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Monday, August 5, 2013
Theodosia Browning owns the charming Indigo Tea Shop, located in the historic district of Charleston, South Carolina. Local business owners fear that a real estate developer is attempting to buy their properties for redevelopment. Then the developer is found slumped over a cup of Theodosia’s tea—dead. The police suspect that Theo and her staff of caused his demise, despite a lack of evidence, so Theo must track down the killer to clear her name and regain the excellent reputation of her shop.
The Tea Shop Mystery series is enjoyable, with interesting characters and a touch of Southern flavor. The detailed descriptions allow you to picture narrow cobbled streets, local women creating sweetgrass baskets, and historic buildings. While the mystery itself wasn’t particularly difficult to unravel, the book would be especially enjoyable to read during a cold Wisconsin winter.
If you like tea you will enjoy learning more about where tea comes from, imagine tasting the delicious tea blends served at the shop, and perhaps try some of the recipes for delicious desserts that are served at the tea shop.
Monday, August 5, 2013
I have found a new favorite mystery writer/series (unless the author tanks it in book 2 of the series...highly unlikely)! Kate Burkholder is the Police Chief in the small town of Painters Mill, Ohio, where she grew up in an Amish family. Some pretty dramatic and traumatizing events (detailed in the book) cause her to leave the Amish culture and join English society. She is placed under the bann by the Amish and ends up leaving home for Cleveland, where she eventually becomes a police officer. She spends 8 years there, first as a patrol officer, then a homicide detective before she is hired as Chief of the Painters Mill PD.
She has been in her role as Chief for 2 years when we meet her in this captivating crime story. One of her officers has stumbled across a body while rounding up some loose cows near the Stutz family farm. The body is of a young woman who has been brutally tortured and killed, and the killer's m.o. is eerily similar to that of "The Slaughterhouse Killer", a serial killer that terrorized Painters Mill sixteen years before. Could the killer be back or is it a copycat crime? In either case, the questions begs to be answered "Why now?"
Through the course of the investigation, we learn of Kate's past and the secrets she is keeping. Secrets that can affect the investigation, her life, and her career. The characters are well developed and the story so effectively told. I had never heard of this author before, until a patron I was engaged in a reader's advisory transaction with recommended this series to me.
Apparently, Linda Castillo is best known, or was previously, as a romance author (which explains why I never heard of her --- romance novels are not my cup of tea). I would never in a million years have guessed that! Castillo is a natural in this role. If you like a good, well-written mystery -- think Sue Grafton, Kathy Reichs, or Lisa Scottoline, give this series a try. I can't wait to read more about Kate Burkholder!
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
For the first time since her husband’s death, Natalie Waters is returning to her family’s cabin in the secluded north woods of Wisconsin. She expects to be surrounded by her memories and solitude, but what she finds is something altogether different. After her dog is attacked by a wolf, Natalie finds herself in the middle of the heated conflict between local advocates of the Timber Wolf population and local hunters. Her once peaceful retreat is now threatened by violence. Natalie turns to some old friends for support and ends up on another little adventure. Natalie grudgingly joins her friends on a hunt for the fortune believed to have been buried in the woods by notorious gangster John Dillinger after the shootout at his local hideout decades earlier. This story is surely to be enjoyed by anyone who has visited or owns a cabin in Northern Wisconsin. A very enjoyable story.
Wednesday, July 17, 2013
A crippled hospital, an orphaned young girl, and two heroic doctors provide the axis for a powerful story set in the war weary Russian province of Chechnya during a decade of tension that begins in 1994. "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" allows the profound despair saturating the intersecting lives of inhabitants in a small Chechen village to come alive one character, one page at a time. Author Anthony Marra also weaves a spellbinding, historical narrative to accompany his story of loss, betrayal, love, and hope.
Though Marra presents memories collected over a period of ten years, the actual story timeline highlights five days in 2004. When Akhmed witnesses the brutal kidnapping of his good friend and neighbor Dokka by Russian soldiers, Akhmed's future is forever changed and forever challenged. Driven by an inherit kindness and fear for Dokka's abandoned eight year old daughter Havaa, Akhmed rescues the young girl, along with her blue suitcase, from the grips of war threatening her very existence. They embark upon a journey to a spartan hospital unrecognizable as a place of healing except for the one remaining doctor: Sonja.
The intimidating Sonja is reluctant to shelter Havaa until Akhmed, himself a doctor, offers his assistance in exchange. Due to the overwhelming needs in the trauma and maternity wards, the suspicious doctor accepts the arrangement. She soon realizes his incompetence yet recognizes his compassion. And though she is addicted to amphetamines and suffers from hallucinations, Sonja is very gifted in her relentless pursuit to save lives. The overworked doctor is haunted in her personal life by the disappearance of her sister Natasha. She is determined to find her younger sister and take back what the war has stolen from her. Sonja's search for Natasha is a continual thread placed expertly throughout the book to possibly represent the aspect of loss experienced by so many ravaged by war in "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena." Amidst the insanity permeating the hospital, nurse Deshi offers some humor and temporary lightness.
Marra's compilation is thick with history, but the telling does seem necessary in order to give the plight of his characters the justice they deserve. Akhmed's friend and neighbor Khassan has written an almost 3000 page manuscript of Chechen history, and the author cleverly uses pieces from the masterpiece to establish a historical background. Khassan records the rich history of his homeland partly to escape the shame he feels due to the help his son Ramzan gives a brutal government denying Chechnya's sovereignty.
The book has many strengths. The characters are well developed; the devastating effects on the people of Chechnya struggling to survive a long, tedious second war are clearly illustrated; and the plot builds towards a satisfying conclusion without losing its focus. "A Constellation of Vital Phenomena" is a phenomenal read.
Monday, July 15, 2013
I loved this book. Joyland is about characters, more than anything. Granted, there are a couple ghosts, but they are incidental characters. Since it is published by Hard Case Crime, there is a murder too, but it happened before the timeframe of the book and is peripheral until near the very end, where action takes over and we find out “whodunit”.
The narrator, Devin, is a kind, open soul with a lot of heart. We see all the other characters through his eyes. In spite of his naturally sunny disposition, the start of the book finds Devin with his heart broken by the woman he thought he was going to marry. She throws him under the bus for an Ivy League guy and he starts spending his nights listening to the Doors playing “The End”.
He takes a job in amusement park (selling “fun”) and is encouraged by coworkers who care about him and by his employer who sees his potential. The “carnie folks” have their own “talk”, which is almost a character in its own right. Everyone takes turns doing all the jobs at the carnival, including the dreaded “wearing the fur”. This refers to the dog costume for Howie, the park mascot. It turns out that Devin is as good with kids as he is with adults and he actually likes this part of the job.
To save money, he walks to work. His route takes him by a mansion where a young serious looking woman and a boy in a wheelchair (and a Jack Russell Terrier) live. These characters will play a predominant role in this story.
I can’t add a lot more without giving out spoilers (it is only 288 pages). But more than one person has stated that they were moved to tears by the ending. If you are looking for another “The Shining” this might disappoint. But I hope it would simply satisfy on another level.
Saturday, July 13, 2013
I love looking at cookbooks. Though many of the recipes have the same basic background, each cook or chef can give them a little twist to make them new again. Sometimes cookbooks are also art. There are even awards for artistic merit in cookbooks. Two recent additions to the Appleton Public Library cookbook collection fall into the "art + cookbook" niche.
Caitlin Freeman is a baker at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She and her coworkers take inspiration from the works of art in the museum, creating masterpieces of flour and sugar to feed hungry people in the museum’s café. In her book Modern Art Desserts: Recipes for Cakes, Cookies, Confections, and Frozen Treats Based on Iconic Works of Art she showcases some of her creations.
The first part of the book discusses how she came to be a pastry chef, and how SFMOMA became her baking home. A section on the basics of baking, as well as photos showing how to manage some of the more unusual processes, help the average baker understand how to create their own masterpiece. Reproductions of the inspirational works of art are juxtaposed with the cakes and other treats produced from their bakery.
Two of the most fascinating works to me are the Mondrian cake from the cover of the cookbook and the Lichtenstein cake. They are beautiful to look at, reflect the art that inspired them, and sound delicious.
If you are looking for a challenge in your baking, this would be a good place to start.
The Geometry of Pasta, by Caz Hildebrand and Jacob Kenedy, falls into this category. Striking black and white illustrations use simplified pasta shapes to form black and white geometric patterns. Each pasta shape has a brief description of how the pasta is shaped, the size, and other names for the shape. There is also a bit of history--for example, if the pasta was usually eaten on a special day, or where it was developed.
Recipes for the pasta and accompanying sauces are included, along with suggestions for serving. While there are some unusual recipes, such as Dischi Volanti con Ostriche e Prosecco (Oysters, prosecco and tarragon sauce on “flying saucer” pasta), there are also variations on macaroni and cheese, eggplant lasagna and Alfredo sauce. If you love pasta, this would be a good book to check out.
Poems for Civil Rights Leaders (2013)
Friday, July 12, 2013
"I was a typist, nothing more. I loved my life, I hated war.
But it was war that stole from me my job, my life, serenity."
This poem, "The Captive", is about Mitsuye Endo, a woman who protested the removal of her civil rights during World War II when all Japanese-Americans were moved into relocation camps. All of the poems in J. Patrick Lewis' book are about civil rights activists, and are illustrated by five different illustrators. Most of the illustrations consist of muted tones, but a few are bright and colorful. People honored with poems include Josh Gibson, Emmett Till's mother, Harvey Milk, Nelson Mandela, and Jackie Robinson. Author's notes at the end of the book fill in details about who each person is and how they made a difference.
Publisher's Weekly and Booklist gave this book starred reviews, and I give it high praise as well.
A Counting Primer (2012) & A Weather Primer (2013)
Friday, July 5, 2013
The Little Miss Bronte series, part of the BabyLit book series published by Gibbs Smith, are an elegant way to introduce the youngest child to the world of classical literature. Jane Eyre is a counting primer, and counts drawings, trees, pearls, and books, with quotes interspersed, such as "this book I had again and again perused with delight".
Wuthering Heights is a weather primer, so for breezy, the quote is "the weather was sweet and warm" and for stormy we read, "the storm came rattling over the Heights in full fury."
Oliver's art is charming in its complicated simplicity. These books are first purchases for fans of the originals who just can't wait to share their love of the classics with their child.
Monday, July 1, 2013
From the very beginning, the persona of Leonard Cohen has been somewhat of a contradiction. He’s a gentleman but also a ladies man and he was fond of saying he was “born in a suit” in Montreal 78 years ago. Simmons has written a comprehensive account of the charismatic Cohen who is sometimes considered the Canadian Bob Dylan. Along the way, Cohen mingled with the star folk singers of the day including, Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins. One of his albums was produced by Phil Spector, a harrowing experience. Cohen was born a Jew but he spent several years in a Zen Center in Los Angeles and he became an ordained Zen Buddhist monk.
Monday, July 1, 2013
I love Paul. I love the black-and-white, curvy casual style in which his stories are illustrated. I would learn to read French if I were to learn that the Paul stories would no longer be translated into English. I've read Rabaliati's other semi-autobiographical stories, and have enjoyed following Paul's life in Canada from his summer job as a camp counselor to moving into his first place with his fiance in the city to his becoming a father. Rabagliati adds a new dimension to Paul's story by focusing on his in-laws, with emphasis on his wife's father, Roland.
The story opens with Paul and family gathering with his wife's two sisters and their families at his parents-in-law's home, and Rabagliati captures little truths in this reunion that will bring smiles to readers as they identify with the experience. There's the burst of joy and excitement at seeing everyone followed by an evening of first finding a place to sleep and then attempting to sleep through the night in a basement filled with adults and children.
As I read this opening and felt it ring true to my own experience, I reveled in the connection I felt to this story and to its author. Thus engaged in the story, I read on, not expecting to repeatedly experience such a deep connection. Any reader whose watched a loved one grow old and weak with age and disease is likely to experience a similar connection.
Paul's father-in-law Roland is diagnosed with prostate cancer, prompting a move from that home where the family gathered early in the book to an apartment in the city. Paul joins Roland for a walk (and a secret, forbidden cigarette), and is treated to a brief biography of his father-in-law, from his youth to his retirement and terminal diagnosis. Eventually, Roland's wife is struggling to take care of him by herself and the family decides to move him to hospice. Roland has company from the family every day, but his condition deteriorates and he gradually becomes less able to communicate with them. Inevitably, Roland dies.
I was reminded of my grandfather's final months in hospice, and I appreciate the realism with which Rabagliati infuses his story--from the sad moments to the unexpectedly hilarious ones so needed while families grieve the loss of one who has yet to die. I recommend this story to anyone (whether they've read any previous Paul stories or not) and I believe that it has the power to help those grieving similar losses.
I suppose I'm resorting to pleading here, but take an hour or so to read and enjoy this book, and then tell your friends about it. Paul and Rabagliati ought to be at least as well known as the Charlies Brown and Schultz, and better loved.
An Autobiography (1959)
Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Moss Hart was an enormously successful playwright (“You Can’t Take It With You,” “The Man Who Came to Dinner”), screenwriter (“A Star is Born”), and stage director (“My Fair Lady,” “Camelot”), but this classic memoir deals not with those masterworks, but with his beginnings. It tells the tale of his impoverished New York childhood and the steps leading to his first success, a collaboration with the legendary George S. Kaufmann. This is one of the great memoirs of the era and a must read for anyone interested in theater.
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