Monday, July 15, 2019

A Good Neighborhood

Think you live in a good neighborhood? Think you know your neighbors? Well, think again.  The residents of Oak Hills, North Carolina, a simple, old neighborhood, would have answered "yes" to both questions. Those thinly veiled affirmatives hide the hopes that family secrets will never be unveiled.  Frankly, it's no one's business what goes on behind closed doors - unless,of course there is something illegal or harmful happening.  

A hyper-omniscient narrator takes us into the private lives of families who represent both the best and the worst in today's world.  Most of the "worsts" are attitudinal..  Phoniness oozes.  All smiles and openness for the African American college professor at book club meetings and at social events. Behind her back conjecture arises about her deceased white husband and her bi-racial son. 

Too rich.  Not rich enough.  Along with the racial inequalities, our gentle narrator explores how class evolves and manifests even in small neighborhoods. When the Whitman's build a mansion with a pool, encroaching on nearby properties and wilfully destroying majestic, historic trees and other landmarks in order the properly attire the home, things change.  First, the significance bar raises.  Big house equals big, important people, right?   People with power who know other people with power can change the landscape quickly and that is exactly happens.  

This is where the heart-breaking story begins and ends : Later this summer when the funeral takes place, the media will speculate boldly on who's to blame. They'll challenge attendees to say on-camera whose side they're on. For the record: we never wanted to take sides.

The Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne fowler, publication date February 4, 2020.  Watch for this one.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Hazel Wood

This weekend I decided to take a break from Stephen King's time travelling tome and dive into this young adult novel that has been getting huge buzz....movie rights and two, already titled sequels on the way.  I'm having fun with the King book, 11.23.63, but the 800+ mind bending pages get my average brain deep diving on every page. I have already filled my book discussion journal with pages of summaries, questions, drawings, and graphic maps. I needed a rest.   My unconventional note taking baffled some of my college professors. Some were amused while others were just plain annoyed and tried darn hard to convince me to outline, use bullets, highlight - anything other than my way. Still, I made it through and they gave me a diploma and some letters for behind my name.   

So this book...back to the King book first...a man passes through a portal to the past in order to change history by stopping the Kennedy assassination.  Well, wouldn't you know, The Hazel Wood also takes me through a portal, this time into a world where fairy tales are real, mortals exist side by side with fantasy characters, and in an "Into the Woods" way all is not princesses and golden coaches.  

Alice and her mom have spent their lives on the run, but for the longest time, we are not sure why.  Lurking in the background is a collection of dark tales written by Alice's grandmother.  Few copies of the book exist, but an obsessive and dangerous collection of fanatic fans does exist.  With the aid and protection of one of these fans, Alice travels into her grandmother's book where she learns secrets about her family and of a mysterious dwelling called The Hazel Wood.

Alice?  You got that right.  Definite Alice in Wonderland themes pop up everywhere, most notable in dialogue.   Characters speak in riddles that lead no where. Their words roll off the tongue in philosopher like cadence, but in the end the meanings remain superficial - or playful depending on how much you like or dislike Alice.  

This is a twisty-turny book that will appeal to fans of the Narnia series.  It's quite dark and walks close to the line dividing "young adult" from "new adult" labels.  Yes, "new adult"...refers to people just getting into reading, or rediscovering reading after years away...or people just searching for new words and ideas.  It's a gateway category, really and a pretty good one at that.  Now I wish authors and publishers would give us some books for kids who read and comprehend levels above their age.  Books that satisfy them often have sophisticated plot lines and mature and edgy concepts.  Frustrating for readers, parents, teachers and booksellers.

Here's hoping the book your reading is opening doors for you.
Thanks for stopping by.

From my silly joke book.....
What is heavy and wears glass slippers?
Cinderelephant.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Follow the Money

Author Ralph Kaminski grew up on what was and still is affectionately and respectfully known as "Polish Hill".  His father ran Kaminski's Meat Market, where Ralph learned to work hard.  He got married, went to business school, went into service, and ended up as a Special Agent for the United States Government.

As you can well imagine, he learned many lessons, uncovered dark secrets, and swept the globe uncovering crimes related to IRS fraud.  He also became a darn good storyteller.  Ralph's book won't reveal any huge conspiracies or validate suspicions any of us may have about how the government works when we're not looking.  Instead, Ralph takes us on a nostalgic journey beginning in a world filled with Schwinn bikes and ending with a near miss meeting with Howard Hughes.  

People growing up in Manitowoc and the surrounding area will find themselves taken back to the days of neighborhoods where, within a few blocks, you could find a grocery store, a drugstore, a playground, a church, and all the essentials needed for a happy day to day existence.  Readers will recognize establishments around town, and chuckle at the simple games kids played.  War stories add solemnity to the book.

Ralph's first Special Agent assignment found him visiting every brothel in Reno where he  interviewed each of the working girls to make sure that taxes were being being paid.  He describes, in detail, how brothels work, and leaves with a "if you've seen one you've seen them all" attitude.  His assignments had him working with White House personnel along with many other people of influence and intrigue.  He was often in danger, as was his wife who, at one point, worked as an informant for him.  

Ralph had a significant assignment involving holdings of Howard Hughes.  The American Ambassador in Nicaragua set up a meeting between Hughes and Ralph Kaminski but at the 11th hour, the Ambassador received a call from an unidentified person saying "Tell Ralph not to make the trip to Nicaragua".  No further details are to be had since Hughes died shortly thereafter.

These are Ralph's memories.  If you grew up around the same time and recognize names, places and events, you may find that you recall some of them differently.  That's OK. You will still enjoy the stories and the opportunities to go back in time for a little while.  And you'll marvel at the bravery of those who do intelligence work.

Ralph is planning trip home in early July.  He plans to stop by LaDeDa and maybe he'll sign some books for me.  

On different note, I might not blog for a week or two.  I'm tackling Stephen King's 11.22.63... at time travel book about a plan to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  I'm having tons of fun with this mind bending tome, but it is over 800 pages.  I have so far concluded the Stephen King is either a genius or a jerk.

Happy 4th
Thanks for stopping by


Monday, June 24, 2019

the First Winter

When I first met Katie Stockman Daffner, she was a happy, young girl walking a big dog past my store.  Katie is now a happy young woman working relentlessly to help others realize their big dreams.  As co-facilitator of United ReSisters, Katie works with a group of Somali women living in Green Bay many of whom study at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.  Katie dedicated much love and effort in helping these women - her friends- bring this book to fruition.

In The First Winter, the Somali "sisters" share memories, fears, reflections, hopes, and dreams in poems and narratives.  Their voices, both as writers and as women, resonate with the same feelings we all have when thrust into new situations.  The truth is - life has not been easy for these women, yet their words harbor no anger.  You will find grace in every single selection.

Maryam Husseyn writes with mixed memories about her homeland.  She misses the sound of the ocean near her home, the surrounding gardens, and welcoming neighbors.  She also remembers the bombs.  The injured.  The dead.  Still, she misses home.

In a short piece called I Speak with an Accent, Nadifo Kasim writes "... an accent is not a measure of intelligence.  It is someone speaking your language using the rules of theirs."  She has instructed me with those words.  

Najma Kasim wants to be a lawyer.  Bisharo Abdullahi wants to be a nurse.  You will meet these two and many others in this bright and provocative collection.  Katie Daffner is planning a meet and greet signing at LaDeDa in the near future.  Watch our FaceBook page for details. 

Thanks for stopping by.

Oh, I just got in some silly little joke books for kids.  Here's one of my favorites:

Why did the chicken cross the mobius strip?
To get to the same side.

Monday, June 17, 2019

The Death of Mrs. Wastaway

Remember those Sunday afternoons as a kid when the gloomy weather cast an equally gloomy shadow upon your mood?  Nothing to do but mutz around or search the dial for a movie.  I always called them Sunday movies - titles like Life With Father and Cheaper by the Dozen.  But, if I was lucky, and the antenna was pointed just so I could get PBS. And if I was really lucky they would be showing one of those mysterious husband-wife movies like Rebecca or Laura.

If, like me, you enjoyed - and rather looked forward to - those rainy Sunday afternoons, pick up The Death of Mrs. Westaway.  Ruth Ware gives us all the necessities of a gothic thriller- a chilly, centuries old mansion, a tight lipped housekeeper, and the scent of secrets in the air. It's the kind of book that you know exactly what will happen in the end but you keep reading just in case you're wrong. I will confess that, for the first time ever, I applied my friend Mary's reading technique, read the last chapter first.  I really read  it after chapter four but then had to backtrack to see how everything unfolded.

When her mother died, nineteen year old Harriet (Hal) Westaway took over her mother's tarot card stall on a local beach boardwalk in a tiny English village.  She barely makes enough money to pay the rent on her fortune-telling stall, let alone the rent on her flat.   When she receives a letter from a solicitor telling her that she is the heir to a substantial fortune, Hal sees this as her way to pay off her loan shark debts, and get a second change at a comfortable life.  Problem?  She knows the letter has come to her by mistake.  

Hal kicks into high gear, researching and creating a persona that she hopes will be passable when when she attends Mrs. Westaway's funeral.  Mrs. Westaway's children welcome their long lost relative, some warmly, some with suspicions.  Family secrets, death threats, chase scenes, and all sorts of intrigue ensue as Hal attempts to collect on her generous portion of the estate. 

Rebecca was on my year of retro reading book list, but I'm counting this as a fine proxy.  Pick up a copy and stash it away for a rainy afternoon.  Oh, and yes, I was right.

Thanks for stopping by. 




Monday, June 10, 2019

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek

Do you know about the blue people of Kentucky?  How about the Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project (KPHKP)?  Richardson's book adeptly combines these two stories into a compelling picture of an isolated people in the 1930's. 

Cussy appears to be the last of her kind, a blue, meaning she has congenital methemoglobinemia, a condition resulting in blue skin.  When Cussy gets excited, or blushes, she turns purple.  We now know that this condition is genetic, but for Cussy, being blue meant being feared, hated, ridiculed, and subjected to harsh medical tests and treatments.  

Cussy fights hard to get a job with the KPHLP, a program initiated by President Roosevelt.  Residents of Troublesome Creek have next to nothing and they live in near isolation in the Appalachian Mountains. Many cannot read, yet they wait for the weekly delivery made by Cussy, the Book Woman.  They love looking at the pictures, having Cussy read to them, or using the outdated newspapers to paper their walls. These librarians provide their own means of transportation at their own expense.  They use pack animals, canoe and any other means possible to deliver books across streams, through narrow mountain paths and thick woods, often while being watched, pursued, and sometimes attacked by both man and beast. 

Some characters angered me-  the unscrupulous vicar, the racist head of library services, the arrogant doctor who played God with people's lives, the wife beating husbands. On the other hand there's Cussy' hard working miner father who, knowing that his job will shorten his life, wants nothing more than to find a husband for his daughter.  He also knows that being a blue will complicate matters. There are children who welcome Cussy and her books with unbridled excitement, and generous folks who donate newspapers, magazines and books to be shared.  

Although the story ends, the book does not.  Richardson adds informative chapters on the history of the blue people, and photos from the KPHLP archives.

Thanks for stopping by.

Oh....if you haven't seen the movie "The Green Book" check it out.  Sad.  Disturbing...and yet joyful.


Monday, June 3, 2019

The Mars Room

All my life I have had an irrational fear of being falsely accused of a crime and going to prison.  Must come from watching too may Alfred Hitchcock movies.  False imprisonment turned up time and time again in his movies, a theme resulting from a boyhood trauma.  Biographers tell us Alfred's father hauled him to the police station once when the little guy had violated some household rule.  Alfred was locked in a cell where he spent the night and banked much inspiration for future films.  

In The Mars Room, convicted murderer, Romy Hall, tells the story of her escapades in the Haight followed two consecutive life in prison sentences. Fiction, yes aided by author Rachel Kushner's aggressive research, and hours of inmate interviews. This book was a finalist for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award so you know there's good stuff in store. 

Romy shares her story in a straightforward manner, no passion. no apologies.  She started her career early - around age ten  - cruising the gut and drinking beer with an older, edgy, and dangerous crowd.  She never escapes that life, nor does she try.  Kushner takes us places in the novel with visually exciting passages.  A stip club. The dark corner homes of drug dealers.  Cars with tinted windows hiding hit men and their customers.  

Romy's diary does not show us an angry woman, defensive, and living to get even.  The grit comes not from her, in fact she is rather cavalier about her life behind bars. The grit comes form what she sees, and her interactions with the tribe she gathers.In addition to portraying prison life as a microcosmic, invisible society, The Mars Room exposes our sadly flawed society, and our flawed justice system.

Today, I am happy to be free, and behind my keyboard where I am truly comfortable.  No shanks in this blogger's life.

Thanks for stopping by. 

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Sorry I'm Late, I didn't want to come

Jessica Pan opens her book saying "Let's be clear: I don't think anybody - introvert, extrovert or otherwise - needs to be cured.  But, I was, for a while, an unhappy introvert, and I wanted to see how my life might change if I spent a year undertaking daunting new experiences. This book is about what happened next. Please enjoy my nightmares."

Pan simplifies the distinction between extroverts and introverts explaining that the extrovert attends the Rolling Stones concert and the introvert waits to watch the replay on MTV three years later. Her quest begins with a series of random moves, not just to new neighborhoods, but huge moves to new cities and countries.  Her theory being that starting over would allow her to be a different person, and no one would be able to play the six degrees of separation game and somehow identify her as the shy girl related to the woman who lives next door to the telemarketer in the next cube. When that fails, she makes phone calls to therapists hoping to get some non face to face advice.  Like hiding in new big cities, that was a fail; eventually she gathers her courage and begins working on her issue in earnest with a series of professionals.  What ensues in a year of personal challenges - talking to strangers, performing  stand-up comedy, hosting a dinner party, and travelling alone.  Both hilarious and painful, Lee makes it through her year of exploring.  Does she conquer?  Is she now an extrovert?  I'm not telling.

Along with the chronicling of therapies, the book is filled with factoids about introverts. According to the Myers-Briggs Type indicator, one out of every three people is an introvert.  Introverts relish one-on-one conversation, avoid small talk, and, although they seldom initiate conversation, they fear awkward silences.  

Most interesting - when we are stressed, our bodies release cortisol which interferes with our attention and shot-term memory.  That's my excuse for not blogging yesterday as scheduled.

Thanks for stopping by.


Monday, May 13, 2019

Forty Autumns

At age 20, Hannah escaped to West Germany.  Her mother watched her walk away.  Hannah left behind her parents and eight siblings with the full knowledge that they might never see each other again. Eventually, Hannah married and moved to America where her daughter, Nina, was born.  It is Nina who tells this story of generations separated by the Iron Curtain.

I had heard horror stories about the research paper writing process which was taught in the general history class in my high school.  To avoid that ordeal, I signed up for college prep history classes which focused on the history, art, literature, and philosophies of great civilizations.  While others were learning - and writing - about communism, and other significant developments,  I was discovering the apologies of Plato, and following Hannibal and the elephants crossing the Alps.  And yes, we wrote a ton of papers so my plan was an epic fail.

Thank you to Nina Willner for opening my eyes to a terrifying period in mankind's history.  She paints a complete picture of life behind the Iron Curtain where individual's every move was controlled, and every action was suspect.  Woe to those who in any slight was offended their leaders.  Hannah's bravery put her family in jeopardy, although she had no way of knowing that.  Letters were sent in both directions, but few made it to their intended destination. Willner effectively compares life on both sides of the wall.  While Hannah grows and prospers in the East, her family struggles, facing daily humiliation, and insults to their very humanity.

Having read many reviews of this book, I know that I am in the  minority with this statement - I did not enjoy this book.  I found it dry and cold.  It lacked the passion I expected from a story of a family finding its way back together after forty years.  My book group discusses this title on Friday.  Maybe their insights will help me appreciate it more.

Sorry I didn't blog last Monday.  I went to a small, trade show in Green Bay.  This was a "Fancy food" show and I was hoping to find new cookies or other goodies for the store.  No luck there.  Over 100 suppliers offered samples of their goods.  We're talking cheese curd, pizza ,and sausage heaven.  I was about half way through making the rounds, tasting and pretending to be interested, when a fist fight broke out near me. Other than some violent scenes on TV, I have never seen punches exchanged and while it was oddly exciting, the kid in me worried that a gun would appear at any moment.  So I left never knowing which vendor had the best kielbasa.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Surrounded by Idiots

I have broken my number three reading rule -never read more than one book at a time.  The others, in order of importance are
  •   Never (unless it's a Spencer Quinn book) read a book with a dog on the cover 
  •   Never read a book that begins with a description of weather unless it's a cozy, British mystery
  •  Never read a book that is part of a series

The problem all started with The Lost City of the Monkey God, one of those travel/expedition/opening Al Capone's vault type stories.  I have been duped so many times on these true adventure memoirs and hope that someday the brave expedition team will actually find the lost city they are looking for.  So far, these guys have only come across some evil ants, hanging snakes, scorpions in their shoes, and an occasional disgruntled native hiding in the dense Honduran jungle.  

For five hundred years, legends have circulated about an ancient city hidden in the Honduran mountains called the White City of the Monkey God - a place so sacred that those who dare to disturb it will fall ill and die.  Neither its location nor existence have ever been confirmed

 I can only assume that since the writer lived to tell the tale, the tale will be more journey than destination.  Still, I will persevere along with them.

Then a little book called The Furies caught me off guard.  Young adult novels often have vague settings, with story lines focused on character and broken hearts.  This one pulled me in because it is set on the campus of an exclusive British University and I can already tell that the school and it history will figure importantly into the plot. The obligatory creepy headmaster keeps creepy drawings of witches on his desk, and I will soon meet the mysterious art teacher fixated on the Pieta and other religious themed artworks.I wait for the murder and the certain connection to a history of campus evil, incantations, bad girls, and symbolism.  A blend Heathers and The DaVinci Code. Seems to have some depth and texture so this is the one I will read this afternoon while the the street crews dig holes in front of our building.

How could I pass by a book with a title like this?  How many times have I uttered those very words? Also, it has been years since I have read any pop psychology,and thought that perhaps this latest iteration of that genre might have more to offer. Wrong!  This book simply retools that old Kiersey and Bates temperament test - the one where, no matter how I try to trick it  - tells me I am an ENTJ... extrovert, intuitive, thinking, judgy. Accurate on most days.  I have tried tricking self scoring IQ tests as well, but the numbers always come out the same.  I am average.  

As the title suggests, this book helps us deal with the idiots in our lives, helping us to rethink our relationships with the idiots and change our mindset on dealing with them.  It seems to work. Reading this book me  to a place where I can  breath easily forgive Alex Trebek.  For years, the man had annoyed me with his pomposity.  I am - OOPS - was most bothered when he attempted an accent when a foreign word appeared in a question.. But now I'm OK with it, thanks to the translation of Thomas Erickson's book which was a runaway hit in Sweden.  Isn't that among the happiest places  in the world?  

Don't forget us during road construction.  The crews promise us the work will be finished June.  Until then, you can get to us via Waldo.

Thanks for stopping by.