I absolutely love Piper Reed! She is a spunky 10 year old with lots of personality. Piper doesn’t let the fact that she doesn’t read as well as everyone else in her class (she is dyslexic) get her down. And neither does moving--well, not for long, anyway. Her Dad is in the Navy, and so they move a lot. Sometimes it’s really exciting, like when they go someplace overseas, but now they are moving to Florida and Piper isn’t sure she really wants to. She has a great group of friends in her “club,” but she decides she’ll just have to start a new club in Florida!
But not ON the beach: pages oily from suntan lotion; wind and sand. Nah, bad for paper. Watching pelicans cruise over the waves is preferred. Knowing we would hit the Beach Book Mart, a bookshop in Atlantic Shores with an interesting historical selection, I packed two books. One of those plus two of the three store-bought titles had a thread: Italy.
First down the chute is Norman Douglas’ Siren Land, a memoir of Capri and the Sorrentine Peninsula. Two previously read authors, Paul Fussell and Elizabeth Davis, quoted and discussed Douglas, and the library owns the title. I found his prose dense, witty fairly often, even had a couple funny bits. It is more than a travelogue: it is learned and chatty. Emperor Tiberius was the first famous Roman to retire to Capri; his stay is touched on. Douglas includes stories of saints, a single thread of the story of these siren lands. History and biology of the sirens is knocked off in the first couple of chapters, followed by a wandering over the land, a boat ride or two, and an island full of fleas...with gossip, lore, architecture, history, and memorable characters.
Most people know David Byrne as a musician, with the Talking Heads and as a solo artist. In his three-decade career, Byrne always managed to incorporate a diverse collection of international influences in his sound. In Bicycle Diaries, he has found an equally engaging role as a worldwide cultural critic. The book is much more than a travelogue though. It is a grand celebration of how people live, observed from the seat of a two-wheeler as it whisks through city streets worldwide. It is made up of meditations on art, politics, architecture, and so much more.
When biking through a city, one is more agile than a car, faster than a pedestrian, and taller than anything that isn't a Hum-Vee or on horseback. You see details that others can not, providing a wholly unique perspective of how this particular city works.
Emma has just graduated from college when she meets Dexter. She’s smitten with his beauty and drawn to his easy self-confidence. For his part, Dexter realizes that Emma is probably the most intriguing person he has ever met. That’s high praise, indeed, from a guy to whom women flock in great numbers. One Day by David Nicholls follows the two over the course of almost twenty years.
While Emma has plans to change the world, life simply happens—and in a big way—to her handsome friend. Despite her considerable talents, Emma can’t seem to jumpstart her career. Dexter, on the other hand, falls into a media job. His natural attributes make him an instant success, and considerable fame and fortune follow shortly. But what Dexter was certain was the path to happiness leads him instead to a hollow existence.
“Since Saturday, I’ve fried Sergio like catfish, mashed him like potatoes, and creamed his corn in ten straight games of bowling. And it’s just the middle of the week. People call Wednesday 'hump day,' but for Sergio it’s 'kicked-in-the-rump day.' I’m his daddy now, the maddest, baddest, most spectacular bowler ever.”
Lamar Washington talks big and backs it up with even bigger bowling skills. You would never think that he started playing just because he has terrible asthma, and all other sports make him wheeze. Unfortunately, Lamar’s got a basketball star brother named Xavier who doesn’t treat him very well which all leads us to find out How Lamar’s Bad Prank Won a Bubba-Sized Trophy.
“A haunt in the wind”
That’s how Al Hoots described the small, thin filly named U-See-It who happily crunched his peppermints in the saddling shed before her big race. Al picked up such talk from his wife, Rosa, of the Osage tribe. In the newly-minted state of Oklahoma, the spring weather of 1909 saw most everybody who lived near the Chisholm Trail come out to watch the match race between little U-See-It and a big-striding mare from Missouri named Belle Thompson. Soon enough Al Hoots had traded 80 acres of land for the little filly, and she began winning races for him. That’s just the beginning of the story Black Gold, by Marguerite Henry.
It's 1933 and President Roosevelt is having a devil of a time finding someone to appoint to the post of ambassador to Germany in Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts. All of the usual picks politely decline the post, as news of Germany’s foreboding political atmosphere drifts to America. Roosevelt eventually settles on William E. Dodd, a historian at the University of Chicago whose primary goal is to finish his multi-volume historical treatise on the antebellum South before he dies. By most accounts, Dodd is an odd pick for ambassador, being neither rich nor well-connected. Most ambassadors entertain lavishly during their appointments, and it is expected that the costs will come from their own coffers. Frugal Dodd immediately made waves by pledging to live solely on his meager income, almost unheard of in cosmopolitan Berlin.
Dodd naively sees the appointment as a respite from the trials of University department chairmanship and a boon of time to work on his project. He, like most Americans, is grossly uninformed about the political machinations happening in Germany, as Hitler, Göring, and Goebbels vie for power and German Jews are increasingly menaced. The entire Dodd family decides to come along to Berlin, ready for a new lark: the professor and his wife, Mattie, their son, William Jr., and their beautiful, flirtatious, 24-year-old daughter, Martha (who happens to also be fleeing the wreckage of a precipitous marriage to a banker).
In Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, 23-year-old veterinary student, Jacob Jankowski, is looking forward to graduating with a degree from Cornell University and joining his father’s veterinary practice. Unfortunately, fate intervenes and Jacob’s parents are killed in an automobile accident. Jacob learns that his parents have no savings and plenty of debt, having bartered for veterinary payments from cash-poor farmers (it is the Depression, after all) and mortgaged their house to the teeth in order to pay his tuition.
Bereft of both parents and financial future, Jacob despairs and jumps a train moving through the town. It happens to belong to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a poor cousin to Ringling Brothers. Once it’s discovered that he has veterinary experience, he is put in charge of the animals, a task that is at once heartwarming, thankless, and distressing. The circus is run by the greedy Uncle Al and the brilliant but mercurial August, the animal trainer who keeps the circus afloat. August, a paranoid schizophrenic, alters between warmly welcoming Jacob and trying to kill him.
Kayla McHenry turned sixteen, and her Mom threw her a huge birthday party. That is what Kayla's mom does for a living --she puts together parties for people. The only problem is that Kayla's mom never asked her what kind of party she wanted or if she even wanted one at all. She didn't. Besides all that, her best friend Nicole has become cute and popular and she is dating the guy Kayla is madly in love with ...Ben McKenzie. In the book You Wish, by Amanda Hubbard, Kayla McHenry is 16 and miserable. After the disappointing birthday party (the one that her best friend completely missed because she was on a date with her boyfriend), Kayla reminisces on the day and cavalierly wishes that all of her birthday wishes that she has ever made would come true. The next morning there is a bright pink pony in her yard. The next day her bedroom is full of gumballs. After that her Raggedy Ann doll comes to life and wants to go everywhere with her, even to school. But wait there is more. Did I mention that Ken shows up to take her out on a date? This brings to mind the phrase "be careful what you wish for."
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The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck: Though more than sixty years have passed since this remarkable novel won the Pulitzer Prize, it has retained its popularity and become one of the great modern classics. "I can only write what I know, and I know nothing but China, having always lived there," wrote Pearl Buck. In The Good Earth she presents a graphic view of a China when the last emperor reigned and the vast political and social upheavals of the twentieth century were but distant rumblings for the ordinary people. This moving, classic story of the honest farmer Wang Lung and his selfless wife O-lan is must reading for those who would fully appreciate the sweeping changes that have occurred in the lives of the Chinese people during this century. Nobel Prize winner Pearl S. Buck traces the whole cycle of life: its terrors, its passions, its ambitions and rewards.
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
This "piercing study of childhood innocence lost" mirrors the growing pains of modern India. Twin sister and brother Rahel and Estha are at the center of a family in crisis and at the heart of this "moving and compactly written book." (Library Journal review) More symbolism, more cultural diversity, another classic! This book won the Booker Prize.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
One of the most influential literary works of our time, One Hundred Years of Solitude is a dazzling and original achievement by the masterful Gabriel García Márquez, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. One Hundred Years of Solitude tells the story of the rise and fall, birth and death of the mythical town of Macondo through the history of the Buendía family. Inventive, amusing, magnetic, sad, and alive with unforgettable men and women -- brimming with truth, compassion, and a lyrical magic that strikes the soul -- this novel is a masterpiece in the art of fiction. (product description, Amazon.com) Talk about symbolism! This book is packed with it! Beautifully written, here's a literary classic from yet another culture and continent - the Americas.