Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Summer Reads

It has been dismally hot lately, almost uncharacteristically early (90+ weather in spring, I'm looking at you), which means that most of my indoor free time lately has been spent drinking cool beverages, not moving, and reading as much as possible.  Here are some of the books that have been in rotation lately:

A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear

Thoughts so far: I really love the main character (Maisie Dobbs), the time period (post-WWI, pre-WWII), and the location (Gibraltar).  It hasn't been easy to figure out where and what Miss Dobb's investigating is leading to, which I think is a good thing so far.  On the other hand, the writing is a little bit lacking and has slowed down for me midway through.  I snuck a peek at some Goodreads reviews of the book, and others agree - but say that the earlier books in the series are much better.  I'm sticking with it, in the hope that it will be worth it in the end and that I'll get the chance to check out some of the earlier books in the series.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Thoughts so far: I am definitely not knowledgeable about this period of time (in terms of names and places - sorry, History teachers), so it's a bit tricky to keep track of the characters, why they're significant, and what they do.  There's definitely a bunch of re-reading of pages and flipping back to the chart(s) at the beginning of the book.  That said, I don't mind that it's a slower read since the writing is lovely.  The characters are certainly brought to life.

The World On A Plate: 40 Cuisines, 100 Recipes, and the Stories Behind Them by Mina Holland

Thoughts: Loved this one - got it as a birthday present, and can't wait to try many of the recipes inside.  Hopefully I'll get a review up soon, but in the meantime, I liked the fact that she lists normal kitchen things as essentials (no expensive KitchenAid stand mixers or international brand blow-torches listed), the charts with information about the history behind certain spice blends or grapes, and the short chapters and blurbs on each of the regions and recipes. 

What have you been reading lately? 

Friday, June 12, 2015

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami Review

While I was living overseas, I tried valiantly to read Murakami's 1Q84.  I enjoyed the prose and the even style of writing - level, calm, and unhurried.  Unfortunately, I had a copy with all three or four volumes in one, which made for something like over 300 pages of calm, unhurried writing...and I put it down.  Alas alack, etc.

This, however, was just right - a lovely introduction to the writer, and also gave some insight into his style and mindset.  I'd only heard good things about both Murakami and this book before reading, and was not disappointed.

If you're looking for a slow-paced summer read for sitting in cafes or on the stoop, pick it up.  It's not an "athletics" book, and it's not just about writing.  I think it's fair to say it's about life changing, making choices and sticking with them, community, and how we respond to challenges in life.

Basic plot: (from back cover) An intimate look at writing, running, and the incredible way they intersect, from the incomparable, bestselling author Haruki Murakami.  While training for the New York City Marathon, Haruki Murakami decided to keep a journal of his progress.  The result is a beautiful memoir about his intertwined obsessions with running and writing, full of vivid memories and insights, including the eureka moment when he decided to become a writer.  By turns funny and sobering, playful and philosophical, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is rich and revelatory, both for fans of this masterful yet guardedly private writer and for the expanding population who find similar satisfaction in athletic pursuit.

On a scale from 1 to Cripplingly Depressing: 0

Memories from reading: I read this while waiting for graduation ceremonies to start and for my plane to arrive, which I think added something to it.  There was never one period where I just sat and read for ages, and the book is good for that - when you have a moment, the pieces you do read are engaging and thought-provoking.

Teeth-gnashing: Nothing, really.  I can't think of any bits that I wish had been longer, or cut short.  It all seemed to be put together very well.

Weapon of Choice: Paperback, from The Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, MA.

Other titles by this author:
After Dark
After the Quake
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
Kafka on the Shore
Norwegian Wood

Have you read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, or any of Murakami's other books? What did you think?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Reading: 1. This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper.  I know this one is coming out (has already come out?) as a movie, and the book reads that way.  I was looking for a lighter summer read, and it kind of fits the bill - the writing style/author's voice is very readable, and yet at the same time it's also about family dysfunction.  So far I like it, but I hope the plot picks up.  Amen.

2. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.  WH, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I watched one episode of the miniseries when I was visiting with my family and was...underwhelmed.  The book, however, is so well written I almost can't stand it.  I'm not usually the early historical fiction fan, and I'm not very far in, but I have the feeling it will fly by.  Here's an excerpt:

Wolsey looks at his expression, and laughs.  Squabbling underlings! He knows quite well that, dissatisfied with their original parentage, they are fighting to be his favorite son.  "Whatever you think of Master Stephen, he is well grounded in canon law, and a very persuasive fellow, except when he tries to persuade you.  I will tell you ---" He breaks off; he leans forward, he puts his great lion's head in his hands, the head that would indeed have worn the papal tiara, if at the last election the right money had been paid out to the right people. "I have begged him," the cardinal says.  "Thomas, I sank to my knees and from that humble posture I tried to dissuade him.  Majesty, I said, be guided by me.  Nothing will ensue, if you wish to be rid of your wife, but a great deal of trouble and expense."

Making: Vegan Molasses Cookies.  I'm not vegan, but love eating cookie batter without eggs - and another positive is that these come out very soft - maybe too soft? Still delicious. (Try these, too.)

Watching: Endless youtube videos about skincare.  One of the finer examples of internet rabbitholes, and yet so addicting.  Here you go.

Quoting: This may be my new favorite, by none other than Mary Oliver:
There were times over the years when life was not easy, but if you're working a few hours a day and you've got a good book to read, and you can go outside to the beach and dig for clams, you're okay.

What are you currently reading, making, or watching?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Happy Friday!

Hello again and Happy Friday (the first Friday in June)! 

How are you? What are you reading? How has your spring been? I hope that life has been treating you well.  Thanks for sticking with me - I'm glad to be back.

Since I haven't been blogging about it, what have I been reading for the last month and change?

Hello from the Gillespies by Monica McInnerney
Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christiee
The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Skin Cleanse by Adina Grigore
The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

All of which I have genuinely enjoyed, some more than others.  I finished Murakami's book yesterday morning, and if you like essays, memoirs, or sports, definitely read it.  I found it both calm and relatable, and it made me want to pick up another of his shorter works - maybe essays.

In addition to terrific library finds, this spring has turned into a "cup runneth over" experience with books. While visiting with family, I was very generously given How To Be Both by Ali Smith, which I've been wanting to read for ages - and then a friend lent me Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, which I started to read while waiting for the bus (and LOVE so far, good gravy).

Then last week, as I was walking back from grocery shopping, I saw a yard sale with a box of books and stopped to look.  You know where this story is going, of course. I flipped through the books while balancing my bags, and picked up three - The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, and The Lover by A.B. Yehoshua.  How much did they cost? Twenty-five cents each.  It was, if I were the dramatic type, as if the heavens opened up and practically gave them to me.  So they now sit on my to-be-read pile as well, with some picks from your blogs over the last several weeks.

They're not fancy new books, but just right for me, and what I so love about reading and book blogging.

Have a wonderful weekend :)

P.S. Has anyone else been watching Outlander?? Any thoughts on the end of the first series? The more I watch, the more I keep re-reading, and thinking about how they're going to work the end of the second season! I'm ridiculously excited to follow along.