Fiction

If You Liked The Paris Wife, Try These

ISBN: 
9780345521309

Fowler, Therese Anne - Z: a Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald 

This novel focuses on the life of Zelda: dancer, writer, and famous flapper who married Scott Fitzgerald. The Fitzgeralds were considered the couple of the twenties.  Zelda and Scott spent time in Paris in the same social circle as Hemingway and his wife where the hard-drinking and romances took a toll on both marriages. If you've read about Zelda in Scott's or her own writing, this fascinating, multi-talented person will intrigue you.

Hart, Lenore - The Raven's Bride

If you love Edgar Allen Poe's famous poem "Annabel Lee", this novel about Poe's doomed wife and first cousin, Virginia, will interest you.  The Poes married when Virginia was thirteen and E.A. was twenty-seven; her mother signed a document that she was of age. Like Hemingway, Poe was a big drinker, and Virginia had to put up with drunkenness and poverty.  Another story of a literary marriage where the wife was both muse and care-giver.

Hemingway, Ernest  - The Sun Also Rises 

This is often considered the most famous novel of the "Lost Generation", that crowd of artists, musicians, and writers who left the U.S. during the 20s to live an expat lifestyle in Paris and other cities. Jake Barnes, a jaded WWI vet, travelled from the bars of Paris to Spain for the spring bullfights. Hemingway describes the expatriate lifestyle amid the violence, camaraderie, and life and death risk for bulls and men. Read more »

2013 Pulitzer Prize Winners

Orphan Master's SonThe Pulitzer Prize is an annual awards given to excellence in newspaper and online journalism, literature, and musical composition and are administered by Columbia University in New York City.  The 2013 awards were announced yesterday.  For books, the following awards were given.

Fiction - The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

Ambitious and inventive, this novel is set in an orphanage in North Korea.  Protagonist Pak Jun Do is forced to become a fighting tunnel expert and a kidnapper before he takes his fate into his own hands. Johnson is able to tell the tale of touching humanity set within the backdrop of a brutal regime. Read more »

Civil War Fiction

Killer AngelsThis summer will be the 150 year anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the deadliest periods of the Civil War.  The three days saw record causalities and is also considered one of the turning points of the war.  Instead of breaking out a dusty nonfiction tome, consider The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. This fiction book does a good job at adequately describing the events that did occur, but shines at getting into the heads of the major players. We meet Lee, Longstreet and Chamberlain and start to understand their thoughts, positions, opinions and fears as they prepare and head into battle.  This is well researched, and really readable.  The maps give you a good visual perspective as well.

One of the things I love most about history is not only learning the outcomes and the details of the events that took place, but investigating the other possibilities, thinking about the what-ifs, and figuring out the decisions that went into what really happened. Read more »

The Fault in Our Stars

ISBN: 
9780525478812

This young adult novel by the popular John Green fell into my arms at the YMCA. An exercise buddy suggested that I read it; she was turned on to it by her teenage son. The novel opens at a cancer support group in a church.  Because it's set in Indianapolis some of the landmarks will be familiar. A 16 year-old girl suffering from stage IV thyroid cancer is returning at the insistence of her Mom. "Go out and meet somebody" her mom suggested and without any hope that she will, Hazel does. 

Asked to speak about what she's thinking, Hazel describes how everyone on earth is going to die. It is the only end we can expect and that we have. Her speech is more philosophical and much more eloquent but totally lacking in hope. Afterwards, handsome Augustus who's on the mend from osteosarcoma - 80% chance of survival--tells her he likes what she said.  Not only that but she looks like Natalie Portman. Augustus and Hazel have a mutal friend, Isaac, who is about to lose an eye from another form of cancer.  

Hazel can't leave the house without her oxygen tank. Her prognosis is poor; it's not a matter of if but when. Her parents are extremely kind and protective. She overhead her mom say once that when Hazel dies, she will no longer be a mom.

If The Fault in Our Stars sounds depressing, amazingly it isn't. Green has created a sardonic, wise beyond her years, poetry-loving heroine with an edgy sense of humor. She finds a soul-mate in Augustus who has already lost one girlfriend to death. Hazel holds back. She doesn't want to die and be another "exploding torpedo" in his life. Read more »

Of Spies and Literature

ISBN: 
9780385536820

Do you like spy novels? Ones that mix in politics and love?  If so McEwan's Sweet Tooth is for you.

It's set in the rollicking early 70s in England - a time of drugs, rock and roll, miniskirts, and--on a more serious note--women's entry into careers en masse. It tells the story of Selena, a bright vicar's daughter who loves to read and read fast.  Her mother, in the only moment of life- dissatisfaction she's ever expressed to her daughter, advises Selena to go to Cambridge and study math so she can have a challenging career. Selena, being the good older daughter, follows her mom's advice and gives up studying literature for something better career-wise.

But Selena's real education begins the summer after college.  An older tutor she meets through a boyfriend soon becomes her lover. In the process he teaches her about food, wine, politics, international relations, and how to read the newspapers for hidden facts and government policies. He's grooming her for a role in M15, the spy service.  But then Tony leaves her abruptly after an argument so Selena goes to London and does find a job with M15. Read more »

New to Me Only 3(+) Years Later!

Visit From the Goon SquadI try to stay familiar with new books coming out, but also keep a list (on goodreads.com) so I don't miss anything great either.  I recently read two great books that either were published in 2010 or enjoyed a resurgence in 2010.  These two books don't have too much in common, but I missed them then, maybe you did too!

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan is a complicated contemporary novel that follows many different characters, but centers around Bennie and Sasha, who work in the music industry. We meet both of them at different points in their lives, from teenagers to older parents and the novel stretches from the Bay Area, to NYC, to Africa and Naples. Each chapter focuses on a particular character at a specific time and place with no real instruction to the reader on the how and why. Through the strength of Egan, this doesn't break down the narrative. I really enjoyed all of the voices, varied narrative structures, and cried during a chapter told as a powerpoint told by a 14 year old character previously un-introduced. This book is risky, edgy, intellectual, unafraid of emotion, and requires a lot from the reader.  With all that said, it was also highly enjoyable! Read more »

The Colour of Milk

ISBN: 
9780062245823

if missing capitals drive you crazy, this may not be the book for you. however, i hope you will try it because the colour of milk brims with a young girl's voice. despite the fact that she lives on an english farm and does back-breaking labor from dawn to dusk under her brutal father's command, mary still possesses a sense of wonder at the world.

the time period covers the years of our lord, 1831 and -32. throughout this compelling novel, mary repeats over and over "this is my book and I am writing it in my own hand". you'll have to finish it to understand why these words resonate.

mary shares the harsh farm work with her mother and three sisters. violet sneaks off at night for sensual adventures in the hay loft. (mary discovers this when she goes out to press her head against the cow she loves dearly and almost the only creature who gives her any comfort). whenever she is not working, beatrice holds a bible in her hand, but when she recites what is inside it, mary notices that she's holding it upside down. hope suffers from the same bad temper as their father and dreams of living in her own house with a rich husband. Read more »

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 »

February Books Plus

Silver Sparrow"My father, James Witherspoon, is a bigamist" is the shocking opening line of Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. This memorable novel is set in Atlanta in the mid-80s and unwraps the themes of family, love and loyalty often with some painful results.  Two half-sisters are caught in the middle of the two families, one secret and one public. 

Books Plus has been on a mini-break over the holidays, but the first book discussion of the year will take place next Sunday. Please join us on February 3rd to discuss this raw and memorable novel.

 

Books Plus meets the first Sunday of each month. All are welcome. Join the discussion or simply come to listen.

No registration necessary. Drop in.

2 p.m., First Sundays Read more »

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