Books and Donuts

Today, March 19th, is St. Joseph’s Day, noteworthy in Italian families for the fried donuts traditionally made and consumed to celebrate the feast day.  In Hawaii, any day is a good excuse to eat fried donuts, known as malasadas, but on the East Coast, many Italian families eat zeppole.  The ingredients of the dough vary and the small donuts can be cream filled or plain, baked or fried.  But the traditional recipe my grandmother used was fast and easy, resembling a beignet.  Click on the recipe – here.  Good with a glass of milk back in the day but now great with coffee and a good book.  Here are a few books I’ve been reading while munching my donuts:

A Mystery by Jennifer EganManhattan Beach

The first time I tried reading Egan’s Manhattan Beach, I could not get past the first fifty pages, but when I tried again, the story flew by in a day.  Some books you just have to be ready to read, or, in my case, forced to read for a book club discussion, but glad I did.

title.esplanade  The dull windup (which had me stopping in the first read) was Anna’s sad childhood with her disabled sister, and her twelve year old yearnings for a better life as she accompanies her father to a house on Manhattan Beach, where he is obviously making a deal with a rich organized crime crook.  But stay with the story – it gets better.

Set during the Rosie Riveter era of World War II, Anna becomes the first woman diver working on ships in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  After her father mysteriously disappears and her sister dies, Anna’s mother leaves her alone in the big city. But this working girl knows her way around, finding an unlikely girlfriend in Nell who leads her to that same mobster boss in a nightclub, igniting a relationship and a story worthy of a film noir plot.  The murder mystery revolves around Anna’s father, but the resolution is unexpected.

In his review for the New York Times, Amor Towles, author of The Gentleman from Moscow, notes the importance of the beach and the ocean in Egan’s book:

“Turning their backs on the crowded constraints of their urban lives, all three {main characters}look to the ocean as a realm that while inherently dangerous also promises the potential for personal discovery and an almost mystical liberty.”

With her incise language Egan cleverly leads the story to a satisfying ending, and simultaneously informs the reader about an era, a location, and a woman’s vocation based on real events.

35411583  Listening to Sophie – Surprise Me!

A few bystanders may have wondered what I was laughing about as I tried out my new Beatsx earbuds, listening to Sophie Kinsella’a Surprise Me.  Kinsella’s newest addition to the Shopaholic series has heroine Sylvie married to Dan and mother to twin girls. Her job as a development officer at a family museum seems in jeopardy, and a doctor’s prediction of longevity for the couple alerts them to the long years ahead in their relationship. To shake up their ten year marriage, Kinsella has them surprising one another, creating laughable and ridiculous circumstances.  A serious note threatens to reveal a family secret, but with her usual wit and charm, Kinsella leads the reader to the expected happy ending.

81d62354b0e8908efae37b21420cdf5160d125f7Flavia is Back in Alan Bradley’s The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place

My favorite detective is back in Bradley’s newest addition to the Flavia de Luce mysteries – The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place.   Flavia’s father has died; to recover from their grief Dogger, their old family friend, has taken Flavia and her sisters on a fishing excursion.  Flavia hooks a dead body instead of a fish, and the mystery begins.

If you haven’t yet made the acquaintance of this perspicuous young woman with an extensive knowledge of chemical poisons and a flair for solving crimes, you are missing a good time.  This is the ninth in this series, from The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie to Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, but you can start anywhere.

Related ReviewA Red Herring Without Mustard

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A Look Back at Book Club Picks

Unknown  When I was coordinating a book club years ago, I tried unsuccessfully to incorporate the discussion into my online site – posting reviews of current club picks, encouraging comments from readers. Sadly, not many members used computers to communicate – about books, anyway.  Undaunted, I have posted the year’s picks of the group annually, and it has become a popular click for the curious.  Although it goes back to 2009, someone recently accessed the slate for 2012 – so that’s where I started – and ended with this year’s selections.

The Book Club Slate for 2012 included one of my favorite books – Jane Gardam’s Old Filth, and a reminder of how long Ann Patchett has been popular with State of Wonder on the list.  Skipping over to the Book Club Picks for 2015, I was reminded of my introduction to Maria Semple in Where’s You Go Bernadette?  and Hector Tobar with The Barbarian Nurseries. In The 2016 Club Picks, Kent Haruf’s Our Souls at Night and Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train demonstrated the range of books discussed.  Last year  brought back Ann Patchett with Commonwealth.  The slate for 2018 has one of my favorites – Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow.  

Are any of these on your book club list this year?

2018 Book Club Picks

Monthly Meetings (except November and December)

  1. Handling Sin by Michael Malone
  2. The Hynotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty
  3. Small Great Things by Jody Picoult
  4. The Lost Wife by Alyson Richman
  5. Midnight in Broad Daylight by Pamela Rotner Sakamoto
  6. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
  7. The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
  8. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
  9. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  10. American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee

Another Book Club Plans for Half Year at a Time:

  1. The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith
  2. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance
  3. My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
  4. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian/Between the World and Me by Sherman Alexie/Ta-Nehisi Coates
  5. The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain by Maria Rosa Menocal

 

Trying to Keep Up – Turning the Pages

How do you like your books – hard cover with pages to bend over, electronic on a phone or pad, plugged into your ears? Mine come in all flavors – three I am reading now:

Hardback:

160px-Free_Food_for_Millionaires   After finishing and enjoying Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko, I found her first novel – Free Food for Millionaires – and am now ensconced in her beautiful language and another tale of Korean immigrants – this time in New York City.

“…a tale of first-generation immigrants stuck between stodgy parents and the hip new world with focus on contemporary intergenerational cultural friction.”

So far, Casey has graduated from Princeton, been thrown out of her father’s house for disrespect, finds her boyfriend in bed with two women, and has headed to the Carlyle Hotel In New York City with her new credit card…what next?

E-book:

contentIsabelle Allende’s In the Midst of Winter caught my eye and I am reading another tale of immigrants on my iPhone – this time in Brooklyn.

The novel revolves around three main characters: Evelyn Ortega, a twenty-year old young Guatemalan born, illegal immigrant;  Lucia Maraz, an older woman and a Chilean born academic who lives in exile in the United States; and Richard Bowmaster, her landlord and colleague, who was married to a Brazilian woman earlier in his life.  The three are thrown together when Richard rear ends the car Evelyn is driving. This minor accident draws the murdered body in the trunk of Evelyn’s car into the action.”

Audiobook:

51EQME-NuJL._SL150_   When I read a review of George Eliot’s Scenes of Clerical Life, I could not resist this classic.  It is available for free on Gutenberg Press, but with so many credits on audible, I decided to listen to it in the lovely British tones of Wanda McCaddon.

“This work, George Eliot’s fiction debut, contains three stories, all of which aim to disclose the value hidden in the commonplace.  The Sad Fortunes of the Rev. Amos Barton, through vignettes of his life, portrays a character who is hard to like and easy to ridicule. Many people ridicule as well as slander and despise him, until his suffering shocks them into fellowship and sympathy.  In Mr. Gilfil’s Love-Story, Eliot brings forth conflicting value systems revolving around a young woman, Caterina, and two men, Wybrow, who is capable of loving only himself, and Mr. Gilfil, whose love for Caterina is selfless and perceptive.  The story Janet’s Repentance is an account of conversion from sinfulness to righteousness achieved through the selfless endeavors of an Evangelical clergyman.”

Lots to read – hope I can keep all the story lines from overlapping.  What are you reading?

Three Books Published Today

Not in my library yet but I’ve downloaded the samples on my iPhone, trying to decide which to read first.  They all look good.

  41nPeHMQ9NL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks

Since hearing Ann Patchett praise her preview copy this summer, I’ve been waiting for this book of short stories by the famous actor.  According to Ann, he can write too.

 

SevenDaysblog-196x300Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

If a family reunion during the holidays has you apprehensive, the premise of this story may help prepare you.  After returning from disease infested Liberia, Olivia returns to England but must be in quarantine for seven days. This family has never spent that much time in each other’s company and it promises to be quite a Christmas.

 

LastMrsParrish-blog-196x300The Last Mrs. Parrish by Liv Constantine

Psychological suspense with shades of The Talented Mr. Ripley – noone is who you think they are – sounds deliciously thrilling.

 

 

 

 

 

My December Pile of Books

After returning a few books to the library unread, I picked up a whole new pile.  I like having a selection – my personal lending library collection at home. Those I returned unread, for reasons ranging from not liking the cover to not having the time or the inclination to become absorbed in their drama:

  • Joshilyn Jackson’s The Opposite of Everyone
  • Margaret Atwood’s Hag-Seed
  • Iona Grey’s Letters to the Lost
  • Stephanie Danier’s Sweetbitter

I might try them again later – whenever the mood hits.  Have you read any you think I should revisit?

Books checked out and waiting to be read:

  • Alice Hoffman’s Faithful
  • Marie Benedict’s The Other Einstein
  • A.L. Kennedy’s Serious Sweet
  • J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy
  • Ian McGuire’s North Water
  • Jenny Colgan’s The Bookshop Around the Corner
  • Gale Forman’s Leave Me
  • William Trevor’s Love and Summer
  • Jeffrey Archer’s This Was a Man

9781476799209_p0_v3_s192x300 9781492637257_p0_v2_s192x300 9781503936508_p0_v1_s192x300 9780062300546_p0_v6_s192x300 9781627795944_p0_v3_s192x300 9780062467256_p0_v3_s192x300 9781616206178_p0_v5_s192x300 9780143117889_p0_v2_s192x300 9781250061638_p0_v5_s192x300

If you get to any of them before me, let me know how you liked the read.