Lookaway, Lookaway by Wilton Barnhardt is full of sharp insights about life in the modern South along with plenty of dysfunctional family drama, civil war rehashing, bourbon drinking, and the ongoing struggle to keep up appearances.
We follow a different member of the Johnston family each chapter as they interact with each other during doomed holiday dinners and on their own, usually unfortunate, tangents. Matriarch Jerene manages to hold the family together by wielding a formidable array of threats and lies, all while impeccable groomed, until events progress beyond even her extreme damage control skills.
Maisie Dobbs is a fearless, independent woman in the 1930s who runs her own detective agency and has taken on an undercover assignment for the British government. Maisie calmly solves mysteries and helps people along the way. A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear is the eighth book in the Maisie Dobbs series.
In Stardust young Tristran Thorn grows up in the Village of Wall which lies on the edge of Fairie land. The villagers only enter the land beyond their walled town once every nine years when they mix with magical folk at a temporary market. Following his heart, Tristran embarks on a journey into Fairie which reveals his gifts and subjects him to great challenges. Gaiman’s fantasy is entertaining, at times amusing, and very engrossing.
I don’t usually read short stories, but Tenth of December by George Saunders got such excellent reviews, I had to see for myself. I was not disappointed – Saunders is a master with language, creating scenarios where authority figures of one kind or another seek to control, either overtly or covertly, the emotions and responses of various characters including high school students, a recently returned veteran, a dying man, and an ill-fated family.
Despite the often dark subjects that include mind control, abduction, objectification, and simmering violence, Saunders’ stories also contain elements of absurdist humor and love and he manages to suggest that there is hope for humanity despite it all.
If you enjoy historical fiction, especially the Tudor period featuring King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, you may enjoy this richly detailed and complex winner of the UK’s 2009 Man Booker Prize. Wolf Hall is centered on the improbable rise of Thomas Cromwell, from an angry, violent, and abused blacksmith’s son, to the right-hand man of the king. The writing style takes a little getting used to, but once you become familiar with Mantel’s quirks, the tale is a spellbinding look into the highest levels of power and politics, as well as the mundane details of ordinary life in early 16th century England.
The second book of the planned trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies (2012), is currently available (and also won the prestigious Man Booker Prize).
The Widow of the South is based on the true story of an unlikely hero from the Civil War era. Carrie McGavock eventually becomes known as the Widow of the South after her house is appropriated for use as a hospital by the Confederate army just prior to the devastating Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, where 9,200 men were killed or terribly wounded in less than a day.
The prose is a bit meandering and I was not always clear where the author was going, but toward the end the story comes together when Carrie makes her courageous stand for the fallen and their families.
Bess Crawford is a nursing sister in France during World War I, but she finds time during leave in England to become immersed with the secretive Ellis family and to take it upon herself to help solve a murder or two when she isn’t tracking down a child who looks suspiciously like the long-deceased Ellis daughter.
Read A Bitter Truth by Charles Todd today.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a work of nonfiction that reads like a well-researched novel. I was confused by the way readers are privy to the thoughts of the characters until I read the author’s note. I would suggest reading Katherine Boo’s note before embarking on this intimate and moving portrait of life in a slum near the Mumbai airport that consists of ragged huts, a sewage lake, and children and adults living their lives. The people we meet are continually striving and/or scheming to better their lives although breaking through to the “overcity,” as the world of Mumbai outside of the slums is called, remains a seemingly impossible task.
The author of The Time Traveler’s Wife goes ghostly this time around. Two generations of identical twins pay a high price for the almost unimaginably intertwined lives they develop while growing up and cling to into adulthood
The story, set largely in London, is full of interesting supporting characters and moves along at a good pace. Niffenegger thanks author Neil Gaiman and her portrayal of various ghostly presences in the story owes quite a bit to his The Graveyard Book.
Read Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger today.
Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast is incomplete and somewhat non-linear, but it paints a vivid picture of his life as a budding writer in Paris. The early chapters show Hemingway taking great joy in living frugally, eating and drinking well, writing in cafes, and meeting other expats. The second half of the book touches on his eventual betrayal of first wife Hadley and the end of their magical time in Paris.
This edition published in 2009 adds extra material and corrects editing decisions that new editor, grandson Sean Hemingway, questioned in the original book published in 1964.
This year’s Big Read book was The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, a fictionalized account of Hemingway’s time in Paris with his first wife Hadley.