Monday, February 19, 2018

The Black Painting, Death of an Irish Diva...and discussion groups

Book discussion groups begin in a number of ways have a variety of formats.  The first group I belonged to, organized by two women new to Manitowoc who were looking for kindred spirits, had so many rules I had to review them before each meeting to avoid being excommunicated.  There were to be no last names, no reference to our jobs, no personal chatter, no food or drinks, and - in attempt to show that the leaders had a sense of humor - no dogs.  That group fell apart when a male transplant from a ritzy Milwaukee suburb started showing up, telling us how he had to move since "those people" were encroaching on his neighborhood, and he couldn't even attend community theatre events since the casts were all Jewish.  We had no rules on how to get rid of a problem like that, so we decided to abandon the group and reform at a later date.  We attempted once - but the chemistry with the potential members wasn't there, so that group tanked after one book.

A few years after that, a member of that failed group, suggested we give it another try with a new mix of people.  14+ years later, we're still together.

Book group #2 sprung up when I spent my entire piano lesson talking with my teacher about a book she had just finished.  She said she had never felt like a "reader" before and was bubbling over with questions, insights, reactions.  She had marked sentences that spoke loudly to her.  On that night, another group was born and we are in our second strong year of discussion.

For a while I belonged to an on-line group.  Although it didn't work out as I had hoped, I am up for trying another one.  One person from that group and I have continued our X-country book talks.  Yes,  Steve and I are a book group, although we have never defined what we do as such.  In December, I sent Steve a box on advance reader copies.  He quickly picked one to read and comment on. Coincidentally, I had a second copy of that book and decided to read along.

If you like Gothic mysteries, The Black Painting might work for you. Now, don't confusing this with those Victoria Holt goth-roms we all read in high school.  This gritty story is filled with family drama, generational secrets, a demonic Goya painting and lots of Dorian Gray creepiness.  The characters kept me on my toes; just when I thought I knew who had stolen the satanic painting, someone would double cross me, sending me in a totally different direction.  In addition, the storyline moved me to do some reading on Goya and his woks.  Fascinating stuff.  Of course I had run across him in a college art history class, but there was no mention of his dark works.  Must have been too much for us sensitive, Catholic coeds to handle.

After that aggressive book, I decided something light would be perfect.  Death of an Irish Diva came off the TBR pile - a cozy mystery with a theatrical theme.  It seems we're selling more and more cozies these days.  Maybe we all need a litter humor mixed with mayhem during the dreary months.  More next week when I close the book on the murder of the Irish dance teacher.

Thanks for stopping by. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Literary Couples

Love, romance and the accompanying tribulations and joys have provided endless material for writers from the beginning of time.  Enjoy this list of memorable love matches......

Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet,
by William Shakespeare
Generally perceived as the quintessential romantic couple, Romeo and Juliet are star-crossed lovers, painfully separated by feuding families. In this classic play, Shakespeare asserts that teenagers were just as impulsive and dramatic in the 16th century as they are in modern times..

Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy
Pride and Prejudice,
by Jane Austen
Despite her mother's incessant pleas, the independent and headstrong Lizzy is determined to marry for true love or else be a spinster.  In a life bound by etiquette and frivolity, she meets the proud, taciturn, and very wealthy Darcy. The two seem to disagree on just about everything, but an unlikely love blooms from their antagonism.
Tristan and Iseult
Folk Legend
This archaic legend tells a tale of forbidden love between a Cornish knight and an Irish beauty. Tristan, who is trusted implicitly by the King.  He is sent to fetch the enchanting Iseult and bring her back for a royal wedding. During the journey, the two unknowingly consume a potion that entrances them, and they fall deeply in love.

Gatsby and Daisy
The Great Gatsby,
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
In a period marked by surrealism and superficiality, Jay Gatsby attempts to win back his old flame, Daisy, with flashy parties and panache. Daisy's marriage presents a weighty obstacle, but Gatsby fervently persists.

Jane Eyre and Rochester
Jane Eyre,
by Charlotte Bronte
 Jane is an abused orphan employed as a governess to the charge of an abrasive, but very rich Edward Rochester. The improbable pair grow close as Rochester reveals a tender heart beneath his gruff exterior. He does not, however, reveal his penchant for polygamy.

Catherine and Heathcliff
Wuthering Heights
by Emily Bronte
Sweethearts, Catherine and Heathcliff,  manage to continue a paranormal affair even after Catherine's death. Death has not abated Heathcliff's adoration of his beloved, and he begs Catherine's spirit to haunt him always.

Macbeth and Lady Macbeth
by William Shakespeare
 Lady Macbeth wields a weighty influence over her infatuated husband. When she urges him to seize the crown by murdering the current king, her infectious ambition takes hold, and the easily manipulated Macbeth takes measures to carry out the treasonous scheme.

Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler
Gone with the Wind,
by Margaret Mitchell
Proving that timing is everything, Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler never seem to be quite in synch. Throughout the epic story, this tempestuous twosome experience passion but not permanence, and their stormy marriage reflects the surrounding Civil War battles.

Lancelot and Guinevere
Folk Legend
The love that rocked an entire kingdom, the illicit affair between Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot has been immortalized by storytellers for generations. The rogue Lancelot is knighted by King Arthur after he bravely rescues Guinevere from odious captors. However, unbeknownst to the King, his favorite new member of the Round table is in hot pursuit of the Queen.

Emma and Knightley
by Jane Austen
Austen once remarked that she created Emma as a character that no one would like but herself. Vowing never to marry, Emma is content instead to play matchmaker -- to fruitless and hilarious results. She nonetheless finds herself a surprising and loving mate in her close friend, George Knightley.

Odysseus and Penelope
The Odyssey,
by Homer
Few couples understand sacrifice quite like this Greek pair. After being torn apart, they wait twenty long years to be reunited. War takes Odysseus away shortly after his marriage to Penelope. Although she has little hope of his return, she resists the 108 suitors who are anxious to replace her husband.

Also making my list.....
  • Anne and Gilbert - Anne of Green Gables
  • Jo and Laurie - this is a "wish" match since Jo ended happily married to Mr. Baehr in Little Women
  • Beatrice and Benedict - Much Ado About Nothing...for them being smart, happy and single was perfect
  • Ma and Pa Ingalls
  • Kermit and Miss Piggy - right, they aren't literary hallmarks, but their dart and dodge affair rivals that of many lovers caught between the pages

Monday, February 5, 2018

Dewey - The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World

The title may be somewhat hyperbolic, but nonetheless. tenderness drips from each and every page.  I committed to disliking this book from the moment book group #1 selected it as our January title.  Really?  A book about a cat?  A book about a cat with a most precious photo on the cover?  That can only mean one thing - a devastating ending which is something I object to with fire and fury when it comes to books about dogs.  Now I have to add cats to that rule.

If you were missed all the Dewey hype several years back - here's the scoop:  Someone deposited the scrawny, obviously sick kitty in the returns box at Vicki Myron's  library in Spencer Iowa.  After considerable campaigning with the library board and several hard to manage locals, Dewey was granted access to the entire library where he lived, lounged, entertained and ruled for a good many years.

Vicki Myron is a librarian, and as such, she deals in minutia.  She also fills her book with minutia.  She is not a writer; he is not even a very good story teller.  Despite that, she has filled this book with so much  undeniable love, respect, and dignity for that darn cat that she broke my resistance.  I like this book.  Of course it's flawed, but it works the way it is supposed to work.  It charms, and that makes all the difference.

My cat interactions have been slim, most of them being at the vet's office.   Luna, the original clinic cat, hated by dog, GB.  I would have to hold G on my lap as we waited to be called.  There was nothing sneaky about Luna's attack.  He would jump right up on the bench by us, stand on his hind legs and start punching her like a kangaroo.  Of course, my dog - who I swear is part chicken - would freeze and do nothing to defend herself.  Luna is gone.  Now there are twin cats.  I call them Pinky and Stinky and that is probably why they don't like me.  Pink and Stink are beautiful, long-haired cats.  They are generally lolly gagging about atop a piles of files or relaxing on the reception desk.  When they seen us come in, they both sit up proudly, wag their tails, and (I swear) they smile.  That's an invitation to pet them, right?  Wrong.  I get within scratching range, they both stand, turn on me, and expose their puckery cat butts at me.

Those cats I do not like.  But there was Hoops, my neighborhood cat.  Golden,  Laid back Hoops.  In summer, Hoops liked to sleep on the warm blacktop, right in the middle of the road.  I live on a cul-de-sac and a couple fast driving boys live on the curve.  They would never spot Hoops in time to stop, so whenever I saw him sunbathing, I'd yell out my front door, " Hoops, you idiot, go home."  And he did.  Long before Hoops and I were formally introduced, he appeared on my front porch one wintry day.  He returned several days in a row; he resisted coming inside, so I began putting bowls of milk out for him each day, along with dog treats - cuz that's what I had on hand.  This ritual went on for months.  One day, the neighbor who had moved in across the street in early winter came over in a panic.  Her car wouldn't start and her cat had a vet appointment. He was gaining so much weight that she was worried he had a tumor.  OOPS.  Must have been the extra meal ticket he was punching at my house.

Peaches and Punkin, my friend's cats, adore me.  This is a problem.  They shed like mad.  I hate shed;  I always opt for non-shedding models when it comes to dogs.  The two P's always make a bee line for my lap. They crawl onto my shoulders and down my back, depositing enough fur to knit a small sweater..  When they finish that greeting ritual, they lay upon my jacket, my purse or whatever else I have set down in what I thought was a cat free zone.

I guess everyone has a cat story - even those of us on the cat fence.  I hate to admit it, but Dewey was a fun book for me.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, January 22, 2018

10% Happier by Dan Harris

My morning ritual begins with coffee (before my eyes are even open) and toggling between Good Morning America and The Today Show. Catching the top of the hour moments generally gives me enough info on what has happened in the world in the past 24 hours - the rest if fluff, mostly, but still good enough to watch while shaking cobwebs.  

The comments volleyed from Lara Spencer to Robin Roberts annoy me, and I am always grateful to see Dan Harris sitting at the desk while one or the other is on assignment. His delivery and sometimes sardonic quips told me that they guy has a cheeky side.  No puny jokes for him, he goes for humor that sometimes only he understands.

My suspicions were proven correct from page 1 of his first book 10% Happier.  Harris asserts that, believe it or not, we can calm the voice in our heads - you know - the one that tells us we aren't good enough, that we can do better, that we must try harder or stop trying altogether, grab a bag of chips and binge watch The Bachelor.  

No, this isn't a self help book.  Rather, it is the story of Harris' own choices and missteps along the way to a successful career with such prominent shows as Nightline, Good Morning America, 20/20 and World News Tonight.  After experiencing a meltdown on national TV, Harris began a self examination that led him to a technique and level of comfort that works for him.  Better than 50% of the book takes us into the aggressive, competitive world of high end journalism.  He speaks honestly of his relationship with Peter Jennings, his experimentation with drugs, as well as the struggle to maintain professionalism when interviewing pundits whose beliefs he saw a heaps of hooey.  

This is inside baseball stuff for those of us who don't understand the sport.  But this is not gossip.  Harris fills his book with insights along with laughter; his balance of fun, frenzy, hard work and intellect anchor his life now - yes, pun intended.

Harris wanted to call the book The Voice in my Head is an Asshole but didn't think it becoming of an national news anchor. 

Thanks for stopping by.

My books group has chosen Dewey for next month.  Yes, that's right.  The book about the cat.  We'll see how that goes.   I am a dog lover.  I do not anticipate a conversion.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Eleanor and Clark

At the end of last weeks' rant about All the Bright Places, I promised a happier post on a happier (and much better) young adult novel.  

Eleanor and Park are odd.  She's she's artsy by necessity, pulling together whatever clothes she can, making no excuses for the lack of style, condition or fit of her outfits.  Her unruly red hair adds to her clown-like looks, as does her chubbiness.  Park's a small, Asian kid with few friends.  He might be sexually fluid, but at any account, he simply does not fit into the macho boys' club culture at his high school.  

They find each other by happenstance and begin a long, drawn out courtship that is pure joy, and sometimes painful to watch unfold.  But whether we're cheering them on when they finally speak their first words to one another, or tearing upon learning the awful conditions in which Eleanore lives, these are likeable kids and we want them to be happy.  And they want to be happy.  That's what this book is about.  Two odd kids find each other and work their way to happiness together. 

Oh, I know, it all sounds so altruistic and it would have been had Rowell not crafted a novel with a nice rubato rhythm, realistic reversals, and pretty reliable narrators.  They're kids, after all, so the reliability is in question at times.  

Don't get me wrong, happiness does not pour from these pages.  Both  Eleanor and Park have issues that, I fear, too many kids face and keep to themselves.  I remain saddened that there are so many young adult books like All the Bright Places focusing on suicide....and saddened even more by the fact that the demand for this topic must be high or these book would not exist.  Where does resilience come from?  What type of fortitude do Eleanor and Park - especially Eleanor - have that make them stronger than the darkness in their lives?  

Now that the holiday rush is over, I'll try to blog more regularly.  Either we were very busy, or I am becoming increasingly more disorganized, if that's even possible.  (Steve, I promise a catch up email soon).

Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, December 29, 2017

All the Bright Places

Fashion trends come and go - as do book trends.  Over the past years we have seen a plethora of fiction works about the holocaust. Then we moved on to stories about rich kids doing bad things and their rich parents in denial.  Grumpy old men stories came next, and those men always seemed to have a precocious child neighbor and an animal loaded with personality roaming through the neighborhood.

Young adult novels, too, follow trends....vampires (thank goodness those have been struck dead), dystopian, near future, and now we seem to be in a dark spot with books about teens filled with angst and obsessed with death.

All the Bright Places started out fine - interesting characters, OK, but not plausible- opening scene.,  But in short order, the story, and the writing, flatlined.  To avoid spoilers, I will only say that a boy and a girl meet at the top of their school building, each presumably thinking about jumping.  I had hoped for some insight into what brought them to the tower, but that promise faded quickly.  So much angered me about this book.  So many questions.  So much that was hard to believe about these kids and the people in their lives.

Let me give you some of the most obvious examples; covering the big ones would take pages.  First. what teenage kid can quote Virginia Woolf?  If anything, they should be quoting Salinger, or Curt Cobain. How did they get past a school  filled with people, and pick a lock to gain access to the roof - on top of which hardly anyone saw them up there on the ledge.  That's just the beginning of my disappointment.  

Perhaps worst are all the dumb adults in these kids' lives.  They fail the kids because they are dumb.  The author made them dumb.  For example, the principal questions one potential jumper asking if suicide was his plan...because if it was, the parents would have to be notified.  Of course, the boy denies it, and the principal allows him to leave with the half-hearted order that they meet each week to talk.  Jeez Louise.

I won't even go into how limp the writing is.  Young adults deserve better than this.  They deserve books like Eleanor and Park - a story and writing the rings with truth, passion, and empathy.  Characters are well developed and the writing infused with energy.  More about that one next week....just wanted to get this one out here since the holidays have kept me from blogging, and this is our book discussion title for next Friday.  

Sure, I get why teenagers might be drawn to this book; there are certainly provocative points to discuss here. Perhaps the author intended for these question to arise- places to begin an open dialogue about challenges faced by today's teens.  Perhaps Jennifer Niven painted a fairly generic canvas since each teen's story is different. Perhaps her bland style mimics the apathy she sees in the world.  Perhaps we need to stop shaking our heads and moving on. The number of  books popping up with this theme means something, doesn't it?  

What's our next move?

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

A Santa Story

On a Thursday in September, a little girl and her tutor dropped by LaDeDa.  The two were on a home-school outing, hoping to spend time at the library, but since the library was closed, they found their way here. They quickly  settled in and from time to time words like "denominator" and "Mediterranean" drifted my way.  They covered a lot of territory in a few, short hours,

When the books finally closed, I took some time to visit with them.  Yes, the the 10 year old liked being home schooled except that she often missed her friends.  On the bright side, she said  she got to see them when her little sister was being dropped off and picked up from school.

There was nothing remarkable about this girl.  I say that not as a criticism, but as a comment to remind me that, under different circumstances, I would not have the quiet face and gentle voice emblazoned in my memory.

Her name is Santana, named in part after a relative called "Anna".  "What about the first part of your name," I asked, "are you named for someone else special in your life?"  Without hesitation she replied "Santa Claus."

True or not - does it matter?  Her face lit up when she shared that innocent little comment.

The next day, September 9th, Santana's sister Kadenz and a friend named Eli were killed in a tragic traffic accident.  Santana's immediate diagnosis was paralysis from the neck down - total recovery unpredictable but unlikely.

 That single moment in my store on September 8th - that single moment with the then unremarkable Santana  will forever connect me to the little girl named after Santa Claus.

Let's help by making a contribution to the McCollum/Gonzales family.

Happy Christmas, Happy New Year, Happy Every Day

Monday, December 4, 2017

Mustaches for Maddie


Fans of Augie's story, Wonder, will only need to read a few pages, or perhaps paragraphs or sentences of Mustaches for Maddie to fall in love  the central figure in this charming, uplifting and socially aware novel.

12-year old Maddie has a quirky sense of humor and loves making her classmates laugh by slapping on fake mustaches every chance she gets.  Being funny gets her noticed by class queen bee, Cassie - that is until Maddie is cast as Juliet in the school play, a role that Cassie had been campaigning for aggressively.

When Maddie starts tripping when she walks, and her hand starts curling up at her side, it is confirmed that she has a brain tumor.  Maddie doesn't want anyone to know, especially Cassie, whose jealously has turned to bullying.  

This fictionalized account of real life Maddie's story is told by her parents who clearly have the same positive outlook, and silly sense of humor as Maddie.  The book closes with a letter from Maddie in which she tells us...

I think that everyone who reads this book should realize the moral of this story is....
Drum roll please...

     To love potatoes and mustaches.
     Okay, probably not really.  There's more to it.
    I learned a lot through my friend troubles, and surgeries.  Like small acts of kindness go a long way.  A really long way.  And when things are rough, you can always find a way to laugh.
   I really try hard to be friends with everyone....sometimes it takes courage to be kind to some people.  But we need to always stick up for what's right.  You can do it.  Anytime, anywhere, you can have compassion.  Everybody needs a friend and that friend can be you.

Be kind.  Smile more. Laugh more. Dream more.

Enough said.
Thanks for stopping by.