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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.
I want to go to Wales and visit with Freida Hughes. I want to see her garden, have tea with her, talk about poetry. This is my kind of book--gardens, nature, devolving and evolving relationships, the power of poetry and the written word to heal us. Add in a Magpie named George who helps the author reduce her anxiety by helping a tiny creature survive and you have a lovely look at life.
Meet Penny Rush, a woman whose goal is to start her life over when it appears to be falling apart but has no idea what is in store for her when she gets on a bus and heads to Santa Barbara to check on her grandmother– a supposedly retired doctor, a hoarder of many things including human bones, who threatens people with bayonets, and is arrested by the police. Penny’s parents went missing in the Australian outback, and her husband cheats on her, but her days becomes populated by other edgy idiosyncratic people who keep popping up in her life and need her care. One of them owns an old van filled with detritus that he dubs, The Dog of the North, and Penny finds herself on a road trip with him and finds not only new towns but also insights into herself and the healing of old wounds that she wouldn’t have imagined possible. I loved every sentence in this novel and though hard to explain, it touched my heart deeply, made me laugh, and reminded me why good stories and great writing are such a blessing in my life.
Cormac McCarthy's story is captivating, compelling, and an intellectual vision of a great literary novel. It encompasses philosophy, science, mathematics, and mental illness with no theme dominating the others. I listened on libro.fm and this might be the best book I've ever heard on audio. The readers Julia Whelan and Edoardo Ballerini are absolutely extraordinary. I felt like I was at a two-person Broadway play. Brilliant writing, brilliant content, brilliant readers.
There are so many books on the Holocaust, both fiction and non-fiction and it is rare when one distinguishes itself in a new original way. The Postcard is that book in 2023. The power lies in the story told over multiple generations but so profoundly linked to our present lives. Our ancestors stay alive through us, We embody their grief, joys, features, and history that resides deep in our genes. We are compelled to tell their stories to remind ourselves that they live on in spite of generations of inhumanity, war, and anti-semitism. Anne Berest's story of a mysterious postcard will keep you reading and thinking long after you close her book.
The reading world has long wished that Abraham Verghese would write another novel after reading his brilliant Cutting for Stone. And after ten years it's here and it's worth the wait. An epic story covering nearly a century of Indian history and filled with flawed but engaging characters, descriptions of foods and the plants that produce them, Verghese's love for medicine and doctors, and a mysterious ailment he calls The Condition all combine to suck you in and not let you go until the last of the 724 papers ends. There's love and intrigue and trains and floods and lepers, and artists: the weaving of multiple lives that will remind you that great writing informs and broadens our own lives, and this novel is a perfect example of great storytelling.
Set in the early 1940s–Pearl Harbor sending the US into war and Japanese-Americans into internment camps, this novel manages to bring the occurrences in the world into the daily lives of characters you won’t soon forget. Wiggins has woven a story containing multiple generations, their connections to food and cooking, justice and injustice, water issues that dry up the desert to serve faraway Los Angeles, love and redemption and she brings these familiarities to one family coping with their own war-induced losses. I see multiple literary prizes in this novel's future. I couldn't put it down.
How often do you read a book, finish it and then start it again immediately? How often do you think of ten people who would love this book not only for the story but for the impeccable writing; not one extra word more than Keegan needed to tell the story of possibility and hope in a rather hopeless child's world? A short story that reads long and deep and emotional and asks the reader to fill in the blanks. Heartfelt, lovely, imaginative, and satisfying.
Impossible to believe this is Kennedy's first novel. For a debut to have such depth of character, such quality of writing, a grasp of history in unsettled Ireland, and empathy for all of them is a true work of art. We meet Cushla, a young schoolteacher who helps out in her family's bar in the evenings and cares for her school kids by day and is constantly worrying about her helplessly alcoholic mother, as she falls helplessly in love with a man she meets in the bar. The Troubles are not only in her country but in the love affair that brings trouble to her life when you are rooting for it to pass her over. Brilliant.
Remember Tuesdays with Morrie? Well, now you can have Saturdays with Stella. With paintings by Maira Kalman and interesting comments and questions from Michael Frank. Stella Levi is not forthcoming with her story of life in the Juderia on the island of Rhodes, or in the concentration camp called Auschwitz where she is transported with the 1650 other Jews she'd lived with or about her life in New York City where she lands after the war, but slowly week after week she shares her experiences and lets the reader in. And this reader got a much deeper understanding of why Jews didn't always heed the signs and get out when they were in danger. How family, culture, livelihood, art, education and love play into decisions that we make. This book will haunt me for years to come.
I must have missed this book when it came out in hardcover last year and am so glad it's in paperback as it's a book that I think many people should read. I'm an old hippie and have always had a fondness in my heart for communes, intentional communities and utopias and Kapur's brilliant history of one such community, Auroville, hit my sweet spot. There is a promise of hope, of unity, of equality, of shared values and even if the road to get there is rough and big mistakes are made, it's hard to eradicate the vision of a better world. Kapur's history reads like a novel and his characters will not soon be forgotten.
No one should have to work as hard as the miners in Colorado who worked for little pay, in freezing weather, and deplorable conditions. But work they did and still managed to have children, a bit of music, and a sense of what should be theirs if life was fair. No such luck! Manning writes of the world of immigrants, unions, brilliant newspaper women, hope and despair with intelligence and insight into human lives.
A modern Ghanaian woman confronts archaic traditions from her contemporary vantage point. In exchange for wealth to replace her hand-to-mouth existence, Afi is expected to be complicit in a plot to bring a misbehaving man back into his family’s fold and good graces. Fortunately, she isn’t as acquiescing as the family had hoped and is willing to stand up to a domineering mother-in-law and assert her own needs but at some cost to her emotional well-being and future stability. I learned a lot about the food, the traditions, and the economic disparities in Ghanaian culture and found the story compelling. A good beach read.
This latest Stout book, set during the pandemic, will bring you back in touch with many of the family of beloved characters from Stout's past novels--Bob Burgess, Lucy Barton, William, Lucy's less than perfect mother, and even Olive Kittridge. It's a moving tribute to friendship and family ties but also a world run amuck from not only a virus but also political tensions and neighbors who fear outsiders moving into their territory. Small town America becomes Lucy and William's world but their pasts keep intruding and broadening their connections to one another and their families.
This terrifying, barely futuristic novel will be compared to The Handmaid’s Tale and 1984 and other well-written dystopian novels and deserves the associations. A look at our present-day injustices and conservative political ideologies only tempered by a mother's love for her son and her willingness to do whatever it takes to change the world for the better. It’s also about books and their power in the world and what happens when people decide that some are too dangerous for people to read and burn them. Librarians become counter-culture heroes. Ng writes so beautifully and her characters crawled into my heart. Everyone is going to be talking about this novel when it arrives in bookstores.
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There are so many paths a person's life can take, some proscribed, some by chance. This debut novel explores these choices, their consequences for family and society, and the people created by or because of those life choices. It's a beautiful character study of a family (Chinese villagers struggling to survive), a culture in transition (during and post Mao), the importance of education (only if you study and pass onerous tests) and the power of stories and storytelling handed down from one generation to another. A story that encompasses father-son relationships, young love, and the passing of time in several families. I loved it.
Maggie O'Farrell is a brilliant writer and never disappoints me. Though the subject matter--a wealthy teenager given to a much older Duke who expects absolute loyalty, obedience, and her acquiescence to nightly sex to create an heir to the throne--is difficult to read, one cannot but hope for the young woman to rebel against her plight. Control of women's bodies and minds is foremost in the mind of many men of power and this historical novel reveals that men will stoop to anything to get their way and women will resist until that is no longer an option or they are intelligent enough to recognize the danger they are in and seek relief through any means possible. O'Farrell's Lucrezia is artistic, innocent, kind and insightful. She's a wonderful heroine and will be remembered long after you close the book.
So many great characters inhabit this novel set in the pre-and post-Civil War era as well as in the present. I know little about horse racing--Seabiscuit and Dick Francis my other sources-- and was heartbroken with her portrayal of enslaved Blacks and those who are their descendants, but it was good to be reminded that we must all stay vigilant and work for social justice.
Quirky, funny, poignant; an instant satisfying cure for your what to read next literary journey. The characters jump off the page and into your heart and even when you have doubts about what you think you know, you are still surprised by the depth of your involvement with each one of them. I loved the bike ride through the hills and towns of Italy and Hafner's thoughtful look at loneliness, her compassion and instinct for understanding a man temporarily out of sync with the world.
Reading Solito sent me spiraling down into the muck of modern existence one more time but also lifted me up with a new appreciation for bravery, and resilience. Writers like Javier Zamora who survive and go on to share their lives with readers are enlarging our worlds and helping us understand whole pieces previously, unknown. Javier, a 9-year-old boy is sent with strangers and a paid coyote, to reunite with his parents in a foreign land. He exists on bags of chips, falls into cactus ending up with spines in his face, is thrown into jail, sits for days on strange streets, and sleeps in daylight traveling in darkness. But survive he does and by the third time he attempts to cross the border into the U.S., he makes it but will be forever changed as is the reader. Zamora not only tells the global story of thousands of migrants who are seeking a better life but also the personal story of new 'families' created on the run, the kindness of strangers, the fear and disappointment of failure to cross over, the depth of human need for safety and protection. You will not read this book and just go on with your life--you will read this book and have a new relationship and understanding of those risking everything to live in the United States.
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Historical fiction is often how I learn history and Hua's novel provided me with yet another lesson in Chinese history during Chairman Mao's reign. A young girl is 'chosen' to leave her impoverished village behind and come to the Forbidden City where intrigue, seduction, power mongering and betrayal are all part of daily life and learning to discern one from the other mean survival or death. Hua's prose is lush; her research and knowledge deep; her story is captivating.
Although this novel is post- apocalyptic, it could become our reality if we don't address climate change issues immediately. And in spite of the horrors of a planet run amuck, the novel is so beautifully written, the characters so alive and believable, that the reader is drawn in and becomes one of the small family of strangers who must band together and resist rivalries to survive. Lyrical, slow-paced, scary, and undeniably possible, this novel is not one to miss.
Four women enter the novitiate together and are moved as a group from an orphanage to a recovery center, Little Neon, where they are expected to work their Catholic charms on the inhabitants, One loves Bible study, one loves cars, one follows rules and one, Agatha has her doubts about the Church but manages to suppress them until she can't. The characters who live at Little Neon, are quirky and loveable and together the group has you in stitches or tears.
A remarkable novel. Keegan takes you on a journey with an unassuming Irish coal merchant, father of five daughters and son of an unwed mother. The writing is quiet, sparse and powerful. It asks questions about complicity and the opportunity to do the right thing once you know that there might be something bad happening in your community. You become friends with the hero and cheer him on. A great holiday message for this season of giving.
Damnation Spring is a brilliant novel. Through the characters we get a glimpse of rural America brought to life by the incongruities of families whose livelihoods depend on vanishing old-growth forests; whose life cycles include early age deaths and severe injuries because the hazards of timbering are many, who suffer from toxic chemicals used to kill undergrowth, and who, in spite of these hurdles, love their children, fight hard to maintain their dignity, and ignore so much that is harming them. They have no other choice. It's the story of a marriage, a deep love underwritten by fear and heartbreak and family ties. If ever there was a novel for our times as we are trying to understand how whole swaths of our country voted for a man who promised them that he would make America great again, this book will help you understand the conflict. Ash Davidson brings dignity to her rural community whose way of life is disappearing in front of them and who know the ills of which the environmentalists speak but have no alternatives for survival when the larger world renders them helpless as politics and greed take the place of compassion and a united community. I can't get this book out of my head and I don't want to.
There is a promise in these stories that nothing will be held back, that the reader will be absorbed into the emotions, the pain, the hope, the lack of fairness, and uncertainty of living through the next day. The reader takes the writer’s journey and tries on the vicissitudes of loss and striving to live a meaningful life, and what it means to be thwarted by forces so huge that the hostility and history behind those forces are present but no longer register because it comes from centuries of bigotry, enslavement, biased assumptions, and complicated suspicions not based in reality but in inherited presumptions. Jocelyn Nicole Johnson has written a collection of stories that will haunt me, have educated me, and have left me in awe of her writing and storytelling talent.
For those of you us who loved A Gentleman in Moscow, our writer friend, Amor Towles is back and has created another cast of characters you won’t easily forget. Two brothers in search of their mother, a war hero who can’t face the world unless he’s riding on trains back and forth across the country, two almost loveable juvenile delinquents hoping to steal an inheritance, a miscreant preacher, and a book that tells stories of mythic and real life heroes that is never far from the reader nor its owner make up a piece of this wonderful novel. The rest of the story you will find as you travel the Lincoln Highway--the first transcontinental road for cars in the US, stretching over 3000 miles from New York City to San Francisco--with this motley crew pulling at your heartstrings on a non-stop adventure.
One of my favorite all time novels is Sarah Winman’s, The Tin Man and I was thrilled to find the galley of her new novel waiting for me in my office just before I left on vacation. It was the first book I read and I totally loved it. As in the Tin Man, her characters and her writing are beyond the pale. You are drawn in and captivated by the quirkiness of the people, the beautiful descriptions of food and art in Italy, the pathos of war and its aftermath and above all the love that transcends generations and gender. There’s even a beautiful blue parrot who quotes Shakespeare and trees that render advice to those who sit beneath their branches.
I love Elizabeth Strout--everything she’s written--and this is no exception. She plays with us in her novels, bringing back characters from her past stories who we thought were gone when we closed the book and in this novel, she breaks the frame and talks to the reader as if we were there with her. Lucy Barton reluctantly reconnects with her ex-husband William and together they explore their pasts while trying to understand what keeps them connected. It’s filled with surprises, insights, and laugh out loud moments. The perfect novel.
This novel delves deep into the issues of the reckless killing of Blacks by police officers who are hired to protect citizens, not harm them. It's told through the eyes of two women, one black and one white; lifetime friends who have shared intimate and confidential details of their lives and suddenly find themselves looking deeply into those components and coming up with deep-seated, unanswered questions. It's honest, brutal, and doesn't shy away from racist issues, and it is also sweet and heartbreaking in its intensity.
If you haven't been on a plane for a while because of COVID and you read this literary thriller, you may think twice about boarding a plane ever again. A pilot is forced to choose his family or his passengers when terrorists force him to crash his plane or lose his wife and two children. The author worked at Changing Hands and left for a job with Virgin Airlines and her book is infused with insider info she learned in both professions. Scary and gripping--you can't put it down so don’t start it if you don’t have a block of time in front of you to read.