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 assassination...so - 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!