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Posts Tagged ‘Alice Hoffman’

Armed with nothing more than a mere paper list and 2 canvas bags, I prepared to do battle in the County Fairgrounds Grange Building, to find hidden treasure at the Annual Library Book Sale.

BookSale2014-AllBooks2

And find treasure I did!!

On my list were several broad categories … first I was looking for a particular chapter book series for my friend’s son, then books on model trains for another friend and particular cookbooks for another friend and myself. But then … I had a list of MG and YA novels and adult fiction strictly for my own reading pleasure. Some of these were Newbery winners or honor books that I’d been trying to find for awhile, others were books gathered from the 100 book bucket lists from an earlier post, some recommended by friends. What would I find?

Book Sale Books3 hours and a terribly aching neck later, I did quite well. Let’s take a closer look.

At left we have the known writers up top and books on my list below. The top 3 are among my favorite authors – Patricia Briggs, fabulous writer of urban fantasy and the Mercy Thompson series with Raven’s Strike, Alice Hoffman with  Incantation which in theme seems to be along the line of recently enjoyed The Dovekeepers, and Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal Dreams which I’ve been wanting to read for some time, and found quite unexpectedly.

Another Jerry Spinelli MG classic, Milkweed, and Almost Home another MG by Joan Bauer of Hope Was Here, plus a healthy kitchen book by another fave of mine, Dr. Andrew Weil, and the only book of Nicholas Evans, of The Horse Whisperer fame, that I haven’t read, The Divide. Below them, books I’ve had on a list for awhile –  YA Schooled by Anisha Lakmani, and MG The Underneath by Kathi Appelt and Crispin, the Cross of Lead by Avi.

I also found the next book after The Glass Castle, Jeannette Walls’ Half Broke Horses about her grandmother Smith whom we met in her memoir. I am so impressed by Walls’ writing that I was hoping to find this book and The Silver Star but am real happy about at least getting one of them. The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr is another much-praised memoir, and Water for Elephants also has gotten rave reviews if I can get through what I hear is a fair amount of brutality to the elephants. They could lose me there; we shall see.

BookSale2014-Stack1-2And on to the lucky finds … I was looking for The Giver by Lois Lowry, but found instead Gathering Blue, perhaps dark, but intriguing, as may be the collection of short stories by Neil Gaiman, Smoke and Mirrors. The Te of Piglet is a companion to the Tao of Pooh which I already own and love – a can’t miss for me.  Shanghai Girls by Lisa See seems to have the flavor of Memoir of A Geisha which was outstanding, and The Red Leather Diary is a book I remember reading about being excellent some time ago. A surprise and hopefully another treasure.

I was first introduced to The Whale Rider as a movie about the New Zealand Maori tribe, specifically Kahu, a girl who should receive this sacred honor by lineage but which is only bestowed upon boys and men. It was excellent and I was thrilled to stumble upon the book by Witi Ihimaera. I am trying a sci-fi book by C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet. I am not generally a sci-fi fan, but this sounded great. I also found The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss, The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle and Horses and the Mystical Path by three McCormicks, because what would my (reading) life be if not inclusive of animals? (And yes, 2 cookbooks are in that pile, too!)

Today I feel rich, very rich. I didn’t find a bunch of the books on my list, but am more than happy with what will keep me engrossed for quite some time. The ones I couldn’t find? They’re on a new list under a magnet on my fridge, and whenever I am so inspired, I can toddle on over and pick them up from my local library, where I’ll also sit and soak up picture books to feed the writer and illustrator within.

Oh, and not to mention I am waiting for my inter-library loan of Deborah Harkness’ second book The Shadow of Night. Sometimes it seems crazy that something so simple can bring such happiness, but such a good crazy!

 

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For those of you who check in on me from time to time, you know I sometimes write up books I’ve been reading, sometimes not. Today I’m starting a biography, something I’m not usually drawn to, but I’m giving it a shot. It was once suggested that I read artists’ biographies, that it would help and inspire me in my art. I’d picked this up at the annual library book sale – the biography of Impressionist Berthe Morisot by Anne Higonnet.

Morisot was the only woman among the six Impressionists whose exhibition scandalized Paris in 1874. The biography tells about what Morisot had to overcome to be recognized as a talented artist at this time in history and her accomplishments. This being my favorite period of art, I look forward to reading about Berthe Morisot’s life.

Prior to this, in addition to Skinny Dip by Carl Hiassen, I’ve read novels by two of my favorite authors who did not disappoint – Seventh Heaven by Alice Hoffman and Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver – and I just finished Witches on the Road Tonight by new-to-me author, Sheri Holman. I never fail to be impressed by the writing of Hoffman and Kingsolver … in plot and character, always, but in the amazing richness of their language, especially so. I was equally impressed by the writing of Sheri Holman, and will most defnitely look for books by her again. I am simply in awe of how some writers can turn a phrase.

“The hearse’s headlights rasp the dark as they speed along an unfamiliar road scattering rabbits and turning the night-grazing deer to statuary. The windows are down, the radio off. They pass empty fields and glassy obsidian ponds that float upon the gauze of reflected clouds, repeating pearls of moon. They ride for miles in this hushed, rolling darkness …”  from Witches on the Road Tonight.

Something that made me scratch my head as I read Witches on the Road Tonight is what are chances that I would read two novels, with only one book between them, that both feature characters “hunting sang”in the Appalachian mountains? The phrase refers to people who are searching the area to find ginseng, (“sang”), which can be quite profitable to sell. It actually featured prominently in parts of both novels … go figure!

So Berthe … here’s hoping your story is as compelling as your magnificent art!

 

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Are you a book finisher? By that I mean, once into a novel, even if it isn’t fabulous or totally grabbing your interest, are you the person that will finish the book, always hoping it will get better?

Now I’m not talking about reading the first 10 pages and putting it down when you realize this isn’t for me or this isn’t the time for me to read this book. I mean when you’re well into the book, having read the premise on the book jacket or elsewhere and you truly believe that this should be a great novel. Or it’s by an author you really like.

Well, I’m a book finisher. Sometimes I plod along, absolutely sure the story will suddenly take a turn for the better. Much of the time it doesn’t, or it gets really good in the last 2 chapters. (Happily, I don’t choose books like this very often.) But sometimes I am rewarded for my pushing through a slow beginning and what seems to be a meandering first third to half of the book. Such is the case with Angel Landing by Alice Hoffman.

I find Alice Hoffman to be a brilliant writer, and she’s one of my favorite authors. That’s why I picked up this book last year at the library sale. But I must tell you, this one was slow going for me. At first. The initial unfolding of the relationship between Natalie and Carter, which was clearly lacking, didn’t intrigue me; nor did Natalie’s lack of interest and lack of proficiency in being a social worker; nor did the issue of a nuclear power plant in a north shore Long Island town. Carter’s group, Soft Skies, protests the plant and its inherent dangers, which explodes soon thereafter. Even when Michael Finn, a complex protagonist who may be the cause of the explosion, and perhaps the most interesting character, enters the picture, I was still not sucked in as I usually am by Hoffman’s novels.

But somewhere along the line, Alice Hoffman works her magic, and these ordinary people become increasingly 3-dimensional, and their pain and insecurities and the directions of their lives start to matter. Natalie’s Aunt Minnie is an endearing character, soon appreciated for both her genuine compassion for the people in the nursing home where she works and for her straight forward, common sense attitude towards life. Michael Finn, battling a lonely and painful past, soon draws us in. And then there is Michael Finn’s alcoholic and abusive father, Danny Finn.

So yes, I plodded a bit through the first third or so of this novel, not believing that Alice Hoffman would let me down. And she didn’t. On this one, I’m glad I’m a book finisher. Are you?

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I may have written this elsewhere on my blog about Alice Hoffman, but I will say it again. She never disappoints as an author, and she is a master of the well-crafted, cannot-put-it-down novel.

Blue Diary is the latest of Alice Hoffman’s that I’ve read – just finished it, in fact, and I feel like I want to pick it up and read it again; I didn’t want it to end, and I feel like another reading will further enrich my experience in Monroe, MA. Hoffman’s characters are so real – so relatable. They are people you know, flawed, struggling, yet with their own — sometimes surprising — depths of strength.

A family man with a wife and child who adore him, a worker in the small town relied upon for his excellent services, and a volunteer fireman honored because he is often the first to go into a fire fearlessly and rescue someone trapped. Yet on one morning the police arrive – his own friends – and take him away in handcuffs for a crime he allegedly committed 13 years ago in a different state under a different name. How has this happened?

I suppose in a way you can say this is a murder mystery, but it is so much more than that. It is an examination of the hearts and souls of the people whose lives Ethan Ford has touched,  and those of their friends and loved ones as things start to come apart at the seams, and also of those whose lives he has ruined. It is a mystery that needs sorting out by many different people. Over the course of Blue Diary, the mystery is revealed, played out through the many characters we get to know and care about.

The second chapter in Part One, simply entitled “True,” is from the POV of Kat, neighbor and 12 year old friend of Ethan Ford’s son, Collie. She says, “The first thing I noticed was that he could walk past a mirror without casting a reflection. My grandmother always told me that a mirror can shine back a person’s dishonesty, but what did it mean for a man to have no reflection at all?” This is not a tale of vampires, or the supernatural, but an insight of a child who can appraise a truth. Something no one else has quite been able to grasp, though past inklings come to light for some. Masterfully woven into the main plot are several sub-plots, all wonderfully intriguing.

And then there’s Hoffman’s writing itself. Her writing has been described as “lush” and “luminous” and these are accurate. Her way with words is so incredibly rich, I never want to leave her world – whichever book’s world she has enticed me to enter. Perhaps it’s why I’m inclined to want to read this again immediately after just finishing it. Her descriptions of place, of experience, of emotion are so compelling that I am there. It’s an amazing gift, and I don’t know of that many authors I’ve read that share it so consistently, novel after novel. Blue Diary is a terrific read.

So what next? What can follow such an engrossing story? Or should I just enjoy it again?

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indigo-alicehoffmanAlthough I’ve said this before, I like Alice Hoffman. I like what she writes about – essentially, magic – and how she writes about it.

Indigo, like Green Angel, is ultimately a story about healing. Written for middle grade readers, Indigo is also a story about friendship, devotion, and love of all kinds. As with Green Angel, my only complaint is that the story is over too soon. More like a novella or short story than a novel,  (how it’s promoted), it’s 84 pages in paperback.

Back to the magic – one of the main characters, Martha Glimmer, is more an ordinary girl, but who was touched by a certain magic in her mother. Her mother has recently passed away, leaving Martha feeling unsure, adrift and missing the spark in her life that was her mom. The two other main characters, Trevor and Eli McGill, nicknamed Trout and Eel for fine webbing between their fingers and toes, long to see the ocean. All three, stuck in a dry, dusty town which has all but banished water due to destructive floods in the past, yearn for something beyond what they know.

Fiercely devoted friends in search of dreams, they set out on a journey. Magic is revealed in more ways than one as Martha, Trout and Eel discover their truths, reclaim their pasts and find richer futures. It’s a lot to accomplish in 84 pages, and I love how Alice Hoffman does it. For a fast but rewarding read, Indigo is a great way to go.

p.s. I feel like I’m cheating on Andrew Weil, the book I’m currently reading, but I hit the Hunterdon County Library’s big annual book sale this past Sunday, made out like a bandit, and couldn’t resist this fast read.

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