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!

Best Blue Books

03ca60a16618b63e79a17c0fd3b2bd25Occasionally a library patron will be searching for a book and can only remember that it has a certain colored cover. It’s usually hard to find books just by color, but here’s a group of blue books that you’ll surely want to find. They obviously all have blue covers, but they are also about some sort of human frailty. I’ve read almost all of them in the last month. Mostly, they’re all excellent!

index (1)All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is the one that everyone is talking about and you’ll need to cue up for this New York Times best seller. It is a brilliantly beautiful novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied St. Malo, France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II. That sounds like it’s been written before, doesn’t it? Yet, this book was amazing because of wonderfully complex characters, brilliant writing, a fast-paced tempo, a romantic setting and an interesting plot. I highly recommend it!

indexMoonlight Sonata at the Mayo Clinic by Nora Gallagher was recommended by a co-worker (Thanks, Julie!). It is a poignant memoir about a woman who is healthy and happy and competent but who all of a sudden has vision problems which lead to a spiral into a new life she calls “Oz”: a life full of doctors, medical appointments, and feelings of powerlessness. She also gains a deeper understanding of human frailty and questions her religion and her God. I enjoyed this introspective book about facing disease.

index (2)The Story of Land and Sea is by Katy Simpson Smith who in elegant, lyrical prose, confronts the stark cruelty and hypocrisy of Revolutionary-era slavery, as well as the pain and grief suffered by the powerless and powerful alike. At first, this slim historical novel seems to be this simple story of a Revolutionary-era family, a former sailor whose wife died in childbirth and who is now taking his young daughter to sea in hopes of curing her yellow fever. The story quickly opens up, however, jumping back in time to his wife Helen’s youth on her father’s plantation. There we meet Moll, a slave given to Helen when both were children, and see how uneasily their relationship, a disturbing blend of friendship and mistress-servant obligation, unfolds as they grow up.

index (3)Still Alice by Lisa Genova was also recommended by Julie (I make a habit of asking folks if they’ve read anything good lately). This novel reads like a memoir because Genova has used her own background in Neuroscience at Harvard to create a realistic portrait of 50 year-old Alice Howland who is also a professor of Linguistics at Harvard. When Alice begins to forget things -even words- she must face the horrific possibility that she has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. This book is far from depressing as it clearly explains the testing, treatment options, and symptoms of the disease within the context of an absorbing family drama. It is a very readable primer for anyone touched by Alzheimer’s.

The Light Between Oceans index (4)by M. L. Stedman is the perennial New York Times bestseller soon to be a major motion picture from Spielberg that is “irresistible…seductive…with a high concept plot that keeps you riveted from the first page” (O, The Oprah Magazine). After four years in the Great War, Tom Sherbourne takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on a remote Australian island. His young wife, Isabel, who has suffered two miscarriages and a still-birth, finds a boat washed ashore with a dead man and a live baby. Tom wants to report it straightaway, but Isabel convinces him that Lucy is a ‘gift from God.’ They return to the mainland when Lucy is two and learn that their decision has greatly impacted others. To quote Julie: “Oh my goodness! That was a great book!”

indexindexIf you’ll humor me, I’ll add two more blue books to this list even though I haven’t read them yet: The Vacationers by Emma Straub and Crusoe’s Daughter by Jane Gardam. They’re on my to-be-read pile, they look like great novels and, hey, they’re blue! If you need help finding any of these blue books, just ask your friendly librarians (or Julie) at the Everett Public Library!

Best of 2014: Fiction

It’s that time again. While it seems like only yesterday, 2014 is about to leave us and enter the history books. While there is no denying the passage of time, here at the library we like to make the most of it by reflecting on all the great items we have purchased and sharing our favorites with you. Since we order a lot of material, our list of favorites is pretty long. To make it more manageable for you to digest, here at A Reading Life we are going to publish a post a day this work week conveniently divided by topic.

First up, enjoy this listing of staff fiction favorites from 2014.


The Boy Who Drew Monsters | Keith Donohue
Ten-year-old agoraphobic Jack is housebound and only has one friend, Nick. He lives in a remote and mostly deserted seaside town. It’s frigid December when he begins drawing monsters, which soon begin to haunt the family.

The eerie setting, emotionless characterization, fumbling parents, and Nick’s inability to escape from Jack’s grasp all build to make this quite a page turner. I was reminded of reading The Shining as a teen…and imagining noises in the night!  -Elizabeth

Horrorstor | Grady Hendrix
After strange things start happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, three employees volunteer to work an overnight shift to investigate, but what they discover is more horrifying than they could have imagined.

Orsk is a knock-off Ikea, and that idea is reinforced by the fact that this book’s designed inside & out to look like the iconic Ikea catalog. Anyone who has ever gotten lost inside the maze that is Ikea will be chilled and enthralled by this book. -Carol & Joyce

The Invention of Wings | Sue Kidd Monk
On her 11th birthday, Sarah Grimke is gifted with a slave called Hetty Handful. In this story spanning 35 years, both women become determined to rise above the injustices of their day.

This historical fiction came to life as the author gave voice to both women weaving a wonderful story. -Margo

Karate Chop: Stories | Dorthe Nors
This collection of brief short stories, the first translated into English from this Danish author, feature characters and settings that at first seem mundane. Keep reading and you will discover the extraordinary in the ordinary.

I found the streamlined structure of the stories very appealing. Not a word is out of place as the author explores the odd nuances of everyday human interactions and the often disturbing motivations of those involved. -Richard


On Such a Full Sea | Chang-rae Lee
Set in a dystopian future America, in a world beset with environmental disasters, Chinese workers raise fish and produce for the elites. Fan, a diver in the fish tanks, disrupts this carefully ordered world when she embarks on a search for her boyfriend.

I’m both intrigued at disturbed by near-future dystopian novels. Lee adds another level, as he explores the nature of myths and legends. -Eileen

Shovel Ready | Adam Sternbergh
A dirty bomb explodes in Times Square. The city empties. Spademan, a not-so-lovable protagonist, turns from garbage man into assassin. Rich people plug into virtual reality to avoid reality. Grit, noir, perversion, corrupt religious leaders.

This is one of those rare books that is extremely dark but still seems to contain light. -Ron

Station Eleven | Emily St. John Mandel
Arthur Leander collapses onstage while acting in King Lear. Jeevan tries to help, then gets a call from a doctor friend that a horrific flu pandemic is sweeping the country. Twenty years later we follow a traveling theatre group in the primitive new world

This is not run-of-the-mill predictable dystopian fiction. Artfully switching between past and present, Mandel takes us on a journey of relationships, failures, hopes, and dreams among the characters connected with Leander. -Elizabeth

Summer House with Swimming Pool | Herman Koch
A cabin fever story of a doctor and his family spending a week at a famous star’s extravagant summer home on the Mediterranean. Joined by a rich supporting cast and with hints dropped throughout, the tragedy isn’t long to uncover itself.

The author’s “The Dinner” was a deeply disturbing psychological novel and an international hit. This appeals to the dark side of our nature and is impossible to put down. -Alan


The Free | Willy Vlautin
Award-winning author Willy Vlautin demonstrates his extraordinary talent for confronting issues facing modern America, illuminated through the lives of three memorable characters looking to escape their financial, familial, and existential problems.

I love Willy Vlautin’s spare, poignant, humanistic style. Warning: there’s disturbing stuff in here, but it’s not exploitative. And to a thinking person, the irony of the title is the most disturbing aspect of the book. -Alan

The Painter | Peter Heller
Jim Stegner is a successful artist who appreciates the beauty of the land. He is also plagued with a recurring problem with violence. While trying to stay out of trouble, he witnesses an act of cruelty which causes him to spiral back into his anger.

As in The Dog Stars, Heller really captures the beauty of the western landscape. The lasting impression of this book however, was how he so expertly compels the reader to alternately empathize fully with Jim and then despise him. -Elizabeth

The White Magic Five and Dime : a Tarot Mystery | Steve Hockensmith
Alanis inherits a tarot business in tiny Berdache, Arizona from her estranged mother. She goes to the town in hopes of finding how her mother died, but stays while slowly getting pulled into the world of tarot. Mystery and romance round out this tale.

Hockensmith’s writing style is delightful, the story is filled mystery upon mystery, very fun start of a series. -Ron

You Just Need a Good Book!

Recently Christin Rude from the University of Washington Bookstore came to the Everett Public Library and presented some reading recommendations to the Everett Woman’s Book Club. I have been attacking this list with fervor and have found the books to be not just good, but excellent.

index (19)The first book I picked up was non-fiction. I think we all know what we would learn if we read the book The Shallows: What the internet is Doing to Our Brains. We would find what author Nicholas Carr presents: that books and reading help to focus our minds and promote deep thoughts while the internet, with its rapid, distracted sampling of small bits and pieces, is making us good at scanning and skimming. What we are losing is our capacity for concentration, contemplation, and reflection. We don’t have time to read and even if we did, we’d be too distracted to concentrate.

That is exactly what we’d learn if we had time to read The Shallows. I know I don’t.  I’m too busy with Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and my other online obsessions. Until I find a good book. And, you guys, I have! I have found two from Rude’s list that I’ve read more quickly than any in recent memory because they grabbed me and I was consumed with their worlds. In the interest of fighting Internet distraction, I’d like to share them with you.

index (20)Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin is fabulous. This literary murder mystery won the Gold Dagger Award in 2011 because of wonderfully drawn characters and a setting which sucks you into the world of rural Mississippi of the 1970’s. Silas was the son of a poor, single black mother, and Larry was the child of lower middle-class white parents. Despite the racial tensions of the era, they become friends until a girl goes missing after a date with Larry. She is never found and Larry lives with the suspicion of her murder for years, spending his days as a lonely mechanic and becoming known as ‘Scary Larry’ to the folks in the town. He’s a compelling character as he visits his mother daily and keeps her chickens (named after the first ladies) and home up, all the while just hoping for a friend. His boyhood friend Silas returns after many years to become the town ‘constable’ who must investigate a new murder. It turns out that Silas does know something of the long ago murder and what he has left unsaid impacts his life and that of many others. Read this book if you want an engrossing novel which you will contemplate and reflect upon for many days.

index (1)The second book I read from Rude’s list has been a runaway number one best-seller in France and is the first work translated into English by author Gregoire Delacourt. My Wish List  is the story of Jocelyne, a wife and mother living in a small French town. She runs a haberdashery and writes a successful crafting blog. Her best friends work at the hairdressers next door and dream of winning big on the Euromillions. Convinced that Jocelyne will get a taste for their lottery habit, they encourage her to buy a ticket and, amazingly, Jocelyne wins 18 million euros. Before cashing her winnings, Jocelyne begins to list her ‘desires’ which are mostly simple, everyday objects.  She ponders whether money can truly bring happiness. Should she cash the check? Or will having such a large sum of money cause more problems than it solves?

My Wish List made me contemplate just how much influence money has over our lives, not just the opportunities it can afford but also affecting how you are perceived by others and whether it is healthy to be able to afford everything you wish for. From the opening sentence to the closing message, it was a literary, yet very accessible book. Touching and heart-wrenching, My Wish List lives up to the hype surrounding it. It is a well crafted and all-consuming novel.

I am looking forward to reading more books on Rude’s list and perhaps sharing them with you. But right now, I gotta go check my Facebook page. Squirrel!

Top Ten Books That Have Stayed With Us

If you’re on Facebook and have friends who read, you may have come across the recent meme which asks you to list the top ten books that have influenced and stayed with you in some way. You’re not supposed to think hard about this or take too long to do it. Just list ten!

I thought that it would be interesting to conduct a (very unscientific) poll of the library staff to see which books have stayed with us as a whole. The results included a lot of children’s books and that might be because we tend to read these books at a very impressionable age. Favorite books from these years are more likely to lodge themselves deeply into our memories. It’s probable that the book that made you love reading was a children’s book because that’s when you first had an all-night, under-the-covers, flashlight-lit reading binge.

So what did I do with my responses? I tallied them up, of course, and rated them by their popularity. That, unfortunately, left many favorites by the wayside. I have included a quote from each book that got at least two votes. Here they are in all of their glory:

index (1)The Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder was the clear winner with a total of four votes. “The real things haven’t changed. It is still best to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasures; and have courage when things go wrong.”  I read the whole series over and over again and it was pure pleasure to read about a young girl who was happy to have an orange at Christmas.

index (3)Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maude Montegomery was a close second with three votes. Anne, an eleven-year-old orphan, is sent to live with a lonely, middle-aged brother and sister on a Prince Edward Island farm and proceeds to make an indelible impression on everyone around her. This series would make an excellent family read-aloud. Anne: “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?”

index (4)The Hobbit, or, There and Back Again by J.R.R. Tolkien was right up there with Anne and that’s no surprise. This book is a glorious account of a magnificent adventure, filled with suspense and seasoned with a quiet humor that is irresistible. “In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit” until the day the wandering wizard Gandalf chooses him to take part in an adventure from which he may never return.

index (5)Rounding out the three vote category is (gasp!) an adult book: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. This is a humorous memoir of a Scottish vet who roamed the remote Yorkshire Dales treating every patient that came his way, from smallest to largest, and observing animals and humans alike with his keen eye. “If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.” This is superb comfort reading.

There were many, many books with one vote, but these are the ones which got two votes (in alphabetical order):

index (6)Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy isn’t one that I read as a child, but it was one I read in college and the one that taught me to love great literary works. It has been described as the best novel ever written and is considered flawless by many. Anna Karenina tells the story of the doomed love affair between the sensuous, rebellious Anna and the dashing officer, Count Vronsky. “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

index (7)Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, the author of Stuart Little, is a classic of children’s literature that is just about perfect.  “Some Pig. Humble. Radiant.” These are the words in Charlotte’s web, high up in Zuckerman’s barn. Charlotte’s spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter. E. B. White’s Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that will continue to be enjoyed by generations to come.

index (8)The Harry Potter series was THE most popular on Facebook, but just one of our books with two votes. We must be older. This is the book that ushered in an entire generation of readers, my children included. You know the plot: Harry is an orphan who lives a rather dismal life until he gets a message from an owl which summons him to a life of magic and quidditch at Hogwart’s School. “The truth is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with caution.”

index (10)The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams was perhaps the first Sci-Fi book you read. Seconds before the Earth is demolished for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is saved by Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised Guide. Together they stick out their thumbs, travel to the stars and begin a wild journey through time and space. You either love this or put it down like a hot potato. “So long, and thanks for all the fish.”

index (11)I read all of the Nancy Drew Series the summer before fourth grade and oh, how I loved Nancy and Ned! This series had an enormous impact on the popular imagination because it features a female main character who is smart and brave and rescues her boyfriend instead of the other way around. These books were so much better than the Hardy boys. “Nancy, every place you go, it seems as if mysteries just pile up one after another.”

indexPaddle-To-The-Sea  is a 1942 Caldecott Honor Book written and illustrated by Holling Clancy Holling. At Lake Nipigon Canada, a native boy carves a wooden model of an Indian in a canoe and sets it free to travel the Great Lakes to the Atlantic ocean. The story follows the progress of the little wooden Indian on its journey through all five Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River, finally arriving at the Atlantic Ocean. “Put me back into the water for I am Paddle-to-the Sea.” 

So, there you have it. Perhaps you can get some of these books into the hands of an impressionable reader, or would even like to re-read them yourself. I can’t leave you without giving you my own personal list. I love each and every one of these!

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Must Reads for Summer 2014


There are good and bad things about working in a library. The good: all of the great books that you discover and get to read. The bad: all of the great books that you don’t have time to read. We all have excuses and these are mine: full-time work and a toddler who just turned two years old and a baby who is ten months old. Oh yeah, and a house and garden and that guy I married 33 years ago. So, I often feel like that funny old bird the pelican whose beak holds more than his belly can. I have a beak full of great reads these days which may interest you if you’re participating in the summer reading program at the Everett Public Library or if you’re lucky enough to be planning a vacation and need a good book to take along. This list has a little bit of everything so there may be just the right book for you. Let’s start with non-fiction.

indexCA1ADCTLFlash Boys: a Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis is on my list since I read Boomerang and I thought that it was the bomb. This guy also wrote Moneyball and The Blind Side and other excellent books. It reads like a John Grisham novel, but it’s a true story about stock exchanges, high frequency traders, and dark pools. The author is great at explaining complicated technical subjects and telling a good story around them. I want to read it!

indexCA63IMS4Leonardo and the Last Supper has been by my bedside for a few weeks now. It’s excellent! I was an art history major in college and I’ve learned so much more from this book about the creation of this Renaissance masterpiece. Mr. King has managed to focus on a particular theme and give the reader as much information as needed to really understand it. Another of his earlier books accomplished the same thing, Brunelleschi’s Dome, which I can also recommend.

indexCAAEEVC8The President and the Assassin: McKinley, terror, and Empire at the Dawn of the American Century is a great book (obvious from the first chapter) by Seattle author, Scott Miller. He creates a portrait of turn of the century America going back and forth between an under-appreciated president, William McKinley and his anarchist assassin, Leon Czolgosz. This was a time when the powerful were growing more powerful and desperate men turned to terrorism. Sound familiar?

And now for some fiction:

index (16)I have to read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie because my daughter heard her give a talk recently in Copenhagen and apparently it’s wonderful. The author takes on immigration, race, and what it means to leave home and to return, all wrapped up in a love story. Adichie has also written Half of a Yellow Sun and Purple Hibiscus. The first chapter alone is marvelous. Let’s all get with it and read this one.

indexCAZNZBA7The Care of Wooden Floors by Will WIles was recommended to me by two co-workers so I checked it out and my husband read it while we were on vacation. Even though I couldn’t read it, he confirmed that it is funny and interesting and a good book.  It’s an odd couple story of a fellow who house sits for a composer friend. He accidentally spills wine on the apartment’s priceless wooden floor and endures a disastrous week of perfectionist repair and maintenance.

index (1)Delicious! is by Ruth Reichl. I’ve read all of her memoirs from Garlic and Sapphires to Tender at the Bone. This is her first attempt at fiction and she certainly writes about what she knows: the heroine is a woman who works for a venerable food magazine that suddenly ceases publication. It looks like a pretty fun and fast read, and if you’re looking for a souffle-type novel, you could do worse! Plus, the cover is lovely.

indexBroken Harbor is Tana French’s new ‘Dublin Murder Squad’ crime novel and it’s supposed to be every bit as brilliant as her three earlier books featuring that tough cop, Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy. This is a murder story which seems easy to solve at first until the details don’t add up. Read this one to get the atmosphere of an Ireland hit hard by the recession, an idea of police procedure and to become engrossed in a well written who dunnit.

index (1)The Possibilities is written by Kaui Hart Hemmings who also wrote The Descendants. You’ll remember that movie with George Clooney. This new book follows a similar theme of family and loss and is set in the paradise of Breckenridge, Colorado. A single mom is grieving the loss of her son, Cully, in an avalanche when a strange girl shows up with a secret from Cully’s past.

indexThe Vacationers by Emma Straub  will take you all the way to the beaches of Spain, where a family’s dramas are set against the beautiful background of a lush vacation. It will leave you feeling like you were just on a family trip — laughing, exhausted and filled with love.

So, check out one of these books to take on your next vacation or simply read one for a great ‘staycation’. Either way, enjoy!

Best of 2013: Fiction

It’s hard to believe, but 2013 is about to enter into our collective memory. Before we boldly go into the new year, it is important to take a moment to remember the significant events of the past year. For us here at the library that means remembering the many books, films and albums that we encountered int 2013. To that end, we are publishing a series of posts highlighting some of our favorites from the past year. Today we start with the ever popular fiction category. Prepare for your “to read” list to get much longer.


The Circle  |  Dave Eggers
When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime.  What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.

This is a frightening modern 1984 where privacy is theft and the corporation becomes our pseudo-family.  – Esta

Dreams and Shadows  |  C. Robert Cargill
A brilliantly crafted modern tale from acclaimed film critic and screenwriter C. Robert Cargill — part Neil Gaiman, part Guillermo Del Toro, part William S. Burroughs — that charts the lives of two boys from their star-crossed childhood in the realm of magic and mystery to their anguished adulthoods

Cargill’s style of writing blends folklore, mythology, fantasy, and a wonderfully sarcastic sense of humor. – Lisa

The Golem and the Jinni: A Novel  |  Helene Wecker
Chava, a golem brought to life by a disgraced rabbi, and Ahmad, a jinni made of fire, form an unlikely friendship on the streets of New York until a fateful choice changes everything.

Wecker’s descriptions of turn-of-the-century New York are just magical. –Lisa

Insane City  |  Dave Barry
Astonished by his imminent marriage to a woman he believed out of his league, Seth flies to their destination wedding in Florida only to be swept up in a maelstrom of violence involving rioters, Russian gangsters, angry strippers, and a desperate python.

The story cannot possibly get any more complex or ridiculous and then it does.  And then again. – Ron


Seiobo There Below  |  László Krasznahorkai
A torrent of hypnotic, lyrical prose, Krasznahorkai’s novel explores the process of seeing and representation, tackling notions of the sublime and the holy as they exist in art.

The tone of the writing is refreshingly original. Seiobo There Below puts you in the presence of a keen intelligence and sensibility. – Scott

The Infatuations  |   Javier Marías
From the award-winning Spanish writer Javier Maras comes an extraordinary new book that has been a literary sensation around the world: an immersive, provocative novel propelled by a seemingly random murder that we come to understand — or do we? — through one woman’s ever-unfurling imagination and infatuations.

This is a thought-provoking look at the inscrutability of desire, motivation, and what Kant has termed ‘radical evil.’  It also includes some tremendous writing about a grief observed. – Scott

Tenth of December  |  George Saunders
A collection of stories which includes “Home,” a wryly whimsical account of a soldier’s return from war; “Victory lap,” a tale about an inventive abduction attempt; and the title story, in which a suicidal cancer patient saves the life of a young misfit.

Saunders brings it all: flesh-and-blood characters, inventive plots, vivid settings, and spot-on language. – Scott

Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales  |  Yoko Ogawa
Sinister forces collide – and unite a host of desperate characters – in this eerie cycle of interwoven tales. Murderers and mourners, mothers and children, lovers and innocent bystanders – their fates converge in an ominous and darkly beautiful web.

I’ve always been a fan of Ogawa’s sparse prose, which draws you in, gives you a false sense of security, and then yanks the rug out from under you. – Richard


Deadbeat – Makes You Stronger  |  Guy Adams
Two old friends witness what they think is a living person being put into a coffin and carried out of a funeral home. They attempt to unravel the mystery around this tableau.

Each character narrates at different times and the story is filled with surprises. – Ron

Little Elvises  |  Timothy Hallinan
A crook, who acts as a detective for other crooks, tries to clear a record producer/possible mafia guy of murder. The producer’s claim to fame: a troop of attractive, untalented male singers in the early 60’s.

The protagonist is a criminal who has never been caught, sort of a Robin Hood type, and this makes for a spin on noir detective writing. – Ron

The Rosie Project  |  Graeme C. Simsion
Don, a professor of genetics, sets up a project designed to find him the perfect wife, starting with a questionnaire that has to be adjusted a little as he goes along. Then he meets Rosie, who is everything he’s not looking for in a wife…

An amazing debut novel written with warmth and intelligence, filled with laugh out loud moments and loveable characters… an entertaining feel-good romantic comedy. – Andrea

T.C. Boyle Stories II  |  T. Coraghessan Boyle
You can curl up and delight in this collection of 58 stories by a master storyteller, including 14 previously unpublished stories.  Whether it’s about facing mortality, first love, or fighting to survive, T.C. Boyle crafts a vibrant dramatic story.

You will be swept away by the power of his writing–there is every human emotion in these stories: fear, tenderness, savagery, longing.  This emotional storm is balanced with Boyle’s amazing sense of sarcasm, humor and irony. – Esta


The Illusion of Separateness  |  Simon Van Booy
Six seemingly unconnected people that are linked in ways not revealed to the characters and only slowly revealed to the reader.  A tender story told in an unusual way.

This is beautifully written with passages I read and then read again to savor.  Loved it from start to finish. – Teri

The Cuckoo’s Calling  |  Robert Galbraith, aka J.K. Rowling
Working as a private investigator after losing his leg in Afghanistan, Cormoran Strike takes the case of a supermodel’s suspicious suicide & finds himself in a world of millionaire beauties, rock-star boyfriends, desperate designers and hedonist pursuits.

I confess I placed my hold after the author’s true identity was revealed. But I am a sucker for old-school gumshoe PI mysteries and this one fits the bill. Hopefully this is the start of a series! – Carol

The Burgess Boys  |  Elizabeth Strout
A teen loner impulsively commits a hate crime — he places a pig’s head in the doorway of a mosque in a quiet Maine town. His actions upend his family and force them to confront their own repressed emotions and traumas of the past.

The story is filled with so much compassion and revelation that you almost fall in love with each character! – Esta

The Interestings  |  Meg Wolitzer
In the 1970’s, a group of six young adults vow to be true to their creativity and to stay connected. Their bonds carry them through years of trial and trauma into the present.

This is a saga of an era of social unrest and change. We can savor the details of each character’s exploration of their own sexuality, fears, and ambitions. – Esta

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves  |  Karen Joy Fowler
Rosemary grows up with a very peculiar and unusual sister, and years later she mourns the loss when Fern disappears. The family starts to crumble with anger and retribution as older brother Lowell becomes a radical animal-rights activist.

A dark story that bursts with surprises and secrets revealed, as it questions what it is to be human or animal. – Esta

Life After Life  |  Kate Atkinson
Ursula Todd is born on a cold snowy day in 1910, and dies before drawing her first breath. Almost immediately she is reborn on that same day. And so goes this novel of what ifs, as Ursula and her family continue to wend their way through the century.

Compelling characters and a fascinating plot — plus the most amazing chapter on the London blitz. You’ll feel as if you were there.— Eileen