Tuesday, November 15, 2016

November books

The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker
Rave review by bookseller in our small-town independent bookstore magazine, highly rated on on-line book sites, yet little press for this debut author...all this combined to make this a book I was curious to read.  Thank goodness I did, as it turned into one of my favorite books of 2016.  DO NOT MISS this one (and yes, the capitals are there for good reason).  The story begins in Toronto in the 1960's with eight year old Harriet (aka Ari) whose father has committed suicide, mom has lost it, and they need to farm out the six sisters.  Ari then journeys to her stay with her lesbian aunts up north in Cape Breton, where she discovers the all-encompassing love of two amazing women, and the freedom of true childhood.  However, Ari's epically dysfunctional family pulls her back to Toronto, and we the readers watch her youth unfold over the next eight years.  Ari is funny, brilliant, artistic, loyal, compassionate, and just all-around heroic, but without being Pollyanna-esque.  The adults in her life, mainly a few caring teachers, remind us what just one influential person can do to change the trajectory of a child's life. Besides the well-drawn plot line and characters, Heather Tucker can seriously write; I highlighted so many beautiful lines, yet she does not get caught up in her own writing merely for the sake of showing off; she uses her words to more deeply flush out her story.  I laughed, I cried, and I felt my heart tugged in every direction.  I cannot recommend this book strongly enough.

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult
Yep, I know...Jodi Picoult, the writer of great pop culture, page-turners, but is it literature? Yep, it sure is, and her latest brings the reader smack into the face of a hot, divisive, charged topic of today - racial bias and the divide that has roiled this country for centuries. The premise is charged with emotion:  a labor and delivery nurse is helping a pair of young parents with their newborn baby, and the father demands she not be allowed around his child due to her race.  When tragedy occurs with the newborn, legal action is set into motion.  Simple, right?  Yet Picoult attacks the idea not just of the insidious racial discrimination against blacks in our country, but the white nationalist movement, being a black teenage boy in America, discrimination in the workplace, and the reality of white privilege.  This is an explosive book that truly attempts to see all sides, as it is told through the eyes of not only the black nurse, but the Neo-Nazi father and the Ivy league-educated white lawyer. I highly recommend, particularly to book clubs who like provocative, meaty discussions.

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Frederik Backman
Yes, one of my favorite authors is back, and this time it is a small novella he shares with the world.  The author of A Man Called Ove, My Grandmother Asked You to Tell You She's Sorry, and Britt-Marie Was Here has now taken the heartfelt story of a grandfather, as he descends into Alzheimer's, and sees how the disease shapes his relationship with his young grandson.  As we look back into his past, we meet Ted, his son, and Noah, his wiser-than-his-years, sweet, loving, understanding grandson.  As Grandpa's world gets smaller, his memories get bigger, even as his confusion grows.  This is a lovely book to gift a friend or loved one who has dealt with dementia in their own family; it is a keeper.

Blood at the Root:  A Racial Cleansing in America by Patrick Phillips
Did you know that Forsyth county in the state of Georgie remained all-white for almost 100 years? Yeah...me neither.  It is always amazing to me to read about our county's history that I never knew existed, especially in today's world of wikipedia and instant sources.  Back at the turn of the century, Forsyth county was similar to many other post-Civil War southern areas...an agrarian society, dependent upon the black farmers and house servants who kept the white economy rolling, and tied to the KKK and other white supremacist beliefs.  Both races lived in an uncertain wariness of the 'Other,' willing to divide towns and villages to live in relative peace with one another.  That is until a cry of rape and murder tore them apart.  As told by a man who was raised in Forsyth county from the 1980's on, this is the tale of how the blacks were not only expelled from this region, but kept out for decades.  It was as if time stood still in Forsyth for race relations, until dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century and knowledge of the civil rights movement smacked the residents in the face.  It is a provocative tale that reminds us of our not-so-distant past.

Heartless by Marissa Meyer
We all know about Alice and her adventures, but what about the famous Queen of Hearts in Wonderland?  How ever did she become the wicked woman who shouts “Off with her head!” with the slightest provocation? Marissa Meyer (The Lunar Chronicles) combines the wit of Lewis Carroll’s language, a young woman’s secret desire for independence, treachery and intrigue in a magical court, an unwanted suitor, and a love that will go beyond the bounds of reason to explain the genesis of this famous literary character.  Meyers knows her Alice story extremely well, using numerous allusions and secondary characters from the familiar story.  This would be a great gift for that teenage girl in your life, or just a great entertaining book for anyone who loves YA.

Blood for Blood by Ryan Gaudin
Finally...the sequel to Wolf by Wolf, Gaudin's head-spinner novel that took the idea of WWII and twisted it, with Hitler and the Nazis coming out the winner.  The complex, brave, heroic Yael is back in this book, continuing to use her skills of skin-shifting, after being experimented upon in the camps, as are the two young men she raced against in the previous book.  Luka, the former victor, provides Yael with frustration, sassiness, and a little love interest, while Felix, the brother of the kidnapped girl who Yael shifts into while she tries to assassinate Hitler, is forced to make a life-changing decision - does he report the rebels to save his family, or does he support the cause of freedom? This is an exciting, can't-put-downable book that is a worthy 'second' to her first hit.  And yes, if you haven't read Wolf by Wolf, do it - this is one of my very favorite 'duals' in YA with complex characters, strong writing, and cliffhangers galore.

Orphans of the Carnival by Carol Birch
The 'freak shows' of the 19th century were infamous: Barnum's Tom Thumb and his wife, the siamese twins of the London circus, and the famous 'Ape Woman,' Julia Pastrana, who was the toast of Europe. Carol Birch has been nominated twice for the Man Booker prize, and this book reminds us why.  As she explores the life of Julia Pastrana, Birch also seeks the answer to what makes us human.  We see how Julia is exploited by both managers and audiences, by the hangers-on who want to see how 'human' she really is, and by physicians who poke and prod her throughout the years.  Interspersed among Julia's story, is also the story of Rose, a British woman in 1983, who struggles with relationships, abject poverty, and mental illness.  This is a fascinating book about a long-forgotten abuse of an intriguing, and very human woman.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman
This is a compulsive read by an award-winning author, the first in a trilogy of a futuristic world where morality is a thing of the past, as is pain, disease, and torture.  The 'Cloud' has turned into the 'Thunderhead,' which takes care of everyone's needs and sets a person's clock back to any age desired, when one is feeling 'old.' (Not a bad program, right? Except in the wrong hands, of course!) However, there is one small hiccup...the need for population control.  Enter the Scythedom, a worldwide group of people, supposedly chosen for their intelligence, compassion, and honor, whose duty it is to glean a certain number of people every year to keep the numbers survivable.  Of course, rebellious, murder-loving Scythes unfortunately exist as well.  Twists and turns galore, bloody violence at times (yet with the ability to revive anyone who dies - kinda cool but painful), some amazing character development, and some deep philosophical thinking about immortality and death combines to make this a serious page-turner.

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