Seven Days of Us

November 17

Can you imagine being with your family for an entire seven-day week?  Mom, Dad, adult siblings? What if you all were confined to an isolated, crumbling, family house in rural England, a home which no one could leave or enter for a full week? Why? Because the family is in quarantine! Groceries have to be dropped at the gate, letters pushed into the letter slot....

The Birch family is at the center of this Brit-authored novel.  Daughter Olivia, a medical doctor, has been in Liberia, tending to the country's underserved population under primitive circumstances. She and her work partner, Sean, were campaigning for basic sanitation standards when a deadly disease, the Haag Virus, broke out among the native people. Aid workers were send home as quickly as possible, with the admonition to stay away from everyone for an entire week in case they had been exposed to the virus.  It's Christmas, and the Birches, so happy that Olivia is home for a change, agree to suffer Olivia's quarantine together as a family. 

Inevitable sibling disagreements erupt, and it turns out that everyone has a secret they are trying to hide.  Sister Phoebe is engaged to George, but he does not seem too eager to plan the wedding. Mom Emma has a medical diagnosis that she had not planned to reveal till after the holidays. Dad Andrew, a former war correspondant turned restaurant reviewer, has received and discarded an email from a young American man named Jesse. Jesse claims to be Andrew's secret son, the result of a one night stand.  Each story is well told from a family member's distinct point of view, in a kaleidoscopic fashion.  Tension further is developed as there are secret rooms in the old house where people can hide, and hide things.  Olivia takes her temperature twice a day, and seems to be fine, although so much family all at once is a bit of a culture shock. Everything is turned upside down when she sees on the news that Sean, her fellow doctor and "partner" in more ways than one, has become dangerously ill with the Haag Virus. 

Just in time for holiday or anytime reading, this debut explores, in a warm and bittersweet way, the dynamics of a family when close is too close! 


Little Fires Everywhere

September 17

You may remember this author from her debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, which was a huge success a few years ago. Her new book is equally well written, compelling and suspenseful. It's a great story, and I know will be wonderful for book club discussions.

Little Fires is set in wealthy (mostly white) Shaker Heights Ohio where author Celese Ng grew up.  Suspense begins from the first sentence " Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down."  

Isabelle, or Izzy, was not like the other Richardson kids. She wasn't athletic, or academic, or popular. Izzy was artistic, dramatic, and preferred  to stay in her room.  Izzy said whatever was on her mind, even when it was rude.   She related best to the Richardson's part time domestic help, Mia, and her daughter, Pearl.  Mia,  a photographer, invites Izzy to visit her (at the duplex that she rents from the Richardsons) to learn how to shoot and develop pictures. Mia and Pearl have moved 46 times since teenage Pearl was born, so there is an interesting back story there! 

Mr. Richardson, a prominent lawyer, is working on a case for his prominent friends the McCulloughs, who are fostering with intent to  adopt an Asian baby who was abandoned outside a firehouse on a snowy winter day.  The birth mother has surfaced, trying to argue that the baby would be best with her own blood, and asserting that she had made a mistake.  Of course, the birth mother is a friend of Mia and Pearl's. 

Izzy burned down her own house.  And you will want to read this new novel and find out why! Lots of layers to talk about. 




September 17

Dan Brown's newest book, Origin, will be published October 5, 2017.  Need I say more? (The DaVinci Code)

In the introduction to the newest of the Robert Langdon thrillers, Edmond Kirsch, internationally renowned computer genius and predictor of things to come (market crashes, political coups) meets with leaders of the world's three major religions. He tells them that he has discovered something that will shock organized religion, and challenge beliefs held for centuries. (but he won't tell us what it is!)

Robert Langdon is invited to  "An Evening with Edmond Kirsch," his former student at Harvard.  A short notice invitation, complete with a plane ticket, and a personal plea from Kirsch to attend.  The meeting is to be held at the Guggenheim museum in Bilboa Spain.  Kirsch promises to reveal during this evening something that will change the face of science forever. Of course, danger rears it's ugly head, and the presentation does not go as planned.  Someone wants Krisch silenced, and it's up to Robert Langdon to save the day! This promises to be another page turning face paced thriller. Can't wait! 


The Burning Girl

September 17

Described by Publishers Weekly magazine as "haunting and emotionally gripping," this short book follows the author's highly regarded 2006 novel The Emperor's Children, short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, as well as her other dazzling novels.

The Burning Girl, narrated in the teenage voice of Julia, is at heart a coming of age novel set in a small town in Massachusetts.  Julia and Cassie have been best friends since nursery school, but their friendship flounders in seventh grade.  

Julia, who comes from a successful, traditional family, does well in school and surely is college bound.  Cassie is raised by a single mother, Bev, a hospice nurse, who invites into her life and their home Dr. Anders Shute.  Together, Anders and Bev are overly strict, laying on large punishments for the smallest of Cassie's infractions. Cassie, who has never known her father, feels like she has now lost her mother and gained an imposter father figure.

Cassie becomes interested in boys, and she dabbles in drugs and alcohol, while the more conservative Julia gets good grades and is honored with an invitation to join the high school speech team where she meets more "suitable" friends. 

Cassie begins dating Peter, whom Julia has always admired.  Cassie also gets increasingly self-involved and engages in more destuctive behaviors that she sees as the solution to unhappiness caused by never knowing her father.  Cassie then simply disappears, runs away, and it seems no one knows where she has gone.  Except Peter, in whom she had confided her dreams.  And Julia, who has known her since nursery school.

The Burning Girl is well paced and suspenseful.  Defferent from previous novels, Publishers Weekly states that "in some ways this simple tale is less ambitious but more heartfelt than Messud's previous work."

The author has done a good job telling this emotionally intense, dark story through a teenager's eyes.  I recommend this book for its deep look at female friendships and the complexity of adolescence.  


Pieces of Happiness

September 17

Sometimes you need a book that is reasonably well written, and primarily entertaining.  A book you can read that will take your mind off the world, to escape.  A book that does not require you to think too hard, and allows you to fall asleep peacefully.

A am so happy to recommend Pieces of Happiness, a debut novel which was published August 1, 2017.  The author, Anne Ostby, has done a wonderful job of storytelling, and I hope she is at work on her next book.

The setting for Pieces of Happiness is the tropical island of Fiji.  Main character Kat, recently widowed, lives on a cocoa farm, alone except for her daily housekeeper and plantation manager.  After previous travels around the world, Kat plans to live out her life on Fiji.  Pondering her future, she decides to write letters to her four high school best friends, inviting them to live with her in her spacious home on the beautiful island.  Kat has plenty of room for them, they can hang out and act like teenagers again.  Relax in the warm humidity, walk on the beach, eat the native food and not worry about anything. Money is not really a problem, as life on Fiji is cheap, and surely these friends can afford plane fare to the South Pacific and will jump at the chance to move in with her. (which they do!)

What follows is a lovely story, about women of a certain age reconnecting, and renewing friendships.  Of kindly accomodating and supporting each other's eccentricities, strengths, and weaknesses.  Of working together to create a new business for Kat's farm, the production and sale of luxury, high end, good for you dark chocolate. (yes, you will crave it while reading.)

Kat's housekeeper, Ateca, a wonderful character, intersperses her own observations about "the madams" of Kat's house, often in the form or prayers for them and her own son.  Other local characters add richness to the story.  Everything is not perfect in Kat's world, though reading Pieces of Happiness will make you wish you were one of the friends who received an invitation to Fiji!