Posts Tagged ‘Suburbs’

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

December 31, 2013

I love to read domestic/family fiction, thrillers, horror, and biographies and really, anything that is contemporary and realistic. Here are my picks for my best reads in 2013 – books that were new to me, and made an impact on me in some way or another.

Watership Down by Richards Adams
Somehow I made it through 16+ years of schooling without reading this gem. To say it is The Iliad and The Odyssey of rabbits is reductive but largely correct.  The novel follows a group of rabbits on the perilous journey to find a safe, new warren in a perfect society in the Downs of England. There are human-like factions, battles, friendships and alliances transferred to the rabbit world.  An excellent tale in which you quite possibly recognize  all of your family,  friends,  co-workers and supervisors in the well-drawn characters. I will never look at rabbits the same way again.   Enjoy a full-length review of this title.

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy
Sometimes we need a cozy read to remind us that the world is a good place. In A Week in Winter, the reader is welcomed to Stoneybridge, a tiny town on the western coast of Ireland where the cliffs are tall and the ocean is crashing. Meet Chicky Starr who buys an old stone mansion and turns it into an inn, renovating it with the help of bad boy Rigger and her business-savvy niece Orla. The first group of guests that stay at the inn – and their unique personalities and foibles – make up the plot of this nove. Characters were Ms. Binchy’s domain, and these characters are richly drawn and fully explored. The story line is not as strong as that in some of the author’s earlier works, but honestly it doesn’t matter – the characters make up for it.  Read my full review here.

Six Years by Harlan Coben
I am new to Harlan Coben, and as a suspense and thriller reader, I loved this novel. Jake Fisher is a slightly geeky political science professor at a rural, private college in Massachusetts. Six years ago he fell hard for Natalie, a young painter passing the summer at an artist retreat.  Jake and Natalie frolicked for a summer and then… BAM! Jake was jilted and jolted when Natalie suddenly married another guy and asked Jake to not contact her ever again. Jake upholds his end of the promise until six years go by, and he sees an obituary for Natalie’s husband Todd.  He attends Todd’s funeral in Georgia and gets the surprise of his life when Todd’s wife and widow is not Natalie.  Natalie was never married to Todd. But… wait! Jake attended the wedding, and saw with this own eyes Natalie marry Todd. So, what’s the story? Jake sets off on a semi-obsessive hunt for Natalie, and discovers that she never existed, at least on paper. No one seems to have any memory of Natalie.   The search becomes dangerous when Jake becomes the one who is hunted…but by whom – and why?  See my full review here.

The View from Mount Joy by Lorna Landvik
Every American high school has a Kristi Casey.  A semi-sociopathic, popular, sexy woman-child who can get away with anything, with anyone.  Ole Bull High School (named after person, not an old animal) in suburban Minneapolis can barely contain Kristi, whose popularity shines like a twisted beacon. Who doesn’t love Kristi? Joe Andreson can’t get enough of her, although he has a love/lust/hate relationship with her that begins in high school and continues throughout his life. Landvik writes Joe convincingly, and his character is as solidly developed as that of Kristi, no small feat for a female author. Landvik develops her characters as do few authors, and her dialog? Funny, funny, funny.  I am a sucker for coming-of-age stories, and this one satisfied.  If you like this book, try her Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons if you want to laugh until you howl.  See my full-length post here.

The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin
I am fascinated by man versus nature for some bizarre reason. Anyone who has read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series might remember one of the titles in the series is The Long Winter where the Ingalls family almost starved and froze to death on the Dakota prairie during a winter of such monumental snowfall that the trains could not run. The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin is the non-fiction account of that infamous 1888 storm on the Dakota Prairie that left many people stranded – and dead.  Laskin’s ability as a storyteller keeps this book moving along at a brisk pace; what could have been deadly boring is alive with descriptions and characters. This is my book for a stormy day hunkered down with a cup of hot tea, paying homage to central heating. See my full-length post here.

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

August 14, 2013

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick contains perhaps the most surprising sentence in the history of American literature. At one point the reader is told this, “So ignorant are most landsmen of some of the plainest and most palpable wonders of the world, that without some hints touching the plain facts, historical and otherwise, of the fishery, they might scout at Moby Dick as a monstrous fable, or still worse and more detestable, a hideous and intolerable allegory.”
Here the reading may come to a screeching halt. What? Moby Dick is not an allegory? What is it then? A tale of adventure? Well, yes, it is that. But surely it’s also an allegory. Right?

Some readers may prefer to read another great American novel, Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, as an allegory, for to read it as a piece of realistic fiction is incredibly heart-wrenching.

The Lisbons are a Catholic family living in suburban Detroit. Mr. Lisbon is a meek math teacher, and the domineering Mrs. Lisbon is a housewife. The couple has five daughters who all die by their own hand, and what lingers after them is “the most trivial list of mundane facts.” As can be the case in the writings of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Shirley Jackson, and Stephen King, the mundane circumstances of the world depicted by Eugenides can be suffocating, and over time the Lisbon home increasingly turns into a house of quiet horror and oppression.

The novel is a collective investigation of the Lisbon girls’ short lives, the cloistered existence of most of them in a haunting and deteriorating home, their deaths, and the aftermath of the suicides. It is a search for explanations and answers, and many of the characters in the book understand the reasons for the suicides and the suicides themselves in different ways. In order to comprehend the tragedy, the people who discuss the matter come up with explanations that may confirm their own worldviews, but that may have little or nothing to do with the demise of the girls.

Perhaps the suicides are impossible to explain. Perhaps the suicides were inevitable. Perhaps the investigators – once boys who went to school with the girls, but now weary adults – simply know too little to be able to explain the extraordinary events that took place in their ordinary suburb. Or perhaps all the reader needs to know is right there in the text. Perhaps the reader can make sense of it all. Again and again, the author shares events and words that are filled with monumental meaning – or so it seems, anyway.

During their one and only date, one of the girls, Lux, spends the car ride to the homecoming dance dialing the radio for her favorite song. “‘It makes me crazy,’ she said. ‘You know they’re playing it somewhere, but you have to find it.'”

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The View from Mount Joy by Lorna Landvik

July 5, 2013

view from mount joyEvery American high school has a Kristi Casey. A semi-sociopathic, popular, sexy woman-child who can get away with anything, with anyone. Ole Bull High School (named after person, not an old animal) in suburban Minneapolis can barely contain Kristi, whose popularity shines like a twisted beacon. Who doesn’t love Kristi? Joe Andreson can’t get enough of her, although he has a love/lust/hate relationship with her that begins in high school and continues throughout his life. Nice, handsome, hockey-playing Joe, who enters Ole Bull in his senior year as a transfer student, and immediately gets sucked into Kristi’s orbit. His rich platonic friendship with the earthy-crunchy Darva Pratt is a hilarious juxtaposition to his wild and sexual relationship with the wily but not very bright Kristi. Landvik writes Joe convincingly, and his character is as solidly developed as that of Kristi, no small feat for a female author. Landvik develops her characters as do few authors, and her dialog? Funny, funny, funny. I am a sucker for coming-of-age stories, and this one satisfied. There is something very recognizable in Joe, the all-American high school hockey star who suffers an injury and ends up the manager of the local grocery; Kristi’s character is a romp, with the story line following her from her high school cheerleading days, through her college party girl persona, to her unexpected but hilarious transformation into a politically savvy televangelist.

Lorna Landvik is an amazing storyteller. If you like this book, try her Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons if you want to laugh until you howl. This is a terrific summer read!

Find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Accident by Linwood Barclay

January 15, 2013

The AccidentI think every librarian has an author she secretly adores, and who she likes to think the world is clueless about, a personal treasure, a guilty secret, so to speak. Linwood Barclay is mine (but he can be yours, too).
Barclay is a suspense and thriller writer whose settings are his homeland of Canada, as well as the northern US. He is a former graphic novel writer who made the leap successfully into suspense fiction. Barclay’s characters are believable, every day people, who have extraordinary things happen to them The Accident exemplifies this. A placid and benign suburban setting in Connecticut becomes the scene of an accident – or is it really an accident? Surburban mom Sheila Garber dies in a car accident, leaving her husband Glen and eight year-old daughter Kelly to cope with the aftermath of her death. Sheila wasn’t a drinker – yet her blood alcohol level showed she was very drunk at the time of the accident for which she was at fault – when a neighbor wife also dies under mysterious circumstances a week later. The cast of characters is varied and includes neighbors, employees, and friends, all of whom are flawed enough to be suspicious. The writing is tight, and the plot is credible. The ending is creative, and surprising. I don’t think I have read one of Barclay’s books and been disappointed at the end. I don’t know why this author has not reached the superstar status in terms of book sales like John Grisham. Stephen King has said of Barclay, “My idea of a sweet ride is three days of rain, a fridge filled with snacks, and a new Linwood Barclay.” Shhh, let’s keep him our secret.

Find this book in our catalog.

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

September 20, 2012 if your whole family disappeared, and you were the only one left. Or maybe it was your best friend who was suddenly gone, or that kid you went to elementary school with, or your mailman. It might have been The Rapture that took them, but there’s no real way to know. They’re gone, and you’re still here. You’re one of the leftovers.

On October 14th, thousands of people suddenly disappeared from earth, leaving their friends, families, and worldly goods behind.  The Sudden Departure, as it came to be known, changed the shape of things across the world – religious groups were sparked, new philosophies and movements ran rampant, and the “survivors” had to learn to cope with losing their loved ones, and also with not being chosen themselves.

Tom Perrotta’s most recent book (named one of the best books of 2011 by NPR, the New York Times, and Kirkus, among others) takes you inside the lives and minds of the Garvey family and portrays the aftermath of the Sudden Departure on each family member. Although the events of October 14th didn’t directly affect the Garveys (parents Laurie and Kevin and their two teenage children, Jill and Tom, are all survivors,) they will never be the same. Laurie joins a cult of silent “watchers,” who are tasked with (silently) reminding those around them of what has happened. Kevin, now effectively a single parent, does his best to care for Jill and her friend Aimee (whose mother is among the missing.) While searching for love and companionship to help ease his pain, Kevin finds Nora, who has lost a husband and two young children – her entire family.

And then there are the kids.  Jill is an “Eyewitness” — she was there when her friend Jen disappeared — and has filled in her sadness with drugs and alcohol and sex. Tim is absent from the rest of the family after dropping out of college and not returning home, but has joined another sort of cult and traveled the country spreading their word. Now unsure about the choices he has made, Tim begins to question what he should do next.

I’ve read some criticism about The Leftovers lacking a real ending, but the way Perrotta closed the book left me feeling hopeful and excited for each character. He doesn’t complete the individual story lines, but shows the direction their new lives are heading.

The only other Perrotta book I’ve read is Little Children , which I also really enjoyed. Next I’ll pick up either Election  or The Abstinence Teacher – any recommendations on which is the better?

Find and reserve this book in the catalog.

Lunatics by Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel

April 2, 2012

Happy April everyone! Did you get fooled yesterday? Yeah, me too. Did you also know that not only is April 1st a day for jokes, but that the whole month is National Humor Month? So, what better way to kick off the month, than with one of the funniest books of the year!

Dave Barry and Alan Zweibel have teamed up to form the League of Comic Justice! If you believe what’s written on the book’s inside flap, that is. What they’ve really teamed up to do is co-write a very funny buddy novel about two middle aged men from suburban New Jersey who end up on the run from the law, and Chuck E. Cheese, for committing acts of terrorism.

Philip Horkman is a quiet, straight laced, play-by-the-rules kind of guy who owns The Wine Shop (a pet store), and who referees for a girls 10 and under soccer league. Jeffrey Peckerman is a loud, obnoxious, know-it-all, who always goes out of his way to let everyone know exactly what ticks him off. These two meet when Philip calls Jeffrey’s daughter off-sides when she kicks what would have been the championship game winning goal. Peckerman screams at Horkman, who refuses to change his call, and it seems that this unpleasantness is at an end. Yeah, right.

Later, these two become entangled again when a lemur is stolen, as is an insulin pump, and then the George Washington bridge is almost blown up after a high speed car chase – and these two take the blame. Rather than attempt to explain their (relative) innocence, Jeffrey & Philip decide to make a run for it and escape – right into the zoo. From there they hop onto a cruise ship departing for international waters, which happens to be clothing optional. Their zany antics take them around the globe from one international hot spot to another until they end up back in the U.S. and are surprised to find themselves face to face with Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention.

The laugh out loud humor is what one would expect from a Pulitzer Prize winner and one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live. Barry and Zweibel took turns writing each chapter, which alternate between the points of view of Horkman (Zweibel) and Peckerman (Barry). The authors never knew what each other would do to advance the story until the next chapter arrived in their in-box. There’s a funny interview with both authors on Goodreads, and there are plans for a movie starring Steve Carell (although it’s still early in the process) and to be penned by the authors, I mean the League of Comic Justice.

If you have only read Dave Barry’s humorous columns and essays, but haven’t yet discovered his other fiction, give Big Trouble and Tricky Business (which I’ve reviewed before) a try.

To enjoy the madcap misadventures of Horkman and Peckerman, find and reserve this book in our catalog.

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

September 2, 2011

I loved this book. The Slap is an edgy, daring, in-your-face story of some very interesting and crude characters living in and around Melbourne, Australia. The writing is forceful, almost violent in its direct intensity. The author pulls no punches and writes about the casual depravity of ordinary people in an ordinary suburban setting.

At the center of the story is an incident that happened at a nice Sunday picnic in a Melbourne Park. Bratty 3-year-old Hugo is terrorizing the adult guests and bullying the other children. When he goes too far and physically threatens a child, the father slaps him. Of course havoc ensues and the reader gets to hear from all the voices of the guests at the picnic.

The book has overt sexual scenes and obscene language which might offend some readers. However, I didn’t think the sex and language was used in a gratuitous way. It seemed intrinsic to the story. Tsiolkas writes very well and movingly about relationships. Relationships of all sorts;  between parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters. Even between bosses and employees. No main character gets off easy in Tsiolkas’s telling. All have faults – some more grievous than others – and most are not likable. But do characters in a book need to be likable? No, but they have to be interesting. The reader has to be interested enough in them to continue on to the end of the story. And these characters ARE interesting. Interesting uptake on modern suburban life.

Find and request this book in our catalog.

White Guys by Anthony Giardina

August 31, 2011

I was lucky enough to read this novel (which I strongly recommend) without having known about the real-life murder on which it’s based. If you’re tempted to read it and don’t know about that murder yet either, I suggest waiting until afterward to find out about it. The novel’s suspense will work better for you that way, and anyway, it’s not really about that murder; instead Giardina uses the actual event as a springboard for a thoughtful, poignantly observed consideration of what happens to markedly ethnic guys who climb up the social scale and become bleached-out “white guys.” Race, class, gender, and sexuality all come into play in intriguing, believable, unforced ways, even if the final messages about how these whitened guys might have lived better lives gets a little muddled.

Early on, protagonist Timmy O’Kane is an Irish American member of a group of Italian American friends. As teenagers they horse around in familiar ways, but one boy, Billy, is rougher than the others, more virile, edgy, and dangerous. Soon, Billy stays behind and leads a working-class life while the others go from “wise guys” to “white guys,” by going to college and then by finding appropriate houses, kids, and wives in the suburbs. As you might expect, these typical yuppies soon realize during regular steak-booze-and-cigar gatherings that despite their apparent success, something is missing. I found the plot gripping and the characters very believable.

Find and request this book in our catalog.

Info about the murder that the book is loosely based on.

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