How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz (2015)

startafireIn a departure from her Spellman mysteries, Lisa Lutz explores the friendship between three women over a twenty-year span. Anna, Kate, and George meet in college. Through heartbreak and triumph, their lives are revealed in an engaging story with multiple perspectives and a non-linear timeline.

While this is women’s fiction and not mystery, How to Start a Fire has the signature Lutz quirky characters and quick wit. A clever yet reflective look at the ebbs and flows of lifelong friendships.

Gray Mountain by John Grisham (2014)

graymountainThe 2008 economic downturn affected even New York lawyers like Samantha who thought she was on a fast track to partner but was abruptly put on furlough. In order to grasp a questionable volunteer opportunity, she retreats to Brady, Virginia, and becomes an intern at the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic, run by Mattie, a local lawyer. On the way, Samantha is arrested and taken to jail for speeding, but is soon released with the help of Donovan (Mattie’s nephew), a lawyer representing coal workers in large disability claims against their employers. Samantha’s adventures in rural Virginia lets her see the coarse tactics of the coal companies, the reliance on guns to solve problems, drug use by the locals, and the satisfaction that comes from helping someone really in need.

Samantha is not without capable contacts—her father was a high-income, personal injury lawyer focusing on airline crashes before he was disbarred, and now runs a consulting company advising other law firms. Her mother (divorced from her father) has a high level position in the Justice Department. Samantha finds Donovan alluring and he even offers her a position, but she sees a lot of similarities between him and her father so she must decide what type of lawyer she wants to be. After all of the trials and adventures in Gray Mountain, there are enough loose ends remaining for John Grisham to write another story about Samantha.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (2013)

oceanlaneI read The Ocean at the End of the Lane one afternoon, and was quickly drawn into the magical world that Neil Gaiman created. After giving a eulogy at a funeral in Sussex, England, a middle-aged man decides to re-visit the house at the end of the lane which he visited as a child. This is a lovely farmhouse full of warmth and fresh, delicious food. It’s where the Hempstock women lived—the elderly grandmother, mother, and Lettie, the daughter with whom he was friends. As a young boy, he learns that the Hempstocks are guardians who ward off dark forces that surround our world. During his visit, a frightening childhood memory of a dark, menacing presence that entered his life in the form of a young woman named Ursula resurfaces.

Spotlight: A. S. King

IMG_2660Did you know author A.S. King is coming to the library this fall? Her upcoming visit on Tuesday, November 10th has inspired me to complete the A.S. King Book Challenge (i.e. read all her books). After flying through Ask the Passengers, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, Everybody Sees the Ants, and Reality Boy, I can safely say that I haven’t been reading these books – I’ve been devouring them! With perfectly integrated magical realism and bomb resolutions, they are just that darn good.

Realistic in well-developed characters and tone, King deploys a bit of magical realism in the majority of her books that helps convey characters’ emotions and plot points in a unique manner. In Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, Glory discovers information about her family and members of the cult that live next door from getting glimpses into their futures after drinking a petrified bat. The other books include appearances from Socrates’ ghost and an army of anthropomorphic, sassy ants. These bizarre devices help build well-defined characters and settings in such a seamless manner that the reader may forget that Socrates’ ghost and sassy ants are not a common occurrence in our world.

The magical realism will invest you into her characters’ wellbeing to the point that you’ll dread parting ways with your new fictional friends. Luckily, King is also a master at perfectly satisfying resolutions. While other authors may rely on a Hollywood blockbuster finale that explodes in the reader’s face, King’s endings seem to glide to a slow stop for a perfect landing. Astrid, from Ask the Passengers, and Lucky, from Everybody Sees the Ants, both struggle with an underlying life challenge. Astrid wants her family and community to give her the opportunity to discover and accept her sexuality. Lucky wants protection from a bully who humiliates him in some of the most egregious and nauseating scenes I’ve ever read in a YA book. Both books’ endings diverge from the assumed happy ending conclusions, and yet both end with such optimistic notes that I can now say I’ve experienced the ever allusive tears of joy.

Magical realism and perfect resolutions are just the icing on the cake in King’s books. When you come to the library and head to the Ks in the teen fiction section, beware that just one King book will leave you craving for more. So grab an IPPL basket and a few tissues from the Ask Us desk, and cancel your weekend plans so that you too can complete the A.S. King Book Challenge!

The Art Forger by B. A. Shapiro (2012)

artforgerClaire Roth is a starving young artist who suddenly finds herself in the midst of an international art theft. The plot develops with a little romance, a little suspense, and a debate over what is innocent reproduction and what is a crime. The background of the unsolved 1990 Gardner Heist is explained, but the letters and insights into Isabella Gardner in the 19th century adds a pinch of history to this contemporary novel.

Check out B. A. Shapiro’s novel The Art Forger today.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari (2015)

modernromanceParks and Recreation star Aziz Ansari is a standup comic who made jokes and observations about the state of dating in the digital era during his Modern Love tour last year. Building on those observations, Ansari teamed up with New York University sociology professor Eric Kleinberg to write a book on romance, texting, dating, and more with lots of facts, charts, and jokes. Modern Romance is a fascinating and entertaining look at not only the dating culture in America, but in Brazil, Japan, France, and Qatar.

I listened to the audiobook, read by Ansari himself, and I have never had so much fun learning!

Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe (2015)

manatthehelmIn the early 1970s, a woman from a wealthy background suddenly finds herself divorced and living in a small English village, where divorced women are suspect (it would seem for good reason). The book is told in the first person by ten-year-old Lizzie (looking back as an adult) and has quite a funny tone and wonderfully set pieces. Nina Stibbe’s Man at the Helm is very funny, but sad too.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez (2014)

unknownamericansTold in alternating first person narratives, The Book of Unknown Americans details the experiences of multiple Latin American immigrants living in a Delaware apartment complex. Cristina Henriquez’ moving, compelling tale showcases families, communities, triumphs, and tragedies.

I loved this book – the endearing characters, the enthralling story, and the lyrical writing grabbed me, prompting me to keep frantically turning the pages, only to be disappointed when there were no more pages to turn.

For other immigrant experiences, check out our bibliography here.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937)

micemenJohn Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is a powerful story about two day laborers during the Great Depression who dream of owning an acre of land. George is small, but smart, and he worries over and tries to protect his friend Lennie, who is big and strong, but has the mind of a child. Their prospects look promising until a flirtatious woman enters the picture, and George must act quickly to do what he feels is best for his friend. You won’t be able to put this book down.

For other classics that make great choices for reading and discussing, check out our book list.

The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai (2011)

borrowerThe story begins with a prelude, perchance a prayer for forgiveness, by a children’s librarian (Lucy) because of a cross country trip with her young patron (Ian) trying to escape, perhaps a respite, from his controlling mother. There are strict reading restrictions and a workshop for gender stability all weighting heavily on a ten-year-old boy.

A Christmas gift with a message from the boy to the librarian followed by an overnight campout at the library launch the pair on their journey. As the trip moves along, the reader may wonder if this is a kidnapping, and if so, who is the kidnaper and who is the victim. Several interesting characters are met along the way including the librarian’s parents who clearly care for their daughter and don’t mind using devious ways to straighten her path. Check out The Borrower, which is Rebecca Makkai’s debut novel.