Hello! I apologize for missing our coffee last week as I was busy on crazy deadlines!
Last year I had the delightful and somewhat surprising time in reading the precursor to today’s book of choice, called The Elegance of the Hedgehog! A French novel translated into English. A funny story that will make you laugh and want to reread the pages. The characters will stay with you for quite some time! It is a quick read and truly delightful. I was so happy to find the latest book Gourmet Rhapsody taking one of the characters we already are familiar with and continuing on to laugh at the life’s foibles!
“Booker and Whitbread prize–winner Lively begins her 14th novel, a multigenerational love story, in a London park in 1935, ends it nearly 70 years later after covering several lifetimes of love and heartbreak. The story starts when Lorna Bradley and Matt Faraday meet in St. James Park; they are instantly drawn to one another despite her upper-crust upbringing and Matt’s “tradesman” profession. After their marriage, they settle in the country where Matt works as an engraver and Lorna fulfills her domestic role as a wife and mother to their daughter, Molly. It is an idyllic situation until Matt is drafted and sent to Egypt, where he is killed in action. Lorna and young Molly relocate to London, and Lorna works with Matt’s friend Lucas at his small printing press. Predictably, Lucas and Lorna marry, but she dies giving birth to Simon. The narrative diverges as grown-up Molly finds employment as a library assistant and has an affair with a wealthy man who fathers her child, Ruth. Grown and with children of her own, Ruth’s curiosity about her ancestors sends her on a journey that brings the novel full circle. Lively (A Stitch in Time; Moon Tiger) has crafted a fine novel: intricate, heartbreaking and redemptive.”
- Publishers Weekly
Gould’s Book of Fish – Richard Flanagan
“Flanagan (The Sound of One Hand Clapping) has written a Tasmanian version of Rimbaud’s Season in Hell, a mesmerizing portrait of human abjection and sometimes elation set in a 19th-century Down Under penal colony. A small-time forger of antiques in contemporary Tasmania finds a mysterious illustrated manuscript that recounts in harrowing detail the rise and fall of a convict state on Sarah Island, off the Tasmanian coast, in the 1830s. The text is penned by William Gould, a forger and thief (and an actual 19th-century convict) shipped from England to a Tasmanian prison run as a private kingdom by the Commandant, a lunatic tyrant in a gold mask rumored to have been a convict himself. The prison world consists of a lower caste of convicts tormented with lengthy floggings, vile food and various mechanical torture devices by a small number of officers and officials. Gould finagles his way into the good graces of the island surgeon, Tobias Achilles Lempriere, a fat fanatic of natural science, who has Gould paint scientific illustrations of fish, with the goal of publishing the definitive ichthyological work on Sarah Island species. In Gould’s hands, however, the taxonomy of fish becomes his testimony to the bizarre perversion of Europe’s technology and art wrought by the Commandant’s mad ambitions. Civilization, in this inverted world, creates moral wilderness; science creates lies. Carefully crafted and allusive, this blazing portrait of Australia’s colonial past will surely spread Flanagan’s reputation among American readers”
- Publisher’s Weekly
Hunting Midnight – Richard Zimler
“Acts of cruelty and bigotry and a shocking betrayal propel thiscolorful if overstuffed historical novel by Zimler (The Last Kabbalistof Lisbon), set in 18th- and 19th-century Portugal. John Zarco Stewartis the son of a Scotsman and, through his mother, is descended fromconverted Jews called Marranos who have kept their identity a secretsince the Spanish Inquisition. John grows up in the city of Portounaware of his true heritage until a necromancer curses him when he isnine. In the same year, his best friend drowns before his eyes, and heis only comforted when his father returns from a trip to Africa with aBushman called Midnight, a healer and freed slave who teaches Johnmany things as he grows into manhood. But Midnight, too, meets aviolent end, and when John is 16, Napoleon’s armies invade Portugaland John’s father is killed defending Porto. Years after the war, Johndiscovers that his father, who he believed was a hero, had committedan unthinkable act of treachery. In attempting to atone for hisfather’s misdeed, John travels from Portugal to England thenantebellum America. Zimler packs his tale with exotic detail,describing Porto’s bird markets, plantation life in South Carolina andthe lives of Jews in hiding. Though his prose style is somewhat stiffas he attempts to echo 1800s speech patterns (” `Close your goddamnedsnout and run, you little mole!’ “) and many of the events in thestory are melodramatic, the narrative has a vintage flavor thatbecomes absorbing.”
- Publishers Weekly
Elizabeth Costello – J.M.Coetzee
“Even more uncompromising than usual, this latest novel by Coetzee (his first since 1999′s Booker Prize-winning Disgrace) blurs the bounds of fiction and nonfiction while furthering the author’s exploration of urgent moral and aesthetic questions. Elizabeth Costello, a fictional aging Australian novelist who gained fame for a Ulysses-inspired novel in the 1960s, reveals the workings of her still-formidable mind in a series of formal addresses she either attends or delivers herself (an award acceptance speech, a lecture on a cruise ship, a graduation speech). This ingenious structure allows Coetzee to circle around his protagonist, revealing her preoccupations and contradictions her relationships with her son, John, an academic, and her sister, Blanche, a missionary in Africa; her deep, almost fanatical concern with animal rights; her conflicted views on reason and realism; her grapplings with the human problems of sex and spirituality. The specters of the Holocaust and colonialism, of Greek mythology and Christian morality, and of Franz Kafka and the absurd haunt the novel, as Coetzee deftly weaves the intense contemplation of abstractions with the everyday life of an all-too-human body and mind. The struggle for self-expression comes to a wrenching climax when Elizabeth faces a final reckoning and finds herself at a loss for words. This is a novel of weighty ideas, concerned with what it means to be human and with the difficult and seductive task of making meaning. It is a resounding achievement by Coetzee and one that will linger with the reader long after its reverberating conclusion.”
TGIT – Thank goodness its Thursday! I always enjoy sharing coffee with you fine people.
Here is what’s on the reading this this week:
Poison - Kathryn Harrison
“Perhaps Harrison’s most signal achievement in this story of two doomed women is her reflection of their time and place: Spain in the 17thcentury, a sordid and barbarous era. Harrison (Exposure) is totally in command of her tragic narrative, which proceeds with the stately, mesmerizing pace of a pavane, stepping to one side to look behind, to the other to look ahead. Francesca Luarca, a humble silk farmer’s daughter, is arrested for witchery. Her story parallels that of Queen Maria Luisa, the French Bourbon princess married to the impotent king of Spain, whose inability to produce an heir to the throne condemns her to death as surely as imprisonment in the Inquisition’s prisons dooms Francesca. Francesca commits several sins: she begs a priest to teach her to read (a dangerous ambition for a woman); he also introduces her to carnal delights and impregnates her. Francesca is destroyed by passion, the queen-who is also called a witch by the jeering mob-by its complete absence. Hovering over everything is the ominous shadow of the Inquisition, fed by a greedy, corrupt church that plays on fears of devils and witches but forgives “sins” on the payment of hefty fines. Harrison weaves a marvelous tapestry of almost palpable details: people in Madrid wore enormous jeweled spectacles, “an enhancement to dignity rather than eyesight”; “the Spanish nobility’s desire for loftiness was so intense and so literal that aristocratic women balanced on stilts.” This is hardly an historical novel in its accepted sense, however, since Harrison pulls free of exact historical documentation. While richly imagined, the narrative is sometimes overwrought; being confined inside the heads of the poisoned, delirious queen and the peasant woman torn by the Inquisition’s rack is a feverish experience. This claustrophobic darkness, the unremitting misery of the story, may deter some readers. For others, it will be an illuminating portrait of a woman’s lot in an age poisoned by superstition and the church’s tyranny.”
- Publishers Weekly
Until I find you – John Irving
“Actor Jack Burns seeks a sense of identity and father figures while accommodating a host of overbearing and elaborately dysfunctional women in Irving’s latest sprawling novel (after The Fourth Hand). At the novel’s onset (in 1969), four-year-old Jack is dragged by his mother, Alice, a Toronto-based tattoo artist, on a year-long search throughout northern Europe for William Burns, Jack’s runaway father, a church organist and “ink addict.” Back in Toronto, Alice enrolls Jack at the all-girls school St. Hilda’s, where she mistakenly thinks he’ll be “safe among the girls”; he later transfers to Redding, an all-boy’s prep school in Maine. Jack survives a childhood remarkable for its relentless onslaught of sexual molestation at the hands of older girls and women to become a world-famous actor and Academy Award–winning screenwriter. Eventually, he retraces his childhood steps across Europe, in search of the truthabout his father—a quest that also emerges as a journey toward normalcy. Though the incessant, graphic sexual abuse becomes gratuitous, Irving handles the novel’s less seedy elements superbly: the earthy camaraderie of the tattoo parlors, the Hollywood glitz, Jack’s developing emotional authenticity, his discovery of a half-sister and a moving reunion with his father. ”
- Publishers Weekly
Sepulchre – Kate Mosse
“Contrivance, cliché and expository overkill overwhelm bestseller Mosse’s tale concerning a rare tarot deck that helps link the lives of two women living eras apart. In 1891, Parisian teenager Léonie Vernier and her brother visit their young aunt at an estate in southern France. After finding a startling account of her late uncle’s pursuit of the occult, Léoniescours the property for the tarot cards and Visigothtomb he describes, unaware that more tangible peril in the form of a murderous stalker is seeking to destroy her loved ones. Present-day biographer Meredith Martin is in France finishing a book and tracing her ancestry when she sees a reproduction of the same tarot, which bears her likeness. She investigates the connection when she, too, arrives at the estate, now a hotel in which a new battle between good and evil rages. Mosse (Labyrinth) conveys so much unnecessary information through so many static scenes of talk, reading and interior monologue that the book’s momentum stalls for good soon after its striking opening. Mosse’s fans will hope for a return to form next time.”
- Publishers Weekly
A Classical Journey: The Houses of Ken Tate – Ken Tate
“ Award-winning architect Ken Tate is widely recognized for his intuitive approach to traditional architecture. His houses come from a place of soul, as well as a deep understanding of human nature and the history of architecture. In this book, nine dwellings ranging in influence from Norman farmhouses, Spanish estancias, Mediterranean villas, and Federal and Greek Revival houses reveal the breadth of his skilll and imagination. While some of these offer faithful representations of historic styles, others marry elements from several periods to give the impression that they grew and changed over time. By using authentic materials including custom-quarried stone, antique wooden beams, and natural plaster, and employing traditional craftsmanship ranging from mortis-and-tendon carpentry to English milled paneling, tate creates houses that seem to have been lived in and loved for generations. Among the houses featured in this book is a compoubd in Nashville, Tennesse, including a Georgian house with colonial Revival details, a fieldstone barn, and a Federal bedroom wing, which together create an illusion that the house was built over a two-hundred-year period.A creole-style plantation house with a Federal interior in New Orleans explores the range of styles favored in the region from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. In contrast, a Federal style house atop a hill in the Kentucky horse country faithfully expresses the early-nineteenth-century’s fascination with Palladian symmetry and elegance. In a Gulf Coast house, Tate also plays homage to Palladio, marrying the plan of a seventeenth-century villa with the airy style of West Indian plantations.”
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