I am back from my much needed Staycation. No exotic locales for me, but I am proud to report that my closets are looking very tidy. I wish to send Many Thanks to Stephanie for doing such a great job last week. This week we have some Russia, some Heaven, some time, and some painfully obvious.
Let us begin!
Elizabeth of KLS has just finished a staff favorite. “I signed up for World Book Night in April to hand out free books to random people, and the book I will be giving out is David Benioff's City of Thieves. So I immediately ran out and got it and started reading. It's about two young men in Russia during the Siege of Leningrad. Thrown together by circumstances, they must find a way to survive (e.g. escape execution) and do so by embarking on an adventure to procure a dozen eggs for a military colonel during a time of shortage and suffering. Cool to note: The author is also a screenwriter and is a co-creator and writer for the HBO hit series Game of Thrones."
Jeanne as usual is working on two things at once. It is nice to know some things never change. “As part of a bible study that I belong to, I am reading two books. Heaven Is For Real : A Little Boy's Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back by Todd Burpo. The author, a pastor in a small church in Nebraska tells the true story of his pre-school son's grave brush with death from a burst appendix. Whether you are interested in heaven or not, this well-written story as told by a loving dad of what he learned from his son about love and trust is a "feel good read." I am also reading Proof Of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife by Eben Alexander. This is a personal telling of the author's glimpse of heaven while in a coma from a rare and mysterious bacterial meningitis-encephalitis. Alexander is an academic neurosurgeon with Harvard and Duke in his CV. For me, this book is less satisfying as a good read than the Burpo book, but still interesting in the author's search to explain his NDE or near death experience.”
Stephanie is looking to rethink! “This week I read a very helpful book about time management. It was even funny and engaging! I know that funny is not usually the word we associate with time management books, but it is true nonetheless. 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, by Laura Vanderkam, posits that rather than plan our time day-by-day or even hour-by-hour, we should look at it in weeklong chunks. There are 168 hours in one week. If you sleep 8 hours a night and work 40 hours a week, that leaves you with 72 hours each week to commute, exercise, cook, hang out with friends, and be a parent. I find that’s a much more optimistic way to think about the week! Vanderkam leads you through exercises that help you determine how you spend your time—and then what changes you can make to spend it more happily. Not all of them will work for everybody, but ultimately the real joy of this book is that its positive approach to time management made me inspired and excited to think about making changes in my life, rather than frazzled and harried.”
When not organizing, decluttering and Staycationing, I read The Autobiography of Us by Aria Beth Sloss. Believe me when I tell you that I have taken this bullet so you won‘t have to. This is the story of two best friends who came of age in 1960’s Pasadena. Alex is beautiful, rich and wants to be an actress. Rebecca is not so beautiful, brainy and wants to be a doctor. Yeah. This is not going to end well. I felt like a person in a movie theater watching a horror film and I kept wanting to shout, “Look out! Here comes the dude with the knife!” Or, rather in the case of this book, “Look out! Here comes the unwanted pregnancy/bad marriage that is going to kill your dreams!”
Hello, Darien readers--Stephanie here, filling in for Jen this week. Lots of great books for you this week as it seems the long weekend gave our librarians an excuse to read widely, and they snapped that excuse right up!
Amanda had a Vampire Weekend (no, not the band!) by watching “The Vampire Diaries” and reading Beth Fantaskey’s book, Jessica’s Guide to Dating on the Dark Side. "I read Fantaskey’s book with the mindset that it was lightly mocking the Twilight books which made this book laugh out loud funny. I am unsure if that was the author’s intention, but it helped set the pace as I read this 384-page novel in one sitting. Jessica is a farm girl who finds out that her birth parents betrothed her to a Romanian vampire prince, Lucius, to stop a war. Moreover, she is also a vampire princess. Unlike other heroines who would be swept away, Jessica stonewalls Lucius. She’s determined to live a normal life. The great thing about this book is that both Jessica and Lucius develop and grow as characters. Lucius goes from overbearing pampered royalty to a fighting for what’s right. Jessica faces up to her difficult destiny and demonstrates maturity. The book concludes with a heart pounding confrontation between herself and Lucius. I loved this book because it does some real world building with relatable characters."
Elizabeth really liked The Movement of Stars by Amy Brill, a novel about Hannah Gardner Price, who has lived all twenty-four years of her life according to the principles of the Nantucket Quaker community in which she was raised, where simplicity and restraint are valued above all, and a woman's path is expected to lead to marriage and motherhood. But up on the rooftop each night, Hannah pursues a very different— and elusive—goal: discovering a comet and thereby winning a gold medal awarded by the King of Denmark, something unheard of for a woman. "I really liked it, and I think it should really appeal to our Darien female audience because of the Nantucket connection. It was really enjoyable to read about Nantucket in the mid-1800's even if it wasn't the greatest time to be a woman there...the landscape is almost a character....Good story, and lovely writing style...."
Barbara M. is balancing two dark books. "I’ve just started reading The Island by Victoria Hislop because I liked her most recent novel, The Thread. What attracted me to this book was its subject, a leper colony on an island, Spinalonga, off the coast of Crete. The story’s premise is good and revolves around a young woman’s search for her family’s roots. The writing is prosaic and the characters are sometimes one dimensional but what may redeem this book for me is the author’s description of Crete (she is a travel writer) and its history. I’ve also started The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon which describes his battle with the disease. It’s beautifully written but Solomon’s pain is so raw that it’s difficult to read too much of the book at one time."
Miss Amy read a book that she warns is not a new one, but it is a good one: Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. Fine by us, they don't all need to be new! There's a reason we keep these books in the stacks for nice long lives.
Pat Sheary just finished a book that I loved as well but was scared to recommend to people, so I'm glad to have a partner in crime: The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne. "Based loosely on the Justin Bieber story, this is a coming-of-age tale set within the framework of celebrity and stardom. Jonny Valentine is an 11 year old musical genius whose looks and talents have captured the fickle American public-in a big way. As told in first person narration by Jonny, we watch as he navigates a cross-country tour, endless label marketing meetings to extend his 'brand' (HIMSELF), and a mother/manager archetype occasionally showing flashes of genuine love and concern . Attempting to please these factions, in addition to the ever-present fanbase, Jonny is trying to figure out friendship, sexual exploration, and a missing dad. Jonny is funny, ironic and heartbreakingly touching at every turn. I thoroughly and unexpectedly enjoyed this read."
Pat Tone is gearing up for our next First Look Darien event. "I am in the middle of Indiscretion by Charles Dubow and enjoying this page-turner. Claire, a pretty, ambitious young lady is introduced to an attractive couple, Harry and Maddy Winslow, who enjoy entertaining guests in their East Hampton home. Claire is drawn into the orbit of the Winslow's happy family life and soon seduces Harry and betrays Maddy's trust. This is a debut novel of love and deception and the author will be visiting Darien Library on March 7th!"
Ann has been lurking in Paris with The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan. "As a fan of historical fiction I was drawn to this book by the story and quite honestly the by cover. The story starts a little slowly but once it got going I felt it became a page turner. This novel is a fictionalized account of the Van Goethem sisters in 1878 Paris. Their father dies and the family becomes desperate for money. Antoinette the oldest sister used to dance at the Paris Opera but was dismissed when she did not cooperate. She then becomes a laundress and also gets a job acting. Marie and Charlotte are sent to the Paris Opera where they will dance and earn salaries. The girl's mother works as a laundress but has a severe drinking problem. This novel is told in the voice of Antoinette and the voice of Marie. Antoinette will get involved with a murderer who will have devastating effects on her and those she loves. Marie will become a model for Degas, and in real life immortalized in the statue of Little Dancer Aged fourteen. Marie has a very difficult childhood and must grow up quickly. This novel brings to life the culture of poverty and what people will endure to survive. As a reader you will be caring and cheering for the Van Goethem sisters."
Jeanne is listening to Defending Jacob by William Landay. "It's read by Grover Gardner and I can understand why he has been the narrator for so many books and won so many awards. He reads like he is the character; not just a narrator. Gardner's voice is at once confessional, personal and engaging. I have read and heard many favorable reviews of Defending Jacob and am anxious to find out the mystery behind the book's title."
Abby is having one of those no-good weeks when the books are being difficult. "I've been having a hard time finding a book to really dig into. So, for my latest read I looked on the shelf and saw the name Brad Meltzer. I thought, oh, they say he's a nice guy, so I grabbed it. I don't recommend selecting books based on the author's niceness quotient. It's not a very good book. The Fifth Assassin follows Beecher White. Beech is an archivist who works in the National Archives and is revealed early on as a member of a centuries old secret society dedicated to protecting POTUS. My dislike for the book extends beyond my usual obsession with having to read books in sequence. Had I read book one, I still would not like this book. It's basically a conspiracy theory book ala Dan Brown. Meltzer's character development may be better than Brown's, but that's not saying much. What saves it are the interesting snippets about presidential assassinations and the men who committed them."
As for myself, I finished Daddy Love by Joyce Carol Oates. I read everything she writes, for some unknowable reason. This one was a quick read, revolving around a man, Daddy Love, who kidnaps young boys to keep to abuse and call his sons. Not uplifting at all, but very well-written and well-paced. I didn't like it as much as her other 2013 book, which comes out next month (The Accursed), but it is perfect as a novel with that creepy true-crime feel.
With more Impending Doom due later this week, we are doing our best to soldier on and keep our chins up. We wish to ask the Weather Gods for some sort of encouraging sign. Actually any sort of encouraging sign would do. Oh and as for the PA Rodent, not for nothing, but your street cred is in the toilet. This week we have some friends, some dealing, a Quaker or two, a destination, and memory loss.
Let us begin!
Erin is reading with a look toward a feminist slant. “2013 is going to be my year of reading memoirs as I am almost finished with my sixth: She Matters: A Life in Friendships by Susanna Sonnenberg. This book details the author’s friendships with women beginning with girls on the playground all the way up through the bonds she makes with fellow mothers. Her friendships are intense…some are almost like love affairs. As someone who has always reveled in the company of my own female friends, I find this book to be a fascinating exploration of the unruly, magnificent, and sometimes all-encompassing friendships women enjoy with other women.”
Barbara M. Still no Paris. Still no Nazis. Discuss. “Diamonds weren’t always 'a girl’s best friend'. De Beers, the giant diamond conglomerate made sure, through clever marketing, that diamonds became synonymous with everlasting love. The book I’m reading Precious Objects: A Story of Diamonds, Family, and a Way of Life by Alicia Oltuski tells the history of the diamond trade and gives a behind-the-scenes look at that industry. Alicia Oluuski’s father and grandfather were both diamond dealers first in Germany and then on Forty-Seventh street in New York City and she tells the story of that industry from an insider’s point of view. For what it’s worth, I think emeralds are prettier.”
Sweet Ann is happy. This is good. She has just finished The Last Runaway by Tracy Chavalier. “I enjoy historical fiction and I liked this book. Honor Bright was heading to Ohio from England accompanying her sister, Grace, who was meeting her fiancé. Grace died of Yellow Fever soon after reaching the states and Honor continued on to Ohio with plans to stay with her intended brother -in-law. Honor, who is a Quaker, finds slavery horrific. She is willing to help runaway slaves, who know that in general Quakers will help them. Many complications for Honor and the people who care for her will arise from this decision. Although the writing is simplistic, the story is good. You will remember Honor after you finish this novel.”
Jeanne is reading Insane City by Dave Barry. “Seth Weinstein and his Groom Posse are on their way to his destination wedding in Miami. Seth is about to marry his fabulously beautiful and successful girlfriend, Tina, whose galactically wealthy and extremely influential parents do not approve of Tina's choice of mate, but they are paying anyway. From the beginning, when the wedding party arrives at Reagan International, the book reads more like an insane stand-up comedy act than a novel with the Posse's airport hijinks and Tina's sister's ‘habit.’ But Barry does give us plots and sub-plots that include redirected affections, large strippers, Russian gangsters and Haitian refugees. The book manages friendships, social issues and conflicts in a manner that is at once funny and entertaining, but also gives the reader plenty to think about.”
Miss Elisabeth of The CL is practically giddy. “I’m currently reading The Rook, by Daniel O’Malley, and I can’t put it down. The book is AMAZING. I haven’t liked an adult book this much in several months. The book follows a young woman who works for the supernatural version of MI5 – a highly covert, secret organization that protects Great Britain from supernatural harm. When the book starts, she wakes up alone in a park, covered in bruises, surrounded by dead bodies wearing latex gloves, and with no memory of who she is or how she got there. An international tale of mystery, intrigue, memory loss, and some extremely pissed off Belgians, this book is just plain marvelous.”
We all seem to be a little on the quiet side this week. It could be we are just making preparations for the Impending Doom. Or it could be that we are just feeling beat up by this winter in general. Whatever it is, we are hopeful that the PA rodent’s prediction will come through for us and we will see an early Spring. In the meantime, this week we have some unrequited love, gossip of the librarian kind, knife skills, computer science, some Rez, and another masterpiece.
Let us begin!
Here is Erin’s weekly film pick! “This weekend I watched 10 Years, a movie about a group of friends reuniting for their 10-Year High School Reunion. Admittedly, I picked it up because it stars Channing Tatum. The film is sweet and will perhaps make you a bit nostalgic for your own hometown and high school friends. There are several storylines that deal with unrequited love, lost love, and people trying to appear as someone they are not. Ultimately, I thought the film dragged in the middle but I still enjoyed its saccharine ending.”
Elizabeth, who can sometimes be found on the Reference Desk, reports in with this, “Ok, I had to check out the book that just won the 2013 Printz Award: In Darkness by Nick Lake. This is historical fiction set in Haiti about a young boy trapped by the recent earthquake. There is also a parallel story about the slave who liberated Haiti from France. This book beat out The Fault in Our Stars and there is lots of librarian gossip about that decision.”
Jeanne is distracted. Look-out! “The narrator of Kathleen Flinn's, The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks is keeping my mind off the road this week. The author has a lot to share with people who don't (yet) cook and people who already do. There's plenty to learn from Flinn's knife skills tips, simple soup ideas and meal planning. It made me feel virtuous about what I do know in the kitchen and humble about what I don't.”
Sweet Ann is reading Bend Not Break a Life in Two Worlds by Ping Fu. “Ping Fu wrote this memoir to bring to light her childhood during the Cultural Revolution in China during the 1960's and 70's, and her booming career in the United States. As a young child she was taken from her family to be re-educated by the communists. People were cruelly murdered and tortured during this time period. She was one of the lucky ones to survive. When the universities opened years later she was able to attend. She became part of a group that condemned the government. She was arrested and forced to leave China. She came to the United States where she struggled with language but enrolled in college and was able to eventually get her degree in computer science. She is now the CEO of Geomagic, a 3D digital reality solution company. This is a story of family, survival, determination and one woman's drive to succeed. “
Pat T. has just finished a book that is on everyone’s best of from last year; The Round House by Louise Erdrich. “The life of the Coutts’ family irrevocably changes for the worse when Geraldine Coutts is brutally attacked near the Round House on their reservation in North Dakota. Geraldine’s husband, Bazil, and her thirteen-year-old son Joe watch on helplessly, as Geraldine isolates herself from everyone. Joe frustrated by the injustice of the laws of the land, tribal, federal and state, takes action into his own hands and seeks to find his mother’s attacker. There are many layers to dissect in this wonderful novel: Joe’s coming-of-age story when his secure family life is turned upside down and he is reluctantly thrust into an adult world; the racial tensions; land title laws; and moral and legal implications of justice.”
I am about half way through Transatlantic by Colum McCann. Anyone who knows me knows what an evangelist I am for Let the Great World Spin. Well, LTGWS as it is known in Jen-Land is going to have to learn to share the love. Transatlantic which is out in June is another marvel from McCann. These interconnected short stories span 150 years and two continents. This is a novel worth waiting for and when you get it in your hands it is worth savoring. I for one am looking forward to have weather excuse to do nothing but read this gem of a book. For the rest of you it comes out in June. Get excited. You have more than sunshine and roses to get excited about. You have Transatlantic.
We are through. Through with this winter that is! It would appear that the theme this week is one of wanting to do something, anything different. So this week we have some deep questions, some modern romance, and a small town in Germany with a small narrator, dysfunction, Moses and some pretty stellar achievement.
Let us begin!
Caroline aka The Lopez has been caught in the act! The act of avoidance! “I had big plans to clean my apartment on Sunday and instead I read Indiscretion, a debut novel by Charles Dubow. So as you can probably gather, it’s an incredibly engaging, page-turning story. Set mainly in the Hamptons, New York City and Europe, this book reminded me of a modern day Great Gatsby. It centers around a close-knit, very wealthy group of friends who are introduced to a younger newcomer, Claire. The great thing about this book is that it’s told from unusual perspectives, and will keep you guessing while also pondering deep questions like, ‘Even after you find love, success, wealth and fame, why is that sometimes not enough?’”
Amanda is also in search of some escapism. She has just finished These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer "The Duke of Avon is a notorious rake in mid-17th century France. On a walk one evening, he rescues a fiery-tempered boy, Leon. Yet there’s more to Leon than meets the eye for he is actually Leonie, a beautiful girl in disguise. With possession of Leonie, the Duke has finally found a way to take revenge against his lifelong enemy. However, can the Duke carry out his devilish plans as he finds himself enchanted by Leonie’s devotion to him? This book was written in 1925 and is considered by many to be the originator of the modern romance genre. The book’s themes are reminiscent of The Count of Monte Cristo and Pygmalion (My Fair Lady). While the Duke is described by modern readers as an alpha hero, I find him to be too much of a dandy while the women fling tears whenever they’re in danger of not getting their way. The relationship between the Duke and Leonie is unsettling as he intends to adopt Leonie as his daughter. However, the book is described by fans as being very romantic, so you may enjoy it. The highlights of the book are the cutting exchanges between the Duke and his enemy which are hysterical and clever. So while I dismiss the romance, the conversations are a must read for anyone fond of witty arguments. “
Barbara M. is back! BUT she is reading about the wrong country and the wrong war. Discuss. “I don’t know how I missed this book but I am now reading Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi and am totally enraptured. It begins in World War I in a small town in Germany and the narrator, Trudi, is a dwarf. It is so beautifully written that you can feel Trudi’s pain and anger grow; the pain of being different and the anger towards those who made her an outcast. Trudi’s story is set in the historical context of Germany from World War I onwards. I am savoring this book and am reading it slowly to absorb every word. “
Abby is busting out with a new genre! “Despite a few attempts, I had never read an entire graphic novel. However, since we have a new display going up for Graphic Novels I thought I should give it another try. I was having a tough time trying to figure out which one to try and ended up taking it to Twitter. I went with a recommendation from a librarian in Seattle I've never met. And a great pick it was! Stitches by David Small is the story of young David growing up in a painfully dysfunctional home. I don't see how the author could have done a better job relating his story if he had written a traditional memoir. One reason I think Stitches worked for me was the pages are not too colorful or busy. My past experiences with graphic novels have left me uncomfortable for these reasons. I have since moved onto another Twitter based pick Blankets by Craig Thompson. Visually it has some similarities with Stitches and I am enjoying it very much.
Jeanne surrenders! “I am reading The Lawgiver by Herman Wouk. I have been eyeing the book since it came out a few months ago. I could not resist the pull of the legendary author of books like The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. And Mr. Wouk is 97! I wanted to see what he is still producing. The Lawgiver is a novel written in epistolary style with copies of texts, emails, Skypes, diary entries and other communications between the author and people who are trying to convince him to join a project with Hollywood people and rich backers to make a movie about the indefinable Moses. Yes, the one from the Bible. The cast of characters includes Margolit Solovei (which sounds a bit like Marjorie, as in Marjorie Morningstar. Just saying.) who is a young writer-director of just okay comedy and lapsed Jewish faith. It even includes BSW (Betty Sarah Wouk, who in life to 2011 was Wouk's wife of almost 70 years and also his agent). So with the modern communication, the ancient story, and Wouk's wit I am fascinated. “
Sweet Ann is working on some non-fiction this week with My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor. “This is a wonderfully written memoir that chronicles the early life of Chief Justice Sotomayor to her nomination to the Supreme Court. Sonia was born and raised in the South Bronx and speaks lovingly of her Puerto Rican heritage. She shares the hardships she had to endure; juvenile diabetes, an alcoholic father, his early death and her mother's unhappiness. Sonia also happily shares the love of her extended family and the countless people who supported her along the way. She learns that she must rise above her circumstances in order to achieve all that she can. As a reader, you will be rooting for her the whole way.”