Monday, January 26, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished The Hilltop, The Girl Who Loved Camellias and Blood-Drenched Beard last week (the third I finished just last night) and now that New York City is basically shut down due to the snowstorm that's starting any minute I will probably spend the day diving into a new set of reads.

I'm still working my way through Ludmila Ulitskaya's short story collection Sonechka; I have two stories left to finish.
I also started Damon Galgut's Arctic Summer, a fictionalization of the life of E.M. Forster, and I'm enjoying it. It's not an easy read. Forster, or Morgan as he's called, is portrayed as deeply introverted and misogynistic. But the narrative is addictive and I'm flying through it.

Finally I started John Reimringer's 2011 novel Vestments, about a priest from a blue collar Midwestern family who comes home for a visit after being involved in a scandal. It's about the day to day life of a man of the Church, family dynamics and the city of St. Paul. I'm not very far into it but I like its moody, introspective tone.

That's it for me. What are you reading? See more at BookJourney.wordpress.com.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Review: SWORN VIRGIN, by Elvira Dones

Sworn Virgin, by Elvira Dones. Published 2014 by & Other Stories Press. Translated from Albanian. Literary Fiction.

Hana Doda is a bookish young Albanian woman, an ambitious student who is being pressured into an arranged marriage by her dying uncle. Distraught, and wanting to be independent, she takes advantage, if you can call it that, of an old rural Albanian tradition. Hana is reborn as Mark, and goes to live alone and work as a shepherd- and as a man. In Albanian tradition the way Dones tells it, this is an uncommon but not unheard-of path, the only catch being once you choose it you can never go back to being a woman. But Hana can't abide this tradition either, and decides to emigrate to America- as a woman.

Elvira Dones' narrative takes us back and forth between Hana's new American life and her old Albanian life, first as Hana and then as Mark. Throughout both stories, we read about a young woman trying to figure out who she is and where she fits, confounding expectations and crossing and re-crossing boundaries. Mark is not a transsexual in the sense of believing that he is a man born in a woman's body, and he is not stigmatized or mistreated as a man. And he does not have sexual relationships of any kind while he is Mark- he's forbidden to. When Hana takes on Mark as an identity, celibacy is part of the bargain. And Hana, as a woman, is not gay and is not making the switch to have a relationship with a woman, although such a thing is not unheard-of among women who make this switch. So it's not about sex, and it isn't really about gender identity either. It seems to me to be about finding a way to exist in a society so strict about its gender roles that it would rather see a woman deny her gender than see her in pants or behind the wheel of a truck.

When she moves to America, she lives with a relative and finds a job in a parking garage at first, but eventually she finds her footing and a job selling books. And she's learning how to be female again- how to shop for clothes, how to comport herself, and even making baby steps towards intimacy with a man she meets at the bookstore. The American side of the story feels like a traditional immigrant tale with this very unusual twist. I have to say I really enjoyed this story.  The premise is one I haven't encountered before and the writing is good enough to carry the reader along, make us care about Hana and begin to understand the issues she faces. Actually, I couldn't put it down. I'm really glad I came across this little gem.

Rating: BACKLIST

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Movie Review: Lacombe, Lucien (1974)

Lacombe Lucien (1974). Starring Pierre Blaise, Aurore Clément, Holger Löwenadler. Dir: Louis Malle. R. IMDB.

Lacombe Lucien is one of those classic French movies that has been on my radar to watch forever, but I just needed a reason. That reason came last year when Patrick Modiano, who cowrote the screenplay with director Louis Malle, won the Nobel Prize in literature. It's set near the tail end of World War 2, in the southeast of France. Lucien Lacombe is a hick from the sticks if you will, a farm kid from the Lot region, who wants to join the resistance but is turned down because he is too young. So he joins the Gestapo instead, and the first thing he does is rat out the local resistance leader, the very man who refused him.

He joins the Gestapo, I think, because they'll take him, because they seem glamorous to him, and because being attached to them gives him status and power where previously he had none. Soon after, he meets a Jewish family living in hiding nearby. The family consists of the father, a tailor who makes Lucien his first real suit, his daughter France and his elderly mother. Lucien is fascinated by them, and becomes infatuated with France. What follows, follows from that.

After having read even one Modiano novel, I can feel his fingerprints all over this film. The ellipses, the things left unsaid, the dropping of hints is all so like Missing Person. There is so much left unsaid. Watching this movie, controversial on its release because of its portrayal of French collaborators, you have to do some mental gymnastics to catch the subtext, the subtle things Malle and Modiano show and don't. Lucien does bad things; he makes bad choices, and he will pay for them. At the same time there is this slow reaching towards the light. He knows everything we know.

It's an emotionally and intellectually challenging film.

Monday, January 19, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I finished My Mother-in-Law Drinks early last week, as predicted, and read two more quick crime novels as well, Marco Malvaldi's Game For Five and its followup Three Card Monte. Those were fun, short books, definitely recommended for the beach bag. My next Europa Challenge book is probably going to be Damon Galgut's Arctic Summer, which I'm long overdue to read.

I'll finish The Hilltop, finally, today or tomorrow; I have about ten pages left.

I'm loving Daniel Galera's Blood-Drenched Beard, a slow-moving atmospheric crime novel/thriller about a young man searching for the truth about his grandfather's mysterious death. It's set in modern-day Brazil and comes with a twist- the protagonist, who so far is not named, has a neurological disability that prevents him from remembering faces. So he's a kind of unreliable narrator but it's not his fault. I probably have another week or two left on this. I'm in no hurry to finish.
Finally in the nonfiction world I'm reading Julie Kavanagh's The Girl Who Loved Camellias: The Life and Legend of Marie Duplessis. This is the story of a notorious Parisian courtesan of the mid-19th century whose life formed the basis for a novel by Alexandre Dumas fils, La dame aux camélias, and operas including La Traviatia, Carmen and others. I'm finding it to be an interesting exploration of the social mores of the time. Parisian social culture of the 19th century had a huge impact on what followed and is well worth reading about even if the subject of courtesans doesn't interest you.

A few weeks ago I rearranged my TBR pile and pulled all the nonfiction, what there is of it anyway since I read about 80% fiction, into its own pile so it's easier to find books for the gym. There's some good stuff waiting to be read in there!

What are you reading today? See more at BookJourney.wordpress.com.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Crafturday - Makeup Bags

I love making these makeup/cosmetic bags. I've probably made close to a dozen by now. They take me about a half hour after I'm done cutting (2 each of outer fabric, lining, two kinds of interfacing, so it's like 8 pieces).  It's such a versatile pattern and can have so many different looks and uses. Use a fabric with sewing supplies on it and it's a craft pouch. Use flowers and it's girly. Use fabric depicting the New York subway system, and it's got some cool.

Here is the same bag in the Alexander Henry Fulham Road fabric I used for a shoulder bag, and here it is in Laurel Burch cat fabric:

Once I can pull together some fabric and order matching zippers I want to make a bunch of these for my Etsy shop. It just takes some planning is all.

You can find the pattern I used here. So-Sew-Easy.com is a great sewing blog. You should follow it and you should make this bag. Once you make one, you'll want to make a million. Two fat quarters, interfacing and a 9 inch zipper is all you need.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

New on the Shelf

Awhile ago I got it into my head to re-read Oblomov, a favorite from college, so I found a copy of the most recent translation and added it to my TBR pile. The only correct way to read this book is to read it in bed, so I'm looking forward to doing just that over the upcoming weekend. It's about a lazy but goodnatured Russian aristocrat, and the shenanigans in which he becomes embroiled. I love the cover photo; it captures the character so well.

The World Before Us, by Aislinn Hunter, is coming out in March from Hogarth/Random House. The publisher described it thus: "In the tradition of A. S. Byatt’s Possession, a spellbinding, hauntingly poignant novel about the remarkable ties that bring our pasts to the present." If you can make a valid Byatt comparison, I'm sold.

Wee Wonderfuls, by Hillary Lang, is a craft book with a bunch of doll patterns. I'm spending a lot of time this month learning some basic doll-making and I thought this looked like a really fun book to help me. I'll let you know how it goes.

And while we're on the subject, The Making of a Rag Doll, by Jess Brown, is a course in creating one particular doll and her clothes and accessories. I think between the two books, I should have plenty of basic instruction.

Book-acquiring has definitely slowed since the move. Book-reading has not, so I might be able to actually make a dent in that huge pile of TBRs I brought with me from Boston!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Review: MY MOTHER-IN-LAW DRINKS, by Diego de Silva

My Mother-in-Law Drinks, by Diego de Silva. Published 2014 by Europa Editions. Literary Fiction, Crime. Translated from Italian.

My Mother-in-Law Drinks isn't really so much a crime novel- there's no particular mystery, or crime that's being solved- as it is one very dramatic day in the very dramatic life of one Vincenzo Malinconico, an Italian criminal defense lawyer whom readers may have met in Diego de Silva's wonderful 2012 book, I Hadn't Understood. Vince', as he's called, is a bit of a loser. His law practice is a joke, and while he's had lots of problems with women in the past, things seem to be looking up. As this second installment opens he's living with the very desirable Alessandra Persiano, won in the first book. He's getting along better with his kids now and he's sticking up for himself with his ex-wife Nives. And he's got a great relationship with Assunta, his mother-in-law, who's just found out she has cancer.

All this comes into play in the aftermath of a very difficult situation in which he finds himself one day at the grocery store. Armed with a gun, an otherwise unremarkable computer engineer has taken control of the store. He has become unhinged after his son was killed in a case of mistaken identity and his killer allowed to go free thanks to the Italian court system. He tracks down the man he believes is responsible, a mafioso on the run but hiding in plain sight. And he takes Vince', the mafioso and another supermarket employee hostage, intending to try the man with Vince' acting as defense attorney. The aftermath of the hostage situation makes Vince' a temporary celebrity and while it seems like things might be looking up, Vince' is falling apart.

The story is told through the normally fractured Vincenzo's even more manic than usual narration owing to the trauma he's suffered. A characteristic of this series is his tangents and stories that pepper the narrative; he can't just tell you what happened, he's got to relate analogies and anecdotes and examples, and if you like his voice it's immensely enjoyable. I love these books; I love the asides and parentheticals and all his talk and nonsense. It's fun. The story itself is pretty simple; man tries to put his life back together after a trauma, and succeeds more or less, even if he doesn't come away unscathed. De Silva leads one important thread dangling at the end of the book, and I really hope he picks it up in the next one. And I hope there is a next one!

This is my first read for the 2015 Europa Challenge. Come on over to the blog & check it out.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I received this book from Europa Editions for review.

Monday, January 12, 2015

It's Monday-What Are You Reading?

I didn't finish any books this past week but decided to start two more- an optimistic move, I believe.

I'm almost done with The Hilltop and My Mother-in-Law Drinks; I should finish Mother-in-Law today.
I started Daniel Galera's literary thriller Blood-Drenched Beard last night and I am having a hard time putting it down. Set in modern-day Brazil, it's about a young man who wants to solve the mystery of his grandfather's strange death, related by his father on his deathbed. It's moody and descriptive, a slow read with an underbelly of menace. I wish I could stay home all day and do nothing but read. I wouldn't need a cup of coffee to get my heart racing!

I also started Sonechka, by Ludmila Ulitskaya, a collection of short stories and one (the titular) novella. Reading Ulitskaya is always a treat, and I felt like a treat. She's got a new book coming out in English soon but I couldn't wait to read one of my very favorite writers.

In the non-fiction department, I actually lost my copy of Roxane Gay's Bad Feminist, so until I can get one from the library I'm out of luck. I think I left it at the gym somewhere but they didn't have it at the lost and found. I also lost a nearly-full bottle of facial cleanser. So someone has a good book and a clean face thanks to me. I'll pick something off the shelf to bring to the gym this week but I'm not sure what that will be yet. Sad face.

What are you reading this week? See more at BookJourney.wordpress.com.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Crafturday- A Bookish Tote

I made this shoulder bag this week; it has some problems (darts not perfect, handle inside-out) but overall I really like it. I used the Alexander Henry Fulham Road fabric and a coordinate for the exterior and lining of the handle.The lining of the bag is plain pink.

It's called the "Phoebe Bag" and you can find the pattern here on Craftsy.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Review: MISSING PERSON, by Patrick Modiano

Missing Person, by Patrick Modiano. Published 2004 by Godine. Literary Fiction. Translated from French.

When Patrick Modiano won the Nobel Prize in 2014 I, like a lot of people, rushed out to get the one book of his that was currently in print in English, Missing Person. It was so much in demand that the copy I had had reserved at a local bookstore was sold out from under me before I could buy it, and on a day when every bookstore in my town (granted, that's 3) was sold out of him. I did finally track down a copy in the more plentifully-stocked New York City and when I did, was able to treat myself to this hypnotic and engaging story about a man looking for himself.

Set somewhere in the late 1950s, Frenchman Guy Roland is trying to find out who he is, or who he was. His name and identity was given to him by his employer, a gentlemen called Hutte, who put him to work in a detective agency. He's going to need all of his skills and smarts to solve the toughest mystery he's seen yet.

He does find out who he was, what life he lead, and as much as he will ever know about the woman in that life. The answers to his questions are tied up in World War 2, the salons and art rooms of the wealthy, political machinations that stretch across the sea and a desperate flight across the snowy fields of Europe.

In tone the book is a noir, all dark corners and dirty secrets, but its themes are wider and deeper than most. This is definitely a book to linger over and savor over a long rainy afternoon. I'm looking forward to reading more from this author and I'm glad the Nobel brought him to my attention.

Rating: BACKLIST

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review.