In the Library Recommendations
Reviews of Some of Our New Items, December, 2018
Alexander McCall Smith departs from his usual two mystery series with his newest title, The Good Pilot Peter Woodhouse. He tackles the time and challenges of WW2 in rural England, and its impact on the characters by giving a sort of panoramic view of their lives from the end of the war through several decades beyond. Val is a Land Girl (farm worker) who meets an American Air Force pilot, and we see the daily impactof the war on both her community and the soldiers at the military base – rationing eggs, limited access to transportation, and meager income. She falls in love with Mike, who is subsequently stranded in Holland and is presumed dead. He is aided by Resistance workers and a German officer, Ubi, who continues to figure in their lives for years after. We follow the stories of Val, Mike, Ubi, Val’s small family, and – the adventures of Peter Woodhouse, a border collie who goes from herding sheep to flying with the airmen as their much-loved support.
The Rain Watcher, by Tatiana de Rosnay, the author of Sarah’s Key, The House I loved, and The Other Story (we have each of those), is a story told with the author’s usual depth. This is a poignant story of a strained & damaged family, coming together across continents, to celebrate the 70th birthday of the patriarch of the family, Paul Malegarde, who is a renowned arborist living in Paris. Paul’s son Linden comes from the US, reluctant to address family strain, and convinced his parents still won’t recognize his own successes in life. While various family members try to avoid their pain and conflict, they also face the natural catastrophe of the rising levels of the Seine and flooding of Paris. The family must work through their years of pain together and perhaps find redemption in the face of a natural calamity that threatens to truly tear them apart.
John Connelly’s new novel, simply entitled He, is historical fiction told in lyrical prose, conjuring the story of American comedians Laurel & Hardy. We see the Golden Age of Hollywood through the personal, sometimes poetical, voice inside Laurel’s head. The novel is well-researched, but puts its own spin on what the comic’s life was like. Reflective and sometimes poignant, the novel considers the musings o Laurel late in his life.
Reviewers are calling Nick Dybeck’s The Verdun Affair a literary romance. This story follows two Americans, Tom and Sarah, whose paths cross after WWI in Verdun, France. Their complex relationship takes them across a damaged Europe, as Sarah searches for her husband who was injured in the war. Over the following years, Tom cannot forget his time with Sarah. Dybeck studies love & consequences, and delves into who we really are in the face of a shattered world which we can no longer know or understand. The NYT calls this a novel of “operatic complexity”, and the Seattle Times says it is “wistfully noirish”.
Louise Erdrich doesn’t pull any punches, and her last fiction Future Home of the Living God, continues her hard-hitting exploration of the human condition. This is dystopian fiction, about a society that is disintegrating due to fear and authoritarian rule put in place because of a cataclysmic reversal in evolution of all species, including humans. The protagonist is Cedar, a young Ojibwe woman who had been adopted and raised in Minneapolis. Cedar is pregnant, and is desperately trying to connect with her birth mother, hoping to find a way to protect her child and herself from the increasingly toxic powers that trap all women and deny all individual agency. Tough and relevant, Erdrich brings us to the brink of absolute change and devastation, while trying to keep hope alive.
Another dystopian novel, The Hazards of Time Travel by Joyce Carol Oates, gives us a spirited young woman who resists the constraints of her life in a future oppressive society, and is therefore sent back 80 years to a seemingly ideal small town in Wisconsin, in order for her to begin rehabilitation. But she and a fellow time traveler find ways to resist even in this all-too-perfect environment.
Two new NonFiction titles:
We have a bit of a wait list on Michelle Obama’s Becoming, a much admired memoir of the former first lady, covering her childhood in Chicago’s South Side, as well as her personal and professional challenges as a lawyer, wife, & mother, and occupant of the White House. Reviews were enthusiastic, calling her work inspiring and powerful. Our readers so far have loved this memoir.
In her latest treatise, Leadership in Turbulent Times, Doris Kearns Goodwin considers the qualities and impact of leadership by studying 4 US presidents – Lincoln, both Roosevelts, and LB Johnson. She covers both the recognition of their abilities as leaders, and also reflects on the times they stumbled and were lost in regards to their next steps. We see both their accomplishments and their own ambitions, as well as the personal & political challenges they faced. They each showed a great deal of resilience & persistence throughout their lives, a lesson Goodwin feels is a basic tenant of authentic leadership.
A Quick Synopsis of a Few New Titles, 11/19/18:
We just got two new Richard Paul Evans Christmas novels, if you want a cozy holiday read. The titles are the Noel Diary and The Noel Stranger. And, we just got the newest title in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective series by Alexander McCall Smith! The Colors of All the Cattle sees Precious running for City Counsel when a big developer plans to put a hotel near a local graveyard, and her husband Charlie is meanwhile investigating a case that causes him a lot of trouble. Elizabeth Berg’s latest, Night of Miracles, takes up where her previous book about Arthur Truluv left off — a baking class instructor, along with the entire community, faces the challenges of an inadequate economy, and the small town pulls together to support each other. There are also new novels by Tana French (The Witch Elm) and Lee Child (Past Tense). Come take a look!
Early November reviews of new books:
Taking the Arrow Out of the Heart: Poems, by Alice Walker. Walker always packs a wallop, whether she writes fiction, essays, or, in this case, poetry. One of the beautiful aspects of this book is that every one of the poems is translated into Spanish, on the facing page. My favorite quote from “The World Rising” is “we must be done, with cruelty”. And so far, two of my favorite poems in this collection are “Lodestar” (about inner spirit) and “The Circle” (how we learn from our ancestors and elders about how to come together).
These poems are tough, filled with the suffering of traditionally powerless people. She focuses on their historic struggles. But then she reminds us that we are all in this together, we can share hope and wisdom and a way forward in the midst of pain.
We have some of her fiction and essays also in our collection, you can check them out.
The Mermaid, by Christina Henry. This general fiction title is a bit of a fairy tale, and a bit of history. A mermaid leaves the sea behind, but then meets up with PT Barnum, and is convinced to join his circus so he can make lots of money. But meanwhile, she forges relationships with others and wonders about living her own life – and if she wants to leave the show, can she? And how will her own life unfold? Reviews call this “magical” and “original”. It is a nicely written, wonderful story.
The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela, by Nelson Mandela, edited by Sahm Venter. We get small summaries of relevant history from the editor, by way of introducing particular letters or periods of Mandela’s incarceration. Mandela’s correspondence reflects the strength of the human spirit through his straightforward persistance. In the midst of his own painful struggle throughout his many years in prison, he became an advocate for prisoners’ human rights as well as his own rights, he comforted others while they grieved over loss, and he offered so many moments of hope and belief that we can all come to a better place personally and as members of society. There is something about reading people’s correspondence that is so appealing and heartening, it brings clarity somehow. Now, when I finish this, I will re-read Martin Luther King’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail”.
The Quiet Side of Passion, by Alexander McCall Smith. Here is the latest Isabel Dalhousie mystery set in Scotland. Isabel is at it again, in between juggling her many roles in life, looking into a many-faceted scenario of family relations around a single mother who has taken up with a possible con artist and whose claims about her son’s paternity might not be truthful at all. Isabel unravels the troubles with her usual kindness and insight, while she keeps up with family responsibilities. I especially appreciate that she still writes for the scholarly journal, Review of Applied Ethics.
Ann Rice. Blood Communion: a Tale of Prince Lestat. It’s been a few years since Rice has updated us on Lestat and his dark world. In this tale, Lestat narrates his own convoluted rise to power, as well as his struggles with a particular powerful demon in his court who threatens everything Lestat has carefully assembled.
The Book of Hidden Things, by Francesco Dimitri. Here is an intriguing fantasy read, with the alluring setting of southern Italy, about a group of friends searching for their dear friend Art and delving into various clues they find, including an odd manuscript of a book of hidden things that was stashed in his cluttered house. It is all complicated because they can’t call the police to help, since Art apparently grew marijuana in abundance, and there are stories of his amazing magical healing powers. This book is about friendship, and leaves us wondering if we can ever get to the heart of someone’s life mysteries, regardless of love and commitment and acceptance?
New titles from some of our popular suspense writers:
James Patterson’s Ambush is another episode in the Michael Bennett series. The mystery strikes too close to home, one of his own children is injured when a killer goes on a spree, and it begins to look like Michael might actually be the intended target.
Holy Ghost by John Sanford takes place in a tiny remote town in Minnesota, where town members are intent on creating some attention and a new economy based on religious pilgrimages. But their plan is waylaid by the discovery of a dead body. Here comes Virgil Flowers to investigate and set things to rights!
In his newest title, Dark Sacred Night, Michael Connelly brings together two favorite characters from other series, Bosch and Ballard. This is the start of a brand new series. It involves an unsolved murder of a teen runaway, which brings retired Detective Bosch and LAPD detective Renee Ballard together to find the killer and bring him to justice. As the case progresses, they forge a partnership that faces its own trials. This might be a good development to follow for these two characters!
Desperate Measures is Stuart Woods’ new title in the Stone Barrington series. It is always fast moving, as Barrington tries to protect a new and intriguing acquaintance from some dark intrigue happening on the streets of New York.
Reviews of a Few New Books, October 18, 2018
Eliot Coleman, The New Organic Grower: A Master’s Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener. This is the 3rd updated edition of a classic how-to book by one of Maine’s premier organic gardeners. It will help you build the skill set for small-scale growing. His info is always relevant and easy to follow. We’ve gotten it just in time to get you started on your plans for next year’s garden!
Barbara Kingsolver, Unsheltered. One of our beloved authors is back with another thoughtful work. This one covers characters across time – from a science teacher who admires Darwin’s controversial work in the 1800s, to the financial crisis of a family currently facing great hardship and uncertainty in spite of hard work. The stories are all about resilience and caring in the face of tremendous change and controversy.
Kate Morton, The Clockmaker’s Daughter. Morton is so good at capturing mood and time, while carefully building her stories. Here, we see the stories of characters, from the late 1800s to the early 21st century, all set in the same house by the Thames. It includes a murder and mystery as well as the connections & betrayals between people over time, and all the stories are told by the various characters. Always it harkens back to one forgotten woman, Birdie Bell, the clockmaker’s daughter.
Haruki Murakami, Killing Commendatore. Reviewers call Murakami one of the most imaginative of the 21st century writers, and it is easy to see why. His complex story includes magical realism (including the physical representation of an idea) as well as intrigue, mystery, and many-layered adventures – often told in a rather understated tone, when he isn’t leaving us with a cliffhanger. His writing is called eccentric, wild, masterful, and thrilling. We also have his 1Q84 in our collection.
Sonya Sones, the Hunchback of Neiman Marcus. Sones is best known for her YA fiction, but she departs that genre here. This is a verse novel about a hectic life of marriage, parenting, and caretaking, for an author suffering from writer’s block in her mid-life years. It is a quick contemporary tale, filled with wry (sometimes cringe-worthy) humor, a few bad choices, and the angst of middle age life.
Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Labyrinth of Spirits. We have five of his books, some of which are earlier parts of his Cemetery of Forgotten Books. This is the finale in the series. It introduces new characters, brought together to solve a web of mystery and danger that has developed over time – and of course it involves rare books that have vanished under dark circumstances. The characters are capable of such treachery and underhanded acts, they can’t trust each other, and must keep each other at a distance, doe to their own pain and loss, while trying to save others. The stories deepen and connect as Alicia, our main character who had been seriously injured as a child in Barcelona, pieces it all together with the help of policemen she can’t wholly trust and a family of booksellers. Zafon’s writing makes you slow down to take in detail and mood and nuance.
Two new books by agrarian writer Wendell Berry, August 28, 2018:
The World-Ending Fire: the Essential Wendell Berry
The Art of Loading Brush
Wendell Berry is a Kentucky farmer, college professor, and writer extraordinaire. His essays over the years have provided inspiration to the national farming, environmental, and local economy movements. The World-Ending Fire is a collection of writings selected from his earlier books, and The Art of Loading Brush contains current writing. His essays are always thoughtful meditations on rural community and the stunning web of life.
One new nonfiction to consider:
Slow: Simple Living for a Frantic World, by Brooke McAlary. This is a simple, quick guide for turning away from a hectic life. She covers decluttering, spending time in nature, owning less, and being mindful of our day and life. If you want a quick, quiet read to help you start on a simpler life, this is it.
Reviews of new fiction, August 28, 2018
London Rules, by Mick Herron. A fast-paced British mystery – lots of shenanigans by a group of law enforcement characters who don’t always know how or want to pursue leads in their cases, humor that might remind you a bit of Carl Hiaasen’s eco-mysteries, and great character development and depth.
April in Paris, 1921: a Kiki Button Mystery, by Tessa Lunney. This one is along the line of classic mysteries, it is set in Paris and evokes the feel of the European Jazz Age. Part historical fiction (Picasso starts Kiki on her mission, and we see Paris as it recovers from the Great War), and part spy mystery, the story follows a fascinating, multi-layered woman who is embroiled in the complex world of 1920s Paris.
Our House, by Louise Candlish. You may have seen lots of great reviews of this novel. It is a domestic suspense story that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Fiona comes home to find that all of her household possessions, and her children, along with her former husband, are gone and new people are moving in to their house. She begins the eerie search for her kids and pieces together just who her husband really is.
Eagle and Crane, by Suzanne Rindell. The title reflects the national symbols of the US and Japan. The story is set in Depression-era California, and features two pilots who are the stars of a Flying Circus. When Pearl Harbor is bombed, one of the circus planes crashes, killing one of the performers who had escaped from a Japanese internment camp. It looks to the local authorities like a simple case, but an FBI agent assigned to the case is reluctant to accept that conclusion and presses for deeper answers. A good reflection on a difficult time in US history, told via an engrossing story of complicated relationships born of mistrust, prejudice, and war, as well as the ties that bind us together.
The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses), by Terri-Lynne DeFino. I love titles like this. Here is a novel about personal stories and writing, and the interactions between characters over time. Everyone in the retirement home, residents and staff alike, await the arrival of noted author Alphonse Carducci. Cecibel, a caretaker in the home, becomes his muse, and all are drawn into Alphonse’s storytelling as well as their own stories and relationships. It is a story within a story of accomplishments, development, and possibility.
Two Reviews, August 17, 2018
Elizabeth Berg. The Pull of the Moon. Berg’s latest novel continues her exploration of finding yourself in the midst of family, aging, and change. Nan suddenly leaves home after turning 50, and we see her trip from her first person point of view, as she records it in a journal and via her letters home to Martin. Her journey is as much inward as it is across country, and it can be a bit of a bumpy ride.
Natalie Fergie. The Sewing Machine. This novel takes us ack and forth across a century, following the experiences of women – Jean, in 1911, around the Singer strike, and then others in following generations of the family – whose lives are reflected and recorded through all the items they sew and their own writings. Four generations of history are discovered by Jean’s grandson, Fred, and he pieces together the events & challenges of their lives. This fiction has history, family secrets, and lends a sense of continuity and understanding of how we get to where we are.
Quick reviews of three new titles in our collection, August 4, 2018
The Bookshop of Yesterdays, by Amy Meyerson. An independent book store, references to Bill Shakespeare (and other classic writers), long-held family secrets, and a puzzle to solve – all in one story. Miranda always loved her quirky uncle, but a rift in the family kept them apart. One day, years later, she is called to his funeral, and that is when she begins to piece together the clues he’d left for her about his own life – and maybe she’ll find her way to a new life for herself.
Welcome to Lagos, by Chibundu Onuzo. Nigeria is torn by war and rebellion, and by the environmental destruction caused by the oil industry. Chike, an officer in the army, simply can’t make himself kill anymore, so he and one of his men walk away in the midst of an assault on a village. As they make their way to the city of Lagos – a place of difficult politics, poverty, and hope – and wind up in a complicated situation in this complicated city. Each moment they encounter difficult decisions regarding us vs. them, or me vs. you, but they use some unexpected resources to support those in great need, and maybe find the connections needed for what comes next.
Southernmost, by Silas House. A Southern evangelical minister leaves his church and his wife after understanding that his beliefs are changing. He takes his young son and goes in search of his own estranged brother. Taking his son without having custody rights will cost him dearly, so he tries to stay anonymous, and they make a small life on Key West, among people who accept imperfection and can support them as they seek answers and forgiveness, as well as a way to make things right.
July 10, 2018 Reviews
Some Recent Nonfiction
On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity & Getting Old, by Parker J. Palmer. People call Palmer one of our cultural elders. That is a good term for what he has done over the years through his work at Center for Courage and Renewal. This newest book is a small collection of brief writings about how we grapple with issues around who we are and what our purpose might be as we move through our time of aging, emotionally, spiritually, and mindfully.
How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence, by Michael Pollan. The author applies the same sense of history and exploration to the science & uses of psychedelics as he did to his earlier work in The Botany of Desire. This is a fascinating trip through a long & complicated story of research into connections between these substances and the possible results regarding health, both physically and mentally. Pollan’s usual gifted writing.
What’s Making Our Children Sick? By Michelle Perro and Vincanne Adams. The authors start with the growing rate of chronic conditions among children, and wind up tying much of it to the industrial food system, especially the high use of certain pesticides and increasing reliance on genetically modified crops. They consider what parents and the medical community might do to try to diminish these illnesses.
Command and Control, by Erich Schlosser. If you read his earlier work from a number of years ago, Fast Food Nation, you know that Schlosser is respected for his deep and thorough research, as well as his ability to turn it into accessible, creative narrative. In this book, he delives into the history (and a bit of science) of our nuclear arsenal – how we built it, how it is protected, and the ethical dilemmas associated with it. He recounts the harrowing near accidents, the brave actions of the people on watch, and the constant vigilance and worries that surround our reliance on these weapons. He is a great storyteller, and his nonfictions eeps you on the edge of your seat.
We have added two new war fiction titles in the past month or two, and many of us love that genre. First up is Michael Ondaatje’s Warlight. Like the author’s earlier novel, The English Patient, this book requires the reader to slow down and savor the prose as well as the story (as does much war fiction). Ondaatje’s writing is lyrical, he lets us see all the small insights and reactions characters have to the impact of the events and people around them. This story is about two children whose parents left them with a mysterious person named the Moth, and they – along with a group of other somewhat shady characters – must survive London during WW2. This is about the sometimes subtle, long-lasting repercussions of what people must do in war: who do you trust? – and, who (and how) do you forgive?
Another good one, based on a true story of one Jewish family and told from the point of view of several characters during WW2, is Georgia Hunter’s We Were the Lucky Ones – a novel of how a family must disperse in order to escape the war, how they must adapt and deal with trauma and grief and horrific circumstances in order to survive, and how some of them might find a way to each other long after.
One last review, and not war fiction: There There: a Novel, by Tommy Orange. A tough, engaging, sometimes funny and always eye-opening story of a dozen characters who converge on the Big Oakland PowWow for a day. The book takes us through their back stories, interactions with others, and lets us see what it is to sort through what it means to be on land that once traditionally belonged to the ancestors of these people, and yet, to be so removed from it at the same time.
July 6, 2018 Review
Something in the Water, by Peter Scott
See George Smith‘s review of this Maine novel set during WWII, he gives you a good sense of Scott’s storytelling.
We also have the other two titles in the series by Scott, The Boy Who Came Walking Home (set on the same Maine island, during WWI), and Barter Island (same island, during the Viet Nam War and the hippie back-to-the-land movement). This is a great series, you get to follow various characters through their lives, from WWI to the early 1970s. Our patrons love Maine fiction, and this series has been well-received.
And, not set in Maine, but definitely island fiction, is Peter May’s The Black House. Like Scott’s work, this solid mystery definitely shows us the very rough life lived by islanders. Policeman Fin MacLeod returns to the island among the outer Hebrides off of Scotland where he grew up, to help solve a gruesome murder. While he makes his way towards finding the killer, he has to revisit difficult memories and relationships that he thought he’d escaped long ago. This isn’t new to the collection, we’ve had it for a couple of years, but it is a good mystery, and May is a good storyteller — we didn’t want you to miss it!
Review, July 5, 2018, by Mary Anne Libby
Harry’s Trees, by Jon Cohen
I always love what I’m reading, but this one stands out. It was an impulse buy – Anna and I both read it and thought highly of it, so of course I had to place it in the library collection for others to read.
Harry has always had a deep connection to trees, especially beeches, but is caught working in an office job with the US Forest Service. When his wife dies unexpectedly (and he feels it is his fault), he winds up heading into the woods in Pennsylvania to lose himself in one way or another. That doesn’t go as expected, of course. He winds up connecting with an odd young girl, Oriana, who is dealing with her own grief; her mother; and a cast of other imperfect local characters, one of which is a wonderful elderly librarian (my favorite character, of course).
This book is small town fiction – my favorite genre – meets the Grimm brothers (except not dark). Harry and the people around him wind up living out the story line of a homegrown fairy tale called “Grum’s Ledger”. There is even a belligerent Wolf character, too many suitors for Oriana’s mother to handle, a bit of a fairy godmother, a tree house, and a whole lot of gold. I’ll stop there so I don’t give away how things develop. Come check it out!
Just read something you liked and want to read something similar? Try The Book Seer.
Looking for something new and exciting to read? Want to keep track of what you like and what you have read? Try going to GoodReads and exploring this very useful site with many book descriptions and recommendations. If we don’t have the book here in the library we may be able to get it for you via Interlibrary Loan!
The Greatest Books of All Time: This list is generated from 107 “best of” book lists from a variety of great sources. Find both fiction and non-fiction lists here.
New York Times 100 Notable books of 2015: The year’s notable fiction, poetry and nonfiction, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. This list represents books reviewed since Dec. 7, 2014.
LibraryThing – The Top 100 Mystery Novels of All Time Mystery Writers of America. LibraryThing is another site that will let you catalog the books you have read. Enter what you’re reading or your whole library. It’s an easy, library-quality catalog.
National Geographic’s List of All Time Best Adventure Books – Extreme Classics: The 100 Greatest Adventure Books of All Time
YALSA 2016 Best Fiction for Young Adults – Young Adult Library Services Association a division of the American Library Association selects best fiction for young adults each year.