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WordsAndTheirMeainingsIt is June and the one year deadaversary of Anna’s bruncle Joe. Joe was really her uncle, her dad’s brother, but since he was only a few years older than Anna, he was more like a brother. He was living in their house and her father acted more like a father to Joe than a brother. Anna worshipped Joe. He was her best friend and they told each other everything. Anna blames herself for Joe’s death, which also caused her parents to split up and get divorced. She’s got a lot on her mind. Her Gramps, her maternal grandfather, seems to be the one holding the family together.

Since Joe’s death, Anna’s been practicing ‘coffin yoga’ where she lies on her bed pretending she was dead. She also writes lines from Patti Smith songs on her arm every day. Her seven year old sister Bea acts out differently…she hides in places in which she can’t be found, except Anna can find her.

Anna’s behavior is causing concern for her parents. They force her to ‘act normal’ for the summer and get a summer job or they will send her to a special school that deals with her abnormal behavior. Her best friend Natalie gets her a job waitressing where she meets Mateo and soon a relationship blossoms.

Bassett’s debut novel, Words and Their Meanings, takes us through the summer. Of course this is a summer of discovery. Anna discovers that Joe wasn’t as great as she perceived him to be. She discovered that her father, who left the family after Joe’s death, wasn’t as bad as she perceived him to be. She discovered that a flourishing romance can break her out of her guilt ridden emotions and show that life is worth living, that the future holds promise.

Words and Their Meanings is a combination of the obvious and the not so obvious. Unfortunately, for me anyway, seven year old Bea was a much more entertaining character than Anna, and while never having experienced the kind of loss Anaa experienced, to me her actions didn’t ring true. Bea, on the other hand, acted like a seven year old, at times hiding in the oddest places and at other times asking the questions a seven year old would ask, not the great philosophical questions but the practical questions like where will Joe go after his death (meaning geographically, not spiritually)?

Some twists and turns at the end were unnecessary for the story, in my mind.

So, overall, while I enjoyed Words and Their Meanings, it started out with more promise than it ended up with.

 

 

 

The New York Times, on the celebration of the 40th anniversary PowerBrokerof the issuance of Robert Caro’s The Power Broker about Robert Moses, issued an interview with the author. It’s been a long time since I read the book but I do remember ‘not liking’ Mr. Moses by the time I got done. However, I don’t remember some of what Mr. Caro says below. It struck me as we look at current events, Mr. Moses’ sentiments still, shamefully have a wide audience today.

“In front of me the row of gray heads nodded in appreciation. “‘R. M.’ had built so much, created so much,” they whispered to one another. “Why didn’t people understand? Why weren’t they grateful?”

Why weren’t they grateful? As I recalled that Exedra scene in 1969, as I was trying to organize my book, I suddenly knew, all in a moment, that that question would be its last line. For the book would have to answer that very question, would have to answer the riddle posed by the Moses Men: How could there not be gratitude, immense gratitude, to the man who had dreamed a great dream — of Jones Beach and a dozen other great parks, and of parkways to reach them — and who to create them had fought, and won, an epic battle against Long Island’s seemingly invincible robber barons? How could there not be gratitude to the man who had built mighty Triborough, far-­stretching Verrazano, who had made possible Lincoln Center and the United Nations? And yet there were ample answers to that question. Did I think in that moment of Robert Moses’ racism — unashamed, unapologetic? Convinced that African-Americans were inherently “dirty,” and that they don’t like cold water (“They simply didn’t like swimming unless it was red hot,” he explained to me confidentially one day), he kept the water temperature deliberately frigid in pools, like the ones at Jones Beach and Thomas Jefferson Park in Manhattan, that he didn’t want them to use. Did I think of the bridges he built that embodied racism in concrete? When he opened his Long Island parks during the 1930s, the only way for many poor people, particularly poor people of color, to reach them was by bus, so he built bridges over his parkways too low for buses to pass. Or of the “slum clearance” projects he built that seemingly created new slums as fast he was clearing the old, or of the public housing he placed in locations that cemented the division of New York by race and class? Did I think in that moment of the more than half a million people he dispossessed for his projects and expressways, using methods that led one observer to say that “he hounded them out like cattle”? Did I think of how he systematically starved New York’s subways and commuter lines for decades and blocked proposals to build new ones, exacerbating the region’s dependence on the automobile? I don’t remember exactly what I thought of when I remembered Robert Moses’ speech at the Exedra — only that in that moment, seeing the book’s last line, I suddenly saw the book whole, saw the shape of everything.”

Early in A Tightly Raveled Mind by Diane Lawson, the author TightlyRaveledMindwrites, “The Monday that my patient, Howard Westerman, blew himself to kingdom come started out like any ordinary workday–like the kind of everyday day that feeds our communal delusions that everyone we care about will live forever.”

Howard Westerman was Freudian psychoanalyst Nora Goodman’s first patient on Monday morning. Goodman thinks there may be foul play because Westerman was ultra organized and would not blow up himself up in his home laboratory. The police think it was an accident and refuse to investigate. At her urging, Detective Slaughter, who is assigned to the case, recommends a private detective, Miguel Ruiz to Goodman. He, too, is skeptical.

When Allison Forsythe, Goodman’s second Monday appointment “jumps” off a building the following Monday, Goodman feels that someone is targeting her clients. There is nothing in Forsythe’s personality that would allow her to jump off a building. Ruiz tends to agree that someone might be targeting Goodman’s patients, but the list of potential murders is small. It can’t be Goodman’s estranged husband and fellow psychiatrist, Richard Kleinman. It can’t be her patient who was a sniper in the war. She herself can be considered a suspect as well. Yet Goodman feels someone is out there and does not want to find on the following Monday, a third victim

Author Lawson, who herself is a psychiatrist, gives Goodman’s patients unique, screwed up personalities. She also gives her main characters, Goodman and Kleinman, totally screwed up personalities, making one pause and wonder how people with so many issues can possibly help others with so many issues (it takes one to know one?). There’s enough action and sex (some of it sort of kinky) to satisfy most readers. It’s an interesting premise. However, I did have an inkling of the answer midway through the book.

I can’t say this is the best mystery I’ve read in 2014, but it certainly held my interest.

 

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is the 2014 BrownGirlDreamingwinner of the National Book Award for Young Adult literature. In this novel in free verse, Ms. Woodson takes us on a tour of her childhood in Greenville, SC and Brooklyn, NY. In the same soft voice with which she speaks, she tells of her loving family in South Carolina, her grandfather Gunnar who acted more as her father, her Jehovah’s Witness grandmother, her brothers and sister and her dreams.

In both South Carolina and Brooklyn, the former a recently desegregated Southern state and the latter a theoretically liberal minded Northern borough, she felt the impact of racism. In South Carolina, Blacks still went to the back of the bus to avoid conflict. There were stores that Blacks didn’t enter because they were ignored or because they were segregated prior to desegregation. In Brooklyn, there were streets Blacks didn’t cross because they took them into the white neighborhoods.

Ms. Woodson talks about her feelings of inadequacy when compared with her older sister who was considered gifted. She talks about wanting to be a writer, but reading initially didn’t come easy to her. And, as the 1960s ended and the 1970s began, a young Ms. Woodson was caught up in the idea of “I’m Black and I’m Proud” and the ideals of the Black Panthers.

Brown Girl Dreaming is eloquent. Her life and emotions, such as being sad when the Woodson children had to go in earlier in the evening than other children in the neighborhood, come to life. There are vivid images of both South Carolina and Brooklyn, the contrasting surroundings, soft cool green grass vs. hard, sharp concrete sidewalks, the sweet smell of rain vs. the non-smell of rain. Through it all, it is the bond of family that shines.

Many times I’m not in agreement with the judges of book awards, but Jacqueline Woodson, author of such Young Adult classics (or just classics) as If You Come Softly, Miracle’s Boys, Hush, and Locomotion, is a worthy recipient of the National Book Award Prize. Readers of all ages will get lost in the story telling of her books.

A Deft Piece of Marketing

On October 22, 2014, the New York Times ran a book review of Marie Kondo’s TheLifeChangingnew book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying-Up. If you don’t know anything about her, which I didn’t, she’s a sensation in Japan for helping people declutter their living space and, according to her, ultimately their lives. The title of the article was Kissing Your Socks Goodbye, which of course is an eye-catcher. It caught my eye, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing this.

The article talks about her philosophy which, among other things, says that you must touch everything and if it doesn’t bring you joy, toss it. It goes on to discuss her philosophy regarding socks: “Indeed, Ms. Kondo’s instructions regarding socks are eye-opening. Socks bust their chops for you, and if you ball them up, they don’t get a chance to rest. As she puts it, “The socks and stockings stored in your drawer are essentially on holiday.”

I thought this was humorous and insightful, so I reserved the book from my library thinking it would be full of humorous and insightful comments. Boy was I wrong!!!!!!

I’m here to tell you this is a poorly written, repetitive, unfunny book that can be summarized in one page and the reader won’t miss a thing. First, I can’t imagine any 5 year old being interested in tidying, but Ms. Kondo informs us that she was and spent the next umpteen years tidying her home…every room in the house. Second, I’m not sure how many times it needs to be said that you go through things by category (clothes, etc.) not location (bedroom, storage room, etc.) but Ms. Kondo apparently thinks this is worth repeating ad nauseam. And finally, do all your decluttering quickly. Throwing out one thing a day isn’t going to get you anywhere. Another repetitive aspect of her book.

Is the book devoid of humor? Nope. Along with her sock theory, which can be found on page 81, on page 3, a student of her course wrote, “Your course taught me what I really need and what I don’t. So I got a divorce. Now I feel much happier.”

I’m heartily suggesting that you declutter your mind by skipping this book, but if you feel compelled to read it, Ms. Kondo has made it easy. All the important points are in bold letters. Just read those.

Why am I writing this? I guess because I feel cheated. The New York Times article made me think this book was different, when in reality it’s the same as other “declutter your life” books. It was a deft piece of marketing showing that Ms. Kondo has a good agent. So, as they say, Caveat Emptor. Don’t let it be said I didn’t warn you.

WaysOfTheDeadSully Carter is a newspaper man. He’s covered wars throughout the world and been hit with shrapnel, which has left its traces on him. He now covers crime in Washington, D.C. When the body of Sarah Reese, daughter of a Superior Court judge (and potential nominee for Supreme Court Justice) David Reese, is found in a dumpster behind a convenience store in the bad part of town, police from multiple agencies, local and federal, start investigating. The fact that over the past two years, several girls in their 20s have gone missing or have been found murdered within a five block radius have not stirred the police to investigate because those girls were Black, took drugs and some performed sex for money.

Sully happens to be close to the local drug lord/all around thug, Sly, who is not happy that the police are snooping around his neighborhood. It’s not good for business. They agree to trade information in the hopes that the killer will be caught quickly and the police move on to other crimes and neighborhoods. Are they truly sharing information?

Unfortunately, there  is bad blood between Sully and Reese, which in the eyes of the editors, will cloud Sully’s judgment as he investigates. Additionally, Sully has been hitting the bottle lately.

Such is the plot summary for The Ways of the Dead, Neely Tucker’s debut novel. Tucker, as well as his character, are experienced journalists. Sully is a moderately endearing character but his relationship with Sly seems a bit out of character. While I realize that journalists may cultivate some unsavory relationships, for me this one didn’t work and I’m not sure why. The newspaper’s editors, as well, didn’t have that hard hitting edge one would expect of high level editors. I think part of this results from the fact that I’m a big fan of Bruce DeSilva’s Liam Mulligan series. That, too, is newspaper themed. I like the characters, the setting, the cynicism, the political asides. The Ways of the Dead pales in comparison with regard to these aspects of the book.

The Ways of the Dead is a reasonable read. You’ll definitely want to finish it. Whether or not I’ll jump at the chance to read Tucker’s next book remains to be seen.

 

The Last Forever by Deb Caletti

I must be in the ‘mother recently died’ phase of my reading. LastForeverFirst it was Oh Yeah, Audrey! by Tucker Shaw and now it’s The Last Forever by Deb Caletti. Tessa’s mother died three months earlier of cancer. She and her hippy, pot smoking, old tv show watching father, Thomas, are having a rough time of it. The only tangible thing Tessa has from her mother is a rare plant, a pixiebell, that has been kept alive since her grandfather Leopold stole the seed decades ago. Her mother took it everywhere and so will Tessa. She’s determined to keep it alive.

When her father suggests a road trip to the Grand Canyon a week before school ends, Tessa has no recourse but to go. She packs the pixiebell and its flower pot in an old shoe and cushions it well in a box so it won’t get tossed around on the trip. The road trip takes a few extra turns and Tessa and Thomas end up at his mother, Jenny’s house in Parrish Island, WA.

Her father leaves suddenly saying he needs time alone leaving Tessa with a grandmother she hasn’t seen or heard about since she was a toddler. It is certainly awkward.

It is in the Parrish Island library that Tessa meets Henry Lark, who will become the love of her life. It is also in Parrish Island that the pixiebell starts to droop. Tessa and Henry and a cast of several others vow to save the plant.

What did I like about The Last Forever? So many things. Caletti has developed wonderful characters: Tessa and Thomas, Henry, Jenny, the library staff of Sasha and Larry, Jenny’s art class students. The list goes on. They are colorful and caring. If I had to pick a community in which to live, these would be the people I’d like to live amongst.

Second, the library plays a prominent role in the story. As a librarian, that’s heart warming.

Third, every chapter starts with information about a seed. I love gardening and flowers and seeds. They intrigue me. That’s why I’ve read A Garden of Words by Martha Barnette, Who Named the Daisy by Mary Durant and Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children’s Tales by Marta McDowell. Seeds are fascinating.

FortunesOf IndigoSkyeI learned something from this book. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault does actually exist (you’ll find out how it fits into the story when you read the book). It is located in the permafrost of the mountains of Svalbard, Norway and is dedicated to retaining the diversity of food crops.

And finally, it’s just a fun story. There are twists and turns that keep you reading.HoneyBabySweetheart

I’ve read several of Deb Caletti’s books: The Fortunes of Indigo Skye, The Nature of Jade and Honey, Baby, Sweetheart. I haven’t been disappointed yet.

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