Saturday, January 28, 2017

Distracted By Craziness--Here's My Overdue List of Recent Reads

How can it be that I haven’t shared my book list for almost a year? Let me take the high road and blame my crazy dogs rather than those much crazier debates on television. Hope you find these books as entertaining as I did. 


The Probable Future
Alice Hoffman

If you enjoy reading stories about “good witches” or fairy-tales spun from the history of secret gardens and unrequited love, you’ll like this complicated tale about an Angel of Sorrow who appeared in 1682. The child who wandered from the wilderness was Rebecca Sparrow who seemed to portray magical powers such as: she never felt pain and when she whistled, sparrows brought her berries. This book is about modern women in Massachusetts—three closely related generations of the Sparrow family who live in an old mansion called Cake House. Each of these women has inherited a special-paranormal gift such as: dreaming other people’s dreams or being able to tell when someone is lying. The youngest, Stella, recently found out she had the supernatural ability to see the circumstances leading to a person’s death.  This troubling ‘gift’ creates some unintended drama and added family anxiety, taking Hoffman’s novel into unique territory. I enjoyed the book, especially the romantic parts but disliked the way the author intentionally jumped into varying perspectives, racing across town from the library to the lake and from Boston to Unity or across centuries past, the point of view sometimes changing not only in the same chapter but also on the same page. I’ve read other books by this author and usually breeze through them but have to admit this one loaded me down with details like snowdrops, snapping turtles, reeds and roses—all spectacular details for a patient reader. Lastly, if you enjoy mystical adventures filled with love, you’ll want to read this book.

All He Ever Wanted
by Anita Shreve

I really wanted to love this book. I’ve read other books by this author and didn’t expect the old-fashioned tone in the writing, which by the way she did in an exemplary fashion, channeling Edith Wharton in its melancholic prose. The title made me wish and hope for a different outcome and without giving away anything or spoiling the ending, I simply felt like the ash that floats up after one of Shreve’s symbolic fires. A sadder me, mulling over the obsessive side of love and the amazing characters in this book. Clearly historic and well researched; the author describes everything from the temperature to the type of vehicles people drove at the turn of the century, somehow putting fate and circumstance on the same track with literary eloquence and style.

The Stranger
 by Albert Camus

The beginning of this novel is a simplified translation for “American readers” with short, simple sentences in order to hold on to our limited attention spans. Though easy to read, I thought the rather bland beginning made a solid foundation for the much deeper second half. The main character, Meursault, is a pitiful, detached person living from one day to the next—uninspiring and uninspired. He’s like a zombie going to work and trying to stay out of any major upheavals in his apartment building. His blasé attitude attracts the lovely Marie but unfortunately, things take a turn for the worst on a hot day at the beach. Could it be the sun? Heat stroke? What made him pull the trigger and does he really care about the consequences? While reading The Stranger, it reminded me of Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky, except this guy doesn’t feel remorse and doesn’t understand why they are making a big deal out of it. Meursault’s hidden truth relies on the premise that death doesn’t really matter. Or does it?

Broken Angel
by Sylvia Ney

This is a true western filled with horses, cowboys and the difficult life of a family on the prairie. I enjoyed reading it and found the twist at the end very satisfying. If you're looking for a short story to read aloud to a group or if you're short on time and don't want to crack open some long winded saga about the old West, you'll love the way the writer wraps up the tale in less time than it takes to watch a rerun of Bonanza.

Kihivas: Alone at the Ends of the Earth (Nonfiction Sailing Adventure Memoir) by Istvan Kopar

I love books that take the reader on a journey but usually stick to reading fictional adventures rather than non-fiction but this remarkable tale of heroic achievement didn’t disappoint. In fact, this is a very exciting book that takes the reader around the world in a one-person sailboat. First, the writer describes his maritime past and his future dreams about circumnavigating the globe. For a young man living in a land-locked country his far-fetched ideas sound remarkable to everyone he meets until he constructs his own boat, the Salammbo. After some evening practice sails on Lake Balaton, Istvan sets his course toward Gibraltar, the official beginning of a long, arduous voyage across the Seven Seas. Besides the obvious coordinates and entries into his Captain’s log, are the emotional and physically grueling challenges thrown upon him during immense storms. Storms that tested his courage, determination and his mettle while making him question his sanity. The sensitive addition of reading material, bird-watching, radio chatter with friends and family had entertained Istvan on board, while the waves tossed the vessel through the Indian Ocean and Pacific. Careening through the Roaring Forties and Furious Fifties, Salammbo took a beating from giant swells, ice and incredible heat. By the time he reached the Trade Winds on his way home, he had pulled me into his story so deeply that I myself felt slightly exhausted. KIHIVAS-Alone at the Ends of the Earth is an incredible, true story of one man’s solitary triumph and an inspiration for all who set their sights on dreams that sound impossible.

The Mark of the Beast
Rudyard Kipling

I always enjoy Kipling and this one is no exception. Great short story taking place in India about the curse of a nude leper on a man named Fleete, in the temple of Hanuman or the Monkey-God. Kipling created drama while also making me smile. The irony of the English gentlemen defying nature and the symbolic imagery offered by the faceless leper who mews like a cat, adds to the mysterious tale. I liked it and suggest it to anyone interested in something short and eerie.

Very Valentine: A Novel (Valentine Trilogy Book 1)
Adriana Trigiani

There’s a lot to like about this book especially if you enjoy reading about Italian-American families. Adriani Trigiani writes from her heart, carefully placing it full of wonderful metaphors and tons of similes, to keep the family in this book far from the typical stereotypes associated with Italians in the Big Apple. This book made me laugh, cry and towards the end scream but I understand there’s a sequel and hopefully Valentine will realize there’s more to life than just achieving success and you don’t have to wait until you’re eighty to find true love. Or does she? Read about Roman the good-looking chef who knows how to cook but can’t seem to commit to a very passionate relationship. Enjoy the banter between siblings and a rivalry with her brother over the family shoe business. In fact, after reading this book, you may never look at shoes the same way again and you may begin dreaming of the moon in the mist over the Tyrrhenian sea where anything is possible.

Glimmer and other stories: Unusual and curious tales of magical realism, horror, mystery and suspense
Nicola McDonagh

These literary tales surprised me for many reasons but especially for the symbolic thread involving art that runs through most of the stories. A visual palette for the senses, her use of colorful language ties the reader’s attention to the art and then, when least expected, the canvas is torn or the stained glass is broken. My favorite line about an artist appears in Earnest Thirk, “Art was more than the object, more than the value of the piece. It was a way of giving himself to the world without actually having to be part of it.” Her quote might also apply to the artist, Nicola Mcdonagh, who created these riveting works of museum-quality words, thus giving herself to the world, one fearless story at a time.

Have you read any of these books? Do you think you might read one or more of these delightful tales? 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Fiona's Concession Speech

RIVERSIDE COUNTY, CALIFORNIA-We are happy to report that since our last post the drought in our usually photogenic state appears to be over! Hooray! The upcoming flowers, grasses and trees love every minute. It’s great weather if you’re a duck or if you don’t drive—but most small dogs-- don’t like it very much. Right now, the grass is soaked and clouds are hovering above promising more rain. The forecast is calling for at least another week of slippery slopes, mudslides and complaining pooches. Time to crank up the heat after making sure there’s a pile of yesterday’s newspapers or maybe a fresh puppy pad in clear sight.
 Breaking News!
Speaking of dogs, the candidates are circling three times before finding a comfortable spot to sit down. Let’s see if I can ask a question or two as they pass by entering the auditorium.
“Miss Fiona—Miss Fiona—I’m Eve with Intangible Hearts and our viewers had a few questions about the election. Do you think your views on abortion might have influenced some voters?”
“That’s a ridiculous question because my opponent and I are both rescues. Intangible Hearts? Who are you again?”
“I’m Eve with Intangible Hearts which has a division called PNN.”
“Pin? Not sure I’ve heard of you.”
“No, it’s mainstream—Pee-N-N.”
 "Go on."
“What about the wall? First, you wanted a fence that you and your friends could dig under and then you changed your mind? What happened?”
“The people have spoken-- the election is over so I don’t think it’s important.”
“Do you think wearing pants could have made a difference?” Ears twitching, she turned, yawned and adjusted her pink top.

Noticeably annoyed with my questions, she moved towards the podium to address the crowd.

"It was a long night. Everyone thought I was going to win. Everyone—even my competition—but alas I conceded to my opponent after what amounted to a long and arduous sprint for power. In the canine world, I’ll admit there does seem to be a bias regarding size that can bring down a campaign faster than a wiener dog race in a red state. After all, my ass-sniffing- technique is limited to the height of a drought-resistant blade of grass. Plus, unlike the winner, I don’t play games.

 Still, I have to raise my paw in awe. Though the competition was fierce, the snarls louder, we didn’t lower ourselves into a bloody dogfight. My ears were perked and listening to the entire charade. While my opponent groveled for tasty snacks, I had to beg for itsy-bitsy scraps not fit for a mouse. The phony ‘big eye’ technique worked to get them votes while I delivered speech after speech to the mailman, the gardener and anyone else willing to listen.  I take back some of my heated comments about my opponent's stinky butt. I'd take it all back but it's too late. 

Of course now that the election is over, I’m not disappointed with the results. Seriously, my constituents are smart—they know loyalty when they see it and now that I’m retiring from politics--, they will hopefully back the winner so I can go back to taking long naps."

(Intangible Hearts does not endorse any candidate and this post is intended strictly for fun.)