Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Season of Second Chances – Diane Meier

I bought this book as a gift and as is the way with book gifts, it made its way back to me.

Here is the blurb …

 A world of possibilities opens up for Joy Harkness when she sets out on a journey that’s going to show her the importance of friendship, love, and what makes a house a home

Coming-of-age can happen at any age. Joy Harkness had built a university career and a safe life in New York, protected and insulated from the intrusions and involvements of other people. When offered a position at Amherst College, she impulsively leaves the city, and along with generations of material belongings, she packs her equally heavy emotional baggage. A tumbledown Victorian house proves an unlikely choice for a woman whose family heirlooms have been boxed away for years. Nevertheless, this white elephant becomes the home that changes Joy forever. As the restoration begins to take shape, so does her outlook on life, and the choices she makes over paint chips, wallpaper samples, and floorboards are reflected in her connection to the co-workers who become friends and friendships that deepen. A brilliant, quirky, town fixture of a handyman guides the renovation of the house and sparks Joy’s interest to encourage his personal and professional growth. Amid the half-wanted attention of the campus’s single, middle-aged men, known as ‘the Coyotes,’ and the legitimate dramas of her close-knit community, Joy learns that the key to the affection of family and friends is being worthy of it, and most important, that second chances are waiting to be discovered within us all.

I enjoyed this novel. It is a quiet story about community, friends and the family we create for ourselves. We only have Joy’s point of view and she is very self-involved not selfish just inwards looking. Her ‘renovation’ parallels the house – both being performed by Teddy. As this novel was a modern fairy tale (I see Joy as being Sleeping Beauty), I was a bit disappointed by the ending. I loved all of the literary references and the philosophical discussions on education.

More reviews …

http://www.linussblanket.com/season-chances-diane-meier-book-review/ 

http://www.sheistoofondofbooks.com/2010/04/02/book-review-the-season-of-second-chances-by-diane-meier/ 

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The Rules of Civility – Amor Towles

I read about this novel on someone’s blog, but I can’t remember who (sorry!). I ordered it from the library and it is obviously very popular because it took about six months to arrive.

I loved this novel. It is a mixture of The Great Gatsby, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Mad Men and Sex in the City!

 Set during the hazy, enchanting, and martini-filled world of New York City circa 1938, Rules of Civility follows three friends–Katey, Eve, and Tinker–from their chance meeting at a jazz club on New Year’s Eve through a year of enlightening and occasionally tragic adventures. Tinker orbits in the world of the wealthy; Katey and Eve stretch their few dollars out each evening on the town. While all three are complex characters, Katey is the story’s shining star. She is a fully realized heroine, unique in her strong sense of self amidst her life’s continual fluctuations. Towles’ writing also paints an inviting picture of New York City, without forgetting its sharp edges. Reminiscent of Fitzgerald, Rules of Civility is full of delicious sentences you can sit back and savor (most appropriately with a martini or two). –Caley Anderson

This novel is beautifully written – Katey has some pithy one liners.  This novel has an amazing sense of place – the reader is transported back to New York in the 1930s. There is cocktails, jazz and ‘smart-talking dames’. The characters do unexpected things or I should say everything is not what you assume.

This novel is witty, clever and fun and I want to go and read it again (although I expect someone else is waiting for it at the library).

Here are more reviews …

 http://readingthroughthebs.wordpress.com/2012/03/14/review-of-rules-of-civility/

http://giraffeelizabeth.wordpress.com/2012/01/02/rules-of-civility-amor-towles/ 

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The Art of Mending – ELizabeth Berg

I wrote a post on The Art of Mending, but WordPress ate it and I don’t have the stamina to write it again.

Here are some other reviews …

 http://bookjourney.wordpress.com/2011/02/19/the-art-of-mending-by-elizabeth-berg/

http://muddypuddlemusings.blogspot.com.au/2011/02/12-art-of-mending-elizabeth-berg.html 

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New Selected Stories – Alice Munro

When I heard there was a new Alice Munro collection, I just had to read it. Although it is not really new, it’s a new collection of existing stories.

Here is the blurb …

 Spanning almost thirty years and settings that range from big cities to small towns and farmsteads of rural Canada, this magnificent collection brings together twenty-eight stories by a writer of unparalleled wit, generosity, and emotional power. In her Selected Stories, Alice Munro makes lives that seem small unfold until they are revealed to be as spacious as prairies and locates the moments of love and betrayal, desire and forgiveness, that change those lives forever. To read these stories–about a traveling salesman and his children on an impromptu journey; an abandoned woman choosing between seduction and solitude–is to succumb to the spell of a writer who enchants her readers utterly even as she restores them to their truest selves.

In this review, I said collecting stories with a similar theme lessons the impact of each story. However, this collection is an overview of Munro’s work – there are stories from several of her previous collection. I think this is a much better arrangement and if you could buy just one collection, I would recommend this one.

As always, these stories are beautifully written, insightful and character driven.

More reviews …

 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/8781916/New-Selected-Stories-by-Alice-Munro-review.html

http://www.newstatesman.com/fiction/2011/09/selected-stories-munro-story 

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South Riding – Winifred Holtby

I watched the recent BBC adaptation of South Riding  and had to read the novel.

The novel is much darker than the TV series – lots of death, poverty and squalor.

Here is the blurb …

 This s Winifred Holtby’s greatest novel – A rich evocation which explores the lives and relationships of the characters of South Riding. Sarah Burton, the fiery young headmistress of the local girl’s school; Mrs Beddows, the district’s first alderwomen – based on Holtby’s own mother; and Robert Carne, the conservative gentleman-farmer locked in a disastrous marriage – with whom the radical Sarah Burton falls in love. Showing how public decisions can mould the individual and strongly echoing Middlemarch, South Riding offers a panoramic and unforgettable view of Yorkshire life.

It was beautifully written. Very evocative of a particular time and place (Yorkshire between the wars). It had a broader outlook (quite modern really) compared to other novels published about the same time (i.e Dorothy Whipple). Its focus is on the community of South Riding and the various personalities that impact on the community. From the scheming Mr Snaith (some things never change), ideological Joe Astley and the very conservative Robert Carne – he seems to be against the council spending any money.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel, I have some reservations about recommending it. It is very bleak, there is illness (measles, cancer and heart disease), poverty and grime. I think if you’re ill or know someone who is ill, you should avoid this one for a while.

Here are some other reviews …

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/feb/19/south-riding-winifred-holtby-rereading 

http://bookssnob.wordpress.com/2011/11/06/south-riding-by-winifred-holtby/ 

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The Innocent – Ian McEwan

I listened to this one while finishing mindless tasks – like this. I’m becoming quite a convert to audio books. I’ve always liked Ian McEwan – Atonement in particular, so I was keen to try this one. I didn’t enjoy it as much as Atonement, but I didn’t dislike it as much as Solar (here’s that review).

Here is the blurb …

 The novel takes place in 1955-56 Berlin at the beginning of the Cold War and centres on the joint CIA/MI6 operation to build a tunnel from the American sector of Berlin into the Russian sector to tap the phone lines of the Soviet High Command. Leonard Marnham is a 25-year-old Englishman who sets up and repairs the tape recorders used in the tunnel. He falls in love with Maria Eckdorf, a 30-year-old divorced German. The story revolves around their relationship and Leonard’s role in the operation.

This novel had a bit of cold war/spy drama about it, but mostly it was about Leonard and his relationship with Maria. He has quite a vivid fantasy life and it would often lead him astray. For the majority of the story we only have Leonard’s point of view and he is ‘the innocent’. Without revealing too much of the story something happens to Maria and Leonard which they feel needs to be covered up. They attempt to do this, but things go wrong and in an effort to make things right (or at least protect himself) Leonard slips into betrayal. I think the point being just how easy it is for someone to betray them self, friends and country.

Here are some more reviews …

http://bostonreview.net/BR31.1/boylan.php  – this is an essay on McEwan and covers many of his novels.

http://jawasreadtoo.wordpress.com/2008/11/13/review-the-innocent-by-ian-mcewan/

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