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 Staff Picks

August Staff Picks

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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 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

Posted in Staff Picks

July Staff Picks

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The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz
This book is so much fun!  A story within a story, with a mystery in each.  I was amazed at Horowitz’s ability to click the myriad interlocking pieces into place.  He unwinds his tale with wit and humor and numerous nods to classic whodunits, all the while giving the reader real mysteries to unravel.  (Now I’ve got to read Moriarity and House of Silk.)
–Diane

Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
A group of teen detectives are all grown up, and are all very damaged.  They have to go back to the scene of their last big case to solve the mystery for good.  This is so clever, scary, and hilarious–it’s zany and perfect, somehow exactly like reading a cartoon!  It’s a mash-up of Scooby Doo and Lovecraft, and it’s just as ridiculous and entertaining as it sounds.
–Marie

Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernieres
Has some of the most beautiful chapters I have ever read. The book is about a village on the coast of Turkey in the dying days of the Ottoman empire; the village is idyllic, the Greek Christians and Turkish Muslims live in peace. The potter laments, after the Christians are all driven into exile, that the village is never again as happy or as lively. The epic carnage is heavily foreshadowed in the book; the players on the international stage are slaughtering each each other, and the troubles eventually reaches our sweet village on the coast. The book gives insight into the the history of the whole troubled region. Almost as good a book as de Berniere’s Corelli’s Mandolin.
–Ken

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
A good read about “big data”! The author has access to Google searches — not the answers, just the text of the searches. And the amount of data is so huge, he can draw pretty precise conclusions. He uses a lot of novel and clever methods to tease information out of the data for insights into everything from economics to ethics and to race, sex, gender, and more.
–Ken

 

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