Sara Johnson has lived happily in the Upper Valley since 2004. She has worn many professional hats but has always been a reader. Books have been good friends, storied teachers, inspirational and just plain fun. Besides "breaking bread" with friends and family, sharing a good book - a good cook book!- is a favorite thing. Sara is an avid gardener, a competent and experimental cook, and novice birdwatcher.
Finally, another breathtaking work of storytelling from the author of The Night Circus. Like her first novel, The Starless Sea is a multi-layered tale that weaves the past and the present and future. Unlike the first book, this is an olio of pirates, liars, bee defenders, Fate and Destiny. Stories and books are central, as another character. And Zachery Ezra Rawlins has stumbled into the thick of it. This story folds in on itself only to swell and narrow, always moving, like waves upon the sea. The cast of characters are impressive and distinct. Adventure, danger, love, and most of all suspense fill the pages right up to the finish, when Fate and Destiny designate another individual to start again and carry the story forward. Total fun!
Years later and better than ever; Strout and Olive do not disappoint. Olive is softened by aging and self-reflection, but thankfully still a little rough around the edges. Strout again utilizes different community characters/voices to describe the evolving Olive, who through their stories demonstrate her acquired subtleties. She has learned to temper that once brutal directness, is even kind, compassionate. We move through her advancing age from one poignant moment to another, through loss and insight, coming to rest in her very old age. She is absolutely one of the most remarkable characters in print.
A moving historical novel about the lesser known era of Franco’s Spain. The son of an American business tycoon traveling reluctantly with his parents uses his camera to enrich his experience, and also create a portfolio for art school admission, a much contested topic. Daniel has a heartfelt connection to Spain through his mother, who was raised there during idyllic times. His command of the language and easy nature gain him entry to otherwise restricted areas of life under Fascism. He is warned often to take care to avoid the over-zealous guards. The photographs, haunting and beautiful, capture the beauty and coarseness of Madrid in the late 50’s, and document brutality and intrigue, as well. Septeys develops a wide range of characters credibly. Several plot lines - relationships that blossom and fade between the individuals - kept this reader VERY engaged. The alternating perspectives of each chapter were initially a hurdle that I overcame as I raced to the end.
I think Malcom Gladwell is the original ‘Outlier’ given his unusual, timely perspectives on topics generally under the radar. Or do his books deeply explore the obvious? In any case, Talking to Strangers is as absorbing and full of ‘AHA! Moments’ as his previous works. I’m from the generation who grew up with the enforced “never talk to strangers” mantra, so I was fascinated by the theories he proposes. Gladwell analyses through history and current events how we all fail to detect a lie, miss cues and ignore our intuition about strangers when we do interact with them. Bernie Madoff, Adolf Hitler, the CIA, and more recently, the unfortunate and fatal Susan Bland traffic stop in Waller Country, TX are among the featured examples here. We cannot assume the best about people we do not know but that is a trait of our modern society. And we cannot abandon trust, either. “There are clues to making sense of a stranger. But attending to them requires care and attention.” Absolutely engaging.
An enthralling first novel by an accomplished writer. Coates tells a story of plantation life and slavery through the slave/son of the landholder. Hiram Walker has a photographic memory but cannot recall the details of his mother, who was sold away in a snit, when he was very young. As a teen, he catches his father’s attention and is moved ‘up’ to the Manor House where he entertains guests with parlor tricks using that superlative memory. Hiram is educated with and then assigned to serve his reckless half brother, Maynard. A terrible carriage accident catapults both brothers into the river. Only Hiram survives. The story moves from Virginia to Philadelphia to upstate New York and across the Chesapeake Bay. It includes blind-siding betrayal, courageous plotting, a well-heeled underground, heartbreaking separations, and a little magic. Here is an undeniable albeit fictional retelling in the first person of the culture of slavery in America. I am fascinated by Coates’ use of language, his purposeful technique of employing ordinary words in unexpected ways that open and deepen the readers’ understanding, as in Between the World and Me. Single nouns starkly define thematic boundaries: Street, House, Quality, the Tasked. Sometimes stories like this can become loose and unravel, but not this one. The finish was very satisfying - and still, I wanted more.
An extremely clever and mutli-layered mystery set in Victorian England. Many recognizable characters participate in the story line like Dickens, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Karl Marx, and - of course - an ailing Charles Darwin. Throw in a psychopathic killer and corrupt palace intrigue, and the result is a page turner of epic conspiratorial suspense. Enter well-intentioned and doggedly determined Detective Inspector Field (the prototype for Dickens’ Mr. Bucket, often referred to as such, to his eternal chagrin) and we are given an heroic conclusion. Really smart and disturbing plot lines kept me up well past midnight to finish. I highly recommend this mystery!
Brilliant! Like on par with The Crucible. A powerful novel, based on a devastatingly true story and created as ‘an act of female imagination’. It’s practically a narrative as Toews’ has August, the teacher on the Mennonnite Molotschna Colony, translate into English the minutes from the secret meetings of a diverse group of the womenfolk who have been victims of drugged rapes and attacks by their menfolk - for generations. Some of the perpetrators have been caught and imprisoned. While the remaining men are away auctioning farm animals to cover their bail, the women gather to discuss their situation and future: do they stay, do nothing? Leave? Stay and fight? August records it all. An innocuous title that belies the power of women talking… women who only speak an abandoned German dialect, women who can neither read or write, who do not know how to use a map or navigate. But women who can logically and sensitively determine their worth, who can logically weigh the consequences of their actions within the restrictions and dictates of their religion, purposefully avow their souls are their own, and conclude forgiveness of their betrayers is only God’s to bestow. Breathtaking.
Set in Hamm, Germany just as WW II seems to be evolving. Josef Hofmann is on assignment for the Communist Party to create a cell of insurgents to muddle the trains and hobble Hitler’s mobilization of troops. Had Hofmann secured rooms in a different boarding house, the story would have been much different. He is one of three male boarders, working the trains, and each with varying degrees of loyalty to the Reich. Jopsef becomes fond of the Gersdorff family, especially the 12 year old son, Walter, a bright young man with a mind of his own. After a lifetime of espionage, Josef’s tough shell begins to melt.That he wrote a diary was against all his covert principles, but the reader feels the warmth of his re-awakening as we learn of the creeping inhumanity of the Nazi regime. The diary, well-hidden for 50 years, is discovered and returned to Walter and published for all to read. Touching and and triumphant!
Another novel steeped in historical truth, beginning with a fantastic twist. Schwartz’s father was the young attorney assigned by the CIA to accompany Svetlana Allilyueva at her defection from Stalin’s Russia to the United States. In this story Peter Horvath is the fictionalized attorney who brings Svetlana to America. An easy accounting of assimilation to read that includes the occasional poor choices a young woman can make in the wake of unaccustomed freedom: a disastrous marriage and a look into the cultish society of Frank Lloyd Wright. Her guilt of abandoning her children in Russia and attempts to reconcile with them are another thread of the story, as well as glimpses into Stalin’s egomania. Very interesting.
This is a masterful work that sticks with you for days after finishing it. There are so many layers! A Latino family traveling from NYC to the very unfamiliar southwest for an opportunity for both parents to pursue their respective artistic and journalistic projects. He is a documentarist, creating archives with sounds, ‘echo’s of the landscape’, eager to explore the legacy of Geronimo. She is a documentarian, intrigued with a book, Elegy of Lost Children, relating the stories to finding a friend’s daughters who are lost in the immigration process. Each parent shares history (ie, the U.S. Indian Removal Policy) and speculation (deportations at the southern border) with their 10 year old boy and five year old daughter. Luselli is genius at capturing the nuances of familial relationships during a long road trip. Her storytelling is measured, deep and smart. The mother asks the children, “What would you do if you were lost?” And, oh boy, be prepared.
A beautifully visual and ultimately heartbreaking novel about the glamorous era of the post war American playwrights, specifically Tennessee Williams, and their effects and influence. But also woven into the storylines are the ravaging expectations and destructive reversals of fame. Frank Merlo, William’s lover during his most successful run of plays and movies, is dying in a NY hospital, waiting for Tennessee to visit him one last time. Williams hasn’t had a hit since their breakup years earlier. Anja Bloom, once a world renown actress turned recluse, also reminisces about Frank, plagued by memories of ignoring his plea to come to the hospital. Their connection born a life time ago at an outrageous party thrown by Truman Capote in Italy and sealed by an experience that became Suddenly, Last Summer. It’s a sweeping novel that brilliantly blends fact with fiction - a favorite type of story of mine.
A fascinating and brief historical novel about an imagined period in Michelangelo’s early career. Already an accomplished sculptor, but held to a short leash by an autocratic Pope, the artist removes himself to Constantinople. There, the sultan tempts Michelangelo to design a bridge connecting Europe to Asia over the Golden Horn, promising fame to surpass Leonardo… Enard writes sensually about Michelangelo’s immersion in a foreign realm, a drama that ends in mystery and a hasty escape.
Do you remember those parties long ago that devolved into riotous renditions of the ‘Knights of Ni’? Or “the creature most foul”? Here, Eric Idle writes a lively biography with a staggering A-list of rock stars, movie stars, movie makers and top notch comedians that circulated intimately within the realm and reign of Monty Python. The book could also be social history as it covers so much of the popular themes of the 70’s and beyond from an irreverent view! Not without a few sad bits: incredible that one of the era’s funniest men was released to an orphanage at the tender age of seven by his mother…overall, a happy and nostalgic romp.
This is Hannah’s third incarnation of Agatha Christie (The Monogram Murders and Closed Casket). I swear she’s channeling the Grande Dame of Mystery, and this is her best yet. Poirot is quirky and intense as expected, more so for having to defend himself from four strangers who received forged letters accusing them of the murder of a well-known industrialist. He must clear himself and solve a murder. Trustworthy Inspector Catchpool is at the ready to assist his friend in the investigations. Pure madcap and volley. Written in uniquely dry British humor, it’s a jolly race to the defense of our Inspector and his forensic conclusion.
This is a stark and gripping retelling of Beowolf in contemporary times. The Aspen-like suburban community, Herot Hill, the realm of Willa Herot, is an extreme counterpoint to the ancient spirits in the abutting mountain mere, where Dana Hill has lived apart with her son Gren all his life. A precocious teenager, Gren leaves the mere to explore the lighted and glistening neighborhoods below. He meets Dylan Herot, and the boys become friends. The differences that only the adults can perceive drive the story to it’s mythical conclusion, events in an environment where Ben Wolf, a local cop says, “the world isn't large enough for monsters and heroes at once." Headley vividly captures the depth a mother’s love and her madness, successfully developed and contrasted by Willa and Dana. Surprises and suspence kept me interested right up until the last word.
Normally I don’t scan reviews for a book I’ve chosen for my Staff Pick, but this novel - so rich and broad, full of cadences and flashbacks, the lives and deaths of the de la Cruz family - had me looking for guidance.Those professionals let me down - too narrow! This is a saga, could be episodic, about the initial illegal border crossing from Mexico into America and the evolution of culture/ethnicity with each generation born in the chosen home country - los Dreamers. We begin with Big Angel scrambling to get to himself and his family to his mother’s funeral on time. He is the ascended patriarch of a large family, each member a well developed character, and as a group, hilarious. Big Angel is also terminally ill and set to celebrate his 70th birthday the day after the funeral. He has orchestrated both events as a colossal exit strategy. Cousins come from near and far to joyfully reminisce but also to share sorrow for the expected loss. Written with a bit of a magical perspective to court saints and angels.
A romp of a mystery-slash-historical-slash-spy novel. Lynch spent several years in Italy and gleaned a deep understanding of the country and it’s characters which she delightfully shares in the pages of this debut. Set in Tuscany at onset of the Cold War, newlyweds from America Scottie and Michael try to settle into village life - she to become a supporting wife and homemaker; he to open a Ford Tractor dealership, so we are told… Secrets, unlikely passions and even the CIA are woven into this fast-paced story.
Oliveira's second novel about a spirited and determined woman, Mary Sutter. Her first offering, My Name is Mary Sutter, about a young and experienced midwife who, against immeasurable odds, trains to be a surgeon during the Civil War, won the Michael Shaara Award for Civil War Fiction. This book, also beautifully written, has a sinister slant. Mary, now an established physician with a successful family practice leads the citizenry of Albany in a desperate search for two missing girls, sisters lost during a cataclysmic winter storm. Also lost are their parents in sweeping tragedies of snow and flood that nearly destroy the local lumber mills. Intrigue, politics, and finally grit bring the girls back to the Sutter home. Tenderness and love temper their mistreatment and recovery. An untried attorney skillfully puts the pieces of the case together and sensitively draws out the girls’ account of what happened. During a climactic prosecution, the perpetrator is discovered, and a raw justice is served. Haunting but ultimately satisfying.
I imagine that after reading Dunbar, Shakespeare himself would stand in ovation for St. Aubyn’s brilliant contemporary re-telling of King Lear. An aged Henry Dunbar is in the midst of multi-faceted betrayals and a savage corporate takeover involving his two eldest daughters, a former physician, a business partner, and a major competitor!. His youngest daughter, immune to his vast empire and unscrupulous power is banished and disinherited in a fit of rage, yet loves him still. The heat is on to locate their father prior to the Annual Board meeting where the coup is set. Henry does his part to escape from the sanatorium where Abby and Megan have stowed him, surviving inclement weather, madness and a personal reckoning. Very clever and intricate story-telling, with laugh out loud moments and tragedy, too - it's heavy at times, but a thrilling read to the spectacular finish. I'm keen to read the other Hogarth’s Shakespeare 're-imaginings'.
It's a shame that there isn't an image of this cookbook to accompany my review because this is the most beautiful cookbook published this year AND the recipes are easy and commonsensical - nothing pretentious here! - her personal tips for success well appreciated. The photographs are extraordinary. Golden fluffy souffles, reliable gnocchi dough and no-fail meringue; all these and others sing on the pages.This is the kind of book to settle with on a Sunday morning or a rainy day and plan the week's menu.
Set in Shaker Heights, OH, where the residents aspire and conspire to perfectly plan their lives in the same manner the community had originally been planned. We meet the Richardson family assembled in their front yard watching their house swiftly burn to the ground. The older children are fairly glib, all agreeing their youngest sister set the house ablaze. What follows is the family backstory, and how Mia and Pearl, an unconventional single mother and her high school daughter, factored into this climatic disaster. The two family's distinctly separate histories begin to merge when Pearl becomes enamored of the Richardsons' lifestyle, but split irretrievably when a neighborhood couple adopt a Chinese infant abandoned at the town fire station. Beautifully and insightfully written, Ng has captured the best and worst of her characters and tells a really, really good story.
An intricate, expanding tale that folds upon itself and yet, continues to grow… Young Cem apprentices with a master well digger as a means to support his mother. Master Mahmut becomes an authority and spiritual figure for him. Each evening under star-filled skies, he retells the old stories, foundation myths of Persia - all very foreign and fascinating to me, but irritating to Cem. One day deep into the process of digging, Cem accidentally tips a bucket full of debris back into the well cavity. He hears a terrible scream from his master, then silence. Destiny, humanity and a seductive red-haired woman are the threads of this Sophocles-esque story, the ending of which still haunts me.
That silly rhyme always comes to mind whenever the Borden murders and Lizzie's trial are mentioned. It's a cold case after 125 years! However, Ms. Schmidt gives the story a new twist. If all the facts and evidence are the warp of the story, she cleverly provides the weft: a cruel and dysfunctional family, the complex relationship between the sisters, and an introduction of another possible party to the crime...The reader wonders at times: did Lizzie do it?
This is a brilliant work that gently recounts the history of Margery Williams Bianco and her family, most specifically her wildly talented and troubled daughter, Pamela. An art prodigy at a crazy early age, encouraged by Pablo Picasso, unabashedly promoted by her father, Pamela’s life is consumed by painting and routinely derailed from normalcy. Her mother, Margery, and references to The Velveteen Rabbit ‘s question, ‘what is real’, serve as her compass at several life crises. Touted as a novel, Huber’s thorough research and easy writing style reads like a page-turning memoir.
This is one of the best books I’ve read this year! Part memoir, part science and research projects, part nature study, and just just chock full of interesting information regarding starlings, Mozart and his family, mimicry and music! Haupt robs a doomed starling nest and hand-raises Carmen, who becomes a beloved member of the family and muse. Which is Haupt’s intention as she teases out by experience an obscure story about Mozart’s pet starling. Moves right along and is a joy to read - especially for bird lovers.
Another thought provoking book of reflection and discovery from a master, well suited for the times. A how to access an abiding forgiveness and grace: “the radical kindness, the softening and surrendering that is a part of mercy, is what Lamott longs for, but it often seems out of her reach.” Written in brief essays, it’s a quick read the first time through...
Heacox is already reaping superlative reviews for his first novel with enthusiastic comparisons to The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Milagro Beanfield War. Set in Crystal Bay, southeast Alaska, this is a coming of age story for both Keb Wisting, an aged grandfather and the last canoe maker in the village, and his grandson James whose dreams of a basketball scholarship are ruined in a careless logging accident. Feuds and rivalries abound. There is an investigation of the boys responsible for James’ injuries, Keb’s daughters represent opposing positions on the native Tlingit lands, the US government, even a rascally old dog has a place in the fabric of this tale. All threads culminate in a great chase - Keb and James in the last canoe they made, residents of Crystal Bay in all manners of boats and the Crystal Bay Natural Marine Reserve. Beautifully written, the characters and scenery pop and the story is engaging on many levels. This novel is supremely deserving of the many kudos it has received.
A very satisfying debut mystery/thriller. Set in the out-country of Australia almost ruined by a prolonged drought, Detective Aaron Falk returns to his boyhood home to investigate a triple murder and attend the funeral of his former best friend, Luke, his wife and their 10 year old son, the objects of his murder inquiry. The story is layered, the plot unfolds tantalizingly slowly, keeping the reader sharp and ready. Aaron’s past in Kiewarra features as understory to the grisly present. A host of credible characters with their own stories and histories makes for a rich supporting cast, and not until nearly the end are the truths revealed with the threat of a match in a very, very dry country. Masterful storytelling.
This is a brilliant follow up to Hannah’s The Monogram Murders. Inspector Poirot and Detective Edward Catchpool of Scotland Yard are 2 among 5 guests, 4 residents and 3 staff for a week- long stay at an Irish estate. Lillieoak is a Gothic mansion with vast grounds owned by Lady Athelinda Playford, renowned author of legendary children’s mysteries. The first evening the guests are assembled around the dining table, and after the second course, Althie announces the details of her new will. Her vast holdings have been reassigned to Joseph Scotcher, her Ladyship’s secretary, whose death from a rare kidney disease is imminent. What transpires afterwards is controlled (and at times funny!) chaos, classic Christie. Poirot is fabulous. The large cast of characters is diverse, and all 12 characters, plus the 2 local gardia are well defined and memorable. This is as convoluted a story as can be with so many pieces and twists, but it works like a well oiled machine. I was a captive right up until the end, and surprised at the outcome! Closed Casket is a perfect romp of a mystery - I think Dame Agatha would be tickled.
This collection of poetry, prose and narrative is reminiscent The Education of Little Tree, but it is a mature recollection from a man who has navigated two cultures (Iroquois and Polish), many ironies and many indignities throughout his life. Yet the verse is warm, engaging, and sometime laugh-out-loud funny. But there are also dark images from a Catholic education and schoolyard/workplace bullying, I cringed at certain passages, ashamed for the ignorance and racial biases he experienced along the way… All told, I highly recommend this little big book, especially as current politics assemble and vibrate in the Dakotas.
I first read about Dr. Cate in an airplane magazine years ago. She is an physician with a background in microbiology, as well as the nutritional director for the L.A. Lakers. The article included details about her research based recommendations and glowing testimonies of the results on his and the team’s athletic performance and healing from injury by Kobe Bryant, was fascinating and common-sensical. This is the second printing of the book with an expanded offering of ‘The Four Pillars of the Human Diet’ - the results of her research into traditional regional cooking methods. French cooking got high marks because cooking methods haven’t changed much, however, all the evaluated regions methods share 4 similarities: meat is cooked on the bone, the inclusion of organ meats, fermentation and sprouting, and the benefits of eating fresh, raw vegetables. What continues to fascinate me is her microbiologic approach to how the body identifies and uses what we chew and swallow. There’s probably more scientific information than you want to know about why braising captures all the benefits of meats, or why raw milk is molecularly better for us, but… if you want a better understanding of how your body works, read this book!
This is a gem of a book, perfect for the winter months that lay ahead. At a crossroads in her personal and professional life, Maclear signs on with a birder, an amateur photographer/musician who posts his shots of birds taken in and around Toronto. Not the bucolic pictures of rare birds in nature, but in some of the deserted and desolated areas about the city. She shadows him for a year. Each chapter is a month’s results of sightings and her own philosophical reflections about her work(she’s an artist and writer), the declining health of her father, and her life. What evolves a powerful shift in the nature of her attention - to the birds, her art and life. She notices a similar peaceful quiet develop within her second, anxious son when she begins to include her boys on regular outings. Simply watching, waiting and rewarded with avian company and music.
This is a marvelous story based on the real-life of a former war veteran, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, who made his living reading world news to the inhabitants of small towns and wilderness outposts throughout North Texas. “When they read his handbills, men abandoned saloons, they ran through the rain from their firelit homes, they left their cattle circled and bedded beside the flooding Red to hear the news of the distant world”. I was rapt with the thought of those readings. As if this wasn’t adventure enough, Kidd agrees to return a feral 10 year old girl to her relatives 400 miles across the state, braving weather, highwaymen, Indians and the rough terrain that is Texas. ‘Cho-henna” witnessed the brutal murder of her family 4 years earlier and then was whisked away, absorbed into the Kiowa tribe. This is a complex, layered story of post-war history and the human heart. There are moments of breathtaking suspense and heartbreak, and a happy and credible ending!
An utterly charming and fascinating book on current research and forest maintenance methods.
Wohlleben manages an ancient forest in Germany and makes the case that trees are sentient beings, who have social relationships - they live in ‘families’ and share their ‘food’ with each other and a rich, and necessary, underground plant life of fungi who maintain a water supply for their majestic friends. Trees can communicate among themselves, including alerts for impending dangers or invading pestilence. I never knew the significant odds for their reproduction, especially given all those twirly-gigs I rake in the spring! I have a much different, much deeper appreciation of the woods that border my property, as well as an better understanding of the urgent need to preserve and cultivate a population of older trees/forests as a means to protect and conserve our waterways, aquifers, and overall ecological equilibrium on earth.
This book was my introduction to a well-known author who infuses philosophical discourse and observation as a unique angle, and much appreciated device to flesh-out his characters and storyline. Rabih and Kirsten fall in love and marry. The question of how they met and fell in love always comes up, but what about what happened after? As we watch Rabih and Kirsten work, fight, make love, and take risks, de Botton does something interesting: he will rewind a scene, usually an argument, and play it again to illustrate how loving, mature people should react, rather than how they typically do. I laughed out loud and also had to check my anger at certain parts of the story. The novel is a valuable commentary on the state of modern marriage and it reassures us that troubles are a normal, even necessary, part of the journey.
A stunning collection of artistic renditions of some of the most colorful and moody species of avians produced throughout the ages and mediums. To say the artists and their works are curated in this is an acceptable review. Picasso, Klimt, and Durer; classical oils, Japanese wood blocks, modernist, and abstract: this a perfect little coffee table book. Thumb through it again and again…
When I mention this book to friends and acquaintances, they tell me, “Oh, I listen to her every Sunday morning. Her NPR program (On Being) is like going to church for me.” News to me, the uninformed One, but the title really caught my attention. Here she has reprinted some of the more ‘luminous’ interviews with people who are making a difference in the world in a conscious, ecumenically informed way, and really making a difference. She’s organized these reflections around five basic materials of the human experience: words, flesh, love, faith and hope. It has been a calm harbor reading this book as I flee from the reports and updates of the Presidential election, thinking the worst for our future and stunned at the incivility, rancor and general temperament of our public servants running for office and their supporters. Tippett’s conversation is a rare safe and contemplative harbor, a bit like the cool sanctuary of church.