Beth Reynolds has been a bookseller for 20-plus years, 12 of them at the Norwich Bookstore. She spends her weeks in the children's section of the Norwich Public Library, but on Saturdays you can find her here, helping a child find the perfect birthday present or recommending books to adults looking to get lost in a good read.
I love picking up a book from a favorite author and then having her blow your mind. Groff's latest limns the volcanic yet vulnerable world of Lotto and Mathilde's marriage. We follow their first meeting all the way through to a death in the family years later. And just when you think you understand the progression of the novel, she throws you this big curveball. Each of her books has been so vastly different I've come to appreciate her talent and genius down to the sentence level. In each there is an intimacy with her characters that can only come from listening to their desires. They embody real emotions and as a reader I will follow wherever they lead. Groff has taken us to Cooperstown, a commune called Arcadia, to the land of edible birds, and now inside the mind of a playwright and his muse. I've seen reviews that call this the big book of the fall and the one everyone will be talking about. Read it and see for yourself, then find me so we can chat.
I'm always fascinated when a book continues to stick with an author-- enough so that they feel the need to revisit that world that they created. Levithan wrote this piece as a companion. You can read it as a stand alone, right after you finish Every Day or years apart. We are back with A who has the ability to wake up in a different body each morning, but now we see it through a different lens. Rhiannon is the star of this show, her hopes and desires take center stage. By observing A and the bodies he inhabits but not actually being inside his head, the questions are more prevelant here-- raising topics of gender, race and the labels we assign. Readers of the previous book may think they already know the ending; but I have to wonder, what comes next? Levithan writes the best YA. His books are accessible, and utterly engrossing but deceptively simple and thought provoking. His characters are fully realized and fleshed out, in a way that makes you want to go back and read everything he's ever written. You should they're fabulous.
Jess Fechtor’s life took a tragic turn when she was 28. She had a brain aneurysm while staying here in Vermont and the doctors in Burlington put her back together again. Through her lyrical writing we see the rest of the process: she tried to fix what was broken by moving through the world as she remembered before the accident. By interspersing flashbacks of her childhood and college years, Fechtor gets to the very essence of her relationship with food and memory and taste and smell. After the surgery she lost the sight in her left eye and her sense of smell. Her writing about the journey back is authentic and sensual, never maudlin or self-pitying. This is the way a food memoir should be, filled with simple recipes that inspire. She offers these recipes to make us involved in part of the story, so afterwards we’ll have something to keep and make it our own. Each time we prepare one there will be the reconnecting to her words, to her story, as we share the food with those that we love. By reading and cooking we come to see that food means family, friends, and memories. Stirred by her stories about her time in Boston, I am on a pilgrimage to Hi-Rise Bakery in Cambridge, where toast is the main event. I promise to take notes.
Based on a real person -- the subject of a Joseph Mitchell New Yorker essay -- Attenberg’s latest novel revisits the New York of yesteryear. Mazie, a young woman who didn’t want to be tied down or confined, spends most of her day in a tiny booth passing out tickets to the theater. In bite-sized sections, a rotating cast of characters gives us a complete detailed picture of her many years, and all of the ways she helped those around her. The documentary-style structure felt to me as if Attenberg were a sculptor and each piece provided was actually chipping away at the marble until we are left with the masterpiece. A great companion piece to those who loved North’s The Life and Death of Sophie Stark. Perfect for NYC nostalgists, movie buffs, and those who read on the run.
Stead’s latest story focuses on a group of kids moving on to middle school. Bridge, one of the girls, suffered a traumatic accident when she was younger. She’s worked hard to come back from it, but it’s losing her friends that might be her undoing. Sherm lost his grandfather when he left the family and moved to NJ. Sherm won’t talk to him, but he writes him letters. There is a third storyline, told by an unnamed narrator that keeps twisting round the other two plots, drawing us forward to the conclusion. These kids knew who they were, but now they’re searching for who they are going to be. Here we see the girls moving past elementary friendships with boys and girls, wearing cat ears every day because they want to, and discovering that trust in another person’s actions is not always as simple as it once was. Stead is spot on with her authentic portrayals of friends dealing with identity, and boys, and trying to juggle school and all the other curriculars. She handles some heavy topics with a light touch. Her use of letters and the unnamed third point of view keeps us riveted to the satisfying conclusion. Perfect for fans of Gary Schmidt and for those tween readers looking to bridge the transition from chapterbooks to the young adult section.
The novel opens with Alison telling the reader a story in a Moth-Radio-Hour-like setting. Her voice and the compelling tale she told drew me in deeper and deeper, as if following a light into a dark twisted tunnel. Each chapter is told from a different point of view, which gives a well-rounded, engrossing look at our subject, Sophie. At the end of each of the varied perspectives, I would come up for air before plunging back in again. North's latest is a study in film making, perfect for the cinephile in your life and those readers interested in plumbing the intersection between media, literature, and art. Following any of these passions requires difficult choices, and any producer or maker of art is faced with a sacrifice when creating a work. Sophie said, “I could make it happy or I could make it good.” By the last page you know where North stands on that complicated issue.
Starting out with Schneider’s latest I was instantly engrossed. But then I got about midway and it started to feel all “Fault in Our Starsish”-- which I believe is the technical term -- and I wondered if I could handle that again. All that weeping and the prolonged sadness that lasts long after you finish the book. But then I realized it was too late, I was already invested and I couldn’t just disengage from these characters. Perhaps reading is a little like life that way, if you try and avoid the messy bits, then really what’s left? Should you really sterilize your life; is that possible? Which in a way is the theme of Lane and Sadie’s time in the institution. There they are trying to lay low and heal, but Sadie shows him how to break the rules. They figure out how to beat the system and make it into town as if they are normal kids. I felt like they were the kids I see at Starbucks in Hanover and as I read I imagined passing them on the street and waving hello. This sadness and poignancy in YA literature has become a fascination of mine, but it’s really the characters I cling to. Lane and Sadie made me see the world a little differently. Reading Extraordinary Means was definitely worth all the tears.
Alexander’s book is all about the loss of her husband at the age of 50 and how she and her boys were able to keep living in spite of their sadness. She is eloquent in her desperation and her grief as she illuminates for us the ways in which she kept moving on. I found her words to be honest, heartfelt, and stripped of sentimentality. I don’t think she didn’t set out to write a how-to guide book for survival, rather what she created is an outpouring of feeling and emotions expressed in the way of a poet. Reading her prose was unlike anything I had experienced before, as if there was an undercurrent of music between the lines. Only musical terms like crescendo, adagio and allegra would do a description justice. Requiem never entered my mind. As she relates these events to us, we see firsthand the meaning of bittersweet.
This second novel in Smiley’s epic trilogy follows the Langdon family for several more decades, from the 50s up to the 80s. We have new generations to learn about and the family tree has a few more branches. With each new chapter, you can tell Smiley cares about her characters. She gives intimate details -- not just the shiny and sparkly ones -- but the joy and the grit in equal measure. The family has spread out now and we see the Iowa farm is faring as well as the homes of those living on each coast. It is such a gift to follow some of these characters from their birth all the way to their death, all the while marveling at the way in which paths cross and lives intersect. Yet in the end we are left wanting the third and final installment. None of us sure if we want to come to the final last page but needing to know how the days and years play out for these characters we have come to know and love. I’ll be counting down the days until book three is released in October.
It may not be pretty, it may not be glamorous, but the honest truth of it is this: Sarah Dessen delivers solid books you can count on. She honors her readers with compelling stories of teens in realistic situations. While reading about a character who acts like a friend or a classmate one can discover their human foibles and personality flaws, because Sarah breathes life into the characters she creates. Too often we read for the Who or the What, Sarah gives us the full-throated, big-hearted Why. She digs in deep to give us believable characters we come to know and love. Spend some time with Syndey, get to know her and the life she's living. It will raise your bar for great teen lit.
I’m so pleased and excited for Tara's latest offering, that I want everyone to take it home and have this same experience in their own kitchens. You may ask why you might need yet another cookbook, but take one look at it and you may ask: How could I not? And all of the interactions that come after: the cooking, the baking, the eating with family and friends, will make you happy that you did.
I have been a faithful reader of Tara’s blog for many years now. Her family recipes have inspired my own cooking in a variety of ways. I’ve got a notebook full of print outs they are stained with ingredients from being well used and well loved. Some of them – both savory and sweet – have become my go-to's. I love the way Tara breathes life into her words, somehow taking on a conversational and instructional tone. She is both friend and teacher, and very talented. The pictures that often accompany her essays give me an instant craving for whatever she is cooking.
Arnold, who often writes for an older audience, totally captures the anguish of losing a friend and leaving your home. Iris has left California for the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. Soon after her family settles in, she starts a new school and unexpectedly meets Boris. Their’s is not your typical like-at-first-sight friendship. He’s a bit of a know-it-all who loves to play Magic the Gathering. In spite of Iris’s protests, learning to play the game is the focus of their afternoons. When she discovers he was a “miracle” baby, their bond deepens. In return, she teaches him how to soften a bit and how to meet friends. This is a story of loss, starting over, making peace with the past but most importantly a book that celebrates friendship and family. It’s refreshing to see Iris interact with her less than perfect parents, the nicknames and rituals special to any family. I adored her hairless cat, Charles, who finally becomes happy with a knitted coat. Somehow, in Oregon, Iris learns to dance in the rain and embrace the life in front of her instead of worrying about the way her life could have been.
Here the artistry happens at the level of the sentence. Julavits gives us the convention of a diary, but the daily entries but not chronological. We see her life in Maine and New York, interactions as a parent a spouse a friend, teacher, daughter--all the roles one might play in the course of a life. Taken together, each day adds to the mosaic of a year, forming a complete picture of her activities, intentions, secret thoughts and desires. She says in an early passage that the real trick is getting the hand to write. Emotions flow through the pen and make their way to us, the reader. I love Heidi and have read almost everything she's written, including the fabulous Women in Clothes. When I heard about this latest book, I was gleeful, and then was so pleased to see her talismans grace the cover of the NYT book review. If you were intrigued or interested to discover more about the inner workings of a writer, let this review bring you closer to picking it up and losing yourself in the days.
Mousataki’s latest work is hard to categorize; the back of the book is blurb by two animal people, and inaugural poet, a memoirist and a fiction writer. There’s so much emotion here-- for her grandfather, her birds… All of it leading up to the painful honesty of her addiction to alcohol. Her writing is heartfelt, yet I did not feel burdened by her remembrances; it wasn't just dumping information and standing back to say “There you go, Reader”. Nikki has written 25 books on the care of exotic birds, which is a method by which she shares all of the information she has accumulated over the years. Perhaps writing this memoir was a way to examine what's happened in her life and to make a connection, a chance perhaps for a reader to identify or be inspired. Not just overcoming a substance abuse problem, but learning how to deal with obstacles we all face. I picked it up because of my love of Paris and discovered so much more than I expected. I seem to be in the mood for memoirs and if this is your choice of genre, you won't be disappointed. There is a real sincerity in the way she crafts her sentences and conveys these emotionally wrought experiences of growing up in Florida, losing her home, relatives passing and making her way through school and hitting rock bottom. Here you will find love, loss, the power of a natural world connection, and how family can give us the foundation on which to stand.
There are countless books written each year told from one character's point of view. Often we are left wondering just what goes on inside another character's head. What motivates them, how do they see the world? Joyce's second novel takes us back to England at the time of our beloved Harold Fry's pilgrimage, but this time we get the backstory of his relationship with Queenie. And more importantly we get insight into the life of David, his son. Not every story an author writes needs to be revisited, but Joyce shows true compassion for our hospital bound Queenie, showing us her life with Harold and the years after when she lived by the sea and spent her days creating a garden. As we become witness to the end of her life, the other patients in the hospital slowly evolve into living, breathing personalities that will make you laugh and cry in equal measure. (Finty is my girl!) Not every journey one embarks on involves leaving home or setting out on foot. Queenie never leaves her bed, yet she is able to take us on a different kind of pilgrimage; with exhilarating highs and lows of deepest desperation -- all within the pages of a book. This novel is one that is meant to be admired and savored -- with a box of tissues within reach.