yearbetweenfriends

yearbetweenfriendsMaria and Stephanie both live in Portland, but are 3191 miles apart. That’s because Maria lives in Portland, Maine and Stephanie lives in Portland, Oregon. Over the years these friends have shared their lives with each other through letters and photographs. They have managed to forge and maintain a deep bond across the distance, exchanging recipes and practical life tips and sharing the ups and downs of life. They are small town neighbors in the new world of technology.

Collaborating since 2007, Maria and Stephanie continue to document their lives in their blog, 3191. Twice a week they post a diptych, a picture from of them showing what’s going on in their separate lives right now. The focus is on the small and ordinary – flowers, children at play, bounty from the garden, the outdoors and sleeping cats. Recipes and crafts are shared and advice requested and given. A Year Between Friends follows the same format, beginning in January and running through December, with an emphasis on the small pleasures of a life well lived. There are big events too – Maria loses her Mother unexpectedly early in the year, and gives birth to a baby girl in late July. And they aren’t always apart – Stephanie makes the trip cross country after the birth of baby Luna to spend time with Maria and her family.

The photography is exquisite –  you can learn a lot about perspective, cropping and lighting by studying these pictures. The real value, of course, is the stories they tell, of how different and yet how similar these lives are, their mutual appreciation of the beauty around them and the love and support they bring to each other.

Besides the photos and letters, A Year Between Friends includes several crafts, most of which are lovely and practical and simple to make (although I’m not sure about the pinecone ornament – no mater how charming, that’s a lot of sewing!) There are also recipes; I’m not a cook, but I’d be happy to eat just about anything shown here!

This is a lovely, quiet book, an excellent choice to end or begin the year (or anytime really), inviting you to step back and take a look at your life and what is really important. What is it you want to remember when you look back? A child’s smile? A walk through a summer-green forest? Cookies fresh from the oven? A friend’s laughter? A Year Between Friends shows just how special the ordinary can be.

 

online colorHello and Welcome to the final Reading Challenge for 2016! This month we’re going to take a look at Holiday Stories, perfect for this month of festivals and celebrations.

There are no shortage of Holiday Stories to read so you should have no trouble finding one no matter what kind of book you prefer. Classics (A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens), mysteries (Fields Where They Lay by Timothy Hallinan or Christmas Caramel Murder by Joanne Fluke) (and what is with all the murder mysteries set during Christmas?!), bestselling authors (The Christmas Train by David Baldacci and A Lowcountry Christmas by Mary Alice Monroe) and romance (A Baxter Family Christmas by Karen Kingsbury and Comfort and Joy by Kristin Hannah) Try a keyword search with the terms “christmas fiction” or “christmas mystery” in the catalog or check the displays at the libraries for lots more titles.

There are a couple of books I’d like to highlight. One is considered a classic but you may not have read it and it’s well worth tracking down. It’s A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote, an autobiographical novella. In it, a young boy stays with a distant relative; both are somewhat outcast from their family, living on the fringes, lonely souls that understand each other. Together they make a special fruitcake, gathering the ingredients and making the recipe with love and attention. This is a not a saccharine happily-ever-after story (a great antidote to those Hallmark movies), but instead is sad and wistful. It carries a powerful message of love and memory and the weight of family and the past that the Christmas season brings. Poignant and beautiful and have lots of tissues on hand.

Another, much lighter book (but still thoughtful and complex) is Winter Solstice by Rosamund Pilcher. This is a great one to curl up with on a wintry day. A tragedy causes five lives to intersect in unexpected ways, leading them to an idyllic country house. Set in Scotland with it’s grand traditions of Christmas and Hogmanay, this heartwarming book explores the meaning of family and connecting and opening yourself up to possibilities.

This is also the season of crazy as in, everyone is crazy busy. Cooking, decorating, shopping, wrapping, entertaining – who has time to read a book?! For you I recommend going to the Children’s picture book section and looking through some of the most beautiful books available. Many carry a message, but they are all almost guaranteed to put you in the Christmas spirit and can be read very quickly. Many are short enough that it wouldn’t be too much of a hardship for the family to gather together, abandon their phones and tablets for a few minutes and listen to someone read the book aloud. My recommendation and very favorite Christmas book is The Polar Express by Chris van Allsburg (skip the movie, SKIP THE MOVIE!) Gorgeous illustrations and a truly magical story make for the perfect reminder of Christmas joy.

Of course, Christmas is not the only holiday in December, but it does dominant the book selection. A good alternative is My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Holiday Stories that includes Hanukkah, Winter Solstice and New Years as well as Christmas, quick reads that will get you in the holiday spirit no matter your favorite December holiday.

What about you – what is your favorite Christmas book? And what will you be reading this month?

 

 

 

online colorHello Fellow Readers!

November is nearly over – how did you do with the Reading Challenge this month? If the fact that we had to keep restocking the displays at the library are any indication, this was a popular topic. It’s always interesting to take a peek into another life and see how that person lived – and in the process we learn a lot about ourselves as well!

When I looked through the titles for the Other Lives Challenge, I noticed that many (not all, but many) were about unknown or behind-the-scenes women – the wives of famous men or the anonymous women that supported great works. Women have historically been regulated to the background and their voices considered too unimportant to record but through fictional biographies we can gain some insight into what they accomplished and how they lived.

For this month’s challenge I read The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier which is a fictional account of the famous Lady and the Unicorn tapestries. Created in the late 1400s in France, very little is known about the artist that created the scenes depicted in the tapestries, the weavers that crafted them or the noble family that commissioned them. Chevalier researched not only the customs and lifestyle of the time period, but also the craft of weaving in the 1400s, an art form that was practiced and mastered in Brussels where the tapestries are believed to have been made.

There is a lot of history in this book including the lifestyles and customs of the 15th century, the art of tapestry weaving and the guilds that protect the quality of the tapestries, the role of women both noble and common. The narrative jumps to a different person each chapter, from the artist Chevalier imagines painted the scenes, to the wife of the nobleman who commissions the tapestries, to the wife of the weaver tasked with such an enormous commission, to the rebellious daughter of the nobleman. There is no clear interpretation of what the tapestries represent and much speculation about the women and scenes even today, but Chevalier has spun a story that intertwines various characters and how the making of these tapestries touched and influenced many lives.

I’ve been lucky enough to see the actual tapestries (they are on display in carefully regulated conditions to preserve them at the Cluny Museum in Paris). They are extraordinarily beautiful, full of detail and color and life and exquisite craftsmanship. The Lady and the Unicorn makes for fascinating reading and is the next best thing until you can visit them yourself.

the-way-i-used-to-beThe Way I Used to Be by Amber Smith is a deeply moving, traumatic examination of one young woman’s struggle to overcome the aftermath of a rape. Eden, a 14-year old teenage girl, is raped by Kevin, her older brother’s best friend and college roommate. Her family is asleep down the hall while he crawls into her bed. Eden is the typical band geek, good girl who lives in fear of Kevin as he tells her that he will kill her and that no one will believe her if she talks. She is paralyzed with fear and doesn’t know what to do except try to live her life like normal, an idea that quickly fails as she becomes a new person overnight.

This book follows Eden through all four years of high school, highlighting her relationships with friends and family as she keeps this dark secret under wraps. School becomes increasingly more difficult for Eden as she turns to lies, booze, sex, and parties to smother her emotions. Kevin’s younger sister, Amanda, who Eden used to be friends with, turns against her and begins spreading vicious rumors about her around school. Eden’s best friend, Mara, knows nothing about what happened to her and the two move through high school experiencing some typical high school activities: dying their hair, first crushes, getting piercings, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes for the first time, going to parties, doing drugs, and getting their drivers’ licenses. All the while, distance begins to grow between the two. Eden also finds herself separated from her other friends and her family. She has buried who she used to be, buried her emotions, and buried her secret deep inside.

As Eden grows older, readers are able to dissect the way her rape has affected her personality and her relationships. The way Eden treats herself changes drastically from her freshman year to her senior year of high school, as evidenced through her inner monologue throughout the book. How she believes others to see her changes throughout the book as well. The long-term view of the effect this trauma has on Eden allows readers to gain a better understanding of the guilt, hatred, and complex emotions survivors face in the aftermath of rape and sexual assault. The Way I Used to Be is not an easy book to read as watching Eden disintegrate is painful, but the truth and emotions revealed are so vivid and true-to-life that this book becomes a necessary read to understand the emotions survivors experience on a day-to-day basis.  Eden carries a double burden – the weight of carrying her secret and the violation of rape. She shows strength, power, survival, disappointment, pain, heartbreak, and massive loss throughout this book, leaving readers to grow attached to her well-being and her journey through a troubled adolescent made even more difficult by rape. The Way I Used to Be takes readers on an emotional rollercoaster as Eden struggles to find her way back to herself in the aftermath of her rape.

what-would-alice-doMany people turn to books for advice on how to live their lives or when they have certain questions they want answered. Do you have a favorite book that you refer back to, that you read when you need a pick-me-up, that you pull quotes from to inspire yourself? I certainly do and almost all of them are books from my childhood. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll is one of my steady go-to’s.

What would Alice do? : Advice for the Modern Woman with a foreword by Lauren Laverne pulls quotes from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel, Through the Looking-Glass and matches them up with a wide variety of categories that all relate. Instead of reading this book cover to cover, I found myself flipping through looking for quotes that caught my eye.

Crack open this book for advice from Alice on:

  • Being Inspirational
  • Having a Bad Day
  • Getting On at Work
  • Dealing with Difficult Characters
  • Taking Risks
  • Saying What You Mean
  • Minding Your Manners
  • Keeping Cool in a Crisis
  • Being a Feminist
  • Health and Safety
  • Enjoying Food and Drink
  • Being Brave
  • Appearances
  • Fun and Games
  • The Value of a Good Education
  • Growing Up

Even though this book is marketed as advice for the modern woman, the quotes present inside, I felt, are not uniquely meant for just women. The categories that Laverne chooses are full of helpful advice for everyone and the messages present everyone could benefit from. We could all use some new words of advice every now and then.

newsoftheworldCaptain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels throughout north Texas, reading aloud news articles of interest to the small, scattered communities of a still very wild West. The year is 1870. The Captain has lived through three wars and has no desire to see another, keeping to himself except to collect coins earned from his readings, remembering the past but always moving forward, forever restless.

One day the Captain is given $50 in gold to return a 10-year-old girl back to her only living relatives, a 400 mile journey through hostile, difficult country. Taken by the Kiowa after they killed her parents and little sister four years earlier, Johanna has forgotten how to speak English, has no knowledge of white people’s rules and manners and wants nothing more than to return to her Kiowa family.

Gradually, with patience and kindness and shared hardship, Johanna and the Captain learn to trust each other. The Captain helps Johanna re-learn English and tries to reintroduce her to the white man’s world. Johanna becomes a fierce defender of the Captain, loyal against impossible odds.

When they finally reach their destination and the Captain delivers Johanna to her only living blood relatives, he realizes that she is viewed as an unwanted burden and that her life with them will be harsh and abusive. Can he leave them with her white family, or will he find another way to rescue her?

A wonderful, complex book, News of the World frequently reminded me of Lonesome Dove (although much shorter) – an epic journey across difficult terrain through a mostly lawless land where an individual must depend solely on his own resolve and resources. Kindness and softness are in short supply, danger lurks everywhere and the weak are not given any allowance. The Captain is a wonderful character – intelligent, thoughtful and authoritative, he has a sly, dry wit and a kind heart that he keeps carefully hidden. Johanna, nearly silent at first, gradually adapts and even thrives in the circumstances she’s been thrown into – her resilience is remarkable. A lovely book about the human spirit set against a wild, untamed landscape. Highly recommended.

 

threesisters Three Sisters, Three Queens is Philippa Gregory’s latest book about the Tudor Court.  This time, we get the perspective of Margaret Tudor, daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and sister of King Henry VIII.  Margaret, the Tudor Princess, would become the Queen of Scotland, married to King James IV of Scotland and mother to King James V of Scotland.  Even though the title suggests that the book is about three women, the primary focus is on Queen Margaret.  However, the other two women, the Queen of England and the Queen of France, have an impact on Margaret’s life.

The novel begins with Margaret as a young woman, a girl really. Her older brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales is to be married to Katherine of Aragon. Their marriage would form an alliance between the Spanish court and England.  Katherine of Aragon makes her arrival, marries Prince Arthur and they move to Wales.  Margaret misses her older brother, but looks forward to her own marriage. Her father, King Henry VII is working on a marriage between her and Scotland’s King James IV.  But then, the London court gets the terrible news that Prince Arthur has died.  Princess Katherine returns to court as the Dowager Princess.  Her parents have failed to pay the dowry money to England.  And King Henry VII refuses to pay her dowager money until the dowry has been paid.  Katherine literally is a poor princess and has to pawn off her belongings in order to eat, even though she lives at court.  Princess Margaret, having been jealous of Princess Katherine’s finery when she came to court, delights in seeing her brought down a peg.  She believes, along with her grandmother Margaret Beaufort, Lady Mother of the King, that Katherine is too arrogant and needs to learn humility.  In fact, Margaret calls her, Katherine of Arrogant to herself. At this time, Margaret is told that she will marry King James IV.  Their betrothal makes her a queen and she is one step lower than her Lady Mother, the Queen of England.

Margaret makes the long journey to her new home in Scotland and marries King James IV.  Their marriage is fairly happy.  Their first children die while they are babies and King James wonders about the Tudor curse.  Queen Margaret has a son James (who becomes King James V).  Katherine of Aragon marries Margaret’s brother, King Henry VIII.  While England and Scotland have a Treaty of Perpetual Peace, Henry continues to ally himself with France, an enemy of Scotland.  While Henry is off in France, King James invades England.  During the Battle of Flodden, King James was killed.  Queen Katherine had ordered the English army to take no prisoners.  The army took James’ body to London and Katherine sent his bloody coat to Henry in France.  Of course, Queen Margaret was angry and heartbroken to have her husband be treated this way and by her own sister-in-law.

You may be wondering about the third sister and third queen.  Margaret and Henry had a younger sister named Mary.  Mary had been betrothed to the Holy Roman Emperor’s grandson but that was called off. Instead, Princess Mary was joined in marriage to King Louis XII of France.  Their marriage did not last long due to the King’s age and health.  After he died, Mary went  ahead and married Charles Brandon, a friend of her brother Henry whom  had recently been made a Duke by King Henry.  The pair married in secret in France, without Henry’s blessing which they were punished for.  Even so, Charles and Mary were welcomed at the Tudor Court.

Margaret continues to struggle. She is the Dowager Queen of Scotland but she has no authority.  She is even kept away from the young king James.  Her husband named her regent until their child was old enough to rule but the Scottish Council disregards this.  Instead, a French Duke (who is a cousin of the deceased king) is named regent.  Margaret marries the Earl of Angus for love in secret.  The Council is very unhappy about this.  Rumors circulate that Archibald, the Earl of Angus, is already married to another woman.  Of course, Margaret feels betrayed by her husband.  Her brother, Henry VIII will do nothing to help her.  Her sister-in-law, Queen Katherine, tells her to stay with her husband.  But Katherine needs Margaret to stay married to Archibald.  If Margaret would be granted a divorce from the Vatican, then that would clear the way for Henry VIII to divorce Katherine of Aragon.  And Henry has been having affairs with other women and producing male children.  Katherine has not given Henry an heir.  The royal English marriage is in danger of dissolving.

Mary, the youngest of the original Tudor children still reports to Margaret.  Her letters had been happy ones, relaying to Margaret what had been happening at the English Court.  However, as time passes, her letters are filled with sorrow.  Mary is dismayed to see how her older brother, the King of England, is treating her sister-in-law, Katherine.  Mary has to witness Katherine’s sorrow as her husband sleeps with other women.  Katherine prays constantly and remains a dutiful wife.  Mary can do nothing to interfere as Henry VIII sets aside his wife, claiming that Katherine was not legally his wife, but the wife of his older brother, Arthur.  He claims that Katherine is the Dowager Princess of Wales and is now his “sister”.  The last letter Margaret receives from Mary is grim.  The woman, Anne Boleyn, is now married to their brother and will be crowned the Queen of England.

Three Queens, Three Sisters is available in print, large print and audiobook.

 

 

 

lady-cop-makes-troubleLady Cop Makes Trouble is Amy Stewart’s sequel to Girl Waits With Gun. You can read more about Girl Waits With Gun here.

Constance Kopp now works for the Sheriff department in Bergen County, New Jersey.  She has the same duties as any other deputy working for the Sheriff, including arresting criminals. Constance even goes with Sheriff Heath to arrest a man. But her life soon changes. One of the inmates at the jail is sick and has been sent to the hospital.  The doctors at the hospital are not sure what is wrong with the prisoner and to complicate matters, he only speaks German.  Constance is the only person at the Sheriff’s office that speaks German, so she accompanies Sheriff Heath to the hospital. However, their trip to the hospital will not be as easy as they thought it would be. When they arrive to the hospital, the scene is chaos. A train derailed and there are lot of injured people to deal with. The hospital staff is rushing around trying to help the wounded. Sheriff Heath and the other deputies help the staff with the patients. Constance goes to visit the inmate alone and during their visit, the lights go out.  The hospital is pitch black.  And in all of the confusion, the prisoner escapes the hospital.

Constance is devastated and she wants to make things right.  She wants to go after the fugitive.  Also, Constance knows that no woman will be hired to work for any police force if the story is printed in the newspapers.  However, Sheriff Heath assigns Constance to watch the female inmates at the jail.  He does not want Constance involved in the manhunt.  And, he does not want Constance’s name in the papers for allowing the inmate to escape. The rest of the deputies in the department look for the fugitive.  Most of their time is spent watching train stations and the inmate’s brother’s apartment.

But Constance will not just stand by.  She wants to correct the mistake that she made and find the missing prisoner.  So Constance goes off on her own to find him.  Her search takes her to New York City where she chases down clues and conducts interviews.  Constance is not only hunting down a fugitive, but she is racing Sheriff Heath and his deputies.  Can she find the missing inmate before the Sheriff’s department?

Lady Cop Makes Trouble is available in print and audiobook.

 

upstairs-at-the-strandLocated at the corner of Broadway and 12th Streets near the East Village in New York City is an independent bookstore called The Strand. Its slogan boasts “18 miles of books.” The third floor of The Strand houses an opulent Rare Book Room. Here, dyads (or in one case, a trio) of writers were invited to sit and share their thoughts about life, work, and the things they love.

Upstairs at The Strand is a written collection of these intimate conversations.

As you read each chapter, you may be compelled to imagine yourself an unseen guest in the upstairs room, listening. If you have ever been to the Strand or are familiar with any of the authors included, you may find it especially easy to imagine.

Renata Adler. Edward Albee. Hilton Als. Paul Auster. Blake Bailey. Alison Bechdel. Tina Chang. Junot Diaz. Deborah Eisenberg. Rivka Galchen. A.M. Homes. Hari Kunzru. Rachel Kushner. Wendy Lesser. D.T. Max. Leigh Newman. Tea Obraht. Robert Pinsky. Katie Roiphe. George Saunders. David Shields. Charles Simic. Tracy K. Smith. Mark Strand. Charles Wright.

If you are not familiar with any of these names, by all means check out this book and acquaint yourself with some talented authors whose work you may enjoy exploring. There is something to be found by each of these authors in the RiverShare library catalog.

 

 

mean-streakMean Streak by Sandra Brown is a stomach-clenching story of survival in the mountains of North Carolina. Dr. Emory Charbonneau is a pediatrician and a marathon runner competitively training for her latest marathon. She decides to go away for the weekend to run a mountain trail in North Carolina. Leaving her husband, Jeff, after a bad argument, she takes off and spends the night in a tiny town to begin her run early the next morning. Running the trail by herself, Emory goes missing, leaving no trace behind except for her car abandoned in the trailhead parking lot.

By the time Jeff reports her missing, a  snowstorm has blown into the area, leaving fog and ice everywhere, halting any search for Emory, and destroying any clues about her whereabouts. Local police suspect Jeff of an ‘instant divorce’ and dive deep into his life, looking for anything that would lead him to want to get rid of his wife.

While suspicion is cast on Jeff, Emory regains consciousness from an unexplained head injury, finds herself in a mysterious cabin, and being held captive by a man who will not even tell Emory his name. She is willing to do anything to escape him, but the snowstorm raging outside force her to stay. Emory and this mystery man soon find themselves swept into a dangerous encounter with some people who have their own way of handling things. Emory soon finds herself forced to confront her own morals and sense of justice.

While local police and the FBI narrow in on her husband’s deception and the identity of her captor, Emory finds herself wondering about the true motives of her captor. Her initial fear falls away, leading her to think about his past and what could have been so violent that would have necessitated a complete move off the grid. This novel weaves together multiple storylines from many different perspectives, allowing readers to glimpse some motives without fully being able to put the whole story together. Mean Streak is ripe with tales of deceit, love, and survival that grabbed my attention and had me deeply invested in the lives of each character.


This book is also available in the following formats: