Photo: Edna Lewis, Reference Librarian
“We don’t need to have just one favorite. We keep adding favorites. Our favorite book is always the book that speaks most directly to us at a particular stage in our lives. And our lives change. We have other favorites that give us what we most need at that particular time. But we never lose the old favorites. They’re always with us. We just sort of accumulate them.” — Lloyd Alexander
Please enjoy this list of our favorites this holiday season - from all of us at the Law Library and our myriad contributors in the Law School community. And with a special thanks to all the kids who shared their current favorites.
by Laurie Keller (Children)
Laurie Keller's book, Arnie the Doughnut is a fabulously silly and engaging picture book. Arnie is a proud chocolate frosted and sprinkled donut who cleverly changes his fate when realizes his purpose in life is to be eaten. Arnie brainstorms desperately and proposes various absurd roles he could fill for his purchaser, Mr. Bing. The final resolution between Arnie and his "owner" is perfectly ridiculous. In addition to the story, the pages are packed with vivid illustrations, including maps, charts and comic asides by tiny animals scattered around the page. For example, one of my 6 year old daughter's favorite quotes is when a bird asks, "Is there anything worse than a sad pastry?" and a squirrel replies "I can't read but he sure looked happy at the beginning of the story." While this book is a fun read aloud, it is also a great book for independent readers as they pore over pages filled with text and illustrations.
by Ben Dolnick
Guilt, redemption, and the vicissitudes of childhood friendship are the major themes of this emotionally nuanced and engagingly written novel by Ben Dolnick. Featuring a relationship that begins in middle school between two boys, Thomas and Adam, Dolnick astutely captures both the intensity of their initial friendship and its fade out as the culture of high school takes hold. The novel jumps back and forth in time between the boys’ teenage years and their mid-twenties, when, as Adam puts it, “no one wanted to know now what I wanted to be; they wanted to know what I did”. Neither young man has managed to navigate successfully the beginning of the grown-up years due to a tragic accident that happened at the start of high school, in which they both were complicit. The accident is a secret shared between them, and the guilt over what occurred and their decision not to confess has rendered them incapable of moving forward with their lives. Adam manages to graduate from college but cannot propel himself out of his “state of bummerdom”, as one reviewer put it. Adam is working as a tutor, which, he says, “seemed, along with being a nanny, to be one of the loopholes people my age had discovered in the professional world”. Thomas, a more fragile soul, is so traumatized by his unresolved guilt that he suffers a breakdown and eventually ends up joining a cult in India. Adam travels there in an attempt to assuage his own guilt by rescuing his old friend and finding redemption for them both. The Indian chapters have a mythic quality that reminded me of Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but with a resolution that is warmhearted and grounded in reality, making this novel an excellent choice for your holiday reading list.
by Brian Lies (Baby/Toddler Board Book)
Dark skies, moonlit ocean waves, and glowing bonfires make for a perfect bedtime story full of funny games, foods, and music for a bunch of beach-going bats. This large-format board book shows off the gorgeous, wonderfully detailed paintings by author and illustrator Brian Lies, and the rhymes (and Bat-Hymn of the Republic at the end) make for a memorable tale that children want to hear over and over (and over) again.
by Stella Blackstone, illustrated by Debbie Harter (Baby/Toddler Board Book)
Take a rhyming, room-by-room tour of Bear’s cozy, colorful cottage. The layout reminds me of Boalt: “This is the hallway, where Bear climbs the stairs,” and “This is the Library, with big, comfy chairs.” The text offers good, basic household vocabulary for little kids, and the vibrant illustrations add whimsical detail.
by Jan & Mike Berenstain (Children)
The roads where the Berenstain family lives are bumpy. Mama didn’t like them. The family wanted her to run for mayor, because she said she could fix the roads, pick up the trash, and put honey in every bowl. She was elected, but she did not enjoy being mayor. It turns out everybody who voted for her wanted everything she had promised to be accomplished immediately.
It’s never too early to learn the painful truth about politics. This parable does a commendable job of inflicting it. The evening readings at the Rowan household will henceforth engage choice passages from Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book. (Has anybody noticed the striking similarity between Mama Bear and Emma Goldman?)
by Michael Sears
This debut novel presents the reader with a character who went to jail through the momentum of greed on Wall Street and who remains stunningly sympathetic as he tries to find his way when he is released. His meltingly beautiful wife divorced him and spirited away his autistic son, taking with her the money that they had hidden before he went to prison. He becomes involved in unraveling a major swindle, rescues and then loses and then rescues the son and falls in love with one of those gorgeous, unattached and totally awesome women that live mostly in fiction and the movies. The characters are real humans, many with gentle souls. He presents an even-handed account of the displacement felt as one is released from prison. As he comes to understand his son the book grows really lovely. Even better, there is very little graphic violence and there is an intriguing ending. You will learn about Wall Street, autism, automobiles and prison life. Also Mr. Sears writes lovely sentences. Highly recommended for the day when you need a spirited page-turner with minimum blood and maximum fun.
by Stephen Kinzer
I loved this book! It chronicles the lives of the Dulles brothers, who served simultaneously as the secretary of state and the director of the CIA. It vividly illustrates the enormous amount of power and influence wielded by these two and the ramifications of their ideas, beliefs and actions on US foreign policy – even to this day.
Through meticulous research Kinzer does a wonderful job showing how these men impacted and shaped so many of the major events during their lifetimes – two world wars, the cold war, toppling the Iranian government, the Bay of Pigs, and so much more. Plus it reads like fiction. In fact, this book makes me think of the phrase “truth is stranger than fiction.”
Readers of this book will also learn about the influence of the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell during this period in history as well as the origins of the OSS and of the Council of Foreign Relations – all of which are quite startling.
I thought I had a pretty good grasp on what the Dulles brothers did during their lifetimes, but I really only knew a small bit. So, if you think you know the history of these two men and the world at that time, think again and read this book. To whet your appetite, listen to the NPR Fresh Air interview with the author.
by Lois Lenski (Baby/Toddler Board Book)
Or as we call this charming 1950s-era book when reading to our 1-year-old daughter, Cowgirl Small. Small – along with Cactus the horse – rides the open range, rounds up cattle, and sings under the stars. But here’s our household’s favorite line (useful for recovery after taking a spill): “Cowgirl Small hits the dust – kerplop! …. Cowgirl Small rides again!”
by Lindsey Craig, illustrated by Marc Brown (Baby/Toddler Board Book)
Farmyard Beat, with its myriad restless barnyard animals, lends itself to silly voices and provides a clear plot. The animals are up late, scatting. Farmer Sue, awoken by the racket, searches the night for the cause of her own restlessness, only to be drawn into a full-blown hootenanny. Parents of daughters should appreciate the strong female protagonist, who - with nothing more than a lantern - bravely ventures into the dark to uncover the mysterious rhythms. While not short, Farmyard Beat is easily committed to memory with a few readings and even after it returns to the shelves, provides a fun rap nicely accompanied by rhythm sticks, shaker eggs, rattles or hand clapping.
The denouement is perhaps the book's only weakness, all the characters falling asleep... in a heap. Cock-a-doodle-doo. A preponderance of kid's books already target bedtime and most of our family's own reading takes place during day hours, if not actually on the potty. I would have preferred if Sue and the animals just disappeared one by one to the outhouse or, maybe, retired to a 24-hour diner for eggs and milk, as musicians are known to do. I can't speak for my child, who can't speak period. But overall, I highly recommend this colorful and syncopated book.
by Roald Dahl (Children)
Danny The Champion of the World is a great book. It includes lots of risks. Danny and his father live in a caravan with lots of danger around them. I like the book because it’s very exciting and adventurous. Danny is a young kid who is brave and he saved his father when he fell in a deep hole and broke his ankle. In the story the father reveals a deep dark secret. The secret is that Danny’s father loves to poach pheasants. He adores it. Danny’s father and Danny work on cars almost all day but they enjoy it. I think other kids should read this book because it is exciting and interesting. The risks Danny takes are very daring and courageous.
by Rainbow Rowell (YA)
Fangirl is about a girl named Cath who has been a lifelong fan of the Simon Snow books (think Harry Potter/Twilight). Cath has a twin sister Wren who also grew up loving the books. She and her sister even write a popular fan fiction blog about the books. For both girls it is an escape from a life where their mom left the family and their dad is bi-polar. But when Cath and her sister go to the University of Nebraska, Wren no longer wants to live the Snow books 24/7, and they drift apart. Cath feels like a complete outsider – she can write about love and friendship but has no idea how actually to make friends and meet boys. It’s all awkward, quite embarrassing and feels very real, particularly in her interactions with her first boyfriend. I also loved Eleanor and Park, Rowell’s first YA novel.
by Pankaj Mishra
The author has produced a readable account of the view of the West held by the rest of the world. The book is full of moments of enlightenment. Why was the victory of the Japanese over the Russians in 1905 war so important to so many in such disparate places as Mohandas Gandhi then in South Africa, Ataturk then in Damascus, Sun Yat Sen in London and Theodore Roosevelt in Washington, D.C.? Why were newborns all over the world named Tojo in honor of the victorious Japanese Admiral.? What led Mao Zedong as an 18 year old zealot to write a poem about the Japanese victory that he could recite until he could speak no more.
The fact that the Western powers could be beaten in battle galvanized oppressed peoples all over the world. The century that followed saw the dismantling of colonial empires often at the cost of great human tragedy. But the forces that fought for freedom were grounded in the principles of the intellectuals who had despaired about the inability of the cultures that they valued to resist the West. The prices that we in the West still pay for this chapter of history continue. Why are the borders of so many developing nations senseless? What led to the Muslim world of 2013? Why will China never truly trust us?
You are probably thinking that this is a didactic indictment, but it is not. Mishra makes it easy to read, if hard to digest. I heartily recommend it. Even if you think you understand what happened, you may be in for a surprise.
by Helene Wecker (Audiobook)
Narrated by George Guidall
Listening Length: 19 hours and 43 minutes
This multi-faceted novel doesn’t fit easily into any particular niche, rather its author takes seemingly disparate bits of fairy tales, legends, mysticism, historical fiction and mystery, and with the alchemy of George Guidall’s narration, conjures them into a unique and magical whole. 1899, New York, a Golem and a Jinni become friends, neither being human, they have more in common than you might think. Chava, the Golem, created from mud to be the perfect wife is almost immediately widowed on the sea voyage from Europe to New York. She doesn’t know how to be a Golem, a wife or a human, and she’s alone. The Jinni finds late 19th century New York almost as disorienting as Chava does. It’s been a thousand years since he’s seen the outside of a magic lantern, and that was back in the Arabian desert. He’s accidentally released from the lantern, but not from the Bedouin spell that put him there. Who and why was the spell cast on him, and how does he break it? Both creatures, often endearingly human non-humans, must learn to navigate this strange world, and find some solution to the mystery of themselves. Wecker does a nice job as Scheherazade in her first novel. I love a writer whose portrayals of a novel’s secondary and minor characters are as intriguing as those of the major players. New York in 1899 may be almost as strange and fascinating to us as it was to her two protagonists. The audiobook is over 19 hours long and I enjoyed listening to every minute.
by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett
Usually great teams are made up of people who have complementary skills. For example, someone who makes great sandwiches might find a natural fit with someone who makes great soups. For dungeon explorers, it's good to have someone who likes to get in the middle of the action and someone who takes shots at baddies from a distance. It's rare that teams are made up of people who have the same strengths. Get two very organized people together and the result typically won't be the super organizational system for which we hoped (fingers crossed for an incredibly organized argument). Two funny people together doesn't normally provide twice as much entertainment.
Enter Good Omens. Two authors that enjoy writing funny and strange stories writing a book together mostly by messages and phone calls. This sounds like a disaster, but it's not. The resulting book is definitely strange and it's definitely funny. It also has a number of passages that you could reread any number of times and the words you've read together in that order with this plot still wouldn't make any sense. It can be unnerving to readers unfamiliar with either Neil Gaiman's or Terry Pratchett's individual efforts but for those familiar with the authors' style, it all comes together in a thought provoking and entertaining way.
Agnes Nutter has passed down a series of prophecies over generations of Nutters and Anathema Device is the latest witch to possess these prophecies. They are always accurate but not necessarily obvious. How could someone 100s of years ago interpret an event that happens in the 20th century? Through a filter that makes obvious things less obvious. The world is coming to an end and most of the major players from the Apocalypse and Armageddon are converging on a point in England where it's all going to start. Sounds pretty funny, right?
by Malala Yousafzai
While the basic plot is spelled out in its title, there's much in I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban to be learned. This memoir from 16-year-old Malala Yousafzai (with help from Christine Lamb) is an insightful, moving, harrowing, and sometimes even humorous account of life as a Muslim girl in Northern Pakistan.
It certainly taught me much about the history of the area, and what it must be like to live there. Certain passages have stuck with me since reading it, especially the stories of how the Taliban operated, how it infiltrated the populace. Perhaps because it's told from the perspective of a young girl, I found a lot of humor in her depiction of day to day life and in her take on politics (both local and global). One phrase in particular resonated with me: "We felt like the Taliban saw us as little dolls to control, telling us what to do and how to dress. I thought if God wanted us to be like that He wouldn't have made us all different." Not a new sentiment by any means, but a revelation just the same, especially coming from someone living through the unwelcome changes the encroaching Taliban were bringing to her remote corner of Pakistan.
I plan to give copies to my teenaged nieces and hope their brothers (and parents) read it, too. While it doesn't quite rise to the level of Anne Frank's Diary as a piece of literature, it would still make a powerful addition to any middle or high school curriculum.
by Fran Manushkin (Children)
Katie Woo is in first grade. She is really smart. There are four stories in Katie Woo celebrates. The four stories are about Valentine’s, the Fourth of July, Halloween and Thanksgiving. My favorite story is No Valentine’s for Katie Woo. When they were supposed to write their names on a card Katie and Barry did not write their names and they didn’t get to write a valentines card. But they were able to write a card to each other. So they were happy. Other people should read this book because it is funny and interesting. I like Katie Woo because she is smart, talented and goofy.
by John M. Poswall
We have a signed copy of this novel in our library collection thanks to the fact that the author is a member of Boalt’s Class of 1969. The author credits Herma Hill Kay with encouraging him to continue with his research and write this compelling story that revolves around a diverse cast of fictionalized members of the Class of ’69. The main character, Rose, is a Latina from the Central Valley who did not go to an Ivy League school. The other characters whose stories intersect and collide with Rose’s at various points are Jackson, an entitled Harvard/Oxford grad with a job in the family firm waiting for him, Michael, a Catholic school-educated conservative, Leon, a radical brought up by parents who were card-carrying Communist party members, and Brian, a member of the National Lawyers Guild. The story begins at the Class of 1969’s 30th reunion. A class member rises to address the crowd and asks, “Did we make a difference?” We learn through flashbacks that each of the characters had a role in shaping the law. Rose gives women an edge in struggles against powerful and devious husbands in the areas of domestic violence and divorce. Other characters help shape free speech policy and advise Presidents. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
by Lucy Cooke (All Ages)
Cats may be the rulers of the internet but that's only because sloths are too slow. Take a break from your routine and take a look at a bunch of sloths climbing things, eating things, and hugging things. There are even pictures of sloths getting some extra care at the Slothpital. You can't have a sloth (check the relevant CA Code Sections), but you can always visit them at the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. Put it on your list of things to do after you finish law school.
by Jo Baker
When Jane Austen died in 1817 she left behind a slim body of literary works and an even slimmer literary reputation. No one could have guessed the vast cottage industry that would arise from Austenmania. In our own time this has led to Colin Firth’s dripping torso and to Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Comes now Jo Baker with a novel titled Longbourn, which tells the story of the Bennet family from the point of view of one of their hardworking housemaids, Sarah. The novel is neither parody nor pastiche, but is a very convincing evocation of early 19th century English literature. Jane Austen could not have written Longbourn. There was no room for Sarah’s story on Austen’s two inches of ivory. But I think she would have read it with pleasure and deep admiration.
by Jhumpa Lahiri
Anything Jhumpa Lahiri writes, I will read. And once again, with The Lowland, she delivers exquisite prose, subtle perceptions with economy of words, as she slowly and eloquently unfolds a story of the fragile, yet eternal bonds that connect four generations. This novel captures the complex landscape of one family, where two brothers, close in childhood, choose separate paths during the political upheaval and violent uprisings in 1960s India. Written with depth and fearless ability to closely examine the subtle, and not so subtle impact of tradition vs cultural shifts, unfulfilled expectation, misunderstandings and heartbreak, Lahiri brings the reader into a world where characters are faced with moral conundrums and must make hard choices that determine the direction of their lives, bringing to mind the old saying "be careful what you wish for." I consider Jhumpa Lahiri to be one of the best storytellers around; her ability to move her characters through a fascinating, difficult, and unpredictable terrain into a place of hope and healing, is brilliant and never fails.
by Jen Lin-Liu
An American running a cooking school in Beijing, struck by the similarities of many Italian pasta shapes to those found in Chinese cooking, decides to travel the Silk Road to see if she can find a link: "I'd investigate how noodles had made their way along the Silk Road; document and savor the changes in food and people as I moved from east to west; learn what remained constant, what tied together the disparate cultures of the Silk Road, and what links made up the chain connecting two of the world's greatest cuisines." As a culinary history, On the Noodle Road is a bit disappointing. If there was in fact a link, it's been lost through the passage of time and the intervention of other cultures, like Russia, in Central Asia. As a window into domestic life, however, through western China, Central Asia, Iran and Turkey, it's a slight but nonetheless interesting report on what life is like, especially for women, on the Silk Road. Lin-Liu enters the kitchens and women's lives in a remote part of the world, and it's worth tagging along as she does.
by John Jeremiah Sullivan
I'm on a narrative kick. I've been talking to my students about the importance of narrative in even the driest-seeming briefs (trust me, it's in there somewhere), and a good non-fiction narrative is a true thing of beauty. John Jeremiah Sullivan's Pulphead is a great example - his collection of essays about everything from Christian Rock to post-"Real World" blues is a fun, pop-culture tour perfect for a law-school winter break, but it's also a wonderful example of how the right voice can turn a small picture of humanity into a gripping story. His topics evoke Chuck Klosterman, but with an honesty of purpose and lack of snark that allows Sullivan to present a fuller picture of American life - often funny, sometimes sad - without passing judgment. If you can't pick up the book, at least go to his Wikipedia page, scroll down, and read one or two of his essays. You won't regret it.
by Graeme Simsion
Picture this: Sheldon and Penny, together, the romantic tension so thick you could cut it with a . . . wait a minute, what kind of crazy is that? Where's Leonard? For fans of Big Bang, I hardly need to clarify; however, no matter - if you want a light read for the holidays, try curling up with The Rosie Project, get yourself a little fire going, pour some bubbly, and cozy up. Meet the characters: Rosie Jarman (kind of a Penny type) is smart, funny, beautiful, a drinking, smoking vegetarian with a penchant for profanity, and a low rating on the punctuality scale. A genetics professor, Don Tillman (Sheldon-esque with a little more heart) is brilliant, precise, obsessive, socially challenged, measuring and evaluating his way through life, and at age 39, sensing a need to move to the next step: the Wife Project. Don meets Rosie and before you can say DNA sequencer, the chemistry kicks in, but not exactly right away. This is a just for fun book; if you can sidestep the occasional predictability, it will have you L'ing OL!
by Richard Kurin
The Smithsonian has often been referred to as America’s attic. This wonderful book by Richard Kurin, second in command at the Smithsonian, distills this treasure trove into a 101 key objects. Each photo is accompanied by a short essay not only discussing the object’s importance in American history but also often with an entertaining backstory about how the object ended up in the Smithsonian. Fun fact – a project to bring buffalo to DC (they grazed on the Mall) led to the establishment of the National Zoo. You will recognize many of these items – the flag that flew over Ft. McHenry and inspired the Star Spangled Banner, the Ruby Slippers from the Wizard of Oz, the Wright Brothers plane, Kermit the Frog, Julia Child’s kitchen. Not so fun fact – the Smithsonian group assigned to disassemble Child’s Cambridge kitchen arrived on the morning of September 11th and watched the Twin Towers fall on her kitchen television.
By pure luck I happened into A Great Good Place for Books in Montclair when Kurin was speaking about this book – his enthusiasm for American history and the insider anecdotes make this the perfect holiday gift. I’ve already bought copies for my husband, our good family friends Jan & Jeff, and that nephew who loves history. I suggest you do the same for the folks on your list.
by Philipp Meyer
Three voices narrate this Texan family saga that spans over five generations. Starting in 1849, the boy child of a pioneering family is kidnapped by Comanche on the Texan frontier and immersed into their tribe at the brink of the tribe’s annihilation. We get a vivid glimpse into their way of life, their opposition to the budding Texan Republic and their desperate need to hold onto traditions and hunting grounds. Once returned to the whites of Texas, the family patriarch ambitiously and ruthlessly builds a huge ranching and oil dynasty spanning four generations, sacrificing relationships for money and power. Mr. Meyer’s depiction certainly does not portray how the West was won in simplistic ways, as his novel illustrates the bloody fight for land and power in the early years of the Lone Star State. Tensions with older Spanish/Mexican settlers, Native Peoples, Mexicans and the influx of Americans into the territory come into play. One son struggles with his father’s decision to massacre an entire Mexican family; to track and kill Indians as a feared Texas Ranger and whites who stand in his way; he continues to distance himself from the patriarch’s morality of power as he’s searching for his own happiness. As she lies dying, the third narrator, the patriarch’s adoring great granddaughter, documents her own rise and decline from the determined teenager wanting to continue her great grandfather’s dynasty, to a powerful Texan oil tycoon in an era where men ruled and women had to compete on that frontier. This is a great American novel about territory, sacrifice, secrecy, redemption and compassion.
by William Kent Krueger
Krueger writes a mystery series set in the North Woods of Minnesota. His protagonist is Cork O'Connor, the former sheriff of Tamarack County and a man of mixed heritage--part Irish and part Ojibwe. His work has received a number of awards, including the Minnesota Book Award, the Loft-McKnight Fiction Award, the Anthony Award, the Barry Award, and the Friends of American Writers Prize. "Northwest Angle" (2011) and "Trickster's Point" (2012) were New York Times bestsellers. (Amazon.com)
I discovered Krueger by reading the most recent of his novels, Tamarack County, which I found by accident next to one of my other favorite authors on the shelf at the Cupertino library. I then proceeded to read all of the 13 books in the series in two weeks. Tamarack County is the 13th book of the series.
If you are going to read the series start with the first book, Iron Lake, as the writing and the characters mature throughout the book and there is a big plot surprise in the middle of the book series that will change your outlook on the characters.
Krueger writes page-turning suspense novels, specifically the Cork O’Connor series that have great characters that grow and mature along with each sequential book. I felt that the Cork O’Connor character was surprisingly a more adult character in the more recent book than in the beginning. This is partially attributable to the author’s growth as a writer.
The O’Connor fictional family plays an integral part in all of the books, and O’Connor’s wife is an attorney that often represents the Ojibwe. If you read all of the books in one sitting, there seems to be a lot of violence in the life of the character, but taken one book at time, it is more believable and certainly suspenseful. I also know more about living in the backwoods of Minnesota than hopefully I will ever experience. These are great, fun books to read over the Christmas break.
by George Saunders
The New York Times calls Saunders the best short story writer in America today. The New Yorker loves him. But until I read this collection I didn’t buy it – now I do. Saunders short stories are typically set in upstate New York blue collar towns often narrated by a beleaguered everyman whose internal monologue is by turns nasty and heartbreaking. Saunders work is basically satire but with surreal turns. In one short story, The Semplica Diaries, a family demonstrates its social status through their living lawn statues of third world immigrants. But the stories in this collection aren’t as whacky as some of his earlier work. They are also heart-wringers - Home deals with a family in financial crisis interacting with an Iraqi war veteran while the title story depicts an overweight misfit boy meeting up with a dying man at a frozen pond. Saunders is an American original – try this collection.
by Cheryl Strayed
Those of you who remember that I reviewed The Mighty Queens of Freeville by Amy Dickinson for the Summer 2013 reading list and see that I am now reviewing another book by another advice columnist may assume that I am addicted to advice columns. I don’t think so, but the addict is always the last to know.
I loved Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild which chronicled her epic journey on the Pacific Crest Trail so I was anxious to read more by her. Earlier in her career, Cheryl Strayed wrote an online advice column under the name Sugar. Strayed’s life has taken some crazy twists and turns on a bumpy road and she speaks from experience when dispensing her advice. In the New Yorker, a critic said Sugar, “manages astonishing levels of empathy without dissolving into sentiment …” Strayed also shares a lot of information about her own life which makes the reader feel personally connected to her. I felt like she was speaking to me in a strangely intimate way. That’s not an easy thing to do in a face-to-face conversation much less through words on a page. I was drawn into the author’s life story as well as the personal problems of the people who wrote in for advice. And Sugar’s answers were not just a mere few paragraphs. “Dear Sugar” would not have worked within the space constraints of a newspaper column. Thankfully she was given free rein to answer each question fully and thoughtfully. I very much appreciated Cheryl Strayed (Sugar’s) insightful advice.
by Alison MacLeod
MacLeod's book was deservedly long listed for this year's Man Booker Prize but what really drew my attention was that the novel was set in my hometown of Brighton, England. Covering a period from 1940 to 1941 MacLeod captures the dark and uncertain time after the evacuation of Dunkirk, where an invasion of England seemed inevitable and nightly bombing raids were commonplace. The novel follows the Beaumont family: Geoffrey, the father, upstanding bank manager and now head of a local internment camp; his wife Evelyn who volunteers at the camp, and their young son Philip. There is a pervading aura of anti-Semitism from the educated and professional Geoffrey through to the more working-class friends and acquaintances of young Philip. The tension of the time highlights the fragility of their marriage, with both of the adults developing extra-marital relationships.
MacLeod weaves an interesting political and social history of both Brighton and England into a multilayered narrative. We know that Hitler of course does not in the end invade England but there is more than an air of doom about Geoffrey and Evelyn's relationship.
by R.J. Palacio (Children)
Wonder is about a kid with a deformed face. The kid’s name is August and he is about to start the fifth grade. August feels nervous about entering the fifth grade because he has never gone to school. The reason he did not go to school is because he had too many surgeries on his face to go to school frequently. Mr. Tushman, the school principal, asked three kids to be August’s friends. One named Julian is friendly at the start but later is really mean to August. A boy named Jack is nice but he says something mean to August. In the end they make up and are really good friends. A girl named Charlotte is nice to August for the rest of the year.
I liked the book because it was both funny and sad. It was also fast-paced. The moral of the story is even if you’re not “normal” you can still make great friends. That’s why I recommend this book.
by Reginald Hill
I didn’t judge this book by its cover; it enticed me with its front and rear endpapers, a reproduction of Winslow Homer’s 1891 painting, “The Woodcutter”. Sir Wilfred, “Wolf”, Hadda is the Woodcutter, though he’s forgotten it since he left the woodlands and hills of his native Cumbria in northern England to become a wealthy, powerful, knighted financier. His childhood sweetheart has become his perfect wife, they have a perfect daughter, live in the best neighborhood, move in the best circles. You know it can’t last. His fall is as dramatic as was his seeming effortless conquest of the financial world. Wolf is arrested, tried and convicted of fraud and child pornography. He’s badly injured in a briefly successful escape attempt. His wife and best friend desert him, and assuming they can wash their hands of him, take all of his money with them. Wolf is maimed and behind bars. He is also dangerous, a master manipulator, and patient though he is forced to be, he is not going quietly. He is however, not the only one pulling strings. Navigating through this near-future England of constant surveillance, power games and endless regulations makes the wilds of Cumbria seem an Eden where Wolf ultimately finds many of his answers. This stand-alone novel was one of the last written by mystery writer Reginald Hill before his death in 2012. His love of his Cumbrian home shines through the pages. The ending is a bit implausible, but the journey is well worth it.
Take a break from the holiday madness, kick back and read a book.
photo: Edna Lewis, Reference Librarian