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

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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.

The Glitch, by Elisabeth Cohen

September 11, 2018 by

[Lesley] The Glitch centers around Shelley Stone, CEO of a successful personal tech company. The company produces The Conch – an Alexa-like personal assistant that you wear just behind your ear. The Conch helps you keep track of your schedule, gives you information about things in your surroundings, lets you make or take calls, send emails, texts, etc. And that’s not all! The Conch gives you a reminder of someone’s name so you never have to fake it or apologize. The Conch also gets to know its wearer – your preferences, relationships, even some memories – so that it gets more and more useful as well as more and more indispensible.

Shelley is a true believer in Conch and a driven, ambitious leader. Her success has not been accidental. It seems like there isn’t a single part of her life that she hasn’t strategized and controlled perfectly. When things begin to spin out of control, Shelley does her best to maintain her composed exterior (and interior) while reeling from the strange, inexplicable things that are happening.

Cohen does a great job creating this character and then pulling the rug out from under her. I also appreciated the somewhat cynical, tongue-in-cheek look at start up tech companies and personal assistants like Siri and Alexa. To enjoy this book you’ll have to be ready for a twisty/turny ride. Just when you think you know what it is about, it shifts. Is this about a kidnapping? A tech heist? Cloning? Corporate takeover? Espionage? This is a fun, quick read with some lightly touched-upon questions about personal identity, the meaning of “success,” and who is in charge – us or our tech?

Other good reads about tech in our lives:
The Circle, Dave Eggers (recommendation post)
Jennifer Government, Max Barry
Pattern Recognition, William Gibson
Spirits in the Wires, Charles de Lint

 

And, of course, Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
Check availability:    Book      DVD     Audiobook

The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood

August 22, 2018 by

25532936[Sara]

I couldn’t stop listening to this book– the characters had great dynamics, and the setting and description was so vivid that I felt kind of like the house was one of the characters. I can’t get enough of this narrator, Imogen Church; since finishing this book I have continued to borrow more audiobooks of hers from the library on my Overdrive account.

The only drawback for me was that IT WAS SO GROSS! The description was so vivid it often made me wince or gag. But despite this, I couldn’t put it down. Worth the read if you like a good thriller.

Available in Wiggin’s OverDrive collection

The Lido by Libby Page

August 18, 2018 by

[Amanda] If you’re looking for a light, feel-good work of fiction to add a cool splash to the final dog days of summer, look no further than The Lido by Libby Page. The novel follows young journalist Kate Matthews as she searches for her purpose in Brixton, London. Nearby lives Rosemary, an eighty-six-year-old woman whose greatest joy is her daily swim at the local public pool, the lido. What brings them together unexpectedly is the initiation of a corporate plan to fill in the pool and create luxury apartments, thereby erasing the rich history of loving memories and community which flow within its waters.

What captivated me most about this book was the universality of human experience across generations which is present in its pages. The book is part love story, part hardship, and part self-redemption all wrapped up by the bond of blossoming friendships. The Lido teaches us that no matter how solitary we feel, the power of human connection transcends the social boundaries our Western culture may erect between us.

Choose The Lido if you enjoyed A Man Called Ove by Fredrik BackmanThe One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood, and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Or choose The Lido if you are seeking a fresh, sparkling introduction to contemporary adult fiction.

Check catalog/place hold for The Lido

 

 

 

There There, by Tommy Orange

August 8, 2018 by

[Lesley] Many thanks to the library patron who requested this book!

I think most fiction I have read with Native American characters have either been fictionalized history or stories that take place on reservations. This book turns all of the familiar tropes inside out.

Meet the “urban Indians” who you have never thought about or even realized existed. Generationally, their grandparents have both feet in traditions, language, history; their parents were part of that as children but since have melted into the mixing pot of cities – either by choice or circumstance – cities where tribes are formed more around economics than heritage; the urban Indians are caught between two worlds – neither one of their choosing and neither one purely then or purely now, purely here or purely there.

Like energetic atoms, these characters spin and bounce off of their families, each other, and society fueled by loss, sadness, anger, ambition, and hope. The energy builds to one moment, one inevitable and unrelenting moment that is devastating but not without some beauty.

This book and the book Girls Burn Brighter seem indicative of our time when so many people are in a limbo-world between the past and the future. The present, which is transitional, is messy and confusing but filled with uneasy imperative to emerge in a new world as a new type of person. Not labeled by ethnicity, gender, language, class – but something freer and more true.

Check catalog/place hold for There There
Check catalog/place hold for Girls Burn Brighter

Nightbird by Alice Hoffman

August 2, 2018 by

20971472[Sara]

I have thoroughly enjoyed several Alice Hoffman books for adults so I figured I’d give this one a try. I liked it a lot! Even though it is not as complex a story as her longer, more epic works, it is a beautiful story of family, understanding, and belonging. It contains just a hint of magic, enough to please those fans of her more witchy books, but leans more on the realistic elements. This makes it not only accessible to readers of different ages, but those of us who are not usually inclined to read fantasy or magical realism. Don’t judge this book by its cover 😉

Check for availability in Wiggin catalog

Check for availability in OverDrive

Still Me by Jojo Moyes

July 26, 2018 by

35791968Louisa in New York! I liked this third installment of Me Before You very much. My friend, with whom I was about to head to NYC, insisted that I read it before our trip and I’m happy she did. Perfect pre-NYC read.

Outside of this moment in my life, though, I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it quite as much, although I really loved the vivid characters that contributed to Louisa’s continued story.

I do recommend this book for those who have read the first two. Great follow up that shows new elements of Louisa and Sam.

Check for availability in Wiggin Catalog
Check for availability in OverDrive