Posts tagged ‘Summer Reads’

A little July 4th reading round-up

Maybe like me you are lucky enough to have  four days off for the July 4th holiday.   Which in my case has meant a party with lots of wonderful friends and family, some elder flower-lemonade with gin (highly recommend), and porch reading time.  Though admittedly, for this delicate flower it is a bit warm today so I am slumming in the air-conditioned house.
If you find yourself with a little reading time here is a list of some good reads that pair well with parades, fireworks and needing some alone time after all of that noise:

  1. “Since We Fell” by Dennis Lehane – This book has been on every “highly anticipated book” list I have seen so I bit and bought it.  It is a really fun suspense novel.  There is some predictability here but that really didn’t ruin the read for me.  Like many of his other books, I would not be surprised if this is already in line for a movie.  It is something that will hold your attention even while parade folks are throwing tootsie rolls at you.
  2. ” Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House” by Alyssa Mastromonaco – Alyssa was the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations in the Obama White House.  This book is also truly a blast.  Alyssa is funny and witty. Her stories about trying to find tampons in the White House, wearing jeans to meet the Queen, and a rather unfortunate IBS incident before meeting the Pope all made my life seem pretty organized and low in unfortunate moments (which is weird because I have plenty). What I also enjoyed was some of the insight into what goes into the day-to-day operations of being POTUS.  I listened to this on Audible and Alyssa reads the book so I think that made the experience even better.
  3. “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging” by Sebastian Junger – Junger is an award winning journalist who spends time in this book looking at PTSD and how our lack of community is making our sense of reentry from crisis (be it war-torn areas or serving in the military) impossible to do in a psychological healthy way.  No, this is not a summer romp, but in a time where it just feels like our country is becoming more and more polarized I think our loss of community is really an important issue to start talking about.
  4. “Today Will be Different” by Maria Semple – This book made me laugh, a lot. The books starts with Eleanor proclaiming to herself that today she will do all the things she should – work-out, shower and get dressed, initiate sex with her husband, not swear, she will really get it together.  But then life, as it often does, seems to make even those simple things very, very complicated.    This is a light, fast read and honestly, has so many goofy, relatable moments.
  5. “Into the Water” by Paula Hawkins – Like “Girl on the Train,” Hawkins plays with our notion of truth and perception.  Women keep drowning in a river that runs through a small English town.  The question is why this keeps happening.  The story is told from several different prospectives which keeps it moving forward, though keeps the water just muddy enough (see what I did there) that you can’t really figure out where the story is going.  I find Hawkins to be a good story teller though her writing does belabor a bit.  Ultimately, the story makes it worthwhile.

 

Alright reading friends.  I wish you fun holiday times and lots of quiet reading moments as well.   I have the tough decision of what to read next from the book pile. I know, my life is so hard…and yes, there is a Philippa Gregory in the pile – don’t judge. 19720273_10154618164001367_284443779_o.jpg

July 3, 2017 at 6:15 pm Leave a comment

Let’s all go to Tuscany, shall we? – “My Italian Bulldozer” by Alexander McCall Smith

I cannot say enough about how much I loved this book.  It is just…well, lovely.  As always Smith has such a style that  makes me walk away feeling lighter and happier.  His writing is not shallow but it has a quality that allows him to address some fairly tough things with self-effacing humor and perspective which, if we are honest, is something we could all use a lot more of in our lives.

We meet Paul Stewart, a writer of famous lifestyle-foodie books, at the point of his life where he finds himself alone after a four year relationship has ended. It seems his girlfriend, Becky, enjoyed her work-outs with her personal trainer a bit too much and has left him for work-outs of an even more personal kind.  Paul with the help of his editor, Gloria, decides that the best way to move-on is to head to the small Tuscan town of Montalcino and finish his latest book about food in Tuscany.

After landing in Pisa, with a few mishaps (including a brief stay in prison), Paul finds himself in need of a rental car with none available.  Luckily, he finally finds a vehicle.  So, of course, Paul heads to Montalcino in his rented bulldozer.  Yes, even he admits it is ridiculous. Unknown-1.jpeg

Paul then spends  his time in Montalcino writing and meeting the quirky locals – the local wine-maker who is depressed about land borders, the local school principal who is spending his summer reading the paper at the local cafe and judging the youth who walk by, the hotel proprietor who knows everything about everyone.

This story is not brilliant in and of itself but it is the experience of reading at its best.  Everything Paul sees and eats and experiences you long to be a part of.  I am bound and determined to get to Montalcino and eat their mushrooms, drink their wine and stare out on the countryside while I write my world-renowned books. Okay so the last part about writing not reasonable but the rest can happen.   You also love all of the characters because they are just the kind of people you want to meet on vacation so you have stories to tell later.  I was sad when I had met all of the characters and was coming to the last few pages.

I read somewhere that Smith’s books are palate cleansers because they are light and easy reads.  This is an underestimation of what Smith does.  His books feel like palate cleansers because he writes deftly and doesn’t need a lot of heavy plotting and escapades to make his stories beautiful.  Whether he is writing about Botswana or Scotland or Italy, he clearly understand people and culture in way that brings the reader along.  He has a humor in a lot of his writing that matches P.G. Wodehouse wit for wit but never in a way that feels too snarky.

I also read a review of Smith in the Times that said that he writes books as easily as baking a cake because he writes so many.  The best part of this for readers is that means getting through all of his books will take some time.  And it is always time well spent.

Now all of that said, where shall we stay in Tuscany?

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June 11, 2017 at 6:45 pm Leave a comment

What happens on the patio – “The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat” and other assorted tales

I had last week off to stay home, play with my kids and read.  I spent most of my reading time outside on our patio.  I am asked a lot where I find the time to read.  I do work full-time and I have two small children so maybe it seems strange that I can read so much (and I promise I pay attention to my children, oh and my husband).  However there are three things I take with me everywhere in the house – a glass of water, my chapstick (yep, I am addicted) and whatever book I am reading.  So if my kids are playing, napping, self-entertained and don’t need me that is my filler, reading.  I also read every single night in bed before I go to sleep.  It is a stress-relieving technique I have been using for as long as I patiocan remember.  It truly helps quiet my easily anxiety-ridden mind. I also take a book with me almost everywhere – you never know when you are going to be stuck in a long line of bureaucratic ridiculousness or waiting for a friend or just need to relax for a minute.

So all of that said, last week I was able to fit in three books.  All three were good but my absolute favorite was the last read of my stay-cation.

1. “The Blue Castle” by L.M. Montgomery, Published in 1921: I had not heard of this book until recently.  It is one of Montgomery’s adult fiction books.  Her main character, Valancy, is a 29-year-old spinster who lives with her very stodgy mother and extended family.  She has spent her life being the uninteresting member of the family and has been expected to abide by a very long list of rules of propriety.   And Valancy does act accordingly, until she finds out that she has a fatal heart condition with only a year left to live.  So Valancy, realizing she has not been happy a day in her life, packs up and moves in to nurse her friend Cissy who is dying.  While caring for Cissy, Valancy falls in love with Barney Snaith who visits Cissy and her father frequently.  Once Cissy dies, Valancy proposes to Barney assuring him that he will only be stuck with her for a year because of her failing heart.  He agrees to the marriage and so Valancy’s life truly begins.

This book is cute. Valancy’s family is hilarious and really make this book enjoyable.  Montgomery has such a wonderful grasp on creating incorrigible characters and even her worst characters are somehow still endearing.    The character of Valancy pales in comparison to Montgomery’s brilliant creation – Anne of Green Gables- but she is still loveable in her own way.

2. “Blackberry Winter” by Sarah Jio, Published in 2012:  This is no “Violets of March” but overall this is again another Jio story that is well done and a fast read.  In May of 2010, Seattle is hit by a very rare late season snow storm.  In fact, this type of storm only happened one other time – back in 1933.  Claire is a reporter for the Seattle Herald and her editor assigns her the task of writing a piece on the storm of 2010 and the storm of 1933.  While researching the 1933 storm, Claire comes across the story of Vera Ray a single mother who had gone to work on the morning of the storm only to return home and find her three-year old son Daniel missing.  Claire is immediately fascinated by the story and begins trying to piece together what happened to Daniel.  Of course, all of this happens while Claire is also trying to heal from her own tragic loss.

Jio jumps the narration from the 1933 story of Vera Ray to the 2010 of Claire.  It is done seamlessly.  The story is predictable and there is a lot of happenstance but somehow this does not make it any less enjoyable.  And I admit to being a bit teary eyed at the end.  This is a really good summer read.

3. “The Supremes at Earl’s All-You-Can-Eat” by Edward Kelsey Moore, Published in 2013: I have absolutely no idea why there is not more chatter about this book.  It was such an amazing read. It was funny and sad and meaningful and crazy and on and on. Simply put this is the story of three friends, Clarice, Odette and Barbara Jean, who grew up together in the small town of Plainview, Indiana.   They come of age in the 50s and 60s when being an African-American woman meant your choices were limited so they have to, in a sense, make their own way.  In their youth they all hang-out at Earl’s Diner and this creates a life-long tradition of meeting there every Sunday after church- eventually with husbands and children in tow.  They raise their children together, have heartache together, struggle with illness (and hot flashes) together and know each other better than anyone.

The writer is a man but he writes his women characters with such accuracy and care – his writing talent is impressive.  What I absolutely loved was the fact that the three women were friends with deep ties to each other.  It reflected real relationships with the ups and downs but not any of the soap opera ridiculousness you often find in books about women and friendship.  Some of the ancillary characters are silly but they are still wonderful – particularly Big Earl’s second wife, Minnie, who runs a fortune-telling business at one of the tables in the diner complete with a turban and a bell.  I found Clarice’s niece’s wedding so wonderfully hilarious I could not stop laughing.  Moore also tackles some very tough issues of race and family but allows the humor to give even more depth to these hard topics, one of those it-is-so-awful-you-have-to-laugh moments. A book where I fall in love with the characters and can laugh out-loud is a rare find.  This is the book to take with you on vacation or to the pool or really anywhere. Please just read it. It is such a great book.

That’s my stay-cation. And so, I have returned to work *deep sigh* but will hopefully still be found in the evenings on the patio with a book…and maybe a child running through the sprinkler.

Other reviews to check out:

June 25, 2013 at 5:21 pm Leave a comment


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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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