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Friday, March 21, 2014

Crazy-ass Literary Fiction OR Middle C by William H. Gass

Book Type: Crazy-ass literary fiction

Stereotype Alert: Too weird for traditional stereotypes...

Cover Art: Someone stole my keyboard and all they left me was middle C and C#/Db.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Jesus.  You sort of want to put everyone out of their misery at one point or another, but one has to wonder if a lay or two would have made Joseph a bit more normal. 

Character Score: 5.5-6 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: The life of Joseph Skizzen manages to be complete run of the mill and just plain crazy all at once.  

X-Factor: Holocaust reversal

Stereotype Alert: I can't even.  Psychologically there's plenty stereotypical about Joseph.  But in the context of how his story is told... I guess the descriptions of small Midwestern religious colleges are a bit stereotypical.  But they are spot on at the same time.

Cover Art: I actually think this is a really beautiful cover.  It does fool the reader into expecting to read something WAY different, however.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Really.  Not going there.  I feel like there aren't enough characters in this book for me to even cast this properly unless everyone gets a "bludgeon."

Character Score: I really enjoyed Miriam.  And Rudi is so wacky that you can't really help but wonder where Joseph gets his weirdness- even if (especially if???) he did grow up without his father around.  Gass did a great job of creating veeeeery unique characters.

What's the Story?
Middle C is unlike any other novel I have ever read.  The storytelling doesn’t unfold in typical linear fashion and because of this the reader becomes increasingly curious about how our narrator, Joseph Skizzen, gets from point A to point Z.  Joseph’s tale begins before he is even born, with his parents and sister living in their native Graz, Austria just before the dawn of World War II.  Sensing that the Nazis will soon be creating more than their fair share of problems in his homeland, Rudi Skizzen flees to London with his family by pretending that they are Jewish refugees.  Joseph is born shortly after their arrival and the Skizzen (now called Fixel) family manages to survive the Blitz.  Joseph’s father “reinvents” or renames himself several more times and then disappears mysteriously after the war.  After desperately searching for her husband, Joseph’s mother Miriam then manages to relocate herself and her two children to a small town in rural Ohio. 

And here is where Joseph’s story takes off.  We can see the two Skizzen children grow into their new lives as Americans.  Joseph is quiet and not particularly book-smart while his sister Debbie becomes a cheerleader and wants to be a part of all things fashionable.  Joseph begins to enjoy his piano lessons with a local teacher, but it is apparent that he is self-taught in playing popular tunes than anything else.  We are then shown a look at Joseph as an older man, one who has used the entire attic of his large home to house what he calls his “Inhumanity Museum” which is host to countless newspaper clippings spotlighting all manner of man’s terrible acts.  We bounce back and forth in time to see Joseph working as a high schooler in a music store, then as a college professor, then a college student, then as an assistant in a small town library.  Each sector of Joseph’s life creates another layer of lies he tells himself to continue on his way. 

I began this book thinking (due to the title) that it was about music.  And in many ways, music plays a big role in Joseph’s life.  But the result of Gass’s novel is so unlike any story I’ve seen told that it is hard to place my finger on what the biggest point of the narrative truly is.  Middle C  is a fascinating, careening tour through the mind of a seemingly ordinary man who lives a seemingly ordinary life but it is certainly an extraordinary novel.  

X-Factor: Seriously.  How many books have you read about Jewish people pretending to be Christian so that they could escape Germany/Poland/Austria etc. and persecution at the hand of the Nazis?  Now how many books have you read where someone pretends to be Jewish so they could escape the Nazis?  Until now, I had read zero.  God I hope this wasn't an actual thing that happened on a regular basis at the time.  It just seems so... icky.  But in the context of setting up Rudi and his eccentricities, it worked like a charm.

I can't say enough about this book.  I really can't- my grasp of the English language and my own personal feelings cannot fully encompass all that I would like to say about this novel.  If you are generally a reader of literary fiction, I would highly recommend it.  That's all I can really say.  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Momma Said There'd Be Days Like This OR Glitter and Glue by Kelly Corrigan

Book Type: Coming of age-ish memoir

Stereotype Alert: Nada

Cover Art: Mail Call!

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Following my rule about books dealing with cancer, I'm not going there on this one. 

Character Score: 7 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: A young woman sets out to see the world and become Interesting.  While nannying for an Australian family who has just lost their mother to cancer, her views on what makes life worth living begin to shift.

X-Factor: Globetrotting

Stereotype Alert: I haven't read a lot of memoirs.  And I really haven't read, well, any memoirs that deal with motherhood.  And while most of this book takes place long before the author has any children of her own, I really identified with her thoughts and feelings.  

Cover Art: I know this book takes place (mostly) in 1992 before the age of email, but I love seeing the big stack of handwritten letters.  And red being my favorite color... an eye-catching book for sure! 

Character Score: Not so much a comment on the characters since this is a work of non fiction, but I really loved Corrigan's writing voice.  

What's the Story?: I originally picked up the advanced copy of this book because I thought it was a funny memoir by a crafty person.  Like Jen Lancaster's Tao of Martha or Amy Sedaris's I Like You. What a misleading title!  But after reading the blurb on the back of the book, I thought it would still be worth a go and I was not disappointed.

Kelly Corrigan is a young woman in her early 20s.  She longs for adventure, for a chance to have interesting new experiences that you can only have when you “leave the house.”   She and her college roommate decide to go on a round-the-world trip beginning in Taipei.  The two are on the road for two months before they run out of cash while in Sydney, Australia.  Corrigan pictured herself working in a bar or restaurant to save up money for the next leg of her trip; not playing nanny to two kids whose mother has recently died of cancer.   And she certainly never expected to travel more than half way around the world to connect with her mother, of all people.  But this book is all about difference between what you imagine and what is.  About what you think is important, and what actually is important.

Corrigan uses a lot of flashbacks to talk about the type of person her mother is.  She makes it very plain that she and her mother have virtually nothing in common.  Her mother is a practical woman.  One who doesn’t spoil her children and makes them follow her rules at all times.  Her father, however, was always a pleasant, outgoing guy who loved to spend time with his kids after work and called his only daughter “Lovie.”  But as her mother liked to remind her daughter, “Your father’s the glitter but I’m the glue.”  Corrigan relishes the opportunity to be living her own adventure away from her mother’s nagging but soon finds that her mother’s voice is the one constantly giving her advice on how to care for the Tanner children.  As the weeks tick by, Corrigan is struck by how the Tanner family learns to survive without a mother.  The harder she tries to help the children, the more she thinks about her own mother and slowly discovers that life’s true adventure is experiencing life within a family. 

Glitter and Glue  is a quick read that is a different type of coming of age memoir.  It begins with a young woman's quest for independence and excitement and ends with her deep feelings about the importance of family.  Maybe it's just because I'm going to be a mother soon, but I really enjoyed this book.  Glitter and Glue is available everywhere February 4th 2014.  

Friday, January 3, 2014

Can't Hardly Wait for Downton Abbey? OR Snobs by Julian Fellowes

OK.  It's been a while.  I really have been reading books since October.  I even wrote a few of them up for the Staff Reads blog at work.  But I have been incredibly lazy about posting on this blog.  A few things I read over the last 3 months that I won't be reviewing here:

  • Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery.  I finally read this!!!  Can you believe that I've seen the Canadian mini-series/movie more times than I can count but never actually read the book???? It has been remedied and I am so pleased to report that the adaptation of the book to screen is so well done as to rival The Princess Bride for "Best Adaptation" in my book.  The second Anne series/movie... I'm not going to go there.
  • Five Days At Memorial by Sheri Fink.  Guys.  This. Book.  It took me almost a month to read because I found it so incredibly stressful.  True story of a bunch of doctors and nurses in the days during the incredible flooding in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.  I can't even imagine what those people went through and I certainly can't imagine having to make the tough decisions that they made.  Very good, very hard to read.
  • Insane City by Dave Barry (audio book version).  Who doesn't love Dave Barry?  Like his previous two novels, this one is full of vivid characters and crazy situations.  Barry is a great narrator and I loved every insane minute of the book.

Many of you probably know that Julian Fellowes writes for the beloved English period drama Downton Abbey.  You may even know that he won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for the film Gosford Park in 2002.  But did you know that he used to be an actor?  And that he's also a novelist?  His 2004 novel simply titled Snobs takes a look into a modern day Downton Abbey-type manor house.  But lest you think this book is all "Upstairs vs. Downstairs," let me assure you that it is not.  It is really about how the class system is very much alive and well in England to this day.  And how the aristocracy treats everyone else.  It is a comedy of manners- or perhaps, a lack-there-of.

Book Type: Modern Day Downton Abbey.  Minus all the "downstairs" stuff.

Stereotype Alert: Not really.

Cover Art: Ring the bell!

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Narrator/Charles/Googie

Character Score: 6 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: A comedy of manners.  Non-aristocratic Edith meets Charles the Earl, gets married and realizes life married to a rich man is not as simple as she originally thought.

X-Factor: Autobiography-ish

Cover Art: The one with the bells is a reissued paperback version.  The original 2004/2005 edition is bright yellow with sort of art deco people on it.  Funny thing is, this stock bell art on the new cover was also used on the book Servants by Lucy Lethbridge with different cropping etc.  You'd think that folks would be pretty sure to use different cover art for two books that deal with the English aristocracy and their homes but apparently not.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Well, though I know far more about Edith than I'd like and far less about the narrator, he sounds hot.  And is artistic.  And is a born English aristocrat.  *swoon* I love boring old Charles.  If you had to marry for money/station, I could think of a LOT worse people to be stuck with.  Besides, he obviously loves Edith and would do anything for her- why doesn't she teach an old dog a few new tricks?  And Googie.  Ugh.  Fellowes does a great job of painting her as a woman who does what she needs to in order to stay polite within her station.  He also paints her as a sympathetic mother who just wants what is best for her son.  I get it.  She's still annoying.

Character Score: Love most of them, hate a few of them.  Love Fellowes' voice.  The end.

What's the Story?:
Snobs is written mostly from the point of view of an actor who was born an aristocrat, and he tells the tale of Edith Lavery and the Broughtons, who hold the seat as to the Marquess of Uckfield.  Edith, who was brought up in an upper-middle class household by a mother who longed to be debutante, is a very attractive blonde who agrees to go along with her mother's plans for coming out and taking an active roll in London's debutante season.  Nearly nine years later, Edith is working a boring desk job and hasn't landed a rich husband- or any husband at all.  While visiting the friends in Sussex, Edith, our narrator and their host Isabel Easton, decide to take a public tour of the nearby manor house Broughton Hall.  The group run into one of the members of the family while on the tour and Charles Broughton (heir to the Marquess and one of England's most eligible bachelors) takes a shine to Edith.  Months later, the narrator and Edith are both invited to join the Eastons at Ascot in London.  The group run into Charles again and the Earl manages to convince Edith to join him for tea.  The rest, as they say, is history.

Charles eventually proposes to Edith and being the pragmatic individual that she is, Edith accepts.  But life as an Earl's wife is hardly what she imagined it would be.  First, there's Charles mother, Lady Uckfield (known affectionately by the ridiculous nickname "Googie"). Lady Uckfield probably hates Edith with a venomous passion but seeing as manners and decorum dictate that she act as if she love Edith, never shows her true feelings.  Googie knows that Edith is not a true aristocrat and that is the one failing that Edith can never make up no matter how hard she tries.  Edith is, and always will be, an outsider.  Then there's the fact that Charles, while a good, loyal, man is rather...boring.  And though Edith plays her part and immerses herself in running flower shows, working with local charities and enjoying life in a grand house, she finds herself to be very unhappy.

Almost a year into their marriage, the Broughtons decide to let a production company film a period drama on the estate.  Our narrator secures a role in the production and is there to witness Edith finally come off the rails.  Throwing all caution and common sense to the wind, Edith begins an affair with the film's handsome leading man, leaves Charles and sets up shop with her new lover in London.  Our poor narrator is then forced to become a sort of go-between for Edith and the Broughton family.

Snobs is a novel about the less glamorous side of the English elite and can be practically summed up in the following quote:

"The English, of all classes as it happens, are addicted to exclusivity.  Leave three Englishmen in a room and they will invent a rule that prevents a fourth joining them."

A delightful read for any who enjoy English history and culture.

X-Factor: Lots of people assumed that this was an autobiography since Fellowes is also a member of the English aristocracy and an actor.  It is fiction, but he describes that world and its manners so well that I'd love it no matter what it was.

If you are jonesing for more Downton, do not hesitate to pick up this book!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

All hail Mr. Darcy! Or, Elizabeth Bennet. Or someone from Longbourn!

Longbourn by Jo Baker

Book Type: It's a Pride and Prejudice retelling!!!! Or is it???

Stereotype Alert: Not as bad as you'd think!

Cover Art: Looks like art.  Though I'm going to guess this is a servant from about... 20 years before our story takes place.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Mrs. Hill/John/Wickham

Character Score: 6 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: Pride and Prejudice as told by the servants.  There's hardly any Darcy/Bingley in here at all!

X-Factor: The great Jane Austen- with a twist.

Stereotype Alert: Readers, I was quite afeared that this would be yet another Jane Austen rip-off/ "What happened after the story ended????" type novel.  Not so.  Not at all.

Cover Art: Not much to say about this cover.  It is clearly a housemaid.  So, yeah.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Poor Mrs. Hill!  She needs a lover- stat!  John is, to use the words of Forever Young Adult, a total MLD (Mysterious Loner Dude).  He's hot and has a mysterious past- all good things for a friend with benefits to have.  And Wickham.  Death to creepy, old Wickham- always.

Character Score: 6 out of 10 seems fair.  I might even go as far as a 7.  Baker has created a great voice for Sarah and just like with Austen, you fall in love with all of her main characters.  But there is surprisingly little of Mrs. Bennet and her five daughters.  Glimpses, yes, but the story is driven by those below-stairs.  

What's the Story?: Many, many authors have tried to capture the genius that is Jane Austen (and more specifically, the delight that came from the characters in Pride and Prejudice).  But Longbourn by Jo Baker isn’t an Austen rip-off.  It isn’t even a story that tries to answer the question “What happened after Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy got married?”  Instead, Baker has told the story of the Bennet household from the point of view of a rather unlikely character: the Bennet’s housemaid, Sarah. 

Sarah (about Ms. Elizabeth Bennet’s age) has been with the family since she was a little girl.  She does everything that is expected of a housemaid including: soaking and scrubbing muddy petticoats, feeding the pigs, emptying chamber pots and washing the never-ending supply of dishes being used by a family of seven.  She does not complain. But she does wonder what it would be like to live a life where no one expected you to do anything and you could act on your own free-will. 

The joyous thing about this novel is that we see only glimpses of the Bennet family; a line of conversation here and there, but not much more.  The pages are filled with Sarah’s daily activities and those of the other staff: Mr. Hill and the housekeeper Mrs. Hill, the young housemaid Polly and a new hired man, James, who has a shadowy past.  There is little here of Jane’s pining for Bingley or Elizabeth’s annoyance with Darcy.  Sarah slowly sets off down a path towards her own romance but will she end up with the mysterious James or Mr. Bingley’s handsome and charming servant Ptomely? 

Baker takes us with Sarah on her journey from young lady to woman and we get to see just how much she longs for a world outside of service.  We see her set off with Elizabeth to Kent to visit the Collinses and her amazement at the metropolis that is London.  When she is given the opportunity to leave Longbourn and serve at Pemberly, will the grand house be the new responsibilities and distractions she needs?  Will she marry in order to get out of service?  Or will she go a direction all her own without the help of her benefactors and friends?  

X-Factor: The great Jane Austen- with a twist.

Seriously guys, I was kind of worried about reading this book.  I am not a fan of Austen retellings.  I thought this was just another author who was in lurve with Austen and was trying to write a book in order to express her feelings to the long-dead legend.  Not so.  Baker has a very unique voice.  She is authentic to the time, but does not strive to sound like Austen in any way.  You are given glimpses of the girls at Longbourn, but your heart lies with Sarah and her struggles.  Even the staunchest Austen fan can enjoy this novel.  

Longbourn by Jo Baker is available at all fine bookstores and libraries.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Book Review: Run, Brother, Run

Book Type: true crime meets family memoir

Stereotype Alert: Nada 

Cover Art: Hey Ma!  We're in a window!

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: N/A

Character Score: 6 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: David Berg writes a memoir that is half family history, half detailed account of his older brother's murder.

X-Factor: A rose by any other name...

Stereotype Alert: Nope.  This is a very interesting tale of family and murder but there isn't really anything stereotypical about it.

Cover Art: It's a memoir, y'all.  I'm pretty sure they are obligated to use an old family photo on the cover.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: I've decided that I only want to do Bed/Bride/Bludgeon in the realm of fictional characters.  Since all the people in this story exist, I'm going to let them be.

Character Score: David Berg may be a lawyer and not an official writer, but he has a wonderful voice.  The way he tells his family's story is quirky and funny despite the murder that you know is coming.

What's the Story?:  
Run, Brother, Run is a true tale of murder and how it affects a family.  The book is written by David Berg, whose older brother was murdered under mysterious circumstances by hit man Charles Harrelson (father of actor Woody Harrelson).  While a good portion of the book deals with the crime, police investigation and the aftermath of the court case surrounding Alan Berg’s murder, much of the story is about the Berg family.  It is a story about memory and how tragic events can alter the way you see the past and the future.

Berg begins with memories from his childhood using wit and honesty to portray life in a very stressful home.  Here is one example:

“That was 1946, the year our father met Dorothy Heinrich in a Kalamazoo diner.  She would one day become his wife, but for now, she was his waitress.  “Dot” was five ten, with the sultriness of Rita Hayworth.  Mom was four ten, with the temperament of Henry VIII- so there you have it.  It wasn’t the first time Mom had caught Dad cheating, but it was the last.  Our parents would scream at each other for what felt like hours.  Alan would cry in bed beside me, and then, to my astonishment, get up and go down the hall to intervene.  Mom would shriek, Get out of here, Mr. Buttinski, this is not your business!  Get back in that bed! “(4).

Berg talks a lot about growing up in the Berg household.  A big part of that time was David and Alan’s father wanting his sons to go to medical school.  Alan took quite a few detours before getting there (including leaving the Navy due to holding a floating crap game) but Alan finally made it into the medical program at the University of Texas.  After a fight with his father, Alan took off instead of registering for classes.  The hopes of having a physician in the Berg family had died yet another death.

David becomes a lawyer much to his father’s dismay.  When Alan disappears in May of 1968, David admits to being busy starting his new career.  But it is clear that certain things don’t add up.  Alan had been involved in gambling, but he was also very in love with his wife who was then pregnant with their third child.  The police refused to start an investigation, insisting that Alan must have just taken off.  But David and his father knew different.  They began hunting for leads which took them down a whirlwind of different paths, most of which involved paying a fee of some kind.  When Alan’s body was finally found six months later, questions surrounding Charles Harrelson and a business associate of Alan and David’s father swirled in earnest. 

There isn’t a happy ending to this tale.  There is not justice for the dead, and none for the surviving family.  David Berg tries his best to use his knowledge of law to lay out the facts surrounding his brother’s murder and subsequent trial.  It is a stark tale of true crime in America in the 1960s.

X-Factor: A rose by any other name...

Full disclosure: the only reason I picked up this book was because I'd heard that the brother was murdered by Woody Harrelson's dad.  Then I read the inside cover, and was like "Woody Harrelson's father was a notorious hit man???? I must read this!"  To be honest, I'd like to know more about Charles Harrelson and how he fell into the life that he lived.  But knowing that Harrelson was never convicted of murdering Alan Berg made him into even more of a low-life than I'd originally thought.  Again, the star power isn't the factor I thought it would be, but it was still an honest, even funny memoir.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Reference Question of the Day: Puberty & Stuff

So this reference question got asked a month or so back, but the exchange was so adorable I had to share.

A female tween/preteen who had been asking me to help her find various books all morning came back to the desk for another round.  Normally, this is a very outgoing, engaging young person so when she sort of crept up to the desk and whispered her question I was a little concerned.

"This is really embarrassing."  She began and buried her face in her hands.

"No worries."  I told her.  "How can I help?"

"Well, my mom told me to ask for... god, this is embarrassing... a DVD about like, puberty and stuff." *buries head in hands a second time*

I just smiled and told her that wasn't embarrassing at all- that I'd had people ask me practically everything under the sun and that her question didn't even come close to being weird or embarrassing and that she shouldn't ever be shy about asking. And sure enough, I found her a "birds and the bees etc." DVD and she was happy.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Book Review: Songs of Willow Frost

Book Type: plucky orphan story meets hardship of a Chinese American daughter

Stereotype Alert: meh.

Cover Art: It seems a bit foggy in here...

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Colin/Willow/Uncle Leo

Character Score: 6 out of 10 Mr. Micawbers

What's the Story?: Chinese American orphan William Eng knows his mother is out there somewhere... could she really be the glamorous movie star he's seen on the silver screen?

X-Factor: Movie history

Stereotype Alert: Yeah, I don't know.  Some of William's obstacles seem a little easily overcome, but the main meat of the story is what happened to Willow to make her put William in the orphanage.

Cover Art: Foggy Chinatown instead of London?  Whatever.  I was going to read this book regardless of the cover.

Bed/Bride/Bludgeon: Um, it is quite obvious that Colin is pretty hot.  And knows a lot about the world of cinema.  Poor Willow.  I'd like to think that her being married would have eliminated a lot of her strife, but we all know that marriage can sometimes be more harm than good and with Willows luck, it might have just ended up being more of the bad.  And Uncle Leo.  Uncle Leo, there is a special ring of hell with your name on it, buddy.  May your ancestors forever torment you in the afterlife.

Character Score: Above average.  I liked the voices of William and Willow.  And maybe Charlotte most of all.

What's the Story?:

Jamie Ford, author of Hotel On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, returns to his Seattle roots in his second novel Songs of Willow Frost.  First we meet William Eng, a lovable Chinese American orphan who lives at the Sacred Heart Orphanage.  All of the boy orphans are given the same birthday when they arrive at Sacred Heart- September 28th: coronation date of the honorable Pope Leo XII.  On this day, all of the boys are shepherded downtown to see a motion picture as a special birthday treat.  This year (1934) the boys are taken to a showing of Cimarron.  William hunkers down in his seat to share his popcorn and Orange Crush with his best friend when something unthinkable happens.  During the Follies reel, the audience meets a new actress with a sweet, sad voice: Willow Frost.  William is stunned.  Though he can’t explain how, he knows that the woman on the screen is in fact his mother whom he hasn’t seen in five years.  Shaken, William tries to ply information out of the sisters at Sacred Heart but to no avail.  He know his Ah-ma wouldn’t have abandoned him and believes that if he can just get out of the orphanage long enough to see her in person at an upcoming show, she’d take him home again.

Life in the orphanage is not easy.  But William knows that he has it a lot better than many orphans- some roam the streets begging, others are sent off to labor farms or to work in factories.  And while he feels the strong pull to run away from the orphanage in order to find his mother, he knows that if he is caught, he probably won’t be sent anywhere as nice as Sacred Heart.  Bolstered by his best friend, the adorable but blind Charlotte, the two hatch a plan to escape from the orphanage and trek to the 5th Avenue Theatre to see Willow. 

Charlotte and William manage to sneak out of Sacred Heart and even see Willow’s show.  Afterwards, they wait with a line of other admirers outside the Stage Door.  William gets Willows autograph and calls her Ah-ma and when the actress begins to cry William knows that he’s finally found his mother.  But she is whisked off in a taxi and William is left sitting in the alley for hours.  One of the performers takes pity on William and Charlotte and gives them backstage tickets for the next performance.  There, William gets a chance to speak with Willow before her next performance.  Unfortunately, Sister Briganti arrives to take the two orphans back to Sacred Heart before William can get all of the answers about his past.

Will William find Willow again?  Will he ever find out how he wound up at Sacred Heart?  But most importantly, does Willow still want her little boy?  Songs of Willow Frost is an interesting tale about the bond of parent and child, duty to society and the history of early motion pictures.  I was seriously afraid that Songs would be a Sophomore Slump type book.  Not so.  Granted, Songs doesn't combine the same number of interesting issues with the same amount of finesse as Hotel On the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, but this is a separate book set in a separate time.  I wasn't disappointed.  

X-Factor: I'm a sucker for the background on things I love.  Learning about the early days of film in Seattle (as opposed to Hollywood) was really cool.  I almost wish there'd been more back story for Colin just so I could find out more but, alas.  A nice historical touch.

Songs of Willow Frost is available wherever you can manage to buy a print book.