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Description: A goldfish named Ian is falling from the 27th-floor balcony on which his fishbowl sits. He’s longed for adventure, so when the opportunity arises, he escapes from his bowl, clears the balcony railing and finds himself airborne. Plummeting toward the street below, Ian witnesses the lives of the Seville on Roxy residents.
There’s the handsome grad student, his girlfriend, and his mistress; the construction worker who feels trapped by a secret; the building’s super who feels invisible and alone; the pregnant woman on bed rest who craves a forbidden ice cream sandwich; the shut-in for whom dirty talk, and quiche, are a way of life; and home-schooled Herman, a boy who thinks he can travel through time. Though they share time and space, they have something even more important in common: each faces a decision that will affect the course of their lives. Within the walls of the Seville are stories of love, new life, and death, of facing the ugly truth of who one has been and the beautiful truth of who one can become.
Sometimes taking a risk is the only way to move forward with our lives. As Ian the goldfish knows, “An entire life devoted to a fishbowl will make one die an old fish with not one adventure had.” (publisher)
My take: Fishbowl is the story of Ian the goldfish who finds himself on the adventure of a lifetime. He observes many goings-on along his way to the pavement. Each humorously titled chapter depicts a different scene on Ian’s trip.
As the description above notes there are all kinds of people who live in the building. What they need is connection to others so as not to feel lonely. I loved the various ways Somer showed that need in his characters. Not only the need but then actually taking the risk to reach for something more in life.
All this plays out in a quirky, funny, sexy, heart-breaking, and ultimately uplifting story of a brave goldfish named Ian. I’m so glad I had the chance to read it. Adding to the enjoyment of the novel is the clever visual of Ian’s plunge in the margins of the pages. When I finished reading the book I flipped (for lack of a better word) the pages quickly and laughed, knowing the outcome.
BRADLEY SOMER was born in Sydney, Australia and grew up in Canada and holds degrees in Anthropology and Archaeology. His short fiction has appeared in literary journals, reviews and anthologies. His debut novel, Imperfections, published in Canada, won the 2013 CBC Bookie Award for debut of the year. Bradley currently lives in a little old house in the city of Calgary, Canada, where he works on his writing projects and tries to ignore the wild growth that his backyard has become.
Incisive and compelling stories link together to form a keenly observed coming of age novel. Unfolding during the summer of 1972 in a down-on-its-heels Long Island beach town, this moving debut explores the friendships and connections of young people on the cusp of adulthood, trying to make sense of the changing world that surrounds them with a mixture of fear and bravado.
Observed through the perceptive eyes of Katie, life among the denizens of Elephant Beach comprises a blend of clinging to convention and yearning for something more. Working class, and more than a little run down, the community percolates with generational tension. For Katie and her friends, just graduating from high school, there are limited expectations, and even those are often cut short by unplanned pregnancies and hasty teenage marriages.
During this one memorable summer, Katie and her friends will experiment with sex and drugs, fall in love and have babies, all the while holding the greater world at bay as they try to figure out what to do with their lives. Longstanding relationships will change forever or solidify into something immutable. A new generation, uneasy and unsure, will take the first steps toward the indeterminate future.
Praise for IF I KNEW YOU WERE GOING TO BE THIS BEAUTIFUL, I NEVER WOULD HAVE LET YOU GO:
“An emotionally resonant collection of coming-of-age stories . . . moving.”—The Wall Street Journal
“[A] hauntingly written debut . . . lovely.”—The Boston Globe
“. . . A beautiful and honest coming-of-age story. . . . A stunningly evocative portrait of a down-on-its-luck town and its people.”—Booklist, starred review
About the author:
Judy Chicurel’s work has appeared in regional, national, and international publications, including The New York Times, Newsday, and Granta. Her plays have been produced and performed in Manhattan. She lives by the water in Brooklyn, New York.
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Book Synopsis: An instant bestseller when it was first published in 1987, The Shell Seekers is an enduring classic which has touched the hearts of millions of readers worldwide. A novel of connection, it is the story of one family, and of the passions and heartbreak that have held them together for three generations. It is filled with real people–mothers and daughters, husband and lovers–and inspired with real values. Now for the first time in trade paperback, this magical novel—the kind of reading experience that comes along only once in a long while—is the perfect summer read, whether you are returning to it again, or opening the cover for the first time. At the end of a long and useful life, Penelope Keeling’s prized possession is The Shell Seekers, painted by her father, and symbolizing her unconventional life, from bohemian childhood to wartime romance. When her grown children learn their grandfather’s work is now worth a fortune, each has an idea as to what Penelope should do. But as she recalls the passions, tragedies, and secrets of her life, she knows there is only one answer…and it lies in her heart. Author Info: ROSAMUNDE PILCHER has had a long and distinguished career as a novelist and short-story writer, but it was her phenomenally successful novel The Shell Seekers that captured the hearts of all who read it and won her international recognition as one of the most-loved storytellers of our time. The Shell Seekers was followed by September and then by Coming Home and Winter Solstice, which also became worldwide bestsellers. She lives in Perthshire, Scotland.
My brief take: (read in 2009)
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My take: The Bookseller is about Kitty, a thirty-something woman in 1960s Denver, CO who owns a book store with her best friend. Lately, Kitty has been having some vivid and strange dreams where she’s living a parallel life that is quite different from her real life. She is called Katharyn and has a husband and three children. In her dream life she finds herself daydreaming about her life as Kitty. She can’t figure out what’s going on until the dreams begin to jog some memories. As confusing as this might sound, I found it easy to follow.
Cynthia Swanson’s dual-storylines kept me turning the pages. It was apparent to me what was going on about midway through but that didn’t affect my enjoyment of the novel. It made me think about the imperfections in life and how they can change our idea of what would make us happy or content. The natural order of life, as well as unexpected circumstances, can make our lives turn on a dime.
The Bookseller is Swanson’s debut novel. I think it would be a good selection for readers looking for something a little different.
Synopsis: Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize
David Nicholls brings the wit and intelligence that graced his enormously popular New York Times bestseller, One Day, to a compellingly human, deftly funny new novel about what holds marriages and families together—and what happens, and what we learn about ourselves, when everything threatens to fall apart.
Douglas Petersen may be mild-mannered, but behind his reserve lies a sense of humor that, against all odds, seduces beautiful Connie into a second date . . . and eventually into marriage. Now, almost three decades after their relationship first blossomed in London, they live more or less happily in the suburbs with their moody seventeen year-old son, Albie. Then Connie tells him she thinks she wants a divorce.
The timing couldn’t be worse. Hoping to encourage her son’s artistic interests, Connie has planned a month-long tour of European capitals, a chance to experience the world’s greatest works of art as a family, and she can’t bring herself to cancel. And maybe going ahead with the original plan is for the best anyway? Douglas is privately convinced that this landmark trip will rekindle the romance in the marriage, and might even help him to bond with Albie.
Narrated from Douglas’s endearingly honest, slyly witty, and at times achingly optimistic point of view, Us is the story of a man trying to rescue his relationship with the woman he loves, and learning how to get closer to a son who’s always felt like a stranger. Us is a moving meditation on the demands of marriage and parenthood, the regrets of abandoning youth for middle age, and the intricate relationship between the heart and the head. And in David Nicholls’s gifted hands, Douglas’s odyssey brings Europe—from the streets of Amsterdam to the famed museums of Paris, from the cafés of Venice to the beaches of Barcelona—to vivid life just as he experiences a powerful awakening of his own. Will this summer be his last as a husband, or the moment when he turns his marriage, and maybe even his whole life, around? (publisher)
My take: Douglas and Connie have been together for almost 25 years. They’re about to go on a European tour with their 17 year-old son when Connie tells Douglas she may want to leave him. This seems to come from nowhere and Douglas isn’t sure what to do. She wants to go on their holiday – making him think he can convince her not to leave him when they return.
What follows is a road trip that had me laughing, wincing (at the things Douglas says to his wife and son), and feeling quite sad for the three of them as they near the end of the trip. The one I felt the most sympathy was their son, Albie. I won’t spoil by saying why but suffice to say, being the child, he suffered the strongest emotional toll.
Most novels I’ve read about marriage and children have been written by female authors. I was impressed by the emotional tone David Nicholls gave his story. It rang true. The story is told from Douglas’s POV and alternates from when Douglas and Connie first met 25 years ago to present day.
My biggest quibble is the length of the book – 400+ pages. It seemed to drag a bit in the middle – maybe I’m in the minority on this issue. I’d recommend Us to fans of David Nicholls and novels about marriage and family.
Synopsis: In this bestselling and delightfully quirky debut novel from Sweden, a grumpy yet loveable man finds his solitary world turned on its head when a boisterous young family moves in next door.
Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?
Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.
A feel-good story in the spirit of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, Fredrik Backman’s novel about the angry old man next door is a thoughtful and charming exploration of the profound impact one life has on countless others. (publisher)
My take: Although I don’t consider myself a cranky old woman, I share the quality of not going around “with a smile plastered to my face all the time” – and I’ve been asked “what’s wrong?” when absolutely nothing is wrong. So I kind of “got” Ove. :)
Fredrik Backman peeled back the layers of Ove’s story (no spoilers here) and pulled me into an understanding of what made Ove – Ove. I was unexpectedly charmed by Ove and the rag-tag group of neighbors and a stray cat that became family to him – although he’d never call them family. I think my favorite (after Ove) was Parvaneh, the pregnant neighbor. She didn’t take him seriously yet demanded answers from him. I felt she was a daughter figure to him (but he’d never admit that). It was lovely to see their relationship, such that it was, develop. It struck me that a few of the characters mirrored Ove in some ways but I’m not sure he would agree.
A Man Called Ove will be on my 2014 Favorites list. It’s a story about a man who had a plan but despite everything he tried to put that plan in motion, life had a plan of its own. It’s a charming, touching and emotional novel that I definitely recommend!
Synopsis: Meet Mimi Malloy: A daughter of the Great Depression, Mimi was born into an Irish-Catholic brood of seven, and she has done her best to raise six beautiful daughters of her own. Now they’re grown, and Mimi, a divorcée, is unexpectedly retired. But she takes solace in the comforts of her new life: her apartment in the heart of Quincy, the occasional True Blue cigarette, and evenings with Frank Sinatra on the stereo and a highball in her hand.
Yet her phone is arguably the busiest in greater Boston—it rings “Day In, Day Out,” as Ol’ Blue Eyes would say. Her surviving sisters love to gab about their girlhood, while her eldest, Cassandra, calls every morning to preach the gospel of assisted living. And when an MRI reveals that Mimi’s brain is filled with black spots—areas of atrophy, her doctor says—it looks like that’s exactly where she’s headed, to spend her days in “a storage facility for unwanted antiques.”
Mimi knows her mind is (more or less) as sharp as ever, and she won’t go down without a fight. As she prepares to take her stand, she stumbles upon an old pendant of her mother’s and, slowly, her memory starts to return—specifically, recollections of a shocking and painful childhood, a sister who was sent away to Ireland, and the wicked stepmother she swore to forget.
My take: Mimi Malloy’s daughters are so annoyed that she refuses to take care of herself despite her doctor’s warnings of stroke and certain death. She also will not leave her low-income apartment for a beautiful new senior home. She likes her independence and familiar surroundings, thank you very much.
When Mimi’s sister’s young grandson works on a genealogy project for school Mimi is asked to fill out a family history. She’s not one to live in the past so this is about the last thing she wants to do. After a little pestering she does as asked and that’s when she starts being visited by sisters and others who’ve passed. It’s as if they are leading her to discover details of their early lives that she remembers quite differently from the others.
Julia MacDonnell’s characters seemed so familiar to me. It was like watching and listening to my mother and her sisters gab at reunions when I was a young girl. Were the details the same? No. But the characteristics and era were. They grew up in tough times and had responsibilities way beyond their years. When someone “fell” she tried her best to get back up and move on. As Mimi’s daughters listen to their aunts and mother they realize they didn’t know them as well as they thought.
There’s so much more to the novel. The decisions made during tough times changed lives and are remembered quite differently by Mimi, her sisters, and her daughters. Their acceptance of the various perspectives lead to understanding on a new level.
I really liked this novel of family dynamics and perseverance and will recommend it to family and friends next time we’re together – there’s a reunion this summer!
Synopsis: What would you do if your whole world fell apart? Jenny Harrison made some poor choices in the past, but marrying Gabe was the best thing she’d ever done. They had the perfect marriage, until a tragic accident leaves Gabe brain dead and her world in ruins. Devastated by grief, she decides to preserve the best of their love by conceiving his child, but Gabe’s family is adamantly opposed, even willing to chance exposing long-held family secrets to stop her. Caught in a web of twisted motives and contentious legal issues, Jenny turns to best friend and attorney, Steve Grant. Steve wants to help Jenny but he has reservations of his own. When something so private and simple turns public and complicated, will Jenny relent? What is Steve willing to sacrifice to help Jenny?
My take: Theresa Rizzo’s novel is an emotional tale that made me ask myself “what would I do?” or “would I do that?”. For that reason I think Just Destiny would be a good book group choice. Discussion questions are provided at the end of the book.
Jenny is caught in an ethical and, some might say, moral dilemma. She faces tough choices throughout the months following her beloved husband’s death. It’s bad enough she has to learn to live without Gabe but then to have people in her life make things even harder is disheartening.
Just Destiny’s layers are revealed at a good pace. Filled with characters that are believable (and many are flawed) it certainly held my interest as I wondered what would happen next in Jenny’s tumultuous life. This book has romance, suspense, and courtroom drama so if those fit your preferred genres you’ll want to read Just Destiny. I’m glad I had the chance to read it.
About the author:
Theresa Rizzo is an award-winning author who writes emotional stories that explore the complexity of relationships and families through real-life trials. Born and raised in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, she currently lives outside of Boulder, Colorado with her husband of thirty years. She’s raised four wonderful children who are now scattered across the country. Theresa’s debut book, He Belongs to Me was a finalist in the General Fiction Category of The 2013 USA Best Book Awards! Her second book, Just Destiny, was released March 31, 2014. Find Theresa on the web at www.theresarizzo.com, or connect with her on Facebook, twitter or Goodreads. Purchase Just Destiny at Amazon, Barnes, Noble, iBookstore & Smashwords.
Theresa Rizzo has generously provided a digital copy of Just Destiny for one lucky reader.
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Synopsis: MEET DON TILLMAN, a brilliant yet socially challenged professor of genetics, who’s decided it’s time he found a wife. And so, in the orderly, evidence-based manner with which Don approaches all things, he designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page, scientifically valid survey to filter out the drinkers, the smokers, the late arrivers.
Rosie Jarman is all these things. She also is strangely beguiling, fiery, and intelligent. And while Don quickly disqualifies her as a candidate for the Wife Project, as a DNA expert Don is particularly suited to help Rosie on her own quest: identifying her biological father. When an unlikely relationship develops as they collaborate on the Father Project, Don is forced to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that, despite your best scientific efforts, you don’t find love, it finds you. (publisher)
My brief take: The Rosie Project is Graeme Simsion’s charming novel about a socially awkward professor on the search for the perfect wife. When he meets Rosie he quickly determines she’ll not be a candidate for the Wife Project. These two people seem about as far apart on the compatible scale as two people could be so they don’t even think about a romantic involvement. That made their story even more enjoyable. It’s a bit of a comedy of errors at times that had me laughing as I listened. To that point – I’m glad I listened to the audiobook. Dan O’Grady did a great job voicing the various characters. His narration added to my enjoyment of the novel. Recommended.
Synopsis: When Eve Petworth writes to Jackson Cooper to praise a scene in one of his books, they discover a mutual love of cookery and food. Their friendship blossoms against the backdrop of Jackson’s colorful, but ultimately unsatisfying, love-life and Eve’s tense relationship with her soon-to-be married daughter. As each of them offers, from behind the veils of semi-anonymity and distance, wise and increasingly affectionate counsel to the other, they both begin to confront their problems and plan a celebratory meeting in Paris–a meeting that Eve fears can never happen.
My take: Early on in my reading of this slim novel I wondered where it all was going and how would it end. I mention that because I found the end to be quite satisfying even though it was rather unexpected.
Being in the same age group (50ish) I could relate a bit to both Jack and Eve. That made the reading all the more enjoyable. Jack is grappling with why he can’t get a relationship right. Eve is dealing with her deep shyness (and something bordering on agoraphobia) that has shown itself in public recently leading to panic attacks.
I loved how the two counseled each other as they discussed cooking in their brief letters. I smiled often while reading the letters.
I’m not sure what more to reveal except to say that I’m glad I read That Part Was True. For readers who enjoy recipes included in novels like this, there are a few.
Synopsis: New Bremen, Minnesota, 1961. The Twins were playing their debut season, ice-cold root beers were selling out at the soda counter of Halderson’s Drugstore, and Hot Stuff comic books were a mainstay on every barbershop magazine rack. It was a time of innocence and hope for a country with a new, young president. But for thirteen-year-old Frank Drum it was a grim summer in which death visited frequently and assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder.
Frank begins the season preoccupied with the concerns of any teenage boy, but when tragedy unexpectedly strikes his family— which includes his Methodist minister father; his passionate, artistic mother; Juilliard-bound older sister; and wise-beyond-his-years kid brother— he finds himself thrust into an adult world full of secrets, lies, adultery, and betrayal, suddenly called upon to demonstrate a maturity and gumption beyond his years.
Told from Frank’s perspective forty years after that fateful summer, Ordinary Grace is a brilliantly moving account of a boy standing at the door of his young manhood, trying to understand a world that seems to be falling apart around him. It is an unforgettable novel about discovering the terrible price of wisdom and the enduring grace of God. (publisher)
My brief take: I highly recommend the audiobook edition of this novel. The narration by Rich Orlow is superb.
Just read the synopsis above. If that doesn’t grab you, well, never mind. I think it will. And, in the end, you’ll probably be glad you read (or listened to) it. I don’t want to say much more than what I posted on Goodreads:
. . . A coming of age novel where ordinary grace meets the awful grace of God in a small town in Minnesota during one summer in the early 1960s.
It’s one of my 2013 Favorites.
My take: With her last daughter’s wedding behind her, Sookie Pool is looking forward to relaxing with her husband on a much-needed vacation when she receives a registered letter that turns her life upside down. The letter pushes Sookie on a journey of discovery as she tries to solve the mystery that has suddenly taken over her life.
Filled with colorful characters, my favorite of the book was Sookie. Although I didn’t identify completely with her there are certain aspects of Sookie that every woman will understand. I think we’re all on the same journey – just at different places along the way.
Fannie Flagg is one of my favorite authors. I adore her charming and funny way of telling a story that never fails to pull me completely in. That was the case in this novel. She also taught me about the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots) of WWII. I’d always heard about the war effort on the home front but the WASPs were new to me. What an amazing group of women!
The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion is one of my favorite books of 2013. If you’re looking for a book that will make you laugh out loud and possibly learn something new you’ll want to read this wonderful novel.
Note: You can learn more about the WASPs here.
My take: It’s the summer of 1976 and London is experiencing a heatwave that seems never-ending. One morning Gretta and Robert Riordan have a bit of breakfast and then Robert heads out as usual to buy the morning newspaper. He doesn’t come back.
The three grown Riordan children soon gather at the family home to try to figure out what’s happened to their father and to try to calm their mother. The three all have issues – in their own lives and with each other. Michael Francis, the eldest, is a history teacher in a local school. It’s not the job he’d dreamed of but it’s how things worked out for him. The school year is over and he has six weeks off to enjoy his children and try to figure out if his wife will ever speak to him again.
Monica is in her second marriage and trying to make this one work. Her step-daughters don’t like her and her husband seems inclined to take their side in any situation. She’s not a happy woman. Now that her sister is back home she’s finding it impossible to contain her anger over a past betrayal.
Aoife, the youngest Riordan, has lived in New York for several years. She’s found a job she loves, a man she might love, and continues to hide a secret that no one knows – not even her family. It takes courage to go home again but she does.
If you have siblings there’s a lot to relate to in this novel. It was interesting to see them fall into the same patterns as when they were young and then snap out of it when they seemed to realize they didn’t have to continue that way. Coming from a large family I could relate to that and found humor in a few scenes.
Gretta and her children search for clues to find Robert. Eventually the search takes them to the west of Ireland. Along the way long-held secrets are revealed giving all a chance to forgive and move forward. I enjoyed Instructions For a Heatwave. It’s a family drama filled with secrets, lies, misunderstandings, forgiveness, real life.
Synopsis (publisher): After surviving a shooting at her high school, Linnea is packed off to live with her estranged father, Art, who doesn’t quite understand how he has suddenly become responsible for raising a sullen adolescent girl. Art’s neighbor, Christie, is a nurse distracted by an eccentric patient, Mrs. Foster, who has given Christie the reins to her Humanity Project, a bizarre and well-endowed charity fund. Just as mysteriously, no one seems to know where Conner, the Fosters’ handyman, goes after work, but he has become the one person Linnea can confide in, perhaps because his own home life is a war zone: his father has suffered an injury and become addicted to painkillers. As these characters and many more hurtle toward their fates, the Humanity Project is born: Can you indeed pay someone to be good? At what price?
My take: Filled with colorful characters and of-the-moment circumstances and events, The Humanity Project reminded me of a Cat’s Cradle string game. Everyone is connected and their lives seem to be an intricately woven mess. Humanity, right?
Most of the characters have been marginalized by family or society. From a young teen who witnessed a school shooting to the down-on-his-luck divorced father who just can’t seem to catch a break to the wealthy widow whose children seem to be waiting for her to die so they can gain their inheritance – they and several other remarkable characters share the spotlight. Remarkable maybe, but not all that likable.
Can a foundation such as The Humanity Project help those in need? Or will it encourage greed on different levels? And where did that money come from in the first place? Do some people even want to be helped? I had my own little book club discussion in my head as I read. I appreciated the epilogue from one character’s perspective that let me in on what happened to some of the other characters. I wanted some sort of resolution and that was close enough.
Synopsis (publisher): What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?
On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.
Does Ursula’s apparently infinite number of lives give her the power to save the world from its inevitable destiny? And if she can — will she?
My take: What a unique story! It’s the first of Kate Atkinson’s novels I’ve read and after a bit of a sluggish start I really liked it. Sluggish because I started reading and then life got busy for me. It took me about a week to read the first 200 pages. So I recommend reading this book in as few chunks of time as possible. I think that would have helped me get into the rhythm of the story more quickly.
I really don’t want to say much about the plot because the synopsis tells enough. Kate Atkinson’s writing is lovely. With each lifetime another layer of Ursula’s story was added. And with each lifetime I cared more about Ursula. There were a couple of times in the second half of the book that I found myself in tears quite unexpectedly. That just doesn’t happen to me very often.
Atkinson brings to life London during the blitz as well as Germany in the time leading up to WWII. We see it all through Ursula’s eyes and feel the powerful emotions felt by many characters.
So, if you’re up for a memorable novel I think you might like Life After Life. It’s filled with good characters, settings, and a compelling era. It would be a fabulous book club selection. There are definite philosophical points to discuss. I know that Ursula, Hugh, Teddy and all the others will stay with me for a long time.
My thanks to Reagan Arthur for sending me the book.
Synopsis: Set in Bakerton, Pennsylvania— the company town that was the setting of Jennifer Haigh’s award-winning bestseller Baker Towers—News from Heaven explores how our roots, the families and places in which we are raised, shape the people we eventually become. Through a series of connected stories, Haigh brilliantly portrays this close-knit community from its heyday during two world wars to its decline in the final years of the twentieth century. Exploring themes of restlessness, regret, redemption and acceptance, she depicts men and women of different generations shaped by dreams and haunted by disappointments. A young woman glimpses a world both strange and familiar when she becomes a live-in maid for a Jewish family in New York City. A long-lost brother makes an unexpected and tragic homecoming. A woman must come to terms with a heartbreaking loss when she discovers a shocking family secret. A solitary middle-aged woman tastes unexpected love when a young man returns to town. And characters familiar to fans of Baker Towers—indomitable Joyce Novak, her eccentric sister Dorothy, and their mysterious younger brother Sandy—return for an encore performance. Written with poignant realism, News from Heaven deftly captures our desire for escape and our need for connection, and reveals the enduring hold of a past that remains ever present in the lives of ordinary people struggling to understand themselves and define their place in the world.
My take: I shouldn’t be surprised that Jennifer Haigh’s collection of short stories made me rethink my automatic response to the format. Normally I don’t care for them at all. I find them bleak, depressing, and a chore to read. Not so with News From Heaven. Reading each story was like paging through a scrapbook. There’s history, relationships, celebrations, heartbreak, regrets, and even a bit of optimism.
Bakerton, Pennsylvania was home to the coal mine that employed most of the men from town. Once the mine was mined out the jobs were gone and the town was thrown into hard times. Haigh’s connected stories cover the ups and downs of the townspeople – from the mine owners to the workers and everyone in between.
I grew up in a small town so I could identify with the aspect that Joyce in “Desiderata” acknowledged of everyone knowing your story – or at least thinking they know. I don’t live there anymore so they don’t know the rest of my story. That’s not the case with the older residents in Bakerton. More than likely they were born there, raised families, and will eventually die there. Their complete stories known to all.
My favorite story (if I must choose one) was Broken Star. It’s about Regina, a girl in her early teens, and the summer her young aunt and cousin came to visit. I also liked the final story in the collection: Desiderata. The high school principal died a few months earlier and his wife is sorting through his things. Poignant, relatable, uplifting. Really, though, I enjoyed each story.
Jennifer Haigh is one of my favorite authors. I know it’s only January but I expect News From Heaven to be on my 2013 Favorite Books list. It was a pleasure to read.
Note: I read Baker Towers several years ago (the month it was published) and although I remembered the general story there was a lot I forgot. If you haven’t read Baker Towers I recommend doing so before News From Heaven. It’s not imperative but it could help in your overall enjoyment of these connected stories.
Synopsis: (back of the book) – A European vacation. A luggage mix-up. A note from a secret admirer.
Meet two single parents who think they’re too busy to date.
And two teenagers who can’t stop writing flirty emails.
This is a tale of connections–missed and made–in a universe that seems to have its heart set on reuniting Ms. 6B and Mr. 13C.
I can’t believe I picked up the wrong bag at the airport. My dad is never going to let me hear the end of it.
I don’t understand why Mom told me to pack my worst underwear. And now I’ve lost my bag? Ack!
I cannot stop thinking about that woman in seat 6B on the flight to Paris.
I don’t have time to worry about the creep sitting in 13C who slipped a note in my purse. I have to find my daughter’s missing bag before this ruins our vacation.
“In the Bag” is a smart and stylish story that explores the old-fashioned art of romance in a modern world, where falling in love can be as risky as checking a bag on an international flight. Buckle your seat belt–it’s going to be a bumpy vacation!
My take: The back of the book synopsis gives a good sense of what to expect in this entertaining and, some might say, predictable novel. I enjoyed it for the fun plot, the interesting characters, and the snappy dialogue.
I was taken by surprise, in a good way, by the discussions of songwriter Jimmy Webb and his songs – especially Wichita Lineman, a song that always makes me stop whatever I’m doing and listen. There’s just something about that song. Anyway, Andrew was such a fan that he named Webb after him.
All in all, this novel reminded me of those Disney teen movies that always leave an audience smiling. It was a welcome diversion during a busy week.
Title: In the Bag
Author: Kate Klise
Published: May 2012 – William Morrow – PB: 306 pages
Source: I bought my copy
Title: The Homecoming of Samuel Lake
Author: Jenny Wingfield
Published: July 2012 – Random House Trade Paperbacks – 352 pages
Synopsis: Every first Sunday in June, members of the Moses clan gather for an annual reunion at “the old home place,” a sprawling hundred-acre farm in Arkansas. And every year, Samuel Lake, a vibrant and committed young preacher, brings his beloved wife, Willadee Moses, and their three children back for the festivities. The children embrace the reunion as a welcome escape from the prying eyes of their father’s congregation; for Willadee it’s a precious opportunity to spend time with her mother and father, Calla and John. But just as the reunion is getting under way, tragedy strikes, jolting the family to their core: John’s untimely death and, soon after, the loss of Samuel’s parish, which set the stage for a summer of crisis and profound change.
In the midst of it all, Samuel and Willadee’s outspoken eleven-year-old daughter, Swan, is a bright light. Her high spirits and fearlessness have alternately seduced and bedeviled three generations of the family. But it is Blade Ballenger, a traumatized eight-year-old neighbor, who soon captures Swan’s undivided attention. Full of righteous anger, and innocent of the peril facing her and those she loves, Swan makes it her mission to keep the boy safe from his terrifying father.
With characters who spring to life as vividly as if they were members of one’s own family, and with the clear-eyed wisdom that illuminates the most tragic—and triumphant—aspects of human nature, Jenny Wingfield emerges as one of the most vital, engaging storytellers writing today. In The Homecoming of Samuel Lake she has created a memorable and lasting work of fiction.
My brief take: Oh my goodness! What a wonderful novel! I loved being immersed in the southern setting and I loved the Lake family. Jenny Wingfield’s characters and story completely pulled me in.
My heart was captured by Swan. She had a remarkably mature empathy for the people in her life but expressed it in such an age-appropriate way that it made me smile. My heart went out to her as shocking events unfolded but I was left feeling uplifted and optimistic for what the future would hold for her.
Swan is the main character but the other members of her family (immediate and extended) are interesting and endearing. They could probably each have their own novel – and I would want to read them!
The Homecoming of Samuel Lake will be on my 2012 Favorites list. Highly recommended.
Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher. I was not compensated for my review.
Author: Rosy Thornton
Published: April 2012 – Sandstone Press
Paperback – 320 pages
My take: As she did in The Tapestry of Love, Rosy Thornton gives her most recent novel Ninepins an interesting setting that could almost be considered one of the main characters. The changing atmosphere of the fens fascinated me!
Ninepins is a quiet yet compelling novel. Laura and her 12-year-old daughter Beth take in 17-year-old Willow as a boarder to help make ends meet. Willow is just coming out of the foster care system so she has a social worker, Vince, who regularly checks in on her. Willow seems emotionally fragile and has a troubled past. Beth is dealing with a few issues herself. She’s at a new school, trying out new friends, and is pretty much a hormonal mess. The latter causes her to take out her frustrations on her mother.
Laura learns of Willow’s past after she agrees to let her rent the small pump house on the property. She’s willing to let her stay because she’d have trouble renting the space to anyone else at this time of year. When a flood forces Willow out of the rental she’s invited to stay in the spare room of the main house. Laura has concerns about Willow’s influence over Beth who recently seems to be acting out quite often. Even more disturbing is when Willow’s mother appears at the front door one night. Laura suddenly has a lot to deal with in addition to working full-time.
Rosy Thornton’s layered story of Willow, Laura and Beth unfolds at an even pace that kept me turning the pages. Assumptions and suspicions are revealed and play out in ways I’m happy to say were unpredictable. That’s something I’ve found true in Thornton’s other novels as well.
Ninepins is a thoughtful and realistic drama that touches on single parents, step-families, social welfare issues and more – book groups would find several topics for discussion. I enjoyed Ninepins and look forward to Rosy Thornton’s next book.
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the author. I was not compensated for my review.