Posts Tagged ‘Domestic Fiction’

Best ‘New to Us” Books in 2014: Ruth F’s Picks

December 19, 2014

I am a children’s librarian in Holly Springs. Next year, I will celebrate my 40th birthday and will most likely be fitted for my first pair of bifocals. Here are five books, some written by my contemporaries and others about middle age, that I recommend for those of you still able to read small print in dim lighting.

Life After DeathLife After Death by Damien Echols
Author Damien Echols was born just a few months before me and he would have graduated high school the same year I did — had he been born into the same world of middle class privilege that I was. Instead, he spent the first 18 years of his life in and economically depressed Arkansas hamlet. As teenagers, when I was fretting over my SAT scores, he was fretting over the verdict of his capital murder trial.  When I went off to college, he went off to Death Row. Then, after spending his first 18 years of adulthood in prison, Echols and two others incarcerated in connection with the same crime were released when DNA evidence was tested and deemed exculpatory. Shortly after, he landed a deal to publish a memoir based on the journals he kept in prison. I challenge any member of Generation X to read Echols’ story without noticing similar parallels between his life and ours.

Good in a CrisisGood in a Crisis by Margaret Overton
Sometimes, the best books are the ones you most love to hate. When life handed baby boomer Margaret Overton lemons in mid-life, she tried to make lemonade by writing a memoir. But it came out a little tart. I cringed at every supposedly funny story in this memoir about the author’s Internet dating escapades. And yet, I compulsively turned page after page because it is so easy to identify with Overton. For every good choice I have made that she did not, I feel relief that her train wreck of a life can’t possibly be what’s in store for me. And for every stroke of bad luck she endured, I feel a humbling sense that it probably is.

Lean InLean In:  Women, Work, and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg
Women like me, on the precipice of converting their households from DINK (double income, no kids) to what New York Times Columnist Pamela Druckerman famously called DITT (double income, toddler twins), will find this book fascinating. The rest of you might not be too interested in how author Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, wishes she had done more to secure reserved parking for expectant mothers at her company’s Silicon Valley headquarters. But you should read this book anyway. If you can overlook the usual gripes about late meetings and early carpools, there is a universal message about setting the terms of personal success and a refreshing new definition of what it means to be a feminist.

SisterlandSisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
This is a fiction story of twin sisters on the brink of 40. They share a psychic connection, but occupy separate sides of the Mommy divide. I’m not sure anybody will see themselves in either sister, but author Curtis Sittenfeld nailed the subtext and sanctimony between the childfree and the parents. The stay-at-home mother in the story, Kate, is affluent and secure. Mothering has given her lots of responsibility and purpose, but very little satisfaction. She is the very definition of a desperate housewife. Her childless sister, Violet, lives on the edge. By that I mean she is reckless, frivolous and completely unmoored. As the sisters decide whether to embrace the DNA that makes them the same or the choices that set them apart, their psychic prediction comes true in a way neither could have expected. Read another review.

The Book ThiefThe Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Who among us has not aspired to write the Great American Novel or regretted reaching middle age without having done so? Mark Zusak, that’s who. His 40th birthday is six months from now and his literary masterpiece is 10 years old. The Book Thief has earned a slew of awards, dominated best-seller lists, been canonized on high school required reading lists and been adapted for a movie. But a technicality prevents it from being called my generation’s Great American Novel: the author is Australian and the setting is Nazi Germany. It seems counter intuitive for a book about genocide in World War II Europe to also be about a post-racial American ideal. But Zusak makes it work. In this war story, humanity trumps race or creed. Young or old, Jew or Gentile, German or not, everybody faces a common enemy in the villainous narrator: Death.  Read another review.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Heidi B’s Picks

December 17, 2014

I am an eclectic reader, and 2014 saw my reading choices all over the map. I love grown-up chick lit (sometimes known as the more serious Women’s Fiction, or even domestic fiction), coming of age stories, and anything related to how the human body works. Below are my five choices for books I read in 2014 that made an impact on me; most are not new, but new to me. Happy reading!

The Perks of Being a WallflowerThe Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
This is a terrific book that often is unfortunately labeled as a “teen novel.” Chboksy’s debut novel is a cult classic as well as being critically acclaimed; no easy feat. Anyone who navigated adolescence (uh, all of us) can relate to some aspect of Charlie, an awkward wallflower and high school freshman that no one seems to notice. Well-drawn characters, realistic dialogue, and a plot twist at the end all make for a classic.  See my full review.

The ShiftThe Shift by Tory Johnson
The subtitle of this book is, “How I Finally Lost Weight and Discovered a Happier Life,” but this is not a “diet” book. This is one woman’s narrative on how she shifted her entire life, her way of eating, and her place in the world, all in one year. Oh, and by the way, lost the 70 pounds that had dogged her for 40 years. Everyone I know who has read this book has read this in one sitting; a couple of people I know and love have made major changes to their health due to this book. Hat’s off to Johnson for an inspirational read.  See my full review.

Wishin' and Hopin'Wishin’ and Hopin’: A Christmas Story by Wally Lamb
Who doesn’t feel even a tiny bit nostalgic when seeing the endless running of “A Christmas Story” on cable TV? Come on, admit it: you do. Wishin’ and Hopin’ is a delightful Christmas tale by veteran storyteller Wally Lamb; a racier, edgier, more irreverent 1960’s version of the classic Red Rider BB Gun tale A Christmas Story. Set in 1960’s Connecticut and told through the eyes of 10-year-old Felix Funnicello (cousin to Annette), this is a delightful, coming of age story with a nostalgic twist.  See my full review.

The Story of the Human BodyThe Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, Disease by Daniel Lieberman
The history of our bodies, in terms of evolution, is a complex and fascinating subject. Lieberman is a Harvard professor of human evolutionary biology, as well as being a gifted writer. He tells the story of human evolution in a manner that is readable like a biography, and as compelling at times as any thriller. What made humans become bipedal? (hint: to see over tall grasses!) Why did we move from hunting and gathering our food, to farming it? What aspects of our development contributed (and continue to contribute) to diseases that plague us? Lieberman is a talented and popular science writer. What could have easily have become mired in jargon is explained for the layperson. A fascinating read.  See my full review.

The Husband's SecretThe Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
The premise in The Husband’s Secret is: what would do if your husband had a deep, dark secret that might shatter your life, and like ripples in a pool, the lives of others? This is grown up chick lit with stories of lives that intersect told in alternating chapters. A sharper reader may pick up on how these women’s lives intersect, but I never saw it coming. The ending was a blockbuster.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

October 2, 2014

The Book of Unknown AmericansThis is a passionate novel about what it means to become “American,” from a new immigrant perspective.

Meet the Riveras, Arturo, Alma and Maribel. The opening scene of the novel has the Riveras confused after being dropped off at a Newark, Delaware, convenience store fresh from 3 day cross-border journey from their small town in Mexico. Thinking that the convenience store/gas station is where Americans shop, the Riveras are baffled by the microwave hot dogs, slushy drinks and high prices of food in plastic. Into this confusing landscape Arturo and Alma have brought their 15-year old daughter Maribel from Mexico; she suffers from a traumatic brain injury that dramatically altered her personality and ability to reason, but with the right education, she has a chance at regaining function. In search of a better life for his daughter, Arturo forgoes his own construction company in Mexico, and gets a job toiling in the dark in a mushroom factory in the hopes that the US education system they have dreamed about can help Maribel.

The entire novel is focused on and set in a concrete block, low-income apartment building whose residents are new immigrants from all over Central and South America. The residents’ stories are told in alternating chapters. Equally compelling is the story of the Toros, a Panamanian family whose son Mayor falls for the gorgeous Maribel. Rather than seeing Maribel as damaged and needing fixing as the rest of the world (and her parents) see her, Mayor accepts her for what she is, although their ill-fated puppy love will have disastrous consequences for all.

The novel mirrors life, insanely and hysterically funny (the passage where the Toros finally buy a car and attempt to drive) to tragic. The overriding story of puppy love, cross cultural assimilation and the struggle to survive within The American Dream is masterfully told, while the inherent politics concerning immigration are gracefully but somewhat unrealistically sidestepped (Arturo got a work visa to be pack mushrooms?) Henriquez is a master storyteller, and her characters offer insight into the immigrant experience that is a good reminder of who we are as a culture. In the words of one reviewer, in case we’ve forgotten, it all started this way. One of the characters, in a particularly insightful passage, says, “We’re the unknown Americans, the ones no one even wants to know, because they’ve been told they’re supposed to be scared of us and because maybe if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize that we’re not all that bad, maybe even that we’re a lot like them. And who would they hate then?”

Recommended novel, a great book club discussion choice. I’m a pretty hard-nosed, jaded reader, and this book touched me.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Carolina Moon by Jill McCorkle

September 19, 2013

Welcome to Fulton, North Carolina, a small beach town that is quiet in the off-season. The residents of Fulton are quite colorful; you are easily drawn into the lives of these characters and the story they tell.

The story opens with veteran postal worker, Wallace Johnson reading another letter addressed to Wayward One that will eventually end up in the dead letter files. These letters are written by a married woman who is writing to her lover that committed suicide, the letters have been coming for 25 years.

Quee Purdy, an older lady with a bit of a reputation and disliked by many has recently opened up Smoke – Out Signals, a smoking rehabilitation center, her goal is to cure the people of Fulton of their nicotine addictions. Quee’s first patient is a local Disc Jockey, he is making progress but he is getting very used to the meals, massages and pedicures that are part of his treatment plan.

Tom Lowe is a handsome local handyman who has been doing a lot of work for Quee. Tom is a lifelong resident of Fulton with a complicated background. He often thinks about the strained relationship he had with his deceased father and his high school sweetheart, Sarah that broke things off with him when she went off to college.

Jones Jameson, a local Howard Stern like Disc Jockey goes missing and the town is buzzing about his whereabouts. Jones is married to Alicia, who is also employed at Smoke-Out Signals. Jones a not so great husband and is known for pulling weekend disappearing acts, but this time he does not return. McCorkle does a great job of painting a picture of the town and its people. This book is sprinkled with humor and quirky characters.

This was my first time reading a book by Jill McCorkle and I thoroughly enjoyed it, I am looking forward to reading some of her other novels. If you are curious about the writer of the mysterious letters, the success of Quee’s clinic, and the whereabouts of Jones Jameson, check this book out, you won’t be disappointed. This is a great book to take on vacation or curl up on the couch with.

 Jill McCorkle along with several other local authors will be at West Regional Library on September, 24th, please visit our website for more details.

 Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Waking Up in Dixie by Haywood Smith

June 11, 2013

Waking Up in Dixie, by Haywood Smith, is a fun and insightful read. Smith is the author of many novels, all enjoyable, but Waking Up in Dixie is possibly the best. This novel blends humor with sadness and is thought provoking while still being a light read.

Elizabeth Mooney is determined to break free from her life of poverty and her drunken father. To accomplish this, she sets her sights on Howe Whittington, who happens to be Whittington, Georgia’s namesake. The Whittington family is rich and refined but there is more to them than Elizabeth bargained for. Elizabeth marries Howe and enters a life of misery. Her marriage is anything but loving and Howe constantly cheats on her.

One day, Howe has a stroke while in church. The unfolding events after Howe’s stroke turn everyone’s lives upside down. Now, Elizabeth must contend with a husband who has no filters and must tell the truth about all his transgressions. Howe doesn’t stop there though. He also has the urge to tell everyone else how to live a proper life and in doing so, reveals their personal business. To the shock of Howe’s family, Howe has also developed the uncontrollable urge to curse. The stroke has yet another consequence: Howe is now fully aware of all the pain he caused and sets forth on a path of repentance and wants to repair his relationship with Elizabeth. This turn of events forces Elizabeth to make decisions that will affect her family and deal with emotions she has tried to bury.

Waking Up in Dixie is a funny novel without losing its tone of regret and promise of hope. It is a great novel for anyone who has ever had to ponder matters of the heart and for those who have made mistakes and tried to make amends.

Find and reserve this book in the catalog.

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

October 19, 2012

The cover of this novel should come with a warning for potential readers – don’t read anything that will give away the plot of this book. Every Last One, by Anna Quindlen, opens into the life of the Latham family, as told through the voice of Mary Beth, mother of three teenage children, wife, and landscape designer. What appears for the first 100 pages to be domestic fiction – a narration of the complex, but typical lives of an American family, is in reality building to a dramatic, devastating event.

Preoccupied with her teenage son Max, and his ongoing depression, Mary Beth struggles to balance her efforts to help him with attention to her other children. Alex, his twin brother, is outgoing and athletic – the opposite of sensitive, shy Max, but dealing with his brother’s struggles while establishing his own social circle. Ruby, Mary Beth’s teenage daughter, is in her last year of high school, and a brilliantly talented writer who is troubled by the unraveling of her long, complex relationship with a boy who has been a part of their family dynamic for years. New Year’s Eve comes, and the family is scattered – one son on a skiing trip, the other at home with his favorite Christmas present, and Mary Beth, her husband and daughter at a party. What happens that night divides Mary Beth’s life permanently into “before” and “after”. The captivating way in which Quindlen develops her characters make the tragedy hit the reader harder than in most fiction. The Latham family feels like one which could be our own, making their experiences all the more real.

This is a novel about facing the things we fear most, and finding ways to travel roads we never intended to travel. The second half of this novel explores what it’s like to live a life we never dreamed we’d have to live and have no choice but to be brave enough to try. Rarely do I read a book which evokes a physical reaction, other than laughter or tears. Every Last One left me feeling like I’d gotten the wind knocked out of me. This isn’t a book for anyone who prefers light-hearted fiction – there are raw, dark parts of this novel that are hard to read. But Quindlen is a masterful storyteller, and in this novel she’s crafted a story which is nothing short of memorable. Full disclosure – I read everything Pulitzer-prize winning author Anna Quindlen writes. I can always count on her novels to be ones which I become so engrossed in I neglect everything else around me. Every Last Thing may just be my favorite of her novels.

Find and request Every Last One in our catalog.

“This is Just Exactly Like You” by Drew Perry

December 9, 2010

“This Is Just  Exactly Like You” by Drew Perry introduces Jack Lang, an admitted  screw-up. He does things  – buy a second house he can’t afford it, knock down his best friend and business partner’s mailbox for sleeping with his wife — that he can’t explain and does not seem particularly interested in analyzing. His wife Beth blames him for most everything, including her problems. Jack’s bedding his best friend’s girlfriend is the topper in a squirming mess of marital discord set against a relentless cataloguing of Americana. Much of that cataloguing is through their autistic son, Hendrick, who reproduces in pitch perfect form NPR, weather forecasts and the relentless American media babble.

Jack, indifferent to the failure of his academic career due to the embrace and kiss of a coed, is equally indifferent to the operation of his mulch and dirt business. Hendrick is about the only thing that keeps him even slightly focused.  That Jack is complex, that life is inexplicable, that 21st century America is all a bit much is trenchantly rendered by Perry in terms that are uncomfortably familiar for anybody who has a charge card or flat screen television. Eventually Jack and Beth sign back on with each other realizing that “you gotta’ do what you gotta’ do”, while changes in their son offer hope that he might be able to eventually plug into a world that is, well, highly dysfunctional.

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Family Album by Penelope Lively

December 23, 2009

Penelope Lively’s new book Family Album presents itself as the story of an old fashioned (or out of fashion) large family of six children, growing up at the family estate of Allersmead.  This family is certainly everything that the perpetually smiling matriarch Alison has ever wanted, as she frequently tells anyone who will listen ….. “this lovely big family and a lovely home…. What mattered was the family, always..”  Whether this was what her husband Charles wanted is a matter of conjecture, as Charles is remote, sarcastic and always holed up in his study, writing.  Charles is present in body at selected important family events but emotionally he is a black hole.  Ingrid is the inscrutable Swedish au pair who comes as a young woman to help Alision with her brood and is still there 35 years later.

As for the children, Paul, Gina, Sandra, Roger, Katie and Clare, they are marked in their own ways by the discrepancy between the picture perfect family presented to the world (and to the children themselves) and the reality behind the façade.  Adulthood finds them scattered across the globe and none have produced children, apparently not seduced by Alison’s vision of the importance of family.  They rarely visit Allersmead, with the exception of Paul, the eldest, who hasn’t really ever managed to leave.
Lively is a good writer, and prolific, but this novel certainly doesn’t break new ground, nor is it particularly compelling.  A couple of secrets are revealed towards the end, but only the necessity of writing this blog entry caused me to finish the book. If you like books about the changing roles of women, about families and contemporary society in general, however, this unchallenging read may fit the bill.

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