Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What I've Been Reading

The Best of January

World War II is one of my go-to topics when I search for new books. This month I had three great books set in Europe during the war.

I found this amazing story in a list of bargain Kindle books and snapped it right up. It did not disappoint one bit. The courage of these mothers in hiding their children during the holocaust! The courage of the children! The courage of the hosts! Wow. I was on the edge of my seat! Also fascinating was the story of getting the word out about such "hidden children" and creating opportunities for them to meet each other, exchange stories and feel validated. I cannot even fathom how any of these people found the courage to do what they did. What an inspirational book. Such Good Girls: The Journey of hidden Child Survivors of the Holocaust by R.D. Rosen.

As an American I count myself lucky to have learned that  in World War II, France fell to the Nazis, that some resisted Nazi rule and that De Gaule became a hero. That's more than subsequent generations have learned. This book really fueled my desire to learn more. We think of the "French Resistance" as artsy types blowing up bridges when trains carrying Nazi bigwigs are crossing them---just like Hollywood depicts them. This time, though, they are women. Wives, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, girl friends. And, though not Jewish, they ended up at Aushwitz and Ravensbruck starving, being humiliated, mistreated, gassed and left to just plain die. This group of French women on that train in winter, however, did all they could to survive. The hardest part of the story was learning that the women my age--gulp! the oldest in the group--died within weeks of boarding the train.. From the few who survived the war, we can learn much about resiliency, the courage and strength true, caring friendship can create and just how much the human "will" can accomplish. As my area was enduring record cold while I was listening to the audio version of this book, I could all too painfully shrink in horror at the thought of standing for hours from 3 am onward in total darkness in subzero temperatures in cotton clothing and maybe not even shoes let alone warm socks or boots. The point was death--to force people to die. But these women did everything they could to persuade and sustain each other in their desire to LIVE.
A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead.

This third book is also about courage--albeit of a different sort than that which lets a woman survive Auschwitz or hide a Jewish child from the Nazis. Aimee, an American, met an married a German aristocrat (albeit one whose family had been in Russia until the aftermath of the 1917 Revolution) before the Nazis came to power. They decided to stay in Germany. Their life was not nearly as hard as she thought--they lived on a large estate, he did not work, though he tried repeatedly to enter the diplomatic service, and they had all sorts of household help. When the war came, while not a Nazi in belief, the husband being of the correct age, served as a junior officer in the Nazi army. The story is told by this couple's youngest daughter--the daughter with the fewest memories of "before" the war who drew on her parents letters for the early parts of the story. Upon learning that, due to American law for the years of their birth, some of her children were "German" to the United States while the youngest ones were "American" made this all even harder for Aimee. Her courage came to the fore in getting her family out of the way of the Soviet Army. In this she acted almost fearlessly and saved her family. There were other very difficult choices, but she faced them. This was an interesting memoir, but it lacked "something." Only in the final days of the war were they really, truly in danger. They were subjected to rationing like everyone else, but still had help, still lived on their estate. She suffered no repercussions for refusing to allow her son to attend one of the "prestigious" Adolph Hitler Schools--an "elite" system of military boarding schools. I truly liked what I read of the husband who served on the Eastern front and had nothing what so ever to do with the concentration camps. He seems to have genuinely NOT been a believer in Hitler which is typical of the old German aristocracy. Still, after reading the other two books at the same time, I just wasn't prepared to see this family's struggle as that big of a deal.
A World Elsewhere by Sigrid MacRae.

Another fun widower book!

I happen to have LOVED Major Pettigrew's Last Stand --the gold standard of widower's tales. Look out Major, Ove is here! Saab-loyalist extreme-o, Ove finds life without his beloved wife to be, well, not worth living.  But then the neighbors get in the way! To say more would be to spoil it all. The ending was a trifle too P.C. but still believable for today's world. We need more men like Ove that's for sure! A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, is not to be missed.

The Rest of February

Sarah Addison Allen is one of my favorite contemporary authors. That makes it even harder to say that this book was a big let-down. Maybe it was the way too-familiar teenage dating angst? Or maybe it was baby-obsessed character? Or the ridiculous carnival guy? Hmmmmm. Can't quite put my finger on it. Her books always have a wonderful not-quite-magical whimsey to them that I thoroughly enjoy. This one just plain lacked that. Technically it is a sequel to her first wonderful book, Garden Spells, but it lacked all the feeling of that story. Her last book, Lost Lake, was much better too. While this book did end better than I anticipated, part of the ending was simply too predictable. I hope her next book is back up to her usual wonderful standard. First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen.

Like A Year of Living Biblically, Rachel Held Evans decided to follow the Bible's "teachings" [some say "commands"] for women as literally as possible. She also drew on the novel, the Red Tent, a completely fictionalized "Bible Story" for her discussion of a women's "time of the month." I did not over-analyze this book--I just laughed and kept reading. Her theology can be debated by those better informed than little old me. I just thought it was a fun read and gave thanks that she wasn't a pencil-thin Manhattan-ite out to make fun of women who believe.  A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

Please leave me a comment and tell me what you've been reading or link to your own reading post. I love to see what other's are enjoying or what I might wish to avoid!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

My response to "11 Things Empty Nesters Want Parents of Little Kids to Know"

Over at the great Huffington Post, Shelley Eming posted a Pinterest-y "make memories" type list of   "11 Things Empty Nesters Want Parents of Little Kids to Know".  I know offer MY version of this list--it's a tad different from Ms Eming's sweet list.

My list is a tad different...

1. Sports practices are for the kid's team, not the parent. Do something else during that time. It's ok to miss a few games--kid needs to learn that he's part of team in sports and must compete regardless of who's watching. [My real advice: Feel free to skip kid sports. Your child isn't going to the olympics or the NBA--statistics bear me out.]

2. You can't film, record or scrapbook every minute of their lives and as Martha would say "It's a good thing." I'm the Mom who forgot the camera [yes, you had to have an actual camera not a phone] for my kid's first school Christmas presentation. Guess what? She doesn't remember it and WHO CARES. Plus, I saved her dress.

3. Don't rush to enthuse over every new passion. They just saw ice skating on tv and love it. Take the family skating some Saturday--don't rush to sign up for 40 lessons. Chances are it's not that big of a passion. You WILL know when they truly ARE passionate and it is likely to be for something you don't expect. If it's legal, moral and ethical then help them with that passion, but don't take it over and micromanage it.

4. Have the other kids to YOUR house. God knows what the other folks may have in theirs.

5. Know where your kids friend's are in their family's birth order. Anyone more than a year or two older see #4 at least until you get to know the other family WELL.

6. Offer them something other than Disney Princesses and other overly hyped media-tie in products. That doesn't mean NO to those, just offer other EXPERIENCES to minimize the influence of these things on their imaginative play.

7. READ and keep reading to them.

8. Listen to them.

9. Don't sit around worrying that they'll be abducted or in a Columbine incident. Relax.

10. Take time for yourself and don't feel guilty.

11. Do what's right for the kid. Bedtime is the #1 item on this list. It's hard to have only a short time after work, but your kid has been at work longer than you have. Bedtime is bedtime.


12. Don't find defiance "cute." You will so regret it.

13. Stop worrying about if your kid likes you. And please, quit saying a Mommy/Son Daddy/Daughter "Date." Just don't. It's creepy. Do things together one on one, but don't call it a date. Therapy looms.

14. Let them fail. Let them fight their own battles. Get involved only if it their legal rights are being violated. Resist the urge to say "How could you have said that nicer?" It's better to let them find out what happens when they don't say it nicely.

15. Resist the urge to let the world revolve around the child. People only sleep with their kids when they are too poor to do otherwise. Sports leagues can be a tyranny to families. Think before you sign up. Say "go play" and mean it. Let them be bored, they'll learn to solve the problem. Keep time for yourself and for your marriage--it matters a whole lot more in the long-term.

16. Say "No" and mean it. It causes maturity to grow.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What I've Been Reading

January is a great month to stay in bed and read! Sub-zero temperatures, snow, short days and long, dark nights add up to the perfect climate for reading.

The Best of January

Do you enjoy programs like the "History Detectives?" Do you know what "Crowd Sourcing" can mean in research? This is the incredible story of a young man who started a novel and ended up living it in real life. This is the true story of how a piece of home movie film from 1938--the "Three Minutes in Poland"--was research, the people identified, survivors reconnected and the whole thing added to the collective knowledge of the Nazi Holocaust. Amazing! I did not get to finish it due to the library's loan period, but will go back to it as soon as I get up the waiting list again. Don't miss this one! Three Minutes in Poland by Glenn Kurtz.

Imagine being rounded up, held captive for a few days and then sent away from your family to begin a new life? That's what happened to Milada  in Nazi occupied Czechoslovakia. At a "Lebensborn" center in Poland she is "re-made" into a model Aryan child and given to the family of the commandant of the Flossenburg. But "Eva," as she is forced now to be known, keeps hope alive of being reunited with her own family and resuming her own life. This is a book for any age--it is marketed to elementary or middle schoolers. The ending is a big less than I'd hoped for, but does not spoil the excellence of this story. It would be interesting to read a real-life comparison, but apparently there are none. This is what historical fiction should be.  Someone Named Eva: A Novel by Joan M. Wolf.

I love the impressionists--their work constitutes my favorite period of art history. Claude Monet and his wife Camille come alive in this excellent historical novel. The genius, the selfishness, the poverty, the heartache--and the love--all shine thru in this story. I came away feeling I had truly spent time with the great artist long-suffering wife. Claude & Camille by Stephanie Cowell

Daphne DuMaurier could create a universe of emotion within the covers of a book. This one, a book club friendly 300+ pages is a story of manipulation and betrayal. A charming woman distantly related to Ambrose and his nephew Philip charms both of them--the attentive younger woman to the uncle, the mysterious and intriguing older woman to the nephew. But things are not quite what they seem. Set in a rather neglected, but comfortable Cornwall estate, this story is a true page-turner not to be missed. My Cousin Rachel by Daphne DuMaurier.

The Rest of January

I've long been fascinated by all types of fundamentalism, regardless of the political or religious creed the espouse. Sima's Undergarments for Women is set in a mostly Orthodox and Hassidic Jewish neighborhood in New York. As the title indicates, Sima sells lingerie--the real stuff that real women wear daily. She fits bras perfectly--altering them when necessary. [Yes, I learned a lot!] The story intermingles her struggle to have children with that of the young woman she takes under her wing as a sort of surrogate daughter. Her stale marriage, a friend's glorious marriage, all get worked into the story. Sima's Undergarments for Women by Ilana Stanger-Ross.

The Romance Reader the story of a frustrated daughter of a Hassidic Jewish family living in rural New York summer community for various Hassidic families. Rachel finds her completely scripted life to be dull and too confining. She knows once she finishes school she will teach for maybe a year and then be married off--probably to the first suitor the matchmaker finds for her. There were too minor annoyances in this story--the drama Mama and the fact that the title has little or nothing to do with the story. Yes, Rachel and her sister sneak secular books, but that's about it for that supposed story line. Overall this was an interesting story that was well told. Mama's problems WERE easy to understand, but Jeesh Lady, get a grip! The Romance Reader by Pearl Abraham.

I wanted to LOVE Florence Gordon. An aging hero of the 70s women's movement confronts old age and the time in her career when "life achievement" awards beckon. Her cranky ex-husband, her son who somehow became a cop, her annoying daughter-in-law are all cognitive dissonance to her world. However, her granddaugher appears and Florence hires her to do a little research. No, no, no--this is not one of those "rediscovering the love of a child" sap-fests. This is an old broad with grit! This was the only part of the story that worked for me. The other characters were too blah to matter and their stories never really "got" me. But Florence and her grandaughter did. Florence Gordon By Brian Morton.

Leave me a comment with some of the books you've enjoyed this month!

Friday, January 09, 2015

Better late than never.. What I read in December 2014

First, let me say how hard it was to choose "the best" this month! Too many great books that left me with lasting "book hangovers." I love to cook and enjoy good food and having TWO excellent food - cooking stories--well! How to decide which was better than the other? You see the problem, I'm sure. Then there were the other excellent reads. 

 The Best of December

Loved it! "Toothsome" does have synonyms, however. And, we don't all know French...translations would be great, but that is a minor point. Happily lacking in cloying  earnestness and no hint of an "I discovered French food" attitude that spoils much of the writing and blogging on the subject.  Plus, having had the goal of entering the Foreign Service, that aspect of her story strongly appealed to me as well. Win-win for both sides of the story. In a word? Delightful. Highly recommended. Mastering the Art of French Eating.... by Ann Mah.

 A foodie book that is part memoir, part immigrant saga, part odyssey of self-discovery--this book is a delight in every way. It could easily have been in my freshman literature course on self-discovery along with the Awakening by Kate Chopin and the French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles and the rest of the books in that course. The author's story is about so much more than delicious Persian food. It helped a good bit that the author and I are close contemporaries in age--I too came of age with the Iranian Hostage Crisis numbered in days each night by Walter Cronkite, but without the emotional pull of being Iranian. I admire her courage in enduring a college dorm at that time. Everything about this book embraced me like a close friend. This is the type memoir that more women need to read. Maman's Homesick Pie by Donia Bijan.

This story, of sisters Rose and Pearl, two Hasidic Jewish girls growing up in New York in the 1950s, is as illustrative of life today for extreme right-wing Christian ("Patriarchal" or "Quiverfull") girls as it is for the ultra-Conservative Jewish girls in the story. Parents and religion control everything. But the ties that bind start to strangle and Rose must act. To say more would be to spoil the story. This is an amazing story, the characters are full-blooded and so real you end the book feeling you've gone along on a real journey--another journey of self-discovery. The Sisters Weiss by Naomi Regaan.

When is a child an adult? At age 17 and some months? On the 18th birthday? Who decides when a child this age must have medical treatment? Does this child "believe" or has he been taught to believe and mouth that beliefs of his parents? Jehovah's Witness parents, their soon-to-be-legally-of-age son, a life-long-higher-achiever of a judge and British law all collide in this excellent story of maturity and how it is defined. Add to this an act of indecent selfishness by an otherwise beloved and decent husband of many years and you have a very compelling novel. I found Fiona ridiculously guilt ridden over one stupid, impulsive act that would never have troubled anyone outside the pages of a novel. Did she cross a line? Yes, but not in the way she thought. She  did not stay detached and on her high bench as judge. When that occurred she should have recused herself and had the case completed by another judge. In spite of this I do recommend it very highly. It IS very compelling reading and as more and more of the religious right divorce themselves from contemporary "chemical" medicine and seek cures with herbs and so-called "essential oils" we will hear more of this sort of case. The Children Act by Ian McEwan

I discovered this gem of a novel in a search for books on the "empty nest" to help prepare myself for what's coming up very soon. Nina Bell's story of the various families who have forged a "family of friends" over the years of the children's schooling rings true in every way. Yes, the characters are a bit stereotyped--the using single mom [Ouch! I hope I haven't been so awful!], the perfect stay at home Mom, the two professional family etc, etc. But these characters were very real to me. Their stories are well-known to anyone in middle and upper middle class suburbia anywhere in the developed world. The struggles to get the kids thru school and into prestigious colleges and high-paying careers, the necessity for ongoingself discovery and marriage reinvention, the taking stock of life--it is all right where I am today. The crisis that come out of nowhere, the bizarre but thrilling interlude [not one I would choose!!] are all so HUMAN, so real. I plan to read more from this author. I also hope there is a sequel to this book--it lends itself to it very well. The Empty Nesters by Nina Bell.

Back in my very dim past I was married outside of my own culture. It is very, very difficult. Not only do you miss out on the rites of passage of one or the other culture, but you must renegotiate everything you took for granted almost daily--at least in the beginning. My admiration for the G.I. brides of World War II (and later of the occupation and the Korean War) known no bounds. At a time when other parts of the world were still truly strange an unknown, they put their faith in men they barely knew and went to a country they couldn't really imagine fully knowing they might never see their own country and their own family ever again. This book tells the story of four such brides--and tells it very well. The joys, confusion, struggles and bewilderment are all here. There are successes and failures. The legacy of these women is their determination, their grit, and their perseverance. G.I. Brides... by Duncan Barrett and Nuala Calvi

The Rest of December

Is there a mother alive today who hasn't wanted to scream at the thought of reading Goodnight Moon AGAIN? I picked this audio book while simultaneously giving thanks that my children were never THAT enthralled with the book and that "too the moon" is not really a saying we use. Still, in the buzzword of the year (my choice for most overused word of 2014) this ICONIC "classic," is given a new spin in Goodnight June. The story of its creation alone is cute and compelling. Its the rest of the story that dumbs it down. A great love story that is nothing but marital infidelity and another great love that just happens by chance? Oh, please! Then the neat tidy wrap-up of the loose ends? Probably not. It was all pleasant, just not plausible. I wish the author had focused on the letters and the scavenger hunt and left the love stories out of it--it would have gone done much better and would have made Bill Gates appearance more appropriate. As an adoptive mother I got my back up at the constant references to the birth mother as "MOTHER" in verbal capitals and the absurd fantasy that someone given up for adoption would want to rush bailout the mother who gave him up. So, read this one for the wonderful story of how Goodnight Moon could have come about and ignore the rest. Goodnight June by Sarah Jio.

I also enjoyed two more books in Anne Perry's William Monk series and the latest installment in Alexander McCall Smith's Number One Ladies Detective Agency series as well as a few very forgettable free Christmas-themed Kindle "shorts."

Monday, December 01, 2014

What I've Been Reading

The Best of November

What's not to love here? A working-class family who lived large, but responsibly, who loved each other and played well together, but also weathered bumps in the road. I like "normal people" memoirs. No one was molested (It IS tragic, I'm not belittling it), no one descended into heroin addiction (ditto) and everyone made it thru each day. Grandparents were people to be loved and enjoyed, food was a crucial part of family life and there was always the Legion for Friday nights. This is the best of the best of non-fiction. If you enjoy books like this then I also recommend fellow blogger Susan Barnett Braun's I Love to Tell The Story. Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Flinn.Highly Recommended.

I just plain enjoy David Nicholls style. I enjoyed his earlier novel, One Day, but liked US even more. This was one of three family stories I read this month told from the husband/father's perspective. While Connie and I had our moments and I did not resolve that, I liked everyone in this story to some degree--even the hitchhiking teen with the accordion. I also loved how this book quickly "told" me who should play which character in the sure-to-be-movie. Bill Nighy MUST play Douglas in the movie and Julie Walters as Connie. Love it when perfect cast presents itself! Don't skip this one! US by David Nicholls. Highly Recommended.

A 50-something school teacher finds himself widowed and back "on the market." He does NOT set out to meet women. He doesn't have to--the kids do that and word-of-mouth. Too funny on the way an "available man" of that age [my age] is pounced on. A guy who had to beg for a date in college will be over run with would-be suitors at this age. I loved Edward's sweet memories of his wife, Bee and his gentle care for her elderly mother. I loved, too, another character in this book who is a champ and that's all I can say without a spoiler! An Available Man by Hilma Wolitzer.
The Rest of November

A high-powered New York couple and their resume-built-from-birth teenage daughter escape to Spain for a two week vacation with family and friends. I liked the gay man who was ambivielnt about starting a family with the man he loves. I also thought the girl friend was a cut above the son. The Vacationers by Emma Straub.

UGH! I LOVE this series, but Patrick Taylor you are BORING ME TO DEATH with stuff that should have an asterisk and a footnote! I don't want stilted conversations that are lifted from a medical text book or, this time, from the Royal Navy handbook for officers. And, jeeze Pete! is there a literate human being who doesn't understand "Davy Jones Locker?" Need we have a Welsh Royal Navy Doctor named, you guessed it! Davy Jones TELL us the meaning? UGH! And if Dr. O'Riley is so smart he can become a doctor why is it he's suddenly forgotten every bit of navy terminology he ever knew? Oh please.....

And why must GREAT series get bogged down in telling us who everyone is and how they met? Are editors really so stupid that they think readers can't consult a "Cast of Characters" in the front of the book????? Subtract all of this garbage and eventually you get to our beloved Kinky, Fingal, Barry, Kitty, Arthur Guiness and Lady MacBeth. What a shame we have to wade thru the bogs to find them. Give us what we love and skip the endless rehashes and jargon already--we don't have to know every silly detail of the ship to understand he's in the Navy.

Please give us the STORY!! I love the interplay of these characters who are now like beloved old friends. Sadly each "new" part of the story recently has been jargon, definitions, newspaper headlines etc. Just write the story. If we don't understand, we'll Google it!

Sadly, we barely get to know Diedre and why Fingal liked her! That's the NEXT book. Please, Patrick Taylor, PLEASE, PLEASE go back to ONE story at a time and STOP with all the definitions and dialogue like [paraphrased] "She's in the Women's Land Army....Oh? Is that what they're now calling the women who work on the land..." Give us the people we love--the people that make this series so delightful. Not specifics of naval guns. THERE IS a wee bit of story in here that's really worth it, but boy do you have to dig to find it. Please stop trying to be trendy and confusing us to death with shifting time periods. Fingal and Deirdre or "current" Ballybuckebo. If we want technical details of ships we can use Jane's Fighting Ships like the story mentions again and again. I miss the series as it was before it took off and made money. Now it feels like he's just milking the money........Let us LOVE this series again!!! If you are new to this series, start here with An Irish Country Doctor. An Irish Doctor in Peace and War by Patrick Taylor.

I also enjoyed two new(er) installments in other series I love: Anne Perry's William Monk in Death of a Stranger and Alexander McCall Smith's wonderful 44 Scotland Street [though Bruce's story was just plain idiotic] Sunshine on Scotland Street. Both of these authors have to also bring their "new" readers into a series at any point, but the do so with a very light touch. I greatly appreciate that.

Threw Back in November:

Just could not get into a book told from the child's eyes. Cute for a few minutes, but by the end of the first audio disc I was rigid with boredome. I may try this one again since I DO really like her other writing.

It wasn't the story it was lines like [an American character] having a "row" with his wife or doing the "washing up." It's fine to tell a story in your non-native country but get natives to pre-read it and save yourself this embarrassment. Like the book above, I may try it again.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What I've Been Reading: October Edition

BEST of October

There is more to the Holocaust than the horrors of the death camps. There are those who escaped that fate and there is what came after the war. Journalist Martin Fletcher, whose voice could reassure the world that nuclear annihilation isn't as bad as we might imagine (his voice is up there with Jeremy Irons in true cooolness) has written a marvelous story of a young Jewish couple who "got out" and survived in World War II London. As they mark each name off the list of family members in the months after the war in Europe the face the realities of survival--neneighbors who want them gone, British Fsacisim rearing its post-war head and Jews wanting to take Palestine for themselves through any means necessary. This one is not to be missed.  The List by Martin Fletcher.

Non-linear storytelling done PERFECTLY. Amazing story--on the edge of the car seat today as I started the second-to-last disc of the audio book. Trying to decide who should be in the movie. I don't know how either would manage as a Frenchman, but I think Robert Bathhurst as the father and Christopher Plummer as the Great-Uncle and Max Irons as Werner...... [Minor point: Mentions tuning in a radio broadcast from Pakistan before it was a country..... no, it is not a minor point to Pakistanis.] All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.

Who doesn't love to go home to Mitford, North Carolina to visit with Father Tim and Cynthia? You'll need to stick with this one--it starts out slow, with way to many recaps of each characters past story lines, but becomes really good. Excellent, in fact. But, do wish she'd not rehash so much of the past. A "Cast of Characters" in the front of the book would be much better at this point --the series is too long to keep making a 1/4--1/3 of each book an explanation of who each character is and how Timothy knows him/her. This made getting into the story longer than normal. In spite of that, it turns into a great read for fans of the series. I did not like how the reader of the audio version voiced Puny--he made her so dumb! I read all of these until "Home to Holly Springs," so I suppose I'm just not used to someone else's way of seeing a character. These are minor points though. This book is everything you want in a visit to beloved old friends--it is warm, honest, true to the spirit and the letter of the series and leaves you feeling very glad you came. Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good by Jan Karon.

I missed the part of the review that said this was for Middle School or early High School, but no matter--it is excellent. It captures the mood of hope that infused the Freedom Summer volunteers as well as the creepy fear that engulfed the state of Mississippi and the entire old south in general in the early 1960s. This is the type book that would get a class of disdainful history students to sit up and take notice. I cannot say enough to recommend this book to its age group--or to adults who don't know where to start in understanding this frightening time in our history. The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell.

I also fell back in love with Anne Perry's irascible William Monk and romped happily thru two more books in the series: Slaves of Obsession and Funeral in Blue. This is my go-to series when I need a cure for loneliness. Love William, Oliver, Hester and Callandra. Love the marvelous names the author comes up with, too--they are among the most anticipated moments of a new adventure. She is so brilliant at naming her characters and I love quirky names, but not the stupid improbably nicknames that seem to be mandatory in fiction today for at least one character per book. Ms. Perry gets the "tone" of names just right in each new adventure. Haven't met Mr. Monk and company? Then start here: The Face of a Stranger. You won't regret it.

The Rest of October

Yet another take on Amish life this month. In Money Secrets of the Amish there IS good information, but the author spoils it by trying way too hard to be glib and clever. Just tell us about their ways and spare us the rest. I ended up skimming the last third of this--I was that eager to escape her annoying style. Such a shame she didn't reign it in and let us really learn from the wisdom she was trying to convey. Money Secrets of the Amish by Lorilee Craker.

"Colorless Tsukuru Tazari" is an interesting study of a one man's ordinary life. His friends, his career, his life do not combine to make him exceptional But then the friends just "drop" him. Why? This book builds the mystery, interspersed with his otherwise ordinary life. Sadly, I "ruined" it by getting the MP3 player setting messed up and landed accidentally on the solution to the mystery. Once heard, I couldn't go back. An interesting way to tell the story. Colorless Tsukuru Tazari by Haruki Murakami.

This little collection of essays came up in a search for a writing project I'm doing. I started listening and was soon hooked. Ordinary topics, presented in a fun manner, by a Mom and her grown daughter. What's not to love? Plus she has dogs, cats, a character of a mother and a life as a published author. In short, I've found a new role model. I'm sad to say I'd never heard of her before this little book, but I will be listening to more audio versions of her work, you can be sure. My Nest Isn't Empty, It Just Has More Closet Space by Lisa Scottoline.

Bored middle class Mommy goes to Nigeria--NIGERIA--for a holiday and it changes her life.Her only child needs therapy and a Mommy who can say "no." Then there's the whole "in Africa" thing. If he'd said it one more time, I'd have thrown the book away. Instead, I don't regret finishing it. It tells a very necessary tale--the tale of what it IS like to be a woman on the outside of a very dangerous society and the tale of the illegal immigrant needing--not merely "wanting"--asylum in a safer country. It is also the perfect illustration of a "First World Problem" Little Bee by Chris Cleave.

Don't Bother

I had such hopes for this book! I so loved The Thorn Birds and Anthony and Cleopatra but this one just wasn't up to her normal standard of story telling. It is billed as a  sweeping family "saga," but was under 400 pages--not very "sweeping" in my opinion. Not much of a "saga" either, since it doesn't really cover more than one generation of the family. Then there's the cardboard characters, the seemingly-obligatory-today character with a stupid nickname, and the sterotypical responses of same. None of the four--two sets of twins with the same father, different mother--stands out in any way. Then there's the truly unbelieveable moment when a Conservative politician, in the 1930s in Australia (a country whose leadership would not accept a twice-divorced woman as Queen...) allows someone to out him as gay in a conversation at fund raising dinner? Please.... It's like that throughout the book. Colleen McCullough is a way better storyteller than this. Bittersweet by Colleen McCullogh.

A book about a Royal AND Churchill would seem to be a perfect fit for me, I know. But this one.... I guessed how "deep" it would be when he referenced the movie "The King's Speech." Did the author not realize that everything the Prime Minister and the King said to each other would never be recorded or revealed unless in their private diaries? He also is very selective in referencing sources of certain statements of comments in spite of presenting appropriate research sources in the back of the book.So, this then is a book about Churchill and a book about King George VI in which he draws vague comparisons between some common experiences  the two men had. In short, nothing new is presented here. If you want to know about working with Churchill read John Coville or Charles Moran's books. Verdict: If you known nothing about either man you will learn a little from this book.

What happened to Ann Hood?? I've loved her book Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine since it was published, enjoyed the Knitting Circle and recently enjoyed the Obituary Writer.

In this book the author has a man "unzip" his trousers before trousers had zippers.....oh well.....no editors anywhere who know history any more I suppose...UGH...We're treated not only to the village idiot walking around with his penis swinging free, but to a description of the penis, too??  Seriously??  I am sick to death of such "interesting" things being crammed into books. What happened to authors who cared about their reputation and to editors who took pride in helping their author's polish their work????? I've never thrown a book back by this author, but this one is going back fast. The Italian Wife by Ann Hood.

Leave a comment and tell me what you read this month. I love to hear what other readers are enjoying--or not enjoying.

Friday, September 19, 2014

What I've Been Reading: September Edition!

The Best of September

I'm not one for many self-help books, or popular religion books either, but when a group I belong to wanted to read it, I joined in. This book really struck a cord with me. I remember buying my second house and needing a lawn mower. I was overwhelmed by Lowe's and Wal-mart. I went to the hardware store on the square in the small town where I was then living. They had a choice of lawn mowers: This one, that one, or the other one. Perfect! [For the record, I bought "that one"].  Nancy Sleeth writes such readable prose and puts such sincere emotion into her words that I was swept along just reading the story. But something else happened. I stopped all along the way to reflect, to remember and, best of all, the VALIDATE the choices I have made along the path to a saner life. No cable, satelite or broadcast tv. (We do watch dvds). No wi-fi (though this is changing -- we have up-to-date phones now and make due with our data plan at home), cooking at home, eating real food, etc., etc.

I did feel that she glossed over some of the problems in Amish life--emotional claustrophobia, genetic defects from closely related people marrying and lack of "new blood," the harsh shunning of those who do not choose to join the church, the mistrust of outsiders, the running of puppy mills, and the often semantic games played over what is and is not allowed. (No electric appliances, but propane stoves and fridges are fine--really??). The rigid structure of occupation, both paid and unpaid, by gender. I felt this needed a more serious discussion, though she did at least look at some of these issues.

I did giggle  a bit at her taking it for normal that, just like in her cool neighborhood in a big-college town, everyone should shop at farmer's markets and support local craftsmen, etc. That's fine and I do--when its available. But we can't all walk where we want to go due to distance. Some farmers markets are overpriced and not well stocked. CSAs are province of the upper-middle class for the most part and much of the country has never heard of one. I'm sure they are the be-all and end-all in a big-college town and I KNOW they are in affluent suburbia, but in the rest of America they are a luxury.

She also seems to forget that all of us do not have husbands how can walk away from a thriving medical practice and the money that he justifiably earns with his talents (I do not begrudge doctors a dime of their earnings--I simply cannot think the way they do and am grateful for their perseverance in all that schooling!) to bankroll our moves to a slower life in a place where a car isn't necessary or at least is only rarely necessary. Many of us WOULD love that, but how do we make it happen? Many of us ARE working toward that, but it may not happen or it may not happen until retirement.

These are small things--I highly recommend this book to anyone searching for a less hectic, more reflective life, for a more caring life,  for more community. I also highly recommend Asbury College--a great little college for anyone, but especially for those interested in Communications majors. State of the art facilities for would-be movie makers, recording artists, writers and other creative types, but in a Christian environment. (And the food is Good!!!) And, I second her recommendation of the More With Less Cookbook and the book Living More With Less.

Almost Amish: One Woman's Quest for a Slower, Simpler, More Sustainable Life by Nancy Sleeth.

I'm not sure how to review this fun book without giving spoilers! Part Harry Potter, party mystery, part almost, but not quite, sci-fi--this is such a great read!!! Just go read it!!! Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan.

The Rest of September......

I've always wanted to go to India. I've read quite a lot of Indian novels (or novels about Indians) so when I saw this series--and saw that it was favorably compared to the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency series--I knew I'd like it! What's not to love about Vish Puri,  middle aged man whose Mother snoops around helping him solve mysteries? I loved it from start-to-finish. I will definitely read more in this series! The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall.

 Americans, if they know any history at all (sadly, that is not a given today) think of the Civil War as the one that may have split families. The Schoolmaster's Daughter presents us with a family eccentric loyalist British schoolmaster and his three renegade "American" children at the time of the Revolution. These "children" are a teenage son, a young adult daughter and an older son and the story follows their actions at the start of the war. Mrs. Paul Revere (the second one) is also included in the characters. I pleasant book, very readable, that tells of a time almost glossed over now in mile wide, 1/16 of an inch deep history courses in school. The Schoolmaster's Daughter by John Smolens.

[Note: Why f-*& mandatory in books these days? And why must seemingly every novel have some idiotic character yammering on graphically about sex? When I read this I felt like a teenager had defaced the book with such a monologue. Admittedly the f---- and one very short graphic sex rant was from a prostitute, but the other such diatribe came out of nowhere, added nothing to the story, and seemed like it was forced in with a crow bar just to titillate--totally unnecessary to the story. Happily, these "ick" moments were barely more than a line or two in total so I say this just to warn the reader, not to condemn the book.)

It's rare that I read the book AFTER watching the movie. I LOVE the Best Exotic Marigold Motel movie--Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy and my favorite--Judi Dench. When I re-watched it recently, I saw it was based on a book. I recalled the tie-in book, but assumed (wrongly) that it was the script made into a book. The book is just as fun as the movie only more believable. (Hands up if you thought Graham's story unbelievable in the movie?) I'm a back-story lover--I like to KNOW the characters, and not just on the surface. I'm no longer sure which I like more--the book or the movie, but I can tell you that I'm anxiously awaiting the Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel movie sequel.The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deoborah Moggach

I've always been fascinated by boarding school and the notion of "an elite" or aristocracy, of privilege and all that goes with it.And, I like to study great men and women and what makes them leaders. The Rector of Justin has all of this. At Justin Martyr, a school like Groton (alumni include T.R. and F.D.R.), Choate (J.F.K.), Andover (George H.W. and W. Bush), founder and revered headmaster Frank Prescott has reached the end of the line--retirement. His successor has been named and things will begin changing. A young man arrives to start teaching at the school and comes to know Prescott and his ailing wife and eventually is chosen to write the great man's biography. The story is told thru the persectives of the people who know Prescott best. They say writes should write what they know and author Louis Auchincloss (a relative of Jackie Kennedy's step-father) attended both Groton and Yale and spent his life among the strata of society profiled in many of his books.The Rector of Justin by Louis Auchincloss.

The problem with writing historical fiction is we know how the big things turn out--in this case we know about germs, about cholera transmission etc. We know that Crimea is a turning point for nursing. But sometimes this leads us to put too much on characters and it makes them too modern to be believable.Rosa stays "just this side" of being too modern--and stays annoying. Mariella is a ninny who finally gets over herself. In spite of this the story is well told and interesting. There is one MAJOR FLAW in this book though. It is another book that made me feel someone had taken the chapters, tossed them in the air, then published them in the order they landed. Non-linear storytelling, in this case, was a HUGE distraction. I got whiplash being jerked back and forth thru the decades.
The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon.

I'm not an Austen freak--in fact I prefer to watch the movies. There. I've said it. I listened to Mansfield Park by Jane Austen having started it before in both audio and print. This time I enjoyed it. I'm slowly working my way thru all of Austen and think I will stick with audio.

I started the Tenant of Wildfell Hall a few years ago but got so confused I let it languish on my kindle unfinished. Finally the right time appeared to try it again. Having gleaned the gist of the way the story was told from a summary I went back to it and enjoyed it thoroughly. My summary? Silly girl thinks she can change rogue into a nice Christian husband and fails miserably. Slinks off to lick her wounds and save her child from depravity by isolating him like a modern day ultra right wing homeschooler!! Ha! Snarky, I know. I enjoyed the book once I understood how it was being told. Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte.

Sadly, I gave up on this. It had such promise, but I've never spent this long on such a short book! It just does not move. That said it is not boring. I can't really explain it. I will likely give it another try some other time, but after more than a month I only reached at page 144.......  The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli.

What are you reading this month? Leave me a comment!!