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Seventeenth Summer

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Ahh. It made me nostalgic for a time I’d never experienced. A sweet, wholesome story about first love, growing up and seeing those around you with different eyes. I’m afraid today’s teens would laugh all the way through it, but this old lady really enjoyed it.
Thirty-Three Teeth

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How can crime fiction be fun, with all that death, and autopsies, and politics? I don’t know how he does it, but Colin Cotterill’s Dr. Siri Paiboun series are simply a hoot. He pokes gentle fun at communism. ”So, there it was in a nutshell. Poverty led him to religion, religion to education, education to lust, lust to communism. And communism had brought him back full circle to poverty. There was a Ph.D. dissertation waiting to be written about such a cycle.” . . . “Even being the national coroner didn’t carry any weight in pushing that old bureaucratic bus up the hill to socialist nirvana.” With native beliefs, he creates amusing storylines that are not at all dismissive. “Thirty-three teeth. It’s almost unheard of. The Lord Buddha also had thirty-three . . . It’s a sign, an indication that you’ve been born as a bridge to the spirit world.Realistic and fascinating settings, engaging characters, and imaginative stories – all the ingredients for a great series!“Hot, isn’t it?” “Damned hot.”
The Edge of Winter

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This is a tender tale of a mother and daughter negotiating life after the man of the family left them. Mom, Neve Halloran, works in an art gallery. Daughter, Mickey, is fifteen and infused with a love of birds. When she hears that her favorite bird, one that she has never yet seen, was spotted on the beach, she and a friend take off on their bikes for a look at the Snowy Owl. From there, events are set into motion for a first love, and a growing understanding about her father.The more I think back on this book, the more I like it. Though it does cover a lot of territory, I’d still call it a beach read. The topics covered were done so thoughtfully, which makes me want to recommend this to young adult readers. Alcoholism U-boats, PTSD, raptor rehabilitation, talk of various wars, all this could have made a deeper, darker story, but this one was nicely paced, even-keeled, and very well done. Set along Rhode Island’s ocean side in South County, the location was beautifully conjured by the author. The U-boat of this story is called U823, which was sunk off R.I. with 55 aboard, lying 11 fathoms deep. Wikipedia shows an actual event, U853, with the same stats. Although I did not know about this particular event in history, I thought that the author treated it well in her story.
The Language of Flowers: A Novel

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”Every decision I’d ever made had led me here, and I wanted to take it all back, the hatred and the blame and the violence. I wanted to have lunch with my angry ten-year-old self, to warn her of this morning and give her the flowers to point her in a different direction.”A wild flower growing from uncultivated dirt to blossom into beauty – such is how I see Victoria. A product of foster homes, learning young to protect her tender heart with outward hatefulness, many years of muddy, refuse-filled, roiling water churn under the bridge of her life. Now eighteen and free, lessons from one who wanted to be her mother fuel her mind as she tries to chart a path, with battered and torn sails, around the shoals in her little piece of the sea of life. Turning to those lessons about flowers, their cultivation and their meaning, Victoria finds purpose, and employment. Both tough and tender, this story will grip your heart. The dysfunction in her outward life, over shone by the beauty of the floral language to which she turns her hand was beautifully written. ”For years my message-laden flowers had been faithfully ignored, an aspect of my communication style that gave me comfort. Passion, connection, disagreement, or rejection: None of these was possible in a language that did not elicit a response.” Perusing Victoria’s Floral Dictionary in the back of the book, I think I would like to offer her Spirea for “Victory”.
The Yellow Wallpaper

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A gradual descent into madness, as ‘journaled’ by a Victorian lady. Semi-autobiographical, and subtly written, this depression settling into something darker delivers chills along with the story.
Blue Asylum

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I was hooked by Jeremy’s interview with the author in June’s State of the Thing. Then, like her chef catching fish for the lunatics’ dinners off the shore of this Florida island, Kathy Hepinstall finished reeling me in with her intriguing story in Blue Asylum. With the Civil War ongoing in the background of the story, Dr. Cowell plies the modern methods of dealing with the insane in his asylum catering to the well-to-do on Sanibel Island. Iris, the no-longer-naïve plantation wife, and Ambrose, the confederate soldier tortured by his war memories, find their own patch of sanity amidst the insanity of their treatments, the rules and the insane.”…the psychiatrist, had told him that the secret was not so much in forgetting as in distracting oneself. Think of the color blue, the doctor had suggested. Blue, nothing else. Blue ink spilling on a page. A blue sheet flapping on a clothesline. Blue of blueberries. Of water. Of a vase a feather a shell a morning glory a splash on the wing of a pileated woodpecker.”Ms. Hepinstall did well by her characters, each totally believable, warts and all. Her setting, inside the walls of the asylum, and outside on the island, was starkly and beautifully written. Her research did not overpower her story – her story that gripped me right through to the end.
Jepp, Who Defied the Stars

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Katherine Marsh impressed me with her [Jepp, Who Defied the Stars]. Jepp, a dwarf born in the days of court jesters, is taken to the court of the Spanish Infanta in Brussels, for her entertainment pleasure. There, events conspire to eventually land him at Uraniborg, an observatory on an island in Denmark in the days before the telescope. I found it interesting reading about the privileges of courtiers and the humiliations of those who served them, but getting to Uraniborg was really fascinating. How could I not have heard of this place, and the strange man who was its lord? Obsessed with the heavens, Tycho Brahe was an early astronomer, with a team of scholars under his tutelage who took painstaking measurements of the movement of stars. Ms. Marsh weaves a very believable tale surrounding these real places and people, in Jepp (historically, the dwarf, Jeppe). Horoscopes, automatons, traveling, royal courts, espionage, a pet moose, a fake nose, dwarves, life in the 1590s, and overall – fate – figure in this story.
Etta

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Etta, the novel, felt to me like a western Robin Hood. Yet I enjoyed it, anyway. With so little known about the historical Etta, the author’s imaginings of how a society lady may have come to such a place in her life seemed perfectly plausible. I enjoyed the natural weaving together of the imaginary and the historical figures. Theodore Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt sharing pages with the likes of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Kid Curry, Annie Oakley, and Siringo. The personalities he gave to each of them were very fitting to his story, and his settings were, likewise, quite real. Using news articles, Pinkerton files, and fictional diaries to ice things together was a nice touch. The only parts I didn’t enjoy were the Trotsky/Marxism segments. I suppose that must have been part of the actual history, but its inclusion felt forced into the story line. In the author’s notes, there was an explanation of which subjects had been “tampered with” for the sake of the story, and which characters were fictional. Nicely done. Altogether, a very enjoyable western.
Tales from Shakespeare

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From the foreword: ”In the twenty tales told in this book, the Lambs succeeded in paraphrasing the language of truly adult literature in children’s terms.”And they succeeded beautifully. Each tale is about twenty pages long. I confess that I’ve never actually read Shakespeare, and frankly found myself somewhat daunted by the thought. This was a lovely way to taste the stories, in a thoughtful retelling for children.
A Garland for Girls

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Just a sweet collection of short stories involving girls, and showing the strength of girlhood and the impact on those around them, when girls put thought and their whole selves into their endeavors.
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