The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Book – My grandson Lorenzo, Enzo for short, was born just a few weeks ago.  Enzo . . . the name made me think of one of my favorite books, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.  The story is told from Enzo’s perspective, but what is very different about this novel is that he is a dog, a lab terrier mix.  I had my doubts whether I would like this book, because it is about auto racing and the world is viewed through a dog’s eyes.  But I read it, since it was on all the best seller lists and I was looking for a good candidate for our book discussion group.  Not only did I love The Art of Racing in the Rain, but it was a great pick for discussion.  From the book jacket:  “Enzo knows he is different from other dogs: a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver. Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, like racing, isn’t simply about going fast. Using the techniques needed on the race track, one can successfully navigate all of life’s ordeals.”  A movie version is currently in production and will star Patrick Dempsey, who is an amateur race car driver as Enzo’s owner Denny Swift.  You don’t need to be a dog lover an auto racing fan to enjoy this book. It is a feel good story of loyalty, family, thoughtful philosophical insight, and working to reach your full potential.

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

orphan traBook – Orphan trains ran from the East Coast to the Midwest from 1854 to 1929. They carried orphan children who needed homes and were available for adoption. The children aboard the trains had few options and could easily be exploited in their new homes. Orphan Train tells two parallel stories: the current plight of foster child Molly Ayer and the life story of Vivian Daly, an elderly woman who once rode the Orphan Train. Their lives intersect when teenage Molly is assigned a community service project to help Vivian sort through the boxes stored in her attic. Molly has not known much unconditional love in her years in foster care, and as a friendship begins to blossom between the two woman, Molly is able to confront her current demons. In turn, Vivian is able to come to peace with her past and her secrets. This book illustrates and contrasts the situations and emotions that children without loving caretakers face, both in the past and the present. However, it also depicts the positive impact of people in the community who reach out with love and care in a troubled situation and, in doing so, can provide a bright and hopeful future.

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

penumbraBook – “What do you seek in these shelves?” What recently unemployed graphic designer Clay Jannon sought was employment. His quest was successful at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore; a place with bookshelves and ladders extending up three stories, and a collection of curious books that are never bought, but are “checked-out” by eccentric individuals. Clay calls upon his friends to assist him with investigating mysteries which extend far beyond the walls of the enigmatic store. This thought-provoking tale includes puzzles that revolve around technology as antiquated as the printing press and as cutting edge as Google wizardry. The humorous writing and optimistic tone make this novel a rejuvenating read. Appropriately, this book offers a surprise if the reader turns out the light. The audiobook does not offer that perk, but the narrator Ari Filakos delivers the likable Clay’s inner monologues and quirky humor so well that I went back and listened to some key sections to hear his moving delivery of them.

Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

age of mBookThe Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker is a hauntingly beautiful story set in an extraordinary time.  The rotation of the Earth is gradually slowing which affects the length of days and nights, gravity, tides, the food supply, and human and animal behavior.

Told from the perspective of Julia, a sensitive bright 11 year old, this is more of a coming of age tale than science fiction. Julia narrates her life as an adolescent bringing to light typical experiences of popularity, bullying, friendships, cliques, and crushes.  But if life weren’t complicated enough, Julia now must face the reality of what the future holds for her and if she has a future at all. Not only are there blatant environmental changes, but normal daily activities are increasingly difficult to hold onto. The Earth’s inhabitants are divided on whether to live by the clock or let the sun and darkness, which are both slowly increasing as the Earth’s rotation continuously is slowing, dictate their sleeping and waking patterns.

Walker consulted scientists in her research and while reading the book I questioned how I would react and what would I do under similar circumstances. This is a great book for both teens and adults.  It was named one of the “Best Books of the Year” by O: The Oprah Magazine, BookPage, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and others. A movie based on the book is currently in production.

Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

Still Life with Bread CrumbsBook – Sixty-year-old Rebecca Winter is a well-known photographer whose life has become stale. She hasn’t had any new ideas for her art, her income has dried up and her adult son has moved out of their plush New York apartment. Rebecca impulsively decides to rent a more affordable cottage, sight unseen, out in the country. She discovers the cottage and village are much more primitive and isolated than she anticipated. However, as she adjusts to the new, slower pace of her days, she begins to discover who she is as an artist and as a woman. She reminisces about her marriage and divorce, past lovers, motherhood, friendship and art. I enjoyed Rebecca’s journey, discoveries and insights as she embarked on a new stage in her life. Author Anna Quindlen illuminates the subtleties of everyday life. If you enjoy Elizabeth Berg and Anne Tyler, you may enjoy one of Quindlen’s novels.

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

newlywedsBook – Can marriage work for a modern day mail order bride and her suitor?  Read The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger to find out.  Twenty-four-year-old Amina from Bangladesh meets 34-year-old George from Rochester, New York via the internet on the website AsianEuro.com. They had never met in person, but only received photos of each other as attachments in email. Despite obvious differences in nationality, culture and religious upbringing they decide to marry. When Amina arrives in 2005, she experiences true culture shock, but slowly assimilates. Within three years she has her green card, is married to George, and is taking college courses while working at Starbucks. However, there are problems. Amina returns to Bangladesh to bring her parents to the U.S., but a problem with her father’s visa delays her return. Will absence between Amina and George make their hearts grow fonder? This is a moving story of love, kindness, acceptance and cross-cultural differences with just the right amount of humor to make it an enjoyable read.

 

The Aubrey/Maturin Series by Patrick O’Brian

Jack Aubrey SeriesBook – Although I’ll read just about anything, I primarily consider myself a science fiction fan. I love the experience of exploring new worlds full of strange and unfamiliar things, people, and attitudes. Patrick O’Brien’s excellent series of Napoleonic War naval adventures scratches the same itch for me. There’s the technology, certainly – antiquated rather than futuristic, but the attention to detail is the same, and just like you don’t need to know how faster-than-light travel works in order to enjoy a science fiction story, neither do you need to understand the finer points of sailing against the wind in order to follow one of Aubrey’s fantastic chases. But there’s also the characters, a tightly-knit cast, constantly changing, of people facing physical and emotional danger of all description. The characters are what keeps me coming back to this series, again and again. (Well, and the sloth.)

The series really acts as one long book, telling the story of Captain Jack Aubrey and Doctor Stephen Maturin’s friendship, from the time they meet at a concert in 1800, through a final, unfinished novel set after the Battle of Waterloo. But although the series is best appreciated in sequential order, I do sometimes recommend that for a first attempt, the reader starts with something other than the first book – Post Captain, perhaps, or The Fortune of War (one of my favorites, set during the War of 1812), or even Far Side of the World, as I did when the movie came out and I didn’t know any better. You can always go back and start over again at the beginning, and if you fall in love with the characters, you’ll probably want to anyway.

Instructions for a Heat Wave by Maggie O’Farrell

instructions for heatwaveBook – Meet the Riordans. Gretta, a devout Irish Catholic, discovers her husband has gone missing during a crippling heat wave in 1976 England. Her three adult children gather together for the first time in years to help search for their father. Monica, the oldest daughter, is her mother’s rock and seems to have a well-ordered life. But her partner’s daughters despise her and she hides secrets that she has never faced. Her brother, Michael Francis, feels guilt over a past indiscretion and wonders if his wife, newly enrolled in community college, is having an affair. The youngest sibling, Aoife, has always had issues. She was a screaming infant and an unruly child, until finally, as an adult, she escapes to America and reinvents herself. The disappearance of their father is the catalyst that brings everyone together, and in the search for him, they discover and are forced to address the secrets and misunderstandings that have wedged between them. I listened to the audiobook of this title and was absorbed in the story and the narration by John Lee.

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

replacementBook – Mackie Doyle is different. Then again, so is Gentry, the decaying steel town he lives in. Things are pretty good there, except when they aren’t, but mostly it’s a town where people have an unnatural ability to pretend that everything is OK. People pretend they don’t notice that Mackie is weird, and they pretend not to care when their children go missing on a startlingly regular schedule. Things start to change when Tate, a girl at Mackie’s school, loses her little sister, and refuses to pretend that it’s all OK.

I really enjoyed this dark and creepy YA interpretation of the myth of the changeling, babies stolen away by the faeries with alien children left in their place. Mackie is a wonderfully relatable character, a boy who knows he’s strange but doesn’t know how normal he is at the same time, and Tate is a fierce companion. Recommended for fans of Maggie Stiefvater and Holly Black.

The Spellman novels by Lisa Lutz

spellmanBook – The Spellmans are a madcap, zany family and a lot of fun to spend some pages with. Mom and Dad are the owners and directors of Spellman Investigations and employ their daughter, Izzy, as a detective. The problem is that Izzy is a bit of a rebel and not good at following rules or, in some cases, even the law. Not only do the Spellmans investigate their cases, but they usually have some hidden agendas within their agency and much of their time is devoted to discovering and exposing their own family’s secrets. Izzy’s seemingly perfect lawyer brother is often enlisted for help and her precocious younger sister Rae infiltrates the best-laid plans. Izzy narrates the books and provides footnotes at the bottom of the pages to offer further explanations regarding her family’s background, her romantic foibles and other items of interest. The series kicks off with The Spellman Files and the sixth Spellman novel was published earlier this year.