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Am still reading The Rent Collector by Camron Wright. Oh my. This book has so many layers: (1) the young, impoverished couple and their infant son who live, literally, in a dump in Cambodia and about the precarious structure, if you can even call it that, that comprises their “house” in the midst and perched on top of trash; (2) the woman who collects the rent (hence the title and yes, people have to PAY to live there); (3) the young son’s chronic illness; (4) how they make a living out of collecting and selling trash; and (4) the life saving grace and wisdom imparted by characters in the book as the young mother begins to learn to read. If you decide to read this book, please don’t stop at about page 15-20, thinking you just don’t know if you want to read about this. Please continue. It’s so worth it. Have a highlighter pen in your hand because you’ll find so many quotes you will want to remember. Believe it or not, there is also quite a bit in this about literature.

Recently finished C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel). I just love Box’s novels. They take place in present day semi-wild west, and chronicle the fish and game warden, Joe Pickett, as he unravels another crime in his territory. A woman has disappeared, and the governor has asked him to figure it out. He does, but the tale meanders through multiple layers of intriguing story. His books are riveting. Men and women enjoy his books – so if you have a fellow in your life or family that would enjoy an intriguing book (this is not espionage) then gift him one of Box’s books.

Also finished Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. About a dysfunctional family, through and through. I picked this up from amazon from someone who read the book, named “McReader,” and she says: “Set in the 70s, the story follows a Chinese American blended family in Ohio. When Lydia [the daughter] is found floating in the lake, her family is forced to analyze what put her there. Was it pressure from her family to succeed? Was it pressure to fit in? Was it a crime of passion or convenience? I was spellbound reading the last half of this book. I loved each flawed family member, especially Hannah,. While the story went where I hoped it would go, I was not disappointed at all with the progression. It was also quite insightful on the prejudices that society had about Chinese Americans still during that timeframe and how careful parents have to be to put their dreams onto their children.” Such a good book and definitely worth reading. Would be a good book club read. You’ll be hearing more from this author. Am currently reading her next novel, Little Fires Everywhere.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant. A very, very intriguing book. The book is written from the voice of a Jewish grandmother as she tells her granddaughter the saga of her life starting about 1910, who struggles with her own individuality, with her domineering mother who never says a kind word to her. It’s certainly a coming-of-age story as she grows up, finds a job, makes friends, joins a literary girls club, moves out, but still suffers under her mother’s thumb and tongue. She becomes a reporter on a local newspaper, which opens her eyes to more of the world than she ever knew. She finally meets the right man (of course!) and she shares the stories about her life, and her friends and family members as she grows up, giving some sage advice along the way. Part of the time she’s talking to herself – to her young self  (really wanting to tell young Addie to keep on, forgive herself for her perceived transgressions, to live life, and experience the world).

One of the best books I’ve read in a long time – Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers. Rivers is a prodigious writer of Christian fiction, and I’d never read anything by her until now. As I write this, I’ve already read this, another one (below) and just purchased the Kindle trilogy called Mark of the Lion (Vol 1-3) that I haven’t yet started. (Two of my friends have said the trilogy is her best.) Redeeming Love details the fictional story of a godly man, Michael Hosea, forging his way in the era of the Gold Rush. He’s “driven” to rescue a beautiful prostitute who lives and works her trade in a nearby town. The entire book is about the story, the rescue, and it parallels a bit of scripture about Hosea who rescues a prostitute names Gomer. You get into the heads of both Hosea and the prostitute, named Angel. We read this for one of my book groups. A great read.

As soon as I finished the above book I promptly visited my church library and found a whole shelf of Rivers’ books, and grabbed one called The Atonement Child. This book takes place in the 1980s or 90s, about a young college student who is raped. She was engaged to be married, was a stellar student. The book chronicles what happens to her when she discovers she is pregnant from the rape. Every possible thing goes wrong in her life. I don’t want to spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it, but I couldn’t put it down. I ended up spending a good part of a day plowing through it. You hear her inner voice (I’m guessing this is a common thread in Rivers’ books) from a Christian perspective. Lots of meaty issues to discuss in a book club if your group would be interested and willing to talk about rape, abortion, adoption and the thorny issues surrounding all of those things, but with a Christian bent, for sure.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen. It’s kind of amazing how many and varied plot lines can be created from events of WWII. This is another one, about a current day woman who finds papers in the attic, after her father’s death, with references to “the child.” She never knew her father could have had another child – could she have a step-sibling somewhere? Her father she knew, had been shot down over Italy, but he never talked much about it. But of course, she must go to Italy to find out about this “child.” The book flips back and forth from this daughter on the search, to her father during the war, all of it taking place in a very small town in Tuscany. It’s about the varied people she meets who want her to go away and not dredge up anything about the war years (are they hiding something, you question), about how much she loves the landscape, and some of the people. And about the intense love affair between the injured pilot and a caring woman of the village. Very charming story. I could almost smell the flowers, taste the olives, hear the bees flitting, and loved the prose about the simple meals that were described. I really enjoyed the book. Perhaps not enough meat for a book club read, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it nonetheless.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Almost a page turner. When one uses the phrase “coming of age,” it usually means (I think) love and loss/boyfriend/girlfriend, and in this case it’s somewhat that way. When Ethan, a 17-year old boy and his mother come home unexpectedly to find dad and his young secretary in a compromising position, all hell breaks loose. Separation happens instantly and just as his father moves out, his mother has to go take care of her aging mother. Ethan’s too young to be left in the NYC apartment alone, so Mom sends son to the father who is escaping from the world in Wyoming, living in a primitive A-frame house, and continuing his daily 20+ mile running journeys. Ethan and his father are barely speaking. They live in the middle of nowhere. Ethan feels betrayed by his father in every possible way, and somewhat by his mother for forcing him to live with his father for a temporary period. Then his father doesn’t return one day from his run. The authorities do a cursory search, but they are under the impression the dad wants to “get lost” on purpose. Ethan, although he thinks he doesn’t care, really does. What happens next is best left to you reading this book. Very interesting people (kind of loners) enter the picture and off they go to search. So worth reading.

The Girl With No Name by Diney Costelhoe. What a good book. Perhaps you’ve read before about the huge numbers of German refugee children who were sent to England before Hitler closed down any exits. This is a novel about one particular young girl, who is devastated when her mother puts her on one of the boats. She ends up in London, in an orphanage kind of place, and is eventually placed with a childless couple. She speaks no English. They speak no German, but they manage soon enough. Lisa (who eventually becomes Charlotte) is so homesick. She’s bullied at school, because most people and children don’t want any Germans there. A boy steps up to protect her, and as she grows up, she’s attracted to him. She shouldn’t be – he’s also German and from her own home town. He’s not a good match for her. You live with her through the blitz during all those war years and during one attack, she’s badly injured and loses her memory (and no ID on her). Through a series of mishaps she ends up in a village far from London, with a spinster woman who does eventually come to love her very much – they name her Charlotte and Charlotte she becomes. She goes to school there, still longing, though, for her mother and brother and her London foster family too. Then when she’s 16 she returns to London to help at the orphanage where she was originally placed and tries to find her foster parents. The story goes on from there, with the boy/man who “wants” her, the bad boy, and a good boy/man she befriends in the village in the country. Eventually she regains her memory. SUCH a good read.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee. If you, like me, know little about North Korea and how it came to be what it is today, you’ve got to read this book. It’s a memoir written by a young woman who escaped from North Korea about 9 years ago. Her journey – and I mean JOURNEY – is harrowing, frightening, amazing, heart-rendering all at the same time. She chronicles the lives of the Kims (Kim Il-Sung, Kim Jong-Il to current Kim Jong Un), shares the strict propaganda that surrounds every North Korean citizen, the poverty and hunger, as well as the underground black market for food and goods. It took her awhile to get from North Korea, to China and eventually to South Korea, where she currently lives. She’s well educated and speaks English quite well. She was invited to be a speaker at a TED talk – you know about those, right? TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a media organization which posts talks online for free distribution, under the slogan “ideas worth spreading.” I listen to them as  podcasts now and then. Always very educational, if sometimes over my head when it gets very technical. She works diligently for human rights now, doing her best to help other North Koreans escape. You owe it to yourself to read this book.

Also just finished reading The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Another WOW book. I’ve always liked the author – many years ago I read his book, Midwives and really liked it. Don’t confuse this book with the one I recently read, The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas that I reviewed recently. I think we read it in one of my book groups. He’s a brilliant writer, and this one has a lot of characters and twists. It’s a novel, but based on a lot of truth regarding the Armenian genocide. Most of the book takes place in Aleppo, Syria with some good Samaritan folk trying to help rescue people (mostly children) following the forced long marches the Turks made prodding the Turkish Armenians to exit their country. But it also jumps to near present day as a family member is trying to piece together obscure parts of her grandparents’ former lives there. She uncovers some hidden truths (many survivors of the genocide never-ever-ever wanted to talk about it) and a bit more about her Armenian heritage. A riveting book – I could hardly put it down. Lots to discuss for a book club read. I simply must read more of Bohjalian’s books (he’s written many).

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke. All I can say is “wow.” In a general sense, this book is based on the premise of The Pilot’s Wife. But this one has some totally different twists and turns. A young wife is met at the door by police, informing her that her husband has died in an auto accident. Then she finds out he died in Hawaii – not Kansas, where she thought he was, on business. Then she finds out there was a woman in the car. Then she meets the fiance of the woman passenger and the two of them embark on a fact-finding mission in Hawaii to discover the truth. Well, I’m just sayin’ . . . the plot thickens. And thickens. And thickens clear up to the last few pages. Hang onto your seat. A really, really good, suspenseful read.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes. What a WONDERFUL book. It opens up a shameful part of America’s past, but one you might not have heard about before this. In the late 1800s thousands of Chinese workers were brought to the West Coast to help with a variety of construction projects and a myriad of other things where laborers were needed. Many settled, married and made a new life for themselves. But suddenly the white population didn’t want them here anymore and they summarily ordered them ALL out of our country. This book chronicles a young Chinese girl, who was on a ship that was supposed to take her family to China, but the ship’s captain decided en route to dump them all overboard, to drown. The girl’s father knew it was going to happen and in order to save her, he threw his daughter off the ship as they were passing Orcas Island (in the San Juan Islands west of Seattle). She was saved. The book switches from that time to current time as a woman is rebuilding her family’s home on Orcas and finds a beautifully embroidered silk Chinese robe sleeve hidden under a stair step. The book is about that sordid past and the young girl’s descendents, and about the woman who is rebuilding. Stunner of a novel. Good for a book club read, I think. It has a reader’s guide at the back with good questions for book groups.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.


Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Books, Travel, on August 6th, 2014.

Product DetailsWhile I was on this recent trip, I did quite a bit of reading. Every night, trip or not, like clockwork, I read for 20-30 minutes before I fall asleep. And because I’m having a problem with my foot (did I say I have a stone bruise on my heel from wading in the river on the camping trip a few weeks ago?) I had to rest my poor heel sometimes in one museum or another. My Kindle went with me in my purse throughout the trip so I always could sit and read if I could find a place to sit. (I’m seeing my GP this week about my heel, though I’ve read there’s not a lot that can be done for stone bruises.)

I’ll be writing up several books in my left sidebar, as I always do, about my most recent good reads. There will be at least three, of which this is one. But I decided to do a post about it because it was just so interesting.

You knew, of course, that Louis Comfort Tiffany was the Tiffany glass and lamp man. Right? You knew that, of course you did!? Tiffany and Co., the jeweler that we all know, was his father’s, Charles Lewis Tiffany. You’ll learn everything you never thought you’d care to know about the making of stained glass windows and lamps if you read this book. But it’s not boring in the least.

Susan Vreeland, the author, has written several books, the most notable probably Girl in Hyacinth Blue. She also wrote Luncheon of the Boating Party. I think her newest book, this one, Clara and Mr. Tiffany: A Novel is her best one yet. Just an FYI: she has another book soon to be released called Lisette’s List: A Novel. The latter can be pre-ordered. I just did.

The setting of this Tiffany novel is the design studio and glass factory owned by Louis Comfort Tiffany. He’s middle-aged, married with daughters, wealthy (mostly from his parents) and he is somewhat of an art visionary. With little or no financial sense – he’d always had money and thought nothing of spending more, never giving a second thought to whether it would be there forever.

The heroine in the book is Clara Driscoll. She’s a no-nonsense kind of frugal woman with a big independent streak in her and a sad marital past who needs a job. She works for Tiffany, and over the course of many years, she begins to help with designs. Mr. Tiffany grants her some leniency with her ideas, and eventually she takes on the project of designing the first Tiffany lamp, with the very iconic upside-down tulip shape we all recognize. But transforming the idea on paper into a practical thing, a lamp, first a oil-burning one, later electric ones, was far from an easy task. That’s what you’ll learn in this book, about how leaded glass is made, and about the very unique ways in which glass makers can create shades, forms and textures. In that respect, I found the book especially fascinating.

The story along with it – Clara’s life – and her very slow escalation into a position of supervision within the design, window and lamp making department is also very interesting. When I began reading I assumed the book was based on complete fact. It’s not exactly. Vreeland took some liberties to make it a more interesting and riveting story. Tiffany, a kind of old-school stuffy man, made one particular strict policy in his company – he didn’t permit any married women. Period. Hard to believe, but that part’s true. Once you were discovered, you were out. Clara weaves her way in and out of a couple of relationships and a near second marriage, that makes for almost an air of mystery. It’s a charming story from beginning to end. Whether Clara Driscoll really did design the Tiffany lamp? Well, that’s up to speculation, although Vreeland read Driscoll’s letter collection in which she describes in detail how she did it, so probably it is true. And whether she actually led a mini-revolt within the company regarding the male-only glass making trade union (which tried to shut down the women-only lamp making department that was non-union), isn’t known either. She lived in a boarding house, which has its own sub-set of stories to go along with it, and also made for fun reading. All of it together makes for a good story.

So, when my granddaughter Sabrina and I were in New York last week, we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I’ve visited it many times in the past, but Sabrina had never been and she happily went off on her own. Once I’d seen the Impressionists again (I never tire of them) and a few other oils, I went downstairs to the café for a coffee and a place to sit and rest my aching heel. As I was walking down the stairs, lo and behold, there in front of me was a 3-piece panel of Tiffany glass. Flowers and greenery, as nearly all of them are. I walked right up to it and read the tiny little card of info. Clara Driscoll’s name was not associated with that one. In fact, I believe in the Afterword of the book, Vreeland says that none of the Tiffany glass designs (windows or lamps) were specifically credited to Clara, but Vreeland’s research indicated significant hints about her contribution to the lamp-making. Driscoll never did receive the recognition she craved. Elsewhere in the NYC area there are two more museums with oodles of Tiffany glass. I wished I’d had time to visit both of them. I’d never have thought of doing so had I not read this book. Next time.

If you like Vreeland’s style of writing (I certainly do) then this book will be good reading. I certainly thought it was. You’ll come away from it with a whole new appreciation for the intricacies of creating leaded glass in whatever form you see.

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  1. Toffeeapple

    said on August 9th, 2014:

    Arnica helps to heal bruises, cream or gel.

    The book sounds interesting, not an author that I have ever heard of but I might well look for her book, thank you for the post on it.

    In the UK, right up until the middle of the twentieth century, women who worked could not carry on doing so if they got married. Arcane laws, made by men, of course. I am pleased that things have changed.

    Sometimes it’s hard to believe laws or rules were or even could be made that were so ridiculous, but then men thought most women were too moody (hormonal), wouldn’t employ them while pregnant, etc. We’ve come a long way, thankfully. Someone else told me about arnica. I’ll have to look for it. A cortisone shot has helped it a LOT so I’m able to do a lot more walking. Susan Vreeland’s books may be harder to get in the UK. Have no idea. Worthy trying, though! . . . carolyn t

    I went onto amazon uk, and sure enough, it is available:

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on August 10th, 2014:

    Thank you for the link, I have some Amazon vouchers to use (£50 worth!) so I will investigate tomorrow.

    I am glad that the cortizone is helping; I keep Arnica cream in my First Aid box, together with Tea Tree Oil, Lavender Oil and Aloe Vera Gel.

    I’m going to stop at a store that’s a ways away (on my way home from the airport delivering my cousin to return home) and I’ll check to see if they have arnica. Surely they will. . . carolyn t

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