Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Recommended Books for the Start of 2015

Hi All, I am so sorry for the long pause since I have written.  I have been flattened this week by illness.  Major flu action has been going on over here for me.  I have been arriving home from work and essentially reading and going to bed.  However tonight, though still ill, I was feeling well enough to finish and post this :-) I hope you enjoy and possibly find a great recommendation!!

Those of you who know me personally will not be surprised by this blog topic ;-) as books are one of my great passions, hobbies and loves.  I am never without a book in my hand when walking through the city, commuting on the train or even just meeting a friend for tea.  I am always in the middle of a story.  I love talking about books with others, telling them excitedly about the story I am currently engrossed in and why they should read it.  I could spend hours inside a bookstore, browsing the shelves, stopping to read the backs of covers, sitting and leafing through others.  Whenever I purchase a new book, carrying it out of the store makes me feel excited and fulfilled.  It feels like a treasure I have tucked under my arm.

Here is a list of books I would recommend thus far for 2015.  I have read quite a few books in the past weeks, but these are just the ones I really loved and will read again.

  1. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  This book is magic.  With a feeling similar to Harry Potter, but the magical scenes are more detailed, darker and especially spell-binding.  The ending was the one slightly odd twist to this book.  However as a whole, the story is gripping and the imagery is capturing.  The night circus appears only at night within a huge field, where earlier stood only air.  The things one sees in the night circus will take their breath away.  At the heart of the novel: two dueling magicians who perform within the night circus.  They do not even fully understand the rules or perimeters of the duel.  They only know they are locked within some kind of silent battle.  We as the readers are able to witness the spectacular scenes of magic they each create for us.  What the duelers especially don't know is this: only one can be left standing.  And the catch that makes it really interesting: they fall in love.  
  2. A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams.  The perfect summer beach read.  I would say this is a novel more geared towards a female audience, whereas the Night Circus will appeal to either audience gender widely.  This is a story that alternates back and forth between the past and the present.  In the present, we have Lilly.  She cares for her younger sister, Kiki assisting heavily in raising her and together they live mostly on the New England coast.  Lilly's best friend from their teenage years is the infamous, Budgie Barnes.  They did everything together, shared everything.  Though Budgie was more the spotlight while Lilly more of a wallflower.  Budgie is now married to Nick, the love of Lilly's life.  Lilly and Nick were deeply in love, engaged and almost married.  And as the reader's, once we learn about the ferocity of their love, we wonder, why didn't they marry??  As we read the story, we alternate between Lilly's current life, becoming suddenly reacquainted with Budgie after a long time of emotional distance (while also having to stomach and adjust to seeing her old best friend with the man she loved more than anything), and we learn what happened within Lilly and Nick's love affair that resulted in them not ending up together.  This book hints of the beach, salty air, glittery nights out in the city, while containing large notes of romance and betrayal.  I have read it twice and loved it both times.  It's a great read.  
  3. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.  This book is incredibly reminiscent of the TV series Friday Night Lights.  While reading it, one can picture the red bricked buildings of the college campus, the baseball diamond filled with cheering fans, red and golden leaves swirling along the sidewalk as students walk to class, the dining hall teaming with young adults filling their plates with food as they rush for a seat together.  Though this book, instead of football being the focus as in Friday Night Lights, focuses on baseball.  I am not a baseball fan myself, but that should not deter someone from this story.  That would be a major mistake.  The story focuses on 5 central characters.  Henry Skrimshander, whose worries and doubts set him down a path from being the best shortstop in the country to complete ruin.  The college President Affenlight who falls deeply in love with someone he shouldn't.  The young, quiet, intelligent student Owen (fellow baseball teammate to Henry) who finds himself in the wrong bed at night as he begins a fool-hardy affair with someone 30 years his senior.  Mike Schwartz, who spent so much time helping guide Henry that he neglected his own path in baseball and is now feeling poisoned by resentment.  And finally Pella Affenlight who comes to the college to escape her ill-fated marriage.  This book is engrossing and richly written.  One will be sad when they turn the last page and close the book.  
  4. Life by Keith Richards.  Here is the synopsis from  I have a feeling they say it better then I could.  This is hands down though, one of the best rock biographies ever written.  Even if one doesn't have a huge interest in the Rolling Stones, this is still a fascinating account of a person's life that is just completely gripping to read about.  As lead guitarist of the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards created the riffs, the lyrics, and the songs that roused the world. A true and towering original, he has always walked his own path, spoken his mind, and done things his own way.  Now at last Richards pauses to tell his story in the most anticipated autobiography in decades. And what a story! Listening obsessively to Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters records in a coldwater flat with Mick Jagger and Brian Jones, building a sound and a band out of music they loved. Finding fame and success as a bad-boy band, only to find themselves challenged by authorities everywhere. Dropping his guitar's sixth string to create a new sound that allowed him to create immortal riffs like those in "Honky Tonk Woman" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash." Falling in love with Anita Pallenberg, Brian Jones's girlfriend. Arrested and imprisoned for drug possession. Tax exile in France and recording Exile on Main Street. Ever-increasing fame, isolation, and addiction making life an ever faster frenzy. Through it all, Richards remained devoted to the music of the band, until even that was challenged by Mick Jagger's attempt at a solo career, leading to a decade of conflicts and ultimately the biggest reunion tour in history.  In a voice that is uniquely and unmistakably him--part growl, part laugh--Keith Richards brings us the truest rock-and-roll life of our times, unfettered and fearless and true.  
  5. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout.  This story is a tough one to describe.  The main character is a woman named Olive Kitteridge.  The book takes place in Maine and through the authors eyes, we are shown the world that exists within this tiny town.  Each of the towns people have their own interesting life struggles, their own triumphs and their own failures.  We often see these narrated through Olive's eyes and other times, through our own.  Each towns person the reader learns about though, is gripping and interesting.  This book is very readable, relatable and an excellent read.  I know my review did not do it justice.  But I have read this book twice, and each time raced through it, unable to put it down.
  6. The Little Paris Kitchen by Rachel Khoo.  This is an excellent cookbook.  Written by a young English woman who moved from London to Paris to pursue her cooking dream.  The recipes are gorgeously pictured, many of which seem approachable, non too intimidating and do-able.  And the stories she narrates along with her recipes are interesting and add to the books readability and enjoyment.  I really like this book, which was given to me by a good friend.  I have already read through it once slowly in it's entirety and have marked off the recipes I will try :-D  
  7. A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen.  This book is heartwarming, sweet and keeps your attention.  You find yourself becoming quickly attached to Bob, and feeling invested in his adventures and welfare.  Your heart swells while reading certain scenes with Bob, while in other moments your heart is tugged in pain in bit.  This book is about a young man who was struggling, very down on his luck.  He had struggled with drug abuse and homelessness.  He stumbled across Bob one day on the streets of London, a homeless, shabby, orange tabby cat.  Bob never left.  The two became fast friends.  Bob is a unique cat, learning to ride the bus on his own, collecting a band of followers and resting perched on James shoulder while he plays guitar for citizens milling around London.  This book is a super sweet true-life read.  

    Bob and his owner, James.  Super sweet <3

    Oh my word.  The sweater.  The sweet facial expression.  Swoon!!! <3
  8. Eat Pretty by Jolene Hart.  I really enjoyed this book overall as a tool to help aid in healthy eating.  The author tells us in depth about 85 different foods and the specific health benefits each food offers.  Such as, Pineapple.  Pineapple contains powerful anti-inflammatory digestives that break down proteins and boost overall digestion.  Its enzymes combine with its insoluble fiber to help you maintain a flat belly and less bloat.  Its rich in vitamin B and copper, two vitamins for healthy hair and hair color.  Plus potassium for circulating nutrients around the body.  Pineapple also balances water and heat in the body!  Bet you didn't know all of that!  I sure didn't until I read this.  Pretty cool, eh?  The book tells you about 85 other everyday foods and the health benefits each one has in store for you.  It makes one think more carefully about what you put into your body.  And what sorts of foods you already enjoy that you can eat more of to look and feel even better!!  I have already found myself grocery shopping a bit differently :-D pretty cool. 
  9. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton.  I am going to paste the synopsis from for you to read on this one: Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam—a city ruled by glittering wealth and oppressive religion—a masterful debut steeped in atmosphere and shimmering with mystery. ”There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed . . .“  On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office—leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.  But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist—an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .Johannes’ gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand—and fear—the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?  Enchanting, beautiful, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth.  I have to admit, I haven't finished the story yet.  I am mere pages from the end.  But this book has hooked me.  So far, I love it.  Unique and fascinating.  Great fun to read!  

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