MIDNIGHT AT THE BRIGHT IDEAS BOOKSTORE by Matthew Sullivan: A Review

Not quite a “cozy mystery,” but nearly one, this 2017 novel by Sullivan has twists and turns, oddball characters, and is a page-turning, quick, enjoyable read. Lynda, who works at the Bright Ideas Bookstore has a special place in her heart for the “Brook Frogs,” misfits and sometimes homeless men who hang out most days at the bookstore. Joey and Lyle, two strangely-matched friends are her favorites. Near closing time, Lynda goes looking for Joey who hasn’t come by the register yet, and, well, let the author set the scene…

“…The third floor was dim and peaceful…Something squeaked…’Last call, Joey!” She could feel her eyes trying to shut out what she was seeing: Joey, hovering in the air, swinging like a pendulum. A long ratcheted strap was threaded over a ceiling beam and looped around his neck.”  The writing is masterful; the reader is there.

Joey has left two things for Lynda. There is a photo of Linda at her  tenth birthday party in his pocket (which she hides), and she is “willed” a series of books Joey owned, all cut up with razor blades, which reveal a coded message directly to Linda. Why did her friend hang himself? What is her connection to this homeless man?  As Lynda searches for answers, she consults retired police detective Moberg, who all along has suspected Lynda’s recluse father of a horrendous murder to which Lynda was the only witness. For a moment, Lynda suspects her father; for a moment we suspect him. Reconnecting with her father to determine his connection with Joey, she has flashbacks of witnessing from underneath a kitchen cupboard the night her best friend and both her parents were savagely murdered.  Lynda and her father have been estranged for years, and the job at the Bright Ideas bookstore was the safe haven of a woman trying to hide her past as the “Little Lynda” the tabloids and TV broadcasts screamed about until the next sensational tragedy came to pass.

I can’t call this a page-turner because I read it on a Kindle, but I couldn’t swipe quickly enough! It is a fine read, wonderfully written and deserves some kind of award.

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Sunday (Evening) Post

Instead of the usual catch-up post this evening, and because I have a backlog of reviews written but not posted, this evening I will review one of my recent reads.

Bitter in the Mouth by Monique Truong: A Review

This 2010 novel brought to my attention the condition of synesthesia, where words bring to mind colors, sounds (often music) etc.  The main character, Linda Hammerick, has this    symptomatic “illness” where words are accompanied by specific tastes in her mouth.  People’s names, words said to her, and words she says, all cause her to taste a flavor in her mouth. Bitter is a coming-of age story, but has a surprise ending and many twists and turns that make it a masterpiece. Jayne Ann Phillips (author of Machine Dreams, which I studied in graduate school and was privileged to hear her “read” and have a Q&A time with in a very small setting ) has said the book is written with a “magical ferocity.” That term would also describe Linda, the protagonist.  Another critic lists these themes covered by the novel: “friendship, loyalty, love, family,;and above all, the mysteries of every corner of one’s history that make us who we are.”

Linda’s great uncle, Harper, whom she loves more than anyone, teaches her how to dance, and accepts and loves her unconditionally.  Kelly, her best girlfriend since the age of eight, deals with weight issues, but is a loyal friend until she has a boyfriend, and then Linda devotes herself to her studies. She receives a scholarship to Columbia University, then after graduation, goes on to practice law in N.Y. All this time, the two girls correspond and keep in touch. A family tragedy forces Linda to return home to Boiling Springs N.C. , where she learns the truth about family secrets, including those about herself.

This award-winning writer has that title for good reason. At first it was difficult to read because most words are followed up what they taste like to Linda. But soon, with patience, the reader is so carried along by the story that he/she too tastes words as they read them, without hindering the progress or understanding of the story.

This was a special book, recommended to me by my grandson, and like me, he was blown away by the story and the author as well. WE recommend you read it.

CHILDREN’S BOOK MARATHON Part II

In Jay’s (of the blog “This Is My Truth Now) Children’s Book Marathon, participants are asked to read children’s books and review them. Last week’s books were Picture Books, and I was a day late, but I reviewed all three books.  This time, the books are Award Winning Books, and since I waited until the last minute to order them from my local library, they did not come in until today, two days after the “deadline.” Thus, I have only had time to read one of the three, and I think I’ll pass on the other two. The first book in this category is Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne ;I am sure I have read this book at one time, and I’ve seen more than one cartoon version of a story from the series, but I think instead of re-reading the book, I’ll try to watch the part human actor/part-animated character-movie that has recently come out.  The man who plays Christopher Robin is an actor I’ve seen in other films, and he is quite good.)

The second book by Lois Lowry, whom I’ve read before in YA books, is Number the Stars. It is a simply written book which will allow children to read and understand it on their own, dealing with the WWII German occupation of Denmark and the heroic people who smuggled an amazing number of Jews out of occupied Denmark at the risk of their own lives and relocating them safely.  I began the book in the truck on the way home from the library, and frankly (perhaps  because of its simplicity), it didn’t keep my interest, and I could have told you the plot and the outcome from about the third page, so, I am passing on it too.

That leaves book three, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, a picture book as well as an award winner, to review. The book is a delight.  The pigeon of the title in this book (written and illustrated by mo willems) is a light blue crazy, zany pigeon with a bright yellow beak.  Children, who love crazy, zany things, will fall in love with him at once. At the beginning of the story (which is as crazy and zany as the illustrations), the bus driver excuses himself from the bus for a short while, telling the passengers and us, the readers that whatever happens, “Don’t let the pigeon drive the bus.” Of course the pigeon begs the readers to drive the bus, and for the next ten or so pages, sketches of him as he begs, cajoles, threatens, bribes, yells, makes promises, tries to trick us, and generally pleads with us to let him drive the bus. After a two page full large-lettered tantrum, he stands angry, disgusted, frustrated,  and with feathers strewn across the next two pages from the violence of his tantrum, he gives up just as the bus driver strolls back into the picture. As the bus driver whisks the bus away, the pigeon is so depressed he doesn’t notice the BIG truck rapidly approaching! We know he will be hit, but the last two pages show him dreaming (Eyes closed; Is he dead or alive; this is left up for “discussion”) and imagining in a  succession of frames, the big truck with the pigeon at the wheel, driving.

The book is so smart, so funny, so engaging that I must comment that willems obviously knows children: their humor, their attention spans, their imaginations. I am glad that since I decided to only review one of the three books, this was the one!

TUESDAY TEASER

The object of this little game hosted by the Purple Booker is to grab what you are currently reading, open to where you left off, copy a couple of sentences and see if that will tease someone else into reading your book. Be sure to state title and author.  You may leave your blog address here, directing us where to read your Teaser, or you may put your teaser in the comment box below the post. Happy Tuesday reading!

From The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe:

“The Elegance of the Hedgehog placed Mom and me squarely in Monsieur Ozu’s Paris apartment–or perhaps another similar one. We started to plot our family’s life there.”

This fantasy planning for a new location/ living arrangement for the extended family was a pastime Schwalbe and his mother used to pass the time during chemo treatments. They had established their two-person book club at the beginning of the treatments and had discussed many books, some about death and dying, which allowed them to discuss some things they preferred not to address head-on. If you have read Elegance, you are aware that the author has wonderful descriptive talents, especially one that occurs early on, painting for the reader Msr. Ozu’s elegant apartment.

BEFORE WE WERE YOURS by Lisa Wingate: A Review

Oftentimes, a story within a story spins a fascinating tale, as the present day protagonist peels layer after layer from a secret or unknown mystery that affects her as she searches and researches.  Avery Stafford, a purely fictional character,is perplexed by family inconsistencies and strange clues her Grandma Judy’s Alzheimer’s-affected  mind drops from time to time. Her horrifying discoveries (based on factual occurrences and people, from the 1920’s through the 1950’S concerning stolen children at The Tennessee Children’s Home ) come to light slowly, leading the reader to wonder and speculate about what actually happened and how this will affect their lovable, strong protagonist.

In the story, Avery Stafford is a thirty year old woman, engaged her patient fiancé,  Elliott, and she just keeps postponing setting a date for the wedding. First her father’s diagnosis of cancer, followed by her Grandmother’s placement in a facility, then by a strange, forced meeting with Trent, whose grandfather was an investigator on Edisto Island, who reunited families needing his help cause her to delay. She, like her father, graduated from Columbia Law School and is a top notch lawyer with a prestigeous firm.  Her father is now a Senator and is running for re-election. When a strange woman at her Grandmother’s nursing home talks about “Fern,” then steals Avery’s dragonfly bracelet, she is moved to pity and refuses to press charges.

Simultaneously, a nursing home scandal breaks out, and her father’s stand on quality in nursing homes is questioned by those who point out Senator Stafford is rich enough to put his mother in a private facility with every amenity money can buy.  Avery’s mother, whose ultimate concern is for the family name, the coming election, and how her husband’s secret cancer diagnosis can remain a secret applies pressure for Avery and Elliott to set a date to gain good publicity.

Intertwined through Avery’s story is the story of Queen, Brill, and their five children, the poorest of the poor, who live on a houseboat shanty but have an endless supply of love and pride. How these stories are interconnected and what significance it has for Avery and her family is the heart of the novel. What Avery finds out causes her to doubt her family and dig to get at the heart of Grandma Judy’s secret.  What occurs along the many twists and turns unearthed by her investigation, which consumes Avery, keeps the reader up late, turning the pages. Surprises are the author’s forte, and just when you have it all figured out, some little detail is askew and sends one’s thinking mind back to square one.  Throw in a little romance, a bit of music and hillbilly tradition, and you end up with one darned good read.

Jay’s Children’s Books Marathon: August 2018

I am a day late meeting the deadline for the first round of Jay’s (This Is My Truth Now) Children’s Book Marathon, but for what it is, here it is, with reviews of Picture Books read 8/4-8/9. This category could easily be subtitled, “Classic Children’s Picture Books.”

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak in its heyday was a genre bender and made critics question what is “appropriate” for children. It turns out, kids love monsters, especially wild and free one like in Sendak’s drawings. It speaks a subversive message for children to break free: break free of “proper’ constraints we put on children and run to the place where the wild (and free) things are.  There the reader and the wild things cavort and rejoice in their freedom.  Doesn’t every child secretly yearn to break free?Don’t adults wish they could do the same thing? Unfortunately, adults have lost track of the place where the wild things are, but children revisit them in their dreams and in their trips into the illustrations in this wonderful picture book.

Oh the Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss left the realm of children’s picture books many years ago and became “the thing” to give the graduating high school or college senior. It’s message, You can go anywhere and be anything you want to be, breeds thoughts of unstoppability and un-limits. For children, little children, it encourages them to dream big and hang on to their possibilities–for they are unlimited.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown was turned down as a nighttime read by a four year old who told me, “That’s a baby book.  I want something with dragons or stormtroopers!” Goodnight Moon is, indeed, a baby book, perhaps the best out there. (However Pat the Bunny ranks right up there with two year olds.) In the book, mother (or father) and child say goodnight to each beloved thing in the familiar nursery, ending with looking out the window and bidding the moon a goodnight. Just writing the review calms me down and makes me sleepy as I recall the book. This is the perfect book for baby to fall asleep by.

For a myriad of reasons: illustrations; inspirations; and soothing, calming sleepy-times for parent and child; these three picture books are deservedly children’s classics.