Friday, October 21, 2016

Take This Man by Brando Skyhorse

Brando Skyhorse has written an account of his life in Take This Man.  Given his name, you’d probably assume that he is Native American.  Most people do.  The author himself believed this to be true until he was about 13 years old.  Brando is actually 100% Mexican American, and this story is the result of his desire to find out just exactly who he is and where he came from.

Brando was born and raised in L.A.; living in a modest house with his mother, grandmother, and step-grandfather.  From very early on, he was told by his mother (Maria) that his father was a Native American named Paul Skyhorse, who was serving time in a state penitentiary for armed robbery.  For whatever reason, Maria created a story that she was also Native American, and filled Brando’s childhood with stories of his ancestors’ political activism and bravery.  Maybe she just wanted to make her mundane life a bit more exotic, or maybe she was trying to bury her own past hurt by claiming a new identity.  Unfortunately, Maria also had a few other bad habits:  neglecting her son, drinking too much, and collecting husbands.  Brando spent his childhood seeking a father figure in each and every man that his mother brought home; good or bad.  He eventually discovered his true identity and reconnected with his birth father, and began the process of embracing his Mexican heritage, while not completely letting go of his adopted Native American one.

Take This Man will probably make you angry at times, or profoundly sad; however, the author does a good job of injecting humor into his situation which keeps the story from becoming too tragic.  It is extremely gratifying to see him rise above his circumstances and to grow into the confident and intelligent man that he is today.  You may also enjoy reading The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee

I’m normally drawn to Non-Fiction; however, occasionally I will indulge in Fiction, especially if it explores family relationships or female friendships.  I also enjoy reading books that take place in other countries, because they give me a glimpse into cultures that are completely different from my own, and they fascinate me.

Although a story may take place in a faraway land, the human themes within still resonate with all cultures.  The Expatriates delves into the lives of three women:  Mercy, Margaret and Hilary.  Each woman is an expatriate from the United States, currently living in Hong Kong.  Mercy is a 27-year old who seems to be drifting aimlessly through life.  Margaret is a married mother who is slowly descending into deep sadness after a tragic accident alters her life.  Hilary is a married woman who is not quite sure if she is ready for a child; and wonders if her husband will ever be on board with her decision either way.

Each chapter of the book is told from one of the three main characters’ points of view.  As the story moves along, the reader has a feeling that the three women’s lives will be linked together somehow.  Even though the book did not surprise me with any “gotchas” or have me hanging onto the edge of my seat, the pace and the writing kept my interest throughout.

Although all three characters share feelings of sadness and/or emptiness at times, the story did not feel overly depressing.  Instead, I felt uplifted by their relationships.  The author demonstrates that sometimes relationships among women can be stronger and dearer than their relationships with men.  At the end of the story, each woman’s life isn’t necessarily tied up neatly in a happily-ever-after bow.  However, they have matured and seem to be facing their futures with more courage and peace because of each other.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Widow by Fiona Barton

The grieving widow receives a visit from an empathetic news reporter and the two sit down to tea.  However, the widow is no fool, and she knows that the reporter has ulterior motives.  She is an investigative journalist, after all, working on the story of a lifetime.  The widow’s husband was no saint, and the reporter wants to know about secrets he may have been hiding (and so does the rest of the world, judging by the throngs of reporters camped out in the front yard).  Exactly who was this dead man and why is everyone so interested in his background?

The Widow by Fiona Barton is promoted as a thriller that is similar to the bestseller The Girl on the Train.  Both stories are set in modern-day England and both have chapters that are dedicated to different characters’ points of view.  In The Widow, the story begins in the present day, then flashes back to the recent past, and works its way back up to the present.  We slowly find out exactly who the dead man was and what sorts of unsavory activities he had been up to.  Along the way, we are also introduced to the mother of a missing young girl, and the detective who is bound and determined to find out what happened to her.  It certainly seems as if the dead man may have some sort of connection to the little girl’s disappearance….but how can it be proven?  And just how much did the man’s widow know, or was she just as innocent as she seems to be?

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Sing Street

Every now and then, a movie comes along that hardly anyone has ever heard of, receives little to no press, and yet manages to completely charm audiences all over.  Sing Street is once such movie. Directed by John Carney and set in Dublin, Ireland, the film stars an almost unknown cast.  Focusing on the life of one 14-year boy, the story combines teen
angst, the thrill of falling in love for the first time, and testing the power of disobedience.  Add in the terrific 1980’s nostalgia; including songs from the Cure and Duran Duran, and you’ve got a movie gem.

Conor is a typical teen navigating life’s ups and downs and trying to find his place in the world.  He is a sensitive sort, which does not go down well at first with the other rowdy students at his new public school.  His home life is in turmoil: his parents are on the verge of getting a divorce and the family is experiencing money problems.  Conor dabbles in songwriting, but when he meets a beautiful older girl named Raphina, he decides to put a band together in order to win her over.  She is intrigued and becomes the star of their homemade videos; helping them to create their image.  Conor and Raphina grow closer as they help each other through some challenges.  They give each other the courage to make a bold leap into the future for the better.

Conor and the other boys in the band are sweet and a bit nerdy.  It is entertaining to watch them try to figure out what kind of music they should play (new wave? pop? a bit punk?) depending on which band was popular on the charts that week. They eventually earn respect at school and come into their own.  This movie is a must-see.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Only in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia from My Italian Mother-in-law by Katherine Wilson

If you are a fan of lighthearted, true-to-life experiences of the Average American moving to a foreign country on a whim and having endearing moments with eccentric-but-lovable foreigners…then this story will be right up your alley.  This memoir also gains extra bonus points for adding in the romance (the author falls in love with and marries a local) and requisite food writing (her mother-in-law teaches her how to cook food like a true Neapolitan).

Only in Naples:Lessons in Food and Famiglia from my Italian Mother-in-Law, by Katherine Wilson, follows the author’s journey as a young adult from the suburbs of Washington, DC to becoming a wife and mother living in Rome, Italy. 

The story starts with Katherine beginning a 3-month internship at the U.S. Consulate in Naples.  Almost immediately upon arrival, she is introduced to the Avallone family.  She is quickly welcomed into the fold, which includes a Papa (Nino), a Mamma (Rafaella) and a son (Salvatore).  Soon, she is spending most of her free time at their home:  watching Rafaella cook, falling in love with Salvatore, and most importantly, eating.  As time goes by, she learns how to speak Italian like a local, goes to school in Bologna, and takes a variety of jobs such as acting and doing voice-overs.  Eventually, she “cajoles” Salvatore into getting married, they move to Rome and have children.

Instead of being a true food-writing piece, this book is more of a memoir with a focus on the relationship between Katherine and her mother-in-law.  It does; however, include some mouth-watering recipes at the end of the book, described with amusing anecdotes thrown in.  Although the author acknowledges that Naples is not usually the first choice of an Italian travel location, I think she does a fine job of describing it as an intriguing destination.  She shows the city, warts and all, but also manages to convince the reader (this one at least) that Naples has a beauty all of its own.

You may also enjoy similar food memoirs such as Lunch in Paris: a Love Story, with Recipes by Elizabeth Bard, or A Thousand Days in Venice: an Unexpected Romance by Marlena de Blasi.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Child's First Book of Trump by Michael Ian Black

A Child's First Book of Trump with its Seuss-like rhyming is not for children. It is clearly intended for adults and people who are left-leaning, although Trump showed up to a book reading on TV of this book by the author Michael Ian Black, so he had a sense of humor about it. With about 25 days left until the 2016 Presidential election, we could use the laugh-out-loud moments that this book delivers. Reading this book with older children could open up discussions on politics and the election. The illustrations are spot-on and a highlight of the book. The illustrator, Mark Rosenthal has illustrated many popular children's books. The author, Ian Michael Black is a comedian, actor, and writer who has written children's and adult books. He has starred in TV series such as The State, Ed, and more.
Illustration from the book
Naked!I'm Boredand Chicken Cheeks, children's books by Michael Ian Black and Mogie: The Heart of the House, a children's book illustrated by Marc Rosenthal can be found at the Virginia Beach Public Library.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Journey That Saved Curious George: Young Readers Edition of The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey by Louise Borden

I grew up loving Curious George and all of the mischief this endearing little monkey got himself into. My son grew up loving the antics of Curious George and now my granddaughter is crazy in love with George! Three generations of affection for the timeless and comical stories written and illustrated by H.A. and Margret Rey. That's why I was drawn to The Journey That Saved Curious George: The True Wartime Escape of Margret and H.A. Rey.

Did you know that in the original draft for the story, the monkey was named Fifi? Curious Fifi?? It's hard to imagine the little monkey that we all know and love with any other name than Curious George! Did you know that the Reys fled from Paris on bicycles before Hitler took power? Read all about the fascinating paths that the Reys took to get to New York so that they could write, illustrate, and publish the beloved Curious George books. The Reys originated in Germany, left for Brazil before Hitler took power of Germany, and then lived in France for four years before they fled from Paris on bicycles in June of 1940. They took their sketches and story ideas with them on their bicycles and narrowly missed the Nazi occupation of Paris by just a few days. The Reys then took a train to the south of France, Spain, Portugal, and eventually a ship to America and safety. 

H.A. and Margret Rey
H.A. kept detailed records in a pocket calendar of places they traveled to, their expenses and notes of what they were working on. The book is filled with visuals such as maps, travel journals, diaries, photographs, etc., which bring the story to life. 

This Young Readers version of The Journey that Saved Curious George contains an interview with the author, Louise Borden and activities in the back of the book perfect for young readers such as making a timeline, a map, and some detective work where they can feel like they are assisting in the research of the book.
Beautiful watercolor illustrations throughout the book by Allan Drummond

2016 is the 75th Anniversary of Curious George! Celebrate by checking out some Curious George books and DVDs from the large collection at The Virginia Beach Public Library. 

Reviewed by Joan L.