Jul 21, 2014

My Weeks in Books: I Need a Vacation

In a few days I leave for a conference followed by a couple days off work. I am so looking forward to the break! I think my book choices illustrate my need for a vacation. They have me in Spain, doing time travel, Nepal, Montana and England. It's been a lovely series of trips, though!

For my book club we read The Vacationers by Emma Strobe. I struggle to really assess this book because it wasn't exactly pleasant. Rather, I would say it was real in such a way that I found parts of it a little painful. The Posts go on a family vacation in Mallorca, Spain, along with two friends. All of the politics of normal family and friend gatherings are there. Unspoken jealousies, dislikes that sit just below the surface and the tension that comes with a lot of family who no longer live together all in one house. The Posts experience a few more dramatic dramas, but, honestly, they didn't seem that far-fetched. I definitely enjoyed The Vacationers and will be passing it on to family and friends, but I definitely didn't walk away from it feeling lighter or happier.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell was much anticipated after the success of Eleanor and Park, which I loved. I was not let down! Rowell has a gift for making her female characters seem ... normal. Normal in such a way that you can easily imagine meeting them or being friends with them. They aren't perfect in action or looks. In an interview with NPR, Rowell said, "In my mind, every single female character I've written is plus-size. I enjoy stories about thin women — I read them frequently. I enjoy them, I root for those characters, but I always feel like there are enough of them out there and there are enough of them in the spotlight." Something about this approach is just refreshing.

In Landline, Georgie McCool (really) and her husband Neal work through the demands on their time that come with a busy job and family. Things aren't looking good, but then Georgie discovers a magic phone that offers opportunities to fix past mistakes.

This was a great, easy-to-read book. For the beach, for the plane, for the pool. Read it.

Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal by Conor Grennan chronicles Grennan's time volunteering in Nepal. In a not-so-subtle attempt to avoid doing real research for an upcoming trip to Nepal, I've been seeking out novels about the country. My first attempt wasn't too positive, but I did so much better this time! Grennan doesn't make the country seem glamorous - anything but, really - but he is so clearly in love with the place. When he paints the picture, it's done with tenderness and respect so that you (me!) just want to see it for yourself.

Grennan went to Nepal with the intention of volunteering for three months and ended up being tied to the place for much longer. He started work at a children's home, assuming that the kids were all orphans. In fact, during the recent civil war, they had been taken from their families and abandoned far away in Kathmandu.  He decided to try and reunite the children with their families. Grennan described getting to villages with directions like "Walk for five days in that direction. There is no path."

The journeys, both the actual journeys through the country and that of Grennan from tourist to active citizen, make for a wonderful read.

I won Montana in A Minor by Elaine Russell from Goodreads in their First Reads program. I enjoyed the book, but it doesn't really fall into the genre of teen lit that I get into, so it's hard for me to go into much detail. For young teen girls looking for a romance novel, or for parents seeking an innocent romance novel for their daughters, this is a good one.

I also won Cocoa at Midnight: The true story of my life as a housekeeper (Lives of Servants) by Tom Quinn from Goodreads. Similar to the drama between the classes that happens in Downton Abbey, Cocoa at Midnight details the life of Kathleen Clifford, born in England in 1909. She is employed in the service industry up into the 1970s, in a way I wasn't aware still existed so recently. Clifford works her way up from the kitchen to head housekeeper and shares the adventures she experiences along the way. For people who like Downton Abbey, this is a very easy read that will feel familiar and comfortable.

Jul 17, 2014

The Smells That Make Me Happy

  1. Dough. In almost any form. Freshly cooked bread. Hot from the oven doughnuts. Toasted bread. The yeasty scent of dough as it's rising in the kitchen.
  2. Bee balm. The way it's impossibly to walk out my front yard without catching a whiff of that flower.
  3. Rice. Walking into the house and yelling, "What smells so good?" only to find out the rice cooker is on.
  4. Anthropologie. While rarely rationalizing the prices, walking into the store is an olfactory delight.
  5. After a rain. Walking outside and seeing worms everywhere, having viewed the rain as a sort of invitation to come out and play. I used to think it was the worms that actually smells. I now know it's more complicated than that.
  6. John Frieda Brilliant Brunette shampoo. The other types of that brand's shampoo are fine, but the brunette makes me stay in the shower longer so I can just breathe in the scent.
  7. Crayons and Play-Doh. Both contain the smells of childhood, creativity and things being easier.
  8. Kittens. Not kittens after they've made a mess of themselves, which is most of the time. But kittens when they're clean and cuddly and fit in the palm of your hand.
  9. Fresh copies off of the mimeograph. The ink all smeary initially, but smelling great.
  10. Freshly cut grass. The smell of summer. 

Jul 7, 2014

My Weeks in Books: Catching Up on Required Reading

I was listening to David Huntsberger talk on a podcast about Hatchet (Brian's Saga, #1) by Gary Paulsen and saying how it was required reading for lots of people in school. I'd never even heard of it! The way he described it, though, sounded very much like My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George, which I still love. I had to check it out.

So the thing about reading a book targeted at children grades 6 to 8 is that they tend to be pretty quick reads. The words are shorter but the type is bigger, the sentences run shorter and the plots (usually) are a little easier to grasp. In Hatchet, the plane thirteen-year-old Brian Robeson is taking to visit his father in Canada crashes after the pilot dies. What follows is Brian's story of survival.

In terms of a living-on-your-own-in-the-wilderness story, I prefer My Side of the Mountain, but I think it's because I was of the right age when I read it. The plane crash aspect of Hatchet? Terrifying and such a good read.

- - -

On a recent online list of teen dystopian novels, I saw The Giver by Lois Lowry. I know the author because of her Anastasia Krupnik books, which are sort of chic-lit for the tween set. (At least in my memory...) The Giver is definitely science fiction, dystopian drama and completely different from any Anastasia Krupnik books. I read the book, loved it and was telling my brother and sister-in-law about the book and they were all, "Oh yeah, that was required reading in school." What? So in the last two weeks, I've read two books that were required reading for people. I'm thinking I may need to dig up some reading lists for schools and work my way through them.

- - -

In preparation for an upcoming trip to Nepal (!), I ordered a few novels set in that country. I realized in the first few pages that Little Sisters by Stuart Perrin is about child sex trafficking and maybe wouldn't be the best introduction to the scenic side of Nepal. The story was interesting, written in much the style of a romance novel (sexy passion between characters, macho men who can fight for their women, out-of-place-in-the=story steamy sex). I would have preferred a slightly de-sexed book, but I do feel more informed about the child sex trafficking occurring in Nepal and India.

I will not be lending this book to my travel companions for that trip.

- - -

I read The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy in December of 2012 and absolutely loved it. I found it laugh-out-loud funny and immediately warmed to the characters. This past Christmas my mother gave me a copy of The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son, which really delves into the personal life of Conroy in a much more explicit way than some of his other novels. In The Death of Santini, Conroy says that all of his books are really based on this family, thinly disguised. All of this is important back story.

I decided to read The Prince of Tides, also by Conroy. As soon as I started I was able to spot some of Conroy's family members he'd described in The Death of Santini. It was very disturbing! Add to that an accidental spoiler by Wonder Boy, and this book just wasn't for me. I wish I had read it earlier, because I think I would have really liked it had I been less informed.

My Week In Books: Hatchet, The Giver, Little Sisters and The Prince of Tides.

Jul 1, 2014

Moments of Beauty: 50 Words

She woke up and went through her daily routine. Coffee. Get dressed. Commute. Stare at computer. Go home. Work in garden. Eat dinner. Watch TV. Read. Go to bed.

The monotony of it wore on her.

But occasionally, something unexpected and beautiful would happen. And then everything felt brand new.