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Carolyn

Sara

Sara and me

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Erik Larson’s tome, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz. This book covers the “reign” of Winston Churchill during the height of WWII. You’ll learn so much more about him. About the war. About the inner workings of the British government, including political. I’m a great admirer of the late Mr. Churchill. One of my more recent trips to England I visited Chartwell, the family home and where Winston died. If you’ve never been there, do add it to your itinerary next time. Beautiful grounds, including the small studio he used to paint.

Ken Follett is one of my fav authors, and I pre-ordered his newest, The Evening and the Morning (Kingsbridge), which is a prequel to The Pillars of the Earth: A Novel (Kingsbridge), my all-time favorite book I’ve ever read. Time period: 975 to about 1007 or so. Give or take. It follows a poor, but eager and intelligent builder as he earns his trade. It’s about his loves. His failures. The families all around, and much about the ever-present church (and its leaders, some honest, many not). Could hardly put the book down. Love Follett’s style of writing.

Every so often I read a romance of some kind. Historical ones mostly. And most I don’t include them here. But one I liked a lot is The Secrets of Saffron Hall by Clare Marchant. It happens to be very inexpensive right now on amazon, on Kindle, in case you’re interested. It jumps from 1538 and to 2019. Having to do with a precious book, a Book of Hours, and what secrets it contains. The growing of saffron plays large here and both romance in Tudor times and a tenuous marriage in current time, but nearly all of it takes place at a Tudor castle. Loved the book.

The book Where the Blind Horse Sings: Love and Healing at an Animal Sanctuary shares the story of a number of animals brought to an animal sanctuary in the Catskills. If you’re an animal lover, you’ll enjoy the stories, each animal bringing more to the human-animal relationship than you might even guess. Profound stories of love of animals. Not a long book; I think I got it as a bargain book from bookbub.

The title caught my attention on this one: Threading My Prayer Rug: One Woman’s Journey from Pakistani Muslim to American Muslim by Sabeeha Rehman. She’s written her own autobiography, beginning when she was a young child in Pakistan, to her eventual settling in New York. It’s about the Muslim experience. Their beliefs, their customs and traditions, told in a very pleasing and informational way. She marries in American Pakistani Muslim (an arranged marriage) and it’s the story of everything. Nothing much is left out of the journey she made, and still makes. She became a kind of activist for her religion, trying to bring Muslim customs to integrate into American culture (not always an easy task). Her husband is a doctor; she a hospital administrator. Likely you’ll learn more than you thought about Muslims. Very well written. Enjoyed it very much.

Finished Chinn’s story, The English Wife. What a great read. Could hardly put it down. I’m reading 3-4 books a week these days, and am so happy when I have a book I can’t wait to get back to. Really the story is about two sisters. Partly in Norwich, England, then in Newfoundland. One there, one here. And some of it takes place during WWII in Norwich, and much of it Newfoundland, then, and more recent. I loved the part of the book that took place on 9/11 when flights were diverted to Newfoundland. Family secrets, family lies, much anger between the sisters. There’s romance. There’s war. There is love of family. Particularly I savored the descriptions of Newfoundland, mostly rock, if you’ve never been there. It’s a twisted tale, by that I mean the family secrets which become the undoing. It’s a bargain on amazon right now, as I write this.

Also finished reading Sue Monk Kidd’s recent book, The Book of Longings: A Novel. It is a book that might challenge some Christian readers, as it tells the tale of Jesus marrying a woman named Mary. The story is all about Mary, her growing up, her scholarly pursuits, and then from the moment she meets Jesus as a young man. The story follows along to and beyond his death on the cross. In the time of Christ it was extremely uncommon for a man not to marry. It was almost unseemly. Fraught with suspicions, I’d suppose. Although scripture, as scripture, does not play a very strong part here, if you’ve read the Bible you’ll see many of the stories of Jesus’ life through Mary’s eyes. I loved the book from the first word to the last one. The book is believable to me, even though the Bible never says one way or the other that Jesus ever married. It’s been presumed he never did. But maybe he did?

Jeanine Cummins has written an eye-opener, American Dirt. A must read. Oh my goodness. I will never, ever, ever look at Mexican (and further southern) migrants, particularly those who are victims of the vicious cartels, without sympathy. It tells the story of a woman and her young son, who were lucky enough to hide when the cartel murdered every member of her family – her husband, her mother, and many others. Her husband was a journalist, and his life was always in danger because he wrote the truth, and that was taking a risk. The story is about her escape, with harrowing chapters as she makes her way north from Acapulco, with various major detours, one step, or sometimes nothing more than a hair’s width ahead of the cartel minions trying to find her. I could NOT put this book down. The author is not Hispanic, and some have criticized her for that, but she did her research, and many authors write about places and people they are not. I have nothing but respect for her having told this story. You need to read this.

Also read JoJo Moyes’ book, The Giver of Stars. Oh gosh, what a GREAT book. Alice, living in an English home which lacks much, leaps to agree to marry a visiting American. It was an escape for her. He is a man of some family wealth, and she travels from England to Kentucky, during the 1920s. Once settled into the family home, she discovers married life is not what she had expected. Affection is lacking, and she must share the home with her tyrannical father-in-law, the owner of mines in the deep mountains. And with the ghost of the deceased mother-in-law. The family cook won’t tolerate Alice’s help in the kitchen. Alice is terribly lonely and unhappy. The town doesn’t much like this English woman with her funny way of speaking. But then, she meets a woman who encourages her to join the Horseback Librarians. With trepidation, she begins traversing the remote hills, through unbelievable weather, to deliver old, battered and tattered books to the remote inhabitants of the area. She makes friends, wonderful, loving people from all walks of life. There is tremendous tension from the danger of the mines, the unions trying to get a foothold, plus the unraveling of her marriage, including the dreaded father-in-law who feels she should answer to him, behave as he wants. Uh, no. Alice goes her own route. Her new friends become her family, and, oh, what love. There has been much criticism of Moyes’ possible plagiarism of another book regarding the Horseback Librarians. I read the other book – but I didn’t feel remotely as intrigued by that story as I was by Moyes’ version. A feel good story, but it takes some while getting to that “feel good” part, nearly to the end.

Frances Liardet has written a blockbuster tale, We Must Be Brave. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. Although the scene is WWII England, this book is not really about the war. It’s about the people at home, waiting it out, struggling with enough food, clothing and enough heat. It’s about Ellen. Her early years, under much hardship. About her teens, some of it as an orphan. Then a young adult, which includes marriage, a marriage blanc, which I didn’t understand until you learn the meaning. Then a child enters the picture, a child that will become a focus for the remainder of the book. Through the war, and beyond. I cried several times, as will you, I suspect. What’s a constant is the descriptions of the place, a town called Upton, near Southampton. About the hills and dales, the flora and fauna, the rain, the mud sometimes, the flooding sometimes. But throughout, it’s about neighbors caring for neighbors, and about love. A must read. Would make a really good book club read.

Jamie Ford has written another good one, Love and Other Consolation Prizes. Remember, he wrote The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. Loved that book. This one takes on a rather ugly part of America’s past, when Chinese people were treated like trinkets. Ernest Young is such a boy, who ends up being a “prize” at an event, and with great angst, ends up as a kind of servant at a high-class bordello in Seattle. Yet, the women and girls there become HIS family. He is intelligent and learns many lessons. Eventually, when society women battle to close down such houses of ill repute, he leaves that life, with his wife. They have children. The bulk of the book is about the early years around the turn of the 20th century, then you pick up the threads nearing the end of his life, and his wife’s. There are any number of small mysteries, which unravel with a word here or there – you know that word foreshadowing? Really interesting read.

In between more literary novels, I bought a comedic memoir . . . Juliette Sobanet’s Meet Me in Paris. There’s the falling apart of a marriage (and divorce), but in the inbetween, she decides to take a trip (sans husband) around Europe to get her head straight. The kind of tour that would drive me crazy, but it was one night, maybe two at each major city. She knew no one, but soon enough bonds with  three other women. Then she has a chance-meeting of a young Frenchman who had been an exchange student in her home town. They’d lost touch, yet there were definitely sparks there, never realized. Some of the touristy stuff was trite, I must say, although the women do try to take in all the major sites, if only for a few minutes. There is plenty of humor. Some steamy stuff too as she meets up with the young man in another city. Apparently it’s a happy-ever-after story. Great literature it is not, but it was a fun romp, so to speak.

Recently finished Thomas Nelson’s The Hideaway. It seems like there are SO many novels out there about families finding, inheriting or otherwise going to an old house with memories. Especially ones on the water. With stories to tell. It’s a great way to introduce some light mystery to the telling of some other family story. In this case it’s Sara’s grandmother who was enigmatic in every way. And Sara inherits the run-down, ramshackle B&B on Mobile Bay. Cute story with lots of twists and turns.

Also just finished James Conroyd Martin’s Fortune’s Child: A Novel of Empress Theodora (Book 1 of 2). Theodora grew up the daughter of a circus performer, but then moved onto “the boards,” as acting was called back in Byzantine times (Constantinople, 6th century). She always had high expectations – she just “knew” she was going to accomplish great things. She was an occasional prostitute, a mistress, and then, behold, the son of Emperor Justin is mesmerized by her beauty, takes her on, and makes her his wife, amid much royal machinations. A young eunuch also plays large in the story too, a man hopelessly in love with Thea, but knows his love can never be returned or fulfilled. He becomes an historian to the Empress. Quite a story – much of it chronicles her early life and not a lot of it in Constantinople. But riveting story.

I’m doing SO much reading of late. Read this book in one day. The Glass Hotel: A novel by Emily St. John Mandel. Loosely based on the story of Bernie Madoff (Ponzi scheme), it tells a novelized version of a man with incredible power and charisma who gathers a group of willing partners. It’s about the people he cuckolded, and the people who took him down. At the beginning drugs come into play and I almost didn’t continue, but that was a very short section. Well worth reading. Lots to discuss if you’re looking for a book club read.

Once in awhile I read a poignant animal story, as you know if you’ve followed this sidebar for any length of time. Craig & Fred: A Marine, A Stray Dog, and How They Rescued Each Other by Craig Gross, tells the story of his military duty in Afghanistan, in a war zone. And how his unit befriended a dog, a stray, and how that dog really did become his lifeline.

Cara Wall’s new book, The Dearly Beloved: A Novel. It tells the story of two couples. The two husbands become co-pastors of a New York City church. The wives? Oh my, are they ever different. They don’t abide. The husbands try to get a grip on their jobs, pastoring, preaching, and keeping the wives happy.

Loved-loved Gregory Buford’s humorous memoir, Kept: An American Househusband in India. He aims to be a U.S. diplomat, takes the tests and fails. On a whim, his wife takes the test and is hired. Their first assignment: Chennai, India. They spent two years there, with his much-loved wife going off to do diplomatic duties (albeit at a low level – everyone must pay their dues at the beginning) and Greg is left at home to deal with the servants, the house, the beggars, the nanny, the construction next door, shopping, and also partly caring for their infant.

William Kent Krueger wrote Ordinary Grace. From amazon: a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God. It’s a coming of age story.

Shirley Ann Grau’s book, The Keepers of the House. Hmmm. Much to think about. [from an amazon review]: There is a reason it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1965. Seven generations of Howlands have lived on this rural Alabama plantation in good times and bad. It tells the story of this family from the time its patriarch settled the land in the early 1800s to the mid-20th century.

Marie Martin wrote Harbored Secrets. From amazon: In May of 1935, Blinny Platt’s homestead shack burns to the ground forever leaving her family asunder, scattering them like the embers flew on the Montana wind. She was only 8, sent away and in charge of her little sister. She could handle that because Platts take care of Platts. However, it is the hidden secrets of her parents smoldering beneath the charred remains that haunts Blinny until 1982.

Best book I’ve read recently. Not new. Called Follow the River: A Novel by James Alexander Thom. This one is also based on the history of a woman (married, pregnant) who was captured by the Shawnee, during the early settlement days east of the Ohio River, about 1755. And her eventual escape. I stayed up all hours to keep reading. The book was written from the many journals and writing compiled by her children. Her name: Mary Ingles. And it chronicles her 1000-mile trek in treacherous weather and over uncharted ground. What an amazing woman, and what a story.

Alan Hlad has written quite a novel. From true life. The Long Flight Home. It tells the story based on family history, of the homing pigeons that were used in Britain during WWII that flew back and forth across the English Channel into German-occupied France. It’s a heartwarming story. Heart-wrenching sometimes. War is an awful thing no matter which side you’re on when it comes to how it affects everyday people. You’ll learn a lot about pigeons, but also about love. Great read.

Riveted to Katie Munnick’s novel The Heart Beats in Secret. It begins in Scotland in 1940. A woman, a single mother. A journey across the sea. Then her daughter’s story, and finally the granddaughter’s story, when she inherits her grandmother’s old cottage back in Scotland. Plenty of mother-daughter dysfunction. But it comes right in the end.

Sarah Vallance has written a book about her devastating brain injury. Prognosis: A Memoir of My Brain. What a story. What a saga of her recovery. And how she did it. An open wide sharing of her angst, her anger, her journey. Well worth reading. If you have anyone who has suffered a brain injury, it would be wise reading.

Just love all of Amy Harmon’s books. This one is no exception. Where the Lost Wander: A Novel. A pioneer story of a young woman made a widow on the trail to the west. 1850s. As it was in life, tragedies occur. But there is caring and love too. Loved it.

Read Her Mother’s Hope by Francine Rivers. After leaving her childhood home of Switzerland, young Marta Schneider dreams of one day owning a boardinghouse, until marriage and motherhood change her ambitions. Determined to give her family a better life, she vows to raise strong children. But her tough love is often misunderstood, especially by her oldest daughter, Hildemara Rose, creating repercussions that will echo for generations.

Esther Freud’s book The Sea House: A Novel is about a small village on England’s southern coast.  The book is about love found, love lost, love sometimes found again, sometimes not. About how fleeting it can be or seem.

Amor Towles’ book, Rules of Civility: A Novel was quite a read. It’s NYC, 1937. Twenty-five-year-old Katey Kontent [Kon-TENT she iterates to many] is in a Greenwich Village jazz bar when a handsome banker happens to sit down at the neighboring table. This chance encounter and its startling consequences propel Katey on a year-long journey into the upper echelons of New York society.

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien. What an adorable book. True story about Stacey’s 20 years with a feisty but lovable barn owl.

Loved The Wedding Officer: A Novel by Anthony Capella. It takes place in the middle of WWII in Naples. A young British officer, Captain James Gould, is sent to Naples to wade through the zilions of applications from soldiers to marry local Italian women (and presumably take them back to England when the war ends).

Reading behind Bars: A True Story of Literature, Law, and Life as a Prison Librarian by Jill Grunenwald. So interesting. Jill is  young, with a newly minted degree in library science at a time when the economy was very slow. She accepts a position in a minimum security prison in Ohio.

The Walls of Lucca by Steve Physioc. A novel that takes place in between WWI and II about a weary Italian soldier.

The Hired Man by Aminatta Forna. A novel about Croatia in the aftermath of their more recent wars.

A Column of Fire: A Novel by Ken Follett. It takes place in the 1500s, in England, and has everything to do with the war between the Catholics and the Protestants, that raged throughout Europe during that time, culminating in the Spanish Inquisition.

Having read all of Kristin Hannah’s books, I knew I’d read her latest too: Between Sisters: A Novel.  Two sisters, raised by the same mother but different fathers. At a young age a rift occurs and the sisters go their own way.

Just finished Matt McCarthy’s book The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly: A Physician’s First Year. It tells the true life story of his first year as an intern at a New York hospital.

Also read Karen Harper’s book The Royal Nanny: A Novel. The time frame is 1890s onward, at Sandringham, when Charlotte Bill (a real person) was hired by the Duke and Duchess of York, to care for their children.

Also read Roger Swindell’s Mendelevski’s Box. It’s an historical novel about the aftermath of WWII in impoverished Amsterdam.

Also read a very quirky non-fiction book: The Perfect Gentleman: The remarkable life of Dr. James Miranda Barry by June Rose. This is a biography about a person who lived in the mid-1800s. He was a surgeon; graduated from Edinburgh Medical School at the age of 14. Joined the British Army as a medical officer then sent off to South Africa and many other tropical outposts during his career.

The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. The premise of this book is different . . . a woman writer goes to Scotland to connect with her distant heritage.

Another great read, The Island of Sea Women: A Novel by Lisa See. It’s 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 breadwinners. Husbands stayed home and cared for the babies. The island is real. The history is real.

Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford. A novel about the early days of radio in London.

A Well-Behaved Woman: A Novel of the Vanderbilts by Therese Anne Fowler. 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.  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.

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. 

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.

Uncommon Woman. A book about Colonial America, but really the western frontier at that time, which is in western Pennsylvania.

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. 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.

The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. This is 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. And then what happens to him as he grows up. Riveting.

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.

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.

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? Raymond, a youngster, an older teenager, who  lacks 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. Sweet story.

Magic Hour: A Novel

Excellent Women

Pachinko (National Book Award Finalist) by Min Jin Lee. Everyone should read this one.

An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel by Tayari Jones. DIdn’t like it much, but others do.

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.

 

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.