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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

 

Top 20 Reads for Spring 2013!

This is a list of our favorite new books released this season!

These are selected by Annie, Tresa and Diane, especially to appeal to our customers.  We don’t pretend that these are necessarily the most important books of the season, or that these will all become classics, but they are all great reads we hope will keep you entertained and enriched for the next few months at least!  Enjoy!

Love AnthonyLove Anthony , Lisa Genova

Gallery Books, $16.00, Fiction

By the author of Still Alice and Left Neglected comes another tour-de-force exploring the inner workings of the human mind. This is the moving story of one family’s struggle with the realities of parenting a child with autism, and the support they get from the community around them.  When the child dies young, his mother, who has struggled to connect with him, is left to pick up the pieces of her life and find hope again. After reading this remarkable story, especially those passages told from the child’s perspective, you will see autism in an entirely new light.  Read More

Promise of StardustThe Promise of Stardust , Priscille Sibley

William Morrow, $15.99, Fiction

The story of a successful and loving, but childless, couple and the tragedy that shatters their world, leaving a wife on life support, and a family to grapple with questions of life and death in the face of a political and media frenzy.  Full of questions about the boundaries of decency and the public versus the private world.  Moving and thought provoking, great for fans of Jodi Picoult.  Read More

Calling Invisible WomenCalling Invisible Women, Jeanne Ray

Broadway Books, $14.00, Fiction

A delightful read about Clover, a middle aged former reporter, wife and mother who wakes up one morning to discover she’s invisible–truly invisible!  What would you do?  Have you ever felt invisible to your family and the world around you?  Would you retreat and hide, unsure of your new role? Or would you set out to change the world? As Clover grapples with this problem, she learns she is not alone in her invisibility, and that she may just have what it takes to change the world for all the Invisible Women!  Read More

 

 

BenedictionBenediction , Kent Haruf

Knopf, $25.95, Fiction

The new, beautifully written novel from the beloved and bestselling author of Plainsong and Eventitide, set once again in Holt, Colorado. In Benediction, Haruf follows ‘Dad’, a dying man through his quiet last days, as he reflects on the ties that bind people together, and observes all the wonderful small things about life in a small town. But make no mistake, this is not a book about dying, it is a book about living told in the luminous prose fans of Haruf have come to love. Read More

 

 

Ordinary GraceOrdinary Grace, William Kent Krueger

Atria, $24.99, Mystery

A departure from Krueger’s usual thriller fare, this is a coming of age story about a two boys in the early 1960s whose childhoods come to an abrupt end as death visits their small town — first with the death of a young boy, then with their happening upon the body of a hobo, and most terribly, the brutal murder of the beautiful older sister of the main character.  As they grapple with death and what it does to their own families, they must also learn what ripples it will leave in their community. Ordinary Grace is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God.  Read More

 

Ghana Must GoGhana Must Go , Taiye Selase

Penguin Press, $25.95, Fiction

Kwaku Sai is dead. A renowned surgeon and failed husband, he succumbs suddenly at dawn outside the home he shares in Ghana with his second wife. The news of Kwaku’s death sends a ripple around the world, bringing together the family he abandoned years before.  This novel teaches us so much about the lives of immigrants to America, and the cultural differences that we all grow up with that shape how we see the world and what we believe is wrong or right. This one with stay with me for weeks!   Read More.

 

 

BirdseyeBirdseye: The Adventures of a Curious Man, Mark Kurlansky

Doubleday Books, $15.95, Biography

This lively biography from the author of Cod and Salt follows the life and times of Clarence Birdseye, the man who developed the process for fast freezing food, and founded the company that still bears his name.  But not only did Birdseye forever changed the way we preserve, store, and distribute food, and the way we eat, but his insatiable curiosity let him to invent solutions to a wide variety of problems, and to a rich life full of family and perpetual discovery. This is a vibrant and affectionate narrative reveals Clarence Birdseye as a quintessential “can-do” American., Read More

 

After Visiting FriendsAfter Visiting Friends: A Son’s Story

Michael Hainey, Scribner, $26.00, Memoir

This memoir that reads like a thriller is the account of a man’s search for the truth about what happened to his father forty years ago,  when he was found dead in Chicago.  Filled with familiar places, and set against the backdrop of the newspaper industry of the Midwest, it is a son’s relentless quest to uncover what really happened, and an account of a mother’s love and sacrifices, and how families create and bury secrets.  Read More.

 

 

 

Rage Against the DyingRage Against the Dying , Becky Masterman

Minotaur, $24.99, Mystery/Thriller

Retired FBI agent, Brigid Quinn’s experiences in hunting sexual predators have left her with memories she wishes she didn’t have and lethal skills she hopes never to need again. But the past intervenes when a man confesses to the worst unsolved case of Brigid’s career. We definitely hope to see more of this feisty white-haired heroine and her riveting adventures!  Read More

 

 

 

Evidence of LifeEvidence of Life , Barbara Taylor Sissel

Mira Books, $14.95, Mystery/Thriller

After a woman’s husband and daughter disappear during a weekend camping trip, she mounting evidence that her husband had secrets, and she will not rest until she solves the mystery of what happened to them.  For fans of Anita Shreve, this is a taut psychological thriller that cuts to the heart of a woman’s fears. Read More

 

 

 

YardThe Yard, Alex Grecian

Putnam, $16.00, Mystery

Set during the early days of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, just after Jack the Ripper’s rampages, during the height of the Victorian era, this tale of murder and suspense is a satisfying first entry in a new series.  Readers get to know the hard-working cops that patrol the streets of London, their families, and the murderer who is stalking them and killing the police-men one by one. Readers also get glimpses of the emerging science of forensics, as law enforcement begins to use the advancements of science in their sleuthing.  The first in what promises to be a great new series of historical mysteries!  Read More

 

Maid and the QueenThe Maid and the Queen : The Secret History of Joan of Arc, Nancy Goldstone

Penguin, $16.00, History

You may think you know the story of Joan of Arc, the simple medieval peasant girl who led the French army to victory against the invading English, but was later tried for heresy and burned as a witch.  But, as Goldstone carefully lays out, that is not the whole story.  Joan, or Jeanne D’Arc as she was known, did lead an army, but she was much more than a simple peasant, and she was supported by Yolande of Aragon Queen of Sicily, one of her time’s most influential politicians.  This is the tale of two powerful women set against a complex backdrop of shifting alliances and a world where women had to work behind the scenes to control their own destinies.  Not a light read, but one of those fascinating and satisfying books that change the way you look at history. Read More

Seven LocksSeven Locks, Christine Wade

Atria, $15.00, Historical Fiction

With a haunting and utterly unique voice, this is the story of a wife and mother living in a Dutch community in the Catskill Mountains on the eve of the American Revolution.  She cares little for what her neighbors think, but when her husband abandons her to care for their farm and children alone, she must depend on her community, and her own hard work for survival.  This novel gives voice not only to a hidden corner of history, but also to the common citizens who were buffeted by the winds of war and politics during the early years of your nation’s history.  If you like historical fiction, don’t miss this one! Read More

 

 

Aviators WifeThe Aviator’s Wife, Melanie Benjamin

Delacorte Press, $26.00, Historical Fiction

This novel goes inside the private world of the very public figures of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and will change the way you look at fame, at aviation, and even at history.  Beautiful and riveting, this story gives us an inside look at what it was like to be a wife and mother during the early decades of the 20th century, at a crossroads of women’s rights and responsibilities within the family, at a juncture of fame and fortune, and during the crisis of a family caught in the middle of it all.  Read More

 

 

Mary CoinMary Coin, Marisa Silver

Blue Rider Press, $26.95, Historical Fiction

Most of us have seen the iconic photograph taken by Dorothea Lange of a woman and her children during the dustbowl years of the Great Depression.  This is the story inspired by the photograph of this Native American migrant worker and mother of six. It is also the story of the photographer who captured the image, and a man, decades later, who tries to find the truth of the story.  This is Diane’s pick for best book of the year!  Read More

 

Orphan TrainOrphan Train, Christina Baker Kline

William Morrow, $14.99, Fiction / Historical Fiction

This is the story of a 9 year old Irish immigrant girl who was among the thousands of children shipped west from New York in the late 19th and early 20th centuries on what became known as the Orphan Trains.  These children were parceled out to any families who would take them in states like Kansas and Iowa, and often faced lives of servitude and abuse at the hands of their new ‘parents’.  This is also the story of a modern-day troubled teenager who is just aging out of the Foster Care system, and is given the choice to do community service to recompense for her crime.  To meet her obligation, she goes to help an elderly woman clean out her attic, and the two find they have a great deal in common as they sift through the memories of a lifetime. Read More

 

Weight of Small ThingsThe Weight of Small Things, Sherri Wood Emmons

Kensington, $15.00, Fiction

When an old love resurfaces in her life, asking for her help in keeping his non-profit children’s shelter open, a woman must decide if she will help him, thus facing the choice she made decades ago. Moving and thought provoking, this story explores the weight of those decisions we all carry with us as we move through life. Read More

 

 

 

Truth About Love and LightningThe Truth About Love and Lightning , Susan McBride

William Morrow, $14.99, Fiction

A freak tornado brings a magical man to the walnut farm where Gretchen lives with her twin sisters. It’s as if he fell from the sky, landing in the millions of walnuts dropped by the storm.  This mystery man has no memory of who he is or how he got there, but something seems very familiar.  With Gretchen’s daughter Abby arriving simultaneously to the farm, pregnant and unmarried, all is a bit unnerving for Gretchen.  Are these events about to reveal her 40 year old secret?  Read More

 

Fate of Mercy AlbanThe Fate of Mercy Alban, Wendy Webb

Voice, $15.99, Gothic Suspense

For fans of the classics from Phyllis Whitney and Daphne DuMaurier, a quintessential Gothic Romance from award-winning novelist Webb. This is a spine-tingling modern-day haunted house story set on Lake Superior, with all the elements a good gothic should have, including a mysterious house, a beautiful heroine, an enigmatic love interest, forgotten stories, and the retainers that know them all. Webb has woven a suspenseful mystery that skillfully skirts the boundary between what is paranormal and what is psychological., Read More

 

 

Alif the UnseenAlif the Unseen, G Willow Wilson

Grove Press, $16.00, Fantasy

A sort of Arabian Nights meets Harry Potter in which a young computer hacker in an unnamed Arab emirate shields his clients–dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups–from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif. He is in love with a woman out of reach of his social status, and when she is betrothed to his arch enemy, the Government computer mastermind known as The Hand of God, he is betrayed, sending Alif on the run through the streets of the city along with his neighbor, a young woman whose face he has not seen since they were children and she took the veil.  Deeper than it’s adventurous spirit may seem, this was one I could not put down, and that has stayed with me for months!  Read More

 

River of No ReturnThe River of No Return, Bee Ridgeway

Dutton, $27.95, Fantasy / Historical Fiction

This romp in time has it all!  There’s a dashing hero, several feisty heroines, some really nasty bad guy, plenty of mystery, suspense, humor and romance as Ridgeway navigates her eminently plausible route along the River of Time filled with paradoxes and switchbacks. For readers of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander and Deborah Harkness’ Discovery of WitchesRead More

 

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

 

Review : Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead

It’s the 7th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and all the havoc she wrought, and yes, it’s been all over the news, including one memorable interview with New Orleans mystery author, Julie Smith.  Smith says she quit writing for a long while after the storm, as she struggled to come to grips with what her city has become.  Now, mind you, I’ve never had the good fortune to go to New Orleans, although it’s definitely high on my list of want-tos, but I’ve got a thing for books about New Orleans, and here is one of my faves.

A couple of years ago, I devoured Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, by Sara Gran. Claire DeWitt is an edgy private investigator who follows clues in her dreams, is a devotee of a mysterious dead French detective, and has a down and dirty approach to finding out what happened to a prominent New Orleans prosecutor, who disappeared during the Storm. She haunts the streets around the missing man’s home, she makes friends with teenaged delinquents and drug dealers. She listens in the missing man’s empty house, testing the wind for whispers of clues.  Her methods are fascinating.

Aside from great characters, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead gave me a glimpse of what really happened as the storm raged and the levies broke, and the people scrambled for safety.  It was the most genuine rendering of the disaster that I’ve seen, and gave me a new layer of understanding over my substrate of impressions and preconceptions.

I read a whole lot of books in my line of work, but this mystery juxtaposed a fresh style with a really dirty story, and has proven to be one has stayed with me in some surprising ways. Read it!

 

Review : The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann

The Stockholm Octavo is a rich historical thriller detailing a little-known episode of class warfare in Sweden during the height of the French Revolution.

Set almost entirely in The City, as Stockholm is known, this is the story of a callow young bureaucrat named Emil with a penchant for playing cards, who is told to marry —  or lose his cozy position as a customs inspector.  One night at the gambling tables, Emil encounters a mysterious older woman named Mrs. Sparrow, who pulls him into a web of intrigue and danger swirling around a mystical spread of cards called the Octavo, that will, she tells him, help find the wife he needs.  “Any event,” Mrs. Sparrow says, “that may befall the Seeker – any event—can be connected to a set of eight people. And the eight must be in place for the event to transpire.”

As Emil returns each night to learn what the next card in his Octavo might be, the reader is given illustrations of the cards and their layout, one card at a time.  And as Emil races to identify each of the eight players in his Octavo – identities with labels like ‘The Seeker, , The Magpie, and The Prize, he engages, perhaps for the first time, in something larger than his own interests, and must decide how far he is willing to go to get what he wants. Glittering scenes of fabulous wealth are juxtaposed with hints of the desperate lives of most Swedes at the time, and we are pulled with Emil into a sometimes bewildering maelstrom of politics, hatred, and desperation mixed with heady romance, fine art, and honor.   Will the Octavo turn out to be a real construct, or is the mysterious Sparrow using Emil for her own purposes?  Will he find the connection he seeks, or will he be tricked into committing treason?

With lush settings, finely drawn characters, and a darkening plot that involves refugees from the violence in France, fabulously expensive custom wrought fans, poisons, Kings, maids, and runaways, this was a most entertaining foray into a piece of history I knew nothing about. And it also had me wondering who my own Octavo might be.

 
 
 
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