Thursday, July 31, 2014

My newest blog: The Local Reaer--Fiction and Memoirs Where YOU Live

My newest blog went live yesterday--The Local Reader--Fiction and Memoirs Where YOU Live. This one is simply another attempt by my librarian self (M.L.S. Indiana 1989) to make another access point to popular reading by cataloging books by their geographical setting. It is an ongoing project. I hope especially to populate it with "gems": "sleepers," great self-published books, small press books and the like, but all books are welcome except porno and erotica. If you'd like to suggest books I'd love to hear from you--you can leave a comment here or at the LOCAL READER. Just be sure to give me the state! Right now I am not doing any picture books or young children's books, but those suitable for any age even though classified as "chapter books" can be included. Mostly I'm looking at normal "grown up" fiction, though memoirs and occasional non-fiction are fine (see the blog for examples of the type non-fiction I've included).

You may not be aware, but I write the following blogs, all of which are merely catalogs of information on the stated topic--no real commentary by me:

Hopewell's Perfect Cabinet of Oddities [the blog you are currently reading; formerly Hopewell Takes on Life!]

Two versions of essentially the same blog (I can't find a format I really like for this one) which will have updates soon (not sure which version I'll put them on though):

21st Century Charlotte Mason Education
21st Century Charlotte aka Thoroughly Modern Mason

A Lifelong Reader in Ambleside

A Quiver Full of Information

Downton My Way -- my tumblr blog on Downton Abbey, Royals, Jeremy Irons and other stuff--this is just for fun!

I am a HUGE fan of Pinterest for what is it but a visual catalog of "stuff"! Perfect! You can find me there where I have two huge boards supporting my novel in progress as well as my obsession with scrapbooking (though I've done almost nothing in recent years, I still collect examples by the thousands), photos of the Royals, tons of recipes, book and library humor and other "stuff."

I also "officially" have a presence on Instagram and Twitter but am not a big user of either service.

Monday, July 21, 2014

What's on Your Nightstand: Mid-Summer Edition

The Best of July

Is there a reader alive (or dead!) who hasn't spent at least a few minutes daydreaming about owning a great little bookshop? A.J. Fikry's Island Books is a quirky little shop populated with great, quirky book reviews, a quirky staff and a fascinating story. Looking like "a depressed, malnourished superhero," A.J. believes you can know everything you need to know about a person based on how the answer the questions "What is your favorite book?" A fun little book that will make you stop and think and also add other books to your to-read list. The Storied Life of A.J. Firkry by Gabrielle Zevin.

I know! I know! A book about sewage and other icky things? But wait! It's so well worth it! This is a fascinating story of science, research and humanity. Now, if I can rave about a book that discusses SCIENCE you can surely read it and enjoy it, too! I was drawn to this story due to my love of Anne Perry's William Monk books, but I stayed because it was just so fascinating. It reads like a novel, not like a science book (oh the relief!) so just try it! The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson.

Author Lily King has put together a good read based on the lives of three famed anthropologists.I thoroughly enjoyed this well-researched, well-told tale set in the South Pacific in the 1930s. The details rang true and no one was give ridiculously modern PC views--a huge plus in historical fiction these days. Well-told though the story is, what stuck with me most was the description of one man's "member" as "flushed purple...." That has to go down in the annals of writing as one of the most vivid descriptions of that oft-discussed organ ever! I look forward to more from this author. Euphoria by Lily King.

I'm not a big fan of so-called "Young Adult" literature. I can't get into vampires! I found this one while watching the trailers before the movie Fault in Our Stars and since it featured a teenage cellist, I was all for it. The problem I had with this book was simply the Y.A. genre label. This, like sexy "teen" clothing and other things meant originally for the 16--19 year old age bracket, makes it attractive to 11--13 year olds today. Are kids that young really ready for topics like abortion, foreplay, religion-bashing, disrespecting authority figures, kids being "queer," Moms who immediately offer birth control and condoms when a teen starts a relationship, a teenage lesbian couple, Mom being "ok" with turning down a very prestigious college for a boyfriend,  a guy dressing in drag and trying to enlist in the military or the boyfriend stealing the covers? In all likelihood NO!  But my other self asks "Would they even notice those lines in the conversation or narrative?" Probably not. I found it MORE interesting that Mia thinks of the cello as a "solitary" instrument and only encounters playing in an ensemble at a competitive music camp! I've come down very hard here because these topics are in here--yes they are all current and "relevant" to teen culture today, but the kids who will WANT to read this are barely into puberty! That's the conservative side of this review. The flip side, the liberal side, says there are kids out there who will be validated by those things being in the story. I would have devoured this book at 14 or 15 for the music story and ignored most of the rest. As an adult I loved that the family had parents who were only ever married to each other, who loved and supported their children, who cared about their friends and their community. THAT is the take-away from this book: The loving caring family who have views that are theirs and for which they make no apologies. That I truly loved. I can't wait to see the movie! If I Stay by Gayle Forman.

The Rest of July's Books

I LOVED Jeremy Irons in the tv series The Borgias, so when I saw this I hoped it would be good and it was! This is a vividly told page turner! The setting, the characters, the gamesmanship--all were exciting. The wily Rodrigo Borgia, aka Pope Alexander VI, and his family had  fascinating, if ruthless, lives! The notes at the end were very good as well--pointing out what was "legend" and what was documented "history." I will definitely read more by this author. Blood and Beauty: The Borgias : A Novel by Sarah Dunant

I've had Gilead on my to-read list for ages, so when my friend Jeanne started reading it for her book club I decided to read along. Well, I did like it. It is an interesting way of telling the story, but for me it was like being stuck at the dinner table circa 1968 with my great Uncles Paul and David holding forth about their childhood. A bit too "meander-y." I LOVED that there was a cross-generational marriage that was loving and true and adored the man's love for his only son. If you are not a Midwesterner this story will a look at a different culture. When it was all done I was happy I had read it and that I can recommend it. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

WT???? What editor let this be published with Part 9 still attached?  SPOILER A perfectly reasonable piece of not-too-heavy -handed revisionist  historical fiction ends with reincarnation in the Nile?  Water borne diseases thrive in the Nile, not lunacy!  We'll skip a 1920s maiden teacher voting for Debbs and keeping her job.  Small change. A German Jewish character prescient enough to equate the Armenian genocide with the future fate of Jews (but then doesn't leave Nazi Germany? ??)...that's a stretch. Still, it is one line in the whole book. But the (at a loss what to call it) bizarre rant against all religions (except maybe Buddhism??), war, politicians, etc., sounded just plain absurd. The author sounds like a college freshman at best from this. Oh, and naturally, the "spinster" not only must have an affair with a married man  to set her free! Then.....wait for it!!! She is a librarian..... Oh one helpful tidbit-- unless you are a T.E. Lawrence scholar the hinted-at episode involves same sex rape. At least she didn't recount what supposedly happened in that. In spite of this, she does tell a great story and I will likely read more of her books. I just hope the ending is more mature. Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell.

Check out all of this month's reviews at 5 Minutes for Book's monthly "What's on Your Nightstand."

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

What's on Your Nightstand: June 2014 Edition

The Best of June:

Ever wonder what it is like to enter an arranged marriage, albeit one where you do at least meet the man first? This book tells the story of Chani, the bride, and of the Rabbi and his wife, who are at a later stage in the life of such a marriage. The parents, the community, the memories--it is all so vivid and so real. From the ladies' wigs to the ritual baths they must take to the simple struggles of daily life, this story brings you into it  body and soul. Not to be missed.  I really, really hope there is a sequel. The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris.

It's so hard not to gush about how lovely this book is! The rich cultural background, the decent hardworking family, the girl born of one culture raise in another, the simple everyday life that is happy--it all adds up to a total delight of a book Daria and her mother conduct the same dance all mothers and daughters do as old ways clash with new ways and independence threatens beloved dependence. Both have reached a time of questioning, a time of holding on while wanting to let go. Absolutley not to be missed. Together Tea by Marjan Kamali

Imagine HAVING to live social media--having every "like" measured as part of your job? Life in the cult-like Circle technology company is too good to be true. So much of this book rings so very true, that's what makes it both compelling reading and a tad creepy. The Circle by Dave Eggers.

Either this is a quirky, sweet, British version of the Penderwicks or the Penderwicks are an American Casson family! Love it! With artists for parents and almost total freedom (that is backed up by warmth, love and gentle admonishments when necessary), the four Casson children have fun lives. A perfect summer read for anyone over about age 8. If the others in the series are on audio, I'll be listening! Saffy's Angel by Hilary McKay.

Part "Bridge on the River Kwai" part Sarah's Key part thriller, this book has it all. When greed and a young architect's ambition collide with ethics and morality in the middle of a war, there will be collateral damage. Is serving some of humanity enough? Not to be missed. The Parish Architect by Charles Belfoure

The REST of June:

I've had a run of "too-awful-to-finish" audio books, so my volume count is not very high this month. 

As a mom by adoption, albeit NOT from China, I was asked several times something like this: "Why didn't you just get one of those little Chinese girls? They seem to do well..." Like we were debating dog breeds. Anyway, due to the adoption story this book caught my eye. And at first it was excellent, but.......

...Is it me or does this book derail? Hmmmm... I get that Ari was smothered a bit at home. I get that she has angst about her beginnings (who wouldn't) but I don't get the big leap in the story that's I've discussed after the word SPOILER. And the big secret? I won't tell, but it didn't really seem that big of a deal to me. In fact in the context it seemed normal.

SPOILER!!!!  [I don't usually do this....] Who thinks it's a great idea for the adopted daughter of a woman whose affair with a man nearly ruins his marriage to meet up with his son from that marriage? Yeah. I didn't get it either......

Kathryn Ma writes very well. A former lawyer, she KNOWS lawyers and the practice of law. She could very easily give John Grisham a run for his money. That I did not put this in the "Best of June" is not a slap at her writing, but just that I couldn't agree with the story (the part after the SPOILER Alert). The Year She Left Us by Kathryn Ma.

Nice, easy read with the sort of characters you'd enjoy having as neighbors. Sharon Owens is one of my favorite contemporary authors when I want something pleasant and fun to read. The Ballroom on Magnolia Street by Sharon Owens.

Every year I pick a few books out of my comfort zone, a few I pick randomly, a few from that 1001 Books list and few "classics" that I've never read. I like to think this makes my reading "better rounded," if not exactly "well rounded." Faulkner has been on my list since that list we were given in high school--the one no one in my day bothered with (it was the 70s, ok?). I found this on the audio shelf and in desperation grabbed it. Hmmmmmmm. Non-linear story telling is not my favorite and this was probably made even more confusing by it being the audio version and that I was listening in a car with no AC. It IS everything Mrs. Dunn said it would be. The characters are vivid and memorable, the family dysfunction is disturbingly deserving of the title "legendary," and oh yes, there are racist sentiments (hardly surprising given the time and place of the story's setting.) It got a tad creepy, too. I suppose some day, when guilt and my own family dysfunction get the better of me I'll try another from Faulkner, but for now I'm "good" as we say here on the Ohio River. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner.

Hard to imagine, but I did not finish a book on World War I in the year of its centenary!! This was a book right up my alley. But, try as I did, I could not finish it. I cannot recall the names of any of the five men profiled. Thankfully it was not written in the uber-glib hipster-does-history style that is so popular today, but it just didn't keep my interest. I've put it back on the list to give it a second try in print. Maybe it was just the audio that was doing  me in--that happens. You will recall I raved over Major Pettigrew's Last Stand? I hated it in print, loved it in audio. It happens. It should have interested me so it's worth a second try. Five Lieutenants.... by James Carl Nelson.

Want to what's on all the nightstands this month? 5 Minutes for Books is the place to go!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

A great book for families of teens!

Susan over at Girls in White Dresses has just reviewed an excellent new resource for teens by Dave Ramsey!! Click here to read her thoughtful review.

source: Amazon

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What's on Your Nightstand May 2014

With there apparently being a new law limiting novels to approximately 300 pages, I'm getting a lot read! I tend to fall upon books in twos and threes: Two books set in Seattle in the same years, now three books on France in World War II, two books with ballet as a major part of the story and three books on life under Communism. Weird, but it just keeps happening that way!

The Best of May:

No question this will be one of the best books of the year!! And, it has all the makings of a fabulous movie!  Let's be clear, this book is NOT about the sport of rowing. Nope. It's about a boy overcoming the most heartless neglect and abandonment. But wait! It's not one of those books where we read about a kid being sexually molested, mercifully that does not happen. Joe's story of overcoming the extreme neglect, dysfunction and abuse of his childhood should be required reading for social workers today. The power of will at work. Amazing story. Today his folks would deservedly be in prison, but WOW what a strong young man he became and I'm not talking about the muscles he developed rowing One of the most compelling nonfiction books I've ever read. The Boys in the Boat Daniel James Brown.

Think one person, or two people together, can't make a difference. Think again. This book tells the amazing true story of two Americans, a well-to-do Jewish couple from Philidelphia who did the unthinkable: The went to Nazi Germany just before the start of the War and rescued 50 children. Lawyers often get a very bad rap, but this one used his knowledge of the law to come up with a brilliant solution to the problem of waiting years for Visas. I was humbled and moved by the blatant audacity of Gilbert and Eleanor Krause and the victory they achieved. This is a story of true courage and is not to be missed. 50 Children: One Ordinary American Couple.... by Steven Pressman.

I usually run away from so-called Young Adult fiction, but this one didn't feature the word "dystopian" and several friends were reading it in advance of the movie. I'm so glad I did.  Ultimate book hangover book!  I had tears rolling down my face one morning on the drive in to work as I listened to this one. Rest in Peace, Augustus. [Funeral made worse by having attended several in the mortuary the family would have used if they were real.] WOW! What a powerful book!! Hazel and Gus with their discussions and single-book obsessions, their wish, etc., so reminded me of a teenage relationship of my own. I suppose because my kids are this age, this book resonated with me for so many reasons. Now I also feel for the parents in the story. Hard to believe this is fiction. But, being me, I had to find one tiny fault: You go DOWN to Bloomington from Indianapolis! Had to find something to make me stop crying! The movie? Not sure--medical stories are so hard to film because you just can't fake some of it. We'll see--probably watch it on dvd like everything else. This one is not to be missed! The Fault in Our Stars by John Green.

I am still aching over Hadley's story! I admit it! My second book "hangover" book this month Even knowing the outcome from the beginning I still cried.  I understand why so many women and book clubs love this book.   The Paris Wife by Paula McClain.

Ashton Lee's wonderful Cherry Cola Book Club series has found its stride and then some with the second installment. This is a really fun series populated with people you wish you knew in a town you'd like to live in. I highly recommend this one! Perfect book for the beach or pool to start your summer! The Reading Circle by Ashton Lee.


When a book featuring lots of math holds my attention so vividly that I read it almost cover-to-cover in one sitting, you can be sure the story is compelling! What is memory? How do we care for are loved ones when memory is gone? Such a sweet, sweet book. Highly recommended. The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

Themes: The Communism books

As a Russian & East European Studies major in the early 80s I would have loved to have lived Susan's life! Had I been able to master the languages I'd have tried to do this instead of doing Peace Corps--which back then did not yet go into former Soviet countries. Very poignant that I read of the Orange Revolution at the time Ukraine has again come under Russia control and at the time when my two Ukrainian-American children are reaching adulthood. Picnic at the Iron Curtain by Susan Viets

This is a middle-elementary an up story of life for one young woman during Moa's Cultural Revolution. She is hounded by having an evil "landlord" for a grandfather and fights and joins in the campaigns against the "Four Olds." Fascinating look at how totalitarian societies appear to children and the damage they do.Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji-Li Jiang.

Fathers can be heros to little boys in any culture. Sasha's father is a Hero like Stalin, until he isn't. This story, aimed at children, tells of life under Stalin, when even being in the KGB was no protection. The poignant hero worship of his father and Stalin by young Sasha is heartbreaking. I highly recommend this little book. Breaking Stalin's Nose by Eugene Yelchin.

Themes: Ballet

I rarely disagree with Kirkus Reviews, but this time I do. I'm not always a fan of non-linear storytelling, but this time it was a fabulous way to tell the story. The best was kept for last.If you followed Russian ballet stars in the 60s and 70s and 80s you will recognize most of the "cast" here, but that doesn't detract from the story telling (though the suburbia storyline DID get a bit long).  I listened to the audio version. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead.

Interesting story, well told. The author's note was helpful, too, in that it explained what elements of the story were fictional. I love Degas so was automatically drawn to this book and was not disappointed. It seems like the life story of so many young people in poverty today--maybe not with ballet, but academics, sports, music, a dream to be a doctor or something, yet by the time they are old enough life for success to start, the desire to succeed has beaten them down--or their family dysfunction has sucked the life out of them. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan.

Others books this month:

Masturbation seems to be the "shock" topic of the day right now in novels. Yawn. School teacher is sucked into the glamor of an expatriate couple, their delightful little boy and the wife's career as an artist. SPOILER ALERT: She is used by them big time. If it were up to me she'd get revenge by embracing it all and scoring and art installation of her own!! But, its not up to me. Still, this WAS a compelling read and the "ick" factor isn't a huge part of the book and she has a very keen take on what it is to be single, middle aged and in an under-valued profession. Book Clubs should flock to thsi one.  The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud.

You know it's an Oprah book when babies die and women are deceived and done wrong and we haven't even gotten to page 40 yet. This is not so much a novel as a series of stories of the same family. Some stories resonated with me more than others. What makes this story compelling is both the true-to-life  sociological study of the fictional  family provides and the well-drawn characters and believable dialogue that tells their tale. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

I have been working my way thru Tracy Chevalier's books the last two years. I'm glad I listened to this one, but it left me disappointed. I didn't find "enough" in the story to enjoy. It just seemed to be missing a "spark" to make it all come alive. Vermeer is one of my favorites, too, so I hoped the story would be wonderful. It was simply "ok." Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier.

Need suggestions on what to read next? Head over to 5 Minutes for Books to see all of this month's Nightstand posts.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

'Milla's Diary week ending 1 May 2014

NOTE: This is affectionately written fiction. Any resemblance to royals, living or dead, is purely coincidental. This piece is copyright protected.

Need to catch up or know who is who? Check out the first installment of 'Milla's Diary.

NOTE TO ALL READERS: This is fiction, 'Milla will not be commenting in any way on the very tragic death of a  very real (and private) individual. Death is not a laughing matter. My thoughts go out to those very real people who suffered this very real loss.

25 April 2014

Well, once again I've gotten dreadfully behind in this little diary! Where do the days go!! What with the Royal Round, FINALLY!! finally catching up the Street and being on call for Yummy away on tour, my days were full enough. But to make life even more fun Dear One came down with one of those "chesty" colds of his that require Nanny's old vaporizer to be in near-constant use when he's at home. And, Dear One ill is not fun. Really not fun. As in, let me show up for a Gala Performance with two hot rollers still in my hair and the back of my dress poked into the top of my girdle sort of "no fun." Trotting along on the Royal Round with him can be taxing enough, but him with a cold--a near ambien zombie on the stuff he has to take to keep moving--well it is just to the side of "utterly wretched." Lest said, then better, I always think on these occasions. What's the opposite of "what a hoot?" "What a blow??" Oh sod it!

Yummy phoned--Baby is simply the star of every show as we all knew he would be. Dear One and I had the albums out last night as the vaporizer wheezed at us and we snuggled under an antique Eiderdown in the sitting room. Those cheeks! So utterly, utterly like Dear One at that age--apparently the Mother-in-law thinks so too. She rang to gush to Dear One about the grandchild. So utterly unexpected, but he literally BEAMED for hours. The one bright spot in a gloomy day at the Royal Mausoleum Infirmary.

27 April 2014

I dispair at keeping this silly diary up-to-the minute. Dear One a bit better, butt he was up half the night honking into a hankie (Granny didn't approve of tissues--too common) or whinging about being sick. I was knackered and managed to doze off while he was in mid-whinge which is, of course, much better wifely behavior than nodding off while he is in mid-something-else (it HAS happenned. Wasn't pretty......)

We set off for Scotland. Lovely rain upon arrival--such a shame the dogs couldn't come along! Such lovely sniffs and smells in the rain, they always find. But Dear One WOULD pull a face at it. It was a VERY long day.

28 April 2014

Had a grand tour of  a Caravan Park. Now I understand the American term "trailer trash." Some truly LOVELY homes, to be sure, but then there were those that we didn't tour that were ready for the tip. Still, lovely reminder of the post-war pre-fabs. Dear One is in favor of saving those, not so sure of his feelings on the newer version. Oh Lord! Please not a speech on them. I must stop writing and come up with a counter argument for the file just in case.

29 April 2014

Haza rang Dear One. I can only say that a huge sigh of relief was given by all. Poor darling boy--he deserves someone who simply DOTES on him and will Nanny and Mummy him as well as wear him out at night. Soldiers are what the young people call "high maintence" as husbands, but jolly good fun, too. Tough decision though--to take on all that and the FAMILY (and the press) as well. Cut and run, if you ask me (which of course they didn't), though I do adore Dear One and he IS so worth it all. But then he was a sailor, wasn't he. Easier somehow, sailors.

30 April 2014

"His friend said, her friend said" all over the papers today. Dear One didn't even GLANCE at the topless numbers today--just mutter something out of the side of his mouth and prepared a whinge when the maid rushed in with the CORRECT muesli for his breakfast. I downed a rather hearty Screwdriver with my egg and toast soldiers as he whinged about privacy and intrusion and leave the boy alone and how do they expect him to marry someone worth having it the stalk her like a stag. He rang Haza to check on him--he's such a lamb and devoted to those boys. Apparently Haza got the number of a blonde at bar last night and it seems promising. Dear One not so sure. Have fun while you can, I always say. Love the boy to bits.

1 May 2014

Long chat on the mobile with Yummy this morning. Finally a catch-up on the tour. The Boy had her at her whit's end. Such a struggle to keep him entertained and jolly him along. He WAS terribly chuffed at the crowds and of course VERY. VERY chuffed at Baby being a sensation, but it does have him worried that the poor lamb will be even more in the press than he and Haza were. he wants the little chap to have all the normal childhood things--seaside trips with Nanny, Pony Club (essential to proper child development in my book) lots of proper stories read like Pooh and Wind in the Willow, wants him to have proper cricket coaching a Lord's and to know what really matters like having good manners and not calling dinner "tea". That sort of thing. Yummy too was wistful about this. How they'd love to have stayed a forces family and just moved along with the RAF to where ever. They'd have the Fourth of June and St. Andrews day to look forward to in time at Eton like normal parents. And Yummy would run the Tambola at the Officer's Club Benevolent Society Fete each year, that sort of thing. But, unless you are Great Great Uncle David, destiny beckons and one must not shirk.

I was surprised to learn, however, that THE school of choice for pre-prep has NOT confirmed Baby's admittance. Apparently he's wait-listed. Over-subcribed for his birth month, you see. They did recommend early inducement to them when they phoned about places.It's the same for one of my grands--so difficult to have children at different schools at that age, isn't it? How many Carol Concerts and Sports Days and Granny's luncheons and what-not can a young Mummy do? Apparently the weren't interested in the OTHER Uncle getting involved and getting him slotted at a rather new school that his children from his second (or was it the third? He's had so many) wife attend. I tell you, this school business is SO utterly nerve-racking. In my Day of course you went where Papa went. Even in my son's day this wasn't too far off the mark. Today it's a free-for-all. Rich Asians and Russians and whatnot snapping up places right and left. Why Silvia's grandson had to take a place at a school no one had even heard of! Unthinkable in my day. The boys went to Eton or Harrow and that was that. Today they talk of "school fit" and "goal fit" and other nonsense. Tradition is not even considered. An outrage! Dear One agrees, but as he has no desire to do anything helpful for HIS old school, he can't speechify on the subject--much to MY and everyone else's relief.

Monday, April 21, 2014

What's on Your Nightstand? April Edition

Wow! Some months are just overwhelmed with great books, and happily April has been one of those months!!


Kirkus Reviews are usually dead-right. This IS one of the best books of the year, without doubt! Everything about this marvelous coming-of-age story rings true. From the embarrassment over a geeky Dad and disappointed Mom, to the "not worthy" feelings toward the lovely girl in the new, fancy house--it's all there. All of it. And, I felt it all both ways--as the person coming of age in the same time period and as the parent who is the "geek."

I fell hopelessly in love with Jamie Ford's writing when my son and I listened to an audio of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet a few years ago. His new book, Songs of Willow Frost, has that same poignancy, that same "believe-ablity," This time, though, I was glad I listened alone. My children are adopted and this book gave me tremendous insight into the desperate place they are in--they love me and our family, but there is always that "what if...." Jamie Ford captures that "what if" so beautifully. He also makes sure the reader feels the innate sadness of an orphan's life without it being a maudlin or depressing story. My heart clinched so many places in this story; my tears came freely at other places. "You can't expect children to sew their own gaping wounds without leaving a terrible scar." (p 183). This one is going  head-to-head with Year of the Comet for best book this year (even though I believe it was released in 2013)--this year on MY blog!  The Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford.

 "'Do you have children?....Now imagine if, just to spite you, they do the exact opposite with their lives from what you hope they will.'" (p. 107). 

Usually a story told in  non-linear fashion gets annoying to me--not so this time. There IS a method to the madness and it is to tell a very griping story. This books was MESMERIZING. I had to ration it--it had that great a hold on me.   In the last part f#-! became his go-to word and it cheapened the book unnecessarily, even if it was meant to convey the changing times or the something else . That's a very minor detraction though, from what is truly a work of art. Nonetheless the author is a gifted storyteller. I hope to read many more books by him. The Headmaster's Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene [NOTE: without spoilers I will say there is an event when taken out of context may upset some readers.] 

This book is being devoured by book clubs, so I knew I'd read it eventually. I was aprehensive though--a hospital in the most bungled natural disaster in American history? Wouldn't it be the ultimate in rubber-necking to read this? No. It was the ultimate in human experience--both the good and the bad kinds. I felt for most of the people in this book--most. I won't say which ones did not earn my sympathy. But it does make all those deadly dull emergency planning meetings I've attended over the years seem worthwhile. And those emergency posters SHOULD be posted. Read this book and you WILL volunteer for the Red Cross and go thru their training and answer the call. Ditto FEMA classes (Did you know you can earn college credit for those?). This book is why I generally prefer non-fiction--this is REAL. It happened. These are real people. Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink.

What do you call any book after those amazing reads? Really Good? Fun Read? Worthwhile? All make the author's efforts seem less than they deserve. Next up are two books, chosen coincidentally, about the start of war in France. The first in World War I, the second in World War II.

1914: A Novel  "[she] sees whose footsteps sound hollow on a stage too large for them." (p. 22)  Sadly, this is the only quote I recorded in my Commonplace book from this novella. It is haunting though in the way it shows the utter futility of that prolonged conflict.  1914: A Novel by Jean Echenoz

The first part of this "Suite" had me wishing for more--the exodus from Paris as the Germans approached, the resulting struggle to survive while stranded--it was gripping. The personalities emerged and took hold of me--I wanted to know how their stories came out. The rest of the book--not so much. While there were mentions of the first characters they were fleeting and meatless. I found the story of the occupying Germans far less engrossing. The author's personal story, deported and killed at Auschwitz, will stay with me far longer than most of this book. Still, it does add to the knowledge of the war in that the lives of the occupiers has seldom been told. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky (Sandra Smith). I listened to the audio version of this book.

Highly Recommended

What a sweet book! Still I was jarred by the necessity of informing us that the Ambassador's 'friends' [and the Ambassador was not a character in the story] were homosexuals. Why in the world did this merit a mention? The man had no part in the story save accepting a phone call. That was weird.

And, while only a librarian of my age or older (i.e. born in the JFK years or before) would find it just plain weird that the main character worried about the state of the library card catalog when she got home! Really? No one did anything physical to a card catalog except the librarian. And then only when there was an addition or deletion to/from the collections!! Weird!! So to was calling her work "librarying" ok.......................

The picky stuff: "shaking up," "red light--green light" before stoplights? Flashlights when most of the area had not yet had electricity? "toilet house?" MacArthur as a recognizable name before the Bonus Marchers were run out of town by Doug & Colonel Ike. And illegitimacy raised no eyebrows? Really?

As I librarian I got m a bit tired of "librarying"

Still, these are picky things-- I HIGHLY RECOMMEND this book! And, I look forward to her next novel. A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith. I listened to the audio version of this book.


A book about birding with a character who played the bass clarinet got my attention instantly. A good review from NPR didn't hurt. Ultimately this book fell short. I've lived in the parts of Southern Indiana mentioned in this book and the Klan is still very much present. Transplants often find this strange. I do not think the Klan deserved the extreme attention it got in this story. Subtract that and you have a great book.I just don't think a hate group needs a chapter unless you are writing about the 1920's when it should be the focus on any history of the state of Indiana for that time period Snapper by Brian Kimberling. I listened to the audio version of this book.

I bought this super cheap for Kindle, and for the most part it's a good read. (Wish he'd quit calling flannel shirts "a flannel" it's that was annoying!). Overall I agree with the reviews--it IS like Garrison Keillor and Lake Woebegone "got real". I could have done without the trapping story, but that's just me. The story of the disabled girl--that shouldn't have been printed. Due to that story, I can't recommend this book. The author tells a great story, but that chapter showed a terrible lack of judgement. Farmer's Almanac: A Work of Fiction by Chris Fink


I threw these back. 

 I generally like Elizabeth Berg's books, but this one just didn't do it for me at all. While Jamie Ford's book told of the pain of orphaned children, I could not get past the whiney self-centered attitude of the birth mother wanting to reunite with her child. Please don't get me wrong! I cannot imagine the pain of giving up a child. I am not criticisng any real person. This is a work of fiction and this character just grated on my nerves. The whole set up of the book grated on my nerves. I tried and tried to listen to more of it--as I said, I usually LIKE Elizabeth Berg's writing since she writes about people I can accept as "real." Not this one.  Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg.

I wanted to like this one and even wanted to stay with it, but in the end I just couldn't. An entire discussion of what household objects, vegetables and fruits make the best masturbatory aides just doesn't deserve my attention long enough to finish what might otherwise have been an interesting story. Meyler CAN write and CAN tell a story. How unfortunate that she (or her editor) felt it necessary to delve THAT deeply into a character's personal life. Just no to this one. I listened to the audio version. The Bookstore by Deborah Meyler.

Need ideas on what to read next? See all the Nighstand posts for this month at 5 Minutes for Books.