Monday, January 25, 2016

Monday Check-in: One DNF, One Full of Hope, Two Thumbs Up


ONE DNF
Catch-22 was my current Classic Club spin book.

This was my third attempt at reading Catch-22.  According to my e-reader I read 23% of the book. It started out okay, but my enthusiasm waned. My inner cheerleader pumped me up several times and I recommitted to finishing the book about a dozen times.

But then yesterday morning I awoke with the loud, clear voice of my conscience telling me to let it go. I won't even pretend that I'll give it another try in the future.

Yes, I laughed several times. Yes, Heller captures the ridiculousness of military life and bureaucratic systems.

However, the repetition and relentless absurdism made me start dreading reading time. It's one thing to push through a challenging book, but this was beyond that for me.

I also couldn't get into A Confederacy of Dunces.

So, while I like some satire, I think it's safe to say I am not a fan of absurdist fiction. Although I do adore Franz Kafka, whose writing often gets dumped in that camp, so go figure.

Goodbye, Joseph Heller, I don't think we shall meet again.

Here's hoping that my fellow Classic Clubbers enjoyed their spin books much, much more!


ONE FULL OF HOPE
I'm moving on to A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Many people have not only praised this novel, but consider it among their favorites. As a former bookseller I am, of course, familiar with this popular novel and late last year saw it on a list of uplifting books, which is something I can use these days. Tomorrow will be exactly one month since we lost our beloved dog, Lola. While I love the 11" of snow that fell on us over the weekend here on the CT shoreline, I must say that there's nothing sadder for me to look at right now then our backyard covered in undisturbed snow.

A Prayer for Owen Meany will be my first read for the Reading New England challenge. The novel is set in New Hampshire and John Irving is also from New Hampshire. I just purchased it last week from a local indy, so it won't qualify for #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks.


TWO THUMBS UP
I'm also reading A Mind for Numbers: How to Excel at Math and Science (Even If You Flunked Algebra) by Barbara Oakley. It is supplementary reading for the Coursera course I'm taking called Learning How to Learn: Powerful Mental Tools to Help You Master Tough Subjects. It's a fascinating and potentially life-changing course. I'm on week three of four and highly recommend both the course and the book.

There's one more book I've been reading around in, a review copy of Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (and Others) in the Name of Literature, edited by Meredith Maran. This book comes out tomorrow (1/26/16) and if you're into memoir as a reader or a writer you'll want to get your hands on it.

What are you reading this week? Tell me about the good, the bad, the ugly.
 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

WildmooBooks Turns Six! Celebrates with Edgar Nominees Giveaway

WildmooBooks turns six today!

How time flies. I still feel like such a newbie.

This is the first year I've made the connection that January 19th is also Edgar Allan Poe's birthday (he was born in 1809) and also the day that the Mystery Writers of America announces its annual nominees for The Edgar Awards (named, if you didn't know, after Edgar Allan Poe).

To celebrate these occasions and as a thank you to all who've connected with me here over the years, I thought it would be fun to offer a giveaway. 

Below is a list of nominees for five of the Edgar Award categories. The winner of this giveaway will get to choose one book from the list below, up to $25.

Price and availability to be established via bookdepository.com. At the time of this post going live there is only one title listed over $25 (Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald by Suzanne Marrs and Tom Nolan) and one that is not available (American Pain: How a Young Felon and his Ring of Doctors Unleashed America’s Deadliest Drug Epidemic by John Temple). Pricing and availability can change in a week.

Please enter below via Rafflecopter and leave a comment with which title(s) you're most excited to see on this list and/or which you'd most like to read.

BEST NOVEL

  • The Strangler Vine by M.J. Carter
  • The Lady From Zagreb by Philip Kerr
  • Life or Death by Michael Robotham
  • Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy
  • Canary by Duane Swierczynski
  • Night Life by David C. Taylor


BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR

  • Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton
  • Where All Light Tends to Go by David Joy
  • Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm



BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL

  • The Long and Faraway Gone by Lou Berney
  • The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter by Malcolm Mackay
  • What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan
  • Woman with a Blue Pencil by Gordon McAlpine
  • Gun Street Girl by Adrian McKinty
  • The Daughter by Jane Shemilt


BEST FACT CRIME

  • Operation Nemesis: The Assassination Plot that Avenged the Armenian Genocide by Eric Bogosian
  • Where The Bodies Were Buried: Whitey Bulger and the World That Made Him by T.J. English
  • Whipping Boy: The Forty-Year Search for My Twelve-Year-Old Bully by Allen Kurzweil
  • Forensics: What Bugs, Burns, Prints, DNA and More Tell Us About Crime by Val McDermid
  • American Pain: How a Young Felon and his Ring of Doctors Unleashed America’s Deadliest Drug Epidemic by John Temple


BEST CRITICAL/BIOGRAPHICAL

  • The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards
  • The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue by Frederick Forsyth
  • Meanwhile There Are Letters: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross Macdonald by Suzanne Marrs and Tom Nolan
  • Goldeneye: Where Bond Was Born: Ian Fleming’s Jamaica by Matthew Parker
  • The Lost Detective: Becoming Dashiell Hammett by Nathan Ward

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Congratulations to all the nominees! Thank you as always for visiting WildmooBooks and good luck to you if you entered to win! 

Monday, January 18, 2016

Reading New England



I absolutely, positively could not resist this challenge! Reading more books set in New England has been my intention since I moved to Connecticut in December 2013 and this challenge will help give me some structure. Chances are good I'll slant my reading choices toward the mystery genre as that's one of my favorite reading and writing categories. I'll even try some children's books, poetry, and drama to broaden my reading horizons.

Reading New England has twelve monthly categories: the six states that make up New England, five genres, and a readalong or free choice to cap off the year.

January: New Hampshire  
February: Fiction (A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving)
March: Maine (The Country of the Pointed Firs by Sarah Orne Jewett)
On my TBR
April: Poetry and Drama (Re-read some Bradstreet and Rich, try a new poet)
May: Vermont (The Secret History by Donna Tartt)
June: Nonfiction (Stone by Stone: The Magnificent History in New England's Stone Walls by Robert Thorson)
July: Massachusetts (Mystic River by Dennis Lehane, The Bostonians by Henry James)
August: Children’s Books
September: Rhode Island (The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by HP Lovecraft)
October: Speculative Fiction and Mystery
November: Connecticut (A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain), Wally Lamb
December: Readalong or free choice

I'm aiming for the Roots and Branches Level: Read at least 3-6 books from any of the challenge categories.

Head over to Emerald City Book Review to learn more about the challenge and sign up yourself.

Thanks to Lory for creating this fantastic challenge!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Bel Canto. The Book, The Opera.

Civic Opera House Lobby
 Anne Patchett's Bel Canto is one of those books that I planned to read for a long time but never got around to it. I don't know how long I've owned the paperback copy that sat on my shelf. But then sometime in the fall my Mom, who lives in Chicago, called and told me about the upcoming world premier production of Bel Canto at the Lyric Opera. She read the book when it first came out and loved it. I had been planning to visit Mom in January, so we purchased opera tickets and planned my trip around the show. I took the book of the shelf and put it on my TBR pile.


The Book
Bel Canto was my first read of 2016. (One down for #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks!) I adore this novel and it has set a high standard for this year's reading. It is a life- and humanity-affirming story, full of characters that find passion and new potential for their lives in the most unlikely of circumstances. It's a book that makes you want to be more compassionate, both to others as well as to yourself. I enjoyed how the book poked and prodded all sorts of stereotypes to reveal our shared humanity.

When I first heard about the novel I thought the premise sounded ridiculous: a group of important people are held hostage by guerrillas in a VP's mansion somewhere in Latin America. These people "find themselves" and/or fall in love due to an opera singer in their midst? For real? Don't let the description deter you. It's a brilliant novel. Beautifully written. I already want to read it again.


The Opera
I've seen several operas, but am in no way an opera aficionado. Musicals are more my bag, but I do enjoy all sorts of live theatre. My mother has experienced many more operas than I. To say we were excited about seeing this opera was an understatement.  Our phone conversations leading up to my trip to Chicago pulsed with an underlying chant of Bel Canto, Bel Canto each time we talked. Needless to say, on the designated day we settled into our seats with Great Expectations. The theatre was abuzz with anticipatory energy. And I'm not talking about the usual pre-show chatter. This was a buzz created by a bunch of book lovers who were about to see a beloved novel come to life. "I loved the book," were words that rose above the fray from every direction.

At the end of Act I Mom and I turned to each other with looks of surprised dismay. The first Act seemed a hot mess. There were so many people on the stage that sometimes we couldn't at first tell who was singing. Perhaps this was intentional? This opera was performed in eight languages (reflecting the novel) with projected English subtitles. There was a lot of chaos and confusion and that is part of the story, but I think that there could have been a stronger emotional impact and attachment for the audience with better blocking and stronger character identities. The music was repetitious and the lyrics too often seemed trite. The over-use of dissonant sounds came to seem self-indulgent.

The operatic character of Roxanne failed to come across as a world class performer with a presence and a voice that would make people stop and listen. There was no way this stage Roxanne could pull off what the novel Roxanne did. She was a frumpy non-entity. Her songs were weak. The manner in which this operatic character was both written and directed did not come close to replicating the character in the novel.

The guerrillas were meaner and more violent than in the book. The male characters all seemed rather similar. The stand out character for me was Carmen, powerfully performed by J'nai Bridges, but she didn't really come into her own until Act II.


During intermission Mom and I wondered what others thought, so I Googled a review. I was quietly reading the review to Mom so as not to annoy our neighbors when the woman next to her leaned over and asked if I was reading a review.

"Yes," I said, "I'm sorry to have disturbed you."
"No, no," she shook her head, "I'm curious what it says."

So we got to talking. It was her first opera. She was there with her teenage daughter--they both LOVED the book--and were feeling that perhaps they didn't know how to appreciate opera. My mom assured them that this was not what opera was normally like. It was a nice bonding moment for two sets of mothers and daughters, four women generations apart, all of whom loved the same book.

J'nai Bridges
Act II was a bit more focused due to two story lines coming into focus. As in the book, these are the relationships of Roxanne & Mr. Hosokowa and Carmen & Gen. The music seemed more mature in Act II.  J'nai Bridges (Carmen) and Anthony Roth Costanzo (Cesar) had powerful solos that they sang beautifully. These songs had pathos and felt more substantial and developed than others. Their solos were the musical highlights of the opera as was a humorous song sung in deep bass by Runi Brattaberg (Fyodorov).
Fyodorov

One good thing about this show was the set, which was dramatic and dynamic. It evolved to effectively convey both shifting moods and the passage of time. The set is mainly a large room with the front door of the mansion set upstage and two grand staircases flanking to the left and right. In once scene smaller rooms slide from the wings onto the stage to highlight the two love stories: Carmen and Gen in the kitchen to the lower left and Roxanne and Hosokowa in the bedroom to the upper right. The physical placement of these rooms was effective, but the scenes themselves, showing the couples getting it on, were a little too sappy. It also annoyed me that both women were partially undressed during the scene. I'm no prude. What bothered me was the blatant set up of women for the male gaze. In the book the relationships seemed more mutual and equal. Also, the song sang in the kitchen included a line that they were there among the knives--knives were a big deal in the book, so I thought this was a poor oversight. Did people who hadn't read the book wonder why the captives didn't take those knives and put up a fight? But I digress.

I think the weakness of the opera was that it attempted to follow the novel too closely. Some of the
Jimmy Lopez
main points were hit, but all the subtleties and nuances--the stuff that give the novel its soul--were missing. Overall, I am happy to have seen this production. Kudos to the Lyric for trying something different. And I will keep my radar on for future projects of composer Jimmy Lopez whose music is bold and interesting.

Least you think I'm too harsh, at the end of the show, standing in line for the woman's room, not one person said they loved the opera. No one was rehashing a favorite scene or song. Everyone was politely talking about how they loved the book. One woman, who knew people connected with the show, avoided giving her opinion by simply commenting on how hard everyone worked. I wonder if people who hadn't read the book enjoyed the opera more.

The performance we saw was recorded for PBS, so keep an eye out for it if you're interested. No air dates have been listed at this time. Some good video editing might bring out all the best moments of this production.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Just Us Humans

My favorite picture of Laura & Lola
On Saturday, December 26, 2015 we put down our beloved dog Lola. She had tumors in her throat that were slowly cutting off her ability to breathe. Surgery wasn't an option. For the past couple months she had good days and not so good days, but the week of Christmas it became apparent that it was time to take action and do the unthinkable. Even though her breathing sounded like Darth Vader, in every other way our senior Belgian Malinois acted like a young dog: she had a great appetite and always wanted to play catch or tug-of-war. Our vet came to the house and let the process take as long as we all needed. Lola's death was calm and peaceful. We know we've done the right thing by her, but we are heartbroken nonetheless.


Lola loved to jump and play catch

I had been wrapping up a job and made the following Monday my last day and after an appointment Laura had Tuesday morning we ran away from our too quiet and still house. The first vacation we'd taken together shortly after we met in Chicago was to Ogunquit, Maine and that's where we headed (it's just a bit over a three hour drive from where we now live in Connecticut). We intended to get away for a day or two and ended up staying for six. The time along the brooding Maine coast was just what we needed. As Isak Dinesen said, "The cure for anything is saltwater: sweat, tears, or the sea."

The Nubble Light House in York, Maine

But it was weird that we were able to be so spontaneous, both in leaving so suddenly and staying away for as long as we wanted. Leaving town for us has always involved scheduling pet sitters. When we first met we had two cats apiece. I joked that we were the lesbian version of the Brady Bunch. Blending our four cats was a challenge, especially without the help of an Alice, and then Lola unexpectedly came into our life (we found her in the alley). She was the reason we bought our first house, because four cats and a dog in a one bedroom apartment wasn't working out very well.

Lola was a fierce protector but also a serious snuggle bunny.
Lola changed our lives in so many ways and all for the good. She taught us the value of investment, focus, patience, and how to play and love with abandon, among a slew of other things, like how to be as fierce as circumstances warrant. Now, almost fifteen years later, all the cats have gone to kitty heaven and Lola is gone, too. We will eventually have another cat and dog in our life, but for now its just us humans, learning how to adjust to life without our faithful companion.


Ann Patchett's Bel Canto (2001) is the book I threw into my bag on the way out the door. It's a novel I've wanted to read for a long time, but never got around to. I wasn't sure if I'd be in the mood to read on our getaway, but I never go anywhere without a book. Plus, later this week I'm seeing the opera that's based on the novel, so it was at the top of my TBR pile.

I started reading the book on January 1st and quickly fell in love with Patchett's writing. It's the first novel of hers that I'm reading and although I haven't finished it, I think its safe to say I'm developing a full-blown author crush. I'm sure I'll write more about the novel after I finish it, but for now I'll just say it is a beautiful, life-affirming story, and just the book I needed to be reading. I'm logging off now to go finish it.

p.s. If you missed my post on the adorable Ogunquit Memorial Library click here to check it out.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Library Visit: Ogunquit Memorial Library, Maine

Happy New Year!

What could be a better first post for the new year than a library visit? We've been up in Maine for some R&R and couldn't resist checking out this adorable field stone library in the seaside town of Ogunquit.


Ogunquit Memorial Library
166 Shore Road
Ogunquit, ME
ogunquitlibrary.com

Ogunquit, Maine has long been a summer resort town. In the late nineteenth century George and Nannie Conarroe of Philadelphia summered in the area for many years and fell in love with the quaint seaside town. When George passed away Nannie wanted to commemorate her husband and commissioned the Ogunquit Memorial Library in August 1897 as a lasting gift to the community. She also donated 1, 500 of her own books to get the collection started. The library opened its doors to the public in June 1898.

Designed by: Charles M. Burns in the H.H. Richardson Romanesque tradition.
Contractor: Edward B. Blaisdell of York.
On the National Register of Historic Places.

The box on the pole is a donation receptacle. The library relies on endowments and donations. It receives no federal, state, or local government funds.
A closer shot of the beautiful front doors which were hand crafted by Matthew Browne and The Rovnack Group in 2007.
At work: one of the three librarians who keep the library going. When we visited there were two locals returning, browsing, and checking out books. The librarian said they are a little slow in the winter (many of the town's hotels, restaurants, and other businesses close over the winter months), but she added that the library is "well used" in the warmer months. When the library was first built the fireplace was its only source of heat.
Work space and stacks in the addition that was added in 1914 by Luther Weare, one of the original trustees.
Postcard of the original library prior to the addition (source: Johnson Roberts Associates)
View from the addition looking toward the front door.
Local maps
Another work space.
Replica of the library made of small stones by local resident Winaloe Stonehill in the 1930s.
Cather on the shelf.

 I love the architectural detail on the roof ridge which is visible in this shot.

What a great library to kick off the New Year! I'm looking forward to exploring more of New England and its historic libraries in 2016.
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