Monday, April 21, 2014

Audiobook Review: The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

In The Testament of Mary (3 hours, 7 minutes; narrated by Meryl Streep), author Colm Toibin gives voice to Mary, mother of Jesus. Now elderly, Mary remembers the crucifixion of her Son and retells it in grim detail. She also provides her perspective on his followers - and it is not an exalted view. In much the same way, she is cynical about her Son's death; she does not share his view that He will rise again and questions whether His violent death was "worth it". Her bitter, resigned tone is in stark contrast to the portrait painted of her in Bible as a long-suffering but gracious martyr who sacrificed her only Son for the greater good of humanity.

In this novella, Mary is a grieving mother, mourning the loss of her only Son. With mourning, comes anger - anger at those that killed him, at herself for not doing enough for him on his path to crucifixion and anger at his zealous followers and what she sees as their celebration of his death. To them, he was a leader of a movement and he has left a legacy they must carry on by telling his stories in Gospels and starting the Church. To Mary, however, he was her son - completely human, cruelly executed and his death is nothing to be celebrated. His supposed legacy does not bring her comfort. Rather, she is suspicious of His disciples, questions their motives and finds their efforts to care for her cloying and overbearing.

My Thoughts
This book fascinated me not only because it provided a provocative view so contrary to everything I learned in Catholic school but also because the author executes the narrative with such artistry. In typical Toibin style, the language is spare but beautiful. The spare narrative only emphasizes the raw grief experienced by Mary and brings that to life. Mary in this tale is, first and foremost, human. She experiences grief you would expect from any mother but it is still shocking as it runs counter to all we have been told about the martyr Mary who gave up her only Son to save the world. Even though the events of the story - walking to the cross, His death, and the discovery of the empty tomb on the third day are well known by those familiar with the New Testament, this novella is gripping because we hear it from the perspective of someone who cannot celebrate the miracle but rather mourns her Son and questions how there can be any value in his cruel death.

The audiobook is narrated by Meryl Streep and her performance is exemplary. I felt as if I was sitting in a theater listening to a Broadway performance.  She imbues each line with such emotion that I actually had a heavy heart listening in places as Meryl as Mary describes her overwhelming grief. As beautiful as Toibin's written words are, I think they were made all the better by Streep's performance.  Highly recommend this provocative but beautiful novella.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Sunday Salon: April 13, 2014

The Sunday

The scene: Noon on Sunday morning reviewing pictures from a trip to New York Botanical Gardens yesterday.  It was the PERFECT day - the weather was amazing and the flowers were gorgeous. The orchid show is featured there now and they were stunning.

Reading: On the Rocks by Erin Duffy  - I really enjoyed this author's first book - Bond Girl so I am glad to  be reading her second book. It also has a beautiful beachy cover which is very appealing these days.
Earlier this week, I heard a review on NPR of Family Life by Akhil Sharma. I was very excited to see that the author will be at Center for Fiction tomorrow night - I will definitely be picking up a copy of this book there to read soon!

Blogging: This week I posted my review of Four Friends by Robyn Carr . Although not all the women resonated for me, it was still an enjoyable read and had more substance that I expected.

Watching : I am looking forward to the season premiere of Nurse Jackie tonight. I love Jackie's flawed but down to earth character and am glad the show is back.

Looking Forward To: The trip to Florida later this week - after the winter we have had and being cooped up while recovering from surgery, I am ready for some warm weather and sustained sunshine. The beach - here I come!

Grateful: That the weather has turned a corner here - I think we are finally out of winter - yay!.

Have a great week!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Review: Four Friends by Robyn Carr

In Four Friends by Robyn Carr, we meet Gerri, Andy, Sonja and BJ who all live on the same block in Mill Valley. As the book opens, there are really three friends and the outsider, BJ. Gerri, Andy and Sonja meet every morning for a walk and marvel as BJ speeds by on her daily run. One by one, each of the walkers experience turbulence in their marriages and lean on each other for support far greater than accompaniment on a morning walk. Even BJ breaks down her walls and is drawn into the circle of women and offers support.

The first marriage to crumble is Andy's; it is her second marriage and she grieves more about being twice divorced than the loss of her second husband. Her contractor, Bob, offers companionship as he finishes up the kitchen renovation in the wake of her depositing her husband's belongings on the front lawn. Bob is different from the young, pretty boys Andy has generally dated and she is surprised at her feelings for him. While Andy is moving on with Bob, Sonja's husband George abruptly informs her he is tired of the clean living, zen lifestyle she has imposed upon him. Sonja, a practitioner of yoga and meditation, becomes undone at the break-up of her marriage and plunges into a deep depression. Surprisingly, it is BJ who sees the seriousness of Sonja's condition and presses Gerri and Andy to intervene. Her leap to help Sonja breaks down the wall she has put up and the women begin to learn of her difficult history.

The main story, however, centers around Gerri and her marital issues. Married to Phil with three adolescent children, Gerri believes her marriage to be solid and considers Phil her best friend. They are so focused on keeping everything moving with their two demanding jobs and children with the usual assortment of crises that Gerri has lost sight of the fact that there is little romance in their marriage. It is brought to her attention when she learns that Phil had an affair a number of years ago. Gerri is shaken to the core by this news and promptly moves Phil out of the house while they attend counseling and try to salvage their marriage.

My Thoughts
This book was an easy, enjoyable read and it was fun to sit in on this group of friends as they managed through their trials. The character that resonated the most with me was Gerri - her feelings for Phil and the future of their marriage were multidimensional and believable. Her story was also the best developed and was really the centerpiece of the novel.  The other women and the friendship between the four was a supporting cast to Gerri and Phil's story. Most readers will be able to see themselves or their friends in one or more of the women.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Sunday Salon: March 23, 2014

The Sunday

The scene: Noon on Sunday morning after a long walk with with Prince. He is recovering in his new bed.

I have been keeping his hair long as a form of insulation but he's getting scruffy - time for a cut! 

Reading: Four Friends by Robyn Carr  - this is an easy read but the jury is still out on what I think of it.  Generally I enjoy books about women's friendships but some of these women are not resonating with me. It does, however, have some witty dialogue which I am enjoying. I recently finished Five Days at Memorial - what an amazing read (or listen in my case). The pacing in the book is excellent and it almost felt like a thriller rather than non-fiction.  The book gives you so much to think about.

 Blogging: It seems I am back to having issues posting regularly - my last Sunday Salon post was a month ago and the reviews have been few and far between.  I hoped to use my time off to bank some posts but that just didn't happen so I am still limping along here.  We'll see - I might need to re-evaluate blogging and if I want to continue to prioritize it. This week, in honor of St. Patrick's Day, I posted a review of one the many reads I did for the Ireland Reading Challenge - An Irish Country Girl by Patrick Taylor. I love this series and this book actually stands alone and doesn't need to be read following the earlier ones.

 Watching: My TV time has really tapered since I returned to work - not watching much on the tube right now.  I did go to see the musical Once last weekend - it was great! The music was amazing and you felt like you were sitting in bar watching it all unfold. I definitely recommend it. We topped that off with a trip uptown to Dinosaur BBQ.  I have wanted to go for awhile -their BBQ is legendary. I am back on solid food but still with some restrictions so I had to have a burger rather than some of the other meat offerings but everything smelled amazing. I will be back!

 Looking Forward To: A quick visit to Texas to see my brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew. I am really looking forward to seeing them all again.  My SIL and I are doing a 5K (I will be walking it since I only just got cleared for exercise) on Saturday - the DFW Women Rock.  It looks like a lot of fun and I am excited to be back in the running world - it is something I have really missed.  I also start my "running class" this week at Jack Rabbit Sports.  Now that the weather is getting better (or trying to!) it will be good to get outside 2 nights a week for some exercise.

 Grateful: For the body's ability to recover - I feel better every day and am more grateful for what my body CAN do than I every was before surgery.

Have a great week!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Audiobook Review: An Irish Country Girl by Patrick Taylor

An Irish Country Girl by Patrick Taylor (10 hours, 19 minute; narrated by Terry Donnelly): Maureen "Kinky" Kincaid is the wry, no-nonsense housekeeper to Doctor Fingal O'Reilly and his young assistant Dr. Barry Laverty in the town of Ballybucklebo. For the first few books in the series, she supported the doctors and was largely in the background; this book tells her story before she came to Ballybucklebo.

 Kinky begins telling her story to a group of local children at Christmas. She weaves the tale of Irish fairies, or dubh sidhe, through her own story and captivates the young children. Young Maureen O'Hanlon was fey and could see things that others could not. At first, she was scared of "the sight" which her mother also shared but as she grew to trust it she realized she had a gift. Her gift also gives her a healthy respect for the fairies and their power to punish those that cross them while protecting others. There is a lot of folklore and magic smattered throughout the story of her young life but it features a little less prominently as she meets her future husband. Maureen was instantly taken by Paudeen Kincaid even though his traditional beliefs about women not working ran counter to Maureen's desire to be teacher and her independent streak. Their love story is endearing, if tragic.

My Thoughts
I have read a number of the books in this popular Irish series (my review of An Irish Country Christmas) and always enjoy the cozy nature of the books. I get drawn into the small town life and the memorable characters. An Irish Country Girl did not disappoint but it is different from the earlier books.  The biggest difference is the theme of Irish mythology and the prominence it takes within the book. I initially had trouble with this part of the book but the storytelling eventually drew me in.

This is my first time listening to the narration of Terry Donnelly and I really enjoyed her narration - it was such a pleasure listening to her lilting Irish accent. Although this is the fourth book in the series, it truly stands alone as it is the contained story of Kinky's young life with almost no character overlap with the other books. If you are looking for an enjoyable read with a peek into small town Irish life of the past, pick up An Irish Country Girl and get transported by a true Irish storyteller.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sunday Salon: February 23, 2014

The Sunday

The scene: 10 AM Sunday morning after a nice walk in the warm sunshine - so nice to say that after weeks of frigid temps!

 Reading: The Wife, The Maid and The Mistress by Ariel Lawhon. I finally finished reading Winter Garden by Kristen Hannah - the story was so heartbreaking in places that I found myself in tears in a coffee shop while reading. Definitely a satisfying read and reminded me how much I like this author. My next audio pick was going to be Five Days at Memorial but I decided I needed something lighter so I listened to The Tao of Martha by Jen Lancaster. Her books always make me laugh and sure enough I was laughing in the street as I walked the dog!

Blogging: This week I posted my review of Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan - this is definitely a best read of 2014 for me and I will be gifting it to many friends. The memoir is really a tribute to Corrigan's mother (the glue in their family) and it is all the more powerful because it comes from a daughter who didn't always appreciate what her Mom had to offer and thought they had nothing in common.

Watching: I started watching House of Cards Season 2 but have dialed it back to stretch the season out a bit.  I found out from the surgeon this Friday that I will be home for two more weeks.  My recovery is going well but he wants to wait another week to progress me from liquids and I need to be off while I incorporate solid food. I may try to see a show or two while I am off - with Broadway in my backyard, I am embarrassed to say how rarely I see a show.

Looking Forward To: Solid food! Fortunately, I haven't been very hungry since surgery but need to get a minimum amount of protein in and I am getting tired of my limited food options at this point. I knew I was in trouble last week when I was looking forward to the crunch of my chewable vitamin! I find myself perusing Pinterest for delicious dishes or checking out the restaurants online that my friends check into on Facebook!  My progression back to all solid food will be slow but I will be prepared with my recipes and restaurant choices!

Grateful: For beautiful weather over the past few days. We got into the 50's yesterday and the sun shined and it looks to be more of the same today. I was so happy to shed my puffy winter coat and slip into something lighter weight. Prince is also relieved to shed his coat and boots. I understand cold weather (and maybe SNOW!) will return this week but right now and I thankful for this weather and living in the (sunny) moment!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Review: Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan

Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan: Kelly Corrigan, recently graduated from college, wants nothing more than to get out and explore the world. In her mind, everything good happens outside the home - you are not really living unless you are out there doing things - or anything, really. Her practical, cautious mother advises her to work hard and save but Kelly has other plans - she wants to travel. So against her mother's advice (any maybe just a little because of it) she heads off with her friend Tracey to travel the world. When funds run low, however, she ends up as a nanny in Australia for a family with two young children whose mother has recently passed away from cancer. Before she knows it, she is living a life oddly parallel to her mother's and gaining new insight into her Mom and what makes her tick.

Practical, efficient Mary Corrigan would tell Kelly and her two brothers growing up, "Your Father is the glitter and I am the glue". Mary kept the family home running and doled out the discipline while her husband breezed in with jokes and a lighthearted sensibility. Kelly had a special relationship with her Dad but always felt that her mother didn't necessarily understand her and she bristled against the no nonsense approach her Mom took to parenting. The difference between her Mom and Dad can be seen right in the beginning of the book as they accompanied Kelly and Tracey to the airport - her father was enthusiastic about the adventures which awaited the girls while her mother barely concealed her misgivings about this trip and coolly warned her daughter to be safe.

When Kelly meets the Tanners and contemplates all these young children have lost with the recent death of their mother, she begins to value her own mother and counts herself lucky to have benefited from her guidance and discipline - even if it was practical and much more like glue than glitter.  Playing mother on a daily basis to the Tanner children, Kelly began to see the sense in how her mother approached the daily tasks of motherhood. Many women begin to understand their own mothers better as they become mothers themselves - Kelly got a head start on that as a nanny.

My Thoughts
I LOVED this book  - so much of it resonated for me and I saw my own mother in Mary Corrigan. My Mom is practical and unsentimental and that has been a point of contention between us at times. Like Kelly, however, I have learned to value and understand my Mom's practicality and realize that it kept things running smoothly in our home - there wasn't much time or room for frivolity. I attended an event in NYC where Kelly did a reading (you can see a YouTube video of the reading here) and took questions. At one point, she said her Mom didn't show love so much with words or hugs but by serving - taking care of her children and doing for them. My Mom is much the same - she shows her care and concern by doing.

My Mom and Me - Alaska, 2013

Kelly articulates her perspective on her Mom with wit and grace so that this book is a real tribute to Mary Corrigan but still immensely readable and relevant. I have already purchased copies of the book for my Mom and many friends!