Mozart in the Jungle by Blair Tindall

  I watched the pilot episode of Mozart in the Jungle on Amazon. I figured I'd read the memoir of the same title, which the show is (loosely) based on, before continuing with the series. The portions of the book that deal with the history of classical music in the United States and how that plays into its business and education sides were well-cited and thought-provoking. It definitely opens up dialogue. What is the musician's relationship to the audience? Are we including the audience in the artistic experience, or using them as a way to stroke our own egos? What is the music teacher's responsibility to the younger generation? Are we supporting unrealistic, lofty dreams of "going to Juilliard" and encouraging…

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One Plastic Bag by Miranda Paul

  All too often when I'm browsing the nonfiction children's titles on NetGalley, I spot a book that looks like it might tie in perfectly with a topic we're already focusing on (or planning to focus on). We tend to combine homeschooling and Girl Scouts when we can. One Plastic Bag ended up being a combined science and social studies lesson, and the discussion it sparked helped C work on her dark green "Use Resources Wisely" Clover petal as a Girl Scout Daisy. (It would also work well for the light pink "Make the World a Better Place" Rosie petal, and I have a feeling we'll revisit this book when she starts on the "Between Earth and Sky" Journey.) One Plastic Bag…

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Dirty Chick by Antonia Murphy

  Antonia Murphy and her family move from San Francisco to New Zealand expecting a quiet, peaceful life in the country where their children can thrive. Dirty Chick is an expat memoir of their first year as "hobby farmers" in a place where the local families have a centuries-old history of serious farming. Murphy provides a hilarious dose of reality: If you've ever had a romantic urge to move to the beautiful countryside and raise some sweet, adorable animals, you'll think again after reading this book. I laughed out loud a lot. She had me googling "duck penis" (warning: NSFW) within the first six pages! But—and this was a huge issue for me—I grew more and more uncomfortable with how…

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Lost & Found by Brooke Davis

  In her grief over her husband's death, Millie's mother abandons her 7-year-old in a department store and never returns. Millie soon meets 87-year-old Karl, who has escaped from a nursing home, and 82-year-old Agatha, a recluse who hasn't left her home since her husband died. The three of them team up and set out on a road trip to find Millie's mother. I knew Lost & Found was going to be a tough read as soon as I read that premise. It was also, as the back of my review copy perfectly summarizes, "an irresistible and heartfelt debut novel about the wisdom of the very young, the mischief of the very old, and the magic that happens along the way." Karl reminded…

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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

  I had been intending to read Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch for at least a year, but sadly, this chunkster sat on my shelf for quite a long time. The book club I just joined chose it for our January meeting, which takes place tomorrow. I thought I'd jot down some of my thoughts before hearing the others' perspectives. The writing had me hooked from the start. The narrative was so vividly descriptive, it sparkled. I tend to prefer short, snappy sentences, so the beginning took me some adjusting...but not much (only a few pages). I soon discovered the pastoral opening wasn't going to last. A harrowing event takes place, and the tone of each sentence shifted to match the…

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God Loves Haiti by Dimitry Elias Léger

  A native of Haiti, Dimitry Elias Léger makes his debut with his novel God Loves Haiti. Set in Port-au-Prince before, during, and after the 2010 earthquake, this story revolves around three lovers — Haiti's President, First Lady, and her lover (all fictional) — as they come to terms with the devastation around them and readjust to their lives. Two phrases that usually send me running away appear in blurbs on the back cover of my review copy: "romantic comedy" and "love triangle." I'm not sure I agree with the "comedy" part (although Natasha's lover often provided a lighter reprieve), but the romance and love triangle do not overwhelm the story in any way. I enjoyed every page of the book,…

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Hall of Small Mammals: Stories by Thomas Pierce

  It's no secret that I love offbeat short story collections. Add Thomas Pierce's Hall of Small Mammals to the list. Many of these stories have fascinating, wildly imaginative premises: a woman hides a cloned miniature woolly mammoth in her home; a man deals with his feelings about his wife's "other" husband, who lives in her dream world; a possum skull haunts a couple. Others are more subtle: a father yearns to connect with his son through an unusual scout camping trip; a seemingly apathetic passenger takes a solo hot air balloon ride. My favorite by far was "Videos of People Falling Down," interconnected shorts within an already short format. That title sums it up pretty well, but what I…

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What Is Found, What Is Lost by Anne Leigh Parrish

  Last year I read and thoroughly enjoyed a collection of related short stories by Anne Leigh Parrish, Our Love Could Light the World [review]. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to read her latest work, her debut novel What Is Found, What Is Lost. This book follows four generations of women as they struggle with their beliefs, as well as their difficult relationships with each other. For some reason, the narrator of this novel came across a bit too detached for me. It gave the book an interesting tone, which I liked at first. But about halfway through, I realized it was also getting in the way of how much I was connecting with the characters, how interested I was in…

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