La Rose by Louise Erdrich

This was a spectacular book!  I was reluctant to read it because I have found many of Erdrich’s books to be depressing and I don’t like to read books that are all about the down, however I had to read it for a book club and am so grateful that I did.  Erdrich has written many stories about the Ojibwa Indians and they often focus on oppression, poverty, and social ills. This book, however, is a new story, not a retelling of an old story.  While the problems are not ignored, the focus is on how people are moving forward and trying to make the best of what they have and are.

This is literary fiction at its best. While other authors describe the thoughts and actions of their characters, Erdrich manages to capture their very essence with her breathtakingly beautiful prose.  I found myself reading very slowly just so as not to miss anything (and frankly, I am usually a skimmer when it comes to descriptive passages!).    Not a single character is a stereotype – each is fully drawn in all their complexity Each of her characters has a depth, and a background, and we are given insight into how they became what they are and how they are continuing to transform through their life.

This book will stick with me for a long time.

Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford

I loved this book! A heartbreakingly beautiful story of love, loyalty, and survival told against the backdrop of two World’s Fairs in Seattle:  the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific exposition of 1909 and the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.  Ernest, Fahn, and Maisie are three children who find their way to the Tenderloin – a high class brothel in Seattle’s red light district – in the early 1900s.  Each has their own haunting back story but they are united by a strong drive to survive and a deep caring for each other.  This is a coming of age story, told in alternating segments with Ernest’s story in 1962. The mood painted is wistful, a little sad, and replete with innocence slowly seeping away and being replaced by kindness, defiance, and determination.

Fans of historical fiction will enjoy the attention to detail Ford gives to the mood and surroundings of the two time periods.  Events such as Halley’s Comet, the Panama Canal, the rights of women to vote, and the details of Seattle mayoral races and their impact on the moral structure of the city are sprinkled throughout the tale.  Fans of literary fiction will enjoy the delicious writing which infuses mood and sentiment throughout a plot that describes historically accurate events and the impact on a diverse set of characters.  Each character – from the primaries to the secondaries – are interesting, well drawn, and bring a unique perspective to the story. All and all a great read.

The Song of Hartgrove Hall by Natasha Solomons

What a wonderful book! Beautiful, lyrical, writing. I found myself actually reading the descriptions of the countryside with care (I usually skim long descriptions as I find them boring) because they were so beautiful and so evocative of mood and place. The book tells Harry’s story as anchored in two time periods: just after WWII when he and his brothers try to save the family hall from ruin and towards the end of his life. There is a compelling story of Harry’s great love – which happens to be his brother’s wife – and the many relationships between family and friends across Harry’s lifetime. Characters are both appealing and painted in depth. However, what I loved most about this book were the ubiquitous musical themes. Harry is a song collector – from childhood he has collected old songs from locals and captures them in writing to keep them from disappearing forever. He becomes a composer and winds both these songs and feelings for the land into his compositions. His grandson turns out to be a musical prodigy on the piano and there are many compelling sections in the story that address this. All in all, a book that grabbed my attention, didn’t let go, and kept me thinking for days after I finished. Highly recommended! (less)

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Anders

This is a very difficult book to describe – it takes place in the San Francisco Bay Area and is billed as a kind of war between nature loving witches and tech savvy hipsters – both 25372801trying to save the world from falling apart but with very different views of what the end state should look like and how to get there. A great extrapolation from the current bay area residents! The stars of both camps happened to be miserable together as complete outcasts during middle school and may be falling in love even as it all comes to a head. Full of surprises, interesting characters, and tugs of familiarity. I didn’t really enjoy the first few chapters which focussed on the middle school start but loved it once they grew up and had lives and the real (to me) story started. Definitely worth a read.

In This Grave Hour by Jacqueline Winspear

51RAvhRKVIL._AC_US436_QL65_The latest Maisie Dobbs book (the 12th in the series) is every bit as captivating as the earlier books, after a couple of somewhat disappointing titles.  Maisie is back on her home turf, tackling a set of disturbing murders that are rooted in events from the first world war even as England declares itself at war with Germany on the eve of the second world war.  Winspear perfectly captures the mood of the time – children being evacuated, schools converted to hospitals and barracks, gas masks always at the ready, and the younger generation excited about enlisting while the older generation, still recovering from the losses of the first war, despair.  I love the way the series has progressed through history, drawing from historical events to provide the motivations for crimes and I love her characters who feel like old friends.

The Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer

ChildrensCrusadeA perfect book. The story of a family – a real family – and the gentle unfolding of all of their lives. There are no major traumatic plot devices, just the very real and sometimes  intentional events in anyone’s life. Their characters are drawn out in great detail with particular care to elaborate on their relationships with each other.   I appreciated the lack of heavy handed messages – I could extract my own learning and make my own judgement based on my own values and perceptions.  Each character had their own, presented in their own sections.  We get to see, hear, and feel them all. Takes place in Portola Valley which was an extra bit of fun for me!

My Real Children – Jo Walton

I’ve seen Jo Walton books – mostly in the sci-fi sections – a lot and never before went to pick them up.  Seeing her speak on the Literary Tastes panel at ALA encouraged me to read the giveaway book – My Real Children.  MyRealChildrenThis book won the RUSA Reading List genre award for Women’s Fiction. Jo seemed a little surprised to be winning in that particular category but took it well.  She talked about doing a lot of crossover fiction – fiction that crosses genres – in this case an alternative history that focuses on women and issues of interest to women (which is different than Women’s Issues with capital letters). This book was interesting to read – I like her clean narrative style.  It didn’t have the emotional depth that I look for in fiction.  It read like a wikipedia entry – many things to interest the brain but nothing that evokes feeling.  I’m OK with this, but I miss the empathy. The plot revolves a woman sliding into dementia who remembers living two distinctly different lives that forked from a single decision about whether or not to marry a specific man.  Jo handles this cleanly and does a great job of portraying these different worlds.  There is a little bit of discussion as to how this one decision of one woman could have had such an impact on world events, but frankly I found that a bit hand-wavy and disappointing. Still, a good, imaginative exploration of some possible results of the decisions we make every day.

Deadly Desires …

It’s so hot these days that I couldn’t handle anything that required thought so I picked up a cozy Honeychurchmystery from my ALA haul.  Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison. Readable, ok characters, a little stupid.  It’s a little irritating that much is being made of a kind of connection to “Downton Abbey” but it’s really a tenuous connection at best.  A manor house figures not too prominently in the story and a young girl takes a position as a maid in the house in order to better prepare herself for an audition for the Downton Abbey series.  That’s it! Pleasant enough read if you like cozies.  Didn’t stress me out before bedtime 🙂

Getting started

I’ve owned this blog for multiple years now and am only now managing to make an entry – always hard to get started but perhaps it will come fast and furious now that I’m going! Fresh from two days of the American Library Association (ALA) annual conference in San Francisco.  My shelf freshly stocked with ARCs and new titles. Already finished the first one:  Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans.  I loved it!  Grabbed me right away with an opening scene of a ten-year-old boy in pre-WWII London worrying over his elderly godmother and guardian who was slowly losing her cognitive faculties.  The nov41Bs0zLsImL._AA160_el meanders from there – as life tends to do – exploring characters as they wander down surprising tracks, learning about themselves as they make do with what they have and the opportunities they create for themselves in their chaotic world. I hadn’t heard of Lissa Evans before – she has written books for both adults and children, some of which have been shortlisted for various prizes, but this is her first book to be published in the U.S. Thank you Harper Collins!