Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (Magan)
This was a wonderful book that broke my heart in the best possible way. It takes place in 1986-87 in New York City and is told from the perspective of 15 year old June right after her uncle dies of AIDS. She is a very naïve, nerdy girl who is obsessed with medieval history and wears pigtails and clothes she thinks are reminiscent of the time. The time period is spot on especially in the way they talk about AIDS and the paranoia and uncertainty. At the uncle’s funeral a mystery person shows up and adds another thread to the story. As the reader, you know what is going on and you want June to figure it out but you know it will be painful. Although it captures being a 15 year old at that time it is really a bit too deep for all teens.
The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin (Barb)
Coplin is a first time novelist. This book will be taught in English classes in 5 or 6 years. It is one of the best books I have read in years. It takes place in late 19th century in Washington State. The orchardist nurtures this beautiful orchard. He never marries – his whole life is the orchard but of course things happen and people come. Two young girls have run away from their pimp and they come to hide in the orchard. He becomes like a father to them. The orchard could represent Eden and he could represent God. It is a beautiful story about the time and place and the meanness of life. I also want to mention the book Olive Branches Don’t Grow on Trees by Grace Mattioli which is a memoir by a librarian who is a friend of a friend. It is self published and available on Amazon.
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (Jose)
This book is about a traveling freak show. The narrator and main character, Olympia, is an albino, bald hunchback dwarf and she is the most normal character. The story revolves around her and her family who run and perform in the show. Much of it is told in flashbacks. It is crazy and there are many twists and turns. It is dark, there is a sense of dread when you read it, but it will stay with you. Although it is graphic and disturbing the writing is beautiful and ultimately it is about family.
John Saturnall’s Feast by Lawrence Norfolk
I picked this up because I needed something completely different to read. It was on the new shelf at the library and the cover and flap description intrigued me so I gave it a try. It takes place around the time of Cromwell (Medieval). A boy and his mother have come to a manor as vagabonds; they are turned away but after the mother dies, the boy returns and starts working as a kitchen boy. He then falls in love with the heiress of the manor who is already betrothed. There are lots of details of how the kitchen works including the pecking order that results in rivalries. Each chapter starts with a recipe that is often interesting and funny. The backdrop is also the religious based war with Oliver Cromwell which I did not know much about. I enjoyed the novel, especially the kitchen details.
Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny (Karen)
This is the eighth book in a series but you did not have to read the others to enjoy this. It is totally self-contained. It is set in a Gilbertine monastery on an island in the French Canadian area of Quebec. The 24 monks that live there are self-sufficient and were believed to have disappeared until they released a CD of Gregorian chants. Chief Inspector Gamache is called in when the choir master is killed. This is a classic closed door mystery with the added twist that the monks are under a vow of silence. It is a good mystery with interesting relationships. I also enjoyed that music was a huge part of the novel. I have now read three more in this series.
I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson (Mary)
This novel is set in Denmark and told in the first person by Arvid who is in his later 30s. His wife is leaving him and he has a teenage daughter. The other main characters are Arvid’s dead brother and his mother who is dying. The liquor Calvados is almost a character! Arvid is driving to his mother’s to tell her he is getting divorced. During the drive he has an interior monologue with himself. It is written in stream of consciousness just the way we talk in our own heads. It takes place over a short period of time (and is actually very short). At the end the question remains – is Arvid moving towards maturity? What enticed me about the book was a review that said the prose is like poetry. Some sentences were a paragraph long but because I listened to it, it enhanced the language.
The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (Alena)
I have been listening to the Harry Potter books since summer. I had never read them because I don’t like kid’s books or fantasy but now I think she is brilliant. Her book for adults takes place in a small parish in England. A politician has died and leaves a casual vacancy and lots of horrible small minded people decide they want to replace him. The book takes you into every nook and cranny of the lives of these liars and scoundrels, like the TV show Picket Fences. There are no heroes but there are small victories where people make decisions that are larger than themselves. I thought Rowling wasn’t my thing, but I say give her a try. This book helped to remind me of the adult themes that are in Harry Potter. I think she is a deep, dark person and I would love to have a conversation with her.
Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple (Erica and Nancy)
This is a story about family and relationships between mothers and daughters. Semple uses a format of letters and emails which keep the story moving fast and really sucks you in. It has multiple points of view from several offbeat characters. Even though it is in letter format, the setting of Seattle is very vivid and used well. It is modern, quirky and funny even though it is like watching a bad car accident at times. And it has penguins.
Nancy – I loved the descriptions of Seattle as well as the way the book was constructed from emails and letters. It was a light and easy read. I did find that the ending fell a little flat for me.
Art Forger by Barbara Shapiro (Marilyn)
In 1990 the day after St. Patrick’s Day two men dressed up like police officers, gained entry into a museum in Boston and sold priceless works of art. The crime remains unsolved and the paintings never found. That is the springboard for this fiction book. An artist is eking out a living working for reproductions.com where you copy great works of art for OTC (over the couch). We know little about her but she has been blackballed because of some scandal and her dead artist boyfriend so now she has to make reproductions. Out of the clear blue comes a respected art gallery owner who is especially taken by her reproductions. She is hoping for a showing of her original work but instead he makes her an offer (possibly illegal) that she thinks she cannot refuse. It just goes down hill from there. I enjoyed it and learning about art forgers through the centuries was interesting.
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan (Kathy)
Susannah is a young woman who has worked her way through the ranks at the New York Post. She is fun-loving, smart and happy. She starts experiencing symptoms – fatigue, numbness in her limbs - which her doctor attributes to mono. Until the night that she experiences hallucinations and body convulsions. She is admitted to the hospital and won’t come out for over a month. The doctors cannot figure out what is wrong with her. She is, at turns, delusional, catatonic, and violent. Ultimately doctors discover that she has a virus that makes her body attack her brain. It is now believed that this virus is the culprit of what people believe to be demonic possession. Fascinating.
What It Takes by Richard Ben Cramer (Becky) This is the fastest paced 1,000 page book you will ever read. It is the story of the 1988 Presidential election from primary to final vote. This is the year of Gary Hart and his affair, Bob Dole's first attempt to run for President, George Bush's "Read My Lips," and Michael Dukakis popping out of the army tank. Cramer recounts all the details, hardships, and obstacles that are part of the process. I was captivated by the personal stories of these political beats. It gave me an entirely new insight into "what it takes" to become President. This was the first Presidential election I really remember following. I initially encountered this book in a college course and when assigned this 1,000 page tome, I figured I would skim it, but was so caught up I read every word. When I heard Cramer died in January, I immediately went to a shelf in my living room, where this book still sits (8 moves later), and re-read it as a tribute to its great author.
Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch (Phyllis)
Did you ever dream of owning your own bookstore? Well this memoir is for you. Wendy Welch was in a bureaucratic job for a nonprofit and got fed up and walked away. Her husband and she moved to a small town and got an old big house that needed renovating. They decide to open a used bookstore on the first floor. For stock, they start with their personal collections which aren’t near enough. They go to garage sales and take donations. Their small town of 5,000 thinks they are crazy especially because it is in the midst of a recession. There are ups and downs but ultimately it goes well and the store becomes a kind of community center. In one of the last chapters they are established enough to be able to take a vacation while volunteers run the store. It is a wonderful story.
Blankets by Craig Thompson (Elizabeth)
I picked this up because I am trying to broaden my horizons. It came out 10 years ago. It is based on the author’s experiences growing up in a Midwest fundamentalist home with very strict parents and punishments. As Thompson gets older he is conflicted between wanting to pursue his art versus the pressure of the community that has chosen him to become a minister. The heart of the story is the description of his first love. He meets a young lady at a church dance who introduces him to a more liberal version of the religion. The art is black and white and easy to follow even for those new to graphic novels. This is a heartwarming and haunting coming of age story with closely observed characters.