Blogs: Adults

Her bookjacketSometimes I need to read books that pierce my very soul, the more heart-wrenching the better. That’s when I turn to memoirs like Her by Christa Parravani. This is the tale of identical twins, Christa and Cara. It's the story of the connections between twins and what happens when you tragically lose that connection. And how someone can survive and grow from that tragedy. It's beautiful and powerful. For more heartbreaking stories of survival, try one of these.

And then there are times that I need snarky narrators that take me into their lives, lives so angst-filled that the only way to get through them is to revel in the What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding bookjackethumor. Kristin Newman’s, What I was Doing While You Were Breeding was just the book I needed recently. Newman is a TV comedy writer and it shows, in a good way. It’s a travel guide and memoir in one tidy package. She spent her time between writing gigs in her 20’s and 30’s, jetting off to exotic locales and meeting gorgeous men. Alright, I might have felt a little jealousy towards her; when I was that age, I was totally living paycheck-to-paycheck and the only place I jetted off to was my hometown in Ohio with a plane ticket purchased by my mom. Oh, wait a sec, that’s still pretty much the story of my life. But that aside, she’s a witty, breezy writer who reveals an awful lot about her experiences with quite a few men in a highly entertaining manner. It's a story about being free and reckless, traveling to fabulous lands, and it's hilarious.

If you’d like a few more snicker-worthy memoirs, check out my list here.

Istanbul is my favorite city to wander through. When I think of Istanbul I think of fishermen lining the Galata Bridge, crossing the Bosporus and the Golden Horn by ferry, moving from Europe to Asia and back again. It is a city of mosques and palaces, and where shops spill out onto the sidewalks. You wake to the call to prayer and spend your day immersed in history knowing that you are never far from a pastry shop.  It is also a great place to visit by way of a story. Try these for a taste of Istanbul.

A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler. Charles Latimer is a writer living in Istanbul between the wars. He gets a plot idea when the body of a notorious criminal washes up on the shore, but as he researches the story he starts to doubt that the body was really Dimitrios and sets out to find him.

Istanbul Passage book jacketIstanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon . It's 1945, WWII is over and the cold war is starting. Leon Bauer, an American businessman, has spent the war years in Istanbul. During the war he did odd jobs for the CIA. He is asked to help with the delivery of a Romanian the Americans want to keep from the Soviets. The delivery goes wrong, his CIA contact is dead and he has to decide what to do with the smuggledIstanbul Memories book jacket man with the Nazi past that everyone now wants.

Baksheesh by Aykol Esmahan is the story of Kati Hirschel. She runs the only mystery bookstore in Istanbul and is shopping for an apartment. A man is murdered in the apartment she wants to buy and she’s a suspect. The dead man was involved in shady business dealings and Kati starts to investigate.

On the serious side, Orhan Pamuk writes literary novels set in Istanbul.  He also wrote a memoir, Istanbul: Memories and the City, about growing up in the 50’s and 60’s in Istanbul.


View of a breast cancer cell as seen through a microscopeI was a bad cancer patient. My head scarves were more Bret Michaels than Jackie O. My diagnosis failed to inspire any cancer art and I shut down any peppy banter in the chemo lounge with my heavy shroud of humorlessness.

On my final day of treatment for breast cancer, my radiation nurses gave me a diploma and broke into song. For weeks, I’d witnessed other patients pass around cupcakes and give high fives at this moment. I couldn’t muster up the energy to play along. I was relieved, but also exhausted and profoundly sad. In the end, I just stared at them wearily and cried.

Cancer patients receive loads of unsolicited advice, but when a trusted friend suggested I read Barbara Ehrenreich’s essay about her own experience with breast cancer- Smile or Die: The Bright Side of Cancer, I sought it out immediately. Reading Ehrenreich’s essay was equivalent to releasing the greatest imaginable sigh of relief.

Though never good at feigning rosy optimism, Ehrenreich was the ally I needed to dismiss the cancer patient script of round the clock positivity and just be honest that it really sucked being a cancer patient and caring for a newborn.

Five years cancer-free, I've regained my humor and when pressed, can even come up with some positives to having survived cancer, other than the obvious surviving part. Even so, I still find comfort in other people's cancer stories that allow room for things beyond the expected bravery, juice cleanses and relentless optimism.

No two cancers and certainly, no two cancer patients are the same.  How we deal with the big C is likewise individual. Here are the stories that I’ve felt were candid and helpful to my experience. Which books have helped you come to terms with cancer?

Some stories are intended for young audiences but are perfectly wonderful for adults. Here are two excellent juvenile graphic novels or jgns you might have missed (if you're past your teens). Sequels exist if you enjoy these.
Hereville book jacketHereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch.  Mirka dreams of being adventurous, but like everyone else in Hereville, she's an Orthodox Jew and is expected to learn knitting and other household skills. There's a witch, a wise stepmother, standing up to bullies, conflict between tradition and free will and, of course, a troll to defeat. Mirka is an imperfect but feisty and likable heroine.Amulet book jacket
Amulet Book 1: The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi. Their mother is lured through a strange door into a world of robots and elves, demons and talking animals, and Emily and Navin follow. Brave kids, yes, but I love it when the parents are actually competent. Gorgeous art that looks like a Miyazaki movie.

This past week, I've woken up a bunch of times throughout the night thinking about all of the stressful things happening in my world. My thoughts keep churning around and around.  Will there ever be peace in the Middle East? My mom's heart problems. Why is my car insurance so expensive? Will I ever visit Europe? Oh the anxiety! There are simply periods of my life when I am drowning in it. I don't quite get people who don't get anxious. The world is an anxiety-producing place and the only thing we can do is try to figure out ways to lessen it or to adjust to it. And here's a book that will do just that: My Age of Anxiety by Eric Stossel. Wow.

My Age of Anxiety bookjacketThis book will tell you everything you need to know about anxiety. Stossel, the editor of The Atlantic, has suffered from anxiety and various phobias since an early age. The great thing about this book is that it might make you feel better about your own anxiety; Stossel's description of his own is so outrageous that the chances are good that yours will pale in comparison.  I will not soon forget the hilarious but painful tale of his visit to the Kennedy compound that involved a search for a bathroom, a leaking toilet, and a pants-less encounter with John F. Kennedy, Jr. Another plus in reading this is that Stossel really does write about everything you need to know about anxiety. I'm hoping to sleep better in the coming weeks.


Seconds book jacketWhat if you could take back all the regrettable things you did or said and their horrible outcomes? Fantasy becomes reality in Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley. Seconds stars Katie, a 29-year-old chef who is opening a brand new restaurant. Like her predecessor Scott Pilgrim, Katie is a pleasure seeker and acts impulsively and selfishly. She makes so many mistakes, but it doesn't matter because she can redo anything by popping a mushroom. It felt easy for me to forgive her because it felt so relatable. Why do your twenties feel like one long never-ending failure?Scott Pilgrim book jacket

I actually read Seconds three times because I couldn't get enough of the art and coloring, the exotic idea of a Canadian winter, house spirits, Hazel’s thrifted outfits, and the hilarious facial expressions. Will Katie ever open her restaurant or is she stuck to repeat the same day? Read Seconds - it’s my favorite graphic novel this year!

Kid's Fiction

Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny

by John Himmelman

A  new series about Isabel the Zen bunny told with spirit and humor. A fun "read aloud" book that delivers gentle Zen lessons in an appealing style.

Emily's Blue Period

by Cathleen Daly

A little girl copes with her parents' divorce through the making of art. A heartfelt and lovely picture book sure to relate to other children experiencing difficult change.

Kid's Nonfiction

Creature Features: Twenty-five Animals Explain Why They Look the Way They Do

by Steve Jenkins

A playful exploration of unusual animal facial features with cool facts and humor. Sure to be a favorite read-aloud with young children.

Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina

by Michaela Deprince

The memoir of a ballerina from war-torn Sierra Leone who was adopted by an American family and is now, at the age of sevevteen, a premier ballerina in the United States. An inspiring read for teens.

Adult Nonfiction

Superstorm: Nine Days Inside Hurricane Sandy

by Kathryn Miles

A moment-by-moment account of the largest Atlantic storm system ever recorded. A hurricane like no other, it even caught the attention of the astronauts on the International Space Station. The author takes you inside the disaster detailing the efforts of the countless residents to cope with the fury.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride

by Cary Elwes

A first person account of the making of this cult film classic by the actor who played Westley. Includes behind the scene stories and interviews with the actors, actresses, author, director and producer. For all fans.

The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books

by Azar Nafisi

The author of "Reading Lolita in Tehran" analyzes her most beloved works of American literature. Sure to be of interest to literary readers who enjoyed her bestseller.

Adult Fiction

The Prince's Boy

by Paul Bailey

The story of a passionate love affair between two men set in pre-war Europe written by an author short listed for the Man Booker Prize. A sensual read with rich characters.

Bathing the Lion

by Jonathan Carroll

A surreal novel where five people share the same dream and are called back to fight against the cosmic crisis' that result when Chaos swirls through the universe. The well-drawn characters have to deal with day-to-day issues along with impending disasters on a galactic level.





Gentle reader, do you harbor a fond regard for Jane Austen?  Is there a quiet little corner of your mind that remembers your literature classes fondly? Can you be found watching just about every costume drama that hits the movie theater or television screen? (The occasional water bottle forgotten on set just gives me a good chuckle!).  If so, you might enjoy the following series.

Shades of Milk and Honey book jacketI just caught up on Glamourist Histories series by Mary Robinette Kowal.  I had ignored the books when they first came out and ended up reading the third book first.  I liked it so well I dropped my other reading to go back and catch up on the series.

The first book, Shades of Milk and Honey, introduces Jane, the plain elder daughter of a respectable gentleman. In this world the real reason ladies of good families swoon so very often isn't the too tight corseting, but the strain of casting glamour. Part of a respectable girl's education includes not just the arts a young lady would have learned in the real world but also learning to cast glamour, entertaining her would be suitors and providing a decorative grace, with her illusions, to her family's home.

Jane has a lovely younger sister and, being of a certain age, has become resigned to her fate as a spinster sister.  As Jane has always been plain, she has thrown herself into her lessons and is a talented illusionist after years of study and practice with glamour.  A nearby family hires a gifted artist, mysterious Mr. Vincent, to decorate their manor home with glamours.  The expected misunderstandings occur!

I'm really looking forward to the final book, Of Noble Family, late next spring and will definitely read any other series this author writes. I heard her reading from an upcoming new series this summer and it was intriguing!

Book jacket: The Steady Running of the Hour by Justin GoOut of the blue Tristan, a young and aimless American, receives notice from a London solicitor's office that he could stand to inherit an unspeakably large fortune that has been left unclaimed for nearly eighty years. He has only to provide evidence that he is the great grandson of one Imogen Soames-Andersson; a name he's never heard before. Oh and Tristan has only two months before the trust expires and the fortune is turned over to charity.

So begins The Steady Running of the Hour, a debut novel by Justin Go that's part historical romance, part pulse-racing scavenger hunt. This is a book for fans of multi-layered historical fiction, whirlwind European travel, genealogy, and mysteries that reveal clues that only lead to more mysteries, until uncovering the story becomes the only thing that matters.

Just be warned that when you are forced to put Go's book down momentarily: to wash dishes, put on pants, or otherwise keep up appearances as a functioning member of society, you too may find yourself walking around in a daydreamy fog, contemplating clues written on brittle letters left behind in isolated Swedish barns.

I am the product of a English teacher/homemaker mom and a history professor dad.  Dig deeper into the family dirt and you’ll find coal miners, farmers and engineers.  My paternal grandmother even served as a Chief Yeoman in World War I. I have relatives on both sides of the family who have done the genealogy, so I know my familial history back a number of generations.  My roots are in England, the Netherlands and the Midwest. It’s no wonder I’m an Anglophile and a Green Bay Packers fan!

The People in the Photo book jacketThe women in The People in the Photo and The Sea House are not so fortunate.  They can’t even get a grip on who their mothers were, let alone their grandmothers. In The People in the Photo by Helene Gestern, Parisian archivist Helene Hivert doesn’t know much about her mother except that she died when she was four.  For years she didn’t even know how her mother died because nobody would talk about it, and her father would get very upset when Helene asked.  Years later as an adult, Helene finds a newspaper clipping with a photo of her mother and two men on a tennis court and decides to find out who those men were. What follows is a series of letters between Helene and Stephane, the son of one of those men.  Peeling the layers of family mysteries was fascinating and if I hadn’t had to go to work, I would have finished this novel in a day.The Sea House book jacket

In The Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford, Ruth similarly knows little about her mother.  Her mother also died when she was young, but not before she had told Ruth stories about her grandmother’s grandmother: She “was a seal woman.  She cast off her seal skin, fell in love with a fisherman, had his child and then she left them.  Sooner or later, seal people always go back to the sea.”  Well Ruth goes back, not to the sea, but to an island in the Outer Hebrides where her mother said she had grown up and buys a house, and soon she is deep in investigating secrets involving a dead child who just might have some Selkie (seal people) blood in her.  I loved the way the book shuttled back and forth between the 1860s occupant’s story and that of Ruth, the present day owner. I definitely want to get to the Hebrides one day, even though, as far as I know, I have no Selkies in my ancestral pool.

If you love books about family secrets, you’ll enjoy these two titles.


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