Monday, May 20, 2013

The Magic Circle : What She Read Review

Don't just take my word for it; visit
a host of other bloggers for their
unique reviews of this novel via
TLC Book Tours.
Truth?  I flat-out begged for this book.  LARPing, NYC, Greek drama, and a writer who teaches English at Columbia University: What more promising confluence of elements could I ask for?

The Magic Circle is the tale of three aspiring twenty-something academics who live in the same apartment building near the Columbia campus.  The shifting triangulations of this trio of  "frenemies" - quietly practical yet socially awkward poet Lucy; fiery and unpredictable Anna; and logical, rules-oriented Ruth - frames one aspect of the book's plot, while the blurred line between game and reality as the three explore adult role playing and smartphone-based interactive games in Manhattan's parks and warehouses forms another.  Drop in an exotic-erotic-and-maybe-psychotic male twin and you've got yourself a novel.  (This one.)

On the bright side, fans of game theory and LARPing (live action role playing, a current practice somewhat loosely akin to Dungeons and Dragons from back in the day) will likely enjoy the exploration of ideas embedded in this story.

Cautions?  (POSSIBLE SPOILERS in this paragraph!) You'll encounter moments when Davidson's storytelling breaks the fundamental "show, don't tell" rule, so readers looking for consistency in adhering to that maxim might find themselves perplexed or annoyed.  In addition, if you know Euripides and you read the back cover of this novel, you'll be able to infer the nature of the plot, so - at least for me, and perhaps for you - the novel's interest must lie in relatively minor plot twists and explorations of game theory as it plays out in "real" life, rather than in an intense plot pay-off.

This I will say:  Davidson's narrative moved along fast enough to keep me reading despite my own minor challenges with prose and plot.

In the end, if you're a fan of LARPing and/or game theory and looking for a quick read, this novel might well interest you. 


p.s.  Many thanks to the professionals at TLC Book Tours for granting my wish. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Spring Reading : Poem in Your Post

Spring Reading 

Spring at its best
Is a good cheap novel;
A familiar plot,
(You know how it ends.)
Packed with clich├ęs:
Rebirth and love;
Flowers and showers.
All sunny and bright,
With none of the angst and irony of great literature. 
It's an easy read that ends too soon,
Leaving us filled with pleasure,
Serene and satisfied.
Yet feeling a bit guilty, 
For enjoying it so much.

               - Scott Spreier

A Sonnet for Spring

Ah! Spring is here. The rabbits quit their dens,

The dormant grass begins once more to grow.
The trees release their airborne allergens.
It's time to tune the Toro and to mow,
To fertilize and lime and thatch and seed
As-groveling on dirty, servile knees—
You pluck the dreaded dandelion weed
And rub your itching eyes and start to sneeze.
Wherever grass encroaches, you must edge,
And don't forget to stir the compost heap
And trim the junipers' unruly hedge,
While forfeiting a needed hour of sleep.
Those poets penning praise to spring and tillage
Are domiciled in lofts in Greenwich Village.

                                    - Bob McKenty

Leave it to Garrison Keillor and A Prairie Home Companion to bring out the poets in the people.  In 2007 they launched a contest for light hearted Spring Lyrics, and the two above ranked among the fifteen finalists of over 2,000 entries.  To enjoy the rest, hop on over to this page on the PHC website.



Thursday, May 16, 2013

Maya's Notebook : A Mom & Me Review

Get it at or your local bookseller or Amazon.
 Maya's Notebook is Isabel Allende's latest novel, the story of Maya Vidal, a teenager run off the rails.  Raised by her Nini and Popo, who step in to support their oft-absent son and Maya's entirely absent mother, Maya falls apart when her cherished and cherishing grandfather dies.  She's in high school and "not making good decisions".  Not by a long shot.  Fast forward a month or two and she's drug dealing/drug using in Las Vegas.  Fast forward a bit further and she's running from the FBI, escaping to a remote island off the coast of Chile, taken in by her Nini's long lost friend, Manuel, and his fellow villagers.  What's connecting all these characters?  Will Maya heal her drug addictions and self-destructive ways?  That's the stuff this novel is made of.
The Bottom Line from Mom & Me:  Fans of Allende will admire this new addition to her oeuvre, and those new to Allende's work will find a gripping and redemptive tale of a troubled teen, two continents, and many shades of family.

Me:  Thumbs up.  From start to finish, I found Allende's latest novel to be engrossing and confidently spun.  Not surprising from an author who has dozens of books under her belt. 

I think that my experience might benefit those of you on the fence about this novel, too.  I've read ten of Allende's earlier works, maybe more.  My favorites were her early works like House of the Spirits and her short story collection, Stories of Eva Luna.  Of her mid-career books, I favor Daughter of Fortune, but for recent works, this one tops the list.

And her protagonist/narrator Maya is a truly plausible, if frustratingly self-destructive, heroine.  This I can tell you for certain, based on sixteen years teaching high school students: many make good decisions as a rule, but some teens dive deeper and deeper into dangerous territory, alienating and/or actively repulsing those who try to help them.  Maya falls into the latter category, and it should come as no surprise that her central issue - not conscious for her for most of the novel, but clearly the impetus for her "acting out" - is abandonment by her parents. 
For me, the most interesting aspect of Maya's Notebook - in contrast to Allende's ploddingly detailed travelogue, My Invented Country - was the fascinating detail about the people and traditions of the remote Chilean islands of Chiloe. Such a hearteningly collaborative and simple way of living certainly would give most of us cause for envy, and provided a clear contrast to Maya's somewhat privileged and definitely debauched life in Berkeley and then Las Vegas.

There's some gritty material in Vegas to contrast with the imperfect but much preferable lifestyle Maya ultimately embraces in Chiloe, but nothing to make a sensitive soul like me blench particularly hard, and the fact that Maya is writing in her notebook after the Vegas time period lets us readers know from word one that she's in a relatively safe situation.  Sort of...

All in all, I would - and did - recommend this to fans of Allende and to armchair travelers and to mature, hardy teens in search of a cautionary yet ultimately uplifting tale.

I found it to be a fascinating read.  Allende always gives me much to think about with regard to human relationships and another of her talents is conveying a sense of place.   In Maya's Notebook, she doesn't disappoint.
I’ve decided to focus my review on offering you a few notable passages so that you can see for yourselves the worthiness of Allende’s prose.
Maya leads an unconventional life with her wonderful grandfather Popo and grandmother Nini who care for her mentally, physically, and emotionally —until her grandfather dies and her life collapses.  Here, she shares her grief:
“Pain like that, pain of the soul, does not go away with remedies, therapy, or vacations; you simple endure it deep down, fully as you should…. My sadness kept me company; I didn’t want to be cured of it as if it were a cold. I didn’t want to share my memories with those well-intentioned therapists either, because anything I might tell them about my grandfather would sound banal” (68-69).
When, many months later, Maya is rescued from a horrible situation in Las Vegas by her Nini and sent to Chilotes, an island off the coast of Chile, her grief is temporarily subsumed in the quiet beauty of her daily life and she makes a lovely observation when her iPod is ‘lifted’ soon after her arrival at the home of Manual Arias in Chilotes:
“Without my iPod I can hear the island’s voice: birds, wind, rain, crackling wood fires, cart wheels, and sometimes the distant fiddles of the Caleuche, a ghost ship that sails in the fog and is recognized by the music and the rattling bones of its shipwrecked crew, singing and dancing on the deck…” (46-47).
And here Allende demonstrates her skill at pulling the reader into a setting; I couldn’t help myself—I was there when Maya experienced her first storm in Chilotes:
“We had the most serious storm so far, which arrived with giant strides, raging against the world. There was lightning, thunder, and a demented wind (did you ever think of the wind as demented?) that rushed at us, determined to send the house sailing away in the rain. The three bats (permanent residents) let go of the beams and started flying around the room, while I tried to get them out with the broom and Dumb-Cat swatted futilely at them in the trembling candlelight….The noise of the storm was deafening—rocks rolling, tanks, derailed trains, howling wolves, and suddenly an uproar that came from deep in the ear. ‘It’s shaking, Manuel!’ but he was unperturbed, reading with his miner ‘s lamp on his forehead. ‘It’s just the wind, girl. When there’s an earthquake the pots fall down’” (119).
I could go on citing passages that spoke to me deeply and I’ll keep my notes handy so that I can do so whenever I wish. My best recommendation, however, is that you read Maya’s Notebook and pick out your own favorite quotes—and then perhaps return here to tell me what some of them were.

With gratitude, as usual, to our Trish at TLC Tours.  We are ever thankful for her faith in us and strive to keep our reviews earnest and insightful.
And Allende has an official blog, kept by a friend:  Plenty of interest there too!

Mom & Who? 
Mom's a retired science librarian/tech writer in New Mexico; I'm a high school English teacher in Washington state. We share a love of our imperfectly tended gardens (OK, mine's oh so much more imperfect than hers), lifelong learning (not a day goes by...), Jacques Pepin, travel, show tunes, our two-legged and four-legged family members, and - of course - books.

Once a month or so, we offer up a tandem review about a new book we both suspect you'll enjoy.  We hope you'll find our "dialogue" valuable reading in and of itself, and that we'll inspire you to try your own inter-generational read-along, be it with our picks or with your own.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

If and When Dreams Come True : Gatsby Poem in Your Post

If and When Dreams Come True

You'll find yourself in still water,
Full moon silhouetting the sky.
The long train of desire, having gone,
Pulled out from this quiet pool of shadow,
Will have left you at peace with your hands,
A few flowers moving in the breeze.
There will be music in the wind,
A future found in some alcove of blossoming trees;
Each highway will have driven itself away,
And so you will be left, finally, alone:
Abandoned, even, by any word you've ever cared
    to read.
The moon will shine as it always has;
A cool seep will rise from the lake.

                                          - W.S. Merk

Trolling for Gatsby-related poems today brought me to this stand-out sonnet. 

Go out there and enjoy the present moment and what you actually have in your life, and don't spend too long staring at that green light, OK?

MFB at the movies,

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Night, The Porch : Poem in Your Post

To stare at nothing is to learn by heart
What all of us will be swept into, and baring oneself
To the wind is feeling the ungraspable somewhere close by.
Trees can sway or be still. Day or night can be what they wish.
What we desire, more than a season or weather, is the comfort
Of being strangers, at least to ourselves. This is the crux
Of the matter, which is why even now we seem to be waiting
For something whose appearance would be its vanishing—
The sound, say, of a few leaves falling, or just one leaf,
Or less. There is no end to what we can learn. The book out there
Tells us as much, and was never written with us in mind.

                                                     Mark Strand

Knopf's been celebrating National Poetry Month with a daily email offering samples from new volumes by their finest poets, and this one knocked me over.  I hope you find it lovely too, and that you'll keep stopping by each weekend to enjoy a new "Poem In Your Post".


p.s.  If one is fine, then two might just be finer.  Why not stop by My Head Is Full of Books for a second poem today? 
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