Blog Posts by lsears

Posted by lsears on 04/17/17
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Aisholpan Nurgaiv is 13 years old at the time of the filming, the daughter of a Kazakh nomad family living in Mongolia. Monday through Friday she lives in a dorm while attending school, her father transporting her via a small motorcycle. She is a typical schoolgirl except that she is determined to learn how to train golden eagles, a traditionally male role. Eagle hunting is a form of falconry that involves riding on horseback and catching small prey with a trained bird.
Among many memorable moments, Aisholpan and her father climb a cliff to take a three month old eaglet from its nest for her to train. Aisholpan is tethered to her father and safety only by a single rope tied around her waist as she clambers down into the eagle’s nest. The scenes when she is training with the eagle are striking. The force of it landing on her gloved arm from full flight just about spins her completely around. She is not afraid and she is strong; she has to be as she and her father ride for miles with their eagles perched on their arms to attend the Golden Eagle Festival competition. These birds can weigh up to 15 pounds with a 5 foot wingspan.
Working with a small film crew, the cinematographers beautifully capture the sweeping steppes of Mongolia; seemingly desolate but also full of life. Classified as a documentary, there are scenes that appear to be timed fortuitously for the camera yet there is no denying Aisholpan’s abilities and the events that took place. Most memorable to me is the support of her family, her father empowering his daughter, and the relationship she has with her eagle. It is beautiful to watch this culture’s traditions and their respect for these majestic birds. The Eagle Huntress is breathtaking to watch.
Actress Daisy Ridley lends her voice to the narration.
Posted by lsears on 03/09/17
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Lillian Boxfish was always drawn to the thriving energy of New York City and to the lure of poetry and words; her imagination sparked by postcards her Aunt Sadie mailed to her when she was a child. She moved there as soon as she could despite her mother's disapproval. It is now 1984, New Year’s Eve and Lillian is an elderly woman in years but not in her outlook. She is planning to eat dinner alone, her son far away in Maine with his family.
As she walks across Manhattan on her way to accept a new friend’s party invitation, she meets several people along the way. Not every encounter is pleasant and she handles it in her direct, no-nonsense manner. Life in her beloved city is told through flashbacks. A journey from the Jazz Age to her work writing advertising for R.H. Macy to being a published author of poetry to her marriage and to her grappling to maintain her identity. 
Don’t rush through life seems to be the predominant message but the tone is a little bittersweet to me. I always like a strong female character in a novel who still has vulnerabilities. Her reminiscences reveal how much living can go on in one person's life.
Author Kathleen Rooney lives in Chicago, teaches at DePaul University and has written several books.
Posted by lsears on 02/09/17
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Margaret Creasy has gone missing. Everyone liked her and everyone is worried. The summer of 1976 is hot and people are blaming erratic behavior on the weather, perhaps even her disappearance. Ten-year-old Grace attends church with a grandmotherly neighbor and decides that if she finds God she will also find Mrs.Creasy. She sets out to do this with her friend Tilly. Grace is the main narrator of the story but other neighbors’ viewpoints begin to add to our understanding that something happened nine years ago that has bound this block of neighbors together. Grace has a sweet naïve charm about her, always watching and observing the adults around her.
Another neighbor, Walter, has become a pariah. Is there something sinister about him or did the neighbors act without evidence? Is this life in a suburban neighborhood where they know each other too well or is there a bit of mob mentality involved?

The writing is lovely, I found myself re-reading sentences, light but direct, with humor interjected, and insightful despite a very serious incident/mystery that affects them all.

This is author Joanna Cannon's debut novel.
Posted by lsears on 12/10/16
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A political revolution has displaced Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov from his seat of prominence. Because a published poem attributed to him was deemed as a call to action, the Emergency Committee of the People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs exiles him to the Hotel Metropol in Moscow. Previously residing there in a luxurious suite of rooms his living space is reduced to a mere 100 square feet  in the attic. He is to never leave the grounds of the Metropol. Little does he know that, in time, he may come to consider himself the luckiest man in Moscow.
Years pass and Alexander, former aristocrat, is now the head waiter in the hotel’s restaurant. He forms a tight group of trusted friends amid the hotel workers. Here is where his impeccable manners serve him well as the hotel still bustles with activity, foreign visitors, military and political figures, and an enemy amongst the staff. Unexpectedly, a six-year-old child comes into Alexander’s life. Sophia is a breath of fresh air with her youthful innocence and becomes his responsibility when her mother never returns. The hotel also becomes her community as she grows up there.

This novel is about the measure of a person under circumstances out of their control. How can you outwit an adversary or use their predictability to your advantage? Alexander finds himself in a desperate situation that requires a desperate response. The nuances of etiquette and language are used to great effect here. I found Amor Towles' A Gentleman in Moscow to be a very satisfying read, intelligently written, and filled with gentility and manners in an ugly world.


Posted by lsears on 11/03/16
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Two half-sisters who never had the chance to meet led very different lives. Effia married a British man and Esi is sold into slavery. The story begins in British-colonized Ghana in the 1750’s and then follows these two women’s children’s lives into contemporary time, each chapter moving forward in the voice of the next generation.

Despite the seriousness of the subject it is beautifully written; it is about weakness and strength, freedom and human rights. Sometimes the story unfolds in a way that simply reports the facts, and I found this unpretentious manner of storytelling to be even more impactful. Parts are raw, undiluted, heartbreaking, troubling and made me uncomfortable but this is exactly why this is a book that should be read. Author Yaa Gyasi carefully researched history for this novel. The Cape Coast Castle referenced in Homegoing still stands today, now as a museum.

I listened to Homegoing on audiobook, the narrator’s authentic accent and pronunciation adds depth to the story.
Posted by lsears on 09/24/16
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Eleven people board a private jet on Martha’s Vineyard that crashes into coastal waters eighteen minutes after takeoff. Only two survive, a forty-something-year-old man and a four-year-old boy.
Scott is a starving artist invited on board at the last minute and JJ is the son of the man who chartered the flight. Their struggle in the ocean is harrowing. It is night, there is no land to be seen, one seat cushion keeps the boy afloat and Scott uses the stars to guide him as he swims into the dark. After hours in the water, they wash up on the shore. How can Scott and JJ now survive the media frenzy fueled by one of the unethical, rabid talking heads of the same tabloid cable news channel that just lost its CEO in the plane crash? A brewing NTSB investigation potentially implicates Scott in the cause of the crash raising the question of why he was on board in the first place.
Before the Fall is more than I thought it would be as it takes a look at motivations, the arrogance of money, ethics, power, rising from a fall from grace, bonds between people and how we can be lured to deviate into pitfalls and recklessness. At times, the novel moves slowly but as the author takes a look at each passenger and crew member he creates an air of suspense by revealing more details about the people on board.
Author Noah Hawley has written several books, is a screenwriter, producer and is involved with the television mini-series Fargo.
Posted by lsears on 08/21/16
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Britt-Marie hasn’t spoken up for herself in decades, losing her self-esteem along the way. This is a sweet story of an older woman with rigid habits, uncomfortable in social situations, who can’t abide clutter, but grows to learn how to make decisions for herself. It is almost like a delayed “coming-of-age” tale. The writing style is simple, clear and depicts exactly what it might be like inside her mind. She returns to work after pestering an employment agency staffer into finding something for her even though it will be temporary. The inhabitants of a very small town, especially the children, grow to care for her and respect her and she begins to feel the same way for them.
My favorite quote from Britt-Marie Was Here can be found on page 262: "That is the reason why passion is worth something, not for what it gives us but for what it demands that we risk." Fans of author Fredrik Backman’s other work, A Man Called Ove, will enjoy this story with a woman in the lead role.
Posted by lsears on 07/30/16
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An unspeakable tragedy happens to a family and community. A young boy, Dusty, is accidentally killed in a hunting accident by a neighbor. According to Landreaux Iron’s Native American traditions, if a child of another family dies from your actions, you will make amends by giving them a child of yours. He tells Dusty's parents, “Our son will be your son now . . . it’s the old way”. Except the year is 1999 and it is almost impossible to honor this custom. Yet they try. LaRose Iron, 5 years old, is given to Dusty’s family. Two families anguished by guilt and blame. How can one family give up their child and how can the other family accept?
The story is told in a multi-vocal manner by several characters; there are no quotation marks to indicate speech so the words flow as if they are thoughts. LaRose is an exceptional child, wise beyond his years, a healer, and is the conduit toward restitution and atonement.
I was fascinated by the main concept and how these ordinary people try to live their lives as best as they can. The topics are heavy yet leavened with hopefulness. I got a glimpse into a culture different from mine. I think that author Louise Erdrich, who shares both Native American and German heritage, interlaces the intricacies of relationships and issues fluidly.
The author is the narrator for the audiobook, read with a rich, clear voice.
Posted by lsears on 06/19/16
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Chicago is set sometime in the 1970’s when a young man moves in for his first job after college to work at a magazine. The city becomes a proving ground for him as a journalist in training. His apartment building neighbors are as diverse as the city; a community of its own, full of dwellers that look out for each other. Mostly he works and plays basketball and explores the city with some of the apartment building’s inhabitants. Did I mention the talking dog? Please don’t turn away from this anomaly because for this story, I think it works. Think of Edward as an illuminated being (the author’s words) and decide for yourself who or what he represents.
The book is a nostalgic recollection of an influential time in his life, a bildungsroman.  Most enjoyable are the many references to landmarks and places and events that embody the city. Most are mentioned only briefly but as a former denizen of the Windy City, they sparked many of my own memories. From the old Ivanhoe Theatre to Comiskey Park to Kingston Mines to the unique neighborhoods to the alewives that wash up on the shores of Lake Michigan. But the narrator is not completely blinded by the beauty of the city, he sees how it lives side-by-side with ugly truths.

The writing style is very poetic, descriptive, imaginative, and a little fanciful with long, long sentences that read on and on like the waters of the lake. Only a short time period is covered, five seasons, but author Brian Doyle creates a winsome novel to read, visit and reminisce over.

Posted by lsears on 05/14/16
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Readers learn right away that author Paul Kalanithi’s life will be cut short by an aggressive cancer but this is not a despondent story. In college he could have gone into writing or into medicine – it was that close. Medicine won out as he rationalizes that there would always be time to write later.
Paul shares details about the grueling demands of his medical training. He writes simply, almost as a matter of record, but his words reveal that he was a rather remarkable man who treated medicine and surgery as a calling, not a job. After the diagnosis, he grapples with making the right decisions. Which treatment should he undergo, should he try to return to surgery, should he try to start a family with his wife and to possibly leave her to carry on alone? To use a quote directly from the book: “In residency, there’s a saying: The days are long, but the years are short.”

Every once in a while I like to read a book that makes me think about the meaning of life and its fragility. This one certainly did. Despite the sad outcome, the book is full of life and dignity.

Want recommendations on what to read next? Email and we will be happy to assist you in finding a great book to read.
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