Blog Posts by Lucy S

Posted by Lucy S on 01/16/16
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Author George Hodgman moved back home to tiny Paris, Missouri, in 2011 where he grew up as an only child to care for his 90-year-old widowed mother, Betty. He describes himself as an unlikely guardian, that his and Betty’s lives were lived on different planets.  Her independence is now at stake, her home. She struggles against needing assistance and George finds that he cannot bring himself to take her away from the house that his father built. So he stays.
So much goes on in any given day’s routine. Betty still plays bridge with her friends and plays the piano at church but irrational arguments erupt over shoes and forgetfulness becomes more frequent. George finds humor is often the best way to deal with this and the role reversal of a child now caring for a parent.
After graduating college, George lived a lifestyle that he knew his parents could not understand. His homosexuality was an issue they avoided because of the way they had been raised to think about people like him. In this story, there is a great deal of contemplation about life, memories, how events turned out, how people treat each other, and how you can trip yourself up and get into trouble – recovery hurts. Families are complex, living things that constantly change but if done right, one constant is love and that is what Betty gave him.
Many readers will be able to relate to the issues George and his mother face in this memoir written with kindness and candor. Other readers may find some of the topics eye-opening as told from George’s point of view.
Posted by Lucy S on 12/15/15
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Handwritten letters flutter out of old books donated by her grandmother, Dorothy, to the book store where Roberta works. These letters reveal details about her grandparents while simultaneously raising questions. Time is running short to find answers as her father is ailing and Dorothy is elderly. The story is told in the past and the present through the perspective of these two women. When Dorothy was a young woman she lived in rural England with her husband that became a loveless, childless marriage. When WWII began her husband left to fight. One day a downed Air Force plane near her home brought Dorothy to meet Jan, a Polish pilot and squadron leader. They soon became more than strangers. Until reading this I did not know how much Polish people, exiles from German-occupied Poland, contributed to the war efforts of the RAF in England.
Roberta’s relationships within the book store, her father and grandmother make up the modern day part of the story. She makes some poor decisions along the way and, unfortunately, I thought that the seriousness of the issues was treated a little lightly. Having said that I like how Roberta cares deeply for her family and continues to try to find out more about them. I found myself liking the narrative of Dorothy more, how her hardships and decisions shaped and affected those in her life. How different our lives could be if we weren’t compelled to act in haste and judgment.

If you enjoy a book that has a dual timeline, elements of historical fiction, and old-fashioned letters that advance a story you might consider reading Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase by British debut novelist Louise Walter.

Posted by Lucy S on 11/14/15
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Before she was Beryl Markham the first woman pilot to fly across the Atlantic from east to west and the first licensed horse trainer at the age of 18, she was Beryl Clutterbuck. Born in England, her family moved to Kenya to farm and train racehorses around 1906. Her mother could not adapt so she returned to England leaving her husband and five-year-old Beryl behind. Left to her own devices she grew up a wild child in the Kenyan countryside, survived a lion attack and sought the company of the farm worker’s families. Without the usual social conventions to shape her upbringing, Beryl grew up very strong minded and thought that women should have the same privileges as men.  Her unconventional ideas also spilled over into her mostly unsuccessful love life. 

I enjoyed reading Paula McClain’s historical fiction novel, Circling the Sun, about an adventurous woman who fought against stereotypes and worked hard at her endeavors. It was also eye-opening to read about a time of European settlers in Africa. Those who read Out of Africa or saw the movie will recognize this storyline as Beryl had a long-term complicated friendship with the author Isak Dinesen (Baroness Karen Blixen in the book).

I listened to this story in audiobook format and appreciated hearing this narrator’s voice with the added important element of proper pronunciations for unfamiliar names and places.
Posted by Lucy S on 10/13/15
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Sasha Martin is a food blogger and author who set out to write about her ambitious project to cook a meal from every country in the world – 195 countries in 195 weeks, in alphabetical order by country, with a motto of bringing the world to your kitchen.  In order to write her book about this endeavor she confronted harsh realities of her upbringing to how she got to this place in her life where she could succeed.
When author Sasha Martin was a little girl she lived in a small apartment in Boston with her mother and brother, Michael. Their father was not a part of their lives. Her mother’s creativity in the kitchen kept Sasha from knowing just how poor they were and instilled a love of cooking. Unfortunate events lead to the children going back and forth from their mother to a series of foster homes, each time a longer stay away. In the end, the legal system won out with guardianship granted to Patricia and Pierre; old friends of Sasha’s mother. Sasha was 10 and Michael was 12. Devastated to be separated from their mother, the children moved to Atlanta then Paris. Their mother stepped further away in a misguided attempt to have them bond with a new family. Two years later, something tragic happened to Michael, who suffered more than he could ever say. No one is the same again with a deeper divide opened between Sasha and her guardians.
Sasha returned to the United States to attend college and reunited with her mother. Tentative at first, it was Sasha who reached out, their relationship grew. So much happened to this family and to the legal guardians, more lives could have been irretrievably crushed. Cooking and the simple act of eating turned out to be a way to nurture, connect and heal. Her website Global Table Adventure invites you to cook the world, eat global and shop local.
This story is inspiring to me, a painful past remade into a bright future.
Posted by Lucy S on 09/09/15
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Sometimes life begins with sad endings. Eva Thorvald is the central character of Kitchens of the Great Midwest. She is the daughter of chef Lars Thorvald, a man who learned to bake and to make traditional Swedish Lutefisk at his father’s side in Minnesota. Eva grows up precocious and with her father’s love of cooking filtering down through her genes. She never knows her biological father and mother as the family who raises Eva does not tell her about them. They love Eva but do not share her budding interest and talent in gastronomy.
Chapters continue with new beginnings that lead to other endings; humble origins lead to lofty goals; unusual pairings in both food and relationships are showcased as people move in and out of each other’s lives. I feel that the book often changes directions and I was left a little befuddled with how it would conclude as the narrative jumps ahead a few years, introduces new characters, twines around, diverges and comes back to its center again. There is humor and sadness, some vengefulness and cunning, longing, relocation; all with a sense that we make what we will out of our lives, often through some tough struggles but with a sense of Midwestern fortitude.
The payoff I was waiting for delivers in the end. People who enjoy a story told in an offbeat, unconventional manner will enjoy reading author J. Ryan Stradal’s debut novel.
Posted by Lucy S on 08/13/15
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Right from the start with Nina George’s dedication of the book to her father I was under the spell of this novel. First published in German, it illustrates how beautiful language can be; nothing was lost in the translation. Some may find this tale a little fanciful, but this is one reason why I enjoyed it: to be taken on someone else’s journey yet find elements that resonate with me. This book is best read leisurely to savor the beautifully worded passages.

A Literary Apothecary is the name of a book store located on a barge floating on the Seine River in Paris owned by a man named Jean Perdu. His talent lies in his ability to intuit what his customers need to read rather than what they came in to get. Troubled for years mourning a lost love, lost time and a lost opportunity he unmoors his barge to travel to the south of France where his beloved Manon once lived to make peace with his decisions. Unexpectedly joining him is a young man from his apartment building, Max Jordan, who views Jean as a father figure. Max is a first time novelist who has experienced success too soon, too overwhelmingly fast.  He is both running from something and running toward something, just like Perdu. Another apartment building resident, Catherine, provides the catalyst for this trek and a renewed sense of hope for the future for Perdu. Along their way on the Seine, Perdu and Max meet others who help guide them and add flavor to their journey.
Nina George has created a winsome, imaginative story deftly wrought. Bonus material at the end of the book includes recipes typical of the Provence region of France and Perdu’s own Emergency Literary Pharmacy title recommendations. The author is also a writer’s rights advocate.
Posted by Lucy S on 07/12/15
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How far would you go to help a stranger? On his way to work one day author Steve Lopez stops to listen to a disheveled, homeless man playing a battered violin on a busy, noisy city street corner. After introducing himself as a columnist for the Los Angeles Times to Nathaniel Ayers, he recognizes that this man is also suffering from mental illness. Despite this, there is a rumpled elegance to the man and a refinement to his playing. Lopez discovers Ayers was once a student at Julliard School of Performing Arts.
Lopez struggles with how much he can or should do. Over time Lopez writes several articles about Ayers.  The publicity brings an outpouring of support from readers, donations of instruments, offers of music lessons and some accusations of exploitation.
This is a memorable story that began with a chance encounter and develops into a friendship between two very different men. It shines a spotlight on mental illness, on vulnerable members of society, our responsibility to them and is a tribute to the human spirit.
This title is our Book Club on the Green selection. Please join us on Thursday, August 6, 7:30pm at Arlington Lakes Golf Club to discuss this book in depth.
Posted by Lucy S on 06/12/15
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Girl at war, girl caught in a war, girl scarred by war.
Ana Juric is just 10 years old when the winds of civil war blow into her poor but carefree life in Zagreb, Croatia, in 1991. She, her best friend Luka, and their classmates play war games until it becomes too real. Ana says, “We had the peculiar privilege of watching the destruction of our country on television”. When tensions escalate and essential services grow scarcer, Ana’s parents decide to send her much younger sister to America for medical care through a charitable organization. On their way home, a roadblock of soldiers stops the family. In a few brief minutes, terrifying and almost unfathomable to contemplate, the course of Ana’s life is forever changed. Years elapse and Ana is a college student in America but her painful memories cannot be suppressed; they shadow her and her relationships. She wonders if tragedy will always follow her as she watches the Twin Towers fall in New York City.
Sara Novic tells a fictional story of a young girl’s life upended by war, displaced by war, of loss and survival set in the very real conflicts of the Balkan/Bosnian civil war in the 1990's. She creates a strong sense of place, of home, of family, of hope, and of life forces that can’t be quelled. An interesting note when reading a brief bio by this debut novelist is that she is hearing impaired. Her voice in this book is loud and clear.
Fiction, war
Posted by Lucy S on 05/15/15
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Malcolm Brooks creates a stirring narrative set in the American West in the 1950s and weaves in a backstory set in Europe during World War II.
Catherine LeMay is a young archaeologist who made a name for herself in England. A large Montana power company hires her to conduct a canyon survey for a controversial dam project on reservation land.  She encounters prejudices for doing work traditionally associated with men and for her friendship with a young Native American Crow woman who faces even harsher inequalities. Catherine finds herself up against great abuses of power but finds an ally in a mysterious man named John H, a unique blend of horseman, former WWII cavalry soldier and artist.
Painted Horses has many things going on within its pages. It could have been very cluttered but the story flows well. Catherine and John H’s relationship develops as they navigate within this small community pitted against a big corporation. It highlights Native American issues and the value of ancient peoples’ historical sites in America and France’s Chauvet Cave. I found the telling to be both adventurous and bittersweet.
Read Painted Horses if you like elements of historical fiction, archaeology, the wide open spaces of the American West, WWII history, prehistoric French art, Native American Indian issues and if you’d like to read a new debut author.
Posted by Lucy S on 03/17/15
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Growing up in a dysfunctional family caused author Andie Mitchell to have a dysfunctional relationship with food. Out of necessity her mother worked multiple jobs to try to keep up with expenses while her father spiraled downward into depression and alcoholism. Often left alone after school, food became a babysitter, a substitute for her parents; eating became an activity to keep her company and it became a problem.
During a college semester studying in Italy, Andie recognized she needed to change and she allowed herself to begin taking steps to become healthy. By the time she returned she had learned to cook and had lost a noticeable amount of weight. Realizing that this alone would not fix her, she had to address other issues and relationships that complicated her life.
What I liked about this memoir is that it is a success story and not just about weight loss. It is about one woman who took responsibility and took action to overcome something that affected her profoundly. Certain aspects of her life must have been very painful for her to share but it must also have been necessary so that she could heal and move forward.  So much so that she created a popular blog about her experience, to share recipes and to talk about body image. She also has spoken at an independently organized TEDx (Technology, Entertainment and Design) talk event at Claremont Colleges consortium in California to help motivate others.
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