Wednesday, June 20, 2012

"One dip in the ocean - and seawater, from still wet hands and knees, seeps into the pages." ~ Editorial, The New York Times

Sadly, I don't have a beach trip planned this summer -  though Cape Cod awaits me in the fall. This is the time of year however, when the "Best Beach Book" lists start popping up - and I am usually all over them.  This is actually somewhat ironic - because I rarely get much reading done while at the beach.   I used to blame this on the fact that I was always watching out for my son and his cousins - fearful that some rogue wave would carry them out to sea if I so much as glanced down at the book in my lap. Since my guarding days are over however, I find that I am just too mesmerized by the sights and sounds around me to focus much  on reading.  I love the waves, the colors, the birds, the fish, the shells, the children playing in the water ("Are their parents watching them carefully enough?", I worry.)  I love pouring over the lists though - trying to ferret out those titles that I know I will enjoy reading after a long day in the sand, sun and surf.

And so - I will share with you some of the ones that have caught my interest for this summer.  I am sticking to recently published works - though I know that there are many older titles that could also make the cut.  At the end of this post, I will share with you the outcome of my "Scapes Au Gratin" experiment from Father's Day!

Here, in no particular order, are the top ten books I hope to acquaint myself with in the next few months (the summaries are from The Book Page):

The Chaperone, by Laura Moriarty

This book has cropped up on several of the lists that I have looked at.  

The story of silent film actress Louise Brooks’ first trip to New York, The Chaperone has the trappings of a typical fictionalized biography. But what makes this book so interesting is that Brooks is not the star. Rather, we are drawn into the world of Cora Carlisle, the middle-aged, midwestern woman who chaperones the wild and irreverent Brooks on her 1922 Manhattan adventure.
At the novel’s start, Cora is living a remarkably vanilla life in Wichita, Kansas—land of sexual prudishness, Prohibition fervor and Klan enthusiasts. What we quickly learn, however, is that Cora’s past is much more colorful: She was born in New York and raised in the Catholic-run “Home for Friendless Girls.” She has no idea who her birth parents are and no claim to “moral legitimacy.”
Thus, when she agrees to chaperone the 15-year-old Brooks during her summer training with a prestigious New York dance company, it is as much to investigate her own history as it is to play babysitter. As one might expect, the flirtatious and black-bobbed future starlet gives Cora a run for her money, and when the “adult” attempts to tame the “child,” she finds herself at the center of her own moral and romantic awakening.

The Uninvited Guests, by Sadie Jones

The events in The Uninvited Guests take place over a single day in the isolated and crumbling Sterne. Charlotte Torrington Swift lives there with her second husband, Edward; two adult children from a previous marriage, Emerald and Clovis; and one younger and oft-ignored daughter, Imogen. The family is at risk of losing the house, and as the novel opens, Edward is leaving to borrow money from a “dreaded industrialist” so he can keep the family on the estate. It is also Emerald’s 21st birthday, and just as guests are arriving to celebrate, a train derailment occurs nearby. Sterne becomes a way station for the displaced passengers, one of whom seems to know a good deal about the family—Charlotte in particular. His presence brings out the worst in all concerned.
Despite the charming opening scene and lyrical language, The Uninvited Guests is filled with a kind of prickly menace and biting wit. The house is remote and decaying; Charlotte is self-centered and neglectful; and the stranded passengers are injured, odorous and distressed. Every character harbors a secret. The class divide between the residents of Sterne and the hapless but encroaching passengers is sharply drawn. The ambiguity of the place and time—somewhere in England, sometime at the beginning of the 20th century—adds to the air of menace that drifts in from the beginning and builds to a horrible crescendo in a scene with echoes of the war to come, which will irrevocably change the lives of these young people.

The Lifeboat, by Charlotte Rogan

Grace Winter has been “married for 10 weeks and a widow for over six” and is on trial for her life when The Lifeboat opens. It seems there are some questions about her actions during the two weeks she spent in a small lifeboat on the Atlantic with 38 other survivors of the sinking of theEmpress Alexander. To get the events straight in her own mind, Grace begins an account of the wreck and its aftermath, blending in the story of her courtship with and brief marriage to the wealthy Henry Winter. It gradually becomes clear that this isn’t the first time Grace’s mettle has been tested: Perhaps the steely drive necessary to climb the ranks of Edwardian society is the ultimate survival skill.
Originally, the stunned passengers on Lifeboat 14 continue in the rigidly defined roles of class and gender that they held on the ship. The one seaman on board, Mr. Hardie, takes charge, rationing out the meager stores of food; the men take the oars, the women sit quietly and console one another. But as the days pass, keeping order becomes more of a challenge. Two female passengers ally against Mr. Hardie, questioning his decisions and sowing discontent among the hungry survivors. Pragmatic Grace sees the divisions forming and is determined to be on the winning side. But at what cost?

Maine, by J. Cortney Sullivan
Maine revolves around the Kelleher family, a large Boston Irish-Catholic clan that has been vacationing for nearly 60 years at the same beachfront cottage, which fell into their laps in a bit of uncharacteristic luck. Weather-worn but packed with years of sun-soaked memories, the cottage was once a uniting force for the Kellehers, but in recent years, it seems to have been little more than a nuisance, and the family matriarch is preparing to make a rash decision about its future.

As she did in her first novel, Sullivan oscillates between narrators with a remarkable ease in Maine, capturing the summer from the perspectives of Alice Kelleher; her estranged daughter Kathleen, a recovering alcoholic with a holistic California farm; her revered daughter-in-law Ann Marie, who copes with her fledgling children and disappointing marriage through an obsessive dollhouse habit; and granddaughter Maggie, at a painful crossroads in her own life.

The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker
Eleven-year-old Julia is going about the business of growing up in suburban San Diego—piano lessons, sleepovers, a cute skater boy—when the inexplicable occurs: The earth begins to slow on its axis. Days stretch out, growing first by a few minutes, then by hours. Clocks become absurd, gravity goes wonky, the sun becomes a menace, the long nights are cold and terrifying. Society must decide whether to follow “clock time” (the government’s choice) or real time (the anarchic, countercultural approach). Kids wait for the school bus in pitch-dark; people hang blackout curtains to sleep through the bright sun of night. No one knows how long the slowing might last or if it will get worse. Suddenly, adolescence is the least of Julia’s worries.

Heading Out to Wonderful, by Robert Goolrick
The novel opens in 1948, when Charlie Beale wanders into Brownsburg with nothing but a suitcase full of money and a set of fine knives. Brownsburg is a quiet town with a population of 538, a place where “no crime had ever been committed,” people believed in God, doors were never locked and “where the terrible American wanting hadn’t touched yet, where most people lived a simple life without yearning for things they couldn’t have.”
Charlie soon finds work at Will Haislett’s butcher shop and is welcomed into his family. He becomes almost like a second father to Sam, Will’s five-year-old son, and grows attached to the Virginia countryside, which “just stole his heart at every turn of the road.” When a piece of land “made his heart beat in a certain way,” he would buy it, paying in cash.

Charlie first sets eyes on Sylvan, the young and beautiful wife of Boaty Glass. Rich and fat, Boaty is despised by his fellow townsmen, not least of all because he purchased Sylvan by giving her hillbilly father $3,000 and a tractor. Sylvan reinvents herself as Boaty’s wife, commissioning fine clothing and longing for the kind of romantic love she sees in the movies. She finds that love with Charlie, but she realizes the reality of love is not the same as her fantasy. Their precarious relationship sets in motion the drama of the story and provides a sense of foreboding.

To the people of Brownsburg, Charlie is a kind person. He butchers animals with humanity, agrees to coach a boys’ baseball team, gives Sam attention and love. But those good instincts are paralyzed in the presence of Sylvan, especially when Charlie decides to bring young Sam along for their secret liaisons, then swears him to secrecy.

Canada, by Richard Ford
Set in Montana and Saskatchewan in 1960,Canada tells the story of 15-year-old Dell Parsons, whose middle-class parents—an unlikely romantic combo and even more unlikely pair of criminals—rob a bank in Montana and are quickly arrested and imprisoned. Abandoned to their own devices, Dell and his twin sister Berner go their separate ways. The rebellious, sexually precocious Berner heads to San Francisco, almost though not exactly with flowers in her hair. Dell, whose tale this is, is spirited away from social-service authorities and taken to Saskatchewan by his mother’s friend, where he falls under the spell of a charismatic American ex-pat named Remlinger who turns out to be an embodiment of chaos and violence. Canada is ultimately about Dell’s consequential choice to make a decent life for himself.

Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel
Though he fought for seven years to marry Anne Boleyn, by the spring of 1536, Henry was disenchanted with his new wife. Not only was Anne unable to provide him with a male heir, but the demure Jane Seymour had caught his eye and her family was moving into position as the next powerful clan. Cromwell, who masterminded the King’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon and bedding of Anne, is charged with managing another separation.

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
Lost opportunities, found art, stories both true and false—For one thing, the book spans 50 years and two continents. It opens in 1962 in a small Italian fishing village. A tragically beautiful Hollywood actress arrives for a stay at the Hotel Adequate View, Pasquale Tursi’s humble pensione. The actress has cancer; she’s here to meet her lover, who will take her to a specialist in Switzerland. This, at any rate, is the story Tursi has been told. The actress’ stay is brief but electrifying, utterly transforming his life.

Meanwhile, in modern-day Holly­wood, a young producer’s assistant despairs over the cynical deals her boss has been making. She’s on the verge of quitting her job when a remarkable story wanders into her office. Also meanwhile, in Edinburgh, a 40-something musician risks one last effort at touring, blows it completely and calls his aging mother for rescue.

These stories and others soon reveal themselves to be one big story, a web of human weaknesses and noble sacrifice. Each character wears a facade that hides his or her true self; what drives the story is when and how those false fronts crumble. As ever, some of these folks are deeply sympathetic and some are exasperating. But, importantly, they (nearly) all learn and change and grow.

Home, by Toni Morrison

Home is largely the story of Frank Money, who left behind both the safety and the shackles of small-town Lotus, Georgia, by enlisting to fight in Korea, vowing never to return. Alas, the horrors of war leave Frank shell-shocked and bruised, a shadow of his former self. With whiskey and the comfort of a woman named Lily, Frank manages to keep his misery at bay, but these things offer temporary relief. It is only when he receives word that his little sister Cee is dying, having suffered at the hands of a eugenics-obsessed doctor, that Frank finally musters up the courage to return to the place he once called home, where his true healing can begin.

To the "Scapes Au Gratin" review - well - it was OK.  I would say that some really liked it - had seconds - even took some home.  I was not keen about the dish.  I don't think that it was necessarily the scapes - though that was "a lot" of garlic flavor! It called for more cracker crumbs than I think I should have used - gave it a bit of a gummy texture.  If someone asked me to make it again - of course I would - but for myself? No -  but it's always worth giving something new a "go" - so no regrets!

Enjoy whatever you are choosing to read this summer - just find the time to do it!


  1. Your post really suits my current mood :)

    Thanks for this list! I'll definitely go through it! And by the way - same with me: I can't read either at the beach. But I always have this romantic idea about lying at the beach a whole day deeply immersed in my book... Instead I always carry tons of books with me in my holidays just to bring them home unopened...

    The Kindle really helps my back nowadays :)

    1. I recently got a new (or new to me) car. It came with a Nook! So I am now trying to figure this new device out! I do love to hold a book in my hands - but I really get the notion of taking just one small thing in a suitcase.

  2. Ohhh nice list of books (not that I have time to read) but I will check them out!! Thank you for the feedback for the Scapes Au Gratin. At lest you tried. Clarice

    1. I did try - and actually - my husband still raves about the dish! Not me so much! I am hot and cold with reading - I am sometimes so much into it that everything else suffers - others times it seems as though ages go by before I pick something up. It will always be a vital part of my life - but I am realizing that it will sometimes be in bits and spurts.