Wednesday, April 24, 2013

England in Springtime

Hello, I'm back! We've been in England visiting my in-laws, who live on this gorgeous stretch of the
Thames River.  This is the village where my husband grew up.

For provisions we headed to Wallingford (photo above), which hasn't changed much since medieval times. We easily found wellies (rubber boots) for my daughter but not a replacement headset for her iPod. I highly recommend the antique arcade and the Wallingford Bookshop. Agatha Christie lived outside this charming town. My mother-in-law, an occupational therapist, used to help care for her.

My daughter was amused to find a supermarket aisle devoted to tea and snapped this photo. I tasted a Cornish cheese called yarg, wrapped in nettles. I have a special interest in all thing Cornish since the young adult novel I'm revising is set in Cornwall.

For "research" my husband and I had to visit the Catherine Wheel, a favorite pub in Goring-on-Thames.

Back in the day, food was cooked directly over the fire.

The hidden men's room.

Amos sings along to opera and pop.

When we tired of the singing dog, we took the train to London. After watching a superb performance of 
Gorky's Children of the Sun at the National Theatre, we admired the view from the Millenium Bridge.

The weather was damp and chilly,
but the sun came out for
my husband's birthday party.

The best part of our visit was
catching up with family
and old friends.
I met Sherry and Safia
during my junior year abroad in London.

If you live in the UK or Japan,
check out Safia's fair trade clothing company:
People Tree.
She's wearing one of her dresses
in hand woven fabric.

England, I already miss you.  Photo by my daughter.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What are your favorite books?

My friend Cathy (right of me) is opening a bookstore in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and she is asking for our help:

"I am getting ready to place my opening order for Main Point Books and was looking for some help to make the initial order more interesting. Would you send me a list of your 3 favorite books of all time and your 3 favorite books this year (a longer or shorter list is completely fine)? If you have time and can write a sentence or two about why you loved the book that would also be extremely helpful. I am hoping to have shelf talkers about many of the books." 

- Cathy Fiebach

My book recommendations follow. Please add yours  in the comments and pass on the good news!

Favorite Books of All Time for Adults (so hard to choose!)

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
Murakami's innovative novels inspired me to try writing fiction myself. His realistic characters struggle to make sense of the surreal landscape of modern Tokyo with yakuza gangsters, elusive women and enigmatic cats. 

A Secret History by Donna Tart
This novel captured the love of learning and the charm of a New England college campus. A murder mystery added intrigue and danger. 

A contemporary tale set in eastern India where deified tigers roam free and viciously wild in tidal country. The tough Indian-American heroine has come in search of the elusive river dolphin. She hires an illiterate fisherman whose knowledge runs deeper than the hidden pools. The lyrical prose is as captivating and enchanting as the story.

Favorite Books for Adults from the Past Year

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki (review coming soon)

Favorite Young Adult Books of All Time

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Anne's friendship with Diana, her slow building romance with Gilbert and the gorgeous island setting made this a childhood favorite. The 6 books in the series follow Anne from her adoption as a headstrong young girl to adulthood.

 The Arm of The Starfish A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle
Adam Eddington, a student of marine biology, was my biggest book crush as a teen. I loved how L'Engle's novels featured smart girls who loved science and books but were a bit awkward in love. That was my life. 

Favorite Young Adult Books from the Past Year

A Wonderful Middle Grade Book from Last Year
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
An ordinary boy with a disfiguring birth defect starts school in 5th grade. The reaction of his classmates spotlights the cruelty of middle school and the ability of people to rise above it. I don't usually read MG fiction, but I picked it up in our local bookstore and couldn't put it down. This engaging novel deserves its number one spot on the NYT bestseller list.

Maine Point Books is due to open by early June. Please share your book suggestions with Cathy in the comment section or add a link to your own post. Nonfiction and gardening books are welcome too. Thanks for your help!

Reviewer's Disclaimer: Author Maria Padian is a friend and Beth Kephart is a blog buddy. I borrowed or received free ARCs of their books and of Flight Behavior for review purposes. The other books I purchased for myself. I happily agreed to advise Cathy on young adult books for her bookstore without compensation.

Note: I'll be taking a one-week blog vacation for my kids' spring break. Next post: April 24th.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Just One Day by Gayle Forman

In Just One Day by Gayle Forman, an American ditches a dull teen tour to run off with a Shakespeare actor from Holland. Allyson's romantic fantasy becomes a nightmare when Willem abandons her in Paris. Back in the USA for college, she circles into depression. Her helicopter mom expects Allyson to follow her father along the premed path, but the former straight-A student can't handle the advanced coursework. Her endless moping over Willem alienates her roommates too.

The one class that motivates Allyson is a Shakespeare elective. As Allyson contemplates the theme of identity in the plays, she realizes that what she misses isn't only Willem, but the free-spirited girl she was around him. In a logical leap that only a teenaged girl could make, Allyson decides that to find herself she must find the guy who abandoned her, even if this means defying her parents.
"And this is the truth. I may be only eighteen, but it already seems pretty obvious that the world is divided into two groups: the doers and the watchers. The people things happen to and the rest of us, who just sort of plod on with things."

Just One Day is a good example of an emerging genre called New Adult Fiction. The characters are no longer in high school but not quite independent adults either.  There are consequences from risky behavior (street brawls, drinking and hook ups), but the teen characters don't necessarily learn from their mistakes. In this innovative novel, the search for identity is like an audition in which the characters try on different personalities and sexual orientations like clothes.

Just One Day brought back a lot of memories for me. The summer after high school, I traveled around Europe with my friends staying in hostels, watching opera in Roman ruins, dancing in night clubs and going to a black tie dinner at an American embassy in a rumpled black sundress. During a term off from college, I also had a relationship with a gorgeous Dutchman who then disappeared from my life. Unlike Allyson, I didn't pin all my happiness on being with a guy, although I did relate to the challenge of transitioning to life at college and to the emotional turbulence of those years.

I'd recommend this young adult/new adult novel to mature teens and to adults who want to remember what it felt like to be swept away by the awe of discovery. The descriptions of Europe were so realistic that you can taste the gourmet food. Author Gayle Forman worked as a journalist abroad; she knows her settings and she knows her teens. She writes really well too. A sequel told in Willem's voice, Just One Year, will be released on October 15, 2013. I'd also recommend Forman's If I Staywhich has a sequel in the guy's voice (Where She Went).

Reviewer's Disclaimer: I bought this book on its release (January, 2013) without compensation.

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@Barrie Summy