Friday, March 29, 2013

Silas Marner by George Eliot

The Weaver and the Waif (Classics Week)

Silas Marner by George Eliot is a classic novel that was first published in 1861. There are a couple of things right off the bat that may be misleading.  First off, author George Eliot is not a man.  Eliot is the pen name of Mary Ann Evans. Mary Ann Evans is an English novelist, who besides Silas Marner, wrote several classics including Adam Bede, Middlemarch, and Mill on the Floss, among others.  Secondly, Silas is not a big albino who likes to beat himself.  Wrong book.  That’s in the Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. This Silas is a weaver who was wrongly accused of theft.  Disgraced and dumped by his fiancée he leaves town to make a small life for himself in the countryside.  Being the early nineteenth century he has nothing to get his mind off his problems—no Pinterest, no Dancing with the Stars.  So, he sets about weaving and weaving and weaving and hauling in loads of gold for his work.  Then one day someone steals all his gold. Everything he’s worked for is gone in sixty seconds. He’s devastated.  He has nothing—until one winter night a two-year old girl toddles into his life—literally.  Her mother, an opium addict, died in the snow and the little girl roams right into Silas’s home (and heart).  He finds the dead mother and takes the little girl in and raises her as his own.  Having little Eppie in his life is worth all the gold in the world.  She’s his salvation and makes his life worth living again. She completes him. She’s the yin to his yang. Years later some interesting developments come to light, and we get some answers to questions like “What happened to Eppie’s father?” and “Who stole Silas’s gold?”  

Like Ethan Frome  and other classics, you can find free versions of Silas Marner on the Internet or book reader downloads.  Visit  to view the complete online version provided by Penn State University. It doesn’t matter what medium you choose to read it on, Silas Marner is a good book. 

Happy reading!

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Lost Horizon by James Hilton

The Secrets of Shangri-la (Classics Week)

Lost Horizon by James Hilton recounts the adventure of Hugh Conway in a strange and distant land in the '30s. A plane crashes in the mountains of Tibet. Three men and a woman survive, are rescued, and led to a private monastery.  The residents of this monastery live in a beautiful setting surrounded by mountains overlooking a rich and abundant valley. This breathtaking place is a sort of Utopia—a Xanadu minus Olivia-Newton John. It is Shangri-la.  It’s the ultimate get-away. In this day and age people would pay big bucks for such a remote peaceful setting that has all the modern amenities.  They would pay even more if they knew that time almost stands still there. The inhabitants of Shangri-la age very slowly; some are well beyond their golden years and don’t look a day over twenty-nine.  I wonder if my sister has been there?  She has claimed to be twenty-nine for about a decade.   

The four new comers soon find out that this is a kind of Hotel California.  You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave; at least that’s what they’re told. The missionary, Miss Roberta Brinklow, has no problem with that. She likes it there and is ready to try her hand at converting the population. American Henry Barnard also is eager to set his roots there.  He has a shady past which makes staying all the easier.  Captain Charles Mallison, however, is the ansty sort.  He wants out.  This is a nice place and all, but he’s a busy man and wants to get back to the real world. Hugh Conway is torn.  He’s not so sure he wants to settle there forever even though he’s the only one who’s wise to the “longevity” perk. Would I want to stay?  I’m not so sure.  But I am sure that I’d revisit the book. It was a good read and I truly enjoyed it.

Happy Reading,

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Monday, March 25, 2013

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Hooked on Classics—Blame Mr. Haynes (Classics Week)

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald is about a mysterious stranger who moves into an upscale Long Island neighborhood.  He’s a wealthy man who likes to throw wild and glamorous, alcohol-filled parties in the days of prohibition.  It’s the best bash in town. You could say he’s the Charlie Sheen of the day—only with a bit more class and maybe a little less desire to be the center of attention. Of course, I wouldn't know that from firsthand experience.  I’m just going off the new Fiat commercials. With these parties, Gatsby hopes to attract mainly one person, Daisy. Daisy is a woman he fell in love with years before and it is his hope to ignite that spark once more.  But she’s married now to the rich snob, Tom Buchanan.  He’s a man with old money, and a new mistress. So, who does Daisy choose?  You’ll find out.  This classic novel is a short, easy slide into a decadent time.  I really enjoyed it.  

“The Great Gatsby” movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio is scheduled to come out in May. I've already seen the preview at the theater and it looks like it's going to be a good one! So if you have not read this yet and like to read books before the movies come out, now’s your chance.  You still have plenty of time. Watch the movie trailer at


You may have noticed that a few of the books recommendations, including today’s, are classics. (See Gone with the Wind, Rebecca, Ethan Frome, The Yearling, Anne of Green Gables, The Picture of Dorian Gray.)  “Hold the phone,” you say.  “Why are you dipping into the old stuff when there’s so much new material out there?”

Blame Mr. Haynes.  He was my ninth grade English teacher.  At the end of the school year he gave us a reading list for the summer break.  Most of the books on the list were classics. For some reason I kept the list and years later I looked at it and decided, what the heck, let’s give this thing a whirl.  Slowly I started reading the books and marking them off the list.  Each year I squeezed in a few classics between my other reading. Weird?  Maybe.  But I was curious, and it turns out they’re classics for a good reason.  So now, when some of those books are mentioned here or there, I now know what they’re talking about—without looking at Wikipedia.  As a bonus, it’s helped me in crossword puzzles too.

It’s true, some of them are a little more difficult to read. Some of that old descriptive writing keeps me on my toes.  Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Robert Louis Stevenson, and others took a little more time to read, but the more I read their styles, the more I liked them, and the easier it got.  Take Jane Eyre for example.  I love the line:

 “…all the female Brocklehursts produce their pocket-handkerchiefs to apply them to their optics, while the elderly lady swayed herself to and fro, and the younger ones whispered, ‘How shocking!’”
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre (1847; reprint, Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1984),61.

I thought that was hilarious even though I’m not sure that was Charlotte Brontë’s intention “Produce pocket-handkerchiefs and apply them to their optics”—funny!  It still makes me laugh.

The Great Gatsby, on the other hand, is a pretty straight-forward, short, and easy book to read.  Enjoy!

Happy Reading,

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Friday, March 22, 2013

The Plant Hunters: Two Hundred Years of Adventure and Discovery Around the World by Toby Musgrave, Chris Gardner, and Will Musgrave

Extreme Gardening (Gardening Week)

Mommy, where do monkey puzzle trees come from? Or how about the Douglas fir or Clematis Montana var. rubens?  Have you ever considered where all our plants came from (other than a catalog)?  The Plant Hunters: Two Hundred Years of Adventure and Discovery Around the World by Toby Musgrave, Chris Gardner, and Will Musgrave explores the lives of brave men who scoured the world over to bring back those lovely plants that thrive in your garden. Their quests to find plant specimens often put them in perilous situations.  In this fascinating book you’ll find out how Ernest “Chinese” Wilson, the prolific plant hunter, got his “lily limp.”  You’d never guess this mild-mannered looking man was actually a daring Indiana-Jones type who faced treacherous rapids on the Yangtze River and narrow mountainous trails with dangerous landslides.  And speaking of Indiana Jones, Frank Kingdon-Ward was also terrified of snakes, but that didn’t stop him from conducting almost two dozen expeditions to exotic locales such as Burma and Tibet. This was one hardy man.  He endured falling off a cliff, armies of leeches, malaria, being impaled by a bamboo spike, and even survived an earthquake.  And you thought you had a rough day at work. Discover which plant collector was trampled to death when he fell into a pit that was already inhabited by a bull.   Follow the lives of both renowned Joes:  Sir Joseph Banks and Sir Joseph Dalton Hooker.  In all, the lives of ten fearless explorers are featured. 

Although their action-packed lives seem movie-worthy, their accounts are conveyed in a purely biographical format. It’s a “just-the-facts, ma’am” style of writing with no flourishing descriptions, no glimpses into their thoughts or emotions, no conversations to follow.  Nevertheless, I found this book an eye-opening adventure that made me look at the flowers in my garden in a whole new light.

Happy reading, happy gardening!

What about you?  What is a good gardening book you’ve read? Enter a comment or email me at and I will post your answer

What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email:

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The $64 Tomato by William Alexander

Gardening with Gusto (Gardening Week, First Day of Spring)

The $64 Tomato by William Alexander is a humorous account of a gardener battling to start and maintain a whopping, über-sized 2,000 square foot kitchen garden!  For a professional man and his physician wife to even strive for such a large garden in their spare time is either insane or they have to have a good sense of humor.  Well, he definitely had a good sense of humor—this book was funny.  About being insane, I’m not qualified to comment.

In this book William Alexander calls gardening a “blood sport” for a good reason. He battled everything from clay soil, to garden designers, landscapers, weeds, numerous bug infestations, squirrels, and even groundhogs, or more specifically “Superchuck.”  One of the most amusing episodes was his battle with Superchuck.  Superchuck was woodchuck, aka groundhog, who somehow bypassed the electric fence to sneak into the kitchen garden and took bites out of prized Brandywine tomatoes. And in his super arrogance, he didn’t just take a couple tomatoes and devour them. No, he took one bite out of a whole handful of tomatoes each time he magically worked his way through the 10,000-volt deterrence.  What followed was battle of wits.  You’ll have to read it to see who officially won.

I know all about thieves who steal the fruits and vegetables you so lovingly pamper.  It doesn’t feel good to be duped like that. For three years I had coddled my French prune plum tree.  I had bought it from a nursery and couldn’t wait to taste those juicy flavorful plums.  The first year, obviously there would be none.  That was understood.  The second spring I saw three or four hopeful flower buds, but nothing came of them.  The third spring I spotted a whole load of buds and to my great elation, five of them eventually budded into real-live plums.  At first they looked like little
capers, then they became olive sized.  Each day I would wander out to look at my bounty in great anticipation.  I was looking forward to making my grandmother's plum jam or this wonderful plum tort.  I know that wasn’t going to happen with five plums but it was an exciting start.  It was the whole reason I bought that plum tree.  My grandma’s jam is the best thing this side of heaven. I have made it with store-bought plums and my mom and stepdad have even fought over their portion of it.  It’s that good! 

I knew the time was getting closer and closer to picking the plums, and I was getting more and more excited. So the day I went out to harvest my crop was the day I lost a little faith in humanity.  My five plums were gone! Gone, baby, gone!  Not one of them was left. One of those nasty pests of the two-legged variety had stolen my plums. Footprints proved it. I was devastated.  My husband wasn’t happy either.  But being logical, he said, “Well, that’s bound to happen since the tree is planted in the alley, not our yard.” 

That’s right.  I confess, I had made a nice little planter behind my fence. My sister laughs at me and my alley planter.  She calls it the back-forty.  I call it a gift of nature.  A gift to me and my neighbors. When we moved from our large house on six acres to a small lot in town, I had lost a lot of gardening space.  In the new house, I was very limited. Planting in the alley seemed like a good solution.  It was a win/win situation.  The apartment building behind us got a nice little garden to look at, and we gained more space and privacy.  The trees helped block the prying eyes of those apartment dwellers.  But I can’t help wondering if it was one of those dwellers who spotted, coveted, and then stole my plums.

As luck, or bad luck would have it, last spring our beautiful Golden Chain tree on the inside of our garden was blown over in a windstorm. There was no saving it.  After the grand theft of my plums, I had my husband and son move the ornamental Thundercloud flowering plum tree with nice deep burgundy leaves from the herb garden to the alley. Don’t let the name fool you. A flowering plum produces no plums. Then they transplanted my beloved fruit-producing tree inside the yard to take the spot of the Golden Chain tree.  That was last fall.  I don’t know if the plum tree has survived and fully recovered yet or if the shock of moving it will cost me more plums, but I had to give it a try.  In any case, if I can’t have my plums, no one can!
Happy reading,

What about you?  What is a good gardening book you’ve read? Enter a comment or email me at and I will post your answer

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Monday, March 18, 2013

French Dirt by Richard Goodman

Gardening French Style (Gardening Week)

In a few days it will be spring. In these parts of the Inland Northwest, we’re not quite ready to plant.  The snow is gone but the temperatures are in the 40s.  The good news is that tulip and daffodil bulbs are starting to poke their heads out of the ground, and that's enough to get excited about. It's time to order plants from the catalogs that have been teasing us for months. It's time to gear up for gardening! This week I want to look at some gardening books for inspiration and insight. 

French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France by Richard Goodman is short book about a great undertaking in France.  American Richard Goodman and his Dutch girlfriend decided to move to a small village in France for one year.  The town had a population of 211 people.  Not only did this scant number of inhabitants not warrant a movie theater, there was also no post office, no grocery store, no butcher, no gas station.  There weren’t any stores at all. In the mornings trucks peddling bread, meat, and even shoes came to the town square.  That was the highlight of the day.  So what did people do for recreation?  Well, gardening ranked up there, but not really for recreational purposes.  These people took gardening seriously.  When Richard had a difficult time making friends, he made a garden.  And with his garden friendships ultimately developed.  This book is not just about the thrill of growing your own vegetables, the miracle of planting seeds, nurturing them, and getting delicious crops at the end of the season.  This book takes us to a foreign land with different cultures and lifestyles.  It’s like a relaxing little vacation while watching Richard do all the hard work in the garden.  I really liked the book.

I found it interesting that in this tiny village with land all around them, people did not have gardens in their backyards.  It doesn’t really sound like they even had backyards, or at least Richard didn’t talk about them. The villagers had plots of land surrounded by vineyards.  They had to walk or ride their mobilettes (motor bikes) to their gardens.

It very much reminded me of my grandmother in Germany.  She lived in an apartment her entire adult life.  There was a courtyard in the back, but no room for residents to have their own plots of land.  So, as was the custom, she and my grandfather rented a plot of land in a gardening community. It was a thirty-minute bike ride from her apartment.  To me, her garden was an enchanting world of its own. Each plot had its own little garden house.  My grandmother’s wasn’t all that fancy. If I remember right it had a stove, table and chairs in it along with a bench.  Behind it was a stinky old outhouse which I hated to use.  Next to the outhouse was a giant composting area.  It seemed enormous, as big as a minivan.  Maybe it just seemed so big because I was so small back then. Every once in a while I remember my grandmother scattering white powder all over it. What was it?  I’m not sure, maybe lime to break it down. 

On the other side of the house was a tiny lawn and outdoor patio.  The lawn area was surrounded by currant bushes which we would have in bowls with sugar for dessert many times.  I also remember that mice or some other pests would work their way into the lawn.  My grandmother would have me stand on one hole, while she poured boiling water into the other hole.  That should give them something to think about next time they dare dig in her lawn. 

In front of the house was the main garden.  It was divided in two by a path and small fruit trees.  This is where the real work took place.  I can still see my grandmother kneeling in the dirt weeding the strawberries. She grew all kinds of fruits and vegetables including potatoes, asparagus, carrots, leeks, cucumbers, rhubarb, onions, green beans and more, which she always took home and made into something delicious or canned it for the winter.  She also had a great variety of fruit including the biggest and best tasting Bing cherries, gooseberries, and raspberries. She had an Italian plum tree and made a plum cake and mouthwatering delicious plum jam. She would take crates of her apples from her trees to have juice made from them.

I loved my grandmother, and one of my fondest memories
was seeing her on her bike with big sprays of flowers from her garden. Throughout  spring and summer her home was filled with cheery bouquets of sweet peas, freesias, lilacs, peonies, mums, geraniums, and giant gladiolas.

She passed down her “gardening gene” to my mother, who then passed it down to me.  I still have grape hyacinth bulbs from her that bloom in my garden every year.  My grandmother brought them to my mom on a visit to America ages ago.  My mom gave me some and whenever I moved, they moved with me.  I dug up the bulbs and replanted them.  Even though my grandmother passed away a long time ago, each spring when the beautiful periwinkle flowers bloom, I think about her.

Happy reading,

What about you?  What is a good gardening book you’ve read? Enter a comment or email me at and I will post your answer

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran

Cooking Up a New Life in Ireland (Irish Week)

Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran is a tale that melds the flavors of Persian food and memories best left forgotten with a quaint and rainy Irish village. Three sisters move to a small Irish town and open the Babylon Café.  Town bully, Thomas McGuire, who owns half the village is not happy about the “darkies.”  They have settled in the building that he’s been trying to acquire for years. He wants to open a disco there—a boogie-woogie bully with a dream. Despite his best efforts the café begins to gain customers and the girls begin to develop friendships.  Majan is the oldest. There is something about her cooking that in some ways revives patrons’ past dreams and aspirations, and keeps them coming back for more.  Bahar is the petite, skittish middle sister, and Layla the beautiful young 15-year-old.  As they cook away, they stir up old, sometimes harrowing memories of the Iranian Revolution which they escaped in the late 1970s. 

The back stories of the three sisters are intriguing. Marsha Mehran brings the townsfolk to life so that you can easily picture each of the different characters.  Not only does each chapter begin with a Persian recipe, but her writing is plump with deliciously descriptive sentences.  I really liked this book.

I also liked the pomegranate soup, which I made from her recipe in the book. Very tasty! Next up, the elephant ears. Give the book and maybe some of recipes a try.

What’s a good book you’ve read that is set in Ireland? Enter a comment or email me at and I will post your answer.

Happy Reading,

What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tea and Green Ribbons by Evelyn Doyle

Fighting for His Kids (Irish Week)

Tea and Green Ribbons is a memoir by Evelyn Doyle based on the true struggle of a father attempting to get his kids back from the church-run industrial schools in Ireland during the 1950s.  Dessie’s wife ran away with her lover, leaving him with six small kids. Who knows, maybe she suffered from ephebiphobia, a fear of teenagers. Maybe she was a planner, and decided to get out while the going was good before the real suffering started. Left with no other options, Dessie temporarily placed the kids in state-run convents so he could find work.  The convents were alternative care facilities designated for orphaned kids or kids whose parents were unable to care for them. 

Dessie then went to England in an effort to find work so he could raise money to support his kids. Months later he returned to a position back in Ireland, but when he tried to claim his daughter, he was told he could not legally take her out of the convent.  In order to be released, both parents had to apply to the court.  It didn’t matter that their mother had abandoned them.  They didn’t even know where she was. And so his two-year legal battle began.

Through courage and tenacity, he kept appealing to the courts until it reached the supreme court of Ireland. The fact that he had an English, Protestant “housekeeper” ready to take care of the kids, didn’t help his cause.  There was great animosity towards the English. He might just as well have lined up an axe murderer as a babysitter.  Evelyn herself did not like her new “mammy” as her dad called her and was told not to let anyone know Jessie was more than a housekeeper.  This complicated matters as well as the fact that the longer the kids stayed in the industrial schools, the more familiar and acclimated they became to their new homes.  They made friends who would be difficult to leave. The end of the book details the court scenes in what had become a very high-profile case.

I was touched by this father’s determination to get his kids back against the odds.  It’s a remarkable story. Although the end court scenes seemed to be a bit lengthy, they are essential to the book, and the book was definitely worthwhile. This book was made into the 2002 movie called “Evelyn,” starring Pierce Brosnan, Aidan Quinn, and Julianna Margulies.

What’s your favorite book set in Ireland? Enter a comment or email me at and I will post your answer.

Happy Reading,

What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email:

Monday, March 11, 2013

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

Luck of the Irish? (Irish Week)

St. Patrick’s Day is coming and I cannot wait to eat corned beef and cabbage as we do every year. I’ll raise my glass and throw in an Irish toast. “Thirst is a shameless disease so here's to a shameful cure.” I’ll turn on some U2 along with some Irish Pub tunes and think of how I’d love to visit Ireland one day.  And with St. Patrick’s Day in mind, I thought we’d look at three books set in Ireland this week. 

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt is a memoir about a poor boy growing up in Limerick, Ireland during the 1930s and 40s. His father is a drunk who spends his money on alcohol instead of providing for his family.  Frank’s mother, Angela, makes due as best as she can.  Together they deal with starvation, unimaginable living conditions, and the tragic loss of three of Frank’s siblings. At one point they live in an apartment where eleven families use the restroom that’s located next to the building. And I complained that I had to share the bathroom with my parents and two sisters growing up!  They celebrate one Christmas dinner with a pig’s head that Angela was able to obtain with grocery dockets. The children are often cold and sent out to collect left over coal in the streets. On one occasion they rip walls apart in desperation to burn for heat.

Sounds a bit overwhelming? Amazingly, Frank is not singing the blues. He tells his story with wry humor. Frank’s composition on “Our Lord” in the fifth grade provides a pretty good glimpse into how he feels about his life.  He begins by saying that Jesus wouldn’t have liked the damp weather in Limerick. He then goes on to explain that whenever Jesus got hungry he could always have his fill of figs and oranges or get dinner from Mary Magdalene and her sister, Martha. And, “If He wanted a pint He could wave His hand over a big glass and there was a pint.” Frank ends by stating that “It’s a good thing Jesus decided to be born Jewish in that warm place because if he was born in Limerick he’d catch the consumption and be dead in a month and there wouldn’t be any Catholic Church and there wouldn’t be any Communion or Confirmation and we wouldn’t have to learn the catechism and write compositions about Him. The End.”
            (Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes (New York: Scribner, 1996), 206.)

Most of our book club members read Angela's Ashes before we formed our group, and it got a thumbs-up from all those who read it. 

“You might be poor, your shoes might be broken, but your mind is a palace.”
(Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes (New York: Scribner, 1996), 208.)

Below are some Irish terms you may find useful for the books this week:

bird - girl generally, or girlfriend 
chips – French fries
crisps – chips
feck – acceptable, alternate term of the “f” word, similar to “frick”
garda – police
guard – police officer
jakes – outhouse, toilet or bedpan
omadhaun- fool, idiot, simpleton
pet – term of endearment, equivalent to darling or baby
pram – baby carriage
tinker -  gypsy/travelling person

For an extensive Irish vocabulary list, visit

What’s a good book you’ve read that is set in Ireland? Enter a comment or email me at and I will post your answer.

Happy Reading,

What did you think of this book? Post a comment or email:

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas

The Love That Binds Us (Swap It or Pay It Forward Week)

If you’re looking for a book about the power of friendship, The Persian Pickle Club by Sandra Dallas is the book for you.  Don’t let the name fool you. It’s not set in the Middle East.  The story takes place in Kansas during the Great Depression and drought of the 1930s. A Persian pickle is a paisley, and the club is a quilting bee. The women of the Persian Pickle Club dress up and meet regularly to quilt and socialize. They love nothing more than trading fabric scraps and finding new patterns with names like Better Times, Nine-Patch, Wandering Foot, and Road to Californy.

When new comer, Rita, joins the group, they try to welcome her even though she doesn’t quite fit in. She’s a college girl who doesn’t know how to sew a stitch. She has a hankering for bourbon and a yearning to be a journalist.  She would prefer to read rather than sew, which is something Queenie just can’t understand.  The story is told by Queenie, a kind and sensible young farmwife who befriends Rita and helps her in her quest to become a journalist.

I loved this book from beginning to the very end. Through miscarriages, polio scares, problems with daughters, or even the discovery of one woman’s missing husband found buried in a field, the Pickles are there for each other. The book is a fast read.  You might zip through it, but Queenie and the Pickles will stay with you a long time.  

The love that binds the Persian Pickle Club runs as deep as a mother and daughter’s love. (Of course, that blood runs thinner during the teenage years.)  When my daughter was fifteen we had a tough time and just weren’t getting along. I was sad to see our strained relationship fracture more and more each day.  So during her spring break I decided to take time off and spend it with the kids, mainly to see if I could rekindle a spark of fun especially between my daughter and me.  I had her make a list of something out of the ordinary, something different that we could do together each day.  Nothing big.  One day we went out and had dinner at a Mexican restaurant; one day we played tennis and goofed around in a park playground. Another day we jumped into the lake. That was a tough one.  It was a chilly 49-degree March day.

We did other little things, but the best day we had was at the
Laundromat. With a perfectly good washer and dryer at home, there was no need to go to a Laundromat, but it was just something different to do.  So, armed with a zip-bag full of quarters, one load of laundry, and a camera we headed to the Laundromat—and we had the best time! Just what’s so exciting about a Laundromat? Well, nothing unless you get the giggles and start acting silly. 

One little ride in the laundry cart got the ball rolling.  Naturally, my daughter was embarrassed.  I was too.  It wasn’t something I would normally do. Was it a Pickle-like thing to do? Hardly.  But I was laughing so hard at being stupid, my daughter decided to take a shot at it, too.  The next thing I knew she zipped by me balancing her stomach on the cart pretending she was flying!  Then she zipped back the other way slumped over the cart laughing till she almost wet her pants. Something so stupid and insignificant as a couple hours at the Laundromat will stay with me forever.  Those hours we were close again.  I had seen her cry enough, but this time she was crying with laughter.  It was a well deserved break for both of us.
That day at the Laundromat I also tried my hand at “Book Crossing.”  Book Crossing is a way to share books with strangers, another way to make someone smile.  You take a book you enjoyed reading and you pass it on in a public place, hoping someone will take it home and enjoy it too. Through you register a book, print a label with a unique ID number along with instructions on what the person should do once they find such a book.  You place it on the inside cover (or you can hand write it in a book) and “release” your book in “the wild.” Then you wait and see where it travels.

I left my cherished copy of The Persian Pickle Club in the Laundromat that day.  It wasn’t an easy thing to do. I didn’t want to part with it, but I was excited about the prospect of someone picking up my book, reading it, and passing it on. Sadly, my book was never found.  It never got to travel like I hoped it would. But I’m not giving up yet. I’m determined to try again.  Maybe this time, I’ll release it in a busier spot.  If you’re in my area, you can hunt for it on

Happy reading!


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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Florentino’s Fierce Love for Fermina 
(Swap It or Pay It Forward Week)

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez was all everyone was talking about when this book came out, so I was happy to have the opportunity to read it. It’s a love story, with a twist of obsession and a hint of loco. Florentino falls madly, deeply in love with Fermina. She shares his passion, but their love is not to be.  She ends up marrying a nice local doctor.  Fermina’s family is happy, the good doctor is happy, and Fermina, well she’s good with it too.  Florentino, however, is devastated.  Fermina was THE one for him. 

Florentino doesn’t know what to do.  Soon, he finds a way of handling his loss. Florentino buries his sorrows between the bedroom sheets—many, many sheets.  In an effort to forget one woman, he sleeps with hundreds. He becomes a man-whore. Everyone deals with problems in their own way.

Mucho, mucho years later life gives him one more opportunity. Undaunted by the passage of time and the venereal diseases he may or may not have picked up, he tries to rekindle his love with Fermina.  I had a love/hate relationship with this book.  I wasn’t too fond of Florentino. Could you tell? Personally, I thought Florentino could use a good therapist. But I did love Garcia Marquez’s writing style. His witty prose was amusing, almost lyrical at times.  I’m still undecided if it made up for the plot. 

“…men blossomed in a kind of autumnal youth, they seemed more dignified with their first gray hairs, they became witty and seductive, above all in the eyes of young women, while their withered wives had to clutch at their arms so as not to trip over their own shadows.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera (Vintage Books.  A Division of Random House, Inc., 1988), 256.

“I do not believe in God, but I am afraid of Him.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera (Vintage Books.  A Division of Random House, Inc., 1988), 304.

“He was a perfect husband; he never picked up anything from the floor, or turned out a light, or closed a door.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera (Vintage Books.  A Division of Random House, Inc., 1988), 222.

“By the time she finished unburdening herself, someone had turned off the moon.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera (Vintage Books.  A Division of Random House, Inc., 1988), 329.


I received Love in the Time of Cholera in the mail through a book pyramid scheme.  I’m not usually one to be suckered into things like this, because usually I don’t get anything. And in reality I didn’t.  The details are a little fuzzy now, but the idea was to send one book of your choosing to the next person on a list.  Then you put your name on top of the list and toss in some friends’ names and voila, you receive six books.  Something like that.  Like I said, I would normally never do such a thing, but we were talking about books here.  I was imagining all the new treasures I would get.  I was delirious with delight.  Sign me up! 

Now there was waiting game, and slowly but surely everyone at work got books in the mail!  Woo Hoo!  My turn was coming; I could feel the anticipation zapping through my veins. I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  And NOTHING came.  Then one day, I opened my mailbox and there it was!  There was a book waiting for me!!  It was Love in the Time of Cholera. I felt like I was on top of the world.  I got a book! 

My feeling of being duped by a pyramid scheme transformed into vindication. It was a great feeling—until…I found out it was a fake.  It turns out, that the book I received was a pity present.  My sweet sister saw I was getting the shaft and felt sorry for me, so she sent the book anonymously.  I guess I still felt a little let down that the pyramid did not work for me. In reality, though, such a nice gesture is better than any book I could have received!  Thanks, Denise.

Happy reading!


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Monday, March 4, 2013

Keeping the House by Ellen Baker

Of Marriage and Mansions (Swap It or Pay It Forward Week)

Keeping the House by Ellen Baker is about a newlywed who moves into a new town where her husband opens a car dealership with an Army buddy in 1950. Dolly beings her married life there and starts to make friends while trying to please her husband, which is not always so easy. Byron is a veteran of WWII who continues to build a wall around him that Dolly has a difficult time penetrating. With the help of popular magazines such as the Ladies’ Home Journal, she strives to make her marriage work with tips like:   “Take an interest in his appearance.  Keeping his clothes in order is your job; encouraging him to look his best and admiring him when he does should be your pleasure.”[i] As amusing as this suggestion may be, it was sound and serious advice for the times, but it is still not quite doing the job in making their marriage work. As Dolly becomes more disillusioned with her husband, she also becomes more intrigued with the big abandoned mansion in town.  She dreams of living in it and fixing it uptrue HGTV woman before her time. It becomes an obsession with her.  Through the Ladies’ Aid quilting group she attempts to learn more about generations of Mickelsons who lived in the grand home since the late 1800s. The book meanders back and forth through the Mickelsons’ family history as well as Dolly’s current life.  I
found the book to be an interesting trip back in time and a fun read. I enjoyed Dolly's enthusiasm both in her marriage and her mansion mania. My book club liked it, too. 

“You’d be surprised at the number of table mats, napkins, curtains, and sports things that have to be ironed, even with only two in the household….” 
--Good Housekeeping, January 1950.

I received Keeping the House from  This is an online book club where you swap used books with other members.  I’ve been a member since 2008 and have received (and sent) about 120 books. It’s so easy to do.  When you sign up, you must post ten books you are willing to trade.  Once you have those first ten books posted, you automatically get two book credits and can start “shopping” right away.  You search for the books you want and click a button to request them.  Once accepted, the sender mails the book to you.  Likewise, when someone requests one of your books, you must mail them to the requestor in an allotted amount of time, usually two days. Using media mail rates saves you money. The rate depends on the weight of the book, but my books usually cost about $3.50 to send. That’s a small price for a book! 

If you cannot find the book you want, you can place it on a “wish list” and you will receive an email once it becomes available.  Not all books are paperback either.  I requested the hardback version of Keeping the House

Although the books are all used, they must be in good condition to swap. I haven’t received a bad book yet.  You can also create conditions under which you are willing to accept the books.  For example, many people are allergic to smoke and request books from non-smoking homes only. is a whole little community. There is a nominal yearly fee for joining the club, but it's well worth it. You can make friends, read or write reviews on books. You can join discussion forums, or view popular book lists, and even trade recipes.  You can get involved as much or as little as you want.  They also have a sister site where you can swap DVDs.  Check it out at

Happy reading!


What did you think of this book?  Email:

[i] Ellen Baker, Keeping the House (New York: Random House, 2007: Large Print Edition), 116.