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Just finished 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 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 parents were 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 a old 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.

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.

Eye On the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press, by James, McGrath Morris. Each year my AAUW book club reads something related to Black History Month. This is a biography of a woman you’ve probably never heard of, Ethel Payne, and about her life-long journey in journalism, struggling to keep her head above water financially, but staying true to her purposes of telling the truth about the black stories and black racism of the day. Sometimes biographies aren’t all that riveting, but I found this one to be so, and I savored each new chapter. We had a really good discussion of the book, and the ups and downs of Payne’s life, especially during her years as a Washington reporter. You’ll not be sorry to have spent the time reading this book. It’s well-written, as well. I was thrilled when the author, Morris, left a message here on my blog, thanking me (and my group) for reading his book.

H Is for Hawk, by Helen Macdonald. This one has been on the best seller list. It’s a memoir about a woman who takes on a personal challenge of taming a wild hawk. Prior to reading this book, I knew next to nothing about the entire subject of hawking, or taming any of the big, wild birds. The book is equally about the writer’s inner journey. She’s a consummate writer, and every page was a joy of words, for me. My only problem is my own – I found it hard, the more time that went by, and the more time the writer spent trying to tame this bird, to scream out “let the bird go.” Perhaps it’s because I spent time in Africa in 2015, seeing animals in the wild, that I felt more for the bird than I did with the writer’s discontent with herself and the taming process. Little did I know what a hard job it is to tame a hawk. I actually didn’t finish the book. It was a book club read, and highly recommended by several of our members. And I ended up not being able to attend the meeting as I had a cold. So perhaps there is some great ending to it that would have made me feel better. I haven’t gone to the end to find out. I just had to stop reading it. But I’m not NOT recommending it. If nothing else, read it for Macdonald’s sublime proficiency with words.

Also read George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Dan Yaeger. Here’s what it says on amazon: When George Washington beat a hasty retreat from New York City in August 1776, many thought the American Revolution might soon be over. Instead, Washington rallied—thanks in large part to a little-known, top-secret group called the Culper Spy Ring. He realized that he couldn’t defeat the British with military might, so he recruited a sophisticated and deeply secretive intelligence network to infiltrate New York. I won’t exactly call this book a riveting read, but it was interesting. Relating facts that few people knew about, this Culper Spy Ring. It’s a little chunk of American history researched in depth by the authors. An interesting read.

Also read The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel by Nina George. If you’re an avid reader, you probably have the same kind of longing as I do for a quaint, independently owned bookstore right around the corner. So few exist anymore. This novel is about a very unusual book store, and book store owner. In Paris. On a boat/barge. It’s not a typical book store, and the writer takes you on a journey of discovery about (likely) her own lifetime of book reading. You’ll learn all about a variety of existing books and why they’re a good read. But it’s all cloaked in a story about this book store and the owner. And the customers. Very fun. I’m reviewing it for one of my book clubs next month.

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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