Everyone Brave Is Forgiven and Underground Airlines

Hi, I’m back now after a lovely trip to the Basque Country of northern Spain and southwestern France. Wow, what a great region. I will leave you with some photos of our visit, in which we met up with relatives and bicycled in the Rioja region and some of the western Pyrenees. Some of it was dry and windy wine country (hooray) and other parts were green and lush sheep-herding country (awesome).

Despite all we saw, I feel it was just the tip of the iceberg and there’s much more to explore for another time. Still I’m glad with what we managed to fit in on this excursion, which turned out great as well for catching up with siblings and in-laws. The weather was good at the start but then rained the last five days or so. It was a bit cooler and wetter than we expected but still warm enough to bicycle comfortably. Next time I plan to bring a better raincoat! That is key.

The last few days we were along the coast, looking upon the waves of the Atlantic Ocean. The city of Biarritz where we stayed for a night is known for it’s surfing. Unfortunately a storm greeted us there and we did not get much beach time. As George Costanza once said: “the sea was angry that day my friends.” But instead my hub and I took some nice walks under an umbrella, one of which was a few days later along the Camino del Norte pilgrimage trail in Spain, which in its entirety goes from San Sebastian to Santiago (about 825 km or 513 miles).

We hiked the trail for just a few hours from one beach town over a mountain to another. It was scenic and lovely, and has us considering whether we want to return sometime to hike more of it. I think so. But for now, we are back home, trying to adjust to jet lag and a time zone change of eight hours — as well as the imminent Canadian winter. I’m so confused. 🙂

While on the trip, I finished Chris Cleave’s WWII novel “Everyone Brave Is Forgiven” and the audiobook of Ben Winters’ novel “Underground Airlines.” Both of which came out this year and are pretty good. Here are my takes on each:

The main character of Cleave’s latest novel is a young socialite (Mary) who takes up teaching a small group of children in London who have been left behind from the evacuated school kids taken to the countryside at the onset of WWII. A few are mentally disabled and one is a black boy whose father performs in the racially typecast minstrel shows of the times. Socially, Mary begins a relationship with Tom, the education administrator who got her the job, but when she meets his roommate Alistair, home briefly from the war, something between them seems to develop. But then Alistair is sent back to serve on the island of Malta under siege from the Axis Powers, while Mary takes up driving ambulances (along with her friend Hilda) during the heavy bombing of the Blitz. All suffer greatly due to the war, and it’s not until the book’s end do you discover if Alistair and Mary, who’ve corresponded through letters all the while, get together, or if their lives are too shattered and changed at war’s end.

Oh it’s the usual suffering in a Chris Cleave book. If you’ve read his other novels “Incendiary” and “Little Bee,” you know his characters often endure terrible grief and human suffering. Though I liked those books, I wonder if I’m tiring of all the tragedy inflicted on his characters a bit. What is enticing is that the novel was inspired by the real letters the author’s grandparents wrote to one another during the war — apparently they had become engaged in 1941 and then didn’t see each other for three years until the end of the war. His grandmother had lived through the Blitz in London and his grandfather was stationed on Malta during the siege, both of which come to life and are quite vivid in the book. I had not read much about Malta in WWII before and it made me curious to look it up online to learn more, which I did.

I also found interesting that the novel brings up the minstrel shows, apparently of the times, which were a form of entertainment — basically skits that peddled in racial stereotypes. I had not thought too much about these before, or the unfortunate children who were left behind in London and not evacuated to the countryside. The themes, too, of forgiveness, fighting inequality, and conjuring what changes the war would bring were well done. On the whole, while I liked the novel, I didn’t overly love it. The story held my interest but the unevenness of the telling perhaps didn’t engross me in it as much as I had hoped. Some parts I found could’ve been sped up, other parts more developed. Still “Everyone Brave Is Forgiven” rang true for me with some poignant lines about living through such life-altering times.

A novel that gripped me more was Ben Winter’s latest thriller “Underground Airlines,” which likely is one of my favorite books of the year so far. I listened to it as an audiobook and was held by it every step of the way. Something about its narration and creativity reminded me a bit of the novel “Station Eleven,” which I had liked a lot last year. Though this book’s subject matter is quite different. It’s an alternative history story about a black man called Victor who’s a bounty hunter in a modern America that includes slave states as well as free states. (It’s a book that imagines the Civil War never happened, and what the U.S. would be like if it hadn’t.) Victor was once a slave but the government gave him the option of freedom by coercing him into finding runaway slaves and having them returned. But during one such case Victor finds himself in crisis over what he’s doing, and soon all hell breaks loose.

“Underground Airlines” is a thriller that’s provocative, riveting, and well done. It manages to speak to both America’s past (slavery) and present (racism) — and is a timely harsh critique of both. Yet it does it in such a way that is utterly fresh and compelling. I’ve never really been into novels that dwell on alternative history imaginings before, nor would I have thought a thriller would be among my best-of-year kind-of books, but this one proved its worth. My only slight criticism of it perhaps is that towards the end its story goes through quite a few twists — perhaps one too many for my liking. It doesn’t need that many — a reader can get a bit lost, but still on the whole I found the novel quite excellent. I haven’t read Ben Winters’s other novels, namely his “Last Policeman” trilogy, but since I liked this one quite a bit, I plan to read them in the future. I also want to check out Colson Whitehead’s highly praised recent novel “The Underground Railroad,” which is similar in its topic but with a different style.

Also last week my hub and I saw the movie “The Light Between the Oceans” and I thought it represented the book quite well. Usually I find movie adaptations don’t live up to the books they’re taken from but this one I thought was pretty close. The cinematography was wonderful and Michael Fassbender, as usual, was excellent. It’s a story that portrays such a tragic, difficult situation. You empathize with both sides, and the loss they go through feels brutal. I found watching it was squirm-worthy in parts.

What about you — have you read these books, or seen “The Light Between the Oceans” — and if so, what did you think?

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The BFG and September Preview

Ahhh September. My favorite month of the year despite having to say goodbye to summer. It’s true it’s my birthday month, but I just like it because it’s usually a beautiful time of year (see photo at left). On Friday, the hub and I are headed on an overseas trip, which actually has been in the works since spring. We are going to the Basque Country — in the western Pyrenees that borders France and Spain, where we will meet up with relatives for an organized bike excursion. It should be interesting no doubt. I have not been to the region before, so I’m sure to take in an eye full. I will let you know how it goes once I get back in a couple weeks. On the plane, I plan to take Chris Cleave’s WWII novel “Everyone Brave Is Forgiven,” which I’m currently reading, as well as the audiobook of Ben Winter’s recent novel “Underground Airlines,” which is a work of alternative history that is quite a humdinger so far. Have you read either?

Before these, I finished the audiobook of Roald Dahl’s 1982 children’s book “The BFG,” which was fun. I needed something a bit charming after the heavy books in my last post. And indeed it was. I had missed the story when I was younger but wanted to find out what all the fuss was about over The Big Friendly Giant. Though apparently the recent movie of “The BFG” has been called one of Steven Spielberg’s rare flops because it took in 160 million globally but cost 140 million to make. Hmm. Not sure what made it a “flop,” but the book — about an orphan named Sophie who becomes friends with a Giant skilled in catching dreams and blowing them into the heads of others — is pretty endearing. I particularly enjoyed their trip to Buckingham Palace to win the Queen over to their plans to put an end to the deeds of the nine evil giants. While it may not be my favorite Dahl book of all time — that still goes to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Danny, the Champion of the World” — I’m still glad to finally have met The BFG. It was long overdue.

Meanwhile a lot of appealing September releases are coming out to fawn over and discuss. There’s new novels by two of my favorites Ann Patchett and Ian McEwan, which I’m psyched to get to, as well as new novels by Emma Donoghue, Jonathan Safran Foer, Ron Rash, and Herman Koch among others. But wait, I must narrow down my picks. For this month, I’ll go with four — two memoirs and two novels. It’s unusual that I include nonfiction in my monthly previews, but heck when you have John le Carre and Bruce Springsteen with rare books coming out, you have no choice!

Le Carre’s book “The Pigeon Tunnel: Stories From My Life” is one that has me curious. He seems so enigmatic; the British spy master was in the British Secret Service once upon a time, which later fueled his illustrious literary career. It’s my husband, not me, who has read almost all of his books and championed the master of the espionage thriller. But alas, some of that has rubbed off on me, and now I’m interested to read and find out what this secretive man has chronicled in his life story.

I also need to check out Bruce Springsteen’s upcoming 528-page autobiography “Born to Run.” Are you kidding me?! I’ve been a long-time fan of the Boss and saw my first Bruce concert in 1981 at the L.A. forum (I began following him in 1975 with the release of his third album “Born to Run.”) That night he came out on stage by himself and started into “Thunder Road” and I was forever transfixed. And I have remained so, seeing him with the E Street Band many times over the years. As you may know, the excitement of a live Bruce show is like nothing else. And while there’s been various biographies of him in the past, which I’ve read, this is the first book by Bruce himself. So I will not miss it. No way, no how. It’s like with Bob Dylan’s book “Chronicles,” you must get your hands on a copy as if you were in need of it yesterday.

As for novels this month, I’ll pick Amor Towles novel “A Gentleman in Moscow” since it’s received a lot of high praise and because I snapped up a copy at BookExpo America, and met the author there, who pleasantly signed the book for me. I’m a newbie to Towles and still plan to read his popular 2011 debut novel “Rules of Civility,” which many loved. His new novel is about a Russian count who is sentenced in 1922 to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Apparently this count is a colorful character and the book includes quite a glittering cast. That’s about what I know of it so far, but Catherine over at The Gilmore Guide to Books has already devoured the novel and says it’s one of her favorites of the year. Hmm. So a Russian count it is!

Lastly in books, Affinity Konar’s novel “Mischling” is likely one I plan to check out soon. The author is coming to our city’s book festival in October and I want to read it in time for that. It’s a book that definitely involves a tough subject matter and one I’m admittedly in trepidation about. The story involves twin sisters struggling to survive in WWII and forced to take part in Nazi Josef Mengele’s horrific human experiments. Need I say more? It sounds truly nightmarish, though apparently it’s also a tale of great beauty and courage that has been highly praised by various authors including Anthony Doerr, Karen Russell, and David Wroblewski among others. I’m not sure if it’s my kind of story, but I will see what I think.

As for movies in September, I think there are two that I’m most interested to see. Of course, I can’t pass up Michael Fassbender in “The Light Between the Oceans.” Sure it’s a movie that’s likely a cry-fest — I read the book by M.L. Stedman, I remember it well — but with the lighthouse and landscape cinematography along with Fassbender, there’s no way I plan to miss it. This film includes an epic post-WWI tale of love, loss and sadness off the coast of Western Australia, so what are you waiting for?! Get thee to a theater and witness those dreamy eyes. (Not to disappoint anyone but Mr. Fassbender is off the table so to speak, as apparently he is in deep in real life with co-star Alicia Vikander. I guess it helps being a talented, not-shabby looking Swedish actress.)

The second movie I’m curious to see is “Sully,” starring Tom Hanks and directed by Clint Eastwood. Most remember the true story about the pilot who landed the disabled commercial plane on the Hudson River in 2009, saving all 155 aboard. It was the “Miracle on the Hudson.” The feat is sure to be riveting on the screen. But what many might not remember is that the pilots were grilled by investigators for months afterwards. The following hearings apparently play out in the movie. I’m thinking “Sully,” with Tom Hanks in the lead role, will likely be a winner, but don’t ask me about seeing it before my flights this month. Good grief I don’t need any new airplane nightmares.

Lastly for September there’s a lot of great artists with albums coming out, including Kristin Chenoweth, Dwight Yoakam, Van Morrison, and Bob Weir among others. I also plan to check out new albums by The Head and the Heart, as well as Passenger. But I have to go with Springsteen’s upcoming album “Chapter and Verse” as my top pick this month. It’s said to be the companion piece to his autobiography. Most of the 18 songs have been previously released on other albums, which I have, but there’s five tracks that have not been released before. To get my full fix of Bruce, I need to experience the book and audio together, right? Right.

What about you — which books, movies, or albums are you looking forward to this month?

Posted in Top Picks | 23 Comments

The Sympathizer and When Breath Becomes Air

On Saturday, somewhere across the middle of Canada at 38,000 feet up I victoriously finished Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Sympathizer.” I was on the plane returning from the Senior Tennis Nationals in Ottawa, which was competitive but good fun too. (See the clay courts at left.) I had spent a couple of weeks studying “The Sympathizer” and underlining its key passages. I’m sure one could write his or her dissertation on this novel about the Vietnam War and its aftermath. It’s that type of “important” book, one told from a Vietnamese perspective — on the other side of the war — that’s rarely ever heard.

Over the years I’ve read my share of Vietnam War and refugee stories and seen the American Vietnam War movies, but I haven’t experienced anything like this book, which holds all sides accountable. It’s unsparingly angry and satirical, especially towards the U.S. involvement in the war and American culture. In an interview at the back of the paperback, the author says he wanted “readers to be rattled by the book” and provoked to “rethink their assumptions about this history, and also about the literature they’ve encountered before.” Well no doubt he succeeded: I was rattled anew.

The novel is a bit unusual in that the entire story is told as a confession. The narrator is detailing what has transpired in his life and his thoughts to someone called the Commandant. You don’t really figure out everything about this and the Commandant until the book’s end. But needless to say, it’s a bit ominous. You wonder: what’s all this confession about?!

The Vietnamese narrator is a bit different too, he sees himself as a revolutionary who’s working at the end of the war for a South Vietnamese general, but he is secretly feeding information to the communists. He seems both humane and inhumane. On the one hand he’s utterly loyal and protective of the blood brothers he grew up with and fighting for the people, on the other, his actions to cover up his spying results in the deaths of innocent civilians.

The narrator’s story, you come to find out, is quite a journey. He barely escapes the fall of Saigon in 1975, only to join the General as a refugee in Los Angeles. There he continues to spy for the communists, passing along info on the General’s plan to mount a secret invasion via Thailand to get Vietnam back. Eventually this lands the narrator on a dangerous reconnaissance mission in Laos that results in scary repercussions.

Oh my! You won’t escape the war’s suffering in this book, or how it pulled people apart. It’s a story that lambastes U.S. imperialism, but it doesn’t absolve the communists or South Vietnamese either. There’s one section of the book that’s particularly satirical in which the narrator gets hired as a consultant on a Vietnam War movie called “The Hamlet” being filmed in the Philippines. On set, there’s an egomaniacal director and no speaking lines for the Vietnamese, represented in the film by Korean and Filipino actors. Need I say more? What follows is a dark spoof of what in reality is a takeoff of “Apocalypse Now.” Whoosh, it’s a must read.

In the end, I thought “The Sympathizer” was not exactly an easy book — it was dense in its delivery as one’s person confession without much in the way of dialogue or paragraph breaks. Its unbreaking text often stretched the length of a page. It was also confrontational (in a good way), upending assumptions about the war as it went along. But it was also a novel that had a lot of good lines in it and important things to say about ideology, identity, and the history of the war. By the end, my copy was completely marked up and underlined. I found “The Sympathizer” one of those rare, “big” books that comes out only once in every blue moon.

As an encore to that, I listened to the audiobook of Paul Kalanithi’s popular nonfiction book “When Breath Becomes Air,” which had finally come off hold at the library. Many know this is about a 36-year-old doctor’s battle with lung cancer, which he is diagnosed with during the last year of his residency to become a neurosurgeon.

Oh this is a sad book, but it’s told rather beautifully and matter-of-factly. From the story within, Paul seemed a very bright and outstanding person. After a decade worth of training, he was finally on the verge of becoming the doctor he had always wanted to be — only to receive such a horrendous diagnosis. How he finished his last year of residency while undergoing treatment — and managed to write this book too — is nothing short of miraculous. I found his battle with cancer and his efforts to help others very courageous.

Somehow I had mistakenly thought this book would be mostly about the choice he and his wife made to have a baby after he received his diagnosis. And though it touches on their decision and the baby, the book focuses mainly on Paul’s battle as well as his medical career. He details what made him want to become a doctor, his medical practice and his medical cases to quite an extent. (If you’re really squeamish about hospital stuff, just a slight warning.)

Although Paul didn’t get the chance to finish writing his book, his wife’s very well-done epilogue really brought his story together for me and also made me lose it. How very sad it is, but his story and battle are also strangely comforting and inspirational, too. I think others would benefit in reading or listening to Paul’s book. I’m sure I will think of him & his fight for a very long time.

Now I could use something happy and light next. What about you — have you read either of these books, and if so what did you think?

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Late Summer and Us

I have been MIA lately on the blog, but that’s not too unusual in the late stages of a busy summer. I’m still riveted to watching the Olympics, too. Tomorrow I’m flying to Ottawa to participate in the Senior Tennis Nationals, which divides competition into age groups. Hey, who are you calling senior?! I’m sure it will be fun with the friends I am going with.

While on the plane, I will continue on with reading Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Sympathizer.” I’ve reached Page 200, and I’m underlining sentences in it with a black pen. It reminds me of one of those war or foreign policy novels (such as “The Ugly American” and “Catch-22”) that you read in university English or History class and have to come up with a profound and coherent essay discussing. It’s a book that’s pretty critical of the U.S. no doubt. So far it’s interesting but not exactly a summer read, if you get my drift. (It makes me slightly wonder if my book club might shoot me over assigning it during the summer vacation season.) But I will see what happens in “The Sympathizer” …. and get back to you on it. The narrator is quite unusual — an atypical truthsayer of sorts.

Meanwhile I lightened things up by finishing the audiobook of British author David Nicholls’s 2014 novel “Us.” This one seems to fit the category of a fun summer read, though I was surprised to see that it was actually long-listed for the Man Booker Prize a couple years back. Huh, are you kidding me?! Nicholls is definitely popular after his novel “One Day” was such a success in England. I haven’t read it, but I did see bits of the movie of it on cable. It was a relationship kind of flick, with Anne Hathaway — you might recall, where she and a guy she knew check in with each other on the same date of each year to see where they are in their lives. Hmm, what a ploy …. hasn’t something similar been done before?

On the other hand, Nicholls’s novel “Us” is also a relationship-kind of novel about a wife (Connie) who tells her husband (Douglas) that she is thinking of leaving their marriage after 25 plus years. Still they decide to take one final European trip together along with their 17-year-old son, Albie. Douglas, who narrates the story, hopes that during the trip that he can change his wife’s mind not to leave him, and that he can get closer to his son, too.

It’s a novel whose story and characters didn’t initially appeal to me — the scope of it is meandering at first — the wife Connie is an artist and Douglas is a nerdy scientist. They are opposites in various ways — she is passionate and a bit flaky and he is uptight and practical. Their teenage son is moody and problematic and doesn’t see eye to eye with his dad. The story jumps back and forth between the present day and the days of when Douglas first met Connie. Yada yada yada. The characters can at times be annoying.

But somewhere during their family European vacation, which goes terribly awry, the story and characters grew on me as things became more humorous and endearing. Oh it’s supposed to be Douglas’s Grand Tour for his family of Paris, Venice, Amsterdam, Florence and Rome. But it doesn’t exactly turn out that way. Oh the troubles of the modern family! Pretty soon Albie, the son, wants to pack it in and goes missing, the wife heads home, and Douglas is off on a trek across Europe to find wherever Albie went. So much for winning over his family.

“Us” is pretty amusing at times. I especially liked the wacky Kat Kilgore, the New Zealand busker whom they meet in Amsterdam and befriends Albie. She made me laugh. I also liked their misadventures and the European stops along the way. There’s some good culture and descriptions in the book. I felt for Douglas, who desperately tries to make things right with those he loves. I probably would’ve edited the book a bit shorter; it’s sort of an exhaustive read with these characters. You spend so much time traveling with them. And I can’t say that I liked the ending too too much. It was a bit perplexing after all of that. But still on the whole I enjoyed “Us” and found it quite entertaining.

It’s another novel that touches on marriage, which reminds me of Jeffrey Eugenides’ novel “The Marriage Plot” and Lauren Groff’s “Fates and Furies,” both of which I found interesting. Hmm what other similar books am I missing?

How about you — have you read “Us” or other similarly themed books, and if so what did you think?

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The Olympics and Shelter

It was a busy weekend. I was away competing at a provincial tennis tournament, which I won at the 5.0 level — my second tournament win of the summer. It’s quite a wonderful surprise in middle age as I can’t recall winning anything like this since my youth. So hooray. I must be doing something right recently. I arrived home and pretty soon became consumed with watching the Olympics. It’s addicting stuff and a refreshing change from the political campaign circus. I’m constantly flicking channels to see the various sports, particularly swimming, gymnastics, tennis, soccer, volleyball, and late in the week track and field will start. I won’t miss it.

Meanwhile this week I’m starting Viet Thanh Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel “The Sympathizer,” which I assigned for my book club to read and discuss in September. Thanks to Judy at Keep the Wisdom for her enthusiastic review of it earlier this year. I don’t know if it will be a challenging read (it doesn’t seem to have much dialogue), and being sort of slow, I need to get into it pronto. I’ve also started the audiobook of Kevin Kwan’s novel “China Rich Girlfriend,” which seems like a catty satirical romp. Hopefully it’ll be a fun book for late summer. Have you read either of these?

Meanwhile last week I finished Jung Yun’s debut novel “Shelter,” which JoAnn over at Lakeside Musing had recently really liked. I didn’t know what to expect going in to it, but soon found out it’s about a 36-year-old Korean biology professor (Kyung) living in suburban Boston with his wife and 4-year-old son — and his parents who he takes into his home after a horrific crime takes place at their house. Kyung has had quite a rough past with his parents from his childhood (which includes domestic violence) so taking them in proves to be very tension-filled. Making it more complex, Kyung and his wife are severely in debt and his parents are wealthy, which he wants no part of. While the criminal case is being pursued, Kyung’s anger and emotions with his parents living at his house comes to a head, and what follows includes some wrenching twists and secrets along the way that kept me pretty glued to the book’s ending.

I found “Shelter” to be captivating in an understated way — it simmers beneath the surface until, like any good suspense story, it boils over at the end. I thought it was very well done, although the story might not appeal to everyone. The main character Kyung is a pretty unhappy person, seemingly on the verge of a breakdown with hang-ups from his childhood and house bills he can’t pay. And the tone of the story is rather grim and a bit graphic involving the crime. It’s unsettling for sure — a family drama in which a man struggles to come to terms with his relationship to his parents — and how he wants to be with his own son. It’s a novel, too, that touches on cultural differences of immigrants in the U.S., and how the American Dream of home ownership is no guarantee for happiness. Like Celeste Ng’s novel “Everything I Never Told You,” which also touches on ethnicity issues in the U.S., “Shelter” left me pondering its themes and story long after its last pages.

What about you — have you read this novel, or are you watching the Olympics — and if so what do you think?

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August Preview

I didn’t get much reading done this past week as life was busy, but I did finish the audiobook of Michael Koryta’s 2014 crime thriller “Those Who Wish Me Dead,” which is about a boy who witnessed a murder and is on the run from the killers. Instead of a witness protection program, the boy is placed “off the grid” into a wilderness survival program for troubled teens, which is run by an expert in the remote Beartooth Mountains of Montana. But it’s not long before the ruthless bad guys find out where the boy is, and try to flush him out by starting a major wildfire.

Oh there are some scary scenes in this, and the Blackwell Brothers are two murderous brutes. I liked the survivalist aspects of the book and the chase up the mountain to the fire lookout tower and beyond. There’s some suspenseful action and twists along the way. The characters, too, are quite well realized and interesting to follow, especially the man who runs the wilderness program and his wife who try to save the boy, along with the girl who mans the desolate fire tower and excels as a firefighter. My only quibble with the story was that the plot seemed a bit unbelievable in spots — particularly that these killers were so concerned about this one boy witness while leaving themselves open to other witnesses along the way. The killers were brutes who didn’t exactly hide themselves — I’d hope law enforcement would be on to them sooner! For all of our sakes.

Meanwhile it’s August and I’m hanging on to summer for as long as I possibly can. I wasn’t sure there would be much notable fiction out this month, but indeed there is. First off, Eowyn Ivey’s second novel “To the Bright Edge of the World” is on my radar as I’m a sucker for expedition / adventure kinds of books set in the 1800s. This one is about a war hero’s expedition with a small band of men up the Wolverine River into Alaska’s northern interior with the intent of collecting data for future enterprises. Oh I can tell it’s going to be a harrowing journey. Publishers’ Weekly says the novel is an “entrancing, occasionally chilling depiction of turn-of-the-century Alaska,” which captures its “beauty and brutality, not just preserving history, but keeping it alive.” Count me in for this one, especially since I missed Ivey’s popular debut novel “The Snow Child” from 2012, which I still hope to devour in the future.

Next up I’m eyeballing Tim Murphy’s debut novel “Christodora” since it’s been receiving a lot praise for vividly recapturing New York in the 1980s and ‘90s during the AIDS epidemic. Amazon calls it a “spellbinding” novel that revolves around an East Village apartment building (the Christodora) whose tenants (particularly a bohemian family) bear witness to the ever changing city through the decades. Author Hanya Yanagihara says it’s an “impassioned, big-hearted, and ultimately hopeful chronicle of a changing New York that authoritatively evokes the despair and panic in the city at the height of the plague.” I’m no New Yorker but from the praise I’ve read about it, the “Christodora” seems worth checking out.

Another New York novel out this month — Jacqueline Woodson’s “Another Brooklyn” looks enticing to me as well. Publishers’ Weekly says “Woodson…combines grit and beauty in a series of stunning vignettes, painting a vivid mural of what it was like to grow up African-American in Brooklyn during the 1970s.” Woodson, who won the National Book Award for her memoir-in-verse book “Brown Girl Dreaming,” apparently has a spare but beautiful poetic writing style, which I’m looking forward to in this coming-of-age story about four best friends in Brooklyn. I have not explored Woodson’s many young adult and children’s books in years past, but I’ve heard such impressive things. It’s about time I checked out her work.

And because the Olympics are about to start I likely can’t pass up Giuseppe Catozzella’s Italian bestselling novel “Don’t Tell Me You’re Afraid” based on the real life story of 21-year-old Olympic runner Samia Yusuf Omar of Somali who competed in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and set off on a grueling migrant journey across Africa and the Mediterranean Sea in 2012, with her sights on freedom and competing in the London Games. Ugh, I hear this novel is truly heartbreaking and tough to read in sections as Samia travels as an exiled refuge through Ethiopia, Sudan, and Libya. Kirkus Reviews says “The first-person narrative … gives the story a spirit and urgency that readers won’t easily forget. Catozzella’s novel is both an intimate portrait of a heroic young woman and a disturbing look at the horrors many migrants face today.” I’m afraid about it already…

If that’s too much for you, you might want to pick up a totally escape read such as Jay McInerney’s novel “Bright, Precious Days” about a marriage tested by an affair — and New York during the looming days of the economic collapse. I met McInerney at BEA this year, which was pretty cool after liking his debut novel “Bright Lights, Big City” so many years ago. He was a star author back then, remember? I also read his novels “Brightness Falls” and “The Good Life” both of which feature the same characters (Russell and Corrine Calloway) as does this latest novel. Oh theirs is a pretty juicy marriage, one of true love that at times hits the rocks. How can I stop now? I must see the Calloways through. If not them, then I’ll likely plunge into Rae Meadows’s new novel “I Will Send Rain” about a woman fighting for her family’s survival in the early years of the Dust Bowl in Oklahoma. This book’s storms are sure to leave dirt and sand in your mouth. I hear it’s the real deal.

As for movies in August, I couldn’t find much that I really want to see. Of course, there’s the new Meryl Streep movie, highlighting the life of “Florence Foster Jenkins” — an American heiress who wanted to become an opera singer despite having a terrible singing voice. Granted, I’m a bit curious about the history of Florence who I didn’t know about before this, but I’m not sure about the movie. I do think the movie “Anthropoid,” based on the true WWII mission to assassinate SS General Reinhard Heydrich, the main architect of the Final Solution, seems compelling. I don’t recall knowing much about this top-secret plot in history, but the trailer for this movie looks quite hair-raising, and the real-life outcome affected things in Europe forever, so count me in.

Speaking of movies, I finally saw “Me Before You,” the adaptation of Jojo Moyes’s 2012 novel about a quadriplegic man and the woman who becomes his caretaker, which came out earlier this year. Despite my apprehensions and doubts about seeing the movie, I thought it followed the novel quite well and hit the right notes of the book without being too fluffy or ridiculous. It treads a fine line on that and quality of life issues the man faces. Surprisingly the actors seemed to fit the characters quite well. I was won over by them. Overall the movie met my expectations and wasn’t overly blubbery, though it’s a love story that raises some thought-provoking questions. It’s a bit charming and touching but not overly intense.

As for albums coming out in August, I didn’t see many worth checking out — though there’s new ones by Ingrid Michaelson, and Dolly Parton, which could be interesting. But I think I’ll try Amos Lee’s new album “Spirit” for my pick this month.

What about you — which books, movies, or albums are you looking forward to this month?

Posted in Books, Top Picks | 22 Comments

Lily and the Octopus and Eligible

This coming week is the last week of July — yikes summer is going by quickly. If you live in a northern country there always seems to be a rush to get everything in before summer ends — as it can be a short season. Luckily the sun has been restored recently to these parts and the temps are comfortably in the 70s. On Sunday we will go to the mountains to bicycle from Banff to Lake Louise and back, which should be gorgeous. Photos to come later.

These days I’m in full summer mode, consuming thriller-type fiction. Currently I’m reading Jung Yun’s debut novel “Shelter,” which JoAnn over at Lakeside Musing reminded me about with her enthusiastic review. Miraculously, “Shelter” was no longer on hold at the library and I nabbed a copy. I decided not to know anything about it before opening its pages, which is often a fun way to go about suspense kinds of books. I’m also listening to the audiobook of Michael Koryta’s 2014 novel “Those Who Wish Me Dead,” which takes place in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana and Wyoming not too far from where my brother lives in Bozeman. This one is pretty scary so far. Reviews of both to come later.

Meanwhile I finished Steven Rowley’s debut novel “Lily and the Octopus,” which came out in June. I had put this one on my list after the raves it got on Goodreads about how wonderful a story it is about a man and his aging dachshund. I’m a sucker for good dog stories — being a dog lover myself — and after Emma Cline’s novel “The Girls” I was looking for something a bit heartwarming and humorous. What could go wrong? Sigh, apparently a bit. I guess I just didn’t find that much to the story, or else it didn’t work for me as well as it has for others.

“Lily and the Octopus” is about Ted Flask, a single gay man in L.A. who’s recently ended a six-year relationship with his boyfriend when his beloved 12-year-old dog Lily gets an ominous growth on her head, which sends Ted into a tailspin crisis. Ted perceives Lily’s growth as an octopus attached to her head, trying to hurt her. Seemingly in denial, he comes to share Lily’s “octopus” with the vet, his therapist, and family and friends, while struggling to come to grips with the truth himself.

“Lily and the Octopus” deals with worthy, touching issues that many have gone through. I’ve been in that situation with my own beloved pets. My problem with the novel is that nearly the whole story follows the conceit of the octopus way beyond what you think it should, and the character of Ted seems juvenile to a fault. The story also seemed pretty thin and autobiographical. There were parts that were cute and humorous but not enough to carry the entire book from being just meh to me. How surprising, I thought I’d really like it. Maybe if it had been a memoir, the author Steven Rowley could have dug deeper and reached me more. What I thought after “Lily” was: did Rowley really pull in a nearly seven-figure book deal based on this? Holy smokes, I couldn’t believe it.

Luckily I did thoroughly enjoy the audiobook of Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel “Eligible” (a modern retelling of “Pride and Prejudice”), which came out in April. Sittenfeld’s book was published as part of “The Austen Project,” which pairs six contemporary authors with Jane Austen’s six complete works. I’m no expert or huge Austen buff, and I usually don’t partake in such retellings or the hundreds of spin-offs on “Pride and Prejudice,” but Sittenfeld’s book sounded like good fun. I have a decent memory of P & P, though it’s not like you really need it in order to enjoy “Eligible,” but it just makes it a bit more interesting.

In Sittenfeld’s version the five Bennet daughters regroup at their childhood home in Cincinnati after Mr. Bennet suffers a heart attack. Liz, a magazine writer in her late 30s, and Jane, a yoga instructor coming upon 40, have been living in New York, while their three sisters have been living off their parents at home. Mrs. Bennet of course wants to marry them off to well-to-do men before their biological clocks grind to a halt. Thereby she arranges for the family to attend a Fourth of July barbecue, where the handsome Chip Bingley, a recent contestant on the reality TV dating show Eligible, will be, along with his friend, neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy.

Oh it’s Chip and Jane who pair up, and Liz and Darcy who get off on the wrong foot with each other. You recall how the story goes. It follows P & P pretty closely, but in a much more modern way. For one thing there’s sex described in it and storylines on healthcare, home foreclosure, race, and gay and transgender issues. And don’t be surprised by the swearing, and reality TV aspects in it. The Bennet world has surely changed since Austen first gave life to the characters in 1813. I can’t say for sure whether hard-core Austen aficionados will like or dislike “Eligible.” That is for them to say. I’m sure there will be some of both.

To me, Curtis Sittenfeld’s version is wonderfully entertaining and astute. It’s long (181, short chapters!), but I was right there with it, sucked into the various characters’ lives, especially the main character Liz’s, and laughing along the way. “Eligible” is funny and spoof-laced, but also perceptive and romantic too. It makes for a perfect summer read or audiobook as it’s light and fun. Kudos to Cassandra Campbell for her excellent narration of the various characters on the audio. My only quibble or puzzlement with “Eligible” was perhaps the final chapter, which fizzles a bit dwelling on the unattached and not very likable sister Mary — when, by that time, all we want is more of Liz and Darcy. I guess Sittenfeld just couldn’t resist adding to the final mix a comment on the worthiness of singledom to go with the oddball pairings.

So that’s it for this week. What about you — have you read either novel “Lily and the Octopus” or “Eligible” and if so, what did you think? Or what is your favorite dog novel, or Austen spin-off?

Posted in Books | 22 Comments

The Girls and Our Kind of Traitor

A deluge of rain hit here this past week. In fact it’s been about three weeks of wet weather, and if I hadn’t had that trip to California earlier in July, I would’ve lost my mind by now. Where has summer gone? It’s got me gloomy beyond belief, along with the news out of Nice, France, and other places. Luckily the forecast says the sun should be out this coming week, and it’s supposed to be clear. Though I won’t hold my breath over it.

This week I’m half way through Steven Rowley’s debut novel “Lily and the Octopus” and so far I haven’t found it as entertaining or likable as apparently hordes of others on Goodreads have. It’s about a thirty-something gay man and his elderly Dachshund who’s facing health problems. I’m a dog lover, too, but so far the book seems like fairly thin, autobiographical stuff. I will try to hold on to see if more comes of it. Meanwhile, I’m still enjoying Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel “Eligible” on audiobook, which is good fun. It’s quite a lengthy book with short chapters –181 in all — oh my! But I’m in no hurry to be done with “Eligible” as it’s quite a hoot as a modern-day take on “Pride and Prejudice.”

Meanwhile when I was in California recently, I finished Emma Cline’s highly praised debut novel “The Girls,” which is about a 14-year-old girl named Evie who gets herself involved in a cult (based loosely on Charles Manson’s Family) in Northern California in the summer of 1969. Evie, a lonely child of divorced parents, finds herself drawn to the group’s feral female groupies out scavenging around town in their black bus. Evie is particularly enamored by the cult’s enigmatic Suzanne — who, along with the others and the cult leader Russell — eventually leads her down a path along the lines of the notorious Manson murders in Los Angeles.

Oh it’s eerie, spooky stuff, but luckily “The Girls” is not as graphic or explicit as I guess many of the books about Manson’s cult are. As a California kid, I was too scared to read the 1974 true crime book “Helter Skelter” about the Manson murders. Though some of the photos from the book were somehow etched in every kid’s head from those times. Later in life, an employer of mine who grew up in Los Angeles not far from where the crimes happened in Beverly Hills, told me a story that she was at home (alone?) one night during the time when the Manson Family was still on the loose, when all of the lights suddenly went out. She was terrified — as L.A. was gripped by the fear of the murders then. It turned out a car had hit a telephone pole nearby, which she didn’t know, and it took awhile to get the electricity back on. It’s an incident, which would’ve keeled me over, just sitting there in the dark, with the Manson clan on the loose.

“The Girls” does well replicating this creepiness. There were times when I thought: do I really want to read about these people or topic? Why dwell on these Manson-like groupies? The only reason I picked up the novel was because it received such positive hype. It’s been all over the blogosphere. Surprisingly to me, it turned out that the novel lived up to its hype. I had been skeptical too. But from the prose and style, I wouldn’t have guessed that Emma Cline was a young, first-time author. She completely envelopes the anxieties of adolescence, as well as the 1969 cult and era even though she wasn’t born till 1989. She expresses the young women, their dialogue, and particularly the naive Evie so well. You could see how a young person with self-esteem issues and a marginal home life could get sucked into a communal group that seems fairly harmless at first. The story feels visceral. Knowing the Manson history, you want to shake some sense and warning into Evie but there’s no use. She doesn’t seem to listen.

I liked how the novel alternates from chapters on Evie’s present life in middle age to her fateful past in 1969. The back and forth adds to how what happened hangs over Evie’s life, reverberating decades later. I might not have necessarily liked the topic, but I was impressed by Cline’s evocative novel. She’s a young author on a mission.

Meanwhile this week, my husband and I saw and liked the British spy thriller “Our Kind of Traitor,” which is at theaters now and is adapted from the John le Carre book. Simply put: it’s about a married couple who find themselves at the wrong place at the wrong time. While on travels they’re conned into helping a Russian oligarch planning to defect, and pretty soon they find themselves caught between the Russian Mafia and the British Secret Service. Ewan McGregor stars as the husband who helps the rich Russian, played by Stellan Skarsgard, and Damien Lewis plays the British agent. All are excellent. It’s a plot that kept me on edge from the get-go. If you like John le Carre’s books, or spy plots, you will likely relish “Our Kind of Traitor.” Apparently there’s been 11 films adapted from le Carre’s spy novels over the years. I think I’ve seen about 5 of them. “The Constant Gardener” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” are perhaps my favorites of those, but I wouldn’t mind seeing some of the other films.

What about you — have read Emma Cline’s novel “The Girls,” or seen any films based on le Carre’s novels, and if so what did you think?

Posted in Books, Movies | 17 Comments

July Preview

I had a quick trip to California last week for my father’s retirement party. Congrats Dad, I never thought you’d give up working, but you finally did it. What a brilliant and long career. And now you can enjoy so much more. Many happy retirement years ahead! You deserve it.

It was toasty in the “inland empire” part of Southern Cal, but I still love it. I got in some great bike rides while I was there, see the photo above. On Sunday I flew back to the Great North. Dang it went by too fast. On the plane, I finished reading Emma Cline’s debut novel “The Girls,” which sufficiently gave me the creeps (my review to come later). Meanwhile I’m enjoying the audiobook of Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel “Eligible,” which is a fun, modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. As for new July releases I’m behind on posting my preview for this month — but I finally picked out about six fiction titles that look promising.

First off Ben H. Winters’s speculative book “Underground Airlines” is an alternative history novel that sets its story as if the Civil War in the U.S. had never happened — and slavery still exists in four states. Victor, a gifted black man is the book’s protagonist, who comes to find out secrets about the government’s agreement with the four slave states while working as a bounty hunter. Hmm, what a doozy of a plot. BookPage says its a “timely novel focusing on race and equality” and Publisher’s Weekly calls it “Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man meets Blade Runner.” I need to check it out even if some on Goodreads say the story is choppy and the writing isn’t all that good. But I’ll have to find out for myself.

It being summer, I’m still in the mood for page-turners and Beth Lewis’s debut thriller “The Wolf Road” looks to be just that. It’s one of those brutal post-apocalyptic tales set in the future where wars have decimated humankind, and Elka, the book’s protagonist, is struggling to survive in what was once British Columbia. Apparently she finds outs a disturbing truth about the man who has raised her, and must take off into the wild to elude him. Author Paul Tremblay calls it a “white-knuckle trip” and author Nick Cutter says it reminded him of the “beautiful savagery of Corman McCarthy’s The Road and the elegiac overtones of Dickie’s Deliverance.” Yikes, it’s dark. So heed warning if you venture down “The Wolf Road.”

Moreover do I dare check out Megan Abbott’s new thriller “You Will Know Me” right before the Olympics? This one takes on the ultra-competitive world of women’s gymnastics and is about a prodigy and her parents and what they are prepared to do to go the distance to make their daughter a champion. Author Jane Casey calls it a “powerful and unsettling portrait of a family” and author Paula Hawkins says it’s “almost unbearably tense, chilling, and addictive.” I have not ventured into the menacing world of Megan Abbott’s novels yet, but I know many swear by her talent.

If I tire of thriller-type reads, such as the three above, I plan to check out Dave Eggers’s new novel “Heroes of the Frontier,” which the publisher says is the “darkly comic story of a mother and her two young children on a journey through an Alaskan wilderness plagued by wildfires and a uniquely American madness.” Count me in as Eggers’s stories often offer insightful spoofs into contemporary American life. This novel features a woman on the run who takes her kids north in an RV with the hopes of starting over in an unknown place, but it sounds like her past is not far behind.

Another book I’m looking at is the highly praised debut novel from Nicole Dennis-Benn called “Here Comes the Sun,” which Amazon’s reviewer says “tells the story of four Jamaican women as they struggle to find their independence amidst the sprawling resorts that both provide and threaten their livelihood.” Judging from the comments on Goodreads, this is no sunny story about Jamaica; it’s dark, intense and apparently heartbreaking, but also said to be very good. Perhaps read it at your own risk.

Lastly in books for July, I’m drawn to Liz Moore’s new novel “The Unseen World” which apparently is a moving story about a child prodigy who goes on a quest to find out about her beloved father’s hidden past. This coming of age tale takes the daughter on a journey into a virtual reality that seems intriguing, and the book has received many favorable reviews on Goodreads. I missed Moore’s prior praised novel “Heft” so this new one seems as good a place to start as any to jump on Moore’s bandwagon.

Meanwhile for movies in July, there’s everything from Tarzan, to Ghostbusters, to Star Trek, to Ice Age, to BFG, but there’s only one Bourne. And that’s Jason Bourne. He’s back, and so will I be to see the latest movie. Of course I’ve seen the others a number of times: Identity, Supremacy, and then Ultimatum, but those ended back in 2007. Luckily the long wait is finally over and Matt Damon has re-teamed with director Paul Greengrass for the new one. Oh thank heavens. I’m sure there will be some great action — after all Bourne finally remembers who he is! (Perhaps if only he had asked me much earlier — there wouldn’t be this delay.) The only drawback is that the character of Pam Landy is not in this one. Ugh. Joan Allen where are you?! Don’t give me Tommy Lee Jones, when we need Landy. This bums me out. But still “Jason Bourne” should be a humdinger of a ride.

The only other movie that looks a bit fun is “Absolutely Fabulous” — which is the movie version of the former BBC TV sitcom. It looks zany and a hoot, and I could use some summer laughs, so I’m hoping this one comes through.

As for new albums out, it’s not a month of many releases. There’s new ones from Jeff Beck, Steven Tyler, Maxwell, and Heart among others, but my album picks are by two artists I know relatively little about. First off, Mississippian Frankie Lee’s “American Dreamer” sounds like he’s a Dylan-wannabe in voice and style, but there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m digging the songs off his debut album that I’ve heard so far.

And then there’s British soul singer Michael Kiwanuka’s new album “Love & Hate,” which sounds cool, too. Thank goodness for these up and coming artists.

What about you — which books, movies, or albums are you looking forward to this month?

Posted in Top Picks | 16 Comments

Summer Days and Mini Reviews

I have been a bit AWOL from the Cue Card lately as I’ve had company in town and various gatherings, events, and chores. After all it is summer now, which is the busiest and best time of year here, especially for get-togethers, bike riding, hiking, gardening, and playing tennis. Happy holiday weekend to all. We are proudly displaying the Canadian Maple Leaf flag here in Canada, as well as our neighbor to the south’s flag, too. We live just a few hours from the border, which you may know is the longest international border in the world (5,525 miles) — way too long for any Trump wall :-). And the fact that it has been such a friendly, peaceful co-existence between the two countries makes it special. We consist of a Canadian-American household and that’s usually pretty peaceful, too, har har. Anyways since I’ve been “on the go” lately I’ll leave you with some mini reviews of what I’ve completed recently.

Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff / 400 pgs. / 2015

Oh yes, Lotto and Mathilde, Mathilde and Lotto — you know who I’m talking about. This was one of the most talked about novels of last year so I was pleasantly surprised last week when the library finally deemed it was my turn to receive it from the lengthy reserve list. I had come off the bench so to speak and scored the audiobook version of “Fates and Furies,” which President Obama had said was his favorite book of 2015 and Amazon had picked as Best Book of the Year. It was about time I inundated myself with Ms. Groff’s protracted tale about Lotto and Mathilde and their 20-plus year marriage, which is told in two parts from each of their perspectives.

I didn’t find them exactly likable characters, far from it. Lotto is an out-of-work actor who becomes a successful playwright. He has a consuming ego and sleeps his way through college with a ton of women before meeting and falling madly in love with Mathilde, who helps him succeed in writing plays but turns out to be pretty conniving and full of secrets. Together they make quite a pair, creative partners who love and adore one another, but whose flaws take a toll on their marriage.

Despite L & M’s unlikability, I was fully engaged by the storytelling in “Fates and Furies,” which drew me into the characters’ lives (exploring both their pasts and their present) and made me curious where they would wind up. Although there were times in which Groff’s sentences seemed overwritten or over the top to me, her scope of the story and themes — like those out of a Greek tragedy — I found quite ambitious and awesome. I also liked the novel’s two-sided, him/her structure and its time changes within the story, but I agree with others who found its abundant partying and sex scenes repetitive or a bit much at times (just a warning to those who haven’t read it yet). Still, Groff’s exploration of marriage and the roles in it awed me and made for an absorbing ride — even when it wasn’t always pretty. I’m glad I found out what all the hype was about with this one. For the most part, I think it deserved it.

Boys in the Trees: A Memoir by Carly Simon / 384 pages / 2015

Here’s a not so secret secret: I succumb periodically to rock star, singer-songwriter memoirs and biographies. Whether it’s Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Mick Fleetwood, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin — all of whom I’ve read books about — I like to find out about what’s behind the great songs and music that I’ve liked and the artists’ lives. My sister gave me this book in which Carly Simon tells the story of her childhood and early life through to the end of her marriage with James Taylor in the early ‘80s. It covers not all of her life by any stretch, but undoubtedly includes her most creative era.

I’m sure you recall, Carly had quite a few hits in the ‘70s such as “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be,” “Anticipation,” The Right Thing to Do,” “You Belong to Me” among others. She was on a roll for sure. Her song “You’re So Vain” is still one of those classic anthems I always turn up the volume to when in the car. What a song, and line: “You had one eye in the mirror as you watched yourself gavotte.” The song, she has said, is about a few men she’s been with.

The beginning of Carly’s memoir starts off really well, vividly describing the New York town house she grew up in and her family. It touches on the career of her father who co-founded the publishing house Simon & Schuster in 1924, and also her sisters who she began singing with. It reveals some things I didn’t know such as: that Carly grew up with a stuttering problem and she started singing as a way to try and cover it up. Her childhood, although privileged, didn’t seem as idyllic as perhaps I had imagined — her mother was carrying on an affair in their house, her parents were splitting up, and her father was ousted in the late ‘50s from Simon & Schuster, before dying of a heart attack in 1960.

It was interesting reading about how Carly started out her career — she left college early — to sing in clubs as a folk music duo with her sister Lucy. They were The Simon Sisters and traveled around performing in the 1960s, releasing three albums. I hadn’t really known this before, or how early to the music scene Carly had come.

But later her sister and her parted ways professionally and Carly went solo, putting out her first album in 1971. That’s when her career and life really began to catapult into the stratosphere so to speak. The middle part of the book includes many stories about the men she was with (or slept with) back then: such as Cat Stevens, Kris Kristofferson, Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty and maybe Mick Jagger among others. I sort of lost track truthfully. That stuff was all right (for inquiring minds) but what I really liked hearing about is how the popular songs came about. One that Carly tells is that her song “Anticipation” was one she wrote when she was waiting for Cat Stevens who was very late in coming over to meet for a date.

The last part of the book deals with her years with James Taylor. They were married for a little over ten years, starting in 1972, which had a huge impact on her and produced two children. The interesting thing is Carly and James had known each other as kids when their families spent summers on Martha’s Vineyard. So later they reconnected and got married during the most creative times of their lives, both releasing great hits and songs. But as time went on, their lives together weren’t easy. James struggled with drugs, and Carly was Carly I guess. They also were forever building and remodeling their place on the Vineyard, which added stress. And apparently she struggled throughout her career with stuttering, anxiety, and stage fright, which I didn’t know about but sympathize with since I was a shy kid myself.

Things ended badly for them. James was unfaithful, and later Carly was too. They eventually divorced in 1983 and apparently he hasn’t been on speaking terms with her since around 2004. It seems like something she’s never recovered from because the last section of the book reads like she’s endlessly trying to set things right with James — like the memoir’s an apology of sorts. She talks him up quite highly in the book too. It’s rather sad really to read about the demise of their marriage.

As for the book it was okay, but I guess I don’t feel I really know Carly after it. I’m not sure in her heyday if she was a problematic diva and person who lived a privileged, bratty life? Or was she a creative woman and singer with insecurities who took care of her kids well and whom James betrayed and left? Who really knows but her family and close friends. All I can say is that the memoir kept my interest for the most part, but I liked the first section the best.

MI-5 / (movie on Netflix)

My husband and I used to watch the BBC TV series called MI-5, which ran from 2002 to 2011. What a great show that was! So I knew the movie version would appeal to us as well. It might not be as good as the TV series was, but I recommend it for those who like spy-action thrillers, particularly about the British Secret Service.

45 Years / (movie on Apple TV)

I had wanted to see this intense but quiet British drama about a married couple planning their 45th anniversary party back in January when I heard Charlotte Rampling was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in this. After watching it, my husband and I debated whether the secret that is revealed within it that spoils things — really is a big deal, or game changer as the story makes out. I could see where it could be — but my husband thought it was much ado about nothing. File this under male/female differences.

Eye in the Sky (movie at theater)

This British thriller stars Helen Mirren as a military commander in charge of a mission to capture terrorists in Kenya. Oh my is this a nail-biting, effective film that raises the complexities of drone warfare and collateral damage in today’s world. It’s excellently done and well worth seeing. The film will tear at your heart and make you feel angry too. It’s a military conundrum.

Bloodline / (a Netflix TV series)

We’re well into Season 1 of this drama series set in the Florida Keys about a family of three adult siblings whose lives are changed when the fourth sibling, their bad-seed brother returns home to help run the family’s inn. We are totally hooked on this show of good people doing bad things. I find myself really wanting to shake some sense into these people, but I don’t think that’s possible.

What about you — have you read Lauren Groff’s novel “Fates and Furies,” or Carly Simon’s memoir, or have you seen any of these films or series? And if so, what did you think?

Posted in Books, Movies, TV | 16 Comments