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Monday, October 31, 2016

Book review: The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber

Last year I read Ms. Weisgarber's second novel, The Promise, and I got to meet her (she was delightful.) I determined immediately that I was going to go back and read her first novel. After all, I love historical fiction and it was intriguing in that it wasn't a story at all overdone. Rachel and Isaac DuPree are African-American homesteaders in South Dakota in the early 1900s. That's a story I haven't read before.

The bulk of the story except the last chapter takes place over about one week with a lot of flashbacks. I loved the flashbacks. The now storyline was grim as this family of seven—soon to be eight—was experiencing a horrendous drought in the Badlands. But in the flashbacks when Rachel was young and not tied down, working as the cook in Mrs. DuPree's boarding house (where she even once got to meet Ida B. Wells), she seemed free and full of possibility. When Mrs. DuPree's handsome son, a soldier, showed up in uniform, Rachel fell for him hard. And it seemed like her dream came true when he figured that if he had a wife he could stake two claims and get double the land. But When we see how beaten down Rachel has become, starving, terrified for her children, living in a land alone, with only rare (white) ranchers around them and the occasional Native American (who Isaac calls "agency Indians" and hates), I felt so sad that her dream had turned out so badly.

Partly you think that if it would just rain, everything would turn around. And for those of us who grew up on Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter and saw how they survived and even thrived afterwards, there was a grain of hope. But this is the Badlands. Things don't turn out quite that way. And Rachel has a decision to make.

While the book started off slow, with introducing the characters and setting up two very disparate historical settings and before I really saw where the story was going, once it got going, it swept me along like a rainstorm after a drought that just rushes away because the ground is too dry to penetrate. The last 200 pages just flew by. It was fascinating to think about this possibility—and I agree with Isaac's bafflement that more African-Americans didn't take up the U.S. Government on a chance for some "free" land (in quotes because it was so hard to farm that it took quite a toll on the homesteaders, a price I wouldn't pay.) But kudos to Ms. Weisgarber for finding this nugget of history that has never been mined before (to my knowledge) and giving it life. Rachel is a great heroine and I wish I could be friends with her. And eat her biscuits.

A friend who works at an independent bookstore gave me an ARC of this book years ago. At some point it got purged, so I checked it out of the library.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Book review: Imbeciles: The Supreme Court, American Eugenics, and the Sterilization of Carrie Buck by Adam Cohen (audio)

When this book was longlisted for the National Book Award, I perked up in interest. When I lived in North Carolina, I was horrified to learn that the many people who were forcibly sterilized, sometimes against their knowledge, not just without permission, had never been compensated. It only stopped in 1976 (in NC. Other states it stopped much later. I'm looking at you California.) In 2014 a class action lawsuit was settled and the 8000 people NC sterilized should have each gotten $20,000. But because the state lost (or never created) the paperwork, many were denied the compensation, a second insult. Horrifying.

And so, what the heck the people behind this 1919 law were thinking has always bothered me. Mr. Cohen in this excellent book fairly and evenly lays everything out. From the lawyer who advised the drafting of laws to Carrie Buck herself, to the eminent Oliver Wendell Holmes (whose esteem has plummeted in my eyes), to apparently masses of paperwork (in this case at least), he was able to trace not just the sterilization program but the whole impetus for eugenics in America. A few years ago I was horrified to learn that that the Nazis' eugenics notions had been based on a book by an American. Naturally he come sup quite a bit here. And while racial issues obviously were the Nazi's primary concern, what surprised me here was how much it didn't come into the story, after the initial set up. It seems the eugenicists were only concerned with keeping the white race pure, and weren't as concerned with other races (not to mention other races weren't as likely to be eligible for state hospitals in this era, a mixed blessing.) I know in later years this trend reversed, but in the nineteen-teens, it was more about making sure the whites were the best possible whites they could be, ideally Nordic and without any criminal or lazy tendencies. What was the most ridiculous is that if these people had even a 4th grader's basic grasp of heredity, they'd have easily seen that unless they could genetically test for people who were carrying these traits they didn't want (feeble-mindedness and criminality), sterilizing all of them would only make a small dent in those traits being passed down. After all, my brown-haired brown-eyed parents produced my blond-haired blue-eyed sister.

And wow, I don't know why Holmes is so respected. I think just because he had a gift for an aphorism. But he was self-professed to want to know nothing about the news and what was going on in the world, and he wanted to know next to nothing about cases, and was a rampant racist.

The most egregious part of Carrie's story is that her lawyer in the case was paid for by the hospital and not only didn't help her at all, but helped the defense's case throughout all the trials. She was of average intelligence, was not promiscuous (her child was the result of a rape), and had two long-lasting happy marriages and worked very hard. She didn't want a large family she once said, just a couple of children. Her half-sister wasn't even told she was being sterilized—for years and she her husband desperately tried to get pregnant (she'd been told she had an appendectomy.) And I didn't know that higher courts 100% rely on the evidence submitted in the original case. So if the evidence isn't presented there, then it isn't considered in an appeal. That was news to me.

This eye-opening book was well-written, easy to follow despite being potentially complicated material, and I really liked the narrator who sounded a bit like Casey Kasem in the lower registers. It's a long-overlooked disgraceful era in our past, that we need to understand and remember, so that it's never repeated.

I downloaded this audiobook from Overdrive via my library.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

"Waiting On" Wednesday: Searching for John Hughes

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is: 

Searching for John Hughes: Or Everything I Thought I Needed to Know about Life I Learned from Watching '80s Movies by Jason Diamon

Synopsis from Goodreads:
For all fans of John Hughes and his hit films such as National Lampoon’s Vacation, Sixteen Candles, and Home Alone, comes Jason Diamond’s hilarious memoir of growing up obsessed with the iconic filmmaker’s movies—a preoccupation that eventually convinces Diamond he should write Hughes’ biography and travel to New York City on a quest that is as funny as it is hopeless.

For as long as Jason Diamond can remember, he’s been infatuated with John Hughes’ movies. From the outrageous, raunchy antics in National Lampoon’s Vacation to the teenage angst in The Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink to the insanely clever and unforgettable Home Alone, Jason could not get enough of Hughes’ films. And so the seed was planted in his mind that it should fall to him to write a biography of his favorite filmmaker. It didn’t matter to Jason that he had no qualifications, training, background, platform, or direction. Thus went the years-long, delusional, earnest, and assiduous quest to reach his goal. But no book came out of these years, and no book will. What he did get was a story that fills the pages of this unconventional, hilarious memoir.

In Searching for John Hughes, Jason tells how a Jewish kid from a broken home in a Chicago suburb—sometimes homeless, always restless—found comfort and connection in the likewise broken lives in the suburban Chicago of John Hughes’ oeuvre. He moved to New York to become a writer. He started to write a book he had no business writing. In the meantime, he brewed coffee and guarded cupcake cafes. All the while, he watched John Hughes movies religiously.

Though his original biography of Hughes has long since been abandoned, Jason has discovered he is a writer through and through. And the adversity of going for broke has now been transformed into wisdom. Or, at least, a really, really good story.

In other words, this is a memoir of growing up. One part big dream, one part big failure, one part John Hughes movies, one part Chicago, and one part New York. It’s a story of what comes after the “Go for it!” part of the command to young creatives to pursue their dreams—no matter how absurd they might seem at first.

Publishing Nov. 29, 2016 by William Morrow.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Book review: The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald

I had heard about this quaint British novel about a bookstore for years, and finally it felt like the right moment to read it. I wasn't quite right, though.

I had thought this book would be charming and sweet. Instead, to me, it was a little sad. The town where Florence opens her bookshop, considers her an outsider (and always will) and doesn't seem to really want a bookshop. One wealthy woman in town is conspiring to have the building its in taken away from her, the aristocratic gentleman whose favor could sway the town is thwarted in his efforts, and the young girl who Florence hires as after-school help gets Florence in trouble for violating child labor laws. She tries a lot of different ideas, from a lending library to series books to risky new bestsellers like Lolita, but nothing works. There's even a ghost. It seems as if everything is going against her.

As someone who actively supports independent bookstores wherever I can, it's rare (but I have seen it) where a community just doesn't want one, and that's heartbreaking to me. I was unprepared for what the book actually was. It's very well-written and the characters are impeccably drawn and I could just see them jump off the pages of this short novel, but I just can't say that a book that made me so sad, is one I strongly recommend, even though it's so very well written. If you do go there, at least know better than I what you're getting into. Not for when you're feeling emotionally wobbly.

I bought this book at an independent bookstore, Little City Books in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Book Review: Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell, narrated by Tanya Eby (audio)

For a long while, I worried that the description of this book was a bait-and-switch. But she does talk about Sept. 11, it just takes a while to get there.

Judy wasn't hacking it in her surgery rotation in med school. She was falling asleep almost like she had narcolepsy and she once passed out and was admitted to her own hospital, from exhaustion. She really wanted to be a doctor and she liked cutting into people, but she needed a job with better hours. When she'd done a pathology rotation, the head of that department had encouraged her to consider the specialty but she dismissed it out of hand (I imagine it's a second-choice career for most everyone in it. Which doesn't at all mean it's bad—it's just interesting to think about a job that no one wants and who ends up working it successfully.) She went back to her, and ended up with a fellowship to work in NYC. She'd just had a baby and her husband was staying at home to be with the baby and so that they could move whenever Judy's career dictated it, so move they did. She started in the summer of 2001.

The first two-third of the book is all about her learning about different ways people can die. She uses an example case in each one. In many of the cases, she has to work with police to fully determine the cause of death. Occasionally the police work against her as they don't always want to add to their workload with more investigation. Some of the stories were fascinating, such as the couple who were separated and in fact had had the penthouse apartment divided into two separate apartments, and she was found dead at the bottom of the stairs in her apartment by her husband—who wasn't supposed to be there. The rich old woman had just cut him out of her will entirely—had he found out? Had he pushed her down the stairs in a fit of rage? Even after Judy found handprints on the woman's back the police still didn't want to question neighbors in the tony building. Don't worry, she talks about the worst possible way to die that she's seen (it involves an open hot water main). And some of the trickier and more interesting cases she worked on in her two years in New York. And just as I was getting fed up and had decided the book had lied about talking about Sept. 11, since so many of the cases she discussed happened afterwards, finally she did get to that. While the day of, as I remember, doctors and nurses rushed to downtown hospitals and people lined up outside of Red Cross locations to donate blood until we were turned away, the real people who ended up doing the brunt of the work, after the firefighters and police and construction workers down at the actual site, were pathologists. Unsung heroes most of us have never thought of. They worked in tents set up outside for months, identifying remains and examining to investigate as best they could, given the circumstances and the often minimal remains. They did things such as finding just a couple of teeth that could be dentally IDed, or finding a trace of nail polish on a toe, in order to help families recover their loved ones. It was harrowing work, but oh so vital.

Dr. Melinek writes easily and openly about her struggles with the job and what she found enjoyable about it. I like doctor memoirs but this one opened my eyes to a different angle, and I truly appreciate that she and other like her are there to find out what happened to those who really can't speak for themselves—the dead. They often tell a story, if you know how to read it. And Dr. Melinek tells a good story, too. (Not for the squeamish though.)

I checked this eaudiobook out of the library via Overdrive.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Book review: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs

I have been curious about this book from the minute I read the description. A poor kid from Newark managed to go to Yale, but then was killed at 30 for drug dealing. What?! I've always strongly believed in the power of education. I volunteered for several years at an organization that advised students from the poorest high schools on college and career opportunities. I work in book publishing, partly because I believe books and the education found within, change lives. So how could things have ended up going so terribly, horribly wrong for Robert Peace, after he had such a chance to get out?

The author, Jeff, was Robert's roommate at Yale, so he is not unbiased. But he went to very great lengths to uncover the entire, true story of Robert. I believe he understood that it helps no one to varnish the truth. The real power comes from a full understanding of Rob, who he was honestly and completely. He grew up in a poor neighborhood in Orange, near Newark. His mother was 30 when she had him, refused to marry his father who was a minor drug dealer of mostly pot, and worked her butt off to give Rob everything she possibly could. They always lived with her parents as that was the only way she could really provide for Rob—if she didn't have to shoulder the entire financial burden alone. Rob's father did also help out a lot, both financially and with his education, until he went to prison. For murder. When Rob was 10.

After that, his mother struggled alone working two jobs to put him through private school, and Rob, an exceptionally bright kid, also started working on the side to help out, in addition to his excellent schoolwork, athletics, and helping his father research his criminal case. Rob decided to go to an all-boys Catholic prep school in the inner city for high school. Once there, with no football team, he decided to play water polo, despite not even knowing how to swim. Rob seemed to love to defy expectations. Which unfortunately sometimes meant he brushed off well-meaning and perhaps very helpful advice from teachers and other mentors in his life who wanted him to go far.

At Yale he majored in some insane science (Molecular Biology and Physics, something like that). He should have gone into medicine or a doctoral program. But he found, as did the few other successful Yalies who were from impoverished backgrounds, that he was expected to contribute to his family's income back home, right away. Not after another 8+ years of school. The only other obvious job was working in a lab, which didn't pay well, didn't have many jobs, nor good upward mobility. Rob then seemed stymied by his options. And so he opted out.

In college, he had dealt marijuana. It was pretty easy. Yale students had plenty of money and low standards when it came to pot. While he was caught once, the administration brushed it under the carpet and nothing came of it. By the time he graduated, he'd accumulated a good nest egg. But he didn't want his mother to know where the money came from, and he didn't seem to really understand how to launder it, so he kept it mostly in cash and doled it out slowly. Meanwhile, he traveled. Mostly to Brazil. But he also went to Croatia and other countries. He taught himself Portuguese in his spare time, and considered even moving to Rio. But then his uncle who was hiding his stash got in touch, and Rob went home to find out his uncle had robbed him. And then his father got brain cancer. And Rob seemed to have inertia. He had ideas—he got a realtor license and had a plan for flipping houses, and he had a few other ideas, but instead he never left his hometown. He mostly lived with his mom or nearby, and he went back to dealing.

He had a friend at Yale who understood, another kid from the 'hood, who was also trying to change his life. And he gave Rob the best advice he ever got: get out. But Rob didn't take it. And his old friends and family kept dragging him back in and back down. They were all well-intentioned and they were mostly straight and narrow themselves, but as long as Rob stayed in that place, he could never get out, mentally as well as geographically.

It was so fascinating, and heartbreaking, to finally understand, at least for this one young man, why ample opportunities to better his life and his family, didn't work. Why did he end up in this situation? Why didn't he do better with those opportunities? It's heartbreaking, to be sure, but now I find it a little less frustrating, as I better can see why and how his life ended up and way it did. And I also now see that the cycle of poverty is even harder to break than I previously had understood, for a variety of subtle, almost invisible reasons that are much harder to crack than writing a tuition check. In a world where for your entire life, you've never owned anything of value, all you feel that you own is your family and your friends and your neighborhood. How can that bond be broken? And are we asking something much harder than we realize when we ask that of young adults? Is there another solution rather than to just get out? Is there an alternative for people like Rob to be able to be successful without breaking away from his past and everything he knows? How can he help bring his society and community out of poverty, without leaving that community? And how can he be successful, if he doesn't leave? This is a much bigger problem than one man could ever hope to solve. But one man's life did open a door to this problem, for me and likely for everyone who reads this book. Powerful, difficult, and ultimately eye-opening, another must-read for anyone who cares about American society and the problems we face trying to make people's lives better.

I bought this book. I don't remember where, probably at Park Road Books in Charlotte, but I did not get it for free.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Book Review: What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas (audio)

This book was recently picked as a Great Group Read for National Reading Group Month (which is October) so I thought I'd give it a shot since the audiobook was available at my library and I love a memoir. This was more of a collection of personal essays and vignettes, in roughly chronological order, rather than a memoir I'm not sure who they were laid out on the page but a few seemed very (one sentence) short. After all the audiobook was just over 4 hours long. So I listened to the whole thing in a day.

It's about Abby's painting, her writing (less so), her adult kids, her best friend Chuck, and her second husband. For a long while I misunderstood and I thought Chuck was going to end up being her second or third husband, but no, he's just her best friend. He's a literary agent and they met while both working at a publishing house. Abby stopped working in publishing (although she's a successful writer and workshop leader) but Chuck didn't and yet they maintained their friendship for decades. They both were married and eventually they moved moved out of NYC and their kids had issues and their marriages had issues, but they stuck with each other through it all. It is interesting when some friendships are much more enduring than most marriages. Most of the book is Abby, in her early seventies, looking back on her life, and as events start to approach now, they get tougher: infidelity, a brain injury, cancer. But he gets through it all, as we pretty much all do. And that's the theme of her book: shit happens and you go on and maybe paint a painting. I can see a lot of topics for discussion but as a solo read, it was a little lightweight. She opens the door to dozens of weighty themes, but she only touches on them superficially and moves on. I wish she'd been deeper and less poetic in a lot of parts—I could have stood more depth and analysis. But the light touch seems to be her thing.

I downloaded this audiobook from Overdrive via my local library.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar: Evolution's Most Unbelievable Solutions to Life's Biggest Problems by Matt Simon

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Synopsis from Goodreads:
A fascinating exploration of the awe-inspiring, weird, and unsettling ingenuity of evolution On a barren seafloor, the pearlfish swims into the safety of a sea cucumber’s anus. To find a meal, the female bolas spider releases pheromones that mimic a female moth, luring male moths into her sticky lasso web. The Glyptapanteles wasp injects a caterpillar with her young, which feed on the victim, erupt out of it, then mind-control the poor (and somehow still living) schmuck into protecting them from predators.

These are among the curious critters of The Wasp That Brainwashed the Caterpillar, a jaunt through evolution’s most unbelievable, most ingenious solutions to the problems of everyday life, from trying to get laid to finding food. Join Wired science writer Matt Simon as he introduces
you to the creatures that have it figured out, the ones that joust with their mustaches or choke sharks to death with snot, all in a wild struggle to survive and, of course, find true love.

Publishing October 25, 2016 by Penguin Books.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Book Review: Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology by Leah Remini (audio)

Once again, I will marvel at how helpful books can be when you read them at exactly the right time. I was planning to read (listen) to this book after hearing it reviewed on BookRiot's podcast, All the Books. I checked on Overdrive and boop—it was immediately available through my local library! So I downloaded but then I didn't listen to it for a few days. The checkout times for downloaded audiobooks is only about 10 days so I had given up. But then I had a Very Bad Day. And I wanted to read, but I didn't want to read. And I wanted to go for a walk and listen to something distracting, but most of my podcasts are book-related and I didn't really want to hear about books right now as my Bad Day was work (and therefore publishing) related. So I thought I'd see how many days I had left on my checkout. Oddly, it showed I hadn't checked the book out (maybe it had been a full 10 days already and had expired?), so I did, again and started listening immediately. I should have been angry with someone, but I just didn't have it in me to be, and so Leak Remini became my surrogate anger stand-in, like Luther, Key & Peele's "anger translator" for Barack Obama.

I've always liked Leah Remini from Saved by the Bell to King of Queens to Dancing With the Stars. We're close to the same age and I've always liked her attitude which struck me as not too far off from her Queens character, Carrie. And I'm pretty sure I was right. She's feisty, loyal to a fault, not afraid to get in your face, and honest. And she takes it all out on Scientology.

Unlike a lot of celebrities or actors, she didn't come into Scientology as an adult, after her success (or as an effort to gain success). She was about 10 when her mother found Scientology and soon she and her sister were at the Scientology Center with their mother, daily. She talks about how she started studying and working almost immediately, doing grunt work for pennies, not going to school, all not just accepted but encouraged. She always seemed to know she would be an actress. She'd had a knack and it seemed natural from a very young age. In her teens she pursued it seriously, as the family at that point was living in Hollywood, and was very broke (spending all their money on Scientology courses). It took her a while to break in, but she finally did. She was in dozens of failed sitcoms, failed pilots, series that ran for one season or half a season. She certainly did not find immediate success. But she plugged away at it daily, as she understood that this was a job.

She also plugged away daily at Scientology. She truly believed that they were trying to clear the world of evil, and that L. Ron Hubbard (LRH) showed them the path and that if she worked her way through the courses and steps and levels, the world would be a better place. But as an adult, she started to see some sketchy things. Eventually, around the time of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes's wedding, the sketchiness became ugly and impossible to ignore any longer. Lies were being spread about her, rules were being blatantly broken for Cruise, and she also began to see the ugliness of asking ordinary people—not just successful actors—to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on these courses, often having to buy the same course or the same book over and over again, or having to buy something in order to make up for a transgression, and how that was seriously negativly affecting people's lives and putting them deeply into debt.

She didn't want to leave the church. And she didn't leave because she stopped believing. Her problem was with the church, not the religion or the beliefs. But according to Scientology, they are one and the same. Eventually, she left, and was declared a suppressor, which meant all her Scientologist friends and family had to completely cut her off. Luckily, most of her family also left at the same time, but she lost dozens of lifelong friends.

Sure, plenty of people will say she was just vindictive or that she herself was lying, but if you've seen Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah's couch, you tend to believe Leah's take on his batty behavior. If you've ever yourself lost your faith in something or someone, you'll recognize that her feelings ring true. In particular, as her small daughter charmingly points out that she can know in her head that it's wrong, but not yet know it in her heart, you can't help but understand that this was a serious struggle and challenge for Leah, and not something a person would choose to go through.

I loved that she narrated it herself. Her voice is so distinctive and so her. Once in her first brush with auditioning she was a sent to a voice coach, but he sent her home after just one session, saying her voice was great and she shouldn't change it. It conveyed too much of her personality to modify it. And it probably helped in some of the sarcastic or humorous parts, which I might not have totally gotten without her tone of voice.

Celebrity memoirs aren't my usual thing, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. And learned much more about Scientology, and how an otherwise sane person can have gotten into such a weird religion. I think that religion is bizarre, but I'm more likely to cut its adherents some slack.

I checked this audiobook out of the library via Overdrive.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Book Review: The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbøl, Agnete Friis

If you like Scandinavian crime novels, you must read this book. It's a new classic of the genre.

Nina is a Red Cross nurse working with abused women, when a friend calls in a panic, begging her to pick up a suitcase at the train station. When she does, Nina is shocked to find inside a small naked boy. He is still alive, but obviously someone wants to hurt him, and Nina doesn't know who she can trust. Particularly when her friend turns up dead, Nina knows she is on the run for their lives.

The book takes twists and turns, every chapter ends on a cliffhanger, and it rockets along at an amazing speed. Impossible to put down, you worry so much about just what will happen, and of course how. This is more a thriller than a mystery, as we know from early on who the boy is (although Nina does not—he speaks a foreign language she doesn't recognize.) But we don't know who wants him or why until close to the end, and then there's a fabulous climax with lots of action and it's very satisfying in the end. If you like foreign-set thrillers, this book is for you!

This book is published by my employer at the time, Soho Press.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Book Review: On Folly Beach by Karen White

I wasn't sure about this book. Sure, Sally at Park Road Books had recommended it and she never steers me wrong, but it seemed too melodramatic and fluffy for me. But in the end, I really enjoyed it.

There are two parallel stories. In one, it is 1942 on Folly Beach and Maggie and Cat are two cousins in their early 20s, both orphaned, living together with Maggie's little sister Lulu in Maggie's house. Cat was orphaned at a pretty young age so they'd grown up together and Maggie's mother asked her to look after Cat. Cat is already also widowed, as she'd married the handsome Jim, who all three girls were in love with, and he was killed soon after being deployed. Cat, who looks like a pin-up girl, doesn't seem like she needs much looking after, stringing along load of officers. Meanwhile Maggie works at the family store, Folly Finds, a general store with a lot of books.

In 2008, Maggie's daughter-in-law, who has been running Folly Finds as a bookstore for decades, is ready to retire. Emmy lives in Indiana and her husband was recently killed in Afghanistan. Her mother, who is from Folly Beach, runs a bookstore. Emmy has a MLS but is just foundering in her grief, doing next to nothing. Her mother hears that Folly Finds is for sale and pushes Emmy to buy the bookstore and move to South Carolina. She's not so sure, but she looks through a box of old Folly Finds books that her mother bought off eBay, and find intriguing notes written int he margins between a man and a woman, and she's hooked. She buys the bookstore, moves, and begins to investigate the mystery. Which of course is tied back to 1942 and Maggie and Cat, both long dead, and Lulu who is a cranky old woman who sells bottle trees out of the back of the store.

Because of the two storylines there is necessarily a large cast of characters, particularly in the 2008 parts, so it took me a while to get into the book, but once I did, it just flew. I guessed certain things accurately, and others I got the big thing right but how it happened wrong. There were a couple of twists I didn't guess at all (although they were well set up) until I was right on top of them and suddenly realized what was happening. It moved quickly, the South Carolina beach town vibe felt right, and these two stories were not melodramatic or fluffy—they were well-drawn and an interesting side tale of something that might have happened during WWII. I think I will give Ms. White another try! That was thoroughly enjoyable.

I bought this book at an author event at the independent bookstore, Park Road Books in Charlotte, NC.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

Synopsis from Goodreads:
From the co-creator of the landmark television series Twin Peaks comes a novel that deepens the mysteries of that iconic town in ways that not only enrich the original series but readies fans for the upcoming Showtime episodes.

Publishing October 18, 2016 by Flatiron Books.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Book Review: Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America's Gutsiest Troublemakers by Nick Offerman


My husband loved Nick Offerman's first book, his memoir, so when I saw this at the bookstore, I suggested he get it. And then immediately I swiped it and read it.

At first I was worried it was going to entirely be people I was already familiar with: Washington, Teddy Roosevelt, Eleanor Roosevelt. They're all great and I like reading about them. But I appreciated the book so much more when he got into people you less expect on a list of American heroes, like Yoko Ono and Willie Nelson and Carol Burnett, and I liked even more the people I'd never heard of, like the woodworking tools company founder, and the boat-building partners on Martha's Vineyard. They were so interesting. And it is a much more interesting story of America, to start off with the Big Heroes, but eventually to get down to the everyday, to people you and I could know, who live in our towns and communities. I agree that "gumption" is a uniquely American trait that usually works for the good. I almost wish I'd listened to this on audio, but then I'd have missed the cool caricature portraits that began each chapter, and I didn't need the audio—his voice rang in my ears the entire time, even reading it in print. If you're looking for something you can pick up and point down, it's great, as it's a series of essays and so doesn't have a narrative thread. However, you will find it very hard to put down, I promise.

I bought this book at an independent bookstore, Little City Books in Hoboken, NJ.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Book review: My Lobotomy: A Memoir by Howard Dully with Charles Fleming

We all know about lobotomies, a horrible moment in our psychiatric past, but I had no idea they were done on children, and that one could recover enough to write a book about the experience.

When Howard was a child, his mother died. His father remarried, and his step-mother was just horrible to him. She started in smaller ways like not allowing him to eat dinner with the rest of the family (including his brother, as she was only horrible to Howard) but she progressed to consulting with Dr. Freeman, the doctor who pioneered the lobotomy procedure, Through lies, and manipulation of Howard's father, she eventually got Dr. Freeman (who wasn't hard to persuade) to agree to lobotomize Howard at the age of 12.

Honestly, Howard (as he himself says) probably had some ADHD and was a rambunctious child with a lot of energy. But he wasn't at all a bad kid. He had a very bad step-mother. (And a pretty bad father to go along with it.) As adults, he went back to most of his siblings to ask about this time and many of them admitted to being frightened of her, and even more frightened that one day she'd turn on them and treat them the way she treated Howard. I was heartbreaking.

He had a troubled young adulthood, understandably. He was essentially kicked out of the house after the lobotomy didn't "fix" him (or make him into a hospitalizable vegetable.) He lived in a variety of places including an asylum for a while. He married young. He didn't know how to be an adult at all. He didn't know how to cook, how to pay bills, how to hold down a job. No one had ever taught him any life skills. Eventually, in middle age, he got these things figured out and was in a stable marriage and did hold a job for a long time. That's when a radio producer from NPR got in touch with him about his story, as they were researching Dr. Freeman and lobotomies. With their help, he did a lot of the research that turned into this book, and interviewed people like his father about what had happened back then. At one point he had an MRI done and the doctor who reviewed it was astonished--he said that if he just saw the MRI, he'd assume whoever's brain that was was non-functioning completely. Luckily, Howard was young enough that his brain was still plastic enough to rewire itself.

The story was compelling. The writing was understandably rather pedestrian, but it was completely appropriate for the story and for Howard. I could almost hear his voice, reading it to me. It was a hair long, but not so much so that it was annoying. Chilling story. That doctor should have been held more responsible for his actions.

I bought this book used at The Book Rack in Charlotte, NC.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Book Review: The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel


I wasn't sure about this book. Was I going to like it? It looked really tempting. But so had Into the Wild, which was a rare DNF for me. Was this hermit going to be like that privileged brat? Was I going to end up rolling my eyes and frustrated?

Thankfully, no. One day Chris Knight drove to Maine (where he was from) with minor camping equipment, abandoned his car, and hiked for a long way. He stayed in the woods for the next 27 years. Everyone immediately asks what did he do for food? Well, he mostly stole. He really only took a minimum of what he needed, and mostly from the wealthy summer homes (never full-time residents). And that's how he got caught. He also broke into one summer camp and eventually a local parks agent put in security to catch the regular thief. Chris went quietly and peacefully. Articles cropped up all around the country and Mr. Finkel was intrigued and wrote Chris a letter which developed into a conversation.

Is Chris Autistic? Mentally impaired? Does he just hate people? What was behind his disappearance from regular life? What did he get from his solitude? How did he survive the Maine winters? The book answers most all of these questions enough. While Chris is obviously the opposite of a people-person, he's compelling and a true individual.

If you've ever had thoughts of just abandoning it all, if you've ever thought you'd like to get back to nature, if you've ever wanted to just get away permanently, it's fascinating to read about someone who truly did. In those 27 years, he only said, "hi" once. He was excellent at hiding, although he wasn't terribly far from society at all. And Mainers were more understanding and live and let live than most, which helped him go on for so long. It even opened Mr. Finkel's eyes somewhat about his own life and his own choices. Chris Knight was so interesting and unique. This book was a very fast and thought-provoking read. I read it in just two days and my husband immediately started it the same night I finished. I would have enjoyed it if it were twice as long, but of course with Chris's reluctance to communicate with anyone at all, it's exactly as long as it should be.

This book doesn't come out until March 2017, sorry! Put it on your TBR list now.

I got an ARC of this book for free from the publisher at the New England Independent Booksellers Association fall trade show.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Book Review: All the Winters After by Seré Prince Halverson


I seldom read books set so far afield as Alaska, so this was a refreshing change of pace. (Also I had just come back from an Alaskan cruise. I started this on the flight home.) Alaska is very much part of this book. It could have taken place in other far-flung remote areas, but not many.

Two parallel stories start us off. Kache moved to Austin, TX and never returned to his hometown of Caboose, Alaska. When he was a teenager about to go to college, after an argument with his father, he stayed home while the rest of the family went on a trip. Their plane crashed and his parents and brother were all killed. Twenty years later, he needs to finally see the old homestead his grandparents had built. His grandmother is ailing, his aunt Snag needs help. He goes home.

Meanwhile, Snag told Kache that she'd kept up the homestead but she'd also never gone back even though she'd stayed in the town. She was worried Kache found find it falling down and know she'd betrayed his trust.

But, a woman has been living there. Nadia grew up in a Russian orthodox old society community and married very young to a bad man. She left her home, her family, her community, and has been squatting in Kache's family home for many years.

How will these people come together, how will old wounds finally be healed? This book was slow going at first but it really grew on me. I really felt for all of them and how their lives went off the rails. Granted, there wasn't much reason for any of this to get dragged out for twenty years. Much of the problems could have been worked out with simply some honest conversations ages earlier. But then, that's not the point of the book. People often do just clam up and they don't trust others to behave honorably with their vulnerability. In the end, it was a touching and honest story that felt real and truthful, about family secrets, troubled pasts, and raw emotion.

I got an ARC of this book for free at Winter Institute, from the publisher.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Book Review: Death in the Off-Season by Francine Mathews

Originally this book was written and published twenty years ago in the mid-1990s. It's been completely upgraded with cell phones and contemporary CSI procedures, seamlessly.

Merry's father is the police chief and her boss. Her grandfather was also police chief. But the island of Nantucket is still wary of their first female police detective. And her father is so wary of perceived favoritism that she has to fight him to be assigned the island's first murder case.

Peter Mason moved to the island full-time a few years ago to start a cranberry farm. Before that his wealthy family had only been summer residents. One morning his brother, Rusty, shows up dead on Peter's property. He's been living in Brazil for the last decade with no communication from his family after he was nearly indicted for trading improprieties. Why did he come back? Why was he killed? Was it possible the killer thought he was Peter, and Peter's life is still in danger? The very first ever murder on Nantucket island must be solved and Merry must prove herself to her father.

The book wasn't overly fast-paced, but it moved along at a good clip. The characters were well-drawn the the island in particular (which I've been to) felt very authentic. It was a sturdy, reliable police procedural in a unique situation which flowed effortlessly and all came together well in the end. The author has written a new book in the series which will be published in the summer of 2017. Meanwhile the first four books in the series are being updated and reissued.

This book was published by my employer at the time, Soho Press.

Monday, October 3, 2016

New Jersey novels?

After pondering if I should read more New York novels, it occurred to me that maybe I should read more New Jersey novels instead. After all, that's where I live now! But—shocker—I can't find any list of the 100 Best New Jersey Novels. No love for the Garden State, particularly literary love. C'mon Book Riot—make this right. Meanwhile, the closest I found was this list of eleven (kind of twelve) on The Millions:

Jernigan by David Gates
After Moondog by Jane Shapiro
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz
The New Jersey Triliogy by Richard Ford– The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land
American Pastoral by Philip Roth
Garden State by Rick Moody
Clockers by Richard Price
Eddie and the Cruisers by P.F. Kluge
The Wishbones by Tom Perrotta
This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Final Club by Geoffrey Wolff

And a non-fiction:
The Pine Barrens by John McPhee

I have read none of these. I think I should read In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume and at least the first Janet Evanovich mystery. So, New Jersey-ites (New Jersey-ers? New Jerseyians? What am I now?), what should I read?

Saturday, October 1, 2016

My month in review September 2016

The Month in Review meme is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date.

Books completed this month:
All the Winters After by Seré Prince Halverson
My Lobotomy: A Memoir by Howard Dully and Charles Fleming
A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade by Kevin Brockmeier
The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald
Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America's Gutsiest Troublemakers by Nick Offerman
Shrill: Women Are Funny, It's Okay to Be Fat, and Feminists Don't Have to Be Nice by Lindy West
The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
Death in the Off-Season by Francine Mathews

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs
The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounters With Extraordinary People by Susan Orlean
Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell

What I acquired this month:
I bought at an independent bookstore (Little City Books in Hoboken):
Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America's Gutsiest Troublemakers by Nick Offerman
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald
A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments by David Foster Wallace
The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery
The New York Nobody Knows: Walking 6,000 Miles in the City by William B. Helmreich

Friends who work at publishers gave me:
Marrow: A Love Story by Elizabeth Lesser
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

At the New England Independent Booksellers Association (NEIBA) trade show I got:
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel
The Lowells of Massachusetts: An American Family by Nina Sankovitch
Following Atticus: Forty-Eight High Peaks, One Little Dog, and an Extraordinary Friendship by Tom Ryan
Twenty-Six Seconds: A Personal History of the Zapruder Film by Alexandra Zapruder
The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff
The Hearts of Men: A Novel by Nickolas Butler
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz
The Fifth Petal by Brunonia Barry
The 37th Parallel: The Secret Truth Behind America's UFO Highway by Ben Mezrich
Class by Lucinda Rosenfeld