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Words and Their Meanings by Kate Bassett

Sat, 11/15/2014 - 9:53am
Words and Their Meanings is a young adult, debut novel that adults will appreciate as much as teens.  Anna’s Uncle Joe died after a brief illness. A college student only a few years older than Anna, he was raised as her brother, her confidant, and her best friend and Anna can’t cope with the loss in this smart, inventive, insightful tale. Anna’s first-person rendering of her grief makes for a “littmus lozenge” of a story.  If you read Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn-Dixie, you’ll recall that Littmus Lozenges were a special candy that tasted both sweet and sad. They tasted of melancholy and made people recall happiness and sorrow. Words and Their Meanings is a wonder of a story that, like an enchanted “littmus lozenge” confection, inhabits the reader and creates a magical place where joy and grief can both abide.
Anna’s family and friends worry about her and she’s promised that on Joe’s one-year “deadaversary” she’ll stop her peculiar mourning. Does that mean that she’ll quit practicing her invention of “coffin yoga” which means that every day she lies still as if she were dead while concentrating on her morbid thoughts? Will she stop writing unsettling quotes from rocker Patti Smith on her arm?  Will she start writing her own words again? Or will her parents have to take more drastic measures than her current therapy?  
Anna has no desire to reconnect with the world.  She’s always been acknowledged as an amazing writer and she’s lived for her writing but since Joe died, she can’t even consider putting words on paper.  And that’s a real problem because words – and their meanings – were her life. Then a strange note indicates that Joe may have had secrets he’d kept from her and Anna’s grandfather has an accident and Anna must think beyond herself.  That, of course, becomes the right time to give in to romance - again allowing Anna to see the world and its meaning through someone else’s eyes.
This could have been a gloomy tale but it’s a lively, yet intentionally thoughtful, story of Anna’s growth and it’s told in realistic, adolescent language. There’s no dumbing down, just the truth as a word-loving teen would speak it. One reason everything works is that Bassett uses ingenious, yet fitting, devices to relate information.  Anna’s grandfather’s origami paper cranes tell secrets and allow the reader to watch Anna unfold them.
Another wonderful aspect of this novel is that the characters in it reflect the real world especially the setting, a place similar to the author’s hometown.  At the Words and Their Meanings launch, I asked Bassett about her populating the novel with teens of different races and backgrounds not just the upper middle class white teens seen in most YA novels.  She said that since she’d grown up in Saginaw, Michigan, she was writing what she knew.  It shows in her writing and it enriches the book. Buy this book because it’s a great read and will give thoughtful teens and adults much to ponder.  As a bonus, buy this book because it reflects the real America not the “white washed” pretend America often seen in young adult and children’s literature.    
Summing it Up:  Words and Their Meanings will appeal to teens that think, adults that love good writing combined with a strong story, and readers of every age that appreciate a strong voice. 
Note: This paperback original is the perfect stocking stuffer for your favorite teen.
Rating: 5 stars    Category: Book Club, Diet Coke and Gummi Bears, Fiction, Five Stars, GourmetPublication date: September 11, 2014Author Website: http://katebassettbooks.com/Interviews with the Author: ·         http://harborlightnews.com/main.asp?SectionID=11&SubSectionID=57&ArticleID=17367·         http://www.sarazarr.com/archives/3556What Others are Saying:Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kate-bassett/words-and-their-meanings/
School Library Journal: http://www.slj.com/2014/08/reviews/grades-5-up/young-adult-titles-of-tragedy-and-triumph-fiction-grades-9-up/

The Remedy for Love by Bill Roorbach

Wed, 10/01/2014 - 3:31pm
Eric, an upright lawyer, meets disheveled Danielle in the check-out line where she doesn’t have enough money to pay for her groceries in the latest novel from critically acclaimed, yet relatively unknown, author Bill Roorbach.
“Idly, Eric watched her unload her cart: he knew her situation too well. Sooner or later she’d be in trouble, either victim or perpetrator, and sooner or later he or one of seven other local lawyers would be called upon to defend her, or whomever had hurt her, a distasteful task in a world in which no social problem was addressed till it was a disaster, no compensation.  Ten years before, new at the game, he might have had some sympathy, but he’d been burned repeatedly.”
Despite his lack of compassion, Eric reluctantly chips in for her oranges, carrots, cans of baked beans, tortilla chips, Pop-tarts, freshly ground coffee, two boxes of wine, a big bottle of Advil, six boxes of generic mac and cheese, and oodles of packages of ramen noodles and both leave the store.
“A huge snowstorm was predicted, first big snow of the season, the inaugural flakes desultorily falling, some kind of unusual confluence of low-pressure and high-pressure and rogue systems, lots of blather on the radio as if a little snow were nuclear warfare or an asteroid bearing down.  Eric liked his old Ford Explorer at times like this, even though (as Alison always said) it was a gas pig.  He put his groceries in the back, if you could call them groceries, and swung out and across the glazed lot – last week’s ice storm – and there was the young woman, staggering and limping under that mountain of a coat but making determined progress, her seven plastic bags hanging from her arms like dead animals.  Eric pulled up beside her but she didn’t stop walking, didn’t look.
“I can give you a lift,” he called.
“Okay,” she said to his surprise, still without looking. He’d expected her to demur in some proud way.”
After driving over six miles Eric helps Danielle walk to a cabin at the end of a narrow, steep path aside a river -- a 30-minute trudge from the highway where Eric’s Explorer gets towed while he’s helping her.  He returns to the cabin and the two end up snowbound.
Quickly Eric’s check-out line prediction returned to this reader’s mind and caused me to wonder if Danielle is a social problem that should have been addressed or if she’s simply alone and isolated as Eric himself is even with all his resources.  Eric wants to rescue Danielle yet she soon learns that he hasn’t done all that well at rescuing himself and still hasn’t admitted that his long separation from his wife is real and would probably soon become permanent.
As these two lonely people slowly reveal themselves while the storm rages, Roorbach is at his best sharing their stories in refreshingly unexpected ways. He conveys their secrets not as stark “ah-hahs” but as sighing, believable manifestations. His depictions aren’t just plausible, they’re funny. Eric and Danielle reminded me of Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in “It Happened One Night,” a movie that’s a classic comedy because its humor both disarms and involves the viewer. Hapless, stranded Eric’s and Danielle’s sexual attraction is simultaneously erotic and witty and that, my friends, is a recipe for an endearing romance that’s as appealing today as is the 1934 Oscar winner.
And the storm, oh the storm -- Roorbach’s descriptions could serve as a textbook for aspiring writers as he artfully depicts the blizzard’s torment:  
“Outside the storm was howling, a different kind of snow altogether, curtains of it blowing, already drifted to knee-deep in sculpted ridges along the ground, coming so thick and furious it was as if legions of dump trucks were emptying their loads in his face, in the world’s face, misery:  the jostling wind, the river coursing black below.”
"Something hit the roof with a thud.  Then something else, and again, and then there was a roaring like unstopping surf and bigger, jostling thumps and then cracks like lightning straight above and something crashing toward them, rumbling louder and louder inside the howling, a tsunami approaching.  Suddenly the cabin heaved on its moorings with a deep moan and squeal.”
“Then silence, then odd sighs from the woodwork, then a creaking that turned into a growling, like a creature in the yard, something that wanted to get in.”
Later: “The wind had died down.  The cabin had ceased its complaining.”
This comedic, yet sultry, sexy romance of a tale complete with engrossingly real survival scenes and shimmering prose ultimately becomes an ode to life and love. That two unlikely specimens could stumble upon each other (and themselves) during the latest “storm of the century” is enough to make anyone believe in the power of love. This is definitely on the short list for the best book I’ve read this year.
Summing it Up: Roorbach weaves equal parts survival adventure, poignant romance, slapstick comedy, and brilliantly evoked nature scenes into a colorful tapestry that will entice the most cynical reader.  It was tough for me to even think about doing anything but reading this in one sitting. 
Note: The Remedy for Love has just been named a finalist for the Kirkus Prize for nonfiction.
Rating: 5 stars    Category: Grandma’s Pot Roast/Gourmet, Five Stars, Fiction, Book ClubPublication date: October 14, 2014Author Website: http://www.billroorbach.com/Interview with the Author: http://carolineleavittville.blogspot.com/2014/09/bill-roorbach-talks-about-remedy-for.html
Interview with the Author: http://www.omnivoracious.com/2014/10/peter-heller-the-painter-interviews-bill-roorbach-the-remedy-for-love.htmlWhat Others are Saying:Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/bill-roorbach/remedy-for-love/
Publishers Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-61620-331-3

In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides

Mon, 08/25/2014 - 4:23pm
Thirty-three men, 54,000 pounds of pemmican, 2,500 pounds of roast mutton, 3,000 pounds of stewed and corned beef, 3,000 pounds of salt pork, 100 pounds of tongue, 150 pounds of beef extract, a dozen barrels of concentrated lime juice to combat scurvy, barrels of brandy, porter, ale, sherry, whiskey, rum, and cases of Budweiser beer, “250 gallons of sperm oil, hundreds of pounds of tallow, thousands of wicks, and all manner of lamps – bull’s eye lanterns, globe lanterns, bunker lanterns, hand lanterns,” fifteen arc lights provided by Thomas Edison, two of Alexander Graham Bell’s new telephones for over-the-ice communication, and a host of other necessities sailed from San Francisco toward the North Pole.  Hampton Sides reveals their 1879 journey in this thrilling account. The men expected to enter a northern gulf stream that would create open waters after they broke through a “girdle” of ice pack north of the Bering Strait because that’s what prevailing theory said would be there.  Their ship, the USS Jeannette, had three masts, a reinforced bow, and an extra steam engine but it was still essentially just a wooden ship heading into what we now know was a sea of ice. Still, they had the financial support of one of the world’s wealthiest men and the scientific and engineering expertise of the U.S. Navy and some of the world’s best minds.  They also had a hand-picked crew that might make up for overly optimistic prognostications with incredible courage, skills, and downright decency. They were the darlings of the media especially since their benefactor, James Gordon Bennett, Jr., saw the voyage as a way to increase circulation of his newspapers as had his earlier folly in dispatching Stanley to find Livingston in Africa. Everyone in the world was following their expedition.
Using expedition leader Lt. George Washington De Long’s own accounts along with logs and journals by the ship’s doctor and others, Sides weaves an entertaining account of the preparations for the trek and of the harrowing encounters with ice, hunger, storms, and error-filled maps. This book is worth reading simply for the pleasure of learning about De Long, a leader, whose preparations, continuous reassessments, and careful trust in the right men to do their specific tasks could be used as a collegiate course in effective management skills.
While much of the world knew of this journey in 1879, we know very little about it and that makes this book read like a suspense-filled thriller.  I am so grateful that I didn’t know what eventually happened on the journeyso I was able to follow the ship’s trek without any expectations.  Some reviews give away the ending. Don’t read them until after you read Sides’ tale.  His exceptional journalistic skills honed reporting for “Outside” magazine and writing about World War II rescues in his previous best seller, Ghost Soldiers, make this a thrilling page turner.
Summing it Up: Read this to learn about the expedition that attempted to find an open passage to the North Pole via the Bering Strait and the waters north of Alaska and Siberia in 1879.  Savor it for the intimate view of the lives of the remarkable men who sailed on the Jeannette.
Rating:  Five stars    Category: Five Stars, Nonfiction, Super Nutrition, Book ClubPublication date: August 5, 2014Read an Excerpt: http://www.scribd.com/doc/236726179/In-the-Kingdom-of-IceInterview with the Author: http://www.npr.org/2014/08/02/337149427/in-1879-explorers-set-sail-to-solve-arctic-mystery-once-and-for-allWhat Others are Saying:Christian Science Monitor: http://www.csmonitor.com/Books/Book-Reviews/2014/0813/In-the-Kingdom-of-Ice-follows-a-disaster-ridden-journey-to-the-North-Pole
Kirkus Reviews (Warning: this contains spoilers; read it after reading the book.): https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/hampton-sides/in-the-kingdom-of-ice/
New York Times: (Warning: this contains spoilers; read it after reading the book.): http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/17/books/review/in-the-kingdom-of-ice-by-hampton-sides.html
Publishers Weekly: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-385-53537-3
Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/book-review-in-the-kingdom-of-ice-polar-voyage-of-uss-jeannette-by-hampton-sides/2014/08/01/8482add6-f58f-11e3-a3a5-42be35962a52_story.html