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Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

Ahhhhh, Valentine’s Day – a date in February that seems to elicit extreme reactions. You either LOVE it or cringe at the very thought.  Since we would never dream of telling you how to react to this annual event, instead we thought we’d recommend what to read if you’re searching for some romantic prose.

Our twist: a focus on love stories either inspired by or written by the ultimate cupid-with-a-quill, the Bard himself, William Shakespeare.  The publication dates of the books span a period of  more than 400 years – from 1596 to 2011- but all are relevant and fresh and most are full of fun. One, upon reading, you might question how we call it a love story, but we stand by this classification.

So here we go, Shakespeare-inspired love stories for Valentine’s Day.  We hope you like them, whether you’re a fan of Valentine’s Day or not. Here at the Book Jam we like to say, “If books be the music of love, read on”.

1) For those of you who know that the back story for a love affair is often extremely interesting:

Gertrude and Claudius by John Updike (2000). Yes, Hamlet, that tortured prince receives a lot of time in High School and College English Lit classes, but did you ever think about his story from the perspective of his mother and her lover/second husband?  Well luckily for us, John Updike did. The result is a well written novel that forces you to rethink the Bard’s popular tale of a Danish Prince and his doomed lover Ophelia. This is different from most of Mr. Updike’s novels – try it, you might love it. ~ Lisa Christie

 

 

2) For those of you finding love later in life, with all the complications that brings:

Julie and Romeo (2001) by Jeanne Ray  (2001). We both find this a funny, sexy, and endearingly charming book. Each of us read it years ago thinking it would make the perfect mother-in-law or mother’s gift.  Funny thing though, in trying to pick a book for women older than ourselves, we actually found a book that appealed to us and have since given or recommended it to many readers, regardless of  their age.  In this twist on Romeo and Juliet, Julie, a divorced “60 something” woman, meets Romeo a widower and well, they fall in love.  The conflict? Their families have feuded with each other for years and their kids truly truly hate the idea of their parents dating. The humor? What they go through to actually “date”.  Is this something you would discuss in a English Lit Class? Probably not, but read it anyway and enjoy. Great for a quick Sunday read, the beach or a carry-on bag. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

3) For those of you whose love life needs a bit of fantasy and humor and wonderful prose:

Midsummer Nights Dream  by Shakespeare (1596).  One by the Bard himself.  Great language, humorous and ridiculous plot twists as Lysander, Demetrius, Helena and Hermia try to find their true loves.  Throw in a Fairy Queen and King who are feuding and a mischievous fairy named Puck and well, you have all the makings of a truly romantic comedy. ~ Lisa Cadow and Lisa Christie

 

 

4) For those looking for a smart but light modern day romp through grown-up sisterly love, its requisite bickering, and some budding romance – with a lot of Shakespearean references thrown in:

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown (2011). While the title refers to the sisters in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, this story is actually about three very modern-day siblings, Rosalind, Bianca and Cordelia (who grew up with a Shakesperean professor for a father, hence their names). The tale begins with them all returning home to Ohio from their rather messy adult lives to help care for their ailing mother. Their uncanny ability to qoute the Bard at every twist and turn makes for fun, smart dialogue but it is their very present day struggles that make this story relevant. There is some romance, as promised in the intoduction to this post. But most of all it is the sisters love for and understanding of each other that makes this book endearing.  ~Lisa Cadow

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Brrrr. Baby, it’s cold outside. No matter. These frigid temperatures make it all the better to cozy up with a book. In bed. Under a pile of blankets. Wearing very thick socks. Mittens, however, are no good, as they would get in the way of turning the pages.

So if these below zero temperatures make you hungry as you struggle to keep your body temperature at 98.6, then we have a couple of titles to fill you up. The best news of all is that they are both calorie free.
White  Truffles in Winter by N. M. Kelby (2011). Luscious. If you could never read the words truffle, champagne, lavender honey and fois gras enough, then add this novel to your list.

In this appetizing story, author Kelby imagines the last days of the famous French chef Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935). It’s clear that she’s thoroughly researched and included many details from his illustrious career (Escoffier was the designer of the Titanic’s menus, one of  Sarah Bernhardt’s lovers, a business partner of the hotelier Cesar Ritz, the creator of the modern restaurant kitchen layout, and the designer of such immortal recipes as “Peach Melba” and “Cherries Jubilee”). But this talented writer pushes further and imagines that which “is left unsaid,” believing it to be the most interesting part of  any life.

The first pages unfold with Escoffier’s ailing wife, Delphine, wishing for him to create a dish of her very own. Though they have been married for decades, he has never named one after her. They are both dying and it is in their family kitchen that a lifetime of love is explored, remembered, savored, and interpreted for the first time.

This is more than just a book for food lovers. It’s a sensuous, poetic story that brings details from this era of history to life so that readers can truly taste it. ~Lisa Cadow

The Hundred Foot Journey (2010) by Richard C. Morais. How did I miss this toothsome treasure when it was first published? Some reviewers have described it as Bollywood meets “Ratatouille.” That’s fitting as this fictional story chronicles the development of a talented chef from his boyhood in India through a brief adolescence in England to a full-fledged culinary career in France. But there is more to it than that.

The main character, Hassan, rises above cultural prejudices, crippling accidents, and jealous competitors to shine in his art despite a cut-throat working environment. Culinary enthusiasts will savor the descriptions of oysters (who knew they could be so tricky?!), French kitchens and country markets. Francophiles will love reading about the Alps and villages of the Jura. But the story really shines once Hassan reaches Paris, the pinnacle of all things epicurean. As a former senior editor at Forbes magazine, author Morais keeps the story moving while seamlessly explaining the fiscal realities, risks, and politics involved in running a multi-million dollar restaurant. This book is an education in flavor, talent, and another tantalizing take on the history of fine dining. Read it and eat! ~Lisa Cadow

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As part of the reading we squeezed in “after the relatives left,” (or in one of our cases – as we were travelling to visit them), we were mesmerized by a few books that truly transported us to other times and places.

So at this time of year, in the bleak of winter, when you might be craving an out-of-body experience, picking up one of these titles will do the job. Right from page one.

Some highlights include:

Rules of Civility (2011) by Amos Towles. Each time I picked up this book it was as if a ’38 Bentley had siddled up to my door to take me for a literary ride. This fabulous novel transports. It’s set in Depression-era  Manhattan and is gloriously atmospheric in the New York it portrays (think flapper dresses, smoky jazz clubs and Great Gatsby-esque Hampton estates with flowing champagne). It is also rich in strong characters and probing in the questions it asks its readers about choices, careers paths and the assumptions we make in life. Towles writing is polished, gorgeous even (hard to believe it’s a first novel), and takes us to 1938 to tell the story of that year in the life of Katey Kontent, a smart, ambitious, working class girl who finds herself rubbing shoulders with the 1%. Besides being a great read, it is a love letter to New York City. Book Group Worthy. ~Lisa Cadow

The Redbreast by Jo  Nesbo (2007). Does watching the Blockbuster movie adaptation of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo have you looking for your next Scandinavian thriller?  Look no further than this first book in Nesbo’s Norwegian series.  What is better praise than the fact it might satisfy that craving for a good thriller?  Well, for me the most satisfying aspect of this thriller is that it transports you to modern-day (OK 1999) Norway.  As the plot switches times, you learn about Norwegian politics during Bill Clinton’s presidency, during WWII, and, ultimately, how Norway’s landscape and history shape the people living in Oslo, Bergen and other small Norwegian towns today.  The book’s main hero, Harry Hole, is flawed and thus interesting. The people he encounters are truly characters in their own right.  And, the plot keeps you reading page after page.  No, this is not high literature – it is a thriller.  But, an even better aspect of this book? If you like it, there are many more in this “Harry Hole” series.   ~ Lisa Christie

11/22/1963: A Novel by Stephen King (2011) – I have not yet finished this tome, but the pacing is superb, the concept fantastic (in the truest sense of that word) and the plot truly does allow you to time travel back to the 1960s.  If this book ends poorly, I will amend this recommendation in the next post.  Enjoy. ~ Lisa Christie

 

 

 

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffinegger (2004). This “oldie but goodie” is eight years old but is still fresh in the story it tells and in the writing style it offers readers. Right away you know you’re in for quite a trip and will have to get your bearings, just as do main characters Henry DeTamble, a time traveling librarian, and his artist wife Clare. This is a unique tale that explores fate and love within a non-linear time sequence. So if you’ve been putting off reading it, January 2012 might just be the perfect “time”. ~Lisa Cadow

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