Book – Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is an inspirational and candidly honest memoir by Cheryl Strayed. At the age of 26, feeling that she no longer had anything to lose, Strayed makes an impulsive decision to hike 1100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail; her ultimate goal is to reach the Bridge of the Gods spanning the Columbia River at the Washington-Oregon border. Totally inexperienced and naïve she embarks solo on a journey that begins in the Mojave Desert and takes her through California, Oregon, and Washington State. I was perfectly content being an armchair traveler as the author encountered black bears, rattlesnakes, temperature extremes, inadequate boots that rubbed blisters on her heels and made her toe nails fall off and clothing that failed to keep her cool in scorching heat or warm in the bitter cold while hauling all her possessions in a ridiculously heavy backpack appropriately named Monster. She was lonely, vulnerable, and woefully inexperienced. Many times she went hungry and unshowered due to her lack of planning and funds. At other times, I wished that I could hike along with Strayed taking in the beauty of the trail, feeling a great sense of accomplishment with every mile hiked and enjoying the interactions when meeting up with other hikers and experiencing the kindnesses and friendships that she made along the way. I cheered as she became stronger, smarter and began to heal. The book also recounts her disappointments and mistakes including drug use and sexual promiscuity that ultimately led to her escape to the trail. “I was crying over all of it,” she writes, “over the sick mire I’d made of my life since my mother died; over the stupid existence that had become my own. I was not meant to be this way, to live this way, to fail so darkly.” This is a lovely story of both physical and spiritual endurance and realization.
Book – Cutting for Stone is a beautiful haunting epic story that will probably appeal to fans of The Kite Runner. Set in Ethiopia, the story is about conjoined twin boys Marion and Shiva Praise Stone who are born as a result of a secret love affair between a British surgeon and his surgical nurse and assistant, an Indian nun, both working at Missing Hospital near Addis Ababa. Tragically, the mother dies in childbirth and the devastated father disappears leaving the hospital and his newborn sons behind. Hema and Ghosh, doctors from the same hospital, raise the boys as their own. Though successfully separated at birth, the boys still have a very strong emotional bond to each other and their different personalities make them a complete soul.
The overthrow of the Ethiopian government disrupts their childhood and other events and personal choices result in the brothers drifting apart. Marion goes to the United States and becomes a resident at a hospital in the Bronx. He finds out that his biological father is a famous surgeon in the area. Shiva completes medical school in Addis Ababa and continues practicing medicine at Missing Hospital. An event of life and death reunites the brothers with their father. The author, Abraham Verghese, was born in Ethiopia and started his medical training there. He continues his medical career in the United States and has written other works based on his experiences.
Book - Chick Lit meets The West Wing and if you enjoy the TV series Scandal you will probably like this book. This fun, fast read is written by Kristin Gore, daughter of former Vice-President Al Gore. The main character, Samantha Joyce, Sammy, is a 26 year old domestic policy advisor to the Junior Senator from Ohio, Robert Gary. Sammy is an idealist who shares the Senator’s passion for health care reform. She is dedicated, big-hearted and loves working on Capitol Hill, never complaining about her 70 hour work week, despite being a hypochondriac and ever hopeful for romance. During a fact finding mission working on Gary’s latest health care related bill, she meets Aaron, a speechwriter for Senator Bramen a powerful politician with questionable ethics. Dizzy with love and overworked Sammy mistakenly sends a racy message to over 200 of Capitol Hill’s political elite giving Samantha her first taste of D.C. scandal. Love is in the air, but can her romance with Aaron survive when their bosses become political rivals? Kristin Gore is a keen observer of politics and definitely shares her insider knowledge of D.C. social life and how things really work in Washington and on the campaign trail. A light enjoyable read and I actually learned a few things. Good news, if you like this book-there is a sequel, Sammy’s House and rumor has it that there is a movie in the making.
Book – The Art Institute of Chicago is currently featuring a special exhibit, Violence and Virtue: Artemisia Gentileschi’s “Judith Slaying Holofernes” displaying her sensational painting on loan from Florence through January 09, 2014. Artemisia was as beautiful and strong as the women in her paintings, frequently using herself as a model. This fictionalized account of her artistic life gives readers insight of this true Renaissance woman and the obstacles and conflicts that she overcame to be one of the most famous and skilled painters of the Baroque era, a woman centuries ahead of her time. Artemisia’s mother died when she was twelve and was raised and apprenticed by her artist father, Orazio while living in Rome. At the age of 18 she was raped by her father’s friend Agostino. Though he is brought to trial, she ends up being publicly humiliated, shamed and betrayed by her father. She feels that she has no other choice, but to leave Rome and agrees to marry Pietro Stiatessi, an artist in Florence. Her marriage soon develops rifts as Artemisia begins to have some success. She wins the patronage of the Medicis and is the first woman to be elected to the Accademia dell’Arte before her husband. She continues establishing herself as an artist, acquires more commissions and friendships with intellectuals including Galileo. Pietro is jealous of his wife’s success and they soon separate and she continues her life as a working single mother, unheard of for an admired reputable woman during that time period. Art truly is Artemesia’s passion and Vreeland beautifully conveys that in her book. Other books by the same author include Clara and Mr. Tiffany, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, and others.
Book – The Taste of Home Contest Winning Annual Recipes 2013 cookbook is a feast for the eyes as well as the stomach. The book features the best of the best contest winning recipes and all the entries have easy to follow step by step directions and are accompanied by a beautiful photograph of the finished product. The book features over 350 recipes and tips. There are recipes for everything from snacks & appetizers to a variety of desserts and everything in between, plus soups, salads, sides and main entrees including vegetarian dishes. There are also recipes for holidays and special occasions and different cooking methods are also featured such as using a slow cooker or grilling.
Some of my favorites from the book include: Chicken Stew with Gnocchi, Tiramisu Cheesecake Dessert, and Tomato Cucumber Mozzarella Salad. Are you hungry yet?
It’s a delicious treat!
Book – The unthinkable and disturbing has happened, a 14-year-old boy, has been brutally stabbed to death in the woods near a city park in a small, middle-class Massachusetts town. The boy turns out to be 14 year old Ben Rifkin, the classmate of Jacob Barber, son of Andy, who is the Assistant District Attorney. Andy focuses on a neighborhood pedophile as the chief suspect. But soon Andy must face the unthinkable. Internet accusations posted on Facebook by Jacob’s friends and his bloody fingerprint on the victim’s clothes result in his son Jacob becoming the prime suspect. Jacob also admits to showing off a knife to his friends. Andy finds the knife and immediately makes it disappear. But does he do it to protect his son’s innocence or hide his guilt? Jacob’s mother, Laurie, struggles with the haunting suspicion that her son might be capable of such a horrific crime. As soon as Jacob is arrested, Andy Barber is taken off the case and suspended from his office. He devotes himself and puts all of his resources into proving his son’s innocence. This is a must read legal thriller and family saga. The ending will rock your world. The author, Willam Landay, is a former DA turned writer. His other books include Mission Flats and The Strangler. His books should appeal to fans of John Grisham and Scott Turow. Defending Jacob is also a good selection for book clubs.
Book – I enjoy listening to audiobooks, especially when they are set in foreign places so that I can familiarize myself with the correct pronunciations of the places and the characters’ names. One series that I am particularly fond of is The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, read by Lisette Lecat. Currently there are 14 books in the series and I never tire of listening to the further adventures of Precious Ramotswe, a “traditionally built” woman who decides to become Botswana’s one and only lady private detective and purchases a detective agency with the money left to her by her beloved deceased father. Instead of using high tech gadgets and weapons Precious solves her cases using her intuition, intelligence, likable demeanor, and the assistance of her secretary Grace Makutsi. Though the cases are not high profile, they are of utmost importance to her clients and thus handled with sensitivity and the highest priority. Mma Ramotswe’s goodness, wisdom, humor and love of Africa shine through the stories and McCall Smith does a wonderful job of placing us in her land and relationships through his vivid descriptions and tone. The other characters are also likable and it is interesting to see how they develop and interact as the series continues. Reader Lisette Lecat transports listeners to Botswana and gives personality to each character with her incredible array of accents. Her narration adds immensely to the overall appeal of this delightful series. Start with The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency and enjoy.
TV – Revenge is my guilty pleasure. This is a TV series shrouded in mystery, glamor, and as the title suggests steeped in revenge. The main character is Emily Thorne, who makes it her mission to infiltrate the Hampton’s upper society to execute a meticulous plot of revenge on Conrad and Victoria Grayson who set up her father, an executive working for their company, for channeling money to a terrorist organization responsible for the downing of a commercial airliner. Emily’s father was imprisoned for life and nine year old Emily was taken by the foster care system. She never saw her father again. Her childhood was spent consumed by rage, loss and betrayal. Emily is highly intelligent and tough and she has no problem passing herself off as a philanthropic wealthy socialite to her neighbors the Graysons, as well as a romantic interest for their son, Daniel. Revenge is full of intrigue, people you love to hate, endless twists and turns, not to mention beautiful people, clothes, and houses. The plot can be a little farfetched sometimes, but it is still wickedly entertaining.
Book – This is a wonderful work of fiction that is well-researched. This book should appeal to those interested in how global warming can impact our ecoystem. Readers will cheer for Dellarobia, a young woman who had lost her dreams of college and a better life due to poverty and pregnancy at the age of 17. Her story unfolds as she stumbles upon a “lake of fire” which turns out to be millions of migrating monarch butterflies. Set in a rural Applachian town in Tennessee the event becomes an instant phenomena drawing scientists, reporters, and gawkers to the site. Barbara Kingsolver’s background in Biology is apparent as the book details the life cycle and habits of monarch butterflies. Readers will enjoy spunky Dellarobia’s evolution as she emerges from her cocoon and spreads her wings. A very informative, eye-opening, and enjoyable read.