Monday, February 28, 2011

Amaryllis in Blueberry by Christina Meldrum

Amaryllis in Blueberry

by Christina Meldrum

Publisher: Gallery Books, a division of Simon and Schuster

368 pages

ISBN: 978-1-4391-5689-6

Paperback, $15.00

I finished reading this novel over a week and a half ago. I didn't want to scrawl off a review hastily. I had to let it sit for awhile...

"Dick is dead. Seena knows this, of course: her husband is dead. Yet she keeps expecting him to barrel in, his enormous, gangling self plodding along, a spectacle unaware that he is one."

And thus begins Amaryllis in Bluberry.

The novel works from the end to the beginning. Seena Slepy is on trial in a West African village for the murder of her husband, Dick Slepy, missionary. Her judge and jury are the village elders, a witch doctor, and a queen. Through a series of various perspectives and the intertwining of past and present, the reader is given tantalizing glimpses of the motivations that have landed Dick and Seena Slepy to this current tragedy.

The parents of four daughters-- Mary Grace, Mary Catherine, Mary Tess and the youngest, Amaryllis-- Seena and Dick have abruptly departed from their home in Danish Landing, Michigan to escape their individual demons and their rapidly disintegrating marriage. Emotionally guarded, more at home among her mythology than in the real world, Seena has separated herself from her husband and her children, with the exception of Amaryllis. Dick, a pathologist, decides he will follow in his grandfather's footsteps and become a missionary. The implication of this move has far reaching consequences for their daughters. They are suddenly propelled into a country where food is a luxury, good health is a dream, and education is a myth. Gender can mean the difference between whether or not you can read, whether or not you are shunned, whether or not you are someone's slave.

Each individual in this beautifully flawed family is depicted with impressive clarity:

Mary Grace is the beauty who is tired of the role in which she's been cast. She's more than her relationships, more than her looks, and more than what those who are closest to her conceive her to be. Struggling with her own identity and her future (and also the oldest of the daughters), she goes to Africa of her own free will instead of staying enrolled at the university.

Mary Tessa is the daredevil who never halts for the danger signs. Until she goes to Africa and sees the tenuous link to life. The throbbing undercurrent of death, ever present. The suddent snatching of life, in a moment, regardless of age.

Mary Catherine is the daughter most like her mother, and yet most different. A child of the church, she holds true to her faith despite her mother's ridicule and her own crises. Or maybe because of it. She alternates between cutting herself and starving herself as she values the spiritual life more than the earthly one. Her road to some semblance of enlightenment is very interesting.

Amaryllis-Blue eyed, dark child. Youngest. Different in temperament and looks. Favorite child of her mother. Synesthete (something I hadn't read about until this novel). Seer of truth, lies, and everything in between. Adamant that her father is not Dick Slepy, but a Native American Indian she encountered while collecting firewood with Mary Tessa.

Christina Slepy--A woman who on the outside sacrifices her life to her family and her children, but on the inside gives nothing of herself away to them. She wraps herself in the mythology and the gods and goddesses of the past, in order to escape the life that she is living now. She regards her husband with a combination of contempt and animosity. She sums up her children in a catch-phrases (The Beauty, The Daredevil, The Saint, and The Favorite) and never gets to know who they are until she is forced to. Until her oblivion wrenches them further from her than she ever through possible.

Dick Slepy-A man of religion who has his own demons with which he wrestles. A past that haunts him. A wife who shuns him. Shortcomings that plague him. A daughter whose mere presence taunts him with suspicions of his wife's infidelity. A sudden choice to leave life as they know it behind, in order to stay together. The hope of redemption for all of them.

This is an ambitious novel with enormous scope.

Let me tell you why it fell just short of brilliant. The book felt a bit didactive. I felt the author's hand, pushing me in a certain direction. It was always there, nudging. The mythology wasn't woven in as well as it could have been.

 Ex:  Seena is Psyche and intentionally leaving name blank is Eros. He vists her, yet he is invisible to her, and she is in love with him even though she can't see him. Yet isn't it Seena who lit the lamp? Isn't it she who made him run from her? And now she roams the earth, trying in vain to find him and to lose him.

While I loved the mythological aspect, it could have been embedded better, and I suspect that for those who won't like this novel, the mythology will play a huge role.

There were too many obvious, trite phrases

Ex: He is dust from dust. Ashes from ashes. Dead as a doornail. And she has the devil to pay.

Despite these shortcomings, the novel was a joy to read, and it is a certain reread for me. But because I saw the glimmer of genius in Meldrum, this novel was a double edge sword of joy and disappointment for me.
Don't let that keep you from reading this novel. It's still amazing. The scenes are illustrated with such care, you feel you are right in the middle of both Michigan and later West Africa. The ceremonies celebrated by the people and the conditions in which they live are mangificently delineated.

Also, this a wonderful read for feminists. The female characters all refuse to become who others expect them to be. While they make many mistakes along the way, you can't call any one of them shrinking violets.

One wonderful passage:

Even so, Seena mostly complied, let Dick own her on the surface, let him touch nothing beneath. He'd possess her body at times, but that was the surface--another incarnation of taking his name. It was form. Not content. Ritual, not meaning.

So she could cling to the meaningless.

Why didn't she see this? she wonders. Why was she so determined to hollow herself out, let nothing in? So that when lust rained down on her--this torrent--there was nothing at all to keep it out. It trickled into every crack, through every seam. Every cranny and crater and concave void in her being was transformed from parched to pulsing. And she mistook this pulsing for meaning.


★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Story of Stuff

The Story of Stuff

by Annie Leonard

Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster

319 pages

ISBN 978-1-4516-1029-1

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe."

--John Muir, wilderness advocate

This book may garner intense reactions. You may find yourself vowing to make drastic changes to your life. You may throw the book aside in disgust and chalk it up to environmentalists’ hysteria. You might become paralyzed by the staggering scope of problems our industrial complex has created, and simply do nothing and hope a miracle gets us out of this quagmire.

I live in Baytown, Texas. The population here is roughly 70,000. It is the home to one of the biggest oil refinery-complexes in the world: ExxonMobil. It is also home to several other refineries like Chevron Phillips and Bayer. When you drive about 15 miles southwest on Highway 146 then take the Highway to 225 to Pasadena, you run smack dab into a wall of stench that seems to be a solution of rotten eggs, steamed cauliflower and rubber.
They don’t call it Stink-adena for nothing.
And while the industry is the bread and butter for many residents, we are very aware of the environmental implications. The Baytown Nature Center is what was formerly known as the Brownwood Subdivision, an affluent neighborhood in the 1970’s. That is, until the ground dropped between 10-15 feet due to a depleted water table. What depleted resources started, Hurricane Alicia finished.  The houses were then condemned, the area was vacated for about 20 years, and then ExxonMobil and the community worked together to turn it into a nature preserve.
We know about consumption. We know about waste. We know about depleted natural resources.
But when I read Annie Leonard's book, I could feel a chill go up my spine. And the more I read, the worse I felt.

Annie herself discusses this:

One friend told me me that reading this kind of information actually makes her want to go shopping because it is such a relief to be in a situation where your biggest concern is if your shoes match your purse. People everywhere are experiencing crisis fatigue. Heck, there are flu pandemics, freak storms, unemployment, and foreclosures to worry about. The thing is, we don't have a choice.
No, we don't. We live on this planet, and if it goes, we go. We haven't yet discovered a habitable place for human beings.

And still:

  • We use 98 tons of various other resources to make 1 ton of paper. Yes, you read that correctly.
  • The Fresh Kill landfill on Staten Island is said to have a volume comparable to that of The Great Wall of China and is taller than the Statue of Libery.
  • In trying to reduce our reliance on petrochemicals for fuel, we have destroyed the environment in other ways. Now, tropical rainforest are being cut down in order to creat farmland to grow those very biofuels. You're kidding me right? Sadly, no.
  • In the US, we spend more than 20 billion dollars on our lawns. Get this: with power motors "so inefficient they 800 millions of gasoline a year."
This is just a small sampling of the facts you will find in here. There are many, many others. You will never look at your cheeseburger in the same way. You will wonder at the true cost of that pair of shoes, or that watch, or this leather purse.

Because it's paid for all right. And not just with your money.

But Leonard isn't just doom and gloom. She actually gives you a list of ways you can help contribute to a better environment.

  • Reuse. Noting the effects of mineral extraction, the author has her fiancee buy her an antique ring instead of a new one. I really like that idea.
  • Don't buy teflon nonstick pans. (Did you know their fumes can kill your household birds? What are they doing to your kids?)
  • Reduce your waste. Buy reusable water bottles.
  • Compost. Your trash won't stink and your garden might look a little nicer.
  • Get a clothesline. I have such fond memories of helping my grandmother take down the laundry off the line. I'd love to do that with my girls.
  • Avoid PVC. period.
And for those of you that would like to take it a bit futher, write a letter. To companies, congressmen, your local politicians. Remember they work for you. Leonard even provides a sample letter to PVC retailers, manufacturers, and lobbyists.

We're all together on this rock hurtling through space. Let's take care of our home.

Start with a little. Make a resolution to change one thing. Then add another.

 If we all do this, we can start a chain reaction. It's better than sticking our heads in the sand hoping a miracle will save us.

Oh yeah, and stop by The Story of Stuff Project to learn more about ways you can help, check out the author's book tour, and scour through other available resources.

Don't forget to watch the video, either!

*I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for my review. This no way affects my opinion.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday -- Movie Adaptations

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

Each week they post a new Top Ten list complete with a bloggers’ answers. Everyone is welcome to join. All they ask is that you link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND post a comment on our post with a link to your Top Ten Tuesday post to share with us and all those who are participating. If you don't have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. If you can't come up with ten, don't worry about it---post as many as you can!

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

The chemistry between Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman is this film is sweat inducing. See for yourself.

Though Tennessee Williams was outraged that the question of Brick's homosexual tendencies was too toned down for his tastes, this movie was an excellent redition of the play. Most people who watched this would more than likely have read the play beforehand, anyhow, so I don't think it's too of a deal.

Storyline: Maggie the Cat and Brick go celebrate Brick's father's 65th birthday and welcome the news that he doesn't have cancer after all. It is all a sham, however, and the children are all vying for his favor in order to gain most of the inheritance. The issue of Brick and Maggie's childlessness looms over the entire play, and one wonders what has happened that has made Brick so vile to Maggie.

From The Terrace

This is an adaptation of John O'Hara's novel of the same name. Paul Newman and Joanna Woodward star in this film about ambition, obsession, a loveless marriage and the lies one tells to get what one wants.

The Painted Veil

Movie is loosely based on W. Somerset Maugham's novel of the same name.

A British medical doctor fights a cholera outbreak in a small Chinese village, while also being trapped at home in a loveless marriage to an unfaithful wife.

Movie and book have HUGE differences. Movie, however, has artistic merits of its own and should not be discounted for its departure from the Maugham work.

Be prepared for a simply gorgeous setting and supber acting.

Gone With The Wind

Again, a movie that differs a bit from the original work, but the core stays true to the artist's intent. Margaret Mitchell's novel was a masterpiece of the Civil War and tells the story about Katie Scarlet O'Hara, a girl who grows up on a plantation named Tara, against the backdrop of changing times and a ravaging war.

From Here to Eternity

Written by James Jones, the novel centers around military life on the island of Hawaii, in the days leading up to the attck on Pearl Harbor.

The movie stars some great actors, including Burt Lancastor, Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift and Frank Sinatra. It won 8 Academy Awards and has become a classic on its own.


The play was written by Margaret Edson and centers around a renown professor who is dying from cancer. While undergoing chemo, she reexamines her life, her treatment of her students over the years, the relationship she had with her own teacher and her imminent death.

Emma Thompson is a revelation in this movie.

Bring tissues. Or towels.


Play written by Patrick Marber. This movie and Wit are directed by Mike Nichols.

A young woman is hit by a taxi and a young man takes her to the emergency room. They fall in love. A year later, this young man has written a book based on his girlfriend's previous life as a stripper. When he meets a photographer to have his book jacket done, he falls in love with her and all sorts of love, lust, and betrayal take place between these characters and also a dermatologist.

Clive Owen, Julia Roberts, Natalie Portman, and Jude Law star.

7's all I got for today. The gears are shifting slowly.

I didn't sleep well last night.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Feminism, Literature, and Criticism

It's just one of those mornings when feminism is on my ass. Meaning, it's easy to be a stay at home mom, safe in my little cave, complacent with my life, lazy with my time. Then, I wake up this morning and check my email.

I get feeds from Bookzilla, whose blog I happen to unabashedly love. This morning her post was a review of a YA paranormal romance, something I wouldn't typically read. But, I wanted to see what she I took a peek.

While Amy is quick to point out the flaws or annoying techniques of the novel, she is also quick to point out its merits and what could have been done to make the story and writing better.

She concludes:

Despite the creepy, sexually possessive vibes most of the male characters seem to have, throughout Nightshade there are some moments of pure feminist genius. While Calla’s mother is overly obsessed with ensuring that her daughter remains “a lady,” and everyone else seems way too interested in making sure Calla stays “pure,” Calla hits the nail on the head:

“As if I want to be a lady. All it means is that I have to pretend I don’t feel anything but a sense of duty.”

I think that statement is just as relevant now as it was 50 years ago, or even 100 or 200.

I wish that Nightshade played less into the stereotypes: possessive, jealous men; sexual possession; the idea that such themes should be presented in a way to titillate readers.

Instead, there should have been more focus on the mystery, the secrets that the Keepers have kept.

It’s the mystery and the need to know what happens that, for me anyway, made the cringe-worthy “teen romance” aspects bearable.

While the only YA paranormal I've read is Twilight, The Mortal Instruments series, and Shiver, I have noticed a trend in both those books and chick-lit: there is almost ALWAYS a love triangle.


Are we telling our girls that they're only worthwhile if a man, or better yet, two, want them? Are we telling them that a controlling man is better because it means they love them so much they(men) can't control their own impulses (see Edward in Twilight)?

As I related to Amy, I finished two books yesterday: Amaryllis in Blueberry and Can You Keep A Secret? In one book (CYKAS), we see the helpless girly-girl who can't make heads or tails of her own life and it isn't until she meets a strong man that she begins to get her life together. In the other (AiB), the central character's mother is a total selfish bitch. Why? Because she is in love with a man who isn't her husband, she's an adulteress, and she wants more for her girls than the daily drudgery of housework.

I watched The Blair Witch Project over the weekend. I hadn't seen it since its release over ten years ago. I started noticing how freaking anti-feminist the message was. The girl who wants to do this project is seen as a ball busting, controlling, manipulative, amibitious witch. She's blamed for the entire situation, the losing of the map (though we find it's not her fault) etc etc ad nauseam. The men gang up against her and demonize her and our little bedtime story is how it's dangerous to be ambitious if you're a woman.

A few years ago, I read Tom Perrotta's Little Children. I loved it. I mean, I've read it so many times I'm slightly embarrassed. But what was so interesting about it was the critical acclaim it received. I didn't get it: if a woman had written this novel, it would have been described as another eyeroll-worthy novel of dubious literary merit. But because a man had written it, it was genius. Scathing satire on suburbia. Something like that.

In one of Book Slut's features, Twenty Three Shorts on Women and Criticism, the writer's No. 14 reads:

When writers Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Weiner coined the term “Franzenfreude” on Twitter, they started an Internet kerfuffle. It pivoted around the fact that women who write novels about family drama and suburban malaise are relegated to that literary backwater know as “chick lit,” but when Jonathan Franzen explored the same topics in Freedom, he received critical acclaim. Is it because his book is better than their books, or does it have to do with the fact that we’re not critical of those doing the acclaiming? We all love to see ourselves reflected on the page, and that’s part of it. If the majority of critics are men, they might have a harder time seeing themselves reflected in a book with pink stilettos on the cover, even if the content isn’t all that different from Franzen’s manly forest-covered, lumberjack-sized tome.

The Book Slut also covers the statistics gathered by VIDA, Women in Literary Arts. In their research of 2010 publications, they've found that woman are massively underrepresented.

We know women write. We know women read. It’s time to begin asking why the 2010 numbers don’t reflect those facts with any equity. Many have already begun speculating; more articles and groups are pointing out what our findings suggest: the numbers of articles and reviews simply don’t reflect how many women are actually writing.

The entire article can be read here.

The point of today's entry? It's easy to tell ourselves that we've come so far...we're now working on a level playing field and it's all meritocracy from here. Thus, we lull ourselves back to inaction.
And the status quo remains.

We can't afford to do that any longer. What are we teaching our daughters?


As a new blogger, I can't express how relieved I am that I now have a big circle of women to talk to about books, life, and all these concerns. Llevinso at Sarcastic Female Literary Circle is one of these...and she explores the Feminist Viewpoint on a much more frequent level, so take a look at her blog if you get a chance.

Mailbox Monday (2)

Mailbox Monday is a meme started by Marcia at The Printed Page. It has since been turned into a touring meme and is being hosted by The Library of Clean Reads for the month of February.

I got a LOT of books last week. I bought thirty at  my local library from their discard pile and still have them stacked in the garage. I also bought a few at the thrift store. In addition to that, I've had publishers send me some for review (one of which I will post on Thursday--Day of Honey).

And so here goes:

In the fall of 2003, Annia Ciezadlo spent her honeymoon in Baghdad. Over the next six years, while living in Baghdad and Beirut, she broke bread with Shiites and Sunnis, warlords and refugees, matriarchs and mullahs. Day of Honey is her memoir of the hunger for food and friendship—a communion that feeds the soul as much as the body in times of war.

"Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of sel-pity."

I read Didion's memoir over a year ago and loved it. Although I've never read one of her books (not even Play it As it Lays), I have read some of her essays. This woman doesn't waste a word. There is no frill, not a  flowery adjective in sight. This was a 5 out of 5 star read and I'm glad I now own it.

While I'm the fence with Oates being a literary genius, she sure can spin a story. In this novel (her 37th!) we follow the Jacob Schwart and his family as they flee Nazi Germany to settle in a small town in upstate New York. Formerly a math teacher, Schwart is reduced to being a gravedigger and living in squalor. His children are bullied and the target of rampant racism. The family itself unravels and in a tragic moment, the youngest daughter Rebecca, finds herself alone in the world. She will reinvent herself and by will alone live the American dream.

Something about Oates writing-it simultaneously repels and intrigues. This was another book I'd already read, but didn't own. Glad I finally do.

 I've heard so much about Kinsella, I had to see for myself what the fuss was about. Kinsella is the pen name of Madeliene Wickham (and she's started writing under her real name as well) and she is best known as a chick-lit writer. While I try not to read too much chick-lit, I have to say, I've been very surprised with the talents of people like Allison Winn Scotch, Bridget Asher, Elizabeth Flock, and even Emily Giffin. I'd heard the premise of Can You Keep a Secret and decided it was worth a look. I read it yesterday and will be posting a review sometime today.

(Courtesy of BookSneeze)To say I'm not a history buff is a gross understatement. I read a history book maybe twice or three times a year. I like to keep my reading to wikipedia articles and the occasional flip through a reference book. Mostly, if I want to know something about a certain period, I'll read historical fiction.

Why this book is interesting: I've never really researched the Civil War period. I'd like something that holds my interest in 5 minute segments, which this work does. It highlights the oddities and little known facts of the Civil War, and it assumes that I know absolutely nothing about the war, or the people involved in it. And since I don't, I am really enjoying this compendium of obscure facts.

(Received this from Goodreads).

Product Description--
Its doomed hero is Arthur Phillips, a young man struggling with a larger-than-life father, a con artist who works wonders of deception but is a most unreliable parent. Arthur is raised in an enchanted world of smoke and mirrors where the only unshifting truth is his father’s and his beloved twin sister’s deep and abiding love for the works of William Shakespeare—a love so pervasive that Arthur becomes a writer in a misguided bid for their approval and affection.
Haven't yet started this one. Will probably do so next week, and take it on solely (meaning I won't be reading anything else). I hear it's complicated and a difficult read so I don't want any distractions.

(Received this through Net Galley)

Arlen Wagner has an awful gift: he can see death in the eyes of men before it strikes.

He's never wrong.

So when Arlen awakens on a train one hot Florida night and sees death's telltale sign in the eyes of his fellow passengers, he tries to warn them. Only 19-year-old Paul Brickhill believes him, and the two abandon the train, hoping to escape certain death.

What did you receive in your mailbox? Is there anything you're dying to read?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Literary Blog Hop Feb. 17-20: The One Book You Need-- Stanley Kunitz's Collected Poems

This week's literary blog hop question comes from Mel U from The Blue Bookcase.
Mel u from The Reading Life says:
Not long ago I read and posted on The Harp of Burma by Michio Takeyama, 1966. It is one of the very best novels about WWII, written from the point of view of a Japanese Buddhist who was drafted as a combat soldier. He had no idea how long he would be gone or if he would really ever return. He had room in his backpack for one book, so he took The Red and the Black by Stendhal. He carried it through the jungles of South Asia for 4 years. He said it helped keep him sane in the face of all the horrors he saw. This made me wonder what work of literary fiction I would take with me under similar circumstances."

If you were going off to war (or some similarly horrific situation) and could only take one with you, which book would you take and why?

The question itself asks for a book, not necessarily literary fiction. My answer is Stanley Kunitz's Collected Poems.

I was first introduced through Kunitz while rifling through the poetry section of one of my introductory English textbooks. The poem was An Old Cracked Tune.
My name is Solomon Levi,
the desert is my home,
my mother's breast was thorny,
and father I had none.

The sands whispered, Be separate,
the stones taught me, Be hard.
I dance, for the joy of surviving,
on the edge of the road.

From that one short little poem, I had to find out more about this poet. I looked some more and found his works scattered through poetry anthologies and introductory english textbooks. When I finally bought the Collected Poems, I couldn't stop reading it; It was like all of what it means to be human was encapsulated in this small volume. If you want to read about youthful love, read his First Love.

At his incipient sun
The ice of twenty winters broke,
Crackling, in her eyes.

If you are in a dark place and are immobilized by dread and fear, read The Testing Tree.

In a murderous time
the heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
through dark and deeper dark
and not to turn.
Then there is Passing Through, a poem about a man explaning himself to his wife. The conclusion is one of the stunners that is so typical of Kunitz...his writing seems effortless, but we all know, it's not.

Whatever you choose to claim
of me is always yours:
nothing is truly mine
except my name. I only
borrowed this dust.

Unrequited love? Read After The Last Dynasty, a poem that alludes to Li Po, and one of the ones I can read over and over and over again and marvel every time. "Loving you was a kind of Chinese guerilla war," he says and you feel those battles within you...and then the end:

Pet, spitfire, blue-eyed pony,
here is a new note
I want to pin on your door,
though I am ten years late
and you are nowhere:
Tell me,
are you still mistress of the valley,
what trophies drift downriver,
why did you keep me waiting

Kunitz's poems are a celebration of life: the mystery, the anguish, the love, the hate, the transience of youth, the promises made and broken, the children you pray for, the spouses you love and then lose...If I had only one book, this would be it.

And one last excerpt, from The Abduction:

Our lives are spinning out
from world to world;
the shapes of things
are shifting in the wind.
What do we know
beyond the rapture and the dread?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Review: Becoming George Sand

Title: Becoming George Sand

Author: Rosalind Brackenbury

Publisher: Mariner Books

Release Date: March 17, 2011

Pages: 304

"Is it the times we live in that make it necessary to stay together rather than fly apart?"

I'm an easy mark for novels with bookish heroines. Add to that, bookish heroines who identify with either a literary character or a long deceased writer, and I'm a goner.

You get the point.

In Becoming George Sand, we get a cornucopia of all things literary. The main character, Maria, is a writer who finds herself stuck between a husband and a lover. She is happy enough in the domesticity of her everyday life to not want a divorce, but she seeks the element of passion with her younger lover, a scientist named Sean. She looks to Aurore Dupin aka George Sand for guidance. The 19th century novelist/memoirist seemed to enjoy more freedom than modern day women. Sand embarked on a 4-5 year long "Romantic Rebellion" after divorcing her husband in 1831,  and went on to have numerous affairs with some of the most important writers and artists of her day.

"What can seem ordinary, now? She has no idea. She has arrived somewhere where she doesn't know the customs, can't read the signs, and there is no one, except a dead French writer, to give her a clue."

 Maria knows that although she lives in an era more seemingly accepting of unconventional women, she cannot keep this up for much longer. She begins researching the life of Sand--her relationship with her mother, her relationships with different men (platonic and romantic), her relationship with her children, and why Sand had this craving for love that not be sated, despite the number of lovers she had.

"Her hands hold the book as if it were a passport."

When Maria and her botanist husband travel to Majorca, the very same place where Sand and her young lover, Chopin, stayed in 1838-1839, the situation comes to a head. It is then that Maria's life changes.  In compiling a biography of Sand's life, Maria figures out just what she wants out of her hers. She connects with old friends, dissects her own relationship with both men, and goes out on her own to discover her aspirations, her fears, her desires.

In being forced to change her circumstances, Maria's life shakes off the stagnation and decay that lead to her own ennui. An end leads to a new beginning. Maria begins to see that she should not demand more of her husband than she expects from herself. The ever repeating motions of the days lead to a sort of death of the soul, and thus, of love. How can passion survive that?

"If you are western and middle-class at this time in history, you have to be dislodged from comfort, or dislodge yourself. If you want to live fully, you have to give something up quite deliberately, for nothing is going to do it to you, you are too safe."

Becoming George Sand is a moving, lyrical novel that transcends time and place. The plight of woman, past and present, moves us to examine our own lives. Are we merely plodding through this existence, or are we living? I would recommend this book to any woman-- whether you like the fluffy reads, or the meaty classics... This is a definite reread for me.

"It's on the tender inside of life, where everything begins again..."

*I received a free ARC of this novel thanks to the publisher and Netgalley. This in no way influenced my opinion of the novel.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Review: Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut

Title: Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut

Author: Jill Kargman

Published: Feb. 1, 2011

Publisher: William Morrow

176 pages

Some of us mommies don't fit in with the others. We paint our nails black, or wear converse. We say inappropriate things or don't participate in fundraisers. Sometimes we roll our eyes at school administrators or cut in the car line. You would think we'd have learned by now how to fit in a little more. How to keep our mouths closed from time to time. How to be an adult.

For those of you who rail against conformity, I recommend you read this book: Jill Kargman's Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut: Essays and Observations. You will laugh. You will be scandalized. You might look over your shoulder a time or two, hoping no one sees what the fuss is about. You will cover your mouth in horror. And then you will laugh again.

Kargman tells you just why she has a deep aversion to clowns. And you will never hire one for your child's birthday party again.  She will let you glimpse a day in the life of the momzillas that will have you swear against overstructured schedules and timelines. She will even give you a list of vocab words she wants to see in heavy rotation again. She will tell you why she's a gay man trapped in a woman's body (funniest chapter in the book!) And there are sweet chapters in here as well: one devoted to her apartment, which saw her through the good, the bad, the ugly, and the transitional. We  learn how Kargman's vanity saves her life. And even funnier, how Jill's daughter is learning to be a bad-ass like her mom...

At one point, Jill's daughter gets in trouble at school:

"At pickup one day when Sadie was three, the teachers, stifling a smile, informed me that my little smocked-dress-wearing daughter said the F word.

Mildly mortified, I asked for more details.

'Well,' said the teacher, 'Charlie told her that her dress was hideous and she told him to fuck off.'

'Oh, okay, well, she used it in the right context then!' was my reply."

I'm not going to lie. I've instructed my girls to say/do things that might land them in detention one day. But at least the little boy picking on her in the bus will learn his lesson.
There are some downsides: the book is dedicated to Woody Allen, whose name makes me break out into a nauseatingly cold sweat. That's a personal thing, I guess: I'm not a big fan of Woody Allen or the Soon Yi debacle. Second, the author tries a little too hard to sound trendy and blase that sometimes it seems like you're watching a bad episode of Will and Grace. It's rare, but it does happen. Other than that, I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to any woman who doesn't quite fit it in with the other perfect mommies.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Weekend Warrior: The Re-match

Amaryllis in Blueberry

My opponent is my slacker self from the first endeavor. My failure reached epic proportions. I slept more that weekend than I had all of last year. Really--who sleeps 14 hours at a time?

The challenge: I have 4 basketball games to juggle with a UIL meet, and loads of housecleaning. Also, a sick baby to tend to (he's 37, no less).

The content:

1. Amaryllis in Blueberry (read all of book and have review posted by Sunday afternoon.)

2. Emma--finish it already!!

3. Curiousities of the Civil War --get to page 100.

4. Villette-catch up on read-a-long.

5. Becoming George Sand--finish it.

6. Post review for Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut.

EmmaCuriosities of the Civil War: Strange Stories, Infamous Characters and Bizarre EventsVillette

Becoming George SandSometimes I Feel Like a Nut: Essays and Observations

Review: Bloodline

by Kate Carey
Realease Date August 2005
Publisher: Razorbill

Typically, I'd be embarrassed to admit I've read another Dracula-based book. Add to that it's YA. And then of course there's the fact that my daughter handed it to me and said--You HAVE to read this. "It's, like, that good." So, I'm procrastinating "Emma," and I haven't been following the "Villette" read-a-long very well. My brain feels like mush this week and reading the classics is like waxing my own legs. I'd just rather not.

So.Bloodline is about a man-- John Shaw-- who encounters Quincy Harker during the height of World War I. Harker is Shaw's regiment's commander and the rest of the troops are in awe of his (Harker) commanding presence, and his bravery. Nightly, Harker goes it alone and raids the opposing army. Soon, there are rumors that a beast or devil is on the loose...Shaw knows that things aren't adding up. When Harker invites Shaw to accompany him on one of the nightly raids, Shaw is terrified of what he will learn. Before long, Shaw is hospitalized because of his wounds and he basically loses his mind. Now a patient at a sanatorium, he meets Mary Seward, the daughter of Jack Seward (from the original B. Stoker Dracula). To John's deep horror, Harker makes a suprise visit to see if Shaw's health is improving. And worse, he meets Lily, John's sister. When a relationship blooms between the two, Mary Seward and John Shaw vow to go to the ends of the earth to save her from the grip of evil.

The novel was a fast read. Sylistically, it was simple, straightforward. Plot-wise, it was pretty much faithful to Broker's original, with a few twists here and there. Suspense was built up pretty well, and there was a lack of the cheesy factor I've found to be present in many YA vampire novels. All in all, a good read. It was nice that my daughter and I could read the same book and enjoy it. I am hoping this gets her to read the original, but I'm not holding my breath. "But's, like, so old-style." Whatever that means....

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Revisits, Reworkings, and Tributes to the Classics

The classics are the classics. Obviously. Regardless of gender, age, culture, and time, these books are celebrated because of their universal themes. People in Texas and Paris (not Paris, Texas) can identify with them. They inspire us to see the world in a new way. To love. To be. To do. To think.

They inspire music. They inspire artists. They inspire movies. They inspire their own little offshoots.

Novels are written--some are reworkings of the original, others revisit the classic through one of the lesser known characters, and some plots refer to the stories of the classics, either as a symbol, or to pay homage to the literary greatness of said novel.

How many modern novels have been either inspired by the works of Jane Austen, or the life of Jane Austen herself? I went to Borders this weekend and saw literally dozens of books about Mr. Darcy. Millions of women must have fallen madly in love with this centuries old character in order for the publishing industry to still be churning these out.

So, I thought about making a modest little list of revisits, reworkings, or tributes to The Greats. Some of them I've read, some of them I plan on reading, and some of them I've heard about nonstop.

Do you have any to add to this list?

What Happened to Anna K by Irina Reyn

Anna K is a 36 year old, vivacious women who is bored to death in her tightly knit Russian Jewish community in Queens. She is married to Alex, an older businessman, but feels like she is suffocating in this life that has been chosen for her. Until, that is, she meets her younger cousin's boyfriend, a writer. In idealizing this man, she puts together her own ruination. A wonderful reworking of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina.

The Hours
                                      by Michael Cunningham

This novel pays homage to Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. The story centers around three women: Woolf in 1923, awakening from a dream; a 52 yr old Clarissa Vaughn in present time (planning a party); and Laura Brown, in 1949, who is reading Mrs. Dalloway. Woolf sought to write a novel about the day in a life of a woman, and what a novel she wrote. It brims luminescent with life, but the  throbbing, underlying presence of death is everywhere as well, and the imagery of the flowers serves to remind us of the fragility and transience of both.

Little Children
by Tom Perrotta

In a sentence: Emma Bovary stuck in the suburbs. Sarah, a former feminist and sometimes-lesbian, is surrounded by momzillas and occupied with playdates conducted with military precision. Her husband, much older than her (and not at all like the original husband of M. Bovary), is a self-satisfied successful businessman who also happens to be addicted to porn. Todd, dubbed the Prom King by the momzillas, is a stay at home dad who never quite made it out into the real world, while his wife, a documentary writer, is stuck in its trenches. They all live a relatively complacent life until a pedophile moves into the neighborhood. What follows is a stinging satire of adulthood and the mundanity and dramaof  married life and suburbia.

Becoming George Sand
by Rosalind Brackenberry
(to be released March 17, 2011)

Product Description: Maria Jameson is having an affair—a passionate, lifechanging affair. She asks: Is it possible to love two men at once? Must this new romance mean an end to love with her husband?
For answers, she reaches across the centuries to George Sand, the maverick French novelist who took many lovers. Immersing herself in the life of this revolutionary woman, Maria struggles with the choices women make and wonders if women in the nineteenth century might have been more free, in some ways, than their twenty-first-century counterparts. (I cannot wait to read this one!)

The Jane Austen Book Club

by Karen Joy Fowler

A group of women get together to discuss all the novels of J. Austen. If you haven't gotten around to reading the original novels out of intimidation, this is the novel that will familiarize you with some of the storylines, and propel you into a world of Austen you won't forget.

by Shannon Hale

Jane Hayes loves Mr. Darcy, as played by Coling Firth. She is a mite obsessed. Okay, more than that. When she wins a trip to an estate that recreates the novels of Austen, she is thrust into a role she has only dreamed about. And then she meets the man who plays Mr. Darcy. Is this a role, or is she really falling in love. A nice fluff piece of chick lit that will make you laugh at yourself and the heroine.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Mistress
by Dai Sijie

Two childhood friends are sent to be re-educated in the rural farming villages thanks to Chairman Mao during China's Cultural Revolution. Novels are banned. Even thinking is censored. When they come upon a stack of Chinese translations of  the classics, they and a young seamstress are forever changed. A truly engrossing novel that reads like a fable.

This is a prequel to Jane Eyre. By another writer. And since I haven't yet read Jane E., I haven't yet read this one, either. I know, I should be ashamed for putting these too off. I know, I know...

Imagine the madwoman in the attic. This is her story. I've heard it's a trule amazing story, so  I will get to it soon. I promise.

Dracula, the Undead
Dacre Stoker (descendent of Bram)

Not as good as the original, but then, what is? A fast paced thriller that is still an excellent read.

"Dracula The Un-Dead begins in 1912, twenty-five years after Dracula "crumbled into dust." Van Helsing's protégé, Dr. Jack Seward, is now a disgraced morphine addict obsessed with stamping out evil across Europe. Meanwhile, an unknowing Quincey Harker, the grown son of Jonathan and Mina, leaves law school for the London stage, only to stumble upon the troubled production of "Dracula," directed and produced by Bram Stoker himself.

Doctor Faustus
by Thomas Mann

Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus has spawned countless adaptations. One is by Goethe and is one of the best German plays ever written. In this reworking, Mann writes about musician Adrian Leverkuhn, who enters into a pact with the devil for musical genius. It is told from the perspective of his childhood friend. The storyline parallells the corruption of Germany as a nation. This is one tough novel to read, let me tell you. It's taken me months to get through it, still not finished, but it is one of the best novels I've ever read. I'm reading an older translation, and I hear there's a new one out that's fantastic. I'll get to it when I'm done with my current read.

Matthew Pearl has several novels that pay homage to classics. One of them is The Dante Club, a thriller that revolves around the publication of Henry W. Longfellow's translation of Dante's The Divine Comedy.

He also recently published Poe's Shadow.

The Last Dickens open on Dicken's death and tries to solve the mystery of his last, unfinished novel.

 Peter Ackroyd: The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein.

"When two nineteenth-century Oxford students—Victor Frankenstein, a serious researcher, and the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley—form an unlikely friendship, the result is a tour de force that could only come from one of the world's most accomplished and prolific authors. " This one sounds like an interesting, read...

Arturo Perez Reverte: Th Club Dumas

Remember Johnny Depp's The Ninth Gate? Well, it was based on this book. And the book was better.

Phantom of the Opera
by Susan Kay

Kay's novel is a prequel to the original Phantom of the Opera, and tells it from the fiend's point of view.
It's a haunting, lyrical story of a child unloved by all. Publisher's Weekly called it "poetic exploration of a man's internal conflict between good and evil and of a search for love amidst darkness and despair."

I haven't included any of the books I've recently reviewed, like Drood, Alice I Have Been, and Our Tragic Universe. But they are worth a read, too.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Review:The Inheritance of Beauty

Title: The Inheritance of Beauty

Author: Nicole Seitz

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

320 pages

 As a granddaughter of a man with advanced Alzheimer's, I've sat across the table from him many times and been crushed by the visage of a back bent with age, eyes cloudy with cataracts, and hands trembling from over-exertion. My grandfather was a legend in his own right, dashingly handsome and charismatic beyond measure. And sadly, I only saw sparse vestiges of this throughout my lifetime. I've relied mostly on stories from relatives and my mother to cobble together my own personal portrait of this man.

Sometimes I wonder what he must have been like in his youth, fiery and full of the will to bend fate to suit his aims. Sometimes he lets hints slip--musings and regrets--and I stash them away for later consumption. This man is a mystery to me.

So, I appreciate a novel like The Inheritance of Beauty. A story that opens with the 92 yr George Jacobs who is living in a nursing home with his wife, Maggie. Having suffered several strokes in the last few years, Maggie has been rendered mute, and she is not always lucid. A man who still loves his wife with the intensity of youth, but the depth that comes with age, George is haunted by a series of traumatic events that were a defining moment for him and other residents of his hometown, including his wife. Though George is through with his past, his past is not through with him, which becomes apparent when a long lost stranger shows up at his nursing home after 80 yrs, as does a long lost portrait of his wife. What does this all mean? What can come of it? As George struggles to piece together old memories and new revelations, he also copes with the burden of a long kept secret that has been a source of much personal anguish.

The novel is told from alternating viewpoints: that of George, Maggie, and several other characters, from 1929, fast forwarding 80 some years. The suddent shift is a bit confusing, and may put off some readers. While there are some lovely passages, I was left wishing that it was more well written. There were themes that I also felt weren't explored thoroughly enough. The emphasis on beauty, and the blessing and curse it can become was something I wish had been developed more. I felt as if the biblical theme of the sins of the father struggled with theme of the dangers of beauty for the limelight, and won.

Still, I enjoyed the novel and immensely enjoyed my time with George Black. I do wish the other characters had been as finely wrought, and I can only hope that like Sue Grafton, Nicole Seitz's writing will improve with each novel she writes.

If you liked Secrets of the Divine Sisterhood or The Notebook, then I would recommend you read this one.

Some wonderful excerpts:

"I saw magic once, real magic, and there's something I've come to understand after all these years :magic can come from one of two places, up above or down below."

"No matter how much you want your beauty to stat hidden, people will go to great lengths to reveal it to the masses. But it's dangerous, beauty is. I've always known it. And it doesn't last. Just look at what happened to my mother."

"There are some things I guess we bury so we can get on with living. I don't think it's wrong, necessarily, just what we do to survive. It's the remembering part that's hard. Some people remember and some never have to. The blessed and the cursed."

* I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Top Ten Characters I'd Name my kids after

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. This meme was created because they are particularly fond of lists over at The Broke and the Bookish. I'm sure they'd love to share your lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten list.
1. Emma -- Done that. After Emma in Madame Bovary. It's a cautionary thing. Also, I'm praying she'll be a writer.

2. Anna--Done that too. After Anna Karenina. It's supposed to remind them of what NOT to be, or do. But also a connection to two of the most well known characters in literature.

3. Sophie--From The Razor's Edge. And Emma's middle name. Went with the more traditional Sophia. Sounded better together, anyway.

4. Cassandra--Been here. Greek tragic figure and daughter of King Priam.

5. Elizabeth--Also done that.(Oldest daughter's middle name) for Elizabeth Bennett and my mom. Two birds and all that nonsense.

-------------And if I decided to lose my sanity and have 5 more children, I'd name them:---------------

6. Helen-- I just love this name. And who wouldn't want to be named after the most beautiful woman in the world?

7. Evangeline--After Longfellow's poem.

8. Miriam--From D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers. Always liked the name.

9. Magdalene--From the Bible.

10. Joseph--It's the only boy name I actually can see myself naming my never to be son. Absolutely love the name.