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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?

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 completely skipped this meme last month, but I’m not going to make up–frankly, between traveling to the conference and then spending nearly 2 weeks in bed while attempting to displace my lungs to the outside of my body, I read a LOT of books this month!   I hope you did too because reading is fun, and doesn’t require a lot of energy.

I READ:

Deadly Harvest: The latest in the Detective Kibu series and really good. It begins when a young girl, on her way home from school and dreaming already of Christmas although it’s only September, accepts a ride with a man and is never seen again. The police aren’t too concerned–no one cares too much about an AIDS orphan living with her aunt. (Did I mention this is Botswana?) However, when more girls disappear, it becomes apparent that a witch doctor is operating in the area and kidnapping, murdering and dismembering bodies to be used in muti–a powerful occultic potion. Based in part on true stories, this book was darker than the previous one I read in the series, and goes more in depth while still showing us Kubu at home enjoying his wife and daughter and good food and wine.

The Sisterhood: This is almost a fantastic book. It’s a really fun read with great characters and a plot woven back and forth between 16th-century Spanish nuns trying to survive the Inquisition and a modern college student who’s trying to research an obscure Spanish artist. My one  complaint was this sub-plot that showed the author read and was influenced by the Da Vinci Code. I found it annoying and detracting.

Equal of the Sun: A Novel: This historical fiction tells the story of Princess Pari, a 15th-century Iranian princess who was her father’s favorite and really his protege, the one whom he taught all that is needed to run a kingdom. But when he dies without naming an heir, all is thrown into turmoil, as Pari lives in a time and place that will not allow a woman to rule, especially given her abundance of brothers. The story is told from the point of view of her eunuch and closest advisor, Javahar and is a tale of political intrigue.

However Long the Night: Molly Melching’s Journey to Help Millions of African Women and Girls Triumph: The subtitle of this book really rubbed me the wrong way. However, the book takes place in Senegal and I couldn’t resist at least giving it a try, and I’m glad I did. The book turned out to be really good and they should change that subtitle! It is the story of an American woman who didn’t want to be the Great White Saviour but instead just wanted to educate women in ways they’d understand culturally, which she learned by listening to them. The women of the Senegalese villages are the real stars of the book, which is quite inspiring and worth a read.

Cover Her Face: The first of PD James’ books. I enjoyed it, but it lacked a lot of the psychological depth of her latest works.

Death Comes to Pemberley: PD James’ foray into fanfic. Sort of. It follows on what happened 6 years after the end of Pride and Prejudice, and is all about Elizabeth and Darcy and Lydia and Wickham and all. At first I didn’t like it but I kept on with it because I was too tired to get up and find something else, and then I kind of got into it. It’s not bad at all, but I really don’t get the point of books that follow as sequels of other famous books, as they’re never as good as the original. Nor is this as good as James’ normal stuff.

I also read two other PD James. I decided to read all the Dalgliesh series in order, because why not? I was sick as a dog. I sent Elliot to the library with a list, and he came home with #10 and #12 in the series, so I read those. Then I decided I was better enough to move on.

I also reread, for the umpteenth time, most of the Narnia books. Apparently we have lost both our copies of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Sigh. Also reread a Bess Crawford mystery. I like mysteries when I’m sick.

AM READING:

The Honey Thief:  Beautiful, fascinating collection of tales from the Hazara people of Afghanistan. It starts a bit slow but soon I was captivated by the loveliness of the stories. There’s Hameed, a boy without common sense with his head in the clouds, who ends up being given a copy of Huckleberry Finn in Dari, which ends up rewarding him in a surprising way. There’s the Englishman nicknamed “Try Again” because he keeps returning to the remote village to photograph the snow leopard, an animal the villagers have never seen and do not believe exists. There’s the Hazarat man who emigrated to America and became very rich, now returned dying, to beg forgiveness from the grandson of a man he wronged. It’s a gorgeous book. These are the stories of a people, a tribe, but especially a village. The author has captured them before they could be lost to time, but he has also written them in English so we can enjoy them too.

Elizabeth the First Wife: I’m really enjoying this one–it’s smart, funny, and light-hearted. Elizabeth teaches Shakespeare at a community college in Pasadena and is content to live in the shadow of her over-achieving family and ignore her ex-husband who’s now an A-list Hollywood star. Suddenly he’s back in her life, persuading her to spend the summer at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, OR, helping him not make a fool of himself doing As You Like It.

The Abundance: A Novel: Do you ever start a book, enjoy it tremendously, but somehow put it down because you have a deadline and then not get back to it? This book is lyrical and beautiful, but I started it a really long time ago and need to finish it. It’s about first and second generation Indian immigrants in America. I’ll finish it soon and let you know what happens.

TO READ:

A Beautiful Heist (Agency of Burglary & Theft)

If You Were Here (the latest Alafair Burke)

Loyalty

Oh Dear Silvia: A Novel (written by British comedian Dawn French)

Sight Reading

The Water-Babies This is a new special edition. Of course I’ve read it before, but when Elliot was little we had an abridged story book of the tale, and it was his favorite for a long time. So I’m looking forward to revisiting Tom the Chimney-Sweep and his life in the stream. Victorian fairy tales are the best!

Augh. What was I thinking? Elliot is graduating next month, we have invited everyone we know to the party (if you haven’t gotten yours yet, don’t worry–I’m famous for my procrastination! The invitations are addressed and on the table. Just come), ALL the inlaws are descending upon us, and more. When will I have time to read all these books? Sigh. They all look really good though, and there’s a camping trip in there that will give me lots of reading time, so it will happen.

What about you? Is your June crazy too? What about this month? What did you read that I should be adding to my wish list?

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.

Before we moved to Mauritania, I read everything I could lay my hands on that had been written about the desert country about to become my new home. Perhaps you will not be surprised to know that wasn’t much. I could not find a book, in English, with Mauritania as its subject. The best I could do were books written by people who had traveled through the Sahara, who had visited Algeria and Tunisia and Egypt and Mali and Morocco and Mauritania.

In general, these travelers loved Algeria and Tunisia and Egypt and Mali and Morocco, but they didn’t love Mauritania. They found it hot and dusty and dirty, and they found the people isolated, suspicious, even hostile. I think what really determined their reaction was the city of Nouakchott which, I must admit, can be isolated, suspicious and even hostile, not to mention hot, dusty and dirty.

The one writer I found who actually seemed to like the country, to accept it as he found it and respond to the people with equanimity, was Quentin Crewe who wrote In Search of the Sahara. A British journalist with MS, confined to a wheelchair, he gathered a group and headed through the desert in the mid-80s in two Unimogs. Crewe is a great writer, and I appreciate that he includes a lot of the history of Europeans in the Sahara, although I skimmed those parts because what I really wanted to learn about was the Sahara in the mid-80s.

He writes of Oulata (where we visited ourselves, one Spring Break, and that was the trip where we nicknamed our guide Uncle Pervie cuz he wouldn’t stop holding Ilsa’s hand even when we told him not to, and that was also the trip where we saw the sleeping crocodile less than 10 feet from Elliot who was shouting, “LOOK!” It was a great trip.). He comes through Nouakchott and they head up the beach to Nouadhibou, because of course the road between Mauritania’s two main cities was another 20 years away from completion. He sees the great fishing grounds before they were depleted, and sees the fishermen and the dolphins working together to allow both man and dolphin to catch and eat fish. He recognizes heat and dust and dirt and suspicion, but he transcends it because he begins with a different sort of attitude. And, heading north of Nouadhibou towards the Moroccan border, their Unimog hits a landmine and blows up! Everyone survives, but they have to fly out. I’ve heard there are still land mines along that border, and when Donn went there I warned him not to wander off. He gave me a look. In general, it’s best not to wander along borders away from official crossings but in full view of them.

Last month, Donn’s sister and her husband came to see us (YAAY!) and of course we went to Powells. We always go to Powells. Most of our friends are avid readers, and even if they’re not, it’s a Portland landmark. I am always up for a trip to Powells, even if the urgency has been lost since I started this gig with 5 Minutes for Books, which guarantees that I always have a guilt-inducing stack I’m working my way through. (I am greedy when it comes to free books.)

I was wandering through the travel section, and I saw a copy of In Search of the Sahara! It’s been out of print for years, and I’d forgotten about it. Only $6! I picked it up and it smelled musty and damp and loved , that smell of old books that seems to be dying out in this brave new world where Powells only buys your newest, most pristine books, and even I got a Kindle at Christmas. Of course I bought the book, and I’ve been enjoying it. It’s really fun to reread his descriptions all these years later (I initially got the book from the library in the late 90s) and after visiting the places described.

On that visit, I also saw copies of all the books I own on the Sahara (Sahara Unveiled,  William Langewiesche’s similar trip from Algeria down across Mali and Mauritania; his account is so depressing that it scared me to death about moving there; and Mali Blues, in which the rather clueless Lieve Joris travels from Dakar, Senegal, along the bottom of Mauritania to Mali, where she interviews musicians. In one of my favorite examples of her obtuseness, she is visiting a French friend in Senegal and sees his child leave her clothes on the floor, and judges, because the child obviously only does that because she has a maid, thereby revealing herself as both childless and unmarried.) It was a little weird, like someone else had collected the same books and decided to get rid of them.

I was at Powells just before Christmas and I picked up an atlas put out by the Onion, flipped it open at random, and started that choked-down quiet giggle one gets in bookstores, shaking with laughter and blocking the aisle. It was so funny! I bought it for Donn and we’ve had lots of fun going through it. My favorite page is Sudan–slogan “All Better Now, Thanks to You,” which goes on to claim that the government, on hearing of a woman in Iowa wearing a “Save Darfur” t-shirt, was overcome with shame and changed their ways. They present Malaysia as a place for jihadists to vacation, relax, loosen their suicide belts.

But they go too far. I understand–how funny can one be about places like the Democratic Republic of Congo? Still, there’s a kind of anger that comes through, a slamming of anything that is not how the editors think the world should be, which is great if you happen to agree with them, and belittling if you don’t. That may be okay for a satirical atlas, but it’s a poor attitude for a traveler.

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?

Well, this isn’t really the end-of-summer edition. There’s nothing seasonal about it. But it is the end of summer, the last full week of vacation (we are going camping with 2 Iraqi families! Their first time ever! If I survive, I’ll tell you all about it). And I’ve done a fair amount of reading this month, although I’m trying to cut down. Can you tell?

WHAT I’VE READ:

Some Kind of Fairy Tale: Please read this one quickly and let me know because I’m dying to discuss it with someone and instead I have to write a review in which I don’t give away spoilers. AUGH! Let me know if you want spoilers, cuz I want to give them! Tara disappeared in the woods 20 years ago, and her then-boyfriend spent time in jail. She shows up on her parents’ doorstep on Christmas Day, claiming to have been away only 6 months in what we would call Fairyland. How are they supposed to respond to that? This is actually a really interesting book, dealing with family dynamics and adult emotions. Some sex scenes–this is not a fairy tale for younger readers–but they are short and easily skipped.

The Other Woman’s House: The latest by Sophie Hannah. It’s really good. Connie is worrying that she’s going mad. She was skimming through a “tour-the-house” slide show on a realtor’s site when she sees a picture of a murdered women. By the time she calls her husband in to look, the picture is gone. Is she insane or is her husband evil? I really wasn’t sure for a lot of the book.

Size 12 and Ready to Rock: Light, fluffy, chick-lit. It was okay but not super enjoyable. Read my review.

What You Wish For: I didn’t want to finish this book as I liked the characters so much. What happens when life doesn’t go as planned? When you always thought you’d have a family but you didn’t meet the right person, or illness or death or infertility intervene?  An actress whose resume says she still under 40 is looking at sperm donors; a high-school principal is looking into private adoption; a woman whom breast cancer left infertile wants to use one of her own frozen embryos but her ex-husband won’t sign an authorization. Go read my review and enter to win your own free copy!

The End of Mr. Y So, with all the spare time I have to read, I’ve joined an online book club. Don’t judge me because I obviously have a problem. This was a book from there. It combines a lot of philosophy, quantum physics, and a story of a woman who can travel into other people’s minds, which she needs to do because people here in the “real” world are trying to kill her. I prob am not doing it justice, but it’s a hard book to sum up. Interesting. My SIL would love it.

Skios: a farce set on a Greek island. I liked it but found the ending a bit disappointing. Others didn’t, according to the reviews on amazon, so you might like it.

Immigration and Adaptation: Helpful counsel for recent immigrants.

The Jane Austen Guide to Life: It is a truth universally acknowledged—that a young woman looking for wisdom on how to live life can gain a surprising amount of wisdom from looking at the characters in Jane Austen’s six novels and at the novelist’s life.

WHAT I’M READING:

The Harbormaster’s Daughter: I almost didn’t request this one because I didn’t like the title, but I’m glad I did. Vita lives in a small village on Cape Cod, the result of an affair between the Portuguese fisherman/harbourmaster and a “washashore,” one of the recently-arrived outsiders. When she’s 3, her mother is murdered, and she’s been raised by a family friend on the “washahore” side of things. Now she’s 16. Just a really good story, so far.

Sisters in War: A Story of Love, Family, and Survival in the New Iraq: Everyone is so excited and optimistic! It’s 2003 and the Americans have just invaded and everyone’s hoping good things for Iraq. I’m not very far into this book, but it’s heart-breaking because I know what’s going to happen.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide: So, do you read Nicholas Kristoff? He’s really good. I’ve known of this book for a while but haven’t read it before. It’s about how women are treated world-wide, the injustice of it, and what you can do about it. So far, it’s excellent.

TO READ:

The Round House: I love Louise Erdrich, and have since I read Love Medicine in a college English class. I even once found a book by her in a bookstore in Morocco with one shelf of books in English. And yes, I bought it. The Round House is her latest.

The God of Small Things: A Novel: This is a total modern-day classic and I’ve never read it! It always shows up on those “100 Books You Should Have Read by Now You Loser” lists (which I always score well on, she said modestly) and I always lose a point cuz I haven’t. Elliot just read it for his English class next year and I thought, “Here’s my chance! And then we can discuss it!” So far I really like it. I guess it should be in the “reading” section since I’ve started it, but I doubt I’ll finish it anytime soon. We’ll see.

Leave it to Psmith: So we had guests (our friends from Mauritania, even though they would say they are from Minnesota) and we took them to Powells, of course. Everyone wants to see Powells. And I’d sold some books so I had this gift card burning a hole in my pocket, which was not only uncomfortable but was ruining a perfectly good pair of capris. This is tied for my all-time fav PG Wodehouse book (with the one in which Gussie Finknottle gets drunk and gives a speech…it’s a Jeeves’ book but I can’t remember the title). I LOVE PSMITH!  I would marry him if I could, but I can’t since a. I’m already married and b. he’s fictional and c. too old for me anyway. But I love how his mind works. And I didn’t have a copy of this book. Now I do.

The Red Door: Like I needed another book. But, remember, that trip to Powells? You may remember me nattering on about Bess Crawford and how we were BFFs now and how I was having withdrawals due to the inconsideration of Charles Todd to produce another one quickly enough. This is by the same author, a mother-son writing team that has me imagining a lovely future for me and Elliot. I’ve read one other in this series (The Confession) and enjoyed it.

Zeitoun: this one is also for my online book club, but it’s been on my “Want to Read” list for a long time. This is a list I carry in my head and inexplicably forget whenever I’m in an actual library or bookstore.

What about you? Do you forget the books on your list when confronted with actual books? Do you have a problem with reading too much? What are you reading now? Should I read it, or at least add it to my mental list? Discuss in comments.

Well. Here we are at the end of June, and I’m as surprised as you are that this has happened already. Frankly, this caught me off guard, but my calendar is backing my editor up on this.

So without further ado, here’s what:

I ALREADY READ THIS MONTH SO FAR:

An Unmarked Grave: This is the 4th in the Bess Crawford series, the one about the WW1-era nurse/amateur sleuth, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I really like this series and recommend you read them if you haven’t already. Bess is a very sympathetic character–she’s strong-willed and practical and kind and just the sort you’d want to nurse you back to health. In this one, it’s 1918 and the Spanish flu is decimating soldier and medical personnel alike. Just before she succumbs to the dread disease, Bess realizes that one of the bodies awaiting burial in the shed didn’t die from wounds or disease, but was instead murdered. She recognizes him too–a family friend. When she’s recovered, she starts on a trail to find the killer, and ends up putting herself and her family in great danger. What I like about these books is that they’re not just murder mysteries or historical fiction, but they really look at life in that time and those circumstances, and the huge effect of war on those whose lives are touched by it. Go read it! This month I also read, and loved, book 3 in the series, A Bitter Truth.

Listening to Africa: This collection of poems was written by a woman who went on a long safari through several East African countries. She’s a good writer and I enjoyed them.

The New Republic: A very interesting novel. Deals with truth vs. media manipulation, and also with hero worship and what it means to put someone on a pedestal, both for the hero and the fan. Well done and gives you LOTS of food for thought. You could discuss this novel for hours! It’s also cram-jam packed with puns, just to bring some brightness to your life.

Game of Secrets: This is the sort of novel that makes you want to write fiction. It’s filled with lush descriptions but it doesn’t lose the sense of plot, and keeps things moving forwards. The center premise is life in a small New England town, and it’s told from the perspectives of 3 women–Marne, her mother Janie, and Ada, who was once the lover of Janie’s father and whose husband is popularly supposed to have killed him. (Did you follow that?) It’s a novel of family secrets and cover-ups, but also of growing up, of coming to forgive and show grace, and of allowing the past to stay there.

When Capt. Flint was Still a Good Man: Really enjoyed this book. It’s sort of a coming-of-age novel, with some Shakespearean references thrown in, not to mention great descriptions of the Pacific NW. How much is too much to pay to preserve a way of life for an entire town? Cal is 15 and unprepared for the answer his father gives to that question. Go read my review for more, and then go read the book.

Between You and Me: I pretty much fail at pop culture, but even I could see that this book referenced a lot of the events of Britney Spears’ life. Written by the authors of the popular Nanny Diaries, this  book contains their trademark humour and snark, but also gives a devastating look at how life on the top takes a huge toll on those who get there. I ended up feeling a lot of sympathy and compassion for the character of Kelsey Wade (the one who references Spears). The story is told from the p.o.v. of her cousin, Logan Wade, who becomes Kelsey’s manager. A good summer read, especially if you like pop culture.

WHAT I’M READING RIGHT NOW! AS YOU READ THIS!:

The Voluntourist: Ken Budd is having a major mid-life crisis. His own father just died suddenly, and he’s facing the fact that he’s not going to be a father himself. He deals with it by deciding to give something back to the world, and begins to volunteer in places as diverse as Costa Rica, where he and his wife Julie teach English for a couple of weeks, to China, where he and a friend work with autistic children, to Ecuador, where he works with an environmental group. Budd’s a good writer and I enjoy his introspection and inherent honesty. I’m not quite halfway through–he’s got at least 3 more trips to make. I lived overseas myself and I recognize that popping in for 2 weeks here and there does a limited amount of good, but I like that Budd himself realizes this.

Abdication: This book takes place in England in 1936, and contains many actual historic figures (you can figure out two of them just from the title!), living in a world peopled with fictional characters. It’s interesting and it’s a fine book but sometimes it’s apparent that the author has done her research almost too well–in other words, it occasionally reads a bit like an article on what life was like at that time.

Four Quartets: Somehow I had never read these. I know! Of course I LOVED them. I think I am going to memorize parts of “Burnt Norton” and “Little Gidding.” (I know, you already did, in college. I’m such a loser)

And on the enormous stack of TO BE READ:

The Soldier’s Wife: I like Joanna Trollope as an author, and I think this should be an interesting look at the complexities of modern marriage when 6-month tours of Afghanistan are added to the mix.

Bullying Decoded: The Economics of Abuse: Long-term readers may remember that we’ve dealt with this in our own family, so I thought this looked interesting.

Where We Belong: I wasn’t going to read this one but they sent me the first chapter and I was hooked. Looks like intelligent chick lit.

Double Time: A memoir of raising twins. WHY DIDN’T I WRITE A BOOK? Sigh. Anyway, my interest in this topic is obvious.

Year Zero: The aliens have been hooked on earth music since the 70s, and due to copyright violations, the Earthlings now own everything. Supposed to be a zany combo of Douglas Adams and Jasper Fforde.

Sisters in War: A Story of Love, Family, and Survival in the New Iraq: Sigh. I don’t have time to read this. I was at Powells to pick up something for Elliot and I got sucked into a vortex swirling round the Middle East section and a zombie ate part of my brain AND held a gun to my head so I had to buy this, and also a book of poetry by T.S. Eliot. I could do this because I sold a bunch of books, in an attempt to stop having to triple-book each shelf of the bookcase. This is the story of 2 Iraqi sisters and 2 American aid workers and it’s about a clash of traditional Arabic/Islamic values with American-style feminism, supposedly, but it’s all personal stories and it actually looks really good. Really good. Who knows when I’ll get to it?

Skios: A Novel: supposed to be a humourous send-up of academics, captains of industry, ambitious social climbers and dotty philanthropists (I am modifying this from the back cover). Set on a private Greek island. I want a private Greek island too.

There you have it, aside from a few that I’m forgetting. What about you? Is it raining with you too? And what are you reading, in rain or shine?

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