Sunday, December 21, 2014

Holiday Music



This is a great time of year for music lovers - every kind of musical taste can be satisfied.   As I get older, I lean more towards the calm, soothing instrumental-type of music with a jazz lilt.  For many years, just about any title in the Windham Hill catalog was a favorite:  nightnoise, George Winston, the Celtic Christmas series, etc.  This year, though, those songs seem tired and stale. 

Last year, I borrowed a CD from the library where I work, Christmas with the George Shearing Quintet.  I didn't listen to it then, but put a copy on my laptop for this year.  Holy cow!  What a joyful and soothing CD.  Always a jazz vocal fan, but never really a jazz instrumental student, this CD opens up a whole new world to me.  The best word I can some up with is hip.  This is the most hip CD I've ever heard.  This makes me feel like I'm at a cool dinner party in NYC or a nightclub, waiting for Billie Holiday to take the stage.  Excellent music.

Christmas and CocktailsAlong those lines, my long-time jazz favorite, Beegie Adair, has several Christmas compilations and a regular favorite is Christmas Cocktails.  Love it, love it, love it.  I was one of the staff in charge of the Christmas party at work and I played this in the background.  One of my colleagues said the music made her feel like she was in a fancy restaurant. 

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry


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Charming.  This book is a charmer - it pulls you in and gets a hold of you and keeps you hanging on during the (few) slow parts.  A fast-paced narrative that seems far-fetched at times, hums merrily along and never seems beyond reach. 

The storyline is deceptively simple:  a widower/bookstore owner adopts a baby, finds love in more ways than one and, even though the ending isn't happily ever after, the characters are richer for their experiences together. Isn't that what life's about, anyway?

The last third of the book is the best because there are a lot of unexpected twists and turns that explain some of the earlier sub-plots or behaviors.  Great story, great characters and great writing.  

Sunday, December 7, 2014

New Year’s Reading Resolutions

When it comes to resolutions for the New Year, most people focus on their physical health – lose weight, exercise more, eat healthy food.  What about your reading health?  Are you an avid reader or an occasional one?  Do you read only newspapers?  Do you read only fiction?  Only biographies?  Only romance?

Now is a good time to shake up your reading habits and expand your horizons.   The Internet offers a wide variety of reading challenges for the New Year and some examples are listed below.  Try one out and see if it works for you.  If it doesn’t, try another one.  Go easy on yourself.  Set realistic reading goals to keep your mind and spirit active in the New Year.

Read the classics.  Did you skip some of the classics in high school in favor of popular titles?  This is a good time to catch up.  You’ll be glad you did.

Try out a new genre.  Branch out.  Read a mystery instead of a romance novel.  Read a non-fiction title about one of your favorite (or least favorite) subjects.  Push yourself to read outside your comfort zone. 

Create fun monthly or yearly challenges.  Read a book about each U. S. President this year or all of Agatha Christie’s novels – even all of Shakespeare’s plays.  Search the Internet for things like “50 Novels Featuring Famous Authors as Characters” or “Around the World in 80 Books” to find fun, yet different types of books to read.

Write brief reviews of what you read.  Share your thoughts with others.  Join www.goodreads.com and write a one or two sentence review about the books you’ve read.  Book reviews can be as long or short as you want them to be.  The important thing is to share.

Join a book club – in person or online.  The Roswell library offers two books clubs, Noonday Nosh (general fiction and non-fiction) and the Mystery Readers’ Book Club.   Most libraries offer book clubs.  Join www.goodreads.com and search for groups that read similar genres (or challenge yourself to find a new genre to read).

Read the best books of 2014.  At year’s end, websites, magazines and newspapers recommend the best books of the year. Type the words “best books of 2014” into a search engine like Google or Yahoo and see what appears.  Take a look, read a few and see if you agree. 

The suggestions above are just a few ways to begin your reading year with a new twist. Whether you make a reading resolution or not (or keep it or not), always remember the most important thing is … to read.  Library staff are always happy to help you find books to read.  Just ask them.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Brief reviews of teen books adults will enjoy

My nieces and nephew, ages 11 - 22, visited this Thanksgiving and reminded me of a couple of books I read last summer that are technically YA books, but will be enjoyed by adults, too.  In fact, adults should read them to 1) see what kids are reading and 2) learn from what kids are reading.  

The best part of their visit was our book discussions (and watching my nephew beat his dad at Scrabble).  I had a lot of books on the coffee table, hoping they would take a few home with them (and free up my shelves).  They are devout booklovers and were reluctant to take anything, but I was able to finally send them home with The Mockingbird Next Door, Wonder and two baseball books.  Mission accomplished.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio tells the story of Auggie Pullman, a 5th grade boy living in Manhattan.  Auggie is bright, funny, loves Star Wars and has a facial deformity that makes people cringe.   After being home-schooled, he enters a private school and learns the intricacies and dynamics of changing classes, friendship, betrayal, and rivalry.  A quick read, this novel dwells not on Auggie’s face, but on his resilience.  He learns – and his family and friends also learn – that appearance isn’t everything.  It’s a life lesson one is never too old to learn.
 

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green tackles a subject that frightens most everyone:  cancer.   This novel centers on Hazel, a 16 year-old with terminal cancer.  Hazel’s struggles with her illness, her family and friendships are warmly portrayed.  Teens will appreciate the dialogue and rebellious behavior and cheer for Hazel and her friends to survive. The author keeps the reader in suspense regarding who might make it and who, sadly, will not.   But Green doesn’t dwell on sadness or loss.  He treats these issues matter-of-factly and this gives the reader the best gift of all:  hope.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín

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This is one of the most poignant books I've ever read.  There are so many layers - grief, families, self-discovery and music.  As the story unfolds, we learn more about Nora - what's in her heart, her mind and especially, her spirit.  Her transformation from grieving widow to independent woman mirrors the struggles other people endure after a profound loss.  Each character is drawn out as carefully as Nora, the subtleties merging as the novel progresses.  Tóibín's narrative is so rich it's almost as if he is painting the Irish landscape on Nora's soul. 

Irish literature has always seemed out of reach because of the depth of the narratives, but this story invites the reader in and welcome them to stay and have some tea.  This is a beautiful book.

Here's a link to NPR's review:  http://www.npr.org/2014/10/11/354592020/a-slow-simmer-of-grief-and-strength-in-nora-webster.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Mandolin Lesson by Frances Taylor


This delightful memoir had me hooked from the first page.  Who would have ever thought the mandolin could be so enchanting?  Well, it is.  And so is author Frances Taylor.  A natural writer as well as musician, Taylor describes in rich and vivid detail the years she traveled from the UK to Italy to study under the tutelage of Maestro Ugo Orlandi.  Her innocence and then maturity as both a traveler and a musician is honest and heart-warming.  The strength and determination at which she accomplishes her musical goals serve as a model to others.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and took my time near the end because I didn't want it to end!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Music Books x Three

Wish I could think of a clever way to describe the three music books I am reading for NetGalley.com and Edelweiss.  Each approaches music from a different point of view, but all three are intriguing;  two are scholarly, and one is deeply passionate about the mandolin.   I'm about halfway through The Mandolin Lesson by Frances Taylor.  The classical mandolin calls Taylor's name, pulls her soul into the sound of the eight strings.  I feel that way about the guitar, so I understand that kind of pull.  That said, I'm not sure I would travel the continent of Europe to study with a maestro once a month!  My guitar teachers, exceptional musicians that I remember fondly, were more of the hippie type, not tuxedoes and polished shoes.

The other books, You Are the Music:  How Music Reveals What it Means to Be Human by Victoria Williamson and Capturing Music:  The Story of Notation by Thomas Forest Kelly are more in depth about music, the science of it or the art of notation.  They require more concentration than I can muster right now at the end of a stressful and busy day!

Monday, March 31, 2014

"Hope Runs" by Claire Diaz Ortiz

Do you ever stumble on a book that charms you and challenges you at the same time?  Hope Runs by Claire Diaz Ortiz, Sammy Ikua Gachagua and Donald Miller is one such book.  At moments incredibly heartbreaking, then overwhelmingly triumphant, this memoir of Diaz Ortiz's friendship with Ikua Gachagua shows how an instant can change a person's life.

Written in two voices, these unlikely friends share their hopes, struggles and goals.  Claire Diaz Ortiz is on a soul-searching travel quest, looking for definition in her life.  Sammy is a resident at an orphanage in Kenya. Claire and her friend, Lara, travel around the world and land in East Africa, looking for a deeper sense of purpose.  As fate would have it, they stay at a residence connected to an orphanage. After returning home, they go back to Kenya and set up a foundation which teaches the kids the joys of running.  This provides the children with a greater sense of purpose and it provides the orphanage with much needed financial assistance.

Traveling back and forth between the United States and Kenya, Claire and Lara become the family some of the kids have never known.  They are more than financially invested in Sammy and the orphanage, they are invested emotionally and spiritually. Sometimes the "teacher" is the one who ends up learning the most. Heart-warming, poignant and hopeful, Hope Runs is a home run in my book.  I've pre-ordered two copies - one for myself and another for my 22 year old niece.

(This title was previewed through NetGalley.com.  It will be published April 15, 2014.)

Friday, February 28, 2014

Making Marks by Elaine Clayton

The title of this book is what first caught my eye.  At first, it looks like a book that explains how important doodling is to art form and how we create such art.  Deeper reading reveals that simple doodling/drawing can lead to intensive growth and healing.  I'm a big supporter of art therapy, music therapy and nature therapy as a way to heal from wounds seen and unseen and as a way to nurture our spirits.  This book compliments that line of thinking and takes it a step further with detailed instructions on healing through art.

I have to confess, though, that I'm not a follower of the paranormal stuff and near-death experiences (having never had one) and that is one of the underlying themes of this book.  I didn't expect to like it because of this, but that sort of prejudgement was quickly dispelled as I got further into the book. With that in mind, I wrote the following review for NetGalley.com.


"Elaine Clayton puts a new twist on interpretive drawing by focusing on conscious and subconscious doodling and how simple doodling (“making marks”) can lead to growth and healing.  

By using techniques familiar to readers who are comfortable with paranormal experiences, Ms. Clayton teaches readers how to tap into and use their intuition as more than just a creative skill; she teaches how to use it as a life skill.   Her gentle approach and thoughtful delivery will appeal to many readers.  Instructions and exercises are clear and concise.

The stream of consciousness writing technique is well known, but not so with stream of consciousness drawing.  This book will remedy that disparity.  Recommended for those studying art therapy and those in search of different healing methods."

When this book is published, I will buy a copy for my personal collection because, well, you never know ....

(This title was previewed through NetGalley.com.  It will be published May 6, 2014.)

LE-JOG-ed by Robin Richards


The title of Robin Richards' new book is the acronym for the Land's End to John O'Groats "end to end" walk from the bottom point of the UK to the very top.  Here's the review I submitted toNetGalley.com:

"Vivid descriptions of the towns and villages along the End to End trail highlight Robin Richards' post-retirement memoir of his journeys through the UK. Readers will cheer him on, agonize over yet another blister, and empathize with struggles and wrong turns. This is a good travel guide, of sorts, for those who like to read about nature, English village life and solo journeys."


I've read a lot of travelogues and memoirs about various travel/spiritual journeys and really anticipated enjoying this book, but the author never seemed to connect with anyone or anything along the End to End route and it left me thinking "what's the point?" That said, I did enjoy his descriptions of the villages.


(This title was previewed through NetGalley.com.  It was published November 7, 2013.)



Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Paris Letters

Every now and then, you are lucky enough to read a book that changes your life - even if you aren't really sure how it has changed or is going to change your life.  Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod is one of those books. 

This delightful memoir pulls readers in and makes them want to know why MacLeod isn't satisfied with the "perfect job" as a copywriter, a job most people would die for.  Rather than whine about her dissatisfaction, MacLeod takes readers along on her journey as she follows her inner compass.  It isn't clear in the beginning where she'll end up, but her engaging writing style and humor take us along for a wonderful ride.  

As she opens up and we get to know her, we find a talented and creative woman who is willing to take risks in order to find just where it is she's supposed to be - and with whom.  Her openness to those risks and her willingness leave excess baggage behind is inspiring.  The happy result of her risks is a new-found career writing letters and painting, living in Paris with her true love and ParisLetters.  

I found myself repeating parts of her book ("MacLeod ... Clan MacLeod! ...") and marking phrases to review later.  I sympathized with her struggles and rejoiced with her successes.  She's the kind of writer people would like to meet and luckily for us, she has a blog we can follow.  She also writes real letters, available via subscription.  I subscribed for a Francophile friend of mine and guess what?  They've changed her life by bringing a ray of Parisian sunshine to her door once a month.

More info. - janicemacleod.com.


(This title was previewed through NetGalley.com.  It was published February 4, 2014.)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Official Knish Review

Always an admirer of Jewish faith and culture, I knew a knish was some type of Jewish food.  In the book Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food by Laura Silver finally gives the homely knish its due. 

A few old photos sprinkled throughout the text help the author illustrate the ways in which communities thrive around certain types of food. At one time, knish shops were common, this one favored more than that one and vice versa, depending on your family or location. Not so anymore.  As the population aged and moved away, the knish shops disappeared.  

What begins as a fond memory quickly becomes a search for the origin of the knish.  Combining her family's heritage with that of the knish, Ms. Silver shows how cultures share similar types of food and how food origins, though blurred over time, are deeply embedded in family lore.

As with the Yiddish language, time and changing demographics have chipped away at this Jewish comfort food, but Laura Silver is doing her best to keep it alive.  The author’s fond nostalgia for knishes and her warm descriptions of shop owners, especially Mrs. Stahl of “Mrs. Stahl’s Knishes” make this delightful memoir of the knish an absolute pleasure to read.  

(This title was previewed through Edelweiss.  It is scheduled for publication May 6, 2014.)

A 23 Hour Commute Home From Work

January 28 saw metro Atlantans facing the worst rush hour traffic jam in history. Snow fell early afternoon and turned to ice after dark.  A commute that normally takes me 25 or 30 minutes, took 23 hours, with a layover at a local The Home Depot store.  I wanted to keep this blog focused on books and reviews, but this layover was life-changing, so I have to share it.

Here's a letter I sent to The Home Depot's CEO, Frank Blake.  He sent a nice reply, stating he would make sure Tanashier and the Roswell store are recognized for their generosity.


Dear Mr. Blake -

During the recent snowstorm/major traffic jam in metro Atlanta, I was stranded on Holcomb Bridge Road in Roswell, GA.  After spending 10 hours in my car, inching along on my way home, the road up ahead of me was shut down by local police.  A coworker called to check on me and told me to go to Home Depot because they were keeping stores open 24 hours as shelters.   Fortunately, I was able to turn my car around because I was just down the street from the store in Roswell.

I spent the night, 1/28/14, at the store located at 1580 Holcomb Bridge Rd.  Staff provided blankets and furniture for our comfort (and sleep), they lent us their phone chargers and adapters, they fed us apples, oranges, snacks, homemade soup and sandwiches, doughnuts and pastries, water, coffee - they even had pizza delivered for lunch the next day, 1/29/14; they offered support and advice, concern, encouragement, lots of smiles, traffic updates and more.  Each staff person, and especially store manager, Tanashier Bonadie, welcomed us into the store as if they were welcoming us into their homes.

Most of us who sought shelter there had spent between 8 and 18 hours in gridlocked traffic on cold, icy roads in the Roswell, GA area.  We were exhausted, frustrated and worried.  Home Depot turned a very unpleasant event into a pleasant one and I am forever grateful. I have shared my story with many people, telling them how wonderful Home Depot is and I will share the goodwill of Home Depot for the rest of my life.  God bless you and thank you!

Best regards,

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Knishing Through "Knish"

Always an admirer of Jewish faith and culture, I knew a knish was some type of Jewish food.   Most cultures share similar types of food - noodles, dumplings, turnovers, etc.   Knish: In Search of Jewish Soul Food by Laura Silver finally gives the homely knish its due.  I'm about half-way through the book (previewing it for Edelweiss) and one of the things I like the most is how the author shows the ways in which communities thrive around certain types of food.  At one time, knish shops were common, this one favored more than that one and vice versa, depending on your family or location.  Not so anymore.  As with the Yiddish language, time and changing demographics have chipped away at this Jewish comfort food, but Laura Silver is doing her best to keep it alive.

A nice companion read would be Outwitting History:  the Amazing Adventures of a Man Who Rescued a Million Yiddish Books by Aaron Lansky.


Coming Soon ... Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod

One of the best books I read last year, Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod will be published February 4. After that, I'll post my review.  This book was a pure delight to read - lots of life experiences with just the right amount of longing for something different.  MacLeod writes and mails out real, genuine letters to people who subscribe to them.  Last December, I subscribed to them for a retired friend and they have given my friend a giant ray of sunshine each month!  Visit her website to learn more.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Cathedral of the Wild by Boyd Varty

Boyd Varty’s richly descriptive narrative about life on the South African game reserve where he and his family live is indicative of the rich descriptions of his spiritual journey.  

Unlike most memoirs where the author goes off to another land to find their true home, Varty is already there.  Sometimes, the hardest thing to do is to stay.   Having realized at different times in my life that even though I thought I wanted to leave, what I needed to do was stay.  I could identify with his awakening/realization that "I'm already where I am supposed to be."

His personal and spiritual growth is mirrored by his family’s struggles and growth.  His devotion to his family and how he always writes respectfully of them was refreshing.

This book will appeal to readers on their own spiritual journeys as well as readers of travelogues and South African literature.

(This book was previewed through NetGalley.com.  It will be published March 4, 2014.)

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Late Starters Orchestra by Ari Goldman


This book made me smile.  All while reading it, I found myself smiling. This memoir is more than a feel-good book, though.  It’s an important reminder to honor one’s inner artist, in whatever form that might be.  It's also a reminder that it's never to late to do something you love or try something new.


Ari Goldman returns to the music instrument of his early adulthood, the cello.  Nearing 60, he picks up the cello again after watching his youngest son develop into a first-class cellist.  Never competitive with his son, Goldman honors himself and Judah with admiration and respect - first for the instrument, secondly for the student.

This memoir is at times funny, poignant and wistful.  Goldman shows his journalistic chops by writing a smooth narrative that flows seamlessly between past and present.  He channels Sholem Aleichem's "Fiddler on the Roof," his mentor Mr. J, his family and struggling musicians everywhere.   His devotion is evident in this love letter to the cello.  Highly recommended!

(This book was previewed through NetGalley.com. It is scheduled for publication June 10, 2014.)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Author Naomi Ragen

Naomi Ragen's books fly on and off the shelves at the library where I work like you wouldn't believe.   Here's one that I was going to put on my 12 Books of Christmas list, but I had too many books.  I list it here so I won't forget it!

The Ghost of Hannah Mendes by Naomi Ragen.  

Israeli/American Ragen is a prolific writer based in Israel.  I follow her blog occasionally - she’s smart and courageous.  A library patron recommended this book and the story is fascinating – the Crusades, Jewish history, contemporary Manhattan … all rolled into one novel.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Joys of Letter Writing

Letter writing is making a comeback.  Thank goodness, though for me, letter writing has always been a fun priority.   Currently, I have two nieces in college in Illinois and try write to each of them a couple of times per week and a new year's resolution is to write to a 95 year old friend who lives in an assisted living facility near where I work.

I stumbled onto the link below via author Simon Garfield's Twitter feed.   Massachusetts librarian Jenny Arch writes a great blog and a recent post highlighted Garfield's new book To the Letter: a Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing.  She also writes about how she created a special booklet using Lewis Carroll's "Eight or Nine Wise Words on Letter-Writing" (1890).  Here's a link:  http://icydaylight.wordpress.com/2014/01/08/on-letter-writing/.  What a great idea!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Few More Titles for Next Year

Never a newspaper known for great book reviews (not since they obliterated the book department), today's Atlanta Journal Constitution listed a few interesting titles to be published in 2014.  I list them here as simply "notes to myself" to keep an eye out for their arrival.

Under Magnolia by Frances Mayes
Mr. Owita's Guide to Gardening .... by Carol Wall


First Book Review for Amazon

After years of purchasing books - and enjoying them! - from Amazon.com, I finally posted my first book review there.  I expounded on my notes from The Twelve Books of Christmas post below.  In an attempt to sharpen my reviewing skills, I hope to go back and review more of my favorites from last year.   Here's the first book review of many (I hope!).


Imperfect Harmony: Finding Happiness Singing with Others by Stacy Horn (Paperback)

This is an intimate look at what it's like to sing in a chorus. For musicians like me who love playing an instrument and listening to music (just not singing it), this was a real treat. Stacy Horn shares her knowledge and experiences as a member of the Choral Society of Grace Church in New York City. She seamlessly weaves personal and professional stories together in a charming memoir that more than once sent me to the internet to look up a piece of music. I learned so much about the dynamics of choral singing, the arrangement of vocalists - the intricate grouping and pairing of the vocals mesmerized me - and it helps me hear music in a whole new way. Not only did I buy a copy for myself, but I've given this book as a gift to friends and family members who love to sing. Part music memoir and part music lesson, this book will enthrall music lovers of all kinds.



Thursday, January 2, 2014

Scrabble

Here's a link to a Wall Street Journal article about the joys of playing Scrabble, The Secrets to a Happy Marriage.  I like Scrabble just fine, but I'm not a die hard player.  This essay by author/Rabbi Ari Goldman is a love letter to Scrabble and makes me want to brush up my word skills.  WSJ charges for most articles, but this one looks like it's free.

Harper Lee

I just finished reading a preview copy of The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills.  It details the friendship that developed between Mills and Harper Lee and her sister, Alice.  I loved it!  It paints an intimate portrait of an author who delights in being elusive, reclusive, whatever.  That said, there are articles on the web stating that the author may not have had full cooperation from the Lee sisters.  Does that matter?  If someone writes a novel that becomes a bestseller and modern classic, is that author entitled to the same anonymity of the average citizen?  Hmmmmm.