Driving over lemons: an optimist in Andalucia

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Stewart, Chris
Driving over lemons: an optimist in Andalucia
This is book one of the Driving over lemons trilogy.  Chris Stewart is now one of my favorite authors.  He was the original drummer for the band Genesis and has been a sheep shearer and circus musician.  He and his wife Ana decided to ditch England and buy a peasant farm called El Valero in rural southern Spain, about twenty years ago.  The seller of the farm, Pedro Romero, won’t leave and Chris has other problems:  clogged water channels, a leaky roof, a river in need of a bridge, hillsides that need terracing, outbuildings that need to be repaired, recalcitrant sheep, etc.  When Chris’ mother sees a photo of his newly purchased home, she is appalled.  “I had hoped that you might end up living in a Queen Anne house”, she lamented.  “I’ve always liked Queen Anne.  But here you are, living in what I can only describe as a stable”. They attempt to raise poultry but fail; it is thusly described: “The quails, the smallest of the menagerie, were frightened of the chickens; the chickens didn’t like the guinea-fowl or the pigeons, though they could live with the quails; the guinea-fowl were indifferent to the pigeons but were terrified of the quails and hated the chickens; the pigeons were affected by the guinea-fowls’ terror of the quails, nervous of the possibility of a chicken-quail alliance, piqued by the indifference of the guinea-fowl, and shared everybody else’s dislike of the chickens”.
Mr. Stewart is an amiable, humorous and humble host.  Chris’ descriptions of the mountains, rivers, valleys, flora and fauna are so vivid that you feel as though you are there.  I could almost smell the rosemary and lavender and taste the lemons.  Chris Stewart does for Andalucia what James Herriot did for Yorkshire.

The fiddler in the subway : the true story of what happened when a world-class violinist played for handouts– and other virtuoso performances by America’s foremost feature writer

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Weingarten, Gene
The fiddler in the subway : the true story of what happened when a world-class violinist played for handouts– and other virtuoso performances by America’s foremost feature writer 
Mr. Weingarten is the winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for Feature Writing. This is a compilation of 20 essays (some funny, some sad, some thoughtful, all powerful) that have appeared in The Washington Post over the years.  “The Great Zucchini” is an essay, and the stage name for the Washington area’s most successful children’s entertainer.  Washington’s wealthy parents take their children’s birthday parties very seriously. The author succeeds in eliciting how the entertainer is so gifted with preschoolers.  “The armpit of America” could describe many towns, but Battle Mountain, Nevada was chosen for this article.  In Battle Mountain, there’s nothing to do but gamble and drink.  Even the representatives from the Chamber of commerce and the local newspaper can’t find anything good to say about the town.  The more somber essays are “Fear itself”, where the author rides a bus in Jerusalem to try to understand “the psychology of the terrorized”; “The first father” about President Clinton’s biological father; and “Fatal distraction”, about parents who accidentally leave their babies in a hot car.  “The fiddler in the subway” is the account of the day they arranged to have world-class violinist, Joshua Bell, play a Stradivarius violin in the Metro station for spare change. Would anyone notice the virtuoso in their midst?

Let’s take the long way home: a memoir of friendship

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Caldwell, Gail
Let’s take the long way home: a memoir of friendship
This is an account of the author’s friendship with Caroline Knapp, the
author of Pack of two and Drinking: a love story (among others), who died
of lung cancer in 2002 at the age of 42.  I liked Ms. Knapp’s articles in
Glamour magazine.  Theirs  was a very close friendship.  They were both
single writers with dogs living in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Both women
were recovering alcoholics.  Gail was a swimmer and Caroline was an avid
rower on the Charles River.  They taught each other their favorite sports,
went on vacations together, trained their dogs together and spoke every
day.  Does anyone even have friendships like this anymore?  I imagine that
Ms. Caldwell agrees with Socrates’ statement that “the unexamined life is
not worth living”.  She deftly delineates the meaning of their friendship
and how important Caroline was to her.  The grief she endures brings to
mind that of Joan Didion in The year of magical thinking.  Ms. Caldwell is
a masterful writer. This is a heartrending tale, a four-hankie memoir. 
Read it if you’re strong enough.

Tip it: the world according to Maggie

Jackie Cantwell
author: Griffin, Maggie
Tip it: the world according to Maggie 
This is a fast read. Fans of Kathy Griffin: My life on the D-list, the
Bravo channel TV show, will probably want to read Kathy’s mother,
Maggie’s, life story.  Kathy even adds her comments to the text, which are
in brackets and italics.  Maggie is funny, and she has good old-fashioned
values, too.  She is 90 years young, and describes meeting her husband,
Johnny Griffin, in her Chicago neighborhood during WWII.  Boy, she is one
lucky woman.  She describes how her husband shared equally in the child
care (they had four children) and housework, and never complained.  Their
marriage was marked by respect, caring, good communication and lots of
laughter.  I enjoyed reading about their move to Los Angeles where her son
Kenny lived, after Johnny’s retirement.  They had had enough of snow and
cold weather; and Kathy decides to join them to try to break into acting.
They are star struck every step of the way, and have many photos with
celebrities to prove it.  Readers interested in life during depression-era
Chicago will find a lot to like.  As you may know, those who survived the
Depression are usually frugal for the rest of their lives, and Maggie is
no exception.  Find out why Maggie loves to wear muumuus and read her tips for living (which offers sensible advice for everyone).

As Simple As It Seems

From Donna Barnes
author: Weeks, Sarah
As Simple As It Seems
This book tells the story of a twelve year old girl named Verbena who is struggling with many changes the summer after fifth grade.   Her first change occurs when her best friend since kindergarten has abandoned Verbena for a more popular girl.  This is more or less standard tween fare, but to deepen the drama , Verbena also discovers that she is adopted.  Once she finds out who her biological parents are, (her paternal uncle , who is in jail and his alcoholic wife)she worries that she will turn into a “mean” person just like her biological father.  She is clearly confused and has no friend to confide in, until Pooch moves in next door.  This is Verbena’s chance to re-invent herself and that she does.  What initially starts out as a friendship based on deception, evolves into a meaningful friendship that helps to pull Verbena out of her sadness.   This is an emotional story that is both heartwarming and humorous .  There is a bit of mystery, deception and danger to add to the excitement and turning of the pages as well.

Harp dreams : inside the USA international harp competition

From Edna Susman
Harp dreams : inside the USA international harp competition.
Most classical music buffs are aware of the major international music competitions. There’s the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in the USA, the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Russia and the Paganini International Competition in Genoa among many others. How many of us have heard of the USA International Harp Competition? PBS has issued a DVD of the film HARP DREAMS, produced by WTIU Bloomington, Indiana. It is a treasure! The film tells the story of 31 of the best young harpists in the world who converge at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, for the USA International Harp Competition, for 15 days. This takes place every three years and was founded in 1989 by renowned harpist and teacher, Susann McDonald. The competitors, between the ages of 16 and 32, come from all over the world. The prizes include thousands of dollars in prizes, a lucrative recording contract AND a one-of-a-kind, hand-made, Lyon and Healy concert harp. You get to know quite a few of the young harpists personally during the 90 minute film and learn how they prepare for over 2 years for this prestigious competition.

Rose Sees Red

From Rosalia Millan
author: Castellucci, Cecil
Rose Sees Red
In Rose Sees Red by Cecil Castellucci Rose goes to the performing arts high school in Manhattan.  Making the decision to attend this high school caused a rift between Rose and her best friend Daisy (who wasn’t really a very good friend in the first place).  The experience hurt Rose so much that she has closed herself off not just from friendship but from life, until the day the Russian girl next door Yrena comes crashing in through the window of her Brooklyn apartment.  The book chronicles Yrena and Rose’s night in the city.  The book takes place during the Cold War and Yrena is from the Soviet Union.  Both girls are ballerinas, the same age and living in the same city, yet they approach life with completely different attitudes and points of view.  Because the book takes place in the 80’s some of the clothes and language are a little outdated; however the story is still incredibly relevant reminding the reader that while style’s may change, growing up really hasn’t. Rose Sees Red is a quick read at only 197 pages but it also has a lot of depth to it.  Readers will enjoy reading about an incredible night out in New York City and watching Rose begin to redevelop self confidence and friendships.