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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.
Michaela Carter writes at the end of her novel, "I am deeply grateful for the time I spent with Leonora, in whose presence I've felt daring, inspired and expansive. My greatest hope is for this novel to bring more attention to her tremendous and far too little known body of work." This is historical fiction at its best. Lyrical, intriguing, a glimpse inside the world of Surrealism, art called degenerate by the Nazis who attempted to burn every painting and imprison or kill its creators. Carter's novel brings the leading characters in this movement to light; men and women whose lives intertwined, who had long philosophical discussions, ardent jealousies, passionate affairs often documented in one another's paintings and photographs. She follows them through France, Spain, Portugal, America, and Mexico, giving us a nuanced, well-researched portrait of their history, their creativity, and their groundbreaking often myth-based artistry. Leonora of the title is Leonora Carrington, one of the finest painters of the group who not only fought the staid conventions of the art world at the time but also fought with the other women painting in those years to be seen as equals to their male colleagues, not just their muses. I read with my computer open, looking at the art, reading extra bits and pieces of these fascinating characters brought to life by a wonderful writer. They inhabited my world for weeks. I dreamed about their dreams and walked into their paintings.
Mental illness is such a horrible disease when nothing seems to abate the dreaded symptoms that not only impact the bearer of the disease but also her family. A young girl’s attempts to come to grips with this upheaval in her childhood becomes a lovely story filled with mystical experiences, the need to control her environment in anyway she can and the re-doing and re-remembering of details in order to both cement them in her brain and ultimately let them fly free. Bender’s writing is lyrical and comfortable in spite of the harsh impact this disease had on a young girl growing into her womanhood.
The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 like you’ve never experienced it-- from inside the family of one of the most famous Madams of a brothel. Lyrical writing, a cast of unforgettable characters both real and imagined and the story of love, rejection, graft and economic disparity sprinkled with racism, misogyny, and the lives of strong women who rule the roost. You won’t be able to visit the City on the Bay ever again without looking for Rose and her descendants. I couldn’t put this down.
Thank you for this lovely book, a perfect novel. I was taken in from the first few pages and by the end, I was soaked by the rains of Ugandan myths, women's friendships, and the intertwined relationships that make up family and community. It a big book encompassing the history of captivity among tribes, clan lineage passed down through males, the disparity between the rich and the poor, the obligations we have to family. But it's in the small bits that we find the stories of women's strength and resilience, the friendships that sustain us, the stories of our ancestors that inform our lives in the everyday activities that make us who we are, who we stretch to be, who we carry with us from one generation to the next. Kirabo's grandmother tells her, "Stories are critical, Kirabo," she added thoughtfully, "The minute we fall silent, someone will fill the silence for us." There are silences in this novel but they expand to tell stories of women's strength and the friendships that sustain them over a lifetime. it is a book for our current times and is timeless. It reminds me why I'm a bookseller and a reader.
Neighboring families grow up together sharing secrets, animosities, and friendships that blossom into lifelong connections that are both affirming and debilitating. Keane takes us into the deepest part of the psyches of these people and lets us see them unzipped and vulnerable--mental illness, alcoholism, violence, doubt and uncertainty but also intense love, compassion, and loyalty that underlies all of their lives. I loved both these families and you will as well.
This is a great novel written by a very gifted novelist. If you wonder what it's like to be an immigrant in today's world or an ex-pat, you will get an inkling in this novel set in London, The characters find and lose love, suffer the effects of trauma and deal with racism. And, there are also sightings of urban foxes moving into the city, lovely gardens created on rooftops and life issues woven into the story of a chance encounter of an American wildlife biologist and a Ghanaian psychiatrist. One of my favorite novels of the past five years.
This book came out several years ago but it is my go to when someone asks me for historical fiction. Two women, one in the 21st Century, one in the 17th, both Jewish scholars, grapple with their identity, the need to prove themselves in a man's world of academia, and with the issues of ethics, morality and the meaning of life that transcend the generations. There is mystery, intolerance, the Inquisition, and a look at how scholars work with and against one another in deciphering aging texts that are discovered in a London home remodel. Brilliant writing and characters that you will not soon forget.
Macdonald, of H is for Hawk fame has written a wonderful set of essays about our natural world that had me gasping at times with her word prowess. She likens birds building nests to Abstract artists and wonders how both know when they are finished. She talks about meadows in the English countryside that once housed Theosophists and the ability of masses of migrating birds to instantly morph into designs in the skies that astound those who happen to look up as they pass overhead. No matter what she is writing about, I am interested, I am mesmerized, I am in awe of not only nature but her ability to describe it spectacularly.
Mice in a neurobiology lab become the substitute for family, friendships, and love in this astounding novel about a Ghanaian immigrant who decides that scientific research might help her come to grips with her grief and loss. This novel is powerful and pushes you out of your comfort zone and questions your beliefs about addiction and the causes of depression and even asks you to look at how religion plays with science, or not. The backdrop is the immigrant experience with its inherent racism but these fully created characters incorporate so much of the desire for the American dream--working hard and getting rewarded--and its illusive nature so often denied to POC that you find yourself praying for them to overcome all obstacles.
William Shakespeare goes unnamed in this brilliant novel by one of my favorite authors, Maggie O'Farrell. The stars of this play are is wife, Agnes, and their twin children, the boy Hamnet and the girl, Judith. As the plague rages in England, a mother tends her family and her community with her skills as midwife, herbologist, and healer but they are not enough to save her beloved child. We live through the grief of loss and the attempt of a marriage to survive such loss when words are not enough, even when the wordsmith becomes one of the most famous men in the world. The novel is so prescient given our current state and is a behind the scenes look at a plague and its aftermath from those living through it.
All the Way to the Tigers is about a trip Morris took to India in 2011 as part of her recovery from a serious ankle injury to see if she could see a tiger in the wild. She reflects on what it means to search when the outcome is uncertain and what it is like for a woman to travel alone in harsh conditions. It reminded me so much of Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen which I totally loved. Both are beautiful travelogues with huge spiritual components.
Can you imagine anything worse than losing your ten-year-old daughter to your dreaded enemy? Or the daughter of your dreaded enemy killed by your own countryman? An eye for an eye? Would this make you happy? Not if you're either of the two fathers, one Palestinian, Bassam Aramin, and one Israeli, Rami Elhanan, who fathered those children but who have decided that reconciliation, not revenge, is what they needed to seek. In the process, they became best friends. McCann describes the insanity and senseless violence bred in this region; the Occupation under which the Palestinians are forced to live but also the beauty of the country, the migration of birds, the shrinking of the famous Dead Sea, the many ways humans overcome adversity and find solace in the natural world and each other. In a series of 1001 fragments, McCann walks us through his imaginary polygon, the Apeirogon of the title, containing an infinite number of sides, an infinite number of gorgeous sentences, and ultimately an infinite number of ways to view the human condition.
Elizabeth Strout brings Olive Kitteridge back in her dotage in Olive, Again. Olive is old but not weak, and she finds a new love and reconnects with old students and friends—characters I've often thought about over the years. She’s still feisty, cranky, and definitely a curmudgeon, but I was so grateful to find her back in my life again, like an old friend returned and embraced.
This novel struck many chords with me. It's a story about four sisters and I am the oldest of five sisters. It's about adoption and its impact on both parents and children and we adopted our son. It's about several generations of one family and how the children thought about their parent's relationship and how they struck out on their own paths. It resonated in a huge way with me. Great writing and the beginning of a great writing career for Claire Lombardo, I hope.
He’s a working class chef aboard a luxury liner, determined not to fall in love with one of the guests. She’s an estranged farm wife on her first cruise equally determined to keep a safe distance from the opposite sex. Put these two amidst a half-dozen other well drawn characters on an aging, crumbling ship and you can fairly well predict the outcome. Nevertheless, surprises are in store in this witty and moving novel which I just couldn’t put down.
This could be a classic 'beach read' or a great mystery for a staycation. It's the perfect summer book—great writing, complex characters, a mystery, and an interesting look at the immigrant experience in NYC and in the Netherlands. I loved Kwok's earlier novel, Girl in Translation, too, as she has a great sense of how immigration affects the psyche and enables us to live in someone else's shoes for the duration of the novel and for a long time afterward.
I loved Myla Goldberg's latest, Feast Your Eyes (Remember her great novel, Bee Season?) It's a novel told in letters, journal entries, and exhibition notes about a photographer trying to balance single motherhood, dedication to her art, and the outside world's accusations of obscenity. It's really a mother-daughter story, as the daughter is the one who writes the exhibition notes and shares with us the pain of growing up in poverty with an obsessed artist for a mother, but who also grew up knowing that with obsession can also come incredible creativity and the breaking of molds.
While driving to California, we listened to A Great Reckoning by Canadian author Louise Penny. This is another great mystery in her popular series set in Three Pines, with the same quirky characters we've all come to love. There's something so comforting in returning to the same place again and again, smelling the scent of fresh croissants, laughing at a pet duck, agonizing over corrupt officials and the bullying that drives men to murder. Watching Penny's characters grow older, a bit more feeble but always wiser is a joy. And the way they continue to surprise me with their humanity and willingness to take care of each other and their community keeps me looking forward to the next in her series.
Parker Palmer, a long-time favorite author of mine. Coming across his Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation on Libro.fm reminded me that Parker is one of my BFFs—but he doesn't know it. He has guided me through many periods of my life, sharing through his many books the wisdom of attentive listening, the importance of good education for everyone, the courage to create a healthy democracy, how to age with grace and gravity, and how to run my business with creativity and caring. Palmer uses this book to teach us about finding the work that speaks to our heart, being true to our values, and working hard to figure out what those values are so that we don't just get caught up in the maelstrom of making money. This is a short but important book that you shouldn't miss no matter where you are in your career or life.
Imagine a Jane Austin novel set in Springfield, IL, whose main characters are the lovely Mary Todd and an ungainly Abe Lincoln. She's too intellectual to be satisfied with run of the mill suitors and his shyness and social ineptness seem to doom him to permanent bachelorhood. Even though we know how this will end, getting there is great fun in the excellent hands of this brilliant author. With a full cast of colorful characters, this is a book you'll be tempted to read nonstop.
If you love plants, gardening, quirky characters, and have friends who share their lives with you, you will love this book. May Attaway is forty, single, carrying the burdens of her mother's early death and long-standing depression and I had trouble deciding if I liked her or wanted to shake her. She suddenly emerges from her shell and because she brings honesty and forthrightness to what might be sappy sentimentality and shares her well thought out 'rules' for visiting others and being a good friend, you take her seriously and find her endearing. And, curiously, I found myself wanting to share this book with my friends.
Deep Creek is a love letter to the natural world; the world of creeks and forests, bumpy unpaved roads, wild and domesticated animals like bluebirds and wolfhounds. Pam Houston is one of our best writers of all things personal and natural. She unzips herself and reveals the horrors of an abusive childhood and shares with us how she continues to heal every day by taking long walks, writing, snuggling with her animals, stacking wood, sharing food with friends. Reading this book was like having a glass of wine with a dear friend whose life you having been sharing for years; but today revealed new layers and intimacies. I didn’t want it to end.
So relevant for today’s world but set in part in the 1950’s, in part during the Holocaust, and also in the 14th century world of Christian scholars Peter Abelard and his beloved Heloise, James Carroll’s novel teaches but doesn’t preach; reminds us of the goodness of humans in the face of evil and tells an amazing tale. The issues of priestly abuse, the Inquisition, the lack of forgiveness for not adhering to strict Church doctrine are coupled with a modern priest’s loss of faith and realization that there is not just One Way to live a life in today’s world. This is a beautiful love story; a retelling of one of the greatest love affairs in history. It’s also a look at Manhattan and a view inside the magnificent Cloisters Museum. It defines early roots of anti-Semitism which seem to rear up in our faces with too great regularity and we realize that one of the greatest Catholic scholars did not believe that Jews should be forever damned for the killing of Christ. Refreshing given the latest outpouring of hatred against Jewish descendants of these early Christian teachers.
Forna is an author that slipped by me until I picked up this wonderful novel and I now plan to go back and read everything she's written. A lovely book about love, environmental science (tracking urban wolves and foxes in London), immigration and the tentative steps we take to discover where we connect with another human being when we come bearing old injuries from such encounters in the past. A psychiatrist who is an expert on PTSD runs, literally, into a woman who builds rooftop gardens and watches for foxes from her own garden and they discover tangential pieces of their lives that mesh and assist them in their searches for missing relatives and elusive foxes. Ultimately their relationship evolves from allies to lovers. Beautiful writing; couldn't put this novel down.
This novel is an emotional roller coaster ride but instead of screaming, you'll find yourself gasping as you read. Quiet gasps at the language, at the beautiful story that unfolds, for the intense longing that you feel for the characters and the landscape, and the depth of feeling you'll experience as you read. Winman is a master storyteller and her language and pacing are extraordinary. Her words read like poetry with an intensity that moved me to tears. "The bats have claimed the sky from the swallows and the smell of lavender and sweetness rises from the earth. I stand at the window." Please try this novel and share it with those you love intensely.
In today's crazy world, occasionally we need a book that makes us feel good about human beings. The characters in McCauley's novel are flawed but for the most part lovable and attempting to find their places in a world that is filled with bumps and old heartache and betrayal. They are funny, their conversations ones that you want to be a part of and they speak to the human condition--a search for love, a need for deep friendships that weather the years, for a sense of place, and enough money to make this happen. McCauley is a master of dialogue and he's witty, perceptive and compassionate. I needed this book in my life and when it was finished, I smiled.
O'Farrell is such a good writer; her novels, some of my favorites of all time. And this new memoir is extraordinary. Hard to imagine 17 brushes with death in one lifetime but she has had them. The stories are paired with anatomical picture of the part of the human body impacted by the story and those are lovely as well. She unzips herself, lets us look inside to those deep intimate places and then partially zips up again allowing the reader to reflect and identify with the emotions and often terror she felt. We all have had brushes with death but probably didn't have the gall or ability to tell our stories in such a beautiful, heartfelt way.
This is a small but powerful book of creative nonfiction. The Norwich of the title is tiny Norwich, Vermont (population 3,000), home to many Olympic athletes and happy, contented families whose children, as do children everywhere, compete in sports.But not so much for glory and fame, but because it's part of the fabric of life there. On some level this is a parenting book, a look at how we can support kids in doing what they love and teach them life's lessons at the same time; on another level it's a book about courage and fortitude and how sports and competition can be healthy and fulfilling, not demoralizing and all-consuming. The author is a sports writer for the NYT and writes beautifully and compellingly.
One of my favorite authors, Helen Dunmore, died last year from cancer; a tragic premature death. Birdcage Walk, finished just before she died, takes place in England during the time of the French Revolution. Women grappling with issues of liberation from the men who assumed they owned them once they married them, lack of contraception or safe births and people thinking about and debating the issues of the revolution that had just occurred in the United States. Add in France's own revolution, royalty sent to the guillotine, economic ups and downs, women writing in secret with little hope of publication or a reading audience, murder and mayhem and you have a great novel.
This book by Perry is pertinent to today's times, hilarious to witty, non-pontificating (I'm talking to you, Harold Bloom) and small and engrossing. From his quoting (editor) Craig Raine's term - 'mouth athletes' and their know-it-all, non-stop bombardment to how Montaigne's thoughts that 'a solid stance is not synonymous with sold thinking' it works.This is a gem.
Paul Yoon is one of my favorite wordsmiths (The Snow Hunters is one of the best novels I’ve read in the last ten years), and his new story collection, The Mountain, is brilliant. Yoon’s characters live big in stories that are sparse, reflective, and in some sense all connected. Lives at once desperate and tender traversing the globe and bringing hope when you think there is none.
In her reflections of family dynamics and our inner psyche, Hadley reveals how small actions can have immense repercussions and often reveal the hidden mysteries that shape the people we are. In these ten stories she captures her characters at turning points so subtle they themselves rarely notice them. Her stories are right up there with those of Alice Munro, Laurie Moore, and Jhumpa Lahiri.
If you want a sense of what it's like to be a career woman, childless by choice and living in Manhattan, All Grown Up will fit your needs.
Andrea Bern understands how American culture works, and as she nears forty has, by choice and by circumstance, bucked convention. She questions society’s need for her to be married, have children, strive for advanced degrees, and climb the corporate ladder. She’s funny, lonely, and she sees a therapist regularly. She's generally happy with her debt-free, rather carefree life in Manhattan, except when she talks to her mom on the phone who questions and constantly nags her to change her life.
In The Idiot—yes, a reference to Dostoyevsky's Idiot—a rather naive first generation Turkish American in her first year at Harvard attempts to absorb American ways. Along with learning the workings of email, she asks profound questions about how culture and language shape our experiences, notices how differently men and women are treated, and how baffling love is. You wouldn't think the naivete would work with this young debut author, but she is a great writer and it does.
This is a tribute to handwritten letters, haiku, and the power of poetry to manifest heartfelt love. A lonely mail carrier has found a way to break the monotony of his life--he steals people's mail, steaming open the envelopes, and reading the letters inside--but only the hand-written envelopes. A local poet and a mysterious woman are communicating in haiku, beautiful love letters in a mere three lines and their world suddenly becomes his world when he witnesses a terrible and tragic accident and decides to continue the correspondence. Denis Theriault weaves a passionate and elegant tale, comic and tragic with a love story at its heart. This small, elegant book will be one you hand out like candy to friends.
Celeste Ng is a wonderful storyteller. She has her finger on the pulse of America at the moment--the disparities between the wealthy and those just barely making it. Her characters moved in next door to me and most likely will never leave my life. There is an abundance of intrigue and pathos and there are no easy answers in spite of the desire by the matriarch of the wealthy family to impose order on her world. Her daughter, Izzy, is the proverbial Fifth Business--she lights the little fires, she is the truth teller, she asks the hard questions. I totally loved this book.
If you read My Name is Lucy Barton and loved it but were left wondering who Lucy Barton truly was or where she might have gone when she left the small town in Illinois where she grew up, this new novel by Elizabeth Strout will fill in the blanks. Strout is a brilliant writer, her prose is read out loud beautiful and her characters totally believable and memorable. There is intense emotion in these connected stories, complicated lives, interwoven and overlapping drama that leaves you wanting to start the book over from the beginning because there is a chance that you missed a few bits the first time around and missing anything Strout has to say would be a travesty.
Lucky for us Bill Hayes is an insomniac. This book is a gift to readers. It is a paean to New York City and to love in all its guises and intimacies. The journal entries, photographs and short creative pieces left me teary and laughing and reminded me that great writing comes in my forms. I want to meet Bill Hayes on the streets of NYC, ride with him on the subway, have a drink with him at a party that neither of us were invited to, go onto the roof of his building, eat fresh grilled salmon and drink from a bottle of wine with a straw, and talk about Oliver Sacks--the sweet time he spent with this brilliant scientist, musician, writer, and human being.
Magda Szabo is one of Hungary's most notable novelists but I confess to never hearing about her before I read this amazing novel. It's a quiet book but the impact is loud and disturbing. Iza, a famous doctor, has been in control of everything and everyone around her since her early childhood. She compartmentalizes her emotions and the pieces of her life so carefully that even those who love her fear breaking into her boxes. Her beloved father's death brings her mother into her life in a huge way and as she tries once again to be all and do all for her, she fails and her life collapses. A novel about families, mothers and daughters, trust, careers and Budapest. I'm on the hunt for the rest of Szabo's writing.
Andreas Egger lived his whole life with nature as his most trusted companion--when humans, war and debilitating events threatened him, he quietly climbed mountains, bathed in icy streams, watched the sun streak its intense color into the sky, put his head down and forged ahead. He lived eight decades, mostly alone, and faced death and privation with heroism, stoicism and a depth of character rarely experienced in the 'modern' 20th century. Egger was of the opinion, "when someone opens their mouth, they close their ears." Fortunately for us as readers, when Robert Seethaler penned this sparse 160 page novel we have no choice but to open our ears and listen. He has poetically created a character and a way of looking at the natural world that you will never forget for the rest of your life.
One of the best mysteries I've read in years. Smith's work is usually brilliantly written, but often dark and brutal. This novel, set at the end of WWII in Venice, is not so dark, but funny and compelling at the same time. Mussolini, Hitler, their mistresses, and their gold are characters in the story, as is a lovely young Jew hiding from the Nazis, and a fisherman who not only teaches her about fishing but about life, discovering unknown parts of himself in the process.
Political cartoons and caricatures in particular can change the subject’s life dramatically and drastically. They can also change the course of an election, the fate of a corporation, or a law getting passed. But, what are the constraints on an artist--is he allowed to destroy someone’s life in the process? And what if there is a chance that an artist with his pen and ink has made a mistake? This novel examines these issues in an absorbing, brilliant way--the famous caricaturist, Javier Mallarino, at the apex of his career is suddenly confronted with the implications of his holier than thou, although in my mind, politically correct, attempts to get Bogota’s corrupt government back on track. His world implodes and he if forced to examine it from the inside out.
Borba argues that we can change our world, one child at a time, if we can teach them empathy and compassion and get them off of electronic devices. This is one of the best parenting books I've ever read. As I am once again helping to raise a school-age child, Borba reminded me how important teachers and parents and grandparents can be, and that teaching children to take care of others might be the best thing we can do for them.
Bill Clegg's book is a masterpiece--quiet at times, loud at others, but brilliant. All his characters, with no exceptions, are fully realized and speak with voices that come from the depths of their being, formed by circumstance, happenstance, pain and joy. The intersection of disparate lives is fascinating and so true to how humans connect, disconnect, and move through the world but Clegg manages to shape and bend the lives to a cohesive whole without compromising the truth of any of their stories.