Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Book of Lost and Found by Lucy Foley

There was a lot to like in this book: art, love, history, intertwined tales, Corsica for starters. (And I will give a slight spoiler alert at the end, so stop reading when you next see 3 stars like this: ***). Poor Kate has lost both her mother, a famous ballerina/choreographer, and her grandmother (actually her mother's adoptive mother) within a year. It's a blow to anyone. But shortly before her her grandmother died, she revealed a hint to the identify of Kate's actual grandmother, her mother's birthmother. Part of this hint includes a drawing from 1929 of a young woman, who bears a striking familial resemblance. Kate begins a quest for the woman, which first brings her to the artist, and to the island of Corsica. The narrative floats between Kate's story in 1986 and that of the artist and of the woman in the sketch, the illusive Alice/Celia from the 1920's through WWII. I found it a interesting tale. I appreciate it when a book expands my viewpoint and my knowledge. ***

(You were warned: Spoiler alert)
One of the things I liked best about this book was the end. In a fairy tale world Alice and Tom would have ended with them being reunited, but Foley didn't yield to the happily ever after that some might crave, and for this, I applaud her. Both Tom and Alice continued to love each other their entire lives, recognizing the other as their one great love. But though they each had loss and disappointment, and lived without the other, they each had full lives, filled with love (though maybe not a "great love'.) They had family, friends, careers, and memories. They did great things. They died knowing the other was alive. It was realistic. Their story continues to be a love story, even though it didn't have the traditional ending. That was fine by me. And I also applaud the almost afterthought of how the relationship with Kate and Oliver panned out. It was a product of this story, but not the focus of this story. Nice, in my opinion, that the author resisted temptations that could have reshaped the ending.

Tags: first-novel-or-bookmade-me-look-something-upreadrounded-up-in-star-ratingtaught-me-something

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

It's lovely to pick up a book with great expectation, and, within the first few pages, sigh with contentment. It was lovely to be immersed in several of my favorite things: books, friendship, love, and the French country-side. As none of those things ever flow 100% smoothly, it's only natural that my level of contentment varied at points in the book.

It's been a few days since I finished The Little Paris Bookshop and when I sat down to write my impressions, the first thing that came to mind was one of the characters talking about how best to arrange your bookshelves: not by color or title, but by subject, so that Hemingway's Old Man and the... was with other books about the sea. That notion delighted me and imagined putting my own bookshelf together so that novels and nonfiction nestled together by subject. I quite liked the thought that Chocolat could nestle next to Julia Child.

There are other delightful moments in this book. And some completely mournful, with a French soul. Overall, though, the moments blend together into a well-told tale of love, longing, forgiving, and ultimately, moving on in life.Jean Perdu sells books from La Pharmacie Litteraire (The Literary Apothecary), his barge on the Siene. He begins a journey on the river to help resolve something that has kept his life from moving forward for the past twenty years. The journey, like the novel, is languid at times, tumultuous at others. One of my favorite quotes is “Books are like people, and people are like books, I’ll tell you how I go about it. I ask myself: Is he or she the main character in his or her life? What is her motive? Or is she a secondary character in her own tale? Is she in the process of editing herself out of her story because her husband, her career, her children or her job are consuming her entire text?”. Along with my imaginary rearrangement of my bookshelf, I say now try to place people as characters in the book of their life.

And the idea of secret tango milongas? Makes me want to learn to dance the tango and go travelling again.

Tags: bookcrossingbooks-about-booksfoodiemade-me-look-something-upreadread-in-2015read-on-recommendationrounded-up-in-star-ratingtaught-me-something

Friday, September 25, 2015

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? By Roz Chast

I don't think I could have read this book earlier than this year. It would have been far too painful, living with, and then losing, my own mother, who was of the same generation as Roz Chast's parents in this wonderful graphic-memoir. Chast's brilliant cartoons in the New Yorker have long been favorites. In her memoir, she turns her sharp eye to what so many of us are in the midst of now: our parents' journey through elder years to the end. It's not an easy subject, but Chast is both brutally honest, and piercingly true to the pitfalls (many), insights (some), and the humor (readily available) that comes in this part of life. Though my parents came from similar backgrounds as hers, the evolution of character was completely different. My father died shockingly young, so I was spared his aging foibles. My mother, a completely guileless, and completely giving woman, died in her upper 80's. (When I say guileless, I do mean it. My brother once commented that the word "Gullible" was not in the dictionary, and she believed him.) She was, perhaps, the antithesis of Chast's mother. But the worries, fears, concerns, hopes that Chast depicts in her memoir/graphics really hit home. Been there. Done that. I miss the crap out of my mother.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

I read banned books: Some Girls Are by Courtney Summers

This book is on my TBR stack. It contains Cracked Up to Be and Some Girls Are, the latter of which was originally a book on the reading list of West Ashley High School for this summer, but then pulled because of parent protest. What happened next is very cool, much cooler than banned books. Book lovers of the internet rose to the occasion and have supplied literally hundreds (yes, hundreds. Over 830 at the last count, I think) of copies for teens to read. Read about the adventure here. I have picked up this copy to give to my granddaughter, who fits the age of the target audience. And I will read it, too, though there are elements of the story that seem not to my taste. But hey, I believe in freedom to read, and freedom to choose when to stop reading.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Time Garden by Daria Song

I love pattern. Designs delight me, and line drawings can make me swoon. So, it's quite understandable that The Time Garden pushes all the right buttons for me. I also am an pysanky artist, who has taken the symbols and designs of pysanky into 2D art (You can see some of my work at I find inspiration in the world around me, and in the works of other artists. Sometimes you can look at what another artist has done, and it speaks to you. Sometimes, it helps you puzzle out a solution for something that has been stymieing you. Sometimes, it makes you say, "Oh wow!" and then rush to pick up a pen to try your own ideas. Daria Song's beautiful art speaks to me, inspires me, and encourages me. Plus, she added a little story to support the art, so that I can read it with my grandchild and we can talk about the story, what we see in the art, and how we'd embellish it. That's a win in a book for sure. For the record, I've steered clear of adult coloring books because I feared they might pull my own art one direction or another. Ms. Song has her own unique style, and in this book, is more reality based than my own. However, it is a style that is beautiful, and makes my artist soul happy to see.

Many thanks to Blogging for Books and to the publisher for sending me this book. And many thanks to Daria Song: you are well named for your art makes my soul sing.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Wicked Charms by Janet Evanovich and Phoef Sutton

I wish I'd listened to my inner book critic and remembered how I felt reading book #2. Could have saved myself 100 pages of "give me my time back". Won't rate, because I didn't finish it.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Blood on Snow by Jo Nesbø

A somewhat different sort of fiction from
Jo Nesbø, which carries his usual complex characters and subtly sudden twists of plot. Olav Johansen, the central character, isn't very good at a lot of things: he makes a lousy get-away driver, he's not good as a bank robber or as a pimp. But he is good at being a fixer: the guy who does the dirty jobs for the boss and kills on demand. Nothing personal, of course. Someone wants somebody else dead and Olav is the guy for the job. The book opens with Olav on an assignment, and moves on to his next job, which proves to be a bit sticky: to kill the boss's wife at the request of that same boss. Things get complex, in true Nesbø style, though because of the length of the story it doesn't evolve into Harry Hole detail. There's a great interpretation by Olav of Les Misérables, which probably would have surprised Hugo, and makes the reader wonder at the Olav's perceptions in general. But, it's a good read, though a quick one. I did notice this is referred to as "Blood on Snow #1"on GoodReads, which makes me wonder of Nesbø is going to give us a series of stories from the viewpoint of the criminal now.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Roofus Rastus Johnson Brown

Once upon a time there was a girl from Brooklyn. Her parents, Ada and Avram,  had come to America from the old country, found each other, and settled into a life together on New York's East Side, selling eggs from a wooden cart. Shortly after she was born, Ada and Avram  moved their young family from the city to the fresh air of Brooklyn, settling in a brownstone near the  Brighton Beach boardwalk. Though Ada and Avram had travelled many miles from the countryside near Lviv, the girl from Brooklyn didn't travel much. Her entire family, for the most part, lived within blocks of the her home. She travelled through the books she read, and dreamed someday of a great adventure.

The family grew, adding a couple of brothers (one having been her father's oldest son, whose mother had died in the old country during the Spanish Influenza epidemic, and was finally able to immigrate to live with his father and new mother), and a sister. The girl from Brooklyn blossomed. She had a joyful nature, an inquisitive quick mind, and the ability to give wholehearted attention in a conversation. She also was extremely teasable, and even in adulthood would sputter in protest when her younger brother sang "Rufus Rastas Johnson Brown, whatcha gonna do when the rent comes round" and called her Rufus, instead of her given name of Ruthe.

The girl from Brooklyn loved and was loved. In her twenty-first year, she wed. She still dreamed of travel, but she and her Eli were young, limited in funds, and it was wartime. Eventually, though, they were able to begin to take road trips to explore this beautiful country, as well as travel to move their own clan to new locations as Eli's studies and work required.

Looking back now, her journeys can be traced through the souvenirs she collected. Her charm bracelet gathered tokens from New York, Massachusetts, and other eastern seaboard states. Eventually, she added Wyoming to the chain. The bracelet also documents the three children Ruthe and Eli brought into this world, two boys and a girl (I am that girl, now grown, myself.)

At some point, the charm bracelet got full, but our Ruthe still wanted to get a token to commemorate  her travels. As a young girl, she'd been given a spoon from Rockaway Beach, which she treasured. She began to add small spoons as souvenirs for each state she visited. Soon she had spoons from coast to coast.

When the girl from Brooklyn, who had gone on to live in Washington DC, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Missouri, and South Carolina, left this life in 2009, she left behind many who loved her. She also left behind her spoon collection. Occasionally, I'd take the spoons from the box where they rested and remember our times and travels together. The collection was one of the things I kept when we downsized from the family home to our current abode. But what do you do with a collection of state spoons besides dust them?

It's no secret that I have a love of art, particularly the vibrant artists that we have come to know here in Charleston. Last year, we first saw the wonderful works of an incredibly talented and imaginative metal artist here in Charleston. Since then, we've had the good fortune to become friends with him, and marvel at the works, large and small that he creates. But when I saw Matt Wilson's (aka Airtight Artwork) silverware metal sculptures, I knew what had to happen with my mother's spoon collection.

So far, only one little guy has been created -- the smallest bird Matt has yet done. Its tail feathers are the spoons of South Carolina and Colorado, which makes me smile for many reasons. And even more thrilling for me was that I had the opportunity to add my own touch into this little bird, and will be collaborating with Matt on some future projects. This one, however, stays here with me. I've named him Rufus, in honor of that old song that my uncle used to sing to torment his big sister.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal

When this book first came out, I wasn't 100% sure, from the descriptions, if it was a novel or memoir. Either way, I was pretty sure I wanted to read it. It is the story of Eva Thorvald, an iconic and imaginative chef, told not about her directly, but via vignettes from the pov of people who have floated in and out of her life, starting with her sommelier mother who abandons her in infancy, and her chef father who also leaves her in infancy, not by choice, but by death. Eva's climb to becoming the figure behind a phenomenally successful and sought-after popup dinner event is fascinating. When well done, which is the case here, the interweaving of stories and characters is a delight to follow and find individual threads while enjoying the whole cloth... or to use a culinary example, it's the ability to find and appreciate the subtle hint of thyme against the burst of rosemary, while enjoying the mouth-feel of the meal. (And for the record, the only time I ever ate sweet pepper jelly was when I was pregnant.)

Monday, September 7, 2015

Fastest Thing on Wings by Terry Masear

I'm a birder. Birds in the wild fascinate me, and I am certain that watching the song and shore birds that populated my yard when I was in recuperation mode after being placed on medical leave were crucial to my healing. It was a thrill for me to learn the different species that came past my window, but a true milestone when I realized I could identify different individual birds by their habits, markings, and personality. But to care for them, in my home? I don't think I have what it takes.

I've now read two memoirs written by people who have rescued birds. In each case, the species are ones I love (the first was a barn owl and now this book on hummingbirds). And, in each case, the authors have sacrificed much of their lives and personal freedoms to care for the birds that the winds of fate have blown their way. Their dedication, and that of people who rehab hurt animals, amazes me. I'm a nurse, but as a caregiver to ill or hurt humans, I could put in my 8 hours and go home. For author Terry Masear and others who run rehab centers for injured, it's a 24/7 commitment during fledgling season. Wow.

This book taught me a great deal. I will admit that when I heard Masear speak on a radio talk show, I thought she was anthropomorphizing a lot. But reading the situations, rather than hearing a brief radio chat, threw her observations and assumptions into a bit clearer light. I've always liked seeing hummingbirds buzz about, but now I shall look at them with different eyes.

tags: heard-interview-with-author, i-heard-about-it-on-npr, i-liked-the-pictures, made-me-look-something-up, made-me-think, read, read-in-2015, taught-me-something, thank-you-charleston-county-library

Thursday, September 3, 2015

The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

I first heard about this book on one of the many book sites I visit, but didn't have the opportunity to pick it up until I stumbled on it at the library and remembered I wanted to read it. Interesting interweaving of present day and family history, with some unusual twists. I mean, not everyone comes from a family of mermaids who die young, on the same date, and have a sister (also a swimmer) who is troubled, and the death date is approaching. Solve a mystery? Sure? Track your heritage? Sure. Crack your heritage curse? Read the book and find out.

A couple of side comments, though: I liked the glimpses into Carni-life and the circus folks. I wish I knew more about Tarot cards. I liked that Simon, the central character in the modern telling, is a librarian. The script used for text of the letters included in was hard for me to read (old eyes.) And, it was fun that the author included drawings in the book, though I wish they'd been a bit more detailed and in color.

tags:  thank-you-charleston-county-library, books-about-books, first-novel-or-book, taught-me-something, made-me-look-something-up, made-me-think, read-in-2015