Great Reads

Meldrum, Christina. Amaryllis in Blueberry

In Meldrum's first adult novel, an uncommunicative family moves to Africa to become medical missionaries because of a whim of the father, a pathologist.  When the family leaves Michigan for Africa in 1976, they have no idea what to expect and little knowledge of the area to which they are transported. 

Although the plot sounds a little like The Poisonwood Bible, the similarities end there.  Meldrum's disfunctional Slepy family consists of parents and their four daughters, each seemingly lost to their own thoughts. A rotating perspective gives us a glimpse of everyone's view, but of all the daughters, Amaryllis, the youngest, is the only one with any real instincts.  Her father, along with her sisters, believes she is not his child and despite it being the elephant in the corner, her mother remains strangely silent on the topic which festers and drives them all to various levels of insanity.

This is an unusual story complete with well-drawn characters and a vivid setting.  Fans of women's psychological fiction may find much to enjoy in Meldrum's latest.

 

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Bryson, Bill. At Home

If you’re a regular reader, you probably know I’m a Bryson fan.  Still, I was hesitant to pick up his latest because the description made it sound a tad boring.  Recently, when I saw the audio edition available, I picked it up just to see.  I’m glad I did!

Bryson takes us on a tour of his old house, a parsonage in England, and gives us a history of domestic life as we follow along.  For instance, a tour of the scullery brings us to a discussion of the lives of servants in the 1800s, complete with gossip of the day. A discussion of the word “hall” brings us to the history of medieval halls where lord of the manor and servants coexisted in one large room out of the elements and near the fire. As it turns out, At Home is a fascinating look at history complete with a touch of Bryson’s trademark wit.  If you’ve ever read Simon Winchester (Krakatoa), you might see a glimpse of the constructs Winchester employs to connect his topics, which on the surface often seem unrelated.

Bryson narrates his own CD in his slightly British accent, making it a pleasure to listen to.

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Just a Thought...Celebrities and Cookbooks

Cookbooks are wildly popular here and have been for years.  I find I sometimes have to watch the food channel to see who is who and who cooks what so I can assist those seeking the cookbook written by the woman with the southern accent, or the one who cooks Italian and has that husband on the show sometimes. 

I was thinking about this recently, remembering the days when cookbook meant Betty Crocker, Fannie Farmer, or Julia Child.  Then there were the less personal titles like “The Better Homes and Garden Cookbook”, “The Joy of Cooking”, and the Sunset series.  There came the appliance-specific books like “Slow Cooker Recipes for Two”, and “Cooking with Convection”. There are food or ingredient-specific books and the restaurant/chef cookbooks such as: Leone’s Italian Cookbook, Anthony Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook, Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen, and Alice Water’s Chez Panisse. And finally, there’s that new crop of celebrity chefs made popular by the food network including Paula Dean, Rachel Ray, Ina Garten, Tyler Florence, and a host of others.

Is it just me or does it seem that the focus is off the food and onto the celebrity chef? Is it the making of entire networks devoted to food? or has it always been that way for foodies who want to know not just the what, but the why and the who?

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Walton, Jo. Among Others

The typical fantasy novel tells the story of an epic magical battle, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Among Others tells the story of what happens next.  Before the book opens, 15-year-old Welsh girl Morwenna and her twin sister fought a magical battle of wills against their twisted mother, trying to prevent her from taking great power and threatening the order of the world. The girls won, but at a great price. Morwenna, or Mori, is permanently crippled by the injuries she sustained and her sister was killed. Mori takes refuge with the father she’s never known, who sends her off to a British boarding school. There, a permanent outcast due to her disability, her Welsh heritage and accent, and her great love of science fiction and fantasy novels, Mori tries to endure. She trades science fiction books with her father, makes overtures towards the local fairy, makes a handful of human friends—including the school’s librarian, who encourages her reading—and finds a local sci-fi and fantasy book discussion group to join. But she knows her mother isn’t done with her and will try to get to her any way she can. Despite all the magical protections Mori places around herself, another conflict with her powerful and wicked mother is building, and this time Mori is on her own.

This novel is clearly a love letter to genre fiction itself, to the writers thereof, and to every sci-fi and fantasy fan who’s ever felt alienated from this world and sought refuge in another. Masterful. Highly recommended for all fans of the genre.

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McGregor, Jon. So Many Ways to Begin

As a child, David Corter happily dug up artifacts from the war and haunted the local museums, dreaming of running his own museum one day. He collected artifacts from his own life almost obsessively, cataloging them and preserving them, building a history of his and his family's lives. When, at the age of 22, a family friend suffering from early-onset Alzheimer's reveals the long-held secret that David was actually adopted, he finds himself having to reevaluate everything he thought he knew about his history.  Coupled with David's quest are his wife's problems...her abusive relationship with her family has left her prone to debilitating bouts of depression.

While the story itself, of two dysfunctional people finding their way in life, is not a new or original one, the way in which the story is told is unique. Each chapter takes as its center an item from David's collection, using that item as a jumping-off point for a story about his past.  These stories jump around in time, weaving together slowly into a complete picture of his life and struggle for identity. A quiet, slow-paced, melancholy title, this book is nevertheless engaging.

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