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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 November 17th, 2014.

Each year one of my book groups gets together (this year at my home) and we go around the room and each person shares something about a book, or more than one, that they think might make a good Christmas gift. All the women are 60+. I love this particular meeting because we aren’t there to discuss a specific book we’ve all read, but just to share ideas. I love to give books as gifts – not only because I try to nurture reading as a pastime to everyone I know or meet, but sometimes the ideas that come from this group get me outside my box. Also a good thing. So, I thought I’d share this year’s suggested books. Understand, please, I haven’t read but a few, and I’ll say so below.

If you’re anything like me, you can’t really keep up with all the books that get published. It’s overwhelming. To keep track, I use an app on my phone called Evernote, a note-taking app. One of my note-taking sections on Evernote is “Books.” This is where I add a title or an author when I’m out and about. Perhaps someone has told me about a book. I know I’ll never remember the title, so I just whip out my iPhone and add it to Evernote. That list is SO long, I wonder if I’ll ever winnow it down. Why? Because I keep adding more and more. It’s enough that I try to keep up with the reading in 3 book groups. If it weren’t for the fact that some reading in the 3 groups overlap, I’d never be able to manage it. Generally, now, I read when I go to bed, for about 30-45 minutes. Unless I’m stuck at home for some other reason, I don’t read books during the daytime. Unless I’m under the gun and need to finish something before one of the meetings.

The links below go to amazon, and if you happen to order a book, amazon gives me a few cents. It’s no big deal one way or the other. Once in awhile I get a dollar or two – it’s by month, I think, and orders have to reach some minimum threshold (most of the time I don’t meet the minimums), then they credit my amazon account. So, here’s the list:

A Redbird Christmas: A Novel by Fannie Flagg. It’s not one of her newer books, but it’s apparently a very cute story and a red bird figures significantly in the story. There’s faith in the book. It takes place in the American South.

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good: The New Mitford Novel (A Mitford Novel) by Jan Karon. Two of the gals were currently reading the book and loving every page.

Make It Ahead: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook by Ina Garten. This is her newest one. It was passed around our group, and even though I don’t need another cookbook, I just may have to get it anyway.

One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson. He writes the most interesting narrative books. Several in our group had heard of it, and also mentioned that their husbands had read it and liked it a lot. This isn’t a new book.

Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. I’ve read two of O’Reilly’s books, and been very impressed. Most of the research is done by Mr. Dugard, a history wizard as far as I’m concerned. Two in our group had already read this and liked it very much. It’s all history. Period. It’s not political, even though O’Reilly is a political commentator.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Hillenbrand. What a book. You could hardly have existed without hearing people talk about this book. Great book for a man, too. I read it some months ago. I wish Dave had read it – he would have loved it.

Mean Streak by Sandra Brown. Although her books have some romance to them, she also weaves, always, a very good mystery in with it. Light reading.

Gray Mountain: A Novel by John Grisham. Two in our group had already read this one, his newest. Always good for a page-turning read.

Under the Wide and Starry Sky: A Novel by Nancy Horan. I’ll for-sure have to get this one on my Kindle as I really liked her other book about Frank Lloyd Wright. This one is about Robert Louis Stevenson and his love, a woman 10 years his senior.

Mud Pies and Other Recipes (New York Review Children’s Collection)– this is a children’s book (5-9 year old girls it says). Originally written decades ago, it’s been re-published by, as you can read above, the New York Review Children’s Collection. It has stories, but also some “recipes.”  It has a 5-star rating on amazon.

Peter Pan Picture Book: Shape Book – also a children’s book. It’s for very young readers, or even pre-readers. One of our members brought the whole collection of these books. They’re short, maybe 10-12 pages each, and this is just one of them. If you’re interested in others, google “shape book” and you’ll find the others in the series. If you’re an artist, you’ll really appreciate the exquisite 4-color art which are reproductions from old nursery rhymes and stories of old. Very sweet book.

For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroism, and Sacrifice Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life by Eric Metaxes – the title is pretty self-explanatory. Was mentioned as a good book for a man, though the gal said she liked reading it very much herself, then she passed it on to her husband.

Miracles: What They Are, Why They Happen, and How They Can Change Your Life As this book was discussed, the gal who recommended it explained that this book is often suggested to people who are not-so-sure they believe in miracles  – or even for people who are non-believers. The author (who also wrote the recent definitive book on Bonhoefer) is analytical, yet he’s a believer. There’s a scientific element to this book which might appeal to some. One review read: “ . . . will blow your mind with stories of phenomena beyond anything we might classify as merely natural. And he will bless your heart with what can happen in your life personally as you read stories of people (very smart people I might add) who “extra-ordinarily” encountered God’s majestic purpose converging with their daily lives, stunning and humbling them forever.” I’ll be buying this book, probably in hardback just for my own reading.

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympicsby Daniel James Brown. I read this book several months ago and wrote it up on my sidebar. One of the best books I’ve read in a long, long time. Great book for men and women. The one word description: teamwork.

An American Bride in Kabul: A Memoir – Phyllis Chesler is a PhD and Jewish. She married a Westernized Afghani who was attending graduate school with her. She did it with eyes closed (obviously), trusted him and his family when she moved to Kabul. At which point she lost everything – her American passport and any form of freedom. Not a book you’d give every woman as there is certainly a message here, but it’s an eye-opening reveal about day to day Islamic life. She escaped eventually, but she’s forever scarred.

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World’s Great Drinks by Amy Stewart. This is a book I recommended. Not for every reader. My friend Darlene gave me the autographed book for my birthday. It’s a dense book about the history, the botany, and the uses of every kind of natural flora and fauna which contribute to the making of spirits. So, for instance – agave, juniper, grains of paradise (a very special pepper), casava, prickly pear. Very interesting reading. If you don’t drink spirits, I’d not buy this. If you’re a gardener and interested in such things, it would make a good read or a gift. Amy Stewart has also written several other books about poisonous plants and about the life of the earthworm. Just google her name on amazon and you’ll see them all. If you have family members who are particular interested in bugs, there are a couple that would make a great gift.

Marcus Off Duty: The Recipes I Cook at Home by Marcus Samuelsson. I think I wrote up something about this on my blog already. This is his most recent cookbook and it’s chock-full of stories about all the recipes. For being a native Nigerian, but raised in Sweden, Marcus has certainly embraced our American foods and I’m glad of it! The recipe for the mac ‘n cheese that my granddaughter ate at his restaurant in Harlem when we were there in July, is in the cookbook. Haven’t tried it yet.

Christmas Memories Book – one member of the group forgot to bring it, but she shared with us about a gift that she bought many years ago when her first child was born. It’s a method of keeping memories alive of every Christmas in your family. You fill in who was there, what was special that year, gifts given, what you had for breakfast or dinner, and other little bits of trivia that contribute to your family’s Christmas traditions. And a place for a photo or two. The link is to the only one I found on amazon that seemed to be similar to hers which she purchased 30+ years ago. She has completely filled the book and had to move on to another one, different size and shape because she couldn’t find one like the first one. Anyway, it was a sweet idea, particularly for a young family, just married or on the arrival of their first child.

Photo at top from The Guardian, found through Google images

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  1. hddonna

    said on November 17th, 2014:

    Thanks for sharing your list, Carolyn. There are several titles I’d like to read myself, and one or two I’d consider giving as gifts. I recently listened to A Redbird Christmas in audiobook form and enjoyed it very much; it was charming and heartwarming. It had an interesting interview with the author–about why she likes to write about small towns, among other things. Having grown up in a small town myself, I appreciated her insights. I’m looking forward to reading more of her books.

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