Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Queen of Palmyra

"Whatever story you want is yours as long as you can think up the picture you want to see and make somebody else want to see it too"  Florence Irene Forrest.

  I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, a city on the Prairies.  Most of the kids in my neighborhood were white; but there were black families in the area as well.  One family lived across the street and whenever a community game of tag or hide and seek was getting started their children were as welcome as any other kid on the block; frankly I found them exotic because the girl who was my age had OLDER brothers and sisters who went to HIGH SCHOOL (note:  I was seven or eight and the oldest child in my family -- this was a big deal!)
  So when I read books such as The Queen of Palmyra, by Minrose Gwin, that describe racism as it was in the South not that long ago, I am thankful for my upbringing and also shocked that such hate existed merely because of skin color.  The novel is written from the perspective of Florence Irene Forrest, a young girl who because of circumstances spends much of her time with her grandparents' (black) maid, Zenobia.  Florence has preconceived notions of black people, the result of observing those around her, but as she spends more time with Zenie and especially upon the arrival of Zenie's niece Eva Greene, these notions fade and even though she is still young she sees that things just aren't right.
  Things in Millwood, Mississippi, go bad fast, and the story for me became a gripping page turner.   I don't know that "enjoyed" is the right word to describe the feeling I had upon reading what were at times very unsettling scenes, but I was fascinated by the story Ms Gwin told.
   I wasn't thrilled with the way the novel ended, but apart from that I enjoyed this book very much and highly recommend it.  If you liked The Help or Mudbound, as I did, then you will like this book as well.

Disclosure: Copy received from the publisher for review

Monday, April 26, 2010

It's Monday -- What Are You Reading?


It's Monday -- time for What are You Reading, a meme hosted by Sheila to let us all know what other booklovers have read and are about to read.

I was suffering through a bad cold last week, unfortunately not bad enough to keep me home from work but enough to keep me home from one of my book group meetings :-(.  I did catch up on some reading though, because that's all I seemed to have the energy for.

Books finished last week:     Crime and Punishment, for my Classics book group
                                           Small Island by Andrea Levy (a re-read, and a wonderful wonderful book)
                                           Between Here and April by Deborah Copaken Kogan, for my book group discussion next week
                                           Tinkers by Paul Harding (see my thoughts here)
Books to read this week:      The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Murder on the Orient Express, both by Agatha Christie, for an upcoming Classics Circuit post
                                            Beatrice and Virgil, by Yann Martel - I'm very excited to read this; I've seen opinions on both sides of the spectrum about this book.
                                            This Book is Overdue!  How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All by Marilyn Johnson - a celebration of librarians.
                                           And I should have time to get to at least one or two more on the to-read pile.....

What are you reading this week?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Widow Clicquot by Tilar J. Mazzeo

  I'm not much of a wine drinker -- a lot of it gives me headaches -- but after reading Tilar J. Mazzeo's book about Barbe-Nicole Clicquot Ponsardin (aka The Widow Clicquot)  I have a desire to splurge and sip from a glass of Veuve Clicquot Champagne

The Widow Clicquot:  The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman who Ruled It is not a biography of Madame Clicquot, but rather of the company that even today still bears her name. 

Born and married into a prominent family of textile manufacturers (her father was the mayor of Reims), Barbe-Nicole was a woman of some means in the Champagne region of France.  When her husband, Francois, expressed interest in going into the wine business, she joined him in the venture; and upon his untimely death she broke with convention and continued to run the company, building it into one of the great wine houses of France.

That Madame Clicquot was able to achieve such success as a woman in that era is remarkable enough, but to have done it in such a period of conflict across Europe is even more remarkable.  Blockades resulting from the numerous wars being fought hampered the export of Veuve Clicquot's Champagne, and the key to the ultimate success of her enterprise was her decision to run the blockades and send a shipment of champagne to Russia (whose citizens tended to prefer her champagne to those of her rivals).  This huge risk, known to her and only a few trusted members of her staff, paid off, and cemented "The Widow's" champagne as one of the best.

Unfortunately not much of Madame Clicquot's personal papers remain to be able to gain a true glimpse into her family life.  A review on Better World Books' blog suggested that Madame Clicquot's life would make the basis of an interesting nove, and I agree. 

Saturday, April 24, 2010

I bought some books!

Allow me to show you what $13.75 bought me at a local library book sale this morning:

I was actually looking for a copy of Life of Pi because I want to re-read it, and now that I have a copy of Angela's Ashes I might just participate in thelittlereader's readalong in May.  As for everything else, well .... at least I'll not have to fret about having nothing to read (not that that was an issue before I purchased this haul).

Thoughts on Tinkers

I picked up Tinkers by Paul Harding at the library just days after it was announced as the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction.  I had not heard anything about this book before, but based on some recommendations I'd seen on Twitter I thought I should check it out.

Alas, I was disappointed.

The writing is good (at times beautiful), but for me there isn't much of a story to follow and I couldn't feel anything for any of the characters to get me interested in them.  If the book had been any longer (it is only 191 pages in paperback) I don't know that I would have stayed with it until the end.

It just proves once again that everyone's taste in books is different, and "vive le difference". 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Library Loot -- April 21-27, 2010

Library Loot is hosted by Marg and Eva and lets us sneak a peek at what gems other people have found at their local library.

I was at the library last night for my classics book group discussion of Crime & Punishment, which was very stimulating even though there were only four of us.  I didn't have much time to browse, but here is what I picked up:

Shades of Grey is the first of a new series by Jasper Fforde, the author of the Thursday Next series.  I read a few of the Thursday Next books (The Eyre Affair was the first, and in my opinion, the best of the series) and enjoyed the clever and original storyline he developed.  I'm interested to see how Shades compares, as color seems to be the key element of the story, as opposed to books.

I have had This Book is Overdue:  How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save us All on hold for quite a while (maybe a month?) and I received an e-mail notification from the library the other day that I had a hold waiting for pickup; however because they are doing a system conversion this week the message did not tell me what book it was nor could I check it on the library's website.  When I got to the checkout desk I felt like a kid at Christmas waiting to find out what book I was getting! (I will admit, though, I held out a small glimmer of hope that it would have been The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, but I wouldn't want to get the library into any kind of trouble!)

The Painted Veil is our the next book my classics group will be discussing.  One of the things I enjoy about this classics group is that we are reading books that I don't think I ever would have selected on my own, and this one is an example.  It looks like one I will enjoy.

What did you pick up at the library this week?

Monday, April 19, 2010

It's Monday -- What are you Reading

I'm on a meme roll ....

This is my first post for What are You Reading -  hosted by Sheila - an opportunity to let everyone (or, at least those who are reading my blog!) know what I've read in the past week and what is on tap for the coming week.
This is my book club week, where I have two of my three groups meeting on Monday and Wednesday.  Although I might not be able to make it to tonight's discussion because I'm a bit under the weather, I did finish a re-read of After You've Gone by Jeffrey Lent last week.  Wednesday's book group is a classics group and we will be discussing Crime and Punishment; I still have about eighty pages left so I'll be working on this in between coughing and sneezing attacks.

Other books I finished last week were:
       The Widow Clicquot:  The Story of a Champagne Empire and the Woman Who Ruled It, by Tilar J. Mazzeo
       All Other Nights, by Dara Horn

Other books I am reading this week:
       Small Island by Andrea Levy - a re-read
       The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie - another re-read for an upcoming post on the Classics Circuit's Golden Age of Detective Fiction Tour
        Tinkers by Paul Harding

What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Library Loot - first timer

Are you excited for me?  This is my first posting on a weekly meme (sound the chorus and the bells)

Library Loot is hosted by Marg and Eva and lets us sneak a peek at what gems other people have found at their local library.

I love buying books but I also love my library because it lets me sample books I'm interested in but am hesitant on purchasing.  I haven't used the library much recently, but today I went in and picked up a book I put on hold on Monday:

This book was announced as the Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction on Monday and I hadn't heard of it, and my library had a copy available.

Thursday, April 8, 2010


Welcome to today’s stop on the Emile Zola Classics Circuit.

First, a confession:  I have not read any of Emile Zola's novels - yet.  In fact I know very little about him; my only knowledge of Zola is through is association in the Dreyfus Affair, one of the most polarizing events in late-19th century France.
In 1894, Alfred Dreyfus, a captain in the French Army, was arrested, then subsequently court-martialed and imprisoned for espionage. So what, you say – happens all the time. This case, however, was unique for a number of reasons:
  •   There was little concrete evidence linking Dreyfus to the crime; in fact evidence strongly pointed to someone else but was ignored; and
  •  Dreyfus was Jewish and in some circles deemed not a true Frenchman
Over the next several years, The Dreyfus Affair, as it became known, divided France.

Emile Zola, at this time a celebrated French novelist, was a Dreyfusard (believing in Dreyfus' innocence), as were most writers and intellectuals, and wrote several open letters in French publications in support of Dreyfus and to call for his exoneration. The most famous of these letters was “J’accuse” (Letter to M. Felix Faure, President of the Republic), published in L’Aurore on January 13, 1898.

This letter asks the President to consider how his legacy would be viewed if he let the Dreyfus affair continue as it had for four years.  Zola explains the affair in detail (no doubt already familiar to M. Faure) and goes so far as to name the men he feels are responsible for this miscarriage of justice. 

Zola was aware of the potential repercussions of this public accusation - he stated in the letter that he was aware of the libel laws to which he was potentially exposing himself.  But he had no personal  ill will against any of the accused:
"As for the people I accuse, I do not know them, I never saw them, I have against them neither resentment nor hatred.  They are for me only entities, spirits of social evil.  And the act I accomplished here is only a revolutionary mean for hastening the explosion of truth and justice."

Zola was tried and convicted for libel, however he fled to England to avoid serving his sentence.  He returned to France after a change in goverment, and died suspiciously of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1902.

I genuinely felt the passion that Zola felt for Dreyfus' cause and found "J'accuse" and his other Dreyfus-related writings very interesting to read.  It is a look into an event in history that I've heard of but not known much about.  I am also going to start reading one or two of Zola's novels.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Paris Times Eight -- World Party Reading Challenge

The first month of the World Party Reading Challenge takes us to France, a country rich in culture and history.  It's capital city, Paris, is one of the great cities of the world.

I have "only" been to Paris once, but after reading Deirdre Kelly's memoir Paris Times Eight:  Finding Myself in the City of Dreams, I am finding myself wanting to drop everything and get on the next plane to experience it again.  This memoir takes us with Kelly to her eight visits to Paris at various stages in her life, the first as a recent high-school graduate, the most recent (I doubt it is her last) with her two young children.  Each visit provides her with a different glimpse of Paris ( ".. A city of endliess possibilities, never quite grasped"), and of course of herself; during one visit in which she is bound to stay in Paris permanently and is offered a job well beneath her qualifications, she decides that living in her dream city is not worth sacrificing her writing ambitions, however later on she accepts a position at her newspaper almost solely for the fact that she will be required to travel to Paris.  She cannot completely rid herself of the pull Paris has on her.

I really enjoyed reading this book, especially for the descriptions of the Parisian neighborhoods known and not-so-known to the occasional visitor.  I cannot wait to visit again.