Friday, April 14, 2017

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel

The Walsh-Adams family has their hands full. Rosie is a doctor at the local ER, Penn is writing a novel and together they are raising four boys and another child is on the way. Rosie is (not so secretly) hoping this next one will finally be a girl. The whole family is overjoyed when a perfect little boy named Claude joins their clan. Claude is precocious and precious, unlike the rough and tumble brood already under their roof. When Claude announces at age three that he wants to be a girl the family doesn’t think much of it, it could be a phase, so they go shopping and buy him dresses. After a little time goes by they realize that Claude is much happier as a girl. After an incident in Wisconsin regarding Claude, now Poppy, the family ups and moves to Washington state. Upon arrival they all make the mostly unconscious decision to let Poppy be Poppy and keep what’s in her pants a secret. But can a family of seven keep a secret like this? And another question, should they?

This is a story that looks at the life of a child who doesn’t feel comfortable in their skin and how difficult it is as a child to describe what you’re feeling a lot of the time. Is Poppy transgender? Does she want to fully become female? Or, as her brothers think of her, is she simply a girl with boy parts? And at ten years old can you know yourself enough to answer all these questions? The struggle of the parents, wanting to have a happy child however that can happen, is the part that really spoke to me. I felt for Rosie and Penn and their choices on Poppy’s behalf and how there didn’t seem to be a right or wrong answer for all the questions they kept asking themselves. These parents love all their children, and each other, and have the best intentions to bring happiness to the lives of each member of their family. The author’s daughter was born male and is now eight and I’m sure she’s asking a lot of the questions of herself that her fictional parents talk about late into the night. Written in a light hearted comic style, but with a lot of heart and seriousness, this was a great family story I think anyone would enjoy.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Celine by Peter Heller

Celine by Peter Heller

Celine is a privileged woman of a certain age with an extremely successful record of finding missing persons, specifically reuniting children with their birth parents. Her deepest secret and regret is the one person she cannot find. Reeling from the triple tragedies of the death of her two sisters and witnessing the fall of the Twin Towers from her Brooklyn brownstone all in the same year Celine desperately needs a purpose, and she finds one in Gabriela.

Gabriela’s mother died in a tragic accident when she was very young and her grieving father never really recovered. He was an imperfect parent (I’m being very generous here) and spent long months away for his work as a renowned National Geographic photographer. On one assignment to shoot the wildlife at Yellowstone when Gabriela was barely out of her teens he disappears; assumed dead, mauled by a bear. Years later Gabriela learns of Celine and asks that she take the case to look for her missing father. Without a body, and with evidence that didn’t exactly add up, Gabriela has never been convinced that her father died. As Celine digs into the case it becomes clear that her investigation is unwelcome.

Celine is an interesting character, who had an interesting life in her youth. Most private investigators have quirks and I saw her and her husband as a down to earth pairing like Nick and Nora. Celine wears her privilege well and knows that she relies on her husband for his research skills and calm demeanor (he is truly a native of Maine) as well as his help physically. Celine is suffering from emphysema and the high altitude of the park isn’t helping her any. Some that are looking for just a mystery may not appreciate the forays into Celine’s past, but I found them helpful in understanding the character and her relationships with the people around her. A solid mystery that features library research prominently (woo hoo!) that was very enjoyable on audiobook. 

Birders: The Central Park Effect (Documentary - About Birds!)

Birders: The Central Park Effect (Documentary - About Birds!)

Have aspirations of becoming a birder? Look no further for inspiration! This documentary takes you full circle through a year of birdwatching in Central Park. Fun fact: a quarter of the birds found in the continental United States pass through (or sometimes nest) in Central Park. I was surprised to see a wild turkey show up on the screen!

It’s great to see all this urbanites get excited about birds. Now that I’m actually looking for them I have to admit it is great to see them and be able to tell them apart. I love walking through the woods and hearing the birdsong this time of year. Of course there is some sad news, like the decline in the general bird population, but overall the message is clear -- nature is exciting, beautiful and no matter where you are, it’s there!

Check out the special features, the filmmakers put together a short film with footage of different birds all clearly labeled. A great resource for beginner birders!

Warning note: this is another film that requires cat supervision. They may try to grab, pet, chase and/or rub against the birds on screen. Trust me. 

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

It all begins in California with a kiss at a christening party. The mother of the christened child kisses a man who wasn’t exactly invited. Sparks fly. Afterwards two families are recreated. Six children are now stepsiblings summering in Virginia. Disasters, hard feelings, and warm feelings, they may never had experienced otherwise, unfold throughout their lives together.

I’m not typically a fan of books centered on family issues, especially the relationships between siblings, because as an only child I simply don’t get the angst and tumult that seems to exist between siblings. The circumstances that threw the stepsiblings in this novel together made me think that there would be animosity, but the relationships were stronger and much different than I thought they would be under the circumstances. 

I liked the way the book bounced between the past and present showing the lives of the six stepsiblings at different stages in their lives and how their unconventional family affected them for the good and ill. A refreshing look at family drama.

Friday, March 31, 2017

As Good as Gone by Larry Watson

As Good as Gone by Larry Watson


Calvin Sidey all but abandoned his family after his wife died, not being able to handle his grief and raising small children. Retreating to a solitary life on the range putting in fence posts and herding cattle, Calvin is content with his life as a loner. Decades later his son David needs him. He asks Calvin to come to the house and watch his grandchildren while David takes his wife to Missoula for an operation. Calvin, surprising both himself and David, agrees. Calvin thinks babysitting a teen and tween is going to be easy, but Calvin is not one to sit idly by when he sees trouble brewing. The problem is that Calvin is a relic of the west and his way of fixing problems isn’t really acceptable in the modern age of the 1960s.


This book reminded me of a cross between Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name and Clint Eastwood in El Camino. Strangely enough the picture of the grandfather in my head was not of Mr. Eastwood but a character actor I can’t place no matter how hard I try. Calvin isn’t exactly likeable, but he is relatable. You get under his skin and understand his actions, as much as you may not agree with the ways he attempts to solve his problems.


After reading and listening to a few lyrically written, and lengthy, books it was a shock to the system to read the spare no-nonsense writing style of this author. Don’t get me wrong, this is great writing with some wonderful descriptions, but the author conveys Calvin, a man of very few words, even in the style and tone of the entire work. Western fans will find a modern tale worth reading in this one.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Girl From Venice by Martin Cruz Smith

The Girl From Venice by Martin Cruz Smith

Cenzo just wants to fish. WWII is drawing to a close (at least it seems that way) but Nazis and Fascists still prowl the streets and waters of Venice. Cenzo tries his best to avoid any involvement in the war for either side, but when he finds a girl floating in the lagoon he brings her body on board his ship and instantly regrets it. How is he going to anonymously turn in a body? And when she wakes up he realizes he has even bigger problems since a German warship is in the lagoon and they seem to be looking for something, or someone.

I think those expecting something along the lines of Smith’s Russian thrillers may be disappointed, but those looking for an historical thriller, set in a time and place I haven’t seen many WWII books set during/in, will enjoy this novel. Some have complained that you learn too much about fishing, but I found it interesting. Cenzo is not a simple man; he enjoys his work and what some may see as a simple life, but when he starts describing fishing, and eludes some sticky situations, you realize that there is more to him than meets the eye.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Seasons (Wildlife Documentary - French)

Seasons (Wildlife Documentary - French)

Noted French wildlife documentarians Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud explore the history of the great forests of Europe showing what life there was probably like until man came and cleared most of the forest. Wild boar, bear, wolves, badgers, deer, birds, bugs, all are there in vivid color and close photography work. It is a lush and beautiful world that in some ways adapts well to the changed landscape, in others not nearly as successfully. There is only a slight sense of doom at the end; the focus lies on the idea that things can still change for the better.

If you have a cat I would suggest bringing this film home only if your television is secure. I had to remove my cat from the television after he started petting the squirrels on screen. Chasing the herds of bison, following flitting birds with this eyes and trying to discover where the bugs went when they seemed to fly off the screen is all fine. I have to draw the line at whapping and petting the screen. However, this is proof that this is a movie that the ENTIRE family can truly enjoy.