Thursday, August 4, 2016

Patricia Cornwell 2016 New Release: CHAOS

Image from Amazon UK
Chaos -- of the fictional variety -- is coming November 15, 2016. By that date I hope our political chaos here in the U.S. is toned down post-election and takes a break for the holidays. According to Amazon, the UK release date is October 20, 2016.

CHAOS is #24 in the Kay Scarpetta Series. Can't wait to catch up with Scarpetta and all her peeps. This is the longest running series that I read, so it's like visiting old friends. The hardcover weighs in at 400 pages.

There's no cover art yet, but here's the blurb from publisher William Morrow:
In the quiet of twilight, on an early autumn day, twenty-six-year-old Elisa Vandersteel is killed while riding her bicycle along the Charles River. It appears she was struck by lightning—except the weather is perfectly clear with not a cloud in sight. Dr. Kay Scarpetta, the Cambridge Forensic Center’s director and chief, decides at the scene that this is no accidental Act of God.

Her investigation becomes complicated when she begins receiving a flurry of bizarre poems from an anonymous cyberbully who calls himself Tailend Charlie. Though subsequent lab results support Scarpetta’s conclusions, the threatening messages don’t stop. When the tenth poem arrives exactly twenty-four hours after Elisa’s death, Scarpetta begins to suspect the harasser is involved, and sounds the alarm to her investigative partner Pete Marino and her husband, FBI analyst Benton Wesley.

She also enlists the help of her niece, Lucy. But to Scarpetta’s surprise, tracking the slippery Tailend Charlie is nearly impossible, even for someone as brilliant as her niece. Also, Lucy can’t explain how this anonymous nemesis could have access to private information. To make matters worse, a venomous media is whipping the public into a frenzy, questioning the seasoned forensics chief’s judgment and "a quack cause of death on a par with spontaneous combustion."
Sounds like another exhausting couple of days for Scarpetta. Corwell has started tweeting about CHAOS so I plan to keep an eye out there for teasers.
Pre-order it or put it on hold asap at your local library.

[UPDATE 8/7/2016] Click here for Parade article that features CHAOS cover art and exerpt.

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Price of Salt by Claire Morgan (aka Carol by Patricia Highsmith) #CCSpin

The Price of Salt by Clarie Morgan (aka Carol by Patricia Highsmith)
Reading at the beach: 1986 Naiad Press Edition

The latest Classics Club Spin finally landed on a book I loved!

The Price of Salt was first published in 1952 by Claire Morgan, a pen name take by Patricia Highsmith who didn't want to be pigeonholed (and blacklisted or worse) as a lesbian writer in a time when homosexuality was illegal and universally considered a psychological disorder. The novel wasn't published under Highsmith's name until 1990 with the title Carol. I've heard the 2015 movie adaptation is good, but I've been holding off viewing it until I read the book (a courtesy I no longer extend to all novels).

The novel is a romance, a love story and coming of age novel, told from the perspective of Therese Belivet, a young woman who was abandoned by her parents and raised in an orphanage. She's nineteen and starting off on her own in New York City. She has an apartment, pays her own way in the world, and is beginning to make connections toward becoming a set designer. There's something missing in her life. Her boyfriend comes from a large, loving family that gives him a sense of stability and belonging, but also leaves him without a hunger for more.

Therese lost her job with a publisher and is working as a holiday temp in a big department store. Her world is forever changed when she spots a beautiful, sophisticated blonde woman wearing a mink. Enter Carol Aird. Its days before Christmas. The two women have an instant connection. Carol is older, wealthy, and going through a divorce. Therese initiates contact and their relationship develops swiftly. [You may have heard the joke: What do lesbians do on a second date? Answer: rent a U-Haul.]  By the end of January they're on a road trip together, headed west as an escape for Carol to take her mind off the fact that her husband has custody of their daughter for the next three months. Neither woman suspects that the trip will turn into a trap. Highsmith creates some great tension and there are a couple scenes that will stay burned in my memory. I look forward to reading her suspense novels.

When I was working on my Masters degree in the early 1990s one of my areas of concentration was lesbian fiction. Back then, Queer Studies was in its infancy. I no longer have the list of novels that I read for my oral exam on this subject, but The Price of Salt was not on it. How the hell did that happen, I wondered, as I read this fabulous novel. In addition to it being the early days of literary scholarship on lesbian literature, it was also the early days of the internet, so my sources were a bit limited. The rapid innovation of the internet and the spread and maturation of Queer Studies go hand-in-hand.

First edition cover [source]. This pristine edition is selling for $3,750 USD.

It's been said that The Price of Salt was the first "homosexual" novel with a happy ending. I believe it. One of the draw backs of reading 50 or so lesbian novels in the early 1990s was that the more recent novels were usually horribly written and the older ones depressing as hell (think The Well of Loneliness). That's not to say this novel isn't without high anxiety and gut wrenching anguish. I had a few groan out loud moments while reading. Some of the foreshadowing or "clues" sprinkled throughout struck fear in me. I know how innocent confessions and "evidence" have been used against gays and lesbians.

Although I came of age in the 1980s, thirty years after this novel was written (in the "freer time" Highsmith mentions below) the brutal experience that Carol and Therese go through hit close to home for me. I served in the pre-DADT Marines and have first-hand experience of living in the closet/living a double life and hiding from investigators looking to "bust homos." In the 1990s I also watched the agony of friends with children go through custody battles with homophobic and/or vengeful ex-husbands.

As Highsmith wrote in the afterword to the edition I read,
There may be fewer Thereses in this freer time, but there will always be Carols in a thousand cities, with similar stories. A girl marries young, often with some parental pushing, with a vague and unexplored conviction that she is doing the right thing. A few years later, the truth comes out, has to be enacted because it cannot be repressed any longer. Often there is a child by then. To hell's furies might be added the fury of the husband and father who has "lost" his wife's love to another woman. Powerless as men, they resort to the law to effect what they see as justice and often as justifiable revenge too, so they insist that the law do its worst (279).
Bantam paperback cover
What is beautiful about this novel is the way these two women find one another and the wide-eyed first love that Therese experiences. In the end, Therese grows up, starts to mature, and comes to understand that she won't be all alone in the world, even if her road won't be as simple as girl meets boy. Her finding that glimmer of hope was certainly a positive change from how many gay or lesbian characters ended up in this time period. And Carol chooses to live life on her own terms, even if it means sacrifice. And even if that sacrifice leads to a wonderful plot twist.

She writes to Therese,
It was said or at least implied yesterday [by legal counsel] that my present course would bring me to the depths of human vice and degeneration. Yes, I have sunk a good deal since they took you from me. It is true, if I were to go on like this and be spied upon, attacked, never possessing one person long enough so that knowledge of a person is a superficial thing--that is degeneration. Or to live against one's grain, that is degeneration by definition" (246).
The verdict: A fantastic read and a must read for those interested in lesbian lit and lives, women's issues, and/or mid-century fiction. I hope recent editions have a solid introduction that provide historical context for this book, because unless younger readers understand the climate of the time period and the risks these characters are taking, I'm not sure the tension will be as taunt as Highsmith intended. In fact, it might not seem like Therese and Carol are taking any risk at all.

I'm so grateful for all the activists and allies who fought for LGBTQ rights over the decades so that with each passing year more people are coming to believe that there is nothing wrong with being "different," rather it's forcing a person to live against one's "grain" that is the true atrocity.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Reading RoundUp: Gyasi, du Maurier, Hemingway

2016 is turning out to be one of the best reading years I've had in some time. Creating a physical TBR shelf (what I call my TBR Action Center) has been working out very well. 

Here's a brief rehash of last handful of books that I've read:

Best novel so far of 2016

Homegoing (2016) by Yaa Gyasi:  The best novel I've read so far this year, in what is, as I said above, turning out to be an excellent reading year. I read about this novel in BookPage and was surprised to see it sitting on the new book display at the library, because around this same time I started seeing it all over the bookish internet and on social media.

Homegoing is a feat of storytelling. I was both energized and exhausted by it. In a nutshell, the novel begins with the stories of two half-sisters in 18th-century Ghana who end up living very different lives: one is married to the white English governor of a Cape Coast Castle and the other is taken as a slave and held in the bowels of the Castle until she's shipped off to America. The novel then follows their respective progeny through time, up to the present day. It touches on significant places and time periods in both Ghana and the U.S. Through dozens of characters, it shows both some Ghanian and some African American experiences. Each character gets only a couple dozen pages, but the images and feelings Gyasi is able to evoke in that space are powerful. As an aspiring fiction writer, this is a novel I plan on reading again to try to understand how she does it. (Source: library)

Finally off the TBR!

Rebecca (1938) by Daphne Du Maurier: This one's going to have to percolate a bit before I can figure out what I think of it. I have a feeling that my esteem will ripen over time, but based on the squeals of pleasure and glowing recommendations I'd heard from those who had read this novel whenever it was mentioned, I was surprised it wasn't more a page turner for me. I had to prod myself a bit each day to pick it up, but once I did the reading went well. It definitely made me think of Downton Abbey. There's even a character named Crowley. I caught parts of the Hitchcock movie on TV when I was a kid -- I think I flipped between it and a Cubs game -- and plan on watching the movie asap. I've heard from several friends that they prefer Du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel to Rebecca, so that one is going on the virtual TBR. (Source: bought it)

Hemingway: love him, hate him, will never leave him.

A Moveable Feast (1964) by Ernest Hemingway: I'm happy to finally have experienced this posthumous work by Hemingway, a writer with whom I have a love/hate relationship. Love his novels, but don't so much like the man, although I do have some sympathy toward him. I may be one of the last of my peer group to read this memoir about Hemingway's life in 1920s Paris. James Naughton did a fine job reading this book. I imagine another actor could have made Hemingway come across as a braggart or blowhard. It was nice to hear the French pronunciation of place names, streets, etc.

After finishing the audiobook version I cracked open the Restored Edition, which I purchased when it first came out in 2009 and apparently never opened; The binding was still tight. This text, edited by Sean Hemingway, the grandson of Hemingway and 2nd wife Pauline, is supposedly closer to Hemingway's last revisions of the manuscript than the 1964 version. That first published version was possibly edited by Mary, Hemingway's 4th wife, to conform to her prejudices. I know Wikipedia isn't a scholarly source, but is intriguing to read there that Sean Hemingway may have edited the manuscript to make his grandmother appear in a better light. Perhaps a third version is warranted, one by someone without the last name of Hemingway. (Source: audiobook from library, hardcover bought it.)


It was interesting to read these three books back-to-back.

After reading Homegoing and even Rebecca, Hemingway's white, male, middle-class privilege leaps off the page. I was struck by his romanticism of being poor and his glorification of the starving artist. At the same time, I do admire his tenacity to sit down at the page everyday and create something in his own voice. That is not something most people can do, no matter how much wealth and privilege they have. But you're not really poor when, 1) you could go back to journalism to make money and 2) you have your wife's family money to fall back on. That's a far cry from being a single white woman with no family in the 1930s or a slave or a black person in Jim Crow America.

Then there's the unabashed wealth of Maximilian de Winter in Rebecca. Max's problem, like Fitzgerald's, at least as presented by Hemingway, is that he married a selfish, mean woman who made life hell for him by sleeping with another man or saying snide things about his penis. Based on two of these titles, vicious, emasculating wives were the scourge of white upper class men in the 1920s and 30s.

All jokes aside, is it fair to compare such disparate books? What value can it offer?

Like all novels and memoirs, these three depict human life or at least the writer's ideas about life. They show the choices open to people, the decisions they make, and sometimes the consequences. Hemingway can tell himself any story he wants, but, in the end, he chose to have that first affair and then had to live with the consequences.

As for the characters in Gyasi's novel, I am struck by how they dealt with the choices available, as limited as they sometimes were. The novel is in some ways an illustration of the idea that the only choice we all have -- some say the only real choice we have -- is how we react: To the world around us, to things people say to us, to things that are done to us.

People die in war, in slavery, by murder. Others like Mrs. Danvers, Maximilian, and Hemingway seem to be broken by life. While others, like the unnamed narrator of Rebecca and so many of the characters in Gyasi's novel, may exist for awhile in a fog, but then--if they're lucky--they wake up and realize that what they do have is their life to live, as best the can, wherever they are.

It's this resilience that I find fascinating, both in books and in life.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Road Trip Recap and Book Haul

Just over a week ago I posted that I was going on a road trip and was so proud of myself for checking out audiobook versions of some titles that are on my current TBR Action Center. The Girl on the Train, A Moveable Feast, and My Reading Life.

I rented a car for this trip because my car has recently become unreliable. We're looking to eventually replace my car with a small SUV. On vacation earlier this year we rented a Jeep Patriot. It was nice to have such an extended test drive, so for this trip I rented a Fiat 500x. It was comfortable and handled well, but there was one tiny problem.

Fiat 500x white rental
Fiat 500x claims up to 34 mpg highway, but during my trip it never went over 27 mpg.
The drive started with bookish podcasts. Books on the Nightstand, The Readers, Literary Disco. It was smooth sailing through CT, NY, NJ. After I ran out of new podcast episodes, it was time to crack open an audiobook. I had the disc in hand, looked at the dashboard, and it was then that I realized there was no CD player. Whaaa? Doh! Technology.

My car is a 2004 VW with a cassette deck and a CD player. I know cassette players are a thing of the past, but I thought CD players were still standard. Apparently not. Hello smart phone revolution. Anyway, I gazed at the dashboard for a few seconds, rather at a loss, before laughing about the situation. So much for the audiobook plans.

Fiat 500x no cd player
No CD player here, grandma!
I listened to some music. Turning on the radio in NJ meant lots of Billy Joel and similar. When I got to the hotel that evening I revived my Audible account, but never got around to downloading a book for the next leg of the journey. I like podcasts and some radio, but I also like quiet, too. But, man, I wanted to listen to The Girl on the Train!

The primary reason for the trip was to attend Induction Day at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. This is the day that incoming freshman get sworn into the Navy and then go through a six week boot camp like experience called plebe summer. I have a young friend who invited me to attend the festivities of his induction. I-Day, as it is commonly called, is a day of events for family and friends while the plebes are being processed. The day ended with the Oath of Office ceremony at 6pm. There were some tears and lots of misty eyes as loved ones and parents said goodbye to their sons and daughters. (Women make up 28% of the class of 2020, the highest percent to date.)

At the museum bookstore I bought a copy of Reef Points, the midshipman handbook that plebes memorize over the summer. I admire the small size of this book--about 3.25" x 5"--which makes much more sense than the bulky 6.5" x 8.5" Guidebook for Marines that I lugged around in boot camp (and which I think is still the same size for Marine recruits). Makes me wonder if officers might be a tad smarter. Or, if I were to put on my enlisted cap, I'd say it's more evidence that officers do indeed have it cushier. ;)

Oath of Office, or swearing in, ceremony. Good luck, class of 2020!
Next I headed about 50 minutes down the road to DC to meet up with book blogger friend Thomas of Hogglestock. It was great to see him again and meet John and Lucy. If you read Thomas's blog you know he's been doing a shelf-by-shelf series about the books in his library, so it was neat to see his collection in person.
With Thomas in his library.
And I scored a few books from his library. (To clarify: Thomas gave them to me, I didn't steal them. Although it might have been fun to steal one and see how long it took him to notice. I had friends that did that to me once when I moved. They each snuck a book out of a box and were waiting for me to eventually start wondering aloud what happened to certain books. Back then I was hyper anal about organizing my books. Unpacking and shelving my books was traditionally the first thing I did when setting up a new apartment. That time I was too busy with a new job and broke from tradition. They started asking not so subtle questions about my books and soon the cat was out of the bag. It ended up being funny for all of us).

Anyway, the books Thomas gave me are:

The duck is from Politics & Prose...Thomas bought it for me...should I name it Thomas?
  • Shadow of a Man by Mary Sarton
  • Spiderweb by Penelope Lively
  • The Sure Thing by Merle Miller
We eventually headed over to Politics & Prose for a browse and lunch. We started off downstairs, in their excellent remainder section, where we both found goodies. Then headed upstairs to the fiction section. I would've loved to have spent a couple hours browsing, but also wanted to make it home before midnight.

My stack:

WildmooBooks book haul from Politics and Prose

I was planning to limit myself to 4 or 5 books, because, you know, space/time/money, and ended up with 7. Not too bad. Plans never seem to work out, exactly, when books are involved, do they?
  • Hotel De Dream by Edmund White -- top two recommended by Thomas.
  • Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron 
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen -- for The Readers summer readalong.
  • Women Crime Writers, The 1940s by Sarah Weinman -- have had my eye on this two book collection from The Library of America since before it came out last year.
  • Women Crime Writers, The 1950s by Sarah Weinman
  • A Small Circus by Hans Fallada -- have wanted to read more Fallada since reading Everyman Dies Alone in 2010.
  • Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser -- for the Australian Woman Writers Challenge
Chris Wolak and Thomas Otto getting their summer reading on! The Sympathizer
Summer reading!

My drive from DC back to CT on that Friday before the 4th of July actually wasn't that bad. I took a route through rural Pennsylvania that Thomas recommended and enjoyed the countryside. Some torrential downpours in NY slowed me down, but the drive took about nine hours. I had feared it would be more.

I did read The Girl on the Train over Independence Day weekend and loved it! Looking forward to the movie, which comes out in October.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Disappearance at Devil's Rock by Paul Tremblay

I still haven't gotten around to reading Paul Tremblay's A Head Full of Ghosts, which seemed to be all over the bookish internet last year, but I plan on it. When I saw that his new release was going on tour with TLC Book Tours I hopped on board.

Disappearance at Devil's Rock is set in Massachusetts. Its a creepy novel that calls to mind the Puritan mythology of the devil living in the wilderness of New England's  forests.
From the publisher: Late one summer night, Elizabeth Sanderson receives the devastating news that every mother fears: her fourteen-year-old son, Tommy, has vanished without a trace in the woods of a local park.

The search isn’t yielding any answers, and Elizabeth and her young daughter, Kate, struggle to comprehend his disappearance. Feeling helpless and alone, their sorrow is compounded by anger and frustration. The local and state police haven’t uncovered any leads. Josh and Luis, the friends who were with Tommy last, may not be telling the whole truth about that night in Borderland State Park, when they were supposedly hanging out a landmark the local teens have renamed Devil’s Rock— rumored to be cursed.

Living in an all-too-real nightmare, riddled with worry, pain, and guilt, Elizabeth is wholly unprepared for the strange series of events that follow. She believes a ghostly shadow of Tommy materializes in her bedroom, while Kate and other local residents claim to see a shadow peering through their own windows in the dead of night. Then, random pages torn from Tommy’s journal begin to mysteriously appear—entries that reveal an introverted teenager obsessed with the phantasmagoric; the loss of his father, killed in a drunk-driving accident a decade earlier; a folktale involving the devil and the woods of Borderland; and a horrific incident that Tommy believed connected them all and changes everything.

As the search grows more desperate, and the implications of what happened becomes more haunting and sinister, no one is prepared for the shocking truth about that night and Tommy’s disappearance at Devil’s Rock.

The title page of the advance reader copy has a nice shot of a typical New England forest scene: thin trees, a bit of fog, boulders & stone, crispy leaves covering the ground. I love the forest and regularly hike in the trails behind my house here in Connecticut. But when you're alone and twilight is approaching...those crunchy leaves rustle and make you walk a little faster to get home. The two inch band of forest at the top of the cover page repeats at the top of each chapter page to re-invoke the fear of the wilderness. Each chapter also has a teaser heading that hints at what's to come: "Elizabeth, Out of the Corners of Her Eyes, and More Notes" or "Elizabeth and Felt Presences, the Last Entries, Kate and Josh Twice." It gives the book an old timey feel.

The heart of the story is about Tommy, a teenaged boy who went into the woods late one night with two friends and never came home. Tommy's parents divorced when he was a boy, his father later died in a car accident after a bit of a downward spiral. Tommy's mother thinks all is well at home. Her son's recent attitude changes were just typical teenage boy growing pains, right? Or was it something else? Stories start to emerge, some myth-like. Relationships between Tommy's mother and sister, as well as his grandmother, become strained. Nothing seems quite straightforward. Is Tommy's mother really seeing him or is she having a nervous breakdown? What are the friends hiding? What does his sister know? I don't want to say too much because, much like an investigation, there are some interesting unfoldings in the plot. Tommy's mother and sister are each doing their own investigations into various factors of Tommy's disappearance. And while Detective Allison Murtagh is on the case, she's also dealing with her own tough family situation.

There are a few truly creepy scenes in this novel, scenes that made me happy I don't live alone, but it is not straight horror, it's also a family drama novel and a crime novel. The ending left me unsatisfied and slightly annoyed in that horror novel way (thanks a lot, Paul), but now I want to read A Head Full of Ghosts more than ever.

Title: Disappearance at Devil's Rock
Author: Paul Tremblay
Publisher: William Morrow/HarperCollins, June 2016
Source: TLC Book Tours review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Recommend to: readers who like mixed genre books and family drama. Will make a nice summer read if you want to get creeped out, but not be completely terrified (unless, of course, you're a parent).

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