30 July 2010

The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff

"The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass.  It was one of those strange purple dawns that color July there, when the bowl made by the hills fills with a thick fog and even the songbirds sing timorously, unsure of day or night."

So begins Lauren Groff's debut novel, The Monsters of Templeton, published by Hyperion in 2008, and it is a many-layered story of secrets -- both within a family and within a town.  From the moment Wilhelmina "Willie" Upton returns to her hometown of Templeton, more events begin to unfurl, of which she has just recently left many to forget.

What a true disaster Willie's made of everything, really.  A mess by her own making and embarrassed by her mistakes and poor personal choices, Willie is now a woman in her late twenties who, although is a smart archaeology grad student, can't really seem to make a good personal decision when it comes to men.  She has a devastating end to her scandalous affair with her older, and married Professor, resulting in a pregnancy, and she feels even more intense guilt as she runs away, since she feels that she has abandoned her best friend, Clarissa in San Francisco, who is suffering from a devastating illness that requires many a hospital visit and treatment.  It's really much too much for Willie to take in and manage, and since she's afraid that she will be kicked out of school because of her scandalous affair, she returns with her head hung low back to her childhood home and town and especially to her mother, maybe just to escape for a while to wait until either the dust settles, or some form of clarity manages to rise in the muddle of it all.  Her mother, Vi, has a Bohemian past but is now a Sunday church regular, and has always raised Willie with the story that her father could have been any one of three hippies at a commune, but she now reveals a secret she's always kept, and which she now sets upon Willie to uncover the truth, if only to distract Willie from the massive mess she's made.

With the monster's corpse coming to the lake's surface, it brings a change to the town.  The monster has always been myth, legend, speculation, but the monster was always believed to exist by the town (as much as a monster's existence can truly be believed, though) and no one truly knew the quiet, goodness it held.  A whirl of visitors now floods into town to see, record, and report on the monster.  Prior to this great event, the many visitors to the town only were tourists visiting the baseball museum, one fashioned after Groff's own home of Cooperstown.  

As the story moves between Willie's current day and in snapshots of her family's past, she uses her archaeology training to dig further and deeper and uncover a truth that is far greater than any expedition she was previously on with her lover.  Willie reads from the 1700s to the early 1900s in diary entries, personal letters, and newspaper clippings to piece together who may actually be her father.

It's an amazing story, full of secrets, ghosts, a monster of a lake, intertwined with love, sadness, regret.  Amazing and quirky characters fill the pages, both real people in history polished with a little bit of fiction, along with brilliant humor and dark pain gracing each moment.  I found myself comfortable and lolling in the story as I would imagine I would be in a small boat on the monster's lake.

I stayed up late to finish reading this.  I was held hostage in the story and kept thinking, "what next?"  There is such majesty of language, such smooth stringing of words even more beautiful and melodious when spoken, and I found that Lauren Groff tied up every story line, and not one thing was left out.  I was able to close the book satisfied, and know that I didn't have one question left, save for my imagination walking by the lake with one of the characters, waiting for the fog to settle to see if maybe it was a trick of my eyes, or if I just saw one of the many monsters of the town.  Great, fabulous, read -- I'm excited to read anything Lauren Groff has coming next!

Happy Reading!

Coffee and a Book Chick


28 July 2010

Whatcha Reading Wednesday?

Hosted by Busy Moms Who Love To Read, it's a fun opportunity to see what everyone is reading...  here are the rules:

  • Pick up the book you are currently reading.
  • Go to page 100 and type that very last complete sentence on the page.
  • If it is a spoiler at all be sure to put **Spoiler Alert** at the top of your comment (like if the selection announces the death of an integral character or something).
Here is mine for this week (which is actually a very long run on paragraph, so I'll just grab a portion of it):

The men have bloated skin, and the women's hair has come loose and flouts cloudlike behind them, sunnies and pumpkin-seed fish scattered in it...a man with my father's face, wrists blooming roses of blood...two brothers with frosted lashes and lips, ice skates on their feet, pounding at the surface as if it were glass...small Indian girl who looks at me with serene and unforgiving eyes as she floats naked, bruises like plums on her thighs, soldier in olive drab, the stumps of his legs looking tender as a baby's skin...young men in boater-hats, young women in tight waists and bellish skirts from before the Civil War...

From:  The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff
Happy Reading!
Coffee and a Book Chick


26 July 2010

Key West...and What's In for Monday?

Sigh...  I've returned from my vacation in Key West and am struggling to get back in the work spirit...The above picture is from Ernest Hemingway's bookshelves in his home in Key West.  Beautiful!

I must tell you all that if you have never visited Key West, Florida, I highly recommend it!  Normally, the tourist season is the highest during November through February when it isn't searingly hot, but I go in July to support my father in the Ernest Hemingway Look Alike contest.  This is one of the funniest and most fun competitions that is supported and followed by many, and Sloppy Joe's Bar in Key West hosts this event every year.  This was the 30th year of the event, and not only is it a competition of older gentlemen with white hair and a beard and mustache, the money generated from the auctions and other events goes towards the Scholarship fund that is awarded to a local Key West student!  Not to mention, the winner is interviewed by several major news outlets!  It's a wonderful event, and we also had a wedding to attend as well -- so much to do!

Dad made the finals, but sadly, didn't win the honor of being a Papa Hemingway this year -- however, it's the 3rd year in a row that he's made the finals, so maybe next year, right?  A post will be coming soon for a quick overview of the event and the trip.  Although not a very bookish review, it is however, a trip that is prompted by one of the great writers in history for the Hemingway Days Festival!  Click here to see the events overview and pictures of the winner!

I lazed around in hot Key West and didn't really read too much -- I had hoped to finish The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff, but spent each day surrounded by family and friends for the Hemingway Contest and the wedding, and then fell fast asleep as soon as my head hit my bed and breakfast pillow at the Angelina Guest House...however I was able to jump back into it this morning and I'm excited to finish this. 

Up next is The Tapestry of Love, by Rosy Thornton, and The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood!

Happy Reading!
Coffee and a Book Chick


20 July 2010

People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks

I love it when a book is able to seamlessly and eloquently combine fiction and history, leaving you wondering where fiction ends and truth begins.  As a voracious reader, I enjoy being able to delicately step through a story's pages and revel in the imagination of the writer, whilst learning a new nugget of actual history that sadly, didn't make any of my history classes in high school or college.

People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks, does just that.  This is a treat beyond all compare, beauty of history and story within front and back covers.  The Haggadah is a Jewish book that is read on the first night of Passover and tells the stories of enslavement, and the subsequent miracles performed by God which ultimately resulted in freedom.  In People of the Book, Hannah Heath is a rare books expert from Australia who travels to battle-torn Sarajevo in 1996.  Her task is to preserve the beautiful Sarajevo Haggadah that has just been uncovered after 100 years.  This Haggadah, though, is very different both in color and in sketch -- odd that it has survived throughout the years, since its original creation date sometime in the 14th century in Spain would have been during a time when drawing a person and illuminating it as such, although clothed, was considered offensive.  Somehow it has survived throughout the years from the Spanish Inquisition to the Holocaust.  Piqued by this curiosity, and passionate about preservation, Hannah also finds several items that are encapsulated within the pages of the book, such as a red stain, or a white hair, or an insect wing, and these objects become the opportunity for the author to explain in whose hands this book may have fallen, and the significance they earned in history.  We watch the book travel from Venice and to Vienna, and we learn the stories of the people who held the book, cared for the book, and saved the book, ultimately saving a critical piece of Jewish history.  Although some of these sections are fictionalized, the story of the Sarajevo Haggadah sends the message to the reader that it has become even more than just the colorful drawings and the binding of it, but about the people of the book, the people who fought and died for this incredible piece of history.

I found this refreshing and moving, and I was struck by the significance of a book that is of such beauty and importance to history.  It made me wonder who really were the people that protected it through hundreds of years?  Geraldine Brooks writes each character and scene in such a fluid manner, moments depicted with such heartbreak, such horror, and yet with hope.  It moved quickly for me and it wasn't long before I finished.

When I closed the book, I felt regret that I had never learned of this subject and felt that it was a duty of mine to learn more on such an important topic.  I immediately began to research away and found several important sites that held more information that helped my education on this subject grow.
Reading People of the Book has made my visits to the museum a much different experience, awareness more profoundly etched within me, as I look at an object on display -- in whose hands did this significant artifact fall, how did this manage to survive time and human ignorance to get to this museum behind protected glass, for me to view?  And on my list of places to visit, I will add Sarajevo no matter how battle-torn, simply to be able to visit with the amazing Sarajevo Haggadah, where it is on permanent display.

Please visit Farm Lane Books Blog and the recent post on Book Drum, which is designed to help a reader truly understand all aspects of the book they are reading -- a bit like an online book site that provides a snapshot into the history or areas discussed in a book.


19 July 2010

Book Blogger Hop at Crazy for Books!

Who doesn't love networking!  I enjoy it, both in my day job and now in the fabulous world of book review blogging!  So, today I'm participating in Crazy for Books and her Book Blogger Hop!


I have read so many reviews in the past week for Justin Cronin's The Passage.  That is *the* book I am dying to get my hands on, and after my vacation to Key West, I think I'm going to have to just go ahead and buy it!

What do you think?  Here's what a few of my favorite bloggers had to say about The Passage!
So that's what I'm dying to get my hands on and I can't wait!


18 July 2010

Many Thanks to Enchanted by Josephine!

I'm tickled, dancing with glee, and thoroughly thrilled to have won How to Mellify A Corpse: And Other Human Stories of Ancient Science & Superstition, by Vicki Leon from the fabulous blogger Enchanted by Josephine.  Click on her site to read her review!  Enchanted by Josephine has fantastic insights and such a creative page, I'm sure you will all enjoy!

Now, it's a Sunday, so while I wait with anticipation for the Vicki Leon book in the mail, I'm off with my cup of coffee and opening up The Monsters of Templeton, by Lauren Groff.  I'm a little late in the game on this one as it was published by Hyperion in 2008 and I'm just now getting around to it!  I will blame my library of books that continues to grow!  So far, I'm finding it quite a thrill and I can't wait to finish this before my vacation to Key West next week!  What will you be reading today?

Happy Reading!
Coffee and a Book Chick


17 July 2010

Sharp Objects, by Gillian Flynn

I'll be honest.  I enjoy being freaked out by a book.  I enjoy reading about dark and disturbing topics that make you want to make sure you're reading with your back to the wall so nothing can creep up on you.

Here's the deal with this book.  It is dark, disturbing, twisted, manic.  These words continued to swirl in my head as I read about Camille Preaker in Sharp Objects.  Words are important to Camille because she's lived the larger part of her life by carving, cutting, and slicing words all over her skin.

There is no question about it. I could not have been more caught up in the disturbing novels of Gillian Flynn, both Sharp Objects and Dark Places. I really can't tell you which one was my favorite, but I'm thinking it's neck and neck, with Sharp Objects coming out as the winner by just a hair. And it's simply just because when I first picked it up, I had no idea that the disturbing and dark story would be one I would get so swept up in.

While traveling for business, on a whim I picked Sharp Objects while waiting for my flight. I don't even know how to explain the premise without re-freaking myself out. But, allow me to valiantly try. 

Camille Preaker is a woman in her thirties, and a journalist at a small newspaper in Chicago who is sent to research and write about a horrible crime of two children murdered in her hometown.  It's a hometown that for Camille, has such terrible and dark memories, that she is repulsed and afraid of taking the assignment.  Why would she want to visit the old Victorian home that her compulsively neurotic mother lives in, and which her gorgeous teenage half-sister that she barely knows seems to run?  The home is the reason why Camille's turned into a vegetarian, which is fairly expected since it's situated on her family's pig farm, and the sounds of slaughter don't really sit well with Camille. Camille's already experienced enough with her sister's death when she was young, and has been compelled since then to destroy her body by razor-writing insults like whore and nasty over every inch of her body that she can cover up with clothing.  Not to mention, she just came out of a six month stay in a psychiatric institution.  She's supposed to be in recovery but she sometimes will drag her palms over sharp edges to make them bleed.  Going back to Wind Gap, Missouri, the source of her traumas to investigate the murders of children just isn't a good idea.

Dark.  Disturbed.  Twisted.  Manic.  These are the words always swirling through my head as I read.  I was held hostage by this book, and for two days during my business travel, I attended all meetings anxiously, waiting for when I could run back up to my hotel room after dinner and dive into the pages.  Gillian Flynn's writing left me with an uncomfortable feeling that I (secretly) thoroughly enjoyed as I turned the pages and pulled more of Camille's life into my mind.  And what I thought would be the ending really wasn't.  Suffice it to say, when the mystery of the murdered children is truly solved, I was stunned and couldn't sleep.  I thought about this story for days and still can't quite put it out of my head.  I absolutely recommend this novel!


11 July 2010

Entre Les Murs (The Class) Film

Please visit Thyme for Tea and BookBath as they co-host the Paris in July challenge. It has been so much fun for this new blogger!

I woke up early yesterday morning, made myself a cup of coffee, and was prepared to begin reading a new book, when behold! The Encore channel finally has something that actually catches my eye! I read the quick snapshot of the film, Entre Les Murs (The Class), and was intrigued. Set in Paris, it is based on the autobiography of a teacher named François Bégaudeau, who has been assigned to an inner city school to teach French Literature.

I was initially drawn to the story and then as I watched, I enjoyed that it was filmed like a documentary. The ethnically diverse class of immigrant students argued over class topics, their favorite soccer teams, and basic childish clashes. Since students were originally from China to Morocco to Mali, the conversation they had on why they should support the French soccer team versus their original country was particularly interesting. They struggled to complete a class project, one that was not the norm for the traditional curriculum. The project was to write out who they were as a person, who their family was, and what made them tick. This became a challenge to several students who were not only used to being taught in a traditional manner that they were raised on, but were students who had a tough time with standard studies anyway. Since French education is based on a very strict model of long-established formal instruction and all teachers are expected to follow the requirements, this particular class found the lesson even tougher to grasp. A teacher is not expected to deviate from this format and be even a little creative.

I found out later that the teacher, François Bégaudeau, in the film is the author and actual teacher in the story, and that the students in the class are not trained actors. I enjoyed this and in thinking back on it, it adds even more to the film's documentary feel.

I did struggle with one aspect -- the entire film was dubbed with voice overs...I find that never quite captures the emotion of what is actually happening. Just a week ago, watching Paris, J'taime, I recalled my initial fear of subtitles, and now I missed those subtitles. I yearned for them. The voice over dubbing sometimes seemed silly and I started to think of bad kung fu flicks. I sipped a little more coffee and tried to remind myself to listen past it and instead enjoy. It was a challenge.

One scene was particularly touching and I felt was truly the moment that defined the film for me. A young student, Souleyman from Mali, who is considered the class troublemaker, doesn't like writing, or speaking, about himself for the assigned project. True to his character always going against the grain, he instead decides to take pictures of his friends and his family. This is how he chooses to represent himself, versus writing it out in a few paragraphs. Was it another opportunity to be different one more time, or was he honestly completing the project with no other motive? The actor, Franck Keïta played his character at one particular moment that was breathtaking. The teacher decided to put up the pictures for the entire class to review. Franck Keïta's character goes through the entire range of emotions so expressively with such genuineness that I was completely stunned -- his face and body language went from nervousness to timidity, and then to sudden pride and his eyes lit up as his work is acknowledged and he is complimented for his work, possibly for the first time in his school career. This actor was brilliant in that particular moment. Absolutely brilliant.

Good questions are asked by this film: Who is the real problem in the school system? The kids? Or is it the system itself that has let them down and created children who have no interest in the subjects being taught?

But, sadly, I found that the end of the movie was just...empty. There is a poignant scene between François and a student, but I walked away disappointed. I did want to know what happened to a few students, particularly Souleyman, who were critical to the final scenes, but it wasn't explained. There were so many parts of the movie that I truly loved and enjoyed, but I was so disappointed because the ending just fell flat to me. Was that an artistic ending, or did I just miss the point? What about you? Have you ever found that the end of a movie delicately walked the line between being artistic and just being disappointing?


In keeping with the celebration of Paris in July, hosted by Thyme for Tea and BookBath, somehow my husband and I actually found a cute French bistro in our quiet North Florida town. We had decided to go out to eat yesterday, and I was so excited to visit J.J.'s Bistro de Paris off of Gate Parkway. My husband is originally from Boston and I'm from Baltimore, and we've only lived in this area for a little over 3 years, but it wasn't until this weekend that we found such a secret, and that would also mix well with the Paris in July challenge.

J.J.'s Bistro de Paris was everything we were needing it to be -- it was quaint and reminiscent of all thing Parisian when we walked in and were greeted by a small store selling French wine and other items, past the bakery counter, and were then led back through the dining area which had an almost 20-foot reproduction of the Eiffel Tower. We chose to sit in a small room off of the main area that had about 8 small tables in it, which reminded me of Europe's small cafes and restaurants, the walls decorated with fab artwork that were Paris-inspired. I truly didn't anticipate that we would actually do a full dinner with appetizers, entrees, and dessert, but the atmosphere was so fantastic, that we just wanted to stay a little bit longer!

Our wonderful and helpful waiter, Glenn, helped me select a specific wine that would suit my natural tendency to only drink sweet wine, without it being too sweet. He suggested Vouvray, a lighter wine that held more of a taste of honey and fruits, particularly apple.

As a vegan, it's sometimes difficult to choose vegan items when dining out, however I decided to allow myself a little break and selected vegetarian items that included cheese, so I had the Baked Wheel of Brie appetizer with raspberry preserve and sliced toasted almonds - spreading this on my bread, I was ecstatic with the flavors, and loved the combination of raspberry with cheese, mentally noting it to myself that I needed to learn how to make this at some point in my life...

I selected the Vegetarian Trio entree, which was a Mushroom Risotto, the chef's daily ravioli, and pesto grilled vegetables, while my husband enjoyed his Shrimps and Scallops served with a hazelnut cream sauce and risotto. The presentation of the food was fantastic, and we were stunned by how much food was actually on our plates -- oh yes, we had to get a take away box! The flavors were unbelievable -- we continued to talk about how surprised we were to find this little nugget of a secret in North Florida.

Dessert was a lemon coconut cake with toasted coconut on top, and it was *the* perfect dessert for a hot summer evening after a full meal. The combination of the toasted coconut with the light sponge cake and cream filling, along with an almost wafer-like bottom was wonderful, and it capped the evening off perfectly. My husband and I left the restaurant feeling as thought we had just spent one night in Paris!

Thank you to all of the staff at J.J.'s Bistro de Paris, our waiter Glenn, and especially the amazing chef, James-- it was absolutely wonderful and we thank you all! It will not be long before we would like another jaunt through Paris again!


10 July 2010

A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway

After you came out of the Luxembourg you could walk down the narrow rue Fèrou to the Place St.-Sulpice and there were still no restaurants, only the quiet square with its benches and trees. There was a fountain with lions, and pigeons walked on the pavement and perched on the statues of the bishops. There was the church and there were shops selling religious objects and vestments on the north side of the square. From this square you could not go further toward the river without passing shops selling fruits, vegetables, wines, or bakery and pastry shops. But by choosing your way carefully you could work to your right around the grey and white stone church and reach the rue de l'Odèon and turn up to your right toward Sylvia Beach's bookshop and on your way you did not pass too many places where things to eat were sold.
Participating in the Paris in July challenge by fellow bloggers Thyme for Tea and BookBath has been such a fabulous journey through all things Parisian. I chose this week to read, while preparing for my vacation at the Hemingway Days festival in Key West by reading Ernest Hemingway's, A Moveable Feast. Set in 1920s Paris, it is a retrospective by Hemingway of his life at that time, married to Hadley and surrounded by fellow ex-pats that ranged from Gertrude Stein to Ezra Pound and to F. Scott Fitzgerald. Almost every page provides an image into life in Paris, and I found myself wandering the rue Cardinal Lemoine or by the Seine, drinking from a small carafe of wine or eating in one of the cafès that Hemingway gathers to write. Perhaps he is at the next table?

Although Ernest Hemingway writes in his preface, "If the reader prefers, this book may be regarded as fiction. But there is always the chance that such a book of fiction may throw some light on what has been written as fact." This he relates after he has completed writing A Moveable Feast in 1960, and it is honestly told, no fluff to his descriptions of streets, stores, and life for him and his wife. It is before Hemingway has become the famous writer, and in Paris, he is a struggling writer, being turned down by American magazines, and only being accepted by German publications. Each page is his daily life writing and struggling, living and struggling, and providing for his family. He writes of Hadley in a favorable light, almost sweetly, and she is his supportive wife, and I felt regret from Hemingway. I thought of him writing these events, now an older man living in Cuba, about his younger life in Paris, loyal or insane or sad ex-pats rounding out his circle of friends, and he is unashamedly blunt in his thoughts on each writer or poet that he interacts with.

Hemingway is honest in every detail that he shares. If it is a dark day with black clouds, that is how he writes it, with nothing more, nothing less. I was enchanted by that and I was left to my own imagination, as Hemingway would walk the streets to Sylvia Beach's bookshop, Shakespeare and Company. He writes of being provided books to read on credit, and how he and Hadley save to go on trips together, and how much love they had for each other. Together, they played the races, but it never created tensions between them, only people did, he writes. I found it all to be incredibly sad, especially in the final pages as he writes about deception and his first affair, and it drips with sadness, regret for his choices, and my heart broke again. Perhaps I was so sad about these events because Hemingway, shortly after finishing this book, commits suicide. Does he wish for life to be done over again, to make better choices?
If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go, for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast. Ernest Hemingway
Perhaps I am such a fan for Hemingway and his life that this book touched me so deeply. Or perhaps it is the stark grittiness and beauty of Paris that he shares, and the grief of a writer in the midst of it all, that made me feel his lamentations and remorse? I can say that I read books with small Post-It notes to highlight pages that strike me as touching, funny, brilliant, grieving, and I can only honestly convey to you how I felt about this book by sharing this picture of it with you. I loved this story.


07 July 2010

The Diary, by Eileen Goudge

So this is how I picked up The Diary, by Eileen Goudge. A couple of months ago, my husband and I were walking through a bookstore, and I was craving something, something interesting, anything to satisfy the girlish side of my literary delights...everything that my hand brushed through on the shelves just didn't seem engaging, and I was starting to get concerned. Would I actually walk out of a bookstore with nothing in my hands? NOTHING? Is it 2012 already?

My husband found the book. The hubby, you say? Yes, I speak the truth - my husband listened to what I wanted, and voila! Can you believe it? I wanted something fun, responding to my inner girl! I took this from him, read the back, and thought, YES! This will work!

I read this book in a day because I needed to know how it ended, I just had to know. The scenes quietly whispered the events to me, and my hands fluttered through the pages, desperate to drink in just a little more of what was going to happen. It's told from two perspectives -- from Elizabeth's daughters during current day and from Elizabeth as a young woman through the events recorded in her diary. The two sisters have come across it as they clear their parent's house -- their mother, Elizabeth, has suffered a severe stroke and is placed into a nursing home. Their father has already passed and they feel that their mother may not survive her stroke either. The diary is written when their mother, Elizabeth, has a choice between two men -- one who is considered to be the all around perfect guy and a real catch, and another who is from the wrong side of the tracks. Not to mention, Elizabeth also has a dominating mother who is into pretense and image who she constantly struggles with.

At first blush to hear the premise, you may think it's a story told before, but I can assure you that there is quite a difference with Eileen Goudge's writing -- once you dive into the flow of the words, the beauty and suspense becomes quite a treat. It was a perfect excuse to get caught up in another world, thinking about what the choices and experiences of a young woman in the 1950s may go through. It was a sweetly told book, the kind that as I read, I was begging for it to start to rain outside, simply because it's just one of those books to curl up with. Quite honestly, I have visions of this being a movie, and maybe with someone like Sandra Bullock as Elizabeth in the 1950s? (I do realize that Sandra Bullock is a little older than the character, but I am firmly Team Sandra, and I think she can play any role). Okay, maybe Maggie Gyllenhaal? I've been loving the roles that she's been in lately.

Has there ever been a book that you've read that as you are moving through the story, you can just see someone from Hollywood taking the role? And the book is written so well that you can see each scene play out? That's what The Diary did for me! I've got it all mapped out...