Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. (Lucy Maude) Montgomery

Timeless Book, Short-Lived Bookstore? (Girls Week)

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery is a sweet story of an eleven-year-old orphan girl who is adopted by a middle-aged spinster and her brother on Prince Edward Island.  Matthew Cuthbert is in his sixties and together with his sister, Marilla, they decide to adopt a boy to help on the farm.  The orphanage mistakenly sends Anne instead.  Anne is a happy-go-lucky, red-headed little girl who likes to talk—a lot.  Matthew, the shy and quiet type, takes an instant liking to Anne and asks Marilla if they can keep her.  But Marilla is a little more strict and unyielding than Matthew and declares that Anne must be sent back.  At the agency, the newly available orphan is almost instantly snapped up by a “shrewish-faced woman” who’s looking for some free slave labor. Fortunately, Marilla shows a softer side and just can’t put poor Anne in that situation.

So Anne finds a home on their bucolic farm and slowly, sometimes painfully works her way fully into Marilla’s heart.  Anne, being a curious and spirited girl gets herself into a few pickles here and there.  She unintentionally gets her friend drunk on what she thought was a non-alcoholic raspberry cordial.  She accidentally dyes her hair green. She borrows Marilla’s amethyst brooch without permission and loses it. And she smashes a writing slate on a boy’s head when he makes fun of her red hair. We follow Anne through friendships, through life lessons, and triumphs. Written in 1908, I think this warm and fuzzy classic is fun for all ages. 

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Browers Uncommon Books
My copy of Anne of Green Gables is a beautiful hardback Reader’s Digest edition.  Like the majority of my books, it is used.  I get books at a library bookstore, thrift stores, online, and my mostly at a wonderful local used bookstore called Browsers Uncommon Books. This store is crammed full of books. The overstuffed shelves are sagging and there are piles of books lining the floor.  Personally, I’m a very organized person and I would never have piles like this in my own home. Oh, sure I have my stacks of books.  But they’re neat, tidy, organized stacks, biggest to littlest, all facing the same way. In this store, however, the books are haplessly stacked here and there in temporary piles that never seem to move. And in this store, it feels very right. Somehow it’s energizing to walk past all those books, to have to scoot piles aside to see what’s behind them. It’s like a treasure hunt.  And I’ve found numerous treasures here. 

My husband read an article the other day about a town that lost its only remaining bookstore.  Of course this is because it’s so easy to buy books online or download them to a reader. But I kept thinking, what a shame!  What a tragedy it would be to lose my beloved store.  It’s a place I can come and browse. I can flip through books, see what they’re about, see what condition they are in.  I’ve found many interesting books that I just pulled right off the shelf—unknown, “unrecommended” books that I loved.  Of course, used books are much cheaper than new ones, and buying at a store saves on shipping, too.  I encourage everyone to check out their local bookstores.  Make it a point to go there.  If you don’t, you may be sorry once they’re all gone.   

The Well-Read Moose

There's new bookstore in town!  The Well-Read Moose
carries a large selection of new books and also has a coffee and wine bar allowing you to sip in leisure while you browse the shelves.  What fun! 




Happy reading,
Annette

What about you?  Do you mainly buy books online or in stores?  New or used? Enter a comment or email me at Readinginthegarden@gmail.com and I will post your answer

What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email: Readinginthegarden@gmail.com

Monday, January 28, 2013

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

Saving Books (Girls Week)

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman is a delightfully fun and easy, feel-good book about a twelve-year-old girl who, after her mother passes away, moves in with her great-aunt in Savannah, Georgia. There she settles in her new and unfamiliar surroundings and gets to know her long-lost aunt as well as a quirky set of Southern characters.  Tallulah Caldwell is CeeCee’s great-aunt “Tootie.” A kind widow who was never blessed with kids of her own, she makes room in her heart and home for CeeCee. CeeCee can’t help but care for Aunt Tootie, and it isn’t long before she also forms a special bond with the maid, Oletta. Then there’s the glamorous and sometimes mischievous neighbor, Thelma Goodpepper, who has a real live peacock and a claw-footed bathtub in her backyard.  She likes to relax in the tub and watch the stars. Miss Hobbs is another neighbor, but she is not so congenial. She puts on airs and CeeCee has a bit of fun at her expense. For a girl who’s just lost her mother emotional healing is long and hard road.  But living with Aunt Tootie and her new friends is a wonderful cushion to fall back on.  In the end we see that CeeCee’s  “…life had begun to blossom as sweetly as a Georgia peach.”
Beth Hoffman, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt (London: Pamela Dorman/Penguin Book, 2010), 259.

I recommend this book for any age bracket.  It’s heart-breaking, heart-warming, and funny. Beth Hoffman has such a great writing style you won’t want to put it down.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt was given to me as a gift. I had never heard of the book before and may have missed this gem if it wasn’t for my friend. I have to say getting a book is one of the most fun gifts I can think of.  The excitement of holding the book in my hand, seeing the eye-catching front cover, reading the back blurb, and flipping through the pages floods me with an electrifying thrill.  I wasted no time in reading this one—and loved it!  


My book club members also loved it!  A year later our book club chose it as one of our reading selections and I was happy to pass my copy around to several members. 



That’s something you just can’t do with an e-reader. First of all, where’s the pleasure in giving an “electronic book”?  You can’t hold it, flip through the pages. I just can’t see that it stirs the same excitement as touching a real book. There’s no anticipation, no buildup. It’s just there.  And as far as I understand there’s also a limit as to how many times you can share an electronic copy, unless you want to give your entire reader to someone.  A book, however, is yours without restrictions.  You can pass it onto 100 people if you want.  

Now, I’m not one to shun technology.  I’m not one of those saying, “Cell phones?!  Why do we need cell phones?  Why would I want someone to be able to get ahold of me day and night?  That’s what I have an answering machine for.  I admit I’m not a gadget geek, and I will never be the one who gets the newest phone before anyone else.  I have a dumb phone and I like it.  Following in my parent’s footsteps, I’m more likely to lag behind than lead the pack in technology.  Growing up, we were the last ones on the block to get a color TV.  Microwave?  Why no, we had a toaster-oven. Dishwasher?  No, my mom had three girls with perfectly good hands even if my sister was too small to reach the faucet and had to stand on a chair and clamp her elbows in the sink to keep from slipping away.

I know, what you’re thinking.  “Hey, if you had a Kindle in Vegas, you wouldn’t have had a panic attack when you were bookless.” (See January 11, 2013 Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand) What I am saying is that I can’t imagine that the Kindle will still be running on the same program well into the future. Will you still be able to access all those books you have on an e-reader when they change the operating system?  I mean how long did it take to go from Beta (we had one with a nifty remote control attached to a 10-foot cord to operate it), to VHS, to DVD, and now Blu-ray.  

The oldest book in my library is Life on the
Mississippi by Mark Twain published in 1917. That’s 96 years old—and I can still read it without charging it! I can still pass it on to others, too! When the current version of the e-reader is obsolete, my book will still be there.

I agree, Kindles and book readers have their place. I realize one day, maybe soon, when I need to have two-inch fonts to be able to see the text, I may break down and use a reader.  I love the idea of being able to adjust the font size!  I also think the built-in dictionaries are awesome. I can see how a reader could and probably should replace those heavy school textbooks.  Reading at night? No problem!  A Kindle can light the way.  All those things are great advantages I can’t ignore.  But for the time being, I’ll hold out a little longer, and even if I do get a reader, I hope I won’t give up books for good.   I can’t fathom a world without real books.

Can you just imagine one day in the distant future someone will write an electronic book or “air book,” or “mind book,” or “book implant,” or something like that about a time when people actually had “real” tangible books. It could start something like, oh, how about—“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was a time when people had real books.”  

Happy reading whatever your preferred method,
Annette

What about you?  Do you prefer e-readers or real books?  Enter a comment or email me at Readinginthegarden@gmail.com and I will post your answer.

What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email: Readinginthegarden@gmail.com

Friday, January 25, 2013

Amazing Gracie: A Dog’s Tale by Dan Dye and Mark Beckloff

“Bone Appétit!” (Amazing Animals Week)

This week we have looked at amazing pets. There was the true story of Modoc the elephant and the fictional classic of Flag the deer in The Yearling.  Today I thought we’d look at the most beloved of pets, the common dog.  Only this particular dog was not common at all. She was a great big loving dog named Grace Dane.

Amazing Gracie by Dan Dye and Mark Beckloff is a heart-warming and humorous quick read about a man and his dog, how they formed a family and a business.  Dan was trying to get over the loss of a relationship, a loving eighteen-year friendship that ended when his dog, Blue, passed away.  He wasn’t looking to replace Blue, but eight weeks later, Gracie stepped into his life and turned it around. Gracie, an albino Great Dane was deaf and partially blind.  But she was also lonely and lovable and fit right into his home with his roommate, Mark, and Mark’s “girls,” Dottie and Sarah, a Dalmatian and a black lab mix. At first there was an adjustment period with Gracie and the “demonic duo.” Dottie and Sarah resented the new little interference, but it wasn’t long before little Gracie towered over the girls and found a way into their hearts.

Gracie had always been a finicky eater. She was not gulping down her food like the other dogs and it showed. She was skin and bones and Dan consulted a vet.  The vet advised him to try and make food for Gracie instead of using store-bought dog food.  His first batches were a mess that looked more like “rock samples from the moon” than the dog cookies he was aiming for. Gracie, however, slurped them up. She loved his homemade cooking with all natural ingredients—and so did other dogs.  Three Dog Bakery was born.

In the end Gracie and their business thrived (though it was a long and difficult road). Gracie, Dottie, and Sarah, (oh, and Dan and Mark) became famous.  They went on TV shows, had their own show, and toured the country on publicity tours.  Three Dog Bakery now is a national chain, and it all started with Gracie.


Happy reading!

Annette
  
What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email: readinginthegarden@gmail.com

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Oh, Deer (Amazing Animals Week)

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is a classic, first published in 1938 and still in print today. Jody Baxter is a boy growing up with his mom and dad in the backwoods of Florida during the turn of the century, the former one, not Y2K. Jody is an only child in a poor family who desperately wants a pet.  Ma Baxter, however, is a tough nut.  She’s lost half a dozen kids before Jody and lives a hard life. She’s no softie. There’s not enough food to feed an animal. So Jody learns that “no” means “no”—sort of.   Eventually, he finds a little fawn, whose mother was shot by Jody’s own father, no less, leaving the baby deer a little orphan in big country. Jody reluctantly gets permission from Pa to keep the fawn with the stipulation that he release him when he’s a yearling. Ma is not thrilled.

Jody and “Flag” become buddies. As Flag grows up he slowly but surely becomes a nuisance. It’s the human equivalent of the terrible twos.  Instead of throwing spaghetti noodles around the room as a two-year old might do, Flag starts tap dancing on their fields and snacking on their corn, food they desperately need.  It’s the last straw and Pa orders Jody to shoot Flag. I’ll leave it at that. Read it to find out what happens. But I will tell you that the yearling refers not only to the fawn. Metaphorically Jody is also a yearling who must grow up.

___________________________________________________
Personally, I can see both Ma and Jody’s side of the argument. On the one hand, who doesn’t want a cuddly fawn to call his own?  On the other side, it’s an episode of “When pets go bad.” When I first moved to Idaho the only wildlife I had seen were lizards.  So when I saw a deer peeping at me right through a bedroom window, I was shocked and excited.  A deer!  A real life deer with big brown eyes was right next to me, separated only by a thin pane of glass.  It was crazy cool, like living in a zoo.  But like Jody, I soon learned that deer were really 200-pound rats. 

They nibbled on everything I tried to grow.  Tulips were like candy.  I tried every deer deterrent I could find. I threw mothballs into my planters. It’s amazing how disgustingly strong mothballs are even in the open air. For a week after I placed the mothballs, I hurried past the planter.  I did not linger; it stunk.  But the stench didn’t bother the deer any, they happily beheaded my beautiful red Apeldoorn tulips one by one.

Oh, it was on now! Like Ma Baxter, I was ready to blast them to kingdom come. Instead, I studied up on strategies.  One book suggested human hair, which I diligently saved in a Big Gulp cup under my bathroom sink.  Weekly, I’d scatter wads of follicles. The deer ignored them and continued eating.  I planted Dial and Irish Springs soap bars on popsicle sticks to no avail.   And in a final desperate attempt, I even had my son urinate around the flowers as one book proposed.   The deer laughed and chomped on. 

Just when they thought they’d won, I pulled a fast one on them.  I gave up on tulips and switched to daffodils.  That’s right, daffodils.  The deer hated them, stayed away from them like Superman to Kryptonite. And instead of fields of red, I had fields of yellow. I was okay with that.  Turns out there is a huge variety of daffodils with different colored cups and petals, shapes and sizes.  I had several planters full of them.  I also had them in vases throughout the house.  To me they were kind of like trophies, like mini stuffed deer heads. Proof that I had won.  Ahhh, victory!  It sure tastes good.


And just to spite them, I grew more and more unsavory plants, morsels that look good, but one bite and they'd be spitting them out like a vegemite sandwich:  grasses, basket of gold (Aurinia saxitalis), snow in summer (Cerastium), Golden Chain tree (Laburnum). If it looked good, but tasted bad, I had it. And in the end I had a pretty decent garden despite the deer, the masses of rocks, the sparse soil, and lack of water.  


I’ll leave you with a little taste of The Yearling—the colloquial dialogue, which I really liked.

“Ezra Baxter, if your heart was to be cut out, hit’d not be meat.  Hit’d be purely butter.  You’re a plague-taked ninny, that’s what you be.”
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, The Yearling (1938; reprint, Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association Far East Ltd., 1993). 237

Happy reading!

Annette


What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email: readinginthegarden@gmail.com

Monday, January 21, 2013

Modoc. The True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived by Ralph Helfer

Those Amazing Animals (Amazing Animals Week)

My daughter and her boyfriend just got a puppy, a mini Wiener dog, and I gotta say he’s the cutest little guy!  He’s so tiny and soft and calm. He’s just adorable with his long snout and those floppy ears.  Whenever she comes over I get to hold Waldo and cuddle with him, and I’m amazed how good he makes me feel. There’s something about the way pets look at us, trust us, and love us unconditionally that makes us open up our hearts to them.

I’ll admit I wasn’t always an animal person. I don’t like cleaning their poo. I don’t like them slobbering or jumping on me and leaving hair all over me.  I especially don’t like it when it’s not my dog.  So, when the kids were little and kept begging me for a dog, I kept telling them I was allergic to animals.  Funny how that was since I never sneezed or scratched once when I was around my sisters’ dogs.  The kids never caught on. Or if they did, it didn’t matter anyway.  We weren’t getting a dog. 

I don’t remember falling and cracking my head on a sidewalk or getting an electrical shock or anything, but one day I changed my mind.  I went to the animal shelter and came home with a dog, our beautiful Abby.  She was awesome. The kids were stunned.  So was my husband. They all loved her. They played with her.  My son, who was small at the time, loved to lounge in the grass with his head resting on her stomach and watch the clouds go by.  Abby was with us for many years and when she got sick, it broke our hearts.  Surprisingly enough, I think her passing affected me more than anyone.  I can’t believe that I’m crying just in writing this. That was many years ago.  I still have three photos of her on the fridge, one of the kids. (But they’re in other places around the house).

In the meantime, I’ve let another little furry friend into my heart.  My sister’s dog, Chunk and I’ve become quite the little buddies.  I didn’t have that connection with any of her other dogs, so who knows why Chunk and I bonded.  My sister raises her eyebrows and smirks every time he snuggles with me, and more astonishingly, when I let Chunk up on MY couch.  Wow. She says I’ve been “Chunk-amatized.” It’s true.  Sometimes against our own will, we give those amazing animals a piece of our hearts.

Modoc. The True Story of the Greatest Elephant That Ever Lived by Ralph Helfer is that kind of love on a grander scale, an elephant-sized scale. Modoc is an elephant who was born into a German circus family.  The story seems almost too fantastic to be true.  Both Modoc and Bram, the elephant trainer’s son, are born on the same day.  They grow up together until tragically the circus is sold to a man who decides to uproot the whole show and take it across the world.  Bram is heartbroken. He can’t leave his friend and decides to stow away on the ship. Off the coast of India, a giant storm sinks the ship with animals and people struggling to grab onto something for dear life.  Incredibly, with over dozens of people clinging on to him, Modoc valiantly swims for days until they are rescued. Modoc and Bram form a life in India.  After many years they eventually go to America where Modoc becomes a star. At one point there’s a fire and Modoc barely makes it.  I’m not sure how much of the book was exaggerated for the audience, but it is a captivating read. I got lost in their adventures and the heartwarming bond that kept them together.  My niece recommended this book to me and I’m glad I read it. Animal lover or not, it’s a book worth checking out.

Also check out this video about a friendship between an elephant and dog. It's very sweet.  http://www.cbsnews.com/video/watch/?id=4696315n

Happy reading!

Annette

I’m curious.  What is a good animal-related book that you’ve read? Enter a comment or email me at readinginthegarden@gmail.com and I will post your answer.

What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email: readinginthegarden@gmail.com

Friday, January 18, 2013

City of Thieves by David Benioff

Theft for Life (WWII / Friendships)



In the book, City of Thieves by David Benioff, seventeen-year-old Lev and twenty-year-old Kolya are sentenced to death in Russia during WWII. Lev for theft and Kolya for deserting his unit.  Their only hope for survival is for them to obtain a dozen eggs for the wedding cake of a powerful Soviet Colonel’s daughter. Only then will their lives be spared.  But the Colonel may as well ask for the moon.  There is no food, not even a bran muffin to be found (and Kolya could really use one). People are starving and freezing.  This book takes the duo through some hair-raising and horrifying adventures. Their courageous journey is heart-breaking as well as humorous and will keep you turning page after page. This book is not so much about war as it is about human endurance and friendship.

I was so enthused about the book that I gave it to my husband to read after I was done and he gave it a thumbs-up, too.  Now just so you know the order of things.  I am an avid reader of books. My husband is a magazine hound and rarely touches books.  So if he does read one, you know it’s an attention grabber.  My son will read as little as possible.  So if I say my son read it, you know it just got another star.  My daughter won’t read anything. She figures she read enough in high school and the college courses she took and she’s done.  So IF, and that’s a BIG IF she does read a book, it’s golden.

Don’t pass up this fast-paced, enthralling, two thumbs-up book.

Happy winter, happy reading!

Annette



What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email: Readinginthegarden@gmail.com


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

Winter Blues (Winter Week)

In a continuation of winter reading, I would like to recommend A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick. Set in the early 1900s, Ralph Truitt was a lonely man living in seriously cold and miserable Wisconsin.  This was not a hot dating spot.  People apparently went mad at one point or another randomly maiming and killing neighbors, friends and relatives or cutting off their own legs. As the narrator in the book says, "Such things happen.”  Remind me never to go to Wisconsin.  They may have good cheese, but I hear California cows are much happier. Who would sign up to live in that crazy cold place with a complete stranger?  Well, it’s probably not a Sunday school teacher.  Catherine, who answered the ad, came with a bag full of secrets and a few bottles of poison to boot.  Her plan was to become Ralph’s
wealthy widow.  Don’t let the long description at the train station at the beginning of the book scare you off.  It had some of our book club members wondering what they had gotten themselves into. Keep reading. In the end our book club gave it a thumbs-up.

UPDATE:  8-8-17 This book was included in my Little Free Library and I want to thank PRS for giving us the following thoughts on the book after reading it!  "There were times when I felt I would lay this book down and not finishso much sexbut I had to finish. So much passion and life itselfso powerful.  So much imagery and so much truth." PRS



Personally, I can understand why some people would go crazy stuck in snow country like Wisconsin, or even Idaho for a long time. Sure, a little bit of snow especially around
Christmas time can be beautiful.  As I mentioned in the Ethan Frome review, I grew up in Las Vegas, so snow was exciting for me when we first moved to Idaho. We had built a house on six pine-covered acres on a big hill.  When the first snow fell, the kids and I were thrilled.  The kids made a snowman. I happily scooped the driveway and went back into the house exhilarated.  Several hours later, there was even more snow, so I snapped up the shovel and did it again.  My husband was still working in Vegas, commuting back and forth and I was kind of sad that he missed the first snowfall.

The week wore on and more and more snow started falling.  What was fun at first became dangerous when I couldn’t get our minivan up our hill. I couldn’t even get it past the level road that led to our hill.  Little did I know that our 12% grade which doesn’t sound like much, is actually a tremendous angle when covered with snow and ice.  There probably should have been a run-away truck ramp on the hill. But we didn’t even get that far. Too much snow on the private non-maintained road in a front-wheel drive vehicle with no snow tires left me stranded about a quarter of a mile from home—with two small kids.  Still in good spirits we managed to hike our way up the hill. The problem came when we had to hike back down later that evening in the dark to pick my husband up from the airport.

My two-year-old son had smashed his toe a few days earlier
and couldn’t wear a boot on one foot. I had to carry him while my five-year-old daughter hung on to my borrowed jacket for support on the slippery descent. Suddenly, I heard a shwish and a roar. The two big neighbor dogs raced toward us in the dark. I had heard them barking in the past but had never seen them.  They were BIG. I think their names were Cujo and White Fang.  I didn’t know what to do. We stood there like three juicy dog bones.  The dogs kept racing towards us like the running of the bulls and knocked my daughter down in the snow.  She was yelling and screaming, and I started yelling and screaming at the dogs to go home.  The whole valley should have heard us yelling and screaming, but the neighbors apparently had the TV up all the way--or perhaps they were covertly peering through their binoculars, enjoying the dramatic scene that was playing out in front of their driveway.  

Now both kids were crying and I was having a hard time holding my son who was screaming and kicking.  His foot got caught on the borrowed jacket pocket and left a nice rip.  In panic, I kept screaming at the dogs to go home and started waving the flashlight in their faces.  Not a good move.  Cujo and White Fang took offense. They started growling and snarling, showing us their knife-size teeth.  At that point I had visions of being mauled to death. 

I could see foam forming at their evil mouths, and I knew we were dead meat. Then I saw the light.  It was Jesus coming to take us home.  No, wait.  It was the light of a truck coming towards us.  It was our other neighbor, Wayne!  Wayne, with his ever present pipe dangling from his mouth, puffed a few quick ones then piled us in the truck and drove us to safety.  Our hero! 

We made it to the airport on time even though we drove slowly and watched in terror as three other cars slid off the freeway.  There we stood--a sorry bunch.  Two scared and frazzled kids, one stuffed lamby, and one mom with a borrowed, ripped jacket.  And there we waited for over an hour until the delayed plane finally landed.  

Still shaken and angry, I told my husband of our life-threatening ordeal through hot tears before we even got to the parking garage.­ I also told him half-jokingly that if he didn’t get a 4-wheel drive vehicle, he didn’t have to bother coming home again.  Don’t you know, the next day after work, he picked me up in a 4-wheel drive Suzuki Sidekick with four meaty studded snow tires!

Divorce averted.

Happy winter, happy reading!

Annette

I’m curious.  What are some good books you’ve read that took place in really cold and wintery settings? Enter a comment or email me at Readinginthegarden@gmail.com and I will post your answer.

What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email: Readinginthegarden@gmail.com

Monday, January 14, 2013

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

Let it Snow! (Winter Week)

It’s winter, and it’s cold—at least in my part of the world. It’s snowing outside and everything is blanketed in a quiet layer of white.  It’s very beautiful, especially when the sun comes out and everything sparkles like diamonds.

Growing up in Las Vegas we didn’t see much snow. One day in seventh grade while we were toiling away in our windowless, prisonlike school, rumor started that it was actually snowing!  Snow in Vegas, can you imagine?!  It was hard to concentrate on school work. We all just wanted to go out there and touch it, make real snowballs.  Well, thanks to Mr. Erbe, the Spanish teacher, a few of us got our wish.  Mr. Erbe’s class was a portable, one those overflow modular classrooms set out by the P.E. field.  For some reason that day he left the classroom for a few minutes—unsupervised—something I don’t remember him normally doing.  The moment he was out of sight, “vámonos!” was the battle cry and we all ran outside. We had a blast! Snowballs were flying left and right.  Kids were tossing scoops of snow in the air and dancing under it as it fell back down.  We were laughing and having such a good time—until Mr. Erbe came back and saw us.  ¡Ay, caramba! We were in trouble.

Mr. Erbe
Mr. Erbe was mad, plenty mad.  He yelled at us and made us each write three pages worth of “I will not play in the snow” in Spanish.  Mr. Erbe was one of those teachers everyone loved.  While we were writing, he lectured us on trust and responsibility.  We were ashamed and sad we let him down. But I wonder now if it wasn't all a big act.  When I wrote my papers, my writing got bigger and bigger.  Page three probably only had five lines on it, and when I turned it in he looked at it smiled and put it in the pile. That’s when I suspected that Mr. Erbe really wasn't mad at all. I knew he actually left the classroom to give us those few precious minutes to play in the snow. For that I say, gracias Seňor Erbe!

Snow was fun because it was a novelty.  But if you live in snow country day in and day out, it can lose its shine. A lot of people get the winter blues and I can see why.  Winters can be long and dreary, relentless.  But I like to call winter a built-in excuse for reading.  Winter is a time to hunker down inside, watch the snow fall, and curl up on the couch with a good book.  So this week, I thought I’d go over some books in cold settings to really get you in the mood.

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton is a classic first published in 1911.  Don’t worry, it’s a short one.  It’s set in a cold and bleak Massachusetts village where all you see is miles and miles of endless snow. Ethan Frome is married to Zeena.  Zeena is no princess warrior.  She is an unhappy, sickly shrew of a woman who does not make Ethan’s life easy. Given her failing health, Zeena’s cousin, Mattie, comes to help around the house. Mattie is a breath of fresh air for Ethan.  She’s beautiful and she’s nice, and Ethan hasn’t seen nice in a long time. Though they don’t act on it, the attraction is obvious, and Zeena is not happy.  No surprise there. One day Zeena leaves town on a two-day trip for a treatment to help with her illness.  This is their chance. Do they take it?

I won’t give away the ending, but it’s not what I expected. I will say I really liked the book and I wonder what others think of it.



Many classic books are now available free online or on e-readers.  You can find the complete text of Ethan Frome on the websites below:

Now, break out the hot chocolate, even better, add a dash of Baileys to it, and read, read, read.

Happy winter, happy reading!

Annette

I’m curious.  What are some good books you’ve read that took place in really cold and wintery settings? Enter a comment or email me at Readinginthegarden@gmail.com and I will post your answer.

What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email: Readinginthegarden@gmail.com

Friday, January 11, 2013

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson


Bookless in Vegas

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson is a good book that took me two years to read, or more accurately, two years to finally open it.  This book was a panic buy. Two years ago I was heading back from Las Vegas to North Idaho when I realized that I was almost done with my book and would probably finish it midflight.  If I finished my book on the plane, I would have nothing to read! Nothing to read! I was panicking!  My heart began to pound. What was I supposed to do for all those hours?  My breathing became shallow. I started to twitch. I was going through the beginning stages of withdrawals. 

It brought memories flooding back to when I was pregnant (and hormonal) in 1991.  I was already in bed reading when I finished my book.  I had no more books in the house and I began to get cranky, very cranky, pregnant cranky.  I complained to my husband.  By this time in my pregnancy, he was used to my mood swings, but it was late and he was caught off guard. Instead of saying the magic words, “Should I run to the store and get you a book?”  He said, "Well just go out there and watch TV."  Whooo wheeee, what a brave man!  Wrong thing to say.

It turned into quite a little spat and I ended up yanking the blanket off the bed and sleeping in the guest room.  And while I was laying there fuming, I transformed into Scarlett O’Hara.  Into the still dark room I lifted my fist and swore:

"As God is my witness, as God is my witness, I'm going to live through this, and when it's over, I'm never going to be bookless again. If I have to steal or kill—as God is my witness, I’ll never be bookless again."

The good news is that I have not resorted to theft or murder. Instead, I have been quietly collecting books here and there for years now.  I have a library full of them, I have stacks of them all over. They are crawling up the side of the fireplace, under night stands, and all throughout the basement family room.  Sometimes they even find their way on my sparse three shelves of closet space that I share with the linens. I am surrounded by a thrilling cocoon of future adventures waiting for me.  For those twenty years plus that have passed since that dark time in my life when I was bookless in Vegas, I have never run out of reading material—until that day at the airport two years ago.  Luckily I had time to buy a book before the flight, just in case of an emergency—Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.

The truth is my fear was completely unfounded. I did NOT finish the book on the plane and I did not have time to open my new treasure.  And when I got home I still had all those stacks and stacks that had seniority over Mr. Pettigrew.  So he was placed on the stacks to be forgotten—kind of like being stored in the warehouse where the Ark of the Covenant was placed at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. But I finally got to it, and it was worth the wait.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson was a fun read. It’s about a sixty-eight-year-old stuffy but lovable English widower, Major Pettigrew.  After the Major’s brother passes away, the local shopkeeper helps him get to the funeral and they form a friendship.  The problem?  She’s a Pakistani widow and this small English country town and their own family members are neither ready for racial commingling, nor their unequal social standings. Everyone has their place and their roles, and Major Pettigrew’s and Mrs. Ali’s attraction is not proper. But it’s obvious that the Major’s dry wit and sensibilities are a good match to smart and congenial Mrs. Ali.  This book is a slow but satisfying waltz.  It takes time for them to sort out the complications, but in the meantime I enjoyed the dance.

Don’t let this one get lost in your stacks of books. 

Happy Reading,
Annette


What about you? Have you ever panicked when you ran out of books to read? Enter a comment or email me at Readinginthegarden@gmail.com and I will post your answer.

What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email: Readinginthegarden@gmail.com

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Reading Outside the Box

Book clubs are wonderful things. I am part of a small club, what I like to call “café size.”  I get to meet with the girls about once a month, have a coffee, laugh, laugh, laugh, and talk, talk, talk. Eventually we even talk about the books.

Technically we are two sets of sisters, eleven daughters, eight mothers, five grandmothers, and a couple of friends. An intimate group really if you consider several of us play double or triple roles. In reality there are only eleven in the group, three of them long-distance members. Structurally loose, no member is kicked out for not having completed or even started a selection.  We don’t adhere to rigid  rules like including two biographies, one non-fiction, three classics, etc. into our reading lists. We have not planned any pilgrimages to Connecticut where we can wander through the Mark Twain House and Museum then pop over across the street to the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. In other words, we’re quite laid back and I like it that way.

I also like the fact that a book club where majority rules, means that sometimes we each have to read a book that we would not normally have chosen for ourselves. The Hunger Games was that kind of book for me.  While on one hand it sounded intriguing and I had already heard good things about it, the subject matter wasn’t such a lure for me. Kids  having to fight to the death in a spectator arena set in some stark future existence was not my idea of fun.  To make matters worse, I am not a big fan of series.  I do not like to feel obligated to read a set of books.  They are like Alfred Hitchcock movies that leave you hanging—unless you break down and read them all. Maybe I’m a free spirit, or maybe I just have book ADHD.  It’s the old too-many-books-too-little-time theory.

To my great surprise though, I loved The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins! It was interesting, suspenseful, imaginative, sad, a real yank at the heart. The Hunger Games lottery where participants are chosen reminded me of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” in which the loser gets stoned to death.  The entire community participates in this ritual including loving family members.

But back to the book. In the future nation of Panem,  a boy and a girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen are drawn in a lottery to be participants in the Hunger Games. The Hunger Games is an annual competition which takes place in the capitol of the twelve existing districts. The twist is that the kids must fight to the death.  There is only one survivor.  

The book was an action-packed whirlwind from the beginning scenes of life in the village, to the lottery drawing, to the physical and mental preparation, and to the actual game itself. The game takes place in a controlled environment, a bubble of sorts, where the coordinators can manipulate the physical surroundings to influence participant action. I was on the edge of my seat as Katniss and Peeta pitted against each other fought for survival, then were urged on as a team, then to the surprise twist.  And at the emotional end, believe it or not, I was ready for the second installment, Catching Fire, and finally the third, Mockingjay.  Because the books were short and easy, geared toward a young adult audience, I wasn’t annoyed in continuing on. In fact, I was very enthusiastic.  In the end I urged my husband and son to read the series, and no surprise, they both liked them.

I guess sometimes it pays to step outside your own little box. I’m glad I read The Hunger Games trilogy.   I hope you will give them a try if you haven’t already. As you know, the first book, The Hunger Games, has already been made into a movie, and a good one I might add.  The next movie, Catching Fire is due out sometime in November of this year, so you still have time to read it and even the third one, Mockingjay.

Happy Reading,
Annette

What about you? What book have you reluctantly read only to really like it in the end? Enter a comment or email me at readinginthegarden@gmail.com and I will post your answer.


What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email: Readinginthegarden@gmail.com

Monday, January 7, 2013

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

One of My Favorite Books

Who doesn’t love a circus?  It conjures up memories of childhood, of popcorn, candy, exotic animals, clowns, ladies in dazzling sequined outfits, and amazing high-wire acts. When I think of a circus, I think of two things:  the wonderful book Water for Elephants and the time I took my two-year-old son to the circus.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen is one of my all-time favorite books!  The story is told by an old man looking back on his life in the circus during the Great Depression.  As a young man he joins the circus after his parents died in a car accident. There he discovers a whole new and strange world in the small traveling community.   He learns the hard work involved in the back scenes of a circus, as well as the harsh and sometimes tragic lives of the workers. It isn’t long before he falls in love with the beautiful Marlena, one of the star performers.  Things are complicated though.  She’s already married to the controlling and cruel head animal trainer.   

Get ready to cheer for the hero, boo the villain and ooh and ahhh at the story that draws you into a bygone time and place.  It’s a memorable book that will stay in your heart a long, long time.


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Taking my son to the circus when he was two years old is also memorable but for different reasons. That day, it wasn’t just the circus act that drew attention. 

It was a beautiful June day in 1997 when we took our seats in the covered grandstands to watch the show.  Soon the ringmaster welcomed everyone and sent out the clowns.  Little did we know that we had our own little clown in the shape of a blond haired, blue eyed two-year-old. 

We were all captivated as “The Great Zambino” had the tigers perform “the most amazing acts ever witnessed.” They jumped from one platform to the next.  Oooh! Ahhhh! Applause!  My six-year-old daughter and even my son liked the tigers. But that was the limit of his tiny attention span.

After that he quickly became bored and hungry.  “Popcorn! Drink!” he shouted. So my husband tracked down “The Great Constantine” who had finished his act, changed clothes, and was now peddling popcorn, sodas, cotton candy, and nachos. He bought the kids some snacks, which gave us about five minutes of peace before our little clown started shouting again.  “Want candy! More popcorn!” 


That was it! We put our foot down. We told him he was not getting any more food.  He needed to be still and sit there like a good boy, which he did—for about three minutes. That’s when he decided to take matters in his own hands.  If we weren’t going to supply him food, he was going to get his own. He started foraging on the ground for dirty, stepped on popcorn, all the while dragging his little lamby stuffed animal with him.  Next he stole popcorn from the man in front of us.  Then he was suddenly two rows ahead of us drinking some woman’s Pepsi. We ran after him and apologized of course, but he was a slippery little bugger. He did not want to sit still and kept bopping from one bleacher to the next. He wore us out and we broke down.  What’s the harm in getting him red licorice if it would shut him up and keep him seated for a few minutes?  It was a two-foot long licorice string.  That ought to buy us some time.

But then intermission came and my husband took my daughter down to the elephant, which were now being led into the arena. She actually got to ride on this majestic animal like Phileas Fogg and Passepartout in Around the World in Eighty Days. Meanwhile, my son had to stay with
me and, well, that just made him mad.  Even the licorice and cotton candy didn’t appease him.  To punish me, he stomped on his beloved lamby.  That would teach me, he thought.  When he didn’t get the reaction he was looking for, he threw his little yellow metal car a few rows ahead of us. It was only by pure luck someone didn’t get a chunk of metal to the head.  Boy, was I fuming now!  He got a good spanking.

Since he was fueled with soda and candy, though, his behavior did not get any better.  Now he was not only wild and unruly, he was also loud.  When ChoCho the Clown came back with his buddies, my son squawked out loud, fake laughs, which made people turn look at him. “Ha!  Aha! Ha, Ha Ha!” he screamed. 

The ringmaster then announced that “The Great Antonio” would now jump rope on top of a chair which was precariously balanced on the high-wire.  He asked for complete silence to allow Antonio to concentrate on this dangerous feat.  I gotta tell you, I started to sweat.  I was
pretty sure if I made a point to tell my son to be quiet now, he would yell out “What!?” in his exaggerated loud mode.  I knew if I slapped my hand on his mouth to shush him, he would squirm and scream even louder.  So, I did nothing but sit there in terror and say a little prayer for my son to be quiet and for Antonio’s survival.  And miraculously, my son did not say a word! We all breathed a sigh of relief and “The Great Antonio” completed his act.

My son, on the other hand, continued his act until it was finally time to go home.  He was still scrounging for food on the floor and by the time we left, he and his beloved lamby looked like they had been through war.  They were filthy from having rolled around the bleacher trenches. They had red licorice blood stains and Pepsi bruises. 

My daughter left the circus with a smile and a blowup dog, which she bought with her own money.  My son left with an attitude, and my husband and I left exhausted. Thank God it didn’t take long for our little clown to fall asleep in the car, and at last we had peace and quiet.  Sometimes it’s easier to tame a lion than a two-year-old. 

That was the last time I was at the circus. Learn from me, NEVER take a two-year-old the circus. Read Water for Elephants instead.  It’s much, much more satisfying.

Don't miss another good book about the circus:  The Night Circus by The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

What about you?  What’s your all-time favorite book?  Enter a comment or email me at readinginthegarden@gmail.com and I will post your answer.

Happy Reading,
Annette

What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email: Readinginthegarden@gmail.com