Simple Matters: Living with Less and Ending Up with More by Erin Boyle

c7b97d8683a411e396e179ea853485c6BookSimple Matters is about making a home. “The simple decisions and practices and objects and habits that make up the backdrop of our tumultuous lives….based on the premise that a simple home is filled with hardworking things.” It’s divided into nine chapters, including Decluttering, Bath & Beauty, Cooking & Entertaining and Cleaning. Boyle is a blogger and photographer who has moved with her husband and child into five apartments in the last ten years. The process of moving helped her prioritize her possessions and streamline her processes. I like her approach to a simpler, more thoughtful, more engaged lifestyle. She gives practical suggestions and creative solutions that are economical and simple. The format and illustrations of the book were appealing. I feel inspired to reexamine my possessions and habits toward achieving a simpler, more fulfilling life.

Bitter Seeds by Ian Tregillis

6881685Book – Klaus and his sister Gretel were sold to the Doctor when they were children, and ten years later, after innumerable surgeries, experiments, and hours of training, they and their companions are the secret weapons of the rising Reich. Klaus can walk, insubstantial, through walls or hails of bullets with equal ease; his rival can burst into flames at will; and his sister Gretel’s powers, though less dramatic, are no less important, because she can see the future consequences of all their actions.

Meanwhile, across the Channel, the British Secret Service has formed an even-more secret organization called Milkweed to figure out how to combat the German supersoldiers whose existence they’ve stumbled upon. Raybould Marsh, an up-and-coming SIS agent, recruits his old friend William Beauclerk, the younger brother of a Duke and, more importantly, one of Britain’s secret network of warlocks, able to negotiate favors from impossibly powerful beings with control over the very fabric of reality.

Nazi supermen versus British warlocks — Bitter Seeds (the first book in the Milkweed Trilogy) is like a comic book movie in novel form, in the best possible way. While the Nazi doctor sometimes falls into cartoon-villain territory, Klaus and Gretel more than make up for it, and the machinations of the British warlocks are mesmerizing in their horribleness. This is a dark alternate history (although perhaps no darker than World War II actually was) where everybody makes terrible choices in the service of winning the war, without stopping to think about what will happen if they do.

If you like Marvel’s Captain America movies or the X-Men in any form, do yourself a favor and pick this up. Another great alternate-World War II novel is Jo Walton’s Farthing, an English country house mystery set during the long peace between Britain and Nazi Germany.

The Wit and Wisdom of Downtown Abbey

indexBookThe Wit and Wisdom of Downton Abbey is perfect as a small gift or stocking stuffer.  Known for beautiful costumes and settings, great characters, stories, and excellent writing – Jessica Fellowes has compiled some of her favorite quotes from the show.  The book is beautifully illustrated with color stills from the series.  Paging through it the reader will be reminded of some of the most memorable scenes and the personalities of the characters. It’s also interesting to experience all the social changes that happened over the six seasons.

Some of the best quotes are from Violet played splendidly by Maggie Smith.  “Have we all stepped through the looking glass?”, “Poor souls. It’s bad enough parenting a child when you like each other.”  Speaking to her grown son Robert: “When you talk like that I’m tempted to ring for Nanny and have you put to bed with no supper.”  And loving words between one of my favorite couples: Mrs. Hughes: “You can always hold my hand if you need to feel steady.” Carson: “I don’t know how, but you manage to make that sound a little risqué.”  This is just a small example of many, many more.  A fun little book that is truly witty and wise.

You may also like Behind the Scenes of Downton Abbey, The Chronicles of Downton Abbey, Downton Abbey: A Celebration, and The World of Downton Abbey.

Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay

disappearance-devils-rockBook – One night late in the summer, Tommy’s mother Elizabeth is woken up in the middle of the night by a call from Tommy’s friend Josh asking if Tommy came home. They’d been hanging out at Split Rock in the nearby park, and Tommy took off and never came back. Now Tommy’s missing, and as the whole town turns out to search for him, Elizabeth is looking for answers. Why do pages from Tommy’s diary – one she didn’t even know he had – keep turning up on the living room floor overnight? Why are Tommy’s friends calling it Devil’s Rock, when no one’s ever used that nickname before? Who was the adult man hanging out with the boys during the summer, and where did he go? And what really happened to Tommy?

I like horror novels for their ingenuity and visceral power, but it’s not often that I’m really, genuinely scared by them. I was terrified of this book. Tremblay walks the fine line of suspension of disbelief in a way that feels so much more realistic than any other horror writer. Is Elizabeth really being haunted by her son’s ghost, or does she just want to see him again so badly that she’s imagining things? We’ve all experienced things we can’t entirely explain, and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock has that same feeling: we’re pretty sure that there’s a mundane explanation for everything, but all the same…

Tremblay pulled off a similarly tricky balance with his exorcism novel, Head Full of Ghosts, but I found Disappearance much, much scarier. Read it with the lights on, and make sure your kids are safe in bed before you start.

The Boy in the Black Suit by Jason Reynolds

boy-in-the-black-suit-9781442459502_lgBook–Matt’s world collapsed the day his mother lost her battle with cancer. And now he is losing his father to the bottle. Nothing is the same anymore. He suddenly feels older than all of his friends and nobody seems to understand what he is going through. When Mr. Ray offers him a job working with him at the funeral home, Matt’s first reaction is to say no. He really did not want to be surrounded by death, it would just remind him of what he lost.

But when Matt realizes that he has two options: work at the Cluck Bucket or work for Mr. Ray, he takes Mr. Ray’s offer. And he is surprised at how cathartic it was to watch another person struggle with their pain. Now, Matt cannot wait for another funeral. He even wears his black suit everyday so he is prepared for work. Then he meets Lovey, who has also dealt with pain and loss, and he begins to realize that maybe he is not actually alone in the world.

The Boy in the Black Suit is a great book about dealing with the loss of a loved one and learning to overcome your trials. It is beautifully written with diverse and funny characters. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading realistic fiction.

All the Wrong Questions by Lemony Snicket

cover-book1Books – Something Unfortunate has arrived.

Young adult readers who followed A Series of Unfortunate Events when it was released (more than a decade ago!), and the parents and other then-adult readers who devoured the books along with them, may already know that the smash-hit series is slated for a new small-screen adaptation to debut on Netflix next year.  That means that right now is a great time to re-visit Snicket’s (aka Daniel Handler‘s) playfully grim universe–especially because that universe has just expanded.

All the Wrong Questions is an recently-completed Unfortunate Events spin-off series, consisting of four main books (1: Who Could That Be At This Hour? 2: When Did You See Her Last? 3: Shouldn’t You Be in School? 4: Why is This Night Different From All Other Nights?) and one volume of related short stories (File Under– 13 Suspicious Incidents). Set a generation before ASoUE, AtWQ chronicles an exciting period in the life of young Lemony Snicket, the narrator/”author” of ASoUE, during his time as an apprentice investigator in a forlorn and mostly-abandoned village called Stain’d-by-the-Sea.

ASoUE and AtWQ definitely belong in the same universe.  They share the same melancholy-yet-hopeful tone, the same focus on heroic individuals struggling often unsuccessfully against a world of selfishness and corruption, and the same conviction that the surest way of telling the bad guys from the good guys is usually that the good guys love to read.  In other ways, however, the two series have significant tonal differences.  Where ASoUE is about as Gothic as a story can be, AtWQ chooses a different downbeat genre and skews heavily noir–if Humphrey Bogart doesn’t actually manage to climb through the pages, it’s not for lack of trying.  Another big difference is that, while ASoUE’s three protagonists are siblings who can depend on one another from page one, Lemony in AtWQ starts out alone and builds himself a found family in the course of the books.  Young readers who have just finished ASoUE should also know that AtWQ is a slightly more difficult read, written for an audience a few years older.

All of that said, I think that every Unfortunate Events fan should give All the Wrong Questions a try.  It’s a quick and enjoyable read with a great sense of humor–and the perfect way to tide yourself over until January 13!

Finding the Right Words for the Holidays: Festive Phrases to Personalize Your Holiday Greetings and Newsletters by J. Beverly Daniel

16170561Book–I love sending out holiday cards. Picking out the card design, gathering my addresses (fortunately, I have a small family), and sending out the cards is always a fun part of the holiday ritual. Where I fall down and get stuck is on what the heck to write in the card. I inevitably end up with something trite, or I get the cards with a pre-printed message and just sign my name to them. When I stumbled on this small book tucked away in the 800s, it was quite a relief. Finally, I have more than enough holiday phrases to write, and won’t let writer’s block stick me with a bunch of blank unsent cards (yes, this actually happened last year).

Finding the Right Words for the Holidays includes messages for Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and the New Year, plus phrases to tuck into charmingly smug holiday family newsletters. With messages ranging from sincere to flippant, you should be able to find something with the correct tone for your friends, family, and others. I hope you can benefit from this little book as much as I did and, as the book says, “May your holidays be filled with many treasures and surprises.”

 

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

w204Book – Franny Keating falls in love with a well-known older author, Leo Posen, in her twenties. She shares the story of her turbulent childhood with him, which he publishes into a bestselling book. It stirs up the past and Franny, her siblings and stepsisters must finally face the events that led to a family tragedy many years ago. The chain of events began when Franny’s mother fell in love with a guest, Bert Cousins, who showed up with a bottle of gin at Franny’s christening. She eventually divorced Franny’s father to marry Bert, a father of four. Franny, her sister and their step-siblings were often left to their own devices over Summer vacations and holidays. Cal, the oldest of the bunch, led them on adventures and the six forged a strong bond, which endures even after the tragedy. The book traces the relationships and lives of the families over forty years and their different memories of the past. I thought this book was honest in its examination of families, their struggles and the love that prevails throughout.

The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle

indexBook – Pepper’s never been in serious trouble in his life. Sure, a couple of fights here and there, but nothing big. But now, out of nowhere, he finds himself incarcerated — not in prison, where he would have a right to a lawyer and a phone call, but in a mental hospital, where he’s told he’ll be held indefinitely, since he signed those papers they gave him after they gave him the Haldol. The food is terrible, the view nonexistent, and his roommate won’t stop pestering him for spare change. And the Devil lives at the end of hallway four.

Although this is billed as a horror novel, and it kind of is, I’d say it’s not scary so much as disturbing. LaValle does a terrific job of shining a bright light on the systems that dehumanize people, making them nameless and disposable That’s not just the way the police can have someone institutionalized when they don’t feel like processing the paperwork to arrest them, but also the way people desperate to keep their jobs learn to cut corners and avoid speaking up about problems, and the way people are put into categories that make them easier to ignore. And with his wonderful characters, Pepper and Dorrie and Coffee and Sue and all the others, he makes us see them as people again.

Spontaneous by Aaron Starmer

SpontaneousCoverBook – Imagine this: you are sitting in your pre-calc class and suddenly, without warning, your classmate a couple rows ahead of you spontaneously combusts. Blood and guts are everywhere. For a second, nobody moves, still in shock over the event. Then panic. Police are called, questions are asked. A funeral is held, everyone cries and mourns the loss of young life. Then everyone turns to moving on, healing. But then someone else blows up during a group therapy session. Then another a few weeks later. Nobody has an answer. All anyone seems to know is that it for some reason its only seniors from this small suburb of New Jersey that are spontaneously combusting.

Now you may be thinking: ‘Why in the world should I read this book? That story line sounds dark and depressing. I do not want to read about teens dying!’ I’ll tell why, cause its one of those books that you will stay up till 2 o’clock in the morning in order to finish. The narrator Mara draws you into the story of the worst year of her life. You WANT and NEED to find out what is going on with the teens. Yes, the story line is dark and kinda of depressing, but it really touches on death and living each day. Spontaneous is a book that you will soon not forget.