Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

vinegar-girlKate Battista systematically prepares meat mash once a week, dutifully serving it every night to her father and younger sister Bunny. Her father, Dr. Battista has calculated ingredients for efficiency, but his most recent and desperately devised plan involves Kate in a whole new way. One day Kate’s father calls her at home under false pretenses, feigning that he’s forgotten his lunch. His motive is simple: he wants his daughter to marry Pyotr Cherbakov. Pyotr works as a research lab assistant with Dr. Battisa and his work Visa is about to expire.

Kate is offended and hurt by her father’s lack of sensitivity. Taking a stand, she refuses to do her father’s income taxes. Not only does Kate manage the household affairs, she is also expected to enforce her father’s rules, rules which include that her spirited sister Bunny is not to have boys in the house during Kate and her father’s absence. After work one day, Kate comes home to discover Bunny and Edward, an older next door neighbor, alone together. He is supposedly teaching her ‘Spanish.’ Edward’s influence becomes much more suspicious as the story unfolds.

One evening Professor Battista uncharacteristically, and with the help of a few drinks, pours out his heart to Kate which results in her giving into her father’s charade. She agrees to conspire with her father and marry Pyotr Cherbakov for immigration purposes. Gradually life begins to take a turn and a flicker of hope sparks in Kate as she muses over the potential to move from home and her dead-end life.

Pyotr and Kate begin doing things engaged couples usually do: grocery shop, sharing dinner together and so on. All the while Dr. Battista films these activities as evidence of their sincerity. At the market Pyotr grabs pork to which Kate objects. Edward’s influence has converted Bunny to veganism complicating Kate’s meat mash dish. Pyotr comments “In my country they have proverb: ‘Beware against the sweet person, for sugar has no nutrition.’” Beguiled but on the defensive, Kate quips back “Well in my country they say that you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”  Pyotr declares her his ‘Vinegar Girl.’ He is able to see beneath her acerbic character and a growing but awkward relationship begins to bud.

On the day of Pyotr and Kate’s wedding, Pyotr does not show up leading to a suspenseful and comical yet sweet ending.

Anne Tyler’s Vinegar Girl has been dubbed a modern day The Taming of the Shrew and I found it humorous, sincere, witty and delightfully quirky.

Heartwood 6:5 – Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett

PondHeartwood mostly focuses on older books, but once in a while I’m so taken with a new release that I simply must tell people about it. Claire-Louise Bennett’s Pond is such a book, one of the most dazzling debuts I’ve read. It could be labeled an experimental novel or linked short stories or even autofictional memoir without really mattering much to me (a pond is a pond is a mudhole). What does matter is how Bennett puts you inside her narrator’s head. I don’t know that it’s voice necessarily (but what a voice!), or even the quirky richness of the main character’s personality, but rather a kind of intensity, a shared personable intimacy, as if the reader is discovering and experiencing the author’s thoughts at the same time that she is writing them down.

The book focuses on an unnamed young woman who has moved to an old stone cottage in the rural countryside on the west coast of Ireland. The chapters often feature small details of daily living which serve as unlikely launching pads for wide-ranging meditations on recent or distant events in her life, relationships past and present, or things going on right inside or outside her cottage. For example, the broken control knobs on her mini-oven, or the act of taking a bath during a storm, or simply cleaning the fireplace grate will trigger a flood of unexpected reflections on such things as the intensity of feelings upon encountering a forgotten love letter, memories of reading a book about the last woman alive, feeling alienated from a particular place and its history. She moves from topic to topic in a perfectly natural but discursive way, telling us everything in a voice that is exactly right, conveying her wit, intelligence, gentle misanthropy and sense of wonder.

Here are some of the themes that stood out for me: a keen attention to the earth – to the everyday dirt, mud, stones, ponds, gardens, storm-blown leaves and other detritus; a concern with language, both to uncover one’s understanding of things but also in that it can misdirect, and its inability to fully capture and communicate experience; the value of solitude; a background fear of the unknown or imagined, and a compulsive interest in embracing it; love in all its complexity – as all-consuming, obliterating, brutal, inexplicable, happy; the unaccountable workings of the mind and imagination; the pressures of history; and the challenge to attune yourself to the “earth’s embedded logos,” to experience a “deep and direct accordance with things.”

I can’t begin, in this short review, to do justice to this phenomenal book; there’s so much going on and, from one perspective anyway, it seems to demand immersion and living-through rather than description and analysis. But let me, as further examples, at least chart some of the unexpected jumps in the first long chapter, “Morning, Noon, and Night.” The chapter opens, comically enough, with a detailed consideration of what makes the best breakfast food but then takes up such things as: living without purpose but just to take things in; abandoning academia; the purchase of a couple of pieces of textile art and changes in what she sees in them; how to talk of what most moves us would spoil it; fulsome sex and the pleasure of writing lustful, salacious emails; finding a secret garden and becoming an accidental gardener; a quiet early evening of intently listening in the garden. This chapter so impressed me that I found myself reading it again immediately.

Librarians have a tendency to compare and connect books, even though the most unique and striking books can only be crudely compared to anything else. So, yes, I encourage you to read Pond, it is beautifully idiosyncratic, and I will add that anyone who admires what Bennett has done with her female lead might also want to look at Robert Thomas’s Bridge (one of my favorite books of 2014), Jenny Offill’s Dept. of Speculation, and Joanna Walsh’s Vertigo.

Now I’m going to shut up and return to rereading the rest of this book.

Spot-Lit for September 2016

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2016 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

Spot-Lit for August 2016

Spot-Lit

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

 

Notable New Fiction 2016 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

Summer Reading, Having a Blast!

Book and StonesI’ve signed up for the Adult Summer Reading Program at the Everett Public Library and I’m super happy about my reading stack this summer. I’ve only read three so far, but I’m excited to get some time to read and also to share the whole pile with you. Here goes!

indexIf you’re pining for the old days when you could ride your pony to the candy store, I recommend Elizabeth Lett’s book The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse that Inspired a Nation. This book tells the dramatic odyssey of a horse called Snowman, saved from the slaughterhouse by a young Dutch farmer named Harry. Harry and Snowman went on to become America’s show-jumping champions, winning first prize in Madison Square Garden. Set in the mid-to late-1950s, this book also includes a fair amount of history of the horse. I dare you not to cry when Snowy dies.

indexUnder the Wide and Starry Sky is the fictionalized account of the relationship of Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his spunky, older American wife Fanny. It is beautifully written and meticulously researched. This novel met all of my criteria for good historical fiction: believable characters, atmospheric setting, and it leaves you wanting to know even more about the people, places, and events. Besides, the boat that they adventured in is right here on the waterfront in Everett.

index (3)Shadows in the Vineyard: the True Plot to Poison the World’s Greatest Wine is by Maximillien Potter. On the surface, it is a true story of an extortion plot against the world’s greatest vineyard, a tiny patch of land in Burgundy, France which grows the universally acclaimed best wine in the world. But it’s also the story of the family that grows the wine: the generations that have owned and run the vineyard, treating the vines like their own children, back to when they bought it after the French Revolution. Cheers!

index (1)A Hero of France: A Novel by Alan Furst is set in Paris,1941. Mathieu leads a small group of Resistance fighters. They help British airmen stranded in occupied France to make their way to Spain and then return to England. It’s dangerous work. Mathieu has to rely on his instincts to know who he can trust. He also needs to build a network of people he can rely on and be able to rapidly improvise when things don’t go according to plan (which is pretty much all the time). Meanwhile, a top German detective has arrived in Paris tasked with identifying and arresting members of the Resistance.

index (2)Seinfeldia: How a Show about Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Armstrong is about nothing and everything. If you are a Seinfeld fan this is a MUST READ! It goes in depth on the genesis of Seinfeld from its main characters, the writers and the real-life situations that inspired most of the insane plot lines. It follows the show from it’s inception to finale, including the “reunion” on Curb Your Enthusiasm as well as the effect that Seinfeld has on pop culture even to this day.

index (3)I am listening to Here’s To Us by Elin Hildebrand and it looks like the perfect summer read, doesn’t it? Deacon Thorpe was a famous bad boy chef. When he dies at his Nantucket house, his agent calls his three ex-wives together to the house to say goodbye. The story is told by several characters and switches from the present to the past. Secrets are revealed and at the end the family learns to forgive. This is a quick read with some interesting characters.

index (5)I’m also listening to The National Parks: America’s Best Idea by Ken Burns because we recently drove down to Rainier. Burns and Dayton Duncan delve into the history of the park idea, from the first sighting by white men in 1851 of the valley that would become Yosemite and the creation of the world’s first national park at Yellowstone in 1872, to the most recent additions to a system that now encompasses nearly four hundred sites and 84 million acres. There’s a lot of history and adventure here to be enjoyed. Going to Glacier? Grab these CD’s for the car ride.

index (6)Everyone Brave is Forgiven is by Chris Cleave, the best-selling author of Little Bee.  The plot centers on three Londoners (Mary, Thomas and Alistair) and how the war orchestrates the choices they make. The story is loosely based on love letters between the author’s grandparents. The beauty of this book is not so much the plot, but how the story is told with beautiful prose, cleverly placed humor, and a quiet urgency. It would make a good book club book.

index (4)And lastly, a co-worker suggested Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart the gal who wrote The Drunken Botanist. It is a novel based on the forgotten true story of one of the nation’s first female deputy sheriffs. Apparently it’s “really good”, so good, in fact, that there will be a sequel titled Lady Cop Makes Trouble. I haven’t actually gotten my hands on this one, but will have to wait. Without a gun.

Well, gotta go. I hear a hammock calling my name. What’s on your reading list this summer? Come on down to the library and check out these and other great summer reads. See you there!

Nostalgia and the New Mexican Desert

Enjoy a review from Katie as she continues to work through her Reading Challenge:

ultimaNostalgia is a funny thing. I tend to get swept up in that warm, slow, nap-in-the-afternoon feeling far more than I should, but I can’t help it. Remembering the better days seems to be an involuntary reaction that will inevitably lead to me being a little old lady regaling my grand-nieces and nephews with long stories having no point and no plot—kind of like this sentence.

I recently went back to Phoenix after a year of living in Washington to watch my youngest brother graduate from the high school I attended. I would be seeing family and good friends after more than a year of being away, and there was also the possibility of seeing some of my old high school classmates. (Spoiler Alert: I actually did not see any of my old classmates so they were unable to see how adult and hot I’d become.)

When I was in high school I participated in Academic Decathlon which is basically the Nerd Championships consisting of seven tests (arts, science, music, math…), an interview, a memorized and impromptu speech, and an essay surrounding a particular topic each year. In my sophomore year of high school the topic was Mexico, and the book we had to collectively read was Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya. This is why I have chosen this novel as my “Book I Have Not Read since High School.”

I was excited about this book because AcaDeca (as we called it) holds a lot of good memories for me. Rereading books is an opportunity to recall specific memories as I find that books hold impressions and thoughts and feelings so I don’t have to. Bless Me, Ultima is also a coming-of-age story which perfectly sets the mood.

Antonio Marez is constantly caught in the middle of his parents’ plans. His mother wishes him to become a priest to bring honor to her farming family. His father wishes for Tony to become a vacquero (cowboy) like he himself was long ago, and to live in the Llano (the New Mexican desert). Tony does not know what he wants, but he does know that he loves Ultima. She is a curandera (a person who is a mix between a priest and a witch) who has come to live with Tony’s family and to use her magic to heal the town folk. The intense mix of religious superstition and magic creates an interesting dynamic which fuels much of the story’s conflict.

The entire book teems with magical realism as Tony struggles with his parents’ wishes, with growing up, religion, and navigating the complicated social network that is his circle of friends. Anaya’s cast of colorful characters and detail-oriented descriptions draw you deeply into the story, causing you to feel as Tony feels. He even makes the desert sound like a desirable place to live which (for me) is quite the task.

High school was a difficult time for a lot of people. I got through relatively unscathed (college is another story), and books like Bless Me, Ultima made everything a whole lot easier. While it was true that books were my constant companions, the character study I was able to conduct enriched my life beyond words. I would recommend Bless Me, Ultima to those who want to remember what it was like being a kid — the drama that was real and the drama that was blown out of proportion. As I struggle to be an actual real-life adult, it’s nice to remember that it was hard to be a kid too sometimes, but it was worth it.

What to Read for a Readathon

24 in 48 readathon

This is exactly as heavy as it looks! TBR stands for To Be Read and mine is varied and mostly fun fluff. The dots on my sweater and all the writing was done in the Litsy app, which is like Instagram and GoodReads had an adorable baby that’s impossible to put down.

Even if you’ve never heard the term before in your entire life, you can probably infer what a readathon actually is. It’s a glorious time where you pledge to read for a certain amount of time on a particular day or days. Participants are encouraged to take to their social media streams to share what they’re reading, favorite quotes, beverages they’re consuming to help get them through any reading slumps, etc. I’ll be participating in the 24 in 48 Readathon this weekend, which just means that in the 48 hours of Saturday & Sunday I will read for 24 of them. I can break it up however I like, and break it up I shall.

While it’s true I’ve never participated in a readathon before, I have researched enough to (hopefully) know what I’m doing. The key to everything, I’m told, is to have a variety of reading material at hand so if I start to get burnt out on one format I can switch it up and give myself a second wind. With that in mind, I present to you some stellar examples of each preferred readathon format.

Graphic Novels
You already know about my love of comics and graphic novels. As I reported last month I had a giant stack of single issue comic books at home that I just hadn’t gotten around to reading. I’m happy to say I have plowed through most of them, but some of the larger story arcs and single release graphic novels remain. Nimona is on the very top of the list, partially due to Alan’s recommendation last year and also since it was a National Book Award finalist. It’s by Noelle Stevenson, one of the creators of Lumberjanes (I love Lumberjanes!). Hot Dog Taste Test by Lisa Hanawalt gets into foodie culture with witty observations and hilarious illustrations. I’ll probably use the graphic novels as a segue from one book to another, though due to having a pretty hefty backlog of some Marvel comics I might read a whole series run in one go. We shall see!

Poetry
I recently learned that poetry doesn’t have to be boring. Yes, I know I sound like a 12 year old but thanks to an education that forced me to find obscure (and often manufactured) meaning in poems I pretty much have avoided them as an adult. All of that changed when I read Milk and Honey which is written and illustrated by Rupi Kaur. This extremely personal collection of autobiographical poems takes you deep into Rupi’s soul as she rips her heart out and lays it bare for all to read. There’s love, loss, family, heartache, sex, and what it means to be a woman. If you’re looking for something lighter, try Quarter Life Poetry: Poems for the Young, Broke, and Hangry by Samantha Jayne. While these poems also seem to burst forth from the poet’s life, there’s a decidedly different tone. Colorfully illustrated, these funny and irreverent poems will resonate with adults young & not-so-young.

Essays
I recently discovered the book that changed my reading life. Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by local author Lindy West turned my world upside down. You see, much like poetry, I had the gigantic misconception that feminist works had to be dry, dull, or just not written well. Shrill changed it all for me and led me down the road to Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay. I had mistakenly assumed that Bad Feminist would be a book entirely about feminism. It’s more like a look at life — feminism included — through someone else’s eyes. I just checked out The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley. It promises to combine the two biggest parts of me — nerd and feminist — and I can’t hardly wait to dive in. Plus, there’s a dinosaur on the cover. I can’t pass up a good dino! I’ve also got all of Mary Roach’s back catalog that I purchased when she was in town in April. She autographed them all, and I felt guilty telling her I’d never read her books. However, I did immediately follow that up with how excited I was to read them and now is the perfect opportunity.

mary roach and the ellisons

My husband and I got to chat with bestselling author Mary Roach when she visited Everett in April as part of EPL’s Ways to Read. Did you get to meet her, too? Our library is the best!

Short Stories
A few months back I had the (surprise) pleasure of reading and falling in love with Warlock Holmes by G.S. Denning. While I knew it was going to be a crazy retelling of Sherlock Holmes with magic and beasts, I didn’t realize (although I should) that it would be more of a collection of short stories, just like the original Sherlock Holmes books were. You can read a story, move to another book, and come back to Warlock Holmes and read the next story. You can pretty much read them in any order you want after the first story that sets up the world. I have also checked out Chainmail Bikini: the Anthology of Women Gamers. It’s in graphic novel format but it’s truly short, autobiographical stories of girl geeks I can’t wait to read.

Novellas
I confess I had forgotten that I owned Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley. It came in one of those literary subscription boxes and I didn’t know what I had. Someone just told me it’s about a bookmobile, which, hello wheelhouse! I usually don’t go for novellas because I tend to want more when I’m finished: more characterization, more plot, more everything. However, I’ve been told this one is perfect the way it is and so I will go into it with that in mind.

Bookshots
If you’ve been following us on social media and/or been to a grocery store in the last few months you’ve heard about and/or seen Bookshots. Bookshots are the newest James Patterson creations that are taking the reading world by storm. Bookshots’ aim is to change people’s minds and habits by convincing them that their excuse, “I’m too busy to read an entire book!” isn’t true at all. These books are short and I would consider them novellas. Multiple Bookshots titles are published each month so there’s always a variety to choose from. Be sure to check out the Quick Picks collections when you’re at the library as most of the Bookshots titles are going into that wonderful grab-and-go, no-holds-allowed collection.

You’ll notice most of the books I’m writing about aren’t featured in my readathon TBR photo above. That’s because I’ve already read them and wrote this just for you, to encourage you to sign up and join the reading fun. A few people have told me that they really want to participate but are pretty sure there’s no way they can fit 24 solid hours of reading into their weekend. That’s totally okay! The whole point is to schedule some reading time into an otherwise hectic life and maybe connect with some other readers along the way. You can follow along with me if you like. I’m on Twitter & Instagram as bildungsromans and on Litsy as Carol. Ready? Set? Readathon!