The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Book – My grandson Lorenzo, Enzo for short, was born just a few weeks ago.  Enzo . . . the name made me think of one of my favorite books, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.  The story is told from Enzo’s perspective, but what is very different about this novel is that he is a dog, a lab terrier mix.  I had my doubts whether I would like this book, because it is about auto racing and the world is viewed through a dog’s eyes.  But I read it, since it was on all the best seller lists and I was looking for a good candidate for our book discussion group.  Not only did I love The Art of Racing in the Rain, but it was a great pick for discussion.  From the book jacket:  “Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life’s ordeals.”  A movie version is currently in production and will star Patrick Dempsey, who is an amateur race car driver as Enzo’s owner Denny Swift.  You don’t need to be a dog lover an auto racing fan to enjoy this book. It is a feel good story of loyalty, family, thoughtful philosophical insight, and working to reach your full potential.

Crazy Sexy Diet : eat your veggies, ignite your spark, and live like you mean it! By Kris Carr

Crazy sexy dietBook – After receiving the gift of a blender marketed for creating nutritional smoothies, I sought out recipes and nutritional information to expand upon what was provided in the small booklet that came with the appliance. In this book Kris Carr, cancer survivor and popular author of Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips, has gathered medical experts together to explain the reasoning behind “a low-glycemic, vegetarian program that emphasizes balancing the pH of the body with lush whole and raw foods, nourishing organic green drinks, and scrumptious smoothies.” Carr intersperses information from nutritional studies with everyday tips for incorporating often radical changes into one’s everyday diet. These changes include reducing one’s consumption of meat, sugar, gluten, caffeine, alcohol, and dairy. Her book uses sassy language, personal anecdotes, and a colorful magazine style layout to motivate readers to alter their eating habits for the sake of their health, mood, energy, and longevity. Other library offerings with recipes and information on liquid nutrition include: The Juice Lady’s Turbo Diet by Cherie Calborn, The Juicing Bible by Pat Crocker, and The Lean by Kathy Freston.

Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter

last busBook – Two girls are waiting for a bus but, impatient, they decide to hitch a lift instead. Later that night one of them is found murdered outside a pub. Enter Detective Inspector Morse, unhappily middle-aged, cranky, romantic, and (as his supervisor will say in a later novel), entirely too clever for his own good. No one is telling the whole truth, and Morse runs himself in circles second- and third- and fourth-guessing everyone’s motives in an attempt to find out what really happened that night on the way to Woodstock.

Last Bus to Woodstock shows its age in a lot of ways, not least the extremely dated attitudes toward sex and rape that nearly all the characters express, but it’s still a good, solid mystery with an engaging detective. I particularly liked the way Morse keeps getting things wrong: he makes lots of wild guesses and assumptions and follows lots of trails that lead only to dead ends before finally (of course) hitting upon the solution.

Written from the mid seventies through the late nineties, Colin Dexter’s popular Inspector Morse series was also made into a TV show that continues to be popular on PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery, and has spawned two spinoff shows of its own.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett

State of WonderBookState of Wonder by Ann Patchett starts in Minnesota and sends us on an exotic journey down the Amazon River to the Jungles of Brazil. Pharmacologist Marina Singh receives word that her research partner, Anders Eckman, has died of a mysterious fever and that his body is buried somewhere in the Amazon Jungle. Anders was sent there by their pharmaceutical company to check on the progress of the development of a new fertility drug by Dr. Annick Swenson, because she refuses to respond to the company’s increasingly urgent queries. Marina agrees to go to the Amazon for the sake of Anders’s wife, who has her doubts about his death, and for the company that still needs answers from Dr. Swenson.

Marina arrives in the town of Manaus, where she eventually hooks up with Dr. Swenson. Marina discovers that Dr. Swenson has a hidden agenda regarding the secrecy of her research and the mystery surrounding the death of Dr. Eckman. Fast-paced and beautifully written, the reader will feel the oppressive heat, heaviness and crawly feeling of the jungle.  Definitely a page turner and very thought provoking, especially regarding the issues of science and ethics.  Recommended as a book discussion read. If you enjoy this book you may want to read these:  Intuition by Allegra Goodman, The Sound of Butterflies by Rachael King, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre, and other books by Ann Patchett.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

orphan traBook – Orphan trains ran from the East Coast to the Midwest from 1854 to 1929. They carried orphan children who needed homes and were available for adoption. The children aboard the trains had few options and could easily be exploited in their new homes. Orphan Train tells two parallel stories: the current plight of foster child Molly Ayer and the life story of Vivian Daly, an elderly woman who once rode the Orphan Train. Their lives intersect when teenage Molly is assigned a community service project to help Vivian sort through the boxes stored in her attic. Molly has not known much unconditional love in her years in foster care, and as a friendship begins to blossom between the two woman, Molly is able to confront her current demons. In turn, Vivian is able to come to peace with her past and her secrets. This book illustrates and contrasts the situations and emotions that children without loving caretakers face, both in the past and the present. However, it also depicts the positive impact of people in the community who reach out with love and care in a troubled situation and, in doing so, can provide a bright and hopeful future.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

penumbraBook – “What do you seek in these shelves?” What recently unemployed graphic designer Clay Jannon sought was employment. His quest was successful at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore; a place with bookshelves and ladders extending up three stories, and a collection of curious books that are never bought, but are “checked-out” by eccentric individuals. Clay calls upon his friends to assist him with investigating mysteries which extend far beyond the walls of the enigmatic store. This thought-provoking tale includes puzzles that revolve around technology as antiquated as the printing press and as cutting edge as Google wizardry. The humorous writing and optimistic tone make this novel a rejuvenating read. Appropriately, this book offers a surprise if the reader turns out the light. The audiobook does not offer that perk, but the narrator Ari Filakos delivers the likable Clay’s inner monologues and quirky humor so well that I went back and listened to some key sections to hear his moving delivery of them.

Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace by Kate Summerscale

Mrs. Robinson's DisgraceBook – Divorce in England became available to the middle class for the first time in 1858, and one of the first cases was that of Robinson v. Robinson & Lane. Henry Robinson had read his wife’s diary while she was ill, and discovered it full of stories about her passionate love affair with a handsome young doctor. He sued for divorce as soon as he was able. Isabella Robinson’s defense argued that the diary was a work of fantasy and none of the affairs had actually happened. The court took three months to reach a verdict, and meanwhile the case became a sensation. Excerpts of Mrs. Robinson’s diary were printed in the papers – a lucky stroke for historian Kate Summerscale, as the actual diary has vanished.

Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace immerses you in the world of a middle-class Victorian housewife who desperately longs for something more in her life. The book reads almost like a novel, following first the events of Isabella Robinson’s diary and then those of the trial, while also describing the surrounding world – the mania for diary-writing, the salaciousness of the press, the nervousness about the new divorce courts. For those who want more of the same, Emma Donoghue’s novel The Sealed Letter is a fictional tale of Victorian divorce which references the Robinson case.

Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

age of mBookThe Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is a hauntingly beautiful story set in an extraordinary time.  The rotation of the Earth is gradually slowing which affects the length of days and nights, gravity, tides, the food supply, and human and animal behavior.

Told from the perspective of Julia, a sensitive bright 11 year old, this is more of a coming of age tale than science fiction. Julia narrates her life as an adolescent bringing to light typical experiences of popularity, bullying, friendships, cliques, and crushes.  But if life weren’t complicated enough, Julia now must face the reality of what the future holds for her and if she has a future at all. Not only are there blatant environmental changes, but normal daily activities are increasingly difficult to hold onto. The Earth’s inhabitants are divided on whether to live by the clock or let the sun and darkness, which are both slowly increasing as the Earth’s rotation continuously is slowing, dictate their sleeping and waking patterns.

Walker consulted scientists in her research and while reading the book I questioned how I would react and what would I do under similar circumstances. This is a great book for both teens and adults.  It was named one of the “Best Books of the Year” by O: The Oprah Magazine, BookPage, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and others. A movie based on the book is currently in production.

S. by J. J. Abrams & Doug Dorst

s.J. J. Abrams, the movie and television creator of popular works such as Armageddon and Lost, hired a writer and a graphic design team to bring this celebration of paper and ink reading to life. S. is a multi-layered set of mysteries, composed of a suspenseful love story handwritten in the margins of an enigmatic, fantastical adventure novel. 22 extra artifacts that arrived tucked into this novel, including a map on a napkin, a college newsletter, and a decoder wheel, required extra TLC from our cataloging department, and add to the fun of this eccentric reading adventure. The design team did a wonderful job of using textures, images, and fonts to provide the nostalgic look of a library book published in the 1940’s, as well as inscribing the seams and margins with delightfully realistic handwriting.

I especially enjoyed Dorst’s writing in the adventure novel. The story is an analogy of literary novels of the early twentieth century, in which prose and philosophy proliferated. As a four-time winner of Jeopardy, Dorst has a wonderful depth of vocabulary which he uses playfully and poetically. For example, an assassin moving in and out of time feels that he is sleepwalking through his endless assignments and that his only choice is “to live a life of vigilant somnolence or somnolent vigilantism”. In contrast, the writing in the margins between two students who are surreptitiously passing the book back and forth as they try to discover the true identity of the author, is informal and includes current digital acronyms.

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

Still Life with Bread CrumbsBook – Sixty-year-old Rebecca Winter is a well-known photographer whose life has become stale. She hasn’t had any new ideas for her art, her income has dried up and her adult son has moved out of their plush New York apartment. Rebecca impulsively decides to rent a more affordable cottage, sight unseen, out in the country. She discovers the cottage and village are much more primitive and isolated than she anticipated. However, as she adjusts to the new, slower pace of her days, she begins to discover who she is as an artist and as a woman. She reminisces about her marriage and divorce, past lovers, motherhood, friendship and art. I enjoyed Rebecca’s journey, discoveries and insights as she embarked on a new stage in her life. Author Anna Quindlen illuminates the subtleties of everyday life. If you enjoy Elizabeth Berg and Anne Tyler, you may enjoy one of Quindlen’s novels.