Thursday, August 30, 2007

August Reading Round Up!

I've just finished my final book for the month (or at least, I think I have!). I've decided to post this a day early, since I feel like I can take a little break and my total is way above what I thought it would be with four months left. Go me!

This month, I read 10 books, most of which I really enjoyed. Two I've reviewed already, so those will be cut and paste jobs from the Armchair Traveler Reading Challenge, the rest will be new. As always, there will probably be some spoilers along the way, so read with caution if you find a title you might read later on!

August was a strange month, readingwise, for me. Around mid-month, I decided I was done reading and I didn't want to do any more, and then I realized I was just tired of depressing books with a weepy ending and a moral to the story. I started and stopped 6 books that didn't make this list, and I decided to read something just for fun. So this month is heavy with "beach reads" and chick lit. But this past week alone I read 3 books, so it was a very good thing.

Without further ado, here we go...

1. A Thousand Days in Venice by Marlena De Blasi. This is one I read for both book club and the reading challenge.

Marlena De Blasi was a chef in St. Louis who traveled to Italy and fell in love with Venice and a man named Fernando. He visited her in St. Louis, where they decided to marry, she sold her house, got rid of most of her possessions, and moved to Venice, marrying a man whom, throughout the book, she calls "the stranger".

A Thousand Days In Venice tells the story of her first meeting with Fernando through their wedding and on into the time that they decide to leave Venice and try something else. Not only is the book a story of their love affair, but it's also a tale of culinary adventure, Italy, and the need to learn new customs and ways of doing things when moving to a new land. The book includes a number of recipes, not a one of which I'm likely to cook, but it adds a nice touch.

So, what did I think? Well, before book club, I thought that the book was "too good" and it was a chore to read, and I still feel that way, but I guess I feel less good about the book having been able to put more thought into why I was feeling that way. This book just basically tried way too hard to be a poetic, lyrical love letter. And it failed. Enough said.

2. A Year by the Sea by Joan Anderson. Again, another I decided to use for the Armchair Traveler challenge.

Joan Anderson's husband came home to announce he'd received a wonderful job opportunity across country in Oregon and they were moving. Their two grown sons were married and living lives of their own, and nothing seemed to be tying the Andersons to their home.

Joan shocked her husband and herself when she told him she refused to go and was instead moving to the family cottage on Cape Cod. Thus began a year in her life, living hand to mouth, on the banks of the Cape.

The book was a little bit of "A Gift from the Sea" mingled with life experiences on the Cape. I haven't been to stay on the Cape since I was four years old (I think) and I have some vague, wonderful memories of the place which neatly jived with what Anderson wrote about. The book is a misty watercolor portrait of a popular summer place, but she writes so much of what happens in the off season, and it was enchanting.

I really, really loved this book. It was like a warm cup of cocoa on a cold day. I loved how becoming her own person didn't necessarily mean that Joan couldn't find room in her heart to reconcile with her husband, but that they both needed the wake up call of separation to understand that their life couldn't be what it was before. Her own journey of self discovery gave me time to think about my life as a wife, a sister, a friend, and a human being, and who I am and who I want to be. It was great.

3. Lean Mean Thirteen by Janet Evanovich. Yes, I finally got my hands on the latest Plum adventure!! This book follows the exploits of Stephanie Plum as she tries to figure out who offed her ex-husband, asshole Dickie Orr, while simultaneously doing a favor for Ranger.

I have to confess, this was not my favorite of the Plum books, but I really enjoyed it. This one, to me, was less laugh-out-loud funny, although based on the reviews over at, I may be one of the few who felt this wasn't a top book for Evanovich.

I enjoyed every page, every word, as I always do, but this one felt a little more guilty-pleasure and a little less I-love-these-freakin'-books good. Go figure!

4. The Undomesticated Goddess by Sophie Kinsella. Ok, my sister has been raving about Kinsella for a while, and I never was interested in the Shopaholic books. However, on a recent perusal over at the Wilderness Library, TUG was on the shelves for a dollar, and I figured, "What the heck!? She raved about it at book club!" and took a chance.

Samantha Sweeting is on the verge of partnership at the prestigious London law firm Carter Spink—the Holy Grail of her entire workaholic life. But when she finds she has made a terrible, costly mistake just before the partnership decision, she's terrified of being fired. In a fog, she stumbles out of the building and onto the nearest train, which drops her in the countryside, where she wanders to a stately home. The nouveau riche lady of the house mistakes her for the new housekeeper—and Samantha is too astonished to correct her. Numb and unable to face returning to London, Samantha tries to master the finer points of laundry, cooking and cleaning. She discovers that the slow life, her pompous but good-hearted employers and the attentions of the handsome gardener, Nathaniel, suit her just fine. But her past is hard to escape, and when she discovers a terrible secret about her firm—and when the media learns that the former legal star is scrubbing toilets for a living—her life becomes more complicated than ever.

I loved this book. It was so entertaining to see Samantha struggle with becoming a housekeeper and making a change for the better in her life. When reading about how stressed out she was and how little time she had for herself in London (her to-do list was hilarious), and seeing her grow into an actual person away from her job, it was great. It gave me hope that someday we'll all stop being who we are for work and start being who we are for fun. And it made me long for the British countryside (so I watched "The Holiday" on DVD again, which was actually a perfect tie-in for this book). Nathaniel was a great character, seeing through Samantha's brave facade, and her employers were absolutely charming in their bumblingishness (is that a word?!). I particularly enjoyed when they tried to convince Samantha that she was bright enough to go back and finish her schooling, little knowing they had a prodigy lawyer on their hands.

The end of the book, which revolves around Samantha's eventualy unmasking and the choices she has to make, was not too terribly trite, but at the same time I was slightly miffed that Kinsella didn't see fit to share the note with the rest of us. Read the book, and you'll know what I mean!

5. Eating Royally by Darren McGrady. If you read my recent post on cooking, you'll know we were cooking from this book. But more than a cookbook, it's also a memoir of one chef's time in the royal kitchens.

Darren McGrady began working for the Royal Family as a pastry chef and quickly moved up the ranks to serve as Diana's personal chef until her death in 1997. Here he presents many of the recipes he served the Royals, and Diana in particular. Filled with artifacts, personal notes, photographs and never-before-seen memorabilia, this is much more than a cookbook. It is an opportunity to see how the Royals really live and to eat the exact recipes that graced the tables of Windsor, Balmoral, Kensington, and Buckingham Palaces.

The book is filled with entertaining anecdotes about the Royal Family as well as amazing facts about the royal residences. For instance, I think it is Windsor Castle where the kitchen is a 20 minute walk from the dining room, and the food still has to arrive hot and fresh. Aboard the royal yacht Britannia (now decommissioned), they were working in such small quarters, there was a special sailor whose sole job was to go up and down a ladder to get food from the pantry below decks. The fun and affectionate remembrances of the family were also great to read. I look forward to trying more recipes from this wonderful book.

6. Nearlyweds by Beth Kendrick. This was one of my chick lit titles for the month. The premise of the book is that three women are married the same weekend by the same minister. He drops dead before signing and filing the women's marriage licenses, and when they are informed of such, they are facing some betrayals as new wives that make them unsure of whether not they want to re-tie the knot.

This was a fun and quick read. All three women face very different issues which lead them to be unsure in their marriages, and the struggles they faced made me immediately jump to the conclusion that all of them should dump the bastards. However, Kendrick's skill with the story is such that you actually do feel for them and want to know how they'll solve the problems and fall in love all over again. And by the end, you're somewhat in love with at least one husband yourself.

Fun stuff, not taxing, perfect for your next beach vacation!

7. A Tale of Two Sisters by Anna Maxted.

Cassie is slender, clever, charismatic, successful. The one flaw in her perfect life may be her marriage. Her sister Lizbet is plumper, plainer, dreamier. An aspiring journalist, she's stuck writing embarrassing articles on sex for Ladz Mag. Her one achievement is her relationship with Tim, who thinks she's amusing and smart. Despite Cassie being the favored child, she and Lizbet have always been best friends. But then Lizbet gets pregnant.

Forced apart by mistakes not their own, enticed by new loves, and confronted by challenges they never asked for, Cassie and Lizbet struggle to rediscover the simple goodness of their sisterhood, even as their lives take them on a collision course of heartache and new beginnings.

I really liked this book as well. In fact, of all the chick lit books I've read this month, this was probably my favorite one. The complicated relationship Cassie and Lizbet share, the secrets they keep from one another and between themselves, the supporting characters, it all added up to one great story. I cheered for each of them as they get their lives together and as their relationship ebbs and flows like that of a normal sisterly relationship (or at least normal as similar to the relationship I have with my sister). The book was sweet, and happily there was a bit of an epilogue, which I'm coming to enjoy more and more with each of these books I read. I always want to know how things turn out, and I was more than satisfied with the rest of Cassie and Lizbet's lives. Fun book, great story, a little more intense than Undomesticated Goddess or Nearlyweds, but it was worth the extra effort!

8. The Pact by Jodi Piccoult. One of the girls in my book club said this was her favorite of Jodi Piccoult's books, and one day during my lunch break, I went to B&N and read half of it. I was interested to see how it turned out, so last Friday, I went to Borders, grabbed a copy, finished it, and made use of their liberal return policy and brought it back. So yeah, it was not one of my favorites of hers (I think that title still belongs to Picture Perfect).

Until the phone calls came at three o'clock on a November morning, the Golds and their neighbors, the Hartes, had been inseparable. It was no surprise to anyone when their teenage children, Chris and Emily, began showing signs that their relationship was moving beyond that of lifelong friends. But now seventeen-year-old Emily is dead—shot with a gun her beloved and devoted Chris pilfered from his father's cabinet as part of an apparent suicide pact—leaving two devastated families stranded in the dark and dense predawn, desperate for answers about an unthinkable act and the children they never really knew.

****If you should buy this book from, please do not purchase it from the "P.S." edition page, which gives away the entire story in one fell swoop.****

The book was pretty good, although frankly I thought that the story was a wee bit far-fetched, but again, most of her endings are. Chris eventually stands accused of Emily's murder, and while Emily's mother withdraws, Emily's father takes Chris's side in the whole thing and begins an affair with Chris's mother. And that's not even the half of it. I have Keeping Faith on the shelf downstairs, but I suspect I might wind up taking a Piccoult break till after meeting her at the National Book Festival (anyone want to go?!). I get so aggravated every time the books end that I feel like a break is a good thing. Still, it was a page turner, I read the whole thing in 2 sittings, and while not my favorite, I do feel like it's a good piece of the body of her work. I don't regret reading it, but just won't read it again! Approach with caution, this turned into my least favorite of hers (a place which was previously held by Vanishing Acts.)

9. The Book Club by Mary Alice Monroe. When I started reading The Book Club, I was swept away by a strong sense of the ghosts of Jennifer Chiaverini following me through the pages of this one. The writing styles are tremendously similar--very simple prose, not a lot of heavy duty SAT words (which is fine with me!), no cussin', and straight story lines.

Monroe's novel opens as five friends, all members of a monthly book club, face turning points in their lives. Eve's husband dies suddenly, shattering her comfortable lifestyle, while Midge's mother makes an unannounced and unwelcomed reappearance. Annie finally feels ready to have a child, only to find her health and her marriage in jeopardy. Gabriella strains to make ends meet after her husband is laid off; Doris slides into depression as she tries to deny signs of her husband's infidelity. Sometimes close to and sometimes at odds with each other, the friends struggle to face harsh realities and, in the process, gain new independence. The actual book club of the title plays an oddly small role in this celebration of friendship and growth. felt that the books the women read had very little relevence to the story line, but actually, I quite disagree. I felt that Monroe skillfully selected books that had quotations directly relating to whatever each chapter was about. And the books were wide ranging and the topics widely varied. The only time I groaned was when the women decided one of their books should be The Bible out of nowhere. As a not-too-religious person, and as most of the characters were not themselves religious, this seemed like pandering to a crowd, in my opinion. I was tremendously disappointed.

Also, I must be honest, I didn't see why all the women were friends. This one was jealous of that one, that one thought that one was too sanctimonious. For a small book club, I can't see that it would last. Of course in my book club there's a bit of gossip and crabbing about people--probably crabbing about me as the Supreme Dictator most of all--but in such a small group, it would seem to me impossible to keep together. Of course it all ends with tears and chocolate, so what do I know? :-)

10. Dumping Billy by Olivia Goldsmith.

The review says nearly all of it:

Kate Jameson has outgrown her Brooklyn gang: Bina, Bunny, Barbie and Bev, aka the Bitches of Bushwick. While the Bs still go for French manicures and (gasp) matching furniture, Kate has embraced the urbane life. She has a Chelsea apartment and a neat job as school psychologist at Andrew Country Day "in the best neighborhood in Manhattan." But when Kate meets bad boy bar owner Billy Nolan in her natal borough, she instantly wants to get Brooklyn back into the girl. He's hot for her, too, but fate intervenes in the form of Kate's best friend, Elliot Winston. Elliot and his boyfriend, Brice, are determined to keep Kate from committing romantic folly yet again. In a plot twist, Elliot notices that every time Billy dumps a girl, she marries the next guy she dates. So instead of following heart and loins to Billy's bed, Kate helps Elliot engineer a match between Billy and Bina, whose putative fiancé, Jack, went to Hong Kong without giving her the anticipated diamond. Minor complications abound, as Bina dates Billy but falls for someone else, and Kate's burning jealousy blinds her to the truth long after the reader sees it. Goldsmith's fans will perhaps forgive the almost farcical absence of reality; others may resent not only the illogic but also the stereotyping of gays, Jews, working-class Catholics and nearly everybody else. If Goldsmith had affection for her characters, she hid it well.

Rarely in literature have I encountered a character I despised as much as I despised Kate Jameson. She was a self-righteous, sanctimonious, I'm-way-cooler-than-you b-i-t-c-h. She looks down on her friends, acts like she's a goddess of fashion and culture, treats people like garbage, and I absolutely hated her. Which distresses me, because I really, really wanted to like this book. But it was despicable from start to finish. I don't know why I even finished it, other than sheer tenacity, but with a page to go, I sat in front of the computer, and as soon as I read the final word, logged onto PaperbackSwap and BookMooch and posted the book. Quel Surprise. No one wants it. Don't bother with this book. I'm saving you hours of aggravation.

So that's it for August! 10 books in 30 days, not too shabby. It breaks down like this:

The Excellent: Eating Royally

The Great: A Tale of Two Sisters, A Year by the Sea, The Undomesticated Goddess

The Good: Lean Mean Thirteen, Nearlyweds

The OK: The Book Club, The Pact

The Bad: A Thousand Days in Venice

The Awful: Dumping Billy

Totals for August:

Books Read: 10
Pages Read: 3,240

Totals for 2007:

Books Read: 76
Pages Read: 24,884

2 pearl(s) of wisdom:

Seraphim9 said...

I'm working on "Plum Lovin'" right now, then on to "Twelve Sharp". I'll be ready for "Lean, Mean Thirteen" real soon! I love the Stephanie Plum books, I'm almost sad that I've caught up. I don't know what I'll do when I'm finished with 13 and waiting for 14 to come out!!

Kate/Susan said...

You and I will have to form a support group! :) I hope you love Plum Lovin' as much as I did! I've read it three times this year!