It’s the rare book that can consider weighty themes without a bleak tone and plot. As readers we’re often forced to choose between literary fiction that borders on the morose and lighter fare that can feel like a waste of time. Not so with Siri Hustvedt’s new novel, Summer without Men. Hustvedt manages to examine everything from adolescent bullying to the potential grief and loneliness of old age in a charming novel that never seems depressing thanks to the wry humor of the first person narrator, Mia.
Newly separated after nearly thirty years of marriage and fresh from a brief stint in a psychiatric hospital, Mia returns to her hometown where she balances an intense introspection about her past (and life in general )with an interest in an array of women, including her young poetry students, a troubled neighbor, and her mother’s elderly friends. Mia’s compassion for these women allows her to revisit the various stages of her own life while directly addressing the reader and offering numerous asides and literary quotes and allusions regarding love and loss. Throughout Mia’s sense of humor charms the reader. She shares fantasies of releasing the rats in her husband’s lab and refers to his new girlfriend as “the Pause” and “unnamed French love object.”
Summer without Men is a quick, quirky read served up by one of the more engaging narrators in recent memory.
With a few notable exceptions (Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Bill Bryson), I believe authors should not attempt to narrate their own audio books. I mention this because I recently listened to Sarah Vowell’s latest book, Unfamiliar Fishes. While the content of the book was interesting enough, I became really irritated by the author’s reading of it by disk 2. This did not bode well for a favorable review.
Fortunately, I stuck with it and learned a few more things about the history of Hawaii, about its unification, its natives, its first contacts with adventurers and missionaries, and its melting-pot growing pains. Vowell is witty, as always, and doesn’t hesitate to include her personal and political viewpoints along the way. Recommended for fans of Vowell, those curious about Hawaiian history, or those in the mood for a serendipitous jaunt through an unfamiliar place.
Natalia Stefanovi, a young doctor living in a contemporary unnamed Balkan country, is preparing, along with her best friend, for a goodwill mission across a border which has not always been a border. Right before they leave, however, she receives the news that her beloved grandfather has died. No one else but she knew that he was ill, so the death itself does not surprise her. What is a shock, however, is that he died in a small town on the other side of the border, having told Natalia’s grandmother that he was on his way to visit Natalia. But Natalia knows nothing of this. Having arrived in the town where she will be vaccinating war orphans, Natalia finds herself distracted from her work by memories of her grandfather and the puzzling question of just what he was doing so far from home. Her thoughts circle around and around, always coming back to two stories her grandfather always told her when she was a child…the story of Gavran Gaile, the deathless man who collected the souls of the dying, and the deaf-mute woman known as the tiger’s wife.
The story circles through time, visiting Natalia’s childhood, her grandfather’s childhood, and times even earlier than that, building a portrait of a country divided by ethnicity, religion, and superstition as much as by politics and bloodshed. The seeming fairy tales of the deathless man and the tiger’s wife hold surprising kernels of truth and reality. Vibrant, lyrical, and compelling.
It has to start somewhere. For week one, we challenge you to read the first book in a series. We're giving you some suggestions just for fun, and as always, you're welcome to choose any book of 100 pages or more from our collection to read or listen to to fulfill your summer reading goal.
Chiaverini, Jennifer. Quilter’s Apprentice (Elm Creek Quilts) (F)
Fforde, Jasper. Eyre Affair (Thursday Next series) (MYS)
Harris, Charlaine. Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse series) (MYS)
King, Stephen.Gunslinger (Dark Tower series) (F)
Kinsella, Sophie. Confessions of a Shopaholic(Shopaholic series) (F)
Le Carré, John. Call for the Dead (George Smiley series) (F)
Mankell, Henning. Faceless Killers(Kurt Wallander series) MYS
Silva, Daniel. Kill Artist (Gabriel Allon series) (F)
To sign up and participate online, follow this link: tinyurl.com/readforyourlife
Sally considers herself fortunate. As a lady’s maid to Lady Duff Gordon, she has come up the ranks from being an orphan without skills to having a secure job of some prestige. When Lady Duff Gordon becomes ill with a lung disease, her doctor suggests she relocate to the warm, dry climate of Egypt. Sally can scarcely believe her luck in being asked to go along to care for her lady. Sally craves adventure and having spent her precious free time at the British Museum studying the Egyptian culture, she knows what a wonderful opportunity is ahead.
The somewhat unorthodox and gregarious Lady Duff Gordon decides that Luxor is the place where she will settle and sets about renting the finest home in the city and hiring household help. Because there are few English speakers in the area or traveling through, Lady Duff Gordon begins to treat Sally as a friend rather than a servant, giving her freedom that Sally had never imagined and which ultimately causes Sally to forget the real nature of her situation in life. Sally settles in quickly, learns Arabic, and begins a friendship with an Egyptian man that soon turns into a love affair.
Sally has a rude awakening when she discovers that the lady she has served so faithfully quickly turns on her when provoked and she discovers just how little she means to Lady Duff Gordon when she needs her the most. This novel is based on a true story, gathered from the letters of Lucie, Lady Duff Gordon. Fans of historical fiction and book groups will find enjoyable reading in Pullinger’s debut.
Gwynne, S. C. Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History
Gwynne covers a lot of history in his book. This is, in part, the biography of Quanah Parker, the last Comanche Chief. More than that, it's the history of Texas settlers spilling onto the open plains and their persistence in pushing the frontier forward despite vicious battles with southern plains tribes.
Included are the many historical misteps made as the Mexican government, the Republic of Texas government, and finally the U.S. Government as they took on the Comanches, a little-understood tribe that had developed into the world's best mounted cavalry. Quanah Parker seems a historic anomoly as well. Considered the greatest Comanche war chief, he was the son of a white woman taken captive by the tribe at age nine and a respected war chief.
Recommended for fans of American history.
In Meldrum's first adult novel, an uncommunicative family moves to Africa to become medical missionaries because of a whim of the father, a pathologist. When the family leaves Michigan for Africa in 1976, they have no idea what to expect and little knowledge of the area to which they are transported.
Although the plot sounds a little like The Poisonwood Bible, the similarities end there. Meldrum's disfunctional Slepy family consists of parents and their four daughters, each seemingly lost to their own thoughts. A rotating perspective gives us a glimpse of everyone's view, but of all the daughters, Amaryllis, the youngest, is the only one with any real instincts. Her father, along with her sisters, believes she is not his child and despite it being the elephant in the corner, her mother remains strangely silent on the topic which festers and drives them all to various levels of insanity.
This is an unusual story complete with well-drawn characters and a vivid setting. Fans of women's psychological fiction may find much to enjoy in Meldrum's latest.
If you’re a regular reader, you probably know I’m a Bryson fan. Still, I was hesitant to pick up his latest because the description made it sound a tad boring. Recently, when I saw the audio edition available, I picked it up just to see. I’m glad I did!
Bryson takes us on a tour of his old house, a parsonage in England, and gives us a history of domestic life as we follow along. For instance, a tour of the scullery brings us to a discussion of the lives of servants in the 1800s, complete with gossip of the day. A discussion of the word “hall” brings us to the history of medieval halls where lord of the manor and servants coexisted in one large room out of the elements and near the fire. As it turns out, At Home is a fascinating look at history complete with a touch of Bryson’s trademark wit. If you’ve ever read Simon Winchester (Krakatoa), you might see a glimpse of the constructs Winchester employs to connect his topics, which on the surface often seem unrelated.
Bryson narrates his own CD in his slightly British accent, making it a pleasure to listen to.
Cookbooks are wildly popular here and have been for years. I find I sometimes have to watch the food channel to see who is who and who cooks what so I can assist those seeking the cookbook written by the woman with the southern accent, or the one who cooks Italian and has that husband on the show sometimes.
I was thinking about this recently, remembering the days when cookbook meant Betty Crocker, Fannie Farmer, or Julia Child. Then there were the less personal titles like “The Better Homes and Garden Cookbook”, “The Joy of Cooking”, and the Sunset series. There came the appliance-specific books like “Slow Cooker Recipes for Two”, and “Cooking with Convection”. There are food or ingredient-specific books and the restaurant/chef cookbooks such as: Leone’s Italian Cookbook, Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen, and Alice Water’s Chez Panisse. And finally, there’s that new crop of celebrity chefs made popular by the food network including Paula Dean, Rachel Ray, Ina Garten, Tyler Florence, and a host of others.
Is it just me or does it seem that the focus is off the food and onto the celebrity chef? Is it the making of entire networks devoted to food? or has it always been that way for foodies who want to know not just the what, but the why and the who?
The typical fantasy novel tells the story of an epic magical battle, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Among Others tells the story of what happens next. Before the book opens, 15-year-old Welsh girl Morwenna and her twin sister fought a magical battle of wills against their twisted mother, trying to prevent her from taking great power and threatening the order of the world. The girls won, but at a great price. Morwenna, or Mori, is permanently crippled by the injuries she sustained and her sister was killed. Mori takes refuge with the father she’s never known, who sends her off to a British boarding school. There, a permanent outcast due to her disability, her Welsh heritage and accent, and her great love of science fiction and fantasy novels, Mori tries to endure. She trades science fiction books with her father, makes overtures towards the local fairy, makes a handful of human friends—including the school’s librarian, who encourages her reading—and finds a local sci-fi and fantasy book discussion group to join. But she knows her mother isn’t done with her and will try to get to her any way she can. Despite all the magical protections Mori places around herself, another conflict with her powerful and wicked mother is building, and this time Mori is on her own.
This novel is clearly a love letter to genre fiction itself, to the writers thereof, and to every sci-fi and fantasy fan who’s ever felt alienated from this world and sought refuge in another. Masterful. Highly recommended for all fans of the genre.