Category: Goodreads

A satisfying song…

WillowFrostEver since finishing The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford a few years back, I had been one of those standing anxiously in line for his next one. (If you’ve not read Hotel, you really need to examine your To Be Read priorities!)  So of course I was very happy to hear that Songs Of Willow Frost  was coming our way in 2013 and not only that, but also that Jamie Ford would be at Warwick’s Books in San Diego’s beautiful gem La Jolla, to speak about it.

I love talking about the books I’ve loved but I hate to give too much away in the telling. Reviews matter to me, not just the writing of them but reading them and sharing them and I am always grateful when a reviewer manages to tell me why she or he loved (or didn’t love) a book without spoiling anything for me.  I can tell you that just as Hotel  yanked on my heartstrings, so did Willow.  I can tell you that the prose is wonderfully unpretentious and yet deep and luminous, and that there are great lines that you just have to read twice or three times they are so meaningful. I can tell you there are surprises along the way to keep you turning pages and needing to know what is to become of the Chinese-American boy whose mother relinquished him to an orphanage years before and who suddenly sees her on a movie screen in a Seattle theater with a different name.

I can’t say I loved it more than Hotel, or even as much, though I did love it. Perhaps it was Hotel‘s premise that resonated within me to a deeper degree. I admit I have a hard time summoning empathy for women who allow and then stay with men who abuse them. My deepest apologies if I offend anyone by saying that. I am not saying I can’t summon the empathy, I am saying it is difficult for me.  But this story, which moves back and forth between William’s story and his mother’s, is moving and compelling, even in those moments when I, had I been Willow, would have done something very different.

Here are some of my favorite lines:

“She heard the flickering of the shutter, the hum of the lights, and the silence punctuated by the sound of Colin’s footsteps, fading.”

 

“The shadow woman inhaled, which caused no small relief to William as he stepped closer. She was clothed in a pale blouse and skirt. The tub was dry. It was as though she were bathing in memory alone. Her fur stole covered her chest like a blanket. Her hat sat in the bottom of the tub, near the drain. William could hear a baby crying in another apartment; somewhere down the hall, though the haunting, desperate sound was gone so fast he might have imagined it.”

 

“It was the words of parents that kept most of the orphans here – the silken bondage of a mother’s promise, “I’ll be back by Christmas, if you’re a good boy.” Those mythic words, laced with happy-ever-afters, became millstones come January, when ice deckled the windows and the new boys stopped counting the days and began crying themselves to sleep, once again. After five winters at Sacred Heart, he’d learned not to hope for Christmas miracles – at least for nothing greater than a pair of hand-me-down shoes, a book of catechism, and a stocking filled with peanuts and a ripe tangerine.”

 

Songs of Willow Frost  will tug and tear and tenderize. It’s the kind of story that reminds you why stories exist.

Jamiep.s. This line at left in my copy of the book is one that I love, too.

And the Story Echoed

AndtheWhen I first began to read And the Mountains Echoed, I had to remind myself that the author had told me —  as I sat among other eager devotees of his stories —  that this book was not like the other two I’d read and devoured. (The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns). He told us it wasn’t a linear creation with page 1 being the beginning and Page 400 being the end of one person’s story. I should not have been surprised by the episodic feel of this book about a brother and his sister, separated by circumstances that cut to the heart.

I wasn’t surprised exactly, but I was a bit disappointed in how dependent I’d let myself become on traditional storytelling. I had to work a little harder to keep the story alive in my head and heart when I wasn’t reading it. I believe that’s my fault, not the author’s, because true to his other two books,  Khaled Hosseini is a master of prose.

I should also not have been comparing this book to The Kite Runner, for example, measuring this story’s delivery to that one. If I let myself do that, which I refuse!, I might think this is only a 4-star book. Again, I think that’s more my lazy feed-me-the-story attitude. On its own, comparing it to nothing else, it’s a fabulous book. The ending is nothing short of perfect. I really did love it. Don’t ask me if I liked it as much as Kite Runner and Suns. I liked it as much, only different.

If you’ve not read the premise of Mountains, here’s the gist, from the Goodreads website: “The #1 New York Times–bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has written a new novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations.

“In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most.

“Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.”

That’s actually a really great way to describe this book – the story expands gradually outward. So don’t plant your feet, or snuggle down into a slumber-like pose. Read and reach outward, friends.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes from this stellar book:

“It’s a funny thing… but people mostly have it backward. They think they live by what they want. But really, what guides them is what they’re afraid of. What they don’t want.”

“For courage, there must be something at stake. I come here with nothing to lose.”

“It was the kind of love that, sooner or later, cornered you into a choice: either you tore free or you stayed and withstood its rigor even as it squeezed you into something smaller than yourself.”

Try, try again

lifeafterlifeYou know those moments when you say to yourself – or maybe even out loud – “If I could do that over again, I’d____” and then you fill in the blank with how you would relive that moment, do it better, gain a more advantageous outcome?

Imagine for a moment what it might be like, however, to have no say in the matter at all. Imagine that you are going back and back and back to relive your life, and you are barely aware of it? You don’t have Hermione Granger’s time-turner where you’ve absolute control over how far back you go. And you don’t have it to come back to where you are now after you’ve made your changes.

Imagine that your stillborn birth is changed on the second-go-around so that you now survive. A drowning when you are a little girl  is reversed so that this time the artist on the beach sees you going under and dashes in to save you. A chance encounter with the Spanish flu which killed you before is held at bay because for some reason you know you must stop the maid from meeting up with her beau who is already infected with the virus and doesn’t know it.  Imagine you know that somehow the new chancellor of Germany with the postage stamp mustache will inflict such horrors on his fellow man that the world will be forever changed because of him. Imagine you know you will see him in a cafe before he ever has a chance to do anything truly terrible.timeturner

Kate Atkinson’s brilliantly conceived Life After Life is the imagined life of Ursula Todd. She’s a girl who keeps reliving her life, almost as if she is being handed by Providence chance after chance after chance  to alter the course of human history.  Only the reader truly knows the full breadth of Ursula’s multi-layered existence.  Because, of course, she can’t know everything, can she? Doc Brown in Back to the Future told us why. Remember this line, when Marty wants to tell Doc on the night he travels back in time that Doc is shot by the Libyans he stole from?

docbrown“No! Marty! We’ve already agreed that having information about the future can be extremely dangerous. Even if your intentions are good, it can backfire drastically!”

So our heroine, sometimes young, sometimes a teenager, sometimes an adult, keeps taking one step forward and five steps back, with strange inklings of things yet to come, inner nudges to avoid this, go after that, and all against the backdrop of the years leading up to and including World War II and the bombing of London.

Because I was on vacation and in a car for long periods, I “read” Life After Life via audio, something I rarely do. The recorded version, read by Finella Woolgar, is stunningly impacting. Ms. Woolgar aptly reads as narrator and dozens of other voices. You can see it all, every relived moment. If you’ve ever wanted to give audio books a try, I’d recommend this one.

Like all books that deal with World War II, the content can be be heavy. There are plenty of sad moments, but there are just as many subtly triumphant ones, especially when you, the reader, know — for example — that Ursula has just reinvented her life by a chance decision to rescue a dog during a London Blitz air raid.

I am always in awe of a writer who can invent a new way of telling a story. The premise of this one is so unique, and the writing is beautiful, even the most tragic parts.

And of course any book that makes you stop and deeply ponder, “What if that could really happen, and what if happened to me?” is a keeper. If language offends you, know that there are a few f-words here and there.

Here is the link to an excerpt on Goodreads.

And a few of my favorite quotes:

“There was always a second before the siren started when she was aware of a sound as yet unheard. It was like an echo, or rather the opposite of an echo. An echo came afterwards, but was there a word for what came before?”

“No point in thinking, you just have to get on with life. We only have one after all, we should try and do our best. We can never get it right, but we must try.”

“Dr. Kellet himself wore a three-piece Harris tweed suit strung with a large gold fob watch. He smelled of cloves and pipe tobacco and had a twinkly look about him as if he were going to toast muffins or read a particularly good story to her, but instead he beamed at Ursula and said, “So, I hear you tried to kill your maid?” (Oh, that’s why I’m here, Ursula thought.)”

Next week, my review of The Book Thief, which I am nearly finished with and loving to the point of dreading the finishing…