Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Joy Street by Laura Foley

Title: Joy Street
Author: Laura Foley

Genre: Poetry (Relationships / LGBTQ / Motherhood / Parents / On Writing)
Publisher/Publication Date: Headmistress Press (7/8/2014)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: More than thirty brief, but powerful, poems on love, life, everyday joy and everyday loss.

Do I like the cover?: I'm not sure -- it captures some of the feel of the volume, but just isn't a favorite of mine.

I'm reminded of...: Kathryn Kirkpatrick, Yuko Taniguchi

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy.

Why did I get this book?: I like poetry now and then, and poetry is good for me right now.

Review: This slender collection of poems -- about 33 -- is a deceptively quick read, but Foley's pieces invite rereading and ruminating. In plain, straightforward language, Foley shares the joy of partnership and everyday bliss, the bite of remembered pain, the anxiety of social situations.

I have complicated feelings about poetry: I like the idea of liking poetry, but honestly, sometimes I feel like I'm struggling to "get" a poem. Sometimes, despite loving the sashay of language, I get tired of the tumble of verse. But I enjoy contemporary poets like Foley who remind me that poetry is more than meter and rhyme.

This collection, like the volumes of short stories I've been devouring, was perfect for my life right now, when I don't have lots of free time to read. Instead, I could dip in and pluck out a poem to read, quick, when I had a free moment.

Foley articulated moments both familiar and alien in neat, compact sentences:
I've been pretending I'm my quiet musician son, thinking/deep thoughts, but feeling bored and awkward, a pained smile/cracking my face. (from 'Dinner Party')
My father not humming the/whole of four winters, or to my knowledge, since. (from 'Not Humming')
and her 'Fruedian Quips', which humorously describes the maddening hilarity of conference calls, is familiar to anyone who has sat through one. (I was reminded of this comedy video, which is oh-too-true.)

Other pieces merge the mundane with the more artistic: 'Gelato', a piece in which her partner eats the treat purchased for her, has the cadence and echo of William Carlos Williams' 'This Is Just To Say' while 'Maternal Semiotics' makes lyrical the act of breastfeeding (a piece that particularly resonated with me right now!).

Fans of narrative-style poetry will want to get this one; those who are new to poetry might enjoy this unvarnished and clear collection. Those who like LGBTQ literature will want this one, as Foley writes about her partner, coming out as queer, and facing commentary from those who don't understand her identity.

*** *** ***


I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Joy Street to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/Canadian readers, ends 1/23. See my Giveaway Policy for complete rules.

Monday, January 12, 2015

From the Fifteenth District by Mavis Gallant

Title: From the Fifteenth District
Author: Mavis Gallant

Genre: Fiction (Short Stories / Europe / World War II / Italy / France / Marriage / Ex-Pats)
Publisher/Publication Date:
Source: France Book Tours

Rating: Liked a good deal.
Did I finish?: Yes.
One-sentence summary: Nine short stories of individuals outside of their own communities -- due to war, love, work, or health -- who find their identities challenged

Do I like the cover?: I do --I'm a sucker for this kind of styling.

I'm reminded of...: A.S. Byatt, Tessa Hadley, Katherine Mansfield

First line: In the south of France, in the business room of a hotel quite near ot the house where Katherine Mansfield (whom no one in this hotel had ever heard of) was writing "The Daughters of the Late Colonel," Netta Asher's father announced that there would never be a man-made catastrophe in Europe again., from 'The Moslem Wife'

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy.

Why did I get this book?: I'm a big Gallant fan.

Review: This collection is a reissue of Gallant's well received collection of moody, smart, and emotionally restrained short stories. A wonderful introduction for those new to master writer Mavis Gallant, this volume has some of Gallant's best works, including her delicious 'The Moslem Wife', first published in the New Yorker in the '70s. (Michael Ondaatje once said "'The Moslem Wife' has more going on in it than five novels", and it's true!)

Set in Europe ahead of, and after, World War II, her stories focus on ex-pats and the displaced, those who cling to an identity that might not exist anymore, or perhaps never existed at all: an English hotelier in the South of France; an Italian girl in another part of the country, working for an English family at odds in their own English community; a young German POW who returns with an idea of his mother in mind and finds a different woman.

Short stories have been a perfect way for me to get back into reading now that I have a baby and I loved this collection. Gallant has marvelous narrative style: she manages to pack background, judgment, descriptive details, sense of place, and lyrical loveliness into every sentence.
The time was early in the reign of the new Elizabeth, and people were still doing this -- migrating with no other purpose than the hope of a merciful sky., from 'The Remission' (p44)
For a time her letters were like the trail of a child going ever deeper into the woods. He could not decide whether or not to follow; while he was still deciding, and not deciding, the trail stopped and the path became overgrown behind her., from 'Baum, Gabriel, 1935-()' (p82)
While most of the stories touch upon some aspect of World War II, they're not war stories per se, nor do they read like historical fiction. They're lightly literary but very readable, deep without feeling obtuse. Gallant is a writer's writer, too: for those who admire the craft of storytelling, these pieces are delightful to admire and dissect (as I have been doing).

Strongly recommended, especially for fans of A.S. Byatt, Tessa Hadley, and Katherine Mansfield.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

2015 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

This is one of my favorite reading challenges, mostly because hist fic is among my favorite genres, and until 2014, was a challenge I easily beat. (Thus, I suppose, negating the "challenge" part of it, but whatever.)

This year the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge is being hosted at Passages to the Past!

I'm going to commit to Renaissance Reader - 10 books since my goal is to read 25 books this year. Here's hoping I can reach both goals!

Books Read

Jeannine Atkins, Little Woman in Blue
Kate Forsyth, The Wild Girl
Anna Freeman, The Fair Fight
C.W. Gortner, Mademoiselle Chanel
Rashad Harrison, The Abduction of Smith and Smith
Marci Jefferson, Enchantress of Paris
Gregory Maguire, After Alice
David Morrell, Inspector of the Dead
Alex Myers, Revolutionary
Nuala O’Connor, Miss Emily
Sophie Perinot, M├ędicis Daughter
Laura Purcell, Mistress of the Court
Donna Thorland, Mistress Firebrand
Stephanie Thornton, The Conqueror's Wife
Various, A Year of Ravens
Kris Waldherr, The Lover’s Path
Heather Webb, Rodin’s Lover

Friday, January 2, 2015

Weekend reads and Moby Dick...

We're about to get on the road for a little weekend getaway, the first since having our Little Reader.

We're heading to New Bedford on the Cape for the 19th annual Moby Dick Marathon, hosted by the New Bedford Whaling Museum. (You might recall that my wife adores Moby Dick; it's our nursery theme and for our babymoon, we went to Arrowhead where Melville wrote the book.)

Needless to say, my wife is over the moon. We're signed up to be back up readers should one of the scheduled readers bail (fingers crossed!) We've got Little Reader covered, too: lots of nautical-themed clothes for the weekend, and two board books inspired by Moby Dick.

My weekend read is essentially Moby Dick although I am bringing Alex Myers' Revolutionary in case!  What are you reading this weekend?

Be sure to check out my top ten reads of 2014 and let me know what yours were!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Top Ten Reads of 2014

And here's my legit top ten reads for 2014!

I read about 50 books for 2014, which is a huge drop from my typical year (almost by half!). Pregnancy, and the resulting baby, are to blame, and while I'm a little disappointed, the aforementioned baby -- our Little Reader -- is so frickin' cute, I kind of can't care.

I still walked away with some stellar reads for 2014, and once again, had a challenging time identifying the top ten of this year.  In the end, I picked the books I still talk about obsessively, that I purchased (for myself and/or others), and that I want to reread or force others to read.

Seven of the ten novels are historical fiction. Four are penned by men and two are collaborative efforts, which is fascinating -- I've never had novels with multiple authors make my top ten before, and now two have! In terms of other diversity, I did badly, and it's a 2015 goal of mine to read more authors of color and non-US/UK/CA-based authors.

Here they are!

Sally Beauman, The Visitors

I haven't gotten around to reviewing this one (although I did blurb it for Bloggers Recommend, and if you want a great review, see Historical Fiction Notebook.) Ultimately, the book's heroine, Lucy, captivated me, and despite the novel's slightly disjointed feel, her voice was so strong, I sucked up every page just to be with her.

Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly, The Tilted World

Penned by a married couple, a novelist and a poet, this novel swept me away, much like the flood central to the story. A little love story, a murder mystery, a historical snapshot of a forgotten disaster, this novel has it all. I expected the story to feel disjointed, but Franklin and Fennelly created a lyrical, cohesive story I haven't forgotten.

J. Boyce Gleason, Anvil of God

This was one of my first reads for 2014, and I still think about the story and characters. Set in the 8th century, this novel has flavors of Marion Zimmer Bradley and Phillipa Gregory, and mixes romance with battle easily and convincingly. I'm dying to read the next book.

Elaine Neil Orr, A Different Sun

I was astounded by this novel -- by the premise, by the narrative style, by the deft handling of white privilege, slavery, women's rights in a historical context. Inspired by the real life diary of the first Southern Baptist missionaries in Africa, Orr explores marriage, faith, and colonialism in a compassionate, captivating manner.

Mallory Ortberg, Texts from Jane Eyre

I'm madly in love with this smart, snarky volume of classics "retold" in the form of text messages between characters. Books about books are a perennial favorite of mine, and this one takes the best of more than sixty classics, both ancient and contemporary, and distills them to their silliest and most sublime.

Laura Purcell, Queen of Bedlam

This novel represents what I love about historical fiction: a well-researched story that entertains. Focusing on the wife and daughters of "mad" King George III, Purcell evokes the tumultuous and tragic events of the Hanoverian royals without overdoing the drama or loading on the unnecessary research. At the heart of this novel, a story of family and loyalty.

Deanna Raybourn, Night of a Thousand Stars

This was my first experience with Raybourn, and I fell madly in love. This was a splashy, historical rom com with exotic locales, a winsome heroine and a dreamy hero, and plenty of drama. There were laugh-out-loud moments, a romance I rooted for, and smart narrative styling that kept this from being rote or cheesy.

Jeff VanderMeer, Annihilation

This creepy, sinuous speculative novel captivated me -- so much so I had nightmares inspired by it! A poetic novel with a sci-fi plot, this is a slender book that invites one to  linger but I couldn't help racing through it. Supremely original.

Various, A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii

Six fabulous historical novelists tackle the eruption of Mount Vesuvius with a series of intertwined stories. The intentional collaboration pays off in this cohesive novel; there's no jarring misstep, dropped thread, or narrative shift to distract from the tragedy of the story.

Ann Weisgarber, The Promise

This is one of those reads I can't seem to review well; I need to just make a video of myself flailing in hopes of conveying my love. A novel of the 1900 Galveston hurricane, it is also the story of emotional storms. Weisgarber's writing is just wonderful, and she makes the novel's triad -- two women connected to one man -- rich, fascinating, and heartbreaking.