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Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Family. Few words evoke more emotion. In "The Burgess Boys", Elizabeth Strout introduces a trio of siblings who wear the scars of unpleasant childhood memories. Jim, Susan, and Bobby manage to keep the evidence of old wounds well hidden from each other by living relatively separate lives. There exists an obvious pecking order enhanced by sarcasm and tainted with a profound sadness permeating all areas of their lives. Change is put into motion when a nephew's unwise decision brings them together to solve a family crisis and confront the truth about the past.
Jim, the revered brother who has attained a notoriety of sorts, leaves the small, picturesque Shirley Falls, Maine for the vastness and opportunity in New York City. Bobby soon follows so that he may continue living in his brother's shadow. Meanwhile, Susan plants her timid roots in their hometown of Shirley Falls where immigration is changing the environment and giving rise to a growing racism.
The Burgess family embarks upon a journey towards self discovery and personal growth. A secret once held close is revealed, relationships are forever altered, and wounds of the heart are healed. The three face the reality that though impossible to change life left behind, it is possible to change the direction of the future with its moments waiting to be enjoyed.
"100 extraordinary stories about ordinary things. A literary and economic experiment." 2012
Monday, May 20, 2013
I picked this book off the shelf without knowing the back story on it. I thought it odd that is was in the fiction section, as it seemed to be a book that might be connected with Antiques Roadshow. I opened it up to a page with a wine glass that had a Women & Infants logo. Wondering what the story was behind that I started reading and found myself pulled into a story about family lies, abandonment, reunion, understanding and forgiveness. This, along with some great wine reviews. All on a single page! (Tasting Notes, by Jeff Turrentine). Next I started reading a description of a pink horse toy with marabou feathers for its mane and tail. Whoa-within the page, there was child neglect, an addict mother and the death of her daughters, or did the lady with the pink hair take them somewhere better? She remains haunted by all things pink. (Pink Horse, by Kate Bernheimer).
The premise behind this book is that stories give objects value. The editors (Joshua Glenn & Rob Walker) collected items from garage sales and thrift shops and gave them to various authors (some more well known than others) to create stories about them. They then put the items on e-bay, using the stories as descriptions. They were upfront about the descriptions being fictional. All of the items sold for more than they had been purchased for, many significantly more.
Some reviewed this book as a cynical marketer’s scam. Ad Week pointed out that objects can obviously have their value increased through a robust back story-it’s called advertising. But what was for sale in this instance was more than just the objects, it was the stories themselves. One could “own” a story written by a favorite author, along with the object that inspired it.
While I feel no pull to buy any of the objects, I am enjoying the stories. The hard part is taking my time to savor them, when what I want to do is keep reading through to the end. As stated on NPR, what is fun about this book is finding magic in unexpected places.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Jackie Hart, transplanted to small town Florida from Boston, decides she needs to be more than just a wife and mother to three children. She creates a radio persona who has a late-night show, and soon the whole town is talking about the mysterious Miss Dreamsville.
She also decides to start a literary society and invites all women in the town to join. At the first meeting an unusual combination of people nervously introduce themselves—the librarian, a divorced woman who works at the post office, a young black maid, a poet, an old woman who is a convicted murderer, and a young man who is questioning his place in life. As they discuss books, then their lives, they began to see beyond the face each presents to the world and to overcome the differences between North and South. Naples, Florida, has left its small town roots, and will never be the same.
Delightfully quirky and peopled with unforgettable characters, this first novel is inspired by a real person—the author’s mother-in-law. There are laugh-out-loud scenes—one of which made me long for this to be made into a movie. The author is a former journalist and author or coauthor of seven nonfiction books.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Primi’s large coffee table book is chock full of impressive profiles and photographs of “rock” legends who were “done to soon.” The common denominator and real tragedy is the lost of talent that emanated from these musicians during their lifetimes. The author introduces the profiles with stories of the “rock curse” or the 27 Club where well-known artists such as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison all passed away at age 27. Amy Winehouse recently passed away at age 27. Each story varies and some of the text is not meant for the faint of heart. Some of the musicians came from dysfunctional families where divorce and drug abuse were prevalent, some died in accidents, many of them died from heroin or cocaine overdoses or they drank themselves to death. Some couldn’t cope with the media pressure and the grueling touring schedules and some of the deaths remain a mystery. John Lennon once said, “We’re going to live, or we’re going to die. If we’re dead, we’re going to have to deal with that. If we’re alive, we’re going to have to deal with being alive.” Engrossing and heartbreaking.
Monday, May 6, 2013
In Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind, a book seller takes his son Daniel to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, where he finds among its labyrinthine stacks a book by Julian Carax called The Shadow of the Wind. It's the best book he's ever read and he wants to learn more about the author and read more of his books, but he discovers that not much is known about the author and that copies of his books are notoriously difficult to find. Daniel isn't satisfied with this and endeavors to learn more.
And from here the story plunges into depths I cannot hope to adequately describe with any conciseness, nor would I want to deprive you of discoveries you would make diving in yourself. Zafon's set his story in a post-civil war Barcelona that's so real--not that it's endlessly described, but that all of his characters have been influenced by it. The characters and setting are so expertly entwined together.
Speaking of the characters, they form this amazing web of connections and parallels. The cast is enormous (at least to my reading habits) and I would occasionally forget who someone was, but my confusion wouldn't last long--the relationship of a forgotten character to another easily placed him/her in context. I'm very impressed at the distinctiveness of all of these characters, and the clever parallel relationships Zafon created between them.
I've heard that this is a book for book lovers, and I would second that. I've heard that this book has a little bit of everything--mystery, horror, adventure, fantasy--and while I may agree with that, I would not use it as a selling point for this book. I wouldn't want to send anyone into this story looking for elements of those genres. I would want to send them in knowing that they will be engrossed by a fascinating plot, engaged by human characters, and thrilled to see the treasure at the bottom of the deep, dark story.
This book was recommended to me by a teen, but isn't a young adult novel. I'd recommend it to any reader who likes finding treasure in this reading hobby.
47 remarkable stories from the animal kingdom (2011)
Monday, April 29, 2013
This sweet, sweet book is aimed directly at people like me who like pretty much anything with fur, feathers, or four feet. Written by National Geographic magazine writer Jennifer Holland, it was suggested to me after a co-worker --who also has a menagerie of cats (and birds) at home-- happened upon it one day while perusing the New Books display shelves.
Unlikely Friendships: 47 remarkable stories from the animal kingdom, is a collection of short entries, each with beautiful color photos. Koko the gorilla and her kitten, All Ball, is probably the most familiar story that so many of us fell in love with: Koko asks for a kitten (in American Sign Language), proceeds to care for it, mourns its loss, and learns to love again. This was nearly forty years ago, and it doesn't seem unusual anymore. The pairings and stories presented here go well beyond what could be considered simply instinct. Some are long relationships, some are very temporary, but all show compassion, empathy, and friendship on a level many only attribute to humans. If nothing else, they are beautiful pictures with nice, happy short stories.
There is certainly no question that animals make emotional connections with people. This has been proven by more than anecdotal evidence. Studies show that encounters with pets can lower blood pressure, ease depression, and soothe mental and physical pain. The next question is if, and how, they connect with each other and their world. Are they able to problem solve? Do they socialize? Do they play? Several studies address this, but they are likely rather dry reading; here are some other books that I think you will find very readable.
First, from Marc Bekoff, The emotional lives of animals. After a forward by Jane Goodall, Bekoff presents stories of animal joy, empathy, grief, embarrassment, anger and love along with the supporting scientific research.
Next try Bats sing, mice giggle by Karen Shanor and Jagmeet Kanwal. I haven't seen it happen, but don't question their abilities. Then again, I was raised on Disney cartoons!
Most recently, Virginia Morell brings us Animal Wise: the thoughts and emotions of our fellow creatures. As a science writer, not a scientist, Morell brings the most recent animal cognition research to life.
An Autobiography (1971)
Wednesday, April 24, 2013
In my opinion, this is the best book ever written about Hollywood and the making of movies. It’s the autobiography of Frank Capra, the director of such classic films as It Happened One Night, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, and It’s a Wonderful Life. It was a difficult life for Capra, as he began in poverty, emigrating from Italy as a child and struggling to make a living through odd jobs as he stumbled into the movie business. He struggled there, too, but innate talent and tremendous hard work made him, by the 1930s, the world’s most famous film director, and the winner of three Best Director Academy Awards in just five years. Capra provides an enthralling account of his rise, filled with fascinating details about the making of his films, and his work with legendary Hollywood figures like Harry Cohn, the ruthless boss of Columbia Pictures, and actors such as Barbara Stanwyck, Gary Cooper, Jean Arthur, and Jimmy Stewart. Particularly good is Capra’s description of the production of It’s a Wonderful Life, which he considered his masterpiece.
Monday, April 22, 2013
I love being outside; hearing, smelling, and feeling nature. As a kid, I spent many afternoons just sitting up in “my tree.” I would read or write little stories about the things I saw in the clouds. I would actually get excited when it rained in the spring so I could go searching for worms that had been flushed from their homes.
Now, I'm a mom with three kids that sit in the house on the computer or on one of the (I counted) nine different computerized devices that we own. They don't have a tree spot picked out in the yard or get excited when it rains. I'm not sure they even notice it's raining.
I am on a mission to get outside! I know there are other mothers out there dealing with the same problem. This book may be our solution.
I LOVE DIRT! by Jennifer Ward
Ward has 52 activities to help you and your kids discover the wonders of nature in all four seasons. Some ideas are puddle jumping in the spring, arranging a backyard camp-out in the summer, finding a thinking spot in the yard in the fall, and studying the constellations in the winter. All of her examples are simple and sweet but would make a huge impact on any child that may be experiencing them for the very first time.
I chose this book because the Forward was written by Richard Louv, the 2013 Fox Cities Reads author. If you are interested in more outdoors reading, Louv’s books are Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle.
Wednesday, April 17, 2013
This recipe book is separated into “Savory” and “Sweet” sections, as well as an “And More” section that incorporates popcorn into meals (I have never done anything from that last section). The very beginning of the book talks a little about popping corn, including how to make your own microwave popcorn in paper lunch bags if you don’t own a popper or don’t like to make it on the stovetop.
From the “Savory” section, some of my favorites are the Herbes de Provence Popcorn, Chai Spice Popcorn (I find this sweet), Spicy Buffalo Popcorn, Chile Lime-Tequila Popcorn, and Gorgonzola and Green Onion Popcorn. From the “Sweet” Section, all I ever made was the Nice Sugar and Spice Popcorn (I preferred the Chai Spice) and the Candy Cane Corn.
Popcorn kernels are pretty much the only snack that I buy, so I love trying different recipes with it. Most all of them are quick and easy, consisting of popping the corn, stirring in the ingredients, and sometimes baking on a sheet to dry and set the flavors.
Voices From the Titanic (2011)
Monday, April 15, 2013
Wow! This book (and audio book) are absolutely phenomenal. I will start by saying, as a rule, I never enjoy books written in verse. However, I thoroughly enjoyed this one - especially listening to the audio. Five different voice actors perform the role of two dozen passengers and crew, and even the Iceberg.
Everyone knows Titanic. We've heard the story, seen the movie, and romanticized the horrific disaster a dozen different ways. What we haven't really experienced is the raw emotion that Wolf brings us with this extraordinary book. The characters he depicts are so convincing, I had to remind myself that this is a work of fiction. Many times I found myself entangled in the lives of the passengers; so much so that my heart ached knowing many of them would not be arriving in New York, to return home or start anew.
We get to know the Captain & crew, socialites, immigrants, children & con artists. Allan Wolf has done meticulous research and given us fascinating background & notes at the end of his work. Quoting Wolf on page 435,"But my aim in writing The Watch That Ends the Night was not to present history. My aim was to present humanity. The people represented in this book lived and breathed and loved. They were as real as you or me. They could have been any one of us." I think that Mr.Wolf did a wonderful job presenting both.
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
After pediatrician Andi Gordon was left stranded at the altar, she knew she needed to make a fresh start for herself. She is now the owner of one of the famed Three Sisters historic houses on Blackberry Island. Here she plans on opening her own practice and start her new life. Her house is the only one of the three houses that has been neglected, the other two have been fully restored by their devoted owners. One neighbor is Boston King, an artist who shares her house with her husband Zeke. Free-spirited Boston seems to lead a very charmed life but in reality, she has suffered a devastating tragedy and struggles daily to keep her marriage together and her career afloat. The third house is owned by Deeana Phillips, the ice queen, who rules her house and her family with an iron fist. When Deeana’s perfect world starts to crumble, long buried scars resurface and she is left to face some harsh realities. This is a story of three women, all very different, all facing difficult situations, and all of them needing each other’s help to heal.
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