Monday, March 31, 2014

An Update on Emma Graham

(See the first post)
Well!  I've just finished Cold Flat Junction and for some reason, this book set me more abuzz than the first book.  For one thing, I felt like the unfinished pieces were more apparent than in the first.  I desperately want to know why, WHY? the dreadful Davidows have to live with the poor Grahams.  The Davidows are a truly despicable mother and daughter who, for some inexplicable reason, are living with the Grahams and driving them insane with their awfulness.  I also am curious about the crazy great aunt Aurora who lives on the fourth floor and, it appears, drinks cocktails around the clock, prepared by Emma.  I also felt bad that the sheriff, Emma's only friend and confidant, grew slightly distant in this book.  And why is Emma's mother so stern and cold?  I'm sure there's a dark secret there.  I hope these questions get resolved by the end of the series.



This story is just a continuation of all of the themes and stories of Hotel Paradise.  But Emma is in deeper than ever and is discovering that the mystery that she thought she was solving has turned into three mysteries.  There's still more of Emma's incessant questions and the same quirky characters who help her find the answers to mysteries that have remained buried for years.

                                                         
I can't wait to read Belle Ruin!  I hope that it answers some questions and gives me more of the same wonderful writing.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Life of Pi

This is a review of an old favorite, rather than a book I have just read.  This book definitely goes on my top ten list of books.  Life of Pi came out several years ago, and many people have kind of forgotten about how good it was.  I however, still think about it quite fondly and was just thinking the other day that I need to get it out and read it again.

Life of Pi is the story of an Indian boy, Piscine Patel.  The story is told by a much older Pi, now living in North America, to a young man who wants to write a book.   Pi's family, originally from India, moves to North America aboard a Japanese cargo ship.  Pi is the son of a zookeeper and so, along with his family, come all of the zoo animals.  One fateful night, the ship that the Patels are on sinks in a storm, killing everybody except for Pi, a hyena, an orangutan, a wounded zebra and, most frightening of all, a 450 pound Bengal tiger.  Now all four very different species have to figure out how to survive on a small life boat in the middle of the ocean.

Quickly, the tiger kills the wounded zebra, then the orangutan, and then the hyena.  This leaves Pi and the tiger to decide who is going to survive.  Both manage to survive together until they reach Mexico, where Richard Parker, the tiger, disappears into the jungle and nobody ever finds him again.  Pi, wounded and very thin, is recuperating in a hospital when Japanese officials come to his bedside to hear the truth about what happened.  Pi recounts his story to the officials, but nobody believes him.  Finally, he comes up with a much more ordinary story and tells it, pleasing the officials.  "Now, which story do you prefer?"he asks in closing to the young man writing the story.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Everyman and Medieval Miracle Plays

This was my latest classic read.  Next up is a collection of Shakespeare.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed these plays.  The plays were well written, though of course, archaic, and it was fun to read a slightly new take on classic Bible stories that many people know so well.  Part of the reason I was so eager to read these, is that these plays are credited with being the sort of plays that would have inspired Shakespeare.
This is the edition of the book from which I read.
I also was interested in this book in light of Russell Crow's new Noah movie (I haven't seen it, but apparently it was very good).  The story of the flood is one of the plays included in this book and the take on the story, and the medieval exclamations that biblical characters made such as, "Ye gads!"  made me laugh.  It just goes to show that people have been changing and reinterpreting bible stories to suit their particular life experiences for a very long time.  What doesn't change is the attraction to the stories.  

The majority of the book is taken up with plays written about bible stories.  Most of the major stories in both the new and old testament are included.  Then, the last 30 pages are the Everyman play.  The Everyman play is the story of Everyman, an average human.  God says that people have become too obsessed with money and power and that they need to be taught a lesson, through Everyman.  So, God sends Death, the reaper, to bring Everyman to eternity, never to return to earth.   Along the way, Everyman makes a friend, called Fellowship, who promises to stay with him forever, until he realizes that Everyman is summoned by death.  Fellowship leaves.  A similar situation happens with Kindred and Cousin.  Next, Everyman turns to Goods (inanimate objects, representing worldly stuff), which does not comfort him. Finally, Everyman meets Good Deeds and others like him, has his soul purged of sin, and goes with his new friend, Good Deeds, to heaven to meet God.  This story reminded me very much of Pilgrim's Progress.

So, overall, I recommend this book.  I think it's a great place to start in reading medieval plays, because it shows the play-watching background that so many famous playwrights would have had.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Happy Thought

Amen to that!  I'll be back with a book review tomorrow.

Reading Cookbooks

It's odd, I know.  But it's a whole other kind of reading.  Not the kind of reading with a beginning, middle, and end, with a plot and an overall message, but I still love it.
The 1964 edition.  This book is almost too tome-ish
to read for fun.  But, seriously, it has pretty much any recipe
that you can think of.
It's the kind of reading you do when you're feeling tired or in need of some inspiration.  Reading cookbooks is perfect for those days when you're all out of books, or don't feel up to sitting down and giving your full attention to a story.
A very amusing read.

I particularly like vintage cookbooks.  They all seem to tell a story about what people were doing in a certain era.  It's fascinating how much you can learn about people through their food.  I wonder what people will say in 50 years when they look at cookbooks from our era.
Cookbooks are fun to read on several levels.  First, they can be read in light of a history book, if you're reading a vintage cookbook.  Seriously?  Tuna jelled in a mold with lime jello and cabbage?!  (I am not making that up.)  They can also be read as a sort of current events book, if you're reading a modern cookbook.  For instance, think about reading a paleo cookbook or a celebrity cookbook.  Then of course, there's the inspiration that comes from reading cookbooks.  I love going through the vintage cake sections and reading about new kinds of cooking.
Just a little contrast between the above vintage
cookbooks and a modern cookbook.
The recipes in this cookbook are delicious, by the way.

And finally, I love the thought of people from all different time periods writing cookbooks so that the concept of how we eat food could be changed just a little for the better.

A picture of cookbook from which my pretzel recipe came.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Graveyard Book

I first heard of Neil Gaiman through a family member, who raved about how interesting and wonderful his writing was.  While at the library, I did a little search through the young adult and adult fiction by Gaiman and settled on The Graveyard Book.  I was quite unimpressed by the cover: very typically young-adulty-sci-fyish looking, but I went ahead and checked it out because a.) it won a Newberry and b.)  the summary of the book looked very intriguing.

The Graveyard Book is the story of a boy named Bod, short for Nobody, who lives in a graveyard and is raised and educated by ghosts and his guardian, a strange creature who is neither a ghost or a human.  He has all kinds of adventures, from keeping away from the evil man who murdered his whole family, to meeting the Indigo man who lives under a hill.  He makes friends and has a loving family, just like a normal human child, but all of his friends and family are ghosts, with exception of a girl named Scarlet.
An illustration from the book

This book is so intriguing and I loved every minute of it, from Bod's doting ghost parents, to the thrilling adventures he has.  While I was reading it, I didn't think for a moment, "This is definitely a young-adult book."  This story can be enjoyed by all ages.  So, I recommend it and I guarantee that, even if you've never cared for ghosts stories, you will love this charming book.

Another illustration from the book

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rye Soft Pretzels and Fresh Stack of Books

Yesterday I got a lovely, huge stack of books.  I was starting to feel slightly panicked at the thought of my dwindling book supply, but managed to get to the library that Monday afternoon.  I got a fantastic stack and, if they are worth it, I'll review some of them in the upcoming weeks.


On the way home, I suddenly got a hankering for doing a little baking.  So, I pulled out some cookbooks and eventually settled on Good the Grain's (a fabulous cookbook, by the way) rye soft pretzels.  They looked so delicious and I could just imagine curling up in the evening with a hot soft pretzel and a little pile of books around me.

The kitchen table, dirty from rolling out pretzels,
that somehow managed to look pretty in the afternoon sunlight.
I think that these were some of the best soft pretzels that I have ever sunk my teeth into.  They were just a little tangy on the outside, from the baking soda bath, perfectly crusty on the outside, and doughy on the inside, with flecks of sea salt on top.


The pretzels.  Just ready to eat.
And so, that evening, I took a still-warm pretzel, gathered up a small handful of books, and retired to the sofa.

Monday, March 24, 2014

On Reading Classics and The Well-Educated Mind

Here's another thinking-about-books post.  I have always had a soft spot in my heart for classics and wish that they would be read more for interest and less "just because it's a classic".  There are some pretty obvious exceptions (600 pages of the Greek, The Histories by Herodotus, anyone?), but there are many classics that are quite enjoyable just for themselves.

If you don't know where to start in reading classics, I highly recommend Susan Wise Bauer's book, The Well-Educated Mind.  She breaks down classics into several categories: Novels, Poetry, Plays, etc., covering one section in each chapter.  Then, in each category, she lists the most well-known classics and gives a summary, ISBN number, and her favorite edition.  She also includes a set of discussion questions for each category.  The discussion questions are in three sets: Grammar Stage (simply reading through and making notes on what the book is about), then Logic Stage (answering questions about things like structure and style), and finally Rhetoric Stage (what do I think about this book?).
My next read
I have really enjoyed reading the books that she recommends.  I am going through by historical periods, starting by reading all of the ancient writings and now working through the medieval/renaissance books.  I have read everything from Oedipus Rex to The Koran to Dante's The Divine Comedy.  I have learned so much about reading and about history through these wonderful classics.  Not everything is wonderful, but I've been surprised by some very good writing, like the time I read The Birds and laughed my head off.  I have also learned that, with very old writings, translation can make or break a book.  By using Wise Bauer's recommended editions, I've been able to better comprehend and enjoy the writings.
My most recent read
I think that The Well-Educated Mind deserves a place in every home library.  It's a fascinating read if you just want to sit down and read through the whole thing like a novel.  Or, if you have a goal of reading some great books, this book is the first step to reaching that goal.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lovely Vintage Books

It doesn't matter how good the book turns out to be, just finding those lovely, musty smelling books makes it worth it.  There are cozy little places that sell old books pretty much everywhere.  They're usually in obscure places, but once you find a good old book store, it's almost sure to be a treasure trove.  In this post, I'll list some of the great things about vintage books.  Posted alongside are pictures of pretty vintage books that I have accumulated along the way.

The books are almost always aesthetically pleasing.  Sometimes they have pretty dust jackets or ornate gold lettering, sometimes bright colors or an interesting font.  Of course, the cover of the book is no indicator of how well-written the book is, but a pretty cover makes a book a little more enjoyable to me.

The books are often well-loved.  I have found little notes on the inside, names written in shaky 3rd grade cursive and swirling old man's handwriting.  The pages are often a little dog-eared and the edges of the book are worn.  To me, this is the best review of a book I could ever have.

The stories are usually interesting and give a window into another time.  There is nothing like a book to get you to see a little slice of time through the eyes of someone living through it.  It is also my humble opinion that the stories are more varied and amusing than a lot of modern writing, although that is not to say that there wasn't poor writing long ago.

This week, I hope you are inspired to hunt for an old book, whether it be an old favorite or a new discovery.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Flavia de Luce

I just finished a mystery called The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag and before that I read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, both written by Alan Bradley.  They are mysteries about a young girl in 1950s England named Flavia de Luce.  She is a brilliant chemist, living with her slightly absent-minded father and two aggravating sisters who are respectively a brilliant musician and reader.  Flavia rides around her small English village on her bike, name Gladys, and solves mysteries.

As I said in this post,  I love stories about precocious young detectives who solve difficult mysteries in their everyday lives and I think that Flavia is going on my list of favorites.  Her funny voice shines through so well.

In the first book, a man is killed in her garden and she is convinced that her father did it.  But, to solve this mystery, she has to go back and solve another mystery about a man with whom her father went to school.  In the second book, Flavia meets a famous puppeteer and his assistant, the frantic and slightly distressed Nialla.  When the puppeteer is killed by a bolt of electricity and then hung by marionette strings, Flavia sneaks around the village inspector who is looking in all the wrong places and does some sleuthing on her own.

I have read just the first two in this fantastic mystery series.  I can't wait to read the next!


Friday, March 21, 2014

Don't Look Now by Daphne DuMaurier

Daphne DuMaurier is a very interesting writer.  When I opened Rebecca (DuMaurier's most famous novel), I fell in love.  I read the story through twice and it continued to haunt me.  It is a book that I still return to regularly
Crocuses!  Pictures in this post are of spring sightings.
However, Rebecca is the only one of DuMaurier's books that I have ever really enjoyed.  I read Jamaica Inn and liked it, but didn't adore it.  I didn't like the heroine and there was something odd about DuMaurier's writing style.  Then I attempted My Cousin Rachel and enjoyed it even less.  Two weeks ago, when I was at the library, I was browsing through DuMaurier's many works, thinking, "I need to get over this aversion and read something else by Daphne."
Pink rhubarb noses poking out of the ground!
Unfortunately, Don't Look Now, a collection of haunting short stories written in the 60s was my least favorite of all of DuMaurier's writing.  I happily started the first short story one drizzly evening and prepared to enjoy a good shiver.  At first, the story was very enjoyable, with a set of psychic twin sisters in Italy and two grieving parents.  But then, as I moved through the story, I started to frown.  A story that had great potential to be a good, eerie yarn, went down a gruesome path, ending (Spoiler Alert!) with the main character getting an ax thrown through his head by a dwarf woman.  Now, don't get me wrong, I love a good, haunting thriller, but this was too eccentric and gory to be thrilling.   I stopped reading. "Huh?" I said.  I skimmed the rest of the stories and found them just as odd.  I firmly shut the book and finished up the evening with something a little lighter.

Another kitty shot
In my opinion, Rebecca is the exception that proves the rule.  I don't particularly like DuMaurier's writing style, but she did manage to produce one pretty wonderful book.  So, I highly recommend Rebecca, but don't bother reading any of DuMaurier's other writings, unless you like lots of the supernatural and a very dark writing style.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Hotel Paradise




I was at the library and a title caught my eye.  I had heard of this series several times and I  kept meaning to read them.  The Emma Graham series, written by Martha Grimes, is about a 12 year old girl who solves the mystery of a young girl's death nearly 40 years ago.  This series is different from the usual mystery in that it is an ongoing story throughout all three books.  I just finished Hotel Paradise, so I have yet to see how the rest of the books are, but I think I'm going to love them all as much as I did the first.

The second book in the series.
In Hotel Paradise, Emma Graham is working with her mother at a hotel that they own.  She is kept very busy cooking and serving meals, but she still manages to make time to solve a mystery.  She has a gift for getting adults to tell her stories, which is mainly how she solves the mystery.  She makes many friends along the way and learns more about the mysterious girl's past, including the aunts that wouldn't talk to the girl and the sad story of how this girl was almost rescued from her lonely fate, but instead drowned.

The third book in the series


I really enjoy mysteries that are solved by precocious children who, even though they are quite young, manage to surpass even the police.  One of the first of these was Nancy Drew, who, while not very well written, paved the way for all kinds of mysteries with this theme.

I'm heading to the library today, and I'm definitely going to be checking out the next two Emma Graham books.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Kilmeny of the Orchard

Yesterday, I picked up Kilmeny of the Orchard by L. M. Montgomery, longing for a pleasant read after a rather ghastly book (review to come).  I highly enjoyed it.


Kilmeny of the Orchard is different from any of L.M. Montgomery's other writings in that it is written from a man's point of view.  It is the story of a young man who, just graduated from college, goes to teach at a small country school as a favor to a friend.  This man, Eric, meets a beautiful and mysterious girl name Kilmeny who is mute because of some sad story in her past.  Eric is bewitched by this girl and is determined to help her speak.



This is a very short story, at only 130 pages, and I read it in an afternoon in between various errands.  Despite its shortness, L.M. Montgomery manages to write a spell-binding story that leaves you gripping the book until the end.  It is quite predictable and extremely romantic.  Kilmeny is the exact opposite of the imperfect Anne of Green Gables, but I still enjoyed the book.  And, of course, there is the unfailing happy ending that is included in all Montgomery's books. 



I highly recommend this for a dreary, rainy day.  It's the perfect cozy read for March.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Canterbury Tales

About a month ago I started Canterbury Tales.  I enjoyed it, for the most part.



First, the parts I enjoyed or was interested by:  Reading the original Chanticleer story.  I had read it as a little kid and loved the story of that unfortunate rooster.  It was fun to re-read it in its original form.  I enjoyed the arguments through stories.  I found them quite clever.  Many of the stories were quite engaging.   I learned a lot about medieval English culture while reading this book.  The translator, David Wright, was wonderful.  I was amazed that he actually cut out two of the stories because he said they were just long sermons that would not interest the average reader.  I appreciate taking some liberties for the sake of keeping a story engaging.




Now for the less than excellent parts- The blatant sexism throughout most of the stories aggravated me.  Even the Wife of Bath's tale, which is supposed to be a story in favor of wives having more power, seemed ridiculous through modern eyes.  I had to remind myself frequently that I was reading a book set in the medieval period where the role of women was completely different.  The sermon-like stories were quite drone-y but I read through them and was glad because it helped me to understand medieval Christianity a little better.



Overall, I am very glad that I took the time to read this book.  It was enjoyable, funny at times,  and an interesting glimpse into another time.





Monday, March 17, 2014

On Sherlock Holmes

I became obsessed with watching Sherlock recently.  About halfway through, I decided that I needed to read the actual books, because I almost always read the book first before watching something.  So, I checked out a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories.  I have a new fondness for the obsessive, slightly insane detective and his admirable sidekick, Dr. Watson.  I never guess how a mystery is going to turn out, no matter how hard I try, but that just makes me admire Holmes more.

Each episode of the show is loosely based on one or more short story.  It was so fascinating to read the original and see how the writers of the show changed the stories.



My favorite stories are The Speckled Band and A Study in Scarlet.  The collection I checked out of the library was very nice and included some good stories, but there weren't very many stories, so I'm going to look for a nice fat collection of Sherlock Holmes.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Bookmarks



I made these bookmarks several months ago, inspired by this post.  I absolutely love fun little sewing projects like this that take just a few minutes out of my time and leave me with something so pretty and functional.

I made about 12, but ended up giving most away as birthday/Christmas/hostess gifts, so I only have two left for myself.  I'm thinking that perhaps I need to make some more…

All you have to do is cut a piece of elastic slightly smaller around than an average book size.  Sew each edge to a piece of felt, then sew whatever decorations (buttons, ribbon, fabric, etc.) onto the top of the felt body.



The two modeled here look pretty similar, but you could do any sort of pattern.  This is a fun way to use up little scraps and get some functional bookmarks that aren't just pieces of ripped paper.



Saturday, March 15, 2014

Books About Reading

Just in case you are hankering for some reading about reading, I've compiled a list of books that I have really enjoyed.  Included are more pictures of farm animals.

Kitties in a patch of sunlight.

                           

Books I Have Read

Woe Is I by Patricia T. O'Conner- Okay, this is more a book about writing, but I howled, I tell you, howled, all the way through this book.  If you need a little brush up on grammar, or just are in need of some laughter and entertainment, I highly recommend this book.

Book Lust by Nancy Pearl-  A great book full of book lists.  I like to use this when I'm in a "I can't find anything to read mood.  It's arranged by category: sci fi, fantasy, etc.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss- Yet another grammar book; this one is hilarious, too.

How To Read A Book by Mortimer J. Adler and Charles Van Doren- This book is all about the art of reading, from speed reading to inspectional reading.  It's definitely a tome, but a well written tome and I enjoyed it.

The Novel 100 by Daniel S. Burt- An in-depth review of the greatest 100 novels.

Honey for a Child's Heart by Gladys Hunt and Barbara Hampton- There is definitely a Christian undertone, but the books recommended are not really Christian.  I love the book recommendations.  Each chapter is a category like Adventure and Suspense or Mystery.

So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading by Sara Nelson-I loved this book.  I checked it out of the library and devoured it.  It is much more autobiographical than any of the books listed above.

A guinea hen
                                                             

On My To-Read List

How to Read Literature Like a Professor: A Lively and Entertaining Guide to Reading Between the Lines by Thomas C. Foster-  Whew!  Yes, that really is the title.

Leave Me Alone, I'm Reading by Maureen Corrigan

Howards End is on the Landing: A Year of Reading from Home by Susan Hill

Anguished English: An Anthology of Assaults Upon Our Language by Richard Lederer and Bill Thompson- Apparently, this is another extremely funny grammar book.

Barn kitty

Friday, March 14, 2014

A Tribute to Elizabeth Enright

Today I have another great children's author.  Elizabeth Enright was truly magnificent.  I think she was one of the most clever authors of children's literature that I have ever read.  I also think that her writing is a great peek into the American 1940s and 50s.  Let's do an overview of some of my favorites of her writing, shall we?

She wrote two books called Gone Away Lake and Return to Gone Away.



They are two stories of a life-long dream of mine.  In this story, Portia and her brother, Foster, go to visit their cousin Julian in the country.  Portia and Julian discover a dried up lake and a row of Victorian lake homes. The meet the lovable sister and brother Mrs. Cheever and Mr. Payton.  They have wonderful adventures exploring the old houses full of old clothes (eek!), furniture, and fantastic cubby-holes.  In the second book, Return to Gone-Away, Portia and her family buy one of the old estates, renovate it, and turn it into their home.

One of the wonderful illustrations from the book.
                                     

The Melendys is another wonderful book set in about 4 siblings in the 40s. Their names are Mona, Rush, Randy, and Oliver.  Aren't those interesting and pretty names?
There are 4 books written about the children and it is some of the best writing I think I have ever read.
Here's a link from this blog with wonderful quotes from the Melendys.

My copy is a pretty, old one with lovely illustrations, but this is the only one I could find online.

                                     

The Saturdays is about the 4 Melendy children and the clever way they spend their Saturdays.  They agree to pool their money, and each Saturday one of the siblings gets to go on some outing.  Along the way they meet people and have all kinds of adventures.

The Four Story Mistake is the story of the Melendys moving to an old country house.  The house is every child's dream with a huge attic and a huge basement full of treasures.  At their new home, they skate on the frozen brook, make new friends, milk goats, and hold a huge auction to raise money for war bonds.

In Then There Were Five, the children get a new sibling named Mark who lived on a neighboring farm with his dastardly cousin.  They have more adventures like those in The Four Story Mistake.

In Spider Web For Two, Mark, Rush, and Mona have all gone to boarding school.  Randy and Oliver are lonely, and so their father puts together a list of clues leading to a big surprise.  I didn't enjoy this one as well, maybe because the three older ones weren't there.  The four children balanced each other so well and I felt that lack of balance in this book.

Enright wrote many more children's books, but these are the two series that I loved the most.  If you pick up one of her books, be sure to set aside a hefty chunk of time, because you won't want to stop reading once you start.