Friday, December 17, 2010

Good books to curl up with on a cold winter's night

Haven't done a whole lot of reading since my last Book Nook blog post, but some of the books I did manage to read (or get through) were truly outstanding.

These books include (click on the hyperlink to go to the description):

Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg -- One of the most charming books I have read in a long time. Love Flagg's writing style and subtle sense of humor.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson -- Loved this book, though cannot say exactly why. Yes, the writing was quite good, and you really got a sense of each of the characters. And it brought back fond memories of my times in England. But...

Anyway, here's the description from Publishers Weekly:
In her charming debut novel, Simonson tells the tale of Maj. Ernest Pettigrew, an honor-bound Englishman and widower, and the very embodiment of duty and pride. As the novel opens, the major is mourning the loss of his younger brother, Bertie, and attempting to get his hands on Bertie's antique Churchill shotgun—part of a set that the boys' father split between them, but which Bertie's widow doesn't want to hand over. While the major is eager to reunite the pair for tradition's sake, his son, Roger, has plans to sell the heirloom set to a collector for a tidy sum. As he frets over the guns, the major's friendship with Jasmina Ali—the Pakistani widow of the local food shop owner—takes a turn unexpected by the major (but not by readers). The author's dense, descriptive prose wraps around the reader like a comforting cloak, eventually taking on true page-turner urgency as Simonson nudges the major and Jasmina further along and dangles possibilities about the fate of the major's beloved firearms. This is a vastly enjoyable traipse through the English countryside and the long-held traditions of the British aristocracy.
Frank: The Voice by James Kaplan -- This may be the best biography, or the best written biography, I have ever read (to date), and I'm not a huge Frank Sinatra fan. But I could not put this book down. In fact the spouse and I wound up reading it (same copy, which I bought) at the same time -- and would fight about who got to read it at night. (I reclaimed it when he went off on a business trip for three days, and he is now finishing it.) Kaplan is a phenomenal story teller, and if you appreciate music and/or are a fan of Frank Sinatra, this book is a must read.

I also read these two books, which deserve honorable mention (though I think Schiff's Cleopatra received more -- or higher -- praise than it deserved):

Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff -- An objective look at Cleopatra, though it really says or tells more about the people around Cleopatra, notably Mark Anthony, than Cleopatra herself, which I found disappointing. (I also found it a bit overwritten.) Still, if you like biographies and are intrigued by the Queen of the Nile, check out Cleopatra: A Life, which the New York Times (and every other publication that reviews books) loved.

Parrot & Olivier in America by Peter Carey -- A charming fictionalized take on Alexis de Tocqueville's travels in America. If you are a fan of historical fiction and dry wit, you will like Parrot & Olivier in America.

And although I haven't read these two books (yet), I want to give shout outs to

Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade
by Justin Spring -- This biography has not only received rave reviews but was included in the New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2010 list and is a National Book Award finalist. (Justin also happens to be a friend, and a darn good writer.)


I'll Never Be French (no matter what I do): Living in a Small Village in Brittany by Mark Greenside -- which the spouse just read (on our daughter's Kindle -- though he now has a Nook), and adored, and now our daughter is reading (on her Kindle), and is greatly enjoying. Must reading for Francophiles.

For additional book recommendations, click here (which will take you to a list of my previous Book Nook posts).

As always, I welcome your recommendations (many of which I've read, although I don't always post here).

Wishing you good reading...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved Patti Smith's memoir (Just Kids) focused on her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe during their early days supporting each other's early artistic endeavors in NY.