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Survival Games

Survival Games

posted by:
June 12, 2012 - 8:01am

What They Do in the DarkTrauma in childhood assumes many forms. This message resonates loudly through multiple characters in Amanda Coe’s debut novel, What They Do in the Dark. Two school girls, Gemma and Pauline, live in the same rough Yorkshire neighborhood but inhabit different worlds. Gemma comes from a financially stable yet broken family, while Pauline grows up in abject poverty with an abusive mother.  Through a random playground encounter, the two girls become reluctant acquaintances and find a strange brand of stability in each other.  As the story evolves, however, their partnership becomes more volatile. Other characters’ stories, including those of a child television star and a bullied classmate, become interwoven and, in Lord of the Flies-fashion, tragedy ensues. 

 

A screenwriter, Coe does an excellent job setting the scene. Readers experience the grittiness of a working-class neighborhood in England, witness the cruelty that poorly supervised school-aged children can inflict on one another, and are confronted with the dangers facing any child who lacks a social safety net. The terse and plain-spoken dialogue between the characters also lends to the tension and instability that exist. 

 

This book does take patience. The plot is subtle. The chapters are short and at first provide seemingly random snapshots into the two girls’ and other characters’ lives. But for readers who stick with the book, all of these pieces evolve into a darker and more complex tale. Much like Emma Donoghue’s Room or Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, both of which focus on children raised in violent and dysfunctional environments, this story leaves a strong and unsettling impression. 

Melanie

 
 

Five Wedding Guests and a Bride Named Bee Fee

The SinglesBee Evans is due to marry Matt Fee in a swanky Maryland wedding and wants all of her friends to enjoy themselves with a date. But her single friends have other ideas and return their cards without marking plus one. The Singles by Meredith Goldstein invites you to a wedding weekend filled with guests who are memorable and likeable. 

 

Hannah, Vicki, and Rob went to college with Bee and all three are harboring some deeper emotions. Hannah is nervous about seeing her college sweetheart, Tom, for the first time since he dumped her.  Rob won’t admit his feelings for Hannah, and misses the wedding because of a sick dog.  He is a virtual guest, following the ceremony and reception through phone calls and texts. Vicki suffers from depression and travels with a seasonal affective disorder light. The remaining two singles are not from the gang’s college days. The bride's uncle Joe is not a favorite of the mother-of-the-bride, but is interested in younger women – particularly Vicki. Finally there is Phil, who wasn’t even invited to the wedding. He is standing in for his mother, a friend of the groom’s parents, who is sick and hiding a secret from her son. 

 

The story unfolds from each character’s alternating perspective, and many of the scenes will have you laughing out loud while noting the transformation each character undergoes.  This is a debut novel from Goldstein, the popular LoveLetters advice columnist for The Boston Globe. Her column/blog gets nearly 1,000,000 page hits a month. If you need advice or love reading about others’ romantic entanglements visit here.  

 

Have fun mingling with these singles and start thinking about casting ideas. Film rights have already been sold!

Maureen

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Prelude to a Canticle

Prelude to a Canticle

posted by:
June 8, 2012 - 6:01am

After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the FallIt wasn’t dark. It wasn’t light. It wasn’t anything except cold. 

‘I’m dead,’ thought Pete.

But of course, he wasn’t.

 

From the first page and as effortlessly as a beam of light slipping through panes of glass, author Nancy Kress eases the reader into a remarkable narrative of many faces. Simple and compelling, atheistic and allegorical, neither utopian nor dystopian, After the Fall, Before the Fall, During the Fall is a story of humanity in incubation.

 

After (2035): Earth’s fragile population consists of 19 humans living in captivity: five Survivors of the Fall, six genetically mutated and infertile offspring, and seven exquisitely precious Grab children. To each, the smooth walls of the Shell represent a prison and a home. At 15, Pete is among the oldest of the Six and one of the few children born to the original 25 Survivors. In ten minutes time, he will risk his life to save humanity – again.

 

Before (2013): Mathematician Julie Kahn has been collaborating for months with the FBI, tracking a tenuous pattern of mysteriously linked kidnappings and burglaries occurring along the eastern coast of the United States. A few hysterical parents babble incoherently about their babies having been snatched by misshapen teenagers before disappearing in dazzling streaks of light. Their sputtering accounts are largely ignored, except by Julie and Gordon, her FBI contact and onetime lover. Following a complex algorithm she’s devised, the next attempt may be the kidnappers’ last.

 

During (2014): Beneath the soil and all around the world, tiny mutations begin to occur almost simultaneously in the bacteria surrounding the root systems of clover, grass and other diverse plant life. By the time a low swell of awareness of the rapidly increasing dead zones boils into full blown paranoia, it will be too late for the humanity that was.

 

In this Janus-styled tale, Kress weaves together the converging paths of these very different slices of humankind. Juxtaposing contemporary characters such as Julie Khan against those stripped of the context of a complex society, such as Pete, Kress brings an unusual focus to the pause between disaster and rebuilding, after the fall of a society and before its rebirth. One notable trend in the sci-fi genre in recent years has been a tendency to employ near-future settings as narrative backdrops – scenarios which could conceivably come to pass in a generation or so. Here, Kress takes this trend one bold step beyond many of her peers by incorporating a disquietingly immediate future (2014) as the stage for the Fall itself. A cautionary tale as much as a work of science fiction, this title will have widespread appeal among readers of diverse reading habits. Those who have enjoyed Walter Miller’s timeless A Canticle for Leibowitz may particularly appreciate the cyclical nature of Kress’ narrative and her treatment of humanity in stasis, before the cycle begins again.

Meghan

 
 

On Love and Fate

On Love and Fate

posted by:
June 8, 2012 - 2:01am

OverseasOverseas, the sweeping debut novel by Beatriz Williams, begins in France in 1916 where a young woman named Kate is desperately trying to contact a British soldier named Julian Ashford to warn him not to take his patrol. The novel then picks up in New York City in 2007 where Kate Wilson, a financial analyst working on Wall Street, meets Julian Laurence, a legendary young hedge fund billionaire. Their attraction is instant. As Kate falls for Julian, she begins to feel that there is more to him than meets the eye. What follows is a genre-bending novel that smoothly brings history, suspense, and time travel together in a charming love story.

 

Williams says that the story for Overseas was born when the image of a British WWI officer transported to modern Manhattan took root in her mind. How would this man deal with the modern world? How would he handle a relationship with a modern woman? In Overseas, Williams explores the answers to those questions. Fans of Susanna Kearsley and Diana Gabaldon will want to try this exciting debut.

 

Williams has had a life-long interest WWI-era British history. She says that she was fascinated by the time period long before Downton Abbey brought it to the rest of the world’s attention. She read and fell in love with Vera Brittain’s classic war memoir Testament of Youth while she was in college. Williams was intrigued by this Brittain’s experiences as a nurse and her descriptions of the harsh reality of WWI. Read more about how historical facts informed this novel here.    

Beth

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Ray Bradbury, 1920-2012

Fahrenheit 451The Martian ChroniclesOn Tuesday, it was announced that legendary science fiction author Ray Bradbury had passed away at age 91. A long-time supporter of libraries and librarians, Bradbury's most famous and sometimes considered controversial work, Fahrenheit 451, remains a perennial choice of summer reading lists, the canon of 20th-century literature, and a target of book banners. Bradbury began writing that celebrated novel in the basement of a library. His writings ranged from short stories, screenplays, and novels such as the haunting Something Wicked This Way Comes and the beloved coming-of-age title Dandelion Wine.

 

Another of Bradbury's classics is The Martian Chronicles, a collection of short stories that, using thinly-veiled references to the Cold War, had people guessing who was colonizing whom. Through science fictional constructs, Bradbury excelled at forcing humans to look at the decisions they make. Elegies have come in from many sources, as far ranging as Neil Gaiman, Steven Spielberg, Stephen King, and President Obama.

Todd

 
 

What Happened to Bridget Jones?

What Happened to Bridget Jones?

posted by:
June 5, 2012 - 2:01am

Wife 22Melanie Gideon's new novel Wife 22 will speak to readers who loved Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary and wondered what Bridget’s life would be like today.

 

William and Alice Buckle met and fell in love while working at an advertising firm. They got married, had two kids, and fell into their life together. Now they have two teenagers and have been married twenty years, but they have been drifting apart for a while. Alice works part-time as a drama teacher and dreams of the life that she might have had as a playwright. William still works in advertising, but he has become increasingly distant from Alice. One day, when Alice receives an email asking her to be part of a marriage study, she agrees to participate. To ensure her privacy, she will be known as Wife 22, and her contact will be Researcher 101. She corresponds heavily with Researcher 101, and the anonymity of the study lets her open up to him in ways that she can’t with anyone else. Alice begins to flirt with Researcher 101, and she wonders about what it would be like to meet him and experience the spark that's been lacking in her marriage to William for so long.

 

Gideon tells Alice's story in narrative, emails, Facebook chats and posts, and as the script of Alice's new play. The result is a relatable tale about modern life as a wife and mother whose life is both better and worse than she dreamed it would be. The movie rights to Wife 22 were recently acquired by Working Title Films, so it may come to a theater near you someday!

Beth

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Love, Italian-American Style!

Love, Italian-American Style!

posted by:
June 4, 2012 - 5:01am

The Shoemaker's WifeBestseller Adriana Trigiani delivers again with The Shoemaker’s Wife, an epic love story centered on the immigrant experience in the early twentieth century. The novel opens in the Italian Alps, where Ciro Lazzari and Enza Ravanelli live in nearby villages. They don’t meet until Ciro is called upon to dig the grave for Enza’s younger sister. They are instantly attracted, but fate intervenes when Ciro is banished from the village. Financial difficulties force Enza and her father to leave their village home several years later.  

 

Both Ciro and Enza end up in New York City and meet several times over the years, but their timing is always off. Enza starts off working in a factory and eventually becomes a seamstress at the Metropolitan Opera House working for musical greats such as Enrico Caruso. Ciro trains as a shoemaker and also works hard to be the most charming man-about-Little Italy. Handsome and outgoing, Ciro is a perfect fit for his new neighborhood. But while both are achieving success in their careers, their romance remains star-crossed. Finally, while serving in World War II, Ciro realizes what Enza knew from the beginning, that it is their destiny to be together.  

 

This is Trigiani’s first foray into historical fiction and it is remarkable. It took her twenty years to complete her research and she often found herself flying to the Italian Alps or walking to Little Italy. The novel is based on the love story of Adriana’s grandparents and this personal connection enhanced the creation of Enza and Crio. Kathryn Stocket, author of The Help, accurately sums up this gem with two words:  “Utterly Splendid.”

Maureen

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Unmistakably Irving

Unmistakably Irving

posted by:
June 1, 2012 - 2:01am

In One PersonRegular readers of John Irving flock to his literary novels for the strengths of his quirky, flawed characters as much as their circumstances. Irving fans have come to expect certain elements, present in so many of the author’s works—a New England setting, boarding school culture, an absent father, the search for self, wrestling, and of course, bears. All of these are present and accounted for in one way or another in his latest novel, In One Person.

 

Billy Abbott, of the small town Vermont town First Sisters, suffers from what he calls “dangerous crushes.” At age fifteen, Billy’s crushes include the town librarian Miss Frost, his stepfather Richard Abbott, who teaches Shakespeare at Favorite River Academy, and Kittredge, the physically stunning bully from the wrestling team. Billy’s crushes know no bounds of age or gender, something he acknowledges in conversations with Miss Frost. She guides him though the great love stories of literature, from the Brontë sisters to Dickens and finally James Baldwin’s novel of same-sex desire, Giovanni’s Room. As in many novels, literature becomes salvation.

 

The theater looms large in Billy’s life. His mother spends time in the wings as the line prompter for the community theater group’s productions, while his petite, sprightly maternal grandfather Harry is well known for playing leading lady roles. In an appropriate turn, Billy himself is cast as the sprite Ariel in The Tempest. Genetics seem to have much to do with his sexual proclivities, through both Harry and Billy’s absent birth father, a man he knows little about until later searches through school yearbooks reveal surprising truths.

 

Told in the immediate first person point of view, In One Person spans more than fifty years, chronicling Billy’s myriad relationships with men, male-to-female transsexuals (before the term transgender came into use, he points out), and even a few women. The novel is at turns absurdly funny, broadly comic and ultimately poignant. In One Person stands as a character-driven exploration of self, and the often fluid nature of sexuality.

Paula G.

 
 

A Summer Hit Parade

A Summer Hit Parade

posted by:
June 1, 2012 - 1:01am

The Red HouseBroken HarborHeading Out to WonderfulThe upcoming reading forecast looks promising as several bestselling authors release new titles. Mark Haddon, Tana French, and Robert Goolrick each have a new book coming to BCPL in June or July. Get ahead of your summer reading and put one or more of these on reserve now.

 

Mark Haddon made a splash several years ago with his story, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, which he told from the point of view of a boy with autism.  Haddon is known for his keen depictions of internal dialogue which bodes well for his newest book, The Red House. Posh Mark invites his sister Angela and her brood to spend a week with his new wife and stepdaughter at an English country house in a belated attempt at family bonding. Told in each of the eight different vacationers’ voices, Haddon illustrates how little of ourselves we reveal even to those who would claim to know us best.

 

Irish author Tana French writes suspense fiction with an edgy psychological angle. Her debut In the Woods won mystery’s Edgar award and introduced her crime-solving Dublin police department. Her fourth title, Broken Harbor, features murder squad Detective Sergeant Mick Kennedy. He is investigating the grisly deaths of a squeaky-clean suburban father and children as the mother’s life hangs by a thread in intensive care. Solving this crime requires Kennedy to revisit the tragic events of his own childhood…but will he be able to maintain the requisite objectivity to find the killer?

 

Robert Goolrick’s taut and twisty tale of obsession and passion (no, it is NOT a Fifty Shades of Grey read-alike,) The Reliable Wife made him a book club circuit darling. In his next book, Heading Out to Wonderful, he once again excels at setting a vivid scene, this time in small town Virginia. Outsider Charlie Beale arrives to settle down in the hamlet of Brownsburg but an entanglement with the lovely wife of the wealthiest man in town escalates into a fervor with far-reaching consequences.

Lori

 
 

A Ride in the Blistering Sun

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to KashgarArdent convictions entwined with bewitching messages of faith can be a stormy mix, especially when boundaries blur and cultures clash. Two British sisters face this predicament. Their efforts to help establish a Christian mission in rural China extract a high price in Suzanne Joinson's impressive, multi-layered debut novel, A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar.  

 

The story begins in 1923 in the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar, where new missionaries Lizzie and Eva English join their aloof, determined leader, Millicent Frost. While Lizzie appears passionate, Eva is suspicious of religious conversion and is basically along for the ride, literally. Traveling with her trusty BSA lady's roadster bicycle, Eva hopes to publish her guidebook, A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar. Meanwhile, another story unfolds in present day London. Frieda Blakeman is feeling alone and dislocated in her life when she meets a homeless man from Yemen who appears one day sleeping outside her door. Their eventual friendship leads the pair to an abandoned flat Frieda has inherited and to a minefield of family history. 

 

Joinson's alternating narrative style sets the stage for what is to come. The parallel storylines share symbolism and metaphors that link together the characters' connection to their world and the ability to escape that connection. It is no coincidence that birds feature prominently in both stories as a symbolic "sense of freedom" or that Eva's bicycle is a "shield and my method of escape."     

 

Drawing on her considerable travel experiences, Joinson transports her readers to an exotic locale, rich with authentic voices and evocative prose. Readers of Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible) and Paul Theroux (The Great Railway Bazaar) may enjoy this tale of the traditions and challenges of a world at large.

Cynthia