At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen

 At the Water’s Edge is a glorious novel written by Sara Gruen, the author of Water for Elephants. Written in the same rich, historical style, At the Water’s Edge follows the life of Maddie and Ellis Hyde, as well as their friend Hank. Maddie, Ellis, and Hank have always been friends. They’re wealthy, beautiful, and carefree. Well, until all three go and muck their lives up royally of course. At a major high society event in Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve of 1942, Maddie, Ellis, and Hank get together and have a rolling good time. Maddie thinks nothing happened out of sorts until the following morning when countless people call her mother-in-law’s house where she and Ellis are staying to tell her about the major embarrassment that Maddie, Ellis, and Hank caused. Devastating repercussions follow and Maddie and Ellis soon find themselves cut-off financially with no clue what to do. Enter in Hank with a master plan!

Hank proposes they head to Scotland in the middle of the war to look for the Loch Ness monster. This trip had always been thrown around as a somewhat joke given Ellis’ father’s infamous dealings with the monster, but given the fact that Maddie and Ellis have no money, it is their only option. Finding that monster will get all three back to the lifestyle that they are so accustomed to, as well as clear Ellis’ father’s name. Plus Hank is massively wealthy, so he’s going to bankroll it! Even better. Once decided, all three head off to Scotland in the middle of the war. Seemingly oblivious to the war and how it is affecting the city and the people they deal with every day, Hank and Ellis hunt the monster, leaving Maddie behind most everyday at their hotel to deal with everything. Left alone, Maddie is forced to confront some uncomfortable truths about herself, her companions, and her way of life. Add in the fact that both Ellis and Hank both seem to be able-bodied men who are avoiding the war to hunt for a fictitious monster and this book is rife with conflict.

What I most enjoyed about this book was that readers can clearly see Maddie’s character develop into something more well-rounded as the book progresses. As soon as she leaves Philadelphia, she seems to awaken out of her privileged state where everything is glossy and perfect to see all the harsh realities that surround her. Maddie also starts connecting to more meaningful things, be they people, nature, or life in general, than she had previously in Philadelphia. Maddie’s metamorphosis hooked me into the book and kept me reading.

I listened to this book through OverDrive and greatly enjoyed it. The narrator did a fantastic job of giving each character their own separate voice. Given that the majority of this book takes place in a foreign country and also during war time, she was also able to give the necessary characters a very believable foreign accent.


This book is also available in the following formats:

22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

I have been reading a lot of World War II fiction recently, purely by chance. 22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson fit so neatly into the timeline of a previous WWII book that I had read that I noticed myself mixing storylines. Once I realized, I paid more attention and started taking notes (Taking notes is more than okay to do! Even when you’re not in school.) This novel was enjoyable and I found myself connecting to most of the characters.

22 Britannia Road tells the story of a family’s rediscovery of each other after World War II. Silvana and Janusz were married right around the beginning of the war. Their marriage began sweet and full of promise with each other’s past left fully in the past. Silvana’s family was less than caring about her, while Janusz is very close to his. Silvana and Janusz settle in Warsaw where they work at keeping their marriage together. Janusz leaves Silvana and their young son to join the military. Years pass, both during the war and after the war, with Silvana and Janusz doing whatever they have to in order to survive.

Once reunited the family moves to England where they struggle to put the past behind them. Both Sylvana and Janusz have secrets though, plus the area where they are living brings its own issues to the surface. Janusz has very much adapted to the English way of life, while Sylvana and their son still mostly speak Polish and have troubles adapting to their new normal life. Settling into their new house, Sylvana and Janusz begin a tentative new life, rediscovering each other and their new home after the ravages of war. Each of them carry secrets that even before they are voiced begin to eat away at Silvana and Janusz inside. What did Janusz do those six years that he was gone? Where did Sylvana and their child end up? How did they survive?

This novel juxtaposes both the present day and the past to show what happened to Silvana, Janusz, and their son during the time when they all were separated from each other. I greatly enjoyed the flashbacks because it helped me to justify and see some of the reasons that each family member behaves the way that they do. This psychological fiction really had me thinking about the secrets we keep from the people we love and the secrets that we’ve become so accustomed to that they eventually feel like our normal life.


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Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff has a gorgeous cover. I have been wanting to read this book since it came out because I wanted to figure out if the blue on the cover was supposed to be waves or feathers. (It’s waves, guys!) I listened to this book through OverDrive and was very glad that I did. Fates and Furies is told from the point of view of two separate people and the audiobook has two separate people doing the narration! That allowed me to fully invest in each character’s life and imagine them more vividly. On to the explanation!

Fates and Furies is all about relationships and stories. Lauren Groff has woven a masterful novel about relationship dynamics and the representation of both sides of a story. Each story always has two sides, while each relationship always has two perspectives. The outside world only sees the relationship as one flat surface, while each person in the relationship is really only fully aware of their side of the relationship. It’s rare for people outside a relationship or even for people within the relationship to fully know the complete truth of what is happening in the relationship. Unless a letter is left after one person dies or one person in the relationship writes a memoir, little will be known. (And yes, I know there are those who swear that they don’t keep anything from their partners. Really? You tell them everything? Hmm.. This book examines the truth behind that principle perfectly.)

Fate and Furies tells the story of a marriage over twenty-four years. Lotto and Mathilde fell madly in love at the tender age of 22. At the very end of their senior year of college, Lotto spots Mathilde at a party, pushes through the crowd, falls to his knees and proposes marriage. She says yes on the spot. Two short weeks later, they’re married. Lotto and Mathilde are both glamorous and gorgeous people and separately are the envy of their friends. Put them together and their relationship is unstoppable. Lotto and Mathilde are destined for greatness. Years later, their friends are still in awe of their marriage, but through this book and the side conversations presented, we realize that their relationship has developed some intricate complexities that has twisted them. Lotto and Mathilde have grown over the years and their relationship has matured to encompass a number of layers that have mixed, mashed, and changed the foundation of their marriage and who they are as separate people.

This novel is told from the point of view of multiple people and flashes back to the past. These different viewpoints and histories allow readers to form a better understanding of Lotto and Mathilde as separate people and also as a whole. I enjoyed seeing Lotto and Mathilde’s dynamic change over the years. The examination of how both inside and outside factors can change a relationship was really insightful. The little and big truths and lies a person has can either make or break a relationship. Our past selves also influence how we present our current selves and then our future selves as well. Highly recommended.


This book is available in the following formats:

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain had been sitting in my wish list in RiverShare OverDrive for a few months before I decided to give it a listen. The plot grabbed my interest, but every time I scrolled through my list to find a new book, I never picked it because the cover wasn’t appealing. Well, I finally decided to read it when I discovered that our Info Café Blog’s Online Reading Challenge had Kenya listed as the country for May. Circling the Sun takes place in Kenya! It was a win-win. Now that I’ve finished it though, I wish I had started reading this book a lot sooner.

Circling the Sun tells the story of Beryl Markham, a real-life record-setting aviator who lived a life of adventure full of strife and unconventional desires. She was born in England and then brought to Kenya by her parents because her father wanted to farm, despite the fact that he had no experience doing so. Her mother left her and her father in Kenya when Beryl was very young to move back to England. As a result, Beryl was raised in a very unconventional way by her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who worked on her father’s estate and lived close by. Growing up without what the English considered to be a ‘traditional’ female role model, Beryl because a bold young woman who was not afraid to share her opinions, to try new things, and who understood the balance of nature, something that her father passed down to her.

Once Beryl reached a certain age, her father decided that she needed to have a more traditional life and thus threw the cozy life Beryl is familiar with into utter chaos. Her relationships began to dissolve and she was left floundering and confused about what exactly she was supposed to do with her life. Taking the skills she learned from her father as a horse trainer, she decided to become the first woman horse trainer in Kenya, which of course proved to be a very tricky process. Her decision to become a horse trainer led her more deeply into the European Expat community in Africa where she met and became entangled in a messy love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixon, who was the author of the classic memoir Out of Africa. Their tangled relationship and Beryl’s continuous desire to try more, to do more, and to be able to fend for herself leads her to journey all over the world and to meet many remarkable people.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this book, but I did find myself confused sometimes about who different characters were referring to. I know this was probably because I listened to the book and missed seeing the names in print, but I still was able to figure it out at the end. I also highly encourage you to listen to/read the epilogue where the author gives readers a glimpse into the real life of Beryl Markham and what happened to her, her friends, and family after the book ended.

The author also mentioned the book West with the Night that Beryl Markham actually wrote! She praised it highly and Ernest Hemingway even reviewed it with his quote directly on the cover. This book is on my to-be-read list and I can’t wait to read more about Beryl’s life from her own point of view.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon

Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon is not what I thought it would be, but I was pleasantly surprised! (To be honest, I picked this book purely based on the cover, something I’m guilty of doing a lot.) This book is a literary thriller that tells the story of the far-reaching consequences of identity theft. Await Your reply begins by introducing the three main characters: Miles, Ryan, and Lucy.

Miles is on a mission to find his missing twin brother, Hayden. Hayden disappeared over ten years ago, leaving Miles desperate for clues. His search takes him everywhere and has Miles deciphering letters and clues that will hopefully lead to Hayden. The brothers’ relationship and their shared childhood is a major driving factor in Miles’ concern over where his brother is.

Ryan is struggling in college and basically in his life in general. He doesn’t know what to do. Add in that he just realized that he’s adopted(how could his parents hide that secret from him his whole life?!) and Ryan is even more lost than before. His desire to learn more about his past and figure out what he wants to do with his life lead him down a dark road.

Lucy is completely over her small country hometown. She wants to escape, travel the world, and find her purpose. Lucy is presented with a way to leave her hometown in the dust, something that she jumps on! Lucy’s escape quickly proves more dangerous and mysterious than she initially thought. The consequences of her rash decision will leave her reeling and confused over just who she should trust.

I found the plotlines and each character’s timelines to be a little tricky to follow at first. If you decide to read this book, I urge you to not give up because everything becomes clear towards the end. I honestly was very surprised about some of the connections and the twists/turns that the author came up with. I didn’t see them coming! Highly recommend (If you can listen to this book, do it! The narrator was very good.)


This book is also available in the following formats:

The Hamilton Affair by Elizabeth Cobbs

The Hamilton Affair tells the tale of Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler. The book begins with young Alexander living in Christiansted on the island of St. Croix (one of the U.S. Virgin Islands). Hamilton and his mother run a small store. They own a slave Ajax who is the same age as Alexander. The boys have been friends growing up but now his mother is coaching Alexander on how to be a proper gentleman. This includes giving orders to Ajax instead of being his friend. Alexander works very hard on his manners and his deportment. If he looks and acts like a gentleman, perhaps the people of Christiansted will forget that he was born out of wedlock. After his mother dies, Alexander Hamilton moves to New York and goes to school to college. The Revolutionary War begins and the reader finds young Alexander Hamilton a captain for the American Army. Captain Hamilton is close to General George Washington and works with him regularly. On one of his errands, he stops at General Schuyler’s house. This is when he first meets the General’s daughter, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth cannot stop thinking of the young captain. She is impressed with the way that he carries himself. Also, her father, General Schulyer, had recently lost command of his army to General Horatio. Hamilton does not agree with the situation; neither does Elizabeth. While Elizabeth is visiting relatives, she finds herself at a dance with Captain Hamilton. The two begin a courtship and they are married. The author Elizabeth Cobbs gives us Alexander and Elizabeth’s viewpoints throughout the book. Usually, the chapters alternate their respective stories which I enjoyed. It was nice to see how each one viewed an incident or a historical figure. Of course, this book is historical fiction, so the author took some liberties with parts of the story.

Alexander Hamilton was an interesting person. He was born an illegitimate child but desperately tried to prove himself a gentleman. As a child, his mother owned slaves, yet Hamilton did not believe in slavery. One of his closet friends was a man named Ajax Manly whom he met during the Revolutionary War. They were friends until Alexander’s death and Ajax and Elizabeth remained friends. Ajax falls in love with a slave woman and Hamilton helps the woman gain her freedom. George Washington liked Hamilton a great deal and promoted him to General during the Whiskey Rebellion. But Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe did not like Hamilton. Some people believed that Hamilton’s insistence on a centralized government was a sign that he was a monarchist. Jefferson especially took issue with Hamilton’s views on central government and a federal bank. The two would be rivals until Hamilton’s death in 1804 at the hand of Aaron Burr.

I believe that most Americans take for granted all of the work that the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) did to create this nation. We forget about how long the war was or long it took to ratify the Constitution. The date July 4, 1776 is engraved in our minds but we forget that other events transpired in order to form our government. Reading a book like The Hamilton Affair is a reminder of the hard work, the disagreements, the stress and the worry that the Founders faced.

The Whistler by John Grisham

John Grisham is an author whose name, when I was younger, always had me cowering because he seemed to write SO MANY BOOKS. He’s up towards the top of the famous author list in my head alongside Nora Roberts, Stephen King, Danielle Steel, and James Patterson. Those five authors are all ones that I never really felt the need to read when I was younger because everyone was talking about them or reading them. Now as a librarian, I’m making my way through the authors that I previously steered away from. Current author choice: John Grisham.

The Whistler by John Grisham is a darkly mysterious, dangerous, and suspicious read. We all expect our judges to be ethical and balanced, but what happens when one goes rogue? The Florida Board on Judicial Conduct is responsible for investigating complaints that deal with judicial misconduct. Lacy Stoltz has been an investigator for the Board for the last nine years, something that gives her great joy, but also can give her headaches. Lacy is a lawyer, not a cop. This distinction is key to her job. The cases reported to her usually end up on her desk due to sheer judicial incompetence, not actual corruption. One case, however, lands on her desk that is so corrupt and a bit convoluted that Lacy and her coworker believe it may be made up. Investigations ensue!

Greg Myers, a previously disbarred lawyer with a new identity, has dropped this bombshell case on Lacy. He alleges that a judge in Florida is stealing millions of dollars and is more corrupt than any judge in the entire United States. Lacy must figure out where that money is coming from. That investigation leads her to the shady dealings and construction of a large casino built on Native American land. The Coast Mafia helped to build the casino and, as a result, is skimming money from the till. The leader of the Coast Mafia felt it would be best to have a judge in his corner, so in return for looking the other way and making sure certain cases fall the way of the Coast Mafia, the judge is getting some money too. How Myers’s informant came to know this information is messy, but the informant is keen on the fact that under Florida law they can collect millions by being a whistleblower. Lacy and her colleague are immediately suspicious of this complaint, but once it’s filed, they must investigate. Full of dark twists and turns, this book had me on the edge of my seat a few times. I’ll admit that it took some time for me to get into the plot, but I’m pretty sure that’s because I had listened to a very light and fluffy read before this. Highly recommend.


This book is also available in the following formats:

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

 

The second book by the author of the bestselling mystery The Girl on a Train will not disappoint!

Into the Water takes place in a rural Beckford, England. A river flows throughout the town; with so many twists and turns that one character comments that, “everywhere you turn, you run into the river”. But there is a particular place in the river that is famous in the town. The Drowning Pool. There is no mystery as to why it is called the Drowning Pool. The first page of the book introduces the reader to a young woman that is being tied up and forced into the water. We quickly learn about the latest victim of the Drowning Pool, Nel Abbott. Nel had been researching the former victims of the Drowning Pool for a book. It turns out that women have been found submerged in the river for hundreds of years. While it looks like a suicide some people wonder if there was foul play. Nel Abbot had made enemies.

Nel’s sister Jules comes to Beckford to take charge of her niece, Lena. Lena has not only lost her mother, but a few months earlier, she lost her best friend to the Drowning Pool. People are unsure why Katie Wittaker decided to commit suicide. Katie’s mother, Louise is having a terrible time coming to terms with her daughter’s death. Louise’s son, Josh, notes that the night that Nel Abbott went into the water, Louise was gone for most of the night. When detective Erin Morgan, who is new to town, asks people about Nel Abbot, it seems that no one really cares that she died. Except of course, her family, Jules and Lena. To complicate matters, Jules has been estranged from her sister for quite some time. So Jules and Lena do not know each other at all. Throughout the book, we learn more about Nel Abbott and Katie Wittaker and the people in their lives. The more that we learn, it becomes harder to trust anyone in Beckford.

If you listen to audiobooks, you will enjoy this one. Into the Water is read by five voice actors and they do a wonderful job. Read by Laura Aikman, Sophi Aldred, Rachel Bavidge, Imogen Church and Daniel Weyman.

 

 

Pogue’s Basics by David Pogue

Journalist David Pogue has written a series of books sharing some tips and tricks to make life easier.  I started with the ironically titled Pogue’s Basics. Life : Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying Your Day.   Some critics say they already know this stuff. Good for those geniuses. As for the rest of us, there are some very useful things to pick up in Pogue’s books.

For instance: you can tell whether your upcoming exit from the interstate will be on the left or the right by the placement of the exit number on the sign. If exit is on the left, the little sign displaying the exit number will be on the top left. If exit is on the right – you guessed it- the little exit number sign will be on the right. There is a helpful picture in the book that best explains this. This knowledge helped me navigate with aplomb on a recent trip to Chicago.

Another useful tidbit I took from it was the tip on placing my vehicle’s key fob up against my neck fat when attempting to unlock it from across the parking lot. It will unlock from a greater distance, and can be useful during those times when you forgot exactly where you parked. Pogue says this technique works because the fluids in the head act as a great conductor. I say it’s nice to know my neck fat is good for something.

Pogue’s suggestion for getting a lost dog back: place a toy and/or blanket with the scent of home on it outdoors, near where the pet was last seen. Leave it there for 24 hours. The pet will most likely follow his or her nose back toward it. I hope you never need this particular piece of information.

There are lots more suggestions that you’ll just have to check the book out to learn. If you like this book, you might also like Pogue’s Basics. Tech: Essential Tips and Shortcuts (That No One Bothers to Tell You) For Simplifying the Technology in Your Life. It will tell you, among other things, what to do when your cell phone falls into the toilet. You can thank me for this recommendation later. Preferably not with a handshake.

Author Name Pronunciation Guide

Let me introduce you to my FAVORITE library resource: TeachingBooks.net, particularly the section entitled Author Name Pronunciation Guide. This section has saved me multiple times! Have you ever wondered how to say an author’s name? Maybe you’ve been saying it one way, you hear a friend say it another way, and then you start second-guessing yourself? I do this all. the. time. So confusing. This problem is just like when you say a word out-loud that you have only ever read before just to have someone correct you and say that you’re pronouncing it wrong. Super annoying, right? Well, lucky for all of us the Author Name Pronunciation Guide at TeachingBooks.net exists. We’ll all become expert author name pronunciators and can spread our knowledge to others! Sounds perfect.

Now let’s find out where the Author Name Pronunciation Guide is! Go to TeachingBooks.net. On the home page in the banner bar at the top of the page, click Author & Book Resources.

That will bring you to a page that looks like the one below! Click on Audio Name Pronunciations.

Viola! Now you’re at the Author Name Pronunciation Guide which hopefully will start off with the following paragraph.

As you’re scrolling through that page, you’ll notice thousands of author names. My favorite one to have people play around with is Jon Scieszka because 1) I NEVER say his name right, even though I know about this guide and 2) kids ask for his books all the time and therefore are already familiar with this author. Anyway, scroll through the list and find his name (it’s alphabetical by last name). Once you click on it, a page with all his info will pop up! (Sorry for the tiny print.)

If you click on the orange play button, you’ll hear Jon Scieszka pronounce his name and talk some more. It’s awesome. It also connects you to author’s personal websites and their own page on TeachingBooks.net. Now play around and find out how to pronounce some author names! It’s definitely one of my favorite not-well-known librarian resources.

I also encourage you to click around the regular TeachingBooks.net site because there are a ton of other really good resources there. Who knows, maybe I’ll blog about them in the future!