Our blog about books, authors and reading

The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty


This novel begins in a psychologist’s office where a young, exceedingly unattractive woman says she is there because her mother’s dying wish is for her to see a therapist about her weight. The therapist asks Barb Colby if her mother is dying. “No, it’s an early request,” she answers.

A half hour later, Barb strips down to reveal that she’s been wearing a grey wig, false teeth and a fat suit. One of her dear friends committed suicide a couple years before because he fell in love with her on account of her beauty. Now Barb does all she can to conceal it.

The novel is a mostly realistic tale about a group of artists in New York City who are best friends and come together to create in their separate disciplines. Read more »

Approaching the End of Life: a Practical and Spiritual Guide


In our death-phobic culture, most of us need all the help we can get planning for our own and our loved ones’ deaths.  This excellent guide, rich with examples, and a good smattering of humor gives just that—an overview of how to prepare for both the practical and spiritual aspects of dying.

Donna Schaper, who is also a minister, opens the book with “The Best Funeral Ever.” She shares funerals and memorials from actual people she knew and helped.

She describes the deceased and makes clear that their wishes should be followed. She closes this chapter with a eulogy she wrote for a feisty friend, Anita, who told the police she would keep driving, no matter what they said, and insisted that no one sing hymns at her service.

In a later chapter on bad funerals, she relates that mistakes happen. For one of the services she conducted, instead of the music the bereaved requested, she carelessly played a classical work left in the CD player. The widow never noticed the switch, and said later, that the music made her feel better during the funeral. Read more »

Rain: a natural and cultural history


My family and I lived for five years in the North American rainforest of Southeast Alaska.  In those days, it rained over three hundred days a year. To this day my children prefer a rainy day to one filled with sun. That’s one reason why this book called out to me.

It’s a compendium of archaeological, historical, and scientific facts about our most common precipitation. Also, included in it are a series of mini-biographies of people who are renowned for some connection to rain.

One of these includes Princess Anne of Denmark who tried vainly several time to sail to Scotland to marry her fiancé, King James VI.  Violent storms blew her back to the Nordic regions twice. This was in August, 1589 during the time known as The Little Ice Age. King James VI eventually enlisted his navy to take him north to marry her. Read more »

Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo


Six young outcasts must come together to break into an impenetrable fortress, kidnap a scientist with dangerous knowledge, and save the world from a drug that makes Grisha (magic users) infinitely powerful.

Kaz - a strong leader of an underworld gang.

Inej - the Wraith, able to move silently through the world, gathering all its secrets.

Jesper - a sharp shooter with a need to gamble, but very bad luck.

Nina - a Grisha heartrender who can use her magic to stop a man's heart or pull the breath from his body.

Matthias - a former Grisha hunter who knows the fortress better than anyone, but might not be trustworthy.

Wylan - an explosives expert who ran away from a life of privilege.

If they can pull off this impossible heist they'll be rich beyond imagining, but to do that, they'll have to trust each other and work together without killing each other first.

This fast paced story features narration from all six of the main characters allowing readers to get to know each of them. The world building is fabulous and so is the story itself. The shared narration and lack of trust among the characters means that the reader also never knows the group's full plan. Pick up Six of Crows if you want to be blown away by some impressive scheming.

The Light of the World


You might recall Elizabeth Alexander—she read the poem at President Obama’s first inauguration. This memoir by the prize-winning poet covers a much more private, interior space. It tells the story of her love, marriage and family, and especially the jagged rent in her life caused by her husband’s death.

The first chapter queries where the actual story begins. Is it the beautiful April morning in Hamden, Connecticut when Ficre Ghebreyesus returns to his younger son Simon’s trundle bed, saying, “This is the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in.”? Is it when Ficre ran out of the house to buy three dozen lottery tickets on a hunch, wanting the win the lottery for Elizabeth? Or is it way back in ’61 when two women on opposite sides of the earth become pregnant, one carrying a first-born girl, another carrying a later-born son?

The couple met in a New Haven coffee shop; Ficre came over and introduced himself.  He was a chef who had escaped from war-torn Eritrea, Africa at age sixteen.  He became a refugee in Sudan, Germany, Italy and finally, the States. Torn from his family for many years, he ended up in New Haven and in the 90s began painting.

He later said he would never marry a woman who did not honor and love her parents. Luckily, Elizabeth more than fit that bill. Read more »

Between the World and Me


In a radio broadcast this year, President Obama said this about racism in America. “We are not cured… Societies don't overnight completely erase everything that happened 200-300 years prior.” That’s the premise of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new nonfiction book, a moving personal letter to his son.

Coates begins by sharing his own difficult childhood on the streets of Baltimore where his only goal was to survive.  He describes learning another language “of head nods and handshakes.” He learned “a list of prohibited blocks” and even learned the “smell and feel of fighting weather.”

Growing up in a bad neighborhood taught him one vital thing: he had to protect and shield his body. Read more »

Books that Will Keep You Up at Night


Halloween is on the way, so you're probably in the mood for some scary stories. These books are guaranteed to make your heart beat faster and have you checking for ghouls around every dark corner.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake is about Cas Lowood, a seventeen year old who travels the country fighting ghosts and the undead in an effort to avenge his father. Cas meets his match in Anna, a powerful spirit capable of great evil.

The Diviners by Libba Bray takes place in the roaring twenties. Evie O'Neill gets the best punishment ever when her parents send her away from her small town to live with her uncle in New York City! But Evie has certain abilities that draw both of them into investigating a series of occult murders that might have been committed by a serial killer...who is already dead. 

Scowler by Daniel Kraus proves that the scariest monsters are sometimes the most human.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs is soon to be a Tim Burton movie (March 2016). Before it hits theaters make sure to read this incredibly original and spooky tale of an abandoned orphanage and the unlikely children who lived there.

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey is the journal of Will Henry, apprentice to Dr. Warthrop, the Monstrumologist, who studies monsters in an attempt to fight them. This book is not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach.

The Art of Memoir


Mary Karr is known for her series of memoirs about her difficult childhood. In this new book about how to write a memoir, she quotes from some of the best works in the genre including McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes, Nabokov’s Speak, Memory, and Wild: from Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by a former student of hers, Cheryl Strayed.

What exactly is a memoir? The name is very descriptive. It’s a work based on memory. But it’s not the same as an autobiography for it concentrates on a specific period of life and is centered by a theme. For instance, Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit chronicles a teenager’s adoption into a strict fundamentalist family, her adopted mom’s mistreatment of her, and her eventual rebellion from this way of life. It’s a memoir about a young woman discovering her true self.

Karr has plenty of what she considers the prime ingredient for a memoir—voice. She defines voice as “not just a manner of talking, It’s an operative mindset and way of perceiving…” You could describe Karr’s voice as sassy, informal, sometimes even, badass. Read more »

Some Luck


Before this century, farming was a way of life for many Americans. In the 1920s, 20% of our workforce labored on farms. Now it is less than 2%.  This novel, the first of a trilogy, covers the lives of an extended agricultural family, the Langdons, from the 1920s to the 1950s.

In 1920 Walter Langdon, a young 25-year-old walks the land of his new farm. His father thought he didn’t need to start on his own yet, but Walter disagreed. He had a wife after all--the beautiful and practical, Rosanna--and now a six-month-old son, the treasured Frank. As the first grandchild in the family, he receives tons of love and praise.

The novel covers a cycle of births, deaths, marriages, and children coming of age for two generations. The pace is slow, the characterization, deep, and you feel that you are really experiencing life as it was lived on an Iowa farm. Read more »

Prestigious Man Booker Prize Announces Short List


It's that time of year again when the Man Booker Prize whittles its choices down to a manageable six. The Man Booker Award, begun in 1969, is one of the most prestigious literary awards.

It was formerly limited to writers from the UK and Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland and Zimbabwe. In a move many British writers recented, last year it was opened to Americans for the first time. Many Brits felt that the Yankees would take over it.

This year two U.S. authors have been short-listed: Anne Tyler and Hanya Yanagihara.

Anne Tyler known for her quirky characters, humor, and emphasis on family and travel has written twenty novels and won many awards. On the other hand, this is Hanya Yanagilhara's second novel. Hanya is of Hawaiian ancestry. Her novel tells the story of four college friends through middle age.

The winner will be announced on Oct. 13th. If you're looking for a good read, any of these titles should prove rewarding.

Here is the complete list with writer's country of origin also included:

Marlon James (Jamaica)         A Brief History of Seven Killings

Tom McCarthy (UK)              Satin Island

Chigozie Obioma (Nigeria)     The Fishermen

Sunjeev Sahota (UK)           The Year of the Runaways

Ann Tyler (US)                    A Spool of Blue Thread

Hanya Yanagihara (US)        A Little Life



Syndicate content