More Time To Read

Now that we have a bit more time on our hands, it is a great time to pick up a new author and read.  I have read several good ones since my last book review post, and I’ll show you those, tell you two to avoid, and then pick up some older reviews of very long novels to fill our time.  Amazon links are provided so you can see the synopsis of the books if you like, or buy a copy. I just noticed that my top two picks for this post on reading both have birdcages on the covers.

Books and Reading at FromMyCarolinaHome.com

The Gravity of Birds by Tracy Guzeman – This is a wonderfully complex story that begins with the search for a painting and uncovers much more about the artist and his subjects.  The writing is compelling in a way that makes you turn the pages and keep going even when there are other things to do.  I did not want to put it down.  The ending has a twist you will not see coming, and is the first book that I wished was 50 pages longer, just so I could find out more about what the characters did next.

Books and Reading at FromMyCarolinaHome.com

Hope On The Inside by Marie Bostwick – It is nice to find a novel about real people and real problems, solving them by relying on each other.  There aren’t many writers who have their long married couples stay together, meeting the challenges of their marriages individually and together. Marie Bostwick has a writing style that is easy to read, yet gives the reader something to think about. In this novel, the theme of re-inventing a life is repeated over and over, with each character going through a process of finding a new life when the old one is disrupted. There is a deeper theme of redemption to think about in the process of an inmate reclaiming her life after stupid decisions made as a teenager. I was interested to read about a quilting program in a prison in real life in the afterward of the book. Basing stories on real life situations is Bostwick’s strong suit, and I hope she continues writing for many years to come.

Next, the position of most hilarious book I have ever read has been occupied by Devil in the Junior League by Linda Francis Lee for many years.  This week, it dropped to number 2, as The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion took over as the funniest book ever.  The story follows the exploits of a socially inept (think Sheldon Cooper) professor of genetics, Don Tillman, who tries to use a scientific method to find a wife.  He then gets completely sidetracked by a free spirit who upends his tidy, ordered life.  The story is absolutely hysterical as Don reacts differently to situations in a manner totally logical to him but crazy to anyone else.  I had to put the book down several times to get up and get a tissue to wipe the tears from laughter off my face.  It is clever, easy reading, almost impossible to put down. There are three books in the series and I cannot wait to read the next one.

A Tiger in the Kitchen: A Memoir of Food and Family by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan – A non-fiction memoir of a Chinese woman born in the year of the Tiger, raised in Singapore but coming of age in America. After losing her job, she is interested in learning more about her heritage, and the cooking of her grandmother and aunts and in the process learn about her own family. She makes several trips back to Singapore getting to know her aunties, learning to cook the dishes of her childhood. It is a well written book, full of humor and discovery. Recipes in the back are given in case you want to try some of the dishes. It is an enjoyable read, not high art, but interesting enough.

The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding by Jennifer Robson – This is one of those thoughtful fiction books, based in history but concentrating on people not in the center of the event.  In this case, the book revolves around the women working on the wedding gown. I was struck by the depth of research the author did, and the eloquence of her treatment of a Holocaust survivor. It is a novel of survival, of rationing and hardship, overcoming trauma, the aftermath of WWII, looking forward and finding joy. The sewing and embroidery becomes central to the storyline, told in two timelines, as the granddaughter of one of the characters tries to uncover the secrets from the past. Highly recommend.

Books and Reading at FromMyCarolinaHome.com

Here are two to avoid, not worth your time.

To Be Where You Are (Mitford #14) by Jan Karon – I wrote this same criticism about the 13th Mitford and it is still true for #14. It seems that Ms Karon has run out of steam for this series, dashing off a disjointed series of thoughts and calling it a novel. The novel is a series of half-page to page-and-a-half views of small scenes, with much of the chapters being confusing as to who you are reading about. These vignettes start off with ‘he’ or ‘she’ did this or that without identifying who it was. Sometimes ‘he’ was Dooley, sometimes Father Kavanaugh, sometimes Avis, sometimes someone else. It was too confusing, and slowed down the reading as you’d have to go start over once you realized that ‘he’ wasn’t who you thought it was.  The copious use in this novel of an apostrophe instead of real words – th’ instead of the – to indicate someone’s speech pattern became really tedious when used on multiple words in a single sentence. It got old really fast, and made the entire novel more difficult to read. Cannot recommend this one either, and I’m now done with Mitford.

Belonging by Nancy Thayer – This story started out a little irritating with overwrought images in the narrative, some just reaching to ridiculous – “the tantalizing glitter of his arctic blue eyes. The iceberg planes of his cheekbones…the cutting white sail of his smile”. Oh, please, it’s a bit much for one paragraph. Then there is the powerful and strong woman, who gets pregnant and retreats from the world in Nantucket because she is afraid her lover will want her to get an abortion. If she was that strong, she could have told him no and meant it. The novel moves to the renovation of an old house which became somewhat interesting, then the reader is slapped in the face by not one, but multiple tragedies in a row. I was too far in by that point to wall-bang it, so finished it. Of course, as predicted, the storylines were all tied up with neat little bows, happy endings all around. Overall disappointing.

I do enjoy science fiction and fantasy novels, although for some reason I haven’t read a lot of them lately. At the last book sale for the library, I ran across the three novels of the Harper Hall Trilogy in the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey.  Written for young readers in the preteen age group, these are still wonderful escape reads for adults. I have a lot of this series in hardback, but haven’t seen these three in years. So, I had to get them and reread them.  My Anne McCaffrey shelf is pretty full, and I keep my little dragon on that shelf too.

Books and Reading at FromMyCarolinaHome.com

If you are looking for a long novel to capture your interest for these long days at home, here are a few of my reviews of some epic length books.  These are all over 600 pages, with some over 900.  All of the following books were read some time ago, but most I still have on my keeper shelf.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – At the heart, this is a character study of a young boy, torn apart by the death of his mother. The descent into a profound depression is described in a true-to-life manner. So many young people, adrift without direction, turn to drugs and alcohol. Theo does just that. The fixation on minutiae is a symptom of depression, and is well described with elegance. The story moves slowly, which does drive some people to quit the book, but again, it isn’t an action novel. The story is Theo, his battles, his demons, his slow maturity, eventually coming to grips with what is right and wrong. He is fixated on the painting of The Goldfinch, noting the terrible chain forcing the tiny bird to live a lonely existence. Such is Theo’s life, chained to the memories he cannot reconcile, obsessed with a painting he shouldn’t possess, tormented by the specter of having it taken from him, yet needing it as a touchstone to his mother. I found it a fascinating novel, not a difficult read, just a long one. I recommend it.

Books and Reading at FromMyCarolinaHome.com

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton – This is a wonderfully complex book with richly drawn characters, as a little girl arrives in Australia, abandoned.  When she is grown, she is told the truth of how she came to be there, and begins a journey to find out her heritage.  In another timeline, her granddaughter is trying to piece together the story as well.  The story starts a little slowly, then builds to where it is impossible to put down. I gave it the highest rating of five stars. I bought this originally in paperback and gave it to a friend, buying a hardback for myself to keep.

Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast For Crows,  A Dance with Dragons (Song of Ice and Fire Series) by George RR Martin – Each one of these books is over 900 pages.  I’ve read them all, and the HBO series was better as it moved a bit faster.  But if you enjoy rich imagery, and don’t mind that the story advances slowly, this one is for you.  Be prepared for long scenes with little advancement of the story as the author loves character development.

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher – A story of one woman looking back on her life, with the discovery that her father’s painting is now worth a fortune.  The conflict that arises with her children over the painting and what to do illustrates a family in turmoil.  This author has a unique ability to draw you into a family crisis and to make you care about the outcome.  I’ve enjoyed every book I’ve read of hers, but this one is probably the best so far.

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova – Read back in 2013, I do remember liking this book that was a book club read for a group I was a part of then.  It is a retelling of the Dracula story, based in the history of Vlad the Impaler.  It is either loved or hated by all who make it through the 600+ pages.  I liked it enough to put it on my keeper shelf and may have to read it again at some point.

Books and Reading at FromMyCarolinaHome.com

The Eight by Katherine Neville – One of my all time favorite books, this one has a storyline that is different from any other.  It is told in two time periods, one at the time of the French Revolution and the other in modern times.  The historic timeline tells the story of a supernaturally powerful chess set, and efforts to hide the pieces to prevent its use.  In modern times, a woman is drawn into the hunt to put the set back together for a terrible cause.  A fascinating story with intrigue and deception, intricate and complex.  The sequel, The Fire, picks up the story 30 years later in both time lines, and is just as complex and interesting as the first.

Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, books #1 and 2 of the Kingsbridge series by Ken Follett.  The series has three books, all over 900 pages each, and I haven’t read the last one yet, but I would imagine it is as beautifully detailed in imagery and history as the first two.  The story is set in the middle ages in Europe, centering around the building of a Gothic cathedral.  In the context of a builder, stories revolve around the builders and the royals, drawing each character in flawed detail.  The story is rich with intrigue and treachery, complex and absorbing.

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher
This is a truly heartwarming story, with the time of year as a metaphor for the lives of the people involved. The Winter Solstice, the darkest day of the year, mirrors the tragedy of the primary characters, and as the days slowly progress to Christmas, a time of joy and renewal, the characters find a new way forward. It is a rare book these days that gets five stars from me, and there are a couple of quibbles with this one – like the description of a 62 year old as elderly, certainly not!! Some of the plot developments are a bit predictable, but there are a few twists where things do not go as they might have which makes the story a bit more realistic.

You can see more book reviews by using the Books and Reading category on my sidebar.  Do you have any recommendations?  What is the best book you’ve read lately?

21 thoughts on “More Time To Read

  1. patsystitch@gvtc.com

    Your book reviews are my go to for a new book. I am ready The Forgotten Garden. Sorry to hear the Mitford book is a no read.

  2. Sue H

    My daughter read “A Woman is No Man” by Etaf Rumand and loved it. She recommended it to me. I, in turn, loved it & recommended it to my mother and she also loved it. Any book that can cross three generations is recommendation-worthy as far as I’m concerned. It is well-written, you will both love & dislike the characters and you will come to understand them so well.

    What’s it about? Interestingly enough, it is about 3 generations of Arab women that live in NYC. The older two were married off in arranged marriages and the youngest is of an age to where she is about to be “arranged”. There’s mystery in this book, heartache, and situations that will touch your heart.

  3. karenfae

    thanks for the recommendations I wrote down 3 of them to look for. I lost interest in the Mitford books after the first 3 and haven’t given them another try since then

  4. I always enjoying reading reviews for books and using them to make my own selections. I appreciate that you don’t say that everything you read is wonderful. So good to have suggestions.

  5. I enjoyed the entire Mitford series early on, but I believe I had similar feelings with the last two books. Disappointing, because the series was so good. I am re-reading the Louise Penny books, this time out loud to my husband, and we are enjoying that. Other than that, I haven’t read anything worthy of passing along, unfortunately. I’ve got The Rosie Project in my cart. I’m currently reading The Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler. Too soon to tell you how I feel about it.

  6. Your reviews are always spot on! I’ve never learned to write a good review without giving up too many details of the story. I find most friends that belong to book clubs share the most fascinating recommendations.I use the LIBBY app on my phone to listen to audio books from the library while I sew. I enjoyed the audio book set you sent me by Elizabeth Peters, and have since been through Crocodile on the Sandbank, and am currently engrossed in The Curse of the Pharaohs. You are right about the “reader” of those books. She does a fine job. This week I have finally consumed 2 Harry Potter( Sorcerer’s Stone and the Chamber of Secrets) books. I can now see why the kids love them, and find them most entertaining magical fiction, and I will most likely work through the series as they become available at the library. I read recently that the E-Reader versions are available for free at all the libraries using the Libby app too. Debbie Macomber’s last book in the Rose Harbor series, Sweet Tomorrows, was predictable, but sweet. Brenda Novak’s “No One But You” had some great plot twists. Keep going on the Kingsbridge series. I loved them. When you are done there look for Follett’s series “The Pillars of the Earth”. Equally good.Went through them all in 2019.
    Stay well.

  7. kattails

    I love your reviews…almost as much as I LOVE it when we have the same taste in books…lol. Pillars of the Earth is one of my top 5 books ever. I also have most of Anne McCaffrey’s books as well…not all but many! I read Dragonsong in 1977 and was absolutely hooked. Even though I was in my mid-20’s I was totally absorbed in the goings-on in Pern and the “red thread”. You’ve made me want to start again and re-read them. In my 60’s now I wonder if they’ll have the same effect? Blessings, Carole…stay well…and quilt/read on!

  8. Some excellent recommendations there, Carole, I love having recommendations to look for. I’m glad you enjoyed The Gown too! I just finished “Bellewether” by Susanne Kearsley and “My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry” by Fredrik Backman. I wasn’t sure of either of them at first, but did enjoy them…not my usual reads, but good ones. I laughed about your comment that 62 isn’t old! Certainly not today, but back in those days it was positively ancient with the average life expectancy something like 42. 🙂

  9. Meg Tafner

    Thank you very much for such thoughtful and interesting reviews! I will be ordering at least three of them! Kind regards Meg

  10. lois92346

    Thank you so very much for the recommendations. Since our libraries will be closed for the duration of the virus, I will definitely be looking them up on Amazon for further details. I’ve loved your subs reviews as well.

  11. Brenda Ackerman

    Hello Carole, My you have been busy reading! As you know, with my brain, reading is not something I do much of. It is fun though reading your thoughts on each of the books that you read and then reading the comments of everyone and what their thoughts are also.
    Forgive me if I write this in the wrong way, I am trying to be positive in all aspects! I do not know if this section of your blog post is observed by very many readers of your blog, but I think that it is a fantastic subject that steps away from quilting into another factor of life that many people do not enjoy. I have always been saddened that fewer people read books, especially the more as everything in our lives are going into technology computerized.
    I take every opportunity I can to read short stories and articles that I know my brain can keep track of and not have to stop all of the time and go back and reread, which does happen far to often. Which leads to frustration and usually moving on. Yet, I never give up and dream of being able to read novels again like my Mom tells me I did all of the time growing up until the accident. She tells me I was such a bookworm that at times Dad and herself would have to force me to go outside and play. LOL.
    I am just trying to say that your section of posts on books is great and I always enjoy them. Plus, I feel you should continue them and help encourage every person to read! No matter what it is that they read! Thanks Carole! Have a fabulous day!

  12. Thank you for the reading suggestions, some new to me. I’m afraid to start the Mcaffrey books. If I like the author, I have a tendency to read everything he/she ever wrote. Oh my, life is getting too short.

  13. June Neigum

    Thank You for your recommendations. I almost forgot I read Pillars of the Earth or should I say listened to, when I was doing piece work years ago. I would keep sewing so I could get thru the rest of the chapter or exciting event. I listened to a lot of books then and still when I take long car trips. These days I have been doing catch up on quilting. I have finished my Square Dance scrap quilt and my Teacup quilt along. I will send you pictures of both soon. And don’t you just hate when the ending should not be as there are too many possibilities to keep it going.

  14. I loved The Gown and The Forgotten Garden! Need to put the Rosie Project on my list, too. Have you read Next Year in Havana? That is a really good story – I couldn’t put it down!

  15. I also read The Rosie Project and The Gown just this week. I loved both of them and also made the Sheldon Cooper connection. I read The Goldfinch a few years ago and it’s still on my top 10 most hated list along with Where the Crawdad Sings and Gone Girl. I can see why people love Goldfinch but the boys character was completely unbelievable to me. Nice writing though.
    I also love, love, love Rosamund Pilcher books. They seem similar to Kate Morton. The Shell Seekers is one of my favorites too.

  16. Sharon Church

    I enjoyed reading Outbound Train by Renea Winchester. I’m reading In the Garden with Billy now. She is from Bryson City.

  17. Sarah

    Thanks for the recommendations! One to add to your list if you haven’t read it is The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah. It has been out a few years. It is a WWII book with an surprise ending. It is long (about 600 pages) but I read it over a few days because I just couldn’t put it down. Little sewing and even less sleep going on while I was reading that one! It was worth it.

  18. Rebecca Burch

    Oh, I wish I wish I had a good book to read or suggest. My favorite book is “The Crimson Petal & the White” followed by “The Alieniest” & “Finger Smith”. Yes, I love a historical novel. Any ideas along these veins?

Due to the volume of comments during Autumn Jubilee, I am unable to personally respond to all of them, however, I read and appreciate each and every one!

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