Category Archives: Flashback

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

Thoughts by Maggie O’Farrell, Blackstone Audio, 7 hours 18 minutes

Challenge: none

Genre/Theme: Adult Fiction; Sisters

Type/Source: Tradeback / Purchased at Half Price Books, I think

What It’s About: Told in flashbacks and from the perspective of three characters: Esme – the youngest sister, Kitty – the eldest, and the granddaughter Iris. Esme has been locked away since she was 16 and now 60+ years later, while Kitty is suffering from dementia in the nursing home. Then there is Iris, the only living relative who owns a vintage clothes shop and pines for her married step-brother. It gets even more complicated when Iris is contacted about Esme when her facility is being shut down. Iris has never heard of Esme and didn’t realize Kitty was not an only child.

Thoughts: Despite the showing of audiobooks this month, I’m still not at my former levels of audio-focus. That or this one just starts confusing, gets muddled and wilding messy in the middle, and might also suffer from cultural unknowns. (Like, what WAS that red cord?! What that MEAN? Do I really know how it ended? I have made assumptions that work for my interpretation of the story, but this would be a terrific one to discuss. With a Scottish person!)

But boy do I love the feisty old ladies. Both of them had feistiness and secrets and regrets and ambition. No excuses for Kitty, but Esme and Iris could have benefited from asking and expressing and having a true exchange of what was going on. Of course, the plot wouldn’t have thickened if they were able to truly share and connect.

She has no idea that her hands and eyes and the tilt of her head, and the fall of her hair, belong to Esme’s mother.

We are all just vessels thru which identities pass. We are lent features, gestures, habits and then we hand them on. Nothing is our own.

We begin in the world as anagrams of our antecedents.

Rating: Four slices of pie. No pie mentioned; a fabulous story idea and not quite convincingly executed. Though a fun ride anyway, I think this one is likely better in print. The stories just bounce between narrator and time with no introduction — it was hard to tell when those changes occurred.

I read this because… I think it was an Audible freebie by an author who has a new book out that looks phenomenal, The Marriage Portrait, which follows a successful Hamnet. Possibly a writer that will go on my “must-read-everything” list.




Thoughts shfbykv Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, RosettaBooks 2010 (orig 1969), 285 pages

For the What’s in a Name 7 Challenge.
Number in Letters category
First book of six.

A reread. First experienced in the early 80s.

FIRST Sentence:  “This all happened, more or less.”

What’s it ABOUT: This is a book about one guy’s experience in World War II, specifically about being an American POW, witnessing the bombing of Dresden, living a normal life after the war and time travel. Tell me again, what is a normal life?

“And so it goes.”

What’s GOOD: Vonnegut’s “la di da” tone of ambivalence towards everything, tragic and not, and yet still being able to call attention to the true horrors of war. He states things that happen with little added emotional emphasis. He is sympathetic but not sentimental.

It is comic in many many places. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this non-linear, meta-fictional, historically educational (accuracy is debatable), crazy story full of fascinating characters. This book is listed 18th on the 100 best English-language books of the 20th century (Modern Library, 1998).  It has been often criticized and banned from schools and people have gone so far as to claim the time-travel elements ‘don’t work’. (See the Wikipedia page, Criticism section.) Whatever – how do they know if time travel works?! I enjoyed it very much. I love time travel books.

RATING:  Five slices of pie. Grape and Peanut Butter Pie.  photo-78

I adored and devoured all of Vonnegut’s book when in High School. I don’t remember why so I wanted to revisit a few. I *think*, maybe?, that Cat’s Cradle was my favorite. I wish I had kept a book blog then. I can’t even find much mention of the books I read in any of my journals.

Are you a Vonnegut fan? Have you seen the movie of this book?

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Re-Reading The Book Thief

Some more thoughts…   The Book Thief by Mark Zusak, Alfred A Knopf New York 2007 (imprint of Random House Children’s Books).  Originally published in Australia 2005 by Picador, an imprint of Pan Macmillan Pty Ltd, Sydney; 550 pages.

Since this is a re-read and not even one that I had picked for the Re-Reading / Flashback Challenge but one that I picked up again because my IRL bookclub chose it for this month’s selection, and now having rambled into some kind of extensive sentence of which I cannot seem to grasp a good way to wrap up, may I point you to my original review  thoughts post on the first time I read this awesome book?      From eleven months ago…

I STILL love this book.

I have not been the kind of person that re-reads books.    This was partly due to my being much more motivated to read new-to-me books — all those classics that I’ve always thought I *should* read or hot new titles that beckon with pushy enthusiasm.    I never read for “comfort.”     I hate to know what is going to happen.

But then I re-read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I had always adored my first-read experience with CS Lewis’  The Chronicles of Narnia and  I wanted it fresh in my mind when the movie came out.

I was so disappointed.   I can’t remember what exactly I was disappointed by but do know that it had lost its magic.   I was then shattered and so sad.   I felt that I had RUINED my memory of the joy of discovering the world of Narnia.      I vowed never to re-read a book again.

Until I decided that such a stance was silly.

And along came this year’s re-read challenge and I thought I would try the concept again.

AND…   The Book Thief. I still think it is full of awesomeness.     And I bawled my eyes out.

[from early in the book, page 80:]

She was the book thief without the words.

Trust me, though, the words were on their way, and when they arrived, Liesel would hold them in her hands like the clouds, and she would wring them out like the rain.

[updated about five minutes after posting this post to add that I’m just now reading Zusak’s thoughts at the end of the book and I’m crying again!]


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Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.

Thoughts Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret. by Judy Blume, First Copyright 1970 / A Dell Yearling Book 1986, 149 pages

MOTIVATION for READING:     I selected this as one of my four RE-READS since I rarely ever re-read a book and this is one of those few books I recall reading as a youngster.     I wondered how my 40+ yo self would react to a book that my 12 yo self loved very much.

WHAT’s it ABOUT:    Seriously?     Raise your hand if you don’t know what this book is about!     Well, OK.    It’s about a pre-teen girl named Margaret who moves from the city to the suburbs and makes new friends, wants desperately to ‘grow up’ (and out, at least in the bra category) and conducts a research project of religions since her parents haven’t exposed her to any and her grandparents are quite eager to lay claim to her spiritual heritage (her maternal g-parents whom she has never met, mind you, want her to be Christian; her paternal grandmother is Jewish.)

I didn’t remember the religious aspect of this book – I only remember the frank discussions about menstruation.

WHAT’s GOOD:    Blume captures well the angst and awkwardness of youth.    I loved that Margaret was such a curious and brave kid, a smart kid.    The religious stuff was presented fairly balanced and without obvious influence, not in-your-face.

WHAT’s NOT so GOOD:     Can’t think of a thing wrong with this.  I must have had an updated version because I didn’t note anything too out of date (?!) – although I do recall a brand reference that seemed out of place.   I enjoyed diving back into my childhood brain and looking around.    Nothing too emotional or scary was dug up, so WHEW!    all’s good.    This is one book I *KNEW* I read so it has had years of staying power.    I am pretty sure I read more books by Blume so we can easily cite her as an early author favorite.     Not too far after this book – which wouldn’t you agree was a ‘community’ book meaning we passed it around through the group till all of us read it! –   I went on to read VC Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic after this and THAT is one I don’t have the guts to re-read.

FINAL THOUGHTS:   This was easy and quick so not too taxing for me to breeze through.    I enjoyed it.

OTHER REVs:   For some fun and interesting takes on this book, check out these from around the blogosphere RHAPSODY in BOOKS, she is too fond of books, The Zen Leaf, or check out Fyrefly’s Search Engine .

OK, I’m now more than half-way through this challenge!     Jane Eyre and Wind, Sand and Stars up soon…   or sometime before the year is up.


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More Mrs. Dalloway

When I wrote last week’s post “Not Yet Mrs. Dalloway – just so I would be included in the Read-along – I was only about 50 pages into my reread.    I was leaving for a weekend away in the mountains of New Hampshire (with time to finish the book).   Once back on Monday, I was able to enjoy all the excellent insightful posts collected from various first time and multiple reads of this interesting novel from all over the book-blogosphere.

The next Woolf in Winter discussion is scheduled for January 29th over at  Emily’s blog:  Evening All Afternoon featuring To the Lighthouse.     I am so glad I decided to peruse the stacks at the library last week despite trying to interlibrary-loan it.    I was shocked and saddened that according to the system, no copies of this in any form were available.   Yet there it was on the shelf so I grabbed it!   woo hoo – yea me.

I want to keep talking about Mrs. Dalloway!   I’m rating this FIVE PIE SLICES this time around and I’m thankful for the Flashback Challenge for giving me the push to pick this up again.     I very much enjoyed the beautiful prose and the imagery of the passages;    I loved the sense of place and time;  I loved being inside peoples’ heads and I was amazed at Woolf’s skillfully depiction of how current events and memories swirl together for interesting thought processings.      

I actually intend to read this again.     Not anytime soon, perhaps but in a few years?    Let it fade again and allow me to experience a re-awakening to its charms.

But what I did do this past Saturday was click the Instant Play from of the movie version featuring Vanessa Redgrave.       I really liked it.

Similar to my reactions and the intro to the movie Lolita*, I was struck by the wondering of just how are they going to film something that is so much inside peoples’ heads?!

It was well done and it fit my Saturday mood perfectly.   I thought Redgrave portrayed  an excellent Clarissa and she came off cheerier, I think.   The voice-overs were a big part of the movie but not it’s main method for conveying the story (I was worried.)    On a negative side, the conflict between Clarissa and her daughter’s tutor did not come off as hostile as it does in the book.      I also did like the actor who played Septimus – he did an excellent job.    Overall, a charming adaption for such an ambitious task.


I hope to re-watch The Hours film, someday soon, too.    And a friend and I have agreed to read a bio of Virginia Woolf together.    I think I’ve jumped into a project!   🙂

With that said, I’m off to go To the Lighthouse now.



*  The Stanley Kubrick film of Lolita starts off with the repeated voiced and printed  question of “How can they make a movie of Lolita?!”

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Not Yet Ms. Dalloway

Thoughts   Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, Harcourt Inc 1925, 194 pages

*****   WOOLF IN WINTER DISCUSSION JAN 15 at Sarah’s Blog ********

Unfortunately, I am scheduled away for most of Friday and into Saturday so this fun discussion will have to start without me.     AND I still have over 100 pages to read as I type this up and schedule for January 15.

So I’m going to do my own stream of consciousness rambling right here that may not have the eloquence and beauty of Woolf’s amazing prose but will discuss my thoughts of why I am reading this, why I read it originally, why I am RE-reading this, why I love it and perhaps I will even address some of the questions from the Reader’s Guide in the back of the book.   Shall we get started?   I’ll warn you:   this may get very very long.   I’m just going to pour out whatever is in my head and let it be.   Good luck.    I will not in the least be offended if you decide to skip out and buy your own flowers for a party somewhere else.

What flowers would you buy if you were planning a party?   I would buy daisies.   Big bright happy daisies…

Around 2000 or later, after reading Lord of the Rings in time to see the movies, I looked for a similar reading project and discovered everyone talking about Michael Cunningham’s The Hours.   Perfect!    Just what I was looking for.   And so, I decided to read Mrs. Dalloway first.

I remember thinking the pacing was so fast!   I remember thinking I should start again and read it immediately (I didn’t.)   I have always thought I should re-read it and so when The Flashback Challenge was suggested, I put it on the list.    When I discovered other book bloggers were planning on the Woolf in Winter, I knew NOW was the time.

I have a track record of really slacking on my reading in January.     Rather the first two weeks…    But WOW!   to jump into Clarissa’s day and follow not just her thoughts as she leaves the house and loves to walk in London and everyone wonders which member of royalty is in that car that just drove by, but get a glimpse in the heads of poor Lucretia feeling so very alone, protective of her husband, angry at the doctor who pooh-poohs her that there is anything at all the matter and her missing Italy so.    It just reminds me of how swirly in my head my own thoughts get and how much I have to do and how little I get done and does it really matter.    Self recognition – recognizing thoughts and judging if the thought is worthy.    It’s exhausting.

Of course it matters!    That’s what Ms Woolf wants us to recognize.    Each snap of a thought synapse, every memory that pops up, any silly inconsequential event that lies buried in time just may have had a huge difference – or not- in how our lives unfold.

As my husband likes to say, everything we do is like a drop in the water and we can watch or miss the ripples that go out endlessly over the ocean…

I don’t have any understanding or recognition of how startling this was as an experiment in novel form, but I love to be inside people’s heads.   I believe Woolf is masterful in Mrs. Dalloway to bring along the reader and see/feel/experience her fears and doubts and regrets.    Of course, she couldn’t have married Peter!   Oh, what a disaster that would have been.   But.    Oh the passion she missed, yes?

*** I’m still at the point when he barges in to see her while she is mending her dress.

[And, of course, her servants like her.    She has time to mend her own dress; she needn’t take the servants away from party prepping duties to attend to her  ooops!  ripped green dress that she could wear anywhere.       And those pangs of jealousy – not being invited to lunch.   Darn.]

She looked at Peter Walsh;  her look passing through all that time and that emotion, reached him doubtfully; settles on him tearfully;  and rose and fluttered away, as a bird touches a branch and rises and flutters away.

She hasn’t seen him in twenty years but it’s plainly obvious that rarely a day goes by in her perfect little life that she doesn’t somehow think of him.   She wants to talk about the old days and hold on to strange memory of the fun and energy of their youth!  But Peter hates to be reminded of what he had then; and then have to give her up and see her marry that ‘respectable gentleman.’   Oh what they both missed out on…

“Well, and what’s happened to you?”  she said.  So before a battle begins, the horses paw the ground; toss their heads; the light shines on their flanks; their necks curve.  So Peter Walsh and Clarissa, sitting side by side on the blue sofa, challenged each other.

Woolf creates with such IMAGERY!    such sweeping emotion in few words, short sentences and really long sentences full of semi-colons.   You must jump in the river and let it carry you where it will.     Every word feels easy yet deliberate.   Every paragraph is carefully constructed.    It’s only a few thoughts, a few moments in time.

Omigod!   There is SO.  MUCH.  HERE.    I’m 50 pages in and I want to talk about Peter, her daughter, her health issues, and Septimus’ madness.   and SALLY!

My memory is faulty.     I have never been a re-reader of books but maybe I just wasn’t ready – whatever that means.    I can’t say I’ve every really tried to re-read.  (is the dash needed?   re-read or just reread?)      and yet this book has one of the most famous of first lines.    I would only guess how I think I might be able to just recall how the rest of this goes – so I won’t.  ha!     Yet it is familiar.

I’m enjoying the richness of the detail.   The going back and forth of what is happening and the private thoughts of those experiencing what is happening.     Something yet is going to happen!     Something dreadful?     Likely some kind of miscommunication and misunderstanding – dotdotdot.     I only vaguely recall how the Septimus story line crosses with the party and all it’s goings-on.   It was that stupid doctor, right?  casually mentioning what crap he had to deal with (or didn’t really have to deal with) that day.       Makes me mad.

If I were in a writing workshop and it was suggested we take a day in the life  – I could do it.      I would be able to do this stream of consciousness, build the background and wrap it around the drudgery of a few hour’s tasks, cross it with activities at my neighbor’s house* and let the two worlds collide.     But it would be too close.   too raw, I think.

No, I couldn’t, wouldn’t do it.

So I’ll just decide to stare up into the sky and see what the plane is trying to write in puffs of smoke…   It is a “T” and then an “O”…  wait for it – yes, it’s a “F” and then another.    TOFFEE.   It’s an advert for toffee candies.

And we miss what we were waiting for anyway.   Staring up into the sky…    “Life is what happens when we are busy making other plans.”

I think I’ll buy myself some daisies.

Prayers for all in need.

Prayers for all in need.

*    Not to change the subject or anything, but I both want to share what weighs heavy on the heart and I don’t – I’m sure you understand.    And the tragedy in Haiti is also heart-heavy.   Isn’t that such a great way to say it?   Great as in big, not as in wonderful.      If you have read Mountains Beyond Mountains, you are familiar with Dr. Farmer and the amazing organization called Partners in Health that addresses health concerns all over the world.   I mention PIH because I believe that they have the resources available and already in place to do much to help the Haitian people and I encourage anyone/everyone to contribute to their work.   Thank you.      Listening to A Wrinkle in Time was good for me – I finished it Thursday.      See?   I have changed the subject some more.

For Reading Challenge(s):     Woolf in Winter, Women Unbound, Flashback, Global:  Europe



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The Hobbit

Thoughts   The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, Houghton Mifflin 2007 (orig 1937), 320 pages

MOTIVATION for READING:   Challenge(s)!  In my Flashback Challenge post,    I explained that I cite this book as the catalyst for my love of reading.    My 5th grade teacher read it to us and it was then I realized that I didn’t have to read ‘kids’ books anymore.    I believe I jumped headlong into an Agatha Christie obsession.

Back to ‘now’ times, I also signed up for a Read-A-Long for Lord of the Rings. But I’m only doing this one book, and not LOTR.   (eeeek!  I know, I know) and I see that I was supposed to wait and read this in January, though.    This was a library book.


On to Eva’s questions

When did you first hear of The Hobbit? What made you decide to join the read-a-long?

I had already committed to this when I found out about the read-along.   When I FIRST heard about it was in 5th grade (um, 1975?!)
Have you read it before? If so tell us about that experience.

No, I had not read this with my own eyeballs.   My 5th grade teacher, Mr. Neuman, read it to us.

If you’re new to The Hobbit, do you have any preconceptions going into it?

It’s not new to me.    AND…  I read LOTR when I heard the movie(s) were being made.   I was on a HUGE read-the-book-see-the-movie kick in those years.

J.R.R. Tolkien pretty much founded the modern fantasy genre. So let’s take a moment to think about the genre as a whole; have you always loved fantasy? Or perhaps you still feel rather skeptical towards the whole idea of wizards and dwarfs and magic? What was your introduction to the genre?

This looks like an interesting time to ask myself the question of why it took me so long to read LOTR!?    I don’t have an answer.     Yes, I enjoyed The Hobbit but not for its genre but for showing me that I didn’t have to read books from the kids part of the library.      I did love Narnia but for some reason never got on a path of reading similar books.    Like I mention above, I jumped into the mystery worlds of Agatha Christie and then was probably in Jr & High School assigned reading (ugh Hemingway, double-ugh Steinbeck) and then Kurt Vonnegut?  and Danielle Steele!!   Once I hit college, I stopped slowed reading for pleasure – didn’t have the time – too busy studying math and science.     I might have to give Tom Clancy a mention for getting me back to fun books…   I read The Hunt for Red October and then on…

Reading my answer, do you think I avoided the full question?   yea, me too.    I don’t think I was totally aware of genres or gave it much thought…  before book blogging.    I still don’t have a grasp of what is ‘out there’ in the fantasy category and what I might like to read.    I think I’m more into contemporary fiction but I do like to dip into other worlds now and then.

Do you have a certain plan for reading it? A few pages a day, spacing it out over the month? Or are you just going to race through it? Let whimsy decide?

I read The Hobbit on my trip from Mass to Kansas for our week-before-Christmas Christmas trip.    I can read in the car (yippee!) and I was delighted.     The characters were familiar yet the story seemed fresh. Timeless! My one gripe is that since it was a library book, the book cover was taped on and I could only glimpse at part of  the maps on the inside covers…


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