Just catching up with reviewlettes….

The summer continues at its normal pace and I must admit that I haven’t been that productive so far (apart from general life responsibilities). I’ve also been reading — I know: shocker — and thought I’d let you know which titles have passed across my pupils. 🙂

I started off with “The Light Years” (1990), the first volume of Elizabeth Jane Howard’s The Cazalet Chronicles. Very lightweight but also very readable, despite the fact that it introduces a million new characters who may (or may not) be related to each other. (I wouldn’t mind a family tree – I bet there’s one online but I haven’t checked this yet.) Anyway, this title introduces all the family just before the start of WWII and although I can’t say that I was completely blown away with it, I did go ahead and buy the next volume on Kindle, ready for if/when I need a fluffy read. 

Then, I wanted a good travel/airport read (since I was actually traveling to CA in real life) so continuing with my TBR-read project, I pulled off “Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World” by Rita Golden Gelman (2002). This is a well-written travel narrative that travels the real-life adventures of the author who, after her divorce, decided to travel for a while to regain her mental bearings. 

She travelled extremely lightly, with her fingers crossed that others would provide (really) and that didn’t really sit very well with me. Isn’t it a little rude to travel SO lightly that you could only struggle on if you sponge off your future friends? (I might just be being me though.) It all worked out but perhaps she and I have different ideas of the responsibilities of being a host to a privileged white woman traveling “to find herself”.

As mentioned, the writing was good and I enjoyed learning about her travels as she visited countries and tried traditions that I probably be brave enough to visit. Plus – she got to talk with some interesting and generous people that she met during this time (which turned into years). 

She also had adult children but she didn’t seem to visit them much (and neither they her, I must admit). I’m not sure that this was entirely due to low finances, as she claimed in the book – she sounds a little self-absorbed to me – but perhaps it was. I don’t know. 

After that, I had a hankering for some more good writing, this time from the hands of Stephen King. Yes – that horror writer. Typically, I run screaming in fear from King’s work (in terms of narrative plot) but I’m realizing that I can enjoy his less-scary writing (see review of XXX here) and – he’s such an excellent writer that it helps overcome any reticence on my part. So – I picked “Dolores Claiborne” from the library shelves and thoroughly enjoyed it, twisted though it was. I’m definitely picking up more King in the future — just staying away from his frightening stuff. This was a really good suspense  and I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

Then, finished up a novella from Sam Selven, “The Lonely Londoners” (1956), which was a really good read. Selven was a Trinidadian author who also lived in England for a lot of his life so he knew life as a Caribbean-English immigrant perspective in the city of London which makes this a very authentic read for me. (Not sure if he was part of the Windrush Generation INSERT LINK HERE but he’s got to be close to that…) 

This novel, short though it is, packs a punch. It’s written in dialogue (but you easily get the hang of it) and revolves around a new Londoner called Moses, also from the Caribbean area. He has somehow been put into the position of welcoming new arrivals from his home country when they first arrive in England and helps them find digs and a job to start off their new life. This fixer position is not what he likes but he’s too soft-hearted to complain and besides, it gives him a level of importance when England refused to recognize that in its new Black immigrants. (It’s the 1950s UK as well, so cultural diversity was pretty non-existent in terms of being recognized by official and unofficial powers that be.) 

I’m definitely going to do a long blog post on this because it’s worth it. I’ll link to it when it’s done so you can peruse it at your leisure. 🙂

Moving on, I’d enjoyed my May read of a biography of Queen Elizabeth II by Robert Lacey and so wanting more royal-related reading, toddled off the library and picked “The Little Princesses: The Story of the Queen’s Childhood by her Nanny, Marion Crawford” (1950). 

At the first chapter, I almost put it down because it was written so simply (too simple) and seemed to be rather sycophantic at the same time. But for some reason, I kept going and, in the end, I must have become used to these traits since I finished the read without too much trouble (except a slump in the middle). A longer blog post in the future, for sure, so check back for that. 

And now I’m deep into “The Secret of Chimneys” by Agatha Christie (1925), a murder-mystery that is all wrapped up in a warm cup of tea. Not sure who the murderer is right now but thoroughly enjoying this read. Definitely enjoying this. Next — not too sure. Just bought a couple of books online and a couple more at B&N (gift certificate was burning a hole in my pocket). And more to come on that…

We’re having our home’s hardwood floors refinished so we’re hanging out at a kind friend’s house to avoid the noisy sander – first stage of the process. The workers tell us should only be a couple more days and then it should look great. Can’t wait. 

Reading plans for the future include a refocus on the old TBR pile and picking up some more writers of color. 

And I’ve been cooking up a storm, supper-wise (and still continuing with our marathon project of watching “The Great British Baking Show” except I’m not baking. I’m more of a savory person when I’m the chef in charge…) Recent winning recipes include (a very easy) Crock-Pot beef stroganoff, another pork tenderloin with figs (a replay from earlier in the summer but no link) and a tasty (and very summer-y) vegan strawberry-edamame spinach salad.

We’ve also been sucked into “Schitt’s Creek” which is brilliant fun (currently in crush mode with Alexa and David) and “Minari”, a movie about a Korean immigrant family to the US who wants to own a farm instead of being stuck sexing chicks (their current gig). It’s a fascinating plot all done in subtitles (since the family are such recent arrivals to the US). It probably meets the definition of a bildungsroman in terms of plot — seriously one of the best movies we’ve seen this year. 

And then I’ve been pulled into doing loads of word search puzzles. Not the most intellectual of pursuits but they are fun!

Library Loot: June 14 2021

Top to bottom, left to right:

  • Trees – DK Eyewitness Books (NF/nature)
  • An Empire of Ice: Scott, Shackleton and the Heroic Age of Antarctic Science – Edward J. Larson (NF/history/geog)
  • The Round Tree – Louise Erdrich (F)
  • Started Early, Took my Dog – Kate Atkinson (F)
  • Dolores Claiborne – Stephen King (F)
  • An American Marriage – Tayari Jones (F)
  • The Little Princesses: The Story of the Queen’s Childhood by her Nanny, Marion Crawford – Marian Crawford (NF/bio/auto)
  • The Secret of the Chimneys – Agatha Christie (F/murder)

Already read and finished the Stephen King book (ok) and now about to start on the then-scandalous Crawford memoir about the Queen’s childhood (and that of her sister). Ohh la la. (Rather a craze on the royals right now. 🙂 )

People you should meet…

Trawling my TBR shelves the other day, I realized that I have quite a few autobiographies and biographies about various people so thought I would gather these titles together in case you might be interested. One caveat: these are TBR which means that I haven’t read them just yet. They look good though!

Now I just to read them all. HA!

Summer reading

School and grades are now completely done which means, for me, that I can start the Summer of Liz. I don’t have anything required (outside the normal responsibilities) so the next three months are mine, all mine. 🙂 (I’m very lucky, I know.)

So – how to wisely spend this time? HA! I’m going to read and then read some more. I’m going to go through my wardrobe to see which outfits I can create/combine (just for fun) and I’m going to go and see my twin sis in CA for a few days.

So, speaking of reading (as we were), what titles have I read since the end of school? The above image tells the story:

  • Chasing the Monsoon – Alexander Frater (NF). Reread and ok. Probably doesn’t need to live on my shelves any more though. :-} (Off the current TBR shelf.)
  • Soul Clap Hands and Sing – Paule Marshall (F). I’ve read and enjoyed other Marshall work. This was a collection of short stories. Meh. Library.
  • Majesty – Robert Lacey (NF/bio). I love the majority of Lacey’s work (good sense of humor) and and enjoying the older bio of the monarch. Nothing too mind-shattering but enjoyable all the same. (Off the current TBR shelf.)
  • Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier (F). Loving this classic. (Off the current TBR shelf.)
  • 100 Great Artists: A Visual Journey from Fra Angelico to Andy Warhol – Charlotte Gerlings (NF/history/art). I’ve really been interested in getting some more culture so got this out of the library. A quick but wide-ranging tour of some of the artworks of the world (mostly [all?] Western hemisphere).
  • The Pale Horse – Agatha Christie (F). A murder mystery all wrapped by the end of your cup of tea. I do like a Christie every now and then. Library.

New TBR shelf…

Here are the titles on the new TBR shelf:

  • Letters of Note: An Eclectic Collection of Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience – Shaun Usher (ed.) (NF/socio)
  • On Doctoring: Stories, Poems, Essays – Richard Reynolds, M.D. and John Stone, M.D. (eds.) (NF/socio)
  • The Girls from Winnetka – Marcia Chellis (NF/bio)
  • A Victorian Courtship: The Story of Beatrice Potter and Sidney Webb – Jeanne McKenzie (NF/history/bio)
  • Cold: Adventures in the World’s Frozen Places – Bill Streever (NF/geog)
  • My Family and Other Animals – Gerald Durrell (NF/nature)
  • All Things Wise and Wonderful – James Herriott (NF/nature)
  • The Book of Not – Tsitsi Dangarembga (F)
  • Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card (F/sci fi)
  • Majesty: Elizabeth II and the House of Windsor – Robert Lacey (NF/bio). Read. Good.
  • Time and Again – Jack Finney (F)
  • On Borrowed Wings – Chandra Prasad (F)
  • Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout (F)
  • Gentlemen Prefer Blondes – Anita Loos (F). Read. Good.
  • Mr. Chartwell – Rebecca Hunt (F)
  • Tales of a Female Nomad: Living at Large in the World – Rita Golden Gelman (NF/travel). Read. Good.
  • Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey – The Countess of Carnarvan (NF/history)
  • Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier (F). Read. Good.

As always, the usual guidelines are in place: these are just suggestions for me and I’m happy to go off-piste if I want to. It’s summer time rules here! 🙂

Reading Review: April 2021

The reads for April 2021 included:

  • Life After Life – Kate Atkinson (F). Loved this and plan on reading more Atkinson.
  • The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin (NF). Meh.
  • Bird: DK Eyewitness Books (NF). I’m starting to get into a bit of birdwatching but I’m a big novice right now. Thought I’d learn some basic facts.
  • Evil Under the Sun – Agatha Christie (F)
  • Living, Loving, and Lying Awake – Sindiwe Magona (F/short stories). OK.
  • Belfast Diary: War as a Way of Life – John Conroy (NF/history/geog). Pretty interesting how it “normalizes” a war-torn society and culture.
  • Suburban Sahibs: Three Immigrant Families and Their Passage from India to America – S. Mitra Kalita (NF). OK.
  • Sharks in the Time of Saviors – Kawai Strong Washburn (F). Despite my aversion to short stories, these worked. Plus it’s on a list of Favorite Reads by President Obama.
  • A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles (F). Loved this. Definitely going to read more Towles.
  • Dinner ASAP – Cooking Light (NF/cooking). I’ve been cooking some of these recipes – very good and not too complicated for this neophyte chef.
  • All Creatures Great and Small – James Herriot (NF/memoir). Just a good read.
  • Freddie and Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody – Mike Dawson (GN/autobio). Fairly typical teenaged angst for GNs.  

So to the (rather obsessive!) numbers:

  • Total number of books read in April 202112.
  • Total number of pages read 3,656 pages (av. 305). 
  • Fiction/Non-Fictionfiction / non-fiction. 0 plays.
  • Diversity 3 BIPOC. books by women.
  • Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): library books, owned books (whee!) and e-books.

Plans for May 2021 include continuing to include more BIPOC writing on my list. Continue this pace of reading and continue this streak of reading more from my own TBR as opposed to those titles from the library. Sounds pretty doable to me. Plus – it’s the end of the semester and I’m off for the summer. 🙂

The Long March – Marie-Louise Fitzpatrick (1998)

Chahta hakia hoke: We are Choctaw.

With Cathy at 749Books focusing on All Things Irish this month, I’ve been pulling some Irish-related titles from the shelves and in doing so realized that I know shockingly little about Irish history. So – wanting a quick primer on the Emerald Isle, I read this title. (I also have another FANTASTIC novel that I’m finishing up but that’s a different post.)

This read was about the terrible potato famine that occurred in 1845-1847. The juvenile title covers how the Choctaw people in Oklahoma collected money from their tribespeople to send to the Irish during their time of need…

Despite having lived close to OK for many years, I was not familiar with this event of the Choctaws supporting the far-away Irish so my interest was piqued when I saw the title on my library website.

Even better – it was a kid read which meant two things: (one) it’s probably really well explained (assuming the author is good) and (two) it wouldn’t take long to read and learn. I was right on both counts.

The protagonist, Choona, a young Choctaw boy, is familiar with the terrible Great March (or the Trail of Tears) which his tribe had been forced to undertake when their lands were taken away from the tribe, and as the reader learns (along with Choona) of the overlaps between these two displaced peoples, s/he also learns the importance of being true to yourself and others.

(In fact, there is such a connection between the Choctaw tribe and Ireland that Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, was inducted as an honorary tribal chieftain.)

So – what was good about this read? Well, it was really well researched by Fitzpatrick and she had worked closely with her Choctaw contacts, both the actual Chief of the Choctaw tribe and the Executive Director of a non-profit that works with the actual tribe. This automatically added authenticity and drive to the book for me, at least.

Additionally, the artwork was stupendous. Fitzpatrick, the author, is also a professional illustrator and it was obvious that she had taken great pains to reflect Choctaw life and people accurately and with care. I wonder how she had come across this story originally, as I haven’t heard of it before now. I’m really glad that I’ve learned about this as it’s a really interesting story.

Fascinating (to me) note: According to this title, the state name of Oklahoma (actually Okla Homa) is Choctaw for “Red People”.

New TBR Shelf: March 2021

The new TBR shelf for March 2021.

(Left to right on the shelf):

  • In Search of London – H.V. Morton. (Loved his In Search of England not too long ago so hoping for more of the same.)
  • From Holmes to Sherlock – Mattias Bostrom (NF). A deeper dive into the world of Sherlock Holmes and the fans worldwide.
  • Notes from Walnut Tree Farm – Roger Deakin. (NF/nature writing.)
  • The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin. (NF/aspirational.) (Read in progress.)
  • Journal of a Solitude – May Sarton (NF/memoir.)
  • Republic of Lies – Anna Merlan (NF/current events.)
  • The Iceman Cometh – Eugene O’Neill. (Play.) (Tried to read it but yowzer. So much whining so it was a DNF. Still, gone and out of the house now.)
  • Cranford – Elizabeth Gaskell. (F.)
  • The Man Who Loved Books Too Much: The True Story of a Thief, A Detective and a World of Literary Obsession – Allison Hoover Bartlett. (NF/history.)
  • Microbe Hunters – Paul de Kiruif. (NF/science.)
  • Londoners – Craig Taylor. (NF/travel.) (Read this. Enjoyed it. Review here.)
  • Outrageous Acts and everyday Rebellions – Gloria Steinham. (NF/autobio.)
  • What Every Body is Saying – Joe Navarro. (NF/social sci.)
  • Freddie & Me – Mike Dawson. (GN/bio.)
  • Tales of a Female Nomad – Rita Golden Gaiman. (NF/travel.)
  • The Best American Travel Writing 2020 – Robert McFarlane. (NF/travel.) (DNF. For some reason, McFarlane and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on “good writing”.)
  • The Winds of War – Herman Wouk. (F.)
  • The Crow Trap – Anne Cleeves. (F.)

The usual rules and guidelines apply: I don’t have to stick this list of titles if I find another title to look at and these are just suggestions. Other plans: read more from my TBR and continue to read a wide range of topics and authors (including a push for POC/BAME authors/topics).

Library Loot: March 04 2021

I’ve been busy at the library lately so thought I’d update my stash of interesting titles:

  • The Colorado Kid – Stephen King (F) – was looking for another read by King since I loved his Misery title… (This edition actually has what I consider to be the WORST cover art in the world. I’ll get you a pic…)
  • The Water Museum – Luis Alberto Urrea (F/short stories). Love Urrea’s other work
  • Hitting a Straight Lick with a Stick – Zora Neale Hurston (F/short stories). Other Hurston reviews here: Barracoon (NF), Their Eyes were Watching God (1937)…
  • Mrs. Malory Wonders – Hazel Holt. (F/mystery). Just was looking for a cozy murder book and this title came up…
  • Bookmarks: Reading in Black and White: A Memoir – Karla F. C. Holloway (NF). I ILL’d this title but it looks rather different inside than I was expecting. We’ll see how it goes.
  • Around the World in 80 Days with Micheal Palin – Michael Palin. (Loved his travel book on the Himalaya mountains and wanted to read some more good travel writing.)

And more titles… (Told you I might have got carried away… 😉 )

  • The Sittaford Mystery – Agatha Christie (F/mystery). Already finished this – good fun.
  • My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier (F/thriller/mystery). Was looking for a Gothic thriller type of read… (Just realized that I’ve already read this. Sigh. No worries. Moving on…)
  • Ice: The Antarctic Diary of Charles E. Passel – Charles E. Passel (NF/travel/adventure).
  • The Round House – Louise Erdrich (F/Native American).
  • Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams (F).
  • A Traveller’s Life – Eric Newby (NF/travel).
  • DK Eyewitness Books: Astronomy. (NF). Just looked interesting.

Which one to read first?…. I know I’m going to read the astronomy Eyewitness book this weekend for starters and make a start on “The Commitments” by Roddy Doyle for Cathy’s Reading Ireland 2020 project.

The Country Child – Alison Uttley (1931)

I’m quite sure that I must have read this in the distant days as an early reader, and this time, it was a charming interlude of an early childhood during the late Victorian time. Alison Uttley was born in 1884 and this story details a year of life as an only child in her rural upbringing at Castle Top Farm (here called Windystone Hall)  near Cromford in Derbyshire. 

It’s more of a collection of vignettes and scenes from the POV of Susan Garland (the titular character) than an actual narrative plot, and so this made it perfect to have as a “pick-up-put-down” read just before bedtime. (It’s also very calming to read just before you go to bed and so I thoroughly enjoyed this read.)

Is it autobiographical? Is it semi-autobiographical? No one seems to know, but it doesn’t matter, really, because the descriptions of rural life are just charming. (They are realistic and show it’s not all roses and sunshine, but it’s still a good read.)

It’s also a history (in some ways) of country life long gone now: of servants and farmhands, of ploughmen and horses and larders full of home-made and home-grown food and drink. The weather plays a leading role as well, since the family lead a very outdoor life. Some of the winter descriptions made me shiver! 🙂

This was a sweet read of times long past and was reminiscent of both “Cider with Rosie” (pre-blog) and “Lark Rise to Candleford” (pre-blog). Thoroughly enjoyable all the same.

ETA: Just learned about the author here. She was one of the first women to ever earn a degree from Oxbridge in Physics and went on to become a physics instructor. PLUS she wrote a zillion children’s books as well. Amazing story.