Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Current Reading: April 25

It's our last full week in Florida and there isn't much time for reading. My attention is instead focused on packing, end-of-season tasks, "one last time" activities, and the few things left on our to-do list. My sister assures me it's safe to head home. The snow has finally melted, but temperatures will only be in the 50s by the middle of next week. Sounds chilly to me... I was hoping for 60s.

On my kindle:
Before my wife turned vegetarian, I'd always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way. To be frank, the first time I met her I wasn't even attracted to her. Middling height; bobbed hair neither long nor short; jaundiced, sickly-looking skin; somewhat prominent cheekbones; her timid, sallow aspect told me all I needed to know. As she came up to the table where I was waiting, I couldn't help but notice her shoes - the plainest black shoes imaginable. And that walk of hers -  neither fast nor slow, striding nor mincing.
The Vegetarian
by Han Kang

How's that for an unusual opening? The Vegetarian has been on my 'to read' list for months, but Jillian's recent review pushed me to borrow the ebook from my library now. I've read about 20% of this strange, oddly compelling, short book (just under 200 pages). It feels like one that could (should?) be read in one sitting, but I haven't found a large enough block of time.  Here is the goodreads summary:
Before the nightmare, Yeong-hye and her husband lived an ordinary life. But when splintering, blood-soaked images start haunting her thoughts, Yeong-hye decides to purge her mind and renounce eating meat. In a country where societal mores are strictly obeyed, Yeong-hye's decision to embrace a more “plant-like” existence is a shocking act of subversion. And as her passive rebellion manifests in ever more extreme and frightening forms, scandal, abuse, and estrangement begin to send Yeong-hye spiraling deep into the spaces of her fantasy. In a complete metamorphosis of both mind and body, her now dangerous endeavor will take Yeong-hye—impossibly, ecstatically, tragically—far from her once-known self altogether. 
 A disturbing, yet beautifully composed narrative told in three parts, The Vegetarian is an allegorical novel about modern day South Korea, but also a story of obsession, choice, and our faltering attempts to understand others, from one imprisoned body to another.
I can't wait to read more tonight!

On audio:

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea
by Barbara Demick

With the addition of The Vegetarian, my reading has taken a all-Korean turn this week. I'm still listening to Nothing to Envy, a book which follows the lives of six North Koreans over fifteen years—a period which includes Kim Il-sung's death in 1994, the rise of his son Kim Jong-il, and the devastating famine. Before beginning this book, I was embarrassingly uninformed about North Korea, so am appreciating the much-needed background and history. With another three hours to go, I plan to finish before we begin the drive home. Do you have recommendations for further reading on North Korea?

What are you reading this week?

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Book Brief: Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen

Her Royal Spyness: A Royal Spyness Mystery
Royal Spyness, Book 1
by Rhys Bowen
narrated by Katherine Kellgren
Audible Studios, 2010
8 hours and 9 minutes

Publisher's summary:
Georgie, aka Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, cousin of King George V of England, is penniless and trying to survive on her own as an ordinary person in London in 1932.

So far she has managed to light a fire and boil an egg... She's gate-crashed a wedding... She's making money by secretly cleaning houses... And she's been asked to spy for Her Majesty the Queen.

Everything seems to be going swimmingly until she finds a body in her bathtub... and someone is definitely trying to kill her.

My thoughts:

A lot of bloggers enjoy Rhys Bowen's novels and now I understand why. After a couple of nonfiction audiobooks, I was in the mood for something completely different - "Georgie" to the rescue! Bowen takes full advantage of her heroine's position (34th in line to the throne and flat broke) to create an endearing character while delivering some unexpectedly comical scenes.

Katherine Kellgren's British accent added to my enjoyment. Her pacing and delivery were pitch perfect. I will certainly continue listening to this series.

Overall, Her Royal Spyness reminded me of a light-hearted Maisie Dobbs.  In fact, I'll likely reach for the next book in this series before catching up with Maisie.

My rating:

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Current Reading: April 18

What Possessed Me?
If I hadn't been naive and recklessly trusting, would I ever have purchased number 10 Turpentine Lane, a chronic headache, masquerading as a charming bungalow? "Best value in town," said the ad, which was true, if judging by the price tag alone. I paid almost nothing by today's standards, attributing the bargain to my mother's hunch that the previous owner had succumbed while in residence. Not so off-putting, I rationalized; don't most people die at home? On moving day my next-door neighbor brought me a welcome loaf of banana bread along with the truth about my seller. A suicide attempt . . . sleeping pills . . . she'd saved them up until she had enough, poor thing. And who could blame her? "Strong as an ox," she added. "But a whole bottle?" She tapped the side of her head. 
"Brain damage?" I asked. "Brain dead?"
"Her daughter had to make the awful decision long distance."

On Turpentine Lane
by Elinor Lipman

Elinor Lipman's books are just plain fun to read. Her latest novel, On Turpentine Lane, is delivering the quirky characters and snappy dialogue. I've come to expect. I grabbed it off my library's "new fiction" shelf and started reading right away. Here's the goodreads summary:
At thirty-two, Faith Frankel has returned to her claustro-suburban hometown, where she writes institutional thank-you notes for her alma mater. It's a peaceful life, really, and surely with her recent purchase of a sweet bungalow on Turpentine Lane her life is finally on track. Never mind that her fiancé is off on a crowdfunded cross-country walk, too busy to return her texts (but not too busy to post photos of himself with a different woman in every state.) And never mind her witless boss, or a mother who lives too close, or a philandering father who thinks he's Chagall. When she finds some mysterious artifacts in the attic of her new home, she wonders whether anything in her life is as it seems. What good fortune, then, that Faith has found a friend in affable, collegial Nick Franconi, officemate par excellence .
At the 50% mark, this novel has been the perfect complement to my decidedly more serious audiobook...

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea 
by Barbara Demick, narrated by Karen White

This one has been in my audible library and on my kindle for quite some time, but seemed especially appropriate this week. Published in 2009, it's an eye-opening account of everyday life in North Korea. I'm hoping it's still current enough to provide insight as I continue to follow the news.

Here is the goodreads summary:
Nothing to Envy follows the lives of six North Koreans over fifteen years—a chaotic period that saw the death of Kim Il-sung, the unchallenged rise to power of his son Kim Jong-il, and the devastation of a far-ranging famine that killed one-fifth of the population.  
Taking us into a landscape most of us have never before seen, award-winning journalist Barbara Demick brings to life what it means to be living under the most repressive totalitarian regime today—an Orwellian world that is by choice not connected to the Internet, in which radio and television dials are welded to the one government station, and where displays of affection are punished; a police state where informants are rewarded and where an offhand remark can send a person to the gulag for life.  
Demick takes us deep inside the country, beyond the reach of government censors. Through meticulous and sensitive reporting, we see her six subjects—average North Korean citizens—fall in love, raise families, nurture ambitions, and struggle for survival. One by one, we experience the moments when they realize that their government has betrayed them.   
Nothing to Envy is a groundbreaking addition to the literature of totalitarianism and an eye-opening look at a closed world that is of increasing global importance.
I've been listening on my morning walks and it's kept me going the entire hour, despite rising temperatures. I'm in Florida until early May.

What are you reading this week?

Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking

The Little Book of Hygge: Danish Secrets to Happy Living
by Meik Wiking
William Morrow, 2017
225 pages
source: borrowed from the library

What is hygge?

Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, and author of this book says:
Hygge is about an atmosphere and an experience, rather than about things. It is about being with people we love. A feeling of home. A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down. You may be having an endless conversation about the small or big things in life - or just be comfortable in each other's silent company - or simply just be by yourself enjoying a cup of tea.
How do you get hygge?

Candles, a hot drink, cozy blankets, a sweet treat, books, a small group of close friends or loved ones... Here in Florida, I find hygge in walks on the beach, the sound of the waves, sunrises over the water, a bike ride through the wildlife refuge, and simple sunset picnics at the beach.

 I instinctively knew these things before picking up the book, and I'll bet you do, too.

However, Wiking presents the "information" in an attractive and engaging format. It's a quick read that offers suggestions (reminders?) on how to create hygge.

Go ahead and spend an hour with The Little Book of Hygge, but I recommend you borrow it from the library. Use the money for a candle, tea, and slice of cake instead!

My rating:


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
by Kathleen Rooney
St. Martin's Press, 2017
287 pages
source: purchased

Summary (from goodreads):
It’s the last day of 1984, and 85-year-old Lillian Boxfish is about to take a walk.

As she traverses a grittier Manhattan, a city anxious after an attack by a still-at-large subway vigilante, she encounters bartenders, bodega clerks, chauffeurs, security guards, bohemians, criminals, children, parents, and parents-to-be—in surprising moments of generosity and grace. While she strolls, Lillian recalls a long and eventful life that included a brief reign as the highest-paid advertising woman in America—a career cut short by marriage, motherhood, divorce, and a breakdown.

A love letter to city life—however shiny or sleazy—Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney paints a portrait of a remarkable woman across the canvas of a changing America: from the Jazz Age to the onset of the AIDS epidemic; the Great Depression to the birth of hip-hop.

My thoughts:

Meandering, thoughtful, light on plot. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, a novel about a woman and the city she cherishes, is truly a delightful read.

I opened the book, discovered endpapers imprinted with a map of Manhattan detailing Lillian's journey, and instantly fell in love.

On New Year's Eve in 1984, 85-year-old  Lillian Boxfish takes a long walk around Manhattan. From her Murray Hill apartment, to Battery Park, St. Vincent's Hospital, and eventually Macy's in Herald Square, with stops at restaurants, a bodega, a house party in Chelsea, and Penn Station, the walk chronicles her interactions with old friends and random strangers, as well as her ruminations on life and the city she loves.

Not all that much actually happens in this novel, but Lillian's interactions with clerks, restaurant patrons, and would-be muggers will make you laugh and may even bring a tear to your eye. I especially enjoyed her reflections on career (she was a Macy's advertising executive in the 1930s), love, marriage, and motherhood.

By the way, Lillian Boxfish is loosely based on the life of Margaret Fishback. Don't miss the author's note at the end.

Very highly recommended.

Pearls of wisdom from Lillian:
“No one survives the future.” 
“Time only goes in that one direction.” 
“Any day you walk down a street and find nothing new but nothing missing counts as a good day in a city you love.” 
“Here’s some free advice: Make an honest assessment of the choices you’ve made before you look askance at somebody else’s.” 
“The point of living in the world is just to stay interested.” 
“If you love something, know that it will leave on a day you are far from ready.” 
“... my true religion is actually civility. Please note that I do not call my faith “politeness.” That’s part of it, yes, but I say civility because I believe that good manners are essential to the preservation of humanity— one’s own and others’— but only to the extent that that civility is honest and reasonable, not merely the mindless handmaiden of propriety.”
My rating:


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