This week we have a hamster (tasty!), a Queen, some death, deceit and teenagers, Venice (no Paris this week sorry!), and some fun in the kitchen (sans hamsters).
Let us begin!
John has just finished a current staff favorite, Breed by Chase Novak. “I'm not sure if I've been punked, or if I should be scared of my co-workers, or if they just have a sick sense of humor. When Sally plopped a copy of Breed on my desk and told me I had to read it, followed soon afterwards by Jen pointing at it, exclaiming, ‘Yes! Let me know when you are one-hamster-in!’ Well, I had to make it my next book. I mentioned the other day, after reading The Last Werewolf that I thought the horror genre had been pretty well strip-mined. Well, Novak has somehow hit upon a new kind of high-grade ore. This book stands alone as an example of what happens to authors who were not properly nurtured as children, but somehow grow up to produce something wickedly twisted, yet humorous in its absurdity. The reason this novel works is because it walks the fine line between gruesome and sublimely entertaining, and it walks that line like it owns it--with a twinkle in its eye and a spring in its step.”
Ann, who I am sure you remember has been under the weather is back! She has crawled out of her sick bed to report on Dangerous Inheritance: A Novel of Tudor Rivals and the Secret of the Tower by Alison Weir. “I am not finished this book yet but I am thoroughly enjoying it. Ms. Weir is telling the story of Katherine Grey whose sister Jane is executed under Queen Mary and Kate Plantagenet who was the daughter of King Richard, the last Plantagenet King. She loves her father but must come to terms with the imprisonment of her cousins, the two young princes in the tower. Her father had his young nephews brought there so there would not be a challenge to him being king. This book is very well written as it goes between both women and their respective time periods. They both had to face many challenges. I am so looking forward to finishing this book, but I think I will miss these two women very much.” We can’t begin to tell you how nice it is to have a little Ann back in our day.
Jeannie is as always doing two things at once! “I just started J.K. Rowling's The Casual Vacancy. I am anxious to see what the very talented creator of Harry Potter can give the reading public in Adult Fiction. Rather than dragons and wizards, Rowling is telling a story about a small town with big problems, including death, deceit and teenagers with their problematic behaviors and angst. Cue the social worker with her own problems! So far, about one fifth of the way through a 500 page book, there are a lot of characters to keep track of, but at least their connections are clear. The tone of the book is what I think of as that clever, irreverent, rather blunt English style portraying dysfunctional people. I am listening to Willful Behavior by Donna Leon. Being fairly new to the Detective Mystery genre, I especially like Leon's style for short trips in the car. Leon has featured Commissario Guido Brunetti of Venice, Italy in almost two dozen murder mysteries. Her characters are believable, her plot is compelling, and the language is plain enough to follow while driving. I am having a bit of trouble getting used to the very English (sometimes Cockney) narrator, but the story is so engaging that this is mostly forgotten in the search for the killer. Add to this the discovery that the dead girl's grandfather may have collaborated with the wrong side during the war and secreted away millions of lire worth of artwork and I am hooked!”
Those who know me know how much I really love playing in my kitchen. So after Pat T. pressed this Book on CD into my hands I can now be found driving around town listening to The Kitchen Counter Cooking School How A Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices Into Fearless Home Cooks by Kathleen Flynn. After graduating from The Cordon Bleu in Paris, Flynn was at rather a loss. What would she do next? While shopping in her local grocery, she came upon a woman filling her cart with what I like to call crap: nothing but processed boxed “food” items. When Flynn asked this woman about it, she confessed she did not know what to do with fresh food. Here comes the light bulb moment! Flynn opens a “school” of a kind with 9 volunteers and teaches them one lesson at a time about how to care for yourself and your family through food.
This week we have NaNoWriMo, an always interesting question, purgatory, a sick bed, a drug and alcohol fueled frenzy, some flowers, some more drugs, and Indiscretion.
The Amazing Amanda is reading, Book In A Month: The Foolproof System for Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Victoria Schmidt in anticipation of our program on the 21st! “Dr. Schmidt gives you a through overview of the mindset to get ready to produce a novel in such a short amount of time. She then gives you very detailed worksheets to help you get through the month. I'm more of a fan of the Plot, What Plot? drive of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) where the idea is to leave behind all of your insecurities and just write!, but I believe this book has a place for someone who is ready to get beyond NaNo.” Intrigued? Details here!
Pat T. had finished a book I adore and has the following observations! “I have just finished reading The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe and found it to be a delightful read because of the relationship between mother and son, as well as the books they discussed. I laughed when the author wrote "the first question they would ask after greeting one another would be what are you reading?" They would fit right into our Readers' Advisory Department since we are always asking one another the same interesting question!”
John the Master of Minecraft is in a purgatory of a sort. “I just finished Age of Miracles and I would say that it is interesting enough to give it a read. The premise of the novel is that all of a sudden, the earth's rotation suddenly begins to slow. As the days and nights get longer, the narrator--a sixth grade girl--struggles with all the usual sixth grade issues in addition to a world that is slowly falling apart. I picked up this book because it is ostensibly science fiction, but its problem is that it's not quite sure what it wants to be and the result is that it just kind of sits in limbo. This really ought to be classified as a young adult book, yet there is some strong language (not that young adults don't use strong language). It also wants to be a science fiction novel, but the core premise--the slowing of the earth--is unexplained and not based on physics, however its effects are. That breaks the cardinal rule of science fiction, nudging this story into fantasy territory. Finally, Walker, at times, writes with a sophomoric flourish that seems to indicate that she wants this book to be literary. There are several stand-out passages, but ultimately, if you want to read this book, it will hold your attention; it just won't blow you away.”
It seems that Ann is RA’s Little Nell and is checking in from her sick bed. She has developed pneumonia, bronchitis and God knows what else. Here is wishing her a speedy recovery and hopefully there will be an Ann in Boots sighting very soon! “ I am reading Love Anthony by Lisa Genova. I am a fan of Miss Genova and truly thought her book Still Alice was a wonderfully written novel that gave "life" to a person suffering from Alzheimer’s. Her second book, Left Neglected, was also an interesting novel about a woman who could not see her left side. It was a good book but not as good as Still Alice.
Love Anthony is about two women living on Nantucket. Beth lives there with her husband and three daughters. She is a writer who has let her writing go to the wayside until her marriage falls apart. She then starts to write a novel about a boy, Anthony, who suffers from autism told from his point of view. Olivia has retreated to Nantucket after losing her eight year old autistic son, Anthony. You have to suspend belief to see how these women will connect and how the novel about Anthony becomes for his mother his true life story. It's an okay book. I think with Miss Genova's background as a neuroscientist she could have written a more interesting novel about Anthony and his struggles with autism.
Abby can be found this week smashing a perfectly good guitar to paraphrase the Amazing John Hiatt. “Since I heard Pete Townshend of The Who fame was publishing a biography, I’ve been eagerly awaiting its release. I’d heard about Who I Am even before Keith Richards (Rolling Stones fame) came out with his highly-praised and award-winning bio which I loved. While both rockers come from the same g-g-g-generation, each book has a different purpose and voice. While Keith’s bio was warm and written almost as a dialogue, Pete’s uses his book to explain his music and work through his demons which stem from a childhood filled with abandonment and sexual abuse. One of The Who’s better known gimmicks was to smash up their instruments at the end of a show. I had always figured it was some drug and alcohol fueled frenzy. And it was. But it was also based in the auto-destructive artistic movement Pete was exposed to in Art School. The end of the night destruction was really part of a bigger artistic vision. So committed is he to art, he actually finds Yoko Ono’s famous screeching music to be “brilliant.” Pete does a good job describing the times and adds insight into other well-known musicians as they emerge onto the music scene. It’s good to hear Pete’s version of how the rock-opera Tommy developed among other important moments in music history. Also interesting is his competitiveness regarding wanting to be the loudest band and working to invent new and innovative sound systems. I still have half the book to go, but so far it is a disciplined, soft-spoken, and thoughtful book lacking the playfulness I associate with rock & roll.”
Jeanne has just read The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh. “The book tells the story of a foster child, Victoria, who has lived in more temporary places (not homes!) than I could keep track of. There aren’t a lot of the sad details of her being shuffled around, but it is clear that she has been lastingly damaged by the absence of love. The constants in her life are her social worker, Meredith, her love of flowers and plants and her stubborn, aggressive personality. I did like that the author was able to draw on her own experience as a foster mother. The ending was a little soft, but it did give me a certain appreciation for the author’s view of helping others once you have been helped. This rags to riches story is about much more than money.”
Miss Claire of the Children’s Library is reading some decidedly adult material! “I like Jacqueline Woodson's work because she is not afraid to tackle edgy topics in both her children's and young adult novels. Her newest, Beneath a Meth Moon is no exception as the narrator is a fifteen year-old methamphetamine addict. Laurel is attempting to cope with the deaths of her mother and grandmother during Hurricane Katrina. Laurel and her father and brother try to escape the tragedy by moving from place to place, finally settling in a small town. After making friends and joining the cheerleading squad, Laurel meets T-Boom, the star basketball player who woos her into a world of addiction. She eventually leaves home and after attempted bouts of rehab, Laurel eventually escapes to the streets. The novel floats between Laurel’s current predicaments and her recollections from childhood, making the story a compelling journey for both the main character and the reader. It has also recently been announced that the book is slated to be made into a movie.”
Last weekend I went to Florida to visit the fam. My brother Peter met me there. His seatmate was Karl Rove. Mine was Indiscretion by Charles Dubow. I so got the better end of that deal. Indiscretion is a debut novel, due out in February about a couple with a seemingly charmed life. Maddy and Harry divide their time between the Hampton’s cottage on the shore, and their Manhattan brownstone. Harry writes novels which are not only critical successes but financial ones as well. Maddy makes sure that Harry and their son are well cared for and that their glittering world is always sparkiling with a Martha Stewart like flair. But then one evening, young, beautiful and intelligent Claire wanders into one of their summer parties and nothing is ever the same again. This one reminded me a lot of Rules of Civility and I truly adored it.
This week we have a horse-headed sprite, some questionable ambitions, Romanovs, a little quirkiness, some Paris (it’s back! I was getting worried.), and gratitude of a kind.
Let us begin!
The Amazing Amanda is reading The Iron King by Julie Kagawa as an eBook this week. “As a young girl, Meghan’s father disappeared without a trace. Her mother remarried and now Meghan has grown up as a farm girl – a fate that leaves her an outcast aside from her overprotective friend, Robbie. Meghan’s life is turned upside down when her baby brother is kidnapped. Determined to save her brother, she follows Robbie through a closet into the land of the fey and nothing will ever be the same as Robbie is Puck. Yes, the Puck of legends and a Midsummer Night’s Dream Puck. Meghan is sometimes a bit too self-indulgent, but the creepy terrors of being kidnapped by goblins, nearly eaten by a horse-headed sprite, and more add an underscore of terror to the book. Then there is the promise of romance but is the romantic lead Puck or the prince? “
It sounds like Ann is slogging through Winter of the World by Ken Follett. “This is the second book in the trilogy that Ken Follett began with Fall of Giants. It continues to follow five interrelated families, American, German, Russian, English and Welsh beginning with the rise of fascism in Europe, the Spanish Civil War, the ambitions of Adolph Hitler and the Nazis, and World War II. It is an interesting story and as a reader you do connect again with these characters and their particular stories but it is a commitment to read. I would recommend this book to people interested in the time period. I will read the third in the trilogy when it publishes to see what happens to these families. I do feel Mr. Follett's book, The Pillars of the Earth was a much better example of historical fiction and I highly recommend that book.” You really do have to admire Ann’s perseverance.
Barbara M. is reading The Mirrored World by Debra Dean. “Set against the background of St. Petersburg in the 18th century, Dean tells the story of St. Xenia through the eyes of her cousin Dasha. The author meticulously sets the mood of Russia under the Romanovs with its excesses and strict rules. The characters are well developed from the beginning; Dasha’s thirst for learning and Xenia’s different way of seeing things are evident from the start. It is written in a simple yet lyrical style and I am really enjoying reading this book.”
Abby has a crush on Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. ”I haven't fallen hard for a lot of books this year, but this one got me hooked early on and is certainly one of my 2012 favorites. When 15- year- old Bee continues her tradition of academic and humanitarian success, she is rewarded with whatever her heart desires and what her heart desires a trip to Antarctica. Bee’s parents are Elgin Branch, a revered Microsoft coding guru and Bernadette Fox, an independent, anti-social, not meant for suburbia, outsourcing housewife who cannot handle being around Canadians, (a big challenge as they live in Seattle, Gateway to The Great White North). The days leading up to Antarctica set off a series of events that reveal the source of Bernadette’s daily angst, pharmaceutical attachments, and hidden bona fide genius. I found the book both hilarious and touching in its own way. I appreciate a unique voice where the book reminds me of no other I have read before and that description fits this wonderful, quirky read.”
Jeanne is also feeling some bliss of the book kind. “I am reading Peaches for Father Francis by Joanne Harris. Once again, Harris continues the beautifully rich story she began in Chocolat and continued with The Girl with No Shadow. Who can resist a protagonist who makes chocolates in Paris? In this novel, Vianne receives a letter with a request from beyond the grave and must travel with her daughters, Anouk and Rosette to discover how changed the town of Lansquenet has become. Her former adversary, Father Reynaud needs her help in quelling the unrest and closing the divide between the Catholics of this village and the growing Muslim community. As with Harris' many other novels (full disclosure: I am a huge fan), I expect this one to be full of characters and events with layers of intrigue and confection!"
I have to admit I am in a rut. Ever since I finished Richard Russo’s amazing new memoir Elsewhere, nothing has been suitable. Right now I am working my way through Fever Season: The Terrifying Epidemic and the People Who Saved a City by Jeanette Keith. It is a pretty brutal portrayal of 1878 Memphis caught in the grip of Yellow Fever which has to be the nastiest disease I have read about since I read The Hot Zone with its depiction of Ebola. The reasoning here is that, sure, I am having a hard time falling in love with another book, but at least I am not turning the color of a pumpkin (yes, you really turn yellow) and experiencing black vomit. A girl has to find gratitude wherever she can after all!
This week has not been the most fab as far as the weather has been concerned and staff has responded by diving into some tasty book goodness. This week we have some dark and scary, some tradition, a day trip, sex and drugs and rock and roll, a dozen eggs, and some machismo.
Let us begin!
Miss Kiera is into some dark and scary stuff this week! “I know I'm hopping on late to the Gone Girl train, but I finally succumbed. I definitely get the hype. It's the story of an extremely dysfunctional couple told in alternating chapters. At first my sympathies lay with the husband, then with the wife, then suddenly back to the husband. By the end I hated them both, which I'm pretty sure was the point. Did I love the book? I'm not sure- but I couldn't put it down and I'm still thinking about it, so I'd say it's a winner for any book club. Very discuss-able and debatable. I also just finished reading Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Superheroes and Make-Believe Violence. It explains why it is not only natural but necessary for children to seek out scary books and seemingly violent pretend play. It's an essential component in their ability to build self-esteem, empowerment, and a sense of empathy. Fascinating stuff!
Stephanie has some very interesting things to say about a favorite author who is trying something new. ”After reading all the reviews, I had to read The Casual Vacancy this week, and you know what? I thought it was good. Not that I ever should have trusted reviews that came out hours after the book was available to read. In many ways it's a very traditional British novel, snuggled into the nooks and politics of a small village; it actually reminded me a bit of Zadie Smith's new book, NW. But it also has all the trappings of modern life, with the hacking of a website being the pivot on which the plot turns. It has the faintest hints of Harry--the character names in particular, and she does have a penchant for wrapping things up in a particular way--but if you didn't know Rowling was Rowling, I'm not sure you'd guess it. It didn't change my life, but I quite enjoyed it.”
Elizabeth of KLS has some day tripping in her future! “I’m going to Kykuit next week with a girlfriend, so I'm reading up and The House The Rockefellers Built : A Tale Of Money, Taste, And Power In Twentieth-century America by Robert F Dalzell is just what I need to prepare . Anyone looking for a great idea for an Indian summer field trip should consider it. It's in Sleepy Hollow, NY near Tarrytown and they are open through October. I can't wait to see the art!”
Abby is having some fun! “I recently enjoyed reading How to be A Woman by the bit crude, dash lewd, and passionately feminist Caitlin Moran. Moran is a British journalist at The Times, and has won numerous awards such as Columnist of The Year. The book begins with her account of growing up poor alongside her 7 siblings. They were home schooled which helped her develop a passionate love for libraries and that makes her even more appealing. As a precocious 16 year old she got a job as a music magazine writer which led to her own short-lived TV show. That adds up to lots of access to sex, drugs and of course, rock & roll. She really hit her stride once she settled in as a columnist with marriage, motherhood and celebrities providing plenty of fodder for her wicked observations. Personally, I find myself having great respect for her encyclopedia knowledge of pop culture. This was a fun read by a talented observer of people and culture.”
Jeannie is taking some advice this week and finding it more than worthy. “Good things happen when you are standing in front of our Book Club Corner with a patron trying to work your RA magic. Suddenly the patron says, ‘Have you read this? A bunch of us were at Dartmouth with this guy.’ Then she hands you City of Thieves by David Benioff. Lucky me! This is a brilliantly written black comedy recounting the story of a Jewish émigré and his Russian accomplice during the German siege of Leningrad. Through punishable infractions, the two have come to the attention of a Soviet colonel who needs a dozen eggs for his daughter's wedding cake! Don't let the premise fool you. Lev and Kolya embark on a war-time quest filled with danger, unlikely friendships and creative ways to survive and kill. City of Thieves is one of my new favorites.
Erin is revisiting an old friend in a new collection. Oh. And there is sighing going on. ”I am currently reading Junot Diaz's This is How You Lose Her. Readers who are familiar with the character Yunior from Diaz's previous work will be reacquainted with him this collection of nine short stories. Dealing with his Dominican identity and wrestling with his machismo exterior, Yunior describes his triumphs and setbacks in pursuing romantic relationships. There are some serious sigh-worthy lines in this one. My favorite so far? 'And that's when I know it's over. As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it's the end.’Sigh.”
This week we have a trilogy, some horror, bodies, the Psych Ward, Palestinian prisoners, the Feds (look out!), and some drain circling.
Let us begin!
Ann has started something new. I look forward to see how she can sunshine and rainbow 1933 Germany. If anyone can, that person is Ann! Remember, she can’t help it. It is just her way. “I have just begun Winter of the World, the second book in Ken Follett's century trilogy. It begins in 1933 Germany with Hitler's rise to power. So far it is good and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to the many characters in this book.”
John has thankfully moved away from Crazy Lady Lit but he is still prompting some head scratching. “This week, I'm reading something a little different: The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. I don't usually go in for horror--it's one of those genres that seems completely strip-mined, yet here I am, completely absorbed in Duncan's deep and atmospheric literary prose. This is not the bizarre ramblings of that weirdo Stephen King, nor the candy Koontz fluff (and I won't even mention those ridiculous sparkling vampires). This book is like a cross between Joseph Conrad and H. P. Lovecraft--dark, psychological, and supremely entertaining. It is about, as the name implies, the last werewolf alive. Hunted and despised by some, sought after to be exploited by others--what will become of him? This is definitely not for the faint of heart. “
Jeanne also has one worried. “I read Broken Harbor by Tana French over the weekend. As the title implies, there are things broken in this murder mystery and it goes way beyond harbors to laws, rules, lives, bodies. And BTW if you are a friend of PETA, be wary. I am new to the Detective Mystery genre and Tana French proved to be a great start. Was it Wusthof or Henckels? I moved right on to Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. I guess I hadn't had enough of dead bodies and dysfunctional families. Camille Preaker reluctantly returns to her hometown to cover the murders of two teen girls for her Chicago newspaper. Inevitably she examines her own demons that led her to a psych ward years earlier and prevented her from returning to her family in Wind Gap, MO. This is a book I'll read with all the lights on!”
Barbara M. is staying true to form and reading something on the dark international side. “I’m reading Elie Wiesel’s latest novel, Hostage, about a Jewish storyteller from Brooklyn, Shaltiel Feigenberg, a Holocaust survivor. He is taken hostage by two men who are demanding the release of Palestinian prisoners in exchange for his life. While being held, Shaltiel, in order to break with the present, from which there is no present means of escape, tries to recapture the recent or distant past, elusive as it is. Wiesel has once again created a beautifully crafted tension-filled story.”
Abby is gloating. There is no other word for it. “I'm pleased to report I was able to get my paws on an advance copy of The Panther, the latest from Nelson DeMille. It's due out Oct 16 and holds may be placed. Anyway, the reason I am so excited is because the lead character is once again John Corey. John is a retired NYPD detective now under contract with the Feds to help fight terrorism. Yes, I am on a first name basis with a fictional character. John is sarcastic, disrespectful, non-politically correct, hilarious, and one heckuva good cop. If you are new to DeMille and want to read The Panther, I sincerely hope you will first read the other John Corey books in order starting with Plum Island. Nightfall from this series is one of my favorite reads. I haven't gotten too far yet, but in The Panther, DeMille brings back an old familiar character capable of trading cynical barbs with John Corey. This should be a fun read.” See? I don’t lie. The woman is gloating.
This morning on the train I started Richard Russo’s memoir Elsewhere. I can already tell that this account of his childhood spent with his single mom and extended family in a town that is circling the drain economically is going to make me almost miss my stop. And honestly? I kind of love that. The missing the stop part that is.
This week we have some creepy twins, a British billionaire, sudden loss, painful estrangement, some characters, a little art, and a triple homicide.
Let us begin!
The Citizen Asha is back and as usual she is into some serious sketchiness. “I devoured a very fascinating book this weekend, Breed by Chase Novak. Meet Alex and Leslie Twisden, a very affluent couple but they are missing one thing; a child. For years they struggle with in-vitro, tracking her basal body temperature, they have even joined a support group. Nothing works, until they find out about a doctor in Ljubljana. Dr. Kis has managed to help a couple in their group become pregnant, for Alex and Leslie, this is their last hope. They meet the good doctor and yes, they become pregnant. Fast forward ten years and you see Leslie and Alex with their twins; Adam and Alice. However, they cage their children in at night, and I’m pretty sure the smell coming through the floorboards is not from daisies or roses. What's happening to the Twisdens? And what did Kis put in his elixir?” I too devoured this book and I can totally endorse it as one of the creepiest things I have read in a long time.
Elizabeth of the KLS weighs in with Overseas by Beatriz Williams. “This is exciting contemporary fiction set in the NYC finance world with a little historical fiction added for good measure. When twenty-something Wall Street analyst Kate Wilson attracts the notice of the legendary Julian Laurence at a business meeting, no one’s more surprised than she is. Julian’s relentless energy and his extraordinary intellect electrify her, but she’s baffled by his sudden interest. Why would this handsome British billionaire—Manhattan’s most eligible bachelor—pursue a pretty but bookish young banker who hasn’t had a boyfriend since college? ” Yes! Why indeed?
Pat S. has finished some unfinished work by reading The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nicole Bernier. “Kate is spending an extended family summer vacation on a New England island just after 9/11. While there, she is wading through the bequeathed journals of her recently deceased friend Elizabeth whose only instruction was “to begin at the beginning”. Still reeling from the sudden loss of her friend, Kate is stunned to discover that the Elizabeth she knew-as a friend, a mother, a wife-was but a mere shadow of the Elizabeth she comes to know through her journals. This results in a provocative exploration of authenticity and intimacy in relationships- specifically, friendship and marriage. Why do we keep secrets from the ones we love? Is it to protect them, or ourselves? Is what we perceive in other people true, or based primarily on appearance and assumption? And ultimately, how well do we truly ever know another person? This was an extremely thought provoking-a great read. “
Ann has begun a new read with So Far Away by Meg Mitchell Moore. “I am only in the beginning of this book and I am intrigued and enjoying it quite a bit. It is the story of thirteen year old Natalie who is being cyber bullied and dealing with the separation of her parents at the same time. She finds a diary from a woman who worked as a servant in the early 1900's and this is opening a new world to her. It is also the story of Kathleen Lynch, a library archivist, who is helping Natalie but also going through the painful estrangement of her daughter. It's a good story so far.”
John, yet again has us scratching our heads over his choice in company. “This week, after having spent some quality time with two crazy (albeit literary) women, I'm reading about a different kind of woman altogether. I'm about halfway through John Irving's In One Person. Billy, the bisexual narrator and main character, recounts his coming of age and intense attraction to the transsexual librarian in a small Vermont town that doesn't ‘have to accept him, but does have to claim him as one of their own’. This is quite a tour-de-force for Irving who admits to being a straight man. In true Irving fashion, this is a novel about characters. Irving is one of my favorite authors of all time, but before I start one of his books, I always have to be prepared for a serious reading experience. Even when his prose is at its funniest, his humor underscores his deep, razor-sharp observations on human nature. This is a much different novel than Twisted River, his last, and his most political since Cider House Rules".
Jeanne has just finished The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro. “I enjoyed it very much. It centers on the huge unsolved heist from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in the nineties. This fictional account weaves a mystery with Claire Roth who paints for Reproductions.com and Aidan Markel, an influential gallery owner. The plot thickens when he makes her an offer that could make or break her career. Shapiro not only surprises the reader with twists and turns of the story, but also educates us with art and painting details that add to the mystery. Claire's ‘art history’ is complicated with talent, love and betrayal.”
This weekend I can be found running errands and listening to Tana French’s Broken Harbor. Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy has just been assigned to a triple homicide and a new partner who is a rookie. Will they be able to figure out who killed the father and two children and left the still alive mother for dead? So far, I am really enjoying the Irish lilt to the narration of this dark tale.
This week we have some Pigs in a Pagoda, a Corn Maiden and some blood, some more blood along with some bones and butter, magical tales, terrifying women, jaw dropping, a Brat Pack sighting and some missing orphans.
Also please note that there is some passionate insistence going on. And not by me.
Let us begin!
And what is this week’s shocker? Barbara M. is not in Paris this week! “I’m reading Home is a Roof Over a Pig: An American Family's Journey in China by Aminta Arrington. It’s about the author’s move to a somewhat remote area in China to teach English and learn more about the Chinese people, culture and language. Adapting to a new and very different culture is difficult and each family member seems to approach and accept it in different ways. I’m especially interested in her observations on how the written language reflects the traditional culture. For example, the written character for home depicts a pig with a roof over its head because pigs were an important part of rural life and had free rein to wander in and out of the house. The writing is not very literary but the content is thought-provoking and I hope the rest of the book gives even more insight into the Chinese mindset.”
Miss Kiera is being very secretive this week and asks us to keep an open mind! “I am reading The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates. I'm getting into the Halloween spirit early this year! Oates does a fantastic job capturing different perspectives in these thrilling short stories. They are perfect reading for train commutes or a quick scare before bed! I'm also reading some guilty pleasure genre fiction: the 4th book in the Sookie Stackhouse series, Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris (popularized by the TV series True Blood.) It's not the kind of book I want to be caught reading on the subway, so I'm doing the eBook on my iPad.... and I'm loving every minute of it! Don't judge.” Kiera, we love you too much to judge. We shall just look askance instead and scratch our heads.
Abby is looking at a meal time companion and finding her a bit hard to swallow.” Being a regular reader of chef memoirs I had meant to read Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton when it was released. Other books intervened but I have finally read it. It is a memoir written with great honesty and raw emotion. Gabrielle's upbringing in rural Pennsylvania was very challenging; she was essentially left to raise herself from the age of 11. Prior to her French gourmet mother leaving, she had developed an impressive passion for and knowledge of food. Hitting the Big Apple at age 16 during the early 80's, she was exposed to the drugs, sex, and rock & roll that was the standard of the time. Following legal troubles, it was food that gave her focus and allowed her to turn her life around. Now chef/owner of Prune she is at the top of her game, but has not lost her survivors edge. She is admittedly not an easy person to deal with and does involve herself in complicated, unsympathetic relationships. Despite her devastating family life, I was not able to muster much empathy for her. While I would like to eat in her restaurant, I don't believe I'd want to join her for a meal.”
Ann is reading In the Shadow of the Banyan Tree by Vaddey Ratnir and as always is finding the bright spot in a dark place. Please remember this is just how she is. She can’t help it. “This is a novel based on the author's life as a young child surviving the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia in the years between 1975 and 1979. Seven year old Raami has a wonderful life as the daughter of a prince. She lives with her parents, younger sister and grandmother the queen in a beautiful grand home. She is very close with her father who always spins magical tales for her which will help her survive these difficult years. Raami and her family's lives change radically when the regime kicks them out of their family compound, then relocates them a number of times to worse and worse conditions and into forced labor. There is much sadness and brutality in this book but it is also the story of a family's love and what that love can conquer.”
Frankly, John, aka The Warlock of Minecraft, has me very worried. He is spending some quality time with some quality kind of crazy. “I seem to have inadvertently found myself reading the second of two novels about women you should be very afraid of. Last week it was Gone Girl; this week it's Serena by Ron Rash. While the women in both novels are terrifying Serena, I think, is singular in her narcissism and cruelty. The husbands in both novels are not terribly sympathetic characters either. Serena takes place during the Great Depression at a logging community in the mountains just outside Asheville. As she and her husband "Pemberton", a Boston lumber baron, raze the forest to the ground, they leave quite a body count. This Lady MacBeth-meets-Appalachia thriller will definitely hold your attention.” Please remind me to introduce John to some nice girls who while they know their way around knives they tend to use them only for the making of a salad.
Stephanie is working on NW by Zadie Smith.” I grabbed it the day it came out because I can't resist a new book by Zadie. In this one, the intertwined stories of the childhoods and then adulthoods of four Londoners, her writing is as jaw-dropping as ever, with sentences that just stopped my reading eyes in their tracks. Though the story was not as compelling as those of other books she's written, the characterization is spot-on. She's a master at drifting between serious thoughtfulness and then a moment of pique or whimsy. Here's one of my favorite passages, in which she gives voice to a fear many of we lifelong readers have harbored: ‘She wanted to read things—could not resist wanting to read things—and reading was easily done, and relatively inexpensive. On the other hand, that she should receive any praise for such reflexive habits baffled the girl, for she knew herself to be fantastically stupid about many things. Wasn’t it possible that what others mistook for intelligence might in fact be only a sort of mutation of the will?’”
Jeanne is feeling, well, rather meh about this week’s read but in the end declares it worthy. “I read When it Happens to You: A Novel in Stories by Molly Ringwald. Yes that Molly Ringwald: the one from The Breakfast Club Sixteen Candles, and Pretty in Pink! And I liked the novel, a lot. It reads very correctly (no typos, good sentences) like it was the result of a very good writing class. It is written in eight short stories with three characters that appear prominently or secondarily in all the stories. Greta and Phillip have a troubled marriage. The stories relate how they and their young daughter, Charlotte are coping with this. Other people in the stories are peripheral to the central issue, but have issues of their own. The characters are not very deep; the plot is not very thick, but stuff happens. The book has heart.”
I want it noted that this week it is I who is being made to read something. One of my favorite patrons, Sandy D. (her real name and yes we do have favorites and yes our love can be bought with chocolate) has been pushing The OrphanMaster by Jean Zimmerman into my hands every time she sees me. Well finely I had to succumb to her will. I loved Zimmerman’s Love Fiercely, so I am giving her fiction a shot. This historical thriller is set on the Island of Manhattan back when it was known as New Amsterdam. It would seem that the orphans of the island are going missing at an alarming rate. Is there a murderer afoot? So far I am really enjoying this look into 1663 New York.
This week, while a short one, has been full of challenges for us. Frankly, we are tired. With this in mind we have some howling, a political prisoner, an unhappy Numbers Woman, some OCD, walking, more walking, walking and lugging, a search for truth, some dishonor, a rabbit in a pot and a whole lot of whining,
You will also notice please that not ONE PERSON is accusing me of making them do things this week. Thank you.
Let us begin!
Erin is reading Caitlin Moran's How to Be a Woman. “It has been touted as the British Bossypants and I can absolutely see why. While books tend to make me cry at the drop of a hat, it's much more difficult to get me to laugh out loud. But this morning I was howling on the subway as Caitlin describes the tragedy of her first period and her unwillingness to accept the inevitable: she will become a woman. Here's a choice line, ‘I want my entire reproductive system taken out and replaced with spare lungs, for when I start smoking. I want that option. This is pointless.’”
Ann is as usual looking for the bright spot in a bad situation. This is just how she is. She can’t help it.” I am reading A Hundred Flowers by Gail Tsukiyama. I have always been a fan of Ms. Tsukiyama's work from The Samurai's Garden to Dreaming Water. I was happy to see her new book and happy that I read it. A Hundred Flowers takes place in 1957 when Chairman Mao declared a more open society for all of the Chinese people including teachers, artists, etc. This turns out to NOT be the case and begins a family's nightmare. Shing, a strong teacher with many political ideas promises his wife he will not get involved in this new political movement. Much to his wife's surprise and shock he is arrested and becomes a political prisoner. His young son, Tao, looks for his father and is injured doing so, his wife Kai Ying is devastated, but it is Shing's father, a renowned professor, who will face the biggest challenge of his life. This is a story of great love, compassion and forgiveness.”
Alison our Numbers Woman is unhappy. Believe me when I tell you this is to be avoided at all costs. This is especially true on the 15th and the 30th of the month. ” I am almost done reading James Patterson's Zoo and I am NOT liking it. It does not ring of Patterson at all (of course it was co-written, although I can't believe he did anything). From page 4 you knew what the problem was and what would happen. All you have to wait for is the solution. Why do I keep reading you ask? I have too many pages invested to stop now.”
Gretchen is exploring her dark side. “I am on a dark and scary reading kick it seems. I am taking home the Neil Cross's Luther; The Calling galley, because I LOVE that show and want to see how the writer handles this medium. And while I just devoured Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes, I found I couldn't read it at night it was just too scary. It was a domestic abuse, OCD horror story. And then for something completely different, I discovered Magda Gerber's Caring for Infants with Respect parenting book. I have skipped the infant and jumping right into the toddler years. “ Happily her dark side does not seem to be colliding with her maternal side. This is good news indeed!
Tiny Tina the Basement Dweller is on the move! Go Tina! “I just finished reading Wild and loved it. Trekking the Pacific Crest Trail seems like a breeze after this week. I just started reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. Why am I reading all these books about walking?”
Pat T. is also walking! “ I am meandering along with Harold from the book The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce! Harold is a complacent retired gentleman set in his ways, but all this changes one day when he receives a letter from a long lost friend. Queenie is in hospice and wanted to say goodbye to Harold. Harold decides to do something extraordinary! He sets out to walk 660 miles to visit Queenie. On this journey Harold reflects on his life, his relationship with his wife Maureen and son David and is surprised by the kindness of strangers who give him shelter and help care for his blistered feet and aching body. One of our library friends who hails from England, Alan Haughton, recommended this charming book to me!”
Stephanie is walking also but she is lugging a tome. “This week I immersed myself in Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon. It is a door-stopper of a book, but every page was worth lugging it around on my commute. Solomon examines the idea of horizontal identities, which children develop independently in relation to their parents, such as autism, deafness, being a musical prodigy, or severe disability (as opposed to vertical identities, which are inherited from parents, such as skin color or ethnicity). He spent ten years interviewing hundreds of families, and their stories are the backbone of this fascinating examination not only of communities the average person knows little about, but also of the relationships between parents and children. At its heart the book is interested in questions all of us wonder about: how do you become who you are? How should we treat people who are different than we are? How much do parents have to do with who their children become? The book spends a lot of time in dark places, including the treatment of minors in prison as well as with the children who are the products of a rape, but Solomon is a writer of great skill and compassion and is able to be respectful, rather than exploitative, of these situations. As with his National Book Award-winning The Noonday Demon, Solomon is able to insert his personal experiences in a way that enhances the book, rather than distracting. It is a stellar book that I just can't stop thinking about. I think it's one of the finest works of non-fiction of 2012.”
Abby is unwilling to let her time Down East go. “I love Maine, and love mysteries. So, it makes sense Paul Doiron’s series featuring Mike Bowditch appeals to me. Bad Little Falls is the third in the series and is an enjoyable read. Having once again managed to upset the decision-makers in his search for truth, young Maine game warden Mike Bowditch has been sent into exile on the Canadian border. The Down East locals who enjoy illegal activities do not take kindly to his presence and set about making him feel unwelcome. On the eve of a blizzard their antics make the discovery of a murder and some poorly thought- through personal entanglements even more complex. At several points I found myself saying out loud “Don’t do it, Mike!” A good cast of returning characters and the State Of Maine itself make for entertaining reads. And yes, do read in sequence. (I know I always say that. And I always mean it.) The first two are The Poacher's Son, and Trespasser.”
Jeannie is reading The Absolutist by John Boyne. “The story is about Tristan Sadler, a twenty year-old Londoner who has survived three gruesome years in the Great War. He lied about his age in order to enlist. It is now 1919 and he is taking the train to Norwich to deliver a packet of letters to the sister of someone he trained with and fought alongside. This "someone" who Tristan cared a great deal for was Will Bancroft, who had laid down his guns and declared himself a conscientious objector, bringing dishonor to the Bancroft family and confusion to Tristan. The letters are not the only reason for the visit. Tristan harbors a dark secret; one that he is desperate to unburden himself of if he can muster the courage. I was skeptical at first as the story starts slowly, but I was intrigued by the title! This is a war where men are being blown up and dying, but the explosion in the book comes when Boyne develops an unexpected twist in the story that knocked the wind out of me. The imagery on the battlefield and language between the characters evoke a picture of the sad, tragic fact of man's inhumanity to man that goes way beyond the war itself.”
John,aka the Warlock of Minecraft has some company on this week’s commute, but it seems to be a bit unsettling. “This week, I'm listening to the rabbit-in-a-pot-boiler, Gone Girl. It's hard to talk about this book without letting any spoilers slip. Leaving out any details, it starts as a classic wife-gone-missing-so-obviously-the-husband-killed-her story, then goes off on a much creepier, more alarming and suspenseful jag. Gillian Flynn has an amazing understanding of the nature and dynamics of relationships and applies it in this novel to create a heady psychological thriller that will keep you turning the pages (or in my case, listening) well into the wee hours of the morning. “
I am reading George How Colt’s book Brothers: George Howe Colt on His Brothers And Brothers in History. For those of you who read and loved The Big House as I did already know that he was not a big fan of his time during his childhood that he lived here. Well frankly, he is a big grown man and he needs to get over it and move on. The whining is driving me crazy. So this being said, I am, nevertheless, really enjoying the historical brother parts. His research is fascinating. Just follow my advice, when he starts in moaning, move on to the History bits. You’ll be glad you did. This one comes out in November.
This week we have some quiet and some secrets, Paris (whew! I was getting worried!), and Canada, a depressed town, an amnesiac and a cast of thousands.
Let us begin!
Barbara M., who is no one’s idea of a shrinking violet, is here this week with a Non-Fiction pick and a Fiction pick! “I’m rereading Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain in preparation for the discussion Ann and I are leading on September 18th. It’s a validation of introversion and an explanation of how introverts function in schools, the workplace and in relationships. It’s an interesting book whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert or an ambivert. I’m also listening to The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale. I love books that have parallel stories and this one goes back and forth between Daniel Kennedy, who with his partner Nancy survives a plane crash in the Galápagos Islands, and Daniel’s great-grandfather Andrew in the midst of World War I. The story alludes to many secrets which I’m sure will be unraveled before the end. I can’t wait to see how Gustav Mahler fits into the story.”
Jeanne, who it must be noted just finished getting her MLS (way to go Jeanne!) now has time again to read for pleasure! “It sometimes happens that when a person sets out to use another person for their own pleasure or gain, it is difficult to tell who is using who. This seems the case in The Bay of Foxes by Sheila Kohler. The setting is 1978 Paris. A very wealthy and glamorous, but aging author, known only as “M.” takes note of the extraordinarily beautiful youth sitting across from her in a cafe. Dawit, a once privileged Ethiopian, is a refugee of the tragic Ethiopian-Somali war and has been watching and studying her too. He has read her books. M. is a popular, well-known celebrity and accustomed to getting what she wants. She invites him to her table and makes a proposition to be her personal secretary. He is not in a position to refuse as he is destitute and hungry. He soon discovers that M. wants much more than just secretarial services from him. Is it too much? Kohler tells of the tragic past, turbulent present and uncertain future of both characters with sensual imagery. I listened to the audiobook Canada by Richard Ford with Holter Graham as the narrator. I had never read a novel by Ford and at first I thought it seemed anticlimactic as the very start of the story promises bank robbers and multiple murders. Where can you go from there? Where's the suspense? Where's the mystery? But, as it turns out, Ford is a good storyteller. Dell Parsons and his twin sister, Berner, are only fifteen when these events occur and their parents and family friends are involved. Dell and Berner are now sixty-five years old and the story is told from Dell's point of view - what he thought, how he survived, why he is now a Canadian citizen when he was born in Great Falls, Montana. It's difficult to actually like or root for Ford's characters, but it is an interesting study of the difficulties of managing a family in 1960 when the Southern father has just left the Air Force, the mother is Jewish and the kids are just plain confused and ungrounded.”
Abby is doing some advance reading! “Elsewhere by Richard Russo is a wonderful memoir by one of the most talented authors writing today. Over the years, Russo has used fiction to re-visit his youth and has on occasion, been criticized for returning to that well one too many times. Elsewhere explains why. Russo's dad left the family early on, leaving his mom to raise him in the depressed town of Gloversville, NY. If you have read just about anything by him, you know depressed towns are a main character in his books. While surrounded by extended family, he was given the burden of caring for his emotionally fragile mother Jean. Keeping a tight grip on young Richard, Jean even follows him across country when he leaves for college. By examining his relationship with his mother, Russo begins to process both the past and the present, including his intense and painful feelings towards Gloversville. This very moving and insightful book is out in October. “
Stephanie visited an old friend this week. “I read A Sunless Sea by Anne Perry this week. I just can't resist her name on the cover of a book! This is the latest in her series featuring William Monk, amnesiac river policeman of the mid-nineteenth century, and his daring wife Hester. In the first chapter, on his regular patrol, Monk finds a woman brutally murdered, and before long, he finds himself in the middle of a conspiracy stretching back to the Opium Wars. Their friend Rathbone agrees to defend the woman falsely accused of the murder, so the book is split in equal parts between Monk's investigating and Rathbone's courtroom drama, both sides digging into the dirty secrets of Britain's richest families. It wasn't quite as enthralling as I usually find her books, but still very good and a solid entry in the Perry oeuvre.”
I am loving Back to Blood by Tom Wolfe. Wolfe is going to do to Miami what he did to New York in ’87 so look out! It has the usual Wolfe cast of thousands, including a Cuban Cop, a black police chief, the Yalie newspaperman, the Anglo sex therapist and his Latina nurse/lover, and the billionaire sex addict just to name a few. This being Wolfe you know that their worlds will all eventually collide and you can’t help but sit back and enjoy the show. This one comes out in October.
This week we have multiple generations, a book club of two, a disclaimer, some Berlin, some London, a loser, another week with a geezer, and eight chicks who click. Pictures that is!
Let us begin!
John is reading one of my favorites of the year. “I just started The Undertow by Jo Baker and I was pulled into it right away. It's a novel that follows the lives of one British family from the death of a father and husband during World War I through present day. I'm always fascinated by stories that span multiple generations because they show us how forgotten events percolate down through time and shape our lives. Baker crafts her prose carefully as she moves between different perspectives--a novel like this is a challenge because of the span of time it covers, but she is able to maintain a narrative that is easy to follow from the moment it captures your attention on the shores of Gallipoli.”
Barbara M. is reading a book I am totally passionate about. “Taking Jen’s advice I started reading The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe. As his mother undergoes treatment for pancreatic cancer Schwalbe discusses books with her. They’ve always exchanged and discussed books but this time they form a book club of two allowing them to talk about the difficult issues facing them. Schwalbe’s mother is an incredible person and their relationship is enviable. So far the only down side to this book is that it is adding to my absurdly long list of books I would like to read. “
And here is another vote from Stephanie! “Here is another RA vote for The End Of Your Life Book Club, after Jen forced me to read it! This is the story of a woman and her son's impromptu book club, which developed as he sat with her during an early chemo treatment for pancreatic cancer. Mary Anne Schwalbe is a true inspiration and this book is a must-read for all book lovers (after it comes out in October). I am now starting on Crossing To Safety as a result of this book, since it's one of the first they discussed together. The one downside to this book is that it's dangerous to one's to-be-read list.”
Disclaimer: I just want to interject here that they are making me out to be more bossy and bullying than I really am. I prefer the terms passionate and insistent. Thank you. Oh and this wonderful, wonderful book will be coming out in October. And yes, I INSIST that you read it.
Pat S. is doing a little obsessive research this week by reading A Woman in Berlin by Anonymous. “Following up on City of Women, this is a remarkable first person account of the fall of Berlin as told in an eight week diary written by a thirty year old single woman. It is a fascinatingly clear-eyed view of both the victors and the vanquished. By the end of the war Berlin had become a city populated by women and old men-completely vulnerable. The author describes the noise and fear and dislocation of bombs and bullets, mass rape by a never-ending parade of Russian soldiers. She writes of repeated daily humiliations by the victors. Yet above all these horrors, the author writes of the privation of food, water and electricity which defined their world and actually motivated them through each day as they sought food and water and wood-as they fought to survive. It is this blind drive to survive and to re-establish some manner of order that comes across to the reader as being primordial. This is an engrossing portrait of the human spirit.”
Pat T. is taking some friendly advice and no, it was not from me! ” Based on co-workers recommendations, I have just begun reading What the Nanny Saw by Fiona Neill and so far I must say I like it! Ali Sparrow has just taken on the job of nanny for the wealthy London Skinner Family. Her job description is to care for the four children-18 year old Jake, 15 year old Izzy and five year old twins, as well as to organize the Skinner's domestic life. The Skinner's privileged lifestyle is a whole new experience for Ali and she is a keen observer of the family dynamics, which will change dramatically over the course of her employment with the family. “
Abby’s perseverance pays off! ‘I've read all the novels by Jonathan Tropper and like most authors; some efforts produce a better outcome than others. His latest, One Last Thing Before I Go, had me concerned for a solid 1/3 of the book that this was not going to be a read I enjoyed, but sure enough he pulled though. The main character is Drew Silver, always referred to by the Cher-like moniker "Silver." Having been the member of a one hit wonder band in the 80's and following his divorce, Silver is leading an empty life at a dreary efficiency motel occupied by other divorced men struggling to find their way. When Silver learns he may die at at any moment, he declines potentially lifesaving surgery. A series of mini-strokes destroy his filter and he begins to express whatever thoughts pop into his head. At the same time, his daughter whom he has failed throughout her life seeks him out. Silver is a bit of a loser, but Tropper's does a great job writing the unfiltered and frequently beautiful thoughts that pour from his unfiltered mouth. Redemption, humor, and some lovely prose made this a book worth finishing.”
Jeannie is still in Geezerville! “I am reading yet another book with a retired gentleman at its center. And Harold Fry is nothing if not gentlemanly, maybe too much so. But he is an Englishman and Englishmen are often too proper and correct for their own and others' good. In the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, Harold is walking and walking and walking toward a woman that he once worked with who now has cancer. But what about his wife at home? This is a brilliant, funny, tragic, warm tale of a journey where postcards are more precious than love letters. I want to start from the first page again!”
I am in the middle of Eight Girls Taking Pictures by Whitney Otto. In eight different vignettes Whitney looks at the lives of eight different female photographers throughout the twentieth century. While this is a work of fiction the questions that are raised are very real. They deal with politics, motherhood, relationships and the idea of joyful work. Can women ever truly merge all that with art? And how is it that we are still looking at these issues one hundred years later? I loved her first novel How to Make an American Quilt and I am equally in love with this one. It comes out in November.