Susan Voake, former librarian at the Marion Cross School, lives in Norwich with her husband and springer spaniel. She collects antique dolls, buys and sells Victorian ladies' sentimentalia and ephemera, bakes yummy cookies and enjoys visiting her daughters and their families, treasure hunting, or working in her perennial garden.
As Willa Drake reminisces about her past, four powerful events stand out, but it is an unexpected moment of her sixth decade that sets the stage for the rest of her life. Such an engrossing read! I will never ignore another saguaro cactus. I very much liked the quirky characters and the wonderful notion of how dance might express one's perception of time passing. Chapters zipped by so quickly that I was quite disconcerted when I realized only a few pages were left. Take this book on vacation. You will not be disappointed.
Within a colorfully detailed landscape of Hollywood from the earliest days through the 1950’s, John Connolly paints a portrait of Stan Laurel as the classic tragic clown. His image on the screen masked the sad reality underneath. Adoring of but forever in the shadow of Charlie Chaplin and Oliver Hardy, his life story makes a superb soap opera. Here John Connolly presents it as the stuff of legend written with intentional style. “He” is never mentioned by name. “Ollie” is the referent for Mr. Hardy. Every other man’s name is written first and last, every time it appears. Repetition and text layout provide a poetic structure to the prose. Recommended for classic film buffs and nostalgia fans.
Berlin 1943: Twenty-five year old Magda Ritter’s parents send their daughter to relatives in the countryside of Berchtesgarden to wait out the war. But Berchetesgarden is the site of Adolf Hitler’s mountain retreat. Magda’s aunt and uncle are passionate Nazis and believe every true German must serve the Fuhrer. With limited jobs available in the small town, they pull their few strings to get Magda an interview with the Reich. Several weeks later she is working for Hitler - as one of the tasters who will sample every dish prepared for him. Based on the life of Margot Woelk, who kept her wartime occupation a guarded secret until she was 95 years old, and peopled with fictionalized versions of other inhabitants of Hitler’s intimate household, this historical novel presents the final years of the war from the German perspective. Loyalty, love and betrayal - to oneself, one’s family and one’s country are key themes which resonate in 2018.
London 1595. Fortunately, Queen Elizabeth enjoys a good play, and her Lord Chamberlain is the patron of the ‘Lord Chamberlain’s Men’ so that William Shakespeare’s Theatre should not be harassed by the Puritan government who would close down all these dens of Satan if they could. The Chamberlain’s daughter is to be married at Christmas and a wedding play would be the perfect entertainment. What might William devise? The historical background is set for this superb fiction focusing on Shakespeare’s younger brother and struggling actor, Richard, and the first performance of a Midsummer Night’s Dream. Cornwell’s attention to the language, smells and textures of 16th century London make the dream a vivid reality for the reader. An excellent choice for those who love Shakespeare and historical fiction.
Hallelujah! Let's begin 2018 with a landmark volume by two luminaries in their fields.
Collections of African American folktales have been available, specifically for children, for the last thirty years. For the first time, they are collected and annotated by authorities in both African American culture and world folklore for the popular adult audience.The Gates/Tatar collection begins with four classifications of African tales followed by fifteen groupings of African American tales. An elucidating essay introduces each section with additional essays explicating specific aspects of individual tales. The volume is illustrated throughout but ends with images of tale telling sites and illustrations from Paul Laurence Dunbar poems and Uncle Remus tales.This is a beautifully formatted volume, a must purchase for libraries and highly recommended for families as well.
Twelve generations of Lovegood women, from Rejoice to Verity, devote their blood and toil to a hardscrabble Vermont apple orchard. Adjacent is the wealthy Abrams family, coveting the Lovegood land since the 18th century and feuding with Lovegoods over life and property for 250 years. We meet Sorrow Lovegood at sixteen, living in Miami and trying to remember the details of the tragic death of her sixteen year old sister Patience eight years before. Determined to pull herself out of the fog which literally and figuratively surrounds the Lovegood orchard, Sorrow returns to Vermont to revisit the past . Some mysteries are explained, others are not. An interesting YA read.
Admission: My childhood belief in fairies lasted decades beyond the Peter Pan matinee where I clapped and cried to bring Tinkerbell back to life. When a spiritualistic family friend passed away and left me a collection of 1920's fairy photos and A. C. Doyle's The Coming of the Fairies, I was ready to be a true believer once again. Hazel Gaynor was too. She has taken the account of the Cottingley fairies and given it breadth and depth through the lens of family and children. We meet Frances and Elsie, the girls who staged the infamous fairy photos, but connect to this story though modern day Olivia, bookbinder, disenchanted fiancee and inheritor of a beloved antiquarian bookshop, who as a child lost her mother and as an adult is now losing her grandmother to Alzheimers. A sweet and gentle story written for adults but appropriate for young adult readers as well.
It is a formidable task to authentically retell a classic, though many try with varying modicums of success. I tend to be skeptical of re-visits to novels-- especially stories I've loved and re-read many times over. So it was with a bit of trepidation, as well as anticipation, that I began Mr Rochester. Delight of delights! It was totally satisfying. The tone is apt as is the rise and fall of action from chapter to chapter. The atmosphere and details are spot on. Within the 400 pages only one phrase did not ring true. If you loved Jane Eyre, I think you will find the back story of Edward Fairfax Rochester totally engrossing and the re-emergence of Jane, seen through his eyes, to be just right. Enjoy!
When I was a school librarian, I discovered “Elsie Piddock“ in Eleanor Farjeon’s collection, Martin Pippin in the Daisy Field. I read the story aloud to third graders yearly and watched twenty rapt faces reciting jump rope jingles, and cheering the satisfying finale. It never failed to thrill and my eyes welled up every time. I was delighted in 2000 to find Candlewick had acquired the rights and published the tale in picture book form, choosing Charlotte Voake as the illustrator. Charlotte (not a relation of whom I’m aware) with her whimsical, ethereal, energetic line drawings is the perfect successor to Edward Ardizonne who illustrated the original story. Fast forward to 2017. Kudos to Candlewick for re-issuing Elsie Piddock this year in a child’s hand-size version that is perfect for a story of fairies, families, tradition, and the determination of a little woman to confront tyranny and corporate greed. An unusual combination for a picture book? You bet it is. Truly a story for all time, but especially relevant today as it was when it was originally published in 1937.
The longest reigning monarch in recent history. The icon of an era. Published to herald the PBS series that describes the making and testing of the young queen, Daisy Goodwin’s novel elucidates the early life and times of this unusual woman. Perhaps some characters are a little too villainous or sympathetic—there are many ways to interpret the historical record—but this is a fast paced, engaging read, particularly for anyone interested in the 19th century. Pair it with Julia Baird’s recently published biography, Victoria the Queen: an Intimate Biography of the Woman who Ruled an Empire for an intriguing compare and contrast.
A Russian folktale? Yes!! The deep Russian winter, the enormous tile stove, Baba Yaga, the evil stepmother, the two daughters, the Tzar, the woodcutter, and perhaps even a firebird or two. They are elaborated here in sensual detail. If you loved these stories as a child, you will gobble this novel as an adult. If you never had the opportunity to read or hear a Russian folktale, this is your chance to indulge in a close to mystical experience.
Here is a grandmother tale that will keep you chuckling! All this little old woman wants are some moments of peace and quiet so she can finish her knitting. Is there nowhere that she can go unnoticed? Apparently not. The ends of the earth and beyond are not far enough. Facial expressions are masterful and the story unexpected. l A great read aloud as well as read alone.
Parents, nursery and primary teachers rejoice! Patricia McKissack has collected a wealth of hand claps, jump rope rhymes, circle games, spirituals, gospel music, folktales, parables and fables from her childhood in the American south. She presents them together with background information in a wonderful volume illustrated with the swirling watercolors of Brian Pinkney. This is a must purchase for libraries. Families will want to have their own copies, too.
How satisfying that the particular syllabic rhythm of this title signals a light-hearted reading experience which might have quirky characters and surprising twists. The novel delivers just that. Translated from Spanish, this is a mystery of missing persons as well as a love story set in contemporary Madrid, peopled by an aging police inspector, a bombastic English publishing magnate, the female staff of a struggling literary magazine and of course, the eccentric Atticus Craftsman himself. You’ll have fun with this one.
A delightful summer read for all you fashionistas out there. Every season there is an 'IT' dress, determined by those steely critics viewing a couture collection from the front row. This is the story of one of these dresses told from the perspective of nine very different men and women. You’ll love the master pattern maker in his final year of production and sympathize with the fresh face runway model who presents the dress to the world. It’s fast, it’s fun, it’s funny, and a bit touching besides. Just the book to take to the beach or to anticipate Fashion Week, whichever you prefer.
Jessie Burton, author of The Miniaturist, vividly recreates the Andalusia of 1936 and London of 1967 in her story of a young Caribbean immigrant and an unusual painting by a little known Spanish artist. Mysterious identities, love, betrayal and family secrets create an absorbing novel that fans of A Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Art Forger and Lisette's List will thoroughly enjoy.
Ada, twelve year old daughter of Boston computer genius, David Sibelius, has had an unconventional upbringing. Growing up in the lab with David and his associates, she has absorbed mathematics, scientific theory and philosophy almost by osmosis, and has a daily tete a tetes with ELIXIR, the experimental language learning lab computer. However, Ada has yet to have a conversation with anyone her own age. As life changes and Ada is plunged into the world of Roxbury Catholic schools and teenage angst, she discovers not only the puzzles of human relationships but also the puzzles of her family history that she is determined to solve. Compelling, tender, and even a little heart breaking, this is a story about the nature of both intelligence and reality with a stunning new approach to the role of the omniscient narrator.
With a nod to, and I would like to imagine, the blessing of, Paul Gallico, William Norwich introduces us to kindly Mrs. Brown, an aging 21s-century thrift shop and beauty parlor assistant who dresses in her self-sewn gray and brown wools and lives in her own little row house in Ashville, Rhode Island. It is an Oscar de la Renta, classic black wool suit in the inventory of a great woman of Ashville that propels Mrs. Brown on a journey to purchase such an extraordinary piece of fashion history from the New York design house itself. For those who delighted in The Queen Takes the Train and other tales of quietly determined women over fifty, My Mrs. Brown will brighten your day and perhaps even compel you to pursue a extravagant dream of your own.
So tender. So beautiful. Through four seasons we follow the relationship of a one-eyed mongrel and a village outcast. In exquisite, wrenching detail we experience their coming together, their bonding, and their frustrations. I am not usually a reader of animal stories, but this small, carefully written novel held me from prologue to epilogue.
I have to face it: I am a sucker for historical novels featuring the lives of literary giants (or in this case, short people). Add to that the glitter of Manhattan’s rich and famous, and I’m set for a six hour plane flight. Truman Capote is the center of this story and the swans are the coterie of wealthy women who were his confidantes in the 1950s and '60s. In National Enquirer fashion, we learn their foibles and secrets, but through a novel of manners, we see the consequences of their behavior over the larger social landscape. Lies, sex, and expose. It's all here.
Yann Martel takes us on curious adventures. The high mountains of Portugal are actually rocky plateaus but ascending them in a 1904 Renault (driven by a young backward-walking archeologist who has never before even seen a car nor really knows what his destination is or what precisely he is searching for) makes for the beginning of an unusual story. Add to it elements of extraordinary juxtaposition over the next 80 years—Agatha Christie mysteries viewed as modern Christian gospel, a bizarre autopsy, and recurring chimpanzees for example—and you have a fascinating novel of life and death that will surprise you again and again.
No one knows what really occurred aboard the Hindenburg during its journey across Europe and the Atlantic in 1937, but Ariel Lawhon weaves a compelling tale of those three days. The account is fiction, yet the characters are actual passengers and crew who flew on that trip including an American heiress, a disenfranchised German journalist, an American man of mystery, and a German acrobat. The intrigue is non-stop, one character’s point of view following another, as we count down the hours of the Hindenburg’s fateful flight and its aftermath. A great read for a cold night.
What is the genetic combination that produces a mathematical prodigy? The exquisite mental flights and excruciating psychological and physiological consequences awe the reader in this extraordinary generational saga. Canin’s prose is lyric and his observations are profound and so provocative that I found myself flagging multiple paragraphs to reconsider and discuss. The mathematics in this novel may challenge you, but the humanity will not. Highly recommended.
Looking for an enticing beach read? Fascinated by selkie myths or the tarot? Love those carnival settings? This will be a book that won’t get sandy because you’ll not be able to put it down. Simon, a young librarian, is losing his family’s house to the cliff erosion of Long Island Sound. He has also lost his parents to unhappy deaths, his foul mouthed sister to the circus and now perhaps his job. Enter a mysterious, water-damaged 18th century carnival journal from an Iowa bookseller who believes the book relates to Simon’s family history. A countdown begins as Simon investigates family coincidences through the generations that seem to ominously connect his past, present, and future.
An extraordinary harmonica changes the lives of three talented musicians in this lyrical story that moves from the enchanted world of a fairy tale forest to the very real world of the second world war. Recurring themes of bigotry, loyalty. loss and love echo through the movements which rise to an emotional crescendo at Carnegie Hall. A wonderful novel for young people celebrating the power of music.