While we are few this week due to lots and lots of vacationing staff (it is August after all!) what we do offer this week is rather interesting in its variety. This week we have some alt history, a social outcast, France (it is back!), London and Cambodia.
Let us begin!
Stephanie was happily prepared for the commuting strife earlier this week . “This week the best thing I read was definitely The Impeachment Of Abraham Lincoln, by Stephen L. Carter. I was stuck on a train for a few hours on Monday but I barely noticed it thanks to this absorbing work of alternative history. Carter begins from a seductively simple question—what if President Lincoln had survived his assassination attempt in 1865? The answer: the various factions who detested him would have put him on trial for multiple offenses, including the charge that he attempted to permanently take over the government with the help of the military. Told from the perspectives of the people defending the President in front of the Senate, with the bulk of the book devoted to Abigail, a young black woman who dreams of being a lawyer, it’s perfect for people who still miss watching The West Wing. It’s equal parts historical fiction and legal thriller with a dash of old-fashioned procedural (and even a little spy action), and a total page-turner. “ Let this week’s commuting woes be a valuable lesson! NEVER be without a book!
The Amazing Amanda is reading The Eternal Ones by Kirsten Miller. “Meet Haven. She’s seventeen and lives with her controlling religious grandmother in a small town in Tennessee. She’s a social outcast because she has visions of her past lives. After being publically declared as being possessed by the Devil, Haven decides to run away to New York City. There she hopes to meet Ethan, her soul-mate from her past life visions. However, meeting Ethan in this new life as Iain does not necessarily mean happy ever after for this southern girl. Miller’s book is a page turner that breathes life into the mannerism and culture of small town America. Haven is just eccentric enough to keep her likable. However, the current YA trend of possessive and controlling teenage boys is overwrought no matter how destined the lovers are for each other.
Jeanne has just finished the Age of Desire by Jennie Fields. “I thought it started a bit slow, much like Wharton's own Custom of the Country which I read a few years ago and which she was writing during the time frame of the Age of Desire. But the tempo picks up in both and merits page turning as Ms. Fields leads us from France to the United States and back several times in a whirlwind of society guests, salons and assignations. A number of very private letters between Edith Wharton and Morton Fullerton became available for public viewing and from these; Ms. Fields enraptures us in a tale of wanton sexual awakening, jealousies and (misguided) loyalties. I was torn between good for them! And how dare they! You'll never read House of Mirth quite the same way!”
Ann is in an Olympic state of mind with Gold by Chris Cleave. “This is quite an appropriate book for this final week of the London Summer Olympics of 2012. Chris Cleave has his main characters competing for the open spot on the British women's speed cycling team. Zoe and Kate have been friends and fierce competitors for many years. Kate is married to Jack an Olympian speed cyclist and the mother of Sophie. Sophie is quite ill and Kate has made enormous sacrifices to be by her daughter's side. Zoe, although with her own problems to deal with, can focus more on her training. These women will become even more involved with each other as the Olympic Games approach. I loved Little Bee by Chris Cleave which is a remarkable book if you haven't read it. Gold is not up to the level of Little Bee, but I must say I liked it better than I thought I would. It's an enjoyable summer read.”
I am really enjoying In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner. Seven year old Raami is a princess who lives behind tall walls that shelter her and her extended family. Her world is safe and secure until a fateful day when the Khmer Rouge literally knock on the garden gate and order the family to leave immediately. Thus begins a period of horrific suffering and loss. This being said it is Ratner’s amazing voice that makes this novel sing and soar despite the subject matter. The author actually lived this reality and was 5 when the genocide began.
This week we have some Nazis, a stalker, zombies courtesy of The Citizen, love and loss, a geneticist and a vampire, mental illness, and a giant. And notice please, week 2 of no Paris. Must be the heat.
As for the Harold Fry controversy of last week, more readers are weighing in on the love side of the equation. In fact Kelly the Fabulous Hairdresser, who some of you may remember from years past, weighs in with this: “I cannot read more than a chapter at a time because I cannot bear to have it end. I love love love this book!” Sorry Marianne. You are just going to have to try it again!
Let us begin!
Barbara M. is back with one of her obsessions. “I'm reading HHhH by Laurent Binet a historic fiction book which won Binet the Goncourt Prize for a debut novel in 2010. The subject is World War II, more specifically the assassination of the Nazi Reinhard Heydrich, known as ‘The Butcher of Prague.’ The quirky thing about this book is that the narrator interrupts the story from time to time to tell you about his own life and which facts are true and which are imagined by him. I'm not finding these interruptions at all bothersome. Rather, I think it adds to the tension of the story. “
Pat T. is waist deep in summer fun! “I am reading The Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarty and I am finding it to be a good beach read. It's a love story with a bit of intrigue. The young couple, Ellen and Patrick, is being stalked by Patrick's ex-girlfriend Saskia. You gain insight into a stalker's mind set, as well as the lengths they will go to pursue their victim.”
Citizen Asha provides no surprises this week. “I just finished ParaNorman by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. Norman Babcock is not like the other children, in fact, he is reminded daily by his classmates, older sister, father, everyone really about how different he is. Norman can see and speak to ghosts, this does not help with his popularity but there are perks, as he is able to speak to his late grandmother. One day he is approached by his great uncle Prenderghast who informs him that he needs to use his ability to keep the Blithe Hollow Witch asleep. Seems simple, until he realizes that something has gone awry and the earth has started to shift beneath him. Enter…zombies! My favorite! I enjoyed following Norman and his cohorts battling the undead while trying to save the town from the Witch’s curse. This book was wonderful and I look forward to watching the movie in August.”
Ann has just finished a book that we are evangelists for, Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. “This is a beautifully written book about love and loss. June loves her Uncle Finn who is dying of AIDS in the 1980's when people did not know much about the disease or were open to different lifestyles. Her mother, Finn's sister, refuses to let her family be around her brother's lover who she blames for giving her brother AIDS. Uncle Finn and June have a terrific relationship and June is devastated when he dies. She then meets his partner, Toby, and they form a special relationship to fill Finn's void in their lives. This book also explores sibling rivalry and family dynamics. Tell the Wolves I'm Home is a wonderful read. “
Children’s Librarians Elisabeth and Kiera are stepping out of the world of Kid Lit this week with their mutual obsession, the sequel to the thrilling adult fantasy A Discovery of Witches. Elisabeth says, “Deborah Harkness’ Shadow of Night is amazing! Leaving behind the modern-day setting of the first novel, Diana (a historian and witch) travels back in time to 1590 with her husband Matthew (a geneticist and vampire) to find someone to teach Diana how to control her magic. While immersed in the life of a 16th courtier in Queen Elizabeth’s court, they dabble in espionage, politics, and science; risk their lives in England, France, and Prague; and find friendship and enemies among the most noted scholars of the time: William Shakespear, Christopher Marlow, and Sir Walter Raleigh. The author is a history professor at USC and a Fulbright Scholar, and the historical details are so meticulously researched you feel as if you were living in the Elizabethan Age. A perfect read for anyone who loves history, fantasy, romance, danger, and adventure!”
Stephanie is heading over to Asha’s side of the street. It is dark there. Very, very dark. “At Asha’s recommendation I read The Darkest Child by Delores Phillips. Phew, it’s a fantastic book, but a dark and sad one. This is the story of a dysfunctional family living in rural Georgia just after the Brown v. Board of Education ruling, where racial tensions are rising. Tangy Mae Quinn is fighting to keep her sanity intact and her sisters safe in the face of her mother’s mental illness, and to imagine a future outside her small town. It’s so well-written that I can’t believe it’s a debut, but be prepared for the intensity of the story. I’m going to start a Janet Evanovich book next to give my brain a little rest!”.
I am really enjoying Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach. The Hochmeyers of Westport seem to have it all. There is the beautiful tennis whiz daughter who goes to Yale, a tall handsome son who is Princeton bound, country club memberships and a lovely home across a pond from a famous rock star and his equally famous ballet dancer wife. But when the parent are mysteriously murdered after the revelation the father’s shady business dealings, things go awry. Told from perspective of the son, this book is full of intrigue, revenge, family relationships, and more than a little temptation.
This week we have pool-side sci-fi, secret friends, some advice, more advice and heartache,global warming, Vietnam, a decoy, prison, clinical depression and a pilgrimage. But! Surprise! There is no Paris.
Let us begin!
John aka The Warlock of Minecraft is working on the following: “I'm shamelessly reading Amped by Daniel H. Wilson. From the twisted mind that brought us Robopocalypse, comes this summer’s sci-fi pool-side read. Taking place in the not-so-distant future, Amped describes a world where medical brain implants are used to treat conditions like Down syndrome, Fetal alcohol syndrome, brain damage, epilepsy, and even ADD. The implants dramatically improve the brain function and increase the intelligence of the patients they are surgically "installed" in and quickly become an elective surgery for people of average intelligence. When the Supreme Court rules that altered humans or "Amps" may not be offered equal protection under the constitution, they are persecuted and herded into ghettos where they become organized and plot to secure their future and ready themselves for a coming war."
Pat T. is finding it hard to move forward after finishing one of my favorites of the summer. This is a feeling I can empathize with! “I have just finished reading a highly recommended book Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. Fourteen year old June Elbus is a favored niece of her Uncle Finn, a famous painter dying of aids in the mid 80's. After her Uncle's death, June develops a secretive friendship with Toby, Finn's partner of 10 years, while dealing with the fragile bonds of sisterhood as she and her sister Greta act out their sibling rivalry. This coming of age story will spoil you for your next read!”
Erin is sticking with her recent obsession and some may say stalking tendency over a certain author. "I just finished Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed, a collection of advice columns she published under the pseudonym Sugar on The Rumpus, an online literary journal. If you enjoyed Strayed’s voice in Wild and decided you would be best friends with her after finishing that memoir, you’ll enjoy this collection of question and answer letters. Strayed is not your typical advice columnist. Her responses become her own life narrative and reading this after enjoying Wild is recommended because you’ll already have a good background on her past."
Ann is reading Gone by Cathi Hanauer. “This was a good book with an interesting premise. Eve and Eric are married with two children, a teen daughter and a younger son. Eric is an artist who is experiencing a mental block and has been unable to produce his sculptures. This is adding a financial burden to his wife, Eve, who has written a diet/advice book and has taken on private clients to coach to a healthy life style. One night, Eric drives the babysitter home and does not come back. Eve assumes he is off having an affair with the sitter. Eric ends up going to visit his mom and learns some truths about her life and his upbringing. Eric does try to call Eve to tell her what is actually happening but she refuses to take his calls. He does text his daughter to let her know he loves his family. It is an interesting story, but as a wife I would have answered the phone when he called. It would have saved a lot of heartache.”
Barbara M. is back from vacation! Welcome back Barbara! Here is what she is working on. "I'm reading an advance copy of Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver and although it is clear that she has a message and an agenda (to make the world aware of global warming) her writing is absolutely lyrical, her descriptions vivid, and her characters so real that you care about them and want to know how it ends."
Marianne has a rather nifty suggestion this week. “This is the second year that my book group at the Library has spent the three months of summer reading books and then watching the movies that were made from them. Recently we did "The Quiet American" by Graham Greene. This is the story of turbulent 1950's Vietnam when the French were engaged in fighting the Communists. The author also details the undercover actions the United States was taking in those days. Both the book and movie were controversial when they were released because of the anti-American stance that many thought the author took. The main character and narrator of the story is Fowler, a middle-aged English journalist, who is covering the war in Vietnam, and is involved with a young Vietnamese beauty Phuong. Everything gets complicated when Pyle, a naïve American enters the picture and sets out to take Phuong and to pursue naive American political interests. One member of our group said she's always looking for something meaty and this book was certainly that. Read it or watch the movie. You won't be disappointed.”
The Delightful Tech Goddess Amanda is letting her ears do the reading as she works on The False Princess by Eilis O’Neal. Nalia is a shy princess, more content with reading and exploring her father’s castle than making grand appearances. In every way she has been raised up to be a fine leader of her country one day as the sole heir. However, that all changes when her parents reveal that she is actually a decoy for the real princess. The real Nalia with a cursed prophecy on her head and was hidden away till after her 16th birthday. Now, the false princess is Sinda and she is sent to her only relative and her princess education is useless to her now. However, magic is afoot and the plot thickens as Sinda returns to the capitol. The voice actress for this audiobook speaks with a reserved and proper voice for Nalia/Sinda and easily brings other characters to life as she manipulates her voice.
Jeanne is reading onward! “The saga developed in the Shadow of the Wind and The Angel's Game continues under the masterful literary pen of Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Just as gripping as the first and less surreal than the second, The Prisoner of Heaven is engrossing with the suspense, intrigue and danger that envelop these characters in the murky underworld of Barcelona. The prison scenes are especially chilling. The book is as much a page-turner as Shadow of the Wind with many of the same characters you rooted for and the ones you wished unspeakable curses on.”
Stephanie is in the middle of The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression by Andrew Solomon. “Because I am excited about his new book coming out this fall, and am taking it as an excuse to finally read this one, which has been recommended to me several times. So far I am just floored by how fantastic it is. The book, which won the National Book Award for nonfiction in 2001 and was also a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize that year, is a personal and an academic journey into the world of clinical depression, in its many guises and on its many levels. Solomon examines not only what it is like to feel depressed and how depression is experienced by family and friends, but also the history, treatment, science, and politics of depression--and does it with a breathtaking amount of grace and intelligence. The material of the book is, well, depressing, and often fairly dense, but Solomon is a true craftsman, making the book almost joyful to read. Whether or not your life or the life of a loved one has been touched by depression, this is a book well worth reading, simply to marvel at the task Solomon has set out for himself, and how well he has achieved it.
I started The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce because of all the controversy surrounding it down in RA. Marianne hates it like a Brussels sprout. Others are cheerleading it like crazy so I just have to see for myself! So far I am rather charmed by Harold and his pilgrimage of 500 miles across England to the bed side of a dying friend. Marianne just may be wrong (this is a rare thing) as this was long listed for the Booker this week.
This week we have Law & Order, competition, a dark secret, a test which you hope you don’t pass, the English countryside, St. Petersburg, France , South Africa (we are all over the map this week! ) and a play date!
Let us begin!
Erin is excited! “This week I’m reading Night Watch by Linda Fairstein. How great is it to read a thriller about a tough Manhattan prosecutor who flees bad guys on motorcycles while wearing heels? Fairstein is the former head of the sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office so she knows what she’s talking about. Turn off those Law & Order re-runs and read this instead. AND! She’ll be here July 23rd at 7!”
Caroline is currently racing through Gold by Chris Cleave. "For those of you who liked Little Bee and Incendiary, you’ll find the same great writing with a very different story – about two female Olympic cyclists. These women, now in their 30’s, met when they were teenagers and have been training and competing ever since. They are always #1 or #2, and so are balancing friendship, family and incredible close competition. Perfectly timed to get you excited for the summer Olympics, and you won’t be able to put this one down."
Miss Keira is reading Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennpacker . "Stella and Angel, two young girls staying with Stella’s Great-Aunt Louise in Cape Cod for the summer, have a dark secret buried deep in the garden. The girls are like oil and water- they just can’t seem to see eye-to-eye and they spend most of their days avoiding one another. But as the pressure builds, the tiny lies get larger, and the two girls find themselves being drawn closer together in order to keep their shared secret. This is a surprising story, with a dark humor rarely seen in children’s literature. It’s also oddly charming. You’ll root for these characters and want to take them home with you. This is a great summer read for ages 9 and up."
Miss Sam has just finished The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson. " It is a fabulous non-fiction read, a perfect length and so interesting that it is seriously difficult to put down. Mr. Robson is a journalist exploring the world of the psychopath. Because the psychopath is such a tricky, deceiving and extremely dangerous person, Mr. Ronson questions how psychiatrist can make an accurate diagnose of a true psychopath before a grisly crime is committed. He visits prisons and hospitals for the mentally ill. He interviews a death-squad leader who was imprisoned for mortgage fraud, not murder! Go figure. Who are these people? After Mr. Ronson discovers a relatively new check list psychiatrist use for diagnosis, he finds himself diagnosing all types of people and personalities. Relatively ordinary people are defined by their most insane attributes. Is this also madness?"
Jeannie is, of course, working on two titles at once."I finally finished Mark Haddon's, The Red House. Haddon, a master at dysfunctional relationships in families is clever and all too caustic in his portrayal of people trying to cohabitate for a week in the English countryside and manages to bring out the unexpected in each other. A middle-aged brother and sister have recently lost their last parent. Richard is a successful, though troubled doctor (remarried to a beautiful wife, unpredictable teenage stepdaughter); Angela is the dowdy sister with her family (unfaithful husband, two teenagers, one struggling with identity, and a younger son). The story is a bit choppy and there are places where you think you have skipped a page but, in the end it is entertaining and has some interesting, if unsettling twists. I also read The Mirrored World by Debra Dean. Remember Madonnas of Leningrad? Well Dean once again engages us with her evocative language as she follows the lives of two young women - Dasha who is practical and staunchly loyal; Xenia who is dreamy and slightly mad. The two are of lower nobility in eighteenth century St. Petersburg. Dean draws you into the strange, sometimes cruel demands and social conventions of the royal court of the Empress Catherine. Arranged marriages, superstitions and masquerades are all painted with romantic prose, set against the bleak Russian climate. There is not a lot of solid action with Dean, but she gives the reader much to think about as she often fleshes out the spirituality of her characters intentions and actions."
Ann is not exactly enthused with The Queen's Lover: A Novel by Francine du Plessix Gray. " This is the fictional account of the long lasting affair between Marie Antoinette and Swedish Count, Axel Von Fersen. It was an interesting story with intrigue, romance and disaster. The author used material and actually quoted from the journals of the Count which were quite informative and heartfelt about the French court, his love of Marie and the events of the French Revolution. Ms. du Plessix Gray also told the Count's Story through his sister's point of view. The author mixed actual material with fictionalized accounts and because of this the writing at times did not flow smoothly. This was an okay read if you want to learn a little bit more of the romance between these two historical figures."
Abby is playing cheerleader this week! “Sometimes you find an author you really pull for, and that is how I feel about Malla Nunn. I'm currently enjoying her third novel in the Emmanuel Cooper series, Blessed Are The Dead. I believe in reading mystery series' in sequence and that rule applies here. In A Beautiful Place To Die (2009), we met Detective Emmanuel Cooper of the Johannesburg, South Africa police department in the early 1950's, just as that country is implementing its heinous apartheid laws. In Blessed Are The Dead, Emmanuel, once again joined by Samuel Shabalala of the Native Branch Police Force, must solve the murder of a tribal chief's daughter. Nunn creates a fascinating and frustrating picture into South Africa's society and racial laws. Watching Emmanuel and Samuel navigate the system of apartheid, along with their own demons and the culture of Africa, makes for a thought provoking mystery.”
I am working on The Playdate by Louise Millar. Callie and Suzy are friends by necessity not necessarily choice. The only things they have in common are children of the same age and that they live on the same London street. New neighbor Debs seems more than a bit off. She hates loud noises and seems to be more than a little paranoid. Oh! And guess where she is employed? At the children’s school of course as an art teacher. You just know that when these worlds collide no good is going to come of it.
This week we have opened up the door to others working in the library. After all, the Desketeers are all about the fun of sharing. Unless it is chocolate. They won’t share that. If you value life and limb don’t even ask.
This week we have some bodies, some naked bodies, some conservancy, a horseman, a midwife, some life crisis, a little Scientology, and a man who made his living robbing banks.
Let us begin!
Ann is working her way through Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. “This was a very well written book and quite an interesting read. Although I think we know the story of Ann Boleyn and Henry VIII, following the events from Thomas Cromwell's point of view made a familiar story a page turner.”
Erin, who is our Programming Diva has just finished, How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti. “In the throes of a divorce and crippling writers’ block, Heti attempts to answer the question posed in her book’s title. The book is part memoir, part play, and part novel with erotic scenes sprinkled throughout. I cannot tell a lie – this book was weird. If you’re a fan of Miranda July’s story collection No One Belongs Here More Than You then you will enjoy it. “
Abby has finished an advance copy of On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson by William Souder which is coming out in September. “The book is a biography of Rachel Carson, the acclaimed author of The Sea Around Us. Her follow-up book Silent Spring created a huge stir and established her as an important voice and catalyst of the emerging environmental movement. In college during the 1920's, Carson started out as an enthusiastic English major until a charismatic female science instructor helped her discover biology as a field of study. Despite never having seen the ocean until she went off to pursue a Master’s Degree, she became an aquatic biologist. And remember, a woman pursuing an advanced degree in science was a rare thing back then. It's still early, but so far it's a wonderful portrait of a woman well ahead of her time whose work continues to impact our world. “
Pat T. reminds us of the “occupational hazards” those of us who work here face. ” While shelving on Main Street this week I came upon three short stories by Richard Russo. Since I really liked two of his other novels Empire Falls and Bridge of Sighs, I thought I would try these short stories The Whore's Child and Horseman. I would definitely recommend them, especially since it is delightful to read a story in one sitting from cover to cover!”
Amanda, aka Tech Goddess, is reading The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth. “The author was a midwife in the Docklands in post-WWII London. She blends facts about the history of midwifery and medicine alongside her first hand observations of prenatal care amongst the Docklands tenants. Each chapter is either a slice of life about the nuns and midwives of the hospital or delves into the private homes of the nearby residents. Each character is drawn to breathing life whether they are the mother of seven children or the little boy who grew up to be a bodyguard of Princess Diana.”
Won’t you please welcome Stephanie to our mix? She is the new Queen of the Desketeers and this week she is giving us two very different reads that she has been enjoying. “Capital by John Lanchester is the story of several families who live on upwardly mobile Pepys Lane, just outside London, at the beginning of the economic crisis. All are different and removed from each other--a banker, an elderly woman, the immigrant family who runs the corner store, a rising soccer state—but all start getting ominous postcards in the mail that say WE WANT WHAT YOU HAVE. As all are also in the middle of various life crises, which we see from chapter to chapter as Lancaster interweaves different viewpoints, they can’t imagine why anybody would. Lancaster is just a fantastic. Though he juggles a lot of stories and a lot of points of view, I never felt as though any of the stories were neglected or weak. The mystery of the postcards is the thread that ties the book together and it’s drawn out well, but the real joy of the book is how absorbing and genuine it is. This would be a fantastic book for anyone who wants vacation reading that’s not too light, not too heavy. The Psycopath Test by Jon Ronson is something that I just tore through. I was reading it while walking, I was so obsessed. It has to be one of the finest and most thoughtful non-fiction books I’ve read in a while (and so much fun that I almost felt a little guilty). Told from several different angles, Ronson takes you along for a few related adventures in the mental health industry, including several side trips into Scientology, the history of diagnosing and treating psychopathy, and a strange philosophical hoax. You couldn’t have a better guide to any of it. I enjoyed it so much that I plan to start his first book, THEM, this evening, because I was so sad when this one was done.”
I loved Sutton by J.R. Moehringer. You may remember Moehringer from his past non-fiction endeavors such as The Tender Bar and Open. Well, this is his first work of fiction and he tackles the very real story of Willie Sutton the bank robber. Willie was granted parole on Christmas Eve 1969. He proceeded to spend Christmas Day with a newspaperman and a photographer. While they want to focus on one particular event in Willie’s life, Willie has other plans and proceeds to give them Willie Sutton Life Tour of New York. Moehringer has painted the perfect portrait of a 20th century folk hero who was a contradiction in terms. This book will a have you cheering, against your better judgment for a gentlemanly bank robber whose first rule was hurt no one. When I finished it this morning I was already missing Willie’s voice. This is coming in September and will be in the catalog on Monday.
Salutations Everyone! This week we feature: old money, angels and demons, a few unhappy matrimonies, a brilliant, quirky and fiercely independent fourteen year old, life in the Tudor court, and mystical chess pieces...
Abby shares, “A few weeks ago my neighbors were very excited to share a book pick with me. The title they came up with was The Eight by Katherine Neville. Published in 1982, The Eight is like an epic version of The Da Vinci Code covering extraordinary times and places but is actually well written. The book is set against the background of the chess service belonging to King Charlemagne and a hunt for the mystical pieces that crosses over centuries. The book is so well researched; the parts that take place in the court of Catherine The Great cover some of the same fascinating information found in Robert Massie’s recent award winning biography Catherine the Great. The author is actually ahead of her time as the main current day character in 1972 is a female computer expert. It's over 500 pages so there's a lot yet to unfold. It took 30 years, but Neville recently released a sequel The Fire. My audio of The Passage by Justin Cronin continues this week; disc 8 of 29. I guess I need to drive more to finish this up!”
Ann just finished Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger. “This is a book that I was truly looking forward to and unfortunately it did not live up to my expectations. It is the story of Amina, from Bangladesh, who answers a dating site and moves to Rochester, NY to marry George. There is a conflict of religion which is never truly developed and the conflicts of Amina and George not truly knowing one another. Amina attends school and works many jobs to get her parents to the United States so they can live with Amina and George. This is something George initially does not want. It turns out that both Amina and George have secrets from their pasts that will impact their present lives. I feel this story could have been better if the author developed her characters and story line more.”
Barbara states, "I’ve just started reading Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel and so far it’s less cerebral and easier to read than Wolf Hall (which I loved) but just as well written. As a continuation it still takes place in the mind of Thomas Cromwell and begins when Henry VIII is tiring of Anne Boleyn and turning his attentions to Jane Seymour. Although we know how it will end Mantel makes the intrigues and politics of the court infinitely interesting.
I just finished The Space Between by Brenna Yovanoff. Daphne has a difficult life, she’s half angel, half demon, her father being Lucifer and her mother is the infamous Lilith. Then, to make matters even more fun, her brother Obie has gone missing. Her mother has sent her to Earth to find him. Only problem with that is, demons are not allowed to stay on Earth for too long, so she finds someone to her help; the heartbroken, self-destructive Truman,who just happens to be half angel, half human. Together, they try to find her brother while keeping a watch out for Azrael, the angel sent out to destroy demons who try to hide out on Earth. It was wonderfully written, and evenly paced.
Jeanne says: “I just finished Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt. This is a surprising, bittersweet novel about first loves and losses. June is a 14 year old girl living in Westchester County with her mom, dad and 16 year old sister in the eighties. The story follows her conflicted relationships with everyone, especially the very close one she shares with her Uncle Finn living in New York City and very ill with AIDS. June believes he is the only one who understands and appreciates her. Brunt's beautiful language is inspired as she relates the angst of adolescence and illness with warmth and wit. This is one of the best books I have read this year!”
Meg is currently reading Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed, and she is thoroughly enjoying it. It is about Cheryl’s journey to find herself, while hiking alone along the Pacific Crest Trail across the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Cheryl is a great storyteller and this book is extremely easy to follow. She cannot wait to see how it ends.
Pat S. is reading Glitter and Gold: The Real Life of the Real American Duchess by Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan. This is a most interesting autobiography of the famed Vanderbilt heiress who was sold into a titled marriage at the age of nineteen to further her mother's aristocratic pretensions. Unfortunately, this was no fairytale. This misalliance produced nothing more than the required two children (the heir and the spare), and 20 odd years of emotional isolation for all parties involved. However, Vanderbilt Balsan writes movingly about trying to define herself and her own interests as she sets about making a life with some emotional fulfillment. After many years of success in supporting causes for underprivileged women and children, she found true love in late mid-life. It provides not only an interesting portrait of the lifestyle of late nineteenth century British aristocracy, but the more timeless tale of defining a life of personal authenticity.
Pat T. says: “I spent my vacation days reading The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan and I felt as sea sick as the passengers in lifeboat 14! The story is narrated by Grace who is on trial, along with two other women, for murder because of their actions while adrift in the ocean for 20 days after the ocean liner "Empress Alexander" exploded. Grace recalls the harrowing days in the overcrowded boat as the passengers deal with too little food and water and a power struggle of authority. The passengers in the lifeboat are at the mercy of the natural elements, as well as the manipulation of the shrewdest passengers who become the self-proclaimed leaders.”
This week we have some Chanel (lucky us!), opiates, vampires, a plague, disintegration, an art mystery, a baby mystery and a most unlikely of Cougars.
Let us begin!
Barbara M. is in Paris again and is reading The Secret of Chanel No. 5: The Intimate History of the World's Most Famous Perfume by Tilar J. Mazzeo. “This is really a biography of the perfume; how it was conceived; how it was or wasn’t marketed; how it’s evolved and why it has lasted for so long. It’s fascinating. “
Abby is no surprise here delving into a Swedish mystery! What is surprising is her take on it. “I had been walking around with a copy of Strindberg's Star by Jan Wallentin just waiting for it to be the right time to dig in. At last the time came. Swedish thriller/mystery, some occult thrown in, conspiracies - sounded like a great summer read to me. It begins with the discovery of a perfectly preserved body in a mine shaft that leads to a psychiatrist/historian who totes around a shoulder bag so stuffed with tranquilizers and opiates he could sedate a medium sized village. About 20% in, I had to put it down never again to be touched. On a so far more positive note I'm listening to The Passage by Justin Cronin. This book was a big hit and there is a lot of buzz for the upcoming sequel, The Twelve. I had only heard it was a vampire book and wasn't terribly interested but a friend threatened to disown me if I didn't give it a try. I appreciate that kind of passion. It's a long recording so it will take some time to really unfold. “
Marianne is revisiting an old friend. “I'm reading for the second time Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks. I'm doing it again so that I can discuss it with the Post Road Seniors, a new book group that formed this summer. While the book is fiction it is based on a true account of how in 1666 when the plague was rampant, one small town in England struck by the disease, isolated themselves from the rest of the area. The townspeople hoped to save their neighbors from coming down with the infection. The story is told through the eyes of a courageous young widow, Anna Frith, and I loved the way the author used the language of the times without making it sound stilted or unreal. Brooks also portrays the brutal day to day lives of the villagers dealing with this disease in a very believable way. The reader gets to see the gamut of human behavior when people are faced with a catastrophe over which they have no control. I can guarantee that this is a book that will stay with you for a long time.”
The Citizen Asha who will be taking over for me next week whilst I am off on vacation is enjoying a whole new level of dysfunction. “I am reading Burn Down the Ground by Kambri Crews. It is phenomenal, not only do you get an insight into the Deaf Community, but also you get to see how her family life starts to disintegrate, she realizes that her parents (with whom she has a close relationship) are fallible, her brother is probably not the best role model for her (and he needs to learn to keep his hands to himself) and that she now has to make hard decisions. I am a fan. “
Jeanne as usual has many things going on at once and weighs in with the following: “ I am in the very middle of the audio version of Origin by Diana Abu-Jaber. This is a mystery that will have you wanting the mystery solved immediately but you'll be afraid to know the answer. Is it true that sometimes horrible things happen for no reason? Aren't we glad to know there are professionals that can figure out why and make it stop? Lena Dawson is a fingerprint expert in Syracuse, New York. But she is much more than that with an eerie intuition about the SIDS cases that have her crime lab and the Feds looking at baby imports and trying to contain public fear. I had to get the Kindle version so I could read on wheels and off.”
I am really enjoying The Age of Desire by Jennie Fields. Fields tells the story of Edith Wharton’s love affair when she was 45 with Morton Fullerton a much younger and not terribly reputable man who she met in Paris. Honestly? When I think Wharton the last thing I think is Cougar. Well, this book has totally changed my mind on that score. It also includes the story of her governess turned literary secretary who watches this all unfold with a rather disapproving eye. This one is due out in August and get ready for it. It’s going to be a big one!
Welcome to summer! This week’s offerings include some Nazis (of course), a Japanese Prison Camp, a few more Nazis, a tragic heroine, more than a little polygamy, and a mysterious new friend.
Let us begin!
No surprises from Barbara M. here! “I’m reading Crossing the Borders of Time: A True Story of War, Exile, and Love Reclaimed by Leslie Maitland. Maitland relates the story of her mother’s escape from the Nazis and by doing so leaves behind ‘the love of her life.’ This is a fascinating real-life Romeo and Juliet tale. “
Ann is reading something a little different from her usual fare in The Orchid House by Lucinda Riley. “This is a big romantic, generational story involving the inhabitants of the lovely English home, Wharton Park, during the early 1900's through the present day. In the opening of this novel, Wharton Park has fallen on hard times and the only heir has put it up for sale. Through chance meetings, intriguing love stories, and time in a Japanese prison camp in Malaysia the reader follows the story of Julia and the dashing Kit Crawford. I quite enjoyed following the lives of those who inhabited Wharton Park.”
Pat T. is reconsidering what she is working on. “I started listening to the new audio book Prague in Winter: A Personal Story of Remembrance and War, 1937-1948 by Madeleine Albright. What was interesting was that Madeleine Albright only learned of her family's Jewish ancestry and involvement in the holocaust decades after the war. After listening to the first disc I found the subject to be too dense because she goes way back into the history of Czechoslovakia, but I am going to make a second attempt to read this book at a future date.”
Pat S. is working on The Gilded Age by Claire McMillan. “Lily Bart lives! The Gilded Age is an updated version of the House of Mirth complete with tragic heroine, eviscerating portraits of so-called 'society', and a cynical depiction of friendship. The heroine Ellie returns home to Shaker Heights after a failed first marriage. Yet Ellie's efforts to rebuild her life are thwarted by her inability to define herself-except by the men in her life. Need I even suggest the ultimate outcome? Yet it is her vulnerability which haunts the reader after the final page is read. A very respectable summer read.”
The Citizen Asha is repentant about her neglect of one of her obsessions. “I realized that I’ve been slacking in my Mormonism so, I had to change that. I finished up Becoming Sister Wives: The Story of An Unconventional Marriage by Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn Brown because in the end, who doesn’t want to be this man’s wife? His hair alone, makes me want to weep. The book goes in depth about raising their seventeen children and the epic trials and tribulations they face by having their polygamous lifestyle in the public eye. “
I am reading Tell the Wolves I am Home by Carla Rifka Brunt. June Elbus is 14 years old in 1987. Her beloved Uncle Finn, a very famous artist has just died of a disease that June’s mother can barely speak of so great is the shame. One day June receives a package in the mail. In it is the beautiful Russian teapot that belonged to Finn and a note from a stranger named Toby who says that he would like to meet Finn because she is the only other person who is missing Finn as much as he is. How much do I love this book? I am not only reading it in hardcover at home, but I am also reading it on my Kindle for my commute. Now that is love.
This week the Desketeers are proving to be a group which one should keep an eye on. They are dabbling in some rather sketchy reads. This week we have some Killing Fields, historic misbehavior, the IRA, a bullet in the head, a quest for health, and lots of cake which is only fitting since we are a department of mostly Geminis and this is our time!
Let us begin!
Barbara M has left Armenia and is reading In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner. “In the form of a novel and with poetic language Ratner describes what life was like for her and her family in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. It's a beautifully written book and the story is mesmerizing.” We worry about Barbara. Have you noticed the themes of genocide and ethnic cleansing?
Citizen Asha is another one we need to be concerned about. “I’m listening to A Treasury of Great American Scandals: Tantalizing True Tales of Historic Misbehavior by the Founding Fathers and Others Who Let Freedom Swing by Michael Farquhar. I had no idea there was so much angst, sex, fights and just plain sketchiness floating around the Founding Fathers and Presidents. I had no idea that Benjamin Franklin disowned his son, and even had him arrested. There are samplings of Richard Nixon’s tapes from the Oval Office, as well George Washington’s strange relationship with his mother.”
While Sweet Ann is someone we rarely have to worry about that is not the case this week. “I am reading An Unexpected Guest by Anne Korkeakivi. This is story that takes place over the course of a couple of days that is impacted by past actions. Clare Moorehouse, an American, is married to Edward, a British citizen who is a diplomat in Paris. They are planning a dinner party that will hopefully lead to Edward getting the ambassadorship to Ireland. The only problem is that when Clare was younger she got involved with the IRA. As a reader you are kept guessing to see how this secret will be resolved. She is also the mother of two boys and the younger one has been suspended from school for a quite serious reason. She does not want to tell her husband prior to this important dinner. Oh how we mothers try to make everything all right. I enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it.”
Marianne divulges what her escapist reading is. No surprise that it contains a corpse. “Whenever I need a break from my "must do" reading I pretty much always turn to a good mystery. The Ian Rutledge detective series written by the mother-son team, Charles Todd, offers a real change of pace. Ian Rutledge is a Scotland Yard Inspector who is trying to set his life straight after suffering severe battle fatigue from his time fighting on the French front during World War I. The Confession is one of the newer entries and begins when a man, dying of cancer, confesses to a murder he says he committed some time ago. When that man himself turns up murdered the wheels are set in motion for Inspector Rutledge to unravel a complicated mystery. With very few clues available Rutledge follows a thin trail to a tightlipped remote community outside of London, The Inspector discovers that the dead man was not who he claimed to be. What was his real name—and who put a bullet in his head? Were the “confession” and his own death related? Or was there something else in the victim’s past that led to his murder? I particularly like these books because I find the author makes sure the setting and time are as engaging as the mystery. “
Pat S. is working on Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A. J. Jacobs. “In a years-long pursuit of mental acuity (The Know It All), spiritual enlightenment (The Year of Living Biblically), our favorite experiential journalist has now set his sights on becoming the healthiest man in the world. This multi-faceted challenge involves certified medical expertise, exploration of the labyrinth of current trends in diet and exercise, and the purchase and testing of a broad array of equipment-all promising optimum health results in areas beginning with weight and extending to vision. Jacobs tells his tale with equal parts humor and chagrin at the myriad conflicting theories on what constitutes 'good' health. This is a fun read and a perfect primer for anyone who wants to jumpstart their summer with a new diet/fitness regime!”
Pat T. is staying true to her sweet self. “Anna Quindlen's newest book Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake is a memoir of reflective essays about looking back, as well as forward as she celebrates 60 years of life. She writes with humor and candor about her strong marriage, the joys of parenting three young adults as they find their way in the world, bonds of friendships that sustain and strengthen her daily life and the anticipation of aging and what that all means. I think her poignant reflections will resonate with many of us baby boomers!”
This week we have some questionable neighbors, poverty, taxidermy, terminal illness, super hero talents, and of course there is some Paris. But it ain't pretty.
Let us begin!
Sweet Ann is working her way through The Stonecutter by Camilla Lackberg. “This is a fast page turner concerning the murder of a little girl and the inhabitants of the small Swedish town where her drowned body is discovered. The novel is set in the present day but does go back to the 1900's which will impact the present day residents. This novel has many twists and turns which kept me interested and intrigued. All I can ask is, do we really know our neighbors?”
Citizen Asha is revisiting some of her favorites and she reports “I started rereading books that I think should be considered 'Classics', right now I’m finishing up Darkest Child by Delores Phillips. It’s absolutely wonderful, brilliant and fantastic. The story revolves around Tangy Mae and her epically dysfunctional family, who live in the rural south in the late 1950s. All Tangy wants to do is go to school however, there are things hindering her; the color of her skin, her mother, having to take care of her siblings. The novel is filled with angst, poverty, abuse. It’s not a light read but it is absolutely amazing.”
Pat S. is reading Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. She says that “This is for all David Sedaris followers: There is a new girl in town and she is taking no prisoners! This book is flat-out hysterical-page after page. It is a loosely woven series of vignettes about growing up poor in a small Texas town with taxidermy playing a lead role. Lawson relates truly cringe-worthy events with irresistible quirky humor. A perfect summer read.”
Pat T. weighs in on a timely topic. ” If you read The Last Lecture by Randi Pausch you will most likely want to read his wife's new book Dream New Dreams : Reimagining My Life After Loss by Jai Pausch. She writes about her loss after her husband's illness and subsequent death, as well as her perspective as the caregiver and she gives voice to the challenges of anyone who has served in this role. Hopefully her advocacy will foster the medical community to initiate programs to support the caregiver of terminally ill patients.”
Birthday Girl Abby is not terribly happy this week. Let us hope she has some good presents and lots of cake. “I haven't read a British crime novel in a while and based on strong reviews picked up Gone by Mo Hayder. In doing so, I broke one of my cardinal rules and read a book from a mystery series out of sequence. Serves me right! While Gone got off to a intriguing start, Hayder has done something I have found in a few recent mysteries and that is to provide the lead character/detective with skills boarding on superhero/supernatural level talent. When I read a mystery, I like to believe the reader has at least a sliver of a chance of not necessarily solving the case, but at least making sense of the puzzle. In Gone, the lead detective makes connections so obscure and so unlikely it takes you out of the moment and makes you think 'really?' Similarly, I'm a big fan of Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbo, but in his latest The Phantom, he has given detective Harry Hole deductive and physical powers so great he has started to feel like a strange comic book character. I'll keep reading Nesbo, but hope he returns to a hero who presents as a bit more human.”
I am reading Pure by Andrew Miller. In 1785 Jean-Baptiste Baratte arrives in Paris with the order from the King to clean out the overflowing cemetery of Les Innocents. This is a site so vile and unhygienic it is literally poisoning the air, water and food of all who live near it. This winner of the 2011 Costa Award for fiction is such an atmospheric read you feel you should be reading it with a kerchief tied around your nose and mouth. Who knew that there really was such a thing as “death breath?”