Friday, September 28, 2012

Calling Invisible Women

Clover Hobart wakes up one Thursday, walks her dog, takes a shower, looks in the mirror and finds that she is invisible.  As in nothing reflects in the mirror but her bathrobe.  She is upset to say the least.  Clover is married to Arthur, a pediatrician extraordinaire, who is very busy with his practice.  Her son Nick, is an unemployed college graduate who has moved back home.  Her daughter Evie is still in college, the epitome of a coed, beautiful, smart, a cheerleader in love with a handsome undergraduate.  Clover is in her mid fifties and she will readily admit that she has not been keeping track of herself for a few years. She realizes the invisibility is more than just a physical thing.  It has become a psychological state for her within her family. 

Clover decided that she must tell someone, so once she comes back into view she confides in her best friend Gilda.  Gilda has no comment at first.  She simply can't believe that Clover's family hasn't noticed Clover's clothing doesn't have a body in them but when she sees her son react as if Clover is physically visible in their kitchen she becomes a believer.  According to Clover she is "definite substance and no form."  She doesn't know how correct she is.

Clover finds a group of similarly invisible women.  They meet in a local hotel and since no one can see them if they don't have clothes on, they carry a piece of tissue so they know where they are.  This group is empowering for Clover.  She starts to realize that she is not a victim, even though the invisibility is caused by a combination of drugs that the manufacturer knows will have this effect.  She becomes more assertive with her life.  Getting her job back, thwarting a robbery, saving a woman from a beating.  In her invisibility she actually becomes more visible.

The book is a quick read that will appeal to most  women.   I loved this book! Short, snappy and wholly improbable, it made me feel good. I recommend this book!

And now for some trivia: Jeanne Ray is Ann Patchett's mother!

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Banned Books Week

Banned Books week celebrates it's 30th anniversary next week, September 30 through October 6. Sponsored by the American Library Association, this week celebrates the freedom to read along with the right to free and open access to information, both of which are protected rights under the first amendment to the U.S. constitution.  Every week books are challenged in the United States. Most challenges are done in an attempt to protect children from what someone perceives as inappropriate or offensive.

According to the American Library Association's Office of Intellectual Freedom, the top 3 reasons to challenge materials are:
1. Material is considered sexually explicit;
2. Material contains "offensive" language;
3. Material was "unsuited" to any group.

Parents challenge materials more than any other group. In 2010 the most frequent challenger was a parent and their most often cited reason for the challenge was that the material was sexually explicit. The American Library Association's Librarian Bill of Rights puts the onus on parents to track what their children are reading.

The Glencoe Public Library is sponsoring a program called Books on the Chopping Block on Sunday September 30 at 2:00pm. The City Lit Theatre Company will be reading excerpts from the top 10  most frequently challenged books of 2011. There is bound to be some discussion afterwards!  While the program is intended for adults, children grade 6 and up are most welcome.

Come see what this is about. Children want to read.  Freedom to read assures they can.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub

Just published in September, this is another book in the "light but good" category!

It's 1920, and Elsa Emerson lives in Door County, Wisconsin.  She is the baby of the family who runs the Cherry County Playhouse, which caters to the summer tourists.  This amateur theatrical company brings in "professional" actors to supplement the family's talents, and with four lovely blond Emerson daughters, summer romances are in the air.  Elsa marries one of the actors, goes to L.A., and is reincarnated as "Laura Lamont," a contract actress to one of the big studios.  A very enjoyable read, with likeable characters and a happy ending.  Good writing moves the story along, and the book is told in a start to finish manner, which is a refreshing change of pace. 

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Yard

The setting is London, just after Jack the Ripper made his name.  Scotland Yard is still something new and the reputation of the London police in general is not good.  This is the backdrop for Alex Grecian's first novel, The Yard.

Detective Inspector Little has been found dead - his dismembered body stuffed into a trunk.  The detectives at Scotland Yard are taking this murder personally.  So the rank and file is somewhat dismayed when DI Day is assigned to lead the investigation.  Day has just arrived from Devon and has very little experience in investigating major crimes.  Constable Pringle, Dr. Kingsley, the medical examiner, and Hammersmith, an up and coming policeman round out the investigative group.  But it's not just Little's murder they must investigate. There is a kidnapped boy, another dead policeman and a man who has been garroted after having his facial hair shaved off.  All these crimes are seemingly unconnected but all must be solved.

This is a good story.  The time period is interesting.  There is no real forensic science to speak of, but Kingsley has discovered the early research into fingerprinting and he thinks this may be of use in the investigation.  London is a good setting- still skittish from the Jack the Ripper murders and the police are anxious to show they can solve crimes.  And the characters are interesting - Hammersmith has a somewhat dubious background, Pringle is a social climber, and Day just wants the job done.

This book wins my trifecta - good writing, good plot, good characters.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Fallen Angel

If, like me, you have never read a Daniel Silva novel before, reading The Fallen Angel, his latest, might make you a fan of not only the author, but also of his signature literary creation, Gabriel Allon. Allon is a busy guy.  He is an Israeli intelligence officer, an assassin, and a master art restorer. If that’s not enough to make his resume stand out, he’s also on a first-name basis with the Pope.

In this fast-paced novel, Allon is employed to restore a Caravaggio painting when a curator in the Vatican's antiquities division, Dr. Claudia Andreatti, is found dead on the floor in St. Peter’s Basilica. Did she jump to her death, or was she pushed over the balcony? The Pope’s private secretary, Monsignor Luigi Donati, asks Allon to investigate. Allon reluctantly accepts the invitation, and soon he and his beautiful wife Chiara are not just investigating Andreatti’s death, but are also immersed in the deadly worlds of art theft, the Mob, and global terrorism. Along the way, the pair meet up with a variety of indelible characters, some of whom are dangerous men and others women—such as Monsignor Donati’s "special friend"—who are almost as beautiful as Chiara.

With great dialogue and vivid characters, The Fallen Angel is a pulse-pounding thriller that takes readers deep inside the antiquities market, the Vatican, and ubiquitous Middle East tensions.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Blood of Flowers

The Blood of Flowers, by Anita Amirrezvani, is a coming of age story set in 17th century Persia.  Written in first person narration, the speaker is a grown woman recalling her adolescence.  As a 14 year old village girl, she looks forward to becoming engaged that year. She describes herself as attractive but not beautiful.  Yet she is imaginative and creative and has taught herself the art of rug-making.  In fact, she has made a beautiful turquoise rug that she hopes may serve as her dowry.

But when her beloved father dies, life changes drastically for her and her mother. The narrator must sell her rug to have some money.  Having no means of support, they travel to Isfahan to live with the family of her father's half-brother, Gostaham. Gostaham is a rug designer in the court of the famed Shah Abbas. His wife, the daughter of a famous rug-maker for whom Gostaham was an apprentice, treats them as servants.  The only bright side is that Gostaham is willing to teach this young girl the fine art of rug making and ultimately, rug design.

Amirrezvani uses evocative language to describe the rugs and how they are made.  But she does not glamorize the lives of the women who made them.  Though the medium of her narrator, she writes:

I had heard stories about women who became deformed by long hours of sitting at the loom, so that when they tried to deliver a child, their bones formed a prison locking the baby inside. (Both) would die after many hours of anguish.  Even the youngest knotters suffered aching backs, bent limbs, tired fingers, exhausted eyes.  All our labors were in service of beauty, but sometimes it seemed as if every thread in a carpet had been dipped in the blood of flowers. (p. 351) 

Likewise, women's lives were hard in other ways.  Neither poor nor wealthy women could choose their husbands: these were chosen for them by their parents.  A good dowry would ensure a wealthy man but not necessarily a kind one.  Such is the fate of Naheed, the narrator's friend.  The narrator's choices are still more limited. In order to help family finances, she is forced into a secret marriage with a wealthy man.  She continues to live with Gostaham and his wife and servants, but spends nights with this man whenever he requests her presence.  This contract is for three-month periods renewable at the man's request.

The reader is reminded again and again of how little power women had at that time under Muslim law.  The narrator has a very strong will and asserts her desires in a manner unheard of at that time.
In the home of Gostaham, the narrator proves to be an able and talented student.. She weaves her rugs during spare moments, forgoing sleep when necessary. Aspiring to be a great designer, she knows she can never sign her own pieces because of her gender.  Still, she relishes the sense of well-being her work gives her and hopes for economic independence.  Given the belief system around her, this is no ordinary aspiration.

The Blood of Flowers is a perfect book for those wishing to learn more about Persian society and the art of hand-woven rugs.  Amirrezvani paints lush details of the city of Isfahan, teeming with life and natural beauty. Likewise her depiction of the life of women in 17th Century Iran is as captivating as it is disturbing.  One point of note, though--there is explicit sexual content in this book that might offend some readers. Although the story is of a young girl, this book is not intended for a middle-school child.

If you are interested in fiction set in the Middle East, this book should definitely be put on your reading list.

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Friday, September 7, 2012

People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry

The setting is Tokyo, Japan. Lucie Blackman, a 21 year old British woman  has moved to Tokyo with her friend Louise.  Lucie, tall, slim and blond has held several types of jobs including a flight attendant.  Nothing seemed to get Lucie out of her debt.  A friend of Louise told her they could make a lot of money in a short period of time by 'hostessing."

The type of hostessing being referred to is not the call girl type.  Apparently in Japan there are bars where Japanese business men (called salary men) come in with clients to drink and have conversations with western women.  The objects are to get the men to spend money and for the hostess to develop a regular client base, in order to get more money.  Pivate meetings called dohans are allowed and the men must pay for this extra time.  Lucie assumed that since other young women had done this it would be safe.  And according to reported statistics, Tokyo is one of the safest cities in the world.  Once arriving in Tokyo Lucie and Louise rent a house in the Roppongi district.  By day this is a respectable business area, at night it is filled with bars of all kinds.

Lucie and Louise spend their days  hungover, sleeping, shopping and preparing for another night's work.  On Saturday, July 1 Lucie prepared for a dohan with a mysterious man.  The man had promised Lucie a cell phone as a gift for her time.  Louise didn't know the man's name but she and Lucie were close - had never lied to each other and always kept promises to each other and Lucie said she would be back latter that afternoon, in time for dinner.  Lucie never returned.  Louise became concerned and called friends, other bars and finally the hospitals.  Finally she and a Japanese friend contacted the police.

When the police weren't interested, Louise contacted the British embassy.  They in turn contacted the police and tried to get them moving.  While this was going on, Louise received a phone call from a man saying Lucie had joined a cult, didn't want to speak to anyone and that she would never be coming back.  So begins the search for Lucie.

The book is written by a British journalist stationed in Tokyo who covered the case. It gives extensive details of the hostess trade, the lives of the women involved,  the character of the men who frequent them, the turmoil of Lucie's family and the inner workings of the police department.  In this instance, once a suspect was apprehended the case took an astounding 6 years to work its way through the Japanese legal system. This book is more than just a  tale of a horrific murder and a surreal trial.  It is a warning to be wary of situations that seem to good to be true.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

We Sinners by Hanna Pylvainen

I read this book after it was positively reviewed by the literary editor of the Chicago Tribune, and I am so glad I did.  I have already recommended it to many people.

The story centers around a very conservative religious family, the Rovaniemis. They follow a strict Finnish faith, self described as "hyper-Lutheranism."  No singing, no dancing, no T.V., no dating outside of the faith, and strict attendance at worship.

Each chapter is told from the point of view of one of the Rovaniemi family members, as they make decisions about how to follow the strictures of their church.  The characters are very well drawn, and you feel as if you know each of them.

What I particularly liked about this book is that no matter what your faith tradition is, the reader can empathize with the dilemmas these characters face.  Questioning and self examining adherence to cultural traditions, family and faith is wide spread, not just for this family. 

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