lost catsNancy Davidson uncovers the inspiring, funny and sometimes bizarre stories behind lost cat posters, revealing how our relationships with cats compel us to both love and live with courage.  The Secrets of Lost Cats traces the evolution of Nancy Davidson’s passion for lost cat posters.

When her orange tabby, Zak, disappeared, Nancy Davidson did what countless people before her had done. She made a lost cat poster. And after days of frantic searching, she found him. Nancy was ecstatic. Zak seemed happy, too – although being a cat, it was hard to tell. Zak may have remained his old self, but Nancy had changed. From that moment on, she became acutely aware of lost cat posters. She studied their language, composition, and design. She was drawn to their folk art. Mostly, however, she was intrigued by the messages themselves – the stories behind the posters. It wasn’t long before Nancy reached out to the owners calling them to offer empathy and support. And it wasn’t long before they confided in her and sought her advice. What they told her – and what she learns – forms the basis of this engaging and insightful book. From the astonishing, almost implausible posters she encounters across the country – and indeed, the world – to the daring, dedication, and emotional complexity of the lost cat owners themselves, The Secrets of Lost Cats provides readers with an absorbing read that illuminates love, loss, and learning to love again, even more deeply. (description from publisher)

This is How you Lose HerPulitzer Prize winning author, Junot Díaz writes with a kind of swagger and cool that makes it pretty hard to believe that he’s a creative writing professor at MIT.  Having recently finished reading his third published book, a collection of short stories called This is How You Lose Her, I am convinced that he knows every dirty word in English and Spanish.  Particularly if the words are referencing female anatomy.  So be warned, this is not the novel for anyone offended by salty and sexual language.

But if you can get beyond that, I can’t recommend this book enough. Díaz, himself a Dominican immigrant, tells stories about immigrants that help create a full picture of why someone is who they are. He shows that machismo is often a projection due to a lack of respect, and poor behavior isn’t something to be excused, but it can sometimes be explained. This is never more true than in his semi-autobiographical character, Yunior, the protagonist of most of this collection.

Readers may have met Yunior in Díaz’s The Brief Life of Oscar Wao (winner of the aforementioned Pulitzer) or in his first published collection of short stories, Drown, but I met Yunior for the first time after he cheated on Magda in This is How You Lose Her.  As he cheats his way through many of these short stories — and continues to imprison himself in grief and regret following the discovery of his transgressions — Yunior’s story becomes less about each individual relationship and more about how Yunior’s relationships reflect his own self-image and cultural identity.  The most powerful passages in the novel occur in his home, when we meet his family and see the effects of his father and brother’s infidelity on the family. Equally funny and frustrating, Díaz has written a complicated novel that feels both universal and unique.

lost catAt turns hilarious and poignant, Lost Cat by Caroline Paul is a treasure – a simple story that reveals multiple truths and makes you laugh out loud.

Caroline Paul was home recovering from a serious accident when her beloved cat Tibby disappeared. Already weepy and depressed from the prolonged recovery, she was devastated. She and her partner Wendy (who provides charming and very funny illustrations) canvassed the neighborhood, posted flyers and finally mourned him as lost when, five weeks later, in strolls Tibby, fat and happy. Caroline was overjoyed – and suspicious. Where had he been all this time? How had her shy, timid cat survived the wilds of the outdoors? Why wasn’t he eating his food, yet remaining fit and healthy? Most of all, did he love someone else more?

Fueled by painkillers and jealousy, Caroline set out to find where Tibby went on his wanderings, seeking answers through GPS, cat cams, animal communication, pet psychics and pet detectives. With self-deprecating humor – and surprisingly moving insights – Caroline tells the story of their quest and what they found along the way – that technology is great but people are better, that bonkers is in the eye of the beholder. That you can never know your cat (or anyone for that matter), but that’s ok, love is better.

Highly recommended to anyone who has loved a cat, or a pet or anyone.

From a private collection of nearly 800 courtship letters, the daughter of two remarkable physicians has crafted a timeless valentine to long-lasting love and the healing profession.

Senior medical students from New Orleans and Omaha meet in 1937 and begin a two-year correspondence across 1,100 miles. They set their sights on a return to Mayo Clinic, the medical mecca where they found each other and danced to the haunting Harbor Lights. Grave illness and career setbacks shake their confidence, but the two decide to face an uncertain future together, trusting in each other and the relationship they built letter by letter.

The Courtship of Two Doctors recreates the medical era before antibiotics, when health workers were at risk of serious infection, and vividly illustrates the 1930s social barriers challenging two-career marriages. It is also an inspirational and charming love story. (description from publisher)

 

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I love magicians and I love Frank Peretti, so I figured this book would be a winner and it was! It was incredible! Astounding!  Oh no, wait, that was from the magician’s poster.

Seriously, Illusion is a great book. I was completely hooked and totally puzzled by page 8. The story begins with the death of a beloved wife and moves into the perplexing story of a young girl waking up with no memory of how she arrived from a trip to the county fair in 1971 to the same spot, dressed now in a hospital gown, in 2011.

How she copes with her new life, how her story intertwines with the widower’s, and how together they figure out what happened is the rest of the story.

Mandy is a delightful character, full of life, joy and determination in spite of her baffling circumstances. The widower, Dane, is strong, faithful and true. This is a beautiful love story, a story of love that refuses to be defeated and will not give up. At once a story of mystery and love, is also a story of time travel, science gone too far, and bad guys who will stop at nothing to achieve their ends. Lest that sound too pat, remember, it’s a story of magic and surprises. I was intrigued from beginning to end, and thoroughly enjoyed this story!

I checked out this kindle book via WILBOR after a friend described reading it as “entering a bliss-coma.” Perfect for a vacation book, I expected. And if you want an unapologetically romantic, milquetoast, white bread – er, white cake – wish fulfillment fantasy with little and less conflict, Savor the Moment is perfect for you! Laurel McBane is the co-founder and executive pastry chef at Vows, an all-inclusive wedding planning service. Her best friends Mac (photographer), Parker (wedding coordinator), and Emma (florist and decorator) are her co-founders, and the four of them live together in the country mansion where they also host (and cook for) dozens of weddings every summer. Also living and working in their enclave are the soon-to-be husbands of Mac and Emma (see books one and two for their Happily Ever Afters) and Parker’s brother Delaney – the suitably handsome, rich, and dashing hero that Laurel has been in love with half her life.

Among a blur of other people’s weddings, and entirely too closely surrounded by friends and a woman called Mrs. G. who acts as nanny and short-order cook for reasons not made totally clear (is she an employee? a relative? a servant? does she owe them a debt!?), Laurel and Del begin dating. You know the rest. Since they’re already friends, there’s no getting-to-know-you phase. Their whole journey is about negotiating the way their friends and relatives will see them once they’ve transitioned from buddies to bedfellows. This thin love story isn’t a very sturdy backbone for the novel, but it doesn’t really need to be, surrounded as it is by love stories big and small, glorious descriptions of gowns and cakes and desserts and wedding ceremonies, and a lot of meaningful female friendships.

The business side of Vows is pretty interesting; I like reading about women who are smart and talented, and making this business run smoothly – coordinating dozens of vendors and hundreds of guests for almost daily events – requires the characters to be brainy and focused. It’s a tough job, and Roberts’ characters are good at it. It’s great to see an author really understand and illustrate the way weddings work instead of glossing over the details, but reading about those details – the stressed out brides, the last-minute changes, the groomsmen who show up late – can walk the line between boring (if you’re not interested in weddings) and stressful (if you remember these things too clearly from your own wedding). If you adore weddings, brides, cakes, and comforting, easy love stories, this series is the right choice for you.

The History of Love is a bittersweet novel that tells the intertwined stories of Alma Singer and Leo Gursky, a teenage girl and an old man whose lives collide under extraordinary circumstances.

When Alma explores her namesake, the main character of the book-within-a-book also titled “The History of Love,” she discovers a dense tapestry of love, heartbreak, and friendship that centers around another Alma, Leo Gursky, her deceased father, her bereft mother, an unknown writer from Poland by way of Chile, and the famous American author Isaac Moritz. Nicole Krauss makes this potentially convoluted tale feel truly magical by illuminating the long, tangled strings of time and events that bring her characters together. There are few detours from the plot and no wasted words, so the story is fully explored and feels deeper than its 272 pages. It’s sweet and sad and thought provoking, but doesn’t carry any depressing baggage to sour your mood. The ending is uplifting without being tidy and perfect.

I selected this book for my book club and I was delighted to see quotations from its pages popping up in my fellow members’ status updates and conversations. There are a lot of beautiful language moments and highly quotable passages (“her kiss was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering” – *swoons*), which help make the book such a joy to read.

Krauss is married to author Jonathan Safran Foer, and their novels make lovely companions. If you loved his novels Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close or  Everything Is Illuminated, you will fall for The History of Love, and vice versa. Both authors employ lyrical language to explore the topic of Jewish history (to put it broadly) through the eyes of fictional writers. In Everything is Illuminated, the protagonist is a writer who travels throughout eastern Europe looking for the history of his family and their village. In The History of Love, every major character and almost every minor character are writers in one form or another. Both books are so beautiful that it’s hard to decide which one I liked better, but either or both would make a great springtime read.

I’ll Be There by Holly Goldberg Sloan is a story about love and devotion and friendship, about hanging on and believing in yourself and trusting the right people. It’s about how we touch other lives, often without knowing. It’s a family drama and a survival story and a romance rolled into one can’t-put-down story.

When 17-year-old Sam meets Emily, his life is a mess. Worse than a mess – it’s hopeless. His abusive father snatched Sam and his little brother Riddle from their backyard a decade ago. Since then, Sam has protected Riddle (who is sickly and no longer talks), takes care of him and absorbs most of the punishment their father hands out. They aren’t allowed to go to school – Sam teaches himself as best he can – how to swim, how to play the guitar – and keeps up with the world by reading magazines discarded in dumpsters. They move constantly, one step ahead of the law, and making friends is impossible.

Emily Bell is mortified about singing a solo at church. It doesn’t matter that her father is a professor of music, she’s a terrible singer. Her Dad insists, she manages to muddle through the song (badly off-key) by locking eyes with the mysterious boy sitting at the very back pew. They make a connection and she gets through her ordeal – barely. The minute she’s finished she rushes outside to be sick. That’s where the mysterious boy (Sam) finds her, holds her hair and tells her it’s going to be ok.

It takes some persistence, but Emily finds Sam again and they become friends. Sam is wary and is protective of Riddle, and tries to shield Emily from his background but gradually, through kindness and attention, Sam becomes part of Emily’s family. Emily’s parents take to the boys – her father discovers that Sam is a musical prodigy and encourages his talent and her mother recognizes that Riddle needs to be treated for asthma and that both boys are desperate for love and family. For the first time in a long time, Sam and Riddle have some hope.

It all comes crashing down when their father discovers that the boys have made friends and he once again snatches them away and goes on the run. The story of the boys struggle to survive their harsh new reality and Emily and her parents search for them will keep you up reading very late at night – Sloan masterfully creates and maintains an almost unbearable tension throughout the book. (I have to make a confession. About two thirds of the way through, I skipped ahead to the end to find out what happened. The tension was just too high, the need to know just too strong. Then I went back and read the part I’d missed!) The characters she creates are amazing – complex and believable. I especially liked the various relationships – especially between Riddle and Emily’s Mom and between Sam and Riddle. They (and the whole book) show that love comes in all sizes and shapes and can save you no matter how bad things look. Read this book – you won’t be disappointed.

 

David Levithan is a prolific YA author whose books I normally enjoy, so I was very interested to see that he released his first novel geared towards adults, called The Lover’s Dictionary.  The format of this book is very unique, as the story is told in short “dictionary” entries.  In each entry, the unnamed narrator defines a word like “ubiquitous”, “autonomy”, and “idea” by describing profound moments (big and little) in his longtime relationship with a woman, who is also unnamed.  Since it’s told through dictionary entries, which are of course alphabetical, the story isn’t told chronologically and it is up to the reader to determine which events happened when.  It’s filled with romance, humor, and heartbreak.

The way this story is told reminds me a lot of the movie 500 Days of Summer, which I loved. The mixed-up timeline is interesting and makes sense with the story rather than feeling like a gimmick.  It allows Levithan to pair the sad moments in the story with the more lighthearted and fun moments of their relationship, which gives the story a nice balance and feels more realistic.  It’s no sugar-coated love story; it feels gritty and real, and Levithan knows how to make you feel it right along with the main character.  If you have enjoyed Levithan’s other books or are looking for a unique and realistic love story, I recommend picking up a copy of this book.

In Heart of the Matter, the latest novel by the popular Emily Giffin, Tessa is a former professor turned stay-at-home mom.  Her husband, Nick, is a renown pediatric surgeon, and in all appearances, the two seem to enjoy a charmed life.  On an evening out to celebrate their anniversary, Nick is suddenly called away to attend to a six-year old burn victim.  The boy’s mother, Valerie, is a high-powered attorney and a single parent, and though both families live in the same Boston suburb, the women seem to have little in common.  In the course of caring for Charlie, through several skin grafts and other surgeries, Nick ‘s devotion to his work soon becomes complicated by his attraction to Valerie.   Meanwhile, Tessa is left on the home front, trying to figure out why Nick is suddenly so distant, and imagining the worst scenario.

Giffin claims that she draws from her own personal experiences and this seems evident in the relationship the women have with their friends and other characters in the novel.  For example, the subtle judgment and conflict often felt by both career women and their soccer-mom counterparts is realistically portrayed.  Plus, one can’t help but wonder if Giffin used her own career days as an attorney in Manhattan to help flesh-out Valerie’s personality.  In all, an enjoyable read, with believable characters caught in untenable circumstances.