Sunday Salon – Catching Up

The Sunday

As January draws to a close, I’m beginning to believe it should be renamed the “cruelest month,” for it has battered and beaten us with the worst kinds of inclement weather.  Had I not spent the past few days visiting my home in Florida and absolutely reveling in a much needed respite from the bitter cold and snow, I would simply cast January aside as a monstrous month and turn my sights on February in hopes of some measure of kindness from Mother Nature.  

My reading this month has proven haphazard at best, for I’ve been fighting illess as well as adverse weather, battling some strange infectious process which attacked my respiratory and digestive systems in turn.  Not always the most efficacious situation for reading ~ nevertheless, I managed to finish three book in the past two weeks, for which I’m rather amazed.

Two of them were classic sick room reading – a fun, frothy mystery (Through the Grinder, by Cleo Coyle), and a delightful piece of women’s fiction with a Southern flair (Mermaids in the Basement, by Michael Lee West).    The Coyle mystery was of the “cozy” genre, something I rarely read, but I do enjoy this series set in The Village Blend coffeehouse in New York, along with it’s spunky heroine Clare Cosi.  These little books awaken all my latent coffee loving senses – after all, what coffee lover among you wouldn’t repond to passages like this:

That dark, powerful, rich, and warm something I yearned for was a cup of Guatemala Antigua – one of those smooth, tangy coffees like Coast Rican and Colombian, which would awaken my yawning palette with a full-bodied, slightly spice flavor and bracing, rich acidity. 

I sighed, almost smelling the earthy aroma of that first morning cup, tasting its nutty essence, feeling the shudder of radiant pleasure as the jolt of heat and caffeine seemed to flow directly into my veins.

God, I loved the morning ritual.

The only problem with reading these books is the necessity to stop and make coffee before settling in to read – which isn’t really a problem at all, especially since all the books include recipes for some of the delectable coffee concoctions mentioned in the story.

And from the historic walls of the Village Blend, I was transported to coastal Alabama and the hallowed halls belonging to Honora DeChavannes, her granddaughter Renata, and her son Louis.  Renata has come home from Hollywood in the wake of  some tabloid trouble, plus she’s grieving the recent and sudden death of her mother and stepfather.  Her visit home brings some interesting secrets to light, revelations that will change the way Renata perceives herself and her past.  You might be tempted to label Mermaids in the Basement as “chick lit with a southern twist” – but its more than that.   West’s characters a more three dimensional then most others in similar genre’s, and each one learns some hard lessons (amidst the kudzu, shrimp etouffe, and mimosas).

The third – and most epic- of the novels read this month was Wally Lamb’s The Hour I First Believed.  This was a monstrous novel, and I’m referring to more than it’s 750 pages.   The book centers on the collateral damage inflicted upon a (fictional) survivor of the Columbine High School massacre – Marueen Quirk, the school nurse, who hides inside a cabinet while the carnage goes on around her.   While she suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder, and struggles to regain her mental and physical well being, her husband Caelum undergoes some revelations and subsequent traumas of his own, leading him to embark on a quest through time as he studies his family and ancestry to fully understand where he has come from, and what monsters were part of his past. 

And while I found myself completely caught up in the Quirk’s story, particularly in  Maureen’s repsonse to the Columbine tragedy, and Lamb’s very accurate and detailed accounting of what might have happened that day, supplemented with actual interview and transcripts from the killer’s notebooks and videos, I found the enlarged story almost too much at times.  The reader is thrust back and forth between the Quirk family’s past three generations, and Maureen and Caelum’s recent experiences.  It is a huge fever dream of a novel, and there were times I was reading it with an actual fever, making the huge story even more monstrous in proportion.  I persevered, however, and I’m quite pleased to have finished this saga. 

I’ve also been reading studying, China, A New History, by John King Fairbank, as part of my “required reading” for the World Citizen Challenge.  As my son and daughter in law in Thailand celebrate Chinese New Year this week (the year of the Ox), it’s fitting that I’m learning more about the ancient civilization which gave rise to some of the very customs they’re now experiencing.  Yesterday morning, for instance, my son told us a big meal was being prepared, which would then be served outside as an offering to the departed ancestors.  Afterwards, bonfires of “fake” money were burned, as gifts to the ancestors already departed.  I couldn’t resist joking that I hoped one day someone would offer lots of riches to me when I was in heaven, for I was sure there would be plenty of bookstores there!

I plan to clutch the last few minutes of this Sunday to finish off Friend of the Devil, the latest Peter Robinson mystery which I started yesterday whilst lying on the beach in Southern Florida. 


Now tell me, has your January been cruel or kind?  How about your January reading?


14 thoughts on “Sunday Salon – Catching Up

  1. January has been too cold! It’s also involved a house turned upside down by rewiring. Fairbanks is good on China, & I really liked Wild Swans until I met a woman from the PRC who critiqued it from her perspective having grown up in the PRC & emigrated. I’m currently reading The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. So far it’s a fun read, but part of the fun are all the Yiddish references & nuances of a defunct culture. I wonder what people get out of it without that background.

  2. You read some real good books.

    Jan was not as cold but my net was down for six days and PC for another four days.

    I read seven books in that period. In all I have read 13 books till date and plan to finish two more.

    So readingwise, I think it was ok.

  3. January has been pretty kind, I think (knock wood), a good beginning, and the reading is going pretty well also. Am attempting to honor the memory of Donald E. Westlake (thanks to a friend, I’ve been a fan of his since high school–eons ago) by reading as many of his mysteries as I can, especially the Dortmunders. They are so funny.

    But the passage you quoted is cruel, cruel! I can taste that cup of coffee, but it’s 12:30 AM–not the hour to be brewing; instead, I’ll be craving all night…

  4. January has definitely been cruel here. Cold, windy, and grey and I’m officially sick of it! My reading has been pretty sporadic as well, with a few bright spots.

    One of my best reads this month has been Elijah’s Coin by Steve O’Brien. It’s a great story about a young man spiralling out of control and his journey to change his life.

  5. It’s been unusually cold in the UK, but alas no snow for my part of the country (just about everywhere else has had some) which was a disappointment for my son. It’s been okay as months go – could be better, could be worse, but I’ve got less reading done than usual due to a busy start to term. I’m so sorry you’ve been poorly, Becca, and hope that Florida beach helped you towards a full recovery!

  6. I’m sorry to hear you haven’t been well. I’ve been considering reading the Lamb book so am interested to hear about it.

    January here has been lovely, except for Saturday when we sweltered in 40 degrees Celsius heat. In my reading, I’ve been revisiting old friends by re-reading Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire books and enjoying it immensely.

  7. January has been cruel to me, too! I was sick a whole week (no reading). Now my husband is sick, too, plus all of my three sons. It’s just crazy. My reading isn’t bad, compared to last year, but I could’ve done a book or two in the time that I was sick and doing nothing but sleep in bed.

    I hope you feel better soon..

    Btw, I have never picked up a Wally Lamb just because I expect them to be too heavy on the heart.. I think you just proved my hunches right. Thanks for the review. 🙂

  8. Lillian: Hmm, I have Wild Swans on my Challenge reading list, so I’ll keep the alternative perspective you mentioned in mind.

    Gautami: I don’t know what I’d do without interet for six days! Horrors!

    DS: I’ve never read Westlake, but Dortmunders is such a fun name, I believe I must look it up!

    Maggie: I’m glad you had one bright spot in your reading life -this winter requires something good!

    Litlove: Thanks for the good wishes – I am feeling much better now, and back to reading with a passion. I would gladly send some of our snow to your son 😉

    Sarah: I have a wonderful collected set of the Trollope I purchased about 30 years ago (in conjunction with a PBS series)- now you’ve made me want to re-read them.

    Claire: It’s horrible when the whole family is under the weather! Here’s to a speedy recovery for all of you. And yes, “heavy on the heart” describes this latest Lamb novel – in more ways than one. At 750 pages, it’s not exactly a book you want to pop in your purse and carry with you.

  9. What a list of books and lovely reviews – it’s great to stay inside when the weather is horrible and think about the books you are reading or have been reading! However, I do hope you’re feeling better – these winter bugs are the worst. As far as the chinese new year is concerned, I had a text message from a chinese friend who wished me good luck in the year of the ox: she says it’s a good year for business and careers to take off… not sure whether I want more of a career, but there you go!
    Happy reading and enjoyed your blog, as usual.

  10. I think January has been pretty good to me at least where books are concerned… I’ve read 8 so far and all have been quite good. Granted I did have one I couldn’t finish but so far so good.

    Oh and now I want to go look for one of those Cleo Coyle books. It’s been a while since I visited with that series.

  11. I live in CA so the weather has been in the 50s and 60s this month with a little rain, just enough to complain about, not enough to interfere with life.

    As for reading I have done pretty well. So far I have finished 5 books and am in the middle of three more that I hope to finish by the end of the month. I’m usually a book-a-week kind of gal so I am very excited about eight books to begin the new year. I’m aiming for 100 books for the year.

  12. Those books sound great, particularly the Fairbank one. I should probably get started on the World Citizen challenge…
    The weather in Sydney has been pretty temperamental as well. We go from soaring temperatures of 40+ (Celsius, of course) to thunderstorms to humid overcast days to cold almost winter-like days.

    Anyway, hope you’re feeling better now 😀

  13. January has been awful here. We have had one of our coldest Januarys in several years, and on top of that a bus transit strike that has lasted 48 days now! January is a blur of going to and from work in a carpool. It’s been horrible. So I’ve gained weight, and can’t get out of the house – I don’t drive, so my world has shrunk. Now I know how those pioneer women felt as the snow fell and they couldn’t get out!
    On the plus side i have the Peter Robinson novel to read also, as well as the memories of our Christmas vacation in London UK, which is probably the only reason we have survived without buses though Christmas – we weren’t here! 🙂

  14. January has been a great start to 2009 in books! I’m enjoying my routine of drifting between fiction and non-fiction, and finding new authors that I wouldn’t have read before my eyes were opened with all the recommendations of my book-blogging friends.

    Weather-wise … argh! We didn’t have a substantial snow until near the end of December, and we’re making up for it now. Today is another day without school due to snow/icy roads. Good to settle in and read, but my kids have other ideas!

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