Water, Water Everywhere

Exactly 122 years ago this week, storm clouds that had gathered over the Plains States moved east and ripped open over southwestern Pennsylvania. Flooding and rising rivers caused destruction, but that turned out to be just the beginning of what we remember now as the Johnstown Flood. It was on May 31, 1889 that the South Fork Dam burst right above the town of Johnstown and 20 million tons of water poured below. Over 2,000 townspeople lost their lives in the devastation.

The Johnstown Flood has become part of American lore and legend, often cited in fiction and song, but the actual facts of the story are as astonishing as any Hollywood disaster film. Historian David McCullough has written a comprehensive book about the tragedy, and we also have an excellent documentary on DVD. With recent natural disasters still fresh in our minds, we're reminded of this tragic chapter in American history and the lives lost, 122 years ago today.


This week’s installment shows us up to our same old tricks.  Someone will scare you, someone is fascinated by one family’s totally demented dysfunction, and another is searching out the beautifully written.  And the other thing you can always count on is that you will find something here that will make your weekend reading wonderful.

Let us begin!


Ann is reading Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks, She want us to know that she is “thoroughly enjoying, especially reading an historical fiction account of a Native American in the 1600's.  Generally not a time period I read much of unless it's of British kings and queens. It’s a terrific read.”


 Barbara M. who has a fabulous new chaise and is not at all shy about letting all know about how vastly it has improved her reading time  reports she is reading “One Hundred Names For Love by Diane Ackerman. In writing about the stroke which left her husband, also a writer, without words Ackerman combines scientific insight and poetic images. I love her writing.”


Pat is working her way through The Moment by Douglas Kennedy in it Pat says, “ A fifty year old travel writer, who is recently divorced, attempts to move on with his life by purchasing a home in rural Maine. While there he flashes back 25 years to the time he lived in Berlin, met and fell in love with a young woman from East Berlin.  Kennedy is great at developing complex characters with a lot of emotional baggage. Good Read!”




I am reading The Memonry of All That:  George Gershwin, Kay Swift and My Fanily's Legacy of Infidelities by Katherine Weber.  The title really says it all but what it doesn’t say is how funny and beautifully written this story is.  For those of you working on In the Garden of the Beasts, guess who makes an appearance in this book as a lover of the author’s father? That’s right!  Martha Dodd.  Because it would appear she was more of a round heeled woman than Erik Larson ever dreamed!



Citizen Asha is reading “Hold Me Closer, Necromancerby Lish McBride. It's a darkly funny, paranormal novel. Samhain Corvus LaCroiz (who wouldn't want that name?) leads a pretty normal, working at a fast food place when a prank brings him to the attention of Douglas, a lovely man really, he just happens to be the head necromancer in Seattle as well as a raving homocidal lunatic. Little does Sam know that he's also a Necromancer, too bad Douglas is not a fan of competition. Let the dark, sketchy and quite gory fun begin! “

Yup.  That’s our Asha.  

We are taking a two week break because we will be at Book Expo America next week.  For those who are not in the know, this is a huge event in which all the publishers come together for a week and give us books.  It is truly the high point of our year.  

Maybe by then the sun will be out?


"Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.” ~ Al Bernstein

Actually Al, we beg to differ on that.  We are still waiting for Spring to happen here on the Tundra.  May wasn’t much but we are forever hopeful that some fabulous beach weather is right around the corner.

Here is what we wish for your beach bag this month!

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones is a wonderful read.  How can you ignore a book with this as an opening line, “My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist.”   These are the words of his secret daughter, Dana as she tells the story of her family, and that of her half sister Bunny.  While their father does all that he can to insure that the two never meet, they do and let us just say that things do not end well.    Jones’ writing is amazing and you will really come to love both girls.



Joy for Beginners by Erica Bauermeister is one that we are looking forward to.  Her collection of connected short stories, The School of Essential Ingredients, is a real Desketeer favorite.  A cancer survivor throws a dinner party for 5 of her closest girlfriends.  With a toast she dares them to confront the one thing that has terrified each of them  and she will choose it for them.  We love this premise and can’t wait to dive in.



Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen promises to be a delicious summer read.  When the father of the family dies under mysterious circumstances, the Fleming family leaves Bonn for the Scottish Hebrides.  Once there they each deal with their grief in different ways but it soon becomes apparent that Dad may have been up to some pretty shading dealings in the Diplomatic community and that their very lives could be in danger.  



The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai looks like it will become one of our favorites.  When a precocious 10 year old Ian ropes his favorite librarian Lucy into helping him escape the plans his over bearing mother has made for him, it turns out that an adventure is just what they both needed.  And yes, the title is from the classic children’s book The Borrowers.

We wish  you a joyous June!



What a wacky week!  From Royal Wedding to the end of a man hunt 10 years in the making!  What will our reading choices reveal about us this week?

Marianne has just finished The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman.  “I loved this book about the various staff members who work for an American owned newspaper in Rome.  This book has it all: astute writing, original and authentic characters, and a very timely theme: the demise of the printed newspaper.”





Pat T is working her way through Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson because it was recommended to her by several patrons.  “I am finding it a bit difficult to get into because the characters have quite a complicated past. Two of the characters, Tracy and Jackson, make spur of the moment decisions that will have dire consequences. I am looking forward to following the connection between the characters in this intriguing novel.”


Barbara M. is enraptured by Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. “This is historic fiction about encounters between English settlers and Native Americans on Martha’s Vineyard in the 1600s. The story is based on the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck, the first Native American to be graduated from Harvard College. I love Geraldine Brook’s writing so much that while I can’t put the book down I also don’t want it to end. “




Abby is reading Life, On the Line by Grant Achatz. She is really enjoying this memoir about a 4 star chef but it’s not just about the food! “In a bit a cruel irony, at the point he was just hitting his stride, he was diagnosed with stage III cancer of the tongue so this book documents that fight as well as his ambition and vision.”


Because I believe that Asha is enjoying making us afraid here is her contribution for the week:  I am currently reading Pinocchio: Vampire Slayer because, well...it's Pinocchio slaying vampires, what more could I ask for?”

Honestly Asha – If you are what you read, then you are truly scaring us.  We wish you would stop.


As for me?  Last week I finished Box of Darkness:  the Story of a Marriage by Sally Ryder Brady.  In the early 60’s Sally married a man who was obsessed with Brideshead Revisited (Sebastian Flyte in particular), the Roman Catholic church, who could upholster furniture and sew women’s clothing, and was a marvel at entertaining.  Somehow she was surprised to find the stash of gay porn when he died a few years ago.  The world never ceases to fascinate!

Happy Mother’s Day to all for whom it fits!  


Get Carded!

Baseball season has been underway for a month now, and for fans of the game, peeling open a wax pack of brand-new baseball cards never gets old. Remember the sugary sweet smell of that pink slab of bubble gum? Nothing tasted better during long childhood summers.

Author Josh Wilker uses the baseball cards of his youth (mid 1970s to early 80s) to frame his new memoir, Cardboard Gods. Famous and not-so-famous players' cards mark the beginning of each chapter -- you won't believe some of the hair and polyester on view! Baseball is a constant for Wilker amidst the political and cultural upheaval of the times; his book is as much about his rocky coming-of-age as it is about the men who play a boy's game.

Already drawing comparisons to Dave Eggers and Augusten Burroughs, Wilker's writing is edgy and incredibly evocative. And as The New York Times review noted, "...what the game means to the fans is often more interesting than the games themselves." Cardboard Gods will have you rummaging through your closet for that long-forgotten shoe box of cards...and the memories they evoke.

April is a promise that May is bound to keep.  ~Hal Borland

Thanks Hal.  Because we could surely use us some May.

This May we have some wonderful promises that we are keeping.  The primary one is that there will be wonderful book goodness awaiting you.  Lesser ones include lilacs, lilies of the valley and peonies, the purchasing of Mother’s Day ephemera, that first trip to the beach and a reminder why you love Zyrtex, Claritin or just insert the allergy med of your choice here!

First up is Doc by Mary Doria Russell.  We love the way she tackles history and makes it relevant to today’s reader by spinning a wonderful story.  The Doc in the title is none other than Doc Holliday of western fame.  He has been given a rather hard choice at 22.  He can either stay in Atlanta and face a certain death from TB, or he can head West toward an almost certain healing climate.  We all know what Doc chooses and  we can’t wait to see how Russell spins this classic American story.


Lost in Shangri-La:  A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff is just what the title says it is.  When a plane off goes down in a hidden valley in the jungle of New Guinea only 3 survivors are left to navigate the wilds and face a tribe of cannibals who are firmly rooted in the Stone Age.  Think Lost Horizons with humidity and spears.


Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks is a book that we are most excited about because if there was a contest for the Goddess/Empress of Historic Fiction, Brooks would definitely make the Evening Gown portion of the event.  This time around she examines the world of 1665 Martha’s Vineyard and the first Native American to graduate from Harvard.  Bethia Mayfield, a white settler, is our guide into the world of clashing cultures and changing times and we can’t wait to meet her.



In the Garden of the Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin
is by another one of our pet authors, Erik Larson.  Larson, who wrote Devil in the White City, tells the tale of William E. Dodd who was American Ambassador and his family who came to Berlin and witnessed firsthand the rise of Nazi Germany.  At the center of the story is his daughter Martha, a young woman who is not just a little promiscuous and enamored of this new regime.  Will her wild ways become a tool for the Nazis?

Here’s to a bloom filled, warmish, wonderful May!  We’ve earned it!



We’re back!  And here is what has been keeping us off the streets but not out of trouble!  Because let us review.  We are the Desketeers.  A little mischief/trouble is to be expected.

I read The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure during my time off last week.  Think of this as a kinder, gentler Assassination Vacation but instead of presidential assassinations, you have a woman stalking the life and times of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  If you loved the series (books naturally, not the stupid TV show) as a kid like I did, this is a must read.  I am currently reading Erik Larson’s latest due out next month.  In the Garden of the Beasts:  Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin is just what the title says. It’s 1933.  It’s Berlin.  Things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better.




Barbara M really loves The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.  She wants everyone to know that it is more than a talking dog book.  “It is the poignant, uplifting story of a family struggling with life’s ups and downs. “



Those who know Marianne, and I mean REALLY know her knows the only thing she loves more than a good prison story is a juicy murder.   She reports that she has just finished "Drawing Conclusions by Donna Leon.  She always delivers.  What can I say Venice, Guido Brunetti, family and murder!”  Yup that’s our Sweet Marianne!



Jeanne states “I started The Weird Sisters last night.  So far I am enjoying it although the style is a bit quirky.”




Abby is working on The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell.  “This is reported to be the final story in the Kurt Wallender series, and I believe it.   A Nordic crime series that pre-dates The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, it's dour, dark & right up my alley.”



Priscilla is working her way through Joanna Trollope’s newest, Daughters in Law.  “Three sons marry very different women and the "boy's" mother has a hard time letting go. It makes one think about one’s own relationships with your children's spouses. I don't think I am like this mom......hmmm.”  We can guarantee that Priscilla is a great mother- in- law and nothing like the protagonist.



Citizen Asha is reading the Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney.  It involves secret societies, date rape and prestigious institutions of higher learning with a pinch of classical music. She likes it.  We worry. 


Have a lovely weekend!


Down Memory Lane

Remember Word Freak, the book about overly-focused Scrabble players (well, OK, fanatical Scrabble players)? Or King of Kong, the recent documentary about competitive Donkey Kong players with rather interesting off-screen lives? Now, we have Moonwalking with Einstein, a book that delves into the world of "mental athletes": ordinary people whose powers of memorization seem to be almost super-human.

Author Joshua Foer starts with the most basic question: How do they do that? In search of the answer, he studies the history of human memory, interviews amnesia victims and the real Rain Man, learns tricks of the trade, explains the "OK Plateau," and yes, tells us exactly what the book's title means. We sit in at the World Memory Championships, where contestants use headphones and ear plugs to block out noise while they memorize freshly-shuffled decks of cards and lists of hundreds of numbers and words in a matter of minutes.

Foer discovers that people with extraordinary memory aren't necessarily highly gifted or savants. For the most part, they've just tapped into methods known to scholars for centuries. He also tells us how modern conveniences like cell phones and the internet are actually changing the way our brains retain information. Moonwalking with Einstein just might help us all realize that with a little time and attention, we can all tap into more brain power than we think we have. It's an unforgettable read. Now, has anyone seen my keys?



Here is what the Desketeers are reading this week!


Newbie Desketeer Jeanne is reading Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors.    She reports that she does not love it but needs to plow through it for her Book Group. This sadly, is what I refer to as a Death March sort of read. 

Marianne has begun Ice Princess by Camilla Lackberg.  Marianne is unsure how she is feeling about it because she feels it’s “slow”.







Barbara M. is enjoying the memoir Day of Honey:  A Memoir of Food, Love and War  by Annia Ciezadlo.  Through food we learn about the author’s time in Lebanon and Iraq. 





I started Chinaberry Sidewalks by Rodney Crowell.  This memoir is all about the singer/songwriter’s Texas childhood and the language and pacing are just wonderful.  Much like a song in fact!

Citizen Asha is reading many many books, but I made her choose one.  Without hesitation she picked Alice Walker’s book of poems Hard Times Require Furious Dancing.  Asha says, “It's a book filled with poetry from the great Alice Walker..What’s not to love?”  Indeed!


If You Liked Unbroken...

One of our most popular (and favorite) new non-fiction books is Unbroken, the nearly-unbelievable story of Louis Zamperini. His survival against all odds is truly inspiring and we'll be talking about it in depth on Tuesday, May 3. Meanwhile, if you've finished reading Unbroken and are thirsting for another great adventure story, look no further than Lost in Shangri-La, which hits our shelves on April 26.

Lost in Shangri-La tells the long-forgotten story of a World War II military plane crash in the depths of New Guinea, close to an inaccessible area dubbed "Shangri-La" by pilots and airmen. The few survivors of the crash are dazed, injured, and lost. As they desperately search for a way out, they come face to face with primitive natives who have never seen a white man or woman...and may well be cannibals.

The natives take the survivors to be spirits, who have arrived as harbingers of the end of the world. The survivors, meanwhile, have to figure out how to alert rescuers. They are beyond the reach of planes or helicopters, with hundreds of miles of dangerous, enemy-infested jungle between themselves and safety, all the while dealing with serious burns and gangrene. Only an ingenious, never-before-tried rescue attempt can save them, and this book tells the whole story through diaries, declassified Army documents, and personal recollections.

Place your reserve now so that you'll have a copy as soon as the book is released -- Lost in Shangri-La is sure to be a found treasure!

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