June Staff Picks

Hello Readers! Cayla will be updating the staff picks section while Marie is on maternity leave.

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Here are some picks from June:

The Word is Murder – Anthony Horowitz

Once again, Anthony Horowitz plots murder with a light touch.  In The Word Is Murder, the narrator, named Anthony Horowitz, creator of Foyle’s War and Midsomer Murders (as is the real Horowitz), finds himself entangled with Detective Daniel Hawthorne, who served as a consulting expert for the television programs.  Hawthorne has been recently fired but is determined to restore his good name by solving a murder and writing a book about it—but since Hawthorne is not a writer, he has decided to draft Horowitz for the job.  Thus Horowitz finds himself an intrigued but not eager Watson to Hawthorne’s Holmes.   While not as tightly written as Magpie Murders, it’s an enjoyable “summer read.” – Diane

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics – Carlo Rovelli

I’ve just about finished Carlo Rovelli’s brief (just 86 pages) but engaging Seven Brief Lessons on Physics , in which he tackles the core ideas of modern physics.  Like a sampling of exquisite appetizers, it makes me want to bite into something more, so when I’ve finished this, I might have to read something by Feynman or Hawking and really dig in! – Diane

I’ve been getting more and more into audiobooks, but I’m not the “I’m going on a long trip, so I need an audiobook”-sort of listener; I’m a sit-and-listen listener. I just finished Blackstone Audio’s version of Middlemarch read by Nadia May (she’s very good!) and BBC Audio’s Brideshead Revisited read by Jeremy Irons (need I say he’s good, too?).  These are both books I’ve read and loved, but in coming back to them in audio versions, I discovered new texture (and humor!) that I hadn’t found before. – Diane

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

This is a fabulous and dark story set in a fictional West African country, where half the population has magic, and half do not. The non-magical people are in control, and magic has been all but crushed from existence. As a child, Zelie watched as her mother was murdered by the king’s guards for being a powerful maji. Zelie is what is known as a Diviner – a person with stark white hair who has the magic in her blood. But since the Raid, no one’s magic is awakened, and no true maji exist. Her life consists of secretly training in combat while barely containing her rage and desire for retribution against the guards and the king.
Amari is the princess of Orisha, raised in seclusion and trained in courtly manners but also in combat. When her beloved handmaiden and only friend Binta is killed by Amari’s father, she snaps and makes a rash decision that will alter the course of her life and the future of her country.
When Amari, hotly pursued by the whole of the royal guard (headed by Amari’s own brother!), runs smack into Zelie, they realize that perhaps their missions can align. The two wildly different young women set off on a quest to restore magic to Orisha forever.
This was a dark and powerful book. The violence is uncompromising but realistic. I struggled through the romance parts, but it redeemed itself from cliche at the end. The characters are unique and complex. The ending was simply stunning, both in writing and in the plot. The sequel, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, is due out in March. The author’s note speaks of Adeyemi’s inspiration for writing the book, watching everything going on recently with the tragic deaths of unarmed young black people. You can see notes of this throughout the story when similar deaths occur.
Highly recommended on audio. – Cayla
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Marie’s Reading: “American Elsewhere” by Robert Jackson Bennett

american elsewhereIf you’re a fan of Stranger Things and/or Twin Peaks, you should give American Elsewhere a try!

Mona, a former cop, inherits a house in New Mexico after the death of her father.  Apparently the house belonged to Mona’s long-dead mother.  It’s in a tiny town called Wink.  Wink is a strange place that doesn’t appear on any map.  The people there are strange, as well.  The streets are all perfect and the houses are pretty, but no one goes out at night.

Lurking behind it all is a long-defunct laboratory and mysterious creatures that live in the canyons.  As the story goes on and Mona uncovers more and more about this mysterious town and its secrets, the more she finds herself in danger.  And more connected to Wink than she realizes.

The general creepiness of the atmosphere is great.  There’s always this sense of mystery and danger, and the style is very cinematic and evocative–in many places it really feels like a lost episode of Twin Peaks.  The tiny town with its secrets and seedy underbelly gets metaphysical in American Elsewhere, and the setting of the New Mexico desert adds an isolation and a strange beauty to the story.  And for all the weird fiction creepiness, this story is also about motherhood, family, and belonging.

If you like claustrophobic small-town horror with entertaining characters and a dash of alien/monster invasion, you might enjoy this!

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “The Death of Mrs. Westaway” by Ruth Ware

mrs westawayHal is down on her luck–in serious debt and unsure of where to turn.  So when a letter arrives telling her that she is the beneficiary of a will, she finds the opportunity difficult to pass up.  Never mind that the letter was clearly sent to the wrong person.  She’s never heard of a Mrs. Westaway, and there’s no way she’s a long-lost granddaughter.

But when Hal shows up in Cornwall at Trepassen House for the funeral, she finds a family with a lot of secrets and a lot of baggage–and more than a little of it just might have to do with her.  Uncovering the truth, however, might prove fatal.

I like how tight the writing and focus of the story are.  The narrative goes back and forth between Hal and entries in a diary that she finds, but we spend most of the time with Hal.  Her moral quandaries and her desire to finally learn the truth about herself are the driving forces of the narrative.  Her strong bond with her mother plays a huge role, as well.  All of the characters are interesting, and there’s a feeling of looming threat and mystery.  It’s a wonderfully atmospheric story, too–it’s always cold and raining or snowing in this book, lending a bleak and isolated kind of feel.

There are a couple of nods to Rebecca, which suit the atmosphere well.  That would actually be a good readalike for The Death of Mrs. Westaway, as would some of V.C. Andrews’ early work. There’s a wonderful classic feel to this book, even though the setting is contemporary.  If you enjoy Gothic tales of family secrets, old manor houses, and long-buried crimes, give this one a look!

–Marie

May Simply Books! Meeting

We had a short but nice meeting over Memorial Day weekend.   There were only two of us, but we shared two good books!

The Echo Maker by Richard Powers–a really nice introduction to this
author, and will definitely try more of his books. This particular
novel is about a man who suffers severe neurological damage after an
accident. He develops a Capgras delusion, where he believes that
everyone close to him is an imposter. His case is so out of the
ordinary that a famous neuroscientist comes to evaluate him.
Overall the book is compelling and interesting (the sections on
neuroscience must have taken a lot of research on the author’s part),
though the bits from the scientist’s point of view can be a little
pedantic and boring. There’s also an element of mystery, which does
get answered, about how exactly the man’s accident happens.

High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic by Glenn Frankel–this nonfiction book is about the making of
the Gary Cooper Western “High Noon,” and the toxic political
environment it came out of. When the movie was being made, its
screenwriter, Carl Foreman, was called to testify before the House
Un-American Activities Committee. Frankel talks a lot about the
blacklist in Hollywood, the making of the movie (and how it’s an
allegory for the hearings), as well as providing biographies of the
major players.

Simply Books! is on summer vacation now, so we’ll see you back again in September!  Our next meeting will be Saturday, September 22nd.  I’ll post next year’s meeting schedule in September, too.  If you’d like to get on our mailing list, send me an email at mstickney@librarycamden.org.

 

 

May Staff Picks!

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Every Note Played by Lisa Genova
This novel is about a renowned middle-aged concert pianist diagnosed with ALS (a.k.a. Lew Gehrig’s Disease).  The novel chronicles, in brutal detail, the devastation to his body—which his untouched mind witnesses with horror—and the effect of his illness on his relationships with his ex-wife  and estranged daughter.   Described as “the Oliver Sacks of fiction,” Lisa Genova is a neuroscientist interested in exploring the impact of neurological diseases on individuals’ lives.
–Diane

Fire Sermon by Jamie Quatro
Maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong places, but my experience with contemporary “Christian fiction” is that although pleasant, few of these books grapple with the problems encountered by serious believers.  Maggie, the protagonist of Jamie Quatro’s Fire Sermon is no Hallmark-card Christian.  Despite her long-term marriage, she finds herself aching for a relationship with fellow poet James.  Maggie and James long for each other for years, exchanging e-mails and furtive phone calls and meeting at literature conferences.  Maggie’s struggle—and what it means not only for her marriage but also for her religious beliefs—burns at the center of this short, unusual novel.
–Diane

High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of An American Classic by Glenn Frankel
This book explores the making of the classic Western High Noon, and the toxic political environment that inspired its screenwriter, Carl Foreman.  Frankel takes a multi-faceted view, talking about the blacklist and the hearings before the House Un-American Activities Committee, Hollywood during its Golden Age and then its post-war years, biographical sketches of Gary Cooper, Carl Foreman, and other players, and then the story of the making of the film itself.  It’s fascinating reading on several levels.
–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “Unbury Carol” by Josh Malerman

carolHappy Less-Than-Halfway to Halloween, everybody!  I couldn’t wait until October to share this one: a great mix of horror and Western called Unbury Carol.

In a town called Harrows on the dark and dangerous Trail, a woman named Carol lives with her husband.  Ever since she was a girl, Carol has suffered from a disorder without a name or treatment.  This disorder causes her to go into a coma every once in a while.  To the outside world she looks dead, but she’s still aware of things happening around her.  She usually wakes up in a couple of days.

But when Carol goes into her coma-state this time, her husband has nefarious plans.  Only one other person knows about her condition: her former lover and notorious outlaw James Moxie.  As Carol’s husband makes plans to bury her alive so that he can steal her fortune, Moxie sets out on the Trail to return to Harrows and save her.

This is such a rich book.  It’s atmospheric and vividly described, and the whole story has a sort of threatening darkness to it.  There’s menace on all sides–both Carol and Moxie find themselves in danger, and all the while there’s the suspense of wondering whether or not Moxie will make it to Carol in time.    There’s also a supernatural element in the form of an entity that calls itself Rot, which attaches itself to Moxie out on the trail as well as to Carol.

If you want to get in the Halloween spirit a little early, and your tastes run toward the suspenseful and slightly Gothic, give this one a look!

–Marie