Monday, December 18, 2017

The Rules of Magic

Title:  The Rules of Magic
Author:  Alice Hoffman
Publication Information:  Simon & Schuster. 2017. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1501137476 / 978-1501137471

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

Opening Sentence:  "Once upon a time, before the whole world changed, it was possible to run away from home, disguise who you were, and fit into polite society."

Favorite Quote:  "... magic was not so very far from science. Both endeavors searched for meaning where there was non, light in the darkness, answers to questions too difficult for mortals to comprehend."

A disclaimer to start with. I have not read Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. I pick this book based on the other books I have read by the author. Each of them has been completely different, and each has been a delightful read in its own way. Now, having read this one, I think I need to add Practical Magic to my never ending "to read" list. This book stands completely on its own. So, I don't need to read Practical Magic, but I feel engaged enough with the characters to want to know where their lives lead.

The Rules of Magic is a story of witches and wizards and a world that both needs them and fears and persecutes them. The magic portrayed in the book is of the most benign sort, focused on love and healing as opposed sorcery seeking to do harm.

More than the witchcraft, the book is the story of the Owens family - siblings Franny, Jet, and Vincent. Their parents - in particular, their mother Susanna - tries to have them lead a life far away from witchcraft and the rest of the Owens family. The three siblings, however, know that they are "different" and begin to explore who they are and the history from which they come.

As you might suspect in a book about witches and wizards, a curse is at the heart of this story. It is this curse from which Susanna wants to save her children. As you might suspect, it is not possible to outrun or escape who you are. You must face it, and you must own it. That is the lesson of this book.

In this way, this story is a coming-of-age story about the three Owens siblings. Franny, Jet, and Vincent do a lot of growing up in this book. All three face their gifts and this curse in their own unique way. Sometimes successfully, and sometimes not. They learn about themselves, about each other, and about their family history. What carries throughout is their family bond and their love for each other.

Within this family story, the stories of the three siblings also develop independently and dintinctly.  You see each as an individual and as part of the cohesive trio. Franny takes on a parental role, and her story becomes one of denying her own emotions because it is the "right" thing to do. Jet's story is one of grief, of carrying on beyond tragedy, and of understanding. Vincent's story is one of growing up and choosing your own path. Alice Hoffman, as the storyteller, weaves her magic creating characters I care about and want to know more about collectively and individually.

That gift of storytelling, to me, is resposible for the success of this book. The element of witchcraft provides the background in which these characters and these relationships come to life and become real. Though set in a world of wizardry, the struggles and emotions of the three siblings are ones shared by mere mortals - love, sacrifice, guilt, insecurity, and courage. That is what draws me into this book and keeps me engaged throughout.

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

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs

Title:  The Exact Nature of Our Wrongs
Author:  Janet Peery
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2017. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1250125081 / 978-1250125088

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

Opening Sentence:  "Even a hundred years past the town's founding a visitor to Amicus might guess it had been laid out by rival drunks."

Favorite Quote:  "For most of her life she had yielded to the will of others, she had done what others wanted, but now it was her turn to be obstinate and she resolved to enjoy it."

Abel, Hattie, Doro, Jesse, ClairBell, Gideon, and Billy are the Campbell family now. There was also Nick, but sadly he died in his twenties of a heart condition. Abel - the ailing father, the retired judge - continues to judge and control his children. Hattie - seemingly meek next to her husband's control - enables her children's behaviors.

The Campbell children all face their own problems, many of them revolving around addictive behaviors. Abel and Hattie in their decades of marriage have gotten used to the "scandals" surrounding their children, through marriages, divorces, addictions, and confrontations with the law.

The only acknowledged drug addict in the midst is Billy. He is ill and not expected to live long. He is also an addict, has been for a long while. This has led to brushes with the law and confrontations with his family. After one particular episode that begins at Abel's birthday dinner, the other Campbell siblings plan an intervention while continuing on their own addictive paths. So begins the plot of this book. However, this is not really a plot driven book. It is more about the characters, their individual struggles, and the relationships.

This book sets the stage to be the story of a dysfunctional family set in fictional small town of Amicus, Kansas. The book description states, "With knowing humor ... reveals a family at its best and worst, with old wounds and new, its fractures and feuds, and yet its unbreakable bonds." Unfortunately, the humor escapes me. This is not a happy or a humorous book. This is a serious, sad look at the damage addictive behaviors - physical and psychological - cause to the individual and those around them.

Stories of dysfunction and struggles against oneself have the potential to be powerful ones. Neither the character nor the topics have be likable to create a powerful message in a book. Unfortunately, this book has the unlikable characters, but the power of the message does not quite reach me.

Maybe, it's because all members of the family present these behaviors. Maybe, it's because the characters are all older in their forties and fifties, still controlled by their parents and still vying for parental approval and sounding like they are so much younger than their ages would suggest. Maybe, it's because those are the aspects of their characters developed. Maybe, it's because the individual struggles get overshadowed by the competition and jealousies among the siblings. Maybe, it's because, as a reader, I cannot find anything to relate to in these characters. I don't quite know. I can't quite determine the exact reason why the book does not engage me, but sadly it does not.

Eventually, the book becomes Hattie's story and her emergence in her own life. Unfortunately, this development and evolution comes too late in the book. The response to and the caring - or lack thereof - for these characters develops long before that point. Although the change in her is interesting, at that point, I am done with the book.

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

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Love and Other Consolation Prizes

Title:  Love and Other Consolation Prizes
Author:  Jamie Ford
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2017. 320 pages.
ISBN:  0804176752 / 978-0804176750

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

Opening Sentence:  "Ernest Young stodd outside the gates on opening day of the new world's fair, loitering in the shadow of the futre."

Favorite Quote:  "We all have things we don't talk about ... Even though, more often than not, those are the things that make us who we are."

Love and Other Consolation Prizes is a love set in the middle of the red light district of Seattle in the early 1900s amidst the glitz and fanfare of the Alaska Yukon Pacific (AYK) Exposition. It is a love story of teenagers forced by circumstance to grow up and live adult lives well before their age warranted. It is a love story that lasts over fifty years until the next Seattle World Fair. Exactly whose love story is the question that remains unanswered until close to the end of the book.

Ernest Young is born into poverty in China. His mother obtains him passage to the United States when he is twelve in the hopes of a better life for him. His journey leads him to an orphanage and a workhouse. It leads him to the be a prize raffled off at the World's Fair. Yes, a human boy becomes a raffle prize. This horrifying circumstance leads him to the brothels of Seattle and sets the course of his remaining life for as a houseboy in a brothel, he finds friendship and love. Fahn is young woman working as a housemaid in the brothel. Maisie is the Madam's daughter. The three are close in age and form a trio of friends.

Fast forward fifty years. Ernest is an old man living a quiet life. His two daughters are living their lives - one as a journalist and one as a dancer in Las Vegas. His wife suffers from dementia-like symptoms and has fading memories of her life with Ernest.

His daughter discovers the story of Ernest's childhood and the raffle and wants to investigate and learn more. This sets Ernest down memory lane. Through past and present, the story of Ernest, Maisie, and Fahn is revealed. Around it is built the colorful world of Seattle and the World's Fair.

As with Jamie Ford's other books (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and Songs of Willow Frost, this book pays homage to his ancestry and the Asian American experience. All three books begin in Seattle which is where Jamie Ford grew up. Songs of Willow Frost also begins with a young boy growing up in an orphanage. Perhaps enough time has passed between my reading the two books or perhaps the stories are different enough, despite the similarities, the books do not feel formulaic. It will be interesting to see if he keeps to the same locales and the same themes in his works moving forward.

The most horrifying piece of the history in this book is true. During the AYK, an infant (not a twelve year old) named Ernest was indeed the prize of a raffle. History says that a winning ticket was picked, but the "prize" was never claimed. What happened to the baby has never been resolved. There are no words to describe such an event; yet, it is a piece of history I would never have known but for the home it finds in this fiction.

Two things draw me to Jamie Ford's books; in this too, the three books are similar. The first is that the books envelop the reader in their world - the sights, the sounds, the smells. I feel as if I am there experiencing the history. The other is his ability to draw sympathetic characters and to elicit that emotion. That keeps me engaged in the story. For that, I look forward to the next book.

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

George and Lizzie

Title:  George and Lizzie
Author:  Nancy Pearl
Publication Information:  Touchston. 2017. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1501162896 / 978-1501162893

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 night Lizze and George met - it was at the Bowlarama way out on Washnetaw - she was flying high on some awfully good weed because her heart was broken."

Favorite Quote:  "See, we're always writing the narrative of our lives, and when you respond badly you turn the event into a burden, something that you carry forward into the next moment, the next hour, the next day, and the rest of  your life. It fills up your narrative. It weighs you down. You never forget it. But when you respond well, you have nothing to add to the narrative. You simply experience the unpleasantness, then let it naturally pass away, and then greet the next moment of your life with no trace of the last."

George and Lizzie are married. They have been married for years. This marriage is not a partnership of equal caring. It never has been. In fact, a list is given of the reasons why George loves Lizzie, the key quality on the list is Lizzie's neediness. "Lizzie needed George in ways that no one else ever had, or, he believed, ever would. She needed him to do the ordinary things ... More significantly, Lizzie (in George's view) needed rescuing from her own sadness, and George was convinced that he was the only person in the world who could do so."

So, one person's sadness and another's desire to fill that sadness is the basis for this marriage. Years and years late, Lizzie is still sad, and George is still trying. That is where this story begins. More than the story of a marriage, this is Lizzie's story. Going from the present all the way back to high school and back again in a nonlinear fashion, the book lays out an image of Lizzie's story. At the heart of Lizzie's sadness are the decisions of a teenaged Lizze in high school and the repercussions of those decisions extending through her life.

In high school, Lizzie decided to embark on a "game" to sleep with the entire football team. She saw the mistake she was making but was unable to stop. Fast forward to college. Lizzie tells her boyfriend the truth about high school; he bolts. Lizzie never recovers. Fast forward to George, who essentially loves Lizzie no matter what.

George's character is not developed. The reader sees what Lizzie sees - the constant, steadfast love in the face of all the obstacles Lizzie puts up. As a reader, I appreciate that devotion and wait through the book to see if eventually Lizzie does as well. I am also left wondering why George stays, what in him drives that need to cure Lizzie's sadness. His perspective is not explored.

My biggest issue with this book is that I don't understand the character of Lizzie and the decisions of her high school and college years. The book introduces the fact that Lizzie grows up the only child of two psychologists who view her more as an experiment than a child. However, that facet is not explored enough to lay the foundation for what comes next. The decision about the "game" in high school is unexplained. Lizzie's inability to stop is unexplained. The regret is understandable. However, that regret is replaced by the regret of losing her college boyfriend. She spends her life pining for someone with whom she had a very short relationship in college and who clearly moved on. That loss remains regardless of the love she receives over the course of long years from George. That too is unexplained. Years of devotion are unable to balance a short college romance; George is unable to cross the barrier of her sadness. Why?

I am not saying there may not be reasons; I am saying the book does not explore them. Without that why, I am left with one thought. George, run and save yourself.

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

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Salt Line

Title:  The Salt Line
Author:  Holly Goddard Jones
Publication Information:  G.P. Putnam's Sons. 2017. 400 pages.
ISBN:  073521431X / 978-0735214316

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 burn was the first rite of passage."

Favorite Quote:  "You can be lonely without ever having known anything but begin alone."

A political point to be begin with. A key defense mechanism in this post-apocalyptic world is a wall around the region that believed itself the best off in terms of the availability of resources and the lack of pestilence. The powers of the region built a wall as security to keep outsiders from finding their way there except through very strictly controlled, strictly regimented pathways. Coincidence given the current political discussions in the United States? According to author interviews, absolutely. The book has been a work in progress for a couple of years before any talk of an actual wall emerged.  But what a coincidence! As a reader, it is difficult not to draw the comparison.

On to the story. The world as we know it is no more. People live in conclaves, guarding against the dangers of the world outside the wall. Dangers they have never witnessed, but dangers they have been indoctrinated about throughout their lives. The flip side of danger is that it begets adventurers. Tour companies target the rich, offering a carefully orchestrated adventure into "nature" outside the walls for "connecting with nature - however dangerous it can be - is essential to the experience of begin human." This nature trek heads into the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

This story is about one such tour group who gets much more than they bargained for. The danger they are expecting is that of the nature, particularly miner ticks whose bite can kill in the most gruesome way as described in the opening pages of the book. What they don't expect is to find a thriving community outside the walls with its own views of the world, its own rules, and its own agenda. What they don't expect to find is political deals and business deals that cross the wall. For some of them, what they find are their own voices and new paths and new relationships.

Then again, the members of the group are not necessarily there for the promised adventure either. Wunderkind Wes, who invented the last big "thing" to alter the world is worried that edge is slipping and is on this trip to do the unexpected. If there is a business deal to be made, that's an added bonus. Edie, who is an immigrant to the world inside the walls and is fighting for stability, is there for she feels she owes a debt to her celebrity boyfriend Jesse. Marta Perrone, who lives in apparent luxury but knows there is a darker side to that wealth, is there because her wheeling-dealing mobster husband deems it necessary. The tour guide Andy...well, why he does what he does becomes clear through the book.

The book follows the storyline of several characters inside and outside the wall. It builds back stories and then moves forward. Perhaps a few too many. The world building is definitely stronger, for I can perceive a visual of the salt line and the worlds on both sides.

The ending of this book is not truly an ending, for several of the characters experience new beginnings. Could that hint at a possible sequel? I am not sure. Am I invested enough in the characters to want to know more? Possibly Marta for she emerges as the most intriguing of all the characters. However, more than likely, not.

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

Monday, December 11, 2017

Little Fires Everywhere

Title:  Little Fires Everywhere
Author:  Celeste Ng
Publication Information:  Penguin Press. 2017. 352 pages.
ISBN:  0735224293 / 978-0735224292

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

Opening Sentence:  "Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking bout it that summer:  how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down."

Favorite Quote:  "To a parent, your child wasn't just a person: your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once. You could see it every time you looked at her:  layered in her face was the baby she'd been and the child she'd become and the adult she would grow up to be, and you saw them all simultaneously, like a #-D image. It made your head spin. It was a place you could take refuge, if you knew how to get it. And each time you left it, each time your child passed out of your sight, you feared you might never be able to return to that pace again."

Little Fires Everywhere is the story of the Richardsons, a well-to-do family leading a schedule, planned life in the planned neighborhood of Shaker Heights in Cleveland. He's a lawyer; she's a journalists. Their four children are growing up, knowing only their comfortable world. Their regulated life is shaken up by the arrival of a new tenant Mia, someone Mrs. Richardson views as a bohemian artist. Along with Mia comes her daughter Pearl. Lives start to intertwine as friendships and relationships flourish.

Conflict arises when the Richardson's friends are involved in a cross-cultural adoption and the birth mother re-enters the picture. The conflict is between the rights of a birth mother and adoptive parents. Sides are taken. Other secrets form and even more emerge in this heated debate.

In the context of this debate, this book is at its heart the story of mothers and daughters and of a big philosophical question. What makes a woman a mother? Is it the act of carrying a child for nine months? Is it the act of physically giving birth? Is it the unconditional love you pour into a child? Is it the tough love when you hold back, thinking it is the best for your child? Is it all of the above or any combination of the above or perhaps something all together?

There are many mothers in this book. One mother turns her back on her daughter because the daughter's choices. Women - girls - become mothers without understanding the impact that will carry through their entire lives. A woman finds herself mothering another's child. Another would trade all she has to have the chance to be a mother. The power of Celeste Ng's writing is the ability to elicit emotion and to pull the reader - at least this reader - into the hearts and minds of the characters. I walk away seeing all sides and feeling sympathy towards all sides. This does not mean I agree with all sides, but I can see them.

Oddly, for a book that takes on the topic of motherhood, much of the story revolves around the teenagers in the book with all the teenage angst that carries with it. High school parties, who likes who, sibling rivalry and other such topics at times give the book a young adult feel. However, parental readers beware for teenage sex does become the focal point of the story for a while. That and the main topic of motherhood make this definitely a book for adults.

For an emotionally engaging book, the ending to this book seems rushed. A big revelation is accepted with calm by a teenager. A truth about a daughter is accepted with equal calm by a mother. Real life considerations to other decisions are simply not there. Let's just say that certain aspects of the ending are quickly handled and thus become a little less believable. Regardless, practical considerations aside, I do still want to know what happens to these characters after the book ends. That too me is always a sign of a book that will stay with me.

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

Sunday, December 10, 2017


Title:  Rescued: What Second-Chance Dogs Teach Us About Living with Purpose, Loving with Abandon, and Finding Joy in the Little Things
Author:  Peter Zheutlin
Publication Information:  TarcherPerigee. 2017. 256 pages.
ISBN:  0143131176 / 978-0143131175

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

Opening Sentence:  "In the early fall of 2012, after he's been with us nearly four months, our rescue dog Albie and I walked the pin-needle-covered trails of what was fast becoming our special place:  Elm Bank along the Charles River, a forested preserve outside Boston."

Favorite Quote:  "The particulars might vary, but to a person we each felt a deep sense of fulfillment and satisfaction in being sble to provide love, affection, and a warm place to sleep for a beautiful living creature that, as the famous line in 'Amazing Grace' goes, had once been lost but now was found - a creature that was once abandoned or abused, or had never known a home or human kindness, or that might otherwise have been dispatched from this world without a second thought within the cold concrete walls of a shelter. Now these dogs were free to run through fields or jump into ponds or sit by fires and have their heads gently stroked by someone who loved them."

Rescued is a book by a "dog person" for others who are "dog people." The book is about a love affair with dogs, but not just any dogs. These are rescue dogs, those that have been abandoned, lost, and many times abused. They are in need of loving homes.

Pragmatically, the book provides information on rescue organization and the sad reality of kill shelters. However, information is not at the heart of this book. It is not necessarily an informative call to action, but rather an acknowledgement of those who already understand and are willing participants in this rescue mission. It seeks to inspire by example not necessarily by facts or statistics.

This book is a set of lessons, centered around the joy of rescuing a dog in need and the fact that at times it is unclear who rescues who - human or dog. This book is about the unconditional love that can be found through a pet, particularly one that may not have know love before. The chapter titles pick up on a common phrase or life thought and put it in the context of a dog owner:

  • Settings the world right, one dog at a time
  • Home is where the dog is
  • Life isn't always a beach ... but sometimes it is
  • Dogs will be dogs
  • Walk a mile in their paws

This gives the book a cutsie feel that may not have been the intended effect. Life lessons abound, by all means, but setting them in the midst of cliches seems to draw the power away from the lessons.

To convey its message, the book weaves together a number of stories of owners and the dogs they rescue. The anchor is the author himself and his dogs. However, the book moves back and forth through different scenarios. As such, the emotion of these rescues and the bond that develops between owner and dog becomes a little more distant. The book does not settle into any one story to convey the depth of that emotion.

Interestingly, the book is about the joy and necessity of rescuing these animal. It is about how animals become a part of the family. "But all of this made me realize that dogs, like children, have their challenges and some children, and some dogs, are easier than others ... And just as we don't surrender our children when things veer off course or become challenging, the commitment to a dog, especially one that had to beat long odds just to make it home, ought to run just as deep." At the same time, it is also about a realistic approach. "Allowing our dogs to be dogs means reminding ourselves sometimes that, as much as we love and adore them, and as much as we want to protect them, they are, for better or worse, not children."

The stories in the book are as heartwarming as those eyes on the cover as it spreads its important message of care.

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

The Friendly Orange Glow

Title:  The Friendly Orange Glow:  The Untold Story of the PLATO System and the Dawn of Cyberculture
Author:  Brian Dear
Publication Information:  Pantheon. 2017. 640 pages.
ISBN:  1101871555 / 978-1101871553

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

Opening Sentence:  "They sat in little wooden chairs in front of little wooden desks."

Favorite Quote:  "PLATO was a computer system, but more important, it was a culture, both physical and online, a community that formed on its own, with its own jargon, customs, and idioms; its own cast of thousands, a world familiar to us yet subtly foreign, an entire era that clashes with the accepted, canonical history of computing, social media, online communities, online games, and online education. It's as if an advanced civilization had once thrived on earth, dwelled among us, built a wondrous technology, but then disappeared as quietly as they had arrived, leaving behind scraps of legend and artifacts that only few noticed."

The author worked for five years on the PLATO system; he is "someone who had the great fortune to come of age, to 'become digital,' as it were withing that very culture." That perspective makes this history a very personal one.

"The story of PLATO as a technological and cultural history is unusual. Unlike most such histories, there are no existing major books, magazine articles, documentaries, or other common sources to which historians may turn ... An untenable situation was avoided by setting up a website, running since 1996, announcing the book project, describing its scope, listing questions for which the author was seeking answers ... The result is a book largely based on oral history, capturing, before they are forever lost, the stories of the people who participated in the late, great online community known as PLATO." This source material makes this history a very personal one and makes this history a story of the people involved beyond the facts of the project itself.

What, you may ask, is PLATO? I had never heard of it before reading this book; I would venture to guess that neither have most people. That dearth of knowledge is what makes this history a necessary one. PLATO stands for Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations. It was an early computer development project that began in 1960 at the University of Illinois. Its ideas are the predecessor to many things we take for granted today - online forums, email, instant messaging, screen sharing, and other technology essential to remote, cooperative work.

The intent of PLATO was an educational platform. Could a computer be used to teach students as effectively as a human teacher? What role could this technology play in reimagining the US education system. A by-product of this project was an intensely committed community dedicated to its development, sustenance, and enjoyment. This book is a story of that community. It is, in fact, the community itself seeking to preserve its history.

The book itself relates its history in three segments. The first part is about the historical environment and the behavioral ideas that led to the system's development. The title to Part Two is also the title of an Isaac Asimov short story about learning through mechanical teachers rather than a human one - the PLATO objective. The final part is the successful and unsuccessful attempts to move PLATO to a wider platform - beyond both its community and beyond the world of education. Clearly, the impact has lingered although the system and the names have not.

The Friendly Orange Glow is a book written by a community for a community. It is an endeavor to preserve a history. The research and time put into compiling the history is clear in the length and depth of the details and the extensive list of sources and notes at the end. The personal interest and viewpoint of the author is clear from beginning to end. The book is lengthy and dense but nevertheless a fascinating story of a time, a place, and a community.

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

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Color Index XL

Title:  Color Index XL:  More than 1,100 New Palettes with CMYK and RGB Formulas for Designers and Artists
Author:  Jim Krause
Publication Information:  Watson-Guptill. 2017. 304 pages.
ISBN:  0399579788 / 978-0399579783

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

Opening Sentence:  "Color Index XL is the latest volume in my Color Index series."

Favorite Quote:  "... color really isn't all that complicated as long as you look at it in the right way."

I love the vibrant cover of the this book - the vibrant rainbow creating motion against the stark black and white. It's probably a key reason I picked up this particular book. I have an amateur's interest in design and photography. As such, I find the ideas intriguing and the opportunity to learn invaluable.

This book is an updated version of a reference manual first published in 2002. Its objective is simple - to provide "good-looking, attention-grabbing, and thematically on-target color schemes for ... design and art projects." In the introduction, the author explains the enhancements in this edition - larger size, print pages in which colors bleed to the edge of the page, palettes incorporating five colors, and palettes shown in four different versions.

Although clearly a reference for designer, the book does include an up-front section on color theory. The section is short and to the point. As an amateur, I appreciate the introduction with terms, definitions, and illustrations.

Beyond that, the book has no other text component. The remainder of the over 300 pages is all color palettes "organized into three sections:  warmer palettes, mixed palettes, and cooler palettes." Each page of the book is one palette presented in four variations - brighter, darker, lighter, and more muted.  For each variation, the book presents CMYK and RGB formulas for precise incorporation into projects. Now, on to the pros and cons...

  • First and foremost, what's not to love about a book full of color. Flipping through the book is like looking at a rainbow. The book is lovely just to look at.
  • Although marketed as a paperback, the book has a weight to it. The cover, spine, and paper are not that of what I think of in a paperback. It is of a quality to allow true printing of the colors being depicted.
  • With almost 300 palettes shown, the book offers the ability to follow a formula. With imagination for substitutions and combinations added in, the inspiration is endless.
  • The fact that the colors bleed to the end of the page enables a designer to hold the page against a project or planned use and visualize the color flow.
  • The palette on each page are laid out in a rotating set of four geometric patterns. The patterns also vary in size. Perhaps, there is a design industry reason for doing so that I do not know. I find the patterns distracting. I would rather see larger swatches of the colors of the palette.
  • The center third of each page is taken up by the CMYK and RGB formula. I would prefer to see that text smaller and perhaps at the top or bottom of the page, leaving the primary part of the page devoted to the colors.
Finally, this is a book in which my clear preference would be for a print copy. A digital display would like be different and impacted by the settings of the display. To me, it would also just be harder to use. Now, to let imagination run wild and put it to use.

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

Don't Let Go

Title:  Don't Let Go
Author:  Harlan Coben
Publication Information:  Dutton. 2017. 368 pages.
ISBN:  0525955119 / 978-0525955115

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

Opening Sentence:  "Daisy wore a clingy black dress with a neckline so deep it could tutor philosophy."

Favorite Quote:  "... being your friend doesn't mean I betray everyone else."

Harlan Coben's books are such fun reads, and this one is no different. Okay, this is only the second one I have read, and both so far have been enjoyable. The first was part of his Myron Bolitar series. This book is a stand-alone novel. All told though, Harlan Coben has written more than 30 books, and clearly, he is an author I should have discovered much earlier in my reading.

So, what makes these books fun for me?

First, the books keep me guessing. A trail is left of the solution to the mystery, but the trail only becomes clear once the end is revealed. In this book, I am tempted to read the ending first so that I can appreciate the author's ability to leave that trail. I do not because why ruin the mystery for myself. It's fun to get to the ending and say, of course. I should have seen that coming.

Both books that I have read revolve around a current situation that relates to a mystery in the investigator's past. In this case, a woman from New Jersey Detective Napoleon “Nap” Dumas's past reemerges. It takes him back to high school and the untimely, violent death of his brother and his brother's girlfriend. The connection between the past and the present is at the heart of this book. The movement between past and present also keeps the book moving at a fast pace.

Both books are also as much about the characters as they are about the mystery plot. That fact adds to the enjoyment of the book. This book has a fairly small cast of characters which does make the mystery a little easier to guess at. More importantly, the character development focuses on the fact that, for Nap, this mystery is personal. A brother, a mentor, an old love. The important relationships in his life all play a part in this mystery. That emotional connection take Harlan Coben's books beyond just a mystery novel and makes the stories believable.

Harlan Coben was born in Newark, New Jersey, and was raised in Livingston, New Jersey. The New York and New Jersey area makes an appearance in most if not all his books. "When I was growing up in suburban New Jersey, there were tow common legends about my hometown. One was that a notorious Mafia leader lived in a baronial mansion protected by an iron gate and armed guards and that there was an incinerator in the back that may have been used as a makeshift crematorium. The second legend - the legend that inspired this story - was that adjacent to his property and near an elementary school, behind barbed-sire fending and official No trespassing signs, there stood a Nike missile control center with nuclear capabilities. Years later, I learned that both legends were true." For readers familiar with the area, this adds another level of fun to the books. I have been to and can visualize the places that he writes about.

A familiar location, developed characters, and a fast-paced mystery that keeps me guess make me a Harlan Coben fan.

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

Friday, December 8, 2017

A Strange Scottish Shore

Title:  A Strange Scottish Shore
Author:  Juliana Gray
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2017. 400 pages.
ISBN:  0425277089 / 978-0425277089

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 man stood near the corner of the booking offices as I emerged from the ladies' waiting room, pretending to read a newspaper."

Favorite Quote:  "Haven't I always warned you not to judge a man by the mask he wears?"

Juliana Gray is a pseudonym for Beatriz Williams. Between the two pen names, she is the author of many books in several different series. Her tag line as Juliana Gray is "the author of elegant period adventures." This series is the Emmeline Truelove series, Scottish adventures that begin in 1906.

Emmeline Rose Truelove, with quite the memorable name, was the secretary of a duke. With his death, her job shifted to that of assistant to his heir, Maximilian Haywood, the new Duke of Olympia. Let's just say, adventures of the most unusual sort seem to find the new Duke. Emmeline along with the very handsome, unscrupulous Lord Silverton come to his rescue often. Society, including Emmeline's mother, deems her adventures quite inappropriate, and rumors abound about her relationship with the new duke and with Lord Silverton.

In this book, the Duke finds himself an unusual object in the north of Scotland. Emmeline is beckoned to assist. Lord Silverton appears to follow. The object has historical and scientific significance. It comes from a different time and place. The adventure of the search for its origins begins. Of course, the Duke is not the only one interested. Opposing forces enter the picture. The mystery, adventure, and growing love story continues to a dramatic conclusion that clearly leaves the door open for the series to continue.

This book and series reminds me of the Veronica Speedwell series by Deanna Raybourn. The setting among English/Scottish nobility, the strong female lead, and the tension of a growing romance all create a similar feel. For both, I happened to read Book 2 in the series. I do wish I had started at the beginning. Having read book 2 in a mystery and adventure series makes it challenging to then go back and to read the first because you already know what happens. However, not having read the beginning makes it more challenging to enjoy the second.

This book then takes the story in a direction that is more reminiscent of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. The Scottish setting, the time travel, and an underlying love story give the books a similar feel. Both stories have the shows of violence although there is considerably less in this book than in Diana Gabaldon's books.

This book eventually claims its uniqueness by embedding the story in the Scottish folklore of the selkie, seals who shed their skins to become human. They live among the humans for years, forming relationships and family. One day, however, the selkie reclaims its skin and returns to the sea. Selkie stories are often tales of romance and love. This one incorporates a mystery in the middle of it all for a different twist.

Sadly, I did not know that this book is the second in a series. Be aware that my enjoyment and consequently my reviews suffers from the fact that I have not read the first book. Background from the first is needed to really understand the characters, relationships, and plot of this book. Reading this one alone is entertaining but feels incomplete without the background.

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

Thursday, December 7, 2017

I'm the One Who Got Away: A Memoir

Title:  I'm the One Who Got Away:  A Memoir
Author:  Andrea Jarrell
Publication Information:  She Writes Press. 2017. 176 pages.
ISBN:  1631522604 / 978-1631522604

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

Opening Sentence:  "Susannah was murdered just before Christmas but I didn't find out until after New Year's."

Favorite Quote:  "Pleasing someone else is easy for me, but enjoying my own pleasure takes a different kind of letting go."

Recognizing the need for change takes courage. Change takes courage. Life takes courage. Writing that story down and sharing it with the world takes courage. That courage is what this memoir is all about.

Andrea Jarrell and her mother escaped an abusive relationship. Over her life, she saw her mother time and again return to a controlling and abusive situation. As a child, she learned what she saw - not the leaving but the returning to such a relationship. This pattern led to two things in Andrea Jarrell's life - an extremely close relationship with her mother and a tendency towards similar decisions as an adult. It took a lot of self-examination and work to break that pattern. That is what this memoir is all about.

This book starts with a death. That moment seems to symbolize an epiphany for the author to make a change. The "why" of that is never really explained other than a statement that the death occurred by the hand of the woman's boyfriend. The fact of that death has very little to do with the rest of Ms. Jarrell's story. Why did that moment become a trigger for change? What finally awakened the realization that a change was needed? Is it simply because the death was of someone she knew as opposed to the many such news stories that sadly emerge almost daily? The opening seems more a dramatic launching pad for telling this story rather than an integral part of the story itself.

The story itself is written as a series of nonlinear vignettes, essays strung together to create a picture. Based on research, it appears that parts of this book have appeared previously as stand-alone essays and have begun as short stories. The story-like approach is also clear in the fact that the memoir includes quoted conversations from before the author's birth (for example, from her parent's first meeting) and from her childhood when she would be too young to remember. Clearly, artistic license is used in creating a readable story. This story-like, self-contained approach does make the book a very quick and easy read.

What stands out about this book is that the story and hence the author is relatable. The book feels like a conversation with a friend. I find myself nodding in agreement in places and wanting to express an opinion in places. The flip side of that is the fact that the story is not about dramatic moments that I, as a reader, I look for. It is a quiet story of an individual navigating the challenges of life as we all are.

What stands out the most in the book is the character of Ms. Jarrell's mother. Here is a woman who marries a controlling, abusive man at the age of sixteen. She becomes a young mother. She finds the courage to take herself and her daughter out of a damaging situation. She creates a life for the two of them. Yet, time and again, she reverts back to that same relationship. How and why? Now, her perspective is a story I want to know more about.

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

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Sing, Unburied, Sing

Title:  Sing, Unburied, Sing
Author:  Jesmyn Ward
Publication Information:  Scribner. 2017. 304 pages.
ISBN:  1501126067 / 978-1501126062

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 like to think I know what death is."

Favorite Quote:  "There's things that move a man. Like currents of water inside. Things he can't help. Older I get, the more I found it true ... Some days later, I understood what he was trying to say, that getting grown means learning how to work that current: learning when to hold fast, when the drop anchor, when to let it sweet you up."

The accolades this book has already been awarded...
  • Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction
  • Finalist for the Kirkus Prize
  • Finalist for the Andrew Carnegie Medal
  • Publishers Weekly Top 10 of 2017
The author Jesmyn Ward is also a recipient of the 2017 MacArthur Fellowship (aka the MacArthur Genius Grant) for "exploring the enduring bonds of community and familial love among poor African Americans of the rural South against a landscape of circumscribed possibilities and lost potential."

Awards speak to critical, literary recognition. What speaks to me is the characters and the story. For its many layers and its complex characters, the book is difficult to describe as the description may not capture the depth of characters and emotion in the book. This is a book that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Jojo and Kayla are being raised by his grandparents. Their grandmother Mam is ill and sadly close to death. Their grandfather Pop loves the children but also fights his own demons. Their father Michael is in jail. Their mother Leoni is a drug addict. Because of the racial divide, Michael's parents have rejected Leoni and their own grandchildren. Poverty is a way of life. This is a Mississippi world that Jesmyn Ward has brought to life in her other books. "Sometimes I think it done changed. And then I sleep and wake up, and it ain't changed none."

The plot is about a "road trip." Michael is getting out of jail. Leoni takes the kids and a friends and decides to go pick him up. The road trip though becomes both literal and metaphorical. It is the nightmarish actual trip and a trip through the lives of this family. Ghosts, again literal and metaphorical, play a big role on this book. The fates two actual ghosts, Given and Richie, come back to the issue of racial inequality and injustice.

The central theme that emerges is the search for and the ability to find home, whether home is a place, people, or a resolution to the injustices of this world. Jojo and Kayla never want to leave home for this trip and then cannot wait to return to the love of their grandparents. Pop's stories of the past are that he physically returns home, but a piece of him stays in the unresolved decisions of his life. For Michael and Leoni, home seems to be wherever they are together; unfortunately, that does not seem to include their children. For the ghosts, sadly, home means that the ghosts can finally be laid to rest.

The story captures the racial history and the mysticism of the South. What I will remember most from this book is the character of Jojo. Though a child himself, he is forced by circumstance to shoulder adult responsibilities. He is watching his grandmother die and trying to ease her way. He listens to his grandfather's stories of the anguish and pain of the past. He deals with his parents who are really more about their own relationship rather than their children. He emerges as the one who can see and hear the ghosts who need their deaths resolved. Perhaps most heartbreaking of all is the love between a brother and a sister, a "man of fifteen" and his baby sister. Jojo is brother, father, mother, caretaker, and protector to his little sister Kayla.

Memorable characters and a memorable book.

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

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Art of Hiding

Title:  The Art of Hiding
Author:  Amanda Prowse
Publication Information:  Lake Union Publishing. 2017. 288 pages.
ISBN:  1611099552 / 978-1611099553

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

Opening Sentence:  "Nina caught the red light only a spit away from the entrance to the boys school."

Favorite Quote:  "And if ever the real world feels too big or too scary, remember that is is nothing more than a little ball travelling through space and it fits right into the palm of your hand and the more courage you have, and the braver you are when facing it, the easier it is to conquer!"

The Art of Hiding is a rags to riches to rags story. Nina McCarrick is a first generation immigrant from Denmark and comes from humble beginnings. She falls in love and marries into wealth. Finn McCarrick is an up and coming businessman who wants nothing more than to take care of Nina. And she lets him, giving up on her independence and her dreams. Years pass, and they build a beautiful life. Two handsome young boys. A mansion in the suburbs. A private school education for their children. Nina never worries about money; Finn handles all of that. Nina never feels like she quite fits in, but life is good.

Then, Finn dies, and Nina discovers that her life is not at all like it appears. Bankruptcy drives Nina and her boys back to the modest neighborhood in which she grew up. Fortunately, she has the support of her sister Tiggy.

Such a premise sets up a story of survival and the courage to move forward. At the end, the word that comes to mind is sadly cliché. Unfortunately, for a couple of reasons, the story fails to engage me.

First is the stereotypes and extremes that the book builds its world on. Nina finds no friends in her life with Finn. She lives in a mansion, but it is more like a gilded cage. She portrays everyone in that life as money minded, shallow, and unpleasant. Back in her own modest neighborhood, she meets only people willing to lend a hand and help things work out for her and her boys. Perhaps, the intent is to depict the effect Finn's control on her life and the release from that control as Nina rediscovers herself. Unfortunately, what comes through is just the stereotypes because even after Finn's death, none of those relationships change.

Second is the character of Nina herself. She comes across not as a woman trying to survive a catastrophe, but as a self-centered woman not giving thought to those around her. Unfortunately, shallow is the word that comes to mind. This particularly manifests itself in her relationship with her sister Tiggy. Tiggy cares for Nina both as big sister and mother after their mother died. Yet, Nina leaves her behind when she marries Finn. Again, perhaps the intent is to depict the effect Finn's control on her life but what comes through is that Nina walks away. Tiggy is the first and only person to truly come to Nina's assistance when Finn dies. However, Nina is not appreciative of that support and certainly does not give thought to the challenges and struggles of Tiggy's life.

Finally, there are aspects of this book that leave me frustrated. First and foremost, Nina is completely clueless about the state of their finances when Finn dies. Does that happen in real life? Sadly, yes. Should it happen? Absolutely not. No one should be content with being told essentially to "not worry your pretty little head about it." (That cliche is mine not a quote from the book.) Secondly, one reaction is missing in Nina throughout the book. I wait for it, but it never comes. Anger. Anger towards Finn who treated her in such a manner and who managed to wreak such havoc with their lives. Nina never finds that anger, which seems completely unrealistic.

At the end, a story that should have been about courage and survival turns into one about shallow characters and stereotypes. Not the book for me.

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

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Little French Bistro

Title:  The Little French Bistro
Author:  Nina George
Publication Information:  Crown. 2017. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0451495586 / 978-0451495587

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

Opening Sentence:  "It was the first decision she had ever made on her own, the very first time she was able to determine the course of her life."

Favorite Quote:  "Every woman is a priestess if she loves life and can work magic on herself and those who are sacred to her. It's time for women to remind themselves of the powers they have inside."

As with Nina George's first book The Little Paris Bookshop, the premise of this book sounds like it could be a powerful story. A sixty-some year old woman remains in a controlling, abusive marriage for over forty years. The only way out visible to her seems to be suicide. That suicide attempt is how the book begins on the banks of the Seine River in the beautiful city of Paris.

As you might expect, Marianne's attempt is unsuccessful and lands her in the hospital. Her husband returns home, leaving Marianne to recover alone and then follow him home. Instead, Marianne runs. A found object, a painted tile, sets her on a path to Brittany. The name of the Finistére region on the west coast of Brittany comes from the Latin phrase meaning end of the earth. For Marianne, it seems fitting that she will end her life there.

As you might expect, she does not. Instead, she rediscovers life in and around a little French bistro in the small village of Kerdruc on the coast. A host of characters enter her life. Each brings their own back story. Each touches Marianne's life in some way, and Marianne leaves each one changed, providing just the right words and actions at just the right time.

As you might expect in a story about escaping the past, the past often comes to find you. The final step of the escape of course is the reckoning with the past. Oddly, the aspect that is never explored is why Marianne marries this man in the first place and why she stays in the marriage for over forty years. The corollary that then does not follow is how after a lifetime, she manages rather quickly to find her independence and her voice. That lack of development means that as a reader, I don't completely buy into Marianne's story. I don't ever feel that her character is fully revealed.

Unfortunately, as with Nina George's first book, this one ends up in a place that belies the strong premise. What sets up as almost a coming-of-age story for an older woman scatters into many other things. The book introduces a wide cast of characters and follows their stories in addition to Marianne's. While interesting in their own, following a wide array of stories means that no one story gets developed in depth.

What should be the story of a woman finding her strength also turns into a romance. I would love for a book about a woman finding her voice and her independence to remain about that. I would love to see the point made that coming out of a relationship, first learn to be yourself and by yourself before entering a relationship again.

Finally and unexpectedly, the book also introduces a magical element which is completely unnecessary to the book. Magical powers? Healers? Druids? Why not just people? On the other hand, that is the one unexpected element in this book.

Sadly, despite its premise, the plot and the characters fail to develop, making this not the book for me.

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