This week we have a one-legged pigeon (totally a first), a sub-par British accent, a Clementine, some Vietnam, E. coli, some dragons, some differences, Swinging London and the cult of beauty, a Ruby, some truth, another Ruby,and an oldster in the attic.

Miss Kiera reports in with this offering: “This week I'm reading a work of middle-grade fiction: On the Road to Mr. Mineo's by Barbara O'Connor. Told in alternating perspectives of the townsfolk of Meadville, South Carolina, over the course of one long, hot summer, we learn about each character as they try to find a troublesome one-legged pigeon. This is no street pigeon, but a homing pigeon lovingly kept by Mr. Mineo and his fat dog, Ernie. The pigeon goes missing during a routine flight over Meadville and winds up insinuating himself into the lives of almost everyone in town. As a child, my grandfather kept about 200 homing and racing pigeons on our roof. So, for me, pigeons have a special place in my heart. What is so remarkable about this book is the way we come to know and truly care about these sometimes oddball, but often charming cast of characters. Each character's search for the one-legged pigeon comes to represent that individual's search for truth, or power, or respect, or friendship. In a way, aren't we all searching for our own one-legged pigeons?”

 Erin is not at all pleased.  “My review this week is going to be controversial among staff members. I am listening to Tell the Wolves I’m Home on audio and I am not loving it. This book is narrated by 14-year-old June who lives in Westchester in the late 80s. Her uncle and closest friend Finn has just passed away due to complications from the AIDS virus. She finds friendship in an unexpected place: her late uncle’s boyfriend Toby. Our staff was wild about this book but I have to say I find the narrator to be a little too precocious to the point that she annoys me. I also think her relationship with her uncle was weird! I am close with my uncles too but I don’t “want to brush the hair out of their eyes,” which is a feeling she has at one point about Finn. I will also note that there are small parts narrated in a sub-par British accent.”  That’s okay Erin.  We love you just the same!

Gretchen is having a good time with the latest installment of one of her favorite series. “I read Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker this week and laughed out loud! My favorite series of books for young readers (2nd-4th grade), Clementine is like a modern Ramona Quimby. She has a short attention span, but a heart of gold. In this story, Clementine’s perfect family of four is about to become five, the science class pet rat has gone missing and she has to untangle a host of complicated feelings about their expanding family. 'Spunky girl' books (early chapter books) are one of my favorite genres and Clementine has topped the list for years. This addition (the 5th book) is as funny and endearing as the first 4!”

Ann has just begun The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam.  “This story takes place in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.  Percival Chen is the headmaster of a highly regarded English school.  He is a proud to be of Chinese descent and does not want to teach Vietnamese at his school.  The repercussions from this decision will affect his son and his life in ways he could not imagine.  So far this book is quite well written and I am enjoying it very much.”

Pat  T. has just finished Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander. “This is about Dr. Alexander's personal experience as a patient, rather than the neurosurgeon that he had been for the past 25 years. When the cortex of his brain shut down due to an attack of E. coli bacteria, he laid in a coma for seven days and  experienced something so profound it made him rethink his beliefs, as a scientist, about consciousness after death. This is a very thought provoking book!”

The Amazing Amanda has just read Seraphina by Rachel Hartman.”I enjoy books with strong heroines who make difficult choices to support their goal. I was unable to put this book down and sped through it in three days. Seraphina is a sixteen year old assistant to the court musician. She unwillingly is forced to leave her desired anonymity behind and gets dragged into courtly intrigue, politics, and trying to solve a royal murder, all while trying to protect her secret. For her secret will surely have her killed not only by humans, but by dragons. As the supreme general dragon arrives to mark the 40th anniversary of the peace treaty between themselves and the humans, Seraphina is forced to get involved. The longest night is coming, can she and the royal family survive the night?”

Barbara M. is reading Far from the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity.  You will notice this is week two of no France and no Nazis.  Hmmmm.  “This is a very well written and well researched book by Andrew Solomon about people raising children who are ‘different’ – deaf, autistic, severely disabled, etc. Solomon has done an incredible amount of research and raises issues I had never thought about; do deaf people want to ‘hear’ and assimilate into a ‘hearing’ world or do they want to remain in their own culture? The book is long, 702 pages, but well worth the effort of reading it.”

Pat S. is feeling fashionable! She tackled both Grace:A Memoir by Grace Coddington and Empress of Fashion by Amanda Mackenzie Stuart.  “Grace is a lively bird's eye view of the fashion world since the late fifties-written by a woman who has been in the center of the fashion world for that long. Beginning as a model in London, she worked and socialized with the likes of David Bailey, Vidal Sassoon, Mary Quant, Jean Shrimpton, the Beatle's and just about everyone who constituted Swinging London. And unlike many of the players of the day, she survived the sex, drugs and rock n' roll sixties fairly unscathed, and went on to establish a thriving career as a fashion editor at Vogue, first in London,  then in America, where she continues on today. In addition to stellar name-dropping, Grace debunks the myths associated with the fashion industry. For those of us of a certain age, this is living history and a lot of fun!
Keeping with the same theme, I then tackled the most recent biography of Diana Vreeland, The Empress of Fashion. It is a fascinating exploration of a woman who reported on and created fashion for over fifty years. Vreeland was a character. Imperious, dramatic, charismatic, histrionic and she brought all of those qualities to her search for beauty. Emerging from a childhood which was materially rich but emotionally lacking, Vreeland embraced the cult of beauty in all things and made it her life's work. Beginning with a single column for "Harper's Bazaar" in the thirties, Vreeland's intuitive grasp of fashion trends led her to  bigger and bigger platforms and ultimately as Editor of Vogue, America. When that came to an end, she found herself a job at the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute curating exhibits.  She did this in such a groundbreaking way that it broke all l previous attendance records. Her methods were suspect but the results were thrilling. I hated to see this one end.”

Stephanie read one of my favorites of all time this week. “This week I was captivated by Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum. Jen can’t stop raving about Atkinson’s new book, so I comforted myself with this one in the meantime. I can’t believe this is a first novel because it is so incredibly well-written and well-paced. I love a British family drama, and this book contains several. It begins with Ruby Lennox narrating her life starting at the exact moment of her conception (the first sentence of the book is “I exist!” That’s got to be one of the best first sentences in the Western canon) and takes off in multiple directions from there, through the generations of her ancestors and the times they lived in. As the book sweeps through and back the twentieth century, Atkinson’s powers of storytelling only grow. What a gem.”

Abby seems tickled.  And with so little vested! “I just started Truth in Advertising by John Kenney being released January 22.  I'm only 8% in, but have laughed out loud (LOL for the tech crowd) 4 times.  Not many books make me do that, so I am optimistic I'll continue to enjoy this book.  At 8%, I can't even tell you what it's about besides the advertising biz and a dysfunctional copywriter.”

Miss Elisabeth is reading Here Where the Sunbeams are Green by Helen Phillips. “It's a debut Kidlit book, and I'm really enjoying it. Ruby and Madeline are sisters who go in search of their father, a renowned ornithologist. He's been hired by a new "green" spa deep in the South American jungle to help properly conserve the bird species on the resort's property. It's been several months since they've heard from their father, and then the girls get a strange letter, written in code and covered in what look like children's drawings. What is wrong with their father? What is the resort hiding? And will Madeline and Ruby make it out of the jungle alive? I have no idea, because I haven't finished the story yet, but this is a fantastic, middle-grade, ecological thriller that I would recommend to everyone!”

I have been reading a book coming out in April, The Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. Troubled teenaged Molly is about to age out of the foster system.  Vivian is in her 90’s and is in need of some help in cleaning out her attic.  As they go through her possessions Vivian tells Molly the story of her life. It is well written, even if it is a tad predictable. You really end up caring about and rooting for these two people who have more in common than they probably realize.  

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