Saturday, May 30, 2015

Congratulations to...

... our Week # 1 Prize Winners:

  • Cheryl Lynn
  • Kim H.

Progress So Far...

Click on image to enlarge.


Author: Charles Frazier
Stars: 3
Review by: Ali M

Nightwoods was a difficult book to get into. It left me with questions unanswered and a less than final conclusion. A bit of a disappointment from the author who brought us Cold Mountain.

The Pink Suit

Author: N.M. Kelby
Stars: 5
Review by: Ali M

The Pink Suit is a great book that intertwines historical events and shows a different side of things. Written with vivid details, this book does not disappoint.

I Am the Messenger

Author: Markus Zusak
Stars: 4
Review by: Pam

I thoroughly enjoyed this book; until the end.  I read the last few pages several times and didn't understand the ending.  Hopefully someone in the book club will read it and explain it to me at the wrap party!
From Amazon: "Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He's pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.
That's when the first ace arrives in the mail. That's when Ed becomes the messenger. Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who's behind Ed's mission?"

The Look of Love

Author: Mary Jane Clark
Stars: 3
Review by: Bobbi

A fast, light-hearted mystery.    Entertaining.

Shakespeare's London on Five Groats a Day

Author: Richard Tames
Stars: 2
Review by: MandyApgar

Firstly - the title tells you nothing. Nowhere is there an examination on how to tour the city of that period on said amount. What this is more so is an examination of the period sights of London as told from a native perspective. And it also isn't just during the time of Shakespeare, a lot before and after is discussed. But very little on him. I am not entirely sure why I didn't care for it, other than that the writing style was a bit dull.

Food: A Love Story

Author: Jim Gaffigan
Stars: 1
Review by: MandyApgar

Holy mother of God this was dull. The book was written by a comedian (and best seller through his former book, Dad is Fat) with the goal of examining his love of food - especially compared to the lifestyle of his slimmer, trendier wife. He accomplishes the triple threat of not only being unfunny, but also dull and irritating at the same time. A few moments, yes, but mostly things along the line of ranting how much he hates fish and then saying things along the lines of "boy they taste bad, when have you had a fish that was good, when I was performing stand up (which he brings up. A. Lot.) in X city people ate fish..." It was mostly observational, but when the person observing things is a bit touched then it isn't very funny. Plus he will frequently provide photos of himself and his family that are grainy enough to be Polaroids from the FDR administration.

All the Light We Cannot See

Author: Anthony Doerr
Stars: 5
Review by: Bookwormmuncher

A must read!

At the Water's Edge

Author: Sara Gruen
Stars: 3
Review by: Barb

I thought this an easy read, but the story, although interesting, seemed a bit weak to me. I could almost tell what was going to happen. Not as good as Water for Elephants.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Author: Maria Semple
Stars: 3.5
Review by: mysterylover

I did enjoy the book, but for me the set up took a while.

The Great Zoo of China

Author: Matthew Reilly
Stars: 3
Review by: Marianne S.

Another fast paced thriller from this author. Be sure to check your brain at the door before entering this zoo -- it's much more fun to read this mindlessly.

This Book is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All

Author: Marilyn Johnson
Stars: 4
Review by: Marianne S.

This was a wonderful start to my summer reading! Going beyond the stereotype of the cardigan-wearing "shush"er, the author looks at the full spectrum of the modern librarian in all her (or his) pink-haired, tattooed glory.

Guy Wolff: Master Potter in the Garden

Author: Suzanne Staubach
Stars: 3
Review by: MandyApgar

A large, highly illustrated, account of the life, career and influences of potter / folk artist Guy Wolff. I knew nothing of the fellow before I read this. Born to artistically inclined parents, he apprenticed with a master before starting on his own in the 70s. When his children came in a decade things got to be a struggle, and by then he had to be more inventive to hook customers and passers by. Specializing in horticultural pots based on antique designs, he managed eventually to get several high profile clients (the Monticello estate, Steve Jobs, Martha Stewart, etc.) and it was the latter especially who really set him as the "in" pottery artist. His studio is in Connecticut now, and he also trains potters in guilds in various countries as a way to help make struggling artists more sufficient. I liked it for its examinations into folk culture and self sufficiency, but it does become a bit too much once his career is established. The fact that the last chapter is entitled "Mud Man, poet of flowerpots" pretty much says that you are in artsy yuppie territory.

British Gardens in Time: The Greatest Garden Makers from Capability Brown to Christopher Lloyd

Author: Katie Campbell
Stars: 2
Review by: MandyApgar

Judging from the jacket explanation I was expecting more of, well, British gardens in time. A history in other words, something going into trends and styles over periods with also a horticultural analysis of the types of plants preferred and why. That was the first part of the book and that was fair. The last 3/4 plus is a compendium of various estate gardens and sadly there the book becomes more of "this is how rich people live" type text instead of anything really relating. More so Downton Abbey examinations of the families instead of the gardens, and it became quite tiresome by the end. The book does however have very lovely illustrations and photos as a benefit.

Maine Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities, and Other Offbeat Stuff

Author: Tim Sample & Steve Blither
Stars: 4
Review by: MandyApgar

The title more or less says it all. Odd tourist traps, persons of "local color," and infamous history from Maine. This is not as "Weird NJ" type weird in that the things are actually quite main line and not as dark as that series of books tend to be, so it is accessible to more readers, but the draw down is that the photos provided tend to be a bit grainy.

Weird Things Customers Say In Bookstores

Author: Jennifer Campbell & Greg McLeod
Stars: 4
Review by: MandyApgar

A compendium of the really stupid and inane things customers have said in bookstores, culled mostly from submissions to an ongoing blog written by the author. Many inquiries as to if Anne Frank wrote a sequel to her diary, folks wanting to know if its OK to let their kids climb the shelves, bringing in food and conducting personal business, demanding books that do not even exist, etc. A lovely look into today's idiocy that leaves one wondering that if these are the people that actually read how daft are the ones who don't?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Just Jennifer

Those Girls by Chevy Stevens (St. Martin’s Press, July 2015)

In her second stand-alone thriller, author Chevy Stevens tells the story of Dani, Courtney and Jess Campbell as they try to leave their past behind them, a past that will always be with them.  Growing up with on a remote Canadian farm with their abusive, alcoholic father, the Campbell sisters always looked out for each other and waited for the day when they could be free of their father forever.  But that day arrives in a way that forces the girls to flee and create new identities.  On their way to new lives, they must endure even more, but are eventually free to grow up and live their lives quietly.  Jess , now Jamie, has a teenaged daughter of her own, a daughter who wants to know more about her past and the past of her mother and aunts and begins her own search, a search that takes the Campbell sisters back to a time and place none of them wants to remember, a time that someone else hasn’t forgotten, someone who isn’t willing to let it go.  Evil and innocence are juxtaposed in this gut-wrenching story, the desperation and hope of the sisters tangible as they try to make their way to a world where they can not only be safe, but can truly feel free as anger and fear turn to love and forgiveness. 

Just Jennifer

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal (Pamela Dorman, July)

Eva Thorvald is an extreme chef: a seat at one of her $1,000 a plate pop-up dinner parties is highly coveted and sought after with a lottery and waiting list of possibly decades.  Eva’s particular---and often peculiar---style was shaped by an almost Dickensian upbringing: her mother left her when she was an infant, her father dying just a few short months later.  Eva was raised, unknowingly for most of her life, by her uncle and aunt as their own child.  Her birth father, Lars, a chef, and her mother Cindy, a sommelier, gave Eva an extremely gifted palate, one she has refined over the years.  Eva’s story is told, effectively, through vignettes of those she encountered during her life, especially through her younger years, but never from Eva herself, creating a distance from her and in her.  Eva appears to have few ties with anyone beyond a select few and even her business, pop-up dinners, carefully planned and orchestrated years in advance, have no permanency.  The narrative leads to a final chapter that is a culmination of Eva’s life works, of all the parts of her life, but ends with the same heartbreaking detachment with which Eva has lived her life.  The upper Midwest setting, its sensibilities and dialects are authentic and colorful, giving Eva a solid community in which to grow up and a community, the family she chooses, in which to life her life.

Just Jennifer

Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich (Putnam, July)

For generations Burroughs men have owned and ruled the Northern Georgia mountains known as Bull Mountain with their own style of justice and an economy built on moonshine, marijuana and meth.  The youngest son of the sole surviving brother, Clayton, has chosen to live in the valley in the shadow of the mountain as the sheriff, having come to an uneasy truce with his eldest, cruelest brother.  An affable stranger arrives in town and tells Clayton he has a plan that will allow his brother to get out of the business without retribution or consequence.  Clayton believes FBI agent Simon Holly and his motivations and agrees to approach his brother.  What is touched off, however, shakes Clayton Burroughs to the core, in his gut knowing that he has set off something from which there will be no return, in which there can be no winners, only losers that pay with their lives.  A new voice in Southern gothic noir, Panowich draws readers in and lulls them into a false sense of comfort with his descriptions of the fog filled, loamy mountain and then blindsides the reader with unexpected venom and violence, from which there is no looking away.  Fathers and sons, brothers and uncles, the relationships are not easy and comfortable and the women these men possess, and in Clayton’s case love, must rise to the challenge or lose everything in the process.  In the end, all there is is family, but it is the family we choose that shapes who we are and how we love.  

Just Jennifer

Seven Spoons: My Favorite Recipes for Any and Every Day by Tara O’Brady

Tara O’Brady , an Ontario blogger chef with Indian roots brings her own special flavors and sensibilities to good, basic foods that are simple enough to prepare for your family for a busy weeknight meal, but special enough for an elegant dinner party and everything in between.  Tara writes her recipes in a chatty, friendly style, in her Simple Sandwich Brad recipe she says “If everything’s looking swell, give the mixture a good stir…” (though she doesn’t indicate what “swell” might look like) but she also gives careful instructions for new bread kneaders.  A Savory Steel-Cut Oats recipe offers a new take the typically sweet breakfast staple.  Lunch offerings include wraps with lettuce of collards in place of a typically bready outside.  Soups, Starters and Snacks would all be equally at home as a light lunch or supper, or the start of something more substantial. Using seasonal produce she offers recipes for Pickled Strawberry Preserves, tomato gazpacho or ricotta with peas.  Though the recipes have a vegetarian leaning, there are a few judiciously chosen recipes that include beef, chicken or fish.  More vegetables and sides and a “Sweets, Treats and Sips” chapter with whole wheat peanut butter cookies and a Rhubarb Raspberry Rye crumble, offering an unusual twist on tried and true standards.  Master recipes for things such as nut milks, ghee and a pie crust round out this cookbook which is elegant in appearance but oh so approachable in tone and recipes. 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Just Jennifer

Run You Down by Julia Dahl (Minotaur, June 2015)

In the sequel to Invisible City, Julia Dahl’s protagonist, New York City newspaper reporter Rebekah Roberts once again covers a story that brings her face to face with the Jewish heritage, only this time it may bring her face to face with the mother who abandoned her as an infant twenty-three years ago.  Rebekah is asked to look into the death of a young Hasidic mother whose death was ruled a suicide.  Pessie’s husband is certain she would never have killed herself and asks Rebekah for her help as she is able to straddle both worlds with her ever increasing knowledge of her heritage and another foot firmly planted in the secular world.  As Rebekah begins to chase down some leads, she learns she has a young uncles Sam, who may be able to lead Rebekah to her mother, but who may also be the key to Pessie’s death and other violence against the Hassidic in upstate New York.

Told in alternating chapters readers will learn of Rebekah’s mother Aviva Kagan’s decision to leave her Jewish life in Brooklyn to follow a boy to Florida and of her decisions and reasons to leave Rebekah with her father and essentially disappear.  Aviva’s story is full of heartbreak, but sets the groundwork for what is to come as Rebekah learns how hard it is to free yourself, not only from personal demons, but from the demons passed down through your family.  Tightly plotted and written in a way that sheds light on the customs and a way of life that may not be familiar to all, in an easy, natural way.  Rebekah struggles with wanting to meet her mother and learn why she left as Rebekah struggles with her own life; even with the gaps in her maternal history, Rebekah has a good sense of self and seems well-grounded.  A complicated mystery with a startling conclusion adds to this well written story of family identity and religious identity as well as the importance of remaining true to self. 

Just Jennifer

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay (William Morrow, June 2015)

Is fourteen year old Marjorie Barrett mentally ill, possessed or just a spoiled teenager manipulating her family?  At first, Marjorie’s parents, her father recently unemployed, think she is acting out and the suspect her of being mentally ill.  As her father turns back to his Catholic faith, he becomes convinced that Marjorie is possessed and that an exorcism is their only salvation.  A reality show, The Possession, offers the Massachusetts family a large sum of money for the privilege of following Marjorie, her younger sister Meredith and their parents.  Fifteen years later, Meredith is sharing the family’s story with a journalist who is going to write the family story, but Meredith’s recollections differ a bit from what was documented in the television show and recalls one important detail that was left out of the show, one detail that changes how everything is viewed, tilting reality on its side, making the reader uncertain what is real and what is drama.  Each member of the Barrett family is carefully portrayed and the older Meredith may be the most cunning of all.  A hard novel to characterize, Tremblay’s latest novel delves into the supernatural, psychological thriller and even a little social commentary, but when you come right down to it is an old-fashioned, deliciously creepy horror novel.

Just Jennifer

Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy (Dutton, June 2, 2015)

This book may just be Edgar-Award-Winner Lori Roy’s break-out novel as she tells the story of two families in mid-20th century Kentucky, two families that are forever bound by the evil between them.  On a girl’s 15th half-birthday, it is said that if she looks into a well at the stroke of midnight, she will see the face of the many she will marry.  Annie Holleran dares to look into the well that belongs to the Baines, a family the Hollerans have stayed away from for two decades since Joseph Carl Baines was hanged for a crime against a Holleran, a crime some doubt he committed.  Told between the two years (1936 and 1952) Annie’s mother Sarah narrates the story of her childhood and Annie’s Aunt Juna and Annie tells her story in 1952 as she awaits the lavender harvest on her family’s farm, and the possible return of Juna, something which may cause a confluence of events which will irrevocably change the lives of the Hollerans and reveal secrets meant to be kept.  A new voice in Southern literary fiction, Roy reveals Annie’s family history layer by layer, pulling back at times, creating a delicate tension that will hold readers’ attention and leave them yearning for more.

Just Jennifer

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume (Knopf, June 2, 2015)

Blume’s latest adult novel frames a young girl’s story with an almost foot-note in twentieth-century New Jersey history, three plans coming from or going to Newark Airport crash in Elizabeth during 58 days the winter of 1951-1952.  Fifteen-year-old Miri Ammerman, her family and friends are unsure how to react to the crashes, what is fact and what is hysteria manufactured through fear: aliens, communism among other fears.  Blume deftly mixes fact and fiction using historically accurate details as she intermingles real live victims (Truman’s secretary of war) with fictional characters such as the one who Miri’s best friend is certain one of the victims has taken up her mind and body allowing her to excel at dancing.  IN addition to her worries and fears dealing with the plane crashes (one of which Miri witnessed firsthand).  Miri also deals with her single mother, her grandmother with whom they live, an uncle, a journalist who provides inspiration for Miri, and an Irish boyfriend who is an orphan.  Filled with Blume’s usual tropes, this book feels like a welcome visit from a long lost friend.

Just Jennifer

What Doesn’t Kill Her by Carla Norton (Minotaur, June 2015)

In a surprising sequel, kidnapping victim Reeve (formerly Reggie) LeClaire is stunned to learn her captor, Daryl Wayne Flint, has escaped from Olshaker Psychiatric Hospital where he has been locked up in the forensic unit.  Reeve thought she had put her four years of captivity behind her and has concentrated on being a typical normal college student for the past seven years, but must now face her worse nightmare: Flint is on the loose and may be coming for her.  After Reeve learns that Flint’s psychiatrist was murdered, the person whom she predicted Flint would seek out, she begins to get feelings in the form of flashbacks that she is certain will lead her to Flint.  Teaming up with retired FBI agent Milo Bender who first worked on Reeve’s case, Reeve revisits the Washington town from where she was kidnapped, knowing deep inside she is the only one who can find Flint and stop him before he kidnaps another young girl.  Suspenseful with many twists and turns, Norton cleverly creates a plot allowing her to spend more time exploring Reeve, portraying Reeve as an even stronger woman than in the first novel that featured her The Edge of Normal as she tried to help another kidnapping victim.  Either book would be a welcome stand alone, but read together provide a portrait of an extremely smart and strong woman and her unwillingness to become a victim, no matter the circumstances and no matter how easy it would be to do nothing, protected by friends and family, even if it meant looking over her shoulder for the rest of her life.