Book Reviews

20 Books of Summer Round Up: My 20 Books & My Favorite Book of Summer 2022

20-books

Blogger 746 Books hosts this event each summer. It runs from June 1 to September 2.

 Least Favorite Book That I Finished

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My 3rd Favorite Book of Summer 2022

(Same book but showing both USA & UK titles/covers)

My 2nd Favorite Book of Summer 2022

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My Favorite Book of Summer 2022

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All of my 20 Books of Summer 2022

 

If you’d like to see my reviews of any of these books, you can either leave me a comment and I’ll reply with the post url or (if you are on your phone or tablet) scroll to the very end and you’ll find the search box. On a laptop or PC the search box is in the right sidebar.

25 books read and reviewed, plus a few other in the categories I do not review.

Did you participate in 20 Books of Summer this year? Leave me a comment or a link to your own post.

20-books

20 Books of Summer is hosted annually by blogger 746 Books. Why not visit her blog and see all the great post she’s written? Leave her a comment. Bloggers live for comments.

Book Reviews

Review: Appointment With Death by Agatha Christie

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My Interest

I’m slowly reading or listening my way through Agatha Christie’s books. It was time for another audio book and nothing I’d requested was in at the library so I took the first AC that was available. It sounded good.

The Story

“…her rocking horse nostrils…”

An extremely sheltered and isolated American family is abroad for the first time. The mother, once a warden in a women’s prison seems to have a hypnotic control over her adult children (really her step-children, but they remember no other “mother”). Two of her children are overheard talking about “she’s got to be killed.” One son has managed to marry, but only by sneaking out at night. Once caught, Mother arranges for a distant cousin to come stay and “allows” him to marry her. She has not lived in the same way as her husband’s family.

Meanwhile, a peeress–the American-born wife of a peer not a peeress in her own right, is a Member of Parliament is one of the group visiting and staying in the same location as the family.

“Lady W. was a very well-known figure in the English political world….When Lord W, a middle-aged, simple-minded peer whose only interests in life were hunting, shooting, and fishing, [met her on an ocean voyage and then married her] the match was often cited as one of the examples of the danger of ocean voyages. The new Lady W lived entirely in tweeds and stout brogues, bred dogs, bullied the villagers, and forced her husband piteously into public life. It being borne in upon her that politics were not Lord W’s metier, she graciously allowed him to resume his sporting activities and stood for parliament [throwing herself into political life–especially at Question Time]. Cartoons of her soon began to appear–always  a sure sign of success.”

A French doctor is also part of the group. Naturally, sleuth Hercule Poirot just happens to be in the group as well. When one day the [step]mother is found dead, the usual suspects are rounded up and several red herrings are disposed of with quick dispatch. In due course (as no doubt Lady W would say) the real murder is revealed in Poirot’s usual fashion.

My Thoughts

Aside from loving the wonderful description of Lady W–who naturally brought Lady Astor instantly to mind, I found the uber-sheltered adult children chillingly reminiscent of some of the similarly sheltered or intentionally totally isolated very far-right homeschooling families in the USA today. [The family in the book had been educated by a succession of governesses]. I can think of two families I have knowledge of whose adult children are even up to the mid-40s in age and still all live at home and work only in their family business–I am reliably informed there are many others

The two popular huge t.v. homeschooling families, the Duggars and the Bates, before being on tv kept their kids almost that isolated. The near-cult to which they belong stresses “right response” training so that children learn to obey parents instantly and completely. The response of the adult children in Agatha Christie’s story are as “programmed” as that. They exhibit a nearly hypnotic response to their step-mother’s admonitions. They year for freedom, but like their real-life counterparts, have been raised to fear everything outside the family, so can’t muster the courage to just leave. The new wife (daughter-in-law) knows there is another world. This is why marriage is a risk to such families and why so many of the marriages are arranged. But, like in this book, even the most carefully arranged marriages can open a new window and let in fresh air. Or, would that be open Pandora’s Box or a can of worms?

This was easily my favorite Agatha Christie book due to the family’s isolation and Christie’s foreshadowing today’s far-far-right parenting. Eerie, spooky, even creepy-real. Like Cathy Ames in East of Eden–that voice! That creepy, controlling voice. Dear old Ags nails it yet again! I listened to the audio version.

My Verdict

4.5

Appointment With Death by Agatha Christie

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20-books

Historical Fiction

Book Reviews

Women in Translation Month Review: The Florios of Sicily: A Novel by Stefania Auci, translated by Katherine Gregor UPDATED

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My Interest

I was looking for an audio book and saw this cover–that was it! I had to listen. (FYI: The painting on the cover is Reading By the Sea by Vittorio Matteo Corcos). That it fit the bill for Women in Translation Month was just gravy.

The Story

Beginning in the late 18th century, we follow the upwardly mobile Floiros from a dull, uninspiring life in a rural village, to the mid-19th century when they have become extremely prosperous and important. The begin with spices/medicinal herbs and catch each new wave of innovation, riding it to a handsome profit.

Small Spoiler Alert

Vincenzo, son and nephew of the original men is the main mover and shaker. He and his mistress, Giulia, make up much of the story. She waits and finally achieves what she wants–marriage to Vincenzo after the birth of a son. Their daughters know they do not matter to their father and express themselves on the subject to their very dear little brother.

My Thoughts

I enjoyed this book, I just didn’t “love” it. I actually did love the sound bytes of Italian history interspersed within the story. I know very little history of that entire region so those were fascinating. The information on medicinal use of spices and herbs was also interesting. This was based on a true story which helped me stay interested. This was a sort of Sicilian version of Taylor Caldwell’s The Captains and the Kings, but sadly pretty dull. None of the characters really “came alive” in this book. I’m not sure if that was due to the author or the translator. At nearly 500 pages, it was a job to stay with it once I discovered no one was really firing my imagination.

Annoying thing: Unless “valet” means “butler” in Italian, the translator messed this up. I’ve never heard of a valet serving at table unless maybe the butler was just murdered and Hercule Piorot hasn’t figured it out yet! A man who looks after another man’s wardrobe, shaves, and possibly even barbers and helps dress him, wouldn’t know a lot about saucing the fish at table.

My Verdict

3.0

The Florios of Sicily: A Novel by Stephania Auci, translated by Katherine Gregor

20-books

Historical Fiction

 

Book Reviews

Review: Haven by Emma Donoghue UPDATED

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Thank you to NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

My Interest

I read Donoghue’s book Akin and liked it. My kids read Room in school, but I have not read it. This book sounded interesting so I requested it and was happy to get it.

The Story

“It seems to him that nature is God’s holiest language.”

 

“That’s the problem with the vow of obedience; it tends to make sheep of men.”

Three monks set out to start a monastery where no one else lives, away from worldly temptations. They find an island off Ireland and settle there. Artt, the leader, and Cormac, the second monk, are men of faith. Trian (I constantly read this as “train”) is young. He was given by his parents to the monastery. Once they find their island, they begin to test their ability to obey Artt and to trust God to provide all that they need beyond the minuscule cache of supplies they brought with them in their boat.

My Thoughts

SPOILERS ABOUND HERE–YOU ARE WARNED

I should have known this book was being too nice to religion! There was the “duh, duh, de dum” moment of music when someone mentioned that the young monk had to squat to pass water. “Ugh,” my brain screamed! “Please not another stupid woman pretending to be a man book.” I wanted to quit, but I’m mostly glad I did not.

When, later in the story, young Trian is ill, the monk caring for him finally sees the young man with out his underpants on and gets an eyeful. Annoyingly, like with the mental illness diagnosis in Sorrow and Bliss (unless my eyes rolled too hard and too long and missed it), we are not told exactly what type or combination of genitalia Trian has but the word “androgyni” is bandied about.

“He’s never seen one of these botches that Pliny calls androgyni. Not a true male, made in God’s image, nor a true female, shaped to bear young.”

Did I mention this monk was left-handed? Never any issues in history with that. [For the unenlightened, the left hand was not allowed to be the dominate hand for centuries. Even well into the 20th Century people forced children to change from left- to right-handed.

So, naturally, once the secret is out it disrupts everyone. The Red State GOP monk, Artt, is horrified and can’t cope. The Blue State Democrat monk, Cormac sides with Trian and they simply must leave the Red State Island. So much for serving a higher purpose. The Catholic Church was founded on the idea that you must “pee like Jesus to be like Jesus,” so I’m guessing old Artt missed the way Trian peed? Could have saved themselves a lot of heart ache if he’d just paid attention before or during that boat ride.

Holy-hit-us-over-the-head-with-a-sledgehammer-Batman! So modern! I found it truly difficult to imagine how Trian had lived? With all the superstition abounding back in that day, you’d think he/she/they would have been left out to die. And, in a Catholic Church that required the Pope to prove he had two you-know-whats and one dangly thing (I don’t want spam) you’d think they’d have checked Trian out when he arrived at that first monastery–wouldn’t you?? Apparently not. Just like in those woman passing as a man books I’ve thrown across the room.

It is not news that there have always been a very few children born with different combinations of genitalia or with deformed genitals. That has happened throughout history. Even today most parents would be shocked to be told of such an outcome for their baby. Today, it can be dealt with through surgery and testing to identify the child’s true gender/sex. Back in 7th Century Ireland, he might have been allowed to live hidden away, but that’s a pretty big “might”. I just did not buy that this young monk would have been alive to go on this journey and that ruined the book for me.

In spite of my strong feelings on the ending, this was another well-written story by the author. It more than kept my attention throughout. I would caution very sensitive readers who love birds and animals–there are some rough spots in this book. Remember, it is a deserted island (no other humans) and the monks did what they had to do to survive.

One more comment: I do not like what I call the “verbing” of nouns. Here is the example from this book: “…he griddles oatcakes.” “To griddle” is now  a verb? (Eye roll). Donoghue is a better writer than this.

My Verdict

4.0

This is based on the writing, not on whether I agreed with the (to me) far-fetched idea that Trian would have been welcomed into a monetary in 7th Century Ireland.

Haven by Emma Donoghue

Book Reviews

Review: The Hotel Portofino by J.P. O’Connell UPDATED

Thank you to NetGalley for a free copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

My Interest

If I watch tv (on my laptop–I don’t own a t.v. and don’t subscribe to any streaming service except the pretty lamentable Amazon Prime [no extra channels]) I watch PBS. Masterpiece is a favorite though I don’t watch every show–less and less of them appeal to me these days. I found this book on Netgalley (it was still available even though it was already published) and learned that it was on PBS (I’ve linked below to the trailer). I haven’t looked into whether this is a “real” novel or the “script” novel from the t.v. show. No matter–I loved the script novels of the original Upstairs, Downstairs (I still have them) and of The Duchess of Duke Street (ditto). If it tells a good story, I’m for it.

The Story

How do you cure a tired marriage being lived in a tired country? Move. What to do with an over-age son lingering in the house? Arrange a marriage for him. Bella Ainsworth, husband Cecil and “shell-shocked” son, Lucien, have upped sticks and moved to the Italian Rivera to open a seasonal hotel aimed mostly at British tourists. They’ve brought their servant and her teen-aged son to help them. Along the way, affairs are started, Mussolini’s thugs threaten, art is dubiously sold and much, much, more! And all on the gorgeous Italian Riviera just outside Portofino.

My Thoughts

I listened to the audio and it was a great story! No Dowager Countess, but otherwise fans of Downton Abbey really will like this one. This was a fun addition to my summer and I look forward to bingeing the show! And, apparently the show is going to have a season two–so stay tuned. 

My Verdict

3.5

Hotel Portofino by J,P. O’Connell

Did you watch Hotel Portofino? Have you read this book? Leave me a comment or a link to your own post.

Historical Fiction

20-books

Book Reviews

Review: The Netanyahus by Joshua Cohen UPDATED

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My Interest

I used to be a big-time international politics junkie. I loved it. Until I didn’t. I realized it made me nervous and affected my sleep and concentration–like social media before social media existed.

Way back in college I had older friends–he was an Israeli by heritage and birth, born the year of independence in Haifa. She left South Bend and immigrated to Israel at age 16. Both served in the Army in the ’68 war. They introduced me to Israeli politics and taught me a graduate level course in Jewish faith, culture, and life. I am grateful.

I learned of this book via this post at A Life in Books. Won’t you click and read her post, too? Bloggers live for comments.

The Story

“The history in my regular schooling was all about progress, a world that brightened with the Enlightenment and steadily improved; a world that would continue to improve illimitably, so long as every country kept trying to be more like America and America kept trying to be more like itself.”

If the name The Netanyahus sounds familiar it’s due to middle boy in this book–Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu,  twice Prime Minister of Israel. He makes the US evening news sometimes. That’s why it sounds familiar.

The story here is of a fictionalized interview for a professorship at a small Liberal Arts College in New York State that Benjamin’s father went to in the 1959-60 school year. The babysitter having pulled out at the last second, Benzion Netanyaho packs up his acerbic wife and their three total hellion sons–Bibi being the middle one, and drives through deep snow in an ancient borrowed car (the car on the  cover is way too new). As Benzion struts his stuff as an expert on the Spanish Inquitions, his wife offends, his sons wreck havoc and the denizens of Corbin College are given an unforgettable course in what not to do on a job interview.

Benzion’s host, Ruben, a professor forced to take the host role because he is the only Jewish professor at Corbin College,  is a humble man–he puts up with playing Santa at a Christmas party, doesn’t deck the mechanic who feels his head asking “Had your horns checked lately” and stoically other macro-aggressions served up in a WASP-y late 1950s liberal arts college. His wife can only watch in horror as the Netanyahu family destroys her home–including the brand new color TV. She has worked hard to be admitted to the society of the college, to try to make headway at the library and has to stand back and watch an acquaintance destroyed by Mrs. Netanyahu–all with out “losing it.” We won’t even “go there” on the problems of Judy–Rueben’s daughter, and what happens when the Netanyahu brothers come to town!

My Thoughts

“and yet the fact remains that the youth today is more sensitive than ever. I admit I don’t know how to understand this phenomenon and have sought to approach it “economically,” asking the question of whether an increase in sensitivity has brought about a decrease in discrimination, or whether a decrease in discrimination has brought about an increase in sensitivity to when, where, and how it occurs.”
 

The quote above was so “today”–right?

This was in parts hilarious. It was a send-up of all the pretentious b.s. of academic job interviews (been there). It is hard to convey just why so much was funny if the reader does not know Academia. The battles over status, the coveted endowed chair professorships, the endless committees and the lifetimes their meetings waste, the search for ever more arcane subjects to become an expert on–it’s drivel, all of it.

But there is an entire class of workers whose economic livelihood depends on convincing people that yes, in fact, the Spanish Inquisitions–multiple–re-converted the Jews to Judaism. [Trust me, that’s not even on the crazy-o-meter today–you should have to read some of the truly “out-there” PhD dissertations even in a relatively sane subject like business!!] The obscene over-production of PhD degree holders has made finding esoteric niches even harder to find then the long-ago mentioned darter snail in a proposed Tennessee dam sight.

While there was much to laugh at, I did feel the book lost some of its luster near the end. I have no clue what makes a book worthy of a Pulitzer Prize so I cannot comment on whether or not the book truly deserved it.

My Verdict

Summa Cum Laude

4 Stars

20-books

Historical Fiction

Book Reviews

Review: Our Last Days in Barcelona: A Novel by Chanel Cleeton

My Interest

If, like me, you loved Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba likely you’ve wanted to know more of the Perez sisters’ story. When I saw that this book was that “more” I was soooooo excited!

WARNING: If you have not read Next Year in Havana and When We Left Cuba, this review will have spoilers!! Sorry, it just isn’t very realistic to review a sequel without them!

The Story

It’s now 1964 and the Perez family is settled into life in Palm Beach after fleeing Castro’s Cuba. In spite of the passage of a few years, they are still morning the death of their son/brother, Alejandro. Beatriz is in Barcelona and her sister, Isobel, married for the good of the family to an older husband, Thomas, is worried about her. Isobel goes off to Barcelona to find her sister who is still working for the CIA. The second story line is of their mother, Alicia, a young wife and mother running away from her husband’s betrayal to Barcelona in 1936–her visit overlapping with the start of the Spanish Civil War. 

Like in When We Left Cuba, the Perez sisters in the present, and their mother in the Civil War years, face a variety of dilemmas that test their character, beliefs, and family pride. Love or rejection, personal growth, and an awakening of their souls are to come.

My Thoughts

Aside from one modern use of “agency” that just HAD to rear it’s ugly, out-of-place, head, this was a fabulous story. I loved Isobel coming to terms with the fact that her world had been so “insular” and all that that realization did for her. I also loved that Alicia did the “hard” thing [no spoilers]. Are there coincidences that beggar belief? Well, yes, but don’t let them ruin such an excellent read. With each book, Cleeton’s characters get more believable in spite of necessary coincidences to pull the story into shape. I think this is my favorite of Cleeton’s books (so far!).

My Verdict

4.2

I can’t stop at just 4 stars, but maybe 4.5 is just a tad over the limit.

Our Last Days in Barcelona by Chanel Cleeton

Book Reviews

Review: Last Summer on State Street: A Novel by Toya Wolfe

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My Interest

It sometimes feels like my first 10 years were spent in the backseat of my dad’s company care driving one direction or the other on the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago. The huge Federal housing project known as The Robert Taylor Homes, those reddish or cement-colored apartment buildings were one of the main landmarks. Another such project, Cabrini Green, was where my Dad’s cousin, Sister Mary Benet, had once taught an 8th grade of about 50 kids in one class at St. Joe’s. The Projects. That’s all you had to say to call up an image of urban poverty, crime and governmental good intentions run-amok. Except it wasn’t really “good intentions.” That expressway we drove on was put there for a reason: It segregated Chicago.

A Little Lesson

Yes, you can skip to my review below, but maybe take a moment and skim this, ok?

In the 1990’s even liberal commentator (and one of my personal heroes) said in a commentary on the CBS Evening News, that welfare no longer worked. About the same time as the Clinton Administration started reforming and remaking what we called “welfare,” (public assistance of all forms), sociologists, urban planners, criminologist, public health officials, and social workers threw in the towel on the failed experiment that was high density federal housing.

Back in the beginning these “projects” were meant to help both widows raising children on limited public assistance and working poor who had trouble, like today, finding affordable housing. But then, during LBJ’s Great Society and on into the Nixon administration (yes, the GOP had a role) people were begged and cajoled into taking welfare. This was to do what some people are screaming for today–level the playing field. Now it wasn’t merely widows who would be helped, but it would be hard to get help if there was a man in the house. Need I say more about what happened? Well, I will. The working poor got out of there. Generations then grew up in which no one had held a job in some families, or held one rarely in too many families. Crime took over. Life in the Projects became untenable.

End of Lesson

The Story

Children don’t get to be children no more” (-Mama Pearl)

“At Robert Taylor we were always watching the world through those bars like we were in captivity and wouldn’t ever be free.” (-Felicia)

It’s the late 1990’s and the Robert Taylor Homes (and other similar projects around the country) are meeting with the wrecking ball. Felicia (aka Fe Fe), her friend Precious and two other girls from their building and school, Stacia and Tonya, love to jump rope– Double Dutch. Felecia’s mother does what welfare was meant to do–makes a loving, caring home for her two children. Precious is a very rare child in the Projects–she has an intact family with two loving parents. Her father is a Seventh Day Adventist elder. Tonya’s mother is hard-edged addict, but Stacia’s mother is into drugs sales and gang warfare. Stacia and her 12 siblings (well, those left at home) have a reputation for evil. But right now, Stacia is a girl wanting a friend. Over the course of this summer all will change for the girls. and their families.

As the buildings come down and those not “lease compliant” wait for the letter to facilitate their move that never comes, gangs lose the buildings that constituted their turf and that causes big problems. Age 12, the girls are still “girls,” but Stacia, with big sisters wants to grow up and earn the respect of the big sisters.

Stacia goes one way while her new friends go another. There is, of course, collateral damage. Human collateral damage.

My Thoughts

The emotion in this book is too real. Children forced to learn the ways of criminals or at least to live side-by-side with them and stay safe. Coming of age is hard enough in a stable, well-funded home with two solid parents and a low crime rate in the neighborhood. What we asked kids born into the Projects to do was to magically fly through it all untouched. Possible for a few, but most were hurt along the way. That is what Toya Wolfe has done so beautifully–to show us the path to adult hood in that place.

That sort of poverty, seemingly without regard to race, creed, color, or urban vs rural location, does something to the young men. They get lost in the maelstrom, sinking to the baser elements of human nature–not usually by choice. Being “jumped” into a gang is a real event. It isn’t just a choice. Often boys who stand out for the wrong reason are forced, humbled, into it.  Our juvenile and adult prisons overflow with such young men. Many were on a good path, but were targeted and “inducted” into that nefarious brotherhood, crashing their plans for good. Parents cannot control it not only because, as Mama Pearl said, “..they was so busy trying to work to put some food out that they forgot to ask their boys what they wanted to be and how they was gonna get what they wanted….” Even those who did ask, did support their boys, still watch it happen. 

But because for girls, “…you need to tell people [your goals] too, that that’s where you goin’. Something about a girl with a plan lets people know you ain’t got time for foolishness.” (-Mama Peral) -Mama Pearl] but for boys this can backfire. Fitting in may be safer, if not easier. For girls like Stacia in the story, girls from homes infected tFor girls like Stacia in the story, girls from homes infected by the syphilis-like disease of the family’s soul, a disease” brought on by a lack of an immune system to protect the family from hurt, betrayal, cruelty, injustice, self-loathing and a twisted sense of family pride and honor (not to mention a lack of civility and love), fitting with the family can be the only way to survive. Stacia’s appalling story, which contrasted so vividly with the aptly-named Precious’s family cocoon of love, security, ambition, and support, perfectly illustrated why the Projects had to be eradicated. d.

Promise me you ain’t gonna hang out with girls like [Stacia’s family]. That was cool when you was little, but you gettin’ bigger now and hangin’ with the wrong people can mess up your life. People like Stacia don’t want the kinda stuff you want. You got big dreams. Them kinda girls ain’t spinnin no globe and lookin’ at the world. They ain’t gonna get out the ‘hood like you. Even when they move they still gonna think like people in the Projects… ‘Project Mentality’…you ain’t gonna have that kind of mind.” (-Felecia’s brother) 

One part of the story hit home so hard: The day Felecia’s brother “grew-up” and “left” home. It re-opened that wound that never really closed for me of that day when my own brother left home. Like FeFe, I’d felt myself to be (in the most innocent, childlike way) “his girl.” He was always in my corner, always making life better for me. And, then, he left (because he’d grown up). I wanted to hug Felecia and comfort her, tell her he’d still be “there” for her.

I also was “there” with Felecia when, that scary, unsettling, yet wonderful feeling of the first time a male body “stirred” her. For me it was at just a slightly younger age than Felecia’s experience. Oh those feelings! What to do with them, how to live through them, wanting them to go away because they were so unsettling, yet wanting them never to end. How “ripe” we are at first lust. For Felicia, though, it was even scarier due to who, what, and wear. 

What was done to Black people in slavery, what was done to them during Reconstruction and Jim Crow, what was done with the building of the Dan Ryan Expressway and all those other dividing lines–in Chicago, that all erupted at the end of the 20th Century. Felicia and her friends were in the crossfire, they were the collateral damage. That, some, in their way rose like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes and still made a satisfactory life for themselves is amazing.

This book is an instant classic of coming of age at the end of the 20th Century.

Last Summer on State Street: A Novel by Toya Wolfe.

I listened to the audio version

My Verdict

4.5

For More on Life in Chicago’s Projects and their local neighborhood see:

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There are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz. Oprah made this book into a movie many years ago.

An American Summer: Love & Death in Chicago by Alex Kotlowitz, is a sort of sequel to There are No Children Here.

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Hoop Dreams [documentary]

Book Reviews

Review: The Loop by Brenda Lozano, translated by Annie McDermott

“Writing is my way of being a cat and shedding fur, or phrases, onto the armchair.”

“My notebook is my guitar though its not always in tune.”

“My notebook is my waiting room.”

My Interest

I have been keeping an eye out for interesting books for Spanish and Portuguese Lit month and this one sounded very interesting. I admit I had a few qualms about “stream of consciousness” though. It won an award called PEN Translates which aims to encourage UK publishers to bring out more books translated from other languages. (It is not the same as the Pen Translation Prize).

The Story

“Unlearning yourself is more important than knowing yourself.”

“Does this story contain all the stories I am?”

“Waiting. It never stars, never ends. We never arrive. We arrive somewhere like Lisbon, but never at a conclusion.”

“The foreign country of adult life.”

The narrator is recovering from some sort of accident. Her guy, Jonas, is away. This gives rise to her telling lots of interesting bon mots, some little stories, little notes, factoids, vignettes, a bit of narrative, a few paragraphs, facts or factoids populate most of this story–most with a good deal of reflection on life. All are written in the ideal notebook while she is recovering. Some repeat a bit on a sort of loop, but I have no idea if that is why the title was chosen.

Some favorite quotes:

“I remember there’s a point in Waiting for Godot when the characters swap hats again and again. A bit like politicians.” [see the bottom of this post]

“What would the ideal politician be like?…Instead we are stuck with cartoons. And they do too much harm.”

“Neurotic people who need positions of power. Stupid people who need someone even more stupid next to them. Insecure people need the approval of strangers. Loyal people surrounded by traitors.”

“Its almost like childhood is the origin of fiction: describing any past event over and over to see how far away you’re getting from reality.”

My Thoughts

Having just endured that “surreal” mess translated from Spanish, I went into this one a bit leery, but was pleasantly surprised. Overall, I thought the premise worked very well. I was often able to relate to what the author was thinking or “saying” in that notebook of hers. I wish I’d bought this so I can keep all the quotes I highlighted in the e-text of this book. It was such fun.

The Loop by Brenda Lozano, translated by Annie McDermott

My Verdict

4.0

20-books

Book Reviews

Review: Beautiful Exiles: A Novel by Meg Waite Clayton

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My Interest

As I’ve worked my way through Hemingway (slowly–lots left to go)–a writer I couldn’t stand in high school, I’ve discovered there is an entire industry of Mrs. Hemingway novels.  Beautiful Exiles interested me because Martha Gellhorn was a war correspondent first in the Spanish Civil War and on through to even Vietnam–pretty darned bad ass if you ask me! In addition, Meg Waite Clayton is another author who has become a must-read for me (my reviews of other books by her are linked at the end of this post). I plan to read her backlist, too.

The Story

While vacationing in Key West, Florida with her family, Martha Gellhorn meets Ernest Hemingway on a night out on the town. Hemingway is married to Pauline, mother of his two younger sons at this time, and does try to keep the friendship platonic for a while. Nonetheless, he invites Martha to his home repeatedly to discuss writing. Inevitably his friendship for her becomes his usual lust that must be satisfied. Meanwhile, the two go off to cover the war in Spain. Upon their return they move in together in the house Gellhorn buys in Cuba while Hemingway writes For Whom the Bell Tolls.

Once the chase is over and Hemingway has Gellhorn, he expects her to devote her time to adoring him and catering to his every bedtime whim. She is too independent for this and begins to suffocate emotionally. Hemingway goes out of his way on several occasions to humiliate Gellhorn. When World War II starts and Martha manages to get to London Hemingway feels neglected. The end is already in sight for their relationship which is marked by a cycle (in synch no doubt with his depression) of happiness, then put-downs, too much booze, not enough to do, humiliation and emotional abuse. The pattern was in all of his marriages.

My Thoughts

It’s hard to keep in mind just how much pressure was put on women to marry and to conform to what the husband wanted. Gellhorn was a great talent but constantly had to humiliate herself to pander to and placate Hemingway. I cannot imagine letting any man, let alone my husband, call me “Stooge” or “Daughter!” (The last is really creepy given that his eldest son was accused of bad stuff by his daughters). He also liked to make anti-Semitic statements, fully knowing Gellhorn had a Jewish father and grandparents. That and that she stood there and let him call her a “dry c–t” is beyond belief. That Martha went on to continue her successful career was not surprising, but the determination it took to do that was incredible.

Meg Waite Clayton captures “my” version of Martha well, even better than the rival book, though I did not count on quite such humiliating terms being used by Hemingway toward her. I could feel the humiliation of his words and of the way he tried to tear her down to embarrassed drinking buddies. I had tears in my eyes when he threw back at her the advice she’d given that got him to London. Despicable. I could smell the waft of the after-sex scent when Mary Walsh came into the hospital room in London, her bra-less breasts bobbing free to entertain the men. I have never liked women like Mary, always eager to take someone else’s man.

Clayton’s Martha (and my version of Martha) was too smart–she KNEW that if you marry the mistress you create a job opening. Hemingway’s “poor me” feelings during the down cycle of his depression (no meds back then) made him too eager to be comforted by whoever was available. His passive-aggressive actions were a recipe for the breakdown of any relationship. But, pathetically perhaps,  I also felt the attraction of Hemingway–a big, strong, masculine, guy but with talent to the moon. Who wouldn’t be swept off her feet? Clayton made all of that real.

What impressed me most though was that Clayton has Martha worry about her sex life in a different way–that it was painful. That was very poignant. It was not done in a tacky way, but in her thoughts. Martha thinks how she’d like to ask some other women if this was normal. In that day and age it just didn’t happen. Now, I did not really need to know the nickname for Mr. H’s little Mr. H, nor did I need to know that an iceberg looked just that little guy when it was “in repose,” but it was a love affair and then a marriage–this stuff is there to embarrass all of us our whole lives, right?

My Verdict

4.0

Beautiful Exiles: A Novel by Meg Waite Clayton is currently available with Kindle Unlimited on Amazon.

My Reviews of Other Meg Waite Clayton Books

Last Train to London One of my favorite books of that year. Click the link for my full review.

Race For Paris Scroll down in the post for the review

The Wednesday Sisters My review, from my old blog:“If you’ve ever dreamed of becoming a writer….If you’ve ever wished for a writer’s group in your own backyard….
This is the book for you! A novel of my Mother’s generation–when it wasn’t taken for granted that women SHOULD, let alone COULD make their own dreams come true. The husband’s dreams–well, of course! This is a book of sisterhood, of motherhood, neighborhood and, if such a word exists, wife-hood. I loved it. Yes, there are stereotypical things….So what? is what I say this time. My one and only complaint was that the only negative character was a Christian. Otherwise, I loved it cover-to-cover.”  The Wednesday Sisters, by Meg Waite Clayton. (Sorry, I did not like sequel, The Wednesday Daughters, at all. It happens…..)