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Mailbox Monday #318

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

1.  The Cherry Harvest by Lucy Sanna from William Morrow for review.

The war has taken a toll on the Christiansen family. With food rationed and money scarce, Charlotte struggles to keep her family well fed. Her teenage daughter, Kate, raises rabbits to earn money for college and dreams of becoming a writer. Her husband, Thomas, struggles to keep the farm going while their son, and most of the other local men, are fighting in Europe.

When their upcoming cherry harvest is threatened, strong-willed Charlotte helps persuade local authorities to allow German war prisoners from a nearby camp to pick the fruit.

But when Thomas befriends one of the prisoners, a teacher named Karl, and invites him to tutor Kate, the implications of Charlotte’s decision become apparent—especially when she finds herself unexpectedly drawn to Karl. So busy are they with the prisoners that Charlotte and Thomas fail to see that Kate is becoming a young woman, with dreams and temptations of her own—including a secret romance with the son of a wealthy, war-profiteering senator. And when their beloved Ben returns home, bitter and injured, bearing an intense hatred of Germans, Charlotte’s secrets threaten to explode their world.

2.  Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn from Harper for review.

The lives of more than twenty-five actresses lost before their time—from Marilyn Monroe to Brittany Murphy—explored in haunting, provocative new work by an acclaimed poet and actress

Amber Tamblyn is both an award-winning film and television actress and an acclaimed poet. As such she is deeply fascinated-and intimately familiar—with the toll exacted from young women whose lives are offered in sacrifice as starlets. The stories of these actresses, both famous and obscure-tragic stories of suicide, murder, obscurity, and other forms of death—inspired this empathic and emotionally charged collection of new poetic work.

Featuring subjects from Marilyn Monroe and Frances Farmer to Dana Plato and Brittany Murphy—and paired with original artwork commissioned for the book by luminaries including David Lynch, Adrian Tome, Marilyn Manson, and Marcel Dzama—Dark Sparkler is a surprising and provocative collection from a young artist of wide-ranging talent, culminating in an extended, confessional epilogue of astonishing candor and poetic command.

3. Hiroshima by John Hersey from the library sale for 50 cents.

On August 6, 1945, Hiroshima was destroyed by the first atom bomb ever dropped on a city. This book, John Hersey’s journalistic masterpiece, tells what happened on that day. Told through the memories of survivors, this timeless, powerful and compassionate document has become a classic “that stirs the conscience of humanity” (The New York Times).

 

 

4.  Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson, edited by Richard Whelan from the library sale for 50 cents.

A finely honed abridgement of Emerson’s principal essays with an introduction that clarifies the essence of Emerson’s ideas and establishes their relevance to our own troubled era. This is the first truly accessible edition of Emerson’s work, revealing him to be one of America’s wisest teachers.

 

5. Rachael Ray 2, 4, 6, 8 Great Meals for Couples or Crowds from the library sale for 50 cents.

If you’re like Rachael Ray, mealtime is a time to hang out and reconnect with family and friends. That means you could be making a late dinner for you and your sweetie one night and making brunch for your entire family the next day. No matter how many people join the party, Rachael firmly believes that cooking should be fun, easy–and done in 30 minutes or less.

Transforming recipes for four into recipes for two or eight can be a tricky guessing game. If you use twice the amount of chicken will you have to cook it twice as long? Is it possible to make a satisfying pot of soup for two without having to eat leftovers for a week? What’s the best–and most economical–way to feed a crowd of eight? With Rachael Ray: 2, 4, 6, 8 there’s no need to guess, because Rachael has designed right-sized menus for every occasion, with perfect meals for two, four, six, or eight.

6. Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield from a friend.

Bellman & Black is a heart-thumpingly perfect ghost story, beautifully and irresistibly written, its ratcheting tension exquisitely calibrated line by line. Its hero is William Bellman, who, as a boy of 11, killed a shiny black rook with a catapult, and who grew up to be someone, his neighbours think, who “could go to the good or the bad.” And indeed, although William Bellman’s life at first seems blessed—he has a happy marriage to a beautiful woman, becomes father to a brood of bright, strong children, and thrives in business—one by one, people around him die. And at each funeral, he is startled to see a strange man in black, smiling at him. At first, the dead are distant relatives, but eventually his own children die, and then his wife, leaving behind only one child, his favourite, Dora. Unhinged by grief, William gets drunk and stumbles to his wife’s fresh grave—and who should be there waiting, but the smiling stranger in black. The stranger has a proposition for William—a mysterious business called “Bellman & Black”.

What did you receive?

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is a novel that tries hard to be a Gothic tale full of ghosts and melodrama, but light on the actual romance.  Margaret Lea receives a random letter from famed contemporary author Vida Winter, a woman who spends a lot of her time telling stories even to those journalists seeking her real-life story.  Lea is a bookworm extraordinaire, who helps her father in his antique bookshop, while her mother is hold up in her room every day barely engaging them.  Margaret is intrigued by Winter after reading a volume of short stories from her vast collection of books, titled “Thirteenth Tales of Change and Desperation.”  Upon meeting the woman and asking for three true things she can double-check for their accuracy, Margaret is sucked into her real-life tale by their own common bond.

What follows is the unraveling of Vida Winter’s real life story in a fragmented narration, which vacillates between Margaret’s journalistic digging and Vida’s fairy tale-like story.  Setterfield weaves a story of mystery that Margaret is determined to uncover even as she is haunted by her own family past.  There is a cast of secondary characters that are as colorful as Winter, but there are moments of too much detail that bog down the narration in Winter’s story and in Lea’s investigations and wanderings around Winter’s childhood home of Angelfield.

“Vida Winter’s appearance was not calculated for concealment.  she was an ancient queen, sorceress or goddess.  Her stiff figure rose regally out of a profusion of fat purple and red cushions.  Draped around her shoulders, the folds of the turquoise-and-green cloth that cloaked her body did not soften the rigidity of her frame.  Her bright copper hair had been arranged into an elaborate confection of twists, curls and coils.  Her face, as intricately lined as a map, was powdered white and finished with bold scarlet lipstick.  In her lap, her hands were a cluster of rubies, emeralds and white, bony knuckles; only her nails, unvarnished, cut short and square like my own, struck an incongruous note.”  (Page 43-4)

Despite this, Setterfield peppers her story with mist and ghosts, leaving the reader wondering if they are real.  The creation of Margaret and her back story, which is similar to Vida’s, is a bit contrived to propel the story forward and to engage Margaret in the investigation of Winter’s family.  Overall, the story within the story is the most engaging with incest, twins, and family secrets, and the story on which Winter builds her new life as an author.

“‘You think that a strange thing to say, but it’s true.  All my life and all my experience, the events that have befallen me, the people I have known, all my memories, dreams, fantasies, everything I have ever read, all of that has been chucked onto the compost heap, where over time it has rotted down to a dark, rich organic mulch.  The process of cellular breakdown makes it unrecognizable.  Other people call it the imagination.  I think of it as a compost heap.'”  (Page 46)

The conclusion of the story is very anti-climatic with a wrap up of all the secondary and tertiary characters, which felt unnecessary, and there are elements of the story that remain unresolved.  The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is an intriguing novel that could have done better under a different structure to capture the reader’s attention fully, rather than allowing the story of Margaret to pull them out of the biography of Winter, who is the true protagonist of the novel.  While Margaret is a necessary evil in that she is picked by Winter to tell her story, and she must investigate the truth of it given the legend that surrounds Winter as an unreliable narrator, there are too many moments in which Margaret’s wanderings and indecision disengage the reader.

About the Author:

Diane Setterfield is a British author whose 2006 debut novel, The Thirteenth Tale, became a New York Times #1 bestseller. It is written in the Gothic tradition, with echoes of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights.

This is my 70th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge in 2012.

 

 

What the Book Club Thought (Beware of Spoilers):

Most of the members enjoyed the novel, including the male member who selected the book as his pick for the month.  Two of our members, including me, just felt the book was an OK read.  While most of us did not mind that Setterfield did not provide a concrete time or setting for the novel, one of our female members wanted to feel more grounded.  Several members mentioned an overuse of Jane Eyre and allusions to the classic novel, which was clearly a favorite of the character and the author.  Most of us enjoyed the story within the story that was about Winter’s childhood and family and thought it was the most engaging.  While most of us did not hate Margaret, most of us believed it was contrived to make her a match for Winter’s story.  One male member absolutely did not like Margaret at all.

Also touched upon in the discussion was the great feelings of Margaret for her deceased twin, a twin that she never met and never saw given that she died almost immediately after birth.  Some of us didn’t believe in this feeling and deep connection, but would have believed it more if she had grow up with her twin and she died after a bond had formed.

At one point during the discussion, one member wondered aloud if Winter would have chosen someone as inexperienced as Margaret to write her biography or if she would have chosen someone with more experience.  In most of our estimations, we believed that Winter was as eccentric enough to want some unknown writer write her biography rather than someone more experienced.  In a way, some of us agreed that she would prefer an unknown writer because she could more easily manipulate the story with someone less experienced.

The cutting of Isabelle randomly when her and Charlie begin to interact seems incongruous with a young girl who is doted on by her father.  While we could see that the kids were neglected in many ways and that the dishevelment of the house played a role in how they all interacted, it was a bit of a stretch that a well-loved young lady would automatically cut herself and enjoy inflicting pain without a catalyst/reason.  One member, in particular, wanted to know more about why she engaged in those behaviors and why the incestuous relationship began or was inevitable.  However, given that the point of view of the story is from a younger member in the household as it was told to her, this was not possible, which again calls into question the structure the author chose to use.

Overall a good book with some good elements and some not-so-good elements.

How I Rank Our Book Club Picks for the First Round:

  1. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
  2. City of Thieves by David Benioff
  3. A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear
  4. When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
  5. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
  6. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
  7. Ashes by Ilsa Bick
  8. Star Wars & Philosophy by Kevin S. Decker and Jason Eberl