Swept up in ‘The Man Who Caught the Storm’

Man Who Caught the StormI thought I was a writer until I read Brantley Hargrove.

Well, scratch that: I am a writer, but I am not Brantley Hargrove.

Pick up The Man Who Caught the Storm: The Life of Legendary Storm Chaser Tim Samaras and you’ll know precisely what I mean.

In a book that is equal parts biography and thriller, the beloved film “Twister” rendered in beautiful language outside of Hollywood, journalist Hargrove delves into the life of Tim Samaras, a self-taught engineer who changed the course of tornado science with his brilliance, grit … and pure appreciation of twisters.

I get it. Family members relate with fondness the years in which I could recite the upcoming weather forecast for the next 10 days by heart. I once asked Santa to bring a Doppler radar for Christmas. While cousins at Grandma’s begged for Nickelodeon, I insisted on round-the-clock Weather Channel. Around age 10, I remember tracking a hurricane until I fell asleep, then waking at the crack of dawn to hurriedly check its progress near Florida. I was glued to the screen. How high was the storm surge?

In short, I’m a weather geek.

I might have pursued being a meteorologist had I not decided, sometime around middle school, that I was “terrible” at math. I wasn’t, in hindsight; it just didn’t come naturally to me, and I wasn’t used to working hard.

My own obsession with tornadoes never wavered, though. I’ve watched hours of footage of classic twisters over the Great Plains — and researched extensively the shocking F4 tornado that leveled large parts of the town next to my own in 2002. (I idolize the Capital Weather Gang. Dream job, man.)

Basically, I came to Hargrove’s The Man Who Chased the Storm already predisposed to love it. It had all the elements that would combine into a gripping, memorable page-turner that would dominate my waking hours for the days it took me to tear through it. Love it I did.

Shockingly, I wasn’t familiar with Tim Samaras before I started reading this account of his life and work; I approached with fresh eyes and was completely immersed in his world. Samaras reminds me very much of my own husband — enough that I immediately pushed my finished copy into his hands. Ham radio operator, electronics buff, brilliant with both his hands and mind … there’s much to admire about Samaras.

Tim Samaras

Though the book has no choice but to end on a sorrowful note, so much about Tim demands to be celebrated. Hargrove does a fantastic job of balancing the famous storm chaser with Tim the father, husband, colleague, and friend.

As we ride along with this crew of dedicated storm chasers, saying you “feel like you were there” through Hargrove’s incredibly well-researched book is an insult to the term. Take this, from its very opening pages:

Fog clings to the low swells of eastern-Colorado rangeland as dawn breaks. The mist walls off the far horizon, and for a few short hours the high plains feel a little more finite. The still air is cool and heavy, almost thick enough to drink. This is how these days often begin. The atmosphere is primed, the air a volatile gas. All it needs is a match. …

[Tim] is already en route to the plains from his home in suburban Denver. As the sun reaches its peak, his hail-battered Datsun pickup enters the storm chaser’s cathedral. … Once the sheltering Front Range fades from the rearview mirror, he’s naked to the lungs of the earth, in an unadorned country where the passage of miles can feel more like a few hundred yards.

I could really just quote, like, the entire book, but I want you to go read the book. It really is just that good — and quite the wild, memorable ride.

Perfect for:

  • Weather geeks who crave the data and the drama
  • Non-fiction lovers who want to learn while reading their bios
  • Readers ready to laugh, cry … and open new Google tabs to research while reading


Personal copy gifted by my sister; not sent for review.

Book review: ‘Friendship Bread’ by Darien Gee

You know that cozy feeling that envelopes you when you take a bite of warm chocolate cake, homemade cookies, fresh-baked bread or apple pie? Well, Darien Gee does, too — and that’s exactly how she created Friendship Bread, one of the most heartwarming books I’ve read in a long time.

It all starts with a note. “I hope you enjoy it,” reads Julia Evarts, a mother still lost in a tumult of grief after losing her son, Josh, five years earlier. On her front porch is a plate bearing a few slices of cake-like bread and a Ziploc bag full of an unknown gooey substance. Rather than call a Hazmat team, Julia inspects the Post-It and accompanying instructions for something called “Amish Friendship Bread,” a concept that intrigues her young daughter, Gracie. It’s Gracie’s curiosity that keeps Julia from chucking the disgusting thing in the trash — and it becomes a pet project for the two Evarts women, marking the first time Julia has taken an interest in something in years.

And thus begins the odyssey of a “starter” — the bag containing the beginnings of Amish Friendship Bread, a chain letter-like way of sharing baked goods with friends and neighbors. As Julia musters up the enthusiasm to bake her first batch of bread, the recipe (and more starters) are shared with the women of Avalon, Ill., a small riverside town outside Chicago. It doesn’t take long before she meets Hannah, a young cellist who arrives in town only to be greeted unceremoniously dumped by her husband, and the two eventually convene at Madeline’s Tea Salon, a beautiful old home that resident Madeline Davis has converted into a cafe and tea shop.

Also populating Avalon are Edie, a reporter at the local paper waiting for her big break; and Livvy, Julia’s estranged sister. Time and a well of pain have kept the women from speaking since Josh’s death, though Livvy desperately craves her big sister’s forgiveness. Or, if nothing else, absolution from guilt.

But it never seems like it will come.

Or will it?

Over the course of one novel, Darien Gee has created characters I want to befriend, console and share a kitchen with — especially if brownies are involved. For as often as my stomach rumbled while reading Friendship Bread, a novel that had me craving both hugs and dessert, I was so wrapped up in Gee’s storylines that I barely stopped to eat or drink or breathe for three days.

Okay. So, you know, I had to go to work. But when I wasn’t working or helping with Spencer’s behemoth move? I was reading this book. And crying and laughing and loving it.

I’m going to be unabashedly gushy. I absolutely loved Julia, Mark and Gracie, a small family torn apart by grief. Gee did a masterful job of conveying Julia’s pain without dragging us into a pit of despair, accurately showing how tough life has become for her without invoking our pity and annoyance. All I wanted was to reach into the book, wrap Julia in my arms and force her to make amends with Livvy, her sister — what a heartbreaker that was, too. I had faith, though, that everything would turn around . . . baked goods or no baked goods.

But I’m glad there were baked goods.

I can’t discuss Friendship Bread without, you know, acknowledging the bread in question. It sounded delicious and aggravating and crazy, but I can definitely understand the appeal — even though I’m guilty of tossing out my own bags of starter in the past. When a coworker approached me years ago with a plastic bag full of flesh-colored goop, I gave her the stink eye — but accepted it (I didn’t want to be rude). It languished on my kitchen table for a few days before I decided I wasn’t committed to the project and threw it away, but not before acknowledging my own defeat.

“Google ‘Amish Friendship Bread’ on your computer and be prepared to have enough reading for a week,” Gee writes. “It’s a slice of American contemporary history, an edible chain letter that fills people with equal amounts of hope and dread.”

And it sweeps Avalon, creating quite the buzz in town and leaving townspeople with too much starter and no one willing to take it. That’s how the women arrive at Madeline’s Tea Salon and find a sympathetic ear in Madeline, the older woman who quickly becomes everyone’s friend. I adored Madeline and her propensity for baking and caring for others, all the while wishing someone would arrive to take care of her. The salon is absolutely a place I could while away a few hours, being spoiled rotten by Madeline’s delicious food and wisdom.

I wanted to move there.

The highlight of Friendship Bread — and a hallmark of Gee’s talent — is that this novel is both big and small in scope, providing us a glimpse of the interior lives of so many characters without overwhelming us. We know how I feel about Too Many Characters-itis and, as a new person was introduced every few chapters, I started to squirm. But I can honestly say I felt invested in the lives of everyone Gee spotlights, even the Avalonians on whom we focused for just a few paragraphs. These people felt real and tangible and interesting, and I wanted to get to know them all. And I felt like I did.

Brimming with recipes, insight and a heartwarming ending, Friendship Bread was a surprise of a read that had me up late in a thunderstorm to finish. Though I know some have deemed the trope of friendship bread bring a town together “far-fetched,” I had no trouble just going with it. Sometimes? Sometimes, you just want to feel happy. And good. And this novel did just that for me.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0345525345 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program

Book review: ‘Artichoke’s Heart’ by Suzanne Supplee

artichokes_heartBack when I worked part-time at a bookstore, Suzanne Supplee’s Artichoke’s Heart — in hardcover — was one of the books Corporate (big, scary “C”!) wanted us to prominently display up front. Each and every time I walked from the young adult section to the feature bays with stacks of this novel, I stared at the little wrapped chocolates — mmm, chocolate! — and contemplated buying it. Just, you know, based on the scrumptious cover.

But I never did. Fate would bring Artichoke’s Heart into my hands more than a year after I left the store, and now I’m struck with this aggravating question: What took me so long?

Rosemary Goode works constantly in her mama’s beauty salon in Spring Hill, Tennessee, makes great grades and rarely gives her mother any trouble. But nothing she says or does can ever clear up the shadow that accompanies her like a shroud — her weight. At 15, Rosie’s 200-pound frame prevents her from forming close friendships and subjects her to the tireless taunts of classmate Misty Winters. Though Rosie objectively thinks about being thin, the treadmill her mother got her for Christmas is currently functioning as an overpriced laundry rack.

So how do things start changing? When her mother’s strangled coughing fits turn out to be far scarier than a common cold. When Kay-Kay Reese, former popularity queen, is ostracized from her clucking group of popular Bluebirds — and turns to Rosie for comfort. When ridiculously cute jock Kyle Cox begins giving her furitive glances, his entire face turning pink with embarrassment as he smiles at her.

When Rosie finally wants to change.

I guess it’s cliche to say Artichoke’s Heart is about so much more than the quest to be thin, but I’m going to say it anyway . . . because this is a novel with serious heart. As much as I wanted to pluck the delicious-looking confections off the front cover, I didn’t want to the book to end even more. Supplee’s descriptions of the magnetic pull food has for Rosie felt familiar to me — it’s like that free-falling experience of love. And even if you’re fortunate enough to never have had weight troubles, I doubt there’s anyone in the world who wouldn’t relate to Rosie in some way. (Especially with her penchant for reading the poetry of Emily Dickinson!)

Rosemary’s voice is fresh, funny and irreverant, and her sense of humor about high school and her body is what catapults the plotline along. She was a decidedly unwhiny narrator, and thank God for that! I don’t think I could have stood 270-odd pages of griping. But that isn’t anywhere near what happened. Even when Rosie felt sorry for herself initially — hey, she is 15; I wouldn’t expect anything else — she’s not running around the room, throwing confetti at her own pity party. She decides to change — not only for her mother and sniping Aunt Mary, but for herself. I could feel the transformation happening and I felt transformed, too.

So many big issues are addressed without Supplee ever painting the story with a broad, heavy brush. Rosie’s relationship with her mother Rose Warren is complicated, worsened by her mother’s deteroriating health, but felt honest. When I was just a little older than Rosie, I also struggled with the illness of a parent — and could really relate to what she was experiencing. The fear, the nervousness, the waiting . . . it’s all part of the sad game the sickness plays on you. I read on Supplee’s website about her first-hand experience of her mother’s illness, and you can definitely tell her writing comes from a tender place. I knew that she knew — that she really understood.

But for as somber as that could be become, the book’s Southern small-town setting adds humor and a coziness I wouldn’t expect from a book set in, say, New York. (No offense to the New Yorkers out there — y’all are awesome, but we’re different breeds!) I loved the cadence of each character’s speech, and Supplee’s outstanding way of making us really hear what they were saying! Even background characters, like bully Misty Winters, seemed fleshed-out and believable.

That’s what really made the novel for me — this book felt real. We all know a Rosemary — or have felt like Rosemary at some point in our lives. Again, it is about the weight . . . but it’s not about the weight. It’s about choosing who we’re going to become regardless of who we may have been. It’s about making ourselves. And I absolutely loved this inspirational tale, fantastic for teenage girls — and their not-so-teenage counterparts alike.

I’ll leave you with Rosie’s favorite poem, which has been rattling around in my head for the past few days, buoying me up with hope myself! I’m sure it will continue to do so long after I’ve closed the last (hopeful) page, and this one will really stay with me.

By Emily Dickinson

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

4.75 out of 5!

ISBN: 0525479023 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website

Booking Through Thursday: Stick with me

booking_through_thursLet’s go Booking Through Thursday, shall we?

“This can be a quick one. Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.”

Okay . . . this is tough. I’m not even going to say that these books are necessarily my favorites, but they’re all very unforgettable in their own way — either for what they made me feel, how they made me think, what they changed about me as a reader. Some of them were my first “real” experiences with literature as a young adult . . . some just reawakened my obsession with a great story — and a great literary hero or heroine.

15 books that will stick with me forever

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
A Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
Belong To Me by Marisa de los Santos
The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
American Pastoral by Philip Roth
Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty
Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech