Friday, July 15, 2016

Book Beginnings: Vinegar Girl

Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler (Hogarth, June 2016). Here's the first sentence of Chapter One:
Kate Battista was gardening out back when she heard the telephone ring in the kitchen.
My Thoughts:

Well, I'm a little embarrassed that my first thought was "Wow, they have a landline!" Yes, I know there's no reason it couldn't have been a cell phone ringing in the kitchen. I guess I just assume that these days there's no such thing as an unattended cell phone.

Aside from that, the only thought that first sentence brings to mind is that I can't imagine the original Kate -- from Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew -- doing a spot of gardening. She'd probably rip up all the plants and dump them all on her sister's head. That's, of course, the pre-Petruchio, untamed Kate.

I've had this one on my radar for a while now, and hope to get through it quickly. I've read a couple of Anne Tyler's books that I really enjoyed -- Noah's Compass and The Accidental Tourist -- and started a few others that I wasn't able to finish. So I'm not sure what to expect from this one. But Taming is one of my favorite plays and I have fond memories of playing the Shrew in a high school production, so I have high hopes for the book.

Rose City Reader hosts Book Beginnings on Friday.  As she says, the idea is to post the first sentence (or so) of the book you're currently reading, along with any first impressions or thoughts you have about the book, the author, etc.  It's a wonderful way of adding new books to your must-read list, and a chance to connect with other readers and bloggers.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

"Girl in Hammock," Theodore Robinson (1894)
So far this summer I haven't gotten a great deal of reading done. Real life interfering a little too much, as it tends to do sometimes.

This week, I'll be getting back to a couple of books I started in June:

The Girls, by Emma Cline


Vinegar Girl, by Anne Tyler

Sounds like it's gonna be a very girly week.

Last week, I didn't finish any books, but I did post a few reviews of books I read earlier in the year. These are mostly very brief — just a few words to help me remember what I read and what I thought about it:

Also posted a (very late) wrap-up post for the Once Upon a Time X reading challenge that ended back on June 21st (see — I said it was late).

So, how's your summer reading going so far?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is now hosted by Kathryn at Book Date. If you want to let the world know what you're going to be reading this week, head on over to her blog and leave your link. It's also a great way to discover new books and new blogs.

A Christmas Escape

Anne Perry
Ballantine Books, October 2015
176 pages

Publisher's Description:
Lonely Charles Latterly arrives at his small hotel hoping that the island’s blue skies and gentle breezes will brighten his spirits. Unfortunately, there’s no holiday cheer to be found among his fellow guests, who include a pompous novelist, a stuffy colonel, a dangerously ill-matched married couple, and an ailing old man. The one charming exception is orphaned teenager Candace Finbar, who takes Charles under her wing and introduces him to the island’s beauty. But the tranquility of the holiday is swiftly disrupted by a violent quarrel, an unpleasant gentleman’s shocking claims of being stalked, and the ominous stirrings of the local volcano. Then events take an even darker turn: A body is found, and Charles quickly realizes that the killer must be among the group of guests.
My Thoughts:

Not a great deal to say about this one. A little bit of Christmas in July.

For years now, I've been hearing about Anne Perry's annual Christmas books and they've always sounded very intriguing. A Christmas Escape (set on the Mediterranean island of Stromboli) was my introduction to the series, and it was a happy first experience. I would have been even happier if the mystery had been just a little more — well, mysterious. But even though the whodunnit aspect was less than thrilling, the story in general was charming and held my interest all the way through.

The plot wrapped up a little more quickly than I expected it to, but it's a short book, so I suppose some abruptness is to be expected. Definitely a fast read — I finished in a couple of hours, which is almost unheard of for me. In general, a very pleasant read, and I'll be looking for more of Perry's holiday treats.

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(Full Disclosure: I received my copy of A Christmas Escape free of charge, from the publisher, through Library Thing's Early Reviewer program. No other compensation was received, and no one attempted to influence my opinion.)

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● Qualifies for the following reading challenges: European Challenge, Historical Fiction Challenge, 2016 Women Challenge.

Wrapping Up Once Upon A Time X

This summer is racing by so fast! Hard to believe it's nearly the middle of July already. I really meant to do a wrap-up post for this year's Once Upon a Time reading event when it ended back in June — but as usual, the moment came and went before I could get anything posted. So I'm doing it now. Better late than never. I guess.

I didn't do as well as I'd hoped with this year's OUAT challenge. Signed up for Quest the First (read five books), and only managed to get one read. But I don't feel too bad about that, since the book was a long one. Inkheart (by Cornelia Funke) is quite a chunkster (almost 600 pages), and took me a couple of months to get through.

It's been on my to-read list for quite a few years now, and I'm glad Once Upon a Time gave me the nudge I needed to tackle it at last. Unfortunately, it wasn't the scintillating reading experience I was hoping for (see my review), but I'm still glad to have read it.

I did a little better with the Quest on the Screen feature. The last couple of years, I've completely wiped out on this part of the challenge, but this year I watched two movies that qualify:
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005).
    Thoughts: Beautiful movie, and much less tedious than the book.
  • Maleficent (2014).
    Thoughts: Disney does it again. Such a gorgeous fantasy film! Interesting take on the Sleeping Beauty tale, with Maleficent more victim than villain. Surprised I enjoyed it so much, since I generally find Angelina Jolie hard to watch. Not that she's not great to look at (duh!) — she just never seems very believable. But she makes an excellent mythic being!

Once again, I want to thank Carl for hosting this annual ritual. It's always one of my favorite reading events, and such a great way to welcome the spring/summer season.

Friday, July 08, 2016

To Have and Have Not

Ernest Hemingway
Scribner Classics, 272 pages

In Ernest Hemingway's 1937 novel To Have and Have Not, fishing boat captain Harry Morgan is portrayed as a fundamentally good man forced, by economic circumstances, to run contraband between Cuba and Florida. In the book's opening section, Harry's wealthy charter customer tricks him by slipping away after a day's fishing without paying the money he owes. Needing to recoup his losses in order to support his family, Harry makes a very poor (and fateful) decision to help smuggle Chinese immigrants into Florida from Cuba. After that episode turns into one more fiasco, he begins regularly ferrying illegal cargo between the two countries – including alcohol and Cuban revolutionaries.

The novel is set in Depression-era Key West, and allows Hemingway to make use of the glaring contrast between the wealthy visitors to the region (the "Haves") and the poor local residents (the "Have Nots"). It was apparently much influenced by the Marxist ideology Hemingway was exposed to during his involvement in the Spanish Civil War while he was writing it. Interestingly, it was the only book actually banned in the U.S. in 1938, after library patrons lodged complaints about its "immorality."

To Have and Have Not has been on my TBR list for decades now, so I decided to read it for the Back to the Classics Reading Challenge this year.

Now I understand why so many critics have called this Hemingway's weakest novel.

The book is actually a novella and a series of sketches, very tentatively held together by the story of Harry Morgan and his (mostly shady) boat charter activities. The best thing I can say about it is that it can be read in a few hours. Another good thing is that it inspired one of my favorite movies (1944, directed by Howard Hawks, starring Bogart and Bacall), even though the film is really nothing like the book. It also seems to have been one of the inspirations for an awful lot of Miami Vice dialogue.

I'm afraid I can only recommend this one if you're looking to consume everything Hemingway wrote -- and if you don't mind a LOT of non-P.C. name calling and quite a bit of pretty graphic violence.

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● Qualifies for the following reading challenges: Back to the Classics Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge.


Cornelia Funke
Scholastic, 2003
534 pages

The Story:

Twelve-year-old Meggie's father Mortimer (or "Mo" for short) is a bookbinder who has instilled in his daughter a great love of books and reading. But he has never read aloud to her. One night a stranger named Dustfinger shows up at their home and from him Meggie learns some amazing facts about her father, her mother who disappeared nine years earlier, and a mysterious, rare (and dangerous) book called Inkheart – a book her father tries desperately to keep anyone from finding. To keep it away from Meggie (and anyone else) he hides the book in the library-like, book-filled home of Meggie's Great Aunt Elinor.

Eventually though, Meggie learns the secret reason Mo has never read to her – whenever he reads aloud, objects and characters become real and come out of the books. It's a skill he discovered when Capricorn, the villain of the Inkheart book, came out of the book and into this world when Meggie was only three. But it's also a skill Mo can't really control, demonstrated by the fact that at that same moment Meggie's mother disappeared, presumably into the story.

The evil Capricorn uses Dustfinger (who was also a character from the Inkheart book) to lure Mo and Meggie to his hideout village. He intends to use Mo's skill to bring treasure out of books like Treasure Island and The Arabian Nights. But when Dustfinger learns of Capricorn's plans, he helps Mo, Meggie and Elinor escape from the prison where they're being held. Then, after Mo finds Fenoglio, the author of Inkheart, they come up with a plan they hope will keep Capricorn from going through with his awful schemes.

The plot gets even more complicated when Meggie is recaptured by Capricorn's men, along with Fenoglio, and it's discovered that she shares her father's fantastic gift for reading people and objects out of books. Finally, Meggie and Fenoglio devise a plan to defeat Capricorn and his evil intentions, but they're in for some surprises – both good and bad – before their adventure comes to an end.

My Thoughts:

I've had Inkheart on my must-read list for years now, and I've always been put off by the book's length. But for this year's Once Upon a Time Challenge, I decided to go on and give it a try. It's received so many glowing reviews, and the story sounded so appealing that I was expecting to really love it. So I'm extremely disappointed to have to say that I was -- well...disappointed. Instead of the magical tale I was hoping for, this turned out to be a pretty standard adventure story. Aside from the central device of a character in a book being able to bring other characters out of other books by "reading them out," there doesn't seem to be much of anything that's actually magical about Inkheart.

And it's WAY too long. Much of the book is given over to long descriptions of what the characters are thinking and doing while they're waiting around to do something else. After two or three hundred pages of that sort of stuff, I was very tempted to just skip ahead to the final chapter, find out how it ended, and move on. (But I stuck with it right to the end.)

It's possible I'm just too old for the book. I imagine younger readers would have more patience and wouldn't feel so much like they were wasting their time with the nearly-600-pages of not much happening. If I'm going to devote that much time to a book, I need a little more excitement to keep me engaged.

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Qualifies for the following reading challenges: Books In Translation Challenge, Mount TBR ChallengeOnce Upon a Time X, Women Challenge 2016.

Lovely In Her Bones

Sharyn McCrumb
Ballantine Books, 221 pages
Originally published 1985

Publisher's Description:
The amateur sleuth and inquisitive student of life, Elizabeth MacPherson has signed on to an archaeological dig to help determine if an obscure Indian tribe in the North Carolina hills can lay legal claim to the land they live on. Not everyone in the small town is happy about the college project. And some of the residents are downright hostile. 
Elizabeth is anxious to prove herself, but the dig nearly stops when their leader, Professor Lerche, is found murdered in his tent. Even mild-mannered Milo, the professor's right-hand man and Elizabeth's secret sweetheart, can't believe the evidence. It takes a second mysterious death to start a cauldron of ideas bubbling in Elizabeth’s head. And when she mixes a little modern know-how with some old-fashioned suspicions, Elizabeth comes up with a batch of answers that surprises even the experts…
My Thoughts:

Sharyn McCrumb is another one of those authors I've always meant to read, but never managed to get to -- until now. I think Lovely In Her Bones might not have been the best intro to her work, but it jumped out at me at Half Price Books one day. Unfortunately, it didn't inspire me to go on with the series. The central (supposedly, at least) character, Elizabeth MacPherson, just wasn't interesting enough to build a whole series around. And she really only figures in part of the action. Maybe her role gets built up in later books?

But it's a fast read and I did enjoy it. I liked the humor (most whodunnits don't have many laughs), and the fact that it's about archaeologists and set in a dig in the Appalachians. The guilty party was pretty easy to predict, if you were paying attention. And the technology was, of course, very outdated. But I believe I could have overlooked all that if I had just been able to connect a little more with Elizabeth.

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● Qualifies for the following reading challenges: Vintage Mystery Cover Scavenger Hunt (Silver Age Card - Skull on Cover), Women Challenge.