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text 2018-07-05 01:15
Notes from the Backlist: Lay Back the Darkness
Lay Back the Darkness: Poems - Edward Hirsch

For those who enjoy poems that interpret/reinterpret, muse upon, or retell Greek myths (who doesn't - I wrote a few myself in younger days), Edward Hirsch's 2003 volume, "Lay Back the Darkness," is one of those books. 

 

Also of particular note is a sequence, "Two Suitcases of Children's Drawings from Terezin, 1942-1944."

 

-cg

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text 2018-05-28 19:04
This is how I holiday . . .
Pym - Mat Johnson

Fair warning: This blog entry is a self-serving, straight-up non-humble brag. 

Three-day holiday weekend in the summer, you say? Challenge accepted. 

Read a novel start-to-finish on Saturday.

Read a novel start-to-finish on Sunday.

Started a book of short stories on Monday morning. (Gotta pace short stories, or they all run together.)

Finished a book of art history essays I've been picking at since February on Monday morning. 

Will read a couple of poems from the "Staying Alive" anthology Monday afternoon.

Might - just might - start a new book Monday evening. 

 

Yep, that's how I do it. Feels good. 

 

-cg

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text 2018-01-01 21:17
2017: My Year in Books
Like Trees, Walking -

Has it really been six months since I've blogged? Yes, it has. And I've missed it. I was on pace to read 80 new books last year (I don't count re-reads in my annual log). But I ended up at 67. What happened? 

 

Last blog post: July 1, which, coincidentally, is the date I took on new responsibilities at work. But the bigger change in life came in the fall, when I bought my first house and got caught up in moving. Weeks and weeks of sorting many, many years of stuff. 

 

In fact, when I made the offer on my house, my Mom said, "You're going to have to give up reading for a while."

 

I laughed and said, "You're crazy, Lady. I can't give up reading."

 

I didn't give up reading, but I slowed to a painful, screeching crawl. In fact, from my closing date to the end of the year, I only finished four new books (and a couple of poetry re-reads). And three of those titles were from the James Patterson YA "Maximum Ride" series. You can read those as fast as you can turn pages. 

 

Also, for the past few years, I've started January 1 by reading a book start-to-finish. Granted, I always chose a fast read: A play, a YA novel, etc. This year, I just finished the Maximum Ride novel that I couldn't stay awake to finish the night before. But it counts: 2018, one book finished.

 

So what did my 2017 reading year look like? I'm attaching this post to a Ravi Howard novel. He was my discovery of the year. He appeared at a summer writer's conference near me, and I read both of his novels in anticipation of that. I can't recommend them highly enough. Engrossing. Great. Read. Them. 

 

I categorized the sixty-seven new reads and will list them below. My reading log doesn't include re-reads (and most of the poetry I read in a year ends up being re-reads. This year, I re-read a bunch of Kooser and Alexander, for example). The list below won't add up exactly, because some books get categorized in more than one area. 

 

Non-fiction (too lazy to sub-categorize further): 13

YA: 9 (including five of the above-referenced Patterson Maximum Ride series)

Literary Fiction (my fave category): 11

Plays: 8 (I read all 10 of the August Wilson Century Cycle this year, but two of those were re-reads)

Mass-Market Romance: 13 (including a bunch of Philippa Gregory books)

Lit-Crit/Theory: 1 (slow year for that, I guess)

Novels-in-verse: 2

Poetry: 7 (all first-time reads in this number)

Short Stories: 1

Memoir: 2

Popular Fiction, not otherwise listed above: 3

 

Anyway, more blog posts coming soon. Some are ideas from 2017 I set aside, and some will be "fresh." 

 

Happy 2018!

 

-cg

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text 2017-05-28 20:46
In Her Head
The Constant Princess - Philippa Gregory

I've been on a kick with Philippa Gregory novels lately. They've taken the place in my reading schedule of the "bath book" - mass-market historical romances that I read in the bathtub in the morning. I've finished the Cousins' War cycle and traveled into the Tudors. I may read a few more before drifting away from her again, or perhaps not. 

 

 

I really like a few things about Gregory's novels; equally, there are a few things that I don't like so much. She's wonderful with character - especially women. She gives a historical voice to females who often either had no public voice or whose public image was shaped by men over the centuries. She gives the plots and machinations of Renaissance politics great atmosphere. 

 

When reading Gregory, one must remember that she's playing fast-and-loose with history, and some of her choices regarding characters who are historic figures and their motivations have absolutely no documentation. These are historical FICTION, not History with a capital H. But they're pretty fun and easy to digest.

 

What I don't like - often her stories feel remarkably passionless. She covers so many years - decades even - of time in a novel it feels like driving through history at 55 mph. And her writing style sometimes confounds me. That was the case in "The Constant Princess," the story of the young years of Katherine of Aragon. 

 

Gregory's novels, for me, are most successful when they use a first-person point of view, and as a reader you spend the entire book inside the main character's head. "The Constant Princess" inexplicably shifts from third-person to first person, with only a change in typeface. The first-person sections are not diary entries. They are not testimony, nor are they letters. They are not even extended thought bubbles, as scenes happen within them. It's just the author wanting to have the best of both worlds - the ability to live in an omniscient world and to be inside her character's thoughts. 

 

However, there were things about "The Constant Princess" that I really, really loved. First and foremost, I naively have spent my whole life believing Katherine of Aragon's testimony that she and Arthur Prince of Wales never consummated their marriage. Henry was the bad guy. Why would Katherine ever lie?

 

Why, indeed? Could I never see before how much was at stake for her before? This novel not only removed that blinder, but Gregory chooses to give them a passionate, tender love story, making his death even more poignant. It was by far the most compelling part of this novel, and I was moved.

 

I would love to read a Catalina/Arthur love story again - this time at a slightly higher level of presentation. 

 

-cg

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review 2017-05-01 18:10
Beauty of the Beast - Rachel L. Demeter

Not only is the cover of Beauty of the Beast gorgeous, but the story is a beautifully written reimagining of Beauty and the Beast. This is the first novel I've read by Rachel L. Demeter and certainly won't be the last. The story is so vibrant I felt like I was there, even during the few horrifying moments both Isabelle (Beauty) and Prince Adam (Beast) experienced.


As the synopsis warns, there is strong sexual content and sexual assault in the novel (not committed by the hero), so I wouldn't recommend this for readers under 18. Without giving anything away, I also want to warn you that there's a very upsetting tragedy (well, several really) in the beginning which was difficult for me to get through because it tore my heart out and chopped it up in a blender. Let's just say I totally get why Adam chose to isolate himself and is difficult to thaw out when interacting with Isabelle.

 

But soon an undeniable attraction grows between them, simmering at first, then boiling. I wanted to shout at them to get together already and couldn't figure out if they would or wouldn't. Honestly, I enjoyed being kept in suspense. 

 

There are sweet moments, angry ones as well as immensely sad ones. I was taken through the gamut of emotions, the entire spectrum while reading Beauty of the Beast. It was an emotional roller coaster ride, but one in which I wouldn't mind going through again. I'm now anxiously anticipating which fairy tale Demeter will reimagine next. Fingers crossed for The Little Mermaid!!

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