Friday, August 14, 2015

More great summer reading suggestions

Since my last Book Nook post, I've read more great (or at least very good) books. So I wanted to share.

Following are seven more books worth perusing this summer -- listed alphabetically by author, with an asterisk (*) denoting books that I particularly enjoyed. (If you missed any of my previous Book Nook posts, just click on the Book Nook label at the bottom of this post.)

And if you all have read any books worth recommending this summer, please leave a Comment with the title of the book and the author's name. Thanks!

Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer Is Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings from Dave Barry by Dave Barry. Nonfiction. Humor. Back in the day (i.e., the late 1980s and early 1990s) I was a huge Dave Barry fan. And because there was no Internet back then, and Barry's column wasn't syndicated in my local paper, my friend, Dave S., would photocopy and mail me Barry's weekly column right after it ran in the Washington Post. (I still have a copy of Barry's column titled "The Mysteries of Guythink" in my filing cabinet. If you haven't ever read it, click on the link. It's a classic.)

ANYWAY... at some point, Barry got a little too zany (and annoying) for me, and I stopped reading his columns and books. But when I saw Barry's latest collection of humor essays prominently displayed at my local library, I decided to check it out. And I can report that I thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the "letter" to his teenage daughter regarding getting her learner's permit, something I could totally relate to. (As the mother of a new driver, I kept thinking, thank God we don't live in Florida, especially South Florida.)

If you're looking for a non-taxing beach, or pool, or backyard read that will have you laughing out loud, check out Live Right and Find Happiness. (Though those of you who do not have a teenage daughter, do not know who David Beckham is, or have never been to Russia may not find Barry's latest essay collection as funny as I did).

*Girl in the Moonlight by Charles Dubow. Fiction. A beautifully written tale of young love and (non-creepy) obsession, set in East Hampton and Amagansett, NY, Paris and Provence, and New York City. If you've ever been in love (or lust) with someone seemingly unobtainable, who keeps popping into your life, or had a first love you've never forgotten, you will relate to and (probably) appreciate this book. (Neither was the case for me, but I was good friends with two young women who greatly reminded me of the "girl" in question in Dubow's novel, and, like the author, grew up in New York City and spent many summers in East Hampton and Amagansett. So the book was a bit of a trip down memory lane for me.) Definitely goes on my "favorites" list of books I've read this year.

China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan. Fiction. Total Guilty Pleasure. The sequel to Crazy Rich Asians, which, if you haven't read it, you may want to read first. Think of Kwan as the Robin Leach of the Asian jet set, his books a novelized Lifestyles of the Rich and Asian. You think we Americans are status-conscious and materialistic? Well, we are pikers compared to this crowd. A fascinating, often humorous, over-the-top, not-as-fictional-as-you-think look at the 1% of China, Singapore, and Malaysia. My fun trashy read of the summer.

The Millionaire and the Bard: Henry Folger's Obsessive Hunt for Shakespeare’s First Folio by Andrea Mays. Nonfiction. Great, well-researched tale of industrialist Henry Clay Folger's obsession with Shakespeare, in particular the first folio of Shakespeare's collected works. You do not have to be a lover of Shakespeare (I'm not) to appreciate this book. You just have to like a good story -- and/or have an appreciation for great scholarship. A true rags to riches story, The Millionaire and the Bard tells both the story of Shakespeare, how he became The Bard, and of Folger, who went from impoverished circumstances to becoming the president and then chairman of Standard Oil of New York. A fascinating, well-written story. Highly recommend.

*The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape by James Rebanks. Nonfiction. Lovely, lovely book about shepherding (i.e., sheep farming) in England's Lake District. Rebanks is a marvelous writer. His prose makes you feel as though you are there with him in the English countryside, tending his flocks, over the course of four seasons. And while sheep farming may not sound very glamorous (it isn't) or interesting, learning about life on the fells (hills and mountains) of the Lake District and the life of a typical shepherding family -- a very hard life, not for the faint of heart, or health, or for those who like a secure source of income -- is fascinating. Indeed, it's a life that Rebanks, probably the only shepherd to graduate from Oxford (and whose Twitter account is delightful), says he would not trade for any other (nor would many of his neighbors). A gem of a book.

The English Girl & The English Spy by Daniel Silva. If you enjoy a good international spy or espionage story, I highly recommend Daniel Silva's books featuring the Israeli spy and art restorer Gabriel Allon. The English Spy is Silva's latest novel and involves Irish terrorism and terrorists (not my favorite topics). The English Girl, the one before the one before The English Spy, which I liked better, is about the disappearance of a young, beautiful government worker who goes missing while on vacation in Corsica -- and whose disappearance threatens to topple the British government. (The Heist, about the hunt for a missing Caravaggio, which I also read and enjoyed, came in between.) I mention the order because it helps to have read The English Girl before The English Spy, though I did not and still enjoyed both.

Monday, August 3, 2015

When your "kid" becomes an "adult"

Being a parent is weird (and hard). On the one hand, our job is to nurture our children, to give them love and a shoulder to cry on, to provide them with shelter, food and clothing, to protect them from the evils of this world, and to teach them right and wrong.

On the other hand, and I truly believe this, one of our chief roles as parents is to teach our children to be independent and self-sufficient, i.e., to not need us anymore. Call it planned obsolescence. Kind of like your iPhone.

This summer, shortly after our just-turned-17-year-old daughter packed up her car with most of her clothes, along with her Vitamix and ice-cream maker, and drove off to Long Island to work on a farm (with a bunch of twentysomethings), I realized the spouse and I had entered that second stage of parenting.


Part of me, a very large part, is enormously proud of the teenager for being so independent and grown up. (She does her homework without having to be told or nagged to do so, loves to cook and is very good at it, is a good, safe driver, and does her own laundry.)

Another part of me, though, will always see her as my little girl (and not just because she's still shorter than I am).

While I worked very hard to make sure our daughter could take care of herself, and be self-sufficient (and succeeded!), I miss being needed (for more than a cash infusion)... and the hugs (though I still get those, just not as many or as often)... and waking her up each morning with a kiss on her forehead (she now sets her alarm and gets up before I do)... and our daily after-school, or after-camp, discussions. (Since she went to Long Island, we rarely hear from her, typically only when she has a money-related question. To find out what she's been up to, we log onto Facebook and Instagram.)

True, we still have a year before the teenager heads off to college. But she has already informed us that she will be very busy this year and to basically "not wait up for her."

Sigh.

I am happy she is happy. (We spent many years dealing with her being unhappy, and I will take happy over unhappy every time.) And I am proud our daughter is becoming (is?) an amazing adult -- and look forward to hearing about all of the amazing adventures to come. But this being a parent thing is a lot harder than I thought it would be.

Monday, July 27, 2015

More reasons to love summer

One of the things I love about summer is the abundance of fresh produce. You can pick your own strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, and you can find freshly picked, locally grown squash and zucchini and eggplant, as well as tomatoes*, corn, and potatoes, up and down the East Coast. Heaven.

This summer, the teenager, whose passion is creating healthy yet yummy meals and desserts, is spending the summer working on a farm. This past weekend we visited her there, and I took (stylized) photos of some of the beautiful flowers and vegetables currently in season. (To see more, full-color photos of our favorite farm, click here.)

Farming is incredibly hard, labor-intensive, not-high-paying work, but it is immensely rewarding (when everything goes right) -- and I feel fortunate to get to enjoy the benefits of these incredible farmers' labors.

I hope you enjoy these photos and will support your local farmers.






































 *Sadly, it is not quite tomato season out on Long Island. Otherwise there would be half a dozen shots of tomatoes.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Butterflies: Your moment of zen

To a Butterfly

I've watched you now a full half-hour,
Self-poised upon that yellow flower;
And, little Butterfly! indeed
I know not if you sleep or feed.
How motionless!---not frozen seas
More motionless! and then
What joy awaits you, when the breeze
Hath found you out among the trees,
And calls you forth again!

             -- William Wordsworth

Your moment of zen: lunch hour at the Flutter Zone....







Sunday, July 12, 2015

Piggies!

I love pigs. They are smart, funny, and... delicious.

And few things are cuter (at least to me) than a pack of little porkers running around and noisily nursing.

So when the spouse and I happened upon this family of black pigs, which included five hungry little piglets, at a local farm, well, I was in hog heaven.

[Click on photos to enlarge. And be sure to scroll down to watch the short video of the piggies nursing -- and make sure to have the volume turned up!]




Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Summer 2015 reading suggestions

Wow, I just looked and realized it's been over six months since I did a "Book Nook" post! It's not for a lack of reading. I typically read a couple of books a week. I just haven't, at least until recently, read a whole lot of books I felt were worth recommending. But I finally have some titles worth blogging about.

Herewith are 13 books you may want to check out this summer -- listed in the order I read them, with a brief summary. Books with an * are particular favorites. (If you want additional information, Google the title or just go to Amazon.com or GoodReads. To see previous recommendations, click on the BOOK NOOK label at the bottom of this post or the link above.)

*The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man by W. Bruce Cameron. Fiction. A mystery with a sense of humor and a touch of metaphysics and romance. If I had to pick one word to describe this book, or it's protagonist, it would be wry, a good thing in my book. (There are not enough wry books out there, IMHO.)

The protagonist is former Michigan college football star Ruddy McCann, who goes from a promising career in the NFL to a career repossessing cars in and around his small hometown in Michigan, due to a cruel twist of fate. If things weren't bad, or weird, enough, Ruddy starts hearing the voice of a (deceased) real estate agent in his head, falls in love the girlfriend of an arch rival, and stumbles upon an unsolved murder. Full of fun, quirky characters, humor, and warmth, The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man is a story of murder, romance, and second chances. Highly recommend.

The Glassblower by Petra Durst-Benning. Historical fiction. This book made want to learn how to blow glass. Set in the late 19th century, in a small German town famous for its glassblowing, and glassblowers, The Glassblower is really about the art and business of glassblowing, not necessarily one particular glassblower. That said, the novel centers on the lives, woes, and triumphs of three sisters, the daughters of a glassblower, who must figure out how to make a living in their small town of glassblowers after their father suddenly dies. While fictional, the book is based on actual places and people and facts -- and is a fascinating period piece.

How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson. Nonfiction. The title pretty much summarizes the book, a series of case studies (if you will) of some of the most life-changing, or altering, inventions -- and how one thing, or advance, or innovation, often led to another. Indeed, it's the causality that makes Johnson's work so interesting. He strings innovations together in a way that makes you sit up and go "Oh! Cool."

A Good Year for the Roses by Gil McNeil. British fiction. I've been a fan of Gil McNeil for a while now, having read her Beach Street Knitting and Yarn Club series. A Good Year for the Roses is a similar yarn. Again, the main character is a single (divorced) mom, starting over in a new place, trying to raise three rambunctious boys. In this case, however, the focus isn't on a knitting (and yarn) shop but a bed and breakfast on the Devon coast. If I had to pick two words to describe this book, they would be funny and heartwarming. A perfect summer read, especially if one is spending the summer in the English countryside, or would like to.

They Eat Horses, Don't They? The Truth about the French by Piu Marie Eatwell. Nonfiction. Eatwell, who has lived and worked in France, debunks and/or verifies popular myths and tropes about the French. Amusing and informative.

The Figaro Murders by Laura Lebow. Historical mystery. Set in late 18th-century Vienna, the book takes readers into the sparkling, and cutthroat, world of the Vienna opera, where we encounter Mozart and many other famous figures of the time. As the title indicates, there is a murder to be solved, and the libretto for The Marriage of Figaro to be finished, which the librettist, Lorenzo Da Ponte, is trying to do, when he isn't helping to find his barber's long-lost parents and solve a murder.

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg. Historical fiction. A captivating (mostly? somewhat?) fictional biography of the 19th-century French writer George Sand (née Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin), set in Paris and the French countryside. A good book for all you Francophiles and former Lit and/or French majors.

*The Magician's Lie by Greer Macallister. Fiction. A tale of magic, mystery, murder, and illusion set in the turn-of-the-century (1890s to early 1900s) Midwest. The magician of the title is a young woman with the stage name of the Amazing Arden. Her lie, if she is, in fact, lying? Read the book to find out. Beautifully written -- dare I say, spellbinding? I couldn't put this book down. (Reviewers have compared The Magician's Lie to Water for Elephants and The Night Circus. As I have read neither, I couldn't say. I just know I really liked this book.) If you are into books about magic or magicians, as I am, or just want an interesting read, pick it up.

*The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons by Lawrence Block. Mystery. This was my first Bernie Rhodenbarr mystery, the eleventh in the series, but it will not be my last. Indeed, I appreciated that you didn't have to have read any of the 10 previous books to understand or appreciate The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons. For those unfamiliar with the series, the protagonist is a "gentleman burglar" (think Cary Grant in To Catch a Thief, but not as good looking), with an eye for antiques and art, who runs a used bookstore. His best friend, and confidant, is a lesbian who runs the pet store down the block. The book opens with Rhodenbarr filching F. Scott Fitzgerald's original manuscript for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" from the bowels of a museum at the behest of a "Mr. Smith." Soon after, he is asked by a cop of his acquaintance to help him solve a burglary (and murder) on the Upper East Side. Could the two be connected? Read the book, which is a quick, humorous read, to find out!

The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki. Historical fiction. A (somewhat? mostly?) fictional biography of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, known as "Sisi," who married Emperor Franz Joseph I when she was only 16. The book covers Sisi's early years, from just before she met and married the emperor (who was supposed to marry her older sister, Helene) until shortly after her coronation as Queen of Hungary in 1867. Although a work of fiction, The Accidental Empress hews closely to facts, and I found the book interesting. If you like historical fiction and/or tales of royalty (and how screwed up it can be), check out this book.

The Royal We by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan. Chick lit. I am embarrassed to admit how much I liked this book, as I tend to avoid (and pooh-pooh) "chick lit." But I thoroughly enjoyed The Royal We, a fictionalized account of the Prince William and Kate Middleton romance, featuring a student prince (Nick) who meets and falls in love with an unassuming American girl (Rebecca, or Bex) while she is spending her junior year abroad at Oxford. The book features many other familiar characters, too, including a handsome, raffish younger brother (a la Prince Harry) and a stylish, fun-loving sister (a la Pippa, but American). Chick lit fans and Anglophiles will enjoy this well-written guilty pleasure.

*Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back by Janice P. Nimura. Nonfiction. The fascinating, real-life story of three (originally five) young Japanese women, all the daughters of samurai (or former samurai), who were sent by the emperor of Japan to the United States for 10 years, in 1871, in order to become educated and learn Western ways -- and then return to Japan and educate other women and children. Well researched and well written, the story takes you from the opening of Japan to the West (the Meiji period) to San Francisco and across the United States to Washington, D.C., and the Northeast and then back to Japan a dozen years later. I had never heard of these young women, who were all remarkable, and was delighted to have stumbled upon this book. A must read.

*Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave. Fiction. It's a romance/finding yourself/about-the-importance-of-family novel set in Sonoma County, and I loved it. Couldn't put it down. Ostensibly, it's the story of a runaway bride who, discovering her fiancé has been keeping something big from her, drives all night from LA to the safety and security of her family's vineyard in Sonoma County -- only to find things aren't so perfect there either. Full of wit and wisdom, laughter and heartache, Eight Hundred Grapes is a perfect summer read.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Teaching an old dog new tricks

I may not be an old dog (though I'm no longer young, and I have been called a bitch on occasion), but I have definitely learned some new tricks in my Colored Pencils and Portraiture class this year. Indeed, looking at the work of all the women in class, several of whom are in their 70s, as is our teacher, you realize that you are never too old to learn, or to improve.

I still have a ways to go until I get to the point where I want to frame my work and hang it in our living room. (Being a bit of a perfectionist, I am rarely 100% happy with anything I do, though I have come to embrace the concept of "good enough.") BUT, that being said, I am sufficiently proud of my progress that I want to share my latest three drawings with you. (You can view my earlier works by clicking on the ART APPRECIATION label at the bottom of this post.)

I will now be taking a break from drawing, which has been emotionally draining. But I hope to take another art class in the fall. Maybe painting.

[Click on each photo to see a larger view.]

"Portrait of Lady Agnew"
(Colored pencil copy of a John Singer Sargent painting)

"Pop Art Portrait, Handsome African-American Man"
(Colored pencil rendering of a black and white photo)
"Charcoal Study of M.C. Escher"