Ann Hood writes a moving novel of fate and the red thread that binds her characters’ lives. After losing her infant daughter in a freak accident, Maya Lange opens The Red Thread, an adoption agency that specializes in placing baby girls from China with American families. The story follows several families as they attempt to adopt daughters from China. The clients have their own share of heartbreak—miscarriages and infertility—and, predictably, the expectations and reservations about parenthood. The stories of the adopting parents are intertwined with those of the Chinese women who, for various reasons, had to give up their baby girls. The tone here is somber, but in the end these parents are transformed by the healing journeys they have made (provided you can keep them all straight). The tale ends with a pleasing sense that the red thread is more than a myth, especially in Maya’s case.
If you have ever had the opportunity to hear Gina Barreca in person then you know how laugh-out-loud funny she is. Well her new book It’s Not That I’m Bitter…: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World does not disappoint. I was sitting on my deck one recent summer evening reading this, laughing out loud, and hoping none of the neighbors were outside listening. Fans of Nora Ephron’s I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman (which I thoroughly enjoyed also) will find humor along with serious insights about women and aging. Barreca packs a hilarious punch while gleefully rejecting emotional torture, embracing limitless laughter, and showing women how they can conquer the world with good friends (“It’s not that diamonds are a girl’s best friend, but a girl’s best friends are diamonds”), sharp wit, and great shoes.
My Name is Memory,the second novel by Ann Brashares for adults, taps into the growing appetite for romances thwarted by extraordinary tricks of time. If you liked Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, which is still one of my favorite reads, then most likely you’ll enjoy the love story of Virginia high-school student Lucy as she is inexplicably drawn to classmate Daniel. But when he claims to have known her before, a thoroughly unsettled Lucy flees. Gradually, Lucy learns the impossible truth: Daniel has been chasing her through ages and lives for 1,200 years. But is it the truth, or is Daniel Grey completely delusional? At one point Daniel even asks himself “What if he’d invented this memory as a way to contend with a life of abandonment and abuse?” Let’s hope for a speedy sequel that is hinted at….
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender is the second book I’ve read this month so far. It begins on the eve of her ninth birthday when unassuming Rose Edelstein bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the cake. She discovers this gift to her horror though, for her mother—her cheerful, can-do mother—tastes of despair and desperation. Suddenly, and for the rest of her life, food becomes a peril and a threat to Rose. The lengths that Rose will go to in order to avoid tasting food is incredible as she practically lives on vending machine snacks while in school. Her odd behavior alienates even her best friend. Thankfully she has a confidante in George, her brother’s nerdy, scientific friend, who somehow believes that Rose can taste the rage in a cookie at the local bakery when he conducts a little experiment. He tells Rose that someday she will grow into this “magic food psychic” thing and she does, not without heartbreak along the way.
What would you think of a postmistress who chose not to deliver the mail?
This question is posed by American radio gal Frankie Bard at a dinner party. Of course that stops the conversation cold once they learn it really happened. Frankie’s radio dispatches cross the Atlantic ocean over the airwaves, imploring listeners to pay attention—as the Nazis bomb London nightly, and Jewish refugees stream across Europe. Frankie is convinced that if she can just get the right story, it will wake Americans to action and they will join the fight.
Meanwhile, in Franklin, Massachusetts, a small town on Cape Cod, Iris James, the postmistress, hears Frankie’s broadcasts and believes that it is only a matter of time before the war arrives on Franklin’s shores. In charge of the town’s mail, Iris believes that her job is to deliver and keep people’s secrets. This she does….but she’s not the only one with a secret. Why does Frankie end up in Franklin, is it merely to “rest” or does she have an unfinished story to tell?
Married and the father of a young daughter, John Bevan had finally found the traditional family he lacked as an orphaned child in Jason Wright’s latest book, the Cross Gardener. But all that disappears when a fatal car accident steals away his wife-and the unborn child she carried. John is filled with sorrow and withdraws from life, sleeping late, not getting his daughter to school on time, just barely functioning. He erects two crosses at the scene of the accident and becomes fanatic in taking care to visit them every day. Too bad that John sometimes comes across as more sullen than bereaved.
One morning he encounters a young man touching up the crosses with white paint. Who is this person? Is the gardener real or imaginary? This story explores the questions we ask when our lives are touched by loss: How do we carry on? And who will show us the way? Who will be my Cross Gardener?
A family saga that takes place in Appalachia, this debut novel by Amy Greene follows the story of the Lamb women—Byrdie, Clio, Myra, and Laura—from the Depression to the present day. Poverty, folk culture, and the often harsh conditions of Appalachian life color the loves, hatreds, and losses of the Lamb family; for these women, circumstances beyond their control—and some poor decisions of their own—lead to one unhappy ending after another. About three quarters of the way through the book I almost put it down, it was just so depressing. Though Greene has a flair for physical description, I really felt a sense of place, even though I have never been to Appalachia, too many characters and frequent shifts in point of view throughout the entire novel led to some confusion. It was too tragic to be pleasurable, but somehow I couldn’t give up on it.
Seventeen-year-old Emily Benedict, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, intent on learning more about her mother, Dulcie, moves in with her grandfather, but is disappointed to find that her grandfather doesn’t want to talk much about Dulcie. She soon discovers, though, that many still hold a grudge against Dulcie for the way she treated an old sweetheart before dumping him and disappearing. Luckily, Dulcie’s high school adversary, Julia Winterson, is baking cakes every day with the hope that they’ll somehow attract the daughter she gave up for adoption years ago but also in the hope of rekindling a love she fears might be lost forever. Can a hummingbird cake really bring back a lost love? Is there really a ghost dancing in Emily’s backyard? The answers are never what you expect.
This truly is a “sweet” read with lots of magical elements that the author is known for. I still think Garden Spells is her best work to date. For those in Book Bites groups perhaps you’ll remember the great book discussion we had with that novel. It seems that I am frequently disappointed by later works from various authors. Still, I would recommend it for those looking for a quick and easy read. And just in case all that talk of cakes should inspire you….here’s Julia’s recipe for hummingbird cake.
Julia’s Traditional Southern Cakes
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 can (8oz) crushed pineapple, well drained
1 cup chopped pecans
2 cups chopped firm ripe banana
Sift flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and cinnamon together. Add eggs and oil to the dry ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon until ingredients are moistened. Stir in vanilla, pineapple and pecans. Stir in the bananas last. Spoon the batter into three greased and floured 9-inch round cake pans. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in 350 degree oven, or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn onto cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting with cream cheese frosting.
CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
1 pound cream cheese, softened
4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
In a standing mixer, mix the cream cheese, sugar, and butter on low speed until ingredients combine. Increase the speed to high, and mix until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed of the mixer to low. Add the vanilla, raise the speed to high and mix.
Sandra Dallas presents readers with another historical novel Whiter Than Snow, about the hardscrabble mining communities of Colorado, set just down the road from her best-selling Prayers for Sale. When an avalanche thundered down the mountain housing the Fourth of July Mine in Swandyke, Colorado, that bright April afternoon in 1920, it carried death and destruction but also provided the seeds for forgiveness and redemption. Grace Foote, the mine manager’s wife, sees the children on their way home from school. Joe Cobb, the only black man in town, is one of the first to dig for them. Sisters Lucy and Dolly, estranged for years, unite now in the face of shared tragedy. Essie Schnabel, from New York City and Jewish and working in a brothel, stands vigil, as does Minder Evans, a crusty Civil War veteran raising his grandson. It’s through each character’s defining moment in his or her past that the reader understands how each child has become its parent’s purpose for living. In the end, it’s a novel of forgiveness, redemption, survival, faith and family.
Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Anne Tyler has made a career of telling the often less-than glorious stories of people enduring life’s every day ups and downs. Having come of age in rural Raleigh, North Carolina, Tyler draws upon her background to fashion tales of the South that are quirky, humorous, and insightful. In Noah’s Compass we meet Liam Pennywell, a man of unexceptional talents, plain demeanor, modest means and curtailed ambition. At age 60, he’s been fired from his teaching job at a second-rate private boys’ school in Baltimore, a job below his academic training and expectations. He is a survivor of two failed marriages and father of three grown daughters. Liam is jolted into alarm after he’s attacked in his apartment and loses all memory of the experience. His search to recover those lost hours leads him into an exploration of his disappointing life and into a relationship with Eunice, a socially inept walking fashion disaster who is half his age. Liam is not always a very likeable fellow and it’s only after his youngest daughter comes to stay with him that he realizes how much of his life he was missing. Not one of Tyler’s best but a good character study if you stick with it.
A special slide presention by local nature photographer Eric Larson, based on his new book, Traprock Ridge, will be held on TUESDAY, May 4, 1:00 p.m. in the Manross Library auditorium on the lower level. This program is FREE but registration is required. Refreshments will be served immediately following the program.
During Mr. Larson’s presentation participants will the explore the geological wonder known as the Traprock Ridge located right here in Central CT. Learn about some of the history, legends, and myths of the area. Discover some of the Connecticut parks and recreation areas preserved for the enjoyment of all.
Copies of the book will also be available for purchase.