Bibliophiliac is the space where one passionate, voracious reader reflects on books and the reading life. You will find reviews, analysis, links, and reflections on poetry and prose both in and out of the mainstream.
A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors Whose Books I Hoard

Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This was pretty easy: all I had to do was go and peruse my bookshelves. The bookshelves don't lie! Here are the authors whose books I collect/hoard the most! There's a fine line between collecting and hoarding, and sometimes I cross it. Case in point: there are authors and books that I love so much that I own multiple copies. Certain books (Madame Bovary, Jane Eyre, Moby Dick) I own in several editions (pointlessly, I guess, but really, can you every have too many copies of Madame Bovary?).

Here, in order of adoration, are the top ten authors whose books I hoard:

1. Anthony Trollope. It is somewhat appropriate that I own so many books by this highly prolific writer.
2. Anton Chekhov. Every single time I go into a used bookstore, I look to see if there is some obscure edition of a Chekhov collection that I don't already own.
3. Charles Dickens. Dickens wrote so many wonderful books--Our Mutual Friend is my favorite, but I also love Bleak House, David Copperfield, and Great Expectations.
4. Alice Munro. There is not another short story writer whose work is so reliably compelling.

5. William Shakespeare. Between the plays and the sonnets (again, several editions), I could fill a couple of shelves with Will's work.
6. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Admittedly, I haven't read them all....but my two favorite books by Dostoyevsky are The Idiot and Crime and Punishment. And when I'm ready to work on my Classics Club list, I've got a whole shelf of Dostoyevsky books to read.

7. James Baldwin. Brilliant and incisive: there is no one else like him.
8. Marcel Proust. My most unread collection of books! Yes, one of these days I will read all seven volumes of Remembrance of Things Past.... In the meantime, I have at least two editions (different translations)....
9. John Steinbeck. The two great novels are The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden, and if I can make myself stop rereading those two books, I can move on to some of the other Steinbeck books I own.
10. George Eliot. Middlemarch is my favorite book of all time, but it might be time for me to stop rereading it and move on to the rest of her books. The story of Mary Ann Evans is pretty fascinating in itself, and reading her books gives me the opportunity to be in contact with her brilliant mind.

Which authors do you love so much that you own a lot of their books?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Conquering Shame and Codependency

Conquering Shame and Codependency: 8 Steps to Freeing the True You
Darlene Lancer
Hazelden Publishing
180 pages
a review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours

Chances are that you know someone who could use this book. Chances are that person is you.

This is a self-help book that is genuinely helpful. Conquering Shame and Codependency addresses the little-discussed topic of shame, and how that powerful and crippling emotion can cause codependent behavior. We all have experienced the emotion of guilt: that feeling you get when you know you've done something wrong. Shame is something different: it is a feeling of humiliation, feeling exposed, inadequate, or unworthy--but it has nothing to do with reality or anything you have actually done (or not done). Shame is an emotion that arises out of negative patterns, usually established in childhood. If you grew up with an alcoholic parent, you may have internalized feelings of shame and unworthiness without ever realizing it. This is what happened to me, and it has taken decades for me to begin to understand the roots of some of my more unhealthy attitudes and behaviors.

From my own personal experiences and observations, I feel that we are living in a culture of addiction. You may live with an addict, or you may be struggling with some form of addiction yourself. Or, you may find yourself interacting with addictive or codependent people or relationships in your workplace or your social circle. Conquering Shame and Codependency is by no means an easy read. Just reading this book might cause deep discomfort or challenge your defense mechanisms such as denial. But it is well worth the challenge. Darlene Lancer, a licensed family therapist who has also struggled with shame and codependency lays it all out for the reader. Chapter by chapter, Lancer explains the roots of shame, the inner critic, the sensation of emptiness, and the signs and symptoms of codependency. She explains the dynamics and roles of codependent relationships, and shows how shame can cause the codependent sufferer to lose touch with her authentic self.

The best thing about Conquering Shame and Codependency is that it offers the reader real help. Each chapter closes with exercises for the reader, and the last chapter outlines eight steps the reader can take to conquer shame and free the authentic inner self.

I wish that I had had a childhood filled with carefree and joyful experiences, and that I had learned the value of my real self as I grew from childhood to adulthood. But, due to family patterns that probably go back many generations, I internalized a sense of shame, and learned some very unhealthy coping mechanisms and behaviors. The good news is that it is never too late to become the person you are really meant to be. Conquering Shame and Codependency is an incredibly useful tool for overcoming unhealthy patterns. Highly recommended for anyone who is willing to do the difficult work of recovery, or for those who see this pattern in their own family.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Review: The Sea Garden

The Sea Garden
Deborah Lawrenson
Harper Collins
hardcover, 310 pages
a review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours

The Sea Garden is an atmospheric novel composed of three sections, each telling a separate story. "The Sea Garden", the first section, is set in 2013 and begins with a garden designer, Ellie Brooke, arriving on a Mediterranean island off of the French Coast. The second section, "The Lavender Field", takes the reader to the village of Cereste in Provence during World War II, where the French are living under Occupation. And the third section, "A Shadow Life", centers on World War II in London and France. Each section focuses mostly on the character of a young woman: in "The Sea Garden" it is Ellie Brooke; in "The Lavender Field" it is Marthe Lincel, a blind woman who has found work blending scents for Distillerie Musset; in the last section, it is Iris Nightingale, a British woman working for a secret government spy organization called F Section. It is Iris's love affair with a mysterious French spy called Xavier that links the three stories together, although it isn't until the very end of the novel that the connections become clear.

The tone of the first section of The Sea Garden is quite different from the following two sections, and the reader must be patient, because initially this different mood and atmosphere doesn't make much sense. Ellie Brooke arrives at the Mediterranean island of Porquerolles to meet with a prospective client, Laurent de Fayols, owner of an estate called The Domaine. Even before Ellie arrives on the island, a disturbing incident sets a Gothic and mysterious mood amid the sunlit beauty of her surroundings. On the voyage to the island, Ellie witnesses a distressing and seemingly inexplicable death. And Ellie already has her moments of darkness: after two years, she is still grieving the death of her boyfriend, a military doctor killed in Afghanistan.

Lawrenson displays one of her strengths as a writer in this first section: she is gifted at evoking the beauty of the island landscape, and describing the lush gardens that Ellie has been hired to restore. But Lawrenson also develops a sense of mystery, and an almost Gothic feeling of foreboding and darkness beneath the brilliant sunlight. Laurent de Fayols seems like a likely prospect as a client, although his imagination may be a bit untamed. But Madame de Fayols, Laurent's elderly mother, is sinister and possibly demented. And Ellie keeps glimpsing a stranger who is both mysterious and elusive--as well as extremely attractive.

The mood Lawrenson creates in the "The Sea Garden" reminded me strongly of Wilkie Collins: a sort of Gothic mood of mystery, coupled with psychological insights and and isolated location. The next two sections, "The Lavender Field" and "A Shadow Life" are substantially different in mood. Both of the later sections of the novel focus on the activities of the French Resistance. Lawrenson moves around in time--sometimes going backward, and other times moving forward--all to great effect. In fact, time is one of the themes of this novel, and to fully grasp the story, the reader has to journey through both time and space. A quote from the first section, when Madame de Fayols is interrogating Ellie about her plans for the garden, hints at what the author's intentions are:
You seem young. You do realize that to create a garden is to work with tie, don't you? .....Those who make gardens to last must understand the past and see into the future.

To understand the mystery of Xavier, a French Resistance fighter, spy, and possible double-agent, the reader must go back and forth in time--and even then, the mystery ends on a note of ambiguity. For this reader, the sections that really were gripping and engrossing were "The Lavender Field" and "A Shadow Life." In "The Lavender Field," Lawrenson brings to life the dangers and sacrifices that ordinary people endured as fighters in the French Resistance. Marthe, a blind woman who is thrilled to find work in the soap factory and perfume distillery of Victor Musset, finds herself drawn into the Resistance--at the risk of her own life and the lives of others. In "A Shadow Life," in London, Iris Nightingale works in a secret agency, preparing spies (male and female) to travel to France to work with the French Resistance. She meets and falls in love with a handsome, charming spy known by the code name Xavier, and spends the rest of her life wondering who he really was, and what happened to him. Lawrenson doesn't definitively answer every question raised in her novel, but ends with a note of ambiguity.

The Sea Garden is lushly written, and blends elements of mystery, romance, and history to create a very engrossing story. I would recommend this novel  for those interested in World War II, especially stories of the French Resistance. My favorite character in the book was definitely Iris, but all of the characters of the Resistance fighters were compelling. I was fully caught up in The Sea Garden, and loved the way Lawrenson wove her three narratives together. Lawrenson is a skillful storyteller who writes a lush and painterly prose. The Sea Garden draws the reader into a thrilling tale that is hard to put down. The narrative structure is clever and original, and for those who enjoy some ambiguity in a book, leaves the reader thinking about the novel long after the book is closed.

Deborah Lawrenson's facebook page and her blog have some beautiful photographs of the Porquerolles.
More information about the author and her books is available at her web site.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Review: Losing Touch

Losing Touch
Sandra Hunter
One World Books
213 pages
a review copy of this book was provided by TLC Book Tours

Sandra Hunter's debut novel, Losing Touch, tells the story of a family who have emigrated from India to London after Indian independence. The novel begins in September of 1966 with a funeral: Jonti, a young assistant architect, brilliant, a family man, has been cut down in his prime by an unknown disease. The reader is introduced to Jonti's brother, Arjun, and Arjun's family in the brief funeral vignette, and then the next scene is more than a year later. The novel uses this unusual structure to depict the family structure, repeated patterns of behavior, and deeply rooted conflicts. Each chapter takes place at least a year later than the preceding chapter, and sometimes the gap is multiple years...in one case, there is a twenty year gap.

Initially I found this structure puzzling and a little disorienting: in a traditional narrative structure, the reader settles into a rhythm that somewhat resembles daily life, and gets to know a set of characters this way. In Losing Touch, the chapters have a much more fragmentary feel, and there is definitely a sense of time passing over the course of years. But as I settled into the rhythm of Hunter's novel, I found that the narrative distance was delicate and sensitive, and the characters began to feel like neighbors I had been seeing grow and change over years.

Arjun is a character who is not easy to like: he is rigid, judgmental, and not always kind to his wife and children. His marriage to Sunila seems to be mutually unhappy. Sunila, a devout Christian, dares to day the word "divorce" only in the privacy of her own mind. It is clear that the marriage is occasionally abusive, and that Arjun suffered abuse himself as a child, and unkowingly passes this dysfunction on. The children, Murad and Tarani, are not close: Murad is twice privileged, being male and the oldest. And Tarani takes much of the brunt of her father's bitterness and dissatisfaction. Arjun, meanwhile, wishes he were closer to his children, sees only the bad in his wife Sunila, and quietly lusts after his widowed sister-in-law, Haseena.

Hunter builds her story slowly, with details plucked from daily life: meals, family gatherings, Tarani's forays into fashion: platform shoes and bell bottoms that make her look like a "dolly bird." Interspersed, chapter to chapter, are Arjun's symptoms, which begin in chapter one, but are slow to make themselves known. The chapter titles read like a list of symptoms: "a tendency to fall," "complications," "tremors when the patient's hands are held out." Another writer might have made Arjun's symptoms and illness a dramatic cusp, but Hunter wisely weaves Arjun's illness into the fabric of the novel. The illness is just another pattern, like the family's inability to communicate, and their tendency to lose one another in a maze of inarticulate communication.

For a relatively slim book, Losing Touch takes an extreme long view of its character's lives. Hunter follows Arjun and Sunila into their old age, as Arjun slowly succumbs to the disease which has been his fate. The novel builds to a surprisingly poignant finish. Losing Touch is very much like life: filled with errors and regrets, but astonishingly sweets and filled with love and joy. Losing Touch has a quiet power, and is the work of a highly accomplished writer--its hard to believe this is Hunter's first novel.

The author has a website here:

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? Summer TBR

One month into summer, and I'm a reading machine. Summer reading is the best!

It's Monday, What Are You Reading is a readerly meme hosted by Sheila of Book Journey.

I'm halfway through my summer break, and it has been a productive time for reading. Here's a peek at the books that are sitting on my TBR pile, as well as a few I've recently finished:

Recently Completed

Here's what I've read in the last week or two:
Hue and Cry by James Alan McPherson (short stories)
Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson  (Pulitzer-Prize winning collection of short stories)
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (WOW)
Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose (a quick read, but very informative....Colvin refused to give up her seat to a white woman on a Montgomery, Alabama bus nine months before Rosa Parks did the same)
Losing Touch by Sandra Hunter (for TLC Book Tours, review tomorrow)

Now Reading

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (working away on my Classics Club list). Dickens is one of the big authors on my Classics Club list. I'm reading the Signet Classic edition, which has a nice introduction by Frederick Busch. Here's a quote from the introduction:
If we combine marital misery, a wretched searching for something nameless, elusive, but essential, and the idea of lovers separated by great gulfs of time and space, we have almost arrived at the critical mass of elements that resulted in the dark, brilliant Tale of Two Cities.
As Dickens began writing A Tale of Two Cities, he had already fallen in love with eighteen-year-old actress Ellen Ternan, and separated from his wife. 

And About to Begin

East of Eden by John Steinbeck.  I'll be rereading Steinbeck's classic novel based on the story of Cain and Abel for my Classics Club list, and as a read-along with the Estella Project.

So....it's Monday! What are you reading?

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Top Ten Blogging Confessions

Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

Because lists are fun.

I've been feeling just a little bit guilty because I haven't posted in a week. Every blogger out there knows the feeling. Hey, no one asked me to do this, so why should I feel guilty! Also, how many angsty posts have we all read about how a blogger is thinking about giving up her blog? Too many, am I right? This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic might be the best one ever: confessions of a blogger, about blogging--you know, that totally voluntary activity that no one ever asked us to do? Yeah, but we love it! Because this is where we talk about our obsession as if it were completely normal to own more books than....anything. This is where there is a general understanding that yes, we all have a TBR bookcase (forget the TBR pile). But still, it gives us angst and stuff. Here are my top ten blogging confessions:

1. The more I love a book, the harder it is for me to write a review. Books that I just sorta like....those reviews practically write themselves. But a book that I underlined, argued with, and cried over--that review takes me a loooong time to write. And maybe (Cormac McCarthy, I'm looking at you) I just never write it.

2. I know I sound like a schoolmarm sometimes and I hate it. This blog is where I indulge my reader self. But I've been teaching high school English for more than a decade, and sometimes I read my posts and go ugh, there's the schoolteacher voice!

3. I've never done a vlog, and the idea both intimidates and intrigues me.

4. I get comment envy. One of the best things about blogging is the conversation, and I'm disappointed when a post doesn't get many comments.

5. E-books leave me cold. I'll read them, because they are convenient, but it is my last choice. Thus, Netgalley and I just didn't get along.

6. Review copies make me anxious. Eww, I just broke out in a cold sweat. They're looking at me--make them stop!

7. My book hoarding/book buying tendencies are worse than I admit.

8. My blog impresses my mother more than almost anything else I've ever done. This is puzzling to me, since Mom doesn't even own a computer. I think she saw and read a post or two on a friend's computer, or at my sister's. But my mother acts as if writing this blog is a huge accomplishment. The only explanation I can come up with is that movie, Julie and Julia. And by the way, my mother would like Meryl Streep to play her in the movie about me and my blog. The fact that my mother looks nothing like Meryl Streep is irrelevant.

9. It still surprises me that I have readers. When I started this blog I knew nothing--nothing! And when I started to have a few followers I was shocked. I still remember the moment that I realized that twelve total strangers were following my blog. I felt like a rock star! And I am still very grateful for anyone who takes the time to read what I write here.

10. I want to write books. I can't think of a higher calling. Nothing gives me more pleasure than writing and reading, and the two are completely intertwined. When I review any book, I'm always aware of how difficult it is to write a book, let alone bring a book to publication.

What are your blogging confessions?

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Classics

Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is a list of my favorite classics. At first I thought this one would be easy; after all, I've been working on my Classics Club list (slowly), and classic novels make up a major part of my reading life. The problem is, I have too many classics that are very close to my heart. So I will have to leave off some of my favorite writers and books..... this list is not just my favorite classics, but those classics that I have either read multiple times or will be rereading. Any book on this list has stayed with me over the course of years or even decades.

1. Middlemarch by George Eliot. Middlemarch is still my favorite book of all time. I've read this novel at least six times, and I will probably read it again this year. I'm not the only reader who feels strongly about Middlemarch: writer Rebecca Mead made it the subject of her own book (My Life in Middlemarch). Middlemarch is a book you can read over and over because it will speak to you in a different way each time. It is a tale of a woman (Dorothea Brooke) and the choices she makes in her life, and it is a panoramic view of small-town life in Victorian England.
2. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. This is undoubtedly the Victorian novelist's masterpiece. All of Dickens's usual themes and characters are here, but he touches his themes more deeply: moral corruption and the conflict between good and evil are at the heart of this novel, but so is love, of course.
3. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I first read this novel when I was in high school, and it triggered my absolute adoration of Russian literature. Prince Myshkin is either an idiot or a saint--or maybe both.
4. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. It took me two or three attempts to read this novel, but then suddenly I was in. On my list to reread.
5. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. This remarkable novel was written in a white heat: Hurston was getting over a love affair with a much younger man, and she wanted to recapture some of the passion she had felt. This is also a remarkable story of a woman's journey. I don't know how many times I've read this book, but probably at least five.
6. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. This is the novel that started my Bronte obsession. I first read it as a teenager, but have reread it many times since then.
7. The Narrative of Frederick Douglass. This narrative by a man who was born a slave, learned to read and write, and became a leading abolitionist is inspirational. Every time I read it I feel in awe of Douglass's genius.
8. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope. Anthony Trollope is one of my favorite writers because of his characters and his ability to convey so much about the English class system in Victorian times. The Palliser novels are my favorite of Trollope's series books, but this is considered Trollope's finest novel.
9. The Known World by Edward P. Jones. This novel is so deep that a single reading probably isn't enough to do it justice. Jones is the author of two short story collections; The Known World, his only novel, won the Pulitzer Prize. It is the story of a black slave owner and the slaves who live under his control.
10. East of Eden by John Steinbeck. The Grapes of Wrath is my other Steinbeck choice--either or both belong on this list. I sincerely wish that John Steinbeck were still alive, because we need him.

I really want to know--what are your favorite classics? Do you have a classic book that you've read over and over, or one that you just can't live without?