Sunday, June 15, 2014

I've Been a Very Bad Girl

The Put-It-Off-Until-Later Bug has had me in his grip, and May flew by with very few posts. So Sorry. And now I am left with this:

Therefore, I am about to cheat these mostly wonderful books out of proper posts and give you blurbs instead. This is me beginning...

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

(I just finished this, and it was FANTASTIC, so this might be more than just a blurb.)

The 1936 Olympics in Berlin were more than just athletic games. They were the perfect opportunity for the Nazi propaganda machine to convince the world that Germany was a happy place with no evil plan for world domination. They also expected their Aryan athletes to win big, especially in the wildly popular sport of rowing. Enter stage left the American eight man rowing team, the varsity crew from, of all places, the University of Washington. These nine sons of Seattle, a place still considered the boondocks by the elite teams of the East, blew past the likes of Princeton, Penn and Navy to earn the right to a trip to Berlin where they would face the vaunted Germans. Did they win the gold? Of course they did!! But this is such a great story that my heart was pounding as I read about the final race. (Just like Apollo 13 makes me nervous even though I know they make it home O.K.) But this is more than just a story of rowing or the Olympics, this is about determination and commitment and working for something bigger than yourself. Every high school freshman should read this book. And you, too!

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Oh, Orphan Train, how I loved thee. It is a little-known fact that between 1854 and 1929 trains full of orphans departed eastern cities en route to a better life on the farms and in the cities of the Midwest. Babies and children of all ages were displayed for immediate adoption at train stations along the way, and some were taken into warm and loving families. Some were not. Orphan Train is the story of one of these orphans, Vivian, now in her 90's and living in Maine. It is also the story of a modern day foster child, Molly. When Molly is assigned to do community service with Vivian an unlikely friendship blossoms, and both discover their ability to live in the present. Read now. This is a beautiful book.

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

No matter what your religion, everyone can learn from this book. Just the basics will change your life, and they are pure common sense! Here they are:

1. Be impeccable with your word.

2. Don't take anything personally.

3. Don't make assumptions.

4. Always do your best.

Simple, but powerful. It might be a little late, but this would make a great graduation gift.

Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan

If you still haven't bought a Father's Day gift for your various father figures, run out now and buy this book. It is HYSTERICAL!!! I love Jim Gaffigan, and you will LOVE THIS BOOK. Anyone who lives with a wife and five children in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City has to have a sense of humor. His is very well developed. Enjoy!

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

I didn't know much about WWII in Italy, but this book changed all that. Stuck between the Nazis and the Partisans, the people of Tuscany had to walk a tightrope of wartime diplomacy just to survive. Ten years later, members of the noble Rosati family are being brutally murdered, and it is up to Serafina Bettini of the Florence Police Department to learn why. But these crimes reopen the wounds of Serafina's own horrifying experience during the war, for some a war that might never really end. Magnifico!

An Unsuitable Job for a Woman by P. D. James

The incomparable P. D. James' first book with the female private investigator Cordelia Gray, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman perfectly captures the early 70's in Cambridge. Amongst the sons and daughters of well-heeled Englishmen, untested P. I. Cordelia Gray must fight the still prevalent prejudices against women to discover why an otherwise intelligent young man would hang himself. The denizens of Cambridge soon learn not to underestimate her abilities. It is a mystery worth the read.

The Vintage Teacup Club by Vanessa Greene

Three women, all for different reasons, are hunting down vintage tea sets at flea markets in the English countryside. When they all converge on the same beautiful set at the same moment, they have the brilliant idea to share their find. Thus begins a friendship that will last their lifetimes. This is more romance novel than I usually like, but The Vintage Teacup Club is charming without being syrupy. A great beach read!

Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker

Bruno Courreges is the sole policeman for the village of St. Denis in the South of France. He is their protector and friend, and he knows EVERYTHING that goes on in his village. He also loves to hunt, fish, grow his own vegetables and cook it all up into delicious French country dishes. Nothing much happens as far as crime goes in St. Denis, that is until an elderly French/Arab war hero is found viciously murdered with a swastika carved in his chest. It appears that someone had a bone to pick with the victim, and it is up to Bruno to figure out who and why. This is the first in a series and I LOVED it! I can't wait to read more about the denizens of St. Denis and their beloved chief of police.

I just finished this today, so here's the photo:

That's it for now!  TBC

Thursday, May 1, 2014

City of Tranquil Light

Confession time:  I would be a terrible missionary. Mostly because I really like my own bathroom.  I would have been an especially whiny missionary in 1906 China, but many MUCH more selfless souls than I gave up their creature comforts to do just that, and that is where our story begins in City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell.

Will Kiehn is the son of Mennonite farmers in Oklahoma, but he feels the call to be a missionary in China. Without any real idea of what he's about to get into, he joins a group of fellow Mennonites led by Edward Geisler, an old family friend. As fate would have it, Edward's nurse-sister-in-law Katherine is also in the group, and Will falls hopelessly in love. From the Mandarin they learn to read, speak and write, the customs they must understand, and the ever-changing dangerous political climate, there is much to learn on their long journey. They somehow find a way through the distrust of their Chinese hosts, and find a place with the people of Kuang P'ing Ch'eng-City of Tranquil Light.  Will and Katherine spend the next 36 years on the North China Plain, experiencing extreme hardship and joy in an alien land they would come to think of as home.

Will and Katherine are based on the true-life missionary story of Bo Caldwell's grandparents. The hardships they faced are astonishing, and the fact that they lived to tell the story even more so. Just the lack of hygiene alone would have killed most people! And wait until you read about the local remedy for stomach pains. I say "ick".  Anyway...City of Tranquil Light is a fascinating and inspiring book, and I hope you ALL read it.


The Snow Child

When a childless couple build a snow girl with cranberry-red lips and yellow straw for hair, they hardly expect her to come alive, but that seems to be what magically occurs in The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.

Jack and Mabel have come to Alaska in 1920 to homestead a farm. They have come to escape the sorrow of their stillborn child, and with dreams of starting over in the pristine wilderness, but they never expected the harsh reality of the immense physical struggles they would face. During the first snowstorm of winter, they put aside their worries and build a snow girl, giving her a beautiful face and hair, a red wool scarf for her neck and matching mittens for her tree-branch hands. The next morning she is gone, but so are the scarf and mittens. Soon they start seeing a little girl with yellow hair and red scarf flitting noiselessly through the trees, and their lives are changed forever.

Based on a traditional Russian fairy tale, The Snow Child is an extraordinary tale of magic meeting reality, at once enchanted and brutally honest. I loved it. (By the way, it was a 2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist.)


Some Thoughts About Procrastination

I swing between procrastination and being really thorough so either way things aren't getting done quickly.
My evil genius Procrastination has whispered me to tarry 'til a more convenient season.
One of the great challenges of our age, in which the tools of our productivity are also the tools of our leisure, is to figure out how to make more useful those moments of procrastination when we're idling in front of our computer screens.
think of myself as something of a connoisseur of procrastination, creative and dogged in my approach to not getting things done.
Yup, this is me today.  

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Trains and Lovers

Trains and Lovers is a story of four strangers on a train who share their tales of love, and it is brilliant. Of course it could not be anything less than brilliant, as it was written by Alexander McCall Smith.

The train is traveling from Edinburgh to London. American Andrew has been to a conference and will return to his family in New York the next day. Australian Kay has been visiting Scotland, the birthplace of her father many years before. Sottish Andrew is moving to London for a job, and English Hugh is traveling home from a business trip. It is an average day on a train, but the stories they share with one another are extraordinary.

So simple, yet so powerful. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Buddha in the Attic

I have just read a book that affected me deeply, because I knew people who experienced this story. I knew people, and yet I never really understood what they went through. Until now.

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka is about the Japanese in California from about 1920 to the beginning of WWII. She tells the collective story of a group of "picture brides", who are hoping for a better life in the United States with husbands they only know through photos and letters. Upon arrival in San Francisco, they are mostly disappointed by the much older and poorer husbands than the ones they were expecting, but return to Japan is not an option. They speak no English and don't understand American customs, clinging to their own. They are forced to labor on the fringes of society picking our crops, cleaning our houses and doing our laundry, surrounded by suspicion and mistrust. They labor in childbirth, over and over, and continue to work in the fields. They don't give up, and expect their children to work just as hard. Through sheer determination they come to own their farms and businesses, and their children attend Stanford and Cal. Then the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor, and these American Citizens lose everything.

The Buddha in the Attic is exquisitely written and powerfully told. It is bittersweet, poignant and heartbreaking. It is also the story of most of us who live in America, because most of us were immigrants at one time or another. It makes you think. As the saying goes: Those who do not learn from history are destined to repeat it.


The Mysterious Benedict Society

I have a high opinion of children's/young adult literature. Of course I haven't read everything that's out there, and I know some of it is rubbish, but mostly it is terrific and sometimes brilliant. In fact, I think the children's book section should be re-titled as "Books for Interesting and Imaginative People of All Ages". So, if you're an interesting and imaginative person, I've got a great series for you!

The Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy by Trenton Lee Stewart has very mysterious beginnings. A strange ad appears in the Stonetown paper seeking "gifted children looking for special opportunities". Dozens of children arrive at the specified time and place to take a test, but only Reynie, Kate, Sticky and Constance pass. Each have very different gifts, but they are the qualities that the great and good Mr. Benedict believes can save the world from the evil Ledroptha Curtain. (Don't you just love that name?!) The children embark on a dangerous and frightening adventure to Nomansan Island, and only if they work as a team can they succeed. (You might be detecting a theme by now.) Yes, as in most of life, teamwork is the key.

The adventure continues in The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey and concludes with The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner's Dilemma. (I love it when all loose ends are tied up.) I also adored the charming illustrations by Carson Ellis, who I think imagined the quirky characters perfectly. I hope you agree!