Our blog about books, authors and reading

The Bees

ISBN: 
9780865478855

Before we slide into autumn, and the lightning bugs, daddy long legs, and bees disappear, take time to enjoy Carol Ann Duffy’s new collection of poems, The Bees. No, it has nothing to do with the dark subject of colony collapse. Instead many of these poems center on this communal insect and its work in the world. Other poems are about love and family and the desolation of winter, yet even in these, bees hover over the edges of the poems, providing a small celestial moment of grace and fortitude (especially in those set during cold months.)

Duffy writes lyrical poetry that resonates with imaginative and sometimes unexpected images. Examine how the title poem begins: “Here are my bees / brazen, blurs on paper, / besoted: buzzwords, dancing / their flawless, airy maps.”

In this poem she compares bees to words, how they dive deeply into everything and bring back scents that pervade her “shadowed, busy heart, / and honey is art. “ Read more »

Wedding Complications

ISBN: 
9780307599469

In Seating Arrangments, Winn Van Meter and his family descend upon the family’s summer retreat house on the New England island of Waskeke. His pregnant daughter Daphne is about to tie the knot. Biddy, her mother, is deeply involved in final wedding preparations, and Winn finds himself strongly drawn to one of the bridesmaids, Agatha. Meanwhile, Daphne’s sister, Livia, who just terminated her own pregnancy, is trying hard to get over a big breakup with Teddy Finn. And to her father’s horror, Livia plans to become a marine biologist rather than a lawyer. 

This lovely, slyly humorous novel is brimming with very believable and flawed characters; it captures the insanity, tension, and chaos of a modern wedding.

Winn, an upper-crust, stoic accountant likes things just so.  Imagine his consternation when he arrives a day late for the weekend party to find his spiritual retreat taken over by women: his wife and two daughters, three other bridesmaids, and the alcoholic Aunt Celeste, who sees right through Winn’s holier than thou exterior to his traitorous heart. During one pre-wedding party with the new in-laws, she follows him up to the widow’s walk and warns him, not to ruin Biddy’s weekend. Read more »

Those Rollicking 1920s

ISBN: 
9780399161469

Interested in all the hoopla surrounding The Great Gatsby? If this new flick has spurned your interest in 1920s New York, The Other Typist is the book for you. Talk about unreliable narrators. Rose Baker, a former orphan & Catholic schoolgirl, has joined the new wave of women working where men only used to work—big city police stations.

And even though she is still doing women’s work—stenography & typing--she’s listening to risqué and bad language-spiced stories from speakeasy gangsters and murderers including one serial killer who offs several wives in a row for their money. They each end up drowned in the bathtub, yet he keeps convincing juries that he is innocent.

Strong and stoic as Rose is, she soon becomes mesmerized by the new (somewhat incompetent) typist, Odalie, who is beautiful, rich, and ever so modern. She bobs her hair, wears the new slinky dresses with long beads, and is not afraid to make her own way in the world, including visiting the aforementioned speakeasies. But where does Odalie get her money? And is the daddy who pays her rent really her daddy? Read more »

Read Alikes for the book Help, Thanks, Wow: Three Essential Prayers by Anne Lamott

ISBN: 
9781594631290

Help, Thanks, Wow is a funny, candid, simple approch to spiritual practice. Lamott uses her unique brand of humor and wisdom to tell hilarious and often wrenching tales about situations in her own life that have insprired her own prayers and insprired her to encourage others to pray anywhere, anytime and any how. More than a prayer manual Help, Thanks, Wow is a book about getting through life and will inspire readers to think about notions of gratitude, sprituality and faith--all written in Lamott's own particular brand of intelligence, honesty and comedic timing. Think of it--as one reviewer put it--as Cliff notes for spirituality. 

Another author who draws on her own experiences as well as intimate conversations with both ordinary and famous figures is Krista Tippett, author of Speaking of Faith. The popular public radio host of the show On Being (formerly known as Speaking of Faith) has written a book about the conversational journey she has taken on her radio show about religion, meaning, ethics and faith. Readers who have enjoyed Tippett's radio show will be interested in her personal background and her own theological journey. For those who are unfamiliar with Tippet's public radio program this book will introduce the reader to all kinds of people from all walks of religious life including theologians, physicists, nuns, monks and philosophers speaking from a variety of perspectives.

My third read alike is Hand Wash Cold: Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life written by Karen Maezen Miller is a "reflection on awareness and finding happiness at the bottom of the laundry basket, the love in the kitchen sink and the peace possible in one's backyard." Beautifully written and simply told this book shares the authors ups and downs including a broken marriage, youthful ambition, self-absorption--then into the steady calm of an "ordinary life." The author is a  Zen Buddhist priest but  as Miller puts it " I'm not the kind of priest you have pictured in your mind. I'm the kind of priest that looks a lot like you, doing the same things you do every day."  Read more »

While You’re Waiting For… And the Mountains Echoed

ImageKhaled Hosseini’s new novel And the Mountains Echoed tells family stories of loss and love from multiple points of view. There is a long waiting list for this book at the library, so here are some ideas for other books you might enjoy reading while you wait.

The obvious first choices are Hosseini’s other popular and well received novels The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. Both stories are set in Afghanistan, the author’s native land, and reveal the impact the country’s political turmoil has upon its people, while focusing on more intimate stories of friendship and family.

If you have already read Hosseini’s other titles you might try The Moonlit Cage by Linda Holeman. This novel is also set in Afghanistan and follows the difficult life of Darya in the mid nineteenth century in a small village.  This is a heart wrenching, yet ultimately redeeming story of a woman discovering her value.

An author that has much of the same appeal as Hosseini is Jhumpa Lahiri. Read more »

Rosie Nominations Clean and Bitter End

CleanWhat I like about the Rosie nominations, is that there are books that cover a wide variety of subjects and vary in feel from light to pretty dark. Two books on the list deal realistically with the tough topics of dating violence and drug addiction.

In Bitter End, Alex is a typical teenager. She struggles with family issues, works a job she mostly enjoys and hangs out with her two best friends Zach and Bethany. Things change when the new boy at school, Cole, begins to show interest. Things are rosy at the beginning, but then Cole's interest becomes increasingly demanding, jealous and violent.

The path from rosy to violent is the crux of this story and is often difficult to read. Early on in the relationship, they becoming very close very quickly and share their deepest secrets. Alex feels that Cole loves her and is able to initially overlook some of Cole’s dark moods. The transition from overlooking the dark moods to blaming herself for them is gradual and terrifying. And even when the moods switch from being petty and sarcastic to physical violence Alex still is able to forgive Cole and the cycle continues. Read more »

Detroit: An American Autopsy

DetroitLeading the news today is the announcement that Detroit filed for bankruptcy. They aren’t the first municipality to file, but they are the largest. What this means for residents, city workers, retirees and the state of Michigan remains to be seen. 20 billion dollars is hard to wrap my mind around, and is a figure without names and faces.

Hoping to personalize this story is native son Charlie LeDuff. His recent nonfiction work is called Detroit: An American Autopsy. LeDuff is a journalist who left Detroit at an early age and traveled the world covering international conflicts and won a Pulitzer for his contributions at the New York Times. He returns to Detroit to work for The Detroit News.

This book covers a variety of stories, including the fall of ex-Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, city council corruption, the crumbling auto industry implications, and the struggles of a local fire station. You also meet LeDuff’s family and follow them while they are coping (or not) with living in and near Detroit. Read more »

Geeking Out on the 80s

ImageThe decade was only roughly ten years gone when the BBC (and then US network VH1) brought nostalgia for the 1980s to TV with I Love the '80s in 2001. America has long been fascinated with looking back on its pop-culture history, but the decade that saw PCs, video games, cable TV, and a variety of musical sub-genres explode maintains a hold on our imaginations. Two of this year's Rosie Award nominees focus on the decade, centered on what has become our true national pastime – gaming. Read more »

America's First Tornado Scientists and What They Taught Us

ISBN: 
9780307378521

I was afraid this would be another macho book about reckless men roaming the plains chasing tornadoes during storm season. Instead it turned out to be a wonderful compendium of tornado lore through the centuries. Also included are biographies of some of our most  important weather scientists.    

Storm Kings begins with a description of how during the 1600s New England settlers called any phenomenon that happened in the sky meteors including: meteors (of course), lightning, thunder, rainbows, comets, clouds in the shape of hands and faces, etc.  Although the science behind tornadoes was not understood and barely documented then, many colonists recognized that the weather in America was much more violent than in their home countries.

When a tornado swooped down near Cambridge, MA in 1680, two farming families were shocked when one lost a servant and another a barn during the storm.  They were so frightened by this event that one wrote to Increase Mather (the father of Cotton) asking about it. Increase, who was a self-educated weather expert, had no answers so he wrote to a scientific association in Europe. No one replied to his inquiry, but Benjamin Franklin found this letter seventy years later when he became interested in the study of weather and electricity. Read more »

The Kingdom of Rarities

ISBN: 
9781610911955

In another life, I would love to become a wildlife biologist; it combines things I loves such as working with animals, walking, observing deeply, and travel. This book does all of the above plus makes you more curious about the flora and fauna around us. Why are robins common and not Kirtland’s warblers? Why are deer abundant and not jaguars? Eric Dinerstein, the author, started his scientific career studying tigers and later rhinoceroses. He is now Chief Scientist at the World Wildlife Fund. In The Kingdom of Rarities, he travels to many continents to explore the rare creatures and plants living there.

One of the places he and his scientific team visit is Irian Jaya, a remote island on the Indonesian archipelago. It combines two aspects of places that often give homes to rare creatures: remoteness, and being situated on an island. Another factor that makes Irian Jaya home to rarities is its geology—its steep mountains and gorges serve as barriers to invasive species which have become common on many other islands. The description of Dinerstein’s flight to this research spot is compelling; it was incredibly risky just to land a plane there. But well worth it because the scientists found many rare creatures quite close to them and not shy at all with humans. The scientists were amazed by how many species divided their habitats vertically. Read more »

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