Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I Own

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we're talking about authors we own. I think this is especially interesting because it goes a step beyond asking which authors we read most often.

Who occupies the most space on our shelves? Which authors do we choose to buy rather than borrow?

My top ten "owned" authors are:

1. Jane Austen  Not only do I own all of her novels, I have multiple editions of every single one. A girl can never have too many copies of Pride and Prejudice, right?

2. F. Scott Fitzgerald  My husband gave me a beautiful leather-bound set of his novels several Christmases ago. Throw in the few paperbacks I already had, and that's nearly a whole shelf.

3. John Steinbeck  Not only is Steinbeck one of my favorite authors, he was also prolific. In addition to his novels, I also own Travels with Charley (two editions) and a couple volumes of his letters.

4. Willa Cather  Although I've only read a few of her novels, I've been collecting them for years.

5. Wallace Stegner  Crossing to Safety is my favorite novel. I've been on a mission to acquire and read all of Stegner's work.

6. Richard Yates  It started with Revolutionary Road and The Easter Parade. Then I wanted to know more about the author and turned to A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates by Blake Bailey - seriously the best literary biography ever. That lead to A Good School, Disturbing the Peace, Cold Spring Harbor, and The Collected Stories. Yates is a favorite, but there is an overwhelming sadness about his novels. I've taken a break and am now ready to read the rest of his work.

7. Edith Wharton  If Edith wrote it, I probably own it!

8. Henry James  Edith and Henry were such good friends, I can't help but think of them together. He occupies nearly as much space as Edith on my shelf and while I truly love several of his novels, I'm intimidated by his later works. The thought of page-long sentences just scares me.

9.  John Irving  The World According to Garp was something of a cult favorite back in the late 70's or early 80's. I've been buying and enjoying Irving's novels ever since... until I hit the wall in 2005 with Until I Find You. Maybe it's time to give him another chance?

10. Ann Patchett I've purchased and read every book she's written.

Honorable Mention:
Barbara Pym
Anna Quindlen
Wally Lamb
Stewart O'Nan
Richard Russo

And just for fun...

Who is the most unread author on your shelf?
For me, this somewhat dubious distinction goes to Ian McEwan. I liked Atonement and The Comfort of Strangers, but began collecting his novels after loving On Chesil Beach. I currently have four on my TBR (to be read) shelf.

What authors do you own?
Visit The Broke and the Bookish for more Top Ten Tuesday posts.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Weekly Update: July Winds Down

I'm back! Well, I've really been here since midweek, but am just returning to the blog today.

My sisters and I had a great time in Florida. I'm pleased with the renovations and we were able to put everything back together again. I can focus on decorating this winter. Last Sunday was my father-in-law's 87th birthday... I'm so glad we were there to celebrate with him! The weather was pretty much what I expected. Although it only rained once, it was extremely humid and never cooled down at night. However, the ceiling fan we installed on the lanai made it very comfortable to be out there after sunset.

We celebrated my birthday when I got home, and the rest of the week has been a blur of summertime activities.

Reading//  Believe it or not, there was no reading at all for an entire week! Before leaving for Florida, I looked at the opening of We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas (due to be released next month) and was captivated. I picked it up again a couple of days ago and am now at the halfway mark. The length of this novel initially intimidated me (640 pages), but it reads quickly and doesn't feel that long. I'm really enjoying this one!

Listening//  Again, other than a couple of hours on the plane, there hasn't been much listening either. I started Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck - which wasn't even one of the three books I had been considering. I also have a copy on my kindle, so this has become a read/listen combination. It tells the story of Tzu Hsi, the last empress of China, and although it's just okay so far, I have a feeling it will get better.

My #100happydays project was also on hiatus, but I did share a birthday dessert, new stationery supplies, and a shady afternoon reading spot.

In the kitchen//  There was not much happening in the kitchen this week, but I did try Sarah's recipe for crab cakes last night. My husband said they were the best ever!

This weekend is our library's annual book sale. On Friday evening I attended a special preview event for Friends, complete with wine, cheese, and music. I'd planned on exercising a little restraint, but still ended up with fourteen books. I'll highlight the stack in a post later this week.

Later today we'll go out on the boat (if the weather improves) and have my family over for dinner. What's new with you this week?

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

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Summer vacation ... at last! 
I'll catch up with you soon.

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr.

Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune 
by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell Jr.
Ballantine Books, 2013
496 pages

narrated by Kimberly Farr
Random House Audio, 2013
13 hours and 34 minutes
source: purchased

Publisher's Summary:
When Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Bill Dedman noticed in 2009 a grand home for sale, unoccupied for nearly 60 years, he stumbled through a surprising portal into American history. Empty Mansions is a rich mystery of wealth and loss, connecting the Gilded Age opulence of the 19th century with a 21st-century battle over a $300 million inheritance. At its heart is a reclusive heiress named Huguette Clark, a woman so secretive that, at the time of her death at age 104, no new photograph of her had been seen in decades. Though she owned palatial homes in California, New York, and Connecticut, why had she lived for 20 years in a simple hospital room, despite being in excellent health? Why were her valuables being sold off? Was she in control of her fortune, or controlled by those managing her money?

Dedman has collaborated with Huguette Clark’s cousin, Paul Clark Newell, Jr., one of the few relatives to have frequent conversations with her. Dedman and Newell tell a fairy tale in reverse: the bright, talented daughter, born into a family of extreme wealth and privilege, who secrets herself away from the outside world.

Empty Mansions reveals a complex portrait of the mysterious Huguette and her intimate circle. We meet her extravagant father, her publicity-shy mother, her star-crossed sister, her French boyfriend, her nurse who received more than $30 million in gifts, and the relatives fighting to inherit Huguette’s copper fortune. Empty Mansions is an enthralling story of an eccentric of the highest order, a last jewel of the Gilded Age who lived life on her own terms.

My thoughts:

If ever there was a book perfectly suited to a read/listen combination, Empty Mansions is it. The text includes photos, charts, lists, etc., but the audio version includes recorded conversations between Huguette Clark and her nephew, the book's co-author, Paul Clark Newell, Jr.

The beginning of this book is slow going. It's mostly about Huguette's father, W.A. Clark, and how he became the richest man in American history you've never heard of. Your patience may be tested, but the background provided in this section is essential for a clear understanding of Huguette. The audio production and Kimberly Farr's excellent narration helped pull me through to the main attraction.

 Huguette Clarke's story is much more interesting and, once the focus shifted to her, any thoughts of putting the book aside vanished. She was ultra-wealthy, extremely reclusive, and passionately interested in art, music, dolls and dollhouses, and Japanese culture. When she died in 2011 at 104, her closest relatives hadn't seen her in decades.

The question is whether she was manipulated by those closest to her (accountants, lawyers, and nurses were gifted huge sums of money), or simply shy, but happy within the narrow boundaries she imposed upon herself. Huguette's voice, as heard in phone conversations included in the audio version, certainly gives the impression of an alert, engaged, and cheerful woman. In many ways she reminded me of my husband's great aunt, who also lived to be 104 and read The Wall Street Journal until the day she died.

Book club reaction:
My book club's reaction to Empty Mansions was lukewarm, at best. Several member did not finish the book. They gave up during the early history of the Clark family and never even got to Huguette's story. The comment "too boring" came up repeatedly and we did not have much of a discussion. My reaction was the most favorable.

Several group members are audiobook fans and I suspect they would have enjoyed the book more if they'd listened.

Bottom line:  I recommend listening to this book, but be sure to borrow a print copy and take a look at the photographs.

My rating:

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The All of It by Jeannette Haien

The All of It
by Jeanette Haien
HarperCollins e-book, 2009 reprint
145 pages
source: purchased

Summary (from goodreads):
A sleeper hit when first published in 1986, Jeannette Haien's exquisite, beloved first novel is a deceptively simple story that has the power and resonance of myth. The story begins on a rainy morning as Father Declan de Loughry stands fishing in an Irish salmon stream, pondering the recent deathbed confession of one of his parishioners. Kevin Dennehy and his wife, Enda, have been sweetly living a lie for some 50 years, a lie the full extent of which Father Declan learns only when Enda finally confides "the all of it." Her tale of suffering mesmerizes the priest, who recognizes that it is also a tale of sin and scandal, a transgression he cannot ignore. The resolution of his dilemma is a triumph of strength and empathy that, as Benedict Kiely has said, makes The All of It "a book to remember".

My thoughts:

This book appealed to me for three reasons:
1.  It was recommended by Ann Patchett, who also wrote an introduction to the latest edition.
2.  The cover is gorgeous.
3.  It was offered as a kindle daily deal for only $1.99.

Upon finishing, I thought:
1.  I'll take a recommendation from Ann Patchett any day.
2.  Reading on a kindle paperwhite does not allow you to fully appreciated  beautiful covers.
3.  I certainly got my money's worth.

Not much happens in this quiet little novel set in the Irish countryside. Aside from a bit of salmon fishing, the bulk of the action consists of a newly widowed woman telling her story, "the all of it",  to the parish priest after her husband died before finishing his final confession. Her story, in turn, creates a moral dilemma for the priest.

Haien's writing, a little wordy and with lots of punctuation (beware if you don't like that kind of thing), was another highlight of my reading experience.

I was disappointed to learn I had actually purchased the older 1986 edition, without Ann Patchett's introduction. The fact that neither Barnes &Noble nor my local library had a copy of the newer edition only compounded my disappointment. Unfortunately, I have yet to read Ann Patchett's introduction.

A couple of quotes:
Discordantly - out of the mists - he heard her voice: "Dead faces," she said whitely, "they're all the same. They don't, I mean, tell of the person as they were alive." 
"One thing I've learned, Father - that in this life it's best to keep the then and now and the what's-to-be as close together in your thoughts as you can. It's when you let the gaps creep in, when you separate out the intervals and dwell on them, that you can't bear the sorrow."
My rating:

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Classics I Want to Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Today's actual topic involves other types of stories (movies, television shows, etc.), but I'm going rogue again. After last week's list of my ten favorite classics, I can't resist following up with those at the top of my TBR (to be read) list.

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (or maybe Barchester Towers)
Melissa and Amanda's project has me itching to read more Trollope.

Imperial Woman by Pearl S. Buck
Loaded on my kindle and ready to go, I hope to read it this summer.

Villette by Charlotte Brontë 
It's definitely time to read another Bronte sister novel

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky 
...the Pevear and Volokhonsky translation, please

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
...because I loved North and South

Bunner Sisters by Edith Wharton
More of a novella, I have a copy on my shelf

Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty
I learned from The Optimist's Daughter that I love Welty's writing.

An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser
I should have read this novel based on a local story ages ago.

suggested by Les because she knows how much I love Willa Cather

The Belly of Paris by Emile Zola (or maybe Germinal)
Therese Raquin and The Ladies Paradise left me wanting more Zola.

As always, tomorrow's list could be totally different, but I'm tempted to make this a fall of classics.

Which classics do you want to read right now?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Weekly Update: July 14

Monday, already? The past week has been marked by unusually violent storms, for this part of the country anyway. We don't often see tornadoes, but at least a couple touched down during Tuesday's storm leaving four dead in their wake. Now there is talk of an impending polar vortex - a term I was unfamiliar with prior to last winter. Crazy stuff...

In #100HappyDays, my garden seems to be thriving with all the rain.

Reading//  I wasn't able to read much during the week, but managed to polish off the second half of The Ship of Brides yesterday afternoon. This is yet another winner from Jojo Moyes. Written in 2004, it's available in digital format now and will be released in paperback in the US this fall.

Listening// The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd is one amazing audio production! I have just over 30 minutes to go (will finish in the car later this morning) and am going to be sad to leave these characters behind.

On the blog// 
My Ten Favorite Classics
My review of The Vacationers by Emma Straub
Thoughts on The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (my classics spin book)
Weekend Cooking: Seared Halibut and a Cookbook Challenge

Up next//  Review copies stress me out. Now that I've finished The Ship of Brides, the only other book I really feel obligated to read this summer is We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas. Fortunately, I'm really excited about this title and will get started later today.

The audio decision is a little tougher. Three titles I'm considering starting next are Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (which everybody loves), Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (tons of rave reviews on this one, too), and Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953 by Elizabeth Winder (a good follow-up for The Bell Jar). Look for a choice later today.

Looking ahead//  Strange as it sounds, I'm heading to Florida later this week. Our remodeling project is complete, so my sisters and I are going down to put the place back together... and have a little fun.

How was your week?

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

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Weekend Cooking: Seared Halibut and a Cookbook Challenge

We cook outdoors almost every evening during the summer, but storms moved dinner prep back to the kitchen a couple of times this week. On Tuesday, torrential rain sent me scrambling for a last-minute indoor alternative to grilled halibut. Pinterest to the rescue...

My search ended with this recipe for Seared Halibut with Cherry Tomato and Caper Pan Sauce from Mountain Mama Cooks. She's a personal chef and often uses this recipe at home when she's short on time. I've got to tell you, this was the easiest and most delicious halibut ever.

The ingredients are all staples in my kitchen and I prepared the recipe exactly as written. Instead of cherry tomatoes, I used the grape tomatoes I had on hand, and cut them in half rather than leaving them whole. I also ran out of capers so used only half the amount called for, but it was still delicious. Dinner was ready in literally 10 minutes - it doesn't get much better than that!

Moving on to the next item... Have you heard about Trish's Cook It Up Challenge? It's set up to be an extremely flexible and user-friendly way to use all those cookbooks on your shelf. Structure it any way you like - focus on a specific cookbook, set a goal for a certain number of recipes to try, or even borrow a cookbook from the library and take it for a "test drive". Trish will put up a linky post the first Saturday of the month. And If you don't want to write a post, you can just share photos on twitter and instagram.

So, what am I going to do? My plan is to try several recipes from one book. I'm not sure if I'll start with  Real Grilling (which I bought for my husband along with a new grill for Father's Day nearly a decade ago... but he doesn't use cookbooks) or Tequila Mockingbird (cocktails with a literary twist, borrowed from the library). Check back August 2nd and find out.

What's happening in your kitchen this week?

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.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Classics Spin: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The most recent Classics Club Spin dealt me The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. Our task was to read and review the chosen book by July 7. Surprisingly, I finished this novel toward the end of May. Unsurprisingly, I'm still late posting my thoughts.

Originally published in 1963, The Bell Jar struck me as very readable and insightful, yet painful and tragic. One can't help but wonder exactly where autobiographical facts end and fictional details begin. I appreciated the seemingly accurate, honest portrayal of slipping into a deep depression, but overall this was not an especially enjoyable or memorable reading experience. Plath's summer in NYC was the most interesting aspect of the novel for me. I might have preferred reading  Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953  by Elizabeth Winder.

A quick glance at goodreads ratings and blogger reviews tells me that The Bell Jar is a well-loved classic. Could being over 50 at the initial reading have influenced my reaction? This seems like a book I would have loved in my 20's and possibly even into my 30's. Maybe I should chalk it up to the "Catcher in the Rye effect"...  a book many young adults love, but which loses its luster for some middle-aged readers.

Bottom line - I wish I'd read The Bell Jar in my 20's. Perhaps it doesn't shine quite as brilliantly for the over-50 set.

My rating:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

The Vacationers
by Emma Straub
Riverhead, 2014
304 pages
source: borrowed from the library

Summary (from goodreads):
For the Posts, a two-week trip to the Balearic island of Mallorca with their extended family and friends is a celebration: Franny and Jim are observing their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, and their daughter, Sylvia, has graduated from high school. The sunlit island, its mountains and beaches, its tapas and tennis courts, also promise an escape from the tensions simmering at home in Manhattan. But all does not go according to plan: over the course of the vacation, secrets come to light, old and new humiliations are experienced, childhood rivalries resurface, and ancient wounds are exacerbated.

This is a story of the sides of ourselves that we choose to show and those we try to conceal, of the ways we tear each other down and build each other up again, and the bonds that ultimately hold us together. With wry humor and tremendous heart, Emma Straub delivers a richly satisfying story of a family in the midst of a maelstrom of change, emerging irrevocably altered yet whole

My thoughts:

Do you enjoy family dysfunction in an idyllic setting?
Do you like character driven novels?
Are you okay with books where not much actually happens?

Three "yes" answers and The Vacationers might just be your ideal summer read.

The cast:
- Jim and Franny Post, celebrating their 30th anniversary and trying to recover from a marital crisis
- daughter  Sylvia, recent high school graduate escaping NYC after a Facebook debacle
- their  floundering 28 year old floundering son and his 40 year old girlfriend (nobody likes her)
- Franny's best friend, Charles, and his husband, who doesn't really want to be there
- a handsome 20 year old tutor visiting daily to help Sylvia improve her Spanish

This all adds up to two weeks of tension (maybe closer to torture for some), a little growth, and a few very funny moments. I enjoyed Straub's sharp observations (both social and literary) - from family, love, and parenthood to Florida real estate and the Brontë sisters.

My only complaint, and it's relatively minor, is that I would have appreciated more of a sense of place. This Spanish paradise could have been used to greater advantage.

Overall though, I loved this book.... and these ideal reading conditions certainly didn't hurt.

A Few Quotes:
When people asked what kind of writer her mother was, Sylvia usually said that she was like Joan Didion, only with an appetite, or like Ruth Reichl, but with an attitude problem. She did not say this to her mother. 
Franny felt pleased with her choice of venue: Mallorca was less cliché than the South of France, and less overrun by Americans than Tuscany. Of course it had an overbuilt shoreline and its share of terrible tourist-infested restaurants, but they would avoid all that. Islands, being harder to get to, naturally separated some of the wheat from the chaff, which was the entire philosophy behind places like Nantucket, where children grew up feeling entitled to private beaches and loud pants.
The idea had been to be together, everyone nicely trapped, with card games and wine and all the fixings of satisfying summers at their fingertips. 
Gemma was one of Franny's least favorite humans on the planet for a number of reasons:  1. She was Charle's second-closest female friend. 2. She was tall and thin and blonde, three automatic strikes. 3. She'd been shipped off to boarding school outside Paris and spoke perfect French, which Franny found profoundly show-offy, like doing a triple axel at the Rockefeller Center skating rink.  
She'd always thought that siblings were pretty much the same people in differently shaped bodies, just shaken up slightly, so that the molecules rearranged themselves, but now she wasn't sure.  
Families were nothing more than hope cast out in a wide net, everyone wanting only the best.  
My rating:

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Classics

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. I'm a week late with this particular topic, but since I don't have any real blogging confessions (this week's actual prompt), I decided to bend the rules. Most of you already know how much I love classics, so it was no easy task coming up with just ten favorites. After much agony, here are the novels that made my final cut:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Elizabeth Bennet. Mr. Darcy. No matter how often I reread, I love it every time. 

East of Eden by John Steinbeck
An all-time favorite... and let me put in a plug for Travels with Charley, too.

The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
I've loved every one of her novels I've read, but am including this because it is the most well known.

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
This is probably my favorite novel - ever. But I'm old enough to question whether anything published in 1987 really qualifies as a classic.

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton
I think Undine Spragg is one of literature's most memorable characters.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë 
Anne is definitely underrated. This is my favorite Brontë novel to date.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I first read this in high school, and it just gets better with every reread.

Howards End by E.M. Forster
I loved this book. It's near the top of my "classics to be reread" list.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Who knew Mrs. Gaskell was so awesome? I read this with a group of bloggers a couple of summers ago and want to read everything else she's written . The miniseries is pretty great, too.

The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
I've loved every Henry James novel I've read and definitely want to reread this one day. Note: I've not read his later works (you know, the ones with those convoluted sentences that are an entire paragraph unto themselves) so this proclamation could easily change.

And here I am at ten. No Eudora Welty, Wilkie Collins. Willa Cather, Emile Zola,  Ernest Hemingway, or Charles Dickens. No Forsyte Saga, Count of Monte Cristo, or Tess of the d'Urbervilles.  This really is an impossible task.

Be forewarned, I'll be pre-empting another TTT soon to list classics at the top of my TBR list.

What are your favorite classics?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Weekly Update: A Long Holiday Weekend

Disappearing for much of the week wasn't my plan, it just happened. Our oldest daughter is home and we've had a wonderful holiday weekend - life has been a happy blur since Wednesday. My nephew's graduation party is this afternoon, so the fun isn't over yet.

What about reading? As you might expect, there hasn't been much at all. I'm reading the same books as last week. Now that I have the characters and story lines straight, The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes is a very enjoyable novel. I look forward to relaxing by the lake with this one later today and should finish before the end of the week.

My book club's annual pot luck dinner is coming up soon. Each of us will read a different foodie memoir and prepare a dish featured in our selection. My choice is The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz (which also fits in nicely with #ParisInJuly). The first few chapters have given me a taste of its tone... I'm hungry for more. This is a mostly social gathering so I don't expect much serious discussion, but know a few more titles will be added to my wish list.

Listening time has also been at a premium this week, but I've managed to listen to about a third of The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd and am loving it. My morning walks will resume tomorrow, so there's a chance I'll be able to finish this week.

Up next? We'll have to wait and see...

I've missed a couple #100HappyDays this week, but will still share a couple of favorites.

Now we're off to the train station....my daughter is heading back to NYC. I'll catch up with your blogs later tonight and tomorrow. Happy Sunday!

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


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