lucybartonIf you have not read a book by Elizabeth Strout, you need to change that right now. Her latest novel, My Name is Lucy Barton will be sure to please. Strout’s writing is honest and beautiful as she writes about a mother and her daughter.

We find Lucy Barton in a hospital room in New York City recovering from complications after her surgery. Lucy’s husband does not like hospitals, and he knows that she is lonely in the hospital, so he asks her mother to come and visit. Lucy’s mother lives in a small rural town in Illinois, about an hour south of Rock Island. Lucy and her mother have not seen each other for quite a few years since Lucy moved to New York. But mother and daughter are happy to be reunited. Her mother refuses to leave her daughter alone and she sits in the chair in the hospital room during her entire visit. The reader learns more about Lucy through the women’s conversations. For a time, their family was so poor that they lived in a relative’s garage. We learn of Lucy’s struggle to become a writer. The women discuss their family and people from home. Throughout theses conversations, it is often what is not said that speaks volumes about the women’s relationship. Pieces of a story are not revealed and the reader is often left wondering what really happened.

I enjoy listening to audiobooks and My Name is Lucy Barton was a superb audiobook. The narrator, Kimberly Farr, has such a pleasant voice to listen to that I did not want to shut off my car stereo. What made My Name is Lucy Barton such a memorable book was the way that the story made you feel. It is difficult to describe what My Name is Lucy Barton is about. It is not a murder mystery and it is not a romantic love story. And yet, this books feels more real than most because it is an honest portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship. It is about two women that love each other even though they do not always have an easy relationship.

My Name is Lucy Barton is the fifth novel by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Elizabeth Strout.

complete book of chalk letteringUbiquitous at boutiques and cafés, on Etsy and Pinterest, in stationery and home decor, the art of chalk lettering is hotter than ever. Valerie McKeehan, an Etsy standout whose work has been featured in magazines and websites from Good Housekeeping to RealSimple.com to Martha Stewart Living, teaches us everything we need to know to create gorgeous hand-drawn chalk designs in The Complete Book of Chalk Lettering.

In over 60 lessons, learn the ABCs of lettering (literally) and basic styles: serif, sans serif, and script. Next, how to lay out a design, combine various styles into one cohesive piece, add shadows and dimension. Master more advanced letter styles, from faceted to ribbon to “vintage circus.” Use banners, borders, flourishes. And finally, 12 projects to show off your newfound skills: including a Winter Wonderland Snow Globe; a smartphone-themed birthday card to text friends and family; a one-of-a-kind party invitation to create, photograph, and mail; and a bake sale sign guaranteed to put everyone who sees it in the mood for a cupcake! (description from publisher)

fermentedIncorporate fermented foods into everyday eating with delicious recipes that are easily achievable at home with Fermented by Charlotte Pike.

This gorgeous, fully photographed cookbook includes chapters covering fruit and vegetables, milk, pulses, baking and drinks that will introduce you to unique new flavors as well as traditional fermented vegetables such as German Sauerkraut and Korean Kimchi. Use fermented ingredients in dishes such as Kraut-slaw, Bacon and Potato Soup, Kimchi and Pork Salad and Smoky Grilled Tempeh. Learn how to make sweet and savory yogurts such as Coconut Yogurt or Cardamom and Rose Yogurt Cream to go with your perfected Sourdough Chocolate Cake.

Create essential pickles, sauces and chutneys with fermentation that will have endless uses, fully stock any kitchen cupboard or make an excellent homemade gift. (description from publisher)

knot outdoor weddingsThe romance of an outdoor wedding is undeniable. In any outdoor setting – beach or backyard, vineyard or mountaintop – the couple has unlimited opportunity to personalize their day and create unforgettable ambience. The 50 real weddings featured in The Knot Outdoor Weddings were inspired by twinkling lights and cityscapes, fresh herbs and countryside farmers’ markets, shells and the sea, mountain peaks and endless vistas. . . .

These gorgeous celebrations reveal the keys to making the most of your setting’s natural beauty, while infusing it with special, meaningful touches that are all your own. The Knot Outdoor Weddings also includes location-specific planning advice for the details of your event, such as attire, color palettes, stationery, menu, and favors, as well as considerations for perfecting your plan B and keeping guests comfortable in any weather. (description from publisher)

grandbaby cakesAs a child, Adams and her family would routinely embark on the ten-hour journey from their home in Chicago to Winona, Mississippi. There, she would watch her grandmother, affectionately nicknamed Big Mama, bake and develop delicious, melt-in-your-mouth desserts. From blooming tree-picked fruit to farm-raised eggs and fresh-churned butter, Big Mama used what was readily available to invent completely original treats. Adams treasured the moments when her mother, aunt, and Big Mama would bring her into the kitchen to let her dabble in the process as a rite of passage. Big Mama’s recipes became the fabric of their family heritage. Grandbaby Cakes is Adams’s love note to her family, thanking those who came before and passing on this touching tradition with 50 brilliant cakes.

Grandbaby Cakes pairs charming stories of Big Mama’s kitchen with recipes ranging from classic standbys to exciting adventures—helpfully marked by degree of difficulty—that will inspire your own family for years to come. Adams creates sophisticated flavor combinations based on Big Mama’s gorgeous centerpiece cakes, giving each recipe something familiar mixed with something new. From pound cakes and layer cakes to sheet cakes and “baby” cakes (cupcakes and cakelettes), Grandbaby Cakes delivers fun, hip recipes perfect for any celebration.

Readers will love this cookbook for its eclectic and bold recipes steeped in equal parts warm Southern charm and fresh Midwestern flavors. Not only will home bakers be able to make staples like yellow cake and icebox cake exactly how their grandmothers did, but they’ll also be preparing impressive innovations, like the Pineapple Upside-Down Hummingbird Pound Cake and the Fig-Brown Sugar Cake. Grandbaby Cakes is a collection for both new-aged and traditional bakers, but mostly it’s for anyone who wants a fresh, modern take on classic recipes as well as cakes full of heart and soul. (description from publisher)

spoonflowerDesigning fabric, wallpaper, and gift wrap used to be the stuff of dreams. Only a few select creatives got to do it, and it required formal training and significant financial investment. But times have changed, and today anyone with a computer, Internet connection, and idea can upload a file and order their own fabric or paper, printed affordably one yard or more at a time.

At the forefront of this revolutionary DIY movement is Spoonflower, a North Carolina startup that produces designs for hundreds of thousands of users worldwide–24 hours a day/seven days a week to keep up with demand. With step-by-step tutorials and projects that span a wide spectrum of skills, The Spoonflower Handbook  by Stephen Fraser is written for both new and experienced users of this print-on-demand technology. Covering everything from equipment to software to working with photos, scans, repeats, vector files, and more, it is an essential guide to a booming new creative outlet. (description from publisher)

flower chefThe Flower Chef by Carly Cylinder is a modern, comprehensive guide to floral design that caters to all readers–from beginners who have never worked with flowers before and are looking for a new creative outlet, to decorators, party planners and photographers looking to liven up their spaces. Even professionals will find ways to update their techniques!

This book teaches you everything you need to know about flower arranging including tips on how to buy and care for flowers, how to cut and prepare them, and how to use floral foam, vases, and various other decorative elements in your arrangements. Filled with beautiful photographs and easy-to-follow instructions on how to create over 80 different arrangements, this is the go-to guide to floral design that every flower lover will want to add to their collection. (description from publisher)

say goodbye to the cuckooThe return of migrant birds from their wintering grounds in the tropics is one of the delights of America’s spring, as anyone will testify whose heart has leapt in April or May at the first liquid song of the woodthrush, or the first black-and-orange flash of the Baltimore oriole. But in recent years concern has grown that migrant birds may be declining, perhaps because of deforestation at their winter quarters in the Caribbean and in Central and South America.

In Say Goodbye to the Cuckoo, Michael McCarthy highlights for the first time the disappearance of these birds which, he points out, are a part of Europe’s distinctive cultural furniture, “as much as cathedrals, Latin, olive oil, or wine.” He shows how their loss would do devastating damage to the cultural inheritance of us all. (description from publisher)

thing explainerThe Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe is an unusual book. I have never seen one quite like it. Its full-page diagrams contain details of complex things using only the most common 1000 words (which are listed alphabetically at the back of the book.) Topics range from the human torso (“bags of stuff inside you”), to a helicopter (“sky boat with turning wings”),  oil rigs (“stuff in Earth we can burn”), and washing machines (“boxes that make stuff smell better”), to name just a few. It is hilarious and educational at the same time.

Munroe’s elevator is a “lifting room.” He doesn’t neglect to inform that riding one while facing the back wall is likely to make others think you are strange. He still manages to provide a thorough explanation of its mechanical workings.

I suppose some parts of the book could be construed as bringing too much irreverence to what are usually regarded as important and serious topics. For instance, according to Munroe, nuclear bombs are “machines for burning cities.” If you have a certain sense of humor and are even a little bit interested in science, however, you are more likely to find this fresh, almost child-like approach endearing.

The book’s temporary residence on our kitchen table at home sparked some delightful conversations among all ages.

Randall Munroe is the author responsible for the xkcd webcomic.

online colorHello! How is your May Online Reading Challenge going? I have to admit, I’m dragging my feet a bit on this one. However, I’m nearly finished with my first title (I plan to read two this month) and I’m finding it……interesting. I found that, after my initial resistance, I kind of got on a roll. It won’t be difficult to finish!

If you’re still looking for some recommendations, here are a few more from Allison, one of our Graphic Novel Experts!

In Real Life” by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang – A teenage gamer discovers the other side of MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) after making contact with Chinese gold miner (people paid to earn “gold” within the game) in the game. Questions of ethics in gaming, being a girl gamer and fantasy self vs. real self. Doctorow is a popular YA author.

Wandering Son by Shimura Takako – “Unflipped” manga, meaning it’s to be read back to front, and from top right to bottom left. The story of two pre-teens, a girl who wants to be a boy, and a boy who wants to be a girl, both within the strict cultural norms of Japanese society. I haven’t read the whole run, but once you get used to the reading style, it’s excellent.

ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times by Andrew MacLean – It’s sooooooo goooooood!!! At the end of the world, Aria searches for an ancient lost relic. The twist is so great. Soooooo great!

Seconds by Ryan Lee O’Malley – Young chef Katie opens her second restaurant, only to have her restaurant and life turned upside down. But, she then finds a magical “do over” but it too, has its price. O’Malley is also the author of the “Scott Pilgrim” series, which is one that the hipsters love.

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud – A failing artists makes a deal with death, giving him the ability to sculpt anything he can imagine. But he only has 200 days to live and whoops! He falls in love. I wrote a review here: http://blogs.davenportlibrary.com/reference/the-sculptor-by-scott-mccloud/

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Kinsley – The daughter of a chef and gourmet tells her life story by way of the meals she’s made and eaten. V funny, esp if you are not a good cook!

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. You’ve read this, right?! DO IT NOW! You will literally laugh you pants off! The stories about her dogs are the best – start with those!

There are also a few that I haven’t read, but my friends who know about comics have enjoyed.

Blankets by Craig Thompson

The Nao of Brown” by Glyn Dillon

Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

OK, I’m done now, I promise! 😉

Who has read something that they’d like to recommend? Or warn the rest of us off from? Are you struggling a bit with the illustrations – I am! Or have you found new authors or series that intrigue and engage you? Let us know in the comments!