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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 July 11th, 2016.

distant_marvels_cake_full

You can always check on my most recent book reading on the left sidebar of my blog. I usually keep about the last 3-4, maybe 5 books I’ve read with a short blurb about it. Once they’re gone from that place, the list is gone – I don’t keep a running log of the books I read. I should have started that years ago, but I didn’t, and somehow, at my age, I’m not about to start now. I update the sidebar every month or so.

Having just read The Distant Marvels by Chantel Acevedo, I thought I’d actually write a post about it. One of my book clubs read the book, and we were meeting at one of our members’ homes. Peggy and her husband (along with their son) own a great little eclectic coffee store and small vegetarian restaurant (combined) in Orange, near where I leave. It’s called Mead’s Green Door. And within the same building is a cute, little fancy cake establishment, called Creative Cakes.

Product DetailsI think I heard that Peggy and Gary (her husband) bought Creative Cakes recently – as if they need more things to do. Oh my goodness. But what was fun, was that Peggy had an adorable cake at our book club meeting, all about this book. Peggy is a superb baker, so I’m not sure if she made the cake, of if she had the employees at Creative Cakes make it – it was SO delicious.

Isn’t it cute, though? Notice that the color scheme on the cake comes from the book’s cover. We hated to cut into that cake it was so adorable!

Anyway, the book . . . it’s about Cuba and weaves an intricate tale spanning a lifetime of the woman pictured. She lived during very tumultuous times in Cuba, including the Spanish revolution in the early 1900s. Her life was hard. Very hard. Certainly, this book is about relationships (what novel isn’t?). She has a loving, but troubled one, with her mother. She found love, but it was a somewhat taboo relationship – he was a rebel and he was black. Not common, most likely, in Cuba at that time. From Amazon, it says: “Maria Sirena tells stories. She does it for money—she was a favorite in the cigar factory where she worked as a lettora—and for love, spinning distant_marvels_cake_topgossamer tales out of her own past for the benefit of friends, neighbors, and family.” A lettora was a “reader” or a storyteller, and although she began reading from books to the workers in the cigar factory, she eventually began telling the story of her life over the course of time. And in the book, decades later, living alone in one of Cuba’s coastal villages, a hurricane is headed toward them. Maria is old, and really doesn’t want to go to a safe house to weather the hurricane, but she’s swept there anyway by officials, despite her protests, to spend many days in an old, abandoned, but sturdy palace near her home. And it’s here that the myriad women housed there during the hurricane and its aftermath, begin telling stories of their lives. And Maria tells hers. And quite a story it is. Chapters go back in time as she re-lives the many escapades of her youth. And finally unburdens her own soul in the telling.

It was a wonderful book – you feel great compassion for Maria Sirena (from the older woman’s voice, you learn that she’s ill and likely dying, but that’s only a tiny backdrop), the struggles she had, the great love she experienced. Worth reading for sure.

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