Monday, October 31, 2016

The Other Einstein

Title:  The Other Einstein
Author:  Marie Benedict
Publication Information:  Sourcebooks Landmark. 2016. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1492637254 / 978-1492637257

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 end is near."

Favorite Quote:  "Science certainly needs practical men, but science also needs dreamers."

Mileva Maric was the "other" Einstein. She was born in Serbia and trained as a physicist at the Zurich Polytechnic. It is here that she met Albert Einstein as a fellow student. The two developed a personal relationship, went to be married (as the title implies) and have children. Mileva Maric was a scientist in her own right, and it has been suggested that she contributed to Einstein's work although no credit has been given, and most historians discredit the claim. This book is a fictional story based on this history.

Historical fiction is about the balance between history and fiction. From the content of the book and the author's note at the end, this book is more fiction than history. Yes, the individuals existed. Yes, the marriage existed. Yes, the children existed although perhaps not as the book suggests. Perhaps, so did some of the surrounding characters. The rest is fiction. What takes this book even further away from history is that the focus is really only the relationship. This is the story solely of a marriage - a fictional one based on conjecture; it touches upon their work as scientists only as it relates to the relationship. Thus, the time and place along with the history is lost in the story.

So, let's ignore the history and look at the book just as a story. The premise has the potential of becoming a story of a strong woman. Mileva Maric deals with a disability. She deals with being a woman's in what was a man's field. She deals with being the only female student of her class. She is reputed to be a brilliant scientist. For a while, she finds herself in the company of like-minded women, each with the potential for scientific success. She may or may not achieve scientific greatness in her own research.

That is the Mileva Maric described. However, that is not the Mileva Maric that comes to life in this book. The bulk of the book is not really about her; it is about her courtship and subsequent marriage to Albert Einstein. This relationship becomes about cutesy (read, annoying) nicknames, a leading man who comes across as more a caricature - a rather cruel one - than a fully drawn character, and a leading lady whose actions seem to belie her scientific background and her description as a strong, independent woman.

Even as a story about a relationship, the book stays at the surface. No insight is given as to his motivations and actions; nor does the book show Mileva's scientific mind seeking an explanation or looking for change. The two individually and together face so many highs and lows of life - first love, scientific discovery, and the loss of a child. However, the tone of the book remains constant and descriptive throughout. As a reader, I don't feel as if I am along on that emotional journey.

Unfortunately, to me, neither the history nor the fictional story comes to life in this book, leaving this an unsatisfying reading experience.

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

Saturday, October 29, 2016


Title:  Soframiz: Vibrant Middle Eastern Recipes from Sofra Bakery and Cafe
Author:  Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick
Publication Information:  Ten Speed Press. 2016. 264 pages.
ISBN:  1607749181 / 978-1607749189

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

Opening Sentence:  "Beginning at 8 am, people from all walks of life pass through our door to gather, eat, and restore."

Favorite Quote:  "We believe in learning the rules before we break them, so we study technique, ingredients, and recipes constantly."

The word sofra in Turkish means a table made ready for eating a meal. The authors expand that meaning to capture everything about the about a meal, including the feeling of warmth and hospitality that goes along with a meal lovingly offered. Sofra Bakery and Cafe opened in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2008, and it offers the food of Turkey, Lebanon and Greece with the owner's own twist on the flavor combinations.

This book offers up the recipes behind some of the Sofra favorites as well as new adventures for the home cook to try. The book's organization reflects its bakery origins; this is not a composite book on middle eastern cooking. It is more focused on cafe offerings - breakfast, meze, flatbreads, savory pies, cookies and confections, specialty pastries and desserts, and beverages. The book also includes a chapter on the pantry accompaniments - jams, spices, pickles, etc. - that might accompany or become a part of its menu offerings. Finally, the book includes a helpful glossary describing ingredients that may be new to home cooks and possible resources where a home cook may be able to purchase these ingredients.

The book itself is beautiful and easy to navigate. The hardcover edition is printed on lovely, thick paper. Although not every recipe includes a photograph, the matte-finish photographs included are vibrant and appetizing. The individual section begins with a list of recipes, and an index provides further ability to easy locate a recipe. The recipes themselves are laid out clearly over one to two pages. The titles are set off clearly by font; the ingredient list is clearly printed on one side; and the directions are laid out in neatly separated paragraphs. Each recipe also begins with a chef's note, which includes tips on recipe pairings or seasonal substitutions.

The recipes themselves are very, very ingredient centered. You might say, well, all recipes are. However, many of these recipes call for ingredients that may not be readily available in many markets. Just the first couple of recipes call for ingredients such as Maras peppers, hawayej, kataifi pastry, barrel-aged Greek feta, labne, and Spanish Calasparra rice. The glossary does provide resources where certain ingredients specific to the cuisine may be ordered; a few descriptions include substitutions but not many. Also, somehow, I think the result will likely not be the same without the authentic ingredients. As such, while I appreciate the recipes and they sound delicious, I am likely to try some recipes when I can locally find the ingredients.

Another aspect that makes these recipes a "sometimes treat" is the richness of the ingredients. The book does not state nutritional information. However, when a recipe serving nine calls for 2 sticks of butter and 8 ounces of cream cheese, you can hazard a guess at the luxuriant nature of that dish. Again, the recipes sound delicious, but that fact will ensure that I save most of them for special occasions. A baker's side note:  The ingredient amounts in this book even for baked goods are given by volume, not weight. Adjust accordingly.

Some of the recipes are also fairly simple, in that an experienced cook really does not need a recipe for the dish. For example, how do you think you make hot pepper labne, whipped feta with sweet and hot peppers, and whipped goat cheese with almonds and golden raisins? The entire section on flat breads contains two dough recipes - Yulfka dough and Za'atar bread. The remaining recipes are a variety of toppings for that dough. In other words, master the dough, and the toppings are up to your imagination.

Overall, the book is beautiful, and, if I am in the Boston area, I will make sure that Sofra Bakery is a place I stop and treat myself. However, I am not sure the recipes will find themselves into my regular cooking repertoire.

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

Thursday, October 27, 2016

I Will Send Rain

Title:  I Will Send Rain
Author:  Rae Meadows
Publication Information:  Henry Holt & Co. 2016. 272 pages.
ISBN:  1627794263 / 978-1627794268

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

Opening Sentence:  "Annie Bell awoke in the blue darkness before dawn, her night dress in a damp tangle at her knees."

Favorite Quote:  "There was what you saw and there was the hidden life underneath, and you don't know it when you're a child and then you do and growing up doesn't seem so great anymore."

The time is the 1930s. The place is Mulehead, Oklahoma in the Great Plains of the USA. The country is already devastated by the Great Depression. What was once thriving homesteading land is now further hit by storms, but like no storms people have ever seen before. In the middle of a severe drought, the storms bring dust, carried by the raging wind and covering everything. Farming methods in the past that have done nothing to protect against erosion make the impact of the storms worse.

This book tells the story one family and one small town during the first summer of the dust storms. The Bell family is barely surviving. Samuel, Annie, Birdie, and Fred Bell are all coping. Samuel has visions of rain and feels that he is divinely guided to follow a path that others call delusional. Annie is trying to hold her family together, but new relationships pull at her and offer her another path. Birdie is a teenager and in love; she believes that love will conquer all and last forever. Fred is young and weak, suffering from asthma exacerbated by the dust. This is their story.

Much as this book is set in the Dust Bowl era, it is not really a period piece. The desolation and destruction of the storms merely provides a context for the desolation that seems to surround this family. This story focuses in narrowly on these four individuals and their individual struggles rather than a depiction of the era. This family's struggles exist independently of the time and place in which they find themselves. Samuel faces a crisis of faith. Annie faces a crisis of fidelity. Birdie's is a crisis of youth and trust. Fred is the one with a life-threatening physical crisis. The dust storms just make everything worse. All in all, the book conjures up a depressing set of circumstances that the reader is pulled into.

By the end, each crisis reaches a climax of sorts. Some decisions are made, and some decisions are thrust upon people. The conclusions to the individual trajectories are not really a surprise, sad and depressing but not surprising. What's odd though is that looking back on the book, I see four individual stories with four individual endings rather than the cohesive story of a family. It's as if this character driven book traces their individual paths rather than bringing it all together.

Rae Meadow's writing does depict a gritty picture of the individuals and the scene. I picture the dust permeating every surface. I picture all different shades of browns and grey with very little other color.  I feel the sadness and desperation that weighs down each of these individuals. Oddly, though, I do not feel an emotional connection to any of the characters, especially not Annie and Birdie who are the center of the story. I walk away not reflecting on the plight of the actual characters in the book but rather thinking I should read about how hard this time must have been for the people who actually lived it.

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

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Woman in the Photo

Title:  The Woman in the Photo
Author:  Mary Hogan
Publication Information:  William Morrow Paperbacks. 2016. 432 pages.
ISBN:  006238693X / 978-0062386939

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

Opening Sentence:  "Elizabeth, please."

Favorite Quote:  "Birth is not fate. You must create a destiny that is yours. Uniquely yours."

This is a book by the numbers. The story is about two women, two places, and two time periods. The history is about one town, one dam, one private club, one day, one storm, and 2,209 dead.

The Great Flood of 1889 in Johnstown, Pennsylvania is still one of the worst losses of civilian life ever in the United States. The history goes back to the canal system for transportation and to the railroad taking over. The original South Fork Dam was built for the canal system. When the railroad took over, the property was sold to the Pennsylvania Railroad, who in turn sold it to private interests. Very rich private interests. The investors converted the dam reservoir into a lake for The South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club, a private summer club open to membership only. As the years passed, the integrity of the dam was further compromised to suit the needs of the club. All it took was one major storm. The dam collapsed, sending a flood downstream that could not be stopped. The cottages of the club remained untouched, but the towns downstream and the lives of the residents were destroyed.

Another interesting bit of history wrapped in this is book is the character of Clara Barton - the Clara Barton. The American Red Cross led by Clara Barton came to help the victims of the Johnstown flood. It was the first time that the American Red Cross played a major humanitarian role in a civilian crisis, and it set the tone for the future work of the American Red Cross.

Elizabeth Haberlin is the woman in the photo. The photo is discovered by Lee Parker, an eighteen year old growing up in California. Lee discovers the photo when, at age eighteen, she becomes entitled to certain of her adoption records. This sets her off on a journey of discovery.

The book continues back and forth between Elizabeth's story and Lee's story. Elizabeth is a young woman not content to live by the standards her 1880s society demands of her. Her story is wrapped up in the history encompassed in this book. Lee's story is the pull between her love for her adoptive mother and her need to learn about her birth mother. The connection between the two stories is one of lineage, but really more about heritage and character. Both are the stories of strong, independent women who create their own path through life; therein lies the commonality between two women so separated by time. Both are tied together a little bit too quickly and neatly towards the end, but other than that, both keep me reading.

The main fictional characters have cares and concerns that go beyond the history, making the story engaging. The historical characters and events are easily verified, and yet again, a fictional story has introduced me to history I knew little about. I do also appreciate the historical photographs sprinkled throughout the book; I find myself reading and looking for more facts after reading the book. Historical fiction is a balance between fictional story and actual history. This book does a great job at maintaining that balance.

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

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Good in Bed

Title:  Good in Bed
Author:  Jennifer Weiner
Publication Information:  Atria Books. 2001. 384 pages.
ISBN:  0743418166 / 978-0743418164

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

Opening Sentence:  "'Have you seen it?' asked Samantha."

Favorite Quote:  "I've learned a lot this year ... I learned that things don't always turn out the way you planned, or the way you think they should. And I've learned that there are things that go wrong that don't always get fixed or get put back together the way they were before. I've learned that some broken things stays broken, and I've learned that you can get through bad times and keep looking for better ones, as long as you have people who love you."

"There were a thousand words that could have described me - smart, funny, kind, generous. But the word I picked - the word I believed the world had picked for me - was fat." That thought should be the heart of this book. Cannie (does anyone else see Connie throughout?) Shapiro has never really thought of herself as a larger woman until she opens a magazine and sees her ex-boyfriend writing about loving a large woman. So begins this adventure into Cannie's spiraling life.

Unfortunately for me, a few issues keep me from following Cannie on what I think is going to be a journey of moving beyond body image. First, Cannie is not a particularly likable character. A loving family, a Princeton education, a job, friends .... Cannie has a lot going for her in life. Unfortunately, her focus remains on what she sees as lacking in her life. At this time, it is not even her body image; it is primarily the boyfriend that got away. This critical approach to life permeates to Cannie's treatment of the people in her life. Her treatment of her mother and her partner is particularly atrocious. Cannie often times comes across as whiny and self-indulgent such that it's difficult to empathize with her predicament.

Second, the trigger for the book is an ex-boyfriend's very public article about their relationship, specifically about loving a larger woman. The article does not mention her by name; rather, it is about "C". However, Cannie knows, and her friends know. At first glance, the article is poking fun, and Cannie feels humiliated. Reading through the entire article, Cannie discovers the underlying sensitivity and understanding. This is a guy who gets this issue and gets her struggle. His article is by far my favorite part of the book. The problem is that his portrayal through the the rest of the book is inconsistent with that mindset. It doesn't flow. Without a spoiler, let's just say that the insight this article depicts does not match his actions later when his understanding is needed again.

Third, the entire Hollywood aspect of the plot is too far fetched. I am all for suspending disbelief in what is supposed to be a feel good fiction book, but this plot line is too far over the top. A chance meeting leads to an instant new best friend which leads to all kinds of amazing things. All the stars align a little too perfectly; it doesn't work because too many things are too far beyond belief. It also doesn't work especially with a main character very focused on what is not going right. At times, this segment of the plot gives the entire book a somewhat juvenile tone.

Fourth, a lot seems to happen in Cannie's life. Major family changes. Major career changes. Major life changes. The book goes from thing to thing to thing. Perhaps, less would have been more in this case. This book begins with the main issue of body image. As a result of all the other happenings in this book, that focus gets lost. This book has no message in that regard; it just is. Perhaps, I over analyze, but this was not the book for me.

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

Friday, October 21, 2016

Paris for One and Other Stories

Title:  Paris for One and Other Stories
Author:  Jojo Moyes
Publication Information:  Pamela Dorman Books. 2016. 288 pages.
ISBN:  0735221073 / 978-0735221079

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

Opening Sentence:  "Nell shifts her bag along the plastic seating in the station and checks the clock on the wall for the eighty-ninth time."

Favorite Quote:  "You are whoever you choose to be."

Sometimes, you just need a sweet, feel good book. A book that is like climbing into your favorite pajamas under your coziest blanket with a lovely cup of tea. This collection of stories is just that, with a novella - the approximately ninety page story Paris for One - followed by short stories all about women, relationships, and choices.

Paris for One is about Nell Simmons, a young woman who has always lived by the rules and planned her life. She is the stable one, the reliable one. She knows it, and until now, has been happy with that. Now though, it seems not to work. So, she decides to do something completely out of character and impulsive. She surprises her boyfriend with a weekend trip to Paris. The only problem is that he doesn't show, and she ends up in Paris all alone. What is a timid, careful planner to do with a weekend in Paris? Run home? Re-plan? Or for once in her life, just be and see what happens?

Even in a such a short span, Nell becomes real. Her magical Paris weekend sprinkles that magic out into the world as well. I find myself laughing and crying with her. The characters around her also charm; my personal favorite character is the concierge at the hotel, who doesn't say much but still plays an instrumental role in the story. In some ways, that concierge could be this reader cheering Nell on because I know the choices I want Nell to make. I know where the story is going and I know how it's going to end. It doesn't matter, because it is such a charming and lovely journey getting there.

Paris for One was originally published as a "Quick Read" through the UK Reading Agency. The Reading Agency is a "charity whose mission is to inspire more people to read more, encourage them to share their enjoyment of reading and celebrate the difference that reading makes to all our lives. We support people at all stages of their reading journey. Because everything changes when we read." Quick Reads are just that - short, quickly read but complete stories to encourage readers. I really enjoyed the story itself, but knowing this purpose behind it doubles my enjoyment - a feel good story both in content and purpose.

The rest of the stories included in this book are considerably shorter than Paris for One, but most make a point about relationships - the importance of honesty, the key to keeping the romance alive when the details of life take over, the thoughts of the roads not taken, the path when life doesn't go according to plan, and love found in the unlikeliest of places. All are about the choices women makes in their lives and the strength they find. One story stands apart for it is not about relationships. The Crocodile Shoes is about a woman finding her confidence and her voice; is it the shoes or is the self-care they represent? Ultimately, this story too is about a woman finding and recognizing her strength.

Look at the deeper message, or enjoy the sweet, feel-good stories at face value. Either way, this book delights and charms.

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

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Clancys of Queens

Title:  The Clancys of Queens:  A Memoir
Author:  Tara Clancy
Publication Information:  Crown. 2016. 256 pages.
ISBN:  1101903112 / 978-1101903117

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

Opening Sentence:  "I'm the whirling dervish of Queens, spinning around and around, arms flapping, my father's boxing gloves like cinder blocks strapped to my seven-year-old hands."

Favorite Quote:  "... it took ... the lessons of time, to forever alter the way I look at people, including myself."

Tara Clancy grew up in three homes. This book yo-yos between Queens, Brooklyn, and the Hamptons - the three destinations of Tara Clancy's childhood. A converted shed in Queens was the home of her father. Brooklyn was the home of her family on her mother's side; and the Hamptons was the weekend home of her mother's new significant other. Between the three homes, Ms. Clancy moves around a lot, but in all three, she seems loved and cared for. Perhaps not well supervised but definitely loved.

With Queens in the title, I expect to hear about the city life and about the places and people of Queens. This book does not deliver on that. The sense of place is missing from this book. Most events take place at a home, in a yard, at school, or in route; these really could be anywhere. This is the story of a family but not in the context of time and place. Based on the title, I expect the place to anchor the book; it seems barely present.

This memoir is an non-linear, episodic race through this childhood. The story moves very quickly in time and place without a clear transition. At any given point, it's difficult to say how old Ms. Clancy is at that time. The range is from about five or six years old through the teenage years to young adult. Unfortunately, the progression of events is unclear, making the book quite challenging to follow and difficult to understand. The perspective of age is an important lens through which to understand the event; unfortunately, I find myself searching too hard for that understanding.

The narrative is also just that - a collection of event descriptions. This happened here. This happened there. Then, this happened. And so on. the book does not present much reflection or interpretation or emotion.

For example, one narrative that stands out is her trip to California with her mother. Her mother leaves her in a sex toy shop while she and her friend (who runs the store) go across the street for lunch. Ms. Clancy is left alone to explore and to deal with customers. Perhaps, that is not the intent, but that is what occurs. The narrative describes the event occurring, but that's it. How does this impact Ms. Clancy? What, if any, are the conversations mother and daughter have following this incident? How and why does a mother allow this to happen?

Another example is the incident with her father's gun. Her father sees her curiosity about the gun and lets her handle the unloaded weapon. At the end, he simply warns her to never touch it again. Then, the book moves on to something else. I want to know more. What impact does this have? What imprint does this memory leave?

The "why" seems to be lacking in this book. Why are these the incidents she chooses to describe? Why are these important? How do these form the person she is today? In a memoir about Tara Clancy's, I don't get a sense of who she truly is.

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

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Book of the Unnamed Midwife

Title:  The Book of the Unnamed Midwife (The Road to Nowhere)
Author:  Meg Elison
Publication Information:  47North. 2014 (original). 300 pages.
ISBN:  1503939111 / 978-1503939110

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

Opening Sentence:  "Mother Ina tapped her fingers on her hollow wooden belly."

Favorite Quote:  "Nobody chooses to be a victim, but after a lifetime of practice, it just happens."

The title - The Book of the Unnamed Midwife - has a positively medieval ring. The beginning of the book is medieval in tone. Young male scribes taken care of by "mothers" are set the task of copying by hand this book. The beginning is atmospheric and sets up the anticipation for what is to come.

So, what is the Book? The book is a set of nineteen journals written by an unnamed female survivor of a plague that wipes out about 98% of humanity and within that number 99% of all women. Very few people are left, and within that number, the ratio of men to women is disproportionate. This sets the tone for the themes of the book. Who are these women? What is their value in this society? How will humanity survive? Who is to be pro-creator of a rebirth? All important questions not matter what the time period of the book.

This post apocalyptic story is not medieval in the least. It begins in modern day San Francisco, where our lead character - let's call her Midwife - works at a hospital. The plague / virus  / disease comes, and she wakes up to an altered world. The name of the book and the fact that the journals appear to be revered by a new society imply that Midwife perhaps becomes in part responsible for the survival of society; perhaps major events connect the destruction of the plague to this new society; and perhaps the Midwife's Book contains the wisdom gained from this history.

Unfortunately, the book does not built to that climax; it doesn't build to anything much at all. As with The Dog Stars by Peter Heller and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, the question comes down to one of survival. Unlike those books, though, the story does not read as one of hope; Midwife's trek is a dark and violent one. For the most part, lawlessness is paramount in this world. In a world where women have become rare, they are not revered; rather, the women are turned into prized possessions. Midwife disguises herself as a man to escape notice. Keeping along with that theme, there is rape and violence against women and a lot of discussion of searches for weapons for both protection and destruction.

The book also becomes repetitive. Midwife travels alone, joining up with and then leaving a variety of pockets of survivors - a couple watching out for each other, a biker gang, and a Morman community to name a few of her encounters. She meets up with other survivors. She wants companionship. For a while, it works. Then, something triggers a departure. Repeat. The specifics differ, but the scenario repeats again and again, leaving me waiting for something more. Included with the Midwife's tale are some stories of other survivors, but these too are unsavory and violent. Since the focus of the book remains on Midwife, the role of these other stories seems simply to add to the despair; they are just dropped into place with nothing more coming of them.

Midwife herself is unfortunately not a likable character. Perhaps, it is intentional, but the character comes across as somewhat robotic. Perhaps that is a reaction to her situation, but the book needs to explain that and let the reader peek behind that monotone front. It does not. As a result, this book becomes difficult to engage with because in a book about death and destruction, I need a character whose survival I care about. Unfortunately, in this book, I just don't.

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

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Lesser Bohemians

Title:  The Lesser Bohemians
Author:  Eimear McBride
Publication Information:  Hogarth. 2016. 320 pages.
ISBN:  1101903481 / 978-1101903483

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

Opening Sentence:  "I move."

Favorite Quote:  "I wish that I was someone else, a girl with words behind her face, not this one done up like a stone in herself."

The plot of The Lesser Bohemians is a fairly simple one and not all that unusual. An eighteen year old Irish girl named Eily comes to London alone to enter drama school. She meets a seasoned, thirty-eight year old actor named Stephen. A relationship ensues, first physical and then emotional. Along with the relationship come their back stories - the grief and baggage they both carry. Is the relationship just a physical release? Is it love? Will it survive? Does it need to? How will the two be impacted?

With nothing really new or different in the plot, this is a story that has been told many times before. What makes this book unusual is the writing style and the details that are developed in the book. Unusual can sometimes be a really good thing and sometimes not. In this case, unfortunately, the things that make this book unusual also make it not the book for me.

The writing style of the book consists of short, choppy thoughts with inconsistent capitalization and punctuation and no regard for grammatical constructs. Added to this is a lot of gratuitous cursing and repeated use of f***. It is like listening to a staccato beat with jarring notes sprinkled throughout for the over 300 pages of the book with no relief. This book is hard reading.

In addition, large sections of the book are essentially monologues as the two main characters tell each their histories. This means that for those long sections, the reader is being "told" a story rather than being shown or being made part of the story. Stephen's story is more lengthily told, but Eily is the narrator of the book; this adds even further distance between reader and story. It takes a lot of work to stay with the book because of this writing approach.

The "details" of this book are very graphic in nature. Much of this book is about physical relationships - consensually sexual ones and brutally physically abusive ones. Both are described in explicit and lurid detail. I would mark this book with a "xxx" rating even though the scenes occur so frequently that they start to sound the same and almost mundane. I don't know what to say except that this kind of reading is just not for me, and in this book, these scenes are the story.

This book is billed as a love story of two damaged, scarred, individuals. Unfortunately, I never do feel the love or any emotion through the characters. I form no attachment to either character despite their tragic backgrounds; I don't really care how the story turns out. Their scars are laid bare; the physical attraction is laid bare. Somewhere though, the love story and the individuals underneath the physicality go missing. It is lost in choppy beat of the book and in the focus on the physical descriptions.

My favorite part of this book is the cover of the book itself. I wish I had left it at my admiration of the cover.

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

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Small Great Things

Title:  Small Great Things
Author:  Jodi Picoult
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2016. 480 pages.
ISBN:  0345544951 / 978-0345544957

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 miracle happened on West Seventy-Fourth Street, in the home where Mama worked."

Favorite Quote:  "What if the puzzle of the world was a shape you didn't fit into? And the only way to survive was to mutilate yourself, carve away your corners, sand yourself down, modify yourself to fit? How come we haven't been able to change the puzzle instead?"

“If I cannot do great things, I can do small things in a great way.” - Martin Luther King Jr.

This quote is the inspiration behind the title of this book. Jodi Picoult has a well deserved reputation for taking on serious human issues, often the ones being talked about in the press. This book is no different; it tackles the conversation about race, prejudice, and the justice system.

The main cast of characters are a Black nurse, a white supremacist family who are focused in their hatred, and a white public defender who would never ever consider herself prejudiced or racist. Around them, you have families and communities who each hold fast to their views.

The story is that Ruth Jefferson is a Yale nursing school graduate with over twenty years of experience as a Labor and Delivery nurse; she is also the only Black nurse in her unit. Turk and Brittany Bauer are a young couple awaiting the birth of their first child; they hold white supremacist beliefs who do not want the birth or their child attended by a person of color. They equate their demand to a customer service request no different that a woman wanting a female doctor. The hospital complies, and Ruth is removed from the case. A crisis occurs, and Ruth is accused of a terrible crime. Kennedy McQuarrie is the public defender assigned to the case. Battle lines are drawn on a much larger scale even though all Ruth wants to do is defend herself, protect her son, and live her life.

Surrounding this main plot line are others that all carry on the same conversation about race and prejudice. Ruth's mother has been a maid for the same white family for most of Ruth's life; a closeness exists but the lines are clear. Ruth moved her family to a new, mostly white neighborhood to give her son a chance at a better education. Her son Edison goes to a school, where the color of his skin separates him from most who surround him. Ruth believes that race does not matter and that people see the person not the color; her sister takes a different path. Turk and Brittany portray the background of being taught certain things about race from the day you are born and what happens if those beliefs are ever called into question. Kennedy McQuarrie is a public defender by passion and belief in doing the right thing. Kennedy's mother is Southern belle who grew up being taught certain views. The same conversation comes through in this book from so many different directions.

At the beginning of the book, I am not sure. I am not sure Jodi Picoult is the author to tell this story. I see the stereotypes appear in the characters, and this conversation needs to be about breaking stereotypes; I am not sure. By the middle, I think I know where the book is going, but I hope not; I am not sure the ending I am envisioning will move this conversation forward. Meanwhile, I am furiously reading as I tend to do with Jodi Picoult books because I want to see where she takes the conversation. Be prepared. This is not an easy book to read. It will make you uncomfortable, and it will make you think about your own views and prejudices. I think that's the point.

By the end, the questions are answered - why she wrote the book and why certain characters appear as stereotypes. Make sure you read the author's note with the book for Jodi Picoult writes about how and why this book came to be and how and why she feels able to tell the story. The book is not perfect, of course; some of the twists and changes at the end, particularly the epilogue, feel a little contrived and too neatly packaged. However, this book accomplishes its purpose to keep the conversation moving. It holds true to the quote that is its inspiration. This is a fictional story that may perhaps contribute in a small way to great change.

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

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Rules for Others to Live By

Title:  Rules for Others to Live By:  Comments and Self-Contradictions
Author:  Richard Greenberg
Publication Information:  Blue Rider Press. 2016. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0399576525 / 978-0399576522

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

Opening Sentence:  "Everything in this book is true."

Favorite Quote:  "The best thinking says 'the self' is a fiction (I have a piece about that), yet it's a fiction that we all believe, our most intimate experience. Maybe it's nothing more than our tendency to repeat. Maybe we repeat because when we do, we recognize the behavior and the familiarity is comforting. So the self is just the consolation of our tendencies."

The subtitle of this book reads "comments and contradictions." So, of course, the first question is whose comments? This book must be read with an understanding of the perspective. Richard Greenberg is a Tony Award winning playright who makes New York City his home. He has also twice been a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for drama. This book is a collection of his rumination on incidents from his life and observations on the New York lifestyle.

The book begins with an introduction of sorts, stating the author's definition of himself as an urban recluse and an explanation of why he never writes personal essays. The rest of the book groups personal essays loosely into sometimes cryptically named topics like manifesto, city, city friends, storytelling, health/education, city friends (new and updated), and several dead women of whom I was fond.

I am clearly not the right reader for this book. I am not entirely sure what the point is. Perhaps, I am missing the theater background. Perhaps, I am missing the New York background. Any which way, I neither get it nor find myself interested.

First and foremost, this book is marketed as a collection of essays. For some sections comprising only a handful of sentences, calling them an essay is stretching the definition. Some consecutive sections comprise a description of a single incident; again, the need to breakup into sections is unclear to me. Personal journal entries, perhaps, but not essays.

Second, the book description states, "he shares lessons from his highly successful writing career, observations from two long decades of residence on a three-block stretch of Man­hattan, and musings from a complicated and occasionally taxing social life." I find the book to be mostly musings and observations; I do not walk away with lessons. I do not even walk away with the feeling that the objective is to convey a lesson. An occasional moment stands out, but for the most part, it just is thoughts meandering through life.

Third, the book description also uses an interesting combination of words - subversive, hopeful, and life-affirming - to describe the different essays. Again, unfortunately, I discover none of that in my reading of the book. It seems rather just ramblings about whatever comes to mind at the time of writing. I do make it all the way through the book, but it is a challenge.

Finally, some of the essays are self-serving. One in particular stands out. It begins as follows. "As an artist, I am incapable of selling out. I know because I've failed at it so many times." Further on, the essay comments on "problems in my efforts to write lucrative crap." Unfortunately, the essay also pokes fun at authors who by inference have "sold out" by writing "lucrative crap." Fun at a colleague's expense, particularly by name, is not for me.

I leave with the idea that either the book is trying too hard to be clever or I am not clever enough to get it. Either way, this one is not the reading experience for me.

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

Friday, October 7, 2016

Public Library and Other Stories

Title:  Public Library and Other Stories
Author:  Ali Smith
Publication Information:  Anchor. 2016. 240 pages.
ISBN:  1101973048 / 978-1101973042

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

Opening Sentence:  "Here is a true story."

Favorite Quote:  "Democracy or reading, democracy of space:  our public library tradition, wherever we live in the wide world, was incredibly hard-won for us by the generations before us and ought to be protected, not just for ourselves but in the name of every generation after us."

The fact that the book has "public library" in the title is a clue as to what the focus of the book might be. It is, but perhaps not in the way you might think. This book is a collection of short stories alternating with different individuals giving their odes to the public library.

The dozen short stories are not about libraries; nor are they necessarily set in or around a library. They are not necessarily even about books. The stories are very different from each other and have cryptic titles such as "Last" and "Grass" and "The ex-wife". The topics are equally varied. The common thread between them is not libraries or books but rather language; the power and meaning and context of words play a key role in all the stories.

As with any short story collection, some of the stories call to my heart and some I read and leave without a look back. My favorite perhaps is the one titled "The Art of Elsewhere" because of its definition and description of elsewhere; again it comes back to language. What I love about all the stories is the focus on language - words themselves - that comes through the stories. "Words were stories in themselves." This is the first book I have read by Ali Smith, and I am intrigued.

The sections in between the short stories are essentially expressions of love for public libraries. About a dozen from people wrote about the role libraries play in their lives. Some contributor names I recognize, and some I don't. It doesn't matter because I completely recognize and share their love for libraries. Each one comes back to the importance of libraries and the crucial need to support and ensure that our libraries remain a funded and vibrant resource for our communities.

Libraries, of course, house books. However, their function as a community resource extends so far beyond that - as a warm, safe to place to go; as a curator of information; as an information technology resource; as an access point to the world and beyond; and so much more as libraries evolve to meet the changing needs of their communities. Unfortunately, so many communities have either lost or stand to lost this resource, and that is truly tragic.

As an avid reader, a book collector, a book blogger, and someone who calls my local library my home away from home, I love the personal commentary on what libraries mean to the individual contributors. I could read an entire book on people's love affair with libraries. This commentary does not talk about the reduction in library resources or the pragmatic efforts underway to save them. They are rather very personal statements all stating the same idea that libraries have impacted and changed each and every one of their lives.

Based on the title of the book, I assumed that this entire book is about the love of libraries. It takes some re-adjusting to what this book is actually about - a love of libraries and a love of language itself with the obvious connection that libraries are a source and resource of language. An unusual approach to the subject, but it works.

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

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Photographs from the Edge

Title:  Photographs from the Edge: A Master Photographer's Insights on Capturing an Extraordinary World
Author:  Art Wolfe and Rob Sheppard
Publication Information:  Amphoto Books. 2016. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1607747812 / 978-1607747819

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

Opening Sentence:  "All my life I have let my photos tell stories for me."

Favorite Quote:  "I suspect my style will be forever evolving as long as I am alive."

Books about art, any form of art, are as much about look and feel as the content itself. To some extent, this book looks and feels like a textbook. It is hardbound and about a standard 8 1/2  by 11 size. The photographs are printed in a matte finish as opposed to a glossy finish found in many art and photography books.

The book is centered around photographs of course. Each photograph spans a two page spread in the book. A surprising amount of space is taken up with text on these two pages. The title includes the date, subject, location, equipment used, and camera settings used. The main text portion is a first person narrative of how and why the photograph was capture. A short section, titled "the nature of the photo" gives some brief information about the subject or location. Another short section titled "photo tips" provides just that. Note that the tips are mostly not about camera settings but rather about the location, subject, and composition. For many of the spreads, the actual photograph is only about a half of one page. Some full-page and even two-page photographs are included; however, the focus of the book still seems more so the text. The photographs do not have the impact they might have if printed differently.

Format aside, the content of this book can be looked at in many different ways - a memoir, a travelogue, and a photography manual.

The photographs are organized chronologically, from June November 1983 to January 2015. As such, the photographs and the personal stories of how and why they were shot become a memoir of Art Wolfe's life and his progression as a photographer. With the equipment used, the reader sees a progression in the technology of photography and the migration from film to digital photography. Thus, the organization of the book tells its own story in addition to that of each photograph.

The locations featured in this book cover the globe. "If I feel a location has only barely been covered and there is a lot more left to explore, I'll make a note to head there. But if it looks as though other photographers have captured the best the area has to offer, I'll look elsewhere." As such, the book takes the readers on a tour of places, people, and sights we may never otherwise see. The table of contents is chronological with the title of each image identifying the subject; the book unfortunately does not include a geographic index of the photographs.

This book has much to teach about photography. Each photograph presents the equipment and settings used, some tips, and a personal description of the thought process Art Wolfe goes through to compose and capture the shot. Some shots are a factor of being in the right place at the right time with the right settings. Some are about the staging and planning to have certain people and certain props available in certain places at certain times. The end objective is to get the shot and to create that work of art. Interestingly, the book does not delve into post-processing at all; it seems to be completely about capturing the shot in camera. I don't know if Art Wolfe's philosophy is to minimize processing of shots or if this books simply chooses not to address the part of the process. As someone trying to learn from this book, I wish the book answered the question.

The text content wins out over the presentation of this book; a lot of photographic and cultural information is packed in the book. The format unfortunately prevents the photographs themselves from having the visual impact the should.

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

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Everything Love Is

Title:  Everything Love Is
Author:  Claire King
Publication Information:  Bloomsbury. 2016. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1632865386 / 978-1632865380

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

Opening Sentence:  "It was May, 1968 and there was a woman on a train."

Favorite Quote:  "None of us know how long love will last, how long life will last, which of us will suffer illness and which of us will remain healthy. Who will be the carer and who the patient. We all hope there will be someone there to take care of us. We build families and societies around ourselves so that we will not be left alone. Most of us fall in love when we are young and healthy and can't imagine half the things life will show us. We are playing a blind hand. It is only much later we find out what love really is and by that time, hypothetically, it's already too late to fold."

The dictionary defines the word love as both a noun and a verb. Love is a strong affection for someone. To love is to feel affection for someone and to hold some dear. In other words, love happens, but love is also undertaken each and every day.

"I had never been looking for the happy ending you find in books. That's not the kind I believe in. They are simplistic constructs that make it easier for us to bear the long continuum of our stories. But no one ever ends at the end. After the lovers kiss and the last page is turned, their lives barrel on messily towards the grave and maintaining some kind of happy ending is an ongoing battle. If you don't keep that in mind, happiness will slip through your fingers like water." In other words, love takes work. A person loves another because of, regardless of, and sometimes in spite of the circumstances.

That idea is the heart of this book. It is very difficult to talk about this book without talking about what it is about. Yet, avoid reading any topical discussions of the this book for the guessing and the confusion is part of the story. Yes, the book is confusing because narrators changes, viewpoints change, and often without warning and without names. It is at times hard to follow who the "I" in the story is at a given moment. The final realization of why this happens is the impact of this book, and it is well worth the wait.

This book is completely its characters. Baptiste Molino is a therapist living on a houseboat in Toulouse. Sophie is a young woman who works nearby and who becomes his friend; many try to fathom the nature of their relationship but without much success. Amandine Rousseau enters Baptiste's life as a client, but the relationship blossoms to so much more. In addition, there is a nameless narrator. The book shifts between Baptiste's point of view and the perspective of this narrator. Who this person is and what this person's story is comes back to the main theme of the book. "I have never had the courage to try and convince you that things are anything other than how you perceive them. Your reality is what it is and I am a time traveller, privileged to meet these spectral versions of you that otherwise I would never have seen. Since I appear to be living with not only you, but all of your ghosts, I may as well fall in love with you all."

This cast of four with other surrounding minor characters create a memorable and poetic picture of what people do to love someone and to show their love for someone. The book is sweet and tragic and so full of love. There is no formula to this love story, no packaged endings, just real life.

Mind you, the book is not easy to read. It takes focus and concentration especially at the beginning to keep straight what you are reading and whose perspective you see at that moment. Once I get to the point of realizing what the book is about, I find myself re-reading the beginning with a whole new understanding and really feeling the emotion behind the words. The book is not easy, but persevere. It is well worth it.

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