Tuesday, March 28, 2017

PICTURE BOOK - The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy by Beatrice Alemagna

Illustrated by the author
2015 Enchanted Lion Books, originally published 2014 in France
40 pgs. - one that opens out
Goodreads rating: 3.61 (470 ratings)
My rating: 4
Endpapers front: shocking pink
Endpapers back:  all the characters
Illustrations: watercolors over line art, some collage

My comments:  What a fun, fanciful story!  There's  a lot to like about this picture book.  I adore the illustrations (always love it when there's a little collage-y touches thrown in, as well as "lines" worked into the overall artwork).  The shocking pink endpapers, continuing into the story, are wonderful, as is the illustration on the closing endpaper.  There's so much to see on every page!  Perfect for five year olds...and four year olds...and six year olds....

Goodreads:  Eddie is five and a half, and thinks she is the only one in her family who isn’t really good at something.  So when she hears her little sister say “birthday—Mommy—fluffy—little—squishy,” it’s extra important for her to find this amazing present before anyone else does.  So, gregarious, charming, clever little Eddie goes all around the neighborhood to all her fabulous friends—the florist, the chic boutique owner, the antiques dealer, and even the intimidating butcher—to find one.  It’s a magical adventure that draws on Eddie’s special gifts, ones that she herself learns to appreciate.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

16 Years Now, I Can't Believe It!

Here's the post I put onto Facebook today:

     16 years ago today the world lost Steve Graves, a particularly good human being. To continue my commitment to making sure he isn't forgotten, I will continue my quest to make a difference in the world   on his behalf. Three years ago I decided to donate $14 to 14 different nonprofits in his memory. For the third year in a row I will do this – give $16 to 16 different nonprofits in his memory. And again, I'm asking anyone who might have known him or anyone who cares about me to take a moment in the next few days to give $16 to someone or somewhere that you think it will do good. And, I'd love to know what you decided to do!
     I miss him. I think of him a lot. I still cry a bit. But I look at the joy and reality of our two children and four grandchildren and continue to feel totally amazed. And grateful.
     If you've read this far, thanks so much for listening to my ramblings. Long live the memory of Steven T. Graves!

People who joined me:
Tamar Kugler (yay, Mika is deciding where!)
Kirstie Dunbar-Kari - a church near her who feeds and shelters the homeless (CA)
Cyra Sadowl - she'll let me know where when she decides
Rebecca Mann - Crohns and Colitis Foundation (go, Sarah!)
Mallory Linscott - New Horizons, Manchester, NH
Ann & Bill Paine - Thomas Promise Fdtn. (FL) Operation Backpack (no child will go hungry over the weekends)
Joan Preble - Ellsworth (ME) Backpack program (feeding kids over the weekend)
Lisa deMuro - Home Cooked Healing, Bar Harbor, ME (feeding cancer patients)
Iris Eichenlaub - Serve-a-Thon - service projects in the Rockland-Camden (ME) area
Chris Coose - He's IN!!!
Jan Ordway - She's in, too!

So let's start donating!

JDRF - Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation - website (in honor of Ashley)
Friends of Acadia - website (Steve loved the carriage paths for running)
Mount Desert Island YMCA - website (where Brendan spends half his life in the pool)
Home Cooked Healing (through Beth C. Wright Cancer Ctr) - website
Ben's Bells, Tucson AZ - website
Heifer International - website
Project Linus - website
Donors Choose - website (I chose to help a middle school reading class in Belfast, ME needing graphic novels)
Days for Girls - website
Planned Parenthood - website
American Red Cross - website (Steve always donated blood - lots of it)

.....ELEVEN done FIVEto go.....

MOVIE - The Sense of an Ending

Limited release 3/10/17
Viewed Sunday 3/26/17 at The Majestic Theater in Gettysburg
IMBd: 6.8/10
RT Critic:  71  Audience:  55
Critic's Consensus:   Anchored by a strong starring performance by Jim Broadbent, The Sense of an Ending proves consistently gripping even as it skims the narrative surface of its literary source material.
Cag:  4.5  Liked it a whole lot - had to figure out
Directed by Ritesh Batra
CBS Films

James Broadbent, Charlotte Rampling, Matthew Goode, Emily Mortimer

My comments:  This was a good one, a movie that kept you thinking and guessing and wondering what direction you'd be traveling in next.  Tony's story is told through flashbacks and coming-to-terms with current happenings and mysteries. I could relate to the settings...contemporary times when one is in their 60's and late high school year almost 50 years ago.  I felt it.  I liked it....

RT/ IMDb Summary:  Tony Webster leads a reclusive and quiet existence until long buried secrets from his past force him to face the flawed recollections of his younger self, the truth about his first love and the devastating consequences of decisions made a lifetime ago.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

18. American Street by Ibi Zoboi

read on my iPhone
20117, Balzer & Bray
336 pgs.
Finished 3/25/16
Goodreads rating: 4.14 (601 ratings)
My rating: 2 and 4
Setting: Contemporary inner city Detroit

First line/s: "If only I could break the glass between me and Manman with my thoughts alone."

My comments: I have no clue how or what to rate this book.  It took me to a place that I don't know.  At all.  What happens when a smart immigrant girl from Haiti is thrust directly into the midst of the toughest streets of contemporary Detroit without the mother who has always nurtured and guided her and with only her voodoo spirit guides and street-savvy cousins?  Will that girl do anything - anything - to get her imprisoned mother back?  I don't know what it's like to be a black American or a black immigrant, I don't know what it's like to live in the inner-city with its full share of violence and drugs.  I don't know anything about Haiti, or voodoo.  And a much as I try to empathize, all I know is what I hear on the news.  This book takes you much closer than the news.  Much.  Closer.  And it's heartbreaking.

Goodreads synopsis:  The rock in the water does not know the pain of the rock in the sun.
          On the corner of American Street and Joy Road, Fabiola Toussaint thought she would finally find une belle vie—a good life.
          But after they leave Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Fabiola’s mother is detained by U.S. immigration, leaving Fabiola to navigate her loud American cousins, Chantal, Donna, and Princess; the grittiness of Detroit’s west side; a new school; and a surprising romance, all on her own.
          Just as she finds her footing in this strange new world, a dangerous proposition presents itself, and Fabiola soon realizes that freedom comes at a cost. Trapped at the crossroads of an impossible choice, will she pay the price for the American dream?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

PICTURE BOOK - The Great Spruce by John Duvall

Illustrated by Rebecca Gibbon
2016, GP Putnams Sons
32 pgs.
Goodreads rating:  3.72 (122 ratings)
My rating:  4
Endpapers:  FRONT:  Pineforest green with sprills, bugs, owls, birds, and even a mouse and a snail scattered across the page.
BACK:  Same pine forest green with sprills, but with ornaments instead of fauna.  Clever!

My comments:  I have, in recent years, fretted quite a bit about the huge coniferous tree that has been cut each year to adorn Rockefeller Center at Christmastime.  This well-written book gives a grand message about ecology without being preachy.  Cleverly done, Mr. Duvall!  I loved the illustrations, they reminded me of some of the Golden Books I read as a child.  Not just for Christmas, but for the whole year through.

Goodreads:  Together with his grandpa, a young boy finds a way to save his favorite tree in this heartwarming Christmas tale
           Alec loves to climb trees—the little apple trees, the wide willow trees, even the tall locust trees. But his favorite is the great spruce, with its sturdy trunk and branches that stretch up to the sky. Alec’s grandpa planted it as a sapling years and years before Alec was born, and every Christmas, Alec and his grandpa decorate the tree together, weaving tinsel and lights through its branches, making it shine bright.
           But one day, a few curious men from the nearby city take notice of Alec’s glistening great spruce, and ask to take it away for their Christmas celebration. Though it’s a huge honor, Alec’s heartbroken at the idea of losing his friend. With great courage and creativity, Alec comes up with a plan to save his favorite tree in this joyful holiday tale.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

MOVIE- Beauty and the Beast

PG (2:09)
Wide release 3/17/17
Viewed 3/21/17 at Carlisle 8 with Ella
IMBd: 7.9/10
RT Critic:  70  Audience:  86
Critic's Consensus:  With an enchanting cast, beautifully crafted songs, and a painterly eye for detail, Beauty and the Beast offers a faithful yet fresh retelling that honors its beloved source material.
Cag:  3.5 Liked it, especially the music
Directed by Bill Condon
Walt Disney Pictures

Emma Watson, Emma Thompson, Kevin Kline, 

My comments:  I was really looking forward to this, and took Ella after dinner at the bar at Applebees.  We settled into our comfy reclining seats with great expectation.  Was it as wonderful as we expected?  Unfortunately, not for either of us.  I loved the music.  And the actors.  But the animated spectaculars dragged on and on for me.  Ella got scared in a couple of places.  She told me she was going to have nightmares, and covered her face at one point.  So afterwards, in the car, I asked her about it. Spoiler alert:  In the scene where Belle and the Beast are transported back to Paris where she was born and her mother died had no meaning for ten-year-old Ella.  She didn't understand any of it, and the picture of the doctor with what she described as a "duck mask" was really, really creepy to her since she didn't understand the context.  She told me she felt much better after I explained what a plague was, did, and why they had to get the baby out of there fast. Emma Watson is adorable, and I loved Kevin Klein as her father.  But yes, unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed.

RT/ IMDb Summary:  The fantastic journey of Belle, a bright, beautiful and independent young woman who is taken prisoner by a beast in his castle. Despite her fears, she befriends the castle's enchanted staff and learns to look beyond the Beast's hideous exterior and realize the kind heart and soul of the true Prince within.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

17. Lyrebird Hill

read by Eloise Oxer, gorgeously!
listened to on Audible
2015 Simon & Schuster Australia
416 pgs.
14 hrs. 11 minutes
Adult CRF / Historical (flipping back and forth)
Finished 3-19-17
Goodreads rating: 4.0 (584 ratings)
My rating: 4.5
Setting: 1898 and 2013 New South Wales and Tasmania, Australia

First line/s: (Prologue, August, 1898) "It is midnight.  I am hunched on the cold floor of the library, scratching these words."

My comments:  4.5 I couldn't wait to get back to this each time I had to leave it.  The story, though a little drawn out in places, was for the most part believable and excellently told.  It flipped back and forth between 1898 and 2013.  Eloise Oxer, the reader, was fantastic.  Her lilting voice and Australian accent put me right there in the bush, at Lyrebird Hill, or in Tasmania, immediately.  Unfolding are two different stories, of great-granddaughter and great-grandmother, more than a century apart.  In a way, perhaps because of the setting and alternating chapters back and forth, it reminded me of one of my favorite books, also set in Australia, The Forgotten Garden.  Delicious storytelling.

Goodreads synopsis:  When all that you know comes crashing down, do you run? Or face the truth?
          Ruby Cardel has the semblance of a normal life – a loving boyfriend, a fulfilling career – but in one terrible moment, her life unravels. The discovery that the death of her sister, Jamie, was not an accident makes her question all she’s known about herself and her past.
          Traveling back home to Lyrebird Hill, Ruby begins to remember the year that has been forever blocked in her memory . . . Snatches of her childhood with beautiful Jamie, and Ruby’s only friendship with the boy from the next property, a troubled foster kid.
          Then Ruby uncovers a cache of ancient letters from a long-lost relative, Brenna Magavin, written from her cell in a Tasmanian gaol where she is imprisoned for murder. As she reads, Ruby discovers that her family line is littered with tragedy and violence.
          Slowly, the gaps in Ruby’s memory come to her. And as she pieces together the shards of truth, what she finally discovers will shock her to the core – about what happened to Jamie that fateful day, and how she died.
          A thrilling tale about family secrets and trusting yourself...

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Stories Told in VERSE

Young Adult

Crossan, Sarah, The Weight of Water, 2012 (5)
Engle, Margarita, The Firefly Letters, 2010 (4)
Hopkins, Ellen, Burned, 2006 (3)
Schroeder, Lisa - The Day Before, 2011 (4)
Sones, Sonya, What My Mother Doesn't Know, 2001 (4)
Stone, Tanya Lee, A Bad Boy Can Be Good for a Girl, 2006 (4)
Thompson, Holly,  The Language Inside, 2013 (4)

Middle Grades

Bernier-Grand, Carmen T., Frida, 2007 (5)
Calhoun, Dia, After the River the Sun, 2013 (4)
Creech, Sharon, Hate That Cat, 2008 (5)
Creech, Sharon, Love That Dog, 2001 (5)
Creech, Sharon, Moo, 2016 (4.5)
Holt, K. A., House Arrest, 2015 (5)
Rose, Caroline Starr, May B, a Novel, 2012 (3)
Shovan, Laura, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, 2016 (4)
Zimmer, Tracie Vaughn, Reaching for Sun, 2007 (4)


Bryant, Jen, Pieces of Georgia, 2006 (4)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

12. The Buried Book by D. M. Pulley

listened on Audible
read by Luke Daniels
2016 Lake Union Publishing
412 pgs.
Adult Historical Fiction/Mystery
Finished 2/28/17
Goodreads rating: 3.99 (3,515 ratings)
My rating: 4.5
Setting:1952 Michigan farm country just outside of Detroit

First line/s:  "Jasper."
"Mmmm," he mumbled.
"Jasper, wake up."

My comments:  Although this book was somewhat slow-going at times, I couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen next.  There were many things to like about the book:  the storyline, the setting, the point of view, and the characters.  Set in 1952, mostly in the rural farmland of Michigan, the story is told through the eyes of a nine-year-old boy, a nine-year-old who is trying to make sense of his very complicated world.  The world of 65 years ago is very different from the world of today...but it is also very similar.  Corruption, drugs, moonshine, degenerate (in this case) males taking advantage of young females, horrible treatment of Native Americans, poverty, dishonest cops, holier-than-though Christians....oh my, there were some very bleak parts.  But well worth the read.  All in all a very well told story that I will not easily forget.

Goodreads synopsis:  When Althea Leary abandons her nine-year-old son, Jasper, he’s left on his uncle’s farm with nothing but a change of clothes and a Bible.
          It’s 1952, and Jasper isn’t allowed to ask questions or make a fuss. He’s lucky to even have a home and must keep his mouth shut and his ears open to stay in his uncle’s good graces. No one knows where his mother went or whether she’s coming back. Desperate to see her again, he must take matters into his own hands. From the farm, he embarks on a treacherous search that will take him to the squalid hideaways of Detroit and back again, through tawdry taverns, peep shows, and gambling houses.
          As he’s drawn deeper into an adult world of corruption, scandal, and murder, Jasper uncovers the shocking past still chasing his mother—and now it’s chasing him too.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

MOVIE: Fifty Shades Darker

R (1:58)
Wide release 2/10/17
Viewed Sunday, 2/26/17 at Carlisle 8
IMBd: 4.8/10
RT Critic:  9  Audience:  54
Critic's Consensus:  Lacking enough chemistry, heat, or narrative friction to satisfy, the limp Fifty Shades Darker wants to be kinky but only serves as its own form of punishment.
Cag:  3.5/Liked it 
Directed by James Foley
Universal Pictures
Based on the book by E. L. James

Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Marcia Gay Harden

My comments: I'll watch Jamie Dornan in anything, including this.  I think the movie has a little more substance than the book, but Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan just don't seem to "fit" well enough for me.  Marcia Gay Harden, as always, is wonderful, and putting Kim Basinger in the Mrs. Robinson role is just perfect.  So, all in all, a fairly enjoyable movie to watch, a perfect one to wile away a Sunday evening in the middle of the winter - especially when you get to watch the big screen in a recliner!

RT/ IMDb Summary:  When a wounded Christian Grey tries to entice a cautious Ana Steele back into his life, she demands a new arrangement before she will give him another chance. As the two begin to build trust and find stability, shadowy figures from Christian's past start to circle the couple, determined to destroy their hopes for a future together.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

11. The Leaving of Things by Jay Antani

read on my Kindle
2013 Bandwagon PRESS
368 pgs.
I would consider it YA, but think it is actually considered Adult - CRF
Finished 2.23.17
Goodreads rating:  3.78 (1871 ratings)
My rating: 4
Contemporary India

First line/s:

My comments:  I actually decided to read this because I love the cover!  For the last dozen years or so, I've had quite a fascination with India, so this novel at this time suited me quite well.  Set in the late 1980s, it reads like a memoir.  Vikram is a young man just graduated from high school who, after living for the last twelve years in Wisconsin, is forced to move back to India with his family.  He doesn't want to.  He has friends, a girlfriend, and college to look forward to.  Back in his native land it is hard to reconcile the American teenager he has become with the oh-so-strange country of his birth.  The story tells of his first year back in India, the homesickness he feels for America, as well as the enlightenment and thrill of new and incredibly different sights, sounds, smells, foods, language, customs, and lifestyle.  This glimpse into modern day (well, almost modern day) India is both fascinating and interesting.

Goodreads synopsis:  Vikram is not your model Indian-American teenager. Rebellious and adrift in late 1980s Wisconsin, he is resentful of his Indian roots and has no clue what he wants from his future—other than to escape his family’s life of endless moving and financial woes. But after a drunken weekend turns disastrous, Vikram’s outraged parents decide to pack up the family and return to India—permanently.
          So begins a profound journey of self-discovery as Vikram, struggling with loneliness, culture shock, and the chaos of daily Indian life, finds his creativity awakened by a new romance and an old camera. His artistic gifts bring him closer to a place and family he barely knew. But a devastating family crisis challenges Vikram’s sense of his destiny, hurtling him toward a crossroads where he must make the fateful choice between India, the land of his soul, and America, the land of his heart

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

10. Still Waters by Viveca Sten

(Sandhamm #1)
Listened on Audible
Translated from Swedish
2015 Amazon Crossing
387 pgs.
Adult Mystery
Finished 2/22/17
Goodreads rating: 3.64 (5255 ratings)
My rating: 3
Setting: Contemporary Sandhamm Island, Sweden

My comments: This was translated from Swedish and is the first in a series of eight.  The first two have been translated but it doesn't look like the last six have been.  This was a good mystery, which I was very much in the mood for.  Set on one of the islands in the archipelago off Stockholm, Sweden, the story is told from two different perspectives, two adults who have been best friends since childhood.  Thomas Andreasen is a Stockholm cop.  Nora Linde is a mom and lawyer, married to a self-centered doctor.  Nora helps Thomas solve the mystery much more than any "friend" in the US would ever be allowed to do.  I would've been happy with a little less of Nora's life and problems with more focus on just the meat and potatoes of the mystery.  So I guess I liked 60% (the setting and mystery) of the book and didn't so much like 40% (the chick-lit parts) of the book..

Goodreads synopsis:  On a hot July morning on Sweden’s idyllic vacation island of Sandhamn, a man takes his dog for a walk and makes a gruesome discovery: a body, tangled in fishing net, has washed ashore.          
          Police detective Thomas Andreasson is the first to arrive on the scene. Before long, he has identified the deceased as Krister Berggren, a bachelor from the mainland who has been missing for months. All signs point to an accident—until another brutalized corpse is found at the local bed-and-breakfast. But this time it is Berggren’s cousin, whom Thomas interviewed in Stockholm just days before.          
          As the island’s residents reel from the news, Thomas turns to his childhood friend, local lawyer Nora Linde. Together, they attempt to unravel the riddles left behind by these two mysterious outsiders—while trying to make sense of the difficult twists their own lives have taken since the shared summer days of their youth.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

9. The Magician's Elephant- Kate DiCamillo

listened on Audible
2009 Candlewick Press
201 pgs.(I read/listened to about 80 of them)
Middle Grade Fantasy
Feb. 17-18-19, 2017
Goodreads rating: 3.82 (15,420 ratings)
My rating: 1/DNF 'cause I hated it

My comments:  I keep trying to get into Kate DiCamillo's fantastical realms, but I can't.  I loved Because of Winn Dixie, and Raymie Nightingale, but I haven't liked a single other of hers.  And this really bums me out!  I listened to 40% and decided there are so many other books out there waiting for me to read that I'd pass on finishing.  Yuck.

Goodreads synopsis:  In a highly awaited new novel, Kate DiCamillo conjures a haunting fable about trusting the unexpected — and making the extraordinary come true.
          What if? Why not? Could it be?
          When a fortuneteller's tent appears in the market square of the city of Baltese, orphan Peter Augustus Duchene knows the questions that he needs to ask: Does his sister still live? And if so, how can he find her? The fortuneteller's mysterious answer (an elephant! An elephant will lead him there!) sets off a chain of events so remarkable, so impossible, that you will hardly dare to believe it’s true. With atmospheric illustrations by fine artist Yoko Tanaka, here is a dreamlike and captivating tale that could only be narrated by Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo. In this timeless fable, she evokes the largest of themes — hope and belonging, desire and compassion — with the lightness of a magician’s touch.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

8. Crow Hollow - Michael Wallace

read on my Kindle
2015, Lake Union Publishing
335 pgs.
Adult historical fiction
Finished 2/18/17
Goodreads rating: 3.65 (7156 ratings)
My rating: 4
Setting: 1676 Massachusetts - Boston west to Springfield

First line/s: "James Bailey stared down from the main deck of the Vigilant as it eased up to the wharves, a knot of excitement forming in his belly."

My comments:  This was quite a satisfying historical fiction novel.  Puritan Boston/New England has always fascinated me ever since, years ago, I studied the history and artwork of some of the first cemeteries in eastern Massachusetts.  Most easily accessible narration about the time period, however, is based around the Salem witch trials, of which I'm quite tired.  This is the story of Englishman James Bailey who, in December 1676, is emissary for England's King Charles, who has come to Boston to find out why Benjamin Cotton, the King's man in charge of Boston, has been killed in Indian uprisings.  Here he encounters Prudence Cotton, widow of Benjamin Cotton, who has written an account of her capture and imprisonment by the Nipmuc Indian tribe and has some questions of her own.  The story kept me interested throughout, and I learned quite a bit about the time, place, and history of the time.

Goodreads synopsis:  In 1676, an unlikely pair—a young Puritan widow and an English spy—journeys across a land where greed and treachery abound.  
          Prudence Cotton has recently lost her husband and is desperate to find her daughter, captured by the Nipmuk tribe during King Philip’s war. She’s convinced her daughter is alive but cannot track her into the wilderness alone. Help arrives in the form of James Bailey, an agent of the crown sent to Boston to investigate the murder of Prudence’s husband and to covertly cause a disturbance that would give the king just cause to install royal governors. After his partner is murdered, James needs help too. He strikes a deal with Prudence, and together they traverse the forbidding New England landscape looking for clues. What they confront in the wilderness—and what they discover about each other—could forever change their allegiances and alter their destinies.

Monday, February 13, 2017

7. The Gray and Guilty Sea by Jack Nolte - now using his real name, Scott William Carter

Garrison Gage #1
Listened on Audible
Audio read by Steven Roy Grimsley
2010 Flying Raven Press
268 pgs.
Adult Murder Mystery
Finished 2-13-17 while unpacking my house
Goodreads rating: 3.82 (3087 ratings)
My rating: 4
Setting: Contemporary Oregon coast - small town tourist community

My comments:  This book was a nice discovery.  It had a really interesting external mystery as well as the protagonist's internal turmoils about his past, present, disabilities, and relationship hangups.  Garrison Gage has a curmudgeonly wit and a really good detective's way of looking at evidence and coming up with numerous possibilities.  I also really enjoyed the writing - there were super descriptions without being tedious; similes and metaphors that made me smile; and some really beautiful language.  I look forward to the next in the series, not only to see if and how his previously-retired private investigations will continue, but what he's going to do about the burgeoning relationships that have been forged in this book.

Goodreads synopsis:  A curmudgeon. An iconoclast. A loner. That's how people describe Garrison Gage, and that's when they're being charitable. After his wife is brutally murdered in New York, and Gage himself is beaten nearly to death, the crippled misanthrope retreats three thousand miles to the quaint coastal town of Barnacle Bluffs, Oregon. He spends the next five years in a convalescent stupor, content to bide his time filling out crossword puzzles and trying to forget that his wife's death is his fault. But all that changes when he discovers the body of a young woman washed up on the beach, and his conscience draws him back into his old occupation, forcing him to confront the demons of his own guilt before he can hope to solve the girl's murder.