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Bloggers

 

Rambling Man

My Cross to BearMy Cross to Bear has all the usual trappings that we’ve come to expect from a rock biography. There are the standard stories of groupies, squabbling with other band members, chemical excess and failed marriages. Beyond the basic musician biography ingredients though, there’s also a fascinating life story that remains very Southern throughout.

 

Gregg Allman begins his life in Nashville, Tennessee, eventually travels all over the world and currently lives in Savannah, Georgia. Throughout his fame, fortune and travels, he never ventured far from his roots in his outlook and tone. Indeed, one of the pleasures of this book is “hearing” the voice of Gregg Allman and his Southern phrasings. One fine example: he loses his virginity and declares the experience to be "the best thing since black-eyed peas.”

 

My Cross to Bear opens at the Allman Brothers’ Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction. At this point, Gregg Allman is a severe alcoholic. He sincerely tries to stay sober for the ceremony but fails miserably. This was one of the lowest points in his life. He embarrassed his family, the rest of the band and most of all, himself. This seems to be a turning point and at that moment, he decides to turn his life around.

 

Like many musician biographies, much of the story is about Allman’s struggles with various addictions throughout his life. The real story here is that of the Allman brothers themselves (Gregg and Duane). Their story is one of humble beginnings, unimaginable fame, wasted fortunes and incalculable loss, including the tragic death of both Berry Oakley and Duane Allman. Duane Allman’s spirit is really the guiding force in the book. Older brother Duane could be credited with starting the Allman Brothers Band; his guitar work was a key element in the Allman brothers’ distinct sound. One gets the feeling that Gregg never felt that he quite measured up to big brother, Duane.

 

My Cross to Bear is satisfying, entertaining read from beginning to end. Quite simply, it is a Southern-fried version of the “sex, drugs and rock and roll” story. What’s not to love about that?

Zeke

 
 

One Man’s Journey, One Family’s Saga, One Country’s History

Wish You Were HereReflection can sometimes tell the whole story.  In Graham Swift’s Wish You Were Here, there are few characters, even less action, but plenty about how memory and evaluation of past choices occupy our present-day lives. 

 

The story revolves around Jack, who came from a Devonshire farming family but was forced to abandon his family’s profession after fear of mad-cow disease forced them to put the herd down.  As the story begins, the majority of the family members once close to Jack, those who helped define him, have passed.  He is reliant solely on his wife Ellie, with whom he has co-owned a campground and vacation resort for several years.  This has afforded them a more luxurious lifestyle than farming, but has set them adrift from the family and community connections of their childhood. 

 

The real shift in the story comes when Jack belatedly learns of the death of his brother Tom, a soldier who has been killed in Iraq.  Tom was already long estranged from the family, but going to retrieve his body and bring him home for burial proves a catalyst for Jack to reflect back on his life and choices.  More overarching is the theme of the impact of war not just on his family but on the country of England as a whole, going back many generations. 

 

Swift, who previously won the Booker Prize for Last Orders, spins a slow tale, bereft of suspense or much action. Yet the story he tells is beautiful and poignant.  Readers will want to know how Jack reached his present state, and what the near future holds for him.  Fans of The Shipping News or Olive Kitteridge will appreciate this understated tale about connections to home and family. 

 

Melanie

 
 

Puppy Love

Puppy Love

posted by:
June 22, 2012 - 8:00am

The Lucky Dog Matchmaking ServiceIn The Lucky Dog Matchmaking Service by Beth Kendrick, readers will soon fall for Lara Madigan and all of her furry friends. Lara has a special talent for placing the right pup with the right owner and she and her best friend founded the Lucky Dog Rescue Group which has already saved dozens of dogs. They try to find the perfect dog for the perfect family, and until that placement, the dogs live with Lara and her boyfriend, Evan Walker. Between the rescuing, training, and matching, Lara is consumed by all things four-legged, and she and Evan start a pattern of fighting over canine-related issues. Finally, Evan erupts over all of the damage and drool and drops a bombshell on her: he’s not a dog person!

 

Horrified, Lara moves out and is forced to her mother’s home with all the rescue dogs (8 at this point) in tow. That home is a mansion with state of the art appliances and priceless interior design details. Lara’s mother is everything Lara isn’t, and is quick to point out Lara’s failures. When Lara’s excellent reputation spreads among her mother’s wealthy neighbors, she finds herself overwhelmed with demands for her training services. Lara’s hard work is finally paying off, her relationship with her mother is improving, and maybe, just maybe, one of her rescue dogs will lead her to the perfect guy! Even the most ardent cat lovers will enjoy Lara’s journey in this funny, romantic story filled with the most delightful doggies.

 

Maureen

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Naturalist, Hunter, Inventor, Millionaire

BirdseyeAlthough the name Clarence Birdseye immediately conjures up images of frozen vegetables, the subject of historian Mark Kurlansky’s Birdseye:The Adventures of a Curious Man accomplished so much more. This fascinating biography shows the man as a curious problem solver and opportunist, always quick to devise inventive solutions while making money along the way. Birdseye was a naturalist from an early age, as well as an avid hunter. At the age of ten, young Clarence earned his first shotgun with the profits he made by shipping live muskrat to an English aristocrat who was stocking an estate. He promptly taught himself the art of taxidermy, even attempting to teach others for money.

 

As a student at Amherst studying the sciences, Birdseye spent his free time “wandering the fields with a shotgun on his shoulder.” He was forced to drop out due to lack of money.  His job as an assistant naturalist with the U.S. Biological Survey stoked his interest in cooking such exotic meats as chipmunk, mice, and rattlesnake. A later job with the Department of Agriculture sent him packing to the Bitterroot Valley of Montana as part of a group looking to study Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Birdseye put his hunting skills and enthusiasm to good use, killing a variety of mammals that host the carrier of the disease, the wood tick. His contribution to the study was notable.

 

Luckily his wife, Eleanor, was a patient woman who didn’t seem to mind her husband’s frequent absences. A later adventure saw him in the frozen land of Labrador where his interests turned to fox farming. His journal and letters to his family (which eventually included six children) were full of descriptions of food, especially recipes featuring unusual provisions like seal meat and porcupine.A deep interest in food preservation led him to begin experimenting with various freezing techniques, beginning with snow pack. Birdseye realized that freezing food is far from a straightforward process if one desires a palatable thawed product. Eventually his determination and sharp sense of observation paid off, leading to innovations that revolutionized the way people eat.

 

Birdseye:The Adventures of a Curious Man, holds wide appeal for anyone who enjoys intriguing nonfiction. The self-made man comes alive through Kurlansky’s evocative descriptions and choice details. Readers who enjoyed his previous classic titles (which included mentions of Birdseye) Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World, and Salt: A World History, will find much to like here.

 

 

Paula G.

 
 

Portrait of the Artist as a Graphic Novelist

A Zoo in WinterThe graphic novel A Zoo in Winter by Jiro Taniguchi follows a young man named Hamaguchi, who is working for a fabric printing factory in 1966. He is unsettled there; he wants to design his own fabric but is thwarted by the boss, and needs to find more creative employment. Hamaguchi heads to Tokyo and becomes an assistant at a magazine that publishes manga, then a new art form. So begins his journey as an artist.

 

The story offers quiet realism. Black and white illustrations are beautifully drawn and the characters take on a life of their own. Quiet and thoughtful, Hamaguchi struggles to find his place in the world. Suddenly he’s thrust into an urban setting with quirky “artist types” who work odd hours and drink too much. Taniguchi captures them visually, each drawn expression conveying abundant emotion.  The story is gentle but at the same time compelling. You want to know more about Hamaguchi’s life and his art.  You want to see him succeed.

 

The work also offers a look into the history of manga and a bit of Japanese culture. These are nicely woven into the story and become a backdrop for the tale without becoming overwhelming. Regular graphic novel readers will be interested to see more from this artist, but even those who only casually approach the genre will enjoy an engrossing biographical story about an extremely likeable character. A Zoo in Winter is a terrific graphic novel, destined to become a classic.  

Doug

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Love, Loss, and Murder

Love, Loss, and Murder

posted by:
June 19, 2012 - 8:01am

A Deeper DarknessJ.T. Ellison’s A Deeper Darkness is a thriller that pulls the reader deeper and deeper into the story with its well-paced suspense and complex characters.

 

Ex-Army Ranger Eddie Donovan was murdered in an apparent carjacking, but his mother doesn’t believe that is all there is to the story. She asks Eddie’s ex-girlfriend Dr. Samantha Owens, who is now the head medical examiner for the state of Tennessee, to come to Washington, D. C. and perform a second autopsy. What Sam finds pulls her into the center of an investigation that she never could have expected. 

 

Both Eddie and another man from his Army Rangers unit have been murdered in Washington, D.C., and the ballistics show that they were shot with the same gun. In Virginia, another man from their unit killed his mother and committed suicide. Only one man remains from the group of friends who served together. Off-the-grid loner Xander Whitfield is either the key to solving the murders or the prime suspect for all of them. Something happened in Afghanistan that the group covered up, but this secret won’t stay buried.

 

A Deeper Darkness is a heart-pounding thriller, but it is also a story of love and loss. Sam’s husband and two young children were killed in the floods in Nashville in 2010, and she is struggling with her grief for the family she lost. She has developed OCD that she tries to ignore, but the mounting pressure from this case pushes her struggle to the forefront of her life. This is the first novel in a new series, so readers will get to follow Sam as she continues to heal.

Beth

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Coming of Age on the Lower East Side

UnterzakhnThe new graphic novel, Unterzakhn (Yiddish for “underthings”) by Leela Corman tells the story of twin sisters, Esther and Fanya. The sisters grow up on the Lower East Side of New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. Through Corman’s attention to detail in both her art and text, readers are immediately transported to New York City, 1909. In addition to the lively New York story, Corman also interweaves the family’s tragic past in nineteenth century Russia.

Daughters of Jewish Russian immigrants, sisters Esther and Fanya must learn how to survive when few choices were available to young women. The sisters take decidedly different paths. Esther works for a woman who runs a burlesque theater and Fanya goes to work for a “woman doctor.” These choices go on to shape them as the young woman they become. Although their lives are different in nearly every way--lifestyle, politics and values--their childhood bond enables the sisters to transcend these differences in adulthood.

As in any excellent graphic novel, the text and illustrations work together seamlessly in telling the story. Corman’s keen attention to detail allows the reader to enter Fanya and Esther’s world. Corman gives a real sense of New York and Russia, spanning from the late 1890s to the 1920s. She sprinkles the story with Yiddish phrases throughout and lovingly depicts Russian village life in the late nineteenth century. Corman is also particularly adept at conveying her female characters’ expressions as they go through a lifetime of emotions. Unterzakhn is very much a classic immigrant story but at the story’s core is a tale of two sisters figuring out to survive as young women in this time and place.

Zeke

 
 

The Left and Right Hands

The Left and Right Hands

posted by:
June 18, 2012 - 8:30am

The Book Of JonasFifteen-year-old Younas is brought to Pittsburgh after the Muslim village in which he lives is destroyed and his family killed by American troops.  Rechristened Jonas, he asks a relief worker why her organization is helping him. She responds:

 

"...our country sometimes has a habit of making a mess with its left hand and cleaning it up with its right. We are the right hand."

 

Author Stephen Dau explores these themes of duality and contradiction in his thoughtful debut novel, The Book of Jonas.

 

As in Chris Cleave’s bestselling Little Bee, Dau tells the story of a young immigrant leaving behind unspeakable horrors in a homeland at odds with the comfortable English-speaking country of destination. The author allows the story to unfold using alternating narrators, offering sharp commentary on Western customs and culture as viewed by the immigrant Jonas. His fate is entwined with that of MIA Christopher Henderson, an American soldier party to the offensive on his village, and Jonas is gently pressured to recount his past by both his US court-ordered counselor and Christopher’s mother who is desperate for any news of her son. Jonas reflects that the truth of a matter and what the law requires don’t necessarily coincide and he attempts to adapt to his new country while struggling to reconcile the nature of his relationship with the soldier. Dau dangles the questions of who is the savior and who is the saved and wonders about the imprecision of memory and words to convey the truth of an experience in this compelling and beautifully written book.  

 

Lori

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C'est Magnifique!

C'est Magnifique!

posted by:
June 15, 2012 - 8:30am

Passing LoveIn Passing Love by Jacqueline Luckett, the reader first meets Nicole-Marie following the death of her best friend. Realizing life is too short, she satisfies a long-time dream to spend a month in Paris. Leaving a marriage proposal (from her already married boyfriend) in her wake, she embarks on the trip of a lifetime. Her vacation soon turns into an investigation when Nicole-Marie finds a picture of her father with an unidentified woman. She is drawn to this photo and feels compelled to find out who this mysterious woman is and more importantly, what her relationship was with her dad. 

   

That woman is Ruby Garret, a beautiful woman living in Mississippi during World War II. Ruby is an independent thinker desperate to get out of the south. She is tired of being treated as a second-class citizen in a world where Jim Crow laws governed. Ruby’s chance to escape comes in the form of Arnett, an older musician with a dangerous side. Ruby is soon part of the legion of African-Americans who moved to colorblind Paris during the glittering post World War II years which were awash in music, poetry, and art. 

 

Luckett manages to recreate both the Paris of today and the sparkling creative Paris of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Indeed, the City of Lights is a major character in this story told in alternating viewpoints and across six decades. Nicole-Marie and Ruby are two strong women whose stories are filled with secrets and betrayal, but also love and a celebration of life after fifty. 

Maureen

 
 

Slow Burn

Slow Burn

posted by:
June 15, 2012 - 8:01am

Coral GlynnLovers of historical fiction will want to check out Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron. The novel begins in 1950s England after the war has ended. Coral Glynn, a young nurse, heads to Hart House to care for the aging Mrs. Hart. Also living in the house is Major Clement Hart, who was injured in the war and is dealing with demons of his own. The Major is suffering from repressed sexuality and a confusing love for his childhood friend, Robin Lofting. Mrs. Prence, the irascible housekeeper, takes an instant dislike to Coral, and upon the unexpected death of Mrs. Hart she harbors many suspicions about the new live-in nurse. When an unexpected proposal happens, followed by a disturbing event in the nearby woods, the lives of the characters begin to change in wholly unexpected ways.

 

The English countryside in 1950 is the perfect setting for these characters; each comes with baggage and is very unsure of what the future holds. Cameron slowly reveals facts about Coral, drawing out the mystery as there is more to her than first meets the eye and the reader will become intrigued by her and the decisions she is forced to make. The magic of Coral Glynn revolves around the characters, their hidden secrets and desires, and missed opportunities.

 

Fans of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca should enjoy this story. Like Rebecca, Coral is living alone in a strange setting with an unknown gentleman and a distant and unlikeable housekeeper. Coral Glynn is a quiet novel that sneaks up on the reader, with the beautiful writing, quietly revealing plot details while introducing the reader to several characters they will want to get to know and spend time with.  Appealing for anyone that wants a character-driven story with a hint of mystery and suspense, this title will also be perfect for book clubs.

Doug