Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

13021366This is a fantastic YA urban fantasy story that sets Norse gods in contemporary America. Throw in a teenaged berserker, a seethkona, and a few trolls, and other mythical creatures that are not-so-mythical and you’ve got yourself one heck of an adventure in the making. I finished reading this book about a month ago and I still think about it. That is always the sign of a good story to me. I won this book in a blog contest giveaway. It was actually my first ebook win, too. Woohoo! I hadn’t had the pleasure of reading a book by Ms. Gratton before, so this book was one of those total surprises. I just opened it up and gave it a shot.

It was amazing!

The mix of Norse gods functioning within the present day political structure was fascinating and Gratton makes the balance work. The characters at the center – what fantastic emotional connection! That to me is always the crux of what makes or breaks a story and Gratton is a master at this. The whole struggle Soren goes through with suppressing his berserker rage to avoid the fate of his father and Astrid tempting him to give in to it – ah!

Love, love, love this!

A berserker as a teen character? How apropos is that? What teenager can’t relate to warring with their own emotions? The difference with Soren is that if he even gives into his rage once, he feels that his life will be over. He’ll end up just like his father; losing complete control and killing innocent people. His father was finally taken out by a SWAT team. Soren is a pariah at school, with other students steering clear of him. The mark of the berserker on his face – the tattoo of a spear – is a warning to others of his potentially volatile nature.

And then Astrid arrives. She can’t seem to stay away. Astrid is just as well written and poignant. She dreams about Soren and needs him to help her on her quest.

SOREN BEARSKIN

Haunted by unpredictable berserker rage, he distances himself from other students at school.

ASTRID GLYN

A prophet by blood, she dreams the weave of fate and sees Soren changing the futures.

BALDUR THE BEAUTIFUL

The most popular god in the States disappears in front of TV cameras, and the country erupts in chaos.

THE DESTINY IS SET.

Astrid and Soren must save Baldur. But in saving a god, will Soren destroy himself…and everything he holds dear? (Plot summary from author’s website.)

This unlikely trio set off together on quite an adventure and the chemistry between them is just brilliant. I absolutely loved Baldur’s character as well. I’d say so much more about this beautiful storyline, but SPOILERS! Here’s an excerpt from the very beginning of the book to get you hooked and make you want to rush out and get your own copy:

My mom used to say that in the United States of Asgard, you can feel the moments when the threads of destiny knot together, to push you or pull you or crush you. But only if you’re paying attention.

It was a game we played during long afternoons in the van, distracting ourselves from Dad’s empty seat. Mom would point out a sign as we drove past – WELCOME TO COLORADA, THE CENTENNIAL KINGSGATE, bright green against a gray backdrop of mountains – and she’d ask, “Here, Soren? Do you feel the threads tightening around you?”

I would put my fingers to my chest where Dad used to say the berserker fever stirred. “No,” I’d say, “nothing yet.”

And Mom always replied, “Good.”

We both dreaded the day Dad’s curse would flicker to life in me.

LEAVING WESTPORT CITY – COME AGAIN!

“I hope it wasn’t back there, little man!”

“No, Mom, I doubt it.”

CANTUCKEE: HOME OF BLUEGRASS

“Soren, do you hear the clacking loom of fate?”

“I couldn’t hear anything over the banjos.”

But I have felt it, four times now.

When I was eight years old, standing in a neon-lit shopping mall, and my ears began to ring. My breath thinned out and I ran.

Again five years later, when Mom stopped the van for gas and we happened to be across the road from a militia station. The sun was just barely too bright, cutting across my cheek. I knew what I was supposed to do.

Six months ago, I was in the dining hall about to take a long drink of honey soda when the air around me turned cold. I had time to get to my bedroom before this jagged hot fever began to burn.

And today.

I could not stop reading this book.

Book 2, THE STRANGE MAID, comes out next month and if you read Book 1, you will be waiting in line for the new book’s release. I guarantee it. I can’t wait for the next book.

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Learn more about Tessa Gratton here.

Follow Tessa on Twitter here.

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The Academy of American Poets have declared April National Poetry Month, so I’m here to share my latest poetry read with you. Also, a reminder that April 24th is  Poem in Your Pocket Day where poetry fans throughout the United States select a poem, carry it with them, and share it. Join it the fun by tweeting about your poem of choice on Twitter this year at #pocketpoem.

OKLAHOMA POEMS… AND THEIR POETS
edited by Nathan Brown

I met Nathan Brown, the current Oklahoma Poet Laureate, and editor of this anthology, during a summer course I took from the University of Oklahoma that was held in Santa Fe, New Mexico, a few years ago. I actually wrote about meeting him here. Nathan put together this fantastic book of poems about Oklahoma by some well-known poets from Oklahoma to give readers a taste of what Oklahoma is like, in all its many subtle forms. And what an amazing job he did.

(Not to play favorites, but our own Anna Myers has a talented son who writes poetry. Ben Myers contributes a poem entitled “Deep Fork”. Ben is a phenomenal poet whose work I’ve reviewed right here on this blog and if you haven’t read his books you must go out a procure them now or you’ll regret it deep in your soul forever. Okay, maybe playing a little favorites.)

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An anthology edited by Nathan Brown, the 2013 – 2014 Poet Laureate of Oklahoma. It includes poems “about” Oklahoma that are written by natives, ex-pats, and visitors alike. These poems are an honest, and sometimes raw, look at the state’s past and present by way of three chapters titled: People, Places, and Odds & Ends. Among the poets represented are Pulitzer winners Stephen Dunn and N. Scott Momaday, as well as Naomi Shihab Nye, Joy Harjo, George Bilgere, Ron Padgett, and many others.(Plot summary from Goodreads.)

As someone who has always felt like an outsider, one who could not easily identify with a particular group comfortably, I’ve struggled to place myself somewhere – to understand where I come from.

What are my roots? Who are my people?

I’ve always thought of myself as some homogenized American mutt, with no special culture to speak of – a slice of white bread in a world of whole grain artisan loaves.

Void of nutritional value.

Tasteless.

Boring.

Strangely, this poetry collection helped me see glimpses of my childhood, reminding me of things I’d forgotten through its portrayals of rural life, the deep connection to the land and weather, the sense of community when tragedy strikes, and even the naked bigotry and oppression portrayed in some poems. These are some of the forces that molded me. This is where I come from. I am pieces of all of them, in some ways – the good and the bad. These are my people.

Here is an example of one the poems that sparked a sense of nostalgia for me. A short, but brilliant poem by Joey Brown

 

MERIDIAN, OKLAHOMA

Three boys wake up in a town that’s not really

a town, weighted down by the early morning

summer, and breathe sour sulphur from the refinery

that clanks and churns or whatever refineries do

to make someone some little bit of money.

It’s not them, not their house, so what do they care

but for the nagging smell.

Three boys pump their bicycles on the highway

past the yard of rusted-up drill bits. You’d be afraid

for them were this a highway anywhere else. In the

convenience store they take two Cokes and an

orange Fanta from the lay-down cooler. They like the

pop & sigh the bottle opener makes. When the door

opens again, the air conditioner pleads.

Three boys wait in the parking lot but don’t know

they’re waiting. Sit astride the bikes, bottles clinking

here and there, don’t speak. They stare at the white

day reflecting off the school across the road,

blistering their eyes. You just know they don’t

imagine the size of it all. They can’t. One of them

keeps firecrackers leftover in his pocket.

 

Just a simple summer afternoon in a small town, but holy cow, did this light up my brain with a flood of memories and sensory images!

How had I forgotten that we used to live two doors down from a small fire station? In the summer time, we would always go over there and bug the crap out of hang out with the firefighters. Not really for very long, just to say ‘hi’ and snag a super frosty Coke or orange Crush from their lay-down cooler, just like in this poem. It only cost a quarter and it was so cool to get pop in a bottle.

And we would ride our bikes everywhere. All over town, on busy streets, from sun up to sun down. On the best days, we’d end up at Champlain Pool. We’d swim all day – jumping off the high dive and dreading adult swim. Ah! Some of my best summer memories. All uncorked by a simple poem.

And there is a fantastic poem by George Bilgere entitled “Cordell”, that I truly love, and not just because the title has a familial connection for me. It’s all about a first solo road trip on a grasshopper green motorcycle. It’s a little long to share the whole thing here, but I encourage you to find it and read it. Well worth the search.

Here’s just a few lines to give you a taste:

For the first time

I pondered the venous skin

of a map and chartered a route from Burns Flat

to Cordell, a little town

on the Oklahoma plains. The day

was sparkling and unrehearsed, the air

cool in the morning, and for the first time

I went out on the public roads alone,

despite having no license, the world

for the first time passing by in a rush

at the tips of my handlebars,

a pick-up passing now and then,

the farmer inside raising the index finger

of his left hand precisely

one inch above the wheel, a man

greeting me as a man

for the first time,

 

It goes on and on and I could just drink it up like a cool glass of iced tea.

How that poem brought me back to the day I got my driver’s license and the freedom that was now mine. And all the crazy adventures I had with my friends out on the open road. When you’re from a small town, sometimes there’s nothing to do but pile into your car with your friends and drive. Sometimes you end up at the lake, sometimes you end up at a keg party in a wheat field, and sometimes you just end up in trouble.

Best not tell about that last one.

There are several poems that talk of the land and weather where you can almost smell rain in the air right before a good thunderstorm.

Here’s beautiful one by N. Scott Momaday.

 

 THE LAND

The first people to enter upon it

Must have given it a name, wind-borne

      and elemental,

Like summer rain.

The name must have given spirit to the land,

For so it is with names.

Before the first people there must have been

The profound isolation of night and day,

The blazing shield of the sun,

The darkness winnowed from the stars -

The holy havoc of myth and origin,

True and prophetic, and inexorable,

Like summer rain.

What was to become of the land?

What was the land to become?

What was there in the land to define

The falling of the rain and the turning of the seasons,

The far and forever silence of the universe?

A voice, a name,

Words echoing the whir of wings

Swelled among the clouds

And sounded on the red earth in the wake

      of creation.

A voice. A name.

Oklahoma.

 

Just gorgeous imagery.

I always learn so much from reading poetry. This book brought me closer to home than I realized I needed to go. It’s a well-chosen collection, diverse in topic and voice and all very, truly Oklahoma. I hope you’ll take the time to read it yourself.

One more great thing about this book is that the proceeds benefit the Oklahoma Humanities Council.

Learn more about Nathan Brown here.

Follow Nathan on Facebook here.

bc-wintergirlsI love Laurie Halse Anderson. She is a fearless author who writes emotion so beautifully. I first read her novel SPEAK years ago and I still can’t get that book out of my head. I heard Anderson speak for the first time last summer at the SCBWI LA conference and got to tell her how awesome she was in person. Her keynote speech was one of the best of the conference and I was so inspired by her, I can’t even tell you. On top of that, she writes this story like she herself suffered through anorexia and had the words of a poet to make the reader know exactly what it feels like to be at war with your own body and to not be able to see yourself as you truly are. She has woven eating disorder pathology and effortless character voice masterfully into a story you just can’t put down.

“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.

“Tell us your secrets,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.

I am that girl.

I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.

I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.

Lia and Cassie were best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies. But now Cassie is dead. Lia’s mother is busy saving other people’s lives. Her father is away on business. Her stepmother is clueless. And the voice inside Lia’s head keeps telling her to remain in control, stay strong, lose more, weigh less. If she keeps on going this way – thin, thinner, thinnest – maybe she’ll disappear altogether.

In her most emotionally wrenching, lyrically written book since the National Book Award finalist Speak, bestselling author Laurie Halse Anderson explores one girl’s chilling descent into the all-consuming vortex of anorexia. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

In her books like SPEAK and WINTERGIRLS, Anderson writes about scary topics and has her characters say out loud things that teens are thinking way down deep inside. She gives voice to the nightmares and the rages we may all have experienced and then helps her characters (and readers) see a way through to the other side. I could keep fangirling like mad or just let her words speak for themselves. Here’s a passage from the very beginning of WINTERGIRLS, on the morning Lia learns her former best friend is dead  – body found in a motel room, alone:

...When I was a real girl, with two parents and one house and no blades flashing, breakfast was granola topped with fresh strawberries, always eaten while reading a book propped up on the fruit bowl. At Cassie’s house we’d eat waffles with thin syrup that came from maple trees, not the fake corn syrup stuff, and we’d read the funny pages…

No. I can’t go there. I won’t think. I won’t look.

I won’t pollute my insides with Bluberridazzlepops or muffins or scritchscratchy shards of toast, either. Yesterday’s dirt and mistakes have moved through me. I am shiny and pink inside, clean. Empty is good. Empty is strong.

But I have to drive.

…I drove last year, windows down, music cranked, first Saturday in October, flying to the SATs. I drove so Cassie could put the top coat on her nails. We were secret sisters with a plan for world domination, potential bubbling around us like champagne. Cassie laughed.I laughed. We were perfection.

Did I eat breakfast? Of course not. Did I eat dinner the night before, or lunch, or anything?

The car in front of us braked as the traffic light turned yellow, then red. My flip-flop hovered above the pedal. My edges blurred. Black squiggle tingles curled up my spine and wrapped around my eyes like a silk scarf. The car in front of us disappeared. The steering wheel, the dashboard, vanished. There was no Cassie, no traffic light. How was I supposed to stop this thing?

Cassie screamed in slow motion.

::Marshmallow/air/explosion/bag::

When I woke up, the emt-person and a cop were frowning. The driver whose car I smashed into was screaming into his cell phone.

My blood pressure was that of a cold snake. My heart was tired. My lungs wanted a nap. They stuck me with a needle, inflated me like a state-fair balloon, and shipped me off to a hospital with steel-eyed nurses who wrote down every bad number, In pen. Busted me.

Mom and Dad rushed in, side by side for a change, happy that I was not dead. A nurse handed my chart to my mother. She read through it and explained the disaster to my father and then they fought, a mudslide of an argument that spewed across the antiseptic sheets and out into the hall. I was stressed/overscheduled/manic/no-depressed/no-in need of attention/no-in need of discipline/in need of rest/in need/your fault/your fault/fault/fault. They branded their war on this tiny skin-bag of a girl.

Phone calls were made. My parents force-marched me into hell on the hill New Seasons…

Cassie escaped, as usual. Not a scratch. Insurance more than covered the damage, so she wound up with a fixed car and new speakers. Our mothers had a little talk, but really all girls go through these things and what are you going to do? Cassie rescheduled for the next test and got her nails done at a salon, Enchanted Blue, while they locked me up and dripped sugar water into my empty veins…

Lesson learned. Driving requires fuel.

This is such a phenomenal and important book. It will move you; it will change you.

Learn more about Laurie Halse Anderson here.

Follow Laurie on Twitter here.

Follow Laurie on Tumblr here.

cover-art-by-gigi-littleI met the editor of this book, Laura Stanfill, out in the blogosphere while we were both mutually admiring each others blogs. I found her just delightful and followed her progress as she bravely ventured out to start her own publishing house, Forest Avenue Press. Founded in 2012 in Portland, Oregon, Forest Avenue Press started with the mission to publish quiet novels for a noisy world.

This book is their first fiction release and debuts this month. I am delighted have read one of the Advanced Reader copies. This book was well chosen. The writing is solid and the pacing moves the story along well. Author Dan Berne brings the Alaskan scenery to life effortlessly as he weaves the tale of a broken family trying to reunite, missing one of its members, and struggling to fit the pieces back together.

Family means everything to widowed Alaskan fisherman Ray Bancroft, raising his granddaughter while battling storms, invasive species, and lawsuit happy tourists. To navigate, and to catch enough crab to feed her college fund, Ray seeks help from a multitude of gods and goddesses – not to mention ad-libbed rituals performed at sea by his half-Tlingit best friend.

But kitchen counter statues and otter bone ceremonies aren’t enough when his estranged daughter returns from prison, swearing she’s clean and sober. Her search for a safe harbor threatens everything Ray holds sacred.

Set against a backdrop of ice and mud and loss, this debut novel explores the unpredictable fissures of memory, and how families can break apart, even in the midst of healing. (Plot summary from author’s website.)

Berne evokes rich sensory details of life on Yatki Island, Alaska, and the people there who live and die by the sea. It anchors the reader firmly in the world so well you can almost smell the creosote, diesel fuel, and gutted fish in the air and taste the elk stew Muskeg Sally has cooking down at the Blind Dog Tavern.

Here’s an excerpt from the first page:

Mud and rain invaded my dreams after Donna’s death. In southeast Alaska, where I’ve lived for half my life, we have precipitation 310 days out of the year. All those nights with the skittle-skattle of wet pellets against the windows, you’d think that rain would have formed the base molecules of my sleep a long time ago. And the mud. It’s everywhere up here, omnipresent and brutal. Until my wife died, my dreams were waterproofed, sealed against the elements. Maybe it was feeling her back against my chest as we lay in bed, her leg draped over my thigh. My arm around her waist, breathing in the scent of her skin, listening to her breathe. Twelve years she’s been gone, and I seldom sleep without the rain beating on the walls of my subconscious, the sludge seeping up through the decks of my memory.

Standing on the aft deck cabin of my crabbing boat, I read the letter from my daughter for the third time. She wants to come home. Jenny, who together with the rain and the mud, murdered my wife.

Powerful and tactile. And it doesn’t let up. I raced through this book; I couldn’t put it down. It wasn’t just the great pacing that kept me reading, though. I cared about the characters who were flawed and scarred and kept making the wrong choices just when you hoped they wouldn’t. It was a beautifully written story that I enjoyed to the very end.

About the Author:DanBerne1

Dan Berne owns a market strategy consultancy and lives with his wife Aliza in Portland, Oregon. His short stories and poetry have been published in literary magazines. This is his debut novel.

Learn more about Dan Berne here.

Mrs DallowayYou may realize that this is the middle of February and I am a tad bit tardy in posting my final Jazz Age January post. Actually this is the final day to post for the challenge, so I’m cutting it just under the wire. Whew!

I have been the unfortunate sufferer of the nasty flu and have been bed-ridden for the better part of two weeks. Although I still haven’t recovered my voice, I am now able to work for brief periods without massive coughing attacks and body aches. I won’t bore you with anymore bodily function issues. Let’s get down to business, shall we?

I think it was most apropos that I read MRS. DALLOWAY while I was ill. I have never read a book by Virginia Woolf before and her stream of consciousness style fit right along with my feverish dream state.

The surface plot for Mrs. Dalloway is simply that Clarrisa Dalloway is preparing to host a party in the evening. But beyond the surface, Woolf explores the thought processes of Mrs. Dalloway as she is prompted to reflect on her life and past events. Central to the novel is reference to the effect of World War I on British society in the post-war years and in particular, the loss of loved ones and the altering fate of those left behind. The consequences of this included the physical and psychological damage done to those who fought and survived, as well as to those who survived despite never having set foot on the battlefield. It all adds up to an odd juxtaposition of people carrying on their lives, with parties, families and friends, while an unspoken suffering erodes their happiness. (Excerpt from book foreword.)

Woolf is much more interested in the inner life of characters than of following a tradition plot. Instead, you find yourself flitting from mind to mind. The story begins with Mrs. Dalloway going out to buy flowers for her party. Then we meet a troubled young couple whose husband is suffering terribly with PTSD. We see the world through his thoughts and then hers and then skip through others traveling along Bond Street.

The story is written in one long, continuous chapter with no breaks. It feels like you’re riding a wave of thoughts and emotions that somehow do weave together with recurring themes. The finality of life being one of them. Here, Mrs. Dalloway reflects on death in the midst of enjoying her day:

What she loved was this, here, now, in front of her; the fat lady in the cab. Did it matter then, she asked herself, walking towards Bond Street, did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely?

I found this preoccupation fascinating, especially considering how Woolf ended her own life years later. That being said, not all of the book was preoccupied with mortality. Another major focus was the missed romance between Mrs. Dalloway and Peter Walsh. Two people who knew each other so well, who could affect each other by merely entering a room and yet, Mrs. Dalloway had refused to jazzagemarry Peter Walsh. Their history was reflected on by both, back and forth throughout the tale.

Here is a brief excerpt from Peter’s perspective after he has called upon Mrs. Dalloway (Clarissa) unexpectedly in the morning before her party:

There was always something cold in Clarissa, he thought. She had always, even as a girl, a sort of timidity, which in middle age becomes conventionality, and then it’s all up, he thought, looking rather drearily into the glassy depths, and wondering whether by calling at that hour he had annoyed her; overcome with shame suddenly at having been a fool; wept; been emotional; told her everything, as usual, as usual.

Although I couldn’t always tell where Woolf was taking me with her tale, I really enjoyed her use of language and the questions she brought into the reader’s mind. This description of Peter observing a group of young people out on the town is just delicious:

They dressed well too; pink stockings; pretty shoes. They would now have two hours at the pictures. It sharpened, it refined them, the yellow-blue evening light; and on the leaves in the square shone lurid, livid – they looked as if dipped in sea water – the foliage of a submerged city.

Overall, this book was a delightful way to end this Jazz Age experience.

Ah! Lest I forget! The winner of my DOLLFACE giveaway is…

ELIZABETH BEVINS!

Thanks to everyone who entered.

I had a great time with this whole event and with the contest. I’m sure there will be more contests the near future.

TBATDI really struggled with this latest Jazz Age January pick. As this story was supposed to be a semi-autobiographical account of F. Scott Fiztgerald’s relationship with his wife Zelda, I was expecting a little more depth of character in this novel. What I found instead was a train wreck that I couldn’t wait to see the end of and where I had no invested interest in any of the characters on board.

In 1921 F. Scott Fitzgerald was twenty-five and heralded as the most promising writer of his generation, owing to the success of his first novel This Side of Paradise. Recently married to the girl of his dreams, the former Zelda Sayre, Fitzgerald built upon his sudden prosperity with The Beautiful and the Damned, a cautionary tale of reckless ambition and squandered talent set amid the glitter of Jazz Age New York.

The novel chronicles the relationship of Anthony Patch, a Harvard-educated, aspiring writer, and his beautiful young wife, Gloria. While they wait for Anthony’s grandfather to die and pass his millions on to them, the young couple enjoys an endless string of parties, traveling, and extravagance. Beginning with the pop and fizz of life itself, The Beautiful and the Damned quickly evolves into a scathing chronicle of a dying marriage and a hedonistic society in which beauty is all too fleeting.

A fierce parable about the illusory quality of dreams, the intractable nature of reality, and the ruin wrought by time, The Beautiful and the Damned eerily anticipates the dissipation and decline that would come to the Fitzgeralds themselves before the decade had run its course. (Plot Summary from Barnes and Noble.)

It has all the elements of a tragedy, yet for me to feel anything for the characters, to want to care anything for their fates, to weep over their sorrows, I have to care that bad things happen to them. However, these characters are so incredibly self-absorbed and unsympathetic that I just don’t care.  When they have the power to alleviate their own suffering, but are just too lazy to do anything about it, I have no compassion.

Don’t you ever form judgements on things?” he asked with some exasperation.jazzage

She shook her head and her eyes wandered back to the dancers as she answered:

“I don’t know. I don’t know anything about – what you should do, or what anybody should do.”

She confused him and hindered the flow of his ideas. Self-expression had never seemed at once so desirable and so impossible.

“Well,” he admitted apologetically, “neither do I, of course, but -“

“I just think of people,” she continued, “Whether they seem right where they are and fit into the picture. I don’t mind if they don’t do anything. I don’t see why they should; in fact it always astonishes me when anybody does anything.”

“You don’t want to do anything?”

“I want to sleep.”

For a second he was startled, almost as though she had meant this literally.

“Sleep?”

“Sort of. I want to just be lazy and I want some of the people around me to be doing things, because that makes me feel comfortable and safe – and I want some of them to be doing nothing at all, because they can be graceful and companionable for me. But I never want to change for people or get excited over them.”

“You’re a quaint little determinist,” laughed Anthony. “It’s your world, isn’t it?”

“Well -” she said with a quick upward glance, “isn’t it? As long as I’m – young.”

And believe it or not, this is the beginning of true love. Blech! No wonder it self-implodes in a hideous way. At one point a few years down the road when the two have had a row, the whole scene is described as a triumph of lethargy. That’s how I felt about this entire story. After reading it, I felt emotionally drained, and not in a good way.  Not my favorite read from this event. I must read another right away.

A Moveable FeastMy next choice for the Jazz Age January Event is somewhat surprising since I absolutely hated reading Hemingway back in high school. An alcoholic womanizer who ended his days in misery? Why in the hell would I want to read that drivel? As I recall from my fond memories, THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA was one of the worst books I had to suffer through, and I hoped that I would never have to read another Hemingway book ever again. Never ever. I mean, who thinks teenagers can relate to that crap? That’s what I thought way back then. Flash-forward a few decades and I decided to give the old sea dog another try.

Why, you might ask?

I saw the HBO movie, Hemingway & Gellhorn and really enjoyed it, especially when presented in the lovely Clive Owen packaging. Now, I can’t help picturing/hearing Hemingway just as Clive Owens portrayed him. Not altogether a bad thing, if you ask me. Certainly improved his surly disposition.

A few months after viewing the show, I was discussing it with my father and he had mentioned recently reading the book A MOVEABLE FEAST. He said it was an excellent read. That kind of sold me on it more than anything else. (Sorry, Clive.) Then along came the Jazz Age January Event. Perfect timing to actually pick up the book and suffer through it.

Clive Owen Reads

Read me another story, Clive.

If all else failed, I could imagine the gorgeous Clive Owen reading it to me. Right?

Begun in the autumn of 1957 and published posthumously in 1964, Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast captures what it meant to be young and poor and writing in Paris during the 1920s. A correspondent for the Toronto Star, Hemingway arrived in Paris in 1921, three years after the trauma of the Great War and at the beginning of the transformation of Europe’s cultural landscape: Braque and Picasso were experimenting with cubist form; James Joyce, long living in self-imposed exile from his native Dublin, had just completed Ulysses; Gertrude Stein held court at 27 Rue de Fleurus, and deemed young Ernest a member of une generation perdue; and T.S. Eliot was a bank clerk in London. It was during these years that the as-of-yet unpublished young writer gathered the material for his first novel The Sun Also Rises, and the subsequent masterpieces that followed.

Among these small, reflective sketches are unforgettable encounters with the members of Hemingway’s slightly rag-tag circle of artists and writers, some also fated to achieve fame and glory, others to fall into obscurity. Here, too, is an evocation of the Paris that Hemingway knew as a young man – a map drawn in his distinct prose of the streets and cafes and bookshops that comprised the city in which he, as a young writer, sometimes struggling against the cold and hunger of near poverty, honed the skills of his craft.

A Moveable Feast is at once an elegy to the remarkable group for expatriates that gathered in Paris during the twenties and a testament to the risks and rewards of the writerly life. (Plot summary from Goodreads.)

Although this was an unusual piece to reintroduce myself to Hemingway since it was his last work and it was unfinished when he died, it made me curious enough to want to read some of his other works. I still have no desire to reread THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA, but I would like to try THE SUN ALSO RISES, as it was the book he was writing during the time period of this book.

I did find the order of the chapters and the skipping around a little jarring at times, but when taken chapter by chapter as brief essays, they were really quite enjoyable. Overall I relished getting a feel for the period and for the writers living in Paris. I did have a strong desire to snag a time machine and zip back to Paris to surround myself with the intoxicating sights he described so well. What a fantastic time and place to be a writer! His insights on his own feelings about writing and his fellow expatriates were honest and touching and sometimes quite scathing, but above all always interesting.

Here is one my favorite sections on writing that I think every author should take to heart:

I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. But sometimes when I was starting a new story and I could not get it going, I would sit in front of the fire and squeeze the peel of the little oranges into the edge of the flame and watch the sputter of the blue that they made. I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that you knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

Whenever you find yourself embellishing from your true writing, gut it back to the studs; your foundation of truth. Nicely put.

And that’s just one of the little gems about the craft I stumbled upon. I loved discovering them and I’m sure most other writers will as well.

One other thing Hemingway allows you to experience, to crawl into and feel deep down in your bones, was the hunger of the starving artist. The smells wafting from the open cafés made my stomach grumble as he talked of skipping meals to stretch his income and instead fed on viewing Cézanne paintings at the Luxembourg museum, feeding his artist’s soul. His hunger was almost a necessity to his creative process. He describes it as “good discipline”.

He talks about when he had an entire novel lost, when a bag was stolen at the Gare de Lyon. Every writer’s nightmare.

I knew it was probably a good thing that it was lost, but I knew too that I must write a novel. I would put it off though until I could not help doing it. I was damned if I would write one because it was what I should do if we were to eat regularly. When I had to write, then it would be no choice. Let the pressure build. In the meantime I would write a long story about whatever I knew best.

How many of us just on the cusp of publishing can relate to the struggles he describes?

I was delightfully surprised by what I found in this book. Hemingway may still have been an alcoholic womanizer who came to a sad end, (who am I to judge?) but he did have talent and some fascinating things to say.

I highly recommend this book to my fellow readers. You’ll enjoy it.

jazzageOh and don’t forget, all through the Jazz Age January, I am holding a book giveaway. Enter below to win a copy of the first book I reviewed for this event.

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