Friday, March 24, 2017

Fare thee well, Amy Krouse Rosenthal

I was quite saddened to learn the other day of the death of Amy Krouse Rosenthal on March 13. She was 51. Amy was a writer of children's books, a maker of videos, a presenter of Ted Talks, and a Beckoner of the Lovely. 

She also wrote two of my favorite books: Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life and Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal

I so admired her generous spirit. I was inspired by her creativity and kindness. I am glad I got to know her through her words and actions and ideas. I feel as if I have lost a good friend.

Here is what I wrote in May 2015 upon my introduction to Amy.

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I admit that I am as enthralled with the idea behind Amy Krouse Rosenthal's book as I am with the book itself.

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life is her memoir, of sorts, presented in the form of an encyclopedia...A-Z. So we have entries such as Answering Machines; Anxious, things that make me; Monopoly (like me, she hates the game); the relief of a Rainy Day; memories of a Red Gingham Tablecloth; and Writing Tools - hand, typewriter, computer - and what influence they may have on a writer's style.  

There are plenty of entries detailing some of her quirks that I can identify with:

**She fantasizes about getting rid of everything in her closet except for an outfit or two.

**She not only eats when she is hungry, but also if she is worried that she will be hungry. For instance, if she determines she will be in the middle of watching a film at dinnertime, she grabs a sandwich before she goes to the theater, even though she is not yet hungry, to eliminate any future hunger discomfort.

**She returns again and again to the photo/bio of the author on the flap of a book she is enjoying.

I have done all those things. 

The entries are almost all short which appeals to my diminishing attention span. I swear, I found myself laughing out loud at an entry, nodding my head in agreement at another, and getting misty-eyed at the next one.

It seems I am always on the quest for a way to record my life, 
(see this post) and looking at it in the form of an encyclopedia certainly has its appeal.

Perhaps my first entry could be:

Encyclopedia - A word I learned to spell from a little ditty that was sung on Mickey Mouse Club. Jiminy Cricket taught us to chirp EN CY C LO PEDIA. To this day, I have to sing the letters to myself whenever I write or type the word.

And although Ms. Rosenthal didn't make an entry for Z, I would have to write:

Zero tolerance - for barking dogs, cigarette smoke, heat and humidity, rude service people, radio and television commercials, and magazine advertisements.   

Anyway, I adored this book. And as I sometimes do, I fell in love with Amy (which is why I now feel obliged to call her by her first name).  She would make a wonderful best friend! I found out more about her via a couple of her Ted Talks and her short films on YouTube. 

She loves a bit of wordplay, watches out for synchronicity everywhere, and wants to save the world by Beckoning the Lovely. 

She also has created a journal just for us - An Encyclopedia of Me: My Life from A to Z - so we can write our own record of an ordinary life.

Amy - woman to thank.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Fifty Acres and a Poodle by Jeanne Marie Laskas

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I wouldn't dare tell you too much about this book lest I spoil any of your fun in reading it. I will only say it may already be my favorite book of 2017. And I don't just mean my favorite in the first three months of this year, but for the entire year. 

Fifty Acres and a Poodle recounts the true adventures of author Jeanne Marie Laskas's first year owning Sweetwater Farm in Pennsylvania. (Cue fifty acres.) If, like Ms. Laskas, you have ever wanted to shake the city sidewalk dust off your shoes and move to the country, this is the book for you. Even if you already live in the country, this is the book for you. If you love animals, of any sort, this is the book for you. (Cue the poodle.)

I laughed. I wept. I sighed. I simply adored this book.

As one who carries a bit of a romantic notion about living on a farm (see my post on sheep shopping), this tale struck an even funnier chord in me as I certainly identified with what she calls 2-D notions of the Green Acres life.

She writes:

We bought scenery. We bought a postcard. We bought green hills and a pond blooming with lilies a la Monet. We bought a creaky old barn leaning in the wind a la Wyeth. We bought the most beautiful picture we could possibly find.

We bought 2-D. Not 3-D. It did not enter my consciousness that the three-dimensional version of this thing was included with the package. Because how could it be in my consciousness? When would it have had the opportunity to get in? Chaos never announces itself, never advertises. Who would buy chaos?

And therein lies the tale. Her attempts to make friends with the chaos. 

Adding to the mix are Alex her partner, Bob the cat, Betty the dog that looks like a movie star, Marley the prone-to-car sickness Standard Poodle, plus sheep, groundhogs, deer and other creatures of the forest. But, I have already told you too much.

Ms. Laskas has a writing style that tickled my fancy. She writes not only about what is happening but her thoughts on what is happening and her thoughts on those thoughts. I found her to be a most witty storyteller.

There are two more books about her life on Sweetwater Farm and I can hardly wait to read what happens next.

Thanks to Kathy Johnson at Catching Happiness for introducing me to Jeanne Marie Laskas and her world. This book certainly lifted my spirits.

What about you? Do you harbor secret dreams of living on a farm? Do you have a favorite 'life in the country' book? 

Friday, March 10, 2017

The First Rule of Ten by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay

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The First Rule of Ten introduces private detective Tenzing Norbu, a most unusual character. Tenzing, known as Ten, lived for a while with his mother in Paris and when she died went to live with his father, a Buddhist monk, in a Tibetan monastery. 

Ten is not cut out for monastic life. He says, "People assume life in a monastery is filled with blissful, solitary contemplation. People assume wrong." In reality, his days were filled with mandatory prayers, practices, rituals, and endless dry debates. 

His real dream is to be a modern incarnation of his hero, Sherlock Holmes. He leaves the monastery and moves to Los Angeles where he joins the LAPD and in a few years reaches the rank of detective. On a domestic violence run, a ricocheting bullet grazes his temple and catches his attention - as a bullet is wont to do. He takes that as a sign that his days on the police force are over.

First Rule of Ten: Don't ignore intuitive tickles lest they become sledgehammers.

He lives in a cool house in Topanga Canyon - his place of refuge. He drives a yellow vintage Mustang. His first solo case as a private detective involves a former rock star, a pig farm, almonds, a cult, and a tycoon. Quite a mix and lots to keep him busy. 

In the meantime, spiritual warrior that he is, when stressed he reminds himself to breathe. He meditates. He sends up prayers for the newly departed to ease their transition from this stage of life to the next. He cares for his feline friend, Tank, a Persian Blue. He finds - and then loses - romance. He is a gentle soul even though he does sometimes have to carry a weapon. 

A most unlikely private detective. I like him very much.

So far, there are five Rules of Ten published in this series written by Gay Hendricks and Tinker Lindsay. I am all in for all of them and hoping for more.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Mystery, Murder, Magpies, and a Mall

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Fields Where They Lay by Timothy Hallinan
Junior Bender is one of my favorite characters. He is a professional burglar living in Los Angeles and constantly finds himself in trouble - not so much with the police as with his nefarious acquaintances.

Fields Where They Lay is the sixth novel in the series. And it is a doozy. It's Christmas - but this is definitely not your idealized warm and cozy holiday season. The action here takes place almost exclusively in a failing and slightly seedy shopping mall. Junior has been hired - well, rather coerced by a Russian mafia guy and partner in the mall - into investigating incidences of serious shoplifting going on. Between choruses of Christmas carols looping over the mall's PA system, dealing with two sad Santas, and looking over his shoulder for the thug sent either to keep an eye on him or kill him, Junior gets to riff, in funny way, on Christmas chaos, consumerism, and greed. Not to mention shady real estate deals, this being California and all.

Like I said, not your Norman Rockwell view of Christmas, but fun none the less. 

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A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders
I couldn't resist this mystery with a typewriter on its front cover! This first novel by Judith Flanders concerns the sudden disappearance of gossipy style and fashion author Kit Lovell. His London publisher, Samantha "Sam" Clair, seems to be the only one who thinks something fishy is going on and sets out to track down Kit's whereabouts. In the process, Sam stumbles onto a money laundering scheme, commits a bit of breaking and entering, makes a trip to a fashion house in Paris, and finds romance. Not bad for her first outing as an amateur sleuth.

I enjoyed most of the action, although there were a lot of characters to keep track of and I never have understood 'money laundering' so the conversations (and there were many) about that I sort of skimmed over. But the insights into the machinations of the publishing biz were entertaining. Quite a few zingers!

Ms. Flanders has written several books about the Victorian era. I am happy she has moved into examining the modern world of book publishing and I look forward to reading more of the adventures of Sam Clair.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Books for Living by Will Schwalbe

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I almost didn't pick up Books for Living thinking to myself Oh, dear, more recommendations for my already overly long TBR list. But now I am glad I did. (Always listen to your inner reader!)

In the opening essay, the author Will Schwalbe begins with the story of a recurring nightmare: He is ready to board a plane and realizes he doesn't have a book to read. Even as his name is being called over the loudspeaker, he races around the airport looking for a bookstore or newsstand  But as this is a nightmare he cannot find a single book in the airport. He is going to miss his plane. He wakes up in a sweat.

I can understand his feeling of terror. I knew he and I would get along. 

The books that Mr. Schwalbe writes about are ones that have helped him in some way make sense of the world. That helped him become a better person. That provided answers to some of life's Big Questions.

He admits: "Some of these are not works I would list among my favorite books, but they are all books that I found (or that found me) when I needed them, or that prompted me to remember something, realize something, or see my life and the world differently."

So, in order to Slow Down and escape our modern world with all its distractions, he turns to Chinese author Lin Yutang's The Importance of Living. It is actually his go-to book for most everything and he refers to it quite often in other essays.  For the importance of Napping he takes lessons from novelist Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift From the Sea reminds him of the need to Retreat and Recharge. 

For a different sort of travel book, Mr. Schwalbe turns to A Journey Around My Room written in 1790 by a young French officer, Xavier de Maistre, who was sentenced to 42 days house arrest for some infraction. With nothing else to do he wrote a guidebook to his room -- its chairs and tables and desk -- which eventually allows him to muse about war, friendships, and loss.  

As you can see these are not the typical books one would usually find in a volume such as this. Each book considered addresses a different aspect of life. Some joyful; some painful. And the list is not made up entirely of nonfiction books. He includes among others Rebecca (Betrayal), 1984 (Disconnecting), and Stuart Little (Searching). I have to love a list that includes Stuart Little

Mr. Schwalbe truly loves his books and reading and it shows on every page. I was touched by the stories of what these books meant to him at different times in his life. How they brought him comfort, sparked a memory, or helped him grieve the loss of a friend. 

I quite like Mr. Schwalbe and think how nice it would be to sit down and chat with him about books. There is a lot to ponder here. This one is definitely worth reading.  

Friday, February 17, 2017

Iron Lake by William Kent Krueger

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It is just before Christmas when we meet former sheriff Cork O'Connor in his hometown of Aurora, Minnesota. Nearby is a Native American reservation with its copper-domed casino. The town sits on the edge of a lake and book one in this series of mysteries written by William Kent Krueger takes its name from that body of water: Iron Lake.

The weather outside is frightful, a prominent judge is dead (suicide or murder we don't know for sure yet), and a paperboy has gone missing (perhaps kidnapped by his father and hiding on the reservation or perhaps carried away by the evil spirit Windigo). There is already plenty going on here and I am only through chapter 10. 

I am not sure yet if I am going to like Cork. He seems pretty complicated with an estranged wife, three children, and a lover. He lives in an old Quonset hut that also houses a walk-up burger stand which he now runs. He smokes Lucky Strikes. He carries a resentment at being the 'former' sheriff (town politics) but can't quite put away his investigative skills.

There are many characters in the story and I hope I can keep them all straight. To be fair, since this is the first in a series of now 16 Cork O'Connor mysteries, I suppose the author is setting the stage for what is to come.

I like the Native American folklore that is worked into the story but I am wondering how everyone continues to go about their business with the snow blowing and piling up outside. Snowmobiles and skis abound. They do things differently in the north. Here south of the Mason-Dixon line, no one would be going anywhere.

Although I am just getting into the tale, I am afraid there is going to be more character drama than mystery solving here. We shall see.

Thanks to Joan for the recommendation.