Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Butter: A Rich History

Title:  Butter:  A Rich History
Author:  Elaine Khosrova
Publication Information:  Algonquin Books. 2016. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1616203641 / 978-1616203641

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "... catch up to his mother."

Favorite Quote:  "Indeed, one of the best lessons learned from my career in food and cooking is that gratification is something of a paradox:  To much of a good thing often diminishes the pleasure we derive from it. (Would you really want to eat your favorite dessert every day?) Call it the Goldilocks principle. Balance isn't just right for your body; I think it also assures real satisfaction."

Butter - Yum! What's not to like? A book about butter perhaps does not have the same wide appeal as butter itself, but for foodies, it absolutely does. After all, most of us have some in our fridge. These days, it could be a stick, a tub, a tube, or the many other ways in which butter can be bought. Butter at times has gotten a negative reputation. Eat it. Don't eat it. Cook with it. Don't cook with it. The advice changes with the research you read.

At the end of it all, how much do any of us really know about butter itself? For me, the answer is not a lot until reading this book. This book starts in the mountains of Bhutan and travels the world through the different sources and uses of butter. For many of us, the search for a specific butter from a specific milk from a specific farming technique may not be affordable or practical. Nevertheless, it is fascinating to read about, and the global economy of today may put it more within reach than we think.

This book is structured in two main parts - The Story and The Recipes. The Story is not a chronological history but rather a set of chapters centered around specific topics such as the advent of butter, the role of women in the butter trade, tools and techniques, sacred traditions that surround or use butter, the invention of margarine and its purported health claims, and the rise of artisan butter today. (Note:  The galley I received has certain words missing in this section. I assume that is a function of the galley and not the final book. I am able to infer much of the information from the surrounding text so it does not impact my enjoyment of the book.)

The Recipes are just that; as the author states, since butter is such a widely used ingredient, the selection here is a limited one. "I chose to include classic dishes that owe their character to butter, to both its flavor and behavior as an ingredient. It's a collection of Butter's Greatest Hits, you might say."  About half the recipes, as you might suspect, are for baked goods. The next selection is for sauces and toppings. The final section is on making variations of butter such as smoked butter and brown butter. The recipes have a European / North American bent, as far as cuisines go which differs from the the global focus found in the narrated story of butter.

The fact that the book has the subtitle "A Rich History" gives me an indication that the author approaches her storytelling with a sense of humor. This holds true throughout the book. Books such as this one can at times be dry reading. Fortunately, this one is not. The book packs in a lot of information, but in an easy to read package. The photographs, the quotes from other sources at the beginning of each chapter, and the conversational tone of the book help with the readability of the book.

A fun, informative book for foodies that will leaving you craving "butter's most common and beloved application ... a thick melting smear on toasted bread." Yum!

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

To Capture What We Cannot Keep

Title:  To Capture What We Cannot Keep
Author:  Beatrice Colin
Publication Information:  Flatiron Books. 2016. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1250071445 / 978-1250071446

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The sand on the Champ de mars was powdered with snow."

Favorite Quote:  "Were beautiful things more beautiful when you couldn't keep them."

Caitriona "Cait" Wallace is an impoverished widow who takes a job as a chaperone to brother and sister Jamie and Alice Arrol. Their uncles sends them on a European tour to get some "culture." Their wanderings around Europe of course bring them to Paris. The year is 1886. The story in Paris is the construction of giant metal tower, expected to be completed for the World's Fair. Some call it a coming monstrosity. Some argue its dangers to the surrounding neighborhoods. Some question the judgment of those who work on the project. Today, we call it the Eiffel Tower.

A chance encounter in a hot air balloon introduces Cait to Émile Nouguier, an engineer working of Gustave Eiffel's tower. She is poor, Scottish, and a widow. He is the son of an affluent French family, in line to inherit the family business. Their worlds couldn't be more different. Yet, they are pulled together.

Surrounding them are a cast of characters with their own stories. Gabrielle is an artist's wife but Émile's mistress with all the complications that brings. Jamie Arrol is young, selfish, and irresponsible. Alice Arrol is young and naive; she wants only to be admired and to find an eligible husband. Émile's mother has dreams for her son which differ from his own. Alice has admirers, or so she thinks. Cait has admirers, and many who think that, as a widow, she should settle for whatever is offered.

The individual characters and their stories don't really grab my attention in this book. Some of the events seems implausible. Too many connections are left completely unexplained or unexplained until too late in the book. Why is Émile with Gabrielle? Why is Gabrielle with him? How does Jamie Arrol's relationship begin and progress? Why is a lovely young woman like Alice so unsure of her prospects at a time when physical beauty seems to be the a determining factor in the eligibility of a young lady? What else lies in Cait's past other than losing her husband in an accident?

The ending in particular seems to come out of nowhere. No link exists between the story told throughout the book to the revelations towards the end and then the ending itself. I won't give a spoiler, but to me, that ending truly seems to not belong with the rest of the book.

What gives this story its substance is the historical time and place. Paris in the 1800s is a time of class structure and of strict societal rules; it is also a time for the subversive breaking of those rules in affairs and brothels. The importance is to maintain appearances. The artist's community and the rise of impressionism also finds its way into this book. All of it is set against the construction of the Eiffel Tower, the so-called metal monstrosity that is now the symbol of the city. The details of the design and construction, down to the number of steps and the number of rivets is fascinating. It is this history I will remember from this book not the character or the story.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Orphans of the Carnival

Title:  Orphans of the Carnival
Author:  Carol Birch
Publication Information:  Doubleday. 2016. 352 pages.
ISBN:  038554152X / 978-0385541527

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "This is where your lost toys went, the one the dog chewed, the one your mother threw out without asking when you left home, the ones you always wondered about."

Favorite Quote:  "Names are important ... When a thing has a name, that's when it really counts."

Julia Pastrana is a young woman who speaks multiple languages and sings and dances beautifully. She performs on stages around the world. She learns how to manage her career from a business perspective. Yet, none of that is her claim to fame and none of that is why she is remembered. Her place in history is because of her physical appearance. She is billeted on the freak show circuit by different names - ugliest woman, half ape, half bear, and monkey woman to name a few.

I started reading this book wondering at the author's imagination in creating the character and the world she inhabits. Then, I started the book over when I discovered that Julia Pastrana actually existed. She was a real woman, and this story is a fictionalized account of what her life may have been. The shell of the story is fact based; the details are the fiction. This realization totally changed my outlook on the book and my feelings towards the characters.

Julia Pastrana was born in Mexico in 1834 with a genetic disorder and a rare disease. As a result, her face and body were covered with hair. Her facial features were large and irregular. The whole, put together, gave her an animal like look. Underneath the physical appearance, Julia was a young woman with a great capacity to love and a young woman looking to be loved for who she was not what she looked like.

The way in which this story is told is interesting and unclear until close to the end of the book. The bulk of the story is Julia's. In a nutshell, this story is Julia's quest for acceptance and love. It seems, at time, that she may have found it. Fame, success, financial stability, love, marriage, and children all may be possible. I hope such a life is possible for Julia. The book is slow-paced, traveling the world but revolving around this main theme until a major twist.

Throughout, the book moves between Julia's search and segments from the life of a young woman in the 1980s. Rose is alone and a collector of old broken things that others have forgotten. At first, no connection exists between the two. Rose is an interesting character on her own, but it's unclear what role she plays in Julia's story. Eventually, the two stories are connected in a tragic and horrifying way that compounds the impact of Julia's story.

The twist in this story is just that - a twist I could not have seen coming. Without a spoiler, I will say that this story is so unbelievable that it could only be true. I did look up a biography, and the gist of what the book describes is actually what happened to her.

Juila Pastrana was real, and her search for love and the world's judgment on appearance are universal. It is these facts that hold my attention in this book. I want to know what happens to Julia, and I hope that things work out for her. I grieve at the eventual outcome. Julia Pastrana's story is one I will remember for along time.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Clothing of Books

Title:  The Clothing of Books
Author:  Jhumpa Lahiri
Publication Information:  Vintage. 2016. 80 pages.
ISBN:  0525432752 / 978-0525432753

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "In the house of my father's family in Calcutta, which I visited as a child, I would watch my cousins getting dressed in the mornings."

Favorite Quote:  "The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that a cover is a sort of translation, that is, an interpretation of my words in another language - a visual one. It represents the text, but it isn't part of it."

Don't judge a book by its cover. How often do we hear that idiom applied to so many different aspects of life? This book brings that idea back to an actual book. The main idea - Don't judge a book by its cover as the author often has nothing to do with the design of the cover. The cover represents an artist's interpretation of the author's words. In that sense, to the author, it can represent understanding, acknowledgement, or criticism of his or her work.

I understand and agree with the idea of the book. As an avid reader, a lover of books, and an amateur photographer, I love the connection between words and visual images. So, when I read that Jhumpa Lahiri explores that connection in this book, I was intrigued. I have never really considered a book cover from the author's perspective and looked forward to learning more. Having read it, I am not sure what to make of this book itself. 

First of all, this is not quite a book. At only 80 pages, it is a very slim volume. In the afterword, the author herself states that "I wrote this essay..." I could see it as an essay and am not sure how it evolves into publication as a book. The amount of content is better suited to a short essay format. I expected more - maybe input from other authors, maybe some information on cover design, and maybe some visual images analyzed for their connections to the written word. This book is none of that; it is a philosophical statement that repeats several times during the book - the book is not its cover, and the cover is not its book.

Second, the book to me has a negative tone. The book puts forth the idea that the author has very little (no?) control over a book jacket, but then speaks about her conversations with cover designers about the covers of her own books. The book has several references to her dislike of certain book covers - "ugly covers" and "one that pains me." Finally, "there is a certain awful cover for one of my books that elicits in me an almost violent response. Every time I am asked to autograph that edition, I feel the impulse to rip the cover off the book." The issue is that the negative comments are not backed up with why. Why do some covers appeal and some don't? What determines a reaction to a cover? That cover, too, is someone's work. If this book is to be a personal one, then I would hope to understand her reasons.

Third, the book skirts certain issues that would be fascinating to learn about. A few times, the book mentions different covers for different editions and different language printings. How do cover designs incorporate cultural nuances? The book also skirts the topic of the changing role of book covers in a digital world. Does our reaction differ based on the medium? Does the presentation medium drive the design? Again, this book is a personal essay, and unfortunately does not get into the substance of these topics.

Had I read this as an essay in a magazine, I would have appreciated the sentiment. In a book format, I expect more. Interestingly, it is unfortunate that I am not fond of the cover of this book. Ironic in a book about book covers, don't you think?

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Better Late Than Never

Title:  Better Late Than Never
Author:  Jenn McKinlay
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2016. 304 pages.
ISBN:  0399583734 / 978-0399583735

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "'Let the wild rumpus start!' Beth Stanley cried as the cart of books she had stacked to bursting abruptly regurgitated its contents all over the Briar Creek Public Library's main floor with a loud rushing noise followed by slaps and thumps as the books landed on the ground."

Favorite Quote:  "Being a librarian meant finding the solution - no matter the problem - by using the information and knowledge that the library housed to solve everything from how to build a micro house to how to speak Tatar..."

A mystery set around a library. A library book returned after decades. A librarian turned amateur detective. Some cooking. Some crafting. A whole lot of book talk. A small town where everyone knows everyone. How can I resist such a description? This book is the perfect set up for a book lover.

Lindsey Norris is the director of the public library in the small town of Briar Creek, Connecticut. Briar Creek is the kind of place where everyone seems to know everyone - the mayor, the police chief, the library director, and the other characters around town. It's home to those who have never lived anywhere else and its handful of celebrities who come and stay.

The mystery goes as follows. The Briar Creek Public Library institutes an amnesty day, allowing patrons to return any and all library books in any condition with no risk of penalty. The librarians get a little more than they bargain for on their first every amnesty day. Carts upon carts of books are returned; many of them are in no condition to be salvaged. I love the idea of the stories these book could tell beyond the words written in them, and that is exactly what happens.

Among the books returned though is a book twenty years past due but in pristine condition. Much to their shock, the librarians discover that the book was checked out to a town resident who was murdered on the same day as the book was checked out. The case has never been solved, and this book is now a new clue. It's a chance to find justice for the victim and perhaps also for those wrongfully accused of the crime. For one person, it is perhaps the sign of a day of reckoning. Everyone has their own reasons for being interested.

So begins Lindsey's foray into detective work. As you would suspect with a "cozy" mystery, the book is really more about the town and the characters than about the mystery itself. Mind you, the mystery has a darkness to it and is ultimately solved, but the book is about the journey getting there. The mystery is almost incidental to the main story, which is Lindsey's romance and the small town relationships. A mystery, a healthy dose of friendship, some secrets, much laughter, and a little romance make this book a light, entertaining read. Some added recipes and a craft project add to the cozy feel of this book.

Better Late Than Never is the seventh book in the Library Lover's mystery book series. I did not  know this when I started reading. The characters clearly have a history and relationships that extend from the previous books. However, the book does not feel incomplete and can be read on its own. The mystery aspect of the book clearly stands alone, but I would probably enjoy the characters and relationships more if I read the previous books.

The book ends with Lindsey making a vow not to jeopardize her life and her relationships to pursue detective adventures. Somehow, I think that promise will only last until the next adventure comes along.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Dress

Title:  The Dress
Author:  Kate Kerrigan
Publication Information:  Head of Zeus. 2016. 400 pages.
ISBN:  1784082384 / 978-1784082383

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The schoolmaster found the boy collapsed against a stone wall at the side of the road."

Favorite Quote:  "The problem with being a perfectionist ... is that life isn't perfect. Dresses can be perfect, because we can make them exactly how we want them. The perfect fit, the perfect finish, we can fashion couture to a standard that would satisfy the gods, but we can't do the same with life. The problem with those of us who make perfect things is that, sometimes, we think we can. The most imperfect things of all are people and love."

Lily Fitzpatrick is a fashion designer turned blogger; her specialty is vintage clothing. The story though begins outside the world of fashion. Lily's beloved grandfather passes away. In her efforts to overcome her grief, Lily latches on to an idea and a project. She comes across information about a woman in the 1950s with a one-of-a-kind magical dress and a last name that matches Lily's. Fashion, a family connection, and a fabulous dress ... Lily is hooked. The book then introduces the story of Frank and Joy Fitzpatrick and of Honor Conlon. Weaving back and forth, the book tells both stories, of the original dress and of Lily who sets out to recreate it.

The book cover and dress descriptions are lovely. The characters set up as likable. Lily is a strong, independent woman with a successful career and a life surrounded by friends. Frank is a man who escapes the brutality of his childhood and becomes a self-made success in a new world. Joy is to the manor born; she makes her life about her love and her marriage despite the disapproval of her family. Honor has a dream and the courage to pursue it even though that takes her far away from home. These back stories are not developed in detail, but the image is conveyed.

The book starts slow, with a lot of time spent on the initial setup and then the first creation of the dress; it details the materials, the artistry, and the investment. For all the details, though, I cannot actually picture the dress; it does not develop into the image on the cover either. I am not really sure how all the different pieces described come together into a magical cohesive whole.

However, I am ready for both the characters and the story to develop further. It does sort of, but in so many different directions. High couture. Blogging. Romance. Child abuse. Runaways. Alcoholism. Competition. Adultery. Miscarriage. Infertility. Theft. Family secrets. High society. 1930s. 1950s. 2014.

These are just some of the topics that come up in this book; the character development gets lost in all these topics. The events and incidents, one after another, become the story rather than the characters which established the initial interest in the story. The "why" and "how" are missing. Why did Lily's grandfather Joe never speak of his family? How did Frank go from a young boy from the wrong side of the tracks to the rich successful man? How and why does one friend betray another? How and why does one person sink into alcoholism?

These are just some of the questions that go unanswered. All of a sudden, everything seems to happen, particularly in Frank, Joy, and Honor's story. It happens quickly and without real development. The characters set up as rather likable and sympathetic turn out to be not so. Those who do find happiness find it almost instantly that it doesn't make sense. Although a plot driven drama can make for a wonderful book, without the explanations, this story loses its sense of reality for this reader.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Monday, November 14, 2016

First Light

Title:  First Light
Author:  Bill Rancic
Publication Information:  G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2016. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1101982276 / 978-1101982273

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The envelope arrives one afternoon when I'm out in the yard raking leaves."

Favorite Quote:  "There would be time to tend to the dead later, while the business of the living was still urgent."

An invitation arrives in the mail. Kerry, her husband, and their son are invited to a reunion. This reunion is not a celebration, but rather a remembrance and a commemoration. They gather to remember the lives lost in a plane crash. They gather to commemorate the fact that they survived.

The book centers around three main characters - Kerry, Daniel, and Phil. Based on the beginning chapter, at least two survive. So, the question of survival is answered, removing that suspense from the book. Because the husband is not named in the first chapter of the book, the question may still remain. Which man survived? For me, the answer to that question is easily guessed within the first couple of chapters. This story really can only go one way. So, that suspense too is removed.

As the book goes back in time to tell the story of the crash, the question still remains of what choices were made to survive? What horrors were faced? What difficult decisions were made? Those dilemmas, however, are really not the direction this book takes. For a book about a plane crash in a severe terrain in severe weather, this book is surprisingly calm. It's as if the snow in which they find themselves buried muffles the impact of the crisis. The book talks about the concepts of survival - food, shelter, fire, etc. - but each seems to be resolved without a sense of urgency to it.  The plane is full of people, but the book focuses narrowly on these three; the remaining characters seem to be there as background because it would not do to have only three people on a plane. Even the rescue seems inevitable; after all, the book begins with the survivors.

More than the devastating crisis itself, this book is about these three characters and their emotions. This perhaps explains why some catalogs list this book as a romance. The cover seems to lend itself to that image as well. However, this book is not really a romance either. It is about relationships old and new, but not a romance novel. It is about love, lost and found. Some additional drama is added by  Phil's back story and the addition of their cantankerous boss. However, that is mostly filler and not really necessary to the main plot.

So, a book about a plane crash is not a dramatic story about survival. A book about survivors is not really about dealing with the emotions of being the one to survive. A book categorized as a romance is not really romantic. So, what exactly is this book?

I am not entirely sure, but, regardless of what it is not, the book does keep me reading. What works for me in this book are the descriptions. The writing is very visual. I can picture the mountain, the snow, and the shattered plane. I can picture the fire by the side of the plan. I can picture the trek to search for help. Those descriptions are the memorable part of this book much more so than the characters or the story.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Illustrated Book of Sayings

Title:  The Illustrated Book of Sayings
Publication Information:  Ten Speed Press. 2016. 112 pages.
ISBN:  1607749335 / 978-1607749332

Book Source:  I received this book through the Blogging for Books program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Welcome to the logophiles and the linguists, to those who speak one language and to those who speak in many tongues, to the older and the younger, to those with high expectations and even higher dress, to those who don't know quite where they are yet, to those who have picked up this book not knowing quite what it is..."

Favorite Quote:  "We cast our line  into the blue depths of the languages that we know, hoping to catch the right words, and reel them back into our heads so that we might be able to unfold a situation or happening with understanding and insight."

The Illustrated Book of Sayings is a collection of over 50 idioms from languages around the world. Translated literally, many of them make no sense. However, most have counterparts in English and in other languages. In other words, the translated words may not make sense, but the thought does.

Each word in this book is discussed on two pages. Each discussion includes:
  • Idiom in phonetic English and sometimes in its language or origin
  • Literal English translation
  • Short note that explains the idiom, the history of why the words make sense, its counterparts in English and other languages, and sometimes additional idioms from that language
  • Colorful illustration
I wish that this book included two more things. First, I wish I could hear the sayings being spoken. I realized that is an impossibility in a physical book, but perhaps some online resources in addition to the book could be made available. The book includes the text, phonetic transliteration as appropriate, and a translation but I would love to hear the phrase pronounced because, after all, we communicate meaning through more than just the words.

Second, the book includes some but not all the expressions written in their language of origin. I am not sure why only some are included. So many languages use a script completely different than English. It would be wonderful to be able to enjoy all the written languages. I do wonder if some of the languages have only an oral tradition, but that is not explained in the book.

The fonts and colorful illustrations give the book the look of a picture book, which is a delightful way of sharing languages with a child. However, this book has so much more substance than a picture book. It is definitely a book for adults, but lends itself to being easily shared with children, even young children.

The range of languages in this book is also delightful. The book has words from commonly recognized languages such as Arabic, Italian, and Spanish. It also has words from remote, little known languages. For example, Ga is the name of a tribe and its language. Igbo is an official language of Nigeria. Latvian is a Baltic language that can trace its roots to languages in existence around 3500 B.C. What a delightful introduction to the linguistic history and variety in our world.

What I find most fascinating are the commonalities found. Most of the expressions in the book describe concepts rather than an object; words for concrete objects typically have a one-for-one translation between languages.  Here, the words themselves though capture a cultural history; references to things like sauerkraut, blowing wind, horses, and tigers are rooted in the history of a place. Most of the references come from the natural world, leading back to the idea in the introduction that we use the world around us to explain that we cannot find the words for.

Many of the concepts illustrated are emotions, which makes sense because after all feelings are sometimes the hardest thing in the world to put into words. The expressions don't directly translate from one language to another, but the ideas translate across languages. Different languages have their own version of a particular idiom, illustrating the universality of emotions and thought. In other words, there is more that unites us than divides us.

This book makes a great gift for anyone who loves words and language. It's definitely got a permanent place on my bookshelf.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Thursday, November 10, 2016


Title:  Faithful
Author:  Alice Hoffman
Publication Information:  Simon & Schuster. 2016. 272 pages.
ISBN:  1476799202 / 978-1476799209

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "In February, when the snow comes down hard, little globes of light are left along Route 110, on the side of the road that slopes off when a driver least expects it."

Favorite Quote:  "'I think of life as a book of stories ... You move through the stories and the characters change ...' ... But she disagrees with him and isn't afraid to say so. 'Well, I think of life as a novel. You can't just hope out of the mess you're in and into another story. You carry it all with you.'"

Faithful is a coming of age story, but one with a dramatic and sad trajectory. It is the tale of a young woman coping with grief as are many other books (The Thing About JellyfishUntwineWe Were Liars, and Black Eyed Susans); the book successfully sets up a sympathetic main character and leads through a story waiting to find out how it turns out for her.

Shelby Richmond and Helene Boyd are high school senior headed off to New York University in the fall. They are best friends. Supposedly, Helene is the beautiful one, and Shelby is the smart one. One winter night, a terrible car accident happens. Helene is left in a coma. Shelby escapes with physical injuries that heal. However, the psychological ones do not, for Shelby was the one driving.

Life stops for both girls. Helene is literally in a coma. However, she becomes something of a celebrity with claims of miracles - healing, candles burning all night, redemption, and other such claims. Shelby ends up in the hospital and then in psychiatric care. Home again, she retreats into a world of drugs and depression. Nothing her mother does seems to help. In Shelby's mind, "she is paying her penance."

At the beginning of this book, I am not so sure this is the book for me. Faith healing, miracles, a young woman whose new best friend is her drug dealer. Next comes Shelby's decision to run off with her drug dealer boyfriend. I don't know where the book is going, and I don't know if I want to follow along. However, I do, and I am glad.

The book touches on some issues and then leaves them unexplored. Helene is depicted in a coma, cared for in her parents home for year, but end of life issues are not discussed in the book. Towards the beginning of the book, Shelby attempts suicide and other self-destructive choices; yet, addressing her mental health concerns after the accident are addressed in a summary manner. A character is raped, but that incident is never explored. A key facet of the book is postcards Shelby gets from an unnamed someone. "Say something ... Do something ... Be something ... Feel something ... See something ... Save something ... Believe something ... Love something ... Remember someone ... Trust someone ... Be happy." These are the messages on the postcards and the lesson of the book. Yet, that entire storyline has a young adult feel.

Slowly, this story turns in the direction of a young woman learning to live again. She makes mistakes and some unfortunate decisions, but that is life. She also discovers friendship and acceptance. Most importantly, she discovers herself and discovers the possibility of forgiveness. The ending brings the book back in direction I think is unneeded, but by then, Shelby is a character I am engaged with. The friends and family surrounding her are real and are characters I care about. In short, even though the plot explores directions I don't care for, the writing develops character I do care about. That keeps me reading.

Ultimately, though, the characters keep me turning the pages of this book to the end to see what becomes of Shelby Richmond.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer

Title:  And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer
Author:  Fredrik Backman
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2016. 96 pages.
ISBN:  1501160486 / 978-1501160486

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "There's a hospital room at the end of a life where someone, right in the middle of a floor, has pitched a green tent."

Favorite Quote:  "Our brains are the most boundless equation, and once humanity solves it it'll be more powerful than when we went to the moon. There's no greater mystery in the universe than a human."

I cried. I knew what this novella was about. I prepared myself. Yet, I cried. I smiled through the tears too, but mostly I cried.

The story begins with an author's note that this story is personal; it's about the author dealing with losing someone while they are still here and about explaining that to children. That is heartbreak so many know about, and, for those who don't, I hope you never do.

Many books have addressed this topic with strength and compassion. Everything Love Is tackles the issue of dementia from the perspective of a loved one in a powerful fictional story. Before I Forget is a nonfiction account of a couple dealing with early onset Alzheimer's; it tells a personal story of grief and hope and provides guides for others dealing with this devastating diagnosis. This book is the story of the one being lost to dementia. Grandpa's "way home gets longer and longer." In fact, by the end of the book, the reader realizes how long that distance truly has become.

Grandpa, Grandma, Ted, and NoahNoah (as Grandpa calls him) are the story. Grandpa is the one losing his way. He knows it, and he is trying to help his grandson understand. His memories of times long gone with Grandma sustain him on this journey. For Grandpa, the memories of his son Ted and his grandson Noah blend together.

For Ted and Noah, the journey encompasses so many different facets as caregivers and as helpless bystanders. They must keep Grandpa physically safe; they must keep him emotionally safe. The book begins with, "Don't be scared." Once it was the adults abating a child's fear; now, the child guides the adult. For themselves, Ted and Noah must learn the lesson of letting go and of losing someone who is still here. For Noah, there is the innocence of childhood and unconditional love; for Ted, there is the frustration of being helpless.

The beautiful imagery of the book portrays this story in a memorable way. Grandpa and NoahNoah are in a town square. Every day, the town square shrinks. Everyday, more roads leading away from it appear broken and impassable. At the same time, beauty abounds. Flowers bloom, and Grandma comes to hold Grandpa's hand. No matter how the square shrinks, Grandpa and Noah's bench remains at its center.

In a place of loss and grief, hope also finds a place. Grandpa and Noah play games and tell jokes. Grandpa still teaches Noah lessons about life - fishing, the digits of pi, and the workings of the human brain. Numbers and math provide a grounding where so much seems nebulous. Laughter finds its way through the tears.

This short book is moving, sad, emotional, so many things, and now a favorite. As with Britt-Marie Was Here, the book manages in its simplicity to completely involve me in the story. I can picture the characters and the square. I can feel the anguish and still find a smile, both brought about by the love captured in this book. Such is the depth of Fredrick Backman's writing. My explanation does not do this short book justice. This is one to be experienced and then remembered for a very long time.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Survivor's Guide to Family Happiness

Title:  The Survivor's Guide to Family Happiness
Author:  Maddie Dawson
Publication Information:  Lake Union Publishing. 2016. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1503939103 / 978-1503939103

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "So, he was really, really leaving, like his parents had told him he had to, and even though she already knew he wouldn't stand up to them, she had held out the tiniest bit of hope that something would happen and there would be a reprieve."

Favorite Quote:  "and you have to make your own life. Every day you get to start over anyway, work on your own story."

The family we are born to is a part of us; their genetics defines part of who we are. The family we choose to surround ourselves with is also a part of us; their love sustains us and helps us become who we are. As much as our family is part of us, we are and choose to be a part of them. That, to me, is the message of the this book.

Nina Popkin is lost. She has survived a breakup. She has just lost her beloved mother. Her mother did not give birth to her, but was her mother in every respect. Nina is lost without people she calls family. Her loss and her need for family sets her on a path to discover her birth mother. Along the way, she discover an entire other family she never knew existed for her. Her need to belong and be part of a whole drives her, but do the people she meets have the same need? Lindy is Nina's biological sister, but she has a family. Phoebe Mullen is Nina's biological mother, but she left the people she loved and the sad circumstances of her past far behind. Do they need her in their family, regardless of the biological ties that may bind them? Is it biology or caring that defines family?

The book moves through the perspective of all three women. For each, it's a look into the past and the family that was created through biology. For each, it's also about moving forward. Nina meets a man and becomes part of his life and the lives of his children. Lindy has a husband and children who surround her. Phoebe ultimately comes face to face with the decisions of her past, and the pieces of her history that were beautiful and joyful. Through it all is also the story of adoption through the eyes of a young mother and the children put up for adoption.

What I find most interesting about the book is the contrasts between Nina and Lindy. Nina is desperate for family, while Lindy is ensconced in the heart of hers. Nina learns one fact and imagines how a lifetime going to go, while Lindy learns one fact and then retreats to her own world. Nina wants to be best friends, while Lindy wants to walk away. Nina is the main focus of the book, but Lindy is the more interesting one, perhaps because her story is not told. Why does she count the way she does? How does she find her way through a stagnating marriage and a supposed social circle where she does not fit in? I kind of wish I found out more about her.

Maddie Dawson's book The Opposite of Maybe explored the question of relationships and love and the myriad forms that can take. This book applies the same approach to families - the different forms they can take from our biological families to the families we choose. The book is a quick and easy read. It comes with the tears and joys that come along with a family patched together with love and friendship and leaves me thinking about what it means to be family.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Pretty Paper

Title:  Pretty Paper
Author:  Willie Nelson and David Ritz
Publication Information:  Blue Rider Press. 2016. 304 pages.
ISBN:  073521154X / 978-0735211544

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It was a rough Christmas in a rough town."

Favorite Quote:  "So this is my way of saving myself. This is my writing. This is my way of staying sane. This is the story that, by telling it, can't do me any harm. I'm releasing it. I'm sending it up into the sky. I'm putting it out there so it no longer can put me down."

Crowded street, busy feet hustle by him
Downtown shoppers, Christmas is nigh
There he sits all alone on the sidewalk
Hoping that you won't pass him by

Should you stop?, better not, much too busy
You're in a hurry, my how time does fly
In the distance the ringing of laughter
And in the midst of the laughter he cries

So go the lyrics of the song Pretty Paper by Willie Nelson. The song tells the story of a vendor selling wrapping paper and pencils on the sidewalk during the holiday season. To attract customer attention, the vendor sings out the words, "Pretty paper."

The song, released in 1963, was based on an actual vendor Willie Nelson saw in Fort Worth, Texas. This book gives this vendor a name - Vernon Clay - and a fictional history. By including himself as a main character, Willie Nelson creates a sense of reality about the book. I want to believe that it's real.

Although marketed as a holiday story, Pretty Paper is really a story about friendship and about second chances. Willie Nelson is a young musician, working hard to support his family and waiting for his big break. He plays local restaurants and bars, basically anywhere to get his music heard. He sees Vernon Clay outside a department store one night. He notices several things about this stranger. Vernon has had his legs amputated. Not many people stop to buy his wares. Most of all, Vernon's sales pitch has a musical quality that impresses and attracts him. Vernon, however, invites no conversation and no inquiry.

Willie, however, is persistent, and over time, learns of Vernon's sad story. What follows naturally is,  of course, Vernon's second chance. This is a tried and true formula for a feel good story. Vernon is a man who has suffered hardship and is down and out on his luck. Helps comes in the form of Willie and other friends. Circumstances align, friends work, and it all evolves into a new beginning.

This particular one is set into the world of honky tonk and provides an interesting look into that music scene. It has its shares of good guys and bad guys and bad guys who turn out to be pretty goods guys when their friendships and their sense of justice is called into question. These characters add a needed humor and levity to this book for Willie has a tough life as a struggling musician and Vernon's story is a sad one.

The book is a quick and easy read. The very casual tone takes a while to get used to, but then the feel good party of the story takes over. The individual words fall away to the message and meaning behind the story. This is not really a moral story; it does not preach and teach you to be a better, more giving person. It is just about what happens when one person reaches out to help another. In a world full of sadness and divisions right now, this message is a powerful and heartwarming one.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.