Thursday, September 29, 2016

Let There Be Laughter by Michael Krasny

Interesting commentary, but there were times I found myself using the "Playboy Technique": reading it just for the jokes. There are definite characteristics of Jewish humor that the author explores, both scholastically and, of course, with humor and examples. Though not all of the jokes stem from the Ashkenazi and immigrant experience, many do, so it was a bit like revisiting my mother's Uncle Izzy at his candy store on the corner, or sitting in Tante Sophie's kitchen hearing the women of the family chatter and sip tea through sugar cubes held in their mouths. Many of the jokes and stories only confirmed my wish that I knew/remembered more Yiddish. Such a wonderful language that risks disappearing, even though many of its colorful words and expressions have become part of our everyday lexicon. It is one of the biggest regrets of my life that I haven't retained the language I heard my mother and her siblings speak during my childhood.

And, for the record, I actually got to use one of the jokes, appropriately, the very day I read it.

Thank you to librarything early reviewers for sending this my way.

tags: 2016-read, early-review-librarything, funny, made-me-laugh-out-loud-for-real, made-me-look-something-up, made-me-think, nonfiction, places-i-have-been, read, taught-me-something, advanced reader copy

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Leave Me by Gayle Forman

Driving home from class the other week, I heard an interview with Gayle Forman on NPR about this book. I came in midstream, and couldn't hear the end because grocery shopping didn't allow for a driveway moment. Nonetheless, the discussion and the snippet read grabbed my attention. It was not particularly because I related to adoption, or being an overworked mother of twins, or having a heart attack (though I do sometimes have chest pain, but it's always been relieved by albuterol, and thus far, stemmed from my lungs. My dad conked out at 61 from Coronary Artery Disease, so the question does wiggle around in my head.) I've never wanted to just walk away from it all and start anew, though have had at least two friends who wanted to, one who did, and one who got 141 miles down Interstate 26 before deciding to turn around and go home to her husband and two sons. Something about the personal backstory, the whys behind Forman writing this book, and also the tone in her voice when she talked about the experience grabbed my attention, so very shortly after, I grabbed the book. It was a quick read for me, (it's not been 24 hours since I picked it up, and I'm done) and I liked it. It fit the need for a book that took me out of my own experience, without making me grimace in pain, or plod through sorrow. For all the issues it deals with (early onset heart attack, abandonment, stress, relationship stuff. motherhood, adoption, running away) it was approachable, and the characters, while confused, even deadened emotionally, remained of interest for me. And yes, there was growth and resolution, and humor, which is always a bonus. It was a romantic book, not in the sense of heaving breasts and bed hopping, but it the way the author crafted a dark time optimistically, and let frozen lives thaw.

To be fair, I was very underwhelmed by a previous novel by Ms Foreman, and had no intention of reading this until I heard the interview. It's a good reminder for me to stay open-minded.

Tags: heard-interview-with-author, i-heard-about-it-on-npr, read, rounded-up-in-star-rating, thank-you-charleston-county-library
From the publisher: For every woman who has ever fantasized about driving past her exit on the highway instead of going home to make dinner, for every woman who has ever dreamed of boarding a train to a place where no one needs constant attention--meet Maribeth Klein. A harried working mother who's so busy taking care of her husband and twins, she doesn't even realize she's had a heart attack.

Afterward, surprised to discover that her recuperation seems to be an imposition on those who rely on her, Maribeth does the unthinkable: She packs a bag and leaves. But, as is so often the case, once we get to where we're going, we see our lives from a different perspective. Far from the demands of family and career and with the help of liberating new friendships, Maribeth is finally able to own up to secrets she has been keeping from those she loves and from herself.

With big-hearted characters who stumble and trip, grow and forgive, Leave Me is about facing our fears. Gayle Forman, a dazzling observer of human nature, has written an irresistible novel that confronts the ambivalence of modern motherhood head-on.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

I'd heard good things about this book, and also had read an earlier book by the author which I enjoyed, so picked it up. All in all, 'twas a pleasurable read, though there were some style issues I wasn't so crazy about with the writing. But that's just my taste-- I was wanting a straightforward tale and should have known better than to follow a path in the woods. Barnhill has brought some interesting elements to the tale, making it seem familiar and both totally fresh at the same time. If she keeps writing, I'll keep reading.

From the publisher:
Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the Forest, Xan, is kind. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon. Xan rescues the children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. As Luna’s thirteenth birthday approaches, her magic begins to emerge--with dangerous consequences. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Deadly birds with uncertain intentions flock nearby. A volcano, quiet for centuries, rumbles just beneath the earth’s surface. And the woman with the Tiger’s heart is on the prowl . . .

The author of the highly acclaimed, award-winning novel The Witch’s Boy has written an epic coming-of-age fairy tale destined to be a modern classic.

Tags: 2016-readan-author-i-readfantasygreat-covergreat-titlereadrounded-up-in-star-ratingthank-you-charleston-county-library

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Natural Color: Vibrant Plant Dye Projects for Your Home and Wardrobe

Natural Color is an astonishingly informative and beautifully put together book. As a pysanky (Ukrainian egg) artist, and a person with health issues, I have wanted to experiment more with natural dyes. I've saved my onion skins, gathered hibiscus flowers, and hoarded walnuts. I've tried a few dyes here and there, mostly without guidance, and had some moderately pleasing results.

This book, though, made me lust. And that was with the knowledge that I'd be working on a totally different material (egg shell) rather than textile. I still have many, many questions, but mostly from my end of the art spectrum, because Duerr is quite thorough and detailed in everything from how to set up your space (sigh-- if only I had the luxury of that kind of space, even without dyes! My pysanky pals, and other artists, who see where I create my art now cannot believe that I make it all happen in the fragments of scattered space I usurp in our home) to step by steps for making dye and applying to projects. Her voice is very approachable, her methods clear. Will it work on eggshell? I don't know. Will I be able to try it? Maybe.

As I said, I still need to check out specifics for my own art (i.e. How long does the dye last? Can you do layers? Will it be impacted by the removal of the wax used to make designs? How would it respond to varnish? etc.) but dang it! I want to try! Bottom line practicality for me is this may not be the book I need in writing pysanky, but it's a marvelous reference, for sure.

tags: 2016-readartblogging-for-booksfirstreads-goodreadsgreat-coveri-liked-the-picturesinspirationsnonfictionreadtaught-me-somethingwow

Results May Vary by Bethany Chase

I picked up this book because I came a brief review of it and though I usually try to avoid books with blatant infidelity as a plot point, something in the review grabbed my interest. What I found was a very thoughtful, well told story of how one can react, can grow, when faced with the sure knowledge that what was held true is false. The power of secrets can be mighty, and the author pitted that fierce strength against the equally bold, often underplayed, power of self. But what I think I really liked the best was how the author incorporated quotes of love and relationships, by writers, artists, philosophers, as chapter headings. Sometimes the quotes, so eloquent and evocative, were sheer beauty in their own, sometimes they were foreshadowing for that chapter, sometimes both, but for me, they were always that little chocolate candy, wrapped up in glittery paper, to savor along with a well told tale.

So yes, this is the story of a woman who finds out her husband, who was her high school sweetheart and only love, has been unfaithful with another man, and then goes on to discover even deeper betrayals, but it also is a story of survival, and reshaping your life when you thought it perfectly shaped. It's not a "stages of grief" novel, but there is movement and growth. It also reminded me quite clearly that I am several decades older than the characters in this novel, but it didn't put me off their lives and world.

One of my favorite quotes for the book, comes from the mouth of a local folk artist the main character knows.
"And there you go. Honey, aside from love, art is the most subjective thing there is. You're never gonna have a predictable result."

To that I'd add since writing is a form of art, books, and thoughts on books are highly subjective, too.

Tags: 2016-read, didn-t-want-to-put-it-down, i-liked-it, made-me-think, read, read-on-recommendation, sometimes-fluff-is-good, thank-you-charleston-county-library, thought-provoking

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

Arthur Pepper and I got together by one of those lists that offers e-books right there in your mailbox. I chose it because I wanted the reading equivalent of comfort food, and because I have dear friends named Pepper, who I miss a great deal. The novel starts with Arthur at that time of life I never want to be: one year after the passing of his wife. He's a bit of a stick in the mud, hiding from neighbors who only want to offer kindness, wearing the same drab outfit every day, grumbling about just about everything. His only friend is a fern he keeps on his window sill and waters daily. But, on that year anniversary, he decided it's time to clear out some of his wife's clothing from the wardrobe, and in doing so, discovers a charm bracelet, hidden away in the toe of a boot. It's a pretty little thing, and he's absolutely never seen it before.

What happens next is a true journey of several sorts. Arthur begins on a quest to discover more about the charm bracelet and in doing so, discovers more about his wife of many years-- things he'd never known. But there's also the challenge of self-discovery and the possibility of reshaping his own life.

A charming novel, for sure.

Tags: 2016-read, e-book, first-novel-or-book, i-liked-it, read

Thursday, September 8, 2016



Magical realism, the language of flowers, a child on the autism spectrum but seemingly with the power to heal, a wounded family in need of reuniting-- all the makings of a book to capture my interest, and it did. Special kudos to the author for her portrayal of life with a special needs child, both from the child's perspective and from that of those around her. My heart went out to Rose, in those early days, when Antoinette's behaviors and meeting of milestones were raising questions. It was depicted beautifully, as were all the types of love that found their way onto the pages of this book. (And the dedication to the book just about overwhelmed my heart with the love there.)

Many thanks to the LibraryThing early readers program, and the ever fabulous Algonquin Publishers for sending a copy my way.

tags: 2016-read, early-review-librarything, made-me-look-something-up, magical-realism, read, taught-me-something


From the publisher:
Sisters Rose and Lily Martin were inseparable when they were kids. As adults, they've been estranged for years, until circumstances force them to come together to protect Rose's daughter. Ten-year-old Antoinette has a severe form of autism that requires constant care and attention. She has never spoken a word, but she has a powerful gift that others would give anything to harness: she can heal things with her touch. She brings wilted flowers back to life, makes a neighbor's tremors disappear, changes the normal course of nature on the Kentucky flower farm where she and her mother live.

Antoinette's gift, though, puts her own life in danger, as each healing comes with an increasingly deadly price. As Rose—the center of her daughter's life—struggles with her own failing health, and Lily confronts her anguished past, they, and the men who love them, come to realize the sacrifices that must be made to keep this very special child safe.

Written with great heart and a deep understanding of what it feels like to be “different,” The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin is a novel about what it means to be family, and about the lengths to which people will go to protect the ones they love.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

A friend gave me this book saying it was the best book she read all summer. I read it and am thinking I need to seriously re-evaluate our friendship. I know this received rave reviews from many quarters, but for the most part, it did absolutely  nothing for me. I did like the opening chapters, particularly the second, with the story of Lotto's birth. There was a slightly magical feel to it all, and, had the book continued in that vein, I might have loved it, too. However, it didn't, and I had a hard time continuing to the end of the book, for I could find no further foothold to boost my interest, or even my sympathy, with the characters. Even the style of the writing, and the he said/she said viewpoint,  couldn't overcome the distaste I felt for pretty much every single character after those initial pages of delight.

I guess I sometimes just don't run with the crowd. My apologies to Ms Groff. I may try another book in the future, because I admire skill in telling a story, even if it is one that doesn't appeal to me, personally.

Tags: 2016-read, everyone-else-liked-it, give-me-my-time-back, not-to-my-taste, read, read-on-recommendation, thought-i-was-gonna-like

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Baggage Check by MJ Pullen

Not too long ago, a friend of mine started posting the books for which he had been a beta reader. From what I know, he's a big science fiction/fantasy/general fiction reader, so I was more than a little surprised to see a hot pink book cover as one of the books  for which he'd been an early reader. Then, I was even more surprised to see that same book on the shelf as a new arrival at my library, thought the coincidence too much, and checked it out. I also broke one of my  unspoken rules about picking up books in mid-series (I made that rule after trying to jump into The Wheel of Time® series on book three. That worked out well, she lied.)

Anyhow, I was pleasantly surprised by the story. Usually the "group of women friends" books make me want to chomp down on some hard core fiction to get the taste of sweetness out of my mouth, but this one actually tackled some interesting issues. I'm not sorry I didn't read the others in the series (especially as one of my least favorite characters was featured in one of them) but I did enjoy the interactions between the women, their sweethearts/husbands, and families. And I did like the value placed on friendship, support, and most of all honesty and humor.

Bottom line? Families are not perfect: both those we're born into and those we make for ourselves. But if you face challenges together, there's a lot that can be worked thorough, even if it's festered for a while. MJ Pullen created a group of characters that seem genuine, who both care for each other and grow, and maybe make a mistake or two. But it's done with a light touch and a crisp writing style that made the book a pleasure to read.

tags: 2016-read, i-liked-it, part-start-of-a-series, read, set-in-the-south, sometimes-fluff-is-good, thank-you-charleston-county-library

Monday, September 5, 2016

Get Real by Donald Westlake

When a favorite author passes on to that great library in the sky, there is a profound sadness for the loyal fans. But when the author leaves a work behind, written before he died, published posthumously, it can bring true joy to a fan's heart (in this case, two fans, as javaczuk and I listened to it on a recent road trip. This particular voice actor (WilliamDufris) was amazing. We could hardly believe how many character voices he created. And the story? Dortmunder to the end. Westlake had a talent for making the ridiculous plausible, and Get Real is real Dortmunder to the last word.