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Random Reads From a Retired Librarian – 2019

BookTalkBooklist

Random Reads from a Retired Librarian – 2019
Gere Branch, March 25, 2019
Susan V. [volunteer]

The Girl With Seven Names: A North Korean Defector’s Story
by Hyeonseo Lee [Biography Lee]

An extraordinary insight into life under one of the world s most ruthless and secretive dictatorships and the story of one woman s terrifying struggle to avoid capture and guide her family to freedom.

As a child growing up in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee was one of millions trapped by a secretive and brutal communist regime. Her home on the border with China gave her some exposure to the world beyond the confines of the Hermit Kingdom and, as the famine of the 1990s struck, she began to wonder, question and to realize that she had been brainwashed her entire life. Given the repression, poverty and starvation she witnessed surely her country could not be, as she had been told the best on the planet?

Aged seventeen, she decided to escape North Korea. She could not have imagined that it would be twelve years before she was reunited with her family.

She could not return, since rumors of her escape were spreading, and she and her family could incur the punishments of the government authorities involving imprisonment, torture, and possible public execution. Hyeonseo instead remained in China and rapidly learned Chinese in an effort to adapt and survive. Twelve years and two lifetimes later, she would return to the North Korean border in a daring mission to spirit her mother and brother to South Korea, on one of the most arduous, costly and dangerous journeys imaginable.

This is the unique story not only of Hyeonseo s escape from the darkness into the light, but also of her coming of age, education and the resolve she found to rebuild her life not once, but twice first in China, then in South Korea. Strong, brave and eloquent, this memoir is a triumph of her remarkable spirit.”


The Last Ballad
by Wiley Cash [Cash]

The New York Times bestselling author of the celebrated A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy returns with this eagerly awaited new novel, set in the Appalachian foothills of North Carolina in 1929 and inspired by actual events. The chronicle of an ordinary woman’s struggle for dignity and her rights in a textile mill, The Last Ballad is a moving tale of courage in the face of oppression and injustice, with the emotional power of Ron Rash’s Serena, Dennis Lehane’s The Given Day, and the unforgettable films Norma Rae and Silkwood.

Twelve times a week, twenty-eight-year-old Ella May Wiggins makes the two-mile trek to and from her job on the night shift at American Mill No. 2 in Bessemer City, North Carolina. The insular community considers the mill’s owners — the newly arrived Goldberg brothers — white but not American and expects them to pay Ella May and other workers less because they toil alongside African Americans like Violet, Ella May’s best friend. While the dirty, hazardous job at the mill earns Ella May a paltry nine dollars for seventy-two hours of work each week, it’s the only opportunity she has. Her no-good husband, John, has run off again, and she must keep her four young children alive with whatever work she can find.

When the union leaflets begin circulating, Ella May has a taste of hope, a yearning for the better life the organizers promise. But the mill owners, backed by other nefarious forces, claim the union is nothing but a front for the Bolshevik menace sweeping across Europe. To maintain their control, the owners will use every means in their power, including bloodshed, to prevent workers from banding together. On the night of the county’s biggest rally, Ella May, weighing the costs of her choice, makes up her mind to join the movement — a decision that will have lasting consequences for her children, her friends, her town — indeed all that she loves.

Seventy-five years later, Ella May’s daughter Lilly, now an elderly woman, tells her nephew about his grandmother and the events that transformed their family. Illuminating the most painful corners of their history, she reveals, for the first time, the tragedy that befell Ella May after that fateful union meeting in 1929.

Intertwining myriad voices, Wiley Cash brings to life the heartbreak and bravery of the now forgotten struggle of the labor movement in early twentieth-century America — and pays tribute to the thousands of heroic women and men who risked their lives to win basic rights for all workers. Lyrical, heartbreaking, and haunting, this eloquent novel confirms Wiley Cash’s place among our nation’s finest writers.


The Road to Character
by David Brooks [179.9 Bro]

“I wrote this book not sure I could follow the road to character, but I wanted at least to know what the road looks like and how other people have trodden it.” –David Brooks

With the wisdom, humor, curiosity, and sharp insights that have brought millions of readers to his New York Times column and his previous bestsellers, David Brooks has consistently illuminated our daily lives in surprising and original ways. In The Social Animal, he explored the neuroscience of human connection and how we can flourish together. Now, in The Road to Character, he focuses on the deeper values that should inform our lives. Responding to what he calls the culture of the Big Me, which emphasizes external success, Brooks challenges us, and himself, to rebalance the scales between our “résumé virtues” — achieving wealth, fame, and status–and our “eulogy virtues,” those that exist at the core of our being: kindness, bravery, honesty, or faithfulness, focusing on what kind of relationships we have formed.

Looking to some of the world’s greatest thinkers and inspiring leaders, Brooks explores how, through internal struggle and a sense of their own limitations, they have built a strong inner character. Labor activist Frances Perkins understood the need to suppress parts of herself so that she could be an instrument in a larger cause. Dwight Eisenhower organized his life not around impulsive self-expression but considered self-restraint. Dorothy Day, a devout Catholic convert and champion of the poor, learned as a young woman the vocabulary of simplicity and surrender. Civil rights pioneers A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin learned reticence and the logic of self-discipline, the need to distrust oneself even while waging a noble crusade.

Blending psychology, politics, spirituality, and confessional, The Road to Character provides an opportunity for us to rethink our priorities, and strive to build rich inner lives marked by humility and moral depth. “Joy,” David Brooks writes, “is a byproduct experienced by people who are aiming for something else. But it comes.”


Free Food for Millionaires
by Min Jin Lee [Lee]

Casey Han’s four years at Princeton gave her many things, “But no job and a number of bad habits.” Casey’s parents, who live in Queens, are Korean immigrants working in a dry cleaner, desperately trying to hold on to their culture and their identity. Their daughter, on the other hand, has entered into rarified American society via scholarships. But after graduation, Casey sees the reality of having expensive habits without the means to sustain them. As she navigates Manhattan, we see her life and the lives around her, culminating in a portrait of New York City and its world of haves and have-nots. Free Food for Millionaires offers up a fresh exploration of the complex layers we inhabit both in society and within ourselves. Inspired by 19th century novels such as Vanity Fair and Middlemarch, Min Jin Lee examines maintaining one’s identity within changing communities in what is her remarkably assured debut.


The Word is Murder
by Anthony Horowitz [Horowitz]

New York Times bestselling author of Magpie Murders and Moriarty, Anthony Horowitz has yet again brilliantly reinvented the classic crime novel, this time writing a fictional version of himself as the Watson to a modern-day Holmes.

One bright spring morning in London, Diana Cowper – the wealthy mother of a famous actor – enters a funeral parlor. She is there to plan her own service.

Six hours later she is found dead, strangled with a curtain cord in her own home.

Enter disgraced police detective Daniel Hawthorne, a brilliant, eccentric investigator who’s as quick with an insult as he is to crack a case. Hawthorne needs a ghost writer to document his life; a Watson to his Holmes. He chooses Anthony Horowitz.

Drawn in against his will, Horowitz soon finds himself a the center of a story he cannot control. Hawthorne is brusque, temperamental and annoying but even so his latest case with its many twists and turns proves irresistible. The writer and the detective form an unusual partnership. At the same time, it soon becomes clear that Hawthorne is hiding some dark secrets of his own.

A masterful and tricky mystery that springs many surprises, The Word is Murder is Anthony Horowitz at his very best.


The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards
by Kristopher Jansma [Jansma]

From as early as he can remember, the hopelessly unreliable — yet hopelessly earnest — narrator of this ambitious debut novel has wanted to become a writer.

From the jazz clubs of Manhattan to the villages of Sri Lanka, Kristopher Jansma’s irresistible narrator will be inspired and haunted by the success of his greatest friend and rival in writing, the eccentric and brilliantly talented Julian McGann, and endlessly enamored with Julian’s enchanting friend, Evelyn, the green-eyed girl who got away. After the trio has a disastrous falling out, desperate to tell the truth in his writing and to figure out who he really is, Jansma’s narrator finds himself caught in a never-ending web of lies.

As much a story about a young man and his friends trying to make their way in the world as a profoundly affecting exploration of the nature of truth and storytelling, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards will appeal to readers of Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists and Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad with its elegantly constructed exploration of the stories we tell to find out who we really are.


The Tenderness of Wolves
by Stef Penney [Penney]

The year is 1867. Winter has just tightened its grip on Dove River, a tiny isolated settlement in the Northern Territory, when a man is brutally murdered. Laurent Jammett had been a voyageur for the Hudson Bay Company before an accident lamed him four years earlier. The same accident afforded him the little parcel of land in Dove River, land that the locals called unlucky due to the untimely death of the previous owner. A local woman, Mrs. Ross, stumbles upon the crime scene and sees the tracks leading from the dead man’s cabin north toward the forest and the tundra beyond. It is Mrs. Ross’s knock on the door of the largest house in Caulfield that launches the investigation.

Within hours she will regret that knock with a mother’s love — for soon she makes another discovery: her seventeen-year-old son Francis has disappeared and is now considered a prime suspect. In the wake of such violence, people are drawn to the crime and to the township — Andrew Knox, Dove River’s elder statesman; Thomas Sturrock, a wily American itinerant trader; Donald Moody, the clumsy young Company representative; William Parker, a half-breed Native American and trapper who was briefly detained for Jammett’s murder before becoming Mrs. Ross’s guide. But the question remains: do these men want to solve the crime or exploit it?

One by one, the searchers set out from Dove River following the tracks across a desolate landscape — home to only wild animals, madmen, and fugitives — variously seeking a murderer, a son, two sisters missing for seventeen years, and a forgotten Native American culture before the snows settle and cover the tracks of the past for good.


Everything I Never Told You
by Celeste Ng [Ng]

“Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos. A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.


The Fallen Architect
by Charles Belfoure [Belfoure]

Someone has to take the blame.

When the Britannia Theatre’s balcony collapses, killing over a dozen people, the fingers point at the architect. He should have known better, should have made it safer, should have done something.

Douglas Layton knows the flaw wasn’t in his design, but he can’t fight a guilty verdict. When he is finally released from prison, he has nothing: no job, no family, nowhere to go. He needs to assume a new identity and rebuild his life.

But he soon finds himself digging up the past in a way he never anticipated. If the collapse was not an accident … who caused it? And why? And what if they find out who he used to be?


Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman [Honeyman]

No one’s ever told Eleanor that life should be better than fine.

Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy.

But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond together save Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.

Soon to be a major motion picture produced by Reese Witherspoon, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the smart, warm, and uplifting story of an out-of-the-ordinary heroine whose deadpan weirdness and unconscious wit make for an irresistible journey as she realizes…

The only way to survive is to open your heart.


Faithful
by Alice Hoffman [Hoffman]

Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt.

What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion — from dark suffering to true happiness — a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls — including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night.

Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap.


Tomorrow
by Damian Dibben [Dibben]

Venice, 1815. A two-hundred-year-old dog is searching for his lost master. And so begins Tomorrow, a story of love that spans the centuries and of hope as the world collapses into war. Tomorrow is a dog who must travel through the courts and battlefields of Europe in search of the man who granted him immortality. His is a journey of loyalty and determination, as he befriends both animals and humans, falls in love–only once — marvels at the human ability to make music and despairs at their capacity for war.

Tomorrow is a spellbinding novel of courage and devotion, of humanity across the ages and of the eternal connection between two souls.


The Address
by Fiona Davis [Davis]

Sara, a servant in 1884 is given the opportunity to move to America and manage the grand New York apartment house, The Dakota. It offers her a world of possibility, including being close to the Dakota’s famous architect, Theo. A hundred years later in 1984, interior designer Bailey is fresh out of rehab and is tasked with helping her cousin redesign her apartment in the famous Dakota. Once there, Bailey learns all about the building’s history, including its architect Theo, and the mad woman named Sara who stabbed him to death.


The Masterpiece
by Fiona Davis [Davis]

Takes readers into the glamorous lost art school within Grand Central Terminal, where two very different women strive to make their mark on a world set against them. In 1928 25 year-old Clara is a talented illustrator, with dreams of creating cover art for Vogue. But she and her friends have no idea that they’ll soon be blindsided by the Great Depression. Nearly fifty years later, in 1974, the terminal has declined almost as sharply as Virginia’s life. Recently divorced, she accepts a job in the information booth and stumbles upon an abandoned art school within the terminal and discovers a striking watercolor hidden under the dust.


The Orchid and the Wasp
by Caolinn Hughes [Fiction – Library only owns in e-book and e-audio formats]

An unforgettable young woman navigates Dublin, London and New York, striving to build a life raft for her loved-ones amidst economic and familial collapse.

In this dazzlingly original debut novel, award-winning Irish writer Caoilinn Hughes introduces a heroine of mythic proportions in the form of one Gael Foess. A tough, thoughtful, and savvy opportunist, Gael is determined to live life on her own terms. Raised in Dublin by single-minded, careerist parents, Gael learns early how a person’s ambitions and ideals can be compromised — and she refuses to let her vulnerable, unwell younger brother, Guthrie, suffer such sacrifices.

When Gael’s financier father walks out on them during the economic crash of 2008, her family fractures. Her mother, a once-formidable orchestral conductor, becomes a shadow. And a fateful incident prevents Guthrie from finishing high school. Determined not to let her loved-ones fall victim to circumstance, Gael leaves Dublin for the coke-dusted social clubs of London and Manhattan’s gallery scene, always working an angle, but beginning to become a stranger to those who love her.

Written in electric, heart-stopping prose, The Orchid and the Wasp is a novel about gigantic ambitions and hard-won truths, chewing through sexuality, class, and politics, and crackling with joyful, anarchic fury. It challenges bootstraps morality with questions of what we owe one another and what we earn. A first novel of astonishing talent, The Orchid and the Wasp announces Caoilinn Hughes as one of the most exciting literary writers working today.


The Balcony
by Jane Delury [Delury]

A “breathtaking” century-spanning portrait of the inhabitants of a French village, revealing the deception, despair, love, and longing beneath the calm surface of ordinary lives.

What if our homes could tell the stories of others who lived there before us? Set in a small village near Paris, The Balcony follows the inhabitants of a single estate — including a manor and a servants’ cottage — over the course of several generations, from the Belle Époque to the present day, introducing us to a fascinating cast of characters. A young American au pair develops a crush on her brilliant employer. An ex-courtesan shocks the servants, a Jewish couple in hiding from the Gestapo attract the curiosity of the neighbors, and a housewife begins an affair while renovating her downstairs. Rich and poor, young and old, powerful and persecuted, all of these people are seeking something: meaning, love, a new beginning, or merely survival.

Throughout, cross-generational connections and troubled legacies haunt the same spaces, so that the rose garden, the forest pond, and the balcony off the manor’s third floor bedroom become silent witnesses to a century of human drama.


Midnight Blue
by Simone van der Vlugt [Fiction – Library only owns in e-book format]

Amsterdam 1654: against the backdrop of Holland’s Golden Age, a dangerous secret threatens to destroy a young widow’s new life.

Following the sudden death of her husband, twenty-five-year old Catrin leaves her small village and takes a job as a housekeeper to the successful Van Nulandt merchant family. Amsterdam is a city at the peak of its powers: science and art are flourishing in the Golden Age and Dutch ships bring back exotic riches from the Far East. Madam Van Nulandt passes her time taking expensive painting lessons from a local master, Rembrandt van Rigin, and when Catrin takes up a brush to finish some of her mistress’s work, Rembrandt realizes the maid has genuine talent, and encourages her to continue.

When a figure from her past threatens her new life, Catrin flees to the smaller city of Delft. There, her gift as a painter earns her a chance to earn a living painting pottery at a local workshop. Slowly, the workshop begins to develop a new type of pottery to rival fancy blue-on-white imported Chinese porcelain — and the graceful and coveted Delft Blue designs she creates help revolutionize the industry. But when tragedy strikes, Catrin must decide whether to defend her newfound independence, or return to the village that she’d fled.


The Girl Who Wrote in Silk
by Kelli Estes [Estes]

Inspired by true events, Kelli Estes’s brilliant and atmospheric novel serves as a poignant tale of two women determined to do the right thing, and the power of our own stories.

The smallest items can hold centuries of secrets…

Inara Erickson is exploring her deceased aunt’s island estate when she finds an elaborately stitched piece of fabric hidden in the house. As she peels back layer upon layer of the secrets it holds, Inara’s life becomes interwoven with that of Mei Lein, a young Chinese girl mysteriously driven from her home a century before. Through the stories Mei Lein tells in silk, Inara uncovers a tragic truth that will shake her family to its core — and force her to make an impossible choice.


Bellwether
by Connie Willis [Willis]

Sandra Foster studies fads — from Barbie dolls to the grunge look — how they start and what they mean. Bennett O’Reilly is a chaos theorist studying monkey group behavior. They both work for the HiTek corporation, strangers until a mis-delivered package brings them together. It’s a moment of synchronicity — if not serendipity — which leads them into a chaotic system of their own, complete with a million-dollar research grant, caffé latte, tattoos, and a series of unlucky coincidences that leaves Bennett monkeyless, fundless, and nearly jobless. Sandra intercedes with a flock of sheep and an idea for a joint project. (After all, what better animal to study both chaos theory and the herd mentality that so often characterizes human behavior?)

But scientific discovery is rarely straightforward and never simple, and Sandra and Bennett have to endure a series of setbacks, heartbreaks, dead ends, and disasters before they find their ultimate answer…


Elevation
by Stephen King [King]

The latest from legendary master storyteller Stephen King, a riveting, extraordinarily eerie, and moving story about a man whose mysterious affliction brings a small town together — a timely, upbeat tale about finding common ground despite deep-rooted differences.

Although Scott Carey doesn’t look any different, he’s been steadily losing weight. There are a couple of other odd things, too. He weighs the same in his clothes and out of them, no matter how heavy they are. Scott doesn’t want to be poked and prodded. He mostly just wants someone else to know, and he trusts Doctor Bob Ellis.

In the small town of Castle Rock, the setting of many of King’s most iconic stories, Scott is engaged in a low grade — but escalating — battle with the lesbians next door whose dog regularly drops his business on Scott’s lawn. One of the women is friendly; the other, cold as ice. Both are trying to launch a new restaurant, but the people of Castle Rock want no part of a gay married couple, and the place is in trouble. When Scott finally understands the prejudices they face-including his own — he tries to help. Unlikely alliances, the annual foot race, and the mystery of Scott’s affliction bring out the best in people who have indulged the worst in themselves and others.