October 24, 2011 by Reader's Connection
Our November fictional titles feature a wife betrayed by her husband and her pastor, a father and son on a journey after the apocalypse, two daughters trying to understand their distant mother, and the staff of an troubled English-language newspaper in Italy. There’s nonfiction about urban farming and medical ethics, and some holiday-related pieces by Truman Capote that cross the line between fiction and memoir.
Even within the author’s extraordinary body of work, this stands as a radical achievement, a novel that demands to be read and reread.McCarthy pushes his thematic obsessions to their extremes in a parable that reads like Night of the Living Dead as rewritten by Samuel Beckett. Where much of McCarthy’s fiction has been set in the recent past of the South and West, here he conjures a nightmare of an indeterminate future. A great fire has left the country covered in layers of ash and littered with incinerated corpses. Foraging through the wasteland are a father and son . . . The father dimly remembers the world as it was and occasionally dreams of it. The son was born on the cusp of whatever has happened . . . and has never known anything else. His mother committed suicide rather than face the unspeakable horror. As they scavenge for survival, they consider themselves the “good guys,” carriers of the fire, while most of the few remaining survivors are “bad guys,” cannibals who eat babies. In order to live, they must keep moving amid this shadowy landscape, in which ashes have all but obliterated the sun . . . The relationship between father and son has a sweetness that represents all that’s good in a universe where conventional notions of good and evil have been extinguished. — Kirkus Reviews
To open Blake’s novel of World War II and the convergence of three strong women is to enter a slipstream, so powerful are its velocity, characters, and drama. How can you resist Frankie Bard, an American journalist of gumption and vision who is bravely reporting on the Blitz from London? Her distinctive voice and audacious candor are heard on radios everywhere on the home front, including Cape Cod, where Iris James, in love for the first time at 40, keeps things shipshape at a small-town post office. The third in Blake’s triumvirate of impressive women, Emma, the waiflike wife of the town’s doctor, is not as obvious a candidate for heroism until a tragedy induces her husband to join the war effort. As Frankie risks her life to record the stories of imperiled Jews, Iris and Emma struggle to maintain order as America goes reluctantly to war. Blake raises unsettling questions about the randomness of violence and death, and the simultaneity of experience–how can people frolic on a beach while others are being murdered? Matching harrowing action with reflection, romance with pathos, Blake’s emotional saga of conscience and genocide is poised to become a best-seller of the highest echelon. — Booklist
In a highly readable form of bibliotherapy, first-time novelist Genova, who holds a doctorate in neuroscience, meticulously traces the downward spiral of a woman suffering from early-onset Alzheimer s disease. In September of 2003, 50-year-old Alice Howland leads a very busy, productive life as a psychology professor at Harvard, the spouse of a biology professor, and the mother of two grown daughters. But a series of memory problems, ranging from forgetting where she put her Blackberry to becoming disoriented on her daily run, sends her to the doctor. She learns that she is suffering from Alzheimer s, and the subsequent months and years see a steady decline in her abilities. By September of 2005, the accomplished professional can barely remember her own daughters names. Still Alice, however, is far from bleak as it depicts both the unalterable course of the disease and the various ways family members can cope with it. Clearly explaining the testing, treatment options, and symptoms of the disease within the context of an absorbing family drama, Genova has written an ideal primer for anyone touched by Alzheimer’s — Booklist
The Franklin Road Library will host a discussion of Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory ; One Christmas ; & The Thanksgiving Visitor on Monday, November 7th at 6:30 p.m.
Available for the first time in a single volume are the three holiday stories that Truman Capote regarded as among his greatest works of short fiction. Two of these childhood memoirs – “A Christmas Memory” and “The Thanksgiving Visitor” – center on the author’s early years with a family of distant relatives in rural Alabama. Both pay loving tribute to an eccentric old-maid cousin, Miss Sook Faulk, who became his best friend. In “A Christmas Memory,” Miss Sook, Buddy (the narrator), and their dog, Queenie, celebrate the yuletide in a hilariously tipsy state. In the poignant reminiscence “One Christmas,” six-year-old Buddy journeys to New Orleans for a reunion with his estranged father that shatters many illusions. And in “The Thanksgiving Visitor,” Miss Sook invites the school bully, Odd Henderson – called by Buddy “the meanest human creature in my experience” – to Thanksgiving dinner. — Blackwell North America
Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer in 1951, but her cancer cells are still living today, the first line of immortal human cells. Known as HELA, those cells have multiplied into the trillions, and research on them has led to revolutions in medicine, including the polio vaccine, chemotherapy, and gene mapping. But no one ever asked Henrietta if she wanted to donate her cells for research, and no one told her family after she died that her cells were being sent to scientists all over the world. Rebecca Skloot weaves together the biography of Henrietta Lacks, the HELA cells, and the Lacks family in a story that raises questions about science, medicine, ethics, and even race. Ultimately, it is a story that reclaims the life of a woman from the fame of her cells. The audio recording of the book makes the scientific and medical language more accessible as well as capturing the intensity with which the Lacks family and the scientific community regards the story of Henrietta and her cells. — Rebekah Koves, Central Library
The solid ninth and penultimate entry in bestseller Adrian’s Midnight Breed vampire romance series (after Taken by Midnight) advances the overall story line nicely without detracting from the central romance between two deeply damaged characters. Hunter is now a Breed vampire of the justice-serving Order, but the Order’s greatest enemy, Dragos, once trained him to be a mindless weapon, and much of that training still shapes him. Breedmate Corinne Bishop, recently rescued from decades of torture at Dragos’s hands, has two goals: reuniting with her family and finding the son she bore while imprisoned. As they fall in love, Hunter has a precognitive vision of Corinne begging him to spare someone’s life, wondering whether fate will tear them apart even if they overcome their intimacy issues. New readers should start with book one; returning fans will love Adrian’s latest dark and dangerous antihero. — Publishers Weekly
In this utterly enchanting book, food writer Carpenter chronicles with grace and generosity her experiences as an “urban farmer.” With her boyfriend Bill’s help, her squatter’s vegetable garden in one of the worst parts of the Bay Area evolved into further adventures in bee and poultry keeping in the desire for such staples as home-harvested honey, eggs and home-raised meat. The built-in difficulties also required dealing with the expected noise and mess as well as interference both human and animal. When one turkey survived to see, so to speak, its way to the Thanksgiving table, the success spurred Carpenter to rabbitry and a monthlong plan to eat from her own garden. Consistently drawing on her Idaho ranch roots and determined even in the face of bodily danger, her ambitions led to ownership and care of a brace of pigs straight out of E.B. White. She chronicles the animals’ slaughter with grace and sensitivity, their cooking and consumption with a gastronome’s passion, and elegantly folds in riches like urban farming history. Her way with narrative and details, like the oddly poetic names of chicken and watermelon breeds, gives her memoir an Annie Dillard lyricism, but it’s the juxtaposition of the farming life with inner-city grit that elevates it to the realm of the magical. — Publishers Weekly
An 11-year-old solving a dastardly murder in the English countryside in 1950 wouldn’t seem to be everyone’s cup of tea. But Flavia Sabina de Luce is no ordinary child: she’s already an accomplished chemist, smart enough to escape being imprisoned by her older sisters and to exact revenge, forthright and fearless to the point of being foolhardy, and relentless in defending those she loves. When she spies on her father arguing heatedly with a strange man late at night and the next morning finds that man buried in the cucumber patch, she sets out, riding her bicycle named Gladys, to make sense of it all. And when her father–a philatelist and widower for a decade who still mourns his wife–is arrested, Flavia’s efforts are intensified . . . Winner of the Debut Dagger Award, this is a fresh, engaging first novel with appeal for cozy lovers and well beyond. — Library Journal
Jamie Clarke was once a devoted, loving wife, mother and God-fearing Christian; however, those traits quickly diminish after she endures a double dose of betrayal and deception. First, Jamie is devastated when her pastor is publicly exposed for his salacious indiscretions with his mistress. Then Jamie is further scarred when her husband Alonzo’s hidden secrets are revealed. For weeks, Jamie is overcome with depression and grief, feeling trapped in an emotional prison. That is, until she decides to soothe her pain by turning to a lifestyle of sin. Jamie’s new way of life causes her to abandon her morals and values, break her marriage vows, neglect her teenage son, and put her health at risk. It isn’t until she is faced with a life or death circumstance that Jamie is forced to evaluate if she wants to regain control of her life or continue stepping out on sin. — Author’s website
Middle-aged sisters Meredith and Nina have always felt distanced from their Russian-born mother, Anya. But when their beloved father dies, he leaves them with a wish–for them to become closer to their mother and for Anya to reveal the truth about her past. Meredith’s and Nina’s troubled relationship with their mother is mirrored in their relationships with men. Meredith has grown apart from Jeff, her childhood sweetheart and longtime husband. And Nina travels the world as a freelance photographer, meeting up occasionally with lover Danny. Things have to fall apart before they get better, so after Jeff leaves Meredith and Nina’s work begins to suffer, the sisters spend more time with Anya, who finally reveals more of the fairy tale she had told her daughters in their childhood. It doesn’t take long for Meredith and Nina to figure out that this is really the true story of their mother’s life in Leningrad during World War II. This tearjerker weaves a convincing historical novel and contemporary family drama with elements of romance. — Library Journal
At the Caffe Greco in Rome, circa 1953, Atlanta financier Cyrus Ott makes an offer that can’t be refused. He will establish an international English-language newspaper to be run in Italy by Betty, the woman he once loved, and her husband, Leo, a hack writer for a Chicago daily. Within the building’s walls an entire history of the print news business plays out over a 50-year span as writers, editors, and accountants grow in professional stature, squander their reputations, and fade into obsolescence. A former editor for the Paris branch of the International Herald Tribune, Rachman makes outstanding use of his credentials to place readers in the center of a newsroom so palpable one can hear the typewriters clacking and feel the uncomfortable undercurrent of professional jealousy among the writers jockeying for position. Navigating the minefields of relationships, parenthood, loneliness, and failure, each realistically imperfect character, developed through intimate, candid detail, becomes a story unto himself (or herself). With its evocative Italian setting and its timely handling of an industry in flux, this polished, sophisticated debut can be relished in one sitting or read piecemeal as a satisfying series of vignettes linked by historical references to the Ott family empire. — Library Journal
When Death tells a story, you pay attention. Liesel Meminger is a young girl growing up outside of Munich in Nazi Germany, and Death tells her story as “an attempt–a flying jump of an attempt–to prove to me that you, and your human existence, are worth it.” When her foster father helps her learn to read and she discovers the power of words, Liesel begins stealing books from Nazi book burnings and the mayor’s wife’s library. As she becomes a better reader, she becomes a writer, writing a book about her life in such a miserable time. Liesel’s experiences move Death to say, “I am haunted by humans.” How could the human race be “so ugly and so glorious” at the same time? This big, expansive novel is a leisurely working out of fate, of seemingly chance encounters and events that ultimately touch, like dominoes as they collide. The writing is elegant, philosophical and moving. Even at its length, it’s a work to read slowly and savor. Beautiful and important. — Kirkus Reviews