Summer Reading

July 10, 2010

Dear Little Blue,

Remember reading in a chair on the deck overlooking the ocean? Or waking up in the morning and reading for a hour in bed before climbing out to find breakfast? Or that lovely little windowed room off the kitchen with the comfy swivel chairs that overlooked the ocean? Ahhh…vacation.

I got a lot of reading done at the beach this year. I had to choose my books quickly – I had about 10 minutes in the library the day before we left – so the fact that I really enjoyed so many of the books I brought was a lucky stroke. The follow are a sampling of some of the best and brightest of my beach reads.

The Recipe Club: A Tale of Food and Friendship by Andrea Israel

The first book I read on vacation this year. While it kept me hooked and I really enjoyed the format (letters and recipes exchanged between two girls who grew into women), it felt a little like prying into a complicated fight that is not about what it seems to be about. I’ve been in enough of those fights myself to feel uncomfortable spying into this one. It reminded me a bit of Truth & Beauty by Ann Pachett, except that I liked T&B much better. I was not inspired by any of the recipes specifically, but the sweet titles did make me want to begin naming my recipes more creatively (a la Heartbreak Lasagna and To-Good-To-Be-True Pie).

This book kept me hooked to the very end. I just couldn’t wait for the inevitable explosion the revelation of the secret would eventually bring for these characters…and I kept waiting and waiting. When that moment did arrive, I was surprised to find not an explosion, but more of an implosion. A swirling downwards of emotions. It was beautiful and very graceful.

Of the five books I read at the beach this year, this one was my favorite. It drew me in from the beginning and surprised me with the ending. I spent the next several weeks thinking about Hunter and Bree and had trouble starting a new book because I found I was still thinking about this one. I had expected a somewhat formulaic take on the upper class and their hired writer (maybe the husband will have an affair with her or something standard), but found a truly different take entirely. Highly recommended!

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The Summer Tree

May 14, 2010

Welcome to the cusp of summer, Little Blue. I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like because I’ve been tending to end of school activities, softball practices, and gardening–and of course, editing some exciting projects. But when I don’t drop off to sleep exhausted, I’ve been re-reading the Fionovar Tapestry. I first read this series when I was a teen and just stumbled on an interesting-looking cover on the library shelf. It was such a random and wonderful find. It tells the story of 5 friends transported to Finovar, the first of the worlds. Once there, they encounter mages, king, servants of the goddess, and must each find their own way to fight the evil force awakened from his imprisonment under the great mountain. Re-reading it is like walking backwards in time and revisiting an old friend.

I’ve also begun thinking about my upcoming beach trip. I always bring a decent selection of books with me and I need to start getting that collection together. I saw one by Louise Erlich that looked promising (Shadow Tag) that I may try out. I also recently saw a book on the The Daily Show that looked interesting. I think it is called Revolutionaries. It is non-fiction though…and Little Blue, we both know that non-fiction is a difficult leisure read for me because I end up editing so much non-fiction. But we’ll see. I’ll have to find it in the library and see how it feels in my hand.

Dear Little Blue,

Definitely time to replace your batteries. Your sad little circle of light  bounced and quivered in and out of illumination all through this story of Little Bee, a teen from Nigeria. I’ll pick you up some new ones soon, I promise.

Little Bee seems to be on a journey, not just from Nigeria to London and back, but on a journey through what she calls the story of her life. She occasionally takes an aside to mention how difficult certain parts of her new existence would be to explain to “the girls back home” and in London she takes a moment to consider if she has enough courage to walk out of her own story by taking a new name. And while what she has endured in Nigeria and in the detention center certainly means that she is not innocent, she is still AN innocent. She sustains a certain wide-eyed-wonder and innocence that even her tragedy cannot touch. She struggles to find a way to move forward in her life and to reconcile who she was with her sister in Nigeria with who she is with Sarah and Charlie (and even with Lawrence). She almost sees her world and her life as a person standing over herself (like a more subtle Susie Salmon). She has a very third-person-type voice. I found her voice and her character very engaging. I enjoyed how Cleave touched on issues of identity by letting Bee choose if she wanted to talk good or look good. Little Bee also asks a few different characters what it takes to be “from here” and struggles to discover where she belongs and what it means for her if where she “belongs” is, in fact, a horrible and dangerous place.

And blue, since you weren’t with me in the car, I want to tell you about the audio book version of The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery that I picked up from the library. As you know, we read it in French in high school and really loved it. I wanted to share it with the girls so I got this audiobook. Just got the audiobook of this book to share with the girls in the car around town. The audiobook was very short-maybe only an hour-and WONDERFUL. It was such a great story about love and heartbreak and home. I absolutely loved it! I ended up sitting in the parking lot of Giant Eagle crying at the end. I know, Little Blue, how you sigh in exasperation at my emotional tendencies, but you would have been moved too!

There were certain parts that I felt a little nervous about the girls listening to though. The part where the snake offers to bite him and send him back to where he came from was really terrifying and sad for me. The girls asked if the snake was taking him home to his asteroid or killing him and I wasn’t sure what to say. It is a complicated question in this book. The part after the snake bites him was so sad for me too, but I wasn’t sure how much of it the girls understood. I explained that the Little Prince’s body died, but that the snake send his heart back to his planet to be with his flower. They wanted to know if it was his real heart that lived in his chest and I had to say no. Complicated stuff for a six year old…and for me, but absolutely worthwhile.

I know we were reading The Forgotten Garden, but I honestly can’t find it lately. I’ve looked everywhere! So we’ll get back to that one when it turns up again. In the meantime, we’re going to start tonight with The Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. I’m also on the library list for the 39 Clues series, so we have that to look forward to this spring too!

Now I’m off to find you some batteries!

Amy

Forgotten Books

March 24, 2010

Dear Blue,

I haven’t had as much chance to use you lately. I’ve been reading by the televised glow of NCAA March Madness at night instead (Go Buckeyes!). Perhaps you’ve enjoyed the break, curled up into your little coil on the nightstand next to my box of brightly colored fingernail polishes and the crumbs of my preztels. No? Well, let me update you on what you’ve missed. I’ve begun reading a new book-The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. I’m not sure what to make of it yet. It is the story of two main characters: Nell and Cassandra. Nell is Cassandra’s grandmother, but the story shifts and twists to reveal both characters at different ages. When we first meet Nell, she is 4 and alone on a boat to Australia. The family at the dock adopts her and her father reveals that secret to her on her 18th birthday. Nell’s sense of identify and self unravels in the face of that revelation. Nell travels back to the place of her origin to find her roots and, I’m guessing here, to restore her identity. Cassandra’s mother abandoned her with Nell when Cassandra was 8. Cassandra’s story is of finding out about her grandmother’s search for identity after her death.

That’s all I know so far. I am enjoying the issues about family and identity that this story is posing, but I’m just not absolutely hooked yet. Morton’s writing is really beautiful though-last night I read a section about 8-year-old Cassandra exploring her grandmother’s basement on a sweltering summer day and it was rivieting in how true it rang to my own memory of being a sweaty, bored 8-year-old girl. I was impressed enough by those few pages to keep reading further.

Also outside of your sphere of light, I recently picked up an audiobook of Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary, as read by Stockard Channing. My aunt recommended it for the girls and I picked it up so that Eve could listen to it at night before bed. Trouble is, I’m hesitant to relinquish it. I’ve been listening to it in the car and really enjoying the memories that Ramona evokes. I loved all the Ramona books and reliving them has been so enjoyable. I’ll be on to disc 2 in a day or so and then I can pass disc 1 along to Eve. I’m hoping she likes them too. I always loved that Ramona named her doll Chevrolet. That always stuck with me. She was the original Fancy Nancy in some ways…

I’ve got two terribly interesting looking books waiting for my time on your nightstand, Blue. Little Bee by Chris Cleaves and Uglies by Scott Westerfeld. The GoodReads synopsis of Little Bee says virtually nothing, so as to avoid spoiling it. How mysterious…I’ve waited a while for them and they are on the reserve list at the library so I won’t be able to renew them. I’ve got to get cracking on them soon. So I’m hoping to make some head way with Morton’s Garden this upcoming weekend. Don’t be jealous. Soon, Little Blue, you’ll be following along again…

Until then,

Amy

Seriously, I don’t want to stop reading this. It builds on the knowledge gained by reading legions of other “child-like” magic books-harry potter (though its “child-like-ness” certainly grows questionable further in the series) and Narnia (perhaps the same could be said of this one), but takes a darker, more adult tone to the concepts of those books and certainly is an original story in its own right. I’m on page 135 and already stressed about there being an end 200 pages from now-it’s just getting so good.

March 8, 2010
Still reading this one. Took the evening and sat on the couch to read. Going through some bad stuff personally, and it was great to lose myself in this story for a while. It finally started getting at the question of: What do you do when you graduate magic school and there is no villan? Can you build a fulfilling and happy life out of magic? I was really interested in that question, but just as I was dropping off to sleep last night, the plot took a twist and now I’m wondering if the author has abandoned that question because the answer is just TOO dark. The plot twist is interesting, but I hope the author can maintain the adult, dark edge given the new twist. We shall see…

March 10, 2010

Yes, the author can still maintain that dark edge. The adventure these characters is on at this point seems to pull the dark and sinister versions of original fairy tales into the plot. It reminds me of the political background of Wicked by Gregory Maguire. Drunk magical bears, a sad birch dryad smoking a cigarette in a bar, and evil elves dressed in black leather. Bad news and seemingly tragic-like finding the worlds we loved as children are truly dark and grim and scary and weird, but gripping…totally gripping in thier familiarity and hauntedness. What’s fascinating at this point is how the different characters react to this new grim world. Some finding their bravery, some making that world their own, and some falling apart at the seams. Can’t wait to read more.

Dear Blue,

I’m sure you’ve noticed me sneaking upstairs occasionally in the daytime to read a bit more of this book and have perhaps felt a twing of jealousy that I get to read a bit in the daylight without you. But that should tell you that my frustration with The Colony of Unrequited Dreams by is ebbing some. The plot has thickened and Joe Smallwood has finally piqued my interest. He has become less of a caricature of a person with an absolute moral compass and more of a figure of shifting panels of nebulous morality that try to stay aligned with his original dreams. Perhaps it is because he isn’t young anymore and that complexity is part of the process of growing up. Physically, he reminds me a boy I once knew and so it is easy for me to imagine him while I read.

Fielding is a very satisfying contrast to Smallwood. She begins our story with somewhat shifty and nebulous morals and is now trying to clean up her life and figure out who she is and what she truly believes. She is fascinating and I find myself yearnng for the chapters about her. The dance of the two of them, Fielding and Smallwood, around each other, and around the increasingly powerful character of Newfoundland itself, is growing more interesting and believable. I have been putting in more time with this tome and hope to have it completed by next week’s blog. Stay tuned…

And Blue, you’ve also accompanied me to the girls’ bedroom at night so I can read Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder to them before bed. I read it so long ago and it surprised me how much of the story I have to explain to them: what a covered wagon is, why the Jack the bulldog walks under the wagon the whole way, why they had to take a raft across the Missouri, why Pa needs a gun. We stop often to talk about the story, but I think they are enjoying it so far.

We tried to read the 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers last month, but it was just over their heads and too weird so we stopped. They enjoyed Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren (Ill. by the delightful Lauren Child) before Christmas. I’m hoping Little House will be a better fit. I really loved those books when I was young and am enjoying the reread with the girls now.

February 8, 2010

Dear Blue:

So we’re still wading through Wayne Johnston’s The Colony of Unrequited Dreams. Surely you’ve sensed my frustration with it by now, but I just keep reading. I get so far into these books and feel like I have to keep going. It seems shameful to stop after I’ve invested so much. I know you disagree. Sometimes while I’m pulling my sweater tighter, I see you cast your little circle of light over the small stack of books on the nightstand that you are eager to help me read, but you have to be patient, my little blue friend.

The friendship/romance between little Joe Smallwood and Fielding is just not captivating or believable-they seem only in love because they feel they should be, and not because they are. I do like the character of Fielding-with her cane walking, troubled past, journalism career, and drinking habit, but instead of seeing the story through her eyes, we see most of it through the small-scale vision of Joe Smallwood. Which, as you know, since I seem to fall asleep lately after just a few pages, is wearying. (At this pace, I’ll finish this book in about 5 months…)

I think I’m enjoying the little excerpt histories of Newfoundland that begin every chapter more than anything. I loved learning about how the fishing admirals were the law and that they exacted laws that only benefitted fishermen and not the settlers. So interesting! These bits of history remind me of the little pieces of history I learned in Cod by Mark Kurlansky. Remember that little gem of a book? Fascinating information all gleaned from the history of cod fishing! So far, I cannot say the same for Colony. However, last night Joe took the boat back to Newfoundland and I thought his father (and his obsession with the book on the history of Newfoundland) was a delightful scene stealer, so I’m hoping we see more of him soon…perhaps I need to head to bed a bit earlier for a few nights, then we can slog through this one quicker. Maybe it will improve once we are reunited with the land of Smallwood boots?

Now Nigella’s book, Nigella Express, was fabulous! I added little post it tabs for recipes to try and have so far worked my way through her Maple Glazed Chicken, Peanut Butter Fudge Sauce, and several others. I’ll be making her glitzy chocolate puddings on Wednesday this week for my brother-in-law and his family, and then the last one to make before I return to the library will be the Margarita Ice Cream. Can’t wait! The Peanut Butter Sauce was amazing, the Maple Chicken SO tender, and the Brandied-Bacony Chicken delish. The Goujons were out of this world good. I can’t fathom ever ordering chicken fingers from a restaurant again-not when I can make them so easily and wonderfully at home.

Not only did we get to enjoy full-color, page-sized photos of each recipe (why don’t other cookbooks do this? It’s SO helpful), but the recipes were super easy and Nigella’s prose was charming and oh-so-readable. I rarely read cookbooks cover to cover, but I couldn’t help myself when we tackled this one together.

Until tonight,

Your ReviewQueen