Friday, September 19, 2014


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The Chronicle of Secret Riven, Ronlyn Domingue, Atria Books, 2014, 385 pp

Book Two of The Keeper of Tales trilogy takes place 1000 years after The Mapmaker's War. Secret Riven is the daughter of an ambitious historian and a gifted translator. She is silent as a baby, toddler, and young child, not speaking until she is in second grade.

Her silence is only an outward manifestation of Secret's differences. She can communicate non-verbally with plants and animals. She also suffers from unsettling visions and dreams, many of which leave her either ill or in pain. Ronlyn Domingue has an exceptional ability to make you feel Secret's uniqueness and what it is like for her when she is too young to comprehend what is happening.

"Secret's whole body vibrated with the sound, her being a bell struck with full force. She felt suddenly heavy and strong, as if her body were no longer her own."

The novel's subtitle is An Account of What Preceded the Plague of Silences. Exactly true because the account of Secret's first seventeen years occasionally mentions this plague but by the end of the book the plague is still to come. It did not occur to me until just now that Secret will be especially suited to survive a plague of silences.

In such an eerie story, even more fairytale-like than The Mapmaker's War, every chapter is some degree of strange. A mysterious manuscript sent to Secret's mother to translate causes illness and terrible challenges for both of them. The mother is cold and distant toward her daughter but beloved by the father. A set of myths in an appendix explains the mystical history of Secret's country. She is led into a forest by a red squirrel where an old woman teaches her these myths and provides some much needed mother love. Whenever Secret returns from afternoons in the forest, no time has passed in her world.

The life of this unique and amazing girl is revealed chapter by chapter, year by year, as she grows. In fact, the format is similar to the way I am constructing my memoir. Both mine and Secret's birthdays are in late summer, shortly before a new school year begins, an uncanny coincidence for me.

The pace is slow and dreamy, now and then relieved by incidents between Riven and the country's Prince, who becomes one her best friends. Secret's oddness and psychical suffering are intense, her life unpredictable even as it follows the patterns of daily life, school, and yearly growth. Thus the book contains a never ending tension.

I was made part of this girl's life so deeply and intimately that when the book ended I felt adrift. The conflicts she carried with her for 18 years are by no means resolved. Obviously that will happen in the final volume, still being written according to a recent interview with Domingue, but due to be published next year.

I am fairly sure I will not forget anything about Secret Riven and when I start the next book, her story, her chronicle, will be right there.

(The Chronicle of Secret Riven is available in hardcover and ebook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


The Sting of the Drone, Richard A Clarke, Thomas Dunne Books, 2014, 292 pp

Oh, those reading group members! They get me to read books I would otherwise never pick up. Sometimes I even learn new things.

The Sting of the Drone is one of those right up to the moment thrillers written by an author with years of experience in the United States federal government, giving him loads of credibility. Certainly I have been aware of drones as bits of the news trickle into my consciousness. I am notoriously bad at keeping up with the news, mostly because much of it is bad and also because I find news reporting as a writing genre boring.

But put a current event or two into a novel, as long as the writing is passable, and now I'm happy to learn. Drones, what they can and cannot do, what the military are allowed and not allowed to do with them, what it is like to be a drone pilot: it is all fascinating. I am glad I read this book.

Now when I read in the news that the US could possibly take out the current ISIS leader with a drone instead of raining shock and awe on more Iraqi peoples, I get it. As to whether it is a "better" way to wage war, I am still thinking it over.

(The Sting of the Drone is available in hardcover and compact disc by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Saturday, September 13, 2014


The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, Jan-Philipp Sendker, Other Press, 2006, (translated from the German by Kevin Wiliarty, published in Germany in 2002), 238 pp.

This was a reading group pick. From the blurbs and reviews I saw I expected an overly sentimental love story. It is an unusual love story and is "poignant and inspirational" as the cover blurb says. In fact, it was way too sentimental for most of the reading group but not for me.

I guess I am a romantic. I do believe in love even though I have learned that love can bring more hurt and disappointment than anything else in life. I loved this book.

The love between the two main characters, a blind young man and a handicapped young woman, began in Burma in the 1950s when it was still called Burma. The two are separated by events beyond their control and the young man ends up in America living an entirely different life.

Years later the story of the two lovers is told by an elderly Burmese man who presents for a Western reader insight into the culture, beliefs, habits, and views about life in a remote village of this ancient society. The combination of the incredible connection between the lovers and their unique culture created a beautiful and moving tale. 

How good and deep and magical can true love be? This book told me how. I know it sounds corny but I feel I learned how to create a better love with my husband than I had before reading The Art of Hearing Heartbeats.

Favorite quotes:
"Life is a gift full of riddles in which suffering and happiness are inextricably intertwined. Any attempt to have one without the other (is) simply bound to fail."
" some cases the smallest human unit was two rather than one."
(The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is available in various formats by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Thursday, September 11, 2014


The Thief and the Dogs, Naguib Mahfouz, American University in Cairo Press, Egypt, 1984, (published in Arabic in 1961), 158 pp

I haven't read Mahfouz since I was working on my 1959 reading list a couple years ago and read Children of the Alley, an allegorical fable about man's inability to solve the problems of life. That book was a change from the realism of Mahfouz's Cairo Trilogy.

The Thief and the Dogs represents another transition for the author: an impressionistic, stream-of-consciousness style and an economy of language.

A man is released from prison after four years. His trial and sentence also lost him his wife and child. A former friend had betrayed the man, testified against him, and stole away the wife and child.

In attempting to reintegrate into society and recover his family, the man only falls upon bad luck and rejection, until finally he descends into despair and madness.

I sensed echos of Camus and Dostoevsky as I read. The translation is excellent but also I think Mahfouz's wide reading of literature from around the world had a large influence on these changes in his novels. Reading nerd that I am, I get excited about things like that.

(The Thief and the Dogs is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Tuesday, September 09, 2014


September is already a week old. Sorry I am late. But with the evil hot weather we have been having I can't wait for this month to be over. Whine!

Here is the line-up for my reading groups in September:

New Book Club:

Once Upon A Time Adult Reading Group:

One Book At A Time:

Tiny Book Group:

Girly Book Club:

A reminder: If you live in the Los Angeles area and are interested in attending any of these reading groups, either this month or later on, leave a comment and I will get you connected.

A request: If you have discussed any of these books in a reading group I would love to hear how it went. Please leave a comment!

Saturday, September 06, 2014


Mood Indigo, Boris Vian, Gallimand, Paris, 1947 (translated from the French by Stanely Chapman, published by Rapp & Carroll Ltd, London, 1967), 214 pp

Somewhere on the interwebs I heard about this book and that it had been made into a movie to be released in July. I watched a trailer and was completely seduced. It stars Audrey Tatou, whom I adore.

Boris Vian was a multi-talented French fellow. He wrote novels, poetry, and plays. He played jazz, acted, and invented stuff. He was friends with Albert Camus, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean Paul Sartre. He translated two of Raymond Chandler's novels into French.

He published Mood Indigo in 1947, the year I was born. Its title in French was L'Ecume des Jours which literally translated means The Foam of Days, but its first translator called it Froth on the Daydream. As with any deeply imaginative work, all three titles fit. When Michel Gondry made his film adaptation in 2013 (there have been a French movie in 1968 and a Japanese film in 2001) the title was changed to "Mood Indigo" after a song by Duke Ellington featured in the movie. 

Of course, being French, it is a love story and is full of quirky characters, feverish creativity, puns, and melancholy. A mash up of sci fi and magical realism permeates the book and is fully captured in the film.

I started the book, got about 100 pages in, and then saw the movie. I don't usually do that but it worked well in this case. The end of the story is so different from the beginning and I totally did not see it coming. Somehow watching this transformation on a big screen with the colors, the music, the actors, made the rest of the book even more amazing to me.

If you enjoy the French romantic comedy/tragedy mode, I recommend both the book and the movie and assure you it doesn't matter which you consume first.

(Mood Indigo is available in paperback and eBook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Sunday, August 31, 2014


Case Histories, Kate Atkinson, Little Brown and Company, 2004, 310 pp

This was a reread. A house guest left paperbacks of all four Jackson Brody mysteries in my office when she departed last August because she could not fit them in her luggage. My husband was out of books to read and picked up Case Histories. He kept exclaiming about how good, funny, and well-written it was. (He had just finished Code Name Verity, described by a blurb on the back cover as "fiendishly plotted.") As he read Atkinson's book he could be heard muttering, "Fiendishly plotted."

So I reread it on a whim and because I did not remember liking it that much, I wanted to see what so impressed my husband. He is a rather picky reader. 

I liked it better this time. Having also read Life After Life, I now have a fixed idea that Atkinson specializes in intricate plots though "fiendish" is too much praise in my opinion.

I still lost track of who was who and had to look back to earlier chapters as I read. Luckily it was a paperback and not an eBook. I still didn't care that much by the end who committed which crimes. I still think Atkinson might be too clever by half. But I was entertained, if not quite as much as my husband. The author clearly entertains herself as she writes and that gives a certain something to the reading experience.

Husband read three of the series in a row and then burned out. I may read the next one someday but not right away. We tried having a mini-reading group discussion but decided what suits us better is to discuss as we go when one of us reads a book the other has read.
(Case Histories is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)