In the High Peaks

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Speed Reading May Be Necessary: Brian Payton's The Wind is Not a River

Today I picked up two books that came up for me at the library and they're due in two weeks because other readers are waiting. I know I can read a book a week, but it makes me nervous, as in the days when I had a publisher's deadline. Anyway, I'm very much interested in both books. First is the Canadian writer Brian Payton's The Wind Is Not a River, a WWII historical novel set in the Aleutian Islands off Alaska. The Aleutian Island wilderness fascinates me, and, of course the Japanese were dead-set on occupying the Aleutians, so off I go. But it's not just about soldiers--it's about a war reporter and his struggle to survive, and the life of the wife he leaves behind in Seattle.

Brian Payton also wrote another book that's right up my alley: Shadow of the Bear: Travels in Vanishing Wilderness, which received a number of awards, including the National Outdoor Book Awards Book of the Year.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Fiction-Nonfiction-Fiction-Nonfiction: Enjoying the Mix

All this year I've been reading novels and nonfiction at the same time, back and forth, and am amazed at what a pleasant combination this reading tandem is. As far as nonfiction goes, it's history that's been grabbing me lately, and I've been thrilled by the information and the challenges that works of history offer.

I'm especially keen on New England colonial history, (1620-1778), even though right now The Secret Rooms by Catherine Bailey has me totally absorbed in English history.

And this year I'm determined to read some more historical fiction. Wolf Hall is tops on my list, and I hope to be getting to it in the early spring. Last year I bought a pristine hardcover copy because I knew I wanted a keeper.

At the moment, I am head over heels with Julia Spencer-Fleming's To Darkness and To Death, the fourth in her series. Clare Fergusson is a gem, as is Russ Van Alstyne. I believe in them, and I can't help myself from feeling I know them personally, as if I could drive to Millers Kill and be in on all the action. Although the first quarter of To Darkness was a tad slow, I'm now halfway through and loving every minute. I enjoy the lightning pace of this sort of mystery, which is a relief when I'm reading history nonfiction at a much slower pace.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Inches of Sleet and Rain Make Me a Sloth Reading Books

What miserable weather! Even Sasha wanted nothing to do with today's sleet and downpours. She curled up into a tight ball, her nose under her tail, and slept all day. I tried to be more active but failed. I succumbed early this afternoon and headed under bedcovers with my books, the rain hammering our metal roof. I finished Motherland by Maria Hummel, which was an exquisite, touching read of one mother's struggle to keep her children alive when Germany fell in 1945.

And I'm well into my Julia Spencer-Fleming mystery read for 2014, To Darkness and to Death, the fourth in the series starring Episcopalian minister and former Army helicopter pilot Clare Fergusson and Millers Kill Police Chief Russ Van Alystyne (sic). I'm determined to read the Clare Fergusson novels in order, though I'm itching to get at some of her best that are to come. As you may recall, the incomparable In the Bleak Midwinter is the first in the series and is a book I constantly try to foist on unsuspecting victims--all for a good cause--the joy of a great book. To Darkness and to Death is my next "easy" read after Red Wolf.

The other book I'm just starting is The Secret Rooms: A True Story of a Haunted Castle, a Plotting Duchess, and a Family Secret by Catherine Bailey. I can finally, at long last, really dig in because I have my own copy now, so I can mark it up the way I want. It's a riveting history. No wonder, the English castle dates back to the 12th century. This book is a reading event! I discovered this from dipping into the first few chapters of my library copy, which has since been returned.

And, to think, the last episode of Downton Abbey, Season 4, is being broadcast on Sunday. How depressing that will be as it closes for another season. The only bright light is that it will be around for a fifth season!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Red Wolf and Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding

I'm still reading and enjoying all the books I noted a week ago, but I'm in the final breathless pages of Red Wolf by Liza Marklund (Swedish). I felt that the first one-third to the first half of the book ran a bit slowly for me, but the second half has been a barnstormer!  Ken loved Red Wolf in the summer of 2012, though I was not able to get to it then. Lots of people have given it high marks and I see why.  High Notes: Marklund's characterization of Annika, the do-or-die journalist protagonist and mother of two children and wife to a man who's having a bit on the side. Exceedingly well-done portrayals, nuanced, and pointed! It's important to say that I want to read more Marklund. Must note it on my WannaReads list.

Next book: Out of the Woods: A Memoir of Wayfinding by Lynn Darling. I'm intensely excited about this recently published memoir by a widowed writer who abandons Manhattan for a cabin in the Vermont woods after her only daughter leaves home to attend college. I'll let you know!

I am sorry to say that Blogger is having trouble uploading images this evening.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Brief Update: Reading Marklund's Red Wolf, Hummel's Motherland, and Mayflower

What I like about reading three books at a time is that I can read many, many more hours per day without getting bored. Who would've thunk? Why has it taken me so long to figure this out? Granted, I understand this strategy only works when I have the time for luxurious reading sessions spaced throughout the day and evening. Thank heaven for books! That's all I can say in response to my relapse into fibromyalgia-land. I don't have the muscle strength to ski or snowshoe right now, though I have been enjoying walks on the back roads. (In winter, only very rarely do I run into a vehicle.) On our 3-mile road, there are only 5 inhabited households in winter. How I love that solitude--the communion with sky, forest, and snow!

I recommend Nathaniel Philbrick's Mayflower very, very highly. I've been over-the-top fascinated by each chapter. So readable! I read and don't realize I'm turning the pages, I'm that mesmerized. This authentic, 17th-century New England history wasn't taught in school--not even in high school. Maybe all the research hadn't been completed by the late 60s? It's very possible. 

Liza Marklund: I'm not sure, but I think I'm reading what may be the first book in a series: Red Wolf. Please set me straight if I'm mistaken. I needed something to fill the big empty space left by Sue Grafton's B is for Burglar, which I finished this morning. Grafton's Kinsey Millhone rejuvenates me. She is so irreverent, and has such a caustic, cynical eye on nearly everyone and everything. A delight!

But back to Marklund. I think I've read another of her novels. (I must look back.) Yet it was clear to me a year or so ago that to continue with Marklund, I must read Red Wolf. And I finished 55 pages of it today and am on my way. Oh, no, as I searched for the book cover, I discovered that Red Wolf is supposed to be #5 in a series. Really doesn't matter.

Lastly, I started my library copy of Motherland by Maria Hummel, which has received rave reviews in the U.S. thus far. It is set in the final months of World War II in Germany, a time of horrific deprivation and hardship. I'm 55 pages in and am enthralled by Liesl, who is stepmother to three children, including an infant, while her brand-new husband, a reconstruction surgeon, is at the front, trying to piece together maimed soldiers. He's working toward a desertion, as the Russians draw nearer. Yes, nothing could be worse for a German soldier than being imprisoned by the Russians at the end of World War II. If such a soldier ever saw his family again, the time would be measured in years and many of them. Just want to mention: Hummel is an exquisite writer!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Books That Consume: Philbrick's The Mayflower and Sue Grafton: The Secret Rooms Tomorrow

I do apologize: My original header noted that I was going to comment on "The Secret Rooms and Downton." I can't do that today, though I'd like to tomorrow. I have The Secret Rooms from the library, and after reading 40 pages or so, I realized I had to order my own copy, which I did. I hope it arrives soon!

As I said to a close reading friend on Friday, after we had a pleasant sharing of a few mutual miseries, "Thank heavens for books!" She agreed wholeheartedly, and off we went, discussing every book that had crossed our paths in the past two weeks. Anne again encouraged me to pick up the first novel in Bernard Cornwell's saga of England in the "Way Back" era. Well, how far back? The Last Kingdom, the first novel in a seven-book series, deals with the Saxons ousting the "Danes" (or the Vikings) from England. I haven't started reading it yet, though I downloaded it for three dollars and want to get to it soon. I've redeveloped a long-lost love for historical fiction, and because I know Anne's reading tastes so well, I figured this one was well worth a go. Have you read a novel by Cornwell?

But!!! As of this week, I am in the midst of other TBR-pile reading fodder. I bought Nathaniel Philbrick's The Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, because of the excellent reviews that appeared when the book was first published in 2006. I was especially intrigued that Philbrick included in his history of the "Pilgrims," the rebel Puritans who landed in the New World in 1620, the story of King Phillip's War, the horrendous war between the second-generation of colonists and Native Americans later in the 17th century (1670s), which profoundly altered 17th-century New England colonial society.

Millions of Americans can trace their ancestry to one or more Mayflower passengers, so it's not at all unusual that I, who hail from Massachusetts, am descended from one non-Pilgrim Mayflower pioneer, Edward Doty, who was an indentured servant to the non-Pilgrim Stephen Hopkins and his family. Doty was not a happy servant, and before his seven years' of indenture was up, he broke loose from Hopkins. As Philbrick makes clear, Hopkins was a loose cannon in every way. He had already ventured to the New World before his Mayflower passage. In 1609, when the ship he was on ran aground and broke up off Bermuda, he mutinied along with several other passengers. He had a reputation as a troublemaker, but then so did Edward Doty, my ancestor. But doesn't that make sense? Doesn't it seem plausible that the people most likely to risk their lives in a New World venture would have brio, chutzpah, and be overly brazen? In England the Pilgrims were considered religious radicals. Philbrick has done a masterful job of research and writing. I have especially appreciated the details he's brought to the narrative. A top-rate historical narrative!!

And I'm appreciating Sue Grafton's B is for Burglar. Her detective Kinsey Millhone is quirkier than ever in this, the second novel in her alphabetic crime-detective series. Kinsey is even more searing (and uproariously funny) in her scathing metaphoric characterizations of everyone she meets. I do burst out laughing, but I think eventually Kinsey must adjust her misanthropic view of all humanity. Very, very fun to read, though!

Friday, February 7, 2014

3 Books Read: Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan and Zealot Final Words

Ian McEwan is one of my favorite authors because his books draw me deep, deep down into the souls of his protagonists. His books force me to think deeply about the entanglements of interpersonal relationships as well as the nitty-gritty of societal forces that infiltrate our lives and often make us act in ways we wish we wouldn't. Sweet Tooth is an exquisite example of these themes in McEwan's work. The really hard part is that Serena, the main character, is so young and inexperienced as she makes decisions that will mark her and others for life.

At the end of the book she is a mere twenty-three years of age, a woman who's been thoroughly on her own for several years, a fully-fledged adult supposedly, working for MI5 in Britain. But Serena has one huge flaw that mars her life: She doesn't seem to be able to stand up for herself when it's essential to do so for her personal integrity and self-respect. And note! McEwan doesn't treat her as a naïf. He treats this character as she sees herself--as an adult who is in command of her situation.

I highly recommend this novel--it's so full of twists and turns, so imaginative, so original, and well worth the time and effort. It will hold you in its grip until the last page.

Now a news alert! I finally finished Ivanhoe today and I felt satisfied with the ending, though I will have more to say on the matter when Katrina of Pining for the West has finished the novel.

Yesterday I finished reading Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth. I was fascinated by this book, and by the author's notes that detail his sources supporting each chapter. He's to be commended for making the book so readable and clear despite the many conflicting and confusing elements that can make the history of the first century in Judea and Palestine nearly impossible to unravel. I understand much more clearly the historical origins and lives of Jesus and James, his brother so much more, as well as the contradicting power of Paul who re-interpreted Jesus's message and transferred and translated Christianity to Rome, away from its Jewish roots. I'm sure many might find the conclusions of the author to be blasphemy, but it's clear that, from a historical perspective, Christianity developed to a large extent because of the faithful who never knew Jesus when he was alive. Highly recommended!

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Reading and Skiing Like Crazy & Ivanhoe & Zealot, etc.

We desperately need snow, but that has not stopped me from skiing like a mad woman at our local mountain resort. We are so looking forward to a much-heralded snowstorm on Wednesday, which is promising to be the most significant snowfall of the winter thus far. Snow dancers are actively leaping and bounding.

Skiing excessively is good for reading: I become so exhausted from skiing that I come home and fall into the loft bed over the living room and READ for hours and doze a bit until it's time to cook dinner.

Ivanhoe News:
I must say that after reading Chapters 31-40 in Ivanhoe, I'm more eager than ever to read the history of King Henry II's sons, Richard Coeur-de-Lion and John, as well as the aftermath of the Crusades in England. But I'm also fascinated by the sharp divide between the Norman "Conqueror" society and the "defeated" Saxon society. Before reading Ivanhoe, I had assumed, wrongly, that the rift between the two cultures would have been settled by the time of this novel, which I think is, at the least, 200 years after the Norman invasion. Actually, I think the time gap is more like 250 years or more, but I need Katrina of Pining for the West to set me straight on that. I definitely need some tuition in this time period of English history.

The young Jewish woman, Rebecca, daughter of Isaac, is in far greater straits than she was when I last wrote. But because the Black Knight (King Richard) and Wilfred (Ivanhoe) have at long last united to form a bold front that appears to be insurmountable, I'm much less worried. I'm sure they will see that justice is done in Rebecca's case.

Earlier in the novel, it seemed that the fair Saxon princess Lady Rowena would play a greater role in the novel than Rebecca, but that has not happened. I do wonder about English cultural attitudes toward Jews in Sir Walter Scott's time. It would be very helpful to know this as a means of understanding the ways in which Isaac and Rebecca have been presented.

Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth is so lucidly written, which is so important in unraveling the extraordinarily complex era of the first century in Palestine. I'm halfway through and the pages slip by as I find myself in complete awe of the actual history. Such horrendous turmoil and bloodshed throughout this entire century. With all the dozens and dozens of "messiahs" in this tortuous period in Jewish history, how is it that Jesus of Nazareth was seized upon as the Messiah of early Christians? After reading the 92 pages of Part One, it seems miraculous that a group of believers seized upon this one zealot among so many.  I highly recommend this book. Not a difficult read at all, though well researched and footnoted by a scholar.