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This post - our final set of reviews ushering in our annual August "Gone Reading" break - highlights great "not-kid" and "not-YA" books for your summer reading needs. We look forward to seeing you all here again with more reviews of great books at some point in mid- to late-September. Happy August and have fun wherever you have "gone reading".
"Beach reads": In this case, they are all fiction
Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (2019) - I feel as if Jane Austen and Ms. Brodesser-Akner would have enjoyed sharing a cup of tea and tradiing observations about society. I also believe that we all would have benefitted from the novels emerging from their discussions. Ms. Brodesser-Akner takes a topic I really, really did not want to read about - divorce and middle-aged dating - and writes so well I ended up completing every page. Her writing is bracing. Her plot is relatable; and her humor is pitch-perfect. I never thought about what kind of pictures dating apps carry; now I have. But mostly I was struck about how the things we don't share, and the feelings we don't take responsibility for end up being our demise. As the New York Times review stated, "Brodesser-Akner has written a potent, upsetting and satisfying novel, illustrating how the marital pledge — build our life together — overlooks a key fact: There are two lives. And time isn’t a sharer. You cook dinner, or I do. In marriage, your closest ally may end up your nearest rival. 'You complete me' is an awful lot of pressure." ~ Lisa Christie
Vintage 1954 by Antoine Laurianne’s (2019) - As light as a glass of cool rose, this French romp will leave you smiling and wishing for a for more, perhaps a cheese plate and a soufflé - or better yet a trip to Paris. The action begins when a group of current-day Parisians (and an American Airbnber!) together enjoy a bottle of 1954 Beaujolais with special properties. This wine ends up taking them back in time to 1954 and their challenge is to find their way back to the present. Laurian, a popular French novelist with many titles to his name, has a large following in the Anglosphere. A fun beach read or title to read when in the City of Light. ~ Lisa Cadow
The Gifted School by Bruce Holinsger (2019) - This is one of those books that might be easy to read and feel better about your life - "I would never do that". "Aren't these people insane?" Or to be cynical about - "Wow what a coincidence that this novel is released as the college admissions scandal unfolds in the courts, how opportunistic". Or, to just dismiss it as a "beach read". And while it is hard to hang your hat on any of the characters and want them to succeed or to empathise with their extreme circumstances, Mr. Holsinger somehow makes them relatable and I kept reading. I picked this up as it seemed timely; and, I was looking for a relatively easy to digest quick read -- basically a "beach read". This novel (University of Virginia English professor Mr. Holinger's first) explores what happens when a pubic school system in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado creates a school for "gifted children". Think of it as the current college admission scandal for K-12 students and their families. The story unfolds through the eyes of four families in an elite town and one family from a town far enough away to be affordable and still close enough allow them to clean the houses of families in the elite town. As you can guess before you even open to page one, people behave badly, long-standing friendships are severed, and secrets are revealed. For me, all that may be beside the point. Because what I received in this "beach read", is a book that has me thinking about how while I would like to believe I would not go to the extremes of the characters in this book to help my children, I drive a barely three year old car with 62,000 miles on it from hockey, soccer, baseball, and football practices and games. And, I have gone to a teacher / principal once or twice to advocate on my sons' behalf. Thus, I probably shouldn't throw too many stones before acknowledging my own glass house. Is it the best book I have ever read? NO. Does it have me reflecting on my life in this lovely area I call home? Yes. That is a pretty good review for a "beach book". Plus, it will give your book club plenty to talk about. ~ Lisa Christie
The Slow Waltz of Turtles by Katherine Pancol (2016) - If you’re looking for insight into the French psyche and what the French are tending to read these days, this would be a good book for you. “Waltz” is the second in a trilogy that explores the dramas of a family, in particular the lives of two very different sisters - Josephine and Iris - dealing with divorce, loss, new love, “crises de career”, raising teenage children, and dealing with mid-life. A mystery is involved - people in Josephine’s Parisian neighborhood are being murdered - and be forewarned that descriptions can be quite graphic, even disturbing. I found there to be slight similarities to The Elegance of the Hedgehog as much of the story is set in a fancy apartment building and involves a concierge. Ms. Pancol’s style is a bit less existential, though, more fast-paced and more American than Ms. Barbery’s (which could have something to do with the years Ms. Pancol spent in New York and at Columbia University as a graduate student). This book has been a mega-bestseller in France that has done well internationally as it has been translated into over 30 languages. ~ Lisa Cadow
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane (2019) - Bookseller extraordinaire, Carin Pratt of the Norwich Bookstore put this amazing saga of two families living side by side outside of NYC in my hands. Because I am still mulling this story, I'll let the words of another indie bookseller Anderson McKean of Page and Palette in Fairhope, Alabama, speak for me. “Ask Again, Yes is a compelling, heartbreaking, yet ultimately hopeful novel. Mary Beth Keane is incredibly talented; she does not sugar coat, instead giving readers a compulsively readable family drama. I did not expect to become so completely engrossed in these characters’ stories — two families whose lives become inextricably linked by young love and personal tragedy. Their myriad mistakes and attempts to atone beautifully demonstrate the power and grace found in forgiveness.” I will add, if you are in the mood for a well-written saga about life, love, friendship, and all the things (addiction, mental health, poor choices) that can enhance or interfere with those things - this book is for you. ~ Lisa Christie
Normal People by Sally Rooney (2019) - Full of psychological insight, Normal People is the most artful and literary of all of the titles I will review for this, our 2019 Adult Summer Campers post. This subtle work threads readers into the lives of two young Irish teens, Connell and Marianne. They meet while in high school where he is a popular athlete and she is a brainy outcast. They share a connection that they keep secret even as their paths cross again as students at Trinity College in Dublin. It is tender. It is disturbing. It is real. To quote one reviewer, this book explores “what it means to be in love today.” Another describes it as being about “the transformative power of relationships.” This isn’t an easy read but is ultimately a beautiful and impactful one. Sally Rooney is an author to watch - and to admire. ~ Lisa Cadow (Note: We previously reviewed Ms. Rooney's Conversations with Friends in our "Honoring the Irish on St. Patrick's Day" post.)
Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok (2019) - One of the most anticipated books of summer 2019, Searching for Sylvie Lee takes the reader on a trip between cultures and countries, traveling back and forth in time and from New York, to the Netherlands, and even Venice and China. When brilliant, beautiful and successful Sylvie suddenly vanishes while in Holland visiting family, her younger sister Amy must put aside her fears to travel to solve the mystery of her disappearance. This book is full of suspense, mystery, and cultural observations and it offers a window into challenges faced by immigrants and minorities who leave home to start new lives. It also offers readers a treasure trove of Chinese proverbs which pepper the pages (have a pen and paper ready to copy them down). Author Jean Kwok has built a loyal base of fans over the years and is appreciated for her insight into and writing about the Chinese American experience. I was very impressed by her debut Girl in Translation which was published in 2010 and was not disappointed by this, her third book. ~ Lisa Cadow (NOTE: This review is seconded by Lisa Christie who was lucky enough to read an advance copy of this novel while traveling to Europe this Spring.)
Black is the Body by Emily Bernard (2019) - A collection of essays discussing being Black in the predominantly white spaces of Vermont. Insightful, vulnerable, and helpful. Ms. Bernard is a professor of English at the University of Vermont who was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. It is our belief our home state benefits greatly from her presence here. ~ Lisa Christie
Lives Laid Away by Stephen Mack Jones (2019) - I am a HUGE fan of Mr. Jones's debut August Snow. Thus, I was excited to see this new mystery brings August back. I was even more thrilled that I liked this second book, in what I hope is a long series, perhaps even better than the first. In this outing, August Octavio Snow decides to defend his neighbors when ICE raids threaten their peace and safety; simultaneously he answers a former colleague's call to discover how a young, unnamed Latina was murdered. By saying yes to helping in both cases, he becomes caught in a human trafficking ring. The plot allows the author's wry humor to deliver some food for thought about the USA's current immigration policies. Detroit, (and actually I'd argue Michigan this time), is once again a character; so much so that Nancy Pearl of NPR's Morning Edition seriously considered relocating after reading Mr. Jones's first offering -- "This book is so good, I actually put it down, and I briefly entertained the notion of moving back to Detroit.” Getting back to this second book, we really can't say it any better than Mike Lupica says in his New York Daily News review, “man, if you haven’t read Stephen Mack Jones’ Detroit crime novels about an ex-cop named August Snow, you ought to.” ENJOY! ~ Lisa Christie
The Fleur de Sel Murders: A Brittany Mystery (#3) by Jean-Luc Bannalec (2018) - This book made me want to visit Brittany immediately. I actually found myself with a map in hand tracking exactly where the characters in this mystery travel as I read each chapter. The writing was brisk and the book just a "fun read" on a hot summer afternoon. Commissaire Dupin provides an intriguing protagonist for this series. The descriptions of France are inspiring and somehow restful; and, the characters Dupin surrounds himself with are interesting on their own. (Note: Though I may have learned more than I possibly could ever wish to know about the salt marshes of the Guérande Peninsula, foodies will have a blast with this knowledge.) As a bonus -- I now have a new series to consume. As Kirkus Reviews describes The Brittany Mysteries, "Bannelec's Breton adventures are some of the best French local color going, with a deft blend of puzzle, personality, and description of the indescribable." The series begins with Death in Brittany. Have fun using these books to plot your next European vacation. ~ Lisa Christie
Unto Us a Son is Given: A Commissario Brunetti mystery by Donna Leon (2019)- I truly enjoy this series (first introduced to me by the author Sarah Stewart Taylor), and this book is one of the best in it. This time, Brunetti's father-in-law asks Brunetti to look into an old friend's recent wish to adopt an adult and what implications that might have for the friend's estate and his twilight years. Enjoy yet another great mystery with a kind, yet far from perfect, Commissario, his English-novel loving wife, and the people of Venice. If you wish to begin at the beginning, the first book in this series was Death at La Fenice. ~ Lisa Christie
The Body in Castle Well: Bruno Mystery #14 by Martin Walker (2019) - In "Bruno's" latest outing, an American graduate student turns up dead at the bottom of a well. This plot allows Mr. Walker, a journalist and novelist, an opportunity to explore the French Resistance, the impact of art, and life in modern France. Enjoy and be prepared to be hungry as Mr. Walker describes all the dishes his detective Bruno prepares. If you have not yet read anything in this series, you might wish to begin with the first of its 14 mysteries - Bruno, Chief of Police. ~ Lisa Christie
Historical Fiction, Including a Graphic Novel
The Huntress by Kate Quinn (2019) - For fans of wildly popular The Alice Network (2017), news of this recently released work of historical fiction by the same author is sure to excite. This book follows the stories of three women: Nina, a pilot who flies for the legendary Russian Night Witches that pushes back Hitler’s forces on the eastern front, Jordan, a seventeen-year-old growing up in post-World War II Boston with dreams of becoming a photographer and going to college, and “die Jaegerin” (The Huntress), the mistress of an SS officer in occupied Poland who flees Europe to escape her past. Their lives ultimately intersect, dramas unfold, and crimes are uncovered. Quinn, as in her last best seller The Alice Network, excels at telling the stories of strong, rebellious and unconventional female heroines and wartime history that is little known. In this case, she focuses on the Soviet Night Witches and sheds a light on their remarkable achievements and bravery. A long book at 557 pages, this one should last campers for a while at the beach or the lake. It may also motivate readers to learn more about brilliant Russian aviators who inspired the character of Nina. ~ Lisa Cadow
Berlin by Jason Lutes (2019) - This graphic novel received "Best of 2018" nods from the Washington Post, New York Public Library, Globe and Mail, the Guardian, and many more reviewers. In it, Mr. Lutes takes a look at the fall of the Weimar Republic through the eyes of a few citizens—Marthe Müller, a young woman whose brother was killed in World War I, Kurt Severing, an idealistic journalist losing faith in the printed word as fascism takes hold; the Brauns, a family torn apart by poverty and politics and life. A great book for those readers who want something historical and a bit more visual this summer. Book Jam note: Mr. Lutes is a faculty member at the amazing Center for Cartoon Studies in White River Junction, VT. ~ Lisa Christie
HAPPY END OF SUMMER! We hope you enjoy the extra hours of sunlight while they last.
As of this moment, the Book Jam has "GONE READING". We look forward to sharing our discoveries with you starting at some point in September 2019.