Sylvia

About Sylvia

I am an Adult Services Librarian at the Warrenville Public Library. I've been here for 15 years. I like to read literary fiction, historical fiction, mysteries, thrillers, and memoirs. I also enjoy cooking, gardening, and walking. All of which I can do while listening to audiobooks.

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

Audiobook – If you are a fan of Gillian Flynn and want something to listen to that is a bit shy of 1 ½ hours, then I would recommend the audiobook The Grownup. The unnamed narrator and main character is a young woman, who from birth was taught to be a swindler. Her current employer notices that she can read people very well and tell them exactly what they want to hear.  Because of her aura and intuition, she is promoted from performing minor sex acts in the back to being a spiritual palm reader at the front of the establishment. Our scam artist thinks she’s found her perfect con when Susan comes in to have her palm read.  Susan is haunted by the evil in her expensive Victorian house and is seeking help to banish the ghosts and forces affecting her and especially her teenage stepson. This beautiful, rich, and paranoid woman is willing to pay any price for spiritual guidance and for her house to be cleansed. Upon visiting the house the psychic soon realizes that there really is something menacing, though not sure whether it is the work of paranormal forces or if she is caught up in a game of cat and mouse with one of the residents.

Typical of other Flynn’s writings there is a lot of suspense and some twists.  Even though this is a short story it is still a fun ghost tale. If you enjoy this you may also enjoy Gillian Flynn’s novels and some other ghost stories – Heart-Shaped Box, The Thirteenth Tale, and The Supernatural Enhancements.

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Book – Being a First Lady is no easy task.  Perhaps that’s why our current President’s wife, Melania would rather pass the baton to her step-daughter Ivanka than fully take on the role herself. Curtis Sittenfeld tells the fascinating story of the American Wife and the work and loyalty required of someone whose spouse has political aspirations. Supposedly, this is a fictional account of former First Lady Laura Bush. However, while reading this, some other politician’s wives came to mind, especially those who have stood by their man through thick and thin. This is the story of Alice, a Wisconsin girl with a humble background. She is a school librarian who is swept off her feet by Charlie Blackwell who has grown up in a different world. He is highly privileged and comes from a very wealthy family that is tight-knit and Republican. Even though Charlie isn’t politically ambitious, his family has other plans for him. He becomes governor and then unlikely ascends to the White House. Alice meticulously recounts that life is far more tedious and complex than it appears on the surface and that all her actions are monitored for political ramifications and that privacy is a thing of the past.  She also is conflicted, because she has always been a Democrat and wants to hold onto her ideals while being supportive to her husband. I hoped that Alice would have been a stronger character, nevertheless it was a very interesting read.  This would be a good book club selection, as well.  You may also enjoy Sittenfeld’s other books – Eligible, The Man of My Dreams, Prep, and Sisterland.

 

The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks

Book – The death of a mutual friend reunites former lovers Amanda and Dawson 25 years later in The Best of Me, set in the small town of Oriental, North Carolina.  As high school sweethearts, the couple persevered in their relationship and defied the realities of their very different lives.  Amanda’s family was wealthy and socially prominent.  Dawson lived on the wrong side of the tracks.  His family was well known as a bunch of low life thugs and Dawson desperately wanted to rise above that and better himself not only for Amanda, but for himself, as well.  A kindly man named Tuck took Dawson under his wing and helped the young couple shield their romance from the disapproving outside world.  Being young and naïve the couple was convinced that love would conquer all.  But life’s circumstances eventually separated them.

When they meet again so many years later, they are both filled with mixed emotions.  Evidently, the passion is still there for both of them. As they reacquaint with each other we learn about their lives for the last quarter century.  Once, again very different circumstances from each other.  Hence, the big question – Should they finally give in to their love for each other or should they fulfill their responsibilities to their current lives and part ways again?

This is classic Nicholas Sparks.   Heartfelt, bittersweet, and predictable for some, but that is the appeal of his stories.

If you enjoy this novel, you may also want to watch the The Best of Me that is based on this book and read the many other books by this author including his most recent, Two By Two.

The Americans (2013)

TV Series – If you are a fan of suspenseful spy thrillers, then you will get hooked on The Americans.  Elizabeth and Philip Jennings seem like a typical middle class American couple living in suburban D.C. during the Reagan era.  They run a travel agency and have two children.  But in fact, they are KGB agents in an arranged marriage whose goal is to get Cold War secrets for Mother Russia at any cost.  Which means being masters of disguise, betrayal, and sleeping with whomever it takes. In their minds, they believe they are making the world a better place. If being spies in an enemy country isn’t complicated enough, their new neighbor is a counter intelligence FBI agent and their teen-age daughter who is suspicious of their behavior, becomes very active in a Christian youth group.  Elizabeth and Philip also fear that their children may also be recruited by the KGB or their fates if the parents are captured or killed.

The drama was created by.former CIA agent Joe Weisberg and was inspired by the true story of Donald Heathfield and Tracey Foley.  Donald and Tracey were agents of Putin unbeknownst to their sons until they were arrested in 2010.

If you like House of Cards, Homeland, and Scandal you will probably enjoy The Americans.  I’ll let you in on a little secret. The Americans is a show on FX and only streamed on Amazon Prime, but the Library has all the current seasons on DVD.

Carthage by Joyce Carol Oates

Book – Carthage is the story of a family in anguish in a small town in upstate New York.  The novel begins with the search for recently returned college freshman Cressida in the woods of the Nautauga Forest Preserve.  Her father Zeno leads the search.  Foul play is suspected when the young woman is not found.  Things get complicated when witnesses come forward stating that they saw her throwing herself at Brett, her sister Juliet’s fiancé. Cressida was convinced that she and Brett are destined to be together, because they are both misfits in their hometown of Carthage. Brett is afflicted by many demons, having recently come home from the war in Iraq suffering severe injuries both physically and psychologically.  He is a shell of his former self and has become prone to fits of delusion and violent outbursts. The authorities conclude that Cressida must have been murdered. During the search, Brett is found unconscious in his blood-spattered jeep. Due to pressure from the police and because Brent has no recollection of what happened, he confesses.

The story then picks up 8 years later at a maximum-security prison in Florida and focuses on a young female assistant working for an investigator who champions for social justice issues and fighting corruption. The young woman was found beaten and bruised almost 7 years ago in the Adirondack Mountains.  Her Good Samaritan brought her to Florida where the investigator hired her as an intern, even though she shares nothing about her past life.

Oates is a brilliant storyteller and in Carthage she manages to convey the complexity of family relationships, human frailty, mental illness, and the casualties of war, but above all the power of forgiveness and the will to survive.

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

isabelBook – The Japanese Lover is a sweeping saga of enduring passion, friendship and reminiscing in old age.  It is also a tale of secrets.  Our central character, Alma Belasco in her 70’s has come to the realization that her health is failing.  Her personal assistant, Irina along with Alma’s grandson, Seth have been asked to help her write her family history.  They suspect that Alma has a lover, because she leaves her nursing home to go on secret errands every few weeks with an overnight bag packed with lingerie.  The story of a romance slowly unfolds as we go back to pre WWII, when Alma at the age of 8 arrives from Poland to live with her uncle’s family in San Francisco to keep her safe from the looming war back home. Feeling displaced, she quickly becomes friends with Ichimei the son of the family’s gardener.  Spanning over 50 years their love for each other remains strong, despite many separations including the internment of Ichimei and his family in Utah after Pearl Harbor.  The two manage to meet sporadically over the years despite children and spouses. Irina and Seth piece together some of the story by going through Alma’s correspondence and diaries. But Alma is not the only one with a mystery, Irina’s panful past is also revealed.

This is a lovely spellbinding, and bittersweet story. This book reminded me of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and you might also enjoy Garden of Evening Mists.  We have many of Isabel Allende’s other titles.

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

indexBook – The opening of the book sets the tone of A Reliable Wife. Widower Ralph Truitt waits on a train platform in bitter cold blizzardy conditions in rural Wisconsin.  It is 1907 and the wealthy business man awaits his future bride, Catherine from Chicago, whom he chose from numerous responses to his newspaper ad seeking a “reliable wife”.  He is shocked to find that the photograph that she had sent him represented her as a plain looking woman versus the stunning beauty before him and it makes him wonder what other secrets she may be keeping from him.  Despite his suspicions, he marries her anyway due to his loneliness and his own ulterior motives. Catherine, haunted by a tragic past is motivated by greed and plans to eventually leave Wisconsin as a wealthy widow.

After the wedding Catherine and Ralph treat each other amicably. Catherine tries to be cheerful, though she feels trapped, because of the cold and snow. She also misses her fast-paced life in the city.  Sensing her restlessness Ralph reveals to her a splendid house on the property filled with treasures.  He had built it for his wife, Emilia and had not gone in it since her death.  Ralph also wants to find his estranged son to atone for the abuse that he had stowed upon him. So when some detectives have a lead that he is in St. Louis, Catherine jumps at the chance to go kick up her heels in the city under the pretext that she would try to coax Andy to come home to his father.

Things become more twisted when Andy becomes part of the plot. The gothic tone of this suspenseful story will keep the reader engrossed and the pages turning. If Hitchcock would have been alive, I’m sure he would have made a movie out of this. This book reminded me of Steinbeck’s East of Eden and Du Maurier’s Rebecca.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

51PUTD03R7L._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_BookMy Brilliant Friend is a complicated, but insightful coming of age story of two girls that are best friends.  Elena narrates the story which begins in the 1950’s in a working class neighborhood in Naples.  Being somewhat shy and timid Elena is fascinated by her classmate Lila who is very clever and daring. They have dreams of writing a book together some day and both compete at excelling in school. Their friendship is put to the test when they get to the step of continuing on to middle school.  One of the girl’s family lets her continue while the other is held back to help in the family business. However, living in a small village their paths still cross and they still rival each other in popularity, good looks, boyfriends, achievements, etc. The girls, now becoming young women also learn some surprising revelations about one another.

This is the first book of the Neopolitan series and it is beautifully translated from its original in Italian. I am excited to read the other three books that follow, since the first one ended when Elena and Lila are just sixteen. I had the pleasure of listening to this from a Hoopla download.  All the Italian pronunciations by the reader enforced the novel’s strong sense of place.  I highly recommend this especially if you enjoy leisurely paced, lyrical, and character driven novels. The next book in the series is The Story of a New Name.

The Wit and Wisdom of Downtown Abbey

indexBookThe Wit and Wisdom of Downton Abbey is perfect as a small gift or stocking stuffer.  Known for beautiful costumes and settings, great characters, stories, and excellent writing – Jessica Fellowes has compiled some of her favorite quotes from the show.  The book is beautifully illustrated with color stills from the series.  Paging through it the reader will be reminded of some of the most memorable scenes and the personalities of the characters. It’s also interesting to experience all the social changes that happened over the six seasons.

Some of the best quotes are from Violet played splendidly by Maggie Smith.  “Have we all stepped through the looking glass?”, “Poor souls. It’s bad enough parenting a child when you like each other.”  Speaking to her grown son Robert: “When you talk like that I’m tempted to ring for Nanny and have you put to bed with no supper.”  And loving words between one of my favorite couples: Mrs. Hughes: “You can always hold my hand if you need to feel steady.” Carson: “I don’t know how, but you manage to make that sound a little risqué.”  This is just a small example of many, many more.  A fun little book that is truly witty and wise.

You may also like Behind the Scenes of Downton Abbey, The Chronicles of Downton Abbey, Downton Abbey: A Celebration, and The World of Downton Abbey.

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

indexBook – The Signature of All Things is an epic saga of the Whittaker family that takes place in the late 18th and early 19th century, the Age of Enlightenment and the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. This work of fiction is a new venture for non-fiction author Elizabeth Gilbert author of Eat, Pray, Love and will delight readers.

Henry is a wealthy American import tycoon whose ambition left behind his life of humbleness and poverty in England. His daughter, Alma is bestowed with all the benefits of money; a good education and fine material possessions. Though she is scholarly and has a passion for learning about the natural world, especially botany, she is rather plain in her looks and socially awkward. Having lived a sheltered life, she is thrilled when almost middle-aged, she meets Ambrose Pike an artist, spiritualist, and dreamer who shares her love of flowers and plants that he expresses in his artwork. They soon get married and Ambrose whisks Alma, who has never been out of Philadelphia, on a ship to exotic Tahiti. Though the story reveals insight into the couple’s relationship, it mainly focuses on Alma’s love and impact on science and emerging theories on evolution. Well researched, this is a fascinating story, not to be missed about a woman who was well ahead of her time.

When asked about the title, in an interview the author explained, “The Signature of All Things is the title of a 16th century botanical/divine theory posited by a German shoemaker-turned-mystic named Jacob Boehm, who believed that God so loved the world that He had hidden in the design of each plant on earth some clue for humans as to that plant’s usefulness. (For instance: Walnuts are good for headaches, and are also—helpfully—shaped like brains).”