It has always been my dream to open a bookstore that would fit perfectly into a vibrant community. Having spent my first career in education, I know what learning means and the value of reading. I visit bookstores wherever I go, to a new city, to a new state, to a new country. Bookstores speak a universal language. I've never met one that isn't welcoming, because we're basically people people. I love non-fiction, especially historical books, but a good novel is a treasure also. When I read a good book, I want to tell everyone about it. So, I hope you find all that at BookTowne!
I knew George Washington had slaves, but I never knew one, Ona Judge, escaped. This young woman was assigned to Martha Washington, helping her 24 hrs a day. Living in Virginia, she may have stayed that way until she was willed to Martha's niece, as was the plan, but when the Washingtons moved to Philadelphia Ona saw first hand that there were free black men. This young woman thought long and hard about what would happen if she failed in her attempt and she went for it. The Washingtons were aghast because they thought they had brought only the most loyal of the slaves with them. They tried to work every part of the system to get her back as this was truly unfathomable to them. Ona Judge was a remarkable, young woman. She will be hard to forget. ,
Pam Jenoff’s research into these atrocities of WWII is the core of her new book, The Orphan’s Tale. Sixteen year old Noa, abandoned by her family because she’s has become pregnant by a Nazi solder and then forced to give up her baby is now living in a train station. One day she discovers a horrible scene, a boxcar filled with Jewish infants on their way to a concentration camp. She instinctively takes one of the babies and runs away. Her escape leads her to a German traveling circus. The bond between Noa and Astrid, a trapeze artist is so engrossing and the story so vivid, you will never forget them and the life they lived. Whether the circus can protect them in France is doubtful. As in “All the Light We Cannot See’ the victims always hoped it would be different in France and for a while it was, but not for long. This is an incredible story that will stay with me for a long time. I highly encourage you to read The Orphan’s Tale, one of my new favorite books. And when you finish read the section on the author’s comments. Pam Jenoff has done some marvelous research.
Jessica Shattuck has written an incredible story of the people of the war, the German people, particularly the women. As represented by 3 particular women, Marianne, Benita and Ania, we see the utter pain of those who lived through such horrible times, the decisions they made and the consequences of their actions. The horrible conditions in Germany, as well as the overwhelming lives lost, is juxtaposed alongside the “ordinary” Germans. Each of these women is connected to a man, who may have been in the resistance, or may have been a secret Nazi, or an unfortunate prisoner. Whether they knew or understood the person they were involved with, does not matter as their have been forever changed. The women and their children will struggle to pick up the pieces when peace finally comes to their land. These were real people who lived and dreamed and worked to preserve their humanity in the most inhumane of conditions.
Seldom has a book caught me as this one. From the very first pages I was a part of the “story” I say that because I fought its format until I became a part of it. I want everyone to read this story of Lincoln grieving the death of his son at the same time as he is supposed to be leading the country through its greatest crisis. He is living grief. And though his son has died, he cannot leave him alone. He returns to the cemetery many times during the night to be with him. Ghosts abound in this “bardo” the Tibetan belief that there is a period between death and the time we enter a new world – the transition stage – a purgatory like setting. It is truly a “literary experience unlike any other” (publisher) George Saunders has created a format that brings together the historical pieces of the time with the supernatural world of the setting. It is masterful.
This beautifully, poignant novel by Sebastian Barry is true Barry. No one describes the day to day pain of war like Sebastian Barry. How could such a lyrical book encase such tragic descriptions. Thomas McNulty has fled the famine of Ireland and like most young men his age signs up with Army. And the Army appears to no more care for its soldiers than the enemy does. It was a period of time when young men could just get lost in these chaotic battles at the same time that they seek the warmth and comfort of friendships, deep friendships. These young men are used to deprivation and pain and seem to accept the realities of their new world. Barry writes another masterpiece that will move you deeply as Thomas McNulty finds that war is his only comfortable routine. The Indian War and ultimately the Civil War seem to blend in to each other. And the friends are grateful, so grateful for any sense of normalcy that the world will give them. As Donal Ryan describes, "A Beautiful, savage, tender, searing work of art. Sentence after perfect sentence it grips and does not let go."
I am a big fan of Trevor Noah and relished getting a copy of his book Born a Crime at the NAIBA conference last month. I was totally engaged in this book. Trevor Noah writes as he speaks. I could hear him doing the audio version as I was reading. I loved his sharing of what it was like to grow up in South Africa and the Apartied world. Just as he brings to us each evening the absurdities of American politics he has turned his sights back on his own world and shared deeply personal things with his audience. Born a child of a black mother and a white father, he was by that event a crime. His mother hid him for five years and this depiction of his life with his mother was one of the most moving, and reflective experiences I have ever read. So deeply personal and yet almost as if he stands away from it and views it with new eyes. His humor shows through on every page, but it is a humor mixed with deep passion.
This depiction of the woman in Andrew Wyeth's Painting Christina's World is incredibly touching and moving. I have loved the works of Andrew Wyeth and this picture among them. Anyone who shares my feelings of this art work cannot help but be totally engaged in Baker Kline's novel. She brings us into Christina's world in such a way that you feel for Christina and her life. It is the unfolding of a masterpiece in hands of a beautiful writer.
The Christina of the novel grows up on a farm with the lifestyle of a hard working family whose lives are dependent on the elements. The simple life is hard and particularly hard for a handicapped child. As with most challenges, you deal with them as the norm until you can't anymore. Andrew Wyeth painted Christina and her house many times over 20 years and captured her world at the end. Christina Baker Kline has likewise captured the essence of the painting in her brilliant book.She give life to the painting. I will never look at this moving piece in the same way again.
Jonathan Franzen develops characters that live in your mind. Pip Tyler is a young girl trying desperately to pay back her student loans. She has been raised by a single mother, living quite poorly all her life because her mother refuses to take the incredible inheritance she is entitle to. Pip has no idea of this money and would be glad just to know who her father is. These topics have been off limits her entire life but that never meant she was not committed to finding out.
As Franzen brings characters into his novel he links their background to the present and the story flows from America to Germany to South American. Lives intertwine at an incredible rate. When Pip meets Andreas she is enamored with this charismatic figure and the reader becomes more deeply involved in the present time, in the influence of the Internet, in the evils of hacking, in the attraction to powerful voices. Andreas has a tremendous effect on everyone who comes to know him and for better or for worse these lives will never be the same.
As I read through Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend I was reminded of one of my favorite bookstore books, The Kings English by Betsy Burton. I had read the latter shortly before I opened BookTowne and it had a tremendous influence on me. I had that same feeling of being back in a town that loves its bookstore and loves the recommendations of the bookseller. This is a charming story where the characters are fun to get to know, the storyline is heartwarming and the books that come alive are ones we know or should get to know. It begins when a woman from Sweden who has corresponded with a woman in American plan to meet in the American's hometown. They have shared their love of books with each other for a long time and know when they meet they will be even better friends. The American arrives to find the funeral for her friend has just taken place and the townspeople open their arms to her to make her stay as comfortable as possible. It becomes very comfortable indeed.
This wonderful novel by Chris Cleave puts you right in the path of World War II with its terrible personal tragedies and horror of war. When the book opens in London in 1939 Mary a socialite feels compelled to do something and volunteers where she is assigned a teaching position working with the severely disadvantaged. War effects every phase of life for those left behind and for those deeply engaged in the sickening aspects of war as it drags on through one horror after another. Mary falls in love with her boss, Tom and then with her bosses friend, Allister, two very different men. but the realities of war as seen through the main characters are juxtaposed with the effects on their lives. The feelings of what it means to live during this time permeates the novel, the fright, the hunger, the pain, the loss, the ghastly humor, what it takes to survive each day of the war and all the days thereafter. I loved this book. I loved the characters. I loved the writing. I can't wait to put it into the hands of my readers.
This is a beautiful, moving story of a man abandoned as an infant and raised in a Sufi order. His life is shaped by his physical deformity and his need to hide this from everyone he meets. It is only with those he allows himself to love, that he will share this. His life is dedicated to growing spiritually until the day he realizes there is a different kind of love he is feeling. He is capable of great love despite enormous loss and loneliness. I felt like I was reading a journal of a very special person. I wanted him to love and be loved. I wanted him to be happy. I want to share this book with the reader who appreciates beautiful writing.
If you have read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, you must now read The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy. What prompted Harold Fry to walk 500 miles to see Queenie again before she died? This incredible journey is made more vivid by the letters Queenie, who is no longer able to talk, is now writing to Harold so that he will understand what she was never able to tell him when they worked together. The pain she carried all these years is made so vivid. Queenie, now in her final days in a nursing home, is surrounded by people who care very much about her, the nurses, the aides, the other residents. Life is not easy but it is certainly deeply moving and deeply felt. I’m glad I got to know more about Queenie and her relationship with Harold and his family. You will remember these two for a long time.
This is a beautiful novel whose setting and politics are not as well known to many of us. From pre-World War I to contemporary times we meet the Turkish family of Orhan. It opens with the death of Kemal, his grandfather, who before his horrible death, left his inheritance to an old Armenian woman now living in the United States. What should have been a great future for Orhan is now in jeopardy and because of that he travels to Los Angeles to meet this woman who could deny him what he always believed would be his. In this new world the Turkish and Armenian cultures clash anew with a story that his deeply moving.
Our Souls at Night is more a novella which captures so poignantly the lives of Addie and Louis both aging in a small town where both have lost their respective spouses. They don't know each other that well but Addie had known Louis's wife. One night she surprises him by showing up at his door with an incredible proposal. Would he agree to spend every night with her to sleep with her just to talk and share stories and not be lonely. Eventually he agrees and their life takes on a warm accepting feeling except that their real life community and family will make their contentment hard to maintain. It's a very good read told in the sensitive understanding of small town life experiences of Kent Haruf. As with all his books the characters will stay with you for a very long time.
“Destined to be a classic” is what I have heard most often about this novel and I certainly agree. Matthew Thomas is a powerful new voice in literature. He paints a deeply moving picture of Eileen Tumulty raised in an Irish family and dreaming of a better life for herself. Though there are serious problems in her family there is never any doubt that Eileen loves her parents and that is the same feeling and maturity of strength she brings to her marriage. When she meets Ed Leary, a research scientist, she believes he is the kind of person who will give her the life she wants. As reality sets in, we see Eileen’s disappointment but never a change in her commitment and we come to see that though they are very different, with different ideas of life, they are truly committed to each other. As life deals them sadness and tragedy, Eileen brings strength of character that will enable her to live out the love she shares with Edmund. The result is a powerful, strong piece of contemporary literature.
No one writes about family like Anne Tyler does. Her latest book A Spool of Blue Thread is a depiction of family that is so real and heart wrenching I stayed with it straight to the end. Three generations of family are intertwined as they move in and out of their Baltimore house and each other's lives. This house is paramount to the thread of the story, from the dream home of the patriarch to the youngest children who eventually are having to deal with their aging parents. The humor balances the loss in true Tyler style. This novel celebrates her fifty years of writing, ever engaging and absorbing. I love Anne Tyler's books. It was a joy to find this one in galley form.
This is one of those deeply moving books that captures your head and your heart and you can't let go. When 14 year old Kevin and his grieving mother go to Kentucky to live with his grandfather his life moves from ultimate tragedy to a new awakening. He experiences dealing with his grief while learning how to live and how to grow under the tutelage of an incredible man. Life in Kentucky is at the same time, warm and friendly and devastatingly cruel. This book is written from the perspective of the adult Kevin looking back on this one summer in his life. Medgar, Kentucky is dealing with massive mountain top removal that is doing irreparable damage to the environment. At the same time Kevin and a new friend are faced with the passions of the adults and the small town hate crimes. This summer Kevin will learn that wisdom and strength are what separates his grandfather from the powerful forces that are fighting to preserve their own will over the rest of the community. The voice of Christopher Scotton is so moving. It is hard to believe that this is a first novel. The community and the characters of this novel are as credible and reflective as those in To Kill a Mockingbird. It is well worth your time.
Nora is a person I won't soon forget. As a recent widow she exhausts herself with trying to find herself in a new single world. Her world is a small town in Ireland. She is overcome with everything at once and because of this fails to see the most serious problems surrounding her. Lost in her own grief she fails to see the grieving her children are going through. She has a support system readily available to her yet she seems at one point to be so self-centered and at another so fragile in her ability to deal with the realities of her new world. Life to Nora is black and white, simple and clear. Over and over again she acknowledges that had her husband, a respected teacher, been alive, he would have known what to do in various situations. Tóibín brings his characters to life, a life we share with them and because of that we want them to be happy. What a fine author. I highly recommend this engaging story and look forward to introducing our readers to Nora Webster.
Nadia Hashimi has been compared to Khaled Hosseini and Jhumpa Lahiri and she does write in that vein, but she truly has a voice of her own. This is a fascinating book of the lives of two Afghan women who live at different times, but are related in family and ideas. The pain of women in Afghanistan is just as vivid, but here there is strength and hope. Hope for the future and for their children. Both women have endured horrible living conditions at the hands of their husbands and society with little to protect them except the few relatives that offer them encouragement and a voice. To hear that voice in a story as achingly real is remarkable.
Every once in a while you get a book that is so beautifully written you want to savor every page. That is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. In the midst of this terrible war the author breathes life into characters that are living expressions of people who try to live and survive the terrible realities they are faced with. The young French blind girl who lives with her father who is preparing her every day to be independent and to survive, the young German boy who is so innocent and so talented in working with transistors and the circumstances that create the parallels in their lives and the lives of those who love them. All The Light We Cannot See is rich in a tone that is excruciatingly engaging. When I read the last page I realized that I had experienced a world that was so very harsh with the briefest elements of salvation. Doerr has created a masterpiece.
This is my new favorite book of the year. If you love little bookstores, you must read this book. Gabrielle Zevin captures the inner workings of a little bookstore, Island Books and makes you a part of it, a part of its staff, its curated inventory, and its regular customers, who in their own way share in this special world. The bookstore’s little sign, No Man is an Island; Every Book is a World, is played out completely in this novel. The owner, A. J. Fikry, experiences the highs and lows of owning a store in a resort community, and then one day his world changes dramatically. I laughed; I cried and saw what one reviewer exclaimed, “I’ve never read a narrative that so vividly paints a picture of what it’s like to be a bookseller.” The people who are a part of the narrative are I’m sure reflected in bookstores across the country. You are probably one of them! (Rita)