Archive for the ‘Book Recommendations’ Category
Last year, I dedicated a post to books to read for fall. So I thought, why not make it a tradition? I have chosen 5 books that really evoke fall to me. Not exactly spooky, but a little on the odd side. Perfect for a night in, drinking warm cider, and snuggled up on the couch (and, in my case, with a few cats).
1. White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi
So, this is a strange book. It might be one of the strangest books I have ever read. While normally I would classify this as a winter read, something about it really speaks to me about fall, Halloween, and just that feeling in the air in October. There are three narrators in this book: Minerva, a young woman who suffers from pica, Ore, a girlfriend Minerva meets in college, and the house in which the family who are the focus of the book live. It’s interesting, creepy, and just a little on the odd side — which might just be the reason I like it. This book isn’t for everyone, but it’s definitely not boring.
2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
I would really recommend this book for any season, but the imagery and costumes described by the author are very evocative of fall. I have previously reviewed this book on this site, so I won’t do it again. But I highly recommend you read this book!
3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
I know what you’re thinking: This book has the number thirteen in it, and that’s why I’ve chosen it for fall, because of Halloween, right? Not really. This story is very Gothic in nature. Family secrets, ghosts, romance, and mystery. This is one book that pulled me in right away, and intrigued me the entire time. Full of twists and turns, it is a great book for a cool, fall evening.
4. Wicked by Gregory Maguire
If you have to ask why I picked this as a fall read, you must not know anything about this book. It’s full title, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West should shed some light on that. Many people think October, and they go straight to Halloween: witches, goblins, pumpkins, and black cats. But, this book tells the other side of that wicked witch, one you might find surprising. This book has inspired a phenomenal and highly decorated Broadway play, and it’s one of my favorites.
5. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
Another one of those odd but good books, this young adult novel starts off with a 16 year old boy who, because of the death of his grandfather, travels to an island off the coast of Wales and discovers the remains of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. He explores the abandoned building, and finds old photographs among the ruins. The book goes off in a completely unexpected direction, but does so successfully. Not at all what I imagined it would be, this book left me surprised but satisfied.
And there you have it. Five great books to read this fall!
As a child, I loved books. I learned to read when I was fairly young, and I attribute this to my parents and teachers who would always read to me. And Christmas books are some of my most remembered books. For some reason, they stick out in my head much more clearly than other picture books. So, today, I thought I would just share some of my favorite Christmas books from when I was a child. Maybe they would make great presents for your children. Or, perhaps, you’ll remember these books as fondly as I do.
1. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss
Of course, this would be on the list. This book is a classic, and I grew up with it, along with the television special that aired every Christmas season. The red, white, and black illustrations were perfect for the story, and I remember them vividly. I learned that Christmas doesn’t come from a store, and that maybe Christmas means a little bit more. Although, I am still working on what exactly a “fuzzle” or “who hash” is.
2. The Night Before Christmas
There was no certain edition, author, or illustrator of the Night Before Christmas books I remember because there were so many. It is a story that has been told over and over again, and for good reason. It brings together the magic and the wonder of Christmas as a child. Any iteration of this classic story is bound to bring smiles to children no matter how old.
3. Apple Tree Christmas by Trinka Hakes Noble
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ploads/2011/12/appletree.jpg” alt=”" width=”223″ height=”271″ />I have always wanted to live on a farm, and have lots of animals and land and a giant farmhouse. Even as a kid, I begged my parents for a cow or a horse to keep at our house. Apple Tree Christmas is set in the late 1800′s, on a farm. There is an old apple tree that gets taken down by a storm, and its branches used for firewood. The child in the story has grown very attached to the apple tree, and can’t believe her parents are just using it as firewood like it’s no big deal. It’s a simple story, and reminiscent of the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder for a younger audience.
4. The Christmas Cat by Efner Tudor Holmes
I am an animal lover, and have always been an animal lover. I have 4 cats, and have had cats as long as I can remember. Which is probably why I loved this story so much. Bad weather is causing problems for Santa, and a poor, abandoned kitten. It’s a cute story with a happy ending that anybody who loves animals can appreciate.
5. Merry Christmas, Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
Tomie dePaolo wrote many children’s books, and many starred Strega Nona or Grandma Witch. I loved reading this because the story includes many Italian Christmas traditions that I had never heard of. I liked that Strega Nona was a good witch who always taught Big Anthony a lesson, and this book is no different. And the illustrations of Tomie dePaola books were always a favorite of mine.
Looking back, I haven’t changed that much. I still love all 5 of these books, and would gladly give them as gifts or read them to any of the children in my life.
Even though it seems the whole world has already read it, I finally got around to reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. It took longer than usual to finish due to the interruption of the Thanksgiving holiday, but it was worth it. I can see why it has been on the best seller list for so long, and adapted to a movie.
The book is about a girl, Skeeter, who just graduated from Ole Miss. She comes back to her Jackson, Mississippi home, only to realize her life is completely different. Her parent’s maid Constantine who has worked for the family for 29 years is gone. All of her friends are married, most with children (and thus, most with maids or ‘help’) and these women are not interested in working. Skeeter’s dream is to be a writer, and everyone else wonders why her dream isn’t to meet a man and have babies. After her closest friend, Hilly, introduces a new initiative that states all of the help (who are all black) must have separate bathrooms in the employer’s home, Skeeter considers how the help might feel about that. This leads to a great idea — to write a book from the perspective of the
help. Something that has never been done before.
Two maids, Aibileen and Minny, along with Skeeter work together to write this clandestine book with the help of a dozen other maids. And, of course, a collaboration between white and black isn’t the most simple thing to do in 1960s Mississippi. The characters are funny, tragic, and so authentic you feel like you know them. You really get a feeling of what it must have been like during this time of civil rights upheaval. There are moments you want to laugh or cry, or scream at someone because of their intolerance and hate.
Although the chapters told through the point of view of Minny and Aibileen were a little heavy on the dialect, I know this is a book that is going to stay with me for a long time. It is a story about reaching your goals, learning about yourself, and being courageous in the face of those who doubt or betray you. Many reviews of this book call it an “instant classic,” and “the best book in years.” I haven’t read every book that has come out in the last few years, so I am not sure I can say it is the best book in years, but I certainly agree it is an instant classic.
If you are one of the few dozen people left on the planet who haven’t read this book yet, I highly recommend it. I also recommend the film adaptation, but only after you have finished the book, of course!
Thanksgiving is next week, and we all know what that means! Yes, it means giving thanks, spending time with family, and the official kick-off to the holiday season (although some radio stations and department stores will have you believing that was two weeks ago!). But it also means food! Lots and lots of food. There are so many different ways to celebrate Thanksgiving, but most celebrations always involve cooking, baking and (of course) eating! No matter if your gathering is for two people or twenty-two people, it’s hard to imagine Thanksgiving without food.
For the last few days, I have been getting everything in order for my own holiday feast. I don’t host a gathering at my home, but I always make a few dishes I know I can eat with my dietary restrictions (I have been vegan for the last six months). Plus it’s nice to share these dishes and show others that I can be vegan, and still enjoy a wonderful Thanksgiving full of delicious food! One of the best ways for me to get inspired is to just sit and flip through a cookbook. My go-to book for inspiration this year has been The Vegan Table by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau.
The reason this book is so perfect for holiday inspiration is due to its unique recipe organization. Whereas most cookbooks divide the recipes by type (main course, sides, soups, etc), the author has divided the book by occasion and again by season. For example, Chapter 1 is entitled: Romantic Dinners for Two and is broken down into spring, summer, autumn, and winter menus. But what makes it so great for holiday cooking is Chapter 5: Feasts for the Holidays. Recipes in this chapter include Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Apples and Onions, Mashed Root Vegetables with Fresh Herb Infusion, Sensational Stuffing with Nuts, Garlic Glazed Green Beans, and Peanut Butter and Jelly Cookies (a personal favorite of mine). Vegan or not, who wouldn’t want to eat all of that mouth-watering food?
Although all of the recipes in this book are vegan (meaning no meat or animal products are used), I believe it has a place in every kitchen. Every recipe I have tried out has been very successful. The recipes use pretty basic ingredients (aside from a few more specialty items in a few recipes), and aren’t too difficult. Another one of my favorites is the Elegantly Simple Stuffed Bell Peppers. They are simple, quick, and delicious. So, whether you are vegan, vegetarian, trying to incorporate more meatless meals, or simply want to eat some yummy food, this cookbook is sure to please.
If you’re anything like me (although I have shelves upon shelves of books), I always have trouble deciding what I want to read next. Last month, I was on a reading streak. I finished six books in three weeks! I wanted to continue the streak, but had difficulty choosing the next book. I started to read no less than five different books, but abandoned them for greener pastures when I couldn’t finish an entire chapter. I have very particular tastes, and I can normally tell within the first 20 pages if I want to continue reading.
Luckily, technology is here to solve all of my problems! At least the problems that involve deciding my next reading venture. There are websites that are created specifically to help readers choose their next book. How very 2011. The following are the three websites I use when trying to decide on my next book, but there are many more out there.
1. What Should I Read Next?
This site works by analyzing collective opinions and recommendations for more than 75,000 books. You enter a book title (or register and enter multiple titles), and the site will generate recommendations based on user lists. These lists contain favorite books, and the more often titles appear in the same lists, the stronger the association between them becomes. For example, I entered the book: Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. The top book recommended generated for me was: Lemony Snicket – The Ominous Omnibus. This means, the association between these two books is strongest based on the number of user lists on which they both appear. This site typically recognizes any book I enter, and seems to consistently recommend at least two titles.
If you are familiar with Pandora.com (an internet radio site), then you will quickly understand how this site works. Booklamp compares what it refers to as story DNA (thematic elements, writing style, subject, etc.), and recommends books that have similar story DNA. There is an ever-increasing counter on the home page that tracks the number of of points of book DNA Booklamp analyzes. As I am typing this, that counter is at 688,211,893. This means there are almost 700 million different DNA points being tracked in order to give the most accurate recommendations. I entered The Da Vinci code, and was suggested another Dan Brown novel based on its DNA. Soon, they are going to turn on an option to allow users to find books based on specific DNA points, rather than by entering a title. This site doesn’t recognize as many titles as the previous option, but it seems to be much more accurate.
Finally, there is Whichbook. This site offers users a listing of twelve elements, of which you can choose up to four that you enjoy in your books, and recommends books based on those four elements. To get a recommendation, I chose the following four elements: funny, unpredictable, larger than life, and unusual. My best match was a book titled: Six Black Candles by Des Dillon. Another option on this site is to choose a book from user-created lists with titles such as “Weird and Wonderful” and “Short and Sweet.” While this site allows you the most control over your recommendations, I have found that it tends to recommend more obscure books than the other two websites.
There you have it! The next time you are stuck on what to read next, all you need to do is go to one of these helpful sites, and just let it make the decision for you. Of course, you could always just rely on human interaction to get book recommendations, but that is so 1992!
It’s not often that I read a book, and then feel compelled to immediately read every other book that author has written. But once I read The Sugar Queen by Best Selling Author Sarah Addison Allen, I knew I had to get my hands on all of her other books. At the time, only two other titles were available (Garden Spells and The Girl Who Chased the Moon), and I read them both within three days. I marked my calendar for the release date of the fourth (something else I rarely do), and got it the day it came out. I didn’t rush out at midnight (like I did to buy the last five Harry Potter books), but don’t think I wasn’t tempted. To date, she has released the following four books:
One of my favorite characteristics of these books is the way Allen sprinkles a little bit of magic into the book, and it never seems completely impossible. In fact, she makes it seem quite probable. Being someone who has always adored fairy tales, I highly enjoy this magical, fairy tale quality. Food is another dimension present in most of her books that keeps me coming back. In Garden Spells, baking is integral to the plot. And, in The Sugar Queen, candy and sweet snacks are very essential to the story. I love food (eating it and making it!), so it is only natural I would love reading about it. The descriptions of all the food make it all sound so delectable. Lavender bread, hummingbird cake, espresso brownies, even Gobstoppers!
While my favorite of the four novels is Garden Spells, the remaining three are all close 2nds. The stories are so creative, and the characters very memorable. Each of these books prominently feature romance, mystery, and (of course) magic! They are all fairly quick reads, and I believe they would make fantastic book club selections. There is even a section of her website specifically for book club meetings. This section features discussion questions, and even recipes from the book to make for the get together!
If you are familiar with this author’s work (or you intelligently take my recommendation and read her books), then you will probably also enjoy Kate Morton. I recently finished her novel, The Forgotten Garden, and her writing is very similar. But I will save that for another time!
It’s that time of year again! No, not the time of year when department stores start putting out Christmas merchandise way too early (although that is often the case). I am talking about Halloween! The season of jack-o-lanterns, candy corn, and trick-or-treating. Fall is in full swing; the nights are getting colder, and the days are getting shorter. And a lot of people choose to celebrate by going to pricey haunted houses or haunted corn mazes, but why celebrate with $20 admission when you can do it in the comfort of your own home? I like to hunker down on my couch with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book. Here are a broad array of books, ranging from scary to silly, that can put you in the Halloween spirit.
1. Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Of course, I had to include a book by Mr. King on this list. He writes the epitome of the modern horror story. Growing up, I was (foolishly) allowed to watch Pet Sematary (intentionally misspelled). It gave me nightmares for weeks, and hasn’t lost its ability to scare me (especially if I am watching it at night). A few years ago, I decided to read the book on which the movie is based. And I was equally scared. I was so drawn into the story, I didn’t realize how creepy it truly was. Only later, when I woke up and needed a glass of water – and had to turn on every light in the house to do so – did I realize how chilling the book actually is. This is the scariest book on this list, and some say the scariest book Stephen King has penned to date.
If you aren’t one for horror stories and are more interested in travel and history, this collection of vignettes about the weird things you can find in each of the 50 states might be a better route. Highlighted in this book are creepy cemeteries, abandoned mental asylums, and regional urban legends. On a lighter note, the book also includes campy tourist attractions and other oddities found in each state. This book was the inspiration for the weird state series that goes deeper into the weirdness found in each individual state.
3. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
If the non-fiction lover who enjoyed Weird U.S. would kindly avert his or her eyes, I present to you Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Admittedly, the whole mixing of classic books with zombies and vampires is becoming a bit stale (Pride & Prejudice and Zombies, Little Vampire Women, etc), this book is able to hold its own. Written in biographical style, the book weaves Lincoln’s past with the fact that all his life, his main goal was to hunt vampires. Those who enjoy Halloween because of their love of zombies and bad horror films will get the most out of this book. Not exactly a literary masterpiece, it’s a good, fun read that you shouldn’t take too seriously.
4. Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
Okay, to those non-fiction lovers I offended with my previous selection, you will be happy to see a 2nd non-fiction book has made my list. Devil in the White City is the historical account of two men in the late 1800′s – an architect and a serial killer. The 1890 World’s Fair in Chicago is the event that brings the two together. While not a typical Halloween story, this chilling tale will make you think about fairs in a different way. And possibly appreciate architecture a little more. Larson’s ability to write non-fiction in a way that feels more like fiction is a tell-tale sign of his amazing literary inclinations. This book is by far the most well-written, and fascinating, book on the list.