Helen Simonson’s new novel is a great summer read, and not just because it has “summer” in the title. The Summer Before the War takes a number of interesting turns with enough suspense to keep you reading when you really should be doing something else. There are many likeable characters–and a few not-so–and the historical detail, never heavy-handed, illuminates the impact of social class, the looming Great War, and the limited role in society for a young woman.
This is the story of Beatrice Nash, who has been hired to teach Latin to the village children of Rye, England. She is in her early 20s and grieving the loss of her beloved father who broadened her mind through education and travel. Teaching is her route to financial independence and the ability to write; probable spinsterhood is embraced as a fair trade-off for a life of her choosing, of reading and writing.
World War I changes everything and everyone, beginning with the village’s acceptance of Belgian refugees and the calls to young men to serve their country. But even patriotism and military service are subject to societal pressures and questionable ethics, and no family completely escapes heartbreak and loss.
Which characters become Beatrice’s friends and allies, and who emerges to thwart her plans moves the story at a brisk pace. And as the characters develop there are satisfying transformations from nemesis to friend, and disappointments as those she admires show their true colors. One of the things I liked best is that no character is perfect; each fails at some point to live up to their own standards and beliefs, or to love generously when it is difficult to do so.
I hated to finish the book, because I had grown quite attached to Beatrice, Hugh, Aunt Agatha, and others in the story. (I felt the same way about some of the characters in Simonson’s first novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.) The Summer Before the War was a wonderful first entry on my summer reading program log, and I hope it makes it onto yours.
I love histories and stories and I enjoy learning about the famous. Biographies, autobiographies and memoirs have been long been written by and about the noteworthy. These books make up a large portion of the library’s nonfiction collection, but recently there has been an increase in memoirs of the not so famous, and that growth is mirrored in the library holdings. It’s their stories, stories of the people who we might know in our everyday lives, which have become a part of the literary world.
“When Breath Become Air” by Paul Kalanithi is the story of a brilliant neurosurgeon diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer at age 36. Kalanithi’s life was on a trajectory for great success. His cancer caused him, with his wife, to evaluate his life and the path he had chosen and refocus on what they could accomplish with the short time he had left. “When Breath Becomes Air” is a deeply moving work. Read the rest of this entry »
Looking for a quick addition to your summer reading list? I loved this little book by Valeria Luiselli set in Mexico City because it is quite funny and bursting with originality. If you find yourself gravitating to heavy, serious books and want a pick-me-up or a palette cleanser, this will do the trick. Also, if you like quirky books as a general rule, check this one out! I fell in love with the aesthetics – there are beautiful full page bookplates dividing the different ‘books’ or chapters within the book. Also of note is that Valeria Luiselli wrote this book in collaboration with employees from Mexico City’s Jumex juice factory. During the book, auctioneer Gustavo “Highway” Sánchez Sánchez tells us about his travels and his beloved tooth collection of the “notorious infamous” (he later admits that the Marilyn Monroe ones are fakes.) There are literary quotes and fortune-cookie fortunes sprinkled throughout like a breadcrumb trail. This book is fun and adventurous, giving one the sense of being on a bizarre yet intriguing mission. I also loved how the final ‘book’ or chapter is a timeline of Gustavo Highway’s adventures in context of other important happenings in Mexican history. There are also photographs to further provide a sense of place. The writing’s mood can be contemplative, irreverent, hilarious, or confounding. I can’t wait to read more by this author!
I’m just a week into the 2016 Summer Reading Program, but I am happy (actually, quite pleased with myself!) to say that I’ve got four activities in the works. Doing so many at once might not be the norm, but I’m confident I’ll finish all of them soon. Here’s what I’m reading:
Revival by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton. The story spans several days in Wausau, Wisconsin, where some of the town’s deceased residents come back to life. It has a dark, somewhat gothic feel to it, and it’s beautifully illustrated. This book meets activity ‘V,’ read a graphic novel or comic book
Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. Bone Gap is a dull, small, midwestern town with some very mysterious places, if you know where and how to look. Finn and Sean are two brothers living on their own there, Finn a 17-year-old somewhat awkward kid with a couple good friends, Sean is his older brother who tries to hold down the home. When their friend Roza disappears one day, all of their worlds are turned upside-down in a multitude of ways. There’s an element of magical realism that gives a bit of a fantasy feel, but it’s a pretty serious YA book, with some violence and mature themes. This meets activity ‘T,’ read a young adult book.
True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray by James Renner. I first heard of Maura Murray from the Missing Maura Murray podcast: a student at UMass who has a car accident on a dark road, tells someone she doesn’t need help because AAA is on the way, and within minutes is gone, never to be seen again. James Renner comes upon the story while looking for something to focus on after losing his job at a newspaper, and gets sucked into the mysteries that surround the case. This book meets activity ‘Z,’ read a book only during your lunch hour.
Where are you in your summer reading?? If you haven’t signed up yet, there’s still time…stop by the Library and get ready to read!
Summer is here and for me that means time for reading and relaxation. At the Help Desk our patrons often ask, “What have you read recently that you really liked?” I love these questions because it helps me think about books and why I liked them. I thought I’d share my recent list in case you are looking for a good book for your relaxing summer reading.
I also discovered there’s a new name for one of my favorite genres: Biographical Fiction. I’ve always thought of these books as “Historical Fiction” but recently I’ve been seeing the term “Biographic Fiction” more and it makes sense. These are books with stories based on real people, but often the dialogue and other details are created by the author to move the story. Melanie Benjamin includes an interesting commentary about how she approaches writing Biographical Fiction in the Author’s Note at the end of The Swans of Fifth Avenue.
DC Comic’s The New 52 publishing initiative has come to an end. Grayson by Tom King and Tim Seeley was easily the best thing to come out of it. It follows the former Robin, Dick Grayson, after he was outed as Nightwing, killed (he got better) and recruited to become a spy for the organization Spyral. Comics! I’d describe Grayson as a crazy sci-fi, spy-thriller. King and Seeley took a lot of Grant Morrizon’s bizarre ideas from his tenure on Batman and ran with them. Dick is working as a double-agent for Batman in Spyral. Spyral has been keeping tabs on the superhero community and slowly figuring out everyone’s secret identities. Batman wants to know what Spyral knows and wants the once Boy Wonder to undermine their operations. This puts Dick–now known as Agent 37–in morally compromising situations. The book also has a sense of humor: I think of Dick Grayson as the Spider-man of the DC Universe–he’s a quipper. He knows everyone, and he’s fun. Even though The New 52 is done, Rebirth isn’t steamrolling everything that came before. Grayson is still relevant to the DC Universe going forward. Plus, it’s a great story with great art. I don’t know how newbie friendly it is. Batman Incorporated would be a good place to start if you want the background of Grant Morrison’s influence. Otherwise, you can start with The New 52 Nightwing then Forever Evil.
If you’re like me, you’re waiting patiently for PBS to air another season of The Great British Baking Show(or The Great British Bake Off as it is known across the pond). And if you’re like me, you’re baking your way through the wait. The show has inspired me to venture out of my baking comfort zone, exploring the shelves of the Iowa City Public Library for new and interesting recipes to try. The library even has a number of cookbooks by your favorite Bake Off personalities. So, on your mark, get set, bake!
Perhaps the best place to start is a baking book by one of the show’s judges. Paul Hollywood’s How to Bake acts as a primer on technique. The recipes here are pretty detailed, offering the how and why to each Read the rest of this entry »
Henry Cole has written and illustrated over 50 books for children including Big Bug, andUnspoken. His most recent delves into the realm of eye spy. Spot, The Cat is a wonderful wordless romp through a quaint urban setting. Readers follow and find a cat appropriately named Spot as he weaves his way through town. Parents and children will have a delightfully difficult time discovering the errant Spot and his pursuant owner.
I was excited when I checked OverDrive this month and saw new audiobooks in the Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. I have listened to all of the urban fantasy audiobooks we have on OverDrive, so I was thrilled when I saw these books from a series I enjoyed show up when I was browsing the app.
Last week I burned through Shattered, book 7, and I’m currently listening to Staked, book 8. The series follows the adventures and blunders of 2,000-year-old druid Atticus O’Sullivan as he goes on different quests and fights epic battles. It takes place in modern times, and the author often entertains us with the story-within-a-story tactic. O’Sullivan is 2,000 years old, after all. He has tons of stories to tell. Read the rest of this entry »