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So I’m going to Memphis tomorrow. And every time I say or think that, the song starts in my head.

Going to Graceland, Graceland,

Memphis Tennessee

I’m going to Graceland.

I’ve reason to believe we all will be received in Graceland.

I don’t actually know if I’m going to Graceland. What am I doing is joining a group of bloggers at the invitation of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I have never done a blog tour before so I’m kind of excited. In preparation I am making sure the Paul Simon song is on my phone, so that I can listen to it on the trip. Although I don’t really need to, since it is well established in my head. They did say we might do some touristy things, which to me means Graceland. (All together now, “poorboys and pilgrims with families and we are going to Graceland…”) I did go on Graceland.com and found that not only can you stay at Heartbreak Hotel, where they feel the need to mention that every room comes with its own hair dryer and microwave (sooo posh!), but you can enter to win an Elvis-themed wedding in Vegas and Priscilla Presley will be your matron of honour. I am not making this up. I want to do this so much! Can’t you see it? Donn and I can renew our vows. There’s no way I want to start over with anyone else–I’m finally getting him trained! The pictures will be priceless; me, Donn and Priscilla. Her hair will be the biggest, I suspect. And who could you ever get as best man to match this? Seriously, who? Please comment.

Donn is somewhat bemused. He’s actually a big Elvis fan, which is that part of him that is mysterious and beyond understanding to me. He even likes sweaty 70s Elvis, and songs that make me want to fling myself from a moving car onto the pavement, like “In the Ghetto.” (Or the one where he’s something something with a stone in his shoe, searching for yooooouuuuuu! I hate that one! I can’t hear it with any patience. Happily I’ve got Paul Simon so thoroughly in my head that I’m not worried about any Elvis sticking.) So Donn is happy but suspicious of my huge interest in going to Graceland. But I want to see it. And I want souvenirs too. I would pay good money for a bobble Elvis that swayed its hips instead of its head. Wouldn’t you?

In all seriousness (Memphis Tennessee I’m going to Graceland), I am looking forward to this trip. I went on St. Jude’s website and watched a video with an Iraqi friend of mine yesterday, and we were both in tears by the end, so I expect to be a total mess but that’s okay. I’ve reason to believe I still will be received.

Aside from that, I am going to have a break. I will not be cleaning for example. Not that I ever do, but the pressure to do so will be removed. Nor will I cook, teach, visit, advocate, or any of my other daily responsibilities. I will have time to read in the evenings, alone in blissful silence. This could be nice. I have packed in readiness.

And I’m mostly going to blog over at 5 Minutes for Mom, but I plan to get in some stuff here too. I have such a good track record of blogging my trips after all.

For reasons I cannot explain there’s some part of me wants to see Graceland.

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I’m not really all that old, but the way time has been acting lately–speeding along so rapidly–is making me feel that way. Like seriously, how can it be the end of June already? Wasn’t it May 30th just last week, and we were so happy that ESL class had finished for the year? Now gather round, kiddies, and let grandma tell you all about rationing after the war.

And don’t get me started on how old my children are.

But today we are here to talk about books, specifically, books I read this last month (which is JUNE, remember, not May). I haven’t done a nightstand in months and months. Heck, I haven’t even written anything on this blog in months and months. See above: re ESL class. It kicked my butt this year. Maybe I’ll write a post about it later.

This month, I read lots, including:

And Then There Were None: I’d read this one before, but Book Club Girl is doing a summer of Christie and I thought, “What fun!” I finished it last night. It’s one of the creepier of her novels, and I’d completely forgotten who’d dunnit (there are advantages to having such a bad memory!) and it was so disturbing! All those people on the island, dying one by one, that terrible nursery rhyme! Perfect! And, if you want to, it’s not too late to join in on the read-along. Please do! And please let me know over at this post.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair: This one wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was hugely enjoyable. This is a perfect summer read–long enough to last you a plane ride or car trip, but gripping enough to keep your attention. It’s a great mystery, filled with wonderful characters, stinking with red herrings, and I just loved it.

All Day and a Night: Suspense/drama. When a woman is murdered and her body found in a manner reminiscent of a serial killer who’s been behind bars for 20 years, he demands a retrial and says this proves he was wrongfully convicted. Ellie Hatcher and JJ Rogan (NYPD detectives in a series) are assigned as a “fresh look” team to determine the truth. Meanwhile, young defense attorney Carrie Blank, whose half-sister was one of the original victims, finds herself working for the killer’s defense team. The truth lies in the past. Gripping and well-written.

Small Plates: The nice thing about not doing a Nightstand post for months is that you can talk about books you read months ago. I read this book in April but the review posted this month. It’s a delightful collection of short stories, many of whom feature Faith Fairchild, a minister’s wife who also runs a catering business. It has the feel of classic mysteries (i.e. by Christie, Sayers, Allingham, Marsh) but it’s current, and I can’t tell you how happy I am to have a new author like this (new to me that is. Apparently she’s been around for ages). Click on the link to read my review and enter to win a giveaway!

Death of Lucy Kyte: I’ve been reading mostly mysteries, haven’t I? Well it is summer. Author Nicola Upson has taken the real-life author Josephine Tey and re-invented her as a fictional character (which messes with my mind and makes me feel vaguely uncomfortable, frankly, but it works). Josephine has inherited a cottage near a barn where a famous murder took place decades earlier, and she finds herself working to solve both contemporary and ancient mysteries. Set in the 30s, and very fun to read. Creepy!

Invisible Girls: A memoir, not a mystery! Really good. Sarah’s dealt with very aggressive cancer, and she moves across the country to Portland where she ends up meeting a family of Somali refugees who are worse-off than she is. It sounds very cliche distilled into a single sentence, but it’s actually a great, very moving, absolutely non-cliche book. Highly recommended.

READING:

A Magnificent Crime (Agency of Burglary & Theft): I really enjoyed the first one in this series. From the publisher: Cat Montgomery is a natural-born thief with a special talent for stealth–or at least she thought so. Years ago, she stole from the diamond-hording businessman Albert Faulkner III, but he somehow figured out she was responsible. Now he wants revenge, and dares her to swipe the elusive Hope Diamond. If she fails the mission, he’ll wreak bloody havoc on her loved ones. But the stakes are raised even higher when Cat discovers that stealing the Hope is not only an impossible task, it’s a cursed one. . .

TO READ:

The Queen of the Tearling Supposed to be a telling of the story of the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland. Looks fun.

Elizabeth Is Missing: Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, whom she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.

The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession A mysterious portrait ignites an antiquarian bookseller’s search through time and the works of Shakespeare for his lost love.

 

What about you? What have you read and loved lately?

I suppose, technically, I probably don’t have consumption, although my cheeks have been suspiciously flushed and I do have an echoing cough. And, I am the woman who got pickpocketed in Paris–not mugged, not held up, no a real-live Gypsy child (I know, Roma, bear with me, I’m not prejudiced) tried to get away with my husband’s wallet, and my husband sat on his chest till the police arrived. My point is, I tend towards the literary.

And I have been awfully, dreadfully sick. And I have realized that I can no longer say, “I’m never sick but this time I really was.” Because apparently I am now delicate. Usually I get sick because I’m run-down, but we just had that lovely snowstorm and I had 4 days of doing nothing but going for walks in the crisp air and coming home and building a fire and drinking hot chocolate. That hardly qualifies as stressful and busy. And yet, a week later, bam! Down I come with this terrible illness that has me practically drinking weak beef tea and having to spend a month at the seaside to restore my health. Seriously, I am feeling very Victorian.

Anyway, enough about me and my cough. I was home for an entire week, literally, from a Sunday afternoon to a Monday morning. I didn’t answer my phone for 3 days because I had no voice. I had no energy to sit up, so I spent most of my time in bed…reading! Yep! Almost everything on the list below is from the last week.

So, this month (week) I read:

The Boy in the Suitcase: This first in the Nina Borg series follows a Danish nurse who works with desperate people on the margins of society, even at great personal risk. It opens when Nina does, in fact, find a boy in a suitcase. Finding out who put him there and why shows the length some people will go to in their attempts to preserve what they value.

Invisible Murder: This is the 2nd in the series. A couple of Roma boys poking around an abandoned Soviet-era hospital complex find something worth a lot of money. Shortly after, a mysterious illness sets in to a group of Roma, and nurse Nina Borg treats them and then comes down with it herself. I actually love this series which deals with human rights issues, poverty, desperation, why people break laws, and more.

Citadel I loved this one. It’s nearly perfect. The story of a resistance group in Southern France composed mostly of women, but what makes it really good is how it shows how the women come to that point. At first it seems a bit long but soon that becomes an asset.

Children of the Revolution: When the body of an emaciated elderly man is thrown off a railroad bridge, Inspector Banks is called in. As he and his team begin to learn more about the man, they become convinced that the answer lies in his past. A very enjoyable mystery.

Minding Molly: This is the 3rd in Leslie Gould’s series in which she sets Shakespearean plays amongst Amish teenagers. This one is Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it’s fun to trace the basic elements of the story. No fairies are needed, as the insecurities of the teenaged girls are enough to cause all sorts of mix-ups and mayhem.

After I’m Gone: Laura Lippman’s latest is the story of a man who disappears rather than face prison. He leaves behind a wife, 3 daughters, and a mistress. 10 years to the day after he leaves, his mistress disappears. Everyone assumes she’s gone to join him until a few years later, when her body is found. Years later again, detective “Sandy” Sanchez opens the cold case and looks at the names in the file, certain that the person he’s seeking is already in there. Nice and suspenseful.

You can date boys when you’re 40: Dave Barry’s latest. Need I say more? He takes his daughter to a Justin Beiber concert; he contemplates his own mortality; Mr Language Person returns. The best part was watching Ilsa (my daughter) read it. She was giggling so hard she couldn’t speak. You can enter to win a free copy if you click on the link.

Murder Must Advertise: a Dorothy Sayers that I hadn’t read in ages. Lord Peter goes undercover to find the connection between a respectable advertising agency and a drug ring.

The Nine Tailors: another Dorothy Sayers that I hadn’t read in ages. A corpse is found in another person’s grave, and the cause of death can’t be discovered. Lord Peter needs to spend some time in a small village with an impressive church.

Reading:

An Unsuitable Princess: This is two stories in one, a true fantasy and a fantastical memoir. The fantasy is a vaguely Renaissance era tale about a mute outcast girl and a blacksmith boy. The memoir is a tale of growing up in 70s Laurel Canyon, just outside of LA. The stories go back and forth and it’s fun to see the connections.

The A-Z of C S Lewis: An encyclopedia of everything Lewis, from obscure characters in his novels, to real-life people he interacted with, to short articles explaining his views on various issues. A great reference book!

Boy, Snow, Bird: Boy has run away from an abusive father in New York (Boy is a woman, by the way) and moved to a remote town in New England. There, she meets and falls in love with the mysterious widower Arturo Whitman and his daughter, Snow. I know from reading the back that the child they bear will be dark-skinned because the Whitmans have been passing as white but aren’t, and it’s set in 1953 and is a reflection on race and mirrors and self-image. So far, so good.

To read:

The Moon Sisters After their mother’s death, 2 sisters who are very different travel together to lay her ashes to rest. Along the way, tensions build until they finally have to be honest with each other and face what lies between them. Includes some magical realism.

Clever Girl Stella, now in her 50s, looks back at her life. Everyone is raving about the writing, so I’m really looking forward to this one.

…and several more which are upstairs, and I’m too knackered to bother going to look. I’m at the legs-like-limp-noodles stage of recovery.

What about you? Read anything good lately? How’s your health?

Yesterday was a day off school for the kids, a teacher-grading day to celebrate the end of the semester. Since I’ve worked a lot of 7-day weeks lately, I cancelled my ESL class (we always follow the school schedule) and took most of the day off too. Ilsa and I planned a leisurely afternoon of a trip to a British import store for candy (and Marmite for me YAAY!), followed by a trip to Powell’s to return a book I’d bought her that she already had and to spend my gift card, followed by a coffee. It was a lovely afternoon and we had lots of good conversations about books, candy, and Benedict Cumberbatch. I had a great time spending my gift card on some lovely new books, and I realized how true the saying is: You can never have too many books.

This month, I read:

The Girl With a Clock for a Heart: George Foss clearly remembers his first love, a girl he met during freshman orientation at college who left almost a sort of a spell on him. Now, 20 years later, living a comfortable if uneventful life with a long-term on-again off-again girlfriend, George catches sight of Liana in a bar he frequents. He knows by this point that she’s responsible for the deaths of two people, and is probably wanted by the police still, but he goes to talk to her anyway. She’s been the one point in a life that has been, in a word, dull, and he’s drawn back to her like a moth to a flame. A romantic-noir book, a little uneven but overall a good read.

Hunting Shadows: The latest Ian Rutledge. When Capt. Hutchinson is gunned down attending a society wedding in Ely, the police can’t even determine where the shot came from. A short time later, there’s another death, that of a lawyer standing for office and making a political speech. At this point, Inspector Rutledge of Scotland Yard is called in. He travels down to the small villages on the Fens in search of any connection between the two men. A good addition to the series, which I really enjoyed.

Labor Day: If you click on the link, you can read my review and enter to win a copy. This was a decent book, well-written and with characters I cared about, but the underlying story (an escaped convict and the single mother who falls in love with him and lets him stay, all told from the point of view of her 13 year old son) did contain an unmitigated creep factor.

The Runaway Daughter: Kamada is the daughter of a high class prostitute in Bombay. She hates the crowded streets filled with cursing beggars, men trying to grope her, and other ugliness, so she fills every waking space with talking vegetables, singing cockroaches, fairies and gremlins. Her goal is to go to America to study. She’s appealing, but the book has the feel of a self-published book even though it mentions an editor, and at 133 pages seemed long.

Taking What I Like: Loved this collection of short stories playing off Shakespearean plays. Reading Taking What I Like is in some ways like taking a lit class from the very best lit teacher–you know, the one who could open up the text for you like no one else could and make the characters come alive, until you felt you’d recognize them on the street.

Our Love Could Light the World: A collection of short stories about various members of the Dugan family. What makes this book work so well is that it’s one of those books that seems deceptively light, but in actuality goes deep into family relationships and psyche and the dysfunction that seems an inevitable part of all families everywhere. Each story would stand alone but together, they present a nuanced and complex view of the various family members.

Possible some others I’ve forgotten about

Am reading:

Citadel (from amazon) a mesmerizing World War II story of daring and courage, in which a group of determined women fighting for the French Resistance risk their lives to save their homeland . . . and protect astonishing secrets buried in time.

The Boy in the Suitcase (Nina Borg #1) (.) I read the 3rd in this series and loved it, and found a cheap used copy of this at Powells yesterday. Have I ever mentioned how much I love that store? Oh I have? Ok then.

The Fishing Fleet: Husband-Hunting in the Raj This one is a fun account of the crowds of single British ladies who went en masse to British-controlled India in search of husbands, a necessary endeavor since all the single men had gone off there anyway.

To Read:

You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About: Yaay! I used to love reading Barry’s weekly online humour column, and I’m really happy to see he’s still around being funny.

Boy, Snow, Bird: (from amazon) Boy is Boy Novak, who escapes 1950s New York and comes to Massachusetts, eventually marrying local widower Arturo Whitman. Snow is Arturo’s daughter, a girl of uncommon beauty. And Bird is the daughter Boy and Arturo have together, whose dark skin reveals the family’s secret: Arturo, his late wife, and their families were all African-Americans passing as white. A loose retelling of Snow White, with reflections on race and family life. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

After I’m Gone: The latest Laura Lippman, so suspenseful and mysterious.

Clever Girl: Stella, now in her 50s, looks back at her life. Everyone is raving about the writing, so I’m really looking forward to this one.

Once again, I’m late with this post, which is supposed to go up on the 4th Tuesday of the month. It’s Wednesday today, and Elliot is already on his way home from college for the first time since he left. I’m being all calm and casual, as you would expect, and am not rushing round yelling at Abel to clean their bathroom (since Ilsa has so conveniently disappeared, claiming Chelsea is “depressed” and “needs her.”) nor cooking up a storm of mince pies and coconut pies. Not me. I’m having a second cup of tea and typing, and will get to all that later.

So this month I went to Africa, for those of you who are here just for the nightstand post and don’t normally read this blog. (Assuming there are any of you, which is doubtful as I’m so late, but if you’re here, please say hi) And since that trip involved SO MUCH travel time, I read up a storm. I took 5 books with me plus my Kindle, because I have a deep-seated and irrational fear of being stuck somewhere without a book. This caused a small amount of marital friction but it wasn’t my fault that Donn bought a 5m-square tent that took up most of one entire suitcase, which meant no room/weight for books. We solved this by having me cleverly carry all my books in a grocery bag contributed by my friend Annie, which technically meant I had 3 carry-ons (purse, actual carry-on, and sack) but no one fussed and I safely brought them all home again. (Oh, and in spite of all my careful plans, I still managed to find myself stuck with nothing to read on the flight from Nouakchott to Casablanca. My kindle died, although it shouldn’t have, and I had packed all my books. I was stuck with the stupid in-flight magazine and “Just So Stories” which I had on my phone. My Kindle app wouldn’t work on my phone either. It was terrible, and proved how justified I was in bringing all those hardcover books!)

And I read some FANTASTIC books this month! Seriously, lots to recommend. I’ll start with:

A Guide for the Perplexed: That’s linked to my review at 5MFB. Go there right now and enter to win a free copy. I loved this book and gave it 5 stars. It’s the sort of book that end up in lit classes but that you actually like. It has everything–reflections on memory and how recording events can influence how you remember them, a retelling of the biblical story of Joseph combined with a look at lots of sibling relationships, medieval scholarship, a kidnapping in modern post-revolutionary Egypt, and more. Really really good.

Someone Else’s Love Story: You can also win a copy of this one! Also really really good. Although it’s written in a light-hearted style that had me chuckling several times, the story deals with serious issues and tackles them head-on; date rape, car accidents, divorced and dueling parents, single motherhood, religious differences that divide. But it’s not at all a depressing book. This is a book that ends on a note of hope, of redemption, but neither of these things is cheapened by being given too easily–they cost people something. Seriously–a really good story.

I Am Malala: You knew I was going to read this one! And it’s also really really good and you can also win a copy. Do I sound like a broken record? You know the basic story already–Malala is a teenaged activist who was shot by the Taliban in her remote village in Pakistan, because she would not keep quiet about the importance of girl’s education. And she’s right. She’s brave and sweet and competitive and an avid reader and in many ways a typical teenaged girl, and in many ways anything but typical. You’ll love learning more about her and her story.  The giveaway is open till Sat.

Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy: A fun and worthy follow-up to the Bridget Jones books. Bridget is once again single, after the incomparable Mark Darcy was killed in Sudan while fighting for human rights. (I know! We’re all sad about this) Bridget now deals with single motherhood and counts twitter followers instead of calories. It’s good, but it’s a lot darker than the original stories, as Bridget is still mourning Mark. It’s also not nearly as funny. I reread the first Bridget Jones’ Diary and still snorted with laughter several times.  Still, if you’re a fan, you’ll definitely want to read it!

Bridget Jones’s Diary: Still so funny, after all these years. And brutally realistic.

Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope: I love her writing and her stories, so I was interested to read her retelling of Austen’s book set in modern times. And I did enjoy it. I am not a huge fan of Jane Austen–I like her stuff, and I adore P & P, but I’m not a purist. It was amusing to see the Dashwood sisters listening to music on iPods and watch scandal spreading through texts and Youtube. The estate left to John Dashwood wasn’t entailed–the problem is that Henry never married Belle, just lived with her in bohemian splendour and produced 3 daughters. This is a very accessible version of the classic and I enjoyed it, but it won’t satisfy true Austen-ites.

Death of a Nightingale: Another really good read. This is a mystery of sorts, or I guess you’d call it a thriller, with violence and threats lurking in the shadows, but it also gives, in flashbacks,  a fascinating look at life under communism in Ukraine in 1934, when a famine devastated the area and left a family reeling under its effects. Nina Borg is a nurse who works in a crisis centre in Denmark that houses illegal immigrants; Natasha is a Ukrainian woman who escaped an abusive relationship. Now that boyfriend has been found dead and Natasha’s implicated. She escapes custody to search for her daughter. Tying strands together are these memories from 1934, but it’s not till the end that you find out the connection. It’s a really good book, hard to put down. (Perfect for long flights!)

What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist who Tried to Kill Your Wife?: A Memoir: David Harris-Gershon and his wife were American students at Hebrew University in Jerusalem when one day, while his wife was studying in the cafeteria with friends, a terrorist bomb ripped their lives apart. His wife, Jamie, survives because she was reaching under the table to get out a book; her friends are killed. David is plunged into a maelstrom of emotion, and this book recounts how he found his way out. And yes, it does involved studying the Israeli-Palestinian question with fresh eyes and it does involve a meeting with the bomber’s family. Very good and thought-provoking.

Bellman & Black: Remember 13th Tale and how fun that was? This is author Diane Setterfield’s second novel. It’s also set in Victorian times, and it supposed to be noir and gothic and creepy, but sadly, it is really isn’t. It’s actually a little boring at times, and it falls short of her first novel. I hope she keeps writing though, with less pressure, and produces something really good next time. She’s still a really good writer.

Right now I’m rereading:

Possession. Still so good. Bellman and Black put me in the mood for this complex tale spanning modern literary researchers and departmental politics and Victorian writers and their love-lives. It combines a literary mystery with a modern romance and a literary romance with a modern mystery. If you haven’t read it, you should. (Fun aside: I haven’t read it since Mauritania, and my copy had bits of sand along the spine.)

To read:

The old shelf is pretty light at the moment. I don’t have anything that publishes before January. I’ll tell you about those next month.

What about you? Do you share a deep-seated fear bordering on irrational panic at the thought of a long flight with nothing to read? Please share in comments.

or a late nightstand, as in, this nightstand post is a day late and probably a dollar short, if we’re going to be honest here. But I wanted to do one this month.

This month’s reading is brought to you by insomnia and mental disorders. No, not mine, silly. I sleep quite well, when I can get to bed, that is. It’s just been a theme in my reading lately.

OK. THE BIT ABOVE WAS WRITTEN LAST MONTH. Yes, I’ve sunk so low I’m posting unfinished posts a month late. This is pretty bad. I also haven’t been updating my blog. I had terrible computer problems, but they’ve been sort of solved. That is, I have a new laptop (YAAAY!!) but it came with Windows H8, so there’s a long adjustment period required. I will update my blog soon. Meanwhile…

Last month, I read two books about insomnia. Isn’t that weird? Both Kind of Cruel (a really good domestic thriller! Sophie Hannah’s latest) and Sea Creatures (also really good and well-written!) dealt with main characters suffering from insomnia. I also read a lot of other books, none of which are springing to mind. I’m too lazy to go look. Anyway, that was weeks ago. Onward and upward!

This month, I also read a lot of books. It’s what I do. Let’s see if I can remember them. Um.

Free Spirit was a fascinating book, sort of like that fabled train wreck you can’t look away from. Written with humour and compassion, author Josh Safran describes being brought up by an idealistic mother who gave birth to him in a commune and fled the threat of nuclear war by taking him to live off the grid in the Washington rain forest. It’s actually super funny and super depressing at the same time. It contains some very strong scenes and strong language too, I’ll warn you. But a glimpse into a totally different way of life through the eyes of a child.

After Her was also really well-written. It’s Joyce Maynard’s latest. If you like her, go enter the giveaway!

A Question of Honor is the latest Bess Crawford mystery. I think it’s the best so far. Bess is trying to solve a series of murders from 10 years earlier, ones that revolve around English families taking in British children whose parents are stationed in India.

The Ghost Bride was very interesting and unusual. Ilsa actually read it first, as it arrived in the mail as we were on our way out the door, and she thought it looked good. We both enjoyed it. It takes place in the late 19th-century Malaysia (then called Malaya) and is, in a way, a retelling of a folk tale. You’ll learn quite a bit about social mores and customs of the time, and it’s a great story as well.

Right now, I’m reading:.

Spider Woman’s Daughter is set in the Navajo nation. It’s written by Anne Hillerman, daughter of Tony Hillerman, and it continues the series he started. I read a couple of others in the series (by Tony, that is) a few years ago, so I wanted to try the new one. So far, pretty good.

Almost True Confessions: Closet Sleuth Spills All is light and funny so far, also a murder mystery but sort of zany.

Rags & Bones: New Twists on Timeless Tales is really fun. 2 editors put their heads together and approached several different authors, who took favorite short stories–everything from Sleeping Beauty to Kipling’s “The Man Who Would Be King”–and, as it were, boiled them down to the bones and reassembled them. In other words, they looked at essential parts of the story and then retold them in another time and setting. Really enjoying this one!

And soon, I’m going to read:

Bellman & Black. The new one from the author of The Thirteenth Tale. Pretty excited about this one!

At the Bottom of Everything The publisher’s blurb says: It’s been ten years since the “incident,” and Adam has long since decided he’s better off without his former best friend, Thomas. But when he receives an email from Thomas’s mother begging for his help, he finds himself drawn back into his old friend’s world, and into the past he’s tried so desperately to forget. As Adam embarks upon a magnificently strange and unlikely journey, Ben Dolnick unspools a tale of spiritual reckoning, of search and escape, of longing and reaching for redemption—a tale of near hallucinatory power.

I have several other books on the nightstand, but it’s upstairs and I’m downstairs, and this month’s theme seems to be “Laziness.” Appropriate after last month’s theme of “Insomnia,” no? Anyway. Check back in soon for an actual update. Clue: I will probably miss next month’s Nightstand because I will be on another continent!!

What are you reading this month? Anything good?

I can’t believe no one commented on what an adorable baby Elliot was. Go ahead and scroll down, look at the previous post, ooh and aah, then come back. It’ll only take you a minute, unless your laptop is as old as mine and then you’ll have time to swear and raise your blood pressure. Don’t worry–that high blood pressure will be lowered by cute baby pictures!

So, it’s that time of the month again (giggle! That phrase takes me back to jr high). Time to discuss what I’ve been reading and what I’m about to read, and also what I read. These are exciting times.

I READ:

The Honey Thief: This is really good, a fascinating glimpse into the lives of the Hazara people of Afghanistan. Author and local Najaf Mazari, working with journalist Robert Hillman, wrote down some of the stories of his people, who come from a tradition of oral storytelling. The stories are a blend, a little folklore, a lot of recent history. There are even recipes, the most detailed recipes I’ve ever seen!

Elizabeth the First Wife: This one is fun, perfect for summer, witty, light-hearted, light. Elizabeth comes from a family of extreme high-achievers but is content to teach at a community college. She gets offered a chance to spend the summer in Ashland, OR, at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, helping her ex-husband, now a Hollywood A-list actor, perform in Midsummer Night’s Dream. As one would expect, lots of mayhem ensues. Really enjoyed this one.

Oh Dear Silvia: After a fall from a balcony, Silvia Shute is in a coma. She’s visited by her ex-husband, her daughter, her lover, her nurse, her house-cleaner, her whacky sister. Alternating between humorous (albeit a dark humour) and depressing, the truth of Silvia’s life and character is revealed piecemeal by those who knew her best.

Loyalty: Fina Ludlow is the only girl in the Ludlow family, an exremely tight-knit family of lawyers who are willing to go as far as it takes to win a case. Fina’s not a lawyer though–she’s a private investigator, and the family hires her when her sister-in-law is missing. As Fina delves deeper and deeper and turns up more and more, she has to choose where her loyalty will ultimately lie. Fina is of the hard-boiled school of P-I. She’s hard-drinking, hard-living, hard-loving, and not afraid of a knock-down drag-out fight.

Emma’s Secret: What if your daughter was kidnapped and then your prayers were answered and you got her back, but all was not as perfect as you’d expected? Megan is thrilled to have her 5-year-old Emma back after 2 long years, but she finds her heart breaking all over again as she sees how much Emma has changed, and how Emma seems to love and miss the elderly couple who kidnapped her. A good look at how trauma endures and consequences linger, but a hopeful, redemptive novel with a lot of chocolate in it.

If You Were Here: McKenna is working as a journalist when she gets sent a video of a woman lifting to safety a young man who’d fallen onto the train tracks. She recognizes the woman as a close friend who disappeared without a trace 10 years earlier. As McKenna digs deeper and deeper into the past, she comes across more than she bargained for. McKenna will have to choose who to trust, and that choice could take her life.

A Beautiful Heist: A fun read with a bit more depth than expected. Cat Montgomery is a jewel thief and she’s good at it. She takes job after job, searching for a way to expunge the guilt she feels from her sister’s death. But she has rules and conscience: she’ll only steal what’s insured, only what the job stipulates, and only from someone who won’t be hurting as a result. Then she hears of the ultimate job (in an Indiana Jones twist)–a Faberge egg hiding the Gifts of the Magi! (Yes, those ones–gold, frankincense, myrrh).

AM READING:

The Lion’s World: A Journey into the Heart of Narnia: This is sort of literary and theological criticism on the Narnia books, and by extension Lewis’ other works of fiction (the Space Trilogy, Till We Have Faces, etc.) by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowen Williams. It’s really good and I’m hugely enjoying it.

Her Royal Spyness (A Royal Spyness Mystery): Got offered this free on my Kindle. (Did you know I have a Kindle now? I like it more than expected but, also as expected, am frustrated that I can’t easily look back in book). It looks light and fun.

4:50 from Paddington: Also on my Kindle. This is an Agatha Christie and a fun one. Elspeth McGillicuddy sees an actual murder happening on a train running parallel to hers in the night. She dutifully reports it but no one believes her as there is no body. Jane Marple to the rescue!

The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family: The subtitle says it all. Josh Hanagarne’s memoir on growing up Mormon, with Tourette’s, loving books, taking to body-building as a way to control his tics.

TO READ:

Sight Reading

Love and Other Subjects

The Illusion of Separateness

Apologies to My Censor: The High and Low Adventures of a Foreigner in China

There you have it! This month I also graduated a kid, hosted my husband’s entire family, went camping with a bad back, and generally had a little too much of a good time, or something like that.

It’s Spring Break! Yaaay! I for one am very happy. I’m actually trying to take some time off and relax, read some books for a change… well maybe that wouldn’t be a change. But we all need breaks, and I’m hoping to take some.

The End of the Point:  This is a story about a place as much as people. In this exquisitely written novel, author Elizabeth Graver takes us deep into the lives of one extended family and the summer place where they feel most themselves, most at home.    The novel is told from the points of views of several different characters, including a nanny for the family. Really good.

Operation Oleander: A YA book appropriate for all ages. Jess’ dad is in Afghanistan, and to help feel connected to him she raises funds for an orphanage there with her best friend Meriwether. However the presence of American soldiers delivering supplies to the orphanage raises its profile and there’s a bombing, in which Jess’ dad is badly injured and Meriwether’s mother is killed. To make matters worse, some Afghans, and some media, blame Jess for the bombing. This book deals with serious issues (how to best provide aid, challenges of military families)  but presents them very well, and we see Jess mature throughout. It’s a really good book and well worth reading.

Glamorous Powers: This is a really unusual book that I totally loved even though I don’t know if others would. Does that even make sense? I’ve been trying to think how to explain it, and I think you just feel so much deeper in the character’s head than one normally does when reading. Jonathan Darrow is an Anglican priest who has psychic visions, ends up leaving a monastic order and remarrying at the age of 60. Really unusual, like I said, but I also totally loved it, overall, although sometimes it was a bit slow. There are 6 in the series and I want to read the rest. (I read a few from this series in Morocco but I want to reread and fill in the gaps)

One Step Too Far: I could not put this one down. Emily decides to leave her family and it’s obvious some terrible trauma has occurred but we don’t know what until nearly the end. I didn’t see it coming and actually gasped out loud! She manages to create a new life for herself in London, and we see her heartbroken husband, and glimpses of her childhood and her twin sister, unexpected, unwanted and unloved and a troublemaker as a result. Really gripping. A perfect summer (or spring break) read.

Not Less than Everything:  A collection of essays on heroes of conscience, a look at people who’ve inspired various authors. Good overall.

Reading:

Canada: Nearly finished with this one. Narrated by Dell, aged 15 and part of a set of fraternal twins. Their parents, ordinary people, commit armed robbery, and Dell ends up in Canada with the brother of a friend of his mother’s. It’s slow-moving, character-driven, full of description, extremely well written.

The Cassoulet Saved Our Marriage: True Tales of Food, Family, and How We Learn to Eat: A collection of essays about food followed by recipes. I’m not too far in but I’m really enjoying it. Food is so much more than fuel–it is memories of our childhood, our mothers or occasionally our fathers, or it signifies special times. Favorite foods are so much more than simply taste and texture.

Ghana Must Go: After the patriarch of the family dies, the others gather. At least I think they do. I’m not  very far in, and still looking at the patriarch’s death.

To Read:

Have Mother, Will Travel: A Mother and Daughter Discover Themselves, Each Other, and the World: I think the title is pretty self-explanatory.

Something About Sophie from the amazon description: Answering a call that summons her to a stranger’s deathbed, a reluctant Sophie Shepard is too late to hear what he was so anxious to tell her. What was so important that a dying man would think of her in his final moments? With the help of Dr. Drew McCarren, Sophie begins to dig into her past, setting off a chain of events that chills the quiet town of Clearfield, Virginia to its roots.

The Abundance I read another book by this author and loved it. This one concerns Indian immigrants and their children, now adult and American. Looks really good.

What are you reading? Anything good? Please tell me in comments!

I have been reading up a storm, which sort of matches the weather. Today we had sun, hail, sun, deep dark clouds, and so much more. I love these kinds of days, but I do think we’re heading into an early spring. We really didn’t have much of a winter either. Sigh. I love winter.

But you don’t care about my thoughts on the weather. How boring! You want to know, what have I been reading? What am I reading? And what am I going to read? (3 uses of the continuous tense, notice, and yes my ESL classes are going swimmingly)

I HAVE READ:

Proof of Guilt: The latest in Charles Todd’s series on Detective Ian Rutledge. Very enjoyable classic murder mystery, with lots of clues and red herrings and a fine, crisp conclusion.

This is How I Save My Life: A young normally-active woman is stricken with Lyme’s disease and goes to India to receive stem cell treatment. She’s all better now but it’s not because of that–no, she healed herself through positive thinking. My takeaway from this book: if you’re sick Amy believes it’s your own fault. Yeah. Not a big fan of karma personally–I think it’s a very cruel philosophy. Still, I enjoyed her descriptions of India, and would have liked to learn more about her treatment.

All That I Am: Really good, really well-written. Concerns early resistance to Hitler, i.e. in the years leading up to the second World War. Funder has taken real people and real events and given us a fictionalized version that rings true.

Sparkly Green Earrings: written by Melanie from Big Mama. If you read her blog, you know her style, and this book echoes that. Very approachable. A memoir of the segment of her life from when she and her husband decided to try for a baby to now, when their daughter Caroline is about 8.

Where the Light Falls: I enjoyed this book, although it could use some tighter editing. Young American woman goes to Paris in the 1880s. Lots of period details and interesting people.

Untimed: A YA (definitely for older teens though) sci-fi book about time travelers, who run in families. The boys can only go backwards and the girls can only go forwards. Charlie accidentally changes history and has to figure out how to get things back to the normal he knew. Can he succeed? I think the giveaway is still open if you’re interested; click the link.

The Bracelet: I have mixed feelings on this. It’s actually really good and I totally enjoyed it, but there are some definite holes in the plot and I would feel better if I could discuss them with someone. So go read it; you’ll enjoy it. The holes aren’t huge, just that they keep it from being excellent. Nurse Abby Monroe goes to Pakistan (she’s super naive about world events, which is one of the holes) and learns about human trafficking. The best part are the women’s stories; they ring true. They are horrible, and the novel does a good job of shining a light on this. Really a good book in many ways, and the story line keeps moving. The author spent time working as a nurse in Afghanistan and you can tell from her descriptions of people and places.

There Was an Old Woman: A Novel of Suspense: I liked this one. It concerns a plot to take over the homes of elderly single women, playing off the fact that people won’t believe them and think they’re confused.

The Life & Times of “Call the Midwife”:  You may remember (oh come on, you do not) me RAVING about a book called Shadows of the Workhouse, which was hands-down one of the top 3 books I read last year. It’s non-fiction but reads like fiction, written by a woman who worked as a midwife in the London slums in the 1950s. I didn’t even know they’d made a TV series of it. This book follows the first 2 seasons of the TV series and I absolutely loved it. I missed Season 1 in the US, but Season 2 starts this spring and I’m planning to watch.

I AM READING:

Canada: The latest by Richard Ford. So far, really good. Del is 15 and looking forward to starting high school but his father is getting involved in shady business. I already know from the back cover that his father and mother will rob a bank and go to jail and Del will go to Canada.

Not Less Than Everything: Catholic Writers on Heroes of Conscience, from Joan of Arc to Oscar Romero: I’m not Catholic, but some very good writers are, and I love reading about heroes of conscience. This is a collection of essays, various people writing about others who inspire them. Some are great; some are so-so.

TO READ:

The End of the Point: story of a family through the last-half of the 20th century. Looks better than I just made it sound. It actually looks really good.

Operation Oleander: YA novel. A teenaged girl raises money for a girls’ orphanage in Afghanistan, where her father is deployed. But then the Taliban targets it.

This month has gone by really quickly. We are slowly settling into the groove of school, and Elliot’s scholarship and college admissions essays, which are kicking my butt. Saturday was gorgeous and I was stuck inside all day saying things like, “Why don’t you mention the time…?” and “You use too many commas.” Let me stress–he writes them himself. I just suggest things and encourage him to meet deadlines. It takes time.

I HAVE READ:

The Red Door: An Inspector Ian Rutledge Mystery (Ian Rutledge Mysteries): You guys know I like Charles Todd, but sometimes I like them in spite of their plots, not because of them. I feel that sometimes they are so determined that no reader will say “I knew who dunnit by page 50” that they put in these ridiculous plot twists right at the end that don’t even make sense. This is the 2nd book of theirs I’ve read (out of 6 total) where they did this, so I’m certainly not giving up on them. Actually, it is kinda the 3rd book, but the 3rd was done a bit more gracefully. Anyway. I still am BFFs with Bess and I will continue to read them, but I hope they stop doing this. Seriously, Charles, it’s not the end of the world if someone figures it out. When the book’s well written, no one really cares.

Bilingual is Better: Two Latina moms share their own stories as well as the reasons why raising bilingual and bicultural kids give them such huge advantages. They didn’t have to sell me! They did, however, make me feel lame for how bad we are at practicing our French round here. I did put my phone in French though. That ought to count! Quick–what’s “annuler” again? Enter to win a copy for yourself here.

The Harbormaster’s Daughter: What I liked about this book was that it looks at the aftereffects of murder. Vita’s mother was killed when she was 3. Vita is the product of two sides of the small Cape Cod community Oyster Creek–her father is the assistant harbormaster and her mother was a “washashore,” part of the new artistic side of things. Vita is painfully shy and self-aware, and the author does a tremendous job at portraying it. It’s a beautifully-written novel.

The Code of the Woosters

Service With a Smile

Galahad at Blandings Ok, so I’ve been on a bit of a Wodehouse kick. I don’t know what it is–my brain has felt incapable of anything very in depth, and I’ve really enjoyed them. I even wrote a post about it here.

Reading:

The Garden of Evening Mists. This is a gorgeous book. Set in Malaysia in the years after WW2, the main character was a “guest of the emperor”–that is, in a Japanese concentration camp, where her sister died. However, she works as an apprentice for a Japanese gardener because she wants to build a garden in her sister’s memory. One of those heavy but beautiful books that stay with you and that often end up on those “100 Books You Should Have Read by Now, You Loser” lists. Read it now and feel smug later when others are raving about it.

The Sibling Effect: What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us: Interesting book on the effect our siblings have on us life-long. It’s taking me a while because I leave it in the car and read it when waiting for children to emerge from various activities. Then when they get in, I read them bits of it. Elliot might read it next, or at least pretend to in order to impress his psychology teacher.

Zeitoun: The story of a Syrian-American family affected by Katrina. I looked ahead to make sure they live. (Oh right, like you don’t do that sometimes. I just look for the name, I don’t actually READ the end. You? True confessions time!) So far it’s really good. Today is the day to discuss it in my online book group, but I’m only about 50 pages in. Sigh. I just won’t read what anyone else says.

Walk with Me: Pilgrim’s Progress for Married Couples: This is a retelling of Pilgrim’s Progress for married couples. It’s well done and I’m really enjoying it.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide: I’m still slowly working my way through this one. I took a break to read Wodehouse. It’s not a light book, but I do think it’s an important one. Read it if you haven’t yet.

To Read:

The Round House: Still haven’t gotten to this. The latest by Louise Erdrich.

Forgotten This woman goes on a month-long vacation to some vague location on the vast continent of Africa (pet peeve of mine. It’s not a homogenous place, people!) and gets sick and ends up trapped in a remote village. She finally gets home only to find out that everyone thought she’d died and things have moved on without her. It’s a good premise–I’ll let you know how the author does with it.

The Witch of Babylon: an art history mystery/thriller. In other words, should be nice and distracting. Set partly in Iraq. You know what a sucker I am for books about the Arab world, but I hope it’s good. It looks like it might be. I’ll let you know. I’ll be reviewing this one on Oct. 17th and there will be a chance to win a free copy. (At 5 Minutes for Books)

Mira’s Diary: Lost in Paris Ok so this is a middle-reader but it looks good. Mira’s mother has disappeared and the family think they’ve been abandoned, until they realize they are looking for her in the wrong century! Yes, she’s somehow been whisked back in time to Paris in the late 19th-century, a time of not only great artistic achievement (Degas, Monet, etc) but also the infamous Dreyfus affair, which showcased the antisemitism in French society of the time. An interesting combination for a book geared at tweens, non? Look for my review and giveaway on Oct. 20th, also at 5 Minutes for Books.

I’m sure there’s more–I got 2 more books in the mail yesterday, and I didn’t even mention a book I read called Murder Most Austen that I didn’t really like much, although you might if you like that sort of thing. But I need to get going. So tell me, what have you been reading? Anything good?

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