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.
Sometimes the book you need most finds you. After hearing a recommendation on the So Many Damn Books podcast I decided to pick Lily and the Octopus up. I instantly connected with the story and the relationship Ted had with Lily, his dog. I loved their schedule of the week: Talking About Boys, Pizza Night, Game Night. And understandably, I was just as enraged by the attitude of the octopus clinging to Lily's head. How dare he insert himself in the middle of the owner-pet relationship! The story vacillates between the unfortunate present day situation and the past. We see the way Owner and Dog initially meet, how Lily came home, and a few of the important events in her life. Eventually the lengths Ted will go to deal with the cephalopod-crasher as the story takes an adventuresome turn. There have been several important dog books in my life-- Where the Red Fern Grows, Lassie, Beautiful Joe--but those came to me in my childhood, before I even realized the dream of having a dog of my very own. Recently I read Rowley's novel on the heels of my own four-legged loss. I felt raw and exposed as I turned the pages and by the end I was cleansed in the way that only really great books can provide. Honest, sincere, funny and tender, this story is for anyone who has ever loved and then felt a cavernous hole in their life when that someone must leave you.
In today's world of fast-paced media, many different levels of entertainment crossover and intersect. On one layer there are the TV shows, like X-files or Firefly, that feature smart dialogue and interesting storylines, which create devoted fans. Then there are the comics and all of the talent-- both from writers and artist---that deliver new issues each month to their dedicated readers. And now there are places where these groups gather to celebrate shows, movies
and comic books. Proehl's novel gives us an insider's look at these comic-cons through the eyes of Valerie Tory and her son Alex. As they travel from one event to the next we are given pieces of the past as we jigsaw them together to see the whole picture. There are questions
waiting to be answered: why Valerie left her husband; why she is finally returning her son to his father; and what it was like to be an actress on a television show that captured everyone's attention. Filled with nods and winks to the media savvy world, as well as tender mother and son moments, I kept hoping that their roadtrip wouldn't end, that we could sign a petition and have the page count keep increasing. Perhaps one could hope for a sequel, but this ending leaves you feeling satisfied that the characters have lives beyond the pages. In much the same way that I marveled at Chabon's Kavalier and Clay, these are worlds I got lost in for awhile I am certainly the happier for it.
Good, honest books about friends are hard to find. There are the tragic death/illness/affair stories that leave you feeling happy you've never dealt with something of that magnitude; then there are the frothy, pink-covered books in which silly mix-ups and assumptions happen. They always leave you wanting more. But there is the rare writer who holds up a mirror and shows you an honest portrayal of friends-- perhaps not exactly like your life, but a relationship that feels real and fully formed. Lauren and Sarah have been friends since they were young, as they've grown older they've changed as their lives have taken them in different directions. In the struggle to adapt and keep their relationship intact, they must confront the labels given to them by others and the way in which they view each other. Each friend wants the other to be happy with a partner while trying not to be jealous or hurt that there is less time to spend together. As they grow older, babies, kids, jobs and homes also need love and attention. Alam's compelling debut shows us that life is a balancing act and sacrifices must be made. But true friends, and good books, are always worthy of your time.
How exactly does an author write a book about a relationship between flawed individuals, each unlikable and annoying in their own way, and have you rooting for them the whole time? That Kay can pull this off in a novel that slides down like fine scotch whiskey is nothing short of mesmerizing. Stacey, a feminist poet, and Tommy, the Hollywood star inspired by her book, spar, crash, and shatter. Their tender, volatile connection itself is almost an addiction. This powerful look into the glitterati world of moviemaking offers a behind-the-scenes peek at the creative process and the ways we are overcome by desire. Stacey’s seductive voice charms not only Tommy, but the readers as well.
In her follow up to The Vacationers, Straub lets us peek into the lives of two families who live in the same Brooklyn neighborhood, friends since college. Now the kids are grown and starting to be interested in each other, while their parents’ marriages seem to be falling apart. This isn’t a getting the band back together story because they’ve spent the last few decades in each other’s company. But instead of exams now they’re dealing with turning fifty, restaurant life, yoga dependency, the real estate market, and figuring out whether the studio can use their one major hit in a biopic of their dead bandmate. I honestly don’t know whether Straub’s a masterful puppeteer or a talented chef who knows how to play the ingredients off of each other. I do know that a new novel by her is cause for rejoicing. Her latest is utterly charming and worthy of getting to sleep later than intended due to “One More Page” syndrome. The epilogues alone are worth the price of admission.
Vyleta has invented an interesting and utterly unique premise: tendrils of smoke give away your secret thoughts. Set in the gritty, industrial past, this is world-building at its finest. Not dragons and castles, but dirty, soot-filled London. For fans of Gaiman's Neverwhere and China Mieville's Un Lun Dun, this Dickensian novel starts in a boys school and grows darker and more sinister as the story progresses. Enjoyable on many different levels, this reimagining of history leaves you marveling at the way the author's brain works. Told from multiple perspectives in a variety of settings, the scope is large, then telescopes in tightly. I felt like I was looking through a stereopticon: first with one eye, then the other, and finally facing the whole creation with eyes wide open. If you're looking for something vastly different from your usual fare, pick this Mystery/Fantasy/Steampunk/Thriller up and see for yourself. Don't be surprised if you have to look up every once in awhile and check to see if you're billowing.
Sittenfeld's latest venture is a brave bold experiment that seems a bit outrageous. Some may ask -- do we really need these knock-offs? I declare a resounding Yes! Is not parody the highest honor? The more you play around with plot and character, the more fun it is to tweak and reframe the reader's perception of the original. Here more than ever the author's sense of play shines through. I have read all of Sittenfeld's works, in fact some of them have graced our Staff Pick's wall. Each one stands alone for its effort and individuality I love to see her take risks and can only wonder what type of writing will strike her fancy next. This modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice was fun; a little heartbreaking, but charming. You'll easily recognize the cast of characters now living in Cincinnati. Be on the lookout for Mr Bennet, he gets all the best zingers-- he's king of the one-liners. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
Percer’s latest is a love letter to San Francisco taking place on Valentine’s Day where two earthquakes shatter these characters to their foundations. Set over the course of one whole day, we follow the action as it flips back and forth between two couples. So much happens in such a short amount of time, yet these overriding questions are never far from the reader’s thoughts: Will they be okay? Will they be reunited? Will there be a happy ending? Somehow the passages are both fast and slow paced, as if the action is suspended in amber-like chaos. Percer’s writing brings to light a life-threatening intensity that is unfamiliar to most of us. I cared about these characters with a deep regard for their happiness. Well-written and atmospheric, this novel illuminates the truism that all of our lives in jeopardy, but love has the power to save us.
Rich people problems is an idea that keeps me entertained. I would say a guilty pleasure, but the great thing about this book is that we get to see what makes these characters tick. Sweeney dives deep into their motivations and their sibling connections. You can indeed measure their growth, some with a yardstick others with a microscope. I applaud her willingness to fill out the world by delving into the interactions of the younger generation and the characters who people the periphery. She gives us the big picture in all it's storified glory. Maybe that has something to do with being a later in life debut novelist; maybe she's got more experience and knowledge to pull from. Either way, I was soundly impressed. Then to top it all off, she gives us the unexpected. Not an ending wrapped up in a bow, but one that made me smile nonetheless. I thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent with the family, I was happy to have had the invitation to join them. I'm curious to see what Sweeney conjures up next. I'll be waiting--maybe not so patiently. Funny, acerbic, and spot on; I've seen The Nest showing up on a few Best of Lists. Pick this one up when you're headed out for that perfect, lazy sunny day.
In her amazing debut, Prentiss focuses on the art scene in New York City. Here the definition of Art is being reexamined as the city itself is being reinvented. Her work begs the question: What would you sacrifice in order to create or procure a masterpiece? The story centers around James, the synesthetic art critic and Raul, an artist whose tragedy pushes him to the brink. The city itself is a character and swirls in and around these two and everyone else at this pivotal point in history. Lucy connects the men. She is a shared point of interest, as is art, family and a love of the city. Prentiss portrays the three as honest and flawed, making their paths, still hoping for a happy ending. This story moved me in a way that speaks to the power of true art. Authors put themselves at risk when they create a work such as this, we readers are lucky enough to live in a world where beauty and grit coexist.
This story of friends in their 20s and their lives post-college living in New York reminded me of The Interestings meets A Little Life. Looking back now I can see that is wasn't so much about what happens as when it happens to you. Ordinary events take on a treasure-like sparkle when they take place during your formative years. Books too can become important markers for when you meet them. Special books hit at just the right moment and become a touchstone for a certain time, age or era. I felt a connection to each of the characters which seemed like a spell Jansma had cast, showing me a bit of my own forgotten past when I was still looking out at the life that was waiting for me. I adored his first book, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards; this one is so different, semi-autobiographical, dealing with the death of his sister. His talent is evident from the very first paragraph. This is is a searingly honest portrayal of cancer wrapped into a heady time of life: first jobs, friendships, and wedding planning. Or perhaps it's the other way round. The three prose pieces that frame the book are worth the admission price alone. Read a few pages and see for yourself-- the beauty and intensity draw you right in. Reading this book will quietly change you.
Told from two different points of view, this collaboratively written story illuminates the struggle of those who are left behind. In its own quiet way it also shows the importance of the artifacts that we cling to and the way one can find unexpected healing in a small, rural town. This novel for tweens would be a fabulous companion to Sara Pennypacker's Pax and would make an intriguing parent/child bookgroup choice. It may be the ‘Year of the Monkey’, but I declare it my own personal Year of the Fox.
This is the first YA novel I’ve read set in Alaska. Something about this book restored my faith in realistic fiction. I found an honesty and sincerity here that felt refreshing. Told from the point of view of several teens -- in a series of linked short stories that allows us to see how their lives intertwine and impact the other -- this collection grew out of a prompt given in a writing class. Lucky for us, some writers grab hold of inspiration and don't let go.
While I gravitate towards fiction, I think there is a direct correlation towards the length of time an author has spent working on a book and my respect for their finished product. Chee spent 15 years on this novel. The copious amount of research he did shows in his writing, but his passion for his subject shines through in the creation of Lilliet. Divided like opera acts, the novel itself is like a sumptuous, embroidered gown studded with seed pearls. Now that it’s over, I miss spending my evenings in Paris. I'm sad that my time at the opera has come to an end.
Let me be perfectly up front about this, I would love to have a fox as a pet. I dream about it, make wishes on stars. Much as I did when I was little and I wanted a dog that I wasn't allowed to have, I busied myself with reading about them. Foxes seem to be everywhere now, which pleases me, so I can get my fox fix. In this story Peter lives with his father, his mother has died and Pax the fox is his pet. When his father enlists, Peter is forced to leave Pax on the side of the road and move in with his grandfather. After a few days Peter comes up with a plan to get his pet back and sets out a journey that makes up the driving force behind the novel. Told in alternating points of view, this is a story of redemption, forgiveness and the bittersweet melancholy of growing up and letting go. Pennypacker, known for her Clementine series, perfectly captures the wants and desires of both human and creature. Klassen’s illustrations set the tone for this book, which hearkens back to the days of nature classics I grew up with. Perfect as a family read-aloud or for the fox-lover in your life.
Ellis’s addictive collection made me laugh out loud. It reminded me of Heiny’s Single Carefree & Mellow mixed with Chelsea Handler and a dash of Rebecca Makkai's Music for Wartime. Her miniature Beethoven would be right at home amongst these insouciant characters. Fun, slightly snarky, witty and acerbic, this group of stories hits all the marks. “Hello! Welcome to Bookclub” made me snort in recognition, while “The Fitter” slyly, stealthily left me with tears. These stories are super-short, which is a great bonus, and all are utterly unique. I found myself wondering the genesis of each premise and about the inception of each protagonist. Ellis's latest effort turns the genre of short stories on its head, more of a tutued, tattooed circus performer handstand -- not the shaking lunch money from the class victim kind. Read it and pass it on to a fellow reader in need of a quick diversion from life or their latest big, fat novel.
Beatrix has a plan, she's going to draw the cadavers at the hospital that will lead to her winning the scholarship to art school. She knows her art is out of the ordinary and she hopes that will show the judges she's worthy of the prize. What she doesn't count on is attracting the attention of Jack. He's funny, wry, interesting, and an out-of-the-ordinary artist in his own right. Perfectly capturing the language and tone of today's teens, Bennett shows us the ins and outs of falling in love in modern times. Beatrix hasn't seen her father since her parents divorced and Jack's sister is in a mental hospital. These are not out of the ordinary occurrences, they happen every day; but we come to see that it's this relationship that is special. Their chemistry and attraction bring them closer together as they race around the city to fulfill some of Jack's personal missions. This couple is fully drawn and realized, I felt as if they could walk right off the page holding each other's hand (with a sketchpad or spray paint in the other.)
Books about books are my Kryptonite, I am powerless before them and cannot pass on by without reading it. Baggot, already a favorite from her Pure series for grownups and her Anybodies series for kids, is in fine form here. She gives us three generations of women who are all in a way searching for something. As we come to understand the way their lives twist and twine, the story unspools and carries us along. Harriet says 'the story lights my mind as if winding through a projector in a dark room,' which acts as a metaphor for this novel. Baggot says she spent 18 years with these characters and I'm so glad we finally got to meet them. For readers interested in family trees and/or the magic forest in their own backyard. There's something special here for those of us who like to get lost in a book and yet see the construction behind the creation.
The typewriter font hooked me, but these seemingly simplistic lines of verse kept me reading. I follow Gregson on Twitter and Instagram where he posts daily. Each haiku is like the punctuation point to my morning. I have listened to a few interviews and have found this photographer-turned-poet to be a sincere person who wholeheartedly believes in the power of his three little lines. Given that most of his poems focus on thoughts of hope and love, I think his books are worthy of a wider audience. Perfect for someone you love on a birthday, anniversary or the upcoming Valentines Day.
I can't stop talking about this book. It's a perfect blend of Chabon's intricate language and sentence structure, the weight and heft of aTartt tome, mixed with the grit of a Lehane novel, and combined with the type of mystery Pessl pens—complete with add-ins. Twists and turns abound as far-flung pieces come together in unexpected ways. A word here or a phrase there blossoms like fireworks into a bigger ideal. Punk teens, societal elite and other intriguing outsiders get caught in the unexpected--exploding land mines that change the trajectory of their lives. Hallberg's city of the 70s looms larger than life. The Big Fat Novel isn't dead, let's raise our books in celebration.
This book is what has been missing from my life. Not that I don’t have a slew of writing books at home, but somehow this one came at just the right time. Each chapter provides words of inspiration and wisdom from Liz Gilbert and other creative people, starting with the beginning concept of ideas.
I will confess to nodding my head while reading, dog-earing the corners, and listening to the Big Magic podcasts. I have become a creative convert and it’s helped me with my fiction writing. It’s not every book that allows you to see a familiar concept from a completely different perspective. When you find one, hold onto it like the treasure that it is.
You need this book. Trust me. If you’re looking for funny and light with characters you care about in situations that make you think—then this is the one for you. Told in alternating past and present chapters with a style that makes you want to keep reading. Jumping back and forth you learn more about Harriet and all that’s happened to create the woman in the present. Think Olive Kitteridge meets Where’d You Go Bernadette. Evison’s storytelling skills shine in his latest novel.
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.