The True Tails of Baker and Taylor

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Title:  The True Tails of Baker and Taylor
Author:  Jan Louch
Publisher:  St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-0-250-08107-0

Book Summary:
In the early 1980’s, a new library was built in Douglas County, Nevada.  As is often with new construction, there were mice.  Unpleasant in any place, mice present a more dangerous problem in a library.  Attracted the glue, mice will eat through books and the taxpayer’s investment.  So, librarians and cat lovers Jan and Yvonne decide the best solution would be to get a cat.  With the library board’s approval, a purebred Scottish Fold named Baker joined the staff.  Such begins the true tale of two amazing cats and the people who loved them.

Baker quickly became a fixture of the library; his presence seemed to deter mice and so his job expanded to Official Greeter.  Patrons young and old would scratch him behind the ears as they were checking books out, and when he wasn’t at the circulation desk, they would seek him out in the sunniest spot they could find.

Jan and Yvonne purchased Baker and paid for all this needs – food, toys, litter, vet visits – out of their own personal salaries.  As much as they wanted a companion for Baker, time was need for more funds to be saved.

Baker & Taylor is a worldwide distributor of books; Bill Hartman, the sales and marketing director for the western division of the company, stopped in the library every few months to talk about books.  A few days after a visit, Jan and Yvonne received a surprising call from Bill.  Baker & Taylor wanted to buy “Taylor” for the library.  In exchange, the company wanted to take some pictures of the two cats to use in their marketing campaign.  Taylor arrives at the library and after a week or so of adjustment, the library was more relaxed and happier because of Baker and Taylor.

The story goes on to tell of the impact that these two cats made on the lives of these librarians and the library patrons.  As the ad campaign became successful, Baker and Taylor were known throughout the world.  Children would write letters to the cats and tourists would stop to see them on their travels.

Through changing economics, new technology, and diverse populations, Baker and Taylor remained a fixture for what makes a library so magical.  A room full of books, a warm sunbeam, and a cozy cat curled up next to you.  Heaven.

Book Commentary:
I laughed and I cried when I read this book.  It is a beautiful tribute to two incredible felines and the woman who cared for them.  It is also a reminder of enjoying the simple things in life.  The reader gets a feel that the library patrons who filtered in and out of the library over years were touched and enlightened by the presence of these two cats.

As a college student, I spent a few summers working at Robin’s Bookshop in Geneva, Illinois.  It was truly the most perfect job I have ever had, surrounded daily by books, and it is one of the places that my love of mysteries developed.  One of my favorite jobs at the store was to unpack and catalogue the new books that arrived.  Every morning, a pile of Baker & Taylor boxes sat on the doorstep and my anticipation would heighten; what magic might those boxes contain.

Growing up, we always had a menagerie of animals – cats, dogs, a ferret, a guinea pig, a turtle, fish, and even a snake . . . although not while I was living at home.  I enjoyed the animals but never felt a compelling reason to have any of my own.  Fast forward to my oldest daughter whose first words I think were “I want a cat;” we finally caved almost seven years ago, and are the proud servants (because yes, you are, when you have cats) of Merlin and Arthur.  I couldn’t imagine life without them now and as my children get older, they have truly become my other children.  And according to my kids, more spoiled!

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Who might like this book:, 
If you like cats or books or libraries or a really, up-lifting good story, check this book out.  The author has a very engaging and straightforward prose that is a delight to read.  The subtitle of the book, The Library Cats Who Left Their Pawprints on a Small Town . . . and the World, truly says it all.

 

The Rosie Project

the-rosie-project

Title:  The Rosie Project
Author:  Graeme Simsion
Publisher:  Simon & Schuster
Publication Date:  2013
ISBN:  978-1-4767-2909-1

Book Summary:
Genetics professor Don Tillman is what you might call a genius.  Highly intelligent and logical, he tends however to lack some basic interpersonal skills . . . okay, a lot of basic interpersonal skills.  He systematically and logically arrives at the conclusion that it is time to get married so he devises a sixteen-page questionnaire that prospective wife candidates will complete.  Scientifically designed to link Don with the most ideal mate, it is the perfectly logical solution for this socially awkward academic.  After a date or two, Don tweaks the questionnaire to fine-tune his desired outcome.

In walks Rosie Jarman.  She quickly fails the questionnaire: she smokes, she drinks more than Don’s allotted amount of daily alcohol intake, AND she is a vegetarian.  For a man who has specific meat based meals for each day of the week, this is a deal breaker.  She is all wrong for him.  However, Don becomes involved in Rosie’s life as he helps her on her quest to find her biological father.

Rosie pushes Don out of his comfort zone and grudgingly a friendship begins to develop.  From spontaneous trips to New York (they live in Australia) to moonlighting as a bartender, Don begins to spread his wings and look at the world through different glasses.  Friendships, love, and relationships don’t always follow the rules of science; sometimes, they just are.

Book Commentary:
I so loved this book!!  It made me laugh out loud while also causing me to cringe at some of the comments and actions of the characters.   A bit socially awkward myself, I could relate to Don’s discomfort; however, his complete obliviousness to the ramifications of his words and actions were truly entertaining.

The author does a fantastic job at showing Don’s growth as both a person and a human through his interaction with others.  The book could have gone with a very stereo-typical character, but instead there is depth and layer to who Don is.  His relationship with his family and friends, his status among his colleagues, his perception of his students and who they see him to be all grow and develop independently of one another while building on the character that he is.

Rosie is a delight herself but her own growth is seen through Don’s changing perception of her.  I am not sure if she actually changes herself, but his view of her makes it seem as though her own character evolves.

The fact that the author is a former IT consultant and author of two non-fiction books on database design adds a completely separate dimension to the story-telling.  I think that the author might be able to well relate to Don.  And it is quite admirable that at age 50, he decides to try his hand at fiction and the book is the result.

Who might like this book:
If you are a fan of Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory or love Zach Addy from Bones, I guarantee you will love Don Tillman.  Very intelligent, very nerdy, and very enduring.  Readers will find themselves rooting for Don while cringing at his mistakes.  The second book in the series, The Rosie Effect, is also available . . . and happens to be sitting in my Amazon shopping cart.

 

 

The Light of Paris

the-light-of-paris

Title:  The Light of Paris
Author:  Eleanor Brown
Publisher:  G. P. Putnam’s Sons
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-0-399-15891

Book Summary:
Caught in an unhappy life, Madeleine has always allowed herself to be molded by others.  First, her mother shaped her school activities, scoffed at her love of painting, and created a persona that Madeleine struggled to maintain.  Her marriage to Phillip is no different; he dictates what she wears, criticizes her body image, and expects her to follow the standards of a high-society wife.

When she feels that she is at the breaking point, Madeleine escapes to her hometown.  Although her mother’s house has never seemed a refuge, Madeleine hopes for a sense of balance.  She is shocked to discover that her mother is preparing to sell the family home.  Swept up in helping to clear out over 50 years of memories and treasures, Madeleine discovers a diary written by her grandmother.  Although she passed when she was just a child, Madeleine remembers her grandmother as elegant and refined.  What she finds in the diary is a journal of one epic, memorable Parisian summer.

As Madeleine reads about her grandmother Margie’s exploits and awakenings, she too begins to explore who she was and who she had wanted to be.  Picking up a paintbrush for the first time in years and reconnecting with acquaintances from high school help Madeleine recognize the changes, challenges, and joys in everyone’s lives.  Before she can find her own dream and destiny, Madeleine must decide who she wants to be and what life she wants to live.

Book Commentary:
As I have been on a Parisian obsession recently, this book quickly caught my eye.  What made me read it however was the author, Eleanor Brown.  Her previous novel The Weird Sisters detailed the lives of three sisters whose father was a Shakespearean scholar; I loved this book and enjoyed the fluid and engaging writing style but I had to pick up this new book.

The Light of Paris is a bit different; both Madeleine and Margie’s stories are told separately, but the personal growth and discoveries parallel one another.  The author wrote Margie’s stories as though Madeleine retold them after she read the diary; it was an interesting perspective and style.  I am not sure if I liked it but it reflected how the primary story of Madeleine was influenced by Margie’s own evolution.  At times, I felt that Madeleine’s interpretation of Margie’s story was a bit biased but it provided great insight on Madeleine’s progress of self-discovery.

Who might like this book:
Although I didn’t feel as immersed in Parisian culture as some other novels I have read, The Light of Paris delves into the artists of Paris in the 1920’s.  I really liked the descriptions of the artwork through Margie’s innocent eyes and Madeleine’s artistic knowledge.

This would be a fun book for a book group.  There is ample fodder for discussion about life goals and the people and situations that both assist and interfere with their attainment; however, it is truly a story about the choices people make and that ultimately we must take charge of our own destiny.

The Battle of Hackham Heath

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Title:  The Battle of Hackham Heath (Ranger’s Apprentice: The Early Years 2)
Author:  John Flanagan
Publisher:  Philomel
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-0-399-16362-6

Book Summary:
Although Morgarath has been discredited to many and escaped treason by hiding out in the Mountains of Rain and Night, the kingdom of Araluen has not found peace.  King Duncan ascends to the throne after the abdication of his father.  King Oswald never fully recovered from his capture and mistreatment by Morgarath as he attempted to discredit the King and his future lineage to the throne.  Duncan is young, but fair, and his experiences have made him cautious and intelligent.  Unfortunately, not all the Barons are able to comprehend Morgarath’s deceit and some of them have chosen to align themselves with the fugitive.  Also, under Morgarath’s previous control, the Rangers, a group of skilled archers who have perfected the art of unseen movement, were disbanded and discredited.  As the eyes and ears of the kingdom, the Rangers are essential for securing peace and maintaining trust and honor for the new King.

Crowley, the Ranger Commandant, and his fellow Ranger Halt, were instrumental in restoring Duncan’s right to the throne.  Now they work together to reform and rebuild the Ranger Corp as they are ever vigilant about the happenings and mutterings in the Kingdom.  When a rumor starts about Morgarath’s building of an army, Halt braves the treacherous Three Step Pass to spy on the exiled Baron.  Three Step Pass is the only access to the Mountains of Rain and Night and is heavily guarded.  Halt’s climbing ability serves him well as he ascends the steep cliff side.  What he discovers is horrifying.  Morgarath has found a way to enslave and command an ancient group of creatures – the Wargals.  Part bear, part beast, these savage, simple-minded creatures will follow the order to kill to its culmination, or perish trying.  Araluen’s weakened defenses and army have no recourse against these terrifying monsters.

In addition to dealing with the uncertainty of Morgarath’s next move toward impending war and the unease in the kingdom, King Duncan does have one bit of joy in his life.  He has married the beautiful Lady Rosalind and she now carries the heir to the throne.  The stakes in this battle have been raised and the future of the kingdom and its rulers lies with the Rangers and their king as they must fight against an unrelenting foe.

Book Commentary:
Sigh.  This is one of those series that makes me so happy!  John Flanagan fans will not be disappointed.  The same attention to detail, witty humor and banter, and enduring characters are present as in all of his books.  Flanagan truly is a master storyteller; his description and focus on detail create true pictures in the reader’s mind while still finding just the right balance of action and exposition.

In some ways, I feel that this book is written for the fans, as we learn the answers to some questions that have plagued readers throughout the series: questions about Duncan’s wife, the discovery of the Wargals, Halt’s early relationship with Lady Pauline, and Halt’s future apprentices.  The dry and wonderful banter between Halt and Crowley and Halt and Abelard are truly at their finest.  A delightful book throughout that I finished in a single day.

Who might like this book:
I have said this before, but really, there is no better way to explain this:  This is a book for all ages, but you MUST . . . seriously, I won’t talk to you ever again if you don’t . . . read the entire series in order.  It is kind of like the Star Wars saga: read the books in the order that they were written, not in chronological order.

The Ranger’s Apprentice Series in Order:
Book 1:  The Ruins of Gorlan
Book 2:  The Burning Bridge
Book 3:  The Icebound Land
Book 4:  The Battle for Skandia
Book 5:  The Sorcerer of the North
Book 6:  The Siege of Macindaw
Book 7:  Erak’s Ransom
Book 8:  The Kings of Clonmel
Book 9:  Halt’s Peril
Book 10:  The Emperor of Nihon-Ja
Book 11:  The Lost Stories
Book 12:  The Royal Ranger

The Ranger’s Apprentice: The Early Years
Book 1:  The Tournament at Gorlan
Book 2:  The Battle of Hackham Heath

Additionally, John Flanagan wrote (and is still writing) a spin-off series to the Ranger’s Apprentice that focuses on Skandia.  Those books have some overlap to characters and settings to the original series.

Brotherband Chronicles
Book 1:  The Outcasts
Book 2:  The Invaders
Book 3:  The Hunters
Book 4:  Slaves of Socorro
Book 5:  Scorpion Mountain
Book 6:  Ghostfaces

Queries and Conundrums: The Advent Book Calendar

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Sorry about the static lately but ‘tis the season!  And in honor of this frantic, wonderful holiday season, I want to share with you a very creative idea.  I was on Facebook; ah, that great time waster, and I saw a post from a former student of mine.  She wrapped up 24 holiday children’s books and each evening in December, she and her son will open one and read it together.  What an absolutely fantastic idea!  I love children’s books, especially Christmas children’s books. I research a bit and went on Pinterest, another fantastic time-waster, and discovered that one can get REALLY creative with the Advent Book Calendar idea!!

To me, the holiday season should be viewed through the innocent and excited eyes of children.  Every year, my husband seeks out a unique and unknown Christmas book for me, while I find treasured classics for my children.  When I was little, my mom always had a basket of Christmas children’s books under the tree.  I remember sitting on the floor in the glow of the fire, twinkling Christmas lights, and flashy tinsel, enjoying holiday favorites year after year.

I continued this tradition with my own family. When the kids were younger, we would read a book a night before bed.  As they got older and became proficient readers, everyone would pick a favorite and we would all take turns reading.  Five books a night, every night until Christmas . . . yes, I have that many Christmas children’s books.  Even now, I get so tickled . . . don’t tell them, they would be embarrassed . . . when my teenagers, much past the age of picture books, lie on the floor under the tree re-reading their favorites.  After the holiday is over, the books are packed up in a bin and stored away until next Christmas.  I think I get more excited unpacking the holiday books each year than I do unpacking ornaments!

The Advent Book Calendar takes that thought one step further.  Added to the excitement and anticipation of reading a holiday book is unwrapping one and not knowing which one will be found!  What a lovely tradition!!

As I thought about this, I pondered how I might use this with myself and my teenagers.  Giggling a bit manically, I thought about wrapping up books on my to-be-read pile.  I would have to read one a day to keep up with the calendar.  Nothing else would get done in my house but my to-be-read pile might shrink a bit!  Sigh . . . I guess I will stick with the children’s books.

The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris

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Title:  The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris
Author:  Jenny Colgan
Publisher:  William Morrow
Publication Date:  2014
ISBN:  978-0-4022-8440-3

Book Summary:
After a ridiculous, yet horrifying, accident at the chocolate factory she works at as a supervisor, Anna Trent is surprised to find her hospital roommate is her old school French teacher, Claire Shawcourt.  As Anna struggles through her recovery, Claire is battling chemotherapy for cancer.  Because neither can really go anywhere in the hospital, they slowly build a friendship.  When Anna is released, she finds her life in a state of limbo; she can’t go back to her old job but is unsure where to go next.  Claire has the perfect solution.

Years earlier as a young woman, Claire escapes from her over-bearing, controlling Reverend father for a summer when she travels to Paris and works as a nanny to her mother’s pen-pal’s children.  While there, she meets and falls in love with a robust, handsome chocolatier.  At the end of the summer, Claire must return home to England and Thierry was sent to Algeria to serve in the military service.  They both went on with their lives but never forgot one another.

It is Claire who writes to Thierry and secures Anna a job in his famous Parisian shop, Le Chapeau Chocolat, and Anna heads across the channel for a grand new adventure.  Working in Thierry’s chocolate shop is nothing like the factory in England, and Anna must decide if she is truly committed to the artistic creation and temperament of a Parisian chocolatier.  With the help of Anna’s flamboyant costume designing flat mate, Thierry’s estranged and aloof son, and the other chocolatiers in the shop, Anna improves her chocolate making skills, her palette, and her view of life.

Book Commentary:
The Jenny Colgan books are so much fun!!  This is the fifth book I have read by this author and I admit that they do follow a similar formula — girl is in a stagnant place in life, something catastrophic (divorce, job loss, accident) occurs, girl embarks on a new adventure, meets new friends, and discovers a new path in life – but hey, it works!  Colgan creates relatable characters that the reader truly roots for and wants to find success.  There is a little romance, an interesting and unique setting, and quirky secondary characters that create an enduring and delightful read.

This particular book deviates a bit from the formula as it tells both Anna’s story and Claire’s past as they are woven together.  I enjoy how the author shows that as different as times and situations are, most people really just want a sense of purpose and to find happiness and love.

Who might like this book:
The books are perfect for the carpool line, a long flight, or the beach and provide a fun escape from reality.  I enjoy reading these because I know there will be a satisfying and happy ending.  Some days, you just need that.  Oh, and there are recipes . . . chocolate recipes . . . and that is always a good thing.

I have written review for two of her other books.  You can check them out here:
The Little Beach Street Bakery
The Bookshop on the Corner

The Inheritance

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Title:  The Inheritance (Charles Lenox Mystery 10)
Author:  Charles Finch
Publisher:  Minotaur
Publication Date:  2016
ISBN:  978-1-250-07042-5

Book Summary:
After a quiet holiday in the country with his family, Charles Lenox returns home early when he receives a cryptic note from an old friend.  Gerald Leigh and Charles were unlikely friends at Harrow; Charles was a fairly “by-the-book” student while Gerald scoffed at the rules and eventually left school early.  Charles was from a well-to-do family; Gerald’s attendance at Harrow was paid for by a mysterious benefactor.  Although different, the two boys found common interests and deep, respective friendship, and the search for the identity of Gerald’s mysterious benefactor was Charles’ first, albeit unsuccessful, foray into detecting.

Gerald’s note is choppy and distracted, but Charles feels compelled to help.  His intent for assistance turns into alarm when Gerald fails to appear to meet as promised.  Charles deduces some potential places that he may be hiding out and when he finds Gerald, he is discovers two shocking things.  One, Gerald has been bequeathed another, more substantial bequest, and someone is trying to kill him.

Committed to helping keep his friend safe and finally solving his first case, Charles plunges into the scientific world of the Royal Society.  In the years since he left Harrow, Gerald has established a name for himself through his scientific discoveries; is it someone from his present, or from his past, that is trying to kill him?  Further demanding of his time, Charles’ detective agency is on retainer for smaller cases in Parliament.  A recent rash of thefts has proven elusive and dangerous.  With his quintessential English stoicism, Charles strives to help both his friend and his country.

Book Commentary:
With the tenth book in the Charles Lenox series, author Charles Finch has something that few authors of long-running series can claim: he maintains consistent quality stories.  I find that with some authors who have a dozen or more books in a series, there are a few that just don’t maintain my interest or have a consistent quality.  All the Charles Lenox stories are excellent, and I think the main reason is the character of Charles Lenox.  He is an intelligent, charismatic protagonist with a refined, calm demeanor.  That is not to say he is perfect; at times, he is arrogant, aristocratic, and flawed.  He is human, from his flaws to his attributes; he is also very likable, someone I would like to have tea and an intelligent conversation with.

The series relies on diverse plot-lines with some adventure, but bottom line is that the protagonist solves the cases through good, old-fashioned detecting. I don’t want to insult them by calling them “quiet” stories because author’s witty and elegant writing style keep the reader fully engaged, but he doesn’t feel the need to always include some grandiose, cliff-hanging escapade in order to solve the case.

I also enjoy the subtle history lessons that author weaves into the story.  He discusses how advent of the telegraph brought both progress and problems to Parliament and how the English custom of driving on  the left came about.

The secondary characters of Edmund, Jane, Dallington, and McConnell reappear in each book to help maintain the consistency of the plots and help to ground Charles into the life of a gentleman.  I look forward to their appearance in each story; their own personal growth and development as characters further influences and defines Charles’ own personality.

Who might like this book:
This series would appeal to anyone who likes a classic English mystery.  The author’s grasp on history is similar to how Tasha Alexander weaves together events, customs, and principles of England in the late 1800’s.

DO NOT even think about not reading this series in order.  It is a great one to get hooked on because there are so many!!  Here is the series in order:
A Beautiful Blue Death
The September Society
The Fleet Street Murders
A Stranger in Mayfair
A Burial at Sea
A Death in the Small Hours
An Old Betrayal
The Laws of Murder
Home By Nightfall