THE BOOK OF TOMORROW by Cecelia Ahern

The official plot description:  “Tamara Goodwin has always lived in the here and now, never giving a second thought to tomorrow. Until a traveling library arrives in her tiny village, bringing with it a mysterious, large leather-bound book locked with a gold clasp and padlock.

What she discovers within the pages takes her breath away and shakes her world to its core.

A mesmerizing story about how tomorrow can change what happens today.”

That is almost nothing like the plot.  Who comes up with these things?

Anyway, set in the Dublin area,  it is about a 16-year old teen girl, the only child in a very wealthy family whose world is suddenly set on end by the suicide of her father, who, it turns out, was about to go bankrupt.  The bank stepped in and took everything, and the mom and daughter, after a short stint in the home of a friend, ended up having to go to a small village to live with the mom’s brother and his somewhat creepy wife.

Told in the first person of the teen, she admits she had always been selfish, self-absorbed, and self-indulgent, and now has to deal with having almost no possessions, nothing to do and no way to get into the nearby village from their rural home, since it is too far to walk.

Part of the grounds of this place is a ruined castle, which had burnt mysteriously almost twenty years ago, killing a young man in the process.

Along comes one of those libraries on wheels, driven by a young man whose father is a big deal lawyer in Dublin.  In the library, the girl finds a locked diary, and after a local nun helps her pick the tiny padlock to open it, she is disappointed to see that all the pages are blank.  Later, she decides to keep a journal in it, and opens it to discover that that pages are filled!  With her own handwriting!  And the date on the page is tomorrow!

Her mother is basically catatonic from grief, sleeping all day and night in her room, and the girl is left in the dubious care of her aunt, takes to wandering the grounds, meets the local nun and their convent of four elderly women, and the young fellow working on the grounds for her groundskeeper uncle.

Oddness, mystery, some poor decisions, and other strange activities make this a fine read, although frankly, it would have been just as good without the quasi-paranormal shtick of the diary.  Every day she reads what will happen tomorrow and tries to avert some of the incidents, etc.  Eh.   But nevertheless, I enjoyed it very much.

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ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by Gail Honeyman

“Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and somewhat unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey.”

This description makes the book sound cheerfully fun, and it is not.  Oh, sure, it has its fun moments, but at its core, it is about a child who has survived terrible abuse at the hands of her mentally deranged mother, a mother who set the family home on fire in an attempt to get rid of her two young daughters.  Eleanor remembers nothing of this, only her time after a stint in the burns unit of the hospital and her parade of care homes and foster placements, and a two year period with an abusive boyfriend.

She speaks in an overly formal manner, is stiff and prudish, and prefers to act and dress in ways that make her almost invisible.  She is the butt of behind-the-hands jokes at the office, where she is in charge of accounting, an exacting task that completely suits her.

Pressured into attending a leaving party in a bar for a coworker , she sees a mediocre singer and develops a crush on him,  and begins to transform herself, bit by bit, with a manicure, a hair cut, some new clothes.   She has some dopey idea they are destined to be together, and she goes to one of his gigs, where he completely ignores her, as if she were invisible, and she has a mental melt down, finally understanding just how out of touch she is.  She goes on a drinking binge, and after four days not showing up at work, the IT guy comes looking for her, and rescues her from alcohol poisoning. He pressures her to see a doctor, who pressures her to see a therapist, which starts her on the road to mental recovery.

It was a heart warming book, charming in showing her naivety and eccentricities, and we find ourselves cheering her on, confident she will finally find her way.

 

 

THE SHIFTING FOG by Kate Morton

“Summer 1924: On the eve of a glittering society party, by the lake of a grand English country house, a young poet takes his life. The only witnesses, sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, will never speak to each other again.

Winter 1999: Grace Bradley, 98, one-time housemaid of Riverton Manor, is visited by a young director making a film about the poet’s suicide. Ghosts awaken and memories, long consigned to the dark reaches of Grace’s mind, begin to sneak back through the cracks. A shocking secret threatens to emerge; something history has forgotten but Grace never could.

Set as the war-shattered Edwardian summer surrenders to the decadent twenties, The Shifting Fog, renamed Riverton House,  is a thrilling mystery and a compelling love story.”

OK, maybe not a thrilling mystery,  but a small and interesting one.  This story is told from the point of view of a ladies maid who left service, was able to go to uni and became a noted archeologist.   The vehicle holding this tale together is a rather flimsy one concerning a film maker who wants to make a movie about the suicide(?) of a famous poet on the grounds of the estate, which happened during the maid’s time there,  and visits our now quite elderly former maid in order to get more inside info, which sends Grace floating off into deep remembrances.  She decides to tell the whole story on tape for an adult grandson, a well known mystery writer who has stopped writing and gone somewhat missing after the death of his wife.  (Eye roll here.  I mean, really.)

Very readable,  but for me, structurally shaky.  But of course, fiction contains the necessity of suspending disbelief, so sometimes ya gotta just go with it, right?

THE HEART OF THE RED FIRS by Ada Woodruff Anderson

Another of Mz Anderson’s works, this one published in 1908.  The other book of hers that I read, The Rim of the Desert,  was enjoyable, with a more involved plot.  This offering was clearly chick lit, all about romance and men of character and honor, and women of strength, determination,  and grit.  The heroes were heroic, and the villains were definitely villainous.

I read both of these books because I like fiction from that time period, because of the writing style, but I was interested in the location where both were set .. the Pacific Northwest.  This one is set around Puget Sound, in the virgin forests with timberland hundreds of years old, and it is distressing how, in both books, the interests of the protagonists are in settling the remote country and selling off its timber, diverting rivers and streams to create irrigation, and planting crops.  In both books, the protagonists talk of how they love this unsettled country and the purity of nature, while doing everything they can to bring population to their regions.

The plot of this one is basically a lovely school teacher whom every man falls in love with, and how the two prominent suitors turn out to be one baddy and one Dudley Do-Right, and everyone gets his or her just deserts.

I read it for the poetic descriptions of the land and tolerated the women’s magazine romantic plotline.  Beautiful writing, stupid storyline.

 

 

THE RIM OF THE DESERT by Ada Woodruff Anderson

Ada Woodruff Anderson was a well-known Pacific Northwest novelist who wrote The Heart of Red Firs, Rim of the Desert, and Strain of White. She was born in July 1860 in San Francisco, California, and married Oliver Phelps Anderson, son of Alexander Jay Anderson who was at one time president of the University of Washington and later Whitman College.

The Rim of the Desert was first published in 1915, and reissued in 2008, along with the other two works mentioned.  It is basically chick lit (OK, women’s literature), set in Alaska and the Oregon region of high desert east of the Cascade Range and south of the Blue Mountains, in the central and eastern parts of the state.  The author tells us

The desert of this story is that semi-arid region east of the upper Columbia.  It is cut off from the moisture laden winds of the Pacific by the lofty summits fo the Cascade Mountains which form its western rim.

It is the story of Hollis Tisdale, painted throughout as a true hero of romance novels, strong, brave, stalwart, honorable, you know, all those good things.  And of Mrs. Weatherbee, wife of Tisdale’s bestest buddy David.

Weatherbee goes to Alaska to mine to make a grubstake in order to finance his dream of bringing water to the Columbia desert and planting orchards, and creating a town there.  He makes detailed plans, but dies in a blizzard in Alaska.  His friend, the indomitable Tisdale sets off to find him, but is a few days too late, and brings his body back to Seattle for burial.

The wife sets off from Seattle on a trip with friends to see the area in Oregon which her husband had purchased.  She ends up on a train with Tisdale, but she is under an assumed name because she didn’t want the publicity.  As they both surprisingly get off at the same remote train station with the intention of hiring transportation to the same spot, circumstances dictate that they travel together because of lack of transportation facilities.

Tisdale tells her of the fate of his best friend and how he dislikes the wife who he has never met because she was living the good life back in Seattle while Weatherbee was freezing his onions off up in Alaska trying to make money.   Tisdale does not know he is traveling with Weatherbee’s wife.

OK, you got the drift, right?  Nice kind of chick lit, with Tisdale being a man’s man, and a gentleman to boot, and Beatrice Weatherby being such a lovely person, and beautiful to boot,  etc. etc. etc. Kind of puts you in mind of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon,  where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.   Lots of other interesting characters, including a cad.  A cad is what we today would call a douchebag.  What good would a story be without the standard issue cad, right?

Very readable, in that easy style of the times.  If you have been reading this blog for any length of time, you know that I have a thing for works written around the turn of the twentieth century.  There is just something about the style that is so different from modern writing.  So I very much enjoyed it, and have acquired The Heart of Red Firs, which I plan to read soon.  These books are available free at Project Gutenberg.

 

THE MANGO SEASON by Amulya Malladi

In my continuing journey of reading books by non-American, or Canadian or British writers, I came upon this well-recommended book by Indian writer Amulya Malladi.   Although she earned her masters degree in journalism from the University of Memphis, Tennessee, United States, and now lives in Denmark with her Danish husband, I still put her in the ‘foreign writers’ category, because she grew up in India and earned her bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering from Osmania University, Hyderabad, India.

This is probably a chick lit (oh, ok, women’s literature), but it is not profound with its own Spark Notes, like Arundhati Roy’s work, I enjoyed it nonetheless.  It is about a young Indian woman who goes to earn her masters degree in the United States at the age of 20, where she meets a lovely young American man, they fall in love, and move in together and are planning on getting married.

But she hasn’t been back home in seven years, hasn’t told her parents of the boyfriend or the pending marriage, and feels she must go back to visit and tell them in person.

She has never gotten along very well with her autocratic mother, but has a lovely relationship with her father, a caring and devoted man, and with her maternal grandfather, a racist, dictatorial, old fashioned man.   During a weekend at her grandmother’s house with her aunt, mother, cousin, the traditional weekend to make mango pickle, the family learns of her relationship with an American, and the mother and grandfather throw her out of the family.

Her father tells her

It will never work, Priya.  You cannot make mango pickle with tomatoes, he warns.  You cannot mesh two cultures without making of mess of it.

This is a culture of the arranged marriage,  the two participants chosen by the parents.  Modern day young people are not so willing to be dictated to, and have evolved a more independent perspective.

But times are changing, and the old ways must give way to the new ways, and even the subdued, sad, unattractive and unmarried-at-36 cousin is changing, and everyone must develop a new way of seeing life and coping with the changes.

Sweet story, predictable, and one of those tales where you say, ‘Sheesh, sure am glad I don’t have a mother like that.’  Or, with self-satisfied smile, ‘Isn’t it lovely that I am not a mother like that.’

Oh, yeah, and if you like Indian food, it has recipes for five different mango pickle dishes.

 

THE BUTTON COLLECTOR by Elizabeth Jennings

Pleasant enough chic lit (oh, pardon me, women’s literature) offering.  The basic storyline is built around the memories that a jar of buttons brings out for the main character, a woman who was kind of the black sheep of the family.

She goes to a flea market and ends up buying a mason jar of buttons because it is pretty, and then getting out her own mother’s button jar, and as she sorts through the buttons, she remembers the clothes of the various people from which the buttons came, and each button provokes a vignette or slice of memory of that person and the event that possibly resulted in the button coming off the garment.

It is the usual family stuff, mother dying of cancer, who loved who best, etc.  Like I said, pleasant enough, and very readable.

My mother had a fancy large tin in which she saved buttons.   When she died, I took on the curatorship of the buttons, complete with that decorative tin, and part of the joy of sewing garments was sifting through the unsorted buttons looking for matches.  A nice way to keep little fingers busy while I sewed was to give the little one a large blunt yarn needle threaded with a length of yarn, and the button tin, and let her sift through them, putting her favorites on the yarn string.