Tag Archives: Tenth of December

My #beachreads: Tenth of December & The Husband’s Secret

For my vacation reading this year I had a bit of a split personality book-wise. I had packed George Saunders’ book of short-stories, Tenth of December, and while we were in Cannon Beach, my oldest daughter, Leah, and I went to the local book stores. She found a book by an Australian writer, Liane Moriarty, called The Husband’s Secret.

She liked it so much I had to make a Kindle purchase.

The two books are radically different. Tenth of December is literary science fiction. The Husband’s Secret is contemporary fiction. Both books are about the human condition, and both books are character driven.

Although they are widely different, they are windows into the human soul, and both authors had me thinking about their work long after I finished them. These reviews are now up on Goodreads ,  so my work there is done.

the husbands secretFirst up is The Husband’s Secret, by Liane Moriarty. Released in 2013 by Berkley, and Penguin in the US, this book is currently a #1 bestseller at Amazon, and Moriarty is listed in the top 100 authors there.

First the Blurb:

At the heart of The Husband’s Secret is a letter that’s not meant to be read

My darling Cecilia, if you’re reading this, then I’ve died. . .

Imagine that your husband wrote you a letter, to be opened after his death. Imagine, too, that the letter contains his deepest, darkest secret—something with the potential to destroy not just the life you built together, but the lives of others as well. Imagine, then, that you stumble across that letter while your husband is still very much alive. . . .

Cecilia Fitzpatrick has achieved it all—she’s an incredibly successful businesswoman, a pillar of her small community, and a devoted wife and mother. Her life is as orderly and spotless as her home. But that letter is about to change everything, and not just for her: Rachel and Tess barely know Cecilia—or each other—but they too are about to feel the earth-shattering repercussions of her husband’s secret.

My review: This book is about loss and grief in Sydney, Australia–but it could easily have been set in Seattle or London and it would still feel true. These women are people you feel you know, and while they are not always likable, they are always true to who they are.

Several characters in the book have secrets they hold on to that they eventually reveal. The concepts of guilt and betrayal loom large in this tale, driving it to the shocking conclusion. Ethics and morality shift and bend under the stress, and three good women do things they consider heinous, and each finds herself justifying her actions.

The Berlin Wall is referred to throughout the novel as Cecelia’s daughter, Esther, works on her school project. And in fact, we learn that Cecilia met John-Paul on the day the Wall finally came down. The Wall is symbolic of many things in this tale, as Tess also has a connection to it.

Rachel is pinched and afraid to love anyone but her grandson. Her son is devastated by the loss of his sister and hurt by his mother’s distance. No matter how he tries, he can’t get close to her.

These are complicated women, faced with an unbearable situation. Their actions and the final resolution is completely true to their characters. This is a slow-moving tale action-wise, but it literally tears through the emotional gamut. I give The Husband’s Secret four and half stars.

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Tenth_of_DecemberNow we come to Tenth of December, by George Saunders, a book of short-stories, also first published as a book in 2013. I reviewed this book as an Audible book before, so you may have a feeling of déjà vu here!

First, the blurb:

In the taut opener, “Victory Lap,” a boy witnesses the attempted abduction of the girl next door and is faced with a harrowing choice: Does he ignore what he sees, or override years of smothering advice from his parents and act? In “Home,” a combat-damaged soldier moves back in with his mother and struggles to reconcile the world he left with the one to which he has returned. And in the title story, a stunning meditation on imagination, memory, and loss, a middle-aged cancer patient walks into the woods to commit suicide, only to encounter a troubled young boy who, over the course of a fateful morning, gives the dying man a final chance to recall who he really is. A hapless, deluded owner of an antiques store; two mothers struggling to do the right thing; a teenage girl whose idealism is challenged by a brutal brush with reality; a man tormented by a series of pharmaceutical experiments that force him to lust, to love, to kill—the unforgettable characters that populate the pages of Tenth of December are vividly and lovingly infused with Saunders’s signature blend of exuberant prose, deep humanity, and stylistic innovation.

Writing brilliantly and profoundly about class, sex, love, loss, work, despair, and war, Saunders cuts to the core of the contemporary experience. These stories take on the big questions and explore the fault lines of our own morality, delving into the questions of what makes us good and what makes us human.

Unsettling, insightful, and hilarious, the stories in Tenth of December—through their manic energy, their focus on what is redeemable in human beings, and their generosity of spirit—not only entertain and delight; they fulfill Chekhov’s dictum that art should “prepare us for tenderness.”

My Review:

Wow! For once, a book that has a blurb that really tells the truth. Saunders has the ability to get inside each of his characters’ heads, showing them sharply as unique individuals. They aren’t always nice, and certainly not always moral as I see morality, but Saunders portrays them with such vivid strokes that you feel as if you understand their reasoning.

For me, the most powerful tale in this collection of stunning tales was “Escape from Spiderhead.” This sci-fi tale has an almost Vonnegut-like flavor. It is a stark journey into the depths to which we humans are capable of sinking in the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Where does punishment end and inhumanity begin? This story lays bare concepts regarding our view of crime and punishment that are difficult, but which are important to consider. The scenario is exaggerated, as it is set in a future world, but it exposes the callous view society has in regard to criminals and what punishment they might deserve.

This was not my first trip through this book–the first time was as an Audible book, narrated by Saunders himself. He reads his work with passion and life–I loved hearing him read these tales. But reading them for myself was also a treat–I savored the written word the way he laid it down. I love authors who bend and twist words and phrases into works of art and that is what Saunders does.

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While I was on vacation, I enjoyed two wonderful books written by authors who couldn’t be more different in their approaches to writing. They both write in ways far different from my own approach. Both authors have given me ideas for my own work, in the way they approached certain technical aspects of the craft.

Yes, I was on vacation, but I can’t just leave writing behind–you know me better than that. In between grandkids and the family, I managed short bursts of work on two short-stories and continued revisions on the third book in the Tower of Bones series. Bless my hubby–he tolerates and encourages my obsession with this writing life.

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Filed under Books, Literature, Uncategorized, writer, writing

R & R for the soul

the goonies posterAs of this week I am on vacation. Yay for the burning heat or foggy chill of the Oregon Coast! As always we are in Cannon Beach, where the weather is random and as many of our large family as can make it come to kick off our shoes and play in the surf. This year several great-grandchildren I have never met are visiting from the east coast.

We are engineers and designers as well as artists and musicians–we will build a monument to sandcastles!

Or hang out at grandma’s condo and assemble a jigsaw-puzzle if it should suddenly turn cold and rainy.

Or we’ll watch TV on my son-in-law’s portable outdoor theater, which I find intriguing–I rarely watch TV at home. But we have to watch The Goonies, since we are in Cannon Beach–it’s a family tradition and a rule.

Tenth_of_DecemberFor reading material, I have my kindle loaded with Tenth of December by George Saunders. I listened to the Audible book, and I was so impressed with Saunders’ narration that I have to read it with my own eyes. Yep–this will be an awesome, relaxing reading-for-pleasure kind of vacation.

By virtue of past experience with Cannon Beach cuisine, I know I can eat in several cafes that offer vegan/vegetarian options–they are good, but limited.

But we always rent a condo, and I am doing most of my own cooking, as no one really gets that vegans eat vegetables–go figure! (oh god, a vegan–what will I cook?) I am the queen of barbecue tofu sliders, and all food homemade, not just vegan.

We always stay down by Ecola, and love that end of the beach. Watching the grand-kids and great-grand-kids play in the sun and surf is awesome. Making vegan smores is a total treat. The others are not vegan but I use vegan chocolate and if I can’t find any Dandies, I just won’t eat the marshmallows. The simplicity of sitting around the fire at night listening to my kids talk about their work, their ambitions, and their parenting lives inspires a sense of pride in me that is hard to explain.

The little ones are building memories that will bind them closer together, cousins with a common history of one particular place they went, a week-long family party, and a summer that seemed endless.

Amaranthus and Savvy at the needles by haystack rock cannon beach 2012Kite-flying is my big down-time hobby. I keep it simple, and have found through experience that flying a kite in the fog is not always as easy as it sounds. In many ways writing is a lot like flying a kite–it takes a little effort, but wow, once you’re aloft it’s mesmerizing.

I always return completely revitalized, and ready to get back into publishing and writing. Who knows what amazing revelations regarding my work will have occurred to me while I am enjoying the views and salt-sea air that Ursula K. Le Guin frequently enjoys?

Le Guin’s work was one of the many that inspired me to think I might be able to write–her way of telling a story was so compelling I couldn’t get enough of it. The first book of hers that I read,  A Wizard of Earthsea is set in the fictional archipelago of Earthsea. I loved how she painted that world with words, and brought it to life in my mind. And it was just my cup of tea–the story follows the education of a young mage named Ged who joins a school of wizardry—and is my favorite fantasy book of all time. She knows how to write great prose, and how to keep it moving so that even picky-wannabe-critics forget they are reading great prose.

Now, if only some of that  gift for word-bending will rub off on me while I am building sandcastles and flying kites in her old stomping grounds!

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Three audiobooks and why I liked them

First of all I love books. I’m the kid who was so desperate for books I would read the Encyclopædia Britannica  when the rainy Northwest summers got boring and I had read everything else. But now, beside writing, I freelance as a structural editor.

When I am editing for clients I don’t read, as it is hard to set aside my critical eye and just read for pleasure. I can’t go with out books, though, so when I am in editing mode, I rely on Audible Books to entertain me.

Three audio books that I heard over the last year really stand out. Two of them I would classify as literary fantasy and one is genre fantasy–but all are fantasy in the fullest sense.

Tenth of December, George Saunders1. Tenth of December, written by George Saunders and also read by George Saunders.

Saunders has the ability to get inside each of his characters’ heads, showing them sharply as unique individuals. They aren’t always nice, and certainly not always moral as I see morality, but Saunders portrays them with such vivid strokes that you feel as if you understand their reasoning.

For me, the most powerful tale in this collection of stunning tales was “Escape from Spiderhead.” This sci-fi tale has an almost Vonnegut-like flavor. It is a stark journey into the depths to which we humans are capable of sinking in the pursuit of knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Where does punishment end and inhumanity begin? This story lays bare concepts regarding our view of crime and punishment that are difficult, but which are important to consider. The scenario is exaggerated, as it is set in a future world, but it exposes the callous view society has in regard to criminals and what punishment they might deserve.
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George Saunders reads this book himself and he is an amazing narrator. This was an excellent, entertaining book to listen to, and I liked the audio book so much I bought the hard copy to take with me later this summer when I go on vacation.

Just so you know–I rarely buy hard copies of anything.

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Sin audiobook coverI also listened to Sin, British author Shaun Allan’s masterpiece of stream-of-consciousness and fantasy, narrated by R.D. Watson. Allan breaks every rule of writing, and his work is powerful.

Sin is a dark, urban fantasy, written with a large dose of sardonic humor. We hear the tale from the man who was given the name ‘Sin Mathews’ at birth, but who goes by the name of Sin only, as the last name doesn’t matter; only the name which is the sum of his parts matters. R.D. Watson’s reading of Allan’s shining, witty, prose is moving and brilliant in every aspect. He gets into Sin’s head, and you are completely spellbound.

The atmosphere throughout is surrealistic, but it is well-balanced. I adore Allan’s lyrical, intimate style of prose, as in this series of images describing Sin’s disorientation, “History doesn’t relate whether Jonah, Gepetto, and Pinocchio sat around a table eating pizza, sharing stories of prophecy and puppetry while in the belly of the whale, but I thought that I could relate to being swallowed whole.”

Throughout the novel, Sin’s ruminations are self-mocking, and world-weary, yet naive and innocent.  He bears the guilt of the world, and suffers the unbearable pain of being the cause of so many deaths, but still he finds ironic humor in every situation. His sister, Joy, is grounded and guides him to the truth, but is not allowed to tell him anything.

Nothing is what it seems in this tale, and right up to the end, you are not sure which reality is real.

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The Emperor's Soul - Brandon Sanderson. audibleThe Emperor’s Soul, by Brandon Sanderson and narrated by Angela Lin.

Shai is thief, but not just any kind of a thief. Shai has been trained to forge a replica of the original item to leave in its place. Her replicas are masterful. in many ways her replicas are better than the originals. The power of her work as she remakes her surroundings amazes Gatona, a man who holds her life in his hands, and every day he is more confused by her. This is not a love story–Gaotona struggles to understand why an artist of her caliber, who loves the craft as much as she does prostitutes her gift by making forgeries.
Two factions now control her fate. They have something she needs, and she has something they need, but for how long? The Emperor Ashravan’s condition has opened up new possibilities for some on the council, and they are ruthless. Shai is safe for the moment, but she knows her life hangs by a thread and only a miracle will save her.

In Shai, Sanderson has created a character who is compelling and completely believable. Shai is more than merely a forger, she is an artist.  She takes pride in her work, and rightfully so. The way she is portrayed is a departure for Sanderson, in that she is most definitely a woman, and she is the central figure. There is a strong sense of history to this tale, and the structure of their society is clearly drawn in only a few well-crafted words.

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Audio books are great in the car, I think we all know that–but for me they are a way to access wonderful books when I am in too critical a state of mind to read for enjoyment. For my downtime I love to sit on my back porch and just listen to someone reading me a story.

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