Posts Tagged ‘Literary Fiction’

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!

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Sarah K’s Picks

December 23, 2014

These five books were the ones that stuck in my mind during 2014. They reveal truths about our shared humanity while introducing readers to new places and new forms of style. Take a moment to try these out; they are well worth your time.

Claire of the Sea LightClaire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat
On the night of Claire Limyè Lanmè’s seventh birthday, she disappears. Motherless, her fisherman father Nozias has decided to give Claire away to Madame Gaëlle, a shopkeeper who lost her daughter in an accident years earlier, to ensure Claire greater opportunities. As the members of the seaside Haitian town of Ville Rose, search for her, their interconnected stories, secrets, and losses emerge. Danticat creates vivid characters and her writing captures the beauty and sorrow of daily life.

The CommitmentsThe Commitments by Roddy Doyle
Put together a group of Dublin working class misfits with the soul sounds of the 1960s and you have Roddy Doyle’s punchy and charming novel about the joys of rock and roll. The book follows the escapades of the band as they combat over practice, get through their first gig, cut their first single and run into inevitable creative differences. Doyle’s free-flowing bawdy dialogue is exhilarating. So, if you are looking for some fun, introduce yourself to the Hardest Working Soul Band in Dublin: The Commitments.

My Struggle Book OneMy Struggle Book One by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Karl Ove Knausgaard blurs the lines between fiction and memoir in the first volume of his novelistic autobiography. The book begins with a meditation on death and then proceeds to explore Knausgaard’s childhood and fraught relationship with his troubled father. This expansion and contraction of universal ideas and the minute details of Knausgaard’s life creates a fascinating tension between the author and the reader. Knausgaard lays his life out on the table with unflinching directness for the reader to examine. My Struggle is probably not for every reader, but it is something strange and new.

AusterlitzAusterlitz by W. G. Sebald
Traveling across Europe, the unnamed narrator meets and befriends Jacques Austerlitz an architectural historian. As their relationship develops, he gradually learns of Austerlitz’s search for his lost history. As a small child, Austerlitz’s mother placed him a Kindertransport to Britain where an aged Welsh couple adopted him and gave him a new identity. After learning of his birth family after their deaths, Austerlitz begins to discover his past and how the Holocaust severed his past life from his present. Uncanny, hypnotic, and dreamlike, Austerlitz conveys the incompleteness of memories with their ragged and hazy qualities, while capturing the devastation of the Holocaust.

The Patrick Melrose NovelsThe Patrick Melrose Novels by Edward St. Aubyn
Edward St. Aubyn pillories the excesses and absurdities of the British upper class with elegant prose and vicious wit in this cycle of four novels. He begins with Patrick’s childhood relationships to his sadistic father and neglectful mother, and following him into a ravenous drug addiction, recovery, marriage and fatherhood. His character eventually reaches a form of uneasy redemption. Patrick and the world he inhabits aren’t likable, but there’s a level of truth to St. Aubyn’s storytelling, as Patrick struggles to place himself beyond his lifelong demons. Despite some of their grim subject matter, the novels are deeply, darkly funny.

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

December 22, 2014

I read both fiction and non-fiction.  I prefer books that have rich characters, who feel like people I know by the time I finish the book.  Here are the best books I read in 2014.

Ten Things I've Learnt About LoveTen Things I’ve Learnt About Love by Sarah Butler
Alice is a wanderer, unable to decide on a career.  She has a strained relationship with her family, but has returned to England to be with her father during his final days.  Daniel is a middle aged homeless man on the streets of London, who uses found items to make small, transient art pieces.  He is also searching for the daughter he has never met.  The chapters in this amazing debut novel, alternate between Alice’s and Daniel’s voice, as events lead them inexorably towards each other.

The Death of SantiniThe Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son by Pat Conroy
Pat Conroy returns to his troubled relationship with his father in this excellent biography, where he also explores the dynamics between he and his siblings, particularly his sister Carol.  In the prologue, Conroy says that he has been “writing the story of my own life for over forty years…but I must examine the wreckage one last time”.  He does, using soaring language, and descriptions that are both tragic and hilarious.  The picture Conroy paints is not always pretty, and at times he is especially brutal in describing his own actions.  However, Pat Conroy is the ultimate storyteller, and that amazing talent shines in this retelling of his life.

March, Book OneMarch, Book One by John Lewis
I am not generally a fan of graphic novels.  However, this is perhaps the most powerful book I have read this year, and I think the format is an excellent way to describe the Civil Rights struggles.  Congressman Lewis recounts his early meeting with Martin Luther King, which led to his commitment to the non-violence movement.  Illustrator Nate Powell’s images help bring to life the incredible bravery and determination of the young men and women who risked their lives to right the horrible wrong of segregation.

The Other TypistThe Other Typist  by Suzanne Rindell
New York City in the 1920s:  women’s roles are changing, Prohibition is in full swing, and crime is hidden right in front of you.  Odalie Lazare is the new member of the typing pool at a police precinct.  Beautiful, mysterious, sometimes charming, sometimes cold, she fascinates the staid, reliable typist, Rose Baker.  Odalie pulls Rose into her world of intrigue with the promise of friendship and excitement.  Told in Rose’s voice, this satisfying tale will leave you asking, “what just happened?”

Guests on EarthGuests on Earth by Lee Smith
Evalina Toussaint, an orphan, arrives at Asheville, NC’s famed Highland Hospital, in 1936. Her mother has died, her father is unknown. she is alone, abandoned and has virtually shut down.  Dr. Carroll, the hospital administrator, and his wife, a concert pianist, take Evalina under their wings.  Part patient, part ward of the Carrolls, Evalina lives at Highland on and off over the next several decades, as she struggles to find a life for herself.  Smith has not only written a well-crafted novel, but she has also explored the changing attitudes about mental illness, and its treatment, using the factual story of Highland Hospital and the tragic fire that killed its most famous patient, Zelda Fitzgerald.  Zelda has a cameo role in the novel, providing a fleeting, but enduring influence on Evalina.

Best New Books of 2014: Sarah K’s Picks

December 5, 2014

Identity and struggle are the themes of five of my favorite books from 2014. How does adversity shape who we are? How much do we control our identities and how much are we shaped by external forces? I invite you to check out these following titles

An Untamed StateAn Untamed State by Roxane Gay
Kidnapped by an armed street gang in Haiti, Mireille trusts her wealthy father to pay ransom to return her to her fairy tale existence with her husband and baby. When Mireille’s father refuses to capitulate to her captors, she must find the strength to endure days of torment while trying to maintain a connection to the woman she was. Gay’s frank treatment of rape and its aftermath with clean understated writing adds to the intensity of this book.

On the RunOn the Run by Alice Goffman
As an undergraduate, Alice Goffman moved into a neighborhood in Philadelphia and began taking field notes as she fully immersed herself in the lives of the families living there. The War on Drugs had created a culture of constant police surveillance of the lives of the residents there, especially among the young men, many of whom were in some sort of entanglement with the legal system. Goffman witnessed arrests, escapes from the police and how police use employment and familial relationships as leverage against suspects. Goffman has written an insightful and sobering critique of the policing of poor neighborhoods and the human toll that it takes on the individuals living there.

The Empathy ExamsThe Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
From the confinement of illness to the traps of poverty and prison, Leslie Jamison’s clear-eyed and far-ranging essays explore the intersection between empathy and pain. If you only have time for one essay, read “Fog Count,” which begins with a prison visit, but then expands to include the larger picture of the prison-industrial complex, strip mining and the economy of West Virginia.  Her curiosity about the human condition brings into sharp focus the capacity and limitations of compassion. She deftly weaves personal experience with the universal to create a collection that rivals early Joan Didion.

The Other LanguageThe Other Language by Francesca Marciano
A woman writes about the ideal Italy while homesick in New York. Another seeks out an old companion on an isolated island in the Indian Ocean; while a third buys a Chanel gown on a frivolous whim. In this collection of nine stories, Marciano travels across countries and cultures with a knack for capturing settings and tone. She vividly captures the lives of her characters at moments of transformation with lovely and fluid storytelling that keeps the pages turning.

How to Build a GirlHow to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
Eager to escape her lackluster existence as a working-class teenager in the Midlands of England, and her unfortunate Scooby-Doo impersonation on local television, Johanna Morrigan decides to reinvent herself as Dolly Wilde, music journalist. After gaining the attention of a London-based music magazine, Johanna/Dolly embarks on a series of professional and sexual misadventures as she tries to figure out how to build her new life. If you were a teenager in the early 1990s, or enjoy bold raucous humor, chances are you will love this book as much as I did.

Best New Books of 2014: Amy W’s Picks

December 1, 2014

I enjoy a well-balanced diet…of books. Here we have something for EVERYONE from light and fun page-turners to thought-provoking non-fiction. Don’t let 2014 end without checking out any (or all) of these awesome books!

This Dark Road to MercyThis Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash
Easter and Ruby are two young girls placed in foster care after the sudden death of their junkie mother. The girls are used to watching out for themselves. They hope to be adopted, but do not want to live with their maternal grandparents in Alaska, total strangers, living in a strange land. Their estranged father, a washed up amateur league baseball player, appears suddenly and confuses the already precarious situation. In the backdrop of the novel and adding to the tension, is the home run rivalry between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire. The scores go back and forth and the competition is of interest to everyone. This Dark Road to Mercy is a well-constructed, page-turner that artfully tells a moving story in which children are once again thrust into an adult world.  See my full review.

Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
Roz Chast, a longtime New Yorker cartoonist, documents the slow decline of her aging parents. Not only does this impact her life at the time, but spending time with them at their most vulnerable brings up old anxieties. No surprise, Chast tackles this subject with great humor and candor. I found this book to be comforting and thought provoking. The graphic memoir format really lends itself to exploring a topic I would ordinarily shy away from reading.

LandlineLandline by Rainbow Rowell
Remember back in the 80’s when you would talk on the phone for an eternity until your ear actually hurt? I do. I loved talking on the phone, not so much cell phones— and texting has its moments if you can get past all the auto-correct errors. Nothing will ever surpass the old school telephone when it comes to connecting with another person. Georgie McCool is in crisis mode. She is a writer for a sitcom that just may get a pilot. Her marriage, family, mental health and personal hygiene suffer from the effort. She needs to reconnect. Her old yellow phone becomes her lifeline to the past and the present. Told with great humor and tenderness, Landline is a delight!

All Joy and No FunAll Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior
Why, why, why is parenting so hard today? This thought has crossed my mind a lot, well, more accurately, this thought lives in my mind and it ain’t goin’ nowhere. Parenting seemed easy for my mom (it also did not hurt that I was a perfect child, am I right?). This is really the only parenting book I have ever read and boy, do I love it! It is not a book about how to parent , but a look at what parenting is about these days from a sociological and psychological perspective. So, I was right — it is hard–but now I spend a lot less time focusing on the no fun aspects of parenting. See my full review.

Thousand Dollar Tan LineThe Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas
I loved the Veronica Mars television series! This book takes place a few years after the series ends when Veronica gets really close to joining the FBI but decides to live and work in her small, California beach-side hometown, Neptune. Written by the series creator, writer and producer, Rob Thomas, stylistically the book is true to the spirit of the show and the 2014 movie. I know you are thinking, “that sounds kind of low-brow for you, a well-read librarian”. Well, it’s not. This book is not great literature, but it is perfectly entertaining and it was great to be reunited with old friends (this is the part where you remember the catchy theme song…A long time ago, we used to be friends….).

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

October 29, 2014

Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-WhittemoreThose who have read The Secret History by Donna Tartt always seem to be looking for a read-alike. That’s no easy feat, as Tartt’s blockbuster debut novel is not easily recreated due to its amazing storyline, rich prose, and creepy plot.

Along comes Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, whose explicit goal was to attract readers of The Secret History (we are a weird little cult who love this book). The author says, “I wrote Bittersweet for people like me, who love The Secret History and The Emperor’s Children; it’s a literary beach read.” Whoo hoo – get me a copy of this book!

A reviewer said Bittersweet, “evokes Gone Girl with its exploration of dark secrets and edge-of-your-seat twists.” I’m not sure I would go that far, but it is a very good suspenseful psychological thriller that keeps you wondering where it is going, and how you will get there.

Meet Mabel Dagmar, a bit of a socially awkward but bright student at an unnamed East Coast private college. Mabel, who is from Oregon, has a roommate straight from a WASP manual: Genevra Winslow, a beautiful woman from a prestigious New England family. Mabel is fascinated with Genevra, a fascination that borders on obsession. When she is invited to summer with the Winslows at their Vermont family compound (like a forested Kennedy Compound in Hyannis Port), she jumps at the chance to ingratiate herself with the family. But she gets more than she bargains for when the Winslows prove to have secrets of their own, and that under their blue blood-tinged skin, they are anything but aristocratic.

Is this novel anything like The Secret History? Not really. It lacks Tartt’s rich dialogue. The setting with wealthy East Coast college students is the same, and both novels examine the lives of the New England elite. Other than that, I didn’t see many similarities. Bittersweet is literary, and dark, and gothic. I think any readers of The Thirteenth Tale would appreciate this novel. I recommend this novel if you like your stories dark and medium in complexity, and somewhat literary.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

October 1, 2014

The Storied Life of AJ FikryAJ Fikry owns the only bookstore on Alice Island, off the coast of Maine. He knows what he likes to read, and he knows what everyone else should like too. No genre fiction, no vampire novels, and definitely no children’s books. AJ is all too happy to let everyone he meets know his views in no uncertain terms. When Amelia, a rep for Knightley books, comes to the island to show him Knightley’s latest books, AJ shares all of this with her in his typical fashion. Understandably, she ends up leaving the island in tears.

AJ’s personal life is a mess. He drinks too much, he is depressed about the loss of his wife, and he is in danger of losing his bookstore. Then one evening someone leaves something behind in the store that will change his life and attitude forever. As AJ changes, so does his bookstore. The bookstore becomes successful again and a center of the community. Eventually, children’s books become some of his best- selling items. And the next time Amelia comes to show AJ some books, his feelings for her are completely different.

This book is a charming tale about how people are affected by the things they read, and how reading can change people’s relationships. Book lovers everywhere will fall in love with AJ and will want to hang out at his store on Alice Island.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Canada by Richard Ford

September 5, 2014

Canad The beginning of this distinctly American novel is shocking and that shock started a low level of dread inside that did not leave me until days after I finished reading it. Our hero is 14 year old Dell Parsons, son of Bev and Neeva, brother of Berner. The family is living in Great Falls, a large town in 1960’s Montana as the story begins. They seem to be a happy, if slightly odd family. We know early on that major upheavals are in store for all four of them, and the subtle writing style keeps us on edge. We don’t know if it will be hilarious or crushing.

This is a large and sometimes slow story, but skipping ahead or skimming is not recommended. The beauty and complexities of the design need to be appreciated. The novel presents some large questions about family, love, and one’s relationship to the land.Terrible and unbelievable things happen to all the Parsons while in Montana, in spite of the normalcy all around them. The second half of the book is set in Saskatchewan, Canada, in a town truly out of time and place, another planet in many ways. The writing is always beautiful and stark, with a streak of dark humor.

Dell tells his tale as a flashback right up until the end of the book, so he is not quite a reliable narrator. This gives the reader plenty to think about, as Dell struggles to come of age and to regain a sense of connection with the world and grieve over the tragic dissolution of his family.

Richard Ford is the author of several other books, including The Sportswriter and the Pulitzer Prizewinning Independence Day.

 

 Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Amy Falls Down by Jincy Willett

August 26, 2014

Amy Falls DownThe Big Event in this book happens right up front, which is a bit of a jolt. Amy Gallup is an older, moderately successful author and writing instructor, who is moderately satisfied with her dog Alphonse and her life as a hermit in her moderately comfortable suburban California home, sometimes meditating on her past and her late husband. In Chapter One, “Accident,” a misstep changes the tenor of her life. Suddenly she is in demand.

Amy’s erstwhile agent Maxine re-appears, and shrewdly starts booking Amy into interviews, discussions, and even radio talk shows. Highly opinionated and proud of it, Amy surprises everyone, including herself, by embarking on heretofore unimagined adventures.

“What did it mean that now, after all these years, she wanted to be known again?” she wonders.

Amy – or is it the author? – is literary, articulate, and cerebral. Yet I often laughed out loud at her word plays (her blog is GO AWAY), story titles taken from the day’s events (“All Buzz Aside”) , and her unplanned takedowns of narcissists (including a egomaniac radio host.)

Even though Amy Falls Down is a sequel to Jincy Willett’s mystery, Winner of the National Book Award, it is not required reading to enjoy this book.

If you like this book, you may also enjoy Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout, or The Leftovers, by Tom Perrotta.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon

August 15, 2014

The Crying of Lot 49Imagine if you can what it is like to have no possessions at all. Nothing. Very few people are able to imagine such a thing, to have nothing at all. Well let us, you and I, try to imagine something a hundred times harder: not just to have nothing at all but to have no reality at all.

Oedipa Maas, a California housewife, is unexpectedly designated the co-executor of her former lover’s estate. In parsing the late Pierce Inveriarty’s tangled assets, Oedipa becomes entangled in a complicated historical mystery, and in the process, she potentially unearths a centuries-old conflict between two mail carrier companies (Thurn und Taxis and the Tristero) kept secret by a shadowy conspiracy. Maybe. In a set of rare stamps, in an obscure Jacobean play, in overheard conversations, in wastebaskets scattered in San Narciso, Oedipa finds what might be evidence for the Tristero’s existence. Might. Drowning in or perhaps rising to new heights of paranoia, she finds herself torn between belief and disbelief, with signs and symbols all around her and nothing to guide her. And this is only about half the story.

You don’t need a degree in Jacobean theater, theoretical physics, or the history of postal systems (although this reviewer will admit to carrying out research on the United States Postal Service for a class project because of this novel) to enjoy the story here, though all these things figure into the story. For the real perfectionists who enjoy chasing down references (I know you’re out there because I see you at our weekly meetings), just keep Wikipedia and Google handy and you’ll be fine. For that matter, there’s a Pynchon Wiki out there too that really gets down into the nitty gritty.

For those of you who are concerned about the reputation and various paraphernalia that hangs around Pynchon’s name, fear not: this book is short and more accessible than Gravity’s Rainbow (his magnum opus, let’s not lie) or Bleeding Edge (his latest contribution) while still being as Pychonian as Pynchon can be. By which I mean by turns absurd, paranoid, musical, countercultural, and surreal.

And besides, the real rule when it comes to Pynchon is just this: hang on and enjoy the ride.

P.S.: write and tell me what you think; if you’ve read this book, you’ll know how to send it to me.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.


%d bloggers like this: