Sarah is the store manager who keeps everything running. You may recognize her from her days as owner of Wellington's Books in Cary.
In her luminous memoir, The Glass Eye (Tin House, pb 15.95), written following the death of her father, Jeannie Vanasco takes us on a tender journey through her childhood and early adulthood. I was completely immersed in Jeannie's life and her affectionate and vivid portraits of her parents, especially her dad, who was 60 when Jeannie was born and completely devoted to her. Jeannie is a gifted writer with a unique voice and the story of her family's mysteries, including her discovery of a dead half-sister with her same name, and, of course, her father's glass eye, are compelling and haunting. The Glass Eye is reminiscent of other memoirs of grief and madness, but that makes this absorbing book sound darker than it really is. Vanasco's humor and intelligence shine through her journey of loss.
I was completely immersed in this perfectly constructed novel of two families vacationing on an island in Maine during the Cold War summer of 1964. Nagy contrasts the warm, idyllic setting, beautifully rendered, with the chill of manipulations and deceptions that are both personal and political. The family dynamics could best be summed up by the father who explains to his young son how important it is to "learn when to lie, to whom and to do it well."
Curtis Dawkins is a flat-out great writer who is also incarcerated for life in a Michigan prison for a drug-related homicide. The stories he tells in The Graybar Hotel are small masterpieces of the daily drama of prison life, reminiscent of John Cheever or Raymond Carver. In deceptively simple sentences, Dawkins pries into the inmates' complex relationships with each other, their coping mechanisms, and their lives on the outside that brought them to where they have ended up. A transformative reading experience.
Lu Spinney's bright, talented 29-year-old son was left in a coma after a snowboarding accident while vacationing in the Austrian Alps. Spinney is an engaging writer who doesn't hold back and the story she details of the next chapter of the lives of Miles and the rest of their family is devastating, but it also offers readers an honest and intimate look at hard questions about life, death and choices. If you are enriched by exploring questions of mortality and morality, this book will be a worthy addition to your reading list.
My Absolute Darling is a novel that contains gorgeous descriptions of the natural world of the California coastal forest, compelling portraits of original and complex characters, and encounters with intimate, inescapable evil. 14- year-old Turtle Alveston is the hero and she and her father are individuals you will not be able to forget, or perhaps even get out of your mind, for some time. Some readers will be repulsed by My Absolute Darling while others will find it, as I did, a disturbing, authentic, and suspenseful account of the worst and best that can coincide in the world.
There is a hypnotic quality to Jacqueline Woodson's beautiful novel of four girls navigating Brooklyn in the '70's. Their confidence and bravura, vulnerability and fear, their loyalty to and love for one another, all told by August, in real time and flashbacks, as she tries to find her own way through. I couldn't help thinking of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, that other great girl-coming-of-age story set in the same place in the early 20th century and touching on some of the same themes. I'm grateful to Jacqueline Woodson for this lovely and haunting story.
In Chasing the North Star, Robert Morgan, whose novel Gap Creek won multiple awards, shows he continues to be a master of historical narrative. Following Jonah, a house slave on a South Carolina plantation, who escapes toward his dream of freedom in Canada, and Angel, who follows Jonah with her own dream in mind, the novel is a gripping road adventure story, a devastating reminder of the personal, individual experience of slavery, and a love story filled with missteps, determination and humor. Morgan's language is deceptively simple but his tale is confident, complex, gripping, and imbued with a deep knowledge and respect for the natural world.
Damon Tweedy brings us a very personal view of the role race has played for him as a student, a doctor, and even as a patient. He starts with his time as one of only a handful of black students attending Duke University Medical School, where one of his professors asks if he is there to fix the lights. Through his internship and on to psychiatric training and practice, he sheds a light on how easy it is for us to see each other through the lens of race instead of as individuals, and how that leads to bad outcomes for everyone, but especially for black patients. Tweedy has written a thoughtful, provocative, and very readable account, full of engaging stories of real people whose well-being, and even survival, are affected by racial perceptions.
I found Michel Faber's The Book of Strange New Things both strange and compulsively readable. Michel Faber turns the science fiction premise of planetary colonization on its head. Peter, a Christian evangelist, leaves his wife Bea, and beloved cat, Joshua, at home in England while he serves as replacement missionary to an alien race on the planet Oasis. As Peter and Bea correspond (not easy!) it becomes apparent that Bea is the one having the harder time as life in England deteriorates, while Peter finds his new flock peculiar and exotic, but surprisingly devoted to their faith and the Bible, which they call The Book of Strange New Things. Faber, best known for his Victorian novel The Crimson Petal and the White, weaves a compelling story of love, faith, corporate culture, damaged lives, and resilience.
Rupert Nacoste teaches a course at NC State University called Interpersonal Relationships and Race. Through moving and powerful excerpts from his students' writings we experience their encounters and struggles to deal with these issues, with lessons for all of us. But Taking on Diversity is about much more than race. It's about neo-diversity, the term Rupert coined for the new reality of America where we regularly come into contact with people who are different from us, whether by race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, mental capability, physical capability, or religion, and our anxiety about how to behave. As Timothy Tyson wrote, "Rupert Nacoste is a master teacher who pushes us beyond guilt and finger pointing.... shakes us awake and and surprises us with real hope."
Peter Heller, author of The Dog Stars—one of Nancy's favorites, celebrates the open spaces of rural Colorado through the eyes of an expressionist painter who is trying to regain his art while overcoming his past. PW says “a masterful novel, in which love (parental and romantic), artistic vision, guilt, grief, and spine-chilling danger propel a suspenseful plot.”
In this companion novel to Atkinson's bestseller Life After Life she tells the story of Ursula's brother Teddy, the favorite of his mother, his sisters - and, I have to believe, most readers. Teddy's story is no less moving than Ursula's, skipping backward and forward in time from his dotage to his childhood and times in-between. The heart of the story is WWII and Teddy's years as an RAF pilot, making forays deep into German territory, an experience that will color the rest of his long life. A wonderful novel that totally immerses you in a different world and at the same time makes you question many things about your own world.
Paula McLain does an exceptional job of capturing Beryl Markham and her singular life, as well as painting a vivid portrait of Kenya and a host of other noteworthy characters, including Karen Blixen, Dennys Finch-Hatton and the two British princes, Harry and David. I've been a fan of Beryl Markham's since reading her memoir, West With the Night, in the '80s, and have also read whatever I could about her. This is a beautifully written, authentic novel of the acclaimed horse trainer, pioneer aviator, and gifted writer, about whom Hemingway famously wrote ”She can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers . . . It is really a bloody wonderful book.”
Shotgun Lovesongs takes place in the small town of Little Wing, Wisconsin and is told through the voices of five childhood friends, now in their 30's. Publishers Weekly says “Their voices and their memories create a rich, overlapping narrative that is, at bottom, a love letter to the Midwest and its small, mostly forgotten towns.”
I don’t think I’ve learned so much with such intense pleasure, while wishing a 530 page novel were twice as long. Covering a ten year period, from 1934 to 1944, Doerr weaves in and out of the lives of his two protagonists, bringing them ever closer together. Marie-Laure is a French girl blind since age 6, the cherished daughter of the locksmith at France’s Museum of Natural History. Werner is a German orphan growing up among the sooty coal mines of Zollverein, a key supplier of the energy required to power the Third Reich. Astronomy, gemology, ornithology, natural history, trigonometry, joinery, and, especially, the art of radio transmission, are rendered beautifully and lovingly while at the same time the story’s tension builds toward an inescapable, nail-biting climax. A masterpiece you won’t want to miss.
In his unforgettable memoir, A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, Ishmael Beah told the story of growing up in a Sierra Leone village and being forced into the country's civil war at age 12. In Radiance of Tomorrow, Beah turns to fiction to tell the story of a group of villagers who return home at the end of war to reclaim their lives and culture. In a beautiful forward to the novel he talks about the tradition of storytelling he grew up with and his desire to incorporate into English the vivid descriptiveness of the Mende language (where twilight is rendered as "the sky rolled over and changes its sides"). This is a book of hope, longing, large corruption and small mercies, from a master storyteller.