Posted in Booklists

Marie’s Vacation Reading List

My yearly vacation is coming up next week.  You know what that means!

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Just sub “books” for “tv.”  (eh, who am I kidding, however great the books, the fifth season of Deep Space Nine isn’t going to watch itself)

This year is a stay-cation, where I intend to read books, lounge around, and take full advantage of any beautiful weather that might come my way for trips to lakes and beaches.

Here are the books I’ll be toting along:

The Romanov Sisters: The Lost Lives of the Daughters of Nicholas and Alexandria by Helen Rappaport.  This is for my book club, and it’s an affecting read.  There’s such a melancholy cast to this examination of the Romanov sisters, because it’s impossible to forget how their lives ended.  But still, it’s a fascinating glimpse into the family.  I’m about half-way through it right now.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood.  This is a novel about a girl whose parents are drug dealers, and her deepest connection is to her older brother.  I’ve been meaning to read this for ages!

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero.  A novel all about a crack team of kid detectives who grow up and have lots of issues.  They have to go back and uncover exactly what happened the night they solved their last case.  It looks fun and spooky and meta, and I’m looking forward to it.

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach.  This is a novel about a boy named Ivan, who’s spent his whole life in long-term care in Belarus.  He falls in love with a new patient at the hospital.  It sounds like it should be strange and melancholy, and maybe hopeful, which is always a good mix.

See you when I get back!

–Marie

 

 

Posted in Book Reviews

Marie’s Reading: “My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues” by Pamela Paul

my life with bobReading books about reading books always makes me want to read more books.

Like Paul, I keep a journal of the books I’ve read.  I use it to record first impressions, jot down personal reactions, and sometimes the titles of similar books, or names of similar authors.  Often these entries are the foundation for my blog posts here at the Readers’ Corner.  I’ve kept such a journal since just after high school, when a friend gave me a little reading journal for my birthday.

So, in short, Pamela Paul and I have a bit in common.  The “Bob” of the title is Paul’s “Book of Books,” a notebook she’s kept for years where she writes down the titles of every book that she’s read.  She uses Bob as a starting point to discuss her childhood as a bookish kid, her college years, her travels, and then her work and relationships, all tracked with the books she was reading at the time.

My Life with Bob is a love letter to the reading life, an examination of the intimate relationship between book and reader.  It’s a bookish coming-of-age, with so many great quotes about the power of reading and stories (I keep a commonplace book as well as reading journals, and I wrote down several passages from this book).

Those who identify as “book people” will find a kindred spirit in Paul.  Or at least I did.  I had that extremely common reading experience where, at times, I was convinced that Paul was writing just for me, sharing my exact experiences, in essence if not particulars.  Her tone is confessional and friendly, a fellow reader sharing her insights and anecdotes and favorites with you.

If you enjoy Michael Dirda’s work, or just enjoy books about the reading life, definitely give this a look!

–Marie

Posted in Staff Picks, Uncategorized

June Staff Picks!

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Every librarian here at CPL has great suggestions for your reading pleasure.  We all read different genres and have different tastes, so you’ll have a rich and varied list to choose from every month.

Below are our Staff Picks for June!

Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton
Amani is a girl from the sands in the guise of a boy.  Why?  She wants to be free; free from being someone else’s property, free to do as she pleases, free to shoot in the competitions, free to speak her own thoughts, free of Dustwalk. After meeting Jin, a handsome foreigner, and taming an immortal being, she becomes caught up in his secrets, his revolution, his war.  The Sultan’s forces are using people and the Gallan forces are toying with everyone, no questions asked and people are starving and dying.  Action packed, great characters and a 2017-2018 MSBA nominee. –-Amy

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
A stunning, gothic mystery of twins, ghosts, and the hauntings of a badly damaged family. Counterbalancing the spooky side is a wholesome dose of antiquarian bookshops, doting fathers, delightful new friends, and a wonderful cast of leading ladies. Highly recommended on audio.  —Cayla

How to Talk to Anyone : 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships by Leil Lowndes
Don’t judge the book by its title! While it may sound like a dry bullet point list of talking points for executives, this book is for everyone, and the advice can be applied to personal and professional interactions. How To Talk To Anyone is about relationships – your colleagues, your spouse, a first date, a stranger at a party, your dentist’s office receptionist – and the techniques introduced here can be applied in different measures to all. The book features a numbered list format, with each “little trick” featuring an example of how the technique can be used. Sometimes these stories sound a bit contrived, but they are effective in making a bullet point into a vivid and memorable illustration. There were some outdated references to technology – “a phone recording machine”, as well as some outdated terminology and slang in general, but surely anyone can take something helpful away from the 92 points in this book. My personal favorite – how to receive a compliment with grace whether you agree with it or not, “That’s very kind of you to say!” I am going to test that one out right now. Did you like my review? “That’s very kind of you to say!” Now doesn’t that make you feel special right back? —Olga

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
A 2013 non-fiction book about the rowing team from Seattle who won the 1936 Olympics. The book concentrates on the hardships of one particular team member. I really enjoyed the very descriptive narrative of this nonfiction tale, at times his descriptive style reminded me of some of the passages in David McCullough’s books. –Mary

A Line Made by Walking by Sara Baume
A young artist named Frankie who finds herself unable to cope with life holes up at her late grandmother’s bungalow.  The language is beautiful and spare, very introspective.  It’s a character-centered story, following Frankie as she examines her present depression and anxiety.  Lovely lyrical, insightful writing about painful subjects. Marie

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve & Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
I recently read two new novels by popular authors with ties to Maine:  Anita Shreve’s The Stars Are Fire and Elizabeth Strout’s Anything Is Possible.  I don’t recall having read anything by Shreve, but this novel shows me why she is so beloved: she is a fine storyteller.  On the other hand, I’ve read all of Strout’s novels, and I always come away touched and dazzled—touched by the way she captures emotions and human connections and dazzled by the precision and originality of her prose.  (Just a heads-up: Although Anything Is Possible is not really a sequel to My Name Is Lucy Barton, there are multiple connections to the earlier book, so you might want to read  Lucy Barton first—also a beautiful book.) –Diane

Posted in Book Reviews

Marie’s Reading: “New Boy” by Tracy Chevalier

new boyNew Boy: Or, Much Ado About a Pencil Case.

I kid.  Kind of.

New Boy is Chevalier’s entry in the Hogarth Shakespeare Project. Hogarth has commissioned novelists to retell selected works of Shakespeare.   This is a retelling of the story of Othello, and while knowing that adds a fun layer to the story, you can also enjoy it all on its own, on its own merits.

Here’s the set-up: Osei, a diplomat’s son from Ghana, relocates to Washington D.C. in the early 1970’s. He makes an immediate connection with Dee, a white girl from a strict household.  Ian, the class bully, takes immediate offense at this newcomer for a lot of different reasons, and decides he’s going to bring him down.  Mimi, Ian’s girlfriend and Dee’s friend, finds herself in the middle as an unknowing pawn in Ian’s scheme.

The action takes place over the course of one school day, from playground to lunchroom and back.  The stakes seem a lot higher when all of the events play out over a single day.  It’s also a nice choice given the age of the characters–for a sixth-grader, school is your life, and the schooldays really are packed with drama.

I love how immediately engaging the writing is.  There’s a simple clarity to the prose, one that allows the characters to shine.  It’s also nice that the adults are all on the periphery, so that the young characters can exist on their own terms, with their own concerns and issues.

This isn’t just a retelling of Othello.  It’s also a commentary on the themes of the story.  Here, the racial climate of 1970’s America hits home for a reader in a way that a Moorish Venetian general in Cyprus might not.  And since the characters are pre-teens, the raw emotions and overreactions play a lot better than they might otherwise.  It’s awfully hard to map such a tragedy onto a bunch of kids, and some moments work better than others, but it’s still a good effort. The ending, though different, offers a suitable shock and a feeling of nothing really being resolved.

Chevalier has interpreted the characters in her own believable way.  Their motivations and desires all ring true, both in the context of this new story and as interpretations of the characters presented in Shakespeare.  Definitely worth a look!

–Marie

Posted in Book Reviews

Marie’s Reading: “Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine” by Gail Honeyman

EleanorEleanor Oliphant is fine.  Completely fine.  Or at least, that’s what she tells herself, when the loneliness starts to be too much or when she has yet another awkward encounter with another person.  As quickly becomes clear in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Eleanor Oliphant is not completely fine.

Eleanor is in her early thirties and she lives a solitary life.  She’s held the same office job for almost a decade.  She gets a weekly phone call from her volatile mother.  She’s socially inept, with real difficulty reading cues and interacting with other people.  She keeps to a strict daily routine and her weekends are a blur of vodka-haze.  Day after day, week after week, this is Eleanor’s life.

Until one day when she and a co-worker happen upon an elderly stranger who needs assistance.  From there, Eleanor’s routines are upended, and she suddenly has plans for the future and more human contact than she’s used to.

There’s a dark layer in this book that I wasn’t expecting.  Eleanor’s got a terrible, sad secret in her past, one that is uncovered as the book goes on.  She’s solitary and disconnected for a good reason.  However, this darkness makes the light at the story’s end that much brighter–there’s real weight and import in Eleanor’s growth as a person.  She’s not quirky.  She’s struggling to cope and to heal.

Which does not mean that she isn’t fun to read about.  This is a very amusing book, and extremely heartwarming, too.  There’s catharsis and change, but there’s also always a sturdy friend and hope for the future.  Her voice is original and perfectly individual.

Eleanor’s relationship with Ray, the scruffy IT guy from her office, is gold.  Ray is a kind, affable guy, and his patience with and affection for Eleanor is great to read about.   Their friendship shows how much kindness can make a huge difference.

If you liked The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, or A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, give this one a try!

–Marie

Posted in Book Reviews

Marie’s Reading: “Burntown” by Jennifer McMahon

BurntownJennifer McMahon’s latest, Burntown, feels like a return to her classic form after The Winter People  and The Night Sister.  It’s an intricate mystery with just the hint of the supernatural around the edges, filled with well-drawn characters and well-crafted scenes.  And the writing is compelling as ever.

This time, the supernatural comes in the form of speaking to the dead and having visions.  The reality of both, in the narrative, is taken as a matter of course–but the reader can decide how much the characters themselves inform what they believe they see and hear.

The story is this:  Eva’s father is professor named Miles, who as a child witnessed his mother’s murder.  He is an inventor who builds a machine which can supposedly allow people to talk to the dead, based on plans smuggled out of Thomas Edison’s laboratory.  One night there’s a terrible storm and flood, and only Eva and her mother escape alive.  But from there the two of them live on the streets.  Eva doesn’t remember anything about what happened to her father and her brother, Errol.  After her mother’s apparent suicide, Eva is left alone.  And then, in a series of violent ways, her mysterious past starts to catch up with her.

Two other characters’ paths cross with Eva’s eventually.  There’s Theo, a high school senior who has been selling drugs to please her girlfriend.  There’s also Pru, the overweight cafeteria worker at Theo’s school who has dreams of the circus.  Those are the primary players, but there’s a web of relationships in this Vermont town.  The intricacies of their relationships and the unexpected ways they all connect and influence each other is nicely done.

The setting, a down-on-its-heels mill town in Vermont (those on the street call it “Burntown”), feels very realistic if you’re familiar with broken-down mill towns in northern New England.  McMahon sets many of her novels in Vermont, and she’s got a gift for painting a picture of the landscapes and people, both good and bad.  There’s a very strong atmosphere and sense of place in her books.  In Burntown, you always have the feel of being in a ruin, in the underbelly.  Sometimes literally, as when the story focuses on a group of women who live under a bridge and claim to have visions.

I always enjoy the people in McMahon’s books, particularly their motivations.  She can craft characters who seem very real, whose desires and impulses and secrets ring true.  In this story I particularly enjoyed Pru, with her outsize fantasies and her happy ending.

The ending to Burntown, if not entirely happy, is at least hopeful.  It ends with a wonderful image that, to me, summed up the book very well.  The climax and reveal of the mystery wasn’t a huge twist or anything, but it rang true.  But then, this is more a story of the strange than it is a thriller, so it works.

If you’ve read and enjoyed McMahon’s books in the past, definitely check this out.   And I’m always reminded of Sarah Waters when I read McMahon’s work.  If you like Burntown, you might enjoy The Night Watch, for the intricate relationships between characters and the setting, London during the Blitz, as well as the compelling writing and great characters.

–Marie

Posted in Book Reviews

Marie’s Reading: “The Shadow Land” by Elizabeth Kostova

shadow landKostova’s latest, The Shadow Land, is about an American woman named Alexandra who travels to Bulgaria to teach English.  On her first day there, she accidentally comes into possession of an urn filled with human ashes.  Inscribed on the urn is a name: Stoyan Lazarov.

Alexandra befriends a taxi driver named Bobby, and the two of them set off to return the ashes to Lazarov’s family.  From there they learn more and more about Lazarov, who was a violinist who spent some time in a prison camp in 1949, as well as his family.   They also find themselves embroiled in the current political scene in Bulgaria–and all the possible threat that could entail.

The narrative goes back and forth from focusing on Alexandra, who is still dealing with the death of her brother, to the stories of the people they meet, finally to Lazarov’s time in the labor camp.  It’s an extremely rich and layered book, one that gives you time to absorb the characters and their stories.  The examination of the prison camps and the dark background of Bulgarian politicians after the fall of communism is particularly heartbreaking.  Kostova’s author’s note at the end is worth a read for the background she gives.

Kostova’s writing is elegant and immersive, but never gets bogged down, even with all of the storylines going on.  Her word choice is perfect and each sentence is extremely well-crafted.  The scene she sets is the next best thing to a trip to Bulgaria.

The Shadow Land is an engrossing, absorbing story with a rich sense of place.  Give it a try if you’re in the mood for an enthralling read with lots of layers and a cast of fascinating characters.

–Marie