Sunday, March 13, 2011

Spring into a good book (book recommendations)

Ah spring (albeit still, technically, a week away), a time of renewal and hope -- and to read a good book. And I have read many excellent books the past few months (as well as a couple of not very good, bordering on dreadful, ones).

Following is a list of the best -- or most notable -- books I've read since my last Book Nook post in December. (Note: To see a list of all my Book Nook posts and book recommendations, click here.) And I've decided to switch things up a bit by categorizing them by genre. Sort of. Though, as per usual, the link will take you to a description on

Herewith some spring book recommendations...

If you are a fan of historical fiction, as I am, check out these books.

The True Memoirs of Little K by Adrienne Sharp. A fascinating look back at the last days of tsarist Russia, as told by a 100-year-old former prima ballerina assoluta of the tsar’s Russian Imperial Ballet in St. Petersburg -- who was the mistress of a young Nicholas Romanov, before he became Nicholas II. A must read for fans of ballet -- and for those interested in Russian history.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell. A poignant, beautifully written book about a too-honest Dutchman working for the Dutch East India Company in foreigner-hating, ritual-shrouded turn-of-the-19th-century Japan. Some have described this book as a historical romance, which in some ways it is. But if you go in expecting a kimono ripper, you will be disappointed.

The Apothecary’s Daughter
by Julie Klassen. Speaking of historical romance, The Aphothecary's Daughter definitely falls into this category -- though again, do not expect any bodice ripping (sadly). I don't know how, but I accidentally keep picking up books that are categorized as "historical fiction" that are actually "Christian romance" novels. And let me just say that after reading two Christian romance novels in the last six months (the other was too dreadful to even name -- and I'm still amazed I finished it), I am desperate for a good (albeit well-written) bodice ripper, where people do more than give each other longing looks (if you catch my drift). All that said, I enjoyed this book, which takes place in Regency England, and gives one a good sense of what an apothecary does -- and the role of women (or lack thereof) in trade at that time.

If you are a fan of good nonfiction, check out...

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis DeVoto edited by Joan Reardon. This book had me longing for the days when people sent each other long, thoughtful letters -- by what we now affectionately refer to as "snail mail." (I still have a box of letters and postcards I received from friends, via snail mail, from the 1980s and 1990s, before the advent or popularity of email.) I also found myself incredibly envious of the Childs and their fascinating, peripatetic life and friends -- and in awe of the amazingly accomplished (and underpaid and under-appreciated) Avis DeVoto. Only passingly familiar with the leading political figures and thinkers of 1950s America, I learned a good deal about them and that time from this book. A fascinating read, especially if you are a fan of Julia Child and/or France and/or U.S. post-World War II history.

Secretariat: The Making of a Champion by William Nack. A great book about a great horse. If you love horses and/or racing, this is a must read -- and is NOTHING like the Disney film, Secretariat, which was mainly fiction. (After reading this, I may have to go back and read Seabiscuit: An American Legend, another great book about a great horse.)

At Home by Bill Bryson. This book, the subtitle of which is "a short history of private life," totally sceeved me out, but it is a fascinating read. Want to know how bedrooms and bathrooms and living rooms came to be bedrooms and bathrooms and living rooms? Read the book.

The Secret of Chanel No. 5
by Tilar J. Mazzeo. If you are in marketing and/or like perfume, I recommend The Secret of Chanel No. 5. Not the best written book (by a long shot -- too breathy and repetitive), nor does it reveal any huge secret, but it is an entertaining, fast read with many interesting anecdotes about Gabrielle "Coco" Chanel, the perfume she created (and almost immediately sold the rights to, Chanel No. 5), and World War II era Paris.

If you like good literature, check out...

Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie. Again, the word poignant comes to mind when describing this Pulitzer Prize-winning book about two very different English professors on sabbatical in London in the 1980s, which I had a love-hate relationship with. Having lived in and visited London many times in the late 1980s, and cultivated many British friends during that time, I found myself identifying with the older, English-loving spinster-esque female professor, Virginia Miner, and loathing the handsome, young, totally un-self-aware male English professor. (I know: huge surprise. Not.) A must read for English professors and Anglophiles.

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. I couldn't put this book down -- and read most of its 549 pages in one sitting. That's how spellbinding it was. If you read Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, or just enjoy a good English mystery, especially ones with good English gardens, you must read The Forgotten Garden, a story about two Australian women, grandmother and granddaughter, searching for their past and their future in Cornwall, England.

Fancy a good mystery? In addition to The Forgotten Garden, check out the Her Royal Spyness series by Rhys Bowen. (These charming books could also be filed under "historical fiction" as they take place in England -- and Europe -- during the 1930s and feature real places and people.) While Bowen is no Agatha Christie, her Royal Spyness series is a fun, quick read for mystery buffs and Anglophiles.

And that, I think, is enough book recommendations for one post. Will be back in June or July with some beach reading.

In the meantime, please suggest additional books in the Comments. I value every suggestion, and have read many of them over the years. I just don't post them if they are included in a previous post or in the comments of a previous post, but I know many of my thousands of readers (yes, thousands of people read this blog -- shocking, I know) read them. Also, as previously stated, I am always on the lookout for a fun, lighthearted read -- something that will not depress the hell out of me or give me nightmares.


Betty Cracker said...

I've got one of your previous recs, "The Sugar Queen," on deck for when I finish up the tome I'm currently slogging through on the mister's recommendation. I'll add the Julia letters too (huge fan of hers).

Did you read "Freedom" (Franzen)? I did a couple of weeks ago, expecting to be underwhelmed because I thought "The Corrections" didn't live up to the hype. Well, "Freedom" did, at least in my opinion. It was the best book I've read in awhile.

J. said...

@Betty, I have just added Freedom to my book list. Thank you!

Paula P said...

I read Room by Emma Donoghue and really enjoyed it. Great story.

I also read Life by Keith Richard. What a ride that was. A little slow at times with too much detail and not a little repetition, but I did enjoy getting to know him.

Anonymous said...

Try reading Diana Galbaldon's Outlander series for really good historical adventure romance with some excellent bodice ripping!

J. said...

@Paula P, I've read about Room -- and heard that it's a good read. Thanks.

@CanKat, Love the Outlander series. Finished up her latest last year and am waiting for the next one to come out. Btw, Katherine Heigl is supposed to be producing and starring in the movie.