Saturday, August 11, 2018

Diving in together

The Lido by Libby Page 

On Goodreads, the blurb for this novel says “Kate is a twenty-six-year-old riddled with anxiety and panic attacks who works for a local paper in Brixton, London, covering forgettably small stories. When she’s assigned to write about the closing of the local lido (an outdoor pool and recreation center), she meets Rosemary, an eighty-six-year-old widow who has swum at the lido daily since it opened its doors when she was a child. It was here Rosemary fell in love with her husband, George; here that she’s found communion during her marriage and since George’s death. The lido has been a cornerstone in nearly every part of Rosemary’s life.” This is a very good summary of this book, although it wasn’t evident to me that Rosemary had been swimming at the Lido “since it opened its doors” but that’s a minor point. 

Friday, August 3, 2018

Continuing to be

I am, I am, I am: Seventeen Brushes with Death by Maggie O’Farrell 

Goodreads calls this book a “memoire with a difference - the unputdownable story of an extraordinary woman's life in near-death experiences.” They also say it is “Shocking, electric, unforgettable,” and comment that “It is a book to make you question yourself. What would you do if your life was in danger, and what would you stand to lose?” Well, I couldn’t agree more with this summary, but to be honest, I think it is even more than that. 

My regular readers will know that I don’t usually read non-fiction, but this is Maggie O’Farrell, and well, I’ve been in love with her writing for years. Plus, the title indicated that this wasn’t an autobiography so much as a collection of experiences, which is far more to my taste. That is why the opportunity to get a glimpse into her life, even if it isn’t about the lighter side of her world, was irresistible to me, despite my worry that this might be heavy going. Thankfully, even though some (if not all) of these experiences were obviously traumatic in one way or another, somehow O’Farrell was able to portray them in a way that stuns us, yet never repulses us. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

Bottling their History

The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah 

Kate knows that if she’s ever going to pass the Masters of Wine test, she’ll have to learn much more about French wines, particularly the ones from Burgundy. To do that, she’ll decides it’s time to go back to France, where her family’s ancient vineyards are nestled in that part of the country. While helping with the harvest, her cousin’s wife asks Kate to help her clean out the old “cave” in the hopes of maybe using the space for a part of a future B&B. That’s when they discover, behind an old armoire, a part of the cave that’s been hidden since WWII, and what it holds will surprise everyone. 

I first became familiar Mah’s writing four years ago, when I read her non-fiction work “Mastering the Art of French Eating.” So, when I saw this novel available on Edelweiss, I decided to give her fiction a try. Since I already knew of her love of France, I was certain that a novel set there would be interesting, and I wasn’t wrong. What Mah brings us is a story that brings the past and the present together with a big mystery and a touch of romance. But don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a romance novel, although the connection between Kate and Jean-Luc does play into the story. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Theatrical Turbulence

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood. 

It was Felix’s dream to mount his own version of Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest” at the  (Canadian) Makeshiweg Theater festival, but before he could get started, he found himself ousted as their artistic director. That was the last blow, since came on the heels of a broken marriage, and even worse, the death of his adored three-year-old daughter Miranda. With this, Felix goes underground, only to emerge 12 years later as “Mr. Duke” who is running an educational program in theater at a local prison. When he finds out that the people who forced him out of Makeshiweg are coming to see what this course is about (with the obvious intention to shut the program down), Felix decides it is time to not only finally mount his “Tempest” but take his revenge at the same time.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Finding her Time

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler 

Willa’s life hasn’t been extraordinary, but it also hasn’t been uneventful either. When she was 11, her mother’s sudden, but thankfully temporary disappearance, was an experience marked Willa’s young life. When she was in college, she married her sweetheart and abandoned her education to raise a family. When she was only 41, her husband died in a tragic car accident. Now, 20 years later, one phone call from a total stranger is about to change Willa’s life once again. 
(Thanks for the free book, @PRHGlobal/@prhinternational)

Once again, Anne Tyler brings us a late-stage, coming-of-age story of a woman who you might have seen dozens of time on the street, but who you might never strike up a conversation with, and more the pity. Because if you did get to know her, maybe she might be very different than you might have thought. What Tyler likes to do in her novels is draw people who surprise us, and sometimes themselves along the way. In fact, although Willa is the center of attention here, almost all of Tyler’s characters in this novel start out to be seemingly one thing and then, turn towards being something else. Yes, there are some more predictable characters here, such as Willa’s second husband, who never seems to stray from being self-centered; but in general, most of Tyler’s characters have a tendency to do unlikely things, and at the most unexpected times. 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

An Eve or a Lilith?

Ecstasy: A Novel of Alma Mahler by Mary Sharratt 

Part of the blurb for this book on Goodreads says “Coming of age in the midst of a creative and cultural whirlwind, young, beautiful Alma Schindler yearns to make her mark as a composer. A brand-new era of possibility for women is dawning and she is determined to make the most of it. But Alma loses her heart to the great composer Gustav Mahler, nearly twenty years her senior. He demands that she give up her music as a condition for their marriage. Torn by her love and in awe of his genius, how will she remain true to herself and her artistic passion?” 

This book sounds exactly like what I look for in historical fiction novels; a story about a lesser known (or unknown) woman in the life of a very famous man. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of Mahler’s music, but some of the other blurbs I read about this book mentioned one of my favorite artists, Gustav Klimt. Since I didn’t know anything about Alma, the idea of reading about someone who was being hyped as one of his muses, was intriguing. What I found with this book, however, wasn’t exactly that, but it did tick many of my boxes. 

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Between Two Sisters

A Fist Around the Heart by Heather Chisvin 

Goodreads says that “The story of Anna Grieve and her fragile older sister, Esther, begins in Russia in the 1880s. The vicious persecution of Jews has come to such a point that the girls’ mother makes the decision to send her children to Winnipeg with her wealthy employers.” They also add, “When Anna receives the unexpected news of Esther’s possible suicide on “If Day,” an unusual day in WWII history when a simulated Nazi attack took place in Winnipeg in order to raise funds for the war effort, she immediately returns to Canada. Only she can piece together what really happened all those years ago in Russia…” 

I must admit that after I got this book, I almost regretted the request and avoided reading it for a while. With all the depressing news across the globe, I wasn’t sure I was in the mood for something that sounded depressing, and for some reason I thought this was going to be more about the Holocaust. However, after realizing that this debut novel is something of a family history Chisvin, I decided to put my trepidation aside and get on with it, mostly because I like to read new authors, and partially because I’ve had a family history novel in my own head for a while now.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Q&A with Eric Houston, author of The Lost Artist: Love Passion War (Part 1)

I recently heard about Eric Houston's memoir "The Lost Artist: Love Passion War (Part 1)" and was immediately intrigued. While I couldn't fit this book into my reading list, I decided instead to feature this work here, by asking him one question. Here's his answer to:

What was one of the most interesting experiences you had when researching this book? 

I was stunned by much of what I found while researching The Lost Artist: Love Passion War (Part 1). My father knew they were all going to die at El Alamein, Egypt. It was July 3, 1942, the first two lines were wiped out, and his third line, the last line of defense, was out of ammo. But they all stood firm. If Rommel had broken through there was nothing to stop the Nazis. In Berlin, they were celebrating having won the war, and the Grand Mufti was setting plans to murder every Jew in Palestine and the Arab nations.