Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Playing Catch Up: Four Mini-Reviews

by Angela Thirkell

Christmas at High Rising  is a delightful collection of cozy and comforting stories featuring characters I love from Thirkell's Barsetshire novels... I just wish there had been more Christmas. Virago's beautiful cover definitely enhanced my reading experience.

My rating:

Writers on Literature and the Literary Life from The New York Times Book Review
Pamela Paul, editor

If you need a last minute gift for the literary-type on your list, look no further. This compilation of columns from the New York Times provides endless hours of bookish enjoyment. Reading through the interviews, I often paused to investigate a title or two and several were added to my list. Be sure to pick up a copy for yourself, too.
Disclosure:  review copy provided by publisher

My rating:

by Brian Morton

I love a good character-driven novel and Morton's recently-released Florence Gordon  is among the best I've read. After finishing that unexpected gem (a 5-star read and favorite of 2014) I dove straight into his backlist, selecting this 1998 title because it was on my library's shelf. Once again I found an introspective, intelligent novel, a slow unfolding of characters, and beautiful writing.

My rating:

by Sarah Waters 

I consider myself a Waters fan and this was a good novel, but it will not go down as a favorite. She nailed the setting (1920's London) and characters, as always, but the story went on a little too long and the ending was more of a non-ending. Juliet Stevenson's narration, however, was perfection.

My rating:

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Weekly Update: December 14, 2014

What a crazy week. The recent nor'easter dumped a LOT of snow around here... enough to bring The Today Show  to our little town. The favorite quote from the broadcast:

"I feel like I walked into a Christmas card here!"

The storm thwarted my shopping plans, knocked out power, and left me achy from shoveling, but it sure is pretty. I'd say a White Christmas is guaranteed!

About the books//

I made progress both reading and listening, but didn't finish anything this week. In print, They Were Sisters is turning into quite an emotional read. Dorothy Whipple tackles domestic violence (1940's style) in this novel and I am alternately enraged and teary.

On audio, Finding Florida is getting really good! I'm up to the 20th century with NASA and the creation of Disney's empire taking center stage. Can all this stuff really be true? Pretty disturbing if it is... further reading is definitely required!

On the blog//
My Year in Books Timeline 
Review:  The Hotel  by Elizabeth Bowen
Tuesday Intro:  They Were Sisters  by Dorothy Whipple

In the kitchen//

With all the snow and cold, this was a week for comfort. I tried a new recipe for Slow Cooker Red Lentil Soup from Vegan in the Freezer  that was incredibly easy and tasty. Just sure to have extra broth on hand - I needed to add more liquid.

I also made Skinny Shrimp Alfredo Pasta Bake from  Damn Delicious. This lightened up version of the classic was surprisingly good and can be prepared ahead of time. Be prepared to wash dishes - I used an impressive number of pans and bowls, and even a cookie sheet!

Coming up this week//

After two events last night I'm partied out today, but we're celebrating my brother-in-law's birthday this evening. Tomorrow I will finish my shopping, for sure! Then there's the wrapping...

As for the blog, a few more reviews need to be written this week and then I'll take Christmas week off. Look for my lists of favorites before New Years.

My daughters come home on Friday and Saturday... I can't wait!

This post will link to It's Monday, What Are You Reading?  hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

My Year in Books Timeline

My intentions were good, yet I have not managed to participate in A Month of Favorites hosted by  Estella's Revenge,  Girlxoxo, and Traveling with T. And even though today is technically the wrong day, I still wanted to drop in for the My Year in Books Timeline.

January:  Two weeks in Florida got the year off to a strong start! I read the first of my favorite books of 2014 -  The Gravity of Birds  by Tracy Guzeman.

February was a month devoted to spending time with favorite authors... Wally Lamb, Ann Patchett, and Jojo Moyes.

March: Just one book finished... I spent the entire month in Middlemarch.

April: Two more weeks in Florida gave me time to catch up with book club selections - The Light Between Oceans  and Defending Jacob.

May: I discovered Meg Wolitzer! The Interestings will be another 2014 favorite.

June: In terms of numbers, this was my best reading month, but I also encountered the biggest disappointment of the year - Dept. of Specualtion by Jenny Offill.

July: Only 2 books read - too much time on the lake? I don't think so...

August: The highlight of the summer and best debut novel of the year... We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas.

September was a month of classics featuring An American Tragedy, Breakfast at Tiffany's, and The Estella Society's R.I.P. readalong of The Haunting of Hill House.

October: I read and listened to THE BEST BOOKS this month!

November: I read all women authors this month, both fiction and nonfiction.

December: More classics. This time by 20th century British women - Angela Thirkell and Dorothy Whipple.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The Hotel by Elizabeth Bowen

The Hotel
by Elizabeth Bowen
University of Chicago Press, 2012
originally published in 1927
209 pages
source: purchased ebook

Book Description (from amazon):
Bowen’s first novel, The Hotel, is a wonderful introduction to her disarming, perceptive style. Following a group of British tourists vacationing on the Italian Riviera during the 1920s, The Hotel explores the social and emotional relationships that develop among the well-heeled residents of the eponymous establishment. When the young Miss Sydney falls under the sway of an older woman, Mrs. Kerr, a sapphic affair simmers right below the surface of Bowen’s writing, creating a rich story that often relies as much on what is left unsaid as what is written on the page. Bowen depicts an intense interpersonal drama with wit and suspense, while playing with and pushing the English language to its boundaries.

My thoughts:

I usually love character-driven novels and the idea of a group of characters in a closed setting (a hotel on the Italian Riviera in the 1920's in this case) sounds especially appealing. But for such a short book, The Hotel took me an awfully long time to read.

The Hotel is not a novel to read for the story; there is actually very little in the way of plot. It's all about relationships - some existing, but most are new. It is well-written and perceptive, but it's also cold... distant, chilly, perhaps even clinical. Bowen seems to feel no warmth toward her characters, and as a result, I felt none either. Whenever I put the book down, there was never a hurry to pick it up again.

I read The House in Paris several years ago and, while I liked it better than The Hotel, the same coolness was present and it was also a very slow read. I wonder if this is true for all of Bowen's novels.

I hate to say it, but the cover was my favorite part of this book.

My rating:

Bottom line:
The Hotel  is beautifully written and insightful, but somewhat cold and not especially compelling,

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Tuesday Intro: They Were Sisters

Lucy, reading Vera's letter at breakfast, smiled. Vera would come when Charlotte came and they would all be together. Once more, like old times, they would all be together. She must break it tactfully to William. Across the dazzle struck from the cloth and the silver by the sunshine of the September morning, she looked at him. Should she tell him now or later?
They Were Sisters
by Dorothy Whipple

My current read was selected for me by the Classics Club spin and I couldn't be happier. Dorothy Whipple, sometimes referred to as the "Jane Austen of the 20th Century", became an instant favorite in 2009 when I read Someone at a Distance. I am enjoying this 1943 novel immensely.

Summary from Persephone Books:
This, the fourth Dorothy Whipple novel we have republished, is, like the others, apparently gentle but has a very strong theme, in this case domestic violence. Three sisters marry very different men and the choices they make determine whether they will flourish, be tamed or be repressed. Lucy's husband is her beloved companion; Vera's husband bores her and she turns elsewhere; and Charlotte's husband is a bully who turns a high-spirited naive young girl into a deeply unhappy woman.
What do you think of the opening? Would you keep reading?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening. Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Weekly Update: 'Tis the Season

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas... at least at this nearby inn/restaurant where we celebrated our 29th anniversary last Monday. Seeing their gorgeous tree reminded me of all the decorating and shopping I have yet to do. This will be the week!


I finished Christmas at High Rising by Angela Thirkell - delightful stories with characters from her Barsetshire series, but not quite as much Christmas as I was expecting.

They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple (for the Classics Club Spin) is my current read, and it is wonderful so far!


I'm still working on Finding Florida by T.D. Allman and can certainly understand why this book is controversial. What a wild and colorful history that state has had!

Today's Daily Deal (12/7) at is Everything I Never Told You written by Celeste Ng and narrated by Cassandra Campbell. It's just $3.95 and I couldn't resist. I'll probably need a break from the 21 hour Florida history soon.

On the blog//
Weekend Cooking: Review of Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen  by Laurie Colwin
The Classics Club: 50 Questions
Tuesday Intro: Finding Florida

In the kitchen//
Are you looking for a simple, delicious soup? Try this Slow Cooker Chicken Enchilada Soup from Gimme Some Oven... it doesn't get much easier and everyone here loved it. I'll definitely make it again over the holidays when all the girls are home.

College basketball. Now if my Orangemen could just come up with a win...

The Red Tent  will be on Lifetime tonight and tomorrow, and my DVR is ready. I loved Anita Diamant's book... have you read it?

Later today//
We'll bring in the Christmas tree and put up the lights, but will wait on the ornaments until everyone is home. There's also a family gathering to celebrate my father's 79th birthday later this afternoon. But right now, I'm going to pour another cup of coffee, catch up on some blogs, and read the newspaper.

What are you up to today?

This post will link to It's Monday, What are You Reading?  hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin

"... an unstuffed turkey is like a jigsaw puzzle of the American flag with a piece missing right in the middle."  
- from "Stuffing: A Confession" in Home Cooking  by Laurie Colwin 

Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen
by Laurie Colwin
Open Road Media, 2014
(originally published, 1988)
193 pages
source: publisher via NetGalley for review consideration

For two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, I am obsessed with the meal... to brine or not to brine, twice baked or mashed, how many sides, will four pies suffice, etc. Never mind the logistics of fitting everyone around the table or what time dinner should be served.

As I fussed with recipes, shopping, and planning, Laurie Colwin was like an old friend whose quiet presence reassured me it would all turn out just fine. During this time, I was too preoccupied to read much, but her short essays were the perfect diversion. I made time to read a few every evening.

 By 21st century standards, the essays in Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen  certainly feel dated, but Colwin's warmth and personality shine through, so I didn't mind one bit.

And that's really the point, anyway. We no longer discuss whether stuffing belongs inside the bird, but our feelings behind the stuffing are timeless. Doesn't every family take pride in their  special stuffing recipe?

Colwin, a prolific writer of both fiction and nonfiction, died suddenly in 1992 when she was only 48 years old. Last month Open Road Media released her work in ebook format, making it possible for a new generation of digital readers to discover her talent.

I hope they do.

More Quotes:
"... when the chips are down, the spirit is exhausted and the body hungry, the same old thing is a great consolation. When people who must provide meals are too tired to think of what to cook, those old standbys come to the rescue. They are things a person can cook half asleep."
- from "The Same Old Thing" 
"..this implies that I do not like to eat al fresco. No sane person does, I feel. When it is nice enough for people to eat outside, it is also nice enough for mosquitoes, horse and deer flies, as well as wasps and yellow jackets."
- from How to Avoid Grilling 
"A long time ago it occurred to me that when people are tired and hungry, which in adult life is much of the time, they do not want to be confronted by an intellectually challenging meal; they want to be consoled.
      When life is hard and the day has been long, the ideal dinner is not four perfect courses, each in a lovely pool of sauce whose ambrosial flavors are like nothing ever before tasted, but rather something comforting and savory, easy on the digestion -- something that makes one feel, if even only for a minute, that one is safe."
- from "Nursery Food"

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog's home page.


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