Bookish Plans for Summer 2021

June 04, 2021

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

My favorite thing about summer is more reading time. It’s too hot and humid to do much outside, so why not put my feet up, have a cold drink, and read a book? I have a lot more fun compiling a summer reading list than I do a summer fun list—all those luscious books waiting to be read! My problem is I always choose too many books to get through. But that’s OK, there’s always fall, and winter, and spring, and NEXT summer!

While my usual and very scientific method of choosing my next read is “it sounds good and I feel like reading it,” for my summer reading lists I sometimes add a couple of specific types of books: a writer’s biography, a classic, a comfort reread, a long book, and so on. I’ve also started mixing in a couple of Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Summer Reading Guide recommendations when I can get my hands on them (click here to get your own free guide). Since I tend to read mostly older books, the Reading Guide helps me stay in better touch with contemporary authors.

My summer reading list is not intended to be hard and fast—it’s just supposed to help me expand my choices a little from what I typically read. A gentle nudge rather than a push, so to speak. Here is a tentative list of books I’m thinking of dipping into this summer (all book titles are links if you’d like to learn more):


For my long book, I’m thinking of reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. I’m not sure how to describe this one, except that it involves magic and the politics of the Napoleonic wars (?)  People seem to love it or hate it.

I’m very interested in Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life, by Ruth Franklin for my writer’s biography. I also just received a copy of May Sarton’s Plant Dreaming Deep, which is more of a journal/memoir than a biography. It appeals to me because I loved Journal of a Solitude and The House by the Sea. Of course, I could kill two books with one stone (long book and writer biography) and tackle my still-unread Autobiography of Mark Twain, Vol. 1 (clocking in at more than 600 pages of dense type and footnotes)!

A friend gifted me Tirzah Price’s Pride and Premeditation and we’ll be reading it together. This “clever retelling of Pride and Prejudice…reimagines the iconic settings, characters, and romances in a thrilling and high-stakes whodunit.” Sounds fun!

This year, I’m throwing some poetry into the mix with Arias, by Sharon Olds.

I’ve been very slowly rereading Agatha’s Christie’s books in order, so I’ll probably pull The Man in the Brown Suit off my home library shelf to serve as my comfort reread.

I’m undecided on reading a classic. At the moment, I haven’t got one lined up, but that may change. 

I’m in the hold line to read Laura Dave’s The Last Thing He Told Me, a Modern Mrs. Darcy recommendation. Many people are ahead of me, so I hope I get to this one before summer’s end. 

In the meantime, I’ll likely pick up another Modern Mrs. Darcy rec that I already had on my radar: Klara and the Sun, by Kazuo Ishiguro. 

Between my own shelves and my excellent local library, I’m spoiled for choice. No matter how hot it gets this summer, my reading chair and a stack of good books will be waiting.

Have you read any of my summer book choices? What are you particularly looking forward to reading this summer? 


My Reading Year

December 21, 2020

I’ve been reading everyone else’s end-of-the-year favorite book lists, and OF COURSE I have to chime in. Because reading has been, and will always be (I hope and believe) a constant comfort and joy for me, even when real life is kind of a train wreck.

I’m looking at you, 2020.

So let’s talk books, shall we? Settle in, it might take a while.

The Unread Shelf Project

As of this writing, I’ve read 110 books this year! Many of them from my own stash as I participated in Whitney Conard’s The Unread Shelf Project. While I often try to read from my own TBR shelf each year, if only to keep the books from taking over, The Unread Shelf Project made it more of an adventure to read from my own stacks. One of my favorite devices was “Unread Bingo”—genius! It helped me finish the year strong, as well as choose books that I normally might pass by just so I could get a bingo. I’m finishing a book right now that I’m loving—but it has sat on my shelf for FIVE years. I also “unshelved” a few books, after giving them a shot and determining they were not of interest to me anymore. Whitney just unveiled the 2021 Unread Shelf Project, if you’re interested in joining in. 

Monthly favorites and more

Every month in the Happy Little Thoughts newsletter (sign up here), I share my two favorite reads (see below), but of course there have been other books I’ve read that have made an impact that deserve a mention.

I finished Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, by Ibram X. Kendi, back in September. This was a thick book on difficult subject matter, but also well-written and very interesting. I have a lot to learn about racism and the experience of people who are not white, and this was a good place for me to start. 

The Hearts of Horses, by Molly Gloss. My mother-in-law gave me this book because of the horse connection. What I discovered was a beautifully written, gentle story, and an author I’d like to read more of.

Educated, by Tara Westover. This sometimes-harrowing memoir of growing up in a survivalist Mormon family was one of the most gripping books I read all year. 

The Stranger Inside, Lisa Unger. I’ve read several of Unger’s books, and they are twisty page-turners. I went to hear her speak in Tampa on one of my last public outings before the pandemic changed all our lives. 

I discovered a couple of new-to-me series I want to keep reading: Susan Wittig Albert’s The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter, and Jodi Taylor’s The Chronicles of St. Mary’s. 

For comfort, I reread several of the Anne of Green Gables books, a few Agatha Christie mysteries, and Paris Letters, by Janice MacLeod. (I’m surprised I didn’t do more comfort rereading this year.)

Monthly favorites from Happy Little Thoughts:

Jan.: Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman; The Sidetracked Sisters Happiness File, Pam Young and Peggy Jones

Feb.: The Hazel Wood, Melissa Albert; The Genius of Birds, Jennifer Ackerman

March: This Must Be the Place, Marrie O’Farrell; Scratch: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, edited by Manjula Martin

April: A Better Man, Louise Penny; Marry Your Muse: Making a Lasting Commitment to Your Creativity, Jan Phillips

May: Venetia, Georgette Heyer; Chasing Slow: Courage to Journey Off the Beaten Path, Erin Loechner

June: The Stranger Diaries, Elly Griffiths; The Muse Is In: An Owner's Manual to Your Creativity, Jill Badonsky

July: Before the Coffee Gets Cold, Toshikazu Kawaguchi; Broken Places & Outer Spaces: Finding Creativity in the Unexpected, Nnedi Okorafor

August: Love Lettering, Kate Clayborn; L’Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home, David Leibovitz

Sept.: The Two Lives of Lydia Bird, Josie Silver; Look Alive Out There, Sloane Crosley

Oct.: All the Devils Are Here, Louise Penny; Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, Krista Tippett

Nov.: Jayber Crow, Wendell Berry; The Dance of Intimacy: A Womans Guide to Courageous Acts of Change in Key Relationships, Harriet Lerner

As usual, my reading was all over the place, since mostly I read at whim whatever sounds most interesting to me at the time. In 2020, I think that was just the right approach to take.

What did your reading year look like? Did you read more or less than usual? Any books that especially made an impact? Do share in the comments below. Because my TBR list isn’t long enough…

Artist's dates

Field Trip Friday—Books and Bites with Author Lisa Unger

February 21, 2020

Lisa Unger with yours truly

It’s been far too long since I allowed myself either an artist’s date or a Field Trip Friday, so today I rolled them into one and headed to Tampa for a Friends of the Library event featuring bestselling author Lisa Unger

Unger is the author of 17 novels, her books have been published in 26 languages, and she’s been nominated for multiple awards, notably two Edgars* in 2019, an honor only a few authors can claim. She describes her work as “character-driven psychological suspense,” and I can attest that her books are hard to put down. I've only read a few of them, so I was excited to see how many I have left to enjoy. My next read will be the signed copy of her most recent book, The Stranger Inside, that came home with me! 

After we enjoyed lunch provided by local restaurant La Segunda, Unger shared some of her background and her writing process. Then she took questions. After her talk and the question and answer period, she signed books and chatted with attendees. Her husband kindly took the photo of us together that you see above. 

A few things that I found especially interesting:

Her family moved a lot and Unger was frequently the new kid. “The page was my first home,” she said. (Me, too!)

She’s been a writer all her life (“I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t define myself that way,” she said), though she didn't think she’d be able to write for a living, a belief influenced by her engineer father who didn’t think writing was a job.

She inherited her love of story from her librarian mother, who shared all types of books and movies with her daughter as she was growing up. Of her mother’s bookshelves, Unger said, “If I could reach it, I could read it.”

After attending college in New York, where she studied all kinds of writing from poetry, to screenwriting, to journalism, Unger took a job in book publishing, because it was the closest thing she could find to her dream. She worked in publicity, helping authors with book tours and planning events, and was so good at it that her time available to write kept shrinking.

Eventually, she had an epiphany. “I was in the wrong job and I was with the wrong guy. I wasn’t doing the thing I wanted to do. I’d never even tried.” She decided she could live with failure, but not a “slow fade to nothing.” She kept her job (but broke up with that guy), and started writing every day, making it a priority to work on a novel she’d started at age 19.  One and a half years later, at age 29, she finished.

When Unger completed her novel and went about trying to find an agent for it, she admits she was scared. It wasn’t just her book that was on the line, it was her identity: “Who am I if I am not this?” she said. Fortunately for all of us, that book found an agent, and that agent got Unger a two-book deal. Angel Fire, the first of four books in the Lydia Strong series, was published in 2002. (Miscione is Unger’s maiden name.)

It takes her nine months to a year to complete a first draft, followed by several more drafts, as well as “the second part of the creative process,” which she explained is the discussion and incorporation of notes she receives from her husband, editor, and agent. These help her manuscript to become the best possible book. It takes another year between when the book is first turned in until it’s ready for publishing. She never opens the finished book, because by then there’s nothing she can change about it!

She met her husband at Sloppy Joe’s in Key West. It was love at first sight, at least on her part, she said. They’ve been married for 20 years, and have a 14-year-old daughter.

On writing books:

A lot of people want to write a book, even make plans to write one. It’s an accomplishment just to finish a manuscript. Whether or not it gets published.

You should do it because you cannot not do it. Getting published is beside the point. It’s always about the work, the writing.

I’ve been feeling very blah about writing lately (witness the lack of entries on this here blog), and while I’ve been making it a point to sit down to write something nearly every day, I’ve definitely been lacking a spark. I’m so glad I took the time to go to this author talk, because not only was Unger herself charming, warm, and easy to approach, she inspired me to come home and sit down in front of my laptop. It’s a start. 

*Edgar Allan Poe Awards, presented annually by the Mystery Writers of America

To learn more about Lisa Unger and her books, please visit, or her Amazon author’s page.


Summertime and the Reading Is Easy

July 22, 2019

Nearly every day I find myself drenched in sweat—we’re talking “wring out your t-shirt” sweat (too much information?). That’s because Florida has experienced record-breaking heat since May. Not only am I avoiding the outdoors as much as I can, on the days when I do have to go outside (the dog needs walking, the horse needs tending to), the heat drains my energy so much that after taking a swig of an electrolyte drink, I often plop myself down to read…and sometimes I drop off into a nap, but we won’t tell my husband that. Except he reads the blog, so I guess I just did. Oops.

Anyway, I digress. Blame it on the heat addling my brain.

I’ve been zipping through my summer reading list, and I’ve also been enjoying a couple of the books I found on this blog post by Modern Mrs. Darcy. Do not read her blog unless you want your TBR list to explode. From my own shelves, I finished Ride With Your Mind, and read Vanishing Point, by Patricia Wentworth, a very enjoyable mystery featuring Miss Maud Silver.

My library holds did all come in at once as I suspected they would, but I was able to read the ones that had to go back because other people were waiting for them, and hold on to others for a longer period, so it’s all worked out OK so far.

Here are some of my favorites:

The Island of Sea Women, by Lisa See (Scribner, 2019) was not at all what I expected and at times it was an intense read. Set on the Korean island of Jeju, it followed the lives and friendship of Young-sook and Mi-ja, and the forces that draw them together and tear them apart. I really loved the peek into a culture I know nothing about. Well worth reading.

Lessons From Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog, Dave Barry (Simon & Schuster 2019). One of the library holds. I’ve loved Dave Barry’s writing for 30 years—he’s made me laugh out loud hundreds of times. This book, while still funny, is more thoughtful than some of his previous work. He’s 70 now, and his college-age daughter experienced a life-changing illness that clearly shook him up. The dog doesn’t die in the book, so that’s always a plus!

Wolfpack, Abby Wambach (Celadon Books, 2019). This slim book was based on Wambach’s viral 2018 commencement speech to the graduating class of New York’s Barnard College. Her vision of leadership inspired me, and I copied out several quotes from the book, including:

“Imperfect men have been empowered and permitted to run the world since the beginning of time. It’s time for imperfect women to grant themselves permission to join them.

“Perfection is not a prerequisite of leadership. But we can forgive ourselves for believing it is.

“We have been living by the old rules that insist that a woman must be perfect before she’s worthy of showing up. Since no one is perfect, this rule is an effective way to keep women out of leadership preemptively.”

The Year of Pleasures, by Elizabeth Berg (Random House, 2005) was a Modern Mrs. Darcy suggestion. It follows a recent widow, 55-year-year old Betta, as she begins a new life without her beloved husband, John. An easy and pleasant read, if a little too “neat.” One of my favorite things was minor character Jovani’s mangling of the English language.

I’m two-thirds of the way through another Modern Mrs. Darcy suggestion, Celine, by Peter Heller (Vintage 2017). So far I’m loving it, especially the descriptions of nature. Heller often writes for Outside magazine and National Geographic Adventure and it shows. Celine is a private detective who specializes in reuniting families. She’s also a 68-year-old woman with emphysema—not your typical PI!

What’s next? I’ve just started to read Mansfield Park and the Autobiography of Mark Twain over the weekend. Mark Twain is intimidatingly large, but I’m going to do my best to finish in the next few months. I’m not as familiar with Mansfield Park as I am with other Jane Austen titles, so I plan to take my time getting the most out of it.

And a couple more library holds just came in. Thank goodness I have plenty to read, because it’s going to be summertime here for the foreseeable future.

What have you been reading lately?

Armchair travel

J’aime Les Livres Sur Paris*

September 17, 2018

Photo courtesy Sierra Maciorowski via Pixabay

For the past six months or more, I’ve been reading Paris…novels set in Paris, collections of essays and excerpts from larger works on Paris, guidebooks about Paris…

Did I mention, I’m going to Paris?

If you’re going to Paris, too, or even if your travel is of the armchair variety, here are a few of the most interesting livres I’ve come across:


Paris By the Book, Liam Callanan. This was one of my favorites, though it got mixed reviews on Amazon. Protagonist Leah moves with her two daughters to Paris after her “eccentric novelist” husband vanishes, leaving behind plane tickets for Paris hidden in an unexpected place. When Leah discovers an unfinished manuscript her husband was writing, set in Paris, she and her girls “follow the path of the manuscript to a small, floundering English-language bookstore whose weary proprietor is eager to sell.” (Amazon) Books, exploring Paris, a little mystery (Is Leah’s husband dead or alive?)—I found it delightful.

13, Rue Therese, Elena Mauli Shapiro. Another intriguing story, following American academic Trevor Stratton as he sifts through a box of artifacts from World War I related to the life of Frenchwoman Louise Brunet. As he imagines what her life was like, he begins to fall in love with his alluring French clerk, Josianne.

The Light of Paris, Eleanor Brown. The intertwining stories of Madeleine, trapped in an unhappy marriage and reconnecting with her own essential self and Madeleine’s grandmother, Maggie, whose youthful diary Madeleine discovers reveals a completely different woman than she remembers.

The Little Paris Book Shop, Nina George. Monsieur Perdu prescribes novels for the hardships of life from his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine. I’m possibly the last person alive to read this, but I picked up a copy at my library’s used bookstore for a dollar last week.

Hunting and Gathering, Ana Gavalda. “A winning portrait of a group of misfits who band together to form their own family,” according to Booklist. This sounds so good to me, I’m going to try to squeeze it in before I leave. 

Paris: The Novel, Edward Rutherfurd. I’ve never read anything by Edward Rutherford, but several family members have recommended him, so I loaded this chunky historical novel onto my Kindle to take with me. Gotta have something to read on those long plane rides.


A Paris All Your Own, edited by Eleanor Brown. All-new Paris-themed essays written by best-selling writers of women’s fiction. Not only did I enjoy the essays, I added a number of books to my TBR list while reading this.

A Paris Year, Janie MacLeod. I reread this (I wrote about it here) and jotted a few notes. 

Paris in Stride: An Insider’s Walking Guide, Jesse Kanelos Weiner and Sarah Moroz. I’m probably taking this one with me—not only for the recommendations, but for the inspiration of the charming watercolor illustration.

Paris in Mind, edited by Jennifer Lee. I’m reading this right now. Excerpts from writings by everyone Thomas Jefferson, Sylvia Beach (who writes about opening the Shakespeare and Company bookstore), Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, David Sedaris, Dave Barry, and many more.

How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City, Joan DeJean. Notably, I haven’t read anything about the history of Paris, so I put this book on my TBR list. Likely won’t get to it before I leave, but there’s plenty of time to read when I get home.

The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris, by Edmund White is another for the TBR list. “A collection of impressions” (Publisher’s Weekly), it sounds intriguing.

When I type “Paris” into Amazon’s search bar, it returns 50,000 results, so I know I’ve just barely scratched the surface of Paris-themed books! Which of your favorites did I leave out? Please share in the comments!

*“I love books about Paris”

Absent in the Spring

Rereading Absent in the Spring (Agatha Christie writing as Mary Westmacott)

July 23, 2018


One of the things I like most about traveling is the complete break from the usual routine. I almost always come back from a trip refreshed and ready to make changes in my life…whether or not those changes actually take place. Sometimes it takes leaving home to see myself more clearly.

All that sounds pretty good—having time to oneself to re-center, finding solitude to think and evaluate one’s life.

It can also be a little bit frightening.

At least in the hands of Agatha Christie, writing as Mary Westmacott, in Absent in the Spring. I reread this book over the weekend, and it was as thought-provoking as I remembered it. (And no bodies in the library...this is a different kind of frightening.)

Absent was one of Christie’s favorite books. She completed it in three days straight, and wrote in her autobiography that it was “one book that has satisfied me completely…. It was the picture of a woman with a complete image of herself, of what she was, but about which she was completely mistaken…. What brought about this revelation would be the fact that for the first time in her life she was alone—completely alone—for four or five days.”

In the book, self-satisfied, middle-aged Englishwoman Joan Scudamore finds herself stranded at a rest house in the desert on her way home from visiting her daughter in Iraq. There are no other travelers for company, she runs out of things to read, uses up her writing paper, and has no sewing or handiwork to occupy her. She’s left with nothing to do but think and remember. At first, this makes her uneasy:

“The truth was, she reflected, that she had always led such a full and occupied life. So much interest in it. It was a civilized life. And if you had all that balance and proportion in your life, it certainly left you rather at a loss when you were faced with the barren uselessness of doing nothing at all. The more useful and cultured a woman you were, the more difficult it made it.”

And then downright frightened, as her thoughts take her places she’d rather not go.

“There was nothing to be afraid of in being alone—nothing at all.”
Eventually, she comes to see herself as she really is, not as she’s told herself she is all her life.

“She had got to know, once and for all, just what kind of a woman Joan Scudamore was….”

The title comes from a line in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 98, “From you have I been absent in the spring.”  One of Joan’s realizations is that even though she really loves her husband, she’s been “absent” from him in the ways that really matter.

When Joan returns to England, will she keep her hard-won self-knowledge and make changes? Or will she return to her old ways? I won’t spoil the end for you—you’ll have to read it for yourself.

Absent in the Spring was written in the 1940s, but anyone whose life is overfull with commitments, social media, and general busy-ness might recognize in themselves the tendency to fill up time with doing in order to avoid uncomfortable thinking.

At fewer than 200 pages, Absent in the Spring is a quick and compelling read. Check it out, and let me know what you think!


Summer Reading List 2018

June 11, 2018

I’m feeling a bit bookish, how about you? Watching the premier episode of The Great American Read reminded me of just how much reading and books have meant to me, and how passionate readers are about their favorites. Plus I’ve been inspired by blogging friends who’ve posted their own summer reading lists: Leanne Sowul has an ambitious list of 37 books on hers! And Danielle Torres has a cool theme for her summer reading. Check it out here.

Me, I’m all over the place. I want to read All The Books. I’ve chosen quite a few from my groaning TBR shelf, and a few from the running list I keep in my planner.  I know I won’t read them all, but that’s OK.  I love the process of choosing books to read. Thinking about reading is almost as fun as actually reading.

The first two books come from the Great American Read list of 100 novels: The Giver, by Lois Lowry and The Stand, by Stephen King. I’m not sure I’m up for this chunk of a book, but maybe. Or maybe I’ll woman up and choose War and Peace?  

I’m very intrigued by Circe, by Madeline Miller. 

Blandings Castle, by P.G. Wodehouse. Sometimes I just need a little Wodehouse. (I was disappointed to see none of his novels made the list for the Great American Read.) 

Starting to prepare for Paris in the fall with these possibilities: 

The Light of Paris, by Eleanor Brown. This one is waiting for me at the library as I type. Thanks to Danielle for the recommendation.

The Little Pleasures of Paris, by Leslie Jonath.

Paris in Stride: An Insider’s Walking Guide, by Jessie Kanelos Weiner. I’m already reading this charming little book.

Speaking of Paris, I should be practicing my drawing and painting prior to the trip. Am I? No, I am not. Maybe one of these books will jump start my practice:

Keys to Drawing, by Bert Dodson.

The New Creative Artist, by Nita Leland

How about a peek into someone else’s life? I have the Journal of Eugene Delacroix on my shelves, as well as Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady, by Edith Holden.

Surviving Your Dog’s Adolescence, by Carol Benjamin. Because Luna.

Upstream, by Mary Oliver. I love her poetry, and look forward to reading this collection of essays.

The Secret History of Wonder Woman, by Jill Leport. Because now I have a thing for Wonder Woman.   

Queen of Bebop: The Musical Lives of Sarah Vaughan, by Elaine M. Hayes One of my favorite jazz singers

The Beach Street Knitting Society and Yarn Club. by Gil McNeil. Because it’s been on my TBR list for years!

A collection of short stories: either by Eudora Welty (I have a collection on my TBR stack at home), Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors, Edith Pearlman’s Honeydew, or Ellen Gilchrist’s Acts of God.

These are the books I feel like reading now—and that list is likely to change over the summer as new books catch my eye. Will I find a new favorite author or will one of these books rate as a “best read” for 2018? I can’t wait to find out.

What will you read this summer?


The Great American Read--Did Your Favorite Novel Make the List?

May 21, 2018

Since reading is one of my favorite simple pleasures, I’m looking forward to watching The Great American Read, an eight-part PBS series which premieres tomorrow, May 22. The documentary will explore and celebrate the power of reading in American culture “through the prism of America’s 100 best-loved novels”. The books were chosen in a national survey, and you can find a list of them here. You can join the Great American Read Book Club here

Viewers will have the chance to vote for their favorites online and on social media starting when the first episode airs. The finale will take place in October, when the winner will be revealed. See your local PBS station for details.

As I write this, I’ve read 36 of the 100 on the list, and I’m in the middle of a 37th (Great Expectations). Several on this list I’ve tried to read and couldn’t get through (I’m looking at you The Catcher in the Rye). I plan to read at least a few more of them, including The Giver, War and Peace, and Stephen King’s The Stand. And there are some on this list that I won’t even attempt to read because they’re just not my cup of tea, life’s too short, and my TBR list is already (wayyyy) too long. That’s the beauty of the modern age of books: there’s a meaningful book out there for everyone. And often they’re freely (literally) available.

Some of my favorites from the list include Anne of Green Gables, The Alchemist (I wrote briefly about both Anne and The Alchemist here), Pride and Prejudice, The Help, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Two of my favorite authors who were not on the list: Barbara Kingsolver and P.G. Wodehouse.

(In 2003, the BBC undertook a similar search for the best-loved book in the United Kingdom. The winner of The Big Read was J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.)

Let’s talk about books! Which of the 100 have you read? Which are your favorites and which ones didn’t you like? Why? Was your favorite on the list?


What I've Been Reading

October 28, 2016

The out-of-hand TBR shelf

Let’s talk books, shall we? It’s been months since I’ve written about what I’ve been reading. And you know I’ve been reading…though not quite at the pace of some previous years. I took several books with me on my recent trip, but only finished one of them, my time being taken up with more important things such as beating my mom, aunt, and cousin at Chicken Foot (dominoes) and visiting with the horses next door. A girl must have priorities. 

I’ve been fighting a losing battle with the TBR shelf (see photo above)—this year I’ve bought a ridiculous number of books, and even though I’m mostly reading from my own shelves, I’ve fallen behind again. And while I haven’t been reading as many books, I’ve read some excellent ones. So without further ado, here are some highlights of my recent reading in no particular order:

I started reading H Is for Hawk on the airplane to California. This beautifully written memoir by Helen Macdonald took the book lists by storm in 2015, appearing on 25 Best Books of the Year lists, including that of The New York Times Book Review. Devastated by grief following the death of her father, Macdonald (an experienced falconer) adopted and trained a goshawk and the experience helped her heal. I’ve never thought about what it would take to fly a hawk free, but Macdonald’s description of invisible lines between her and her hawk reminded me of what it takes to work a horse at liberty: trust, respect, and being a safe place for the animal.

Bluebird, or the Invention of Happiness, by Sheila Kohler, is a historical novel based on the real life of Lucy Dillon, an 18th century French aristocrat. Using flashbacks, it follows Lucy from her unhappy childhood, to becoming a French Court favorite, fleeing to America with her husband and small children to escape the guillotine, and eventually returning to France once the danger of execution was past.

My mom, also a great reader, handed me The Christie Caper when I was visiting. I started reading it on the plane home. It’s part of a series featuring Annie Darling, owner of mystery bookshop Death on Demand. Annie’s cosponsoring a conference celebrating Agatha Christie, and unbeknownst to her, murder is on the agenda. I love Dame Agatha so I enjoyed the Christie life and book references throughout this book. I’m down to the last 40 or so pages, and I think I know whodunit. We’ll see.

I adored Voracious: A Hungry Ready Cooks Her Way Through Great Books, by Cara Nicoletti. This is a book I wish I’d written. Nicoletti is a butcher, cook, and writer, and Voracious combines stories about books with recipes inspired by them. Great fun.

The Year of Living Danishly, Helen Russell. I have a fascination with reading about the experiences of people living in countries other than the U.S. I’ve traveled some, but the closest I’ve come to living in another country was the couple of months I spent in Israel while working on an archaeological dig as a college student. I’m interested in daily life, systems, and cultures that are not my own. In Year, Russell, a Brit, moved with her husband to Denmark so he could work for Lego (he’s identified throughout the book as “Lego Man”). Using her journalist skills, she interviews everyone from her neighbors and her garbage man, to directors of Danish social agencies to discover why the Danes are consistently some of the happiest people in the world.

So what’s up next?

I’ve read a lot of mysteries this year, making progress on the several series I follow, but now I’m also in the mood for something more substantial, something in which to immerse myself. Perhaps a classic? I have a Wilkie Collins novel, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Charles Dickens’ Dombey and Son at the ready. Or perhaps just a novel that doesn’t involve finding a dead body?

Choosing the next book to read—one of my favorite simple pleasures!

Have you read anything exceptional lately?


Meet Jean Kerr

July 08, 2016

If I could pick one writer whose writing “voice” and persona I would most like to emulate, a top contender would have to be Jean Kerr. It’s entirely possible that you’ve never heard of her, so let me introduce you.

Jean Kerr, bottom, with Barbara Bel Geddes
Photo via  Flickr
Jean Kerr (1922-2003) wrote plays and essays, and was most popular in the 50s and 60s. Her essays were gathered into collections such as Please Don’t Eat the Daisies and How I Got to Be Perfect. She was married to the Pulitzer-prize winning drama critic Walter Kerr, with whom she often collaborated on plays. They also had six children, five boys and a girl!

Somehow I stumbled onto her books when I was a pre-teen in the 1970s. Why I should have found a middle-aged playwright and mother of six so irresistible is a mystery, but I was immediately enamored. Her essays made me laugh out loud. (Once I remember reading something of hers while in church and muffling my giggles while my mother glared at me.)  I think I identified with her because of the picture she painted of herself: tall and less than graceful (that was me, too), smart but slightly awkward and unsure of herself (also me). Despite “those children, and that dog,” her life seemed full of challenging work and a loving family. I wanted that, too.

She sounded happy.

Kerr met her husband, Walter, when she was still in college and he was an assistant professor at a different university. They were married in 1943, and in 1946 they wrote The Song of Bernadette, a drama that closed after only two performances. Their later collaborations were more successful, including a revue called Touch and Go and Goldilocks, a musical.

Kerr’s most popular play was 1959’s Mary, Mary, a comedy about a divorced couple discovering that they still loved each other. One of the longest-running productions of the 1960s, it was also made into a movie starring Debbie Reynolds. Her last play was Lunch Hour (1980), and starred Sam Waterston and a post-Saturday Night Live Gilda Radner.

In 1957, her collection of humorous essays, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, became a best seller. The book was eventually adapted into a movie (starring Doris Day and David Niven) as well as a sitcom that ran on NBC from 1965-1967.

More of Kerr’s essays became the books Penny Candy and The Snake Has All the Lines. In 1979, How I Got to Be Perfect pulled together many of the essays from the previous books. 

I’ve spent a few happy hours rereading Please Don’t Eat the Daisies and How I Got to Be Perfect while I wrote this blog post. Here are a few tidbits:

From the introduction to Please Don’t Eat the Daisies:
“I do have a compulsion to read in out-of-the-way places, and it is often a blessing; on the other hand, it sometimes comes between me and what I tell the children is ‘my work.’ As a matter of fact, I will read anything rather than work. And I don’t mean interesting things like the yellow section of the telephone book or the enclosures that come with the Bloomingdale bill….
“For this reason, and because I have small boys, I do about half of my ‘work’ in the family car, parked alongside a sign that says ‘Littering Is Punishable by a $50 Fine….’”
“Out in the car, where I freeze to death or roast to death depending on the season, all is serene. The few things there are to read in the front-seat area (Chevrolet, E-gasoline-F, 100-temp-200) I have long sine committed to memory. So there is nothing to do but write, after I have the glove compartment tidied up.”
On taking her children to the beach:
“It was my plan to loll in the deck chair and improve my mind while the happy children gamboled and frolicked on the sand. That was my plan. Their plan was to show me two dead crabs, five clam shells, one rusty pail they found under two rocks, the two rocks, two hundred and seventy-two Good Humor sticks, one small boy who had taken off his bathing suit, one enormous hole they dug (and wasn’t it lucky the lifeguard fell in it, and not the old gentleman…), fourteen cigarette butts, and a tear in Gilbert’s new bathing trunks.”
From “Letters of Protest I Never Sent”
“The Ever-Krisp Curtain Co.
Dear Sirs:
In what mad burst of whimsy did you adopt the slogan ‘These curtains laugh at soap and water’? Now, I begrudge no man his flights of fancy. We are all poets at heart. And when I purchased my Ever-Krisp curtains I did not really expect them to burst into wild guffaws or even ladylike giggles the first time I put them in the sink. (As a matter of fact, with five small boys and one loud Siamese cat I don’t want to hear one word from those curtains.) But, in my incurable naivete, I did take your claim to imply that these curtains actually survived contact with soap and water. I don’t mean I expect them to remain ever-krisp. I’m quite accustomed to ever-limp curtains. I did, however, expect them to remain ever-red with ever-white ruffles. As it happens, they are now a sort of off-pink strawberry ripple, which of course doesn’t go with my kitchen.
(I also rediscovered the origin of a phrase I use from time to time, “What I am really looking for is a blessing that’s not in disguise,” attributed to Kerr’s mother.)

If you want to read Kerr for yourself, her books are out of print, but used copies are available, and you can download Please Don’t Eat the Daisies for free here. You can also check your library for her work—mine has one of her books and one of her plays. Some of the essays feel dated, but many of them still amuse.

You can also take a peek at the Kerrs’ former rather fantastic and unusual house (which she referred to jokingly as the “Kerr-Hilton”) by clicking here.

Funny but not mean-spirited or crass, bemused, occasionally flustered, but always able to rise to the occasion (though not always successfully) and laugh about it later—that’s the spirit she brought to the page. I haven’t found another author quite like her.

Do you have a favorite not-so-well-known author? Please share!


Beyond Black Beauty: My Favorite Books Featuring Horses

March 25, 2016

The real-life dream horse
When I was growing up, there seemed to be no chance that I would ever have a horse. Southern California was not the place to own a horse unless you were wealthy, and we were not. I had to content myself with reading about horses, and an occasional trip to the harness races when I visited my dad. Horse books fed my desire for knowledge about horses and gave me details for my daydreams about them. For a very long time, they were my only real connection with horses, and they made a difference in my life for which I’m grateful. 

Here is a list of a few of my favorite books featuring horses. It includes books that kept my childhood dream alive, books I discovered as an adult horse owner (when, astoundingly, my dream had come true), and a few that sound interesting that I haven’t read yet. Even if you’re not a horse lover, these books are fun and/or interesting reads in and of themselves. They might even help you understand why some people, like me, find horses so irresistible.

The Black Stallion series, Walter Farley. I read many of these while growing up, and like many impressionable-but-ignorant, horse-loving little girls, I dreamed of owning an Arab like the Black. I still have my original copy of this book, and I think it’s time to reread it. 

The Bonnie series, Barbara Van Tuyl and Pat Johnson. I adored these books about Sunbonnet and her young owner, Julie Jefferson. The Sweet Running Filly is the first in the series.

A Filly for Joan, and other books by C.W. Anderson. I especially loved the gorgeous illustrations in his books. 

Misty of Chincoteague, King of the Wind, Justin Morgan Had a Horse (and many more), Marguerite Henry. Henry wrote a whole series of wonderful books about horses. I haven’t read all of them, but that might have to change.    

Airs Above the Ground, Mary Stewart. Romance, mystery, and a horse—need I say more?

My Friend Flicka, Mary O’Hara. I just read this within the last year, and was impressed by the quality of writing as well as the story. 

Horse Heaven, Jane Smiley. Of all the books on this list, this one is the most likely, in my opinion, to hold the attention of the non-horse lover. It’s funny and filled with interesting personalities, both human and equine. 

Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand. The true story of Seabiscuit and the people surrounding him (I liked the movie, too.)

She Flies Without Wings: How Horses Touch a Woman’s Soul, Mary D. Midkiff. Using literature, folktales, myth, and the personal experiences of herself and others, Midkiff explores the spiritual connection between women and horses.

Zen and Horses: Lessons From a Year of Riding, Ingrid Soren. A really lovely book in which Soren “captures the essence of what captivates people so about horses—physically, mentally, and spiritually” as she shares what she learned taking riding lessons and studying Zen Buddhism.

Hold Your Horses: Nuggets of Truth for People Who Love Horses…No Matter What, Bonnie Timmons  A sweet and funny celebration of the bond between horses and those who love them.

You may have noticed two glaring omissions from this list: Black Beauty and National Velvet. I read Black Beauty as a child, and have never quite gotten over the cruelty Beauty experienced, so I never read the book again and don’t count it among my favorites. I have National Velvet on my TBR shelf right now. I tried to read it as a child but for some reason it never clicked for me. 

While researching this post, I added the following books to my TBR list:

The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman the Horse that Inspired a Nation, Elizabeth Letts. The true story of a horse bound for slaughter, purchased for $80, who grew into a champion show jumper. 

Riding Barranca, Laura Chester. A one-year journal of a horsewoman's adventures with Barranca and other mounts.

Other People’s Horses, Natalie Keller Reinert. How can I resist a book described as “The Black Stallion for adults”? 

Death By Dressage, Carolyn Banks. A mystery in which the murder weapon is a horse! The first in a series.

The Dark Horse, Rumer Godden. Dark Invader, a disgraced racehorse from England, seems poised to win the Viceroy Cup...until he disappears. Will he be found in time to race?

I love it when my horse and book obsessions meet. (This list could easily have been twice as long, but this is me sparing you.) Do you have an obsession with books about a certain topic? Share your favorites in the comments!


The Pleasure of Reading at Random

January 25, 2016

Since I decided not to participate in any reading challenges this year, I’ve been having so much fun! Instead of considering whether or not a book falls into any of my chosen challenge categories, I’m reading almost entirely at whim. Yes, I’m still reading from my own shelves—lest the books completely overtake my closet—but when a book catches my attention, sometimes I immediately request it from my library. Here’s a peek into what I’ve been reading since 2016 began:

Elizabeth Peters’ Vicky Bliss novels. I’ve finished Street of the Five Moons and I’m reading Trojan Gold. (I read Borrower of the Night and Silhouette in Scarlet last year.) Even though I know I’ve read these before, I don’t remember anything about them. I’m thoroughly enjoying Vicky’s adventures with that slippery character Sir John Smythe. 

Ngaio Marsh’s Death in Ecstasy. Last year, I bought a handful of Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn mysteries at my library’s bookstore. These vintage mysteries are a cut above the average—interesting plots and characters as well as some humor. I’m now developing a literary crush on Roderick Alleyn. 

Last week, I read about How to Blog a Book on Leanne Sowul’s blog. I picked it up from the library this morning, though I haven’t yet had time to open it.

The Cruelest Month is the third book in Louise Penny’s Three Pines series. I just discovered these books, and I’m loving them. Oh, to be enjoying the hospitality of Gabri and Olivier in the local bistro. 

How am I keeping track of all these series books? I just learned about from Danielle over at A Work in Progress. FictFact is free, and in addition to keeping track of your series reads, it can also help you with recommendations of other book series, help you connect with readers with similar tastes, and let you know when a new book in your series is about to be released. Sometimes it’s tricky to find out which book comes first, or next, in a series, and now I don’t have to rely on my memory to keep track of where I am in the ones I’m reading.

To round out the month, I borrowed two books that had been on my TBR list for ages: Bridget Jones’s Diary and Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life. Bridget was a hoot, and Beatrix Potter is fast becoming one of my heroes.

Even though I loved participating in reading challenges, I’m rediscovering how much simple pleasure can be had when I have no agenda, and no rules to follow. Now let’s see what that Vicky’s up to…

What have you been reading lately?

See what I mean about the books taking over? This is just one shelf.


Link Love—Too Darn Hot Edition

August 28, 2015

I’m done with summer. I want to cry every time I go outside. It’s been hot and humid for a long, long time and I’M TIRED OF SWEATING EVEN WHEN ALL I’VE DONE IS GET THE NEWSPAPER FROM THE DRIVEWAY. Sorry about that—just my little rant for the day. Instead of putting my antiperspirant to the test, I think I’ll stay indoors and surf the ’net. Want to join me?

Does happiness scare you? Check out this post for ways to allow yourself to feel joy.

Solo travel—for women, it's one contributing factor for happiness. turns quotes and concepts into cartoons. I discovered the site through this one. Here are two more of my favorites: and 

The Yet Mindset. It’s more empowering than simply saying “I can’t.”

Can reading make you happier? I think so. And so does Ceridwen Dovey in “Can Reading Make You Happier?” 

It might seem odd to include this link in Link Love, but “Is It Time for a Digital Break?” As summer winds down, wouldn’t it be nice to take a day, a few days, a week, away from the digital world, clear your mind, and get ready for the season to come? 

Happy Friday!