02 December 2013

The NYT Top 100 Notable Books: What did you read? What got left out?

JLaw loves book lists, too!
'Tis the season for book lists.  Is everybody else as excited as I am?  No?  Why on earth not?  Every year, The New York Times issues a list of 100 notable books published that year.  I should specify for adults, that is.  There is a separate list that celebrates notable children's books. Like any list, there's a percentage of titles that I agree with and a certain number that I'm outraged over their exclusion.  I wish I know how titles got on the list.  There are more than 100 adult titles that got rave reviews from the Times over the last 11 months. And what happens to those books published in December?  Are they just not considered at all?

This year as I was reading the list, it felt like I'd read a LOT of the titles and I started to feel perhaps a little too pleased with myself. Then I actually counted the titles and it was only 16. Not to brag about my mad math skills or anything, but I can tell what percentage of 100 that those sixteen titles make without even using a calculator. In other words, 16 titles ain't squat for someone in my vocation (bookselling) or avocation (blogging, though avocation is putting it a bit strongly. okay, a LOT strongly).

Here are the titles in alphabetical order that I read, with nonfiction at the end. I  conclude with two  that I gave the ol' college try and just couldn't get anywhere with.

1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
2. Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
3. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena* by Anthony Marra
4. The Dinner by Herman Koch
5. The Goldfinch* by Donna Tartt
6. The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer
7. Longbourn by Jo Baker
8. The Lowland* by Jhumpa Lahiri
9. A Marker to Measure Drift* by Alexander Maksik
10. Schroder by Amity Gaige
11. The Son* by Philipp Meyer
12. The Two Hotel Francforts by David Leavitt
13. We Need New Names by Noviolet Bulawayo
14. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud
15. Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink
16. My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

*These books will likely make my personal Top Ten list for 2013, which I've clearly not compiled yet because, hello, I will be reading books in December, unlike The New York Times.

17. The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver -- ugh, not for me
18. Someone by Alice McDermott -- ugh, really not for me

If I had to pick one title that I'm gobsmacked wasn't included on the list, I'd go with Ruth Ozeki's excellent novel, A Tale for the Time Being, which was one of the best books I've read this year. On the other hand, my favorite book this year, The Rosie Project, I am not at all surprised to see not make the cut. There are works of fiction on this list that I don't believe are worthy of inclusion, but I won't name them here because I *perhaps* have met these folks (or will meet them one day) and don't want to burn any bookselling bridges.

So what about you, dear reader?  Check out this link and tell me which books you read, if any, and which books should have been included in your impeccable estimation!

30 November 2013

Last Month In Review: November 2013

A rare sunny moment in November, near sunset
Oh, November, my natal month.  I have such a love-hate relationship with you.  I've come to admire that stark beauty that marks this month: the shades of brown, the bare tree branches outlined against a gray sky, the dregs of the more gloriously colorful autumn months, the harbinger of snows not yet flown. It is an in-between month like no other--neither fall nor winter. I think November is, more than any other month, a time of contemplation and reflection for me.  True, it marks another year older for me, but because I work in the retail world, it also marks the last deep breath that I draw before the mad rush of the holiday season is upon me.

Here, then, is a list of what I've read this month.  Though I write this on November 30, it's not likely that I will finish another book before the day's end to be included here. It's a small list--I think the smallest that I've had in years--but I'm not going to beat myself up about it. In chronological order:

1. Loud Awake and Lost by Adele Griffin. (not yet released) This was a YA book.  An amnesiac girl returns to her old life after being released from the hospital, slowly piecing together the two months leading up to the car accident that almost killed her. Not bad.  No doubt it would have resonated more if I'd read it at a more melodramatic age.

2. The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy. Memoir/audio book.  Pat Conroy is an author who doesn't know the meaning of understated prose. That being said, this book has as powerful a message of family forgiveness and healing as I've ever read.  This was a good month for me to read/hear that message. The reader was generally quite good, but his voicing of Santini was excellent.

3. And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass.  (not yet released). This novel is an extension of, but not a sequel to, The Three Junes--it involves a few of the same characters such as Fenno and Malachy's mother, but they are minor characters here. I think Glass is a master of depicting family relationships in fiction. And I've often thought that that line from Louis Armstrong's song is one of the most poetic of 20th century lyrics.

4. Love Letters to the Dead by Ava Dellaira. (not yet released) This is another YA. Main character writes letters to various dead people (Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Judy Garland, Amelia Earheart et al) as a means of coping with the death of her sister.  Not bad, and it will no doubt be a teen hit, but it grossly abuses the epistolary format.

5. Hurricane Island by Ellen Meeropol. (not yet released) Ellen Meeropol is my coworker and I was lucky enough to be an early reader for this, her second novel.  A weather data specialist is abducted by the FBI and Homeland Security from JFK airport and transported to a tiny offshore detention center to be held for questioning regarding a terrorist threat.  (Sorry, no image available yet!)

6. Prairie Evers by Ellen Airgood. Middle grade. My goodness, what a sweet and funny story. I don't read much middle grade fiction, but when I read a book as good as this one, it makes me wonder why I don't read more. Think of Clementine's good intentions but frequent mishaps, and add in a little of the old-fashioned sweetness of the Penderwicks series and that will give you a pretty good idea of Prairie Evers.

And now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to read.  Mostly for work, but I cross my fingers in the hope that it will also be for pleasure.  What about you and your favorite November reads?

24 November 2013

Funniest Book I've Read This Year: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Like most book bloggers and/or booksellers, I read quite a bit.  My tastes tend towards the literary fiction end of the spectrum, sprinkled with good books from a variety of other genres, but mostly, I enjoy a dark read as much as the next person; Cormac McCarthy's The Road was my idea of beach reading the year it was published.  However, I'm frequently asked by customers for recommendations on the lighter end of the scale, but sometimes the request is for light but not frivolous, or for funny without raunchy, and these questions stump me.

More precisely, I should say they used to stump me. Now, however,  I have The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and it will pretty much be the answer to every adult looking for a novel this holiday season. I read it over vacation in June and roared with laughter. In public.  There may even have been a snort or two.  (There were.) Seriously, this is the funniest book I've read this year, and it's certainly the funniest book I've read in recent memory, including humorist writing like Tina Fey's Bossypants or Ellen DeGeneres's Seriously, I'm Kidding. I liked it so much that I read it again four months later in preparation for the author's appearance at my store. Now it hangs out in the kitchen and I read it over breakfast or while my husband is making dinner, dipping into it here and there, and you know what?  It's still funny.

Here's the 4-1-1: Don Tillman is a professor of genetics at an Australian university. He's brilliant, loyal, and longing for a life partner.  You see, Don Tillman gets a lot of first dates but he's never been on a second one due to a wide range of behavioral quirks. He's got Aspberger's, but you wouldn't say he suffers from it--more like he triumphs from it.  He creates a multi-page questionnaire to weed out unlikely candidates for a wife, sincere but misguided in the belief that scientific method will prevail when more traditional outlets for dating have failed him.

Enter Rosie, sent to Don by his colleague in the psych department, looking for help discovering her birth father. Don thinks his colleague has sent Rosie as part of The Wife Project and is dismayed by this  boisterous, loud, bold, drinking, smoking, and habitually late young woman, yet oddly drawn to her.  To top that off, she also wears jewelry and too much makeup, dyes her hair,  is mathematically incompetent and works in a bar--she is clearly unsuitable for Don, failing the questionnaire spectacularly.
A genetics-inspired helix display for the author

Graeme Simsion with me
You don't have to be a genius to know how the book will end, but you cannot possibly predict the uproarious and delightful scenarios--and the occasional poignant one-- you will pass through to get there. This book has stood the test of all sorts of readers I know, ranging from a couple of 20-somethings up to my nearly-octogenarian mother. Three coworkers, the boyfriend of one of them, my husband, and even a hospital patient who said it was worth the extra pain brought on by her laughter because this book took her mind off of where she was. Like me, she liked it enough that she picked it up again to read as soon as she finished.

There are moments where it flags a bit, but these are rare and fleeting in a generally streamlined and tight novel. And it's no surprise, considering that this novel started off as a screenplay.  This book is funny in a very smart way, and in my experience, that's difficult to do well.  For every When Harry Met Sally in existence, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of bad rom-coms.

I wish I could excerpt a few passages, but the scenes that are so funny are big, and need too much build-up, so it's not really worth doing. Here's one paragraph that might give an idea of Don's habit of being sincere-but-misguided: the one woman who ticked all the right boxes on the questionnaire has also demanded that her partner be a good dancer.  Fair enough, Don thinks (he really is quite fair). He's aware he's being particular and it's reasonable to expect her to be particular, too.  He doesn't know how to dance, but how hard can it be? He watches movies and YouTube videos, practicing with a skeleton in his office. Here's what happens when he and his partner hit the dance floor at a faculty ball on their first date:
"I took her in the standard jive hold that I had practiced on the skeleton and immediately felt the awkwardness, approaching revulsion, that I feel when forced into intimate contact with another human. I had mentally prepared for this, but not for a more serious problem. I had not practiced with music. I am sure I executed the steps accurately, but not at precisely the correct speed, and not at the same time as the beat...Bianca tried to lead, but I had no experience with a living partner, let alone one who was trying to be in control."
Just the phrase "standard jive hold"makes me want to giggle. If you know me in real life, and if we usually exchange Christmas presents, then be forewarned: do not buy yourself a copy of this book.  If you know me in real life and we don't normally exchange Christmas presents, well, you just might get one this year.  That's how much I love this book and want everybody I know to read it, too.  It will make you laugh in all the right ways.

If you don't want to take my word for it, take the word of the acquiring editors the world over who have bought the rights to The Rosie Project in their countries; the number was more than three dozen and counting the last I looked. And naturally since it began as a screen play it will end as one, too.  No word on casting, but I confided to the author that I think he'd do well to court Benedict Cumberbatch for the role of Don Tillman, who was in agreement. He's had a bit of experience playing the brilliant, gorgeous, socially awkward, probably-Aspbergian genius who maybe-just-maybe longs for love:

22 November 2013

Last Month in Review: October 2013

I am a procrastinator by nature, but even I am a little ashamed of how late this monthly reading wrap-up post is.  But better late than pregnant, as they say. (Or maybe that is just my family who says that?) And speaking of procrastination, it's clearly better for me to write this post instead of an actual book review.  Clearly.

I had a short vacation in October in which I read quite a bit, but then I came home and read very little because of Life Stuff. Here in chronological order is what I read, and it's a mix of real books and ebooks.  Overall I've retained less of what I read in ebook format, but I'm pondering now whether that's the nature of the medium or more due to the content of said ebooks.

1. The Fire and the Rose by Abby and Domina. An interesting piece of Harry Potter fanfiction in which Snape and Hermione are in a potions accident and take on each other's physical appearance. Like Polyjuice but with longer lasting effects. Well-written, fun, and extremely satisfying. It totally earns its spot here because it is novel-length.

2. Ajax Penumbra by Robin Sloan. Not technically a book, more like a chapbook, this is a prequel to Mr Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore. Fun, but naturally I wanted more.

3. One Summer, America 1927 by Bill Bryson.  I'd read the book earlier this year but this time I listened to the audio, read by Bill Bryson himself.  I'm not a particularly big fan of baseball, boxing, aviation, or any number of other subjects covered in this book, but I am very much a fan when an underdog comes along and does something very well--better than anybody else who has come before--and changes the course of that history. Also, I learned that Teddy Roosevelt was the fourth president included in Mount Rushmore because he and the sculptor were personal friends.  And that Calvin Coolidge loved having his head rubbed with Vaseline at breakfast. 1927 was a pretty busy year.

4. Divergent  by Veronica Roth. I'm probably the last person in the blogosphere to read that book.  I liked it--thought it was a fascinating concept. Again I found myself intrigued by the story of a YA novel but wishing it had been given a more adult treatment and had more attention paid to the prose. I will probably read the other two books in this series eventually but I am in no rush to do so.

5. The Kept by James Scott.  This debut novel is, without a doubt, the best book I read in October. I hope to write a fuller review of this eventually, but it's a bleak novel with a bleak setting. Much violence set in relief against some really lovely prose.

6. Panic by Lauren Oliver.  Ebook, YA. I was pleased that Oliver had tried her hand at more realistic fiction, but it still seems pretty forgettable to me: high school seniors in a dying mill town in upstate New York compete in a series of increasingly dangerous situations to win big money. Add in a dash of romance, revenge, and conspiracy. You've got the picture.

7. Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman.  Ebook.  Apparently it's almost impossible to write a historical novel these days without intertwining it with a modern-day co-plot. Still, I enjoyed this bit of history, set in post-WWII reconstruction Hungary, even if I didn't much care for the contemporary story. And I think that Waldman is a very good writer.

8. The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore. Ebook.  Very funny but also a little skimmable. I'm still a little crushed out on him from meeting him earlier in October since he reminded me so much of the nerds and geeks folks I went to high school with.

9. The Here and Now by Ann Brashares. Ebook and YA. A high school girl recovers from a coma and leaves hospital to come home, but with a case of amnesia that prevents her from remembering the two months leading up to her near-fatal car accident.

10. The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook. Audio book. Another book set in post-WWII reconstruction, but this time in Germany. Bonus: no modern day co-plot. A British soldier, his wife, and son learn to rebuild their lives after the war while the Allied forces figure out how to rebuild Germany.

So what about you?  If you can remember that far back, what were the highlights or lowlights of your reading in October? 

20 November 2013

Bookish Things & Bookseller Rants

If you've been a recent reader of my blog, you'd be forgiven for thinking that I write a travel blog and that's that. I don't mean to whine (at least not much), but life has been on the hard side for the last 5-6 weeks.  I've been working 10-14 day stretches at a time with precious little time off.  At home we've battled black mold, power outages, no hot water, no heat, no internet, all topped off with a little flooding in that same time period. We were without a washing machine or dryer for that entire period, so I've had to get a little creative when it comes to laundry. (Hint: that's code for "I washed my underwear in the sink and just kept wearing the same 4 pairs of jeans without washing them.")

And did I mention that my bookstore just celebrated its 50th anniversary?  That's a pretty big milestone for any business, peoples, but for an independent bookstore?  That's practically unheard of.  We had mad fun but it was insanely busy in the long run-up to it. We capped it all off with a 1960s dance party and it looked a lot like this:

Or maybe this:

It's been so long since I've written a book review that the task somehow seems too monumental to tackle right now, so I'm just going to share some bookselling things that have happened to me recently. They range from adorably delightful to a little odd to unspeakable rudeness:

Customer calls and wants to know if we can order a book that she wants to buy that she has checked out of the library.  I ask for the title.  She says, "Oh, I left the book in the other room.  Should I go get it?" No, that's okay.  I've got ALL DAY.  Let me just try to guess what it is.

Customer calls before the store opens and leaves message on the store answering machine, wondering if we have a certain book.  I call him back about 15 minutes after the store opens and say no, we don't, but I can have the book here in two days if you'd like to special order it.  He says, "Well, that's just a terrible way to run a business." Confused, I ask him what he means.  He actually raises his voice and say, "I shouldn't have to leave a message just to see if you have a book.  When I call Barnes & Noble, I get a real person to talk to." I try to explain that he called after hours.  He says, "Oh, no I didn't!  I called at 9:15 this morning and I had to leave that message." "Sir," I explain, "the store doesn't open until 10:00."  LONG pause. "Well, then I guess that makes me the terrible one," he chuckles.

Most upset customers don't recognize if they're ever in the wrong, so I really appreciated his saying that.  "Well, I'd say 'terrible' is putting it a little too strongly, sir," was my reply and he laughed. And then he ordered the book.

Customer on phone: Can you get me X book?
    Me: No, I'm afraid that book is out of print, but we have somebody on staff who does those searches. Shall I have her take a look and call you back?
Customer, worried: Oh, dear.  I have to leave the house for a while.  I'd hate for her to be offended by leaving a message.  I have an answering machine.  Do you think that would be okay?
   Me: Yes, of course.
Customer: Are you sure she won't be offended?
  Me: Yes, quite sure.

For our store's 50th anniversary, we gave away over $50 worth of books & goodies every hour at the :50 minute mark (get it?). We even let people decide whether they wanted a grab-bag of books for adults or children. One woman who won opted for a kids bag, but she called back the next day, quite irritated and asked if she could return them.  When asked what the problem was, she said that one book was too old for her 5-year-old son (the $40 Mo Willems book called Don't Pigeonhole Me) and that the other ones her son wouldn't be interested in because they were about a girl.  Never mind that it was a complete set of Madeline books in hardcover. In other words, picture book classics. We asked if maybe her son had a friend to share the books with, but nope. The woman said if she couldn't return them to us that she'd just throw the books away.  Excuse me?

It is the height of rudeness to call and complain about the free books that you've won, and in this instance it's an extreme case of gender bias. I mean, heaven forbid we encourage our children to read anything that doesn't reflect themselves back in the pages. But to then threaten to just throw those books away?


But not all of my customer stories are quite so ugh. One of them is, as promised, adorably delightful. A father and his little girl walk into my store for the first time.  When the father asks if we have a children's department, we direct him to the lower level.  There's an interior stairway connecting the floors, with a landing in the middle, from which one can see the kids' department sprawled out below.  When the little girl reached the landing and saw all of the books and games, she gasped, "Oh, this is my paradise!" Except she was young enough to still have a slight lisp, so it came out, "Oh, thith is my paradithe!" I'm sure if I'd ever wanted children I would have wanted to take her home with me. 
She might not have been as cute as this panda ball, but it was close...
How about y'all?  What interesting bookish and/or work stories do you have to share?

18 November 2013

Ahhhh, Anguilla: October 2013, Post-the-Last

Wow, but this trip flew by way too quickly.  We've done several 4- and 5-night trips before, but this one seemed particularly swift. I awakened with the sunrise in the morning and instead of snapping a photo and going back to sleep, got up to pack. We'd debated between getting up early for breakfast and returning to the villa for the last few minutes vs packing up and doing our leavetaking of the villa before  heading out for breakfast and the airport, and the latter won.

Apartment above Bonjour Cafe
Thus it was that around 10:00 we showed up at Bonjour Cafe again, having locked up the villa, made a last-minute sweep for out stuff, and leaving notes and tips for our housekeepers. DH decided to fortify himself with protein and thus ordered eggs & bacon, but I was a pastry girl all the way.  We ordered cappuccinos (cappuccini?) and shared one of the freshly squeezed orange juices, plus a buttered ham baguette to go to eat in St. Maarten.

I appreciated that the flowers were picked fresh daily--the handwritten sign for the OJ looked the same, but somebody had taken the trouble to remove the bougainvillea from the day before and put out fresh frangipani blooms.

We had some time, so once again we lingered over coffee, even having a second cup, and chatting with the owner a bit.  I ordered the identical pastries from the day before--almond croissant and a pain au chocolat--and they were infinitely better and fresher-tasting. I was even tempted to try out the hammock this time, but I held off. Gotta save something for next trip, right?

Before long, it was time to head to the airport to meet Joan from AARF, who was delivering two kitties to us to transport back to the US. My husband was filled with nervousness about it, but I'd been in contact with GreensFromMaine, a member of one of the travel forums I frequent, and she walked me through the process pretty well via email. We took two litter mates with us and AARF takes care of everything: carrier, small pouches of food, a small toy, veterinary papers, collars, leashes, and a spare liner for the carrier in case the kitties had to wee. They even provide cash for paying the airline carrier's fee, but in this case we volunteered to pay it as a means of supporting AARF.

Check-in with Anguilla Air Services was easy and since the kitties were sharing one carrier and it could ride on my lap, they didn't charge anything to transport them. The kitties could even stay in the carrier while I carried it through security--after they inspected the carrier, that is. I just have to say that those kitties were champs.  Though they cried for all three takeoffs and cried for most of the 6-minute flight from Anguilla to St. Maarten, they were champs. Troupers. Whatever cliche you prefer, insert it here. They went about 13.5 hours without eating, drinking, or using the bathroom!

Expressing their displeasure at takeoff
This was the third time we'd flown with AAS to St. Maarten and this trip we flew lower and came in at a sharper angle than we'd done before, seeing new parts of both Anguilla and St. Maarten.  We took lots of photos, including a shot of what I think might be the old location of Straw Hat and Saba seen through the windscreen:

Is this the old Straw Hat seen in the mid-ground?
Saba, dead ahead

Coming in sharply for the runway!
The pilot and the gate agent for AAS were marvelous, helping us onto the little bus that takes us to the terminal, and helping us handle our bags (we had one empty but largish bag with us that had been filled with stuff for AARF on our way to Anguilla), and showing us exactly where to go to find the transfer desk at baggage claim so that we wouldn't have go out into the terminal to check in. Everything we did that day with the kitties went as smoothly as possible--it was a dream, really--and we will definitely do it again. I don't imagine that we will ever take the ferry again if we had our druthers.

I had to take the kitties out of the carrier to go through security at St. Maarten, which I was rather dreading.  As any of you know who have passed through SXM, they seem to have the surliest workers in all of the travel industry. But with the kitties in hand, they were all smiles at me as I passed through, offering to help with zipping or unzipping the carrier, and one woman quickly jumped in to help extricate one of the kitties' claws from the mesh on the carrier. Verdict: everybody who travels to Anguilla back to the US via St. Maarten should transport a puppy or kitty to make their travels easier and more pleasant!

Once upstairs in the gate area, we turned left to the quiet end of the concourse to try to give the kitties a little food and water, but they refused it all, except for when I dipped my fingertips in water and then moistened their mouths. Oh, well.  They seemed fairly content when I would slip one hand into the carrier and pet them, with the fuzzier kitten having such a loud purr that even DH could hear it one seat away.
Seriously, how cute are these two?
The rest of our travel went smoothly and except for a few minutes at takeoff, the kitties were quiet, nestled into their carriers.  Even Miami wasn't bad--lines were pretty short for immigration and we spent an extra 5 minutes in the agriculture line where our veterinary health papers were inspected and we were waved on through.  At security in Miami, I thought one of the TSA agents was going to go into paroxysms of joy at seeing the kitty, and lots of people asked if they could see the kitties before we put them back into the carrier. On the flight from Miami to Hartford, we had one open seat between us, so we could take turns putting one of our hands inside to give comfort, all through the flight.

We met the kittens' foster mom at 1:00 am when we landed (such is the dedication of the people who work with AARF), who is a vet tech. She surprised us just a few days later by letting us know that the kitten had been adopted already.  Seriously, I would urge anybody traveling to Anguilla (or to other parts of the world that might have an animal overpopulation problem) to consider volunteering these animals for transport.  I was surprised just how hard it was to give up those kitties after spending just one day with them, but I would do it again in a heart beat.

That essentially concludes our trip. When we arrived back home, it was to a miasma of black mold, intermittent service of electricity, water, and internet, and no heat for two weeks.  Which is to say that all of the relaxation we soaked up in in the Anguillian sun evaporated lickety-split, such are the joys of home ownership. Thus it is that we're already planning in our minds our next vacation in June.

I'll miss these empty beaches!
Some closing thoughts: Visiting Anguilla this October was very different from being there in Oct '09 and Oct '10. Much quieter over all, and far more places were still closed for the season compared to our previous fall trips. We loved the quietness of the beaches, though, and we'll definitely miss that come next summer.  I was a little surprised to discover just how much our favorite restaurants play a part of our vacation in Anguilla, so we've decided that we will probably save future October breaks for other islands--either new ones we'd like to explore or old favorites that we've not revisited since we discovered Anguilla--and save Anguilla for our two weeks each summer.  Comparison is the thief of joy, and it was difficult not to compare this trip with previous ones.

Some folks have asked if we'll go back to Sweet Return villa and the answer is a qualified yes. Caribella earned our loyalty a couple of years ago and we will return to them whenever they are open.  If we go back to Anguilla again when they're closed, then I would absolutely go back to Sweet Return. I preferred the villa's location on the island compared to Caribella, as it felt much more centrally located.  It's also much nicer than Caribella, whose premium value is its beachfront location on a quiet stretch of sand. I'll say this--it was pretty easy adjusting to Sweet Return's amenities, especially its pool.  But I guess when it comes down to it, I'd rather be beachfront than have a pool, and though it would be perfectly lovely to have both, I'm not aware of any places in Anguilla in my price bracket that offer both. (If you're reading this and you know of any, I'd love to hear what they are!)

12 November 2013

Ahhhh, Anguilla: October 2013

Sunrise, seen from the bedroom
Isn't it always the way?  It seems that we have a habit of discovering a new favorite place on our last full day on the island and this trip was no different. When we'd stopped by Sea Spray the day before, Pamela had told us about Bonjour Cafe, so when we woke up on Tuesday we were excited to try something new. Just to play it safe, we called ahead to make sure they were open, then we packed our beach bags for the day and headed to Sandy Ground.

Bonjour Cafe was just as sweet and charming as can be.  Very low key, limited menu, but just the kind of place we were looking for: quiet, breezy, and inviting us to take our time to linger over our books.

I ordered an almond croissant and a pain au chocolat, plus the freshly squeezed orange juice and a cappuccino. DH ordered the continental special, plus cafe au lair and orange juice. My pastries were good but not special--we learned later that they come from Le Bon Pain in the east end, and my guess is that they weren't baked fresh that day, since we went back the next morning and the pastries were excellent. But the coffee was good, the orange juice was great, and we enjoyed the quietude, only occasionally interrupted by the yard fowl.

After about an hour I wandered around and made some photos. The patio itself is fairly large but there is also a bar with some lounge seating indoors, plus a hammock on the side of the building. We were the only people for the hour and a half we were there.

Cappuccino, served up with cinnamon and turbinado sugar

Interior of Bonjour Cafe
While paying for breakfast (on the expensive side, thanks to the OJ), we learned a bit more about the HUGE airplane we saw flying in on our way to breakfast. At first we assumed that the 737 was headed to St. Maarten, but it was REALLY low over the island. Turns out that it was from the World Cup trophy tour, so we swung by the airport on our way to Shoal Bay East to ogle it.  We contemplated lingering there until we could see it take-off, and if it hadn't been our last day on the island, we might have.

Big 737 at the tiny airport

The road to Shoal Bay East
At Shoal Bay East, we decided to return to Tropical Sunset since we'd had such a good time there the day before. It was quiet when we first arrived, so I made a quick video, and it's a lucky thing I did because 45 minutes after we arrived, a small bus disgorged passengers from St. Maarten.  Uh, oh!
Despite our qualms, the guests from St. Maarten were respectful of the serenity on the beach--no shouting, no drunken louts, no running up and down the beach.

The only impact they had on us was that we decided to walk up for a late lunch so that the kitchen wouldn't be as slow, but that just gave me time to enjoy my first guavaberry colada (okay, but not my favorite) and to explore the beach and make some photos:
Looking west from my chair
Looking east from my chair, with the folks from St. Maarten in view

In front of Madeariman
At the end by Madeariman
Gutted building at Ku
This is a seriously gorgeous beach
Lunch was on the lighter side, since we'd gone out for breakfast and were planning dinner out for my DH's birthday. DH ordered a hot dog and I'm afraid that I cannot remember what I ordered.  I think it was something like a fish sandwich, but I didn't write it down.  I do recall that we had talked about sharing the cracked conch salad and then each having a sandwich, but we weren't hungry enough.

Heading home to Sweet Return
The island sparkling in the afternoon sun
We left the beach in the late afternoon and headed home to Sweet Return for a swim and to refresh ourselves before our sunset drinks. We'd been looking forward all day to our sundowners at Elvis's on Sandy Ground.  Too bad we didn't know it was closed.  We pulled up in the parking lot a few minutes before sunset and were dismayed to see that Elvis's was all shut up.  Or at least as shut up as an open-air beach bar can be.

We risked walking out on the sand to get better shots of the sunset--I don't know what it is about the Sandy Ground location that makes it so terrible for bugs.  We'd sprayed down with some insect repellent with a low DEET percentage, but we still felt like we were getting eaten alive.
The most colorful sunset of our trip
So, we've got a little time on our hands and we decide to hit up Roy's for a cocktail before our dinner reservation.  It's pretty quiet there and also very buggy.  The drinks are expensive for just being a gin & tonic and Jack Daniels on the rocks--I think it was $24, including a service charge. At least we had the entertainment of a playful but standoffish kitty.
Entrance to Roy's

Before long, it was time to head to Dolce Vita for our special birthday meal. Turns out that the large table from the previous night also liked DV enough to make it their last meal on the island, too, and we all had a good laugh about that.  Since I hadn't yet had crayfish on this trip, I ordered the crayfish pasta and DH ordered the veal parmesan, and we split the arugula salad.

This is *half* of the salad
My crayfish pasta
Veal parm
The salad was excellent, as was DH's veal, but my crayfish wasn't quite up to snuff.  I suspect that the crayfish used in my dish might have been frozen because the texture was a little bit, well, mealy.  Two slightly disappointing meals in a row from Dolce Vita, but the limoncello cheesecake, if possible, tasted even better than the night before and they were gracious enough to comp us the dessert for our birthday celebrations.  I cannot decide if our disappointments sprang more from re-opening jitters or unreasonably high expectations.  Likely it was both, but we still plan to visit on our next vacation.