Posts Tagged ‘Martha S.’s Picks’

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2014: Martha S’s Picks

December 29, 2014

I enjoy reading realistic fiction, with some humor thrown in from time to time, and and occasional work of nonfiction.  These are my favorites books discovered this year, but published prior to 2014:

LookawLookaway, Lookawayay, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt
Meet the Johnstons: Jerene and Duke are the heads of a socially prominent, highly dysfunctional Charlotte family. Duke is an ardent Civil War reenactor; Jerene is the manager of the Jarvis trust, her family’s collection of landscapes by minor American artists. They are the parents of Annie, an outspoken, brash real estate person on her third marriage, minister Bo, gay son Joshua who is not officially out of the closet, naïve daughter Jerrilyn. There is also Jerene’s outrageous, dissolute brother, Gaston Jarvis, who has squandered his literary talent on a series of Southern potboilers. This is a blisteringly funny satire of just about any contemporary Southern thing you can think of.  Read another review.

The PostmistressThe Postmistress by Sarah Blake
Three women’s lives intersect after Frankie Bard, a reporter from wartime London during the blitz, meets a doctor in an air raid shelter who asks her to deliver a letter to his wife in Massachusetts. The postmistress of the town in Massachusetts also has a mission from the same doctor to deliver a letter to his wife in the event of his death. This is a gripping story of the war in London, its effect on the three women and other people in the small town in Massachusetts.

The Language of FlowersThe Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
After a childhood spent in foster care, Victoria has nowhere to go and has no people in her life. Through luck she finds work in a florist’s shop and is able to expand her knowledge of the language of flowers that she has been interested in since childhood. Victoria is able to help others with her skill with flowers while she struggles with her own past.


TransatlanticTransatlantic by Colum McCann
The novel uses three events that actually happened as the basis for his novel; Frederick Douglass’s visit to Ireland in 1845, the 1919 flight of British aviators Alcock and Brown, and the attempts by U.S. senator George Mitchell to broker peace in Northern Ireland. One of the fictional characters, Lilly Duggan, who is first seen in the Frederick Douglass chapter boldly leaves all behind and immigrates to America, becoming the mother of a long line of descendants in America, some of whom return to Ireland in later times. Fascinating and brilliantly written.

The Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Don Tillman is a brilliant, but socially awkward professor of genetics at an Australian university. Nearing his 40th birthday, he decides to find a wife and devises a questionnaire to rule out all unsuitable candidates. Soon Rosie Jarman enters the picture and Don mistakenly believes she has submitted a questionnaire and been vetted by his coworker. Rosie and Don hit it off in spite of the fact that she fails to meet some of his requirements. Rosie does not know who her biological father is, so together they embark on the Rosie Project to attempt to learn his identity. Hilarious and heartwarming events ensue.  Read another review.

Best New Books of 2014: Martha S’s Picks

December 11, 2014

I enjoy reading realistic fiction, with some humor thrown in from time to time, and and occasional work of nonfiction.  These are my picks for best books of 2014:

Chestnut StreetChestnut Street by Maeve Binchy
The final work by the late Maeve Binchy, Chestnut Street is not strictly a novel, but short  stories about a variety of characters who all have a connection to Chestnut Street in Dublin. Binchy’s trademark gentle storytelling and likeable characters combine for an enjoyable read.


My Accidental JihadMy Accidental Jihad by Krista Bremer
Soon after Krista Bremer moved from California to Chapel Hill, she met Ismail, an older man from Syria. Though from very different cultures, they became a couple, eventually marrying. This is the story of their marriage. She is spiritual, he is a devout Muslim. The differences between them are mainly cultural and she describes them with humor and sometimes frustration. The growth of their relationship and the compromises they make, and the growth of Krista as a person make for very good reading.

ByrdByrd by Kim Church
This is the tenderest of books with an unforgettable main character. Addie’s botched abortion means that the baby survived and he is placed for adoption. She names him Byrd and from the time of his birth until she is in her forties, Addie writes letters to Byrd that tell him how much she loves him. Meanwhile, Addie forms a life of meaning, despite her longing for Byrd. Familiar locations in Raleigh added to my enjoyment of the book.

Getting LifeGetting Life : An Innocent Man’s 25-Year Journey from Prison to Peace by Michael Morton
Michael Morton was convicted in Texas on flimsy evidence for the murder of his wife. Twenty-five years later he was exonerated by DNA evidence and the efforts of the Innocence Project. Two things stood out for me in this book; he was seen as innocent by all his fellow prisoners and he wrote the book himself. Morton occupied his time wisely in prison, earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in literature. A spellbinding account of how the justice system can fail.

All I Have in this WorldAll I Have in This World by Michael Parker
Marcus and Maria who both have messy histories and who have now ended up in a town in Texas, meet over the hood of a much-used Buick Electra, which has its own history. They buy the car together and it succeeds in helping each of them toward their individual destinies.


27 Views of Raleigh: the City of Oaks in Prose and Poetry edited by Wilson Barnhardt

November 1, 2013

27viewsThis was a surprisingly good read, a collection of essays, short stories, poems on the subject of Raleigh. Several stood out for me.
Home Is Where You Mend the Roof by Juliana Makuchi Nfah-Abbenyi, a native of Cameroon, now a U.S. citizen. She defends Mississippi as having moved beyond its racist past and speaks of some negative experiences in Raleigh.
Dining at Balentine’s by Dana Wynne Lindquist touches on her family history, the longstanding tradition of Sunday post-church dining at Balentine’s Cafeteria and the loss of the unique building that was one of the cornerstones at Cameron Village.
Ladies of the Marble Hearth by Hilary Hebert is a short story about a middle-aged woman assisting her elderly mother to serve lunch to her book club. Mother is persnickety and the roof is about to fall in as the ladies are about to assemble and daughter has taken a day of vacation from her job to help her mother. Daughter’s struggles to be independent of her mother are part of the dynamic between mother and daughter.
Fox View, Montclair Neighborhood by Elaine Neil Orr chronicles her observations of a gray fox that passes through her backyard multiple times over the course of a summer.
The Parade, an excerpt from Adam’s Gift, by Jimmy Creech is his thoughtful account of coming to a belief that discrimination against gay and lesbian people should end. He was a Methodist minister for twenty-nine years before being found guilty of disobedience in a church trial in 1999 and stripped of his credentials for ordination after performing a wedding for two men.

This collection of writings about Raleigh will show you a new view of a familiar place.

Find and request this book in our catalog.

Hellhound On His Trail by Hampton Sides

April 26, 2013

I stumbled across Hampton Sides while looking for a new audiobook. This is one of the best audiobooks I’ve ever listened to. He writes nonfiction in the most vivid, engaging style that makes this a page turner of a book, as good as the best novel with plenty of suspense.

This is the story of the hunt for Martin Luther King’s killer. The name James Earl Ray never comes up because Ray used many different aliases. Sides painstakingly depicts Ray as a habitual petty criminal and extreme racist from a family of the same kind whose motivation appeared to be to commit the perfect crime and prove to himself that he was a master of the game. Ray seemed to think that he could outsmart all the people who were looking for him.

The manhunt began immediately based on where the witnesses said the shot came from. There is a famous photo showing the men pointing toward the rooming house from which Ray fired the fatal shot.

All of King’s associates, J. Edgar Hoover, the other FBI agents, family and others are part of the story. Suspense mounts as Ray stays just ahead of efforts to apprehend him. Just as he was about to sail from England to Africa on a forged passport, he was captured and the brought to justice. It was a supreme achievement for the many law enforcement agencies that were on the hunt for him.

Ray eventually confessed, was sentenced to prison, managed to escape and was recaptured. He attempted to recant his original confession in order to gain a trial, but was not successful. Even if you have read the newspaper accounts, there is so much more to be learned from this book. I highly recommend it.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog

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