My New Orleans: Ballads to the Big Easy By Her Sons, Daughters and Lovers

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Heat and Humidity has been fierce in Manhattan so our upcoming family reunion/vacation further south into New Orleans and Cajun country didn’t sound too inviting. Nevertheless I searched for travel guides and a book that would have some flavor of the Big Easy. My New Orleans edited by Rosmary James was the perfect read. Short stories written by some hometown chefs, musicians, writers, restauranteurs, and poets created a desire to find out more about the area. Many of these authors are famous personalities such as Wynton Marsalis, Rick Bragg, Bret Lott and Paul Prudhomme.
This book was edited by Rosemary James, owner of Faulkner House Books, one of the country’s most famous bookstores which is located in New Orleans. It was conceived in the wake of Hurricane Katrina to benefit writers and was produced by Touchstone Books- Simon and Schuster who contributed considerable funds to hurricane relief.
There is much of the heart of New Orleans written in this tribute. I enjoyed this varied look at a city that is struggling to come back from such destruction. From a tale of discovery of the love of egret-watching at Audubon Park lagoons to the life of stripping on Bourbon Street, the flavor of New Orleans comes through.
Now back from our trip I can say New Orleans was a great place to visit. The weather was hot, but Manhattan was equally as hot and even more humid on my return. We just need some gumbo and a bayou.

All My Patients Have Tales by Jeff Wells

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This entertaining book will appeal to animal and pet lovers as well as anyone interested in veterinary science. Wells begins with descriptions of the first cases he handled, fresh out of vet school–the on-the-job training that no college course can provide. His encounters with both animals and their human owners are humorous and touching, and each of his stories demonstrates his love of animals as well as his compassionate approach to the animals he treats as well as their human companions. If you have read and enjoyed any of the wonderful stories by James Herriot, you will surely enjoy All My Patients Have Tales: Favorite Stories from a Vet’s Practice !

The Manual of Detection

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A dilapidated carnival, a mummy with a golden filling, and a book with a missing chapter are a few of the elements of Jedediah Berry’s mind-bending mystery, The Manual of Detection. Mild-mannered Charles Unwin is a clerk at a vast detective agency in a rainy, unnamed city. When he is suddenly promoted to detective he’s sure it must be a mistake. But when the agency’s most successful detective goes missing, his supervisor is found dead, and a notorious villain returns to town, Unwin finds himself thrust into a web of mystery that only he can untangle. With help from a sleepy assistant and a forgetful museum employee, Unwin must save the city from a master mimic and his evil schemes involving stolen alarm clocks and a nightclub called the Cat & Tonic. Yet every time one mystery is solved, another comes to light. How many times did Colonel Baker really die? Why does the janitor go around mopping with an empty pail? And who is the woman in the plaid coat waiting to meet at the train station? A clever and funny noir mystery, The Manual of Detection will keep you guessing until the very last page.

Laugh-Out-Loud Mysteries

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Janet Evanovich has become hugely popular for her humorous mysteries starring Stephanie Plum, a sassy bounty-hunter-in-training. If you’re new to the series, start with One for the Money, where her first case involves tracking down a former vice cop on the run from a charge of murder one, a man who also happens to be her former lover. Library Journal says “a wonderful sense of humor, an eye for detail, and a self-deprecating narrative endow Stephanie Plum with the easy-to-swallow believability that accounts for her appeal as heroine.” Enjoy!

All Other Nights by Dara Horn

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In All Other Nights, Dara Horn asks the traditional Passover question “How is tonight different from all other nights?” Jacob Rappaport, the son of a wealthy Jewish businessmann leaves home to avoid a marriage arranged by his father in a business deal. He rushes off to join the Union army in the Civil War, quickly coming to the attention of officers that see his potential as a spy. His assignments, including murdering his uncle and marrying a Confederate spy, change his life and his world view irrevocably. His assignment, however, may turn out to be his redemption. This is a beautiful story about the moral ambiguity of wartime and the conflicts between loyalty and love.

A Delightful Classic

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If you want a classic for your summer reading list, but aren’t in the mood for Grapes of Wrath, look no further than North and South by Victorian writer Elizabeth Gaskell. Gaskell explores the industrial revolution and how it affected individual lives. In North & South, Margaret Hale is forced by family circumstances to leave her idealic life in the country and move to the northern industrial town of Milton. Her sympathy for the town mill workers is challenged by her increasing insight into the sentiments of mill owner, John Thornton. Watching Margaret wake up to complexities of life while remaining a sympathetic and kind human being is challenging and delightful at the same time. We also have the BBC version of the film which lingered in my mind for days after.

Jantsen’s Gift, a True Story of Grief, Rescue and Grace by Pam Cope

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Jantsen’s Gift “… Pam Cope owned a hair salon in Neosho, a tiny southwest Missouri town, and her husband, Randy, had just been appointed vice president of a company that ran a string of newspapers …. Their lives revolved around their son’s baseball games, their daughter’s dance lessons …. ‘My world was very small,’ said Mrs. Cope… ‘I was pretty shallow.”New York Times
On June 16, 1999, her life changed forever. Her fifteen year old son, Jantsen, died suddenly from an undiagnosed heart ailment. Her tribute to her son and her determination –comes alive in Jantsen’s Gift.

Her sadness was overwhelming—until she accepted a friend’s invitation to visit orphanages in Vietnam. Pam found her mission: to change the world– one small step, one child at a time.

“Early last month, Mrs. Cope returned from Ghana, where she had financed the rescue of seven children who were working as indentured servants on fishing boats for as little as $20 a year. … Mark Kwadwo, 6, had labored in dire conditions under a brutal fisherman who beat him when he did not get up at midnight to bail out canoes.Working with a small Ghanaian charity, Mrs. Cope paid $3,600 to free the children and found them a new home in an orphanage near Accra, the capital. After years of privation, the children were dumbstruck by the plentiful breakfast served at the orphanage, caregivers there said.

Mrs. Cope’s trip to Ghana followed journeys to Vietnam and Cambodia, where she and her husband help finance shelters for needy children and their families, and where the Copes adopted two Vietnamese children. The little hair salon, with its cozy peach and green decor, is a dim memory. Mrs. Cope is now a fund-raiser and executive of Touch a Life Ministries, an organization she and her husband started to help desperate children in faraway places.” New York Times

Summertime Reading

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Recently a friend of mine rejected my book recommendation. When she pulled it from her stack of books at the pool, she decided that she absolutely could not read this book until fall. Ok, I’ve learned my lesson. Books have their seasons as well as their readers. If you’re looking for something light and fun to read by the pool, in the plane, or under a tree, try these summer reads.

American Thighs: the Sweet Potato Queens’ guide to preserving your assets by Jill Conner Browne is a hilarious life maintenance program to help women navigate society’s obsession with nips, tucks, carbs, and clothes.

Savannah Breeze by Mary Kay Andrews is the fun story of Southern belle BeBe Loudermilk. After being romanced a swindled by a conman, she starts over with all she has left, a run-down motor hotel in a quirky beach town.

In The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Alexander McCall Smith takes us to contemporary Botswana. Precious Ramotswe decides to go against tradition and start her own detective agency, staffed only by women. Publisher Weekly calls it a “little gem of a book”.

Don’t forget that you can raise the fun quotient in your summer reading by joining in the Adult Summer Reading Program. That’s right: prizes for adults for reading!