Category Archives: Literary

The Evolution of Shadows

TitleThe Evolution of Shadows

Author:  Jason Quinn Malott

Publisher: Unbridled Books, October 2009

Summary:  After having his heart-broken, American photographer Gray Banick travels to Bosnia and into a war zone. Gray’s interpreter Emil, and his mentor Jack, often question Gray about the girl in the picture he carries with him. They know she is the reason he is here, but do not know the story behind his heartbreak. Her name is Lian Zhao and she and Gray were very much in love. Lian, however, wasn’t strong enough to face her parent’s disapproval of Gray so she chose to marry another man. Gray has traveled to Bosnia to kill her memory, or kill himself.  It is now almost 5 years since Gray disappeared, last seen by Emil in a Bosnian killing field. Lian, Emil, and Jack have met in Sarajevo to find out what happened to the man they all loved.

This debut novel brings to life the horrors of the Bosnian war and its aftermath. Smoothly fading from past to present and back again, the author tells the stories of Gray and Lian, Emil, Jack, and their families. This is a story of searching for lost loves and forgotten lives. Only when the search is over can the healing really begin. This is a fabulous story.

Who will like this book? Fans of literary fiction that can stand some descriptions of the horrors of war.

Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator

Into the Beautiful North

Title: Into the Beautiful North

Author: Luis Alberto Urrea

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company, May 2009

Summary: This book was deliciously lyrical and why would you expect anything less than this from the author of the widely acclaimed novel The Hummingbird’s Daughter and 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction for The Devil’s Highway. Mr. Urrea has outdone himself this time writing about Nayeli, the wonderful heroine who sets out on a monumental quest from her small southern Mexican town to America. Humor is woven from start to finish into a rather harrowing and realistic journey through the rugged and dangerous countryside of Mexico to Tijuana, Mexico from where illegal passage into the U.S. is planned. I was reminded of Don Quixote and longed for the success of the adventure of Nayeli and her unique companions.

Once they reach Tijuana, the author’s deep knowledge and love for Tijuana comes through vibrantly. One of the most fascinating depictions is life in the Tijuana dump. The squalor of living conditions is truly harrowing but is balanced by the beauty of human resilience and joy for life of the dump inhabitants.  This is not the story of a group of people seeking and finding the holy grail in America. It is rather the poignant story of a person’s quest to do something for the greater good of her beloved community and coming to America temporarily to achieve that and return to her beloved country.

Recommended by: Karen, Deputy Town Librarian

A Reliable Wife

Title:  A Reliable Wife

Author:  Robert Goolrick

Publisher:  Algonquin, March 2009

Summary: Robert Goolrick resurrects the Gothic romance!  This book is so dark, suspenseful, sensual, and scary that I’m not quite sure how to begin to explain it, accept to say that is absolutely fabulous. It’s 1907 Wisconsin, the dead of winter, and everything is dark, frozen, covered with snow.  Ralph Truitt stands on the platform of the train station, awaiting the arrival of his new wife-to-be under the watchful eyes of practically everyone who lives in his small rural town (that is everyone who hasn’t gone murderously insane.)  Catherine Land sits on the train, having answered Truitt’s ad in the newspaper, on her way to marry him.  She says goodbye to her past, literally throwing the remnants of it out the window of the private railway car he has sent for her (yes, he’s that rich).  We don’t know much, but we know that Catherine is definitely not who she’s pretending to be, and that’s only the beginning of all of the terrible secrets buried in this book.

Part DuMaurier, part Poe, part Bronte (and even a little bit part Stephen King), Goolrick has masterfully created a suspenseful tale that will leave you breathless, really.  He writes for all of the senses, and brings us to a world that is simply tragic and utterly beautiful.

Recommended by: Mary, Branch Reference

Little Bee

Title:  Little Bee

Author:  Chris Cleave

Publisher:  Simon & Schuster, February 2009

Summary: Chris Cleave’s second novel is quite an accomplishment.  There are some beautiful moments, and some horrific moments throughout this complex story, told to us by two very different women who have been bound together by a violent event. The publishers of Little Bee are asking readers not to “spoil” the story by revealing too much of the plot.  While I don’t agree that this is altogether necessary (there’s no big secret revelation, really, a la The Double Bindby Chris Bohjalian), I’ll honor their wishes.

What I can tell you is that I found the voice of Little Bee and her story to be excellently portrayed and very moving.  When we first meet her she’s being released from a British immigration detention center after two years. We learn that she’s originally from a war-torn village in Africa, and has escaped almost certain death by stowing away on a ship to England.  She reaches out to Sarah and Andrew O’Rourke, a couple from London that Little Bee and her sister met one fateful day on a beach in Nigeria.  Sarah, our other narrator, takes Little Bee in even though her own life is in pieces after the suicide of her husband.  As the two women together try to imagine how they can possibly create new lives for themselves, we learn more about the awful truth that connects them and brings the story to its inevitable, heart-wrenching conclusion.

Recommended by: Mary, Branch Reference

Lush Life

Title: Lush Life

Author: Richard Price

Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, March 2008

Summary: I am not a reader of crime stories – but from now on I plan to make an exception for the works of Richard Price. His latest explores the ‘butterfly effect’ of a seemingly random  murder on the Lower East side, and turns a sharp, unflinching eye on the trendy hipsters and the urban poor that live there.

As you follow detectives on the trail of the killer, you meet characters you’ll not soon forget: The getting-too-old-for-this restaurant host simmering with resentment, the grieving father who in his desire to help only hinders police efforts, and a young street kid ground down by unwanted responsibilities.  Written with a gritty, pull-no-punches realism, this book is a haunting story of two worlds that co-exist, but rarely intertwine.

Who will like this book: People who like detective stories that are more about character than procedure. Fans of the HBO series The Wire.

If you like this, try this: Clockers by Richard Price. For a different take on Lower East Side bohemia, try the adventurous No Matter How Much You Promise to Cook or Pay the Rent You Blew it Cauze Bill Bailey ain’t Never Coming Home Again by Eduardo Vega Yunque.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

Madonnas of Leningrad

Title:  Madonnas of Leningrad

Author:  Debra Dean

Publisher:  William Morrow, 2006

Summary: First, thanks to Claudia Silk, our discussion leader of the Woods Book Group, for choosing this title because I don’t think I would have picked it up otherwise.  How did I miss it when it first came out?!?

Madonnas of Leningradis the story of Marina Buriakov and the memories that make up her lifetime.  In the present day, she is an 82 year old woman, getting ready to take a trip with her family to attend her granddaughter’s wedding, which should be a joyous occasion.  But Marina is slowly sinking into the abyss that is Alzheimer’s disease, making everyday tasks so difficult. And as her present slips away, the memories from her past become quite vivid, pulling her back to relive them. The author does a beautiful job of taking the reader into that time, bringing war-torn Russia to life.  Marina is a docent at the State Hermitage Museum during the siege of Leningrad in the second World War, and it is part of her job to help stow away the priceless treasures of the museum to keep them safe from destruction and theft.  Many workers and their families take refuge in the building’s basement, and to pass the time, Marina and a fellow worker walk through the empty rooms, creating a “memory palace,” envisioning the canvases that once occupied the now-empty frames.

This debut novel by Debra Dean is a work of art itself.  Beautiful and poignant, it reminds us that our memories truly are treasures. For more on Madonnas of Leningrad, listen to our podcast of Debra Dean’s call in to the Woods Book Club.

Who will like this book?:  Anyone with an interest in art history, World War II fiction, and/or family drama.

If you like this, try thisRemembering the Bonesby Frances Itani.  The Siege by Helen Dumore.

Recommended by: Mary, Reference Librarian

Complete Stories

Title: The Complete Stories

Author: Flannery O’Connor

Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1971

Summary: When I travel, I like to read books written by authors from that part of the world. So, on a recent trip to Savannah, I finally picked up A Good Man is Hard to Find, a book that had been on my ‘to-read’ list for ages. That book is contained within this larger collection of all the O’Connor’s short stories. While her career was relatively short, Flannery O’Connor was a highly-regarded master of the Southern Gothic: the scenery is dripping with humidity and the haunted characters all struggle as they are forced to face the darkness in their twisted souls.

Some of the tales are downright terrifying and some, like The River and A Stroke of Good Fortune end in a shocking, unpredictable turn of events. Almost all have characters coming to a not-so-pleasant realization about their place in the world. These are not happy stories, but the writing is so mesmerizing that you will find yourself rereading each turn of phrase. Don’t wait as long as I did to pick up this American classic!

Who will like this book: Fans of short stories, regional fiction, and darker themes. People who like their books a little twisted.

If you like this, try this:Other great Southern Gothic authors include Truman Capote, Carson McCullers and Tennessee Williams. Flannery O’Connor: A Life by Jean W. Cash.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

People of the Book

Title: People of the Book

Author: Geraldine Brooks

Publisher: Viking, January 2008

Summary: This intriguing book by Pulitzer Prize winner Brooks (March, Year of Wonders) follows the imagined path of the Sarajevo Haggadah, a priceless illuminated manuscript that was miraculously saved during the bloody conflicts of the 1990s. Hanna Heath, a temperamental and talented Aussie book conservator, is called in to restore the book in time for an exhibit at the rebuilt National Library of Bosnia.

As she examines the book, she begins to find the clues that will lead her to uncover the amazing travels of the haggadah backwards from World War II Sarajevo to fin de siecle Vienna to it’s creation right before the Spanish Inquisition. Brooks alternates Hanna’s own journey of self-discovery with chapters told in the voices of the people who protected, defaced, and crafted the haggadah. It is for these historical chapters that this book is recommended: In them, we learn that a book is no simple thing.

Who will like this book?: People who like historical fiction with a bit of a mystery twist. Book nerds and bibliophiles.

If you like this, try this: Another book with a similar backwards-through-time feel is Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland. For more on the history of books and libraries, read the masterful Library: An Unquiet History by Matthew Battles.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Title: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Author: Junot Diaz

Publisher: Riverhead, September 2007

Summary: Beware the fuku. This ridiculously good novel is part immigrant family saga, part ghetto epic and entirely unforgettable. The narrative traces the history of the de Leon family, from a doctor living under the brutal dictatorship of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic to the titular character – an obese, insular, brilliant aspiring sci-fi writer. Peppered with references to fantasy masterworks such as Dune and Lord of the Rings, and narrated in a vibrant, gritty street Spanglish, this Pulitzer Prize winner tells of the fuku – a devastating family curse akin to the evil eye – that has haunted Oscar’s family through the generations, causing misery at every turn.

Can the fuku be thwarted? Oscar’s quest is reminiscent of those made by his fantasy heroes – equal parts bravery and tragedy. This book is as hilarious as it is haunting, describing the horrors of living under Trujillo and the mortification of being Oscar. Junot Diaz is a true original, and I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Who will like this book?: Readers who are willing to stretch their boundaries. People interested in stories of the Caribbean and the Dominican Republic. Fans of immigrant family dramas.

If you like this, try this: Drown, a collection of stories by Diaz. For more on the Dominican Republic under Trujillo, try In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

Black & White

itle: Black & White

Author: Dani Shapiro

Publisher: Knopf, April 2007

Summary:  Claire Brodeur lives an idyllic life in Maine with her husband and daughter.  She receives a frantic call from her sister informing her that their mother is very ill.  Claire resolves to return to her childhood home in New York City for one day to assess the situation. Once she returns to New York the reason why Claire abandoned her life and her mother – a famous photographer – is revealed little by little.

The tension mounts nicely throughout the book. In spite of the fact her mother is on her deathbed the story is so well crafted the reader feels real sympathy for the daughter.  In the end, as in life, the relationship is somewhat healed.   Shapiro so clearly writes from her heart that readers may be getting a glimpse of some of her life experience. Also of note: Christina Ricci Productions has optioned the book for a movie and Ricci will be playing Claire.

Who will like this book?:  Readers who don’t always expect constant action but enjoy the slow unravelling of a family secret.

If you like this, try this:  Readers who enjoyed Shapiro’s especially - Family History:  A Novel (2003).

Recommended by: Karen, Administration