Sunday, August 28, 2011

5 Best Books: Based on a True Story

5 Best Books is a meme hosted by Cassandra at Indie Reader Houston
This week's topic:  the 5 best books based on a true story

    My list, in no particular order:
  1. Schindler's List by Thomas Keneally.  This is a novel based on the efforts of Oskar Schindler, a reluctant hero, to save the lives of hundreds of Jews in Czechoslovakia.  The movie is exceptional as well.
  2. The Paris Wife by Paula McClain.  A novel about Ernest and Hadley Hemingway and their years in Paris.   
  3. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  Yes, this is non-fiction so by definition it is based on a true story; but this book reads like a novel and got me to connect emotionally to the "characters" of the story.
  4. Guernica:  A Novel by Dave Boling.  Fascinating story about the events leading up to and following the terrible attack on the Basque city during the Spanish Civil War.
  5. The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt.  Another non-fiction book, this time about Venice and a fire that destroyed its historic opera house in 1996.  I frankly had no real interest in visiting Venice until I read this book.

I'm ba-ack!

  I just spent a wonderful week with my two nieces in Toronto and two nieces and nephew in Winnipeg.  They are all getting so big so fast (they range in age from 20 months to almost 10 years) and I love that they still enjoy doing stuff with their ol' Auntie, even if it's just hanging out and playing cribbage (my nephew just learned the game this summer and though it has been many years since I played it my memory was refreshed quickly and we played it a few times each day).

  Of course I took some time out for myself and - ahem - may have visited the bookstores.  Here is what I picked up:

  The four novels  - Practical Jean, Irma Voth, Stanley Park and Far to Go - were all on my to-read list.  Mordecai:  The Life & Times  is a biography of one of my favorite writers, Mordecai Richler; so when I saw it in the store I "had" to have it.  The last book - Defiant Spirits - is about The Group of Seven, a Canadian artist movement, which I am ashamed to say that I know very little about; however in a visit to The Art Gallery of Ontario I viewed several paintings of the Group and enjoyed them very much, and since I've read and enjoyed other books by Ross King (The Judgement of Paris and Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling) I wanted to have this book to learn more about this art.

  Sadly, though, I must return to work tomorrow and will not have time to dig into most of these right away (though I did start Practical Jean on the flight home -- a very quirky story!).  Where is that reading sabbatical when you need it?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Gone Spoiling.....

I'm off to Toronto to visit my 20-month old nieces and then to Winnipeg to visit my two nieces (9 and 5) and nephew (7) in what I am fondly referring to as Auntie Sue's Whirlwind Rugrat Spoiling Tour.

The last few weeks have been busy trying to get the workplace in order so it doesn't destruct while I'm away, but I'll be back at the beginning of September!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

5 Best Re-Reads

The 5 Best Books meme is hosted by Cassandra at Indie Reader Houston.
This week:  The 5 Best Re-Reads

  If it wasn't for the fact that my to-read shelves are literally overflowing with books I haven't even read once, I would do a lot more re-reading.  I have several books that I would love to read again.  Maybe I need to add one of these into the rotation now and again.

  Anyways, these  5 books are ones I have read more than once.  In almost all of these cases I read the book first on my own, then a second time when one of my book groups selected it.

  1. The Help by Kathryn Stockett.  Loved. This. Book.  Can't wait to read it again, and to see the movie.
  2. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.  Such a delightful book.  It simply warms my heart to read this.
  3. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.  I have to admit when I first read this novel several years ago I wasn't that impressed.  However when I re-read it for my book group's discussion (where we also saw the movie), I was blown away by its language and its story. 
  4. The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson.  I still can't say if the murder has been properly solved after reading this twice in two months.  The mystery in this book is so well-written.
  5. Agatha Christie mysteries, specifically The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Murder on the Orient Express.  I devoured Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot novels as a teenager, but was never able to figure out "whodunit".  That said, perhaps I enjoyed the re-reads because I knew the outcome; I certainly was better able to pick up on all the clues hidden in the narrative.  And her writing is a lot wittier than I remember.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Summer at Tiffany

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart
Published:  2007 by Avon
Source:  Purchased

Do you remember the best summer of your life?

     So begins this wonderful memoir of an era that could easily be viewed as the best of times and the worst of times (apologies to Charles Dickens).

     It is 1945.  At the end of their school year at the University of Iowa, Marjorie Jacobson and her closest friend, Marty Garrett, head to New York City for the summer with high hopes.  Some of their sorority sisters have landed coveted jobs at the big department stores, and the girls want to join their ranks.  Turned away from them all ("Come back in the fall" they are told), in a very bold move they decide to call at Tiffany, one of the hallmarks of luxury then as now. 

     Thanks to the still-ongoing war in the Pacific, young men are scarce for filling positions, and the girls are hired as pages for the store's sales floor.  It is not the most glamourous job, but for Marjorie and Marty it is the opportunity of a lifetime.  They are provided dresses from Bonwit Teller (one of those much admired department stores) as uniforms, at times act as models of the jewelry in the showroom, and catch glimpses of celebrities.

     Outside of work, the girls have an active social life; their apartment in the city is party central for their sorority sisters coming in for the weekend from the outer boroughs.  And they meet new people as well that have the potential to change the course of their lives.  Marjorie, an aspiring cellist, meets a Yale music professor at the home of the girls' landlady who encourages her musical ambitions; and she meets a Navy sailor, Jim, who might be more than just a summer acquaintance.  
     What I truly loved about this book is that it re-created the time and the place so well.  I often say that I was born in the wrong decade and would love to go back in time to live in the 1940s and this book put me back there.  The innocence of these 20 year old girls -- "Good Night!" "Judas Priest!" "Oh my gosh!" were the harshest phrases coming out of their mouths -- and the simplicity of the era (despite the war raging overseas) is just wonderful to experience.  It's also entertaining to see how much prices and the value of money have changed over the years -- who wouldn't grab a dozen etched cocktail glasses from Tiffany for $12 these days?

     I also loved the element of suspense contained in the memoir -- at the end I found myself exclaiming "NO!" out loud, totally surprised at the outcome.

     Highly recommended.


Friday, August 12, 2011

5 Best Real People in Fiction

The 5 Best Books meme is hosted by Cassandra at Indie Reader Houston.

  This week's topic:  The 5 Best Real People in Fiction

  1.   John Singer Sargent  and Virginie Gautreau in I am Madame X by Gioia Diliberto.  This is an interesting novel about the creation of a painting that, in its day, created quite a scandal at the Paris Salon.  I had the opportunity of seeing the real work on a visit to London several years ago and I think I appreciated it more because I read about its (fictionalized) creation.
  2. Leo and Sofya Tolstoy in The Last Station by Jay Parini.  I admit, I have a girl crush on Helen Mirren, so I may have enjoyed the movie more than the book, but the novel is definitely worth reading.
  3. Ernest and Hadley Hemingway in The Paris Wife.  I frankly had no interest in reading Hemingway until I read this novel.  The Sun Also Rises ended up not being my cup of tea, but I loved A Moveable Feast, his memoir of his time in Paris.  And I would love to learn more about Hadley.
  4. Captain Alfred Dreyfus in A Man in Uniform by Kate Taylor.  He's not a true character in this novel, per se, but his imprisonment under questionable circumstances is the crux of the plot.
  5. Pablo Picasso in Guernica by Dave Boling.  Again he is not a true character, but the novel does describe the creation of his masterpiece based on the destruction of the Basque city during the Spanish Civil War.
Hmmm -- and I thought I couldn't come up with a list for this topic!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Tobacco Wars

Tobacco Wars by Paul Seesequasis
Published:  2010 by Quattro Books
Source :  Received from publisher as part of TLC Book Tour

  It shames me to say that I have not read much Native Canadian or American literature.  In fact, the only book that comes to mind that I have read is On the Rez by Ian Frazier, and that is  non-fiction written by an outsider.  So I was looking forward to reading Tobacco Wars and hosting a stop on the TLC Book Tour, hoping to introduce myself to a new genre of writing.

  Tobacco Wars is a novella with two narratives -- one of Pocahontas and her travels to London and relationship with Ben Jonson; the other an apparent Indian legend featuring a she-bear and a wolf pack.  Throughout both tobacco is mentioned, but frankly I did not see this as the main focus, which is what I expected given the book's title.  

  Again, I'm ashamed to admit that I don't know much about the real Pocahontas so I can't say how close or divergent this story is to the truth.  But it is interesting, and perhaps my own ignorance is revealed when I'm surprised at how well she is able to manage when she is in London.

  The legend part of the story, however, was not my cup of tea at all.  It seems to describe a creation -- of perhaps a nation, perhaps the entire world? -- but the way it is described is, well, crude and to me not pleasant to read.  Tobacco is introduced and the legend moves to tell of its influence on society even in the present day.  I think I understand what the author is trying to get at here -- oppression of Native populations fueled in part by the high demand for tobacco -- but I did not like the way he did it.

  Perhaps when and if I read more Native North American literature I will come back to this book with a better understanding of its background.

  Please make sure to visit the other stops on the tour:

Wednesday, July 13: Reading Lark

Thursday, July 14: Chaotic Compendiums

Monday, July 18: Truth, Beauty, Freedom, and Books

Tuesday, July 19: Jenny Loves to Read

Tuesday, July 26: Lit and Life

Wednesday, July 27: Man of La Book

Thursday, July 28: Man of La Book - author Q&A

Thursday, July 28: My Two Blessings

Tuesday, August 2: Bibliosue

Wednesday, August 3: Scandalous Women

Thursday, August 4: Life In Review

Monday, August 1, 2011

August's Reading List

  Ok, I know I am in the minority here, but I am glad summer is on its way out.  I am no fan of the extreme heat we've been enduring here in Chicagoland and combine that with the record rainfall in July I am ready for the cooler temperatures of the fall.  That's not to say August won't be hot as well, but at least the light at the end of the tunnel is getting closer.

  August is my birthday month, but at my age it isn't such a big deal for me anymore.  My niece, Ryane, however, will be turning 5 on the same day as I'm turning xx and that is a big deal.  I won't be able to celebrate with her on the day itself, but later in the month I will be conducting Auntie Sue's Whirlwind Rugrat Spoiling Tour and visiting her and her brother and sister in Winnipeg for a few days after spending a few days in Toronto with my 20-month old nieces.  It is going to be a lot of fun.

  In between my travels and work (yeah, I still gotta work) -- I am looking forward to reading the following books:
   And I'll probably be reading some kids' books to my favorite listeners :-)

   Have a great month!