Blog Posts by lsears

Posted by lsears on 08/20/14
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“What do you seek in these shelves?” This is the question asked of Clay Jannon when he first enters Mr. Penumbra’s 24–Hour Bookstore looking for a job. Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines penumbra (noun) as a space of partial illumination (as in an eclipse) between the perfect shadow on all sides and the full light. By giving the proprietor this name, Robin Sloan gives us a hint as to the impending mystery surrounding this character.
 
Hired to work the night shift, Clay quickly begins to wonder how the bookstore makes enough money to stay in business.  Most of the customers he sees come not to buy books but to borrow them from a vast special collection. Curiosity leads him to try to understand the meaning these books may contain, these manuscripts of one’s life, these Codex Vitae. Not above using his friends at Google and Apple to pursue an answer he finds himself delving into in a cult-like fellowship called the Unbroken Spine. 
 
There is a playfulness and a humorous quality to this book that I enjoyed; even the book jacket glows with an eerie light in the dark. It doesn’t take itself too seriously even though it covers topics of old knowledge versus new technology, friendship and disappointment, adapting and rising to the occasion when warranted. These are subjects anyone can write about in their own Codex Vitae.
 
Fiction, humor
Posted by lsears on 07/27/14
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Fans of Lisa Scottoline and Francesca Serritella may enjoy listening to Have a Nice Guilt Trip on audiobook, as I did, especially because it is read by the authors themselves. Who better knows where to place the right inflection and emphasis on words than the person(s) who wrote the book? 
 
This mother and daughter team takes turns narrating essays they have penned; each one is on a different topic.  Lisa has more chapters, of course, because she has lived longer and has more to say. Their musings are about the mundane and the profound and are a little Andy Rooney-esque but uniquely told from their perspective.  Women will know what the authors are talking about and men, well, they can listen in and enjoy the writing style. Lisa does not disparage feeling guilty but embraces it.  Francesca marvels at some of her good fortune, which prompts her to feel guilty – proving she is her mother’s daughter.
 
Humorous, poignant, big-hearted, self-critical and honest; each chapter is a look at life, odd situations, living near a nuclear power plant, the call of jury duty, trying to trim your dog’s toenails, new beginnings in New York City, vitamins, politics, puppies, auditioning swimsuits to take on vacation, celebrating friendships and relationships, and how we get through some of our ordinary and not-so-ordinary days.  This is what our lives are full of, the big and the little, the mix of it all.  I recognize myself in some of the stories, can relate to others, wish I could write a fraction as well as they do, and can feel the love in Francesca’s essay about her crusty but beloved grandmother, Mother Mary, who taught her that family is the heart of everything.
 
This title is available as a print book and an audiobook.
 
humor
Posted by lsears on 05/12/14
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It is 1945, Tokyo, a month after Japan’s surrender in WWII. Francis Van Cleave is a private in the United States army attached to the Officers Personnel Section, a sort of military secretarial pool. 
 
Van Cleave gets the attention of General Douglas MacArthur when he attends an Army-Navy football game screening at MacArthur’s home with other military personnel. This invitation comes as an unasked for favor by his roommate, Corporal Clifford, who serves in the Honor Guard Company, a division assigned to work as a personal escort for the general and visiting dignitaries.  After sending MacArthur’s son, Arthur, a gift for his 8th birthday, Van Cleave begins an unusual assignment, almost an order, to visit the MacArthur’s home on a weekly basis to spend time with the boy.
 
Van Cleave is young, naïve, and receives unwanted news from his new wife back home. We see a side of life the military men partake in in their off-time not knowing the language, the culture, and still finding a way to get themselves into trouble. Michael Knight tells a story that is rooted in history but surrounds it with rich invented detail. 
 
This story made me wonder whatever happened to Arthur MacArthur?
 
Fiction
Posted by lsears on 04/07/14
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Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from Mojave, California to the Bridge of the Gods in Oregon is not for the faint of heart.  A chance encounter of purchasing a trail guide sparked a quest that changed the author’s life.

It is 1995.  Cheryl Strayed is 26 years old, suffering from a deep grief for her mother’s death, dealing with poor life decisions, experiencing a growing disconnection from her family and is newly divorced.  These events bring her to such a low point in her life that she begins this trek to walk 1,100 miles that will take her three months to complete.   The trail is rugged, remote and unforgiving.   She does not see another person for her first eight days on the trail.  She has never been so alone.  Dealing with nature’s elements and carrying the weight of everything she needs on her back take a physical and emotional toll.  And yet she presses on through extreme weather conditions, blisters, detours, inexperience, self-doubt, exhaustion and fear.  It’s as if she needed to purge everything from her past and punish herself while doing it so she could move ahead with her life. 

This memoir is beautifully written with honesty, sadness and a little bit of humor.  By the end I felt that I travelled the journey alongside the author.  Despite the harsh conditions, she also experiences nature’s beauty on the trail, friendships with other hikers, and an inner strength.  These qualities kept me reading and I wanted her to succeed.  In the end, I think she found what she was looking for.

 
memoir

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