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Carolyn

Sara

      Sara and me

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Just finished reading The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. The premise of this book is different . . . a woman writer goes to Scotland to connect with distant heritage. She hopes to gain inspiration for her next book. As she investigates, she discovers she’s related to a family that lived in the early 1700s at Slains Castle on the east coast of Scotland near Aberdeen. This was the time of the Jacobite rebellion (the exiled King James and his hoped-for return to England). When I say this woman gets inspiration . . .well, it’s more than that. She questions whether she could possibly have genes that contain memory (what an idea, huh?), because she begins to know how events took place, who the people were, what they said, exactly where they stood, the layout of the castle, even the furniture in the rooms. She wasn’t channeling, actually, but I suppose it could be interpreted so. The book is full of the Jacobite history (more than I’d ever known before, but then I love English/Scottish history). There’s a romance back then, and a romance in the today time. Both lovely. Great book. An historical novel of the first order.

Another great read, The Island of Sea Women: A Novel by Lisa See. Six months ago I attended an author’s talk at the Bowers Museum. Lisa See was the speaker and shared her story about this book. I’ve heard her speak several times before (she lives near me) and have read several of her books. This one, though, is very different. She was sitting in a doctor’s office reading some magazine and spotted a tiny snippet of data about Jeju Island off the coast of Korea where the island as a whole is matriarchal because the women were trained from a young age to deep dive, free dive, for mollusks. These women were the bread winners. Husbands stayed home and cared for the babies. The island is real. The history is real. And what happened during WWII on this island is horrific – makes me feel ashamed that our military had a hand in what happened to many people. But everyone should read this book. It’s a novel, about 2 girls who are divers and how their lives diverge for a variety of cultural reasons and because of the war.

Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford. A novel about the early days of radio in London. This book takes place in the 1920s and tells not only the general history of the early days of radio, but also the role women played (a vital one). Initially it was in the background, because women weren’t considered intelligent enough. Maisie, the heroine in the book, works her way up the ranks. It’s a fascinating read from beginning to end. Many famous characters (real) flow through the studios. Early voting rights play a part in the story line also. And some wartime intrigue. You’ll find yourself cheering from the bleachers when women make a tiny inroad into the male-dominated field.

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler. My friend Ann, from Idaho, brought it with her as we spent a week in Palm Desert in February. She handed it to me and said I’d really like it. Oh, did I! Loved the book. This book is a novel, but based on the life of Alva Smith Vanderbilt (Belmont). Her family was nearly destitute (and faking it) when a marriage was proposed for her with William Vanderbilt. There is lots of dialogue in the book which is made up, but I’m guessing the author probably read many diary entries of Alva (and the family) to create a very intriguing and readable story. A life of unbelievable privilege. Several children, including one who marries into a titled family in England. You see the inner life of Alva – her day to day busy work, charity work, visiting for afternoon tea, the undercurrent of society’s morals – men were nearly expected to have mistresses or affairs. This was the Victorian Age when sex between husbands and wives was not necessarily, and usually not, passionate. I loved this book from page one until the end.  Alva was a suffragette of the first order. Having read the book, I have a lot of admiration for her, even though she lived in the highest echelons of society.

Also read In Falling Snow: A Novel, by Mary-Rose McColl. From amazon: Iris, a young Australian nurse, travels to France during World War I to bring home her fifteen-year-old brother, who ran away to enlist. But in Paris she meets the charismatic Dr. Frances Ivens, who convinces Iris to help establish a field hospital in the old abbey at Royaumont, staffed entirely by women—a decision that will change her life. Seamlessly interwoven is the story of Grace, Iris’s granddaughter in 1970s Australia. Together their narratives paint a portrait of the changing role of women in medicine and the powerful legacy of love. The book  gives you a vivid picture of the state of nursing in WWI, but the story is quite mesmerizing. And there’s a twist almost at the end. Highly recommend.

Also couldn’t put down The Secret Wife by Gill Paul. A long story that begins in war-torn Russia. Cavalry officer Dmitri falls head over heels in love with one of the daughters of Tzar Nicholas. But events intervene, as history tells us. That was 1914. Cut to 2016 when a young woman inherits an ancient cabin in upper New York State and she discovers a jeweled pendant. The two times weave together to make a really riveting story. Lots of Russian history; well written; as I said, couldn’t put it down.

Uncommon Woman. A book about Colonial America, but really the western frontier at that time, which is in western Pennsylvania. The warring native Americans play large in this book. There is a romance, yes, but this book is not “a romance.” It’s more than that – about the hardships of living on the land, away from protection, Tessa and her family struggle to make a living and avoid the angered natives who take revenge when their people are murdered. Clay Tygart is a respected officer/soldier and commands a fort near where Tessa lives. Clay was captured by Lanape Indians when he was a young man, so he straddles both sides of the equation – first hand, he knows how the natives feel, but also his role in the lure of American exploration of the west. The natives wish to preserve their hunting grounds from the encroaching settlers. This book takes place in the mid-1700s I think. Loved it. Not only the history that is brilliantly detailed, even to the summer heat they experience. The crops they raise, the constant fear of attack. And the sweet love that weaves through it. Not a speck of sex in it.

Reading mysteries has never loomed large in my reading life. Occasionally, yes. And some espionage type books. But light mysteries have not intrigued me much. But one of my book clubs had us read Louise Penny’s novel, A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache Novel). The member actually handed out a cheat sheet of the characters in the book (many) and posed several questions of us as we read through it. The cheat sheet really helped. She asked us when (or if) we caught the foreshadowing of the murder culprit (I never did). The book takes place at a lovely inn in Canada and Chief Inspector Gamache (he is quite a character – along with his wife – are vacationing there) when a murder occurs. None of the characters escape the C.I.’s scrutiny. Lois, our book club member, led us through a very thorough and lively discussion of the book. Usually, my complaint about murder mysteries is that they don’t make for good discussion at a book club – but this book was an exception, for sure. Many of my learned book club friends rave about Louise Penny. One told me I should read Still Life next, and probably should have read it before I read this one.

Rachel Hauck is an author I’ve enjoyed reading over the years. Just finished reading The Memory House. It’s about relationships. Love. About family. About secrets. Doesn’t that just describe about 90% of every novel out there these days? Beck is a cop in NYC; a series of events occur and she is forced to take leave. Just then she inherits a house in Florida. She barely remembers the woman who bequeathed the house to her. Then you meet Bruno, a sports agent who will figure large in Beck’s life. Then the book jumps back in time to Everleigh, the woman who owned the house and you learn her story. Really stories of her two husbands. And how do those stories connect to present day. Very sweet book. Not a speck of sex in this one, either.

The Parrot Who Owns Me: The Story of a Relationship by Joanna Burger. Such an interesting book – nonfiction. The author is an ornithologist by profession (and a PhD) and this memoir of sorts is about her Red-Lored Amazon parrot she and her husband own. But no, it’s the parrot who owns her/them.

My Name Is Resolute by Nancy Turner. She’s the author of another book of some renown, These is my Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, 1881-1901 (P.S.). Resolute is what I’m discussing here. A book club friend recommended this book, I immediately bought it on my Kindle. I could NOT put the book down. I devoured it. Any other “work” I should have been doing was swept aside as I read and read of Resolute’s adventures. It’s fiction, but based some on a true story. Resolute, as a young girl from a privileged life on a plantation in Jamaica, was taken captive by slavers, eventually ended up in Colonial America. This book is the story of her life. The people she met, the men in her life, her children, and always about her indefatigable energy for life. Always hoping to return to Jamaica.

Finished The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek: A Novel by Kim Richardson.  It’s a novel about the first mobile library in Kentucky (this is the 1930s) and the fierce, brave packhorse librarians who wove their way from shack to shack dispensing literacy, hope, and, just as importantly, a compassionate human connection.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This book was offered as a bargain book from Bookbub, and something about the description resonated with me – maybe because of my Old Testament readings regarding the lives of shepherds back in ancient days. I utterly loved this book. It might not suit everyone – it’s a memoir, so a true story, of a young man growing up in the Lake District of Northern England, the son of a farming family, who sabotages everything in his being regarding going to school and leaves as soon as he is able (probably about 8th grade, I’d guess). And becomes a shepherd. And at night, he read literature that he accumulated from his grandfather. He bickers with his father, eventually moves out. One night in a pub with his blokes (friends) he enters some kind of a contest in the pub and realizes he has a lot more knowledge than he thought he did. In time he applies to get what I’d call here in the U.S. a G.E.D (high school diploma), which he does, and then he applies to Oxford, on a whim. And gets in. He graduates. He applies his knowledge to his rural life. He marries, has children, but still, his day to day life is all about his Herdwick sheep, although he does have a day job too working for UNESCO. You’ll learn more about sheep than you might have wanted to know. I absolutely loved, LOVED this book. If you are interested, James Rebanks has a Twitter feed, called @herdyshepherd1, and you can sign up to get updates from him about his farm and his sheep. I don’t do Twitter or I would.

Moloka’i: A Novel by Alan Brennert. A riveting book about the early days of Hansen’s Disease (leprosy) in Hawaii, and the stigma attached to the victims AND their families. It chronicles the story of a young woman, diagnosed almost as a child, and ostracized from her family, subsequently learning to live alone and remote.

House by the Fjord by Rosalind Laker. What a darling story. From amazon: A touching and atmospheric love story – When Anna Harvik travels to Norway in 1946 in order to visit the family of her late husband, the country is only just recovering from five cruel years of Nazi occupation. So it is with surprise that she finds in this cold and bitter country the capacity for new love and perhaps even a new home. I just loved this book – could hardly put it down; yet it’s not a mystery. You’ll come away with a desire to find that house by the fjord. I want to go there and have some coffee with the Anna, who was a Brit, yet fell head over heels in love with Norway.

Running Blind (Jack Reacher) by Lee Child. A Jack Reacher mystery. From amazon: Across the country, women are being murdered, victims of a disciplined and clever killer who leaves no trace evidence, no fatal wounds, no signs of struggle, and no clues to an apparent motive. They are, truly, perfect crimes. Until Jack Reacher gets in the middle of it. A page turner, as are all of the Jack Reacher stories.

Say Goodbye for Now by Catherine Ryan Hyde. This story, which takes place in a kind of Texas backwater, sets a town into an angry mess when two young boys, one white, one black, become friends, something most folks don’t like. At all. There’s a dog involved, the father of the black boy, the father of the white boy plus a woman who lives in the town and does her best to avoid people altogether. But they all get fused. Wonderful story.

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart. A sweet book, true story, of the author and her friend, during one summer in the midst of their college years, going by train to NYC and ultimately getting a job of Tiffany’s.  Cute read.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann. You might think what a stretch – what does an Indian (Native American) tribe have to do with the FBI. Read and you’ll find out. This is back in time, 50s I think, and a number of murders have taken place on the Osage Reservation. A wake up call, even for today.

Oh wow. Just finished reading David Guterson’s book, East of the Mountains. You know this author from his most well known book, Snow Falling on Cedars. I loved the Cedars book when I read it years ago, and assumed I’d like this other book (not new) as well. Have you learned to trust my judgment when I tell you, you HAVE to read a book? If I tell you the story line, I can already hear you thinking . . . oh no, I don’t want to read this kind of a book. Please trust me. You’ll come away from it being glad you did.

A fabulous read – Catherine Ryan Hyde’s newest book, Have You Seen Luis Velez? I marvel sometimes about how authors ever come up with the ideas they do, to create the premise for a novel. And this one is right up there at the top of the list. Raymond, a youngster, an older teenager, who has a big lack of self-confidence and feels like an odd duck sometimes, reluctantly (at first) befriends an elderly woman in the apartment building where he lives with his mother and step-father. He discovers she’s blind and needs some help, which he gives her.

Magic Hour: A Novel

Excellent Women

Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by Min Jin Lee

An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Tayari Jones.

Recently finished Sally Field’s memoir (autobiography) called In Pieces.

If you want grit, well, read Kristen Hannah’s newest book, The Great Alone: A Novel.

You’ve got to read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s book – Take Me With You. What a story.  From Amazon’s description: August Shroeder, a burned-out teacher, has been sober since his nineteen-year-old son died. Every year he’s spent the summer on the road, but making it to Yellowstone this year means everything. The plan had been to travel there with his son, but now August is making the trip with Philip’s ashes instead. An unexpected twist of fate lands August with two extra passengers for his journey, two half-orphans with nowhere else to go. What none of them could have known was how transformative both the trip—and the bonds that develop between them—would prove, driving each to create a new destiny together. Have a tissue handy at the end. It’s such a charming, sweet story. You’ll fall in love with the young boys, and fall in love with them again 10 years later.

The Last Letter from Your Lover: A Novel by JoJo Moyes.

Mark of the Lion : A Voice in the Wind, An Echo in the Darkness, As Sure As the Dawn (Vol 1-3) by Francine Rivers.

Flight of the Sparrow: A Novel of Early America

Answer As a Man

Celeste Ng Little Fires Everywhere.

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright.

C.J. Box’s book The Disappeared (A Joe Pickett Novel).

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng.

The Boston Girl: A Novel by Anita Diamant.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers.

The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen.

Leaving Blythe River: A Novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde.

The Girl with Seven Names by Hyanseo Lee.

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian.

The Good Widow: A Novel by Lisa Steinke.

The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes.

How It All Began: A Novel by Penelope Lively.

 

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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I was born with a reading list I
will never finish.    –  Maud Casey


Sir Francis Bacon wrote: “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed and some few to be chewed and digested; that is, some books are to be read only in parts; others to be read, but not curiously; and some few to be read wholly and with diligence and attention.

Reading is an integral part of my life. Has been since I was very young. Although I do read some non-fiction – biographies, cookbooks (see just 3 of the 6 rows of cookbooks in my kitchen above) – cooking-related tomes or other kinds of memoirs – a few of the “for Dummies” books – and the Holy Bible), mostly I read fiction. The better fiction, not pulp fiction. One of the toughest things I do is decide on what books I’ll take on a trip, when I know I may have difficulty finding books in English. Finally I purchased a Kindle, the hand-held electronic book reader offered from Amazon. Read my review of the Kindle, if you’re interested. I do miss the feel of a hardback book. Love the smell of the pages and the ink, and the treasures I always hope to find within the covers. But I’m running out of room in my study/library here in our home. Every year I have to purge, which is just an awful chore I dread doing. I’d like to keep nearly every book I’ve ever read. I don’t re-read them, so why I feel the need to possess them, I don’t know. But I do.

Having been in book clubs since the 1960’s, I’ve read mostly well-written, interesting, thought-provoking, conversation-worthy selections. My AAUW (American Association of University Women – a group comprised of college graduate women) book group chooses a variety of fiction each year, usually including one from the classics. We also read at least one Black author, or a book about Black history in February, for Black History Month (many of our members are teachers, retired teachers or librarians, and we conform to a school-year calendar). We make a big effort to choose books that will stimulate interesting conversation. We’ve learned that most biographies, all mysteries and pulp fiction just don’t offer enough meaty things to talk about. Hence, we focus mostly on “better” fiction. Once a  year that group selects the books for the following 9-month “year.” Members propose books and we pick and choose. 

I’m in a second book group now, with just 7 members, and we read maybe a bit lighter fare. There are no rules, no reviewer, we just read for the enjoyment of it and meet once a month to discuss it. We rarely know more than one month ahead what we’re going to read. And since 2012 I’m also in my P.E.O. book group. We read a bit lighter fare also, no violence, really, occasionally a very light mystery. The hostess chooses the book a month or so ahead and that way each member gets to propose something of her choosing.

My AAUW book group has been meeting for about 40 years, although I’ve not been in it quite that long. A few years back I began writing up the book lists each year, on a single page, showing small images of the book covers, which we hand out to all the members at our September meeting. Here are the book lists from some of the years. They’re in PDF, so just click on the link below and you can view (and print) the lists, if you’re interested. Below nearly every title I’ve written a few words – my opinion only – of the books.

Books from 2005-6 PDF

Books from 2006-7 PDF

Books from 2007-8 PDF

Books for 2008-9 PDF

Books for 2009-10 PDF

Books for 2010-11 PDF

Books for 2011-12 PDF

A list of my favorite books

These are in no particular order, except the first one, which is probably my all-time favorite book I’ve ever read (I read it in the 1980’s). Some are quite old, and you can likely find multiple copies in your local library. Or, buy used copies. Each book has a link to Amazon.

Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett, 1971. Mostly Follett writes espionage and spy novels, but after successes with several books, he felt driven to write Pillars. It’s about the conception and building of a cathedral in England, which spans hundreds of years. That sounds so mundane, but it’s hardly that. Almost like a James Michener style, it’s told in story form. Follett has since written a sequel, World Without End.

The Snow Goose, by Paul Gallico. A beautiful, symbolic love story about snow geese, who mate for life.

A Country Year, by Sue Hubbell, 1999. A memoir. After Sue’s divorce and subsequent move to the Ozarks, she learns to beekeep, and asks herself some perennial questions about life, love and the pursuit of happiness. Each chapter is an essay, about the farm, about seasons of the year, or those big questions about life in general. There’s seriousness and humor here.

Forever Amber, by Kathleen Winsor, 1944. Really this is about prostitution in England, oh, way back in history. It is a real tear jerker, and probably more like pulp fiction, but written with some class and not the kind of detail you might read in today’s romance novels.

Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell. The classic. What can you say about this book, other than it’s an epic novel. I remember reading it (when it first came out) cover to cover at all hours of day and night. I was unbelievably mesmerized by the story.

Andromeda Strain, Michael Crichton, 1969; Crichton’s first novel. I was very taken with Crichton when he came on the writing scene. He was an M.D., but never wanted to practice medicine. So he wrote. And wrote.

My Life in France, (biography of Julia Child), by Julia and her nephew, Alex Prud’Homme. You’ll see all different sides to the woman who was Julia Child. She adored her husband. She was a great adventurer. She was diligent in her efforts to create and perfect recipes. And she and her nephew did a masterful job writing the book.

James Beard’s Delights & Prejudices, by James Beard, 1964. I read this soon after it was published. This is autobiographical, mostly about Beard’s growing-up years in Portland, in the boarding house his mother owned and ran. And you’ll understand perfectly why Beard became a foodie of grand proportions. It’s a memoir, with recipes, and charming stories.

My Antonia, by Willa Cather, 1918. About an immigrant family who move to Nebraska. A little bit of women’s rights, about the hardships of the time, and women’s place in society of that era.

Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather, 1927. Purportedly this novel is about the origins of the Catholic faith in the American Southwest, I look at it as more of just a journey in religious faith, period. Although the book spans a couple of centuries, it also dwells on the last few years of the life of one archbishop. It was my first introduction to the kind of mind-think when you’re old and approaching death.

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson, 2006. Mortenson is an RN with a passion for mountain-climbing. In an aborted attempt to climb K2 in Pakistan, he makes a wrong turn and ends up in a tiny, remote village. The people there, who had never even seen an American before, took him in, nursed him back to health, taught him their language. In the process he learned they had no school, really, for their village children. He vowed to help them to build one. Thus began an odyssey with a foundation he started to construct schools in mostly remote villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan.  I’m happy that one man, an American, helped spread love and caring to Muslims. Addendum: I was so unhappy when Mortenson was accused of taking money from his foundation – it kind of defies logic that he didn’t know he couldn’t take money from those earmarked philanthropic funds for his day to day living expenses. I have no idea what’s happened to his projects or to him personally.

Sacred Hunger, by Barry Unsworth, 1992. An historical novel of the 1780’s, about an English family (mostly about the father and son) who eventually end up on a slave ship (not as slaves) sailing to Africa and on to the New World. Lots of history in between, but ends up as the ship founders off the coast of Florida. Not a particularly happy book, but Unsworth is an excellent writer. Won the Booker Prize.

84, Charing Cross Road, by Helen Hanff, 1970. A novel, but based on a true story. Also made into a movie. It’s a charming, utterly captivating tale, of a correspondence between a learned woman in America, with a antiquarian bookseller’s shop in London. She wants books, they want to sell books, and a over the course of 20 years quite a friendship develops. A very short book. There’s also a sequel to it, The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street.

War & Remembrance, by Herman Wouk, 1978. Part of a trilogy. Takes place during WW II, chronicles the life of a career Navy officer and his family.

A Farewell to France, by Noel Barber, 1983. Out of print now, but maybe you could find it in a used book store. I’ve always had a fascination for France. This is a WW II story about a champagne house in France, the man who owns it, and his romance with a woman. The war intervenes, and it’s quite fascinating reading how they protect the wine. Definitely a pulp fiction book but with interesting historical aspects to it.

Palace Walk, by Naguib Mahfouz, 1990 (in English). The first book of the Cairo Trilogy. Fascinating glimpse into the world of Muslim veiled women, in one particular family. Much of the book’s narrative takes place within the walls of the family home in Cairo. Will make you feel blessed if you live in a country where you have freedom of dress and movement.

Winter Wheat, by Mildred Walker, 1944. Reprinted in 1992 by a collective wanting to renew interest in some obscure but noteworthy books. One of my book club members is from Montana, and recommended this book. I ended up doing the review, and was quite taken with it. It’s historical fiction, about a young woman in the 1940’s, her relationship with her father and mother (who is a Russian immigrant) and her eventual job as a teacher in a extremely remote Montana town where she lives in a small room attached to the schoolhouse. No power. No phone. Amazing story of hardship and resiliance.

The Piano Tuner, by David Mason, 2002. Fascinating glimpse into the history of Burma under British rule. About a rather aesthetic man, a piano tuner by trade, who is hired by the British government to go to Burma (not an easy feat in that time) to tune a piano in a very remote semi-military outpost, ravaged by war. Made me want to see that part of the world, though I doubt I ever will do so.

Chesapeake, by James Michener, 1978. I’ve read nearly all of Michener’s works, but I believe this one was my favorite. About the American founders of the Chesapeake Bay. Like all of Michener’s books that chronicle several centuries, this one spans about 400 years, from about 1583 to 1978.

David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens, 1850. I’ve read most of Dicken’s novels, but this one was my favorite. I really was taken with the character, the hardships he endured, and his insatiable desire to better himself. It’s about the inumerable people he encounters in his life and how he learns from every experience. And matures. Supposedly the book is somewhat autobiographic of Dickens’ life.

Five Smooth Stones, by Ann Fairbairn, 1966. About an interracial relationship. Very heartbreaking and heartwarming, about love and challenges. I haven’t read it since the 1960’s – don’t even own the book. But I’ve never, ever, forgotten it. It’s out of print now, but perhaps available at a library. A few used copies are available through Amazon.

Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand, 1957. I so often read books at face value, and don’t dwell on the inner meaning. It was only years later that I read a review and learned about Rand’s purpose. According to Wikipedia: “Atlas Shrugged portrays fascism, socialism and communism – any form of state intervention in society – as systemically and fatally flawed. However, Rand claimed that it is not a fundamentally political book, but that the politics portrayed in the novel are a result of her attempt to display her image of the ideal person and the individual mind’s position and value in society.” Whatever the true meaning, I was quite taken with the characters and enjoyed reading about the remote town in Colorado (purportedly based on the town of Ouray, one of my favorite small towns of America) where John Galt goes – to live, to escape. I should re-read it now. There are even books written about Atlas Shrugged.