Friday, September 28, 2012

The Siren of Paris

As is often the case when I read a new book, I Google a term or two to check on some things. When I first started to read The Siren of Paris by David LeRoy, I thought that the title of the book could refer to both meanings of the word 'siren', so I double checked definitions of this word.  A siren is, of course, a device producing a loud, often wailing sound as a signal or warning.  Having seen many films about World War II, the sound of air raid sirens immediately makes me feel anxious and filled with dread.  And when I Googled 'Paris sirens' (and skipped over the entries about Paris Hilton's perfume, Siren),  I learned that in Paris, France, and in other European countries, sirens are tested once a month in the national alerts system, and would be used "for real" to warn people in the event of nuclear war.  The French signal, I've read, sounds like the traditional air raid warning.  (I hope Europeans get used to these tests, that they become less frightening with recurrence.)  A siren is also: a woman regarded as seductive and beautiful (who may be dangerous, like the sirens in Greek mythology).  This would be Marie in the book, Marc's love interest, a nude model who poses for art students in life-drawing class, and who seems to grace the book's cover.

Published in 2012, The Siren of Paris is the author's debut novel, a story about World War II.  The book starts as a long flashback from the protagonist's grave to tell Marc Tolbert's story, which begins in 1939, when he leaves America and travels to Paris to pursue his dream of becoming an artist. Young and free, he becomes friends with an older woman, Dora, who introduces him to an elite group that includes Sylvia Beach, the owner of the bookstore Shakespeare & Company.  Marc accepts a job with William Bullitt, the U.S. ambassador to France, and meets leaders of other countries.  

The Siren of Paris is a war story unlike any other that I've read, because it's about the German occupation in Paris. While reading this book, I could hear the distinct, ominous sirens in my head. This novel is finely-crafted historical fiction about World War II,  and it had a firm hold on my attention throughout. It's a war story, and it's also a love story.  At École Nationale Supérieure, Marc finds himself increasingly attracted to the alluring nude model, Marie.

I admired LeRoy's intelligent and lucid writing, although some of the descriptions of war events,  "relived" by Marc, are difficult to read, as you'd expect.  However, sometimes I wasn't quite sure if what I was reading was supposed to be a dream, or real; time frames were blurry and unclear to me at times, although this could have been intentional; it was a bit confusing, although it did not detract too much from the novel. Marc seemed suspended between life and death, and between the past and present. This gives the book a dreamlike quality, although the brutal and senseless realities of war are illustrated on numerous pages.

"The door flew open to Marc's cell, and he woke to the guards screaming at him.  He struggled to stand at attention.  The same drama played out over and over again nearly every hour for three days, until finally, the door flew open, and Marc did not stand.  The guards dragged him from the cell and kicked him in the hallway.  Marc then woke up."
~The Siren of Paris, David LeRoy

La guerre, c'est l'enfer.

Thanks to Stephanie Ward and David LeRoy for including me in this book blog tour for The Siren of Paris.  Comments are welcomed.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Forgetting Tree: Review and Giveaway

Even before I saw the gorgeous cover, I was interested in reading Tatjana Soli's new book, as I relished her first novel, The Lotus Eaters, published in 2010, my first novel about the Vietnam War.  In 2010 I was also fortunate to interview this gracious author, while she was working on her latest book. The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli is the author's second novel, which was published earlier this month.








"Alone, the last of the sun on her skin, the moment took Claire back to her early days, peeling an orange as she walked through the rows of trees, dropping a confetti of rind behind her, eating the sun-warmed fruit, the girls small and playful as puppies, running in their coveralls through the trees--seeing eternity down the rows the long way, seeing only the bushy trees across--yelling, laughing, You're it!  You're it!  You're it!"
~The Forgetting Tree, Tatjana Soli

The Forgetting Tree is a novel about the life of Claire Nagy.  Claire relinquishes her literary education to follow her heart when she marries Forster Baumsarg, the son of California citrus ranchers.  Living on the ranch in Southern California, she develops an intense, lasting love of the land.  Early in the book, Claire experiences a horrific, heartbreaking loss at the ranch.  As time passes her entire family suffers, and she has ongoing problems with her two daughters, Gwen and Lucy, as well as marital difficulties.  Even when Claire is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, Claire's determined to stay on the ranch.

To be a good writer, you need to have style, and you need to have substance.  Tatjana Soli's new novel is rich in both style and substance. Beautifully written, sensuous, and profound, The Forgetting Tree is a book about relationships, including the relationships you have with yourself and with your surroundings (in this case, the citrus ranch).  The cast of characters in this novel--and I use the word 'cast' purposely because the book is cinematic--especially Claire, Forster, Gwen, Lucy, Octavio, Don, Mrs. Girbaldi, and, of course, Minna,  enact a story that's haunting, offbeat, and surprising at times.  Claire's caregiver, the mesmeric Minna, is a particularly alluring character; she helps Claire in numerous ways, and reignites Claire's "lost" love of literature.  Claire aptly rereads Wide Sargasso Sea (a book I've coveted since reading about it on The Reading Life). 

The Forgetting Tree features unexpected yet elegant illustrations by the author's husband, Gaylord Soli, which tie into the story well.  I could go on and on about this new novel, The Forgetting Tree.  Instead, I implore you to read it yourself, and provide a chance for you to win a copy of the book.

St. Martin's Press is generously offering a copy of The Forgetting Tree as a giveaway (U.S./Canada only).

  • To enter this giveaway, simply leave a comment.
  • For another chance at winning, become a follower of this blog, or let me know that you're already a follower.
  • For an additional chance, post about this contest on your blog, Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter.

Enter by 5 PM PDT on Monday, October 1.  One winner will be selected randomly and announced on Tuesday, October 2. 


Special thanks to Lisa from TLC for sending me an advance readers' edition of this book (and for this reason, the lines quoted above may be different in the final version of the novel). To read more reviews of this book, please visit the other stops on TLC's book tour for The Forgetting Tree.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

New Feature! A Guest Post by Madeline Sharples

Today I'm thrilled to begin a brand new feature on Suko's Notebook, original guest posts by writers.  Author, poet, and web journalist Madeline Sharples has written an exclusive guest post for my readers.  Her new book, published in 2011, Leaving the Hall Light On: A Mother's Memoir of Living with Her Son's Bipolar Disorder and Surviving His Suicide, is a book I expect to find both affecting and insightful. 

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In Her Own Words: A Guest Post by Madeline Sharples 

Now that I’m a published author people are always asking me about what books I would recommend to everyone.  That is a tall order.  I think our reading choices are very personal.  Besides I’m not a very good person to ask.  I seem to fall in love with the book and author I am currently reading.

Right now I’m reading Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, and even though I find the character Steve Jobs someone I’d never want to meet personally – he was a little brusque to put it mildly – his story is incredibly uplifting and motivating. This man could make things happen that were not even possible.  He had that kind of attitude.  He’d tell his brilliant employees they could do something they totally believed they could not, and guess what?  They ended up doing it.  Since I grew up with computers – from the large ones that filled up huge rooms in the aerospace company where I worked, to the first cumbersome text editing systems I tested, and now to the marvels of the products Job’s created, this was definitely a book for me. I loved every word of it.

Another book I loved this year was Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I think Foer is totally original. He uses graphics, he writes about very smart precocious children, and his story about Oskar’s search for the lock that his father’s key opens after his father dies during the September 11 attack makes me cry.  That Oskar is the narrator gives this book more poignancy.  Sure it is clever, it is gimmicky, but why not?  He’s a young author of the twenty-first century.  And old as I am, I can still relate.

A few years ago, I was very taken by Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, her story about her first year after her husband’s sudden death.  I experienced magical thinking after my son died in 1999 – even though I never for a minute believed he would or could really come back to me.  Didion’s book is raw, passionate, stunning.  I believe nothing less should be expected in a memoir.  She tells the truth and her inner thoughts and feelings.  I only wish she had done the same in her memoir about her daughter’s death, Blue Nights.

Others books I gravitate to are about strong women.  Even as a child I loved A Little Princess and The Secret Garden, both by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Then as I got older I raided my parents’ bookshelves and read Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor and my favorite book of all time, Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.  Amber and Scarlett – both great names – were strong-willed, feisty, and outspoken women who fought endlessly and ruthlessly to get what they wanted. Other books on that list are Mrs Dalloway and LolitaLolita mainly for the beauty of the writing although Lolita was a very strong-willed character.  And, if you haven’t heard Jeremy Irons read the audio version, you’re really missing out.

One other book stands out on my list. It is the book I’d suggest everyone read: Remember, Be Here Now by Ram Dass, in print since its initial release in 1977.  It’s about spirituality, yoga, and meditation.  But the lasting message for me is live in the now: don’t look back, the past is over; it is little more than story, and don’t look ahead.  The future doesn’t exist yet – except in your mind.  Such a simple message yet so hard to achieve.

So whatever you read, just enjoy.  Maybe you’ll also fall in love with the book you are reading now – until the next one comes along.

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Madeline, thanks for sharing some thoughts about books--the perfect topic for this site! You've given us some wonderful contemporary and classic recommendations.  I'd definitely like to read Steve Job's biography--I'm deeply interested in what makes a person excel, and I'm a huge Apple fan.  I've read a handful of the books you mention--including Mrs. Dalloway, The Secret Garden, Gone with the Wind--and I read Be Love Now, a more recent book by Ram Dass.  Best of luck with your book! 

Leaving the Hall Light On is available at many places, including Dream of Things.  Your comments are welcomed.  If you're an author and would like to write a guest post, please contact me by email

Monday, September 10, 2012

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

From: Suko
To: My Readers

Here I go again, writing in epistolary form.  I'm writing this as a letter, because I've just read Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple, published in 2012, a book comprised of communications such as email messages and letters, with the exception of the words of the book's youngest main narrator, 15-year-old Bee, who writes in regular text.  I also wrote my review of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Annie Barrows in letter form, so I hope you will not be too dismayed that I'm doing this again.  Honestly, it's so much fun to write in this way that I could not resist; I discovered this when I had to write a secret letter to my daughter before she embarked on an overnight field trip on the Star of India ship in fourth grade.  It was great fun to draft a dramatic, fictitious letter (which included a made-up allusion to a relative with a drinking problem) to be read out loud by the captain.  So bear with me, dear readers!  Maria Semple's book simply reminded me of how pleasurable it is to write in this way, which seems to give a person more freedom to be inventive.

So what did I think about this book? Before I reveal anything, I need to give you a bit of background information.  A few years ago, I read and reviewed Maria Semple's first novel, This One is Mine.  Over this past spring (and into the summer), I started watching episodes of Arrested Development (my "new" favorite show, which I find absolutely hilarious), and eventually noticed Maria Semple's name in the credits. To me, this was an astonishing discovery, as a new fan of the show.  I wanted to interview her.  Well, she graciously declined the interview but generously offered to have her agent send me a copy of her latest book. I was fine with that.  Her new book had already received a plethora of very favorable reviews, so I felt lucky to be getting a copy.

My dear, patient readers, I will take advantage of you no more. What did I think about Where'd You Go, Bernadette--the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?  It would be all too easy to resort to the simple, unsophisticated ways I described the book to family members (who may well have doubted my integrity as a semi-professional book blogger) while I was reading this book with the quirky title, using the most nondescript and ordinary statements such as, "it's really good", or "it's really funny".  But you know what?  It really is.  My family heard me chortle (charming word, eh?) more than a few times. The characters are both engaging and endearing, and I enjoyed the story being told in multiple perspectives, from the points of view of Bee, Bernadette Fox, Elgie, Manjula Kapoor, Audrey Griffin, Soo-Lin Lee-Segal, Ollie-O, and others.  It's a very clever and creative way to present the story of ex-architect and MacArthur genius award winner Bernadette Fox, now an agoraphobic mother with a virtual assistant in Delhi and a low tolerance for "gnats", who has disappeared just prior to the family's planned excursion to Antarctica.  It may sound utterly wacky, but truthfully, this book is extremely entertaining, nothing short of brilliant.  It was fun to read, and remarkably funny.  Among other things, Maria Semple makes fun of the main setting of the book, Seattle (where the author lives), but, no worries--this only whetted my desire to visit this great city (the birthplace of Amazon.com and Starbucks!). 

Maria Semple does what she does best with this book: entertain!  Where'd You Go, Bernadette is one of my favorite books of the year so far, and certainly, the funniest.  And it reminded me of something to always keep in mind as a writer: you need to entertain.  You cannot be boring.  Not even for a nanosecond.

Thanks for reading,
Suko

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Really Random Tuesday #53: September, a Book Winner, and Reading Resolutions

The breezes taste                           
Of apple peel.
The air is full
Of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
Burning brush,
New books, erasers,
Chalk, and such.
The bee, his hive,
Well-honeyed hum,
And Mother cuts
Chrysanthemums.
Like plates washed clean
With suds, the days
Are polished with
A morning haze.
~September, John Updike


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The randomly chosen winner of the delectable novel The Color of Tea by Hannah Tunnicliffe is Jinky from Jinky is Reading.  Please help me to congratulate her! If you didn't win this particular giveaway, please take a look at the other exciting book giveaways I have listed on the right side of my blog.








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~Some Random Book-related Thoughts and Resolutions~
  • I am not reading enough.  I need to set aside more time to read, if only in the evenings. (As autumn approaches, it's supreme to anticipate reading with a lit, fragrant candle on a nearby table, enhancing the experience.)
  • I need to complete the reading challenge I created, The Jodi Picoult Project.  After I read one more novel by Jodi Picoult, Sing You Home, I'll host a giveaway in celebration, as I've mentioned before.  
  • I will read more for pleasure and less out of a sense of obligation to anyone else.  This means not accepting as many books for review from authors, agents, and publishers.  I'm selective about what I read, and will continue to be that way.  
Do you have any reading resolutions to share?

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Appearing on random Tuesdays, Really Random Tuesday is a way to post odds and ends--announcements, musings, quotes, photos--any blogging and book-related things you can think of.  Often I announce my book giveaway winners in these posts.  If you're inspired by this idea, feel free to "grab" the button for your own blog, and leave a link to your post in the comments.  For other recent Really Random Tuesday posts, please stop by Peppermint, Ph.D., Vivienne's blog, Serendipity Reviews, and Sam's blog, Booked on a Feeling.

Your comments are welcomed, as always.

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Some of the books reviewed here have been provided
to me free of charge by authors, publishers, and agents,
in exchange for my honest reviews.