Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel by James Markert


cover153987-mediumFrom the Publisher: For years, guests of the Tuscany Hotel could leave their pasts behind and live among fellow artists. Now guests of a different sort fill the rooms, searching for their memories—no matter the cost.

Run by renowned sculptor Robert Gandy and his wife and muse, Magdalena, the Tuscany Hotel hosted guests of a certain kind—artists, actors, scientists, and engineers who left their worries behind so that they could create their latest masterpieces. Surrounded by lore, the hotel was rumored to free the mind and inspire artists’ gifts. But tragic circumstances force Robert and his family to move.

After thirteen months at war, Vittorio Gandy is haunted by memories, and his former life is unrecognizable. Once a gifted painter, now he can’t bear the vivid, bleeding colors on a canvas. His young son doesn’t remember him, and his wife, Valerie, is scared of him. But the most disconcerting change is in Vitto’s father, Robert Gandy, who has fallen from being a larger-than-life sculptor to a man whose mind has been taken by Alzheimer’s.
When Robert steals away in the night, Valerie, Vitto, and his new acquaintance and fellow veteran John go to the only place Robert might remember—the now-abandoned Tuscany Hotel. When they find him there, Robert’s mind is sound and his memories are intact.

Before long, word gets out that drinking from the fountain at the hotel can restore the memories of those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia. The rooms once again fill up with guests—not artists this time, but people seeking control over their memories and lives. Vitto desperately wants to clear his own mind, but as he learns more about his mother’s life and her tragic death, he begins to wonder whether drinking the water comes at a price.

A story of father and son, memories lost and found, artists and their muses, Midnight at the Tuscany Hotel explores the mysteries of the mind, the truth behind lore, and the miracle of inspiration.

This gorgeous book joins my “Best of 2019” list, pretty darn close to the top. This is storytelling at its best, with characters who twine themselves around your heart and pull tight until you think you’ll explode. The blend of Greek myth with a wholly original story about muses, memory, art, and love creates a narrative that leaves you emotionally spent. Markert explores relationships here – between fathers and sons, mothers and sons, husbands and wives, and between friends – with special emphasis on aging and memory. There are beautiful love stories here – Magdalena and Robert, and Vitto and Valerie – that explore trust, passion, friendship, and deep love that transcends the ordinary world.

This would make a fabulous selection for a book club, and is one I’ll be recommending for a long time.

Publication Date: April 9, 2019
Published by: Thomas Nelson Publishing
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Virgil Wander by Leif Enger


67ED6962-E081-4A26-ABFC-089CF8128753Sometimes you need a book that soothes spirit – a book that starts slowly and meanders along at a gentle pace, telling a gentle story that leaves you feeling like you’ve been floating down a lazy river in the not-too-hot sunshine. Virgil Wander is that kind of book.

Leif Enger is known for his use of allegory and symbolism, and remains true to form in Virgil. The overarching theme that appears again and again throughout the story is flight and all the things that go along with it – here specifically weightlessness, freedom, and risk-taking.

The story begins with our titular character, Virgil Wander, recovering from an awful accident that had him driving his car off an embankment into Lake Superior. While his car doesn’t make it, Virgil escapes with some bodily damage and a traumatic brain injury. Language is one of the things that Virgil has lost – not the ability to speak, but the use of adjectives – the ability to describe. It leaves Virgil feeling like a stranger in his home, his job, and his life in general.

Into this confusion comes Rune Eliasson, an old man from the Arctic Circle searching for a son he didn’t know was conceived on a long ago trip to Greenstone, Minnesota. He discovers the son mysteriously disappeared a decade before, but stays to find out more about him. Virgil and Rune bond over flying kites and eventually become unlikely roommates.

What commences is the story of how Virgil Wander recovers his adjectives and discovers a new life right on top of the old one. Along the way, Virgil and the multitude of characters living in Greenstone struggle with the vagaries (and predictabilities) of small town life. The story is a common one across the Great Lakes region where towns that boomed with good fortune and wealth for years are now faced with closed factories, declining population, and aging infrastructure.

The big question is why do people stay in these small towns with no future. Enger’s answer, I think, lies in the symbolism here. One of the characters, Shad Pea, is allegedly killed by a monster sturgeon, which his surviving son vows to kill. The fish itself becomes a character here, driving one of the many sub-plots until a blood-pumping scene at the end of the book. The fish is often used as a symbol of rebirth or resurrection, a theme entwined with the lives of the characters and the town. Relationships are born and reborn throughout, further emphasizing the importance of friends, family, and acquaintances in daily life. People in Greenstone care about each other and, more importantly, take care of each other.

The more obvious theme here, though, is flight. For Virgil, his old life has flown away, but he’s finding a new one bit by bit. Rune’s amazing handmade kites are used as the vehicle to bring people together and to provide the sense of power and weightlessness that exists when something leaves the earth to swoop through the air. While you can see the kite and feel it through the string, a wayward breeze or a strong wind can take that kite and fold it up, crash it, or make it soar if only you have the courage and perseverance to keep it in the air. One of my favorite scenes has Rune and Virgil flying a kite in the dark. Virgil never knows which kite he was flying. All he knows is what he can feel through the string and he says it is “a curious privilege…to fly without so much as a glimpse of perception of the wing.” That is a turning point for Virgil when he realizes that his new life will require risk-taking.

Virgil’s budding relationship with Nadine is part of his transformation, and Enger handles it with the gentle matter-of-factness of finding a partner late in life. It just happens. And that is ultimately what Virgil Wander discovers. Life happens, whether you’re ready for it or not. Sometimes it’s good, but sometimes you get a raw deal. How you respond to both the good and the bad is what makes your life important.

Virgil Wander is not the most exciting book you will ever read and, indeed, many reviews call it out for being boring. If you’re not a small town kind of person, I expect you would find this odd and a little dull. Anyone who has spent some time living in a small town will recognize the unusual (and usual) characters that show up everywhere, and will enjoy drawing comparisons to real-life examples of the Village Hall staff, the tired sheriff, the local marijuana grower, and the colorful characters who are found everywhere. If you have a couple hours of uninterrupted time where you want to fall into a cozy, friendly reading trance, pick this up and snuggle down. You’ll emerge refreshed.

Palaces for the People by Eric Klinenberg


palacesA few months ago, sociologist Eric Klinenberg wrote an opinion piece for the New York Times called “To Restore Civil Society, Start with the Library” and subsequently published the book Palaces for the People which describes his work around the concept of social infrastructure.

News of both publications immediately started flowing into my email box and social media feeds. The concept of public libraries as social infrastructure captured the attention of many people. As I read Klinenberg’s book, I recognized many of the concepts library leaders have for decades struggled to communicate to funders and stakeholders. Libraries aren’t always thought of as “essential services” when municipalities are facing difficult budget years, so having a different way of describing what libraries do as “infrastructure” is very valuable.

Klinenberg defines social infrastructure as “physical conditions that determine whether social capital develops and whether human relationships and connections are formed.” Simply put, it refers to places or things that bring people together, that help create a community. Libraries are an example. What happens when people gather in these places? People who are very different from each other come together and become part of a community. They very likely have differing political and religious views, support different sports teams, watch different television shows, or read different kinds of book. The *place* brings them together.

In his book, Klinenberg primarily gives examples of how people benefit from the social infrastructure created in certain places. He talks a lot about neighborhoods and opens Palaces for the People with a data story he collected on a deadly heatwave in Chicago. More people died during that event in neighborhoods he describes as “forgotten.” These are neighborhoods where there is little to no interaction among the people who live there and where neighbors don’t know each other because there are no places for them to gather. There were no relationships bolstered by community spaces so no one checked on each other to make sure people were okay during the heatwave.

He writes: “When hard infrastructure fails…it’s the softer social infrastructure that determines our fate.”

Klinenberg singles out public libraries as the ultimate example of social infrastructure that works. He provides example after example of how people connect at libraries. One woman he interviewed described the library as a “place of permission” where you can follow your own interests and not be pushed in a certain direction. Libraries are a place that is judgement free, where you can explore whatever interests you.

Libraries in Monroe County have a long and rich history, and most of our mayors and town supervisors and other entities responsible for funding our libraries understand the role libraries play in community and are committed to keeping our doors open.

Years ago, when I worked at the Ogden Library in Spencerport, I was doing some research for a book. I learned that when the Town of Ogden was founded in 1815, the first three institutions created were a church, a school, and a library.

Imagine that group of pioneers, who had literally cut their way west from Connecticut and Massachusetts through untamed wilderness, arriving in Ogden, building their homes, then setting about creating a community. I think it says a lot about those pioneers that they created a library in the middle of the wilderness. They knew that a library would provide something valuable and necessary in their new community.

Today, public libraries all over the world are providing social infrastructure for their communities. In Monroe County, there are dozens of examples of the library creating and enabling communities to form.

People who live in Rochester’s 19th Ward point to the Arnett Branch as an anchor in their community. The library provides a safe space for children to gather after school where they are supervised, fed, and given homework assistance until picked up by their parents after work is done for the day. Adults can apply for jobs, or participate in a writing group. Teens learn about college and work opportunities. All ages come to play. A local artist, Richmond Futch, has created beautiful murals on the exterior of the library, which only reinforces the role of the library as a community anchor and has made the library a selfie destination.

arnett

The Phillis Wheatley Community Library is located at the corner of Ford Street and Dr. Samuel McCree Way in Rochester. In 2017, a community project called the Storywalk was completed there, where children and families created a story that is told through kiosks alongside the building and enhanced by gorgeous sidewalk murals that were painted by community members. This project brought dozens of people together and gave them ownership of the library. The people who live nearby consider library staff as family and the library as home. Recently, I was present at Wheatley when there was a shooting outside and several bullets hit the windows of the library. The library was locked down by police with no one in or out. Once the doors opened again, I was astonished and deeply moved by the crowd of neighbors who rushed in and enveloped staff members in hugs, making sure they were okay. The library staff and neighbors are like family.

wheatley

The Monroe Branch recently started a new service that relies on the kindness of strangers. They took an empty book cart and put some canned food and couple loaves of bread on it with a sign that reads “Take what you need. Leave what you want.” It is available for anyone who is in need and gives community members an opportunity to give to those who are in need. This is the result of staff noticing an increase in the number of homeless and hungry people taking shelter in the library.

monroe

Perhaps one of the most powerful aspects of social infrastructure when it is applied to libraries is that library space requires people to confront radical differences in a shared space. Nowhere is that most evident than at the Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County. At Central you are guaranteed to run into to someone who is vastly different from you. A person might be homeless, or of a different ethnicity, or transgender, someone with mental health issues, lawyers, doctors, techies, business people, young mothers, teens, grandparents, and so on.

Everyone is welcome there, and we attempt to provide the right service at the right time to the right person. When Midtown closed in 2008, the Central Library became the only public place downtown with clean restrooms, and where it’s warm in the winter and cool in the summer. That meant we had a great influx of homeless and transient people who no longer had Midtown as a hangout. Instead of viewing these newcomers as a problem, we adapted our services to help them. We created Health Central on the 3rd floor where people who need help can get connected to healthcare, housing, and legal assistance. We have Nurse Barb on duty a couple days a week. She’s a retired nurse who volunteers her time to take vitals and counsel people on their health needs. Central is also now a regular stop for mobile health services providing dental care and mammograms.

I am sometimes confronted with people who resent the inclusiveness at Central and see it as threatening. I have had librarians from suburban libraries say they will never attend another training session at Central because it’s too dangerous. I’ve had an older gentleman tell me he doesn’t understand why we allow “young thugs” in the library, and have had people voice objections about sharing space with the homeless. These reactions are based in fear of the unknown, and sometimes people are willing to learn, sometimes not. The people who are comfortable with the stew of visitors to Central outnumber those who are afraid, as seen in our annual attendance numbers, which top 600,000 visits. More visits than all our sports stadiums, more than Strong Museum, more than the Zoo.

How does all this fit with the concept of social infrastructure?

Libraries are adapting services in response to community needs and activities. We are creating community. Most libraries do that very deliberately, but libraries have also shown up during times of crisis.

When Superstorm Sandy hit the downstate region, the NYC boroughs were devastated. In Queens, many libraries were flooded, and some destroyed. Within days of the storm, Queens librarians had opened libraries and became disaster centers in their neighborhoods, handing out food & clothing, providing electricity for people to charge phones, and doing storytimes in makeshift encampments to entertain weary and bored children.

When riots erupted in Ferguson and Baltimore, libraries stayed open and provided safe spaces for neighbors afraid for their lives. And then those libraries turned around and started discussions on race and healing, providing a safe space for people to have hard conversations.

Libraries provide valuable social infrastructure in a community, not only by the things they provide, but by the experiences offered and the people who offer them. When the Rochester Public Library conducted a study of branch facilities and services last year, the overwhelming response from community members when asked what they liked the most about their library was….STAFF. Our staff are our lifeblood. It is through them that community is created.

Visiting a library will remind you that there are different people with different ideas out there, and that is not a bad thing. Libraries allow communities to form and reform organically. New parents connect at baby storytimes, people looking for work help each other out, kids come together to learn about any number of things. Adults come together to discuss books, for craft classes, or to build with legos and end up forming new friendships that extend outside the library.

There is emerging research on the alienating effect of the internet on human behavior. Anyone who is on any social media platform has probably experienced a “troll” – someone who deliberately says nasty things to elicit a negative response. The relative anonymity of online communication has provided an outlet for the worst in us. It’s easy to say something hurtful when you don’t have to look someone in the eye. I see people looking for alternatives, and they are looking back into their communities for opportunities to connect in real life with other people. What better place to do that than the public library?

Social infrastructure – real community – provides an alternative to that kind of negativity. Klinenberg ends his books with this: “We need smart civil engineering to fix the critical networks that are failing, but we also need to engineer civility in societies that are at risk of breaking apart.” Libraries can provide a conduit for growing that civility.

Down to No Good by Earl Javorsky

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on Tour October 30, 2017 – January 6, 2018

Synopsis:

Down to No Good by Earl Javorsky

Private investigator Charlie Miner, freshly revived from his own murder, gets a call from Homicide Detective Dave Putnam. Self-styled “psychic to the stars” Tamara Gale has given crucial information about three murders, and the brass thinks it makes the Department look bad. Dave wants Charlie to help figure out the angle, since he has first-hand experience with the inexplicable. Trouble is, Charlie, just weeks after his full-death experience, once again has severe cognitive problems and may get them both killed.

If you like your mysteries quirky, this one is definitely for you. Charlie is a likable character, for a dead guy. He’s not a zombie, nor a vampire but he is also not dead or alive. That adds a little weirdness here, since it seems he can just pick up and carry on after “dying.” His cognitive problems add a fuzziness to the whole dead-not-dead thing. I really struggled with liking then not liking this book. The “detective” part is a decent mystery, but the “dead-not-dead” state of the main character added an unnecessary layer of confusion. Javorsky has shown he can write a really good and witty detective story; he just doesn’t need all the other stuff going on.

Earl Javorsky’s DOWN TO NO GOOD is wildly original, wildly energetic, wildly funny – it’s just straight up wild, and I mean that in the best possible way.

– Lou Berney, Edgar Award-winning author of THE LONG AND FARAWAY GONE

It’s a shame you missed Down Solo:

“Earl Javorsky’s bold and unusual Down Solo blends the mysterious and the supernatural boldly and successfully. The novel is strong and haunting, a wonderful debut.”

– T. Jefferson Parker, New York Times bestselling author of Full Measure and The Famous and the Dead

“Awesome”

– James Frey, New York Times bestselling author

“Don’t miss Earl Javorsky’s Down Solo. It’s kick-ass, man. Excellent writing. This guy is the real deal.”

– Dan Fante, author of the memoir Fante and the novel Point Doom

“Javorksy’s writing reminded me of the Carl Hiaasen novels I’d read sprawled out on the deck on one sunny Florida vacation. Perfect entertainment, with the right amount of action to keep me alert (and to keep me from snoozing myself into a sunburned state). But there’s also a deeper layer in Down Solo, which left me thinking past the final page.”

– Bibliosmiles

“Javorsky’s dark and gritty prose is leavened with just enough humor to make Down Solo a compelling story that will take readers to the outer limits of noir.”

– San Diego City Beat

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery

Published by: The Story Plant

Publication Date: October 31st 2017

Number of Pages: 224

ISBN: 1611882532 (ISBN13: 9781611882537)

Series: This is the sequel to DOWN SOLO.

Purchase Links: Amazon 🔗 | Barnes & Noble 🔗| Goodreads 🔗

Read an excerpt:

I wake up looking down at my body, naked on a gurney at the morgue.

No.

That’s a memory.

This has happened to me before.

I was riding my bike, working a case, high as a meteorite that doesn’t yet know it’s about to crash and burn, still happily tooling along in space, at night, wrapped in a warm blanket of summer air, Jack Daniels, and a smidgen of heroin. Some creep shot me in the temple, and I woke up hovering above my own corpse.

This time is different.

Not a gurney. Not the morgue.

A bed. My body, eyes closed, on a bed. I’ve got a bird’s-eye view, hovering like a kite, still tethered, but barely, by an invisible string.

Let’s get clear on my condition. I don’t know what it is, but I know what it is not. I am not a vampire, or a zombie, or a ghost. I’m not a thousand years old, I have no superpowers, and I’ve never been a hero. What I do have is a broken life, a broken family, and, so far, an inexplicable inoculation against dying. And a daughter I would die for—or, in this case, return to life for.

The tether reels me in. I descend toward the body, a mirror image to it, my arms at my sides, my feet slightly apart. Three bullet holes in my face—and one in my gut—are going to need some repair. At contact, I am absorbed and no longer looking down at myself but looking up at the ceiling.

I stretch my fingers, curl them into fists, and stretch them again.

“Jesus holy fucking Christ!”

I know that voice.

I turn my head. It’s awkward, after the lightness of floating, to be in the body, to know its heaviness and vulnerability. There’s a man sitting in a chair next to the bed. He’s a cop, and the first thing I think is: He knows my secret. Now he really knows it. But it’s okay, because he’s also my friend and I trust him. I have to.

“Hey, Dave, how’s it going?” My voice sounds artificial—a forced process of pushing air, modulating vibrations with my vocal cords, shaping syllables with my mouth and tongue. I make my lips grin.

Dave sits there like a stuffed panda in his rumpled white shirt and cheap black sports coat. There’s blood on his clothes. It’s in his fingernails—my blood, dried and caked on his hands. His right hand is clasped around a Heineken, which he finally tilts to his mouth and drains.

I force the body up and into a sitting position, feet on the floor. I flex my fingers a few more times, roll my shoulders, and look at Dave. For a moment, I close my eyes and leave the body, just as an experiment, and roam around the room. From over Dave’s shoulder I watch it slump back into the pillows like a marionette whose strings have been cut. Dave stands and moves toward the bed, but I slip back into the body and work my mouth and tell him it’s okay.

I sit back up and ask Dave, “Why am I naked?”

“Because you were shot full of holes and clinically dead. I brought you back to my place and cleaned you up. I took off your clothes to see how many more bullets there might be in you. Your things are right over there.” He points to a chair in the corner.

“You’re taking this pretty well.”

He shrugs. “I feel like I’m in a bad movie, but hey . . .”

“I appreciate your bringing me here.”

“I knew if I called the paramedics you’d have been sliced and diced at the coroner’s.”

“How long have I been here?”

Dave looks at his watch. “It’s noon. Call it thirty-six hours.”

“What day is it? And date?”

“Wednesday. Last day in August.”

I stand and walk to the chair to get dressed. Roaming—moving freely out of the body—is easier than this, but I’ll adjust. I have before. The gorilla-suit quality of living in the body becomes commonplace, the intentional management of operating the system, beating the heart, making the blood run in the veins, the conscious act of breathing: all of it becomes second nature.

It’s almost like being alive.

***

Excerpt from Down to No Good by Earl Javorsky. Copyright © 2017 by Earl Javorsky. Reproduced with permission from The Story Plant. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Earl Javorsky

Daniel Earl Javorsky was born in Berlin and immigrated to the US. He has been, among other things, a delivery boy, musician, product rep in the chemical entertainment industry, university music teacher, software salesman, copy editor, proofreader, and author of two previous novels, Down Solo and Trust Me.

He is the black sheep of a family of high artistic achievers.

Catch Up With Our Author On: earljavorsky.com 🔗, Goodreads 🔗, Twitter 🔗, & Facebook 🔗!

Tour Participants:

Visit the other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!

Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Earl Javorsky and The Story Plant. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card and 2 winners of one (1) eBook copy of Down Solo by Earl Javorsky. The giveaway begins on October 30 and runs through January 8, 2018.

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Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman


IMG_0232“Writing itself was a magical act in which imagination altered reality and gave form to power.”

This is how Hoffman describes the power found in the writing of women, in this case the Owens women who we first came to know in Practical Magic. That book told the story of Sally and Gillian Owens and how they broke the curse on their family which made it impossible for them to love someone without tragedy. This book goes back two generations before Sally and Gillian, telling the stories of Franny, Jet (the Aunts), and Vincent (the Grandfather).

Hoffman builds a bigger world where there are Owens women and men all over the world, but the nucleus of the family remains on Magnolia Street in Massachusetts. We learn more about Maria Owens, caster of the infamous curse, and how she loved and was betrayed by an equally infamous witch-hunter in the 17th century. The focus here, though, is the three Owens siblings – Franny, Jet, and Vincent – and their lives in New York City through the 1950s-1960’s.

When we first meet the trio, they have no idea they’re witches. Their parents have kept the knowledge from them, trying to ensure they will live normal lives. Franny is the scientist, Jet the poet, and Vincent the musician. While their lives seem normal enough, they all know there is something different and special about themselves and their family. Exactly what that specialness is comes to light when they go to Massachusetts to spend the summer with Aunt Isabelle, when they learn about their magical heritage. They spend the next two decades experiencing great tragedy, running away from love, and participating in the major events of the time – Stonewall, Vietnam, the Summer of Love. Hoffman neatly connects Rules of Magic with Practical Magic at the very end, and I was left thinking about who will be cast in the film that will surely follow.

All the usual things a reader expects from Alice Hoffman are here – lovely writing, strong female characters, a solid and engaging story – so this will definitely be one of the hot books this Fall. I enjoyed learning about the Owens family history, and found the primary trio of characters both charming and exasperating. This was an advanced review copy, so I am sure there will be some editing, which is needed. There are parts of the story which could move a little faster, and I think the ages for Sally & Gillian at the end are too young for their behavior and language, but those are nit-picky things that truly don’t affect the readability factor of this wonderful story. It’s not necessary to have read (or to re-read) Practical Magic before you read this one, but I guarantee you will want to read it after you finish.

Publication Date: October 10, 2017
Published by Simon & Schuster
Thanks to NetGalley for the advanced review copy

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

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IMG_0225I fell in love with Eowyn Ivey’s work when I read her debut novel, The Snow Child, and then met her while she was in Rochester for Writer’s & Books “Rochester Reads.” When To the Bright Edge of the World was first published, I devoured it, and wrote this on Goodreads:

Ivey has produced another brilliant novel of the Alaskan wilderness, blending history and adventure through the telling of three simultaneous stories. Typically, South American authors tend to write the best magical realism, but Ivey is just as adept at merging fantasy and reality, plus she has given us a splendid character in Sophie Forrester. Hands down, one of the best of 2016.

The book is newly released in paperback, so will be showing up on shelves in stores and libraries again. My recommendation from 2016 still stands. If you love magical realism blended with a little history and a strong female protagonist, you should pick this one up.

 

Micro-Reviews


I’ve been reading a lot lately, but not all of what I’ve read has inspired me to write a fully fledged review. Instead, here are a few micro-reviews of some books slated for publication this Fall.

IMG_0204David Tanis Market Cooking: Recipes & Revelations, Ingredient by Ingredient by David Tanis
Artisan Books
Publication Date – October 3, 2017

Cooking with fresh, seasonal produce is certainly not a new thing – experienced cooks have been doing it for years. However, as Tanis points out in this lovely, information-packed, highly readable cookbook, many cooks today are seduced by easily acquired but often flavorless supermarket produce. Tanis’ mission is to direct cooks back to their own locally produced food, which always tastes better.

This title caught my eye on NetGalley because it’s CSA season, when I invariably get the odd vegetable that I’ve never cooked. I was not disappointed. Tanis provided me with tasty ways to cook parsnips, greens, and even celery root, as well as new takes on old favorites like corn and potatoes. His recipe for Creamed Corn is super simple and absolutely delicious.

There is no pretentiousness here, as I often find with “cheffy” cookbooks – just simple, easy to follow recipes that rely on the deliciousness of fresh food. Highly recommended.

IMG_0205Brave Red, Smart Frog: A New Book of Old Tales by Emily Jenkins
illustrated by Rohan Daniel Eason
Candlewick Press
Publication Date – September 5, 2017

Emily Jenkins has taken the language of old timey fairy tales and turned it upside down in this 21st century retelling of classics like Snow White and the Frog Prince. The bones of the stories remain, but each has new language, new cadence, and new sassiness in the characters, which is completely refreshing. As I read, I felt like these stories could easily turn up in an animated series on Nickelodeon. What a wonderful way to take beautiful but clunky old fairy tales and make them new again. Well done!

IMG_0206Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
Knopf Doubleday
Publication Date – October 17, 2017

I really tried to like this book, but it was a straight-up snoozer for me. There’s no question that Hanks can write. His prose is really quite good, but I just found this collection of short stories to be D.U.L.L. There are a couple stories built around a kernel of an idea that could be developed into full-blown books, but most are just odd and sad. It may just be that I am not a fan of literary fiction, but I have to wonder if this collection would have been published at all if not for Hanks’ fame. It will be popular and in demand, though, so libraries should buy a copy.

IMG_0203Healthy Meal Prep by Stephanie Tornatore and Adam Bannon
DK Alpha Books
Publication Date – December 12, 2017

My daughter and I have recently become meal preppers, since I always struggle to have a healthy lunch and she is just beginning her first year of a rigorous doctorate program and will be at school all day, then go right to work. We’ve had some fun trolling Pinterest for ideas, but quickly found that there’s not a lot of variety there, so I was happy to find this book on NetGalley.

Tornatore and Bannon have created a readable, attractive, and easy to follow guide to prepping a remarkable variety of meals. While I am not vegan, I appreciated the inclusion of meat-free meals. I also really liked the inclusion of an equipment list for each week, as well as the Prep Day Action Plan. Another bonus is the inclusion of breakfasts and desserts. The book is filled with helpful tips and advice, and the recipes are easy to follow. Combine all that with beautiful, eye-catching photography and you’ve got a hit. Recommended.

Best of 2013 for Grown Ups


Everyone has done their Best of lists for the year, so I thought I’d add to the abundance. I polled my family, friends and colleagues in the Monroe County Library system for their favorites of 2013, and I got dozens of replies. So many, in fact, that I have decided to break the list up into three separate posts, and add a fourth for “Most Anticipated of 2014.” Enjoy!

Longbourn by Jo Baker – Claire Talbot (Greece Library) – Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen’s classic—into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars—and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own.

The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin – Claire Talbot (Greece Library) – In the spirit of Loving Frank and The Paris Wife, acclaimed novelist Melanie Benjamin pulls back the curtain on the marriage of one of America’s most extraordinary couples: Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow Lindbergh.

Light in the Ruins – Chris Bohjalian – Claire Talbot (Greece Library) – Set against an exquisitely rendered Italian countryside, The Light in the Ruins unveils a breathtaking story of moral paradox, human frailty, and the mysterious ways of the heart.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh – Patricia Uttaro & Adrienne Furness (Henrietta Library) – Touching, absurd, and darkly comic, Allie Brosh’s highly anticipated book Hyperbole and a Half showcases her unique voice, leaping wit, and her ability to capture complex emotions with deceptively simple illustrations.

Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman – Claire Talbot (Greece Library) – A brilliantly imaginative and poignant fairy tale from the modern master of wonder and terror, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is Neil Gaiman’s first new novel for adults since his #1 New York Times bestseller Anansi Boys.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert – Carol Moldt (Central Library) – In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure and discovery.

I Dreamed I was a Very Clean Tramp by Richard Hell – Ashley Armstrong (Lyell Library) – The sharp, lyrical, and no-holds-barred autobiography of the iconoclastic writer and musician Richard Hell, charting the childhood, coming of age, and misadventures of an artist in an indelible era of rock and roll…

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill – John Scalzo (Irondequoit Library) & Heidi Jung (Gates Library) – NOS4A2 is a spine-tingling novel of supernatural suspense from master of horror Joe Hill, the New York Times bestselling author of Heart-Shaped Box and Horns.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent – Carol Moldt (Central Library) – Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Trial of Fallen Angels by James Kimmel, Jr. – Mary McDonald Camille (Reader Extraordinaire, Hilton NY) – When young attorney and mother Brek Cuttler finds herself covered in blood and standing on a deserted train platform, she has no memory of how she got there. For one very good reason. She’s dead. But she doesn’t believe it at first. Trapped between worlds, Brek struggles to get back to her husband and daughter until she receives a shocking revelation that makes her death no longer deniable: She’s been chosen to join the elite group of lawyers who prosecute and defend souls at the Final Judgment.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King Adrienne Furness (Henrietta Library) & Heidi Jung (Gates Library) – King’s enormously entertaining sequel to The Shining in which we meet Danny Torrance, all grown up.

Attempting Normal by Marc Maron Adrienne Furness (Henrietta Library) – Attempting Normal is Marc Maron’s journey through the wilderness of his own mind, a collection of explosively, painfully, addictively funny stories that add up to a moving tale of hope and hopelessness, of failing, flailing, and finding a way.

Promise of Blood by Brian McClennan – Nell Ruedin (Central Library) – In a rich, distinctive world that mixes magic with technology, who could stand against mages that control gunpowder and bullets? PROMISE OF BLOOD is the start of a new epic fantasy series from Brian McClellan.

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes – Marjorie Shelley (Pittsford Library) – A Love Story for this generation, Me Before You brings to life two people who couldn’t have less in common—a heartbreakingly romantic novel that asks, What do you do when making the person you love happy also means breaking your own heart?

Something Red by Douglas Nicholas – Patricia Uttaro – An intoxicating blend of fantasy and mythology, Something Red presents an enchanting world full of mysterious and fascinating characters— shapeshifters, sorceresses, warrior monks, and knights—where no one is safe from the terrible being that lurks in the darkness. In this extraordinary, fantastical world, nothing is as it seems, and the journey for survival is as magical as it is perilous.

Lean In: Women, Work & the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg – Matt Krueger (Irondequoit Library) & Patricia Uttaro – Thirty years after women became 50 percent of the college graduates in the United States, men still hold the vast majority of leadership positions in government and industry. This means that women’s voices are still not heard equally in the decisions that most affect our lives. In Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg examines why women’s progress in achieving leadership roles has stalled, explains the root causes, and offers compelling, commonsense solutions that can empower women to achieve their full potential.

Human Division by John Scalzi – John Scalzo – Following the events of The Last Colony, John Scalzi tells the story of the fight to maintain the unity of the human race.

Drinking with Men: a Memoir by Rosie Schaap – Ashley Armstrong (Lyell Library) – Rosie Schaap has always loved bars: the wood and brass and jukeboxes, the knowing bartenders, and especially the sometimes surprising but always comforting company of regulars. Starting with her misspent youth in the bar car of a regional railroad, where at fifteen she told commuters’ fortunes in exchange for beer, and continuing today as she slings cocktails at a neighborhood joint in Brooklyn, Schaap has learned her way around both sides of a bar and come to realize how powerful the fellowship among regular patrons can be.

Midwinter Blood by Marcus Sedgwick – Claire Talbot (Greece Library) – Seven stories of passion and love separated by centuries but mysteriously intertwined—this is a tale of horror and beauty, tenderness and sacrifice.

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple – Chris Christopher (Rochester City Hall) – Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom. Then Bernadette disappears.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys – Claire Talbot (Greece Library) – It’s 1950 and the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie Moraine wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer. She devises a plan get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street.

Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton – Clair Talbot (Greece Library) & Patricia Uttaro – Stanton began photographing people on the streets of New York City three years ago, and those portraits have come to represent the diversity, depth, and beauty of the city. His best work appears in this collection.

The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman – Chris Christopher (Rochester City Hall) & Marjorie Shelley (Pittsford Library) – Tom Sherbourne is a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, a tiny island a half day’s boat journey from the coast of Western Australia. When a baby washes up in a rowboat, he and his young wife Isabel decide to raise the child as their own.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt – Carol Moldt (Central Library) – Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

Disclaimer: All the links go to Amazon.com, and the annotations have been borrowed from Amazon.