Friday, June 23, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 The Hidden Machinery


Author Margot Livesey shares the lessons she has learned about being a writer in this essay collection. Each section begins with a quote from a famous author such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Epicurus, or George Herbert. She also uses examples from well-known pieces of literature to illustrate her points. Other writers might have chosen to only use their own work as the examples, but Livesey has chosen to refer to works that are widely known and often considered classics as well as pulling from her own writing. It makes an interesting balance and shows how the principles of writing apply across generations of writing past and present. 

There is humor and honest self criticism. Talking about a novel she attempted to write and the problems she encountered, Livesey identifies one issue as her "failure to understand that irrelevance is a sin." She compares Aristotle's claim that "All human happiness and misery takes the form of action," with the advice "Show don't tell." Everything from dialogue, setting, characters, plot - any of the pieces that go together to create a piece of writing that speaks to readers - are discussed and examples are shown and analyzed. 

A useful book to read for any aspiring writer or anyone interested in the craft from the perspective of an informed reader. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Summer Reading 2017 Alice Paul and the Fight for Women's Rights


We've all heard of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and Emmeline Pankhurst and their efforts on behalf of suffrage for women. But in the rush to cover all the topics in the history curriculum standards, they may be the only figures that are introduced in class. The new biography of Alice Paul will expand library collections and offer those interested in the suffragettes a new heroine to learn about. From her first introduction to the topic in a lecture by Christabel Pankhurst, to details on the hunger strikes and other tactics Miss Paul used to gain attention and support for the cause, the details of her years leading the fight for woman suffrage are a fascinating tale. Reading of the infighting and friction between Paul and the National American Woman Suffrage Association and between the NAWSA and the National Woman's Party is a big surprise. It seems so strange that the two groups wanted the same results, but couldn't cooperate with each other.

Anyone interested in the work that went into the national right to vote for women and how that crusade also fed into the push for the Equal Rights Amendment, should read this book. Paul was a determined, tenacious, and intelligent adversary to those who opposed her goals. Delving into all the obstacles she conquered, the hardships she endured, and the solutions she devised, will impress readers and earn their respect.

I received an advance copy for review purposes from the publisher.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Summer Reading 2017 Solo


Kwame Alexander's first YA novel blends his style of novels in verse with teenage angst and a journey of self-discovery. Blade Morrison is salutatorian at his high school, all set to head off to college in the fall. He plans to do that with his girlfriend Chapel, although her parents have forbidden them to see each other. The reason? Blade's father is a rock star who is frequently in and out of rehab and the tabloid headlines. When his father publicly embarrasses him once again, Blade sets off to find his roots. So he heads from Hollywood to Ghana.

The story unfolds through a mix of song lyrics Blade writes, texts between the characters (Blade, Chapel, Blade's sister and father), and poetic narrative stretches. Along with the usual teenage search for identity and independence, the story also deals with themes of betrayal, loss, love, forgiveness, celebrity lifestyles, and what makes a family.

Although it has such meaningful content, it is a quick read due to the way the verse carries you along. Meant for YA and too mature for younger readers, Solo is another masterpiece by Alexander. Readers who are music buffs will enjoy the references to musicians and particular songs that are scattered throughout the book. (They may also wince over the fate of a certain Eddie Van Halen Frankenstrat.)

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Summer Reading 2017 Jeopardy in July (Jamie Quinn Mystery #5)

Jeopardy in July (Jamie Quinn Mystery #5)

Jamie Quinn is back in action and things don't slow down for the entire story. When she visits an assisted living home to meet some prospective clients, she never imagines she will wind up in a murder investigation. (Of course, knowing Jamie, we are not surprised.) It's a good thing that she is an insomniac because there are not enough hours in the day to deal with everything that is going on. Someone seems to be killing off residents at the home, a friend asks her to look into a forged piece of art his father purchased thinking it was real since it had a certificate of authenticity with it, she's hired to do legal seminars, she's invited to a birthday party of 8-year-old girls, her best friend Grace is dating her frenemy Nick, her boyfriend Nick is still in Australia saving the wombats, and her father is still waiting for his visa to be approved so he can come to the United States. How can one girl fit it all in? Jamie manages to squeeze everything into her busy days, and she has some help from friends like PI Duke Broussard.

Readers of earlier adventures will recognize the trademark way that trouble always seems to find Jamie and suck her in. Her klutziness and scatterbrained ways haven't changed, nor has her relationship with her mother's cat Mr. Paws (aka Mr. Pain in the Ass). We can laugh at her antics, worry over her safety as she tries to track down a killer, and ache for her loneliness while Kip is out of the country. Fast-paced and fun, this is an enjoyable mystery.

I received a copy from the author for review purposes.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life that Matters

What creates meaning in our lives? How do we know that our lives matter? These are questions that many people wonder about at some time in their years here on Earth. Great thinkers throughout the ages have pondered these ideals and offered the truth as they perceived it. And many are still trying to find the answer today, or turning to despair when they feel there is no meaning to be had. Smith begins in the way this search does fro each of us, with her own experiences. From memories of her childhood time around Sufi darvishes, reading great thinkers like Aristotle and Freud, to visits with speakers from The Moth, she pulls out threads from each source and weaves them together to form a complete picture - a tapestry of what makes a meaningful life. 

In her presentation, she describes four pillars of meaning: belonging, purpose, storytelling, and transcendence. She gives multiple examples of how each pillar manifests itself, with quotes from sources such as researchers, artists, and authors. These exemplars are not only from past masterworks of literature or science, but from contemporary groups and individuals who are pursuing meaning in their own lives and trying to help others find it, too. And then she goes on to explain how finding these pillars and strengthening them can lead to personal growth and a way to improve the world around us. Whether it is the soul searching of Holocaust survivors like Frankl, or terminally ill patients in modern medical trials, the stories are honest and poignant.

Whether you are curious about what makes a life matter, or enjoy philosophical discussions of a meaningful existence, this book offers many different viewpoints and paths to take. Some may resonate more with one read than they do with others, but there is plenty to think about. And a little soul-searching is a good way to start this journey.

Visit the publisher's website for more information about the book or the author. You may also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 Dot-to-Hot Darcy: 40 Literary Lovers and Heart-throbs


Dot-to-Hot Darcy is a combination of scenes from literature, with a romantic "heart-throb" in dot-to-dot form to occupy each page spread. Along with the illustrations, there is a brief synopsis of the the character, what book he is found in, and commentary on his traits. Reading the text is like listening to a really clever friend explain what she likes and dislikes about each of these figures. Pontmercy from Les Miserables resembles an app "programmed for romance." Bolkonsky from War and Peace earns "#hotprince." And we are informed that Laurie from Little Women "should feel ashamed" for picking the wrong sister.

This is not a Cliff's Notes version of the books that are referenced. Instead, this is an entertaining look at major romantic figures from 40 different pieces of literature. With its combination of dot-to-dot pictures, coloring pages, and witty character analysis, it is the perfect companion for a rainy afternoon, a sick day spent on the couch, or an evening with friends and chocolate. 

I received a sample from the publisher for review purposes.

Spring Reading 2017 In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs


When my father died two years ago, my brother and I talked about his influence on us as we were growing up. Dad was a computer programmer; my brother earned a double graduate degree in mathematics and computer science, while I run coding and robotics programs at my elementary school. Dad loved to read; we are both avid readers. But one of the earliest influences he had on us besides reading, was music. He loved music and performed in many church groups, and there were often records playing in the house when we were young (yes, vinyl). The majority of the albums were by gospel or folk groups, but Dad also had The Beatles. And that is where our love of rock and roll began.

Reading through the essays in this book was like having conversations with my brother about the different songs. Remembering the first time we realized this was a different type of music than The Kingston Trio or Simon and Garfunkel. Noticing songs on the car radio that we had heard on the stereo at home and singing along. Thinking of the first time we managed to play one of the songs on the piano or guitar. Laughing over the memories together.  Famous authors and musicians may have written the essays, but there is an inclusiveness about them that pulls you in as you read. We all have similar memories of where we were when we first discovered a Beatles album (whatever the medium), or a story about our favorite song. The remembrances of how a specific song connects to a life event or loved one are also something communal that we can add to with our own memories.

If you are a Beatles fan of any age, or simply interested in rock history and its impact on culture, then you should pick up a copy of this book. The discussions of how the group changed the face of popular music and how the songs changed as they matured as musicians and explored new techniques are interesting even to those of us not in the industry. Putting the essays in chronological order by the release date of the songs was a great idea. Even though the authors may have come to each song at different points between its release and the present day, we can still see the group's evolution over the years. And it reinforces the point that The Beatles have a continuing impact on those who have been listeners all their lives, those who have only recently discovered an affinity for their work, and everyone in between.

I highly recommend this book for young adults and up. (There are some instances of language that keep it from being ideal for a younger audience.)   I received access to the galley for free through the First to Read program.