Sunday, December 7, 2014


Well, here we are in December.  I read, I didn't blog about it.

Back to the drawing board! Blogging about books...nothing too fancy.

I spent October and November reading comforty, not very challenging (but delicious to curl up with and escape in) books.  Some of the titles I've already forgotten about, others I wrote down.  Most of what I was trying to gain in that goal I set for myself a few months ago was improvement.  There are so many fantastic books out there, with juicy story lines and characters that churn my stomach in excitement and literally make me put down the book because I can't stand what I think's coming.  I hope I keep reading more of them, in whatever form they come - thriller, historical fiction, best-selling author or totally unknown-to-me.

Let's do this - right now I'm reading:

A Mercy by Toni Morrison.  I haven't read any Toni Morrison in years, and given the events that have taken place over the last several months and weeks, I've decided to put my reading choices where my mouth is and read more diverse books.  It's a small start, but I'm looking forward to researching more and diving in - I've got a lot of catching up to do.  This is a list I'm excited about - anyone have more suggestions, or places to look?

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller.  Finishing this one up! Those last few chapters have taken me weeks (is...that weird to tell people? ha) mostly because I know how this story ends and I've gotten so attached to the characters that I just want to leave it where it is.  I really enjoyed the development of their personalities and their entwined stories, the fact that the characters changed while retaining their voices, and that the story was such a cool concept.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver.  This one I found through a friend of a friend, and I'm enjoying it more than her fiction.  Essentially, her family decides to move from Arizona to an older family farm in Virginia and eat what they can grow and find locally.  The recipes she includes are mouth-watering, the anecdotes are vivid, the questions and data thought-provoking.

What are you reading right now? What books can't you put down?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Around the Web

unrelated grainy iPhone photo, but one that makes me happy
Shana Tovah to all of you who celebrate, and to those of you who don't, Happy Friday :) Here are some favorites of mine that have been floating around the web this week - from desserts that made me want to reconsider my "less-sugar!" plan to photos that burst with color and reviews of books I know I want to read next.  Who says you can't travel the world from right where you are?

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Ice Cream Cookie Sandwiches from Amy at Club Narwhal (Michigan)

Sunken Apple and Honey Cake from Deb at Smitten Kitchen (New York)

A beautiful photo of a woman on the street in Milan from The Sartorialist (Italy)

A nuanced review of historical fiction from April at the Steadfast Reader

Pictures of Recently Enjoyed Things from Drea at OhDearDrea (Florida)

True Story from Amber at The RunaMuck (Arkansas)

Broken Monsters & Good Books With Bad Endings from Shannon at River City Reading (Virginia)

How was your week? Do you have any favorites you found that you want to read, create, or eat? ;)

Monday, September 22, 2014

review of tarquin hall's "Vish Puri" series

I'm rolling these three into one review, because I've read them and I love them and I can't decide which of them to review.  I'll differentiate between them, since they are, of course, different, but let me start here:

If you've been reading this blog for a little bit, you know I enjoy a good mystery.  Often the mysteries I review here can be quite dark - and more often than not, pretty gruesome.  I'm not sure why that is (weird quirk?), but whenever and whatever I read, I like a plot and a set of characters that hold some authenticity - where it's almost as if there's part of a character that gets how difficult and grungy life can be. Andrei Bolkonsky, Scarlett O'Hara, Lisbeth Salander - many, many more fit the bill.  I'd rather read through the evolution of one of those characters than a floppy, fun piece of fluff (though those have their place also).

The Vish Puri books are not gruesome.  They are light and engaging, with amusing riffs between family and minor characters that add color and intrigue to a seemingly straightforward storyline.  Food is a big part of Vish Puri's life, and the descriptions of the dusty streets and the diverse and flavorful lives of throngs of people in India made these books some of my favorite reads during my daily commute.

The Case of the Love Commandos: This was the first of the series I read, and I didn't realize that the style was a bit different from the others.  We got far more in-depth glimpses into Facecream's story alongside Vish Puri's, which I thought was a smart way of allowing more minor characters - part of Vish Puri's investigative team - to come forward and develop.

The Case of the Missing Servant: This is the first book in the series, and I loved seeing more of Mummy's character here.  She's one of my favorite characters - there is nothing overdone about her, nothing excessively boisterous, and yet she is so funny and such a passionate part of the series.  Another really lovely part of these books is the fact that Vish Puri does not hate his mother.  In fact, the relationship between them is comfortable and mutually respectful (to a degree ;)).

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken: This was the most complex of them all, and felt longer than the first two, which was a positive.  What I most enjoyed was delving into the historical, cultural, and geographical complexities that have impacted and continue to influence India and Pakistan - and though I have never seen a cricket match, it very nearly made me want to ;)

Do you find yourself reading certain genres over and over again? Are there characters that you love to watch develop and become more complex?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

DC Book Festival

The DC Book Festival last weekend was a ton of fun.  As I got off the metro and was walking into the Convention Center, I thought, "There must be a baseball game today, because there's no way this many people are heading to the book festival."

Nope! Any and all totally normal-looking people on the metro that were thronging around made their way into the Convention Center along with me.  Gaggles of people milling about.  Enthused green-shirted volunteers handing out thick packets of schedules for author readings, sightings, and signings.  The kiosk with the free posters was a madhouse!  Papercut city, people bonking strangers on the head with rolled up posters spilling out of their arms.

I went with a new friend of mine, and the first thing we saw was Billy Collins doing a reading.  Billy Collins! Man, Billy Collins.  When I was a freshman in college someone put together a mixtape for me with a reading of his included on it, and I'd be minding my own business listening to whatever it was I was listening to, and then his voice would come over the earbuds or the tinny laptop speakers reading a poem of his and I was hooked.

Sometimes I'd skip them ( is a serious exerciser that can jam to a non-slam poem while at the gym, I say) - but mostly I enjoyed them tremendously.  I'd been a fan of his poems before, but hearing them read aloud changed them.  So from the back of a packed room I could sort of see Billy Collins, and that was pretty cool.  It was a nice reading, and his voice is the same as it was then.  (PSA - read A History of  I'll hang on a sec.)

We wandered around a bit, looking for interesting speakers, and found ourselves at the back of a packed room, again, listening to Representative John Lewis speaking about the Civil Rights movement and his new book, March: Book One.  I love a good graphic novel, and particularly one about history.  It was very cool to hear them talk about the process of putting together the book and about the Civil Rights movement back then as well as today.

Oh, and someone let their child pee on the floor right where I was.  That was...a less charming part of the book festival experience, but! Anything for books, I guess.  After a quick trip to the ladies' room (oh yes, the pee got on me, too) to freshen up, we booked it ;) to the book sales and took our sweet time perusing.  Serious decisions to be made, with much weeping and wailing about limited book funds and dramatic sighs.  Finally we chose our books and tucked them away neatly after purchase.  My two picks were Someone by Alice McDermott and The End of Night by Paul Bogard.

Were any of you there? Been to any local book fairs? What have been some of your favorite readings?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Currently Reading...

Zero Waste Home: The Ultimate Guide to Simplifying Your Life by Reducing Your Waste by Bea Johnson

What I'm enjoying so far: I like that it's been broken down into sections - of life and of the home.  It makes it easier to flip through and find what's of interest at any particular moment.  The recipes and lists for shopping and a Zero Waste wardrobe are useful.  I'm also really enjoying the personal anecdotes and her story of how she got to this point - and that it's not all about recycling.

What I hope to see more of: Resources and content that reflects the life of those who might not live in a mild climate like certain parts of California.  Rain boots, snow shoes, umbrellas and mittens were not listed.  Those who work in the business world, in certain types of professional settings or in corporate jobs might not be able to only buy clothing that is washable, for instance.  I'm hoping that this book isn't only for those who work at home and live financially comfortable lives.

My overall thoughts on the book: I like the fact that Bea Johnson doesn't say that everyone should do this exactly her way, or become Zero Waste immediately.  She doesn't catastrophize and the book is not preachy.  It's definitely made me consider how much waste I produce in my own home - the amount of recycling I take out each week, how many plastic containers I have, what I'm buying from the store that has plastic or some kind of packaging, and what I can do to minimize that.  While grinding up kohl to make my own eyeliner is not my style, and I'm way too much of a scaredy-cat to bring my own glass container to be filled at a meat/fish counter, I think it's cool that she put that information in there.  It's made me think more about my own lifestyle.

**On a side note, this is also not a scientific book - there are very few statistics and studies shown.  I don't think Bea Johnson is trying to prove whether or not global warming is real or whether or not certain types of plastic leach chemicals, for instance.  If you're looking for that kind of a read, I'd say go elsewhere.

For more information on the book and the movement she's discussing, here are some neat resources:
Zero Waste Home
My Plastic-Free Life
My Zero Waste

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

September Reads

I always try to think of the fall as a time to recharge, reflect, and delve deeper in the kind of reading I do.  It's not yet time to hide indoors under a blanket, far far away from dripping shoes and muddy coats with a tropical read.  At its best, I think, early fall is the chance to take in the chill and the crisp air and hang out around a campfire in the hopes of getting some whistling apples (yum) and learning something new.  Maybe it's the new year or the beginning of school that still lingers for me, but fall always feels like a new chance to grow.

Last year, my memorable fall reads were The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson.  The Ministry of Special Cases helped me learn about the disappearances of young people in Argentina in the 1970's, and the lengths to which people still go to try and find their loved ones.  Horrible, tragic, devastating - and an absolute must-read.  Major Pettigrew's Last Stand was a mild and mellow retreat into the life and mind of a middle-aged man in the UK, and his search for fulfillment and meaning.  It was a lovely read - I wish I'd started writing about books I read earlier last year! If you've enjoyed Zadie Smith and are looking for something a bit different, I'd give this one a shot.

Here's what I'll be nose-deep in this month:

Someone*, by Alice McDermott An ordinary life—its sharp pains and unexpected joys, its bursts of clarity and moments of confusion—lived by an ordinary woman: this is the subject of Someone, Alice McDermott’s extraordinary return, seven years after the publication of After This. Scattered recollections—of childhood, adolescence, motherhood, old age—come together in this transformative narrative, stitched into a vibrant whole by McDermott’s deft, lyrical voice. Our first glimpse of Marie is as a child: a girl in glasses waiting on a Brooklyn stoop for her beloved father to come home from work. A seemingly innocuous encounter with a young woman named Pegeen sets the bittersweet tone of this remarkable novel. Pegeen describes herself as an “amadan,” a fool; indeed, soon after her chat with Marie, Pegeen tumbles down her own basement stairs. The magic of McDermott’s novel lies in how it reveals us all as fools for this or that, in one way or another. Marie’s first heartbreak and her eventual marriage; her brother’s brief stint as a Catholic priest, subsequent loss of faith, and eventual breakdown; the Second World War; her parents’ deaths; the births and lives of Marie’s children; the changing world of her Irish-American enclave in Brooklyn—McDermott sketches all of it with sympathy and insight. This is a novel that speaks of life as it is daily lived; a crowning achievement by one of the finest American writers at work today. (from Goodreads)

The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light*, by Paul Bogard A starry night is one of nature's most magical wonders. Yet in our artificially lit world, three-quarters of Americans' eyes never switch to night vision and most of us no longer experience true darkness. In The End of Night, Paul Bogard restores our awareness of the spectacularly primal, wildly dark night sky and how it has influenced the human experience across everything from science to art. From Las Vegas' Luxor Beam--the brightest single spot on this planet--to nights so starlit the sky looks like snow, Bogard blends personal narrative, natural history, science, and history to shed light on the importance of darkness--what we've lost, what we still have, and what we might regain--and the simple ways we can reduce the brightness of our nights tonight. (from Goodreads)

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson Twenty-four years after her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart. Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson's beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows "even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order" (Slate). In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life. (from Goodreads)

*I picked these two up at the National Book Festival this weekend! I'll be writing more about that experience soon.

What about you? What are you reading this month? What books do you pick up every fall?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Favorite Children's Books

Some good friends had a baby recently, and I had no idea what to get them.  Mobiles, swaddling blankets, beautiful onesies, things that smell fantastic, flowers, food...doing their laundry, walking the dog - practical things. But what do you give when all the basics have been covered, or you're too far away to send food before it melts?

It was a dilemma.

After doing some serious talking with my family, what popped into my head was...books.  (Duh, hello, this is a book blog.) Truly great, readable by everyone, pick up over-and-over-and-over again books that are part of childhood.  One of the things that was a big deal in my home was having books with a)an engaging story and b)wonderful illustrations.  Everyone can appreciate those - from the tiniest to the oldest.  Here are some that my family and I loved:

From Top to Bottom, L to R: 
Eloise by Kay Thompson/Tikki Tikki Tembo* by Arlene Mosel/The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch/Squawk to the Moon, Little Goose by Edna Mitchell Preston/Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans/Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney/King Bidgood's in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood/Make Way for Ducklngs by Robert McCloskey/Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag/ Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

What were some of your favorites that you read when you were a child, or that you and your family read now? Any great new additions that you've discovered, or that have come out recently?

Other lists of fantastic books:
New York Public Library's Picks (Jam for Frances! Caps for Sale! How could I have forgotten?!)
National Education Association's Picks

Friday, August 22, 2014

Currently Reading...

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

What I'm enjoying so far: One of my favorite scenes is the description Patty Howe cutting flowers in the second story while Kevin looks on, and the way the coast and the water were brought to life.  As someone who's spent a lot of time on the East Coast, and in particular the Northeast, there was something about the way the whole thing was written that so captured the feeling of being in that environment.  It was both beautiful and real - reminded me of Richard Russo's Empire Falls, in a way.

What I hope to see more of: I really want to see more of the townspeople and other, maybe less-central characters.  I don't know if they should be called less-central (I think Olive is supposed to be the central character?), but I'm enjoying reading about them and discovering their back stories, flaws, feelings, and memories.  Minor characters can be little gems when done well, and so far I like what Ms. Strout is doing with them.

My overall thoughts on the book: This was not at all what I expected - when I first saw this book, I didn't think it would be a series of short(er) stories.  It took me a bit by surprise (in a positive way).  It also doesn't feel as if the book - its characters, its setting and mood - is diminished by that structure.  Each story seems to get progressively richer.

Have you read Olive Kitteridge? Is it on your list? What were your thoughts?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

top ten books I'm not sure I want to read

After a doozy of a week, Sheba and I spent our weekend doing only strictly-necessary activities.  For me those included: errands.  For Sheba that included: ferociously napping with her head thrown back, putting her toys in her water bowl, and continuing on her quest to kill Frank (the tiny tiny fly that lives in the lamp).

I hope this week has started out well for you, and that the very last month of summer has been just delicious.  August should bring summer out like the last people at a party, you know?

But without further ado, let's get started on this week's Top Ten Tuesday (from last week): "Books I'm Not Sure I Want To Read."

  1. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.  Not sold on it...and I'm not even completely sure what it is.
  2. Atlas Shrugged: This is a book that people I know either L.O.V.E. or can't stand - and the same can be said for Ayn Rand.  I haven't tried to read it yet, but I haven't had too much of a desire to do so yet either.
  3. Gone Girl: Evvvverybody I know has read this book or knows somebody who read this book.  At one point I had picked it up at a Hudson News and wasn't sucked in.  I'm not sure about all of the hype.
  4. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry.  In theory it sounds like a great book that would be totally up my alley, but I haven't been able to get into it.
  5. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard.  This one I picked up in one of those "Free Books!" boxes by the side of the road, when someone's moving, and I thought it was fantastic starting out, but now, not sure.
This is about as far as I got, since mostly this prompt got me thinking about books that I do want to read.  These three are a few that stood out to me when on the prowl for Pulitzer or Booker Prize winners:

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson: Twenty-four years after her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart. Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson's beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows "even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order" (Slate). In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life. (from goodreads)

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Daniyal Mueenuddin: In the spirit of Joyce's Dubliners and Turgenev's A Sportsman's Sketches, Daniyal Mueenuddin's collection of linked stories illuminates a place and a people through an examination of the entwined lives of landowners and their retainers on the Gurmani family farm in the countryside outside of Lahore, Pakistan. An aging feudal landlord's household staff, the villagers who depend on his favor, and a network of relations near and far who have sought their fortune in the cities confront the advantages and constraints of station, the dissolution of old ways, and the shock of change. Mueenuddin bares - at times humorously, at times tragically - the complexities of Pakistani class and culture and presents a vivid picture of a time and a place, of the old powers and the new, as the Pakistani feudal order is undermined and transformed. (from goodreads)

Staying On, by Paul Scott: In this sequel to The Raj Quartet, Colonel Tusker and Lucy Smalley stay on in the hills of Pankot after Indian independence deprives them of their colonial status. Finally fed up with accommodating her husband, Lucy claims a degree of independence herself. Eloquent and hilarious, she and Tusker act out class tensions among the British of the Raj and give voice to the loneliness, rage, and stubborn affection in their marriage. (from the Booker Prize Page)

I also found these two very cool blogs: A Year of Reading the World and Booker Talk.  What are your thoughts? Are any of these must-reads for you, or are you also on the fence about some? 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

the english girl review

Happy Thursday, all!  If I were jumping head-first into themes, today could be called "Thriller Thursday," since this week's review is of The English Girl, by Daniel Silva.  I don't usually grab spy-assassin novels from the shelves, but I was traveling a few months ago and happened to pick this one up before a flight.  It was not what I'd expected, but I ended up enjoying it.  If you've never heard of this author (like me, you were apparently under a crime-rock) and are looking for a gripping story, I'd check it out.

Basic plot: (from goodreads) When a beautiful young British woman vanishes on the island of Corsica, a prime minister's career is threatened with destruction. Allon, the wayward son of Israeli intelligence, is thrust into a game of shadows where nothing is what it seems...and where the only thing more dangerous than his enemies might be the truth.

On a scale from 1 to Cripplingly Depressing: Well, there's violence and - high in that regard - but this was not a dark, brooding read.

Memories from reading: I picked this one up on the way home from a trip and the descriptions of the Mediterranean (Greece/Crete, Jerusalem) were wonderful.  The characters were diverse and engaging, and I would have liked to have seen more of the group that worked together.  I hadn't heard of Daniel Silva before, but this is one of a series (#13, yikes), so it's possible that's fleshed out in other books.

Teeth-gnashing: For the first half of the book I thought it was going to be one thing, but then it turned into something totally different.  To be truthful, it started to bore me, but after a brief and slightly miffed hiatus, I liked a lot.  It almost seemed like two different books.

Weapon of Choice: Chunkster paperback from Hudson News at the airport.

Other titles by this author:
The Kill Artist
The English Assassin
The Rembrandt Affiar
The Defector

Have you read books written by this author before? Are you big into crime novels? 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

august reads

August already! I am thoroughly enjoying summer.  Open windows, sunshine, lots of walks to the grocery store and to parks, seeing people out and about with bikes and frisbees and kites - museums, walking along the Mall, fresh, sweet-smelling fruit and farmers' markets - summer is always good to me.  I don't miss dirty puddle splashes in my rain boots and getting whipped in the face by sleet, though winter and fall come with pluses as well (the quiet after a major snowfall comes to mind...)

But onto the books! This month I'm devouring another of the Vish Puri series - the first of bunch - which have been so fun and refreshing.  Since most of my other summer reads are either not at the library or on hold till, oh, October (!), I'm joining with Wensend and others to read Austen in August.  I'll be finishing Northanger Abbey, which I started a few months ago, and tagging along for their read-along of Pride and Prejudice.

Here are some blurbs, for those interested:

Northanger Abbey: A wonderfully entertaining coming-of-age story, Northanger Abbey is often referred to as Jane Austen’s “Gothic parody.” Decrepit castles, locked rooms, mysterious chests, cryptic notes, and tyrannical fathers give the story an uncanny air, but one with a decidedly satirical twist.  The story’s unlikely heroine is Catherine Morland, a remarkably innocent seventeen-year-old woman from a country parsonage. While spending a few weeks in Bath with a family friend, Catherine meets and falls in love with Henry Tilney, who invites her to visit his family estate, Northanger Abbey. Once there, Catherine, a great reader of Gothic thrillers, lets the shadowy atmosphere of the old mansion fill her mind with terrible suspicions. What is the mystery surrounding the death of Henry’s mother? Is the family concealing a terrible secret within the elegant rooms of the Abbey? Can she trust Henry, or is he part of an evil conspiracy? Catherine finds dreadful portents in the most prosaic events, until Henry persuades her to see the peril in confusing life with art. (from goodreads)

Pride & Prejudice: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." So begins Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen's witty comedy of manners--one of the most popular novels of all time--that features splendidly civilized sparring between the proud Mr. Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet as they play out their spirited courtship in a series of eighteenth-century drawing-room intrigues. (from goodreads)

The Case of the Missing Servant: The portly Vish Puri is India’s most accomplished detective, at least in his own estimation, and is also the hero of an irresistible new mystery series set in hot, dusty Delhi. Puri’s detective skills are old-fashioned in a Sherlock Holmesian way and a little out of sync with the tempo of the modern city, but Puri is clever and his methods work.  The Case of the Missing Servant shows Puri (“Chubby” to his friends) and his wonderfully nicknamed employees (among them, Handbrake, Flush, and Handcream) hired for two investigations. The first is into the background of a man surprisingly willing to wed a woman her father considers unmarriageable, and the second is into the disappearance six months earlier of a servant to a prominent Punjabi lawyer, a young woman known only as Mary.  The Most Private Investigator novels offer a delicious combination of ingenious stories, brilliant writing, sharp wit, and a vivid, unsentimental picture of contemporary India. And from the first to the last page run an affectionate humour and intelligent insights into both the subtleties of Indian culture and the mysteries of human behavior. (from goodreads)

What are you reading this August? Are you an Austen fan? Join in!