The Hungry Ocean by Linda Greenlaw

The Hungry Ocean was published in 1999 and became a New York Times bestseller.  Recently I found it while looking for something totally different to read and I was not disappointed.  This riveting tale of a woman swordboat captain is the reason I love reading non-fiction.  Linda Greenlaw leads such a different life from me and any of my landlubber friends that I can’t imagine she lives on the same planet.  What an amazing story of a gutsy lady from Maine who spends her life on the ocean.

Linda Greenlaw is captain of the Hannah Boden, a sister ship of the Andrea Gail, a boat that was lost in the horrible storm of 1991 and portrayed in the movie The Perfect Storm. Captain Greenlaw is in command of five men who spend month-long trips fishing over 1000 miles off the northeast coast in the Grand Banks.  She has to fight weather, mechanical failures, close quarters with very little time for personal hygiene, disagreements, illness, and all the decisions of where to fish in order to bring home a full boatload that will pay their expenses.  The story of her personal experiences in how to run a complex operation is fascinating.

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection

Alexander McCall-Smith keeps adding to the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and I keep enjoying the adventures of Precious Ramotswe.  This time the difficult situations are a little too close to home for the Precious and her assistant, Grace Makutsi.  The best auto repair assistant of Mma Ramotswe’s husband is arrested for auto theft, then Grace and her husband hire a contractor to begin building their home but the builder comes into question when one of his worker’s leaves doubt in their minds. The renowned Clovis Anderson, author of The Principles of Private Detection, comes for a visit and helps them with the terrible trouble of the dismissal of Mma Potokwane, matron of the orphan farm.  Satisfactory solutions result and we continue to applaud the wisdom of Precious Ramotswe and her allies.

The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

I love the way Anne Tyler looks at life and the humor in her books.  She can write about serious topics with such tenderness and compassion.  The Beginner’s Goodbye looks at the topic of grief through the eyes of Aaron, a middle-aged man, whose wife dies unexpectedly when a tree falls on their home.  Aaron tries to return to a normal life and adjust to being single but he finds such difficulties with relationships.  Interactions with friends are now so different.  He is uncomfortable with his closest friends and neighbors as they extend their sympathy and help.  He moves in with his sister who lives in their parent’s home and totally ignores repairs on his home.  Finally when the ceiling falls in and he can’t get in the front door he calls a contractor, Gil Bryan.  This man, with his own problems, shows compassion for the grief that Aaron is going through and begins a relationship with both Aaron and his sister, Nandina.

The first sentence of the book begins, “The strangest thing about my wife’s return from the dead was how other people reacted.”  Throughout the story his former wife Dorothy appears and speaks to Aaron as he finds his way through life without her.  As Aaron remembers the quirky, problematic relationship he and Dorothy shared, Dorothy reappears to help him work out the regret.  This isn’t a depressing book at all, although I found very poignant instances  Aaron finally ends this chapter of his life and is able to say the final goodbye reminding all of us to tackle the unfinished business of love.

Calico Joe by John Grisham

Watching baseball to me is about as exciting as watching paint dry.  Well, I might like it somewhat better than that cliche portends if I have a connection to one of the teams playing, but it is not something I would normally choose to do.  So why did I pick up a book about baseball?  I like John Grisham’s legal thrillers and I was aware that his newest book, Calico Joe was on the New York Times Bestseller list and was a fairly short book.  Why not see how a good writer deviates from his normal genre?

I found myself enjoying the story and immediately getting caught up in the characters lives.  The story jumps between August 1973 when a professional baseball player, Calico Joe Castle is hit in the head by a pitcher, Warren Tracey and then thirty years later when Warren Tracey is dying of cancer.  Narrated by Paul Tracey, the book has a heartfelt message of righting wrongs, when Paul, estranged from his now dying father, pushes him to ask forgiveness from the man he hurt.  Grisham has successfully branched out of legal thrillers with a couple other titles also, Painted House,  Skipping Christmas, Bleachers, and Playing for Pizza. 




Paris in Love: A Memoir by Eloisa James

Wikipedia definition:  Vignette (literature), short, impressionistic scenes that focus on one moment or give a particular insight into a character, idea, or setting.

Enjoy vignettes of life in Paris in Eloisa James’ memoir of her family’s year in Paris.  Not your typical memoir, Eloisa kept her tweets and Facebook posts while on sabbatical in Paris for a year with her family and turned them into this delightful Parisian read, Paris in Love.  Descriptions of ultra- fashionably dressed ladies, wonderful restaurants, rude waiters and fabulous shopping all contribute to a vivid picture of Paris.  Funny stories surrounding her children’s adjustment to new schools, friends and language challenges are part of the flavor.  I appreciate Eloisa’s ability to describe the little details of life, such as, “This morning I dropped Anna off at school then walked across the Seine on a lavishly gilded bridge.  The wind was fiercely chilly, but the sky bright blue, and the way the sun shone on the river and danced over all that gold leaf opened a door straight from winter to a slice of spring.”

The Shoemaker’s Wife: A Novel by Adriana Trigiani

Ciro and Enza, two Italian immigrants, find each other and a future in Adriana Trigiani’s epic historical novel, The Shoemaker’s Wife.  in 1905,  seven year old Ciro and his brother, Eduardo, are left at a convent in Italy by their distraught mother who can nolonger care for her sons.  Her husband had died in America while trying to make a new life for his family.  The nuns become their substitute mothers and Eduardo takes to the religious life, while Ciro wants more from life.  He meets 15 year old Enza when hired to dig the grave of her little sister in a nearby mountain village.  Their attraction for each other during this difficult time begins a love relationship that spans many miles and many years.

Adriana Trigiani spent twenty years writing this story that tells the enchanting love story of her grandparents, who came to America.  The hardships they endure as they search for a way in this country are overcome through their determination to succeed and strength of character.  The historical details of the Metropolitan Opera House in the early twentieth century, and Enza’s relationship with Enrico Caruso for whom she sews costumes and cooks traditional Italian delights add to the delight of this story.

Praying for Strangers: An Adventure of the Human Spirit by River Jordan

“But one thing is for certain – our need for love, our need for each other does not change. And that’s the painful truth, the raw beauty of being human. We hurt, we love, we endure, we continue – and on any given moment of any given day – we rejoice. Praying for Strangers has allowed me those moments of rejoicing in being human.”  So says the author River Jordan one year after the debut of her second book, Praying for Strangers: An Adventure of the Human Spirit.

I appreciated this book for the motivation instilled in me to think more of my fellow people each day.  I may not take the challenge of praying everyday for a stranger as River did, but I have been more cognizant of my interactions with those around me.  River chose to begin this resolution one New Year’s when she had much on her own plate that needed prayer.  She selfishly could have focused on her own needs such as her two sons being deployed, one to Afghanistan and one to Iraq.  Instead River began praying every day for someone she crossed paths with and then telling them she would be doing this.  Many times she approached them with, “Would you mind telling me your name?  I have this daily resolution to pray for a stranger and you are my person today”  The reactions and responses she received were nearly always of gratitude and love.  The short converstaions that followed were such a boost to her spirit that River was encouraged to continue all year.  Many shared particular prayer needs and their short interactions became sweet memories and wishes to see them again.  We go through life depersonalizing those around us by never acknowedging their existence.  The clerk at Wal-mart checking us out could be a robot for all the human interaction we have with them. River Jordan’s book helped me to realize the worth of each person and the hope we can give those around us just by sharing a smile, a few words and a prayer.  Praying for Stangers is one book that won’t be read and forgotten.

Carnet De Voyage by Craig Thompson

I will state that I am not a graphic novel enthusiast.  I am a dyed in the wool, old fashioned reader of books that only reads a few comic strips in the daily newspaper.   Life is too short and there are far too many great books to waste my time on drivel.  Now that I have alienated most of the youngish crowd that are the main readers of blogs such as this, let me share a graphic novels that I have recently appreciated, thereby attempting to redeem myself.
Carnet De Voyage by Craig Thompson, one of the top American graphic novelists, is an autobiographical travel diary he wrote while traveling three months through Africa and Europe.  He documents his views of traveling sometimes as a tourist and sometimes as a famous cartoonist on tour.  Thompson spends time in Paris being wined and dined with his French publisher during book signings.  Then he goes to Morocco and is unhappy there as a lonesome tourist in a very alien society.  He is insightful and introspective regarding traveling which makes this book something most every one can identify with.  Craig shares funny stories, such as the time he gets everyone kicked off a train because he leaves his luggage in a rack outside their train compartment and the authorities fear a terrorism attack.
We meet all kinds of fellow travelers and natives that befriend him or annoy him.  The drawings do a great job of telling his story, just as effectively as beautiful dialogue.
Carnet de Voyage is a very personal experience where we gain insight into Craig Thompson’s thoughts, desires and despair through traveling.

The Little Russian by Susan Sherman

>Gritty and atmospheric, The Little Russian, grabbed me and held me in the early twentieth century drama that Jewish Russians experienced.  Vacillating between the horror of pogroms where Jews were massacred, to the lfestyle of a very wealthy grain merchant, we follow the story of Berta Alshonsky.
  As a child, Berta tastes the pleasures of money while staying with wealthy relatives in Moscow. She is sent back to life in the Ukraine, Little Russia, as a grocer’s daughter in a small hamlet when she is no longer needed as a companion to her cousin.   A wealthy grain buyer falls for Berta and life is easy once more until her husband’s secret life as an arms smuggler is revealed.  Berta makes the fateful decision to stay in the Ukraine with her children when her husband flees to America.  The tumultous war time and lost love reminds me of the epic Dr. Zhivago.  Berta’s courage and determination to find her husband are tested in her fight for survival and protection of her children. This first novel for Susan Sherman is an impressive beginning.

The House I Loved by Tatiana de Rosnay

>Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte became Emperor Napoleon III in France in 1852.  He began to modernize Paris in an effort to boost the French economy.  With the aid of Prefect Baron Haussmann the streets were widened, the working class neighborhoods were moved to the outskirts of the city, and parks were constructed.   Paris during this controversial time in history is the focus of Tatiana de Rosnay’s newest book, The House I Loved.

Through letters to her beloved husband, Armand, who died ten years earlier, Rose Bazelet tells the story of the home she moved into when she first married.  Her husband’s family home was on rue Childebert, a narrow street in a traditional neighborhood of shops and two story houses.  Rose immediately falls in love with the home and with Armand’s mother.  The years pass and Rose raises her children there and nurses Armand until his premature death.  As she deals with his death, Rose develops deep friendships with the neighbors and shop owners.  She spends many hours each day with the flower shop owner who rents space from the Bazelet family property.  Napoleon’s hazing of surrounding streets is dreadful and worrisome, but the location of their house so close to the church surely will protect them from the demolition.
More and more the surrounding streets are ruined with the impending progress and Rose must decide what to do and where to go.  Can she leave the house she loves?

Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons

>Mr. J. M. Rosenblum just wanted to fit in.  He had aspired to be a middle class gentleman in London ever since escaping Berlin.  As a German Jew just prior to World War Two he was always striving to obey the rules set out in the Helpful Information and Friendly Guidance for every Refugee pamphlet handed to him by the German Jewish Aid Committee representative as he arrived on the London dock with his wife Sadie.
As the years passed, Jack became a successful carpet factory owner and acquired a nice home, beautiful Jaguar and  fitted suits from the finest tailor.  The one need that he continued to have was acceptance into London society through membership in a golf club.  When this failed, Jack decided that he would build his own golf course. 
Jack buys land in Dorset and moves his wife to the countryside.  Now he has another society to fit into as he begins building a golf course on his own. He studies all the great courses and begins writing letters to the famous Bobby Jones, designer of the world renowned Augusta golf course.  Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English will charm and delight as Mr. Rosenblum deals with rampaging woolly-pigs, migrant struggles and dreams dared to be dreamed.

The World of Downton Abbey

>Relive Downtown Abbey, the wildly loved PBS series by reading The World of Downton Abbey by Jessica Fellowes.This stunning book is filled with beautiful color photos of the cast members in costume to give the impression that you are back in the midst of this favorite drama. The  oversized-volume is packed with sumptuous full-color pictures of the production, the cast, historical connections and its shining star, Highclere Castle, the grand manor house in Hampshire where the series is filmed .
The well researched material gives a fascinating historical background for life as a servant just before and during the First World War in England, but also has an interesting perspective on life’s tremendous expectations of the upper class, such as always dressing for dinner.  Jessica Fellowes, the niece of Julian Fellowes the writer and creator of Downton Abbey, gives us fresh insights into this fascinating world.

An Invisible Thread: The True Story of an 11- Year- Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny


Don’t miss this beautiful, true story of  friendship!
 Laura Schroff was a successful thirty-five year old advertising sales executive for USA Today walking down a busy New York street when a small voice asked her for spare change.  She kept walking until something made her stop, turn around, and face a small, dirty boy with ratty clothes and an outstretched hand.  Her response to this needy little boy changed both of their lives.

An Invisible Thread from UMBRASOLUTIONS on Vimeo.

Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston


If you love the natural world and like to fantasize about life and death struggles, then Micro is for you.  Written by Richard Preston, author of science novels such as The Hot Zone, this unfinished manuscript of Michael Crichtons’ is a sci-fi fantasy about humans that have been shrunk to the size of thumbtacks.
Young researchers at a Massachusetts university are flown to Hawaii to work for a cutting edge nanotechnology company. Their expertise with plants and bugs is useful in this companies research.  Little do they know that they are pawns in a scheme to further research the nano world themselves by being shrunk.  They also will be watched to see if the bends which are a side effect of the process, causing internal bleeding and death,  can be analyzed and eliminated.
 The mercenary owner of Nanigen wants to perfect and sell micro sized drone aircaft and other technology to the highest bidder. Drake cares nothing about the deaths caused by the technology, his only interest is in the profits and fame.
The students are in a fight for their life when they encounter the insects of the island in their small state.  Even the smallest ant is a huge threat to their existence.  The descriptions of their encounters with grubs, wasps, spiders and being swallowed and caught in the craw of a myna bird are intriguing and frightening.
The characters, though not well developed, are in an interesting struggle for life and make this an intriguing science fiction tale.

Washington Square by Henry James

>Washington Square is a psychological novel of interest to those who enjoy the interplay of relationships among characters.  The intertwined drama and dialogue make this an interesting study of people.  Dr. Sloper is a witty, popular and honest physician.  He married a wealthy woman whom he loves and admires and  who brings him many patients by her associations.  They have a boy who dies at the tender age of three.  Two years later his wife has a baby girl and then dies within two weeks of the birth.  Dr. Sloper proposes to “make the best” of his little girl even though she is not what he desired. 
When Catherine is ten years old her Aunt Lavinia joins their household after her husband dies.  Dr. Sloper asks Lavinia to make his daughter a clever woman.  As Catherine matures we see that she does not become such a daughter, instead she is rather dull, quiet and extremely shy.  Her appearance is plain.  She is a disappointment in most every way to her father. Her one way of expressing herself was in her dress, and this was not always in the best of taste.  ”It made him grimace to think that a child of his should be both ugly and overdressed”
Catherine attends a party and meets a very handsome man of the world, Morris Townsend.  He has spent all of a small inherited fortune and begins pursuing Catherine for her money.  Catherine is enchanted with this handsome man and soon falls in love.  Dr. Sloper will not consent to a marriage with this mercenary who acts the gentleman yet has no career. Will Catherine defy her father?
 This novel written in the 1840s is an example of the worldview of that time.  Could Henry James have been making a social comment on the restrictions of that time?