Tuesday, July 13, 2021

All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle

 

Hubert Bird is a reclusive, retired, octogenarian, Jamaican immigrant who’s lived in London the majority of his life, A long-time widower, he misses his beloved wife and his daughter Rose who moved to Australia several years previously. What he doesn’t miss is the racism he faced when he arrived in London and when he married Joyce and her family disowned her because he was black. 

In weekly calls with Rose, Hubert describes a fantasy life of friendships and activities so she won’t worry about him. With her impending visit, Hubert doesn’t know what he’ll do about his deception when new neighbor Ashleigh and her baby appear at his door and won’t take no for an answer.

The book’s premise is similar to that of A Man Called Ove, but Hubert is less irascible and his story is more hopeful despite it not being easy. It’s a sentimental novel but it’s not sappy. I didn’t adore the too tidy ending, but most readers will. 

The book was inspired by author Mike Gayle’s parents’ immigration from Jamaica to London and it reflects their lives with genuine details that make the reader feel how their son cares about their experiences.  Gayle shows his characters in humorous, sad, lonely, and joyful times that made this reader know and care about them. All the Lonely People is a celebration of friendship and of everyday, ordinary people who make a difference. 

Summing It Up: Read All the Lonely People for a feel-good summer read that offers a clever take on intergenerational friendship, race, aging, loneliness, and waking up to life. The characters are engaging and the book belongs in every beach bag. 

Rating: 4 stars

Category: Fiction, Grandma’s Pot Roast, Sweet Bean Paste, Book Club

Publication Date: July 13, 2021

Author Website: http://www.mikegayle.co.uk/ 

Interview with the Author: https://thegreatbigbookclub.com/2020/07/16/author-of-the-week-mike-gayle/

Read an Excerpt: https://www.hachette.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/All-the-Lonely-People_extract.pdf

What Others are Saying: 

Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/mike-gayle/all-the-lonely-people-gayle/ 

Publishers Weekly: https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-5387-2016-5

Yorkshire Magazine: https://www.on-magazine.co.uk/arts/book-review/fiction/all-the-lonely-people-mike-gayle/ 

"With a winning main character, this absolutely heartwarming story unfolds with just enough surprises and heft to keep readers engaged. A natural choice for fans of Helen Simonson's Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand or any of the myriad recent books about cranky men finding late-in-life joy."―Booklist


Saturday, July 3, 2021

What a Wonderful World This Could Be by Lee Zacharias

 

Sometimes, you need to look at others to see yourself. Today, many of us are so certain of our beliefs that we become frozen and incapable of growth. Reading allows us to look into the past and see who we are. What a Wonderful World This Could Be once again showcases author Lee Zacharias’s talents as a writer who “sees” to focus on people who believe so strongly in an ideology that their rigidity casts them adrift. The novel opens in 1982 when Alex, a photographer and professor at a Virginia school, hears her husband Ted’s name on the TV news as she’s leaving the local YMCA after her morning swim. She hasn’t heard from Ted in eleven years and hasn’t known if he was alive since he disappeared. Now she learns that he’s in critical condition after having been shot while turning himself in to authorities. Ted’s reappearance forces Alex to revisit her life and confront her current situation. 


Alex’s single mother, an emotionally distant, uncaring artist and professor at a Midwestern university, paid little attention to Alex and allowed her too much freedom as a child. Alex didn’t learn who her father was until she was ten and he then showed very little interest in her. She sought and found connection at age fifteen when she fell in love with Steve, a 27-year-old photographer working in her mother’s department at the university. From Steve she learned to see both as a budding photographer and as a person. 


Two years later in 1964, she fell for Ted, an activist involved in the Mississippi civil rights struggles and the peace movement. Ted and Alex joined a local group and lived together in a commune-like arrangement that gave Alex a semblance of belonging. When the group was enveloped by radical Weatherman followers and the government charged Ted with a crime, he disappeared and Alex was once again adrift.


While using the lens of her writing, Zacharias hones her eye on the different aspects of the civil rights, peace, and justice movements of the 1960s and how lack of focus on humanity made it possible to avoid connections and sacrifice people for the sake of an ideology. Alex is a metaphor for seeing but not connecting the dots to mature into a fully functional adult. 


Summing It Up: Readers wanting to learn more about the 1960s will find no better guide to the times and the people. Zacharias’s use of a fictional school, based on Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana rings true for the time, place, and people populating it. Her photographic eye captures her characters as they choose whether to see what’s around them or hide in frozen ideas. 


Rating: 4 Stars


Category: Fiction, Grandma’s Pot Roast, Pigeon Pie, Super Nutrition, Book Club


Publication Date: June 1, 2021


Author Website: http://leezacharias.com 


Interviews with the Author: 

http://www.compulsivereader.com/2021/06/01/interview-with-lee-zacharias/?fbclid=IwAR0vzTAsbKjDxJ_shfnwc2QKCmyaSK1hGZNmVl-vwTJBDkWyVx3FDl5wNjQ


https://greensboro.com/entertainment/books/review-greensboro-author-introduces-readers-to-character-who-finds-change-more-difficult-than-imagined/article_f3af1f18-bce9-11eb-920c-839ae6bddc35.html?fbclid=IwAR2Uh5Gm7WYYzYDBfyOD7mpz4Hq9wjigJs8Kyci4K6K0ENPCd47PXWPnVXM 


Read an Excerpt: http://leezacharias.com/books-wonderful-world.htm 


What Others are Saying:

Historical Novel Society: 

https://historicalnovelsociety.org/reviews/what-a-wonderful-world-this-could-be/?fbclid=IwAR13mKs7EMpuvHyp216sJLW61AuNCJC1faPZ2Pjd0sgeyqzgfmdkBtjxjMQ

Walter Magazine:  https://waltermagazine.com/art-and-culture/new-books-spring-2021/ 

Friday, April 30, 2021

Books to Give for Mother's Day

Once again, Mother's Day will be upon us and here's a list of fabulous books your mother would love to unwrap while you treat her to brunch. While staying home during the pandemic, I've read fifty-one books since December, 2020 and the ones listed below were among my favorites. I'm certain that there are several on this list that your mother will enjoy. I'm also fairly sure that you'll find a few that fit your particular hunger for a good book. Here they are in alphabetical order by title.

For your mother or for anyone who’s survived the last year and wants to make sense of it while devouring a great story:

Becoming Duchess Goldblatt by Anonymous is spectacular and unique. Based on a Twitter account written by an anonymous writer, it reveals how the woman builds her life out of profound disappointment. While it’s the memoir of a fictional woman, it’s primarily a pondering on the meaning of life. It shows how starting over can be beautiful even when painful and heartbreaking. It’s sardonic, sweet, profound, and charming without being trite. Vulnerability personified. “When someone you love dies, you lose them in pieces over time, but you also get them back in pieces: little fragments of memory come rushing back through what they cared about, what brought them joy. If you’re lucky, you get little pieces back for the rest of your life.” It just came out in paperback so you can wrap it as a gift for the beach. GPR/S/SF (2020)

For the reader who wants a happy book with heft and humor:

Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny has all the quirkiness, heart, and insight of an Anne Tyler novel. Toss in humor, music, kindness, and small-town sensibility and it’s a winner. Jane is 26 and has moved to Boyne City, Michigan to teach second grade. She and Duncan, a furniture restorer and locksmith, fall in love within seconds of meeting. She soon learns that he’s been with almost every woman within fifty miles, but it doesn’t matter. His helper Jimmy, his ex-wife and her bizarre husband, and their friends become family and we readers get to enjoy the hilarity, tenderness, and contentment. D/GPR/S, BC Her 2017 debut novel Standard Deviation is also a winner.

While this is officially a Young Adult novel, it’s for everyone looking for a great story and an outstanding glimpse of native culture:

Firekeeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley is a captivating mystery that embeds the reader into the Ojibwe world of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and Ontario and Sugar Island. Daunis’s deceased father was an Ojibwe hockey player and her mother is from a wealthy, influential white family. She’s just finished high school and instead of following her dream of studying premed at the University of Michigan, she’s staying home after the death of her uncle and her grandmother’s stroke to be with her mother. She can’t avoid the meth crisis that’s hit her community and taken the lives of people she loves. The mystery is phenomenal, but it’s the view of native culture and the issues facing her tribe that make this special. DC/SN  Ages 14 and up

For the mom or aunt who can’t get enough of historical fiction especially when it’s set in the Channel Islands in World War II:

The Girl from the Channel Islands by Jenny LeCoat is based on a true story set in British Jersey under the German occupation from 1940 to 1945. For Hedy, who’s Jewish, the occupation means she may be deported, but she becomes a translator for the Germans and secretly works against them. When she falls in love with a German officer, her survival is even trickier. This fine tale of love and sacrifice is an engaging and meaningful read. GPR/SBP/SN, BC

For the mother who loves fine literature and history:

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell is a devastatingly beautiful novel of grief, love, marriage, and resilience. Based on the life of Shakespeare, his wife Agnes, and their children including their son Hamnet, the novel makes the reader slow down to fully grasp Agnes’s singular life and her love for her children. We know that losing a child is unbearable; Hamnet makes us feel the loss completely. When you read Hamnet, you are in England in the 1580s as the plague envelopes the land. Yes, you do want to read a novel set in a distant plague this year. G/SN/SBP, BC (2020)

  

For the mother who wants a “feel-good” novel that’s simply brilliant:

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig is a sweet, but not cloying, novel about learning how to live your own authentic life without regrets. The book is based on the fantasy that “between life and death there is a library.” Because of this, Nora can make right everything she regrets about her sad life. “Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived.” Mrs. Elm, the kind librarian, guides Nora on her journey, but only Nora can find her path. Read it to celebrate living the life you’re meant to live. It’s perfect for the pandemic. GPR/D/SBP, BC (2020)

For the mom who likes a touch of romance and mystery:

The Newcomer by Mary Kay Andrews is a rom-com with a touch of mystery. It’s a plot-driven romp packed with colorful characters set in an aging Florida, gulf coast motel where snowbirds return every winter. When 33-year-old Letty arrives with her four-year-old niece Maya in tow, the motel owner’s cop son wonders why. Are Letty and Maya safe from the person who killed Maya’s mom and will he find them there? It’s just the predictable book a beach requires. D/GS 5.4.21

 

For the mother or reader who likes to slowly devour a novel that offers multiple layers of history, culture, and nuance:

The Removed by Brandon Hobson is a spectacular look at the way the removal of the Cherokee from their homeland in 1838 is reflected in interactions today. The Echota family is planning their annual gathering commemorating the death of their son Ray-Ray by a cop who heard gunshots and fired at the “Indian kid.” The use of Cherokee myths and history and the integration of birds to illuminate and foreshadow the action is magnificent. The characters are memorable and the “Darkening Land” is eerie, wryly portrayed, and omniscient. Read this slowly and carefully to unveil all its layers and to grasp the hope-filled ending. Watch one of the many great interviews with the author to gain even more insight into this incredible book. G/SF/SN, BC

 
For the mother who adores the Maisie Dobbs series or who enjoys a fine memoir:

This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing by Jacqueline Winspear is the memoir of the author of the Maisie Dobbs series that showcases her childhood of rural poverty, love, and hard work. It explains why Maisie feels so real and endearing. Read it to feel Winspear’s resilience and to share her life. If you’re considering writing your life story, it would be one fine guide. GPR/SBP/SF (2020)

 

For the mother or any reader who likes a perfectly written mystery with humor and characters of a certain age who aren’t treated like bumbling stereotypes:

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman is a dry British mystery filled with humor and friendship. Four clever friends living in an affluent retirement village meet weekly to examine unsolved crimes and suddenly they find themselves involved in a local murder. These wry, engaging pals will make you want to move to Coopers Chase. Elizabeth and Joyce are particularly delightful and complex. All the characters including the police and the criminals are smart, funny, clever, and charming. Osman, a well-known British TV personality, nails this cozy debut. D/S/SBP, BC (2020)

 

In addition to these, three novels I reviewed earlier this year would make great gifts: Klara and the Sun, Mother May I, and The Paris Library. Click on each title for the full review.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Mother May I by Joshilyn Jackson


Mother May I is a thriller of a novel with a pace that will leave you breathless. As Bree watches her daughters during their play practice, someone sneaks behind her and kidnaps her sweet baby boy. She follows the kidnapper’s instructions and finds herself at the center of the murder of one of her husband’s long-time family friends. She also begins to ponder what her husband, whom the kidnapper has forbidden her to contact, might have to do with the crime.

Bree had been bothered by the sight of what looked like the ghost of an old woman outside her home before the baby’s kidnapping and she soon realizes that the kidnapper is that older woman whose illness makes her liable to do anything to exact revenge for what she believes was the heinous rape of her daughter years previously. With Bree’s husband away on a business trip and her admonishment from the kidnapper not to tell him what’s happening, Bree can’t help but harbor doubts about him. With a brilliant nod to the “me too” movement and the ease with which men navigate the world, Jackson captures every nuance of what being inches from losing your dream truly means. 

Summing it Up: Joshilyn Jackson is a master at capturing privilege, injustice, and cluelessness while maintaining a simmering narrative. Escape into this suspense-filled novel for its break-neck pace and savor it for the way it embeds you into each character and makes you wonder what you might have done.

Rating: 4 Stars

Category: Fiction, Grits, Mysteries & Thrillers, Book Club

Publication Date: April 6, 2021

Author Website: http://www.joshilynjackson.com/

Author Video: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=UaW8sBhIL7M&feature=youtu.be

Read an Excerpt: https://preview.aer.io/Mother_May_I-MjkyOTUy?social=1&retail=1&emailcap=0

What Others Are Saying:

“Chilling, thought-provoking, and hauntingly written, Mother May I kept me on the edge of my seat with its breathless race against time. Joshilyn Jackson’s latest riveting thriller starts with a bang and doesn’t let up, asking how well you truly know the people around you—and how far you’re willing to go for the ones you love. A true page-turner that will stick with me for a long time.”  —Megan Miranda, bestselling author of The Girl from the Widow Hills

Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/joshilyn-jackson/mother-may-i-jackson/ 

Publishers Weekly: https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-06-285534-3 


Monday, March 29, 2021

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro


Klara and the Sun is pure Ishiguro; it’s a masterpiece of the near future that makes us look at who we are today. Klara is an artificial friend purchased to be the companion for an ailing fourteen-year-old girl. Klara is observant, empathetic, and loving — not characteristics literature generally attributes to non humans. She, like her fellow AFs, needs the sun for nourishment so she is literally filled with light. It is this metaphor of light as love that makes the novel exceptional. 

That the highly successful students in this future world study virtually in their homes feels prescient of our current malaise, but what the novel illuminates is that our devices make isolation inevitable. Ishiguro explores our disconnected world by showing that an outsider can be the one who exemplifies perfect love despite the manner in which society treats those who are different. When Klara visits a neighbor’s home, the mother of the boy she’s come to see addresses her with: “One never knows how to greet a guest like you,” she says. “After all, are you a guest at all? Or do I treat you like a vacuum cleaner.” As Klara narrates the novel, we immediately see that this overt disdain doesn’t upset her. She cares deeply about others yet is unmoved by slights from humans, even those who supposedly love her. 

Seeing the world through Klara’s eyes means that we view it through a lens of artificiality. Klara as narrator, while machine-like in her movements and vocabulary, is infinitely more honest and caring than the novel’s humans. Her observations, particularly at the novel’s end are the essence of what we wish for humanity to be. 

Summing it Up: Read Klara and the Sun to experience an ironic, yet caring view of our increasingly isolated society. Dive into it it for the spot-on look at parents who will do anything to make their child a success. Explore its take on how we value people by their utility. Enjoy its exquisite revelation of sacrificial love. Yes, literary novels can be love stories, Ishiguro proves it and demonstrates why he’s a Nobel laureate. If you loved Never Let Me Go and Remains of the Day, you’re in for a delicious treat.

Rating: 5 Stars

Category: Fiction, Five Stars, Gourmet, Sushi, Sweet Bean Paste, Book Club

Publication Date: March 2, 2021

Author Interview: https://www.pbs.org/wnet/amanpour-and-company/video/nobel-prize-winning-novelist-kazuo-ishiguro-yblga4/

Reading Group Guide: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/653825/klara-and-the-sun-by-kazuo-ishiguro/9780593318171/readers-guide/ 

Read an Excerpt: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/653825/klara-and-the-sun-by-kazuo-ishiguro/

What Others Are Saying:

The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/mar/01/klara-and-the-sun-by-kazuo-ishiguro-review-another-masterpiece

Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/kazuo-ishiguro/klara-and-the-sun/ 

Los Angeles Review of Books: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/bomb-under-the-table-on-kazuo-ishiguros-klara-and-the-sun/ 

New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/23/books/review/klara-and-the-sun-kazuo-ishiguro.html 

Publishers Weekly: https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-0-593-31817-1


Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles



The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles is a novel book lovers and fans of compelling fiction set in World War II Paris will love. It begins in February 1939 when Odile Souchet, having recently completed her library degree, applies for a job at the American Library in Paris (ALP). Odile has an interview with Dorothy Reeder, a character based on the real Miss Reeder, the library’s director, a remarkable woman whose work contributed to the war effort and to elevating women and books. After their conversation, Odile pens a note:


“Dear Miss Reeder,


Thank you for discussing the job with me. I was thrilled to be interviewed. This library means more to me than any place in Paris. When I was little, my aunt Caroline took me to Story Hour. It’s thanks to her that I studied English and fell in love with the Library. Though my aunt is no longer with us, I continue to see her at the ALP.  I open books and turn to their pockets in the back, hoping to see her name on the card. Reading the same novels as she did makes me feel like we’re still close.


The Library is my haven. I can always find a corner of the stacks to call my own, to read and dream. I want to make sure everyone has that chance, most especially the people who feel different and need a place to call home.”


The library hires Odile and she adores her job where she becomes friends with Margaret, a British volunteer, and many of the library’s patrons based on actual historical figures. Odile falls In love with Paul, a kind police officer, which helps her when her beloved twin brother is captured by the Germans.


Once the Germans occupy Paris, the library’s Jewish patrons are no longer allowed to visit so Odile deliver books to them. Odile joins the Resistance and her actions are both enlightening and treacherous. Odile, Margaret, and others face repercussions and betrayal.  

 

The library also helps ship books to soldiers.  It’s fascinating to note that between September 1939 and May 1940, the “Soldiers Service” supplied more than 100,000 books to English and French soldiers including those in the French Foreign Legion.


The novel also features an interwoven narrative featuring Lily, a girl living in Froid, Montana in 1983, who describes her neighbor:


“Her name was Mrs. Gustafson and she lived next door. Behind her back, folks called her the War Bride, but she didn’t look like a bride to me. First of all, she never wore white. And she was old. Way older than my parents. Everyone knows a bride needs a groom, but her husband was long dead, 


She wasn’t like the other ladies in Froid. They were plump like wrens, and their lumpy sweaters and boring shoes came in dowdy grays. The other ladies wore curlers to the grocery store, but Mrs. Gustafson donned her Sunday best —- a pleated skirt and high heels —- just to take out the trash. A red belt showed off her waist. Always, she wore bright lipstick, even in church.”


When Lily’s mother becomes ill, Odile Gustafson becomes the friend Lily needs. Their relationship builds and the reader begins to piece together the arc of Odile’s life since 1944. Odile and Lily’s relationship offers a way for both to manage their difficulties.


Summing it Up: The Paris Library is an lovely novel evocative of war, love, sacrifice, and betrayal. It’s a love letter to books and Paris — a true Francophile and bibliophile treat. It’s just what readers need in a pandemic year. The author worked at the American Library in Paris in 2010 and her love for the library is contagious. 


The Paris Library is the #1 Indie Next Pick Great Reads Pick for February 2021 as selected by independent booksellers.


Rating: 5 Stars


Category: Fiction, Five Stars, Grandma’s Pot Roast, Pigeon Pie, Super Nutrition, Book Club


Publication Date: February 9, 2021


Author Website: https://www.jskesliencharles.com/ 


Reading Group Guide and Complete Book Club Kit: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5dee27076290e80dd6fa1974/t/602108a3fb20424c24db27cc/1612777646233/ParisLibrary_BookClubKit.pdf 


The Story Behind the Book:  https://www.libraryjournal.com/?detailStory=author-janet-skeslien-charles-shares-the-story-behind-the-paris-library 


What Others Are Saying:

BookPage: https://bookpage.com/reviews/25877-janet-skeslien-charles-paris-library-fiction#.YCGyyIFOKf0 


Kirkus Reviews: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/janet-skeslien-charles/the-paris-library/


Publishers Weekly: https://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-9821-3419-8


“A love letter to Paris, the power of books, and the beauty of intergenerational friendship.” ― Booklist