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Just finished reading The German Girl: A Novel by Correa. It chronicles the story of a wealthy German Jewish family in Berlin, as the Nazis arrive and make life a living hell. The family is lucky (I guess you could say this) to be allowed to purchase passage on the M.S. St. Louis, a passenger liner, to take them to “the Americas.” The destination is actually Cuba. The story is told from two voices – the teenage daughter in this story, and from a current-day distant family member who is trying to learn about her ancestry. Of the 900+ passengers on the ship, only a few were allowed to disembark since the Cuban President decided he needed more money to accept them. Most families had no money left, as the Reich had taken nearly all of their assets. The daughter and her very eccentric mother were allowed to stay in Cuba.  The remaining passengers are rejected by the U.S. too, and eventually return to Europe, where most of the Jews end up dying in concentration camps. The story goes back and forth from the 1939 journey to current day as the link between the two women is slowly revealed. I had a tough time sometimes, tracking the people in this book, but the story was very riveting. It’s based on facts about the ship (see Wikipedia link above if you’re interested). A shameful chapter in history.

Recently finished reading a magnificent historical novel. Not new. Philippa Gregory has been a favorite author of mine for a couple of decades. You may remember her most famous book, The Other Boleyn Girl, published some years ago. I thought that was a really great book. I’ve read other books by Gregory, but most recently I read The King’s Curse (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels). The time period is the 1450s to 1541, mostly under the rule of King Henry VIII, the infamous womanizer and wife/Queen-killer. The man who cursed Rome/the Pope because he wanted his first marriage annulled because Queen Catherine couldn’t produce a living male heir. And subsequently made himself the head of the church in England in order to do so. It was a Catholic country at the time. This story (it’s fiction, but woven with intricate historical detail) is from the voice of a lady-in-waiting to Queen Catherine, Margaret of York, later titled Countess of Salisbury, but a Plantagenet in her own right (which is key to the later events in the book). Certainly I’ve read other novels over the years that dealt with Henry VIII, but not with this much breadth of info. What a wicked, sinful man he was. And did I say tyrant. Wow.  I could hardly put it down, through its nearly 600 pages. In the author’s notes at the end, she shares relatively recent medical info that suggests Henry probably suffered from a rare problem, Kell positive blood type, which can cause miscarriages, stillbirths and infant deaths IF the mother has the more common Kell negative blood type. And that in his later years, he may have had McLeod syndrome, a disease only found in Kell positive individuals. Around the age of 40 it causes physical degeneration and personality changes resulting in paranoia, depression and irrational behavior. All of those King Henry VIII had in spades. If you read the book, you might read the author’s notes (at the end) before reading the book. If you like historical fiction (I love any book about English history) you’ll just love this one. It’s interesting, though, as I think about the many books I’ve read covering this era in English history, that each book presented its hero/heroine as the most innocent and worthy individual vying for the crown of England. I remember thinking Anne Boleyn was dealt with so badly during her life (and certainly her beheading), and yet reading this book, I completely reversed my opinion. Anne Boleyn was called a wh–e by most people during the years she shared Henry’s bed. The “curse” from the title pertains to Henry’s inability or the curse on the Tudors, that caused him to fail in producing a male heir. In any case, none of Henry’s wives should have died for it – likely it was all Henry’s fault anyway. Just read this one, okay?

Also recently read News of the World: A Novel by Paulette Jiles. One of my book-reading friends said this is one of the best books she’s ever read in her life. That kind of praise required me to read it and I just LOVED it. It’s about an old man (a widower), who was a former military captain, during the 1800s, who goes from town to town to read out loud the current news of the world (yes, there WAS such a free-lance job.) Newspapers didn’t make it to small towns back then. By chance he’s asked to take a 10-year old girl to East Texas to reunite with relatives. The child had been captured by an Indian tribe as a baby (her family was killed in the raid), raised by the Kiowa and as was often the case of such children, she wants nothing to do with leaving. So the “hero” in this story has his hands full. And yet, they learn to trust each other on the journey. Reaching the destination, there are lots of complications (of course!). This book is truly a wonderful read – I didn’t want it to end. The author has a gift of description and the severe dangers and difficulties of an old (wild) west horse and wagon journey. The relationship is tender. Now I’ve got to investigate the author’s other books, of which there are many. Just read this one, too!

Winter Journey by Diane Armstrong. Have you ever read about forensic dentistry? I sure had not, so I found it fascinating reading. It’s a debut novel for the author, and what a story. Halina, an Australian, with Polish roots, specializes in this obscure profession as a forensic dentist, and is asked to go to Poland, to help identify bone (and tooth) fragments, to put to rest a sad event in the story of this small town, when many, many people (Jews) were murdered. Was it the Nazis? Or was it the local townspeople who disliked the Jews. What a tangled web of intrigue, including Halina’s own mysterious past. I really enjoyed the read. The author does a great job of developing the characters (which I always like). This is no light read if you consider the subject matter, although it IS a novel (but based on fact). Nor is it a spy thriller – it’s more just an historical novel with lots of interesting people throughout. There’s a romance thrown in too, and a whole lot of angst about the discoveries found in the mass grave. But, the subject expanded my knowledge about forensics.

The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece by Jonathan Harr. I just LOVED this book. I’ve never been much of a fan of Caravaggio’s paintings, although I’ve seen plenty of them (many are extremely large) in museums around the world. His paintings were dark, often with dark subjects. But as with many of the old masters, occasionally some obscure work surfaces, perhaps credited to another artist, even, that turns out to be one done by “the” master. In this case, Caravaggio. Although this book is written as a novel (with dialogue, etc.) it’s historical through and through. It begins with two young women art scholars, in Italy, who are asked to do a research project. One thing leads to another, and to another. All true.  If you enjoy books about art – I learned some things about the paint and the canvases of the time – you’ll be intrigued as I was.

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 19th, 2009.

kindle-case

I included a TV remote control in the picture, just so you can see the approximate shape. It’s about the same size as a larger paperback.

It’s been some months now that I’ve had a Kindle. I bought one when Jeff Bezos (Amazon’s CEO, and the Kindle’s maker) was on Oprah last Fall, and offered a discounted price if you bought one then. I’d been contemplating buying one anyway, so that was all the impetus I needed.

kindle-openWhy did I buy one?
1. I hate to give away my books. I have hundreds. And hundreds. And I keep buying more. Even though I never (almost) re-read a book. Hundreds and hundreds of pounds of books. So, I figured if I read books on the Kindle, I’d not be adding to my collection, my home book footprint. None of our kids read like I do. What are they going to do with all my books, for goodness’ sake, except give most of them away?
2. Whenever we travel, I always have to allocate precious suitcase space to books, since we read a lot when we travel. As we’ve gotten older, we’re not quite so active at every destination – we rest some in the late afternoons. And we read. So I saw the Kindle as a perfect solution. Ten (or dozens) more books, all in the space of one. Except for the charging cable, which isn’t all that big.

The advantages:
1. The small (footprint) space, lots of books (several hundred) can be loaded, you can make notes and bookmarks (there’s a small keyboard on it), you could read 5 books at the same time for that matter.
2. The dictionary – is amazing. You merely scroll to the line where the questionable word is, click, go to Dictionary and the Kindle defines all the major words on that line. There’s a tiny little roller button that is sort of like a mouse. That’s what you use to navigate around.
3. Buy a new book anytime. Right through the Kindle. Or you can do it from your home computer too. Or somebody else’s computer – just log on to your Amazon account. Takes just seconds to download it. You can also subscribe to newspapers and magazines too (I don’t, but lots of people do). For business travelers, that would be a very good deal. Supposedly you can access the internet on the device, although it’s not really a computer, as such. You can get to the Kindle bookstore easily and select new books. If you have an amazon account, it’s a simple matter of pressing a button and the book downloads in about 60 seconds. Bingo.
4. The price of books. Most books were $8.99 when I bought the Kindle. They’re now $9.99, but still a good deal. And a few books are more.
5. The screen – it’s not backlit – you can’t read it with a light. For some this might be a disadvantage, but for me it’s easier to read this way. And the print size can be adjusted to suit your eyes. (In the photo below you can see the print – it’s adjustable to 5 sizes, I think it is.)

kindle-reading-aThe disadvantages:
1. The battery. It’s only as long-lived at each sitting as the battery. If you don’t use the Kindle (and charge it) regularly, it goes into a power-down thing and it’s a bit of a hassle to get it back to running again, but that’s a minor thing. It does have to be charged often (about 4-5 hours of use, is my guess). I now have the charging cable right next to my bed, so it’s easy to plug it in after every 2-3 or 4 days of use.
2. It is a computer, after all. If something were to go wrong with it on a trip, it might be difficult to get it fixed. That hasn’t happened to me yet (except the major battery down thing which was easily fixed after talking with a Kindle customer service person). You can buy an extended warranty.
3. The Kindle 1 case that came with it was not good. I’ve since purchased another one, built especially for the Kindle, but fixes all the little problems with Amazon’s case. It was $50, and it does keep the Kindle securely in the case. If you’re interested, you can search on the internet for “Kindle covers,” you’ll find many manufacturers of them). I understand that the Kindle 2 is shipping without a case.
4. It’s too easy to accidentally advance or backup a page. The bars on both sides of the Kindle take you ahead one page (top right and lower left), back a page (top left) or to the beginning (bottom right). They’ve made this user friendly for both righties and lefties. Clever planning, I’d say. Overall, though, I’m saying it’s worth buying – I LUV my Kindle – but it’s a bit of a nuisance sometimes when you accidentally hit the Next Page bar. Usually it advances just the one page, but occasionally if the Kindle falls out of its case, in righting it, picking it up, etc. you may advance the pages by several. Just a little bit of a pain to have to back up to find the page you were on. But then, that’s really no different than dropping a regular book and losing your place. It’s just different on a Kindle.
5. I won’t be buying any cookbooks on the Kindle. And I do buy new cookbooks with some frequency. Those books I want to hold, be able to see the color photo (the Kindle just has B & W), glance at the whole recipe at once. All things the Kindle can’t do for me.
6. Some people don’t like the millisecond of time when the pages turn – the screen flickers once (blips to black momentarily) with each page advance. At first it was annoying to me, but quickly I got used to it.
7. If you like to loan or give books to friends – well, you can’t loan a Kindle book you’ve read. The book lives only on your Kindle, and unless you want to loan the actual reading unit, it’s only yours. Supposedly Amazon offers a family plan (up to 3 units) and within that “family,” you can share all the books. You don’t have to be an actual family – but the units and books have to be purchased from the “head” of the group only.

And just because I listed more disadvantages than advantages, doesn’t mean I don’t LUV my Kindle, because I really, really do. In case you haven’t heard, they just announced a second generation Kindle at the same price – $359 (what I paid 6 months ago). Longer battery life, thinner package. More books can be loaded. And the blip at page turns is vastly improved, I’ve heard. It will read TO you, if you’d prefer (good for the sight-impaired). I won’t be buying a new one since mine works just fine, but now I’ll try to convince my DH that he needs one, then I can give him mine and get the new one 😉

A year ago: Coriander Lime Shrimp (an appetizer)

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