Sunday, May 5, 2013

What I've been reading -- and you might like to read, too

Time for another Book Nook post! (Click that link to see my previous book recommendations -- and be sure to scroll down.)

Seems like I've been reading a lot of nonfiction and historical fiction lately. So if you've been looking for some good nonfiction (or historical fiction), I've probably got a book for you. I also read one outstanding work of fiction, which I highly recommend to everyone. (See below.)

Anyway, to help you determine if what I enjoyed reading is something you'd want to read, I've included a brief description of each book as well as a link to a lengthier description and reviews on Amazon.

Happy reading!


The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen by Syrie James. Those who love books about Jane Austen or books about people who love Jane Austen books will probably enjoy this novel, which is about a 30-something Jane Austen scholar who stumbles across an unpublished Jane Austen manuscript. I didn't love this book (something about the chipper, earnest, slightly breathy tone and improbable romance irked me, though I'm irked by the tone and cliche plots of most chick lit books), but I would recommend it to those looking for some beach or plane reading.

*The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. The librarian who organizes our Book Buzz talks (hi Lauren!) recommended this book to me (at least I think she was the one who recommended it), and boy am I glad she did. I LOVED this book. It is charming and funny and sly, all of the qualities I appreciate in a book -- and it is an original. As for how to describe the book, Amazon does a pretty good job in its one-sentence summary: "A reluctant centenarian much like Forrest Gump (if Gump were a [Swedish] explosives expert with a fondness for vodka) decides it’s not too late to start over..." As the main character journeys across Sweden, meeting other interesting characters, we learn about his fascinating (or explosive) past -- much of which involves his role in critical moments of Russian, U.S., Chinese, and Indonesian history. 

Merivel: A Man of His Time by Rose Tremain. The sequel to Restoration, which I never read but I know was hugely popular (and made into a movie starring Robert Downey, Jr.), Merivel is the fictional memoir of the fictional Sir Robert Merivel, an intimate of England's King Charles II, who is getting on in years (Merivel as well as Charles II). I thought of it as a poignant look at an aging rake in late 17th century England and France. If you read Restoration or enjoy well-written historical fiction, particular stories that take place in 17th century England that involve the aristocracy, you should enjoy this book.


Paris, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down by Rosecrans Baldwin. Rosecrans, I loved the concept, but your book -- which should have been titled Paris, I Love You, But You're Bringing My Wife Down, and If I Don't Quit My Awesome Advertising Job and Move Back to the States She's Going to Leave Me -- brought me down. Having been an American in Paris many times, and having often contemplated what it would be like to live in Paris, I was curious to read this book, which I had read good things about. In a nutshell, the book is about a writer whose French buddy offers him a job at his chic Parisian advertising agency. So the author and his wife move into a noisy apartment in Paris (apparently the author didn't notice all the construction work when he chose the apartment). Just one or two little problems: The wife doesn't speak French, can't afford to take French classes, can't work, is surrounded by deafening construction noise on a daily basis, and hangs out with Americans who sound like they would bring anyone down. All this while Baldwin, albeit struggling with his French, is working in a gorgeous office off the Champs-Elysees on glamorous accounts and then drinking with his coworkers after work -- and traveling to fabulous locales to interview and photograph celebrities for high-end consumer products, leaving his wife behind in Paris. Anyone else sense a potential problem or two there? My sarcasm aside, I think many of you will enjoy or be amused by this book (even if I wasn't).

A Venetian Affair: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century by Andrea di Robilant. The title and subtitle pretty much say it all. Di Robilant, a reporter, does an excellent job of translating and recounting the tale of these two star-crossed lovers (who were good friends of/with Casanova). Plus we learn a lot about Venice. What I found so amazing was how contemporary the story felt -- like a modern day Young Adult novel or a Hollywood teen movie.

A Grand Complication: The Race to Build the World’s Most Legendary Watch by Stacy Perman. As someone who adores and has long had a fascination with watches, I was immediately drawn to this book when I spied it on the new nonfiction bookshelf. And it did not disappoint. The book is on one hand a biography of James Ward Packard and banker Henry Graves, Jr., two of America's wealthiest men in the early 20th century, focusing on the two men's quest or unspoken competition over decades to own the most complex watch(es) Swiss watchmakers could craft. It is also the story of American (and Swiss) ingenuity and invention in the early 20th century. Highly recommend.

The Drunken Botanist: The Plants that Create the World's Great Drinks by Amy Stewart. Another fascinating read. How can you not love a well-written, informative book about the history of cocktails -- or the plants that make the alcohol that goes into cocktails -- which also includes cocktail recipes? Whether you are a lush or a teetotaler, or somewhere in between, you will enjoy reading Stewart's amusing history of "the plants that create the world's great drinks." Now someone please pass me a margarita on the rocks, no salt.

Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky. You will never check into a hotel the same way again -- especially in New York. A fun, fast, informative read about the hotel industry (or the New York or major urban city hotel business). Good beach or plane reading.

* = A favorite; one of my Top 10 reads of the year

So what have you all been reading? If you read a book you'd recommend, please leave a comment with the name of the book and the author and a brief description. The book doesn't have to be a recent release. It could be a classic or something that was published 10 or 20 years ago.

(As regular readers know, I am always eager to hear of books that are funny or humorous without being raunchy or vulgar or depressing.)


Sugar Daze said...

Funny, we read 2 of the same books recently! Just finished Paris, I Love You ... which I enjoyed - probably b/c I'm an expat NYer living in Paris who used to work in advertising! I also really liked The 100 Year-Old Man ... which I found extremely funny and a quick read.

Have you read The House I Loved - I recently read it for book club and as a Francophile, you may enjoy it. Oh and You Shall Know Our Velocity - intriguing but odd - I enjoyed it but it was a bit of a strange novel.

Paula said...

Thanks for the recommendation on the 100 Year Old Man..

This was the most entertaining read I've had in ages. I laughed out loud so many times.