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On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of aging high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, wealthy women) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

I’ve written up an entire blog post about this book. (It hasn’t been posted yet, but will soon.) It may be one of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. It’s a memoir by Pat Conroy (an author I’ve long admired). He died a year or so ago – sad, that. In order to get the most out of My Reading Life, I recommend you BUY THE HARDBACK. I can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s an autobiography of sorts, but not really. He never wrote one, I don’t think, and I doubt he would ever have written one as he likely didn’t believe anyone would want to read about his (sad) life. In this memoir, he chronicles the books (and the people who recommended them) that influenced his life. Starting at his mother’s knees and continuing through influential teachers and mentors and friends. One of my book clubs read it, and I devoured it, cover to cover, with little plastic flags inserted all the way through to re-read some of the prose. Pat Conroy was a fabulous writer – he studied words from a young age and used them widely and wisely throughout his writing, but better than most authors would. He adored his mother, and hated (with venom) his aviator military father who physically abused everyone in the family, including his mother. They all took it like stoic Buddhas. I’m going to have to read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel because of reading this book. I’ve never read it. Conroy says that book’s first page is the best first page of any book he ever read in his life. Wow. And maybe my book group is going to re-read Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Vintage Classics) too because of the chapter on that book. We might have to assign that to a 2-month or longer read. If you have friends or family who are avid readers, this would make a great gift, this book, My Reading Life. If YOU are a reader, it needs to be on your bookshelf, but in hardback, so you can go back to it and re-read his stories. It’s a series of essays, each one about a sub-section of his life. A must-have and a must-read.

Also read The Towers of Tuscany by Carol Cram. It was a bargain book through amazon or bookbub (e-book). Back in the Middle Ages women were forbidden to be artists. Their only place was in the home, caring for children and sewing and cooking. But the heroine in this book was taught to paint by her widowed artist-father (in secret, of course). When her father suddenly dies, all hell breaks loose and she must fend for herself. Much of the book takes place in Siena (and also San Gimignano) as she disguises herself as a boy in order to continue her life’s passion – painting. Very interesting story and worth reading.

 

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, on October 13th, 2014.

You may have said to yourself, “I’m tired of reading stories about World War II.” I have friends who have stated that flatly, meaning they’re done with them. They’ll be missing a really good tale, a sweet tale, and one that’s certainly way out of the usual norm of a novel about that war.

This story isn’t about the warfare. Without giving away the story, let’s just start with a young girl, in her early teens, who is blind. She lives with her father in Paris, and then the war comes to their lives. The father works at a museum, and the powers-that-be decide to try to hide most of the treasures, the biggest, most valuable treasures. A particular diamond, a huge diamond with an interesting story in and of itself, has so much value that a gemologist is asked to make a replica of the diamond from glass. A total of 3 replicas are made and 4 people are asked to care for the 4 “diamonds”. None knows which one has the real diamond, but they’re asked to keep each one safe.

Eventually, when the Germans begin nosing around trying to locate the missing diamond, the father and daughter flee to St. Malo, a small town a few miles from Mont St. Michel, that gorgeous beehive of a town built on top of a rock on the coast of Brittany. They move into a home of relatives there.

Meanwhile, there’s a young German boy who is very bright. He’s recruited to join Hitler’s army. His skill is with radios. He’s not exactly a zealot – in fact he’s not – he’s a gentle boy – but as with so many young people back then, you did what you were told. Eventually his skill was noticed by others and he gains a reputation for locating resistance fighters (in hiding) who send short radio transmissions to the Allies. Systematically he and his helpers find and take out many such transmitters and the people who use them.

There’s one more little tidbit I must tell you . . . the dear father of the young girl is good with small things, models and such. He had built a small replica of the neighborhood where they lived in Paris so his blind daughter could find her way to the bakery or other places. Each little model home, although many stories high, was built as a separate piece and they’d be lined up side by side. From studying the models, and with her father’s help, she learned to walk alone, with her cane, past 4 storm drains, left at the third cross street, or whatever, to find her way. When they moved to St. Malo, her father began building a new replica of that village. Mostly they stayed in hiding, as most people did. Her uncle, who was also good with radios, began helping the resistance.

Her father, of course, has the diamond. Or he has one of the diamonds. The young blind girl is resourceful. Very bright too. Knows the little model of her village. Reads Braille, what few books that were available back then. You can tell from what I’ve said that there’s a little collision of events, the boy who is hunting for radio resistance fighters, a German colonel who is hunting for the diamonds, and the one little house in St. Malo. Do read this book: All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel by Anthony Doerr. Worth reading. It’s a love story too. Trust me.

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  1. hddonna

    said on October 14th, 2014:

    This looks very interesting. Thanks for the tip! I’m going to try to find this one.

  2. Mrs. P

    said on October 16th, 2014:

    I love WW II stories, such an interesting time to read about for those of us who did not have to live through it! and recently stumbled upon this book. I highly recommend it.

    Yes, it was a good read! . . . carolyn t

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