Great Reads

Hustvedt, Siri. The Summer Without Men

It’s the rare book that can consider weighty themes without a bleak tone and plot. As readers we’re often forced to choose between literary fiction that borders on the morose and lighter fare that can feel like a waste of time. Not so with Siri Hustvedt’s new novel, Summer without Men. Hustvedt manages to examine everything from adolescent bullying to the potential grief and loneliness of old age in a charming novel that never seems depressing thanks to the wry humor of the first person narrator, Mia.

Newly separated after nearly thirty years of marriage and fresh from a brief stint in a psychiatric hospital, Mia returns to her hometown where she balances an intense introspection about her past (and life in general )with an interest in an array of women, including her young poetry students, a troubled neighbor, and her mother’s elderly friends. Mia’s compassion for these women allows her to revisit the various stages of her own life while directly addressing the reader and offering numerous asides and literary quotes and allusions regarding love and loss. Throughout Mia’s sense of humor charms the reader. She shares fantasies of releasing the rats in her husband’s lab and refers to his new girlfriend as “the Pause” and “unnamed French love object.”

Summer without Men is a quick, quirky read served up by one of the more engaging narrators in recent memory. 

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Vowell, Sarah. Unfamiliar Fishes

With a few notable exceptions (Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Bill Bryson), I believe authors should not attempt to narrate their own audio books. I mention this because I recently listened to Sarah Vowell’s latest book, Unfamiliar Fishes. While the content of the book was interesting enough, I became really irritated by the author’s reading of it by disk 2.  This did not bode well for a favorable review.

Fortunately, I stuck with it and learned a few more things about the history of Hawaii, about its unification, its natives, its first contacts with adventurers and missionaries, and its melting-pot growing pains.  Vowell is witty, as always, and doesn’t hesitate to include her personal and political viewpoints along the way. Recommended for fans of Vowell, those curious about Hawaiian history, or those in the mood for a serendipitous jaunt through an unfamiliar place.  

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Obreht, Tea. The Tiger’s Wife

Natalia Stefanovi, a young doctor living in a contemporary unnamed Balkan country, is preparing, along with her best friend, for a goodwill mission across a border which has not always been a border. Right before they leave, however, she receives the news that her beloved grandfather has died. No one else but she knew that he was ill, so the death itself does not surprise her. What is a shock, however, is that he died in a small town on the other side of the border, having told Natalia’s grandmother that he was on his way to visit Natalia. But Natalia knows nothing of this.  Having arrived in the town where she will be vaccinating war orphans, Natalia finds herself distracted from her work by memories of her grandfather and the puzzling question of just what he was doing so far from home. Her thoughts circle around and around, always coming back to two stories her grandfather always told her when she was a child…the story of Gavran Gaile, the deathless man who collected the souls of the dying, and the deaf-mute woman known as the tiger’s wife.

The story circles through time, visiting Natalia’s childhood, her grandfather’s childhood, and times even earlier than that, building a portrait of a country divided by ethnicity, religion, and superstition as much as by politics and bloodshed. The seeming fairy tales of the deathless man and the tiger’s wife hold surprising kernels of truth and reality. Vibrant, lyrical, and compelling.  

 

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Teen/Adult Summer Reading Week One: Dawn of the Dead

It has to start somewhere.  For week one, we challenge you to read the first book in a series.  We're giving you some suggestions just for fun, and as always, you're welcome to choose any book of 100 pages or more from our collection to read or listen to to fulfill your summer reading goal.

It begins...

 

Chiaverini, Jennifer. Quilter’s Apprentice (Elm Creek Quilts) (F)

Fforde, Jasper.  Eyre Affair (Thursday Next series) (MYS)

Harris, Charlaine. Dead Until Dark (Sookie Stackhouse series) (MYS)

King, Stephen.Gunslinger (Dark Tower series) (F)

Kinsella, Sophie. Confessions of a Shopaholic(Shopaholic series) (F)

Le Carré, John. Call for the Dead (George Smiley series) (F)

Mankell, Henning. Faceless Killers(Kurt Wallander series) MYS

Silva, Daniel. Kill Artist (Gabriel Allon series) (F)

 

To sign up and participate online, follow this link: tinyurl.com/readforyourlife

 

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Pullinger, Kate. The Mistress of Nothing

Sally considers herself fortunate.  As a lady’s maid to Lady Duff Gordon, she has come up the ranks from being an orphan without skills to having a secure job of some prestige. When Lady Duff Gordon becomes ill with a lung disease, her doctor suggests she relocate to the warm, dry climate of Egypt.  Sally can scarcely believe her luck in being asked to go along to care for her lady.  Sally craves adventure and having spent her precious free time at the British Museum studying the Egyptian culture, she knows what a wonderful opportunity is ahead.

The somewhat unorthodox and gregarious Lady Duff Gordon decides that Luxor is the place where she will settle and sets about renting the finest home in the city and hiring household help. Because there are few English speakers in the area or traveling through, Lady Duff Gordon begins to treat Sally as a friend rather than a servant, giving her freedom that Sally had never imagined and which ultimately causes Sally to forget the real nature of her situation in life. Sally settles in quickly, learns Arabic, and begins a friendship with an Egyptian man that soon turns into a love affair.

Sally has a rude awakening when she discovers that the lady she has served so faithfully quickly turns on her when provoked and she discovers just how little she means to Lady Duff Gordon when she needs her the most.  This novel is based on a true story, gathered from the letters of Lucie, Lady Duff Gordon.  Fans of historical fiction and book groups will find enjoyable reading in Pullinger’s debut.

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