Posts

February 2020 Book, The Guest Book

Image
There’s a stunning scene toward the beginning of Sarah Blake’s new novel, “The Guest Book,” that follows a wealthy young mother gliding around New York and then to her elegant mansion in a charmingly choreographed dance of delight that ends with her 5-year-old son falling from a window to his death.
Such a tragedy might shatter other families, but the Miltons are not other families. Ogden and Kitty Milton are the union of America’s bluest bloodlines, aristocrats who have provided a model of decorum to a grateful nation since they arrived on the Mayflower. Ogden guides the family’s Wall Street firm with wisdom and discretion, just as Kitty manages their home. As soon as they bury their son, everyone agrees that it’s “best not to mention it. Best not to dwell on it. . . . Some things were better off left unsaid.” These are people who imagine their boutique blend of gold and goodness can protect them from the vicissitudes of life, even as their dynasty dissipates with ea…

January 2020 Book, Washington Black

Image
When the novel “Washington Black” opens, it is 1830 and the young George Washington Black, who narrates his own story, is a slave on a Barbados sugar plantation called Faith, protected, or at least watched over, by an older woman, Big Kit. As a new master takes charge, the fear is palpable. The accounts of murders and punishments and random cruelties are chilling and unsparing. Big Kit can see no way out except death: “Death was a door. I think that is what she wished me to understand. She did not fear it. She was of an ancient faith rooted in the high river lands of Africa, and in that faith the dead were reborn, whole, back in their homelands, to walk again free.”
The reader can almost see what is coming. Since Barbados was under British rule, slavery was abolished there in 1834. This, then, could be a novel about the last days of the cruelty, about what happens to a slave-owning family and to the slaves during the waning of the old dispensation.
 The Canadian novelis…

December 2019 Book, Saving Fish from Drowning

Image
Saving Fish from Drowning describes the adventures of a group of 12 American tourists, ranging from a neurotic hypochondriac to a British-born dogshow host, who are on an art tour of China and Burma.

The narrative intensifies when 11 of them are kidnapped at Lake Inlay in Burma's Shan State - they are held in jungle-covered mountains by a group of desperate Karen refugee tribesmen, who believe that one of the tourists is the reincarnation of their god Younger White Brother, come to free them from the yoke of the brutal and murderous military government. The novel has all the ingredients for a pulse-racing read: Westerners in exotic surroundings, murder, myth, mystery, conspiracy, kidnapping, bad guys, good guys, stupid guys and even a ghost.

 The descriptions of the tourists are highly entertaining, and their interactions dynamic and spontaneous.

November 2019 Book, The Snow Child

Image
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is set in Alaska, 1920: a brutal place to homestead, and especially tough for recent arrivals Jack and Mabel. 

Childless, they are drifting apart--he breaking under the weight of the work of the farm; she crumbling from loneliness and despair. In a moment of levity during the season's first snowfall, they build a child out of snow. 

The next morning the snow child is gone--but they glimpse a young, blonde-haired girl running through the trees. This little girl, who calls herself Faina, seems to be a child of the woods. She hunts with a red fox at her side, skims lightly across the snow, and somehow survives alone in the Alaskan wilderness. 

As Jack and Mabel struggle to understand this child who could have stepped from the pages of a fairy tale, they come to love her as their own daughter. But in this beautiful, violent place things are rarely as they appear, and what they eventually learn about Faina will transform all of them

October 2019 Book, Unsheltered

Image
Unsheltered is the story of two families, in two centuries, who live at the corner of Sixth and Plum, as they navigate the challenges of surviving a world in the throes of major cultural shifts. In this mesmerizing story told in alternating chapters, Willa and Thatcher come to realize that though the future is uncertain, even unnerving, shelter can be found in the bonds of kindred—whether family or friends—and in the strength of the human spirit.

 Willa Knox has always prided herself on being the embodiment of responsibility for her family. Which is why it's so unnerving that she's arrived at middle age with nothing to show for her hard work and dedication but a stack of unpaid bills and an inherited brick home in Vineland, New Jersey, that is literally falling apart.

A science teacher with a lifelong passion for honest investigation, Thatcher finds himself under siege in his community for telling the truth: his employer forbids him to speak of the exciting new the…

September 2019 Book, Our Souls at Night

Image
Kent Haruf was best known for his novel “Plainsong”,  published in 1999. Haruf set all of his books in the fictional small town of Holt, Colo., integrating his bare-bones descriptions of the high plains so strikingly and crucially into his plots that setting is generally the first thing people mention about his work. But that is an over-simplification.  In fact, his great subject was the struggle of decency against small-mindedness, and his rare gift was to make sheer decency a moving subject.
“Our Souls at Night,” his final novel, opens with an evening visit that Addie Moore pays to her longtime neighbor, Louis Waters. Both are widowed — Addie is 70, Louis about the same — and Addie makes the surprising proposal that they begin sleeping together, without sex, just to talk in the dark and provide the sleep-easing comfort of physical company. They don’t know each other all that well, but Addie has decided to ask at once for what she really wants. It’s an odd premise, but …

August 2019 Book, The Benefits of Being an Octopus

Image
This month, Talk About Books is participating in the "Let's Read 2019" program supported in part by the Vermont Humanities Council. Multiple copies of The Benefits of Being of an Octopus  are available at the library.

Ann Braden's debut novel is written for juvenile readers but is being enjoyed by adults for its honest portrayal of poverty. She explores the cultural divides around class and the gun debate through the eyes of one girl living on the edges of society, trying to find her way forward.

Seventh grader Zoey has her hands full as she takes care of her much younger siblings after school every day while her mom works her shift at the pizza parlor. Not that her mom seems to appreciate it. At least there's Lenny, her mom's boyfriend - they all get to live in his nice, clean trailer.

At school, Zoey tries to stay under the radar. Since she is in an entirely different world than most of the other kids, she thinks about how much easier everything would be i…