Friday, April 28, 2017

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

Samuel Hawley has twelve scars on his body and he has never told his daughter Loo (short for Louise) anything about them. Now that she’s older she knows they are from bullet wounds, and that her dad must be in some kind of trouble because they tend live in motels and move around a lot. The year Loo turns twelve things change. They rent a house in New England near the home of a grandmother she doesn’t remember, she grows up, gets a job, falls in love, but it seems like the past just can’t let them go.

This turned out to be a great pairing with The Hearts of Men -- what makes a good father? Can you do bad things and still be a good person? Hawley is an interesting character and we learn the story of his past through the stories of the scar. Each bullet wound is a chapter. Alternating chapters focus on the present, and Loo’s life, and the father-daughter duo comes to terms with living a “normal” life.

Loo doesn’t remember her mother since she died when Loo was an infant, but the shrine her father creates to Lily in each place they live is a testament to his undying love for her as well as his inability to let go of the past. The is a damaged and haunted man trying to do right by his daughter by sheltering her from his life, but Loo is more like her father than he realizes.

Fans of Lee Child and Vince Flynn will enjoy getting to know Samuel Hawley. Yes, he’s on the wrong side of the law, but he’s trying so hard to right wrongs and be good but the past sometimes refuses to let go.

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler

The Hearts of Men by Nickolas Butler

Boy Scout camp at Camp Chippewa, Wisconsin, in 1962 was a turning point in the life of a young bugler named Nelson. Nelson is a good boy, on his way to becoming an Eagle Scout, but it is the qualities that make him a good scout that set him apart from his fellow scouts. It is there that he makes a friend in Jonathan, his only friend, and one that he will have contact with throughout his life. It is also there that he finds his mentor, Scoutmaster Whitesides, who runs the camp and becomes a father figure for Nelson. 

This is the story of two good boys, Nelson and Jonathan’s son Trevor, who strive to always do the right thing, even when the right thing is the hard thing or the unpopular thing. But is the thing that is right always the right thing to do?

This book should be referenced whenever bildungsromans (coming of age stories) are discussed. This is the story of Nelson growing up and learning what it is to be a man and striving to be a good man despite all he faces during wartime. This is also a book about Trevor growing up and falling in love, reluctantly continuing the Camp Chippewa tradition.

Is it okay to sometimes do the wrong thing if your heart is in the right place? And what does it mean to be man? Why do some men seem to think that a “real” man can’t be both good and a man? But most importantly this book is about heroes and what it means to be a hero in another person’s eyes.

This is a good choice on audio but I will warn you, there is one part about a lost bet at Camp Chippewa that will have you cringing and rolling down the window in your car for fresh air if you’re listening while you drive.

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.