Friday, September 30, 2011

A Grab Bag, if that bag was full of stuff from my bedside table

(Functionality issues: usually the pics are hyperlinks to Amazon, but their handy little widget isn't working. Now I have boring old static pics instead of dynamic ones. I bet you'll boycott my site until it works, huh? Damnit.)

On to the latest in Mel's books!

First up, in the "well, ain't that a little peculiar?" category, Kevin Wilson's The Family Fang. Okay, you've got Child A (Annie) and Child B (Buster), who are the progeny of the Fangs, a couple of performance artists who have been staging unexpected pieces using their children since they first saw the fascinated horror on the faces of the patrons waiting in line behind baby Annie as she wailed on Santa's lap. As adults, Annie and Buster turn to more conventional forms of self-expression (acting and writing) but are still inexorably drawn into their parents' weird and weirdly compelling orbit. Does it sound weird? It's weird. But not precious or "quirky," which I feared reading the premise. I trusted the recommendations, though, and was so glad I did. Despite the Art, this is ultimately a very good novel about families, growing into your own identity, and how people screw each other up and shore each other up, sometimes at the same time.

I am surprised that this is the first time I've actually blogged about Susan Mallery, since I've read basically every word she's ever published. In particular, I've gobbled up all of her Fool's Gold series (a small town in California with a sever man shortage, leading to a nicely empowered town full of pretty single women who gradually pair off with hunky men who drift in.) Her latest about this town is a trilogy about the Hendrix triplets: Only Mine, Only Yours, and Only His. This month I listened to all three of these, narrated by Tanya Eby. so that was approximately 25 hours of Dakota, Nevada, Montana (the triplets) and their men. She's a brightly-voiced narrator with great pacing, so I routinely enjoy her work. The only down side in all this was that Eby's voices for each hero-heroine pair are basically the same, so listening to these all together got a bit run-on-ish. I was therefore particularly impressed with Mallery, giving them all such distinct but interwoven characteristics - in the previous Fool's Gold books, I couldn't really keep them straight (not that it was necessary), so I feared they would be too similar when it came to their own stories. Mallery uses their time off in college wisely - especially with the last novel - to make their issues unique and their romances well-tailored to each woman. Now I need to keep an eye out for the next ones, to see whether the new librarian, the fire chief, or the goat farmer will be the woman to hook up with the remaining Hendrix siblings - the single dad math teacher and the heretofore-unseen deployed soldier. (My bet: math + goat, army + library, and someone tertiary for the fire chief.)

And for further adventures in series reading, I grabbed I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett. This is his YA take on his Discworld books, centering around young witch Tiffany Aching. Now, I haven't read much of the adult Discworld stuff, but I do so enjoy the Hag o' the Hills and her many adventures with frying pans and stick-on warts and underworld creatures. My kids did, too, and normally I'd try to get this on audio so we could listen during a road trip, but: no road trips, and the library only had hardcover, so. (That's my subtle way of saying I'd rather read than spend time with my sons, even if I'm reading to them during that time. What? They know I love them and stuff.) Once I'm through the next 800 hours of the Game of Thrones books, and then everything I put off reading / listening to so I could enjoy/slog through Martin's stuff, I may just have to figure out how to enter Discworld without the whole thing toppling me through sheer volume. (Which, to Pratchett's credit, is probably a big side effect of YA and adult readers both who encounter Tiffany Aching's stories.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tey Time!

One of the authors I've read tons of in the past couple of months is Josephine Tey, a Scottish mystery writer who died in 1952. Tey's primary character is Scotland Yard's Inspector Alan Grant, a handsome poetry-loving detective with an interest in history and a predilection for gut feelings that drive his superior a bit mad. Although Tey is sometimes a little too rooted in her time (mostly to do with social morays), the mysteries are unconventional and a great deal of fun. Each novel is only around 200 pages, and the writing has a very lyrical quality as well as a sardonic wit. (If you know nothing else of me by now, you should know that I love me some sardonic wit.)

I pulled some "speak to Mel" quotes from the novels I returned to the library this week to share here. Enjoy!

To Love and Be Wise, Chapter 6: Lavinia on trying to define the appeal of the disconcerting Leslie Searle: "He has a nice gentle voice and an engaging drawl; but so have half the inhabitants of Texas and a large part of the population of Ireland."
(The Irish-Texan voices in my own household vary in their gentleness, but all are engaging.)

To Love and Be Wise, Chapter 14: Grant on a quiet morning in the countryside: "People who get up at the crack of dawn during the week, and had no animals to get them up on Sunday, must be glad to sleep late. He had grumbled often when his police duties had broken into his private life... but to spend one's life in bondage to the predilections of animals must be a sad waste of a free man's time."
(No, the cat never wakes me up at seven every Sunday. At least, not if the dogs get me up first.)

The Daughter of Time, Chapter 6: Marta on acquiring books: "No T. More in any of the bookshops, so tried Public Library. Can't think why one never thinks of Public Libraries. Probably because books expected to be soupy. Think this looks quite clean and unsoupy. You get fourteen days. Sounds like a sentence rather than a loan."
(Hi, Harris County Public Library and Houston Public Library - thanks for all of the unsoupy books!)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Updates - I know you've all been wondering!

First of all, my desk. You'll all be relieved to know that, inspired by Nicole Krauss's Great House, I did finally finish the Great Desk Unburying Project of 2011, and am now sitting at a very orderly, very work-friendly antique roll-top desk. Ain't she a beaut?

Also, my smart, charming, handsome husband conducted the on-stage interview of Krauss and Francisco Goldman this week for Inprint Houston, and he told her about my desk project. She told him she'd had people name children after Alma in her The History of Love, but since Great House doesn't lend itself to that kind of homage, mine was the best. Yeah, that's right, the best. (I may be paraphrasing.)

Next up, my son. Although he still has War and Peace on his bedside table, K hasn't gotten much further with it since my initial blog post about it. He's read no shortage of other novels since, most of which far exceed the average reading level for his age (lest you think I think he's anything short of brilliant!) My brother-in-law, who is a journalist covering the publishing industry, wrote about K in his newsletter in August, which was fun. Also, it was great for my Blogger Stats, which, not to put too much pressure on you lovely readers or anything, I like to view probably too often. I broke into the elusive South American market thanks to him - now I've either been read or "read" in six continents. As soon as I crack Antarctica, I'll be, like, rich and famous and stuff.

At any rate, here K is this morning playing his new saxophone. He's in middle school now, so we won't even stress me out by mentioning all the different things he's doing with his after-school time. (Naturally, he is phenomenally talented and successful at all of them. And beloved by his friends and his mentors. And his not in the least biased parents.)

(For the record, the other son, who is closing in on his 16th birthday, is ALSO brilliant, talented, adorable, charming, loving, and successful. I'd give you a pic of him, if only I ever saw him. Between school, orchestra commitments, his band - oh, wait, two bands now - practices (original band has another paid gig this weekend!), soccer, the girlfriend, and now, since he wasn't busy, the school musical, I'm only sure he still lives here due to the ever waxing and waning supplies of Nutella and bananas we have to keep in stock for his daily peanutellanana sandwiches.)

Oh, yeah, and books. I haven't posted a lot about what I'm reading lately, not because I've suddenly stopped or anything (as if), but because I've been reading / listening to a ton of sequels to previously blogged about novels. More Meyer, more Penny, more James, more Sayers, more Heyer, more Martin. (I just downloaded the third Fire and Ice book - almost 50 hours! I'll start it... soon.) Never you fear, though, I've got a couple of things in progress that I'll blog about soon.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Magical and comical worlds to explore

The Night CircusFirst of all, I will pester you to read this book: Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. My review in the StarTribune can be summed up thusly: Love! If any part of you enjoys fable or romance or darkness lurking beneath the surface or magic or longing or kittens, you will be transported by this novel. I read it in July in order to review it, and it has thoroughly stuck with me in the ensuing months. Jim Dale (whose name is always followed, perhaps by law now, with the words: "narrator of the Harry Potter audiobooks") did the narration on this, and I'm eager to re-experience it with his voice once my library gets ahold of it.

MaineIf your sense of humor is caustic or your sense of family is complicated by many generations worth of bad behavior, check out Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan. Sullivan gives us three generations of women in different parts of the country who come together at the matriarch's beach house in Maine. I most enjoyed that with each of the four women, their POV was so strong and sympathetic that I felt about the other three the same way the current woman did. And then we'd jump to the grandmother or the sister-in-law for her POV, and everything took on a new light. All of the women are petty and flawed yet passionate and true in their own ways, and as they come together in the present, we can see how fallout from the past shapes them all. Plus: dollhouses! (Okay, so, my mom designed this huge amazing Victorian dollhouse for my sister and I when we were little, and had the shop cut the pieces, and together we built it, and bought all kinds of amazing little working lights and thumbnail-sized shingles and such. It isn't complete. But it's still astounding, and one of these days.... Maybe my sister's little daughter will inspire us to return to it.)

My Lucky Star. Joe KeenanFor more straight-up wit, Joe Keenan's comic novel My Lucky Star is just the ticket. I need to hunt down Keenan's earlier novels, which are about the same characters, all narrated by struggling wordsmith Phil. In this novel, his fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants charming ex-boyfriend Gilbert manages to lure him and their friend Claire from New York to Hollywood to work on a screenplay for a couple of the hottest names in town. Rabid gossip, blackmail, star-gazing, and hijinks ensue. Keenan's pedigree (writer for Frazier, among other things) allows him to present some all-too-believable scandalmongering of the fictional variety. It's very fast and farcical, and though if I were Gilbert's Facebook friend I'd hope to be wise enough to unfollow him, seeing them work their way out of deeper and deeper holes is a lot of fun.

10 years ago - just motherhood, wherever it takes me

Ten years ago, my sons were one and five. The older one had just started kindergarten. That, I figured, put us on the brink of an exciting and ever-expanding new world, one where he would learn - oh, everything! polar explorers and nanotechnology and Shakespeare and Schubert and Spanish, too. And ultimately, he has.

But I didn't think my five year old would learn about terrorism. I didn't think he would jump from secure little trickster to boy who needed to watch me lock each door at night before he could sleep. I never expected that the next time we flew overseas to visit Nana he would even be aware of his fellow passengers, much less worried about them.
I suppose it was some bad parenting, his awareness of the suddenly dangerous would. It was partly that same playground knowledge seep that had him talking about Power Rangers in preschool, even though we'd never seen the show. And there was no way to keep the students unaware. 500 five to twelve year olds in one of the largest cities in the nation? The stories abounded. So his feeling of being on shaky ground wasn't entirely our failure to shield him.

But my sister and brother-in-law lived in Brooklyn, across the street from a fire house where my one year old had been given a tour of the ladder truck just a few months earlier. They worked in Manhattan, my sister just two blocks from the WTC. They were safe. I'd dropped the boy at school and the toddler at daycare that morning, I'd turned on NPR for the brief drive to my office, I'd heard about the first plane crash, I'd walked inside to a message from Sis that they were fine, and then I'd seen the television as the second plane hit. And I'm grateful for that order of events, because if she hadn't gotten through when she did, before the phone lines were useless, if I'd seen the towers fall not knowing if she was commuting under them or in her office or (as she was) safe at home - well, anyway, if my son needed to see me lock the doors at night, needed to hear my reassurances that the windows also locked, and if he got that sense of insecurity from me, it's among the more benign emotions that I could have passed along.

(My brother-in-law wrote a very moving account of that morning in his essay about how publishing has changed post-9/11)

My youngest has essentially always lived in that world. He doesn't remember breezing through airport security without worrying about the amount of toothpaste in the carry on, or when yellow ribbons on trees and bumpers were a rare sight, or a day he'd never heard of Al-Qaeda. At eleven - eleven! - he cheered the night President Obama announced Osama bin Laden's death. That's the world my baby, born the 2nd day of Y2K, lives in.

So while I usually celebrate that both of them have exciting and ever-expanding new worlds opening to them as they grow up, I mourn that those worlds have threat levels. It is what it is, the world today, and there are only so many things a mom can do to keep her sons safe in it. I will always try to do those things, and if that sometimes includes a nightly tour of the deadbolts, so be it.

Oh, to have just tucked him in with a story and a song and a kiss a little longer, though.