Saturday, January 28, 2012

Relative Reads - In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden

 I was given the great fortune of growing up in a family of readers. Both of my parents read, and so do the majority of my aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents. In fact, my Great-Grandma had cataract surgery in her 90's, because she couldn't bear to not be able to read. I thought it would be interesting to read some of the books THEY have discovered and enjoyed over the years, so I asked them to send me some recommendations, and the fun began! I have a list of the titles various family members have suggested on the side of the blog, so if you want to see what will be coming up you can take a peek.

In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden
published 1969
376 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Philippa Talbot is a successful London career woman turned forty when she feels the call of the religious life. "I thought I was very well as I was," she told the Brede Sacristan later, "a human, balanced person with a reasonable record; with the luck of having money, friends, love. Only suddenly it wasn't enough." She is one of the most attractive and sympathetic characters in Rumer Godden's long and well-loved fictional roster.

This, then, is a story of the life in an enclosed house of nuns and of the relevance of this contemplative existence to our changing world - a challenging theme. The novel unfold chiefly through Philippa, from the day of her entrance, through one crisis of mind and heart to another, until she faces an ultimate and almost unbearable sacrifice...."

My thoughts:

"The motto was 'Pax', but the word was set in a circle of thorns. Pax: peace, but what a strange peace, made of unremitting toil and effort, seldom with a seen result; subject to constant interruptions, unexpected demands, short sleep at nights, little comfort, sometimes scant food; beset with disappointments and usually misunderstood; yet peace all the same, undeviating, filled with joy and gratitude and love. 'It is My own peace I give unto you.' Not, notice, the world's peace. (p.3)

This is one of my mom's favorite novels, so I had high expectations before beginning. I expected it to have rich characters, a rewarding plot, and excellent writing, because those are all things my mom looks for in a novel. I found all those things; I also found a fascinating examination on what it means to be a woman; the morality of subverting your will for another; the value of a religious life in an increasingly secular world; and the bravery it takes to follow your calling, no matter what it might be. In short, I found an exceptional novel.

I am familiar with Godden's young adult work - her Christmas tale, The Story of Holly and Ivy, is a perfect Christmas story, and The Greengage Summer is a beautiful coming-of-age story. This is the first "adult" novel of hers that I've read, and it makes me itch to find more. If everything she writes has this much depth, she will quickly become one of my favorite authors.

She has a substantial cast of characters - there are 100 nuns in the Abbey when Philippa enters, and Godden gives voice to many as the story progresses. Each is seen with faults and graces, and the several women she chooses to give prominence reveal struggles and failings that anyone could relate to. These are not perfect people living a sheltered life - these are imperfect women who have chosen to live, to the best of their ability, a life close to their God. Godden makes them real, and gives the reader real affection for each.

The novel's plot is perhaps not it's main focus - this is much more about the women learning and making choices, so for some readers I think it might seem to be slow in many places. There are a few tense moments, and Philippa's revelation of what truly happened with Keith was so devastating I had to set the novel aside for a couple of days, but that was more due to Godden's excellent writing than any exciting twist of plot. This is definitely not a thriller, and readers need to be willing to give themselves time to immerse in the lives of the characters.

Godden tackles some interesting issues, and I can see many contemporary readers would take issue with the choices and opinions expressed in these pages. While I don't necessarily agree with them all myself, they felt perfectly organic to the characters - these are, after all pre-Vatican II nuns in a Catholic monastary, so you have to expect a certain mindset. I was surprised at how I found myself actually agreeing with some things - i.e. their dismay over the Mass being said in English, and their reasoning behind the long dresses and head coverings that they choose to wear.

The lines I quoted from the opening paragraph have stayed with me, and as I continue to contemplate them I am struck by how much they could also apply to the live of a mother - toil and struggle, often with little visible result, no sleep, misunderstood - and yet, full of joy and love. I didn't expect to understand Philippa as much as I did, and I think that was one of the biggest surprises of the novel. I really came to like this woman, and I can see her making my list of great female characters.

I enjoyed this novel very much. It will not be for every reader, due to it's pacing and subject matter. I personally found to be an extremely rewarding read, and believe it will become even richer upon re-reading in the future. Highly recommended.

Finished: 1/24/12
source: loan from my mom
MPAA rating: PG due to some adult subject matter
My rating: 10/10

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pip & Tad's Playlist - Come Along

My kids already have very eclectic musical taste - we listen to music a lot, and they have very definite opinions about what they like and what they can do without. I have a feeling this won't be the only thing they have opinions on......

They love this song from the Toyota Prius commercial - every time it comes on tv, they both stop whatever they are doing and dance along. I have to admit, it makes me smile too!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Book Thoughts - A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

A Storm of Swords: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 3 by George R.R. Martin
1008 pages *and audio*
published May, 2002

Synopsis from publisher:

Of the five contenders for power, one is dead, another in disfavor, and still the wars rage as violently as ever, as alliances are made and broken. Joffrey, of House Lannister, sits on the Iron Throne, the uneasy ruler of the land of the Seven Kingdoms. His most bitter rival, Lord Stannis, stands defeated and disgraced, the victim of the jealous sorceress who holds him in her evil thrall. But young Robb, of House Stark, still rules the North from the fortress of Riverrun. Robb plots against his despised Lannister enemies, even as they hold his sister hostage at King's Landing, the seat of the Iron Throne. Meanwhile, making her way across a blood-drenched continent is the exiled queen, Daenerys, mistress of the only three dragons still left in the world....

But as opposing forces maneuver for the final titanic showdown, an army of barbaric wildlings arrives from the outermost line of civilization. In their vanguard is a horde of mythical Others — a supernatural army of the living dead whose animated corpses are unstoppable. As the future of the land hangs in the balance, no one will rest until the Seven Kingdoms have exploded in a veritable storm of swords...

My thoughts:

I read the first few hundred pages in this novel, and decided I would try it in audio format instead - mainly because if I kept reading the physical copy, I felt like I would be reading it for 6 months! It's still a great read, but there is just SOOO much of it. I am happy with the switch to audio - the narrator is quite good, and does a remarkable job at giving each character a distinct voice. (Those of you familiar with the series know what a feat that is - this story has more characters than any I've ever read.) My only complaint is that now I REALLY don't want to go in to work after listening on my commute each morning. =)

Jan. 5 - I just finished The Red Wedding. I feel like I am stunned. Of all the things that I could have imagined happening, this was infinitely worse. I've long since let go of the idea that anything good will happen to these characters - this is not a "happily ever after" story by any means, but this.....

Something that has surprised me in this novel is just how much I am coming to like Jaime Lannister. I mean, he's still arrogant, and self-serving, and cruel;  but he's also funny, and strangely gentle, and the story behind how he came to be called Kingslayer was quite unexpected. Jaime and Tyrion Lannister are such complex characters - I really want to have more scenes with the two brothers together, because their chapters are quickly becoming some of my favorites.

And, of course, Dany. She is climbing to the top of my list of favorite female characters of all time. She is continually surprising, and wise beyond her years, and if she doesn't wind up being the queen of Westeros I will be very unhappy.

Jan. 22 - I think I am just going to give up trying to NOT be astounded at what comes next in this series. I thought I couldn't be more shocked than I was at the Red Wedding - and then came the epilogue, and WHAT?? WHO?? I was planning to hold off on the next two books until closer to the release date of the next in the series, but there is no way I can wait now.

Martin continues his pattern of holding no character sacred -  some of the biggest and baddest meet their demise before this novel is over. My husband reassures me that the bad guys are only getting out of the way so that REAL bad guys can take the stage - I can't wait!

There were a few things I found slightly strange in this novel - how many times do we have to hear that Brienne is ugly? And that Tyrion is disfugured? Really, I haven't forgotten from 20 pages ago. And would members of the nobility of Westeros really use the word "tummy"? Really? For some reason, that one word choice seemed so jarring that I literally noticed every time it was used.

There is an interesting discussion on the interwebs about whether or not Martin and his novels are misogynistic - I'm not a feminist scholar, so you can take my opinion with a whole spoonful of salt, but I don't think they are. The world he has created most definitely is, as are many (most) of the men who populate it. But the "traditional" female roles that should be held sacred are not the roles that are rewarded in Martin's story - the women who transgress those roles, who take the cards their lives deal them and work against the accepted norms are the women who find ways to succeed, and I for one am enjoying Martin's strong, unexpected female characters.

As I've said before, if you don't enjoy fantasy this series is not for you. It is most definitely for me, however, and I can't wait to see where Martin takes us next.

Finished: 1/22/12
Source: my shelves/
MPAA rating: hard R
My rating: 9/10

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pip & Tad's Playlist - Low Rider

My kids already have very eclectic musical taste - we listen to music a lot, and they have very definite opinions about what they like and what they can do without. I have a feeling this won't be the only thing they have opinions on......

Their new favorite song? Low Rider. Thanks, Guitar Hero, thanks very much. *grin*

Monday, January 16, 2012

Book Thoughts - The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney

The Invisible Ones by Stef Penney
published January, 2012
416 pages

Synopsis from publisher:

Small-time private investigator Ray Lovell veers between paralysis and delirium in a hospital bed. But before the accident that landed him there, he'd been hired to find Rose Janko, the wife of a charismatic son of a traveling Gypsy family, who went missing seven years earlier. Half Romany himself, Ray is well aware that he's been chosen more for his blood than his investigative skills. Still, he's surprised by the intense hostility he encounters from the Jankos, who haven't had an easy past. Touched by tragedy, they're either cursed or hiding a terrible secret-whose discovery Ray can't help suspecting is connected to Rose's disappearance.

My thoughts:

I enjoy a mystery that winds up in a completely different place than where I thought we were going, and The Invisible Ones certainly did that. I always like trying to figure out the "twist", so when the big secret that I'd guessed was revealed about 2/3 of the way through the novel, I felt quite proud of myself - and then wondered what else could possibly happen. Well, let me tell you. Lots.

The Invisible Ones was a bit of a slow starter for me - it's narrative alternates between Ray's point of view and JJ, who is the young nephew of the Janko family, and initially I was much more interested in JJ's story. Something about Ray seemed to be pushing me away, and I'm not sure I ever quite found much sympathy for him. JJ, however, was a delight of a character, and one that I would enthusiastically read more about. His interest in life and the people around him was palpable, and really made the novel work for me.

The Gypsy lifestyle and culture is quite interesting - I've watched a few episodes of "My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding" on tv, and could see similarities between the family portrayed in this book and the lives and opinions I've watched on television. Penney's account of this unique lifestyle felt very authentic, and I believe she spent much time learning their customs and beliefs.

Overall, it was an interesting and compelling read. The mystery kept me interested, and JJ kept me entertained throughout. I don't expect it to be on my list of favorites for the year, but it was a nice way to spend a few days.

Finished: 1/12/12
Source: review copy from publisher - thank you!
MPAA rating: PG-13 for language, adult situations, and some violence
My rating: 7/10

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Book Thoughts - catching up!

Whew! Even though I felt like I was way ahead of the game on holiday prep, somehow those days just flew past! I did manage to get a couple of books read, though - here are some quick thoughts on what I read.

 The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
560 pages
published 2010

Synopsis from publisher:

A lost child...
On the eve of the first world war, a little girl is found abandoned on a ship to Australia. A mysterious woman called the Authoress had promised to look after her — but the Authoress has disappeared without a trace. A terrible secret...
On the night of her twenty-first birthday, Nell O'Connor learns a secret that will change her life forever. Decades later, she embarks upon a search for the truth that leads her to the windswept Cornish coast and the strange and beautiful Blackhurst Manor, once owned by the aristocratic Mountrachet family.
A mysterious inheritance...
On Nell's death, her grand-daughter, Cassandra, comes into an unexpected inheritance. Cliff Cottage and its forgotten garden are notorious amongst the Cornish locals for the secrets they hold - secrets about the doomed Mountrachet family and their ward Eliza Makepeace, a writer of dark Victorian fairytales. It is here that Cassandra will finally uncover the truth about the family, and solve the century-old mystery of a little girl lost.

 My thoughts:

 Oh, this was a great winter read. The pace and atmosphere was perfect for dark evenings under a blanket. I'd read Morton's previous novel (The House at Riverton) and remember having a bit of trouble initially getting into the story, but this one grabbed me from the first. I really enjoyed the shifting narrative - Eliza, Nell, and Cassandra were each fascinating women, and their stories complemented each other well. I did figure out the BIG PLOT TWIST about 2/3 of the way through the novel, but it didn't make the story feel disappointing. Recommended if you like a good, character-driven mystery.

 Finished: 11/24/11
Source: library
MPAA rating: PG-13
My rating: 7/10

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (and other concerns) by Mindy Kaling
(Kindle edition)
published 11/11

Synopsis from publisher:

Mindy Kaling has lived many lives: the obedient child of immigrant professionals, a timid chubster afraid of her own bike, a Ben Affleck–impersonating Off-Broadway performer and playwright, and, finally, a comedy writer and actress prone to starting fights with her friends and coworkers with the sentence “Can I just say one last thing about this, and then I swear I’ll shut up about it?”
Perhaps you want to know what Mindy thinks makes a great best friend (someone who will fill your prescription in the middle of the night), or what makes a great guy (one who is aware of all elderly people in any room at any time and acts accordingly), or what is the perfect amount of fame (so famous you can never get convicted of murder in a court of law), or how to maintain a trim figure (you will not find that information in these pages). If so, you’ve come to the right book, mostly!

In Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?, Mindy invites readers on a tour of her life and her unscientific observations on romance, friendship, and Hollywood, with several conveniently placed stopping points for you to run errands and make phone calls. Mindy Kaling really is just a Girl Next Door—not so much literally anywhere in the continental United States, but definitely if you live in India or Sri Lanka.

My thoughts:

This was really funny, and a great way to end 2011/start 2012. I am one of the (probably) 10 people in the US who don't watch "The Office" regularly, but after reading Kaling's book I might have to start, because she is darn funny. Here are some of my favorite quotes:

"...I don't think it should be socially acceptable for people to say they are 'bad with names'. No one is bad with names. That is not a real thing. Not knowing people's names isn't a neurological condition; it's a choice. You choose not to make learning people's names a priority. It's like saying, 'Hey, a disclaimer about me; I'm rude.' " (location 82)

"When most people sing karaoke, they think of themselves as contestants on American Idol, and they sing and perform their hearts out. But I really think people should be thinking of themselves more as temporary DJs for the party. It's kind of a responsibility....And it kind of behooves you to pick a short song. I don't care if Don freakin' McLean shows up in a red-white-and-blue tuxedo, no one is allowed to sing 'American Pie.' It's actually kind of hostile to a group of partiers to pick a song longer than three minutes." (location 817)

"Skinny girls like Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen look ethereal and gorgeous in hippie clothes with lots of volume. I love the bohemian look, but when I try it, I look like a chubby gypsy. Also, chubby people can never truly pull off ethereal the same way skinny people can never be jolly. The only fat ethereal person I can think of was Anna Nicole Smith, and in her case, ethereal might have meant 'drugged.' " (location 2461)

My only complaint with the book is that I wanted a lot of the bits to be longer - perhaps I would have liked fewer, longer chapters. I had a lot of fun with it, though, and her homage to marriage is worth finding a copy just for that section. Good stuff - recommended!

Finished: 1/1/12
Source - Christmas present from my sister!
MPAA Rating - R - probably not for kids
My rating: 7/10