Recommendations

In the Library Recommendations

Book Recommendations, August 13, 2019

Nickolas Butler’s Little Faith has his usual thoughtful prose.  This story is about a family who cares deeply for each other, in their own flawed ways.  He quietly reveals their relationships, as well as their complicated beliefs about faith and church. In any of Butler’s books, he portrays the poignant, deep, and abiding connections between characters, their landscape (snow storms, orchard, churches) and the moments of magnificent joy & love in the midst of trial and error.

Richard Russo’s newest book, Chances Are…, contains all that we have come to expect from this stellar Maine author:  friendships, long and complicated history, and humor, all placed in sometimes devastating circumstances.  The three main characters, who’ve known each other for decades, meet up on Martha’s Vineyard, and in the midst of this confined community, they deal with secrets and old interactions that create suspense and define their generation, for which formative experiences included the Viet Nam war.

The Guest Book, by Sarah Blake.  This looks good.  The story goes back and forth between three generations of the Milton family, from the 1930s to the present.  Evie, the 3rd generation, is visiting the old family summer place on a Maine island, to bury her mother’s ashes, and is facing the sale of the summer home, as the family fortunes have dwindled.  Blake provides a rich story of both the members of the family, and of the country itself, throughout the changing times.  Evie explores her mother’s, and family, legacy and history, with all of its complications and secrets.

Claire Lombardo.  The Most Fun We Ever Had.  Lombardo has been compared to Elizabeth Strout, so that’s promising!  Two parents, Marilyn & David, and their four adult daughters, all love each other imperfectly and we get to know them in their often uncomfortable lives.  A grandson, given up for adoption 15 years ago by one of the daughters, comes into their lives, which brings all sorts of complications & unfinished business to light.  A good, contemporary story of all the small and large moments of love, grief, joy, and hardship in our lives.

Book Reviews July 30, 2019

We have a new Jackson Brodie mystery by Kate Atkinson, as well as new titles by favorite authors Stuart Woods, Philip Kerr, John Sandford, Joy Fielding, and Clyde Cussler.  And, for our dog-loving mystery buffs – there is a new Spencer Quinn mystery, called Heart of Barkness.  Chet & Bernie get up to their usual shenanigans!

A bit of historical fiction:
The Librarian of Auschwitz by Antonio Iturbe is about some real and some fictional characters who were at Auschwitz, and central to the story is Editha (Dita), a young woman charged with protecting and hiding the 8 precious books cobbled together by prisoners who ran a secret school at the concentration camp.  The author did some amazing research to pull together the history of some of these people, and presents a detailed, brutal setting that makes this dark time in history come alive.  Iturbe presents the stark and desperate circumstances, but also the courage, understanding, and collaboration that was ever-present.

V,S. Alexander’s The Irishman’s Daughter is not about a particular historical figure, but his thorough research and ability to make characters come alive provide an enlightening and intriguing story set in the time of the Irish potato famine.  He portrays the great tensions between powerful English landowners, and the poor, starving tenants who farmed the land and lost everything during the famine.  The depiction of the suffering undergone by the characters is heartrending, and we see the daily difficult decisions the Walsh family and their friends & loved ones must make to try to survive.  Eventually, because of the difficulties, and the hope they try to engender in their lives, we see Briana and her sister Lucinda leave their loved ones and become a part of the Irish migration to America.  They land in Boston and must quickly put together a life, while still hoping to bring their loved ones to this new country eventually.

Both of these books introduce us to characters of depth and courage, and they make these parts of history absolutely come to life.

More fiction:
Lost and Wanted: a Novel, by Nell Freudenberger.  Wow, physics meets grief in this story.  At the beginning, Helen – a theoretical physicist – has lost a dear college friend, Charlie (Charlotte).  Over the next months, Charlie’s family (husband, daughter Simmi, and parents) and Helen and her own son Jack deal with the loss, each in their own way.  What complicates it is that Helen gets texts and emails from Charlie’s phone after her death, and some of them are pretty powerful guides and insights for her.  Helen, being a logical scientist, figures out several explanations for these communications.  As Helen and her coworkers address the power and complications of gravitational waves and the vast connections within the universe, and Simmi & Jack question both personal and universal issues, the origin of the communications may not be quite clear.  A story of big questions, loss, love, growth, and acceptance.

The Islanders, by Met Mitchell Moore.  The setting itself – Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island, is enough to draw you in.  Three characters – Anthony, Joy, and Lu – all carry their own secrets and face personal difficulties.  During this one summer, they meet, get to know each other, share their troubles, but also keep some secrets buried.  Both together and separately, as the summer culminates, they must come to terms with where and who they are, and determine how to keep what they have, or move on to something else.

Ayesha At Last, by Uzma Jalaluddin.  Published in 2018, this novel has gotten great reviews.  Ayesha is a poet and teacher who is part of a lively, traditional Muslim family in Canada. Their goal is to see that she marries, and the most likely prospect is Khalid, a very traditional and conservative man.  Ayesha feels that tradition does not always answer all of our needs & questions. She doesn’t want an arranged marriage, and is leery of Khalid, though she sees him as a very upright person.  She hears that he might become engaged to her own cousin, and has to admit that she is attracted to him, but how could their world views ever match?  Each of them must come to terms with who they are, and why.  Reviewers are calling this a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice – it is about love and about knowing ourselves.

Two NonFiction Titles:
From Scratch, by Tembi Locke.  Memoirs can be a lot like fiction when it comes to portraying love, loss, forgiveness, and the journey to our inmost selves.  Locke’s memoir, which has received so many great reviews and was a pick for the popular online Reese’s Book Club, accomplishes all of it, and more.  Locke, an American black woman, married Saro, a man from a traditional Sicilian family who disapproved of the marriage.  They traveled to Los Angeles, made a home, adopted a beloved daughter, and had successful careers.  But, Saro dies, and Tembi takes her little daughter and returns to Sicily to find some bit of solace.  Saro’s family brings them to their table, and they forge a new relationship together, based on forgiveness, acceptance, and preparing & sharing traditional foods.  Tembi must find her own life, but this story of her relationships both in the US and in Sicily is warm and reminds us of the place of acceptance and courage in all our lives.  She includes some fabulous recipes from her husband and his family, at the end of the book
If you love this book, you might want to follow up by reading the novel The House At the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner, simply because of the rich setting on an island off the coast of Sicily.

Oliver Sacks, Everything In Its Place: First Loves and Last Tales. We lost Oliver Sacks a few years back, and this is a compendium of some of his final and never-before published essays.  Some of his focus is still very much on his clinical interests and amazing case histories having to do with brain function, aging, and other topics.  But he also includes personal consideration from his own life, and the brief essays are beautiful and insightful.  There is one, early in the book, on his love for libraries.  Others include “Night of the Ginkgo”, which is so lovely and quiet; the final essay, “Life Continues”, which is somewhat cautionary and then ends with the hope that we all will work together so that we can indeed continue; and, my favorite essay in the book, “Why We Need Gardens”.  There is so much goodness here.  Sacks has always been able to focus on science and phenomena, and at the same time he makes it apparent how all of it affects our lives and deepens our understanding.

Juvenile and Young Adult Literature:
One Great Nonfiction:
David MaCaulay, Crossing On Time: Steam Engines Fast Ships, and a Journey to the New World.  J 623.8 MAC  MaCauley has always been a favorite non-fiction writer, he chooses such amazing and specific topics and makes them come alive.  Both his text and his detailed illustrations provide such interesting and engaging information on great parts of history and technology that are sometimes overlooked.  We have quite a few of his books, all of them are fascinating for budding engineers, builders, and history buffs!

Juvenile Fiction:
Matilda Woods, The Girl Who Sailed the Stars.  A wonderful adventure with a touch of magic is undertaken by young Oona, the 7th daughter of a sea captain who very much doubts that a girl should be on a ship.  From the sea to the stars, Oona and Barnacles (a cat) and others share a fantastical trip.  There are beautiful, light illustrations along the edges of each page.

Susan Hood, Lifeboat.  A very affecting novel in verse.  Ken is a 13 year old boy who escapes London during the Nazi bombings by boarding the luxury ship SS City of Benares, on it’s way to Canada.  A few days out, they are torpedoed, and Ken scrambles aboard Lifeboat 12, along with five other boys.  What can they do to survive, together?  This is based on a little-known true WW2 story.  Well done.

Rajani LaRocca, Midsummer’s Mayhem.  Mimi is part of a big family and as the youngest child, she feels rather invisible.  In order to find her place, she enters a baking contest.  While she ponders what to create, she and a new friend, Vik, spend time gathering ingredients in a rather magical forest in their town.  But, she begins to wonder ifher family’s increasingly odd and chaotic behavior might be due to those ingredients from the woodlands.  She has to use both her culinary and detective skills to set things to rights again.  There are a few recipes for some scrumptious treats at the end of the book!

Shelley Pearsall, The Seventh Most Important Thing.  Arthur hurls a brick at the local Junk Man on the very first page of the book.  We don’t know why, yet.  He winds up being sentenced to juvie, but instead, the Junk Man asks the judge to assign Arthur to community service – working with him?  We do learn why he threw that brick, and what Arthur’s difficulties are.  The Junk Man gives him a broken cart to use for their work, as well as a list of 7 important things for him to work through.  This novel is so well-written, the neighborhood setting is alive, and we are involved with all of the characters in Arthur’s life.  This all takes place during a time in American history that included Kennedy’s assassination and the civil rights movement.  Arthur’s developing relationship with the wise Junk Man and other community members and with his own struggling family helps him discover his own place.  That odd list of 7 important things, that had seemed so inconsequential, leads to healing and belonging.

One Young Adult Title:
Elizabeth Acevedo, The Poet X.  A magnificent novel in verse, about Xiomara, who writes all of her frustrations, fierceness, and difficulties in a leatherbound journal that she mostly keeps to herself.  She is invited to join her school’s slam poetry group, and that opens up possibilities.  She writes, she starts performing, all in spite of mama’s strict rules.  She is a strong young woman who learns to use her voice and refuse silence.

Two Recommendations, July 4, 2019

Fiction:
The Library of Lost and Found, by Phaedra Patrick.  The author of The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper (we have it in our collection) has constructed another quiet, affecting novel.  Patrick is great at creating quirky characters that are lively and resonant, imperfect and likeable.  Martha Storm lives in her parents’ old house after having cared for them for years, volunteers at the town library (so, if some of the story occurs in a library, it’s got to be good!), and takes on all sorts of work for others in the community.  She just doesn’t want to interact much with anyone, and doesn’t know how to stand up for herself.  She and a host of other characters wind up on a path of growth & redemption, to try to release themselves from painful history and to forgive themselves and others.  Martha feels familiar, she is a character who must create her own life, no matter her age and circumstances.

Poetry!:
Joy Harjo, How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems 1975-2001.  Harjo is our new US Poet Laureate (always named by the Librarian of Congress) and is the first Native American to be appointed to that position.  This is a collection of work from her various books.  She belongs to the Muscogee Nation and has long loved writing & reciting poetry, as well as performing music (lots of jazz and blues).  She is a strong & determined voice for any culture that is oppressed and that must seek healing & establish support for its members.  Her poems encompass politics, frustration, joy, grief, awe, justice, and hope, and her work always reflects compassion & acceptance, even in the midst of trouble.  One of my favorite poems in this volume is “The Dawn Appears With Butterflies”. It ends with this stanza:
everything is a prayer for this journey
As you shut the door behind you in the dark
Wings of dusk
Wings of night sky
Wings of dawn
Wings of morning light

It is sunrise now.

One review of a novel, June 23, 2019

The House at the Edge of Night, by Catherine Banner.  The author, born in England and now residing in Italy, did a lot of research into the literature and legends of the Mediterranean in order to create such a beautiful story.  This is a slowly unfolding tale of a small island community off the coast of Italy, told very much in the traditional layered story-building of the area. Beautiful imagery and metaphor, rich prose. Amedeo was raised in an orphanage and wound up on the island of Castellamore as a doctor, in the early 20th century, right before WWI.  He interacts with the island folk, winds up moving into an old building with a lot of history (The House at the Edge of Night), marries Pina, and together they reinvent the building and raise a family.  The book offers an intimate study of the complicated interrelations of characters (including the island’s own Saint Agata, who had rescued the people from a curse of weeping), and the island itself.  Amedeo and Pina and those around them make tough choices at the start of WW2 regarding the Fascism that even effected their remote place, and then contend with cultural and economic changes of the late 20th century into the first decade of the 21st.  You can discern the rich traditions of work and relationship, food, and place in that small society.  Each section of the book starts with a re-telling of the old legends from ancient times on the island.

June 20, 2019, Recommendations:

One brand new nonfiction:

Kathryn Kellogg, 101 Ways To Go Zero Waste.  The author started reducing her use of plastics after a bout with cancer at the age of 20, and has expanded her work to include all sorts of packaging and waste.  You may have seen videos of her experiment with zero waste online at some point, and she manages a website at goingzerowaste.com, and is connected to the National Geographic magazine.

The tips she offers not only address reducing waste but also lots of DIY projects for healthy alternatives (soaps & cleaners, for instance).  She is careful to acknowledge that we are all imperfect people just trying to do what’s right, no one can do everything.  She has great ideas on gift-giving, having pets without creating lots of waste, and – in tips 96-98, she addresses the need for community and local interaction – always a plus!

Two authors to visit (or re-visit):

Richard Powers and Colum McCann write some of the richest stories in our collection.  They both delve deep into parts of American history and bring it to life through the many-layered lives of their characters.  This year, Powers’ novel The Overstory hit a chord with many of our readers.  The book is about the connection between trees and humans, and his magnificent prose reveals both the damage we do to each other and the natural world around us, and the commitment of some folks to saving whatever pieces of the world they can.

Powers has often written his stories around music, as well.  We have Orfeo, a mix of science and music and intrigue as the government watches the microbiology experimentation going on in the home of a composer. A different, well-written piece.  And, my favorite of Powers’ books is The Time of Our Singing, which follows two generations in a family of musicians from the jazz age through the Civil Rights movement, and into hip-hop.  The characters are complex, and the music itself is a character, rich & alive.

McCann’s books unfold similarly.  In his Let the Great World Spin, he introduces us to the many people who witness the amazing feat of a tightrope walker (and dancer) as he traverses a rope he has placed between the Twin Towers in NYC.  There is a group of mothers of songs who have died recently in the Vietnam War, who grapple with their grief & separate understandings of life; an Irish monk; a prostitute who is also a grandmother; and an artist. The characters portray resilience, sadness, and redemption.  McCann’s Transatlantic is a favorite, also.  It covers the travel back and forth of noted North Americans (Frederick Douglass and George Mitchell are two of them) to Ireland, negotiating our sometimes difficult &puzzling relations with that country, and it portrays the women, like Lily, a housemaid, who feature in their visits.  McCann, like Powers, serves up an intimacy with times and places in our history that brings all of it to life.

June 17, 2019 Reviews

Lately, our patrons have been quite interested in all the new WWI and WWII fiction we’ve added to the collection, so we thought we would feature some of our fiction that considers the Vietnam War.  Two of our more current titles are Silas House’s Eli the Good, and Diane Chamberlain’s The Dream Daughter.  Both are quiet stories that follow families impacted by the war.  Eli the Good is a young boy who’s father suffers from PTSD after coming home from the war.  Eli is observant and tries to interpret the people around him – his suffering & unpredictable father, his rebellious sister, his aunt who protested the war, and his mother who has a remarkable ability to love.  His remarkable close relationship with trees (something he shares with his dad) also carries him through.
Chamberlain’s novel involves time travel, from the 70’s, after Carly learns she has lost her husband in the war, to the early 21st century, when she visits the Viet Nam war memorial wall made by Maya Lin, and the time in between when she connects with her young daughter.
Both of these stories wind up being about love and healing within imperfect lives impacted by the long-term effects of war.

Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried has become a classic work of war fiction over the years since its publication in 1990.  It brings us back and forth between the war and the time afterwards when young veterans try to find their way into civilian life in an America that no longer feels familiar, and for which the war has rendered them unprepared.  Even if you’ve already read this, it bears a re-read easily.  It reveals the depth of pain and uncertainty that is carried by those who begin the circuitous, sometimes risky, journey towards recovery.

Three more fiction titles – Elizabeth J. Church’s The Atomic Weight of Love is centered very much on Los Alamos, and balances character Meridian’s love of ornithology with her fascination with physics, space, and energy.  We watch her move from the time of WWII, through the 1970s countercultural movement, her relation with a Vietnam War veteran, and the influence of the women’s movement.  A beautifully written story.

Two Maine writers also portray the influence of the war on individual characters and their place in the world.  Distinguished Maine poet Baron Wormser recently penned a novella entitled Tom O’Vietnam.  It is about a combat veteran who refers to Shakespeare’s King Lear to help him interpret life since the war.  This brief story is clever, rich, and compassionate.  It offers hope through forgiveness and empathy.  Finally, Peter Scott’s trilogy set on fictional Barter’s Island off the coast of Maine shows the complicated, closed island life over the course of 3 wars – WWI (The Boy Who Came Waling Home), WWII (Something in the Water), and Viet Nam (Barter Island).  As young folks associated with the island leave for the war, or return from it, the countercultural/back-to-the-land movement change the traditional ways of the island folks.  This is an engaging series with great characters who feel familiar to us.

We have nonfiction that also addresses this time period in our history, if you are interested.  And, you might end your exploration of this group of novels by watching our DVDs of two movies:  “Across the Universe”, and “Hair”.

One New NonFiction Title:

An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back, by Elisabeth Rosenthal.  This book has been discussed by participants in one of our aging forums, and is recommended by AARP and other groups who advocate for accessible healthcare. It got strong, positive reviews from major national newspapers.  Rosenthal delineates the myriad issues attached to each part of the medical system, like pharmaceuticals, contractors, billing, insurance, research, and the growth of conglomerates.  Thankfully, in the second part of the book and the five helpful appendices, she also gives us tools and ideas for protecting ourselves regarding both costs and care.  She even includes sample letters you can use to fight unfair billing charges (such as out-of-network charges that were not explained ahead of time).  This is a well-researched guide aimed at the general public.  A helpful read.

One from a Maine author, June 4, 2019

Monica Wood is one of our patrons’ beloved Maine authors (we have five of her novels, as well as her memoir, When We Were the Kennedys).  Now we have added Secret Language — her debut novel from 1993 — to our collection!  It was inspired by her own family & childhood spent in Mexico, Maine, and follows the story of two sisters, Faith & Connie, from their odd upbringing as the children of somewhat self-centered actors, into their adulthood, when they have grown apart, following different paths.  A number of difficult events force them to come together again, and redefine their understanding of love and family.  In this early novel, we find the same warm prose and approachable characters that we have come to expect via her other novels.  Wood tells a many-layered story with deep, provoking interactions between characters.  Enjoy.

Two new ones from a favorite author, May 31, 2019

We have two new Sarah Graves mysteries in our collection.  Graves is a well-established Maine mystery writer, with a long series of stories about the main character Jacobia (Jake), who always renovated houses in Eastport.  With these two new books, Death By Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake, and Death By Chocolate Malted Milkshake, Jake has started a new endeavor with her friend Ellie – they’ve opened a bakery.  She is still solving mysteries, though – and there’s chocolate as a feature!  There are some very nice looking recipes at the end of each book (the cheesecake one looks yummy!)

A Few Random Reviews of New Books, May 9, 2019

Two non-fiction titles:
William Stixrud & Ned Johnson, The Self-Driven Child:  the science and sense of giving your kids more control over their lives.  While our busy lives & high expectations have led many parents to micromanage their children into what looks like a successful life, the authors of this book encourage us to just stop, let go, and aid our kids in managing their own lives, including making mistakes and devising plans that will help them build their own futures.  Based on many case studies and extensive research, the book takes us through the effects of stress in children’s lives, to the need for downtime, use of technology, and how parents can learn to support without directing – from early childhood to young adulthood.  There are lots of examples and stories here, as well as some practical advice for parents.

Karen J. Clayton, Demystifying Hospice:  inside the stories of patients and caregivers.  Addressing a difficult and sometimes confounding topic, this book introduces the idea of using hospice services much earlier in the stages of end of life, and gives information on how to take the various steps of setting up care.  Clayton describes the first visits from hospice nurses and social workers, to issues faced by caregivers, the risk of social isolation, and how to make good end of life decisions.  At the end of the book, appendices that point out possible resources provide helpful information.  This book is a useful tool for learning about a tough topic.

A few new titles for younger readers:
Teen Guide to Student Activism, by Stuart A. Kallen.  We have been seeing, in the news, that young people have become much more active in the various issues facing both the country and the world.  Kallen has done research on the stories of the efforts many students have undertaken regarding justice, environment, violence, and other issues.  It is informative about particular movements, and it is a “how-to” manual, sharing ideas and guidance to those who might want to join in.  A very readable, brief introduction to activism for today’s young adults.

A juvenile non-fiction title: A Velocity of Being: letters to a young reader, edited by Maria Popova and Claudia Bedrick.  Such a gorgeous volume of letters from writers, philosophers, musicians (Yo Yo Ma!),scientists, poets and others from various backgrounds, addressed to young readers.  All of the letters – some are brief, some are a page long – are accompanied by wonderful, varied illustrations.  The writers tell the reader of the importance of reading in their own lives, or offer stories about reading.  It is a perfect compendium to sit and page through, and then pause to read a particular letter and just gaze at the intriguing illustrations.  Put together by Popova, who runs the Brainpickings website (www.brainpickings.org), the book is filled with insight and encouragement. At the end, there are brief biographies of each of the letter-writers.  A true and memorable resource for any budding philosopher/writer/thinker.

Two absolutely beautiful picture books:
Home is a Window
, by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard.  Such a quiet, comforting book with simple, direct prose, about all of the simple aspects of what a home can mean, even when you must leave one home & community for another.  The very warm, rich colors of the illustrations by Sasaki add depth & dimension to what the little girl in the story experiences.  A lovely, contemplative book.

Carl and the Meaning of Life, by Deborah Freedman.  Carl gets starred reviews from many library blogs and journals.  Freedman’s prose is exquisitely simple and yet addresses the big questions in life – what is my role?  What good do I do?  These questions and the interactions between the characters (Carl is an earthworm, by the way), paired with gorgeous watercolor illustrations, make a poignant, beautiful story.  It is a wonderful addition to our collection.

Some Reviews of New Books, April 19, 2019:

One Non-Fiction:

Letters of a Nation, edited by Andrew Carroll.  This collection was published a while ago, but is new to us.  Quite simply, I love it.  It is an anthology of correspondence between great American political figures, letters from citizens to those in power, communications among literary giants, and family members.  It is a book that draws you in, you want to page through carefully, reading about issues throughout American history, including slavery, various wars, explorations of the country, women’s rights, and more.  You get such an intimate glance into the lives and concerns of those who have shaped our nation.

Fiction:

Colum McCann, Thirteen Ways of Looking.  McCann has a magical way of portraying both place & character in very real, understandable, poignant circumstances. We have two of his previous books (Let The Great World Spin, and TransAtlantic), which were well-received by our readers. This is a novella, focused on one incident which resulted in the death of J. Mendelssohn, and it explores all the different perspectives of what might have actually happened, in the course of investigation.  McCann’s prose is straightforward and as spare as poetry – and revealing at the same time.  We read McCann not just for the story, but for how that story is told.  The book includes three shorter stories, also, set in Galway, London, and Afghanistan.  He is a brilliant writer.

Salvatore Scibona, The Volunteer.  This is Scibona’s debut novel, and is a good indication of his strong writing.  The story starts with a young boy who is abandoned at an airport.  But to figure out who this is, we have to follow earlier stories, including a soldier serving in Viet Nam, and then characters at various locations in the US.  Scibona is able to wind the themes of the trials of our personal journeys into the larger issues of power & secrets.  The book takes us through four generations, following from father to son.

Lost Roses, by Martha Hall Kelly (author of Lilac Girls, which has been popular at our library).  Though the US isn’t paying much attention to the beginnings of the first World War in 1914, the American woman, Eliza, gets drawn into the obvious and frightening effects of the war when she becomes involved with several Russian emigres.  He works to help her friends escape the Austrian war against Serbia, but finally loses contact. Kelly takes us back and forth across the ocean to learn the stories of Eliza, Sofya, and Varinka.

Rajeev Balasubramanyam’s Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss is both fun and insightful.  It will remind you of R. Joyce’s the Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and Backman’s popular A Man Called Ove.  These novels about crusty elders have become popular with our patrons, and rightly so.  Chandra is a brilliant economics professor who recently narrowly lost out on the Nobel Prize for his body of work.  That major disappointment comes on top of his estranged and awkward relationships with his adult children, all of whom live far from him.  A freak accident slash heart attack brings him, quite unwillingly, to a consideration and exploration of where his life might lead – perhaps it requires a change in direction, no matter how unprepared he is for an uncomfortable future.

The Cliff House, by RaeAnne Thayne.  Bea and Daisy are two sisters who live in the town of Cape Sanctuary, after having been raised by their Aunt Stella, their deceased mother’s sister. Stella has an old secret to share with them at this point.  Bea had sown some wild oats in her younger years and now has a wonderful 11 year old daughter. Daisy has always been reluctant to take chances and is the responsible sister.  Enter Bea’s former husband, as well as a couple of eligible men, and their lives are about to get a bit complicated.

Lovely War, by Julie Berry.  This book has so many layers. It moves from WWI to WW2, following four characters, including a London pianist, a Harlem ragtime player in the Army, and an orphan from Belgium.  But there is such an intriguing twist – the whole story is narrated by the goddess Aphrodite (goddess of the sea, of Love, and sadly and perhaps reluctantly, of war).  She inserts herself into the story as one of the characters, and she must also tell this story to her fellow Olympian gods.  Everything is at stake, and according to the gods, she must have the story come out according to expectations, or face dire repercussions.  We see the grim reality of war throughout the book, but Aphrodite also reminds us that nothing can equal the power of love.

Some New Reviews, March 27, 2019

Three NonFiction:

Mary Pipher, author of Reviving Ophelia (we have that one), has a new title, Women Rowing North:  Navigating Life’s Currents and Flourishing as We Age.  Pipher is a revered psychologist who considers our place within our culture – how it affects us & how it can shape our thinking & emotions.  In this newest book, as the title suggests, she addresses the challenges – and the joys – that aging women face.  All of the sections & chapter titles are related to journeying on water.  She writes about our bodies, our communities, loneliness, gratitude, and family.  Pipher writes beautifully on each facet of this topic, and she reveals the depth of our life as we move through our later years.

Maid:  Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, by Stephanie Land.  Like the respected author Barbara Ehrenreich (who wrote the forward to this book), Land writes powerfully and poignantly about her own story, and the stories of others whose struggles are similar, of poverty and the challenges of staying afloat and supporting her child.  She tells of the difficulties of the welfare system that can’t adequately and respectfully address needs, the hard scramble for low-wage work, and the disparity between her own circumstances as a maid or housecleaner, and the life of the upper class people who can’t see the struggle.  She makes each person’s story personal & she brings their circumstances to life.  A strong view of the daily life of low income Americans.

Toni Morrison, The Source of Self-Regard:  Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations.  I always love seeing collections of various works of our respected authors, they give us a long and holistic view of their development as writers and safes.  The book is broken into three sections – one on 9/11; one on MLK Jr; and the last one is a meditation on writing, called “God’s Language”, in honor of writer James Baldwin.  Within each of these sections, she touches on culture, politics, spirit, various issues like race, and the role of art & literature in our lives.  A beautiful meditation from one of our foremost American writers.

A Few New Fiction Titles:

We have new titles from three of our most popular authors:  The Wedding Guest, by Jonathan Kellerman; the Money Shot, by Stuart Woods; and James Patterson’s Liar Liar.  Come check them out!

A new Rhys Bowen book, The Victory Garden, puts us in Devonshire, England, during WWI.  Young Emily, living with her parents on their estate, must find a way to cope with the grief the war has brought, as well as find her way to do meaningful work as the war wages on.  She comes to gardening, while she deals with loss and the birth of her own child.  She stumbles her way through dark circumstances to find her own life, and is lead by the journal writings of a medicine woman of the past who had devoted her own life to her herb garden.

When You Read This, by Mary Adkins.  A contemporary epistolary romance.  Smith Simonyi runs a PR firm, and misses his former assistant who passed away.  As he searches through her files, he finds that she had been writing various creative blog entries about her life, and she left a note asking him to publish her writings.  The biggest challenge to carrying out her wishes is whether her sister Jade, who is grieving and has her own ideas about the past and how to move ahead.  Via emails, texts, legal correspondence, and other bits of notation, we see how things work out, both regarding their healing and their own relationship.

Stranger Diaries, by Elly Griffiths.  This is a lively murder mystery undertaken by Claire, an English teacher who is an expert on a Gothic writer, RM Holland.  When Clare’s friend is found murdered, and the police name another person of Clare’s acquaintance as the suspect, she starts looking for clues.  As she investigates, she finds its of writing from a stranger scrawled in her own journal, and all of it reminds her of Holland’s writings.  Even one of our favorite mystery writers, Louise Penny, likes this story!

Bowlaway, by Elizabeth McCracken.  This is a new author for us. “Our subject is love because our subject is bowling.” P.7  What brilliant, lively storytelling she manages, using humor and creating quirky, spirited characters – especially Bertha Truitt — around whose life & legacy all other actions revolves.  Bertha, a mysterious stranger found unconscious in a frozen graveyard, establishes a candlepin bowling alley in Salford, Massachusetts, and we follow the clouded past of her family and the complicated relationships around the bowling alley.  Bowlaway has been called “deliciously weird” – we think that is an apt description!

The Weight of a Piano, by another new author for us, Chris Cander.  We follow the history & travels of a beautifully made upright piano, from the Soviet Union to the southwestern United States, over the course of 50 years.  This is a beautifully told tale of what music can bring to us, and the void its absence creates.  Cander considers the lives & circumstances of the women who own the piano, and portrays their strength, loss, and recovery.

Tara Conklin’s The Last Romantics is all about family – the complicated relationships, loyalty, division, support, and healing.  We follow the Skinner family in their Connecticut home, to what they come to call The Pause, and then see them 20 years later, as they tackle their responsibilities to each other, sort through their past, and lean towards their future.  We also have Conklin’s The House Girl in our collection.

New Book Reviews, March 12, 2019

Children’s books:
Because, by Mo Willems, illustrated by Amber Ren.  First, it is about music, so of course we have to feature it!  A beautiful and simple book about what influences us and moves us towards creativity.  This is the story of all of the “becauses”, the chain of chance events, that lead a young girl to hear her first piece of music (Schubert), and then how that inspires her throughout her life and brings her to her own fulfillment.  She acknowledges the many bits of happenstance that brought her there.  Almost every page swirls a fluid music staff around the girl, a gorgeous rendition of her total absorption into music.  The end pages are the first two pates of Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in B Minor.  Lovely.

Monkey Time, by Michael Hall.  Simple text & bold illustrations tell the story of time, by building it minute by minute, as a monkey experiences it in the jungle – it takes time to climb, to eat – until it builds to an hour.  All of it relates to the circular tree where monkey hangs out, and we wonder if he might possibly accidentally squander a minute or two, since the minutes look a bit like fruit.  When the story is over, there are a couple of pages of brief information on rainforest inhabitants and on units of time.  It is a fun, simple story that introduces a complex concept.  After reading this, you can re-visit Gleick’s great children’s book, Time is When.  We have it in our collection.

On the Playground: Our First Talk About Prejudice, by Jillian Roberts.  Written by a child psychologist, this book is a quiet, serious consideration of bullying & prejudice as children experience or witness it in group settings.  It would be a good read for an adult & children to share together.  Roberts defines terms like prejudice, respect, and diversity, and gives examples & possible ways to help others.  The illustrations by Jane Heinrichs include both soft drawings and photographs of various groups of kids on playgrounds.  It is a thoughtful book meant to help steady our young people and give them a chance to understand how to accept & support all those around them.

One Adult Fiction:
Kate Quinn, The Huntress.  Quinn is the author of The Alice Network, which has been popular among our readers.  All of us, with our interest in WWI and WWII fiction!  The Huntress connects stories of characters from Europe (Russia, Germany) during WWII, with post-war Boston.  Nina is a member of the Night Witches, an all-female night bomber unit, who comes up against a powerful, ruthless, clever Nazi operative, the Huntress.  Eventually she joins forces with Ian, a journalist who becomes a Nazi hunter after the war.  Immediately after the war, a 17 year old photographer, Jordan, becomes aware of unexpected & dark circumstances when her long-widowed father decides to marry, and she must use her skills to document and seek the truth of what is happening around her.  Quinn is masterful at portraying the dark issues around the war, the courage of the people affected by it, and its impact on all concerned.

Book Reviews, February 26, 2019

One Juvenile title:  The Girl Who Drew Butterflies:  How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science, by Joyce Sidman.  This is an absolutely gorgeous biography of a 17th century girl whose love o drawing and observations of caterpillars & butterflies grew to deep insights about the natural world that impacted the scientific community.  Alongside the story of her adventurous life, there are beautiful photographs of plants and phases of insect life, as well as paintings and engravings from her time period.  The book is well-researched and is a lively story of an imaginative, talented, observant girl as she grows into a leading scientific figure.

Two adult non-fiction:
The Library Book, by Susan Orlean.  In this new title, which all of us staff and volunteers have been looking forward to, Orlean follows the long story of the devastating 1986 fire that destroyed the LA central library, including the story of possible arson, and the long recovery and aftermath.  Intertwined with this account, she considers how important libraries are in the lives of people everywhere.  There is a good deal of library history and great portrayals of related characters along the way (including the possible arsonist).  This book has gotten great reviews in the past few months.  Orlean is a wonderful storyteller.

Parenting Mindfully:  101 Ways to Help Raise Caring and Responsible Kids in an Unpredictable World, by Catherine DePino.  The book is aimed at today’s young parents who are aware of the possibilities of mindful, heightened communication & action between parent and child.  The author addresses topics such as confidence, compassion, responsibility, coping skills, & conflict.  Each brief section includes parts of dialogues between members of various families as they sort out their expectations of themselves and each other.

Four adult fiction:
The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, by bestselling author Robert Dugoni.  As a child, Sam is called “devil boy” because of his unusual red eyes. He had two friends who he thought had been sent to him by a higher power.  We forward to Sam as an adult, who is now, ironically, an eye doctor, and we watch as his story in the intervening years unfolds, and how each piece informs his choices as he tries to move forward. Dugoni is an insightful author, his writing is quiet and formative, and he creates wonderful characters.

The White Book, by Han King.  King’s prose reads like poetry, indeed some of it is poetry, as well as journal entries. It is a series of brief glimpses into the grief & memories of the narrator who had never met her older sister, whose death has affected all parts of the narrator’s life.  The entire book winds up being a quiet meditation on the color white – and the absence of color.  This small book is a creative, contemplative piece of fiction, filled with beautiful imagery and language.  It was short-listed for the Man Booker International Prize.

Two novels by Ann Hood:  Our patrons are always interested in Hood’s storytelling.  She wrote Somewhere Off the Coast of Maine in the late 80s.  It is the story of tangled relationships among three hippie couples and their children, from 1969 into the mid-80s.  Their stories are all about finding a sense of who you are over time, and how our choices shape us and those we love.  Hood’s latest title, The Red Thread, is taken from an old Chinese saying that people who are meant to be together are connected by an invisible red thread.  The main character, Maya, starts an adoption agency after suffering a heartbreaking loss, and what ensues is the story of 6 couples who desperately hope to bring home an adopted child, entwined with the mothers who are placing their children for adoption. All the while, these people’s hopes and dreams and troubles force Maya to take a look at her own pain and how she might move on.

A Few Reviews of New Titles, February 19, 2019

Children’s Picture Books:
A Seed Is Sleepy, An Egg Is Quiet, A Butterfly is Patient, all by Dianna Hutts Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long.
What a beautiful and informative series of picture books. Each page provides accessible information (did you know that swallowtail caterpillars eat poisonous plants so that predators won’t eat them because they themselves become toxic?), and it is supported and highlighted by the gorgeous illustrations that have beautiful detail 7 brilliant color.  Even the fonts used for the text are graceful and easy to read.  These are wonderful introductory natural science books for families to share together, or for young readers to explore on their own.

One Non-Fiction Title:
The Library Book, by Susan Orlean.  In this new non-fiction title, which all of us staff and volunteers have been looking forward to, Orlean follows the long story of the devastating 1986 fire that destroyed the Los Angeles Public Library (nearly half a million volumes completely ruined), the story of possible arson, and the long recovery in the aftermath.  Intertwined with this account, she considers how important libraries are in the lives of people everywhere.  There are great characters and bits of library history along the way.  This book has gotten great reviews in the past few months. Orlean is a great storyteller who gets to the heart of her subject.

Adult Fiction:
We have a few new John Connolly novels, and a new Stuart Woods title, Turbulence (another of his Stone Barrington series).  These are always popular mystery/thriller authors for our patrons.

Here’s an intriguing one:  The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, by bestselling author Robert Dugoni.  As a child, Sam is called “devil boy” because of his red eyes.  He made two friends who he thought had been sent to him by a higher power.  We forward to Sam as an adult, ironically he is now an eye doctor, and we watch as his story in the intervening years unfolds and how it informs his choices as he tries to move forward.  Dugoni is an insightful author, his writing is quiet and formative, and he creates wonderful characters.

Reviews of a few new books, February 13, 2019

One nonfiction title:
Brain health As You Age: a Practical Guide to Maintenance and Prevention, by Steven P. Simmons, et al.  this is a nice volume to add to our collection, given all of the Aging In Place Committee work that is happening around town.  The authors discuss the normal, and the worrisome, aspects of cognitive function as we age, and how it affects safety and well-being in our homes.  The book gives helpful information on when we are going through a rather normal instance of forgetfulness or confusion (looking for your glasses, when they are perched atop your head) and when indications of cognitive impairment are more serious.  The authors devote a chapter to lowering risks for decline and dementia, and also include helpful tips for caregivers.  A good support resource for us all.  Call number is 616.8 SIM.

A few adult fiction additions:
Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata.  For such a small book, this one packs a wallop, using humor (somewhat ironic humor) and good character portrayal.  It is the story of a 35 year old single woman who has worked in a convenience store since she was 18, and who is quite happy in her life, but is faced with pressures to conform to societal norms.  The story portrays contemporary life, the constrictions of the economic system, and our own struggles with identity.  Murata is one of Japan’s most celebrated authors, and this is the first English translation of one of her works.

Simon Brett, Liar In the Library.  Brett is back with one of his British “cozy” mysteries, and how can you not read it – it is set in a library!  Jude visits the Fethering Library to support an old friend while he gives an author talk.  But of course, the evening ends with a murder, and Jude is surprised to find that she is the main suspect.  She seeks help to solve the mystery from her neighbor as evidence piles up against her.  A nice read for a wintry evening.

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk, by Kathleen Rooney.  On December 31st of 1984, Lillian, a woman in her mid-80s, is on her way to a party.  But she takes a detour and instead of winding up at the party, she takes a long walk around Manhattan – and in doing so, she takes us through the long history of America and NYC from the 1930s to the 80s, including the Great Depression, war, the AIDS epidemic, Jazz and hip-hop.  Lillian is an impromptu poet and a successful business woman who is a bit estranged from her family, but who appreciates the various characters she meets and those she remembers, on her 10 mile walk.  We get to witness it all as we join her on her journey.

Sophie Kinsella, I Owe You One.  Fixie is busy running the family housewares shop and keeping her quirky siblings somewhat in line.  She’s good at it, but maybe not so good at fixing up her own personal life and figuring out just how to develop her own relationships.  There are lots of fun secondary characters, and like much of Kinsella’s work, this is a light-hearted rom-com, with underlying themes of family, self-perception, and personal empowerment.

Reviews of recent additions to our collection, Jan. 24, 2019

Poetry:

We have two new books of poetry.  One is New Poets of Native Nations, an anthology edited by Heid E. Erdrich.  It is a collection of poems by contemporary writers from various Native peoples.  All of the work was written since the start of the 21st century.  The poetry encompasses a wide range of subjects and structure – social justice, connection with the world, traditional patterns of rhythm & repetition, some experimental verse, and narrative pieces.  Some of it is tough and raw, and taken together it is all beautiful and eye-opening.  I’ve re-read Diaz’s “American Arithmetic” and Westerman’s “Linear Process” numerous times.

Our current US Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith, has just published a new volume of poetry, entitled Wade in the Water.  Her free verse is filled with spirit, pain, history, and truth.  Some of the poems are epistolary , set in and around the Civil War, based on real letters written back and forth between African-American soldiers and their family members.  Other poems are based on various news items about difficult real events.  Her poetry is straightforward, beautiful, and often heart wrenching.  The title poem is my favorite.

A couple of new NonFiction titles:
A good read – Jane Brox’s Silence: a social history of one of the least understood elements of our lives.  Brox’s research skills are remarkable, and she is able to bring history and insight together for creative, thoughtful nonfiction.  In her consideration of silence, she takes us from prison reform in early America to the silence of monasteries, and the impact of those environments on both men and women, throughout history and in our present day.  We have one other title by this Maine author, entitled Brilliance.  It would be a great read after finishing this story of silence and our struggle with imposing and embracing it within our own lives.

Visionary Women by Andrea Barnet is a well-researched account of how four women influenced the sea-change in American culture and thinking in the 1960s, and have since inspired an interconnected “green movement” of building culture, environment, and relationship.  We are led to see how Maine’s Rachel Carson, as well as Alice Waters, Jane Goodall, and Jane Jacobs introduced us to a holistic approach to building a sustainable & caring society.  There is much more than biography & history here.  Barnet’s book is a consideration of how we can be inspired to deepen our connections together.

For our young readers:

Author Lesa Cline-Ransome has won a Coretta Scott King Honor Award for some of her previous  fiction.  We’ve just gotten her juvenile novel, Finding Langston.  It is a story from the point of view of a young middle school boy named Langston, who had to move with his father from rural Alabama to Chicago in the late 1940s.  Because he is “too country”, he is rejected and hassled by other children, and as a way to escape, he starts spending all of his time in the library, where he discovers the glorious poetry of Langston Hughes.  He starts to build relationships with the librarian, a neighbor, and finally, one of the boys at school who also loves to read.  Meanwhile, he pieces together his deceased mother’s life, by reading her letters which his dad had hidden away since her death.  This is a quiet story that offers progress and hope in the face of difficulty.

Next up, The Adventures of a Girl Called Bicycle, by Christina Uss.  Bicycle, the 12 year old girl who is the main character, gets up to all kinds of hijinks and adventures as she rides her old bike, Clunk, across the country in search of true friends.  Along the way she sends postcards to her guardian, Sister Wanda, back at the monastery where she grew up.  She finds plenty of companions as she travels – a ghost, bandits, and various animals – and she comes to understand the value of home, too.  Bicycle has an adventurous spirit, and it is wonderful to watch her piece together her understanding of life as it happens.

We had a good number of gorgeous picture books in the new book order, and all of them are lovely, funny, informational, and sweet.  These four are a good representation of the new additions:

Jacqueline Woodson is known mainly for her juvenile novels (we have a number of her books: adult, juvenile, and one other picture book), but her picture books are also compelling.  In her new title, The Day You Begin, she explores trying to find acceptance & figure out your own way, when you feel you are the only different child in a group.  Lopez’s graceful, colorful illustrations provide reassurance & are an intrinsic part of the storytelling.

Seth Fishman’s A Hundred Billion Trillion Stars (you gotta love that title itself) is such an amazing introduction to the immensity of the universe, and our place in it here on earth.  Isabel Greenberg’s illustrations are bright against the blackness of the sky (and the soil beneath us).  The book opens our eyes to the complexity & connectedness of life around us.  Beautiful.

Yuyi Moralex’ Dreamers is a quiet, simple story of a journey undertaken by a mother and her young child, as immigrants, and how they find a way to open their new lives to possibility at the library, where they rely on books and an open, nonjudgmental atmosphere so they can learn about their new life.  Morales uses a whole palate of shades of gorgeous color & detail & imagination (a monarch butterfly is there when they discover the library!), and all of it is supported by a quiet background of rich hues of pale browns  A truly lovely book.

Lastly, a sweet, colorful book that might be a good way to end a hectic day:  The Littlest Things Give the Loveliest Hugs by Mark Sperring, illustrated by Maddie Frost.  This story is a simple rendition of how we show love, and we get to see how all sorts of earth’s inhabitants hug & cuddle – bright insects, seals, foxes, koalas, nocturnal creatures, and yes, it ends with humans, at the end of the day.

One Adult Fiction

Leif Enger’s novel Virgil Wander: a novel is engaging.  Enger’s writing is whimsical and he tells a good story of all the characters in a failing small town in Minnesota. Virgil is well known in town, and is quietly supported by other townsfolk as he recovers from a bad accident and the resulting serious concussion.  As he recovers, not always safely or according to doctor’s orders, we are introduced to — among others — Nadine, a widow; young Galen, who loves to fish; Virgil’s good friend Tom; and Rune, a kite-maker and stranger in search of his disappeared son. While Virgil recovers, his language skills start to recover, and he is absolutely enthralled with adjectives!  Enger’s writing is understated and spot-on, and he brings the people of this town into clear focus. It might be a bit before I get this book back to the library, but meanwhile, we also have his Peace Like a River, also beautifully constructed, so you can start with that, and by then, I’ll have returned this great story.

Online Recommendations

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 2015The 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.