Kicking Back with a Couple Good Books

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Hello there Reading Friends–  Sometimes
you just want a good story, something to kick back and escape everything around you.  Sort of Netflix binging for readers.  I’m thinking these two books would fit nicely into that category.  Enjoyed them both.

Seven Days of Us — by Francesca Hornak
When Olivia Birch returns at Christmas from treating an epidemic abroad, the whole Birch family is quarantined for a week in their country house.  So many twists an turns as an unknown family member arrives, a mother guards her secret, sisters clash and a father sees things in a new light.  Couldn’t put it down– sad and endearing and heart warming all the way to the end.

How To Stop Time — by Matt Haig
Tom Hazard looks like an ordinary 41 year old, but actually he was born in the 1500’s.  He’s known, Shakespeare, Captain Cook, F. Scott Fitzgerald…  And he’s been recruited by the Albatross Society, made of people with his same rare condition–and whose motto is “Never Fall in Love” –hold people at arm’s length.   The book skips between the 1500’s and current London, amid Tom’s struggles to find the “normal” life he wants while stuck in fears from the past.  Strong characters and it all wraps up with an exciting ending.

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P.S. Graphic- La Lecture – from parfumdeviolette.centerblog.net

Recent Reading

Hello Reading Friends–  Down with the flu the last couple weeks. Ugh!  So plenty of reading time– silver lining!  Here’s three books I would pass along, an old friend and a couple new ones…

Sourdough, written by Robin Sloan (author of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore) is another quirky, but endearing book.  Lois has moved to San Francisco to take a tech job, coding all day and in the evenings sitting home alone, ordering take out from the shop downstairs owned by two unusual brothers.  When the guys lose their visa status, they gift their exceptional sourdough starter to Lois before they leave the country.  Lois, not a baker, delves into the complexities of sourdough baking and discovers a close knit, mysterious association of food experts that draw her in to a gastronomic world of technology and food.  Sourdough is a quick, enjoyable book if you love to cook (or eat!).

This unlikely story about a research botanist reads more like fiction than actual memoir.  Lab Girl is the story of the author, Hope Jahren, from her girlhood days in Minnesota in her father’s science classroom through her various stops at university labs across the country.  Her sidekick is her eccentric lab manager Bill, who practically takes a vow of poverty to live this life of science and discovery and who also keeps life in the sciences a little crazy.  And laced through the books are tiny chapters describing the wonders of leaves and seeds and trees…  It’s an amazing book and a look into the science life that was all new to me.  A worthwhile look at an fascinating life.

I read The Joy Luck Club when it first came out many years ago, but eagerly picked it up recently for a reread.  It’s the story of 4 women, immigrated to San Francisco from China carrying with them incredible stories of loss and struggle.  They meet to eat and talk and play mahjong and call themselves The Joy Luck Club. The chapters alternate between their recounting of their amazing stories and the lives of their 4 American born daughters.  Mothers steeped in the traditions of China, daughters raised in a fast moving affluent culture make for clashes and tender moments as their lives unfold.   Loved it.  And it was more interesting to me now that we have Brian from Hong Kong and Jodi from Hunan province in our family and many of the settings are places I now know well.  And– P.S. I checked out the movie of the book from the library this week– It’s beautiful and fascinating as well.

P.S. Painting above by Henry Lamb (Australian, British 1883-1960) Portrait of his wife.

Favorite Christmas Books

Hi friends–  When we drag out the Christmas decorations around here, I also climb up onto a chair reach the top bookshelf where we keep a beloved collection of Christmas books.  I pull down all the favorites and plop them on the corner of the coffee table, ready to read with grand-girls when they come in to stay.  It’s one of the best parts of Christmas!  Here are a few of our favorites.

B Is For Bethlehem — by Isabel Wilner, illustrated by Elisa Kleven.  This lively rhythmic telling of the Christmas story uses an ABC format and couldn’t be more beautiful.  The illustrations are a combination of collage and small paint details–exquisite.  And the message is glorious– honoring God and his gift to us at Christmas.

Christmas in Noisy Village — by Astrid Lindgren, illlustrated by Elon Wikland.  A band of village Swedish neighbor children spend their Christmas baking, gathering a tree from the forest, visiting a grandfather and feasting together at a Christmas party.  Couldn’t be more charming.

The Story of the Three Wise Kings — by Tomie DePaola.  Classic DePaola telling of the journey of the three wise men in search of the baby Jesus at the first Christmas.  He uses a slightly more formal take on his signature illustration and there is a interesting preface about the history of the telling the story of the wisemen.  A  wonderful addition to any Christmas book collection.

Santa’s Favorite Story — by Hisako Aoki, illustrated by Ivan Gantschev.  When the forest animals find Santa napping just before Christmas, they worry that Christmas won’t be ready! But Santa assures them that the real Christmas is more about the coming of a babe in a manger.  Lovely water color illustration and gentle text, make this a beautiful telling of Christmas.

Hope your Christmas is full of cozy reading and sweet times with family young and old.  Merry Christmas!

P.S. top illustration thanks to Holly Hobbie.

What I’ve Been Reading

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Hi Reading Friends–  It’s that time of year for our Book Club– We all send in recommendations from the books we’ve read and then weed through the list and narrow down to our next 6 books to read together Jan. to June!  Here’s the 4 books I recommended.  I think you might like them too.

And– what are your book recommendations??  I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading so I can take notes for my next trip to the library!!

When the Vicar in the small town of Chilbury disbands the church choir, after the men have all left with the advent of WWII, the women band together and revive the choir.  Written through the journals, diaries and letters of the various women, from an older nurse to a unscrupulous midwife, a young girl and her vivacious sister.  There is deception, romance, bravery and family ties stretched to the limits.  Sort of of a British Mitford-esque tale of colorful characters.

We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter is yet another in the current crop of WWII books.  In this story the Jewish Kurc family of Radom, Poland finds themselves scattered during the course of the war– between Paris, ports in Africa, a labor camp in Siberia, the front in Italy, Rio De Janeiro and Warsaw.  The narrative follows their amazing stories of hardship, bravery and near escapes.  At the end of the book, the epilogue explains that the stories told were of an actual family, collected and written by a grand daughter, Addy Kurc.  Heartwarming and incredible.

I love the way Lisa See connects a riveting story with big doses of Chinese culture and custom.  In The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, Li-yan lives and works picking tea in a tradition bound village in southern China.  When she has a baby while unmarried, she takes her daughter to an orphanage where the baby is adopted by an American family.  Li-yan goes on the an education and builds a tea empire, always hoping to find the daughter she gave away.  A fascinating look at the prescribed life of a hill country young girl.

In Pachinko, Min Jim Lee weaves the story of a family over several decades, beginning in the early 1900’s when Sunja, a young Korean woman, pregnant and abandoned, marries a virtuous Korean pastor and immigrates with him to Japan.  The story continues with the lives of their children and the persecution of the Korean minority in Japan during WWII and beyond.  A poignant story of a family torn by circumstance, with characters that you really care about.  National Book Award Finalist.

P.S. Thanks for the reading graphic– illustrator Nicole Wong

Halloween Books Kids Love

Hello there– You know Halloween is already on it’s way if you’ve walked through Target lately.  My sis and I were there this week and scooped up a basket full of Halloween goodies to mail off to the grand-kids.

And that made me come home and pull down the little stack of Halloween kids books I keep for reading with kids this time of year.  Here’s some of our favorites:

We discovered this book on the aforementioned Target trip and stood there laughing in the aisle!  A group of goofy chickens are terrified of a number of strange things they see going on– a mouse of enormous size, a pumpkin with flickering eyes…  They work themselves into a state until it’s revealed that it’s just Halloween!

This is the Pumpkin uses rolling rhyme to take you through Halloween day into night with the buoyant Max and his family– from donning his costume, ghastly and green, through parties at school, past glowing pumpkins in the night, clear until he and his sis fall asleep amid their Halloween treats.  Bright happy illustrations make it fun!

Junie B. Jones at her best.  This time in Boo…and I Mean It!  Junie is too frightened to go out trick or treating.  There could be witches or monsters prowling, or pumpkins with sharp teeth!  But in the end with help from her mom, she manages to take it on.  This wacky first grader always makes me laugh out loud!

Our little protagonist in the Frankenstein mask steps up and knocks on the door of a haunted house to trick or treat on Halloween.  The occupants– a spider, some bats, a mummy, an owl… set off a startled chain reaction that a ends surprisingly.  Love the illustrations by the prolific Ted Arnold.

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.