Marie’s Reading: “Unbury Carol” by Josh Malerman

carolHappy Less-Than-Halfway to Halloween, everybody!  I couldn’t wait until October to share this one: a great mix of horror and Western called Unbury Carol.

In a town called Harrows on the dark and dangerous Trail, a woman named Carol lives with her husband.  Ever since she was a girl, Carol has suffered from a disorder without a name or treatment.  This disorder causes her to go into a coma every once in a while.  To the outside world she looks dead, but she’s still aware of things happening around her.  She usually wakes up in a couple of days.

But when Carol goes into her coma-state this time, her husband has nefarious plans.  Only one other person knows about her condition: her former lover and notorious outlaw James Moxie.  As Carol’s husband makes plans to bury her alive so that he can steal her fortune, Moxie sets out on the Trail to return to Harrows and save her.

This is such a rich book.  It’s atmospheric and vividly described, and the whole story has a sort of threatening darkness to it.  There’s menace on all sides–both Carol and Moxie find themselves in danger, and all the while there’s the suspense of wondering whether or not Moxie will make it to Carol in time.    There’s also a supernatural element in the form of an entity that calls itself Rot, which attaches itself to Moxie out on the trail as well as to Carol.

If you want to get in the Halloween spirit a little early, and your tastes run toward the suspenseful and slightly Gothic, give this one a look!

–Marie

 

 

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Marie’s Reading: “The Cuckoo’s Calling” by Robert Galbraith

cuckoo's callingI’m late to the party here, but I’m glad I finally gave the Cormoran Strike books a try!  I just finished the first in the series, The Cuckoo’s Calling.

This novel introduces us to Cormoran Strike, a wounded veteran turned private detective.  He’s just broken up with is girlfriend and is living in his office, which he can already barely afford.  He’s also got a temporary secretary named Robin, whose services he also cannot afford.

Strike takes the case of Lula Landry, a supermodel who fell to her death from her balcony months earlier.  Her brother is convinced it was murder, and wants Strike to prove it.  Soon the detective and Robin are drawn into the world of celebrity and wealth, where digging up the truth turns out to be exceedingly difficult.

I love Galbraith’s use of language.  The names all have an almost Dickensian ring to them, and the descriptions are clever and evocative.  The settings are very richly described, too–the world-building of London and of Strike’s dingy little office are both great.  Given the subjects of fame and celebrity, there’s a lot of social commentary going on here as well, and it works as another level to the investigation.

Strike is a fun character.  He’s very much the damaged PI type, with a difficult childhood, personal trauma, and relationship problems.  Yet he also comes across as a decent, intelligent, and generally kind man who is dogged in  his pursuit of the truth.  Robin, playing a Girl Friday kind of role, is also great–she’s torn between her disapproving fiance and her love of the excitement of solving a crime.  She proves herself very talented at sleuthing, too.  The partnership that builds between Strike and Robin is very nicely portrayed, and they make a great team.

The Cuckoo’s Calling is fun, compelling, and a great crime story filled with multiple layers and entertaining characters.  I’m looking forward to reading the rest!  If you like Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels, you might like these, too.

–Marie

P.S.
Robert Galbraith is J.K. Rowling. Just in case anyone hadn’t heard that yet.

 

April Staff Picks

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An Unsuitable Attachment by Barbara Pym
I love Barbara Pym.  Her books are always so funny and charming, filled with great characters.  This particular book is about a group of people who all live in the same not-so-fashionable parish in London, who all wind up on a trip to Rome together.
–Marie

Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery, The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842
by Nathaniel Philbrick
This is the story of an amazing, incredible voyage of discovery that lasted for over three years, including science, exploration, hardships, lost men and ships, from the Antarctic to the cannibal islands of the South Pacific, to the treacherous mouth of Oregon’s Columbia River. The book, though, as well as the expedition itself, is marred by bickering and feuding amongst the crew and the leader of the expedition. The leader, crew, and scientists never got the recognition they deserved, because of the backbiting and counterclaims that accompanied the voyage. Philbrick tried to weave the stories of resentment into the book along with the astonishing accounts of discovery; perhaps it is a good reflection on the expedition in that the acrimony affects the achievement of a great story.
–Ken

Points North by Howard Frank Mosher
Like many of Mosher’s earlier works, these  short stories are set in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont—remote, rustic, and beautiful.  Mosher tenderly examines the lives of individuals—some living in isolation, some in small communities—as they struggle to connect with each other and with the natural world.  If you love the fiction of Wallace Stegner and Wendell Berry, as I do, you will love the work of Howard Frank Mosher.
–Diane

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore
Radium girls is about the girls (mostly teenagers) who worked in the radium dial painting factories unaware of the danger of this new magical material. The girls literally glowed when they left the factories in the evening due to the radium dust that settled over them. Unfortunately, years of exposure caused unexplained illness down the road and many of these girls died in their early 20s. In addition to their story, this is a tale about corporate greed and corruption as the factory first ignored the reports of these illnesses and then worked to cover up the cause. Ultimately the resulting lawsuit led to changes in worker’s rights and compensation. Radium Girls draws the reader into the victims suffering as they desperately seek relief from their symptoms and try to understand why they are ill.
–Mary

Marie’s Reading: “The Snow Child” by Eowyn Ivey

snow childMabel and Jack are in their fifties, living on a homestead in Alaska in 1920.  Mabel is grieving a stillborn child, and she and her husband hope to make a new life for themselves.

One night, during an unaccustomed bout of fun, the couple build a child out of snow.  The next day, a mysterious little girl shows up on their homestead.  Mabel is convinced that the girl is the snow child come to life, to be a daughter for her.

The rest of The Snow Child follows Mabel and Jack throughout the years on their homestead, as their “snow child” Faina grows up.  They eventually learn the truth about her, but there still remains something otherworldly about the girl, even as she turns into a young woman.  Jack and Mabel also befriend the Bensons, another local homesteading family with three sons.  This is a very character-centered story, and very focused on the relationships between them.  Love is explored in all sorts of forms–romantic, parental, friendship, for the land and for home.  It’s very tender book.

Based on a Russian folktale (and this is made explicit in the novel), there’s a very strong element of the fairytale in the story.  The atmosphere is incredible, right from the get-go.  The Alaskan wilderness is vast and unforgiving, but not without its beauty.

The Snow Child  is a beautiful book, in its settings, characters, and exploration of grief, growth, and love.  If you liked The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro or Boy Snow Bird by Helen Oyeyemi, definitely give this one a look!

–Marie

 

Marie’s Reading: “The Sisters Brothers” by Patrick deWitt

sisters brothersEli and Charlie Sisters are known throughout the Oregon Territory as deadly killers.  They’re on a job for a man known as the Commodore.  The brothers are to hunt down and kill a gold prospector in California.  The story follows their mission, and the side adventures they have along the way.

The novel is narrated by Eli, who does not share his brother’s love of drinking and killing.  Eli does, however, really love his brother.  As the story goes on and he starts to grow a conscience about this particular mission, Eli begins to think that this life might not be for him anymore.  But how can he make a break and not lose his brother?

One of my favorite aspects of how deWitt tells this Western is in his characterization of the brothers, Eli in particular.  It’s when Eli’s character and story arc really clicks that the novel drew me in the most.  These two are hired guns, but there’s enough backstory to tell you  that Eli and Charlie came from pretty troubled circumstances.   There’s also a curious spareness, almost a flatness, to Eli’s narration–as the story went on, I began to read it as an unwillingness on his part to do too much self-examination.  You get the sense he doesn’t like what he’s become, doesn’t like his temper or his circumstances, but he doesn’t see a suitable way out.

Though it’s violent (sometimes intensely so), it’s also darkly funny, and the tone is never terribly intense.  There’s a wonderful sense of place, too–the West Coast in the early 1850’s comes through as an area full of danger, freedom, and promise.  The story is very fast-paced and compelling, and, as I said, Eli is a fascinating and complex narrator.

If you like Westerns with great characters, some moral quandaries, a nice setting, and plenty of shoot-outs, give this one a try!

–Marie

March Staff Picks

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Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land
Creepy, sad, and compelling, this thriller is about a girl whose mother is a serial killer.  Milly was the one who turned her mother in.  Now she’s in a foster home awaiting testifying at her mother’s trial.  Can she overcome her hideous childhood, or is she more like her mother than she wants to be?  Milly’s voice really makes the book–being solely in her head makes the story that much more believable and absorbing.
–Marie

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
Although it’s classified as a children’s book, The Phantom Tollbooth works on multiple levels, with charms for adults as well as for kids, and in an era when there’s an inordinate premium put on data, this gentle, clever novel values knowledge and prizes wisdom, while indulging in delicious silliness and wild wordplay.  A hit with the adult read-aloud group!
–Diane

It’s Not Yet Dark: A Memoir by Simon Fitzmaurice
A true account in Simon’s own words of his life, his ALS diagnosis, ups & downs and family.  Incredibly courageous, sad and uplifting. Wow, we don’t have it so bad. I
read the book after a friend was recently diagnosed with ALS. It is now a 2017 Indie film, by the same title and is available through the library’s Kanopy service.
–Amy

February Staff Picks

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Craeft: An Inquiry Into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts by Alexander Langlands
Langlands is an archaeologist and medieval historian, and Craeft presents a history of both making and being through traditional crafts like haymaking, thatching, tanning, and others.  Craeft is itself an Old English word that means something more than just making–it’s a worldview and a knowledge, a connection to a place and to materials.  Through Langland’s examination you realize how different a world it was when we were by necessity connected to our environments and natural human inclination toward making.  It’s a really delightful book!
–Marie

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver
I don’t know why it has taken me so long to get around to this book since I adore Barbara Kingsolver. I don’t usually read memoirs, but as I’m thinking about spring and planning my garden, this started to call to me. I loved it! More than a memoir, the book delves into the family’s year-long commitment to eat totally local, including much they grow themselves. I’m hoping to accomplish a similar goal this year, though on a much smaller scale. Kingsolver presents the facts of conventional farming and meat production in a way that really hit home for me. It wasn’t exactly new information, especially these days, but it made me never want to eat anything but grass-fed meat again. Not only for ethical reasons but because grass-fed, happy, healthy animals are drastically more nutritious. I felt like the last few chapters were a little extra like the book could have ended with the successful fall harvest and left it at that. Didn’t really need to know so much about turkeys. But, Kingsolver is a lovely writer and funny. The asides from her husband and daughter were nice additions.
–Cayla

The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley (Flavia de Luce #9)
I’m not sure what to make of this one, it has a very inconclusive ending. Without giving too much away, it was unusual. If you are new to the series, best start at the beginning with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It was nice to see Flavia growing up a little and learning to ask for and accept help from others. It is also nice to see her relationships with her sisters improving as they grow up. It definitely has the much-loved Flavia wit and cleverness, her turn of phrase and resourcefulness never disappoint. The secondary characters are fantastic as always. This series is great in that it has a familiar formula without feeling formulaic and boring. I like the set-up for the next book, it was just what I hoped would happen, so I’ll look forward to that.
–Cayla

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
It’s a classic I’d had–unread–on my shelf at home, but I wanted to get to it before the movie comes out. It’s a quick and easy read, and I can see the appeal for young-adult readers. Although it’s classified as science fiction–and there is a bit of serious science in it–the focus is really on the power of love and faith.
–Diane

Tell Me More: Stories About the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan
I really liked this.  Following the death of her best friend, Corrigan tried to find a better way to grapple with those difficult conversations that personal crises demand.  Anchored by a dozen phrases–including “tell me more”–Corrigan gently, and with abundant self-deprecating humor, illustrates how we can better listen to each other.
–Diane