Thursday, April 18, 2019

Book Brief: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Burial Rites
by Hannah Kent
336 pages
Little, Brown and Company, 2013
source: personal copy (ebook and audiobook)

This book has been languishing on my kindle for quite some time. Thanks to an audible daily deal, I recently snapped up the audio version (skillfully narrated by  Morven Christie) and began a read/listen combination.

Burial Rites  is based on the true story of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, the last person to be executed in Iceland. She was convicted of the brutal 1828 murder of her former master, then sent to live on a remote farm while awaiting execution. As she forms a relationship with the family and a young minister, her story is gradually revealed.

Iceland itself is central to the story - the landscape, weather, light and darkness, and even its smells. Burial Rites  is a novel for the senses, and the audiobook adds to the overall experience. I loved the author's portrayal of the country and her characterization of Agnes. The gradual reveal of Agnes' story kept me reading... surprisingly skillful for a debut novelist. I have added Kent's second novel, The Good People, to my wish list.

My rating:

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Sanibel Sunday: April 14, 2019

Good morning from Sanibel! It's mid-April and spring has seemingly given way to summer. As I type at 8:45AM, it is 78 degrees with a "feels like" temperature of 85 and 88% humidity. This is warmer than normal (whatever that is these days!) but there is talk of a cold front approaching. In the meantime, my beach walks are happening a little earlier.

Finished this week//

by Hannah Kent, narrated by Morven Christie

Popular a few years ago, this ebook had been languishing on my kindle for years. I recently snapped up the audio version when audible offered it as a daily deal. It was quite an experience as a  read/listen combination... and I mean that in a good way. Look for a book brief later this week.

Current reading//

by Tessa Hadley

A country home, a family gathering, and, yes, secrets! I read the first chapter of this novel last night and my hopes are high. I'll share more as I get into it this week.

Listening to//

by Joan Biskupic, narrated by Carrington MacDuffie

My Supreme Court kick continues. After finding a wait list for Biskupic's The Chief, her new book about John Roberts, I discovered her 2014 work about Sonia Sotomayor. I was impressed with Sotomayor's memoir My Beloved World  and, since reading it, I have wanted to learn more. Only 45 minutes in now, but will continue listening as I walk this week.

On the blog//

Scenes from the Naples Botanical Garden
Current reading: Burial Rites  by Hannah Kent
Recent Reading: Four Book Briefs

In the kitchen//

My SIL is gluten free, so I made this Strawberry Almond Flour Cake from King Arthur when she was here for dinner last week. Almond flour is pricey, but the cake was easy to make and delicious. I know she appreciated having a GF dessert.

I've been making coleslaw frequently this winter... my daughter and FIL can't seem to get enough. Publix periodically has bags of broccoli slaw in their salad section and I though that might be a more nutritious option. This recipe for Honey Mustard Broccoli Slaw is from the Skinny Kitchen website and was quite a hit. I did not have light mayo, so used the full fat version. It may not have been quite as skinny, but it sure was tasty!

The week ahead//

This is laptop week! Mine is dying a slow and painful death... we're off to the Apple store tomorrow! I also have a haircut scheduled and am looking forward to a midweek neighborhood gathering. We don't have any more visitors scheduled, so things will be a little more relaxed until we head north in late May or early June.

How was your week? What have you been reading?

Friday, April 12, 2019

Scenes from the Naples Botanical Garden

We recently spent a beautiful afternoon at the Naples Botanical Garden. My photos were taken with an iPhone 7... I'm due for an upgrade!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Current reading: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

They said I must die. They said that I stole the breath from men, and now they must steal mine. I imagine, then, that we are all candle flames, greasy-bright, fluttering in the darkness and the howl of the wind, and in the stillness of the room I hear footsteps, awful coming footsteps, coming to blow me out and send my life away from me in a gray wreath of smoke. I will vanish into the air and the night. They will blow us all out, one by one, until it is only their own light by which they see themselves. Where will I be then?
Burial Rites 
by Hannah Kent

This novel was very popular in the book blogging community a few years ago, but as often happens, I never got around to reading it. Thanks to a kindle daily deal last year and a recent audible daily deal, I am now midway through a read/listen combination. Despite the disconnect of listening to a novel set in 19th century Iceland as I walk along the beach, it's shaping up to be an excellent read!

Here is a portion of the goodreads summary:
Set against Iceland's stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.  
Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes's death looms, the farmer's wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they've heard. 
What do you think? Are you tempted to continue?

First Chapter/First Paragraph/Tuesday Intro is hosted by Vicki at I'd Rather Be At The Beach.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Recent Reading: Four Book Briefs

Hello, again.. seems like it's been a while. Between a full house and computer issues, this blog has been sadly neglected over the past couple of weeks. On the bright side, it looks like I may end up with a new laptop before the end of the week and, thankfully, my reading has been a lot more satisfying.

Good Riddance by Elinor Lipman

There's nothing better than finding the right book at the right time and, after my recent encounter with Eudora Welty, Good Riddance  proved to be exactly what I needed. As always, Lipman's quirky characters, snappy dialog, and Manhattan setting spoke to me. And the premise... what could be more compelling than a high school yearbook, loaded with inscriptions and comments, retrieved from a dumpster? And what if that yearbook belonged to your mother and you were the one who, upon her death, threw it away? Then suppose it falls into the hands of a filmmaker neighbor what wants to turn it into a documentary? This was such a fun novel. Eleanor Lipman has done it again!

Lesson learned:  It's good to lighten things up periodically.

My rating:

by Durian Sukegawa,  translated byAlison Watts
"Sweet Bean Paste is a moving novel about the burden of the past and the redemptive power of friendship." 
This lovely novels focuses on the relationship between a young man and an old woman, both on the fringes of society. Sentaro has a criminal past and works in a small pastry shop selling dorayaki, a Japanese pancake filled with sweet bean paste. Tokue, an elderly woman with disfigured hands and a mysterious past, makes the most delicious sweet bean paste Sentaro has ever tasted. She talks him into hiring her and a friendship blossoms. At just over 200 pages, this short novel will touch your heart. A 2015 movie adaptation, Sweet Bean, is available from my library and I plan to watch it sometime this week.

My rating:

by James Baldwin, narrated by Bahni Turpin

"In this honest and stunning novel, James Baldwin has given America a moving story of love in the face of injustice. Told through the eyes of Tish, a 19-year-old girl in love with Fonny, a young sculptor who is the father of her child, Baldwin's story mixes the sweet and the sad."
Originally published in 1974, this achingly beautiful novel is still just as relevant today. It made me angry, it made me sad, and yet it touched my heart, too. Baldwin's writing is like nothing I've experienced and Bahni Turpin's brilliant narration made the story even more powerful.

Have you read James Baldwin? Can you recommend any of his other books? I'm adding this one to my favorites shelf.

My rating:

by Ann Hood
"From her Italian American childhood through singlehood, raising and feeding a growing family, divorce, and a new marriage to food writer Michael Ruhlman, Ann Hood has long appreciated the power of a good meal... Hood tracks her lifelong journey in the kitchen with twenty-seven heartfelt essays, each accompanied by a recipe (or a few)."
Reminiscent of Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking, this is a compilation of essays focused around food and family, each featuring a recipe or two. Hood and I are of about the same vintage and many of her childhood experiences mirror my own... the large Italian-American family, Sunday dinners with copious amounts of sauce and meatballs, riding in the "way back" of the family station wagon, all the extended family, and all the food! We also used the same cookbooks as young adults and later as emerging cooks.

This is the second book by Ann Hood I've read this year and I enjoyed it almost as much as Morningstar: Growing Up With Books. I'd like to try Hood's fiction next. Where should I start?

My rating:

So that's my reading for the last couple of weeks. Have you discovered any great books?
I'll be back tomorrow to share what I'm reading now.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Current Reading: Kitchen Yarns by Ann Hood

I grew up eating. A lot. As the great food writer M.F.K. Fisher said, "First we eat, then we do everything else." That describes my childhood home. In my mind, my Italian grandmother, Mama Rose, was always cooking. We lived with her in the house she moved to with her parents when they came from Conca Della Compania, a small, mountainous town an hour and a world away from Naples, Italy, to West Warwick, Rhode Island. When I was young, Mama Rose and her mother Nonna, kept an enormous garden in the backyard, and they would sit on summer afternoons and snap the ends off string beans (served cold with garlic and mint), press tomatoes into sauce, pickle red and green peppers for the Christmas antipasto. We had fruit trees - Seckel pear, cherry, apple, fig - and blueberry and raspberry bushes.  They raised rabbits and chickens too. More than once a beloved white bunny - Snowball, Snowflake, Snowy - disappeared from its cage only for us to have funny-tasting "chicken" that night at dinner.

Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love, and Food
by Ann Hood

After discovering Ann Hood earlier this winter through her nonfiction book, Morningstar: Growing Up With Books, I couldn't wait to read her newest title... especially after several blogging friends rated it highly. My library hold finally arrived and I started reading last night. This is already shaping up to be another winner.

Here's the goodreads summary:
From her Italian American childhood through singlehood, raising and feeding a growing family, divorce, and a new marriage to food writer Michael Ruhlman, Ann Hood has long appreciated the power of a good meal. Growing up, she tasted love in her grandmother’s tomato sauce and dreamed of her mother’s special-occasion Fancy Lady Sandwiches. Later, the kitchen became the heart of Hood’s own home. She cooked pork roast to warm her first apartment, used two cups of dried basil for her first attempt at making pesto, taught her children how to make their favorite potatoes, found hope in her daughter’s omelet after a divorce, and fell in love again—with both her husband and his foolproof chicken stock. 
Hood tracks her lifelong journey in the kitchen with twenty-seven heartfelt essays, each accompanied by a recipe (or a few). In “Carbonara Quest,” searching for the perfect spaghetti helped her cope with lonely nights as a flight attendant. In the award-winning essay The Golden Silver Palate, she recounts the history of her fail-safe dinner party recipe for Chicken Marbella—and how it did fail her when she was falling in love. Hood’s simple, comforting recipes also include her mother’s famous meatballs, hearty Italian Beef Stew, classic Indiana Fried Chicken, the perfect grilled cheese, and a deliciously summery peach pie. 
With Hood’s signature humor and tenderness, Kitchen Yarns spills tales of loss and starting from scratch, family love and feasts with friends, and how the perfect meal is one that tastes like home.

What do you think? Are you tempted to continue?

First Chapter/First Paragraph/Tuesday Intro is hosted by Vicki at I'd Rather Be At The Beach.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty

by Eudora Welty
Harvest Books, 339 pages
originally published: 1946

Motivation for reading: This was my first book for the Back to the Classics Challenge (in the classic by a female author category)...  and also a read-along with Audrey.

Source: personal copy (ebook and audiobook)

Publisher's summary:
Set on the Mississippi Delta in 1923, this story captures the mind and manners of the Fairchilds, a large aristocratic family, self-contained and elusive as the wind. The vagaries of the Fairchilds are keenly observed, and sometimes harshly judged, by nine-year-old Laura McRaven, a Fairchild cousin who takes The Yellow Dog train to the Delta for Dabney Fairchild's wedding. An only child whose mother has just died, Laura is resentful of her boisterous, careless cousins, and desperate for their acceptance. As the hour moves closer and closer to wedding day, Laura arrives at a more subtle understanding of both the Fairchilds and herself.

Opening line(s):
The nickname of the train was the Yellow Dog. Its real name was the Yazoo-Delta. It was a mixed train. The day was the 10th of September, 1923 - afternoon. Laura McRaven, who was nine years old, was on her first journey alone. She was going up from Jackson to visit her mother's people, the Fairchilds, at their plantation named Shellmound, at Fairchilds, Mississippi. When she got there, "Poor Laura, little motherless girl," they would all all run out and say, for her mother had died in the winter and they had not seen Laura since the funeral. Her father had come as far as Yazoo City with her and put her on the Dog. Her cousin Dabney Fairchild, who was seventeen, was going to be married, but Laura could not be in the wedding for the reason that her mother was dead. Of these facts, the most persistent one in Laura's mind was the most intimate one: that her age was nine.
My thoughts:

A large extended family gathers on the Mississippi Delta in 1923 for a wedding... and that's about it. Not much happens, but the story is not the main attraction. Instead, Welty examines the setting and her characters.

As I've learned from previous experience with this author, it's all about the writing. Welty's words are beautifully, almost magically, put together. Her lush descriptions bring the southern landscape to life and I've also come to expect a keen psychological exploration of her characters.

Delta Wedding  should ideally be read when in a patient, contemplative mood. Unfortunately, that was not the case for me this month. While I should have been focusing on the beautiful quotations, I found myself wishing something -- anything -- would happen.

I decided on a read/listen combination for this book and must give credit to the audio version narrated by Sally Darling. Her southern accent provided additional atmosphere to Welty's words but, in the end, I even ended up listening at a faster speed.

Could this be a case of the right book at the wrong time? It's entirely possible. I shared my thoughts on The Optimists's  Daughter  in 2011 and, overall, preferred that novel to Delta Wedding.

My rating:


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