Archive for July, 2015

Two Books, Briefly

July 24, 2015

[Lesley] As I’m catching up on reviewing some of the things that I’ve liked recently, I want to include two brief reviews for books that you’ve probably never heard of: Off Course, by Michelle Huneven and The Kept, by James Scott. We don’t have either in the library’s print collection but Off Course is available on Hoopla and her other book, Blame, is available on audio from OverDrive. The Kept is available on audio and ebook formats from OverDrive — that’s how I listened to it.

Off Course is another book about a small community of locals and summer visitors and also has a daughter returning to the place as a refuge while she figures out what to do next in her life. The relationships in this book are the focus and they are complicated. I picked this book up because of its cover (gasp!) and it delivered. One of the things I liked best was the honest way the book ended which felt just right for the story.

The Kept is sort of a western (though it takes place in NY State), sort of a mystery, sort of historical, and sort of a thriller. It’s hard to get western-style stories right, and I don’t know that I’ve ever read one that was as successful in tone and in its other aspects at the same time. Describing the story won’t do it justice – the circumstances are so far-fetched or unheard of – but the tone, the setting, and the writing pull you in from the beginning. As various things unfold and get revealed the tangle is deliciously ominous. I listened to this on audio and the reader was very good. If you aren’t into downloading books, we could definitely get it through interlibrary loan as well.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James, by Emma Hooper

July 24, 2015

[Lesley] I loved this book. It’s a short, quirky novel in which we get to know 3 people and a coyote through their memories, letters, and the actions they take in the present. Mostly set in a small Saskatchewan village (and the land surrounding), these are quiet lives from the outside but hold unexpected worlds within. Etta seems to be losing her memory and decides she must set off to walk to the water, leaving her husband Otto at home with neighbor and long-time friend Russell to wonder what to do while she is gone and when (or even if) she will be back. Otto and Russell each discover a new way of living and Etta becomes a reluctant celebrity and symbol of something – independence? toughness? triumph over age? But, she also develops a relationship with a coyote who travels with her, helping to keep her safe and alive.  The flashbacks to Otto’s childhood on his family’s farm, Russell’s semi-adoption by that family, and both of them meeting Etta when she arrives to be the teacher at the one-room schoolhouse shortly before most of the town’s young men go off to war (Otto does, Russell doesn’t), are some of the most compelling and beautiful parts of the book.

Available on Hoopla and Libby/Overdrive.

Etta and Otto and Russell and James - Audiobook

The Arsonist by Sue Miller

July 24, 2015

[Lesley] This is the first book I’ve read by Sue Miller even though she’s been on my radar for a long time. I listened to this as a downloaded audiobook (from the library’s OverDrive collection – and it was read by the author. I loved hearing Miller’s take on each of the characters in the way her voice changed for each person. The story itself is interesting with many subplots. The story is set in a small town in New Hampshire made up of year-round locals and a regular summer home population. That in itself is two worlds dependent on each other but also somewhat at odds. Frankie, the oldest daughter of a summer family has come back to the house where her parents now live after retiring. She has worked her whole career for a NGO that worked on hunger in Africa. Now, she is unsure whether she will return to that life and is seeking refuge and time to think and reassess. Her parents have retired, it turns out, in part because of Alfie’s progressing memory loss. Sylvia, whose family owned the summer home for generations, hasn’t told anyone about Alfie’s condition yet but is trying to adjust to their new lives and her new role. Bud, a former Washington D.C. journalist and political insider, owns and runs the local weekly newspaper. He has chosen this quiet town as a place to settle down and make a difference in a different way. He straddles being a year-round local (owns a house, runs the newspaper, is involved in one way or another in everything that goes on) and being an outsider (as a newcomer and an observer). All of these individual stories and stories of how people relate to each other are set against the backdrop of a series of arsons happening in town.

I was invested in the characters and cared about the life of this small town, like so many in NH. The arson and mystery surrounding it adds a tension that keeps the story suspenseful. There is a lot at stake in this book — family relationships, love, identity, memory, community, pride, independence, and property that is valuable in monetary and personal ways. Miller handles all of it deftly in her well-written and narrative prose. The ending isn’t at all neatly sewn up even though some things are resolved. It all feels very true to real life and I will definitely be reading more of this author’s books.

Title details for The Arsonist by Sue Miller - Available