Water Witches – Chris Bohjalian

I think this is the second or third book I have read by this author. The first one I read, I really really liked (Midwives). The second one (Before You Know Kindness), also with an environmental theme, I remember enjoying reading – but had to look up what it was about on BN.com.

I fear that this third one will fall into that same “oh yeah, that was okay” category.

In a moving, life-affirming novel suffused with ecological wisdom, a Vermont ski resort’s plans for expansion collide with environmentalists seeking to preserve a mountainous wildlife habitat and riverine ecosystem. Narrator Scott Winston, a transplanted New York City lawyer who represents the ski resort, switches allegiance after he and his nine-year-old daughter spot three mountain lions in an area targeted for clearing. Complicating matters is the envy that Scott’s pragmatic wife, Laura, a native Vermonter, feels toward her famed sister, Patience Avery, a dowser (water witch) who also opposes the ski resort and whose talent for locating underground springs, missing persons or lost objects with a divining rod figures prominently in the novel’s denouement. The struggle between the developers and their opponents culminates in an environmental board hearing that has all the dramatic excitement of a courtroom trial. With wit, insight and mordant irony, Bohjalian charts Scott’s metamorphosis from rationalistic materialist and skeptic to one who believes in higher powers and the interconnectedness of all life. In a refreshing twist, instead of offering a bucolic idyll, the author takes us through a Vermont beset by drought, a declining ski industry, unemployment and endangered ecosystems.

I don’t know about life-affirming or ecological wisdom, but it was a good book. It’s a little heavy-handed on the “there are two sides to every issue!” and “kids are amazing, innocent beings” but overall – nice. That’s really the best I could do – nice.

One thing I did enjoy about it, and this is the kind of stuff I will remember is the little glimpse into the world of “dowsing.” I knew very little about water-dowsing or this group of practicing diviners (divinators?) and probably won’t investigate further but I feel like I got a little glimpse into something, and somehow, knowing my life, this will probably come in handy one day during an inane conversation.

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Revenge of the Spellmans – Lisa Lutz

I totally forgot to blog about this book. I think I read it last Wednesday or Thursday?

I love this series, and read the second in it almost exactly a year ago. To briefly recap, the premise of the story is that it’s the adventures of a family of private investigators. In this one, Rae is more grown up and it focuses more on Isabel and her figuring out if she wants to take over the family business, or leave altogether.

I really enjoyed it, because I love the characters and the writing – but I am a little worried that this series is running out of steam, a la Stephanie Plum. I think the ongoing love quandry has been resolved in this one, but if it isn’t, its going to peter out and get boring like Morelli and Ranger in the Plum series. And the little sister is written kind of oddly. She was always a strange character, but now we are supposed to believe she is seventeen – and now the weirdness just seems really irritating.

I don’t know if there is going to be a fourth in this series, and if there is – I would read it.  But I almost wish Lutz would end the story here, and start something else that I could fall in love with.

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The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri

This was suggested for our office Book Club, and came highly recommended by my friend Jill, but didn’t make the Book Club cut. That never stopped me from reading something!

Originally a novella published in The New Yorker and later expanded to a full length novel. The book explores many of the same emotional and cultural themes as Lahiri’s Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection Interpreter of Maladies. Moving between events in Calcutta, Boston, and New York City, the novel examines the nuances involved with being caught between two conflicting cultures with their highly distinct religious, social, and ideological differences.

I know this is disappointing to poor Carolann who agrees that my reviews have been somewhat lackluster lately, but I don’t feel like I have a lot to say about this book. I thought it beautiful, and I felt a little like I was reading a classic. The language and imagery all pretty – but I don’t know if the story will stick with me, or if I have any burning desire to see the movie (apparently, that was just released?) I would like to learn more about some Indian or Bengali customs, but that’s really the only thing that I took from this.

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It Sucked and Then I Cried – Heather Armstrong

How I had a Baby, a Breakdown, and a Much Needed Margarita

I have been reading Dooce.com for a few months now, and for most bloggers – “Dooce” is living the dream. Heather is a full-time blogger that makes enough money to support her family, and has recently written a book. The book doesn’t break any new ground, but is an accounting of the time period of her pregnancy and battle with post-partum depression. For a relatively new reader like me, I knew this existed and had glanced at the archives, so I don’t know if offered anything truly new, but it was a really engaging read.

I am please to report that Heather’s book-writing is a lot like her blog writing, and her voice is clear and personal. Her stories of pregnancy and all the things “no one ever tells you” is heartbreaking and terrifying and served as an excellent reminder to take my birth control medication. But her stories of how much she loves Leta make the whole thing seem worth it. Especially since even if I do have kids, and may eventually have to deal with post-partum depression, I wouldn’t have a regular history of chronic depression to contend with as well.

But, more than just an ode to motherhood – you realize that the true hero, in Heather’s eyes is her husband.  I have read a lot about mental illness, and the one thing I always come away with is how much it affects the people who love the patient. She holds her husband in high regard, and their love story is what remains, in my mind. Also, cute pictures of kids dressed up as frogs.

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Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

Since I enjoyed American Gods so much, I put another Gaiman book on the list (and yes, I am following @neilhimself on Twitter).

I liked this one. Not loved it, but liked it. I think he has a very, very specific writing style, that if you aren’t really in the mood for it, can be annoying.

The synopsis from BN.com

Neil Gaiman, the genius behind “The Sandman” graphic novels — which Norman Mailer called “a comic strip for intellectuals” — delves into novel-length fiction with Neverwhere, a wild and mesmerizing story set in a bizarre and chilling underground London. Neverwhere begins innocently enough: It’s the story of Richard Mayhew, a plain man with a good heart. Unhappy in love and in life, Richard is thrust into a dark and evil world when he stops to help a young girl he finds bleeding in the street. Now Richard has much more than work and girlfriend dilemmas on his mind — now he’s wanted by two very evil, powerful, and nasty mercenaries who like to think that they are, in fact, rather gentlemanly.

I think I just have read a lot of dystopian, homeless, otherworld type books – so this kind of lost it’s “wow” factor for me. And speaking of otherworld, I did this weekend-long LARP-type thing a year or so ago, called … Otherworld. And it was awesome and all that jazz, but it’s funny because the more popular sci-fi/fantasy writers I read, the more and more I see references to certain characters in nerd events in my past.  In a way, it’s cool because I can “see” the characters very clearly in my mind’s eye.

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Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography

This was a pick for the Tutor.com Office Book Club, so I am kind of “discussed” out, but for your enjoyment – some thoughts!

  • This man is amazing. As much as I thought I knew about him, I didn’t. Printing, bifocals, electricity, sure. But paving roads, libraries and the Freemasons? What doesn’t this guy do? How many “Renaissance Men” have there really been? Him, DaVinci and Jefferson?
  • It’s amazing what has been left out. Some of it was intentional, because he knew history would take care of it, but it never ceases to amaze me that there was very little mention of his wife or children. Wouldn’t expect a female autobiography to gloss over all of that.
  • Interesting to think about how the autobiography or memoir has changed as a genre, and writing styles.
  • Definitely recommend the Norton Critical Edition of the book. Having some reference material made a somewhat dry book very interesting.
  • Franklin was an ethical vegetarian
  • And a serious cheapskate! He remembers every not-yet-a-dime ever spent!
  • Man, this guy is funny. You sometimes have to look for it, but he’s kind of a riot.
  • The ambition, the drive, the commitment.
  • Couldn’t help but wonder what Ben would have been like in today’s world – would have been as successful? Devoted himself to which causes? Would he be an inventor? Professor? Media mogul? Politician? Would today’s society allow him the meteoric rise that he had back then?
  • Thinking about what impact he may have had on today’s leaders – comparisons between Obama and Franklin
  • Interesting to think about some of the issues that he felt strongly about still being debated today, namely the debate over immunization
  • He talked a lot about humility, but obviously had a hard time with it. If that was his worst quality? Forgiven.

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Mistress Shakespeare – Karen Harper

I saw this book at Barnes and Noble’s, then put it on my library list (because I am cheap, and support my local libraries!) and have kind of been “saving” it when I was in the mood for something good to read. It was! It was everything I wanted.

From Publishers Weekly
On November 27, 1582, the Worcester archives show a grant for a marriage license for one Anne Whateley and her groom, Wm Shaxpere. Yet several days later, William Shakespeare married a pregnant Anne Hathaway. Harper’s slack latest takes this mystery as its subject, imagining Anne Whateley as Shakespeare’s only true love. Friends from childhood driven apart by their families’ antipathy, Will and Anne rediscover each other as they come of age, and the young lovers plan to wed in spite of their families’ disapproval. When Will is forced into marriage with Anne Hathaway, Anne Whateley flees to London and throws herself into her family’s business, but the two reunite when Will arrives in London, and Anne becomes his tireless promoter. The novel’s chief pleasures derive from the easy intersection of Shakespeare’s work, the history of Elizabethan England and the life that the author imagines Shakespeare might have had. …

Of course I loved this! It has everything I am into. Alternative retellings, a female perspective on history, an account of the Plague, and “answers” to some of the Shakespearean mysteries, like why he left his wife his “second-best bed” in the famous will. I also loved the while history was white-washed a bit, the disgustingness and smells of a big city like London were described frequently. Beautifully written and indulged the romantic, goofy Shakespeare loving side of me.

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