Great Reads

Penney, Stef. The Tenderness of Wolves

 

The icy chill of a 19th century Canadian winter is palpable throughout British author Penney’s accomplished debut.  Seventeen-year-old Francis Ross disappeared from the town of Dove River on the Georgian Bay the same day his mother discovers the scalped corpse of the boy’s friend Laurent Jammet, a fur trader and former employee of the all-powerful Hudson Bay Company. The sensational murder brings outsiders to the small community: young, earnest Company representative Donald Moody, who’s there to help investigate the crime; and aging former tracker and Native American sympathizer Thomas Sturrock, who hopes to recover a carved bit of bone that had been in the trapper’s possession and which might provide valuable archaeological proof of an ancient Native written language. Unfortunately for Mrs. Ross, there are no obvious suspects other than her missing son—until half-Native trapper William Parker is caught searching the dead man’s house. When Parker is released, Mrs. Ross enlists him to help her go after her son and whoever her son had followed into the wilderness, hoping to prove Francis innocent of the crime.

Atmospheric and complex, the intertwined stories of Penney’s vibrant cast of loners and outsiders are absorbing, and Penney’s choice of time and place is a perfect backdrop.

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McCall Smith, Alexander. Corduroy Mansions

McCall Smith, well-known for his “Ladies’ No. 1 Detective Agency” series, brings his trademark warm humor and wise wit to the interlocking stories of a small group of Londoners. The stories here center around the inhabitants of an apartment building in the Pimlico neighborhood called Corduroy Mansions. William, a widowed wine merchant, schemes to oust his lazy freeloading twenty-something son from their shared apartment so William can get on with his life, and enlists Marcia, a single female friend with romantic ambitions toward William, to help him. Dee, a young woman who works in a vitamin shop, cannot understand why her young male coworker won’t let her give him the colonic irrigation she’s convinced he desperately requires. Art history student Caroline conceives a crush on a friend and fellow student who has recently decided he might not be gay after all. Poor Jenny works as a secretary for Oedipus Snark, an MP so odious that even his own mother can’t stand him and is working on his unauthorized biography in order to expose him to the world. These stories and others collide as McCall Smith’s characters each confront their quotidian, universal yet deeply personal, problems. (Dog lovers will particularly enjoy reading about the sprightly and intelligent pooch Freddie de la Hay!)

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Just a Thought -- Spring 2012 Book Discussions with Judy Levin

The wait is almost over! Popular book discussion leader Judy Levin will be returning to the Highland Park Public Library this spring for a three book discussion series.  Multiple copies of each title will be available for check-out prior to the discussion, so come prepared to talk!

 

March 13, 1 PM: "Await Your Reply" by Dan Chaon

April 10, 1PM: "The Weird Sisters" by Eleanor Brown

May 8, 1PM: "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman

 

 

Donohue, Keith. Centuries of June

 

The narrator of Donohue’s somewhat surreal novel, Jack, awakens on his bathroom floor with a cracked skull, apparently having fallen.  From there, his night just gets stranger. A man who intially reminds him of his own father and later of Samuel Beckett has joined him in the bathroom and the two banter amusingly before being joined by seven women in succession. Each woman, apparently the ghost or spirit of a woman in one of Jack’s former lives, has an ax to grind with him—sometimes quite literally, as each woman initially tries to kill him before settling in to tell her story.  Each woman was wounded, betrayed, or even killed by a man in their life—and Jack may well be that man.  The woman’s stories are fascinating, told in a variety of styles and invoking their characters and periods vividly and effectively.  When Jack is finally visited by an eighth woman, his own wife, the reason for the night’s strange events become clear.

The women’s stories are the true stand-out in this novel, with the slightly absurdist, Waiting For Godot-esque interludes in the bathroom serving almost as a distraction at times. Not for everyone, but those with a taste for the offbeat will be pleased.

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Gibson, William. Distrust That Particular Flavor

 

Gibson, known for thoughtful science fiction exploring the ways in which technology changes human culture in impossible-to-anticipate ways, here brings his considerable talents to bear on the undiscovered country—non-fiction.  Gibson’s first collection of non-fiction draws from the last several decades of his writing career, with essays and articles featuring all the usual Gibsonian subjects—the rise of the Internet; the technology and culture of Japan; Gibson’s own past in small-town Virginia and early discovery of science fiction; and all the ways, both small and large, that human culture has already been irrevocably altered by technologies as commonplace as radio and as pervasive as cyberspace.  Many, if not all, of the articles, are grounded in Gibson’s own life and experiences, adding a personal touch to a topic which could otherwise seem dry.  A sly wit and a lively intelligence shine through the writing, and every article, regardless of whether its predictions have been borne out by reality, is fascinating without fail.

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