Lives will never be the same again in Rachel Joyce’s Perfect when, in the summer of 1972, two 11-year-old boys convince themselves that the British government is adding two seconds to that year. Byron, a heartfelt husky lad, admires his lone friend, James, for his intelligence and diligent approach to life. When James informs him of this addition to time, Byron has no reason to doubt him.
However, when Byron witnesses a shocking incident within these extra seconds, the repercussions prove costly for everyone surrounding him, especially his captivating mother, Diana. Although she delights in nature, theater and small kindnesses, Byron’s thoughtful observations detect a deeper sadness under his mother’s delicate repose. Her husband expects her to dress in the refined styles of the ‘50s and lavishes gifts upon her, like a brand new Jaguar, for the sole purpose of instilling envy in the community.
Fast-forward two decades and we encounter Jim, a man living in a dilapidated trailer who is plagued by obsessive compulsive tendencies. Although he is well-meaning, his stuttering and fear of disasters keep him from developing any real relationships with others. As these alternating stories escalate, the two seconds become more mysterious and questionable, yet are vital to these seemingly unrelated plots in this latest work by the author of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.
The Impossible Knife of Memory, Laurie Halse Anderson’s latest teen novel, tells the story of Hayley Kincain and her father. Hayley’s mother died when she was a baby, and ever since it’s just been Hayley and her dad. When Hayley’s father returns from war with severe post-traumatic stress disorder, her life gets turned upside down. In order to deal with the memories that haunt him, he becomes a truck driver, driving all over the country trying to outrun his memories. After years of homeschooling Hayley on the road, he decides they should move back to his hometown. Since they set out on the road years before, Hayley has had to be the responsible one, taking care of herself and her father. She hopes that moving home will mean that their life will settle down. Her father isn’t getting better at home either. He continues to self-medicate his PTSD with drugs and alcohol, forcing Hayley to run the house and keep her teachers and friends from noticing.
At school, Hayley struggles to deal with her zombie-like classmates and teachers who don’t accept her unorthodox education. Her only friend is Gracie, a friend from elementary school who barely remembers her. Finn, another classmate, has made it his mission to get Hayley to write for the school newspaper in order to become closer to her. As she begins to fall for Finn, her father takes a turn for the worse and her life falls to pieces.
Much like Anderson’s earlier novel Speak, The Impossible Knife of Memory deals with many heavy themes. Hayley’s distinct voice and vibrant personality make her a character readers will identify with and remember long after they finish the book.
Blogger, mom and wife, and, in her own words, “recovering Jesus Freak,” Addie Zierman writes the story of her evangelical adolescence and young adulthood in When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over. Raised by parents who belonged to an evangelical church, Addie caught “fire” in her sophomore year of high school when she and her friends became devout Christians, first joining and then creating their own Bible study group at their high school. These were the 1990s, the days of WWJD?, mission trips to save lost souls and contemporary Christian pop music.
Divided into four sections, Zierman provides the reader with a glimpse into the mind of a young evangelical woman who believes she knows the path that her God has put forth. Pressing her along this journey is Chris, a young man three years older, who seems to Addie to have it all figured out. But as she eventually realizes, nothing she does is holy enough for Chris while he is in his own state of “fire,” and they part on bad terms. This breakup points Zierman toward her disillusionment with her beliefs; nonetheless, she enrolls in a conservative Christian college in the Twin Cities. She meets the love of her life, Andrew, who shares Addie’s propensity for standing out from the rest of their classmates. After their marriage, failed attempts to find a church that has everything they’re looking for results in her rebellion against everything. This includes forays into alcohol abuse, a minor infidelity and previously undiagnosed depression. Ultimately, she finds redemption in creating a spiritual center that is right for herself and her family.
Conversationally composed, with very little religious jargon that might bother the casual reader, When We Were on Fire is an exceptional memoir. Relatable to anyone who has ever become fixated on a topic, whether it involves matters of faith, a romantic interest or otherwise, Addie Zierman’s work makes her a writer to watch.
The Today Show reinstated its book club in 2013, and the first two selections went on to be bestsellers. The newest selection is Under the Wide and Starry Sky by Nancy Horan, a fascinating portrayal of the unknown woman behind a famous man. In her new novel, Horan reimagines the lives of author Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny Van de Grift Osbourne. Although most of us are familiar with Stevenson’s work, few people know about the smart, independent woman who was his wife.
Fanny decides to leave her husband and her life in San Francisco behind to start over. Along with her three children, she travels to Belgium planning to study art. After a tragedy occurs during her travels, Fanny goes to an artists’ retreat in France where she meets Louis, a Scottish man 10 years her junior. Louis is captivated by the beautiful, opinionated and brash American woman. Although she is initially resistant to her suitor, eventually Louis wins her over, and their tumultuous love affair begins. The story takes them across Europe and America and through the South Pacific.
Many readers will remember Horan’s wildly popular first novel Loving Frank, which was the story of Frank Lloyd Wright’s love affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney. Horan says that she is led to these women by first becoming fascinated by the men’s lives. She shares more about what inspires her to write about the lives of these fascinating women in this video.
On Jan. 31, many will celebrate the first day of the Chinese New Year and welcome in the Year of the Horse. It is a time to let go of the troubles of the past year, to clear one’s debts and to start anew. These tenets are found in Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim, a delightful picture book illustrated by Grace Zong.
A retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Yim’s tale is set in a Chinese town, the bears are pandas and the porridge is congee. Despite her name, Goldy Luck does not feel all that lucky. While on her errand to wish her neighbors a happy new year, Goldy spills the plate of turnip cakes she had been carrying. Her neighbors, the Chens, are not home, and when Goldy tries to clean up the mess she discovers bowls of congee – a porridge made of rice. Following the traditional story, she ends up eating the porridge, breaking a chair and sleeping in a bed that is just right. When discovered by the neighbors, she runs away. Will the tenets of the new year bring Goldy back to the Chens’ to set things right? And can she reconcile her differences with Little Chen? Children will love the familiarity of the story and the colorful illustrations. A recipe for turnip cakes can be found in the back to add to your own celebration of the new year.
If you would like to celebrate Chinese New Year at the library, please visit our Owings Mills Branch at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1. Children ages 5 to 12 will enjoy stories and a craft. For more information on this and other programs, please refer to our dateLines page.
It’s hard work for picture book protagonists to get a decent meal these days. In Buddy and the Bunnies in: Don’t Play with Your Food, our hero is a monster to be reckoned with. All frantic mouth and teeth, wide eyes and pointy claws, Buddy announces his intention to eat a trio of peaceful, checkers-playing white rabbits. But these clever lagomorphs have other ideas for keeping Buddy busy, beginning with playing hide and seek and baking a dozen delicious cupcakes. Each day the horned, orange-striped monster returns for a rabbit repast, and each day there are more bunnies who are too much fun to eat. Children are guaranteed to laugh out loud at Buddy’s wild mood swings, from frightening and frantic to endearing and delighted, broadly depicted by author-illustrator Bob Shea. His bold, bright pastel palette adds to the story’s upbeat, energetic tone. Buddy and the Bunnies demands repeat read-alouds.
The trench-coated fox of Mike Twohy’s Outfoxed makes a midnight run to the chicken coop, mistakenly grabbing a duck in his haste. The two return to his den, where the exhausted predator is all set to cook his prey. But this is no ordinary duck! Thinking on her feet, the fowl proclaims that she is actually a dog. Duck jumps and slobbers and barks, working hard to convince Fox of her worthiness as a canine companion. Twohy, a longtime cartoonist for The New Yorker, uses a brightly inked comic book style to tell this comedy of mistaken identity. Young readers are sure to delight at Duck’s misbehaving dog act, while the book invites a debate of the merits of the old saying “if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” Outfoxed is sure to be a story time favorite.
When Piper enlisted a local chef to do a cooking demonstration at the grand opening of her spice shop, she had no idea the troubles it would stir up. Chef Barrone and Piper have difficulty seeing eye-to-eye, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t horrified to find him dead the morning of his big demo. Unfortunately for Piper, all the evidence points to her as the murderer and in a small, gossip-ridden town, this can make all the difference to a new business owner.
As a recent divorcee, Piper is trying to find her livelihood through her spice shop, but what should be an exciting time is marred by the town’s suspicions of her murdering Barrone. This, mixed with the fact that she is trying to maintain a relationship with her daughter while beginning to date, is a recipe for pandemonium.
In order to clear her good name and get back to her normal life, Piper enlists the help of her best friend, Reba Mae, to unofficially aid the new chief of police in the murder investigation. Their hapless efforts turn out to be more like Lucy and Ethel than Cagney and Lacey.
Gail Oust creates a cozy mystery in Rosemary and Crime. She combines a dollop of mystery with a dash of southern living and a sprinkle of romance for a recipe that is sure to please those who like a nice light mystery. For those readers who have a taste for Oust, be sure to check out the Bunco Babes mysteries.
Lene Kaaberbøl’s Death of a Nightingale begins with Olga and Oxana, two sisters growing up in the Ukraine during the time when Stalin was considered their uncle, whether they liked it or not. During that time, it was hard to tell what was right and what was wrong because regardless of what one did, there was someone who said it was wrong. Olga and Oxana‘s family did what it had to do to get by during famine, but it’s not until years later that the reader sees the ripples of the sisters’ actions.
In the current day, Nina, a Danish nurse with the Red Cross, has taken charge of looking after the asthmatic daughter of Natasha, a woman who was convicted of attempting to kill her abusive fiancé. When Nina agreed to take extra care of this young girl, she didn’t realize protecting her from harm could include keeping her safe from people trying to kill or kidnap her. She becomes entangled in a situation far more dangerous than she could have imagined.
The timing coincides with Natasha’s escape from custody as she sets off to find her daughter and right the wrongs of her past. It is after Natasha’s escape that her ex-fiancé is found tortured and killed in a similar fashion to her ex-husband’s. Although police suspect Natasha, Nina has suspicions that something more is going on. Now she becomes ensnared with keeping Katerina safe at all costs, even if that means saving her from her own mother.
It’s not until the end of this roller coaster of a novel that the reader sees how Olga and Oxana’s past actions have created this tense situation. Though this novel can be read as a stand-alone book, it’s the third in the Nina Borg series. Those who enjoy Nordic crime novels such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are sure to find edge-of-your-seat satisfaction with this series as well.
When you are harboring a sinister secret, who better to hear the confession than a convicted murderer on death row? In Annabel Pitcher’s new teen novel, Ketchup Clouds, that’s what British teenager Zoe is doing as a cathartic way of telling what happened when she became romantically involved with two brothers and ultimately was responsible for the death of one of them.
To sort out her thoughts and feelings, Zoe begins writing to Mr. Stuart Harris, who killed his wife in a jealous rage and is awaiting execution in Texas. Through a series of letters, Zoe (which is not her real name) chronicles her seemingly typical teen drama of the previous year. There was rising tension at her home, due in part to her father’s unemployment and her mother’s control issues. At a party, she met an amazingly unique guy, Aaron. What she didn’t realize until later was that Aaron was Max’s older brother – Max being the guy she is semi-enthusiastically dating. As the story progresses, her true feelings about Aaron and Max and the series of events leading to Max’s death come to light, as do some missing pieces of her family’s history. Suspense builds as Stuart’s looming execution date coincides with the anniversary of Max’s death.
Pitcher’s first novel, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, was highly acclaimed for its down-to-earth approach to a unique premise, and in Ketchup Clouds she likewise employs engaging, candid writing to solve a compelling mystery: Why does Zoe feel she’s to blame for Max’s death? A refreshingly honest character with a unique outlook on the world, Zoe will resonate with teen and adult readers as someone struggling toward resolution after long internalizing her fear and guilt.
Mark your calendars for an exciting literary event! Author April Smith will visit the Perry Hall Branch at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 9 to talk about her new novel, A Star for Mrs. Blake.
In 1929, Congress passed the Pilgrimage Bill, a piece of legislation that allocated $5 million to help mothers and widows of fallen World War I soldiers travel to France to visit their graves. During the project, 6,693 women made the journey to their loved ones’ graves. Cora Blake is a single mother whose 16-year-old son lied about his age to enlist in the Army near the end of the war. He was killed in action, and she made the difficult decision to have him buried in France. In 1931, Cora is invited to travel to France with a group of American Gold Star Mothers to visit her son’s grave. Although the mothers come from very different backgrounds, they share the common link of their lost sons. The novel follows Cora and her group on their remarkable journey, which changes their lives in surprising and indelible ways.
This beautiful story would be an excellent choice for book clubs. Smith brings this little-known piece of American history to light with warmth and sensitivity. The novel, which is a departure from Smith’s Ana Grey mystery series, is getting a lot of national media attention, and BCPL is delighted to offer our customers this opportunity to meet Smith and learn more about this fascinating story.