My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith (2017)

Paul Stuart is a food/wine writer with a deadline. His focus is diverted when his live-in girlfriend of four years runs off with her trainer. Escaping to Tuscany sounds like a solution for both problems. The story starts like a madcap adventure in Italy, but develops into a study of humanity with a bit of romance thrown in for good measure.

Once his transportation issue is resolved, thus the title of the book, Paul is free to explore the beautiful countryside and research local food and wine. His route is definitely not a typical tourist package. Paul has command of the Italian language and quickly makes friends. He serves as a confidant to a few local men and even lends a helping hand in a longtime conflict. During the course of his stay, he entertains three ladies (two from his past and a new love interest). His working vacation may be just what was needed for his personal and professional dilemmas.

Alexander McCall Smith is well known for his long running series, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and others, but the standalone novel My Italian Bulldozer stands out as a feel good read.

Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar (2017)

Gwendy is a young girl that is desperate to lose weight before the start of the new school year. She spends her days running up and down what’s known as the “suicide stairs” in her hometown of Stephen King‘s fictional Castle Rock, Maine. Her responsibility and dedication is strong enough to prove to a stranger dressed in black that Gwendy should be the recipient of what he calls the “button box.” All Gwendy knows about the box is that it holds vast power and that she must do all she can to use it wisely.

In Gwendy’s Button Box, we follow Gwendy and how her life changes as she understands what it means to be the box’s caretaker. Stephen King and Richard Chizmar have written a novella that is short and lean, every moment feeling crucial to the overall tone and story. This book perfectly demonstrates King’s ability to make the reader unable to stop themselves from turning page after page while simultaneously being terrified of what they might discover when they do.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles (2016)

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd has the job of returning a 10-year-old girl, who has been stolen by the Kiowa Indians, to her aunt and uncle. Set in 1870 Reconstruction-era Texas, the Captain travels from town to town reading the news aloud. He buys a wagon, loads it with supplies, and, with the girl, starts on his route taking them closer to her family. Along the way, the pair encounters unfriendly Indians, robbers, and the harsh conditions of the West.

News of the World is a wonderful story of a man who shares the world’s news with people throughout Texas, which gives him the feeling that he is living an ethical life. He believes he is helping foster dialogue and peace in the world.

Our Novel Idea book club will discuss Paulette Jiles’ novel on Wednesday, September 13 at 7pm. Just drop in. Pick up a copy of the novel at the checkout desk.

The Whistler by John Grisham (2016)

In The Whistler (that is whistleblower), John Grisham introduces us to the Florida Board of Judicial Conduct’s investigation of the most corrupt judge in Florida’s history. An elusive character named Mix or Myers or maybe something else lodges a complaint with the board in hopes of an award for himself and his undisclosed client. Thus Lacy Stoltz and her colleague Hugo become involved in the most dangerous and compelling investigation of their board career. Their adventures cross paths with the coastal mafia and corruption at the casino run by the Tappacola Native American tribe. Lacy persists with the investigation even after Hugo is killed and she is terribly injured in an unlikely accident that suggests murder. With the FBI’s help, Lacy unravels this corrupt maze of hidden wealth, obscure identities and a convict on death row who should not be there.

Check out a review from The New York Times.

Mad Enchantment: Claude Monet and the Painting of the Water Lilies by Ross King (2016)

In this engagingly readable mix of art, history, and biography, author Ross King details the later years of Claude Monet’s life. Set against the backdrop of WWI, Mad Enchantment documents Monet’s work on paintings both large and small as well as his life in Giverny, France (and his relationships with other artists such as Renoir and Rodin). The prolific artist, although hindered by grief and failing eyesight, produced the massive paintings found in l’Orangerie in Paris.

The Art Institute of Chicago plays a role in the book, too. Did you know its representatives tried to purchase the paintings that ended up in l’Orangerie? At least we have many other Monet works in Chicago. Whether you’re planning a trip to Paris or Chicago, or just want to learn more about one of the greats (who was not always admired during his lifetime), I recommend this book—I lost track of the number of times I thought, “I didn’t know that.”

 

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar (2014)

Although this is not a fast-paced, action-packed book, I found it to be a page-turner due to the interesting, believable characters and how their lives and relationships are exposed throughout the story. The Story Hour touches on a number of issues, such as arranged marriage, infidelity, deception, betrayal, friendship, and secrets. Thrity Umrigar’s story is told from alternating perspectives: Lakshmi, who immigrates to America from India following an arranged marriage; and Maggie, a clinical psychologist, who starts to treat Lakshmi after her attempted suicide. An unlikely friendship unfolds, with unexpected twists and turns that kept me engaged til the end.

Lucia, Lucia by Adriana Trigiani (2003)

Most readers know Adriana Trigiani from her Big Stone Gap series, but she also writes great standalone novels. One of her most popular titles is Lucia, Lucia. In 1950s New York City, Lucia Sartori is a young apprentice to a new fashion designer. Lucia is engaged to be married, but her fiancé’s family doesn’t approve of her working. Forced to choose between marriage and career, she chooses her dream job. When a handsome stranger captures her heart, she believes in his dreams.

The world of the New York fashion scene is richly detailed. Readers who love stories about family, fashion, and New York will enjoy this book.

Not a Sound by Heather Gudenkauf (2017)

Amelia Winn is a well-respected nurse with a wonderful life. However, following a tragic accident, she is left deaf, falls into a deep depression, and turns to alcohol. She ends up losing all that is most important to her: her husband, her stepdaughter, and her job.

Two years later, Amelia is finally getting her life back together with a lot of help from Stitch, her best friend and service dog. One morning, while kayaking on the river, Amelia discovers the body of a former friend and coworker. Amelia becomes part of a very disturbing mystery that threatens to destroy her newly reconstructed life.

Not a Sound is a great thriller by Heather Gudenkauf, who just keeps getting better and better with each novel she writes. Very entertaining!

The Fisherman by John Langan (2016)

Two men have endured through the tragedy of what it means to become a widower. By being there for one another and bonding over their passion of fishing, they are able to slowly come to terms with their grief. However, upon discovery of a small body of water known as Dutchman’s Creek, they come across an age-old legend that may hold the secret to bringing their wives back from the dead. The book tells two stories: one of the two widowers and one of the titular Fisherman and the legend of how he cursed an entire town with his black magic.

The Fisherman is a horror story of human grief that transcends into fear at a much more cosmic scale. John Langan doesn’t shy away from his nightmarish portrayal of the afterlife and what it truly means in his world when someone is brought back from beyond. This novel takes realistic and grounded characters and introduces them to a world of horror that goes far beyond human comprehension. The Fisherman is a mature book for anyone that enjoys scary imagery and the fear of what may be lurking underneath our very feet.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline (2017)

An interesting fictional memoir of the subject of the famous Andrew Wyeth painting: Christina’s World. Christina Olson lived her whole life on her family’s ancestral farm in Maine. Determined, hardworking, and stubborn, Christina never gave in to her crippling disease as it progressed throughout her lifetime. Andrew “Andy” Wyeth used the Olson house as his studio for many summers, befriending and immortalizing Christina.

In A Piece of the World, Christina Baker Kline (who wrote Orphan Train) makes readers wonder if the real Christina Olson was as endearing as this well-developed character. For more behind the scenes information, check out the Museum of Modern Art and Mental Floss.