Wishlist Wednesday

Welcome to Wishlist Wednesday!

The concept is to post about one book from our wish lists that we can’t wait to read. Want to play? Here’s how:

  • Follow Pen to Paper as host of the meme.
  • Do a post about one book from your wishlist and why you want to read it.
  • Add your blog to the linky at the bottom of the post at Pen to Paper.
  • Put a link back to Pen to Paper somewhere in your post.
  • Visit the other blogs and enjoy!

My Wishlist Wednesday book is:

The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

From Amazon:

1878 Paris. Following their father’s sudden death, the van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction from their lodgings seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where for a scant seventeen francs a week, she will be trained to enter the famous ballet. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds work as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.

Marie throws herself into dance and is soon modeling in the studio of Edgar Degas, where her image will forever be immortalized as Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. There she meets a wealthy male patron of the ballet, but might the assistance he offers come with strings attached? Meanwhile Antoinette, derailed by her love for the dangerous Émile Abadie, must choose between honest labor and the more profitable avenues open to a young woman of the Parisian demimonde.

Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change, The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society.” In the end, each will come to realize that her salvation, if not survival, lies with the other.

Why do I want to read this?

Paris. Ballet. Sisters. What more do I need to convince me?

The combination of historical figures with fictional characters, the setting in 19th century Paris in the art world, and the drama of two girls struggling to survive sounds fascinating to me. This is one new novel that I’m definitely eager to read.

Quick note to Wishlist Wednesday bloggers: Come on back to Bookshelf Fantasies for Flashback Friday! Join me in celebrating the older gems hidden away on our bookshelves. See the introductory post for more details, and come back this Friday to add your flashback favorites!

Book Review: The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey

Book Review: The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey

Reading a book about ballet dancers is a bit like studying anthropology or reading fiction set in an exotic land. Ballet is a world and a culture unto itself, with its own customs, morals, standards, language, costumes, and rituals. Those at the peak of the profession form an insular little society, truly an alien species in the eyes of the non-ballet world — and even more so, the “normal” world, to the ballet elite, is foreign, slightly unpleasant, and unrelentingly ordinary.

So it would seem, in any case, from reading The Cranes Dance, an excellent but disturbing peek into the world of a top New York City ballet company, as told by main character Kate Crane — whose perspective may not be all that reliable. Kate is in her late-ish 20s, and has been with the Company since she was a rising teen ballet student. Kate is a lovely and talented dancer, but her younger sister Gwen is a star. Gwen joins the Company a year after Kate, but is made a principal (a prima ballerina, if you will) at the same time that Kate, with more years of experience, is raised from the corps to soloist (a featured dancer, performing good roles, but definitely not the star of the show). But it’s all okay, because Kate is devoted to Gwen, and from day one sees her as someone to be nurtured and cherished, whose gift must be protected and encouraged above all else.

As The Cranes Dance opens, Kate is on her own in New York for the first time in a decade, after having called her parents in Michigan to report that Gwen has had a nervous breakdown. Gwen has been scooped up and taken away by the parents, and Kate is left to deal with her grief, her guilt, and deep down, her relief at being free for once in her life. Unfortunately, Kate has perfected the skill of not dealing. She’s made a career of keeping everyone at arm’s length, never admitting that she has needs or wants, and finds herself adrift.

Unceremoniously dumped by her boyfriend (she never let him be there for her, apparently), Kate moves into Gwen’s now empty apartment, and more or less into Gwen’s life. She lives amongst Gwen’s things, she wears Gwen’s clothes and uses Gwen’s hair products, and before long, she’s dancing roles meant for Gwen as well. Friends and colleagues tell Kate that she’s never danced better, and the company director comments that it’s been hard “to watch you diminish yourself” — implying, perhaps, that Kate’s devotion to Gwen has kept her from letting herself shine on her own.

But has Kate also taken over Gwen’s mental deterioration? Warning signs abound. After a neck injury, Kate turns to Vicodin to numb the pain — and soon, to numb everything else. Like Gwen, Kate is unable to sleep and loses weight due to lack of appetite. Kate narrates her life for the audience she imagines constantly watching her, as if being on stage is a shield against the dangers and disappointments of actual living. Inhabiting Gwen’s home, all alone, Kate is left to stare at the mysterious and disturbing tape marks and secret notes and symbols that Gwen used as talismans against fear, her secret obsessive-compulsive safety nets. Can Kate be strong where Gwen could not? Can Kate numb the pain indefinitely, or will her world come crashing down as well?

I enjoyed The Cranes Dance a great deal. According to her website, “Meg Howrey is a classically trained dancer who has performed with the Joffrey, Los Angeles Opera, and City Ballet of Los Angeles.” Clearly, this is a writer who knows the world she so keenly describes. The first-person narration gives us a front-row view of the workings of Kate’s mind, and she can be hilariously funny at times, despite the physical and emotional pain that accompany her throughout her days.

Crisp, delicious writing abounds, such as this passage in which Kate must suffer through drinks with a smile:

“Oh, but I love The Nutcracker,” began the [woman], and then launched into the familiar non-dancer girl talking to dancer girl conversation. “Do your toes bleed?” “I had a friend/cousin/neighbor who danced who was really serious about her dancing until she got too tall/hurt her knee/went to college.” “You must not be able to eat anything.” “It must take a lot of discipline, I can’t even imagine doing what you do.” “All the men are gay, right?”

The book opens with Kate describing the plot of Swan Lake, which is the headlining production in the company’s performance season. It’s much too much to quote in full, but this little snippet gives a good sense of the tone as well as Kate’s unique perspective on dance and life in general:

Act I opens in the village green of an unspecified, vaguely German realm. We’re a little hazy on the time period too. It’s Days of Yore, I guess, in the yore when everyone in pseudo Germany wandered around their village green in nearly identical outfits… Anyway A Village Green Scene is standard issue for classical ballet, and if you’ve seen one circlet of peasant-dancing hoo-ha, you’ve seen them all. There’s a garland dance and a Maypole and a lot of people standing around fake clapping or pointing out to each other that other people are dancing in the middle of the stage… So everyone just wanders around greeting each other with head nods if you’re a girl and shoulder thumping if you’re a guy, and then one person will indicate Center Stage like “Hey, did you see? There are people dancing! Isn’t that neat!” And the other person will make a gesture like “Yes! Dancing. It is happening there!”

And so on. It’s fun, it’s funny, it often terribly sad, and it’s frequently disturbing. At the same time, Kate’s voice is engaging — even when she’s being obnoxious — and you can’t help but want to shake her a bit and get her to just, you know, snap out of it! You’re a ballerina! Enjoy yourself!

Go ahead, hum a few bars. Pirouettes are allowed too.

The glimpse into the backstage life of a ballet company is deliciously exotic. The endless classes and rehearsals, the jockeying for positions and good partners, the little slips that can spell disaster, the triumphs of a perfect gesture — all these are brought to life so vividly that you can hear the toe shoes landing after a jump. I dare you to read this book and not spend the next few days humming Swan Lake as you  move, oh so gracefully, down the busy streets, perhaps with visions of tutus dancing in your head.

Whether you read The Cranes Dance as a story of sisters, a narrative of mental illness, a profile of a person shut off from the world, or just for the joy of the behind-the-scenes glamour and excitement, I do believe you’ll be as entranced by the book as I was. You don’t have to be a ballet fan to enjoy The Cranes Dance — but you’ll probably want to dig out those old The Turning Point or White Nights videos by the time you’re done.

Teaser Tuesdays – 1/15/2013

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following: •Grab your current read  •Open to a random page  •Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page — but watch out for spoilers!  •Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers! 

My teaser for this week is from The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey:

Page 258:

I looked at the topography of Mara’s bent-over back. Stone footpaths of vertebrae. Cresting ribs like sand dunes. Shoulder-blade cliffs. When she pulled at the tape around her big toe, the muscles of her back volcanoed new islands into the valley.

Do you have a teaser to share? Add your link or your teaser in the comments below. Happy reading!





The Monday agenda 1/14/2013

Not a lofty, ambitious to-be-read list consisting of 100+ book titles. Just a simple plan for the upcoming week — what I’m reading now, what I plan to read next, and what I’m hoping to squeeze in among the nooks and crannies.

Happy Monday! It’s time to dive right in with this week’s agenda.

From last week:

I’ve just returned from a wonderful 3-day weekend in Victoria, British Columbia, which I shared with my lovely daughter — who happens to be a book fanatic just like me. We spent a good couple of hours haunting used book stores. Oh, what fun! Between the plane rides and some scattered down time in the hotel, I did manage to get in a bit of reading, although I’m now behind on my reviews and blog posts. Totally worth it, as the weekend was fantastic. So here’s where my reading stands:

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley: Done! The review is yet to come, but for now I’ll say that I really enjoyed it — so much so that I stayed up until about 1 a.m. to finish. I can’t wait to read more by this author!

Because I didn’t want to carry too much, I opted not to bring any hardcovers on my trip, and instead started The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey (which was one of my Wishlist Wednesday books in 2012). I’m about 1/3 of the way into the book, and I’m hooked. (Side note: Are all fictional ballet dancers crazy? Discuss.)

In terms of my online book group commitments, I’ve bowed out of the Jane Eyre read, since I read it again just last year, but I did manage to start re-reading The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon so I can jump into the group discussions.

And this week’s new agenda:

It’ll probably take me a few more days to finish The Cranes Dance.

After that, I’m looking forward to my newest library book, Mrs. Queen Takes the Train by William Kuhn. And if I manage to finish that one as well, I’ll have some choices to make: I may go back to Susanna Kearsley for one of her other books already on my shelves, either Shadowy Horses or Season of Storms.  Or, I could dip back into the YA world and read Just One Day by Gayle Forman. I’ve never read anything by this author, but I keep hearing good things — and I actually won this one in a giveaway!

For The Fiery Cross, we’ll be discussing chapters 2 and 3 this week. And if you happen to be a Diana Gabaldon fan and want to jump in and participate, just let me know and I’d be happy to connect you with the group.

So many book, so little time…

That’s my agenda. What’s yours? Add your comments to share your bookish agenda for the week.

Wishlist Wednesday

And now, for this week’s Wishlist Wednesday…

The concept is to post about one book from our wish lists that we can’t wait to read. Want to play? Here’s how:

  • Follow Pen to Paper as host of the meme.
  • Please consider adding the blog hop button to your blog somewhere, so others can find it easily and join in too! Help spread the word! The code will be at the bottom of the post under the linky.
  • Pick a book from your wishlist that you are dying to get to put on your shelves.
  • Do a post telling your readers about the book and why it’s on your wishlist.
  • Add your blog to the linky at the bottom of the post at Pen to Paper.
  • Put a link back to pen to paper (http://vogue-pentopaper.blogspot.com) somewhere in your post.
  • Visit the other blogs and enjoy!

My Wishlist Wednesday book is:

The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey

From Amazon:

I threw my neck out in the middle of Swan Lake last night.

So begins the tale of Kate Crane, a soloist in a celebrated New York City ballet company who is struggling to keep her place in a very demanding world. At every turn she is haunted by her close relationship with her younger sister, Gwen, a fellow company dancer whose career quickly surpassed Kate’s, but who has recently suffered a breakdown and returned home.

Alone for the first time in her life, Kate is anxious and full of guilt about the role she may have played in her sister’s collapse.  As we follow her on an insider tour of rehearsals, performances, and partners onstage and off, she confronts the tangle of love, jealousy, pride, and obsession that are beginning to fracture her own sanity. Funny, dark, intimate, and unflinchingly honest, The Cranes Dance is a book that pulls back the curtains to reveal the private lives of dancers and explores the complicated bond between sisters.

Why do I want to read this?

I’ve always loved a peek behind the scenes, and this look at the highly competitive world of professional ballet dancers sounds fascinating. There have been a lot of great ballet movies over the years — Center Stage, The Turning Point (an oldie with a very young Barishnikov – wow!), Black Swan, and even the new Bunheads series on TV — but I haven’t come across that many ballet novels that I’ve loved.

This one sounds intriguing, and I like that the story focuses on the relationship between two sisters as well. I hope to read The Cranes Dance as soon as my library branch gets a copy.

Quick note to Wishlist Wednesday bloggers: Come on back to Bookshelf Fantasies for Flashback Friday! Join me in celebrating the older gems hidden away on our bookshelves. See the introductory post for more details, and come back this Friday to add your flashback favorites!