April 29, 2015 by Reader's Connection
How did human beings figure out what the universe is made of, and how it’s evolving? Heart of Darkness : Unraveling the Mysteries of the Invisible Universe, by Jeremiah P. Ostriker and Simon Mitton, is aimed in part at people who don’t do well with science. I’m still faking it with regard to their equations, but the authors give a nice history of cosmology.
They have helped me understand that there’s unseeable stuff out there–dark matter, dark energy–without which our universe would be collapsing. If I don’t have that right, don’t blame them.
What started out three-quarters of a century ago as an apparently mad conjecture by an eccentric astronomer (and was ignored for almost four decades) has now been tested and confirmed by numerous different methods and innumerable observational tests; and they all conspire to give essentially the same answer. There really is some strange substance, which we call dark matter, which acts gravitationally just like ordinary matter, but does not seem to interact either with light, or with itself, or with normal matter in any other way except through gravity. It has been present since (at least) the cosmic background radiation was formed, and it is roughly six times more abundant than ordinary matter. But what is it really? The answer to this important question is easy! We do not know.
Click on the image to reach the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which was the source of the image and its descripton.
Remember pet rocks? I never got into those, but I look forward to a time when I can keep a glob of dark matter in the fridge.
There aren’t any science book categories on the Read Harder Challenge. Heart of Darkness still qualifies, though, as “a book that someone else has recommended to” me. Poet Alicia Ostriker isn’t a friend of mine, but I saw her at Butler a couple years ago, and she was a delight. When I got this poem in the mail, I thought I should read her husband’s book.
Category Book Review, Poem | Tags: Alicia Suskin Ostriker, Dark Matter and Dark Energy, Heart of Darkness: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Invisible Universe, Jeremiah P. Ostriker, Simon Mitton, Sloan Digital Sky Survey
April 26, 2015 by Reader's Connection
May, in addition to being Race Month in our city, is National Salad Month–a fact that is being observed at the Nora Library–and National Date Your Mate Month, which I shall try to observe in a personal way. Happy Cinco de Mayo. Have a good May. Read a good book.
Willam Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! will continue to be read aloud and discussed by the Shared Reading Group at Spades Park Library, on Fridays–May 1st, 8th, 15th, 22nd and 29th–from 10:00 to 11:30 a.m.
Which will be the most fascinating aspect of the hour: Faulkner’s strange novel, read aloud by your fellows in the group; the group discussion; the poem that is read aloud, or the refreshments that you eat? Only attendees will be able to answer that question.
The What Would Jane Austen Read? Book Club will meet at the College Avenue Library on Monday, May 4th at 1:30 p.m.
This is a group that reads selections of 18th century literature that Jane Austen might have read. Well-known novels of Burney, Edgeworth, Fielding, Defoe, Sterne and others formed our earliest reading. If you enjoy Jane Austen, you may like some of the writers who influenced her. We now are reading lesser-known works which were popular in her day . . . As these are sometimes obscure works, the library often doesn’t have copies, so our members have to use on-line sources, purchase second hand copies (under $5) or use interlibrary loan to obtain the books. — Group facilitator Elizabeth K. Jarvis
“Pastries, Pies & Sweets” will be the theme for Glendale Library‘s Cooking Chats in May. On Monday, May 4th, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. Chef Paul Vida, Program Coordinator of Baking and Pastry Arts for the Ivy Tech program, will be the special guest.
Please call 275-4410 to register for this program. You can come and talk about any cookbook or recipe, but Librarian Jan Swan thought that these three looked like fun:
Pie it Forward by Gesine Bullock-Prado
Deliciously Healthy Sweets by Yael Avital
Pies Savory and Sweet by Caroline Bretherton
Who wouldn’t want to go on a trip around the world? When best-selling novelist Sparks receives a travel brochure from his alma mater, Notre Dame, he thinks, “If not now, then when?” and asks his brother to join him. They both have family obligations, but this sounds like the trip of a lifetime, and as the reader soon finds out, they both need to relax. As they journey to faraway places, the brothers reminisce about their unusual childhood. Instead of the idealistic life readers may imagine, their early years were marked by poverty, although redeemed by their mother’s great love. Their father was a graduate student working several jobs to support the family, and the boys, best friends as well as brothers, led an independent life filled with adventure, derring-do, and responsibilities beyond their years. This is a rare opportunity for readers to get to know a favorite author as Nicholas reveals the inspirations for his fiction. A must-read for Sparks fans as well as a treat for those who want to find out what makes a family strong. — Booklist
Lina Sparrow, the daughter of two moderately successful artists, is a New York attorney. In 2004, she is assigned the career-making job of discovering a living person with American-slave ancestry for a class-action suit seeking reparations for abuse and bondage. Josephine Bell, a 17-year-old house slave in antebellum Virginia in 1852, tends her mistress Lu Anne Bell, a mediocre artist, and dreams of freedom. Conklin switches between the two women’s viewpoints as she slowly reveals the identity of the painter responsible for poignant works representing the people, free and enslaved, of Bell Creek Plantation. VERDICT Simultaneously telling the stories of two women separated in time by 150 years, the author slowly builds a suspenseful and dramatic revelation of their deep connection across the decades. Conklin’s debut is a seamless juxtaposition of past and present, of the lives of two women, and of the redemptive nature of art and the search for truth and justice. Guaranteed to keep readers up long past their bedtimes. — Library Journal
Brooks, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her Civil War novel, March, here imagines the life of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk, the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. The story is told by Bethia Mayfield, the daughter of a preacher who traveled from England to Martha’s Vineyard to try and “bring Christ to the Indians.” In 1660, when Bethia is 12, the family takes Caleb, a Wampanoag Indian, into their home to prepare him for boarding school. Bethia is a bright scholar herself, and though education for women is discouraged, she absorbs the lessons taught to Caleb and her brother Makepeace like a sponge. She struggles through the deaths of her mother, a younger sister, another brother, and her father. When Caleb and Makepeace are sent to Cambridge, Bethia accompanies them as an indentured servant to a professor. She marries a Harvard scholar, journeys with him to Padua, and finally returns to her beloved island. In flashbacks, Brooks relates the woes of the Indian Wars, the smallpox epidemic, and Caleb’s untimely death shortly after his graduation with honors. Brooks has an uncanny ability to reconstruct each moment of the history she so thoroughly researched in stunningly lyrical prose, and her characters are to be cherished. — Booklist
Mary Neal’s To Heaven and Back: A Doctor’s Extraordinary Account of Her Death, Heaven, Angels, and Life Again: A True Story will be discussed at the Warren Library on Thursday, May 7th at 10:30 a.m.
In 1999 in the Los Rios region of southern Chile, orthopedic surgeon, devoted wife, and loving mother Dr. Mary Neal drowned in a kayak accident. While cascading down a waterfall, her kayak became pinned at the bottom and she was immediately and completely submerged. Despite the rescue efforts of her companions, Mary was underwater for too long, and as a result, died. To Heaven and Back is Mary’s remarkable story of her life’s spiritual journey and what happened as she moved from life to death to eternal life, and back again. Detailing her feelings and surroundings in heaven, her communication with angels, and her deep sense of sadness when she realized it wasn’t her time, Mary shares the captivating experience of her modern-day miracle.
Mary’s life has been forever changed by her newfound understanding of her purpose on earth, her awareness of God, her closer relationship with Jesus, and her personal spiritual journey suddenly enhanced by a first-hand experience in heaven.To Heaven and Back will reacquaint you with the hope, wonder, and promise of heaven, while enriching you own faith and walk with God. — Publisher’s note
The Sacrifice is set in 1987 in a poor African American neighborhood in a racially divided New Jersey city, where Ednetta, as distraught and wailing as a character in a Greek tragedy, is haunting the streets, asking everyone she comes across if they’ve seen her 14-year-old daughter, Sybilla (which means prophetess or oracle). We quickly learn that Ednetta dropped out of high school when she had her first child at 16 and that she has been living with a notoriously volatile and unfaithful man, Anis, who did time for murdering his wife. Sybilla is soon found by Ada, a courageous substitute teacher who ventures into the foul basement of a long-abandoned riverside factory when she hears a faint cry. The girl, whom Ada remembers as “sassy and impudent,” is on the floor, tied up and smeared with feces. She has been beaten, and her face is swollen. Racial slurs have been scrawled on her torso. Many readers will recognize this as a variation on the still controversial 1987 Tawana Brawley case, in which a New York State teen found in a similar condition claimed to have been raped and abused by white men, including a police officer and prosecutor. Accordingly, Sybilla insists that “white cops” abducted and raped her. And just as Brawley drew the very public support of Reverend Al Sharpton, Sybilla is championed by the meticulously tailored and coiffed firebrand, Reverend Marcus Mudrick, who woos the traumatized mother and daughter with roses and limousines as he turns Sybilla’s alleged attack into a cause célèbre and money magnet. Using Brawley’s complexly distressing story as an armature, Oates builds her own gripping tale of how the horrific legacy of slavery has poisoned family relationships and fueled police brutality against African Americans. — Booklist
Full-immersion journalist Kidder tries valiantly to keep up with a front-line, muddy-and-bloody general in the war against infectious disease in Haiti and elsewhere. The author occasionally confesses to weariness in this gripping account–and why not? Paul Farmer, who has an M.D. and a Ph.D. from Harvard, appears to be almost preternaturally intelligent, productive, energetic, and devoted to his causes. So trotting alongside him up Haitian hills, through international airports and Siberian prisons and Cuban clinics, may be beyond the capacity of a mere mortal. Kidder begins with a swift account of his first meeting with Farmer in Haiti while working on a story about American soldiers, then describes his initial visit to the doctor’s clinic, where the journalist felt he’d “encountered a miracle.” Employing guile, grit, grins, and gifts from generous donors . . . Farmer has created an oasis in Haiti where TB and AIDS meet their Waterloos . . . Skilled and graceful exploration of the soul of an astonishing human being. — Kirkus Reviews
Koppel explores the cohesiveness of a group of wives who formed an unofficial support group and their individual development during the early years of the Cold War. With the announcement on April 9, 1959, of the “nation’s first astronauts,” the women’s lives changed, as they became instant celebrities along with their husbands. From Project Mercury to the Apollo program and the moon landings, the author traces how the lives of the wives of the original astronauts were transformed by these developments. Ubiquitous reporters, anxious to cover their most intimate moments, and their new status as American icons, intruded into every aspect of their daily lives. Being impeccably groomed became yet another challenge to their existence as de facto single mothers; their husbands were away training for their missions into space. Although they were familiar with the typical stresses facing the wives of career military officers–their husbands’ long absences (sometimes on dangerous missions), poor pay, dismal living quarters, frequent moves and more–this public exposure was a first. They had their own part to play in a less obvious aspect of winning the Cold War: the public-relations offensive. — Kirkus Reviews
In coordination with the production of Tom Horan’s play “Typhoid Mary” at the Phoenix Theatre, there will be a discussion Mary Beth Keane’s novel Fever following the 2:00 p.m. performance of the play on Sunday, May 17.
Discounted tickets ($20) to the play are available by calling 317-635-7539 or by entering the promo code “Fever” at phoenixtheatre.org.
In this compelling historical novel, the infamous Typhoid Mary is given great depth and humanity by the gifted Keane. Irish immigrant Mary Mallon is eager to better her station in life and unafraid of hard work. When she is finally made a head cook, she is hired by some of the best families in Manhattan but unwittingly leaves a trail of disease in her wake. A “medical engineer” ultimately identifies her as a healthy carrier of typhoid fever and quarantines her on North Brother Island, where she is separated from her lifelong companion, Alfred Briehof, and forced to live in isolation. She is released three years later under the condition that she never cook again. But her inability to understand her condition, her passion for cooking, and the income she had become used to all conspire to lure her back into the kitchen. Keane not only makes of the headstrong Mary a sympathetic figure, she also brings the New York City of the early twentieth century to teeming life . . . — Booklist
Fever is also on order as an audiobook on CD.
On Monday, May 18th, at 6:00 p.m. the Nora Library‘s Cookbook Discussion Program will focus on cookbooks about salads. Find and read a cookbook that fits this theme, pick up a review form at Nora and bring it to the meeting. Feel free to make a recipe from the cookbook and bring samples to share.
Chef Brad Nehrt, Culinary Arts Director at the J. Everett Light Career Center will be the special guest.
Registration is required for this program. Please call 317-275-4470.
(BLOGGER INVASION ALERT: Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem, pictured here, doesn’t really qualify as a salad cookbook, but I, your blogger, have shoehorned it in here because the baby spinach and date & almond salad in that book is incredible, and my wife says it’s easy to make. She says that many of the recipes in Jerusalem have multiple weird ingredients, but the only weird one in this salad is powdered sumac, which you can find at Saraga International Grocery, and no doubt elsewhere.)
Three generations of Whitshanks have lived in the family home in Baltimore since the 1920s, in which they have loved, squabbled, protected secrets, had children, and, in some cases, led inauthentic lives. Using her signature gifts for brilliant dialog and for intricately framing the complex messiness of parental and spousal relationships, Tyler beautifully untangles the threads that bind and sometimes choke all of them, especially Red and Abby, the last Whitshank homestead occupants. In 2012, Red and Abby are in their late 70s, and their fractious children rally to the modern dilemma of the sandwich generation–caring for aging resistant parents in their home safely, while raising their own children. VERDICT It’s been half a century since Tyler debuted with If Morning Ever Comes, and her writing has lost none of the freshness and timelessness that has earned her countless awards and accolades. Now 73, she continues to dazzle with this multigenerational saga, which glides back and forth in time with humor and heart and a pragmatic wisdom that comforts and instructs. — Library Journal
Paul Baumer enlisted with his classmates in the German army of World War I. Youthful, enthusiastic, they become soldiers. But despite what they have learned, they break into pieces under the first bombardment in the trenches. And as horrible war plods on year after year, Paul holds fast to a single vow: to fight against the principles of hate that meaninglessly pit young men of the same generation but different uniforms against each other–if only he can come out of the war alive. — Publisher’s note
All people are interesting if we only know their story. When readers first meet Marie Commeford, she is seven years old, waiting on the steps for her father to return to their Brooklyn home. From a chance encounter with a hapless neighbor girl that same day to her parents’ deaths, through World War II, Marie’s first sexual encounter, marriage and children, to her brother’s sudden departure from the priesthood, this novel moves from one emotionally rich touch point to the next in a nonlinear narrative that echoes memory itself. Winner of the National Book Award for Charming Billy, novelist McDermott continues to captivate readers by delving into ordinary, daily life with skill and compassion, showing us that we can’t always see at the time what will be meaningful in our lives. — Library Journal
Ellen Cooney’s The Mountaintop School for Dogs and Other Second Chances will be discussed at the Spades Park Library on Wednesday, May 27th at 6:00 p.m.
If abandon is one of the saddest words in the English language, then rescue must surely be among the happiest. At the Sanctuary, a secluded mountaintop refuge, abused dogs find shelter and retraining at the hands of a ragtag group of outcasts who, one suspects, at one point in their lives experienced something dire to which the dogs can relate. The newest recruit to the volunteer staff is Evie, a twentysomething former grad student and cocaine addict who applies to the Sanctuary straight out of rehab. With no family or friends to fall back on, Evie finds her new tribe in the Rottweilers and retrievers who are still learning to trust people, as is she. Under the steely care of an uncommunicative housekeeper and the stern tutelage of a group of former nuns, Evie begins to blossom into a caring, confident, and courageous young woman. As knowledgeable as she is about the world of dog rescue and rehabilitation, Cooney (Lambrusco, 2008) is equally empathic in her treatment of a scarred and scared young woman. — Booklist
Portal, the Indianapolis Science Fiction and Fantasy Discussion Group, had its third birthday in April. The group will meet at the Glendale Library on Sunday, May 31st at 1:00 p.m. (That’s the 5th Sunday instead of the 4th because the library will be closed for the Memorial Day weekend.) The open topic for this program will be “I Ain’t Got No Body.”
April 22, 2015 by Reader's Connection
These flowers (if you’ve opened the blog) were photographed at the Garfield Park Library on Earth Day in 2013, which technically makes them April flowers; but I’m still going to use them to welcome the month of May, and to welcome these ten new books.
A young girl is unexpectedly uprooted from her family and becomes involved in a centuries-old battle with The Wood, a malevolent entity which destroys anyone it touches. Fast-paced, with magic, mystery and romance, Novik’s stand-alone novel is a fairy tale for adults. — Lucy Lockley, St. Charles City-County Library, St. Peters, MO
A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas
The human world is in peril. Feyre, a semi-literate girl, hunts for her family’s survival. After she kills an enormous wolf, a fierce fey shows up at her doorstep seeking retribution. Feyre is led to beautiful eternal springs, but the journey is not without danger. Maas masterfully pulls the reader into this new dark fantasy series which feels like a mix of fairy tales, from “Beauty and the Beast” to “Tam Lin.” — Jessica C. Williams, Westlake Porter Public Library, Westlake, OH
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
In A God in Ruins, we become reacquainted with Teddy Todd, the beloved little brother of Ursula from Atkinson’s last book. As with Life After Life, this novel skims back and forth in time, and we see the last half of the 20th century through Ted’s eyes and the eyes of his loved ones. At times funny and at others heartbreaking, Atkinson revels in the beauty and horror of life in all its messiness. — Jennifer Dayton, Darien Library, Darien, CT
The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi
Bacigalupi’s novel looks at the possible struggle for water rights in the southwestern United States. Reading Bacigalupi’s novel made me thankful for the current easy access to clean drinking water, yet fearful for our future. A great read for any fan of dystopian fiction. — Lindsay Atwood, Chandler Public Library, Chandler, AZ
The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza
The Knockoff is a digital-age mash-up of old-school movies The Women and All About Eve, set in The Devil Wears Prada‘s world of a high fashion magazine. I absolutely loved this fresh, charming, addictive and ultimately heroic story of 40-something cancer survivor Imogen’s quest to rescue and rebuild her career, despite the machinations of a younger tech-wiz rival. — Janet Schneider, Bryant Library, Roslyn, NY
Early Warning by Jane Smiley
In the second book of the Langdon trilogy, the Pulitzer Prize winning novelist follows the next generation of the unforgettable Iowa family introduced in Some Luck. Beginning with the death of the patriarch Walter in 1953, Smiley chronicles the social consciousness in America of the 1960s. The book goes up to events in the 1970s and early 1980s that touch each family member in unforeseen ways. — Jennifer Winberry, Hunterdon County Library, Flemington, NJ
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
Stephenson’s back in fine form with this hard science fiction masterpiece, combining the detail of Cryptonomicon with the fast-paced action of Reamde. Fans of Anathem will appreciate Stephenson’s speculation about the possibilities of human evolution. This book is a great follow-up for readers who enjoyed the science of Weir’s The Martian. I heartily recommend Seveneves to SF readers. — Keith Hayes, Wake County Public Libraries, Cary, NC
The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths
Griffiths has written another strong entry in her excellent Ruth Galloway series. Here, Ruth is called in when a World War II plane is excavated, complete with pilot–but the pilot is in the wrong plane. Strong characters combine with an absorbing puzzle to create a hard-to-put-down mystery. — Beth Mills, New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle, NY
Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
Beautiful, elegant and poignant, this novel is a distilled experience of Haruf’s writing. The story of how two elders attempt to poke at the loneliness and isolation that surrounds them will stick with me for a long time to come. I’m amazed at how Haruf says so much with such spare prose. He will be missed. — Alison Kastner, Multnomah County Library, Portland, OR
Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton
Set in the Falkland Islands, this novel grabs you from the opening paragraph. A child is missing, and he’s not the first. The incident sets off a chain of events leading to multiple characters confessing to murder. Accustomed to living in an idyllic community, fear and anger escalate among the locals. Bolton has created a page-turner of a story with a surprise ending. — Elizabeth Kanouse, Denville Public Library, Denville, NJ
April 20, 2015 by Reader's Connection
Hot dog! Elizabeth Kolbert’s book The Sixth Extinction has won the Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. I’m happy because I actually read the book, and I’m usually so out of touch.
Here are some categories whose winners are currently owned by the library. Go to the Pulitzer Prize website for winners and finalists in all categories, including drama, poetry and journalism.
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
A novel to live in, learn from, and feel bereft over when the last page is turned, Doerr’s magnificently drawn story seems at once spacious and tightly composed. It rests, historically, during the occupation of France during WWII, but brief chapters told in alternating voices give the overall–and long–narrative a swift movement through time and events. We have two main characters, each one on opposite sides in the conflagration that is destroying Europe. Marie-Louise is a sightless girl who lived with her father in Paris before the occupation; he was a master locksmith for the Museum of Natural History. When German forces necessitate abandonment of the city, Marie-Louise’s father, taking with him the museum’s greatest treasure, removes himself and his daughter and eventually arrives at his uncle’s house in the coastal city of Saint-Malo. Young German soldier Werner is sent to Saint-Malo to track Resistance activity there, and eventually, and inevitably, Marie-Louise’s and Werner’s paths cross. It is through their individual and intertwined tales that Doerr masterfully and knowledgeably re-creates the deprived civilian conditions of war-torn France and the strictly controlled lives of the military occupiers. — Booklist
Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People by Elizabeth A. Fenn
It has been decades since the Mandan, who inhabited the Northern Plains in what is now North Dakota, were the sole subjects of a scholarly study, probably owing to the dearth of pre-19th-century documentation. Using data-culled records across such diverse fields as anthropology, archaeology, climatology, and epidemiology, Fenn has succeeded in reconstructing the history of the Mandan from approximately 1100 CE to the mid-1800s. She reveals their central role in the Native American trade networks of the Great Plains over centuries. During that time, they were usually very adaptable to their evolving surroundings, including to climate change and to invasive species (e.g., Norway rats) from Europe. But they also confronted introduced diseases, such as smallpox. Fenn vividly illustrates how the Mandan managed to thrive until the end of the 18th century and then explains how disease, rats, and American westward expansion led them to near total societal and population collapse over approximately 50 years. VERDICT This is the finest study on the Mandan available and is a must-read for those interested in Native American studies or American history. — Library Journal
Encounters at the Heart of the World is also available as a downloadable e-book.
The 2002 public release of the archives of Pius XI’s papacy revealed a trove of historical treasures that Brown University professor Kertzer found “irresistible.” He brings to life an intriguing and unlikely alliance of two powerful individuals, using extensive primary sources from both sides. Whether or not it was truly a partnership is suspect, but they undoubtedly needed each other’s cooperation. The reader is taken inside the papacy in incredible detail, exposing the Vatican’s inner workings, from the Pope’s schedule to what he kept on his desk, to the knife’s-edge particulars of dealing with Mussolini. The insidious way that Il Duce was able to create his dictatorship predates the rise of Hitler in Germany, though their stories possess remarkable parallels. Mussolini’s numerous love affairs offer interesting asides as the myriad intricacies of world-historical events like the Lateran Accords–which ended decades of antagonism between Italy and the Vatican, while establishing the latter’s sovereignty–play out. Kertzer unravels the relationship between two of 20th-century Europe’s most important political figures and does so in an accessible style that makes for a fast-paced must-read. — Publishers Weekly
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert
Why settle for a mere review when you can click here and read my blog post about this book?
April 18, 2015 by Reader's Connection
Nicole McMillan is the head honcho of McMillan Suppression, a company that hires out to extinguish oil field fires. She was once out there herself, suppressing the fires, but was injured on the job. She is terrified of fires, now, and feels that her scarred body prevents her from being intimate with another woman. Her love life is over.
Brady Stewart is one of McMillan Suppression’s fire-fighters. When she and Nicole meet, they are immediately attracted to one another, and when I finished Chapter Two of Julie Cannon’s Smoke and Fire, I knew how the book was going to end. So do you.
I wanted the second love story I read this year to be different than the first, not because I disliked Beth Kendrick’s New Uses for Old Boyfriends, but for variety’s sake. And Smoke and Fire covers more ground than the Kendrick book.
I assume that Julie Cannon did some research, and that the “blowout” suppression techniques at the oil fields are described more or less authentically.
And Smoke and Fire is more adventurous in human terms. The two women with financial problems in New Uses are a lovely one-time TV personality and her mom, a lovely ex-model. Brady Stewart, while attractive, is sometimes mistaken for a man (doesn’t bother her) was brought up to think of herself as trash (didn’t work), and will be risking a lot if she makes a pass at her boss; and Nicole’s disfigurement has, to her way of thinking, locked her away.
Also: the supportive side characters in New Uses felt to me as though they’d been molded from chick-flick putty. I suppose Brady Stewart’s supportive landlady is made to order, too, but I find her endearing. Here’s Mrs Coughlin, grilling Brady when she returns from an encounter with Nicole.
“A rental? You rent a fancy car and drive all the way to Morgan City to take this woman out to dinner, and you still mean to tell me it’s nothing special?”
“I couldn’t pick her up in my truck.”
“Why not? It’s been good enough for all your other women.”
“Well, she’s not like all the other women.”
“I knew it.” Mrs. C slapped her hand on the Formica tabletop. “I knew it. You haven’t been yourself since you got back from that safety award. Is that where you met her?”
“Yes,” Brady said patiently.
“Well, it’s good that you two have something in common. Other than the fact that you both like girls.”
Brady didn’t try to hold in her laughter. At seventy-eight Mrs. C was more liberal and un-homophobic than women half her age. She wasn’t shy. She’d asked Brady all kinds of personal questions about lesbians when she first moved in because “it’s just something I don’t know anything about.” Mrs C was very concerned about keeping her mind active in her retirement years.
Having said these things, I should point out that Beth Kendrick is a better writer than Julie Cannon, and probably has a better editor.
There’s more explicit sex in Smoke and Fire, and Cannon hasn’t developed a new language for writing about desire, so we spend more time reading things like the nerves under her skin were firing on all cylinders. Kendrick may have included stuff like that, too, but I don’t remember there being so much.
POP QUIZ: Which of these is weirder?
1. Still fuming, Nicole changed her reservation and caught an early flight out, and the next evening sweat dripped off the tip of her nose.
2. Edward looked at his red beard in the tableknife. Then Edward and Pia went to Sweden, to the farm.
The first one is obviously from Fire and Smoke. The second is from Donald Barthelme’s story “Edward and Pia” from Unspeakable Practices, Unnatural Acts. Barthelme is playing games with our expectations about the way narrative information should be dispensed, as in: New developments like going to Sweden deserve at least a new paragraph.
Julie Cannon may have meant her sentence to be a dramatic fusion of times and places, but I think it’s goofy. (The sweat isn’t dripping from the tip of Nicole’s nose during a love scene, FYI.)
More importantly, we have this, when Nicole has accepted an invitation to dinner from Brady:
As much as Nicole didn’t want to, she was attracted to Brady, and she had a strong suspicion that attraction went both ways.
Brady has asked Nicole out to dinner, the two women have been dancing twice, Nicole has seen “the burning desire in Brady’s eyes” and has told her shrink that there’s a mutual attraction. What is this strong suspicion crap doing on page 170?
And on page 160:
The conversation had shied away from being personal, and Brady wanted to know what was behind the sadness in Nicole’s eyes. She leaped. “What about a girl friend?”
Nicole’s eyes shot up and Brady felt like she’d crashed and burned. She didn’t give up, even though this could be a career-limiting move. “It’s common knowledge you had a girlfriend.”
“And is it common knowledge that she walked out on me?”Nicole asked angrily.
“I don’t follow or believe gossip.”
Nicole’s ex-girlfriend, Gina, who ditched Nicole after her accident, has appeared in the novel thirty pages earlier. Brady has had a look at her, and has told Nicole that Gina “is an idiot if she let you go.” The above passage makes no sense where it’s placed.
I have the uneasy feeling that Cannon wrote passages which were wadded in as needed, to give readers cooling-off time between erotic moments.
But I’ve already indicated that I enjoyed the book. Each woman grows up a bit, as is appropriate in a romance. Or at least the main woman grew up in New Uses for Old Boyfriends. THIS SPOILER ALERT IS NOT IN REGARD TO SMOKE AND FIRE, SINCE YOU ALREADY KNOW WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN. IT IS IN REGARD TO A CHARLES DICKENS NOVEL. AND BE WARNED: THE GHOST OF CHARLES DICKENS WILL PROBABLY HAUNT ME AFTER I WRITE THIS, AND HE MAY HAUNT YOU, TOO, JUST FOR READING IT. Smoke and Fire‘s inevitable ending worked for me. The closing scene reminded me of developments at the end of Bleak House, though of course Dickens was less explicit. END OF ALERT.
Smoke and Fire is also available as a downloadable e-book.