Do you love fireflies? I do — but I still call them lightning bugs, just as we all did back on the farm. There’s something magical about them as they brighten up your backyard on a warm summer evening. Recently, there have been reports that fireflies as a species are disappearing, or at least that their numbers are observably diminished. Still, I have never seen a firefly in December, and so I was drawn to this title.
In Fireflies in December, a debut novel by Jennifer Erin Valent, we follow 13 year-old Jessilyn Lassiter during the summer of 1932 in southern Virginia. The opening line, “The summer I turned thirteen, I thought I killed a man” certainly catches your attention. We discover that Jessilyn’s family has taken in her best friend, Gemma, after Gemma’s parents die in a tragic fire. Unfortunately, this act is not met with the expected tacit approval. Gemma is black, and racism is rampant in this rural southern town. Prejudice escalates as the local Ku Klux Klan violently threatens Jessilyn and her family. In the end, Jessilyn begins to realize what it means to be a bright light in a dark world.
As this book is a winner of the Christian Writer’s Guild, there are frequent references to faith and prayer, yet it doesn’t come off as preachy. Considering the age of the protaganist, this book could be recommended for young adults, especially if their parents prefer more wholesome fare.
In 1937 Shanghai, Pearl and her sister May are living a glamorous, sophisticated life, modeling as “beautiful girls” for the painters of magazine covers and calendar pages. Their sheltered, privileged world comes to a shattering halt when their Father loses everything and he must sell them into marriage. At first they are able to escape this fate, but when the war begins and the Japanese attack their beloved city, they must flee for their lives.
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See follows the harrowing journey that the sisters must undertake – the hardship, the pain and the betrayals as they try to escape the Japanese and find a safe haven first in Hong Kong, then in San Francisco. Throughout it all the sisters remain each others staunchest supporters through good times and bad, through arranged marriages, lost children and oppressive discrimination. Their triumph is that, not only do they emerge from their trials as stronger people, they come through it together.
See also wrote the wildly popular Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, also set in China, and has done extensive research to fill her story with authentic detail. Her story gives us unique views of the past – the Japanese invasion of China and the suffering of the Chinese people at their conquerors hands, the discrimination against the Chinese in America and the Red Scare fear of communist threat that created suspicion against the Chinese in America in the 1950s.
While the trails and suffering that Pearl and May must endure sometimes seem almost endless, the author has left us with a cliffhanger ending, promising a possible sequel and future hope for the beautiful girls from Shanghai.
Recently retired and living a quiet and elegant life on the Upper West Side in New York City, Henry Archer unexpectedly gets a second chance with his step-daughter, someone he hasn’t seen for 25 years. Somehow these opposites – Henry is older, gay, successful, Thalia is an aspiring actress just scraping by – make a connection that benefits them both. Thalia brings sparkle and excitement into Henry’s world, as well as more than a few complications including the reappearance of his eccentric ex-wife, an introduction to the world of celebrity and a new love interest.
Lipman is the master of the modern comedy-of-manners story – her characters are real and likable (even the annoying ones), and the dialogue is sharp, witty and fast-paced. The situations our heroes find themselves in may be unlikely, but Lipman grounds them in reality and gives them heart. The Family Man will keep you laughing and wishing for more.
Enzo is a thoughtful and intelligent observer. He has watched a lot of television – especially the Weather Channel and documentaries – and he has paid attention. He understands much more than he is given credit for, but he cannot put his thoughts into words. His greatest regret in life is that he cannot speak and that he does not have opposable thumbs because Enzo is a dog. In The Art of Racing in the Rain he reflects back on his life on the eve of his death.
When Denny picks Enzo from a litter of puppies, an incredible partnership begins. Denny is a semi-professional race car driver and he often describes his work to Enzo especially his skill at racing in wet weather – the balance and anticipation it requires, the blending of thought and action. Soon Eve enters their lives, and then baby Zoe and they are happy until tragedy strikes and the little family must struggle to survive and carry on. Through it all, Enzo is there, observing, offering comfort and companionship and love.
This is a beautiful, poignant story which is sometimes laugh-out-loud funny and sometimes wrenching. You may be skeptical that a dog as narrator would work, but in fact, Enzo is perfect – wise but always from a dog’s point-of-view, an outsider that can see clearer than the participants. The racing analogies are powerful and effective, but do not dominate the story. You will root for these characters and love them as much as Enzo does, who’s words will stay with you long after you finish the book.
Mother’s Day is quickly approaching — May 10th, in fact. No doubt most of you have already planned your brunches and bouquets in celebration of dear old Mom, and those are always appreciated. Still, when I think back over the years, the mother’s day gifts that I most loved were those which were homemade: the cards with crayon pictures, the lilacs picked fresh from the garden, the attempts at breakfast in bed. Still, one thing I never did for my own mom (or mother-in-law) was to write a thank you letter. Now that they are both gone, I’m wishing I had. Wishing that I’d worried less about fixing a fancy meal with the good china and the white tablecloth in the dining room, wishing I’d spent less time looking for some sentimental card at the Hallmark store, and wishing instead that I had taken a few moments to write down in my own words how I felt. To say thank you, to share a funny story, even, perhaps, to tease a little, but just doing it would show I cared.
If you think you might like to write your own letter to Mom, here are some books that might give you some inspiration:
I Love You, Mom! A Celebration of our Mothers and Their Gifts to Us. This includes essays from celebrities like Larry King and Daisy Fuentes.
I Am My Mother’s Daughter: Making Peace with Mom Before it’s Too Late by Iris Krasnow.
Just in time for warmer temps (really, one of these days – it’s going to get warm, maybe even hot) the month of May is a great time to plan your barbecue strategy. There are lots of big reasons to fire up the grill this summer – Father’s Day, 4th of July, family reunions, graduations – but you don’t really need an excuse to get cooking. If you’re looking for tips or fresh ideas, stop by the library – we have more barbecue/grilling/outdoor cooking books than you can shake a barbecue brush at.
Serious Barbecue: Smoke, Char, Baste and Brush Your Way to Great Outdoor Cooking by Adam Perry Lang
Big Bob Gibson’s BBQ Book by Chris Lilly
Wood-fired Cooking: Techniques and Recipes for the Grill, Backyard Oven, Fireplace and Campfire by Mary Karlin
500 Barbecue Dishes: the Only Barbecue Compendium You’ll Ever Need by Paul Kirk
Bobby Flay’s Grill It by Bobby Flay
Jerk from Jamaica: Barbecue Caribbean Style by Helen Willinsky
Barbecue Nation: 350 Hot-off-the-Grill, Tried-and-True Recipes from America’s Backyard by Fred Thompson
Weddings are joyful occasions, but they’re also often fraught with emotional upheaval as adult children struggle to find their role in the family and come to terms with old resentments and tragedies from the past.
In Rachel Getting Married, Kym is home on a weekend pass from a drug addiction recovery program to attend her sister’s wedding. Rude, self-absorbed and sarcastic, she immediately stirs up trouble and tries to shift the focus of the weekend to herself. She’s also obviously fragile and damaged and desperate for love and understanding. Rachel is hesitant to reach out to her – Kym’s addictions have had far-reaching consequences and led to a tragedy that tore the family apart. Yet the bonds of love and family, though strained and frayed, hold strong and by the time Kym leaves they’ve reached a deeper understanding of and love for each other.
The various scenes of the wedding and the celebrations and events leading up to it are wonderful, often funny, sometimes heart-wrenching – a chaotic, multi-cultural extravaganza of music and traditions (the dishwasher-loading contest is especially funny) In the end, the lesson is that forgiving yourself may be the hardest thing you do, and that love can save you.
Anne Hathaway earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Actress with her riveting performance of Kym.
Having grown up in Philadelphia and lived in New York City, Cornelia Brown believes the suburbs will be a piece of cake. Turns out the slice of the American dream that Cornelia and her husband Teo move to is just as full of drama, heartache, secrets and joys as anywhere else.
Early on in Belong to Me, Cornelia struggles to find a place among the women and families of her new neighborhood. When Piper, the “leader” of the local social network, takes an instant dislike to her, it looks like things will get ugly. But then by chance Cornelia meets Lake, also new to the area and they begin to form a bond. Not everything is as it seems – we learn that Piper is caring for her terminally ill best friend and is not quite the dragon she presents to the world, that seemingly perfect marriages have cracks and that Lake has secrets that will affect them all.
de los Santos writes about the daily living with family and children and events both large and small with grace and clarity, but she is especially good at revealing the intricaces of the friendships of women; there is a lot of emotion here, but no sentimentality. Characters are complex, with flaws, but also hugely likeable, people that you’d like to know and have over for coffee.
This is a follow-up to de los Santos first book, Love Walked In where we first meet Cornelia and Teo and learn how they got together.
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn is by far the weirdest book I have ever read. My good friend who read this for his book group described it which immediately appealed to my fondness for the extreme and freaky.
Geek Love is about the Binewski family of sideshow carnival freaks. The parents decided it would be truly special (and lucrative) to produce their own freaks. Lil, the mom ingests different toxic substances (ie. arsenic) during pregnancy to get the best all around results. The first Binewski child came in the form of Arturo the Aqua Boy who was born with flippers instead of limbs. Second and or third in the birth order is/are the Siamese piano playing twins Electra and Iphigenia. Next comes our narrator, Olympia who is a bald albino humpback dwarf. Lastly, is Furtunato aka “Chick” who at first appeares devastatingly normal. Chick eventually exhibits extraordinary telekinetic abilities and is wonderfully good hearted. Need I say more?
Only that the plot and story lines are as weird and compelling as the characters. Oh, and amazingly very well written.
Still looking for the perfect gift? Try making something handmade – it doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming, it simply needs to come from the heart.
You’ll find lots of inspiration in Stitches in Time by Alicia Paulson. Alicia gently encourages you to keep memories alive and part of everyday life through your own handcrafts. For instance, after going to see The Nutcracker ballet with her niece, she created a Clara doll (seen on the cover of the book) Other ideas include taking a child’s artwork and creating a stuffed toy (such as the adorable Molly the horse), making a pillow using family photos or creating a baby’s mobile using cards given at the baby shower. Alicia encourages you to take her ideas and projects and inject your own special touches; for instance, she shows several versions of the Clara doll and suggests that you create your own doll to look like a favorite book character or family member.
Alicia celebrates the domestic and the homemade, urging you to look for alternatives to manufactured perfection. Basic sewing and embroidery skills are all that’s required and clear and detailed instructions are included. The writing in this book is fun too – Alicia writes with a warm and personal voice and you’ll soon feel like she’s a close friend.
Be sure to check Alicia’s popular blog at Posie Gets Cozy where you can follow her ongoing stories of her family and crafts.