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Just finished 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, 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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