A Girl And A Horse

A stuffed horse named Jake.

Stick horses ridden around the back yard with her best friend.

Books about horses; Misty of Chincoteague, The Black Stallion, National Velvet, By the Shores of Silver Lake--the part where Laura rides the pony.

My daughter has always loved animals and horses have always been pretty high up on the list.

horseback riding lesson Sugar Magnolia Farm

horseback riding lesson Sugar Magnolia Farm

Her grandparents gave her some money to spend however she wanted.  She chose to buy herself a few horseback riding lessons.  I don't think I have ever seen her so happy.  She started off very quiet and solemn, that intense silence of a child who is completely enjoying herself.  By halfway through the lesson she was smiling constantly.

new england barn

horseback riding lesson outdoor arena

I was impressed with the farm where she took her lesson.  The instructor was kind and patient.  She spent a lot of time explaining everything she was doing and had Celia help with all of it.  She said they teach the care of a horse, not just how to ride. Celia was taught how to comb and brush the horse, how to put on the saddle and bridle, and how to lead the horse to the riding ring.

Then she rode the horse, a real horse and she was on it.  I am not sure life gets any better than that.  At least it doesn't for an eleven-year-old girl.

It is pretty special to see your child doing something that you know she will remember for the rest of her life.  I was proud of her because she tried something so completely new and different. Of course, it made me happy to see her so happy.

Celia is literally counting the days until she goes back.  We are spreading the lessons out a bit so they aren't all over in a month.  We think that gives her something to look forward to.  She thinks the wait is going to kill her.  Either way, it seems we have started something we are going to find it hard to stop.  How do you tell her the dream is over?  I don't think we can.

One of the first things Celia said when she saw me taking photos was that she thought I should write a blog post about her riding lesson.  So, this post is for her. The post has been heavily edited by Celia.  She made me change some of the photos and she didn't approve of some of the wording.  She does, however, agree that the wait is going to kill her.  Twenty days?  How is she going to survive?

In Which I Attempt To Pick Favorites

I am not good at picking favorites and I am especially not good at picking favorite books.  There are so many variables.  A new book or reread?  Fun fluff or deep and meaningful?  Fiction or nonfiction?  I  frequently sink into a morass of confusion and eventually give up.  But this time I am persevering and giving you a slightly arbitrary selection of my best reads of 2016.  Really, it is absolutely amazing that I kept track of what I read this year. I have only done this for a few years in my whole life.  I am not sure how I feel about keeping track of my reading.  On the one hand, I like having a list of what I read during the year.  On the other hand, it is easy to get caught up in how many books you have read and those reading challenges don't help.  A Dickens novel is going to take much longer than three Georgette Heyer novels read in a row (yes, I did both this year) but the Dickens novel only counts as one book.  I have decided that for 2017 I am going to make a simple list and ignore the numbers.

There are a few things you need to know about this list.  There are no rereads on it.  That rule was made out of pure self-preservation.  I reread a lot of old favorites this year and if I had to put them on the list I would be writing this post till doomsday. Which reminds me, I reread Doomsday Book by Connie Willis this year.  So good.  Go read it if you haven't yet.  That isn't on the list, it is a bonus recommendation.  Also, you should be aware that there are no reviews for all these books on my blog.  I talk about books pretty much constantly but I don't post a review for everything I read.  I guess you would say this is a book love blog instead of a book review blog.  Finally, this list is in no particular order.

I started this year by reading Bleak House by Charles Dicken.  Dickens was an immensely popular novelist for a reason.  I hadn't read Dickens in years and I had forgotten just how immersed in his world it is possible to become.  I swore I would be reading more Dickens this year and it didn't happen.  His books are perfect middle of winter reads so maybe in January I will pick up another one.  Read my review of Bleak House here.

This was also the year in which I was introduced to the Lymond Chronicles.  I read the whole series but they are only counting as one spot on my list.  Set in Scotland during the 1500s they follow the fortunes of Francis Crawford of Lymond, a "scapegrace nobleman of crooked felicities and murderous talents, possessed of a scholar's erudition and a tongue as wicked as a rapier."  How can you possibly resist that description?

The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki was recommended to me by A Reader of Literature. It follows the lives of four sisters in Japan in the years just before WWII.  It was fascinating to get a look into a world so different from my own.  It is a quietly written and subtle book.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Read my review here.

I reread Mansfield Park and Pride and Prejudice this year but they aren't allowed on this list because I have read both about five million times.  However, I am still managing to slip some Jane Austen in with my next two selections.  Jane Austen--A Life by Claire Tomalin is a fascinating depiction of the woman who wrote some of the absolutely best books in the world (not an exaggeration.)  I also read Jane Austen's Letters edited by Deirdre Le Faye.  I heartily recommend both books.  They bring Jane Austen to life as a real person and not just the myth and legend she has become.

I read two nonfiction books by Juliet Nicholson.  Singled Out is the account of "how two million women survived without men after the first world war."  Millions Like Us is a detailed and fascinating depiction of women's lives during WWII.  If you enjoy social history and reading about the time period around either of the wars then these are the books for you.  I found them both to be absorbing.

Elizabeth Taylor is such a nuanced writer.  I have enjoyed all the books I have read by her and I am working my way through her books very slowly because I will be sad when I run out of them.  I read At Mrs Lippincote's this year and loved it. Julia and her husband Roddy, who is in the RAF, rent Mrs Lippincote's home for a time during WWII. It is not really a war book but instead is more about relationships.  Elizabeth Taylor always seems to write more under the surface than above which is why I enjoy her.

The Half-Crown House by Helen Ashton is the story of an English country house, and the family that lives in it, over the course of one day. It is a quiet book but I enjoy that.  It has a lot to say about the changes to society and the big country houses after WWII ended.  It was an interesting insight into a world that was disappearing.

My Dear Bessie--A Love Story In Letters edited by Simon Garfield was emotional and touching.  It is a compilation of the real life letters written by Chris Barker and Bessie Moore while they were apart during WWII.  I highly recommend it.

I read several Persephone Books this year which is always a guarantee of wonderful books.  Two of them made my list of best books.  Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton is a enthralling depiction of two families and their interactions over the years.  Read my review here. I also loved Hostages to Fortune by Elizabeth Cambridge.  It is about the "day-to-day life of a middle-class English family, living in narrow circumstances in an Oxfordshire village."  Really though, it is about so much more: about family and marriage and children and ambitions and relationships.  I want to read it all over again now.

There you have it, my best books of 2016.  Now if I can just manage to resist starting 2017 by rereading all of them because they are just so good....

Tell me, what were your best books of 2016?

Bookshop Love--Brattle Book Shop

Brattle Book Shop in Boston is my favorite kind of bookshop.  It isn't a chain.  You won't find all the latest releases.  There isn't a coffee shop or a play area for your children. It isn't full of comfy chairs and carefully curated displays. What it is is a real honest-to-goodness secondhand bookshop and there aren't too many of those around these days.  Nothing says happiness like rummaging through an eclectic selection of old books and discovering a treasure you didn't even know you were looking for.

I only had half an hour before I had to be at an appointment but it was a half-hour I put to good use.  I skipped lunch in order to visit Brattle Book Shop and I think that is a sacrifice any true book lover will completely understand.  The bookshop has been around since 1825 and has been in the hands of the Gloss family since 1949.  It is now one of the largest antiquarian bookshops in the country.  And it is absolutely wonderful.

The first thing you notice when you walk down the street (well, after the sign shaped like a giant yellow pencil) is the outdoor saleroom in the lot next door.  I could have spent hours just here.  I started grabbing books off the carts but then realized I had to be a bit more discriminating since I was going to have to carry the books around with me for the rest of the day.  So many good books.  I will definitely be back, probably with a few friends to help me carry my purchases.  One young guy had discovered a volume of Ogden Nash poetry and was gleefully reading it to his girlfriend.  I grew up on Ogden Nash and it was fun to hear the enthusiasm with which he read the poems.  I hope he bought the book.

Inside there are shelves and shelves of glorious books and the whole place has that wonderful old book smell.  The store doesn't look like it has been updated in recent memory and that is fine with me.

I bought three books and could have bought so many more.  First of all, I got Two Under the Indian Sun by Jon and Rumer Godden.  It is a memoir of a few of their childhood years in India.  I don't know much about it, I bought it because I have always loved Godden's book, An Episode of Sparrows.  Second, I bought The Points of the Compass by E. B. White.  Of course I know him from Charlotte's Web but I came across some quotes on Goodreads lately that I loved so I want to read some of his essays.  Finally, I bought War Letters From Britain, edited by Diana Forbes-Robertson and Roger W. Straus, Jr.  I have frequently mentioned my fascination with life in Britain during the war and this looks like a fantastic addition to my growing library on the subject.

In my childhood, used bookstores were very common.  I have fond memories of rooting through piles of old books in many different towns and states.  These days the slightly grubby, treasure-filled bookstores I remember are few and far between.  Last week I wanted to move into a library, this week I want to move into a bookshop.  It is a joy and a pleasure to find such a perfect bookshop.  You can keep your children's play areas and your carefully curated displays.  I'll take Brattle Book Shop's utilitarian shelves jam-packed with forgotten treasures and wonderful discoveries.

Currently Reading--Too Many Things At Once

I really should know better.  For the last few weeks I have been reading five million books at once, give or take a million.  My usual method is to have two books going at once, one fiction and one nonfiction, but somehow I just kept starting books until it got completely out of hand.

I spent quite a while binge reading a science fiction series that belongs to my son.  I am not sure why, other than Lois McMaster Bujold I am not really a huge science fiction reader.  However, a world of aliens, spacecraft, new worlds, and the occasional battle seems to have been just what I was in the mood for.  Pure escapism.

At the same time, I am reading The Victorians by A. N. Wilson.  I know, could I possibly have picked anything more different?  I read Victoria--A Life by the same author earlier this year and was fascinated by it.  I am finding this one a bit heavier going since it is about a time period instead of an individual but it is still very interesting.  I just read about the Irish potato famine.  Absolutely horrifying.

When I was raiding my son's bookshelves for science fiction I came across Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian.  He enjoyed it and wants me to pick up the rest of the series as I come across them.  I also believe Hamlette from The Edge of the Precipice recommended them to me.  I am about halfway through and my son says I am just reaching the good part.  I must admit all the sailing jargon put me off a bit but I am persevering since the series is so beloved by many.

These are the only two books I have bought recently and I am reading one of them.  Lory at The Emerald City Book Review is co-hosting a read-along of Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick.  She already posted the discussion questions for the week but since I am reading five million books at once I am a bit behind with this one.  I am finding it absolutely fascinating though and keep inflicting interesting pieces of information on my family.  Always a sign of a good book.  I read a review of The Perfect Summer on a blog somewhere and promptly bought it.  Now I can't remember which blog it was.  I need to start writing these things down.  I am not letting myself start it until I finish a few other books.

I also picked up Me Before You by JoJo Moyes at the library when I took my daughter on Saturday but I abandoned it half read because I was finding it so irritating.  It seems to be a popular book and I know a movie was made of it but it seemed predictable and I just had no desire to continue.  Now maybe if aliens had shown up and abducted the two main characters and there had been a huge space battle and the heroine had saved the day...

Do you read five million books at once?  What have you been reading lately?

A Quick Visit To The Boston Public Library

I think I am in love.  With a library.  That is acceptable, isn't it?  I was in Boston yesterday and I popped into the library and now I want to move there.  To clarify, I want to move to the library.  Do you think anyone would care if I just took up residence in the reading room?  It is big enough that if I just moved from room to room I could probably evade discovery for days on end.  Oh, that reminds me of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. There is another book I need to get for my daughter.  Anyway, the library is gorgeous.  I only had about 20 minutes to run through it (I will be back)  and it was too dark to take any pictures of the courtyard (it has a courtyard!  I love courtyards!) but I still fell in love.

Look at those ceilings and the chandelier!  And the lions.  I love the lions.  I did feel like I should be wearing an elegant gown while walking down those stairs.  I can't say my local library makes me feel that way.

I kept thinking about the quote that says "I have always imagined that paradise is a kind of library." The Boston Public Library is magical and wonderful and paradisiacal. I will have to go back with my good camera and some time to spend wandering.  I am sure there will be another post about it when I do.  There is a Shakespeare exhibit going on that I would like to visit so hopefully that will be soon. There is also a book store in Boston that I have been wanting to visit.  I do love Boston.

What libraries have impressed you?

Recipe For A Snow Day

Take one heaping serving of a surprise snowfall.  Mix it in with the luxury of not having to go anywhere.

Feel very slightly sorry for your children who only had a two hour delay instead of a cancellation.  Ignore the fact that the snow is turning to rain.  Insist on still calling it a snow day in your head.  Rain day does not have the same ring.

Add in a cup of tea. This is not the time for cups of tea that have been made and abandoned on the kitchen counter because you are too busy to drink them.  Make a pot of tea. Use a pretty mug. Drink it when it reaches the perfect temperature. Repeat as necessary throughout the day.

Combine an appealing stack of books.  This is also not the time for serious reading.  The more frivolous the better.  Or, alternatively, you can abandon frivolity and read that serious tome you have been meaning to get to but are always too tired to concentrate on.  The decision is yours.  Maybe a bit of both?

Fill your house with the scents of delicious things in the kitchen.  I recommend hearty soups, molasses cookies, and cinnamon bread.  Enjoy the soothing routine of mixing and kneading and chopping.

If you have a lazy cat you can consider your day a success.  Give him his own afghan so he won't fight you for yours.

Watch that show you have been meaning to get to.  Maybe, if you start to feel restless, tackle that closet that needs to be cleaned or that stack of papers on the coffee table.  But only if you feel like it and only if it will give you that necessary feeling of accomplishment.  As soon as you start to feel frustrated return to the cat and the tea and the books.

Welcome your family home and feed them the cookies, the soup, and the bread.

Try not to gloat as you tell them all about the wonders of a snow day.

Ignore them as they point out that the snow is gone and it has been raining for hours.

They are just jealous.

A Few (New) Favorite Quotes

I just fell down a rabbit hole on the internet.  I was looking up a book for my son on Goodreads.  An article in The Boston Globe had recommended it for teenage boys and since it was written in the 1940s and I like older books I meandered on over to Goodreads to check it out.  The book is The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson. I quickly decided my son might like it (Vikings!  Wars at sea!  Treasure!) and was ready to move on when I got sucked in by the quote section.  Now, I don't have a Goodreads account and I only use it to read reviews every now and then so I have never really paid any attention to this but I randomly punched in Robert Frost and well, that was an hour ago and I now have a selection of quotes I love.  And, since I seem completely incapable of discovering words I like without sharing them on here, today's post is a random selection of quotes mostly from books I haven't even read yet.  Yes, I will do something about that.

First up is Robert Frost.  I only thought of him as a poet but apparently, he wrote about writing as well.  I liked this.

The ear is the only true writer and the only true reader.  I know people who read without hearing the sentence sounds and they were the fastest readers.  Eye readers we call them.  They get the meaning by glances.  But they are bad readers because they miss the best part of what a good writer puts into his work.

I am guilty of occasionally being an eye reader.  Some books just lend themselves to that; the cozy mystery, the light romance.  Not that there is anything wrong with these types of books, they just don't invite you to lay down the book and contemplate the wonders of the language.  The problem is when we apply the same reading methods to books that do have more to say.  I sometimes need to make myself slow down and appreciate the way a book is written as well as the story it is telling.

Next is a quote from E. B. White.

A library is a good place to go when you feel unhappy, for there, in a book, you may find encouragement and comfort.  A library is a good place to go when you feel bewildered or undecided, for there, in a book you may have your question answered.  Books are good company, in sad times and happy times, for books are people-people who have managed to stay alive by hiding between the covers of a book.

I think that possibly E. B. White and I could have been friends.  He also said this.

Anyone who writes down to children is simply wasting his time.  You have to write up, not down.  Children are demanding.  They are the most attentive, curious, eager, observant, sensitive, quick, and generally congenial readers on earth...Children are game for anything.  I throw them hard words and they backhand them across the net.  

Do you see what I mean?  We absolutely would have been friends.  I get so irritated by the idea that children have to be coddled in their book choices.  Let them read.  Let them try hard books.  Let them be overwhelmed.  Let them not understand.  Let them rise to the book.  They will.   

And finally, a quote from William Zinsser.  I read a collection of his essays a few months ago and greatly enjoyed his style.  

Readers must be given room to bring their own emotions to a piece so crammed with emotional content; the writer must tenaciously resist explaining why the material is so moving.

Yes.  Yes!  This exactly.  This is why I had issues with East of Eden.  I felt like I was constantly being told how I should react and how I should feel about the story.  No.  Let me feel things on my own.  William Zinsser wrote a famous writing manual called On Writing Well.  I will definitely by buying a copy if this is the type of thing he has to say.

I used to own a giant compilation of famous quotations. Actually, I could still own it.  It is probably just lost in the depths of my attic.  I enjoy flipping through and reading bits and pieces.  It gives you a taste of different authors and the thought provoking things they said.  And sometimes that leads you down a rabbit hole that ends in a whole new reading list.  

I Bake Because Punching People Is Frowned Upon

Baking is my therapy.

If I am stressed, I bake.  If I am angry, I bake.  If I am confused, I bake.  If I am anxious, I bake.  If I am happy, I bake.  That last one doesn't call for therapy, but still, I bake.

Usually, I bake a lot of cookies.  There is something so soothing about creaming butter and sugar and putting tray after tray in the oven.  It requires almost no thought but the repetition is calming.  However, if I am having a very bad day I bake bread.  Because ultimately there is no better way to get your frustrations out than to violently knead bread dough.  You can punch it and mash it and you can even name it if you are upset with a specific person. Then once you have gotten all your aggressive tendencies out you return to the calm and relaxing proving and shaping and baking.  Plus, your house is filled with the best smell on earth.  Is there anything like the smell of baking bread?  That alone is guaranteed to make you happy.

This week I baked cinnamon rolls.  I wasn't in any particular need of baking therapy but I do have a new cookbook full of delicious sounding recipes and I finally had time to try it out.  The cookbook is The Bread Baker's Apprentice* by Peter Reinhart. Based on the one recipe I have tried, I absolutely love it.

The first 100 or so pages are information about bread.  The book covers such things as types of yeast and how fermentation works, bakers formulas (which I haven't quite gotten to grips with) and shaping loaves.  It is more technical than many cookbooks I have used but still manages to be accessible and easy to understand.  The recipes themselves are also clearly written.  Each step is easy to follow.

However, the proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the proof is in the cinnamon rolls.  How did they turn out?  Well, my family managed to eat half the pan within half an hour of them coming out of the oven and my son told me that they are the best thing I have ever baked.  And as I think I have made clear, I bake a lot.  I call that a success.

Now to decide what I will try next.  Maybe homemade English Muffins or the Cranberry Walnut Celebration Bread.  So many choices.  So much therapy ahead of me.  So much delicious bread.

*I received this book from Blogging For Books for this review.

Golden Moments #2

A month or so ago I wrote a post where I listed the golden moments of my week, the moments that made me stop and appreciate life.  I enjoyed writing it and enjoyed how it made me concentrate on the good instead of the bad.  Goodness knows there can be enough bad to concentrate on.  So here we go again.  The golden moments from my recent days.

The walk we took as a family in the woods pictured above.  It was a beautiful day, everyone was cooperative, and they all patiently waited while I took photos.  A good time was had by all.  I love all the old stone walls throughout the woods.  It fascinates me to think about what the area looked like a few hundred years ago when this was all cleared land instead of wooded.

The gluten-free pizza I made last week.  Gluten-free pizza is generally disgusting.  Actually, I find many gluten-free baked goods unpleasant.  Pizza is one of the things I have been having the hardest time with.  All the crust mixes have a strange texture and while bearable when first made are absolutely disgusting reheated.  When I was placing an Amazon Pantry order I added a King Arthur gluten-free pizza mix on a whim.  Then it sat in my cabinet for a few months because I was so fed up with trying gluten-free things only to dislike them.  Finally, my pizza cravings got too strong and I gave it a try.  Amazingly enough, it was pretty decent which in the world of gluten-free pizza means it was amazing.  I was very, very happy.

My daughter telling me that she loves the smell of old books.  As I said on Twitter, my work here is done.

The copy of Wind Off the Small Isles by Mary Stewart that Lory from The Emerald City Book Review sent me.  She knew I wanted to read it and very kindly contacted me and offered to send on her copy.  It was such a thoughtful thing to do and it brightened my whole day when it showed up in the mail.  I am saving it to read this weekend when I have some time off.

The unexpected day off my husband and I had together in the middle of last week.  I had been having a bad day and he knew it (he couldn't help but know it, I had spent the previous evening alternately crying and getting mad at the world.  So much fun for my family.)  so he convinced me I needed a day off.  We stayed home and watched movies, drank countless cups of tea and coffee, and ignored reality for a while.  It was blissful and left me much more able to deal with everyday life.  Maybe I should get irrationally upset a little more often.

The new winter coat I ordered yesterday.  I always feel a bit guilty spending money on myself because the kids are continually outgrowing their clothes and I have an endless list of things they need.  However, my work requires me to be outside quite a bit and my winter coat is old and not that warm.  I found a fantastic deal online and now I can't wait for my coat to come.  It has a hood!  Lined with fake fur!  I don't know why that makes me happy but it does.

So, tell me, what were the golden moments in your week?

Book Review--East of Eden by John Steinbeck

books--john steinbeck

Sometimes we read books because we feel like we should.  That is the situation with John Steinbeck and me.  He appears on lists of books you must read if you are a well-read person.  I like to consider myself a well-read person.  The obvious conclusion is that I must read Steinbeck.  He doesn't fit into my usual reading habits.  My classics of choice are usually by such authors as Jane Austen or Anthony Trollope.  Steinbeck is bigger and grittier and...more American.  How did I get on with him?  I am not really sure. I am not going to summarize the book, you can find a summary online if you want one, this is simply my impressions of it.  I read the first few pages and I fell in love with some of Steinbeck's descriptions.

Every petal of blue lupin is edged with white, so that of field of lupins is more blue than you can imagine.  And mixed with these were splashes of California poppies.  These too are of a burning color--not orange, not gold, but if pure gold were liquid and could raise cream, that golden cream might be like the color of the poppies.  When their season was over the yellow mustard came up and grew to a great height.  When my grandfather came  into the valley the mustard was so tall that a man on horseback showed only his head above the yellow flowers.  On the uplands the grass would be strewn with buttercups, with hen-and-chickens, with black-centered yellow violets.  And a little later in the season there would be red and yellow stands of Indian paintbrush.  These were the flowers of the open places exposed to the sun.  Under the live oaks, shaded and dusky, the maidenhair flourished and gave a good smell, and under the mossy banks of the water courses whole clumps of five-fingered ferns and goldy-backs hung down.  Then there were harebells, tiny lanterns, cream white and almost sinful looking, and these were so rare and magical that a child, finding one, felt singled out and special all day long.  

Steinbeck's descriptions of people could be just as enthralling.  In this excerpt, he is describing Liza Hamilton and really, this tells you all you need to know about her.

And she looked forward to Heaven as a place where clothes did not get dirty and where food did not have to be cooked and dishes washed.  Privately there were some things in Heaven of which she did not quite approve.  There was too much singing, and she didn't see how even the Elect could survive for very long the celestial laziness which was promised.  She would find something to do in Heaven.  There must be something to take up one's time--some clouds to darn, some weary wings to rub with liniment.  Maybe the collars of the robes needed turning now and then, and when you come right down to it, she couldn't believe that even in Heaven there would not be cobwebs in some corner to be knocked down with a cloth-covered broom.  

 If Steinbeck had used his beautiful descriptions and way with words simply to tell the story of the Hamiltons and the Trasks I think I would have loved this book.  My issues with it are the same things that many feel are the things that make it great.  The novel has huge messages of depravity, redemption, free will, and evil versus good.  There is a biblical parallel throughout the book with the story of Cain and Abel.  It is not the biblical parallel I had a problem with, I am a religious person myself, it is that these parallels and lessons were driven home with such a heavy hand.  I like my points made quietly, lightly, not with a sledgehammer.  Leave the reader to come to conclusions on his own, let him spend time musing and thinking about the book and what the author is trying to say.  Don't beat the message into him.

There was one character who was so unpleasant that she didn't seem to fit into the book.  Steinbeck himself described her as a monster.  Again, I understand the whole good versus evil, but this character was so evil that whenever she came into the book she completely pulled me out of the story.  She wasn't real to me and I didn't want her to be.

So we come back to the question:  how did I get on with John Steinbeck?  The answer is I just don't know.  The book is very readable and there were parts when I didn't want to put it down.  But then there were parts when I hated it.  I loved some of his writing but I hated some of his characters.  In a way, I felt as if it was two books.  One was the story of two families and their intertwined lives and one was an allegory that was so involved in itself that it sometimes lost the story.  I loved one but not the other.

Would I read Steinbeck again?  Yes, I think I would. For those moments when he says the things I wish I could say, those moments when I find myself rereading a description because it is just so right.

This was reviewed as part of my Classics Club list.

A Bit of a Ramble

We did go on a bit of a ramble when this photo was taken.  Autumn is winding down now; the leaves are falling and the colors are fading. It is still beautiful.  The brightest colors have fallen and we are left with the gorgeous ambers and burnt oranges of the oaks contrasting with the green of the pines and the brown branches of the bare trees outlined against the sky. It might be my favorite part of fall, but really, I say that about every part of fall.  This is my season.  Soon we will have to bundle up and walk briskly in order to stay warm on our walks.

There are advantages to winter.  My daughter insists that snow days are one.  Is there anything better as a child than waking up on a dark winter morning to the news that school has been canceled?  Stretching before you is an endless vista of snowmen and hot chocolate and movies and the smell of baking wafting through the house.

 If you are going to have snow days then you must have good books. I am actually making a few reading goals.  That is not something I usually do.  I am a spontaneous reader, I just read whatever appeals at the moment and, for the most part, I am happy with that.  However, I have been neglecting my Classics Club list.  I was so enthusiastic when I first started and then life got in the way.  I felt that I had to pay close attention when I was reading the books on the list because I knew I had to review them.  Most of the time I just read a book and then review it if I have something to say or if some particular point or idea hits me.  Somehow, the idea of having to review meant I kept putting them off.  I was too tired or too busy to give them my complete attention so I didn't read them at all.  I have decided I am just going to barrel on through my list and if my reviews are not earth-shaking (they won't be, just warning you) so be it.  So this winter I want to cross at least six books off my list.  Minimum.  I would like it to be more but let's be reasonable here.  I am going to get distracted so we will stick with six.

Speaking of being distracted from my list, I would like a few book recommendations from any of you who are willing.  I think I need to broaden my reading horizons a bit.  I realized this when my kids started joking about how every book I read is set in England during WWII.  This is not true.  Well, not really true.  Some of them are set in England before the war.  And some are after the war.  And some are in the late 1800s.  A few are not even set in England.  I do have a bit of an obsession with England which I have mentioned before.  However, there are a lot of other countries in the world and a lot of other time periods.  Do you have a book you think I should read?  A book that has been translated from another language or is set in a wildly different time period?  I would love to hear about it.  And of course, if you have a great recommendation for a book set in England during WWII, don't hold back. I am not giving up that country or that time period.

I did read a book I thoroughly enjoyed the other day.  It was one of my daughter's books.  She loved it and insisted I read it too.  I am glad I listened to her because it was so much fun.  We read First Term at Malory Towers by Enid Blyton.  What is it about boarding school stories that is so appealing?  I loved them as a child and apparently, I still love them.  Enid Blyton is not an author I ever read as a child but I discovered her on some blog I read years ago and started buying her books for my daughter.  We are hooked.  Now we need to get the rest in the series.  It looks like she wrote another series about St Clare's.  That must be a boarding school too.  Now if only the girls have a midnight feast in one of the books my life will be complete.  I used to desperately want to have my own midnight feast.

My schedule changed quite a bit in September and I have had a hard time keeping up with blogging.  I feel like this spot has gotten a bit neglected lately.  I used to have a more flexible schedule but now if I don't plan ahead it doesn't happen.  I am hoping to do a better job at planning ahead because I enjoy this too much to give it up. I still get a feeling of intense satisfaction whenever I hit "publish" on a post and whenever someone comments on something I have written.

How do you find time for blogging?  Do you have any books I absolutely must read?

Twenty-Six Years

We are all a little weird and life's a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.  

Supposedly that is a Dr. Seuss quote.  Did he really write that or does Pinterest just say so?  I don't know but I like the quote.  I think there is a lot of truth in it.

My husband and I celebrated our twenty-sixth wedding anniversary this week.

We didn't do anything big or amazing.  Life is busy and crazy as usual.  We left the kids at home and went out for Chinese food.  We sat in the almost deserted restaurant and ate exactly the food we wanted and discussed how nice it is to have kids that are old enough to be left at home.  We went straight home after, regretting the fact that there isn't a bookstore close enough to be practical.  We walked in the door and picked up life where we left off; homework, and time for bed, and did you do your chores?

I have friends that I know think we should have dressed up and gone to a fancy restaurant or had a party that went late into the night, that he should have bought me jewelry and flowers and wine.  That isn't us.

We are a Chinese food on a week night kind of couple.

Marriage is a strange thing.  You commit to spending your life with another person who has his own idiosyncrasies, interests, annoying habits, and ways of doing things.  Somehow those differences have to mesh with yours.  It can be hard and it can be a lot of work.  But it can also be joy-filled when you realize you have found the person who gets you, the person you can depend on.  The person who is willing to take you out for Chinese on your anniversary because that is what you really want.

My husband and I are both a little weird.  I am glad we found each other

A Few Quick Reviews

I make continual resolves to actually write more book reviews.  I talk about books a lot and mean to write a lot of reviews but frequently I move on to the next book and the review never gets written.  Here are a few miscellaneous thoughts about what I have been reading lately.

The Birthday Boys* was my first book by Beryl Bainbridge. I have heard of her books before but have never come across one. This book about Scott's trip to the south pole is divided into five sections.  Each section is told from a different viewpoint.  It is left up to the reader to mesh the differing perspectives into a complete story. At first, I did not feel particularly involved in the story or in the characters.  It felt a bit as if you had been dumped into the middle of a story and had to feel your way to the beginning.  As the book went on I did become invested in the characters even though I knew how the book would end since it was based on real-life events.

This is not a piece of history that has particularly caught my interest before but since I read this I find myself thinking about the men and what they went through.  I have looked up a bit more information on them.  The circumstances and conditions they put up with in order to take this journey were equal parts horrifying and impressive.  An author who can write a book that sticks with you in this way and causes you to still think about the story long after you finished the book is a good author.  I think I will be reading more of her books.

I was very excited to read Crosstalk* by Connie Willis.  I love her book To Say Nothing of the Dog and also thought The Doomsday Book was very well done.  I enjoyed Blackout and All Clear even though I thought they could use a bit more editing.  I felt the same way about Crosstalk.  It contained Willis' trademark frenetic pace and charming characters but the story could have been told in half the pages.

Briddey has surgery that will allow her to sense her boyfriend, Trent's, emotions. However, something goes wrong and she is actually able to hear other people's thoughts.  She is overwhelmed by the experience and rescued by C.B., the obligatory nerd potential love interest.  They spend a lot of time running around avoiding Trent for various reasons and trying to figure out what caused the telepathy.  Obviously, someone is trying to benefit from it and I am pretty sure you can guess that someone is Trent.

The book sucked me in and I found it charming, but charming on a surface level.  Willis can and has done much better.  My favorite part was when Briddey and C.B. take refuge in a library because books absorb people so much that their inner voices quiet down and are not so overwhelming.  A library as a refuge is lovely on so many levels.  The book did have many references to modern technology and communication, Iphones, tablets, Twitter, etc, which may possibly prevent the book from aging well.

My end feeling was that this would have made a fantastic short story or novella but that there just was not enough there for a full-length novel.

  I found this book in my attic when I was looking for something else.  I have no recollection of buying it or ever reading it.  Do you think my attic is magically spawning books now?  What a wonderful thought.  I probably bought it for the cover.  It is so of its time.

Jennifer Morton is suffering through the post-war years in London.  She feels like life isn't offering her much and that everything is grey and depressing.  Then she inherits some money, takes a trip to Australia, and, of course, falls in love. There are obstacles and life changes and uncertainties but all ends well.  I enjoyed the portrayal of post-war London.  It was not an easy world to live in.  I also have read very few books set in Australia and actually know little about the country and it's settlement beyond the obvious.  It looks like many of Shute's books are set in Australia.  I read a review of A Town Like Alice recently but my library doesn't have a copy.  It did have a few of his other books and I grabbed one.  I can't remember the title right now and since it is upstairs and I am downstairs I think you will just have to live with that uncertainty for now.

Not too long ago I read the Persephone book A London Child of the 1870s.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and have now moved on to the sequel, A London Girl of the 1880s.  It is just as charming and just as enjoyable.  Since she is obviously older in this book her observations are more insightful.  At one point she is talking about the school she is attending and she says;

Not quite so easy to understand was the objection to the teachers having any interests outside their work.  Now it is obvious that no teacher, and no parent, can inspire children if he thinks too much about them; he must have some wider outside interest about which they must be left guessing.

 I love this quote and completely agree with it.  In fact, I could, and probably will, write an entire post based around it.  You have been warned.  I also liked her description of what she says the French call "staircase wit" or what you wish you had said as you go downstairs afterward.  That sums up me and my life right there.

So there you have it, a few of the many books I have been reading lately.  What have you read?  I am always looking for new books in case my magical attic fails me.

*I received a copy of this book from Netgalley for review consideration. This in no way affected my opinion of the book or the way in which my review was written.  If I hate it I will tell you.

Growing Up and Letting Go

kids on a gravel road

My son turned sixteen earlier this month.

My son, who not that long ago was sitting on the floor playing with Thomas the Tank Engine, is now old enough to drive.

That is a scary thought.  The kid who frequently doesn't seem completely sure who his body belongs to and where those huge feet came from is old enough to be put in charge of a huge hunk of moving metal and allowed on the road.

Excuse me while I go lie down for a minute.

My son tells us that he thinks getting his license is practical because then he can get a job during shop cycle at school and that will be good work experience.  I listen to my son being practical and reasonable and I nod in agreement, ignore my inner weeping for the loss of my baby, and research learner's permit requirements.  Because that is what parents do.  They help their kids to the edge of the nest and shove them over.  Then they sit on the edge of the nest and hope madly that their kid will find his wings.  Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.  Sometimes it takes a few shoves off the edge before they get the hang of it.  However, if you don't shove they may never fly.

I have had to learn to back off and let him try his wings.  When he was younger I had to constantly fight the urge to check that he was getting things done, to make sure he was handling situations appropriately.  We live in a world that tells us that the more involved we are in our children's lives the better parents we are.  Of course we want to be close to our kids.  Of course we want to spend time with them but there is such a thing as too much.  We cannot and should not live for and through our children.  They need to live for themselves, make decisions for themselves, even make mistakes for themselves.

I notice this view of constant parent involvement with my daughter's homework.  She is in sixth grade.  I certainly hope that by now she can keep track of her assignments and remember to do them and hand them in on time.  Those are basic skills that should have been learned in the very early grades. This year's teachers seem to have no faith in the kids' ability to do any of that.  They are given an assignment and they have to write it down in their planners, then the assignment is emailed to all parents, then the child comes home and does the homework and has the parent sign the planner confirming it was done.  Then the child returns the homework and planner to school and the planner is signed by the teacher. The teachers still complain that parents are not actively involved in their child's homework.  Honestly?  I don't want to be actively involved in her homework.  I have been there, done that, and have no desire to do it again.  I'll help if she is stuck on a math problem or something but other than that her homework should be her responsibility.

If we don't teach our children to be responsible for the little things and take responsibility when they mess up then how are they going to cope as life goes on and bigger issues face them?  We cannot and should not always be there to maintain a hedge between them and the rest of the world.

It is hard.  I want to go outside and encase our car in a huge roll of bubble wrap just so my son can't be injured.  Do you think that would work?  It might look a bit funny...

It is hard to let go.  It is hard to sit back and watch our children live their lives their way.  It is hard to determine when to provide direction, when to swoop in and help, and when to sit on the edge of the nest and watch.

It is hard, but when they find their wings, when they soar, you feel like you can soar yourself.

Autumn in New England

The roadside stands were piled with golden pumpkins and russet squashes and baskets of red apples so crisp and sweet that they seemed to explode with juice when I bit into them.  I bought apples and a gallon jug of fresh-pressed cider.... The villages are the prettiest, I guess, in the whole nation, neat -and white-painted, and-not counting the motels and tourist courts-unchanged for a hundred years except for traffic and paved streets.  The climate changed quickly to cold and the trees burst into color, the reds and yellows you can't believe. It isn't only color but a glowing, as though the leaves gobbled the light of the autumn sun and then released it slowly.  There's a quality of fire in these colors.

I have been reading Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck and I came across this quote.  It so perfectly encapsulates autumn in New England.

 My daughter had a half-day of school and we went for a walk through some woods and down by a stream.  It was a new walk for us but one we will probably do again.  It isn't very long but it provides boundless opportunities for clambering down inclines, investigating waterfalls, sitting on boulders, and scuffing through leaves.  In other words, all the perfect autumn woodland activities.

We spent quite a while collecting brightly colored leaves and deciding which ones look best together.  Does anyone else remember ironing leaves between sheets of waxed paper when you were a child?  The paper would stick together with your leaves positioned inside.  You could make all kinds of scenes and color combinations.

I love the sound of running water.  There is something so soothing and peaceful about sitting on a giant boulder and listening to the water cascading over the tiny waterfall just around the bend.  I think my dream house would have a river or a stream nearby.

It is nice to give one of my children a bit of undivided attention.  My daughter had a fun afternoon and so did I.  She also insisted that I include a few photos of her in this post and she is demanding the right to proofread it before I post it.  So here is my daughter.  Her enthusiasm can brighten any day.

Have you ever been to New England?

Book Mail

books stack

I haven't bought very many books lately.  I just looked back and I haven't done one of these posts in two months and today I only have six books to show you.  Six books in two months is a pathetic showing for someone who claims to love books as much as I do.  I really need to up my book buying game for the sake of my blog.

The problem is that my kids keep outgrowing their clothes so all my possible spare cash goes on replacing the barely worn clothes they can no longer fit into.  Please tell me that a 6'1" sixteen-year-old with size thirteen feet will eventually stop growing.  Please.  And my 11-year-old just passed a practically unworn pair of Converse down to me.  To me.  Think about that.  I just got hand-me-down shoes from my own daughter.

I bought a few books anyway.  Just think, I saved myself money because my daughter gave me her outgrown Converse.  Don't examine the logic of that statement too closely just nod approvingly and move on.

First of all, I bought Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers.  I have read it five million times but for some reason I don't own it which is a crime because Pete Wimsey and Harriet Vane make me happy.  It showed up in the mail last week.  I promptly read it and am now in the process of binge reading all the books that involve both of them.  At one point Harriet tells Peter that "If anyone ever marries you, it will be for the pleasure of hearing you talk piffle."  I do enjoy listening to him talk piffle as well.

I bought a Persephone book, used I must admit, and the sight of its pretty grey cover makes me happy.  I bought Bricks and Mortar by Helen Ashton.  I recently read The Half-Crown House by the same author and thoroughly enjoyed it so when I saw this on Abebooks for next to nothing I snapped it up.

The View From the Corner Shop by Kathleen Hey is the diary of a Yorkshire shop assistant during WWII.  My love of wartime diaries is well documented on this blog and when I read a review of this on From My Mental Library I knew I had to buy it.  My shelves are groaning under the weight of books about life in Britain during the war but I just keep buying more.  I am not sure why I find it so fascinating but I do.  I also have a sneaking wish that I could dress like it was the 1940s.

The next book I also purchased because of a review I read on a blog.  Blog reading has a lot to answer for in my book buying addiction.  Lyn at I Prefer Reading reviewed The Past is Myself by Christabel Bielenberg.  This is also about WWII but it is a totally different perspective.  Christabel Bielenberg married a German lawyer and lived through the war in Germany.  It sounds fascinating and I thought I probably needed a more well-rounded picture of the war.

The last two books are both by A. N. Wilson.  I read and reviewed Victoria:  A Life by the same author and was very interested in รค woman and a time period I had never read that much about previously.  I ended up wanting to know more about what life was like during that time so I bought The Victorians and After the Victorians.  I have a real interest in the minutiae of life during different times.  I am hoping these books will provide that kind of detail.

As a side note, if anyone can tell me how to get those stickers off that Thriftbooks puts on their books I will be eternally grateful.  They either leave a sticky residue behind or they won't come off at all.  It is very annoying.

Have you bought any books recently?