February 23, 2017

Looking Back - As For Me and My House

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

As For Me and My House by Sinclair Ross
1977 New Canadian Library (First published in 1941)
Finished in March 1997
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

“It’s an immense night out there, wheeling and windy. The lights on the street and in the houses against the black wetness, little unilluminating glints that might be painted on it. The town seems huddled together, cowering on a high tiny perch, afraid to move lest it topple into the wind.”

The town is Horizon, the setting of Sinclair Ross’ brilliant classic study of life in the Depression era. Hailed by critics as one of Canada’s great novels, As For Me and My House takes the form of a journal. The unnamed diarist, one of the most complex and arresting characters in contemporary fiction, explores the bittersweet nature of human relationships, of the unspoken bonds that tie people together, and the undercurrents of feeling that often tear them apart. Her chronicle creates an intense atmosphere, rich with observed detail and natural imagery.

As For Me and My House is a landmark work. It is essential reading for anyone who seeks to understand the scope and power of the Canadian novel.

My Original Notes (1997):

Interesting book. I didn't love it, but I didn't hate it either. Very depressing. Set in Horizon, a small prairie town in Saskatchewan. 1930s. Diary form by Mrs. Bentley (no first name!) who is married to Philip Bentley, a minister. Philip is a frustrated artist. Mrs. Bentley is a talented pianist. Self-destroying passion for her husband.

  • False-fronted town
  • Wind-ravaged prairie
  • Mirrors
  • Garden (dying) 
  • Philip = God ("creator")
My Current Thoughts:

I only have a vague recollection of this book. I do remember that it was depressing and since I no longer own the book, I doubt I'll ever read it again. Have you heard of this book or author? Here's a little bit about him, as noted on Wikipedia:

Ross was born on a homestead near Shellbrook, Saskatchewan. When he was seven, his parents separated, and he lived with his mother on a number of different farms during his childhood, going to school in Indian Head, Saskatchewan. He left school after Grade 11 and in 1924 the sixteen-year-old Ross joined the Union Bank of Canada which became part of the Royal Bank of Canada a year later. At first he worked in a number of small towns in Saskatchewan then moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1933 and Montreal, Quebec in 1946, after spending four years in the Canadian Army during World War II. He would remain with the Royal Bank until his retirement in 1968, after which he spent some time in Spain and Greece before moving to a nursing home in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he lived until his death.

As For Me and My House, set in an isolated town in the Prairies during the Great Depression, was published in 1941. At first not much noticed, it went on to become a Canadian literary classic which set the precedent for the genre of Canadian prairie fiction. He wrote three more novels during his lifetime as well as a few anthologies of short stories, none of which became as well known as his first novel. He is known to have destroyed manuscripts of novels that his publisher rejected, including a sequel to Sawbones Memorial.

February 22, 2017


Thanks to my blogging friend Andi, I was reminded of my own blogiversary which was last week (February 13th). I have been writing about my favorite (and not so favorite) books for 11 years! Every so often I decide to close up shop and put this blog to rest, but I can never stay away for very long, so I hope to continue with this little community of mine for many more years. Thank you all for visiting and leaving comments. I love hearing from each and every one of you.

For past blogiversary posts, click here.

February 18, 2017

Sleeping Giants

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel
Themis File #1
Science Fiction
2016 Random House Audio
Read by Andy Secombe, Eric Meyers, Laurel Lefkow, Charlie Anson, Liza Ross, William Hope, Christoper Ragland, Katharine Mangold, and Adna Sablyich
Finished on October 14, 2016
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

"This stellar debut novel [...] masterfully blends together elements of sci-fi, political thriller and apocalyptic fiction.[...] A page-turner of the highest order." -Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Publisher's Blurb:

A page-turning debut in the tradition of Michael Crichton, World War Z, and The Martian, Sleeping Giants is a thriller fueled by an earthshaking mystery—and a fight to control a gargantuan power.

A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand.

Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved—its origins, architects, and purpose unknown. Its carbon dating defies belief; military reports are redacted; theories are floated, then rejected.

But some can never stop searching for answers.

Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

I initially picked up a copy of Sleeping Giants at the recommendation of a coworker, and after reading the chilling prologue, I was instantly hooked and decided to download the audio book to my phone. I was shocked (and a bit concerned) that the audio has nine readers, but I was quickly sucked into the story and the characters are distinctive enough with their own quirks and personalities that I didn't have any trouble keeping track of each individual. The chapters are told in alternating points-of-view, most of which are in the format of interviews with a nameless interrogator (I was never sure if he was actually human or a robot...). The novel has been likened to World War Z and The Martian, neither of which I've read, but I did enjoy the movie adaptation of The Martian and would love to see this on the big screen. I kept picturing Katee Sackhoff in the lead role as Kara Resnik.

Great praise from another recently discovered author:

“First-time novelist Sylvain Neuvel does a bold, splashy cannonball off the high dive with Sleeping Giants. It bursts at the seams with big ideas and the questions they spawn—How much human life is worth sacrificing in the pursuit of scientific progress? Can humanity be trusted with weapons of ultimate destruction? And the biggest: Are we alone? But all that really matters is that this book is a sheer blast from start to finish. I haven’t had this much fun reading in ages.”—Blake Crouch, author of Dark Matter and the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy

Final Thoughts:

This is a great audio book with compelling characters and an inventive, thought-provoking plot. I look forward to reading the sequel and may just have to re-read the book before then. The audio took me a little over a week to complete, but after thumbing through the paperback edition, I realize it can be easily read in a day or two. I've forgotten a lot about the ending, so a re-read is probably in order.

(from the author's website)

Yay! I just discovered this on Neuvel's website:

The movie rights for Sleeping Giants have been optioned by Sony. David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Spider-Man, Mission Impossible) is writing the script. Josh Bratman and Matt Tolmach are producing.

In addition to the author's personal website, be sure to click here to see the site devoted to the trilogy. I love the graphics!

February 16, 2017

Looking Back - Riding the White Horse Home

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

Riding the White Horse Home: A Western Family Album by Teresa Jordan
1993 Vintage Departures
Finished on March 4, 1997
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

"A haunting and elegant memoir, evoking the ghosts of... family and those spirits inherent in the landscape.... Riding the White Horse Home becomes the story of us all. ~ Terry Tempest Williams

In 1887 Teresa Jordan's great-grandfather bought a ranch in the Iron Mountain country of southeast Wyoming. Four generations later her father sold it, under the economic pressures that have made ranching a dying way of life. This superbly evocative book is at once Teresa Jordan's family chronicle and a eulogy for the West her people helped shape.

Riding the White Horse Home is about generations of women who coped with physical hardship and killing loneliness in a landscape at once beautiful and inhospitable. It is a book of practical information--how to keep a cold from shying; how to tell when a cow is about to calf--conveyed with such precision that reading it is like a fast gallop across the prairie. Teresa Jordan has made a gift of her heritage--and has taught us something about our own.    

My Original Notes (1997):

Marvelous! I love this book. Makes me want to write my own memoirs. I identified with so much of the author's views and feelings. Very sad in places - brought tears to my eyes, yet also humorous. Great look at life on a cattle ranch in contemporary time. Insightful. Touching. Spellbinding.

My Current Thoughts:

Yes, I still own a copy of this wonderful memoir and plan to read it again. I read it for my Great Plains Lit class, many years ago, but still remember how much I enjoyed it. Flipping through my copy, I see a lot of underlined passages and notes jotted down on the pages... far too many to share here, but this particular passage caught my eye and I think it speaks to the author's love of the land she grew up on:
When my family tells the story of the ranch, we say we left because we had to--we could not afford to pay the estate taxes after my grandfather's death. This is true, but it is only part of the story. My family left the land because for four generations we had yearned to leave. We had lived in a culture that taught us that a professional life is more respectable than one tied to the land. This attitude shaped the decisions my family made, and it continues to shape the larger political and economic decisions, made by educators and policymakers far removed from the land, that affect the few who still hold on.

My sadness over the loss of the homeplace is my dark side, my grief, but it is also the source of my deepest knowledge. Perhaps it is only through this experience of loss that I can value a sense of place, that I can question how thoughtlessly--even how contemptuously--we are taught to cast it aside.

I'm willing to bet that none of you have heard of Teresa Jordan or this book. If you enjoy memoirs or novels such as A River Runs Through It (Norman Maclean), Dancing at the Rascal Farm (Ivan Doig) or All the Pretty Horses (Cormac McCarthy), this is sure to be one you will love. I'm so happy to see that it's still available for purchase.

February 12, 2017

The Bridge Ladies

The Bridge Ladies by Betsy Lerner
2016 HarperAudio
Read by Orlagh Cassidy
Finished on October 4, 2016
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A fifty-year-old Bridge club provides an unexpected connection across a generational divide between mother and daughter. Betsy Lerner tells a funny, intimate, and deeply affecting story where we learn a little about Bridge and a lot about life.

After a lifetime of defining herself against her mother's Don't Ask, Don't Tell generation, Lerner, an enthusiastic member of the Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll generation, found herself back home in her suburban Connecticut town. It represented everything she had wanted to flee: namely the traditional life her mother stood for. Yet when Roz needed help after surgery, Betsy stepped in. She expected a week of tense civility; what she got were the Bridge Ladies. Impressed by their faithful visits and home-cooked meals, she saw something her own generation lacked: Facebook was great, but it wouldn't deliver a pot roast.

Tentatively at first, Betsy became a regular fixture at her mother's Monday Bridge club. Before long, she braved the intimidating world of Bridge--a game, she writes, "that well acquaints you with your deficits"--and fell under its spell. Unexpectedly, the Bridge Ladies became a Greek chorus, a catalyst for change between Betsy and Roz as they reconciled years of painful misunderstandings and harrowing silences. The Bridge table became the common ground they never had.

Darkly funny and deeply moving, The Bridge Ladies weaves the histories of the ladies with those of Betsy and her mother across a lifetime of missed opportunities. The result is an unforgettable story of a hard-won--but never-too-late--bond between mother and daughter.

I almost gave up on this audio, growing more and more tired of the author's complaints about her relationship with her mother. But about halfway into the book, I started to care about the Bridge Ladies and their relationships with each other and their families. While at times a bit depressing, or maybe it's just that I couldn't relate to Betsy and her mother, it wound up being rather touching and thought-provoking as the conclusion drew near. Bridge, though? No thank you! Mahjong is much easier!!

February 9, 2017

Looking Back - Second Hoeing

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

Second Hoeing by Hope Williams Sykes
1982 University of Nebraska Press (first published in 1935)
Finished on March 1, 1997
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

"Papa’ll work her till she drops in the field!" The backbreaking labor of German-Russian immigrants in the sugar beet fields of Colorado is described with acute perception in Hope Sykes's Second Hoeing. First published in 1935, the novel was greeted in all quarters as an impressive and authoritative evocation of these recent immigrants and their struggle to realize the promise of their chosen country.

My Original Notes (1997):

Very good, yet depressing and bleak. Somewhat predictable. Not a great artistic author, although a gripping story. Good look at German-Russian history in Colorado.

My Current Thoughts:

I only have a vague recollection of this book, but I do remember comparing it to My Antonia, feeling a little less impressed than I had been with Willa Cather's prose. Cather's novels are full of beautiful images and Sykes' novel, while informative and gripping, didn't evoke the same sense of creative drama as Cather's. I no longer own the book and have no inclination to read it again.

February 8, 2017

February 5, 2017

Everyone Brave is Forgiven

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
2016 Simon & Schuster
Finished on September 27, 2016
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

From the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Little Bee, a spellbinding novel about three unforgettable individuals thrown together by war, love, and their search for belonging in the ever-changing landscape of WWII London.

It’s 1939 and Mary, a young socialite, is determined to shock her blueblood political family by volunteering for the war effort. She is assigned as a teacher to children who were evacuated from London and have been rejected by the countryside because they are infirm, mentally disabled, or—like Mary’s favorite student, Zachary—have colored skin.

Tom, an education administrator, is distraught when his best friend, Alastair, enlists. Alastair, an art restorer, has always seemed far removed from the violent life to which he has now condemned himself. But Tom finds distraction in Mary, first as her employer and then as their relationship quickly develops in the emotionally charged times. When Mary meets Alastair, the three are drawn into a tragic love triangle and—while war escalates and bombs begin falling around them—further into a new world unlike any they’ve ever known.

A sweeping epic with the kind of unforgettable characters, cultural insights, and indelible scenes that made Little Bee so incredible, Chris Cleave’s latest novel explores the disenfranchised, the bereaved, the elite, the embattled. Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is a heartbreakingly beautiful story of love, loss, and incredible courage.

One of my favorite subjects to read about is fictional accounts of World War II. Just this past year, I read City of Thieves (David Benioff), The Storyteller (Jodi Picoult), and The Nightingale (Kristin Hannah). I loved each one, not only for the well-drawn characters, but for the light they shed on specific areas of that terrible war that I had not encountered in other books. When Chris Cleave's latest novel was released, I was intrigued. I enjoyed his bestseller, Little Bee (reviewed here), and so I had high hopes for another outstanding book about World War II. It took me a while to get interested in the story, but I was eventually drawn in, once the relationships between the three characters were established. While not as good as the above mentioned novels, I enjoyed the book and came to care about the characters and their sad predicaments, particularly those of Mary and her students. 

On the children of the war:

Since Mary must neither bump into her mother nor anyone who conceivably might, she had a day to fill on her own. Autumn had come, with squalls of rain that doused the hot mood of the war. She walked along the Embankment while the southwesterly blew through the railings where children used to rattle their sticks. In the playground at Kensington Gardens the wind scoured the kiteless sky and set the empty swings rocking to their own orphaned frequency.

How bereft London was, how drably biddable, without its infuriating children. Here and there Mary spotted a rare one whom the evacuation had left marooned. The strays kicked along on their own through the leaves, seal-eyed and forlorn. When she gave an encouraging smile, they only stared back. Mary supposed she could not blame them. How else would one treat the race that had abducted one's playmates?

On hope:

They leaned shoulders companionably and looked out to sea. Perhaps it was true, thought Alistair, that Septembers would come again. People would love the crisp cool of the mornings, and it would not remind them of the week war was declared. Perhaps there would be such a generation. Blackberries would ripen, carefree hands would pick them, and jam would be poured into pots to cool. And the jam would only taste of jam. People would not save jars of it like holy relics. They would eat it on toast, thinking nothing of it, hardly bothering to look at the label.

Alistair let the idea grow: that when the war's heat was spent, the last remaining pilots would ditch their last bombs into the sea and land their planes on cratered airfields that would slowly give way to brambles. That pilots would take off their jackets and ties, and pick fruit.
Final Thoughts:

It took me a while to get interested in this novel, but once I did I was hooked. The ending felt somewhat anticlimactic, but I can't explain what it was I had been hoping for. All in all, a worthwhile read. Recommend.

February 2, 2017

Looking Back - My Antonia

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

My Antonia by Willa Cather
Great Plains Trilogy #3
1995 Houghton Mifflin (First Published in 1918)
Finished on February 21, 1997
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

An enduring literary masterpiece first published in 1918, this hauntingly eloquent classic is an inspiring reminder of the rich past we have inherited. Willa Cather's lustrous prose, infused of the immigrant pioneer woman on the Nebraska plains, while etching a deeply moving portrait of an entire community. As Jim Burden revisits his childhood friendship with the free-spirited Antonia Shimerda, we come to understand the sheer fortitude of homesteaders on the prairie, the steadfast bonds cultivated there, and the abiding memories that such vast expanses inspire. Holding the pastoral society's heart, of course, is the bewitching Antonia, whose unfailing industry and infectious enthusiasm for life exemplify the triumphant vitality of an era.

Kathleen Norris says in her forward that My Antonia is in many ways "a perfect evocation of childhood," guided by a remarkable friendship. Willa Cather has wondrously captured a measure of our collective youth, and her classic remains an ode to the pioneering soul and the romantic possibilities of the land.

My Original Notes (1997):

What a beautifully written book. My very first Cather and I enjoyed it so much, I bought a bunch more by her to read this summer. (Also, a couple of biographies.)

I was a little disappointed when I first began reading the book, because it seemed so simplistic. As I got further into the novel, I realized how eloquent Cather wrote. It's basically a plotless novel, yet rich in description of the characters and the beauty of the land.

Lots of symbolism & imagery. 

My Current Thoughts:

Like most high school students of the 70s, I read authors such as Hawthorne, London, Austin, Bronte, Steinbeck and Melville. It wasn't until I moved to Nebraska in the early 90s that I even heard of Willa Cather, let alone read one of her famous novels. Again, thanks to a wonderful reading list in my Great Plains Lit class at the university, I was introduced to My Antonia, which I have since read a second time. I have also read O Pioneers! and The Song of the Lark, which complete this Great Plains trilogy. 

As I thumb through my copy of My Antonia, I find myself reading the highlighted passages and notations from my first encounter with the novel, eager to make time to read the book a third time.

If you've read any of Cather's novels and find yourself in Nebraska, do make time for a visit to Red Cloud. I went for a Cather symposium many years ago and loved seeing so many of the landmarks mentioned in My Antonia. You can view several wonderful video clips by clicking here

My husband and I have now lived in Nebraska for almost 25 years. These are just a few of the photographs I've taken of the wide open sky and prairie.

February 1, 2017

Wordless Wednesday

The woods of Little Whale Cove
Depoe Bay, Oregon
December 2016