Friday, September 22, 2017

The Gargoyle Hunters by John Freeman Gill

The Gargoyle Hunters by John Freeman Gill

It’s 1974 in New York City and the city is falling apart. Really! There are pieces crumbling and falling off of buildings compelling young Griffin Watts, thirteen years old, to start wearing a batting helmet as he walks to and from school. Griffin and his family all lived together in a brownstone until his mom and dad separated. Now he lives with his mom, sister and a bunch of boarders, hard luck cases, that his mom seems to collect. Griffin misses his dad so finds him in his warehouse/loft in TriBeCa, some weird section of the city where the streets make no sense but people swear is coming back. There he learns about his dad’s love (read: obsession) with the architecture of the city, especially its gargoyles. Griffin is thrilled to help his dad and friends on their late night expeditions to save the city’s history before it is demolished even though he’s pretty sure it’s not all totally legal. It is exciting. 

Griffin learns a lot about the architecture of the city (which as readers we do too) but also a lot about life. He begins to understand the broken relationship between his parents and all the ways his parents aren’t so great at being parents. He also forms and loses friendships and grows into the man he will become. Over every aspect of his life there is always his relationship with his father.

Since the author is coming to talk about his book at the LVSC fundraiser in October I felt I should read it and took out the book and audiobook. I’m glad this event encouraged me to pick this one up because I really enjoyed it. I was skeptical about the audiobook because it is read by the author which can either be a good thing, or a disaster. In this case it was an extremely pleasant surprise. New York City comes to life through the author’s penned and voiced words. His characters are fully formed people ready to walk off the page and down the street. I felt like the author was Griffin telling me his story and I have a funny feeling the author wrote a lot of himself into young Griffin. 

Pick this one up and walk the city in the 70s; it was really fun remembering how awful it was compared to what, for example, Times Square is now! 

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

On a stormy night back in 1936 on a shantyboat docked in the Mississippi near Memphis, the five Foss children await the return of their parents. Their mom is pregnant with twins and the midwife urged their father to bring her to the hospital; these births are beyond the midwife’s capabilities to deliver. Soonafter the children are forcibly taken from the boat to the Tennessee Children's Home Society with promises that they will be reunited with their parents soon. It is an awful place where the children suffer abuses at the hands of the adults and fellow residents. It is also where the Foss children are given new names and after some time new families.

In the present day Avery Stafford returns home to South Carolina to help her father, the senator, who is recovering from treatment. She loved her legal job in the capitol but finds herself being groomed for a senate seat she isn’t sure she wants and engaged to a man she isn’t sure she wants either. A chance encounter at a nursing home causes Avery to dig into her family’s past uncovering secrets the well placed Stafford clan may wish to keep silent.

This book will tug at your heartstrings, especially when you realize that the Tennessee Children's Home Society was a real place. Children were taken from their parents, separated from their siblings, and parents who did manage to track their children to the Home were unable to get them back, with dubious legalities as the excuse. 

If you enjoyed The Orphan Train where the past met the present you’ll really enjoy this story. 

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

Aviva Grossman was in college when she went to work for Congressman Levin in Southern Florida as an unpaid intern. She had a head for politics and was getting a degree in Spanish Literature as well to help her communicate with her future constituents when she ran for office one day. But a string of bad decisions which resulted in a scandal about her relationship with the married and considerably older Congressman shattered her political aspirations. She became notorious in Florida, as infamous as Monica Lewinsky except on a smaller scale; but when you blog about your congressional internship experience, about everything, once it’s on the internet it is forever. Every prospective employer or voter can call up the past with a simple Google search so Aviva makes some big changes.

Jane Young is a successful event planner in a small town in Maine. She plans events of all types, but most often she is called upon to be a wedding planner. Her and her daughter have a good life, but when Jane is called upon to run for mayor her former life comes back to haunt her.

Told in four sections, most in the present day, by four different characters: Aviva’s mom, Congressman Levin’s wife; Aviva (telling the story of what happened back then; her bad choices are made all the more obvious since it is told in Choose Your Own Adventure format with only one path, the path she chose, available to read) and Ruby, Aviva’s/Jane’s thirteen-year-old daughter.  Having different points of view shows the same events from different perspectives as well as filling in the gaps so readers get to know the whole picture. 

The novel shows how bad choices early in life can affect your future and how your youthful indiscretions are now accessible by the world if they are recorded online. It’s frightening how permanent the internet is and how damaging; as a teenager or young adult can we understand the ramifications of what we post online? Why is it that the young female involved in these scandals is vilified yet the male, established in whatever profession, seems to always get through the ordeal more or less unscathed? While this novel doesn’t pose any answers it does give a voice to the women behind the questions.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker

Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker
Reviewed by Chris, Business Librarian at Bridgewater

In Cork Dork, Bianca Bosker, an average person with an average person's understanding of wine (that is: barely any), decides to not only educate herself on the subject, but to do so in such a thorough manner as to pass the Certified Sommelier exam.

In the process, Bosker takes it upon herself to learn whether or not wine tasting is an actual skill or just a scam. She tests herself on every wine she comes across and joins exclusive wine-tasting gatherings. She even has her brain scanned to see if it differs from that of a layperson's when tasting wines.

Through it all, Bosker discovers that she is opening her world to flavor. She tastes and smells dozens of other things to prepare her palate for the inescapable comparisons of wines to things like fruits or other food and non-food items, but she also learns to really taste things. Taste and smell are the two least studied senses, and are historically seen as less important than sight, hearing, or touch. The training is not just theoretical -- she also does a few stints at high-end restaurants to learn the art of wine pairing.

Bosker does get in enough practice to eventually take the exam, and I won't spoil the results for you. She learns a lot more about life than just about wine while doing so.

A quick and engaging read. Recommended for those who love wine, food, or want to know what the big deal is about either.

Monday, September 11, 2017

If the Creek Don’t Rise by Leah Weiss

If the Creek Don’t Rise by Leah Weiss

Sadie Blue is seventeen, pregnant and a newlywed of fifteen days bleeding from a head wound on the floor of her trailer thinking she should have never gotten that Roy Tupkin to marry her. She knows if she stays she and her baby are going to die, but she doesn’t know yet what she’s going to do about it.

The book begins with Sadie Blue and ends with her but in the middle are stories told from different residents of Baines Creek, North Carolina all mentioning Sadie in one way or another. We get to know the local preacher, his bitter sister, the new schoolteacher from a fancy private school who feels she finally has found her purpose and the local crone who knows everything about the plants and residents of her corner of the mountains.  

In structure the book is reminiscent of Olive Kitteridge but the style is completely different. Fans of spare writing like that of Wiley Cash will enjoy this debut author’s style. It is distinctly southern with the cadence and slang lending to the narrative instead of jarringly detracting from it. A poignant glimpse into Appalachia in the 1970s.

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Alan Conway, a terribly difficult author to work with but the star in the catalog for the small publishing house Susan Ryeland works for, just submitted the manuscript for his ninth Atticus Pünd novel. She adores the novels as much as she dislikes the author, and the author dislikes his character, so she is thrilled to spend her weekend reading the newest installment. But things don’t go as planned. Susan needs to turn her talents from editing mysteries to solving them if she plans on keeping her publishing house in business!

Sorry but I need to keep the plot of this one vague because I want you to be as surprised at the directions this book takes as I was when I read it. I can tell you that you’ll be getting two books for the price of one -- the Atticus Pünd manuscript set in a sleepy village in 1955 very reminiscent of Hercule Poirot and Susan Ryeland’s investigation in the present. 

If you are an audiobook listener add this one to your list. Each “mystery” is read by a different reader. A man voices the manuscript while a woman voices the editor’s investigation. It really made the book within a book work even better than it could on the written page; which isn’t saying too much because this is a well plotted mystery in every way.

If the author ever wants to start a series he should turn to writing cozy mysteries like Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers because he has the style down perfectly. Mystery fans of any type of mystery will adore this book. 

The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter

The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter

Forty years ago Frances Ashley wrote Kitty the book that would propel Frances, and eventually her daughter Megan, into the public eye for decades to come. In Kitty a young girl murders her best friend and wrecks havoc on the lives of those around her at the hotel her parents own on a Southern island. Kitty is a cult classic inspiring the Kitty-cult, obsessed fans who visit the real world locations from the novel, since the novel is loosely (we think) based on the truth. 

Megan has never felt close to her mother and Frances’s recent actions put even more distance between the two. When the idea to write her own book, what life was like growing up as the daughter of Frances Ashley as well as to research the real story behind Kitty, oddly enough a book Megan has never read, she embraces the idea. Revisiting the island her mother worked at as a hotel maid while writing her breakout novel Megan is a guest of Dorothy Kitchens, the real life inspiration many assume for Kitty. During her stay, digging into the secrets of the past, Megan uncovers information that makes her look at her relationship with her mother, her sense of identity and the long ago murder in a new light. Will Megan finally discover who killed the young girl all those years ago? And will the murderer strike again to keep their secret safe?

At the heart this is a book about identity. What groups we identify with, how we envision our place in the world, who we choose to align ourselves with and why. Megan has lived a sheltered life, and she’s self aware enough to know it, but her investigations into her own life through her mother’s past brings her face to face with herself and how she chooses to identify herself.

Fans of psychological thrillers will find a lot to enjoy here; a great choice both on audio and in print -- I went back and forth between the two to see what would happen next!