Author Archive

The Great Believers, by Rebecca Makkai

February 16, 2019

[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

[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

[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

[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

 

{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

[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

[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

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

September 21, 2018

[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

 

[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

[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.
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