« Guest Blog by Margaret Maron | Main | Picking the Winners »

January 28, 2007

What We're Reading Lately

What We're Reading Lately

by Nancy and Michele

A bunch of the other Tarts decided to go on vacation and leave Nancy and Michele behind to mind the store.  While they're off frolicking in their bikinis on white sand beaches, we're snuggled up by the fire with a good book. Who got the better end of that deal?  They did, silly!  We'd rather be reading on the beach.  But since we're here anyway, we thought we'd tell you about the books that have been keeping us company:


This week I read Truth and Consequences by Alison Lurie, who has been one of my very favorite authors since Foreign Affairs, which has been re-released and youmustgobuyitimmediately.  Anyway, T&C is about marriage and the sometimes ephemeral nature of that till-death-do-us-part relationship. I have such respect for this author's ability to craft words into unforgettable characters---ordinary people who aren't the least bit ordinary.

And I read Three Dog Life by Abigail Thomas.---Another look at marriage, but this time the husband suffers a brain injury and the wife must carry on, make decisions about his care that affect both of them.  It's a memoir, very moving and beautifully structured.  I picked it up because Stephen King blurbed the book, saying it was the best memoir he'd ever read.  If you found The Year of Magical Thinking wonderful, you'll go for this one, too.

Yesterday I started reading River of Doubt, about Teddy Roosevelt's trip to explore the source of the Amazon.  Can I be a Teddy Roosevelt fan?  Because he's my very favorite president.  (I am such a dork, huh?) What a life.  What a man.  They don't make 'em like Teddy anymore.

One more:  I've been slowly working my way through the Bob Dylan autobiography, Chronicles, Volume One, and it's eye-opening.  You expect Dylan to be a self-less, socially-conscious activist with an altruistic streak, right?  Forget it.  This book is about ambition.  Going after what you want with single-minded focus. And--okay, no surprise here---the man can write!  Sometimes the prose gets a little purple, but it's always entertaining.


I've been on a Marie Antoinette kick.  It started when I received a copy of Sena Jeter Naslund's Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette for Christmas.  It's an account of Marie Antoinette's life told in the first person, from the time she's shipped to France to marry the Dauphin at the age of fourteen (hello! -- can we say pedophilia?) to the moment of her execution.  The prose was gorgeous and the historical detail impressive, but I found that Marie Antoinette as a person was strangely absent.  While I enjoyed the book, I was left wanting more.  So I picked up a copy of Antonia Fraser's Marie Antoinette: The Journey, which I'm halfway through and loving.  I just adore historical biographies that are engagingly written, don't you? 

                Go to fullsize image

Anyway, reading about Marie Antoinette set me to thinking about the dangerous and volatile nature of celebrity.  Here's a woman who was positively adored -- no, literally worshipped -- in her early days as the Dauphine and the young Queen of France.  Her face, her walk, her style of dress, her preferences in music and dance, were trumpeted and imitated not only in France but throughout Europe.  She was written about endlessly in her own time, and eventually as the fortunes of France declined, she became the focus of public anger and frustration.  All along, she'd been nothing more than a well-meaning, self-indulgent dimwit, beautiful and graceful but utterly lacking in influence over policy.  So much got projected onto her that, when she died, the masses exulted to the point of bathing in her blood. 

I suppose people like Angelina and Paris and Britney ought to be grateful.  When the public turns on them, the worst thing that happens is a few crotch shots and a little negative press.

What have you been reading, and how do you feel about it?


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference What We're Reading Lately:


I have been running around being a voyeur in the lives of The Black Dagger Brotherhood.These are by J.R. Ward and I must admit I havent read anything in a while that made me really feel a part of the characters in the books.Yes they are vampires but Oh Boy these guys are to die for! No pun intended.I have gotten so into them that by the second book ending I was blubbering like a baby at work! But at the same time the love scenes are very well written, well ok some make me blush. Fantasy at its best and they are Great Calgon Take Me Away books!!!! BTW, just talked to my son in Iraq and he says to tell you all Hi. SusanCo

I am currently reading Nicholas Sparks's Dear John. The main character's father has Asperger Syndrome. I have a 12 year old daughter with AS. Sparks portrays the AS character as a shy, awkward man, who works at the same job until retirement, raises a son as a single parent and leads a quiet life with a passion for collecting coins. He is not a weird genius or psycho prone to violent rages like so many other AS/Autistic characters protrayed on TV or in the movies. I appreciate that. For me the father/son relationship is so moving, interesting and hopeful. It overshadows the romantic plot, which is what most readers like best about Sparks' books.
I also just finished reading The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency.
I loved it and look forward to reading more by A.M. Smith.

I am reading a YA mystery called Finding Lubchenko by Michael Simmons. Funny as heck, fast-paced, charming anti-hero, wonderful voice. I'm going to add this author to my Friends list. How do I feel about it? Heck, I wish I'd written it.

And Michele--a fellow Marie Antoinette junkie? Welcome to the obsession. One of my favorites is in The Royal Diaries series. It is a fictional account of her journey from Austria to France and her first few months learning the etiquette. Oh my. Also, (Warning! Shameless self-promotion alert!) there's a lovely biographical sketch at Encyclopedia Brittanica online, written by...me.

Ramona, thank you for the recommendations, I must check out that series. She's so fascinating because despite all that's been written and the amazing life she had, she's still a cipher.

Wow, I am SO impressed that you wrote an Encyclopedia Britannica entry. How did that happen?

I'm reading Bad Blood by Linda Fairstein. This is a continuing series featuring Assistant DA Alexandra Cooper. She's trying to get a conviction on a man who murdered his wife and then discovers there's more to this case than meets the eye.

I like this series because she includes some Jeopardy trivia and factoids about New York City's past as well as the workings on the DA's office.

Michele, the piece was in a magazine, which sold it to Britannica. It's in their articles cache.

Hope I don't get into trouble here, but...HAPPY BIRTHDAY HARLEY!!!

This is just freaky! Michele, I did the exact same thing with Naslund's book. Read halfway and then ran out and got Lady Frasier's....Though I had to buy it with a hideous pink cover. Antonia Frasier is the queen of British historical "fiction." Or biography. Or whatever.

Nancy. Bobby is a practical Midwestern boy. Talented mofoochly, sure. Possibly divine. I think he just channeled it, frankly. But Joan Baez was trying to start a movement and that's not where her boyfriend was at the time. Should tell us something. I hope you'll watch No Direction Home when you're done.

Great blog, ladies. Do I get to do next Sunday?

Love Linda Fairstein. Love Bob Dylan. And Sarah, if you're not bikini frolicking any more, I'm sure everybody would love to hear what you're reading!

OK, I just ordered "Foreign Affairs", as requested. I haven't read Alison Lurie before, but I looked it up and it sounded good.

I recently finished "The Thirteenth Tale", which I really enjoyed. I'm currently reading 3 books sent to me to judge for the Wisconsin Romance Writers of America Write Touch Readers' Awards. The category I ended up with was Contemporary Single Title. The first one I read was "Window Dressing" by Nikki Rivers, which, I admit, I wasn't sure I would like. However, it ended up being really good, and featured a 41-year-old heroine, which was cool.

In my car I'm listening to "Blue Shoes and Happiness", part of the "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series, which I love. Linda Fairstein's series is also a favorite. Nice to see other fans commenting on them.

I've been rereading Marlena De Blasi's terrific memoirs, A THOUSAND DAYS IN VENICE and A THOUSAND DAYS IN TUSCANY. In the first, while on a trip to Italy, De Blasi meets a blue-eyed Venetian, and falls in love. In the space of a couple of months, she leaves her home in St. Louis, her grown children, and her job as a chef and food critic to move to Venice with the Stranger (as she refers to him)and get married. The second book is the story of their subsequent move to Tuscany. I love both of these, I think because, in spite of the fairy tale way they fall in love, De Blasi doesn't gloss over all the difficulties the two of them have in joining their two lives and their two cultures in midlife.

I guess I'm just in the mood to travel, because I'm now heading back to Paris with Cara Black's Aimee Leduc. :-)

Nancy, if you're a dork, so am I -- I've been a fan of Teddy's for years, ever since I read T.R.: THE LAST ROMANTIC.

Laura, I haven't read a romance in....egad, maybe years. Which is Very Bad because a writer shouldn't let her understanding of an entire genre lapse. What's going on in the land of romance these days?

Reading the New York Times today.

Jeanna, we're soul sisters! My favorite genre of all may be those American women who move to Tuscany or Provence and fix up an old house and get a new man, too. Perfect vacation reading!

I just finished re-reading, for the umpteenth time, 5 historical fantasy novels by Guy Gavriel Kay. I'm telling you, this dude can write some books. "The Lions of Al-Rassan", my favorite of his stand-alones, is set (more or less, as these things go) on the Iberian peninsula at the time of the fall of the Moorish empire and the subsequent reunification of the peninsula under Christian rule. Kay portrays the clashes and intersections of three faiths (his versions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) and cultures, and weaves the whole book together with a tragically beautiful romantic triangle, a wonderful coming-of-age story, and lots of other goodies. His "Fionavar Tapestry" is a pretty classic good vs. evil trilogy, with a very interesting take on Arthurian legend added to a great mix of other stuff. The language is beautiful; he truly takes my breath away.

I'm also just about finsihed with Tasha Alexander's first novel (thanks for introducing us to her!) -- her ability to create an accessible, likeable, and believably Victorian heroine (as opposed to a more-or-less modern heroine who happens to wear corsets and ride around in hansom cabs) is remarkable and the book is loads of fun.

I got a hankering for romance a while back and bought what is probably my very first (don't laugh!) Nora Roberts ("Montana Sky")and enjoyed it immensely. I've also recently discovered Elizabeth Lowell's romantic suspense novels, and am liking them quite a lot. Roberts (at least in this book) and Lowell (in the two I've read: "Always Time To Die" and "Secret Sister") do a nice job of creating interesting protagonists I can cheer for wholeheartedly and plots that allow for all kinds of twists, turns, and suspense without requiring me to suspend my disbelief without spraining anything.

Man, those are some long sentences. I think the narcotic cough syrup is kicking in. Time to lie down and finish that book :)

I just finished Lynn Viehl's first Darkyn book--don't ask me why I put it down because it was fab! I'm also reading Callgirl by Jeanette Angell (non-fic research) and I just got back from teh bookstore with some new goodies including Colleen Gleason's The Rest Falls Away and Stephanie Rowe's Must Love Dragons. Why I keep picking up paranormals I have no clue, but I seem to go for suspense or paranormal or WF and I didn't see much in WF that I wanted this trip (and they didn't have the YA book i wanted)

Nancy, I don't read a lot of romance either, unless you count Nora Roberts (I read all of hers). I read mostly mysteries. I don't read category romances at all anymore, but I learned about this WRWA contest a couple of years ago, and decided to try it. I think this is my third time judging.

The book I mentioned is in what I believe is a new Harlequin category, which is called The Next Novel. The tag line under the logo says "Every Life Has More Than One Chapter", so I believe it tells stories of 2nd chances at love, hence the older heroine, I guess.

In case any of you are interested to see how Nora Roberts' books have been translated to TV movies, 4 of her books will be Lifetime movies, airing on 4 consecutive Monday nights, starting tomorrow (1/29). I am not usually a Lifetime watcher either, but I'll be watching, since I like all 4 of the books, and from what I've seen so far about the movies, it looks like they may have done a decent job. Kerry, Montana Sky is one of them.

"The Big Show - High Times and Dirty Dealings Backstage of the Academy Awards"
covers ten years of Academy Awards, from the mid 1990s until the ceremony in 2004.
The book opens with the Rob Lowe/Snow White fiasco and how each year a new producer attempts to "improve" the ceremony.

Author Steve Pond finds the goats that one would expect from the Hollywood royalty. The one consistent hero that shines is Steve Martin. http://www.stevemartin.com/. The wild and crazy guy is revealed to be a low maintenance professional who always rises to the occasion.

Steve Pond's "The Big Show - High Times and Dirty Dealings Backstage of the Academy Awards" is a fun read for Oscar mavens.

I've been reading the Constitution. For my Poli Sci class. Someone has to tweak all the little republiteens around here! I read Ann Brashere's 4th Pants novel last week. Excellent as the first three. I also adore the Royal Diaries and The American Diaries by Scholastic! Unfortunatly they don't seem to be publishing any more of them. Darn, off to the civil liberties chapter....

Last year I started keeping track of what books I read, and when. I am going to continue with the list this year, as it helps me to feel a sense of accomplishment having finished a book....since I am usually purchasing faster than I can read them! :)

So far, this year, I have only read eight books, and two of them were children's...but factual and very interesting.

1. Travels With Tarra by Carol Buckley. Founder of the Elephant Sanctuary, this was the story, simply told, of how she met Tarra (formerly known as Fluffy) and their life leading up to the founding of the sanctuary.

2. Just for Elephants by Carol Buckley. This tells the story of Jenny and Shirley, and their reunion after over 20+ years at the Sanctuary.

3. Charlie All Night by Jennifer Crusie. Cute, funny and light. In hindsight, it was a good choice.

4. UnTouched by Samantha Hunter. Okay, it's a HQ Blaze, but I know the author. And it is sometimes fun to point certain paragraphs out to the dear bf! LOL.

5. Sleeping With the Fishes by MaryJanice Davidson. I just started reading her vampire series, so thought that I would give this new concept a try. Cute and no thought required.

6. My Nerdy Valentine by Vicki Lewis Thompson. Eh, it was okay. A bit over the top with the characters for me.

7. From Baghdad, With Love: A Marine, the War, and a Dog Named Lava by Lt. Col. Jay Kopelman. Oh wow!!! This was a memoir that will definitely stay with me. Having been raised in a military family, I understood some of the subtle jokes, while being amazed at what really is happening in Iraq.

8. The Thirteen Tale by Diane Setterfield. This was an interesting book, with some intriguing concepts. Some bizarre behavior as well as an unexpected twist. I definitely need something light after this one.

I am also reading and judging some books (four of them) for the Wisconsin Romance Writers of America Write Touch Readers' Awards. I was given 'mainstream'.

I just started A Moment on the Lips by Phyllis Bourne Williams. I already want to smack the 'hero' for being so arrogant, so I can hardly wait to read how she affects him.

I am also not much of a romance reader, and greatly prefer mystery or suspense. There are always some exceptions, but it depends on the author. And yes, I will be watching Lifetime tonight to see Nora Roberts' ANGELS FALL....gotta see how well they transitioned the story from book to tv movie!

Nancy, I'm so with you on THREE DOG LIFE! Despite the horrible tragedy that Abigail Thomas endures, the book is not depressing. She tells her story with such grace, humor and honesty. For me, reading this book was like making a new best friend. Plus, Abby lives in my town. How cool is that?

The comments to this entry are closed.

The Breast Cancer Site