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"I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves. "


— Anna Quindlen


from "Enough Bookshelves," New York Times, 7 August 1991

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Plenty to Enjoy with Nothing to See

Nothing to See Here

Title: Nothing to See Here
By: Kevin Wilson

In "Nothing to See Here" by Kevin Wilson, two girls with completely different backgrounds become close friends while attending a private high school and while their time together is cut short, they continue to correspond by letter. About 10 years later, they are reunited when the wealthy friend, Madison invites Lillian, still unhappily living with her mother, to come to her home and take care of Madison's two step children. Lillian's primary task is to manage the odd condition shared by the twins that causes them to spontaneously combust when they are upset thus threatening the status of their father who is a Senator and has higher political aspirations.

This is my favorite type of novel with a strong, female narrator whose matter of fact way of thinking is tinged with humor making the details of her difficult life tolerable. Here's an example:, "I lived with my mom and a rotating cast of her boyfriends, my father either dead or just checked out. My mother was vague about him, not a single picture. It seemed like maybe some Greek god had assumed the form of a black stallion and impregnated her before returning to his home atop Mount Olympus. More likely it was just a pervert in one of the fancy homes that my mom cleaned. Maybe he was some alderman in town, and I'd seen him all my life without knowing it. But I preferred to think he was dead, that he was wholly incapable of saving me from my unhappiness."

The story touches on friendship, love, families, social class and the responsibility of caring for children. Lillian's developing affection for her charges was described masterfully in such lines as "For a second, there was that weird flicker in her eyes, that wickedness that I loved, that I wanted to live inside. A wicked child was the most beautiful thing in the world"

There is a surprising twist that adds to the enjoyment of the story as we hope for the likeable, honest and compassionate Lillian to come out of this experience with what she needs.

Review by Jeanne

View similarly tagged posts: fiction
Posted by cowend on Dec. 19, 2019 at 12:30 a.m.
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A Venetian Elder Abuse Mystery

Unto Us a Son is Given

Title: Unto Us a Son is Given
By: Donna Leon

Unto us a son is given is Donna Leon's newest book, published in March, 2019. Unlike her previous 27 installments of Guido Brunetti mysteries, it concentrates on solving a case of financial elder abuse turning into murders (image courtesy Penguin UK).

Eighty-five-year-old Gonzalo Rodriguez de Tejada is a naturalized Italian. He is Brunetti's parents-in-law's best friend, his wife's godfather and unofficial uncle. As a successful art collector and dealer, he has accumulated a vast fortune and expensive Venetian apartments in his lifetime. With his rapid decline in health, Gonzalo, a childless bachelor, decides to leave everything to his newly-adopted son Attilio Circetti, Marchese di Torrebardo, instead of sharing it with his three living siblings. He lives under the illusion that young Attilio is the only one willing to learn his art business, able to love him in his old age, and appreciate his beautiful collections after he is gone. Once the adoption is made, Gonzalo drops dead while walking on the street with his sister. His funeral, conducted back home in Spain, is immediately followed by the deaths of his two oldest friends when they return to Venice for his memorial service.

With the unparalleled phenomenon of an aging population, law suits over inheritances are rising worldwide. Santa Cruz County is no exception. The Santa Cruz Sentinel calls its readers to Act as guardians to prevent elder abuse. The Grey Bears, a local organization to improve the health and well-being of seniors of Santa Cruz County, is not far behind.

The phenomenon is such that Donna Leon, who normally creates mysteries in education, finance, medicine, or music, has dived into financial elder abuse law. For the first time, she zooms in on a new crop of predators feasting on wealthy, but vulnerable, elderly Venetians. As long as there is uneven distribution of wealth, there will be greed and abuses of many kinds. Sometimes it is straightforward, other times it needs the expertise of Commissario Guido Brunetti to untangle a disturbing and sobering mystery for the financially abused elders.

View similarly tagged posts: mystery
Posted by Hui-Lan on Dec. 3, 2019 at 8:39 a.m.
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Ride of his life

The Inexplicable Logic of my Life

Title: The Inexplicable Logic of my Life
By: Benjamin Alire Saenz

Salvador Silva has always thought that he knows where he fits into the world. Growing up in El Paso, Texas with his gay adoptive father and spending time with his best friend Samantha, his life has seemed fairly straightforward. But at the start of Sal’s senior year in high school, things begin to change. His father is suddenly ready for Sal to learn about his birth mother, his grandmother is sick with cancer, and Samantha is having problems at home. Sal doesn’t want things to change, but everything is making him question where he belongs. As the school year progresses, he learns that loss, grief, and love can bring people together. And that family can be more than just “mom” or “dad,” but can include the people you care about the most. Sal is in for the ride of his life in order to learn more about friends, family, and ultimately, himself.

View similarly tagged posts: teen fiction
Posted by pughc on Jan. 10, 2019 at 9:29 a.m.
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Eye-opening

Prairie Fires: the American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder

Title: Prairie Fires: the American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder
By: Caroline Fraser

If you grew up like me, reading and re-reading the Little House books, you may find this book as fascinating as I did. Caroline Fraser has meticulously researched Laura Ingalls Wilder’s life, her writing, and that of her daughter Rose Wilder Lane (an important Libertarian). It turns out that the farm pioneer life as described in the iconic Little House series was a tad gilded. Laura’s actual life was even harder than depicted in the children's books. Although the books were described as autobiographical, Wilder modified parts of her childhood and youth or avoided them altogether in the retelling, which she began writing in her sixties. Her daughter Rose, a professional writer, did a lot of editing of her mother’s writing, and sometimes introduced nonfactual material to make the story more exciting.

Fraser does an excellent job of situating Laura and Rose in their historical, economic, and political times. I came away with an appreciation of the tremendous struggle Laura and her family made to succeed at small farming. Often they failed, and had to move on. Each failure was the death of a dream that this farm, this special place would continue to be their home. While I am sorry to learn that the “true” stories were a bit fictionalized, it is eye-opening to see them placed in context, and it makes a kind of sense that Wilder wanted to re-envision her past in a more positive light. (Ironically, writing about these early experiences proved to be far more financially rewarding for her than the farming.)

The book deservedly won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Biography.

View similarly tagged posts: biography
Posted by April on Oct. 14, 2018 at 8:40 a.m.
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Hair-raising

Educated: a memoir

Title: Educated: a memoir
By: Tara Westover

“I wanted to get away from the junkyard and there was only one way to do that, which was the way Audrey had done it; by getting a job so I wouldn’t be at the house when Dad rounded up his crew. The trouble was, I was eleven.”

It’s hard to believe that there were still families in the U.S. that didn’t send their children to school or to doctors in the 1990’s, but when Tara Westover was growing up in Idaho, the reigning paradigm in her family was that the government can’t be trusted. They did everything possible to avoid public notice and to be self-reliant. Her father ran a junkyard with prodigious feats of endurance and sometimes reckless use of machinery. Her mother practiced midwifery and prepared herbal medicines with a high degree of skill. With some of her earnings, she put in a phone line at their house.

“One day a white van appeared, and a handful of men in dark overalls began climbing over the utility poles by the highway. Dad burst through the back door demanding to know what the hell was going on. ‘I thought you wanted a phone,’ Mother said, her eyes so full of surprise they were irreproachable. She went on, talking fast. ‘You said there could be trouble if someone goes into labor and Grandma isn’t home to take the call. I thought, He’s right, we need a phone! Silly me! Did I misunderstand?’ Dad stood there for several seconds, his mouth open. Of course a midwife needs a phone, he said. Then he went back to the junkyard and that’s all that was ever said about it.”

I stayed up all night reading this memoir; it was hair-raising. I was entirely engaged by it--in part because it made me so very angry to learn about some of Tara’s experiences. It could have been unbearable to read but for the very fact of the book, which meant she survived. She was one of three siblings who went to college and completed graduate school. Her other four siblings left school with GEDs. Not surprisingly, this memoir also depicts what I can only call a cultural divide within a family, between a fundamentalist, self-reliant, isolationist stance and that of persons who have explored the larger society and have found benefits in mainstream education and interaction with a more diverse community.

View similarly tagged posts: biography
Posted by April on Oct. 14, 2018 at 8:40 a.m.
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