For the Love of Reading

Next Life Might Be Kinder

“It must be a good book,” my husband said as I read by flashlight in the car on the way home from our Thanksgiving holiday.

What not to like: a spirit talking from beyond the grave, two writers practicing (or not) their craft, Lindy Hop lessons, a blue cat warming itself by the radio, birdwatching by the sea, and crocks and crocks of fresh fish chowder?

This novel takes place in Halifax and in a small village in Nova Scotia. The seaside village setting is spectacular with its wild Atlantic coast, historic graveyard, and old library. 

The book tells the stories of two writers Sam Lattimore and his new wife, Lizzie. It’s the 1970s and they live in a Halifax hotel where they also had their honeymoon. Lizzie orders a chaise-longue for their living room in honor of the topic of her dissertation, The Victorian Chaise-Longue, a minor book by a minor writer that Lizzie has chosen for what it teaches about life.

The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty

This novel begins in a psychologist’s office where a young, exceedingly unattractive woman says she is there because her mother’s dying wish is for her to see a therapist about her weight. The therapist asks Barb Colby if her mother is dying. “No, it’s an early request,” she answers.

A half hour later, Barb strips down to reveal that she’s been wearing a grey wig, false teeth and a fat suit. One of her dear friends committed suicide a couple years before because he fell in love with her on account of her beauty. Now Barb does all she can to conceal it.

The novel is a mostly realistic tale about a group of artists in New York City who are best friends and come together to create in their separate disciplines.

Approaching the End of Life: a Practical and Spiritual Guide

In our death-phobic culture, most of us need all the help we can get planning for our own and our loved ones’ deaths.  This excellent guide, rich with examples, and a good smattering of humor gives just that—an overview of how to prepare for both the practical and spiritual aspects of dying.

Donna Schaper, who is also a minister, opens the book with “The Best Funeral Ever.” She shares funerals and memorials from actual people she knew and helped.

She describes the deceased and makes clear that their wishes should be followed. She closes this chapter with a eulogy she wrote for a feisty friend, Anita, who told the police she would keep driving, no matter what they said, and insisted that no one sing hymns at her service.

In a later chapter on bad funerals, she relates that mistakes happen. For one of the services she conducted, instead of the music the bereaved requested, she carelessly played a classical work left in the CD player. The widow never noticed the switch, and said later, that the music made her feel better during the funeral.

Rain: a natural and cultural history

My family and I lived for five years in the North American rainforest of Southeast Alaska.  In those days, it rained over three hundred days a year. To this day my children prefer a rainy day to one filled with sun. That’s one reason why this book called out to me.

It’s a compendium of archaeological, historical, and scientific facts about our most common precipitation. Also, included in it are a series of mini-biographies of people who are renowned for some connection to rain.

One of these includes Princess Anne of Denmark who tried vainly several time to sail to Scotland to marry her fiancé, King James VI.  Violent storms blew her back to the Nordic regions twice. This was in August, 1589 during the time known as The Little Ice Age. King James VI eventually enlisted his navy to take him north to marry her.

Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo

Six young outcasts must come together to break into an impenetrable fortress, kidnap a scientist with dangerous knowledge, and save the world from a drug that makes Grisha (magic users) infinitely powerful.

Kaz - a strong leader of an underworld gang.

Inej - the Wraith, able to move silently through the world, gathering all its secrets.

Jesper - a sharp shooter with a need to gamble, but very bad luck.

Nina - a Grisha heartrender who can use her magic to stop a man's heart or pull the breath from his body.

Matthias - a former Grisha hunter who knows the fortress better than anyone, but might not be trustworthy.

Wylan - an explosives expert who ran away from a life of privilege.

If they can pull off this impossible heist they'll be rich beyond imagining, but to do that, they'll have to trust each other and work together without killing each other first.

This fast paced story features narration from all six of the main characters allowing readers to get to know each of them. The world building is fabulous and so is the story itself. The shared narration and lack of trust among the characters means that the reader also never knows the group's full plan. Pick up Six of Crows if you want to be blown away by some impressive scheming.

The Light of the World

You might recall Elizabeth Alexander—she read the poem at President Obama’s first inauguration. This memoir by the prize-winning poet covers a much more private, interior space. It tells the story of her love, marriage and family, and especially the jagged rent in her life caused by her husband’s death.

The first chapter queries where the actual story begins. Is it the beautiful April morning in Hamden, Connecticut when Ficre Ghebreyesus returns to his younger son Simon’s trundle bed, saying, “This is the most comfortable bed I have ever slept in.”? Is it when Ficre ran out of the house to buy three dozen lottery tickets on a hunch, wanting the win the lottery for Elizabeth? Or is it way back in ’61 when two women on opposite sides of the earth become pregnant, one carrying a first-born girl, another carrying a later-born son?

The couple met in a New Haven coffee shop; Ficre came over and introduced himself.  He was a chef who had escaped from war-torn Eritrea, Africa at age sixteen.  He became a refugee in Sudan, Germany, Italy and finally, the States. Torn from his family for many years, he ended up in New Haven and in the 90s began painting.

He later said he would never marry a woman who did not honor and love her parents. Luckily, Elizabeth more than fit that bill.


Between the World and Me

In a radio broadcast this year, President Obama said this about racism in America. “We are not cured… Societies don't overnight completely erase everything that happened 200-300 years prior.” That’s the premise of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ new nonfiction book, a moving personal letter to his son.

Coates begins by sharing his own difficult childhood on the streets of Baltimore where his only goal was to survive.  He describes learning another language “of head nods and handshakes.” He learned “a list of prohibited blocks” and even learned the “smell and feel of fighting weather.”

Growing up in a bad neighborhood taught him one vital thing: he had to protect and shield his body.

Books that Will Keep You Up at Night

Halloween is on the way, so you're probably in the mood for some scary stories. These books are guaranteed to make your heart beat faster and have you checking for ghouls around every dark corner.

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake is about Cas Lowood, a seventeen year old who travels the country fighting ghosts and the undead in an effort to avenge his father. Cas meets his match in Anna, a powerful spirit capable of great evil.

The Diviners by Libba Bray takes place in the roaring twenties. Evie O'Neill gets the best punishment ever when her parents send her away from her small town to live with her uncle in New York City! But Evie has certain abilities that draw both of them into investigating a series of occult murders that might have been committed by a serial killer...who is already dead. 

Scowler by Daniel Kraus proves that the scariest monsters are sometimes the most human.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs is soon to be a Tim Burton movie (March 2016). Before it hits theaters make sure to read this incredibly original and spooky tale of an abandoned orphanage and the unlikely children who lived there.

The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey is the journal of Will Henry, apprentice to Dr. Warthrop, the Monstrumologist, who studies monsters in an attempt to fight them. This book is not for the faint of heart or the weak of stomach.

The Ten Best of Everything National Parks

As the days shorten, and autum winds blow, it's time to dream about and plan your next national park vacation. We are lucky to live in a country with so many outstanding natural places to visit: the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Acadia, Yellowstone, Zion...the list goes on and on.

If you can't decide which national park to visit next, this guide will give you lots of ideas. Whatever your interests--photography, horseback riding, climbing summits, mountain biking, fly-fishing, petroglyph-viewing, you'll find lots of great recommendations.

Say you're a history afionado, how about the ten best parks to follow our presidential footprints?  Try Gettysburg, Mount Rushmore (of course), Theodore Roosevelt N.P., the Jefferson Monument, etc.  Each list has at least a half page entry on why it's included.

One of my favorite entries came from the seasonal category section: Dark Skies. Can you guess which parks offer the best star-viewing? Big Bend makes the top of the list


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