Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Language of Flowers

I tentatively requested Vanessa Diffenbaugh's THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS through's Early Reviewer's program. The title and the cover made me wonder if it was too sweet of a story for me.

The written description made me think it would be all right. Victoria Jones, a foster child from infancy, reaches 18 years old with no connections, no home and no direction. All she has is her love of flowers, and a lot of survival mechanisms that have not allowed her to develop personal relationships or connections.

        The Language of Flowers: A Novel

Alternating chapters tell about Victoria's childhood in the foster care system and as a young adult trying to construct a life from a very rough childhood.

Part of her childhood was spent with Elizabeth, a woman who almost adopted her. Yes, that's almost adopted her. The reason why the adoption didn't take place adds a bit of mystery to the story.

From Elizabeth, Victoria learned some things about love and relationships. She also learned the language of flowers.

This language of flowers was new to me. Using flowers to express a particular sentiment gained immense popularity in the Victorian era (hence the main character's name, perhaps?), when it wasn't seemly to express emotion and desire openly. Flowers were used instead, each flower conveying a particular meaning or sentiment.

After she gets a job with a florist, Victoria uses her knowledge of the language of flowers as customers come to her for help with their relationship problems or wishes. She dispenses help through flowers, selling flowers that carry attributes they want to enhance in their relationships, jonquils to enhance desire to someone wanting a romantic relationship, or stephanotis for happiness in marriage in a bride's bouquet.

Diffenbaugh did a great job creating contrast between Victoria's toughness and her life as a foster child with the delicacy and beauty of the language of flowers.

Diffenbaugh is launching the Camellia Network to create a nationwide movement to support youth making the transition from foster care. Kudos to her for this project and this book!

This book has already been published in many other countries; its publication in the U.S. this August is highly anticipated.

(And thank you to librarything for the advance reader copy!)

Thanks for reading the blog! Don't forget to subscribe...and check out our page on Facebook...NOT the New York Times Book Review.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Buddhist help for a 16 year old...or a novel?

E. came to the back room, started to search on the computer, then turned around where J. and I were talking.

"Do you have any ideas? There's a woman out there who wants something Buddhist for her 16 year old brother so he can get his life together," he said.

"She wants something Buddhist? For a 16 year old? Are there specific school?", I asked.

"She said their parents yell at him all the time," he shrugged. "She wants something Buddhist so he can read it and figure out his life."

"What about a novel?", J. said. "It's harder to find a non-fiction book for something like that, but there are lots of novels and kids can read them and relate to the experiences of the characters."

"My partner says the same thing. She doesn't think it's a good idea to help kids work through issues with a non-fiction book," I said.

J. smiled, "I am glad my point of view is validated by a professional!", she said.

"She said she wants something Buddhist," E. shrugged. "But I don't have any ideas."

"Want me to talk to her?", I said.

"Sure, that'd be great," he said, relieved. "She's sitting in front of the Eastern religion bay."

I head out and kneel down by the young woman. Blond, in a t-shirt and jeans, she looks 19 or 20. "Were you looking for something for your brother?", I ask.

"Yes. I am. He pretty much thinks he's worthless. My dad yells at him and tells him he's worthless and not going to do anything with his life, so my brother has pretty much assumed that's how it is. My mom just kind of ignores him, he had some behavior problems when he was younger and she just passed him around so others would take care of him. She never did. I'm Buddhist, and I don't care if he decides to be Buddhist, but I think it would be good for him to see what it's about and then he can decide. At least then he might know he has some options other than deciding he's worthless."

"There aren't a lot of Buddhist specific books that are going to be all that accessible to a 16 year old," I said. "There are some great books, but he might be more open to reading a novel, or maybe a biography about someone. Sometimes kids can relate better to fictional characters than to a self-help book that tells them what to do. I had a customer a few months ago who was looking for a self-help book to help his 12 year old granddaughter recover from being molested. My partner, who is a therapist, didn't think that was a good idea."

"No, it's not!," she said. "You can't get over something like that with a self-help book. I know. My brother and I both lived through that too."

"Your brother is lucky to have you," I said. "I don't know the details of his situation, but there are some novels that show kids coming through some difficult situations in their lives."

"I did find this one, and even if my brother doesn't read it, I'm going to keep it," and she showed me the book.

        Taming the Tiger Within: Meditations on Transforming Difficult Emotions

"Oh, he's great. That is a good one. Another book you might consider is by Sherman Alexie. He himself is Native American, and has a book, a novel, about a kid growing up on a reservation with abuse and so on and coming through it. Just recently there has been some controversy about teen fiction. Some people have criticized authors for writing about abuse and drugs and so on for teens. Sherman Alexie responded to the criticism with an amazing article about why he writes about dark and intense situations. He said that kids have lived it, they have to be able to read about it. He said he survived the horrors of his own childhood because of books. Anyway. His book might be a good one for your brother."

We walk over to the teen section and I hand her THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN.

        The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Alexie, Sherman)

"You can take a look at it. Another one that deals with some tough issues is THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. It's about a girl who commits suicide, but before she does, she records her reasons why she did it and sends it to the people who contributed to her feeling worthless, people who bullied her and so on." I hand her a copy.

        Thirteen Reasons Why

"Okay, wow," she says. "These are good ideas." She pauses. "He wants to join the military," she said. "I really don't want him to."

I see E. walk by and I call him over..."Her brother wants to join the military," I said. I turn to her, "E. was in the military."

"I thought of another book that might be good...FINDING FISH," he said. Antwone Fisher had a horrible horrible childhood, abuse, poverty, you name it. He does join the military, and that's one way he got his life together, but he doesn't portray it as the only way. Joining the military helped me get my life together," E. said.

He hands her a copy of FINDING FISH.

        Finding Fish: A Memoir

"Okay," she says, thinking. She sees another book on the shelf, "What about this one?" She picks up ANGELA'S ASHES.

        Angela's Ashes: A Memoir

"That's a good one too. The author grows up with abuse and poverty, and he makes it out. He grows up in Ireland."

She puts her hand to her chest and her eyes open wide, "We're Irish!", she says.

I smile. "This might be good. The only thing is that the author is in his 60's or 70's now, so it's a little far removed from right here and now. But it is a good book."

She looks at the books she's placed on a table. "Now I have to decide." She turns to me, "Thank you so much, you've been so helpful. This is amazing. I wish I had enough money to buy them all. Thank you. Really."

"You're welcome. He really is lucky to have you," saying it again, wanting her to hear that. "Having a book might be good, but having you is better. Good luck."

Thanks for stopping by the blog! You can send email to: 2of3RsATgmailDOTcom.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Visit From the Goon Squad

Jennifer Egan's A VISIT FROM THE GOOD SQUAD has been selling well at the bookstore, which, as we know, is not necessarily an indication that it is a good book.

In this case, however, it is.

        A Visit from the Goon Squad

In the first chapter, we are introduced to Sasha. She steals. We see her steal a wallet from a bag in a public bathroom, and later in the chapter she talks to her therapist about the theft. She doesn't steal for the money or value of the items, she feels compelled to do it and stealing and having the stolen items gives her comfort.

In the second chapter, we get to know Bennie. He is Sasha's boss at a music production company, but in this chapter his relationship to Sasha is incidental as we learn about Bennie, a 44 year old, recently divorced man using a regimen of gold flakes in his coffee to ensure his sexual potency. Sasha is barely present here.

Each chapter goes on like this, introducing new characters who are connected to characters we've met in previous chapters, sometimes only tangentially.

In addition to introducing us to new people, chapters are often set at different times in their lives; one chapter is set when Bennie is a teenager but is told from the point of view of one of his best friends, another is told through one of Sasha's children's eyes set years after the first chapter where we first meet her.

Sound confusing? It is...each new chapter almost felt like starting a whole new book, who are these people? where are we? when is this taking place?

For the most part, I liked the different trajectories, figuring out how everyone was connected, and even liked not being able to follow each trajectory for more than a chapter. Sometimes, though, I did not want a particular chapter to end, I wanted to see what would happen next to those particular characters at that particular time.

One customer commented that she'd heard that the book was depressing (she was buying it anyway). I asked J., who'd first recommended it to me. "The characters aren't always redeeming," she said, "but I didn't get depressed reading about them."

And I didn't either.

While at times I didn't have the focus to start a new chapter and figure out who was who and when and where and so on (which maybe had to do with my partner's mother having a stroke and me not being at the top of my game in the focus department lately), I loved how Egan gave so much depth to all of the characters by giving us glimpses into their lives at different times and places. Well done!

You can send email to: 2of3RsATgmailDOTcom, or comment in the space below. Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, June 17, 2011

We Hope He'll Be Okay

An tall older gentleman, 80's or 90's, neatly trimmed white mustache, wearing a blue fleece jacket over an oxford shirt and khakis, came up to the counter. He was purchasing THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS.

       The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

"I've heard a lot about this," he said. "I'm looking forward to reading it."

"Yes, that's what I've heard too. Everyone I've talked to who has read it has really liked it," I said. I told him how much the book cost. He slowly opened his wallet. Very slowly, the slowest I've ever seen, took out a credit card. Slowly. The transaction finally completed, I asked if he wanted a bag.

"Sure I do. You're not going to arrest me, are you?"

"Not today!" I said. He leaned over slowly to pick up a piece of paper.

"I'm going next door to get some coffee," he said.

"Good idea," I said. "Enjoy your coffee!"

"Thank you, I will," he said as he slowly raised his hand in farewell. He walked slowly out of the store. Nice man.

A few minutes later, a young woman came into the store and up to the registers. "There was an older man in here a little while ago? He just bought a book?"

"Yes, he was just in here," I said. "He bought a book and said he was going to get coffee."

"He's in the coffee shop and he doesn't seem to be doing too well. He's spilling coffee on himself. I just came over to you know if he was with anyone?"

"I didn't see anyone with him at all," I said. "He just said he was going over to get coffee."

"Okay, thank you," she said, and went back to the coffee shop.

"That doesn't sound good," I said to "Twyla". "I'm going to go see if he's all right." I went outside and into the coffee shop. He was sitting in a chair, two women were holding him up. His eyes were closed. I could see his chest moving with his breath. He was not speaking. His color did not look good. One of the baristas was calling 911. The manager came over to me and said that they'd helped him to his seat, and one of the women came up and told them he was spilling and didn't seem to be doing too well. Knowing I couldn't do any good there, I went back to my store. Upset. Crying. Twyla gave me a hug and I pulled myself together. We watched the fire truck arrive, then the ambulance.

I finished my shift about 15 minutes later, and Twyla and I walked over to see if they knew anything. The barista who'd been on the phone with 911 was just coming to see us.

"They've taken him to the hospital, evidently he was just at the beginning of a major heart attack, but they were able to stop it. He'd regained consciousness by the time he left. I made sure he had his book with him! It'll give him something to do while he's getting better."

Relieved, and still a little emotional, I drove home. The next morning I stopped in to get my coffee. The manager saw me and told me that they have his name and know where he was being taken and they are getting a card. They'll bring it over for us to sign. Very nice.

Thanks for stopping by the blog! You can comment below, or send email to: 2of3RsATgmailDOTcom.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Go the F**k to Sleep

       Go the F**k to Sleep

What a great book!

Under the guise of being a sweet goodnight book for children, with beautiful artwork and (almost) cozy poetry, instead this is an expression of the frustration some parents (I did!) experience when their children will NOT go to sleep after being put to bed.

The following verse is on a page with a picture of a cat, kitten, and a lamb sleeping peacefully...

   "The cats nestle close to their kittens,
   The lambs have laid down with the sheep.
   You're cozy and warm in your bed, my dear.
   Please go the fuck to sleep."

As the book goes on, the verses get more frustrated as the parents try all the usual things - drinks of water and trips to the bathroom and lullabies and stuffed animals - to get the children settled for the night with no success...

   We're finally watching our movie
   Popcorn's in the microwave. Beep.
   Oh shit. Goddamn it. You've gotta be kidding.
   Come on, go the fuck back to sleep.

This on a page of a watercolor of a man in a kitchen and someone asleep on the couch under a blanket.

The pictures stay serene. The verses do not.

If you know anyone with small children who are frustrated with the myth that children should all go to bed easily (and who have a sense of humor) this would be a great gift. For the parent. Not the children.

I hear there is an audio version of this book, read by Samuel L. Jackson. That would be excellent.

Thank you for stopping by and reading the blog. Comments are welcome, as is email, which can be sent to: 2of3RsATgmailDOTcom.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Science Fiction...for a Math Project?

A man came into the store. In his late 30's or early 40's, slightly graying brown hair, a close cropped beard, he was wearing a light blue shirt and jeans. He came up to the information desk holding a piece of paper.

"I need to know if you have this book. My daughter needs it for a school project in math. It's FLATLAND by Edward Abbott. So it should be in the math section."

"Let me look it up, I'm not familiar with it." I look it up. "Actually we have it shelved in our science fiction section," I said with some surprise. "And we should have a copy."

I take him to the section, find the book and hand it to him. It's a slim volume.

"Okay, thanks!", he said, looking a little dubious, though glad to have accomplished his mission.

The book's entire title is: FLATLAND: A ROMANCE OF MANY DIMENSIONS.

            Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions (Oxford World's Classics)

A science fiction book for a project for math class? I am intrigued. Since he bought our only copy, I can't look at the book itself. So I look in our book search system to see what it says about it.

The description says that it was originally published in England in 1884 and has been as influential in science fiction as H.G. Wells. Interesting!

The description went on…
"With wry humor and penetrating satire, FLATLAND takes us on a mind-expanding journey into a different world to give us a new vision of our own.

"A. Square, the slightly befuddled narrator, is born into a place which is limited to two dimensions - irrevocably flat and peopled by a hierarchy of geometrical forms..."

...and I was hooked. Now there is a copy on order for me.

Thank you for stopping by the blog! Email can be sent to: 2of3RsATgmailDOTcom.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Right before we closed last night, torrential rains hit the store, causing a leak in the ceiling. We had to move some books out of the way and cover the fixtures with plastic. I grabbed a stack of books and said the title out loud as I carried them to the cart...

"The Joy of Keeping Chickens"


"Joy?", said P., "I don't think there's much joy in keeping chickens."

(P. is a 27 year old former Navy medic, now studying criminal justice.)

He continued, "They can be mean. Especially if you're six years old. And you're trying to get their eggs. And everyone is watching. And laughing. They'll peck you. No, I don't think there's any joy in keeping chickens."

"Sounds as though there's been some chicken trauma in your past." I said, "Perhaps you are suffering from Post Poultry Traumatic Stress Disorder. Maybe you need to get some help with that."

Thanks for stopping by the blog! You can send email to: 2of3RsATgmailDOTcom

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Is Scent of the Missing a God Wink?

A woman, in about her early 30's, frosty long blond hair, wearing a turquoise blue shirt and a necklace with turquoise blue and brown wooden beads came up to the counter. She was buying two magazines. She looked at the cover of SCENT OF THE MISSING, which I have displayed by my register for the 100 handsell book challenge.

       Scent of the Missing: Love and Partnership with a Search-and-Rescue Dog

"Look at this!", she said. "Is this good?"

"It is, it's a wonderful book," I said. "It's about a woman who is a pilot and works search and rescue and she decides to get this dog (I point to Puzzle's picture on the front). She trains her to be a search and rescue dog. It's about her decision, her love for her dogs, training the dog, search and rescue; it's really great."

"You read it?" she asked.

"Oh yes. She already had six Pomeranians at home, then decided to get this dog for search and rescue. SO much hard work goes into training search and rescue dogs, I had no idea before I read the book. It's amazing."

"Six? Wow," she paused. "This is kind of incredible, but I am an occupational therapist and I'm going for six weeks to train dogs as service dogs. I'm not much of a reader, but I think I this might be a good book for me."

"It might be great for you," I said. "And what I like about this book is that it's not like each chapter is a cliff-hanger, you can read some and put it down and come back to it. There are also pictures..." I open the book and show her pictures of Puzzle in training.

"Okay. I need to get this. And just so you know, I wouldn't have gotten it if you hadn't read it." She paused. "Do you know the book GOD WINKS?"

I think for a moment. "It sounds kind of familiar, I'm not sure..."

"It talks about how little coincidences are really ways God is leading us in the right direction. I think seeing this book is a God wink."

"Oh, good!" I said. "Where are you going to train the dogs?"

"It's Bergin University in Santa Rosa, it's the only accredited college for training service dogs in the country."

"I'm from that area," I said. "I grew up in Marin and lived in Lake County."

"Oh. My. Goodness.", she said. "I think you and I could stand here and talk for an hour. I think this is another God wink. It looks like we might be moving down there. I moved a lot when I was younger, a military brat, and I absolutely love it here in Portland. I haven't wanted to move there. Do you miss it?"

"I love it here too. I do miss some people there. I don't miss living there, though sometimes I miss the weather. And it is a beautiful area and there is a lot going on culturally."

"Okay. I think I just need to make a go of it. Wow. I'm amazed that you were here and this book was here." She shakes her head and smiles. And she buys the book!*

I looked up the God Wink book, and Squire Rushnell is the author...

       When GOD Winks: How the Power of Coincidence Guides Your Life

*I'm still ahead in the contest!

Thanks for stopping by the blog! You can send email to: 2of3RsATgmailDOTcom.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The House That Mouse Built

      The House that Mouse Built

With the rhythm of the poem, The House That Jack Built, THE HOUSE THAT MOUSE BUILT tells the story of Mouse and his house.

Maggie Rudy created this enchanting mouse world using scraps and found objects. Each page is intricate and engrossing. Combined with her delightful story, this is a wonderful book.

There was one thing that bothered me about the story. Musetta, the mouse that Mouse marries, enters the story as a thief. She sneaks into Mouse's house and steals his cheese! She then runs away and gets stung by a bee (a very scary giant bee to a mouse!). Mouse hears her cries, rescues, comforts, and marries her. In the story he never finds out that she stole his cheese!

Overlooking Musetta's thievery, this book is absolutely adorable. And it probably was a one time event and she was starving and needed food. Or perhaps she has a 'problem' and is already in a 12-Step program. We don't know.

I am looking forward to more mouse adventures!

Thanks for stopping by the blog! You can send email to: 2of3RsATgmailDOTcom