Shreve, Anita. A Change in Altitude. New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2009.
Reason read: Shreve’s birth month is in October. Read in her honor.
I love Shreve’s work. I love how at the end of every book she always leaves the reader slightly unsettled, as if there is more to the story. She refuses to wrap up the ending in a solid “Hollywood-happy” resolution.
Margaret and Patrick are newlyweds; only married for five months and yet I personally found their relationship flat and dispassionate. He, a doctor, travels around Kenya in exchange for research data on equatorial diseases. She, an out of work photographer, hopes to freelance around Nairobi and capture landscapes unfamiliar to her American eye. Together Patrick and Margaret join two other couples in an effort to climb Mount Kenya. Almost immediately, there is an imbalance to their chemistry. Margaret’s feminist sensibilities were threatened when she couldn’t earn her keep with a job and now she can’t keep up with the mountaineering climb. The others continuously leave her behind. Her companions have a much easier go at it. She is further insulted when the men in the group display subtle attitudes of sexism towards her. Arthur repeatedly claims he will take care of her while Wilfred casually refers to the women in the group as “girls.” Her climbing partners are snobbish; questioning the Masai tribe that has been around for centuries. All the while Margaret doesn’t fit in and stays quiet. She has something to prove but does little to promote her capabilities. Oddly, it is only after tragedy strikes is she then able to find her voice. This tragedy will carry consequences long into the future; long after Margaret finds a photography job with a controversial newspaper; long after Patrick and Margaret have new troubles in their marriage.
I couldn’t get a read on Margaret. It was weird, but I found her to be a bit unemotional. She was strangely calm when the couple’s only car is stolen or when she is attacked by fire ants. [The fire ant scene made me itch for days.]
As an aside, there were several things I needed to look up after reading A Change in Altitude. The breed of dog called “Rhodesian Ridgeback” for one. Mount Monadnock for another.
Author fact: Shreve spent some time in Nairobi, Kenya and even climbed Mount Kenya. This definitely helped with her descriptions of the area, if not the characters.
Book trivia: A Change in Altitude is Shreve’s 16th book.
Nancy said: Pearl called A Change in Altitude one of her “favorite” Shreve books.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the simple chapter called “Kenya” (p 123).
Colwin, Laurie. Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object. New York: Viking Press, 2001.
Reason read: August is Grief Awareness month and there is oh so much grief in this book.
How do you love an individual who constantly flirts with the potential for death? How do you behave in a relationship or a partnership with someone who has a history of self destructive behavior such as this: breaking his collarbone after being thrown by a horse, snapping his leg after skiing, or gouging his shoulder after rock climbing (more like rock falling)? How does a marriage survive such reckless disregard for staying together? The answer is it really doesn’t. But Elizabeth Bax is attracted to James Dean. She likes the bad boys.
She knew she had every right to worry when Sam, her daredevil husband of five years, went for “one last” sail before an autumn squall picked up. Sam’s brother Patrick was already calling the coast guard knowing full well something bad was about to happen or more likely, already had. It is not a spoiler to tell you Sam died. What follows is an in depth examination of the human heart and how it tries to put itself together after being shattered. Shine On is a short book that asks the question is grief coupled with love a betrayal?
Lines I liked, “He had squashed his recklessness down to an ironic sort of caution that was a slap in his own face” (p 3), “You have to commit experience to your heart and let it change you..” (p 178).
Author fact: Colwin died at the very young age of forty-eight after suffering a heart attack.
Book trivia: This is a super short book. You could read it in a weekend.
Nancy said: Pearl said not to miss Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object even though the chapter was about Colwin’s books on food.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the interesting chapter called “Food for Thought” (p 91)…except Shine On, Bright and Dangerous Object has absolutely nothing to do with food.
King, Tabitha. The Book of Reuben. New York: Dutton Books, 1994.
Reason read: June is the month most people get married and Book of Reuben is a study in relationships of all kinds, marriage and beyond.
Within the pages of The Book of Reuben twenty five years of a life unfold. We meet Reuben Styles as a typical hot headed teenager and follow his tumultuous life into adulthood. The natural progression of life: marriage, kids, work and looking after aging elders. Reuben meets Laura in high school and loves her from afar until finally she gives him a lukewarm chance at romance. At the same time Reuben learns the language of passion from an older woman.
It is not a spoiler alert to share that Reuben eventually convinces Laura to marry him, but truth be know, their relationship never really heats up and soon they are headed for divorce. When it comes to Laura’s character, I sincerely doubt King could have made Reuben’s wife more vile. At the height of her hatred of Reuben she is violent towards him, steals his money, has an open affair for the whole community to see, and tries to block Reuben from seeing his three children. Short of killing his mother or the family dog, there was little else she could do to him.
One of the even more most surprising elements to Book of Reuben is the extensive list of music references. Reuben is a walking jukebox of great songs. I wanted to make a soundtrack of what was playing on his radio.
As an aside, I read one review where someone said they didn’t understand the purpose of the widow and her children as a characters. Come again? I felt each one set the groundwork for Reuben’s personality. The widow taught Reuben the benefits of great sex, being a good lover, and what it felt like to have that fiery passion reciprocated. She cultivated a hot blooded male which made Laura’s frostiness all the more frustrating. With the widow’s troubled and strange son Reuben displayed an acceptance and kindness that solidified his reputation as a good guy…at least with this reader. I felt the purpose of the widow and her children were not for the plot, but rather for the character development of Reuben.
Author fact: Tabitha King is the wife of well-known horror author, Stephen King. They met at the University of Maine in the library.
Book trivia: The Book of Reuben was received with mixed reviews.
Nancy said: Pearl just described the plot a little.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Marriage Blues” (p 161).
I can’t even begin to describe May. My first time to the Southwest. My first time traveling with family. Many different firsts. But, enough of that. Here are the books:
- The Man in Gray Flannel by Sloan Wilson
- Mariner’s Compass by Earlene Fowler
- Bear Comes Home by Rafi Zabor
- Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
- Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
- Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs
- Farthest North by Dr. Fridtjof Nansen
- Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope
- Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters
I will be traveling for part of May so who knows how many books I’ll be able to read for this month. Here is the list I will attempt:
- Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson – in honor of May being Wilson’s birth month.
- Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs – in honor of Graphic Novel month being in May.
- Mariner’s Compass by Earlene Fowler – in honor of May is Museum Month.
- Bear Comes Home by Rafi Zabor- in honor of May being Music Month.
- Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters – in honor of the first Thursday in May being Prayer Week.
- Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian – in honor of my father’s birth month. As a kid he read this book.
- Five Children and It by E. Nesbit – in honor of May being Nesbit’s birth month.
- Farthest North by Fridtjof Nansen – in honor of Peary’s birth month being in May. From one explorer to another.
- Prelude to Foundation by Isaac Asimov – to continue the series started in January in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
- Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope – to continue the series started in honor of Trollope’s birth month in April.
MacLachlan, Patricia. Sarah, Plain and Tall. New York: Harper & Row, 1985.
Reason read: for the fun of it (because I wanted something super quick to read).
Book summary (taken from inside cover):When their father invites a mail-order bride to come live with them in their prairie home, Caleb and Anna are captivated by her and hope that she will stay.” Not exactly. Widower dad places and advertisement for a wife and Sarah answers. One of the first things she tells them is that she is “plain and tall.” What follows is delightful story about the lengths people will go to in order to banish loneliness. Anna and Caleb are hungry for a new mother and want to see their father happy again so they welcome a stranger with open arms. But, probably the most heartbreaking sacrifice is made by Sarah herself. She gives up the coast of Maine and the ocean for the prairies of the Midwest. I have no idea how she does it.
As an aside, I was glad to learn this is the first book in the Witting Family series. When I finished Sarah, Plain and Tall I didn’t want to leave them, especially Sarah.
Edited to add quote: “There is something to miss no matter where you are” (p 42). How could I forget putting this in the review? I love this!
Author fact: MacLachlan won a Newbery Medal for Sarah, Plain and Tall.
Book trivia: Sarah, Plain and Tall was made into a movie starring Glenn Close and Christopher Walken.
Nancy said: Nancy said Sarah, Plain and Tall was good for both boys and girls.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Best for Boys and Girls” (p 22).
This year, more than ever, I am struck by time’s marching; the relentless footfalls of days and weeks passing by. I know that is mortality speaking, but it rings eerie in my mind nonetheless. Not helping the doom and gloom is the first book on my list, On The Beach by Nevil Shute. I wanted a different book from Shute but there isn’t a library local enough to loan it to me.
Here are the planned books for January 2018:
- On The Beach (AB) by Nevil Shute (previously mentioned) – in honor of Shute’s birth month.
- Clara Callan by Richard Wright – in honor of Sisters Week being in January.
- Tea From an Empty Cup by Pat Cadigan – in honor of January being Science Fiction Month.
- Partisans: Marriage, Politics and Betrayal Among the New York Intellectuals by David Laskin – in honor of January 26th being Spouses’s Day.
- War Child: a Child Soldier’s Story by Emmanuel Jal – in honor of the end of the Sudan civil war.
- Travellers’ Prelude: Autobiography 1893-1927 by Freya Stark – in honor of Freya Stark’s birth month.
- Practicing History by Barbara Tuchman (AB) – in honor of Tuchman’s birth month.
- Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle by Dorothy Gilman – started in September in honor of Grandparents’ Day.
For the Early Review program for LibraryThing:
- Brain Food: The Surprising Science of Eating for Cognitive Power by Lisa Mosconi, PhD (finishing).
- Pep Talk for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo by Grant Faulkner (also finishing).
What to say about April? I ran my fastest 10k while ill (go figure). I met two new runners and may have convinced someone to at least try. I don’t know where this acceptance to run with others is coming from. To share a conversation I had with someone: I asked where she runs. She replied she doesn’t have my pace, “nowhere near it” were her exact words. I answered I don’t have that pace all the time either. Me & my pace visit from time to time but we don’t make it a thing. She laughed and I saw myself ten years ago talking to someone who face-times with friends while running. I worried about her relationship with pace. But, this blog is turning into a thing different from reading.
So, without further ado, here are the finished books:
- Diplomatic Lover by Elsie Lee – read in one day
- Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez – read in two days
- Celibate Season by Carol Shields and Blanche Howard – read in four days (this book annoyed me and I kept having to put it down)
- Lost Upland: stories of the Dordogne Region by W.S. Merwin – confessional: DNF (bored, bored, bored)
- Coming into the Country by John McPhee
- Henry James: the Untried Years by Leon Edel
- Another Part of the Wood by Kenneth Clark – this was cheeky!
- “F” is for Fugitive by Sue Grafton (I’m calling this a continuation even though I read “A” a long time ago.)
- Rise of Endymion by Dan Simmons (AB + print so I could finish on time – today!)
- Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves – another quick read (finished in four days)
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul
Gottman, John M. and Nan Silver. The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work. New York: Harmony Books, 2015.
Reason read: I have no idea.
I was hoping to be struck by lightning with this book. My marriage is pretty solid but I could always use improving in the relationship department (who couldn’t?). So I was a little worried when the first piece of advice sounded something like this, and I’m paraphrasing: if you can accommodate each other’s “crazy” side and handle it with caring, affection and respect, your marriage can thrive. Talk about a duh moment. Of course ANY relationship is going to benefit from caring, affection and respect. The advice gets better and as a result I do see my relationship differently. If I had had more time with the book I would have tried some of the quizzes and exercises. Maybe next time.
I don’t know where March went. I’ve looked under calendars and in date books and I still can’t figure it out. The month went by so fast! Here are the books finished for March:
- Naked Lunch by William Burroughs
- The Assistant by Bernard Malamud
- Family Man by Jayne Krentz
- Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver
- Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (AB)
- The Brontes by Juliet Barker (DNF)
- Means of Ascent by Robert Caro (DNF)
- Center of the World by Jacqueline Sheehan (Fun)
- In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White (would have been an Early Review book a long time ago)
On tap for April (besides a little Noodle 5k run):
- A Considerable Town by MFK Fisher ~ in honor of April being the best time to visit France
- The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman ~ for fun
- Green Thoughts by Eleanor Perenyi ~ in honor of gardening month
- Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot ~ in honor of April Fools
- Don’t Eat This Book by Morgan Spurlock ~ in honor of April being Food Month (AB)
- The Grand Tour by Tim Moore ~ in honor of Harvey Ball passing in April
Tyler, Anne. Earthly Possessions. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1977.
This is a super quick read. The fact that it was a made-for-television movie back in the 90s should tell you something: really good but without prolonged drama; couldn’t make it to the big screen. Here’s the quick and dirty of the plot: Charlotte Emory is at the bank, waiting to clean out her savings so she can run away from her married life. She’s the bored housewife of a boring preacher. While waiting to change her whole life, suddenly it is changed for her. She gets caught up in a robbery and is taken hostage. Since her captor is practically half her age she isn’t exactly afraid of him, or the gun he waves in her face. Almost willingly Charlotte finds herself on a road trip with Jake Simms, Jr – demolition derby racer, escapee from jail, and father to his teenage girlfriend’s unborn child. The three make an interesting pair. Tyler’s writing is sharp and funny. She gives us alternating time frames, bouncing between Charlotte’s escape in present day and the past – as if to explain how Charlotte’s life ended up so complicated.
Lines I liked, “I tripped over a mustard jar big enough to pickle a baby” (p 6). Who thinks like that? Another one, “That prodding black nubbin in the hand of a victim of impulse” (p 49).
Reason read: June is the most popular month to get married in…and divorced in, too. I have no idea why.
Author fact: Tyler graduated from Duke University at the age of nineteen. Are you doing the math? If there were four years spent at Duke she would have entered college at the age of fifteen.
Book trivia: Earthly Possessions was made into a television movie in 1999 and starred Susan Sarandon as the bored housewife. I can picture that completely.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Marriage Blues” (p 161).
Dark, Alice Elliott. Naked to the Waist. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.
Naked to the Waist is a compilation of six short stories with the title story being the last. While each story varies from the next there are a few underlying themes common to them all. All include women who are in relationships not easily defined. The relationships that surround them are slightly domineering.
“Interior Studio” – Two artists struggling to make ends meet; told from the point of view of the painter wife with a dominant writer husband.
“The Good Listener” – a writing teacher gets caught in a love triangle that turns into a love square.
“Plans for Plants” – a couple is moving apart. They don’t know each other anymore.
“The Comfortable Apartment” – an abused wife has the opportunity to leave her husband thanks to her sister…but does she?
“Buddy” – for me, this one was the most disturbing. A man takes his girlfriend’s puppy while she is in France for a funeral. He never wanted her to get a dog, and that’s all I’ll say about that one.
“Naked to the Waist” – Lucy is torn between wanting her best friend, a homosexual, to want her and wanting to move on with her life.
Telling lines, “She threw herself into love as though she were diving under water in at attempt to make herself disappear from the surface of the planet” (p 20), “She was coiled coolly around his mind” (p 92), It shocked him to see her alone, and he realized it was the first time he had observed her out of the range of his influence” (p 162″, and “This was my cue to placate him with one of our private games, and I did” (p 131).
As an aside, adultery is a common theme in Dark’s stories. I found it striking that when two different characters in two different stories want to know how their partners are getting away with the affair they ask the same questions, “how are you managing this?”
Reason read: November is National Writing Month and I’m honoring the short story this month.
Author fact: Dark also wrote In the Gloaming and Think of England both of which are on my list.
Book trivia: Naked to the Waist is made up of six short stories and oddly enough was not available in my area. I had to request it from Bangor, Maine.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “A…Is For Alice” (p 1).
Irving, John. A Widow For One Year. Read by George Guidall. New York: Random House Audio, 1998.
While meandering at times A Widow For One Year follows the life of Ruth Cole. In Part One it is 1958 and Ruth is only four years old. The plot doesn’t necessarily focus on Ruth at this point but rather on her Long Island parents – their endless grief over the accidental death of their teenage sons and the bitter end of their tumultuous marriage. Ruth’s father is a celebrated author of books for children, a closet alcoholic and a raging adulterer. He wants to divorce Ruth’s mother, Marion, but he first needs to make sure he’ll win the custody battle over Ruth. Given his drinking (he can’t even drive due to too many dui arrests) and sexual conquests outside the marriage he needs Marion to have an indiscretion of her own to level the playing field. Enter Eddie O’Hare, a sixteen year old high school student from Philips Exeter Academy. Ted hires Eddie to be his writing assistant for the summer but really Eddie is supposed to seduce Marion. It’s Eddie who I like the best in this part one. He plays the fool perfectly (oh, but what a sweet and pretty fool). Unwittingly he is a pawn for both Ted and Marion.
In Part Two Ruth, at thirty-six, is an accomplished writer living in New York. The section begins with the very same Eddie O’Hare. He is in town to introduce Ruth at one of her readings. While their paths cross only briefly at this point in the story Ruth is enlightened by Eddie’s memories of her mother. She begins to see her parent’s divorce in a whole new perspective. Before leaving for a European book tour Eddie gives Ruth a murder mystery he thinks was written by Marion. While in Amsterdam Ruth is witness to the murder of a window prostitute from the red light district.
This sets in motion Part Three which, in the beginning, focuses mostly on the murder of the prostitute from five years earlier. The lead chief inspector has a conundrum. While he was able to solve the murder he now wants to find the witness. The story jumps back fill in the story of the prostitute (which could have been a whole separate book). I don’t want to spoil the end except to say it’s nice that Irving brought the story full circle.
Favorite lines: “There are few things as seemingly untouched by the real world as a child asleep” (p 151). Don’t you love the image of that? Another favorite line, “I appear to have an old disease to share” (p 324).
As an aside, Ruth’s attitude about her American fans reminded me of how Natalie Merchant reacts to autograph signings and picture taking with her American fans. Both Ruth and Natalie are more comfortable with their European fans.
Reason read: John Irving celebrates a birthday in March, on the 18th…or so I’ve read on LibraryThing.
Author fact: John Irving was not an author Nancy Peal included in her “Too Good to Miss” chapters. Too bad because he should have been. He has written some amazing stuff.
Book trivia: The 2004 film adaptation of A Widow For One Year was “A Door in the Floor.” Note to self: put this on my movie list.
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Wayward Wives” (p 232). I think Pearl got it wrong. Yes, the wife is wayward but her situation is completely more understandable than her husband’s. I think her husband is despicable. But, another thing: the book isn’t really about the wayward wife or husband.
Stegner, Wallace. Crossing to Safety. New York: Random House, 1987.
Crossing to Safety is a story you have to stick with in order to understand. For the first 100 pages you might find yourself asking, “what is the point?” because it seems to be about two couples who have a great relationship with one another. It’s all about the ups and downs of their friendship through the years and Stegner’s characters move in and out of prose casually, almost nonchalantly. He makes assumptions that you already know them by name. There are no obvious introductions to anyone. What’s more, there is a certain carefree attitude of the first decade of their friendship as well (mid 1930s). The women of the bonded friendship, both pregnant at the same time, enjoy champagne on a picnic. As the story moves along you can’t help but be drawn into the loyalty of their friendship; the push and pull of individual need against the fabric of their woven relationship.
Favorite lines (and there were a bunch of them), “It was a toss-up who was neglecting whom” (p 84).
Reason read: Wallace Stegner went to the University of Iowa and was in the Graduate Program in Creative Writing, “the Iowa Writers’ Workshop” and Iowa became a state in December. Yes, it is a stretch but that’s what I’m doing.
Can I just say I love the picture of Wallace Stegner on the back of Crossing to Safety? Or maybe it’s just the sweater. As an aside I would like to thank Stegner for introducing me to the 1931 Marmon. What a classy (but gangster!) car!
Author fact: There is a great website dedicated to Wallace Stegner here.
Book trivia: People either love or hate the “nonplot” approach. I loved it…once I got used to it.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Growing Writers” (p 107).
Berg, Elizabeth. Say When. Brilliance Audio on CD, 2003.
Elizabeth Berg captures the heart and soul of jilted husband Frank Griffin perfectly. Wait. Can a husband be jilted? Sure enough except most people prefer to write about the woman’s side of the story. When his wife Ellen announces she is in love with someone else (the mechanic from her automotive class) and wants a divorce Griffin (as he likes to be called) goes through all the typical myriad of emotions. His disbelief, anger, jealousy, sarcasm and sadness permeate his every waking moment. Refusing to give his wife a divorce or even move out of their house Griffin forces Ellen into a roommate relationship. He fluctuates between wanting to win her back and disbelieving he has to do anything of the sort. He has floated through the years of their marriage without a single thought to the sameness of their daily lives, the routine-ness of their relationship. He has been comfortable with the predictability of their days and never considered that Ellen might not share that opinion. Adding insult to injury she admits she doubts she ever loved him, even going so far as to say she knew they never should have gotten married in the first place. Ouch. I won’t spoil the end but I can say this, not everyone has agreed with these characters. I guess that’s what makes them real to me. We can’t like everything or everyone. Ellen’s character is particularly hard to like because she is so vague but that’s one of the things that makes her real in my opinion.
As I mentioned before, one of the most refreshing aspects of this book is that it is told from the man’s perspective and it’s the woman who had the affair. I think it goes to show you that men can be prone to jealousy and childish name calling (“Mr. Crank Shaft” was my favorite) just as much as a woman. The stereotypes have been further messed with when it’s revealed that Ellen is going out with a much younger man.
Reason read: this is going to sound bizarre but I chose Say When because I am celebrating my 8th wedding anniversary this month. Reading about a relationship in trouble makes me extremely grateful mine is solid, fun and loving!
Author fact: Elizabeth Berg won the New England Books Award in 1997.
Book trivia: According to Berg’s own website Say When was made into a television movie for CBS called “A Very Married Christmas.”
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Marriage Blues” (p 162).