Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware

Ruth Ware is a master of suspense! I loved her last 3 books so I knew that I had to read this one as well. The Death of Mrs. Westaway is about Harriet (Hal) who is young, broke and all alone in the world. Her mother, who was her only family was killed in a tragic accident leaving her all alone at the age of 17. Three years later she finds herself in a lot of trouble and is hardly making ends meet when she receives a letter in the mail from a lawyer. The letter says her grandmother has passed away and that she is named in the will. Hal thinks that the letter was sent to her by mistake but she decides to go ahead and pretend the letter is meant for her because she desperately needs money. She does research on the family and heads to the funeral of her supposed grandmother. She meets the Westaway family and is welcomed by them, even though they are shocked that she exists. However, it doesn’t take long for Hal to realize that things are not what they seem and that there are lots of secrets that have been buried for a long time. She realizes that she must untangle the web of lies that surround the Westaway family in order to find out the truth about herself. 

This book has all the elements of a great story, suspense, family secrets, a crumbling mansion and money but the main character, Hal was not on the same level as Ware’s other main characters. Hal is 21 years old but she came across as someone who is much younger, I thought of her as a teenager throughout the book. Her inner dialogue made me crazy she had a hard time making a decision and she was always debating what to do about every situation that she found herself in, to the point where I just wanted her to stop thinking about everything so much and make a decision! 

With that said I did find the uncles, aunt and housekeeper to be interesting characters. They made up for the Hal’s lackluster character and made the story worth reading. My favorite thing about the book though was that I thought I knew all the answers only to discover that I did not, this back and forth happened a couple of times which kept me quickly turning the pages to see how it was going to end. I also liked that Hal grew as a person during the story and that she encountered genuine warmth from her newfound family.

Ware knows how to write page turners and even with a less than stellar main character this was still a great read.  -Cassie

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Monday, June 25, 2018

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by J.H. Williams & Dave Stewart

I can hear your soft, perhaps bemused, groan as you read the title of this entry, "another Neil Gaiman!"  What can I say?  The author is prolific, and he has a way of growing on you--if you like that sort of thing.  I can safely say that I will happily pick up anything that he writes, and most likely will devour the offering in a few sittings with his distinctive narrative voice echoing in my head the whole time, after which it will haunt me for days.  This was my experience with Overture, to be sure.

Sandman is Gaiman's seminal graphic novel for DC/Vertigo Comics, a series which began as a re-imagining of a 1970's comic in which the title character is a costumed vigilante who uses a sleeping gas to knock out criminals.  Gaiman's version, originally published as a serial between 1989 and 1996, is altogether more mystical, though he does incorporate elements of the original character and other DC characters into his introduction of the new Sandman.  Tall, pale, and clothed in black, his protagonist's true name is Dream or Morpheus, and he is one of seven supernatural siblings, The Endless, each of whom embody a different aspect of mortal existence. His stories span time, space, and alternate dimensions and focus on the interplay between his domain, The Dreaming, and the physical world, as well as the complicated relationships between the seven siblings (the others are Death, Delirium, Destiny, Despair, Destruction, and Desire).  If you have never looked into this world, I highly recommend you take a peek at least.

Overture serves as a preface to the original series and as its almost-standalone coda.  In a feat of dream logic that Gaiman handles lightly, it encompasses all the tales that came before it while telling the backstory to the first volume (collected as Preludes and Nocturnes).  As such, you may want to at least dabble into the original volumes before reading this one.  I have read roughly half of the collected tales, and felt that I could easily follow the story, though I admit that I did not catch all of the references.  Gaiman does introduce most of the various characters with some basic information, which allows the novice to understand their place and function; however, the book is most likely a richer experience if you come to it with some knowledge of The Dreaming.

If you find yourself craving an amazing fantasy with elements of sci-fi and horror, this may suit you well.  Its story is both entertaining and thought-provoking, its artwork stunning, and its final effect?  Haunting. -Barb

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And click here for the rest of the story!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

Food. Oh, how its purpose has evolved and expanded over the course of human existence. Once upon a time, long before any of us or our oldest living relatives were alive, it was seen merely as the fuel that sustained the human body and prevented it from wasting away. As generations have ticked away, we’ve discovered new ways to take this fuel and sculpt it into artforms that have altered its significance and the ways we consume it.  Have you ever been presented with a magnificent dish of some sort that was so good that you just insisted it was “made with love”? I’m sure you have; who hasn’t? That particular cliché has been around for longer than any of us can remember. Basically, we’ve romanticized the food that we eat. With that in mind, what if you lived your whole life with the hardwired notion that all food is “made with love” and then suddenly…it wasn’t the case anymore? What if you could taste the emotions your food was, in actuality, made with?  For Rose Edelstein, the main character whose life we follow in Aimee Bender’s visceral novel, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, that is indeed the case. 

We first meet Rose just days before her ninth birthday. Her mother slaves away in the kitchen making a test run of her birthday cake, her favorite of lemon with chocolate frosting. When it is finished, she can hardly resist tasting it, expecting its warmth and sweet tanginess to explode in her mouth as it always had in years past. This is not what happens. Something else floods her taste buds, but it isn’t at all what she was expecting. The flavors she expected become a mere backdrop to the new, overwhelming taste of hollowness. The cake tastes…empty. She can taste her mother’s lonely yearnings for a different life than the one she lives, yearnings she hides behind a counterfeit smile. How is that even possible? It is from this night forward that Rose knows that she is different, that nobody else has her “special ability.” She also has little success trying to convince people (most notably, family members and doctors) that she isn’t crazy or having some sort of aneurysm, so she elects to keep it to herself and just deal with it.

This novel takes us on journey through Rose’s life, documenting the difficulties she has trying to shape as normal of a life as she can around this ability. For the longest time, the only food she can bear to eat is the factory-made snacks found in vending machines because those are the only foods that haven’t been touched once by another human. The taste of mass production isn’t nearly as painful to swallow. Her family crumbles into oblivion in her mouth, yet stays fully “intact” on the outside. Everyone is hiding secrets from each other that only she knows, yet can’t divulge. Eventually, she learns that her brother, Joseph, has been harboring a special ability of his own….

 Years go by before Rose realizes that she can turn her curse into a blessing and begins to use it to her advantage. She develops an aptitude for cooking and uses it to replace some of her internal angst with a new sense of gratification and fulfillment. Her ability is still very much a hindrance at times, but not as much as it had been during the preceding years. At last, she can begin to find her place in the world.

In more ways than one, this book is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I’m sure you will come to the same conclusion should you decide to read it. It ends on a bittersweet note, and that is all I am going to say about it. Just remember: behind every bite is a story you’ve never heard before.  -Lena

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Thursday, June 7, 2018

100 Classic Hikes: Montana by Douglas Lorain

100 Classic Hikes: Montana is part of a series of guidebooks written by award-winning 
author, Douglas Lorain. The guide covers all regions of Montana from Glacier National Park to the Eastern prairies and badlands. At the beginning of the book, Lorain explains how to get started hiking in Montana. He recommends joining a local hiking group or outdoor club. In addition, he lists the ten essential items to take on a hike. He also makes readers aware 
of fees required in certain areas such as Montana state parks and Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. In the safety section, Lorain warns readers about not drinking untreated water and the possibility of encountering bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes and other animals. Lorain also includes a Hikes at a Glance section in which he gives a quick break-down of length, difficulty, season and highlights.

Instead of chapters, Lorain divides the book into eight regions including: Northwest, West-Central, Southwest, Glacier National Park, The Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, Central Montana’s Island Ranges, South-Central Montana and Eastern Montana. Within the description of each hike, the author lists the distance, difficulty, elevation gain, season, best time, contact information for each forest service agency, topo map, and GPS coordinates. He also gives helpful driving directions to each trailhead.

Lorain further enhances the quality of his book with crisp, glossy color photos and sections of topo maps showing each trail route. At the end of the book, he thoughtfully includes a list of recommended resources.

Among the many Montana hiking books available, 100 Classic Hikes: Montana stands out as one of the best. It is well-written, well-researched and thoughtfully organized. --Jennifer

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Austenland by Shannon Hale

Ah, Jane Austen. When you hear her name, it is more than likely that one of the following immediately comes to mind:

  1. Uhhh….Who? If you’re one of these people, how in the world have you made it this far? Sorry for calling it as it is, but you should have some rudimentary knowledge or at least heard her name before. 
  2. Jane Austen…*proceeds to roll eyes and shake head* Say no more. I know exactly how you feel because I felt this way for the LONGEST time. In some regards, I still do, but for the most part, I’ve come around.
  3. JANE AUSTEEEEEEEEN!!!! <3 <3 <3 You probably won’t find very many hardcore fans. They exist, to be sure, but the chances of you encountering one on any ordinary given day are pretty slim. My sister and my English professors from college come close, though. 

The main character in Shannon Hale’s novel, Austenland definitely falls into the third category. At first glance, Jane Hayes is an ordinary, 30-something working woman with an insatiable obsession with Jane Austen, specifically her novel, Pride and Prejudice. Her world is so mundane compared to that of Jane Austen and her characters. Miss Hayes would do anything to be part of that world *cue The Little Mermaid*, even if it were just for one day.

Her dream comes true when she discovers that a wealthy relative has passed away and left in her will the perfect vacation for Jane: a 3-week Jane Austen experience. She’ll have the opportunity she’s always dreamed of, which is being submersed fully into the culture of early 19th century England. 
At the resort, she meets and befriends a most delightful cast of characters and realizes that in some ways, the Jane Austen world is all she dreamed it would be and in others, not so much. What will be her final verdict? Read the book and find out! Whether you’re an Austen fan or not, I guarantee you will find delight in every chapter. 

This book has a film adaptation, which I highly recommend, as well. As a heads up, the book and movie are quite different from each other, but don’t let that deter you. Both are equally wonderful in their own ways. I actually watched the movie first not realizing that there was a book. Anyway, both are fantastic and in this rare case, it doesn’t matter which you decide to enjoy first. Happy reading/viewing!   -Lena

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Friday, April 27, 2018

Houseplant tips

Hmm--what do you think of these handy tricks from Reader's Digest?  Let us know in the comments!

Tip #8:  Use ice cubes to water your plant evenly over time.  (I think I'm going to try this!)

Orchid Growing for Wimps: Techniques for the "Wish I Could Do That" Gardener by Ellen Zachos, Sasha Fenton, James Duncan (Photographer)

The Denver Post said, “A superb primer on orchid culture. It uses a fully illustrated step-by-step approach and doesn’t skimp on relating complete details. There’s a chapter showing easy-to-grow orchids in all their glory, and there’s also a chapter warning about “difficult” orchids to avoid. This tome takes you on a visit to 16 terrific varieties you can easily handle.”

The reviewer's phaleaonopsis
I really like this book.  It has very clear explanations of how to grow an orchid, or several orchids.  It has nice charts comparing water and temperature requirements, potting media, or type of pot for various orchid species, among others.  It has individual instructions for a wide range of orchids.  It has how to transplant your orchid, including how to attach it to baskets or hang it from a piece of bark in addition to putting it in a traditional pot.  The illustrations are gorgeous, and the information is clearly written for the amateur. An excellent introduction to growing orchids!  -Lynne