Category: Barnes and Noble

Cutting for Stone: Transported

cutting  I am in the stage of writing a new novel where I can think of little else. My mind is as cluttered as my desk. It’s not a good time to ask me any questions that pertain to matters of life and death or hand me a book that is 650 pages long and not related to research.

So when my book club chose Abraham Verghese’s bestselling book CUTTING FOR STONE for this month’s read, I had a little pity party inside complete with unblown-up balloons and sagging streamers. I had heard that it was a phenomenal book and that readers everywhere loved it. But at 658-are-you-kidding-me-pages, I knew there was no way I could find the time to read it when I’ve got ten books about London during World War II that I simply must get to or the writing machine will come to a screeching halt.  I didn’t see how I could do it.

I had the book at home already. It had been on my towering TBR pile for a year.  I decided to just give it a go. Enjoy as much as I could, skip the book club gathering for June, come back in July with the next pick, and hope it was do-able.

But I was transported on page 1 to a different place; a place where I couldn’t see not finishing it.  I was so drawn to the characters, especially the narrator, Marion Stone, that I simply had to know what became of his life.  As the research books gathered dust, I came to the heady conclusion that perhaps I was preparing to write after all, by reading this novel instead of all those history books. Verghese had done with beautiful but simple prose what I was trying do every time I sat down to write: Draw my readers into my make-believe-world and convince them it’s real enough to care about.

The story in a nutshell is this: Twin brothers, Marion and Shiva Stone, are born of a “tragic union between a beautiful Indian nun and a brash British surgeon at a mission hospital in Addis Ababa. Orphaned by their mother’s death in childbirth and their father’s disappearance, and bound together by a preternatural connection and a shared fascination with medicine, the twins come of age as Ethiopia hovers on the brink of revolution.But it’s love, not politics — their passion for the same woman — that will tear them apart and force Marion to flee his homeland and make his way to America, finding refuge in his work at an underfunded, overcrowded New York City hospital. When the past catches up to him, wreaking havoc and destruction, Marion has to entrust his life to the two men he has trusted least in the world: the surgeon father who abandoned him and the brother who betrayed him.” (from the author’s webpage).

It was an absolutely delicious book, an all-time favorite for me, so rich in sensory details that I can’t wait to head to San Diego’s Asmara Eritrean Restaurant and try all the food mentioned in the book.

And quotable lines? Lots. Here are a few faves:

“Wasn’t that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted”

“The world turns on our every action, and our every omission, whether we know it or not.”

“The key to your happiness is to…own who you are, own how you look, own your family, own the talents you have, and own the ones you don’t. [Otherwise] you’ll die searching, you’ll die bitter, always feeling you were promised more. Not only our actions, but also our omissions, become our destiny.”

The most amazing thing, and that which I will take away most as a writer, is the deft way Verghese fed me nearly 700 pages of story and left me feeling like I had only just begun to eat when the meal was done.

What you don’t know about lace

I am an unabashed devotee of any historical event that reads like a story and so when I heard a writer whose work I already admire had a new book about forbidden lace during the reign of King Louis XIII, I knew I had to snatch it up.

This was news to me, that there was a time in French history when lace was contraband. Louis XIII actually banned it; that frilly, frothy white stuff that spills from hems and cuffs and collars. To possess it was a criminal act and to smuggle it into the country was as treasonous as a death threat to His Royal Unlaceness himself. But the French aristocracy wanted what they were forbidden to have and whenever someone with means wants something they can’t readily have, there is always someone who will get it for them for a price, regardless of the risk or who they have to abuse and use to get it.

Writing under the pseudonym Iris Anthony, the author of The Ruins of Lace, is someone whose work in historical fiction is already stellar. This one is probably her best yet but it’s hailed as her debut because as Iris Anthony, that’s what it is. Here’s the Publishers Weekly review:

“In this stunning debut from the pseudonymous Anthony, King Louis XIII’s ban on lace gives rise to a black market that weaves together the lives of four women in 17th-century France and Flanders. Katharina Martens is a Flemish lace maker who considers it her God-given duty to craft the “exquisite, beautiful” fabric, never mind that her work—often conducted without firelight or lanterns, in order to keep the lace clean of soot and ash—has left her hunched and nearly blind. As the end of her lace-making career draws nigh, to be followed by the sordid existence of former craftswomen relegated to a life of “doing… vile things,” her sister, Heilwich, struggles to save enough money to buy Katharina’s freedom from the abbey where she works. Meanwhile in France, Lissette Lefort and her cousin Alexandre must procure a length of forbidden lace to pay off the conniving count of Montreau, who threatens to reveal Lissette’s father’s role in an attempted assassination of the king. As beautifully fashioned as the sought-after lace, this story is sure to impress.”

Told in multiple view points, including that of a dog who is a smuggler’s runner, it is obvious the story is really about people – and a dog –  and what they value most in life and what they are willing to do or suffer to have it.  There is a great interview with Iris Anthony on the book’s website and a video chat about where the idea came from and how she came to choose the story’s narrators.

I was especially intrigued by the notion that what makes lace beautiful is the part that isn’t there – the air between the threads that creates the pattern – that is the part that gives lace its artistry; the invisible part. That is remarkable to me and worthy of pondering.

It’s a great read folks, not a cozy feel-good bedtime book, but a thought-provoking page-turner that you won’t want to put down.

Flowers speak

I picked up Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s amazing debut novel, The Language of Flowers in an airport recently when I realized my Kindle was out of juice and I had a flight to catch and no book to read – a scenario frothing with doom.

My good friends at SheReads had chosen it as a recent book club pick so even without the NY Times Bestseller logo etched on its front, I knew I would likely get lost in its pages. And I did.

Part of me wanted to reach down into the fictional life of Victoria Jones, Diffenbaugh’s tragically compelling main character, and mother the living daylights out of her: Reading about neglected children – even make-believe ones – hits me at the visceral she-bear level. And then part of me wanted to slap her for making choices she didn’t have to make. I guess that means I bonded big-time with this character, which is every author’s aim and charm.

The book is is described this way on Good Reads: “A mesmerizing, moving, and elegantly written debut novel, The Language of Flowers beautifully weaves past and present, creating a vivid portrait of an unforgettable woman whose gift for flowers helps her change the lives of others even as she struggles to overcome her own troubled past.”

It’s a book about what flowers can say when words are hard to come by.

I don’t like to give too much away when I review a book but I like how Diffenbaugh described her book in a SheReads blogpost:

“The Language of Flowers is about a young woman named Victoria Jones. The book starts on her 18th birthday, when she is “aging out” of the foster care system with nowhere to go. She quickly ends up homeless, living in a park in San Francisco. But what makes Victoria different is that she has learned to communicate through the Victorian language of flowers, where every flower is assigned a specific meaning. You might know, for example, that red roses mean love; but did you also know that rhododendron means beware? Or that mistletoe means I surmount all obstacles? So while Victoria lives very much on the outskirts of society, flowers become her way back into the world. They are her connection to her past—to the only woman who ever loved her—and to her future, when she meets a mysterious man in the flower market who speaks the language of flowers. Through floral messages and eventually through words and even relationships, she embarks on the long journey of learning to love, to trust, and to forgive.”

Love, trust, and forgive. Three virtues at the very heart of what makes us different than anything else on the planet. We love, we trust and we can forgive.

I highly recommend the book, though you will need to steel yourself. Know that the ending satisfies. I say this because to read words of heartache penned by a skilled author is sometimes more than we can bear. Hang in there. Spring arrives in all her beauty at just the right time.