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Kids Books, November 2013

Kids Books! Fall 2013

Picture Books

Digger Dozer DumperDigger, Dozer, Dumper by Hope Vestergaard, illustrated by David Slonim

A wonderful read-aloud with bright, friendly illustrations, and catchy rhymes that feature various kinds of working trucks like the street sweeper, the ambulance, and of course, the back-hoe!  A great way to introduce young readers to poetry, and a celebration of the hard work that vehicles (and their drivers) do for all of us.  We also like the Midwestern connection of both the author and illustrator – Ohio and Indiana!

Rosie Revere EngineerRosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty, Illustrated by David Roberts

Rosie Revere is a quiet child, but when everyone else is in bed, she invents all sorts of useful contraptions, but although many of them work, she is discouraged when one doesn’t – until her great-great-Aunt Rosa steps in to help.  A marvelously illustrated case for never giving up, for the importance of sharing your particular gifts with the world, and for appreciating the treasures the older folks in our families bring.

Unicorn thinks he's pretty greatUnicorn Thinks He’s Pretty Great by Bob Shea

Hip and bright, with just a touch of good-natured snark, this storybook points out that being kind, even when you’re not always getting your way, is a pretty great way to live.  Goat is the cool kid who feels that his status is threatened by all the awesome stuff that newcomer Unicorn can do.  But when the two team up, they find they can do great things together.

dream animalsDream Animals : A Bedtime Journey by Emily Winfield Martin

With illustrations in a muted palette that evokes a dreamlike yesteryear, this quiet, rhyming bedtime story is sure to be a classic! As each child falls asleep, they are met by their very own dream animal who takes them to Dreamland where they have wonderful adventures.

Christmas WishThe Christmas Wish by Lori Evert, photographs by Per Breiehagen

In this photographic fantasy with a Nordic theme, a young girl looks forward to Christmas as she performs small kindnesses for the folk around her, but more than anything, she wants to be one of Santa’s helpers.  So she sets out on a great adventure to the North Pole, and finds new friends and helpers along the way.

Non-Fiction

frog songFrog Song by Brenda Z Guiberson, illustrated by Gennady Spirin

Spirin, one of the finest illustrators working today, does it again with better-than-real-life paintings of frogs from around the world in their native habitats.  Each spread features a different species, up close and personal, with a paragraph of descriptive text.  As much a coffee-table art book as it is a paean to our amphibian friends.

AlphablockAlphaBlock By Christopher Franceschelli, illustrated by Peskimo

The hottest book in our kids section this fall, this is, yes, another alphabet board book, but with some great twists!  Each letter is featured in a 4 page spread with the middle leaf being a cutout of the letter which hides an eponymous scene behind it.  Each scene has clues on the previous page that will point alert readers to the letter’s word on the next page.

Chapter Books

PeculiarThe Peculiar Series: The Peculiar and The Whatnot, by Stefan Bachmann

WhatnotI gobbled The Peculiar, and its sequel The Whatnot in a week-long feast of fiction deliciousness! A riveting blend of steampunk, Dickens, and Grimm with plucky children enduring their misadventures with courage and wit, as they navigate an alternate world where the fairies inadvertently invaded England some centuries earlier, and are now moving to conquer it using Peculiars — half-human half-fairy children.

Play DeadA Dog and His Girl Mysteries : Play Dead, Dead Man’s Best Friend, and Cry Woof by Jane B Mason

Starring Dodge, the retired police dog and his girl, Cassie, the  daughter of a police officer, this series for earlier chapter book readers is a real standout.  As Dodge puts it, “My girl didn’t have training, but she had something just as good.  Instincts.  We both smelled a case, and we kept sniffing. And listening.”  And by sniffing and listening, the duo is able to solve a series of tough mysteries. There are now 3 books in the series.

Creature DepartmentThe Creature Department by Robert Paul Weston

When a young science fair winner and his closest competition, the edgy new girl in town are invited to his uncle’s mysterious factory, they find that the Creatures responsible for the wonderful inventions coming out of the research-and-development department are at risk of losing their jobs.  The human children set out to help the creatures make a fabulous new invention that will keep the number-crunching mucky-mucks from shutting down the whole department!  All about acceptance and teamwork, this is a great pick for either middle grade readers or any-aged listeners!  Plenty of action, lots of laughs, and a big dose of imagination.

Classic

Wolves of Willoughby ChaseThe Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken (along with Black Hearts in Battersea and Nightbirds Over Nantucket)

I was reminded about The Wolves of Willoughby Chase again when I was reading The Peculiar (see above). Written in 1962, this has a gothic Victorian atmosphere, with the same kind of brave and resourceful children who find themselves all alone in a frightening world, at the mercy of the adults around them.  Written in somewhat old-fashioned language, this may be a little challenging for some readers, but for the more adventurous, the rewards of this series are many.

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

The Mike Bowdich series by Paul Doiron

Poacher's SonThere is just something about the woods that draws me. I’m compelled to walk in timber whenever I have a chance. There’s something about the wildness of even the smallest bits of brush and bramble and tall tree canopy that evokes mystery, and if the woods is dark and deep enough, danger.

And in Paul Doiron’s series of books set in the Maine woods I get to walk in the wilderness of the Maine woods, someplace I’ve never been, but familiar nonetheless. Not only do I get to walk in it, and learn from it, I’m walking beside Game Warden Mike Bowditch as he tries to solve a new mystery in each volume.  Mike is an “everyman” protagonist, fighting a boss who resents him, his father’s fabled but despicable past as a poacher, government bureaucracy, greedy developers who would pave a wilderness for a nickel’s profit. Toss in a fist fight and a romantic interest–or two, and Mike’s an interesting lawman to walk beside through the woods as he tries to right a wrong or two.  You will also participate in the culture of the fascinating people of the area as they struggle to adapt to the modern world. Or not.

Massacre PondThe Poachers Son, Trespasser, Bad Little Falls, and Massacre Pond are all great reads. Start anywhere, but read them all. Mike Bowditch is a great American character.  He belongs in a select group of fictional characters who are law enforcement officers–Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee, Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander, Deon Meyer’s Benny Greisl, and Craig Johnson’s Walt Longmire come to mind.

And anytime is a great time for a walk in the woods. Or a good read.

Reviewed by Robert Leonard

 
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Posted by on September 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Teen Reviewer : Some Great New Reads for Summer 2013

Reviewed by Emma Clodfelter

MoonglowMoonglow, by Michael Griffo

This is a story about Dominy Robineau, a teenager cursed to be a werewolf for all eternity. With the help of her friends–Archie, Jess, Arla, Caleb, and Nadine–Dominy must fight to break the curse so she doesn’t hurt the ones she loves. To break the curse, Dominy must find the one who placed it on her in the first place, the evil and vindictive Luba.  Her friends all must find different ways to keep Dominy in check during the full moon, though their methods never seem to work.

Dominy narrates the story, and she starts out when she suffers though her first transformation into a werewolf on her sixteenth birthday, which shocks her because she didn’t know she was a werewolf. When she wakes up, a dead body is lying next to her. Dominy is frightened and confused, and she believes she may be the one that did it.

Then the story goes back three months earlier and begins to lead up to the current time. Dominy is having bursts of anger and feelings of violence. She feels the urge to injure her friends, which is definitely not normal, especially for gentle Dominy. She also seems to have a fascination with her school mascot, a timber wolf. At school, she begins to act aggressively towards her friends. She feels terrible about being so mean, but her strange behavior doesn’t stop.

Dominy’s mother is in a nursing home/intensive care center with an irreversible coma, and she has been that way for ten years. Dominy’s father has also been acting odd. He seems tired and weak, and Dominy repeatedly gets angry at him for little reasons.  Dominy begins to suspect her father is hiding something from her, and when she goes to talk to him at the police station where he works, she overhears an odd conversation centered on her. Her father tells his best friend, Louis, he thinks Dominy will do something awful. Dominy becomes furious, and she doesn’t hide it at all.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It had good suspense and lovable characters, and it had a good story line. This book is great for the lovers of the supernatural. This novel did have some swear words, but that made it seem more realistic. The story really pulls at your heart with the death of some of the characters you get attached to. Overall it was a wonderful and chilling book, and it is very interesting and a must-read-right-away sort of book.

Garden PrincessGarden Princess, by Kristin Kladstrup

Garden Princess is a fairy tale sort of book with an interesting twist. This book was enjoyable to read and has what any fantasy fan would want: action, danger, betrayal, a witch, a princess, and a talking animal that is actually a cursed human.

Unlike most princesses, Princess Adela loves to garden and would enjoy traveling the world in search of flowers. Hortensia, the witch, has a beautiful garden with flowers of every kind. Krazo the magpie is a forced servant of Hortensia, but he can no longer remember his human life before.

When Princess Adela’s friend and castle gardener, Garth, is invited to Lady Hortensia’s garden for a garden party, he asks her to tag along so he won’t be alone. Princess Adela agrees, even though she must suffer through an uncomfortable dress and shoes. The queen’s sister, Marguerite, will also accompany them. When the time arrives for the party, and the princess, Garth, and Marguerite are ready they head out in a carriage to Flower Mountain to meet Lady Hortensia and observe her breathtaking garden. When they get there, everything is normal, and they begin to meet the other guests.

Krazo is perched in a tree, taking note of the jewelry the guests are wearing, eager to take anything he can. Princess Adela is baffled by the garden; everything is in bloom, though it is October. There are plants that bloom in spring, summer, and autumn all blooming at once. The size of the flowers alone is odd–they’re abnormally large as plants go. But things get weirder when a magpie speaks to her. The strange happenings at the garden are suspicious, and soon Princess Adela discovers if she doesn’t escape the garden, she will be in danger.

To make things worse, all of the men at the party have been put under a love spell and have become servants to Hortensia. Princess Adela is all alone, except for the greedy little magpie that can speak. But Adela is sure he won’t be much help. Then Hortensia, realizing Adela is still in the garden, requests the princess be captured and taken to her. Then Princess Adela must escape the garden without being caught by anyone, and with no one to help her.

This novel was an enjoyable read with many attention-grabbing parts in it; it would be great for anyone who likes fairy tale romance and gardens. The story has cute relationships between characters, and each character has a well thought out personality. The book is well-written and interesting, and it has just the right amount of fantasy. I definitely liked this book.

midwinterbloodMidwinterblood by Marcus Sedgewick

The novel titled Midwinterblood is a captivating and curious read, telling seven stories of romance and mystery, all of which focus on the same two people, though the stories take place centuries apart. The author brilliantly uses mystery and strange actions in the story to increase interest. This book is definitely for curious readers that enjoy romance and supernatural occurrences. This book is so incredibly thrilling I read it all in a day. It is no lie to say this story is a page-turner and impossible to put down.

Throughout the book are separate short stories that are all related, though how is not said until the end of the final story. The first story is about a reporter named Eric Seven that travels to Blessed Island, a mysterious island that little is known about, except rumors of an elixir of life. When Eric arrives, he is greeted by a group of people that are very hospitable. An old man named Tor explains to him they don’t receive very many visitors, and he gives Eric a place to stay. Another person Eric encounters is a beautiful young woman named Merle, who soon has Eric smitten.

Eric soon becomes suspicious of Tor because strange things have been happening and he gets dreary and forgetful when he drinks Tor’s tea. He overhears odd conversations between Tor and the other people, and Eric has seen no children on the island. He can never seem to remember why he is on the island, and he must force himself to remember he is a reporter getting a story, mainly centered around the Little Blessed Dragon Orchid that has many healing and possibly life-sustaining properties. He also has the weird feeling he has returned home, though he has never been to Blessed Island.

The second story is about an archaeologist that finds a stunning artifact. The third is about a wounded airman. The forth tells the tale of an old and skilled painter who depicts a horrifying ritual in a painting. The fifth story is told by a ghost about her own experiences. The sixth story is about a vampire seeking his children. The seventh is of Midwinterblood, the gruesome sacrifice of a king. Every story takes place on Blessed Island, and Merle and Eric are important recurring characters in every story, and Tor reappears in a few.

The stories are like a puzzle that slowly come together, and the ending is well-written and has a mixture of happiness and sadness. This was one of the best books I have ever read, and I have read many amazing books. The author added many twists to the stories and made them unpredictable. The unique relationships between characters in the stories are interesting to figure out, and the significant details that don’t seem important until you read on really help the stories intertwine. This novel, though strange, is wonderful and romantic.

FuriousFurious by Jill Wolfson

Furious was a very interesting read about three teenage girls (Alix, Stephanie, and Meg) who become the Furies and serve Ambrosia, a mysterious and popular new student in their school. The story is told from Meg’s point of view, starting out with her sitting in class and suddenly being consumed by an overwhelming feeling of hatred. Alix feels hatred towards a group known as “The Plagues” and her terrible father. Stephanie hates the people that shun her ideas of a better environment. Ambrosia brings them together and reveals to them that they really are Alecto, Tisiphone, and Megaera–the Furies. They have to power to punish those who do wrong. They do this by joining hands and singing their Fury song. The Furies force people to regret any wrong deeds they have done.

The stasimons (a kind of song that was part of a ancient Greek tragedy) in the story from Ambrosia’s telling were genius, giving the reader an understanding of what is happening and why Ambrosia has called upon the Furies. There is a bit of naughty language and a few inappropriate parts, but that made it feel more like a story about teenagers, although it’s probably more of an adult book. As for keeping the reader interested, this book had an age-old story that unravels as the book continues.

For readers who enjoy Greek mythology, high school drama, and a raging battle between Goddesses, this book is a recommendation. Going from chapter to chapter the changes in the girls become apparent. At first they want to teach everyone a lesson, but then they torment innocent people out of their own hate-filled hearts and vindictive spirits. They even change physically; Stephanie grows fangs, Meg looks sickly and unkempt, Alix has enlarged muscles, and they all have a rotten Fury odor. And to be more exciting, the identity of the person that will save the people from the Furies is surprising and makes the reader think.

This novel is great for young adults who enjoy Greek mythology and drama, as well as mystery and vengeance. It also has romance that takes a nasty turn for the worst. The novel definitely has a good story line to it and a satisfying ending.

 
 

Celebrating Creativity!

It’s Tuesday, which means I’ve gotten my book order for the week, a lot of special orders for customers, and some tried and true selections for the stacks, and, sigh, the New Books for the week. Tuesdays are always joyful for me.

This week, I’m especially enchanted with three new titles, each, as it happens, celebrating a different aspect of creativity.  Creativity is such a wonderful aspect of existence, and for me, it’s the fuel that keeps me going.  So, here are these three inspiring books:

New Persian KitchenThe New Persian Kitchen by Louisa Shafia

Cooking is such an intimate art, the act of taking raw foods and preparing them with love into nourishment for friends and family.  I picked this cookbook out from the lists of forthcoming books with a particular friend and customer in mind, one who has family ties to the Persian community.  It’s a beautiful cookbook and sounded like a fresh approach to traditional, so I thought she might like it.  When it came, I found myself immediately drawn in. Shafia intruduces the book, gives a bit of history, and then has this to say “In general, you’ll find that the recipes here emphasize whole grains and gluten-free flours, use minimal amounts of oil and fat, and call for alternatives to white sugar. …”  Sounds like the way I’m trying to eat.  Then I started reading the recipes, and the overwhelming impression was that this cookbook was a must-have for me as I figure out how to use all the fantastic produce in my summer CSA box from Blue Gate Farms!  So, fellow CSA-ers, and the rest of you too, take at look at this delightful new cookbook up and bring a little exotic flair to your summer!  Read More.

Artful ParentThe Artful Parent: Simple Ways to Fill Your Family’s Life with Art & Creativity by Jean Van’t Hul

Van’t Hul defines artful activity as any that’s ful of art, beauty and creativity.  She writes, “As parents, there are innumerable ways we can make our family life more artful.  While painting, drawing, and other traditional art-making methods are obvious choices, many other activities can also be considered artful…” These other activities include science experiments, nature walks, baking, and planning a party.  This is compact for an art project book and has page after page of great project ideas using mostly common household art supplies and other products like dish soap, clothes lines, etc.  The photographs throughout show darling, normal children in the midst of their creative process as well as a bunch of great display ideas.  My kids are mostly too old for these projects, but I sure enjoyed reading this one, and will delight in passing it along to the younger families who stop by. Read More

Patchwork PleasePatchwork, Please : Colorful Zakka Projects to Stitch and Give, by Ayumi Takahashi

This darling little bit of inspiration has clear, easy to follow instructions for sewing up a variety of Zakka projects, which loosely translates to useful objects for the home, using some of those scraps that we sewers have giant stashes of.  Starting with some basic materials lists and instructions, there are sections for the Kitchen, the  Home, for Kids, for Crafts, and for Going Places.  Projects include really cute variations on the basic trivet, the pin cushion, the totebag, and even a tea-bag caddy!  It’s a good thing my sewing machine is already set up, because I’m going home to sew!  Read More

 
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Posted by on April 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Review : Alif the Unseen

Alif the UnseenAlif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson is a delicious mix of modern and ancient, secular and mystic. It is an adventure tale of a young half Arab man living a somewhat desultory life in an un-named emirate in the middle east. He makes his living as one of the Grey Hats, the invisible hackers who leach some measure of freedom from the stifling laws of his world for their friends and clients. This means he lives in constant peril of discovery, torture, and imprisonment.

To complicate the situation, he loves a girl, which, as we all know, is a risky business, and this love proves to be the catalyst that propels him into danger, out of the isolated bedroom where he does his coding, and through the streets of his city, which are populated by veiled women, haughty turbaned royals, and a cast of mysterious creatures who are not quite human.

Wilson proves a worthy successor to Scheherazade with a story that pays homage to the Arab Spring and the Arabian Nights, and also paints a loving portrait of an Islam that is founded not on the more familiar themes of jihad and oppression, but on Godliness and learning.

I read Alif the Unseen as part of what is turning out to be a bit of a meditation on Middle Eastern culture. I also read, and highly recommend the forthcoming The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker, and the mystery series set in Saudi Arabia by Zoe Ferraris, including Finding Nouf and City of Veils. These first three built my understanding of that part of the world, and helped me understand the complexity of Alif the Unseen better.

review by Annie Leonard

 
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Posted by on February 22, 2013 in Books, Reviews, Uncategorized

 

Great Kids Books, 2012

Picture Books

Boy + BotBoy + Bot

by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Dan Yaccarinio, Alfred A. Knopf, 2012

Great for the younger kids, especially boys, with simple, evocative text, bright pictures, and a fun subtext in the illustrations that will entertain adults also.  This is a sweet story about friendship despite differences.

 

It's Milking TimeIt’s Milking Time

by Phillis Alsdurf, illustrated b Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, Random House, 2012

Regional and laden with tradition, the luminous rendering of morning and evening light in the illustrations sets this one apart.  The story gives older children a sense of the work and love that goes into the milk they drink.

 

Town Mouse Country MouseThe Town Mouse and the Country Mouse

An Aesop Fable retold and illustrated by Helen Ward, Templar books, 2011

This is our pick for the most gorgeous illustrations we’ve seen this year!  The tale is a familiar favorite, and again, the subtext of the illustrations is what really enthralled me – the country scenes are lush and magical in contrast with the coarser finery of the city scenes.  A treasure!

Night Santa Got LostThe Night Santa Got Lost : How NORAD Saved Christmas

by Michael Keane, illustrated by Michael Garland,  Regnery Publishing Co., 2012

‘Tis the season, not only to celebrate Christmas’s spirit of giving as exemplified by Santa Claus and his reindeer, but also the work and sacrifices of our nation’s military services.  In a fun redux of ‘Twas the Night before Christmas, we learn about the year that Santa got lost in a storm and how all the branches of the military, including some of the lesser known ones, pitch in to help Santa complete his important annual mission.

Amelia's SmileBecause Amelia Smiled

By David Ezra Stein, Candlewick Press, 2012

We love this book, both for the message and the illustrations. With fun, bright pictures that give plenty of opportunity to find details with your child, this simple story shows how something as simple as a smile, can change the world!  Global and fun.


 Chapter Books

BlissBliss

By Kathryn LIttlewood, Katherine Tegen Books, 2012

My daughter’s favorite of the year! Bliss is a sweet (in more ways than one) middle grade novel about a very special family who runs a bakery in a small town.  The twist is that some of their recipes are magical, things like Stone Sleep Snickerdoodles and Singing Gingersnaps that are baked to help the people around them.  A touch of young romance, pesky younger siblings, plenty of adventure, and a dusting of magic make this a sure hit.

One and Only IvanThe One and Only Ivan

By Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Patricia Castelao, Harper, 2012

This just moved me!  Told in spare prose from the point of view of Ivan, the gorilla, who lives in a mall side-show zoo, this will make you think about what it means to be human, and about how we treat other creatures.  Ivan is an artist, he is also wise and compassionate, and he helps his friends, the other animals at the mall, weather the changes that are coming.  Ivan will make you cry, and then he’ll make you cheer, and ultimately, I think he’ll make you a better ape.

Hero's Guide to Saving Your KingdomThe Hero’s Guide to Saving your Kingdom

By Christopher Healy, illustrated by Todd Harris, Walden Pond Press, 2012

This is a fast-paced, funny, different, and definitely memorable take on fairy tale classics.  Remember all those fairy tale heroes?  The ones named Prince Charming, or sometimes just ‘The Prince’ who saved Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty and Snow White?  Well, here is the story of four of these heroes, imperfect princes and their four improbable princesses, on a mission to save their kingdoms from an evil plot!

Non Fiction

Brothers at BatBrothers at Bat
The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team

By Audrey Vernick, illustrated by Steven Salerno, Clarion Books 2012

Great Story and pictures.  This is the true story of a New Jersey family with enough sons to field an entire, winning, baseball team!  As the years go by, six of them go to fight overseas in WWII, and luckily, they all come home to play baseball again, raise their families, and eventually to be inducted in to the Baseball Hall of Fame!

UnboredUnbored : The Essential Field Guide to Serious Fun

By Joshua Glenn and Elizabeth Foy Larsen, Bloomsbury 2012

Crammed with many hours’ worth of fun and knowledge, a bit like the ‘Tell Me More’ series I remember from my own child hood, or the Dangerous Book for Boys. Full of projects, suggestions for civic involvement, science experiments, history, social skills, arts, crafts, recipes, and a “Manifesto of Doing” that exhorts readers to Do what you love, develop expertise, express yourself without words, interrogate grownups, get mobile, fix stuff, make money, and share what you know”.  This one WILL be under our tree this year!

Classic

Black StallionThe Black Stallion

By Walter Farley, originally published in 1941

This is the one I’ve read countless times —  pulse pounding adventure, shipwrecks, accidents, horse races and above all, the most fabulous black horse a child could ever dream about.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Review : Love and Other Delusions by Larry Baker

Some art just points us at the direction it wants to take us and presumes that we’ll get there. Other art takes us gently by the hand to lead us towards its goal. Larry Baker’s art in “Love and Other Delusions” does a bit of both, but most of the time it engages us more fully, in an deeply intellectual wrestling match with matters of the heart, if not the soul. And at its best, and for I what I suspect will be the case for many readers, the heart involved is our own.

The asymmetries in “Love and Other Delusions” are profound, and help establish the fundamental drama of the piece. Alice is a privileged thirty-year old teacher who seduces one of her students, an intelligent, handsome, engaging, eighteen-year old. Danny is from a hardscrabble background. He steals from the theatre he works in to support his ill father, as well as a younger brother and sister. Their mother abandoned them long ago. And in walks Alice, beautiful, well off, confident, but older. Not quite their mother’s age, but close enough, with the lovers age gap proportionately decreasing over the next few decades and the affair less startling as the story unfolds.

Alice ultimately loses her job because of the relationship, despite the fact that her long suffering husband Peter is the Dean of the department of the school where she works. Or maybe because of it. Who knows? Fortunately for Alice, she doesn’t really need the work, since Peter loves her and will support her, and while he must be heartbroken about her affair not only with Danny, but with apparently many other men, he never finds it in himself to leave her. In fact, for over twenty years, he lovingly hand rolls her cigarettes, a singular gift. Not exactly like handing the keys to your car to your drunk wife and sending her on a beer run, but with its own implications for the story. We never really get to know him–is he so in love that he will forgive her anything, or is he the most significant of her enablers? Or maybe he has his own indiscretions?

We also learn that Alice and Peter may have a reason as to why both of them behave the way they do, a nearly unspeakable tragedy, which incidentally, deserves not much more than a mention in the story, but still pervades it. Enablers abound in their lives. Friends, past and future lovers, and those of us who sit idly by and watch our friends self-destruct, thinking it none of our business, whether it is or not.

Both Alice and Danny are powerful personalities, both flawed, yet more powerful than those around them. Danny’s younger sister has one moment, but perhaps the only one of note before she fades to oblivion. His younger brother wanders in and out of the story, and while we hope he doesn’t get hurt, we don’t really know if he does or in what way. For one of her class and time, Alice of course has a therapist with her own flaws, which maybe are not so much her own, but perhaps of her profession. She too has an indiscretion on her hands, and interestingly enough, these women share a bit of regret, if not so much guilt. Kathy struggles, for all the right reasons, but fails, as she was likely doomed to. Yet another asymmetry.

But who, actually, is Kathy? She too, has an ineffectual husband, which may reflect, actually a broader societal condition. Does anyone actually have an effectual husband anymore, given that the state of what constitutes “manhood” is in such transition? While contemporary American society wouldn’t say it actually likes ineffectual men, it recognizes feet of clay when it sees them, and if it doesn’t see them, it will likely do its best to create them for you.

Danny too has his own flaws, his own indiscretions, his own affairs, and most vulgarly, thievery of a variety of sorts. But what is theft? Does theft relate only to the material of our world? Theft involves breaking an agreement with respect to private property; adultery is breaking an agreement with respect to sexual exclusivity. Maybe in the end Danny rises above both kinds of theft, maybe not. But really, it’s tough to like a thief who steals material things. Ironically, it’s easier to look the other way when the thief steals not money, but promises. But really, would you rather have your wife steal a car, or sleep with your neighbor? The former gets her jail time, and while the latter may be devastating, everyone involved will most likely construct some sort of rationalization that is eventually publicly acceptable. Adulterers rewrite their lives every day, yet a car thief is always a car thief.

But rising above it all is the story. Cast this story in another time and place, in the middle of a war perhaps, or at a pivotal historical moment, Baker’s storytelling would have been easier, if not more profound. Set instead in modern St. Augustine and Atlanta, places where theaters, park benches, cell phones and credit cards work as significant props to the plot, his chore is more difficult, and likely more meaningful. Why? Because the drama is created by the characters, not by external forces. As such, it becomes internal to us as well, because of likely shared experiences with the protagonists. Most of us are not identifiable cogs in the engine of history, but all of us hope that we would rise to the challenges if we were, as do the great characters of literature. Contrastingly, we, and those around us, live lives full of indiscretion, lies and lust, if not adultery. Or thievery. Cause then is the matter of our own hand, not the product of great historical forces beyond us. Which is, of course, more real. And common to us all. Baker’s gift then is that he creates not only a story of Alice, Danny, Kathy and Peter, but a story of ourselves. Like our players in the play, our lives are sticky–no–doughy. Doughy with thorns. And we recognize the places where the characters find themselves, geographically, emotionally, and if we’re lucky, physically. We also recognize their decisions, and even if we don’t necessarily agree with them, we can empathize. Baker writes well enough that their pain is our pain, their joy ours, and their seductions familiar and even titillating, even if uncomfortable.

Literary name dropping is an easy way out of a description of an author’s work in familiar literary terms, but a convenient crutch when I need one here. Drieser comes to mind at times–especially in “An American Tragedy;” Flaubert when I see resemblances between Alice and Emma Bovary, and not to go overboard, the interactions and settings here remind me of the suburban worlds of Updike and Irving.

There is another element to Baker’s work that I recognize in at least one of his other books–”A Good Man,” and that element is how he weaves in and out of clarity and opacity. The clarity is in the richness of description, of characterization, and of language. And just when you start to think you know what is going on, boundaries become fuzzy, nearly opaque. Time becomes a character, and characters blend in and out of each other, and it’s difficult to tell who is who, and when and where we are. And when Love and other Delusions is at its very best, we ARE Alice, or maybe another character, because those of us who are old enough to have been around the block a time or two and have taken and or given our share of lumps, share her story. Or his story. Or at least a part of it. Maybe we are her story. And we may not like it. But we know we aren’t alone. And with respect to love, is it indeed the delusion Baker asserts in his title? The cynic says of course it is. No question. The romantic replies, maybe. But what better does the world have to offer? Most of us will take love when we can get it–and its delusions. As did Alice.

Reviewed by Robert Leonard, Author of “Yellow Cab”

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2012 in Uncategorized

 
 
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