More beach reading

During the two consecutive long weekends I spent at the beach, I read two books, and although one is old and one new, the two are similar in length and themes.

guernsey_literaryWhile we were at Atlantic Beach, I read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, which was recently released in paperback.  This is an often LOL-funny and engaging little read – about 275 pages – and one I’ve had my eye on since its hardcover publication. This link summarizes the authors’ intriguing background and the history upon which they based their story.

Island life is always one of my favorite themes, and Guernsey captures life in the Channel Islands well. In some ways, it reminded me of Coastliners, my third-favorite work by JoAnne Harris, author of Chocolat and its sequel, The Girl with No Shadow.



persian_pickleLast weekend, I read The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas, which I picked up at a used bookshop. At first, I had trouble tracking all of the characters, but it wasn’t long before they became distinct personalities. Set in Kansas during the Depression, the book exceeds its theme of small-town women’s bonds in hardscrabble times by including a page-turning mystery.

Published in 1995, The Persian Pickle Club has motivated me to read other works by the author – I bought used copies The Chili Queen and Tallgrass last week. Here’s a short review of the book, which also weighs in under 300 pages.

I highly recommend both books for light reading that is nonetheless well written – and even informative.


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Summer reading

With one notable exception, I am truly engaged in light summer reading  gear.  Here’s what I’ve read and listened to in the past few weeks.

The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood – We’ll begin with the exception.  I’ve read The Handmaid’s Tale and Moral Disorder by this author, and Atwood is certainly not light reading. She’s won or been a finalist for the Booker and other prizes many times, and The Handmaid’s Tale took the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 1985. The Robber Bride, written in 1993, is far and away my favorite so far. I plan to read many more of her books. Zenia is an unforgettable character, and the feminist overtone provoked much reflection. I bought it in a used book store – bet you can find it. Highly recommend.

Now, onto the beach reads – and audiobooks that get me to and from the coast.

Bull’s Island by Dorothea Benton Frank, one of the three, three-name Lowcountry writers, as I call them, along with Mary Alice Monroe and Ann Rivers Siddon (whom I haven’t read much). I listened to the audiobook of Bull’s Island, and it provided a light contrast to the darker Atwood book I was reading – although the southern accents of the readers were appalling.

Monroe, who is active in coastal environmental issues, often works her interests into her books, and I’ve learned a few things while enjoying a good romance. Many of Monroe’s and Frank’s books involve characters who move away and distance themselves from family, only to be drawn home to reunite.

Frank follows that formula in Bull’s Island. The author had moved to New York by the time she wrote this book, though, and she made sure readers knew that she is now city savvy – the many dining experiences became a bit tedious for this reader, as did the stereotypical gangsta boyfriend. But I couldn’t help but love the manipulative MIL, a southern version of Phoebe whats-her-name, that wonderfully devious character on The Young and the Restless soap opera I watched decades ago.

Now I’m reading Comfort Food, Kate Jacobs’ follow-up to The Friday Night Knitting Club, which I heard on audio. The book is good enough to keep me going – has all of the elements for a decent chick-lit read. The main character, a food-show hostess, falls way flat, but some of the supporting characters are keeping it interesting enough.

And finally, I’m listening to Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher, and I am loving it. This audiobook is an excellent example of how much the reader can affect the audiobook listening experience. Perhaps if I were from England or Scotland, I would have as much of a problem as I did with the reader of Bull’s Island. But I’m not, so it all sounds right to me. This is another older book that my sister read last year and enjoyed. I thought it would be too fluffy, but I’m enjoying it very much indeed. I highly recommend reading this book around Christmas, which is when the book takes place.

So I’ve gone from Margaret Atwood to Rosamunde Pilcher. Diversity is the spice of life, right?

Happy page-turning with your toes in the sand!


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Reading Update

I’ve neglected this blog for far too long. Since I last posted, I’ve read many books and listened to a few as well. I’ll go from most recent and track backwards. I’m including links to Amazon, not because I think you should buy all of your books from there, but because it’s easy. I’m a bad book blogger!

The Story Sisters by Alice Hoffman – I read this at the beach last week and thought it quite wonderful. The book has received mixed reviews – polarized is really a better word – from Hoffman fans. This reader couldn’t put it down. It is my fave since Blackbird House, which no reviewers ever mention. Is it an oxymoron to be an eccentric Alice Hoffman fan?

The Soul Thief by Charles Baxter

This audiobook served as my introduction to the author’s work. He was nominated for the National Book Award for The Feast of Love. Soul Thief could be categorized as metafiction, which I enjoy. I was captivated by the story until the end. Hmmm. I’m glad that I’ve read his work, though, and will probably check out The Feast of Love.

Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan – a debut novel that won’t be officially published until August. I found an Advance Reader’s Copy online and bought it. The concept intrigued me, and the book didn’t disappoint until the very end. Eva will remain one of my favorite love-to-hate villains and MILs. Wow! I enjoyed this book and recommend.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson – What an interesting but gory bit of American history. If you don’t know the story, check it out – especailly if you have a Chicago connection.

The Bookseller of Kabul – I finally made my way to this so-relevant tale of life for women in Afghanistan. The author, a journalist, lived with the family and told it like it is. The bookseller sued her after publication. It’s a great read or listen.

I’ve read or listened to others, but these are the ones that come to mind. I need to keep up with this blog.

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Sunday Salon

The Sunday

I finished listening to My Invented Country by Isabel Allende. It wasn’t nearly as good as The Sum of Our Days. Too many side roads, and I did NOT like the reader nearly as much. Allende went from sounding like a lively, spirited South American to a matron. The long pauses were especially annoying. The history of Chile was great, though, and made it worthwhile.

I tend to go on binges with authors and subject matter, and right now Allende is my author and Afghanistan/Pakistan is my subject. So in that vein, I’m beginning to read Paula by Allende (her first memoir) and listen to The Bookseller of Kabul. I’ll let you know what I think.

Many people tell me they don’t like audio books, but I am really enjoying the format, now that I’ve learned to discern. I especially like books read by their authors – for example, The Bee Season by Myla Goldberg, who also read it. Were she not such an accomplished reader, I would have likely lost interest in the book. I’m considering listening to something by Stephen King for that reason.

In the world of books becoming movies, I’m loving the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series on HBO. Last week’s episode was wonderful, and I look forward to tonight’s. I wish I could find out how many episodes were filmed. The next book in the series will be released this month – perhaps it’s already out. I should go check!

With summer ahead, I look forward to beach trips and long days spent enjoying a good read. And some good listens, because the trip to the beach takes almost three hours.


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Some recent great reads

I have neglected my book blog (and my other blog), and I haven’t been reading a lot lately. But I’ve heard a couple of wonderful audio books and am watching the HBO series based on The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books. I signed up for HBO only to watch this series, and it has not disappointed. More on that in a minute.

sum_of_our_daysIsabel Allende published a new memoir last year, The Sum of Our Days. This was my first read/listen to non-fiction by the author, and I’ve moved on to an earlier memoir, My Invented Country, as my latest listen.

Audio book fans, you’re in for a treat with this one! The reader is wonderful. For those of you who prefer reading, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed, either. The Sum of Our Days is sure to go down as one of my favorite memoirs.

Talk about interesting families – Allende sure as hell offers up in abundance. She comes across as spunky, funny,  and sometimes admittedly overbearing. I love her politics, religion, and overall view on life. Far more than a survivor, she is someone I wish were my best friend.

I’ve just begun listening to My Invented Country, and right away, I missed the reader from the previous book. Just goes to show what a difference a voice makes – a pitch, an intonation, just the right accent. But I’m interested in hearing Allende’s memories of Chile, especially since I’ve read Inez of My Soul.

storytellers_daughterAnother audio memoir I most recently heard is Soryteller’s Daughter by Saira Shah, who co-produced Beneath the Veil about life under the Taliban. The documentary was shown on CNN a bazillion times after 9/11. Shah is of Afghan descent, but she grew up in Kent, England, and went to her father’s native country when she was 21 – during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. She did a wonderful job with this book, IMHO. I was inspired to rent it after listening to Three Cups of Tea, a life-changing book for me.

I also began reading the book (yes, I still do read books) The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie. So far, it’s intriguing.


Can you tell that I like books – especially memoirs – about and by women in other cultures?

no_1_ladies2Speaking of which, The No.  Ladies’ Detective Agency pilot was fantastic. It was Anthony Minghella’s last film, made in Botswana, location of the series. I could tell a difference last night with the second installment – more music, for one thing, which Tim enjoyed. But I think Minghella got the books right, and I’m sorry he didn’t live to finish filming. These stories of daily life in Botswana somehow remind me of our favorite island, although I don’t really know much about daily life there, having stayed only two weeks at the most. But still, I love the basic goodness and integrity of the characters. And I can always pretend. That’s what movies, books, and audio books are all about, right?

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Booking Through Thursday: Inspiration?

Booking Through Thursday asks this week:

Since “Inspiration” is (or should) the theme this week … what is your reading inspired by?

Great question!

I’m inspired to read books that fit my current interests. If a book claims to include magical realism, for example, I’ll usually check it out. I became truly  interested in the genre when I began traveling to Mexico once a year and exploring Latin American and Latino authors. I want to learn more about the saints held dear, the traditions, the culture.

Another inspiration is reading books that expand a new interest. When I read a fictional account of life under the Taliban (The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns), I was inspired to read a nonfictional account – Three Cups of Tea.

Reading reviews also motivates me.  I learn whose opinions to trust, and I look for clues within each review – keywords, if you will, that make me think:  This book’s for you.


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The Sunday Salon: Three from ’93

The Sunday Salon.comWith a busy work week spent reading (and editing) all day, every day, I didn’t read much besides blogs in the evenings. But during this three-day weekend, I finished So Far from God by Ana Castillo and began The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood. Both were originally published in 1993, I noticed today.

I loved the first half of So Far From God, but I found the latter part of the book disjointed and even didactic. Being a fan of magical realism, I loved Caridad’s story. Loca was a stretch for me, however. Sofi came to life as an interesting character for awhile, but ultimately fell flat.

I’m about halfway through the audio version of Three Cups of Tea, and I hope it remains as absorbing and entertaining as it’s been so far. When I first began listening to audiobooks, I planned on nonfiction only – travel, food, and the like. But I’ve since enjoyed many works of fiction while driving, so I suppose I’ll continue to mix it up. Greg Mortenson’s quest to build schools in Pakistan began when he stumbled into a small village in – yep, 1993 – although his story wasn’t published until 2006.

The Robber Bride is the third of Atwood’s books I’ve read. I found it during lunch one day at a used bookstore, shortly after reading Caribou’s Mom review (link to Wendy’s site on the right). I’m wondering if Zenia will turn out to be anything like Zozie in JoAnne Harris’s The Girl with No Shadow – one of my favorite literary villains!


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