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Book It Reviews
*** An important update from the City Manager on the Coronavirus (COVID-19) ***
The public health situation is rapidly changing, here are the latest updates affecting City facilities
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BY WILLIAM GWIN
Not All “HEA” (Happily Ever After) Titles at Oak Ridge Public Library
One reader described a book’s ending as not “HEA” or “Happily Ever After.” I found this term interesting, suggesting all kinds of short-hand personal and cultural references, and I could foresee an extended use of “HEA” beyond describing a less than sanguine plot ending. For example, I can imagine replying to a parent’s query: “How did the soccer game turn out?” “Well, not very ‘HEA.’ Let’s just say that!”
From the dystopian genre, (certainly not “HEA”) you might enjoy
, by Cory Doctorow, which is part spy-thriller, part “Big Brother” cyber conspiracy. Mash Maximow is a gritty, street-smart operative working for the “winning side,” which exploits her elite cyber skills to oppress dissidents in repressive governments across the globe. Out of boredom, she has become a hi-tech prankster, interfering with people’s lives from thousands of miles away and acting in ways contrary to the objectives of her overseers. Her elite lifestyle with its money and perks is hard to resist, but her recklessness will force her to make a choice with potentially dire consequences.
is the 3rd book in the Little Brother Series, a Young Adult series; however, it can be read as a stand-alone book. The previous 2 books in the series by order of publication are
(2013). Oak Ridge Public Library has these previous 2 books in the series as well.
Every once in a while, a good writer casts his or her eye onto the veiled institution of American football. In
, by Corey Sobel, we experience the politics and culture of contemporary football through the perspective of a closeted, gay man, Miles Furling, who sees a football scholarship as his ticket to a college education and Reshawn McCoy, a premier football star and academic stand-out, who mysteriously has turned down a chance to play in more highly ranked football programs to play for King, whose academic reputation is stellar but whose last in Division status makes it a dead end towards advancing a professional football career. For this novel, think
Friday Night Lights
A Separate Peace
, by John Knowles, the moodiness, description, and setting of the latter, with the anything goes culture of the former.
The outsider and “not HEA” theme continues in
, by Susie Yang. The lead character, Ivy Lin, is daughter of a typical Chinese Tiger mom, who prods and pushes Ivy to mold herself academically and socially so that she can not only assimilate, but escape the déclassé social landscape where she grew up. Ivy struggles to be “good,” to internalize all the characteristics she has been told would make her successful, but “Ivy sometimes felt she was two different people—the kind, generous moral citizen she tried to be with Gideon, and her unsatisfied, practical, opportunistic self. She would have given anything to be like Gideon naturally—to be good—but she was not good. She was jealous, petty, and vengeful; experience had taught her to hide these characteristics behind a veneer of sweetness and humility.”
explores the perennial themes of immigrant assimilation into American culture, as well as the role race and class play in the pursuit of the “American Dream,” and the gap between what we are willing to pretend to be versus who we really are.
For those who like short stories with a streak of local color,
The Collected Breece D’J Pancake Stories, Fragments, Letters
is both local to Appalachia as well as colorful. The introduction to the author’s posthumously published collection serves as a fine overview of his work: “The ancient hills and valleys of southern West Virginia remain Breece Pancake’s home place; the specificity and nuance of his words embody the vanished farms, the dams and filled valleys, the strip-mined or exploded mountains. His stories are startling and immediate: these lives informed by loss and wrenching cruelty retain the luminous dignity that marks the endurance of all that is most human.” It is a pleasure to read how Breece Dexter Pancake captures the unique cadence and visual immediacy of Appalachian speech and phrasing.
Our final “not HEA” title may nevertheless be timely. Emma Glass’ latest,
rest and be thankful
is in novella territory at only 138 pages. It only rates a 3.9/5.0 stars on Amazon. Anything under a 4 star rating usually means someone is not happy. What you find in a book like this is that some readers absolutely love it, while others absolutely do not. In this case, why the divergence of views? First, the story covers the experience of a stressed pediatric nurse as described by the book flap (that indispensable summarization of a book’s creative intent): “Laura may be burned out. Her hands have been washing as long as she can remember. When she sleeps she dreams of water; when she wakes, she finds herself lying next to a man who doesn’t love her anymore. And there is a strange figure dancing in the corner of her vision, always beyond her reach.” Not exactly an HEA feel to this character’s life. And if any of you have known anyone this past year, doctors or nurses, then you know that they have been pushed to edge of their capacities, that they need and deserve our respect and compassion. The second reason for some readers’ dissatisfaction is that they were put off by the 1st person narrative of the story throughout. There is a lot of “I” here but excessive self-reference realistically reflects the mindset and relentless immediacy, the gray emotional landscape and inescapability of Laura’s life.
Of course even if HEA happens in a novel, as with real life, it comes with some bumps in the road, which of course, makes the end result even sweeter. Such is the case with the following 2 fiction selections.
It seems like Frances Mayes’ 1996 memoir and 2003 film with the eponymous title,
Under the Tuscan Sun
, launched a Tuscany subgenre in fiction. The hills, the sun, the exotic Italian food and wine. How could romance not flourish is such a setting? In
The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany
, by Lori Nelson Spielman, one of the backstories is that a sister, Filomena Fontana, has “cast a curse on her sister more than two hundred years ago . . . .” Fast forward, and not one second sister has found true, lasting love. Curse or coincidence? Enter Aunt Poppy, who comes to the rescue of the heroine, Emilia and her cousin, proposing to take them to Tuscany, where she promises they will find true love. We start with Emilia’s life as a baker in Brooklyn, which grounds her character in the day-to-day before the adventure not only to Tuscany, but to other Italian cities as well. Most chapters are dedicated to Emilia’s point of view, but we do get the point of view, in a few chapters, of her Aunt Poppy as she experienced these same cities as a young woman in the late 50s.
New York Times
bestseller, Adriana Trigiani, (“Big Stone Gap”) hails this read as a “. . . delicious modern fairy tale.”
I had to get up to speed on “narrowboating” for this next book. Perhaps if you have travelled to Europe, you are familiar with narrowboats which traverse country-side canals. In a YouTube blog put together by a narrowboater, I was surprised at actually how narrow the canals were as well as the intimate proximity between narrowboaters and the bucolic country-side. In Anne Youngson’s
, we meet 3 women who have decided to spend the summer gliding along the English canals in their narrowboat. The slowness of travel and intimacy of close quarters draw these women into bonds of friendship, as they are at a point in their lives of taking stock: what to keep and what leave behind, and what to begin anew?
Of course, if you do not want to struggle with the characters to get to “HEA,” or Happily Ever After, just take a shortcut and start with characters who are already settled and pretty happy, except for the occasional murder that must be solved—a bit of a distraction from whatever the knitting circle is working on that week! But in end, the circle of 4 knitters get their villain. Set in the fictional seaside town of Sea Harbor, Massachusetts, with a supporting cast of 29 supporting local townsfolk (all listed like Dramatis Personae fronting a Shakespeare play), Sally Goldenbaum’s latest installment of this (now 15 book series) is
A Crime of a Different Stripe
. On the book’s cover is a peacefully curled up cat, a peaceful sunset over the bay, and a wicker basket full of yarn and knitting needles. The cover itself epitomizes this enduring series’ appeal to its fans: This is a “cozy” mystery. So, what makes a mystery a “Cozy”? According to ingramspark.com, “A cozy mystery . . . is the gentlest subset of the broad genre of crime writing. As its name suggests, it’s a comfort read that leaves you satisfied and at one with the world, rather than scared to sleep alone with the lights out.” Sounds like the perfect escape for these nerve fraying times. Although each of the Seaside Knitters Society Mysteries can be read as a standalone story, if you prefer to read them from beginning to end, ORPL has 12 of the 15 titles in stock. Happy reading!
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