Posts Tagged ‘Best of 2012’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2012: Lynn W.’s Picks

December 31, 2012

Today’s blog talks about five audio books I’ve enjoyed during 2012. I listen to fiction and memoirs, and if read by the author, all the better. Each year, I stumble onto a children’s book title and find juvenile fiction altogether as engaging as adult fiction, so one is included here. — Lynn W.

This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection by Carol Burnett
Carol presents a series of short vignettes from her private and performing life. Some feature her grandmother, Nanny, a real character, who loved show business and the contacts she made through Carol and capitalized on them. There are funny stories, like how her adoration of Jimmy Stewart panned out the first time they met on a set when she got her foot stuck in a pail of whitewash and walked out with it still attached, too tongue-tied to say a word. The author reads this collection, adding to the emotional depth and also the comic moments.

The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels – a Love Story by Ree Drummond
If ever there was a mismatch, it was Ree and Marlboro Man. Ree, a native Oklahoman, went to southern California for college and never looked back towards Tulsa except for holidays. Now in her mid-twenties, home is a pit stop on her way to the big time in Chicago. While there she hits a bar with friends and meets Marlboro Man, a tall, strong, real-life cowboy. Their story, read by the author in her authentic and charming Oklahoma voice, is a true love story. We never learn Marlboro Man’s name, but we sure feel the heat develop between them.

The Forgotten Affairs of Youth by Alexander McCall Smith
This eighth Isabel Dalhousie mystery set in Edinburgh, Scotland pleases the ear with soft Scottish accents and descriptions of the gray city and green countryside. Isabel Dalhousie, a philosopher, is approached by a visiting Australian philosopher seeking her biological father’s identity. This is the “mystery.” Isabel and her fiancé Jamie are planning their wedding, all the while watching their beautiful son grow from day to day. This series is a leisurely walk through Scotland’s capital, meeting along the way fascinating people and places and everyday concerns.

The Night Train by Clyde Edgerton
Two teenage boys in 1960s small town North Carolina form a friendship over their love of jazz, a relationship not exactly accepted in this segregated community. Dwayne absolutely loves James Brown’s Live at the Apollo album, while Larry Lime is a pianist wanting to learn Thelonious Monk’s style from a jazz musician called the Bleeder. Their story and shenanigans will entertain while showing music is truly one of the ways humans unite and move beyond their differences. This audio is well-read, giving voice to accents and origins with accuracy.

Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath
If your parents disappeared one stormy night and your fishing village neighbors were forced to take you in, how would you feel? Especially if almost everyone is sure your parents were drowned at sea and you are absolutely certain they are merely delayed returning? Primrose Squarp tells her own story; her twelve-year-old point of view of friends (does she have any left?) and neighbors (including Miss Perfidy, who is paid by the town to care for Primrose) is fresh and rings true. Over the months, Primrose rediscovers her uncle, goes into foster care, and begins work on a cookbook while she awaits her parents’ return. This is a delightful mood lifter.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books of 2012: Sharon S.’s Picks

December 28, 2012

I love to read nonfiction as well as fiction, so in presenting my best “new to me” books for 2012, I decided to use the categories of my favorite nonfiction, my favorite “how to” book, my favorite biography, my favorite novel, and my favorite collection of short stories. (You can see the full list of books I have blogged, too.) — Sharon S. Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder by Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman
I found this book to be deeply reassuring! It’s OK to have cluttered desks and crammed closets, say the authors, and in some cases it may even be beneficial (up to a point, of course). Abrahamson and Freedman present many examples of successful scientists, business owners, politicians, homemakers, and people from many other walks of life who spend that time they could have spent organizing being creative and productive instead. Also, staying loose and not locked in to one system allows us the freedom to adapt quickly to changing events. Running Step by Step by Roy Wallack and Ken Bob Saxton
You’ve got to be kidding, I thought when I first picked up this book, but I ended up being a convert. I’m no runner, so I tried barefoot walking instead (which Ken Bob says is just like running except you always have at least one foot on the ground). There’s no doubt in my mind—heel striking is a bad thing for your joints. When you learn how to bend your knees like Ken Bob suggests, your calves act as shock absorbers that preserve your joints. Of course, you can do this even with shoes on, but when your foot is not cushioned with a running shoe, you have a constant reminder not to bang that heel down! Also, it adds a new dimension to the experience to learn to place your feet lightly and actually feel the ground under them. the Books: The Adventures of an Accidental Prison Librarian by Avi Steinberg
Steinberg was tired of being a free-lance writer and wanted a job that had health insurance, so he answered an advertisement for a librarian position at a prison on the outskirts of Boston. He ended up with more than he bargained for. What is or should be the purpose of a library in such a place? In trying to help the prisoners learn and prepare for lives outside of prison, he often runs afoul of the rule-bound guards. On the other hand, in getting too emotionally involved with those he is helping, he finds himself in some difficult moral dilemmas. There is no easy answer to the question of why people end up in prison, nor is there an easy way to help them get out and stay out. Pioneers! by Willa Cather
This slim novel set on the Nebraska prairie at the beginning of the twentieth century contains some of the most moving scenes I have yet encountered in literature. It is a story about love, friendship, betrayal, and the price of self-knowledge that readers will not easily forget. I am amazed at Cather’s ability to create characters that seem so real to me that I feel like I have actually met them. See my full review. of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
Lahiri also creates memorable, realistic characters in these stories, each one a view into the hearts and lives of people of different ages and cultures. A young married couple suffers a devastating loss that rocks their faith in each other. A school-age girl slowly learns to appreciate the fact that everyone does not live the privileged life she does. A young man and an old woman come to know and respect each other through mundane events that turn out to have been not so mundane after all. Each story shows us something unique about human nature, how and why we move toward or away from one another, how we mature and come to understand the meaning of life. See my full review.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2012: Melissa O.’s Picks

December 27, 2012

I am what you would call an eclectic reader. I love mystery, science fiction, thrillers, inspirational, and I am an avid nonfiction reader. I also love young adult and even juvenile fiction. So you see my difficulty in describing my reading interests. The good news is this makes it easy for me to make reading suggestions! Here are five of my favorite older books I read or re-read this year. (Yes, I am a re-reader!)  — Melissa O.

Skull Duggery by Aaron Elkins
Gideon Oliver is a forensic anthropologist (think old bones instead of recent murders). When Gideon joins his wife on a trip to Mexico he finds himself reluctantly pulled into yet another murder mystery. And it turns out someone will kill to keep it unsolved! Elkins manages to bring just the right amount of humor into his books, and you get the added bonus of traveling the world with the bone detective as he gets roped into, or manages to trip into, another unsolved crime.

A Spell For Chameleon by Piers Anthony
I discovered this book in high school and it remains my favorite humorous fantasy series. We meet Bink, the only citizen of Xanth with no magic, a tragedy for which he will be exiled. So he sets out to find his magic and just might win the girl of his dreams in the process. This is the first of the Xanth novels and I reread it this year to remind myself why I love these books so much. If you are a fan of puns you will die laughing!

Taliesin by Stephen R. Lawhead
This is the first in the Pendragon Cycle and sets the stage for the next four books. Lawhead expands on the usual Arthurian legends by weaving the mythic city of Atlantis into the tale. Lawhead also skillfully weaves a more prominent Christian message into the novels, but in a way that will not put-off non-Christians. In addition to Taliesin we meet Charis, a bull dancer, and watch their lives come together in one of the greatest love stories I have read recently.

The Sacrifice by Robert Whitlow
When you read Whitlow’s inspirational legal thrillers you can tell he is writing from experience. A practicing attorney for decades, his books are gripping and believable. We also get the added bonus that Whitlow is a local author and sets many of his books, including this one, in North Carolina. Scott Ellis is an attorney who finds himself advising a mock trial team at a high school. Add in a school shooting and you won’t be able to put this book down.

The Loch by Steve Alten
Alten takes the legend of the Loch Ness Monster and twists it on its head while including the right amount of science to keep my inner biologist happy. Zach Wallace returns to Scotland when his estranged father is accused of murder. Unfortunately, Angus’s sole defense is that “something” in the Loch killed his business partner. Zach must solve the mystery even as more bodies continue to pile up. Much sleep was sacrificed as I was sucked into this story!

Happy Holidays from Wake County Public Libraries

December 24, 2012’s Greetings to you and your loved ones! All Wake County Public Libraries will be closed Monday, December 24 through Wednesday, December 26 for the Christmas Holiday. We hope you are enjoying your time with family and friends no matter which holiday you may be celebrating, and we look forward to seeing you after the holiday and in the new year!

We wish you peace, contentment, and lots of great reads this season! In fact, if you need a few suggestions while we’re closed, here are ten lists – by people other than your local librarians – of the best books of the year:

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2012: Helen Y.’s Picks

December 21, 2012

I just started contributing to the Book-a-Day Blog this year.  I work in Children’s Services, so my reading history is heavy on children’s lit.  But I do love to curl up with great adult historical fiction, books with international settings, and non-fiction.  Here is a sampling of some I discovered this year — five oldies but goodies. – Helen Y.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
Marion and his twin brother Shiva are born in an Ethiopian mission hospital, the sons of an Indian nun who dies in childbirth and a troubled doctor who abandons them.   Left to be raised by the caring hospital staff, Marion is constantly haunted by the mystery surrounding his birth and his missing biological father.  As the Ethiopian revolution ramps up, Marion must leave his country and the girl he loves to finish his medical education in America.  There he must continue his search for self and cope with the heartbreak of betrayal.  The character development in this book is expertly handled, and I loved the details of Ethiopian culture.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
It is the Great Depression, and Jacob Jankowski’s parents die, leaving him penniless.  In his grief, he runs away from veterinary school and joins the Benzini Brothers’ Most Spectacular Show on Earth.  There he meets the freaks, grifters, and misfits of the circus — and the beautiful  Marlena, star of the show.  When Marlena’s cruel and unpredictable husband forces Jacob into service to train a seemingly untrainable elephant, he unwittingly sets off a series of events that bind Jacob and Marlena together and set the circus on the road to disaster.  This is a well-researched peek into a fascinating piece of history — a great setting for a love story.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
Set in 19th century China, this novel follows Lily and Snow Flower , two young girls pledged to each other as friends for life. From different villages, the girls share their hopes and dreams through notes written on a fan in a secret language.  They grow closer as they share the trials and joys particular to Chinese women of their era—foot binding, arranged marriage, childbirth, and the hardships of civil unrest.   Then Lily learns that Snow Flower has been keeping a secret that threatens to break the bonds of their friendship.  The descriptive cultural details and surroundings of Lily’s life and times make this book a feast for the imagination!

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell  
Through thorough research, Gladwell examines the (often uncontrollable) factors that lead to personal success, focusing on intriguing questions like:  Why are most professional hockey players born in January, February, and March?  Why are many of the most successful New York law firms run by Jewish men?  Why did the richest men in history all live during the same time period?  Gladwell discusses how luck and timing can be powerful determinants of success, but also considers how cultural legacies affect human behavior and influence our drive to achieve.  I read through this book in a couple of days, and read many sections aloud to my husband—it is a great conversation starter.

A Parchment of Leaves by Silas House
This is one of my favorite books of all time!  A Cherokee woman named Vine leaves her family to marry a gentle, reserved white man named Saul.   It is 1917 in the Kentucky mountains, and Vine feels the isolation of racial prejudice.  Eager to be accepted by Saul’s family, she welcomes the friendship of his younger brother Aaron, who is clearly infatuated with Vine.  When Saul leaves to work at a mill, Aaron grows bolder in his attentions, and Vine realizes she is in danger.   This a beautifully written book by a NC author, full of character, mystery,  and interconnected stories of Vine and the other families living on the mountain.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2012: Stephen B.’s Picks

December 20, 2012

If you like Thrillers, Suspense and Mysteries, then chances are you’ll like my picks for the best “New to Us” books I read this year! — Stephen B.

The Innocent by Taylor Stevens
We first met Vanessa ‘Michael’ Munroe in Taylor Steven’s first book The Informationist.  She is a bright, talented person with some deadly capabilities.  She is asked by her friend, Logan, to rescue his daughter, Hannah, from a cult located in the Buenos Aires area. The ‘extraction’ is not going to be easy and ‘Michael’ is prepared to use force. ‘Michael’ will also have the assistance of another friend ex-military, Miles Bradford. The most fascinating aspect of this story is the background of author, who was actually a member of a religious cult and escaped to create her own life.

Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason 
It’s been fun to discover some European authors, who write fascinating mysteries. This author hails from Iceland. ‘Hypothermia’ stars his grumpy Inspector Erlendur. There is something about the suicide of a woman named Maria that haunts Erlendur … perhaps it reminds him of a case that he had to let go years ago.  Maria’s friend , Karen is also upset with the suicide although Baldvin, Maria’s husband relates that Maria had been very depressed since the death of her mother. Although there are other cases to work on and Maria’s case is now officially closed, Erlendur can’t let go and he starts to dig out clues when he is off duty.

Three Seconds by Anders Roslund & Borge Hellstrom
For Piet Hoffman’s most dangerous assignment as a police operative he is going to be placed in jail as a criminal with the assignment of getting close to someone in prison with connections to the Polish mafia. The Polish mafia is attempting to infiltrate Scandinavia. If anyone finds out about Piet, he will be murdered.  Meanwhile, Detective Ewert Gwens knows only that Piet was present at a murder he’s trying to solve. He knows nothing about Piet’s assignment. And now it is a race between Gwens trying to solve a murder and the government trying to get the information it needs to break the hold of the Polish mafia.

The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin
Rankin, a leading writer of police procedurals returns to his newest character, Inspector Malcolm Fox. Fox and two assistants, Sgt. Kaye and Constable Naysmith have been sent from Edinburgh to investigate police corruption in the town of Kirkcaldy.  Fox belongs to the Internal Affairs division, in Scotland it is known as ‘ Complaints ‘. A   division of all police departments that is despised by other ‘coppers’. Their only responsibility is the investigation of police corruption. Fox may have to widen the investigation because there may be more cops involved in the scandal and it may involve top officials. Then Paul Carter turns up dead.

The Survivor by Gregg Hurwitz
Nate is standing on the ledge of a building in L.A. about to jump to his death. He will leave a loving family because he has the first signs of ALS and he blames himself for the death of his best friend, who was killed by an IED while serving with Nate in Iraq. But when Nate chances to look through a window, he realizes that a bank is about to be robbed. Nate knows he must act … he captures the gun of one of the robbers and is able to kill all but one. That one yells to Nate, “He is not going to like this.”

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2012: Emil S.’s Picks

December 19, 2012

Classics play a major part in my reading life, but in 2012 I mainly re-read classics (or read classics that I obtained through Inter-Library Loan). Thus, my “New to Us” books are all fairly new, no older than 16 years old, and therefore many years away from even being considered for the shelf of classics. In the meantime, they can perhaps be classified as noteworthy contemporary reads! — Emil S.

Red Gold by Alan Furst
France is occupied by German forces, but things have changed since “Case Barbarossa” – the German led attack on Soviet Union. French communists who take their orders from Moscow have been activated and now participate in a war effort that reaches from France to the heart of Soviet Union. Jean Casson, a former film producer, lets himself be pulled into the French Resistance, and he is good at getting things done. But the different sides of the anti-German movement are suspicious of each other, and while the occupying forces are being attacked, the French are preparing for the next battle – the conflict after the war.

Arguably by Christopher Hitchens
British born, American writer Christopher Hitchens was arguably one of the great public intellectuals of our time. He was fantastically prolific and (as Ian Parker once put it) wrote faster than some people read. In 2011, Hitchens passed away, and the fearless opponent of (almost) any kind of oppression was dearly missed by many. Arguably, published about two months before his death, contains 107 of Hitchens’ texts – his range is enormous and it’s a great book to carry around as it embraces so much of this strange and wondrous world.

Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes by William Kennedy
William Kennedy was born in 1928 and he writes with the confidence and authority of a veteran. Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes is a sprawling novel that mainly takes place in Cuba during the revolution of the late 1950s, and in an Albany, New York, that is about to explode after the killing of Robert Kennedy in 1968. When reading the novel, it is near impossible to predict where it is going, and the plot is (perhaps) hard to define. Instead, this novel is about strong, wonderful characters and about awesome dialogue – that’s the heart and soul of Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes.

The Sorrow Gondola by Tomas Tranströmer
When Tomas Tranströmer’s SorgegondolenThe Sorrow Gondola – was published in 1996, it was his first collection of poetry since the stroke that hit him in 1990. In Tranströmer’s native land, Sweden, the book instantly became a bestseller, and it’s easy to understand why, for the poet’s writing was as powerful as ever. He writes, “The sun is low now./ Our shadows are giants./ Soon, everything will be overshadowed.” But in another poem he writes, “A blue light/ radiates from my clothes./ Midwinter./ Clattering tambourines of ice./ I close my eyes./ There is a silent world/ there is a crack/ where the dead/ are smuggled across the border.”

The Submission by Amy Waldman
A jury gathers in New York, New York, to select a memorial for the victims of the massacre of September eleventh, 2001. The winner turns out to be an American Muslim, Muhammad Khan, and when media finds out, a heated debate and even acts of violence spread across the nation. The Submission is a novel about America and Islam, and about the open wounds of 9/11, but it is also a story about media and how media shape the debates in this nation (and elsewhere). And the reader has good reasons to ask, is media interested in the truth or merely in the news?

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2012: Amy W.’s Picks

December 18, 2012

Look, I have the world’s longest “to read” list and lately it has become very unwieldy. Every time I finally get around to reading one of these older titles I kick myself — what took me so long?! There is something for everyone read by me this year! There is history, inspiration and excitement all at your finger tips. These books don’t really have any of my favorite literary elements but they did knock my socks off! Here are my 5 favorite “new to me” books for 2012. — Amy W.

The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan
I have always been interested in the Great Depression including the Dust Bowl. Egan, winner the National Book award for this book in 2006, and Pulitzer Prize  winning journalist for the New York Times, elegantly crafts a narrative of the Dust Bowl using the words of those who lived through it. Hard economic times, plowing up the sod and a nation-wide drought created a perfect storm of dust as perseverance gave way to despair.

My Life in France by Julia Child
I listened to this as an audio book and it was delightful! I cannot think of many people who are as beloved – or as full of passion and life – as Julia Child. It was wonderful to hear in her own words about her life as a bored housewife, who moved with her husband to a foreign country where she didn’t know the language,  seized by the art of French cooking to find her true calling.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
John Irving is an excellent storyteller. His characters are colorful without being garish. His tangents are whimsical and insightful. The title character, Owen, an unusual boy to begin with, hits a baseball during little league that strikes his best friend’s mother dead. This one event greatly impacts the lives of both boys, and incredibly brings them closer together. A Prayer for Owen Meany is destined to be a heartwarming modern classic.

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth
This is the memoir that spawned the BBC series of the same name (shown on PBS earlier in the year). More than a memoir, Call the Midwife, documents the poverty and challenges of 1950’s East End London and the changes in women’s health through the years. Sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious, this book is an unforgettable story of compassion.

Fun and Games by Duane Swierczynski
This book takes place in La La Land, the land of perpetual summer: Los Angeles. If you like Tarantino, unstoppable assassins or seedy underground networks, this book is for you. It is excitement ripped from the pages of your favorite tabloid or comic book as told by this talented author.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2012: Pam W.’s Picks

December 17, 2012

I like to read from just about every section of the library, although I am especially partial to mysteries. I also tend to re-read books that I have enjoyed a lot. This list covers a little of everything and includes books I discovered for the first time this year as well as a few favorites I read for the second (or third) time. — Pam W.

The Last Child by John Hart
Johnny Merrimon was only 13 when his twin sister went missing. He has never given up the belief that she was alive somewhere but no one seems to be looking for her anymore, so Johnny decides to find her himself. What Johnny doesn’t know is that the officer in charge of the investigation has also never given up on Alyssa. He is keeping an eye on Johnny as well to make sure nothing happens to him. When another child disappears, Johnny and Detective Clyde Hunt find themselves mixed up with the worst elements of their town. This was an absolutely riveting book and the best one by Hart so far.

Magic Time by Doug Marlette
Marlette tells two stories in this book, one set in the racially charged days of 1964, and one set in the present day. Carter Ransom has gone back to his hometown in Mississippi after suffering a break down, only to find an event from his past has come back to haunt him. In 1964 several civil rights workers were killed in when a church was burned down. Carter’s girlfriend at the time was one of those killed. To complicate matters, Carter’s father was the presiding judge in the trial of the man accused of this crime. The trial took place in the 1980’s and the man was not convicted, but the trial is now being reexamined. Bringing up the past is painful, and possible dangerous, for everyone who was involved.

When I Married My Mother: A Daughter’s Search for What Really Matters-and How She Found It Caring for Mama Jo by Jo Maeder
Jo Maeder had lived in New York City for years when she found out that her mother was ill. The two had not been in contact for a number of years and Maeder was appalled when she found out the horrible living conditions her mother had been reduced to. Her mother was suffering from dementia and had been hoarding so much stuff you could barely walk in her house. Maeder did not know how they would get along living together, she only knew that she had to take care of her, so she left her job and moved in with her mother down south in the Bible belt. Her “marriage” to her mother truly changed her life. Maeder’s story is not new, but her story is told with humor and true compassion. I found it very compelling and not depressing at all.

Faithful Place by Tana French
French’s series about the Dublin murder squad is different than many mystery series’. Instead of following one detective through a number of different investigations, French switches focus in each book. Faithful Place, the third book in the series, is my favorite. It follows Detective Frank Mackey as he investigates a body found in an old building in the neighborhood he grew up in. When he was a young man, his girlfriend disappeared on the night they were going to run away together and Frank always thought she left without him. Now, he finds out she was murdered, and he is determined to find out who did it. This is fascinating look at family dynamics and loyalties.

An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor
Fans of All Creatures Great and Small or Maeve Binchy’s books will love this book set in Northern Ireland in the 1960’s. Barry Laverty has just finished medical school and has taken a job in the small town of Ballybucklebo, which is so small it barely shows up on the maps. He is not sure what to make of his new boss, who seems very gruff and old fashioned. He also finds the locals eccentric and difficult to understand. Gradually, Barry starts to fit in and learn how closely everyone in the town cares for one another. This is a heartwarming story told with lots of humor.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2012: Sarah K.’s Picks

December 14, 2012

This year, I decided to clump my favorite “old reads” into two categories. In one, I have stories which concern themselves with the lives of women and the other is stories which play with the Western genre in unconventional ways. On one hand you have female characters who must struggle against society’s limitations and constraints on women, and on the other you have two authors who have struggled against the conventions of a dusty genre with deep-set tropes. — Sarah K.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Nowadays, most people associate the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn with hipsters and all their accoutrements, such as fixed-wheel bikes, ironic facial hair and craft foods. However, at the beginning of the twentieth century, Williamsburg was a hard-scrabble, working class neighborhood. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn follows the coming of age of Francie Nolan, who lives there with her family as they struggle against poverty and the consequences of her father’s alcoholism. Though Smith wrote with a natural lyricism and was able to capture hope and beauty despite difficult circumstances, she did not flinch from realistic depictions of unwanted pregnancies, substance abuse and child predators. If you haven’t had a chance to read this classic or haven’t read it since your youth, give it a try and prepare to be charmed.

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
Fans of large country houses, large eccentric British families, and outsized personalities will enjoy The Pursuit of Love. Breezy, but sharp, Mitford based her portrayal on her own family and neighbors causing much pearl-clutching and gasps of outrage when it was published. The story follows the romantic misadventures of Linda Radlett as she seeks out true passionate love and adventure. Unsentimental, the book’s candy-coating of wit hides a deeper melancholy as it examines the conflict between seeking out romantic fulfillment or settling for domestic stability.

The Group by Mary McCarthy
The Group follows the lives of eight Vassar graduates as they navigate relationships, careers and motherhood in the mid-1930s. Think of this as the Depression-era, Girls or Sex and the City. Considered scandalous upon publication in 1963, many of the themes in the book pertaining to sex and its complications are fairly tame by today’s standards. However it’s compelling to read this and see the similarities and differences in the “women having it all” discussion that American women continue to struggle with. A fascinating aspect of the book is the section centered on new mother, Priss and the proto-mommy wars into which she gets sucked. Yes, the breastfeeding versus formula debate existed even then.

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
Reminiscent of the tone and style of Charles Portis’ True Grit, The Sisters Brothers tells the tale of Charles and Eli Sisters, as they pursue Herman Kermit Warm at the behest of the Commander, a powerful tycoon who wants to cash in on Warm’s chemical formula for finding gold. The book is narrated by Eli, a reluctant murderer who is plagued by self-doubt, yet stays in the business to remain close to his reckless and callous brother. DeWitt uses deadpan formalized 19th century vernacular as a gateway to melancholy dark humor, and his portrayal of lonely, woebegone Eli is the highlight of the book.

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
Not for the faint of heart, Blood Meridian follows the bloody trail of ‘the kid’ as he joins a violent band of mercenary scalp hunters as they tear through the borderlands of the U.S. and Mexico during the mid-1800s. A meditation on the nature of violence, embodied by the grotesque character of the Judge, McCarthy explores the myth and reality of the Westward Expansion. What elevates this book from merely a laundry list of gratuitous acts of violence is McCarthy’s piercing, hypnotic prose and surreal imagery.

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