April/May 2013 Reviews by Rowayton Library's Reader Advisor, Ruth Freeman
Happy spring (I guess! But it's trying...)
'The Dinner' by Herman Koch is a tense narrative of two families in crisis over what to do about their teenage sons. The setting is a high end restaurant in Amsterdam and the tension ramps up in step with the serving of numerous courses. Pointed, sarcastic comments by the main narrator about current culinary trends provide some humorous asides for a storyline that is essentially pretty bleak. Important information is brought to light slowly, which enhances the suspense. A growing sense of unease develops as it becomes clear we are not addressing garden variety hooliganism. The writing is excellent, and there are enough creepy characters with uncertain motivations and plans to really hold your attention.
'Ghost Man' by Roger Hobbs rings so true it feels like an excellent "how to" manual for the smooth execution of complex bank robberies, and then disappearing. The author is all of 23 years old and has written a highly original work. The plot line covers heists from the New Jersey casinos to a bank in Malaysia. There are terrific action scenes as the major character is forced back into "the life" to find the proceeds of a daring casino robbery before law enforcement.
Just in time for spring we have 'Farm Fresh Recipes from the Missing Goat Farm' by Heather Cameron. She bought a small blueberry farm outside of Vancouver with her husband and mother and set out to become a farmer. This is a hymn to country life as well as a collection of charming recipes which rely on fresh ingredients. The yam fries are ethereal and "Breakfast to Go" is one of the best ideas we've seen in a long time.
'Rage Against the Dying' by Becky Masterman has a unique protagonist - a 59 year old retired FBI agent in Arizona. Our heroine is trying to create a post retirement life for herself with a husband, dog etc., but her career has made it difficult to successfully transition to domestic bliss. She finds herself dragged into a serial killing investigation as her desire to avenge a death in her past takes precedence over establishing household routines.
'Life After Life' by Kate Atkinson is a marvel. You need to be attentive as the chronology can get confusing, but this intriguing tale of Ursula Todd's destiny to live her life over and over is a winner. The WWI and WWII background is well researched and gripping, especially the life of the wardens during the London Blitz. This literary "groundhog day" makes you think about second chances and the ability to change history. The author's weaving of historical personages into the storyline is clever and seamless.
'With or Without You' by Dominque Ruta, is a searing memoir of growing up with an addict for a mother. Not unsurprisingly, the author passes through a good part of her life in a haze of alcohol and drug addiction. Despite her lack of parental guidance she secures scholarships to Andover, Oberlin, and the MFA program at the University of Texas. Her ultimate victory over substance abuse is hard won and makes for a gripping read.
"Poems to Learn by Heart' selected by Caroline Kennedy, and illustrated by the superb John Muth of 'Zen Ties', is a book to linger over on your own or with a child. Each carefully selected poem, which includes both classics and some newer works, is accompanied by a beautiful watercolor. Most of the poems are too long for all but the most dedicated memorizer, but that doesn't detract from the selection. Peruse your old favorites and be introduced to contemporary poetry; both are well represented.
'Once Upon a Flock, Life with My Soulful Chickens' by Lauren Scheuer is delightful. The author's life with her backyard flock is chronicled in this heartwarming book illustrated with her drawings and photographs. Who knew chickens had such diverse personalities and quirks? There is also a "how to" element that will help educate any budding chicken farmer on the challenges of keeping birds happy and healthy. This book makes you want to run out and build a coop so you can have your own brood.
'The Famous and the Dead' is T. Jefferson Parker's welcome addition to the Charlie Hood canon. It continues the USA/Mexico border wars story line started in 'Iron River'. I don't want to say too much other than it is very well written and the character development is top notch. Grab this and be prepared to read until you finish!