Saturday, October 30, 2010

181 (2010 #46). Peony in Love

by Lisa See,
read by  Jodi Long

I've had the paperback copy of this book sitting on my bookshelves for over two years, but it wasn't until I needed a short (it's abridged) audiobook to listen to between two month's book club selections that I decided to pick this one up.

Turned out to be a good selection for October, too.  An online group in whose discussions I often participate usually tries to pick something appropriate (horror or supernatural or both) for this month, and this book would have fit the bill, for the title character spends more than half of it as a "hungry ghost."

Set in 17th century China, almost-sixteen Peony is obsessed with The Peony Pavilion, an opera where the female protagonist, a lovesick girl, dies but is brought back to life by her lover.  Soon Peony finds her life paralleling that of the opera.  What makes this book really interesting is the way Lisa See incorporates the true story of "The Three Wives Commentary" on the opera (the first books written and published by women anywhere in the world) as the framework for her narrative.  An author's note provides the details.

Besides the fascinating research behind it, this historical fantasy also has a lot to say about love - romantic love and mother love- and contains some beautiful poetry:
In spring, moved to passion; in autumn, only regret.
The trees are bare.
In the distance, the honks of mourning geese.
If only my tears of blood could dye red the blossoms of the plum tree.
But I will never make it to spring.
My heart is empty and my life has no value anymore.
Each moment a thousand tears.

The audiobook was an author-approved abridged version read by Asian-American actress Jodi Long.  A very slight lisp became endearing in the voice of Peony, and her renditions of other, particularly older, Chinese women were quite amusing.  I'm looking forward to "re-reading" my paperback copy sometime for all the little details the abridgment left out.

© Amanda Pape - 2010

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.  My paperback copy of the book was sent to me by the Random House Readers' Circle after registering my book club with them.]

Saturday, October 23, 2010

180 (2010 #45). The Story of Our Club

by Felix B. Streyckmans

After posting a photo in my family history blog of my dad and his two older siblings at Dairymen's Country Club in Wisconsin, I decided to learn a little more about this place that has such good memories for my dad, his siblings, and some of my cousins.

I found this book via WorldCat and requested it through interlibrary loan. Subtitled "An Interpretive History of Dairymen's Country Club, Boulder Junction, Wisconsin,"  the 79-page book is just that.  The history covers the purchase of the original acreage in December 1925, to 1968. It also addresses the club's efforts to preserve trees, fish, and other wildlife. It includes some black-and-white photographs, which brought back many memories for my father, as well as some good maps.  You can read more about what I learned here.

© Amanda Pape - 2010

[This book was borrowed from and returned to another library via interlibrary loan.] 

Friday, October 22, 2010

179 (2010 #44). The Girls with the Grandmother Faces

by Frances Weaver

Subtitled "A Celebration of Life's Potential for Those over 55,"  this book was the selection for my local book club this month.  I had a little trouble relating to the book, because, unlike the author, I'm (a) not over 55, (b) not widowed or single, and (c) not as well off (the author was the widow of a surgeon and is able to maintain two homes in different parts of the country, and travel extensively).  In fact, the book was self-published, which tells you something right there.

Nevertheless, this book engendered a good discussion among the members of the club (12 present at the last meeting) who had read the book.  At 53, I was the youngest there, so I mostly kept quiet and listened.  Many of our members found inspiration in Frances Weaver's advice or confirmation for their own choices to live life to its fullest.  We all agreed that we liked the two photographs (on the cover of the edition pictured and others, on the frontispiece in other editions) of the author and her three sisters as little girls and in the same pose as mature women.

I do agree with the author that "boredom is ninety-nine percent self-inflicted," and results from being "too tired or too lonely to get out of the house."  I wish I could get that message across to my partner, age 69 and retired for almost 18 years now.  Hmmm....if the book wasn't an interlibrary loan, I'd give it to him to read!

© Amanda Pape - 2010

[This book was borrowed from and returned to another library via interlibrary loan.]

Saturday, October 16, 2010

178 (2010 #43). The White Queen

by Philippa Gregory,
read by Susan Lyons

Prolific historical fiction writer Gregory has started a new series called "The Cousins' War," about the Plantagenets and set during the Wars of the Roses.  The White Queen here is commoner Elizabeth Woodville, the wife of Edward IV of the House of York (the white roses).  Elizabeth is supposedly a descendant of water goddess Melusina through her mother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg/Burgundy, and the two of them do a little cursing and conjuring throughout the book to fulfill the accusations of witchcraft.  The story covers the period from when Elizabeth first meets and marries Edward in spring 1464, to April 1485, two years after his death.

As is the case with all of Gregory's historical fiction (I read all six books set in the Tudor era), the book is based mostly in fact, with Gregory speculating where the historical record is missing or unclear.  She comes up with an interesting theory concerning the Princes in the Tower (Elizabeth and Edward's two sons held prisoner by Edward's brother Richard III).  I did not know a lot about this era in English history, so once again Gregory's books have had the positive effect of interesting me enough to read other sources (many are listed in the bibliography in the print version) to learn more.

However, the book does suffer from wordiness - it could be shorter by about 100 of its 408 pages with the elimination of unnecessary repetitions.  Gregory is also plagued by the overuse of certain words - it seemed like every chapter was full of "She nods." "He shrugs."  This repetition is especially annoying in the audiobook, although Australian actress Susan Lyons does an excellent job as Elizabeth, who narrates most of the story.  The audiobook includes Gregory's afterword explaining what is real and what is fiction, but lacks the bibliography, map, and pedigree chart in the print version.

© Amanda Pape - 2010

[This audiobook and hardbound copy were borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Books I Could Not Finish

With less than three months left in this year, here are three books I started in 2010 and did/will not finish:

The Wishing Trees by John Shors - I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program.  Ian takes his ten-year-old daughter Mattie on a trip to various Asian countries to honor the wish of his dead wife, Kate. I gave this book a good 100+ pages but just could not go on.  Too sad and sappy and repetitive (visit country, meet some unfortunates, help them, deal with grief).  Ian's Australian accent got to be annoying.

 How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu - I was sent this book from the publisher.  I'm more than halfway through it (read 184 pages), but it just does not grab me.  The four main characters are Jonas, his Ethiopian immigrant parents Mariam and Yosef, and Jonas' wife Angela.  There are also four intertwined stories:  Jonas' and Angela's rocky relationship, Yosef's exodus to America; Yosef's and Mariam's road trip through the Midwest; and Jonas' present-day retracing of that trip.  I found them hard to follow, especially with Jonas' frequent stretching of the truth.  It got to the point where I did not want to try any more.

 Into the Path of Gods by Kathleen Cunningham Guler - I obtained this book directly from the author in a LibraryThing Member Giveaway.  She had 150 copies to give away of this older book, which should have told me something right there.  The description, "a blend of Dark Age Britain’s history, its Celtic roots and the Arthurian legend," led me to believe it might interest me.  I've picked it up and read a bit numerous times since receiving it last December, and have read well over half the book, but it has long stretches where nothing happens.  The book is also full of spelling and grammar errors, and words that are invented or used improperly, as well as historical inaccuracies.  The premise of the book (almost a prequel to Arthurian legends) is good, and I like the inclusion of a pronunciation guide and map at the beginning, but it wasn't enough to make up for the poor writing and plodding plot.

© Amanda Pape - 2010

[The Wishing Trees and Into the Path of Gods have been given to the local Friends of the Library for their book sale.  How to Read the Air, as it is an advance copy, will be passed on to someone else.]

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

177 (2010 #42). The Aloha Quilt

by Jennifer Chiaverini,
read by Christina Moore

This is book number 16 in the Elm Creek Quilts series, many of which I've read (and a few I've reviewed).  This one, obviously, is set in Hawaii. Bonnie, one of the founders of Elm Creek Quilt Camp, has been invited by her best friend Claire to come to Hawaii to help set up a quilt camp there.  Bonnie, having recently experienced the failure of both her quilt store and her marriage in Pennsylvania, agrees to come for six months as a consultant to help Claire get the quilt camp going.

There is some fascinating information about Hawaiian-style quilting, and the quilt made by Hawaiian Queen Lili‘uokalani during her imprisonment at 'Iolani Palace in Honolulu.  Most of the story takes place on Maui, particularly in Lahaina, so some of the sights in and around there are woven into the narrative.  I appreciate this after going to Hawaii in May and visiting some of the places mentioned in the story.

Sometimes Bonnie is rather intolerant in the story, particularly when it comes to Claire's mistakes.  However, I had a LOT of empathy for Bonnie when it came to her soon-to-be-ex-husband Craig.  His behavior reminded me of my own ex-husband, and one phone conversation the two of them had left me shaking and angry; it was SO real for me.  I wanted to keep listening the audiobook, beyond the 45-minute stretches of my commute, just to find out what happens in that situation.  There are also a couple of unresolved scenarios by the end of this book that I'm sure will be addressed in future books in this series.

So far I've enjoyed all of the Elm Creek Quilts novels I've read or listened to - Christina Moore does an outstanding job giving each character a little different nuance with her voice.

© Amanda Pape - 2010

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]