May 2020–Part One

Thank you for joining me here!   (Reminder: the page numbers I list here reflect the number of Kindle pages, not paper pages.)  I hope you enjoy this series and I’d love to hear from you about what you are reading these days.

Book #1:

Escape from Mr Lemocellos libraryEscape from Mr. Lemocello’s Library by Chris Grabenstein (Length: 306 pages).   Yes this is a children’s book (recommended for ages 8-12) but it was on super-sale for the Kindle and I needed something fun, fast and light to read, in the midst of this pandemic.  This did the trick!  I was smiling the entire time I was reading it, thanks to the author’s fun plot which reminds me of a Willy Wonka/public library mash-up.  Lots of witty literary puzzles and references abound.  The author is a regular co-writer with James Patterson, so he’s got some writing chops.  I enjoyed the mystery central to the plot (how to escape from a magical library during a “library lock-in”) and I think it’s a fun read for kids AND adults!  When I finished I told my teen daughters about it and they had both already read and loved it.  So there you have it!

From the publisher:

When Kyle learns that the world’s most famous game maker, Luigi Lemoncello, has designed the town’s new library and is having an invitation-only lock-in on opening night, he’s determined to be there! But the tricky part isn’t getting into the library—it’s getting out. Because when morning comes, the doors stay locked. Kyle and the other kids must solve every clue and figure out every secret puzzle to find the hidden escape route!

Book #2:

The lager queen of minnesotaThe Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal (Length: 362 pages).  I loved this book!!  This is a generational tale about a family growing up in the Midwest (Minnesota specifically), in the brewing industry.  I found the details regarding brewing (and craft beer) riveting and interesting, even as someone who doesn’t like beer.  The chapters alternate between 3 family members (a pair of sisters and one of their granddaughters) which I found a bit confusing to follow in the beginning.  However, they all come together magically in the end which is a testament to this author’s writing talent.  (I tried to read the author’s Great Kitchens of the Midwest earlier but I ended up not finishing for some reason.  I may have to give it another try after reading this one).  The writing here is so good, with beautifully-drawn characters.  This would be a fantastic book club pick (lots to discuss about family dynamics) and of course, with a selection of craft beers to try.  

Two sisters, one farm. A family is split when their father leaves their shared inheritance entirely to Helen, his younger daughter. Despite baking award-winning pies at the local nursing home, her older sister, Edith, struggles to make what most people would call a living. So she can’t help wondering what her life would have been like with even a portion of the farm money her sister kept for herself.

With the proceeds from the farm, Helen builds one of the most successful light breweries in the country, and makes their company motto ubiquitous: “Drink lots. It’s Blotz.” Where Edith has a heart as big as Minnesota, Helen’s is as rigid as a steel keg. Yet one day, Helen will find she needs some help herself, and she could find a potential savior close to home. . . if it’s not too late.

Meanwhile, Edith’s granddaughter, Diana, grows up knowing that the real world requires a tougher constitution than her grandmother possesses. She earns a shot at learning the IPA business from the ground up–will that change their fortunes forever, and perhaps reunite her splintered family?

Here we meet a cast of lovable, funny, quintessentially American characters eager to make their mark in a world that’s often stacked against them. In this deeply affecting family saga, resolution can take generations, but when it finally comes, we’re surprised, moved, and delighted.

Book #3:

Hidden Valley RoadHidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker (Length: 370 pages).  Saw this was May’s book club pick for Oprah’s Book Club so was lucky enough to grab it from the library.  Such an interesting read of a family of 12 children (10 boys, 2 girls) with 6 of the boys living with schizophrenia.  The author weaves the history and treatment of schizophrenia (and related mental illnesses) with the story of this family in Colorado, up until the point researchers and medical professionals were able to study the genetic components of the disease thanks to DNA samples from some of the (now-adult) men in the family.  The author does a fantastic job painting a portrait of this troubled family and what the boys and their siblings and parents went through because of schizophrenia.  There are some troubling scenes of sexual abuse, but they’re not exploitative.  The author is very compassionate and empathetic in his portrayal of the family and their dynamic.  I will say some of the portions of the book that delve into the history of the treatment of the disease were a bit dry for me, but I can see how someone who is interested in the field of psychology/psychiatry would find them riveting.  I skimmed those parts.  😉  A good book club book for sure!

From the publisher:

Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American dream. After World War II, Don’s work with the Air Force brought them to Colorado, where their twelve children perfectly spanned the baby boom: the oldest born in 1945, the youngest in 1965. In those years, there was an established script for a family like the Galvins–aspiration, hard work, upward mobility, domestic harmony–and they worked hard to play their parts. But behind the scenes was a different story: psychological breakdown, sudden shocking violence, hidden abuse. By the mid-1970s, six of the ten Galvin boys, one after another, were diagnosed as schizophrenic. How could all this happen to one family?
What took place inside the house on Hidden Valley Road was so extraordinary that the Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institute of Mental Health. Their story offers a shadow history of the science of schizophrenia, from the era of institutionalization, lobotomy, and the schizophrenogenic mother to the search for genetic markers for the disease, always amid profound disagreements about the nature of the illness itself. And unbeknownst to the Galvins, samples of their DNA informed decades of genetic research that continues today, offering paths to treatment, prediction, and even eradication of the disease for future generations.
With clarity and compassion, bestselling and award-winning author Robert Kolker uncovers one family’s unforgettable legacy of suffering, love, and hope.


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