Box Garden

Shields, Carol. The Box Garden. New York: Open Road Media, 2013.

Reason read: Carol Shields was born in June. Read in her honor.

In a nutshell, Box Garden paints an uneasy picture of a grown woman returning home to attend the wedding of her elderly mother. Charleen lives a very unsettled life. Divorced. Single mom. Dating. Strained relationships with everyone around her. She lives a sparse life by choice and seems incredibly fragile. However, when confronted with a series of intensely emotional situations, Charleen emerges as a surprisingly strong and capable woman.
As an aside, the very first thing that struck me about The Box Garden was the uncomfortable realization Charleen Forrest’s mother could have been my mother. I found myself highlighting passages that struck a chord with me. Every missed opportunity for a kind word, a hint of compassion. It was unnerving.

Author fact: Even though Shields was born in the United States, she is considered a celebrated Canadian author.

Book trivia: The Box Garden is one of Shield’s less popular titles.

Nancy said: Pearl did not say anything specific about The Box Garden.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Carol Shields: Too Good To Miss” (p 197).

A Celibate Season

Shields, Carol and Blanche Howard. A Celibate Season. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.

Reason read: April is National Letter Writing month…or so they say.

In a nutshell, a couple is separated by a wife’s internship. The husband stays behind to care for the home life. Together, they decide to handle their separation with minimal phone calls and visits, choosing to communicate primarily through handwritten letters. In truth, I had a love-hate relationship with A Celibate Season. On the one hand, I am a big fan of the epistolary technique. I like the subtle voyeurism of reading someone’s mail, especially strangers. I also found it interesting that what remained impossible for the characters to disclose to one another went into an unsent letter, thus keeping with a true epistolary technique. What I didn’t appreciate was the obvious breakdown of the marriage very early in the exchange of letters. I hated to see it coming that soon. Was it obvious to anyone else when Chas starts moving furniture around as soon as Jock is gone? Or when both of them start criticizing the people (strangers to each other) in each other’s lives? Does Jock bait Chas by mentioning her boss’s inappropriate comments? Or does Chas poke at Jock by admitting the cleaning lady disliked Jock’s kitchen curtains enough to remove them? Before page 50 I predicted Jock would have an affair with Austin and Chas would sleep with Sue. Ugh.
Probably the most realistic argument Chas & Jock have is about money. Chas is an unemployed architect, taking care of their two children while Jock is the money maker. Chas can’t pay the furnace repair bill while Jock frets about needing a new dress for a House of Commons reception.
One last gripe – I don’t think quoting long conversations verbatim is realistic in a letter.

Note to self: stop reading the “Questions for Discussion” section of books before finishing the book itself. I was disappointed by the question about Chas and Jock’s marriage, “Has the “celibate season” made it weaker or stronger?” That to me implies a non-ending ending; one of those ambiguous yet ubiquitous, it’s-up-to-the-reader endings. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.

Book trivia: A Celibate Season was a play before it was published as a novel.

Author(s) fact:
Carol Shields – Shields died in 2003.
Blanche Howard – Howard went on to write a memoir of her friendship with Shields in 2007.

Nancy said: not a lot. She just said A Celibate Season is a good epistolary to read, if you like the technique.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the intriguing chapter called “Epistolary Novels: Take a Letter” (p 80).

April Snow Job

As we move into April I am not confident we won’t get another 26″ snow storm. If we ever joked in the past about not being able to predict the weather, now it is impossible. It’s no laughing matter. My rose bushes, right now struggling under the weight of frozen water, could tell you that. But never mind the weather. Let’s talk about the month of April. April is another 10k for cancer. I’m hoping to break the hour time since I was five seconds away in March. April is also Easter. April is my sister’s birth month. April is also books, books and more books…of course:


  • ‘F’ is For Fugitive by Sue Grafton ~ in honor of Grafton’s birth month. Technically, I should have read all the “alphabet” books by Grafton one right after the other, but I didn’t have that system when I read “A” is for Alibi. I think it goes without saying I do now.
  • The Diplomatic Lover by Elsie Lee ~ in honor of Lee’s birth month. I am not looking forward to this one even though it looks like a quick read.
  • A Celibate Season by Carol Shields ~ in honor of April being Letter Writing Month. This is so short I should be able to read it in one sitting.


  • Henry James: the Untried Years (1843 – 1870) by Leon Edel ~ in honor of James’s birth month. This first volume chronicles James’s childhood and youth.
  • Coming into the Country by John McPhee ~ in honor of the Alaska trip I’m taking in August.

Series continuations:

  • The Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons ~ this is to finish the series started in January, in honor of Science Fiction month. I liked Endymion the best so I have high hopes for The Rise of Endymion. I am listening to this on audio and reading the print because I know I will never finish the 575+ pages by April 30th.
  • Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves ~ this is to finish the series started in January, in honor of Shetland’s fire festival, Up Helly Aa. This is another one I should be able to finish in a day or two.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul

Extra (for fun):

  • Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara- ~ my sister sent this in my belated birthday package. Whatever she recommends I usually end up liking whether it be music or books. For those of you who really know me – I know what you’re thinking. Yes, my birthday was in February. I got the birthday package over a month later. It’s what we do.

If there is time (since three books are really, really short):

  • Another Part of the Wood by Kenneth Clark ~ in honor of National Library Week
  • The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez ~ in honor of April’s Mathematics, Science and Technology Week
  • Lost Upland by WS Merwin ~ in honor of well, you know the song…April in Paris. Cheesy, I know.