Friday, April 4, 2014

The Craft Beer Revolution

by Stephen Hindy
Palgrave Macmillan     2014
272 pages     Nonfiction
The Shortlist

I chuckled when the publisher sent me a copy of The Craft Beer Revolution because of all my family, I know the least about beer, and frankly have just developed a bit of a taste for beer in my old age..

Stephen Hindy is the owner of Brooklyn Brewery, and his book tells the story of how he and a group of other brewers have transformed the beer industry. Craft beers are now being made all over the country. Even the major companies are now making craft brews as well as their traditional mass-marketed beers.

The Craft Brew Revolution is well written and well documented.  It would be an awesome Father's Day present for your favorite beer connoisseur.

My major disappointment was that he didn't tell the story of Larry Bell, our local brewer, who began the craft brew movement in Michigan and the Midwest with Bell's Beer. Quite honestly, the biggest event of the year in Kalamazoo happens in March when Bell's releases their Oberon. It's a huge downtown party! We have another big brewing coming building a complex in downtown Kalamazoo--Arcadia Ales, which is headquartered in Battle Creek Michigan.  

I gave my copy to my niece's husband who is the brew master at the Livery, a brew pub in Benton Harbor Michigan. He will put it to much better use than I can, novice that I am. If you are interested in Michigan Beer, here is an article by John Gonzales and his search for the best Michigan brewery.


Breweries mentioned:
Bell's Brewery.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Still Life with Bread Crumbs

by Anna Quindlen
 Random House   2014
272 pages     Fiction

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen is a comfortable book--or maybe I just think that because I am slightly older than the protagonist Rebecca Winter and my life experience parallels hers in some ways. Or maybe it's comfortable because the author writes in the third person, and we can read about Rebecca while remaining slightly detached. Or maybe it's because it is a "romantic comedy of manners," as one reviewer calls it, and the reader can enjoy it in bits and pieces.

Well, no matter. Still Life with Bread Crumbs is a delightful read. Rebecca Winter has been a hugely successful photographer, but she has rested on her laurels for too long, and the royalties for her most famous photograph "Still Life with Bread Crumbs" have virtually dried up. She rents a small cottage in upstate New York so that she can lease her New York apartment for a huge sum of money which she needs to pay for nursing home care for her mother and rent for her father's apartment. But life in the country is lonely, and at first she hardly knows what to do with herself. As she slowly adapts to her surroundings, she finds her creativity returning and she is able to produce some of the best work of her career.

This is a book about moving on, and most women who have lived for 60 plus years know how to move on because of parents dying and children leaving. I suppose that is why it is so easy to identify with Rebecca. On the other hand, part of Rebecca is having a hard time moving on--the part that had an unfortunate marriage and a failed career. That part needs the break and the solitude the cottage in the woods affords. As the book nears the end, Rebecca finds that her body has rebounded as has her mind and her creativity--enough so that the sojourn in the country becomes her life's choice. Rebecca's thought process: "when she really thought about it, she realized she'd been becoming different people for as long as she could remember but had never really noticed."

Still Life with Bread Crumbs is funny in many places particularly in the clever and obvious foreshadowing, the flashbacks, and the delightful chapter titles. The NPR reviewer says that Quindlen has her "finger firmly planted on the pulse of her generation." In an interview, Quindlen says,  "I got the jump on reinvention some time ago, actually. I reinvented myself as a mother in my 30s and as a novelist in my 40s. But I never say never. I think one of the most wonderful things about how much longer we all live now is that people feel free to mix it up, to have a third or fourth act in life." 

I am trying to figure out which act I am in. Perhaps just moving out of the third and into the fourth. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Less Doing, More Living: Make Everything in Life Easier

by Ari Meisel
Tarcher Penguin     2014
124 pages Nonfiction

  It appears that I have come across Superman in the guise of Ari Meisel, a productivity guru, LEED contractor, Ironman, TED talker, and now author. He says his hobby is productivity. I received his book Less Doing More Living from the publisher who must have known my need. The book will be out in April, and I would suggest that nearly everyone can find some useful hints, particularly among the apps and services that he suggests. Less Doing, More Living is Meisel's approach to dealing with daily stresses of life "by optimizing, automating, and outsourcing all of my tasks in life and business." 

 The book is just as efficient as the man. In a spare 124 pages. it tells you the productivity tools that you need that will optimize your work week and your personal life. He uses nine fundamental principles to  efficiency, including the perennial problems with finance and organization. He suggests that once you perfect an optimization process--whether it be learning an app or hiring a virtual assistant--you can get the process out of your sight and out of your mind. He then tells you how to find the apps that you need to succeed at the task of doing less and living more.

I really liked the instructions for how to use Evernote and because I can use them immediately to keep track of the work I am doing for clients. Additionally, I have been using two different calendar systems; one for my personal life, and one for my business life. I am going to combine them--why didn't I think of that before. That certainly shows my efficiency needs!

Some things I found fascinating--the virtual assistant, for one. I can see how my husband could take advantage of that. At the same time, I was reminded of the virtual assistant in Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple who stole all of Bernadette's money. I was also intrigued by the idea of scheduling purchases of items like toothpaste and toilet paper from Amazon, so you don't have to think about running errands. Frankly, I found a lot more efficiency tools for my husband than for me; he is starting a new business and feeling a bit overwhelmed. As always, wives are good at finding things for their husbands more than themselves--with the possible exception of Ari Meisel's wife, who is probably going "enough with the apps already!"

Well, at any rate, if doing things more efficiently is your goal; this is your book. It is a quick read and rather fun. See what you can change in your life. Publishers Weekly says, "Meisel provides a concise and ingenious roadmap to doing less, getting more, and enjoying life."

The brief review in Publisher's Weekly:
Meisel's website:


Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Death Bed

by Leigh Russell
Witness Impulse  2014
386 pages     Fiction
 Yeah, ok, so what! That is my feeling after spending time reading Death Bed by Leigh Russell. While the premise of the book is adequate (intriguing, actually), the sub plots are less than stellar. 

When you are reading police procedural mysteries, you don't expect to be blown away by good literature, but that is precisely why I picked up Death Bed following The Goldfinch. (I was amused to see that K on Goodreads had done the same thing and had similar feelings about Death Bed.) I wanted to read something quick with no surprises. That is certainly what I got!

In the fourth book in the series, Detective Inspector Geraldine Steel has moved from a position with the Kent police force to the London Metropolitan police force. She has come highly recommended as a consummate officer, so when a gruesome murder occurs shortly after her arrival, expectations are high that she will be able to solve it quickly. She has a wonderful Sergeant, Sam, who tells it like it is, and they make a good team. The one murder extends to two and the office is worried that there is a serial killer on the loose. Geraldine is intent on solving the crime, in part to make her mark at the new police department, and also because she has received some disturbing personal news. And that's where the "So What" comes in. The character of Geraldine is poorly developed, so the attempt to develop a subplot involving her personal problems is wasted on an uncaring audience. 

Don't get me wrong. The mystery in Death Bed is really quite strong. So much so that you wish the author had developed the mystery even further and left the character development undeveloped because you just don't care one bit about Geraldine and her problems. Publishers Weekly calls it sub-par and I guess I feel the same.

This is my first foray into mysteries by Leigh Russell. She is the author of two series--the DI Geraldine Steel series and the DS Ian Peterson series. Not sure I will read any more.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Goldfinch

By Donna Tartt
 Little, Brown     2013
771 pages     Fiction

All week I have been compulsively reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, gazing out at the sea while reading a torturous and tortured story. The incongruity of the scene has been emotionally draining for me. I wanted to be on vacation but I couldn’t stop reading. At the same time, I was extremely grateful that I could devote so much time to the book. If I had been home, I would have resented the intrusions that would have kept me from delving in so completely. 

The Goldfinch starts out with a bang—literally. Theo Decker and his mother are at the Metropolitan Museum of Art one weekday morning before going to Theo’s school, where he is a 13-year-old middle school student, in trouble with the dean for smoking and/or stealing. Theo is a very bright son of a very bright mother (dad having left the year before). While Theo is looking at the Dutch Masters, mom wanders into another room. There is a huge bomb explosion and when Theo becomes conscious again, an old man he had earlier noticed, is dying at his feet. He gives Theo a ring and asks him to deliver it to an address, and he tells Theo to save the small painting of the Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius and then he dies. Theo grabs the painting, stuffs it in his backpack and makes his way out of the museum. He can’t find his mother anywhere, so he goes home to wait for her. She never arrives; she has been killed in the explosion.

At that point, everything goes downhill for the suddenly orphaned boy. He spends a school term with the Upper East Side family of a school friend while authorities look for his father. The family gives Theo some stability and the mother in the family helps Theo deal with his loss. During this year, another important set-up occurs when Theo returns the dead man’s ring to the address he has remembered. There he meets the girl, Pippa, who had been in the museum with the old man, and her guardian, Hobie, an antique dealer and restorer. Pippa becomes the love of Theo’s life, and Hobie, dear Hobie, becomes his lifelong friend and mentor.

In the spring, Theo’s ne’er-do-well father and his girlfriend come to claim Theo, and they take him to live in suburban Las Vegas, where he spends his high school years. Boris, a Ukrainian student who has also lost his mother, teams up with Theo to carouse their way through high school. All these characters appear and reappear throughout the novel over a period of about 15 years, and Boris continues to influence Theo throughout the rest of the novel. 

After the breathtaking beginning, there is a meandering middle section in which Theo continues to hide the painting, which causes him no end of anxiety. When his alcoholic father is killed in an automobile accident, Theo returns to New York to live with Hobie and he learns all about the antique business. The middle section of the book is important, however long it is, because it teaches the reader patience. One reviewer says of Tartt: “. . .she takes fully grown, already passionate readers and reminds them of the particularly deep pleasures that a long, winding novel can hold. In the short-form era in which we live, the Internet has supposedly whittled our attention-spans down to the size of hotel soap, and it's good to be reminded that sometimes more is definitely more.” 

The writing is so marvelous that you read on for hundreds of pages; you just can’t get enough of it. Then, just as you think you don’t want any more glorious writing—you want some action—you lose your breath again as the plot picks up and moves to Amsterdam, and then goes full speed ahead to a dramatic climax in which the stolen painting plays a pivotal role.

I am in awe of Donna Tartt. This is the first book of Tartt's that I have read. Actually there have only been two others. The Goldfinch took ten years to write. All the way through I marveled at her skill, but the skill doesn’t overwhelm the character development or the plot. There are elements of Dickens, Catcher in the Rye and Empire of the Sun. One reviewer felt that the early sections reminded her of the Harry Potter series. Tartt seems to really understand teenage boys. Boris is incredibly charismatic and Theo remains an appealing character throughout the story. My favorite character is Hobie, the bachelor antique dealer who takes Theo in when he is at his lowest point and becomes the parental figure and mentor that Theo desperately needs. The plot is so well developed that there are very few unbelievable moments. If I have any complaints about plot, is that sometimes the reader wishes that it would move a little bit faster.

There is so much loss in The Goldfinch that I have pondered Theo’s fate almost as much as he does. He makes so many bad choices, but he is so appealing that you keep wanting him to shape up and “get his shit together.” And when, in the end, he has an epiphany and finds purpose for his life, you are so proud of the decisions that move his life forward. The end of the book is quite philosophical. I wanted to copy whole passages; they were so heartfelt. He says, “A great sorrow, and one that I am only beginning to understand: we don’t get to choose our own hearts. We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us or what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are.”

When I finished the book this afternoon, I breathed heavily and began to cry—filled with emotion and exhaustion. I was done; yet, I immediately longed for more. Theo is a character that will stay with me for a long time. The Goldfinch will stay with me even longer. The NPR reviewer summed it up thus: “While The Goldfinch delves seriously and studiously into themes of art, beauty, loss and freedom, I mostly loved it because it kept me wishing I could stay in its fully-imagined world a little longer. Donna Tartt was right to take her time with this book. Readers will want to take their time with it, too.”

I’m going to read an amusing murder mystery next; I don’t think I can stand to read any more great literature for a while. I need time to recover.