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, May 19, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Reasons to Read Anthony Trollope

Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week the topic is: Top Ten Tuesday Freebie: Your Choice!

This is the perfect time to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Anthony Trollope's birth, and give my Top Ten Reasons to Read Anthony Trollope.

1. Read Trollope for the panoramic view. Victorians perfected the novel with the large canvas, but Trollope is particularly good at capturing the many levels of class and social status that existed in 19th century England, whether among the Church of England or the Parliament.

2. Read Trollope for the moral tension and examination of conscience: many of Trollope's characters are good men or good women trapped in a moral quandary. Trollope is attuned to the finest nuances of conscience. He has his villains too--cads, bounders, scoundrels, wastrels, and knaves.

3. Read Trollope for the city of Barchester and the county of Barsetshire. Trollope creates a cathedral city, recurring characters like the Archdeacon Theophilus Grantly, and enough characters and incidents to fill six novels. One of the pleasures of Trollope is getting to know characters over a whole series of books.

4. Read Trollope for the politics. While the Barsetshire novels focus on life in a cathedral city, and the dramas and daily lives of the clergy, the Palliser novels focus on political life in Victorian England.

5. Read Trollope for his insights into power, money, love, and social class. Although Trollope's novels are set in Victorian England, the struggles over power, money. class, and love can feel strangely contemporary.

6. Read Trollope for his women. Although Trollope doesn't completely transcend the ideas and attitudes of his time, his female characters are portrayed with great sympathy. Trollope created some unforgettable women, such as Lady Glencora Palliser, Duchess of Omnium and Madame Max Goesler.

7. Read Trollope because you'll never run out of books. Trollope published 47 novels as well as travel books and short story collections. His impressive work ethic is almost unmatched in literature. If you like setting goals, try reading every novel Trollope published.

8. Read Trollope because he is entertaining. There is a resurgence in Trollope's popularity, and while he has been considered a slightly guilty pleasure by some, there's nothing wrong with reading a book because it is entertaining--and Trollope's books are that.

9. Read Trollope for his humor and his irony. Gossip, back-biting, social climbing, and hypocrisy are all here. And Trollope has fun with names: a poor curate with a large family is Mr. Quiverful, a bishop's wife who is a tyrant and a bully is called Mrs. Proudie.

10. Read Trollope because sometimes he is great. Although Trollope's novels are not all great, I would argue that some (The Way We Live Now, for example) reach a level of artistry that could be called great. Trollope creates a world that is sometimes startlingly like out own. Above all, it is about the characters, who are memorable, complex, and real.

Anthony Trollope created an imaginative world that is satisfyingly large, complex, and compelling. There are more than ten reasons to read Trollope, but really, you only need one.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sunday Coffee: Looking Back and Looking Ahead

Looking Back

The school year is wrapping up, and I'm feeling busier than ever. I want to look back at April, which slipped past me while I was stressing out over grades, testing, and other stuff.

So April is National Poetry Month, but in my world it also seems like it is always National Testing Month. My students, juniors in high school, are so inured to testing that it is almost distressing. I was an administrator for two days of testing, and boy do our kids know how to roll up their sleeves and fill in bubbles. The first day of testing I spent five hours in one room with one very quick restroom break. No one ever tells you that a "bladder of steel" is a requirement for teaching.

Just before testing we finally had Spring Break--so late! Want to know why it was so late? Because: GOLF.
Yes, when you teach in or near a resort community, your school calendar can revolve around golf. My husband actually works right behind the golf course in the picture above (there's a dock back there behind the smoke). For some reason the gold tournament is kicked off with a cannon. Also, that red and white lighthouse in the background: totally not real. However, you can pay a couple of dollars to walk to the top and take a picture. That used to be free....

One very nice thing that happened during spring break was this:
I received an entire stack of JoJo Moyes novels from the folks at Viking/Penguin. So fantastic! I love being a book blogger! This will be heavenly to start off my summer reading.

Anthony Trollope: The 200th Anniversary

April 24, 2015 was the 200th anniversary of Anthony Trollope's birth, and I've been enjoying the posts on the Anthony Trollope Society facebook page. The 200th has reminded me of my commitment to "Our Author" as Society members refer to Trollope. I have read many of Trollope's major works: the entire Barsetshire series, the Palliser series, The Way We Live Now, and The Prime Minister.

Our Author wrote 47 novels, so I definitely won't run out of Trollope novels to read. I decided to go through by bookshelves to see which Trollope novels and books I own but haven't yet read, and selected a couple to read again:

I've already started the Autobiography, and plan to reread The Warden and some of the other Barsetshire novels, since I read them all several years ago. And I will probably read Victoria Glendinning's Anthony Trollope soon.

There has never been a better time to get started on the novels of Anthony Trollope, if you haven't read him already, or to rediscover this amazingly prolific author. One thing I have noticed: you will have an easier time finding Trollope's books in used bookstores than in bookstores that specialize in new books. That just seems wrong: after all, you will certainly find Dickens on the shelves of any bookstore and I would argue that Trollope is just as good, as relevant, as entertaining as Dickens.

Here are a couple of websites to explore:

Looking Ahead

I went a little crazy accepting review copies recently. There were just so many enticing books. June is packed with good books, and it will be all I can do to keep up with reading and reviewing so many books. And I accepted my first review copy of a coloring book! The only problem is, the coloring book has been delayed because the phenomenon of adults using coloring books to de-stress has really caught on, and the book is sold out!

My reading has been all over the place, because I've been alternating between reading for school and reading for reviews. I've been averaging two books a week, which is pretty amazing when you consider that I'm quite busy with my day job! 

Some of the books I've read that deserve their own post:
Black Boy and Native Son by Richard Wright (both of which I have read before)
Passing by Nella Larsen (another reread)

The Golden Compass
The Subtle Knife
The Amber Spyglass  
I absolutely loved the His Dark Materials Trilogy by Philip Pullman

Right now I'm reading The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin (for the second time), poems by Langston Hughes, Geraldine Brooks, and Claude McKay, and occasionally dipping into a Zora Neale Hurston reader: I Love Myself When I Am Laughing....and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive.

Oh, and Mother's Day

Of course my Mother's Day included a trip to the bookstore. I picked up these two books. I'm pretty much incorrigible.

I admit to being extremely eclectic in my reading habits right now. Sometimes I think it would be nice to just focus on one author or one genre for a month or so. That doesn't seem to be possible at the moment, so I'll go with being eclectic and just love it.

What are you reading on this Sunday? 

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Review: The Bookseller

The Bookseller
Cynthia Swanson
352 pages
A review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours

Have you been searching for the perfect book for your book club? Search no further, because Cynthia Swanson's debut novel The Bookseller is the perfect book for discussion. Surely every reader will be intrigued by the premise of this novel: what if?

Kitty Miller is a single, thirty-eight-year-old career woman who owns a bookstore with her lifelong friend, Frieda. The two women left less-than-satisfying careers to open Sister's Bookshop in Denver, Colorado. The year is 1962; Ray Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes is on its way to becoming a bestseller, and Jackie Kennedy is the fashion figure women want to emulate. Kitty once had a relationship with an aspiring doctor, but after years of dating and an ultimatum from Kitty, the relationship ended. So Kitty has settled into a life as a career girl, with a quiet, if fulfilling life. Her deepest relationships are with her parents, her friend and partner, Frieda, and her cat, Aslan,

But at night when she dreams, Kitty enters another world, one where she is not Kitty Miller, but Katharyn Andersson. As Katharyn, Kitty has a handsome blue-eyed architect husband named Lars, three darling children, and a housekeeper named Alma. Her house is beautifully designed, her closet is filled with gorgeous and expensive, if understated, clothes, and her life revolves around her family.

At first Kitty is intrigued by her alternate life, enjoying the loving husband, the beautifully decorated home, even the children she never had in her own life. But as time goes on, Kitty seems powerless to stop the dream life, and finds the dreams more troubling than enjoyable.

The Bookseller has a twisty, intriguing, and clever plot. I love a book that makes me think, and this book did that. In addition, the author has clearly done her research on Denver in the years of 1962 and 1963, the times in which her novel is set. The choices faced by her character--career or home--are still argued fiercely in some places, although the choices are no longer as stark as they used to be. For many women, motherhood and work are not mutually exclusive, and many working mothers must work to support their families. So the conflict Kitty/Katharyn faces between two distinct ways of living is not so black and white to women today.

Cynthia Swanson clearly loves the historical period depicted in her novel. One of the most pleasurable aspects of The Bookseller is the rich descriptions of clothing, decor, and house design. this is one of the most visual novels I've read in a long time. One thing I did find a bit curious was that the Civil Rights movement is never mentioned in the novel, although the Kennedy presidency and the Cuban missile crisis figure prominently.

The premise of the novel is gripping and Swanson handles it beautifully, with suspense and intrigue. The book this novel reminded me of most was Time and Again by Jack Finney. Although time travel is not the purpose of Kitty's movement between two worlds, there is a sort of time travel--in her "real life" as Kitty it is 1962, while Katharyn lives in another world where it is 1963. The similarity to the Finney book comes in Swanson's skill in making her premise believable, and the author's ability to create a mood of mystery and suspense. I thought the ending was perhaps a little tidy, but the resolution of Kitty's conflict was surprising and touching.

Readers will enjoy pondering the questions suggested by The Bookseller. Who hasn't wondered "How did I end up with this life?" or "What if I had made different choices?"

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten All Time Favorite Authhors

Top Ten Tuesday is a bookish meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week's list: our top ten all-time-favorite authors.

Choosing just ten all-time-favorite authors is just ridiculous and impossible. I just sort of closed my eyes and wrote a list. There is no way this list encompasses all of my favorite authors. But these are ten of the ones I love the very most.

1. Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The author of The Idiot and Crime and Punishment somehow made my adolescence more bearable. I was a misfit, and while I had friends, there were some things I just couldn't discuss with anyone. Don't ask me why, but I found solace in a Russian writer of the 19th century.
2. Anton Checkhov, His short stories seem to contain everything in human nature. The longer, later stories are the best.
3. Frederick Douglass. Every time I read his Narrative I am awestruck all over again.
4. James Baldwin. Shatteringly brilliant. I can't decide whether I love his essays or his novels more.
5. Rainer Maria Rilke. Poet, writer of books that can't even be categorized.... Letters to a Young Poet...every word is golden.
6. Alice Munro. She is perfect. Her stories are marvels.
7. Elizabeth Strout. Her work just resonates with me.
8. Bonnie Jo Campbell. A gorgeous yet down to earth writer. Once Upon a River is my favorite.
9. Margaret Atwood. She is crazy good. The Handmaid's Tale. Cat's Eye. The Maddaddam trilogy. Margaret Atwood is my spirit animal.
10. Anthony Trollope. There is no one quite like Anthony Trollope for revealing the many and varied nuances of British politics and society in the 19th century.

That is my list...and already I have regrets (Ralph Ellison. Charles Dickens. All of the Bronte sisters.). Who are your all-time-favorite authors?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Review: Pleasantville

Attica Locke
432 pages
A review copy of this book was provided through TLC Book Tours

Is there anything quite so satisfying as a deftly plotted thriller with a morally complex character at its center?

Pleasantville is Attica Locke's third novel, following Black Water Rising and The Cutting Season. Locke has perfected her own distinct blend of the legal thriller with political and historical elements. And the framework supporting it all is a kind of moral awareness that makes Pleasantville more than just an entertainment, but also a thoughtful and deeply satisfying read.

In Locke's first novel, Black Water Rising, Jay Porter was a young lawyer with a struggling practice, a pregnant wife, and a past that weighed heavily on him. Set in Houston in 1981, Black Water Rising tells a rich and complex story; much of the novel's back story involves Jay Porter's past as a student involved in the black radical movement. Jay's struggles include the early death of his father at the hands of white men, and his own troubling experience with the criminal justice system. In her first novel Attica Locke creates in Jay Porter a character who the reader will come to see as complex, entirely human, and worthy of more than one novel. Pleasantville picks up fifteen years after Black Water Rising, and much has changed for Jay. He is renowned in Houston for his legal victory over Cole Oil, he is a father, and he is raising his two children alone. The Jay Porter of Pleasantville is more seasoned, but still morally complex and haunted.

I sped through Black Water Rising in a couple of days, and was eager to pick up Pleasantville. Locke's novel did not disappoint. She expertly weaves a tale of greed, political corruption, and racial tensions that provides the perfect backdrop for her legal thriller.

Pleasantville is set in 1996, and Locke makes references to both G.W. and H.W. Bush and their growing political dynasty. She creates a convoluted but convincing political backdrop for her thriller by setting it during a mayoral race in Houston, and she brings back Jay Porter's former lover (and betrayer) Cynthia Maddox, a character who had a pivotal role in Back Water Rising. In Pleasantville, a young girl disappears on the eve of an election. When she is found dead five days later, Jay Porter is unwillingly dragged into a court battle, just as he is trying to wrap up another case involving the traditionally black neighborhood of Pleasantville and a company whose chemical fire has harmed the neighborhood's residents.

Locke is expert at ratcheting up the suspense; Pleasantville kept my pulse racing with its menacing villains, break-ins, and chases. But what makes Pleasantville absorbing and satisfying is the relationships between characters, and the character of Jay Porter himself. Locke creates in Jay a man struggling with a devastating loss while trying to raise his ten-year-old son and his fifteen-year-old daughter. His desire to represent his client, a young black man wrongly accused of murder, is at times in conflict with his desire to keep his children safe. And the moral decisions Jay has to make are complex and troubling.

While the reader can enjoy Pleasantville without first reading Black Water Rising, I recommend that you treat yourself to both. Both books are tautly paced, totally involving, and expertly written. If you like Dennis Lehane's books, you would definitely like Pleasantville, which is comparable in its moral framework, characterization, and plotting to the best of Lehane.

Attica Lock has a website here: www.atticalocke.com
She is also on Facebook.

Monday, April 13, 2015

It's Monday


So many Mondays I have posted my "It's Monday, What Are You Reading?" post. This Monday I'd like to offer my condolences to Sheila McKinney DeChantal, who book bloggers know for her sunny attitude and her amazing positive energy. Sheila, of Book Journey, lost her son Justin in a car accident on April 4th. 

Jenn from The Picky Girl has a post with more details, as well as information about the GoFundMe (gofundme.com/supportforsheila) effort that will establish a memorial for Justin at Brainerd Public Library.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Review: The Boy Who Loved Rain

The Boy Who Loved Rain
Gerard Kelly
paperback, 320 pages
Lion Hudson
A review copy of this book has been provided through TLC Book Tours

A teenage boy shows signs of depression, gets into trouble at school, and is accused of on-line bullying. His mother is at her wit's end, and his father seems disengaged. To make matters worse, the father is a pastor who has built his reputation on his special ministry in.... parenting. He has a church and a converted movie-theater conference center where he leads eager groups of parents through the mine-fields of modern parenting.... but his wife can't even get him to answer her text messages. Then the boy, Colom, loses a friend to suicide. An investigation reveals that Colom and his friend Daniel have been frequenting web sites that encourage suicide; even more frightening is the suicide note that Colom's mother, Fiona, finds in Colom's room.

The Boy Who Loved Rain begins as something as a domestic drama, but this multi-layered and ambitious novel is tackling life's biggest questions: questions of identity, faith, and love. At the center of the novel are a series of secrets buried deep in the past, secrets that have the power to destroy a child and a family.

The plot of The Boy Who Loved Rain is complex, and sometimes the complexity seems as though it isn't leading anywhere. I found the first half of the book slow going, and somewhat overwritten, but something kept me reading... partly it was my curiosity about the secret at the core of the book, and partly it was my growing affection for the characters of Fiona and Colom, and Fiona's friend Miriam. I do think the pacing of the book is slow, but much of the story is built on the accrual of information built slowly over the course of the book. I never warmed much to the character of David, Colom's pastor father, but he turns out to be peripheral to the main narrative; the story really focuses on Fiona and Colom, and the puzzle of Colom's depression, his nightmares, and his growing isolation.

There were a few things about the writing that I thought didn't work: each chapter had a quotation from a book or other source (everything from The Art of Racing in the Rain to Looking for Alaska to Wikipedia) about rain. Rain is indeed important to the book both symbolically and in terms of the plot. But in the end I don't think the author needed to tell the reader so much and so often about rain. The other issue I have is with italicized sections at the end of chapters that are in a specific voice of a character that the reader doesn't meet until the end. I think this device was unnecessarily confusing. In general the book is big, filled with information, description, quotations, asides, that don't all add to the story. But this is honestly mostly a question of taste, and I ended up really liking The Boy Who Loved Rain, in spite of these reservations.

The insight into human psychology, the complex characters, and the rich atmosphere of the book made The Boy Who Loved Rain a profound and enjoyable reading experience. The character of Colom was initially opaque and mystifying, but Gerard Kelly made him a deeply sympathetic and realistic character in the end. I also enjoyed Kelly's unusual blend of spirituality, psychology, and aesthetics. He brings together characters from different worlds (art, journalism, religion) and creates one human world. Recommended for readers who like long books with puzzles at their center, and books about human suffering and redemption.