Sunday, July 30, 2017

And just like that, it's the end of July...



July 30th... already. In a couple of days it will be August and here I am posting for the first time in weeks. I didn't mean to disappear for so long, but it's been quite a month: our 4th of July celebration, helping a family member with a medical issue, a trip to Sanibel for my father-in-law's 90th birthday, and my husband's retirement last week. There's been no time to blog, but I have been reading.


For book club//

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Had it not been a book club selection, I might have abandoned this audiobook. I'm glad I persevered (with increased narration speed) because around the 40% mark, it finally started to grow on me (pun intended) and I ended up enjoying it - especially the life of a scientist/academic aspect. Jahren's personal story was not quite as interesting to me.

My book club's reaction was positive overall, but it's interesting to note that the two of us who listened both struggled. This got me thinking about the unavoidable subjectivity of audiobook ratings. With nearly 1500 ratings, Lab Girl (narrated by the author) averages 4.4 stars... I am clearly out of step. Perhaps I might have enjoyed this more in print.



For Paris in July//

The People in the Photo by Hélène Gestern

An unexpected treasure! The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain was going to be my only book for Paris in July, but goodreads suggested I might enjoy this "dark yet touching drama which deftly explores the themes of blame and forgiveness, identity and love."

Once I picked up the book, I could not put it down. In it, a young woman seeks information about the mother she can barely remember (she died in an accident when her daughter was very young) and about whom her father and stepmother have never spoken.This debut novel, translated from French and winner of multiple literary awards, is mostly epistolary. It consists of letters and emails between two intelligent and extreme articulate people, along with several detailed descriptions of photographs.
"I asked myself what it is that forms the truth of a person, what happens when you grow up without memories, who were those people who had known me and of whom I knew nothing, whether some part of them - a word, an image, a smell - had stayed with me."
This will surely be a favorite of 2017.





Nagasaki by Éric Faye

Translated from French, winner of the 2010 Académie Française award, set in modern-day Japan, and based on a true story, I decided to take a chance on another goodreads recommendation. Publisher's summary:
In a house on a suburban street in Nagasaki, meteorologist Shimura Kobo lives quietly on his own. Or so he believes. Food begins to go missing. Perturbed by this threat to his orderly life, Shimura sets up a webcam to monitor his home.
But though eager to identify his intruder, is Shimura really prepared for what the camera will reveal?
Skillfully narrated by David Timson and Anna Bentinck, this was a short (just over 2 hours), slightly out of the ordinary, listening experience.




For the Jane Austen Read All-a-long//


Sense and Sensibilty by Jane Austen

What can I say? Jane Austen is a favorite and Sense and Sensibility is every bit as wonderful the second (or third, or fourth...) time around. Rereading Jane is always a treat.


Just because//




The Beach House by Mary Alice Monroe

It can't be summer without a beach book, right? This one had everything I was looking for... family secrets, drama, love, a beach house, a hurricane, a South Carolina island setting, and even loggerhead turtles. It's the first in a series of four "Beach House" novels, but (thankfully) does not end with a cliff-hanger. And the kindle version is only $1.99! I'll pick up the next installment, Swimming Lessons, when it's time for another low country vacation.



Current reading//


Today I'm listening to Christodora by Tim Murphy, a novel that has been compared to The Nix and City on Fire.  The first three chapters have captured my interest and I may make it a read/listen combination.

Or I might start something else in print...we'll see.

How did July treat you? What have you been reading?



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Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Sunday Salon: July 9, 2017


Reading, but not writing... that's where I am now. Does it happen to you, too? I finish a book, reflect for a while, rate it on goodreads, and then I'm ready to dive into another. Here is my modest attempt to keep up.

Finished//

Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope

It took a month, but last week I finished the second book in Trollope's Palliser series, Phineas Finn ... 750+ pages and I was sorry to reach the end. Over the past two and a half years, I've read eight of Trollope's novels and don't plan to stop any time soon. There's nothing like catching a glimpse into Victorian England through his eyes. Trollope was a keen observer of society and his characters allow the reader to enter that world.

The political aspect of the Palliser series initially worried me. Would it be overwhelming or just plain dull? The answer, fortunately, is no. As the church and ecclesiastical life were to The Barsetshire Chronicles, politics is to the Pallisers. It provides a foundation for the lives of men... while women's lives are centered around men - their occupations, finances, and ambition. If a woman is lucky enough to possess money of her own, she may have some degree of power.

For me, the main draw of a Trollope novel is always his characters... and in particular, the women. While I eventually warmed to Phineas Finn, it was Lady Laura Standish, Violet Effingham, and Madame Max Goesler who kept me turning the pages. By the end of the book I was not ready to let any of the characters go. Trollope returns to Phineas in book 4, Phineas Redux, but The Eustace Diamonds is up next.

Thank you Audrey and Lisa for reading with me... should we do this again in the fall?



The Red Notebook by Antoine Laurain

It's time for Paris in July again and I decided to begin with this short, sweet, romantic novel. It involves a mugging, a designer handbag, a red moleskin notebook, a Modiano novel, a bookseller, and a bit of a mystery... all set in Paris, of course. At 160 pages, it was a pure delight to read. I highly recommend it.

Have you noticed the emails goodreads sends after finishing a book? Initially I thought they were silly, but after completing The Red Notebook this morning, they suggested I might like The People in the Photo by Hélène Gestern. Winner of fifteen literary awards, this "dark yet touching drama deftly explores the themes of blame and forgiveness, identity and love." The debut novel will be my next stop for Paris in July.  It should be available at the library by next weekend. I'll keep you posted.



Current reading//

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen

I'm reading this with James and friends for his Jane Austen Read All A-long. It's been two years since I last read Jane Austen and over a decade for this novel in particular. Last night I read the first chapter and fell in love with Jane's writing and story all over again.


Listening to//

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren 

This book seemed to be everyone's favorite during Nonfiction November last year, so I was glad my book club decided to read it. About halfway through, I'm feeling completely out of sync with popular opinion... it's just okay. The author's narration isn't grabbing me either, despite the overall 4.4 rating on audible. Maybe the second half will be better?



I'll leave you with this photo of Zelda enjoying a cruise around the lake. That's my daughter off to the right... she always brings a book on the boat. What have you been been reading these past couple of weeks?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

2017 Favorites: Midyear Edition


My overall numbers may be down, but the quality and personal enjoyment from books I've read this year is up. It wasn't hard come up with a list of 10 favorite from the first half of 2017... but it is hard to believe the year is half over!


FICTION FAVORITES


Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi


The Mothers by Brit Bennett 


Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue


Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney


The Nix by Nathan Hill
(read/listen combo)


Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
(be sure to read My Name is Lucy Barton first)


Can You Forgive Her? by Anthony Trollope
(read/listen combo)



NONFICTION FAVORITES

My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead
(audio)


(read/listen combo)

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
(audio)



Have you made a list of midyear favorites?
Top Ten Tuesday is a feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Sunday Salon: Summer is Here!


Good morning, friends. We're off to a sunny start today, perfect for the first Sunday of summer. I missed posting last weekend when we were in NYC visiting our daughters... a wonderful time, despite the rain. This weekend we're staying closer to home, but still have more plans than we can fit into two days. There hasn't been much reading, but here's the update.

Finished//


by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This book is actually a letter written by the author in response to a childhood friend seeking advice on how to raise her baby girl as a feminist. Adichie provides fifteen compelling suggestions. My daughters are all young women in their 20s now, but I still found much to think about here. I listened to the audio version (narrated by the talented January LaVoy) in just over an hour and highly recommend going that route!
My rating:



Current reading//



Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope

It's happened again... bookmarks in too many books stressing me out. I put two aside (for now), so my full attention is focused on Trollope. The second book in the Palliser series started off slowly, but now I'm enjoying it very much. As the Barsetshire novels were ecclesiastical in nature, this series is driven by politics. I'm exhausted by real life politics these days so that aspect isn't much of a draw.

The characters, however, are much more interesting. Trollope always seems to get me there! I'm especially struck by Lady Laura's plight - marrying for financial security at the expense of love and, possibly, happiness. I'm also wondering how things will play out with Violet Effingham and her suitors. Victorian women had so little control over their lives! Phineas Finn, our hero, is growing on me, too.

I hit the 50% mark this morning and will begin Volume II later today.  #PalliserParty


Set aside, but not abandoned//


Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
After reading the first chapter of this book, I have a feeling I'm going to love it. It deserves my full attention instead of being just one of three current reads. I've renewed it for three more weeks and hope to get back to it before them.



by Trevor Noah
The audio version of Born A Crime is still on my phone. It's excellent, but listening time has been almost nonexistent over the past two weeks. Thankfully, I own this one and am under no time constraints.

On the horizon//


Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
I purchased this beautiful Vintage Classics edition at Amazon's brick and mortar store in NYC last weekend (an entire post could be written about that experience!) It's been at least a decade since I read this one, and I plan to join James' Jane Austen Read All A-long for July. I may be a little late to the party though... I doubt I'll be able to finish Phineas Finn by July 1.



Lab Girl by Hope Jahren 
This book has been on my wish list since Nonfiction November...  everyone seemed to love it. My book club will discuss it July 18. If I pick up my copy at the library tomorrow, can I read it in time?


The week ahead//
Our small town goes all out for the 4th of July... parade, fireworks, road race, etc... and we host our own party, too. Both girls are coming home from NYC, so our house will be full. No promises for a post next weekend, but I'll catch up when I can.

How was your week? What are you reading? Any plans for the upcoming holiday?




Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Sunday Salon: After the Rain


What a week - rain rain, and more rain. The sun came out, at last, on Thursday... and again Friday and Saturday. Three days in a row - what a treat! Finally, we got the lawn mowed, the first of the flowers planted, and the garage cleaned. Today we'll celebrate with the first boat ride of the season!

Finished this week//


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
One YA novel every year or two is generally enough for me, and rave reviews from blogging friends convinced me this should be it. I also needed a complete change of pace after reading Elizabeth Strout's latest book. The Hate U Give is about the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a police officer. The main character, Starr Carter, is the only witness. As she navigates life in two worlds - her poor, increasingly dangerous neighborhood, and the prep school she attends in an affluent suburb - she must figure out how to give her account of the tragic event. Riveting, timely, and discussable... give it a try!
My rating:




A short, light audio was just what I needed this week and Funny in Farsi delivered! I met this author several years ago when she was "in conversation" with her friend Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner) at a literary event. She was interesting and entertaining, and I made a mental note to read her book one day. A few weeks ago audible.com offered this audio, narrated by the author, as a daily deal... and 'one day' was here. I've added her follow-up, Laughing Without an Accent: Adventures of an Iranian American, at Home and Abroad, to my wish list.
My rating:



Current reading//


Phineas Finn by Anthony Trollope
Book #2 of the Palliser Series was off to a slow start but, after yesterday's encouraging twitter conversation, I read several chapters without distraction and finally feel like I'm making some headway... although I still don't care much about our hero. My approach to Trollope has always been as a read/listen combination, and always with Simon Vance narrating. Unfortunately, there is no Simon Vance version of Phineas Finn and I ended up with Timothy West. West's narration, while perfectly fine, seemed slightly off to me. I suppose I've grown too comfortable with Vance as the voice of Trollope.

At any rate, I'm on chapter 11 now and have finally settled in. I look forward to another chapter or two today. Follow (or join in) our conversation with #PalliserParty.



I just started this memoir by The Daily Show host  Trevor Noah on audio (narrated by the author) and love it already! Ratings on both goodreads and audible are very high... I suspect mine will be too.



Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien
My library hold came in on Friday and I had time to read just a handful of pages that evening. This appears to be beautifully written novel, with a powerful opening. I can't wait to read more!
In a single year, my father left us twice. The first time, to end his marriage, and the second, when he took his own life. That year, 1989, my mother flew to Hong Kong and laid my father to rest in a cemetery near the Chinese border. Afterwards, distraught, she rushed home to Vancouver where I had been alone. I was ten years old.

In the kitchen//


Mediterranean was the word of the week... two new recipes, both variations on that theme. Mediterranean Baked Halibut with Vegetables from The Mediterranean Dish was actually a sheet pan supper... so easy, so good, and very little clean-up. I shopped a little earlier than usual and Wegmans halibut hadn't arrived yet, so I substituted cod. We all enjoyed this dish and I can see trying it again with scallop or swordfish, as well as halibut. In case you're wondering, the photo is from the website ;-)

Last night I tried Mediterranean Grilled Chicken Breasts from Served from Scratch - only my chicken breasts were actually thighs. I followed the recipe exactly as written. It says to marinate the chicken for 20 minutes up to two days. After 6 or 7 hours, the chicken was a little too lemony for my taste, but my husband and Twin B loved it. There were no leftovers. Next time, I'll only let it marinate for an hour or two.

The week ahead//
It's going to be busy...  a lot of activities early in the the week, then we're off to NYC Thursday night or Friday morning. We'll return on Sunday in time for a Father's Day dinner with my dad.

How was your week? What are you reading today?

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Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Sunday Salon: It's June?


Greetings from chilly, rainy central New York. I'm sitting here sipping a cup of hot coffee, wearing SmartWool socks, and contemplating the previous week. It was in the low 40s and downright cold this morning... can it really be June? I had plenty of reading time last week thanks to all the rain, cool temperatures, and a traveling husband.


Finished this week//


Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
This book cemented Elizabeth Strout's position as my favorite author. Anything is Possible is a series of connected stories featuring minor characters from My Name is Lucy Barton, and Lucy herself also makes an appearance. Strout reportedly worked on both books simultaneously and I'm quite certain my recent reread of Lucy Barton made this one even more enjoyable. Anything is Possible was an amazing read - easily a favorite this year. In fact, I found it even more satisfying than My Name is Lucy Barton. Coincidentally, my daughter finished reading the same day and we had a great discussion that evening. I think a reread of Olive Kitteridge is on the horizon.

Strout's gorgeous and insightful prose makes Anything is Possible the kind of book that makes it hard to pick up anything else. It spoils you, or gives you a "reading hangover." To avoid this problem, I decided to change gears completely and begin my annual YA (young adult) read.
My rating:



by David M. Oshinsky
What an interesting read... the combination of history and medicine gets me every time. Oshinsky's history of NYC's most famous public hospital begins before the Civil War and takes us through AIDS, Superstorm Sandy, and the ebola virus. That is a lot of history and a lot of medicine! It's almost unfathomable to contemplate an era before anesthesia and antiseptic procedures. This book was completely fascinating, but the amount of information presented is vast and, at times, dense. Alternating between the print and audio versions was helpful.
My rating:



Current reading//


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This YA novel is about the shooting of an unarmed black teenager by a police officer. The main character, Starr Carter, is the only witness. As she navigates life in two worlds - her poor, increasingly dangerous neighborhood, and the prep school she attends in an affluent suburb - she must figure out how to give her account of the tragic event. The story is timely, emotionally gripping and, hard to put down. I'd planned to listen to this book (narrated by Bahni Turpin), but the ebook became available through my library so I went that route. I'm not much of a YA reader, but The Hate U Give has been getting rave reviews from the book blogging community.




I purchased this book, a recent audible daily deal, because the author was part of a Rosamond Gifford Lecture several years ago. She was "in conversation" with her friend and fellow author Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner). Although the focus was clearly on Hosseini, she was interesting and engaging. A couple members of my book club went on to read and enjoy her book. The audiobook is fairly short (just over 5 hours) with brief, anecdotal chapters, and is narrated by the author. I'm about an hour into this one.


Coming up//


Our #PalliserParty resumes... 
I started Phineas Finn yesterday and after one chapter, I'm ready for more. It's the second book in Anthony Trollope's Palliser series and opens with a brief introduction of our hero. From there, it quickly moves to politics. I know very little about British political history, but remain confident in Trollope's ability to tell a good story.  Audrey and I invite you to read along with us.




The Jane Austen Read All A-long
James is reading all six of Jane's novels, one per month and in order of publication, from July through December. Join him for one book or all of them, the choice is yours. I've read all six, but hope to reread Sense and Sensibility (July) and Persuasion (December)... and maybe Mansfield Park (September), too. The details are here.


In the kitchen//
It's been a quiet week. With my husband away, I prepared meals he's not wild about, but Twin B and I enjoy... another batch of red lentil soup, chicken and avocado burritos (quick and easy with rotisserie chicken), and, our favorite, Spiralized Sweet Potato and Black Bean Quesadillas from Cookie and Kate.


The week ahead//
No big plans... Angus the greyhound is here for another week, I have a couple of appointments, and we may take a day trip to visit my SIL next weekend. It might warm up a little after midweek, but it doesn't look like the rain will stop any time soon. We're still waiting for that first boat ride of the season....

How was your week? What are you reading?
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