Posts Tagged ‘Southern Fiction’

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.

Advertisements

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: 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….).

Big Fish by Daniel Wallace

November 10, 2014

Edward Bloom was larger than life, but now he has grown old and is sick and dying. His son, William, has come home to be with his father. William struggles to get to know his father on his death bed, as they really didn’t have much of a relationship since Edward spent most of his time traveling for work during William’s childhood. Edward was always quick with a joke, snappy one liner or often to William’s frustration, an extraordinary tale of his own greatness.

To come to terms with his father’s imminent passing, William looks back on his father’s life and retells the story as a series of myths and legends, detailing his father’s supposed epic feats. The tales are interesting and original, with quite the cast of characters. Edward was handsome, clever, and well liked. Among his many adventures Edward tames a giant, encounters a beautiful water nymph and returns a magic eye to its rightful owner.  Big Fish is a little gem of a book. It is a unique and touching story about a complicated father and son relationship.

Big Fish is written by talented North Carolina author, Daniel Wallace. It was his debut novel and he has gone on to write several other books as well. Big Fish was made into a movie directed by Tim Burton in 2003. I remember seeing the movie in the theater and really enjoying it. Even if you have already seen the movie, I recommend reading the book too. The short imaginative chapters, filled with a mix of humor and relatable poignanc combine to make this book a must read.

We are very excited to have Daniel for our “Meet the Author: Daniel Wallace” visit at the West Regional Library on Thursday, November 13 at 7 p.m. He will discuss his novels, characters, writing style and have Q & A following the discussion. Advance registration is requested. Call 919-463- 8500 to register.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Church Folk by Michele Andrea Bowen

November 5, 2014

I am sure many First Ladies can attest, their job is not an easy one. They have nothing on Essie Lee Lane, a plain girl from a small town who knows her way around a kitchen (that means she can cook really well). Essie does not know what she is getting into when she marries the Reverend Theophilus Simmons. Reverend Simmons is an up and coming theological star in the 1960’s South. Not only is he easy on the eyes (that means he is handsome), but a respected Southern preacher is a position of power in the South especially as the Civil Rights Movement is taking hold. Reverend Simmons is everything you would ever want in a husband—let me re-phrase that, Reverend Simmons is everything every woman in the community wants as a husband. When Reverend Simmons chooses Essie as his wife, the townfolk do not silently sit with their hands folded on their lap, instead they put Essie and their marriage to the test.  Lots of drama ensues in this sometimes funny, sometimes serious but always lively book.

If you found my parenthetical definitions tedious and too obvious then I really think you will like this book. The loose vernacular style is a delight. The colloquial language is not just for show, it comes from the heart and captures precisely the emotions felt. This book is a real treat. And if you like it, be sure to read its sequel, More Church Folk.

Michele Andrea Bowen is one of several North Carolina authors visiting our regional libraries in November. You can meet her and learn about her work at Southeast Regional Library on Saturday, November 8, at 2:30 p.m.  Click here to register.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons

July 15, 2014

Charms for the Easy LifeI have been purposely avoiding reading any of Kaye Gibbons‘ novels because I had met her during my college years in Raleigh and was not sure I could read them without preconceived notions. I have finally arrived at a maturity level where I can do so with a totally open mind. I jumped in with both feet, and never looked back. This book fit my criteria for a good read as I could not put it down after the first chapter.

Let me begin my review by recommending that readers first become acquainted with the layout of our beautiful state, North Carolina. It also helps to be knowledgeable about Raleigh and the distinctions of the older, surrounding neighborhoods near downtown. The author seamlessly weaves these locations into the novel. She was born in Rocky Mount and went to college in the Triangle. It was so easy to hear the southern drawl flowing right out of the dialogue. The story cannot be fully enjoyed without at least a familiarity of the key landmarks and major cities of North Carolina. The imagery just cannot be maximized otherwise.

Published in 1993, Charms for the Easy Life is Gibbons’ fourth novel. Her commercial literary success began with the award winning Ellen Foster. There is no doubt that this novel was also meant to inspire her own three daughters. It continues her tradition of creating strong female main characters: Charlie Kate is the no-nonsense grandmother and matriarch; Sophia is her rebellious daughter; and Margaret is the perfectionist granddaughter. All three show extraordinary independent spirit as well as quick wit and intellect. The time period of the novel covers 1910-1945. It was a time where these characteristics were neither attractive nor acceptable for a female. Charlie Kate and Sophia are both mistreated, deserted, and eventually widowed by their husbands. They show the world that they can succeed without having a man to hold their hand. Understandably, Margaret becomes overly cautious around males. Will she be an old maid? Read Charms for the Easy Life and find out.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

This Dark Road to Mercy by Wiley Cash

May 19, 2014

darkroadbookcover.phpThis Dark Road to Mercy is the much anticipated sophomore effort of North Carolina author and all around nice guy Wiley Cash. As with his debut novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, Mr Cash does not disappoint. I always appreciate his even handed treatment of Southern culture since we are more than Hee Haw and grits. Cash has a knack for the Southern Gothic small-town setting. This Dark Road to Mercy takes place at the end of summer and you can really feel it– the humidity easing a tiny bit in anticipation for the first hint of a crisp fall morning. Also adding to the anticipation, 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, adults and children.

Easter and Ruby are two young girls placed in foster care after the sudden, but not surprising, death of their junkie mother. The girls, raised in poverty by their single mother, are used to watching out for themselves. They hope to be adopted, but do not want to live with their maternal grandparents in Alaska who are total strangers, living in a strange land.   Their estranged father and washed up amateur league baseball player, Wade, appears suddenly. Easter is not happy to see Wade, who legally gave up his right to be their parent. She has found him to be a reliable disappointment. Her kid sister, Ruby, is intrigued by smooth-talking Wade despite Easter’s insistence that he is nothing but trouble. Wade admits he made some bad decisions in his personal life as well as his professional life. Wade wants to be their dad no matter what the law says.

Brady Weller is the court-appointed guardian for the girls tasked with watching over Easter and Ruby until they are in a permanent home. Even though he seems to radiate responsibility, Brady (like Wade), has made bad decisions costing him his law enforcement career and family. Brady uncovers information about Wade that makes him more of a danger to the girls than just a harmless nuisance.

Similar to his debut novel, 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.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog. 

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

April 28, 2014

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeIn honor of Harper Lee’s 88th birthday today, we are pleased to re-post this review of her seminal novel that we ran in back 2010 for the fiftieth anniversary of its publication.

I have debated writing about To Kill a Mockingbird.  There have been so many reviews of this book, and so much has already been said.  What was left for me to say?  But, this week is the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of this timeless classic.  How could I not write a few words?

I do not need to review the story.  Atticus Finch, his children Scout and Jem,  the reclusive neighbor  Boo Radley almost feel like family to most of us.  This indelible story of race, class, and growing up in the Deep South of the 1930s was relevant at its publication and is still today.

Published in July 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was picked up by the Book-of-the-Month Club and the Literary Guild. A condensed version of the story appeared in Reader’s Digest magazine.  It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961.  Horton Foote wrote a screenplay based on the book and used the same title for the 1962 film adaptation.   Earning eight Academy Award nominations, the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird won four awards, including Best Actor for Gregory Peck’s portrayal of Atticus Finch.

Not everyone has embraced the novel.  Over the years there have been many challenges by parents or groups who have wanted To Kill a Mockingbird banned from libraries and school curriculum.  The objections focus on some of the language and the racial themes of the novel.  In 2004 it was challenged at Stanford Middle School in Durham, N.C.

To Kill a Mockingbird remains a major work of fiction.  It has been translated into more than forty languages, and has sold more than thirty million copies worldwide. It has never been out of print, in either hard back or paperback.   Most recently, librarians across the country gave the book the highest of honors by voting it the best novel of the twentieth century.

Harper Lee never wrote another book.   Although she did collaborate on the making of the film, visiting the set during filming and granting  interviews to support the film,  she soon retreated from public view.  She seldom grants interviews or makes public appearances.  Even the hoopla of this 50th anniversary has not brought her out.

Libraries and book stores throughout the country will be commemorating To Kill a Mockingbird this summer.  Take this opportunity to revisit (or read for the first time) this amazing book.

Find and reserve this book in our catalog

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Sharon S’s Picks

December 23, 2013

One of the reasons why I like to read is for inspiration and instruction on how to live a better life. Here are the “new to me” books that inspired me most this year.

Healing Through Exercise by Jorg Blech
We all know that exercise can help prevent illness, but Jorg Blech provides well-documented evidence that exercise also promotes healing from existing illness. That means it is never too late to start. Even moderate exercise can have profound effects. The body atrophies more and more the longer we sit or lie in bed, so Blech urges us to get moving in whatever way we can to improve our health and extend our range of motion. Read my full review.

The Dry Grass of August by Anna Jean Mayhew
First-time novelist Mayhew has crafted a wonderful tale of growing up in the South in the 1950s. The story is told by 14-year-old Jubie, whose unjaded point of view enables her to understand many things the grown-ups around her fail to notice. In the face of tragedy, Jubie finds the courage to act on what she knows to be true, even though it goes against the grain of her society. Read my full review.

Scratch Beginnings: Me, $25, and the Search for the American Dream by Adam Shepard
Is America still a place where you can make a life for yourself with very little besides hard work and gumption? Shepard decided to find out by starting a new life as a homeless man in an unfamiliar city. What he was able to achieve and how is a fascinating and thought-provoking tale. Read my full review.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Paulo Coelho’s characters are afraid of happiness; after all, it might be better to keep on dreaming than to realize your dreams and be disappointed in them. This story of a young shepherd who dared to pursue his dream in the face of many obstacles has inspired countless readers. It is a good place to start if you want to read the works of this internationally acclaimed author.

The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius by Kristine Barnett
Jake Barnett is a 14-year-old genius who is working on a new theory of relativity which is expected to put him in line for the Nobel Prize. However, this biography is his mother’s story of how she brought out the best in a child who was diagnosed as profoundly autistic and unable to learn. It is a story of courage and creativity which is my favorite true story of the year. Read my full review.

Best ‘New to Us’ Books in 2013: Melissa O’s Picks

December 20, 2013

I read a wide variety of books, both fiction and nonfiction. Ask me for a suggestion and I most likely have read something that would appeal to you. But I still enjoy wandering the library stacks. Stumbling across a fabulous book is like finding a gem in a pile of costume jewelry. Costume jewelry is fun and fleeting, but some books are treasures that become friends for life. These are some of the new friends I made this year. Some have been out there a long time, others are more recent arrivals, but they are all worth checking out and passing along for more to enjoy!

When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time To Go Home by Erma Bombeck
I am a huge fan of Bill Bryson. One day while lamenting I had read and reread all his books the title of this book caught my eye. Intrigued, I picked it up. I am so glad I did! I laughed so hard I was sore the next day. I found out Erma Bombeck had a syndicated newspaper column and was a well known humorist. Somehow she had flown under my radar. But no more! In this collection of humorous writings she describes her travels around the world with her family.  And a word of warning: I had this on audio book and had to pull over because the tears of laughter were blinding me.

Variant by Robison Wells
If you thought surviving high school was hard, then this book takes it to a whole new level. Benson Fisher thought he was escaping an intolerable foster care system when he made it into the elite Maxfield Academy. He arrives excited for his new future, but something just seems not quite right. And then students start to disappear.  At this boarding school breaking the rules can literally kill you and escape is impossible.

Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb
When I think of dragons I imagine powerful creatures to be admired or possibly feared. This is the first of Robin Hobb’s Rain Wild Chronicles, and these dragons are pathetic and sickly. They cannot survive without their human keepers and as sentiment grows against them they are driven out on a perilous journey. But will they reach safety? Or will the enemies surrounding them doom the dragons forever?

High Country Fall by Margaret Maron
Since I was heading into the mountains for a vacation, I thought what better book to take along then one set in the North Carolina Mountains. And I fell in love with Judge Deborah Knott. Not just because the books are well written, or because the setting was so perfectly described I felt I was there, but because she is so ordinary and believable I felt I was her as I was reading. Judge Knott escapes the pressures of a recent engagement by subbing for a fellow judge in Cedar Gap. There she stumbles into a murder mystery and danger, and what about that handsome DA Lucius Burke! This book is the perfect mix of action, mystery, humor, and romance.

Garlic and Sapphires by Ruth Reichl
If you thought writing restaurant reviews was easy, just wait until you read this biography!  Ruth Reichl was the New York Times restaurant critic for most of the 1990’s. With humor and wisdom she draws you not only into the restaurant world, but into her world as well. This book is so well written you will feel you can close your eyes and be sitting in a top steakhouse, or a tiny Chinatown sushi bar, eating along with her.


%d bloggers like this: