Monday, June 30, 2008

Themed Reading Challenge Wrap-Up


My theme for Wendy's Challenge was to read books that feature strong, quirky female heroines. I barely finished this one, in the end counting both the first and second book in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency for this challenge. The latest in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series was my final selection, but I haven't got around to buying the book yet! Thanks for hosting a great challenge, Wendy!


Books Read:
1. Lean Mean Thirteen - Janet Evanovich (finished 16 February 2008)
2. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency - Alexander McCall Smith (finished 4 May 2008)
3. K is for Killer by Sue Grafton (finished 15 January 2008)
4. Tears of the Giraffe - Alexander McCall Smith (finished 17 June 2008)

Favorite: The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, what a great introduction to a wonderful series!
Least Favorite: Lean Mean Thirteen, the storylines are starting to get too formulaic and repetitive for me.
Authors new to me: Alexander McCall Smith

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Have we read the same books?


Have I reviewed a book that you have read? If so, leave a comment at any time with a link to your review, and I'll add it to my reviews!

Sunday Salon - Catching Up

The Sunday Salon.comWhew, it has been one long month. We moved into our new townhouse on June 21, travelling from Baltimore, Maryland to North Brunswick, New Jersey with two cars, one Uhaul, my husband and brother-in-law, one cat that gets motion-sickness and was so stressed she threw up before we left, and Baby Maya, who slept the whole way (literally, she fell asleep almost as soon as I turned on the car, and woke up 3 hours later when I parked in front of our new home).

We are slowly unpacking, and everyone is adjusting well to the new home. Isabel, our cat (pictured on the home page of this blog) loves having stairs to run up and down, and a huge bay window to sit and look out from. Maya loves the additional floor space where she can practice her newly developed crawling skills. My husband and I are just happy to know that we will be staying put for at least three years while he finishes his surgery residency. Pictures will be up soon. Through the whole thing, reading has been my lifeline to staying sane. I finished up The Blessing of A Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel (review forthcoming), Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith,  The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany, and am just now starting The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

I logged on to Google Reader to find 1,000+ posts waiting for me! Egads! I also realized it was hour 18 of Dewey's 24 hour Read-a-thon, so I must give a big hoorah to all the participants!!! The first read-a-thon I was 9 months pregnant so opted to be a cheerleader instead of a participant. This time around was really bad timing and I didn't even attempt to participate. If there is a third, I definitely plan on being a reader, finally!

I promise next week's Salon will be a bit more bookish, as I become more settled in!


One Word Meme

I have so many things I should be doing right now, but this looked fun when I saw it over at Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All you have to do is answer each question with one word, and tag four people. I'm opting out of the tagging part; if you'd like to play consider yourself tagged!  

1.Where is your cell phone? Kitchen
2. Your significant other? Wonderful.
3. Your hair? Brown
4. Your mother? Happy.
5. Your father? Beach.
6. Your favorite thing? Books
7. Your dream last night? Popsicles.
8 Your favorite drink? Tea
9. Your dream/goal? Travel.
10. The room you’re in? Office
11. Your hobby? Many.
12. Your fear? Bees.
13. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Carolina
14. What you’re not? Purple
15. Muffins? Apple
16. One of your wish list items? Molok'ai
17. Where you grew up? Pennsylvania
18. The last thing you did? Sleep
19. What are you wearing? Pajamas
20. Favorite gadget? Camera
21. Your pets? Crazy
22. Your computer? Mac
23. Your mood? Sleepy
24. Missing someone? No
25. Your car? Red
26. Something you’re not wearing? Shoes
27. Favorite store? Amazon
28. Like someone? Many.
29. Your favorite color? Purple
30. When is the last time you laughed? Yesterday
31. Last time you cried? June

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Book Awards Challenge Wrap-Up


I can't believe a year has passed since I started this challenge! 3M's Book Awards challenge started in June 2007, and I have definitely read some wonderful book in fulfilling this one. The goal was to read 12 books that have won an award; I read 13 books that would fit into this challenge. In all, I read books that won the Man Booker Prize, Pulitzer, Neustadt, Newbery, Pen/Faulkner, Pura Belpre, National Jewish Book Award, Hugo, Printz, and Nobel.


1. The Sea, The Sea - Iris Murdoch (1978 Booker) finished 20 May 2008
2. March - Geraldine Brooks (2006 Pulitzer) finished 24 January 2008
3. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee (1961 Pulitzer) finished 13 August 2007
4. Links - Nuruddin Farah (1998 Neustadt) - finished 9 January 2008
5. The Giver - Lois Lowry (1994 Newbery) - finished 24 October 2007
6. The Hours - Michael Cunningham (1999 PEN/Faulkner; Pulitzer) - finished 19 September 2007
7. The Optimist's Daughter - Eudora Welty (1973 Pulitzer) - finished 15 July 2007
8. Esperanza Rising - Pam Munoz Ryan (2002 Pura Belpre) - finished 9 December 2007
9. Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell - Susanna Clarke (2005 Hugo) - finished 17 October 2007
10. Sarah, Plain and Tall - Patricia MacLachlan (1986 Newbery) - finished 28 January 2008
11. The Road - Cormac McCarthy (2007 Pulitzer) finished 4 February 2008
12. The Bluest Eye - Toni Morrison (1993 Nobel) finished 12 February 2008
13. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak (2007 Printz; 2006 National Jewish Book Award) finished 25 February 2008

The best book: That's really, really hard. If I had to name one, it would probably be The Book Thief. But I liked them all.
What book could I have done without: None. They were all good!
New authors: Most of the authors I read were new, it's easier to list the ones I am already familiar with: Toni Morrison and Lois Lowry.

Thank you Michelle, for hosting this challenge! I definitely plan on participating in the new round starting soon!


The Yacoubian Building - Alaa Al Aswany

Title: The Yacoubian Building (Imarat Ya'qubyan in Arabic)
Author: Alaa Al Aswany (translated by Humphrey Davies)
Year: 2002
Country: Egypt
Pages: 253
Rating: 5 out of 5

First sentence: The distance between Baehler Passage, where Zaki Bey el Dessouki lives, and his office in the Yacoubian building is not more than a hundred meters, but it takes him an hour to cover it each morning as he is obliged to greet his friends on the street.

In The Yacoubian Building, a look at the residents of the title's namesake reveals the overlapping layers of Egyptian culture and politics. They represent the multiple facets of modern Egyptian society: the old, the new, and everything in between. 

Zaki Bey el Dessouki, one of the Yacoubian building's longest-residing tenants, is the son of a former prime minister, and was one of Egypt's wealthiest men before the Revolution. 
Busayna tried pushing him gently so they could cross the street, but he went on, "You know,Busayna, I feel as though I owned the Yacoubian Building. I'm the longest resident in it. I know the history of every individual and every square meter in the building. I've spent most of my life in it. I lived my best days in it and I feel as though it's a part of me. The day this building's demolished or something happens to it, that'll be the day I die." (p. 165)
Hatim Rasheed is the homosexual son of aristocrats, whose mother is French. Hagg Azzam is nouveau rich, a self-made millionaire who started out as an immigrant shoe shiner on the streets of Cairo. Taha el Shazli, the doorkeeper's son, is an observant Muslim who is lured to fundamentalism after his dream of becoming a police officer is denied to him due to his family's poverty and low social status. Busayna, Taha's childhood sweetheart, also resides on the rooftop of the Yacoubian building and is subject to overwhelming sexual harrassment as she struggles as the sole income-earner for her mother and siblings.

The sheer number of main characters followed throughout the story can at times be hard to follow, but is well worth the frequent reference to the "Cast of Characters" given at the beginning of the novel. The story paints a vivid and insightful portrait of Egyptian society for the reader, and sets a high standard (along with Naguib Mahfouz) for some of the other Egyptian literature I have on my TBR pile.

About the real Yacoubian building: The Yacoubian building does exist at the address given in the novel. A six-story building, it was built by Nishan Yacoubian, an Armenian, in the 1930's.

Also reviewed by:

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Baby Signs - Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn

Author: Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn
Year: 2002
Country: USA
Pages: 194
Rating: 4 out of 5

First sentence: Carlotta was sound asleep when her inner "mommy alarm" went off.

I knew that I was going to introduce sign language to Maya when she was a baby. Since I took four semesters of American Sign Language (ASL) in college I have some background in the language, and luckily even have my ASL dictionaries still on hand. What I didn't know was what age to start, which signs are good to introduce, and when to expect Maya to start signing back.

Authors Linda Acredolo and Susan Goodwyn claim that signing with your baby helps them to communicate what they need, feel, and think at a much earlier age than if you rely solely on the development of verbal language. Although Maya is still too young to start signing, I happen to wholeheartedly agree with their assertions, knowing many parents who have successfully signed with their babies.

Baby Signs is not strictly ASL; the method incorporates "baby friendly" signs from ASL combined with signs that have been created by babies, parents, and the authors. Although we will be using only ASL signs with Maya since that is what I know, and I do believe that most ASL signs can be "babyfied" (in the same way that a parent knows "too-bus" to mean toothbrush). It is still a wonderful starting point for parents who want to try signing with their baby. Even if you're not planning on signing, there is a wonderful chapter of rhymes (with signs to accompany them) that would be a great addition to a parent's song and nursery rhyme repetoire!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Moving house!

We're moving house!

You have probably already noticed that I have been very bad about visiting my bloggy friends over the last few weeks. I hope to catch up with everyone the beginning of July, after we are settled into our new home. We're (finally!) moving everything this weekend, so while I still have a few reviews scheduled to post over the coming two weeks, things will probably be a bit quiet here. See y'all soon!

Tears of the Giraffe - Alexander McCall Smith

Title: Tears of the Giraffe
Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Country: British Lit
Year: 2000
Pages: 227
Rating: 4 out of 5

Tears of the Giraffe, the second book in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, is a fine following to the first in the series. Not a typical mystery series, there is no complex, intertwining mystery that needs to be solved. Instead, a few small cases are interspersed around a focus on Mma Ramotswe's relationship with Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, their upcoming marriage, and the impromptu adoption of two orphans. I whip through books in this series, and they are a wonderful, enjoyable escape from the drudgery of packing up a house!

One of the most beautiful quotes from the book is where the book draws its title from:
It was a traditional Botswana basket, with a design worked into the weaving.
"These little marks here are tears," she said. "The giraffe gives its tears to the women and they weave them into the basket."..."You are very kind, Mma", she said. "But why did the giraffe give its tears?"
Mma Ramotswe shrugged; she had never thought about it. "I suppose that it means that we can all give something," she said. A giraffe has nothing else to give--only tears." (p.226)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Stay-at-Home Survival Guide - Melissa Stanton

Author: Melissa Stanton
Year: 2008
Country: USA
Pages: 385
Rating: 5 out of 5

Author's website can be found here.

First sentence: Surely, for some women, being a Stay-at-Home mother is an entirely magnificent, totally blissful, always fulfilling, happily-ever-after dream come true.

When I first became pregnant, there was no question in my mind about becoming a stay-at-home mom. I had just finished a four-month stint of physical therapy after a car accident, during which time I had lost my full-time job at a refugee resettlement organization. I was doing some freelance grantwriting work, and thought I might pick that up again after Maya was born, but knew that I wanted to focus on my daughter for the time being. Since my husband works 80 hours a week as a surgical resident, and a qualified position in my field often involves 50-60 hours, I was afraid if I didn't stay-at-home, our daughter would never see either of her parents. When an amazing job offer came along when I was six months pregnant, I did consider it, until I researched child care costs, which would have taken 80-90% of my income (unfortunately, we don't have a retired grandparent nearby and said job required a fair bit of international travel). 

After Maya was born, six months ago, my world instantly became one of dirty nappies, marathon nursing sessions, and hours of pacing our apartment trying to soothe a colicky baby. For the first two months, I was too tired to even think about what my daily life involved. When I emerged from the fog--and Maya left the colicky traits behind--back in January, I slowly began to realize just how draining the day-to-day life of raising a child can be. I jumped at the chance to review The Stay-at-home Survival Guide, both for the comfort in knowing that I am not alone, and to glean some advice on how to deal with the occasional mind-numbing boredom and isolation that can be a part of staying at home.

I love my daughter. I wouldn't change my decision to stay home with her for any reason. But every time I get the urge to punch someone for saying "You don't know how lucky you are to be able to stay home", I think I'll pick up this book instead. (Off to play peek-a-boo, go on a walk, put Maya down for a nap).

Melissa Stanton's The Stay-at-Home Survival Guide: Field-tested strategies for staying smart, sane, an connected while staying for your kids, is definitely what it claims to be. One of the best tidbits of advice is found in the preface:
If there's one thing I hope women will learn from this book, it's that it is okay to sometimes not love being a Stay-at-home mom. Women often fear that admitting as much as tantamount to sayin gto the world and themselves that we regret not being part of the paid workforce...Few people love their job every minute of the day. The same goes for the job of being a Stay-at-Home mom. (p.7)
As soon as I read that I knew this book was for me. I could identify with almost everything she talked about. The Guide is reassuring for days when I pass Maya off as soon as my husband walks through the door, and run the other direction--usually into the shower.

The Guide, as Stanton refers to the book, covers a host of useful topics: how to come to terms with your new identity when asked with the all-pervasive "What do you do?" question, balancing raising more than one children, especially when a child has special needs, how to fight the feelings of financial dependence on your spouse, making time for yourself, and your love life, and tips on finding meaningful activities to do away from your kids, and transitioning back to a career.

The advice is great, but what I love the most about The Guide is the real-life anecdotes, both from the author and all the SAHM mom's she surveyed while writing the book. I could really relate to her acknowledgment that the reason there are ten half-completed tasks scattered throughout the house is because "you have spent the day performing dozens of tiny, uninspiring, seemingly meaningless tasks and chores and errands, each of which took a little bit of time, but when added together, consumed the entire day." (p.229) That passage was underlined, highlighted, and left in plain view for my hubby. He also was requested to read the following passage in the chapter 'Sex and the Stressed-Out Stay-at-Home Mom':
...instead of pouncing on her when she collapses exhausted into bed, make and take her on a real date. (p.206)

Her experience on being introduced to others as "Brian's wife" instead of "magazine editor"at parties  really hit home. I struggled with my husband's social functions before Maya was born. When I used to respond to the "What do you do?" with "grantwriter for a refugee resettlement agency", the person I was talking to (usually a doctor) glazed over as soon as they realized I was not in the medical profession. Now that I answer that I am a SAHM, the conversation almost always stops there, while I want to scream "there is more to me than that! I AM interesting!!" For it seems, when the placenta was discarded, so was my backbone.

The Guide is a wonderful resource for stay-at-home moms, and it will definitely be added to my list of book recommendations I give to pregnant friends. The topics are well-organized, made for the mom that only has snippets of reading time. You can read it in the bathroom, while pushing a stroller, waiting at the bank/pharmacy/etc. drive-thru window. And the next time I meet a "life is perfect, I'm blissfully happy" SAHM, I won't feel overburdened by guilt for thinking I'm a terrible mother. 

This review is part of a MotherTalk blog tour.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Sunday Salon - June 8

The Sunday Salon.comThis weekend has been very busy, but I have still managed to get quite a lot of reading done. I seem to be in the midst of a lot of parenting books at the moment. I recently finished Baby Signs by Linda Acredolo (review forthcoming), and I am currently reading The Blessing of A Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children, by Wendy Mogel, for the Mother's Circle I belong to. Up next is the The Stay-at-home Survival Guide by Melissa Stanton, which I am reading as part of a Mothertalk blog tour.

As Maya gets a bit older, her personality is really starting to come through. And this is one child who never stops going! Take, for example, Maya's behaviour at a baby shower we went to yesterday. There was another baby there only three weeks older than Maya. These two babies couldn't be any more different from each other! While Maya had to be on the floor demonstrating her ability to sit and her attempts at crawling, the other baby was content sitting in her mom's lap attentively but quietly watching what was going on. Maya reveled in being handed from person to person, complete strangers she had never met before, while the other baby stayed with her mom. At one point, when the two babies were sitting next to each other, Maya started reaching over and scratching the other baby. I was really dismayed, and felt a bit humiliated that I didn't catch what she was doing right away, until I figured out what her intention was...she was trying to reach the other baby's face, and when I held her arms and leaned over she planted a big drooly kiss on the other baby's forehead! I definitely don't have a mellow baby.

If Maya's current personality is anything to go by, she is going to be very sociable and outgoing, the kind of kid that runs over and knocks other kids over with a big bear hug, and I will be reading Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka to figure out how to best nurture this wonderful, challenging, energetic, exhausting, active child I have been blessed with. Come to think of it, I may be reading it sooner rather than later, since my darling cherub is already pulling herself up to a standing position in the crib. Oy vey!
video

Friday, June 6, 2008

Giveaway Winner!

Thanks to Random.org, we have a winner!



Congrats to Corinne of The Book Nest!

And thanks to everyone who stopped by! I wish I could give a copy to all of you.

BTT and Friday Fill-In - June 6


Have your book-tastes changed over the years? More fiction? Less? Books that are darker and more serious? Lighter and more frivolous? Challenging? Easy? How-to books over novels? Mysteries over Romance?


My book tastes not only change over the years, they change depending on my daily mood! I tend to read the same amount of non-fiction and fiction. In the non-fiction corner, my tastes have changed a little bit. I used to read a lot more dense books about international relations, current events, etc. While I still read some of these, I have started to read more memoirs (often with an international or non-American focus), and books about different world religions. Parenting books populate my TBR list, whereas 10 years ago it was psychology books. I also have started reading more books about writers, artists, and historical figures or time periods.

In regards to fiction, I am definitely reading more books in translation than I used to, and branching out from my preference for Western, Indian, Japanese and South American literature. I am discovering some wonderful authors from the Middle East and Africa, which motivate me to seek out more authors from these geographical areas. I am starting to read mysteries again as my form of light reading, but my choice of authors has changed. Ten+ years ago it was Dean Koontz and Stephen King. Although I still enjoy King, I am finding pleasure in Agatha Christie, Sue Grafton, Boris Akunin, and Alexander McCall Smith. I never read a strictly 'romance' novel.

 
1. Idle hands are taking a much-deserved break.
2. I love to wash my hair in the shower.
3. My favorite time of the day is when Maya wakes up, rolls over, and smiles at me.
4. The last tea I drank was freshly made Rooibos Blood Orange iced tea with cloves and cinnamon. I just made a jug today in an effort to finish up some of my loose teas before we move!
5. I like to drink cold drinks in the Summer: homemade iced tea and lemonade, or chilled white wine.
6. My mother always said don't take the Lord's name in vain.
7. And as for the weekend, tonight I’m looking forward to having a nice dinner, tomorrow my plans include going to a friend's baby shower and Sunday, I want to read!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

M is for Malice - Sue Grafton & Series Challenge Wrap-Up

Well, I failed miserably with Kathrin's Series Challenge. I was hoping to get caught up with Grafton's Alphabet Series. At the beginning of the challenge, I was up to K. I just finished M is for Malice, so I didn't make it very far! But, I'm giving myself a second chance, and will be participating in Kathrin's follow-up challenge.


I did catch up on Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, but seeing as I only had to read one book to be caught up, I didn't count  it.

My original post can be found here.

Title: M is for Malice
Author: Sue Grafton
Country: USA
Year: 1996
Pages: 352 pages

I honestly don't have too much to say about this one. I read it a few weeks ago, and it is already a bit dim in my memory, which is why I'm not giving it a rating (plus, I typically don't review series books, but these are part of a challenge). As always, I enjoyed the escape into Kinsey's world!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Cheri and The Last of Cheri - Colette

Title: Chéri and The Last of Chéri

Author: Colette
Country: France
Year: 1920 and 1926
Pages: 247
Rating: 5 out of 5

First sentence (Chéri): Give it me, Léa, give me your pearl necklace! 
First sentence (The Last of Chéri): Chéri closed the iron gate of the little garden behind him and sniffed the night air: 'Ah! it's nice out here!'

For a more detailed analysis of the first novella, check out my Sunday Salon post.

The Last of Chéri picks up five years after the end of Chéri. In between, World War I has happened. Chéri seems to be one of the fortunate; he returns home not only alive, but unscathed (at least physically). His wife is fulfilling her patriotic duty working as a nurse at a Parisian verteran's hospital, and financially, he could want for nothing. Yet, while Chéri was sensual, The Last of Chéri is a chilling masterpiece. Unlike the first, this time around we only see the world from Chéri's narcissistic perspective. After visiting a much-aged Léa, he delves into a semi-manic depression, spurred on by his demands on another aged courtesan to recount Léa's younger life.

In all, this has been a great pair of novels to read. I also heard that a film version will be coming out in 2009, with Michelle Pfeiffer in the role of Léa, and Kathy Bates as Madame Peloux (Chéri's mother). I have a feeling it's not going to be in French, but I'm interested to see what they do with it.

Chéri never forgot their nocturnal journey home, the sadness of the lingering crimson in the west, the smell of the grasses, the feathery moths held prisoner in the beam of the headlamps. (p.167)

She put back the receiver, showing nothing but the curve of her back. As she moved away, she inhaled and exhaled puffs of blue smoke, and vanished in the midst of her cloud like a magician whose task is accomplished. (p. 181)
 

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sunday Salon - June 1; Cheri by Colette

The Sunday Salon.com
I recently started reading the combined story Chéri and The Last of Chéri by Colette. It did not take very long to finish the first novella, Chéri. Colette writes in exemplary prose, and I regret that it has taken me this long to read one of her books.

In Chéri, we meet Léa, a middle-aged courtesan whose lover for the last six years is Chéri, the twenty-five year old son of one of her contemporaries. Chéri is childish, spoiled, and petulant. They live in pre-World War I Paris, a time and place when the arts flourished alongside pleasures of the flesh. Both characters have an eye for the finer things in life: June strawberries with rich cream, dry champagne, a gold rose-embroidered cloak, antique furniture upholstered in modern silks. The vivid observations of both characters highlight Colette's own keen eye. The divine Colette was a sensualist, and her attention and devotion to the details of love and life make her scenes tantalizing but not tawdry. 

Léa and Chéri separate after Chéri is arranged to marry Edmée, a young, innocent girl with a large inheritance. Both have constructed such a large defense around their heart, that neither at first recognizes the love that they feel for each other. 

The book has a fabulous setting in the demi-monde of Parisian society, which has brought it a fair amount of controversy, and I'm really looking forward to delving in to The Last of Chéri to see where the two lovers go from here.

A few of my favorite passages:
The hand of the sleeper relaxed and the tapering fingers, tipped with cruel nails, drooped like wilting flowers: a hand not strictly feminine, yet a trifle prettier than one could have wished; a hand she had kissed a hundred times--not in slavish devotion--but kissed for the pleasure of it, for its scent. (p.28)
She sank into a chair and fanned herself. A sphinx-moth and a number of long-legged mosquitoes hovered round the lamps; scents of the countryside drifted in from the garden, now that night had fallen. A sudden waft from an acacia burst in upon them, so distinct, so active, that they both turned round, half expecting to see it advancing toward them. (p.36)
At a loss for an answer, he stood uncertain for a moment, shifting from one slender foot to the other, poised with winged grace like a young Mercury. (p.41)
 A liaison of six years is like following your husband out to the colonies: when you get back again nobody recognizes you and you've forgotten how to dress. (p.112)
You might not be able to tell from my recent reading selections, but I love novels set or written during the late 18th and early twentieth century, particularly the time period of 1890-1920. I always seem to prefer those set in Europe, but have a few American favorites as well. A few I've read include The Awakening by Kate Chopin, O Pioneers by Willa Cather, Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and To the Lighthouse and Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (those with links go to my review). 

As always, there are more books set or written in this time period on my TBR list than I have actually read: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, The Garden Party by Katherine Mansfield, Three Lives by Gertrude Stein, A Room With a View by E.M. Forster, In Search of Lost Time by Proust, The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, and the Growth trilogy by Booth Tarkington. Of course, further reading recommendations are always welcome!