A Short Wrap-Up and How It All Began

 

I am reading an old Penelope Lively book  – How It All Began – a comforting light read as I try to avoid the news and politics.   Charlotte, an older woman, falls after she is mugged and breaks her hip.  This one action triggers a series of events affecting her family and strangers she has never met, seven overall  – the butterfly effect rippling through lives.  Lively reminds the reader how little control we have over everything.

As the the catalyst for a cast of characters with a range of emotions and experiences as their lives are derailed, Charlotte rallies, recovers, and continues with a constructive life as Lively’s chapters consider those around her.  Charlotte’s fall requires her to move in with her daughter and son-in-law, Rose and Gerry, which leads to Rose taking time off from her job with an old historian, which leads to her boss asking his niece, Marion, to accompany him on a lecture trip, which leads to Marion’s leaving a message for her married lover, which leads his wife to discover the message and file for divorce.  And so it goes – a series of sometimes unfortunate events.

Charlotte is a retired English teacher, and her wise pronouncements sometimes seem worth noting for future reference.  As she convalesces, she notes how her circumstances have changed her reading habits to magazines and, horrors, pulp novels, until finally when she is able to read a Henry James novel again, she considers herself on the road to recovery.  I am not a fan of Henry James, but I did find her book, What Maisie Knew, in my library system – and maybe I’ll read it, but I doubt it.

Penelope Lively’s characters follow life’s chaos and uncertainties, a comfort to all of us living in that inevitable vein. Lively was a children’s book author before writing novels for adults and her first book, the children’s novel Astercote (1970) is about modern English villagers who fear a resurgence of the medieval plague – seems timely with the recent outbreak of a deadly virus from China. I’ve ordered the book from my library.

 

Other books I have been reading:

Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

Famous for her Ruth Galloway mystery series, Elly Griffiths new book – Stranger Diaries – has none of her familiar characters but this stand alone mystery seemed familiar. I was sure I had read the book before and even knew the murderer, but I was wrong on both counts.  I was sure she was the murderer, but she was not.

 

The Key by Patricia Wentworth

A 1946 paperback with browned pages, some taped back together, turned out to be a great story.  When Michael Harsch is found dead (soon after he finally perfected his formula for the government) in the church behind a locked door with a key in his pocket, the mystery begins.  The inquest rules suicide but Miss Silver knows it is a murder, but who did it?  Despite its age, the mystery had a modern twist and held my attention throughout.

The Library of the Unwritten by A. J. Hackwith

If you are a fan of the irreverent “Good Place” series, you will relish Hackwith’s Library of the Unwritten.  A librarian who was human but didn’t make it past the pearly gates, Claire oversees books not yet written; the library is in hell.  When one character escapes from his book to meet with his author on Earth, and another soul offers stolen pages from the devil’s Coda in exchange for living among the angels, the action starts, and never falters.  An exciting ride through different worlds where the devils are more fun and the angels tend to be judgmental and arrogant, the book swerves through lives and characters.  Noting the cautionary note to all procrastinating authors (me included) – “there’s nothing an unwritten book wants more than to be written” – I listened to the book on Audible and found myself speeding up the narrative to get to the next chapter.

AND FINALLY –

Why Don’t You Write My Eulogy Now So I Can Correct It? – A Mother’s Suggestions by Patricia Marx and Roz Chast

Skip the introduction and go immediately to the one-liners With Roz Chast’s illustrations for motherly advice you can use.  Here are a few:

  • Never do anything you can pay someone to do.
  • If you feel guilty about throwing out the leftovers, put them in the back of your refrigerator for five days and then throw them out.
  • When it comes to raising children, nothing beats bribery.
  • Resist the temptation to buy clothes on your skinniest days.

A FOOTNOTE:

I am listening to a scary story on Audible – Lisa Gardner’s When You See Me.  Scary stories tend to keep my attention when listening, and this one started with a Mexican woman and her daughter in dire straits (before American Dirt was published).

 

Listen to The Ten Thousand Doors of January

Magical, compelling, adventurous, scary – and just plain fun – Alix Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January is a book to take you out of your doldrums and into another world.  I listened to this book on audilbe and the narrator’s clever changes in voice from villain to heroine, from young to old, from awe to terror – had me walking extra steps and driving an extra mile to continue the story.  After a while, I just gave up and turned up the sound on my iPhone.

In the story you will follow January Scholar as she navigates her life through the beauty of the world and the ugliness of evil characters to find her true identity.    January is left with her father’s wealthy employer in Vermont as he travels the world searching for old valuable pieces for his employer’s collections.

One of the most satisfying elements of the book is having the villains get their due – irrevocably beaten back and punished.

Words and stories are the catalysts, as each chapter reveals another piece of January’s life, from small girl to mature woman with the power to open doors into other worlds through her writing.

The book within the book is The Ten Thousand Doors, which tells of magical doors between worlds.  When her father goes missing, January decides to leave Vermont to find him. As she travels to new countries through new Doors, January becomes fearless and learns to use her words to live a free and exciting life.

The stories are as mesmerizing as Scheherazade, and even if you are not a fan of fantasy, you will appreciate the magic and the possibilities in opening another door and hearing a good story.  I did.

Books to Start 2020

A new year, a new decade, a new look, a new book.  I have three books to start..  Have you read them?

The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow

I learned a new word listening to Alix Harrow’s The Ten Thousand Doors of January, an auspicious way to start a new year of reading.  The word is temerarious – defined as reckless or rash, as in “having a temerarious disposition.”  But maybe you already knew.

As the story begins, the narrator is a young girl, condemned by that term, simply because she has curiosity and imagination – and her name is January.  I’ve progressed to the second chapter with her aged to seventeen, and am convinced this audiobook will entice me to walk more (a resolution many of us may have made in the new year) as I listen and escape through doors into adventure.

The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris

I still use the recipe for spiced hot chocolate from the movie Chocolat, based on Harris’s book-  https://potpourriwithrosemarie.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/read-the-book-and-drink-the-chocolat/

Revisiting Vianne Rocher in her French chocolate shop in Harris’s The Strawberry Thief enticed me to hope for more sweets.   Although Harris has written books since Chocolat, this is the first sequel, continuing the story.

 

by Jacqueline Woodson

After a long time on the library wait list, Woodson’s Red at the Bone is finally available to me.  Tangentially, I just finished listening to Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House.  I had read and reviewed the book when it was first published, but I needed to prepare to discuss it in a book group.  The narration by Tom Hanks was like reading it for the first time.  How does this connect to Red at the Bone?

Woodson and Patchett have a mutual admiration society.  I had heard Patchett sing Woodson’s praises, and then watched them together on stage answering questions about Commonwealth and Another Brooklyn for a Library of Phlladephia program.  Their new books (The Dutch House and Red at the Bone) have a common theme in the story of a mother who leaves her child/children.  It will be fun to compare notes.

What are you reading in January 2020?

 

 

The Starless Sea

I had expected the unusual from Erin Morgenstern after reading her Night Circus, but The Starless Sea goes beyond my expectations for strange and complicated. The book has elements of Scheherazade in her storytelling, and bits of Lewis Carroll in her references and visits to fantastic worlds, but the story Morganstern most reminded me of – even referencing it in the beginning of her book – was Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s The Shadow of the Wind.

Just as in Carlos Ruiz Zafón‘s Cemetery of Lost Books, Morgenstern creates her own secret underground library and a mystery involving the hero and books, as well as their pages and words, sifting them through a tangential plot sometimes hard to follow. If you have read The Westing Game, you might see some of its elements too.

But it’s the many stories, not necessarily the one following the main characters, that become pieces that can be taken by themselves – fairy tales of fantastic places and sometimes horrible creatures. I was tempted to skip over these chapters to follow the main line, but after a while they seduced me into reading, and then I wasn’t so concerned about Zachary Rawlins, the graduate student on a quest – I knew he’d be back somewhere in later pages as the time warp flexed.

If all this sounds wild and ambiguous, it is – probably because the book is written that way too. The pages are crammed with symbolism – The Owl King, a sea of honey, magic doors – mixed with real places – the New York Public Library, posh hotels, and a professional fortune teller. Read it if you dare, but be prepared to get lost. In the end, I thought I caught a moral from the Never-ending Story, but maybe I just imagined it.

Review of the Night Circus: https://nochargebookbunch.com/2011/10/06/the-night-circus/

 

Mysteries with Ghosts, Murder and Magic

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts

With a cast of quirky characters, including a handsome stranger, a dead billionaire, and a weird heroine, Kate Bacculia creates a puzzle-solving mystery through a citywide treasure hunt in Boston in Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts.  The promise of a fortune, as well as the possibility of finding a murderer, drives Tuesday Mooney,  clever and intelligent researcher, who dresses in black and usually tries to avoid most social contact. Her sidekicks, a gay friend and a teen neighbor, help her face a painful past as well as propel her to a future with promise as they search out strange clues and coded messages.

Not for everyone, this story has elements of Edgar Allen Poe mixed with Agatha Christie, with a touch of Sophie Kinsella, and allusions ranging from Ellen Raskin to King Arthur.  I’m not sure I caught them all but the ones I did connect were hilarious.  Suspending belief is key as the reader gets involved in these strange and sometimes nefarious doings.

The Last House Guest

Megan Miranda’s The Last House Guest involves a mystery in Maine with tension between the rich with summer houses and the locals. The death of Avery’s best friend, Sadie, triggers the story, with the action going back and forth over the years. Eventually, Sadie’s suicide is ruled as murder, with Avery as prime suspect. As she works to clear her name, Avery solves not only the mystery of her friend but sadly discovers more deceit leading back to her parents’ car accident when she was a teenager. A whodunit with a sad twist.

 

Ninth House

Leigh Bardugo’s strange tale in Ninth House involves ghosts and dangerous magic at Yale University. Galaxy “Alex” Stern, a high school dropout, has a second chance at the good life with a scholarship to Yale; the quid pro quo requires her using her powers (seeing ghosts) to watch over the famous Yale secret societies. The most well known “Skull and Bones” can read the future of the stock market in blood and guts (both Bush presidents were members).  Bardugo lists all the societies at the end of the book, with the names of the famous alums.

Alex’s freshman outsider problem – the poor girl who doesn’t fit in – quickly gives way to her struggles to solve a murder noone wants solved, with ghosts hovering nearby.

With a nod to Harry Potter some of the magic seems harmless at first, like the library conveniently shaking its stacks to deliver books requested through a special portal, but Bardugo has a flair for more adult consequences.  When the magic goes awry, lethally burying someone under books cascading down from the walls, she notes ironically “Suffocating beneath a pile of books seems an appropriate way to go for a research assistant.”

Although Bardugo is noted for her children’s fantasy books, Ninth House is for adults only.  As the story gets more complicated, so do the magical malfunctions, often with lethal results.  I enjoyed following the witches, demons, and ghosts, and if you are a fan of Deborah Harkness books, you might too.