Garcia, Cristina. The Aguero Sisters. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997.
Reason read: December is the best month to visit the Caribbean. I thought I had removed the “best time to travel to [fill in the blank]” but I guess not.
The Aguero Sisters starts with a bang (pun totally intended). Ignacio and Blanca Aguero are a husband and wife naturalist team, slogging through the Zapata swamp shooting specimens for a U.S. based museum. Suddenly forty-four year old Ignacio turns the gun on his wife and pulls the trigger…The mystery of what really happened in the swamp on that day in 1948 doesn’t become clear until much, much later.
The rest of the novel follows the lives of Ignacio’s adult daughters and their very different lives. Constancia Aguero Cruz lives in New York, married to a tobacco shop owner with a daughter in Oahu and a son in Morningside Heights, New York. She has been kept apart from her sister in Cuba for as long as she can remember, but she doesn’t really know why. Reina was only six when her mother died. She still lives in Cuba as an electrician and mechanic and has many passions, seducing married men. She has a daughter, Dulcita, in Madrid, Spain. Interspersed between this current-day, third-person narrative is Ignacio’s first person account of his life, starting with remembering his parents, Reinaldo and Soledad Aguero. Through his accounts, the history of Ignacio and his daughters becomes clearer and clearer, like sediment settling in the bottom of a glass of murky water once the agitation of stirring has stopped.
Line I liked, “Reina stares out the window for hours trying to make sense of the density of stars” (p 39). Me too, Reina. Me too.
Other lines worth mentioning, “she is the first to admit she has a low threshold for disorder” (p 27), “My sense of smell is heightened by hunger” (p 205), and “A confidence in her walk is what gives birth to lust” (p 233).
Author fact: Like her characters, Garcia grew up in Havana and New York.
Book trivia: Garcia does a fantastic job fleshing out the characters of The Aguero Sisters. So much so that I felt it necessary to take notes on all the details.
Nancy said: Pearl included the Aguero Sisters as one example of wonderful novels being turned out by Cuban emigres.
BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “Cuba Si!” (p 68).
Wright, Richard B. Clara Callan: a Novel. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2002.
Reason read: January has a Sisters Week for some country.
Engaged. Engaged is the word I would describe how I read Clara Callan. I think I read it in four days. Despite its name, Clara Callan is actually about two women, sisters in fact. Clara is the elder, living in their deceased parents house in a small rural town outside Toronto. She is a no-nonsense serious schoolteacher who loves to play the piano, read and write poetry; a perfect candidate for spinsterhood and self righteousness despite the fact she no longer believes in God. Since it is the 1930s and Clara is so mysterious, she is also fodder for constant gossip and worry in her village. Meanwhile younger sister Nora Callan has flown the coop to America and the Big Apple to seek fame and fortune as a radio star. Despite their vasts differences the sisters remain close, sharing letters to keep in touch. Clara’s journal rounds out the epistolary tale and fills in the gaps.
Probably my favorite subliminal element to Clara Callan is how Wright weaves current events into to the story. Nora, being in show business, complains of a bratty young man hanging around a pretty brunette. The talented brunette would go on to star in a little movie about a wizard from Oz. Or the radio program designed to sound like a real newscast scaring the bejesus out of everyone. Or the new sensational book, Gone with the Wind. It is very tempting to put together a list of every book Clara reads or every song she mentions.
The novel has a Bridges of Madison County kind of feel to the ending. I was a little disappointed with the tactic.
Favorite lines, “As we drew closer to the great city, we passed freight yards and apartment buildings that were so close to the tracks you could look in on people’s lives” (p 74) and “I wasn’t aware that I muttered in the morning, but I suppose I do” (p 223). That’s what happens when you live alone for so long. You lose track of your habits until someone else finds them again.
One more quote, “The innocuous and banal words of the defeated who hopes to stir just a spoonful of guilt into the heart of the marauder” (p 321). How many times have I been there myself? This was a painful line to read.
Author fact: Wright has written a bunch of books with interesting titles. Unfortunately, this is the only one on my Challenge list. Also, I just found out Wright died in early 2017.
Book trivia: Clara Callan is a 2001 winner of the Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Award.
Nancy said: Clara Callan “won every major Canadian literary award in 1991” (p 201).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Sibs” (p 199).
What can I tell you about July? What a crazy effed up month! For my state of mind it was better than the last simply because the Kisa and I ran all over California for a week. I was terribly distracted from the run and the books. Once you see the numbers you’ll understand. For the run I conquered only two runs in sunny CA and totaled 20.5 miles for the entire month. Here are the books:
- Anna and Her Daughters by D.E. Stevenson
- The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins
- Pacific Lady by Sharon S. Adams
- Hawthorne: a Life by Brenda Wineapple
- Moment of War by Laurie Lee
Early Review for LibraryThing:
- The World Broke in Two by Bill Goldstein
Did Not Finish (still reading):
- Henry James: The Middle Years by Leon Edel -STILL! Since June!
- Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
Never Started (didn’t arrive in time):
- In Tragic Life by Vandis Fisher
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.
- 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.
When I think about January I feel as though it was a month of waiting. Balancing between going somewhere and leaving something. Always on the verge of some destination I never could quite explain. I’m sure part of it stemmed from my uncle passing suddenly at the end of December. I knew there would be a funeral but when? Finally, when the date was set (1/27) it seemed so far away. Until it was 1/25 and I had to get on a plane to fly across the country. Then it seemed too soon. It was a push-me, pull-me month in all kinds of ways.
But, that’s for the other blog. Instead, here are the books:
For the Book Lust Challenge:
- The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien in honor of First Month, First Chapter.
- Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin in honor of Franklin’s birth month being in January
- 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff in honor of January being Journal Month. Okay, 84, Charing is not exactly a journal, but it’s like one.
- All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy in honor of Celebrate Mentors Day (January 24th). I see Cole being a mentor to Rawling.
- Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie in honor of January being a good time to visit India. To be honest, I didn’t get into it as much as I thought I would.
- And speaking of books I didn’t get into – Distant Mirror by Barbara W. Tuchman in honor of Tuchman’s birth month. Okay, I admit it. I didn’t finish this one. Didn’t even come close.
- Zimmerman Telegram also by Barbara W. Tuchman, because I was determined to honor her birth month with something!
For the hell of it I read The Gravedigger’s Daughter by Joyce Carol Oates, a recommendation from my sister. I also read A Simple Act of Gratitude by John Kralik on the flight from CT to CA. On the return trip I’m sorry to say I also read I hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max. I don’t know how I’m going to write a review for that!
I didn’t read anything for the Early Review program for LibraryThing but I did receive notice on the last day of the month that I won a book for February.
September 2009 was…Back to school. I spent the first part of the month concentrating on hiring for the library and avoiding tragedy. Kisa and I took a much needed vacation – first to Fenway park (go Red Sox!) and then to Baltimore for a little getaway. September is the month I will always mourn my father, but now I add Mary Barney to the list of tears. As I have always said, everything bad happens in September. This year was no different. As you can tell, I buried myself in books.
The Escape was:
- The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka ~ I had completely forgotten how disturbing this book was!
- The Reivers by William Faulkner ~ a southern classic that almost had me beat.
- A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby ~ funny tale about a first-time expedition
- Out of the Blue: the Story of September 11, 2001 From Jihad to Ground Zero by Richard Bernstein and the staff of The New York Times ~ an unsettling journalistic account of what really happened on 9/11/01.
- The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough ~ a nonfiction about what happens when mother nature meets bad human design.
- Off Balance: the Real World of Ballet by Suzanne Gordon ~ a nonfiction about the ugly side of dance.
- Sarah Canary by Karen Joy Fowler ~ magical book about three very broken people (in honor of real character month).
- A Student of Weather by Elizabeth Hay ~ Hay’s first novel – one I couldn’t put down it was that good! This was on the September list as “the best time to visit Canada.”
- Native Son by Richard Wright ~incredibly depressing. I’m almost sorry I read it this month.
- The View From Pompey’s Head by Hamilton Basso ~ a last minute pick-me-up, read in honor of Basso’s birth month (but also doubled as a “southern” read).
For LibraryThing and the Early Review program: Day of the Assassins by Johnny O’Brien. Geared towards teenage boys, this was a fun, fast read.
For fun, I read a quick book called Women Who Run by Shanti Sosienski . Since our flight to Baltimore was only 40-some-odd minutes I didn’t want to bring a lengthy read. This was perfect.
Hay, Elizabeth. A Student of Weather. Washington D.C.: Counterpoint, 2000.
A Student of Weather is a car without brakes. No. A Student of Weather is a car without brakes set at the top of a very tall hill. No. A Student of Weather is a car without brakes set at the top of a very tall hill…and someone gives it a push. This is what is was like to read Elizabeth Hay’s first novel. It started off easy enough, slow enough, gentle enough, harmless enough. Then, without any warning at all it is careening crazily almost out of control. Impossible to stop. Stopping the read proved impossible, too. I seriously couldn’t put it down.
As mentioned before, the story starts out simply. Maurice Dove is a researcher, come to study the weather of Saskatchewan. He stays with the Hardy family – Ernest and his two daughters Lucinda and Norma-Joyce. Both daughters, despite being very young, fall in love with Mr. Dove. From there, simplicity comes to a halt. A Student of Weather is a novel full of contrasting themes. While Lucinda is fair-haired, beautiful and virtuous Norma-Joyce is dark-haired, impulsive and outspoken. While both sisters find ways to fall in love with their visitor, both also find ways to hate each other. Even the landscapes within the story are contrasting. Norma-Joyce’s childhood prairie home cannot compare to the bustling city of her adulthood, New York City. As time progresses and Norma-Jean grows to be a woman with a child of her own, even her child is a conflicted in personality – both shy and loud simultaneously.
On the surface this seems like a love story – two sisters vying for the affections of a traveling man who loves neither of them. Digging deeper it is a story of betrayal and survival. It is the story of pain and loss and the idea that not every broken heart gets mended.
There were many, many, many favorite lines. Here are some of the best:
“Had she been able to , she would have kept the water he washed in, the skin that flaked away, the warm breath that hovered in the cold air above his head, his footprints in the snow” (p 96). I love how each item becomes something less obtainable. Had I written the line I would have reversed the order of the last two items.
“Maybe that’s all anyone wants in the end, to be remembered rather than overlooked’ (p 112). Simple line, but I loved it.
“She understood that you can pass from summer to winter in someone’s mind without even leaving the room” (p 172). Tragically beautiful. Been there, but who hasn’t?
“But returning is never easy, and nor is September” (p 283). Since I can add a car accident and a death to September sadness, I agree. Completely.
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in two different chapters. In ” Canadian Fiction” (p 50) and again in “First Novels” (p88).
Schumacher, Julie. The Body is Water. New York: SoHo, 1995.
I love it when reading fits the day. I don’t know how to describe it other than the perfect marriage between a book and time. It was snowing, sleeting, windy and freezing cold. Every so often a gust of wind would send pellets of freezing rain drumming against the windows, yet the Christmas tree glowed softly, the cat purred at my feet, a balsam candle burned bright, a fleece blanket was thrown over my lap, a cup of tea at my elbow and I was content. If I could ignore the wind, all was quiet, all was still; the perfect time to lose myself in The Body is Water.
I’m still reading December picks and The Body is Water celebrates the month New Jersey became a state, oddly enough. It’s also the story of single and pregnant Jane, and her return to her New Jersey shore childhood home. In one sitting I read 184 of the 262 pages.
“All my life I’ve never been certain of where I should be” (p 20).
“In a crisis, other families probably rush to hold the ailing person’s hand; our family rushes to the general vicinity of the crisis and putters around, hoping the patient will spontaneously recover on her own” (p 61).
“No matter where I lived, I never knew my way around; there was no ocean, no rushing noise of a heartbeat from the east” (p 230).
“I start to cry, remembering the days before my mother died, before Bee slept in another room. That was when we loved each other best and didn’t know it” (p 262).
I ended this book sobbing. I connected with Jane even though she was the younger sister (Bee was four years older); even though Jane lost a mother and I lost a father; even though she became a mother and I remain sans motherhood. I connected through the simple loss of a parent, the soothing sound of the ocean, and the complex closeness of sisters.
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lustin the chapter called “Jersey Guys and Gals” (p 129). This also could have been mentioned in chapter called “Maiden Voyages” (p 158) because this was Schmacher’s first novel.
Carey, Jacqueline. The Crossley Baby. New York: Ballantine, 2003.
November is National Adoption Month. Out of everything I am currently reading, I thought this would be my favorite. I’m sorry to say I was a little disappointed. The Crossley Baby is the story of two sisters (Sunny & Jean) battling for their dead sister (Bridget)’s baby. Well, that’s what it’s supposed to be about. Instead, it’s more of a commentary on wealth (Jean has it, Sunny does not), parenting (Sunny is a mother of two, Jean is not) and manipulation (they both do it, for one reason or another). More time is spent setting up where Jean, Sunny and Bridget came from than the actual adoption process. More time is spent on describing the vast financial differences between Sunny and Jean than on their personalities. By the end of the book I didn’t know Jean or Sunny any better so I didn’t care who got the baby. I was completely indifferent to their struggle for baby Jade. Probably what bothered me most was the lack of real grief shown by either sister over the death of their elder sister. Crossley adds flickers of sadness, glimpses of sorrow, but for the most part Bridget’s death goes mostly unmourned. Possibly that is because they never got along. If there is one thing the three sisters did really well it was avoiding closeness.
In the end, Sunny wins custody. Everything points in the direction of Jean winning – money, power, people in her corner – while Sunny’s husband is filing for bankruptcy, old favors aren’t worth cashing in, and they have to sell their home. In a last minute surprise ending Jean withdraws her application for adoption and doesn’t contest the award going to Sunny. No one from Bridget’s life is there to put in a word edgewise.
Ironically enough, it was Bridget who was my favorite character because of this one line, “Bridget tasted her words before she spoke…” (p 112).
BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust and the very first chapter called “Adapting to Adoption” (p 1).
Anderson, Jessica. The Only Daughter. New York: Viking, 1980.
Set in Australia 1977, this is another Book Lust choice. I’m only 8 pages in but already I see similarities between my family and the Cornock family. Sisters on the telephone comparing notes on a mother’s behavior, “Did she give you the ‘I’m getting old’ speech?” “Yup.” I’m giggling already. I’m also getting schooled on Australian dialogue. A ‘tick’ is the equivalent of our ‘sec’. “Just a tick” is the same as “Just a sec.” The only annoyance with the book is that there are so many characters (already) that the author was justified in putting a family tree in the beginning of the book.
Edit: 11/30/06 – I have finished the book and there are three things I loved about it: Anderson never needed to spell out everything that happens. She implies and that kept me guessing. One mystery – why was Siddy calling Jack, “son” when Jack died? The characters constantly surprised me. Sylvia, the “only” daughter returns to Sydney (from Rome) coincidentally (?) when her father has had a stroke. She claims she didn’t know he was dying, but… she’s only been gone 20 years and she’s only his favorite child. Suddenly she is back? Get the picture? There is a twist to the will: Sylvia gets the money, but only after her mother dies (which Molly swears she won’t do). I also loved the complexity of all the relationships. Once I got them straight, I loved the power struggles between the sexes, the constant threat of ‘I’m leaving you.’
PS~ Incidentally, the cover of my copy of the book shows a swing and a hat. Probably one of the most powerful scenes in the book, IMO. Guy, a stepson by marriage is testing a rope swing. Jack, the stroke-suffered father is sitting in his wheelchair only yards away. Guy, in an evil attempt to scare his stepfather, swings close enough to kick Jack’s hat off his head. It’s a power struggle that Jack ultimately wins.
Booklust Twist: This is categorized as simply, “Australian fiction” (Book Lust, p.29).