Delicious by Ruth Reichl

deliciousIn Ruth Reichl’s first novel Delicious!, Billie Breslin has traveled far from her home in California to take a job at Delicious!, New York’s most iconic food magazine. Away from her family, particularly her older sister, Genie, Billie feels like a fish out of water – until she is welcomed by the magazine’s colorful staff. She is also seduced by the vibrant downtown food scene, especially by Fontanari’s, the famous Italian food shop where she works on weekends.

Then Delicious! is abruptly shut down, but Billie agrees to stay on in the empty office, maintaining the hotline for reader complaints in order to pay her bills. To Billie’s surprise, the lonely job becomes the portal to a miraculous discovery. In a hidden room in the magazine’s library, Billie finds a cache of letters written during World War II by Lulu Swan, a plucky twelve-year-old, to the legendary chef James Beard. Lulu’s letters provide Billie with a richer understanding of history, and a feeling of deep connection to the young writer whose courage in the face of hardship inspires Billie to comes to terms with her fears, her big sister and her ability to open her heart to love. (description from publisher)

Delicious  is also available for check out as a free ebook through the RiverShare Digital Library.

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom

lucky us“My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.” So begins this remarkable novel by Amy Bloom, whose critically acclaimed Away was called “a literary triumph” ( The New York Times ). Lucky Us is a brilliantly written, deeply moving, fantastically funny novel of love, heartbreak, and luck.

Disappointed by their families, Iris, the hopeful star and Eva the sidekick, journey through 1940s America in search of fame and fortune. Iris’s ambitions take the pair across the America of Reinvention in a stolen station wagon, from small-town Ohio to an unexpected and sensuous Hollywood, and to the jazz clubs and golden mansions of Long Island. With their friends in high and low places, Iris and Eva stumble and shine though a landscape of big dreams, scandals, betrayals, and war.

Filled with gorgeous writing, memorable characters, and surprising events, Lucky Us is a thrilling and resonant novel about success and failure, good luck and bad, the creation of a family, and the pleasures and inevitable perils of family life, conventional and otherwise. From Brooklyn’s beauty parlors to London’s West End, a group of unforgettable people love, lie, cheat and survive in this story of our fragile, absurd, heroic species. (description from publisher)

The Cartographer of No Man’s Land by P. S. Duffy

cartographerFrom a village in Nova Scotia to the trenches of France The Cartographer of No Man’s Land leaps across the Atlantic, between a father at war and a son coming of age at home without him.

When his beloved brother-in-law goes missing at the front in 1916, Angus defies his pacifist upbringing to join the war and find him. Assured a position as a cartographer in London, he is instead sent directly into the visceral shock of battle. Meanwhile, at home, his son Simon Peter must navigate escalating hostility in a fishing village torn by grief.

The Cartographer of No Man’s Land offers a soulful portrayal of World War I and the lives that were forever changed by it, both on the battlefield and at home. (description from publisher)

I Always Loved You by Robin Oliviera

i always loved youA novel of Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas’s great romance from the New York Times bestselling author of My Name Is Mary Sutter.

The young Mary Cassatt never thought moving to Paris after the Civil War to be an artist was going to be easy, but when, after a decade of work, her submission to the Paris Salon is rejected, Mary’s fierce determination wavers. Her father is begging her to return to Philadelphia to find a husband before it is too late, her sister Lydia is falling mysteriously ill, and worse, Mary is beginning to doubt herself. Then one evening a friend introduces her to Edgar Degas and her life changes forever. Years later she will learn that he had begged for the introduction, but in that moment their meeting seems a miracle. So begins the defining period of her life and the most tempestuous of relationships.

In I Always Loved You, Robin Oliveira brilliantly re-creates the irresistible world of Belle Époque Paris, writing with grace and uncommon insight into the passion and foibles of the human heart. (description from publisher)

The Wind is Not a River by Brian Payton

wind is not a riverA gripping tale of survival and an epic love story in which a husband and wife – separated by the only battle of World War II to take place on American soil – fight to reunite in Alaska’s starkly beautiful Aleutian Islands.

Following the death of his younger brother in Europe, journalist John Easley is determined to find meaning in his loss, to document some part of the growing war that claimed his own flesh and blood. Leaving behind his beloved wife, Helen, after an argument they both regret, he heads north from Seattle to investigate the Japanese invasion of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, a story censored by the U.S. government. While John is accompanying a crew on a bombing run, his plane is shot down over the island of Attu. He survives only to find himself exposed to a harsh and unforgiving wilderness, known as “the Birthplace of Winds.” There, John must battle the elements, starvation, and his own remorse while evading discovery by the Japanese.

Alone in their home three thousand miles to the south, Helen struggles with the burden of her husband’s disappearance. Caught in extraordinary circumstances, in this new world of the missing, she is forced to reimagine who she is – and what she is capable of doing. Somehow, she must find John and bring him home, a quest that takes her into the farthest reaches of the war, beyond the safety of everything she knows. A powerful, richly atmospheric story of life and death, commitment and sacrifice, The Wind Is Not a River illuminates the fragility of life and the fierce power of love. (description from publisher)

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan

Margo Lanagan is an artist, and Tender Morsels is a potent story, rich in magic and full of feeling. Liga, with a babe in arms and another on the way – both forced on her in the most unpleasant ways you care to imagine – is rescued from her miserable life by an elemental creature, removed to her Heart’s Desire: her personal heaven, a world that narrowly overlaps her real pre-industrial, vaguely-historical, sort-of-European one. The boundary is firm for a while and Liga raises her daughters in peace and safety, but eventually people start poking their way through – in both directions. What follows is a meditative, surprising, totally unique tale of self discovery, familial and romantic love, magic, fear, and growing up. It’s slow paced and knotted with complex, beautiful language. It’s brilliant and mature and devastating, but uplifting at the same time. Tender Morsels is based on the fairy tale Snow White and Rose Red. It fills in the bones of that story, adding motivation to the characters and a reason to the movements of the plot, which always bends to fit the whims of the magic, and never the other way around.

 “You are a living creature, born to make a real life, however it cracks your heart.”

This book isn’t for everyone: the plot hinges on violence and sexual abuse, so those who are uncomfortable with those topics will be unhappy with this book. It’s written for a teenage audience, but the complexity of the writing and some mature content mean that it’s better suited for older teens or adults who read YA.

Some more novels based on fairy tales:

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

flightbehavior

Set in rural Appalachia, Flight Behavior introduces readers to fiery haired Dellaboria Turnbow, a 28-year-old mother of two and wife of sweet, but dull Cub. After getting pregnant at 17, she traded college for rural poverty — helping her in-laws on their sheep farm.  We meet Dellaboria as she makes her way toward an adulterous rendezvous, which she skips after seeing what “looked like the inside of joy” that she interprets as a sign from God.  Her vision turns out to be a sea of Monarch butterflies that arrive in rural Tennessee after changing weather patterns disturb their flight behavior.  The butterflies bring in a cast of characters — from environmental activists to scientists to tourists to journalists — that push Dellaboria to challenge her expectations of herself and those around her.

This book reads as deeply personal, with Kingsolver’s fondness for these characters only matched by the urgency in her description of possible near-future effects of climate change.  Kingsolver lives in rural Appalachia (and has a background in ecology and biology), and you can tell that she looks on her home with a mix of affection and frustration.  She writes Dellaboria and her family and friends with enough respect to make them complicated, thoughtful, intelligent, and flawed.  Readers that enjoyed Kingsolver’s other forays into family and politics in  The Poisonwood Bible and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle will enjoy this beautifully written novel.  

 

 

Every Boy Should Have a Man by Preston L. Allen

every boy should have a manTrying to put into words how I feel about Preston L. Allen’s Every Boy Should Have a Man isn’t easy.  I keep trying to avoid calling the book weird — as not to turn away potential readers — while still imparting the distinct oddness of this novel.  I want to explain how unnerving the novel can be at times, while making sure that I don’t forgot to tell you that the book was also subtly funny and  wickedly smart.  Part science-fiction, part allegory, part fairy tale, and part scripture, Allen has created a work of fiction that isn’t easy to pin down.  Allen deftly employs irony, playing with the reader’s perception of humanity and challenging the way we interact with the earth.

Every Boy Should Have a Man takes place in a world in which Oafs keep “mans” as both pets and as potential food.  In this land, a poor boy Oaf owns three mans throughout his life; something that is typically only a privilege of the wealthy.  Spanning the lifetime of the boy Oaf (and a short time following), the book examines what it means to be civilized through a lens of a long list of divisive subjects including war, racism, global warming, and the ethics of domesticating animals for pets and livestock.  To say that the novel is unique is an understatement, but there is evidence of a wide range of influences from Jack and the Beanstalk and Gulliver’s Travels to Ursula K. Le Guin and Margaret Atwood.

 

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

wonder

Wonder by R.J. Palacio: This book came into my life like a freight train of emotion and steamrolled over everything else I was doing. Auggie is starting fifth grade after being homeschooled for the previous five years: he has extreme facial deformities that make going out in public an almost unbearable trial. Everywhere he goes, people stare at him and whisper to each other. Auggie almost always notices, and wants so very much just to be normal. Inside, he’s as normal as any bright ten year old can be – he adores Star Wars, he likes to play Halo, he’s read all the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, and Halloween is his favorite holiday (since everyone is wearing a mask, he can too, and goes around just like a truly normal kid).

But Wonder isn’t just about Auggie, though he’s the main character. This is one of the few children’s novels I’ve seen that uses more than one narrator, and it’s surprisingly effective. Palacio doesn’t get carried away trying to make each narrator sound distinct (which would complicate matters for young readers): she uses a similar voice for each of the six viewpoint characters, letting their experiences and their emotions differentiate between them rather than her writing style.

This is a happy-sad book. Some moments will stab at you and make you weep, but overall you’ll feel rewarded and uplifted and most of all lucky: lucky to have met August, a character of such everyday bravery that you won’t soon forget him, lucky not to have the cascade of medical afflictions that have made him so remarkable, and lucky to have this beautiful book as a reminder to always be a little more kind than is necessary.

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

Family_Fang-Kevin_WilsonIt is hard enough to be well-adjusted while raised under typical circumstances, but Annie (Child A) and Buster (Child B) spent their childhood as players in their parent’s mischief disguised as art (or is it art disguised as mischief?).  They have spent their adult years attempting to distance themselves from their famous artist parents, but when their new lives start to fall apart, they find themselves back under their parent’s roof.

In his debut novel, The Family Fang, Kevin Wilson introduces us to the Fang family. With disdain for traditional art forms, Caleb and Camille Fang choose unexpected public performance art as their medium and have included their children in all of their greatest pieces. When their children return home, Caleb and Camille plan one final performance, and Annie and Buster are participants whether they want to be or not.  The quirky story (think Wes Anderson meets Arrested Development) is bolstered by flash-back chapters that help the reader better understand the character’s motives and gives clues to the final outcome.  Exceptionally written and a fun read, this book should please fans of Zadie Smith and Karen Russell.