Tuesday, October 30, 2012

A Book Of Comfort

I am sorry to say that my sister Patti unexpectedly died on October 19th.  She was only 48.  My family is heartbroken, and feel the loss more deeply every day.  Her funeral service was full of wonderful funny stories about Patti growing up, being a Mom, having fun with friends, and all the love she gave and received over the years.  I have always loved the book The Next Place by Warren Hanson; I recommend it to many customers in our bookstore when they need something that can explain where people go when they die.  I never thought it would become so personal.  My brother Dan read this aloud at Patti's service, and it perfectly sums up where all my brothers and sisters, and Patti's kids feel she is now:

The Next Place
By Warren Hanson
The next place that I go 
Will be as peaceful and familiar
As a sleepy summer Sunday
And a sweet, untroubled mind.
And yet . . .
It won't be anything like any place I've ever been. . . 

Or seen. . . or even dreamed of
In the place I leave behind.
I won't know where I'm going,
And I won't know where I've been
As I tumble through the always
And look back toward the when.
I'll glide beyond the rainbows.
I'll drift above the sky.
I'll fly into the wonder, without ever wondering why.
I won't remember getting there.

Somehow I'll just arrive.
But I'll know that I belong there
And will feel much more alive
Than I have ever felt before.
I will be absolutely free of the things that I held onto
That were holding onto me.
The next place that I go
Will be so quiet and so still
That the whispered song of sweet belonging will rise up to fill
The listening sky with joyful silence,
And with unheard harmonies
Of music made by no one playing,
Like a hush upon breeze.
There will be no room for darkness in that place of living light,
Where an ever-dawning morning pushes back the dying night.
The very air will fill with brilliance, as the brightly shining sun
And the moon and half a million stars are married into one.
The next place that I go Won't really be a place at all.
There won't be any seasons -- 
Winter, summer, spring or fall --
Nor a Monday, Nor a Friday,
Nor December, Nor July.
And the seconds will be standing still. . .
While hours hurry by.
I will not be a boy or girl,
A woman or man.
I'll simply be just, simply, me.
No worse or better than.
My skin will not be dark or light.
I won't be fat or tall.
The body I once lived in
Won't be part of me at all.
I will finally be perfect.
I will be without a flaw.
I will never make one more mistake,
Or break the smallest law.
And the me that was impatient,
Or was angry, or unkind,
Will simply be a memory.
The me I left behind.
I will travel empty-handed.
There is not a single thing
I have collected in my life
That I would ever want to bring Except. . .
The love of those who loved me,
And the warmth of those who cared.
The happiness and memories
And magic that we shared.
Though I will know the joy of solitude. . .
I'll never be alone. I'll be embraced
By all the family and friends I've ever known.
Although I might not see their faces,
All our hearts will beat as one,
And the circle of our spirits
Will shine brighter than the sun.
I will cherish all the friendship I was fortunate to find,
All love and all the laughter in the place I leave behind.
All these good things will go with me.
They will make my spirit glow.
And that light will shine forever In the next place that I go.

You can find this poem at this link, and the book is available at all fine bookstores:

Patti Wolfe 1964-2012

Needless to say, this has derailed my life for a bit.  I will continue to post reviews, but for now I am trying to absorb, grieve, and have some peace.  Books are normally my comfort for everything; they will continue to provide some mental space, but this may take some time.  Thanks for understanding--I will be back soon!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The 100 Year Old Man..... by Jonas Jonasson

Fun fun fun book.  I first noticed it on our new paperback table at work, and watched it disappear rather quickly each time we restocked it--so I had to check it out.  And then I had a customer come in  and specifically ask for it by name!  By that time I had bought the book, and started on it, so I quickly shared my thoughts with this customer, who ordered a copy and left happy.

What can I say about this delightful book?  It's the perfect novel to give for the holiday season to anyone you know--Mom, Dad, Grandparents, friends--men and women alike will enjoy this novel by Swedish author Jonas Jonasson.

Allan Karlsson is sitting in his room at a retirement home, awaiting his 100th birthday party.  He's sharp, mentally alert, and physically in great shape for his age.  

And he doesn't want to go to his party.  So he climbs out his window and begins his adventures across Sweden.  Those adventures include drug money, an elephant, a suitcase, a hot dog stand owner, and lots of vodka.  While Allan is off on his adventure, which keeps unfolding in quirky ways, we learn about Allan's life leading up to his 100th birthday.  And what a life it is!  Allan's rules are simple:  he doesn't take sides in politics or religion, and things will happen the way they are supposed to happen.  His rules will find him learning to make explosives at the age of 10; working for the US government as a spy, traveling through the Himalayas on a camel, meeting Einstein's not so smart half-brother, and sharing a mexican lunch (complete with tequila) with Vice-President Truman.  These are just a few of the many places and situations Allan finds himself in--moments of history that are incredible and unforgettable--and many that Allan unwittingly begins and ends by his actions and words.

So what happens?  I can't tell you.  Just trust me--read this book and have a few laugh out loud moments.  Allan is a very sweet, funny, and incredibly smart man who has lived a life that seems impossible to believe, but makes perfect sense.  Allan's that kind of guy.  

This is available in paperback and as an e-book.

Rating:  4/5.  Quirky characters, great historical moments, and made me laugh out loud.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Book Talks Next Week! What I'm Reading For Them

A really fun part of my job is giving book talks.  I can't seem to shut up about reading, so I guess it's easy to say "I would love to talk to your group about books--where and when?"  And next week, I have two talks in one day--a luncheon crowd at a private home, and a book club meeting at my bookstore that night.  I sometimes feel a bit of a pinch to talk about brand spanking new books, but have learned to incorporate books I've already read into my talk.  This way I'm not stressing myself out by trying to read gobs of books right before my talks.  And, I have to remember that the people I'm talking to do not know all the books that are out there--they don't work at a bookstore like I do.  I see waaaaay too many new books every week!  Temptation is always staring me in the face.  

Anyway--here are three books I'm going to be reading this week so I can add them to my book talks next week.  I've already created my "talking" list, but I'm really looking forward to these stories--have to add them--and I hope to hit my Good reads 2012 challenge by next week, too.  These were novels that peaked my interest, so I just have to fit them in--and talk talk talk about them, too:

I have heard such mixed reviews of The House I Loved that I must read it.  I haven't read her other two titles--which seems to be the center of most of the so-so reviews for this one.  Since I have nothing to compare it to, I think I'll be able to read it from a different perspective.  I never got a chance to read it in hardcover, so I bought the paperback last week.  I also have heard wonderful things about The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.  A fun, fresh adventure story featuring a 100 year old man who escapes his nursing home and relives his life.  And since I read so many novels by women, I want to enjoy some novels written by men.  The Sisters grabbed my attention as I was putting it out on a new paperback table at work.  I read the author's interview at the back of the novel and decided it would be a fascinating read about a tragic break up between sisters--I have 4--what would happen if I didn't speak to one of them ever again?  And what would cause such a chasm?  It will definitely be one to recommend to book clubs.  

Add these three to my book talk next week.  I've already read plenty of other titles, so my list is complete.  I've found most groups prefer to read paperbacks, so that's what I aim for--and for those who don't mind the format, I usually sprinkle in a hardcover or two.  It's always refreshing and fun to have free reign in my book talks.  

What are you reading this week?

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman: A Different Magical Story

Another book I bought in July and it just sat on the shelf.  I had heard rave reviews, and I hadn't read a good dragon story in a very long time.  Dragons are magical.  Can't be helped.  Good or bad, they belch fire, eat people, and always always have some kind of mystical power.  

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman had a lot to live up to when I first opened the pages.  I kept waiting patiently for that "gotcha!" moment, cause I could tell from the first few pages that it was coming--that moment when you settle into a story and know to the tips of your toes that it's going to wrap itself around your brain and not let go.  That moment occurred for me when Seraphina reveals her biggest secret to the reader.  I won't tell you what it is, but it comes early and explains Seraphina inside and out.  It also explains how not everything is black and white, and even if we so desperately want to tell the truth, sometimes a lie has to be told instead.  

Seraphina is a young teen girl living in the kingdom of Goredd.  It's a medieval type of place, full of cathedrals, alleys, and houses built across narrow cobblestone streets.  It is ruled by Queen Lavonda, a monarch who 40 years previously made a peace agreement with the dragons, led by their leader, Ardmagar Comonot.  The 40th anniversary of the agreement is rapidly approaching, and Comonot is coming to town to help celebrate.  Seraphina's extraordinary gift of music (you'll find out where this comes from) has put her in the palace as the assistant to the court composer--who suffers from gout and leaves much of the musical arrangements to her.  Her gift is pretty darn amazing, and it brings unwanted attention to her rather quickly.  On top of all this, the queen's son, Prince Rufus, was recently found murdered on a hunt--his head missing.  This is a clear sign of a dragon murder, and it starts stirring those who do not want peace with the dragons.  Can Seraphina, working with young Prince Lucian Riggs (whos grandmother is the queen) figure out what's going on before disaster strikes?  And how does she keep all her secrets, but protect those she loves?  

There are many themes in this novel:  keeping secrets, feeling abandoned, not having a mother to nurture you--and the conflicting emotions that brings up.  It's about standing on your own, being strong, and owning yourself.  Seraphina is an admirable young heroine, and Prince Riggs is the same--both are great role models for any young teen reading this book.  

I certainly enjoyed this novel.  It's not just a teen book--it's perfectly suitable for adults, too.  Anyone who loves to read about dragons, and how two races of beings  so different, yet sometimes alike--struggle to maintain peace and understanding while still remaining true to themselves.  It would make a great book group book for science fiction groups or teen groups--heck, a high school lit class would have great discussions on this!  And maybe inspire a future author...

Rating:  5/5 for originality, superb writing and characters, and a fierce young lady named Seraphina.  Can't wait to read the next one!
Available in hardcover and e-book format.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Blackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

I've been eagerly awaiting Sarah Jio's latest paperback, Blackberry Winter.  I gobbled it right down.  What I like about Ms. Jio's novels are the settings--mostly around Seattle or the islands off the coast of Washington State, and her mix of the past and present to find answers to mysteries that have colored people's lives for decades.  Her two previous novels Violets in March and The Bungalow are just as enjoyable as Blackberry Winter.  I'm a fan and will continue to read anything she publishes.

If you are someone who loves a really great, hard to figure out mystery, these aren't for you.  It's fairly easy to solve the unanswered questions.  In this novel, Vera Ray is a very young unwed mother, struggling to provide for her 3 year old son, Daniel.  She's dirt poor in 1933 and must leave him alone at night in their apartment while she works as a chambermaid at the ritzy hotel in Seattle.  It's the Depression, and Vera struggles to eat and pay rent.  Her landlord is threatening to evict her and she has no money and no where to go.  After working one night, she steps out in to a freak winter snow storm in early May.  It's called a Blackberry Winter, and is very rare.  As she finally gets home, frost-bitten feet and chilled to the bone, she finds Daniel missing.  Hysterical, she runs outside, searching for him everywhere.  She only finds his teddy bear, dropped in the snow.  The police don't really care about the case and say he's run away.  Vera, in shock, stays with a friend, but quickly returns to her apartment to find new tenants live there.  She has no job, no where to go, no money, and her child is missing.  What happens to Vera?

Vera's story really is so sad.  She just can't win.  Claire Aldridge Kensington is a present day reporter in Seattle for her husband's newspaper.  She's recovering from a horrible accident that cost her something very precious.  It's been a year, and she can't get her life together.  Her marriage is falling apart.  And then a freak snow storm hits, exactly 80 years to the day of the last Blackberry Winter storm in 1933.  Her editor gives her the assignment to write about the storm.  Feeling like a huge loser, she begins to check into the storm, and finds out about Daniel going missing, and it peaks her interest.  Through Claire's painful research, she begins to find the answers to Vera's torment and Daniel's disappearance all those years ago.  

It's a great read; the characters are easy to connect to, and Vera just tugs at your heart strings.  I felt Ms. Jio really did a great job making Vera's desperate situation very clear and very believable.  Claire has more in common with Vera than she realizes, but by the end of the novel, she finds peace and acceptance because of what Vera went through, and does solve the mystery of Daniel.  

Rating:  4/5 for just sheer enjoyable reading and a clever story.  It's easy to figure out the "mystery" but I loved reading it all the same.  Perfect for Moms, Grandmas, and traveling!

Monday, October 1, 2012

Hello, Goodbye, Hello by Craig Brown

This was a fun, entertaining book that reminded me of all the ways we briefly come in contact with so many people over the years.  

In Hello, Goodbye, Hello by Craig Brown, he demonstrates this by telling stories of actual meetings between famous people throughout the years.  Some of them were surprising:  Houdini actually does an act for Nicolas and Alexandria, the Tsar and Tsarina of Russia (and fools them, too).  Mark Twain meets Helen Keller and immediately becomes absolutely enchanted with her.  Harpo Marx and Rachmaninoff find themselves living at the same hotel in Los Angeles in 1931.  Their meeting was not so wonderful.  

Some of the people in this book I was a bit unfamiliar with, but the author does take the time to fill you in on who they are--many were famous British artists and politicians.  Each story is short  and has footnotes that quickly become an addictive part of the read!  

What I enjoyed about this book were the short stories about each meeting; where and when they met, and how utterly improbable some of these meetings seemed at first, but ended up making perfect sense.  A lot of the meetings happened because one person admired the other and wanted to meet them; others happened because both were at the same party, house, or event, knew the same people, or had a connection.  Some, like Houdini and Theodore Roosevelt, happened because they were both traveling on a ship at the same time.  

In any case, I found this quite entertaining, and a reminder once again of just how small our world can be.  I can't say that every meeting between these famous people was spectacular, life changing, or even pleasant.  Many walked away throughly disgusted, uninterested, or completely disliking the other person, while some experienced a life changing event.  Just goes to show that even with celebrity status, we're all just human beings who, at the end of the day,  love, laugh, and  sometimes abhor each other's company.

Rating:  3/5.  A easy book to read in bits and pieces; fun stories about people you would never know have briefly touched each other's lives.

Available in hardcover and as an e-book.