I predict that I will not read 52 books this year. It's already almost June and so far I've read only 17 books. This is not a tragedy. I read for pleasure, not for records.
A Year on Ladybug Farm, by Donna Ball. Three friends -- retired, divorced, and/or widowed -- decide to move to the country and restore a farm. "As the friends take on a home improvement challenge of epic proportions, they encounter disaster after disaster, from renegade sheep and garden thieves to a seemingly ghostly inhabitant. Over the course of a year, overwhelming obstacles make the three women question their decision, but they ultimately learn that sometimes the best things can happen when everything goes wrong..." (Amazon review). There are sequels to this book, although I haven't continued reading. It was a well-written book with good storytelling, so I may read more.
My Reading Life, by Pat Conroy. Conroy's book is part annotated bibliography and part autobiography. He tells about the books and how they affected his life. He writes a lot about his abusive father and his mother, who encouraged him to read, read, read. He talks about people who influenced his reading life. Some of his book is Hemingwayesque, in that he had his Sylvia Beach (a bookstore owner in Atlanta) and his Gertrude Stein (a teacher in high school). He includes several books as paragons of Southern literature, including Gone With the Wind (of course). His all-time favorite, God-I-can't-get-enough-of-it, gotta-read-it-as-often-as-possible book is Look Homeward Angel. He gushed over that book so much and so floridly that it kind of turned me off ever wanting to read it. I really enjoyed the autobiographical parts of the book, and I think anyone who enjoys Southern literature would like this book.
World's Greatest Sleuth, by Steve Hockensmith. Once again, Hockensmith comes through with a great read (he hasn't failed me yet). This time Otto and Gustav are headed to the World's Fair in Chicago to participate in a sleuthing competition thought up by a publishing house. Their publisher dresses them up as caricatures of cowboys, which of course they hate, since they are real cowboys. They're competing with other sleuths, both amateur and professional (and some fake). Things are very contentious and then, of course, they find a body. Well, almost everybody is trying to find out whodunit, but a few seem to want to keep the rest from solving the murder. If you've kept up with the series, you'll want to read this one, too. I can't wait until Hockensmith writes the next one.
The Red Garden, by Alice Hoffman. "Hoffman brings us 200 years in the history of Blackwell, a small town in rural Massachusetts, in her insightful latest. The story opens with the arrival of the first settlers, among them a pragmatic English woman, Hallie, and her profligate, braggart husband, William. Hallie makes an immediate and intense connection to the wilderness, and the tragic severing of that connection results in the creation of the red garden, a small, sorrowful plot of land that takes on an air of the sacred. The novel moves forward in linked stories, each building on (but not following from) the previous and focusing on a wide range of characters, including placid bears, a band of nomadic horse traders, a woman who finds a new beginning in Blackwell, and the ghost of a young girl drowned in the river who stays in the town's consciousness long after her name has been forgotten. The result is a certain ethereal detachment as Hoffman's deft magical realism ties one woman's story to the next even when they themselves are not aware of the connection. The prose is beautiful, the characters drawn sparsely but with great compassion." (This is the Publisher's Weekly review and it is so much better than anything I could write about this book that I decided to use it.) I really liked this book. It's the first Hoffman book for me, and since I enjoyed it, I started another of her books (the title of which escapes me at the moment) but I couldn't get into it. I seem to be more concerned with story than with the author, but read The Red Garden. It's worthwhile.
Fearless Fourteen, by Janet Evanovich. "Our heroine, the irrepressible bounty hunter Stephanie Plum, finds herself watching over a goth teen called Zook, who is heavily into gaming, after his mom can’t make bail and disappears (or has been kidnapped). A lot of people think there is stolen money buried in or near Officer Morelli’s little house—that’s Steph’s Morelli, the cop who is her number-one boyfriend most of the time, or at least when the entrancing Ranger isn’t nearby. The money is the reason behind Zook’s mom’s disappearance, and it’s the tie that binds Evanovich’s various plotlines, which carom about endlessly, not always resolving. Questions abound: Are Steph’s sidekick, the plus-size Lula, and Ranger’s man Tank really engaged? Ranger is working security for a fading but brassy pop star: How does Steph manage to get into and out of her reality show? Can Zook and his sidekicks protect Morelli’s house—and Stephanie—with their homegrown weaponry (think potatoes as missiles)? Where else but Evanovich’s fourteenth novel can a line like “it’s raining money and popsicles!” actually make sense? Fans will be delighted, but others, who stumble into the series at this advanced point, may find themselves starved for backstory, so much so that they may need to go all the way back to One for the Money (1994)." --GraceAnne A. DeCandido (this is the review from Booklist). I think this was probably not my favorite Stephanie Plum story, but they can't always be perfect. I did actually enjoy reading it, as usual, and it won't stop me from reading subsequent Evanovich novels.
Under the Tuscan Sun, by Frances Mayes. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie version of this book (so much so that I bought a copy), but I managed to start the book with no expectations of it being better than the movie. The movie is good and so is the book, but the story changed from one format to the other. Reading the book really solidified my yearning to visit Italy. Mayes is a wonderful writer (and she's from south Georgia, just a few miles up the road!). She currently lives and teaches in San Francisco, but she spends her summers and Christmases at Bramasole, her house near Cortona, Italy. The book tells all about the renovations to the house and it's also a travelogue of Tuscany. She portrays the locals as friendly and welcoming; she tells all about their favorite meals that they cooked, and even includes recipes! It was an excellent read and I'm so glad I bought the book. I bookmarked some of the pages with recipes in the hope that I might go back and try some of them. If you haven't already read this book, what are you waiting for?
Anyone But You, by Jennifer Crusie. I love Jennifer Crusie's books. They are always such fun to read. Nina, just turning 40 and just divorced, gets something her socially conscious husband would not allow -- a dog. She wanted a cute and cuddly puppy, but what she got was Fred, a depressed Bassett hound. But Fred turns out to be good for her love life. Nina's downstairs neighbor, Alex, is a hunky emergency-room surgeon, who actually likes his job and who resists his family's attempts to get him to specialize in a more lucrative practice. Unfortunately, he is ten years younger than Nina, or at least Nina thinks that's bad. She's very sensitive about turning 40. Her best friend keeps pushing her toward Alex, as does Fred, believe it or not. They seem to know that 40 is not the end of the world. Alex is completely smitten. Now if they can just convince Nina...
Take the Monkeys and Run, by Karen Cantwell. "Film lover Barbara Marr is a typical suburban mom living the typical suburban life in her sleepy little town of Rustic Woods, Virginia. Typical, that is until she sets out to find the missing link between a bizarre monkey sighting in her yard and the bone chilling middle-of-the-night fright fest at the strangely vacant house next door. When Barb talks her two friends into some seemingly innocent Charlie's Angels-like sleuthing, they stumble upon way more than they bargained for and uncover a piece of neighborhood history that certain people would kill to keep on the cutting room floor. Enter sexy PI Colt Baron, Barb's ex-boyfriend who would love to be cast as new leading man, filling the role just vacated by her recently estranged husband, Howard. When Colt flies in from out of town to help Barb, events careen out of control and suddenly this mini-van driving mother of three becomes a major player in a treacherous and potentially deadly FBI undercover operation. It's up to her now. With little time to spare, she and she alone, must summon the inner strength necessary to become a true action heroine and save the lives of those she loves. The question is can she get them out alive before the credits roll?" This is the Amazon "product description." I decided to use it anyway. I had never heard of Karen Cantwell or her heroine, but this was a thoroughly enjoyable book, especially when it got to where you didn't know which side the players were on. There are fun surprises in the book and I may read some more of this series. It was one of those Kindle recommendations that I love.
The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain. Having recently read Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, I was sort of intrigued by this fictionalized telling of much the same story but told by Hemingway's wife Hadley. The story takes you from their first meeting in Chicago, their attraction for one another, and their life in Paris and other parts of Europe. In a note at the end of the book, the author states that she tried to remain true to accounts of Hemingway's life, and if she did, then Ernest was a perfect shit at times, especially where Pauline was concerned. McLain is a good writer and a good storyteller and I enjoyed most of this book (except the parts where old Ernest was being the perfect shit). Reading about his relationship with Pauline while he was still married to Hadley made me a little less sad that he finally put a bullet through his head.
Is It Just Me, Or Is It Nuts Out There?, by Whoopi Goldberg. I love Whoopi. She and I have practically identical views on manners, and that's what this book is about. Reading this book can make you more aware of when you might be stepping over the line between good manners and bad ones. She writes with understated humor, except for the chapter on bullying. She gets really serious in that one because it is such a serious subject. This is not about Miss Manners or Emily Post type of manners, but about doing-unto-others type of manners and just plain human civility, or lack of it. She addresses cell phone use and other current day issues. I am keeping this book forever and I expect I'll go back and re-read parts, if not all, of it.
One of these days I have to post some actual pictures of my knitting. I'm still working on the peace-sign sweater and I have actually finished the motif. Now I just have to finish the front, knit the sleeves, block it, put it together, and wear it. This is not rocket science. I should be able to do it.
See y'all later. Happy reading and happy knitting!