The premise is simple. Wealthy doctor, Richard invites his estranged sister, Angela, her unemployed husband and their three children to share a vacation house in the Welsh countryside knowing she cannot pay for a trip on their own. Joining Richard is his new wife and her willful teenage daughter. Their trip initially brims with the hope of forgiveness and family bonding, all nicely tucked away in a cozy modern pastoral setting. But secrets, resentments, pain and confusion – both old and new – follow everyone. The complicated dynamics of this family and their often awkward attempts to set things right are at the crux of this novel. Can’t we all relate? Being in a family is hard.
I don’t read many novellas but this one, Train Dreams, by Denis Johnson made several “best new book” lists recently. And it got rave reviews from quite a few other writers.
Grainier’s first memory of trains is of being sent on one as a young child, with a fare receipt pinned to his shirt. His destination was Fry, Idaho, but he never knew his parents or even the origin point of this trip. One older cousin said that he came from Canada and that the French language had to be whipped out of him. Another cousin said that family had sent him from Utah where he had spent his first years as a Mormon. But all his life, he had only trains and their tracks for the history of his early childhood. Read more »
I only brought one novel on my vacation to New Mexico, and How It All Began was the perfect one. Not that it’s about New Mexico, no—it’s almost wholly set in London with a few side trips to Cambridge and a “cathedral town.”
The novel begins with an interesting premise, similar to the butterfly affect in New Zealand. What happens in the rest of the world when a butterfly starts a slight breeze wafting Down Under? In this case, it’s nothing as natural or beautiful as a butterfly fluttering. Instead, an older retired teacher and passionate book person, Charlotte, has been mugged on a city street. This ignites a chain of events that alters many lives.
First, her daughter Rose must come to the hospital and care for her. This leaves Rose’s grumpy, egotistical employer, Henry, a former professor of history, at a loss. Rose had promised to accompany him to Cambridge where he was presenting a lecture on his field, 18th century England. Read more »
Recently I was reminded of the movie Regarding Henry starring Harrison Ford. Most likely this resurrection in my thought train was inspired by a stream of bad lawyer jokes. Regarding Henry is not a joke; it is however about a bad lawyer. Henry Turner is the very picture of the lawyer you don't want on the other side of your trial. All he cares about is winning the case. He doesn't care about who he hurts or what he thinks of as a worthless sense of ethics as long as the outcome is what he desires. He is very good at his job. Though he doesn't realize it his consuming drive to win is costing him his wife and daughter, both are at the point where they would prefer not to have him around. Life however, is about to change drastically when he walks into the middle of a convenience store robbery and is shot in the head. He survives... physically at least. Read more »
Before I became a librarian, I worked in the restaurant industry for 10 years. I learned to cook from my dad and had dreams of going to culinary school to become a chef. Career changes happen, but I am still drawn to cooking shows and spend a lot of time reading books about food, food policies, eating, and food history –think Bittman, Kurlansky, & Kingsolver. When it came out recently, I knew I had to read Blood, Bones & Butter: the Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef by Gabrielle Hamilton.
Hamilton is owner and head chef at Prune, a well-reviewed and established restaurant in New York. This book sets out her love of food from her parents to her on-the-fly education in New York City catering. Her path to recognition and establishment later in life is both gory and determined. Being a woman in this business can be ugly and Hamilton both investigates and dismisses this fact. What she does well is understanding the connection between food and family and what it means to be part of this process on both an intimate and grander scale.
I'm not sure how to describe Melancholia. It's a movie about the end of the world, yes, but it's not really. It's a film about two sisters and their dysfunctional family, yes, but it's not really that either. Read more »
When Tinkers won the Pulitzer Prize, I put it on my to-read list where it lingered for two years. I had a hard time summoning enthusiasm after reading the description every time I went looking for a book. A few months ago, I deleted it off my to-read list acknowledging that I would probably never read it. Last week I thought I would give it another shot and now I wonder why I waited so long. Paul Harding's first novel sucked me in right from the hallucinatory beginning and I didn't want it to end. The banalities are such: George is dying and reflective on his life, family and career. The narrative alternates to a time when George is very young and focuses on his father, a man who ends up being unfairly defined by his grand mal seizures. In between these paragraphs, there are excerpts from the fictional book called The Reasonable Horologist and other shorter paragraphs that seem nonsensical at first, but end up working at the end. Time and memories are the main theme and this book has a rural New England setting. Read more »
Some of the best fiction books take a situation of which you have very little first-hand knowledge and through sympathetic characters and solid storytelling create some sort of understanding of what living that life would be like. Swati Avasthi's first Young Adult novel about domestic violence and abuse, Split, is a great example. Avasthi is able to allow the reader to care about the main character and his struggles with both the violence of his father and the legacy he is hoping to avoid.
Teenage Jace leaves his parents’ house with almost nothing after a particularly brutal fight with his father. He sets off from Chicago with his camera and the New Mexico address of his older brother who disappeared several years earlier. Jace's brother Christian is less than thrilled to see him with a bruised face despite having come from and escaped the same back ground. Their transition is rocky and a lesser book would have trivialized this time. Instead their difficulties felt genuine.
When I picked up Shusterman's Bruiser, I expected to read a book about an angry kid who taunts and punches away his insecurities. While this book does deal with bullies, Brewster, the character of the title, is almost the opposite of a bully and a bit magical to boot. A hulking and shabbily dressed 16-year-old, Brewster is an outsider who people vote to be the Most Likely to Go to Jail, and generally treat as if he's not there. Which suits him fine, even if he's never stepped on an ant, because he takes on the physical and emotional pain of anyone he gets close to. Read more »