In Love of Books and Friendship

I am a passionate reader and hopeless bibliophile.  When I am not reading I am quite often shopping for more books. Nothing makes me happier than when someone asks me to recommend a good book . . . so you've come to the right place.  Let's talk about books. Tell me, what are you reading?

The Catcher in the Rye

The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

This book marks my 7th book read on my Classic's List for my Classic's Challenge.


I can't say that I necessarily enjoyed this book.  It mostly served the purpose of checking it off my TBR list and satisfying a curiosity.  Never reading this in high school I wonder if I might have liked it more if I read it while I was in my teens so as to better relate to the main character?


Holden Caulfield is the protagonist and comes from privilege.  We come into his life as he has been expelled from a prep school.  Before he leaves he gets into a fight with his roommate and then heads off to New York as he delays his arrival at home to face his parents.  Along the way he meets up with old friends in addition to experiencing odd encounters with several strangers.  As a coming-of-age novel it's apparent Holden is anxious about the future and what it holds for him. 


Most of the story was of a rambling nature as well as continuous repetitive phrases which made it for a awkward read.  Perhaps this is Salinger's way of showing us Holden is ill and his thought process is disconnected.


While I wouldn't recommend this book I am happy to be able to say that I have read it.


How I acquired this book: Gift from son. Mother's Day visit to Moe's Books, Berkeley, CA

Shelf Life:  8 months


The Other Typist

The Other Typist - Suzanne Rindell

If The Great Gatsby and speakeasies speak to you here is a book for you.  As a debut novel by Suzanne Rindell I hope there will be more to read by her in the future.


It's New York City in the 1920's, we first we learn about Rose who is plain and mousy. Dull clothes and a lackluster personality her life centers around her job at the precinct as a stenographer/typist.  A new typist Odalie walks in and Rose's drab world is instantly filled with color.  Odalie is charismatic, beautiful and alluring, in other words, everything that Rose is not.  She is quickly drawn to Odalie's charm and beauty and before you know it they are fast friends. Rose confides to her of an unfortunate incident at her boardinghouse and Odalie asks her to be her roommate and share the rent at her luxurious hotel or "just pay me what you pay now."  Rose can't believe her luck.  Never having a friend like Odalie nor the exciting life that Odalie so generously shares, Rose's preoccupation with her becomes an obsession and things that should have been obvious with her friend go unnoticed for a time, until she is surrounded by mystery and lies.


Some underlying themes of The Great Gatsby are subtley present.  A good read and a light mystery of historical fiction that I would recommend. 


How I acquired this bookHalf Price Books, Concord, California

Shelf life 9 months

Not All Tarts Are Apple

Not All Tarts Are Apple - Pip Granger

I must confess I bought this book mostly because of the cover.  I thought it was adorable and well it is a Penguin book. I have an affinity for Penguin books for some unknown reason.


A cute story set in a Soho neighborhood in London in the 1950's it's centered around an adopted girl named Rosie. Her mom of which the colorful title gets its name drops off Rosie as a baby with her friends and they become her Uncle Bert and Aunt Maggie and her guardians. They own the cafe on the block that is host to all the quirky characters that come in as regulars. When Rosie's mom pops in and it's discovered someone is following her all chaos breaks loose in humorous mayhem.


A quick fun read when wanting something light and easy breezy.


How I acquired this book: The Book Depot, Pittsburg, CA

Shelf life: Three months

My Antonia

My Antonia - Willa Cather

A most poignant fictional story told as a memoir by Jim Burden of his childhood friend Antonia. At the turn of the century in the late 1800's, Jim is orphaned and moves from Virginia to live with his grandparents on the Nebraska prairie and a life of farming.


The Burdens are a perfect example of neighbors and define the true meaning of community.  The closest neighbors are an immigrant Bohemian family the Shemirda's and their eldest daughter is Antonia. Jim and Antonia become fast friends and throughout the book he recalls how each of the experiences they shared together have greatly influenced his life. 


Willa Cather paints a breathtaking landscape in this nostalgic and romantic story. I found it beautifully haunting. 



Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption - Laura Hillenbrand

Every once in awhile a book comes along that resonates with me deeply. This is just that kind of book. So inspiring and amazing is the biography of Louis Zamperini. Laura Hillenbrand aka Seabiscuit brings this Olympian, WWII veteran and POW survivor's story to life in such a way that it overwhelms one's mind to believe it's true.


Louis was born to Italian immigrants and grew up in Torrence, California. As a restless teenager he was often in trouble and made a name and reputation for himself. His older brother Pete gets him involved in running track and his life takes a turn for the good. Breaking and setting new records he heads to the 1936 Olympics in Germany and brings pride to his family. Although he doesnt come home with a medal he sets his sights to do so in 1940.


When he returns home and Pearl Harbor is bombed he enlists to serve his country. As part of the Army Air Corps he is part of a bombardier squad dropping bombs on targets.  On a mission and flying in a substandard plane his troop crashes in the Pacific Ocean where he and only two others of his group survive. The detailed account of this experience is nearly inconceivable but astonishingly he survives.


He is finally rescued by the Japanese and held in a POW camp where he treated horribly. The officer Watanabe has it in for him from the very beginning and takes pleasure in his cruelty. By this time the Zamperini family believes Louis is dead until they hear of a radio broadcast where he claims he alive and well. This of course was staged by the Japanese to make the world think they were not mistreating the POW's.


Once the war is over and Louis returns home all is well for awhile. He meets a woman, they marry and have a child but eventually his demons catch up to him. Coming to terms with the nightmare of his past you learn how he meets this final challenge in order to go on with his life and thus see how this man is truly remarkable.


This book left me beyond impressed with how much extensive and painstaking research Hillenbrand underwent to share the story of this extraordinary man to the world.



March - Geraldine Brooks

Based on Louisa May Alcott's beloved classic Little Women, Geraldine Brooks brings us a parallel account of Peter March, the father of Meg, Jo Beth and Amy. Most of the story of Little Women has their father as absent while off to war.  This fills in the blanks as to his whereabouts and adds a bit more depth to one of my favorite classics.


Its pre-Civil War and Peter March is an honorable man with idealistic views. The story begins with him just out of the seminary and a traveling salesman marketing his trade in the south. He witnesses slave life and racism on the great plantations. He then decides to join the abolitionist movement when he meets his future wife Margaret aka Marmee.  They share noble views along with their friends, famous authors Emerson and Thoreau which are considered quite forward of their era.


I thought this was an interesting account of historical fiction told in the perspective of March and then Marmee.  Although some liberties might have been taken to embellish the story I though it was worth the read.


How I acquired this book: Used book sale at the Walnut Creek Library

Shelf life:  Approximately one year

The Headmistress

The Headmistress - Angela Thirkell

The first book I've read by this Angela Thirkell, I found at first it difficult to grasp with all the characters introduced in the first chapter. After sticking with it I found her storytelling to be charming. The cast of characters is truly what makes this book a gem.


Taking place in the fictional village of Barsetshire, England they are in midst of World War II. The central family are the Beltons and their three children who lease out their estate due to financial difficulties to Miss Sparling, the Headmistress of the Hosiers Girl's School. the Beltons then taking up residence elsewhere in town. They, the headmistress, along with the other townsfolk commiserate over war rations and other simple trivialities that result in a pleasant read.

The Reading Promise

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared - Alice Ozma, Jim Brozina

This was a heartwarming memoir about Alice and her dad and the promise he makes to her to read out loud to her everyday. The promise begins while Alice is in the 4th grade and at first was a goal set for 100 days. Once they break that streak they continue on until she goes away to college. Sometimes challenging they manage to get in a few moments of reading each day even when their schedules are full.


What I loved about this book - her father is a librarian which means he's already sort of a superhero. Also the mention of ALL the books they've read and how occasionally they touch on what she is going through at the moment.


What I wished for the book - that the books Alice and her dad read were discussed. I get this was a book about reading and not a book about books but that's what I'd have preferred.


This was an easy read and a sweet story about a father/daughter relationship.

Still Alice

Still Alice - Lisa Genova

This book was our latest selection for my book club and I think it was one that was mutually enjoyed and one that we found quite interesting.


Set in Cambridge, Massachusetts it is the story of Alice Howland who is a highly intelligent and esteemed Harvard professor in the field of linguistics.  Just turning 50 she is diagnosed with early Alzheimer's disease.  Written in the first person we witness first hand how frustrating and frightening daily life could be having this disease. 


The author brilliantly takes us through the tests Alice must perform at her appointments and the decisions she struggles with in telling her family and colleagues. Each of her three grown children react differently. When they realize they have the choice of being tested themselves to find out if they carry the gene, they consider whether they want to know if they too will face the same fate as their mother.  Her husband, a cancer researcher, copes with his wife's news in his own way.


I found this book to be both heartbreaking and fascinating.  Never reading anything that touched significantly on the subject of Alzheimer's I appreciated gaining both knowledge and a bit of insight of this disease.

The Way Life Should Be

The Way Life Should Be - Christina Baker Kline

I received this book from the publisher via as an Early Reviewer.  I was very interested to read this as I loved Orphan Train also by Christina Baker Kline.


Angela Russo was raised by her dad and Italian nonna in New Jersey and remain close to them. Now single gal in her early thirties living in New York and an event planner for a museum.  She seems to have it all but love and a soul mate.  Taking a chance she gives online dating a try, she sets her sights on a man from Maine and immediately convinces herself this is "the guy".   They meet halfway for a first date which sets Angela off on an all consuming pursuit of love. Losing focus on the job, her current responsibilities literally end in flames. 


Out of work she sets off on a new path - to Maine and the man of her dreams.  While she knows she is taking a huge risk leaving everything behind, she ignores the sensible advice of her best friend and family and goes anyway.  When things don't go as expected with her chosen "soul mate" she must re-evaluate why she is there and what she wants to do with her life.


This was a quick light read and while somewhat predictable I did enjoy it.  Kline's description of life in Maine is heavenly and indeed "the way life should be".  Highly recommended for a vacation/beach read.


How I acquired this book:  HarperCollins via Early Reviewers

Shelf life:  Two weeks


William - An Englishman

William - An Englishman - Cicely Hamilton, Nicola Beauman

This Peresphone classic tells the story of William Tully, a very mild-mannered, somewhat weakling of a man.  Once his mother dies and he comes into a comfortable fortune he decides to give up work and go into politics.  As an activist he meets the lovely Griselda who is supporting the cause of suffragettes.  Convinced he's met his match they marry and plan their idealistic life together.


While William and Griselda are on honeymoon in rural Belgium they literally walk right into World War I.  To say this was a rude-awakening for them is an understatement.  The brutality of war is vividly eye opening for this extremely naïve couple and brings question to everything they once believed.


This book starts off light and airy and then leads you down a gritty path of reality.  Beautifully written yet equally heartbreaking.


How I acquired this book:  First book Peresphone "Book-a-month" subscription, birthday gift from my husband.

Shelf life:  One month

Violets of March

The Violets of March - Sarah Jio

This story begins when Emily Wilson sets out to Puget Sound to visit her Aunt Bee after she and her husband divorce due to his infidelity.  She is devastated and intends to try to make sense of her life again.  But wait . . .


At her aunt's house Emily finds an old diary in the nightstand drawer next to her bed.  There are people and events she reads about that sounds vaguely familiar.  Her aunt doesn't want her to associate with certain people on the island.  Years ago her mother and her aunt had a falling out but never found out why and neither of them will talk about it.  Her aunt's friend Evelyn tells Emily that she will be the one to finally make everything right. She sees the same photograph of a beautiful woman in different homes on the island but nobody will talk about this mysterious woman.  Emily continues to read the diary while she puts the pieces of the past together.


Needless to say I couldn't put this book down until all these questions were answered.  This book was definitely a page turner and one I read quickly.  Definitely recommended for those liking a bit of mystery and past/present stories.


How I acquired this book:  Guessing Barnes & Noble earlier this year.

Shelf life:  Less than a year.






Black Beauty

Black Beauty (Scholastic Classics) - Anna Sewell

This book marks my sixth (#6) book read in my Classics Challenge to read 50 classics in 5 years. Most people have read this long before my age and consider it a childhood favorite. I had several horse-loving girlfriends growing up and surprisingly this never made it into my hands.

Told in the perspective of the horse itself, Black Beauty's message is repeatedly that of kindness. Throughout his life he changes homes and owners many times. Some behave kindly while other do not. Regardless of how Black Beauty is treated he perseveres in spite of it and continues to be a strong yet gentle horse. His compassion deepens after witnessing the inhumane and cruel conduct to his fellow horses by their owners and caretakers.

While this was elegantly written it was at a basic level and as such would consider and recommend it as ideal reading for children and/or young adults.

How I acquired this book: Purchase by husband on Mother's Day visit to Moe's Books in Berkeley
Shelf Life: 6 months

The House at Tyneford

The House at Tyneford - Natasha Solomons

If you liked loved Jane Eyre, Rebecca or The Little Princess this is the book for you!  Very reminiscent with hints of all these favorites blend into this story. 


Elise Landau comes from an affluent Austrian Jewish family.  Needing to leave her family to escape the increasing Nazi persecution in her beloved country she travels to the rural English costal village to serve as a maid. Though realizing she was fortunate to land such an assignment she struggles with her new role as a servant.  Terribly homesick and missing her family she agonizes with wait in receiving correspondence from her loved ones.


Compromising precedented social boundaries with her position Elise becomes friendly with the estate's heir Kit Rivers. She soon learns however that while these boundaries can be broken they cannot always be accepted.


Truly a "coming-of-age" story we witness Elise transform before our eyes from a innocent girl to a young woman wise beyond her years. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.


How I acquired this book: Either or

Shelf life:  Less than a year



Black Beauty

Black Beauty (Scholastic Classics) - Anna Sewell

This book marks my sixth (#6) book read in my Classics Challenge to read 50 classics in 5 years. Most people have read this long before my age and consider it a childhood favorite. I had several horse-loving girlfriends growing up and surprisingly this never made it into my hands. 


Told in the perspective of the horse itself, Black Beauty's message is repeatedly that of kindness.  Throughout his life he changes homes and owners many times.  Some behave kindly while other do not.  Regardless of how Black Beauty is treated he perseveres in spite of it and continues to be a strong yet gentle horse.  His compassion deepens after witnessing the inhumane and cruel conduct to his fellow horses by their owners and caretakers.


While this was elegantly written it was at a basic level and as such would consider and recommend it as ideal reading for children and/or young adults.


How I acquired this book: Purchase by husband on Mother's Day visit to Moe's Books in Berkeley

Shelf Life:  6 months

The Children Act

The Children Act - Ian McEwan

Each time I read something by Ian McEwan I wonder why I haven't read everything he's written.  I asked myself this again after I finished his latest The Children Act.  His books are succinct and to the point, thought provoking and haunting.


Fiona is a judge in England in the field of children's law.  She is intelligent and successful but her marriage suddenly comes to halt when her husband gives her an ultimatum.  Unprepared for this and on the brink of a new case she forges forward doing her best to compartmentalize her life. 


Her new case is a terminally ill teenager Adam and his parents refusing to allow the hospital to perform a drug transfusion to save his life.  Adam and his parents are Jehovah's Witness and their religion prevents them from accepting these types of procedures.  We witness Fiona's meticulous thought process as she researches her case and comes to her decision in both her legal case and her troubled marriage. Will she be able to live with the resulting consequences?


Morality versus law and all the reasons supporting each side will make for a tormenting challenge within oneself. This book will have you asking yourself "What would I do?".


How I acquired this book: From my in-laws for my birthday.

Shelf life:  One week

Currently reading

The Widow of the South
Robert Hicks