Maya's Notebook -- a tale of a girl’s journey toward self-discovery, of the fierce power of truth, and of the healing force of love
Maya's Notebook by Isabel Allende (2014, Harper Perennial; 416 pages)
This contemporary coming-of-age story centers upon Maya Vidal, a remarkable teenager abandoned by her parents. Maya grew up in a rambling old house in Berkeley with her grandmother Nini, whose formidable strength helped her build a new life after emigrating from Chile in 1973 with a young son, and her grandfather Popo, a gentle African-American astronomer. When Popo dies, Maya goes off the rails. Along with a circle of girlfriends known as "the vampires," she turns to drugs, alcohol, and petty crime--a downward spiral that eventually leads to Las Vegas and a dangerous underworld, with Maya caught between warring forces: a gang of assassins, the police, the FBI, and Interpol.
Her one chance for survival is Nini, who helps her escape to a remote island off the coast of Chile. In the care of her grandmother’s old friend, Manuel Arias, and surrounded by strange new acquaintances, Maya begins to record her story in her notebook, as she tries to make sense of her past and unravel the mysteries of her family and her own life.
Find this title in our catalog: Maya's Notebook
Recommended by: Ann
The Polish Boxer by Eduardo Halfon (2012, Bellevue Literary Press; 188 pages)
The Polish Boxer is probably one of the best books I have read this year. The blurb on its back reads : "A young Eduardo Halfon believed in the lie that the green tattoo on his grandfather’s arm was a phone number. Grown up, a writer and a professor, he believes in literature, in music, in a friend’s digressive, confessional, mythical postcards, in his girlfriend’s graphs of the arcs, plateaus and spikes of her orgasms. He learns the real story of the tattoo, and he thinks and journeys in pursuit of what makes a person and what makes a story."
The main character in the book is a man in search of answers to big questions: he is trying to figure out who he is, where he came from and where is going. The Polish Boxer is a book about encountering, about confronting oneself, or others. It is a book about the meaning of the word exile, both forced and self-imposed. It is also a delightful journey through different geographies, some of which I happen to love, like Guatemala. It is a book about survivors of the Nazi horror, about Serbia and about America. It is a superb reading, one of those that you want to start reading again as soon as it has ended.
You can read an excerpt from the book here
For a conversation with the author about the book, click here
To listen to the author, Guatemalan Eduardo Halfon, talking about the book and more, click here
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Recommended by: Maite
CARTHAGE -- a mesmerizing novel that examines grief, faith, justice, and the atrocities of war through the story of a young girl's disappearance in a small adirondack town
Carthage by Joyce Carol Oates (2014, Ecco; 512 pages)
Zeno Mayfield's daughter has disappeared into the night, gone missing in the wilds of the Adirondacks. But when the community of Carthage joins a father's frantic search for the girl, they discover instead the unlikeliest of suspects - a decorated Iraq War veteran with close ties to the Mayfield family. As grisly evidence mounts against the troubled war hero, the family must wrestle with the possibility of having lost a daughter forever.
The author dedicates 200 pages to the crime and its aftermath. This part of the book is really interesting, but when the book really takes us to a new level is when it changes direction toward a different plotline based on an idiosyncratic professor investigating the American prison system. Through his investigation the reader is going to learn of the implications his inquiry may have for the fates of the main characters in the book, Cressida and Brett, building up an irresistible ending that blows the reader away.
The book is written in a careful and elegant prose and the author also experiments with form. Oates succeeds one more time.
From The New York Times:
“The title of this novel resonates with classically tragic overtones, which the author clearly intends. The word 'Carthage' summons thoughts of the ancient world: of Virgil’s jilted Dido, queen of Carthage, spurned by Aeneas, who put service to nation above love. It also recalls St. Augustine’s contempt for his youthful dissipation in his 'Confessions': 'To Carthage then I came, where there sang all around me in my ears a caldron of unholy loves.' T. S. Eliot wove St. Augustine’s self-recriminating words into 'The Waste Land,' deepening its subtext of sexual regret. And now Oates draws on those archetypes to lend context and gravitas to the tragedies of our own time, plumbing their mythic force.”
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Recommended by: Maite
Winterkill -- an engrossing, lyrical, by turns hilarious and heartbreaking story of a Native American father and son in the contemporary west
Winterkill by Craig Lesley (1996, Picador; 336 pages)
Winterkill (and its excellent sequel, River Song) is a deeply moving, profoundly lyrical, at times darkly humorous and evocative novel of fathers and sons. Danny Kachiah is a Native American in contemporary Eastern Oregon, fighting not to become a casualty. His father, Red Shirt, is dead; his wife, Loxie, has left him, and his career as a rodeo cowboy is flagging. But when Loxie dies in a car wreck, leaving him with his son, Jack, whom he hardly knows, Danny uses the magnificent stories of Red Shirt to guide him toward true fatherhood. Together, Danny and Jack begin to make a life from the dreams of yesterday and the ruins of today's northwestern reservations.
Winterkill was a winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Book Award, and it -- and its sequel, River Song -- are two of the best books I've read about the Native American experience in contemporary American society. I can't recommend them highly enough.
Find this title in our catalog: Winterkill
Recommended by: Greg
SILVER LININGS: A ROSE HARBOR NOVEL -- Debbie Macomber's latest is a story of love and forgiveness sure to delight her many longtime fans
Silver Linings: A Rose Harbor Novel by Debbie Macomber (2015, Ballantine Books; 345 pages)
This is the author's latest novel in the "Rose Harbor Inn" series that follows the innkeeper Jo Marie and her guests of the Inn. Jo has grown close to her "local" handyman Mark Taylor and hopes for something more to their relationship than just "friends," but he suddenly lets her know that he is leaving town and she has no idea why. As she finds out the reason for Mark leaving, Jo thinks she is losing the man she cares about again. Fans of the series will know what this means.
As Mark is leaving, Jo welcomes two new guests to the Inn who are high school friends coming home for their 10-year reunion. They have come home looking to find closure from things that happened in high school. Both of them discover that second chances do happen, and people can change for the better. Anyone who has ever gone to their own reunion of any kind will enjoy reading about these two friends.
Fans of Debbie Macomber will not be disappointed in this story, with its hidden twists and turns, which is why I am recommending it to readers. Readers can't help but be transported to their own relationships with good friends who talk, share joys and are there for each other in hard times. Enjoy!
Find this title in our catalog: Silver Linings
Recommended by: Angie
THE STORIED LIFE OF A. J. FIKRY -- a funny, tender, and moving novel that reminds us all why we read and why we love
The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin (2014, Algonquin Books; 288 pages)
A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. He lives alone, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. But when a mysterious package appears at the bookstore, its unexpected arrival gives Fikry the chance to make his life over--and see everything anew.
From Booklist: "In this sweet, uplifting homage to bookstores, Zevin perfectly captures the joy of connecting people and books. A. J. Fikry, the cantankerous owner of Island Books, is despondent after losing his beloved wife and witnessing the ever-declining number of sales at his small, quirky bookstore. In short order, he loses all patience with the new Knightly Press sales rep, his prized rare edition of Tamerlane is stolen, and someone leaves a baby at his store. That baby immediately steals A. J.’s heart and unleashes a dramatic transformation. Suddenly, the picture-book section is overflowing with new titles, and the bookstore becomes home to a burgeoning number of book clubs. With business on the uptick and love in his heart, A. J. finds himself becoming an essential new part of his longtime community, going so far as to woo the aforementioned sales rep (who loves drinking Queequeg cocktails at the Pequod Restaurant). Filled with interesting characters, a deep knowledge of bookselling, wonderful critiques of classic titles, and very funny depictions of book clubs and author events, this will prove irresistible to book lovers everywhere."
What can I say? I just liked this book, about books and the people who read them.
Find this title in our catalog: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Recommended by: Ann
THE HELP -- a skillful depiction of the ironies and hypocrisies that defined the south during the civil rights era
The Help by Kathryn Stockett (2009, Berkley; 545 pages)
This popular New York Times bestseller sets the story of many women's lives in the civil rights movement of Jackson, Mississippi in the 1960s.
Aibileen is a black maid in 1962 Jackson, Mississippi, who's always taken orders quietly, but lately she's unable to hold her bitterness back. Her friend Minny has never held her tongue but now must somehow keep secrets about her employer that leave her speechless. White socialite Skeeter just graduated college. She's full of ambition, but without a husband, she's considered a failure. Together, these seemingly different women join together to write a tell-all book about work as a black maid in the South, that could forever alter their destinies and the life of a small town.
Like The Invention of Wings and The Kitchen House (see below for summaries for both of those titles), The Help explores the delicate lines between race, religious belief, and family connections. The interesting dynamic between individuals, family, and community make all three of these reads exceptional.
Find this title in our catalog: The Help
Recommended by: Joanna
THE KITCHEN HOUSE -- a heartbreaking and ultimately hopeful story of class, race, dignity, deep-buried secrets, and familial bonds
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom (2010, Touchstone; 384 pages)
Set in the 1790s, this gripping New York Times bestseller brings to life a thriving plantation in Virginia in the decades before the Civil War, where a dark secret threatens to expose the best and worst in everyone tied to the estate.
Orphaned during her passage from Ireland, young, white Lavinia arrives on the steps of the kitchen house and is placed, as an indentured servant, under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate slave daughter. Lavinia learns to cook, clean, and serve food, while guided by the quiet strength and love of her new family. She teeters between both worlds, the slaves who work the plantation and the white family who owns it. In time, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, caring for the master’s opium-addicted wife and befriending his dangerous yet protective son. She attempts to straddle the worlds of the kitchen and big house, but her skin color will forever set her apart from Belle and the other slaves.
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Recommended by: Joanna
THE INVENTION OF WINGS -- a masterpiece of hope, daring, the quest for freedom, and the desire to have a voice in the world
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (2014, Viking; 383 pages)
Based on the real-life Grimke sisters' lives, this sweeping historical novel combines elements of women's rights, abolition, religious life, and slavery in 1820's South Carolina.
Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.
Kidd’s novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty-five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love. As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.
Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.
This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.
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Recommended by: Joanna
THE HUMMINGBIRD'S DAUGHTER -- an epic novel set amid the political turmoil of pre-revoloutionary Mexico
The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea (2006, Little, Brown and Company; 528 pages)
Teresita is not an ordinary girl. Born of an illiterate, poor Indian mother, she knows little about her past or her future. She has no idea that her father is Don Tomas Urrea, the wild and rich owner of a vast ranch in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. She has no idea that Huila, the elderly healer who takes Teresita under her wing, knows secrets about her destiny. And she has no idea that soon all of Mexico will rise in revolution, crying out her name. When Teresita is but a teenager, learning from Huila the way plants can cure the sick and prayer can move the earth, she discovers an even greater gift: she has the power to heal. Her touch, like warm honey, melts pain and suffering. But such a gift can be a burden, too. Before long, the Urrea ranch is crowded with pilgrims and with agents of a Mexican government wary of anything that might threaten its power. The Hummingbird's Daughter is the story of a girl coming to terms with her destiny, with the miraculous, and with the power of faith. It is the tale of a father discovering what true love is and a daughter recognizing that sometimes true love requires true sacrifice.
Find this title in our collection: The Hummingbird's Daughter
Recommended by: Maite