Monday, December 15, 2014

Stars Go Blue

Stars Go Blue
Laura Pritchett

Stars Go Blue: A Novel

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from the publisher): Laura Pritchett is an award-winning author who has quickly become one of the west’s defining literary voices. We first met hardscrabble ranchers Renny and Ben Cross in Laura’s debut collection, and now in Stars Go Blue, they are estranged, elderly spouses living on opposite ends of their sprawling ranch, faced with the particular decline of a fading farm and Ben’s struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. He is just on the cusp of dementia, able to recognize he is sick but unable to do anything about it —the notes he leaves in his pockets and around the house to remind him of himself, his family, and his responsibilities are no longer as helpful as they used to be. Watching his estranged wife forced into care-taking and brought to her breaking point, Ben decides to leave his life with whatever dignity and grace remains.

As Ben makes his decision, a new horrible truth comes to light: Ray, the abusive husband of their late daughter is being released from prison early. This opens old wounds in Ben, his wife, his surviving daughter, and four grandchildren. Branded with a need for justice, Ben must act before his mind leaves him, and sets off during a brutal snowstorm to confront the man who murdered his daughter. Renny, realizing he is missing, sets off to either stop or witness her husband’s act of vengeance.

Stars Go Blue is a triumphant novel of the American family, buffered by the workings of a ranch and the music offered by the landscape and animal life upon it.


Review:  This book reminded me of Plainsong by Kent Haruf, and in fact, the author thanks Haruf in her acknowledgement section.  I found that interesting.

I don't know quite what to make of this book.  I didn't exactly love it, because the subject matter is so difficult and the characters are so sad, but it was moving and powerful and thought-provoking.  And I think it might be the kind of book that I remember for a long time, but it's hard to say now because I just finished it this morning.

Tackling the depressing subject of Alzheimer's, this novel is written from the perspective of an elderly rancher with dementia as well as from the point of view of his crotchety caretaker wife.  Both characters made me want to cry - Ben, because of his moments of clarity where he realizes what is happening to him and is determined to face the rest of his life with strength and dignity.  And Renny, because she struggles to care for Ben despite challenges they have faced in the past and the difficulties of dealing with his forgetfulness and rage. 

The descriptions of the ranch, ranch life, and the Colorado scenery are hauntingly beautiful, adding to the sense of desolation.

Rating: 4 stars

Delicious!

Delicious!
Ruth Reichl

Delicious!

Genre: Fiction

Summary (from the publisher):  In her bestselling memoirs Ruth Reichl has long illuminated the theme of how food defines us, and never more so than in her dazzling fiction debut about sisters, family ties, and a young woman who must finally let go of guilt and grief to embrace her own true gifts.

Billie Breslin has traveled far from her California home to take a job at Delicious, the most iconic food magazine in New York and, thus, the world. When the publication is summarily shut down, the colorful staff, who have become an extended family for Billie, must pick up their lives and move on. Not Billie, though. She is offered a new job: staying behind in the magazine's deserted downtown mansion offices to uphold the "Delicious Guarantee"-a public relations hotline for complaints and recipe inquiries-until further notice. What she doesn't know is that this boring, lonely job will be the portal to a life-changing discovery.

Delicious! carries the reader to the colorful world of downtown New York restaurateurs and artisanal purveyors, and from the lively food shop in Little Italy where Billie works on weekends to a hidden room in the magazine's library where she discovers the letters of Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, who wrote to the legendary chef James Beard during World War II. Lulu's letters lead Billie to a deeper understanding of history (and the history of food), but most important, Lulu's courage in the face of loss inspires Billie to come to terms with her own issues-the panic attacks that occur every time she even thinks about cooking, the truth about the big sister she adored, and her ability to open her heart to love.


Review:  Maybe I should create a new genre called Foodie Fiction, because that's definitely what this book is.  Is it great literary fiction?  No.  The main character hints at tragedy earlier in her life, but this isn't explored until very late in the book, and then only briefly, so it was hard to really get to know Billie.  I found quite a bit of this book unrealistic - Billie's first day on the job, her relationship with her family, how perfectly things seem to happen to her, and then why on earth was there such a mystery about the Lulu Swan letters?  It just didn't make any kind of logical sense.  And the characters in this book are such serious foodies that it started to drive me a little crazy.  I mean really, do we need to only eat balsamic vinegar that has been aged in six different types of wooden casks?  Come on.

BUT.... this book was so much fun to read.  I enjoyed reading about Billie discovering herself in New York City, and I liked the sections that talked about recipe development.  I think travel food writer Sammy was my favorite character, with his impressive vocabulary and quirky personality. But my favorite parts were the Lulu Swan letters, and although I couldn't fathom why they were hidden so mysteriously, I did enjoy the mystery of finding them.  

Rating: 4 stars

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

This Song Will Save Your Life

This Song Will Save Your Life
by Leila Sales

Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Synopsis: You think it's so easy to change yourself.  You think it's so easy, but it's not.

Elise Dembowski is not afraid of a little hard work.  In fact, she embraces it.  All her life, she's take on big, all-encompassing projects.  When she's fifteen, she embarks on the biggest, and most important, project of them all: becoming cool.  Except she fails.  Miserably.  And everything falls to pieces.

Now, if possible, Elise's social life is even worse than it was before.  Until she stumbles into an underground dance club and opens the door to a world she never knew existed.  An inside-out world where, seemingly overnight, a previously uncool high school sophomore can become the hottest new DJ sensation.  Elise finally has what she's always wanted: acceptance, friendship, maybe even love.  Until the real world threatens to steal it all away.
from the book jacket

Review:  This book was a fast and easy read but not one that stands out.  There was too much in this book that just fell into place too easily and some things were just not explained well.  We don't know why Elise is bullied and picked on.  She doesn't seem that uncool to me.  Elise is quite down on her life at one point and the next time we see her time has passed and she seems to be coping OK.  I just didn't think that was realistic.  I also didn't think that what happened to Elise at the underground dance club was realistic either.  Perhaps I was looking at this book in a too analytic way and perhaps I'm not young enough to really appreciate this book.

Rating: 3 stars

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Weasels

Weasels
by Elys Dolan

Genre: Picture book

Synopsis:  Weasels.  What do you think they do all day?

Plot world domination-that's what!

This is rollicking madcap weasel adventure is packed full of mischief and mayhem, featuring hilarious weasel antics rendered in Elys Dolan's exuberant style.  Will the weasels succeed in taking over the world?
from the book jacket

Review:  We are big fans of unexpected humor and sarcasm in our house and when we find those in books, we jump all over reading those books.  This book is reminiscent of the Scaredy Squirrel books by Melanie Watt.  Sometimes some of the humor goes over my kids' heads but it makes me enjoy reading the book.  I like when picture book authors and illustrators add in humor for parents and this book certainly does that.  My kids very much enjoyed listening to this story because the weasels did such funny, goofy things.  One of the weasels has a pet mouse and it is on every page in different places so the kids can search for the mouse.  The lead weasel and it is strikingly similar to one of the bad guys from one of the James Bond movies-Blofeld (again, humor that goes over the kids' heads but something that I love).  Each weasel had their own personality and there were so many to look at on the pages.  This book was a tad difficult to read as there were speech bubbles all over but overall this was a great book!

Rating: 4 stars

How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans

How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans
by David LaRochelle
Illustrated by Mark Fearing

Genre: Picture Book

Synopsis:  They're mean.  They're green.  They're the baddest beans around.

"Green beans are good for you.  Green beans will make you big and strong."  Martha doesn't believe what her parents tell her.  And nothing will ever-EVER-make her eat them.

But when some bead-eyed, boot stomping beans bust into town and start causing trouble, Martha knows she has to take action against this gang of outlaws, cutthroats, and desperadoes.  She can think of only one way to stop the villainous veggies, and it's not pretty...or tasty.

Even the pickiest of eaters will be unable to resist this deliciously ridiculous tale of how Martha saved her parents-and the world-from green beans.
from the book jacket

Review: I loved the unique story line in this book with the green beans being the bad guys.  I think we all have kids who think that one particular food is horrible and would love to have a reprieve from eating it.  I really enjoyed how the green beans were portrayed as being the enemy and being the bad guys.  The pictures of them throughout the book are hilarious and just what we would imagine them to be as the bad guys in the story.  The story is humorous and will make kids giggle while listening to the story.  Spoiler alert: Martha ends up saving her parents from the green beans by eating all the green beans and then from then on out Martha never has to eat green beans.  I didn't like the message that you're never going to be served the food that you don't like again.  I think it would have been nice if Martha learned to like green beans or at least she learned that they are tolerable.

Rating: 4 stars

Ivy and Bean

Ivy and Bean
by Annie Barrows
Illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Genre: Chapter Book

Synopsis:   The moment they saw each other, Bean and Ivy knew they would never be friends.  But when Bean plays a trick on her sister and has to hide-quick!-Ivy comes to the rescue with her wand, some face paint, and a bucket of worms.  Will they end up in trouble?  Maybe.  Will they have fun?  Of course!

Meet Ivy and Bean, a pair of best friends who never meant to like one another.
from the book jacket

Natalie's and Noah's Review:  This was a funny story.  We liked the people in the story.  We liked this book because Ivy and Bean kept doing trouble like putting a dancing spell on Nancy (Bean's sister).  When they would do trouble it made us laugh.  I like how Bean was going to play a trick on Nancy because she wanted her sister to stop being bossy.  Nancy was trying to be Bean's mom and would boss Bean around.  Ivy looked silly because she was wearing a bathrobe with moons and stars.  We liked that this was a chapter book with pictures in it.  You should read this book because it's funny and it will make you laugh.

Becky's Review:  This was a great early chapter book.  It really held my kids' attention especially Natalie's who has difficulty with listening to chapter books without many pictures.  My kids laughed out loud while I read this book to them.  They really liked how Ivy and Bean made mischief in an nontraditional way.  I liked that Bean was not a girly girl and that she loved to get dirty, play outside and cause trouble.  Bean thought Ivy was too girly for her but then the two of them develop a friendship and have similar interests even though first appearances would make it seem like they wouldn't get along.  My kids definitely want to read the next books in the series.

Natalie's and Noah's Rating: 5 stars

Love Comes Calling

Love Comes Calling
by Siri Mitchell

Genre: Historical Fiction, Romance

Synopsis:  When a look-alike friend asks Ellis Eton to fill in for her as a telephone operator, Ellis jumps at the chance.  For her, the job will provide not only acting practice but the funds to get Ellis a start in the movies.  She's tired of always being a disappointment to her traditional Boston family, and though she can't deny the way he makes her head spin, she knows she's not good enough for Griffin Phillips, either.  It's simple: avoid Griff's attentions, work, and get paid.  But in typical Ellis fashion, her simple plan spirals out of control when she overhears a menacing phone call...with her very own Griff as the target.
from the back of the book

Review:  I picked up this book off the new fiction section at my library thinking that it would be a nice easy read that had a good story.   But this novel certainly failed to deliver.  I really wanted to stop reading after less than 50 pages but I forced myself to keep going to see if it would get better because the ratings that I saw for this book were favorable.  I let myself stop after 110 pages.  Ellis seems like such a flighty and ditsy girl who didn't make for a great protagonist.  I read later in the author's notes that Mitchell purposely gave Ellis "impulsive, restless minds" that would be diagnosed as ADHD these days.  I didn't get this at all from the character.  Ellis just annoyed me.  Her behavior seemed so young and immature and I just didn't want to keep reading about her.

Rating: abandoned