November 23, 2013 by Reader's Connection
Our last discussions of the year will focus on three holiday stories, two mysteries, two historical novels, and any number of books about the joys and perils of family life.
Adrift and depressed in the summer of 1997,Owen Keane heads to Kenya, at the urging of a mutual friend, to help out Father Philip Swickard, a former seminary classmate. Father Swickard has been quite vocal with his opinions, and his priestly stature doesn’t give him immunity in Kenya’s unsettled political climate. Locally, the recent appearance of a mysterious man claiming to be the reincarnation of a long-dead chief, Wauki (killed in the late 1800s by the British), has heightened tension. Then there’s a sword that’s been stolen from a retired British schoolteacher, a longtime resident . . . Owen listens, solves the mystery, and rediscovers purpose in his life. VERDICT Readers are transported immediately into Kenya’s border region by Faherty’s graceful prose. His unhappy protagonist may be uncertain, but he’s profoundly curious. — Library Journal
Hoffman makes ancient history live and breathe in this compelling story, set in 70 CE, detailing the siege of the mountain stronghold Masada, where 900 Jews held out for months against the Romans. Hoffman’s novel follows four extraordinary women. Red-haired Yael has long been shunned by her father, a renowned assassin, because of her mother’s death in childbirth. Forced to flee from Jerusalem, she makes a tortuous journey across the desert, during which she becomes involved with a married man, and after finally reaching Masada, is assigned to the dovecote, where she meets three charismatic women: Revka, a baker’s wife who witnessed her daughter’s horrific death at the hands of Roman soldiers; Shirah, a tattooed wisewoman; and Shirah’s daughter Aziza, a warrior of uncommon skill. Forced to deal with the outside forces intent on eradicating them and with their people’s patriarchal system, which is quick to condemn unconventional behavior, the women draw great strength from their own inner resources and from each other. This is both a feminist manifesto and a deeply felt tribute to courageous men and women of faith, told with the cadence and imagery of a biblical passage. — Booklist
Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby. Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved. Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement. — Random House
Henry Winkler’s I’ve Never Met an Idiot on the River : Reflections on Family, Photography, and Fly-Fishing will be discussed at the Warren Library on Thursday, December 5th at 10:30 a.m. The Maltese Falcon, as it turns out, will not be read until April.
Actor, director, and children’s author Winkler offers an amalgam of memoir, self-help, fishing, and photography in this slim, illustrated volume. Born to German immigrant parents in Manhattan, Winkler had undiagnosed dyslexia that wreaked havoc on his early education and self-esteem (his parents calling him “dumb dog” didn’t help either), yet he managed to graduate college, earn a drama master’s from Yale, get film work, and land a career-defining role on a popular sitcom. An invite from a friend introduced Winkler to fly-fishing; he was instantly smitten. Fly-fishing became his overwhelming passion, and his angling jaunts to the trout heaven of Montana’s rivers became an annual ritual. The majestic scenery surrounding the water led to an interest in nature photography (the book sports numerous pix). Winkler’s message is positive and upbeat, making the book as much a motivational title as a fishing memoir . . . Well done, Henry.– Library Journal
THE SHARED READING GROUP AT SPADES PARK WILL PROBABLY FINISH MOBY DICK IN DECEMBER! I SAW FRED AT THE BOOK SALE, THIS WEEK, AND HE SAID . . .
I’m sorry. Have to collect myself. Just meant to say that the Shared Reading Group at Spades Park will read from Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, will discuss what they’ve read, will enjoy some refreshments, and will read a poem, on Friday mornings, December 6th, 13th, 20th, and probably even 27th, from 10:00 until 11:30.
Fred thinks they’re going to read The Scarlet Letter next. It’s a great time for new members to join.
And I just heard from Fred that Anja, “our glorious founder and fearless leader,” is back on a regular basis. Hurrah.
Best-selling author Evans takes the biblical story of Joseph and transposes it to contemporary times in Denver, Chicago and New York. This novel turns biblical archetypes into authentic, believable characters and uses an interesting and credible plot to convey an important message. Joseph Jacobson, or J.J as he likes to be called, is his father’s 12th son, one of two sons born of his father’s fourth wife. His 11 brothers are jealous of him because he is also his father’s favorite. The biblical coat of many colors is, in this modern tale, the father’s Navy flight jacket from Vietnam decorated with the colorful patches of his deployment. Joseph’s father chose to give him this precious gift at a family dinner on the same night he celebrated his favorite son’s success in saving an account for the family advertising firm. And so the story begins. The oldest brothers find a way to banish their hated younger brother . . . Readers will relate to these characters, be moved to tears and laughter by them, and most importantly, be inspired by them. If you know how the biblical story ends, it won’t spoil anything for you to know that this book has a happy ending. Getting there is a journey you should definitely take. — Kirkus Reviews
Mean Girls gets an urban makeover in this bleak rags-to-riches tale from Bryant. Four high-school friends from hardscrabble Newark, N.J., drift apart as they elbow their way to success. Monica goes from ruthless mistress to savvy CEO of an investment firm with celebrity clients; hard-hearted Keesha sheds a drug habit, bad men, and an abusive mom to raise a caring daughter and become a promising author; Latoya survives her domineering religious family and promiscuous past only to get hooked on pills and endure a loveless marriage to an ambitious minister; and Danielle defies her foster-care upbringing to become a successful TV career woman, but loses her true love. Each woman guards an ugly secret that threatens her carefully calculated life . . . Bryant . . . gives these sexy, fearless women a razor-sharp edge that reveals admirable grit and honesty. — Publishers Weekly
Word by word, metaphor by metaphor, McDermott writes the most exquisitely perceptive and atmospheric fiction published today . . . In her sixth and most commanding novel, National Book Award-winning McDermott continues to till her verdant fictional home ground, Irish-Catholic family life on Long Island, in an extraordinarily refined through-the-decades family saga. The story begins as Mary steps out of church on a wildly windy day at the close of World War II and hurries into a diner, never imagining as she sits at the counter that she will soon marry the stranger beside her and with him raise two sons and two daughters. As their lives unfold, every beautifully rendered occurrence resonates deeply on both personal and social planes, from a tree toppled by a hurricane to quietly hilarious classroom scenes; a premature birth, an abortion, and a high-school pregnancy; a visit to the 1964 World’s Fair to see Michelangelo’s Pieta; a son serving in Vietnam; and a life-changing college year abroad . . . McDermott elucidates all that changes and all that endures with wondrous specificity and plentitude of heart. — Booklist
Lamb offers up a charmingly nostalgic tale for the holidays. Felix Funicello, a distinguished professor of film studies, recalls an eventful fall. In 1964, he was a mischievous fifth-grader who spent his days getting into trouble with his best friend, Lonny, and fantasizing about his third cousin, actress Annette Funicello, whose poster graced the wall of Felix’s family’s bus-station diner. A well-meaning scamp, Felix inadvertently causes Sister Dymphyna, his teacher, to have a breakdown when he scares a bat out of hiding during class. The vibrant Madame Marguerite takes over the class and shakes things up, as does the arrival of a new student: the bawdy and daring Zhenya, whose thick accent, colorful language, and athletic prowess make her a hit with the boys. Big things loom for Felix–his mother is going to be in a televised baking contest, and he’ll be in the Christmas nativity play, then a calamity provides him with an unexpected chance to shine. Sweet and old-fashioned, Lamb’s Christmas yarn will appeal to readers wistful for more-innocent days. — Booklist
Self-published in paperback during the Christmas season 1994, Evans’s first novel quickly gained national media attention. Now the cleverly told tale, which the author reputedly wrote for his daughters . . . is available in hardcover. The story relates how a young couple, Richard (who narrates) and Keri, accept a position to care for a lonely widow, Mary Parkin, in her spacious Victorian mansion. As Christmas draws near, Mary becomes anxious about Richard’s obsession with success and his failure to make time for his family. She urges him to reconsider his priorities, but he is always too busy to heed her advice. — Publishers Weekly, 1995
Walls, who spent years trying to hide her childhood experiences, allows the story to spill out in this remarkable recollection of growing up. From her current perspective as a contributor to MSNBC online, she remembers the poverty, hunger, jokes, and bullying she and her siblings endured, and she looks back at her parents: her flighty, self-indulgent mother, a Pollyanna unwilling to assume the responsibilities of parenting, and her father, troubled, brilliant Rex, whose ability to turn his family’s downward-spiraling circumstances into adventures allowed his children to excuse his imperfections until they grew old enough to understand what he had done to them–and to himself. His grand plans to build a home for the family never evolved: the hole for the foundation of the “The Glass Castle,” as the dream house was called, became the family garbage dump, and, of course, a metaphor for Rex Walls’ life. Shocking, sad, and occasionally bitter, this gracefully written account speaks candidly, yet with surprising affection, about parents and about the strength of family ties–for both good and ill. — Booklist
Amina grew up in Bangladesh, and her family always dreamed of sending her to the United States. She gets her chance when she meets George, an engineer in Rochester, NY, on an online dating site. As Amina adjusts to married life with the kind but somewhat rigid George, she slowly assimilates to American culture while planning to bring her parents to Rochester. Family feuds in Bangladesh, a rough patch in her marriage, and the economic downturn put this plan in jeopardy. With delicate precision, Freudenberger . . .slowly builds a story that feels utterly real and present. The subtle and detailed observation of human relations is reminiscent of Alice Munro, and the bittersweet humor and struggles of modern immigrant life are captured in a manner similar to the work of Bharati Mukherjee . . . Highly recommended. — Library Journal
Portal, the Indianapolis Science Fiction and Fantasy Discussion Group, will meet at the Glendale Library on Sunday, December 22nd from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. The theme this month will be “The Best of 2013?: Discuss the F&SF Award Winners for 2013”.