- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - -
Have finished reading The Snow Child: A Novel by Eowyn Ivey, an Alaska native. Set in very backwoods Alaska in the 1920s, a middle aged couple arrive to try to realize their dream and to get away from mentally crushing angst about losing their only child in utero. They homestead. He works the land and she takes care of the house and lives in nearly perpetual loneliness and sadness. At times the couple come together in loving accord, but often they do not. One day they build a snow man. Well, a snow girl. The next morning the snow girl is demolished and the mittens and scarf have disappeared. Eventually they spot a small child who darts through the woods (with red mittens and scarf) with her pet fox and barely seems to touch the ground. Is she real? Where does she live? Is she a figment of their imaginations? Anything else I say could ruin the story. It’s a vivid portrayal of the rough homesteading life back then, yet it’s full of love and friendships. And full of the magic of the snow child. A wonderful read by a very gifted author (her first book).
The Barbarian Nurseries: A Novel by Hector Tobar (he’s a writer for the Los Angeles Times). Oh my, what a book. Perhaps more interesting to people who live in the southwest, in those areas that border Mexico where we have a huge influx of illegal immigrants (who want to be called undocumented workers now – they’re that too, but they’re here illegally no matter what you call them). It’s the story of a seemingly wealthy young couple with small children, a high tech husband who isn’t exactly honest with his wife about their money problems, and about the Mexican maid who works for the family. The story is told about all 3 of those people, and oh, what different viewpoints they have. The wife lives in a dream world, isn’t very understanding of any of her hired help. The husband worries and frets about his company’s financial issues, and the maid seethes inside not really wanting to take care of children. They’re all unhappy in some way or another. The wife suddenly pays a company to tear out a very expensive jungle-type back yard and plant a desert-scape that is more suitable to the climate here in Orange County (yes, the books is situated here in OC). She puts it on their joint credit card. The next day the husband takes his staff out to lunch and his credit card is denied. He’s humiliated in front of his employees. He storms home, a huge verbal fight ensues and a physical altercation occurs. The wife takes off with cash and the 6-month old baby, leaving behind her cell phone. The husband storms out and disappears for a few days. The maid is left with no car, no money, and 2 of the 3 children. After 4 days not being able to reach anyone, where every possible thing could go wrong does go wrong, she takes the 2 boys on buses and a train to try to find the grandfather, who lives in downtown L.A. Parts of this book are hilarious funny. Eye-opening. Frustration at all 3 people was the common consensus in our book group. The New York Times wrote: “Tobar . . . vividly and movingly captures the conflict between the immigrant ideal to which America has always aspired and the presiding white culture’s deep ambivalence about the immigrant presence.” ELLE magazine said: [Tobar write about] “race, class, mixed marriage, immigration, servitude, parenting—and raises them up from the fertile narrative soil of Southern California.” The book is a must-read. We all, in our group, thought it was a riveting book.
War Brides by Helen Bryan. I got it as a bargain Kindle book. Liked the idea of the story, but I had difficulty keeping track of the characters. It’s about 5 women from all walks of life who converge in a small country village in England during the middle of WWII. They have numerous trials and tribulations, from relationships to just getting food on the table. The men or boyfriends they’re involved with are also very different, so each person/couple has a different story to tell. There were many, many typo’s and sentence errors in the Kindle version – distracting to be sure. But for a bargain book, I suppose I shouldn’t complain. I felt the editor didn’t do his/her job for this author as the story just didn’t have the cohesiveness I was hoping for. I nearly abandoned the book altogether about half way through, but stuck it out.The author wraps everything up at the end, maybe a bit too neatly, which may not be very realistic.
Trustee from the Toolroom What a book. I was riveted. My friend (and cooking instructor) Tarla Fallgatter recommended this book, and what a treasure it is. I can’t tell you a whole lot about it or I’d be giving away too much of the story. It opens in London, with an ordinary man, with an ordinary wife. He is asked by his sister to help construct a leakproof cement box for her and her husband to take their valuables on an across-the-ocean voyage on a sailboat. They’re planning to move from England to Canada. He does, since he’s a master of constructing small things. Meanwhile, they also ask this childless couple to care for their young daughter for 4 months while they do this traverse-the-ocean thing, and then they’ll have her fly to their new home. Can you guess? They don’t make it, and that’s an integral part of the story too. The husband (and now the new father of his niece) embarks on a journey to – - well, go to the place where the hurricane foundered them. Oh, but there’s so much more to the story. This is written by Nevil Shute (those of you old enough to remember On the Beach, an equally riveting tale from the 1950′s. Shute died in 1960. I highly recommend this book. Try to get it at the library if you can, though there are $10 copies used through the link above, and the Kindle edition is just a bit more. Oh so worth reading!
The Kashmir Shawl: A Novel by Rosie Thomas. (There are lots of other books by the same title, but they’re about shawls, not a novel.) In cleaning out their father’s belongings after his death, Mair comes across an incredibly beautiful shawl with a tiny saved lock of blonde hair. The shawl is exquisite. Her grandparents were poor. She knows there must be more to the story. She’s at odds and ends, and decides to retrace her grandparents’ steps when they were missionaries in India around 1940. Part of the story is told from the viewpoint of the granddaughter (Mair) and part from her grandmother (Nerys). There’s a huge cast of characters, but the story is fascinating, particularly since war was raging in Europe, and this couple was sheltered in many ways by being in India and Srinagar. Not quite a page turner, but it’s very interesting. Worth reading for sure. This is a new book.
One of the best stories I’ve read in a really long time – The Light Between Oceans. It’s a real winner. It brings to the forefront some very touchy issues, about decisions one makes, or that two people make, that can have huge repercussions, not just today, tomorrow, next year or a generation from now. The background story involves a relatively remote island off Australia (this takes place before satellites and the internet or cell phones), and a young man goes to work at the lighthouse on this island. Eventually he marries. A good woman, and she willingly goes to live on this remote island too. She miscarries 2 children. Out on this remote island with no help. Then one day a boat washes ashore and there’s a dead man and a tiny baby, who’s alive. I don’t want to ruin any of it. Just read it!
IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath has a little table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).