THE LIBRARY AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD by Felicity Hayes-McCoy

November 14, 2017

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November 2017 LibraryReads Pick

The top ten books published each month that librarians across the country love. I get a lot of wonderful recommendations from these lists, and I can honestly say I think there was only one book in the past several years that I didn’t love, so check it out.

The titular “edge of the world” is a peninsula in Ireland that is undergoing some big change, a reflection of the change that Hannah Casey is going through. Hannah has returned home from a posh London life after an acrimonious divorce to share the hot pink cottage of her childhood with her mother. Hannah is the town librarian, not a job she loves by any stretch of the imagination. She always wanted to work in an art museum, but that was not meant to be. She is, I’m sorry to say, the stereotypical librarian, shushing people, taking control of the books as if it pains her to lend them, and consequently does not have the best reputation in this small town.

Hannah is determined to move out of her mother’s house, but during the divorce, she was so angry at her husband that she refused any sort of financial settlement, and now her ex isn’t interested in helping her out. She borrows some money from the credit union and sets out to restore the tiny cottage her great aunt had bequeathed to her. A local builder, a real craftsman, takes on the project but he is a bit eccentric.

Big changes afoot on this tiny peninsula as the local politicians decide to put all their resources into a big marina and hotel that will entice the cruise ship trade. But that means the rest of the island is out of luck, and slowly Hannah becomes “Joan of Arc”, at the center of the rebellion.

This is a lovely, charming book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I admit, most books about books and libraries usually get my immediate attention, but this one goes beyond that, with unforgettable characters and setting, making this an altogether excellent read.

11/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE LIBRARY AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD by Felicity Hayes-McCoy.  Harper Perennial (November 14, 2017). ISBN 978-0062663726. 368p.

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ALL THE RIVERS by Dorit Rabinyan

October 26, 2017

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Translated by Jessica Cohen

Set shortly after 9/11 in New York City, Liat is an Israeli, born into an Iranian-Jewish family. She is on a student visa in New York, working on translation skills. While there, she meets Hilmi, a Palestinian artist who is living in Brooklyn. They are both from the Middle East, but like Romeo and Juliet, they are from warring sides. And unlike that famous pair, the obstacles in their way are considerably bigger than a family feud.

Liat knows she is on a six-month visa and she goes into the relationship thinking it will just be a fling, but she quickly realizes that she has fallen in love. Hilmi also falls in love, and he is very much aware that their political differences are going to be a problem. In fact, the only thing they fight about is geography and the occupation of the Palestinian territories. And Rabinyan manages to show both sides of the Palestinian argument, the good and the bad.

Liat knows her family, especially her parents, would never accept such a relationship. She tells her sister who is very judgemental, but for the most part, keeps the relationship secret from the other Israelis she knows in NY. Hilmi is resentful of this but cares enough about Liat to overlook it, most of the time anyway, but still finds it very hurtful. When Hilmi’s brothers come to visit, Liat gets into a huge argument with them and Hilmi keeps silent. Eventually, the brothers leave and the lovers find their way back to one another.

Then Liat’s time is up and she must return to Israel. Hilmi decides to leave shortly after, planning on spending the summer at home. And then tragedy strikes.

This is a beautifully written book and covers a lot of significant events. What I found most interesting is that these characters are not your typical Israeli Jew and Palestinian Muslim. Liat is Persian and Hilmi has been brought up by an atheist father, and does not appear to be religious at all.

Rabinyan won Israel’s prestigious Bernstein Prize in 2015. The book became politicized when Israel’s Ministry of Education banned the book from the high school curriculum. Nevertheless, it has been translated into 17 languages and is being taught in high schools around the world.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not include this from The Guardian (2004) which officially blew my mind:

They were young, talented and free in New York. Dorit Rabinyan was an Israeli novelist and Hassan Hourani was a Palestinian artist. Their passionate friendship, impossible at home, flourished abroad. Last year, visiting his family, Hourani drowned in Jaffa. Rabinyan writes him a farewell letter.
Not surprisingly, All the Rivers makes for a very interesting book discussion.

10/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

ALL THE RIVERS by Dorit Rabinyan. Random House (April 25, 2017). ISBN 978-0375508295. 288p.

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EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU by Celeste Ng

October 21, 2017

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This debut novel made quite a splash when it came out in 2014. I didn’t read it then, but I read her new book, Little Fires Everywhere. As soon as I finished it, I went looking for this book. It is deserving of all the hype that surrounded it, including:

New York Times Bestseller · A New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice · Winner of the Alex Award· Winner of the APALA Award for Fiction · NEA Big Read Selection

NAMED A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY:
 
NPR · San Francisco Chronicle · Entertainment Weekly · The Huffington Post  · Buzzfeed  · Amazon ·  Grantland · Booklist · St. Louis Post Dispatch · Shelf Awareness · Book Riot · School Library Journal ·  Bustle · Time Out New York · Mashable · Cleveland Plain Dealer

The reviews were uniformly excellent and I’ll just add to that sweet symphony.

From the publisher:

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.

The writing is lyrical. The characters spring to life on the page and drive the story. Reading Everything I Never Told You is an emotional journey of the finest kind and an unforgettable read – and that is not something I say lightly. I may have liked it even more than Little Fires Everywhere, I’m not sure yet. Either way, don’t miss it.

10/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU by Celeste Ng. Berkley (October 17, 2017). ISBN 978-0451488756. 368p.

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SEVEN DAYS OF US by Francesca Hornak

October 17, 2017

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When I first heard about this book, a family with two adult children who are forced into quarantine together for a week, I immediately thought of the Jonathan Tropper book, This is Where I Leave You, which has a similar plot line. So I was surprised to find that the two books really couldn’t be more different. Sure, the dysfunctional family is still there but the voice is completely different, as are the dynamics of the characters. Plus this is set in Great Britain, so that dry humor is really different, too.

Olivia Birch, a doctor, has been working in Liberia during a humanitarian crisis. They are dealing with a deadly “Haag virus,” which I looked up and realized is just a made up plot device, however much it sounded real. She has fallen in love with a co-worker, Sean, a doctor from Ireland, but are keeping it secret as that is against the rules. They are both returning home for Christmas, and separate at the airport, he to return to Ireland and she to return to the family estate in the country. They are both under strict quarantine as it takes a few days for the symptoms of the disease to appear.

Olivia’s mom Emma waits at the airport and strikes up a conversation with a young man she meets there. While they don’t even exchange names, they do exchange secrets.

Emma whisks Olivia home where her father and her newly engaged sister are waiting, and the week of quarantine begins. Relationships are examined, secrets abound, and lots of drama occurs amidst the laughter. I don’t want to give anything away, it’s too much fun discovering what all is going on as you read.

This was a totally engrossing novel that made me laugh out loud on occasion, as well as cry, the whole emotional gamut. Hornak has a really unique voice that brings the Birch family to life. A wonderful read that would make for a great book discussion. Don’t miss it.

10/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

SEVEN DAYS OF US by Francesca Hornak. Berkley (October 17, 2017). ISBN 978-0451488756. 368p.

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THE PRAGUE SONATA by Bradford Morrow

October 13, 2017

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A beautifully written book set against the background of the international world of music, both classic and general. Otylie Bautosova is a young girl that we meet in 1918 as she is saying goodbye to her father, a Czech soldier who is returning to the front at the very end of World War I. His parting words to Otylie are that music is everything and even the horrors of war revolve around it. He gives her a music manuscript that is clearly old and which her father tells her to guard and keep safe because it will ensure her future. Her father is then killed, becoming one of the last casualties of the war.

Years later, Otylie marries but the second world war intervenes. Her husband joins the partisans fighting the Nazi invaders but is unfortunately killed. With enough tragedy for several lifetimes, the capstone is the invasion of Czechoslovakia by Stalin and the Russians. Otylie manages to escape to England and works for the Czech government in exile while there. She later moves to the United States and her fate ties in with the second half of the book and the activities of an American pianist named Meta Taverner.

Meta lives in New York with the ability to become a great pianist. Unfortunately, she suffers an injury to one arm which takes away her ability to perform as required in playing great classical music. She is advised by a friend that there is a valuable undiscovered sonata in Prague. Meta makes the decision to try and locate the piece and return it to its rightful owners.

The search for the sonata is described beautifully by the author, whose expertise in the world of music makes this book a truly wonderful read. The reader is introduced to a world not often touched upon by most authors and introduces creativity given to some people that cause happiness in our world. This is truly a haunting book that will stay with the reader for a long time to come.

10/17 Paul Lane

THE PRAGUE SONATA by Bradford Morrow. Atlantic Monthly Press (October 3, 2017).  ISBN 978-0802127150. 528p.

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng

September 29, 2017

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Sometimes when a book gets a lot of buzz, I hold off on reading it because inevitably I’m disappointed. So I never read Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, her debut novel. This is her sophomore effort, and it is a wonderful read; so wonderful, I just downloaded her debut onto my iPad.

The title literally refers to small fires set on all the beds in the Richardson household. The book opens with the fire, and the house burning to the ground, but the family are all safe. I think the title also refers to all the little fires that families and friends have to put out every day, the misunderstandings both big and small. And maybe the baby that was abandoned at the fire station. It is an excellent and thought provoking title.

The Richardson family lives in Shaker Heights, Ohio, which claims to be the first planned community in the United States and is a suburb of Cleveland. Elena Richardson grew up there and convinced her fiancé there would be no better place to raise a family. He’s a lawyer and she is a planner of lives; the house, her career, and four children in quick succession. The first three were a dream, Trip, the oldest boy, a teenage heartthrob, both good looking and charming; Lexie, the oldest girl, a bright student and a popular, pretty girl; Moody, the other son, more of a loner than his big brother, and finally Izzie, the baby and the most difficult. Izzie was a difficult pregnancy, a premie with complications who came with warnings of a lifetime of possible health issues, none of which came to bear. Nonetheless, Elena and Izzie’s relationship is rough. Izzie is headstrong and outspoken and happily breaks rules right and left, something Elena abhors and causes her grief on a regular basis.

The Richardsons live in a big house in the affluent end of town, and own a small two-family rental nearby. Elena only rents to those who she feels is deserving of this place, and when single mom Mia and her teenage daughter Pearl move in, Elena feels like she has given them a helping hand. Mia is an artist whose medium is photography, and the two of them have lived like nomads throughout Pearl’s life. But here in Shaker Heights, Mia promises that they will stay so Pearl makes friends, first with Moody and Lexie, and then she falls for Trip.

Elena hires Mia for a few hours a day to clean the house and prepare dinner, and pays her enough to cover her rent. As Pearl becomes more and more comfortable in the Richardson household, Izzie becomes intrigued with Mia and begs to be allowed to be her assistant. Mia acquiesces, and they form a strong bond.

These two families find themselves on opposite sides when Elena’s closest friend ends up in an adoption war. After fourteen years of trying for a baby, they finally get a beautiful Chinese infant who was abandoned at a fire station. The adoption process is long, and shortly before it will be finalized, Mia learns about the baby and realizes that she knows the birth mother who deeply regretted leaving the baby. She tells her, all hell breaks loose and the town and the media all get involved  There can be no happy ending here.

Ng has created a world of believable characters, none of whom is perfect. This is a  compelling story that is driven by these characters and was unputdownable. I really loved the writing and highlighted several passages. Some samples:

All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control.

On racism:

Maybe at birth everyone should be given to a family of another race to be raised. Maybe that would solve racism once and for all.

And probably my favorite, on learning how to deal with your teenage children as they pull away from you:

It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core and all.

I can’t wait to share this book with my book discussion group. Don’t miss it.

9/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE by Celeste Ng. Penguin Press; 1st Edition edition (September 12, 2017). ISBN 978-0735224292. 352p.

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THE BEST KIND OF PEOPLE by Zoe Whittall

September 19, 2017

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Avalon Hills is a small, wealthy enclave in Connecticut and home to the Woodbury family, one of the founding families of the community. George Woodbury is a much-beloved teacher at the local private school who became a hero several years earlier when he took down a gunman in the school hallway. But now George is in trouble – he’s been accused of sexual misconduct and attempted rape on some of his students. Bail is denied and George insists that he is being framed.

George’s wife Joan is the head nurse in the emergency room at the local hospital. She feels their marriage is strong, and she wants to stand by her husband. Their children, Andrew, a lawyer in New York and 17-year-old Sadie, who is at the top of her class at the same school, are devastated. Andrew starts spending quite a bit of time at home, and Sadie hides out at her boyfriend’s house. There, his mother’s live-in boyfriend, a writer, is inspired to write a novelization of the sex scandal that has rocked the town – but doesn’t tell anyone what he is up to.

The family each have to deal with this in their own way, but these characters are not given a whole lot of information and neither is the reader. We get to see the after-effects of such a devastating claim on the family, but it isn’t until almost the end that we learn what probably happened.

I don’t know that there is ever a right or wrong answer to how a family deals with something like this, but by the end, there should be, at least in my mind, and I was not happy with the ending of this book. Maybe it is just too much like real life for my taste. Either way, this book will be terrific for discussion.

9/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE BEST KIND OF PEOPLE by Zoe Whittall. Ballantine Books (September 19, 2017). ISBN 978-0399182211.  448p.

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THE ALMOST SISTERS by Joshilyn Jackson

August 10, 2017

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If you are not familiar with Joshilyn Jackson, you should be. She writes Southern stories with a touch of mystery and memorable characters, and this book is terrific.

Leia Birch Briggs is an author – she wrote a graphic novel that was a mega success and went on to write for many of the superhero series. At comic book conventions, she is a superhero herself, but her family doesn’t get it, they think she is barely scraping by with her doodles.

At one such convention, Leia has a bit too much tequila and goes back to the hotel with Batman – a black, good looking Batman. A few months later she finds out she is pregnant, and she doesn’t even know the father’s name.

Before she can tell her family or do anything about it, she receives word that her grandmother, who she is very close to, has apparently lost her mind. She immediately heads down south, with her niece in tow. Her almost perfect stepsister is in the middle of a knock down, drag out fight with her husband, and needs some time alone.

Turns out grandma Birchie, as she is best known, does have an illness but her closest friend, daughter of the black maid that raised her, has been taking care of her. The two of them are over 90 years old, so it is a bit of the blind leading the blind, but they have been managing, until now.

When the two old ladies talk their neighbor into moving a trunk out of the attic and into Leia’s car and they try to steal said car before crashing it, all hell breaks loose. There is a skeleton in the trunk, and the cops are investigating.

This is a story about racism and family and love and Dixie. The characters are all well developed, interesting and real and I was so sorry this story had to end. It is at times, laugh out loud funny and often touching. The process of creating a graphic novel is fascinating, too, adding another dimension to this story. That aspect put me in mind of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, but that was a book for young adults, and this book ultimately has more depth. If you are new to this author, try it, and if you are a fan, you will love it.

8/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE ALMOST SISTERS by Joshilyn Jackson . William Morrow; First Edition edition (July 11, 2017).  ISBN 978-0062105714.  352p.

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THE CURIOUS CHARMS OF ARTHUR PEPPER by Phaedra Patrick

July 29, 2017

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This has been the year for charming, quirky books; at least, I’m finding them on a somewhat regular basis.

Arthur Pepper is a 69-year-old curmudgeon. He lost Miriam, his wife of forty years, just a year earlier, and has decided it is time to go through her belongings and send them off to charity. He pulls out a pair of boots and finds a charm bracelet hidden in the toe of the boot. Arthur is perplexed; he’s didn’t give her the bracelet and in fact, he’s never even seen it.

Arthur is a man of simple needs, as was his wife. They have two children, a daughter who lives nearby and a son who lives in Australia, but they are not close. In fact, neither of the children attended Miriam’s funeral. He has neighbors that he hides from, but the fact is that Arthur is lonely.

Although they were married, and happily, for all those years, Arthur realizes he really didn’t know anything about her life prior to their relationship. One of the charms has a phone number engraved on it, and that sets him off on an adventure into Miriam’s past. And she has quite a past – a stint working as a nanny in India, working as a nude model for artists, living in Paris and London for a while, and she even has a former fiance.

If you enjoy quirky family stories, then this is the book for you. I did this book with my book group and it made for a most enjoyable discussion. Arthur Pepper has the same sort of appeal as A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman.

7/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE CURIOUS CHARMS OF ARTHUR PEPPER by Phaedra Patrick. MIRA; Reprint edition (January 31, 2017).  ISBN 978-0778319801.  336p.

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THE SECRET INGREDIENT OF WISHES by Susan Bishop Crispell

June 22, 2017

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A delicious read filled with magical realism, pie and wishes fulfilled – what’s not to like?

Rachel Monroe has a special gift, or a curse as she thinks of it. She can fulfill wishes. She first learned she had this as a child when her younger brother was annoying her and she wished him gone. He disappeared along with everyone’s memories of him – except her. Her parents took her to one psychologist after another, and eventually she was hospitalized until she agreed that he never existed.

While hospitalized, she met her best friend, the only one who really understood. As she got older she refused to wish for anything and refused to hear wishes, but nonetheless, as people around her wished for things, little pieces of paper, like the fortunes from fortune cookies, would float into her orbit. If she read them, the wish was granted so she tried very hard not to. Eventually, she couldn’t take it anymore and by the time she was 26 years old, she knew she had to escape.

Rachel takes off in her car until it breaks down in the small town of Nowhere, North Carolina. The car dies in front of an old Victorian home and the owner comes out, offers to call for help and invites her to stay until her car is fixed. Her name is Catch.

Catch also has a gift. She’s a terrific baker and supplies pies for the town’s restaurants and residents, but her real gift is the ability to make people keep secrets. A neighbor will appear at her back door and ask for help and Catch bakes them a special pie and the secrets are kept.

These two women forge a friendship based in understanding one another. Rachel is attracted to Catch’s neighbor, a young, good looking man who befriends her. But as the town learns about Rachel, things take an ugly turn. Rachel has to decide if this is where she belongs after all.

Fans of Amy E. Reichert or Menna van Praag will love it. I did.

6/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE SECRET INGREDIENT OF WISHES by Susan Bishop Crispell. Thomas Dunne Books (September 6, 2016).  ISBN 978-1250089090.  304p.

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