Saturday, November 13, 2010

Graphic novel, anyone?

I've registered for a course this spring on graphic novels - never read (have I even seen?) one. Have you read any?

I'm still working my way through the Doc Ford series set in Florida; however, "working" isn't really an appropriate word to use, since they are such fast reads. Fun to watch the characters develop with each book (there are 17 and I'm beginning #6). Then just before we leave for Key West, I will re-read a Hemingway title....

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Beekeepers Apprentice

I just finished reading The Beekeepers Apprentice by Laurie R. King.  The book is long, written in the style of a Victorian novel and set in the English countryside.  I must admit I nearly gave up reading this book, the first quarter is so slow and the set up is painfully plodding.  I did read the entire book and no, I will not read the rest of the series.

The story picks up with Sherlock Holmes living a quiet retirement in the countryside, keeping bees and writing treatises on all things detective.  He meets a young woman, newly orphaned and becomes her mentor.  They have a number of adventures and solve a series of crimes.  The characters both detectives and villains are impossibly brilliant, just as you would expect and the scenes of British countryside make me want to travel.  Still, I will not give this book any endorsement, save your reading time for something more entertaining.

I recently finished listening to Russian Winter by Daphne KalotayThis is a love story about a Russian Ballerina, her life, the Bolshoi and her defection.  Each chapter starts with a description of a piece of jewelry she is auctioning off and then within the chapter you find out how she came to have that bauble.  Pretty good story, I would read another book by Ms. Kalotay.

I'm currently reading the second book of a series about Mrs. Pollifax, The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax. I'll let you know what I think!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

More All Time Favorite Books

First, a confession: I just discovered the last several posts to the blog. Now I'm posting two of my own (plus a comment) in my extra hour this weekend . . . What's funny is that I was walking with Elizabeth and commented that no one had posted on this blog for a long time, and she said she had just urged people to write what they were reading. I remembered a post of hers a couple of weeks back and said I had commented, but she said no. I was confused. Well, it turns out that when I was refreshing the blog (I left a tab open with it) I was just refreshing the October page, so I didn't get any of the November posts. Argh!

My all-time favorite book is East of Eden, by John Steinbeck. Rachel put Grapes of Wrath up as one of her all-time favorites. I read that in high school, and it started my Steinbeck phase. I read most of his books then. About two years ago I was looking for a book to read at the library, and decided to look on the Oprah's Picks shelves. I found East of Eden, and realized there was a Steinbeck book I had never read. I loved it (well, at least after the first few hundred pages where not much seemed to happen). It really made me think about what's important in life.

Some other favorites:

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. I love everything about this book.

The Left Hand of Darkness, and The Dispossessed, by Ursula Le Guin. Another author I fell in love with in high school.

The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls. A fascinating memoir of life as a child of parents who were a bit crazy, lived a very poor lifestyle, and ran from one place to the next to escape debt or other trouble.

Leaving Mother Lake, by Yang Erche Namu and Christine Mathieu. See other post about this one. No, I don't read a lot of memoirs, but they do seem to number among my favorites.

Hmmm . . . interesting . . . all of these authors, except Steinbeck, are women . . .

Book Club group reading suggestion

Elizabeth suggested that maybe in the winter we might all read a book and discuss it like a real book club (which I've never done, BTW). I thought we could start making suggestions about a book to read.

One suggestion I have is "Leaving Mother Lake" by Yang Erche Yamu and Christine Mathieu. I read it a few years ago (and would be happy to read it again). It's about a girl in a remote Chinese culture, the Mosu, which is a matrilineal society (women make most decisions). I found it to be a fascinating look at an isolated, unusual culture, and a well-told tale of a girl breaking away from the bonds of her family and her culture. Here's a nice review:

What are some books you might suggest?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

All Time Favorite Books

Since I’m not reading anything all that compelling at the moment, I’m curious to know what books are your very favorites of all time. Bonus points for convincing me to read them too!

My very favorites:

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
I actually love everything by Steinbeck (would love to do one of those Steinbeck tours!), but this one in particular has been one of my favorite books since having to read it in 10th grade English class.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
This is pretty dense reading with all of the digressions into politics and history and religious controversies of the 14th century, but is well worth the effort for a fantastic murder mystery set in a monastic library.

Possession by A. S. Byatt
This is just an absolutely brilliant book for the way she creates two fictional Victorian writers and a whole body of work for them, and then places them within the real literary world of the day. I also read her most recent novel, The Children’s Book, and think I may have loved it as much as Possession, but will have to reread to make sure.

Honorable Mentions:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Not entirely unlike a Steinbeck subject, only with an urban setting, female main character, and unambiguously happy ending.

Reindeer Moon by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
I’m actually a little embarrassed by the number of times I have reread this book about prehistoric Siberia. I’ve never read The Clan of the Cave Bear, but my anthropologist mother swears that this one is much better.

I’m tempted to go on and on! Maybe I’ll do a follow-up with best reads of the past few years because I can already think of a whole additional list.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

just title and author

OK, we're all busy. And many of us are eating or avoiding our kids' Halloween candy. But I know you have a book open. . .

so just check in quickly, in comments or in a post of your own, with one book that you're reading right now, just title and author -- and category if you so choose). I'll start:

The Not-So-Big Life, by Sarah Susanka (nonfiction)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Calling all Vonnegut fans:

Help me. I just read Slaughterhouse-5 and I'm all "I don't see what all the fuss is about." (And please, PLEASE don't say "So it goes.")

Is anyone out there? (tap tap) Is this thing on?

Monday, October 18, 2010

What I'm reading

I've spent the year reading a random assortment of books or authors that I've been meaning to read for a while, but somehow never got around to before. (And I've been alternating those with mysteries, which are my favorite escapist reading.) Right now I'm reading my first Dashiell Hammett book called Red Harvest. It's set in a small Montana town and is very noir. I've only started it, but his snappy style of writing is amusing. It's like reading a screenplay for a film starring Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What I'm reading

I'd like to introduce myself and let you know what I've been reading, am reading and will be reading.  I'm a knitting buddy of Elizabeth, the Plumsock Road Book Club founder and that's how I've come to be a part of this blog.  I live outside of Philadelphia, have two grown kids, a wonderful husband and a crazy dog.  I'm a civil engineering designer by trade, not a writer as will become clear as you read this posting.  I have three passions: knitting, photography and reading.  I do love long walks and sunshine but I don't want this to sound like I'm looking for a date...

 I've just finished reading an Ann Cleeves Shetland series Raven Black, White Nights and Red Bones.  These are light-weight, fast reading, murder mystery fiction with most of the characters reading as fairly one dimensional.  I enjoyed the Shetland Island setting as well as the romance that runs through all three books.  Inspector Perez is a quiet sort-of scattered detective that I found to be endearing.  My biggest frustration was that the author pulls out a bit of information right at the end of each book that the reader couldn't have know and that is the key to the murders (and by the third book the bodies really start piling up).  Anyhow, they were fun, easy reads.

Right now I'm reading Carl Hiaasen's Star Island.  Wild, Wacky and Quirky are the adjectives that describe this book to perfection.  The chapters are fairly short and I find myself thinking, I'll read one more chapter and then go make dinner, fold laundry or let the dog in.  Each character develops slowly as the chapters unfold, layer upon layer.  They are not believable (larger than life) but are silly and fun, a fairy tale for grown-ups but without a moral.  The author ties up loose ends and then makes another quirky mess as the book goes along. So far it's been a fun read.

My book discussion group is reading Infidel in November and that's my next read.  I'm not sure I'm going to enjoy this book but not all books need to be enjoyed.  I'll let you know what I think once I've read it.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

a poll

OK, I sure hope you're all busy reading, but I bet that's not why it's so quiet. So here's the survey -- which of these is keeping you from telling us what you're reading?

(1) it's soccer season and if I spend one more minute in the car, I will explode
(2) I'm going to school and if I start to read a good book I'll stop doing my homework
(3) Christmas is coming
(4) I need new glasses
(5) I'm afraid to post because I think I have to write a long, eloquent, thoughtful review
(6) This time of year I'd really rather be outside
(7) There are so many books in my living room/on my bedside table/in my car that I don't know where to start
(8) Other


Thursday, October 14, 2010

What I am reading

I am listening to The Girl who Played with Fire, the second in the Stieg Larsson trilogy. I'm actually enjoying it more than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as it is a better mystery IMHO, with more interesting plot twists. It does have a little too much violence and sex for my tastes, but I look forward to car trips to hear more.

I started reading My Antonia by Willa Cather last week, but haven't made it past the second page (very busy . . . which is why I like audio books, I can listen to them when I'm stuck in the car not able to do anything else). I'm trying to read lots of classic books that I never read before. I scoured the library book sale a few weeks ago and bought several . . . I'll see how long it takes me to get through them.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

post-weekend update: what are you reading?

Finished: Oxygen, by Carol Cassella. Recommended.
Started: Bury Your Dead, by Louise Penny. I'm having a terrible time -- I want to read this book as fast as I can because I can't wait to find out how it all turns out, but I want to read it as slowly as I can so I can savor every word. Read her books in order (the first one is Still Life) so you can get to know the characters gradually, as you would in real life.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Can someone advise me how to comment? I've tried twice and before I submit, it asks me to pick my profile (Google account, Word Press, etc..). I must be picking the wrong one each time. :(

Friday, October 1, 2010

How do you manage your to-read list?

Starting in 8th grade and continuing through high school, I kept a list of books to read, handwritten (of course -- it was The Olden Days), on lined looseleaf paper. Every time the list reached 100 items, I went back and crossed out those I had read and those that had lost their charm, rewrote the list, and started again. I probably should go back to that system, because I've never found one that works better. If I try to keep a notebook, it's never with me at the library. (I wish my library had a spot on their web site where you could enter things you want to read -- that way I could check on the computer when I'm there.) Carol and Pat are big fans of goodreads, but that hasn't clicked with me either. I have joined the iPhone generation, but I can't even remember to add things to my to-read list there!

Now, it's obvious that operator error is one of my major problems with keeping a book list -- but I'd love to hear how all of you keep track, organize your lists, and find your way to wonderful books.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Healer, by Carol Cassella

I'm interested in medicine; I'm interested in ethics; and yes, I'm interested in medical ethics. But I also insist that fiction give me a good story. This book is, first and foremost, exactly that, with the other themes running in the background.  It's one of those books where you find yourself wondering what the people are up to, and then remember that they aren't real.

This is Cassella's second novel; I immediately went to the library and got the first one. We won't discuss the fact that she's a practicing anesthesiologist and mother of two sets of twins and still manages to write novels!

I can't remember what source led me to this book, but if I do I'm going to go back and see what else they recommend.

Monday, September 27, 2010

From New Mexico to Key West

I'm planning a family vacation in Key West during the semester break, so I've started looking at what novels feature that location. I've read (and probably should re-read) Nevada Barr's Flashback, and I've just put in requests for the first of Randy Wayne White's series featuring Doc Ford, and the first in the Alex Rutledge series by Tom Corcoran. Anyone read these? Or have other suggestions?

Friday, September 24, 2010

I swear I'm not a blog hog

but I couldn't resist sharing the 5 meanest book reviews ever.

Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

I stayed up last night to finish "Olive Kitteridge," by Elizabeth Strout. Being unable to sleep without devouring the rest of the book is a reliable sign that I loved said book, which I did. It's a good thing, too, because I do have the annoying habit of not always liking books that get a lot of buzz or that are recommended to me by a lot of people whose opinions I trust. (See, e.g., "The Guernsey Literary...." and "Lovely Bones")

"Olive Kitteridge" is a series of thirteen interrelated stories set in a small town in Maine. They are organized in chronological order. In all of them, Olive is a character, although she sometimes appears as the main character and at other times is more peripheral. But throughout them all, we learn about another facet of Olive's character and personality. I tend not to gravitate toward short stories, but these are so beautifully written, and they are linked so well, that this really is an example of how a book can effortlessly straddle both the novel genre and the short story genre.

At first I didn't really like Olive. In one story in particular, she exhibits a cruelty that I found baffling. But as the story wore on, and her personality become more faceted, I came to like her. Strout does a great job of showing how Olive's experiences have shaped her, and it's hard not to admire Olive's moxie, even as Strout alludes to Olive's shortcomings as a person, particularly with regard to her role as wife and mother. By the end, I was rooting for Olive, and without including any spoilers, let's just say the last chapter/story nearly brought me to tears (in a good way).

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Dark and Stormy Nights

Last night I finished (and loved—why have I not read this book before?!) Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The House of the Seven Gables. I thought his (very long!) descriptions of the setting and characters were quite wonderful. I enjoyed the gloomy old house and family curse so much that I’m planning to stick with a gothic theme for the month of October. Next up is going to be a re-read of The Picture of Dorian Gray, Edith Wharton's ghost stories, and an A. S. Byatt book of short stories entitled the Little Black Book of Short Stories, whose back cover promises “shivers”. Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow is an old favorite that I read every other year or so around Halloween. While I make it a point to avoid reading anything truly horrifying, I do love just a bit of old fashioned spookiness this time of year.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Help

Elizabeth sent me the Bates reading list earlier in the summer, and I browsed through it. One of the books on many of the individual lists was The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, so I ordered it through the library and dived right in, knowing little about it. It is a novel about colored maids in the South in the 1960's. I found it to be a fascinating and compelling story. I have since read a criticism of white authors writing about the black experience (as in this case), but I think Stockett does a wonderful job of pulling the reader in to the lives of both black and white. It was my favorite kind of book, one I had trouble putting down.

I think part of my interest was from my experience: my mother, who is from the South, brought a young black woman to our home in the Midwest to be our maid and a nanny to my brother and I when I was a baby (1959-1960). My mother reports that she even had a maid's uniform for her, complete with a little white cap. I don't have any memory of it (she was only with us for a year), but I've seen some pictures, and I know the woman now. My mother moved back to her hometown in the Outer Banks and hired this same woman (now 70) to clean for her.

Banned Books Week is coming up

It's just come to my attention that Banned Books Week begins this Saturday, Sept. 25th and goes through October 2d. The official website is here. I was pretty fortunate as a kid; my parents really didn't pay much attention to what I was reading. As a result, I was able to go the library and pick out whatever I wanted. I like to think that I've turned out just fine, too, although perhaps those of you who know me personally may disagree...

It seems like book banning was invented shortly after the printing press was invented, and I'm not sure it's even possible to create an exhaustive list of books that have been banned. Some notable titles include:

  • The Catcher in the Rye
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • Twilight
  • Harry Potter books
  • The Grapes of Wrath
  • The Color Purple
  • Charlotte's Web
  • Lolita
  • Invisible Man
  • For Whom the Bell Tolls
  • The Age of Innocence
  • Schindler's List
  • O Pioneers
I'm going to do my best to read a banned or challenged book in honor of Banned Books Week. I haven't decided which one yet, but unfortunately there is no shortage of books, ranging from picture books to classics, and I'll be sure to post my reaction when I do. By poking around the Banned Books Week website, you can find lots of lists of books that have been banned or challenged.

What am I reading right now?

I'm on a roll now, reading a series of New Mexico-based mysteries by Michael McGarrity.

How did I get there? By reading Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon mysteries, then all the C.J. Box mysteries featuring Joe Pickett, a game warden in Wyoming; then Christine Kling's books about a female boat salvage owner, Seychelle Sullivan, set in Florida; and before all those, Sarah Graves' Eastport, Maine mysteries. All thanks to Amazon and Novelist.

Where do I go from here, when I finish the McGarrity books? Seeking adventure, travel, and strong characters (preferable female). Doesn't have to be a mystery, but I'm enjoying that genre right now.

my favorite reading list

My all-time favorite reading list, published annually, is the Summer Reading List put together by the manager of the Bates College Bookstore. It goes on for pages and pages and pages, and is compiled from submissions by people associated with Bates: faculty, administrators, other employees, students, and graduates. Some people just submit a title; others write an essay about why they chose the book. Here is the link to the lists from 2003 to 2010. Thank you, Sarah! And now that you all have something to read, I think I'll go find a book.


Welcome to The Plumsock Road Book Club

Where is Plumsock Road? I have never driven down Plumsock Road -- it's a road I pass on the way from here to there. It seemed a fine virtual location for our virtual book club.

This group consists of women all over the country (so far -- we may soon go international) who love books and love to talk about books. This is a place to write about a book you've read, ask for recommendations, and hang out with other women who like to read.

We'll see how it develops.