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text 2017-08-07 11:30
7th August 2017
The Baron in the Trees - Italo Calvino,Archibald Colquhoun

Melancholy is sadness that has taken on lightness. 

 

Italo Calvino

 

August 7, 1957: On this day, Italo Calvino published his letter of resignation from the Italian Communist Party. He never joined another political party, but he did write a fantasy novel, The Baron in the Trees, about political disillusionment. 

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review 2017-08-02 12:23
Sacred Trees of Ireland - Christine Zucc... Sacred Trees of Ireland - Christine Zucchelli

Fascinating look at historical trees of Ireland that have meaning and often sacred history around at least the site if not the tree, she delves into myth, legend and fact and the whole thing has sumptuous photographs.

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review 2017-07-27 21:40
The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
The Bean Trees - Barbara Kingsolver

This is an uneven debut novel from a talented author. It is in some ways a feel-good story, about a young woman who travels far from home and builds a community. The book focuses on the themes of motherhood and of growing up and trying to do right in the face of the ugliness of the world, and does so effectively. There is room for improvement though, in particular because a major aspect of the plot depends on a premise both problematic and extremely unlikely.

Taylor Greer is a young woman from the mountains of Kentucky who decides to reinvent her life, so she sets off in her beat-up old car with no clear plan in mind. By the time she reaches Tucson, she isn’t alone: when she stops at a bar in the Cherokee part of Oklahoma, a woman dumps a 3-year-old child on her. So Taylor unexpectedly has to learn to be a mother, which winds up connecting her to a wider community.

Which is all written very sweetly, but the situation makes little sense. From what little we learn of the child’s background, she’s been abused and neglected, and it’s her aunt who gives her to Taylor after her mother’s death, apparently in an attempt to protect her. All the aunt knows about Taylor is that she’s eating alone at night in a mostly-empty bar, where she requests the cheapest thing on the menu, and she drives a beat-up old rattletrap of a car with out-of-state plates. No names or contact information are exchanged. No matter how desperate the child’s home situation, it’s hard to imagine any relative believing this is a good idea. Meanwhile, although a large part of Taylor’s identity is based on having reached her early 20’s without pregnancy, and although she has no means to care for a child, she easily accepts responsibility after a token protest, without considering that contacting social services or the police might be a better idea than driving off with a stranger's child. She doesn't give a second thought to the ways accepting sole responsibility for a traumatized toddler will upend her life.

That’s the unlikely part. The problematic elements come to the forefront when Taylor’s legal relationship with the child is called into question, and she resorts to dishonest means to resolve it. This is particularly unfortunate when the child belongs to a tribe, given the long history in the U.S. of native kids being removed from their homes. Apparently Kingsolver, who is known for her investment in social justice issues, ultimately came to the same conclusion, since a few years later she wrote a sequel dealing with this issue.

At any rate, it’s easy to see the signs pointing to Kingsolver’s later popularity as an author: the story is engaging after a slow start; the writing and the first-person voice are strong. The characters are interesting, and Kingsolver does a good job of bringing secondary characters to life even with little page time. The main characters are strong although not entirely consistent (Taylor’s roommate, Lou Ann, is a young mother with an obsessive fear of danger that’s nowhere to be seen in the two chapters at the beginning told from her perspective). There are some details that don’t add up – Lou Ann’s husband had an accident in which he fell from his truck, caught his foot in the door and was dragged along, and his only serious injury was to his foot? Taylor, who’s in her early 20s in a story set around 1980, had a great-grandfather who was not only alive but old at the time of the Trail of Tears in 1838? – but their impact on the story is minor.

At any rate, this isn’t a book I’d recommend people go out of their way to read, but it was an enjoyable story. I do plan to read the sequel, though more to see how the author resolves the issues raised in this book than from any deep investment in the characters.

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review 2017-01-28 09:52
I enjoyed the story, the characters, the historical detail, the beautiful language and yes, the trees too
At the Edge of the Orchard - Tracy Chevalier

Thanks to NetGalley and to HarperCollins UK, HarperFiction, The Borough Press for providing me with an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily choose to review.

Tracy Chevalier was one of the authors that I had wanted to read for a long while but somehow never got around to it. When I saw this title on offer I decided it was now or never. For me, it was well-worth the wait, but more about that later.

The book follows the story of a family who moves from Connecticut to Ohio in the XIX century and later of their youngest son, Robert and his adventures. It is divided into several parts, and it is symmetrical and beautifully composed. We first get to know the parents, James and Sarah (Sadie), whose first-person narrations alternate, and whose points of view and personalities couldn’t be more different. Then there are the letters that Robert, their youngest son, writes back home, which give us a brief insight into his adventures, without narrating every little detail. Then there is the narration of Robert’s adventures, this time in the third person, and how he goes full circle and after trying many things ends up working with trees, his father’s life mission. There follow the letters for his youngest sister, Martha, who tries to find him and also tell a story that would have been much more difficult to read if it had been told in detail. (I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but let’s say her way of talking about her experiences make them more poignant for me. Robert was right when he told her she was stronger than she thought she was.) Then we go back to James and Sadie’s story, picking it up at the time where it had been disrupted, and by the end of the novel, we’re back to Robert’s story. Although the story goes backwards and forwards in time, I did not find it difficult as the times and the narrative voices are well and clearly delineated.

Life in the swamp is vividly described as harsh and demanding. It kills animals, people, and crops. It also can destroy the spirits of some individuals. The only bright spot are the apples (be the sweetness and the joy of growing them, for James, or the cider and Applejack for Sadie). Here I found myself fascinated by the description of the trees, the process of looking after them, what they came to represent, the fights over the different types of apple trees, and later about the love of people for the sequoias and the business involved in exporting trees. It has happened to me more than once that when I read about a subject I’d never thought much about; I become entranced by it, not because of the subject itself, but of the passion and beauty with which it was written about. I remember, as an example of this, American Pastoral by Philip Roth. I’d never given a second thought to glove making before reading that book, but I the way the craft was described, so lovingly. In this case, to Chevalier’s advantage, I like apples and trees, although I’ve never studied them in depth, but I loved the factual knowledge, the beauty of the language, and the use of true historical figures, as the author explains in her notes. As a note of warning, having read some of the reviews, not everybody found that part interesting. I guess I’m more of a James (or a Robert) than a Sadie in that respect.

The characters are not immediately relatable to or even likeable, but they do ring true. Both parents seem to be trapped in relationships and roles not of their liking but unable to do anything else, at a time when survival was the main object and most people had to put up with their lot in life, like it or not. Robert is a quiet man, who prefers nature to the company of others, but he is also loyal and more attached to people than he likes to acknowledge, even to himself. The book is built around a secret he keeps, although for me that was incidental and not the hook that kept me reading. He ends up becoming fonder of people and, like the trees of the story gets to move around and see the world. Martha, his sister, is a great character (she would have made an interesting protagonist too, but perhaps her story would have been too bleak) but does not get a lot of space in the book. Some of the secondary characters, based on historical ones, like John Chapman and William Lobb, deserve whole volumes dedicated to their endeavours, and some fictional characters, like the housekeeper and Molly, are larger than life.

I can’t compare it to any other of Chevalier’s books, but I enjoyed the story, the characters, the historical detail, the beautiful language and yes, the trees too. I recommend it to lovers of historical fiction who are happy to delve into the texture and the feel of an era or an occupation. And now I have to try and catch up with the rest of her books.

 

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review 2017-01-17 16:47
Beyond Layers (Layers #4) by T.L. Alexander
Beyond Layers: Layer Series Book Four (Layers Series 4) - TL Alexander,Hot Trees Editing

Samantha Grant thinks she is cursed.  The people she loves, end up dying.  So when she meets NHL star, Logan Romano, she tries to make sure she doesn’t get to emotionally attached to him.  However, Logan has other plans.  This contemporary romance takes place in North Carolina and New York.  It is suitable for adults.

 

T.L. Alexander does a fantastic job with her character development.  Her characters are complex and believable.  Samantha is an admiral heroine.  She is intelligent and a humanitarian.  She has a wonderful relationship with her sister.  She is a good person that has great values.  Logan is a fun hero.  He is tired of flings and wants a relationship.  Being a hockey player, he is used to women falling all over him, until Samantha.  He is determined and caring.  

 

I like how Samantha and Logan meet.  Samantha wants nothing to do with a relationship and just agrees to a fling, never giving him her last name.  Logan is intrigued by Samantha and does everything he can to learn more about her.  Logan is usually the person to want the one-night-stand; the tables have been turned on him.  He wants a relationship with Samantha.

 

The plot was well done and intriguing.  Being a high-profile individual, Samantha has a stalker.  This adds excitement to the story and unexpected twist. Both characters have numerous obstacles to overcome in this story.  There are a lot of interesting things that happen throughout the story that held me captivated.  I voluntarily reviewed an advance reader copy of this book.

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