Posted in Book Reviews

Marie’s Reading: “When the English Fall” by David Williams

when the english fallIn When the English Fall, the world is devastated by a natural disaster, and the Amish community in Pennsylvania deals with the aftermath.  An Amish man named Jacob describes the events in his diary.

Since the Amish live largely outside our society, Jacob’s story becomes one of a struggle with faith.  The downfall of “English” society is a test for Jacob and his community, but not in the same way it is for everyone else.  The English themselves are his test.  How can he deny neighbors in need, even at the expense of his family?  Even though these neighbors are not part of the community?  And especially when these neighbors are violent and desperate?

This set-up provides the other side of the coin in those apocalypse stories where the suburban or urban heroes venture out into the country for safety or supplies.  People like Jacob’s family live there in the country.  Jacob comes across as a kind, hardworking, and generous man, possessed of a strong faith.  When you start to realize the way the story might end, it’s hard to read.

The ending is open, but I found it hopeful.  At least, the characters go into the ending with hope and faith, even though they might be walking into something terrible.

This is a thoughtful, somber book, with a great narrator and a unique, original perspective.

–Marie

 

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Posted in Book Challenge, Reading Challenges

TBR Challenge Update #9

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein.  A sad sort of ghost story, more about loss and keeping families together than anything else.  Now an adult, Trevor tells the story of the summer he was fourteen and visiting his family’s ancestral estate on Puget Sound.  Nicely atmospheric and some lyrical writing, there’s a melancholy sense of loss but also growth about this story.

The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller.  I’m a sucker for stories about outsider kids and outsider teachers coming together, so I liked this a lot.  I was reminded very much of Special Topics in Calamity Physics.  Iris is a budding journalist at an elite prep school in Massachusetts, and she’s recruited by a secret society to get some dirt on her science teacher (who has secrets of his own).  There’s a great mystery element, as Iris begins working to uncover Mr. Kaplan’s secrets, and as the past collides with the present.  It’s funny and smart and on the quirky side–a nice coming of age tale, too.  It’s also very self-aware, complete with references to Dead Poets Society.  A really fun read!

Good Wives: Image and Reality in the Lives of Women in Northern New England, 1650-1750 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.  Her scholarship really can’t be topped–Ulrich makes the past feel real and tangible, and she presents her arguments and research incredibly well.  This book examines women’s lives and work in colonial New England, considering in particular what it meant to be a “goodwife.”

House of the Lost by Sarah Rayne.  I’ll be saving this haunted house tale for Halloween.  Check back then!

Slowly (oh so slowly) but surely, I am whittling down my TBR list!  It feels great to clean house.

–Marie

 

Posted in Staff Picks

August Staff Picks

Wear-1

This gripping narrative sweeps you off your feet with unexpected revelations, humor, and depth. Leia is a well-known graphic novel artist and has by her own admission “run, not walked,” away from every promising romance in her life. She lives near her seemingly-perfect step-sister, Rachel, with whom she shares a strained but affectionate relationship. After an uncharacteristic one night stand at FanCon, Leia finds that she is pregnant with the son of a man she knows only by his costume – Batman.
At 38, she decides this may be her only chance to have the baby she’s always wanted and decides this pregnancy is a blessing but thinks she has lost all chance of contacting the father. After keeping the pregnancy a secret for some time, she finally steels herself to break the news to her family. Before she can, two family emergencies happen at the same time. Rachel’s picture perfect marriage falls apart, and Leia’s beloved grandmother Birchie is revealed to have a degenerative brain disease.
Leia must head south to the tiny Alabama town her ancestors founded to sort out care for Birchie. In the process, she uncovers family secrets ancient and new, sees with new eyes the underlying racism of small-town America, and discovers a well of strength within herself. Her pregnancy grows and the impending motherhood shifts her long-held perspectives on the world, her art, and her family.
This novel deals with race, small-town life, the cracks and glue which hold a family together, and the strength and power of motherhood…with a healthy sprinkling of very current nerd-culture.
–Cayla
The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova
It’s intriguing, though some of the writing is problematic. Quite the mystery, steeped in the real-life history of Communist and modern-day Bulgaria. There is a lot of travel in circles and to me, anyway, unnecessary descriptions. Not finished yet, but I’m giving it a 3-star rating unless the ending is amazing.
–Cayla
See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt
This creepy, oppressive novel tells the story of Lizzie Borden and the murder of her father and step-mother.  Set around the time of the murders (and once jumping forward), a picture of a dysfunctional and insular family emerges.  It’s a compelling read, uncomfortable in places, but that works to the story’s advantage.  This is a book that stays with you after you’ve finished reading.  And while the novel doesn’t come right out and say who committed the unsolved crimes, the culprit’s identity is very heavily implied.
–Marie

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
Those of us who grew up with Saturday morning cartoons will enjoy this scary, sci-fi throwback.  It’s a bit slow to start, and the style takes getting used to, but once the action starts it gets a lot better!
–Sarah

Ruthless River: Love and Survival by Raft on the Amazon’s Relentless Madre De Dios by Holly Conklin FitzGerald
If this hadn’t been shelved in the nonfiction, I wouldn’t have guessed this was a true story!  This is an incredible, astounding tale of being lost in the Amazon.  The author is speaking at the library this month, too!
–Sarah

My “Marple Project”:  My husband, Scott, and I watch many of the BBC mysteries, including the Miss Marple series.  Having seen all of them, I started wondering which of the Marples–Joan Hickson or Geraldine McEwan–was more true to Christie’s vision of her elderly sleuth (sorry, Helen Hayes and Julia McKenzie, you’re just not in the running).  So I read all the Miss Marple novels (there are short stories, too, but my compulsiveness has limits). I loved them all!  Great fun, good mysteries, sly humor.  And the winner:  McEwan.  While Hickson’s Marple flutters more (a signature Marple trait), only McEwan’s Marple twinkles, something Christie mentions repeatedly.

 

And although I’m not usually an audiobook listener, I did listen recently to two recorded Agatha Christies–And Then There Were None and Murder on the Orient Express-both ably read by Dan Stevens (Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey).  It’s astonishing to think that the playful author of the cozy Marple mysteries penned And Then There Were None; it is incredibly dark.  Murder on the Orient Express is a Hercule Poirot mystery that demands the reader’s dexterity with something like 10 different accents.  Even if you don’t like the story, it’s worth the time to hear someone move so surefootedly (sure-tonguedly??) from character to character.
–Diane
Something More: Excavating Your Authentic Self by Sarah Ban Breathnach
I loved her first book ,”Simple Abundance”, and this next book is insightful
and necessary for the woman who seeks to lift herself out of an old life and
find her authentic self alive and well.
–Sandra
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
I have read a couple of Bryson’s books of the past year and have to say this is by far one of the best books he has written. It deviates from his normal travelogue exploits and takes on all the sciences, from the Big Bang to quantum mechanics. In layman’s terms with some humorous anecdotes about some of the scientists and their discoveries, Bryson engages the reader in the ultimate travel adventure through science. It was the most interesting science book I have ever read.
–Mary
Posted in Book Reviews

Marie’s Reading: “Quartet in Autumn” by Barbara Pym

quartet in autumnLetty, Marcia, Edwin, and Norman are low-level clerks who share an office in a very drab London in the 1970’s.  They’re all retirement-age, all very private, and all lonely and a bit strange.  The story follows the four of them through scenes of their lives outside of the office, and then, in the end, a move toward perhaps becoming more than simply workmates.

Pym’s satire is the gentle kind, rather than the acid kind–there are pointed barbs about the way the lonely elderly are treated by society, and about how the England of the 1970’s seemed like an alien place to those “born in Malvern in 1914 of middle-class English parents.”  Yet there’s real affection for these people, no matter their quirks or problems.  Pym writes with a lot of compassion.

Letty, the one from Malvern, is a tidy woman intent on education.  Edwin loves church to the point of obsession (he reads all sorts of newsletters and goes to everyone’s services).  Norman has lots of lofty plans which never quite materialize, as he finds himself keeping company with a brother-in-law he doesn’t like.  The only really sad, tragic member of the quartet is Marcia–she quietly goes around the bend after a mastectomy.

The pace is brisk, and goes from scene to scene, character to character.  It’s a very character-centered story, the focus always on these rather downtrodden office mates.  But it’s not a sad book–none of the four are really sad.  They’ve carved out their own happiness and their own little victories out of what their world has given them.  And the story ends on a very hopeful note.

Give this one a try if you’re after a gentle read that’s still smart and pointed, and is populated with affectionately rendered, interesting (if a touch eccentric) characters.

–Marie

Posted in Book Challenge, Reading Challenges

TBR Challenge Update #8

Here’s the latest batch of books I’ve read from my To-Be-Read list, for the TBR Challenge 2017!

Mercy Snow by Tiffany Baker.  I think I put all of her books on my TBR list as they came out, and am only now getting to them!  This story is about three women connected by long-buried secrets in a New Hampshire mill town.  Atmospheric and compelling!

Aaaaand that’s it.  Lots of duds this time around.  So I thought I’d pad out my content here with a list of the books I’ve read for the challenge since I began in March!  As in, completely read, not just begun and abandoned.

TBR Challenge 2017, Completed:

The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill
The Father of the Rain by Lily King
Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore
This House is Haunted by John Boyne
She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth by Helen Castor
The Owl Killers by Karen Maitland
The Small Hand: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill
Medieval Women by Eileen Power
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
The Women of Brewster Place by Gloria Naylor
20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill
Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz
Somebody With a Little Hammer by Mary Gaitskill
The Song of the Dodo by David Quammen
Pobby and Dingan by Ben Rice
The Gilly Salt Sisters by Tiffany Baker
Deception by Denise Mina
The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
Delicate Edible Birds and Other Stories by Lauren Groff
Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill

You can click on the TBR Challenge tag to see all of the updates for the challenge.  I’m at 753 to-read, somehow only two less than last time…

–Marie

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews

Marie’s Reading: “What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories” by Laura Shapiro

what she ateIn What She Ate, Laura Shapiro offers up capsule biographies of six very different women, examining them through the lens of food–how they ate, who they cooked for, their preferences and tastes.  Shapiro’s thesis is that one’s eating habits can be revealing of character, and that’s exactly how she approaches each subject.

As far as Shapiro is concerned, “Food constitutes a natural vantage point on the history of the personal….we have a relationship with food that’s launched when we’re born and lasts until we die.”  Whether you’re an obsessive dieter like Helen Gurney Brown or you use food for fuel like Eleanor Roosevelt, or you enjoy a good gooseberry tart like Dorothy Wordsworth, how you eat and what you eat says a lot about you and how you navigate the world.  It’s a very focused examination, and illuminates a lot of hidden corners in these women’s lives.

Those lives are various: Dorothy Wordsworth, Rosa Lewis, Eleanor Roosevelt, Eva Braun, Barbara Pym and Helen Gurney Brown.  I admit I went into this book not knowing much about any of them, so I am extra happy that Shapiro included a bibliography, because each micro-biography left me curious and wanting to know more!

If you’re in the mood for biography through a very narrow, focused lens (and you love food!) do give this a try!

–Marie

Posted in Book Reviews

Marie’s Reading: “The Various Haunts of Men” by Susan Hill

various hauntsThe first in the Simon Serrailler trilogy, The Various Haunts of Men is about mysterious disappearances on a still more mysterious hill in a small English town.

There’s very little Simon Serrailler for a Simon Serrailler book, but that’s okay–the rest of the cast is dynamic, involving, and interesting.  Freya Graffam, a detective who’s just transferred to the town of Lafferton from London, is a smart and dedicated cop and a wonderful investigator to follow.  You don’t even really miss Serrailler, even though you get intriguing glimpses of him (mostly through a love-struck Freya).

Hill’s writing is elegant.  It’s like watching a very high-brow police procedural.  Dark yet still compelling and appealing, with a building tension.  The narrative switches a lot between characters, giving a sense of the scope of the town and its people, as well as their connections.  It’s a nice mix of small-village story and crime.

One of the many POV’s in the book is a tape being narrated by the killer, and it’s very chilling and crazy.  The killer’s sections make a nice counterpoint to Graffam’s hunt.  And I have to give props to the one of the best killer motivations I’ve seen in a while, and very well-done reveal.  A real sucker-punch dark ending, too.

An engaging and intricately constructed bit of crime fiction, and a promising start to a series.  I’ll look forward to reading others, to see how Serrailler and his town are fleshed out.

If you’re a British mystery fan, and you like P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, Kate Atkinson, and/or Elly Griffiths, you might want to give this a try!

–Marie