A Snowy November Skiing at Garnet Hill with Friends

Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Immortalists

Tremendous buzz about Chloe Benjamin's second novel The Immortalists, which, as of today, has just been entered as #7 on the NYT Bestseller List. It is also one of Amazon's Picks for January. The premise is intriguing--four siblings venture to the home of a woman, known via the neighborhood grapevine, as one who can predict a customer's date of death. The children range in age from fourteen to seven years.

Before I divulge my personal reactions, I can affirm that the novel is a compelling read, which gropes with a multitude of facets concerning life and death, and also probes the interconnections among family members over the course of decades.

The Immortalists is a rich, multi-layered novel that I believe is absolutely ideal for book discussion  groups--I am convinced that each reader in a group will have their own unique ideas, opinions, and questions about the novel that they will be eager to discuss with others. How I wish that right now I had a book group meeting coming up where we would soon talk about it, because I'm so longing for other people's points of view.

The next paragraph may be a Spoiler for some people, so here's my Spoiler Alert!

For personal reasons, I can say that not only did I not enjoy or appreciate this book, I disliked it and I disparage it. I also came away with the awful sense that reading it gave me nothing, nothing at all worthwhile to take away. It provoked me. It made me angry.

If a fortune teller had given me an early doom date, I would have eventually, after agonizing over it,  confided in my mother, even if I had done something that she would have disapproved of and would have punished me for (like going to a stranger's house without telling an adult).
The most surprising thing to me is that the siblings do not share their death dates at the time, nor while they were older children, when they were most vulnerable. They each kept their death dates totally secret during childhood. I can't imagine that the 7-year-old would not turn to his older siblings for comfort. I just can't imagine it. They ventured there as a team. Why wouldn't they share info afterwards? When don't siblings turn to each other? They went there, in fear, together. I just don't get it. They played together, did things together all summer. But this, this they kept secret? Just Not believable. Not to me. I found each death to be a savage, stupid, unnecessary death.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Woman in the Window and More January Reads

Due to extreme weather coming, with a high probability of a damaging ice storm, I am posting now, because if the storm goes as projected,  we will be without internet for multiple days. I am just starting to read The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin (January 2018). That will be this weekend's read.

My expectations for The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn were minimal at the start. It received starred reviews in Library Journal and Publisher's Weekly, so I figured it was worth a try, especially because I was eager for a "can't wait to turn the page" thriller.

I  finished the novel Wednesday morning,  in a gasp. I gasped aloud several times during  my reading, and positively shouted out loud at least twice. (Sorry, Ken, to alarm you!) If you like a carefully constructed, ingeniously concocted thriller of a wild ride, then this is the book for you. I have not read a thriller of such capacity since Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson. Forget Gone Girl or Woman on a Train.

Gasping and shouting are not what is really great about this novel.  A woman of middle age, an agoraphobic, is unable to move beyond the confines of her front and back doors due to what appears to be a prior, undisclosed trauma. Her husband and only child, a daughter, seem to live elsewhere, though the three of them keep in frequent contact by phone.

Anna drinks wine excessively and she takes lots of prescribed psychiatric medications. Her therapist visits her once a week (he doesn't know the extent of her drinking), as does her physical therapist. Aside from her online chess matches and her agoraphobic chat group, she does have an obsession--watching the neighbors of her NYC neighborhood via her windows. And this is where the entire thriller really begins.

I commend the author for developing Anna as a character so thoroughly, to the point where I felt extraordinary compassion for her--not customary in a thriller of this type. I rated this one 5 stars, for sure. At four hundred pages, I leapfrogged through it. A total page-turner. Aren't they fun?? What a rush!


Friday, January 5, 2018

January--A Stellar Month for Immersion in All Sorts of Books

After finishing Winter Solstice, Elin Hilderbrand's  fourth and final novel in the Quinn Family of Nantucket Island saga, I immediately leapt to read a novel that is way out of what has been my comfort zone for the past two months or more. I selected a very new thriller The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn, just released. I need something to jolt me out of my "light romance cocoon," which I've been luxuriating in. It's definitely time. Although a light romance or two will continue to have their place in my Reading Diet!

I've also started reading Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Ingalls Wilder, another new title, by Caroline Fraser, an American historian. As a person with a lifelong serious interest in history,  I must say that I am so in awe of this book and what Fraser has done.

At long last, a superb, exhaustively researched, scholarly (yet how very readable!) treatment of the life and writings of Ingalls Wilder. From what I have discovered from perusing the book,  this work goes to great lengths to manage the myths and add the extraordinary, previously unrealized facts of Wilder's life. Yes, there is lots of new info here for Wilder fans.  Although The Little House series of books will always be glorious American  literature, Wilder's real-life story is the genuine, gritty, uncompromising article. Yes, this volume is a hefty 491 pages, but each page fascinates. I cannot recommend it highly enough. **No wonder The New York Times selected it as one of its Ten Best Books of 2017.

I have a history project ongoing at the moment. This one combines history and climatology in the 17th century. You have probably heard all about the "Little Ice Age," which impacted the northern hemisphere severely, from approximately 1350 to 1825. Actually, those dates are very broad for the phenomenon. The crux of the period of global cooling occurred in the 16th and 17th centuries.
The books I've been reading have kept my mind percolating fiercely. I'm most interested in how the Little Ice Age affected the settlement, culture, and society of New England in the 17th century.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Am I Ready for Reading in the New Year? Oh, Gosh!

Actually, I have made a list of reading intentions for the New Year--particularly the beginning of the New Year. I have quite a towering TBR pile of books I've accumulated in the past few months.

I want to read The Vanity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown. I greatly admire her and have for many decades. And I think I admire her most for how breathtakingly vital she made The New Yorker while she was editor, in the years preceding her tenure at Vanity Fair. After she left, The New Yorker retrenched and eventually hired the throwback David Remnick as editor in 1998, who absolutely REFUSES TO HIRE women  journalists to do any investigative journalism for his precious magazine. He publishes the occasional woman writer's short story or poem, but no serious journalism. Personally, I don't think it helps The New Yorker's circulation. Circulation was very high when Tina Brown was editor. Sorry, David. You belong to the 1950s. And so does The New Yorker's circulation. How sad for such a historically prestigious magazine. How difficult for David Remnick to realize--women buy magazines, too.

In other reading, I'm investigating historical climatology--the effect of climate, especially climate change, on historical events and epochs. Has this ever been a fascinating line of research for me this week! I'm particularly interested in the climate of The Little Ice Age, which lasted from the 1500s through the 1700s. Fascinating, but deep reading. I'm especially interested in the effect of climate on  the settlement of New England in the 1600s. Wow...

For pleasure, I'm still reading Elin Hilderbrand's Winter Solstice, the fourth and final volume in her Quinn Family or Winter Street Inn Nantucket novels. Oh, gosh!! I have followed this series, book by book, and it's very, very good.   ***It looks as though my current proclivity for lighter reads of fiction is still very much with me. And I only have POTUS to thank, really, for making me see how important it is to nurture one's soul very, very well when all hell is breaking loose in this country. Thank you, to all my readers, for allowing me to be frank.


Sunday, December 24, 2017

Christmas Eve Musings

I've had such a wonderful Christmas Eve Day. Here in northeastern New York, we've been having lots of wild winter weather. I had the good fortune to spend a wonderful week in northern Vermont last week, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in Stowe, in the Mt. Mansfield region. I had lots of time to reflect and write in my journal, which I particularly like to do at this time of the end of the year.

We had multiple snowfall events last week, which were good for the skiing, but which delayed my return home by a day.

I'm so glad to be home again, which, to me, is the happiest way to feel after a time away. I made Ken his favorite cookies today while listening to all of my favorite Christmas songs while doing so. Then we had a lovely family walk with Sasha, which she loved. As we began our return home, just before dusk, it started to snow. Five to nine inches of snow expected by noon tomorrow. Nice. Tonight Christmas movies and an easy shrimp dinner at home. Feels very cozy here. We're as snug as can be as the temperature has plummeted early this Christmas Eve.

I read three books while I was in Vermont and finished two, both of which were Christmas-related fiction. I have continued to enjoy my light reading! After Christmas, I'll enjoy assessing where I'm going with books for the new year.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

I Do Hope I'm Back! At Least That's My Intention

My sincerest apologies to everyone for disappearing these last two and a half months without notice.

What happened:
In mid-September my literary self went AWOL and so far has not been found.

Oh, yes, I'm still reading as much as ever, but without my literary self as director,  I've succumbed to
reading mostly light-weight stuff--romances, light crime with happy endings, and celebrity memoir, with just a few exceptions. If you examine my "Books Read in 2017" sidebar, you will see what I'm talking about. I must say that I've read a number of light reads and romances that have been satisfying. More about that in another post.

I recently finished one of my exceptions, a history/crime combo entitled Death in the Air: The True Story of a Serial Killer, the Great London Smog, and the Strangling of a City by Kate Dawson Winkler, which was published in early November. Winkler is a journalist, and this book is what I'd  call a popular history. It does lay down the facts of the circumstances, causes, and impact of the London Smog of December 1952, but not with great authority. The serial killer aspect is interesting--only three of Christie's victims were murdered during the Great Smog. The rest of his history is also included. I found it very interesting and worth reading.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Early last week we had a few nights that dropped into the mid-thirties Fahrenheit. I didn't think too much about it--it was a much cooler than normal summer--but did I ever wake up when a day or two later all the red maples or "swamp maples" (acer rubrum) in our area started to turn to their autumnal reds and oranges. What a shock! Two weeks too early. I haven't  organized my schedules and my life to take advantage of these beautiful moments before the leaves fall to the earth. I'm not ready! Help!

I'm too busy this month, busier than I like to be, though it's for a beneficial cause.
Reading has had to assume less prominent proportions.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, I have a day to recharge batteries. Mansfield Park! Move on!

And have you heard the good news about Claire Messud's latest novel? I listened to Maureen Corrigan's review of it on NPR late this afternoon, and I will read it soon, just as I've read all of Messud's work. The title is The Burning Girl.

Messud's The Emperor's Children was my best book of the year in the year I read it, introducing me to the full majesty of Messud's literary powers. Awe-inspiring.
I also fully appreciated The Woman Upstairs--a very different novel from the one previous, but a provocative read nonetheless.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Weekend Prayers: Time for Mansfield Park and Other Books

As I've noted in a previous post, this September in particular is an overly busy one for me--not of my choosing. So I've got to capture reading moments and cling to them for dear life!

Because I'm determined to read and finish Mansfield Park this month, I must move forward with serious intent on Saturday and Sunday this weekend--not to the exclusion of outdoor activities, by any means. I guess I'm saying I need to make use of every bit of spare time this weekend that I can to move forward in MP, because it is, after all, I think, Jane Austen's longest book, at about 420 dense pages. Determined to finish it this month for James's Read-along of James Reads Books (see sidebar).

So far I'm finding it a bit of a challenge, as far as themes are concerned. And I do enjoy and feel rewarded by tackling the challenge. More to come on this topic as I read along! I highly recommend this novel, based on the first 60 pages. Such complexity!

THUS! Because MP is dense, I must have another less complex book going, and I've grabbed Sue Grafton's N is for Noose, which is proving to be just the light-hearted private detective sort of thing. For those of you who know me, it's amazing that I haven't picked up a Grafton novel in 19 months!! In this one, Lindsay is stuck in the fictional Lake Nota in the middle of the Yosemite region. It's not a happy place where she's working either, which is typical for Lindsay. In any case, the mystery is excellent fodder for that half-hour before falling asleep.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Thank Goodness for Labor Day Reading

I'm currently in enormous need of a 3-day break. I'm so grateful for three days to let down and rest my brain.

I'm going to begin Jane Austen's Mansfield Park tomorrow morning, which I'm reading for the Jane Austen Read-a-long at James Reads Books. (See sidebar.)  And I'm so glad to know that on Sunday we will have rain. It seems assured.  That will give me time to "sink in" with the books I'm reading, to let my whole being relax, without the feeling that I should take advantage of good weather and hike all day. 

I am also totally absorbed by Anita Shreve's latest novel, The Stars Are Fire, which was published in May. This novel revolves around an actual natural historic event in Maine, in the fall of 1947. My Ken was born in Portland, Maine, during the catastrophe that befell some communities during one of the worst droughts to ever afflict the region. That prolonged drought and unusually torrid summer gave way to autumn wildfires that engulfed thousands of acres in coastal Maine. Ken's parents lived in South Portland at the time, which was spared the fires, but some coastal communities were not so fortunate. (By the way, Stephen King was born in Maine in November 1947).  

Shreve has made a compelling, compulsively readable story of one young family who barely survived the ravages of the wildfires. I heartily recommend this book. I haven't finished it, but I'm glued to the page.