RECEIVE ME FALLING by Erika Robuck. Bea described this novel as historical fiction with some supernatural elements. This was Robuck’s first novel, self-published in 2009. Her second and third books have been published by NAL/Penguin. You can learn more about her at www.erikarobuck.com. Bea Also informed us that Erika Robuck is a local author. Howard County Library does not currently own RECEIVE ME FALLING, but it does own Robuck’s second novel, HEMINGWAY’S GIRL. (Her latest, Call Me Zelda, is scheduled to be reviewed this week in the Washington Post.)
THE WARMTH OF OTHER SUNS by Isabel Wilkerson was recommended by Lorraine. Subtitled ‘The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration,’ this magisterial account has garnered numerous awards and accolades. The reviewer in Bookmarks Magazine states: “In The Warmth of Other Suns, Wilkerson has composed a masterpiece of narrative journalism on a subject vital to our national identity, as compelling as it is heartbreaking and hopeful.” It so happened that Wilkerson was giving a talk at the library that evening; the event was filled to capacity.
From the Amazon.com review of Snow In August: “In 1940s Brooklyn, friendship between an 11-year-old Irish Catholic boy and an elderly Jewish rabbi might seem as unlikely as, well, snow in August. But the relationship between young Michael Devlin and Rabbi Judah Hirsch is only one of the many miracles large and small contained in Pete Hamill’s novel.” Robin also enjoys Lisa Scottoline’s legal thrillers.
THE ROUND HOUSE by Louise Erdrich was recommended by Caroline. From the book description on Amazon: “One of the most revered novelists of our time—a brilliant chronicler of Native-American life—Louise Erdrich returns to the territory of her bestselling, Pulitzer Prize finalist The Plague of Doves with The Round House, transporting readers to the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota. It is an exquisitely told story of a boy on the cusp of manhood who seeks justice and understanding in the wake of a terrible crime that upends and forever transforms his family.” This novel won the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction.
BURNT MOUNTAIN by Anne Rivers Siddons was recommended by Emma. From the Booklist review: “Siddons mixes in a touch of the supernatural to bring the novel to an exciting climax, but what’s most appealing here is the layered family drama and the lush world Thayer inhabits…A master storyteller with a remarkable track record, bestselling Siddons returns to her signature Southern setting in her newest blend of emotional realism and a sliver of magic.”
SWEET TOOTH by Ian McEwan was recommended by Phyllis. Called “tightly crafted” and “exquisitely executed” in USA Today, this novel has an opening that grabs you by the throat: “My name is Serena Frome (rhymes with plume) and almost forty years ago I was sent on a secret mission for the British Security Service. I didn’t return safely. Within eighteen months of joining I was sacked, having disgraced myself and ruined my lover, although he certainly had a hand in his own undoing.” Called “the connoisseur of dread” by Daniel Zalewski in a New Yorker Magazine feature piece, Ian McEwan is one of my absolute favorite writers. I greatly enjoyed SWEET TOOTH, but my favorite McEwan novel is probably ENDURING LOVE, a tale of obsession and the strange twists of fate that are part of the human condition.
SWEET TEA REVENGE by Laura Childs and THE SNOW CHILD by Eowyn Ivey were both recommended by Dottie. Laura Childs is the popular author of the Tea Shop series and the Scrapbooking series, mysteries which are usually classed in the ‘cozy’ subgenre. THE SNOW CHILD was Amazon.com’s selection for Best Book of the Month for February of last year: “In her haunting, evocative debut Eowyn Ivey stakes her claim on a Russian fairy tale, daring the reader–and the characters–to be lulled into thinking they know the ending. But, as with the Alaskan wilderness, there’s far more here than meets the eye.” In his review of this novel for the Washington Post, Ron Charles says: “The real magic of The Snow Child is that it’s never as simple as it seems, never moves exactly in the direction you think it must…Sad as the story often is, with its haunting fairy-tale ending, what I remember best are the scenes of unabashed joy.”
THE GRAVEDIGGER’S DAUGHTER by Joyce Carol Oates made a powerful impression on Connie. She spoke of the novel with quiet and compelling eloquence. From the Publisher’s Weekly review: “At the beginning of Oates’s 36th novel, Rebecca Schwart is mistaken by a seemingly harmless man for another woman, Hazel Jones, on a footpath in 1959 Chatauqua Falls, N.Y. Five hundred pages later, Rebecca will find out that the man who accosted her is a serial killer, and Oates will have exercised, in a manner very difficult to forget, two of her recurring themes: the provisionality of identity and the awful suddenness of male violence.” Sounds harrowing, but remember – this is Joyce Carol Oates. I admire the amazingly prolific Oates; I especially like her short stories. But she can be kind of scary….
Connie also recommended the novels of R.J. Ellory, two of the best known of which are A SIMPLE ACT OF VIOLENCE and A QUIET BELIEF IN ANGELS. Ellory has a rather unique life story.
KITCHEN TABLE WISDOM: STORIES THAT HEAL by Rachel Naomi Remen was Peggy’s recommendation. She said that this book had been given to her as a gift during a difficult time in her life, and that it had helped her enormously. This is the book description furnished by Amazon: “Praised by everyone from Bernie Siegel to Daniel Goleman to Larry Dossey, Rachel Remen has a unique perspective on healing rooted in her background as a physician, a professor of medicine, a therapist, and a long-term survivor of chronic illness. In a deeply moving and down-to-earth collection of true stories, this prominent physician shows us life in all its power and mystery and reminds us that the things we cannot measure may be the things that ultimately sustain and enrich our lives.”
THREE WEEKS IN DECEMBER by Audrey Schulman and A GOOD AMERICAN by Alex George were both recommended by Barbara, who spoke with deep conviction about the first title. The action in Three Weeks in December takes place in Rwanda, in two distinct time periods: 1899 and 2000. This novel was of special interest to Barbara because she’s been to Rwanda and greatly admires the people of that country and what they’ve been able to achieve, despite a horrific history. (If you get on the Amazon page for this title, you’ll see numerous customer raves.) Here’s the book description Amazon provides for THE GOOD AMERICAN: “It is 1904. When Frederick and Jette must flee her disapproving mother, where better to go than America, the land of the new? Originally set to board a boat to New York, at the last minute, they take one destined for New Orleans instead (“What’s the difference? They’re both new“), and later find themselves, more by chance than by design, in the small town of Beatrice, Missouri. Not speaking a word of English, they embark on their new life together.”
STILL ALICE by Lisa Genova and LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson were both recommended by Rita. The first is the story of Alice Howland, a distinguished Harvard professor who at age fifty is suddenly and unexpectedly afflicted with Alzheimer’s. As for LIFE AFTER LIFE, the plot description on the Amazon page begins with this question: “What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?” It goes on: “On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born to an English banker and his wife. She dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in a variety of ways, while the young century marches on towards its second cataclysmic world war.” LIFE AFTER LIFE has gotten mixed reviews, but Rita liked it very much and gave persuasive reasons for her opinion.
Kate Atkinson wrote one of my favorite books of the past decade: CASE HISTORIES was at once almost unbearably poignant and genuinely funny; in addition, it’s one of the most elegantly structured novels I’ve ever read. I’ve not enjoyed any of her subsequent books anywhere near as much, but I’m going to try Life After Life, especially since the group has selected it for future discussion.
MAN IN THE WOODS by Scott Spencer was DruAnne’s recommendation. From Bookmarks Magazine: “What happens if we’re not made to pay for our crimes? This question lies at the heart of Man in the Woods, a psychological and philosophical thriller about belief, guilt, responsibility, love, religion, and the randomness of life.” From the starred review in Publishers Weekly: “Spencer, a deft explorer of obsessive love and violence, confronts the consequences of doing wrong for all the right reasons in his exquisite latest.” DruAnne emphasized the fact that the moral questions implicit in this narrative make it an especially good choice for discussion. I was pleased by that observation, as it provided a nice segue into the first title I was presenting to the group:
Josephine Tey’s BRAT FARRAR, written in 1950, is the story of an audacious imposture and its far reaching consequences. The story plays out against a pastoral setting in England, where the love and knowledge of horses reigns supreme. In particular, it’s the story of the Ashby family and their country home Latchetts. A serene peace resides there – until the sudden reappearance of Patrick Ashby, the long absent son and heir to the estate. It’s as if he’s returned from the dead…. The moral crisis that occurs at this novel’s climax creates an almost claustrophobic tension. The first time I read it, I was riveted.
I can never talk about BRAT FARRAR without also mentioning another novel by Tey, written in 1949, called THE FRANCHISE AFFAIR. As with the Dorothy L Sayers classic GAUDY NIGHT, there is no actual murder in this mystery; still, a deeply sinister force is doing its malign work.The story centers on two women who have a monstrous accusation leveled against them. Marion Sharpe and her mother have recently taken up residence in a house called The Franchise, in the village of Milford. Their dearest wish is to eke out their savings in peace and quiet, but instead they find themselves at the center of a firestorm with absolutely no idea how they got there, or how to get out. That is, until an unassuming solicitor named Robert Blair somewhat reluctantly answers their plea for help.
Josephine Tey is something of a mystery herself. Her real name was Elizabeth Mackintosh; she wrote novels and plays under a variety of pseudonyms. She was born in Inverness, Scotland, in 1896. Little is known concerning her personal life, although some details have been filled on this site. Having been ill for some time, she ultimately died of cancer in 1952. She’d been secretive about her illness, as about almost everything else, and her death came as a profound shock to those who knew her.
Tey wrote eight novels that can be considered crime fiction. Detective Inspector Alan Grant, her series character, appears in six of them. Her most famous novel is The Daughter of Time, which I read ages ago and probably should revisit one of these days. But in the meantime, I’ve developed a huge fondness for the two above discussed titles.
Joesphine Tey is often grouped with four of her contemporaries: Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio March, Margery Allingham, and Agatha Christie. Together, these writers are sometimes referred to as “the Grandes Dames” of Britain’s first Golden Age of crime fiction.
(A word on Ngaio Marsh: my three favorite novels by her are The Nursing Home Murder, A Clutch of Constables, and most especially Death in s White Tie. There’s a nicely done two-season traversal of her works available on DVD, featuring Patrick Malahyde as Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn. These DVD’s are owned by the Howard County Library System.)
We had two submissions from book lovers who were unable to attend our session on Thursday. Here’s what Jeannie kindly sent via email:
The books I was going to mention are “Mao – The Unknown Story” by Jung Chang, which is a detailed history of Mao; very clearly biased against Mao, but who can blame her — she cites 70 million Chinese deaths because of him. It’s long and tedious at times, but ultimately very intriguing. Now I’m in the midst of reading “Bound Feet and Western Dress” by Pang-Mei Natasha Chang, which is a biography by an American- born woman of Chinese descent about her great Aunt who lived through many dramatic cultural changes. I’m not an historian and know next to nothing about China but I’ve grown more and more interested through historical novels and our recent readings.
Finally, THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald was suggested by Doris, in view of the fact that a new film version starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan, is due to be released on May 10. Several years ago, another book group I’m in revisited GATSBY in tandem with DOUBLE BIND by Chris Bohjalian. The latter contains story elements from the Fitzgerald classic, and treats the events in the lives of Jay Gatsby and Tom and Daisy Buchanan and the others as though they actually happened. Although I did not care for Bohjalian’s novel, I enjoyed revisiting THE GREAT GATSBY and along with it, the bittersweet life story of Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
This was one of the most stimulating, even revelatory discussions I’ve had the pleasure to be present at in quite some time. What a pleasure it was to be among such eloquent and impassioned book lovers! Heartfelt thanks are owing to my AAUW colleagues and friends.