Marie’s Reading: “The Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey

snow childMabel and Jack are in their fifties, living on a homestead in Alaska in 1920.  Mabel is grieving a stillborn child, and she and her husband hope to make a new life for themselves.

One night, during an unaccustomed bout of fun, the couple build a child out of snow.  The next day, a mysterious little girl shows up on their homestead.  Mabel is convinced that the girl is the snow child come to life, to be a daughter for her.

The rest of The Snow Child follows Mabel and Jack throughout the years on their homestead, as their “snow child” Faina grows up.  They eventually learn the truth about her, but there still remains something otherworldly about the girl, even as she turns into a young woman.  Jack and Mabel also befriend the Bensons, another local homesteading family with three sons.  This is a very character-centered story, and very focused on the relationships between them.  Love is explored in all sorts of forms–romantic, parental, friendship, for the land and for home.  It’s very tender book.

Based on a Russian folktale (and this is made explicit in the novel), there’s a very strong element of the fairytale in the story.  The atmosphere is incredible, right from the get-go.  The Alaskan wilderness is vast and unforgiving, but not without its beauty.

The Snow Child  is a beautiful book, in its settings, characters, and exploration of grief, growth, and love.  If you liked The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro or Boy Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, definitely give this one a look!

–Marie

 

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Marie’s Reading: “The Sisters Brothers” by Patrick deWitt

sisters brothersEli and Charlie Sisters are known throughout the Oregon Territory as deadly killers.  They’re on a job for a man known as the Commodore.  The brothers are to hunt down and kill a gold prospector in California.  The story follows their mission, and the side adventures they have along the way.

The novel is narrated by Eli, who does not share his brother’s love of drinking and killing.  Eli does, however, really love his brother.  As the story goes on and he starts to grow a conscience about this particular mission, Eli begins to think that this life might not be for him anymore.  But how can he make a break and not lose his brother?

One of my favorite aspects of how deWitt tells this Western is in his characterization of the brothers, Eli in particular.  It’s when Eli’s character and story arc really clicks that the novel drew me in the most.  These two are hired guns, but there’s enough backstory to tell you  that Eli and Charlie came from pretty troubled circumstances.   There’s also a curious spareness, almost a flatness, to Eli’s narration–as the story went on, I began to read it as an unwillingness on his part to do too much self-examination.  You get the sense he doesn’t like what he’s become, doesn’t like his temper or his circumstances, but he doesn’t see a suitable way out.

Though it’s violent (sometimes intensely so), it’s also darkly funny, and the tone is never terribly intense.  There’s a wonderful sense of place, too–the West Coast in the early 1850’s comes through as an area full of danger, freedom, and promise.  The story is very fast-paced and compelling, and, as I said, Eli is a fascinating and complex narrator.

If you like Westerns with great characters, some moral quandaries, a nice setting, and plenty of shoot-outs, give this one a try!

–Marie

Simply Books! March Meeting

Here are the books we shared at this month’s Simply Books! meeting:

“Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American
History” by Katy Tur–this memoir is by a journalist who followedT  ru mp on the campaign trail. No new information about the campaignitself, really, but an insight into how hard these journalists work and how much they might have to give up to take such a job (Tur had tomove from her home in London and lost her relationship). Well-written, and you admire the knowledge Tur has.

“Care and Management of Lies” by Jacqueline Winspear–this novel is by the same author who writes the Maisie Dobbs mystery series, but this book is not a mystery. It’s about a husband and wife during World War I writing letters back and forth, each telling comforting lies to reassure the other about how things are going. The wife is left to run the farm, while the husband is enlisted as an officer. Nice historical details, and beautifully written. A lovely read.

“Face Down Upon an Herbal” by Kathy Lynn Emerson–this mystery is the
second in the Lady Appleton series. These books are set in Elizabethan England and star herbalist Susanna, who keeps getting sent to manor houses to solve crimes. Despite the title, you don’t really learn too much about herbs! They’re enjoyable, easy reads, with nice historical details like spying and the role of Mary, Queen of Scots.  In this book, Susanna is sent to a crime scene because the victim was found face-down on a book that she’d written.

“Jitterbug Perfume” by Tom Robbins–Robbins is a quirky, funny writer, and this novel is all about the perfume business. It’s got a very involved plot, but it’s fun. You also learn a lot about perfume!

“Alzheimer’s Disease: What If There Was a Cure?” by Mary T.
Newport–this book is about Newport’s personal journey in caring for her husband who suffers from Alzheimer’s, and her research into the use of ketones in brain health. That research led to more work in researching how coconut oil, a saturated fat, might effect the brain in a positive way. It’s a fascinating direction to look into, and it’s always good to know what sorts of things might help keep your brain healthy.

“Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World” by Nell
Stevens–this is a piece of creative nonfiction, all about the author’s time in the Falkland Islands as she tried to finish the novel she was working on. Stevens received a travel grant to finish her writing, and rented a house by herself in the Falklands. Part of the
story is about her time there, and what a fascinating part of the world it is. She also includes excerpts from her novel-in-progress.  It’s a delightful, creative picture of this time in her life, and it’s great how she can keep so many layers going at once in the narrative.  The descriptions are wonderful, too.

“Mozart’s Starling” by Lyanda Lynn Haupt–this nonfiction work by naturalist Haupt was a nice surprise! It’s all about starlings, inspired by the story of the starling owned by Mozart. Haupt also adopts a starling as she’s doing her writing and research for the
book, and anecdotes about her bird are interspersed with background about the species. It’s an informative book that covers a lot of topics–music, birds, linguistics, and our relationship to the natural world. Even if you’re philosophically opposed to this invasive
species, it’s a fun and fascinating read!

“Warriors of God: Richard the Lionheart and Saladin in the Third
Crusade” by John Reston, Jr.–this dual biography is about Richard the Lionheart and Saladin during the Third Crusade (1189–1192). Saladin, the Muslim leader, had taken back much of the Holy Land, and the Europeans then tried to re-conquer it. This book focuses a lot on Saladin–it’s clear Reston is a fan–and it’s fascinating to hear more
from the Muslim side than the Christian during the conflict. Not far enough along in the book to make a total judgment, but it’s very readable and about a compelling, if terrible, historical episode.

Our next meeting will be Saturday, April 28th at 2pm. There will be
an event in the Picker Room, so we’ll need to meet in our alternate location, the J area just beyond the rotunda.

–Marie

March Staff Picks

Wear-1

 

Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land
Creepy, sad, and compelling, this thriller is about a girl whose mother is a serial killer.  Milly was the one who turned her mother in.  Now she’s in a foster home awaiting testifying at her mother’s trial.  Can she overcome her hideous childhood, or is she more like her mother than she wants to be?  Milly’s voice really makes the book–being solely in her head makes the story that much more believable and absorbing.
–Marie

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Although it’s classified as a children’s book, The Phantom Tollbooth works on multiple levels, with charms for adults as well as for kids, and in an era when there’s an inordinate premium put on data, this gentle, clever novel values knowledge and prizes wisdom, while indulging in delicious silliness and wild wordplay.  A hit with the adult read-aloud group!
–Diane

It’s Not Yet Dark: A Memoir by Simon Fitzmaurice
A true account in Simon’s own words of his life, his ALS diagnosis, ups & downs and family.  Incredibly courageous, sad and uplifting. Wow, we don’t have it so bad. I
read the book after a friend was recently diagnosed with ALS. It is now a 2017 Indie film, by the same title and is available through the library’s Kanopy service.
–Amy

Marie’s Reading: “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day” by Winifred Watson

miss pettigrewA charming book with a delightful main character!  This screwball comedy from the 1930’s follows Miss Pettigrew as she’s swept up into the world of Delysia LaFosse, a nightclub singer.

Guinevere Pettigrew is a 40ish governess who desperately needs a new placement.  She shows up at an apartment in London expecting to find children to take care of.  Instead, she finds Delysia, an elegant young woman who needs to get a gentleman caller out of her apartment and enlists Miss Pettigrew’s help.  From there, it’s one adventure after another, with Miss Pettigrew swept up in the middle.

Over the course of a day in Miss LaFosse’s company, Miss Pettigrew blossoms.  She proves herself smart, loyal, good under pressure, and even might find a beau of her own.  Her progression is really fun to read–the  more she gets drawn in to the kind of world she’s only ever seen in movies, the more she finds she loves it.  This does not remain a fish out of water story for very long–it’s more like a fish finding the right water kind of story.

pettigrew illustrations
The illustrations are fun, too.

The friendship that develops between the women is great to read, too.  They complement each other nicely, and each has lessons to offer the other.  Miss Pettigrew and Miss LaFosse have an excellent rapport, and the way the day winds up for the both of them is sweet and fulfilling.

The dialogue is crisp and very 1930’s, along with the fast pace and lots of supporting characters popping in and out (in very dramatic, theatrical fashion, of course!).  Everything hinges on one misunderstanding, and you  hope that Miss Pettigrew will keep quiet about it and enjoy her day of really living.

While this book doesn’t share the satirical edge of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos, you might give that one a try if you enjoyed Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.  It was definitely in my head as I read this.  Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons could be another good readalike, for the humor and tone.

–Marie

Marie’s Reading: “How to Stop Time” by Matt Haig

how to stopTom Hazard has a rare affliction: he ages incredibly slowly.   Each year for him is more like fifteen for the rest of us.  As a result, Tom, born in 1581, is still alive today looking as though he’s in his early forties.

Tom’s under the protection of a shady sort of society, as are others like him.  They’re the ones who keep him in fresh identities as the years pass, in return for some “odd jobs” now and then.  And as long as Tom keeps a low, lonely profile, never falling in love or making long-lasting connections with others.  But Tom is getting tired of the lifestyle.  The only thing keeping him going is the memory of his long-dead wife and the hope that his daughter (who has the same affliction he does) might still be alive.

The book follows Tom in modern-day London, and fills in the backstory of his life.  There are wonderful historical touches, particularly the scenes set in Shakespeare’s London.  The glimpses of the past help to drive home the point that people have always, always been the same–and you get the sense of how annoying it must be to have to watch the same cycles played out over and over again over centuries.

Haig has such a compassionate way with his characters.  The message of his novels, particularly this one, always has to do with the importance of being as good a human being as one can possibly be–to love one another, and to recognize one’s place in the grander scheme.  In his novel The Humans, that scheme was the universe.  Here, the scheme is time.  It’s a funny, touching, hopeful, and humane study of love, loss, and history.

–Marie

 

Simply Books! February Meeting

Here’s a list of the books that we shared at our February Simply Books! meeting of the library’s adult book club!

“The Poisonwood Bible” by Barbara Kingsolver–this is the best book the reader has ever read. It’s one that really sticks with you.  It’s about a family of missionaries in Africa, and the story is told from each of their five perspectives. The description of Africa is so
rich that it doesn’t feel like fiction. The character voices are all wonderful, each one unique. It also makes for an interesting tragedy for the very religious character who, after conflicts, doesn’t really learn anything.

“Jade Dragon Mountain” by Elsa Hart–this is the first book in the Li Du mystery series (The White Mirror is the second). Set in18th century China, the story follows a librarian who’s been exiled from the Forbidden City, and ends up in a small town near Tibet, where a Jesuit astronomer mysteriously dies. There’s a fantastic sense of place, and the richness of the scenery and of the love and respect for scholarship in the culture really come through. It’s a very interesting time in Chinese history to read about, with the East India Company beginning to take over.

“Crime and Poetry” by Amanda Flower–the first in the Magical Bookshop series, this book is a very promising start. It’s well-written and very readable. The story is about Violet, who assists her ailing grandmother in her bookshop. Soon there’s a death that ties into an Emily Dickinson poem, and Violet has to solve the mystery. It’s a nice cozy mystery that blends a mystery with books and cats–a classic combination.

“The Glass Castle” by Jeanette Walls–this memoir belongs on any list of books about people triumphing over the obstacles in their lives. Walls writes about her childhood, growing up with two parents who are likely mentally ill. They supported Walls and her siblings in intellectual ways, but let things like food and shelter slide. It’s not particularly well-written, but it is inspiring and compelling.

“Wintergirls” by Laurie Halse Anderson–this novel is a good young adult/adult crossover, about two girls battling eating disorders. Lia and Cassie are friends who are in a battle to see who can be the skinniest. Eventually Cassie passes away, and Lia feels guilty about her death. But Lia is still coping with her disorder, and the story describes her struggles and experience in a way that feels a lot more real and better than other similar stories. It’s very poetic and powerful, if a bit too swift and positive an ending.

“Homer & Langley” by E.L. Doctorow–this novel is loosely based on the story of the Collyer brothers, two recluses in New York City in the 1940’s. In this book, Homer lives with his brother in their decaying brownstone, describing the trajectory their lives have taken and how they ended up where they are. The writing has an elegance to it, and Homer gives off the vibe of not being altogether quite “right.” It’s certainly an affecting story, particularly knowing the true story that inspired it.

“There Goes My Everything: White Southerners in the Age of Civil
Rights” by Jason Sokel–historian Sokel examines the lives of middle and working-class whites in the south during the Civil Rights era.  The book explores how these white people dealt with the changes in their society, from resistance to acceptance and many other feelings in between. The issues discussed in the book really feed into issues
of today.

“Eat to Live” by Joel Fuhrmann–Fuhrmann is a regular on PBS, and he’s published a couple of books outlining his thoughts on how focusing diet on greens, fruits, and grains can make an enormous difference to health. He also talks a lot about processed foods and how bad they are for us, and how the food industry keeps pushing them.

“The Elephant Keeper” by Christopher Nicholson–this historical novel is set in the 18th century, on a grand estate. The main character is a young man who serves as the elephant keeper on the estate, and his deep relationship with the elephant he takes care of. It’s a fascinating, slow burn kind of story.

“Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality” by Pauline
Chen–this memoir relates how Chen, a surgeon, came to the realization that surgeons should work more closely with and support their patients during end of life care. Surgeons generally disconnect themselves from end of life decisions, and it comes from a desire to save lives rather than deal with the end of them. While she didn’t really present her thesis very well, it’s still an interesting reflection to read about.

“The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen–this novel is about the Vietnam war, including characters from South Vietnam, the Viet Cong, and an American. It’s intriguing, a little bit of a spy novel, and a bit visceral about the horrors of war. It’s very plot driven, and the
characters generate interest but not a lot of sympathy. But the phrasing is great, with wonderful imagery and a real way with language.

“Stranger from the Sea” by Winston Graham–this is the eighth book in the Poldark series, and it’s just as engaging with just as good a sense of history and place as the others. In this installment, it’s 1810 and Poldark is in his fifties with nearly grown children. While
most of the story focuses on the children, the grander backdrop is the ongoing war against Napoleon.

“Maine’s Favorite Birds” by Jeffrey and Allison Wells–a must-have for birders when the birds come back to the feeders this time of year!  Includes the common birds seen in Maine, and accompanied by beautiful illustrations by Evan Barbour. Beautiful and easy to use.

“A Painted House” by John Grisham–this novel is unlike Grisham’s other books. it deals with cotton farmers in the Arkansas delta, and it’s very enjoyable. Much better than his law books!

“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed–this memoir is about how the author hikes the Pacific Crest Trail solo after some tough personal losses. It’s easy to admire her even if you’re not particularly outdoorsy or physical. She’s a great writer, too, and it’s clear she gained a lot of personal insight from her hike. One to stay up late and keep reading!

If you’d like to join us at a Simply Books! meeting, we hold them the fourth Saturday of every month at 2pm at the library. If you’d like to be on our email list (for meeting reminders and meeting summaries), please send me a message at mstickney@librarycamden.org.

–Marie