Wrapping up

Reveries & Musings2

Well, it’s almost the end of the year and I haven’t met my latest reading goal for the year. Originally I had set a goal of 25 books and when I saw I was going to meet that goal halfway through the year I upped it to 50. I started slowing down and have only completed 45. I still consider that a victory. When reviewing the books I’ve read this year it wasn’t difficult to come up with my favorites.

End of Your Life

I started the year on a high note.  I was drawn to The End of Your Life Book Club for two reasons. One it was about books.  But the other was that it involved the journey of a woman’s treatment for cancer.  Being a cancer survivor myself I was intrigued.  And I wasn’t disappointed.  What amazes me the most about this book was that if I hadn’t read it I would have missed getting to know about an incredibly fascinating woman in Mary Ann Schwalbe.  I was so moved by the story and frantically looking for an online book club to discuss the book.  It was during this search that I found Goodreads and it was also the beginning of my endless TBR list.

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Calling Me HomeHistorical Fiction is one of my favorite genre’s and there are a number of books in this category on my list.  Calling Me Home was a buddy read with my friend Elyse. The story alternates between present day and 1930’s Tennessee.  Isabelle has asked her friend and hairdresser to drive her to a funeral in Cincinnati. During this trip she tells the Dorie a story of falling in love with a black boy; a forbidden relationship both of the time and place.  Author Kibler creates a world of racial tension and divide that fills the reader with tension.  As a reader I could help but root for these two to find a way to make the impossible work.  Keep a box of tissues nearby for the emotional ending.

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A Bitter VeilAnother historical fiction book.  I received this an audio copy of this thanks to Audiojukebox and Audible.com.  This is a love story that takes place in 1978 during the overthrow of the Shah of Iran.  This time period is one that I remember well.  Anna met Nouri while both were in college in Chicago.  They return to Iran where they live with Nouri’s wealthy family. The country shifts politically and their relationship becomes under stress.  Narrated by Diane Pirone Gelman, the story builds slowly creating tension and suspense.

I caught the happy virus last night

When I was out singing beneath the stars.

It is remarkably contagious

So kiss me.

~Hafiz

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The Translator I got this on audio for AudioGo and Audiojukebox.  I’m going to just repeat my review here.  This is also one of my favorite covers.

Hanne Schubert is a fifty something woman who is translating the greatest work of a well-known Japanese author.  Language is Hanne’s passion, she speaks several.  We observe her as she painstakingly thinks through all the interpretations of the Japanese words and phrases and the appropriate English translation. Hanne is absorbed by the work and she has clearly developed a fondness for the main character.

After finishing the work and sending it off to the publisher Hanne has an accident, falling down the stairs.  She wakes up in the hospital where she discovers she’s lost the ability to speak all languages except Japanese.  Released from the hospital she finds herself lost, disconnected with the people around her, unable to communicate with them.  She accepts an offer to give a presentation in Japan and hopes to meet the author she spent over a year translating.  To her horror, she meets the honored author when he shows up at her talk and confronts her in front of the audience, accusing her of ruining his work.  His work was inspired by the great Noh actor and she has dishonored him by her translation.  Hanne, embarrassed and angry decides to try to meet this actor and see if he indeed was like the character she so admired in her translation.

Hanne moves through the rest of the book on a transformative journey.  Meeting the great actor who is all spirit and emotion, living in the present, Hanne is bewildered by him. She doesn’t understand him but she is also drawn to him.  She revisits her own memories of growing up as well as memories of her marriage and raising her two children. She shares stories of her daughter, Brigitte, a bright and sensitive girl with a talent for languages whom Hanne tried so hard to nurture, while trying to teach her resilience. Brigitte who has refused to see her these last 6 years.

This book explores so many ideas.  Do we really understand each other?  Words can be so powerful and yet they can miss the true essence of a persons being.  Do we use language to create the story we already know or the one that we want to tell?  I found myself asking, “Am I hearing the meaning that this author was hoping to share or have I taken my experiences and applied it to her words and created the story that I know?”   Are words a bridge between people or do they create a chasm of unplumbed experience? Everyone is a translator of their own and others in their lives. Nina Schuyler has created a beautiful meditation on language and relationships.  Don’t miss its poignant message.

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Golem and the JinniOh, how I loved this book. And I highly recommend you buy a hardback copy of the book. It is absolutely gorgeous. It is my favorite cover of the year.  The page edges are also a beautiful blue.

First and foremost, this is a wonderfully written story. While our main characters take center stage, there are a cast of supporting characters including turn of century New York city that are brought to life by this author.

Weaving two tales from different cultures; the Golem, a creature made from clay using Kabbalistic rituals – dark magic that is frowned on and the Jinni a being of fire from the Syrian desert. We learn how these creatures come to be in New York and watch as they attempt to blend in so they are not discovered . Each enters the human world and lives as best they can while struggling with their own natures. They will meet and learning who the other is begin a tentative friendship; Jinni, impulsive and the Golem, cautious. In the end each will meet their master and enslaver and be threatened with the end of their lives.

Yet there is so much more here than this wonderful story. It raised questions about the use of power, the role of religion in our lives, and asks can we overcome our nature?  The biggest question that arose for me was “what makes a human?”  I hope the author will forgive me when I say I thought a lot about the The Velveteen Rabbit while reading this book.  Unlike the children’s book, the answers in this book are more complex but both books brought a little magic and a lot wonderful moments to this reader.

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fin& ladyThis is also received a copy of this from Audiojukebox and the publisher.  This takes place in New York in the 1960’s. As many in my generation, I’ve always had a lot of romanticized ideas of the 60’s. Lady is a socialite in her 20’s who raises her half-brother when both of his parents die.  It’s a coming of age story for fin but the story that captured me was the story of Lady; a young woman who moves from a socialite on the east side of NY to a free spirit in Greenwich Village.  The transition isn’t an easy one and watching her struggle to change her ideas of womanhood was engaging.  Cathleen Schine brings the 60’s alive in this wonderful novel.

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Me before you2I avoided reading this book for quite some time despite all the rave reviews. I finally gave in when I learned the author was coming to Madison.

Jojo Moyes presents us with a story that will make us think.  What would it be like if I couldn’t use any of my limbs, if I was dependent on people for everything?  Would my life be worth living?  Speaking as someone who is aging, I find myself limited by bad knees, fatigue and an energy level that have decreased from when I was younger.  These are natural events that happen over the course of people’s lives.  There’s a process of grieving these small changes in the course of living.  So I can’t imagine what it would be like to wake up one day and have my whole life be different.  And thanks the author, I don’t need to.

The characters in this book were instantly involving.  The author gives the reader a glimpse of Will’s life before the accident and then after allowing the reader to really see just how much his life and he have changed.  Louise – called Lou throughout the book, is the antithesis of Will.  She has no dreams or visions beyond the life she is living.  The real joy in this book is that the two of them are so different and yet each has so much to offer to the other.

This is not your traditional romance and as such is beautiful in its own way.  There is no instant chemistry but a gradual knowing of the other person.  It is beautiful to watch these two people get to know each and grow to understand and then love each other.

I admired Lou. from early on in the book.  She is so strong.  I loved her openness to seeing Will as an individual rather than a disabled man in a chair.  We see this early on when she talking with her boyfriend, Patrick about Will’s ex-girlfriend showing up to say she a former colleague of Will’s are getting married.  Patrick doesn’t blame the ex-girlfriend for moving on and says that if he became paralyzed he wouldn’t want Lou to stay out of pity.

And Will… well I fell in love with him too.  He is handsome and intelligent, charming and sarcastic, depending on the situation.  The story is told from Lou’s point of view with a chapter here and there from other characters.  But the only real glimpse of what WIll is feeling or thinking comes from his actions and his words. Moyes never allows Will’s thoughts to be heard and it is a smart choice.  It allows us, as the reader to imagine but not really know what it’s like for him.

The other cast of characters, Nathan, the medical assistant, his parents, were interesting and offered opportunities to see how Will’s accident impacted them as well.  Lou’s family and boyfriend broadens our understanding of how Lou has become the person she is today.

The tension in the book is driven by Will’s belief that his life is over; he has nothing left to live for and Lou’s determination to prove him wrong.  I looked forward to seeing what she was going to try next and how it was going to turn out.  It’s through these trips and failed plans that each grows to know and like each other which turns into love.  And here lies the irony.  In a scene in which the two of them are dancing Lou makes an observation.

Will would never have seen her in his old life.  It is because he is where he is that he meets and appreciates Lou; a person that would have been invisible to him before his accident. She becomes a reason to get up in the morning.  Can she be enough to give him the desire to want to live?

The answer is one that will have people thinking.  This book will engage the reader in contemplating what quality of life means for them.  What gives our life value?   Meaning?  What is enough?  Like I said in the beginning, this is a forever book.  These are questions that will follow us throughout our life.  It’ll be interesting to see if my answers are the same over the next 30 years.

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the ocean at the end of the laneWell Met Mr. Gaiman

Can you believe I’ve never read anything by Neil Gaiman before?  Yes, it’s true. What I’ve missed.  But I’m working on catching up.  My first Gaiman book was The Ocean at the End of the Lane and it was love at first listen.  Yes, I listened to this on audio and everyone is right, Neil Gaiman is a master at reading his own books.  My dream is to some day meet him, so I’ve made it a priority to also own hard copies so I can get his autograph.

Part fairy tale part mythology, it’s a mistake to not at lease give him a try. And when you’re ready to give-in and admit the mastery of Mr. Gaiman, pick up his book The Graveyard which is a children’s book but just a pleasure to read.

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Honorable Mentions:

Under the domeI wouldn’t have taken this on without it being chosen for a book read in one of my online book clubs. It was over 1000 pages but I listened to it on CD. It was 30 CDs. It was one long book.  But it was so nice to be reminded of how much I enjoy Stephen King.  It hasn’t replaced my favorite, The Stand but still a great pleasure.  My goal is to get to The Shining next year.

Guernsey LiteraryThis is another audio read.  This one is a series of letter’s between the characters during WWII.  It was a guilty pleasure and a wonderful reminder of the simple joy of letter writing.

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Thanks for sticking we me through this long post.

For those who celebrate holidays at this time of year, may they be filled with happiness.

Happy Holidays from Karen & Gypsybelle.

Happy Holidays from Karen & Gypsybelle.

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