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Recently finished reading 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.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant. Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the angry father is a wealthy and influential man in the area. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

 

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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