The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai

February 16, 2019 by

[Lesley] It’s hard to describe how much I liked this book and what exactly I liked about it. It takes place in the ’80s – during the AIDS crisis – and in the present. Most of the characters from the ’80s part of the story (the book switches between the two time periods but not in a jarring or awkward way) aren’t still alive in the present day but the main character in the present keeps them alive through her experience and her own struggle. Honestly, some of the time I wanted to just stay in the world of 1980-ish; I found those characters, the climate, the emotional authenticity to be so evocative and intense. Every character in this book is a real person, not two-dimensional, and the conflicts are also bitingly real. This is a book of love stories, grief, anger, humor, selfishness, fear, and friendship – with a healthy dose of art and a pinch of politics. Loved it.

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Little Comfort, by Edwin Hill

January 31, 2019 by

[Lesley] As a first book by this author there was some unevenness in writing, but I really enjoyed it. Hester is a great character – a mix of warmth, chaos, curiosity (not always a good thing), and toughness. Of course I couldn’t help but like the setting – Boston and NH. I’m not usually a mystery reader, but liked the pacing here and some of the unconventional clues and the strangeness of those who-done-it. I will definitely read #2.

A few other books set in NH or NE to try:
Fiction:
The Last Policeman by Ben Winters
The Fireman by Joe Hill
The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant
The Arsonist by Sue Miller
Nonfiction:
The Penny Poet of Portsmouth by Katie Towler
Red House by Sarah Messer
Dogtown by Elyssa East

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

January 22, 2019 by

[Tricia]

This book looked like it would be right up my alley – a combination folk tale/historical fiction/warm fires on icy Victorian British nights- and it did not disappoint. Setterfield is a wonderful storyteller. She lets the characters tell their stories in their own time – and it this brings out their hidden depths in often unexpected ways. I’ve not read her first book – The Thirteenth Tale – but I’m definitely adding it to my list. This book is a good choice for fans of Kate Morton. And if you enjoy the folk tale aspect of this book, you might also enjoy Katherine Arden and Naomi Novik.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

January 9, 2019 by

[Tricia]

This book would be interesting enough if it just told the story of the 1986 fire in the Los Angeles Public Library, the search for the suspected arsonist, and how the community came together to rebuild, but it is about so much more than that – and that is why I loved it. Susan Orlean does a great job of balancing of historical context and personal stories in a way that kept me completely engaged from start to finish. Even things that I’m not especially interested in, such as architecture, were interesting to me in this book. We learn about libraries throughout the world and throughout time, the dark history of book burning and libraries being targeted in wartime. This broader historical context is juxtaposed with individual stories, including the string of fascinating people we meet who ran the L. A. Public Library from its founding up to the present. We learn of Ray Bradbury’s personal connection to this library (he wrote Fahrenheit 451 there). You can feel the pain and trauma of the library staff in the aftermath of the fire. And throughout the book you can feel the personal connection Susan Orlean has to books and to libraries, both as an author, and because of mother, who always wished she had become a librarian herself, and whom Orlean was losing to dementia through the process of writing this book. This is a beautiful, interesting book. Highly recommend.

Double Black Wendy Clinch

January 9, 2019 by

 

{Karen}

Boston’s Stacey Curtis leaves her cheating fiancé for a small town in the Green Mountain State of Vermont just to hang out, and do some waitress work for the upcoming ski season.

Upon arrival to her seasonal rental unit, she opens the door and to her amazement, she finds a murdered man lying dead in bed with a chain from a chainsaw cut through his throat! It just so happens to be one of the owners of the ski resort where she is working.

Over the next few months, she nervously believes she is considered the murderer as suspected by a homeless man that witnessed her entering the unit. The real killer ends up being the other partner of the ski resort. His reasoning for the killing is to acquire a bigger share of the profits as the ski resort is now up for sale.

Various characters are mentioned in the book, including ski patrol, locals, guest skiers and the founders of the resort, which makes it an interesting read if you are a ski buff.

The location is set at Spruce Peak, probably in the Killington/ Pico ski areas near Rutland, Vermont.

If you like, murder mysteries and skiing in New England this is a great book for you.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

November 7, 2018 by

[Tricia]

This book tells the story of Kya, a young girl who has grown up by herself in the marshes of North Carolina since the age of 7, after being abandoned, one by one, by all of the members of her family. While she is enormously resourceful and manages to find ways to survive, the author vividly portrays the fear and dismay of a young child who can’t read, has never been to school, and has no one to turn to, trying to figure out things like grocery stores, and money, and how the world of adults in 1960s rural North Carolina works. The writing is lyrical and lovely, full of poetry and nature, and the marsh setting -and Kya’s intimate relationship with it -was for me one of the strongest parts of the book. There are plot twists that didn’t always work for me but Kya is a memorable character, and it is an unusual and powerful coming of age story. This is a good choice for fans of Barbara Kingsolver.

The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

October 5, 2018 by

[Lesley] There are lots of quotes out there about how reading and books take us out of ourselves to new places and new perspectives. I love finishing a book and feeling like I have glimpsed into an unknown world — not science fiction (though I love sci fi too!), but part of the human experience that I know next to nothing about. The book There There by Tommy Orange did this (see staff review) with the culture of “urban indians.” Fascinating stuff.

The Sympathizer (Pulitzer Prize winner in 2016) turns some of the standard ideas about the Vietnam War and Vietnamese refugees on its head (at least for me!). Our narrator is Vietnamese, a close confidante of a general of the South Vietnamese army who is included with the general, his family, and others chosen by the general when they escape the country. They all start new lives in Los Angeles not realizing that one among them is working both sides.

While this book looks at America’s role in the Vietnam War (as part of the whole), the perspective is entirely a Vietnamese one. Admittedly – only one. This perspective is compelling and irresistable though.

What sets The Sympathizer apart is our narrator. He is sly, funny, strategic, and scheming. He makes sharp observations about people, governments, war, food, friends, furniture, jobs – pretty much everything. He is surprising and unpredictable. Nguyen’s voice makes this book extraordinary.

The structure of the book is also magnificent. We start in one place – writing to a “commandant” – then circle back through the story leading up to that beginning. Then, the story picks up from that original beginning and it was completely unexpected and gripping. I don’t often get to the end of a book and think: “genius,” but I did at the end of this one.

Can I make this required reading for anyone interested in exploring history from different points of view and/or those who love masterful writing? Probably not. But, I do recommend it most highly.

Check availability: The Sympathizer
Pulitzer Prize page for The Sympathizer

The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery

September 27, 2018 by

[Sara]

The audiobook of Soul of an Octopus was wonderful– I am often wary of books narrated by the author, but maybe unnecessarily so. Since Sy Montgomery narrated, she was really able to bring out the thrills and emotions that she really experienced throughout this span of time with the octopuses. (Yes, even though I knew “octopuses” is the plural, I found out from this book that a word like this with a Greek root cannot have a Latin plural– thanks Sy.)

I find both animal consciousness and octopuses so fascinating– this was the perfect book to gain insight and vicarious experience with the animals. Much of it was set in the familiar locale of the New England Aquarium as well, so it felt very real. The reader gets to know individual octopuses intimately through Montgomery’s own experience, and the book left me inspired to read more about animals’ psyches.

I rarely get so into nonfiction– this was definitely a winner. Great narrative style and a New Hampshire author to boot. I’m interested in reading more books by this author, such as Birdology and The Good Good Pig, and as a children’s librarian and mom I’m thrilled that she writes for all ages!

This book is available free to library members on both Hoopla and Overdrive, as well as at Wiggin.

Other Books by Sy Montgomery:
For Children
For Teens

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

September 21, 2018 by

[Tricia]  This is the second of Naomi Novik’s books that I have read and loved (Uprooted was the first). She writes rich and lovely fantasy novels featuring, especially in the case of Spinning Silver, complex and strong women characters. This is a very loose re-imagining of Rumpelstiltskin, and I am a sucker for re-imaginings of fairy tales and legends and classics. It is set in a frozen, snowy Russian (?) village but there are other colder and foreboding worlds you encounter as well. It has a similar feel to the Winternight series by Katherine Arden, which I also love. If you’re a fan of snowy, atmospheric re-tellings of fairy tales, then you’re in for a treat.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

September 17, 2018 by

 

[Tricia]  This book took me by surprise. From what I’d read about it, it seemed to be something along the lines of The Rosie Project – a quirky, funny story about an adult, possibly on the autism spectrum. However, this book has more in common with A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman. There are funny parts, but it has also deals very starkly with loneliness, loss, trauma and mental illness. The book takes place in Scotland and I listened to the audio version which has a wonderful narrator with a lovely accent. If you liked A Man Called Ove, you might give this one a try.