February 2014 Book Group Mixer

I have been in awe of Jennifer Vanderbes since the publication years ago of one of my favorite novels ever: Easter Island. So when I saw that she had another novel coming out, I greeted it with bated breath and The Secret of Raven Point did not disappoint. Telling the story of Juliet, a young woman growing up during World War II, Vanderbes hands us a novel that is part coming-of-age tale, part mystery, and part wartime narrative. When Juliet’s older brother goes missing in action as an American soldier battling the German army overseas, Juliet lies about her age, then trains and enlists as a nurse to get as close as she can to the point her brother was last seen. Stationed in a field hospital in Italy, Juliet is thrown into the chaos of wartime life. She quickly finds herself surrounded by a makeshift family of fellow nurses, patients, soldiers, and doctors whose lives and small actions create intimacy and meaning under such perilous conditions. Juliet is caught between allowing her new life to shape and form her, and her own loyalty toward that of her missing brother, whose whereabouts remain veiled. This is a novel about holding faith beyond reason, about transgression and transformation, and about how when seeking truth about another, it is impossible to not also find truth about yourself. A poignant, lasting story, for anyone who is a fan of Call the Midwife; Vanderbes’ new novel shows off her skills in their highest form.
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
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The Secret of Raven Point Cover Image
$26.00
ISBN: 9781439167007
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Scribner Book Company - February 4th, 2014

The power and charm of this debut novel is hard to describe. The compact length makes it possible to devour it in one sitting. Oddly, the heroine of the novel is never named, and we know her simply as “the wife.” A new mother, a colicky baby, faltering feelings toward her husband that she knows is a good man, a case of New York bedbugs—what could be innocuous calamities turn true and deep in the honest consuming musing of this young mother. In a language that simmers with longing and wit, this is a love story at full speed—with bracing emotional insights and piercing meditations about despair, love, and the capacious experience of motherhood. Truly, the power of Dept. of Speculation is stunning, it’s the kind of book you pass along the second you finish it, just so you have someone to talk about it with.
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
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Dept. of Speculation Cover Image
$22.95
ISBN: 9780385350815
Availability: Hard to Find
Published: Knopf Publishing Group - January 28th, 2014

A wonderful debut novel full of wit, engrossing characters, and emotional truth. Following our protagonist Harry from a childhood defined by being struck by lightning while being bullied, through the rise of his emerging punk band, this is the story about the ebbs and flows of friendship, finding our true passion, and winding our way through the physical and emotional scars that try to hold us back. This is a must read and simply a great book.
Reviewed by: 
Casey
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The Scar Boys Cover Image
$17.99
ISBN: 9781606844397
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Egmontusa - January 21st, 2014

Ann Patchett found an old musty copy of this out-of-print novel in a used bookstore and after reading it, worked her prowess to bring it back to print. Oh, what a gift she has given us. Jeannette Haien wrote this Irish novel in the 1980s as her debut. The story seems deceptively simple, but has a lasting power and resonance of myth. Opening with a scene of a Catholic Priest fishing in horrible weather conditions, we learn quickly that Father Declan’s sporty endeavor was spurred by a confession by one of his parishioners the day before. After the death of her husband, Edna confesses to Father Declan the “all of it” and reveals a secret that goes back 50 years. Edna’s story puts Father Declan in a crisis of empathy versus absolution, and the resolution of his conflict is what gives this book it’s lasting power.
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
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The All of It Cover Image
$12.99
ISBN: 9780062090096
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Harper Perennial - June 7th, 2011

Ozeki’s mesmerizing novel centers around a random connection between a 16-year-old girl (Nao) in Japan and a writer (Ruth) living on the coast of the Pacific Northwest. Ruth discovers a battered Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on a beach that contains Nao’s journal, and she is immediately absorbed by the girl’s life and writing. A Tale for the Time Being is a wonderful meditation on time and writing.
Reviewed by: 
Kat
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A Tale for the Time Being Cover Image
$17.00
ISBN: 9780143124870
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Books - December 31st, 2013

This is not an easy read in terms of subject matter, but readers who appreciated Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking will instantly recognize the strength and determination of Sonali Deraniyagala’s memoir. On the morning of December 26, 2004, on the southern coast of Sri Lanka, Deraniyagala lost her parents, her husband, and her two young sons in the tsunami she miraculously survived. The opening chapters of this book are searing in their descriptive power, and there is little distance between the reader and the tsunami’s swallowing force. As Deraniyagala shifts from the horrifying chaos of the tsunami to her own clenched admittance that she has survived a tragedy she wishes she hadn’t, there is a frank and ferocious edge to her voice. The reader is never unaware of the teetering edge of Deraniyagala’s narrative: that tentative balance she holds in remembering her family, and the almost unbearable loss that such remembering puts her in. This is a book that speaks to the genre of memoir—the paradox of keeping stories and people alive within us, and the depth and tugging force that such a telling can create.
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
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Wave Cover Image
$15.00
ISBN: 9780345804310
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage - December 31st, 2013

My Beloved World begins with a bang—not a figurative, smoldering metaphor, but a tense fight from which the reader and young Sonia are not sheltered. Unlike the writing of most lawyers, who err on the side of dry with a chance of humdrum, Sotomayor’s biography is expertly crafted. She tells of a life in the public houses, of a bright Nuyorican woman with ambition and talent to match. This is a truly exceptional piece of work, a narrative not to be missed.
Reviewed by: 
Louise
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My Beloved World Cover Image
$15.95
ISBN: 9780345804839
Availability: On Our Shelves Now
Published: Vintage Books - January 7th, 2014

The Bronte sisters may have found their literary sibling match in the writing of the Wolff brothers. I have long been a fan of Tobias Wolff (This Boys Life), but knew little about his older brother Geoffrey, but after reading this autobiographical essay collection, I am stunned by command that both these brothers have over language and story. In A Day at the Beach, Wolff shares lessons from a life observed. Whether he is detailing a disastrous story from a boyhood Christmas or his struggle as an adult to teach literature as a visiting teacher in Istanbul, Wolff shares the wisdom that comes through hardship and hazard. The brilliance of Geoffrey Wolf’s writing goes without saying, but there is something else there—an implicit holding of frailty and wonder to have lived a full life and come out on the other side.
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
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A Day at the Beach: Recollections Cover Image
By Geoffrey Wolff, Ann Patchett (Introduction by)
$15.95
ISBN: 9780804170093
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Vintage Books - November 5th, 2013

Memoirs can do two things—they can tell an adventure story so captivating, that you have to rip through the pages to see how it will all turn out, or they can take a quiet ordinary life and turn it to be so revealing that there are life lessons that ring as raw and true—Joe Blair’s memoir is one of the few that manages to do both. Blair thought he was going to be traveler—that he would have avant-garde adventures on his motorcycle and Jack Kerouac his way through the country with a notebook and pen. Instead 15 years later, living in small-town Iowa, Joe is an air-conditioning repairman, struggling to stay faithful in his marriage, and feeling beaten by the autism diagnosis of his young son. When the Iowa River floods a state disaster is declared, and heroic measures are suddenly needed—in rendering language and with stunning insight, Joe’s observes the flooding of the river, detailing how his ordinary life has suddenly turned extraordinary, only to recognize it’s been that way all along.
Reviewed by: 
S.M.C.
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By the Iowa Sea: A Memoir Cover Image
$19.99
ISBN: 9781451636062
Availability: Backordered
Published: Scribner Book Company - March 5th, 2013

Sometimes historical fiction transports you so completely into a time and place you look up wondering where you are—and sometimes, especially with war novels, you regret that submersion. This book is beautiful and emotional, heartbreaking and exhilarating. It shows the way war affects everyone—both the servant and master—and that kindness is essential no matter the horrors faced. It’s rife with themes of transitions—both personal and societal—and self-discovery.
Reviewed by: 
Nici
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The Life of Objects Cover Image
$15.00
ISBN: 9780307388827
Availability: Special Order
Published: Vintage Books - June 4th, 2013

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