Saturday, June 25, 2022

One Hundred Saturdays by Michael Frank


Stella's story will stick with you.  In recent years, publishers have offered us a fine selection of WWII fiction, often highlighting  little know heroic efforts made by women. Of course, the backdrop of many of these stories was the Holocaust. These novels stand as warnings about how quickly anger and hate can change the world.  I have read and appreciated many, but none compare to the depth, honesty, and sensitivity of Stella's recollections.

For one hundred Saturdays, Michael Frank visits with Stella and little by little, she shares.  From growing up in Jewish Rhodes, being removed to a concentration camp, and ultimately surviving and thriving, she talks - with some hesitation. We feel her mulling as she weighs her words deciding what to relive, and with how much detail.  The process begins with gentle prompts from Frank and evolves organically to a shared experience between two people who have become friends. 

I so wanted Stella to be angry, to cry, to spew acidity at those who robbed her of family, and years of happiness and normalcy.  She did not.  My admiration grew the more I read, and to be honest, I slowed down the closer I got to the final pages.  How would she bring this all together and put a neat punctuation mark on it all, I wondered.  

If you have a friend, old or new, I encourage you to listen.  There are stories waiting to be told. There are vibrant storytellers all around.  If you have read one WWII book this year, please read another. Read Stella's story...and then seek out your own Stella.


 

Friday, June 3, 2022

The Gown by Jennifer Robson



All of England is abuzz this week as Queen Elizabeth celebrates her 70th year as Great Britain's most beloved public servant.  We all know that the Brits handle pomp and circumstance better than anyone, but there will be some livelier celebrations later this week as notable musicians rock out in her honor.

The Gown tells the behind the scenes story of the making of the Queen's wedding dress.  Robson uses the trendy framework of characters in different times and places narrating their stories. She also incorporates the rather trite convention of someone finding an odd bit of this or that tucked away which leads the finder on a mission to learn more - of course, ultimately uncovering family secrets.  In this case, it is Heather who suspects that an intricately embroidered piece of fabric left to her by her grandmother might have some connection to the royal wedding. Really?  Why did her grandmother not include some sort of note in the box with the fabric?  This just does not happen.


Oh, but it does. sort of.  In fall, my basement flooded  again, and in order to fix it correctly this time, extensive masonry work needs to be done.  In clearing out the area for work to begin, I ran across a gallon freezer bag filled with items from England.  Among other items, I found this program dated June 2, 1953 - the approved program from the Queen's coronation.  What a wealth of information and history!  Following several pages of pictures, Arthur Bryant writes " A coronation is a nation's birthday. It is the day on which people celebrate the union that makes them one. Of that union the Crown is the symbol."

What I found most captivating were the thirteen pages (in tiny, tiny print) detailing the coronation procession - what carriages/vehicles were used, who sat where in each, the time each was to leave the palace...hundreds of names and titles.  A few pages beyond that, the Archbishop of Canterbury offered a tribute, followed by the complete text of the coronation ceremony itself.  

I have no idea where this treasure trove came from.  I do not remember buying it, or receiving it as a gift.  Unlike our protagonist Heather,  I will not attempt to discover the source of this mysterious gift. Instead, I will enjoy it, and perhaps if you stop in the store and are real nice to me, I will show it to you.

Back to The Gown.  This is simple book, elegant, stylish.  History, romance, self discovery all play parts in this multi-generational tale of a dress. Often, major televised events such as this pique our interest, and lead us to a bit of personal research.  Although The Gown is historical fiction, there is enough time and place info to satisfy your need to continue you royal fix.

Thanks for stopping by.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay happy. 

 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Last Chance Library


 Where have I been?  That's a fair question.  We all get into reading slump from time to time, and that black hole has been my home for a few weeks.  Might it have been an existential book crisis?  Perhaps.  Forgive me for I have....been captivated by the Johnny Depp trial.  My guilty pleasure which I can watch at home before I come to work, watch on my work computer as I skim the latest edition of Publishers Weekly, and then watch the three hour recap after work, which is immediately followed by a rerum of the recap, so hypothetically I could consume 6 hours of watching what I just watched.  Change is needed.

Hmmm.  Why?  I wonder that myself each day as I shelve new orders of historical fiction about women dong something in WWII.  Book themes come in waves, you know.  First we had the orphans.  They always sat on suitcases, and sometimes they faced away from the camera - faceless children in threadbare coats. Sometimes they didn't even have shoes.  

What's hot now?  Paris. Little shops.  Wolves. Libraries and librarians.  In my estimation, most offer us helpings of dismal lives in exhausting situations.  Sure, authors offer us a lot to chew on in these books, but dang it, I need a good belly laugh, or al least something a bit more tender.  

Enter the fine folks in tiny Chalcot, England.  Essentially, a group of library loving misfits who find their voices and pull together to prevent their beloved sanctuary from being swallowed by big business. 
Marjorie and June man the card catalogue with decidedly different approaches to how books and patrons should be regarded.  Stanley takes up residence every day to read the newspaper and people watch.  Mrs. B. appears regularly, slamming a generally highly regarded piece of literature on the check-out desk, declaring it to be garbage.  Jackson, Vera, Chantal, Alex round out the regulars.

Oh, I forgot to mention the stripper.  Charming and wistful -   but this book goes far beyond charm and wist (spell check is telling me wist is not a word! Oh well, you get it right?) I was reminded not to be so judgey since we never know individual's back stories.  Also, we never really know how others perceive us...that's a big question and I wonder if I want to know that answer.  And the biggest question - what would I be willing to stand up and save?

Truth is, more often than not, these light, Sunday afternoon reads are just that, simple, delightful stories meant for sunny days on the deck with iced coffee, and a dog snoring gently.  This book gave me exactly what I needed to get turning pages once again...more books to read, more things to think about.  I promise myself to cut back on the Depp drama and dig into Lonesome Dove - all 844 pages.  I am on page 38.  Will keep you updated.

One more note about book trends before I leave...if you are searching for a light-hearted book, just take a look at the cover art.  Minimalist. Pastels. Angular images. Faceless people who somehow make us happy.

If you have a happy suggestion for me, drop me line on our store Facebook page.

Thanks for stopping by.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay happy.

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Letters to a Stranger by Colleen Kinder


This book gave me a long pause.  Who has haunted me enough to write a letter to him/her?  The Polish neighbors from my childhood perhaps. The family whose language puzzled me and whose heritage I did not take the time to value.  Maybe it would the student who showed up in every elective class I ever taught.  He was a watcher - intense eyes. He seldom spoke.  I cringed each time his name showed up on my class lists.  He waited until the last day of his senior year to talk with me human to human telling me that he took all my classes because I was his favorite teacher.   For sure I would write to college professor, Sister Salome.  I would say "Salome, yes I know I break every writing rule you ever taught me.  Yes, I still have a spelling handicap.  But I would like to think that your wry smile appears each time I violate a rule, giving me permission to do so just as you did when I was a struggling undergraduate. One more yes...Yes I continue to 'celebrate the Oxford comma'".

Author Colleen Kinder put out a call for anyone wanting to write to a forgotten someone. She received thousands of funny, heartful, insightful, sad, and sometimes scary responses.  Here are examples of what you will find:

From the back cover.....

Leslie Jamison
writes to the traveling magician in Nicaragua whose memory helped her stay sober

Ted Conover
addresses the frazzled backpacker he met at the border between Rwanda and Tanzania

Michelle Tea
recalls a bewitching girl she met in a Texas tattoo parlor

Julia Glass
wonders about the Italian stranger she rebuffed in Florence so many years ago

Peter Orner
addressed the chatty Floridian who interrupted his solitude at the edge of a New Hampshire lake

...on and on...the stories poke at our personal memories and perhaps prompt us to put pen to paper and write.

Who would you write to?

Please...continue to stay safe, stay healthy, stay happy.
Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

Black Beauty and Heidi




Growing up around the corner from the old Carnegie Library in Manitowoc made me feel like the luckiest kid in the world. 

Joe and Mike terrorized me daily. The rest of the neighborhood kids went to public school (egads!) and every year, on the last day of school, we private school learners were warned about playing with them, and so I didn't. No big deal. I had the library. Clearly it had been built around the corner just for me.

I was a frequent visitor - more like a daily pest, I fear.  I can still picture the elegant dark woodwork, and the dual staircase leading up to the children's department. (Deep inhale with eyes closed...) ... smell the rich wood polish used to keep those rails gleaming and slippery.  Choosing left stairs or right made all the difference, you know.  The steps were marble. Veiny, shiny, slick.  Heavy wood tables crammed into the children's department remained mostly empty and quiet, so different from sounds of eager readers treasure hunting in the tight rows between shelves.

That room is also were I met Perdita (Dete) my best friend librarian, who, by the way, was not a shusher. I can only imagine how she tired of me constantly asking "What's a good book?'.  Dete did her best to turn me on to horse stories, The Black Stallion, and all the popular horsey clones.  Not right for me then, but now, since I have chosen "forgotten books" from my childhood" as my reading theme for 2022, I decided to honor my friend Dete, and begin with Black Beauty.

Still, weeks after finishing, I continue to shake my head and wonder how many nine-year-olds have been traumatized, or at least greatly saddened by this book.  Beauty shares his story with us, lots of sad sad stories about being sold, traded, abused, mishandled, and often lonely. Still, this strong animal found inner fortitude and muscled through the bad to get to the good; we are left with hope at the end. Animals have an inner life that we need to examine and respect.  I am convinced of that after reading this book.

Next up: Heidi.  So far, So good. So happy.  Remember the Shirley Temple movie version of this book? I watched it so many times that I can hear her voice as I read, as well as the voices of Clara, the Alm Uncle, and Peter.  Heidi's insightfulness, and jolly temperament changes the lives of all she meets.  Happiness abounds in this playful book

Both of these books give us a clear protagonist to side with - a personality we root for, lean into, and cross our fingers that things will work out for them in the end.  I often miss that in contemporary fiction.  Too often books are laden with grief, insurmountable challenges, or powerful darkness.  These two books have been a much-needed break from all that for me.  Oh, I managed to slip in Fried Green Tomatoes as well, which zigs and zags emotionally, providing a nice path back to weightier stuff.

Winter is nearly done. Really. But if the days have gotten too long to bear, and you need color in your life other than the sloppy, melting grey snow, try a middle grade novel.  Fast plots. Honest characters, and just the right amount of silly.

Thanks for stopping by.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Be silly. 

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

The Truth About the Truck

 



For years I have been waiting for a juicy, and well-written book about reality TV.  Tisdale's The Lie About the Truck might be a close as I will ever get.  You see, I always suspected that contestants sign tight "keep-your-mouth-shut-or-you-won't-get-any-money" contracts.  I was pretty correct on that one.

To be clear, this book is mainly about "Survivor" that slick show that strands groups of diverse (?) individuals in a an area without the usual creature comforts and requires them to scheme, lie, and trick fellow contestants all the while pandering just enough to not get thrown off the island.  Really complex psychological gameplay, and the author sheds much light on that dynamic.

If you are a dedicated reality watcher, no matter how hard you try to redefine "reality," at some point you ask yourself "How is that really possible?' How much editing and manipulation go on behind the scenes to create the drama that ends up in our living rooms each week?  Sorry to say, there is a lot.  What surprised and saddened me most was how the production crews of this particular show treat the natural inhabitants and the environment of the filming location.  Not respectful in many cases.

Little know fact...there is a "Survivor" like show in many countries of the world.  The author frequently referenced a show called "Alone".  I tracked down this survivor on steroids offering and made it through three episodes.  Ten contestants were deposited miles apart from each other in the Arctic and challenged to survive for 100 days.  Each built a shelter - one with a fireplace for smoking and dehydrating food; each recorded thoughts using a GO-Pro and standing camera. Lots of babbling to themselves.  This was tense stuff and I feared for each person's safety.  I bailed after the third episode - after the bludgeoning of a rabbit.

In his poem The Wasteland, T.S. Elliot wrote "Humankind cannot bear too much reality." Right.

Thanks for stopping by.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay happy/




Thursday, January 13, 2022

The Midnight Library

 

Who hasn't had regrets?  I know I have plenty but have found a different place to store them in my psyche after reading this book.

Poor confused, depressed, desperate Nora Seed doesn't want to live.  She has broken up with a long time boyfriend, walked away from a promising career as a musician, and feels responsible for her cat's death.  And that is just the beginning of her misery.  

When the story begins, Nora is 19 hours away from dying.  She has a plan but that plan is interrupted by a fantastical leap into an alternate universe.  Here you need to suspend disbelief and just go with it.  

In her new reality, Nora has multiple chances to return to those pivotal moments in her life that brought her to her current stage of misery.  Given the opportunity to make different choices, she views each situation with clearer eyes, examining carefully what path her gut told her to follow as opposed to what she, in the present, real world, believes she ought to have done.

Each of the many could-have-been lives Nora confronts leads her to new conclusions, not always happy ones, yet each shapes her now life in insightful and dramatic ways. This is a story about introspection, evaluation, and searching for a place to exist in the moment.  Very zen - yet very loud messages in these somewhat uncomfortable times.

 We have so much think time these days - days to examine our own regrets, and let go of those thoughts that keep us awake at night.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay happy.

Thanks for stopping by.


Wednesday, January 5, 2022

LaDeDa Books - no beans about it.


 
Too much time has passed since my last post. This post won't be about books, but rather about some changes here at LaDeDa.  First, let me tell you about the new logo and window signs.  You may notice something missing from our name...and beans!  Yup, sorry to say, we no longer offer coffee or specialty drinks.  State health codes have changed, and along with those changes come requirements for some new equipment.  The expense of those upgrades didn't seem logical to me, and so we are now simply LaDeDa Books.

We appreciated our previous logo, designed and gifted to us by Milwaukee artist and theatre friend, Brian Gilmer.  It served us well for twenty-five years, and hope to have many long years with our new logo and window signs.  In the coming months, we will be experimenting with some new lines to fill the space once occupied by our beloved espresso machine.

Winter sure does complicate life in so many ways, and if you're like me, you'd just as soon stay home, wrapped in a blanket, with a cup of cocoa, a dog, and book.  If that describes you and you just don't don't want to leave home to do some book browsing you can shop on line at bookshop.org.  It works just like other on-line resources but - you know what? - you can have the fine folks at bookshop.org  send us (or another indie bookstore of you choice) the profits.  They will send the books right to your door.  It's a nice way to support local even when it might not be possible for you to get out and do so.

What am I reading?  Each year I pick a reading theme and try to stick as closely to it as possible.  This year I have decided to read those books I missed while growing up.  It seems I went directly from Nancy Drew to The Grapes of Wrath.  Of course there will be other books on my list; our book group has chosen Rock Paper Scissors by Alice Feeney for our January meeting. But for right now, I'm starting with Black Beauty.  If you have other suggestions for me, please send them to me on our FB page.

Happy trails until next time
Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay happy.

Monday, November 15, 2021

On Animals

 

How odd.  What are you doing in my house, you little furry thing?  How did you decide to bond with me, and what would you be if you lived somewhere else, with a different person?  Would you still  sing for walks three times a day, and vigorously demand scratches, or would you have curated a whole new set of charming tricks?  I am happy that Mable decided to be my congenial roommate, but Orlean's book made me look at her in a whole new way.  

On Animals is both fun and informative.  In this collection of essays, the author reveals and challenges  our relationship with animals  -- why we need them, fear them, and how they manipulate us into inviting them into our lives.  The book is filled with fascinating facts, served with chatty stories about her travels as she investigated everything from the difference between mules and donkeys, and  annual taxidermy conventions. Here is just a sample of what I learned...

Chickens have personalities - thus the authors agonized over which chicken would be best behaved (and most showy) on The Martha Stewart Show

There are remote places in the US where farmers still use donkeys for field work - and they are traded, auctioned and stolen regularly

Rabbits are the third most popular domesticated pet in the US with about 5000 sanctioned rabbit shows each year

If you own a homing pigeon and you move, the pigeon will most likely return to its first home

Pandas seem to be some sort of evolutional mistake - a one note diet, one day of fertility a year, appear to be parts glued together from other animals, silly, lazy, and funny

Oh, you'll learn about taxidermy. lion behavior, the fate of Keiko, the free-willy whale...so so much.    Orleans' easy going style lets you chuckle of bit, sniffle at times --  surprises at every page turn.

Now, my dog, Mabel Mable Davenport, has become even more mysterious and important to me though she basically spends her days doing important dog work...sleeping, playing, eating, and pooping ...all the while inviting me into her world and making sure I know how happy she makes me.  Not so sure about how happy her napping on the dining room table makes me...but that's a story for another time.

Thanks for stopping by.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. Stay happy (and get an animal if you don't have one!)

Monday, October 25, 2021

The Whistling Season

Ivan Doig believed that "ordinary people deserved to have their stories told"; he accomplished just that in this gentle work of fiction which reads much like a thoughtful memoir.  I suspect that some episodes began in the hallways of the author's memory.
 

So many thoughts popped to mind as I read -- the first being "This is so slow and could very well be the first book discussion title I won't finish." I can't say what changed, but I found myself drawn to this book, turning off the TV, cheating time away form other needs just to get back at it.  Although I wanted to learn what Rose and Morris were really up to, or to hear about the next near disastrous adventure of the Milliron boys, I didn't want the book to end.. 

Let me back up.  In 1907, the Melliron family moved to Marias Coulee, Montana from Manitowoc, Wisconsin. Yes, you read that right. Little Manitowoc references were scattered throughout.  Mom died, the boys were boys, and dad needed a housekeeper. Enter Rose with her brother, Morrie, tagging behind.  Mary Poppins and Bert, or something more sinister?  That thread floats nicely amid the tales of day to day challenges of homesteading.  

That's it. That's pretty much what happens, but it's a nice journey to be taken on.  I was often remined of Bruce Springsteen songs.  He's a storyteller, narrating his day, his thoughts and dreams in his lyrics.  Funny, I also though about a friend who writes mundane Facebook posts.  "Took the dogs out in the rain.  They didn't like it.  At home now watching 'Wheel for Fortune' and drinking coffee." Not much going on there, but it's a picture of what life is made of. Small moments.  Important in the moment and , as Doig would tell us, deserving to be told.  

This "slow" book nudged memories to the surface for me and got me thinking about people, and events that had been tucked somewhere for quite a while.  That was nice.  My only wish for this book was that I had read it on one of those days with a blizzard raging...nowhere to go...just me, the dog, coffee, and a good book.

Thanks for stopping by.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. (Don't fool yourself, Covid is still a big thing here).

Stay happy.