The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

indexBook – The Signature of All Things is an epic saga of the Whittaker family that takes place in the late 18th and early 19th century, the Age of Enlightenment and the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. This work of fiction is a new venture for non-fiction author Elizabeth Gilbert author of Eat, Pray, Love and will delight readers.

Henry is a wealthy American import tycoon whose ambition left behind his life of humbleness and poverty in England. His daughter, Alma is bestowed with all the benefits of money; a good education and fine material possessions. Though she is scholarly and has a passion for learning about the natural world, especially botany, she is rather plain in her looks and socially awkward. Having lived a sheltered life, she is thrilled when almost middle-aged, she meets Ambrose Pike an artist, spiritualist, and dreamer who shares her love of flowers and plants that he expresses in his artwork. They soon get married and Ambrose whisks Alma, who has never been out of Philadelphia, on a ship to exotic Tahiti. Though the story reveals insight into the couple’s relationship, it mainly focuses on Alma’s love and impact on science and emerging theories on evolution. Well researched, this is a fascinating story, not to be missed about a woman who was well ahead of her time.

When asked about the title, in an interview the author explained, “The Signature of All Things is the title of a 16th century botanical/divine theory posited by a German shoemaker-turned-mystic named Jacob Boehm, who believed that God so loved the world that He had hidden in the design of each plant on earth some clue for humans as to that plant’s usefulness. (For instance: Walnuts are good for headaches, and are also—helpfully—shaped like brains).”

 

Maya’s Notebook by Isabel Allende

maya's notebookBook – What did 19 year old Maya from Berkley, California do to make her a fugitive from the FBI and drug lords and hide out in Chiloé, an isolated island on the coast of Chile? Her heartbreaking story is told as Maya records the torrid period of her life in a notebook that her grandmother, Nini has given her. Her grandparents raised her after her mother deserted her after her birth and her pilot father was rarely home due to his career. Maya’s troubles soon began after the death of her beloved grandfather, an astronomer and Nini’s husband. Maya begins hanging out with the wrong crowd, starts doing drugs, and eventually runs away to Las Vegas. Her grief is so intense that she spirals into a world of addiction, crime, homelessness, prostitution, and near death. Nini arranges Maya’s exile with an old friend, an anthropologist named Manuel. As expected, Maya’s life on Chiloé is very different. Eventually the natives warm up to her and Maya once again enjoys the simplicities of life. But she might not be totally safe . .  Allende paints a rich picture of the healing of Maya and the culture, superstitions, and natural beauty of the island and its people. Though different from the author’s other novels, because it is contemporary instead of historical fiction, it is just as moving as her other books.

Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian

sandcastleBook – Chris Bohjalian pays homage to his Armenian roots in Sandcastle Girls, by telling the story of “The Slaughter You Know Next to Nothing About”. The genocide of over ½ million people by the Ottoman Empire during World War I. The account is relayed through Laura Petrosian, the great granddaughter of Elizabeth, an American from Boston and Armen from Armenia. While researching her genealogy for a book, Laura comes across letters and photographs of her great grandparents that help her piece together her family history.

Elizabeth and Armen meet in Aleppo Syria in 1915.  Elizabeth, is a nurse recently graduated from college who accompanies her father on a mission to provide humanitarian aid to Armenian Refugees. Armen is an engineer working for the Germans who is desperately looking for his missing wife and baby who were lost during the deportations and mass murders. The two soon become very fond of each other. They are separated when Armen leaves to fight for the British Army. Elizabeth and Armen’s love flourishes in spite of continuing genocide and war, as they write letters to each other.

This is an enduring love story that also gives us heartbreakingly gritty details about the atrocities of the horrific events. It was a bit difficult to get through due to the subject matter, but definitely worthwhile.

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Book – Cath is a huge Simon Snow fan. Book releases, movie premiers, dressing up, and writing fan fiction have consumed her life and that of her twin sister Wren. But now Cath and Wren are starting their first year of college and Wren no longer seems to care about Simon Snow. But Cath cannot let go. Simon Snow helped her cope with her mother leaving and her father’s illness. And there is no way she can give up on her fan fiction, Carry On Simon, not when thousands of people are expecting her weekly updates. But navigating college is stressful, especially when making new friends is not your strong suit, and Cath’s upper level Writing class does not leave a lot of time for extra writing projects. Add cute (but confusing) boys to the mix and Cath’s freshman year becomes a lot more complicated than she wished.

Fangirl tells the relatable story of a young college freshman who would rather stay in her room and write fan fiction than interact with anybody. It’s about breaking out of your comfort zone in order to make new friends, have adventures, and start relationships. If you love writing and cute love stories Fangirl is a great book to read.

Cinderella (2015)

Movie – And so it begins.  The 2015 film, Cinderellastarts Disney’s new endeavor to take all our favorite childhood films and transform them into live-action remakes.  Don’t get me wrong, I am pretty excited to see a few of them hit the screen, mainly Beauty and The Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Mulan. So, obviously, the premiere of Cinderella was a BIG deal.  Because I love children’s movies, I felt obligated to give the fairy tale remake a try.  With Lily James as our lovely Cinderella, evil stepmother Cate Blanchett, and Helena Bonham Carter as the quirky fairy godmother, the film has a killer cast.

Unlike many previous Cinderella adaptations, this film gave Cinderella’s mother some screentime before she passes, which I thought was a nice touch.  The story moved a bit slowly for my liking, which I understand was probably due to the in depth storytelling of the film.  It seemed there was a greater focus on each of the characters.  For example, the deeper character development of the wicked stepmother helped to see her in a different light, which was a unique change of pace.

I did get caught up with how much the story dragged (in my opinion), which was rather annoying.  And the CGI was a bit much for my taste.  I also thought the main message of the story,  Have courage and be kind, though a good message, was unnecessarily repetitive throughout the movie.  Still the film managed to retain the fairytale magic that made me fall in love with the original story.

The Hundred Foot Journey (2014)

The_Hundred_Foot_Journey_(film)_posterMovie – The Hundred Foot Journey is a wonderful movie about rivalry, family, love and self-discovery. In the midst of political unrest, the Kadam family’s restaurant is set on fire resulting in the death of their matriarch and chef and loss of their family business. The father and his children flee India for Europe and by chance they settle in a small village in France. The oldest son Hassan learned much about cooking from his mother, so the family decides to open a restaurant. It is located directly across the street from an exclusive haute cuisine restaurant owned by Madame Mallory, who is obsessed with earning another Michelin star for fine dining. As you can imagine, Madame is none too pleased with her new neighbors’ eatery complete with a garish Taj Mahal facade and blasting Bollywood music. To further complicate things there is a growing romance between Kadam and Madame’s sous chef, Marguerite.  Totally delightful and guaranteed to stimulate your culinary senses.  We also have the book by Richard C. Morais, The Hundred Foot Journey, that the move is based on.

The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett

mag assBook – The Magician’s Assistant is a magical story of loss, discovery, and healing. Sabine has been Parsifal the Magician’s lovely statuesque assistant for over 20 years in L.A. Parsifal marries her shortly after his male lover, who is also friends with Sabine, dies from AIDS. It is only a brief time later that Parsifal also dies and Sabine surprisingly learns that her husband has a mother and two sisters in Nebraska, when he had claimed that he had no family, as they were all dead. Sabine and Parsifal’s family meet and Sabine learns about Guy as a boy growing up in the Great Plains and his mother and sisters learn about Parsifal the magician from L.A. The family is enchanted by Sabine as she demonstrates some of the magician’s tricks and they all form a very special bond as they share the details of the magician’s life and eventually face up to the painful reason why he left his home, abandoned his family, and took on a new identity. Beautifully written and insightful.