Rachel Mauro

July 31, 2015

Rachel’s Literary Newsletter: July 2015

literary newsletter

Book Pic Spotlight / Book Reviews / July ’15 “TBRs” / Book Meme

Crazy month in the world of reading! In big literary news, Harper Lee’s second book, Go Set a Watchman, hit the shelves. In big personal news, I turned 32. :P And in big, personal literary news, I read the most books in a month than I ever have since starting this newsletter! :D So we have lots to cover; let’s get down to business.

Book Pic Spotlight

july bookpic

Another highlight of July; I spent a weekend at Rehoboth Beach, DE. It’s been a few years, but I used to go there all the time as a youngster. I’m embarrassed to report that never once, before this trip, did I go out of my way to peruse Browseabout Books. It’s a really cool indie bookstore right on the boardwalk; I mean, look at the design on their outer wall! Heaven.

Check out more of my book pics on Instagram!

Book Reviews

So I meant to read five books this month, bookending with male authors, and a special, binge read of Go Set a Watchman. But thanks to the beach, and the general awesomeness to Anne Tyler, I ended up with seven. :O Not sure if and when I’ll attempt this pole vault again, or this wide diversity of genres. I covered science fiction, Jewish fiction, general fiction and YA! Not too shabby if I do say so myself.

ContactContact by Carl Sagan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One aspect I really liked about the book that the movie wouldn’t have been able to support was the international focus. It’s interesting, the subtle differences between Sagan’s imagined late-90s vs the real one when the film was ultimately made. The film couldn’t make the story so wholly international because movies are on a budget and demand a tighter focus; easier to repurpose all of the issues brought up by the international crowd, and make it more about the U.S.’s political climate, and the press filling in all of the gaps. Surely the climate also changed in reality because there was no longer a Soviet Union with whom we were in direct competition, though Sagan’s hope for a project that could unite the world and bolster the economy were definitely aspirational. As was his imagined female US president. :p

I’m a little less thrilled with how Sagan approaches religion, though to be fair, many religious people see it like he does, this whole “one truth” business and everyone else being wrong in their faith. Maybe some Orthodox Jews, and surely others from the Abrahamic faiths, see the bible as a literal story handed down from Gd, but I find that to be way too limiting. I’m not going to waste my life arguing against the scientific fact that Moses couldn’t have parted the Red Sea. It doesn’t need to have physically happened for the story to have meaning for countless generations, and to stand as a metaphor for a complex and evolving reality. I was taught to believe that there is no “one truth,” but just as there is a diversity of people in the world there is a diversity of truths. This fits in well, in fact, with Sagan’s understanding of the cosmos–that we are just one small part of it, not the center of the universe, but we are still significant. The ending pages assure the reader of a more definitive answer, within the confines of mathematics, about the meaning of the universe, but religion, and “Gd,” or however you understand the totality of meaning, to my mind, speaks to what can’t be quantified. Science, it seems to me, is very much about the quantifiable, physical world, so I guess I’m still baffled by why so many of us consider these two disciplines to be locked in an eternal struggle. The universe, as we grow to understand it in the book, is a big place.

Full review

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Tomorrow There Will Be ApricotsTomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The general plot was a Bait and switch–Soffer put in some physical clues about the supposed relationship between Lorca and Victoria, only to snatch the rug out from under us in the third act. It felt a little contrived to me–sudden Intel that the real parties in question were dead. I think I was more on board for the tension between Lorca and her mother than for Victoria and her ghosts, but even there, it’s a bit convenient that the girl can only get the desired reaction from her mother by hurting herself in exactly the same way. As for Victoria finding out about Lorca’s self-harm, it would have been something, perhaps, for her to discover it organically through the cooking lessons, rather than have Blot spill the beans to her.

I liked the attention given to the Iraqi Jewish backstory; it would have been a good avenue to expand upon for more worldly texture, though Soffer’s use of food suffices to a degree. I was hoping this book might be like the Jewish version of Diana Abu-Jaber’s “Crescent,” but while the love of culinary was there, I feel like the heart of the characters was not.

Full review

***
Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The hubbub around the “new” and not so improved Atticus has perhaps overtaken the previous drama concerning whether Harper Lee wanted this book published in the first place. Sometimes it seems to come down to opinion–if you like the de-deified Atticus of this novel, then it’s merely natural character progression. If you don’t like him, he’s the product of an iffy first draft of Mockingbird, never meant to be published.

And I’m struggling with Atticus. I buy a lot of it. The fact that he felt compelled to give an honest defense to an obviously wronged client like Tom Robinson doesn’t mean he’d be in favor of desegregation 25 years later. One is about individuals and the other is about changing the institution of governance. Plenty of people, even William Faulkner, known for writing about the decay of southern society, were against the federal government imposing this sanction on the states. One thing Watchman asks us–and Jean Louise–to do is recognize there’s a wide variety of people against Brown vs the Board of Education–from the violent, fear-mongering racists like Willoughby to those like Atticus who want to keep the status quo because it’s the business of individuals, not some “machine” government. (The chat between Jean Louise and her uncle on state’s rights arguments seems particularly applicable to understanding the modern day).

But coming back to the novel, and character continuity…Jean Louise claims Atticus sees blacks as less then human, which in Watchman certainly seems to be true. He speaks of them as a collective; not yet mature enough to take part in government or even desegregated schooling without dragging the whole system down. But in Mockingbird he talks about how, at least in some cases, you can’t judge people as a collective; not all blacks, or whites, or etc, are rapists or thieves or etc. I can see Atticus joining the Klan to attend one meeting and see what these people are about, “stepping into their shoes,” but to buy into those reactionary, pseudo-science pamphlets about how blacks are biologically inferior? Surely the earlier character was too educated, and too temperate and thoughtful for that nonsense. I do wish there was a way to whittle off those edges of the Watchman rendition.

Full review

***
Pears on a Willow TreePears on a Willow Tree by Leslie Pietrzyk

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I appreciate the recurring theme of having to find ways to define yourself separately from your mother, and yet the only “present” time in the story seemed to revolve around these multigenerational stories in Detroit. I found it telling that Ginger herself didn’t reminisce over the fact that she was closest to her cousin Theresa in childhood–Helen did–and we learned almost nothing about the Phoenix family branch’s memories in that place until Amy went to Thailand. I think that’s what frustrated me, and made the world building less real.

It was also intriguing to learn a little more about Polish immigrants. I’m used to stories where “the old country” remains permanent through relatives that still live there and occasional trips back, but here it was all about memories and food. I appreciated, too, how these ties obviously became more lax with each generation, but Pietrzyk always found subtle, believable ways to tie them back to their heritage.

Full review

***
Paper TownsPaper Towns by John Green

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like the idea, but I think it was a bit too on the nose. It’s also John Green’s style, it seems, to have teenagers talk as though they’re on an episode of “Dawson’s Creek.” I certainly don’t doubt that they’d be thinking about these things, especially with the advent of college on the horizon, but Margo’s disappearance made confronting these issues a bit convenient.

I also almost wish that the story were told from Lacey’s point of view, because she had more of an actual relationship with Margo, but I do get that the point was that Q and Margo had long idealized each other, and were tied together by the discovery of the body when they were kids. Still, if we were in Lacey’s head, maybe I, too, would see Margo as more of a person and less of an idea. I think the ironic trap that this books falls into is that although we are supposed to realize that Margo is a person rather than a stereotype, we don’t really find out that much about her true motivations, triggers and history in the narrative. I almost felt bad for her parents–I mean who should have to deal with their kid running off all the time–but the rest of the characters seemed to dismiss them as narcissistic. If we saw more of Margo’s life with them, then maybe I could get on board with that, but I think it stands to reason that she’s being a bit selfish. To be fair, her friends do call her out on that.

Full review

***
A Spool of Blue ThreadA Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Junior and Denny in particular could be a bit contemptuous, though of course the narrative fleshed out their stories so they and their relationships weren’t quite one dimensional. Jeanine and Amanda had an intriguing sisterly relationship in the midst of their parents’ troubles of growing old. Stem’s origin story could have skewed into the melodramatic but it didn’t, and it ended with a nice, understated coming to terms with his brother, Denny. I also liked the relationship between Abby and her daughter-in-law Nora; that it was frustrating for the matriarch but that she also struggled with that, and although Nora was religious and slightly eccentric in her ways, she wasn’t an evangelizer. Though her in-laws were also annoyed by her magnanimous graciousness.

The house itself was as much a member of the family as anything, and the two main story arcs revolved around Junior and Linnie Mae moving in, and then their son, Red, ultimately moving out in old age. Tyler’s descriptions really shone here, and she wove a nice tapestry of the house as a stand-in for the Whitshank’s desires of upward mobility, success and comfort (or in Denny’s case, entrapment, perhaps). It also was a stand in for residential and commercial life in Baltimore–at least for white people, because Tyler touched correctly on the deep segregation between Baltimore neighborhoods. The novel did a good job of making a time and place come to life behind a fully realized cast of characters. Maybe there could have been something more universally transcendent, if the story had had a tighter focus, but overall it was a thoughtfully engaging read.

Full review

***
Dinner at the Homesick RestaurantDinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

More broadly, we have the theme of families and their general mystery–no one member thinks and feels the same about their relationships and history as any other. I can see why this book in particular is so beloved–supposedly Tyler’s favorite, the last time she was asked. It handles these issues most succinctly, in ten chapters that really read more like connected short stories, given the years that pass by and the third person narrators who change. They even have subheadings. I’m particularly taken with “This Really Happened,” from the POV of Cody’s then-14-year-old son. It could have–and perhaps does, slightly–graze into over emphasizing the theme in bright, street sign letters (about the stories people tell and how they belt a more complicated reality), but overall I found it enjoyable.

Each chapter/story was relatively self-contained, and yet the main characters continued with a lifelong progression. In “Dr. Tull Is Not A Toy,” Jenny reflects on ridding herself of a childhood seriousness, but now she seems flippant and amused when confronting her stepson’s problems. It was some deft work by Tyler with dialogue and characterization. But I suppose the character who had me the most baffled was Pearl. Perhaps I need to read the beginning of the book again, as narrated by her, before we get a more abusive account from two of her children. Ezra, too, is so mild-mannered that it can be difficult to get where he’s coming from, even when he’s the POV. The title, and his Restaurant, surely convey his character’s motivations with the most subtlety and grace. Tyler’s work with the overall family structure, and in describing details of a shifting Baltimore setting, are masterful as well.

Full review

July ’15 “TBRs”

Basically I held even this month, adding a book to my Goodreads TBR for everyone I subtracted. Sometimes they came from my amazon wishlist, and sometimes they came from my mood at the moment. There is just. Too much. To read. Should be my catch phrase here. :P

  • Added from the Amazon wish list: The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street by Susan Jane Gilman; little Jewish immigrant girl surviving the early 20th century Lower East Side. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P by Adelle Waldman; chronicles the life of a young adult male character in the early 21st century. Believe by Sarah Aronson; young adult novel dealing with the aftermath of a girl whose family was killed in a suicide bombing.
  • My Father Is An Angry Storm Cloud: Collected Stories by Melissa Reddish. Keeping tabs on the fiction pursuits of talented folks from my alma mater! Added to my TBR several months ago; Mother Box and Other Tales by Sarah Blackman.
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. Been hearing this book getting buzzed about, and I couldn’t take it any longer! Multi-ethnic family and tragic drama? I’m so there. :P
  • Added to the amazon wish list: The Jewish Book Council posted a summer list of published books; I added three. They include Shelter Us by Laura Nicole Diamond about a female friendship; Orphan #8by Kim van Alkemade, an early 20th century immigrant story but with a dark twist; and The Girl From The Garden by Parnaz Foroutan, concerning a Persian Jewish family in the early 20th century.

Book Meme

As today is the boy wizard’s birthday, there’s only one meme I can include here. :P To that end, here are my reviews of the books: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Thanks so much for reading my lengthened newsletter here. :P To end on a reading-appropriate quote from Albus Dumbledore: Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry. But why on Earth should that mean that it is not real?

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July 30, 2015

Editing Update July 2015: It can only get better from here?

Filed under: Editing — rmauro2 @ 11:54 pm
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I probably shouldn’t tempt myself. :P There’s always ways to be less productive.

Not my best month in creative writing output. My biggest to-do in that area was opening up my old Nanowrimo file from last year and sending a small writing group of friends my first story/chapter. I fitted in a few edits, but nothing major. I was struck by how my writing was both better and worse than I imagined it in November.

Because I’m a literary writer, I started my novel-of-sorts, “The Corners,” at the funeral of a matriarch. :P Then, totally without intention, I read a few books this month that feature the same development.

I’m going to focus specifically on “Pears on a Willow Tree” by Leslie Pietrzyk and “A Spool of Blue Thread” by Anne Tyler. The granddaughter, Ginger, narrates Pietrzyk’s piece; she’s basically the black sheep outsider of her geographically insular family. The four children are the primary POVs of the Tyler piece, where they attend the funeral at a church that is strange to them, as per their mother’s wishes.

The driving action in the Ginger story isn’t really the funeral but the events around it. She arrives late, and has to goad her young daughter into playing along with her lies that she wasn’t just hungover and avoiding the family. Tensions continue from there, including a bit where Ginger’s mother is outed for stealing her grandmother’s crucifix, and she ends up at a bar, watching other patrons and struggling with the idea of her own alcoholism.

The Whitshank children search through their mother’s things to find instructions for her funeral. In the midst of that, her adoptive son stumbles upon a life-altering family secret, and he grows more angry and distant. The other children struggle with arranging a service with a reverend who doesn’t really know them, or their mother. The details of the service are largely described in terms of awkwardness, plus some minorly dramatic moments with family members delivering eulogies. The reception afterwards is an overwhelming affair, described quickly, before the chapter ends with the family still standing and lost, trying to figure out how to do without their matriarch.

I might have rambled a bit much there, but I think the point is that the stories are contained. Sure, there’s a broader narrative, particularly in the Tyler novel, about the real relationships between people. But I think my problem, that I’m going to have to whittle out of my piece, is that I focus too much on backstory. These published pieces helped me put into perspective what I might use as a replacement for all of that. This chapter is narrated by my matriarch’s daughter-in-law, Anna. What are her primary thoughts and motivations in the here and now? What does her current mindset imply about how she sees/I write the service and the aftermath? Luckily a lot of that stuff is already there; I might just need to make it more central.

In other news, I’d had it in my head that I should be working on my unrelated short story, “Quarter Life,” but for now all of my thoughts seem to be with “The Corners.” I probably shouldn’t force anything–just work on what’s calling to me in the moment. :P We’ll see how all of this goes.

June 30, 2015

Rachel’s Literary Newsletter: June 2015

Filed under: Reading — rmauro2 @ 9:59 pm
Tags: , , ,

literary newsletter

Book Pic Spotlight / Book Reviews / June ’15 “TBRs” / Book Meme

Hello and welcome! Lots going on in my bookish world this month…two new book signings and the re-opening of the Silver Spring library as my next door neighbor chief among them. :D Read/found some great fiction, too!

Book Pic Spotlight

june15 bookpic

I’m quite amused by this book, because it was published in 1984 (thereby making my mother and me the targeted audience) and the visuals are so eighties. Made me think about how dated time really is. I’m getting old, folks. I can almost hear Richard Simmons’s Sweatin ‘ to the Oldies in the background…

Check out more of my book pics on Instagram!

Book Reviews

Once again I ended on a high note, though I enjoyed all four novels. The Why of Things, though, is definitely a top contender of favorites of the year. I’ll probably have to pay attention to Elizabeth Hartley Winthop’s career. (Sheesh, these book swaps are bad for me. My TBR is long enough as it is, but these random finds are making my literary day! :P)

EveningEvening by Susan Minot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I found the characters in the movie adaptation to be somewhat archetypal, and the gravitas put on the Ann/Harris relationship to be melodramatic. I’m the book, the characters were even less defined and the romance even more soap operaish. I’ll concede to the fact that in the moment, Ann’s dalliance with this stranger could seem to hold some significance, and surely all people wonder about what could have been; maybe life would have been better if we made different choices. But it was all a bit too much for me; Ann didn’t even seem to have a personality, save to her reactions to immediate events with the men in her lives, and this never-ending obsession with Harris. Not to mention how indulgent it was–Lila, the bride at the setting of this dalliance, seemed more invested in Ann than in her own affairs, and the tragedy at the end of this flashback barely seemed to make a dent in Ann’s thoughts….

I rather liked the nurse’s section, which chronicled her observations of taking care of the dying during their final days; I thought Minot could’ve easily extracted that from the novel to sell to a literary journal as a short story. :p. And I generally appreciate her physical descriptions, and the seamless, though complicated, way that Minot layered Ann’s different realities, sometimes toppling over each other in one section. But I kinda wish Goodreads had the half star system so I could dock one, particularly since my copy included grammatical corrections made by a previous library patron. Though grammar comes last on my list of concerns; just thought this was a quirk worth mentioning.

Full review

***
The Boston GirlThe Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I felt for all of the characters, especially the friendship that grew up between Addie and Filomena (though honestly, sometimes I think when I read about a Jew and an Italian, it’s really just some grand metaphor for me trying to reconcile my heritage. : p). It was awesome to read about young women around the ’20s who weren’t just house plants; they were devoted to careers and helped each other escape the harrowing life of factory work that plagued their parents’ immigrant generation.

But the life lessons couched in nostalgia kept the book from being too raw and genuine. Perhaps if it were told in the present tense, where the future wasn’t written, or where Addie grappled more with her relationships. I loved learning about the Rockport lodges and the state of journalism in particular, but at the end of the day, though Diamant’s protagonist learned more about the world, she didn’t change much. I was particularly disappointed in the character of Mameh, who embodied all of the bitter, cruel and aggressive Jewish mother stereotypes, and ergo didn’t seem like a real person.

Full review

***
Pictures of the PastPictures of the Past by Deby Eisenberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It was a plot heavy book, to the point where the actions of the characters seemed more topically-motivated than coming from well thought out personalities. But I enjoyed the detail given to European art and history. Although the love affair between Taylor and Sarah was a little saccharine, there was surely a sense of grander romanticism in an assimilated Jewish girl walking Paris and Berlin with a doting American boy in the years just before the Holocaust. And a lot of the story was narrated from the present and the future at the same time, like Sarah’s advent on the St. Louis. This added gravity, but I wish there were more to the characters themselves.

I was actually most intrigued in that department when it came to Taylor and his fiancée, Emily, who noted some of his flaws. I wondered if perhaps he’d get more dimension than being the beleaguered “good guy” caught between two women, but his marriage to Emily was ultimately just described in hindsight, and was relatively one dimensional with him, again, as “the good guy.” Perhaps this whole thing of character development worked better with Sarah, who was spoiled and naive but not cruel, and ergo what she learned about herself as a victim of the Holocaust was more nuanced and interesting.

I didn’t feel as invested in the next two generations; they were mostly a means to an end for providing context to the art theft story. I wanted to like Rachel but in general I found her to be thinly drawn; her continual successes at work didn’t interest me as much as the twist of Taylor’s involvement in them. Courtland was truly the prop; the loser son who assists in everyone else’s stories. I get that the main narratives were focused on Sarah/Taylor and Rachel’s post-.Court future, but I suppose it was frustrating that they pretty much completely shrugged off this failing man who died young; Taylor just spared him a few thoughts at the end about how maybe he could have been a better father to the boy if he were around more. And Jason’s “mature” speech patterns just annoyed me; as a child or an adult, he merely existed to amp up the drama.

Full review

***
The Why of Things: A NovelThe Why of Things: A Novel by Elizabeth Hartley Winthrop
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel did what I tried to do with my short story, “Skydiving,” in how it dealt with the aftermath of a suicide on the surviving family. Sophie, the girl who killed herself, was largely indistinct, save for generalities about being bound for college and having a teenage social circle at her summer home. I struggled for the same with my character, Andrea; I didn’t want to go too deep into what she did (or why) and even who she was as a person, and the reason for that choice is explored so wonderfully in this novel. The “who, what why” is because our family members, in some ways, are always unknowable. The story was about the impact on the living.

Anders most resembled my protagonist, Carol, who took to skydiving as life affirmation as he did to scuba diving. His wife and daughter were slightly more removed in their grief, taking cues from an eerily similar tragedy that occurred ten months after Sophie’s death, at their beach house. Daughter Eve became obsessed with how this tragedy occurred, convinced that the authorities weren’t giving it proper attention, and wife/novelist Joan became somewhat embroiled in the lives of the surviving family members. Perhaps somewhat egotistically, Winthrop made Joan the most pensive and nuanced of all of her characters–able to consider various aspects of human emotional complexity thanks to her profession as a writer. :p. Though it was Eve, perhaps, who reminded me most of myself–her thought processes were so clear in her head, but whenever she tried to do any real investigating, things kind of fell apart.

Overall, these characters were of a rather subtle variety–no one had a particularly sharp tongue or crazy fetish or anything to make them incredibly distinctive from one another. They were all rather introverted and absorbed in their own little worlds, which works (and is often where I write, particularly in writing short stories,) but can lack the ability to be transcendent with the bigger world and larger issues. You know, besides these individuals grappling with the meaning of life and death. :p. So I can’t exactly dislike Winthrop’s choices; these are just matters I thought about in the periphery while reading.

Full review

June ’15 “TBRs”

I’m stuck between my nailbiting guilt over how many books I add to this list, vs my nailbiting guilt about how many books I don’t. (The other week I came across a boatload of translated fiction from India and other places…eeeeep! *bites fist*) Alas that I will never be able to read all of the good literature out there, but here’s what I circled upon this month.

  • In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume; I mean obviously, I just got the thing signed earlier in the month. :P I’m really intrigued by all of her multiple narrators and long timeline, too.
  • The Silver Swan by Elena Delbanco…I saw a booksigning for this crop up in a Politics & Prose newsletter…combine prodigious classical music career, the mysterious provenance of a cello and daddy/daughter issues; my interest is totally piqued.
  • The Turner House by Angela Flournoy. I think I first heard about this on Book Riot promos, but she may have done some interviews I listened to as well. I love family drama, and I definitely want to diversify into reading about more POC experiences.
  • The Hidden of Things by Yael Unterman and The Sunlit Night by Rebecca Dinnerstein. Added the latter to my Jewish Book Council amazon wishlist, and the former to my GoodReads TBR. I like to keep things balanced. :P

Book Meme

Summer is upon us! I cobbled together this seasonal meme from Book Tube and from my own imagination. Hope you enjoy; stay cool, and happy reading!

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June 23, 2015

New Library Tour!

Filed under: Reading — rmauro2 @ 3:02 am
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new library 7 After some years of building construction, the local branch of my county library just moved into my neighborhood. :D Cross that one off my bucket list.

(I’m hoping to make good use of this place, it’s various nooks and crannies, and extended hours of operation as a way to get some good creative writing accomplished after work. Publicly holding myself to this now…)

I took a mini tour of the premises last night, and think I’m going to like this large and airy three-floor free book haven. Check it out!

new library 3

The Silver Spring Lion now resides in the library’s green roof, looking majestically over the apartment building I lived at for eight years. We’re located right downtown in a bustling, cosmopolitan area right out of Washington, DC, and the library has large, glass windows that puts you into the middle of the scene.

new library 8

Getting very high tech here…this computer, located on the primary floor, has upped the ante on the library catalog. It shows new releases divvied up by genre, and allows you to search the collections in a streamlined way.

new library 6

The fiction section…aka my main stomping grounds. :P

new library 4

Of course, I had to check out checking out a book for myself. :P (Sidenote–I found this novel on a work truck at the Library of Congress a year ago; it’s been on my to-be-read shelf ever since, apparently waiting for me to find it randomly in the stacks.) The self checkout stations feature new scanning software and sleek graphics.

new library 1 new library 2 new library 5

Before leaving, I had to check out the early literacy center, located on the top floor of the library. Among other things, it features board books for babies and toddlers, and various hands-on learning stations. I can’t wait now until my niece comes to visit!!!

Either way, I know I’ll be hanging out here a lot in the coming years. Check it out if you’re ever in downtown Silver Spring, and don’t forget to support your local library!

May 31, 2015

Rachel’s Literary Newsletter: May 2015

Filed under: Reading — rmauro2 @ 4:19 am
Tags: , , ,

literary newsletter

Book Pic Spotlight / Book Reviews / May ’15 “TBRs” / Book Meme

Hello and welcome! BookExpo America just ended, bringing with it loads of updates on new releases, plus galleys to take home. That place could be dangerous for me…the only thing that keeps me from stuffing loads of tomes into my purse is that I’d get in trouble for doing so. :P

I don’t have nearly as much book news to share, but since May was a five week month, I did get through one more book than usual. :D So let’s get started!

Book Pic Spotlight

may bookpic

Going in a different direction than usual, and sharing some of my haul from the Gaithersburg Book Festival early this month. Was so much fun; can’t wait to make this an annual event!

Check out more of my book pics on Instagram!

Book Reviews

I may have finished more books, but overall it wasn’t as enjoyable as reading month for me as ones previous. Part of it may have to do with a preoccupation with a certain book-adapted tv show called “Game of Thrones.” *innocent whistling* Luckily I struck gold with the last novel, so I ended on a high note. Booyah!

The Doctor's DaughterThe Doctor’s Daughter by Hilma Wolitzer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

With time, I grew to appreciate the dalliances in Alice’s present life–her affair, both personal and professional, with Michael; navigating a separation with her husband while still attempting to out on a face for their children; gaining new understanding of her long-deceased mother as she examines the other woman’s poetry; even her sessions with her therapist, as she teased her thoughts out. Speaking of clinical thinking, I was personally annoyed by, but logically understood the characterization, of Alice’s neediness; that in many ways her life was defined by being coddled. So many of her relationships were codified by these imbalances–she was the pampered daughter of a rich doctor (does any grown woman call her father “Daddy” without a feeling of dependency?). She and her husband, Ev, started as writing rivals, an archetypal precursor to romance. Then they spent a fair bit of time battling over their respective parenting styles of their flailing son, Scotty.

I enjoyed this dip into Alice’s life, but I didn’t feel deeply connected to her; she wasn’t realized enough for me. Maybe that was the point of this multi-faceted midlife crisis of sorts; she was trying to find herself. But I didn’t find it entirely thought provoking or enlightening, which is my hope for reading novels. Barring, of course, Alice’s experience in the editing and publishing words; that certainly grabbed my interest, hee.

Full review

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American ChildrenAmerican Children by Ann Birstein

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lois’s school exploits were Mary Sueish–she was an exceptional student who dropped literary references without the narrative actually dipping into any literature analysis; it all felt as much part of a shallow keeping up with the Joneses as did her wearing her Persian lamb coat. Of course the professor who bullied her throughout the year had a secret crush on her. Maybe this whole obsession with going to Europe for “real” culture was an actual attempt to be genuine. It also brought up the interesting dichotomy between “cultural” Europe, and the one filled with Holocaust refugees.

Maybe if one part of this story was well suited to the wry aspects, it was the storyline with Lois’s displaced relatives. No maudlin, overwhelming sense of loss; refugees, like Lois’s cousin, Josef, could still be jerks, and old family grudges reigned supreme. Nice reminder that genocide doesn’t turn all victims into saints. Also that immigrants like the Ackermans and their first generation children wouldn’t always see eye to eye on marriage, schooling, yadda yadda.

Full review

***
As I Lay DyingAs I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Some chapters stuck better with me than others, like Addie, when she was alive, begrudging her husband and most of her children, talked about how sin and salvation are more than a matter of words. I cringed with Dewey Dell as she went to a disreputable man to get an abortion. And I felt for poor young Vardaman as he found a creative way to deal with his mother’s death.

This book made me miss “The Sound and the Fury,” another one deserving of a reread. That one was a much more epic look at a southern fantasy, and ergo perhaps more accessible to me than this tightly-knit affair of the bumps in the road as a family tried to honor their matriarch’s dying wish.

Full review

***
Family HolidayFamily Holiday by Patricia Burstein

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It had some intriguing characters and a bit of potential. For the first half of the book we were trundling along, perhaps being spoon-fed a little too much information rather than seeing it play out directly in the narrative, but the possibility for a character study family drama was in place.

But then Burstein veered and went full throttle into a melodramatic casino debt plot. Main character Leslie spent most of the rest of the novel being terrified of the repurcussions, pulling something together at the last minute, only to have it conveniently swept under the water, no pun intended, at the last second. It was a disappointment.

Full review

***
How It All BeganHow It All Began by Penelope Lively

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The characters were largely cordoned off into middle age, with Charlotte and Henry as the seniors, then insufferable Mark as the late entry young professional. (Honestly, I should probably be more like him if I want to get ahead professionally. That being said, it requires a bit of ruthlessness and callous disregard for others). Jeremy was also–probably more–insufferable, and I found the “ending” of his story to be disappointing–not that I didn’t believe it, but I hoped for something better for his wife. But speaking of characters who are more like me, Stella doesn’t like to rock the boat.

I had a special affinity for Charlotte, and her lifelong love for literature. I actually copied and pasted a few paragraphs of her narrative to my Facebook account earlier in the week. Charlotte–really the author–gets it. And lady, do I appreciate Lively’s knack for the idiosyncrasies and inside jokes of conversational dialogue between small groups of people. Her characters really felt alive there.

Full review

May ’15 “TBRs”

I keep finding new ways to pick up books, but then I add less to each list, so I guess that’s something. :P

Book Meme

This one is less about highlighting specific books, and more about divulging my personal reading habits and tastes. Hope you enjoy, and happy reading!

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May 3, 2015

Writers Meetup: May 2015

Filed under: Groups — rmauro2 @ 8:56 pm
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An interesting technical conundrum arose here; our writer needed to communicate with us from elsewhere. Folks attempted to set up a Skype connection on the free WiFi in the restaurant where we meet, but apparently it was a no go. Ultimately our organizer had to call the guy on her cell and pass it along person to person. Was pretty loud in the joint; no one but the two callers could usually hear anything of the full conversation, but good critique was exchanged. The story in question was a fast-moving chapter from an action/thriller novel, where the main character is currently on the run from his enemies.

The group takeaway, rightly so imho, seemed to be that remote meetups wouldn’t work in our current setting. We’d probably need a more private internet connection, but since this is a public/anyone can attend group, we meet in a public place.

That being said, our post-critique conversation turned to the new library to be opening downtown on June 20. :D Might we be meeting there in the future? The library is actually very close to where I live, and on my work commute to boot. Am hoping it’ll really jump start my own creative writing; an easy place to associate with that task, rather than the variety of stuff I do at home.

Optimistic summer ahead!

May 1, 2015

Rachel’s Literary Newsletter: April 2015

Filed under: Reading — rmauro2 @ 8:05 am
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literary newsletter

Book Pic Spotlight / Book Reviews / April ’15 “TBRs” / Book Meme

Welcome back, and happy spring! It’s been a solid month of reading for me, and reigning in my TBR! Kinda. Sorta. :P I’ll get to it below.

Book Pic Spotlight

april bookpic

I’ve seen my share of self published books in the library, but this might be my first by a six-year-old. :P The story is about hot air balloons because, as the author writes, “they’re run by hot air and are really cool.” Fast forward five years and I’ll be sending out a story by my niece for copyright…

Check out more of my book pics on Instagram!

Book Reviews

Going steady with my book-a-week plan. Part of me is worried I’m not absorbing enough of the storylines and characters, but the other is pretty happy with my reviews. I may be willing to name “The Dovekeepers” my favorite novel thus far of the year, with the understanding, of course, that we’re not halfway through it yet. :P I’m also really interested in reading more Meg Wolitzer.

The DovekeepersThe Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The story was told in four parts, from four narrators in the four years leading up to the siege. Perhaps I was hasty but I loved Yael, the unloved daughter who found her first strength in the desert and then a new life in Masada. But all of the women went through multiple lives and experiences, in this pre-scientific way of understanding the world. And like how women make new rituals and modern midrashim today to carve out our place in Judaism, these women, like Diamant’s in “The Red Tent,” had their own goddesses and rituals to exist entwined with the religion that men sometimes held separate from them.

As I grieved for various hardships, I found comfort in the rich versatility of Judaism that connects us to our past yet allowed us to survive long past the destruction of the great Roman Empire that cast us into the second Diaspora. I loved the juxtaposition of the holidays I know well (the Romans finally reached Masada on Passover, the time that I finished this book,) and the ways that the people who lived much closer to those biblical origins celebrated them.

Full review

***
The Vine Of Desire (Anju and Sudha, #2)The Vine Of Desire by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Overall I found this sequel to be disappointing. I had hoped it wouldn’t disseminate into overwrought love affairs, and instead deal more concretely with the relationships and character development between Suddha, Anju and Sunil, but that didn’t happen. Divakaruni even introduced another character to fall head over heels for Suddha, as if she didn’t have enough admirers; a man who literally has no dimension other than obsessing over her.

I assume the intent here was to probe how these characters deal with mourning, but it was so badly handled. Instead of fleshing out Anju’s depression or Sunil’s estrangement from his father, Divakarumi relied on annoying writing conceits, like guiding us, in third person, on how we should feel about these people, or relating their lives to the major current events stories of the mid-90s. Ultimately, save for a few occasions, they felt less real than characters on a midday soap opera.

Full review

***
The InterestingsThe Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book spans from when Jules was a grieving teenager, dropped in on this artistic camp where she met her group of lifelong friends who revived her, to a middle-aged woman who’d been through marriage, childbirth, career changes and the aftermath of old insecurities and secrets. With subtle grace, Wolitzer guides her character(s) through this world where so much changes but some things remain the same. I had a sense when reading that I was truly experiencing a life, the visceral way things appeared when they were happening, and the way people keep returning to them even as new experiences are layered on.

The novel is pretty heavy until the characters are in their mid-30s to early 50s, and presumably life finds an even keel. But although this is literary fiction, predictably the plot ramped up a bit for the ending, with secrets unleashed, midlife-crisis career changes, and the unleashing of pent up relationship drama that these issues inevitably bring out. I suppose it might be a little too literary to let these characters just trundle on forever. In real life, we are often shook up by sudden alterations out of the void of normalcy, and the past catching up to us in various ways. Come what may, I think what intrigued me most was Jules’s quest for meaning in her life, this churning mixup of how she responded to the talent and fame of her friends, but how it was really, always, about the relationships she forged.

Full review

***
The Book of Ruth The Book of Ruth by Jane Hamilton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The writing was a bit uneven as well, as told through Ruth’s voice; usually the diction was simple, but sometimes Hamilton would throw in complicated statements that would throw me from the story. She made up for it with some physical descriptions of Ruth’s life, and the visceral foreshadowing elements, like with the dead crows. And Ruth herself was so frustrating in a wonderfully human way–her life was so limited, and oftentimes angry, that I wanted her to do better for herself, but how could she without proper encouragement? She built up Aunt Sid like an idol, but she was too shamed to be truthful in her letters, and Sid herself never initiated anything until the end. Ruby was tragic from the start–quite obviously only of interest because he was the sole person to actually pay her a bit of attention. The three of them, plus Justy once he was born, ultimately made do day by day, and although you could feel the tension simmering in the narration, I wish there had been slightly more of an arc for Ruby, to signify his growing issues.

That being said, I dislike when things are quick and convenient, and I found myself appreciating the ending, which was rather en media res. Definitely less final than the movie, though Ruth still had a sense of where she wanted to go. I still would say, in book and adaptation both, that the relationship and its effects between mother and daughter were smothering, simmering and alive.

Full review

April ’15 “TBRs”

More of a doozy than usual! I technically only added one book to my GoodReads TBR, but I only subtracted one as well (three of the books I read this month were never on it. Oy.) I also added a few books to my amazon wishlist, though I’m trying to come to terms with the fact that I’ll likely not read all of those. Finally, I attended a book donation/swap on World Book Day, and picked up a few new ones.

  • GoodReads TBR: After Abel and Other Stories, by Michal Lemberger. I found this through the Jewish Book Council; it deserved special attention because I’m very taken with modern interpretations about biblical characters, particularly women. Read Lemberger’s “Visiting Scribe” blog posts at the Jewish Book Council here.
  • Amazon wish list: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman. Author of “The Dovekeepers,” this one is about Coney Island Jews in the early 20th century. Happy are the Happy by Yasmina Reza. Translated from French, takes place in Paris and is stream of consciousness from 18 different viewpoints. :0 Even in Darkness by Barbara Stark-Nemon. Based on the author’s family history, chronicles four generations before, during and after the Holocaust. Jerusalem Maiden by Talia Carner. An Orthodox woman caught between familial expectations and personal identity…in Jerusalem during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire.
  • From the book swap: How It All Began by Penelope Lively. How one event can have a chain reaction and affect people you’ve never even met. The Way of Things by Elizabeth Winthrop. A family arrives at their holiday home to get embroiled in a tragedy that mirrors one of their own. Pears on a Willow Tree by Leslie Pietryzk. Interconnected short stories about Polish and Polish American family members.

Book Meme

Have to get in the spring book tag before spring has officially sprung away! Includes all sorts of silly book recs, including those on my radar that are coming out this season! Thanks so much for jaunting through my literary newsletter. Happy reading!

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April 30, 2015

Reviewing TV Movie Adaptations: “The Dovekeepers” & “The Casual Vacancy”

Filed under: Adaptations — rmauro2 @ 11:00 pm
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Hello, hello! I missed my monthly writer’s meetup due to my aunts being in town for Passover, so I felt pressed to find another blogging topic. Luckily, April has been the month of tv movie adaptations for two of my favorite novels I’ve read in these past few years; I reviewed the results below. Hope you enjoy!

the-dovekeepers-poster “The Dovekeepers”, CBS miniseries based on the novel by Alice Hoffman

Unsurprisingly a fair bit of the 500-page tome was cut to fit the two-part adaptation, including Revka entirely, a POV character. They also fit the narrative much more snugly around the siege at Masada, and took the time to solidify on Flavius Silva as the central villain, the face of Rome, as it were (who had no trouble standing on the ground, shouting hundreds of feet up to Masada, and being heard. :p In the novel, he had to wait until they built the huge ramp up the mountain.)

The TV movie understandably couldn’t play around as much with the largely internal story structure where the women’s actions were far more self-determined. Instead, they are prisoners to Josephus, the Jewish Roman historian credited for writing the actual account of the siege; here he basically acts as a first century Dr. Phil, teasing out the love stories and other domestic concerns from Shirah and Yael. It’s a bit ridiculous, and turns the story lines from raw and genuine to schmaltzy. Josephus also spent a ridiculous amount of time berating them and their dead compatriots for not being more afraid of the Roman presence, as if fear could have saved them. But like in the book, the ultimate fate of these people was meant to be an arresting statement about freedom and choice.

It’s a show that cast white and some Hispanic people as middle eastern Jews, where they went on to pronounce Hebrew words like “Amram” as “Afflack.” :p. I was surprised to hear such details as Shirah singing a young Yael the Shema, reciting the shechechianu as she transformed her daughter from boy to girl, or Aviva performing the candle lighting and blessing at the Shabbat table. It was a nice, and recognizable to the modern audience, substitute for the couched descriptions of ancient Jewish rituals from the book being used to mark the passage of time.

As a partisan disappointment, I’m sad that we didn’t get to see Yael free the lion–a poignant metaphor the spirit of the Jewish nation under Roman occupation. Her fleeting CGI dreams didn’t do much for me. The character complexities were generally flattened and made more melodramatic, though I liked how they handled Aviva’s witnessing of Amram’s ruthless cruelty. But overall, the adaptation was a bit of a dud.

the-casual-vacancy poster “The Casual Vacancy,” HBO/BBC miniseries based on the novel by J.K. Rowling

What I remember most from this book is the characters, and that always starts you on the foot of disappointment with a tv adaptation. I remember Parminder Jawanda being far more reserved, which made her public blow up about Howard Mollison’s health all the more shocking. I remember both Shirley and Samantha Mollison being far more aggressive with their feelings, and in relatively different storylines. I remember being really invested in the Walls, Tess in particular, earnest well-meaning people who were trying to navigate a friend’s death, contentious local politics and their prick of a son, Stuart. Stuart, or “Fats,” was as much of a prick here, but generally lacking in his backstory of being adopted and cynical. And I have no idea why they kept Sukhvinder at all, except to make an inane comment at the end. It’s a shame, I write with bias, because I had the most in common with her story arc.

They largely chose to build up Krystal’s story, which was a smart move for visual media. Her actress, Abigail Lawrie, was quite talented in navigating the girl’s prickliness in living through a dead end life with a drug addicted mother, a revolving door of social workers, and other setbacks and humiliations, sometimes of her own making. I also liked the subtlety with which they handled Simon Price’s physical and mental abuse of his household, without resorting to Lifetime-esque theatrics. Turning Simon into Barry’s brother was a smart move as well, tying those characters in more closely to the rest of the cast.

The plot was tweaked and streamlined, making it a little more conveniently black and white. Barry knows and helps Krystal’s family because he grew up next door to her mother, easily explained away by his wife. The Mollisons seek to convert the community centre/methodone clinic serving the impoverished people of the Fields into a spa for the wealthy citizens of Pagford. Once Barry dies and leaves the “casual vacancy” in the town council, they get it shut down. Krystal’s mother, Terry, can’t easily get her treatment and relapses. Feeling trapped by these circumstances and Terry’s dangerous drug dealer, Krystal, who’d been sleeping with Fats, tells him she’s pregnant with the hopes that Tess will take her and her baby brother in. Then a final tragedy strikes, though it isn’t as completely harrowing as the events in the book. I think this was a good choice on the adaptation’s part; they didn’t have the space to fully explore those issues.

But the miniseries did touch on many themes, from the impact of the social and economic concerns of inter-class tensions to power plays and personal identity within familial relationships. I was also surprised and pleased that they cast Kay and Gaia Baldwin as Black. Though their original story and the complications it engendered were excised, we did get some hints of what it might be like to move from a diverse place like London to a white bread country town like Pagford. An especially nice touch, since the Jawandar’s Sikh religion and south Asian origins were largely ignored. This was a very decent adaptation, and though it’s not Hogwarts, it might be the first that made me see the UK as a real, complicated place.

March 31, 2015

Rachel’s Literary Newsletter: March 2015

Filed under: Reading — rmauro2 @ 11:12 pm
Tags: , , , ,

literary newsletter

Book Pic Spotlight / Book Reviews / March ’15 “TBRs” / Book Meme

Welcome back to my literary newsletter! It’s almost embarrassing how much I’ve been looking forward all month to doing this again. So, without further ado!

Book Pic Spotlight

march15 bookpic

I’m going for a cool autograph this time…Jane Goodall signed this copy of her book! What a find!

Check out more of my book pics on Instagram!

Book Reviews

So my reading level doubled this month. :D I’m seriously thrilled. A book a week (400ish pages or less, say,) is about where I wanna be, in order to get a full literary experience and yet keep knocking items off of my TBR. Honestly this feels a little like working out; the faster I read, the easier it is to acclimate to each new world, and read more each time I open up the book. Helps that the four novels I reviewed below were really good ones, of course.

Visible CityVisible City by Tova Mirvis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If there’s a main character in this story, though it jumps through multiple viewpoints, it’s Nina, the young mother who gave up a career that didn’t thrill her, though being sucked into the world of parenting toddlers without much support from her husband is draining her dry. She gets involved with the neighbors, first by spying on them and inventing stories about them in an attempt at adult connection, then ultimately more personally. At the end of the novel her story is perhaps the least tied up, other than the fact that she will always be a mom, of course, but I enjoy that our main character, of all people, has the most ambiguity, and in a way has the most to question. How do you parent kids today? How do you foster a sense of self, or connections to others, as an adult? My interest is of course helped along that Nina is of an age with me.

We also have Emma, in her twenties, and her relationship with her mother, Claudia–there’s a lot more going on with both women, but again, in a completely self-centered way, I’m taken with the relationships between mothers and their adult daughters. I recognized a lot of pertinent issues, and also with her father, Leon, who means well but is more distant. There’s a fascinating push and pull to the narratives–our own families and dramas exhaust us, we turn to strangers, ostensibly for lighter engagement, and we misinterpret their lives. (So much relation to Nina and Emma–Nina feeling like, oh, it must be so great to have the world open to you, and Emma feeling like, oh, it must feel so great to have everything right in place). The harrowing aspect is that you can do this as easily to your own family members, perhaps, as you can to people on the street.

Full review

***
The Outside WorldThe Outside World by Tova Mirvis
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Like Mirvis’s other novels, this one is narrated from multiple points of view, though I tended to think of Tzippy (and to an extent her husband, Baruch,) as the main characters–Tzippy’s profile is on the cover of the book, and her quest for a husband features prominently in the summary. So too does Baruch’s transformation from Bryan, a modern Orthodox boy living in a Jewish New Jersey suburb, to an ultra-Orthodox young man. But the story doesn’t rest on whether or not Tzippy will find her “beshert”/soulmate, or if Baruch will live happily ever after in Yeshiva. These choices are just their starting out points for how they will live their lives, grow as people and interact with their families as adults.

The four parents, Shayna, Herschel, Naomi and Joel, and Baruch’s teenage sister, Illana, also get mini arcs in the wake of the courtship and marriage. I had a particular soft spot for Naomi; like Batsheva in Mirvis’s “The Ladies Auxiliary,” she’s in line with the type of Jewish woman I want to be–spiritual, a deep thinker, empathetic towards family and embracing of pertinent traditions. This naturally put Naomi in contrast with her son, Baruch, for as she sought to find a compromise between the realities of her life, his ultra-Orthodoxy was more rigid. That’s not to say that Mirvis didn’t handle these characters with grace; at no time was their relationship the basis for a one dimensional battle between two world views.

Tzippy was an interesting mix of traditional and modern as well, surely defying some shallow stereotypes of ultra-Orthodox women, though I couldn’t help but think that whenever she, or anyone else, thought about the contrast between her “sweet” self and her “angry” self, it had more to do with her quest for self-determination rather than any wild mood swings. Illana and Shayna also had intriguing storyline quirks.

Full review

***
Sister of My Heart (Anju and Sudha, #1)Sister of My Heart by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Suddha was perhaps the most main character–each girl had an equal amount of chapters, but even on her own Anju was largely just thinking about her cousin–and I had the most complicated feelings about her. I don’t quite buy how her beauty just stopped men in their tracks. Enough for strangers to grope her in public, sure, but for Ashok to completely build his life around her? Even for Sunil to completely lose his cool around her with all of those flowery speeches? Again, I had a little bit of trouble with the language. Another novel of Divakarumi’s, “The Mistress of Spices,” was adapted into a movie starring Aishwarya Rai, and this one occasionally had the feel of a Bollywood movie. :p

That being said, I appreciated Suddha’s naïveté and cleaving to fairytales–maybe because it reminded me of Sansa Stark (also how she fell so far from her stoop). She’s the character who had the biggest secret–.and the biggest personal arc with that secret–while Anju’s life, particularly after she got to the U.S., was more subtle and less dramatic until the end. Sometimes that actually frustrated me–I wanted to know even more about what she was studying, how she found US university, shopping, etc, etc–beyond obsessing over Suddha and Sunil. (I really loved how her sarcastic voice took flight when she got to this country, too. :p). I have a sort of visceral dislike of Sunil, even though he’s far from the worst character, but the man lied about his interest in Virginia Woolf in order to get into his marriage, which ugh. Like Anju, I’d only set my sights on a literature lover for a spouse, and it was ALL A LIE. :p. Not to mention that he was also a bit stubborn, argumentative, and probably a philanderer. But Anju was those first two things as well, and suddenly her marriage to Sunil took on a less dismal, one-sided feel, and more of something they might have mutually both enjoyed, and struggled with. I kind of want to read the sequel just to get more of that relationship, but I fear that more of the book will center on Sunil’s attraction to Suddha.

Full review

***
Heart's BloodHeart’s Blood by Juliet Marillier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed it overall, this clever and haunted retelling of the Beauty and the Beast tale. Was a bit of a treat to go back to early medieval Ireland, a time and place I know little about, and be thrown into the world of Irish chieftains, Norman invaders and Latin translations.

It’s relatively low on fantasy, but Marillier wrote the host with spooky undertones (and speaking of B&B, I especially liked the haunted/spyglass mirrors). I also thought in the beginning, when we, along with Caitrin, knew less about the machinations of the plot and backstory, that there was a somewhat Gothic and mysterious feel to her stay at Whistling Thor. I appreciated Caitrin’s characterization the most then, her inner struggle between confidence and curiosity, and the fear and lingering depression remaining from her own familial tragedies.

The love story was a little on the schmaltzy side, especially in terms of narrative writing style, and sometimes I thought Anluan was a bit too moody, though maybe I’m not giving his unique situation enough credence. Near the back half of the book, there was some convenient plotting and last-minute realizations to tie things up appropriately, and the villains, though strongly realized when we were in their heads, had some pretty one-dimensional, fairy tale like motivations. Perhaps to be expected, and insofar as “whodunnit” plots go, I thought this had a good one.

Full review

March ’15 “TBRs”

Attempting to add less, overall, because my eyes are a lot bigger than my stomach. :P Might take a few months to get this down, though.

  • All-Of-A-Kind-Family by Sydney Taylor. Technically this is a series, but I figured I’d start easy and just add the first one. Sydney Taylor was a revered American Jewish children’s author in the middle of the last century; the American Jewish Library Association named an award in her honor.
  • A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf and Girl Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen. Since viewing more “booktube” videos, I’ve allowed an interest in reading memoirs to be ignited. I’ve long had my eye on Woolf’s 1929 essay about women in writing, and then Kaysen’s intrigued me because I liked the movie adaptation (she didn’t, from what I’ve read.) I’m definitely curious for a more in depth account of mental health facilities and women in the 1960s.
  • Washing the Dead by Michelle Brafman. Due out in April, according to the Jewish Book Council. In fact, I’ve grown so obsessed with this site that I later started an amazon wishlist of books found here, in the hopes that maybe I can add them to my GoodReads TBR in occasional batches, just to keep the total down. Oy, I’m in trouble. :/
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and The Snow Queen by Michael Cunningham. Popular on booktube, particularly the former. I’ve read The Hours by Cunningham, and keep getting intrigued by the premise of this one. I heard about both months ago on The Guardian Books Podcast, yet resisted putting them on my TBR. This month, I said what the hell. :P
  • Night and Day, Jacob’s Room, Orlando, The Years, and Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf. After I added her memoir, I figured it was ridiculous to list her as a favorite author without actually finishing all of her novels. Damn, that woman was prolific. I haven’t even touched her short stories yet, though I’ve read this collection.
  • The Moment of Everything by Shelly King and NW by Zadie Smith. I just heard of the former on a new podcast I subscribed to, and I figured that was excuse enough to add a book to my TBR. :P It’s about a young woman working in a bookstore, and is being compared to The Cookbook Collector by my fave, Allegra Goodman. The latter, chronicling a diverse set of friends living in modern day London, has been on my radar for months, since an interview with The Guardian Books Podcast. There’s a lot of intriguing literature featured there that I allowed myself to overlook last year…but this year it seems like a nice way to diversify my reading, particularly since I’m largely entrenched in Jewish literature.
  • Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. They just released the cover, and…I know I wanna read this. Though I do feel conflicted, given the controversy surrounding this book deal. But come on, no strings attached, and I definitely want a To Kill a Mockingbird sequel! I reserve the right to remove it from my TBR later, perhaps. I’ll probably be spoiled for the plot long before I can ever lay hands on this anyway. :P Alas.

Book Meme

While we’re on the topic of book spoilers, my meme for this month revolves around Game of Thrones. :P I’ve been collecting dozens of these things for the past month, most of which utilize silly questions so that I can highlight a diversity of books. But with the new season coming out in a few weeks, and A Song of Ice and Fire being one of my favorite book series, I figured this would be a good one.

Season five promises to extend beyond the timeline of the published books for some characters, meaning that we book readers are in for some spoilers. More on that below. If you’re interested in reading my preliminary, rambly, and spoilery reviews of the published materials, here’s A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance With Dragons. Expect show spoilers here on in, and thanks for bearing witness to my second literary newsletter. :D Happy reading!

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March 7, 2015

Writers Meetup: March 2015

Filed under: Groups — rmauro2 @ 2:43 pm
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I don’t really have much of a routine going here yet, seeing as February was my first time back to the meetup in years, but I like the feel of monthly. Makes for easy blog titles, too. :P

Today, we critiqued a realistic short story that the author sort of classified as “new adult.” Her intention, it seemed, was to signify that the story could be appealing to both people in the age range of her characters (late-teens to early-twenties,) and to adults. Though a couple of the older adults struggled to connect to the technological aspects of this story.

I don’t really mean to make that into a critique, but rather an observation about this group, and the reading culture as a whole. There’s plenty of different people in this group who like to read and write different things–from technical papers to fiction. Chances are this story could find an adult audience, but there are also adults out there who wouldn’t think of touching it due to the subject matter. This works for all genres, of course, not just YA and “new adult.”

One of the challenges about general writing groups, perhaps, is how often we have to project beyond our own experiences. This, to me, brings up the issue of broad accessibility; how much should a story be hyper-explained or dumbed down so that people without the perspective of growing up as a young woman in the 21st century could grab a foothold? The same goes for another of my favorite “genres,” as it were–Jewish fiction–plus countless other examples. I suppose one positive of not pandering too much to the audience is that then, hopefully, the reader understands that these characters who are so different from them actually have complex and full lives.  This is one of the only constants, IMHO, in most fiction and memoir–the characters must seem like real people.

I profess that I’m a little embarrassed right now, because I fear that one of my critiques came off as dismissive of the standard struggle of most women to confirm to social norms about body image. That being said, I do think my silliness led to a worthwhile point that tangible examples and details work better than passively telling the reader this is how the protag feels.

But I do feel like, for myself, I owe it to read the story for workshop more than once next time. I coulda gotten to this one last night, for example, but…I was a little distracted. :P Alas.

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