Category Archives: Literary

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Title: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Author: David Wroblewski

Summary: I could have lain in the hammock for hours on end with the new book by first-time author David Wroblewski.  What a storyteller! The story takes place in 1970′s Wisconsin at the Sawtelle farm, whose owners, Gar and Trudy breed a wonderfully smart, unique dog — the Sawtelle dog.  But a child is missing in their life and a son is finally born to them. Although Edgar is mute, even as a young boy it is obvious that he is a keen and intelligent observer of people and dogs, and he communicates with both by signing.

Gar’s brother, Claude, shows up at the farm one day (Edgar is now 14) and his father puts Claude to work on the farm. But the tension between the brothers is palpable.  It is clear that two brothers are very different and have unspoken grudges dating all the way back to their childhood. Unexpectedly, Gar, Edgar’s father, dies, apparently of an aneurysm, but Edgar suspects murder. And Claude continues to insinuate himself on the life of the farm and into the affections of Edgar’s mother.  The parallels to “Hamlet” occur throughout the book and culminate in a fantastic scene where Edgar’s dead father appears to him in a sheet of rain.

David Wroblewski has woven together a coming-of-age story, combining fiction and the supernatural to drive you to a pulse-pounding end.  Even though the book is about 550 pages, it is worth the investment.

Recommended by: Susan Z, Reference

The White Mary

Title: The White Mary

Author: Kira Salak

Summary: After all the buzz about this book I thought I would have liked it much more than I did. The writing was very good and the descriptions of the jungle travel are very vivid, but the story was a bit too slow paced for me. I think it could be that I just didn’t care much for the main character. Although I didn’t personally like this book, it was very well written and I’m sure it will appeal to many others.

Marika is a journalist who covers human interest stories in war torn countries. She has narrowly escaped death several times but continues to travel alone to these dangerous regions. When she hears the news that her idol, fellow journalist Robert Lewis, has committed suicide, she decides to write his biography. During her research she comes across a letter written by a missionary who claims to have seen Robert Lewis in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. Although she has settled down for the first time in her life while she writes Lewis’s biography, she cannot forget the letter and sets of to PNG to search for him. The novel follows Marika, called White Mary by the local people, through the jungle led by her guide Tobo, a witch doctor from a local village who does more to help Marika than just lead her on her quest. Tobo is by far my favorite character in this story.

Who will like this book?  Anyone who enjoys stories with strong characters and vivid descriptions about exotic, dangerous locations. Just remember to pack some bug spray, mosquito netting, and a big floppy hat because you’ll actually feel the bugs and the blistering sun while you’re reading.

Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator

America, America

Title: America, America

Author:  Ethan Canin

Summary: Ethan Canin has always been a wonderful writer, but this is his best book yet.  In fact, it’s one of the best books I’ve read – period.  Several reviewers have deemed it a “great American novel,” not only because of the quality of writing, but also because of its breadth and subject matter.  It is an elegantly drawn portrait of a small American town seen through the eyes of a boy who is at crossroads in his life, during a time when his family and home and country were at a crossroads as well.

Corey Sifter at 50 years old is looking back on that time in his life when he was growing up near Buffalo, New York, in the 1970s.  He had become involved with the powerful Metarey family, first as a groundskeeper on their grand estate, and then as a trusted right-hand man of the patriarch, Liam Metarey.  He was only a 16 year-old boy from a working-class family when it all began, but even then he had the gift of steady observation, not jumping to conclusions about the events around him.  As the Metarey dynasty becomes the driving force behind their friend Senator Henry Bonwiller’s bid for the presidency, Corey is asked to lend a hand and becomes the Senator’s driver and aide. As the campaign gains strength and Corey’s ties to the Metarey’s deepen, he finds himself entangled in a scandal that leads to the downfall of a powerful man and a family that means the world to him.

America, America is much more than a political novel.  Ultimately, I think, it is a novel about relationships and our place in the world, our place in history.  And it is a novel that spans the life, and perhaps the death, of the American dream.

Who will like this book?  Any fan of Richard Russo or John Irving.  Readers who big, multi-layered sagas about families, small town America, politics, love, etc.

If you like this book, try this:Anything else by Ethan Canin; The Race by Richard North Patterson; The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald; All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren.

Recommended by: Mary, Reference Librarian

Garden Spells and The Lace Reader

Titles: Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen and The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

Summary: It was sheer coincidence that I read these two novels back to back, so I thought it would be nice to review them together.  The two stories have a lot in common and share many similar themes, but each one evokes a completely different (and wonderful!) reading experience.

Garden Spells is a delightful story about two half-sisters, Claire and Sydney, their magical garden, and life in the small town of Bascom, North Carolina.   The Waverly women have always had mysterious gifts, but they’ve not always embraced them.  Claire’s magic comes through the herbs and spices she uses from the famous Waverly garden, while Cousin Evanelle intuits exactly what item people will need the most and gives it to them.  Sydney spent most of her life running away from her gifts, but finds herself returning to Bascom with her daughter when her boyfriend becomes abusive.  As the bond between Claire and Sydney grows, so does their appreciation of their unusual talents.  This book was a pleasure to read, the perfect summer novel.

If Garden Spells is the perfect summer novel, then The Lace Reader is its perfect cold weather counterpart – it’s a bit darker, but still a fantastic read.  We meet another family with mystical powers, the Whitneys of Salem, Massachusetts.  The Whitney women can read your future in patterns of the Ipswich lace that they help to make, which leads some people to believe they are witches.  Towner Whitney thought she’d left all of that behind when she moved to California, but she’s called back home when her beloved Aunt Eva goes missing.  Her return to the family home sets off a series of events that are a more than a little unsettling.  There are some fascinating people and places in this novel.  I particularly loved reading about Salem and Yellow Dog Island, a fictional island of the coast of Massachusetts that’s inhabited by hundreds of wild Golden Retrievers.

By the way, The Lace Reader is one of the books that created a buzz at this year’s Book Expo America.  It’s being published in hardcover this month, but we happened to have a previously-published paperback edition on our shelves – and I’m so glad we did!

Who will like these books?:  Any fan of Alice Hoffman and Laura Esquivel.

If you like these try: Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman; The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen.

Recommended by: Mary, Reference Librarian

Selected Stories

Title: Selected Stories

Author: Andre Dubus

Summary: For me, summer is a great time to read short story collections: You can pick up a book, read a bit, and then put it down and enjoy the sunshine. That said, I’m not a fluffy ‘beach read’ person – I like intense, realistic fiction. Selected Stories by Andre Dubus fits the bill perfectly. The name might be familiar to you – but this is not a collection by the celebrated author of The House of Sand and Fog, but instead by his equally-celebrated, if lesser known, father.

The most famous story in this book is Killings, which became a movie called In the Bedroom. Most of the stories are set just outside of Boston, and describe the escalation of small (and sometimes petty) dramas into something more profound, from a woman being stalked by her ex-husband, a cadet going through a brutal basic training exercise, a newlywed rejecting her perfect life by gorging on candy, and a devout young man discovering the joys – and limits – of physical affection.

Who will like this book?: Readers of short stories. Fans of regional fiction set in New England.

If you like this, try this: The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus III. Tooth and Claw, a collection by another American short story master, T.C. Boyle.

Recommended by: Nicole, Teen Librarian

The Memory of Water

TitleThe Memory of Water

Author:  Karen White

Summary:  The Memory of Water is a story of family bonds that bend but never break. Marnie Maitland and her sister Diana have not seen each other in 10 years. Not since Marnie went off to college in Arizona and didn’t come back. Growing up, the two girls relied on each other after their father left them and their mother started suffering from bouts of mania and depression. Now Marnie is back in South Carolina. Back to her childhood home on the ocean at the request of Diana’s ex-husband Quinn. Quinn is hoping that Marnie can help his son Gil recover from the trauma he suffered in a sailing accident with Diana. Gil hasn’t spoken a word since the accident and Diana refuses to tell anyone what really happened. Diana blames the Maitland curse that their mother told them about over and over again when they were children. It turns out that the Maitland curse is bi-polar disorder, and Diana is struggling with it also.

What Quinn doesn’t realize is that Marnie has stayed away from South Carolina for a very good reason. Once an accomplished sailor, Marnie is now terrified of the water. You see, Diana’s recent sailing accident was not her first. Sixteen years ago Marnie and Diana nearly drowned in a sailing accident that claimed the life of their mother. Marnie cannot remember everything about the accident, just that afterwards, Diana’s love for her turned to hate. Marnie must uncover the truth about both accidents if she can ever help Gil, and heal herself.

Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator

Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love

Title: Broccoli and Other Tales of Food and Love

Author: Lara Vapnyar

Summary: A fabulous and creative collection of short stories that revolve around food in the lives of a New York City Russian community. The stories are well written, humorous and witty. Some of the humor is very black, but that bit of gloominess makes the stories more poignant and human. The Russian flavor, vivid descriptions and wonderful prose makes this author and unique and entertaining story teller.

Recommended by: Laurie, Circulation

The Other

TitleThe Other

Author:  David Guterson

Summary: David Guterson, the author of the PEN/Faulkner-winning Snow Falling on Cedars, has written an exquisite story about a transcendent friendship between two very different men.  John William Barry and Neil Countryman cross paths at a high school track event, and that chance meeting connects them for the rest of their lives.  While Neil comes from a modest background and leads a modest life, John William is a child of privilege and wealth.  Together the two share their love of hiking and the outdoors – we are treated to some beautifully written passages describing the wilds of the Pacific Northwest – and share  a bond, a literal blood oath, that is unbreakable, even as their lives continue in seemingly opposite directions. Neil becomes a teacher, marries and has a family, but John William retreats from society, moving permanently into a cave deep in the woods.  Neil is the only one who knows where he is, and keeps this secret even though it weighs heavily on him.  John William rewards him for this ultimate act of friendship him in an unfathomable way.

Webster’s dictionary defines the word ‘other’ as “being the one left.”  It may seem as though John William is the other in this relationship simply by his act of becoming a hermit.  But Neil is also an ‘other,’ the half that stays behind, lives the conventional life, and yet is haunted by the same question that John William struggles with – what is it that really matters in life.  It appears as though they are each living the opposite answers to that question.  In doing so, they complete each other.

Who will like this book?  Anyone who enjoyed Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.

If you like this try: East of the Mountains by David Guterson

Recommended by: Mary, Reference Librarian

Soul Catcher

Title: Soul Catcher

Author: Michael White

Summary:Augustus Cain has a dependency on laudanum, a weakness for gambling, and a talent for slave catching. When he gambles and loses his favorite horse to a wealthy tobacco planter, the only way to get him back is to accept a job hunting down the man’s runaway slave.

This is the moving story of two people grudgingly joined together on what will become a life altering journey for both of them. Rosetta, the runaway slave determined to stay free no matter what the cost and Cain, the reluctant “soul catcher” hired to bring Rosetta back to captivity.

Michael White is an extraordinary writer who brings to life the exceptional, multi-dimentional characters in this story.

Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator

Ghost – A Novel

Title: Ghost - a Novel

Author: Alan Lightman

Summary: What happens when an ordinary person experiences something truly extra-ordinary? In the case of David Kurzweil, his life is completely turned upside down. This is a fascinating story about a man struggling with some fairly typical mid-life issues (divorce, career change, etc.), who unexpectedly finds himself in the middle of a scientific and metaphysical controversy after he witnesses something paranormal in the funeral home where he works. David’s effort to understand what he has seen takes him on an emotional journey that will change his relationships, his beliefs, and his place in the world forever.

Author and physicist Alan Lightman writes with sensitivity and compassion, gently suggesting that there just might be a world that exists beyond the material one, a world “felt only in brief, fleeting stabs.”

Who will like this book: Anyone who was a fan of the TV show “Six Feet Under.”

Recommended by: Mary, Reference Librarian