Tuesday, December 17, 2013

THE BOOKMAN'S TALE: A NOVEL OF OBSESSION, BY CHARLIE LOVETT

BOOK DISCUSSION DATE AND TIME: Monday, January 13, 2014, at 1:00 PM

DISCUSSION LEADER:  Candace Plotsker-Herman

Antiquarian book enthusiast Peter Byerly discovers an eighteenth-century study of Shakespeare forgeries that contains a Victorian portrait strongly resembling his late wife, a finding that sparks an obsessive search through the bard's historical period.




REVIEWS


Publishers Weekly:
Lovett’s debut is a century-spanning web of literary mystery that ensnares American Peter Byerly, a rare bookseller. Living abroad in the months after the death of his wife Amanda, Peter is mystified to discover a watercolor uncannily resembling her—especially since it’s from the Victorian era. Vowing to learn more about the obscure artist—“B.B.”—Peter stumbles into the argument about the authorship of Shakespeare’s work, which might contain a link to the mysterious painter. “The mystery of the watercolor’s origins felt deeply personal and Peter could already feel curiosity and grief melding into obsession.” Lovett’s novel skips in time to various periods in Peter’s life, and even before it, extending as far back as 1592 when Shakespeare and his cohorts haunted taverns, and to 1879 when folios of his plays became prized possessions. As Peter continues his sleuthing, he finds himself a potential suspect in a murder investigation and a “hundred-and-thirty-year-old scandal” with “the most valuable relic in the history of English literature” at its core. Although the discussion of the provenance of Shakespeare’s plays will appeal to bibliophiles, the frequent flashbacks to bygone days interrupt the narrative flow. In addition, the characters’ dialogue, while full of passion for letters, is wooden and uninspired. Agent: David Gernert, the Gernert Agency. (June) --Staff (Reviewed April 29, 2013) (Publishers Weekly, vol 260, issue 17, p)
Library Journal:
/* Starred Review */ Peter Byerly cut himself off from the world to recover from the loss of his wife, Amanda, who died nine months ago. An American antiquarian bookseller now living in England, Peter returns to work and discovers, in an 18th-century book about Shakespeare forgeries, a Victorian miniature portrait of a woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to his late wife. His research to identify the watercolor's origins uncovers what could be the holy grail of Shakespeare studies—a book annotated by the Bard at the time he was writing A Winter's Tale —and leads Peter on a dangerous quest to prove the book's authenticity. Interwoven throughout are flashbacks to Peter's early relationship with Amanda and chapters on the book's travels through many hands since 1592. VERDICT Drawing on debates about the authorship of Shakespeare's plays as well his own experience in the cutthroat world of antiquarian books, debut author Lovett has crafted a gripping literary mystery that is compulsively readable until the thrilling end. Recommended for fans of Geraldine Brooks's People of the Book , Shakespeare aficionados, and bibliophiles. [See Prepub Alert, 12/7/12.]— Katie Lawrence, Chicago --Katie Lawrence (Reviewed April 15, 2013) (Library Journal, vol 138, issue 17, p75)
Kirkus:
(The following is a combined review for THE BOOKMAN' S TALE)  A pleasurably escapist trans-Atlantic mystery is intricately layered with plots, murders, feuds, romances, forgeries--and antiquarian book dealing. Lovett's engagingly traditional debut offers flavors of notable British antecedents--Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, Noel Coward--while spinning tales in several different eras, all centered on the book that supposedly inspired Shakespeare's play A Winter's Tale. The novel's hero is insecure, grieving, widowed bookseller Peter Byerly, whose scholarship to Ridgefield University in North Carolina introduced him to his twin passions: his future wife, Amanda, and old books. Peter's wooing and winning of Amanda is one of the novel's three concurrent plot strands, the others (both set in the U.K.) being a here-and-now hunt and chase and a through-the-ages tracing of a volume of Pandosto, a play by Robert Greene which came to be annotated by Shakespeare and, if found and exposed in modern times, would answer an earth-shattering (to some) question of scholarship: Did Shakespeare really write his plays or not? Peter's discovery, in a bookshop, of a Victorian watercolor portrait seemingly of his dead wife sets this sizable ball rolling and leads through new female friendships, murder scenes and tombs to a pleasing-if-predictable country-house denouement. A cheerily old-fashioned entertainment.(Kirkus Reviews, April 15, 2013)

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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Faith: A Novel, by Jennifer Haigh

Book Discussion Date and Time: Monday, December 16, 2013,  at 1:00 PM

Discussion Leader: Ellen Getreu

When her older brother Art--the popular, dynamic pastor of a large suburban parish--finds himself at the center of  scandal, Sheila McGann, estranged from her family for years, returns to Boston, ready to fight for him and his reputation....A gripping, suspenseful tale of one woman's quest for the truth, Faith is a haunting meditation on loyalty and family, doubt and belief.


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From the NovelistPlus database
BookList:
/* Starred Review */ Father Arthur Breen has devoted his entire career as a priest in Boston’s South Shore community to a life of quiet but determined faith, enthusiastically serving his parishioners while unobtrusively placating his superiors in the Catholic hierarchy. Only marginally involved with his own family—devout mother, alcoholic stepfather, go-getter half-brother, and contemplative half-sister—Breen takes an instant shine to eight-year-old Aidan, the emotionally fragile son of the rectory’s housekeeper, and makes tentative arrangements to help Aidan’s newly clean-and-sober mother, Kath, start a new life. So when a sex abuse scandal rocks the Boston archdiocese, everyone is shocked, though no one is exactly surprised, to learn that Kath has accused Father Breen of harming Aidan. Looking back on the tragedy, Breen’s sister Sheila chronicles the events leading up to and beyond the incident, revealing a family shattered by profound secrets. With an exquisite sense of drama and mystery, Haigh delivers a taut, well-crafted tale that potently but subtly explores myriad gray areas within essential issues of truth and trust, punishment and absolution. Indelibly rendered characters, suspenseful pacing, and fearless but sensitive handling of a controversial subject will make this a must-read for book discussion groups. -- Haggas, Carol (Reviewed 04-01-2011) (Booklist, vol 107, number 15, p24)
Publishers Weekly:
/* Starred Review */ Haigh (Mrs. Kimble) explores the intersections of public scandal and personal tragedy in her superb fourth novel. Set in 2002 amid the sexual abuse crisis that has rocked the Catholic Church, and particularly the Boston archdiocese, Haigh's novel reaches far beneath the headlines to imagine the impact of allegations on one priest's family. Arthur Breen became a priest when such a career path was considered a logical, honorable choice for an intelligent young Catholic man. Sophisticated and worldly in many ways, utterly childlike in others, Arthur is unprepared to cope with secular life when he's accused of abusing a young boy and is subsequently asked to leave his parish. Arthur's younger half-sister, Sheila, in a quasi-omniscient style, narrates the complicated, devastating history that shaped Arthur's life, both personally and spiritually. Although this all-too-plausible story offers a damning commentary on the Church's flaws and its leaders' hubris, Haigh is concerned less with religious faith than with the faith Arthur's family has—and loses, and in some cases regains—in one another. At its broadest, this is a frank and timely story of familial and institutional heredity; at its most personal, the novel is a devastating portrait of a priest who discovers that he's also a man. (May) --Staff (Reviewed February 21, 2011) (Publishers Weekly, vol 258, issue 08, p)
Library Journal:
The scandal regarding the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests continues on its ugly way, and Haigh (The Condition ) doesn't make it any easier for us: she's written a novel that questions the guilt of a priest so charged. When older half-brother Art is accused of abusing a boy whose wayward mother he's tried to help, Sheila McGann returns to the suffocating Irish American home and community in Boston she had fled. Art has been shunned by the family, particularly brother Mike, who has several children and a cold, judgmental wife. To Sheila's horror, Mike condemns Art out of hand, even as he gets uncomfortably involved with the woman who has brought the suit against him. Beyond Art's denial, Sheila herself can't get him to articulate what really happened. VERDICT Initially, the story is told more blandly than one would expect from the fine Haigh, and the idea crawls uncomfortably around the reader's mind that she's soft-soaping the issue. By the end, though, the narrative is emotionally involving and ethically concise, reminding us that things are not always as they seem and that we must consider carefully how we judge others. Most fiction readers will want. [See Prepub Alert, 11/15/10.]— Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal --Barbara Hoffert (Reviewed March 1, 2011) (Library Journal, vol 136, issue 4, p69)
Kirkus:
/* Starred Review */ A non-sensationalized novel about an inherently sensational event—the abuse of an 8-year-old boy by a priest. Haigh hands over most of the narrative burden to Sheila McGann, half-sister of Art Breen, who for over 25 years has been a good man and a respected parish priest in the Boston area. Just before Easter, however, the diocese abruptly removes him from his duties and establishes him in an apartment until it completes an investigation into an allegation that he's abused Aidan, a boy he is obviously fond of and has become emotionally attached to. Aidan's mother is Kath, a drug- and man-addicted young woman whose credibility is problematic at best. (One logical suspicion is that Kevin, her egregiously addled boyfriend, might be putting her up to this accusation to secure easy money in light of recent scandals in the Church.) While Sheila has faith in Art's innocence, her other brother, Mike, is not so sure. Mike's situation is complicated by his marriage to Abby, a Lutheran who believes almost everything is wrong in the Catholic Church. Haigh moves seamlessly from Sheila's reminiscence of growing up Catholic in Boston (though she's since lost the faith) to a more neutral and objective third-person account of events that relentlessly unfold and seem to implicate Art. Haigh deals with complex moral issues in subtle ways, and her narrative is beautifully, sometimes achingly poignant.(Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2011)




Tuesday, October 8, 2013

THE ART FORGER: A NOVEL, BY B.A. SHAPIRO

Book Discussion Date and Time: Monday, November 18th, 2013, at 1:00 PM

Discussion Leader: Edna Ritzenberg

In the early morning hours of March 18, 1990, two men dressed as police officers bound and gagged two guards at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, and stole thirteen works of art worth today over $500 million. Despite thousands of hours of police work and a $5 million reward, the artwork has never been recovered. Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there's more to this crime than meets the eye. (bashapirobooks.com)


Reviews of The Art Forger
BookList:
The catalyst for Shapiro’s classy and pleasurably suspenseful debut is the legendary art heist of 1990, in which 13 masterpieces were stolen from Boston’s strange and wonderful Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum. Claire, a superb but frustrated painter who, like art collector Gardner, has been the target of scandal, supports herself by creating high-quality reproductions of Degas paintings for an online art retailer. So when Boston’s most prominent and sexiest gallery owner brings one of the missing Gardner paintings, a Degas, to her studio and offers her a veritable deal with the devil, Claire cannot resist. But she detects the painting’s stunning secret and turns out to be as fine a sleuth as she is an artist. Shapiro dramatizes Claire’s creation of a perfect forgery in fascinating detail and performs some elegant fabrications of her own in the form of risqué letters allegedly written by Gardner. The result is an entrancingly visual, historically rich, deliciously witty, sensuous, and smart tale of authenticity versus fakery in which Shapiro artfully turns a clever caper into a provocative meditation on what we value most. -- Seaman, Donna (Reviewed 09-01-2012) (Booklist, vol 109, number 1, p47)
Publishers Weekly:
Shapiro’s new novel (after The Safe Room) is filled with delightful twists, turns, and ruminations on what constitutes truth in art. Broke and painting copies of famous artists’ work for a reproduction site, artist Claire Roth is enticed by gallery owner Aidan Markel’s request to forge a painting by Degas that was stolen from the Isabella Gardner Museum in 1990 (in the largest unsolved art heist in history). As Claire works, she wonders if the painting she’s forging is legitimate. Meanwhile, Claire steps in when her blocked artist lover can’t finish his work for a deadline, essentially painting what becomes something of an art world sensation. Her lover slips into denial about her contribution and Clair weighs the repercussions of going public, knowing that it will damage her reputation even more badly than her heart. An intricate shell game exploring the permutations of the craft and ethics of art, Shapiro’s novel is a lively ride, melding Claire’s discoveries with fictionalized 19th-century letters from Gardner that hint at even deeper complexities. The wit, Claire’s passion for her work, what it takes to create a piece that can pass modern scrutiny, and the behind-the-scenes look at the lives of working artists and the machinations of the art world overcome an ending that ties things up too neatly. The choice of present tense for much of the book keeps the reader at a remove from the action, but Shapiro’s research, well-integrated into a strong premise, captivates. Agent: Ann Collette, Rees Literary. (Oct. 23) --Staff (Reviewed August 13, 2012) (Publishers Weekly, vol 259, issue 33, p)
Library Journal:
By page two of this novel, the reader is fully engrossed into the world of struggling artist Claire Roth, nicknamed "The Great Pretender" who copies famous paintings for a website called reproductions.com. When Aidan Markel, the handsome owner of a prestigious gallery, offers her a show of her own work in exchange for forging a painting, she reluctantly agrees. He brings two paintings to her studio, a supposedly original Degas called After the Bath and a work by an obscure painter of the same size and age. A Degas expert, Claire determines that the Degas in her studio is itself a forgery, and she's the only who knows. Stripping the paint off of the lesser-known work, she creates another forgery, doing such a good job that art authenticators think it is the original Degas, missing from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum since 1990. (Thirteen works worth over $500 million were actually stolen from the museum at that time.) Aidan lands in jail when the copy is seized by the FBI, and Claire will be too unless she finds the original Degas. In this enthralling intrigue, the yearning to own an original work of art is thoughtfully explored, and the text is interspersed with letters from Gardner herself, describing her relationships with the artists whose work she collected. VERDICT This well-researched work combines real elements (though After the Bath never existed) with the understanding that the art world is as fragile and precarious as the art itself, particularly for young hopefuls. A highly recommended debut that would be great for book discussion groups.— Lisa Rohrbaugh, Leetonia Community P.L., OH --Lisa Rohrbaugh (Reviewed August 1, 2012) (Library Journal, vol 137, issue 13, p88) 
A cleverly plotted art-world thriller/romance with a murky moral core. That nobody knows anything seems to be Shapiro's (The Safe Room, 2002, etc., as Barbara Shapiro) assessment of art authentication, given the number of misdetected paintings strewn through her engrossing if unlikely story. In Boston, painter Claire Roth has spent three years dealing with the guilt and scandal of her involvement with Isaac Cullion, whose breakthrough work, 4D, she painted for him when he was blocked. After the picture became a success, Cullion refused to acknowledge Claire's involvement, and her objections plus the attendant rumors led to his suicide and her vilification. Since then, she has survived financially by painting reproductions, so when influential gallery owner Aiden Markel arrives with a bizarre proposal--her own show if she will forge a copy of a Degas, one of the pictures stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum--she says yes. As she works, Claire and Aiden become lovers, but she doesn't tell him about her discovery that the stolen Degas is itself a copy. This knowledge is Claire's lifeline when the finished forgery is discovered, Aiden and then Claire are both arrested, and only she can save them. Despite a shaky premise, this is convincingly researched, engaging storytelling. Intelligent entertainment.(Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2012)

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Friday, October 4, 2013

The Benefits of Reading Literature


A scientific study suggests that reading literary fiction, rather than popular fiction or serious nonfiction, may enhance social skills.
http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/03/i-know-how-youre-feeling-i-read-chekhov/?smid=pl-share

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

HOME, BY TONI MORRISON



Book Discussion Date and Time:
Monday, October 7th, 2013
          at 1:00 PM
Discussion Leader: 
Candace Plotsker-Herman

Home

By Toni Morrison

About the Book:

A New York Times Notable Book
A Washington Post Notable Work of Fiction
A Best Book of the Year: NPR, AV Club, St. Louis Dispatch
When Frank Money joined the army to escape his too-small world, he left behind his cherished and fragile little sister, Cee. After the war, his shattered life has no purpose until he hears that Cee is in danger.


Frank is a modern Odysseus returning to a 1950s America mined with lethal pitfalls for an unwary black man. As he journeys to his native Georgia in search of Cee, it becomes clear that their troubles began well before their wartime separation. Together, they return to their rural hometown of Lotus, where buried secrets are unearthed and where Frank learns at last what it means to be a man, what it takes to heal, and--above all--what it means to come home.

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About Toni Morrison:

Toni Morrison is the author of ten novels, from The Bluest Eye (1970) to A Mercy (2008). She has received the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Pulitzer Prize. In 1993 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. She lives in New York.

Reviews from the NoveList Plus database

BookList:
/* Starred Review */ The Korean conflict is over, and soldier Frank Money has returned to the States with a disturbed psyche that sends him beyond anger into actually acting out his rage. From the mental ward in which he has been incarcerated for an incident he can’t even remember, he determines that he must escape. He needs to get to Atlanta to attend to his gravely ill sister and take her back to their Georgia hometown of Lotus, which, although Frank realizes a return there is necessary for his sister’s sake, remains a detestable place in his mind. Morrison’s taut, lacerating novel observes, through the struggles of Frank to move heaven and earth to reach and save his little sister, how a damaged man can gather the fortitude to clear his mind of war’s horror and face his own part in that horror, leave the long-term anger he feels toward his hometown aside, and take responsibility for his own life as well as hers. With the economical presentation of a short story, the rhythms and cadence of a poem, and the total embrace and resonance of a novel, Morrison, one of our national literary treasures, continues to marshal her considerable talents to draw a deeply moving narrative and draw in a wide range of appreciative readers. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: A quarter-million print run is the surest indication that the publisher is confident that a new Morrison novel is bound to be a big hit. -- Hooper, Brad (Reviewed 03-15-2012) (Booklist, vol 108, number 14, p19)
Publishers Weekly:
/* Starred Review */ In Pulitzer and Nobel Prize–winner Morrison’s immaculate new novel (after A Mercy), Frank Money returns from the horrors of the Korean War to an America that’s just as poor and just as racist as the country he fled. Frank’s only remaining connection to home is his troubled younger sister, Cee, “the first person ever took responsibility for,” but he doesn’t know where she is. In the opening pages of the book, he receives a letter from a friend of Cee’s stating, “Come fast. She be dead if you tarry.” Thus begins his quest to save his sister—and to find peace in a town he loathed as a child: Lotus, Ga., the “worst place in the world, worse than any battlefield.” Told in alternating third- and first-person narration, with Frank advising and, from time to time, correcting the person writing down his life story, the novel’s opening scene describes horses mating, “heir raised hooves crashing and striking, their manes tossing back from wild white eyes,” as one field over, the bodies of African-American men who were forced to fight to the death are buried: “...whatever you think and whatever you write down, know this: I really forgot about the burial. I only remembered the horses. They were so beautiful. So brutal.” Beautiful, brutal, as is Morrison’s perfect prose. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (May) --Staff (Reviewed March 26, 2012) (Publishers Weekly, vol 259, issue 13, p)
Library Journal:
Frank Money was damaged emotionally as well as physically while fighting in Korea, then returns home to an America as racist as ever. What saves him from utter despair is the need to rescue his equally damaged sister and bring her back to their small Georgia town, a place he has always despised. But thinking over the past both near (the war) and far (his childhood) allows him to rediscover his sense of purpose. At 160 pages, this is not a big brass band of a novel but a chamber work, effectively telescoping Morrison's passion and lush language. --Barbara Hoffert (Reviewed December 1, 2011) (Library Journal, vol 136, issue 20, p96)
Kirkus:
/* Starred Review */ A deceptively rich and cumulatively powerful novel. At the outset, this might seem like minor Morrison (A Mercy, 2008, etc.), not only because its length is borderline novella, but because the setup seems generic. A black soldier returns from the Korean War, where he faces a rocky re-entry, succumbing to alcoholism and suffering from what would subsequently be termed PTSD. Yet perhaps, as someone tells him, his major problem is the culture to which he returns: "An integrated army is integrated misery. You all go fight, come back, they treat you like dogs. Change that. They treat dogs better." Ultimately, the latest from the Nobel Prize–winning novelist has something more subtle and shattering to offer than such social polemics. As the novel progresses, it becomes less specifically about the troubled soldier and as much about the sister he left behind in Georgia, who was married and deserted young, and who has fallen into the employ of a doctor whose mysterious experiments threaten her life. And, even more crucially, it's about the relationship between the brother and his younger sister, which changes significantly after his return home, as both of them undergo significant transformations. "She was a shadow for most of my life, a presence marking its own absence, or maybe mine," thinks the soldier. He discovers that "while his devotion shielded her, it did not strengthen her." As his sister is becoming a woman who can stand on her own, her brother ultimately comes to terms with dark truths and deep pain that he had attempted to numb with alcohol. Before they achieve an epiphany that is mutually redemptive, even the earlier reference to "dogs" reveals itself as more than gratuitous. A novel that illuminates truths that its characters may not be capable of articulating.(Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2012)

Monday, August 19, 2013

THE BURGESS BOYS, BY ELIZABETH STROUT



Book Discussion Date and Time: Monday, September 9th, 2013 at 1:00 PM

Discussion Leader: Ellen Getreu

Haunted by the freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim and Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim, a sleek, successful corporate lawyer, has belittled his bighearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, a Legal Aid attorney who idolizes Jim, has always taken it in stride. But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan—the Burgess sibling who stayed behind—urgently calls them home. Her lonely teenage son, Zach, has gotten himself into a world of trouble, and Susan desperately needs their help. And so the Burgess brothers return to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever.

With a rare combination of brilliant storytelling, exquisite prose, and remarkable insight into character, Elizabeth Strout has brought to life two deeply human protagonists whose struggles and triumphs will resonate with readers long after they turn the final page. Tender, tough-minded, loving, and deeply illuminating about the ties that bind us to family and home, The Burgess Boys is Elizabeth Strout’s newest and perhaps most astonishing work of literary art. (Amazon.com)







    



Reviews from the NoveList Plus database
BookList:
Pulitzer Prize–winning Strout (Olive Kitteridge, 2008) delivers a tightly woven yet seemingly languorous portrayal of a family in longtime disarray. Brothers Jim and Bob Burgess, and sister Susan, are mired in a childhood trauma: when he was four, Bob unwittingly released the parking brake on the family car, which ran over their father and killed him. Originally from small Shirley Falls, Maine, the Burgess brothers have long since fled to vastly disparate lives as New York City attorneys. Egoistic Jim is a famous big shot with a corporate firm. Self-effacing Bob leads a more low-profile career with Legal Aid. High-strung Susan calls them home to fix a family crisis: her son stands accused of a possible hate crime against the small town’s improbable Somali population. The siblings’ varying responses to the crisis illuminate their sheer differences while also recalling their shared upbringing, forcing them finally to deal with their generally unmentioned, murky family history. Strout’s tremendous talent at creating a compelling interest in what seems on the surface to be the barest of actions gives her latest work an almost meditative state, in which the fabric of family, loyalty, and difficult choices is revealed in layer after artful layer. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: This is the first novel from Strout since her Pulitzer Prize–winning, runaway best-seller, Olive Kitteridge, and anticipation will be high. -- Trevelyan, Julie (Reviewed 01-01-2013) (Booklist, vol 109, number 9, p33)
Publishers Weekly:
Strout’s follow-up to her 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner Olive Kitteridge links a trio of middle-aged siblings with a group of Somali immigrants in a familiar story about isolation within families and communities. The Burgesses have troubles both public and secret: sour, divorced Susan, who stayed in the family’s hometown of Shirley Falls, Maine, with her teenage son Zachary; big-hearted Bob, who feels guilty about their father’s fatal car accident; and celebrity defense lawyer Jim, who moved to Brooklyn, N.Y. When Zachary hurls a bloody pig’s head into a Somali mosque during Ramadan, fragile connections between siblings, the Somalis, and other Shirley Falls residents are tested. Jim’s bullish meddling into Zach’s trial hurts rather than helps, and Susan’s inability to act without her brothers’ advice cements her role as the weakest link (and least interesting character). Finally, when Jim’s neurotic wife, Helen, witnesses the depth of her husband’s indifference and Bob’s ex-wife, Pam, finds the security of her new life in Manhattan tested by nostalgia for Shirley Falls, Zach’s fate—and that of the Somalis—becomes an unfortunate afterthought. Strout excels in constructing an intricate web of circuitous family drama, which makes for a powerful story, but the familiarity of the novel’s questions and a miraculously disentangled denouement drain the story of depth. Agent: Lisa Bankoff, ICM. (Apr.) --Staff (Reviewed February 4, 2013) (Publishers Weekly, vol 260, issue 05, p)
Library Journal:
/* Starred Review */ The Burgess siblings are in disarray. Decades earlier, the "boys," Jim and Bob, fled their childhood home of Shirley Falls, ME, to practice law in New York City. Jim is a flashy uptown defense attorney who once won a high-profile celebrity murder case. His meek younger brother, Bob, the ultimate agent of conciliation, is a Legal Aid lawyer. When Bob's twin sister, Susan, calls from Shirley Falls to say her odd teenage son, Zachary, has thrown a pig's head into the mosque of the community's Somali population, an unspeakably offensive violation of the Muslim faith, the brothers scramble to throw down legal cover. Events spin out of control, Zachary's crime goes national, tensions rise, and charges against the boy escalate. Meanwhile, the abrasive relationship among Jim, Bob, and Susan erodes as the shattering moment of their childhood—the death of their father, which was blamed on four-year-old Bob—bubbles to the surface. VERDICT Pulitzer Prize-winner Strout (Olive Kitteridge ) takes the reader on a surprising journey of combative filial love and the healing powers of the truth. [See Prepub Alert, 11/12/12.]— Beth Andersen, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI --Beth Andersen (Reviewed April 15, 2013) (Library Journal, vol 138, issue 17, p77)
Kirkus:


Two squabbling brothers confront their demons, their crumbling love lives and a hate crime case that thrusts them back to their Maine roots. The titular boys of this follow-up to Strout's Pulitzer-winning 2008 short story collection, Olive Kitteridge, are Jim and Bob Burgess, who are similar on the surface--lawyers, New Yorkers--but polar opposites emotionally. Jim is a high-wattage trial attorney who's quick with a cruel rejoinder designed to put people in their place, while Bob is a divorcé who works for Legal Aid and can't shake the guilt of killing his dad in a freak accident as a child. The two snap into action when their sister's son in their native Maine is apprehended for throwing a pig's head into a mosque. The scenario gives Strout an opportunity to explore the culture of the Somalis who have immigrated to the state in recent years--a handful of scenes are told from the perspective of a Somali cafe owner, baffled by American arrogance, racism and cruelty. But this is mainly a carefully manicured study of domestic (American and household) dysfunction with some rote messages about the impermanence of power and the goodness that resides in hard-luck souls--it gives nothing away to say that Jim comes to a personal reckoning and that Bob isn't quite the doormat he's long been thought to be. Speeding the plot turns along are Jim's wife, Helen, an old-money repository of white guilt, and Jim and Bob's sister, Susan, a hardscrabble repository of parental anxiety. Strout's writing is undeniably graceful and observant: She expertly captures the frenetic pace of New York and relative sluggishness of Maine. But her character arrangements often feel contrived, archetypal and predestined; Jim's in particular becomes a clichéd symbol of an overinflated ego. A skilled but lackluster novel that dutifully ticks off the boxes of family strife, infidelity and ripped-from-the-headlines issues.(Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2013)






 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

WHERE'D YOU GO, BERNADETTE BY MARIA SEMPLE

Discussion Date: Tuesday, August 13 at 11:00 AM (Summer Schedule)
Discussion Leader: Ellen Getreu

When her notorious, hilarious, volatile, talented troubled, and agoraphobic mother goes missing, teenage Bee begins a trip that takes her to the ends of the earth to find her.   

Read reviews in the HW Readers packet, prepared by our staff

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BookList:
/* Starred Review */ Bernadette Fox, practically a shut-in, who’s hired a virtual assistant in India to remotely arrange every task, from hiring a gardener to planning the trip to Antarctica she’s promised her star-student daughter, Bee seems pretty crazy. But don’t be fooled. Suspicions that madcap Bernadette is as clever as her last name implies will be confirmed heartily. When she’s party to some unfortunate events, her erratic behavior leads her husband, Microsoft guru Elgin Branch, to commit her to a local mental-health facility. But Bernadette intercepts his plan at the pass, escapes the staged intervention, and disappears without a trace. Though much of the story is told through documents—e-mails, letters, magazine articles—precocious young teen Bee as narrator is great company, entertaining and convincing in her comportment. TV writer Semple (Arrested Development) pokes fun at the Pacific Northwest as only a Seattlelite can and concocts a caper that, if seen from outer space, might be a mess but in the minutiae of its tangles is clear and rewarding. Under the guise of a hilarious romp, Semple explores the universal questions of why we do what we do and love what we love to some sweet and unexpected ends. -- Bostrom, Annie (Reviewed 07-01-2012) (Booklist, vol 108, number 21, p25)
Publishers Weekly:
/* Starred Review */ In her second novel (after This One Is Mine), Semple pieces together a modern-day comic caper full of heart and ingenuity. Eighth-grader Bee is the daughter of Microsoft genius Elgin Branch and Bernadette Fox, a once-famous architect who has become a recluse in her Seattle home. Bee has a simple request: a family cruise to Antarctica as a reward for her good grades. Her parents acquiesce, but not without trepidation. Bernadette’s social anxiety has become so overwhelming that she’s employed a personal assistant from Delhi Virtual Assistants Intl.  for tasks as simple as making dinner reservations. How will she survive three weeks on a boat with other live human beings? Maybe she won’t; a day before the trip, Bernadette disappears, and Bee gathers her mother’s invoices, e-mail correspondence, and emergency room bills in the hopes of finding clues as to where she went.The result is a compelling composite of a woman’s life—and the way she’s viewed by the many people who share it. As expected from a writer who has written episodes of Arrested Development, the nuances of mundane interactions are brilliantly captured, and the overarching mystery deepens with each page, until the thoroughly satisfying dénouement. Agent: Anna Stein, Aitken Alexander. (Aug.) --Staff (Reviewed May 14, 2012) (Publishers Weekly, vol 259, issue 20, p)
Library Journal:
What does a genius architect do when the neighbor with whom she's been feuding destroys her greatest work of art? In Semple's second novel (after This One is Mine ) she moves from the scene of the crime (Los Angeles) to a city where she's less likely to get into trouble (Seattle). Bernadette, the genius architect, is married to Elgin, also a genius, who has taken a job at Microsoft. Unfortunately, Bernadette manages to get involved in some serious neighbor drama in her new city—even though she barely leaves her house. Owing to the madness in LA, Bernadette has lost her creative drive, which has been replaced with an insanity that affects everyone around her, including her teenaged daughter, Bee. Eventually, Bernadette flees Seattle with the help of an unlikely ally. Then it is up to the ones who love her the most to answer the question the title poses. VERDICT Interestingly written in the form of emails, memos, and articles with very little narrative prose, this fun read is filled with quirky characters and eccentric circumstances. With elements similar to an Anne Tyler novel or a Wes Anderson film, this is sure to be a hit with readers who appreciate offbeat characters and an original story.   --Karen Core (Reviewed July 1, 2012) (Library Journal, vol 137, issue 12, p78)
Kirkus:
  ...a cleverly constructed Internet-age domestic comedy about a wife/mother/genius architect who goes a little nuts from living in that cesspool of perfection and bad weather called Seattle. Bernadette left Los Angeles years earlier after a professional disaster: After she won a MacArthur grant for building a house using only materials that originated within 20 miles of the site, vengeful neighbors had the house destroyed. Now she lives in Seattle with her equally genius husband, Elgie, who is working on a big project in artificial intelligence at Microsoft, and their genius eighth-grade daughter, Bee, whose devotion to her mother is one of the novel's least credible plot points. Bernadette may be brilliant and funny, but she is also mean-spirited and self-absorbed, with a definite case of entitlement that the author too frequently seems to share. She certainly hates everything about Seattle, especially the other mothers at Bee's crunchy-granola private school. Because she hates to leave her house, a crumbling ruin she's never bothered to renovate, she has hired a personal assistant in India to run her life via the Internet. After her vendetta against one of her Seattle mommy-enemies goes terribly awry, Elgie begins to wonder if she is having a mental breakdown. Meanwhile, Bernadette decides she wants to get out of a planned family trip to Antarctica. Days before the trip, in the middle of an intervention Elgie has plotted with his adoring administrative assistant, Bernadette disappears. To makes sense of the disappearance, Bee creates a book by collating the Internet postings, public records and private emails she has received from an anonymous source. Although there are wonderful scenes of deadpan absurdity--Semple wrote for Arrested Development--Seattle, already the butt of so much humor lately, seems an awfully easy mark. The tone is sharply witty if slightly condescending, but ultimately Semple goes for the heartstrings. A fun beach read for urban sophisticates or those who think they are.(Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2012) 
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Monday, June 17, 2013

Serena: a Novel, by Ron Rash
Discussion Date: Tuesday, July 23 at 11:00 PM
Discussion Leader: Edna Ritzenberg
 Traveling to the mountains of 1929 North Carolina to forge a timber business with her new husband, Serena Pemberton champions her mastery of harsh natural and working conditions but turns murderous when she learns she cannot bear children.


 REVIEWS

BookList:
/*Starred Review*/ Rash's short stories and previous novels are all set in Appalachia and enriched by the region's unique history. This is his most gripping work yet, a sweeping saga of unfathomable greed and revenge that grabs the reader's attention from the first page. The Depression-era tale is centered on newly married George and Serena Pemberton, owners of a logging company in the mountains of North Carolina. Their operation is aimed strictly at maximizing profits, with no regard for either the safety of their workers or the future of the land they're pillaging. The tragic result of environmental disregard looms large in all of Rash's fiction, and the Pembertons are his worst villains to date in that respect—leaving behind a "wasteland of stumps and slash and creeks awash with dead trout." Side plots involve the drastic means, including murder, the couple employs to avoid losing land to environmental groups and Serena's unflagging pursuit of the young girl who bore George's son shortly after he and Serena were married. With a setting fraught with danger, and a character maniacal in her march toward domination and riches, Serena is a novel not soon forgotten. -- Donovan, Deborah (Reviewed 09-01-2008) (Booklist, vol 105, number 1, p48)
Publishers Weekly:
Depression-era lumber baron George Pemberton and his callous new wife, Serena, are venality incarnate in Rash's gothic fourth novel (after The World Made Straight ), set, like the other three, in Appalachia. George—who coolly kills the furious father of Rachel Harmon, the teenage girl pregnant with George's bastard son—is an imperious entrepreneur laying waste to North Carolina timberland without regard for the well-being of his workers. His evil pales beside that of Serena, however. Rash's depictions of lumber camp camaraderie (despite deadly working conditions) are a welcome respite from Serena's unrelenting thirst for blood and wealth; a subplot about government efforts to buy back swaths of privately owned land to establish national parks injects real history into this implacably grim tale of greed and corruption gone wild—and of eventual, well-deserved revenge. (Oct.) --Staff (Reviewed May 19, 2008) (Publishers Weekly, vol 255, issue 20, p30)
Library Journal:
This is a violent story about ambition, privilege, and ruthlessness played out in an Appalachian timber camp in North Carolina during the Depression. The novel opens with the camp's wealthy owner, George Pemberton, returning from Boston with his new bride, Serena. He is met on a train platform by his business partners—and by camp kitchen worker Rachel, who is carrying his child (and meeting the train with her angry father). When George leaves the platform, Rachel's father is dead, and Rachel herself has been spurned and humiliated. The novel is richly detailed, and many of the characters are skillfully drawn by Rash (The World Made Straight ). Unfortunately, though, the Pembertons—who are rapacious and monstrously self-absorbed—often seem one-dimensional and implausible. Serena is particularly hard to believe at times. Still, parts of the novel are superb, particularly the final section when Serena turns violently against Rachel and her son. The Pembertons create a wasteland in these beautiful mountains, and Rash also renders that loss powerfully. Though flawed, this manages to be an engaging read. Recommended for libraries with large fiction collections.—Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community Coll., CT --Patrick Sullivan (Reviewed June 1, 2008) (Library Journal, vol 133, issue 10, p93)
Kirkus:
/* Starred Review */ The latest from Rash (The World Made Straight, 2006, etc.) is a fine melodrama about a wealthy homicidal couple, latter-day Macbeths, in Depression-era Appalachia.The book is an artful expansion of "Pemberton's Bride," the brilliant standout in Rash's story collection Chemistry (2007). The opening is unforgettable. Pemberton and his bride Serena return from Boston to Waynesville, in the North Carolina mountains. Waiting at the train station is Abe Harmon and his pregnant daughter Rachel. Harmon has vowed to kill her seducer Pemberton, but the latter knifes the drunk old man to death as Serena watches approvingly. Pemberton has no fear of the consequences, for he owns the lumber company on which Waynesville depends and has the local officials on his payroll, all except his nemesis, sheriff McDowell. He has a worthy mate in Serena, daughter of a Colorado lumber baron; her entire family died in the 1918 influenza epidemic. No sentimentalist, she burnt down the family home before moving East. Eventually she too will bloody her hands, killing an innocent and strengthening her bond with Pemberton. The mercilessly exploited workers soon realize she is Pemberton's full partner; his former partner is killed in a hunting "accident." When she saves the life of a foreman, Galloway (felling trees is dangerous work), he becomes her lifelong slave, and hit man; the incompetent doctor who causes Serena to miscarry is just one of Galloway's victims. But the novel is not just a trail of blood. Rash also focuses on the quiet dignity of Rachel (now a single parent raising Jacob, Pemberton's son) and shows an unforced reverence for nature, hideously despoiled by Pemberton's relentless clear-cutting. The lumber king's one soft spot is his feeling for Jacob, but that proves too much for Serena. The last hundred pages are thrilling, as mother and son take flight; McDowell supports them heroically; and Pemberton…well, see for yourself. Should be a breakthrough for this masterful storyteller. (Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2008)




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Monday, May 20, 2013

The World Without You by Joshua Henkin

Discussion Date: Monday June 17th at 1:00 PM

Discussion Leader: Candace Plotsker-Herman

Gathering at their Berkshires summer home to mourn the loss of youngest sibling and journalist adventurer Leo, who was killed while on assignment in Iraq, the Frankels endure shared grief and private challenges that shape their views about family.

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Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Discussion Date: Monday, May 20, 2013

Discussion Leader: Ellen Getreu

When his mother, a tribal enrollment specialist living on a reservation in North Dakota, slips into an abyss of depression after being brutally attacked, fourteen- year-old  Joe Coutts sets out with his three friends to find the person that destroyed his family. "Written with undeniable urgency, and illuminating the harsh realities of contemporary life in a community where Ojibwe and white live uneasily together, The Round House is a brilliant and entertaining novel, a masterpiece of literary fiction.  Winner of the National Book Award.


BookList:
/* Starred Review */ In her intensely involving fourteenth novel, Erdrich writes with brio in the voice of a man reliving the fateful summer of his thirteenth year. The son of a tribal judge, Bazil, and a tribal enrollment specialist, Geraldine, Joe Coutts is an attentively loved and lucky boy—until his mother is brutally beaten and raped. Erdrich’s profound intimacy with her characters electrifies this stunning and devastating tale of hate crimes and vengeance, her latest immersion in the Ojibwe and white community she has been writing about for more than two decades. As Joe and his father try to help Geraldine heal and figure out who attacked her and why, Erdrich dissects the harsh realities of an imperiled yet vital culture and unjust laws reaching back to a tragedy in her earlier novel The Plague of Doves (2008). But it is Joe’s awakening to the complexities and traumas of adult life that makes this such a beautifully warm and wise novel.Through Joe’s hilarious and unnerving encounters with his ex-stripper aunt, bawdy grandmothers, and a marine turned Catholic priest; Joe’s dangerous escapades with his loyal friends; and the spellbinding stories told by his grandfather, Mooshum, a favorite recurring character, Erdrich covers a vast spectrum of history, cruel loss, and bracing realizations. A preeminent tale in an essential American saga. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Best-selling Erdrich’s exceptional new novel will be actively promoted with a national tour and a coordinated blog tour as well as extensive print, radio, and social-media appearances. -- Seaman, Donna (Reviewed 08-01-2012) (Booklist, vol 108, number 22, p25)
Publishers Weekly:
/* Starred Review */ Erdrich, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, sets her newest (after Shadow Tag) in 1988 in an Ojibwe community in North Dakota; the story pulses with urgency as she probes the moral and legal ramifications of a terrible act of violence. When tribal enrollment expert Geraldine Coutts is viciously attacked, her ordeal is made even more devastating by the legal ambiguities surrounding the location and perpetrator of the assault—did the attack occur on tribal, federal, or state land? Is the aggressor white or Indian? As Geraldine becomes enveloped by depression, her husband, Bazil (the tribal judge), and their 13-year-old son, Joe, try desperately to identify her assailant and bring him to justice. The teen quickly grows frustrated with the slow pace of the law, so Joe and three friends take matters into their own hands. But revenge exacts a tragic price, and Joe is jarringly ushered into an adult realm of anguished guilt and ineffable sadness. Through Joe’s narration, which is by turns raunchy and emotionally immediate, Erdrich perceptively chronicles the attack’s disastrous effect on the family’s domestic life, their community, and Joe’s own premature introduction to a violent world. Agent: Andrew Wiley. (Oct.) --Staff (Reviewed July 16, 2012) (Publishers Weekly, vol 259, issue 29, p)
Library Journal:
/* Starred Review */ Set on an Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota in 1988, Erdrich's 14th novel focuses on 13-year-old Joseph. After his mother is brutally raped yet refuses to speak about the experience, Joe must not only cope with her slow physical and mental recovery but also confront his own feelings of anger and helplessness. Questions of jurisdiction and treaty law complicate matters. Doubting that justice will be served, Joe enlists his friends to help investigate the crime. VERDICT Erdrich skillfully makes Joe's coming-of-age both universal and specific. Like many a teenage boy, he sneaks beer with his buddies, watches Star Trek: The Next Generation , and obsesses about sex. But the story is also ripe with detail about reservation life, and with her rich cast of characters, from Joe's alcoholic and sometimes violent uncle Whitey and his former-stripper girlfriend Sonja, to the ex-marine priest Father Travis and the gleefully lewd Grandma Thunder, Erdrich provides flavor, humor, and depth. Joe's relationship with his father, Bazil, a judge, has echoes of To Kill a Mockingbird , as Bazil explains to his son why he continues to seek justice despite roadblocks to prosecuting non-Indians. Recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 4/23/12.]— Christine DeZelar-Tiedman, Univ. of Minnesota Libs., Minneapolis --Christine DeZelar-Tiedman (Reviewed August 1, 2012) (Library Journal, vol 137, issue 13, p83)
Kirkus:
Erdrich returns to the North Dakota Ojibwe community she introduced in The Plague of Doves (2008)--akin but at a remove from the community she created in the continuum of books from Love Medicine to The Red Convertible--in this story about the aftermath of a rape. Over a decade has passed. Geraldine and Judge Bazil Coutts, who figured prominently in the earlier book, are spending a peaceful Sunday afternoon at home. While Bazil naps, Geraldine, who manages tribal enrollment, gets a phone call. A little later she tells her 13-year-old son, Joe, she needs to pick up a file in her office and drives away. When she returns hours later, the family's idyllic life and Joe's childhood innocence are shattered. She has been attacked and raped before escaping from a man who clearly intended to kill her. She is deeply traumatized and unwilling to identify the assailant, but Bazil and Joe go through Bazil's case files, looking for suspects, men with a grudge against Bazil, who adjudicates cases under Native American jurisdiction, most of them trivial. Joe watches his parents in crisis and resolves to avenge the crime against his mother. But it is summer, so he also hangs out with his friends, especially charismatic, emotionally precocious Cappy. The novel, told through the eyes of a grown Joe looking back at himself as a boy, combines a coming-of-age story (think Stand By Me) with a crime and vengeance story while exploring Erdrich's trademark themes: the struggle of Native Americans to maintain their identity; the legacy of the troubled, unequal relationship between Native Americans and European Americans, a relationship full of hatred but also mutual dependence; the role of the Catholic Church within a Native American community that has not entirely given up its own beliefs or spirituality. Favorite Erdrich characters like Nanapush and Father Damien make cameo appearances. This second novel in a planned trilogy lacks the breadth and richness of Erdrich at her best, but middling Erdrich is still pretty great.(Kirkus Reviews, September 1, 2012) 
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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

  Long Island Reads 2013

SUTTON

 by J.R. Moehringer

Discussion Date: Monday, April 22 at 1:00 PM

Discussion Leader: Candace Plotsker-Herman 

A fast-paced, fictional account of William Francis Sutton, America's most successful bank robber and the first criminal to appear on the FBI's most-wanted list. Blending extensive research with vivid imagination, Pulitzer Prize-winner J.R. Moehringer (author of The Tender Bar) brings Willie Sutton back to life. 

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr
By Richard Rhodes
Discussion Date:  Monday, March 11, 2013 at 1:00 PM
Discussion Leader: Jane Isaacson Shapiro 
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Rhodes delivers a remarkable story of science history: how a ravishing film star and an avant-garde composer invented spread-spectrum radio, the technology that made wireless phones, GPS systems, and many other devices possible.

Beginning at a Hollywood dinner table, Hedy's Folly tells a wild story of innovation that culminates in U.S. patent number 2,292,387 for a "secret communication system." Along the way Rhodes weaves together Hollywood’s golden era, the history of Vienna, 1920s Paris, weapons design, music, a tutorial on patent law and a brief treatise on transmission technology. Narrated with the rigor and charisma we've come to expect of Rhodes, it is a remarkable narrative adventure about spread-spectrum radio's genesis and unlikely amateur inventors collaborating to change the world. (randomhouse.com)






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