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When she's not working in her garden, Gayle is usually reading or watching reruns of West Wing and ER. She loves contemporary fiction, mysteries and memoirs. Occasionally you'll find her reading essays by people like Malcolm Gladwell, Paco Underhill, Daniel Pink or John McPhee.
Yangsze Choo grew up exposed to Chinese, Japanese and Korean folk tales, all of which she weaves expertly into this mystery with romantic touches and a smidgen of magical realism. The heros of those ancient tales were always men, but not in The Fox Wife. It's such an engaging reading experience, so hard to put down, that you could call it a binge read.
This is a quiet but powerful novel. Dalton is a small town in northern Maine; not much going on when you compare it to a big city but the lives of the inhabitants of Dalton are full and complex and filled with the joys and sorrows of daily life. Bowring's insights are extraordinary. She gets deep inside the psyches of the town cop, his post-depression suffering wife and the community that sees them every day and is struggling to help. Houses set at the end of roads, a diner with nosy patrons, domestic violence in a small mobile home, a library filled with books and a married librarian carrying on a secret life with a woman, make up a very satisfying story packed with emotional depth and human connection. It reminded me of novels by Elizabeth Strout, Marilyn Robinson, and Margot Livesay.
Lydia Davis is in that rare arena of master short story writers--think William Trevor, Alice Munro, Claire Keegan, George Saunders, Shirley Jackson. She manages in a few pages to bring everyday issues to life in curious quirky ways. She celebrates language, and there is never an extra unnecessary word, just perfect sentences, unexpected images, and stories that make you laugh and cry and stay with you forever.
My grandparents and parents owned a bakery where I grew up eating cupcakes and delicious bread, so reading this historical fiction tale of a bakery in Paris handed down to family members over multiple generations was delightful. Not great literature, just a lovely story set in two historical timeframes--1870s Paris and post-WW11 Paris--neither easy times for residents. Lots of drama, interesting characters devoted to feeding the hungry and bringing joy into dreary lives, lots of Paris history woven in, love stories, and delicious recipes scattered throughout—a good book for reading on the beach or on vacation.
This might be the best novel I read at the beach this year. It certainly moved me in a way that I wasn't expecting. And drove me to look up reviews and discover an amazing essay that the author wrote about her personal vulnerabilities and recovery from long Covid. It is set near the French-Italian border on the outskirts of a small conservative village inhabited by villagers who don't take kindly to outsiders, especially a single woman who arrives unannounced with little luggage and a decision to seclude herself in the woods. It's a novel about the aftermath of trauma; a woman turning to the natural world for solace and healing. It reminds me of other novels where nature plays one of the main characters and human beings become just one more piece of the untamed world, not the determiner of it. That said, humans with their prejudices, superstitions, and intolerance can interfere and undermine that consoling presence and carry violence and disruption into a carefully crafted safe space.Lyrical writing takes a quiet but determined look at issues of wildness, feminity, class, fertility, patriarchy, and illness.
I loved Deacon King Kong and
wasn't sure McBride could write another novel quite as good. To my surprise, he did! The characters, primarily Black and Jewish, are exquisitely penned and have lodged themselves into my family of unforgettable fictional personalities. Being Jewish or Black in 1930s Pottstown, Pennsylvania, was a constant struggle. Chicken Hill was surrounded by a white community that wished they didn't exist, and did everything it could to make life miserable for them. Using his gifts for witty dialogue, heart, and humor, and his abilities as a master storyteller, McBride brings his characters to life and allows the reader to experience Depression-era racism and antisemitism, but also the kindness and compassion of a caring community that bands together to help one another. Surprisingly, it gave me hope for a new vision of communities coming together to change and repair the world.
A house always carries the mysteries and stories of its inhabitants within its walls and in its environs. Who were the people who first came to the land, built the house, plowed the fields, and planted gardens? And when they died or moved on, who replaced them and what remained of the ancestors and their descendants or new owners? A house in the north woods of Western Massachusetts, built in the early 17th century, becomes one of the main characters in Daniel Mason's remarkable novel and asks and answers some of these questions. It's a beautifully written story filled with birth, death, anger and remorse, joy, nature, animals, and quirky characters, even ghosts, sharing the major roles. I was transfixed and couldn't stop reading.
This memoir is a beautiful exploration of motherhood in all its guises with the added layer of refugee-hood. Nguyen flees Vietnam as a baby with her father, her sister, and her father's family, leaving her mother behind. This sets the stage, but the book is mostly about loss, love, reconciliation and identity and the importance of belonging. The prose is insightful; reflective of a woman who is a daughter to two mothers and who is herself figuring out how to be a mother.
Nuanced. Layered. Creative. Visionary. Bold. Lyrical. Environmental. Feminist. Patriarchal. Historical. Emotional. Botanical. Dendrological. Isolating. Captivating. Indiginous. Elegiac. Spiritual. Compelling. A stunning novel of survival by one of our best writers today. She writes, "It is a moral failure to miss the profound beauty of the world..." and I say it would be a moral failure to miss the profound beauty of this novel.
I love Tracy Kidder’s books and think I have read all of them. His book Mountains Beyond Mountains, the story of Paul Farmer’s work in Haiti, I’ve recommended dozens of times to our customers. This latest book about yet another hero, Jim O’Connell, will be my next favorite book to share with people because it tells us that there is hope for the unhoused, the homeless who sleep on the streets, are afraid to go into shelters, need care, not scorn and he figured out ways to help them. Tracy Kidder spent five years following Dr. O’Connell and his colleagues as they served thousands of homeless patients in Boston. In this illuminating book that reads more like a novel than non-fiction, we travel with O’Connell as he navigates the city, offering medical care, socks, soup, empathy, humor, and friendship to some of the city’s most endangered citizens. He emphasizes a style of medicine in which patients come first, joined by their providers in what he calls “a system of friends.”
This wonderful novel is a deep dive into Middle America, Trump country with variations. Bowling is a BIG deal. Racism, drugs, vitriol, hard-working Americans. And also love, camaraderie, and compassion. Pakistani immigrants own a factory that employs many of the people in the town. A young Black man moves in with his aunt and they are the only two Black people and have few friends. Lives turn on minute decisions. Keifer writes, "What a confusion that each decision leads to the next, that our lives become our lives and no other. And what disappointment to be reminded, again and again, how many of those decisions are wrong." But also, many of those decisions are right and allow the characters to grow, stretch, have insights and move forward. I loved spending time with these people and learned so much from them.
Isabel Allende has written more than twenty books, brilliant novels and a lovely memorial tribute to her daughter, called Paula. She never disappoints me and this latest novel is powerful and moving as it brings two children's lives into focus--one five-year-old living in Vienna in the late 1930s when Jews were regularly slaughtered in the streets and in their homes, and one seven-year-old and her mother, fleeing political dangers in El Salvador just a few years ago. Allende intertwines the past and present with the stories of these two sweet children, the sacrifices their parents made to keep them safe and the ways the children, so young and so innocent, learned to cope with the situations they found themselves in.
I didn't love The Crown on TV but I did love this charming book about the British Queen in her 70s. There is so much to like in this feel-good novel. The Queen decides to leave the palace's security on a whim, seeking an escape from her constituents and responsibilities. She takes a trip back in time to a place she remembers as meaningful to her and not filled with the angst that won't leave her alone. En route, she engages with interesting characters, sees the monarchy in a new light, and embraces pieces of the world that hitherto were alien to her cloistered life. Great writing, complex characters, and a look at the world as it changes in front of our eyes.