sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

September 18, 2011

into the stacks: the map of true places
posted by soe 2:40 am

Another book down in an effort to catch up reviews:

The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry

From the jacket: “Zee Finch has come a long way from a motherless childhood spent stealing boats…. She’s now a respected psychotherapist … about to marry one of Boston’s most eligible bachelors. But the suicide of Zee’s patient Lilly Braedon throws Zee into emotional chaos and takes her back to places she thought she’d left behind.

What starts as a brief visit home to Salem after Lilly’s funeral becomes the beginning of a larger journey for Zee. Her father, Finch, long ago diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, has been hiding how sick he really is. His longtime companion, Melville, has moved out, and it now falls to Zee to help her father through this difficult time.”

My take: When Bridget finished reading this book, she was kind enough to send it to me after I expressed interest in it, having enjoyed Barry’s first novel, The Lace Reader.

The two books share a number of similar traits — the setting of Salem, Mass; the use of flashbacks as a narrative device; a female protagonist forced to return home due to a family crisis; a sympathetic male lead; an abusive character; and an interest in mental illness.

The Map of True Places revisits Salem in a time period not long after the end of the previous work and even resurrects some of the characters from it, but it is not a sequel and can be read comfortably without having encountered the other novel.

We first meet Zee, a Boston psychiatrist, immediately after the suicide of one of her patients. Because this patient had exhibited symptoms that reminded Zee of her mother — who had killed herself when Zee was a girl — Lilly’s suicide hits Zee particularly hard. Already under stress from wedding planning gone awry, Zee follows up the emotional funeral by finding her Parkinson-ridden father having a delusional episode and her step-father (his caregiver) no longer living at home.

So Zee takes a leave of absence from work to move home to Salem and take care of her dad, whose illness has taken a turn toward Alzheimer’s. She tries to figure out a way to reunite her father and step-father, who have argued over something they both refuse to divulge. She meets Hawk, a sailor/navigator who moonlights as a carpenter, who builds Finch some railings for around the house. And she tries to finally come to terms with her mother’s mental illness and suicide — and the historic love story she was obsessing over at the time of her death.

If you have read The Lace Reader, then you will be unsurprised by the direction this story takes. It feels heavy handed, relying on coincidence rather than magical realism to get you over some gaps in reality. Because of that, it may be that even without having read Barry’s previous work, you’ll suss out where this book is going before it gets there.

Nonetheless, it is a gripping and tense page-turner, and while you may sometimes need to put the book down in order to leave Zee in a safe place while you tend to more mundane aspects of your life, you will pick it up again as soon as you can to serve as a witness to her journey into the darkness of the unknown and back again.

Pages: 403

Category: books. There is/are 1 Comment.

September 15, 2011

date night, scholarly habit, and free scoop
posted by soe 8:59 pm

It has not been a great week, which makes it even more important to find those moments of beauty tucked between the rest. Here are three of them:

1. Saturday night Rudi and I have an excellent date — one filled with laughter and chocolate. A comedy show at the new Riot Act comedy club is followed up by dessert at Co Co. Sala.

2. On Friday night I wander into Target in search of a more modest yoga top and leave with a purple, stripey cardigan. Years of fall back-to-school shopping habits have not worn off.

3. One of the deal websites is giving away free scoops to our local ice cream shop. The owner jovially calls everyone cashing in the deal a mobster. My dish of Oreo ice cream is particularly creamy and ends with a big chunk of cookie.

How about you? What’s been beautiful in your world this week?

Category: three beautiful things. There is/are 4 Comments.

into the stacks: boy: tales of childhood
posted by soe 2:45 am

I’m out of order and behind in telling you what I’ve been reading. For the record, we’re temporarily skipping reviews of The Woman in White and The Map of True Places, which I’ll get back to soon.

Boy: Tales of Childhood, by Roald Dahl

From the jacket:
Where did Roald Dahl get all of his wonderful ideas for stories? From his own life, of course! As full of excitement and the unexpected as his world-famous, best-selling books, Roald Dahl’s tales of his own childhood are completely fascinating and fiendishly funny. Did you know that Roald Dahl nearly lost his nose in a car accident? Or that he was once a chocolate candy tester for Cadbury’s? Have you heard about his involvement in the Great Mouse Plot of 1924? If not, you don’t yet know all there is to know about Roald Dahl. Sure to captivate and delight you, the boyhood antics of this master storyteller are not to be missed!”

My take: For many years, I didn’t think I liked Roald Dahl books. Sure, occasionally a story proved to be an exception (The BFG, for instance), but it was only last summer when I suddenly got Dahl. To celebrate that fact (and because she is a wise woman), Karen gave me this short collection of autobiographical vignettes Dahl wrote toward the end of his career.

Dahl shares stories of his growing up years — his young childhood in Wales amidst his large family (headed up by his loving and delightful widowed mother). He offers up fond memories of summer vacations to his mother’s homeland, Norway. He records a few good anecdotes of his schooldays, but also some horror stories that might inspire a few children into wanting to be homeschooled to avoid such misery. And his encounters with doctors of the 1930s are best told after dark around a campfire.

Dahl’s writes as if he were a guest in your home or a favorite great-uncle regaling you with stories about a childhood long ago and far away. His humor and razor-sharp characterization here rival those in any of his novels, with his villains painted in particularly lurid hues.

I recommend this to anyone whose kids have liked Lemony Snicket’s snarky tones, the madcap adventures of Cheaper by the Dozen (either the book or the movies), or any of Dahl’s fictional work; to those who are convinced that they missed out by not attending an English boarding school; and to humor-lovers everywhere.

Pages: 176

This book fulfills the “book with a life stage in its title” portion of the What’s in a Name 4 Reading Challenge.

Category: books. There is/are 2 Comments.

September 13, 2011

fun fall to do list
posted by soe 11:39 pm

Yesterday, Sarah wrote up 13 things she’d like to do between now and Thanksgiving. I thought I’d join her in making such a list, but will stick to ten things since I failed to make the admirable progress on my summer goals that Sarah did on hers. Please note I’m only including fun things I want to do, rather than things I have to do on this list:

  1. Attend the National Book Festival — With the exception of the years we were in England or Salt Lake, I have attended every one of these since we moved down here in 2003. This year it’s two days. That’s twice as much fun!
  2. Finish a sweater — I was hoping to do this over the summer, but then I never picked up anything larger than a sock.
  3. Play volleyball every week — I have joined a rec league. It’s partly to get me playing the one sport I ever really loved taking part in (rather than viewing, like baseball) and partly to introduce me to some new people. Tomorrow night is the first scrimmage, and, frankly, I’m mildly terrified.
  4. Attend weekly yoga classes — I have signed up for classes at four different studios. I have no excuse for not getting to at least one each week.
  5. Pick apples — Both John and Sarah have mentioned it, so one of these next couple weekends should find us at an orchard.
  6. Spend a weekend in Connecticut — I’m overdue for a trip to see the family.
  7. Catch up on my classics — I’m woefully behind on my classics reading challenge.
  8. Find/make a Halloween costume — Because it’s fun to dress up.
  9. Learn twenty useful phrases in a new language — Which leads us directly to …
  10. Go to Iceland — And have a fun time!
Category: life -- uncategorized. There is/are 7 Comments.

September 11, 2011

booking through thursday: queue
posted by soe 1:24 am

booking through thursdayThis week’s Booking through Thursday question was about our reading queues:

What are you reading now?

A Taste for Death by P.D. James.

Would you recommend it?

Not so far. My grandmother tells me that her father used to read books very quickly. When questioned about his speed he would say, “I don’t read the color of the trees or the sky.” He would spend a lot of time searching for what he could read in this book. I’m about a third of the way in and am already tired of the descriptions of mid-century London and everyone’s inner thoughts. The reviews on Goodreads suggest that it will improve as I go along.

And what’s next?

While I just picked up five books of Icelandic prose from the library today, I think it will be Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green (whose An Abundance of Katherines appeared on my best of 2010 list and who co-wrote Let It Snow) and David Leviathan (who co-authored Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist).

Category: books. There is/are 3 Comments.

September 8, 2011

head massage, gleaming, and al fresco
posted by soe 8:26 pm

We’re getting a lot of rain in the mid-Atlantic this week. We’ve been lucky, because although I did discover water seeping into the Burrow in the middle of last night, we caught it early and our solutions have held so far. That said, though, I wouldn’t mind if we had a little sun to help things along.

Here are three beautiful things from my mostly rainy week:

1. A young family of four passes us on the sidewalk. After they’re out of earshot, Rudi and I look at each other and burst out laughing. The toddler had been riding on the back of the stroller, rubbing his sibling’s head like a crystal ball. The baby looks delighted.

2. I decide the tub needs cleaning. After a shameful amount of work (and enough Soft Scrub to later strip the top layer of skin off my right hand), the tub gleams white.

3. Our walk leads us down to Georgetown, where we head to Leopold’s to see if they have any empty tables on their patio. The waitress finds us one next to the fountain, with the caveat that if it starts raining we can’t move inside. We eat savory morsels and drink cool beverages and then find ourselves delicious pastries befitting a holiday afternoon. It’s not until we’re paying the bill that the sky opens up. We walk home under our umbrellas, laughing at our good fortune.

How about you? What’s been beautiful in your world this week?

Category: three beautiful things. There is/are 4 Comments.