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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 February 28th, 2015. once in awhile do I write an actual blog post about a book – when a book is particularly worthy. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, then you already know that my reading list is on the left sidebar of my home page. That’s where I write up blurbs of what I’m currently reading, or have just finished reading – about the last 2-4 of them.

For now I don’t own any animals, but for most of my life I’ve had a dog. You can be a dog or a cat lover and not be enamored with the entire animal kingdom, I guess, but I’m a sucker for a good animal story. And oh yes, this one is wonderful. True story. I watch Nature on PBS. On occasion I’ll just turn on Animal Planet and leave it on.

Well, anyway, a couple of friends recommended this book, The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild , by Lawrence Anthony, and I’m so glad they did. Just now, as I’ve been finding these two photos did I realize that Anthony died in 2012. Much too young (age 61, heart attack).

Anthony devoted his entire adult life to the conservation of the African animal kingdom. He was a native to South Africa. A very gentle man, he always preferred to let the wild animals be wild, to do their predatory thing, because that’s what animals do in the wild. Thula Thula is the gigantic game reserve (preserve) he founded in Zululand (that’s in South Africa) many years ago. It took him decades to introduce the animals back into the area as they’d been hunted to extinction in that part of South Africa.

His story about this elephant herd began when he received a frantic phone call asking him to “take” a herd of wild elephant from another reserve, that were “difficult.” He did, and the book documents the extremely dangerous process of even transporting elephants across many hundreds of miles, and acclimating them to this new area. It’s a fascinating story. Every page.

In the photo above (the book cover) I’m assuming the photo is of Nana, the matriarch of the herd, and the astounding friendship he had with her and the herd. Understand, this herd was never tamed, they were strictly wild elephant, and subject to their own trials and tribulations, but Nana and a couple of the other elephants became his friends. He was extremely cautious around them and only rarely did he allow or did they approach him without an electric fence between them, but often Nana would put her trunk over the top of the wire and smell and fondle his face and chest – a sign of friendship. He didn’t exactly “whisper” with them (as the title says), but he talked to them, called to them (and they would usually come), calmed them (normally his voice would immediately relax the herd). With a huge 5,000 square mile preserve, he had to go to find them first, then he’d stop the Land Rover and call to them. Only on a rare occasion would he be out on the open ground (as the book cover shows) without the protection of the sturdy Land Rover (it probably was just to the left of him). He and his wife built a safari lodge on the reserve, and that helps keep the reserve in operation. Some of the story is also about the verbal battle(s) between the native people who think that any wild animals can be hunted for meat, and the poachers who still encroach and kill for the tusks or even the thrill of the kill. Gradually, though, with friendships between the conservationists and the native tribal chiefs, they’ve carved out a huge chunk of land that now comprises a bigger area for all kinds of wildlife.

Anthony wrote several books – one about the saving of most of the animals in the Baghdad Zoo – that book’s called Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo. He also wrote a book (his last one) about the white rhino – The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World’s Greatest Creatures. I haven’t read either of those, but I sure do recommend this one. It’s a touching story and well written (he had a co-author, so I assume he’s the so-called ghost writer, but his name was also listed.

When Anthony died, the herd “knew.” Amazing. The entire herd came to the house and crowded as close as they could get beyond the fence and mourned him. Elephants do mourn – they actually weep and they communicate with each other through specific rumblings in their digestive systems (yes, really). When Anthony would be gone on business trips, the elephants would be invisible to the family and the game reserve crew for days or weeks, but before he returned (how could they possibly know?) they would be gather at the fence to greet him. But they knew. That happened over and over again. Anthony truly believed Nana could understand him in some way. Beautiful book and amazing story.

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  1. Carol

    said on February 28th, 2015:

    I also just finished “The Elephant Whisperer” and was sad that the book ended. I enjoy following your blog with books and recipes! I also love reading about your home in OC. I grew up in Costa Mesa in the 50’s -70’s where I lived until 1989 when my husband and relocated to Sebastpol, CA. I still have nieces, nephews and a brother in the south county. My family had lived on the same property in Costa Mesa from 1920 until my mother passed away in 2010, three months prior to her 100th birthday. She prided herself on being an Orange County Native and having been a member of the Native Daughter’s of the Golden West for 60 years! My family home was demolished to make way for 2 McMansions. I’ve only returned once since to Costa Mesa. We still make visits to San Clemente a couple of times a year. A long story to explain my connection to your blog! But thank you for sharing!

    How interesting, Carol. It’s never the same to go visit your old neighborhood. The home I grew up in, in San Diego, doesn’t look all that much different, but it doesn’t look like it did way back when, so it’s sad to drive by, therefore I don’t do it much anymore. I’m glad you enjoyed the book as much as I did. I truly was sorry when the book ended! I do want to read the book about the white rhino, though. . . carolyn t

  2. Mary S

    said on February 28th, 2015:

    I listened to an NPR story about Anthony, more than a year ago, regarding the convergence of the elephants on his home, after his death. I know that elephants have amazing connections with people they know and care for or who care for them. This story just left a great love in my heart for these beautiful animals, we call “beasts,” and a sadness for the loss of a man who offered so much to them and to the world.

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful book. Now many more people will have the chance to know Lawrence Anthony’s marvelous story.

    I was just SO sad when I read that he’d died. My Kindle book, of course, didn’t mention it. It was only when I began writing up the blog post did I see a photo of him with a death date prominently displayed on the photo. I just groaned in sadness. He sounded like such an amazing man and died much too soon. I still want to read the book about the white rhino – I just need to order it on my Kindle! . . . carolyn t

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