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ExUrbanis

Urban Leaving to Country Living

Books Read in November 2014

January9

books read
While I was coming to terms with the long-term tenancy of my step-daughter and two grandsons, I got back to some really good reading this month, discovering a book that has become one of my all-time favourites.


 
1. The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck (Fiction, Modern classic, Pulitzer Prize winner) 5 star rating
The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck photo f6d36950-3c1a-41fd-a42c-0455e93f70d5_zpswqlcl668.jpg

Although Pearl Buck was born in the United States in 1892, her parents moved to China as missionaries when she was just a few months old. She continued to live in China for most of her life before 1934. According to Wikipedia, her novel The Good Earth was the best-selling fiction book in the United States in 1931 and 1932 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932.

Amazon says: “This moving, classic story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-Lan is must reading for those who would fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during the last century.”

In 1938, Buck was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature “for the notable works which pave the way to a human sympathy passing over widely separated racial boundaries and for the studies of human ideals which are a great and living art of portraiture”.

Indeed the themes of work, land and riches explored in The Good Earth are universal and timeless.
5 stars
 

2. The 100—Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (Fiction, Contemporary, Satire) 4.5 star rating
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson photo 27e9e3bc-a29a-4abd-9a85-a779f791b740_zps3knt912i.jpg
As you might be able to tell from the title, this book, translated from Swedish, is told in a breezy, almost tongue-in-cheek style.

After ‘escaping’ from a nursing home, Allan Karlsson, much like Forrest Gump, encounters a series of adventures that become more outlandish as the book progresses.

Lots of fun.
4½ stars
 

3. Green on Blue by Elliot Ackerman (Fiction, Contemporary, Afghanistan War) 4.5 star rating
Green on Blue by Elliot Ackerman photo 2b509e95-2b41-46b2-a293-0eefca3978f6_zpsj0xzxb8m.jpg
Due to circumstances, young Afghani teen Aziz must join the Special Lashkar, a US-funded militia. As he rises through the ranks, Aziz becomes mired in the dark underpinnings of his country’s war, witnessing clashes between rival Afghan groups—what US soldiers call “green on green” attacks—and those on US forces by Afghan soldiers, violence known as “green on blue.”

Ackerman brilliantly sets up the hopelessness of living in war, and he has us cheering on the protagonist in his concluding decision.

Well-written, riveting, and hard-hitting.
4½ stars
 

4. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty (Fiction, Contemporary, Suspense) 3.5 star rating
What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty photo 7ecda2ab-08ef-4839-a772-d87b0d2f39b8_zpsoxt5rxjv.jpg
Amazon says: “Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! She HATES the gym) and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over—she’s getting divorced, she has three kids, and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade.”

So here’s the thing: I must have enjoyed this at the time since I rated it 4 stars then, but I’ve forgotten it so thoroughly that I didn’t even remember reading it at all.

Hmmm . . . Guess I forgot what Alice forgot. I wish it had been more memorable.
3½ stars
 

5. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich (Non-fiction, Social Issues) 3.5 star rating
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich photo cbc6de61-5946-4adb-ac39-f24e34463e58_zps8pao4nbn.jpg

Ehrenreich posed as a waitress in order to discover how the working poor in America cope financially. I expected to find an examination of the cost of living, but instead found the flip-side: the difficulty of making a living, earning an income.

As with any such journalism of this type, it’s hard to truly capture the desperation of not having the luxury of back-up, knowing that, at any time, you can return to another life, job, and bank account. Ehrenreich does acknowledge these limitations.

A fine effort.
3½ stars
 

6. The Brandons by Angela Thirkell (Fiction, Vintage, Comedy) 3.5 star rating
The Brandons by Angela Thirkell photo be394189-823d-4857-9609-abfaa868a4b3_zpsxkbewont.jpg
Originally published in 1939, The Brandons gives us a glimpse into the life of “Lavinia Brandon, quite the loveliest widow in Barsetshire, blessed with beauty and grace, as well as two handsome grown-up children, Delia and Francis.”

Somewhat typical Thirkell although perhaps even slower moving than most. About two-thirds of the way through my copy, I found a duplicate of the previous 40 pages (and 40 pages missing). I picked up the story easily even without knowing what happened in the missing section.
3½ stars
 
 

*   *   *   *   *

 
Once again, I’m including the two mysteries I read this month in this post.
 

1. Miss Dimple Disappears by Mignon Ballard (Fiction, Mystery, Cozy) 3.5 star rating
Miss Dimple Disappears by Mignon Ballard photo bf87226d-14e8-46ea-90d5-4e728e4dd088_zpsnku6cvml.jpg

Set in small-town Georgia USA in 1942, this first in the Miss Dimple Kirkpatrick series sees the steady-as-a-rock first grade teacher kidnapped.

I remember being a little disappointed in this, but I can’t recall anything else about it. Many readers, though, highly praise the details of the setting.
3½ stars
 

2. Everybody Goes to Jimmy’s by Michael Mayo (Fiction) 3.5 star rating
Everybody Goes to Jimmy's by Michael Mayo photo f3e670c6-395a-4511-b8d8-9c95b0bd391a_zpsfk4ecfc7.jpg

This second in the Jimmy Quinn series (I mistakenly thought it was the first) is billed as a suspense novel but, with its circa 1930 Manhattan speakeasy setting, it seemed more a mild sort of hard-boiled mystery to me.

I did enjoy it though and do plan to read more of the series at some time.
3½ stars

 

This was the start of a run of several months of good reading. Do any of these appeal to you?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books Read in October 2014

January6

books read
My husband & I spent the first two weeks of October 2014 in southern France (ending with 4 days in Paris), celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. It was a very special trip because we hadn’t traveled often or far before that, and it was perfect. Oddly enough, even though we had ‘rest’ days, I didn’t get much reading in.

 

1. The Tucci Table by Stanley Tucci (Nonfiction, Cookbook) 4 star rating

Tucci's Table by Stanley Tucci photo c57a1638-7a05-4d71-a001-dacb08ad6389_zpsrhqraen0.jpg I love Stanley Tucci! Whether he’s a hypersensitive tango dancer in Shall We Dance?, the husband of a beloved cooking icon in Julie and Julia, the mischievous Puck in A Mid-Summer Night’s Dream, or any one of the scores of other roles he’s had, I think he’s brilliant.

So I was bound to love his new cookbook, written with his wife Felicity Blunt (sister of actress Emily Blunt). And I did!

Tucci combines his love of classic French food (which I was enjoying for the first time that month) with the bounty of food available in North America (especially in larger cities) to present a fresh take on the food that has enchanted generations of eaters.
4 stars

 

2. Dr.Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party by Graham Green (Fiction, Vintage, Satire) 4 star rating
Dr. Fischer of Geneva or the Bomb Party by Graham Greene photo 12e40f5b-ab90-44fd-a837-c8c3f96ea945_zpswml0af5g.jpg

A darkly comic novel about a misanthropic millionaire who decides to hold the last of his famous parties, first published in 1980.

At first, nothing seems to happen. Our narrator arrives as an invited guest to find other diners already at the table. There is a strange current in the air, eventually traced to the strange gifts Dr. Fischer has distributed to his guests.

Clever, as you might expect of Greene.
4 stars
 

3. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (Fiction, Literary) 3.5 star rating
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson photo 89892962-0cd8-43e9-8d67-2e419e32f10c_zpsgutpoihm.jpg

“In Gilead, Iowa, our narrator, John Ames, age 76, a retiring preacher, is writing a letter to his almost seven-year-old son, the blessing of his second marriage. It is a summing-up, an apologia, a consideration of his life. The reason for the letter is Ames’s failing health. He wants to leave an account of himself for this son who will never really know him. Robinson takes the story away from being simply the reminiscences of one man and moves it into the realm of a meditation on fathers and children, particularly sons, on faith, and on the imperfectability of man.”

Although this is wildly popular, I found it so-so. Perhaps my age—or study of the Bible—has me in a place in life where Ames’ wonderings seemed self-conscious and/or prosaic.
3½ stars
 

4. 10:04 by Ben Lerner (Fiction, Contemporary) 3.5 star rating

10:04 by Ben Lerner photo 32cff908-ec3b-4ccd-bb51-f7d3add63e15_zpswjb9lfp6.jpgTo give this books its due, I will note that it was named “One of the Best Books of the Year” by:
The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Village Voice, The Boston Globe, NPR, Vanity Fair, The Guardian (London), The L Magazine, The Times Literary Supplement (London), The Globe and Mail (Toronto), The Huffington Post, Gawker, Flavorwire, San Francisco Chronicle, The Kansas City Star, and The Jewish Daily Forward.

It was also the winner of The Paris Review‘s 2012 Terry Southern Prize and a finalist for the 2014 Folio Prize and the NYPL Young Lions Fiction Award.

It’s another that I found only ‘meh”. Again, I think perhaps I’m too old.
3½ stars
 

5. Julia, Child by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad (Fiction, children‘s picture book) 3 star rating

Maclear imagines Julia Child and her co-author of Mastering the Art of French Cooking as children. They observe that adults have forgotten joy and are a grey and dreary bunch. Julia & Simone concoct delightful food that teaches the adults to be better people.

My goodness, I’m getting crotchety in my old age. I don’t think that children should be celebrated, to themselves at any rate, for teaching adults. This book seems to be saying “kids know better.”

Sorry, I don’t think they do.
3 stars

 

*   *   *   *   *

 
I’m including the only mystery I read this month in this post.
 

6. Death in High Heels by Christianna Brand (Fiction, Mystery, Vintage) 3.5 star rating
Death in High Heels by Christianna Brand photo c4ff71f6-c6c0-4d81-a2a3-a87169134cc7_zpsuoewlu2n.jpg

Christianna Brand, who died in 1988, wrote mysteries that were published between 1940 and the early 1980s. Her work thus overlapped with Christie and Marsh and she is considered by some to be their peer.

Death in High Heels (1941) was her first Inspector Charlesworth mystery and one of her earliest works, and it was my introduction to her writing. I had the feeling that Brand hadn’t quite crystallized her characters yet and, as a result, the book felt a little unanchored to me.

I was glad, however, to finally ‘meet’ Brand.
3½ stars

 


All in all, France was wonderful; the reading, a little less so. Have you read any of these?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books I’ve Read in the Past (Feb – June 1998)

December16

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I first started keeping track of the books that I read in 1997 when I was already in my ’40s. These early records are incomplete, and some of the brief comments are laughable. But, inspired by JoAnn of Lakeside Musing who has shared her older journals in a series that she has named Pages from the Past, I’d like to share my journals with you. Herewith, a small sample from February through June, 1998. My record-keeping was thin on the ground!
 

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (Non-fiction, Autobiography)

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller photo helen keller_zpsuftcm1nz.jpgWritten when she was 22; includes various letters she sent as a girl and young woman. I was prompted to read by seeing a performance of Miracle Workerat Theatre Aquarius.

It’s really remarkable what this girl learned. In future I’d like to read the books she wrote later in life.

[2016 notes: I’ve known about Helen Keller all my life – well, at least since I saw the Patty Duke version of The Miracle Worker when I was eight years old. Keller was an incredible woman.

I never have gotten around to reading more of Keller’s books, so I guess that’s an oversight to correct.]
 

The Ragged Way People Fall Out of Love by Elizabeth Cox (Fiction, Southern USA)

The Ragged Way People Fall Out of Love by Elizabeth Cox photo ragged_zpsaaksgbzp.jpgRealistic, but not earth-shattering. I read the last half of the book while I was coming off Effexor [an anti-depressant] and perhaps I was not in a condition to grasp the story. Everything seemed strange.

[2016 notes: I cannot express how glad I am to be free of that incapacitating condition (clinical depression), and I’m sorry that I can’t comment further on this book.]
 

How to Make an American Quilt by Whitney Otto (Fiction, Women’s)
How to Make an Ame4rican Quilt by Whitney Otto photo quilt_zpslzihb8g4.jpgA good, quick read. I thought sometimes that the sections of “instructions” were overdone and too ethereal. But the stories of the people pieced together in this small town were fascinating.

[2016 notes: I remember little of this book, but it was made into a 1995 movie with Winona Ryder, Anne Bancroft, Claire Danes, Ellen Burstyn and Maya Angelou. I don’t think I saw the movie.]

 

Dogs Never Lie About Love) by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (Non-fiction, Animals)

Dogs Never Lie About Love photo dogs_zpsyncct9f5.jpgThis was really interesting for the first half-dozen chapters, then it seemed to become a lot of padding and unsupported theories. In the end, no one really knows what dogs think or feel – we are limited by being able to think only in human terms. This I knew before I read the book!

[2016 notes: I had a spurt of rating my books around this time, and I see that I gave this only 2 stars out of 5.]
 

That’s all for the first half of 1998. Does anything interest you?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog

Books Read in September 2014

December7

books read
September 2014 was a busy month. On the 5th, Bill’s daughter arrived with her sons: six years old, and two months. Having a new baby in the house was a different experience for us and while we were getting used to that, we were at the same time making final arrangements for our 25th anniversary trip to southern France. My reading totals for this month and next are fairly low.

 
Sweetland by Michael Crummey (Fiction, Literary, Atlantic Canadian) 5 star rating

Sweetland by Michael Crummey photo 372ca78b-8aea-4fda-b2c9-fcb71ec295cc_zpsf3ywx9xs.jpgMoses Sweetland, “one crazy coot”, lives on a remote island off the coast of Newfoundland in a community that has been served for decades by a Government-funded supply boat. Now the government wants to cut the boat run so they’ve offered generous packages for the islanders to resettle on the mainland. The catch is, all the residents must agree to the scheme, and Moses doesn’t want to go.

Faced with mounting pressure from the government and the community, he signs the deal and then fakes his own death so that he can be left behind on the island.

Crummey is a poet first and that is evident in his prose. But his story is every bit as good as his form. I highly recommend Sweetland. 5 stars
 

The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner (Fiction, Atlantic Canadian) 4 star rating

The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner photo ed29c98e-2e12-45ec-a144-e9f6574f1437_zpsm2itrhcz.jpg From Amazon: “The Kings family has lived on Loosewood Island, Nova Scotia for three hundred years, blessed with the bounty of the sea. But for the Kings, this blessing comes with a curse: the loss of every first-born son. Now, Woody Kings, the leader of the island’s lobster fishing community and the family patriarch, teeters on the throne, and Cordelia, the oldest of Woody’s three daughters, stands to inherit the crown. To do so, however, she must defend her island against meth dealers from the mainland, while navigating sibling rivalry and the vulnerable nature of her own heart when she falls in love with her sternman. Inspired by Shakespeare’s King Lear, The Lobster Kings is the story of Cordelia’s struggle to maintain her island’s way of life in the face of danger from offshore, and the rich, looming, mythical legacy of her family’s namesake.”

This was excellent Atlantic Canadian literary fiction until it gave way into thriller mode at its climax. 4 stars
 

The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman (Fiction, Rom-Com)
The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman photo e908de97-d7a6-45f8-a7e3-081e821f77c2_zpsrjqkkysu.jpg

Amazon: “It’s 1962 and all across America barriers are collapsing. But when Natalie Marx’s mother inquires about summer accommodations in Vermont, she gets the following reply: ‘The Inn at Lake Devine is a family-owned resort, which has been in continuous operation since 1922. Our guests who feel most comfortable here, and return year after year, are Gentiles’

For twelve-year-old Natalie, who has a stubborn sense of justice, the words are not a rebuff but an infuriating, irresistible challenge.”

My first Lipman. It’s very ‘pretty’ but a little too predictable. 3½ stars

 

*   *   *   *   *

 
Since there are so few books in total this month, I’m including the mysteries I read in this post.
 
Paw and Order by Spencer Quinn (Fiction, Mystery, Animal-Narrated) 4 star rating
 photo paw and order_zpsud0zb7vm.jpg
#7 in the Chet Bernie detective series

Bernie goes to Washington D.C. to visit his love, Susie Sanchez who has snagged a reporter’s position at the Washington Post. The boys get involved in political intrigue due to their association with Susie who is following a controversial story.

Most of you probably know that I love the voice of Chet, the canine half of this detective duo, and I appreciate the solid mysteries that our boys investigate. 4 stars
 

A Dog at Sea by J.F. Englert (Fiction, Mystery, Animal-narrated)4 star rating
 photo dog at sea_zpsdcof21vq.jpg
#3 in Bull Moose Dog Run series featuring chocolate Lab Randolph and his master Harry

Randolph and Harry book on a pet lovers’ cruise following clues that they hope will lead to the whereabouts of the long-lost Imogen, Randolph’s mistress and Harry’s beloved girlfriend.

Although Randolph is far from pessimistic, the ache for Imogen dampens his natural doggy enthusiasm, as exemplified by Chet in Paw and Order. He’s very likable though (“overweight, overly-intelligent”) and this also has a first-rate mystery. 4 stars
 

The Dog Did It by Jim Toombs (Fiction, Mystery) 3.5 star rating
 photo dog did it_zpszue2ep8y.jpg

Gabe Chance has just inherited his mother’s estate – but with one catch: he must keep her Jack Russell Terrier and live in her house in Brandt in the Texas Hill Country, even though he wants nothing more than to return to California.

I didn’t care for Gabe at first and was prepared to not like this first in the series. But both Gabe and Tigger the dog grew on me, and I enjoyed the sinister murder mystery. I have the next installment loaded on my Kindle. 3½ stars
 


There’s not much there, but Sweetland made the month worthwhile. Anything else catch your eye?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

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Mystery Books Read in August 2014

November30

 

In August 2014, a number of the mystery books that I had reserved to read in June, in my “get to know France” foray, finally came into the library for me.

 

 

A Tail of Vengeance by Spencer Quinn (Fiction, Mystery, eShort) 4 star rating
A Tail of Vengeance by Spencer Quinn photo 189e6316-94a4-497c-8509-6e6d3cc288fe_zpsmhrhuzj7.jpg
I can’t remember a lot about this entry in the Chet & Bernie series, and that’s a little unusual for me with these books.

So even though I seemed to have enjoyed it (I rated it 4 stars when I read it), it’s perhaps not quite up to the usual sparkling standards for this series.

4 stars anyway

 

The Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle (Fiction, Mystery) 4 star rating
The Vintage Caper by Peter Mayle photo 5228e934-3595-4e4d-ac1b-c78e4dfd8063_zpsqfx3pxom.jpg
Peter Mayle, author of the perennially popular A Year in Provence also penned a less well-known four book mystery series featuring former lawyer and wine connoisseur Sam Levitt.

In Los Angeles, wine collector Danny Roth engages Sam after he is the victim of a wine heist. Sam follows leads to Bordeaux and Provence.

The France and wine details themselves made this worth the read, but there is also a decent mystery. 4 stars
 

Death in Truffle Woods by Pierre Magnan (Fiction, Mystery, Translated)3.5 star rating

Death in the Truffle Woods by Pierre Magnon photo 70f523cd-9805-4320-ae39-1d3dfaa2e5c6_zps1lsyxy78.jpgThis is the first book in the Commissaire Laviolette series, first published in French in 1973 but only recently translated into English.

This first adventure brings the Commissaire to 1960s rural Provence to investigate the disappearance of five people, within a climate of centuries-old superstition and secret and animosity, and gets him involved in the local politics and disputes. 3½ stars

 

The Messengers of Death by Pierre Magnan (Fiction, Mystery, Translated) 4 star rating
Messengers of Death by Pierre Magnon photo 9b9b459d-98b6-49c4-b646-14da298a00fa_zpsxtsaufjv.jpg
Commissaire Laviolette is lured out of retirement to help investigate the bayonet murder of an avaricious spinster. As Amazon says “the theme of this is as old as Cain and Abel”.

The characters in this seemed alive and the mystery is decent. This second entry in the series surpasses the series debut A Death in the Truffle Wood.

4 stars
 

Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner (Fiction, Mystery, Translated) 3.5 star rating
Murder on the Eiffel Tower by Claude Izner photo 9da24021-cb69-4d66-afbe-b09c6cb61f56_zpspunhxxgh.jpg

This first in a series had the promising premise of an amateur sleuth in the person of 1889 Parisian bookseller Victor Legris. Legris investigates the deaths of several people, all apparently of bee stings, in connection with the newly opened Eiffel Tower.

The historical facts are carefully researched and there are wonderful details of the literary world of the time, but the whole thing was just a little flat.

Izner is the pseudonym of two sisters who are second hand booksellers in Paris. 3½ stars

 

I was especially pleased to read the translated books. Do you know any other translated mysteries set in France?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books Read in August 2014

November25

books read
In August 2014, we were busy getting ready for the arrival of my husband’s daughter Laura and her two young sons who were coming to stay for two weeks, and ended up under our roof for two years.

Nonetheless, books I had reserved at the library over the past couple of months were piling up, so I had my reading cut out for me!


 

Whirl Away by Russell Wangersky (Fiction, Short Stories, Atlantic Canadian) 4.5 star rating
Whirl Away by Russell Wangersky photo 3fb20fb4-d498-462e-a470-5e27a81bf682_zpszdlpfj8j.jpg

From Amazon: “From the caretaker of a prairie amusement park to the lone occupant of a collapsing Newfoundland town, from a travelling sports drink marketer with a pressing need to get off the road to an elevator inspector who finds himself losing his marriage while sensuously burying himself in the tastes and smells of the kitchen, these are people who spin wildly out of control, finding themselves in a new and different world.”

Whirl Away was the winner of the 2013 Thomas Head Raddall Atlantic Fiction Award, was shortlisted for the 2013 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and was a finalist for the 2012 BMO Winterset Award.

I highly recommend this collection. 4½ stars
 

I Murdered My Library by Linda Grant (Nonfiction, Bibliophilic, Kindle Single) 4 star rating
I Murdered My Library by Linda Grant photo f2a446d7-531a-4b79-8736-928841674047_zpsppnmso8t.jpg
When Grant downsized her living space in 2013, she had to purge thousands of her books from her personal library, started when she was a child.

Amazon says: ”Both a memoir of a lifetime of reading and an insight into how interior décor has banished the bookcase, her account of the emotional struggle of her relationship with books asks questions about the way we live today.“

The author is an award winning novelist and nonfiction writer, so this is a well-written and fascinating treatise. 4 stars

 
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (Fiction, Children’s Chapter book)4 star rating
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White photo c8e3d8c2-4ac2-43d4-a048-f799581922c4_zpsyfdgx6cx.jpg
I must have read this as a child but I’m certain that I didn’t remember how it ended.

It begins as a charming enough tale, with the saving of Wilbur the pig and the talking animals that welcome Fern, the young girl that saved him, to the barn. But it becomes something else that more mimics life.

This is deservedly a much-loved children’s classic. 4 stars
 

When Things Get Back to Normal by M.T. Dohaney (Nonfiction, Memoir, Canadian)4 star rating
When Things Get Back to Normal by M.T. Dohaney photo db35ef02-5e27-4499-82d4-c28e45f4e68a_zpspg12qxfj.jpg
I mentioned this book in my comments about The Hatbox Letters in June 2014.

Blurb: “One Friday evening, M.T. Dohaney’s husband went out to play hockey with his friends. She never saw him alive again. To help herself through this catastrophe, Dohaney recorded a year’s worth of pain and anger as well as her gradual and unexpected healing in the journal that became When Things Get Back to Normal.”

This was a reread because I wanted to be certain that it was indeed more useful then The Hatbox Letters. It was, very much so. 4 stars
 
The Care and Management of Lies: a Novel of the Great War by Jacqueline Winspear (Fiction, Historical, WWI) 3.5 star rating

The Care and Management of Lies by Jacqueline Winspear photo 8b6aa75f-06ce-4a5c-a543-9673b6710671_zpsqyjp4ktu.jpg Two women have been friends since childhood. Now adults, one marries the brother of the other and moves to the family farm. War erupts and Tom enlists, and it falls to Kezia to run the farm, without much help because all the other young men are also enlisting.

Interesting in that regard, but otherwise unmemorable and too easily tied up at the end. 3½ stars
 

Objects of Our Affection: Uncovering My Family’s Past One Chair, Pistol, and Pickle Fork at a Time by Lisa Tracy (Nonfiction, Memoir) 3 star rating
Objects of Our Affection by Lisa Tracy photo 0fdec56f-21b3-43da-96dc-d21587a8669f_zpsh7oqgfk5.jpg
Blurb: “About the history of certain carefully collected heirlooms and why we hold on to the things we keep and how we let go of the ones we lose.”

Lisa Tracy found herself, along with her sister Jeanne, responsible for cleaning out her deceased parents’ home, jammed full of the belongings they had gathered over a lifetime. I also had to clear out my mother’s house, full of her possessions. But there the similarities end.

Tracy’s parents collected museum quality antiques with high dollar value, and lovely family stories attached. I, sadly, couldn’t relate.

Recommended for someone whose parents are well-to-do and will be leaving a house that someone (maybe them!) will need to clear out.
3 stars

 
I’m going to post separately for the five mysteries I read.

I was heavy on nonfiction this month. Any thoughts?

 

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books Read in July 2014

November18

books read

Back at home in Nova Scotia, I eagerly anticipated the annual Read by the Sea Literary Festival in nearby River John in mid-July. I enjoyed readings by, and panel discussions with, Russell Wangersky, Steven Galloway, Frank MacDonald, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Sharon Butala and Sylvia McDonald. You’ll find books by some of them in my reading over the next couple of months.
 

The Glass Harmonica by Russell Wangersky (Literary fiction, Atlantic Canadian) 4.5 star rating
 photo glass harmonica_zps8oavdopq.jpgSet in St. John’s Newfoundland where the author lives and works as editor and columnist for The Telegram, The Glass Harmonica is the story of a neighbourhood. In the present, a man witnesses his neighbour shot and killed by a pizza delivery person, but the back story is woven in pieces by various neighbours, back and forth over the course of 40 years. Wangersky has been called a craftsman storyteller. I concur.

This book won 2010 BMO Winterset Award for the outstanding literary work in any genre by a Newfoundlander or Labradorian.

Read this if: you’ve ever walked down your street and wondered what goes on behind closed doors
4½ stars
 

A Possible Madness by Frank MacDonald (Literary Fiction, Atlantic Canadian) 4 star rating
 photo possible madness_zpszzkimdnf.jpg
Frank MacDonald is one of Cape Breton’s most celebrated writers.

A Possible Madness is set in the fictional mining town of Shean in Cape Breton which has seen its fortunes fall as the coal has been used up. Now a global corporation plans to build a seawall offshore and exploit the remaining coal. It’ll mean jobs but will the town agree to let it happen?

Read this if: you’d like to gain insight into the economics and everyday life of residents of a closed mining town, or you like literary fiction with a surprise twist. 4 stars
 

The Englishman’s Boy by Guy Vanderhaeghe (Literary Fiction, Canadian) 4 star rating
 photo englishmans boy_zpslzhyopwi.jpgAmazon: “It’s a story within a story–a shimmering romance about the myth of movie-making in Hollywood in the 1920s and an account of a real-life massacre of First Nations people in Montana in the 1870s. Linking these two very different stories is Shorty McAdoo, an aging cowboy, who as a young man acted as a guide for the American and Canadian trappers who perpetrated the massacre, and who is now going to be the subject of a no-holds-barred blockbuster set to rival D.W. Griffith’s epic Birth of a Nation.” (My note: The massacre actually took place in Saskatchewan but was spearheaded by American wolf-hunters from Montana.)

Winner of the 1996 Governor General’s Award for Fiction (beating out Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace), this is the first in a loose trilogy, although each book stands alone. Brilliant writing.

4 stars
 

The Bear by Claire Cameron (Literary Fiction, Canadian) 4 star rating

(True story:) In October of 1991, a pair of campers was attacked & killed by a black bear in Algonquin National Park, in northern Ontario, Canada. Author Claire Cameron was a counsellor at a summer camp at Algonquin that year. “The Bear [the novel] is based on my memories of and research into this bear attack. I added the kids.”

 photo bear_zpsnkkk1gp8.jpgThe Bear (the novel) is told through the eyes and voice of five year old Anna, one of those kids. She and her two year old brother Stick are the survivors of an attack that kills their parents.

With her dying words, her mother tells Anna to leave the island in a canoe, and thus begins the children’s sojourn alone through the vast wilderness that is Algonquin. The tension as the children suffer through each tribulation (hunger, thirst, mosquitos, shelter, and so on) rises steadily. I couldn’t put this down.

Read this if: you want to know if the children survived; or you think you ever want to go wilderness camping.
4 stars
 

A Traveller’s History of France by Robert Cole (Nonfiction, History) 3 star rating

 photo travellers history_zpsp0m95dtw.jpgI struggled through this for the sake of our planned trip to France, starting in June and not finishing it until nearly the end of July.

It’s dense and reads like a textbook: empires and republics ad nauseam. A great Paris-centric overview if you’re studying the history of France but for someone interested in traveling to France for a three week visit and who wants to understand the regions of France and their attitudes, it was not so useful.
3 stars
 

The Qualities of Wood by Mary Vensel White (Fiction) 3 star rating

I read this on my Kindle over a period of three months; it just took that long to get through.

There is some beautiful writing but, even though there’s a hint of a murder mystery, the story doesn’t go anywhere. I kept reading because I thought something must be going to happen, but I was disappointed. Nothing did. 3 stars

 

*   *   *   *   *

 
My lone mystery this month was

The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart (Fiction, Mystery, Vintage) 3.5 star rating
The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart photo circular staircase dover edition_zpsgvjr9cxh.jpgMary Roberts Rinehart was considered the American Agatha Christie and for many years reigned as queen of the American mystery genre. The Circular Staircase was her second published book (1908) and featured the second, and last, outing of the tart-tongued middle-aged Miss Cornelia Van Gorder. Miss Van Gorder has invited her niece and nephew to accompany her to a country house for a relaxing summer. But instead of rural quiet they found murder and hijinks.

Roberts Rinehart wrote with humour and a great sense of place and time, but I found it just a little too madcap.
3½ stars

 

I read great Canadian fiction this month! Does anything look interesting to you?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

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Books Read in June 2014

November10

books read
In June 2014, I was on the homestretch of what I could do with my mom’s things in Ontario, and I was starting to think ahead to our planned trip to France in late September-early October.

I thought I would read to learn a few things about it, and to set the mood.
 

Paris to the Moon   by Adam Gopnik (Non-fiction, Travel)
5 star rating

In 1995, Adam Gopnik, a writer for the New Yorker magazine, along with his wife and infant son moved from NYC to Paris.

From Paris to the Moon by Adam Gopnik photo 211686ce-fb8b-46ef-9e73-04f0426431e1_zpscunxnxnm.jpgThis book is a collection of his award-winning “Paris Journals” that he filed for the magazine. But unlike other books that are an assemblage of essays, this book is not choppy or undisciplined. It’s an intelligent, heartfelt look at the most beautiful city in the world at the turn of the twenty-first century. (Gopnik was there for Y2K but returned to America shortly thereafter.)

Some critics have complained that Gopnik’s essays are outdated, but I think they transcend time. He has captured the very heart of Paris culture and attitude. It’s well worth reading whether you’re planning to visit Paris or not.

I loved this book. 5 stars
 

The President’s Hat   by Antoine Laurain (Fiction, Translated) 4.5 star rating

The President's Hat by Antoine Lauraine photo 2b7e2c32-ecb4-4dd1-ad51-cd6c24a85c90_zpsdxq5qcw0.jpg What could be more French than a book that was popular with the reading public there and concerns the hat of the President of France?

Amazon describes this as a “charming fable”. It’s set in the 1980s when Francois Mitterrand was President. After dining in a restaurant one night, Mitterrand forgets his hat. The hat then starts on a journey that changes the lives of everyone who wears it.

This is a light book, easily read in an afternoon and is, indeed, charming. 4½ stars
 

The Perfect Meal: In Search of the Lost Tastes of France   by John Baxter (Non-fiction, Food) 4 star rating

John Baxter is an Australian who has lived in Paris for more than twenty years and gives literary walking tours through the city. The result of those tours is contained in The Most Beautiful Walk in the World.

In The Perfect Meal which Amazon calls “part grand tour of France, part history of French cuisine” he takes “readers on a journey to discover and savor some of the world’s great cultural achievements before they disappear completely.”

The Perfect Meal: In Search of the Lost Tastes of France by John Baxter photo daa6d910-dd3e-4c57-9c10-1e145bea02e9_zpsqltdspxr.jpg Thus he tracks down and eats bouillabaisse, foie gras and truffles and many other delights. I learned the right way to eat a croissant (it’s “not eaten dry—it is dipped in coffee”), what fleur de sel is (“dust-fine ‘flower of the salt’ skimmed from the topmost layer of the pans where seawater is evaporated”) and when to drink café crème (“one never drinks café crème after midday any more than we eat cornflakes”) among a host of fascinating tidbits. (He also mentions how “sweet, cold white wine such as Monbazillac . . . marr[ies] so perfectly with goose liver”.)

This is a wonderful treat for foodies, Francophiles, and readers of mysteries set in various parts of the French countryside. 4 stars
 

A Year in Provence   by Peter Mayle (Non-fiction, Memoir) 4 star rating

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle photo 68f7e0f6-aa37-480a-b4aa-b25c34844f32_zpsbuhjh4kt.jpg First published in 1989, this account of Englishman Mayle’s life in the countryside of Provence is a modern classic.

Mayle’s writing is warm and witty, and I’m sure has made thousands fall in love with the idea of buying an old stone farmhouse in France.

4 stars
 

The Hatbox Letters   by Beth Powning (Fiction, Atlantic Canadian) 3.5 star rating

The Hatbox Letters by Beth Powning photo d1539246-67fd-454f-90bc-9b5de4d22bf2_zpsf0vupwog.jpg Because Powning is “almost local” I read this when it was first published in 2004. I was disappointed on that first reading, expecting the letters of the title (letters her grandparents wrote to each other in the nineteenth century) to play a bigger part.

But the book is really about grieving. Kate Harding, 52, is facing her second winter since the untimely death of her husband.

A personal friend of mine, not much older than Kate, facing the same situation mentioned that this book really hit home with her so this reread was to pick up what I had missed the first time around. This was the only “non-France” book I read this month, but it was important to me to try to understand.

But even knowing the real theme of the book, I was not particularly touched by Kate’s emotions. Of course, each situation is unique, and I have not gone through losing a spouse but even so, I found Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking or M.T. Dohaney’s When Things Get Back to Normal both more adept at capturing and relaying a widow’s sorrow to me. 3½ stars
 

Ooh La La: French Women’s Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Every Day   by Jamie Cat Callan (Non-fiction, Beauty) 3.5 star rating

ooh la la by Jamie Cat Callan photo ooh la la_zpstvpxrqdq.jpg Callan spent time in France interviewing and visiting French women in their milieu to try to crack the code to their famous French sensuality.

She presents a list of findings, each with its own chapter. From the mundane (always carry your handbag on your wrist) to the obvious (wear pretty underthings) to the very French (discover your perfume and wear a signature scent), it was all interesting.

Although it wasn’t a life-changer, I really enjoyed this little book which was a quick and easy read. 3½ stars
 

Paris I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down   by Rosecrans Baldwin (Non-fiction, Travel) 3.5 star rating

Paris, I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down photo e1e0033d-9046-4960-9590-6a506db7fd50_zpsusnvpnam.jpg In the mid-aughts of this century, Rosecrans Baldwin and his wife moved to Paris when he as offered a job at a Parisian ad agency―even though he had no experience in advertising, and even though he hardly spoke French. In this book, he draws a picture of their 18 months living in the French capital.

The Baldwins ran into some of the same problems that the Gopniks did (bureaucracy, endless paperwork) but met them with much less grace. In fact, the entire book, articulate as it is, seemed to me to be one big complaint that things in Paris aren’t done the same way they are in the good ol’ USA. (But isn’t that why he was there?)

I learned a few things I didn’t know before, but spent most of the time reading this exasperated at Baldwin’s attitude. 3½ stars
 

* * * * *

 
 Unfortunately, stuck between libraries as I was out-of-province, I had a hard time sourcing mysteries set in France. (Four that I placed holds on show up in my August reading.) Thus, there were only two and I’m including them in this post.

 

A Man in Uniform   by Kate Taylor (Creative Non-fiction, Historical, Mystery, Canadian author) 4 star rating

A Man in Uniform by Kate Taylor photo f6039e96-5e01-42b4-afef-e6b2811e0f46_zpsdbxttwxb.jpgSome of you may be familiar with the infamous Dreyfus affair but before this month in 2014, I would have sworn I had never heard of it. Of course, since then, I’ve seen countless casual references to it so it was probably around me all the time.

Wikipedia says: “The Dreyfus affair (French: l’affaire Dreyfus) was a political scandal that divided France from 1894 until its resolution in 1906. The affair is often seen as a modern and universal symbol of injustice, and remains one of the most striking examples of a complex miscarriage of justice, where a major role was played by the press and public opinion.” I might add that it seems a prime case of anti-Semitism as well.

The mystery in the event is: if Dreyfus didn’t do it, who did? Kate Taylor has written a fictional account of the affair, although from what I’ve learned since, it seems to paint a very accurate picture of the situation. It was a very enjoyable way to take in history!   4 stars
 

The Alchemy of Murder   by Carol McCleary (Fiction, Mystery, Historical) 3 star rating

The Alchemy of Murder by Carol McCleary photo c6eb944a-8cf9-484e-9b9c-f4bfe8b80fa1_zpsdqkc1gye.jpgThis is the first in McCleary’s series featuring the real-life reporter Nellie Bly, who was famous in the early part of 20th century for her expose of conditions in Bellevue Asylum for the Insane in NYC, and for her round-the-world trip, a la Jules Verne, made in 72 days.

I wanted very much to like this series since seeing the one woman play by a local author Gary Blackwood “Two Hours in a Madhouse”. But there is just too much fiction, too much suspension of belief asked (that Nellie would be involved in a murder investigation in Paris, okay; but that she would meet and have a relationship with Jules Verne was the breaking point for me).

You might enjoy the mystery in this but don’t count on it to learn anything about the real Nellie Bly.

3 stars

 

I think I did manage to get a bit of flavour of France from this reading. Does anything interest you?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books Read in May 2014

October15

books readIn the winter of 2013-14, while I was living in Ontario in my late mother’s house, my husband was home in Nova Scotia and had to deal with the death of both of our dogs. Wes, our Labrador Retriever, was old and arthritic and we had known that that would be his last winter. But Farlow, our Valley Bulldog mix, was still young and vital, and died suddenly of a cancerous tumour that burst.

If you have, or have had, dogs, you know the heartache we suffered: Bill, alone with the dogs and decisions; and me, a thousand miles away, not being able to say goodbye at all.

All this to explain why, in May, I chose to have dog-themed reading month, as a tribute to all the faithful canine companions of my life.
 

1. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (Fiction, Contemporary, Animal-narrated) 5 star rating

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein photo art of racing in the rain_zpsitleltjb.jpgThere are two books that I read in May 2014 that I rated 4½ stars at the time, but that have stayed with me so that now, at this review, I have raised the ratings to a full five stars. The Art of Racing the Rain is one of those books.

It’s narrated by wise old dog Enzo, who has learned from his master Denny about race car driving. In turn, Enzo now has much to teach Denny.

This is never saccharine nor manic and, if you are going to read only one animal-narrated book in your life, this should probably be it. Beware, though: the ending is only bittersweet. 5 stars

2. Dogs of Babel by Carolyn Parkhurst (Fiction, Literary, Contemporary) 5 star rating

the dogs of babel by Carolyn Parkhurst photo dogs of babel 2_zpsmzqouq7w.jpgThis is the second book on which I’m raising the 4½ stars to a full five. This book continues to haunt me.

From Amazon: “(A)fter his wife Lexy dies after falling from a tree, linguistics professor Paul Iverson becomes obsessed with teaching their dog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback named Lorelei (the sole witness to the tragedy), to speak so he can find out the truth about Lexy’s death(.)”

Some reviewers have taken exception to the extent of Paul’s obsession, in my opinion missing the point of what it really is: a brilliant journey into the mind of a deeply grieving man. 5 stars
 
3. White Dog Fell From the Sky by Eleanor Morse (Fiction, Recent Historical, Literary) 4.5 star rating

White Dog Fell from the Sky by Eleanor Morse photo white dog fell from the sky_zpsxahihthq.jpgIn mid-1970s apartheid S. Africa, medical student Isaac Muthethe has himself smuggled out of the country into Botswana. He is in danger in his home country because he witnessed the murder of a friend by white members of the South African Defense Force. He is hired as a gardener by a young American woman, Alice Mendelssohn, who has followed her husband to Africa. The white dog of the title is a stray that shows up just when Isaac is dropped off in Botswana, and that attaches itself to the young man.

This book made me aware of the issue of cattle-farm fences across Africa, which cut off wildlife from their families and from water supplies. It also sharpened my understanding of the apartheid situation in South Africa, especially after Isaac is extradited and tortured.

This is not Precious Ramotswe’s Botswana. This is a powerful and moving book that should have received more attention than it did. 4½ bright stars
 
4. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon (Fiction, Literary) 4.5 star rating

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon photo curious incident of the dog in the nighttime 2_zpsbwiuqods.jpgAmazon says: “Narrated by a fifteen-year-old autistic savant obsessed with Sherlock Holmes, this dazzling novel weaves together an old-fashioned mystery, a contemporary coming-of-age story, and a fascinating excursion into a mind incapable of processing emotions.”

Christopher finds the body of his neighbour’s dog, murdered by a pitch fork and decides to track down the killer. His canvassing of the neighbourhood uncovers secrets that the reader understands but Christopher probably does not.

Haddon brilliantly portrays the mind of an autistic teenager while tying all the threads of evidence together. 4½ stars
 
5. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis (Fiction, Science Fiction, Time-travel) 4 star rating

Amazon says (now pay attention): “To Say Nothing of the Dog is a science-fiction fantasy in the guise of an old-fashioned Victorian novel, complete with epigraphs, brief outlines, and a rather ugly boxer in three-quarters profile at the start of each chapter. Or is it a Victorian novel in the guise of a To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis photo to say nothing of the dog_zpsb2satksn.jpgtime-traveling tale, or a highly comic romp, or a great, allusive literary game, complete with spry references to Dorothy L. Sayers, Wilkie Collins, and Arthur Conan Doyle? Its title is the subtitle of Jerome K. Jerome’s singular, and hilarious, Three Men in a Boat. In one scene the hero, Ned Henry, and his friends come upon Jerome, two men, and the dog Montmorency in–you guessed it–a boat. Jerome will later immortalize Ned’s fumbling. (Or, more accurately, Jerome will earlier immortalize Ned’s fumbling, because Ned is from the 21st century and Jerome from the 19th.)”

Confused? I was too. I love time travel but I wish that I had been more familiar with some of the eccentricities of Connie Willis’ time travel before I read this book. Better, I think, to start with Blackout, which I read in May 2015. That said, this is indeed a “comedic romp”, sometimes confusing and extremely clever. 4 stars
 
6. Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis (Fiction, Science-fiction) 3.5 star rating

Lives of the Monster Dogs by Kirsten Bakis photo lives of the monster dogs - Copy_zpsozuumd4o.jpgAmazon: “Created by a German mad scientist in the 19th century, the monster dogs possess human intelligence, speak human language, have prosthetic humanlike hands and walk upright on hind legs. The dogs’ descendants arrive in New York City in the year 2008, still acting like Victorian-era aristocrats.”

Although this was well-written and interesting, I wasn’t as caught up in the tragic lives of these dogs as I should have been. 3½ stars
 
7. The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs by Nick Trout (Fiction) 3 star rating

The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs by Nick Trout photo patron saint of lost dogs - Copy_zps6ycvxhgh.jpgCyrus Mills inherits his father’s veterinary practice and returns to his hometown with the intention of selling the business and leaving again. Of course, his patients change his mind.

The author graduated from veterinary school at the University of Cambridge, and is a staff surgeon at the prestigious Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston, so the details are authentic.

This is articulate, light commercial fiction with a happy ending, and a sequel- if you like this sort of thing. 3 stars

8. Southern Cross the Dog by Bill Cheng 2.5 star rating

First, I discovered that the “dog” is really a railroad: where the Southern crosses the (Yellow) Dog is a place where two railroad lines—the U.S. Southern and the Yazoo Delta—cross in Moorhead, Mississippi.

Southern Cross the Dog by Bill Cheng photo southern cross the dog_zpseaz5iqgm.jpgWhich should have been wonderful, since I really love railroads. But this book is a debut centering on the Great Flood of 1927 along the Mississippi, a tragedy that killed 246 people and left countless families homeless. The flood led to the great migration of African American families toward other states, and Bill Cheng’s first novel hones in on one fictional family whose experiences seem to represent an endless cycle of grief and loss.

This was a chance for a rich history lesson for me but, I don’t know, maybe I was just getting worn out again with the sorting and packing. I was greatly disappointed. 2½ stars

* * * * *

I was satisfied with my ‘tribute” and really happy with the range of books this theme brought me, although I would have liked to have included a non-fiction tome. Have you any suggestions for me?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

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Books I’ve Read (in the Past): January 1998

September29

 photo Books Ive Read text 400c_zpsrnpovccu.jpg
I first started keeping track of the books that I read in 1997 when I was already in my ’40s. These early records are incomplete, and some of the brief comments are laughable. But, inspired by JoAnn of Lakeside Musing who has shared her older journals in a series that she has named Pages from the Past, I’d like to share my journals with you. Herewith, a small sample from January, 1998.
 

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (Fiction, Semi-autobiographical)

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath photo bell jar_zpsdpv7jrnq.jpgFinally got around to reading this ‘classic’. Plath’s description of Esther’s descent into depression was so accurate a mirror of my own feelings, it was at once frightening and comforting. How far I could have fallen!

[2016 notes: I suffered from severe clinical depression for several years and read this while I was crawling out of that black hole.]

 

Away by Jane Urquhart (Fiction, Historical, Canadian)

 photo away_zps8dm6s6ig.jpgRecommended by my daughter. My first Urquhart. Set between Ireland and Canada in the mid-1800s. Thought-provoking and enjoyable. Made me want more specific history.

[2016 notes: I still remember the complete break-down of the Irish peasant farmer’s food supply (which was much more than potatoes) when the potatoes failed. I’ve since read many more Urquhart novels; she is a favourite of mine.]

 

Box Socials by W.P. Kinsella (Fiction, Historical, Baseball, Canadian)

My first Kinsella. I had to reread the first chapter, since I was so busy paying attention to the run-on sentences the first time through that I lost their meaning. A look at life on the Prairies in the ‘40s – non-idealized, I think. Well worth the read.

Box Socials by W.P. Kinsella photo box socials_zps2tapyymx.jpg[2016 notes: Amazon says “Here’s the story of how Truckbox Al McClintock, a small-town greaser whose claim to fame was hitting a baseball clean across the Pembina River, almost got a tryout with the genuine St. Louis Cardinals — but instead ended up batting against Bob Feller of Cleveland Indian Fame in Renfrew Park, Edmonton, Alberta.”

It’s odd I didn’t remark on the baseball in my notes because I love baseball!]

 

That’s all for January 1998. Does anything interest you?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books Read in April 2014

September19

books read
I spent another month at home in Nova Scotia, recovering from the work thus far going through my mother’s house and belongings. I guess I was busy socializing because my magazines were caught up and still managed to read only four books.


BRAT FARRAR by Josephine Tey 4 star rating

Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey photo a0935c85-56d2-43ec-be0d-80490cdb2779_zpsqdreqx94.jpgThe three best known and lauded books by author Josephine Tey appear to be Daughter of Time, The Franchise Affair (both in the Alan Grant series), and Brat Farrar. The last of these, a stand-alone novel, was my favourite book in April 2014.

Brat Farrar poses as Patrick Ashby, the heir to his family’s fortune, who disappeared when he was 12 and was thought to have drowned himself. Brat had been coached in Patrick’s mannerisms and childhood by a school friend who had grown up with the Ashbys.

Although you will probably figure out the fly in the ointment early on, as I did, you will not be prevented from feeling the suspense build as the story works its way toward its climax. 4 stars

 

HARVEST by Jim Crace 4 star rating

Harvest by Jim Crace photo 14f504a7-43ce-436f-8e92-94db44c347c6_zpsnqdrkugt.jpgHarvest focuses on the inhabitants of a remote English village at an undetermined time in what is likely the past.

The village is well-established and the routine of the people remains fixed year after year. But two changes occur that unsettle the village: a group of strangers sets up camp at the edge of the village land; and a surveyor sent by the master is taking notes and measurements about the land and village, setting off rumours that their fields of grain will be converted to meadows for grazing sheep.

This book will take you by surprise: while nothing seems to happen, an entire civilization (in miniature) will unravel within a week. It was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize. 4 stars


VITTORIA COTTAGE by D.E. Stevenson 3 star rating

Vittoria Cottage by D.E. Stevenson photo vittoria cottage_zpsq40jhapl.jpg The work of D.E. Stevenson was recommended to me by our head librarian on one of my brief visits to our beautiful relatively new village library. We found on the shelf Vittoria Cottage, published in 1949 and the first of a trilogy.

I did enjoy the mid-twentieth century English village setting, but the plot was a little too much of a romance for me to be crazy about this book. 3 stars


RETURN TO OAKPINE by Ron Carlson 3 star rating

Return to Oakpine by Ron Carlson photo 907a7b92-8878-43cc-87ec-386e8bdd6699_zpssw1h33oc.jpg This is the story of four middle-aged friends who once played in a band while growing up together in small-town Wyoming. Two eventually moved away and two stayed in Oakpine. But when the friend who became a famous musician comes back home to die, the friends get together to play again.

Return to Oakpine was a little too commercial for me, but if you like a story that follows comfortable and predictable lines, then you might quite enjoy this. 3 stars

 

* * * * *

 

So that’s it for April 2014. Are you interested in any of these?

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books Read in March 2014

August24

books readIn March 2014 I flew home to Nova Scotia for a much needed break, leaving my late mother’s house in complete disarray.

I didn’t get very many books read this month, because I had three months of magazines waiting for me. I don’t know about you, but I read magazines like a book: from cover to cover. There were 23 of them: Chatelaine, Canadian Living, Style at Home, Real Simple, Martha Stewart Living, House Beautiful, Saltscapes, Rural Delivery . . . It took half the month.

I decided I subscribed to too many magazines and now get only Rural Delivery and Saltscapes, both Atlantic Canadian magazines.

1. PAINTED GIRLS by Cathy Marie Buchanan (Fiction, Historical) 4 star rating
Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan photo painted girls_zps1j11soih.jpg
This is the story of sisters Antoinette and Marie van Goethem, who live with their widowed, absinthe addicted mother and younger sister, Charlotte, in Paris in 1878.
Little Dancer by Edgar Degas photo 200px-Dancer_sculpture_by_Degas_at_the_Met_zpsbktqkt60.jpg
The only way out of their dire situation is if Marie makes it into the Paris Opera (her older sister Antoinette tried, but didn’t have the talent) as a ballet dancer. While at the dance school at the opera house, Marie comes to the attention of French Impressionist Edgar Degas. Subsequently, she serves as the model (clothed, and naked) for the artist’s famous statue, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.

This was an eyeopener for me as I had always associated ballet school with the well-to-do. This was not so in nineteenth-century France. 4 stars


2. TEA BY THE NURSERY FIRE by Noel Streatfield (Non-fiction, Historical) 3.5 star rating

Tea by the Nursery Fire by Noel Streatfeild photo tea by the nursery fire_zpsjrenv3wk.jpg

Doesn’t that title evoke a cozy picture? Indeed, subtitled A Children’s Nanny at the Turn of the Century, this is a charming little book.

From Amazon: “Emily Huckwell spent almost her entire life working for one family. Born in a tiny Sussex village in the 1870s, she went into domestic service in the Burton household before she was twelve, earning £5 a year. She began as a nursery maid, progressing to under nurse and then head nanny, looking after two generations of children. One of the children in her care was the father of Noel Streatfeild, one of the best-loved children’s writers of the 20th century. Basing her story on fact and family legend, Noel Streatfeild here tells Emily’s story, and with her characteristic warmth and intimacy creates a fascinating portrait of Victorian and Edwardian life above and below stairs.” 3½ stars

 

* * * * *

 
Since there’s a total of only five books this month, I’m including the mysteries in this post.

 
1. THE TALK SHOW MURDERS by Steve Allen (Fiction, Mystery) 3.5 star rating

I found this book in mother’s attic and decided to give it a go.

The Talk Show Murders by Steve Allen photo talk show murders_zps3dz4n359.jpgI remember seeing Steve Allen on game shows in the 1970 and liking him, even as a teenager. He seemed to be to be a ‘gentleman’ and he seemed madly in love with his wife Jayne Meadows.

Now I learn that he was a ‘renaissance man’ of sorts. He not only wrote a series of murder mysteries centred on television shows, but he was a composer (This Could Be the Start of Something Big and hundreds of others) and the first host of The Tonight Show, where (Wikipedia informs me) “he was instrumental in innovating the concept of the television talk show.” Who knew?

In the book, Toni Tenille is hosting the television talk show where a guest is murdered on national TV and no one knows who did it.

This book is clever and certainly kept me entertained while I was reading it. If I had more of the series, I’d read them. 3½ stars


 
2. CHARLES JESSOLD, CONSIDERED AS A MURDERER by Wesley Stace (Fiction, Mystery, Historical) 3.5 star rating

Charles Jessold, Presumed a Murderer by Wesley Stage photo charles jessold_zpsjawynoms.jpg

From Amazon: “On the eve of his revolutionary new opera’s premiere, Charles Jessold murders his wife and her lover, and then commits suicide in a scenario that strangely echoes the plot of his opera—which (gentleman critic Leslie) Shepherd has helped to write.

Shepherd first shares his police testimony, then recalls his relationship with Jessold in his role as critic, biographer, and friend. And with each retelling of the story, significant new details cast light on the identity of the real victim in Jessold’s tragedy.”

This was one of The Wall Street Journal’s best fiction books of 2011, but it didn’t blow me away. The ending is phenomenal but the rest of the books is slower than molasses in January (and for all you young, hip city-dwellers: that’s pretty darn slow).

3½ stars


 

3. COLD COMFORT by Charles Todd (Fiction, Mystery, Historical) 2 star rating

Cold Comfort by Charles Todd photo cold comfort_zpsyy7e5fqa.jpg An Inspector Ian Rutledge e-novella set in France in 1915. I suppose the Todds are thinking of mysteries for their character that are set during the war rather than after it, and the only way to write it is in flashbacks.

But my comments for myself when I was finished this were “What was the point of this?” Although I want very much to like the Ian Rutledge books, I was not impressed with this entry. 2 stars

* * * * * * * * * *

Of everything I read this month, I think I enjoyed my Saltscapes magazines the most. {sigh} Ever have reading months like that?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

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Books Read in February 2014

August12

books readWhen February 2014 rolled around I was in my third month of living at my recently deceased mother’s house and sorting through her worldly possessions.

My mother’s name was Bea – and she used the bee as a theme for her life for 35 years.

She had everything bee – bee jewelry, bee teddy bears, bee wind chimes, bee bee hive photo bee hive_zps3svz6iim.jpgplanters, bee notepads: anything you can name that could possibly have a bee on it, she had. After a few close friends took the bees they wanted (generally the ones that they had given her), I filled five cardboard boxes with bee paraphernalia.

Being in the midst of all those bees, I decided to have a bee-themed reading month too.

 

1. ROBBING THE BEES: A Biography of Honey—the Sweet Liquid Gold that Seduced the World by Holley Bishop (Non-fiction, Nature, Environment) 4 star rating
Robbing the Bees by Holley Bishop photo robbing the bees_zpsjiqyxwko.jpg

From Amazon: “Bishop — beekeeper, writer, and honey aficionado — apprentices herself to Donald Smiley, a professional beekeeper who harvests tupelo honey in the Florida panhandle. She intersperses the lively lore and science of honey with lyrical reflections on her own and Smiley’s beekeeping experiences. . . . Part history, part love letter”

Both beekeeper Smiley and Bishop are highly likeable and I greatly enjoyed this peek into making a living from honey, bottled yourself, before colony collapse syndrome.

Read this if: you’ve ever wanted to keep bees. 4 stars

 

2. THE BEEKEEPER’S LAMENT: How One Man and Half a Million Honeybees Help Feed America by Hannah Nordhaus (Non-fiction, Nature, Environment, Business) 4 star rating

Beekeeper's Lament by Hannah Nordhaus photo beekeepers lament_zps12q2fcwc.jpg“Award-winning journalist Hannah Nordhaus tells the remarkable story of John Miller, one of America’s foremost migratory beekeepers, and the myriad and mysterious epidemics threatening American honeybee populations.”

Make no mistake: John Miller is not a beekeeper; he is a big-business man. He moves his bees across the United States in climate-controlled tractor trailers, not in a pick-up truck. The honey he collects is blended and homogenized for the honey industry.

Although this book was as well researched and written as Robbing the Bees, I enjoyed it less because of the big-business perspective, enlightening as that was.

Read this if: you want an up-to-date picture of the health of North America’s honeybees (not good) and the impact of that on our ability to feed ourselves. 4 stars

 

Telling the Bees by Peggy Hesketh photo telling the bees_zpsbjwlcaet.jpg 3. TELLING THE BEES by Peggy Hesketh (Fiction, American) 3.5 star rating

This is a gentle novel about a beekeeper and life. Ali, who blogs over at Heavenali, posted a great synopsis recently. Rather than retell the story, I’ll let you pop over there if you’re interested.

This was pleasant to read but it didn’t sweep me off my feet. 3½ stars

 

4. THE ADVENTURES OF MAYA THE BEE by Waldemar Bansels (Fiction, Children’s Chapter, Classic, Translated) 3 star rating

The Adventure of Maya the Bee by Waldemar Bansels photo maya the bee_zpsmlkt0gli.jpgFirst published in German in 1912, this series of adventures stars a young rebel bee who leaves the hive despite warnings to the contrary. She encounters good insects and bad, dangers and delights. The overarching theme of the book is a hit-you-over-the-head moral play: obey, work hard, be loyal.

Wikipedia advises that it was originally published as a fable with a political message. “Maya represents the ideal citizen, and the beehive represents a well-organised militarist society. It has also elements of nationalism and speciesism.”

I understand this is now also a comic book and an animated television series with its attendant marketed products. The moral of that series, I’m sure, is not what Bansels originally intended.
P.S. This is a free Kindle ebook on Amazon. 3 stars
 

* * * * * * * * * *


 
Since there is a total of only six books this month, I’m including the mysteries in this post.

1. THE BEE’S KISS by Barbara Cleverly (Fiction, Mystery, British)

The Bee's Kiss by Barbara Cleverly photo bees kiss_zpskg2vehob.jpg Although this is #5 in the Detective Joe Sandilands series, it is the first of the series that I have read. Writing about it now reminds me that I wanted to start at the beginning of the series but haven’t yet done so.

Britain, 1926 (I love these books set between the two World Wars). A society matron is murdered and the investigation uncovers—you guessed it—secrets.

The characters are deftly developed, the plot ingenious, and the reveal stunning. It made me able to calm my OCD regret that I hadn’t started at the beginning of the series. 4½ stars

 

2. DEATH BY A HONEYBEE by Abigail Kearn (Fiction, Mystery, American, Contemporary) 1 star rating

Death by a Honeybee by Abigail Kearn photo death by honeybee_zps7011tg2e.jpg Kobo synopsis: “Josiah Reynolds, a former art history professor, was once a celebrity with wealth, social position, and a famous husband. Now all of that is gone. The professor finds her circumstances drastically altered. Retired, Josiah is now a full time beekeeper trying to stay financially afloat by selling honey at the local Farmers Market.”

I thought the whole set-up—the award-winning house, the obsession with her (much) younger pool boy, and her other friendships—sounded contrived, and Josiah seemed to be being rough-edged for the sake of being so. Plus, I didn’t think the mystery was that big of a deal.

Yvette who blogs at In So Many Words felt much differently, and said so in her recent review. 1 star
P.S. The Kindle version of Death by a Honeybee is free on Amazon.
 

* * * * * * * * * *

 
Did you know that raising bees in the traditional “hive” shaped skep (as depicted in the intro to this post) is illegal in many countries, including the US, because the removal of the honey often causes the destruction of the entire colony of bees?

So, I learned a lot about bees and honey, and discovered a great new-to-me mystery series, in only six books. Not a bad return for my efforts. Plus I seemed to be getting my reading mojo back!

Does anything catch your fancy?
 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books Read in January 2014

July22

books read
I rated these books when I read them, but don’t recall a lot about some of them. I probably didn’t at the time either, as I was going through life in an exhausted haze, still sorting through my mother’s things, all day, every day.


 

THE CROOKED MAID by Dan Vylata (Fiction, Literary, Canadian Author) 4.5 star rating

The Crooked Maid by Dan Vyleta photo crooked maid_zpsug4c87th.jpg From Amazon: ” Mid-summer, 1948. The war is over, and as the initial phase of de-Nazification winds down, the citizens of Vienna struggle to rebuild their lives amidst the rubble. . . .

Two strangers, Anna Beer and young Robert Seidel, meet on a train as they return to Vienna . . . Determined to rebuild their lives, Anna and Robert each begin a dogged search for answers in a world where repression is the order of the day.

Before long, they are reunited as spectators at a criminal trial set to deliver judgment on Austria’s Nazi crimes.”

This was a Giller Prize finalist in 2013. It seems that I liked this well enough at the time, but don’t remember a lot – maybe I should have rated it only 4 stars?

4½ stars


 

DEATH OF A FELLOW TRAVELLER by Delamo Ames (Fiction, Mystery, Vintage) 4 star rating

Death of a Fellow Traveller by Delano Ames photo death of a fellow traveller_zpsvujtv3qr.jpg Aka, Nobody Wore Black.

I know someone put me on to this series, but the only references I can find are on My Reader’s Block and In So Many Words, both of which appeared after I read this. Anyway, this is the fourth (published in 1950) in this series which features the young English couple Jane and Dagobert Brown. Jane is a struggling author and very fond of her husband who one would consider to be a no-good layabout apart from the fact that he’s tremendously charming.. Still they travel (I believe this book took place on a skiing holiday in the Alps) and generally have fun. It’s a solid mystery.

4 stars


 
THE UNIVERSE Versus ALEX WOODS by Gavin Extence (Fiction, Young Adult, Contemporary) 3.5 star rating

The Universe versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence photo universe vs alex woods_zpsr8051jce.jpg

This ended up in my reading stack because I had ordered it at the library to fill in the author “X” on that unofficial A-Z reading challenge I had going.

Alex is very fond of his early-seniors neighbour and finds out that he is dying.

Death and death choices figure large in teenage angst, and this is a perfect book to help teens explore emotions. But I can’t condone a teenager leaving the country without telling his parents.

3½ stars


 
OUR MOTHER’s HOUSE by Julian Gloag (Fiction) 3.5 star rating

Our Mother's House by Julian Gloag photo our mothers house_zpsninco83q.jpg I read this book this month because, well, I was living in my mother’s house after her death.
Originally published in 1963, this was one of my favourite books when I was a teenager in the sixties.

In pre-internet days, books were harder to find, even though I was enjoying the adult library lending privilege of six books at a time. And it was rarer still for me to own a book and this, being definitely an adult book with child protagonists, made me feel grown-up while still identifying with the kids. So, it was a favourite even though it really isn’t all that good.

In 1960s London, not wanting to be put in an orphanage and split up, a family of seven children bury their mother (dead of natural causes) in the backyard and say that she is too sick to receive visitors. Shades of The Death of Bees, but darker.

I gather this was made into a 1967 film by British director Jack Clayton. 3½ stars

 

Does anything in this paltry offering appeal to you?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books Read in December 2013

July16

books read
Derailment! On the first of December, I flew to Ontario from my home in Nova Scotia, after receiving word the evening before that my mother had died at home, suddenly and unexpectedly.

My mother was the next-thing-to-a-hoarder and her house had four floors stacked from top to bottom, and wall to wall with STUFF. It fell to me to move in and start going through it. I worked 12-14 hour days on this project and was usually too exhausted to read when I finally got into bed. When I did find the time, I found it very hard to concentrate—a natural grief reaction.

Here is the sum total of my reading for the month, and–YAY–that’s 2013 DONE.


 

SUITE FRANCAISE by Irène Némirovsky (Fiction, WWII, French) 4.5 star rating

 photo dad5f90d-cefd-4646-971a-f7954dc22782_zpsbrfbajpx.jpg This is the first two parts of what the author evidently intended to be a five part opus. Némirovsky was arrested in 1942 and deported to Auschwitz, where she died. This manuscript, then, was written in the early years of the war in Occupied France, in which she set the novel.

In Storm in June, wealthy Parisians flee the city before it falls. The second “movement”, Dolce, concerns the complicated relationships between the inhabitants of a French country village and the German soldiers who are occupying that village.

This is lyrical writing, sustained in the translation from the French by Sandra Smith. How I wish the author could have completed this work!

Read this if: you enjoy beautiful writing. 4½ stars


 

LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson (Fiction) 4 star rating

 photo 43e7f4a2-12b3-47e8-a37a-2daed50e6c8c_zpsp2ouq3cp.jpg Wow – how to classify this book? By now, you’ve either read the book or heard the premise: Ursula dies at birth, is reborn and this time does not die; Ursula drowns at age 4, we try again and she doesn’t drown; and so on. (So many ways to die!)

But the book is not as linear as it sounds. In fact, it’s not linear at all, and by the conclusion of the book, although we have many versions of Ursula’s life, none is the ribbon-tied ending you might have expected, and none is so awful that it couldn’t be borne. Extremely well-done.

Read this if: you loved those “Choose Your Own Adventure” books as a kid; or you just want something to think about. 4 stars


 

LIFE AFTER LIFE by Jill McCorkle (Fiction, Contemporary) 3.5 star rating

 photo 83a54767-0cfc-4d12-a7b3-c48c9a43d44a_zpscfhfcihg.jpg Published in 2013, within two weeks of Atkinson’s book of the same title, McCorkle’s novel seemed to have gotten buried.

This Life After Life is about the residents and staff of a nursing home for the elderly, each of whom had a life before their life in the facility.

Enjoyable to read, but not really any new ideas.

Read this if: you think you’re going to get old one day (it’s either that or the grave). 3½ stars


 

WAYS OF GOING HOME by Alejandro Zambra (Fiction, Literary, Chilean)

 photo 9eb47f0c-97b7-4843-9c94-33bfd59ced92_zpsnasthpmo.jpg This book showed up in my library inbox in late November because I was trying to complete an unofficial A to Z Reading Challenge using authors’ last names.

Amazon tells me that the book “begins with an earthquake, seen through the eyes of an unnamed nine-year-old boy” in Santiago, Chile. I vaguely remember that, but nothing else.

I plead extreme fatigue. I plead grief. I plead the passage of 2½ years. This may well be “A brilliant novel from ‘the herald of a new wave of Chilean fiction’” but I can’t remember and can’t rate it.

 

As I said at the beginning of this post – that’s 2013 done. Wish me success completing 2014.

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Mystery Books Read in November 2013

July8


 

Here are the only two mystery books I read in November. Both were set in the 1930s, a period I love to read about. This post makes me almost done recording 2013!
 

 

1. ANGEL WITH TWO FACES by Nicole Upson (Fiction, Mystery, 1930s English setting) 3.5 star rating

 photo 65b07ef3-6bfb-438f-815b-e701d3e81965_zpssspni6sl.jpg

This is the second book in Upson’s series featuring real-life writer Josephine Tey. This second instalment finds Tey and her friend (but not more) Inspector Archie Penrose enjoying a week as guests at a country manor house during the actual four-year hiatus in between Tey’s first two novels.

The mystery was nothing special and ultimately forgettable. But I do enjoy the growing characterization of Tey and Penrose.

Read this if: you’re a fan of Josephine Tey. 3½ stars

 

2. ON THE ROCKS: a Willa Cather and Edith Lewis Mystery by Sue Hallgarth (Fiction, Mystery, 1930s American setting) 2.5 star rating

 photo f2fcc3de-cd1c-4aa1-bf4c-6a719291ae66_zpsumoasguv.jpgWell, actually, this story is set on Grand Manaan Island which is really Canadian, but the holiday community, at least for the summer discussed, is composed of Americans.

On the Rocks can’t decide whether it’s a fictional mystery featuring American writer Willa Cather, or a non-fiction biography of Cather. It leans to the biography side which results in a complicated and nearly senseless mystery.

Read this if: you’d enjoy a fictionalized slice of Willa Cather’s life. 2½ stars

Note: I won a copy of On the Rocks from the publisher but this had no effect on my rating.

 

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books Read in November 2013

June28

books read
In November 2013, I was still a reading machine, getting through a dozen books, although two were cookbooks, and two were picture books. I guess that means I’m not much of a machine after all, doesn’t it?

The two mystery books that I read are detailed in a separate post.

 

1. THE LIBRARY by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small (Children’s picture book, Bibliophilic) 5 star rating

 photo library_zpscddvujp4.jpg 

Elizabeth Brown loves to read and leaves her home as a library for the town. A charming story and delightful illustrations.

Read this if: you love books; or want to engender a love of books in a little person. 5 stars


 

2. IN THE LAND OF BIRDFISHES by Rebecca Silver Slayter (Fiction, Literary, Canadian) 4.5 star rating

 photo in20the20land20of20burdfishes_zps1dfrwahf.jpg Blinded in childhood, two young sisters are separated for treatment and lose contact with each other. As an adult, Aileen decides to search out her sister in the Yukon Territory, Canada.

This is a brilliant depiction of the long summer nights of the short northern summer near the Arctic Circle. Add an unreliable narrator (but who?) and it’s a smashing story.

Read this if: you’re looking for a literary summer read; or are interested in new Canadian literary talent. 4½ stars


 
3. ZELDA AND IVY by Laura McGee Kvansnosky (Children’s picture book, Series) 4 star rating
 photo d6deaaa8-ce88-4778-9669-7808d2eee500_zpsugcpnpij.jpg 
Zelda and Ivy are sisters who make me glad I was the eldest of my siblings. I hope I was a better big sister than Zelda.

Charmingly illustrated, this book kicked off a popular series of Zelda and Ivy adventures.

Read this if
: you’re helping a child deal with sibling relationship issues. 4 stars


 

4. THE BURGESS BOYS by Elizabeth Strout (Fiction, Contemporary, American) 4 star rating
 photo 0982fbfd-6063-4554-b34a-74e6c4480f3a_zpsp0jbbezw.jpg 

With The Burgess Boys, Elizabeth Strout continues her tradition of fine fiction (see my notes on her Amy and Isabelle.) Her writing is beautiful and the stories are memorable.

Read this if: you want a literary summer read (another one!) 4 stars


 
 
5. BREAD BAKING MADE EASY by “Rita Martin” and Robin Hood Multifoods 4 star rating

This small gem, published by Robin Hood in 1953, illustrates step-by-step breadmaking. You need not have any prior experience nor even exposure to yeast, kneading, or doubling. This book explains it all.

 photo a486ea8b-71fd-435f-947f-b60fc21f2aa7_zpsclph0eb7.jpgIt’s an interesting aside that Rita Martin was invented in 1938 as a corporate character for Robin Hood flour. According to Culinaria: “with a name equally pronounceable in English and French, Martin was one of the faces of Robin Hood [Canada] until around 1970.”

The test, of course, of any cookbook is what kind of bread I made using the directions: it was light and even, and I felt that it was a “properly made” loaf.

Read this if: you want to learn how to make basic bread. 4 stars


 

6. A WILDER ROSE by Susan Wittig Albert (Fiction, Biography, Book-related) 3.5 star rating

 photo 8c6b88ce-01bf-4af3-a531-413aac3d5f10_zps9mmojykh.jpg

Many of you have read and loved the pioneer stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Some of you are aware of the controversy surrounding her stories—allegations that it was, not Laura, but Laura’s daughter Rose Wilder, who wrote the Little House books.

Witting Albert makes this case, rather convincingly, in this novel based on Wilder’s life between 1928 and 1939.. She uses some artistic license to imagine the communications between Laura and Rose.

Read this if:
you’ve read and enjoyed Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. 3½ stars

 

7. VW BLUES by Jacques Poulin (Fiction, Canadian, Quebecois, translated) 3.5 star rating

 photo 17b3b41a-84eb-453f-abd1-912c9e5d629c_zps2bb4bghf.jpg I’ve wanted to read this since Rock Carrier championed it in CBC’s Canada Reads in 2005.

Translated from French, VW Blues is the story of an impulsive road trip from Gaspe in Quebec to Las Vegas, Nevada to find the protagonist’s brother, with whom he has had no contact for 20 years.

I thought it dragged in spots although, in the end, everything tied together.

Read this: if you’ve thought about going off to find long-lost relatives. 3½ stars

 

8. TRAIN OF SMALL MERCIES by David Rowell (Fiction, Historical, American) 3 star rating

 photo 1f75b91d-bfd9-444f-8758-2156d67eb30b_zpsrskrr99s.jpg

I was an impressionable 13-year-old when Robert Kennedy was assassinated and I’ve had an interest in RFK since then. So when I heard that this book centred on the train carrying Kennedy’s body from New York City to Washington D.C. for burial, I was intrigued.

Alas, although there was potential, there was no story.

Read this if: you enjoy very low-key anecdotes about everyday life. 3 stars


 
9. THE THIEF by Fuminari Nakamura (Fiction, Contemporary, Japanese, translated) 3 star rating
 photo b0dcaf28-a0aa-4efe-9a4d-b41e48a0208f_zpsfuihvs6j.jpg 

I understand that this is a Japanese modern classic. But either it loses greatly in translation, or my sense of “classic” is off. I did persevere to the end, but it was almost painful.  

Boring, not much point. 3 stars
 


 

10. 1 BATTER; 50 CAKES: Baking to Fit Your Every Occasion by Gina Greifenstein (Cookbook) .5 star rating
 photo 3eb5e35a-faea-4429-b674-3be6d2dedfb2_zpsjmsuikmn.jpg 

This recipe book sounded promising but really was just a compilation of recipes that purportedly followed a basic pattern.

As with the breadmaking booklet, the test is in the tasting. We tried only one recipe, that produced a “cake” that wasn’t even edible.

The half star is for explaining the basic composition of cakes.

Don’t bother to read this. ½ star

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Mystery Books Read in October 2013

June22

 

I continued with a favourite series – and discovered a really good new (to me) one.

Have a look!
 


1. THE SOUND AND THE FURRY
by Spencer Quinn (Mystery, Detective, series) 4.5 star rating

 photo sound20and20the20furry_zpsiko3annm.jpg This is the sixth installment in the Chet & Bernie series, which the canine “Chet the Jet” narrates. He and his “partner” Bernie run the Little Detective Agency and have been hired to seek the missing brother of a past “client”. Said brother has disappeared with his houseboat somewhere in the Louisiana bayou. This poses a BIG change of scenery for our boys but Quinn had me smelling those swamps, so succinct were his descriptions.

If you haven’t yet tried this series (perhaps because of the animal narrator), I’d urge you to do so anyway. There is almost always a solid mystery and some suspense. And Chet has such a naive and positive outlook on life that he can’t help but leave you smiling.

Read this (series) if: you’re a dog lover; or you’d like a mystery that’s definitely not cozy but still fun. 4½ stars

 

2. KILLED IN THE RATINGS by William L. deAndrea (Mystery, Vintage) 4 star rating

 photo killed20in20the20ratings_zpsrwmjmgqk.jpg I found reference to this series in Old-Time Detection, a thrice-yearly publication written and published by Arthur Vidro of Claremont NH, and I was able to purchase the Kindle version of the series’ first book.

Written and set in the 1980s, it’s a peek into corporate culture in the pre-cell phone, pre-Internet days. It’s also a look behind the scenes in the television industry.

Matt Cobb, network executive, deals with literally deadly office politics. It’s reasonably well-written. I’m not sure how more murders will occur within the scope of a high-end entertainment exec, but the series continues, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be reading some more.

Read this if:
you’re nostalgic for the days when you didn’t have to be available to everybody 24/7; or you’re looking for a series that not too dark, in a setting that’s a little different. 4 stars

 

3. THE IGGY CHRONICLES by Spencer Quinn (Mystery, Novella – adjunct to the series) 4 star rating

 photo 44548fdf-0ab4-4b9b-85ce-4eac7b59db2c_zpslrfurogc.jpg Another sort of prequel to the Chet & Bernie series (see item #1), this is the story of Iggy, the dog next door. Iggy is Chet’s bud, but they don’t see much of each other.

While this wasn’t as intriguing as A Cat Was Involved, another series prequel, Quinn still has a way with a story and this dog’s irrepressible take on life.

Read this if: you’re a series fan. If you haven’t read any of the books yet, start with A Cat Was Involved and then move on to Dog Gone It. 4 stars-

 

Do you like the sound of either of these series?

 

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

Books Read in October 2013

June16

books read Finally – here I am with my “Books Read Summaries” for the rest of 2013. This is what happens when one lets herself get behind in recording “Books Read” on her blog, her personal & necessary record: life, and death, and more life. I won’t bore you with the details all at once, just as they occur.

So here I am in October 2013, blissfully unaware of what’s ahead, and reading, reading. Because this was almost three years ago, I won’t pretend to remember everything about these books, but I’ll tell you what I can. I’m thankful that I rated them when I read them.

The three mystery books that I read are detailed in a separate post.
 

1. THE DEATH OF BEES by Lisa O’Donnell (Contemporary, Scottish) 4 star rating

 photo b70d1352-ae96-453d-a95f-42ccc7674d2c_zps3dqjmyir.jpg Two young girls bury their parents in the back yard and try to carry on as normal so that their parents’ assistance cheques will keep coming. The lonely widowed next-door neighbour watches them, suspects that something is amiss, and reaches out to include them in his life.
The story is told in the first person from the POV of each of the three main characters. I remember that the voices were clear and distinct. Also, the burgeoning relationship between the neighbours is credibly drawn.

Read this if: you’d like a sneak peek into the slums of modern-day Glasgow and the life of many of those who receive welfare; or if you like stories with young, resourceful protagonists. 4 stars
 

2. FAUNA by Alissa York (Literary, Contemporary, Canadian) 4 star rating

This was the 2013 pick for One Book Nova Scotia. It’s set in the Don Valley in Toronto, Ontario. The River Don runs through the heart of Canada’s biggest city, largely unnoticed by most residents, but the valley teems with wildlife activity. photo 76284495-5d1b-49cc-babb-f999ea81cb94_zpso3ohrcdo.jpg

Alissa Yorke imagines an auto wreckers in this ravine, with a secret sanctuary for the injured fauna of the title. All of the characters who cross paths here are recovering from or distancing themselves from a loss. Most interesting is Edal, a federal wildlife officer on stress leave, torn between reporting the illegal operation and watching the wildlife she is sworn to protect heal. There’s also a coyote-shooting fringe element, and of course, the wildlife itself.

Read this if: you are interested in the role that animals and humans play in the healing of the other; or you live in or near Toronto (or another large urban centre) and want a glimpse of the hidden world amid the concrete that is the Don Valley. 4 stars

 

3. BREATH by Tim Winton (Literary, Australian, 1970s setting) 4 star rating

Breath  photo 81762949-f7fc-4df7-81e6-a2513c61341d_zpsved5fxts.jpg is set in a small fictional village in Western Australia. Childhood friends Piker and Loon grow up daring each to more and more dangerous stunts. As teenagers, they take up surfing and meet Sando, a former pro surfer who leads them to new levels of daring.

What I remember most about this book is the image of the beauty and the savagery of the west Australian coast. Winton put me on the edge of my seat, underwater with those boys.

Breath won the Miles Franklin Literary Award in 2009.

Read this if: you’ve forgotten the thrill of testing yourself to the limit. 4 stars

 

4. A FAR CRY FROM KENSINGTON by Muriel Spark (Fiction, Vintage, British) 4 star rating

The narrator  photo 97a6a513-1983-4986-9644-9118ad4ba959_zps2lwhudmm.jpgof this book lived in a boarding house in Kensington in the 1950s and recounts the mild adventures of her fellow boarders. As usual, the narrator is a key, but that fact is obscured until the end. This makes it sound as if I didn’t like this book, but I did – a great deal. Spark is a smooth delight at any time.

Read this if: you’ve just finished a book you had to work really hard at and you need a ‘palate-cleanser’; or, obviously, you enjoy vintage English comedies. 4 stars

 

5. EXTRAORDINARY by David Gilmour (Fiction, Canadian, Contemporary, Literary) 4 star rating

 photo extraordinary_zpsgnooqj91.jpgLong-listed for Canada’s prestigious Giller Prize for Fiction, Extraordinary became a controversial choice after comments made by the author that many saw as sexist. It was a challenge to approach this book then, without preconceived ideas about its value.

Very spare, it’s told from the viewpoint of a man asked by his sister to assist in her suicide. It’s perhaps as objective an account as can be told about this hotly debated subject.

Read this if: you’re interested in the collateral effect of the assisted death of an ill person. 4 stars

 

6. YOU ARE ONE OF THEM  by Elliott Holt  (Fiction, American) 3.5 star rating

 photo you20are20one20of20them_zpsaoy6jjyd.jpg Set during the Cold War, this story revolves around a community of young Americans living and working in Moscow.

I had a difficult time deciding on a rating of 3 or 3½ stars. In the end I came down on the side of readability.

Read this if: if you’d like a low-key spy novel. 3½ stars

 

7. PALISADES PARK by Alan Brennert (Fiction, Historical, American) 3.5 star rating

 photo palisades20park_zpsecrwxgrs.jpg The real Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey, just across the Hudson River from New York City, saw millions of visitors in its life 1898 – 1971. It was immortalized in Freddy Cannon’s 1962 hit of the same name.

Brennert has created a novel that could well be the biography of generations of those who worked and/or owned the concessions and made the park their second home during the summer months.

Read this if: you remember having fun at Palisades Park or another large privately-owner amusement park. 3½ stars

 

8. EVERYTHING FLOWS by Vasily Grossman (Fiction, Historical, Russian, translated) 3.5 star rating

I would never have picked this up but for the War and Literature read along.
 photo everything20flows_zpsyqdsalmb.jpg
Translated from the Russian, this strongly autobiographical story follows Ivan Grigoryevich who returns to society from prison during the Communist regime. It’s hard for us to imagine living with the distrust of friends and family members that Russian citizens did for decades—lifetimes.

I’m glad that I read this but it did drag immensely. Perhaps life in Russia did then.

Read this if: you want the nitty-gritty of life under Communism in post-WWII Russia. 3½ stars

 

9. EVERYBODY HAS EVERYTHING by Katrina Onstad (Fiction, Contemporary, Canadian) 3 star rating

 photo everybody20has20everything_zpsj3upslvf.jpg From Amazon: “After a car crash leaves their friend Marcus dead and his wife Sarah in a coma, Ana and James are shocked to discover that they have become the legal guardians of a 2½-year-old, Finn”.

I don’t know why I found this book so forgettable.

Read this if: Since I can’t remember anything about it, I can’t really recommend who should read it. 3 stars

 

10. THE HOW-TO HANDBOOK: Shortcuts and Solutions for the Problems of Everyday Life by Martin Oliver and Alexandra Johnson (Non-fiction, DIY) 3 star rating
 photo how-to20handbook_zpscra4vvi0.jpg

Instructions for many basic but necessary life skills. Suitable for teens moving out for the first time.

Read this if: you’re off to college or to find your place in the world. 3 stars

Note: I won a copy of this book on Library Thing Early Reviewers. This did not affect my rating.

 
Is there anything here that catches your interest?

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

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Books I’ve Read (in the Past): 1997

June11

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I first started keeping track of the books that I read in 1997 when I was already in my ’40s. What a foolish woman I was to not have started in my teens. How I’ve wished (over and over) that I had.

And my early records are incomplete, and some of the brief comments are laughable. But, inspired by JoAnn of Lakeside Musing who has shared her older journals in a series that she has named Pages from the Past, I’d like to share my journals with you. Herewith, a small sample from that first year, 1997.

death of a salesman 125 photo death of a salesman_zpseoca2nz8.jpg

Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller (fiction, play, drama, tragedy) Viking Press 1948/1970
Pulitzer Prize winner
** Very dark–not just about aging, but also madness. Would like to see it performed when in a better state of mind.
[2016 notes: Most everyone will have heard of Willy Loman and his family around whom this play is centred. Hard work and chasing the American dream have not rewarded Willy; neither have his sons turned out as he had hoped.]

illustrated garden book photo garden book_zpsegcb52cn.jpgThe Illustrated Garden Book by Vita Sackville-West (non-fiction, essays, gardening)
** An anthology of her newspaper columns from the 1940s and ’50s.
A window on a different life–English gentility; and a different climate, where she could arrange some plants to cut for indoor ‘flowers’ every month of the year!
[2016 notes: I remember that I immensely enjoyed this book, which I dipped into an essay at a time, and fell in love with Vita Sackville-West’s writing.]

and ladies of the club photo ladies of the club_zpsenzzavqu.jpg

And Ladies of the Club by Helen Hooven Santmyer (fiction, saga, drama)
** My second time through this – the first over 10 years ago. I still enjoy the development of multi-generational characters; and I think I was more touched this time by the fleetingness of life. The U.S. politics still could not hold my interest, though.
[2016 notes: This story centres around two women (and eventually their families) in the years before, during, and after the American Civil War. I’m not sure why I was intrigued enough with this to reread it since it’s over 1300 pages.]

That’s all I recorded for 1997 although I know I read lots more than that. What do you think: shall I continue posting these old reading journal entries?

P.S. The links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.

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