Fiction

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 »

Oprah's Book Club 2.0

Twelve Tribes of HattieJust released today (so new, it isn't even in our catalog yet!) is The Twelve Tribes of Hattie, the debut novel by Ayana Mathis.  This book has gotten some good reviews, including a glowing review from the often hard to please New York Times reviewer, Michiko Kakutani.  But what makes this book especially noteworthy?  One word: Oprah.

Yep. In case you missed it, last year Oprah renewed her book club, renamed Book Club 2.0 and chose Wild, Cheryl Strayed's memoir of her redemptive and inspring through hike of the Pacific Crest Trail. 

This year Oprah chose something completely different, but no less interesting sounding.  The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is about a young African-American woman who during the Great Migraration leaves Georgia and settles in Philadelphia.  Hattie's struggles and those of her children are interwoven in twelve narrative threads coming together to paint an intimate picture of a singular family, but also that of a greater nation.  Sounds great.  I can't wait until it hits the library shelves!

 

A Working Theory of Love

ISBN: 
9781594205057

Scott Hutchins' first novel A Working Theory of Love is a wonderful spoof of California's trendiness. It also pokes fun at its computer geek population, but more importantly it's also a tender love story. In my experience few novels by men focus on love and relationships, so it's especially nice to explore this landscape from a male writer's perspective.

Recently divorced Neill Bassett just barely copes after his wife Erin leaves him shortly after their honeymoon (at least he can keep their charming San Francisco apartment). Each day begins with the same breakfast taco. Also boring and routine are his homemade dinners. He allows himself a glass of wine several times a week. The mission of Neill's day job at Amiante Systems is to give voice to his dead father who left thousands of pages of journals when he committed suicide. A non-geek himself, Neill has become the family representative at this small business working to perfect artificial intelligence and give voice to a dead man.

Why did the techies choose Neill's Dad? For years, Neill's father wrote long and extremely detailed journal entries about his life. This gave the engineers a large amount of material to parse and code into computer memory.

Hutchins knows enough about artificial intelligence to portray life at a small tech company. He also succeeds at exploring the weirdness of a character asking his own dead father questions and then having him both listen and analyze the simulated answers. Talk about father and son issues! Read more »

National Bullying Prevention Month

ISBN: 
9780399257049

Author and Illustrator Patricia Polacco has a knack for creating picture books for older readers. Her thoughtful, sensitive stories have addressed a range of issues including cancer, cultural differences, race relations and slavery. Her most recent book, Bully, takes on a topic she has written about previously in both Thank You, Mr. Falker and Mr. Lincoln's Way, but this story depicts how bullying can take place via social media, as well as through direct interactions with peers.

Bully describes how Lyla attempts to make friends and fit in at her new school. A new friend encourages her to get a cell phone, a laptop computer, and a Facebook account so that she can "stay connected with the world!" Her parents relent, and her new friend Jamie, who is a computer wiz, helps her set everything up. The cool "celebrity" girls invite Lyla to join their clique -- not for her newfound electronic communication skills, but for her tumbling and cheerleading abilities. Read more »

Buddha in the Attic and Narrative Mode

BuddhaAttic"On the boat we were mostly virgins" begins Julie Otsuka's gem of a book, The Buddha in the Attic.  One of the noticeable things from that first sentence is the unique narrative mode.  The whole book is written in the first person plural style.  This type of narration can be awkward -- most fiction is written in either first person or third person.  Convention can be comforting, we know immediately how to read the story and relate to those characters.  In first person plural, the story is told from the group's perspective, and with no main character, the rules are different.

Otsuka said in an interview that she wanted to tell the story of Japanese picture brides -- not just one bride, but that as a group.  And in this case, the narrative mode makes perfect sense.  Between 1908 and the 1920s, thousands of young Japanese women came over to the United States after an arranged marriage agreement.  Instead of focusing on one story, this book introduces the reader to many stories, some devastatingly sad, some happier, but all of them are sympathetic.  And by not focusing on just one story, we read the book with a fuller picture and are moved by their collective experiences and struggles.  The stories begin on the boat, and follow them through marriage, manual labor, child raising and the heart wrenching internment following the attacks on Pearl Harbor.  I can imagine that this book might appeal to a wide range of fiction readers -- fans of historical fiction, women's fiction, immigrant stories, Asian-American experiences, World War II home front, and readers of fiction set in California and the West. Read more »

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

ArtofFieldingHenry Skrimshander is a slight shortstop with a love and strong appreciation for baseball.  Henry isn't a great player, and not very strong at bat but he does have potential.  When his sister writes the message "Call Mike Shorts!" by the phone, Henry's life changes forever.

Mike Schwartz is the captain of the baseball team at Westish College in Wisconsin.  Mike is addicted to painkillers (also the captain of the football team, he has bad knees), hardworking and spends a lot of his time helping his teammates become the best players they can be.  He is hard on them, pushing them through more squats, more lifts, and more runs than seemingly possible. 

Just as Henry is about to break the NCAA record for most error free games, an errant ball slips out of his hands and flies into the face of his roommate Owen Dunne who is sitting in the dugout reading a book.  This seemingly innocuous error sets into motion a series of events that become life changing not only for Henry, Mike, and Owen but also the President of Westish, Guert Affenlight, and his daughter Pella who has just returned to Wisconsin after some personal problems of her own.    Read more »

The Orphan Master's Son

ISBN: 
0812992792

Every so often a novel comes along that takes your breath away. The Orphan Master's Son remained unopened on my nightstand for a couple of weeks. But as soon as I dove into this literary thriller that also includes a love story I was hooked. It's set in North Korea, and amazingly, it's written by an American.

Pak Jun Do grew up in an orphanage, yet he was no true orphan (as he repeats many times in these pages) since his father raised him, or more accurately, Jun raised himself near his father. Years earlier, his mother, a singer, had been whisked off to Pyongyang, the capital, where all the beautiful women of the provinces were sent, so he never got to know her. Jun Do's job was renaming each orphan upon his arrival--he named each boy after the 114 North Korean martyrs. Jun Do also assigned jobs, taking the worst for himself. But since even children in North Korea work Read more »

Promising New Fall Fiction

TelegraphAvenueWorking in a library, I try to read a wide variety of books -- romance books, graphic novels, memoirs, young adult fiction, fantasy and popular non-fiction titles.  But my one true love is contemporary literary fiction.  A coworker once remarked to me that I didn't like reading novels by authors who weren't alive.  Yep.  Give me Jhumpa Lahiri over Jane Austen any day. 

But I assume like a lot of readers I get stuck in a rut and go long periods of time without being excited about the fiction I am reading.  This fall might be the answer to all my book desires.  Four of my top ten favorite authors have new books coming out!

Michael Chabon wrote one of my all-time favorites and former One Book One Bloomington title, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  His newest, Telegraph Avenue is out this week.  It tells the tale of a used record shop and the two friends who are co-owners.  Spouses and children complicate the story as well as a mega-store moving in down the street.  Set in Northern California in 2004, Chabon explores parenthood, family, music, and the American Dream.  

Read more »

Carry the One

ISBN: 
9781451636888

Violence changes everything that happens after. This interesting novel covers family and friends in Chicago after a tragic event occurred at the end of a Wisconsin wedding. In 1983, a carload of friends and siblings leaves a wedding party in the middle of the night. Their car crashes into a ten-year old girl, killing her.  Most of the 20-somethings were high that night from either drugs or alcohol. The driver, Olivia, gets a jail term; the rest suffer through a lifetime of guilt.

In Carry the One Anshaw presented herself with a hard task: introducing five or six characters and following them over the course of 25 plus years: their relationships, their passions, their fears, their daily occupations. Luckily, she has mastered creating authentic and interesting characters. First there are the three siblings: Carmen, Alice and Nick. It's Carmen's wedding that they are celebrating that fateful day. Carmen is the political one: she runs a Read more »

Helen Keller in Love

ISBN: 
9780670023493

Just after college I worked as a social worker at an agency for the blind in New Orleans. I remember one client particularly well. He was totally blind and deaf--an older fellow who spoke in a modified sign language and by spelling letters lightning-fast into your palm. Pat, who had worked there for years, was his favorite person to communicate with, but when she was gone, he'd come to me. Occasionally, while biking home from work, I'd see him from a distance crossing four lanes of traffic on St. Charles Ave.--usually against the light--his white cane held like a sword before him. He was always too far away for me to help, but my stomach would clench, and I'd hope that he'd make it across safely another time.

Reading Helen Keller in Love gave me a fresh awareness of what blind people endure especially the deaf and blind. When I was young, The Miracle Worker played in movie theaters (with Patty Duke and Anne Bancroft) and this movie painted Helen in saint-like tones. How refreshing and humanizing is this biographical novel. In her first novel, Rose Read more »

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