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Librarians

Coming of Age on the Lower East Side

UnterzakhnThe new graphic novel, Unterzakhn (Yiddish for “underthings”) by Leela Corman tells the story of twin sisters, Esther and Fanya. The sisters grow up on the Lower East Side of New York at the beginning of the twentieth century. Through Corman’s attention to detail in both her art and text, readers are immediately transported to New York City, 1909. In addition to the lively New York story, Corman also interweaves the family’s tragic past in nineteenth century Russia.

Daughters of Jewish Russian immigrants, sisters Esther and Fanya must learn how to survive when few choices were available to young women. The sisters take decidedly different paths. Esther works for a woman who runs a burlesque theater and Fanya goes to work for a “woman doctor.” These choices go on to shape them as the young woman they become. Although their lives are different in nearly every way--lifestyle, politics and values--their childhood bond enables the sisters to transcend these differences in adulthood.

As in any excellent graphic novel, the text and illustrations work together seamlessly in telling the story. Corman’s keen attention to detail allows the reader to enter Fanya and Esther’s world. Corman gives a real sense of New York and Russia, spanning from the late 1890s to the 1920s. She sprinkles the story with Yiddish phrases throughout and lovingly depicts Russian village life in the late nineteenth century. Corman is also particularly adept at conveying her female characters’ expressions as they go through a lifetime of emotions. Unterzakhn is very much a classic immigrant story but at the story’s core is a tale of two sisters figuring out to survive as young women in this time and place.

Zeke

 
 

The Left and Right Hands

The Left and Right Hands

posted by:
June 18, 2012 - 8:30am

The Book Of JonasFifteen-year-old Younas is brought to Pittsburgh after the Muslim village in which he lives is destroyed and his family killed by American troops.  Rechristened Jonas, he asks a relief worker why her organization is helping him. She responds:

 

"...our country sometimes has a habit of making a mess with its left hand and cleaning it up with its right. We are the right hand."

 

Author Stephen Dau explores these themes of duality and contradiction in his thoughtful debut novel, The Book of Jonas.

 

As in Chris Cleave’s bestselling Little Bee, Dau tells the story of a young immigrant leaving behind unspeakable horrors in a homeland at odds with the comfortable English-speaking country of destination. The author allows the story to unfold using alternating narrators, offering sharp commentary on Western customs and culture as viewed by the immigrant Jonas. His fate is entwined with that of MIA Christopher Henderson, an American soldier party to the offensive on his village, and Jonas is gently pressured to recount his past by both his US court-ordered counselor and Christopher’s mother who is desperate for any news of her son. Jonas reflects that the truth of a matter and what the law requires don’t necessarily coincide and he attempts to adapt to his new country while struggling to reconcile the nature of his relationship with the soldier. Dau dangles the questions of who is the savior and who is the saved and wonders about the imprecision of memory and words to convey the truth of an experience in this compelling and beautifully written book.  

 

Lori

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C'est Magnifique!

C'est Magnifique!

posted by:
June 15, 2012 - 8:30am

Passing LoveIn Passing Love by Jacqueline Luckett, the reader first meets Nicole-Marie following the death of her best friend. Realizing life is too short, she satisfies a long-time dream to spend a month in Paris. Leaving a marriage proposal (from her already married boyfriend) in her wake, she embarks on the trip of a lifetime. Her vacation soon turns into an investigation when Nicole-Marie finds a picture of her father with an unidentified woman. She is drawn to this photo and feels compelled to find out who this mysterious woman is and more importantly, what her relationship was with her dad. 

   

That woman is Ruby Garret, a beautiful woman living in Mississippi during World War II. Ruby is an independent thinker desperate to get out of the south. She is tired of being treated as a second-class citizen in a world where Jim Crow laws governed. Ruby’s chance to escape comes in the form of Arnett, an older musician with a dangerous side. Ruby is soon part of the legion of African-Americans who moved to colorblind Paris during the glittering post World War II years which were awash in music, poetry, and art. 

 

Luckett manages to recreate both the Paris of today and the sparkling creative Paris of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Indeed, the City of Lights is a major character in this story told in alternating viewpoints and across six decades. Nicole-Marie and Ruby are two strong women whose stories are filled with secrets and betrayal, but also love and a celebration of life after fifty. 

Maureen

 
 

Slow Burn

Slow Burn

posted by:
June 15, 2012 - 8:01am

Coral GlynnLovers of historical fiction will want to check out Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron. The novel begins in 1950s England after the war has ended. Coral Glynn, a young nurse, heads to Hart House to care for the aging Mrs. Hart. Also living in the house is Major Clement Hart, who was injured in the war and is dealing with demons of his own. The Major is suffering from repressed sexuality and a confusing love for his childhood friend, Robin Lofting. Mrs. Prence, the irascible housekeeper, takes an instant dislike to Coral, and upon the unexpected death of Mrs. Hart she harbors many suspicions about the new live-in nurse. When an unexpected proposal happens, followed by a disturbing event in the nearby woods, the lives of the characters begin to change in wholly unexpected ways.

 

The English countryside in 1950 is the perfect setting for these characters; each comes with baggage and is very unsure of what the future holds. Cameron slowly reveals facts about Coral, drawing out the mystery as there is more to her than first meets the eye and the reader will become intrigued by her and the decisions she is forced to make. The magic of Coral Glynn revolves around the characters, their hidden secrets and desires, and missed opportunities.

 

Fans of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca should enjoy this story. Like Rebecca, Coral is living alone in a strange setting with an unknown gentleman and a distant and unlikeable housekeeper. Coral Glynn is a quiet novel that sneaks up on the reader, with the beautiful writing, quietly revealing plot details while introducing the reader to several characters they will want to get to know and spend time with.  Appealing for anyone that wants a character-driven story with a hint of mystery and suspense, this title will also be perfect for book clubs.

Doug

 
 

Tapestry

Tapestry

posted by:
June 14, 2012 - 8:30am

GlowHistorical fiction offers a window into the past for readers to experience the lives and circumstances of people during a previous era. The pleasure of acquiring a more comprehensive knowledge of an earlier time period has fans of this genre always on alert for the next great book. Glow, by Jessica Maria Tuccelli, is just such a book. Set in the remote mountain region of Hopewell County, Georgia, the novel chronicles both the childhood of Amelia McGee and her family’s story from before the War of Northern Aggression to the outbreak of World War II. This is an all-encompassing family saga told from multiple perspectives, and the reader will appreciate the family tree included at the beginning of the novel.

 

In the Takatoka forest, once occupied by the Cherokee, Indian legends are as commonplace as Bible stories. The community is made up of whites, freed slaves, half-breeds, mulattos, voodoo practitioners, and the occasional ghost. Glow is an intricately woven tapestry of folklore and heritage, rich with the colloquialisms of this unique region. Tuccelli spent several years exploring Northeastern Georgia to soak up the local flavor and she utilizes beautifully descriptive and jargon-filled vocabulary to paint an authentic portrait of bygone days. 

 

At the core of this character-driven story is love, especially the joy and the heartbreak associated with everlasting love and the strong bonds which mothers and fathers share with their children. The classic theme of family and friendship engages readers of all genres and leaves them with the feeling of having personally been woven into the author's tapestry. This is one of those books that you don’t want to end.

Jeanne

 
 

Survival Games

Survival Games

posted by:
June 12, 2012 - 8:01am

What They Do in the DarkTrauma in childhood assumes many forms. This message resonates loudly through multiple characters in Amanda Coe’s debut novel, What They Do in the Dark. Two school girls, Gemma and Pauline, live in the same rough Yorkshire neighborhood but inhabit different worlds. Gemma comes from a financially stable yet broken family, while Pauline grows up in abject poverty with an abusive mother.  Through a random playground encounter, the two girls become reluctant acquaintances and find a strange brand of stability in each other.  As the story evolves, however, their partnership becomes more volatile. Other characters’ stories, including those of a child television star and a bullied classmate, become interwoven and, in Lord of the Flies-fashion, tragedy ensues. 

 

A screenwriter, Coe does an excellent job setting the scene. Readers experience the grittiness of a working-class neighborhood in England, witness the cruelty that poorly supervised school-aged children can inflict on one another, and are confronted with the dangers facing any child who lacks a social safety net. The terse and plain-spoken dialogue between the characters also lends to the tension and instability that exist. 

 

This book does take patience. The plot is subtle. The chapters are short and at first provide seemingly random snapshots into the two girls’ and other characters’ lives. But for readers who stick with the book, all of these pieces evolve into a darker and more complex tale. Much like Emma Donoghue’s Room or Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, both of which focus on children raised in violent and dysfunctional environments, this story leaves a strong and unsettling impression. 

Melanie

 
 

Five Wedding Guests and a Bride Named Bee Fee

The SinglesBee Evans is due to marry Matt Fee in a swanky Maryland wedding and wants all of her friends to enjoy themselves with a date. But her single friends have other ideas and return their cards without marking plus one. The Singles by Meredith Goldstein invites you to a wedding weekend filled with guests who are memorable and likeable. 

 

Hannah, Vicki, and Rob went to college with Bee and all three are harboring some deeper emotions. Hannah is nervous about seeing her college sweetheart, Tom, for the first time since he dumped her.  Rob won’t admit his feelings for Hannah, and misses the wedding because of a sick dog.  He is a virtual guest, following the ceremony and reception through phone calls and texts. Vicki suffers from depression and travels with a seasonal affective disorder light. The remaining two singles are not from the gang’s college days. The bride's uncle Joe is not a favorite of the mother-of-the-bride, but is interested in younger women – particularly Vicki. Finally there is Phil, who wasn’t even invited to the wedding. He is standing in for his mother, a friend of the groom’s parents, who is sick and hiding a secret from her son. 

 

The story unfolds from each character’s alternating perspective, and many of the scenes will have you laughing out loud while noting the transformation each character undergoes.  This is a debut novel from Goldstein, the popular LoveLetters advice columnist for The Boston Globe. Her column/blog gets nearly 1,000,000 page hits a month. If you need advice or love reading about others’ romantic entanglements visit here.  

 

Have fun mingling with these singles and start thinking about casting ideas. Film rights have already been sold!

Maureen

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Prelude to a Canticle

Prelude to a Canticle

posted by:
June 8, 2012 - 6:01am

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the FallIt wasn’t dark. It wasn’t light. It wasn’t anything except cold. 

‘I’m dead,’ thought Pete.

But of course, he wasn’t.

 

From the first page and as effortlessly as a beam of light slipping through panes of glass, author Nancy Kress eases the reader into a remarkable narrative of many faces. Simple and compelling, atheistic and allegorical, neither utopian nor dystopian, After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall is a story of humanity in incubation.

 

After (2035): Earth’s fragile population consists of 19 humans living in captivity: five Survivors of the Fall, six genetically mutated and infertile offspring, and seven exquisitely precious Grab children. To each, the smooth walls of the Shell represent a prison and a home. At 15, Pete is among the oldest of the Six and one of the few children born to the original 25 Survivors. In ten minutes time, he will risk his life to save humanity – again.

 

Before (2013): Mathematician Julie Kahn has been collaborating for months with the FBI, tracking a tenuous pattern of mysteriously linked kidnappings and burglaries occurring along the eastern coast of the United States. A few hysterical parents babble incoherently about their babies having been snatched by misshapen teenagers before disappearing in dazzling streaks of light. Their sputtering accounts are largely ignored, except by Julie and Gordon, her FBI contact and onetime lover. Following a complex algorithm she’s devised, the next attempt may be the kidnappers’ last.

 

During (2014): Beneath the soil and all around the world, tiny mutations begin to occur almost simultaneously in the bacteria surrounding the root systems of clover, grass and other diverse plant life. By the time a low swell of awareness of the rapidly increasing dead zones boils into full blown paranoia, it will be too late for the humanity that was.

 

In this Janus-styled tale, Kress weaves together the converging paths of these very different slices of humankind. Juxtaposing contemporary characters such as Julie Khan against those stripped of the context of a complex society, such as Pete, Kress brings an unusual focus to the pause between disaster and rebuilding, after the fall of a society and before its rebirth. One notable trend in the sci-fi genre in recent years has been a tendency to employ near-future settings as narrative backdrops – scenarios which could conceivably come to pass in a generation or so. Here, Kress takes this trend one bold step beyond many of her peers by incorporating a disquietingly immediate future (2014) as the stage for the Fall itself. A cautionary tale as much as a work of science fiction, this title will have widespread appeal among readers of diverse reading habits. Those who have enjoyed Walter Miller’s timeless A Canticle for Leibowitz may particularly appreciate the cyclical nature of Kress’ narrative and her treatment of humanity in stasis, before the cycle begins again.

Meghan

 
 

On Love and Fate

On Love and Fate

posted by:
June 8, 2012 - 2:01am

OverseasOverseas, the sweeping debut novel by Beatriz Williams, begins in France in 1916 where a young woman named Kate is desperately trying to contact a British soldier named Julian Ashford to warn him not to take his patrol. The novel then picks up in New York City in 2007 where Kate Wilson, a financial analyst working on Wall Street, meets Julian Laurence, a legendary young hedge fund billionaire. Their attraction is instant. As Kate falls for Julian, she begins to feel that there is more to him than meets the eye. What follows is a genre-bending novel that smoothly brings history, suspense, and time travel together in a charming love story.

 

Williams says that the story for Overseas was born when the image of a British WWI officer transported to modern Manhattan took root in her mind. How would this man deal with the modern world? How would he handle a relationship with a modern woman? In Overseas, Williams explores the answers to those questions. Fans of Susanna Kearsley and Diana Gabaldon will want to try this exciting debut.

 

Williams has had a life-long interest WWI-era British history. She says that she was fascinated by the time period long before Downton Abbey brought it to the rest of the world’s attention. She read and fell in love with Vera Brittain’s classic war memoir Testament of Youth while she was in college. Williams was intrigued by this Brittain’s experiences as a nurse and her descriptions of the harsh reality of WWI. Read more about how historical facts informed this novel here.    

Beth

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Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

Fahrenheit 451The Martian ChroniclesOn Tuesday, it was announced that legendary science fiction author Ray Bradbury had passed away at age 91. A long-time supporter of libraries and librarians, Bradbury's most famous and sometimes considered controversial work, Fahrenheit 451, remains a perennial choice of summer reading lists, the canon of 20th-century literature, and a target of book banners. Bradbury began writing that celebrated novel in the basement of a library. His writings ranged from short stories, screenplays, and novels such as the haunting Something Wicked This Way Comes and the beloved coming-of-age title Dandelion Wine.

 

Another of Bradbury's classics is The Martian Chronicles, a collection of short stories that, using thinly-veiled references to the Cold War, had people guessing who was colonizing whom. Through science fictional constructs, Bradbury excelled at forcing humans to look at the decisions they make. Elegies have come in from many sources, as far ranging as Neil Gaiman, Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and President Obama.

Todd