All posts by alenaslife
Posted by alenaslife on February 6, 2013
Sometimes a book will just take me in its arms and carry me away. That’s how I feel about The Light Between Oceans. I really felt carried away by this story of love and heartbreak on an island of Australia’s coast.
“There are times when the ocean is not the ocean – not blue, not even water, but some violent explosion of energy and danger: ferocity on a scale only gods can summon…And the sound is the roaring of a beast whose anger knows no limits. Those are the nights the light is needs most.”
Tom is a veteran of World War I, described by others (never by himself) as a hero, who signs on to be a lighthouse keeper. He craves the solitude, the exactitude, the rules inherent in months on Janus with a single task to occupy him. Of course, while on leave, he falls in love, and despite his better judgment, marries Isabelle, a mainlander, and attempts to open his heart to happiness and family on Janus.
I have to admit, this is not the sort of premise that would normally engage my interest, so I’m grateful to the friends and Goodreads community members who raved about this novel. M.L. Stedman transforms what could have been a typical romance into a story of moral complexity and inner turmoil. In Tom we meet a man who is torn apart struggling between his honest nature and his desire to do right by Isabelle. We know he has witnessed untold horror in the war and considers himself unworthy of happiness and yet his basic goodness makes him an ideal hero.
“You could kill a bloke with rules, Tom knew that. And yet sometimes they were what stood between man and monsters….At night, Tom began to dream he was drowning, flinging his arms and legs desperately to find ground somewhere, but there was nothing to stand on, nothing to hold him afloat except a mermaid…”
What surprised me was how interesting Stedman makes the island and the lighthouse. The lighthouse becomes an extended metaphor for the underlying hope in this book. Her descriptions of life on Janus, the care of the light and the larger ideas of what that beacon represents for others are what elevate this book from good story to great novel.
Plus, to my eternal gratitude, she doesn’t make it easy or neat. It’s the kind of book you want to read in a cozy spot, wrapped in a blanket, with a box of tissues handy.
“He turned his attention to the rotation of the beam, and gave a bitter laugh at the thought that the dip of the light means that the island itself was always left in darkness. A lighthouse is for others; powerless to illuminate the space closest to it.”
While writing this review, I kept hearing Jon Troast‘s song, With a Smile Like That. I couldn’t find video, but here are the lyrics and, if you don’t know his music, I encourage you to give him a listen.
Posted by alenaslife on February 4, 2013
Not only is my 2013 off to a very quick start (I’ll never be able to keep up the 10 book/month pace), it’s off to a good one. Of the 10 books I completed in January, most were well above average. A couple surprised me. A couple disappointed me. And all made me glad I love to read.
A very quick, if mildly disturbing, read. This is my first experience with a graphic-book and I found the illustrations sometimes really added to the limited text,but in some cases stole from the sharp, crisp writing. Bechdel does not shy away from the discomfort inherent in not only her own coming out story, but the complicated back-story of her father’s closeted homosexuality. The complex father-daughter relationship was fascinating to me and I would have liked that to be fleshed out even more (in terms of text). Overall, I was impressed by this memoir.
He used his skillful artifice not to make things, but to make things appear to be what they were not.”
The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis
The air would smell like taffy and drying seaweed, and they would wear white, and there would be still more happiness. So much happiness. It was almost as exhausting as this relentless February.”
With or Without You by Domenica Ruta
Is it possible to have nostalgia for a time in which you never lived? I’m sure there is a word for this phenomenon in German — beautiful, absurd, and twenty letters long.”
The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
I really liked so much of this book (including Elizabeth McGovern’s excellent narration), but it just went on so long. I felt like it had several false endings, places where I was finished but then it kept going. Maybe the problem is just that I didn’t expect an epic when I began. The story covers almost 50 years of Cora’s life in a great deal of detail. And while I find the 20th century interesting background, I was frustrated at Moriarty’s need to touch on so many different “issues” — Prohibition, adoption, gay rights, reproductive rights, suffrage. Add to that, Cora happens to witness or read about dozens of historical events. I began to feel manipulated after a while. What a I loved was the relationship between Cora and Louise Brooks. I would have been much more satisfied had she ended the book after their summer together.
The young can cut you with their unrounded edges…but they can also push you right up to the window of the future and push you through.”
The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger
Deceptively simple story about a Bengali woman, Amina, who meets her American husband on-line, moves to Rochester and struggles to bring her parents to America. Immigrations, marriage, family, desire, truth are the themes all tangled under the surface story. I liked Amina a lot and thought the author brought up many interesting questions, but the other characters didn’t seem as truthful to me. I couldn’t understand their motivations or transitions,which is what prevents a higher rating. I would read more of this writer.
You thought you were a permanent part of your own experience, the net that held it all together — until you discovered that there were many selves, dissolving into one another so quickly over time that the buildings and trees and even the pavement turned out to have more substance than you did.”
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
You must accept the reality of other people. You think that reality is up for negotiation, that we think it’s whatever you say it is. You must accept that we are as real as you are; you must accept that you are not God.”
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (audio)
Another great installment of Harry Potter. I can see that the tone of these novels has really darkened considerably. There were moments when my youngest was truly afraid. It’s quite an accomplishment that, even knowing that Harry will survive, I feel the danger and fear he faces. The suspense and environment are so rich, that “spoilers” don’t even interfere with the drama. Can’t wait to start the next one.
If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.”
The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison
I really, really wanted to like this book but I couldn’t. In fact, I cared so little about it when it was over that I didn’t write any sort of review or notes and now I can only remember a disabled teenager, a grieving loser-ish thirty-something and a trip in a van where they pick up all sorts of oddballs. It sounds like a premise I’d love (kind of Little Miss Sunshine), but it never came together.
I know I’ve lost my mind. But I’m not concerned, because it’s the first thing I’ve lost in a long time that actually feels good.”
Dozens of short stories, most about people whose lives are not going to work out no matter what they do or hope for. I’m sure they are a reflection of the author’s Soviet reality, but, not only were they depressing, I never found any one or any moment to hold on to. Reading this was like skipping stones over a very flat, dark, lake. Ultimately unfulfilling. I received a complimentary copy of this book from Penguin Books in exchange for my honest review.
A Red Herring Without Mustard (A Flavia de Luce Mystery #3) by Alan Bradley
While other books were failing me, Flavia was there to bring a smile to my face. As usual, this precocious 11 year-old amateur chemist/detective found herself embroiled in murder and mayhem. While there is a certain formula to all these books, Bradley wisely goes deeper into each character with the succession of novels. We learn more about Flavia each time and get to know more about her long-lost mother Harriet, who posthumously plays a huge role in the emotional undercurrent of this book. The “Buckshaw Chronicles” are a smart, entertaining, emotionally fulfilling series of mysteries. I’m so grateful their interesting titles drew my eye a couple of years ago.
Whenever I’m with other people, part of me shrinks a little. Only when I am alone can I fully enjoy my own company.”
Posted by alenaslife on January 31, 2013
Today, I will keep it very simple, because all I can think about is that my oldest son is twelve today. How is it possible that my little boy is quickly becoming a young man? It seems yesterday he was crawling around with his gigantic smile and discovering new things each day.
He still has the smile and the wonderful sense of discovery, but he’s as tall as I, with larger feet and longer legs. My baby is no more. I have to say that I am really looking forward to getting to know the man.
Happy Birthday my angel.
Posted by alenaslife on January 25, 2013
I really enjoyed this novel. I’ve only ever listened to Rowling’s Harry Potter books on audio, but I’ve been consistently impressed by her character development, attention to detail and evocative settings. This book has all of those things.
When Barry Fairbrother dies in a small English town, he leaves “a casual vacancy” in his seat on the local Pagford Parish Council. Through this position, we then meet dozens of his fellow Pagford residents and a few from neighboring Yarvil. Reading about them was like peeking into their diaries. Rowling leaves no stone unturned in searching for her characters’ underbellies, and in turn, the underbelly of the community they represent.
The criticism this novel has received, in fact, revolves in large part around the fact that these characters about whom she writes 500+ pages, are not entirely likable. While that’s true, it didn’t bother me in the least. I didn’t mind that they were petty, guilty, crazy, addicted, ineffectual, suspicious, lewd, sad people. I still liked going along on this journey.
“The mistake ninety-nine percent of humanity made, as far as Fats could see, was being ashamed of what they were; lying about it, trying to be somebody else.”
Rowling is definitely of the school that an author should never introduce a character or plot point that does not have some greater meaning. So in the last 1/3 of the book, I was a little annoyed at some “contrived” meetings of characters and situations. But, this is how she writes. She is making a point about the way in which lives are interconnected. I chose to suspend my disbelief and, in the end, was entirely satisfied with where she left each character.
Did I miss the Harry/Ron/Hermione heroics? Yes, a little bit. But I would argue that The Casual Vacancy does have its share of heroes, at least heroic moments. It’s just that they’re human. They’re small and subtle, tiny victories over our more base natures.
“You must accept the reality of other people. You think that reality is up for negotiation, that we think it’s whatever you say it is. You must accept that we are as real as you are; you must accept that you are not God.”
- J.K. Rowling’s ‘The Casual Vacancy’ to Get TV Series Treatment (aceshowbiz.com)
- The Casual Vacancy: A book review (dawn.com)
- A review: The Casual Vacancy (cobalt714.wordpress.com)
- The Casual Vacancy (aslightobsessionwithbooks.wordpress.com)
Posted by alenaslife on January 22, 2013
You know how as parents we’re supposed to lead by example? Well, in terms of learning new things, I’m an “epic fail” as my sons would say. I avoid “new” like the plague.
This is not all negative of course. I would argue that I know my own strengths, and in the areas of communication and consensus-building, I excel. I can hold my own on a computer, in social settings, and certainly in the work place. I have a marvelous husband who takes care of all of the home and auto complications (aren’t we deliciously retro?), so I’ve never had to struggle with wiring or plumbing.
I admit my tendency to make the less challenging choice, when possible.
But, in the behavior of my sons, I’ve seen my tendency to avoid challenge in a more negative light. One of my sons struggles in sports. It just doesn’t come easily, the way school and music do. And, really, it breaks my heart to see how badly he wants to be an athletic success, and to fear that it will never happen for him.
And yet, he tries. He tries partly because we won’t let him quit. Once he signs on to a team or a class, he has to follow through. We’ll help him and practice with him, but ultimately, he’s the one on the court or on the field and he gets out there and just does it. (He doesn’t always do it with the best attitude or a big smile, but he does it nonetheless.)
There was a year where he chose not to play his favorite sport because it “wasn’t fun anymore.” My husband and I were fine with his decision, but as he sat on the sidelines and watched his brothers and friends play, he determined to try again. “I think I want to play again next year.” I know he’ll struggle, and feel frustrated and sometimes take it out on us, but I am so proud he wants to try.
So instead of modeling the behavior for my kids, I’m following my son’s lead. I’m trying to open myself up to new skills.
When I started my new job this year, I had to learn a new design program, Adobe Illustrator. I didn’t have a ton of design skills to begin with, and was only familiar with InDesign. In fact, my bosses were open to purchasing a new design program, but I realized that all the files I would need were already in Illustrator. I was being silly. I could learn a new program, right?
I’m still learning (and I still think Illustrator is often frustratingly non-intuitive), but I’m using it almost every day and getting happier with the finished product all the time. I’ve added several other programs to my resume in a few short months. I’ve improved my photography skills by sheer determination and practice, not letting my fear of failure prevent my success.
I will not quit because something is challenging. I will meet that challenge, overcome it, and move on to the next. Because that’s life, right? I will try to do this with good humor and an ability to appreciate failure as a part of the process instead of a final result.
This is the model I want to provide for my sons.
Thanks, once again, to Daily Prompt for inspiring this post.
Posted by alenaslife on January 21, 2013
I’m not even sure how I stumbled across rarasaur, but I’ve fallen in love with the blog and its brilliance which masquerades as seeming randomness. In searching through the backlog of posts I stumbled upon the Blogger Personality Test. What fun, I thought.
To give you a little history, I’m one of those people who ALWAYS takes the personality quizzes in magazines. I’ve done it since I was a young girl reading Tiger Beat and trying to find out (in the way only an anonymous quiz can tell me), if I should be dating the jock, the bad boy or the shy genius. I did so many of these quizzes that I was able to provide the “correct” answer to get any outcome I wanted.
Fast forward to 2013 and here I am still trying to figure out what I want my blog to be (other than seeming randomness not yet coming close to approaching brilliance.) And here was a completely unscientific, rather hilarious personality quiz.
Imagine my joy when rarasaur told me that I’m “a harmonious blogger with a welcoming blog that inspires discussion.” That’s just what I want to be. Never mind that I’m not much of a cereal eater, this quiz was 100% correct that, back in my Tiger Beat days, I planned for my bridesmaids to wear evergreen, long-sleeved velvet dresses. Genius, right?
I encourage all you bloggers out there to take the quiz and see how rarasaur does in guessing your blogger personality. Then come back and let me know if you’re an edmt too.
Posted by alenaslife on January 17, 2013
Where do the weeks go? It’s Wednesday again Feel free to play along. Just answer the following three (3) questions…
• What are you currently reading? • What did you recently finish reading? • What do you think you’ll read next?
What are you currently reading? The Casual Vacancy, which received a lot of flak for its bevy of unlikable characters, but I’m liking them so far. Not sure what it says about me, but I love the small-town politics and intrigue. Listening to the 3rd installment of the Flavia de Luce series, A Red Herring Without Mustard, and enjoying it immensely. Flavia always brings a smile to my face. Also from J.K. Rowling, my sons and I are on the last disc of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. We are definitely on the edge of our seats at the moment. These books are a real thrill.
What did you recently finish reading? Finished an advanced copy of a disturbing new memoir, With or Without You, by Dominca Ruta. Sometimes reading about another person’s crazy scary childhood makes me feel like my life has pretty much been a cakewalk. Also read The Newlyweds, which was a very interesting novel about a Bengali bride trying to make a marriage and life in America work, all the while missing her family in Bangladesh. (That is a really simple sentence about a really complex book.)
What do you think you’ll read next? Eager to start This is How You Lose Her on audio and The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving in hardback. I’ve been wanting to read both for a long time.
What are your W…W…W… titles?
Posted by alenaslife on January 16, 2013
I read a Tweet recently along the lines that memoirs need not be the “Olympics of tragedy.” I apologize for my inability to credit the source, but the phrase stuck with me. I had just finished reading With or Without You, a new memoir by Domenica Ruta, whose life seems like the 1600 IM of tragedy and abuse.
The daughter of a drug addict, albeit a high-functioning and dynamic one, Ruta writes about coming of age among drugs, sexual abuse and addiction. But, remarkably, that’s not really what the book is about. The story derives its drama from the unusual mother-daughter relationship (another prevailing memoir theme).
It is the declaration of every thinking woman at some point in her life, a manifesto that crosses all barriers of class or color or whatever arbitrary thing we try to pretend separates us. It starts out as a girlish whisper, grows louder with each passing year, until that faint promise we traced in the sand becomes a declarative, then an imperative: I will not become my mother.”
The drugs, sex and neglect of her childhood seem almost like minor details compared to the agony of her painful mother love. It took me a while to understand that, in my horror at her upbringing, I was missing the main point of this memoir.
Understanding how much Ruta wished she, and not addiction, were the center of her mom’s universe was heartbreaking. Kathi is a flamboyant, intelligent, (formerly) beautiful, larger-than-life character, at least in Ruta’s retelling. As a reader, as angry as I felt at her actions, I couldn’t help but like, and sometimes even admire, her.
In this way, Ruta provides an unusual tension in the story-telling. Over the course of her life, you can almost see the logical part of brain, which writes almost clinically about her mother, fighting with her heart which writes with emotion and longing.
Ruta wisely includes a great deal of self-deprecating humor to break up the pathos.
Kathi and I were the two most outrageous snobs ever to receive public assistance.”
“Is it possible to have nostalgia for a time in which you never lived? I’m sure there is a word for this phenomenon in German — beautiful, absurd, and twenty letters long.”
She also shines the harsh spotlight on her own flaws and addiction, but perhaps I wanted even more in terms of soul searching. I was horrified throughout, but I never came to love her (which I want in an Olympian…oops…I mean a memoirist).
I received an Advanced Reading Edition of this book as part of the Random House Reading Circle. Please note that the quotes included in this review are not taken from the final edition. Expected publication date is February 26, 2013.
Posted by alenaslife on January 14, 2013