Thursday, July 30, 2015

Euphoria by Lily King


 Euphoria is Lily King’s nationally bestselling breakout novel of three young, gifted anthropologists of the ‘30’s caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their bonds, their careers, and, ultimately, their lives.

My take: 3 looks

I had seen this on other's TBR lists, and read a few reviews, and when I saw it on my local library's New Releases table, I grabbed it. Inspired by events in the life of revolutionary anthropologist Margaret Mead, I thought it would be a little dry. Boy! Was I wrong!

Fen and Nell are married and meet up with Bankson, all anthropologists in the 1930s in New Guinea. Anthropology is a new science, and these three are at the forefront of their studies, writing and bringing info to the western world of indigenous peoples.

Fen is moody and volatile, Nell is focused and steady, and Bankson is our narrator. The three personalities mesh and clash as expected in a very intriguing story which is both informative and engaging. When I read the last page, I closed the book and rested my head on the cover. It was an unexpected, bittersweet and interesting ending to the story.

This is in no way a dry read, and I recommend it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Wednesday Word: Halcyon

hal·cy·on \ˈhal-sē-ən

a bird identified with the kingfisher and held in ancient legend to nest at sea about the time of the winter solstice and to calm the waves during incubation

very happy and successful

Love words with more than on definition, and these are so very different! I am going to use the adjective.

While reading Harper Lee's "Go Set a Watchman", I smiled at the use of halcyon. Not a very common word, it is easily worked into a sentence, and will make others lift impressed eyebrows.

There are a few weeks of halcyon weather between a Deep South spring and summer.

The halcyon water was calming after a hard day.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee


A wonderful new novel from one of America's bestselling authors. Exploring the tensions between a local culture and a changing national political agenda; family arguments and love: an instant classic. Go Set a Watchman features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird some twenty years later. Returning home to Maycomb to visit her father, Jean Louise Finch—Scout—struggles with issues both personal and political, involving Atticus, society, and the small Alabama town that shaped her.

My take: 3 looks

After all of the hullaballoo over this book, I found it to be a nice and easy read. While I don't think it is destined to be a classic like the summary states, I also didn't find my vision of Atticus Finch diminished to a racist hate-monger.

Without giving any spoilers, I will say that it is an interesting look at a few days in the adult life of Jean Louise (Scout). We are introduced to Henry, Uncle Jack, and Aunty Alexandra. This book deals primarily with Jean Louise visiting her family and seeing them for perhaps the first time through adult eyes as opposed to the eyes of an adolescent.

And that is all this is. It is not ground breaking. It is not earth shattering. It is not going to set the literary love of Harper Lee on its ear. It is worth a read simply because of the author, but prepare to not have your socks knocked off.

Library Look: The Free Library of Philadelphia

It is the tenth-largest public library system in the United States by number of volumes held.

A quick history from the library's website: Initiated by the efforts of Dr. William Pepper, the Free Library of Philadelphia was chartered in 1891 as "a general library which shall be free to all." Pepper received initial funding for the Library through a $225,000 bequest from his wealthy uncle, George S. Pepper. However, litigation arose as several existing libraries claimed the bequest. The Free Library finally opened in March of 1894 after the courts decided the money was intended to found a new public library.

The architects responsible for the beautiful building, The Trumbauer Firm, were quite prolific in the Philadelphia area, with their most famous buildings being Reading Railroad's station and Irvine Auditorium at the University of Pennsylvania. Their most famous popculture building is the Philadelphia Museum of Art:

Sylvester Stallone as Rocky. He ran up the steps to the museum during his training and there is a status commemorating the scene.

The Free Library of Philadelphia houses several rare and unique special collections. The Rare Book Department at Parkway Central Library features one of the world’s most renowned Charles Dickens collections, featuring first editions, personal letters, and Dickens’s stuffed pet raven Grip, as well as the largest Beatrix Potter collection outside of the United Kingdom. The Department also houses robust collections of cuneiform tablets, medieval and Oriental manuscripts, and Pennsylvania German fraktur.

In addition to the collections housed in the Rare Book Department, the Free Library also features the Edwin A. Fleisher Collection of Orchestral Music, which is the largest lending library of orchestral performance sets in the world. The Library’s Automobile Reference Collection is one of the most extensive public resources of its kind, and the Print and Picture Collection houses roughly half-a-million circulating pictures in the largest public picture lending library in the nation, in addition to thousands of fine art prints, drawings, and photographs. The Free Library also has an extensive special collection devoted to maps.

Many of the items in the Free Library of Philadelphia’s special collections have been digitized and can be viewed online. So, if you are not close enough to visit, you can still benefit from the great offerings!

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

This black-and-white illustrated, ingenious fantasy centers around Milo, a bored ten-year-old who comes home to find a large package containing a toy tollbooth sitting in his room. Milo drives through the tollbooth's gates and begins a memorable journey. He meets characters such as the watchdog named Tock, the foolish, yet lovable Humbug, the Mathemagician, the not-so-wicked "Which," and King Azaz the Unabridged who gives Milo the mission of returning the two princesses Rhyme and Reason to the Kingdom of Wisdom.

My take: 5 stars and a <heart>

There is not enough to say about this book. It is a wonderfully enchanting play on words. It is full of life lessons and unforgettable characters. In short, this is a book that everyone who loves books should read, own, discuss, and read again.

Highly prized and recommended.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Wednesday Word: Salubrious


adjective sa·lu·bri·ous \sə-ˈlü-brē-əs\


Latin salubris; akin to salvus safe, healthy
First Known Use: 1547

While this word may look a little fancy and off-putting, it is really just a fancy way of saying that something is good for you.

Exercise of the mind and body are salubrious.

Often people with tuberculosis moved to a more salubrious climate.

See? Now YOU try!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Library Look: Bibliothèque nationale de France

The oldest library in the world no longer exists. It was built in 300 BC and located in the ancient city of Alexandria, Egypt. During the Alexandrian War, Julius Caesar accidently burned it down.

The oldest continuously running library is located in a monastery in Saini, Eqypt. However, St. Catherine's Monastery is not open to the public.

That leads me to the oldest continuous library open to the public: Bibliothèque nationale de France. According to the BnF website: The BnF collections are unique in the world: they include14 million books and magazines but also manuscripts, prints, photographs, maps and plans, scores, coins, medals, sound, video and multimedia documents, sets, costumes... These collections continue to grow regularly.

You see that this is quite an impressive collection. However, the buildings are just as impressive. In 1988, then president François Mitterrand announced the construction and expansion of what would be the most modern library in the world. Dedicated in 1996 after huge budget overages, it contains ancient texts, all publications ever printed in the country of France, and continuous art and manuscript exhibits.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen


The first time Eby Pim saw Lost Lake, it was on a picture postcard. Just an old photo and a few words on a small square of heavy stock, but when she saw it, she knew she was seeing her future.

That was half a life ago. Now Lost Lake is about to slip into Eby's past. Her husband George is long passed. Most of her demanding extended family are gone. All that's left is a once-charming collection of lakeside cabins succumbing to the Southern Georgia heat and damp, and an assortment of faithful misfits drawn back to Lost Lake year after year by their own unspoken dreams and desires.

It's a lot, but not enough to keep Eby from relinquishing Lost Lake to a developer with cash in hand, and calling this her final summer at the lake. Until one last chance at family knocks on her door.

Lost Lake is where Kate Pheris spent her last best summer at the age of twelve, before she learned of loneliness, and heartbreak, and loss. Now she's all too familiar with those things, but she knows about hope too, thanks to her resilient daughter Devin, and her own willingness to start moving forward. Perhaps at Lost Lake her little girl can cling to her own childhood for just a little longer... and maybe Kate herself can rediscover something that slipped through her fingers so long ago.

One after another, people find their way to Lost Lake, looking for something that they weren't sure they needed in the first place: love, closure, a second chance, peace, a mystery solved, a heart mended. Can they find what they need before it's too late?

At once atmospheric and enchanting, Lost Lake shows Sarah Addison Allen at her finest, illuminating the secret longings and the everyday magic that wait to be discovered in the unlikeliest of places.

My take: 4 looks

Any book that I read in one sitting is worthy of 4 looks!

Another lovely magical realism book from Addison Allen. She never disappoints! I would have liked to know more, like what happened to the notes that Lisette burned, did the food magically appear that first day, etc. However, these books are to be taken for what they are: a delicious crème puff, light and airy, drizzled with chocolate and filled with decadence. The characters and story are so light and fluffy that you can't help but gobble it all up, and feel a sense of immense satisfaction at the end.


Friday, July 17, 2015

The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane


Taking place during the American Civil War, the story is about a young private of the Union Army, Henry Fleming, who flees from the field of battle. Overcome with shame, he longs for a wound, a "red badge of courage," to counteract his cowardice. When his regiment once again faces the enemy, Henry acts as standard-bearer. Although Crane was born after the war, and had not at the time experienced battle first-hand, the novel is known for its realism. He began writing what would become his second novel in 1893, using various contemporary and written accounts (such as those published previously by Century Magazine) as inspiration. It is believed that he based the fictional battle on that of Chancellorsville; he may also have interviewed veterans of the 124th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiment, commonly known as the Orange Blossoms. Initially shortened and serialized in newspapers in December 1894, the novel was published in full in October 1895. A longer version of the work, based on Crane's original manuscript, was published in 1982.

My take: 4 looks

I enjoyed this book, which I should have probably read in my high school years. Crane's writing has a definite cadence, and at times I found myself in the midst of a true page-turner, as I wanted to know how a particular scene would be played.

The story is more a character study, rather than the description of a particular battle of the Civil War. In that, there is no pro- or anti-war sentiment, but merely the focus of a young man struggling to leave his mother to go to war, and then details of how the war changes him. Because of the frenzy of the writing, it is hard to tell how much time passes from the beginning of the novel to the end, but much growing occurs in the lives of several soldiers. While this story focuses on the Union, I can imagine that the feelings were very similar for the rebels.

Crane uses the language beautifully in describing war. His use of colors, giving human characteristics to inanimate objects, and creating wonderful visuals of the smoke and fog of gunfire on the layout of the land ... it's quite mesmerizing.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Wednesday Word: Impetus

1a (1) :  a driving force :  
b :  stimulation or encouragement resulting in increased activity
2:  the property possessed by a moving body in virtue of its mass and its motion —used of bodies moving suddenly or violently to indicate the origin and intensity of the motion
I like to use this word as it appears in the first definition, as a sort of "cause and effect" description. For example: The man's impetus to quit smoking was the birth of his grandchild.
This is a very straightforward word, and I am not sure why it is not used more often. Perhaps you will use this as an impetus to start using it in your everyday vocabulary!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Library Look: Patience and Fortitude

These are the lion statues outside the New York Public Library. Named Patience and Fortitude, they have been present since the library was dedicated in 1911.

From the library's website:

According to Henry Hope Reed in his book, The New York Public Library, about the architecture of  the Fifth Avenue building, the sculptor Edward Clark Potter obtained the commission for the lions on the recommendation of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, one of America's foremost sculptors. Potter was paid $8,000 for the modeling, and the Piccirilli Brothers executed the carving for $5,000, using pink Tennessee marble. After enduring almost a century of weather and pollution, in 2004 the lions were professionally cleaned and restored.  Unfortunately, the popular tradition of decorating the lions also endangered them, so the practice has been discontinued on the recommendation of the conservators.  
Their nicknames have changed over the decades. First they were called Leo Astor and Leo Lenox, after The New York Public Library founders John Jacob Astor and James Lenox. Later, they were known as Lady Astor and Lord Lenox (even though they are both male lions). During the 1930s, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named them Patience and Fortitude, for the qualities he felt New Yorkers would need to survive the economic depression. These names have stood the test of time: Patience still guards the south side of the Library's steps and Fortitude sits unwaveringly to the north.
As a tribute to the Lions' popularity and all that they stand for, the Library adopted these figures as its mascots. They are trademarked by the Library, represented in its logo, and featured at major occasions.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Reading goal: Pulitzer Prize winners for Fiction: Part 1

I have read a few novels which have won the coveted Pulitzer Prize. So far, reading these novels has left me scratching my head as to why they won. Because of this, I have looked up and read several accounts of how these books are chosen. One account was written by one of the jurors on the 2012 jury, which was extremely interesting because the panel decided not to award a prize that year.

The process, as it stands today, is this: 3 fiction jurors are selected. They change yearly, and are tied closely to the world of books. Sometimes they are authors, critics, professors, editors, etc. Over the course of the year, the jurors each receive over 300 books, shipped in increments of about 30. These books are culled from books published that year which meet the criteria of the Pulitzer for Fiction: “for distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.” This criteria has changed over the course of years, and there is a wonderful summary on JW Rosenzweig's blog found here.

Pulitzer winners I have read:
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - 1937
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee - 1961
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole - 1981
Beloved by Toni Morrison - 1988
Martin Dressler by Steven Millhauser - 1997
Empire Falls by Richard Russo - 2002
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson - 2005
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout - 2009
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan - 2011

Of these books, I would recommend all simply based on the fact that they are winners. However, I can only recommend based on my personal feelings only four of them. Four out of the nine that I have read. Not a very good average, I'd say.

More coming on my Pulitzer Progress.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Martin Dressler by Steven Millhauser


Young Martin Dressler begins his career as an industrious helper in his father's cigar store. In the course of his restless young manhood, he makes a swift and eventful rise to the top, accompanied by two sisters--one a dreamlike shadow, the other a worldly business partner. As the eponymous Martin's vision becomes bolder and bolder he walks a haunted line between fantasy and reality, madness and ambition, art and industry, a sense of doom builds piece-by-hypnotic piece until this mesmerizing journey into the heart of an American dreamer reaches its bitter-sweet conclusion.

My take: 2.5 looks

Continuing with my plan to read Pulitzer winners for fiction, Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer won the coveted prize in 1997. While easy to read, I found the abundance of description a bit sluggish. Detail upon detail of shops, buildings, furnishings, clothing, weather, etc., to the exclusion of descriptions of the people themselves. Martin's building plans were clearer to the reader than his feelings.

An odd man, for sure, Dressler was clearly driven to create bigger and better. He constantly desired more, and became bored once his current exercise was successful. As a matter of fact, the more the story progressed, the more maniacal he became. At the end of the book, his temperament is very bipolar: And indeed he was tired, so tired that he could barely lift his head, though at the same time he felt intensely alert (p 288).

I am not at all sure what Millhauser intended to convey with Martin's relationships. The relationship in the beginning between Martin and his father seems very strong, only to all but disappear, being referred to less and less as Martin having dinner with them over the cigar shop. Once Martin begins to see success, he looks only forward, forgetting those who helped him get to his position, as well as various female relationships.

However, in that vein, The three Vernon women introduced about 1/2 through the book seemed to monopolize and overtake the story. Caroline was odd, manipulative, selfish, and I detected a potential leaning toward lesbianism; Emmeline was intriguing and strong in the beginning, but completely collapses and acquiesces to her sister at the end in a shockingly fast and complete manner; and, Margaret, the mother of these two, was oddly passive-aggressive. The relationships they each formed with Martin were all a bit unusual, but the behavior of Caroline was particularly confusing, bordering on unrealistic. She elicited no sympathy from me, and by the time her antics reached a climax, Martin had rubbed away all of my sympathy, as well. It was almost as if they deserved one another.

The writing toward the end of the book became a bit rushed, and hasty. Once Martin saw success in his cafeteria endeavors, he quickly progressed to hotel magnate, and seemed to burned out quickly from there. The build-up in the beginning, Martin's success, then his quick descent reminded me very much like a rollercoaster. Where I would have liked more of a bell curve, the wrap up of the story was a bit forced and left me wanting.

Overall, this is yet another Pulitzer Fiction winner which has left me disappointed.

Not recommended.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Wednesday Word: Detritus


1:  loose material (as rock fragments or organic particles) that results directly from disintegration
a :  a product of disintegration, destruction, or wearing away :  debris
b :  miscellaneous remnants
This past Sunday, my pastor used this word in his sermon. I was horrified to find that I have been pronouncing this word incorrectly! I put the emphasis on the first syllable as opposed to the second syllable; and, gave it a short 'i', as opposed to a long 'i'.
So, when you refer to the remnants of something, like used children's toys bound for the dumpster, you will be able to tell your kids to put the detritus in the garbage.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Library Look: Livre Exchange

Didier Muller Livre Echange, free library, free city library, Didier Muller, Nathalie Faessel, House Work, French designers, book reading, suspended library, urban design, art installation, outdoor installationThe Livre Exchange is a free library designed by Didier Muller of the French design collective House Work that lets passers-by exchange books for free. The project was unveiled at the International Design Biennial 2013 in Saint-Étienne as a collection of transparent boxes suspended from trees. Visitors were able to take a book from one of the boxes and replace it with one of their own.
Combined with street furniture designed by Nathalie Faessel, the installation promotes free access to reading. Although the concept of free urban libraries is already practiced in cities across the world, the “Livre Echange” library introduces boxes as shelters for books that are left outside and exposed to the elements. By populating public parks with these mini libraries, city residents can grab a book while strolling and drop it off in a different box, protecting it from weather damage.

Credit: Inhabitat Online Article

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet . . . So begins the story of this exquisite debut novel, about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio.

A profoundly moving story of family, history, and the meaning of home, Everything I Never Told You  is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, exploring the divisions between cultures and the rifts within a family, and uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

My take: 3 looks

Family dynamics are at the heart of this debut novel by Celeste Ng. The "golden child" of the family, Lydia, has drowned, and because she was the center of everyone's else's trajectory, the remaining family members begin to move in ways that are foreign to them. While this threatens the balance of the family, each member also makes decisions in the aftermath of the tragedy that will affect their dynamics and relationships for years to come.

Parents James and Marilyn want very different things for their children, and are not aware of how consuming and at odd their desires are. Older brother Nathan and youngest Hannah have always revolved around Lydia, and are now both adrift in both intense grief and a ray hope with which they can't quite come to terms. In a world where every gift, every conversation and every disappointment carries deep underlying meaning, this family is broken to a level that no one can see from the outside.

"James wanted to...", "Marilyn should have...", "Nathan would always wonder...". These are the sentences that propel the story full-force through a tunnel. The emergence of the remaining members of the family on the other side was both heartening and satisfying.


Friday, July 3, 2015

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

“There are books that are suitable for a million people, others for only a hundred. There are even remedies—I mean books—that were written for one person only…A book is both medic and medicine at once. It makes a diagnosis as well as offering therapy. Putting the right novels to the appropriate ailments: that's how I sell books.”

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can't seem to heal through literature is himself; he's still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.

After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country's rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.

Internationally bestselling and filled with warmth and adventure, The Little Paris Bookshop is a love letter to books, meant for anyone who believes in the power of stories to shape people's lives.

My take: 4 looks
Loved this one! Originally written in German, the translation reads so beautifully that it makes me wish I could read it in the original language.

Perdu is an altogether lovable man. He is tragic, flawed, hopeless, angry; and, at the same time, the opposite of all of these! The cast of characters he meets along his fantastical journey down the French waterways is colorful, intriguing and entertaining. The sights, smells, tastes, and overall sensory feast was palpable. I wanted to sail on this boat!

While not giving away the story, I will settle on a few things that I found intriguing. First, the author almost always refers to the main character, Jean Perdu, by his last name. I would think this was a French custom, except none of the others do it. It is almost as if he considers himself in the third person, but not quite. Almost as if he is above the others in the story...or perhaps below. This device interests me and I wish I could ask the author about it.

The second interesting item was the intensity with which these characters felt. They felt with their entire being. Their feelings consumed them, drove them, and kept them from moving. Their feelings controlled them, and the point of most of the storylines was to feel these feelings to the maximum, experience all that the feeling had to offer, then let it go like a helium balloon. I am not sure what George meant for me, as the reader, to glean from this, other than the sheer intensity of these characters. It was almost always lovely.

Always a sucker for books-about-books, I loved the mention of books woven into the story, and the fact that Perdu "prescribed" them to readers. "No, I won't sell you that book," he tells one patron. "You are not ready to read it." Books are healing, soothing, and cathartic; not merely an adventure in text. This idea of reading for the soul was wonderful. At the end of the book is a list of these books, what they cure, and possible side effects. Brilliant!!

The last item, and the one taking one look away from a perfect five, was the absent character, Manon. She was infuriatingly selfish, short-sighted, and egocentric. I didn't like her in the least, and the more I read about her, and from her own hand in a journal, the more I despised her for the role she played in the story. I found her to be completely without sympathy.

With that being said, the story would not have happened without her, and I will, because of that, consider her lovingly as a perfect antagonist/villain.

This is Ms. George's first book to be translated, and I look forward to many, many more.

Highly recommended.

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this honest review.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Wednesday Word: Prattle

Image result for prattle


\ˈprat-liŋ, ˈpra-təl-iŋ\


To talk at length in a foolish or nonsensical way.

I love this word because it is not commonly used, and could be used ... a lot. Do you know that person who goes on and on and on about something, when the conversation is completely exhausted? Next time, you can say, in a loving way, "Oh, my! How you do prattle on."

Just make sure it is not YOU who may be prattling.