Friday, June 15, 2012

Reading Roundup: Children of Deception

I’ve been trying to figure out what to post about one of these books for at least a month now, and I was on the verge of skipping it entirely. But then I read the second one, and these two books fell together perfectly for a joint post because they have very similar themes…


Susan Henderson’s Up From the Blue is the one I read back at the end of April. At the time, it didn’t really stand out for me. In fact, as I’m finally writing about it, I’m having to refresh my memory on the details; I can remember my reactions and how it made me feel, but I can’t remember character names. The story opens with Tillie Harris about to give birth to her first child a month early while nothing is ready and everything feels in disarray. But most of the story is set in the 1970s, seen through flashbacks and the eyes of eight-year-old Tillie. Her father is the rigid military type, contrasting to her dreamy, somewhat maniacal mother who doesn’t fit into the mold of the military family. We as the reader see the gradual mental breakdown of Tillie’s mother though Tillie, as a child, doesn’t fully understand what she’s witnessing and experiencing. When her mother suddenly disappears and no one will tell her where she is, Tillie is left to navigate her experiences and feelings without her main source of stability.

This story tried to address a lot in its pages—family relationships, mental health issues, societal norms and expectations, military life, desegregation, feminism. My issue wasn’t with any of that (though that is a lot to tackle!), it’s that I never really found it believable. There is a major plot point (that I am not going to spoil), but when you reach that point, you will probably say, “….wait, what?” I generally follow the idea that children are much smarter than adults give them credit for, and I felt that this story was just not giving children any credit. More on this in a minute…

The Tricking of Freya by Christina Sunley was one from my ‘to-read’ list because I was really intrigued by the Icelandic setting. In the story, Freya grew up with her mother in the suburbs of Connecticut, but her world expanded once they started visiting family every summer in Gimli, a small Canadian village settled by Icelandic immigrants. Here, Freya learns about her family’s rich Icelandic history and meets her Aunt Birdie. Aunt Birdie is quite an anomaly to Freya; she is exotic and interesting and outspoken and obsessive and loving but also moody and dark and downright mean. But Freya is hooked. After a terrific scandal signaling Birdie’s serious spiral into bipolar disorder, Freya tries to forget all about her Icelandic past and does so for the next fifteen years. Once she stumbles upon the hints of a family secret, though, she delves into the mystery of uncovering the past she’s tried to forget.

This book is filled with the language, culture, and history of Iceland—from semi-lengthy explanations of the complexity of the language to rich, detailed descriptions of geography. While I don’t think the overall plot of the story was dependent on its environment, the detail with which Sunley connected the characters to their culture and history made for a richer story. What struck me most about Freya’s reaction to the events in her life was that she wasn’t entirely blind to them; she exhibited denial more than anything else…

…Which gets me back to how The Tricking of Freya made me rethink Up From the Blue a bit. Or at least look at the bigger issue of a child versus adult perspective. I do generally believe that children understand what is going on around them most of the time. However, maybe the issue is not whether they understand but whether they understand the complexities? Or whether they exhibit a higher level of denial? Or whether they have the maturity to give it a second thought in the first place…to just care at all.

Regardless, both of these books had interesting, conflicted characters trying to make peace with their past, and these were probably questions they were asking themselves.

Friday, June 8, 2012

My BEA Recap: A Fairly Pitiful Story

Before I begin, I just put my BEA loot on the floor to take a picture of it, went to get my phone, came back, and the cat was already dozing on my pile. She is a smart cat. (Yet don’t let that fool you because in this photo, you can still see a glimmer of evil in her eyes.)

Anyway, my BEA experience ended up being…well…pretty pathetic. I knew I wasn’t going to get to spend much time at the conference itselfonly half a day or so when I could take a break from work. I had RSVPed, though, to several blogger events and was looking forward to attending and mingling.

And then the dreaded summer cold struck. A cold in the summer! What sacrilege! I woke up Monday with a scratchy throat, faded quickly throughout the day, and chose an early bedtime over all post-work activities for the day. I stayed home, feverish, on Tuesday, and mustered up enough strength to get to BEA Wednesday morning before heading back to work. I started the day by waiting in line for Sharon Creech’s new book, and I immediately questioned whether that was such a good idea; I was woozy and clammy and overheating and feared fainting before I reached the front of the line. I made it through, though, and had a pretty good rest of the morning, despite feeling like total crap.

My small take-away pile includes:

  • The Great Unexpected by Sharon Creech  Chasing Redbird was in my top 3 as a kid, so this was a lady I was excited to meet.
  • Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward  I’ve heard this author’s name before, but I’m not sure where. In my pre-BEA planning, I deemed this one worthy of a read.
  • Dare Me by Megan Abbott  Also made the grab list; plus I ran into someone I know from college who happens to be the publicist for this book.
  • Edenbrooke by Julianna Donaldson  Oh, English countryside romances; a perfect selection for armchair summer vacation.
  • Teresa Giudice’s Fabulicious! Fast & Fit Italian cookbook  My work BFF demanded I accompany her to this booth so she could meet Teresa and I could be the photographer. This is now the second Housewife I have met with her, but at least I got a free cookbook this time.
  • Unbored: The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun  I saw a stack of this in a booth and took one because a book with such a subject is always helpful on your average work day.
Maybe next year, BEA. Maybe next year.

Friday, June 1, 2012

June 1: Next On the List

In my mind, the end of May signals the end of Spring, and that is fabulous. Not that Spring is bad; it’s just the most frustrating of the months for me. My mind, body, and soul crave the summer sun, and when it goes back and forth between sunny warmth and chilly rain, it makes me want to explode!
The end of May also thankfully signals the end of the semester, and summer vacation begins! Ok, it’s not real summer vacation, since I still have a 9 to 5 job that keeps me at a desk all day, but it means I don’t have to schlep to Queens and write papers! Library school isn’t too demanding, but once I have a vacation, I do realize it’s more time consuming than I think. The end of the Spring 2012 semester marks my halfway point of earning my MLS—three semesters down and three to go. I can’t wait to finish it!
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I’ve had the goal lately of reading what’s already on my shelf instead of seeking out more books, and I’ve been pretty good at sticking to that. I just finished David Treuer’s Rez Life, on Jill’s recommendation at FizzyThoughts, and it was both fascinating and a little boring. I’m planning on really looking back through the book and taking a few notes for my post on it, because it has some really interesting points I want to remember. 
But that’s where my stretch of reading what I own seems to end; I got a little Hold Happy on the NYPL site the other day, and now all my requests are coming in. I just started Christina Sunley’s The Tricking of Freya, also on a long-ago recommendation of FizzyThoughts (geez, Jill, it’s not even a contest of who I get most of my book recs from). Also on the immediate backburner: Are You My Mother?, Alison Bechdel’s newest graphic memoir (I loved Fun Home) and The Half-Mammals of Dixie, a short story collection by George Singleton (a recommendation I’d starred long ago from BermudaOnion). So maybe none of these help clear off my own shelves, but at least I’m helping keep my library in business!
And I know this is a book blog, but I just have to mention another thing taking up my time… There are few things more satisfying to the literary soul than getting hooked to a really quality, amazing TV series. The last one for me was Friday Night Lights (if you haven’t watched it…seriously…go do it), and I’m fairly certain nothing can top that. However, I’m finally starting Mad Men from the beginning. I’m about eight episodes in and so far, I just don’t much care, but I will give it to the end of the season and re-assess. I also just started the second season of Veronica Mars. Colin and I just binged our way through the first season and it was so fabulous that I don’t think it can be topped. But I love the characters so much that I have to keep going. I really love Netflix.
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As everyone knows, BEA is next week! I’ll probably be attending only one day, and in a “company capacity”, but I’ll still be around for many of the festivities! I love attending book conferences in a blogger/librarian capacity (as opposed to manning an exhibition booth!)—discovering what’s new and getting excited about all the amazing book industry has to offer. If you are around BEA or any of its festivities be sure to shoot me a message!
Summer is here; time to stretch out in the sun—whether at the beach, in a park, on the lake, or in your backyard—and relax with some books. My favorite time of year!
Happy June!