September 25, 2012

San Miguel by TC Boyle

San Miguel

San Miguel by TC Boyle
Viking Adult / Penguin September 18, 2012
Hardcover, 384 pages
1880s and 1930s, San Miguel (Southern California)
Reviewed by Genevieve Graham; 4 stars

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Women, a historical novel about three women’s lives on a California island.

On a tiny, desolate, windswept island off the coast of Southern California, two families, one in the 1880s and one in the 1930s, come to start new lives and pursue dreams of self-reliance and freedom. Their extraordinary stories, full of struggle and hope, are the subject of T. C. Boyle’s haunting new novel.

Thirty-eight-year-old Marantha Waters arrives on San Miguel on New Year’s Day 1888 to restore her failing health. Joined by her husband, a stubborn, driven Civil War veteran who will take over the operation of the sheep ranch on the island, Marantha strives to persevere in the face of the hardships, some anticipated and some not, of living in such brutal isolation. Two years later their adopted teenage daughter, Edith, an aspiring actress, will exploit every opportunity to escape the captivity her father has imposed on her. Time closes in on them all and as the new century approaches, the ranch stands untenanted. And then in March 1930, Elise Lester, a librarian from New York City, settles on San Miguel with her husband, Herbie, a World War I veteran full of manic energy. As the years go on they find a measure of fulfillment and serenity; Elise gives birth to two daughters, and the family even achieves a celebrity of sorts. But will the peace and beauty of the island see them through the impending war as it had seen them through the Depression?

Rendered in Boyle’s accomplished, assured voice, with great period detail and utterly memorable characters, this is a moving and dramatic work from one of America’s most talented and inventive storytellers.

San Miguel, a windswept, miserable, lonely island in the middle of nowhere, shapes the lives of three very different women in this beautiful example of Historical Literary fiction. This is not a romance and not a particularly plot-driven story, and while some traditional fiction readers may find this more of a meandering read, the bleak canvas of San Miguel is painted with a vivid depth of colour.

We know from the first chapter that our first storyteller, Marantha, isn’t going to make it. She is dying of consumption, living a painful, guilt-ridden existence which her husband believes will be improved by moving their family to the fresh air of San Miguel. She’s become a bitter, pinched creature, but TC Boyle dives into her twisted heart and finds the yearning she tries so hard to kill.

On the island, Marantha’s life worsens tenfold, and yet she finds in herself a resolve she’s never known before. Her daughter, Edith, will do anything to escape San Miguel. She watches her mother die, watches their lives fall apart, and refuses to allow her life to be squeezed into the same constraints. Her romantic ature takes her into the arms of an awkward boy who will never know more than San Miguel’s harsh shore, and her impulsive nature leaves him behind to dream about her.

Fifty years later, Elise (unrelated to the other two women) moves to San Miguel with her husband, Lester, who loses his mind during their time spent on the island. She does all she can to maintain a normal, roductive life, even bringing their family somewhat of a celebrity status when she shares their unconventional education of the couple’s two daughters. Lester’s insanity is fed by a burning need to feel useful, which he is not. When WWII approaches, his desperation drives him to a terrible end.

TC Boyle’s prose is simply beautiful. His characters are powerfully honest and the settings are drawn with such impeccable detail it is impossible not to get sucked into all three stories. The reader is placed, whether they want it or not, on the lonely island of San Miguel. I, for one, both loved and hated the island, both pitied and raged at the characters. Boyle’s gift is reaching so deep into the reader’s mind and heart that it’s impossible not to be affected.

Reviewer Genevieve Graham started writing when she was in her forties, inspired by the work of the legendary Diana Gabaldon. Her first two novels, “Under the Same Sky” and  “Sound of the Heart” were published by Berkley Sensation/Penguin US in 2012 and have met with enthusiastic reviews. The third in the series, “Out of the Shadows” will be released Aug/Sept 2013. Genevieve writes what she calls “Historical Fiction” rather than “Historical Romance,” meaning she concentrates on the stories and adventures, and she doesn’t turn away from the ugly truths of the times. Romance binds her stories together, but it is not the primary focus. Genevieve also runs her own Editing business and has helped dozens of authors with their novels.

September 20, 2012


Here Be Dragons (Welsh Princes #1) by Sharon Kay Penman is the winner of our poll for the next read along!

Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England's ruthless, power-hungry King John. Then Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce with England by marrying the English king's beloved, illegitimate daughter, Joanna. Reluctant to wed her father's bitter enemy, Joanna slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband who dreams of uniting Wales. But as John's attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales--and Llewelyn--Joanna must decide to which of these powerful men she owes her loyalty and love.

A sweeping novel of power and passion, loyalty and lives, this is the book that began the trilogy that includes FALLS THE SHADOW and THE RECKONING.  
Visit Sharon Kay Penman's site for a more detailed description here.

Based on the all the fabulous reviews on Goodreads, this is going to be an exciting historical read, and I hope you will join us! First published in 1985, some of you may have read it, and we still welcome you during our discussion posts here at HF-Connection later in October, and maybe even you'll be eager for a re-read?   This is a chunky book at around 700 pages, so it will take a little longer for some of us, but I was hoping for around two weeks, which is an average of 50 pages every day. But a fellow read along participant suggested stretching it to three weeks in case things come up for some of us.

There are no clear divisions in the text such as 'Parts' so I am just going by Chapter count.

The tentative schedule:
10/13/2012 START YOUR ENGINES!! Be sure to have your copy by this date, so you can start reading.
10/19/2012 Friday: First Discussion post goes up. Try to read up to around Chapter 17, which is page 212 in my edition (shown above).
10/26/2012 Friday: Second Discussion post goes up. Try to read up to around Chapter 37, which is page 453 in my edition.
11/2/2012 Friday: Final Discussion post goes up. This last third of the book will have a few more pages, but perhaps we'll all be racing to the finish and be able to finish about the same time here.

The posts will go up as scheduled, and if you have to catch up and come back later to the post to comment that is fine. There are no rules, but of course we would like to maintain a conversation online about the chapters we hopefully all have just read! And those who have read the book can read again, or comment along, just taking care to not spoil the parts we have not gotten to. Spoilers for what we are scheduled to have read are allowed of course.

I will make another post closer to the Read Along, just to double check who will be reading along and as a reminder to everyone. At this point, you should order your copy of Here Be Dragons so you can participate! Who's on board?

September 10, 2012

POLL: Read Along Choices

We are ready to get a schedule set for our Fall Read Along at HF- Connection! We had recently thrown out some ideas... and so here we are with the official poll for those who really think they would like to participate! Here are the choices that we have come up with  (Click titles to go to their Amazon site):

Katherine by Anya Seton
This classic romance novel tells the true story of the love affair that changed history—that of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the ancestors of most of the British royal family. Set in the vibrant 14th century of Chaucer and the Black Death, the story features knights fighting in battle, serfs struggling in poverty, and the magnificent Plantagenets—Edward III, the Black Prince, and Richard II—who ruled despotically over a court rotten with intrigue. Within this era of danger and romance, John of Gaunt, the king’s son, falls passionately in love with the already married Katherine. Their well-documented affair and love persist through decades of war, adultery, murder, loneliness, and redemption. This epic novel of conflict, cruelty, and untamable love has become a classic since its first publication in 1954.

Here Be Dragons by Sharon Kay Penman
Thirteenth-century Wales is a divided country, ever at the mercy of England’s ruthless, power-hungry King John. Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, secures an uneasy truce by marrying the English king’s beloved illegitimate daughter, Joanna, who slowly grows to love her charismatic and courageous husband. But as John’s attentions turn again and again to subduing Wales---and Llewelyn---Joanna must decide where her love and loyalties truly lie.
The turbulent clashes of two disparate worlds and the destinies of the individuals caught between them spring to life in this magnificent novel of power and passion, loyalty and lies. The book that began the trilogy that includes Falls the Shadow and The Reckoning, Here Be Dragons brings thirteenth-century England, France, and Wales to tangled, tempestuous life.

The Reluctant Queen by Jean Plaidy
In 1470, a reluctant Lady Anne Neville is betrothed by her father, the politically ambitious Earl of Warwick, to Edward, Prince of Wales. A gentle yet fiercely intelligent woman, Anne has already given her heart to the prince’s younger brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester. Unable to oppose her father’s will, she finds herself in line for the throne of England—an obligation that she does not want. Yet fate intervenes when Edward is killed at the Battle of Tewkesbury. Anne suddenly finds herself free to marry the man she loves—and who loves her in return. The ceremony is held at Westminster Abbey, and the duke and duchess make a happy home at
Middleham Castle, where both spent much of their childhood. Their life is idyllic, until the reigning king dies and a whirlwind of dynastic maneuvering leads to his children being declared illegitimate. Richard inherits the throne as King Richard III, and Anne is crowned queen consort, a destiny she thought she had successfully avoided. Her husband’s reign lasts two years, two months, and two days—and in that short time Anne witnesses the true toll that wearing the crown takes on Richard, the last king from the House of York.

Rose Without A Thorn by Jean Plaidy

From the pen of legendary historical novelist Jean Plaidy comes an unforgettable true story of
royalty, passion, and innocence lost.

Born into an impoverished branch of the noble Howard family, young Katherine is plucked from her home to live with her grandmother, the Duchess of Norfolk. The innocent girl quickly learns that her grandmother’s puritanism is not shared by Katherine’s free-spirited cousins, with whom she lives. Beautiful and impressionable, Katherine becomes involved in two ill-fated love affairs before her sixteenth birthday. Like her cousin Anne Boleyn, she leaves her grandmother’s home to become a lady-in-waiting at the court of Henry VIII. The royal palaces are exciting to a young girl from the country, and Katherine ?nds that her duties there allow her to be near her handsome cousin, Thomas Culpepper, whom she has loved since childhood.

But when Katherine catches the eye of the aging and unhappily married king, she is forced to abandon her plans for a life with Thomas and marry King Henry. Overwhelmed by the change in her fortunes, bewildered and flattered by the adoration of her husband, Katherine is dazzled by the royal life. But her bliss is short-lived as rumors of her wayward past come back to haunt her, and Katherine’s destiny takes another, deadly, turn.

Please vote in the poll in the right sidebar to cast your choice!!

If you are on a mobile device and cannot vote, please comment and we will count your vote as long as you tell us you are unable to see the poll in the sidebar.

We will probably start reading October 13 and then host some discussion posts along the way after that for a few weeks. Hope you want to join us!