Heartwood 5:5 – Leavetaking by Peter Weiss

LeavetakingLeavetaking is a compelling autobiographical novella by German-born Peter Weiss set in the decades building up to World War II.

Years have passed since the end of the war, and now that the narrator’s parents have both recently died, the adult children gather at their old house to settle the estate. The narrative unspools as an unbroken thread of the narrator’s reflections upon his early life, triggered by the return to the home of his upbringing. And I do mean both unspooling and unbroken – the novella takes the form of a single long paragraph, recounting events from the narrator’s boyhood and moving beautifully – steadily but unhurriedly – through his adolescence. The long-paragraph form takes a little getting used to, but the pacing overall achieves an intoxicating, immersive flow.

Weiss’s story includes a number of common experiences of childhood – the bullying frenemy, the intimidation of going to school for the first time, rebellion against parental rule, and the riches of childhood play and imagination. The second half of the book includes some frank scenes of his burgeoning libido, including some incestuous foreplay with his sister Margit. There are times when the storytelling gets very compressed, such as the surprising announcement of his sister’s death.

The narrator is captivated by literature, music and art, and he resists the idea of following his father in the textile trade or any other conventional avenue of work. As a young man he spends his time painting and wants to be an artist, getting help and advice eventually from Harry Haller, a character based on Weiss’s real-life mentor, Herman Hesse. His parents resist his artistic inclinations and his mother violates the trust he places in her as guardian of his paintings.

Readers might be surprised at how unconcerned with politics the young narrator is, at a time when Hitler’s regime has caused his family to move a number of times. The book ends with the narrator awakening in a way from his own self-involvement and indicates a turn toward others and toward the problems of the world. This is a fine short novel, well worth the small investment in time it takes to read.


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Spot-Lit for November 2015


The titles listed here are some of the most anticipated November releases based on a consensus of advance review praise and book world enthusiasm. Click here to see all these titles in the library catalog, read reviews, or place holds. Or click a book cover to enlarge it or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2015 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction.

Books I Like

What do ennui in suburban Connecticut, a murder in the Basque country of Spain and a colony based on sun worship and coconuts in the South Seas have in common? Not much really, except the fact they feature prominently in three novels I recently read and enjoyed. I can usually find some kind of link between the books I like but I’m at a loss on these three, alas. So I will resort to expressing myself like the grammatically challenged Frankenstein’s monster (the one played by Boris Karloff not the Mary Shelley version): Three books. Me like.

The Wonder Garden by Lauren Acampora

wondergardenThe characters in this series of interlocking short stories, set in the fictional Connecticut town of Old Cranbury, may seem very familiar at first. Much like the characters that inhabit the stories of John Cheever and Richard Yates, they tend to suffer from the classic east coast suburban turmoil of suddenly questioning their roles at work and at home. But in many of the stories, Acampora adds a touch of the odd that makes this collection stand out. There is the wealthy business man who bribes his wife’s surgeon to get closer to her than ever before in the operating room, the aging art professor who risks life and limb to decorate his neighbor’s house with large synthetic insects, and the colonial history reenactors who resort to breaking and entering to preserve the neighborhood’s architectural integrity.  While these tales can be strange and at times disturbing they are also funny and entertaining in a ‘misery loves company’ sort of way.

All That Followed: A Novel by Gabriel Urza

Tallthatfollowedhe murder of a Spanish politician in the small village of Muriga by a group of Basque separatists serves as the central event in this debut novel. The book isn’t a ‘who done it’, however, but rather a ‘why did they do it.’ In getting to the why, it becomes clear that politics is of minimal importance. Instead the reader gets a multilayered view of the village and its inhabitants with the story jumping in time and place to better get at the complexity of the situation. There are three narrators, each offering a unique perspective: Joni, an English teacher from the U.S. who has been living in Muriga for half a century, Mariana, the widow of the slain politician and Iker, a former student of Joni’s and a participant in the murder. The multiple perspectives, combined with the author’s excellent use of language and tone, help to peel back the layers of meaning. A truth, of sorts, is revealed that feels authentic but gives no easy answers.

Imperium: A Fiction of the South Seas by Christian Kracht

imperiumBased on an amazing but true story, this novel tells the tale of August Engelhardt who in 1902 set sail for German New Guinea in the south seas to found a colony based on the worship of the sun, an exclusive diet of coconuts, and nudity. As you might guess, things didn’t turn out so well for Mr. Engelhardt and the author uses his plight to create a satiric fable skewering the allure of extremism and its inherent danger. The absurdist tone of the book is enhanced by the author’s writing style which often uses the language of classic adventure tales and at its best, a bit of Joseph Conrad. The story is mainly set on Engelhardt’s coconut plantation as things begin to fall apart but it bounces around in place and time to include cameos by odd figures such as the inventor of Vegemite spread and a fraudulent guru who believes he can live on sunshine exclusively. While difficult to categorizes, it is safe to say that Imperium is a playful and biting satire about an ultimately serious subject.

While the connections between these three books elude me, I do know one thing: They are well worth your limited reading time.

Spot-Lit for October 2015


Click here to see all these titles in the library catalog, read reviews, or place holds. Or click a book cover to enlarge it or to view the covers as a slide show.

Crazy Fall Publishing Part 5: September 29th

Hey there. What’s up with me? I’m drowning in new books. NBD! The things I do for you, dear reader. Yep, I’m definitely coveting and eventually reading all these books for you. No need to thank me, but if you do you can forward your good words straight to my boss. Performance appraisal time is just around the corner and a good word from you is sure to go a long way.

Anyway, I’ve been counting the days since these new books arrive, and I hope you’ll want to read them, too. Check them out–literally!

all american boysAll American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
Summary: A bag of chips. That’s all sixteen-year-old Rashad is looking for at the corner bodega. What he finds instead is a fist-happy cop, Paul Galuzzi, who mistakes Rashad for a shoplifter, mistakes Rashad’s pleadings that he’s stolen nothing for belligerence, mistakes Rashad’s resistance to leave the bodega as resisting arrest, mistakes Rashad’s every flinch at every punch the cop throws as further resistance and refusal to STAY STILL as ordered. But how can you stay still when someone is pounding your face into the concrete pavement? But there were witnesses: Quinn Collins—a varsity basketball player and Rashad’s classmate who has been raised by Paul since his own father died in Afghanistan—and a video camera. Soon the beating is all over the news and Paul is getting threatened with accusations of prejudice and racial brutality. Quinn refuses to believe that the man who has basically been his savior could possibly be guilty. But then Rashad is absent. And absent again. And again. And the basketball team—half of whom are Rashad’s best friends—start to take sides. As does the school. And the town. Simmering tensions threaten to explode as Rashad and Quinn are forced to face decisions and consequences they had never considered before.
Why I’m stoked: As previously mentioned on this blog, I’m from Alton, IL, a small town across the Mississippi from Ferguson, MO. I don’t think I have to tell you how upset I’ve been to see my neighbors, friends, and family rocked by community violence and mistrust. Books like this one are necessary and welcome. I plan to read it and The Ferguson Report back-to-back. I may be known for my preference for fluffy and frivolous reads, but this is one I know will be difficult for me–and I honestly can’t wait.

madlyMadly by Amy Alward
Summary: When the Princess of Nova accidentally poisons herself with a love potion meant for her crush, she falls crown-over-heels in love with her own reflection. Oops. A nationwide hunt is called to find the cure, with competitors travelling the world for the rarest ingredients, deep in magical forests and frozen tundras, facing death at every turn. Enter Samantha Kemi – an ordinary girl with an extraordinary talent. Sam’s family were once the most respected alchemists in the kingdom, but they’ve fallen on hard times, and winning the hunt would save their reputation. But can Sam really compete with the dazzling powers of the ZoroAster megapharma company? Just how close is Sam willing to get to Zain Aster, her dashing former classmate and enemy, in the meantime? And just to add to the pressure, this quest is ALL OVER social media. And the world news. No big deal, then.
Why I’m stoked: Fantasy and humor. Romance and adventure. And a cover that launched a thousand Instagram posts (if you didn’t see this pop up in your feed in recent weeks you are following the wrong people, my friend). Oh, my goodness. And it’s also book one in a series. Be still my beating heart. I just know this is going to be a fantastic read.

sanctuarySanctuary by Jennifer McKissack
Summary: After the untimely death of her aunt Laura, Cecilia Cross is forced to return to Sanctuary, a rambling, old French-Gothic mansion that crowns a remote island off the coast of Maine. Cecilia is both drawn to and repulsed by Sanctuary. The scent of the ocean intoxicates her, but she’s also haunted by the ghosts of her past–of her father who died at Sanctuary five years ago, and of her mother who was committed soon after. The memories leave Cecilia feeling shaken, desperate to run away and forget her terrible family history. But then a mysterious guest arrives at Sanctuary: Eli Bauer, a professor sent to examine Sanctuary’s library. Cecilia is intrigued by this strange young man who seems so interested in her — even more interested in her than in the books he is meant to be studying. Who is he and what does he want? Can Cecilia possibly trust her growing feelings for him? And can he help her make peace with her haunted, tragic past?
Why I’m stoked: I know the two plots are not the same at all, but reading this synopsis reminded me so strongly of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir that I felt compelled to put it on my TBR. While I love ghost stories, I confess it’s been an age since I’ve read a good Gothic. And the fact that a personal library plays a prominent role in the book kind of makes me crave reading it even more.

zeroesZeroes by Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti
Summary: Ethan, aka “Scam,” has a way with words. When he opens his mouth, whatever he wants you to hear comes out. But Ethan isn’t just a smooth talker. He has a unique ability to say things he doesn’t consciously even know. Sometimes the voice helps, but sometimes it hurts – like now, when the voice has lied and has landed Ethan in a massive mess. So now Ethan needs help. And he needs to go to the last people who would ever want to help him – his former group of friends, the self-named “Zeroes” who also all possess similarly double-edged abilities, and who are all angry at Ethan for their own respective reasons. Brought back together by Scam’s latest mischief, they find themselves entangled in an epic, whirlwind adventure packed with as much interpersonal drama as mind-bending action.
Why I’m stoked: On the plus side, I’ve never read a Scott Westerfeld book, so this makes me feel pretty adventurous. On the downside, I almost across the board loathe dystopian novels. However, the abilities the Zeroes posses make me second-guess my dystopian disgust. This one is going to be book one of at least a trilogy, so if I really love it I can look forward to delving into more stories later.

I should probably take a photograph of my TBR for dramatic effect. However, it would be so much taller than me it may topple over and land me with an injury that may prevent me from reading. Tragic!

Crazy Fall Publishing Part 4: September 22nd

What time is it? New book time! Despite the fact that I usually blog about books that are not new and often not even hot, I am making up for lost time this fall. Each week I’m bringing you my totally subjective list of books to squee about. And of all the weeks thus far in the fall publishing season, I am most looking forward to this one.

Ritter_BeastlyBones_jkt_COMP.inddBeastly Bones by William Ritter
Summary: In 1892 in New Fiddleham, New England, things are never quite what they seem, especially when Abigail Rook and her eccentric employer R. F. Jackaby are called upon to investigate the supernatural. First, a vicious species of shape-shifters disguise themselves as a litter of kittens, and a day later, their owner is found murdered with a single mysterious puncture wound. Then in nearby Gad’s Valley, now home to the exiled New Fiddleham police detective Charlie Cane, dinosaur bones from a recent dig mysteriously go missing, and an unidentifiable beast starts attacking animals and people, leaving their mangled bodies behind. Charlie calls on Abigail for help, and soon Abigail and Jackaby are on the hunt for a thief, a monster, and a murderer
Why I’m stoked: One of the best books I read this past winter, Jackaby helped get me through the long wait for Libba Bray’s Lair of Dreams, the sequel to the stunning book The Diviners. How’s this for irony? I am definitely going to read Beastly Bones before Lair of Dreams. I mean, I’ve waited this long. What’s another week? Or day. I’ll probably read Beastly Bones in a day. A day with no sleep. And lots of excited exclamations punctuating the pure silence with which I like to read.

dreamlandDreamland by Robert L. Anderson
Summary: Odea Donahue has been able to travel through people’s dreams since she was six years old. Her mother taught her the three rules of walking: Never interfere. Never be seen. Never walk the same person’s dream more than once. Dea has never questioned her mother, not about the rules, not about the clocks or the mirrors, not about moving from place to place to be one step ahead of the unseen monsters that Dea’s mother is certain are right behind them. Then a mysterious new boy, Connor, comes to town and Dea finally starts to feel normal. As Connor breaks down the walls that she’s had up for so long, he gets closer to learning her secret. For the first time she wonders if that’s so bad. But when Dea breaks the rules, the boundary between worlds begins to deteriorate. How can she know what’s real and what’s not?
Why I’m stoked: I just finished reading the totally awesome and completely engrossing Arkwell Academy series by Mindee Arnett. The protagonist is a Nightmare, which means she feeds off people’s dreams by entering them. Since I’m still so reluctant to let that world go, I am beyond thrilled to get my hands on Dreamland. Don’t get me wrong: if I knew you were dipping in and out of my dreams I would freak out. But since it’s fiction I’m on board for the thrills.

sleeper and the spindleThe Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman
Summary: On the eve of her wedding, a young queen sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment. She casts aside her fine wedding clothes, takes her chain mail and her sword and follows her brave dwarf retainers into the tunnels under the mountain towards the sleeping kingdom. This queen will decide her own future – and the princess who needs rescuing is not quite what she seems. Twisting together the familiar and the new, this perfectly delicious, captivating and darkly funny tale shows its creators at the peak of their talents.
Why I’m stoked: Despite following him all over social media and loving every quote of his I’ve ever read out of context, I’ve never actually read a Neil Gaiman book. I know, I know. I’m in line now to return my nerd card. Hopefully the line moves slowly enough that I can check out this book and actually read it before the revocation. I love it when fairy tales get turned on their sides, and a battle-ready female character speaks to my Dungeons & Dragons self. That’s right. I think my fighter Aida will be smitten with this book.

unquietThe Unquiet by Mikaela Everett
Summary: For most of her life, Lirael has been training to kill—and replace—a duplicate version of herself on a parallel Earth. She is the perfect sleeper-soldier. But she’s beginning to suspect she is not a good person. The two Earths are identical in almost every way. Two copies of every city, every building, even every person. But the people from the second Earth know something their duplicates do not—two versions of the same thing cannot exist. They—and their whole planet—are slowly disappearing. Lira has been trained mercilessly since childhood to learn everything she can about her duplicate, to be a ruthless sleeper-assassin who kills that other Lirael and steps seamlessly into her life.
Why I’m stoked: I think every time I confess to not finishing a series, be it book or TV, a gremlin gets fed after midnight. Wait. Angel and wings? Nope, most definitely gremlin. This is a poor segue into me confessing to loving TV series Fringe but never actually finishing it. This book screams Fringe at me so much I’m waiting for bangs to sprout on my forehead (the Anglophile in me thought that joke was hilarious). Maybe after I read this I’ll pop those DVDs back in and see what’s going on with Walter. The good Walter. Not the bad Walter. The bad Walter is just too scary to handle sometimes.

Sleep is for the weak. And this week I’m all out of sleep. Wait…what was I saying? That’s right: tell me what books you’re most looking forward to reading. If I get enough replies I can “write it up” as a blog post and give myself more time for reading. Or sleeping. Man, I need to put the book down and get some– zzzzzzzzzzzz.

Same, Same, but Different

same-same-but-different--1I traveled to Thailand a few years back to visit my daughter who was taking a “Gap year” between high school and college. We met in Chiang Mai and did some touristy things like taking a cooking class and shopping for souvenirs. Lots of folks try to make their living by selling these souvenirs and a common call out is “Same same, but different!”  It’s a phrase used a lot in Thailand, and it can mean just about anything but originally meant “I have the same wares, but they’re better!”

You can use this phrase for so many things, but I like it in the context of books. Are you waiting in a long queue for the latest best seller? Well, your library has similar books which may keep you happy while you wait for the latest hot title.

Librarians are specially trained to help you with this very problem. It’s called ‘Reader’s Advisory’ in the trade and I’ll let you in on a few of our trade secrets. You’re probably familiar with Goodreads which is a social media reading site that can give you lists and lists of books on any subject imaginable. I like to use our library catalog which gives awesome suggestions for ‘similar titles’. There’s also a link to the database Novelist on our catalog. Your librarian can help you use these tools or simply do it for you.

Here are some ‘same, same, but different’ books for the currently most popular titles at Everett Public Library.

index (1)Are you longing to read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr? Why not try The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah? This new novel is also set in Nazi occupied World War Two France and includes a love story. Two sisters are forced to test the strength of their courage and their love for each other as they each face the coming war in very different ways. Quiet Vianne has a husband who is fighting on the front lines and is terrified for their young daughter, yet she still manages to make her mark in her small town by standing up for what’s right in her own way. Headstrong Isabelle joins the resistance and fights the Nazis in each and every way she can. index (1)Neither of them will be the same by the time the war has ended. This was my first Kristin Hannah novel but it most definitely will not be my last. I was instantly drawn to the gorgeous cover and the intriguing summary on the dust jacket and decided to take a chance. I am very glad I did. Never have I read a book that told a story of occupied France in quite this way and from women’s perspectives too!

Nature of the BeastI just placed a hold for The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny and I’m 25th in line! It must be good, but while I wait for it, I think that I’ll read the new Flavia de Luce mystery, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley. The Armand Gamache and Flavia De Luce mysteries are intelligent, character centered, cozies set in small towns. Although the time periods differ, the conversational tone and feel are similar. This Flavia de Luce mystery is even set in Toronto. They also share casts of eccentric secondary characters as well as unique investigators. Falva de Luce has been sent off to boarding school in Toronto; the same index (3)school her mother had attended. On her first night there, down from the chimney in her room a charred and mummified body drops. It has clearly been there for some time and the head is separated from the body. Flavia is determined to find out the victim’s identity and who killed her, but must also find out why girls are disappearing from the school without a trace.

index (1)I’m listening to Circling the Sun by Paula McLain and it is fabulous! It is the backstory of Beryl Markham, the first woman to make a transatlantic crossing from east to west solo. She was raised by her father in Africa and became that continent’s first woman horse trainer. There’s quite a line to get this beautiful novel, so place your hold and then check out Markham’s own book, West With the Night. When Hemingway read Markham’s book, he wrote to his editor, Maxwell Perkins: “She has written so well, and marvelously index (2)well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer . . . [She] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves as writers. It is really a bloody wonderful book.” First published in 1942, it’s just as remarkable today. Look for the illustrated edition. It’s loaded with wonderful photos of the author during her days in Africa. What more could you ask for than beautiful writing and a compelling story about the daring exploits of a spunky lady? Both of these books are well worth your time!

index (1)Now here’s a no-brainer: If you’re waiting in line for the wonderful new novel Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee, read (or re-read) To Kill a Mockingbird in the meantime. In fact, it makes sense to (re)read Mockingbird first as Watchman is set twenty years after the trial of Tom Robinson. The basic plot of this new sequel/prequel/first draft of To Kill A Mockingbird is that our beloved narrator, Scout (now Jean Louise), is now in her twenties and returns from New York to visit her father, Atticus, in Maycomb. However, Atticus has changed in these years and now hold views and opinions that greatly upset index (4)Jean Louise. Reading the first page of this novel you are immediately dropped into the familiar prose and voice of Lee’s masterwork. Maycomb is alive again in your hands. The novel simmers along at a steady pace as Jean Louise reminisces about her childhood in the town and about her life now. Then about half-way through the plot turns as we discover what Atticus has been up to. Unless you have been living under a rock, then you already know what I’m talking about but if you don’t know then I’ll tell you: He’s a big ole racist.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea: your librarian can help you find the perfect book, or even movie, to fill your needs while you’re waiting for that hot popular title. Come on in to the library to get your ‘same, same, but different’ book!