There have been a number of terrific books in the last few years, including The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, Euphoria by Lily King and State of Wonder by Ann Patchett that offer vivid and compelling stories of women who were in many ways ahead of their time. Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan is a wonderful addition to that list. It is based on the real life love story of Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. They have a complicated and fascinating marriage and at the heart of the story is Fanny’s struggle to maintain her own identity, creativity and sanity while caring for her talented and chronically ill husband and constantly moving, from Europe to California to Samoa, in search of a healthy climate to keep him alive. Stevenson was an author I knew in name only and this book made me want to learn more about both of these fascinating people.
[Lesley] I checked this out from the library because I couldn’t believe that journalist Pete Hamill had written a fantasy novel*. I’m really glad I did. His writing is straightforward but doesn’t dismiss the lyrical and mystical elements in the story. Both Ireland and NYC are described intimately and the history that Cormac lives through in New York City is astonishingly related. This was a great read – one of those fantasies that doesn’t read like fantasy.
*Shameless plug: I was perusing the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section to prepare for an “intro” to that part of the collection, recommending some great books you might not be familiar with, that is happening on Monday, July 28 at 11 a.m. You can sign up on our events calendar or just drop in!
[Lesley] What a perfect summer book! This is the story of a therapist who is about to publish her first book titled “You Should Have Known” all about how women could see the clues to the problems in their marriages or relationships early on if they would just pay attention. Her own life is neatly stable: Married to a pediatric oncologist, raising one smart, sensitive, musically-inclined 12-year old son, involved with her son’s private school (of which she is an alum). She lives in the apartment where she grew up and has everything under control.
With that set up, you can guess some of what starts to unravel in the story. We discover what is happening along with the main character and I was totally wrapped up in what was happening. Grace’s reactions and emotions are easy to identify with and we really care what happens to her and her son Henry. I also found her theories about relationships interesting and loved the portrayal of snobby nouveau riche New Yorkers. Grace learns a lot about family – her own parents & stepmother, her in-laws – and the whole book left me with a real respect for the strength we carry within us.
The story moves along fast – I often couldn’t stop at the end of a chapter and stayed up way too late reading!
FaceOff is a collection of short stories by a bunch of huge names in the thriller book world clashing head to head in battles with some of their best characters. Some were new to me authors, others it has been a while, and then there were my favorite authors (John Sandford, Dennis Lehane….etc). What I found the most interesting was the background story about how the two authors met and came up with the short stories. This is an excellent way to get introduced to new authors and their leading characters. Among my favorites were “Red Eye” – pairing D. Lehane’s Patrick Kenzie vs. M. Connelly’s Harry Bosh – and of course J. Sandford’s Lucas Davenport vs. J. Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme in “Rhymes with Prey”. This is a great read!
I expected to read a historical fiction novel about WWII, but this book was so much more. The self confidence of Marie-Laure, a blind young girl growing up in Paris with her father, learning to orientate herself through a model of her neighborhood and passionate about the treasures of the Museum of Natural history, contrasts with the doubts Werner is having when he finds himself working for the Wehrmacht because of his innate talent at repairing radios. Both those youngsters ‘s lives will eventually intersect in St Malo, when they find themselves facing death. Marie-Laure and Werner show how despite all odds, influences or circumstance, humans can be good and think of the others first.
A very profound and philosophical read.
[Lesley] Burn is the 3rd book in the Pure trilogy and it was equally as good as books 1 & 2. When I came to the end I couldn’t believe it… I would definitely read another book about this world and these characters. It is hard for trilogies to maintain such a high level of quality all the way through but I was never disappointed with these. Somehow Baggott has put a new spin on post-apocalyptic fiction and creates a story that delves deeply into what makes us human.
[Lesley] *Note: I listened to this on audio, downloaded from the library’s Hoopla subscription.
This is the first book I have read by Ruth Ozeki – wow! Both (or all 3) of the stories that are followed in this ambitious novel are fascinating, rich with history and emotion, and look at the human sides of major world and cultural happenings from pre-WWII years to the present. The two narrators are connected across space and time by a journal and some other “artifacts” that lead the present-day narrator to become drawn into the life of a teenage Japanese girl. There were so many layers to each character and each part of each story that I will be thinking about ideas from this book for a long time to come. I find that I really enjoy reading novels by Japanese authors — there is a different perspective and way of looking at the world that I find intriguing and quietly persuasive.
Very good historical fiction based on the lives of early abolitionists and feminists Sarah and Angelina Grimke (women I only vaguely knew about) and the imagined life of an enslaved woman “given” to Sarah on her 11th birthday. Really well written, memorable book.
[Lesley] I have seen this book going in and out at the library for years and every time I think – “that looks interesting… I should read that.” Well, I finally checked it out and I was right! This is an intriguing book looking at one small area of Cape Ann from historic, artistic, spiritual, true crime, and anthropologic perspectives. The entire book is framed by the author’s own interest in this area, sparked by her admiration for and connection to the paintings of Hartley Marsden that center on the rock formations in Cape Ann’s dogtown. As she searches for an epiphany in her own life she discovers the fascinating history of Dogtown and other “towns” like it as well as more recent events (murder, conservation efforts, and invasive species – plants and people) that become more “proof” of what people already feel and think about the transcendent and dark qualities of this mostly unclaimed piece of earth. A great read – I’m sorry I waited so long to discover it!
[Lesley] I’m definitely a fan of Ann Patchett. I think I read The Magician’s Assistant first and loved that. Then Bel Canto, which I liked but not as much as the hype might have predicted. Truth & Beauty, however, took my head off (even though it is prose and not poetry). I find this kind of a relationship with a writer’s work to be very comfortable — I don’t love everything she writes but I always admire her writing and when a particular story speaks to me, I am 100% involved.
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage is a collection of essays published in a variety of places and on a narrow range of subjects that all amount to her particular viewpoint on her own life, relationships (with other humans and dogs), writing, reading, bookstores, family, and home. I really liked this book and find myself also feeling that I like Ann Patchett as a person even though we have never met. Her nonfiction writing is well-crafted and at the same time seems effortless — certainly it is effortless to read. Some of her thoughts on writing are the best I’ve ever read (and, yes, she received many of the ideas from her own mentors, but she relays them in her context) and it would be hard to find a more frank look at divorce in all of its particular and universal characteristics.
There is a particular type of semi-memoir essay collection (this one, Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver, several by Annie Dillard) that is just a pleasure to read and makes you feel like you have gotten to know someone very worthwhile who has given you some new things to think about. Highly recommended and feels like a great way to start a new year.