Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Consequences of a Hand Job

The Fourth Hand by John Irving

Patrick Wallingford is an unusually attractive man but only a second-rate television news reporter who never seems to get the really good stories. Unfortunately, he becomes a headline himself when a lion bites his hand off during the filming of a piece on a circus in India. After that incident, his career takes an unexpected turn, as does his overly-steamy sex-life. when a hand surgeon offers to give him a hand transplant, his life gets turned upside-down because the donor hand has "strings attached" in more ways than one!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

What is a "Portrait of America?"

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

The Berglunds, Patty and Walter, are a typical suburban couple. This is their story, told from their early beginnings throughout their lives. The Berglunds live in a home they've renovated in a run-down neighborhood just outside St. Paul Minnesota. Soon others from the gentrification crowd join their surroundings, they bring two children (a son and daughter) into the world, and the years go by. The problem is, what starts out as a budding, happy, middle-class family, slowly becomes four individuals that can't recognize any resemblances among them.

Friday, August 29, 2014

No bones about it; this is a lovely book!

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

When George Harvey raped and murdered Suzie Salmon, she was only 14 years old. He did this in a room he dug out underneath the frozen cornfields. The story here, told from Suzie's point of view after she is dead, are her observations of life on earth.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Very Carefully, Apparently

How to Talk to a Widower by Jonathan Tropper

Two years after Doug and Hailey were married, Hailey died in a plane crash, leaving Doug her home in the suburbs, her angry son who doesn't want to live with his father because of his new trophy wife, a large settlement from the airline and Doug's life in a shambles. That was a year ago, it's time to move on, or so his family seems to think; but how can he?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Flavored for Deception

Sweetness #9: A Novel by Stephen Eirik Clark

David Leveraux's first job is to test the toxicity "The Nine" an artificial sweetener. When he discovers adverse reactions in monkeys and rats combined with the company's cover up, he loses his job and has a nervous breakdown. His recovery comes through another job - this time in the field he studied for, as a flavorist - the food chemist responsible for developing better tasting food additives. With only rare twinges of guilt, he watches as "The Nine" sweeps the world. Maybe he was wrong back then, or was he?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

That Which Emerges from Her Cocoons

The Behaviour Of Moths (or The Sister) by Poppy Adams

Take two estranged sisters, reunited after 47 years and of course, things aren't going to be comfortable and breezy. Put them in the stately home they grew up in, which is now a dilapidated mansion that one sister has stayed in all this time, and you know someone is hiding something - if not both of them. Poppy Adams begins her novel with the older sister Virginia (known as Ginny) nervously waiting for Vivien's long awaited arrival, and already you can see this visit isn't going to be a loving and joyful reunion.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Rapture, Ecstasy, and Bliss from Your Kitchen

How to Be a Domestic Goddess by Nigella Lawson

The difference between cooking and baking is that the latter is a science. I've even heard it called chemistry for the kitchen. In truth, that's a good analogy because baking a cake or cookies isn't something you can just do without some kind of formula. This is why if you like to bake, having cake cookbooks on your shelves is practically essential. The one cook who makes even the simplest dessert seem like gourmet ecstasy is Nigella Lawson.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Sparkle and its Tarnish

The Objects of Her Affection by Sonya Cobb

If it hadn't been for that mortgage scam, the life Sophie dreamed of for her husband and two kids would have been exactly what she missed as a child - anchored and safe. But with her freelance web design work all but dried up and Brian's preoccupation with trying to procure a rare candlestick for the museum, she's going to have to find a way to fix it, and as usual, all on her own. When she almost accidentally takes a valuable mirror from the museum, she starts on a spiral that could ruin everything for her, her home and everyone she loves.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Beneath the Black Hats and the Wigs

Invisible City by Julia Dahl

The police just found a naked woman's body in a Brooklyn scrap yard, and that's news. So the paper sends their newest stringer, Rebekah Roberts, to get the story. When she gets there, she finds herself in the midst of the exact same Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community her mother returned to when she abandoned Rebekah as a little girl. While getting the scoop on the murdered woman is her job, finding out about her own mother is off the clock. Rebekah's ambition to become a real reporter is tempered with the unease and possibility of solving her own mystery, her mother's 20 years of silence.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Steaming Open a Family's Pandora's Box

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell

On the morning that the 1976 heat in London was about to hit over 90oC for the 10th day in a row, Robert Riordan went out to buy a newspaper - just as he did every morning. Only this time, he didn't come home to the freshly baked Irish soda bread his wife Gretta made. As soon as Gretta figures out something is wrong, she calls her son Michael Francis. But his increasing problems at home prevent him from coming round right away. Her daughter Monica is more concerned about winning over her two new stepchildren than her father's disappearance, and Aiofe, Gretta's youngest is all the way over in New York. When it finally becomes obvious that this isn't just tardiness, all three children come together to help find their father - despite any differences they've had in the past. While looking for him, they uncover some painful information about themselves and the past.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Early 20th century American Romeo and Juliette

Marching to Zion by Mary Glickman

Magnus Bailey fell in love with Minerva Fishbein the minute he scooped this flaming haired child out of her sorrowful father's arms, to help them off the boat in St. Louis. However, Magnus didn't know how much in love he was until it was too late. With all his business savvy and aplomb, could Magnus figure out a way for a Black man and a Jewish woman to live together in peace? This is the story of "Marching to Zion" by Mary Glickman.

Get Roped into this Story

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx

This is the story about a man called Quoyle. That's an unusual name; it means "a coil of rope." Already with the naming of this character, author Annie Proulx suggests his life is a tangled one. As the book opens, we read:
"Here is an account of a few years in the life of Quoyle, born in Brooklyn and raised in a shuffle of dreary upstate towns.

"Hive-spangled, gut roaring with gas and cramp, he survived childhood; at the state university, hand clapped over his chin, he camouflaged torment with smiles and silence. Stumbled through his twenties and into his thirties learning to separate his feelings from his life, counting on nothing. He ate prodigiously, liked a ham knuckle, buttered spuds."

Friday, August 8, 2014

Get Kissed by Kate and her Stories!

Me: Stories of My Life by Katharine Hepburn

Usually, I don't read non-fiction and biographies are often iffy since you can never tell how much of it is true and how much is rumor or gossip. As for autobiographies, well, most non-writers with interesting lives usually need a ghostwriter, which often produce stilted and/or bombastic volumes. If they don't take a ghostwriter, they sound amateurish at best or boring at worst. Not so with "Me: Stories of My Life" by Katharine Hepburn.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Fictional Dismantling of the British Royal Family

The Queen and I by Sue Townsend

In a fictional 1992, the Republican Party sweeps the general election and their first act is to dismantle the monarchy and put the entire royal family into a Midlands' welfare housing project in a place the locals call "Hell Close." Throughout almost all of the rest of this book, Townsend shows us how the Winsor/Mountbatten/Teck families adjust to this new, impoverished lifestyle.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A Berry Nice Book!

Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka

Marina Lewycka's second novel Two Caravans (aka Strawberry Fields) is a classic romantic comedy: boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl. In this instance, there's a slight nod to a twist on "Pride & Prejudice" with Andrei from a rural, lower-class family and Elena from the urban middle-class. That these characters are all migrant workers (one from Africa, two from China and the rest from non-EU Eastern Europe, with our heroes coming from the Ukraine), who have come to England to pick strawberries, is Lewycka's own distinctive spin.

Monday, August 4, 2014

John Irving's Masterpiece

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

Owen is a dwarf who keeps saying he is on a mission from God. Johnny Wheelwright is dyslexic (like myself) and is in a life-long search for his father. (Perhaps the physical and emotional flaws of the two main characters were what made me feel a special closeness to the book.) The relationship between these two boys grows and entwines, with as many twists as Irving's plot. The plot of this book takes us into the lives of these two people - first as young boys and later as young men, and the fantastic events that shape their outlooks on life, and death. Telling you more about the story of this book would certainly spoil you for the wonderful read.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Painted Designs of Yemenite Jewish Women

Henna House by Nomi Eve

Born in a remote village of the Kingdom of Yemen, Adela Damari moves through childhood, unloved by her mother, hated by her brothers and yet adored by her ailing father. His love won’t save her, because if he dies before she is engaged to marry, the Confiscator will take her away and place her in a Muslim family. That fear only abates when Adela joins her many female relatives observing and then learning the ancient Jewish tradition of Henna. With this, her life becomes one with the intricate artwork and mystical patterns, which fade only to come alive again, each time with the reapplication’s new and captivating pattern.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

A Website that Became a Book

Four Word Film Reviews - The Book by Benj Clews and Michael Onesi (

I love movies, and I also enjoy reading on-line movie reviews, whether they are on IMDb or by some reputable, well-know film critic. Heck, I even write them myself. But sometimes I like to have a reference book at my side so when something shows up on TV that I'm unfamiliar with, I can quickly get an idea if I should change the channel or keep on watching. To do this on-line means getting up from my comfortable couch and doing an Internet search - such a bother! In addition, some of the reviews go on forever, and who has time for that when the opening credits are already rolling? For these reasons, I've been known to buy books like Leonard Maltin's Movie Guides, and have never regretted any of those purchases. However, sometimes I do find the print in these books to be a touch small (these old eyes aren't getting any younger). Finally, some of these reviews are far too serious, and I'm a fun-loving girl.

Friday, August 1, 2014

An Occupied Island and Unusual Occupations

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

When the Nazis occupied the island of Guernsey during WW2, some of the inhabitants tried to carry on as usual. Others felt they should try to do something in defiance of their captors. When their gatherings become suspect, they use the auspices of a book club and sharing what little food they have to create "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society." Author Mary Ann Shaffer tells this story, through letters between one of the society's members Dawsey Adams, and a London writer Juliet Ashton. They start writing to each other after Dawsey finds Juliet's address inside one of the club's books.