Posts Tagged ‘Family Secrets’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Radhika R’s Picks

December 30, 2014

Albert Einstein said  that “Imagination is more important  than intelligence!”  Books fire that imagination for me! Books make me think, laugh, empathize and take me through a gamut of emotions. I travel around the world from the the comfort of my couch!  Here are a few of them which I enjoyed reading.

MadoMadonnas of Leningradnnas of Leningrad by Debra Dean
A story of love, suffering and helplessness. Marina is rendered helpless when she is affected by Alzheimer’s. While she has difficulty remembering her children or grandchildren, she remembers clearly the 40 day siege of Leningrad, and how she overcame it. As a museum docent, she helped to hide countless priceless works of art from the invading Nazis, all the time creating a “memory palace” in her mind in which to cherish their beauty. These memories and those of the works of art she saved are juxtaposed with the present, where she regularly forgets her own granddaughter. A very sad, poignant story of an Alzheimer’s patient and how the caretakers the family members stand by helplessly while their loved one’s mind is slowly shutting down on the immediate present. A very touching read.  Read another review.

Burial RitesBurial Rites by Hannah Kent
This book explores the grey areas in life. Not every situation can be put into boxes of right or wrong. It makes us think and ponder and feel gut wrenching emotions for all the characters. It is a true, but fictionalized story of the last beheading in Iceland. In 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is sentenced to death by beheading for the brutal murder of two men. Because there are no local prisons, Agnes is sent to the remotest village to await her execution while living with a farming family. The family is wary of Agnes and takes time to adjust to her presence. The farmer’s wife, slowly thawing towards Agnes, comes to hear her story and is devastated when she realizes there is nothing that anyone can do to save Agnes. The story is told compellingly in different voices and makes you feel the pain and the helplessness of the circumstances.

Defending JacobDefending Jacob by William Landay
Andy Barber, happily married to Laurie and a district attorney in a small New England town, is at a crossroads of his life. He is investigating the murder of a young teen boy, Ben, despite the fact that there might be a conflict of interest – Ben was his son Jacob’s friend, and attended the same school. From here starts the real roller coaster journey! When Jacob is accused of the murder, Andy and Laurie’s world reels. This book explores questions many will never ask. How much do we know about our children? Where does love end, and practicality begin? How do we even begin to imagine what the truth is, whether our child is capable of taking a life… a parent’s worst nightmare come to the fore! What will it take a parent even to accept that it is a possibility? Why is it that when tragedy strikes, all relationships start to unravel? An intriguing piece of fiction where legal implications mesh with family emotions.  Read another review.

The Garlic BalladsThe Garlic Ballads by Yan Mo
This novel is the Nobel Prize winner in Literature for the year 2012, and it is rightly so. The angst, worry, fear hope and helplessness of poverty is so well portrayed that we can actually envision ourselves in the pages of the book and live with the characters, wondering how they survive in those circumstances! The farmers of Paradise County have been leading hard, miserable lives for centuries when the government asks them to plant garlic. The farmers do so, but find it hard to sell. At the mercy of corrupt government officials, the farmers are forced to pay money they don’t have in order to sell their wares, but find that after paying the various taxes and tolls, their crops remain unsold. This is the breaking point for many of the farmers, leading to riots and arrests, followed by inhumane conditions in jail, torture and beatings. An old bard sings the song of tyranny throughout this book, and is killed for it. This book is not just about human suffering and despair, but also filled with tales of family love, loyalty and hope! In the midst of desolation, each character finds a reason to live. This is truly an amazing read, where depths of despair and the upliftment of spirit reside side by side

I am MalalaI am Malala by Malala Yousafzai and Christian Lamb
Most of us have read about Malala and may feel we know her story. This book made me think differently. Malala was born to parents who were strong supporters of women’s rights and had a school of their own for girls. Raised with this mindset, Malala was determined to do her part, and her parents supported her decision. All of them knew that Malala’s bravery would ultimately mean facing the wrath of the Taliban when it took over their Swat Valley. Her parents, who knew the danger their child faced every day, made the difficult choice to support her, and Malala chose to stay the course despite unimaginable pressure. You know the story – Malala was shot – but thankfully, she survived to become a spokesperson for the rights of girls to an education. This review is a salute to all the young girls and women who have fought against the Taliban atrocities for the right to a just life and education, and paved the way for Malala to bring their cause to the attention of the world. Kudos to Malala, a brave young girl who took such a bold, courageous step to improve lives of other girls and fight for their right to education! It is rightly said that the strength of human spirit always humbles you!

Cycle of Lies: The Fall of Lance Armstrong by Juliet Macur

September 30, 2014

Road bicycle racing was the first sport to ignite my imagination. The dynamics of the peloton (the main group of racers), the nature of the teams in the competitions, the individual contributions to the group effort, the silent sacrifices by the domestique, the physics of the sport, the incomprehensible physical effort, and the epic quality of the races – it was all endlessly fascinating. Later in life, when I heard French philosopher Roland Barthes refer to le Tour de France as a heroic poem – the substance of legend – I concurred.

Many years after the first encounter, I reconnoitered an upcoming Tour de France stage in the French Alps. When I left the car, the gradient was so extreme that I almost toppled over, and when I walked up the mountain road, the altitude offered only exhaustingly thin air. It was easy to appreciate just how extreme these athletes were. But by now I knew that the riders were not just exceptional human beings. With the help of EPO, blood transfusions, testosterone, cortisone, and human growth hormone, many of them were, in a very real sense, superhuman.

Cheating has been part of le Tour de France since the very beginning. During the late 1990s and the early 2000s, cheating reached an unprecedented level of sophistication, and ringleader Lance Armstrong – who won Tour de France seven times in a row! – became the face of the deception.

Cycle of Lies is in part a journey through a sport that had become deeply corrupt, but the book also exposes the dangers of weak journalism. When Lance Armstrong began to dominate the Tour de France, American journalists who knew little or nothing of cycling flew over to Europe to write about the superhero. As Armstrong and the Postal Service team crushed the competition, newly arrived journalists saw heroic efforts; veteran journalists who had covered le Tour for years saw something else. What Armstrong and his teammates were doing simply wasn’t possible. Headlines in French media read, “Armstrong, the Extraterrestrial of the Tour,” “On Another Planet,” and “Hallucinating Armstrong.” In the U.S., the mainstream media stood behind Armstrong, and Washington Post reported that the French were jealous: “France’s motto: If you can’t beat them, investigate them.”

The message of Juliet Macur‘s book is clear: Don’t find your heroes in the images produced by media.

When the accusations finally started to find traction in the U.S., writer Malcolm Gladwell defended the actions of Lance Armstrong, but then he went on to say, “When you write about sports, you’re allowed to engage in mischief. Nothing is at stake. It’s a bicycle race!”

He’s wrong, of course. The physical and mental well-being of human beings is at stake here. People’s livelihood is at stake. Their ethical and moral interactions with the world are at stake.

If that doesn’t matter, what does?

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Family Pictures by Jane Green

March 10, 2014

After losing the love of her life and left to raise a young child, Sylvie meets Mark, a handsome business man who sweeps her off her feet. Mark is a wonderful husband and doting stepdad. Their life is perfect in every way. Mark is often away on business, which has never bothered Sylvie in the past but something feels off. Sylvie wonders if she is just stressed and tired from taking care of her mother in a nursing home or if possibly Mark is having an affair. She convinces herself Mark is not that kind of guy.

Meanwhile, Sylvie’s teenage daughter Eve is slowly pulling away and becoming distant. Entering from stage left is Maggie a socialite who came from nothing and now has everything she ever wanted, huge house lots of money, and three children. Her husband is also away on business more than he is home. Ready? Unknown to both women their husband is one in the same Mark Hathaway!

A chance meeting and friendship of their two daughters brings to light the connection when Eve sees her dad in their family photos. Now, Mark Hathaway has disappeared and no one has heard from him. In the meantime Sylvie is confronted with collection notices and eventually puts two and two together. Sylvie also comes to the realization that her daughter is suffering from an eating disorder that nearly takes her life and in the process bonds these two women and their daughters together. Sylvie and Maggie both reinvent themselves and try to hang on to their families.  Another great read by Green.

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Greatest Hits: Flora by Gail Godwin

January 3, 2014

Flora by Gail Godwin

We’re kicking off the new year with The Book-A-Day Blog’s most popular posts of 2013!

It’s 1945 and ten year old Helen Anstruther lives in a dilapidated old house at the top of a rutted driveway in Mountain City, North Carolina. Her mother died when she was three and she’s just lost her beloved grandmother, Nonie, to a heart attack. Her father needs to find someone to stay with Helen while he goes to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to contribute to an important, but mysterious project related to the war. Twenty two year old cousin Flora is recruited to spend the summer looking after Helen.

Helen is a precocious child trying very hard to appear more grown up than her actual years and her behavior elicits mixed emotions. I spent part of the book feeling true sympathy for her and the rest wanting to shake her until her teeth rattled. Her loneliness and confusion engender empathy, while her treatment of Flora is infuriating.

In Flora, Gail Godwin creates what I sometimes think is the trickiest character of all—a genuinely good person. Flora is what another character calls “simple-hearted”. This is not similar to being simple-minded. Flora is likeable without being unbelievable and moral without being preachy. She isn’t perfect. She has her insecurities, like everyone else, but she manages to deal with them without resorting to cynicism, or meanness, or liquor. She was chosen by Helen’s father more out of convenience than anything else, but he couldn’t have found a better companion for Helen if he had tried.

The developing relationship between Helen and Flora is the heart of the story. Where will that relationship lead? The first line of the novel, which is narrated by Helen, contains hints, “There are things we can’t undo, but perhaps there is a kind of constructive remorse that could transform regrettable acts into something of service to life.”

This is a story of innocence and its loss, actions and their consequences, memory and forgetting. The themes of this short novel are played out not only in the relationship between Helen and Flora, but in the backdrop of an America doing what is deemed necessary to win a war. The writing is gorgeous and reminded me of one of my favorite short story writers, Alice Munro. Add this to the list of fabulous books published this year by North Carolina writers.

Find and reserve this book in the catalog.

 

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Travis H’s Picks

December 26, 2013

I’m the manager of the Zebulon Community Library and have a long tenure with the library system. I majored in English and have had my fill of “good books.” Since then, I read mostly nonfiction, techno thrillers and things I find funny.

The Lost Prince by Seldon Edwards  
Edwards’ first book, The Little Book, captivated me but left me unsatisfied. The Little Book had a great plot, likable characters and an interesting setting during interesting times. It lacked however a flow that compelled me to keep turning the page. The Lost Prince though, at least for me, was a page-turner. Both of the books focus on Eleanor Burden. In the first book, Eleanor has a life altering experience. In the second, we see how her experience plays out. Time travel and predestination are the respective devices in these two books.

Dinner at Mr. Jefferson’s Three Men, Five Great Wines, and the Evening That Changed America by Charles A. Cerami
Thomas Jefferson fascinates me. Discovering Cerami’s book was exciting. I did not get what I was expecting however, as the evening referenced in the books was just a small part of it. By serving as Washington’s Secretary of State, Jefferson, the agrarian anti-federalist, found himself in an administration trying to establish a Federal Government. Key to these efforts was Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, who Jefferson thought might be a closeted Royalist. No wonder, the author explains, that Jefferson was a migraine sufferer and postulates that he also suffered from depression.  The dinner that the book’s title references was Jefferson’s way to hammer out a compromise between Hamilton and Congress (represented by Madison) over Hamilton’s Report on Public Credit. Hamilton wanted the federal government to assume the various states’ Revolutionary War debts, to the detriment of those states. The lasting impact of Jefferson’s dinner is why Washington DC, carved out of Virginia and Maryland, is our seat of government as opposed to New York City, or Philadelphia. By centering this history on such a pivotal event, the author gives us a focused and revelatory exposition of the key players and times. The included recipes are interesting as well.

Lady on the Hill: How Biltmore Estate Became an American Icon by Howard E. Covington Jr.
Biltmore always seemed to me to be a rich man’s folly, like Hearst Castle in California. Hearst’s folly is owned and run by the State of California. Biltmore is still in the hands of Vanderbilt’s descendents. I’ve long be interested in historic preservation and what drew me to this book was the struggle Vanderbilt’s grandson, William A.V. Cecil, Sr., has had in keeping the property private. Ultimately, to keep family control, it seems national inheritance tax law would need to be amended. Nonetheless, as the book details, the Cecil family has skillfully managed to make Biltmore relevant, productive and viable as a privately held venture. This accomplishment mirrors the skill it took to build the Vanderbilt fortune in the first place.

Outlaw by Angus Donald
This retelling of the Robin Hood saga is in the voice of Alan-a-Dale, the Merry Men’s minstrel. Donald’s realistic and believable Robin is a leader and provider of those wanting their freedom from various injustices. Donald set his tale, earlier than most retellings, during the reign of Henry II, an unsettled time a few generations after the Norman Conquest. Outlaw is the first of five novels featuring Robin Hood. If you like Bernard Cornwell’s books, you’ll probably like this.

Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippy Dream by Neil Young
Young writes in his autobiography that he wrote his autobiography to cash in.  At age 66, Young seems to have had a wakeup call. He gave up cannabis and alcohol, fears dementia and writes about some projects he wants to pursue that do not relate to music. Young has yet to give up on the promise of the sixties; long may he run.

Best New Books of 2013: Janet L’s Picks

December 9, 2013

I like books that feature characters, whether fictional or real-life, to whom I can relate.  This year I was drawn into the world of a motherless girl in the NC mountains, an alien sent to Earth from another planet, a fellow librarian, service personnel redeployed home, and the commander of the British sector of post WWII Berlin.

Thank You for Your Service by David Finkel
In The Good Soldiers, David Finkel wrote about the lives of the soldiers of the US-216 Infantry Battalion during their deployment in Iraq.  Thank You for Your Service is the eye opening account of what life is like for these same soldiers as they return home.   This is a searing, heartbreaking and sometimes infuriating book, written with compassion and a great eye for the telling detail.

Flora by Gail Godwin
Ten year old Helen Anstruther lives in a dilapidated old house at the top of a rutted driveway in Mountain City, North Carolina. It’s 1945 and her father needs someone to stay with his motherless daughter while he goes to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to contribute to a mysterious project related to World War II.  Twenty two year old cousin Flora is recruited.  The developing relationship between Helen and Flora is the heart of the story and has unexpected and devastating consequences.  Read my full-length post here.

The Humans by Matt Haig
The family of mathematician Andrew Martin is surprised but pleased by the sudden, favorable change in his behavior.  Little do they suspect it’s because he’s been replaced by an alien sent to prevent him from discovering a mathematical truth that could give humans unprecedented power. Instead the alien finds himself warming to and falling in love with the very beings he’s been sent to destroy.  This novel deftly combines math, poetry, and family dysfunction into an often hilarious and touching exploration of what it means to be human.

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook
Colonel Lewis Morgan is in charge of the British operations in the divided city of Berlin, immediately following the end of World War II.  His wife resents the assignment; they lost a child in the bombing of England by German planes.  Morgan struggles to treat the defeated Germans in a manner he considers decent while fulfilling his mission of rebuilding the war torn city and identifying former Nazis.

The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne
Josh Hanagarne has a well developed sense of humor, forged in the crucible of a loving family fond of practical jokes — and he needs it. Diagnosed with Tourette syndrome at a young age, he faces extra challenges in life. His condition affects his school life, his love life, and his stint as a missionary for his church.  He must persevere to find love, finish his education, and establish a career.  Along the way he develops coping mechanisms, including controlling his tics through physical exercise.  This is a very funny, beautifully written book with a lot to say about perseverance, family, marriage, faith and yes, weight training. Read my full-length post here.

Best New Books of 2013: Kate H’s Picks

December 6, 2013

Recently, I have enjoyed reading a lot of modern classics and historical fiction. I love to find new reads by browsing award winner lists, especially when I’m trying to find a good non-fiction or science fiction book.
My picks for 2013 are all novels which share themes of change, growth, and renewal, which is fitting during this wonderful transformative time of year!

Harvest by Jim Crace
Set in an ambiguous time period of British history, Harvest documents the decline of a rural town in the countryside struggling against the encroaching presence of industrialism. The close knit, close-to-being-inbred members of this community are forced to accept and eventually become displaced by the changes coming to pass around them. Their reaction to newcomers demonstrates a deep distrust of intrusion into their insular existence. Through his narrator, Walter Thirsk, Crace remains tender toward the members of this community, whilst also hinting at the dangers of a closed (literally and figuratively), society. A novel of many layers, Harvest is Jim Crace at his best.

The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell
Probably my favorite book of 2013, The Death of Bees is O’Donnell’s stunning debut in fiction. Set in Glasgow, Scotland, the story follows the lives of sisters Marnie and Nelly who, after discovering their parent’s dead bodies, decide not to report the deaths and instead, bury the bodies in the back yard. The characters of Marnie, Nelly, and their elderly neighbor Lennie who becomes their friend and guardian, are portrayed vividly; and their relationships feel real and touching. Wildly entertaining but also emotional and affecting, I highly recommend this novel which I raced through in a day.

Snapper by Brian Kimberling
Snapper is set in rural Indiana and follows the twists and turns of Nathan Lochmueller’s life. Reading as a series of short stories, or vignettes almost, each chapter portrays an event in Lochmueller’s life which has a lasting impact on future events. They eventually tie together as a bildungsroman of sorts, as Lochmueller comes to accept the past and embrace the present. A very relatable story, Snapper also taught me a lot about bird watching and Indiana, while remaining breezy and funny throughout.

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
A novel about growing up, death, and faith, Ordinary Grace documents one summer in a Minnesota town in 1961. Hit with the death of his older teenage sister, thirteen year old Frank is thrust into an adult world of secrets, lies, and betrayal. Ordinary Grace is mysterious and ominous; never fully revealing itself to the reader and refusing to answer so many questions. The characters each portray the various meanings of what it is to have faith, and leaves us questioning its presence and power in our own lives.

The Shelter Cycle by Peter Rock
Combining mysticism with pure realism, Peter Rock explores an unusual part of America’s religious history. The Shelter Cycle tells the story of two children, Francine and Colville, who grew up in the Church Universal and Triumphant, a religion that predicted the world could end in the late 1980s. This book is haunting in its rendering of individuals raised in a cult and how they grow up in their own ways thereafter. A blend of fact and fiction, The Shelter Cycle provokes us into thinking about the nature of religion and family, spirituality and upbringing: how does one inform the other? How can we know what is credible and what isn’t? An unpredictable and beautifully written book.

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

August 19, 2013

Laurel was just 16 years old when she witnessed a violent confrontation between her mother, Dorothy, and a stranger at their country home. The stranger and her mother appeared to know one another. Laurel believed she knew everything about her mother, but after this she wondered. She never asked her mother what really happened that day, and it haunted her most of her life. Now, Dorothy is in a nursing home and is in failing health. Laurel thinks she is running out of time to discover the truth. She begins to piece together the story based on what little Dorothy will tell her, and a trunk she finds in the attic full of her mother’s things.

The book jumps back and forth from Laurel’s search in the present day to Dorothy’s (Dolly’s) story of living in London during the Blitz of WWII. Dolly is just a young girl when she leaves her parents behind and moves to London. She has a boyfriend, Jimmie, but dreams of moving up in society. She’s been watching the lady across the street, Vivien, and thinks Vivien has a perfect life. Dolly desperately wants to be Vivien’s friend, and eventually she finds a way to make this happen. What happens between Dolly, Vivien, and Jimmie will answer all of Laurel’s questions.

I found the premise of Morton’s book to be fascinating, even if it wasn’t wholly original. Children often find out when they grow up that they don’t know their parents as well as they think they do. There is always that stage when you realize they had a completely different life before having children. This is probably truer during times of war. Everyone is changed by their experiences in those extreme situations. It also seems many people take the opportunity to reinvent themselves during or after a war. Fans of The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield and The Last Letter From Your Lover by JoJo Moyes, as well as Morton’s other books, will really enjoy this novel.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Last Summer of the Camperdowns by Elizabeth Kelly

June 25, 2013

The Last Summer of the CamperdownsI’m not sure whether to pity or envy Riddle James Camperdown.  She has one of the funniest mothers I’ve ever encountered in fiction.  That makes me envious.  On the other hand, Greer Camperdown’s withering humor is often aimed at Riddle.  Score one for pity.  Her father, Godfrey, known as Camp, is unnervingly gifted.  A labor historian, activist, composer of (off) Broadway musicals, and noted biographer of James Hoffa, he’s now a candidate for Congress.  He’s also the source of Riddle’s unusual moniker; she’s named after James Riddle Hoffa.  Score two for pity.

It’s 1972 and Riddle is looking forward to a lazy summer at the family home in Wellfleet, Massachusetts.  It’s the perfect seaside setting for reading, playing with the dogs and indulging her passion, horseback riding.  The only cloud on Riddle’s horizon is her father’s campaign.  Her mother is not happy about it either, especially the expected entertaining and schmoozing.  But she’s a famously beautiful actress who left Hollywood when she married and she knows how to pretend she’s listening.

Riddle is twelve, the age at which children begin to realize adults have a life in which important things happened before they were born.  Adults have secrets too, and her parents’ will turn out to be unexpectedly dangerous.

Riddle acquires her own fatal secret when she witnesses something unsettling in a neighbor’s barn.  It involves the truly frightening hired hand and gifted horse handler, Gula Nightjar, a man who pops up to terrify Riddle whenever she has an impulse to tell what she knows.  He is spooky, spooky, spooky, and you believe he would paralyze Riddle into inaction.

Secrets abound in The Last Summer of the Camperdowns and Elizabeth Kelly uses them to explore the cost of silence, what constitutes true love and friendship, and how hesitating to do what’s right can have devastating consequences.  These are big themes and I found the way they’re explored in this novel compelling.  I also loved the characters, all sharply drawn and given to conversations so hilarious and beguiling I found myself losing track of time when reading.  I love it when that happens.  Highly recommended.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Flora by Gail Godwin

June 6, 2013

It’s 1945 and ten year old Helen Anstruther lives in a dilapidated old house at the top of a rutted driveway in Mountain City, North Carolina. Her mother died when she was three and she’s just lost her beloved grandmother, Nonie, to a heart attack. Her father needs to find someone to stay with Helen while he goes to Oak Ridge, Tennessee to contribute to an important, but mysterious project related to the war. Twenty two year old cousin Flora is recruited to spend the summer looking after Helen.

Helen is a precocious child trying very hard to appear more grown up than her actual years and her behavior elicits mixed emotions. I spent part of the book feeling true sympathy for her and the rest wanting to shake her until her teeth rattled. Her loneliness and confusion engender empathy, while her treatment of Flora is infuriating.

In Flora, Gail Godwin creates what I sometimes think is the trickiest character of all—a genuinely good person. Flora is what another character calls “simple-hearted”. This is not similar to being simple-minded. Flora is likeable without being unbelievable and moral without being preachy. She isn’t perfect. She has her insecurities, like everyone else, but she manages to deal with them without resorting to cynicism, or meanness, or liquor. She was chosen by Helen’s father more out of convenience than anything else, but he couldn’t have found a better companion for Helen if he had tried.

The developing relationship between Helen and Flora is the heart of the story. Where will that relationship lead? The first line of the novel, which is narrated by Helen, contains hints, “There are things we can’t undo, but perhaps there is a kind of constructive remorse that could transform regrettable acts into something of service to life.”

This is a story of innocence and its loss, actions and their consequences, memory and forgetting. The themes of this short novel are played out not only in the relationship between Helen and Flora, but in the backdrop of an America doing what is deemed necessary to win a war. The writing is gorgeous and reminded me of one of my favorite short story writers, Alice Munro. Add this to the list of fabulous books published this year by North Carolina writers.

Find and reserve this book in the catalog.


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