Jo Janoski\’s Blog

Writings, Observations, Poetry, Stories

The Tea House On Mulberry Street-Book Review April 14, 2007

Filed under: JO's Reading List — jojanoski @ 9:18 pm


Sharon Owens


A friend (Thank you, Shelli!) lent me this book, a novel by a fresh, new, Irish
writer, Sharon Owens. I’ve never read a book with a more lively, diverse cast of
characters. Penny and Daniel Stanley are the proprietors of the Tea House, with
regular patrons stopping in each day of every color and stripe. There is Brenda,
the eccentric artist who writes a letter to Nicholas Cage every day; the Creepy
Crawley twin sisters; Henry, whose wife pushes him out of the house and her life
in efforts to build an artsy conservatory where her cultured friends can meet;
Sadie, wife  of the aforementioned conservatory contractor, her 
husband  who is too busy building conservatories to notice her anymore; and
Clare, who yearns for the love she lost decades before.

The center of this story’s universe is the Tea House. It is the spoke of the
wheel, the constant, the one place where all these lives intersect. The
characters sit across from one another at its tables, each person in his own
world, while still taking part in this one over a congenial cup of tea and one
of Daniel’s luscious cheesecakes. (By the way, the cheesecake recipe is at the
end of the book.) But besides all the delicious food you read about, the more
delectable tales of marital strife, loneliness, and expanding awarenesses will
keep you hungry for more. Their lives are all separate, and yet become one
within the Tea House.

The characters are open and lively, pulling you in and making you a part of
their worlds, their hearts. You feel their thoughts; you feel their pain. You
care about what happens to them … like family. And difficult problems, like
marital infidelity, move along with clarity of the mind and heart to sound
conclusions. The ending chapters came as a surprise to me when the Tea House
comes to be no more under dramatic circumstances. I feared there was no coming
back to the good times in the wake of utter disaster, but a happy solution does
come about. You’ll be happy, too, if you read this interesting story, full of
wisdom, wit, and fun.

Copyright 2007 JO Janoski


Angels & Demons, Somber Remembrances March 24, 2007

Filed under: JO's Reading List — jojanoski @ 8:39 am

Angels and Demons
Better Than The DaVinci Code


I already read The DaVinci Code, and although I found that book an enjoyable read, Angels and Demons provided a clearer, more riveting read.

At first, I was intrigued by the similarities between the two. Both stories revolve around Robert Langdon, famous symbologist. Each book features a beautiful scientist to kick around with him, each with a scientist father or grandfather who was unjustly killed by mysterious forces for reasons unknown. And those mysterious forces give off similar rings in both books, both being based on ancient cult-like movements in defiance of the Church.

But while The DaVinci Code boggled my mind with twists and turns and undecipherable codes, Angels and Demons was kinder to my problem-solving abilities in that there were fewer details to work out. I found the story more cohesive and riveting. Treacherous deeds are attributed to the Illuminati, an anti-Church group from ages past who appeared to have come back to wreak havoc on the Vatican.

And the mystery was symbolized (no pun intended) on a trail of secret symbols across Rome leading to the Illuminati lair. Our man, Robert, being a noted symbologist, sets out to decipher and follow the trail, hoping to find the lair before all hell breaks loose. The Illuminati have kidnapped the four main candidates to replace a deceased pope moments before a vote could be taken. One by one, the cardinals show up murdered, with Illumnati symbols branded on their chests. The problem is complicated by an explosive container of antimatter in Illuminati hands, stolen from our beautiful lady scientist after they killed her father.

Without giving away the ending, there were two events when reading that made me pause and flip over to the copyright date on the cover, the year 2000, before 9/11. In the story, the Illuminati planned to explode the anti matter in a grand demonstration of their power. But they placed the bomb in an underground area to minimize human casualties. I couldn’t help but think of 9/11 and how Islamic extremists determined how to acquire the largest loss of life possible. Ah well, in 2000 when the book was written, we still believed even our enemies would respect human life somewhat. At another point in the book, there was talk of dropping and exploding the anti matter into the sea, along with talk of whether it might not spark a dangerous tidal wave. Once again, my mind went to current events and the recent tsunami that killed thousands in the most remarkable natural disaster in modern times.

And so, I enjoyed Angels and Demons, an excellent story bound together by compelling symbols with charming characters and a frantic chase. The shocking part was for the first time ever reading a book, I realized real life had already presented tragedy more fantastic then fiction, in the events of 9/11. Somber thought.

Copyright 2007 JO Janoski


The Da Vinci Code – What I Think January 11, 2007

Filed under: JO's Reading List — jojanoski @ 9:58 am

What more could a reader want? A deep, dark mystery, riddles, compelling characters. Let me preface by saying Dan Brown’s super short chapters (in some cases only a page and a half) besides being ideal for a person on the fly like me also added to the story’s urgency. Although I found the secret codes and symbolism tedious, the revelations at their source made it all worth the effort. Picture me digging out a dusty old art book to see a copy of The Last Supper. Next imagine my jaw dropping to see the feminine character next to Jesus. Why hadn’t I noticed that before? Excellent stuff. It isn’t very often a book taps you on the shoulder like that.

It was somewhere around puzzling over the Mona Lisa‘s quirky smile and a mention of the “sacred feminine” that the story lost its timeless quality for me. Was the Mona Lisa actually Da Vinci himself? And was he homosexual? Why all the fuss about this mysterious “sacred feminine”? Why emphasize the Church as an evil men’s only club? Sniff! Sniff! Do I detect the odor of pop culture religiosity in the air? Oh my! Is it tinged with a hint of political correctness?

All joking aside, what could have been for me a fantastic story with riddles to ponder and concepts to consider revealed itself to be just another myopic vehicle for emerging social/political concepts like gay and women’s rights. Those concepts are fine, but they date the piece. It for me is no longer a timeless story my grandfather and I could read on an equal scale. Good literature can be shared through generations. This story cannot. Nonetheless, The Da Vinci Code is a marvelous read. I haven’t seen the movie, but I suspect, as is always true, the book has more to offer.

Copyright 2007 JO Janoski


Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks January 7, 2007

Filed under: JO's Reading List — jojanoski @ 4:19 pm

Thanks to an e-pal in England (Thanks, Janice), I’ve found a new author to add to my Favorites list: Sebastian Faulks. I’ve just read Birdsong, copyright 1993. It is not just a good read. It is literature. The passion of love, the ignominious degradation of war–it’s all in there, and in some of the finest language I believe I’ve ever read.

Example–men returning from war:

The lean, expressionless creatures who stepped ashore … Their bodies and their clothes were encrusted with dirt and in their eyes was a blank intransigence.They moved with grim, automatic strength. They were frightening to the civilians because they had evolved not into killers but to passive beings whose aim was to endure.

When I read this passage, I pictured them as a melded, huge machine moving as one big piece, squeaking down the street on rusty wheels, humanity soldered together and motorized with no emotion left. That’s what I love about Faulk’s prose–it inspires new conceptions.

Another example, on death:

All my life I had lived on the presumption that there was no existence beyond … Then I heard the sound of my own life leaving me…It was so…tender.

This book is moving in a way that gives to you rather than takes away. It is grounded in truth. It’s timeless. Well worth the read.

Copyright 2006 JO Janoski


From My Book Shelf October 17, 2005

Filed under: JO's Reading List,Miscellaneous — jojanoski @ 7:47 pm

From My Book Shelf…

A Book for All Pittsburghers

I found a web site today for a link I’d like to share. You see, one Christmas recently my brother gave me a book as a gift. It’s called Millhunks and Renegades by Anita Kulina . Historical, the brownish orange cover glows with a steel mill scene, and inside the pages tell the story of an equally fiery population. It’s all about Pittsburgh! Specifically it is a book about the Greenfield-Hazelwood area of the city, the neighborhood where I grew up–but this is actually a story for all Pittsburghers.

Anita Kulina starts at the beginning when that area was simply wilderness and traces the terrain, history, and people up to the present. She more than successfully captures the evolving rambunctious spirit of that Pittsburgh mill neighborhood from its inception. In later chapters, she relates the magnificent experience of growing up in Greenfield in the 50’s. I’m telling you, when I read the book I wore a smile for every page. Absolutely delightful! The Irish, the Italian, the Slovaks–the misbehaving–it’s all in there. From tribes and trappers all the way through to the town today. It is a beautiful book with an abundance of fine drawings to serve as illustrations. First-rate! Ms. Kulina’s research is amazing in itself.

So, if you’re a typical Pittsburgher who grew up in a mill neighborhood in the Mon Valley, or if you’re curious about Pittsburgh’s roots–then get this book. I don’t know Anita Kulina, and she’s not paying me to say all this. I just loved the book so much I want to spread the word.

You can get it from this web site: Millhunks and Renegades