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Sunday, September 13, 2015

reading roundup

The Good. The Bad. The Helpful.  That's how I would sum up this month's reading.

 Let's start with the good.  Two of the five books I read this month were absolutely delightful, The Canterbury Sisters by Kim Wright and Attachments by Rainbow Rowell.

The Canterbury Sisters by Kim Wright

I loved this book for two reasons.  One, it appealed to the English teacher in me.  The setting follow's Chaucer's Canterbury trail for goodness sake! Two, the main character is struggling with coming to terms with her view of her dead mother.  Let's face it. What daughter among us has not struggled with her relationship with her mother, living or dead.  Mom is a powerful force, one that can't be denied, one that reaches beyond the grave. This book explores this reality in a special way.  The main character Che, has lost her mother to cancer and her fiance to another woman in one fell swoop.  Reeling from these blows, Che impulsively decides to fulfill her mother's request to complete the pilgrimage to Canterbury where it is said miracles and healing happens to those who make the journey. Che, empties her mother's ashes into a zip lock bag, hops a flight to England, and joins a group of traveling pilgrims (Broads Abroad) and determines to make the pilgrimage with mom safely tucked in her backpack.  True to Chaucer's "Prologue" to the Canterbury Tales, each of the pilgrims shares a story along the path to Canterbury.  Chaucer lovers will recognize some of the characters, even though they are in modern garb.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

 Attachments was Rainbow Rowell's first novel, and it had me chomping at the bit to read more by her. Her writing is funny, witty and full of energy.  It manages to be modern and yet familiar at the same time. The main character, Lincoln, is a shy, quiet IT guy who works in the basement of a newspaper facility.  His job as Internet security officer, is to screen all employees' emails to ensure nothing inappropriate is being written.  Lincoln,  has created a program that red flags certain words (Ah ha! and you thought things like that were myths...think again, my friend, Big Brother is everywhere...FOR REAL).  Lincoln's boring life quickly takes a turn when he begins following the email correspondence between two of the newspaper's employees, Jennifer and Beth.  Can you really fall in love with someone you've never met? Atttachments gives you the answer.  An adorable story by a refreshing author.  I've put Rainbow's latest book, Eleanor and Park, on my To Read list!

On to THE BAD.  Only one of the books on my list this month really turned out to be one I couldn't wait to put down, The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay.

The House I Loved, by Tatiana de Rosnay

 I thought I would love this novel because it was set in Paris during the late 19th century.  I love a good period piece, but in this case it wasn't enough to keep my interest. I was also intrigued by the title.  It reminded me of one of my favorite songs, The House That Built Me, by Miranda Lambert (love that concept). I could just imagine a house that was the centering force in a person's life.  For someone like me who lived in 13 different houses as she was growing up, the concept of a single home having a singular impact on one's life is intriguing. But, sadly, I was to be disappointed. The house was not a major force in the characters' lives, in fact, it was rarely even described in the course of the story! I must admit, the format of the novel was unique, an elderly woman, Rose Brazelet, writing letters to her dead husband, but this format ultimately turned out to be a disaster.  I never felt I got to know any of the characters deeply.  It read too much like a newspaper report. The crux of the plot centered around the imminent razing of Rose's house, the ancestral home of her husband, in order to make way for the modernization of the layout of the city of Paris.  Not even Paris, nor love, nor secrets could engage me in this one.  I must confess I skimmed the last 50 pages just to confirm the too obvious ending of a very disappointing read.

And finally, The Helpful.  I read two non-fiction books this month that I found to be very useful, Voracious by Cara Nicoletti, and Dave Ramsey's latest book, The Total Money Makeover.

Voracious (A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way Through Great Books), by Cara Nicoletti

Besides being an author, Ms. Nicoletti is a professional butcher, (following in her grandfather's footsteps), which gives this author the authority to write about food. Of course, what caught my attention about this book (besides being about food!) was the fact that all the recipes were inspired by literature. Ms. Nicoletti happens also to be a bibliophile (and if I'm not mistaken a kindred English major).  Voracious came to be after years of reading. She noticed that great books often revealed great food.  She would often host literary dinner parties (what a COOL idea) pairing books and food.  This lead her to develop a recipe blog: which developed such a following that she decided to develop the idea further into a book...hence Voracious. The book is organized into three sections that mirror the life of a reader and feature beloved books of each era: Childhood , Adolescence and College Years, and Adulthood.  Each book selection features not only a recipe inspired by the book, but also fascinating and often little known information about the literature.  For example, in the Childhood section Nicoletti paired the recipe for Double Chocolate Walnut Sundae with the books of The Nancy Drew Series.  Sigh...I loved those books...I loved Nancy, and Bess and all of the other characters. Surprisingly, Ms. Nicoletti did not enjoy the 10 Nancy Drew books she received as a gift from her great aunt.  In fact, she only read them out of respect and was puzzled why her aunt enthused about them.  As an adult, Ms. Nicoletti decided to research about the ND series.  In Voracious, the author reveals her discovery that Carolyn Keene, the supposed author of Nancy Drew, was not a real person and that the books were actually written by a number of "ghostwriters" who were paid by Stratemeyer Syndicates. The mystery of the discrepancy of opinion between Nicoletti and her aunt lies, not in that they were born in different generations, but in that the books were rewritten after 1959 to suit a more modern audience.  The original first 23 books of the Nancy Drew series were written by ghost writer, Mildred Benson, in the 1930's and 40's.  Nicoletti tracked down copies of ND prior to 1959 and "Voila" love at second sight! If you love great recipes and great books, this is the book for you.  I think I will start planning my first "literary dinner party".

The Total Money Makeover (A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness), by Dave Ramsey

OKAY...I admit it...I am a terrible money manager...I have lots of evidence to prove it, too!  However, I can accept advice, and Dave Ramsey has some great strategies to help the weak and disabled (that's me when it comes to money).  His plan to acquire financial fitness is simple but not painless.  He fully admits this and asks you to embrace the pain.  No Pain. No Gain.  His plan is based on a seven step plan that he has broken down into what he calls Baby Steps (What About Bob fame).  It starts with Baby Step One: Save $1000 FAST (in what he calls an emergency fund).  This he claims should be done in no more than a months time.  YIKES!!!  It ends with Step Seven: Create Wealth but I will be happy to end on Step Six:  Pay Off Home Mortgage.  Forget wealth....I'll be happy with debt free.  I am going to give it my best shot.  I'll keep you posted.