Book Blurbs

I’ve been seriously slacking in the book review department, so here are some blurbs about the last four books I’ve read:

The Light Between the Oceans, by M.L. Stedman.

light oceans

In 1920’s Australia, Izzie, a lighthouse keeper’s wife, struggles with miscarriage; one day, she decides to keep a baby that washes ashore in a boat with a dead man. It’s a decision that will haunt her husband Tom for years. As a man who lived through the horrors of World War I, he clings to his integrity as a remedy for what he saw and did in those years. The isolation of the lighthouse allows them to keep their secret for a time; Tom’s love for his wife, and the child they named Lucy, keeps his torment at bay–for a time. Inevitably, the secret comes out, and the pain and grief that follows–for Tom, for Izzie, for the people who lay claim to the child, and mostly for the child herself, is almost unbearable. It was hard to know who to root for in this wrenching novel that explores the devastating consequences of a decision made in grief and longing, hope and love.

Uprooted, by Naomi Novick.

uprooted

It’s been many years since I’ve read a traditional fantasy–I thought maybe I’d “outgrown” them some time ago; turns out, I’ve just been waiting for one that doesn’t replay the same old tired tropes. Or maybe I’ve been away long enough for it to feel fresh again. At any rate, I immensely enjoyed this tale Novik culled from Polish folklore. Agnieshka, a young woman from the local village, has been chosen by the Dragon Lord to live with him and be his assistant in his tower across the river; he has chosen a young woman from her village every ten years for as long as anyone can remember. The Dragon Lord is a wizard who uses his powers to defend their valley from the evil influence of the Wood: a malevolent forest that corrupts and sickens anyone who strays too close to its borders. Agnieshka bumbles about in her new role with the cantankerous wizard, until they discover that she has her own powers–a Witch whose abilities confound and fascinate the Dragon Lord. Throw in a little politics and court intrigue, a relationship fraught with sexual tension, and a quest to discover the source of the Wood’s malevolence, and I couldn’t put this book down.

My Life with Bob, by Pamela Paul.

bob

I’ve mentioned this book in a previous postand it was as entertaining as I thought and hoped it would be. Paul is the NY Times Book Review editor; she chronicles her life with BOB (Book of Books)–a notebook wherein she lists every single book she’s read for the past 28 years, since she was a teenager. Because I keep my own list of books (in print for many years, now digitally), I had to see how Paul’s choice of books impacted her life (or vice versa). Of course, her life has been much more interesting and varied than mine–she’s traveled extensively, several times to France during her school years, taking off to live in Thailand by herself after college, as well as many other places. The book progresses gradually from her youth to the present (in her mid-forties, married with three children). A person’s lifetime reading list is like a fingerprint, never the same for any one person. Later in the book, a book group asked the question, why do you read? Paul replied, in part, “To be transported.” I agree. I read to go to all the places I’ll never go, to live all the lives I’ll never live. I can’t get enough.

The Shadow Land, by Elizabeth Kostova.

shadowland

Years ago, I enjoyed Kostova’s The Historian, a kind of literary take on the Dracula myth. Her books are long and sprawling, with several points of view revealed through various sources: oral histories, letters, flashbacks. Her stories involve a core mystery that is ferreted out over distance and time. The Shadow Land takes place in Bulgaria (Eastern Europe and its history is a common theme in her books–Kostova is married to a Bulgarian). Alexandra is a 26-year-old woman who has traveled to Bulgaria to teach English at the Institute in Sofia, the nation’s capitol. She carries an old grief with her–as teenagers, her brother Jack disappeared on a hiking trip with their family, and was never seen again. This goes far to explain why, when she finds herself with someone else’s bag–containing an urn with someone’s ashes–in a taxi mix up, she stubbornly goes so far and endures so much to return the ashes to its family, instead of simply dumping it at the local police station. Alexandra finds herself enmeshed with the Lazarov family; in particular, Stoyan Lazarov, whose ashes she carries. With the help of Aspurah “Bobby” Iliev, her taxi driver–who turns out to be much more than a taxi driver–they pursue the elusive Lazarovi, discover Stoyan’s history as a violinist, his sufferings in a forced labor camp during the Communist regime, and why the police are pursuing them and the urn. This is a rich, engaging read that led me on a journey through the beautiful landscapes of Bulgaria (a country about which I knew almost nothing), and the sufferings of its people through various wars and political climates. Mostly, it’s about Stoyan, his genius and secrets, his sufferings and the sacrifices he made for the people he loved.

 

Have you read any of these books? What have you been reading? Comment and we’ll talk about it!

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Dumb is Good (And Funny)

I finally watched Dumb and Dumber Too on cable the other day, and I have to say my disappointment completely matched my low expectations.

You have to understand the iconic position the original Dumb and Dumber holds in my family. Every single line in that movie literally (and I use the word “literally” in its literal sense here) is a cultural and comedic touchstone. More than twenty years after its release, we still quote lines at any moment that seems appropriate.

pulloverloser

redeemthe vibe

I could go on and on, but you get the idea.

If we’re flicking through the channels and come across D&D, we’ll watch it, no matter where in the movie it is. We still laugh. A lot. Every single time. It never gets old.

Until the same ideas are rehashed and reheated in an unfunny sequel (okay, I giggled here and there), served up as something new, when it’s really just overcooked leftovers. The writers tried to cash in on repeating a formula, and for me, it didn’t work. You just can’t improve on gold; better just to leave it alone–and I love almost everything Jim Carey touches.

This got me thinking about humor in general, and what makes me laugh, specifically. Jim Carey’s goofball slapstick comedy fits right into my long history of loving and laughing at, well, slapstick goofballs. Maybe it started when I was a kid, with a steady diet of Looney Tunes on Saturday mornings, and Laurel and Hardy and the Three Stooges on Sunday mornings, before the TV38 movie–some horror flick like Hell House or Kingdom of the Spiders. This juxtaposition of the silly and the horrific probably has a lot to do with my weirdness–it might even be the key to my entire personality…anyway, I absorbed that sense of the absurd into my blood early on.

In the eighties, I drank up the Airplane! movies, which spoofed the airline disaster movies of the seventies. There’s a lot of quotes from those movies that fall from my lips now and then (“Don’t call me Shirley,” of course; “She’s starting to shimmy,” and references to Ted’s “drinking” problem). My brother Randy has called me “Scraps” for over 30 years now, based on a bit about a dog named Scraps in one of these films (a kind of sick joke, actually), that we laughed and laughed about together. To this day, he hasn’t called me anything else.

I dutifully followed Leslie Nielson into his Naked Gun movies, where he played the hapless Detective Frank Drebbin.

poopy pants

The eighties and nineties were filled with these stupid-is funny movies, like Top Secret with Val Kilmer, and the Hot Shots movies with Charlie Sheen. I imbibed them all. Even thinking about these movies makes me giggle. At the time, they induced gut-wrenching guffaws and I-can’t-stop-crying-I’m-going-to-pee-my-pants laughter. Lots of other kinds of comedy make me laugh, but this ridiculousness holds a special place in my funny bone.

Some people don’t get it. They wrinkle their nose and look at you as if you’ve lost your mind. “That’s so dumb.” Well, yeah, that’s the point. And I’m sorry, but if you can sit through a performance of Jim Carey’s spastic facial expressions and plasticman gestures without losing it, that’s a little sad. Lighten up, because life is absurd. Let’s laugh at it.

jim carey

What makes you laugh? Do these movies crack you up, or leave you groaning? Leave a comment and we’ll laugh about it!

 

 

 

 

Slow and Steady

I’ve got a birthday coming up this month, and let’s just say I’ll be on the other side of forty-five. This has led to all sorts of interesting reactions in me, the usual, predictable ones, but the one I want to talk about here is my altered sense of time and how it has affected my writing.

In my twenties, and even throughout most of my thirties, my life seemed like a long road stretching out before me, with the destination nowhere in sight.  I felt like I didn’t have my shit together, but that was okay, because there was plenty of time (and road) to figure it all out. If I wrote, it was whenever I felt like it, and it was mostly complaining in my journal about not writing and not having enough time to write (??!!–this was before I had my daughter, mind you. I had no idea what “no time” meant).

Then suddenly (yes, it seemed quite suddenly) I was forty, and the road became decidedly shorter–terminal, in fact. The destination came into sight; it was still a long way ahead, but the fact that I could see it disturbed me. Okay, I thought. If I want to write, I better get the hell going, because sooner or later this road is going to stop.

hourglass

Slightly panicked, I wrote and I wrote and I wrote. Short stories, long stories, even a couple of  novels. Blog posts. Time was running out. Hurry, hurry, my mind kept badgering me. You’re going to die someday, idiot, get it all out! So I did. Piles of writing accumulated around me. I sent some pieces out on submission. A couple of small successes followed. Not much else since then.

That’s okay, but I do know what the ultimate problem is: I’m going too fast. I’m dashing down these stories (in the small pockets of time allowed me–I think ruefully back on the oceans of time I had before motherhood, and how I squandered that time), and making cursory revision attempts, but I’m not slowing down and really taking the time to make these stories the best they can be. I was so hell-bent on getting a finished product out, they turned out a little shoddy. Decent, but not good enough to be published.

It’s been a big learning curve, and it still is (that’s why I call this blog My Writing Journey-there will always be something to learn along this writing road). And the lesson that’s become clear to me is to slow down, be patient. Slow and steady. Quality over quantity. I don’t have to prove that I’m a writer by pumping out a slew of stories that aren’t quite ready.

typewriter

I’ve mentioned that I’m working on a story based on a poet that lived in my area in the mid-nineteenth century. I’ve also mentioned that I don’t really know much about poetry, or how people lived in the mid-nineteenth century in New England. So I’m going to have to do a lot of research. That’s going to slow me down. Not a bad thing. I’ve spent quite a bit of time on character sketches for the four main characters, really digging into their personalities, their history, their passions and baggage. This is all after getting down a first draft of the main events in the story, a draft that will be expanded on and reworked. This summer when Lilly is on vacation, I’ll plod away on a workable outline. Maybe NaNoWriMo this November will be spent fleshing out this outline into a novel. And then the real work will begin.

I love these characters, and I must tell their story. But I want to do it right. So I’m not rushing. Slow and steady. I’m not planning on dying in the interim. (I still want to work toward my Fifty by Fifty plan, so I’ve got a lot of work to do!)

As I’ve been pondering these things, I came across this articleabout a Japanese painter who felt he didn’t paint anything of worth until he was 70 years old, that the older he got, the better he got. There’s hope for me yet!