Happy Easter to all! We’re home after a lovely weekend with family in the Niagara region. It was wonderfully warm (the thermometer read 16 degrees Celsius when we left church yesterday) and sunny. Two of my cousins were home visiting for the weekend, so we lounged around, read books, drank endless pots of tea, walked 6 km into town and back, and filled ourselves with delicious food.
Uncle Harold prepared his classic Mennonite specialty, vareniky, for dinner of Friday night, which are cheese-filled boiled pastries, like perogies, slathered in cream sauce. We ate lamb stuffed with gremolata on Saturday night, then had a second Easter dinner with other family members on Sunday night that included braised rabbit and a divine lasagna made with homemade noodles. There was an endless stream of tarts for dessert at every meal: cherry tarts, a salted shortbread lemon tart that I made, an apple-ricotta tart, and pecan tart. I’m still feeling rather stuffed!
The frustrating thing about having little kids, though, is that a weekend away is more work than staying at home. After two nights of interrupted sleep, shortened naps, an overdose of chocolate, and having to watch them constantly in non-child-proofed houses, there was certainly a sense of relief to stumble through the front door of our home late last night and have a day to unwind before the regular routine picks up again tomorrow.
March was a surprisingly good month for reading, considering that I had a slow start. I started reading a novel for the book club a friend has started and found the book so boring that I quit halfway through. After that, though, I discovered some real literary gems.
1. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
North and South, unfortunately, was not one of those gems, but rather quite disappointing. Here’s the review I wrote about it: “What’s with these Victorian heroines?” By contrast, I watched the 4-hour BBC production of North and South last weekend and loved it. They managed to take the best parts of a long and tedious novel and create a complex, riveting film, so that’s good.
2. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
This book was great, written like an old Western. Picture saloons, banditry, cowboys on horseback, and the Gold Rush, and you’ve got a mental picture of what it’s like. While some of the description of violence and injuries were a bit intense, it was a fast, entertaining read with a very likeable narrator. I definitely recommend this book.
3. My Life in France by Julia Child
I loved this book. It has such wonderful descriptions of food, though I can’t help but think French cuisine is a little bit ridiculous in its intricate detail, but obviously Julia Child loved it for precisely that reason. What I found especially inspiring was that she didn’t know how to cook anything when she moved to France in her late 30s, and then she found her calling. I also enjoyed her descriptions of post-war Paris, 1948-1954. What a glorious city. I definitely need to go back soon.
4. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan
I decided to keep my imagination in Paris for a bit longer. This book was good, telling the story of three poor sisters with a deadbeat mother in 19th-century Paris. They seek a future through ballet classes at the Opéra, which brings them in contact with the painter Degas. It’s interesting to watch the divergence of two of the girls’ paths, one who is hardworking and determined, the other who is lazy and bitter. It was a good read.
5. Bad Girls and Wicked Women by Jan Stradling
This popular history book included many short biographies of “bad girls and wicked women” throughout history. It was fascinating — exactly the kind of reading I used to do when I was being homeschooled. I read about Cleopatra, the Empress Messalina (who held a competition with Rome’s top prostitute to see who could sleep with the most men in a night), Mata Hari (famed exotic dancer and suspected spy during WW1), Imelda Marcos (former ‘queen’ of the Philippines who had an insane shopping addiction), and Queen Ranavalona (tyrannical queen of Madagascar who massacred one-third of the country’s population), among others.
6. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
By far the best book I read all month, this was a deeply sad autobiography about the Walls family. The four children were essentially left to raise themselves because their parents were completely nuts — one a brilliant alcoholic, the other just disconnected from reality, and both very selfish. It’s a story about growing up in the U.S. in the 70s and 80s in dire poverty, but it was also inspiring despite the depressing subject.
7. La’s Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith
After the intensity of The Glass Castle, I was happy to jump into one of Alexander McCall Smith’s wonderful short novels. I love his writing style, which flows so easily and is purely entertaining. All of his books make me feel good afterwards. La’s Orchestra was set in an idyllic, rural English town during World War Two and is about a young woman who’s life goes in a direction she never foresaw.
So I’m well ahead of my 52-book target for the year and continuing to love the challenge of reading as many book as I can each month. It’s certainly opened my mind to lots of interesting new authors. I’m always open to recommendations.