The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

October 16, 2019 by

[Tricia]

I always look forward to Ann Patchett’s books. There are scenes in her books that have stayed with me over the years, and in case of The Dutch House, I imagine it will be the recurring image of siblings Danny and Maeve throughout their lives parking across the street from the Dutch House – the house they grew up in and which their stepmother unceremoniously kicked them out of – gazing at the house while they talk about their lives. This brother-sister relationship is the heart of this book, and I love those small, intimate scenes over the years where the two of them come together to look at the house and confide in each other. It is both so dysfunctional and so touching that they do this, and that tricky balance throughout this book is what makes it so good. The characters in this book are each screwed up in their own particular way and, in the case of everyone except the stepmother and maybe the mother, very relatable ways.

So much in this book is so small, and yet so impactful. For instance, the fact that growing up in this beautiful mansion, Danny never realized that the cook and the housekeeper, the two women who basically raised him, were sisters. It just never occurred to him to notice, or to ask. It is a really interesting choice to make Danny the narrator. While he is a sympathetic character, he is often completely oblivious to himself and those around him. With the exception of his sister Maeve, the other characters in the book are held at arm distance, which is a reflection of how Danny sees them. I think listening to the audiobook, which is wonderfully narrated by Tom Hanks, worked really well for me, as it made Danny seem more relatable and understandable than he might have been for me on the page. But overall a very good addition to Ann Patchett’s work.

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Ladybug Picture Book Award

October 7, 2019 by

[SAM]

Did you know New Hampshire has its own picture book award? The Ladybug Picture Book Award is designed to promote early literacy and honor the best in recent children’s picture books. A committee of children’s librarians from around the state selects 10 picture book titles each spring. Then, during November, New Hampshire children from preschoolers to those in third grade choose the award winner. The winning picture book is announced at the end of the year. This year’s nominees are truly fantastic. Stop by the kids room and check them out:

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Click by Kayla Miller

September 30, 2019 by

[SAM]

Olive just wants to find her place. Used to always getting along with everyone, being left out of all her friends plans for the school’s talent show really throws her for a loop. With the date of the performance drawing near, Olive is convinced she will never come up with something good enough on her own. But with a little help from her fierce and fabulous Aunt Molly, Olive might just realize how wonderful it can be to be yourself and stand out. Click is a sweet and funny graphic novel. A lovely and quick read.

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Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

September 24, 2019 by

[Tricia]

I love books that introduce a new perspective to familiar stories. Two of my favorites include “Longbourn” by Jo Baker, which tells the story of “Pride and Prejudice” from the perspective of one of the Bennett’s maids, and “The Mists of Avalon” by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which tells the story of the King Arthur legends from the perspective of Morgaine. These alternative perspectives, often told by characters who are marginalized within the worlds they inhabit, always stay with me when I think of the originals.

“Washington Black” brings a valuable, alternative take to the Jules Verne, “Around the World in 80 Days” type of adventure novel. The story is told by Washington Black, an 11 year old enslaved boy born onto a plantation in Barbados in the early 1800s. Washington’s life is changed forever when Titch, the eccentric younger brother of the brutal plantation owner, decides to take Washington with him (because Wash is the right size and weight) to build and launch his experimental flying craft (basically a hot air balloon). We get to travel the world through Wash’s eyes – the US, Canada, the Arctic, London, Amsterdam and Morocco. While we experience his delight and wonder in the natural world as his interest in marine biology and his talent as a nature illustrator grow, we are always aware of his terror and isolation wherever they go, particularly after Titch’s brother puts a bounty on his recapture. The inability of the other characters, most painfully Titch, to recognize the devastating impact of slavery on Wash, and the terrifying vulnerability of his position in the world, is powerful. This was a fascinating and engaging read.

The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung

September 17, 2019 by

[Tricia]

Sometimes the appeal of a book for me is tied to what else I have been reading. In the case of The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung, I was drawn to the structure of the novel — an older woman looking back to tell the story of her life — partly because I recently read (and loved) City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert. There is something so appealing to me about this type of story – when the narrator is able to look back with a perspective and clarity that enriches the story, as it does in both of these books.

The Tenth Muse also has a kind of “Hidden Figures” appeal to me, in that it tells the story of a woman who is a gifted mathemetician during a time (her career begins in the 1960s) when the field was not friendly to women, let alone a woman who is half Chinese. Although the main character is fictional, the stories of actual women in mathematics throughout history are embedded in the book, highlighting the frustrations and obstacles and barriers, personal and professional, faced by the main character. I often wished I had a better understanding of math (or really any understanding of math) as I read the book, but I don’t think that is at all necessary to find it a worthwhile read.

Sisters: Divisadero, by Michael Ondaatje and The Den, by Abi Maxwell

September 3, 2019 by

[Lesley] This summer I read both The Den and Divisadero. The Den came out in May and Divisadero was published in 2007. I’ve had Divisadero on my “to-read” list forever and I’m not sure why it took me so long.

Both of these books feature sisters whose intense closeness is followed by (or causes) extreme distance. Both sisters are separated after traumatic events involving sex/love/a boy/a man (naturally) but the trigger is just a trigger — all that follows is more deeply rooted in the nature of sisters, the push and pull of this particular relationship. There can be a cataclysm between individual identity and identity as a sister — can both be maintained?

The Den, by Abi Maxwell

The Den gives us sisters growing up on a farm with enough years between them for the divide to grow as Henrietta becomes a teenager and Jane still holds onto the sisterhood of children. Henrietta turns away from Jane into a first and intense relationship/exploration. Jane follows and observes, jealous of the boy and wishing to have her sister back. What ensues is a tragedy of errors leaving Jane alone.

We meet another pair of sisters as well — Elspeth and Claire who lived on this land 150 years earlier. The story of a missing family turned into coyotes links Jane and Claire, both seeking for their lost sisters, not knowing if they are alive or dead – not knowing their own place in the world if not as a sister.

Divisadero, by Michael Ondaatje

Divisadero, with its sisters split apart, is by far the more intense and stark of these two novels. There is so much pain and loneliness and sorrow here – and all from the ways in which humans can’t connect. Our own failings, assumptions, self-doubt, and untruths prevent us from building unbreakable relationships. The title, Divisadero – the divisions between our lives and the lives of others; and even between the selves inside of us.

Sisters Anna and Claire grow up on a remote farm with their father (this is complicated…) and alongside Coop, both farmhand and almost part of the family. The farmer’s wife died in childbirth with one of the sisters and he takes two home when another baby is left without a mother. Coop is brought onto the farm after his family is murdered. These shaky bonds are blown apart after a sudden, shocking act of violence.

This is an intricately structured book, branching off from the beginning in disparate directions following the ruined tracks of the characters. Ondaatje’s writing deserves every accolade (and he has many) in its intimacy, unshrinking view, and poetic imagery. I read this at the beginning of August and I’m still haunted by the characters, stories, places, and the inevitability of loss.

Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School by Julie Falatko

August 27, 2019 by

[Sam]

Sometimes books find us when we need them. This is a story of just such a book. It was a dreary Friday afternoon in March. With the energetic chaos of February school vacation week programs behind her your friendly neighborhood children’s librarian was feeling just a bit run down. There were books to be bought, budgets to be tracked, programs to be promoted, statistics to be compiled, meetings to be scheduled, and any number of other things that needed attending to. Really, it had just been one of those weeks where for every item she emphatically checked off her to-do list two more magically appeared in its place. And then, just as it was all getting to be a bit too much. It appeared in the check in bin. The book that would turn the whole week around. The book that would soon be pushed into the arms of many a library co-worker with only a cursory exclamation of “you have to read this! It’s so good!” (And dear reader it was so good. They thought so, and if you’ve continued reading this far into this rather unusual book review I believe it highly probable you will too)

Which book is it you ask? What great piece of literature could possibly inspire such a lengthy lead up? Well prepare yourself my friends, for you too may find that Julie Falatko’s “Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School” is just the book you never knew you needed. Now I know what you’re thinking, “Two Dogs in a Trench Coat,” really, really? Yes, really. I will endeavor to describe it just a bit, but honestly if you are in need of a laugh, you should just take my word for it and check this one out!

Do you have a deep love in your heart for office supplies, this book is for you. Do you wonder just what your dogs are thinking when you leave them to go to work or school, this book is for you. Do you enjoy wacky hijinks, this book is for you. Do you want a book that provides kid friendly jokes but also includes an astonishing number of Golden Girls references, this is that book. Is everyone in your household a little stressed about going back to school, and you’d like something that you could all enjoy reading aloud together? You know what I’m going to say. Put it on hold already

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The City in the Middle of the Night, by Charlie Jane Anders

August 16, 2019 by

[Lesley]

Charlie Jane Anders is good at strange. This world — discreet hemispheres of day and night — is apocolyptic but it’s not that simple. And, of course, safety and danger, good and evil, friend and betrayer, are also not simple. There is a deeply disturbing undercurrent of finding out that what you have been told, what you have trusted, is actually not at all reality. To think that you have made choices and shaped your life and actions in one way or another based on lies is a betrayal beyond that of friends (though that is bad enough and there is a ton of it in this book!). Ender’s Game (on the list of top sci-fi novels of all time) by Orson Scott Card is a genius example of this.

Anders maintains great tension between the two halves of this planet, the two cities, the two characters Sophie and Mouth, and the two species. I especially like how the liminal space between day and night is an ongoing metaphor for other in-between states.

Strange, suspenseful, and really good storytelling.

A Carnival of Losses: Notes Nearing Ninety, by Donald Hall

August 6, 2019 by

[Lesley]

I’m biased when talking about anything Donald Hall but I loved this book as a continuation in the conversation begun in his other memoirs and essays. Hall is/was a genius of understated, simple poetics that rose above its own simplicity and earthiness. His poetry should be assigned life-reading (imho) and the idea of him and Jane Kenyon writing in the same house, producing these two bodies of work, is beyond imagination.

I have found his works of memoir even more moving in some ways. The poetry is stripped away and we see the man in all of his flaws (of which he has many), in all of his base humanness, and in his lusts and losses.

Donald Hall died in 2018 and this collection of essays shows his age. Still, his wit is sharp (and sometimes cutting) and he turns its blade as often on himself as others. An intimate and funny portrait of a man nearing ninety, and the end of his life.

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May I also suggest:
The Best Day, the Worst Day: Life with Jane Kenyon (this one broke my heart)
Unpacking the Boxes: a Memoir of a Life in Poetry
Life Work
String Too Short to be Saved
Here at Eagle Pond
Seasons at Eagle Pond

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

July 22, 2019 by

[Tricia]

I had read about this book as being a light and glitzy summer read, which is not especially what I was looking for, but having really enjoyed The Signature of All Things by this author, I thought I’d give it a try. Although the setting of the world of theater and showgirls in New York City in 1940 certainly has its share of glitz, I found this to be an interesting, frank, and empathetic story of a woman who lived an unconventional life for her time. While Vivian Morris wishes things were always light and glitzy, they’re not, and it is interesting to see her gain perspective on this as she looks back on her life from an old age. She is refreshingly unapologetic about certain aspects of her life, such as her sexuality, while being quite frank about her mistakes and lapses in self-awareness in other aspects of her life, such as her privileged background. This book reminded me a little of Saint Mazie by Jamie Attenberg with it vivid setting of old New York City neighborhoods and its focus on an honest and unusual woman. If you’re interested in a not so light, but still interesting and entertaining summer read, give this one a try.