Zelda, the Queen of Paris : the true story of the luckiest dog in the world

From Andrea  Kalinowski
Author:  Paul Chutkow
Zelda, the Queen of Paris : the true story of the luckiest dog in the world 
If you enjoy the companionship of a four-footed friend, this book will really appeal to you and reinforce the love and camaraderie you feel with your pet. Zelda, the Queen of Paris : the true story of the luckiest dog in the world  is a true animal lover’s tale. Zelda is a dog on the streets of India who knows she doesn’t want to stay on the streets of India. She befriends an Indian maid, who works for a journalist and his wife. With her gentle eyes and endearing nature, she is eventually welcomed wholeheartedly into the household. She becomes a friend to everyone in the journalist’s circle and when he is reassigned to Paris, she is granted a visa too. She adopts the mannerisms of the French regarding food and while the Parisians in her immediate vicinity at first despise her, when she rescues their wine collection, they heap praise upon her furry head. Her final journey is to California and there she predicts an earthquake. She is a proven companion to the journalist’s sons until the end of her life and demonstrates all the best qualities of a companion animal, loyalty and love.

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The Grapes of Wrath

From Michele Lauer-Bader
author: Steinbeck, John
The grapes of wrath
The Grapes of Wrath should be read twice; once while in high school or college and again later in life, when hopefully experience has taught something.  Steinbeck wrote the story during the depression and its portrayal of poverty, migrant workers, and poor treatment of the laborer still holds true today. Some in my discussion group thought it was depressing. While it was hardly upbeat, I couldn’t get over how the themes of family above all and persistance resonated. This is a great story and a great discussion book.  Don’t miss the movie with Henry Fonda!

The bone garden : the Sacramento boardinghouse murders

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Wood, William P
 The bone garden : the Sacramento boardinghouse murders
This is the true story of Dorothea Puente who was one of our country’s most prolific female serial killers. The author has first-hand knowledge of the crimes, as he was a deputy D.A. in Sacramento when she was tried for drugging and robbing elderly people in 1982. After jail time, she continued her life of crime in earnest. She opened a boardinghouse where she “cared for” the sick, the elderly, and the mentally ill. She got referrals from local social workers.  She took the tenants’ monthly government checks and cashed them. If any of her charges got difficult, they were drugged, strangled or smothered to death, and buried in the backyard.  This is definitely a page-turner. “The bone garden” will chill you to the bone.

2030 : the real story of what happens to America

From Ellen Druda
author: Brooks, Albert
 2030 : the real story of what happens to America
 In 2030, America and China partner to rebuild Los Angeles after a terrible earthquake.  Thanks to medical breakthroughs, baby boomers are living long healthy lives and the AARP is the most powerful force in government.  Young people are broke, jobless, and angry as they see their future being eaten up by the entitlements promised their parents.  Brooks’ vision of the possibilities of 2030 seems very plausible.

One Crazy Summer

From Monica Salo
author: Williams-Garcia, Rita                                         
One Crazy Summer
It is the summer of 1968; eleven year old Delphine and her two younger sisters are being sent across the country to Oakland, California to visit their mother.  Their mother deserted them after her younger sister was born and though she has had no contact with them over time, the girls’ father felt they should get to know her.  Upon arriving, they realize that their mother still has no interest in them and would not be taking them to the typical tourist sites.  She kicks them out each morning, sending them to a community center run by the Black Panthers, so that she can write her poetry in peace.  It is a time when Black Panther founder Huey Newton had been jailed and member Bobby Hutton was gunned down.  This heartwarming, poignant and at times funny story is told by Delphine who comes to understand her mother and as readers we come to understand the events occurring at that time and how it affects the three sisters.

Little girl blue: the life of Karen Carpenter

From Jackie Cantwell
author: Schmidt, Randy L.
Little girl blue: the life of Karen Carpenter
 This is an extremely well-written and well-researched biography of Karen
Carpenter, the singer of The Carpenters.  Full disclosure: I grew up on
her music and to this day, when I hear her voice, I’m completely
transported to another place and time.  Mr. Schmidt delved into the early
days of the group, with her brother, Richard.  A biography of Karen is
also a biography of Richard, so inextricably were their professional and
personal lives entwined.  Richard was immensely talented in music as a
child, so his mother Agnes nurtured that, and even relocated the family to
California to expand his opportunities.  As it turns out, Karen was
talented as well, in drums and as a singer.  Karen and Richard both
attended California State University at Long Beach, which contributed to
their early success.   Laymen will learn a lot about the music business.
Readers will learn how Richard was adept as an arranger, composer and
pianist and how he was always on the lookout for songwriting talent.
Sadly, both brother and sister had turmoil in their personal lives.  I
knew that Karen died from anorexia and laxative abuse, but she also abused two other substances as well.  Highly recommended for a complete picture of a supremely gifted musician.

In the shadow of the cypress

From Catherine Given
author: Steinbeck, Thomas
In the shadow of the cypress
Thomas Steinbeck, John Steinbeck’s eldest son, began his career as a cinematographer and a photojournalist in Vietnam. He has also written a number of screenplays.  His first novel, In the Shadow of the Cypress (2010) follows his first book, a collection of short stories entitled Down to a Soundless Sea (2002).

In the Shadow of the Cypress takes place around the turn of the 20th Century in Pacific Grove, California.  Here the lifestyle of a growing Chinese immigrant community in a coastal fishing village is juxtaposed against a quiet and overwhelmingly Caucasian seaside area. The story line centers on a marine biology professor’s investigation of the history and whereabouts of a priceless Chinese relic.  Steinbeck’s richly exotic tale is predicated on the intriguing theory that the Chinese were the first explorers to discover California’s coast.  In fact, some say the cypresses planted in groves along the cliffs are not indigenous to California, but rather, to China; they are said to have been planted by Chinese sailors when they first encountered certain areas of the coast. And according to Steinbeck, the Chinese have always considered these groves sacred.

Steinbeck masterfully conveys how unnerved the native Californians are by the foreign ways of these early 20th Century Chinese immigrants.  For example, the village’s Chinese laborers work themselves to the point of exhaustion building the nation’s new railroads.  They earn meager salaries, yet they live so resourcefully and frugally that many soon become prosperous. The Chinese fishermen dry their huge hauls of squid in the open air, thus creating disturbingly powerful odors that permeate the American residents’ neighborhoods on the outskirts of the village. Diligently obedient to their elders, the Chinese proudly preserve their culture’s traditions and participate in its hierarchical business systems.  Meanwhile, the Americans view the Chinese as self-reliant, ingenious, insular — and mystifying.

Steinbeck’s colorfully atmospheric tale draws the reader along, albeit slowly and at a bit of a distance due to “the professor’s recovered journal” format of the first half of the narrative. Lacking the immediacy of dialogue, Steinbeck’s chosen style of writing this half may detract from the story’s suspense for some readers.  Yet the characters’ dedication to chasing down answers despite their fear of retribution from the Chinese community elders may nevertheless make this story hard to forget.