Melanie Shankle is known for her blog- www.thebigmamablog.com I find her funny and insightful as she shares her take on parenting little Caroline, fashion, food and loving life. Her 2013 debut novel, called Sparkly Green Earrings, is an apt name for her lively look at motherhood. She shares the heartaches of miscarriage and the trials of pregnancy in an intimate reflection. Her touch of faith sprinkled among the humorous looks at the foibles of marriage and motherhood made this a very quick, fun read. Here is a taste- “Around 6:30a.m. they brought Caroline in to me. They said she was struggling to stay warm since she had so little body fat. (A problem she didn’t inherit from her mother.) So I dressed her in one of the six gowns I’d brought to the hospital, marveling at her tiny toes and chicken legs and praying I wouldn’t break her. The nurse showed me how to wrap her up like a little burrito, and then I held her while I formally introduced myself. “Hi. I’m your mama,” I said. “Welcome to the world, little monkey bean.”
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford’s debut novel, was a huge success that I somehow missed. It is on the top of my reading list now that I have read his second novel, Songs of Willow Frost. This is a bittersweet novel that tells a story of difficult circumstances, mistreatment and love. Set in Seattle during the Depression, a 12 year old boy, William Eng, thinks his mother is a film star. He has not seen her for 5 years when she left him at the Sacred Heart Orphanage. His best friend Charlotte helps him escape and together they search for her and discover a beautiful, broken woman. The plight of Chinese immigrants that are not respected is a sad history played out in this story. The history of the film industry in that part of the country is also explored as we progress from talkies to feature films.
Chris Bohjalian is a familiar author to many. I have enjoyed The Buffalo Soldier, Ideal Banter and numerous other fiction and non-fiction titles by this New York Times Bestselling writer. The Light in the Ruins is an historical crime novel. It takes us to Italy during the early 1940′s and alternates to the characters’ lives 10 years later. The story begins with a very horrifying murder of a formerly wealthy war widow, Francesca Rosati. Her life during the war is revealed piece by piece as Serafina, a burn -scared and memory-scarred detective searches for the murderer. The Germans are positioning themselves all over the country and many partisan Italians hiding in the hills are finding themselves in want and need of necessities. Villa Chimera is the home of daughter-in-law Francesca and her two children. Germans are coming to the villa to view the Etruscan ruins as investigators for the Ahnenerbe, the Ancestral Heritage Research and Teaching Society, who are trying to establish proof for the hypothesized “Aryan Race”. Cristina, Francesca’s younger sister-in-law is falling in love with one of the German SS officers. The villagers are murmuring about the Rosati family and their fraternization with the Germans while the war grows closer to all. This fast paced novel is gripping and has interesting historical links along with romance and a serial killer….something for everyone.
Jo Baker has written a wonderful addition to the tale of Pride and Prejudice. This time we see how the five staff at Longbourn cared for the Bennett household and lived their lives. Sarah, an orphan, has vague memories of a loving mother. She works alongside Mrs. Hill, the cook and housekeeper, dealing with the hard work and drudgery; serving with little appreciation. Along comes James, a young man with a mysterious background, who is hired as driver and groom. His seeming disinterest in Sarah, is reciprocated especially when she runs an errand and meets the footman at Netherland-tall, in fine livery and powdered wig. Author Jo Baker creates a marvelous story with all the grit and realism experienced by help in the 19th century. She delves into the backgrounds of the characters we know through Pride and Prejudice and reveals some reasons for their behaviors.
Australian author Graeme Simsion has written a very funny romantic comedy about a 30 something, socially challenged genetic engineer who decides it is time to find a wife scientifically. Don Tillman creates a 16 page double-sided questionnaire to judge prospective mates. Along comes intelligent and beautiful Rosie Jarman whom he is able to actually spend time and converse with, yet he disqualifies as a wife candidate. He does help Rosie search for her own answer to who her real father is. This Asperger-like character is similar to people we all know as absent-minded professors, nerds or geeks. Getting into the mind of Don and seeing the way he thinks life should be referenced by this unemotional, critically- thinking person is very insightful and extremely funny. Rosie helps him break free of some of the socially inept tendencies and their relationship becomes very complicated. The Rosie Project was begun as a screen play project and became an award-winning manuscript before it was published in Melbourne.
How can one precocious six-year-old boy be so much fun! Bertie shines on in Sunshine on Scotland Street, the newest installment of the 44 Scotland Street novels by Alexander McCall-Smith. In this episode, Bertie finds a very inventive way to forever be done with wearing his strawberry colored dungarees that have embarrassed him numerous times through several previous books. His mother continues to make life difficult in additional ways, such as insisting that Bertie sell healthy snacks, carrot-men, at the school fair. We follow Cyril, the gold-toothed dog, on his adventurous life while his master, Angus Lordie and Domenica are on their wedding trip. I love the way the author makes simple everyday encounters a lesson in the way people think and interact. McCall-Smith makes us laugh at the absurd way we look at ourselves and perceive others using little boys and dogs and a variety of people.
The Impossible is an unforgettable movie available here at MPL. It tells the story of Maria Belon and her family surviving the December 26, 2004 tsunami in Thailand where over 283,000 people were killed. The following link is an interview of Belon sharing her praise of the movie.
After watching this movie, I was moved to find out more about this horrific time. Maria has not written a book about her experiences, but I did find a newly published memoir by Sonali Deraniyagala telling her incredibly moving story. Sonali lost her husband and two children plus her parents in ‘the wave’. She also was swept up in it and nearly lost her life. This Cambridge educated professor is now a visiting research scholar at Columbia University in New York where she continues to recover emotionally from the trauma. Her story is a brutally honest portrayal of raw grief. How she has managed to muddle on is described in lyrical prose. Her family memories are extensive, and her painful journey is presented in an honest and courageous way. Wave is not an easy story to read, but it is worthwhile for the very rich emphasis on the beauty and importance of family and reflections on overcoming loss.
Best friends, Charlotte and Nicole, couldn’t be more different. Charlotte is single and travels the world writing articles for magazines, while Nicole is a doctor’s wife that loves all things domestic. Charlotte agrees to come back to the states and help Nicole write a cookbook centered on the foods of an island off the Maine coast, their childhood summer retreat. Nicole has been tasked by her husband to hide the fact that he has MS. His career as a surgeon could end if the word gets out. Recently his disease is progressing quickly and decisions must be made about experimental treatments. A secret that Charlotte holds from Nicole becomes a possible answer to Julian’s MS.
Another storyline revolves around Charlotte’s engagement with Leo, a badboy islander who may not be quite what his reputation leads her to believe. Sweet Salt Air is a lovely story about the struggles and beauty of long standing friendships and how we need to negotiate life with those around us as we learn to love each other.
Leanne Shirtliffe may be the new Erma Bombeck. For those who never knew the humorist Erma Bombeck, she entertained us with her hilarious writings on motherhood and parenting. Now, Canadian Leanne Shirtliffe has written a debut novel with which every parent can laugh along. This mother of nine year old twins shares her self-deprecating stories and hilarious takes on life as a working mom. In the margins you will find parenting tips such as:
To help you survive raising children, you need to “outwit, outplay, outlast” them each day. Or hire a babysitter. ——- If you need assistance while changing a baby’s diaper in an airplane bathroom, light a cigarette. ——- Keep an emergency vegetable tray in the fridge. If other parents visit your home, pull it out and appear responsible. ——- When your child freaks out in a public space, glare at every person staring at you. Learning to “tell-off” strangers with a glance is a useful skill. Practice on your spouse.
I guarantee that you will laugh and you just find some practical advice while reading Don’t Lick the Minivan and Other Things I Never Thought I’d Say to My Kids.
The older I am the more I value others experiences and wisdom. With first time grandmothering in my very near future, I went looking for some words of guidance. What I found was this fun book, Eye of My Heart, written by twenty-seven “smart, gutsy writers who explode myths and stereotypes and tell the whole crazy, complicated truth about being a grandmother in today’s world.” Some of my favorite authors who have shared their heart-stories with us are Elizabeth Berg and Judith Viorst. There is much to smile and laugh at in these tales of grandparenting, but there are also stories that made me appreciate my blessings. Tales of daughter-in-law relationships that prevented grandmothers from being able to spend time with their grandchildren were heart wrenching. The great puzzle of how to fit into this grandmother relationship seems a bit easier after reading this collection of motivating and moving stories. Tomorrow is the day that it all begins for me! Bring on the grandbaby….surely the most talented and beautiful baby ever created by God and my two favorite new parents.
Chris Bohjalian has written sixteen books including nine New York Times bestsellers. His newest came out last month, The Light in the Ruins. While waiting to get my hands on this well received literary whodunit, I picked up one of his older nonfiction works. I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Idyll Banter. This collection of newspaper columns written over twelve years for a Vermont newspaper are wonderful thoughts captured by a big city boy who changed directions and moved to a small village. He chronicles how life has changed in many essays, and how contemporary village life can be so appealing. The close relationships and humorous characters are a large part of many columns. Weather related columns show the challenges of slogging through country roads in the deep mud and the beauty of silence when the snow blankets his world.
Watch the video on his website for a taste of Lincoln, Vermont and Idyll Banter.
If you enjoy the Gone with the Wind era in literature, try All Things New by Lynn Austin. Set in the reconstruction era after the Civil War, this historical fiction narrative will give more vivid pictures of what a struggle life was for the wealthy and their slaves. Josephine Weatherly must find a way to reconstruct her live as the daughter of a plantation owner. She adapts to the harsh new life easier than her mother as she begins learning how to garden and sew from her former slave, Lizzie. Josephine’s mother, Eugenia is determined to try and live their former wealthy lifestyle and is disturbed by her daughter’s willingness to work when she needs to find a worthy husband. Josephine meets a Yankee with the Freedman’s Bureau who is there to help rebuild Virginia and help the slaves begin a new life. He encourages her to rediscover God’s place in her life as she questions all the suffering the South and her family has been through. The plight of the freed slaves is woven into the story with the God-fearing couple of Otis and Lizzie who stay to work at the big house. They are torn between joining their friends, former slaves who live in the woods and are preparing to move west toward opportunity, or staying to work as sharecroppers and helpers where they know the land and people. Former Rebel soldiers, the plantation owner’s sons face running huge plantations with no help or paying former slaves to work thier land. They are afraid of retribution by their former slaves and some hold night raids to run the slaves out of the land. This picture of life during a difficult time in our country’s history is bittersweet. I listened to this book on my Android phone after checking it out from the State Library of Kansas’ OneClick Digital audiobooks link.
This compelling novel weaves together the stories of two orphans from different time periods. A little Irish girl, Niamh, is living in the tenements of New York City with her family when a fire leaves her an orphan. She is taken to the midwest by the Children’s Aid Society on an orphan train and placed in a home. With her name changed to Dorothy, this little girl is shipped from home to home before finding someone that really wants her to live with them and fill the loss of their little girl, Vivian.. Into this storyline another present day orphan, Molly, is also shipped around to foster homes. She is caught stealing a library book and must do community service hours. Her boyfriend suggests that she might be able to help with an organization project for a ninety year old lady, Vivian. The unexpected friendship of these two suffering women, one young and one old, and their courageous journey is a remarkable story of perseverance, and tells the historic story of the many children who rode the Orphan Trains from 1856-1930.
I’ve had a senior moment and can’t remember who recommended this book as one of their favorite spiritual books, but I must agree with them. Susan Isaacs has written a very humorous but entirely authentic memoir of her spiritual journey in Angry Conversations with God. I found her honesty refreshing as she questions what God is up to when she struggles with love and career issues. Who hasn’t had their own doubts when trouble comes. She never questions her love of God, but she takes Him to couples therapy to try and discover where she went wrong. Although mostly tongue in cheek, this very funny novel helps us to see how distorted our human perceptions of God can be. Some may find this openness and humor a bit too familiar, but her pilgrimage toward a more authentic faith resonates with me (and Eric Metaxas- author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy which was named “Book of the Year” by the ECPA).
Trains and Lovers is a stand alone novel with a different flavor than McCall-Smith’s series novels. This time he brings us stories of love experienced by four strangers sitting together while on a train journey from Edinburgh to London. The experiences of love are all unique. One story tells of a man falling for a pretty girl who may not be who she says she is. When a friend leads him to doubt his girlfriend’s identity, he also begins to doubt his safety around her. Another story tells how an art history student falls for a co-worker who is out of his league. Her wealthy and powerful father does all he can to discourage their relationship until something happens to his reputation. My favorite story is set in Australia where a young man finds a girl who is willing to follow him into a solitary life in the outback. The leisurely pace and wise sayings of McCall-Smith are familiar and favorite entertainment for those of us hooked on his series.