Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sorry for the long lag folks:

I have just finished "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver. One word . . . AMAZING! It's a non-fiction piece chronicling Kingsolver's family's move from Tuscon to the Appalachian foothills in order to live more closely to the earth and to eat locally for a year. Kingsolver's language is beautiful and funny and real. Her eldest daughter Camille contributes recipes and commentary. Her husband, Steven Kopp, adds the socio-political, global perspective. Her youngest daughter, Lilly, raises chicken and runs a thriving egg business.

Needless to say, I was so very inspired by the end of the first chapter of this book, I have started planning my winter garden, acquired a bread machine (and have started baking my own bread) and am quizzing every food vendor where their food was grown. I may have gone off the deep end. The bread is good though. I'll let you all know about the gardening.

Friday, July 06, 2007

I'm Back!!!!

Reading friends, I'm back and I have a stack of books to share with you, some very good, some not so much. No matter my opinion, I always love to hear what you think, so be sure to comment if you have read any of the same books.

The first book on my list is one I just finished by the pool today. I started it last night. It's a short book. It's titled The Handmaid and the Carpenter by Elizabeth Berg, the author of such books as The Year of Pleasures and Open House, both of which I enjoyed. This book is a retelling of the Christmas narrative, focusing on the engagement period and early marriage of Joseph and Mary, Jesus' parents. It's a sweet love story, but it left me strangely unsatisfied. There was just something missing. Of course, the book is really, really short, how much depth can you put into 153 pages?

My friend Tammy gave me a couple to read as did my reading enabler Dianne. I also left the library with four books yesterday, the aforementioned love story in the stack. Check back with me in the next few days and I'll share my favorites! There are two that are must reads!

Monday, April 09, 2007

Back from Buffalo and back in school which only can mean one thing . . . no more fun reading for a while. So, my fellow book loving cyberfolk, please accept the last three reviews until June (unless I can sneak something great in between paper writing and other scholastic-type endeavors).

Today's theme: the known and the unknown. I picked up three books at the library before I left for Buffalo: two by authors I have read before and really, really liked and one by an author I had never heard of before, but the title was intriguing and I liked the picture on the book jacket. (Note: that's how I choose my wine and my football picks too! Never underestimate the power of excellent pictures!) The two known quantity authors were Tracy Chevalier, who wrote the very good Girl with a Pearl Earring and Jane Smiley, author of A Thousand Acres and MOO, both excellent books. Chevalier did not disappoint me with her book The Virgin Blue, a story of midwifery, marriage and the mystical union of past and present. I was fascinated with Ella Turner and Isabelle du Moulin, the two protagonists of the story. Not always pleased with them, but fascinated nonetheless. This book is definitely worth a shot. Smiley, however, disappointed me so very, very much with her story of the whiny, wealthy, navel-gazers of Los Angeles in Ten Days in the Hills. Besides the tediousness of the dialogue, the excessively graphic sex scenes were unnecessarily abundant. I mean really, do I really need that clinical of a description of genitalia in all states of being? Yikes. I was really ready for this novel to be over and yet I obsessively had to finish it.

The new author for me is Chris Bohjalian and the book is Before You Know Kindness. This book is the story of a New Hampshire family, the Seton's, and about the repercussions of a single cartridge left in a hunting rifle one July night. Fantastic characters, fluid plot and realistic dialogue. Also, one of the characters works for a PETA like organization and the description of organization and their motivations were really, really interesting. I would highly recommend this one as a book club read. If you read it, let me know what you think. Also, I am starting my summer reading list, so if you have any suggestions, please oh please leave them in the comment section. I will post the list for everyone to see and use.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Elif Shafak was arrested and charged for crimes against Turkey for writing her novel The Bastard of Istanbul. Apparently, the government felt that Shafak's story of two young women, one Turkish and one Armenian-American, was anti-Turkish in nature and defamatory to the Turkish culture. Huh. Yes, all the characters in this novel were inherently flawed, but so are all those who claim humanity. Except Donald Trump, of course. He claims to have no flaws whatsoever. Again, huh. In any case, I found this novel to be interesting. The characters wove together as beautifully and as complex as the design in a Turkish rug. Are there such things? Maybe I'm thinking of a different rug. Nevertheless, a look into a culture so obviously not interested in being looked into.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Admittedly, I'm not much a fan of the mystery novel. I'm not averse to them, I'm simply not drawn to them either. Thus, it was a mystery to me when I picked up The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard. A mystery that revolves around the dynamics of a small town and the relationships therein and what happens to all of those when a naked teen-aged girl is found frozen to death in the snow. No one claims to know who this girl is and she is buried in the town cemetery with a simple headstone that reads "Peace Be Unto You". Not long thereafter, people start attributing small miracles to this young girl whom they have started referring to as "the Virgin". Her grave becomes a pilgrimage of sorts and the circumstances surrounding her death seem to fade as far away as her true identity. It is a good book, but not one that I would walk around the library trying to push upon people. If you like this sort of thing, give it a shot.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

A long time ago I read the book The Red Tent by Anita Diamante and loved it. Just recently I read another of her books The Last Days of Dogtown (blog posting 2/21/07) and liked that one too. So, because I was having a hard time thinking of anything to look for at the library (hint, hint, I need suggestions!) I decided to head to the "D" section and find anything else by Ms. Diamante. I picked up her book Good Harbor. It's the story of two Jewish women who live in the seaside town of Gloucester, one full time and one for holidays. The women become friends and walk through life together, high and low points. The characters are sometimes lovely women, and mostly believable. The dialogue is real and nothing is too saccharine. Still, it is less rich than the other two novels, but a sweet read nonetheless. Perhaps a book to take on vacation with you? I can imagine reading this in a cabin or a beach house. Definitely by water and with a tasty beverage.

Also found while wandering through the San Jose Public Library, a series of books from Canongate Publishers (as if that means anything to anyone, except of course to the lovely folks at Canongate . . . sorry if I offended!) that are retelling of world myths by modern storytellers. One word for you friends . . . CAPTIVATING. The first two I have read are Dream Angus by Alexander McCall Smith (The #1 Ladies Detective Agency Series) and The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale). Both are amazing tales. The first is from a Celtic myth of Angus, the son of a god and a naiad, who brings dreams to mortal creatures. Wow. Smith has an amazing gift of weaving language in a way that is dreamlike and wonderful and makes you long to be sitting in front of a fireplace listening to him tell the tale of the boy who brings dreams. The second is a much darker story in which we get an account of what Penelope was doing in all the time Odysseus was away rescuing Helen from Paris of Troy, from Penelope's point of view. Atwood has a much heavier hand than Smith does, when retelling a story, but no less effective. The Penelopiad is presented as a Greek tragedy, complete with a chorus made up of Penelope's twelve maids who were hanged by Odysseus upon his return. Wonderful. I had a tough time putting either of these down.

Friday, March 09, 2007

The last two books from Dianne:
    1. Avoiding Prison and Other Noble Vacation Goals by Wendy Dale -- Essays/Memoir by a young woman with a genetic tendency to wanderlust about her time in Central America with a boyfriend in prison and their quest to clear his name. Funny and smart, it was a quick read.
    2. Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress by Susan Jane Gilman -- You might want to cross your legs while reading this one. I laughed so hard as Gilman describes her childhood as the daughter of progressive, Jewish hippies living in a predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood in New York City during the 70's who really only wear her tutu and grow up to be something that ends in "-ess" (stewardESS, princESS). So, so funny. Seriously, I think you'll laugh.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Does anyone else listen to "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me?" on NPR? It's a witty news quiz program that airs on Saturday mornings at 11:00 a.m. on our local NPR station. (http://www.npr.org -- for an air time near you). In any case, one of the regular panelists on the show is Paula Poundstone, a comedian who, a few years back, got arrested for child endangerment when she was caught driving drunk with her three children in the car. They were going out for ice cream. Probably rum raisin. I think she is hysterical, sober or drunk, although I don't know her well enough to tell the difference. Nevertheless, she has written a book entitled There's Nothing in This Book That I Meant to Say. It is FUNNY! What she did is she wrote short biographies about famous people like Joan of Arc and Abraham Lincoln and interjected her own thoughts and connections to her own life as a part of each piece. This makes for somewhat disjointed thoughts and connections that really stretch, but once you get the hang of her stream of consciousness, you will find yourself laughing aloud as you read. At least I did. Maybe it's because I like rum raisin ice cream. Maybe you like rocky road. You still might think it's funny. If you like vanilla, maybe not so much. Whatever, if you read it, let me know what you think!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

First things first, the La Fouace aux Noix was wonderful. I have to tinker with it next time I bake, but it was a loaf of walnutty, yeasty goodness!

Now for more books from Dianne:

  1. Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld -- Chick lit goes to boarding school. A beach read.
  2. Hotel Babylon by Anonymous and Imogen Edwards-Jones -- Any book by anonymous leaves me suspect. This was supposed to be an "insider's look" at the operations of a luxury hotel in England. Fascinating, but went nowhere fast. I have to admit, though, the next time I checked into a hotel after reading this book, I had novel flashbacks. Another beach read.
  3. Random Family by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc -- A journalism student follows a family from the Bronx for eleven years. She chronicles the drugs, sex, love, death and poverty that encompasses this tangled web of a family. Do not read looking for a feel good ending, or a feel good middle or even a feel good beginning. This is an intense piece of work. Do not be afraid of it either. It is a book that will come back to you over and over, in the most unexpected of places. Let me know if you read this one. I really, really, really would love to hear what you think.

Monday, February 26, 2007

I love bread! I love the way bread smells, the way it tastes, the way it feels when I touch it. I love to bake bread. Fruit breads, whole wheat, sourdough, squishy wonderbread . . . I love it all. Bread rocks and if it weren't for all those nasty carbohydrates, this woman would live on bread alone. That said, I just finished a book about bread baking called The Baker's Apprentice by Judith Ryan Hendricks. Apparently, it is a sequel to a book called Bread Alone, but I haven't read that one. This book is good, not great. A nice diversion. What I did like about it is the main character is a bread baker and there are lovely descriptions of her product and a few recipes interspersed in the text. I have the La Fouace aux Noix or hearth bread with walnuts in the oven baking right now. I will let you all know how it turns out. The dough didn't rise very well, so it could be a brick in the aforementioned hearth. We'll have to see.
The next book I have for you is also a nice diversionary read, albeit pretty predictable. Elizabeth Berg's The Year of Pleasures is the story of Betta, a retired children's book author, whose husband passes away and leaves her the instruction to sell their home and go find a place to start over that is off the beaten path. She does and this book is about the year that follows his death. She ends up in a small town with it's usual cast of characters: the fellow widow, the quirky radio show host, the single mom and her adorable son. Berg is a lovely author, I truly enjoyed her book Open House, and this book is just as enjoyable. Some accurate descriptions of grief, albeit a tad melodramatic and the whole thing wraps up a bit too neatly. A good book for it's niche.

As ever, let me know what you think of these books if you have read them and if you have any suggestions. . . please share!!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Back from Quebec and have four FABULOUS books for you to check out:
    1. The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant -- The latest book by the author of The Red Tent is about the demise of a cold New England hamlet (I have always wanted to use the word "hamlet" in a sentence.) and the rebirth of it's people through the town's death. Spellbinding.
    2. London is the Best City in America by Laura Dave -- I picked this one up from the library on the merit of the title alone. What an interesting look at relationship that is so not the usual relationship book. Highly recommended.
    3. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri -- Magical. It gave me a new perspective on the immigrant experience without descending into the victim perspective so common in that genre of novel lately. So beautifully written, so wistful and melancholy. This is for sure on a must read list for anyone who is looking for an excellent book. I think this would also lend itself well for a book club.
    4. The Master Butcher's Singing Club by Louise Erdrich -- Wow. This is one of those novels that I wait for, without knowing that I am waiting for it. Mystical but not wierd. Beautiful and sad and heartwrenching. Thank you Kelly Schoenberg for lending this one to me. I will be thinking about this book for a very long time after closing the cover. Read this book.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

I have decided to take the winter quarter off of school and you know what that means . . . UNLIMITED READING OF NON-SCHOOL BOOKS! My most excellent friend Dianne gave me a Safeway bag full of books that she liked and I devoured them all. Thus, my next few posts will be sharing with you all those wonderful reads.
The first book I recommend to you is The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander. This book details the last days of Tsar Nikolas and Tsarita Aleksandra from the perspective of their 14 year old kitchen boy, Leonka. Besides being enthralled with this period of history, this book interested me in that the entire time I was reading it, I was sure that what I was reading really wasn't what what happening. There was a sense of anticipation of something unidentified yet to come. Whether that ever came to be or not, you'll have to read for yourself. I really, really enjoyed this book.