Rowayton Library
June/July 2013              Reviews by Rowayton Library's Reader Advisor, Ruth Freeman

Summer is nearing the end... get in some great reads while you still can! 

 

 

'The Burgess Boys' by Elizabeth Strout is the story of two adult brothers and their sister negotiating challenging circumstances. It takes place in Maine and New York City and is a sympathetic, atmospheric look at family dynamics. The ties that bind were never so complex and ever changing. Strout is an expert at capturing complex emotions and sensitively parsing a family's history.

 

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Who can resist the title 'Happy Money'? This book, by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, examines the happiness payoff for the dollars we spend. While some of their conclusions may seem obvious, there is a lot of wisdom in this book. The authors are both academics and did a lot of research on how we spend our money, but it's not presented in a dry way. There are numerous examples of experiences trumping material goods and the art of delaying gratification as the keys to a happier relationship with money. 

 

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'The Son' by Philipp Meyer is a novel about multiple generations of a Texas family, beginning in 1848. The family tree at the start is a helpful tool for navigating this sprawling drama. The author lives in Texas and did a tremendous amount of research on the state's history, not all of which makes for easy reading. It's a bloody, messy story line, populated by memorable characters trying to survive the powerful march of history and its attendant "progress". Highly recommended.

 

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'Bill Loehfelm's fantastic new book called 'The Devil in Her Way' continues the story of Maureen Coughlin after she has moved to New Orleans and become a rookie cop. She is fearless, but can be careless. There is lots of snappy dialogue and the author's knowledge of the city really lends the book atmosphere. There is wonderful character development and moments of humor, especially when she interfaces with her training officer Preacher. No holds barred action and tension keep the pages turning. I have to think the author rode around in the back of a squad car; his depictions of the on the ground policing in New Orleans are dead on.

 

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Deborah Ponzek's Aux Delices food store is well known to many residents of our area. She has written a great cookbook called 'The Dinnertime Survival Cookbook.' It's packed with accessible, tasty and realistic recipes, along with hints on keeping a pantry stocked. I can personally vouch for the delicious salmon tacos and the baked wild mushroom risotto, and plan to try many other recipes.

 

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'Cooked' by Michael Pollan explores his journey through fire, water, air and earth in their roles as they transform raw elements into food. There are only four recipes in the book, which is more of an extended tour into the world of hands on cooking, and the benefits thereof. He is an excellent writer and well known pundit on the foodie circuit. His thoughts on both the psychological and physiological value of cooking for family and friends are very worthwhile.

 

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All the 'Gilmore Girls' and 'Parenthood' fans out there should read Lauren Graham's novel entitled 'Someday, Someday, Maybe'. It's a coming of age story set in 1990's Manhattan. Franny Banks is the heroine, at the end of her self imposed three year deadline for landing an acting job. She juggles a job in a bar, acting classes, roommates who sort of get what she is going through and a very funny father whose wry observations often cut to the heart of the matter. This is recommended for the beach or hammock.

 

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'Sparta' by Roxana Robinson is the harrowing story of Colin Farrell, a returning marine who has served four years in Iraq. His transition to civilian life in Katonah is fraught, fragmented by nightmares, headaches, and flashbacks. His relationships with his family and friends are tense as a result of his inability to explain what he has been through and the horrors he has seen. His parents and siblings are loving but confused about how to help. The author writes feelingly about the isolation of returning veterans and the difficulties they face getting the help they need.

 

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'Transatlantic' by Colum McCann is a beautifully written novel from this prodigiously talented author. It opens with a description of a transatlantic flight from Nova Scotia to Ireland in 1919 that is so lyrical you believe you are in the air. The book takes place in three separate time periods, connected geographically and spiritually by ties to Ireland. The troubles that hover over Irish history are the backbone of the storylines and provide memorably heartbreaking vignettes of love and loss.

 

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'Flat Water Tuesday' by Ron Irwin is a gripping coming of age novel set in the world of competitive crew racing at the prep school level. The author is a rower, enabling him to recreate a realistic background to the story of Rob Carrey and the boat mates in his four man scull. The hothouse environment of boarding school relationships and intense athletic competition is realistically rendered. Even though you will probably be able to see the ending coming like a freight train it's a terrific read.

 

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'Gardening for the Birds' by George Adams is a primer for anyone interested in creating bird friendly habitat in their suburban yard. It is clear and helpful, with numerous photographs of birds, and the plants they need to support nesting and feeding. The emphasis is on native plants that attract and sustain our avian friends. This is for any reader who would like to attract a goldfinch flock without having to spend a small fortune on niger seed!

 

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'Lost Girls' - an Unsolved American Mystery' by Robert Kolker is a true crime story set in the lonely reaches of Oak Beach, Long Island. It is an account of the anonymous, internet based prostitution world that led to the murder of at least five young women from the tri state area. It's carefully reported and researched; the individual stories are heartbreaking and the lack of resolution is disconcerting to say the least.

 

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Cathleen Schine has once again written a heartfelt and clever novel. 'Fin and Lady' takes place in the "swinging '60's"and is the story of a young, orphaned boy named Fin placed in the care of his little known, much older half sister Lady. This coming of age story revolves around Fin's need to take care of the ostensibly wordly Lady. They form an unconventional family as Fin grows up in tumultuous times, protecting Lady from unsuitable suitors and her own flighty ways.

 

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'Vegetable Literacy' by Deborah Madison is organized by vegetable "family". This is a gorgeous book from one of our foremost vegetable chefs. She uses herbs imaginatively which is helpful, as herbs are so much easier to grow than most vegetables, and less attractive to critters. Be inspired to cook with the bounty during this farmers' market season!

 

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'Young Men and Fire' by Norman MacLean is not a new book but a timely classic about the tragic Mann Gulch, Montana fire which took the lives of twelve forest firefighters in the summer of 1949. The chain of events that led to that tragedy is eerily similar to the horrific Yarnell AZ forest fire which killed 19 young men in early July of this year. MacLean had been haunted by the Mann Gulch fire his whole life; this was the last book he wrote and it won the National book Award in 1992. It's a tightly written page turner and highly recommended.

 

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'Skinner' by Charles Huston is a cold techno thriller about modern spy craft as played out by some pretty damaged people. The writing is very heavy on the jargon and the choppy sentence style will not be for everyone, The premise of a boy raised for his first 12 years in a "skinner" box turning into a stone cold assassin is interesting and carries the book forward. You will need to suspend belief for parts of the plot but the idea that our power grids are vulnerable to attack rings true.

 

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'Bootstrapper - from Broke to Badass on a Michigan Farm' is by Margo Jo Link. The end of the author's marriage is the beginning of a challenging time for her and her three sons as they struggle to hold onto their farm north of Traverse City. Pride and stubbornness fuel the relentless work that goes into just keeping everyone (including a hilarious group of chickens) warm and fed. Filled with humor despite the dire circumstances, you cheer for this family to not just survive but thrive. They will not disappoint you.

 

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The prize for the funniest dog book ever goes to 'The Dogma of Rufus'. Narrated by Rufus the bulldog, it is a primer for all dog owners trying to figure out what makes their dog(s) tick. There are a lot of excellent photos for anyone who is somehow managing to miss the points on training humans and the importance of food and naps.

 

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