lucybartonIf you have not read a book by Elizabeth Strout, you need to change that right now. Her latest novel, My Name is Lucy Barton will be sure to please. Strout’s writing is honest and beautiful as she writes about a mother and her daughter.

We find Lucy Barton in a hospital room in New York City recovering from complications after her surgery. Lucy’s husband does not like hospitals, and he knows that she is lonely in the hospital, so he asks her mother to come and visit. Lucy’s mother lives in a small rural town in Illinois, about an hour south of Rock Island. Lucy and her mother have not seen each other for quite a few years since Lucy moved to New York. But mother and daughter are happy to be reunited. Her mother refuses to leave her daughter alone and she sits in the chair in the hospital room during her entire visit. The reader learns more about Lucy through the women’s conversations. For a time, their family was so poor that they lived in a relative’s garage. We learn of Lucy’s struggle to become a writer. The women discuss their family and people from home. Throughout theses conversations, it is often what is not said that speaks volumes about the women’s relationship. Pieces of a story are not revealed and the reader is often left wondering what really happened.

I enjoy listening to audiobooks and My Name is Lucy Barton was a superb audiobook. The narrator, Kimberly Farr, has such a pleasant voice to listen to that I did not want to shut off my car stereo. What made My Name is Lucy Barton such a memorable book was the way that the story made you feel. It is difficult to describe what My Name is Lucy Barton is about. It is not a murder mystery and it is not a romantic love story. And yet, this books feels more real than most because it is an honest portrayal of a mother-daughter relationship. It is about two women that love each other even though they do not always have an easy relationship.

My Name is Lucy Barton is the fifth novel by Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Elizabeth Strout.

floraandulyssesHoly Bagumba!

Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo is delightful!  I was smitten with this charming, smart middle grade novel from page one.  DiCamillo (Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn Dixie) is joined by illustrator K.G. Campbell to bring to life Flora Belle Buckman, a natural-born cynic in the body of a tween girl.  Armed with an extensive vocabulary, an abundance of comic book knowledge, and an eye for the truth, Flora makes for a wonderful heroine.

But she wouldn’t see herself as the hero of this tale.  The hero (I mean, superhero) is Ulysses, a squirrel who acquires the abilities to write poetry and fly after being sucked up by Flora’s neighbor Tootie Tickman’s  Ulysses Super-Suction, Mult-Terrain 2000X vacuum.  The story that follows includes a terrifying cat, temporary blindness, a shepherdess lamp, an unexpected villain, a giant doughnut, and much more.

While this comic book/chapter book hybrid is funny and silly, it is also very sweet.  The examination of changing mother-daughter dynamics as girls grow up is so beautifully executed and subtle that readers may not notice it until they’ve finished reading.  Flora and Ulysses is a great read for loyal readers of Kate DiCamillo and fans of Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead and Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman (or, really, anyone!)

After hearing a glowing review on NPR praising this witty and charming book, I quickly placed a hold on a copy of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple.  Told primarily through emails, faxes, letters, and transcripts of taped conversations, the novel explores the events leading up to agoraphobic housewife Bernadette Fox’s disappearance.  She and her Microsoft bigwig husband promise their gifted daughter Bee that if she gets straight A’s at her prestigious middle school, she can have anything she wants as a graduation gift.  Bernadette’s worst nightmare comes true when Bee succeeds and chooses a family trip to Antarctica.  She attempts to cope with this sudden obligation to be around (gasp) people; she even hires a virtual assistant in India to make all the vacation preparations!  That’s why it is such a shock when Bernadette disappears just before they are due to embark on the trip.  Bee compiles these documents looking for clues, hoping against all evidence that she can bring her mom home again.

Semple was a writer for Arrested Development and it shows in this book, in which witty dialogue and over-the-top scenarios abound.  Bernadette’s feud with the PTA moms at Bee’s school, most notably with the one who lives next door, is ridiculous and hysterical.  Neighbor tresspasses to insist that Bernadette remove some unsightly blackberry vines?  Better erect a 5 ft. x 8 ft. billboard telling her to stay off the property, of course!  But despite all of the wacky humor, at the heart of this novel is a very touching mother-daughter relationship.  Bee will stop at nothing to find out what happened to her mother, and it is her unconditional love and determination that will render you unable to stop reading until you find out how their story ends.