Monday, January 30, 2006

Otherwise Engaged

Otherwise Engaged by Eileen Goudge

Two women, best friends since childhood, grow up to lead two completely different lives. One has the family, dog, and Bed & Breakfast, in a small western town. The other has the freelance writing career and all the accolades of Manhattan. Enter adversity and then opportunity. They both switch lives and jobs for six months and record their efforts for all the hungry women in New York to see whether they really are having the best possible life being single, powerful, and glamorous in the Big Apple. Or did they miss the boat when they gave up their high school sweetheart? It’s a thought provoking concept and a well written, interesting book. But I started thinking about Eileen’s motivation. I’m going to have to give away some of the ending here. It turns out that all these women want the family, dog, and the small town life. I suppose that this story is but one glimpse of some fictional characters that both end up with the traditional path but this book didn’t really give the Sex and the City life much of a chance. This is not about going to the city and making it big. It’s about going to the city, making it big, realizing it’s not enough, then going back to where you started. Even with this slant I enjoyed it. - Flourish

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Playing James

Playing James by Sarah Mason

Move over Bridget Jones, there’s a new girl in town, star reporter Holly Colshannon. Ok, maybe she’s not a star since she is stuck covering pet funerals at the local paper, but throughout the course of the book she manages to turn around her dead-end job with a weekly column working with a police detective. Holly is such a dreadfully funny, accident prone character that you’ve just got to love her. Add to that the typical but hilarious minor cast of overbearing parents, outlandish gay photographer, and a love struck best friend and the book rounds out very nicely. A completely over the top, impossible ending but hey, it’s a fantasy, right? Enjoy it with pleasure. -Flourish

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares (audio)

This was a sweet little story about four best friend teenage girls who pass around a pair of magical pants the first summer they spend apart. The symbolic pants give them the courage and strength of the group when they are hundreds of miles away form each other, experiencing the character building challenges all teens face. These girls seemed a bit more innocent than the teenagers that I’ve known but I suppose that Ann is looking beyond the exterior and focusing on the thoughts and feelings that accompany teenaged angst. I believe that there was a major motion picture made of this book although I haven’t seen it. If the story stays true to the book then it was probably a winner. The audio was delightful and for some reason I really liked all the quotes throughout the book. If you’re a mother of a teenaged girl or if you were a teenager yourself you will probably enjoy this book. -Flourish

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Yokota Officers Club

The Yokota Officers Club by Sarah Bird (audio)

I didn’t grow up in a military family but it feels like I’ve known lots of people who have. It really is a completely different experience than the typical American kid’s romp through the suburban landscape. Sarah’s book, set in the 50s and 60s, brought to life what it was like to grown up having to move nearly every year to places where everything is foreign including the food and the people. She tells the story from the perspective of the oldest girl in a family of six children but she also manages to weave in a lot of back story extremely prevalent to what has shaped their lives. The characters feel real so that we sense their pain, love, anxiety, joy, and fear. I thoroughly enjoyed reading how all the characters were connected to each other. Easy to listen to although it felt a bit overly long at times. Still it was very enjoyable and worth a trip to the library. -Flourish

Friday, January 20, 2006

Wagner Matinee & A Pair of Silk Stockings

Wagner Matinee by Wila Cather & A Pair of Silk Stockings by Kate Chopin

Wants, desires, longings and lusts combined with denials, doing without, and putting other people before. This is the heart of the two short stories written at a time when there were no iPods or satellite TV or blogs even. We’re talking early twentieth century here people.

Wagner Matinee brings to life a character who leaves her music career behind to marry and move to Nebraska. She returns to the big city a couple of decades later and is moved by the musical experience of an afternoon concert. She is overwhelmed by it and our narrator explains that she will likely not experience anything at all like it when she returns home.

In A Pair of Silk Stockings our main character comes into a tiny bit of extra money that she hoards and meticulously plans the use of for her children’s needs. Then one day when she is especially worn out she stumbles upon some sale priced silk stockings which she is unable to resist. It escalates from there and she ends up spending all of the money on niceties for herself.

Both of these women were in a place of physical and mental exhaustion from years of hard labor and toil. We catch them in a moment when this lifelong chain is broken and they slip into a fantasy world if only for a brief instant. These stories are about the choices we make, our resolve to live with them, and then a life intervention that reminds us of what we had and what we lost. Give them a try and see what life lessons there are to be had. -Flourish

Note: I stumbled upon these two at another blog and decided to check them out.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Mercy of Thin Air

The Mercy of Thin Air by Ronlyn Domingue

Ronlyn gives us an appealing story set in early twentieth century New Orleans and the present day all from the perspective of a ghost. More than a love story between a man and a woman this is also the story of loving yourself enough to go after your dreams and desires. This was especially true for our ghost main character because before she died she was being forced to choose between marrying her love and going to medical school at a time when women just didn’t do that sort of thing. The story moves back and forth in time as we live through the pain of losing a loved one and how our bodies and minds cope with the loss. Ronlyn uses her vivid imagination to explain what the ghost world is like and how the living world experiences it. Overall, a romantic story worth a look. -Flourish

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Metro Girl

Metro Girl by Janet Evanovich

Don’t know how I managed it but this is actually the first of Janet’s books that I’ve read. I’ve gotta say that she lives up to the book jacket! “Creative cussing and sexual innuendo” indeed! Completely over the top with a truly unbelievable ride but wow what fun. Cute, thirty something single woman who can fix engines teams up with NASCAR guy with cars, boats, handcuffs, bad guys, worse guys, and more, more, more. A motley crew of groovy support characters all on a South Florida backdrop. They even drop by Joe’s Stone Crab. Everyone knows how tough it is to get into Joe’s.* Hey, what can I say? This book reminded me so much of home that I could practically feel the salty sea spray on my face and taste it in my mouth. I read it in two days and it was tons of fun. The next book, Motor Mouth, is coming out in October. -Flourish

*When you get there you will have to put your name on the list. No cheating and using your famous name. It won’t put you any further up the line anyway. You will have to wait a minimum of one solid hour for a table but boy or boy is it worth it. You will have the stone crab, of course, but you also must save room for key lime pie. Trust me here, it is the best. Honestly. Don’t forget to check to see if Joe’s is open because stone crab is only in season half the year and I hear tell that the waiters make so much money that they have ranches in South America where they live the rest of the year.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Blessings

Blessings by Anna Quindlen

Loved it. We see into the lives of two very different people from two completely different worlds. The rich lady lives in a huge house with lots of lovely property and the young male caretaker guy who just got out of jail. Both are good hearted souls that wonder how exactly they got to where they are in life. Enter a newborn infant that causes them both to become even more of who they are. Anna has a fluid writing style and I sailed through this book in just a couple of days. Go on down to your local public library and check it out. -Flourish

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Splendid Omens

Splendid Omens by Robley Wilson

Such a fluid, easy read drove me to the conclusion that, just like the narrator of this story, the author must also be a professor of literature. So convinced was I that an investigation of the author’s background proved me right and I also discovered that he has been praised and awarded by the literary community. This smooth flowing work drew me in right away carrying me against my better judgment down the river current until I hit a bump two-thirds of the way through. Here is a story that begins chalk full of lovely character descriptions and detailed emotional inner workings of the mind and heart. Usually I only read books with female central characters but broke my own rule as I was driven along almost without realizing it. For what, dear readers, do I have in common with a sixty year old white man? But again, the character was made interesting, likeable, heck, even enjoyable so that I started to believe that perhaps this would be an exception like that of the Tim Cavanaugh character in Jan Karon’s books. The difference of course being that Father Cavanaugh is an Episcopal priest and is written by a woman.

I can only say that I was totally and completely duped. I was driven to finish this book so that I could relate my true feelings with the knowledge that I saw it through to its conclusion. But ugh, having to relive this horrific story is like having a root canal and all four impacted wisdom teeth cut out in the same day.

Let me just give you a brief plot summary here. The central character has died and is only seen in flashback. He was a cad. An old, incestuous cad that is, but we don’t find this out until well into the story. He died as he was just about to marry the daughter he had impregnated with his second child. Sickened yet? Well, hold on just a sec because it gets even more twisted and gut wrenching. The narrator, himself an old man, falls in love with this woman only to find out that she is his biological daughter. Confused yet? Well, he spends the last third of the book wrestling his conscious with whether or not to act on his romantic feelings for his daughter. People, is this really a question that should be pondered? Don’t decent humans avoid screwing their children?

This is a simplified version of the plot but it’s really not worth revisiting the whole thing. Suffice it to say that this is a story terrifying in is normalcy. What makes it so impalpable is the seeming ordinariness that surrounds the characters. These folks appear to be average, everyday folks who have actually convinced themselves that they aren’t doing anything wrong. Very Twin Peaksesque and quite sickening to both the stomach and the mind.

A subtler theme underpinning this madness is the implication that women are the cause of all this philandering. The dead central character cannot be blamed for his desires and actions and neither can the narrator. I guess they’ve never heard of free will. Ultimately, he decides not to have sex with his biological daughter and I guess we readers are supposed to throw up our hands and jump for joy that he made the right decision and was able to keep his penis to himself. As if there was ever a choice here! What’s ironic, once again, is that initially this guy is portrayed as a decent, average, ordinary fellow.

Conclusion: One of the worst books that I’ve read in quite a long time and is to be avoided like Mad Cow Disease. -Flourish

Monday, January 09, 2006

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

How many decades has it been since I read this book? Um, I don’t think I’m gonna count them but after seeing the film I decided to go on back to my childhood and give it another read. It begins with Lewis’s heartfelt dedication of the book to his Goddaughter Lucy and ends the hinting promise of more adventures and a resounding “The End”. It was just as fun as I remembered it as a child and I couldn’t believe how closely they followed the book for the film version. The movie was spectacular and shouldn't be missed, but I always prefer to go back to read the original creator's words themselves. It will take you away to a fantasy world were children are powerful and control their own destinies. One major complaint I have about the movie is the terrifying murder scene. Those creatures were hideous and sure to cause children nightmares. Lewis himself said they were “creatures whom I won’t describe because if I did the grown-ups would probably not let you read this book” (p 148, 1970 Collier Books paperback edition). It probably would have been better to tone things down a bit in the movie. Go on and check this book out from your local library. It’ll only take you about an hour to read it. -Flourish

Friday, January 06, 2006

Coal Tattoo

Coal Tattoo by Silas House (audio)

Wow, listening to this book was like hearing about the descendants from the Sheila Kay Adams’s My Old True Love. Both books relate the love and heartache of southern mountain families, Sheila’s during civil war North Carolina and Silas’s during 50s and 60s Kentucky. It’s still just as difficult to scratch out a meager existence a hundred years later and instead of battling brothers we find families battling strip mining companies. But that is really only part of the story. This book is actually chalk full of delightful character descriptions that center on two very different sisters. We follow the ebb and flow of their relationship and those with the men that are in their lives. A truly enjoyable book that shouldn’t be missed. -Flourish

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

In the Country of the Young

In the Country of the Young* by Lisa Carey

I sort of fell in love a little bit with this tortured artist who lost the ability to see ghosts when his twin sister left this earth. He also turned into a bit of a self centered cad, but then, isn’t that the kind of guy we’re always attracted to? Set in an island off the coast of Maine with a bit of fictional history of an Irish immigrant shipwreck from a hundred years ago. The quintessential brooding, beautiful and talented man’s belief in the supernatural at the beginning of the book is very interestingly explained throughout the rest. This was a wonderful book with lots of tastily developed characters until about the last third or so where it seemed to tragically degenerate into a sex novel. But perhaps Lisa has it right. Maybe human motivations do truly come from a deep love/infatuation/obsession and drive the destinies of our lives. Either way, this one is a worth a look. -Flourish

* I picked this book up at a truly groovy little bookstore called Dog Ear Books. Nothing beats the cute quaintness of this place. If your travels take you through Madison, Georgia, you simply MUST stop by and visit!