A little break — see you next week!

Hello, lovely readers! Bookshelf Fantasies is taking a wee break this week as I head out of town for a combination of vacation time and family business.

While I’m away, my two weekly memes, Shelf Control and Thursday Quotables, are taking a rest too — but if you do posts for either one this week, please feel free to share your links in the comments!

Shelf Control

 

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Have a great week. See you soon!

A little taste of where I am right now…

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The Monday Check-In ~ 3/27/2017

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life:

A blogging note: I’m away this week, and will probably only be checking in here sporadically. I hope to get a lot of great reading in, so I’ll have lots to share next week!

What did I read last week?

Binti Home by Nnedi Okorafor: The 2nd Binti novella is just as amazing as the first.

The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry: A terrific book group pick! My thoughts are here.

Pop culture goodness:

Season 2 of The Magicians (Syfy) has been consistently awesome — and I think the show hit a new high note (pun intended) with this past week’s outstanding episode, including this scene that had me giggling with delight:

The Magicians: One Day More

Fresh Catch:

No new books this week!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:
 

I’m juggling two books right now — one paper and one on my Kindle:

  • Six Wakes by Mur Lafferty: Science fiction about murdered clones on a spaceship. Awesome, right?
  • Unequal Affection by Lara S. Ormiston: A Pride and Prejudice retelling, which starts right after the scene of Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth and ponders what might have happened if Elizabeth had said yes.
Now playing via audiobook:

West with the Night by Beryl Markham: I listened to about a third before leaving on my trip. I’ll either continue when I get home, or (more likely) switch over to print. Meanwhile, I’ve been spending more of my listening time on this, rather than audiobooks:

I have to be ready for when I see the show in May!

Ongoing reads:

MOBYOne Hundred Years of Solitude

My book group is reading and discussing Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon — 2 chapters per week — with an end date coming up in June.

Outlander Book Club’s group read of One Hundred Years of Solitude continues! We’re discussing one chapter per week.

So many books, so little time…

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Book Review: The Secret Scripture

When she was a young woman, Roseanne McNulty was one of the most beautiful and beguiling girls in County Sligo, Ireland. Now, she is a patient at Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital, and nearing her hundredth year. As the story of Roseanne’s life unfolds, so does the life of her caregiver, Dr. Grene, who has been asked to evaluate the patients to decide if they can return to society when the hospital closes down. But as Dr. Grene researches her case, he discovers a document that tells a very different version of Roseanne’s life from what she can recall.

Yet another book I might never have picked up were it not for my book group!

The Secret Scripture is a book of secrets and sorrow, told through the journals of 100-year-old Roseanne McNulty, a mental hospital resident, and Dr. Grene, the psychiatrist evaluating her as the institution is about to close. Although he’s treated her for decades, it’s only as the hospital reaches its end that the doctor begins to dig further into Roseanne’s shadowy past.

Roseanne has spent upwards of 60 years in institutions, and the question is not only whether she’s sane now, but whether she was ever truly insane. As Roseanne’s story comes to light, she unveils memories of her early childhood in Sligo during the Irish Civil War of the early 1920s. Roseanne tells a story of a loving father who raises his young daughter with compassion and curiosity — yet the doctor’s research reveals reports of political entanglements that Roseanne apparently knew nothing about.

A key tragedy during these years sets Roseanne up for a hard and lonely life, until she meets the man she falls in love with. But her life with Tom runs into its own set of tragedies, the upshot of which is Roseanne’s lifelong institutionalization.

I won’t say too much more about the plot details, as they’re best discovered as they unfold. The book has a somewhat slow start, but as the pieces come together, the mysteries and the clues gain a greater sense of urgency. The secrets that come out are truly shocking, simply because they convey the horror of simple cruelty and the easy way in which some people can dismantle others’ lives.

I would have if not happily, at least gladly, open-heartedly, fiercely, finely murdered him.

The doctor’s pieces of the narration are a bit frustrating at times. There are segments about his own life and his marriage that seem disconnected from the rest of the story, although taken as a whole, they do make more sense in the greater scheme of things.

The twin narratives show the unreliability of memory, but also the inherent biases of written documentation. After all, even eye-witness reports depend on the objectivity of the one making the report in the first place. Should we trust Roseanne’s memories of her earlier life, or rely more heavily on the documents that the doctor manages to unearth? Or does the truth lie in some middle ground, with bits of each making up the real course of events?

I did find myself a bit confused at times by the historical references from the war, as I’m not terribly familiar with the details of the conflict and had a hard time figuring out who was on which side. Still, the author manages to evoke the time period quite well, with small details of dress and music to add flavor and bring the scenes to life.

Roseanne is a tragic figure, yet one who ultimately endures whatever life throws at her during her long lifetime. While I was horrified by so much of her story and ached for what she experienced, I was left with a hopeful feeling by the end.

What can I tell you further? I once lived among humankind, and found them in their generality to be cruel and cold, and yet could mention the names of three or four that were like angels.

The Secret Scripture is quite a lovely book with an unusual story to tell. The writing and pacing take a bit of patience, especially for about the first third, but if you stick with it, you’ll be rewarded by the building tension and dramatic revelations toward the end. I’m glad my book group picked this one to discuss! It’s always great to encounter a book that I might otherwise have missed completely.

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The details:

Title: The Secret Scripture
Author: Sebastian Barry
Publisher: Penguin
Publication date: April 2, 2008
Length: 300 pages
Genre: Historical fiction
Source: Purchased

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Thursday Quotables: West With the Night

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Welcome to Thursday Quotables! This weekly feature is the place to highlight a great quote, line, or passage discovered during your reading each week.  Whether it’s something funny, startling, gut-wrenching, or just really beautifully written, Thursday Quotables is where my favorite lines of the week will be, and you’re invited to join in!

West With the Night by Beryl Markham
(published 1942)

I’ve listened to the first few chapters of this audiobook so far, but because my listening time has been very choppy this week, I may switch over to the print edition. West With the Night, the memoir by famed aviator Beryl Markham, is a book I’ve meant to read for years. The writing is just gorgeous. From the very chapter, here’s a lovely passage:

Three hundred and fifty miles can be no distance in a plane, or it can be from where you are to the end of the earth. It depends on so many things. If it is night, it depends on the depth of the darkness and the height of the clouds, the speed of the wind, the stars, the fullness of the moon. It depends on you, if you fly alone — not only on your ability to steer your course or to keep your altitude, but upon the things that live in your mind while you swing suspended between the earth and the silent sky. Some of those things take root and are with you long after the flight itself is a memory, but, if your course was over any part of Africa, even the memory will remain strong.

What lines made you laugh, cry, or gasp this week? Do tell!

If you’d like to participate in Thursday Quotables, it’s really simple:

  • Write a Thursday Quotables post on your blog. Try to pick something from whatever you’re reading now. And please be sure to include a link back to Bookshelf Fantasies in your post (http://www.bookshelffantasies.com), if you’d be so kind!
  • Add your Thursday Quotables post link in the comments section below… and I’d love it if you’d leave a comment about my quote for this week too.
  • Be sure to visit other linked blogs to view their Thursday Quotables, and have fun!

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Shelf Control #75: The Gate To Women’s Country

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! Fore more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Title: The Gate To Women’s Country
Author: Sheri S. Tepper
Published: 1987
Length: 382 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Tepper’s finest novel to date is set in a post-holocaust feminist dystopia that offers only two political alternatives: a repressive polygamist sect that is slowly self-destructing through inbreeding and the matriarchal dictatorship called Women’s Country. Here, in a desperate effort to prevent another world war, the women have segregated most men into closed military garrisons and have taken on themselves every other function of government, industry, agriculture, science and learning.

The resulting manifold responsibilities are seen through the life of Stavia, from a dreaming 10-year-old to maturity as doctor, mother and member of the Marthatown Women’s Council. As in Tepper’s Awakeners series books, the rigid social systems are tempered by the voices of individual experience and, here, by an imaginative reworking of The Trojan Woman that runs through the text. A rewarding and challenging novel that is to be valued for its provocative ideas.

How I got it:

I bought it at a used book store.

When I got it:

A couple of years ago.

Why I want to read it:

This is considered a feminist sci-fi classic, so I’m a bit embarrassed never to have read it. The reviews on Goodreads are all over the place, from 5-stars (including from reviewers I usually trust) to a whole slew of 1-star ratings from people who absolutely hated the book. I think I owe it to myself to at least give it a try.

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Ten short books that are perfect for a quick read

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is:

Read In One Sitting Theme: ten of the shortest books I’ve read, top ten books I read in one sitting, ten books to read when you are short on time, top ten books that will make you read the whole day away, etc.

Here are a bunch of great read, all under 200 pages, that I think are excellent ways to sneak in a quick read!

1) Binti by Nnedi Okorafor. 97 pages. An amazing sci-fi adventure with a remarkable African woman as its main character. (Also, the sequel — Binti: Home — is also a short and sweet 176 pages!)

2) Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (179 pages): Simply beautiful. (review)

3) Isis by Douglas Clegg (113 pages): A wonderful, spooky little ghost story.

4) The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (120 pages): A quirky little novel which imagines Queen Elizabeth suddenly becoming an avid fiction reader.

5) Blockade Billy by Stephen King (112 pages): My edition includes two separate stories, both memorable and worth reading. (review)

6) The Travelling Bag and other Ghostly Stories by Susan Hill (160 pages): A collection of four ghost stories in a pint-sized hardcover edition, easy to read and certain to chill.

7) We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson (160 pages): Without meaning to, I seem to have picked some truly creepy books for this list. This book is a gothic horror delight — and I think it’s even better as an audiobook.

8) Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher (163 pages): A quick, funny, quirky look at the ups and down of Carrie Fisher’s life.

9) The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan (211 pages): Okay, slightly over 200 pages, but it’s such a quick read, and so powerful, that it just must be on this list! (review)

10) What’s a TTT list without an Outlander mention? Yes, the Outlander books are HUGE — but the novellas that fit into and alongside the series are not. For quick, wonderful reads sure to delight Outlander fans, check out any of these:

What are your favorite short and quick reads?

Whatever your spin on this week’s topic, please share your link so I can check out your list!

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Do you host a book blog meme? Do you participate in a meme that you really, really love? I’m building a Book Blog Meme Directory, and need your help! If you know of a great meme to include — or if you host one yourself — please drop me a note on my Contact page and I’ll be sure to add your info!

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The Monday Check-In ~ 3/20/2017

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life:

A blogging note: I’ll be out of town for a week starting next Saturday, so I may or may not keep up with my usual weekly blogging schedule. Let’s play it by ear, shall we?

What did I read last week?

Silence Fallen by Patricia Briggs: I LOVED the newest Mercy Thompson book! My review is here.

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor: This brief novel is a look at the loneliness of aging, as seen through the eyes of a strong woman who moves into a retirement hotel to live out her remaining days. Very sad and sweet, and beautifully written. My review is here.

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor: An amazing sci-fi novella! Loved it.

In audiobooks…

Imprudence by Gail Carriger: I finished the 2nd book in the Custard Protocol series — and now what am I supposed to do? I love the series so far, but alas! Book #3 is probably a year away, and I can’t stand having to wait. Terrific series, and the audiobooks are just such fun.

Fresh Catch:

I rediscovered a childhood favorite — check out my post, here.

And I splurged on sci-fi this week, treating myself to four books I’d really been wanting:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:
 

I’m just finishing up the 2nd Binti book, and then I’ll be starting The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry, which is a book club book for this month.

Now playing via audiobook:

West with the Night by Beryl Markham: Changing things up a bit with this classic autobiography. My book club will be discussing this book in April, so I thought I’d get a head start with the audiobook.

Ongoing reads:

MOBYOne Hundred Years of Solitude

My book group is reading and discussing Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon — 2 chapters per week — with an end date coming up in June.

It’s week #6 of Outlander Book Club’s group read of One Hundred Years of Solitude. I’m lagging a bit behind, and may hold off a bit, then do a reading binge.

So many books, so little time…

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Take A Peek Book Review: Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Synopsis:

(via Goodreads)

On a rainy Sunday in January, the recently widowed Mrs. Palfrey arrives at the Claremont Hotel where she will spend her remaining days. Her fellow residents are magnificently eccentric and endlessly curious, living off crumbs of affection and snippets of gossip. Together, upper lips stiffened, they fight off their twin enemies—boredom and the Grim Reaper. Then one day Mrs. Palfrey strikes up an unexpected friendship with Ludo, a handsome young writer, and learns that even the old can fall in love.

 

My Thoughts:

What a lovely book! With beautiful, often sharp, but never mean descriptions, author Elizabeth Taylor presents regal Mrs. Palfrey, a sturdy elderly woman who finds herself alone in the world. Her daughter is rather disinterested, and her lone grandson, whom she’d counted on for regular visits now that she’s moved to London, can’t be bothered. When a sidewalk slip lands her in front of Ludo’s basement apartment, he comes to her rescue and ends up as her stand-in grandson, providing a spark of life in an otherways dreary existence.

The characters are both quirky and sad. Each of the hotel residents has a life they remember fondly as they pass each slow day by sitting in the parlor, waiting for the dinner menu to be posted, and silently criticizing each others’ foibles. I should point out that the synopsis, above and on the back cover, is a little misleading when it describes Mrs. Palfrey as falling in love. That’s not how it struck me at all; the relationship is full of love, but of a different sort. Meanwhile, we see the ups and downs of these people’s lives, trapped together but also quite alone.

While the subject matter strikes a little too close for comfort for me, in relation to recent events with family members, there’s no denying the craft with which the author has created a representation of loneliness and the fear of aging. These characters, hungry for contact with the outside world and desperate for anything new to interrupt the sameness of their days, feel very much true to life and deserving of compassion, even at their most ornery or ridiculous.

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont is a sweet, touching, short novel, and I look forward to exploring more by this author.

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The details:

Title: Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont
Author: Elizabeth Taylor
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Publication date: 1971
Length: 206 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library

 

About the author:

Elizabeth Taylor (née Coles) was a popular English novelist and short story writer. Elizabeth Coles was born in Reading, Berkshire in 1912. She was educated at The Abbey School, Reading, and worked as a governess, as a tutor and as a librarian.

In 1936, she married John William Kendall Taylor , a businessman. She lived in Penn, Buckinghamshire, for almost all her married life.

Her first novel, At Mrs. Lippincote’s, was published in 1945 and was followed by eleven more. Her short stories were published in various magazines and collected in four volumes. She also wrote a children’s book.

Taylor’s work is mainly concerned with the nuances of “everyday” life and situations, which she writes about with dexterity. Her shrewd but affectionate portrayals of middle class and upper middle class English life won her an audience of discriminating readers, as well as loyal friends in the world of letters.

Blast from the past: Rediscovering a childhood favorite

Back in October, I wrote about an odd phenomenon:

For no reason I could think of, I was suddenly plagued by lines from a childhood poem, and I just could not get them out of my brain. But even worse, I couldn’t remember what book this poem came from, and despite my best efforts online, I was not able to track down the title or the author.

I’ve thought about it on and off ever since, and tried some rare book resource websites, but to no avail. And then, the absolutely amazing Mystereity Reviews (@mystereity) tweeted to let me know that she’d found it!

 

Following the link she provided, I saw the following:

There is a book called “Would You Put Your Money in a Sand Bank” by Harold Longman. It contains a poem about King Max and his taxes that ends with the people putting tacks in Max. Could this be what you’re looking for? The rest of the book is puns and riddles and other poems. – See more at: http://www.whatsthatbook.com/index.php?xq=21020#sthash.IckfiWhT.dpuf
Yes! Yes! A thousand times yes! That’s definitely the poem I wanted! So I went on Amazon and found a used copy, placed my order, and here’s what arrived today:

 

Published in 1968, Would You Put Your Money in a Sand Bank? is a book of puns and wordplay. And there, on page 43, is my long-lost poem! What’s funny is that I don’t recognize anything else about this book — so perhaps just this one poem appeared in an early-reading anthology or something similar. Maybe? Also odd is the fact that I must have read it about a zillion times, and here we are decades later and I still remember big pieces of it by heart — but when I asked my sister if she remembered the poem we always liked to say out loud about a king named Max and all of his taxes, she hadn’t the foggiest notion was I was talking about.

In any case, this just goes to prove that it’s the little things in life that count, because I’m giddy with joy over being reunited with Max’s Taxes. And since I couldn’t find this in print or online anywhere other than in a very old book, I’m going to reprint the entire poem here, for the sake of posterity. I hope you like it!

 

A wicked King named Max
Decreed an income tax.
He put a notice on the wall,
And stuck it up with tacks.

The people cried, “We can’t abide
Either Max or tax!
The outcome is, our income
Won’t even buy us snacks!

“A plague on Max’s taxes!
They’re anything but fair!
He taxes both our income
And our patience , we declare!”

 

So up they rose upon their toes
And seized all Max’s tacks…
Went marching to the palace
And stuck the tacks in Max.

 

Fun, right? I wish I still had learning-to-read kids in my house to share this with… but maybe I’ll go torture my 14-year-old by reading it to him anyway.

And once again, THANK YOU to Mystereity Reviews!

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Another can’t-wait book: The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

How did I not know about this sooner? Elizabeth Wein, author of the beautiful, powerful Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire, has a new book coming out in May! The Pearl Thief centers on a main character from Code Name Verity at an earlier point in her life:

US cover

When fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart wakes up in the hospital, she knows the lazy summer break she’d imagined won’t be exactly like she anticipated. And once she returns to her grandfather’s estate, a bit banged up but alive, she begins to realize that her injury might not have been an accident. One of her family’s employees is missing, and he disappeared on the very same day she landed in the hospital.

Desperate to figure out what happened, she befriends Euan McEwen, the Scots Traveller boy who found her when she was injured, and his standoffish sister Ellen. As Julie grows closer to this family, she experiences some of the prejudices they’ve grown used to firsthand, a stark contrast to her own upbringing, and finds herself exploring thrilling new experiences that have nothing to do with a missing-person investigation.

Her memory of that day returns to her in pieces, and when a body is discovered, her new friends are caught in the crosshairs of long-held biases about Travellers. Julie must get to the bottom of the mystery in order to keep them from being framed for the crime.

In the prequel to Printz Honor Book Code Name Verity, this exhilarating coming-of-age story returns to a beloved character just before she learned to fly.

UK cover

Who else is excited???