Book – The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion alternates between the present day story of Sookie Poole, a sweet, conservative wife of a dentist and mother of four who lives in Point Clear, Alabama and the 1940′s adventures of Fritzi Jurdabralinski, a WASP (Women Air Force Service Pilot) from Pulaski, Wisconsin. Sookie receives a letter that brings unwelcome news and she discovers that the past holds secrets she never imagined. While she dodges her bossy, larger-than-life mother and fields questions from her friends and neighbors, she sets out to sort out the truth. Fritzi is a lively, determined young woman who dares to fly stunt planes, run the family service station with her sisters and train for military service. When the two stories weave together, Sookie learns that she’s braver and happier than she realized. I enjoyed learning about the WASPs and the musings of Sookie and her friends were sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Fannie Flagg has written several novels including Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle-Stop Cafe, Standing in the Rainbow and Welcome to the World, Baby Girl.
Book - Cecila Fitzpatrick’s husband John-Paul has a secret. And it’s a doozy. She finds a letter he has written “To be opened only in the event of my death.” What she discovers shatters her orderly life in Sydney, Australia as a Tupperware sales rep, mother of three daughters and school volunteer. Meanwhile, Tess and her son Liam arrive in town. Tess has also received some shocking news and has fled to her hometown to figure out the next step in her life. She meets a man from her past and begins to question her own role in her marriage troubles. What lengths will we go to protect our family? How well do we ever know another person? As both women confront these issues, their lives head toward a cataclysmic conclusion. This book was a quick read with many humorous moments despite the gravity of the decisions the women face. Liane Moriarty also wrote What Alice Forgot.
Book – Whatever assumptions you might have about fantasy novels, you can put them aside when reading something by Elizabeth Bear, because she will certainly do something different. Bone and Jewel Creatures packs a whole lot of different into a very few pages. The story revolves around Bijou the Artificer, an old, tired wizard who is ready to retire when she is given a feral child who has been poisoned by a mysterious agent. In healing the child, Bijou begins to unravel a plot rooted deep in her own past that threatens her home, the City of Jackals.
At only 136 pages, Bone and Jewel Creatures is slim, but not slight. Bijou and the feral child are both wonderfully realized characters with whom it’s a delight to spend an afternoon. My favorite part of the story, though, are Bijou’s artifices – creatures made up of bits and pieces, metal and bone and gemstones, to serve some purpose and then kept around long after their original use. There’s definitely a steampunk aesthetic, but it’s an unusual one. This is an engrossing short novel that offers a tantalizing glimpse of a unique world. The prequel, Book of Iron, was published in September, and both novellas are also set in the same universe as her Eternal Sky trilogy, which begins with Range of Ghosts.
Book – A large part of the appeal of King’s award winning historical mystery series is the unique relationship of the two central characters. In Arthur Conan Doyle’s works Sherlock Holmes was a confirmed bachelor. Yet, in the memoirs of Mary Russell, which have mysteriously arrived on the author’s doorstep, a more intimate portrait of London’s most famous detective is revealed. This initial text is set in 1915, over a decade after Sir Conan Doyle had finished his accounts, and Holmes “weary of interrogating men” has retired and is quietly engaged in the study of honeybees in the English countryside. Well into his fifties, he meets our narrator, the young Miss Russell on the Sussex Downs. Scientific observation and references to theories of the progressive thinkers of the day are interspersed within their verbal sparring as it is soon revealed that unlike Holmes’s previous biographer, Conan Doyle, Mary Russell possesses an intellect and an ego that equals Sherlock Holmes. Therefore Russell writes about the detective as a peer as well as a mentor. There is a poignant moment when the mature Holmes upon realizing that a like-minded individual has finally entered his life murmurs to himself “twenty years ago, even ten, but here, now?” Russell begins a unique routine of tutelage with Holmes. She quickly deduces that Holmes is not entirely retired and their first case to track down a kidnapped American senator’s daughter brings danger. Who is the cunning adversary that is so intent on brutally ending them and their fledgling partnership?
Book – Fifty-year-old Alice Howland is an accomplished Harvard psychology professor. A published author, traveling lecturer and beloved teacher, she is content with her life and work. But she begins to worry about her forgetfulness. She loses things, forgets words and then, one day when she’s out for a run, she doesn’t know where she is or how to get home. A visit to the doctor results in a devastating diagnosis: Alice has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Alice, her husband and three grown children must cope with the ravages of the disease. This book is told from Alice’s perspective and gave me a sense of her growing confusion, panic and sadness as the disease progressed. She tries to live in the moment, but also recognizes and mourns the loss of the life and memories that meant so much to her. Still Alice also deals with the varying reactions of her family, friends and colleagues as they struggle to address and accept the changes in Alice.
Book – Johannes Cabal has a problem with his soul. Namely, he doesn’t have it – he sold it to Satan some time ago in exchange for the secrets of necromancy. He’s decided that it was a bad deal, and he wants his soul back. Satan, of course, isn’t letting any souls go that easily, so he proposes a challenge: if Cabal can acquire 100 souls within a year, he can have his soul back. The Devil will even throw in a diabolical carnival to help. It’s not a great deal, but it’s the only one on offer, so Cabal enlists the help of his estranged brother and sets out across the countryside, carnival in tow, to race against the clock. Er, hourglass.
For the first fifty pages or so I kept trying to figure out what time period and what country this book was set in; eventually I realized that it just doesn’t matter, and I settled back to enjoy the ride. Johannes Cabal is delightfully deadpan and almost entirely unconcerned with the fates of other people. It’s the almost that makes it great: he shows flashes of humanity at the most inopportune times. This is the first in a series; the latest, Johannes Cabal: The Fear Institute, was published in October.
Book – I truly enjoyed revisiting numerous forgotten details about the 1980’s with the teenage protagonist of this novel. It begins as fourteen-year-old June is losing her only friend, her uncle Finn, to the then little-known illness AIDS. While it begins with a story of loss it transforms into a narrative about a quirky and intriguing friendship when June meets someone else Finn has left behind. This novel also paints a sensitive and believable picture of the complexity of family relationships, especially the relationships between siblings. The story kept me interested as secrets that were withheld from June, as well as the knowledge that comes with aging, transformed her perception of the world and of her understanding of the lives of those around her. The audiobook is read by Amy Rubinate. Her calm, youthful, but never saccharine, tone is pleasant and appropriate for the main character. Print and digital copies of this title are also available from the library.
Book – What would happen if magic came back into the world? That’s the driving question behind James Treadwell’s ongoing trilogy, which starts with Advent. Hundreds of years ago Johann Faust, the greatest magician of his age, locked all the magic of the world away in two precious objects. In the present day, Gavin Stokes is fifteen, and he sees things that other people don’t. Unlike most teen protagonists, he refuses to shut up about it, and when it gets him suspended from school his parents send him his aunt in the country, where he finds that he is far from the only one.
I loved Advent for the feeling it has, a sense that magic is something very old and mysterious and dangerous which, though wonderful, might not actually be something that you want. This is magic by way of horror – too powerful to be simply charming. It reminds me a little of Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, a little of Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and a little of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The sequel to Advent, Anarchy, was published in the US in September, and the third book in the trilogy is forthcoming.
Book – Although my favorite books by Steven Brust are his Vlad Taltos series (ongoing, catch up now before Hawk comes out next year!), there’s no denying that his stand-alone novel Agyar is a remarkable piece of work. It’s also hard to review and hard to recommend, because the thing that you would usually use to describe it is the thing you can’t know ahead of time without completely changing your experience of reading it. Let’s just say it’s a truly spectacular example of what a talented writer can do with an ambiguously reliable narrator.
On the face of it, Agyar is the diary of a disillusioned, hedonistic young man, a classic anti-hero. It’s a very period novel, originally published in 1993, and it does kind of reek of that early nineties goth chic. That’s part of it’s charm, and I don’t think it would work nearly as well updated to the present day. But if the face of it was all there was to it, I wouldn’t be writing this incredibly roundabout review, would I? Brust plays with the reader’s expectations, and he knows exactly what to do with them. So here’s my recommendation: if you like urban fantasy, clever writing, or fascinating if unlikeable characters, pick up Agyar and start at page one. Do not read the back cover copy. Just trust in the author. He’s worth it.
Book - Fin & Lady is a story about love and finding your family. When young Fin is orphaned, his free-spirited half-sister Lady becomes his legal guardian. Practical Fin and glamorous Lady have only spent a brief time together previously, but Fin adores her. They move to New York City and become part of the counter-culture of the sixties. Fin struggles to understand Lady’s turbulent relationships with several admirers and the new world around him. A cast of entertaining characters including the admirers, a spunky housemaid and a gentle dog move the story through many humorous situations. Lady is obsessed with being “free,” and this book explores what being “free” and loving someone really means. If you enjoy books by Elinor Lipman, you may enjoy this book centered on a family dealing with unconventional situations. I found this book to be a delightful read, with interesting dilemmas and some laugh-out-loud moments. Cathleen Schine also wrote The Three Weissmanns of Westport.