Monday, November 12, 2012

Books to warm your imagination

I didn't realize how many books I had read the last couple of months until I put together this list. And it only represents some of the books I read! As per usual, there is something for everyone -- and a link to the book on Amazon.

Looking for more book recommendations? Click on the BOOK NOOK label at the end of this post or click on the Book Recommendations link in the right-hand column.

File under "Fiction"

The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott. Based on the true story of a couple of British aristocrats, Lord and Lady Duff Gordon, the latter a well-known fashion designer, who were sailing to America on the Titanic and commandeered a lifeboat, refusing to let others aboard. While based on the facts, though, The Dressmaker is the fictional story of a fictional aspiring dressmaker, Tess, who persuades Lady Lucille Duff Gordon to take her aboard the ill-fated ship as her secretary, with the hopes of working for her as a dressmaker once they get to New York -- and what happens after they arrive in New York with the rest of the Titanic survivors. An interesting, fresh (?) take on the Titanic story with some fashion history and romance thrown in. 

The Proposal by Mary Balogh. Let me know if you've heard this one before: a lovely, young, titled widow twists her ankle while climbing a cliff only to be begrudgingly rescued by a big, gruff, dour, albeit handsome, ex-military officer and hero who just happens to be out walking nearby. The two are immediately at odds, though that doesn't stop the now-titled reluctant military hero from wanting to bed the lovely lady. You can pretty much guess how the story turns out, but I still enjoyed this bit of historical romance.

The Emerald Storm: An Ethan Gage Adventure by William Dietrich. This book reminded me of those old Errol Flynn swashbucklers I adored in my youth -- or for those of you going "Errol who?", a Roger Moore James Bond film (albeit set in the early 1800s). A fun, adventure-filled romp through Napoleonic Paris and Haiti, The Emerald Storm made me wish I had read William Dietrich's previous Ethan Gage adventures first. But fortunately Dietrich provides just enough background to make readers who haven't read any of the prior books comfortable. If you like your adventure novels and heroes with a dash of humor as well as being dashing, I highly recommend the Ethan Gage adventures.

Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson. Even though I studied World War II in school and at university, I was unfamiliar with what going on in the Middle East at the time or the strategic importance of Turkey or the role that women spies and entertainers (who were often both) played. So I found Jasmine Nights enlightening (if that is the right word) on that score. (Even though it is a work of fiction, the book is based on facts/actual accounts.) I also felt connected to the main characters, a young, beautiful, aspiring Welsh singer and a handsome, young, cocky British fighter pilot who narrowly escapes a crash with his life. If you enjoy books about World War II, and/or are interested in the role of British pilots, spies, and entertainers in the war, check out Jasmine Nights.

The Girl in the Gatehouse by Julie Klassen. Another historical romance with a plucky heroine -- this time a young Lady (again, with a capital L) whose virtue has been compromised and who has been banished with her older, female companion/former governess to the gatehouse of her former aunt, where she takes up writing novels -- and a dashing former military hero who rents the estate upon which she lives. There's also a mysterious swashbuckling former Navy captain, a couple of adorable urchins, a former Navy cook and curmudgeon with a heart of gold, and the requisite bad guy, a louche lord. Cliches aside, I enjoyed The Girl in the Gatehouse, which is well written with colorful characters.

Magic Words: The Tale of a Jewish Boy Interpreter, The World’s Most Estimable Magician, A Murderous Harlot, and America’s Greatest Indian Chief by Gerald Kolpan. I do not know if I could do a better job describing this book than the subtitle does -- certainly not in under 100 words. Suffice it to say, I loved this book. And if you are interested in the history of the American West, showmanship, or magic -- or love a rousing tale of adventure, mystery, and love, you will enjoy Magic Words. By the way, as with many of the other books listed here under "Fiction," Magic Words is based on actual people and events, which makes it doubly delightful (in my opinion). Definitely goes on my Top 12 of 2012 book list.

The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones. The Last Chinese Chef is a love story, about food. Specifically Chinese food. No, not the food most of us Americans call Chinese but authentic, classic, timeless, exquisitely prepared and served Chinese food that is served in China, at least in certain restaurants and homes. It is also a culinary history (of sorts) of China and a story of friendship and family. And to a lesser degree it is the story of a food writer who discovers her late husband was not faithful and may have sired a love child. If you love food, how it is prepared, how it tastes, or stories about food, The Last Chinese Chef is a must read. Though I warn you, this book will make you very, very hungry.

File under "Non-Fiction"

Stealing Rembrandts: The Untold Stories of Notorious Art Heists by Anthony M. Amore and Tom Mashberg. I love a good art heist book and Stealing Rembrandts does not disappoint. Inspired by the infamous theft of three Rembrandts from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, and written by an art security expert and an investigative journalist, the book recounts various Rembrandt heists through the years while providing a history of the artist and many of his paintings.

The Perfect Fruit: Good Breeding, Bad Seeds, and the Hunt for the Elusive Pluot by Chip Brantley. Or How I Learned Where Dinosaur Eggs Come From. We here at J-TWO-O HQ are long time pluot and plum fans. So when I happened upon this book while strolling through the stacks at one of our local libraries, I grabbed it. Written by a fellow pluot and plum lover (and foodie), the book takes readers on a journey to California's San Joaquin Valley in search of the perfect fruit. Brantley also provides a fascinating look at the plum industry and how hybrid fruit is bred -- and introduces readers to some great characters. 

Thomas Jefferson’s Crème Brulee: How a Founding Father and His Slave James Hemings introduced French Cuisine to America by Thomas J. Craughwell. Saw this book in a local book shop and felt compelled to pick it up. Proof that good things come in small packages (and not just me). A fascinating look at Thomas Jefferson the gourmand and how he became a true foodie and oenophile while in Paris. The author also provides some interesting details about Jefferson's relationship with his slave James Hemings and Hemings' life in Paris.

The Richest Woman in America: Hetty Green in the Gilded Age by Janet Wallach. I loved Janet Wallach's biography of English explorer Gertrude Bell, so scooped up her latest when I saw it at a local library. Having never heard of Hetty Green, I was intrigued. I cannot say I loved the book -- Hetty Green had a miserable childhood and both as a child and as an adult she had to hold her own against and battle mean and/or unscrupulous people (more often than not men). But it was fascinating learning about such a hard working, financially savvy woman and about financial dealings (rail roads, real estate, stocks and bonds) during the Gilded Age.

File under "Well that was a waste of money and time."

I don't usually like to include books I disliked in these lists, but I feel compelled to include How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran. I had heard via a Facebook friend (or two) and some reviews that this was a fabulous, fun read. So when the spouse gave me a gift card to a lovely little independent book shop near here and I saw the book I picked it up, even though I had misgivings. (I can tell just from reading the jacket copy and a page if I am going to like or dislike a book.)

I rarely use the word "hate" for a book, but I hated this book. I found the author's anecdotes depressing and pathetic and not the least bit funny -- though, to be fair, I stopped reading the book  around a quarter of the way through. I just couldn't stomach wasting another minute on it. Granted, this is just one person's opinion, but if you are interested in the book, I'd advise you to visit your local library not purchase it.

Read a book recently that you would recommend? Please leave a Comment with the name of the book and the author. Thanks!

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