Author Archive

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.

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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.
Check availability:    Book      DVD     Audiobook

The Lido by Libby Page

August 18, 2018

[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

[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

Girls Burn Brighter, by Shobha Rao

July 23, 2018

[Lesley] This book burns brighter than most. A story of two Indian girls as well as each of their stories from life in India to life in America. This wasn’t the book I expected and was better than I could have imagined.

Life is hard. In some places, for some people, life is so hard as to nearly be unbearable. Yet – some people bear it. How? Why? Follow the stories of Poornima and Savitha and you will get a glimpse.

The writing is unflinching and exacting – perfectly suited to the story. Parts of this book are beautiful and otherworldly – the experience of nature and the environment entwined with life as a whole. People who aren’t fully themselves except in the place where they were born. Parts of it are fascinating – everyday life in India, the levels of poverty and comfort, the cultural traditions. And parts of this book are horrific and hard to read. The kinds of things that make you close your eyes to avoid reading the next words and hope that will shake the image from your mind. It doesn’t work though; you have to read on in order to replace the image. Maybe violence and inhumanity are always present when two worlds are colliding? Maybe beauty and amazement and love are as well.

Less, by Andrew Sean Greer

July 6, 2018

[Lesley] First, let’s just say that this is the 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction. That’s a pretty good recommendation! At first, I was surprised that this book one though. By the end, I had no doubt that it deserved it.

Disarmingly charming. Arthur Less is a bit like a Shakespeare character who stumbled off the stage before the first rehearsal began. The book is an accumulation that ultimately coheres and seems like truth. It’s a hard book to describe: the plot isn’t especially exciting or fast-moving, the main character is underwhelming, and no matter where the action is taking place (France! Germany! Morocco! India!) the situations Less finds himself in are the most pedestrian. Yet, there is humor, nostalgia, outrage, reflection, and a journey that ends somewhere very, very different than expected. It is some kind of genius that can take all of these things that seem one way (underwhelming, sheltered, hapless) and reveal them to be illuminating and essential. I couldn’t see the world in quite the same way after reading this book.

Here’s a more complete review (which I totally agree with!) from the Kenyon Review: https://www.kenyonreview.org/reviews/less-by-andrew-sean-greer-738439/

The Power, by Naomi Alderman

June 11, 2018

thepowercover

[Lesley] Perfect story within a story — It’s as if the story inside the book that is inside the book is describing a society that is in the author’s (the fictional author!) imagination, or his theory. Then, once his book has ended and we return to the correspondence between him & Naomi, his reader, we are shifted yet again. The parts of the book that Naomi finds unrealistic or unbelievable or unsupported by facts, are just the ones that we accept without question. [and – wow – the uses of the name “Naomi” in this book is genius.]

In places this seems like a somewhat simple allegory for our times. When women have the power (literal and figurative) they mirror the men who have always been seen as corrupted by it. Violence, anger, and revenge are not the sole purview of males; an eye for an eye seems inevitable once power for one side is absolute. Parts of the book read like a critique of violent cultures and the misuse of weapons. There are plenty of characters who make this “allegory” less straightforward though. Tunde, frightened out of his teenage existence by an early experience with a young woman who has the power, becomes an embedded recorder of events — we think (and he thinks) his dispatches are enlightening the wider society. Jocelyn, daughter of the mayor-turned-governor, has inexplicable variability in her power – a weakness that her mother tries to hide. Then there are Allie and Roxy – two women, strong in both the same and different ways, who weave and create the story as two sides of the same coin.

The illustrations of “archaeological” (fictional) figures and relics add an interesting layer of theoretical support for the story that unfolds. Is it all proof that this story, this power, is real? Or is it proof that society has not always been this way? History is told by the victors – what if the culture we are in was completely opposite once upon a time?

Check Library Catalog for availability