Posted on Wednesday, February 29, 2012 - 4:41pm
There was a lot of buzz about this book, but I heard mixed reviews from other readers, so I went in with an open mind but without high expectations. I found myself tremendously taken with the characters – Celia and Marco, who use the circus as a competition ground as well as a showcase for their talents; Poppet and Widget, twins born on opening night; and Bailey, who becomes enchanted by the circus and leaves his home to follow it. The descriptions of the circus and the illusions within, which Celia and Marco create and sustain, are, in a word, magical. Erin Morgenstern’s imagination is equal to Lev Grossman’s (The Magicians), but The Night Circus is as tightly controlled as The Magicians is sprawling, and unlike The Magicians (and Harry Potter), there is no school of magic where Celia and Marco learn. By the time I finished the book, I was enchanted enough to want to read it again.
Posted on Tuesday, February 21, 2012 - 12:21pm
Prepare to fall in love with scrappy, poor, beautiful Fiona Finnegan, a young East London woman full of dreams of starting her own shop with her childhood sweetheart, Joe Bristow. But those dreams are dramatically shattered, and Fiona flees, alone, to New York. There, she works hard, builds a fortune, and builds a family of friends along the way – but she never forgets Joe, and after ten years, she travels back to London to see what has become of him. A sweeping, gripping work of historical fiction, Jennifer Donnelly’s The Tea Rose will keep you reading long past bedtime.
Posted on Thursday, February 16, 2012 - 12:00pm
Julia Glass is the author of Three Junes (winner of the National Book Award for Fiction in 2002), The Whole World Over, and I See You Everywhere, but she may have surpassed them all with The Widower’s Tale. Again, she weaves a web of interconnected characters, creates a beautiful and believable setting, and writes with emotional truth about the people she has brought to life – in this case, the Darling family. Seventy-year-old Percy Darling realizes that while you can retire from work, you cannot retire from life, or from your family – in Percy’s case, his workaholic daughter Trudy, his floundering daughter Clover, and his high-achieving and beloved grandson Robert. Through these characters, Glass explores the bonds of family and friendship, and the strength of personal and political beliefs. Fans of fairytale endings, however, might want to skip this one: the ending is sadder and less uplifting that one might expect.
Posted on Tuesday, February 14, 2012 - 12:00pm
The Professor and the Madman is the story of two men, James Murray and William Minor, who contributed in different ways to the creation of the monumental first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED). Murray was a studious Scot who eventually became the editor of the OED; Minor was an American, a former medical surgeon, and – at the time he contributed to the great work – a patient at the Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane. Simon Winchester speculates sympathetically on the cause of Minor’s paranoia and insanity, but focuses primarily on the story of the OED and the eventual correspondence between “the professor and the madman.” Winchester combines elements of history, mystery, and lexicography (the compiling, writing, and editing of dictionaries) into one book of manageable size. It's a good read, and chances are you'll learn something new!
Posted on Friday, February 10, 2012 - 9:33am
This book was one of my book club reads about three years ago and whenever we talk about a good beach read, this book still bubbles up to the surface as a good example. It is a well written, humorous account of one man’s pursuit of the “iconic symbol of fashion, luxury, and wealth”, the Hermes Birkin handbag. The author is a Massachusetts native, who on a whim moved to Barcelona, Spain and found himself in need of money. For quick cash, he decided to sell a Hermes scarf on eBay. That sale sparked the idea that he could sell the much-in-demand Hermes handbags on eBay if he could find a way to buy the coveted items from Hermes stores that tended to only sell to select buyers. In finding a way to do this, the author takes the reader on a fun romp around the continent enjoying a quest worthy of Don Quixote.
Posted on Tuesday, February 7, 2012 - 11:24am
Vaclav and Lena meet when they are five years old. Though they both emigrated from Russia to Brooklyn, their family lives could not be more different. Yet they are best friends, magician and magician’s assistant, until they are nine; then, Lena disappears. Vaclav misses her terribly, and always wonders about her – and then one day, when they are seventeen, they meet again. Vaclav and Lena is about growing up, discovering the truth, and protecting those you love; but most of all, it is a beautiful and deeply felt story about love and friendship, written with wonderful empathy and voice.
Posted on Friday, February 3, 2012 - 11:17am
“At every possible turn, she saw, they'd chosen the path that would keep her weak and dependent. And the fact that they wouldn't see it that way, that they sincerely believed they'd acted in her best interest, didn't make it any less true, or them any less culpable....” Hannah Payne has been marked as an outcast from society: through a process called melachroming, her skin has been turned bright red, so everyone who sees her knows that she is a criminal – a murderer. Set in a future Texas where the right wing prevails, Roe v. Wade has been overturned, and melachroming is part of the justice system, When She Woke is the gripping story of one woman’s survival as she learns to question all she has been taught, and to think for herself.
Posted on Friday, January 27, 2012 - 12:00pm
The subtitle of former pastry chef Kim Boyce's book is “baking with whole-grain flours,” and Good to the Grain is organized around different types of these flours, from the familiar (whole wheat) to the unfamiliar (amaranth, kamut, quinoa, and spelt flour, among others). You can browse through the recipes in each section to get an idea of where to start – that way you don’t have to buy several new types of flour at once. The photographs are luscious, the directions clear, and the results are indescribably delicious. I highly recommend the whole wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies (p. 41) and the oat flour Ginger Peach Muffins (p. 124).
Posted on Monday, January 23, 2012 - 1:00pm
Winner of the Man Booker Prize and National Books Critics Circle Award in 2009, the novel Wolf Hall is large in every sense of the word. Hilary Mantel tells the familiar story of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn with a fresh perspective: through the eyes of the much-maligned Thomas Cromwell, a common man who rose to become the adviser to the king. Cromwell is practical and strategic; he is loyal to those he serves, and to those who serve him. He is also intelligent, observant, and calculating, and possessed of a quick, dry sense of humor. Readers gain a unique perspective on life in London and at court in the 1520s-1530s (the book ends in 1535, but a sequel is in the works). This is an excellent read for those already somewhat familiar with this era, and those willing to adjust to Mantel’s grammatical style (nearly every “he,” “him,” or “his” refers to Cromwell).
Posted on Saturday, January 21, 2012 - 10:27am
Seleh Morse witnesses a young woman get hit by a car, and he brings her to the hospital. When she wakes with no idea who she is, all memories stolen by the accident, he poses as her boyfriend and takes her home. The doctors instruct him to keep her awake overnight, and he fills the night--and her blank memory--with invented stories of who she was in the hopes she'll recognize herself. Like a long dream in which every piece is connected and makes perfect sense, The Way Through Doors is fleeting and ephemeral, yet not forgettable in the slightest.
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