Sunday, August 7, 2016

All The Light We Cannot See

all-the-light-we-cannot-see-9781476746586.in01All the Light We Cannot See
                                                           By Anthony Doerr

Here’s a novel about a blind, freckled little girl growing up in Paris.  She’s enjoying her childhood with her father who adores her.  At the same time an orphaned little boy and his sister are growing up in a children’s home that’s about 300 miles northeast of Paris in Zollverein, Germany.  As they all enter their teen years, World War II starts, and then The Occupation, and the French Resistance.  Life out of their control, and they are on opposite sides.  The reader naturally draws comparisons and contrasts between these children’s lives.  Eventually their lives directly collide.

This book is about intolerable choices forced onto people, and the resulting consequences to themselves and to the people around them.  “What the war did to dreamers.”  It also shines a light on the ways, against all odds, that people can try to be good to one another, in whatever ways they can see.  Each character comes alive to the reader, beyond the circumstances they suffer.  Their spirits plummet, and waver, and somehow survive the bleakness, on a glimmer of hope.  “So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?”

Hidden away in the folds of the story there’s a lustrous stone that’s older than the ages.  It’s said to invisibly protect the holder, but brings harm to those nearby.  But does this gem truly emit such powers, or is a stone simply a stone?

The author skillfully shows us the adaptability, and the resourcefulness of people, especially in these dire, war circumstances.  Every decision, every move is life or death.  Then a picture of kindness to one another, moments of kindness and courage displayed.  This book shows the courage that people act on and the courage that they learn.

All the Light We Cannot See was awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.  The author’s short stories and essays have won four O. Henry prizes and been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories.  His work has been translated into over forty languages.

To paraphrase, those who fail to learn from history are destined to repeat it.  On that note, there is hope when this historical novel was recommended to me by a high school student.

Thereby hangs a tale . . . .

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Juan Williams Tells How We the People Create History

We the People
By Juan Williams

This comprehensive American history tells how Americans, known and unknown contributed to this nation’s story.  The author poses interesting questions.  What would the Founding Fathers think about America today?  Where we are today, how did we get here?  We’re taught who the original Founding Fathers are; who are the modern day figures who have reshaped and affirmed the vision of America?

It’s an ambitious collection of essays that recount the history of events, and the people who drove them, told without bias and without judgment of right and wrong.  The chapters cover such interesting topics as the Kennedy’s and the American Melting Pot, Eleanor Roosevelt and Human Rights, George Meany and Labor Unions and the Rise of the Middle Class, the Rise of the Christian Right, Rachel Carson and the Environmental Movement, the Social Safety Net, the Right to Bear Arms, and other controversial topics.  It’s so interesting to learn how these debatable topics began, and how they’ve evolved.

The book is written as a conversational discussion.  At the start of each chapter he compares and contrasts what the original Founding Fathers would think or imagine if they were magically transported to the modern day America and confronted with each of the issues presented.  Then he presents the history of the issue, introducing the influential people as it evolves.  He doesn’t steer away from the political impacts; instead he illuminates all sides of political influences and also discusses Supreme Court decisions.  Finally he gives us an in depth and insightful analyses of the influential people themselves.  He describes in detail their life and what drove their passion, decisions, and influence.  His extraordinary research and thoughtful writing reveals information not well known about these historical figures.

Juan Williams worked for two decades at the Washington Post as a White House correspondent and a prize-winning columnist.  He has won an Emmy for his TV documentary writing.  For ten years he was a daily talk show host and senior political correspondent for NPR.  This is his fourth bestselling book.  He’s currently a top political analyst on the Fox News Channel.

I had the privilege to meet Juan Williams at his Town Hall appearance in Seattle.  He’s such a personable celebrity.  He’s a very patient and thoughtful debater, and presents information and arguments that will challenge you.  He has a rich curiosity and intellect.  Especially in this historic election year, this book is a great way to put into context the passionate people, their actions, and the extraordinary circumstances that have evolved into present day America.  The issues and questions we’re now debating, how did we get here?

Thereby hangs a tale . . . .

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Yellowstone Wolves

Returning the Wild to Yellowstone
By Douglas W. Smith & Gary Ferguson
When the Wolves Returned
Restoring Nature’s Balance in Yellowstone
By Dorothy Hinshaw Patent and Photos by Dan Hartman and Cassie Hartman

“Amazingly, a study conducted in 2005 estimated that some two hundred thousand people were seeing wolves in Yellowstone every year, making it hands-down the best place on Earth to observe these animals in the wild. . . . For those who’ve been peering through the spotting scopes, an unforgettable aspect of such encounters is the wolf’s eyes, which can seem to look right through you.”

These books tell the story of the reintroduction of wolves into the wilds of the world’s first national park, Yellowstone.  This park was a part of Ulysses S. Grant’s legacy.  The park was dedicated to the enjoyment of all the people.  Since that time we’ve learned to dedicate it to the natural ecosystem for the plants and wildlife.  Fear, loathing, and ignorance about wolves drove their extinction from the park by the 1930’s.  It took 60 years for wolves to be returned to Yellowstone.

Returning the Wild to Yellowstone was written by an award-winning writer in partnership with the leader of the Yellowstone Wolf Project.  It’s a fascinating study into the harmful impacts to an ecosystem when a piece of it is completely removed.  Chapters are dedicated to the planning and initial release of the wolves, and overviews of how they settled into the park and what the project members observed.  It’s so interesting to read the behaviors of the wolf packs, and the resulting behaviors of the other animals.  Mixed in are heartwarming “Portrait of a Wolf” chapters.  Each of these focus on a different wolf, describing the life and personality of specific wolves that the project team got to know so well.  You’re also treated to some wonderful photography by the project team.

At the end of the first decade of the wolves’ return, there were six successful packs in the park.  “In truth absolutely no one thought this reintroduction would go so well.”  Reading this book will give you an appreciation for the hard work and dedication of the project team, as well as a great respect for the tenacity and perseverance of this beautiful animal, the wolf.

When the Wolves Returned is a short overview of the wolves’ return to Yellowstone.  This is a great book to share with children as well.  It clearly shows how “the balance of nature is always changting.  But when all the pieces of the puzzle are present, the extremes are eliminated.  Today Yellowstone is working its way back to a changing but healthy system, thanks to the wolves’ return.”  The story is told through captions to beautiful, artistic photography by Dan Hartman and Cassie Hartman.  They are a very talented father-daughter photography team who live on the northeast border of the park.  Dan’s work has been published by National Geographic and many other places.  You can see some of his work at

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Capitol Crimes

Murder in the Smithsonian
By Margaret Truman

                The Smithsonian museums are filled with fascinating artifacts, so many displayed and so many hidden in private storage.  On a visit you might encounter moon rocks, the Hope Diamond, a fossilized skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex, ancient mummies, or in this mystery novel you might see a featured artifact that’s used to commit murder.  With all the people who visit the museum, or who attend glittering Smithsonian events, the opportunity for intrigue tugs at the imagination.  And why murder?  Was it a robbery attempt of a priceless antiquity gone wrong?  Or was the victim a target for some sinister reason?  Who better to author this D.C. mystery, than a talented U.S. President’s daughter?

                The police detective called to the scene is under intense pressure to solve this case quickly.  He’s being second guessed by members of the Smithsonian Institution, prominent political figures, the media, and a very distraught victim’s fiancĂ©.  He’s not one to be rushed though.  According to the Smithsonian Institute, their goal is to better predict the future by examining the past.  Just as the museum scientists and librarians scrupulously preserve, catalogue, and organize exhibit artifacts, our detective does the same in gathering his clues, examining this murder to predict how he’ll catch a killer.

                This author cleverly weaves in interesting history and little known facts about the Smithsonian.  Tracking the past of the murder weapon we’re led to London, and then follow the trail to Scotland and an ancient Scottish castle.  By the time we’re back in D.C., the clues are adding up.

                First daughter Margaret Truman was ten years old when her father was elected Senator and served for seven years.  The family split their time between D.C. and Missouri.  She was a college student, majoring in History, when her father was sworn in as Vice President.  Less than three months later, he was President.  A very talented writer, Margaret’s first book was a memoir of her Missouri childhood and her years at the White House.  The New York Herald Tribune's book review section called it "a gracefully written tale of an average American girl drawn by chance into the White House."  She went on to write biographies, and a dozen murder mysteries that came to be known as the Capital Crimes Series.  These murders are scattered all over D.C. in many distinguished places including the White House.  Margaret Truman said, “I love books. I really, really love them. There's something special about bringing people and books together.” 

Thereby hangs a tale . . . .

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Garlic and Sapphires

Ruth Reichl (center) at the
Seattle Public Libraries Literary Lions fundraiser,
surrounded clockwise by volunteers:
Kim Unti, me, and Pam Yates
Garlic and Sapphires
The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise
By Ruth Reichl

I met Ruth Reichl when she generously donated her time at the Seattle Public Library System’s Literary Lions fundraiser Gala as Keynote speaker, and also meeting guests and signing her books for them.  I can tell you, her books were in high demand.  Her fans were delighted to meet and chat with her.  Food is at the heart of her many books.  Great cooking, great cuisine, and people sharing meals together.  She has received 6 James Beard awards. 

This memoir is about the author as the New York Times food critic.  It’s filled with humor along with heartwarming insights, of course incredible descriptions of food, restaurant settings, and also recipes.  A New York Times review was very influential, and had significant impact on a restaurant’s reputation and business.  Restaurant staff would be on the alert to recognize a food critic by her picture, so they could be sure to emphasize their best service and dining.  To avoid detection, Ruth would wear disguises.

She didn’t just go buy a wig and glasses.  It’s so funny to read how she designed and created a full character for each of her disguises, with the help of friends.  She developed a whole back story for each character she became, and the disguise matched the personality she wanted to project.  The clothes, the makeup, the hair were consciously put together, as each character came to life.  Beyond the deliciously funny reactions from friends and family, especially her young son, it was quickly clear that service at some restaurants changed dramatically depending on the disguise and personality the author projected.

It was so interesting to read the stories of her visits to very famous New York restaurants as well as some lesser known.  Her descriptions of the meals she shared with friends and family vividly include all senses, and I could easily imagine myself there with a tantalizing taste on the tongue of restaurant specialties.  After reading about the story behind the review, her New York Times review itself is also included.  There’s so much humor, especially as she establishes herself with her first reviews.  You’ll also see an evolution of her creative reviews, as she comes to deeply appreciate the promise a restaurant needs to deliver as people spend their hard earned money to experience a beautiful, shared event in their lives.  Her honest reviews to guide guests to the restaurants they’ll enjoy had a real importance.

Ruth says, “This book is going to have recipes instead of pictures because I want you to be able to taste what I am talking about.”  Now I’m still cooking and baking my way through the wonderful recipes.

Thereby hangs a tale . . . .

Monday, March 14, 2016

Murder Eclipsed

Dark Nantucket Noon
By Jane Langton

                Katherine, or Kitty as everyone calls her, returns to the island of Nantucket especially to view a spectacular, noon eclipse of the sun.  She flies from her Boston home, time away from teaching, to experience nature’s show in the only place where the entire total eclipse will be visible.  She’s certain she won’t run into her passionate love, Joe Green, or his wife while she’s there.

                Kitty runs far out along the beach, and ends up viewing the dramatic event by a lighthouse on a seemingly deserted spit on Nantucket Sound.  When the daylight returns, the most beautiful woman on the island, Joe’s wife, lies dead in a pool of blood at Kitty’s feet.  Joe and others who were viewing the eclipse from inside the lighthouse run out onto the murder scene.

                Homer Kelly, salt of the earth homicide detective turned Harvard professor, and occasional amateur sleuth, turns up at the jail believing in Kitty’s innocence.  This mystery novel is one of a series featuring Homer Kelly.  During his murder investigation, and defense of this capricious, creative, poet and teacher, Kelly learns a lot about the people living on the island.  He discovers a passion to preserve the precious environment, and also a competing hunger to draw more people and development.

                This author treats us to a very detailed picture of this special place on earth.  Jane Langton is now 93 years old living in Lincoln, Massachusetts.  She was born and raised in Boston.  Her passion for Nantucket shines through in her writing, and also in her wonderful line drawings that are scattered throughout the book.  Langton said she also used her drawing skills to help with the writing itself. “Drawing comes in handy in moments of desperation when a plot refuses to get itself organized,” she said. So early on, she started using a writing technique she calls Plotting with Charts: “I make tiny drawings on Post-it notes and stick them on a long piece of shelf paper. Then, because the glue on the back is forgiving, I can move the episodes around, trying them in different combinations.”

Besides her mystery series, she’s written about a dozen delightful children’s books.  Then, in 1970 she witnessed a solar eclipse in Nantucket, and decided to combine the event with her astronomy studies at Wellesley College in this Homer Kelly novel which came out in 1975.  No wonder her description of the eclipse and its impacts are so fascinating.  If you like discovering beautiful natural environments and animals, if you like meeting interesting characters and suspects, and certainly if you like solving an intriguing cozy mystery that masterfully unfolds, then you’ll want to read a Dark Nantucket Noon.

Thereby hangs a tale . . . .             

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Coins in the Fountain Reflect La Dolce Vita

Coins in the Fountain
A Memoir of Rome
By Judith Works
You’re invited on a Roman holiday.  You’ll linger over each page of this book, savoring the full-flavored descriptions of all that is seen, heard, tasted, and felt.  Just like all holidays, you won’t want this book to end.  Judith is an adventuresome American who eagerly sought the extraordinary experience of working with the United Nations organization in Italy.  Now we’re fortunate that she’s sharing her expatriate and also her traveler experiences with the rest of us.

Often tourists regret not glimpsing more about the culture and people of the countries they travel to.  Here Judith’s tales setting up a household and then a life in Rome treat you to those insights of what it is to be Italian.  The descriptions of all aspects of la dolce vita are enhanced with the author’s delightful, dry humor.  As with life everywhere, there is the good, the bad, and the ugly, and this book holds back nothing from a well-rounded account for the reader.  Narratives of the Italian meals cooked at home, as well as enjoyed in restaurants are featured.  Meals are events.  Words from the beautiful Italian language are sprinkled throughout the book too, delighting the reader.

There are several dimensions to this memoir.  In addition to life in Rome, another interesting aspect is the description of the work done for the United Nations.  The initial work described is with the FAO (Food and Agricultural Organization).  These situations “presented new problems complicated by the mix of nationalities, cultures, work locations, and legal arrangements.  Adding to the tangle, the United Nations has its own laws as well as individual agreements governing its presence.”  Later the author works for the FAO’s even more adventuresome sister food agency, the World Food Programme.  Stories shared in this book about dedicated people assigned all over the world were touching.

All five senses are immersed in the vivid descriptions of the bountiful landmarks in Rome.  With years of residency to draw from, the author presents the places so many of us have only heard of and also many surprises in Rome as well.  But that’s not all!  For you virtual travelers, Judith also shares extensive excursions taken all over Italy.  But it’s not just the sights, sounds, and tastes in Judith’s descriptions; she includes very interesting historical information to explain the background and then relates it to present day.  The writing flows so easily, it is sprezzatura, the art of making the difficult look effortless.

You’ll enjoy this gracious, artistic view of life in Italy, and you can reread it over again without throwing coins in the fountain.  Have your book signed by Judith Works at The Edmonds Bookshop this Saturday.

Thereby hangs a tale . . . .