What is Robin Templin reading?
Robin read her way through puberty, numerous marriages and several good dogs. Her first love is non-fiction. But she's spent many a wild night with a thrilling mystery or an author who knows how to sling words together. Most of her best friends and strong opinions have come from books.
If there is a headstone to mark her grave, it will say... "I read about this once."
While still reeling from The Overstory (2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction), I was informed that I had simply been exposed to the hypnotic genius that is Richard Powers. So, I picked up his 2006, The Echo Maker. Have mercy!
The Echo Maker is a heady mix of rivers, cranes, seasons, greed, yearning, and psychology. A young man suffers brain trauma from an accident and insists that “his sister” is a fake; a mere replica who is part of some “crazy” conspiracy. The net expands to include a famous neurologist/researcher who battles his own inner demons and a hospital volunteer who seems vaguely familiar to all and too good to be true. All of this takes place along the Platte River in Nebraska, home of the largest yearly crane migration in the world. Only Richard Powers can combine the raw beauty of nature and the fragile human experience into such a tragically beautiful and mesmerizing experience.
Picture this. A drinking game. Only two people at the table. But, between these two players, there is a mash up of raw talent and crazy ideas. Satirical cartoonist, parasitologist, pod-caster, web-comic, scientific researcher, philosopher, and oh what the heck… married and co-writing a book about the future of technology and mankind.
But,picture this! There is no drinking game. Which I find hard to believe. Never have I laughed so hard and/or learned so much while completely sober. Even more amazing, there is real research and honest-to-goodness experts to back this stuff up! Take a gander at the Bibliography! I have no idea if the future will be bright or dismal. But I will greet each new technological advance with a mix of awe (wow!), and skepticism (run for cover!). While I can’t predict your future, I can guarantee this book will make your day.
I never saw it coming. Even though Benjamin practically announces the “twist” in his preemptive “Author’s Note”. The book’s subtitle is “My Story of Unraveling Minds”. (Ah, yes… right up my dark alley.) As I was lapping up each description of his patient’s cognitive dysfunction, there was a subtle disturbance in the force. Something fishy was a foot.
Author A. K. Benjamin also worked with homeless drug addicts. He was a screenwriter for several years, and oh yeah, was a Contemplative Monk for two years. He took a sabbatical to study how Eastern traditions and meditation can affect mental rehabilitation. He currently lives in India, helping children with cognitive disorders. So, the dude knows his stuff. He also knows how to deliver a helluva one-two punch memoir. Part neurological insight and part documenting his own slow dissent into cognitive chaos.
One word: Mesmerizing.
This story will humble you.
Can you find love, without freedom? Can you be free, without love? Most of us will never have to weigh those questions in our own lives. Here, Ta-Nehisis Coates has delved into the very soul of slavery. Its history is laid bare through the eyes of a young black man, Hiram Walker. Through memory and stories, he attempts to make sense of a brutal, yet sometimes beautiful existence. I read the last 20 pages aloud, so moved by the raw emotions that I needed to speak it and honor every last word.
To call this story a “plot” would be demeaning to its essence. Within these pages there abides too many layers of struggle and strength to number. Young Hiram Walker’s life embodies every one of those layers. His desperate yet unwavering testimony to love and freedom is a singular voice. A voice that can, even today, ring out and carry us forward.
Bear with me whilst I lavish praise upon this noble tale and resist the urge to speak a crazy version of Medieval English. Ahem…
I have never EVER read anything remotely like The Reckless Oath We Made. The fact that Gentry is autistic, and his diagnosis is barely relevant, won my heart. He gives a new meaning to the term Renaissance Man. I won’t reveal how or why. Just know that we should all strive to be more like dear Gentry and his “white trash” princess Zhorzha.
I wish I could find that dirt road and climb that hill and reassure myself that these good things are true.
I am going to miss the brave k-night, Sir Gentry and his fiery Lady Zee. I will miss Leon, the born-again Pitbull. And young Marcus, who brings hope and resolve to all. I’ll even miss the old bank robber, the meth addict, and the 600-pound hoarder/dragon. But most of all, I am going to miss reading this book! (Alas!)
In the time it takes her to leave a sleepless bed and make a Bundt cake, a women’s yesterdays are lined up and simply examined. While the dough slowly rises in the bowl, lightly covered by a damp towel, the ingredients that make her life meaningful and true are sifted through until smooth.
If you can understand the urge to open up the attic and allow the light and wind to wash its contents and memories clean, you too will find fulfillment in this small but weighty tale... in the time it takes to make a Bundt cake.
Have you ever been so profoundly moved by a book that you can’t fathom how to proceed as a reader? Then, get your hands on THIS book immediately! Herein lies the lovely scratch for that itch.
Today, we are more connected and more alone. We package our thoughts and experiences into a context designed for public display. Then we wait to be validated by the number of “likes” we receive. There is something deeply disturbing about this obsession. Jenny Odell calls it shouting into the void. She asks, “If you look away from your device or tv, what do you see?” A living, breathing organism called Life. Populated by people you love. A wonderful green world pulsing with energy and urgency.
We have been programmed by the Attention Economy. Odell helps reclaim our attention and leads the way forward. And back to our purpose. Once again, I am profoundly changed. (By the way, my previous book was The Overstory by Richard Powers. Buy one, buy the other. Get back to living.)
The fact that May Attaway is a botanist and cares for the gardens in a university drew me to her immediately. Any friend of trees is a friend of mine. And that is exactly the premise of this tale. Why are some people natural collectors of friends? And why do others prefer to spend their days in the sweet solitude of nature? When unexpectedly granted a month of paid leave, May decides she will use her gift of time to visit “friends”. For a fortnight! The decision is wholly out of character for May and shocking to her friends from school.
May’s adventure out of her comfort zone reads like a memoir. It was easy to imagine knocking on the door of a childhood friend, suitcase in hand, and having no clue how to proceed from there. In her quest to reignite friendship, May uncovers some delightful rules for visiting. And in the process, she begins to embrace her own unique place among all living things… including friends. Lovely.
Happy dance… 2019 Pulitzer for Fiction!
Some books are page-turners. The Overstory is a page-sitter. You will slow down, breath deeper, and let it sink in. The writing feels almost like a meditation. A manifesto/love letter… from mother earth. Part One: short stories that make up the intricate network of roots. Part Two: Suddenly, these individual personalities come together and begin a quest that forms The Trunk. (You get the idea.) From there, you follow the natural and supernatural grain as it grows into a majestic Overstory. And finally, Seeds.
P.S. The Overstory made me miss my dad. We would have spent hours pouring over this one.
Three things to know. This is a family farm in Ireland. It is a look inside an age-old way of raising livestock in nature, with dignity and back-breaking care. And it is also a look inside a peacefully conflicted young man. John is straddling two worlds. Urban/writing life, and birthing calves… elbow deep inside a roaring mother.
I am grateful that he came back to the farm to write. It is a rich and earthy telling of a life unknowable to most... overflowing with meaning and truths. It reminds us of our humanity and what it means to be true stewards of the living, breathing creatures who grace our tables.
You will be glad for this man’s strong, sweet voice, calling you home. To the land.
PLEASE ADVISE! I’ve read the book. Now what, Kate Fazzini?
This is an avalanche of cyber warfare. Happening right under our noses. I can barely watch the news today without seeing the shadows of the dark underbelly below the headlines and suits. I flew through these pages, like an addictive crime thriller. All the while thinking, “Well, what the hell am I supposed to do now?”
I have questions, Kate. And I don’t know where to begin. Banks, credit, elections, stock market, mergers, infrastructure, power grids, social media. My head is spinning. Keeping my money under the mattress “granny style” is pathetic. (Right?) Thankfully I live a small life with small potatoes to show for it. I would not be a tempting target. But caught in a net of collateral damage? Absolutely. This book should be read by everyone who has an interest in, well, never mind. This book should be read by everyone. Period.
In the meantime, Kate, call me!
Occasionally, you meet a person (casually, mind you) and you are intrigued. There is a "way" about them. You are quite certain there is a story worth hearing. This is exactly the case with Jeanine Hathaway and The Ex-Nun Poems.
Honestly, the title alone should make you pick up this little book of ponderings. Ex-Nun?
How does one simply walk away from that life, when it still lives and breathes inside you? The answer is, you do not. How does it feel to carry within you the multitude of children who squirmed and learned under your tutelage? The answer is, both marvelous and melancholic. I believe, although I do not know... that their lingering spirits are partly what draw me to her today, as I observe her laughing over coffee with a friend. I believe Jeanine must be a woman who is wholly and solidly present. Comfortable in her skin, her age, her marvelous past and future.
From the poem, Felix Culpa. “She’s had her day in the sun. She no longer hoods nor coils. Neither does she retract.” (…)” She’d do it again. Who could refuse? In the deep curve of the ruby hibiscus, who in the world would ask to let this cup pass?”
Margaret Renkl has carved out a place in my heart for her love of flora, fauna, and family. Late Migrations is a gift waiting to be unwrapped. Margaret is a “Noticer”. That in itself is a rare gift. She is also a painter of words and creates small minimalist masterpieces from her observations. Each telling brings you closer to nature and awakens your own inner creature. She surrenders to the truth that a cunning house wren has murdered a baby blue bird. She finds peace and inevitability in the passing of her grandparents. Margaret draws you close and drapes a casual arm over your shoulder, as if to say, “Look, how terrible, how glorious.”
Renkle’s writing is like a meditation. It slows you down, calms your breath, and whispers, “Behold! All is as it should be. And by the way, the finches need more thistle.”
There are two kinds of novels that move me. One feels like a comfy chat with a friend, over a cup of tea. The other sort keeps me off kilter, not quite sure of my footing. Clare Mackintosh has just delivered both. She cleverly quotes from Robert Frost’s two roads diverging in a wood, to gently remind us that our choice of paths is just that; a choice. There are other paths to be considered.
Loving parents, Pip and Max have arrived at a major fork in the road. Their 2-year-old son Dylan and his aggressive brain tumor stands firmly between the two roads, demanding an answer. A decision. Now. Mercy is the obvious answer. But how many faces does mercy have? Quite a few, actually. And if your partner does not agree with your chosen path? What then? How many turns in the road can love withstand, before becoming lost? Or found. I will be thinking about Max, Pip and sweet Dylan for a very long time. Wondering what road I might have traveled.
Miracle Creek is a punch to the gut. It’s a rare glimpse into the unspoken competition between mothers whose children have autism and other special needs. A perverse competition, at times. Understandably, which mother is the most devoted, dedicated and selfless? But also, whose child is the neediest, the most challenging, the most disabled? Finally, which mother can claim to have the most difficult life?
This is a community filled with therapy, experimental procedures, hopes, and dashed dreams. And it happens every day. But in Miracle Creek, this “special” society is the foundation for an especially horrific accident, (or crime?) that results in dead children, parents, and bystanders.
The story is played out in the courtroom and in chapters revealing each player’s part. Every person’s true character is laid bare. Even despicable acts can be viewed sympathetically, given the circumstances. You may be shocked to discover a bit of yourself in each complicit or conflicted decision. In other words, this one’s a doozy.
Book Swallows Reader. Wholly and completely. I have one hand reserved for the 5 books that have become part of my character. I realize now that I saved my pinkie for Eli Bell, the boy who swallows the universe.
There are books so transforming that you must carefully chew every word before swallowing. This is such a book. This is such a boy. The plight of Eli Bell and his shattered but unbreakable family is all consuming. There are terrible passages I could not bear to read, but I did. There are moments so blindingly beautiful that I read them again, slowly, to let them flow under my skin like tattoos. This story devoured me, not the other way ‘round. The author’s note at the end was so profound, it should be written in the air, with a flourish. Perfection.
PS… my only regret is that I did not find this book until it was too late to nominate for Indie Next. But I have a strong premonition that it is predestined.
Meet Heather B. Armstrong. A single mother with two beautiful daughters. As the saying goes, she loves them so much she would die for them. Literally. Ten Times. After a long depression, deep and dark, Heather signs up for an unthinkable experiment. Doctors will chemically induce flat-line brain death. Then bring her back. Ten times.
Meet Depression. Capital D. I learned so terribly much. I will never grasp the physical experience. But I could witness it. Thankfully I was also there as the first small crack of light, glorious light, appeared.
Meet the voices in Heather’s head. They will drag you right into the rabbit hole with her. She is sad, sad, bottomless sad. (There is a fine line between desperate and brave. Heather is both.) She is also sarcastic, hilarious, beautiful, and candid beyond belief. I soon fell in love with Heather. Then her rock-solid mother. Such a love story, this one!
How do you not pick up this book? I expected a chuckle, and there are a few. But there is SO much to learn about assholes! And much to learn about what makes me tick, too. Aaron James answers the question of what defines an asshole and why they drive us so flippin’ crazy. The guy who cuts in line. The guy who cuts us off, if we offer an opinion. The list is long. But the surprising realization is that the behaviors and actions of your typical garden variety assholes are not such a big deal. Actually, assholes should be considered a mere annoyance. Pfft. So, why do they get under our skin and elicit such strong emotions? Easy. In their arrogance, we feel dismissed. DISMISSED! Unworthy of their time or attention.
It turns out that one of our basic moral agreements as human beings is to see ourselves and others as equally deserving of recognition and respect. So… did this book make me impervious to the minor "assholery" that I encounter every day? No, but I realize WHY my buttons have been pushed. And I get over it much faster. (Take that, Asshole!)
I love this woman. I love her heart, her spirit and her “religion”. I’m not churchy, but I gladly read at Nadia’s alter. Once again, she turns her sights on universal love, often despite the teachings of the church. This time she zeros in on our sexuality. Yikes!
If this is blasphemy, I am a fan. But if you know the writings of Bolz-Weber, you know she doesn’t bash “The Church”. Instead, she holds it to very high standards and is willing to put in the work to raise it up. And to help each of us rise at the same time. Nadia believes that if the church is responsible for a large portion of our screwed-up sexuality, it can also play a large role in the healing.
Nadia shares her personal story of owning and accepting her body. And she allows others to reveal their singular journeys. Her point is not to walk away from the church, but to challenge it by showing up. Just as you are.
I thought I was incredibly knowledgeable about elephants. In general, historically, and specifically Asian Elephants in Burma. After reading Elephant Company by Vicki Croke (an history of the impact Burmese elephants made during WWII), I believed it was the definitive account of all things elephant. Today, I’m delighted to say that Jacob Shell has told the rest of the story, right up to the present day. I am officially gobsmacked by Giants of the Monsoon Forest. My love and absolute devotion to elephants has been magnified to idolatry. (Allow me to gush.)
These noble and intelligent creatures are a living tribute to loyalty and community. While fiercely independent, they are devoted to both herd and handlers. Only elephants could continue to be a mainstay of daily life for those who live and toil in a land so remote it cannot be found on maps. Welcome to Burma and the harvesting of teak wood by giants. Welcome to a love story that will transport and inspire. Prepare to be gobsmacked!
Brace yourself. This is real. 1975. Katherine and Sheila Lyons (10 and 12 yrs. old) were abducted from a mall in suburban DC. Fast forward 40 years. Lloyd Lee Welch, an incarcerated child molester, is somehow linked with the sisters’ disappearance. The 40-year mystery is painstakingly unraveled in nearly three years of interrogations, conversations, and confrontations. The dialogue is that of Welch and the detectives determined to reveal the past and path of a monster. A monster both cunning and incredibly naive. And ultimately, incapable of empathy or regret. Welch’s story changed by the day, by the hour, and sometimes mid-sentence.
Equally appalling is the morally corrupt family and clan which was bound to create at least one murderer. Drugs, incest, rape, and violence were the norm. They were hell bent on satisfying their own needs and protecting each other’s hide. There are so many layers to this story. So many implications and terrible lessons. I simply could not look away.
Oh, the humanity! Prepare to be exhausted and exhilarated! Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is an intense therapy session in your own living room. With an author who can read your mind. This memoir will be my number one book for readers who are looking for a good (fill in the blank) book. This one has it all.
Lori is a therapist. She also goes to a therapist. (Because, life.) She shares her struggles and insecurities and those of a few perfectly imperfect clients. Each one so authentic and familiar that you will remember them for a very long time. (I truly did stop and weep for one angry and wounded man’s moment of raw disclosure.) There are more than a few words of wisdom and insight that you will tuck away for future reference.
This book is a mirror. It reveals our beautiful scars and our ability to persist, with hope, even in our darkest nights. This book has guts. This is life at its best.
Families, best friends, neighbors, fierce love and dark secrets. Ask Again, Yes is about the truths we do not talk about with those we love. Avalanches held at bay by mere denial. The slow erosion of relationships when we choose to dance around a problem instead of confronting it. We’ve all been there, hoping an unraveling seam will somehow magically repair itself. This is a lovingly told story of good people. There are no bad guys here. Just your average flawed humans, holding hands while trudging through the muck of life, love, addiction, obsession, and loyalty. You will love them all. You will stay up at least one night to see them through the journey. And you will hold them in your heart long after you close the book.
With little books, we tend to stand and flip through them. Please, take a seat. The story of Sara Berman is worthy of your full attention. As all lives are, I suppose. You hold in your hands a celebration of one woman's life. A simple yet elegant legacy. We should all be so fortunate to have a loved one who will document and proclaim our glad existence. Frankly, we should all be so lucky to have a Sara Berman in our lives! And if not, we should strive to become one.
Sara Berman’s Closet is a dance of bright illustrations, glorious photographs, and lively, living words that burst off the page. It is nostalgic, crisp and fresh, like Sara's beloved white linens. This is a book you will want to share. Over and over again.
What if you receive a terminal diagnosis today? And what if you also receive a flow chart outlining all the various routes your diagnosis can take between point A (today) and point B (death)? And what if that flow chart also pointed out all the stops along the way where you can choose to get off the damn bus?
Priceless. That's what.
We all want to choose how and when we get off the bus. The obstacles in our way are ignorance, reluctant family, and doctors whose sole mission is to keep everyone on the bus as long as possible, even when the ride becomes a "living hell". You can check those off your list now.
Here's your flow chart. Thank you, Dr. Harrington.
Even in my sixties, I am a sucker for books that promise radical improvement in my life with JUST ONE simple ingredient. (Yes, please.) I am often disappointed in that one simple solution. It’s either too simple (boring) or too complicated (unrealistic). The Genius Habit is neither. I won’t tell you exactly what your habit is. But I can tell you it will be tailor made and point you toward your happy place. “The Zone.” When are you already in the zone? What does your zone look and feel like?
First you will identify your specific genius. (If you can’t figure that out, ask your friends and coworkers. They will nail it.) With your genius nailed down, you can map out the steps toward your perfect job or lifestyle. As a bookseller, I am already in my happy place and almost always in the zone. If only I had read The Genius Habit a few decades ago!
The Dream Peddler feels like a well-worn fable. The voice and pace and characters come from a place you know. Maybe from a dream. Although entirely original, to me, each page took me deeper into the belief that I am familiar with this story. The time. This village. These characters.
Like every good fable or folk lore, we are allowed a glimpse inside the secret hopes and dreams of the inhabitants. And the private longings of each character contain the tug of deja vu. Maybe we all desire similar things. And perhaps they first manifest in our dreams.
So... here we are. A man who can give you your heart’s desire, in the shape of a dream. What would you pay and what would you hope to see in a dream? it's a fascinating premise. And well played out on the page.
Someone just threw me a life preserver and I didn’t realize I was drowning! A Mind of Your Own is not just about depression and women. It doesn’t matter which drug you take or why. Dr. Brogan has eye-opening revelations about how we, as a species, have been altered by drugs, chemicals, preservatives, and lifestyles. This is not a new conversation. What sets Dr. Brogan apart from the rest of the voices, is the simple way she presents the big picture in fine details. You will recognize yourself on these pages, whether you deal with insomnia, stress, mental clarity, energy, weight, depression, or just plain crankiness.
There is much to do. And even more to un-do.
The moment you admit that you seriously need to make some big honkin’ changes, you come to these wonderful chapters… GET REAL AND REALISTIC, and ONE THING AT A TIME. Whew. Let the healing begin!
Christopher Castellani is obviously capable of casting spells. There is no other explanation for my absolute inhalation of Leading Men. (Not my usual literary cup of tea.) Nothing of the era, the celebrities, nor the glamour of fame has ever piqued my interest before. Yet here I am, beyond piqued. I am enchanted. Unable to keep reality and fantasy separate, I simply gave in to the delicious story. The enduring love affair of Tennessee Williams and Frank Merlo has enough meat on the bone to stand alone. Enter young Anja Bloom and the heady mixture of innocence, sexuality, power, and ambition.
I truly do not know where fact and fiction took turns on these pages. I only know that Castellani knows his craft. I find myself, like Tenn and Frank, wishing for more. More time, more chapters, more life. Just more.
This mighty little manifesto is exactly perfect in every way. The basic premise is one we all know. Decluttering is good for the soul. We simply do not function well with too much “stuff” going on around us. Gretchen Rubin has crafted a profoundly simple manual that, in and of itself, demonstrates this principle. She cuts to the chase. There are no unnecessary words, no wasted elaboration. The book itself is clutter free.
If you are already a devotee to an uncluttered life, you will still find nuggets of inspiration and nifty techniques. Like me, you may have to fight the urge to get up right this moment and dig in with gusto! There are tips here that I swear are life changers. The “Ten Minute Closer” left me a changed woman. Do I exaggerate? Nope, I do not. I cannot overemphasize the impact this book will make in your life. You will buy copies for your besties. They will thank you. Hugs all around. Yay!
For me, Lars Kepler is a new discovery. I doubt I will soon forget his name, as he kept me up most of the night. This is a smart, multi-layered thriller/mystery/crime novel. Best summed up with three words: creepy, creepy, and still creepy.
There are returning characters (new to me). Each of them is fully fleshed out. In fact, there are no throw-away characters in this novel. And certainly, no throw-away clues. I dog-eared as I went along, marking pages that might contain clues. But as the story progressed, I gave up. This is one to simply allow to unfold. Looking back on the story, I realize how visual and organic Kepler’s writing is. You will feel and see and smell the various scenes, as if it were played out on the big screen. Complete with ominous, slowly building, pounding soundtrack. My advice; buckle up.
Please, don’t let anyone tell you about this book’s plot. You will regret knowing anything before reading it on the page. And even then, after finishing the book, you will need to revisit that final chapter in the morning. Then, and only then, will you “get” it. And you will realize you need to read the whole freaking thing over again! Eventually, you will place it in the hands of a friend and say, “Please just open this book and start reading. It will blow your ever-loving mind.”
Let’s get this straight. If you don’t fall in love with Ross Gay, you have no soul. If his words and stories do not make you shout and slap your thigh, then you aren’t paying attention.
The Book of Delights is just that. It is Ross Gay finding the delight in his surroundings daily. Sure, there is a moment with a gutter-bound flower, and a dancing praying mantis. But, hang on. This book is not made of saccharin and fluff. No sir. That mantis is devouring the head of a dragonfly. There is a crow who shouts, “Take your head out of your ass and be glad!” His own mother is given cause to call a select group of children “dickheads”. And it is all delightful, in the truest sense. If you can’t see that, then please do as the crow instructed.
Remember the comic strip Cathy? Four little squares, sharing the female experience. The Dressing-Room Massacre. The Plaid, Bell-bottom, Hip-huggers Fiasco. The Apparently Oxygen is Fattening Crusade. She was speaking (or squawking) for all of us. Aack!
Cathy is back. She’s outgrown her four little squares and written a big girl book! She’s grown up, had kids, earned some wrinkles, embraced middle age, blah blah blah. This book begins with a real eye opener. It never dawned on me that the comic strip Cathy was controversial. Women were celebrating their rights and equality. Apparently, many believed that power and freedom also magically cured us of our little insecurities. Like our thighs. Oops.
Watch the news to see how powerful and free women are today. Aack! Let’s move on. Cathy is still on point. She fights the urge to channel her mother every time she speaks to her own daughter. She laments the loss of romance while admitting the thrill of online shopping is equally satisfying. (Maybe more?) My favorite chapter is “The Day I Washed My Face With Bath Soap”. You know the drill at the beauty counter. Wait… now that I type the words “beauty counter”, I realize we are still doomed. Thankfully, we are in this together and Cathy is once again leading the parade. I’m not sure where we’re headed, but we’re taking an extremely fun and scenic route!
There are some books that are simply a delight to read. Here is such a book. One singular man holds together this patchwork quilt of a story. That strong center square is Tom Hope. He keeps a small dairy and sheep farm in Hometown, Australia. Tom is a sweet and simple man of the land. Steady, reliable, unassuming and yes, hopeful. He is adept and and confident when working the land or caring for his flock. But he doubts his ability to be a worthy companion or friend. People are so perplexing!
However, those wandering souls who come within Tom's orbit are eventually made whole. His wayward wife Trudy abandons her child and leaves Tom, for Jesus. Young Peter desires nothing more than to merely walk and work alongside Tom. Enter Hannah, an Auschwitz survivor. After losing her entire family to the camps, she carries that heavy loss and grief in her marrow. But Hannah is determined to balance the scale of life with beauty and books.
In other words, these people are flawed and lost and looking for something. Witnessing their frustration and anguish is understanding our own stumbling search for completion. Watching them each find their way is a joy. Oh, how I wish I could visit this dear little farm and the astonishing bookshop in the barn. But wait, I just did. And it was charming. Simply charming. Enjoy this one over a “cuppa”.
I was chomping at the bit to read the Hiding Place. Tudor’s first novel, The Chalk Man was excellent. This book is killer. In a delightfully creepy crawly way. Two words come to mind: Yikes and Whoa.
Where to begin? Joe Thorne is our designated driver for this little trip. A ride that slowly builds until you try to read the book the same way you watch a horror film. Through your fingers. As you cover your eyes. While peeking. It’s like pulling the covers over your head when there is a monster under the bed. You know you’re going to jump out of your skin. But you feel safer under that thin blanket of denial. Well, get over it. You can’t read with your eyes closed and no blanket will keep these monsters at bay.
Poor Joe Thorne. He’s the good guy who rides in on a white horse to rescue everyone. Except, there is no horse and Joe has a serious limp. Don’t ask why. You’ll get there eventually. But you won’t arrive at the final destination until C.J. Tudor opens the door, turns on the lights, and points out the answers and supporting evidence. She must, because you’ve taken so many wrong turns, you’ll never figure this one out. I’m a good figure-outer. I had no idea. Well, I had a few. You will too. Good luck with that.
Golden Child. Golden, indeed. Welcome to Trinidad. Your senses are on high alert, learning the cadence of the language, the land, and the precarious balancing act to survive. You step out of your head and into a family so familiar, it could be your own. But in these dangerous surroundings, they are unrecognizable. Fences and guard dogs and the wild bush surround the family home. The very atmosphere is thick with quiet dread. And love. How do the two co-exist?
That contradiction is played out in the form of twin brothers. One golden, the other broken. The family’s very existence depends upon the future of these two boys. How far will a father go to give his golden child a golden future? How much will a mother sacrifice to protect her broken child? How does a brilliant boy reach for the stars while holding his brother’s hand? And finally, there is the lesser brother who knows he is a burden to everyone he loves. How can he release his family without losing them?
There are no demons or saints here. Everyone is weighted down by the world. They do what they must, what they know, what they believe to be the only way forward. And you will be left with a hole in your heart. You will not merely walk away from this family. You carry them with you.
Untangle this! If you enjoy a book that causes you to continually question its entire premise, then this is the book for you. And for me.
Kate Hope Day has ingeniously tackled a fascinating subject... the idea of a multiverse. Alternate lives occurring at the same time, according to decisions or circumstances that impact our future. Those moments of deviation may be minor everyday choices or excruciating decisions.
Friends and family, lovers and coworkers, neighbors and strangers... all intertwine in passing or in great portent. Lives are examined and redefined as visions rumble through their minds like the trembling "dormant" mountain in their back yard. Questions erupt. Is that a future me? A past me? An alternate me? Am I just another possible version of me? And what exactly, does the word "NOW" really mean?
This story challenged me. I had to stay on my toes and not make any assumptions. Reality and time became slippery and easily misleading. I was more than halfway through before realizing I might be dealing with a totally different scenario than I thought. Such a superb puzzle. This one kept me engaged every step of the way. It's quite possible that I will return to a few pages and read them again, just in case I missed something. Such a smart book!
Jayson Greene has provided a rare view into the heart of a wounded man. He must navigate the messy remains of his life after the unthinkable becomes reality. Greta, his darling two-year old daughter has been struck and killed by a falling brick. This freak accident rips a ragged tear into the very seams of his existence.
Thankfully, for the reader, Jayson is naturally expressive. He is made up of words. And through his words, we can inhabit his days, moment by moment. Jayson wants to escape and rage and scream. His wife Stacy is held together by action. She makes arrangements and schedules. She manages the torrent of chaos by standing still in the eye of the hurricane. This is not a book to read at your leisure. You must find out what the next chapter looks like. How does it end?
I am in awe of how two broken people honored each other's separate journey through a shared grief. If Jayson's motivation for writing this memoir was to engrave Greta's life into something permanent and lasting, he has accomplished that goal. If he sought to simply survive the storm by putting it into words, then we are the grateful beneficiaries. Unpolished stones of humanity and hope lie within these pages. This man's gift of expressing our primal fortitude is a true wonder.
I admittedly have a weakness for flawed, helpless, hapless old men. Professor Chandra certainly fits the bill. His kids are snooty, snotty, and snide. He's managed to screw up parenting and husbanding. And turning 70 didn't help.
In utter defeat, Chandra takes advice from his ex-wife's husband. He attends a spiritual retreat to "follow his bliss". Chandra's experience at the retreat is funny, sweet, painful, and finally delightful.
I fell in love with Chandra, his perfectly dysfunctional family, and their last-ditch effort to come together and get their sh** together. Drastic measures were called for. Talking. Listening. Forgiveness. You know, all that touchy-feely stuff that just might lead to bliss. Or at least love. And honestly, what's the difference?
As 1967 Nobel prize winning biologist George Wald is quoted herein...
"What one really needs is not Nobel laureates but love. How do you think one gets to be a Nobel laureate? Wanting love, that's how. Wanting it so bad that one works all the time and ends up a Nobel laureate. It's a consolation prize. What matters is love."
Fair warning: The Unwinding of the Miracle will be compared to other incredible memoirs. Being Mortal, When Breath Becomes Air, The Bright Hour, and Everything Happens For a Reason, all come to mind. However, I truly believe those books were paving the way for Julie Yip-Williams.
What makes Julie's story so exceptional is that she exposes living with cancer and facing death from every possible angle. She blogged throughout her journey, achieving some notoriety. Subsequently, Julie was aware of the temptation to be seen as someone who had it all together. She could easily write as a beacon of hope and bravery. Sometimes she really was courageous and optimistic. But she also had dark days of terror, panic, excruciating pain, and depression. So instead, she got very, very real
Julie Yip-Williams already had a life story worth telling. Born blind in Vietnam, fleeing to America on a boat built from desperation and dreams. She beat the odds and defied the numbers all of her life. Then came the diagnosis.
Her journey with Colon Cancer is laid bare. She is a witness, not a teacher. If there is hope, it's up to each of us to find it. If there is defeat, it's up to each of us to face it. Julie offers no absolute answers. Many tough decisions felt like a coin toss. I have never read a memoir so gut wrenching and honest. This story is a manifesto to living life with eyes wide open.
To begin with, this is an extremely intelligent book. Not one of those light tip-toe dances around the edges of death. There is meaty stuff here, and no wonder. Author Michael Hebb has some hefty experience behind these conversations. His Death Over Dinner and Convivium has worked with some impressive clients. (I could name drop my way through his resume'.)
He brilliantly combines sharing food and personal stories about death. This is the stuff I live for.
For instance, this woman's offering...
"I have never seen an expression as full of wonder as Lou's when he died. His hands were doing the water-flowing 21 form of tai chi. His eyes were wide open. I was holding in my arms the person I loved most in the world, and talking to him as he died. His heart stopped. He wasn't afraid. I had gotten to walk him to the end of the world. Life... so beautiful, painful, and dazzling, does not get better than that. And death? I believe that the purpose of death is the release of love."
Each and every story in this intimate book is equally stunning and real. There are also discussions about ego versus DNA and how cultural norms impact our views about death. While reading, I was mentally compiling a list of people to invite to a Death Over Dinner at my home. You will too.
And if, like me, you are a collector of lovely phrases, bring out a new notebook to fill. This journey is overflowing with beauty.
This book answers the age old question, "Are we alone?" The answer is a most resounding and glorious, "Absolutely Not!" We share our world with the most profoundly aware creatures on planet earth.
Honestly, you had me at Sy Montgomery. I have burned my way through her books before, being most moved by The Soul of an Octopus. That one is etched on to my psyche. Therefore, taking home How To Be a Good Creature was a no-brainer. Pick it up today. Finish it tonight. Done and done.
As always, Montgomery can define the best parts of being human by looking deep into the inner lives of animals. This particular book had me teary eyed more than a few times. Her experiences sharing her home and heart with alien species, aka dogs, spoke to me like no other. Any person whose heart has been shattered by the loss of a dear pet/friend, will find themselves reliving the shattering crash of emotions.
But, rest assured... Montgomery will cause you to feel equally compelled by wild entities you would never share your home with. Such creatures as two tree kangaroos on a date! Yes!
What I most admire about this author is her ability to share a glimpse inside the life of an emu, and yes, the soul of an octopus. In fact, you will discover a truer meaning of the word "soul". After spending another evening in the company of Sy Montgomery and her creatures, I believe there is a meaningful life force, personality, and soul inside every creature on our planet. Beautiful.
Dave Barry tackles aging. But wait..., this is Dave Barry up close and personal. And very real. Looking within and worrying about his future. As a less than happy, anti social, grumpy curmudgeon. Seriously, who knew?
His best source for guidance and redemption is his dog, Lucy. This examination of growing older and finding happiness, viewed through the eyes of a dog, is the Barry Barry best. Excuse the pun. There is more heart in this book than I was prepared for. Double helpings.
Long live Dave Barry. And please send Lucy right over. You see, I live with a cranky old man...
To make a secret agreement to commit an unwise or unlawful act, to the detriment of others.
Oh Lou Berney, what have you done? As your hero, slash villain, Guidry, is fond of saying, "Ye Gods!"
This November Road could not get any twistyer and turnyier. Even the Warren Commission would shake their collective heads at this outlandish but brilliant conspiracy. Is Guidry a good bad guy? Or a bad good guy? Even now, I wonder. (Maybe both, like the rest of us poor saps.)
Guidry's world of mobsters and mothers held me captive and captivated. Like his innocent but astute Charlotte, I have decided to allow my heart and head to duke it out.
November Road is a literary gateway drug. I need more. Back to the shelves I go... let's see...B for Berney. Ye Gods!
To be honest, you had me at Pelecanos.
George Pelecanos is smart, witty, and honest. He IS Washington D.C., minus the politics. He is the music, the food, the streets, the rhythm and pulse of DC.
There is a plot, of course. Probably a murder. The stuff of most mysteries. But this is not most mysteries. This is Pelecanos.
Pelecanos can grab me with the dialogue inside the car, on the way to commit a crime. Nobody does dialogue like Pelecanos. Snappy. Funny. Real. This book begins in the arms of a jailhouse librarian and a young man inspired by books and striving to rise above his own destiny.
Pelecanos has outdone himself. Once again.
President Obama read ten letters every day from regular citizens. And he frequently replied.
Imagine working in that mail room... sifting through the multitude of letters and discerning which ten should be put in the hands of the President. Jeanne Marie Laskas has provided just a sampling of those letters, those lives, that man, and the world we lived in.
Letter writers include, loyal devotees, haters, the fearful, the hopeful, the frustrated, and the white knucklers simply trying to hold on. And in every reply, Obama answered with dignity, understanding and hope. Every single time.
This book is intimate. You look over the President's shoulder and feel the weight of the office and the people whose hearts and lives were on the line. This important book will not be left on the shelf. You will revisit it, as needed. For a welcome dose of humanity and good will.
Greenstone, Minnesota is a quirky little town, teetering on the brink. In a perfect world, it might very well exist... If you are lucky enough to find yourself lost in the mist from Lake Superior. And let's face it, sometimes we only truly find ourselves when we are quite lost. Which brings us to Virgil Wander.
Virgil wakes up in a concussed state. He was pulled from his car after it slid over a snowy ledge and dove straight into the lake. Virgil remembers very little, including himself, whom he refers to as "the previous tenant". He's lost his bearings and a few other fairly important things, like his purpose and balance. And adjectives.
Virgil owns the town's old movie theater, The Empress. The old dame is past her prime and fading fast, but he is determined to bring her back to life while likewise restoring himself. The cast of characters in Greenstone outshine those on the big screen. You'll meet an arctic kite flier who "calls upon the wind like a take-out pizza", and a man-eating sturgeon. But the true stars of this tale are the words. Those dazzling adjectives that come to life and sing. (I have a notepad to prove it, having copied phrases too perfect to leave behind.) Virgil's quest to rebuild his life and his hard luck town, is part homespun yarn and part magic. Every character is pitch perfect and oddly familiar. I fell in love over and over... with the man and the town.
Ok, here's the deal. This book was so incredible, that I did not want to read any more fiction for a while. I was sure to be disappointed by a merely good read, after having loved Where The Crawdads Sing. And oh, how I loved this book.
.Here is a life and location that is incredibly foreign. Yet I was literally wearing the skin of Kya within the first few pages. I felt the marsh beneath my feet, smelled the grease crackling on the old stove, soared with the screeching night herons and was crushed beneath the icy glares of the towns people. I fell in love and was spurned and burned. And reborn.
Don't let anyone tell you this is a murder mystery. This story is bigger than the sky and more intimate than a sigh.
What's better than having a brilliant spiritual thinker over for dinner and conversation? Having three! A Monk, a Philosopher, and a Psychiatrist (all good friends with diverse callings) talk about Life, Meaning and Purpose. IN ALL CAPS & BOLD! (That's how powerful their message is.) I said... Life, Meaning, and Purpose. Don't just skim past those three little words. Put down your phone, cancel your plans, and join a movement. A mission.
This discussion is so intimate that it feels as if we were all curled up on the sofa with a cup of tea. Drink it in. You'll feel better. And likely Do better.
Enchanting. Almost magical. This dear little book may not cause much clamor. But it will almost certainly find a devoted cult of followers. Admirers as steady and loyal as, well, a flock of sheep. This is a lovely memoir destined to be passed from friend to friend, hand over heart. Each reader pausing to underline passages, because the words are just so perfect, so exactly right! Small moments feel almost sacred and call for a dog-eared corner, so you may return to experience it once again. All told, this is a sweet love story. An ode to an aging father; an old man in a tweed cap, a walking stick, and his beloved poets and prose. A daughter's passion for master composers and classical music. All laid out upon a checkered blanket surrounded by pristine pastures and dappled woods. And of course, there is a babbling brook.
The daughter, our author, vows to devote her days to all of these elements. Carole is inspired to bring to life her father's proclamation upon first seeing the little farm. "This is poetry country. This ground calls for sheep."
And off we go. There will be candle lit concerts in a barn. Poetry read aloud to the rustling leaves. And, oh yes...there will be sheep. And you will merrily follow along. Please don't forget to bring gingersnaps. (Their favorite snack, you know.)
David Joy, (once again) is the genuine article. He writes from his gut. Dang!
These characters broke into my house and won't be leaving any time soon. And that line that holds us? Well, it just got real blurry, real fast. The line between good and rotten, justice and penance, godliness and damnation. I give up.
This dude's voice curls my toes!
The subtitle of this glorious memoir, Everything Happens For a Reason, is the the real reason you must pick up this book. ..."And Other Lies I've Loved".
Oh my! The Prosperity Gospel gets turned on it's ear in these pages. Platitudes and promises are tossed out like spoiled food found in the back of your fridge. None of us, including our brave author, are getting out of here alive. No amount of good deeds, good will, good attitudes, or good faith is going to change that truth.
So why do we show up on the doorstep of our dying friend, bringing cheerful casseroles and pithy platitudes?
Kate Bowler is proclaiming a better way of dealing with sickness and death. Her own. Instead of baked lasagna, she brings us Stage Four Fortitude. Served up with unblinking acceptance of true grace and surrender for a fragile soul. Put down your casserole and curl up with Kate. She needs to talk to you.
This endearing tale is top of the heap in my books to recommend. To anyone. The main characters and circumstances are drawn from actual history. 1870, to be exact. An older gentleman, (Captain) reads the newspapers from around the world to illiterate townspeople across the state of Texas.
Captain is commissioned to return a rescued 10 year old girl to her family in San Antonio. Johanna was abducted by the Kiowa four years earlier. She is now a wild child, a hellion who has no desire to go "home", let alone live in the boxed in world of the white man.
Their journey together slowly turns into a love story of the truest form. An ending that will keep you up well past your bedtime and will demand to be read again in the morning. Prepare to be swept away.
Women Rowing North could also be titled, "Things Your Mother Might Have Told You If She'd Read This Book And You'd Asked Better Questions." Too long and wordy? Probably. But I wish desperately that I'd had the good fortune to read this book years ago. I might have planned better.
As a woman who is now definitely rowing North at a fairly good clip, I find Pipher's insights and counsel both sobering and incredibly encouraging. She covers attitude and gratitude, vanity and gravity. Standing up. Speaking out. Recognizing that our struggles have provided us with character and principles and wisdom worth passing on.
Pipher drives home the truth that we own and control our stories, even after the fact. We are in control of the narrative, the interpretation and ultimately our own authentic final chapter. My mother never had the chance to truly experience or express her own power. To take ownership of her life's trajectory. Now that I know better, there is work to be done. For one thing, I need to get this book in my daughter's hands!
Before leaving office, President Obama called Jason Kander the future of the Democratic party. Hopefully, he is the future of politics in general. Kander's 10 lessons in everyday courage are culled from a wide range of experiences, for such a young age. (My daughter's age. Yikes!)
He has incredible role models for parents, served in Afganistan, served as Secretary of State in Missouri. And he's a family man.
Oh, and funny as hell.
Kander consistently chooses what's right over what is easiest. Integrity over dignity, if necessary. Extra bonus points: this guy has some serious political balls. He says aloud (into a mic) what most politicians only dare whisper... in private... behind closed doors.
He currently heads up the movement, Let America Vote. But his eyes are still on the Capital. Thank goodness! Go get 'em, Jason!
Facebook is not my "friend". It WAS my addiction. I repeatedly quit. Then peeked. Then snuck quietly back in. Then lost myself in a sea of nonsense. I have quit cigarettes and booze, but was helpless against a social media app? Good grief!
Jaron Lanier has convinced me that not only was I addicted. I was drowning in thick and gooey stupidity. Algorithms are the new boogie man under the bed. My "free" internet access is being paid for by SOMEONE! Some anonymous, nefarious, and invisible agents. And here's the punch in the gut punchline... I am the product, not the consumer. I repeat. I am the product, not the consumer. I have been drugged and duped. If you believe you already know about the dark side of social media, you are in for a rude awakening.
Just read the darn thing. Then tell your friends. In person. Have an actual conversation. Use your vocal chords.
Use your head. We can do this.
I raced through this debut in one day, leaving nothing behind. Not Even Bones.
This is not your usual Sci-Fi psychological thriller. By the end of the first chapter, you will have exclaimed "Aye Yi Yi!" no less than four times. Guaranteed. Count 'em. (4) Just when you think you have your head wrapped around this world and it's unnatural inhabitants, you are handed new horrors. New and fabulous horrors. You find yourself rooting for the freak who performs autopsies on dead mutants. And on the living too. Oops! (I hate when that happens.)
I have only one regret. This is book number one. Of a trilogy.
I must wait for the next installment.
"Aye Yi Yi!" (5)
Holding Space is everything the title implies. It's a fundamental principal and practice that most of us desperately need to learn.
Amy Wright Glenn kindly takes us by the hand, from cradle to grave, as a loving guide and fellow traveler.
This is a book with heart. Pure and simple. If we are lucky, Amy's philosophy will catch fire and eventually become the norm as we go about living, aging, and dying.
This book is a sort of reverse memoir. The author searches for a young Jewish girl, raised by his grandparents in Holland during WWII. She is in family photographs throughout the years. Then not mentioned again.
Six year old Lien was whisked away from her parents in an effort to save her life. The life of Lien is not heroic, or tragic, or incredible. It is simply a life, taken one step and one breath at a time. It is quietly courageous. It is unforgettable. I am in awe of this woman.
Note To Self:
1: Buy three copies of this book immediately.
2: Blaze through it in one night. Underline. Cry.
3: Give all three copies to your most cherished friends. (Even though you planned to keep one for yourself.)
4: Order more. Rinse and repeat.
Here's the premise... What message would you take back in time and tell your younger self? King has posed this question to people from all walks of life. Their answers will linger long after you close the book. Some require hankies. Others compel you to stand up and cheer.
Ask yourself that question, it's a real humdinger!
(Bonus: It's is a terrific question to ask your friends.)
This book is dangerous if you are unsupervised and momentarily bookless.
YESTERDAY: I picked it up in the break room. A mere one and 1/2 paragraphs later and I was hooked. Drat!
TODAY: Whew. This is a one heck of a tale. A broken girl grows up to become a mental health professional. She finds herself compelled to help one extremely broken young man. Together, they weave an unlikely and fragile path back to reality and the truth. The question is... whose reality and can they both survive the truth?
I was totally unprepared to be so drawn in by Sally Field. It's a sad cliche that child stars often come from a dysfunctional family, Sally was no exception.
Field takes you deep inside her head and gut along the way. She was a pro at behaving the way many of us did back then. She became whatever the current man in her life desired; morphing with each relationship. To those of us growing up then, this is a familiar expectation. We were all compliant and cheerful. Think stepford wives, without the operation.
Sally also struggled with a mother, who was forever fighting her own demons.
Ultimately, this is a testament to staying the course, against all odds. You will find yourself cheering and weeping for this brave soul along the way.
Like Sarah, my cousins lived on a farm in rural Kansas. I knew those cousins well.
They drove trucks before I had mastered my ten speed. Frankly, I envied them. I was a city girl, jealous of my country cousins. I was totally unaware of a little thing called rural poverty.
Now I have questions for Sarah and my cousins...
Did the concept of economic disadvantage occur to you as you milked the cow or raced down the dirt roads, leaving a cloud of Kansas dust to cover your tracks?
When did Sarah Smarsh realize her circumstances would define and expose a divide in our culture?
So many questions...
First... how is this author is a man???
How is that possible when I was immediately deep within the all too familiar head and body of a 16 year old girl? Truly. The voice in this book is authentic, right down to last word on the final page.
Moonbeam has been raised in a religious separatist community. It all begins very kumbaya.
Kumbaya turns sinister. The community and our poor Moonbeam are mere pawns who have just enough free will to either believe the truth that is being spoon fed, or to behave as if they do. There seem to be no other options. Unless...
I only wish this book was not categorized as YA.
This book should jump back and forth across the genre aisles and land in the hands of any person, any age, who can appreciate a deeply intimate story of survival, surrender, and redemption.
Yowza. What a read!
Richard Holloway has found the perfect balance of living in the moment and increasing joy by accepting our brief, temporary existence. So much wisdom and beauty and elegance... all whilst examining our own demise. As one of my underlined passages says, "Don't look ahead. Look around." Ach! I need that little reminder at least ten times a day.
This book is a good example of why my tombstone should be engraved with "I read about this."
There are perhaps three books in my bookstore that I consider to be perfect books. This is one of them. It was my introduction to author, Kent Haruf. And it was love at first sight. Or read.
Haruf writes with heart and soul. Nothing fancy, just love. He knows small town folks inside and out... every maddening and endearing aspect of their lives and ways. You'll wish you could read this sitting on a front porch swing, drinking sweet tea.
I can put this book in the hands of any reader of any genre, with confidence that they will share my obsession with this truly perfect story.