Dory L.'s blog

Dear Life: Stories

ISBN: 
9780307596888

No other author manages to squeeze so much historical detail and under-the-surface emotion into her short stories as Canadian writer, Alice Munro. Her short fiction has enthralled me for years. Although she's written a novel or two, almost her whole output - 17 published books - is in the short story form.

In Munro's stories time is never strictly chronological. Munro artfully flits between the present and the past. She never loses control. Her transitions are seamless; the reader never has to search or root around for the correct time and place. Also, important to these stories is the emotional arc.

Dear Life is her most personal collection yet. To the ten stories included, Munro has added four memoir pieces that are not fiction, although Munro said that she fictionalized certain elements of them. If you've read the author's other collections, you'll recognize the farmland and small towns near Lake Huron, marked by poverty that Munro returns to again and again. There's also the young girl or woman breaking away from her family, seeking a better life.  Sexuality often becomes a main theme and the endings are seldom happily-ever-after, but more like life, both good and bad, always complicated. Read more »

The Lifeboat

ISBN: 
9780316185905

Charlotte Rogan's debut novel The Lifeboat restores your faith in 21st century writing.  In this historical novel, two narratives intertwine: the more dramatic one being the story of the shipwreck of the Princess Alexandria during the first months of WWI on a voyage from England to America.  The second story is about Grace, a young woman whose family has suffered a financial collapse. Suddenly, needing to make her own way in the world, Grace's choices are narrow:  to become a governess or find a rich husband, Grace being resourceful and not wanted to be tied down by a job with long hours and little pay chooses the latter.

She finds her husband material in an unlikely place:  the engagement listings of a London society paper.  Henry Winter, an American financier, is handsome and rich and works for a company rapidly increasing in power and influence. Amazingly, this part of the plan works. They marry and set off for America. On the ship, as a sign of her newly altered status, Grace and Henry are invited to sit at the captain's table.

But there Grace's good luck ends. For one thing, Henry has not cabled his parents about the marriage, and seems reluctant to do so. His parents send him telegrams about his former fiancee but does she even know that she's become history to him? In the middle of the night the Empress mysteriously explodes and the new bride finds herself the last person squeezed onto a lifeboat, and without her husband. Read more »

The Last Runaway

ISBN: 
9780525952992

In The Last Runaway (as in all Tracy Chevalier's historical novels), you feel as though you are living exactly in the time period that she is describing. Her combination of research, realistic dialogue, characters true to the day, plus her skill at capturing the myriad details of daily life make her writing very believable.  In this novel, Chevalier transports us back to 1850s Ohio to a small town at the edge of the wilderness. But first, we experience a grueling ocean voyage from Quaker Honor Bright's perspective.  

Honor Bright accompanies her sister to America where Grace plans to wed someone from their English hometown.  After Honor suffers terrible seasickness on the journey, she refuses to take the lake route to Ohio, so they proceed by train and carriage. However Grace comes down with yellow fever and dies on the trip. Not knowing what else to do, Honor continues the journey to Faithwell, Ohio.

She catches yellow fever also and stops in Wellington at a local milliner's shop. Belle Mills takes her in.  Unfortunately, she's already met Belle's brother on the journey. Donovan is a slave hunter and he has stolen the key to Honor's trunk after ransacking the carriage while searching for runaway slaves. Read more »

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

ISBN: 
9780316204279

TED talks, "pay yourself in chard", shoeless Microsoft techies, Molly Moon ice cream--you don't have to be a current or ex-Seattleite to enjoy this funny book by Hollywood scriptwriter (Arrested Development) Maria Semple. If you've ever lived in a politically correct zone (Bloomington anyone?), you'll recognize many of the interpersonal dynamics pictured here. Where'd You Go, Bernadette tells the story of a family - Bernadette, Bee, and Elgin Branch-- and their relationship to their child's school community.

Bernadette, a former architect and MacArthur genius award winner, has given up working on any creative projects to devote herself to her family. Her daughter Bee was born with a serious heart condition and for years Bernadette felt that she could not commit herself to any new designs due to her daughter's condition. But Bernadette, a woman full of prodigious talent and energy, has been driving herself and everyone around her nuts while her husband worked his way up the Microsoft hierarchy.

Minor Seattle annoyances set her off, say five-way traffic interchanges where one waits an eon for a turn at the green light. Too friendly Canadians provoke Bernadette's ire also. And turning her almost ballistic are messages from her daughter's private school that ask for volunteers. She ignores these but the fellow parents, whom she calls "gnats", mock her for her lack of community involvement--a major Seattle lapse. And then there are all those obnoxious Microsoft slogans that she must turn away from whenever she and Bee visit her husband's office. Read more »

Paris: a Love Story

ISBN: 
9781451691542

The defining moment of Kati Marton's life occurred when she was six and the police came for her mother during the Hungarian Revolution. Her mother was imprisoned for a year, joining her father in prison. The authorities forced Marton and her sister to move in with strangers. Before that their lives had been blessed especially by Communist Hungary standards. Kati's parents had hired a French nanny and she learned to speak French as a child.

If you love Paris or even if you are just curious about life in the famous city, this memoir makes a good read. I wasn't familiar with Kati Marton's books or journalism - she worked as a foreign correspondent for ABC news and NPR - so this memoir made a nice introduction to her work.  

Marton was one of the first women to be hired as an international corresponded for ABC.  She met Peter Jennings in London before beginning her post to German in the 1970s. They fell in love and began an international romance that was mostly centered in Paris. But before that Kati had studied abroad in the city of light during the momentous year of 1968. She came from the States where her parents had emigrated after leaving prison. Read more »

The Man on the Third Floor

ISBN: 
9781579622855

 

I journeyed back into the 1950s with this novel about a closeted gay editor. It's all here: the strong prejudice against homosexuality, the gender stereotyping, the cold war, the loyalty oaths, friend turning against friend and colleague against colleague. Some accused Communists leap out high-rise windows when their livelihoods are destroyed.

But McCarthyism is just a side issue in this intriguing novel - The Man on the Third Floor centers on a very successful editor who has a secret domestic life. When he and his wife, Phyllis, and their two young children move back to New York after the World War II years in Washington, Phyllis decides they can afford a house of their own. They finds a nice brownstone with three floors, the top of which was originally servant quarters. But Phyllis is a modern woman, college-educated who worked in radio and journalism until she had children, and she's not keen on having servants live with them. 

But one day, a very handsome man comes to measure Walter's office for new carpeting.  Although Walter has had only one sexual experience with another male in his life--he was raped at camp as a teenager--he immediately finds himself inviting Barry, the carpet man, to a bar. Almost immediately, he offers him a job as a driver despite the fact the family owns no car, and soon gives him a room on their third floor. For some reason, Phyllis agrees to both ideas. Read more »

Flight Behavior

ISBN: 
9780062124265

This novel is the first that I've read that tackles the problem of climate change head-on. An environmental tragedy in Mexico has forced most of the continent's monarch butterflies to find a new winter habitat. Flight Behavior also narrates the story of a young woman, Dellarobbia, who lives on a hard-scrabble farm in Appalachia. She's herded in by a strict mother-in-law, Hester, and even more so by the family's poverty. One day she decides to risk her marriage by having a tryst on the family's mountaintop with a telephone lineman named Jimmy.

After hiking up the mountain, Dellarobbia sees through the fog (despite her severe myopia) that the hills and trees are on fire: hundreds of monarch butterflies have nestled there. The young woman abandons her plan for an affair and returns to her mother-in-law's to pick up her two young kids, Preston and Cordelia.

Dellarobbia's history affects many pieces of the narrative: she's lost both her parents when she was young, got pregnant as a senior in high school, and married Cub to do "the right thing." Then she suffered a miscarriage and it took many years for her to have a child. Read more »

Marilyn & Me: A Photographer's Memories

ISBN: 
9780385536677

This slim memoir about one of the great stars of cinema is a quick and easy read. As you might guess, it provides some really fine images of the star that you might not have seen. Yet because of the book's small format, the photographs are not as big as you might hope.

The photographer, memoirist Lawrence Schiller, was only 23 years old when he first got the opportunity to photograph the actress. What I like especially in this book, is how he humanizes Marilyn, shows how uncertain she was, longing yet afraid to have a child; Schiller started his family over the couple year-span of the memoir and they often talked about his wife and family.

Marilyn & Me shows the actress to be incredibly smart.  Also, Schiller reveals her skills at conversation--when she was in the right mood--she could really draw people out. On the day she met the author, she discovered that he had blindness in one eye caused by a childhood accident. This fact she never forgot. Read more »

Library Staff Recommended Books for 2012

ISBN: 
9781594744761

I love the long winter nights of December and January for reading. You can start a book at dusk, and if you're lucky and don't get distracted, finish it before bedtime. It's also a good time of year to discover new authors, subjects you've never investigated, and different formats. (Power up that e-reader!) Magazines, newspapers, and websites also offer their best book lists this time of year.

Librarians have the advantage of being able to browse the stacks and the new book section often. Frequently, they employ the magic of serendipity, accidently discovering that dynamic cover that draws one inside a book, or they notice a title on the cart they've seen reviewed, or find themselves staring at a never-read classic that's been on their lists for years. It's also a great place to overhear book gossip, "That's the best book I've read in months."

In the spirit of sharing new authors and titles, I asked our staff members to recommend a favorite book of the year.  Most recommended fiction but the nonfiction reads looked just as interesting--everything from visual essays about daily life in Christoph Niemann's Abstract City to Susan Cain's account of introverts in a book titled appropriately enough Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking. Also, recommended was Ian Frazier's On the Rez, an absorbing description of current life on an Indian reservation.  Not to be left out is the terrifying Escape from Camp 14--a young man's account of growing up in a brutal labor camp in North Korea and after living through countless horrible events, he escaped and experienced an outside world that he did not even know existed.  

The fiction includes such enticing titles as Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell and Alan Campbell's Damnation for Beginners (about life in Hell, where else?).  There's much more from mysteries to sci-fi and young adult fantasy. Thanks to everyone who contributed. Here's the link if you would like to examine the whole list. And we'd love to hear what books you liked this year.

A Surrey State of Affairs

ISBN: 
9780670023424

Because they seem so personal and individual, I'm attracted to novels written in blogs, diaries, and letters.  You really feel as though the writing comes directly from the blogger's heart. Ceci Radford's wonderful first novel A Surrey State of Affairs provides hundreds of delightful escapades while involving you with a cast of peculiar though mostly likeable characters.

Here's the plot in a nutshell: on the advice of Rupert, her IT consultant son, a middle-aged married suburbanite named Constance begins a blog where she tells of exciting and not-so-exciting events in her life. She doesn't work outside the home and has a surly eastern European housemaid named Natalie.  Constance's main hobbies are throwing dinner parties (including faux detective ones), visiting her Mom in a nursing home, and improving her skills as a competitive church bell ringer. (Who knew Brits even competed at this?)

Pretty soon, you discover that she is also heavily involved in matchmaking: the aforementioned son with the minister's daughter and also with a bell-ringer's child. Did anyone accidentally give out her son's address to a gentle stalker?

While Constance learns the nitty gritty of posting blogs, she entertains her husband's burly Russian guest who has nasty spats with Natalie, and then takes off with Sophie. Oh Sophie!  I failed to mention Constance's 18 year old surly daughter who is on her gap year counting fish in France but comes home often for non-talking visits with Mom. Read more »

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