish it so I can strike out and claim some new bookish terrain.

Unfortunately, it's going to be very, very hot this weekend--high 80s!! And still our air conditioner men have not arrived. You will never hear me complain about our winter cold, but the heat does wilt me. The cure: Take a cold shower. Dig deep into a mesmerizing book in a darkened room. Don't come out, unless there's an invitation to an air-conditioned venue.

I will get out very, very early to enjoy nature before the heat hits in earnest.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Travails Along the Bookish Road--With Hope

I realize that I'm fortunate to have a started a new business and to be very busy with work. This is a good thing. I'm very glad I'm no longer working as an adjunct professor earning a pittance, though I miss the students terribly. But actually, I suppose I'm mildly bewailing the fact that I haven had time to read all week. I so cherish the luxury of reading that having my sole time arrive just as I'm falling to sleep feels like a cheat.

So! In reference to my previous post, I had to retire Wilde Lake by Laura Lippmann. I read up to page 100 (it's 355 pages), but I didn't feel it lived up to its starred billing as heralded by Publishers Weekly. I'm sorry to report I found it boring. I'm most assuredly not complaining because I have read so many top-notch, thrilling books this year. Wilde Lake simply wasn't the book for me, and I do hope others will enjoy it.

So! You guessed it. To help me over this hump, I am reading L is for Lawless by Sue Grafton. Oh, what a comfort to be back in the so very un-beautiful Saint Teresa, California, stalking around with Kinsey Milhone, with all her hang-ups and feistiness. It's a balm for my overtaxed mental state.

But I'm looking forward to the following books:
  • The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks (I have read the first two chapters. Beautiful prose that one needs to read slowly to grasp its full merit.
  • Dr. Zhivago, by Boris Pasternak, the new translation, published in 2014. It's my hope to read it this summer. But if work is too frantic, I won't force myself to try to do it.
  • The Lake House by Kate Morton.  I adore Kate Morton's books and this most recent one, I'm sure, will be a pleasure.
  • O Pioneers! by Willa Cather will be my next Classics Read.
Yikes! I just found out the newish British gothic thriller The Loney is waiting for me at the library! Something for the weekend.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Early May Reading--Peter May's The Lewis Man

I returned home from a 10-day business trip in far western New York State last Thursday night. Since then I've been scrambling to write up a report of my findings from that research trip. It pains me that my reading life has had to take a back seat for the time being. Ouch...!

Peter May's second volume in his Lewis Trilogy, The Lewis Man, was fully engrossing. Although not the 10-star tour de force of Volume 1, The Black House, I loved this novel just as much, because more of the main characters' lives and personalities were revealed. These books are thriller/mysteries, written by the Scottish author Peter May, set in the Outer Hebrides islands. Portraying setting and atmosphere is among his secret arsenal of skills. And, of course you know, I'll delay reading the last book in the trilogy because I don't want to let go of these characters.

Right now I've tried to get immersed in Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman, which received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. I like it very much, but the problem is, I don't have a minute to read it until just before falling asleep, and that does not work very well. I'm hoping to devote lots of time to it this coming weekend.

Am I praying for a rainy weekend??? Well, maybe not, but I wouldn't find one a total loss.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

MacInnes, Sarton, and Classics at Olde Books in Buffalo

When I trooped out Saturday morning to visit Olde Books, about a mile from my hotel near Buffalo Harbor, I had no idea what I would find. Googling online revealed nothing about this used bookstore. But, although the shop appeared inauspicious, I ended up buying six paperbacks, three of which are on my Classics Club list.

I came across a really very old paperback of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in excellent condition--what a find! So intact, as well. Pages as fine and white as can be--a mystery how well preserved it is. Had to snap that up. And a low price to boot.

My second Classics Club book find was Tom Jones by Henry Fielding in a mass-market paperback edition. Very old, discolored, but what's crucial is it is solidly intact and unmarked. I paid two dollars for that. I'm thinking I should read that one soon before I need to use a magnifying glass to read it. Such a long book, which I knew fully when I put it on my list. Have any of you read it?

My last classic is Beryl Markham's West with the Night, a paperback in stellar condition. It's not on my Classics Club List at the moment, but I recall thinking a few months ago that it should be.

I walked in hoping I would find a paperback by Helen MacInnes, and sure enough, success! What a surprise! I paid a $1.65 for The Snare of the Hunter. I don't believe I've read this one--the title rings no bells. I recall enjoying reading her books in the mid-late 1970s, and this title is completely unfamiliar. I'd love to find more.

And May Sarton--And yes, even though I've never read her novels, and have never read her poetry,  how I love her journals! They are treasures depicting life lived in the moment, in each day. In the past I've read and I also own Journal of a Solitude, and I borrowed The House by the Sea (about her move to Maine to a house on the coast). Both are wonderful. Sarton is very in tune with nature and even more so a garden lover and gardener. Both books are wonderful, though I must admit that Journal of a Solitude will always be very special to me. So the title of the one I purchased yesterday is At Seventy. Still gardening at seventy and hopes to garden into her eighties. The journal before At Seventy and after The House by the Sea is Recovering. In her 60s, Sarton suffered a bout of cancer. I haven't read this one, but I think I'd like to. It's one of her most popular.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Reading in Buffalo

I have a new laptop. This news is conveyed rather sadly, because the entry I was just about to post has disappeared for good. I don't know what key I hit, but it's gone now. I cannot at this time reconstruct it, but I want you to know that I am enjoying a historical novel, Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross.  It was originally published in 1996, but came out in a second edition in 2009. I highly recommend it, though I must caution I've read just 167 pages out of about 400 pages.

Yes, I'm travelling, doing research in Buffalo, in far western New York. I will have to write about what a wonderful 9th-century historical Pope Joan is. New computer, new hazards. More later.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

There's Nothing Like a Good Gothic

About three or four years ago, I chanced upon the gothic fiction of a writer from Minnesota. Wendy Webb lives in Duluth, on Lake Superior. Each of her three published novels is set on the shores of the Great Lakes. My first, The Fate of Mercy Alban, was perfection. When I started reading it at the time, I didn't realize what an insatiable hunger had been breeding inside me for gothic fiction. The craving had been denied too long. So I devoured it, and, perhaps because of my appetite, I found it perfect.

Right now I'm nearing the end of Wendy Webb's debut novel, The Tale of Halcyon Crane. Once again, I'm entranced. Yes, there's the bit about ghosts from previous generations that appear to be creating havoc. Or, are the other-worldly events simply the antics of unhappy villagers who are angry that Hallie had the audacity to return to Grand Manitou Island, where only a few people want her?

I like gothics as long as the so-called "paranormal" does not get out of control. And in this novel it's not, or perhaps I'm just willing to suspend disbelief. In any event, I don't want this book to end!

Fortunately for me, I haven't yet read The Vanishing, the third novel, published in 2014. And, from Wendy Webb's blog, it seems that in October 2015, she was hard at work finishing her fourth gothic.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Obsessed by Original Sin by P.D. James

I am so deeply, wondrously engrossed in the Adam Dalgliesh novel Original Sin by P.D. James. This one was published in 1995, and, as some critics noted at the time, James was at the height of her powers in this grand mystery. This novel is so fine a work of literature that I find I must read slowly, deliberately, and must reread at times to make sure I've caught all the slightest of nuances. What a mind James had at the age of 75 when this book was published! That is what staggers me--the intricate complexities, the turns, the twists.

I've been putting off reading this for a really stupid reason. I don't want to ever come to the end of the novels she's written. At this rate, however, I had better hurry up while my mind is still sharp enough to appreciate her devilry.

I think I love P.D. James the most for her exquisite handling of atmosphere and setting. Every setting is described in intricate detail. I love that. Notice that there really are six exclamation points after that last statement, although you may not be able to see them.

I haven't read her novels in at least two years, maybe three, so I'm going to move forward now. Yes, I'd better, while my brain is not too far gone!

Oh, and if you're contemplating reading
it, consider skipping that glass of wine before delving into her mysteries, or read her only in the mornings with coffee. Even 3 ounces of wine muddles her acutely drawn mysteries.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Nest and other Current Titles

This post is a mere update.

I still have books I read in March that I very much want and plan to comment on. So many great books! Coming very soon.

And now I'm in the midst of a bunch of April titles. Yesterday I finished the murder thriller In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware, set in northern England, a book that Travellin' Penguin and Cath of Read Warbler have recommended highly in the past.

The new book The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney is a wonder. I will fully comment later, but if you've held back from reading or ordering it, I would recommend that you plunge forth and get it. Characterization is fascinating--the story absorbing. In a few words, four (very interesting) siblings' lives are turned inside-out, all because of their expectation of "The Nest," money that their father put in trust and that he expected would give each child a little something extra to help with a life goal. Instead "The Nest" grew exponentially into an inheritance that each child expects will be there to rescue them from financial disaster. I must confess I experienced tremendous vicarious pleasure from witnessing these interesting people commit all sorts of financial malfeasance, the kind that I would be way too timid and sensible to engage in. Very skillfully written debut. True. Humorous. Fun. Loving it. (By saying humorous and fun, I must admit Sweeney is very serious about portraying family and love relationships.) I found her tone and voice to be tremendously engaging.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

March: The Month of Books Galore

For close to six weeks, we've had neither winter nor spring, in a time period that is usually filled with the most snow of the season. It's been sad, really. According to local meteorologists, this was the warmest winter on record for our region. Our local economy is dependent on winters that have sustained cold. As long as it stays below freezing, even if there's little snow, the mountain resorts can make snow and keep area businesses humming and people employed. And if there's the bonus of sufficient snowfall, we have boom winters.

Our snowshoes have lain in a dusty pile all season, never used. We hiked with micro-cleats over hiking boots when the ground had a bit of snow or ice, but overall it was not a good season for winter hiking.

On to Books!
I've been promising to reveal more about A Free Life by Ha Jin. I enjoyed this novel thoroughly, and its 667 pages sped by. A Chinese couple with a young son are exiles to the U.S. after the time of the Tianneman Square tragedy. This novel follows their experiences and struggles as they try to construct a financially secure life. They begin their marriage in the Boston suburbs, but when they realize they are not making a secure future there, they move to Georgia, to the outskirts of Atlanta, to start a restaurant business. For Nan, the husband, who is an intellectual and has dreams of becoming a self-sufficient poet, this life is not easy emotionally. For both Nan and his wife Pingping, running the restaurant consumes their entire lives, yet they persist at it, acquire a dedicated clientele, dream up tantalizing dishes to increase their business (don't read this book hungry!), buy a small house on a lake, spare themselves no luxury whatsoever, so that they can pay off their mortgage and gain financial security.

I realize that what I've described may sound uninteresting, but it was anything but. Nan continues to challenge himself writing poetry and eventually realizes that he needs to write in English, not in Chinese (just as the author Ha Jin has done in his life). Nan has always had a facility with English and he realizes that to express what he wants to say, he needs the English language to do it. He pursues his dream, meets lots of poets, and continues this life. A fascinating picture of Chinese-American immigrant life just before the millennium, and I think the themes and situations are familiar to immigrants everywhere.

Girl at War by Sara Novic: Reads like a memoir but it's a novel of a young Croatian girl in the very early 1990s at the start of the Balkan Wars. We see her enjoying the remnants of a normal life for a girl of Zagreb, the capital city. The war breaks out and destroys every bit of normalcy. Food and water vanish first. Then her baby sister becomes very sick, and her parents risk their lives over and over, traveling first to Slovenia, then to the border with Bosnia, to send their baby with renal failure on an airlift to the U.S. The baby departs safely, but the return to Zagreb is a nightmare. In the chaos of tragedy, the ten-year-old protagonist becomes a soldier for the Croatians who are trying to save their country.
This novel was my first read of the Balkan Wars by a Croatian native. It was well done and very much worth reading.

The Past by Tessa Hadley: This is Hadley's most recent novel. Four supposedly mature adult siblings, all very different from one another, reunite to spend three weeks in their grandparents' home in the country (England) as they try to determine whether to sell it or not. This home was always a nurturing vacation home for the children, and each has widely different memories. I found that Hadley's characterizations made the siblings seem remote from the reader. I caught glimpses of the essence of each one, but maddeningly I found them all to be hard to relate to. I didn't find the characters likeable (which is not necessary), except for Alice, perhaps, but then again not so much. I think this can be true of siblings within a family of multiple children.
Pluses: The atmospheric, detailed description of the house. The summer setting. The view of Wales across an estuary? (Do tell: Where do you think this novel was set?)

Gosh! I still need to give a wee synopsis of All Things Cease to Appear by Elizabeth Brundage. Next time!