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.
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.
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!!
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Korede always cleans up her younger sister Ayoola’s messes. It’s her job as the older sibling to protect her sister. Ayoola has a habit of murdering her boyfriends, and Korede is always there to cover for her. When Ayoola sets her sights on the man Korede is in love with, however, Korede isn’t sure she can protect her sister any longer. This is a darkly funny and slightly disturbing tale of sibling rivalry. The prose is spare but the characters shine.
Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier
A fictional account of Mary Anning and her discoveries of fossilized skeletons along the English Coast. The science-focused part of the story once again shows how a woman was discounted for her discoveries of new species, while men took the credit for her work. The other plot deals with Anning’s friendship with Elizabeth Philpot. As far as the development of their friendship, the author takes the reader through the gamut of emotions as the two women work their way around differences in class, age and education. Great book. (It was interesting that a few weeks later I read The Essex Serpent, where Mary Anning gets mentioned by the main character who strives to find something new.)
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
It is a wonderful read, and this book has already been made into a movie series. We are watching Season One now, with Season two to be out in April on Amazon or other streams, a Sundance production.
It is a historical/romance/drama/fiction all rolled into one. It’s 400+ pages but an excellent exciting read about 21st century witches, daemons and vampires trying to find their origins in order to survive.
The Girls by Emma Cline
This novel is a thinly veiled retelling of the Manson family and murders. Evie, who was a teenager the summer she fell in with a group of girls at a ranch in California, reflects on her time there as a middle-aged woman. What’s so affecting about this novel is how spot-on Cline is with the experience of being a girl–the expectations and grievances, the assaults and pressures, the attempts to find oneself. It’s got a compelling style and a strong sense of character in Evie.
Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton
Louise, broke and single and aimless, has a chance encounter with Lavinia, a rich and flamboyant party and society girl. The two quickly form an intense and unhealthy friendship. There are echoes of The Talented Mr. Ripley (way more than just an echo, actually) and The Great Gatsby, only with more insufferable young literary men and social media references. Our society’s obsession with social media is a huge part of the narrative–lives lived for posting, scenes set up to share, friendship and admiration exhibited in “likes.” And, as in society, social media is used for nefarious purposes. In all a quick and compelling read with not many likeable characters, but fun all the same in a “what happens next” way.
Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938 by R.A. Scotti
A nonfiction account of one of the fastest and strongest hurricanes to hit the Northeast; one that changed the landscape from the creation of the Moriches inlet on Long Island to the complete devestation of the Connecticut and Rhode Island coast line. It held my interest both from the tales of the survivors and the awkard beginnings of the national weather service. With all the technology available today, we forget that there was a timre when the weather forecasts relied on the reports from ships at sea. When those ships heed the warnings to stay in port, there is no way to determine rhe change and direction of a storm system such as this one.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
Dwight Garner, in his New York Times review of Moshfegh’s Homesick for Another World, described her writing as being “like watching someone grin with a mouthful of blood.” That’s too perfect a description for me to top. This novel is about a young woman who decides she’s going to check out of society and hibernate for a year–and she does so with the help of dozens of different medications, planning to never spend more than a few hours at a time awake. The story follows that year, and fills in some background, all while showcasing Moshfegh’s compellingly disturbing style and black humor. She likes to get under the skin, and to get into the raw physicality of her descriptions. These characters aren’t likable at all, but they’re sure morbidly fascinating!