Summer Reading

Hello reading friends– When it’s a hot summer day, I’m really just looking for a glass of cold fizzy water and a good story.  These two books fill the bill– an unbelievable tale of a 100 year old man gone awry and the story of a young girl from a different world rural China.  Here they are:

 

The title of this book, The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed Out a Window and Disappeared, is an indication of the wacky flavor of this Swedish book.   To avoid his 100th birthday party at the old folks home, Allan Karlsson climbs out his window and seemingly disappears.  In actuality, he steals a suitcase stuffed with money, meets up with some colorful accomplices including at elephant,  and is pursued by bumbling criminals.  Alternating chapters go into Allans long life–as an explosives expert who eventually meets up with the likes of Stalin, Chairman Mao, Harry Truman and Winston Churchill, not to mention his trek across the Himalayas on a camel, his stint in an Iranian prison or his participation in the Manhattan Project!!  The whole book is so far-fetched as to be crazily entertaining.  Jonas Jonasson gives us a rollicking tale of sympathetic characters just right for a read on a hot summer’s day.

 

One of Lisa See’s book, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, is one of her best.  Li-yan grows up in a rural village of Yumman, China, harvesting tea with her family.  The village is ruled by prescribed mores and customs and when unwed Li-tan has a baby, the tradition is for that baby to be killed.  Instead, she takes it away to an orphanage and her daughter Haley is adopted by an American couple and grows up in a happy California home.  Li-yan goes on to an education and a vocation in the tea trade, but always longs for her daughter, while Haley hopes and searches for the mother of her homeland.  Fascinating look at a culture so far removed from our own and the two parallel lives that are connected by birth.

 

P.S. Illustration by Helen Oxenbury–love her children’s books.

 

 

Best Baby Books

Hi all–I know a lot of you like reading with kids.  Me too.  And the last few days I’ve been in reading heaven.  First, reading I Love You Stinkyface! at least 17 times, staying with grand-kids Mae & Eero– and now I’ve moved over to stay with baby Lois and Yum Yum! seems to be the favorite.

So for all you who love kid reading out there, here’s a few favorite early baby books, beloved for the pictures, rhythms and rhyme.

I pretty much adore any book illustrated by Stephen Cartwright.  And this super simple book of farmyard animals making their respective “animal noises” is a perfect early book.

 

Baby Babble by Kate Merritt is just right for babies– bright, simple and absolutely “chew proof.”  It says so on the cover (also is nontoxic & 100% washable!). Love the colorful friendly illustrations–part of a series of 20 similar  baby books made of plastic, not cardboard.

 

Featuring a series of hungry animals and their favorite foods, Yum Yum! by Yusuke Yonezu is a delight.  Each animal has a cut out mouth that “devours” a carrot, banana…  All her books are inventive and sweet.

 

And an old favorite–Brown Bear, Brown Bear (board book version) by Eric Carle, is the perfect chanting rhythm and rhyme book for early listeners.  Bold illustrations and repeated color words are a big plus.

 

P.S. top illustration thanks to biblioteques__UVEG

 

 

At Home in the World (& other travel books)

Hi Reading friends– Just finished At Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider.  And I could happily pick it up and read it through all over again right now!  It made me think of other travel books I’ve loved.  If you’ve got the travel bug– maybe you’d love them too.

But be careful.  Now I’m itching to plan up a big trip.  (I did google “cheap flights to London!!”–$340 round trip from L.A. Air Canada!!)   Do you have summer travel plans??  Suggestions??!

Tsh and Kyle Oxenreider did something I secretly (or maybe not so secretly since I’m writing it here!), wish we could do.  They sold their house packed 5 backpacks for themselves and their three smallish kids and began a trek around the world that took 9 months.  Starting in China with jet lag and a language barrier, settling 6 weeks in Thailand, and moving on to sojourns in Australia, Kenya, Ethiopia, France, Kosovo, England and points in between.   They stayed with friends along the way and met a colorful new band of people as they traveled. Tsh is contemplative and practical.  She muses about the place called home and their place in the world.  Loved it!

In A Year of Living Danishly, Helen Russell and her husband find themselves transported from the bustle to London to small town Billund, Denmark when he takes a job working for Lego.  Having heard repeated statistics touting Denmark as the happiest country on earth, Helen spends 12 months uncovering the habits and preferences of Danish people with style and humor.  She interviews Danes around the country on the topics of education, work culture, taxes, health care, food, interior design in her attempt to find out why they could be so happy.  She immediately is taken with their pastries and slowly comes to understand the quirks of their culture.  Just a fun book, and a real look at fascinating country.

It’s been a while since I read The Geography of Bliss.  But it left an impression.  Eric Weiner wanted to find where the happiest people on earth were found– So he set out to The Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain, India and finally back to the U.S.A. , interviewing people from all walks of life and positions in the country to determine how much happiness could be found in these places.  He depended on psychology, science, history and humor in his search and the result is vastly entertaining and an enlightening look into the lives of people around the world.

A friend sent us a copy of Heidi’s Alp the years we lived in Spain, and would travel in our tired old van around the continent with 4 kids in tow.  This is the story of a family from Oxford who loaded their 4 daughters in a camper van and traveled through Europe tracking down the origins of well known fairy tales, from Cinderella in France and Pinocchio in Italy, to The Little Mermaid in Denmark and the tales of the Brothers Grimm in Germany.  Along the way they also were acquainted with new foods, cultural sights and curious customs.  She also includes a lot of just rollicking fun with the girls as they go– and subscribes to Hans Christian Andersen’s thought, “To travel is to live.”  (Used copies still available on Amazon)

This is another family off to see the world!  Author David Cohen, wife and three kids (2, 5 & 7) sell their house and set off.  They hike up a Costa Rican volcano, view Burgundy from a canal boat, meet lions on an African safari and trek across the desert lands of Australia.  The style is less reflective and more just an amazing travelogue of the high highs and low lows of traveling around the world as a family.  I especially liked his final chapter on what he would do differently, were he to start over again.  A satisfying armchair travel book!

Widely Read

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“Read and listen to one thinker and you become a clone; Read two and you become confused; Read ten and you get your own voice; Read a hundred and you start to become wise.”

― Timothy Keller

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Been reading lately– and taking to heart the call to read more widely.  Here’s a couple books that were so worthwhile…

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles rells the story of a Count Rostov who in 1922 is confined to the attic rooms of a  luxury Moscow hotel for house arrest.  He spends the next decades there, passing days with a fascinating cast of characters that pass through the doors.  There are gold coins, a pass key, a hidden room and a long term secret romance. But the star of the story is definitely the count himself, wry, witty and cultured to a T. The story concludes with riotous twists and turns and leads to a truly satisfying ending.  Loved this book– favorite this year…

Just finished Hillbilly elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance.  The author grew up in the Rust Belt of Ohio, into a tumultuous troubled family and made his way to graduate from Yale Law School.  Vance’s grandparents moved up to Ohio from the Appalachians of Kentucky in pursuit of a middle class life.  But the legacy of abuse, addiction and poverty followed them.  Vance tells his own personal story of a chaotic childhood and the support he received along the way that made him able to move up in the world.  At the same time he is candid about the effects of his family that followed him into adulthood.  As well as a personal story, the book is a worthwhile analysis of class and and the struggle to break out of the bounds of poverty and addiction.  Loved the author’s openness and very real view into a segment of America not well known to me.

P.S. The photo above is from the movie The Painted Veil– which is one of my favorites, along with the original excellent book The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham.

 

3 Books– 3 Women


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Hi friends– Loving , loving retirement!!  So much unfettered time to read!  And lately I’ve been through 3 books I think you’d really enjoy.  Here they are:

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I picked up Victoria from the new book shelf at the library because it was written by Daisy Goodwin who also wrote the script for the PBS series, Victoria.  Fun to to read/watch them together.  The book covers just the years from Victoria’s ascension to the throne at 18 until her engagement to Prince Albert.  Victoria steps into her 63 year reign with the support of her beloved Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne and in spite of the machinations of her mother and her advisors.  It’s a personal look at an amazing woman.  Left me wanting to read more about her years on the throne…

Eleanor’s life is a mess.  But she has decided today will be different.  She lays the best made plans and proceeds only to have them all completely fall apart right up to the surprising ending.  You’ll love this hapless but well meaning character and the quirky plot line. Today Will be Different was written by Maria, author of Where’d You Go Bernadette, book with another crazy but lovable heroine.

America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie chronicles the log and complicated life of Pasty Jefferson Randolph, daughter of Thomas Jefferson.  She loses her mother at an early age and takes up the reigns of caring for her famous father.  She lives a celebrated Parisian life during his years as American minister to France, brings up a large family in Monticello during her tumultuous marriage, serves as her Father’s hostess at the White House. There is intrigue, poverty, scandal and trajedy for the fascinating woman who lives strong through it all.   The authors relied heavily on the files of letters from Jefferson for plot and dialogue.  A great look at the times and the personal life of our third president.

P.S.  painting of woman reading by Francoise Collandre

Reading on the Couch

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Hi Reading Friends– I don’t know about you, but all this winter weather (that means finally lots of lovely rain here!) — makes me want to curl up on the couch with the fuzziest blanket and read away an afternoon, hot mug of tea in hand.

Here’s what I’ve been reading– not earth shattering books, but good company on a rainy afternoon.

unknownA chance meeting at a christening party, results in the break up of two marriages and a new marriage, pulling together a complicated web of 4 adults and 6 kids.  When Franny, a daughter grows and dates a famous author, he writes their involved story and the families revisit their intertwined pasts together.
Love Ann Patchett’s books (especially Bel Canto and Truth & Beauty, a memoir).  And this one follows suit, with characters you may not admire, but are so understandable and a story line that weaves lives together in an intriguing way.

 

unknown-1Does it seem like there is a spate of best selling WWII books?  Here’s another.  Lilac Girls tells the stories of 3 women– Caroline, a NY socialite championing causes for war victims, Kasia a Polish teenager, working with the resistance who finds herself detained at Ravensbruck and Herta, a young German doctor, called to work for the Nazis.  It’s not gorgeous prose, but the story pulls you along right up to the end– and is based on actual people whose lives played these parts in the war.

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unknown-2The Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda is an immigrant tale–one of my favorite themes since we were immigrants in Spain for those years.  Childhood friends, Anil and Leena take different paths. He leaves behind the rural farming community in India for medical school and residency in Dallas, while Leena stays behind and is trapped into a desperate marriage.  It is a story of love, honor, responsibility and tradition–and a look at two fascinating lives.

painting: Girl Reading on Sofa (1920) Isaac Israel

Christmas Books for Little Readers

 

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Hi there– Do you have favorite Christmas books that you go back to every year?  I have a stack right here on the coffee table, just waiting for the grand-girls to come through the door.  We like sweet. We like funny. We like endearing Christmas books.  Here’s a few if you happen to have little readers on hand at Christmas:

513uldt0lkl-_sy337_bo1204203200_The Christmas Pageant by Tomie DePaola makes use of the text from the gospels of Matthew & Luke, along with the simple, charming illustrations that are instantly recognizable as DePaola’s work.  The story takes us through the Christmas story as presented by a group of children in their Christmas program celebrating Jesus birth.


unknownFather Christmas
by Raymond Briggs is almost wordless, but chronicles Christmas Day for a rather grumpy Santa through a series of detailed illustrations.  This British Santa packs his thermos of tea, flies over Buckingham Palace and makes a Christmas pudding.  You have to admire this intrepid Santa and enjoy his little celebration when he finally arrives home.

61twq0ouzvl-_sx399_bo1204203200_Christmas in the Country by Cynthia Rylant is the sweet story of a small girl who describes her Christmas in the country home of her grandparents.  There’s the awkward Christmas tree that “seemed sometimes like an embarrassed guest” and Christmas dolls and aunts & uncles & cousins bringing pies– a gentle story made even better by DianeGoode’s tender illustrations

51jka-7wl-_sx398_bo1204203200_Auntie Claus by Elise Primavera is a rollicking adventure of Sophie and her mysterious Auntie.  When she stows away in her Aunt’s luggage, she finds herself on a revealing trip to the North Pole and learns a lot about herself and Christmas.  Vivid illustrations and a satisfying ending made this a fun book to read together.