I reread this for the Reread Challenge, link also on sidebar. I’ve had this book on my keeper shelves for so long I completely forgot what it was about. How it survived last year’s keepers purge I don’t know, but I’m really glad it did. You see, I live in a very small duplex with two teenagers, my husband and our dog, not to mention the college student who’s here over breaks. It’s a bit crowded. In an effort to do my part and reduce the clutter (gulp) I decided to weed out my keepers to provide a little shelving room. I told myself that I should only keep the ones where I can remember the plot or why I loved the book, even in a very general sense: it made me laugh, it made me cry, an unusual hero or heroine, etc. I turned a whole bunch of books in to my local library for their monthly ‘friends’ sale. It was painful, but necessary. I don’t even recall who I traded, to be honest.
Somehow, Stranger in my Arms made it through the purge. This title was written by Lisa Kleypas and published in 1998. Childless twenty four year old widow Larissa, dowager Countess of Hawksworth, is abruptly informed that her supposedly deceased husband, Hunter, has shown up in England hale and quite alive. The male relative who had taken his place is understandably suspicious. Hunter and Larissa were unhappily married and were living separate lives when Hunter sailed for India. It was thought he’d died in a shipwreck.
Before I go on, can I just say that I find the probability of a man in the English aristocracy being christened Hunter so improbable as to be ridiculous? And that his wife would refer to him by his first name (as opposed to his title or Hawksworth) in public? The other annoying issue is that her name is Larissa, but everyone calls her Lara- even in situations where she should be called by her title or at least my lady or something similar. Why name your heroine one name and then call her by another? For some readers these issues would be minor, but for me they were annoying. My biggest problem with SIMA is that Larissa was shunted off into a moldy rundown game keepers cottage on the estate with very little money and no servants or chaperones or a companion- yet she was the dowager Countess. Am I to believe her family was so unconcerned with her future security that this would have been allowed in her settlements or otherwise?
I continued to read though, because the crux of the whole book came down to this: does one seize a second chance at love or does one shun the proffered crown because of ideology? Hunter is not who he claims to be. Larissa, while doubtful, comes to appreciate this man for how he treats her even while her own doubts assail her. When she finally learns the truth, Larissa must decide: carpe diem or stand alone on the plinth of ideology? It is no small thing, this deception of ‘Hunter’s’. To take on the identity of another and fully take over his life. Yet, I rooted for him, for her, for them.
Larissa for her part tends toward the Mary Sue: naïve, willfully innocent of many things a Countess should not be, unworldly, compliant and submissive to the point of impoverishing herself, yet ending up on her feet despite a situation that would’ve daunted most women. As the book goes on Larissa shows some backbone and stands up for what she believes in, demands that Hunter respect her person and her needs. She learns to push back against Hunter more than she was able to before he reappeared. Larissa deliberately sets Hunter up in an embarrassing public confrontation, partly out of pique but also to show him that he cannot simply trifle with her.
Ms. Kleypas made all of these conventions come alive for me, even while I had some serious issues with the details. I’m glad I kept it.
Image found on Fantastic Fiction
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Thursday, February 26, 2009
I love a good mystery, especially ones where I think I've turned into Miss Marple and figured it all out but then I'm properly pushed back down into my place. Mr. Indridason has written one of those books. I'm new to his work, but his name has buzzed around for a while and I was lucky enough to come across this one in the library. Americans are finally getting better access to books in translation (even genre!) which makes me very happy. There are lots of great stories out in the wide wide world and monolingual people like me miss lots of them unless the God of Publishing takes mercy on me and translates one.
Sunna, an hydrologist, discovers a partially submerged skeleton in a lake whose water is draining (the eponymous lake of the title). She calls the authorities & thus our whodunit begins. A trio of police inspectors: Erlendur, Elinborg and Oli are assigned to the case. Iceland being a small place, it's initially assumed that there will be little trouble figuring out who this guy is and how he was submerged in the lake with out of date Russian radio equipment tied to his legs. How long are the tentacles of the past?
Our intial story is wrapped around with one of an idealistic young man whose political leanings win him a scholarship to university in Leipzig East Germany. Eventually he learns that all is not what it seems. The ideals that burned so bright in Iceland became altogether another beast in the East Germany of the late 1960's and early 1970's. After a while I thought I'd figured out the who what where and when- but as I said above, I was wrong. I love the way Mr Indridason weaves together the present and the past, showing us that sometimes the past is closer than one might wish.
The Draining Lake is a wonderful mystery with strong overtones of John LeCarre's masterful cold war era spy novels. It took me a little while to wrap my mind around some of the unusual (to me anyway!) names, but that didn't deter me in the least. This is the American published edition, put out by MacMillan in September 2008. It is the fourth book in the series, the others being: Jar City, Voices and Silence of the Grave.
Monday, February 23, 2009
I'm listening to the Margaret George audiobook Helen of Troy in the car. See image on sidebar. I thought I'd have plenty of time to listen to it. We're a commuter family and traffic here is notoriously clogged and slow. I think I've miscalculated though. This book, unabridged, is 25 discs (30+ hours). The longest audiobook I've borrowed so far had 16 discs & I got pretty obsessive about dragging the case everywhere with me. I've renewed Helen of Troy twice now & I'm only up to disc 7.
I love the voice of the narrator, who is British. I wonder that they couldn't find a Greek speaker or had an actor who could do a Greek accent. The British lady did a great job, but if they could find an Italian for Donna Leon and Niccolo Ammaniti, then they could've found a Greek actor for Margaret George. I'd really like that. It adds to the listener's experience of the book. Besides, the whole saga is unmistakably Greek, it would've been a tribute.
The niggling issue with this one is the tracks are not evenly spaced out. For example, on both of the BBC Audiobooks each disc was marked at three minute intervals, which turned out to be very easy and convenient. The tracks on Helen aren't evenly spaced, which is turning out to be an annoyance- especially on a book this large. What does this mean? Well, if I arrived at my destination and had to stop on disc 7 track 5- track five might be four minutes or it might be twelve & I can't get back to my exact place. I have to repeat the four or six minutes or whatever until I'm at the exact spot again. This might not sound like a big deal, but on a book that's 25 discs long? Those little minutes add up gang.
I'm at the point in the story where I really don't want to give it up- Helen and Paris have just met in Sparta. Helen was naive enough to seek out Aphrodite and beg her help without specifying what man she (Helen) would feel all of Love's power for. Poor stupid Helen. Led astray by a desire for orgasms. Seriously. I don't think I can quit the series now!
Saturday, February 21, 2009
Thursday, February 19, 2009
It took me a long time to read this, not because it's difficult but because I wanted to read it at times when I could devote my full attention (HA! pathetic as it is) to what Mr. Pollan has to say. As I have mentioned before one of my interests is nutrition, policy related areas, eating disorders and the food supply in general. I read Mr. Pollan's previous book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I've not reviewed here, but is well worthwhile and available in paperback. Link to his site in title above.
In a nutshell, Mr. Pollan writes in depth about how the US food supply has become concentrated around a small number of crops: wheat, corn and soy. This is the result of significant amounts of meddling from numerous sources: Congress, agriculture lobbyists, nutritionists, scientists and even journalists. He goes into much more detail than I will here, but essentially Mr. Pollan makes the case that that Americans have been led around by the stomach by said special interests, and our good health has suffered from these unwonted attentions. It is Mr. Pollan's opinion, and I concur, that the concentration of the American diet around starches, sugars and highly processed foods over the last several decades has resulted in the current epidemic of 'Western diet diseases': cardiac diseases, obesity, high blood pressure, various allergies, etc.
The first section of his book centers on making his case as I (badly) summarized above. The second part, much shorter, details what Mr. Pollan feels might be a better way of eating. He does point out, ironically, that it's very telling that a journalist would be asked (after the publication of his previous book) how & what to eat. He feels that our innate knowledge of our own food culture usually passed down to us by our foremothers has been overwritten by scientists and nutritionists and lobbyists. So what should we eat? Produce, locally grown CSA and/or organic if possible. Some meat, but very little & only if the animal eats what it is supposed to eat, ie: 100% grass fed cows, etc. Pollan reminds us that our food, both protein and produce, is only as nutrient rich as what they are fed or grown in. Cows aren't actually designed to be grain fed, which is why they need so many antibiotics when raised in a standard environment. Their bodies aren't intended to eat grains & it makes them sick. Also, don't eat anything that has items in the ingredient list that you can't pronounce or don't know what they are. Like the kids in the Breyers commercials. And NO high fructose corn syrup- don't be fooled by their commercials either.
Generally, I agree with Mr. Pollan's observations and insights. His research and conclusions made me think and fed many conversations between various family members. However, I feel that Mr. Pollan completely ignored a large segment of those persons in the US who suffer the most from the Western diseases: the poor. Here in the metro DC area it's well known that there is one supermarket east of the Anacostia River in the District. The poorest, most challenged area of the city. If a mother wanted to buy an apple for her child? She's probably got to travel way way out of her way to get one from a store. If she was inclined to or financially able to take Metro that far out of her way in the first place. The rural poor aren't much better off either, if reports are to be believed.
It's all well and good to tell people to eat locally grown, preferably organic produce and properly fed and humanely treated animals if you're concentrating on those persons who can afford these things. I believe in reaching out a helping hand. Our country is already deeply divided into haves and haven'ts by virtue of class: Shall we allow access to decent nutritious food to be yet another cause for the divide? I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in these topics.
Image found on the Hunter College Library
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
My Hubby loves me dearly. How do I know? Because for Valentine's Day he set me free in a local bookstore & let me buy books instead of flowers! He knows that, while I love flowers, I love books even more. So here's what I bought:
1. The Complete Beck Diet~ Judith Beck
2. Mistress Shakespeare~ Karen Harper
3. Gods Behaving Badly~ Marie Phillips
4. Sarah's Key~ Tatiana de Rosnay
5. Single White Vampire~ Lynsay Sands
Images found on B & N, Amazon and Hatchette Book Group
I think I've read the Lynsay Sands before, but I've not looked it up in my archives yet. You'd think that one day I'd learn to wait look a title up in my archives before I buy a book, wouldn't you? Not yet. Still have more willpower to grow.
Monday, February 16, 2009
I've put up a new post this morning over on Access Romance. CindyS over at Nocturnal Wonderings posted last week about authors whose heroes all seem the same. I've explored her theme a little more. Asked a few questions. Gave myself some rope to get myself in trouble with! LOL :)
Sunday, February 15, 2009
by Eleanor Wilner
And they will gather by the well,
its dark water a mirror to catch whatever
stars slide by in the slow precession of
the skies, the tilting dome of time,
over all, a light mist like a scrim,
and here and there some clouds
that will open at the last and let
the moon shine through; it will be
at the wheel's turning, when
three zeros stand like paw-prints
in the snow; it will be a crescent
moon, and it will shine up from
the dark water like a silver hook
without a fish--until, as we lean closer,
swimming up from the well, something
dark but glowing, animate, like live coals--
it is our own eyes staring up at us,
as the moon sets its hook;
and they, whose dim shapes are no more
than what we will become, take up
their long-handled dippers
of brass, and one by one, they catch
the moon in the cup-shaped bowls,
and they raise its floating light
to their lips, and with it, they drink back
our eyes, burning with desire to see
into the gullet of night: each one
dips and drinks, and dips, and drinks,
until there is only dark water,
until there is only the dark.
Found on Poets.org
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Haven't been able to find the right sentiment for you sweetheart? Swamped at work? Procrastinator? Head over to Poets.org to view & print Valentines with classic poems. Directions provided for emailing as well. Click link in title above.
Friday, February 13, 2009
Sorry I've not been around much this week. I've had.. I don't know blogging blahs I guess. I've surfed & tried to keep the numbers in my reader down to a dull roar, but posting on my own blog? Nah. Uninspired. Sorry. It hasn't helped that the weather has been distinctly spring like: warm, between 55-70, sunny & windy. Showers once. Atypical winter weather, even for here. So I've enjoyed the sunshine and ignored my book blog. My dearest Hubby sent me out on an early Valentine's Day book shopping spree. I'll put up a list of what I chose tomorrow. Good stuff, I promise.
I have been reading and listening to audiobooks, though. Eventually I'll catch up & review what I've read/listened to.
This is my first foray into Ms. Leon's Guido Brunetti detective series. According to her publisher's site, linked to in the title above, "In her novels, homecooked food, family, renaissance art, Italian history, and local politics play as central a role as an unsolved crime." I borrowed this book as an audio book put out by BBC Audio, it is unabridged & read by David Colacci, released May 2008. I like Mr. Colacci's voice. A recent audiobook I listened to had a female narrator for a male protagonist, which I found, to my dismay, odd & slightly unsettling. Bonus for me, Mr. Colacci didn't drop me out of the story repeatedly.
I was fascinated with the portrayal of the life of ordinary Venetians, contemporary Italy and wider European issues. I was a little taken aback, however, when I was able to solve the crime just about as soon as the primary hint was dropped, which I felt was pretty obvious. Now ordinarily when I read mysteries I can't solve the crimes. I don't usually read mysteries carefully enough to solve them. I was more than a little nonplussed when I figured this one out.
I guess one could hypothesize and make the argument that if I don't read mysteries to solve them then my solving this one would be a bonus. You would be wrong. I want the author to lead me on a merry dance, all the way to final chapter when I will than say, "OMG- the clues were so obvious! I should've figured this one out." I watch Maigret and Montalbano mysteries on tv & I almost never solve them. That's ok. I don't want to solve them.
The positive side of the ledger is pretty long, though. Intimate detail of family life and inner dialogue done in a very natural and non info-dump kind of way. A detective who reads classic Greek dramas in his off time, and then relates them to his cases. His wife like Dickens, though, but I won't hold that against her. Government bureocracy grinds people up and spits them back, but somehow Brunetti's humanity and wholeness manages to survive relatively unscathed thanks to his family and his partner.
There is a heartfelt and seemingly thorough conversation about racism: personal, institutional and governmental. I'm American, though, so my knowledge of European racial issues, Italian racial issues in particular, is limited to what I've read in the New York Times. We watch as Commissario Brunetti's sense of duty, his desire to see what he feels is morally right, bumps up against political expediency, corruption and prevailing winds blowing far above his head.
Ms. Leon's love for Italy and her culture is obvious. If solving your mystery pleases you, if you don't mind an obvious solution, if you're interested in portrayals of contemporary Italy, than this is the book for you. I find Brunteei himself most compelling as a character so I've already ordered the previous mystery in the series, Suffer the Little Children.
Sunday, February 08, 2009
The birches stand in their beggar's row:
Each poor tree
Has had its wrists nearly
Torn from the clear sleeves of bone,
These icy trees
Are hanging by their thumbs
Under a sun
That will begin to heal them soon,
Each will climb out
Of its own blue, oval mouth;
The river groans,
Two birds call out from the woods
And a fox crosses through snow
Down a hill; then, he runs,
He has overcome something white
Beside a white bush, he shakes
It twice, and as he turns
For the woods, the blood in the snow
Looks like the red fox,
At a distance, running down the hill:
A white rabbit in his mouth killed
By the fox in snow
Is killed over and over as just
Two colors, now, on a winter hill:
Two colors! Red and white. A barber's bowl!
Two colors like the peppers
In the windows
Of the town below the hill. Smoke comes
From the chimneys. Everything is still.
Ice in the river begins to move,
And a boy in a red shirt who woke
A moment ago
Watches from his window
The street where an ox
Who's broken out of his hut
Stands in the fresh snow
Staring cross-eyed at the boy
Who smiles and looks out
Across the roof to the hill;
And the sun is reaching down
Into the woods
Where the smoky red fox still
Eats his kill. Two colors.
Just two colors!
A sunrise. The snow.
Found on Poets.org
Thursday, February 05, 2009
We don't need Valentine's Day to celebrate romance! At Breezing Through we love a good romance and we love to share said romance books.
We also believe that you don't need a single day to celebrate romance.
Well, we are taking Valentine's back with our Anti-Valentines Day contest. We have three categories of romantic books that we will give away. All are new releases. Please pick only one book from each category.
It looks like a fun contest- a chance to win more books! Who can resist? Heaven knows we all need more books, right? Go on over there & sign up! Link in text above.
Below is the all too short list of what I've finished reading in January. Listed in no particular order, all books reviewed, link provided.
1. Fortune and Fate; Sharon Shinn
2. Lord of the Fading Lands; C.L. Wilson
3. The Messiah Interviews; Jerry Pollock
4. When Gods Die; C. S. Harris
Tuesday, February 03, 2009
Anime Queen, our lovely daughter, invited me on a field trip to the National Gallery of Art. Lovely white snowflakes fell as we drove in. Click here for a list of current exhibits. This was with her art class. They've been studying contemporary art, emphasizing artists like Jackson Pollack & Andy Warhol & photographers like Edward Weston. One of the kids' favorites was the room with some of Calder's mobiles. Click here to begin slideshow discussing Alexander Calder's mobiles.
The work that really made me think was a large piece by Anselm Kiefer mounted on a wall. It's a big piece: shades of grey and black and cream. To me it was a desolate, post apocalyptic landscape. The large work on the wall was powerful enough in and of itself, but combined with a nearby fighter jet, painted grey with dried poppies on the wings. - Well, it was amazing. Then to find out the dried plants were poppies on the wings..and that Mr.Kiefer is German, born in the last year of the WW II? It's quite a statement. Click here for examples of Mr. Kiefer's works.
Image found on Wikimedia Commons, this fresco is not seen in this exhibit.
After viewing the contemporary exhibit in the East Building, we went upstairs and walked through the Pompeii Exhibit. The sculptures are beautiful and the artifacts are amazingly detailed. There's a gladiator helmet with scenes from the Iliad on it. None of the life size figures are part of this exhibit. A gorgeous red dining room fresco glows in the soft light. The reds are soft and faded shades, but I wonder how bright and clear they might have been when they were new.
If you go to the Gallery, I definitely don't recommend eating in the 'food court' downstairs in the causeway between buildings. The food is expensive and mediocre at best. Bring your own. We brought lunch, daughter and I, salads and yogurt and Doritos and lemon water. The bookstore is nice and the shop on the next level up is wonderful.
Monday, February 02, 2009
The Skinny, written by Rayni Joan was published by Keyhole Publications in 2008. It is a fictionalized memoir- a new and, dare I say, unique subgenre only recently come into being. Ms. Joan’s book discusses in depth a young woman’s journey into the depth and pain and seeming endless circle of eating disorders facilitated by family dysfunction, inept psychiatric advice and habit. I have read quite a bit in the areas of nutrition, food culture, weight problems and related psychiatric disorders. The entwined working of the human mind and the body fascinate me. So when the email landed in my box talking about Ms. Joan’s book I agreed to review it. Apologies up front for my tardiness in posting this review. I received an ARC for the purposes of this review.
The Skinny details the childhood and early adulthood of one Rowena Wine in the so called golden era after the second world war. The Wine family lives on the brink: financially, emotionally and for Rowena, physically. The Wine household is explosive. From the beginning Rowena’s father singles her out for harsh punishment and presents her with ever changing unattainable goals. Very often Rowena’s days end with spankings or beatings with a belt- or worse. Rowie has only two solaces: her grandparents, who live upstairs, and her ability to compartmentalize the endless warfare and torment that surrounds her.
Her environment is out of control, Rowie, like many people who live in untenable situations, desperately needs to control something. In her ‘tween years Rowie learns that she feels safe and in control if she purges (induces vomiting) after eating meals. Victoria, her little sister, admonishes her & worries about her. Karen, the eldest, tries to show Rowie how to fake asthma attacks and how to appear compliant so Rowie won’t be punished so much. No dice. Rowie doesn’t have that type of survival skill. Once Rowie asks her mother if throwing up is ok and her mother tells her that if it controls Rowie’s weight it’s fine. So begins the awful cycle of never being _______ enough: thin, smart, beautiful, accomplished, etc. etc.
Unfortunately, the very compartmentalization that helps her survive her childhood hinders her ability to flourish as an adult. Rowena has performed a mental trick so that it’s almost as though her mind and her body are separate entities. She treats her body as though it’s a commodity to be traded in place of authentic emotions. Sadly, her several attempts to find help and stop purging aren’t successful. Her problems continue to spiral.
The Skinny is gut wrenching and hard to read. And yet, it’s clear from the start- Rowie’s a survivor, a fighter, a winner. It may take her awhile. The price will be pretty high. She’s determined to win it all her way. I found myself identifying with some of Rowie’s feelings and motivations- I was sad that she treated herself this way or believed this particular thing about herself. I rooted for her all the way, though. No matter what happened I wanted her to win.
Sidenote: I am not a physician or a psychiatrist or mental health worker of any type. None of these recommendations is intended to replace trained medical or mental health assistance. If you struggle with eating disorders, please consider getting help.
1. Click here for a list of DSM IV diagnosis criteria for eating disorders.
2. This site has quite a bit of information about all types of eating disorders as well as recovery information.