Monday, October 20, 2008

The Friday Night Knitting Club

"Choosing your wool is dizzying with potential: The waves of colors and textures tempt with visions of a sweater or cap (and all the accompanying compliments you hope to receive) but don't reveal the hard work required to get there."
The Friday Night Knitting Club, Kate Jacobs

After reading this brilliant book by Kate Jacobs, I'm ready to take out my crochet hook (because I don't knit) and get to work again. While I don't know of any cozy yarn shops nearby such as the one in the book, Walker and Daughter, even Michaels (a craft store for those who don't know) has a dazzling array of yarns in all colors, which inspire creativity. I'd like to find some really gorgeous cashmere yarn and get started on some Christmas gifts.

In this novel, which was published in 2007, knitting is presented as a creative, empowering, calming, and uniting pursuit, rather than an expression of the supposed domesticity of women. In The Friday Night Knitting Club, the characters are believable--not perfect--and you care about them and want them to succeed. Each one has her own story (or in a few cases, his own story), so we may understand why they are the way they are. They also change and develop throughout the story. Thank goodness a sequel to this book, Knit Two, will be out on Nov. 25, because I want to know what happens to this close-knit (couldn't resist) group of friends. I hope it doesn't sound corny, but they've become my friends, too.

Stay tuned for an exclusive interview with Kate Jacobs, author of The Friday Night Knitting Club, Comfort Food, and her new book, Knit Two!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Coffee with Marge

Once upon a time, many years ago, when our children were very young, we were best friends, but as the years passed and our kids attended different schools, we saw each other less and less. Occasionally we'd see each other in town, and agree that we should get together, but our plans never seemed to materialize for one reason or another. On Saturday night I saw my friend, Marge, at a fundraising dinner for the YMCA. She said that we should meet for coffee, and this time, the plan sounded more definite. On Monday she called me, and on Tuesday we met at Starbucks. (Don't worry, this is not a plug for Starbucks, but it is a nice place to meet and talk over tea and whatever other goodies you desire. I also enjoy the music they play, and have been introduced to new musicians at Starbucks. Last summer, they had Damien Rice CDs for sale at Starbucks. In NY this summer, we went to Starbucks every day for breakfast and I pictured myself with a laptop working on my blog at a table alongside others doing the same, sipping tea.) Both of us ordered tea, rather than coffee, but no one really says "let's go out for tea", do they? We talked about all kinds of things, family matters and personal ambitions, and it felt really good to reconnect with Marge. She is funny, sharp, and original, and I enjoyed her company. I mentioned to her that I sell some books on amazon and she asked about setting up an account of her own. Later that day, she texted me to inform me that she'd made her first book sale on Amazon! That didn't really surprise me though, Marge used to collect and sell antiques, and is very gifted.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Message in a Bottle, Embroideries, and The Friday Night Knitting Club

Friday night I watched Message in a Bottle, the movie based on the novel of the same name by Nicholas Sparks. Now I've seen all four of Sparks' books which have been made into movies. This movie was a bit slow to takeoff but eventually does. The setting is supposed to be the Outer Banks in North Carolina, but apparently this was filmed in Maine. (I prefer a bit more authenticity, although the scenery is stunning. ) Of course, the movie is another romantic drama, ignited by love letters in bottles washed ashore which lead to a new romance. I thought Paul Newman's performance as Dodge Blake, the crusty father, was outstanding, and Robin Wright Penn's as Theresa Osbourne was also quite good (she has a remarkable crying scene). Kevin Costner's acting in Message in a Bottle was low-key but believable as Garrett Blake, the widower paralyzed by the loss of his wife.

Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi arrived in my mailbox sooner than expected--on Saturday--and I read it on Sunday. It's a graphic novel and doesn't take long to read. This is definitely a book for mature audiences only, preferably women. It's outrageously funny, and quite candid about marriage and the sex lives of Iranian women, who're often caught between tradition and modern times. The contents and illustrations are absolutely hilarious. Marjane Satrapi is also the author of a comic book style autobiography comprised of two books--international bestsellers--Persepolis and Persepolis 2.

I also had the opportunity to start the book The Friday Night Knitting Club by Kate Jacobs on Sunday evening, and am already very taken in by this book. (I just learned that Kate Jacobs has a new book due out on Nov. 25, Knit Two, obviously a sequel to The Friday Night Knitting Club.) Let me start by saying that I don't knit, nor do I desire to, although I do crochet (I was obsessed with crocheting scarves a couple of winters ago but that's a story for another day). Anyway, the action takes place in Georgia's knitting shop in NY, Walker and Daughter, where customers form an informal knitting club that meets regularly. As a former New Yorker I can easily picture the shop, customers, and characters who come by for more than yarn--for help with their knitting, as well as coffee and cookies, conversation, and companionship. This is the type of book to read on cool evenings, snuggled up indoors with a steaming beverage. I'm looking forward to spending time in this manner soon.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

When I mentioned that I 'd just read a copy of Sisterhood of the Traveling Pantsby Ann Brashares, a book I'd often heard mentioned, my teenaged daughter kind of grimaced, while my younger daughter said that she wants to read it after she finishes all four books in Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series. Have I lost my "edge", or have I just realized, with the passing of days, that it's okay to enjoy books that are actually fun to read? Not every book has to be great literature. Anyway, this book does live up to it's reputation as a bestseller--it's both cute and clever. I enjoyed reading about the great friendship among these four friends, Bree, Carmen, Lena, and Tibby, as well as the pants that they share over their summer apart, pants that help them stay together, in a personal sense and as a group. All the teen turmoil and angst is a lot easier (and more humorous) to read about than to experience--perhaps you need to have safely navigated through those waters before you can appreciate and enjoy this book. Maybe I would have snickered at this book had it been out during my teen years--who knows? I was pretty sarcastic back then. But at this point in my life, I enjoyed just about every page of it, including the quotes, many of them humorous, which begin each chapter (call me corny but I enjoy a good quote). The quotes are superimposed on a drawing of the pants. Here's an example (without the pants):

"Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them, and you have their shoes."
~Frieda Norris, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, by Ann Brashares

And from the text of the book, a few comforting words about happiness:

"Maybe happiness didn't have to be about the big, sweeping circumstances, about having everything in your life in place. Maybe it was about stringing together a bunch of small pleasures. Wearing slippers and watching the Miss Universe contest. Eating a brownie with vanilla ice cream. Getting to level seven in Dragon Master and knowing there were twenty levels to go.
Maybe happiness was just a matter of the little upticks--the traffic signal that said "Walk" the second you got there--and downticks--the itchy tag at the back of your collar--that happened to every person in the course of a day. Maybe everybody had the same allotted measure of happiness within each day."
~The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Ann Brashares

Reading this book brought me many upticks, moments of increased happiness.

This book is the first in a series of four, listed here:
  1. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (2001)
  2. The Second Summer of the Sisterhood (2003)
  3. Girls in Pants: The Third Summer of the Sisterhood (2005)
  4. Forever in Blue: The Fourth Summer of the Sisterhood (2007)
The first book was made into a movie in 2005, and stars Alexis Bledel as Lena, Amber Tamblyn as Tibby, America Ferrera as Carmen, and Blake Lively as Bridget (Bree).
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, the sequel to the original movie, was released on August 6, 2008. The sequel mostly follows the fourth book, although it also includes material from previous books in the series. You can watch the movie trailers here, for either the first movie or for the sequel. I may not read the entire series, but I probably will watch a movie or two.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Lucky One: A Sense of Destiny

I think The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks would make a good movie because this romance is filled with action and suspense. But I 'm getting ahead of myself here. I've just finished reading Sparks' latest book, which is a real page turner. Each chapter in The Lucky One is titled by the character whose perspective is featured, or by the characters the chapter focuses on, Clayton, Thibault, and Beth. Other characters are also important, Ben, Nana, Victor, Drake, and the dog, Zeus, but they are supporting characters rather than main ones. In this book, a strong sense of destiny leads U.S. Marine Logan Thibault out of Iraq and into the romance of his life in (where else?) North Carolina. Needless to say, it's not without problems, mainly in the form of Beth's ex-husband, Deputy Keith Clayton. Without revealing too much about the book, I'll say that while reading this book, I really wanted Thibault to be honest about everything from the start, to avoid future complications and misunderstandings, but knew it wasn't possible given how "unexplainable" things seemed. You can read more reviews of The Lucky One on Amazon.

I've now read every published book written by Nicholas Sparks, fourteen in all!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Secret Life of Bees

"It takes honeybee workers ten million foraging trips to gather enough nectar to make one pound of honey."
~Bees of the World, The Secret Life of Bees, Sue Monk Kidd

Each chapter of The Secret Life of Bees begins with a quote about bees, a tidbit of information about these humming, hovering honey-makers. I loved this NY Times bestseller--it's warm, radiant, and one-of-a-kind--and when I read it a couple of years ago, couldn't help but think that it would make a great movie. Judging from the movie trailer, it will be. It's coming to theaters on Oct. 17 and stars Queen Latifah (who better to play the queen bee?), Dakota Fanning, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, and others. Set in South Carolina in 1964, the film is the story of Lily Owens, a 14 year-old girl haunted by the memory of her late mother, who comes to live with May, June, and August, a trio of beekeeping sisters. I can't wait to see it.

I'm still reading The Lucky One by Nicholas Sparks and will post about it soon. Last night, I had another dose of Sparks, in the form of the movie, The Notebook, which was shown on TV on ABC Family.

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Age of Fundraisers

I call this, "The Age of Fundraisers". I could easily attend fundraising luncheons and dinners nearly every single weekend, because I receive numerous invitations to these events, which seem to have become more frequent. When I go to the grocery store, I often pass girl scouts by the entrance selling their cookies, or other organizations selling sundry goods, and when it's my turn at the at the check-out lane, the cashier asks if I'd like to make a donation to the-cause-of-the-month. Got kids? Then you know they are always bringing home fundraising catalogs from school, selling cookie dough, wrapping paper, magazine subscriptions, and all sorts of stuff you really don't need. You need not even venture from home to be asked to give because donation requests also arrive in the mail and by telephone. So the last thing anyone wants in a blog is to be asked to donate to yet another cause. But I did want to mention that I made a small donation to the Botswana Book Project, which is part of the larger organization, Books For Africa, and received a wonderful thank you letter from the director, Patrick Plonski. He quotes from the speech of The Honorable Kofi Annan, the former U.N. Secretary General and Honorary Co-chair of Books For Africa's Jack Mason Law & Democracy Initiative:

"Books for Africa is a simple idea, but its impact is transformative. For us, I have said before, literacy is quite simply the bridge from misery to hope. Literacy provides the keys to learning and empowers the individuals to expand their choices and opportunities for the future. In doing so, it is a crucial bulwark against poverty and a necessary foundation for sustainable development. For everyone everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right. Over the last two decades, Books For Africa has made tremendous progress helping to extend this right in Africa."

Literacy and books may well be the bridge from misery to hope. I do believe that books have the power to transform and improve lives. That's why I made a donation. I hope you will consider making a donation to Books for Africa.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Banned Book Week, Sept. 27- Oct. 4

It's banned book week. Celebrate your freedom to choose what you read!

The Ten Most Challenged Books of 2007,
in descending order (from Paper Cuts):
  1. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
  2. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  3. Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes
  4. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens)
  6. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
  7. TTYL by Lauren Myracle
  8. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
  9. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris
  10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

How many have you read?

The Lucky One

Yesterday mid-morning I made a beeline for Barnes & Noble and there it was, an entire display devoted to the new book by Nicholas Sparks, The Lucky One. I hadn't called the bookstore to check if it was in so I wasn't sure they'd have it--the book was due out on Sept. 30th but I don't know what time of day books are delivered to bookstores--but I ran in and saw it. I hadn't pre-ordered the book but took my chances that it would be available, and it was.

Last night I began reading Sparks' fourteenth and latest book, The Lucky One. I've only read the first two chapters and am still meeting the characters, so I don't have much to "report" about the book just yet. I have some general comments, though. For people who haven't read much by Nicholas Sparks, I advise you not to write him off too quickly. These books are not fluffy romances, but deal with serious issues such as illness and aging, and in The Lucky One, the war in Iraq, and include tragedies of all sorts (expect to cry). The characters struggle to find not only love but strength and some kind of redemption (not usually in a religious sense). The language may be simple (meaning clear, and I think that's very important as writing is, after all, about communicating), but the stories and characters are complex, interesting, and modern, and several of these books are international bestsellers.

Some of the books featured here were given to me free of charge by authors, publishers, and agents. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.


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