Great Reads

Dilloway, Margaret. The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns

Galilee Garner—Gal for short—is a prickly person at best, and something of a loner.  A biology teacher at a private high school, she is known to students and faculty alike as a hard taskmaster, but one who prides herself on turning out more AP exam high-scorers than anyone else. She lives alone, with only one close friend—her polar opposite, the school’s sensitive and outgoing art teacher.  She’s also in the end stages of kidney failure and must keep to a strict dialysis schedule to survive.  Her one main ambition in life is to breed the next unique, stand-out breed of rose in the greenhouse out back.  Gal’s carefully structured existence is thrown into disarray when her unreliable sister’s teenage daughter Riley arrives unannounced on Gal’s front stoop. At first resistant, Gal begins to soften to her niece and the two—one damaged by years of chronic illness, the other by years of neglect and sporadic affection dished out by a drug-addicted mother—form a tentative bond.  Riley begins to find herself among her fellow students and Gal finds herself reaching out and making new friends herself, something she never expected.

While the rose-related metaphor is the tiniest bit heavy-handed, the story is a touching one as an at first thoroughly unlikeable character begins to develop into a better version of herself and a dysfunctional family comes together with a new understanding of each other’s struggles.

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If you love Downton Abbey, read this!

Can't get enough of Downton Abbey? These novels will keep you satisfied until the next episode:

 

Life Class by Pat Barker

The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin

Losing Julia  by Jonathan Hull

The House of Riverton by Kate Morton

The House at Tyneford by Natasha Solomons

The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller

A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear

Wood, Lucy. Diving Belles and other stories

Whimsical, magical, and full of wonder, Wood’s stories beguile the reader into a version of England’s foggy Cornwall coast in which the unexpected not only can happen but usually does. Characters in these stories live side by side with creatures out of mythology, sometimes becoming those creatures themselves. In the title story, staying husbands have become mermen and their wives must brave the depths to bring them home. In Countless Stones, a young woman helps a former lover as he house-hunts while slowing and inexorably turning to stone. In another stand-out story, Of Mothers and Little People, a daughter discovers that her mother is a fully-formed human being in her own right, with secret joys that daughters seldom imagine in their parents—in this case, a faery lover.

These are truly grown-up fairy tales, with touches of magical realism and outright enchantment never obscuring the very real stories and characters underneath. There are few easy answers or pat morals in these fairy stories.

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Hines, Jim. Libriomancer

Isaac Vainio is a librarian and a libriomancer, a special kind of magic-user who has the ability to make objects from books manifest in reality.  Removed from field work due to an inability to control his magic under stress, Isaac is working a more mundane job as a librarian in a small-town Michigan public library and doing database duty on the side for his other employers, Die Zwelf Portenaere—the Porters.  However, the Porters—a magical organization founded by Johannes Gutenberg to manage libriomancy—are under attack, and Isaac, off-duty or no, is no exception. Narrowly saved from vampires by the intercession of a dryad friend, Isaac soon discovers that all the different species of vampires—all of whom were originally created out of books, in a unique genre twist—have banded together to fight against what they perceive as attacks by the Porters. The few Porters Isaac can reach, however, have no idea what’s going on and Isaac, along with dryad Lena Greenwood and Smudge the fire spider, fling themselves into the investigation, trying to first convince the vampires that the Porters are no threat and second to discover just who the villain actually is and what he’s done with the Porters’ founder, Gutenberg himself.

Fast-paced, funny, unique, intelligent, and entirely engaging, this series opener is an absolute hit. Librarians and booklovers of all stripes will be trying to master libriomancy themselves after a visit to Hines’ world.

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Edugyan, Esi. Half-Blood Blues

Edugyan’s Booker Prize shortlisted novel evokes Berlin and Paris during World War II through the eyes of a rag-tag bunch of jazz musicians looking for their big break.  Having achieved some limited notoriety in Berlin during the Weimar era, the Hot-Time Swingers—two black ex-pat Americans, a Jewish pianist, and a couple of Germans, one of whom is black himself—are now struggling to stay alive in a Berlin that has turned against jazz and turned against half-breeds, or mischlings, Jews, and black people of all nationalities.  When a jazz singer from America shows up to find them with word that she represents Louis Armstrong, the band thinks their fortunes are made. But first, they have to get from Berlin to Paris—and not all of them are going to make it. Eventually hitting Paris just in time for the Occupation to catch up with them, the group has to keep their heads down even further while at the same time trying to cut a record—the Half-Blood Blues, an anthem rejecting everything Nazis stand for.  But it’s only a matter of time before the Boots—the Gestapo—catch up with them.

Cutting between 1940 and 1992, Half-Blood Blues is a story of race, friendship, secrets, and betrayal. Showing a side of World War II not often written about—that is, the story of the other, non-Jewish ethnic groups persecuted by the Reich—it is fascinating and textured.

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