Jennifer is drawn to stories and characters like a hound's muzzle to the trail. She loves to absorb beautifully written fiction, historical fiction and people-centered histories. Books about the hard work of living well and being happy figure constantly on her nightstand, too.
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Lorenzo is a 12-year-old guitar-strumming, gentle soul. He lives on the family's failing peach farm and his dad died in the war just a week before he was born. Along with having a best friend whose more like a sister and a grandpa whose more like a friend, he bonds with and works to preserve a piglet runt--Marty--who quickly demonstrates he's smarter than most dogs. Author Paul Griffin keeps 'Renzo's actions and spoken words true to a shy, present-day preteen. It's the simple nuggets of wisdom and compassion in narrator Lorenzo's unspoken observations that made me close my eyes and smile so often. Along with laboring to save Marty, he managed to rescue and strengthen some of own faith in others.
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Just the 'children's' stories within this novel were worth my investment in A House Among the Trees. Mort Lear is a children's author/illustrator with enough fame (and dark mystery surrounding his past) that a major motion picture about him is underway. Until he dies a week before author Julia Glass' novel begins. The book paints--brushstroke by literary brushstroke--how Mort's huge estate and legacy are left in the hands of his reclusive assistant Tomasina and the dashing movie star cast to play Mort in the movie. Along with delving into Mort's life and his gorgeous children's books, Glass makes Tommy and Oscar-winning Nick sparkle like perfect shards of a shattered mosaic. This is one of those times you can actually judge a book by it's cover. The beautiful pallette of a jacket is the perfect tease into the imperfectly engrossing lives within A House Among the Trees.
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Our protagonist is Lizzie, a daughter who feels like a psychology experiment. The invention of NPR journalist and author Nancy Pearl, Lizzie's folks are behavioral psychologists first; parenthood is hidden a long ways down on their priority list. In an attempt to get their attention, Lizzie changes her 'perfect child' career by sleeping with the entire football team her senior year of high school. With more depth than the premise suggests, Pearl examines how Lizzie's life is affected and, eventually, altered when loving George comes along. Lizzie exasperates me, but I can also empathize. George, like me, is fascinated by how we can all purposefully contribute to the narrative of our own lives. Whether or not he can affect Lizzie's self-sabotaging disbelief is what kept me reading.
"Beach read" is as much a frame of mind as it is a seasonal or geographical term. B.A. Paris' Behind Closed Doors is the best kind of beach read, in all its connotations. The mystery doesn't make your brain hurt, but it does urge you to turn the pages ever faster. Newlywed Grace starts second guessing how well she knows her gorgeous, successful, picture-perfect husband, Jack, within hours of their 'I do's.' She's far less worried for herself than she is for her sister Millie. Millie, who Grace has protected and raised, has Down syndrome. Though the couple's friends see only perfection in Jack and Grace, Millie senses a darkness that Grace can't admit to anyone, but also can't deny. The plot twisted my stomach, as I hoped against hope--from my sun-drenched, safe seat--that good and innocence would prevail.
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The stranger-than-fiction, extreme family dysfunction in Jeannette Walls' memoir The Glass Castle is not a reason to read the book. Certainly the family's deprivation, circumstances and predicaments boggled my mind and propelled me forward. The true benefit of digesting The Glass Castle however, is the wonder and hope I felt about the resilience and resolve children, and by association all of us, can access--practically out of thin air--and employ to survive. Even to thrive. Jeannette and her siblings are those kids.
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Resistance to a hostile government. Stamp engraving during WWII, more than just art form or postage, was used by the Austrians and other anti-Hitler people to fight evil, as Jillian Cantor's historical novel beautifully depicts. In a story that ties the WWII era to 1989 America as the Berlin Wall topples, Cantor's parallel plots create characters I care about. There's an endearing plot symbiosis as we juxtaposition between the two timelines, too. That is, a tug of romance in 1939 is answered by a romantic tangle in the contemporary chapter that follows. When one family member is torn from Katie in 1989, a very different but parallel family rending occurs in the Faber's wartime plot in the succeeding chapter. Intriguingly constructed and unpredictably woven, the parallel stories, via the title's 'Lost Letter,' ultimately converge in a most satisfying way.
There's magic when a grandfather/granddaughter bond is fused. There's joy in witnessing its bouncy development. Even if you're Lemonade Liberty Witt. Even if your grandfather is 'Charlie,' and he's part of your abrupt, unwanted, new life. Lem covers her broken heart with perfected eye-rolls, but her curiosity about--of all things, Bigfoot's possible existence and the boy who's appointed himself CEO of the BIGFOOT DETECTIVE AGENCY in the little town that uses the mythic creature's potential existence as its claim to fame--gets the best of her. Savage's writing urges anticipation and voracious consumption. Her pure gift with metaphor and simile make her young characters' feelings nearly tangible. I was sorry when Lem's adventure was over.
Wow. Brain to body ratio of a number of bird species equals or surpasses our own! They figure puzzles, build simple machines, far exceed both human population and disbursement, AND survived when the dinosaurs did not. I was a confessed bird nerd before I read Alexander’s book, but studies and factoids she recounts alongside her own remarkable personal observation effectively knocked me over with a feather. The skills, memories and relationships birds kindle will likely change the way you see and hear all the common feathered friends you may have little noticed before.
Sarah Jio's Always is this breezy love story with a sticky love triangle that makes my heart hurt for all three involved. Beyond all that emotion, it has just enough social-context teeth in and around the emotion to not feel like pure romance. Jio takes on homelessness in Seattle and tackles traumatic brain injury while keeping us immersed all the while in the gray that clouds a clear black and white choice between the love we're living today and the love we thought we'd buried.
It works! From my perspective, an English major with admittedly little business acumen, this book's ideas made sense and were easily applicable. My small side business was bogged down by expenses until I divided my income into the categories/accounts Michalowicz suggests. He gives traditional money management just a few degrees shift in perspective that made a difference for me. My expenses are still getting paid, my debt is minimized more each month, my business is even growing. The part that was missing--that Michalowicz helped me find--is that I can genuinely see & enjoy the fruits of my labors much more now.
Well, that's a different way to think about romantic love. And it's cogently reasoned, too. Philosopher Jenkins can't believe humans base major life decisions and center their world around a term so purposely elusive and mysterious. Then she proceeds to sensibly define it with exacting research and fresh sources. We can't help but see our own relationships, their flaws and their triumphs, in the scenarios she provides.
She's pinned love down thoughtfully and succinctly without erasing its undeniable magic. Jenkins, who describes herself as "polyamorous," walks us step-by-step through neuro-chemical evidence that love is biological, followed by an explanation of how current social constructs have also shaped what love can be.
Romantic love is so much more expansive and inclusive in Jenkins' world, and she makes it inviting for us to more clearly define our own--to welcome and practice her philosophy of romantic love with an open heart.
Glennon Doyle Melton presents as one messed up, over-stressed lady--and she'd be the first to guiltily describe herself that way. ...so much like so many of us feel. Her gift to us is what she intended to be the story of her marriage. Exposing in raw form her heart-breaking discoveries and biggest blunders as she awakens from alcohol and eating problems, she writes instead her story of becoming fiercely true to herself. Within recounting vibrant details of her normal, messy days, Melton distills unexpected gems of truth. Knowing she can press through her devastations emboldened me to think I can, too.
I'm a grown-up who pages frequently through 'youth' literature, never dreaming it's just for younger generations. I loved reading earlier Spinelli novels with my kids and we have vivid shared memories, still, of his uniquely human characters.
Cammie, the Warden's daughter, is his latest unforgettable young lady. Her careful tantrums, her shaky balance between stubborn tomboy and dawning adolescent female, make her a teen we recognize. Her prison situation and problem-solving skills, on the other hand, make her curiously engrossing. I ached for how much she wanted a mom and laughed out loud at some of her methods to acquire one
In an unsentimental and innocent voice, Una recalls important events that should have been traumatic to her 12-year-old protagonist. She makes them bearable for us through her matter-of-fact, curious tone. In simple ink sketches and raw honesty, she depicts the crimes against her young body that she somehow, at the time, believed were her fault.
Written against the concurrent historic backdrop of Jack the Ripper's terror effect, one young girl tries in hindsight to place into perspective the things that happened to her and how they fit into the big picture of unseen violence against women that surrounds her.
I would happily place this book in the hands of a young teen or any lady wrestling with owning the right to her own body. If you need a reason to think graphic novels can hold an important place in the world of books, Becoming Unbecoming is it.
Using words like 'loafy' and 'jackdaw,' Sara Baume sprinkles her Irish prose with colloquial flavors that are unusual and long lasting. She introduced a rag-tag lonely man, Ray, with his homely shelter dog, One Eye. As their relationship grew, they changed me--for the better. Reading Ray's rough first person story was like meeting a man with a sad smile; I wanted to know more, even though I sensed tears were included. Brave the worrisome "pollen and petrol and plaster" next to Ray's canine companion One-Eye to read and savor this sweet, little novel while we wait, hoping Baume is working on her second book.
Blurring the lines between animal and human behavior, acclaimed nature writer Diane Ackerman has penned a stunning true history of how the pristine, pre-war Warsaw Zoo became a secret safe haven for Jews when Hitler invaded Poland, heavily bombing the zoo in the process. Based on the diary of Antonina Zabinski, we don't just witness the high risk Jew-smuggling that Zookeeper Jan devises. In greater proportion, we live inside his spouse's mind as she becomes acquainted with the terrified humans she hides and feeds in the shell-shocked exhibition cages. The ordeal takes its toll, and we see it in the dark thoughts she discloses only on paper. The way Antonina's sensitive, thoughtful demeanor is paired with her selfless courage provides us a rare, personalized, behind-the-scenes World War II story. While describing savage Nazi behavior at its worst, the Zabinskis never pause to reflect that they, perhaps, are the best specimens of human animals the world has to offer.