Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Rest of Us Just Live Here by Patrick Ness

One of the nice things about having Yallfest in my backyard every year is that there's the opportunity to hear and meet some really fantastic, interesting people, who love books, love reading, and in some cases, write books, too. Hearing the keynote address at the 2017 YAllfest, with Patrick Ness and Renée Ahdieh was perhaps my favorite event this year. The two spoke brilliantly, eloquently, and passionately about a number of things, but for me, the takeaway message was how they each responded to not finding characters like themselves in books they read as teens, so they wrote them. As a result we have some damn fine books that explore the issues which confronted these two authors: Patrick as a gay teen, and  Renée as a girl with a face that reflects her Asian heritage. (As she said, she was pretty sure there were no books out there about girls who were half Korean, half Scottish, who played the cello.)

An offshoot of all this was a brief mention of a recent Patrick Ness book, The Rest of Us Just Live Here. Not everyone gets to be Buffy or one of her pals, some kids just want to go to prom, graduate, maybe kiss the person they're crushing on, and do it before the Buffy-types blow up the high school-- again.

This was a great read, and while the element of the supernaturals was present, it really was a good story about friends and friendship. It explored some aspects of life, particularly when life isn't perfect. As the cover says, sometimes you have to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. The chapter headings explore the life of the Chosen, and their story; the rest of the the chapter is devoted to a the regulars, in the form of Mikey, Mel, Jarrod, and Henna, who are, in fact, true stars, in their own rights,

Looking forward to future literary adventures with Patrick Ness (and Renée Ahdieh). I liked their straightforwardness, their honesty, their spoken thoughts, the way they related to the YA audience (with some old fart ringers, who like to read YA) and their honesty. It is with pleasure I find that I like their writing, too. (And I snagged a signed copy. Yay!)

Tags: 2017-reada-favorite-authorfantasygreat-covergreat-titlei-liked-itmet-or-know-the-authorreadwill-look-for-more-by-this-authorya-lityallfest

From the publisher:
What if you aren’t the Chosen One?

The one who’s supposed to fight the zombies, or the soul-eating ghosts, or whatever the heck this new thing is, with the blue lights and the death?

What if you’re like Mikey? Who just wants to graduate and go to prom and maybe finally work up the courage to ask Henna out before someone goes and blows up the high school. Again.

Because sometimes there are problems bigger than this week’s end of the world, and sometimes you just have to find the extraordinary in your ordinary life.

Even if your best friend is worshipped by mountain lions...

The Realms of God (The Shards of Heaven #3) by Michael Livingston

A pretty awesome wrap-up to a series that had both real history and fantasy to it. And did I mention it's partially set in Petra? Good stuff.

As a person who is fascinated by what has gone on before on this earth, the historical aspect of this book really grabbed me. It's not surprising because Michael Livingston knows how to tell a tale, whether it's in a university classroom, a convention for fantasy geeks, or, so I'm told by some who have heard him, an auditorium of medieval historians. He's taken his phenomenal breadth of knowledge about the days of the Roman empire, and woven a tale of mystery, suspense, added a pinch of loyalty, a dash of romance, some bad arse demons, and a healthy dash of the fantastic, then tucked it nicely around the elements of history as we know it (what is known in the trade as a "secret history".)

The Realms of God is the third, and final installation in a trilogy that starts in the times of Cleopatra (with some throw-back in the book and in a companion piece to the days of Alexander the Great) and finds its conclusion in the dusty stones of Petra. (Yeah, that Petra, which you probably remember from Indiana Jones and the something or other.) And if you're thinking that maybe Roman history isn't your thing, I've given the first book in the series to several non-history loving friends, who not only read it, but eagerly pre-ordered book 2 and 3 (which is pretty much what my history loving friends, also gifted book 1, did. I'm seriously mystified why this series wasn't marketed both as historical fiction/mystery and fantasy, but that's a complete other tangent.)

Bottom line. Read the trilogy. And if you're like I am, you'll be looking for the secret histories, hidden away in our past, everywhere. The only thing that could have made this book better for me would be if it was inscribed by the author. (Hint. hint, Michael Livingston. I could have bought a kindle version, but got the hard-copy so I can have a full inscribed set.)

tags: 2017-reada-favorite-authoradvanced-reader-copyfantasygreat-covermade-me-look-something-upmet-or-know-the-authorpart-start-of-a-seriesreadreallyexcitedtoreadsecret-historythanks-for-the-mapwill-look-for-more-by-this-author

From the publisher: The Ark of the Covenant has been spirited out of Egypt to Petra, along with the last of its guardians. But dark forces are in pursuit. Three demons, inadvertently unleashed by Juba of Numidia and the daughter of Cleopatra, are in league with Tiberius, son and heir of Augustus Caesar. They've seized two of the fabled Shards of Heaven, lost treasures said to possess the very power of God, and are desperately hunting the rest.

Through war and assassination, from Rome to the fabled Temple Mount of Jerusalem and on to the very gates of Heaven itself, the forces of good and evil will collide in a climactic battle that threatens the very fabric of Creation.

The Realms of God is the thrilling conclusion to Michael Livingston's historical fantasy trilogy that continues the story begun in The Shards of Heaven and The Gates of Hell.
 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Book of Joe: The Life, Wit, and (Sometimes Accidental) Wisdom of Joe Biden by Jeff Wilser

Disclaimer: this is not the sort of Joe I often am associated with. There is no "cuppa" before it.

For many, Joe Biden became a name well known when he became the 47th Vice President of the United States. Even though I'm not from Delaware, I've known of Biden for a long time prior to the Obama years. This little book, which doesn't claim to be a biography or all-inclusive, gives snippets of Biden's life, often in his own words. It's more like a love poem than a serious examination, but it's a quick and interesting read, and fills out the image of the man in the memes. (And for the record, all the mentions of Hot Young Joe Biden did succeed in sending me to the internet to look for pictures.)

For the record, my favorite memory of Biden thus far is the presentation of he Presidential Medal of Freedom, with distinction, which he received in January 2017. The man's response was priceless. He is a mensch.

Thank you Blogging for Books and the publisher for sending me a copy.

Thankful

It's been an up and down sort of time here in czukland. The personal interactions and relationships are all doing fine, thank you. It's the other things, the noisy confusion of life that have me muttering the lines from Desiderata* like a mantra. (Sidenote: amazing how something I loved as a preteen has managed to follow me through life, and still fit like a comfy sweater.) To mix my allusions, I'm giving that sorting hat a workout as I figure out which things to accept, which to change, and hope for that all important wisdom to know the difference.**

And yesterday, in the midst of so many things pushing hard trying to overshadow that which I treasure, it was the hearts of my friends that reached out and reminded me "with all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world."*  I am blessed with friends, and they help me keep peace with my soul, regularly, with a smile, a word, a memory. Thank you all, near and far. You are loved dearly, by one small bookczuk.


Max Ehrmann, Desiderata, Copyright 1952; Full text here.

**Reinhold Niebuhr, American Theologian. Full quote "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

Addendum: 
This came in yesterday's mail, out of the blue. A good friend I met through BookCrossing died almost three years ago. Another friend and I worked to make a memorial bookplate for BookCrossers to use-- our way of keeping his spirit present and honoring him. She and I share a love of whimsical art (and art in general), owls, books, and many other aspects of life. We also share a name. So it was fitting that we shared the creation of a bookplate. For this hoody, she has the owls we each created wing in wing: same thing, only different, but friends for life. Thank you, Other Amy. This, like your own spedbuggery self, means the world to me.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Reusing and Inktobering all in one

A purchase from Athleta a while back yielded a lovely little tote bag. But, as much as I like my purchases from the company, and as handy as the bag has been, I felt the need to make it my own. Which I did, with the help of my markers and imagination, and a little inktober initiative.


The bonus is, I have another side and a second bag to doodle on. Yay! (For reference sake, here's the unadorned bag, and the note that Athleta put on the inside of the bags, to encourage reuse.)

All the Wind in the World by Samantha Mabry

The world has changed. It's harsh, dry, broken, and life for many is also harsh; they, too, are broken. Yet Sarah Jac and James have found love, even if they have to keep it secret, claiming to be cousins on the maguey farms in the southwest. They work hard to make enough money so they can head east and make their dream a reality. But something goes wrong and they must flee, ending up on another farm where rumors of magic and curses flourish. What confronts them there, is something totally new-- and just as dangerous.

This was a quick read, with an interesting view of the world in the near future. What created the conditions is only alluded to-- but certainly weather had a large piece of it. (There's even illusion to storms drowning the coast of Texas, foreshadowing of our own world's weather for this hurricane season.) The itinerant type of work done on the maguey farms reminded me of what I know of the Dust Bowl times. It's hard work cutting agave, I'm told. When the water is poison and the world is bleak, perhaps mescal and tequila provide more than escape.

PS I appreciated the author's listing of books which had influenced her for this one.

Tags: dystopian-ish, magical-realism, read, rounded-up-in-star-rating, thank-you-charleston-county-library, will-look-for-more-by-this-author, ya-lit

Sunday, October 22, 2017

All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater

Miracles, magical realism, love, owls, and even a little Elvis. What's not to love? And I have a signed copy, with a very cool owl bookplate. Yay!

From the Publisher:
Here is a thing everyone wants: a miracle.
Here is a thing everyone fears: what it takes to get one.


Any visitor to Bicho Raro, Colorado is likely to find a landscape of dark saints, forbidden love, scientific dreams, miracle-mad owls, estranged affections, one or two orphans, and a sky full of watchful desert stars.

At the heart of this place you will find the Soria family, who all have the ability to perform unusual miracles. And at the heart of this family are three cousins longing to change its future: Beatriz, the girl without feelings, who wants only to be free to examine her thoughts; Daniel, the Saint of Bicho Raro, who performs miracles for everyone but himself; and Joaquin, who spends his nights running a renegade radio station under the name Diablo Diablo.

They are all looking for a miracle. But the miracles of Bicho Raro are never quite what you expect.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

What We See in the Stars: An Illustrated Tour of the Night Sky by Kelsey Oseid

What a lovely book! I can't imagine anyone not being in awe of the night sky. It holds beauty and fascination for me. What We See in the Stars helps make the night sky accessible to most ages, offering a visual guide, science, myths, and maps to help understand what that infinite expanse holds. And the art! Did I mention the art?! Kelsey Oseid's chosen color palette fits the subject perfectly. The lines and brush strokes convey the depth and vastness, helping convey the elements the text illuminates. A great introduction for children, a wonderful review for adults, this book is a happy find. 

Thank you to Blogging for Books and the publishers for sending me my copy.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

In search of loving hands- claimed!

Many, many years ago, my mother was crocheting an afghan. For one reason or another, she didn't finish it, but packed it up and tucked it into the back of her closet. Many years (see what I did there? I dropped a "many") later, I have the box again in the forefront of my mind and the floor of my own closet. I would love to finish it, but know that my hands aren't up to it, nor do we have a place for one more afghan in our home. I love the colors she chose: a sort of teal/seafoam green and white, only those two colors, but the squares are a variety of patterns. The squares are almost all completed and there's yarn for those that are missing. Even the hook she used is there. All it lacks are hands to complete it, a heart to love it, and a home to keep it. I would love to give this to someone who could do those things. I'd even send it to you, if you can help me out on postage.

Any takers?

Just to report the afghan is in the loving hands of a friend here in Charleston. :)

Sweet Potatoes: Roasted, Loaded, Fried, and Made Into Pie by Mary-Frances Heck

I was really excited to get this book from Blogging for Books. That my enthusiasm wasn't sustained was more a factor of the dietary restrictions in my household than that of the book. (Two people: one with an allergy to wheat, the other with an allergy to eggs, and has dietary restrictions to dairy, garlic, and onions. Cooking for us is a real treat, she lied.)

Anyhow, there are some delicious looking recipes in here, that, unfortunately, are off limits to us. Others also look great, but require either substitutions of ingredients, or trips to specialty stores. I think the weakest section is the one for main courses, because the sweet potato is usually an ingredient in the dish, not the focus. Nevertheless, I shall persist, and try to adapt some of these to fit our quirky needs.

Thank you to Blogging for Books and the publishers for sending a copy my way.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The Jane Austen Project: A Novel by Kathleen A. Flynn

I need to stop reading books that try and use Jane Austen as a character. They just don't work for me (with maybe only one exception). Yet despite that track record, I let this one seduce me because it had time travel as part of the plot-- and purposeful time travel from a far distant time in Earth's history. Maybe I was hopeful because if that was true, 45 and the illustrious leader of North Korea weren't successful in destroying life as we know it, and that Mother Nature was no longer on the warpath. I dunno, but whatever demon whispered to me to read this, I shouldn't have listened. Not that it was a bad book. It's just this subject never works for me. I like my Austen served straight up, no added speculations and circumstances. I did not rate this as I finally realized the previous sentence and stopped reading. It's not the author's fault. Honest.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

I miss bread. Warm, yeasty, fragrant bread with that soft inside and hard crust that cracks when you bite into it. Bread with fresh butter melting into the pockets and crevices left from the baking. Bread that holds your sandwich fillings, whether it's slightly rare roast beef with a touch of horseradish or garden warm tomatoes and mayo, tucked in among tender lettuce leaf. Bread to sop up a stew with, wiping up the very last drop. An allergy to wheat means that bread, real bread, is no longer on my menu. My body can't process the stuff, and I swell like the Michelin  Man, and can weigh as much as 3 pounds heavier for eating half an English Muffin. But sometimes, that weight gain is worth it, like at The Mill in San Francisco, or if I were to come upon bread made by Lois Clary, from her magical and mysterious sourdough starter in Robin Sloan's Sourdough.
 Set in San Francisco (sallowing me to visit one of my favorite places without taking a 6 hour flight), Sourdough is filled with the real and the imaginary, exploring the world of foodies (as opposed to the also delightful Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, by the same author, that delves into the world of book lovers.) One of the things I like about Sloan's book are the odd array of truths thrown into it (like the fact that there is a world-wideLois Club, that I might not have known about, had I not had a good friend named Lois when I was growing up.) It's a slim book, but a good one. And if I happen to look like Bibendum, from a wheat overload, I blame Robin Sloan.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

If music be the food of love...

 IIf you're thinking of sending birthday greetings in a couple of days, how about helping me update my playlist, and recommending a song you love instead. 

Let me know the Title/artist and I'll do the rest. Thanks. A playlist from suggestions made by friends makes my heart happy.

The best way to get your suggestion to me would be to put it here in the comments or email it to me. Other social media might work, but I'm erratic in checking it. (Please do not use the Messenger App. I don't have it.) 


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Cathedrals Of Glass A Planet Of Blood And Ice by A.J. Hartley

Well done, Mr Hartley. When night fell on Charleston, during Hurricane Irma's visit, and the electricity was out, I picked up my trusty iPad and crashed  into that strange, cold, and dangerous planet Valkrys, along with Sola and her shipmates. The irony of sitting in my 21st century home, curled up with an electronic device, reading about teens from a distant future, whose lives are pretty much spent in a society where the infonet provides all social interactions, and the world is climate controlled did not escape me. I, however, had more than nutritional supplements and protein bars to sustain me while I read. (I believe that even in heaven, I might be able to sip an aperitif and nibble dark chocolate whist I invest myself in a book.)

But back to the book. A group of teens, who have each broken the rules of Home, are sent to a futuristic sort of juvenile detention/rehab center on a nearby moon. Only, the autopilot directed ship deviates from course and crash-lands on a planet nearby that is uninhabited. Or is it?

The group, both diverse and somewhat dysfunctional, with each member declared deviant for unsocial behaviors, must learn to interact, as well as survive. And soon enough, they learn there is danger beyond the frigid planet for them, both outside the ship and inside as well.

Science fiction and thriller, this book gripped me. I only stopped to sleep, and in the morning to find a way to make coffee without electricity. (Luckily, I'm a little handier, and a bit more knowledgeable and prepared than Sola and her shipmates, so that went well.) Don't be fooled by a YA label. This book was a good read. As usual, AJ Hartley does not disappoint.

From the Publisher:
From the New York Times bestselling author of Steeplejack and co-author of Sekret Machines: Chasing Shadows with Blink-182’s Tom DeLonge, comes a "smart, gripping and atmospheric" science fiction thriller—the Cathedrals of Glass saga…

“Deviance is unattractive and jeopardizes all we hold dear…”

Ten teenagers broke behavioral law. Sentenced to be reeducated on the moon of Jerem, they were placed in stasis on the automated ship Phetteron for their six day journey. They never reached their destination.

“Home looks after its own…”

Thrown off course by a computer malfunction, the Phetteron is damaged in an asteroid belt and crash lands on the uninhabited ice planet of Valkrys. Having spent their lives in temperature controlled environments, consuming nutrient supplements, and interacting with people mostly through the infonet, the teens are unprepared to depend on each other to face the harsh, hostile, and hellish landscape. Home will send a rescue party long before their meager supplies run out.

“No contrary positions are viable…”

Sola was a roamer. She wandered the city after curfew, reveling in the freedom of being disconnected from the techgrid and embracing the joy of physical activity. For those actions, Home declared her deviant. But on Valkrys, her deviance is an asset that may be the teens’ only hope for survival.

As Sola explores their strange new world, she discovers that she and her shipmates are linked by something more frightening than their subversive behaviors—and uncovers a truth about the planet the authorities at Home wanted buried.

Valkrys is not uninhabited. And what lives there is predatory…
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The Idea of You by Robinne Lee

I knew I'd want something entertaining and slightly mind-distracting to read during Hurricane Irma, and grabbed this off the shelf, mostly for the high ratings and promise of an different sort of love story.(When I first picked up the book looked like Irma was going to make landfall here. It didn't, but we got quite the tropical storm, with some absolutely stellar flooding, thanks to the trifecta of the storm's winds/rain, storm surge, and high tide.) The book both fulfilled and failed my needs. It was interesting, but in no way mindless, opening a dialogue as to what is appropriate in today's world for ages in relationships. For millennium, it's been okay for ancient men to marry near infants, but even in 2017, there is a negative stigma attached to older women dating younger men. (Momentary applause and hat tip to Brigitte Macron, and her husband, Emmanuel. )

So, here's a story where a 39 year old mother takes her 12 year old daughter to see a boy band, and said mother ends up in a steamy relationship with the lead singer. Steaminess aside (and there is some steam in there, lots of fingers, mouths, and other boy and girl bits) Robinne Lee does tackle some of the issues of divergent age in a relationship. It helps that the guy is both mature intellectually and emotionally, and that the gal has not been sitting on the couch eating chips and slugging back beer, but even so, the problems and concerns the characters have are realistic-- one that even chic, beautiful gallery owners and stunningly handsome boy band musicians might have. Add in the public factor of his chosen career, and the emotional maturity of boy band followers, and the thick plottens, so to speak.  It's unconventional, all the way through, even the end.

Not a bad read for a stormy day, when your building is completely surrounded by water, the power is out, and the winds are howling.

From the publisher:
When Solène Marchand, the thirty-nine-year-old owner of a prestigious art gallery in Los Angeles, takes her daughter, Isabelle, to meet her favorite boy band, she does so reluctantly and at her ex-husband’s request. The last thing she expects is to make a connection with one of the members of the world-famous August Moon. But Hayes Campbell is clever, winning, confident, and posh, and the attraction is immediate. That he is all of twenty years old further complicates things.

What begins as a series of clandestine trysts quickly evolves into a passionate relationship. It is a journey that spans continents as Solène and Hayes navigate each other’s disparate worlds: from stadium tours to international art fairs to secluded hideaways. And for Solène, it is as much a reclaiming of self, as it is a rediscovery of happiness and love. When their romance becomes a viral sensation, and both she and her daughter become the target of rabid fans and an insatiable media, Solène must face how her new status has impacted not only her life, but the lives of those closest to her.

Friday, September 8, 2017

How to Behave in a Crowd by Camille Bordas

Quite the quirky book, about a quirky boy, who is the odd duck in a quirky intellectual family. I think that part of the reason I didn't engage fully in the book is that I kept forgetting the narrator (eleven year old Isidore, called Dory by his family, when he really longs to be called Izzie) was a boy. Things would happen, and I'd assume the teller was female, and then be brought back suddenly.  It has its moments of humor, mostly brought about by the frailty of human nature, and explored some bleak experiences with a candid hand.  All in all, I liked the book, but just can't join in on the "I loved it" bandwagon.

Many thanks to the publisher and Blogging for books for sending me this copy.


Isidore Mazal is eleven years old, the youngest of six siblings living in a small French town. He doesn't quite fit in. Berenice, Aurore, and Leonard are on track to have doctorates by age twenty-four. Jeremie performs with a symphony, and Simone, older than Isidore by eighteen months, expects a great career as a novelist--she's already put Isidore to work on her biography. The only time they leave their rooms is to gather on the old, stained couch and dissect prime-time television dramas in light of Aristotle's Poetics.

Isidore has never skipped a grade or written a dissertation. But he notices things the others don't, and asks questions they fear to ask. So when tragedy strikes the Mazal family, Isidore is the only one to recognize how everyone is struggling with their grief, and perhaps the only one who can help them if he doesn't run away from home first.

Isidore's unstinting empathy, combined with his simmering anger, makes for a complex character study, in which the elegiac and comedic build toward a heartbreaking conclusion. With How to Behave in a Crowd, Camille Bordas immerses readers in the interior life of a boy puzzled by adulthood and beginning to realize that the adults around him are just as lost.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Miles Morales by Jason Reynolds

There's obviously a bit of Marvel canon I have missed, but luckily I found this book about a black/Puerto Rican Spiderman, Brooklyn, bad guys, good guys, friends, family, and poetry. And that's a pretty good combo to find.

Many thanks to Kirkus for the review that made me go out and find this book.


From the publisher: "Everyone gets mad at hustlers, especially if you're on the victim side of the hustle. And Miles knew hustling was in his veins."

Miles Morales is just your average teenager. Dinner every Sunday with his parents, chilling out playing old-school video games with his best friend, Ganke, crushing on brainy, beautiful poet Alicia. He's even got a scholarship spot at the prestigious Brooklyn Visions Academy. Oh yeah, and he's Spider Man.

But lately, Miles's spidey-sense has been on the fritz. When a misunderstanding leads to his suspension from school, Miles begins to question his abilities. After all, his dad and uncle were Brooklyn jack-boys with criminal records. Maybe kids like Miles aren't meant to be superheroes. Maybe Miles should take his dad's advice and focus on saving himself.

As Miles tries to get his school life back on track, he can't shake the vivid nightmares that continue to haunt him. Nor can he avoid the relentless buzz of his spidey-sense every day in history class, amidst his teacher's lectures on the historical "benefits" of slavery and the importance of the modern-day prison system. But after his scholarship is threatened, Miles uncovers a chilling plot, one that puts his friends, his neighborhood, and himself at risk.

It's time for Miles to suit up

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Local Girl Missing by Claire Douglas

An advanced reader copy of this came my way about a month after the book came out. I put aside two other books to read it, since this had come courtesy of Library Thing's Early Reader program and it was a new release.

I know there are reviews out there from people who loved it-- that's a bit of a stretch for me, to say love, or to go beyond the 3/5 stars rating I gave it. Some points intending to create tension seemed beleaguered to me as some of the twists and turns seemed telegraphed. But still, it was better than some I've read and a worthy effort for a first novel. (Would someone tell me why there are so many books with 'girl" in the title? Almost as many as the something-or-other's wife or daughter.)

tags:

2017-read, advanced-reader-copy, early-review-librarything, everyone-else-liked-it, first-novel-or-book, ok-but-not-great, read, suspense-thriller-mystery

From the  Publisher:
Someone knows where she is…

The old Victorian pier was a thing of beauty until it was allowed to decay. It was where the youth of Oldcliffe-on-Sea would go to hang out. It’s also where twenty-one-year-old Sophie Collier disappeared eighteen years ago.

Francesca Howe, known as Frankie, was Sophie’s best friend, and even now she is haunted by the mystery of what happened to her. When Frankie gets a call from Sophie’s brother, Daniel, informing her that human remains have been found washed up nearby, she immediately wonders if it could be Sophie, and returns to her old hometown to try and find closure. Now an editor at a local newspaper, Daniel believes that Sophie was terrified of someone and that her death was the result of foul play rather than “death by misadventure,” as the police claim.

Daniel arranges a holiday rental for Frankie that overlooks the pier where Sophie disappeared. In the middle of winter and out of season, Frankie feels isolated and unnerved, especially when she is out on the pier late one night and catches a glimpse of a woman who looks like Sophie. Is the pier really haunted, as they joked all those years ago? Could she really be seeing her friend’s ghost? And what actually happened to her best friend all those years ago?

Harrowing, electrifying, and thoroughly compelling, Local Girl Missing showcases once again bestselling author Claire Douglas’ extraordinary storytelling talent.

Friday, August 25, 2017

The Great NAdar: The Man Behind the Camera by Adam Begley

The blurb on this book quoted a recent French Biography, "Who doesn't know Nadar?" Well, I didn't. And I thought his accomplishments fascinating: photographer, balloonist, entrepreneur, artist. Nadar did indeed lead a fascinating life, mingled with luminaries of the day, and in his way was the forerunner of the celebrity cult of today. His portraiture included in the book was a plus, enabling me to see some historic figures who have intrigued me. All in all, while the book was interesting, it didn't inthrall me, but I'm glad I read it.

Many thanks to Blogging for Books and the publishers for sending me this copy.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Racing Destiny by L.R. Barrett-Durham

Though at one point in my life I was enamored of the likes of Rosemary Rogers, and Kathleen Woodiwiss, I rarely intentionally pick up a true romance these days. (ha! See what I did there?) I'll read books that have love stories in them, but that's about as far as I go toward Romance-- unless one is recommended to me.

A few months back, I read (or tried to read) a novel that proclaimed to be a mystery, but delved heavily into what I would call, without hesitation, bad romance. My remarks on the book expressed that, which caught the interest, and greatly amused, a friend of mine, who is both a prolific author and talented artist. She challenged me to read one of her books, and I accepted. Did I mention her name is LR Barret-Durham?

Racing Destiny is indeed a romance, but it is also a science fiction novel, set in an Atlanta of the future. The world the author has created overlays nicely on the Atlanta I know. It is also a world where Hover Craft racing has capture the hearts and imagination of the entire population (enough so that popular racers are recognized wherever they go.) Rayna Jones was born to race, like her father before her. And her arch rival, Draven Prestage, was also born to race, and born to beat Rayna. There's that old sexual tension pre-race, and a steamy bet between the two drivers.  Then Barrett-Durham mixes it up a bit, and steps beyond the usual romance frission, to add some interesting twists and turns to the plot. While I honestly kinda skimmed over the scenes involving passion, and have a pet peeve about the use of the word "sexy" (show me, don't tell me) in any book, the story kept my attention. I liked finding the similarities and differences in my Atlanta and the Atlanta of Racing Destiny. It was a science fiction world, but not so far removed that it became unfamiliar. The writing was clean, fast paced, believable. And I was entirely delighted to see Easter eggs in there from things I know are passions in the writer's own personal life and knowledge base, presented in such a fashion that they were informative without being didactic or out of place. Bottom line? I'm still not a romance fan, but I've already downloaded one of LR Barrett-Durham's fantasy novels to see how she does there. If I like it, there are lots more, because this is one prolific author.

Review from Amazon:
 Author of the International Indie Sensation, The Trust Series, L R Barrett-Durham delves into yet another genre and takes us to heights we never knew imaginable. FOUR SECONDS That’s all that stands between Rayna Jones, and her egocentric arch rival, Draven Prestage, as she competes in the Thirty-Second Annual HoverCup Championship, to defend her title as victor, and to secure her second HoverCup in the most dangerous sport on the planet. Convinced that Rayna’s rookie year victory was only beginner’s luck, Draven is determined to show his saucy little minx of an adversary exactly who is boss. As they're about to hover back out onto the racetrack, they make a private wager. If Rayna wins, Draven takes a season off. If Draven wins, he'll have Rayna at his mercy for an entire week. Rayna has no intention of letting Draven outdistance her, or use her for his plaything. She may only have a four second head start, but for her... it's a lifetime. “L.R. Barrett-Durham switches gears from fantasy to sci-fi adventure with deceptive ease. Her romantic heroes continue to ring true, yet still take us by surprise. Racing Destiny is a stellar achievement.” -- Martin Powell, author of The Halloween Legion™

Monday, August 14, 2017

We are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

You know that satisfied feeling you have after reading a book that just pulled you right in? That was me when I finished readingWe are the Ants. There were so many moments where the situation, or the author's way with words just pulled me in and held me close. I'm not a teenage boy, being raised by a single mom. My boyfriend didn't commit suicide. I'm not having a rough time at school. My brother and his girlfriend aren't expecting a baby. My grandmother isn't losing her memories. I'm not periodically being abducted by aliens. It's not up to me to save the world. But dammit-- I was right there with Henry, every step of the way.

And lest you think I'm kidding about the way I got sucked into the words on the page, try this one on for size:
 "Dreams are hopeful because they exist as pure possibility. Unlike memories, which are fossils, long dead and buried deep."

I'm definitely going to look for more by this author.

From the publisher:
There are a few things Henry Denton knows, and a few things he doesn’t.

Henry knows that his mom is struggling to keep the family together, and coping by chain-smoking cigarettes. He knows that his older brother is a college dropout with a pregnant girlfriend. He knows that he is slowly losing his grandmother to Alzheimer’s. And he knows that his boyfriend committed suicide last year.

What Henry doesn’t know is why the aliens chose to abduct him when he was thirteen, and he doesn’t know why they continue to steal him from his bed and take him aboard their ship. He doesn’t know why the world is going to end or why the aliens have offered him the opportunity to avert the impending disaster by pressing a big red button.

But they have. And they’ve only given him 144 days to make up his mind.

The question is whether Henry thinks the world is worth saving. That is, until he meets Diego Vega, an artist with a secret past who forces Henry to question his beliefs, his place in the universe, and whether any of it really matters. But before Henry can save the world, he’s got to figure out how to save himself, and the aliens haven’t given him a button for that.
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Wednesday, August 9, 2017

West of the Moon by Margi Preus (2014)

I really enjoyed this book. It's one I found on a book exchange shelf, and consider myself lucky to have done so. It's a wonderful blend of story, myth, and folk-lore, weaving the three elements together pretty seamlessly. It's written for the younger set, but be forewarned that the bogeyman is real, and there could be some scary, which also has plusses for many. But the best part? At the end of the book, is an author's note, explaining that the idea from the story, and various bits and bobs within, came from a diary kept by her great-great-grandmother. How cool is that? Preus includes more notes from the diary, a photo of her great-great-grands, as well as some sketches. There's also a section with some further information on elements in the story, a glossary, and bibliography. My bookish heart is happy.

From the publisher:
Astri is a young Norwegian girl desperate to join her father in America. After being separated from her sister and sold to a cruel goat farmer, Astri makes a daring escape. She quickly retrieves her little sister, and, armed with a troll treasure, a book of spells and curses, and a possibly magic hairbrush, they set off for America. With a mysterious companion in tow and the malevolent “goatman” in pursuit, the girls head over the Norwegian mountains, through field and forest, and in and out of folktales and dreams as they steadily make their way east of the sun and west of the moon.

Brief thoughts on Into The Water, by Paula Hawkins

Well, Paula Hawkins can write. This is the second of her books I've read and while in didn't grab me by the throat and not let go the way her first did, it was still engaging. (The first was The Girl on the Train; I didn't see the movie.) The story was told from multiple points of view, which, for me, was a bit cumbersome, because I find it less easy to flip back to review who is who on an e-book than in a book-book. Still, it told its tale well enough, even if perhaps a tad transparent at times.

From the publisher:
A single mother turns up dead at the bottom of the river that runs through town. Earlier in the summer, a vulnerable teenage girl met the same fate. They are not the first women lost to these dark waters, but their deaths disturb the river and its history, dredging up secrets long submerged.

Left behind is a lonely fifteen-year-old girl. Parentless and friendless, she now finds herself in the care of her mother's sister, a fearful stranger who has been dragged back to the place she deliberately ran from—a place to which she vowed she'd never return.

With the same propulsive writing and acute understanding of human instincts that captivated millions of readers around the world in her explosive debut thriller, The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins delivers an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptiveness of emotion and memory, as well as the devastating ways that the past can reach a long arm into the present.

Beware a calm surface—you never know what lies beneath.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A Saga of Medical IDs and Fitness Trackers

I have an allergy to natural rubber/latex.* While this comes as no surprise to many, it just might come as a surprise should I be somewhere, with a medical need, and unable to speak. For years, I wore an ID bracelet associated with one of the larger alert systems. It briefly told my medical condition, and then gave a phone number to be called to get more extensive information. The bracelet was clunky and stark, a big red Staff of Asclepius, and though it wasn't as obvious to others as to me, I always felt that it was some sort of a brand, labeling me as a health failure. I remember the joy I had when my husband, for a birthday gift, got me a smaller, rather pretty bracelet that fit my wrist better. While it was still from the medical alert company, it worked well with jewelry, when I wished to add something else to my wrist. But someone still had to call a number to get the health information needed, should I not be able to supply it. Plus, I was charged a yearly fee for the privilege of having my private information stored with the company. We eventually found another medical alert bracelet that was again non-clunky, made of silver (a metal I wear a lot in jewelry) and had the back engraved the back with my allergies. I've worn it many years. The engraving is wearing down a bit, now.

At some point, I learned about a company called Road ID. They make a product that is geared toward runners and bikers, should they become incapacitated out on the road. It is a superb medical alert tool. My Road ID had my name, my allergies, and my emergency contacts-- no need to call some company. The band could be changed to different colors, and though it was not recommended necessarily by the company, I often slipped the tag onto my watch for an alternative to a silicone. Wearing it gave me confidence to walk more on my own, knowing that should something "not good" happen, my needs and next of kin could be found. Even better, I could wear it swimming, an activity I love and was eager to resume.

From top: Road ID (wrist slim) , Buddha's head, Spire, Generic Medical Alert

About the same time I found Road ID, I began delving into the world of fitness tracker. My first was a simple Fitbit Zip, which I loved, because it told me my steps, and was much easier than the pedometers I'd tried. Eventually, my guys got me a Spire, which is good for someone who has a respiratory condition. Spire has served me well. Mine was one of the original devices when the company started, and they recently upgraded me to a newer model. It's a really cool instrument for monitoring activity, breathing, tension, focus, calm, etc. I am very happy with mine for those reasons.

Things change, or maybe they progress, or expand. While my spire and Road ID worked in combo, I also needed to monitor my heart rate. (At last check, Spire was working on this, but it had not yet been added to the devices bag of tricks). I decided to try the FitBit Alta HR. It tracks heart rate, steps, can give visual feedback for those things to me from my wrist, phone, or computer. (Yay!) It comes in a bunch of pretty colors as well as metal bands for a dressier look, all easily interchangeable. (Another yay!) It doesn't contain latex. (This one gets an Alleluia!) And, Road ID makes an ID that fits it specifically. (They have a whole link to IDs for wearable devices on their webpage.)


Fitbit Alta HR with Road ID in place

My Road ID for my Alta HR arrived today. And yes, I am a happy gal.






* other stuff too, but the latex allergy is why I started wearing an ID bracelet

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The New York Times: Footsteps: From Ferrante's Naples to Hammett's San Francisco, Literary Pilgrimages Around the World by New York Times

What a stupendous collection of columns from the New York Times Travel section! It's a literary tour around the world. The first thing I did was to peruse the table of contents to see which of the books I had read. Some of my favorites are there, so it was an added delight to enrich my impressions with more details of location, author, and story. Some of the columns I'd read in the Times, other were new to me. Additional bonus? I was able to add a couple of books to my "want to read" list.

Many thanks to Blogging for Books, the publisher, and the travel writers and editors of the New York Times for providing me with such marvelous armchair traveling.

From the Publisher:
Before Nick Carraway was drawn into Daisy and Gatsby s sparkling, champagne-fueled world in The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald vacationed in the French Riviera, where a small green lighthouse winked at ships on the horizon. Before the nameless lovers began their illicit affair in The Lover, Marguerite Duras embarked upon her own scandalous relationship amidst the urban streets of Saigon. And before readers were terrified by a tentacled dragon-man called Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft was enthralled by the Industrial Trust tower-- the 26-story skyscraper that makes up the skyline of Providence, Rhode Island. 
Based on the popular New York Times travel column, Footsteps is an anthology of literary pilgrimages, exploring the geographic muses behind some of history's greatest writers. From the "dangerous, dirty and seductive" streets of Naples, the setting for Elena Ferrante's famous Neapolitan novels, to the "stone arches, creaky oaken doors, and riverside paths" of Oxford, the backdrop for Alice's adventures in Wonderland, Footsteps takes a fresh approach to literary tourism, appealing to readers and travel enthusiasts alike."

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Small Admissions by Amy Poppel

Took me a little longer than usual to get into the story of this book, but I'm glad I stuck it out. Some moments of amusement and also insight, such as the picture below from about 3/4 through the book:

"At every meal in Deutschland they ask if you want your water flat or "mit gas."  You, my dear, are flat. Kate has gas. We need both kinds. We need loan analysts as well as carbonated people who jazz around. the bubbles may look out of control, but ultimately they know in which direction they're going."

I like to believe  I'm the latter type.

From the publisher:
One admission can change your life...forever.

When ambitious grad student Kate Pearson’s handsome French “almost fiancé” ditches her, she definitely does not roll with the punches, despite the best efforts of family and friends. It seems that nothing will get Kate out of pajamas and back into the world.

Miraculously, one cringe-worthy job interview leads to a position in the admissions department at the revered Hudson Day School. Kate’s instantly thrown into a highly competitive and occasionally absurd culture, where she interviews all types of children: suitable, wildly unsuitable, charming, loathsome, ingratiating, or spoiled beyond all measure. And then there are the Park Avenue parents who refuse to take no for an answer.

As Kate begins to learn there’s no room for self-pity or nonsense during the height of admissions season or life itself, her sister and friends find themselves keeping secrets, dropping bombshells, and arguing with each other about how to keep Kate on her feet. Meanwhile, Kate seems to be doing very nicely, thank you, and is even beginning to find out that her broken heart is very much on the mend. Welcome to the world of Small Admissions.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley: A Novel by Hannah Tinti

I'm remiss in writing my thoughts on this book. Let me say, though, that it is a remarkable tale, one that kept me reading well past the time I like to go to sleep. Samuel Hawley's past is told through the 12 bullets he's taken over the course of his life. He's a man who has done some things perhaps he shouldn't have. He's also a father, dedicated to keeping his daughter Loo, who he has raised by him for as long as she can remember. Told in alternating segments until past and present collide, and the reader is on pins and needles, waiting for that last bullet.

Favorite quote? "The past is like a shadow, always trying to catch up."Hawley to Loo, p 340

Friday, July 21, 2017

Passing Strange

I admit it. The cover of this book is what drew me in. Little did I know it would play a pivotal role in the story. It is absolutely haunting, beautiful, and alluring. Kudos to Gregory Manchess for the art and Christine Foltzer for the design. I didn't realize, when I snapped it off the shelf that the book would take place in a city I love, nor that it was written by an author I've read, or published by one of my favorite houses. These surprises, plus learning that Klages has written before of a magic-infused San Francisco, and will seek out more on this.

But to the book: the story is primarily set in the 1940's, and is a beautiful love story. In today's world, San Francisco is a stronghold for the LGBTQ community. In that time, though, queer life was forced even more underground. (I'd never heard of the 3 piece rule, for instance, though the internet tells me it was still being used, even in this century.) The story, which involves everything from art, to cross dressed torch singers, to Chinatown, held my attention. That there was magic thrown in, also helped, but to be honest, the magic was more of a bookend plot device than a true element of the story. The real magic was the love these friends had for each other, lasting decades, and the love between an artist and a singer in a long ago San Francisco.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Woman in the Photo

When I was a kid, my dad was offered a position in Johnstown, but turned it down, despite a good salary, because, to him, Johnstown meant "flood". This was in the 1960's. The flood was May 1889, and though it was associated with heavy rains, the cause was completely man-made. Still, Daddy couldn't move past the cultural memory and turned the job down. 

I read this book simply to learn more about the flood. The story (or rather both stories, because there's a past and a present one) was incidental. I like the historical photographs that were included as well as refreshing myself on Clara Barton. What a fascinating image to think of the Johnstowners looking up into the mountain sky, and seeing sailboats there from the killer lake that rested behind the South Fork Dam on the Little Conemaugh River.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Mission Walker: I was given three months to live by Edie Littlefield Sundby

It's a funny thing about courage-- it has a malleable nature, and can be applied equally to the mother who lifts a car off of her child or the soldier who who risks his life to save the rest of his unit from enemy fire. Courage is the woman who helped get 2500 Jewish children safe from Nazi-held Poland in WWII, or the 17 year old girl, lone survivor of a plane crash in the wilds of Peru, who followed creeks and rivers, past the piranhas and crocodiles, to get back to civilization. Courage is countless moments in human survival and endurance, against great odds, and incredible hardship. Courage is the fight against disease, and a terminal diagnosis to hold onto your life.  Courage is Edie Littlefield Sundby.

Imagine yourself a strong, vibrant, intelligent woman, physically fit, an avid walker, and practitioner of yoga. You are 55, and have just returned from volunteer work in India with one of your daughters. The abdominal difficulties you experienced while there could easily be attributed to the change in diet, but they persist at home. It is then you discover you have stage 4 cancer of the gall bladder. The prognosis is grim. But, you are Edie Littlefield Sundby, and you are determined to fight, determined to live.

The Mission Walker is Edie's story, told in her own focused voice. Edie guides the reader through the early days of her diagnosis, into the maze of medical treatment, in which, in her determination not to let cancer claim her quickly, she blazed new trails. She blazed past the predicted three month survival. She kept seeking new options, holding fast to her faith and to her family; through multiple chemotherapy rounds, surgeries, through fighting tumors in different parts of her body, and fighting the side effects of the treatments to save her. And then, in remission and in gratitude, she decided to try to walk the California Mission Trail, grateful, thankful to be alive, hoping to light a candle at each of the 21 missions along the way, and thanking God with every step. Edie recounts the amazing journey of following the bells, not knowing how far she would go, leaving that to God, but determined to try.

Yet there's more to The Mission Walker. Edie was determined to walk the portion of El Camino Real that stretched into Mexico, starting from its beginning in Loreto. The mission trail there was not maintained like the one in California; the journey would be very different and very difficult. As she made her plans for this trek, two years after the start of her first walk, her cancer came back. In a three month window between a repeat scan after radiation and  surgery, armed with all the information she could find, a well-crafted trail kit, determination, and faith, Edie began the walk that would complete her trek of the mission trail. It's an incredible story, an eye opening journey, also faith filled, but additionally a story of strength of every sort. It is just one more example of Edie's courage.

I have to add a disclaimer here: I know Edie. We met in 2012, and though we only spent one day together, it was a joyful one, celebrating the milestones of our children with our families. Edie and I didn't speak much that day. I knew a little of her story, but now realize where in that incredible fight she was. I was preoccupied, fighting my own medical diagnosis, focused more on the precautions I need to take daily to keep safe than on another's needs (which is a little embarrassing to admit, as I am a nurse, so my career has been focused on helping others with their health.) In the intervening years since we met, I followed her following the bells, but still didn't have a real grasp of the scope of her journey. It took this remarkable memoir to bring the journey, the strength of faith and character needed, into focus. Walk on, Edie. You walk strong. You walk with God. Thank you for letting us walk with you.
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Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The meeting (redux)

I posted a picture of my mom and dad, the weekend they met 80 years ago next week, on this, the 8th remembrance of her passing. The picture seemed to have struck a cord with a lot of folks, so I am reposting (from my old blog) this account (approved by my mom when she read it) which was originally posted July 6 2005.

It was 1937.  July 4th weekend, Mount Freedom (New Jersey, I think). A resort of sorts. She was 16.  He was 18.

She was there with her brother and his friends as a thank-you for helping out in his office while his assistant was on vacation.

He was there with his buddies, Harold and Phil, part of an irrepressible boyhood trio that stayed friends to the end of their days.

She was watching some boys play ping-pong.  Her brother asked if she wanted to go along to watch some tennis.  "No", she said.  "I'm going to stay here and beat this boy at ping pong."

They played.  The ball bounced from side to side.  Quips and laughter also bounced between them.  The game ended.  I never learned who won.

She joined her brother for lunch.

He found his buddies.  Years later Harold told her that he pointed her out to his friends at lunch.  "Which one?", asked Harold.

"That one", he replied and pointed to her as she walked away with her brother.

"Ah," said Harold.  "The girl with the resonant buttocks."

It must have been quite a walk she had when she was young.

Later that day, she went swimming.  Suddenly, he popped up in front of her in the pool.  He'd done a stealth approach, swimming up underwater, to surprise her.  They spent the afternoon together, but he didn't show up at the dance that was held that night.  There is a picture of him with another girl he knew from that weekend.  Nearly 70 years later, she recalls that he never told her where he was that night and why he didn't come to the dance, but she suspects it had to do with the other girl.

The next morning she packed up to go home to Brighton Beach.  While her brother was checking out, she stood alone.  He came and joined her and asked if he could call her.  She gave him her phone number.  She was 16.  He was 18.  When he died, 44 years later, that scrap of paper with her phone number was still in his wallet.  "I still have it somewhere", she muses.

He did call.  And took the train forever and  a day from The Bronx to Brighton Beach.  They walked with friends along the boardwalk.  As they strolled, they met her father and uncle, coming back from their morning walk.  It was the only time he met her father.

He wrote her letters.  Beautiful letters.  A love poem that was a parody of The Raven.  She saved it for years, but then got mad at him one time and threw all his letters out.

"Are you sure you want to do that?", her younger brother asked.

"Yes!", she replied vehemently.

"You may marry him some day." her brother said.

"Never!" was her response.

Her brother retrieved the love letters from the trash and copied them in his own hand.  Sent them to the girl he would marry--who once confided to her that Her younger brother was such a good writer and a poet.  Did She know that  Her brother written a love poem based on The Raven?

She was furious.  "It was good stuff." her brother told Her.  "And you didn't want it.  Why should it go to waste?"

Their second date, they met at Cousin Ethel's house rather than him having to make the long train trip out.  And their third date, too.  After that, she knew him well enough to meet him in the city.  They dated on and off.  She went to College--Brooklyn College.  He took time off between college and starting Medical school to go to Albany.  He asked her to meet him at the train to see him off.  His whole family was there.  It was the only time she met his father.  "If I'd have known his family was going to be there, I wouldn't have gone!", she now confesses.

She was 16, he was 18.  They dated on and off, and she would get mad at him and tell him to go away.  He was too fresh.  But he always came back.  One night her aunt complained to her mother that she was sitting out on the stoop too late in the night with that boy.

"Mama," she said.  "Do you know what we were talking about?  We were discussing the dorsal dissection of a cat."

She'd send him packing.  He'd come back.  Other boys wooed her.  They didn't win her.  For, suddenly, one day, she realized she loved him dearly.  And couldn't live her life without him.  When he'd hear her tell the story, he'd smile.  He knew, you see.  He knew from that first day.  When she was 16 and he was 18.

Pictures from the Mt Freedom Weekend. She made the sundress she was wearing. He probably threw the game to talk to her some more