The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication by Margaret Shepherd

Title: The Art of the Handwritten Note: A Guide to Reclaiming Civilized Communication, Author: Margaret Shepherd The Art of the Handwritten Note. Finished 4-17-20, 3/5 stars, reference, 153 pages, pub. 2002

For those who enjoy writing notes, or those who value doing so but find themselves intimidated by the task, acclaimed calligrapher Margaret Shepherd has created both an epistolary tribute and rescue manual. Just as you cherish receiving personal mail, you can take pleasure in crafting correspondence. Love, gratitude, condolences, congratulations–for every emotion and occasion, a snippet of heartfelt prose is included, sure to loosen the most stymied letter writer.  from Goodreads

Civilized, stolen right from the title, is the perfect work for this letter writing reference.  Shepherd starts with the why of a personal, handwritten note and during these crazy times of social distancing I think we all can agree that a heartfelt note in the mailbox can really brighten your day.  Gage and I made crafty heart cards for all of our neighbors on the street and spread some love closer to home.  It’s a great time to pick up a pen and paper and practice your cursive skills.

There’s quite a bit of time spent on the paper to choose, the different kinds of pens, and how to improve your handwriting before she gets into the nitty-gritty of what to say.  I liked reading about what to say and what not to say, but the whole thing felt a little bit tone deaf in 2020.  I picked this up at the library book sale a few months ago and it was a good time to read it.

 

 

Hands Up and a Quick Question for author Stephen Clark

Hands Up by Stephen   Clark Hands Up. Finished 1-12-2020, fiction, 272 pages, pub. 2019

Officer Ryan Quinn, a rookie raised in a family of cops, is on the fast track to detective until he shoots an unarmed black male. Now, with his career, reputation and freedom on the line, he embarks on a quest for redemption that forces him to confront his fears and biases and choose between conscience or silence.

Jade Wakefield is an emotionally damaged college student living in one of Philadelphia’s worst neighborhoods. She knows the chances of getting an indictment against the cop who killed her brother are slim. When she learns there’s more to the story than the official police account, Jade is determined, even desperate, to find out what really happened. She plans to get revenge by any means necessary.

Kelly Randolph, who returns to Philadelphia broke and broken after abandoning his family ten years earlier, seeks forgiveness while mourning the death of his son. But after he’s thrust into the spotlight as the face of the protest movement, his disavowed criminal past resurfaces and threatens to derail the family’s pursuit of justice.

Ryan, Jade, and Kelly–three people from different worlds—are on a collision course after the shooting, as their lives interconnect and then spiral into chaos.   from Goodreads

Police shooting unarmed men of color is a hot button issue and it is dealt with here in a measured way while still telling the story of what happens after the shooting.  How do the parents and family have the strength to go on camera?  How do the protests get organized?  How is pressure applied to get an indictment?  And what if the policeman, while guilty, is also a victim of things out of his control?

The story is told from three different perspectives and I think this worked extremely well.  The sister, who was close to her brother, lashes out in anger.  The absent father comes home to redeem himself.  The police officer, whose complicated experience with racial issues leaves him drowning in guilt and alcohol.  I found sympathy, lost sympathy and fought incredulity at different parts in the book.

The character that made the most sense to me was Kelly, the wayward street hustler who returns home under threat of his life even while burying his own son.  His family, especially his daughter Jade, don’t want him there and he struggles to get out of the homeless shelter.  When he does find a way to make himself useful you begin to worry if he can really change.  His daughter doesn’t think so even as her mother considers bringing him back into the family.

It was an interesting story with a lot of moving parts.

Quick Question for author Stephen Clark.  I had the opportunity to exchange a few emails with the author (who sent me a copy of his book) and I asked him one question I’m sharing with you.  I think we can all relate to his last statement 🙂

 What was your favorite book of 2019?

Most of the books I read last year were published in prior years, such as The Firm and The Runaway Jury by John Grisham. The most recently published book I read was Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup, which was released in 2018. And boy was it good! There was also a documentary on Elizabeth Holmes, the disgraced founder of Theranos. I’m currently reading Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber, which was published in 2019. But I’m not finished yet. However, the book I enjoyed reading the most in 2019 was, far and away, The Smack by Richard Lange. Superb crime novel published in 2017. He’s also one of my favorite authors. Sorry for the long answer. But when it comes to books, I usually don’t have short responses. 😂

What’s so great about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll?

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland Alice’s Adventure’s in Wonderland.  Finished 9-30-19, classic, 3/5 stars, 175 pages, pub. 2015

Beautifully illustrated by Anna Bond.

It’s been 150 years since Lewis Carroll penned Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, the story which has become a favorite of children and adults the world over. Now, in a deluxe hardcover edition from Puffin, Alice’s story comes to life for a whole new generation of readers through the colorful, whimsical artwork of Anna Bond, best known as the creative director and artistic inspiration behind the worldwide stationery and gift brand Rifle Paper Co. Lose yourself in Alice’s story as she tumbles down the rabbit hole, swims through her own pool of tears, and finds herself in a rather curious place called Wonderland. There, she’ll encounter the frantic White Rabbit, have a frustrating conversation with an eccentric caterpillar, and play croquette with the hot-headed Queen of Hearts. Follow Alice on her wild adventure through the eyes of the artist in this definitive gift edition.  from Goodreads

So, I’m continuing my curmudgeonly thoughts with another childhood classic.  Let me start by saying that I LOVED this edition.  Anna Bond’s illustrations were the only saving grace when I read this.  They were modern, colorful and fun.  None of which I am going to say about Alice.  Maybe you have to be a child or reading to a child to like this one?  Maybe I should try reading it to Gage to test this theory.  I found Alice to be a bit on the insufferable side, but I’m old (just had a birthday a few weeks ago that proves it).

You tell me, what’s so great about Alice?

This is   my 30th selection for the Classics Club challenge.  I have until January 1, 2020 to get to 50.

What’s so great about George Orwell’s Animal Farm?

Title: Animal Farm, Author: George Orwell Animal Farm. Finished 9-9-19, 3/5, classic, pub. 1945

Unabridged audio read by Ralph Cosham. 3 hours.

A farm is taken over by its overworked, mistreated animals. With flaming idealism and stirring slogans, they set out to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality. Thus the stage is set for one of the most telling satiric fables ever penned –a razor-edged fairy tale for grown-ups that records the evolution from revolution against tyranny to a totalitarianism just as terrible.
When Animal Farm was first published, Stalinist Russia was seen as its target. Today it is devastatingly clear that wherever and whenever freedom is attacked, under whatever banner, the cutting clarity and savage comedy of George Orwell’s masterpiece have a meaning and message still ferociously fresh.   from Goodreads

This is not a hypothetical question.  I want to know what you loved about Animal Farm.  It’s a still widely read beloved classic, but when I finished it I was so happy it was over and it was only 3 hours! Maybe listening to it all in one day without time for introspection wasn’t the most fair treatment of this dystopian oldie.  So, I’m asking you to sell me on those pigs.  Was I rooting against them?  Of course!  Did I almost shed a tear at Boxer’s end?  Yes!  Did I need to read a study guide at the same time to appreciate it?  You tell me.  And yes, I ‘get’ everything in the above description 🙂

Tell me what you loved the most…

This was my 27th selection for the Classics Club challenge.  I have until January 1, 2020 to get to 50.

Elevation by Stephen King

Elevation by Stephen King Elevation.  Finished 8-3-19, 3/5, fiction, pub. 2018

Unabridged audio read by Stephen King. 3 hours 46 minutes

Although Scott Carey doesn’t look any different, he’s been steadily losing weight. There are a couple of other odd things, too. He weighs the same in his clothes and out of them, no matter how heavy they are. Scott doesn’t want to be poked and prodded. He mostly just wants someone else to know, and he trusts Doctor Bob Ellis.

In the small town of Castle Rock, the setting of many of King’s most iconic stories, Scott is engaged in a low grade—but escalating—battle with the lesbians next door whose dog regularly drops his business on Scott’s lawn. One of the women is friendly; the other, cold as ice. Both are trying to launch a new restaurant, but the people of Castle Rock want no part of a gay married couple, and the place is in trouble. When Scott finally understands the prejudices they face—including his own—he tries to help. Unlikely alliances, the annual foot race, and the mystery of Scott’s affliction bring out the best in people who have indulged the worst in themselves and others.   from Goodreads

I was engaged in this feel good story, but the failure at the end for true resolution left me feeling ambivalent about it.  I have no idea how this was named Best Horror in the Goodreads poll last year.  I suppose people saw the name Stephen King and nominated and voted accordingly, but there was not one sentence of horror in this one.  Just an interesting idea, some good people, and hope that everyone can get along.

Sound Bites: Life Lessons By a Boy Who Has Autism by Aaron Broadstreet and Taff Price

Sound Bites. Finished 8-3-19, 43 pages, pub. 2014

Aaron is a boy with Aspergers, no longer a diagnosis on its own but now just part of the autism spectrum.  He is local and I was delighted to find his book for sale at our local grocery store.  The book was written by Aaron in his journal at the encouragement of his parents.  Aaron mentioned that he wished there was a life guidebook and his father told him he should be the one to write it.  So he did.

It’s a brief glimpse into his view of the world and how we can be better.  I enjoyed his voice and his drawings.  We all need to see life from someone else’s eyes more often and this book can do that for you.

The Friend Zone by Abby Jimenez

Title: The Friend Zone, Author: Abby Jimenez The  Friend Zone. Finished 8-3-19, 3/5 stars. romance, 362 pages, pub. 2019

Kristen Petersen doesn’t do drama, will fight to the death for her friends, and has no room in her life for guys who just don’t get her. She’s also keeping a big secret: facing a medically necessary procedure that will make it impossible for her to have children.

Planning her best friend’s wedding is bittersweet for Kristen—especially when she meets the best man, Josh Copeland. He’s funny, sexy, never offended by her mile-wide streak of sarcasm, and always one chicken enchilada ahead of her hangry. Even her dog, Stuntman Mike, adores him. The only catch: Josh wants a big family someday. Kristen knows he’d be better off with someone else, but as their attraction grows, it’s harder and harder to keep him at arm’s length.   from Goodreads

My book group received the ARC for our August meeting, but I missed it so I have no idea how the others liked it.  I started reading and enjoyed the banter and predictable romance plot.  The main character is kept from loving herself because of her ongoing issues with her reproductive issues and the knowledge that she is infertile.  She has a perfect boyfriend who is in the military and she only sees for a few weeks every year, but he’s getting ready to come home for good.  Enter Josh, a sexy fireman and carpenter who steals her heart.

So, had this been the story it would have been fine, but there were a few things that happened at the end that were…wrong, just wrong.  I don’t want to spoil anything, but I was disappointed in the direction it took because it felt insulting to the reader.  Nonetheless, I did like the main characters and their chemistry and it was fun read, for awhile.

 

Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart

Title: Airs Above the Ground: The suspenseful, romantic story that will sweep you off your feet, Author: Mary Stewart Airs Above the Ground. Finished 7-22-19, 3.25/5 stars, suspense, 373 pages, pub. 1965

Lovely Vanessa March, two years married and very much in love, did not think it was a strange for her husband to take a business trip to Stockholm. What was strange was the silence that followed. She never thought to look for her missing husband in Vienna — until she saw him in a newsreel shot there at the scene of a deadly fire. Then she caught a glimpse of him in a newsreel shot of a crowd near a mysterious circus fire and knew it was more than strange. It was downright sinister.

Vanessa is propelled to Vienna by the shocking discovery. In her charge is young Timothy Lacy, who also has urgent problems to solve. But her hunt for answers only leads to more sinister questions in a mysterious world of white stallions of Vienna. But what promises to be no more than a delicate personal mission turns out to involve the security forces of three countries, two dead men, a circus and its colourful personnel. And what waits for Vanessa in the shadows is more terrifying than anything she has ever encountered.   from Goodreads

I’ve been wanting to try a Mary Stewart book for years since I knew she was one of the first writers of romantic mystery.  Although over 50 years old, the characters and dialogue hold up remarkable well.  I enjoyed Vanessa and Tim and their adventures across parts of Europe.  There was a twist not quite in the middle that I loved, but I don’t want to spoil it by telling you any more about it.  There was some brief romance, but I’d have a hard time characterizing this as romantic suspense by today’s standards.

As much as those things worked for me, just when the story hit its peak, there was a long, drawn out chase scene that bored me to tears.  And there is a lot of horse in this story.  If you like horses I’d guess that you would get way more out of the story than I did.  I learned a lot about the Spanish Riding School and it’s not something that drew me into the story, but might someone else.

Overall, I thought it felt fresh even though it was written in a time when people watched their news at the movie theater 🙂

The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle

Title: The Dinner List: Roman, Author: Rebecca Serle The Dinner List.  Finished 7-9-19, fiction. 3/5 stars, 273 pages, pub. 2018

When Sabrina Nielsen arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner she finds at the table not just her best friend, but also her favorite professor from college, her father, her ex-fiance, Tobias, and Audrey Hepburn.

At one point or another, we’ve all been asked to name five people, living or dead, with whom we’d like to have dinner. Why do we choose the people we do? And what if that dinner was to actually happen? These are the questions Sabrina contends with in Rebecca Serle’s utterly captivating novel, The Dinner List, a story imbued with the same delightful magical realism as Sliding Doors, and The Rosie Project.

As the appetizers are served, wine poured, and dinner table conversation begins, it becomes clear that there’s a reason these six people have been gathered together, and as Rebecca Serle masterfully traces Sabrina’s love affair with Tobias and her coming of age in New York City, The Dinner List grapples with the definition of romance, the expectations of love, and how we navigate our way through it to happiness. Oh, and of course, wisdom from Audrey Hepburn.    from Goodreads

The book starts and ends at a 30th birthday party that takes place at a restaurant.  Sabrina finds all of the people she put on a proposed list her BFF Jessica made her come up with in college.  Jessica, Tobias (her one true love), Conrad (college professor), her dad who abandoned her, and the one and only Audrey Hepburn.  What?  Audrey Hepburn is dead you say?  Yes, well she’s not the only one and this is just one of the things that doesn’t make sense during this 4+ hour dinner that we Seinfeld fans could call ‘the airing of grievances’.

I wanted to love this.  I kept waiting for something to happen that would make me love it, but all I felt at the end was sadness.  Maybe you could consider this a cautionary tale since there are life lessons served with the meal.  It was an easy read, but not one I rushed through because I just wasn’t that invested.

The best part of the book was the premise, the question we’ve all heard, what five people, living or dead, would you want at your dinner party?  I put this question to Jason when I started the book and now that I’ve finished we’re both due to share our lists with each other.  Come back tomorrow and I’ll share both of our lists with you and be prepared to share YOUR list.  If you post about it you can leave a link I’ll add to my post.

 

Maria Shriver – I’ve Been Thinking and Ten Things

Title: I've Been Thinking...: Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life, Author: Maria Shriver  vs. Title: Ten Things I Wish I'd Known Before I Went Out into the Real World, Author: Maria Shriver

I’ve Been Thinking: Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life VS Ten Things I Wish I’d Known-Before I Went Out into the Real World

Titles – Both way too long, but accurate.

Author – I’ve Been Thinking- Divorced mom facing an empty nest.  Ten Things- Working married mother of young children.

Purpose – I’ve Been Thinking Bite sized chapters addressing a multitude of life’s issues always ending with a prayer.  Ten Things– An extended form of a popular graduation speech she gave at College of the Holy Cross.

First and last chapter titles – I’ve Been Thinking- I Am Who I Choose to Become and Hope.  Ten Things– Pinpoint Your Passion and Laughter.

Page Count – I’ve Been Thinking– 225 pages.  Ten Things– 125 pages.

Best Advice – I’ve Been Thinking- “I know it’s hard to pause in our daily lives, to stop and be quiet and truly listen.  I know it’s hard to hear other people’s pain, frustration, anger, and loneliness without internalizing it ourselves or letting our judgments get the best of us.  But when you do listen deeply, you realize that while out experiences are vastly different, our hearts and desires are not”  page 47.  Ten Things– “The love and the laughter are what you need most in your life.  They’ll fill out all the potholes in the road.”  page 115.

Final Analysis – Stick with I’ve Been ThinkingTen Things is a bit dated.

I’ve Been Thinking.  5 stars. Finished 2-28-19.

Ten Things.  3 stars.  Finished 3-15-19