Stella Fortuna is either the luckiest or unluckiest person in the world–she’s survived seven (or eight, depending how you count) near-death experiences. Now nearly a century old, her last near-death experience in 1988 left her partially lobotomized and hating her younger sister, Tina. Our narrator sets out to hear about the family history and try to uncover why this rift happened.
The tone is very chatty, very much the feeling of sitting at a kitchen table and hearing gossipy and dramatic family stories. Our narrator is never identified by name, but she’s one of Stella’s granddaughters, and the whole book leaves you feeling that you’re being let in on family secrets, some of them very dark and sad.
The characters, Stella especially, are great. Because of the family story aspect, there’s something almost mythical about them. There’s a bit of distance, and all of their attributes, good and bad, are larger than life. Grames sets this tone in her family tree included at the beginning of the book, with her little notes on who each character is (and thank goodness for that family tree! It’s essential for keeping everyone straight).
Grames richly describes her settings, from Calabria’s mountain villages to immigrant neighborhoods in Connecticut. There’s great texture to her storytelling, a wonderful sense of place.
This novel is also about the immigrant experience, an incredibly timely topic. Speaking to us in the present, the narrator mentions how now there are immigrants desperate to get into Italy, instead of out of it. The times and places change, but not the reasons for immigrating or the need for basic humanity and compassion.
The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is a compelling read with slightly larger than life characters, a fun tone and humor even in the darker parts, and a novel to really immerse yourself in.
In 1969, local golden boy Chase Andrews is found dead in the marsh outside Barkley Cove, North Carolina. Immediately the locals suspect Kya Clark, who is known as the “Marsh Girl.” As the investigation into Chase’s death occurs in the present, the narrative also explores Kya’s childhood and the experiences that led to her solitary life in the marsh.
Owens’ writing is so wonderfully evocative. She writes of the North Carolina marshes and coast with such love and admiration for its beauty and creatures. Even the human beings who inhabit it, set apart from the rest of the community, command a sort of respect and mystery. There’s a great sense of the small-town and all of its characters and history, too.
Kya is a resourceful, tough person–you’d have to be, after being abandoned in the swamp as a very young kid. But she finds beauty and hope and fulfillment in her solitary life. Less solitary, of course, after she becomes friends with a local boy named Tate, who teaches her to read, and then later, when she becomes acquainted with Chase Andrews. And from there, it’s a “did she or didn’t she” mystery as far as Kya’s role in Chase’s death.
There’s a real sense of magic to this story of a tough rural girl’s coming of age, and the lengths she’ll go to to keep herself safe. The stand-out part of the novel is the perfect sense of place and the depiction of Kya’s life out in the wild, where the crawdads sing.
Motherhood by Sheila Heti
This reflective novel is about a woman in her thirties who is trying to make a smart and moral decision about whether or not to have children. She uses everything from I Ching coin flips to introspective musing to conversations with others to try to make her choice. Heti’s observations and insights about the question of motherhood really ring true. A novel that will make you think and consider, whether you’re a mom or not.
Helen and Nate have decided to fulfill a dream–they’re going to build a house from the ground up with their own hands on a piece of land they’ve purchased in a tiny town in Vermont. Soon they learn that their land once belonged to a woman named Hattie back in the early 1900’s. Hattie was feared by the townspeople, so much so that they hanged her as a witch right on the property.
Helen, a history teacher, is fascinated by the story, and decides to learn more. And the more she uncovers the more obsessed she becomes with Hattie and her secrets. She even begins collecting objects for her house that are connected to Hattie, in hopes that she might conjure up some spirits.
The spirit of Hattie and her female relatives thread all through the story. As one character puts it, there’s magic in their veins. As always, though, McMahon has a pretty light touch with the supernatural and spooky elements–it’s there, but the focus really is on the all-too-human characters. She populates this small Vermont town with recognizable people, both past and present.
McMahon’s writing is incredibly vivid, and very rich in detail. You don’t want to miss a well-crafted sentence when you’re reading her books, and her scene-setting is amazing. The mystery she crafts in The Invited is compelling, too, just as much as the spooky scenes out in the bog.
The Invited is a different kind of haunted house story. If you liked The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, give this a look!
Our unnamed narrator and his beautiful wife, Millicent, have found a great way to spice up their 15-year marriage: they murder young women and then devise ways to get away with it.
The couple has a nice house in the Florida suburbs. He’s a tennis pro, she’s a realtor. They have a son and a daughter. And both Millicent and her husband are stone cold in their own ways. Yet, since we’re in the husband’s head the whole time and hearing the story from his point of view, his necessary charm and ease come across really well, and you see why he’s so good at his half of what he and his wife are up to.
I don’t want to give away too much of this plot, because so much depends on surprises and twists and turns. I was enthralled the whole way through, and, as I said, the narrator is great–totally absorbing and convincing, and oh so charming, so good at appearing sympathetic. And so twisted.
The dynamic of their marriage is a fascinating one to read about. The husband projects so much onto Millicent, makes her into an almost other-worldly creature rather than a human woman, that you are left wondering what she’s really like. It’s another nice, unsettling touch to an already unreliable narrator.
The pace of this thriller is fantastic. It’s compelling all the way through, rockets through the last third, and the ending is a punch. Downing keeps up the suspense and never bogs the story down. Every detail is well-placed and the writing itself is very evocative, filled with mounting tension. There’s some great family detail as well, though, and some well-placed black humor. It’s not gory or explicit, either.
If you like Gillian Flynn’s books, give this one a try!
This year’s National Library Week was April 6th-13th, and Camden Public Library launched its Campaign for the Future–it’s a fundraising effort to ensure that our library will be here, offering the same wonderful services, for another century and beyond. Learn more here!
In honor of National Library Week, here are some of our staff favorites about reading and libraries!
Marie: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. A lot of the action in this lush, atmospheric novel about Vlad the Impaler happens in libraries, and books and academia play a huge role in the mystery. I love to re-read this one, it’s just as absorbing with every read!
Mary: I have two books to recommend!
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. A charming story about Monsieur Perdu who has created a floating bookstore on a barge in Paris. He calls himself a literary apothecary because after listening to a person for a bit, he can pick out the exact book to heal that person’s broken spirit. Unfortunately he cannot heal his own broken heart until he finally opens the letter left for him by his one true love, spurring him to pull up anchor and sail for the south of France.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. Clay Jannon has lost his job as a web developer and lands a job working nights at a bookstore based on the fact that he can climb a ladder. During his nightly duties, various people come in repeatedly to return obscure books and pick up more volumes as they attempt to solve some sort of puzzle. Clay’s curiosity leads him to explore the secrets of the store, what kind of code or secret they are trying to solve and who is the mysterious Mr. Penumbra. Clay soon finds himself breaking into secret societies and enlisting his computer friends to help him solve the puzzle.A very interesting read.
Sandra: Well, I am into a 4th book continuing the The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness – titled Time’s Convert. It goes back into the history of de Claremont family, and at the same time extends further into the present lives of Matthew and Diana de Clairmont. Needless to say, the author has a marvelous way of storytelling that has drawn me in!!! I love borrowing from the libraries because even though the checkout limits can be frustrating,….I have to finish the books….rather than having them sit on my Kindle list waiting for me!!
Horror Month is only half a year away! Time to get started on the creepy reads so that I can share them with you come October!
A great place to start is with this year’s Stoker Award nominees. The Bram Stoker Award is given by the Horror Writers Association, and celebrates excellence across eleven different categories of horror writing.
You can find the list of nominees here: http://www.thebramstokerawards.com/front-page/announcing-the-2018-bram-stoker-awards-final-ballot/
Heredity (Hereditary. I was so terrified I typed it wrong) which I have been too scared by the trailer to see, is up for Superior Achievement in a Screenplay. Two picks from this past Halloween, Unbury Carol and The Cabin at the End of the World are both nominated, as is Zoje Stage’s Baby Teeth, which I loved but was so the wrong thing to read as a new mom.
I’m looking forward to picking up The Rust Maidens by Gwendolyn Kiste and The Moore House by Tony Tremblay.
If you’re going to be in Grand Rapids, Michigan this May, you can attend StokerCon and see the awards in person. Josh Malerman and Jonathan Maberry will be there! http://stokercon2019.org/