Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Keeping the House

Keeping the House: A NovelTitle: Keeping the House
Author: Ellen Baker
Pages: 528
Published: 2008 Random House Trade Paperback
My Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

I first eyed Keeping the House a couple of months ago and nearly bought it simply because I loved the cover: I could almost smell the home cooking and hear the squeaky clean kitchen floors.  I managed to resist the temptation to buy it, however, until I recently saw it again and couldn't convince myself out of it.  The great cover, the Fannie Flagg endorsement on the front, the interesting synopsis on the back, and the bits of advice straight out of the 1940s and 1950s sprinkled throughout the book were more than enough to convince me that this book needed to be on my shelf.

"The bride who wants to do her full job will plan from the start to create the kind of home her husband wants, and to do it with no more assistance than he willingly offers." 
--'Making Marriage Work' --Ladies' Home Journal, June 1950

So what's it about?  It moves back and forth in time, from the prologue in 1896 to the bulk of the novel in modern 1950, and trips back to WWI era (1917-1918) and WWII, (which ending in 1945 puts it in the not-so-distant past for Dolly Magnuson, our main character.)  Dolly is striving to be the perfect housewife, while at the same time trying to figure out the story behind the beautiful house on the hill that sits abandoned.  I loved reading about all these time periods, and how we are all really more connected than we might think.  I enjoyed the mystery of the Mickelson family, and the author's portrayal of the struggle for a healthy, happy marriage.  There was enough drama to really keep the story moving, but not so much that it felt implausible.

The Meal Planner's Creed
My family's enjoyment of food is my responsibility; therefore--I will increase their pleasure by planning for variety, for flavorful dishes, for attractive color, for appetizing combinations.
--The Modern Family Cook Book, 1942

Keeping the House isn't perfect; there were a few times when certain characters where introduced too thoroughly and too late in the story to really be of interest.  Those parts seemed to try to expand on the effect of war on the individual, and felt out of place in the overall picture.  For the most part, though, the characters were realistic and the story was interesting.  The pace was quick enough to keep you hooked, but slow enough to let you think about what you're reading, making it--for me--an ideal summer read.  And like I said, the bits of advice from Ladies' Home Journal and other publications in the '40s and '50s were priceless.

"A house, exactly like a dog, must be loved before it will show the best side of its nature."
--Popular Home Decoration, 1940

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

New to My Shelf

My last post mentioned my realization that the reason my TBR list never shrinks is because I'm constantly adding to it.  This post is the proof of that statement.  This has been an abnormal month for me--I've bought a lot more books than usual--which prompted me to start writing down the titles that came into my home this month, and in turn prompted me to participate in the Summer Slimdown Challenge.

Of course, many of these books are highly justifiable.  Take, for instance, these Junior Fiction books that I only bought because my 11 year old son was going on a vacation and needed reading material:

3. How to Train Your Dragon Book 4: How to Cheat a Dragon's Curse
4. How to Train Your Dragon Book 5: How to Twist a Dragon's Tale
5. Sweet Farts
6. Cosmic (thanks to the review at SemiColon)

And then there were the books that I had to get for my girls so they wouldn't feel left out (no vacation AND no books? intolerable!)

The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss7. The Deep: The Extraordinary Creatures of the Abyss
8. Shrek!
9. Girls and Their Horses
10. Curious George Book and CD
11. James and the Giant Peach and CD

Or what about the books that only arrived in my mailbox because they finally became available on PaperbackSwap?

Small Wonder: Essays12. Small Wonder
13. What if Jesus Had Never Been Born?
14. The Quilter's Homecoming
15. Lost In The Woods: A Photographic Fantasy
16. How Much Can a Bare Bear Bear?: What Are Homonyms and Homophones?

Can I really be blamed for books that are specifically for book club, kid's schooling or writing reference?

Interred with Their Bones17. Interred with Their Bones
18. The Moon Singer
19. Write Great Fiction - Dialogue
20. After the Gold Rush: Tarnished Dreams in the Sacramento Valley
21. Rooted in Barbarous Soil: People, Culture, and Community in Gold Rush California

So if you ask me, that greatly narrows down the books that were actually added to my TBR list.  Of course, I still did add these 6, so I'm still behind (although I did read one and am almost done with another...it's not enough!)

Keeping the House: A Novel22. Black Potatoes: The Great Irish Famine, 1845-1850 (-My review-)
23. Native Son
24. The Great Gatsby (Audio)
25. Mere Christianity
26. Keeping the House
27. Paddy's Lament, Ireland 1846-1847: Prelude to Hatred (my birthday gift! yay!)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Summer Slimdown

I've discovered why I'm not getting anywhere on my 2010 Challenge of Reading My Shelves.  It's simple, really. I buy so many books that I can't possibly keep up.  For each book I take off my shelf I put another 5 or so on it.  They aren't bad books, (books not worth buying because I don't really want to read them,) they all looked interesting enough for me to spend the money on them, and they still make my heart go pitter-patter when I look at them sitting patiently on my shelves.  I just need to practice writing the title down and putting it on my TBR list instead of buying the title and putting it on my shelf.

So my New Year's Resolution wasn't enough (when is it ever?) and I have decided to find a Summer Solution to the problem.  When I saw that Carina at Reading Through Life was in the same boat and had decided to start a Summer Slimdown Challenge, I jumped on board.  I am going to attempt to severely limit the number of new books I bring into the house this summer and lighten up my shelves.  I typically pick up a book depending on my mood, so I down want to kill all my joy by restraining myself to a list, but here are a few that I'm aiming for, in addition to the junior fiction I need to pre-read for my kids before school starts:

Saturday, June 19, 2010

You Know What They Say...

You Can't Judge a Book by it's Cover!

It was a phrase I heard countless times when I was growing up.  Almost as often as:

If You Can't Say Something Nice, Don't Say Anything at All!

Somehow, I became indoctrinated with the second phrase much easier than the first.  I don't know if it's my personality, but I still struggle to Not judge a book by it's cover.  They're just so...pretty!  Which goes to prove another popular phrase:

The Eye Buys!

I'm pretty much doomed if I walk into a book store.  I'd love to be one of those people that can go into a book store, order a coffee, sit down with something new or old, borrowed or bought, and just...read.  Doesn't that sound so peaceful?  I've never been that person, however.  I am the kid in the candy store, my husband in the electronics store: every book is Wonderful!  I'm going to read everysingleonerightnow!  And really, my willpower isn't strong enough to get me out of that bookstore without buying something.

I went into Barnes & Noble Booksellers today (I really like the booksellers part, makes them sound old and kind and honest) to buy a cheap copy of Persuasion to tear up (gasp!) and decoupage some wall art and jewelry so I can literally surround myself with Jane Austen.  That was the only thing I was going to buy--honest!  But then a book caught my eye, sitting unassumingly beside the Jane Austen books.  A book that had caught my eye months ago and almost came home with me...it was [thisclose] to sitting on my bookshelf.  Well, today it did come home with me.  I couldn't resist.  Even if I never read it, it was worth the money--just as art is worth the money.

And I justified it by the fact that the copy of Persuasion I bought had a dumb, uninspiring cover--though I know it to be an amazing book--as well as the fact that I resisted buy TWO books earlier this week whose covers tempted me sorely.  I didn't buy Brooklyn, and I didn't buy Little Bee, though the cover art is great. I did buy Keeping the House; even if the story isn't great, the cover art is: a little vintage '50s in one tidy package.  Am I the only one with this problem?  Have you ever succumbed to the evil/amazing cover artists?

Brooklyn: A Novel     Little Bee: A Novel     Keeping the House: A Novel