Posts Tagged ‘Massachusetts’

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: 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.

Defending Jacob by William Landay

April 30, 2014

Defending Jacob by William LandyThere are not too many novels that I read and tell others that if they can guess the ending, I will give out $10. I have said this about William Landay‘s Defending Jacob to many, many people. And I haven’t had to pay out any monies yet.

Defending Jacob is quite possibly the best contemporary suspense/thriller I have read. I have to be careful what I say in this blog post, so that I don’t give away too much. I often find that to be the hallmark of a great book; the reviewer has to be prudent to make sure not too much is revealed in the summation.

Andy Barber is an Assistant District Attorney in Middlesex County, MA. He lives a quiet, middle class life with his wife Laurie and 14 year-old son Jacob. One of Jacob’s eighth grade classmates is stabbed to death in a local park. Andy is assigned the case, despite Jacob being a friend of the victim. Andy is taken off the case when Jake becomes a suspect, and the former DA turns defense attorney for his son. In preparation for trial, facts are revealed slowly – Jake owns a knife – Jake’s bloody fingerprint was found on the victim’s sweatshirt. Jake was a toddler who was violent. He was known as a bit of a bully. But did he commit murder? Is he a normal adolescent who happened upon his murdered classmate’s body and was too scared to call for help?

To complicate matters, Andy’s father and grandfather were both violent felons. Andy never shared that little tidbit with his wife, who is shocked that such a secret could have been kept from her. He question then arises: could Jacob be the carrier of the so-called “murder gene?” Will the prosecution use that as a motive?

I cannot say any more about the plot for fear of giving it all way. I will say that three quarters of the way through the story you are pretty sure you know how it will end. Ha! And then, there is the best plot twist I have encountered in years. I loved this novel because it confronts the question: if your child possibly did something heinous, how far would you go to help him? How far does parental love extend? Is propensity for violence an inherited trait, like eye color? What if your child is innocent but you have doubts.

Read it and let me know if I owe you $10.

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Best New Books of 2013: Sarah K’s Picks

December 5, 2013

This year a study came out that demonstrated that after reading literary fiction, people scored better on tests measuring empathy. With that in mind, I present you five of my favorite novels and memoirs from 2013.  All of them pack an emotional wallop with characters that will linger with you, long after you finish their stories. After a year filled with impasses and increasing polarity, it wouldn’t hurt to see things from another point of view!

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Young lovers Ifemelu and Obinze separate when Ifemelu goes to university in the United States leaving Obinze behind in Nigeria. Stymied by post-9/11 immigration policies, he is unable to join her, and instead journeys to England to live illegally. Reunited years later, the pair must decide whether to begin anew or to return to their current life trajectories. Adichie’s keen observations and precise wit put her in the tradition of Jane Austen’s social and romantic explorations.

The Liars’ Gospel by Naomi Alderman
A year after Yehoshuah’s crucifixion, Roman-occupied Judea is in a state of unrest. Four people, Miryam, Iehuda, Caiaphas and Bar-Avo, try to make sense of the past as well as present life under their Roman oppressors. Alderman’s provocative retelling of the life of Christ is filled with vibrant descriptions of temple rites, riots, and assassinations, which bring immediacy to its ancient setting. Throughout the book, both Alderman and her characters wrestle with who Yehoshuah really was; the Messiah, or a roving preacher from a backwater town.

The Flame Throwers by Rachel Kushner
Reno leaves the deserts of her hometown to join the New York art world in 1975. There she meets Sandro Valera, heir to an Italian motorcycle and tire company along with other bohemian characters in his creative sphere. She begins to develop her art and on the way races high speed vehicles to become the fastest woman in the world. After a crushing betrayal, Reno joins a radical group in Italy. Kushner’s writing is a delight, deft and sharp and surprising; she describes Pat Nixon as “a ratted beauty-parlor tough who became first lady.” She layers stories upon stories to create a rich buffet of a book that you won’t be able to put down.

With or Without You by Domenica Ruta
Domenica Ruta’s memoir of growing up in working class Massachusetts with her mother Kathi is both incredibly vivid and unsettling. As a reader I couldn’t turn away from her path of destruction, beginning with the opening pages as Kathi takes a crowbar to her brother’s ex-girlfriend’s car.  Kathi, whose life is a cascading series of high highs and low lows, is one of the most compelling characters to appear in a book this year. Loud, reckless, and chaotic, Kathi is the human equivalent of a V-2 rocket and Ruta neither glamorizes nor demonizes her difficult upbringing.

Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward
After losing four close friends and a brother over four years, Jesmyn Ward tries to make sense of their premature deaths in this devastating memoir. Ward’s narrative moves back and forth in time as she explores life in her rural Mississippi community and the ways that the men in her life try to escape the snares of poverty, racism, and plain bad luck.  She writes to bring these men back from the dead and to draw our eyes to lives we would otherwise ignore.  As she says, “There is a great darkness bearing down on our lives, and no one acknowledges it.”

The Caretaker by A.X. Ahmad

July 1, 2013

Looking for a great summer read? I recommend this well written thriller. It has locales that range from India to Boston to Martha’s Vineyard, lots of action, and sharply drawn characters.

The protagonist, Ranjit Singh, is a Sikh and a former member of the Indian military. Discharged from service due to scandal, Ranjit immigrates to the United States where he barely makes a living doing odd jobs on Martha’s Vineyard. He’s thrilled to land several jobs as winter caretaker for some of the expensive homes. At least until he and his family find themselves running for their lives from mysterious men who want to steal something from one of the homes under Ranjit’s care. The targeted house belongs to a charismatic United States senator, with a beautiful wife of whom Ranjit is particularly fond.

The scenes on Martha’s Vineyard alternate with flashbacks to India and the failed mission that ended Ranjit’s army career so suddenly and spectacularly. I think Ahmad is particularly good at describing setting. I really felt like I was on the glacier with Singh and his men in the scenes set in India. When the action moves to the Vineyard, I could see the empty houses of the rich as Ranjit tended them during the somber days of the off season.

Ranjit Singh is an appealing character with a background I’ve never run across before in a thriller. I found the details of his army career fascinating. The sense of honor that made him a good soldier carries over into his civilian life and is, for me, one of Ranjit’s most endearing qualities. He stubbornly insists on behaving honorably, even if it’s not convenient or worse yet, downright dangerous.

The Caretaker is the first in a trilogy featuring Ranjit Singh from debut author A.X. Ahmad. The second title in the series, Bollywood Taxi, will be published next year. I look forward to reading it.

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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.

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The Whole Lie By Steve Ulfelder

August 10, 2012

Life is good again for Conway Sax, he has opened a new garage and it is doing well. His relationship with long time girlfriend, Charlene, is solid. In fact, it is her money that bought the garage. But all is about to change as ex-Barnburner, Savannah ‘Savvy’  Kane, is about to upset Conway’s somewhat tranquil life. The Barnburners are an offshoot of Alcoholics Anonymous and its members are exceptionally loyal to one another. Also, Conway may have fathered Savvy’s now 6 year old son, Max.

Savvy has come to ask for Conway’s help in the race for Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts. Bert Saginaw is running for the position, with the aid of his bright sister, Emily. At present, Bert is divorced and Savvy is pretty close to Bert. Savvy thinks that Conway can help with a problem that is about to explode in the race. Betsy Tinker, the candidate for Governor is not one of Bert’s fans but as the saying goes, politics makes strange bedfellows.

The Saginaws know that trouble is brewing in that some pictures that Bert posed for a number of years ago and are about to hit the news. Conway discovers he is being followed by two cars and through some tricky driving escapes their pursuit. He doubles back to find that the second driver is Savvy. But two things are about to happen simultaneously, the pictures are released and Savvy is murdered.

Charlene wants Conway out of the picture, but as a Barnburner, he can not let this murder go without trying to solve it. Another murder is about to happen which will complicate Conway’s life even more. The pace of the story will quicken and Steve Ulfelder has created another page turner. Please enjoy The Whole Lie.

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The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller

June 26, 2012

When author Jennifer Miller contacted me through Goodreads to recommend that I read her book, she had clearly done her research. She’d seen how much I enjoyed Special Topics in Calamity Physics and figured that her debut novel, The Year of the Gadfly, would be right up my alley. Its part coming-of-age story set at a New England prep school, part mystery that spans 13 years and three perspectives, and all sinister secret societies, gothic architecture, and intrigue.

Iris’s recent loss of her best friend, not to mention being caught by her concerned parents while talking to her imaginary mentor, Edward R. Murrow, land her in a new school in a new town with a new start. Wanting to become a hard-nosed reporter, dedicated to discovering the truth and uncovering injustices in the world, Iris joins the school newspaper, The Oracle. Her pitches for stories are repeatedly rejected in favor of fluff pieces, and Iris begins to nose around into the reasons behind the cover ups and lies that seem so rampant at Mariana Academy.

The history of the school begins to unwind, slowly at first, and then more and more quickly. The story skips between Iris, her biology teacher Jonah Kaplan (a Mariana Academy alum), and Lily Morgan, a classmate of Jonah’s who grew up in the house that Iris’s family now rents. Jonah and Lily’s stories intertwine and skirt around the truth of what happened at Mariana 12 years before, leading to the death (or perhaps suicide?) of Jonah’s brother (and Lily’s boyfriend), Justin.

I don’t want to say much more and spoil anything for you, so pick this up and try it out for yourself. And if you enjoy this one, be sure to take a look at Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman and The Secret History by Donna Tartt.

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The Body in the Gazebo by Katherine Hall Page

July 25, 2011

For those of you who don’t know me, my favorite genre is mystery. And one of my favorite authors, in that genre, is Katherine Hall Page.

This traditional mystery series is set in the picturesque New England town of Aleford, Massachusetts and features amateur sleuth and caterer Faith Fairchild. Faith is the daughter of a minister and is married to Reverend Tom Fairchild. We first meet Faith as a young wife and mother in The Body in the Belfry. Fast forward a number of years to The Body in the Gazebo.

Pix Miller, Faith’s best friend reluctantly leaves for South Carolina to meet her son’s future in-laws. In her absence Faith has agreed to watch over Pix’s ailing octogenarian mother, Ursula.  Knowing Faith’s ability to solve mysteries, Ursula slowly reveals the story of an unsolved crime that occurred in the summer of 1929 on Nantucket Island. This is a story with a family secret Ursula does not yet want to share with her daughter Pix.

Meanwhile, it is discovered that church funds are missing from an account which only Tom has access. Tom and Faith work together to clear Tom’s name before his reputation is ruined. When Faith’s assistant Niki unburdens her secret, Faith is soon “sick with secrets”.

The reader is never lost as the author skillfully shifts between the two time periods and the voices of Faith and Ursula. I most enjoyed reading about Ursula’s life during the 1920s and the following Depression era.

In all her books Katherine Hall Page includes recipes for the mouth-watering meals Faith prepares. You can find more of these recipes in Page’s Agatha-nominated cookbook Have Faith in Your Kitchen.

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