Custard and Parasols

27 Jul

Instead of spending Monday night glued to my radio listening to the speeches at the Democratic Convention, I went to Powells to meet Gail Carriger.

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She is the author of the Finishing School series I finished in April.She was in town promoting her newest novel, Imprudence, the sequel to Prudence, and the second book in the Custard Protocol series.

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Unlike many author presentations, Carriger gave a very brief presentation, covering topics she is asked about a lot. She spent most of the time answering questions of the packed house. Through the wide range of questions, we got to know Gail Carriger’s sense of humor, writing routine and plans for the future.

I’ve been reading her series out-of-order. I started with the Finishing School series, the began The Custard Protocol.  Now, I have her first series, The Parasol Protectorate,  in my queue.  Each of these series is unique unto itself, but they are all set in the Steampunk world she created and there are some characters that overlap. I loved how Carriger explained that each of these repeating characters seem to be a little different in each series because are shown as perceived by protagonist of the series. I was impressed and that helped explain why the Lord Akeldama of Prudence is so different from the Lord Akeldama of The Finishing School.

Of course, I took my moment to get my books signed and chat for a few moments with Gail.

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When I got home, I learned I had missed some fabulous DNC speeches, but I didn’t mind. I could watch them online. I had enjoyed a marvelous evening and had a new book to read.

Lending a hand

26 Jul

My back was turned to the road, keeping the midday sun out of my eyes and Lucy trotted along the curb as though it were a balance beam. I heard the car behind me, so I pulled the leash, tugging her away from the road and onto the grassy parking strip . The driver of the white SUV and I made eye contact, letting each other know we would both make sure Lucy was safe. I pulled again on Lucy’s leash, getting her out of the way of whoever was about to emerge from the SUV. Her attention turned to a blade of grass as the SUV parked.

As Lucy took care of business, I  half watched  my neighbor get out, open the hatch and start unloading the groceries that filled the back. She pulled out the bags and package of paper towels while I tore a bag off the roll and performed the duties of a good neighbor and responsible citizen. Lucy and I turned to carry on with our afternoon walk as voice called out, “Could you give me a hand?”.

I turned to see the driver juggling the packages.

“Could you close the hatch?” she asked hopefully. “My hands are full.”

I smiled and nodded. “Sure, no problem.”

I tugged Lucy close to the SUV again and reached up, barely able to grab the hatch, but I got it and pulled it closed.

“Thanks,” she said.

“No problem,” I replied, smiling. She didn’t know how tall she just made me feel. At not quite 5 feet tall, I often rely upon the kindness of strangers to help me reach things that are too high for me. Finally, I had a chance to repay the favor.

We smiled at each other one last time, then, she walked off with her groceries.  I tugged on  Lucy’s leash once more and walked away in the other direction, my heart a little lighter.

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Books to save your life

25 Jul

My dad died a year ago today.

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I got a little weepy at my niece’s high school graduation when I read in the program that she had won an award from the local Masonic Lodge. My dad was a lifelong Mason and he would have been so proud to see her get that award. I like to think he was looking down on her that day.

 As a book lover, I turned to literature for some help. Shortly after his passing, I read H is for Hawk  by Helen Macdonald. Last Christmas, my twin sister gave me They left Us Everything, Plum Johnson’s memoir about coping with the houseful of mementos and memories her parents left after their deaths.

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Publisher’s Summary: After almost twenty years of caring for elderly parents—first for their senile father, and then for their cantankerous ninety-three-year old mother—author Plum Johnson and her three younger brothers have finally fallen to their middle-aged knees with conflicted feelings of grief and relief. Now they must empty and sell the beloved family home, twenty-three rooms bulging with history, antiques, and oxygen tanks. Plum thought: How tough will that be? I know how to buy garbage bags.

But the task turns out to be much harder and more rewarding than she ever imagined. Items from childhood trigger difficult memories of her eccentric family growing up in the 1950s and ’60s, but unearthing new facts about her parents helps her reconcile those relationships, with a more accepting perspective about who they were and what they valued.

They Left Us Everything
 is a funny, touching memoir about the importance of preserving family history to make sense of the past, and nurturing family bonds to safeguard the future.

I can think of many friends and colleagues, all middle-aged,  who might benefit from reading this book, who also have aging parents.

Earlier this year I read an excellent New Yorker article entitled “Can reading Make You Happier?” which was all about bibliotherapy. It turns out my local public library actually had the book mentioned in the article,  The Novel Cure  by Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin.

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In my pursuit of this topic, I also came across this gem:

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There are many other similar books out there. I hope that you can find some solace, support and hope in whatever books you choose to read.

J’ai fait mon métier

24 Jul

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There is a line in Pilote de Guerre, one of my favorite Antoine de Saint-Exupéry novels, in which the pilot, in describing his mission, says, “J’ai fait mon métier.” It means, simply, “I did my job.” It is a statement of fact that sees no particular glory or heroism in doing what needs to be done.

And this sense of simply doing one’s job, a job which to the rest of us seems rather heroic, pervades Alan Furst’s A Hero of France.

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This is an adult novel that tells the story of Mathieu, a  French Resistance leader, over  five months in 1941. His Gallic acceptance of doing what must be done is marvelously contrasted to the delight in things that seem ordinary: the smell of potatoes fried in beef fat, the taste of black-market cheese, the feel of a cashmere sweater. This is my first Furst novel, but I think it won;t be my last!

Publisher’s Summary: Paris. 1941. The City of Light is dark and silent at night. But in Paris and in the farmhouses, barns, and churches of the French countryside, small groups of ordinary men and women are determined to take down the occupying forces of Adolf Hitler. Mathieu, a leader of the French Resistance, leads one such cell, helping downed British airmen escape back to England.

Alan Furst’s suspenseful, fast-paced thriller captures this dangerous time as no one ever has before. He brings Paris and occupied France to life, along with courageous citizens who outmaneuver collaborators, informers, blackmailers, and spies, risking everything to fulfill perilous clandestine missions. Aiding Mathieu as part of his covert network are Lisette, a seventeen-year-old student and courier; Max de Lyon, an arms dealer turned nightclub owner; Chantal, a woman of class and confidence; Daniel, a Jewish teacher fueled by revenge; Joëlle, who falls in love with Mathieu; and Annemarie, a willful aristocrat with deep roots in France, and a desire to act.

As the German military police heighten surveillance, Mathieu and his team face a new threat, dispatched by the Reich to destroy them all.

Shot through with the author’s trademark fine writing, breathtaking suspense, and intense scenes of seduction and passion, Alan Furst’s A Hero of France is at once one of the finest novels written about the French Resistance and the most gripping novel yet by the living master of the spy thriller.

 

Summer Idyll

22 Jul

I am at that point in summer where time seems to stretch out before me. It won;t last long, as I have a workshop on August 4th, but for now, I am content to luxuriate in the promise of unfettered time.

Ally Condie’s Summerlost has a bit of that feeling too.

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Set in a small college town, it focuses on Cedar Lee, whose family has relocated there for the summer, following a family tragedy. It is not a dramatic, fast-paced read. Rather, it is a beautiful novel that unfolds slowly. It wasn’t the book I expected it to be, given that Condie is the author of the Matched  series. This is a lovely, realistic middle grade book.

Publisher’s Summary: Sometimes it takes a new friend to bring you home. It’s the first real summer since the accident that killed Cedar’s father and younger brother, Ben. Cedar and what’s left of her family are returning to the town of Iron Creek for the summer. They’re just settling into their new house when a boy named Leo, dressed in costume, rides by on his bike. Intrigued, Cedar follows him to the renowned Summerlost theatre festival. Soon, she not only has a new friend in Leo and a job working concessions at the festival, she finds herself surrounded by mystery. The mystery of the tragic, too-short life of the Hollywood actress who haunts the halls of Summerlost. And the mystery of the strange gifts that keep appearing for Cedar.

Infused with emotion and rich with understanding, Summerlost is the touching new novel from Ally Condie, the international bestselling author of the Matched series that highlights the strength of family and personal resilience in the face of tragedy.

 

Bad-Ass Librarians

21 Jul

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This button has been pinned on my ALA Conference lanyard since I picked it up in Boston in January. I would have moved it to my school lanyard, except that it has the word ASS on it and that is certainly a middle school no-no.

When I first picked up the button, I didn’t realize it was meant to promote Joshua Hammer’s book  The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu. 

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During the school year, the book came up in discussion with a former school library colleague who was on the verge of retirement (and whose retirement party I will attend tomorrow).

Well, I finally read the book. It is about the librarians who saved the thousands of Arabic manuscripts housed in and around Timbuktu, bit it also gives background to why the effort was necessary.

Publisher’s Summary: To save precious centuries-old Arabic texts from Al Qaeda, a band of librarians in Timbuktu pulls off a brazen heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven.

In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that had fallen into obscurity. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu tells the incredible story of how Haidara, a mild-mannered archivist and historian from the legendary city of Timbuktu, later became one of the world’s greatest and most brazen smugglers.

In 2012, thousands of Al Qaeda militants from northwest Africa seized control of most of Mali, including Timbuktu. They imposed Sharia law, chopped off the hands of accused thieves, stoned to death unmarried couples, and threatened to destroy the great manuscripts. As the militants tightened their control over Timbuktu, Haidara organized a dangerous operation to sneak all 350,000 volumes out of the city to the safety of southern Mali.

Over the past twenty years, journalist Joshua Hammer visited Timbuktu numerous times and is uniquely qualified to tell the story of Haidara’s heroic and ultimately successful effort to outwit Al Qaeda and preserve Mali’s—and the world’s—literary patrimony. Hammer explores the city’s manuscript heritage and offers never-before-reported details about the militants’ march into northwest Africa. But above all, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu is an inspiring account of the victory of art and literature over extremism.

Contempt vs Comfort

20 Jul

You know the saying:  familiarity breeds contempt. This can be true in literature, when, after you’ve read a certain number of books in a genre, you burn out on it. I find this to be especially true in fantasy and dystopian literature. I can be hyper critical of books that seem derivative, and yet, other times, I can find comfort in well-written tropes. Sometimes it is all about my state of mind.

As I read Amy Tintera’s Ruined, I found many familiar fantasy tropes and yet, I was not put off.

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In fact, I rather liked it and found it a comfortable read, full of familiar characters and motifs. Maybe this is because I am relaxed and on summer vacation. Maybe because it has been a while since I have read anything in this genre. Whatever the reason, I found myself caught up in Emelina’s story.

Publisher’s Summary:Emelina Flores has nothing. Her home in Ruina has been ravaged by war; her parents were killed and her sister was kidnapped. Even though Em is only a useless Ruined—completely lacking any magic—she is determined to get revenge.

Her plan is simple: She will infiltrate the enemy’s kingdom, posing as the crown prince’s betrothed. She will lead an ambush. She will kill the king and everything he holds dear, including his son.

The closer Em gets to the prince, though, the more she questions her mission. Her rage-filled heart begins to soften. But with her life—and her family—on the line, love could be Em’s deadliest mistake.

The book is often compared to The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard. I can see the similarities, but I liked this one more .he worst thing about it is that is s yet another trilogy and the next book doesn’t come out until 2017. There is something to be said for coming late to a series and binge reading it in one sitting.

 

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