Information, Answers & Reviews

The Perfect Family Until--

When this compelling novel starts, Mary Beth Lathem’s biggest problem is taking sass from her truculent teenaged daughter, Ruby. The narrative starts at the beginning of Mary Beth’s busy day as she goes through the house waking up her three children, the eldest daughter and two twins, Alex and Max. Mary Beth owns a landscape business but soon you can tell that her family is the center of her life and passions. 

Alex is a soccer jock, immensely talented and popular while Max, his fraternal twin, is a computer nerd with social anxiety problems.  Glen, Mary Beth’s husband, is an extremely practical and thoroughly unromantic eye doctor--solid as hardwood--though Mary Beth is not necessarily aware of that.

Pick up a Book of Poetry

If you’re new to poetry and find it difficult, you may want to try the work of Gerald Stern. At eighty-eight, he’s one of the grand masters of poetry still composing poems. He’s won lots of awards but writes in understandable language about everyday things: travel, frogs, New York, cafeteria (spelled with a k as are all of the c words in this poem), his childhood, flowers, and love.  What I like about his latest collection In Beauty Bright and all of his work is that he celebrates living in an almost ecstatic way--most of his poems could be songs. Check out these lines: “Like fools we waited to hear the tomatoes;  we knew / what greenness means to the vine.” or “Take a dog to the vet’s, he knows what you’re doing, / a cat becomes a muscle, she leaps from your arms.”

You can tell from his work that he’s the kind of quirky writer that does weird things on occasion to discover his latest poem; for instance, “Day of Grief” begins: “I was forcing a wasp to the top of a window / where there was some sky and there were tiger lilies…” Another insect poem starts this way, “I lost my rage while helping a beetle recover / and stood there with precision, balancing / grass with stone.”

And see how immediate and tactile this poem simply titled “Love” is, “I loved your sweet neck but I loved your shoulder blades more / and wondered whether I should kiss your cheek first / or your hair.”

The World Ends.... Again!

Quite a while ago I posted about the movie "Melancholia," a film about the end of the world and how people reacted to the knowledge that not only their lives would end, but also the lives of everyone else on the planet. Recently I watched the film "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World." As the title suggests this is another film about the end of the world. The premise is almost exactly the same; what effect would knowing you and your world will end in a matter of days have upon you. In fact these movies could almost be two episodes of the same movie. "Seeking a Friend for the End of the World" stars Steve Carell as Dodge and Keira Knightly as Penny two individuals traveling together for very different reasons. Dodge is seeking his old high school sweetheart to spend his last days with. Penny just wants to be with her family.

Voodoo, Blues, and Wandering after the Great Flood

This first novel by an Asian-American has already created a lot of buzz.  First, it has an intriguing topic: Mississippi after the great flood of 1927. Secondly: the main characters are compelling--they are very poor African-Americans under the yoke of the white inhabitants. Finally, it shows exquisite writing.  William Ferris said, “Bill Cheng embraces the region’s 1927 flood, voodoo, blues, and race with breathtakingly beautiful prose.”

Southern Cross the Dog starts with a group of black children playing “Little Sally Water” in the rain—the rain that caused the great flood. Soon the story focuses on the character of Robert, the second born child of Etta and Ellis. Before long, you discover that his family has just suffered an immense tragedy. White vigilantes had hung the oldest son Billy for loving a white girl.

Bill Cheng captures the chaos and hardship after the flood. Dead bodies floated past.  Men with boats offered rides but also stole the food and valuable keepsakes of the displaced families. Robert’s family began this journey together, but ended up in a refugee camp. Because Etta has lost her mind over Billy’s death, she needs constant care. Ellis makes a difficult decision: to send young Robert off with someone to work in another town. Ellis thinks this is the only way all three of them will survive but he mistakenly does not tell his son why he is sending him away.

Rosie Nominations and Historical YA Fiction

Between Shades of GrayQuick! Name one thing you know about the Crimean War! Nothing? Florence Nightingale maybe?

Brief history lesson: The Crimean War was fought between Russia and an alliance of France and England over the declining Ottoman Empire in what is now part of the Ukraine.  This war pre-dates World War I, and is often considered as the first modern war. It is also famous for Florence Nightingale who drastically improved nursing practices while caring for wounded British soldiers.

Sounds exciting, right?  Ok, maybe not the most promising backdrop for a YA book, but In the Shadow of the Lamp has enough to keep you turning pages. Molly has been framed for theft and fired from her job as a parlor maid at a fancy London home. She decides to sneak her way onto a ship headed east when she hears that Miss Nightingale is looking for nurses. Even though she doesn’t have any training, Molly is headstrong and is willing to work hard. She is found out by Miss Nightingale, but her hard work and natural inclinations at nursing and caring for people proves her worthy. In fact, Molly's abilities are even a bit magical. The magical elements aren't played up too much and Molly is a likeable character as she struggles with defining her future, both professionally and personally. Whether during the Crimean War or now, trying to figure your way in the world is a timeless endeavor.

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