More books, because, as ever, I can’t get enough. (Also: I can’t get enough ice cream.)
Okay for Now, Gary D. Schmidt
Doug Swieteck (a minor character in The Wednesday Wars, which I loved) moves to a new town, where he gets a job delivering groceries, meets a sassy green-eyed girl, and begins drawing the birds in John James Audobon’s Birds of America. Doug is snarky yet vulnerable, trying to hide his pain and play the tough guy. But I loved watching him open up when his mother smiles, when he babysits five kids (at once), when his grocery-delivery customers offer him tea or coffee. Schmidt’s prose is taut and moving; he tells so much of the story between the lines. Wonderful.
No Holly for Miss Quinn, Miss Read
Another Christmas story from Fairacre, this one centering on a contented spinster, Miss Quinn, who travels to help her minister brother at Christmastime when his wife goes into hospital. Caring for three children and running a busy household exhausts her, but she learns to see the joy in a life quite different from her own. Gentle, thoughtful and fun, like all the Fairacre stories.
After Mandela: The Struggle for Freedom in Post-Apartheid South Africa, Douglas Foster
Foster interviews dozens of people, from political leaders and their grown children to young businessmen and street kids, to paint a complex, fascinating, moving picture of the new South Africa. (Much has changed, and little has changed, since Mandela’s triumph in 1994.) Meaty but readable – his descriptions are vivid and his research thorough. I learned so much about South Africa’s history, racial issues, urbanization, AIDS epidemic, culture clashes and more. The world may not be watching South Africa, but maybe we should be. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 10).
The Forgetting Tree, Tatjana Soli
Soli vividly evokes the landscape of a California citrus ranch and its family, scarred by the tragedy of their son’s death years earlier. When matriarch Claire is diagnosed with cancer, she fights not only for her life but for her right to keep the land. Her caretaker, Minna, comes from the Caribbean, with secrets and scars of her own. The prose is powerful, but I had trouble connecting with Claire after a while: her descent into illness included a willful blindness to reality that was hard to take. Still a compelling story. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Sept. 4).
Village Affairs, Miss Read
Our favorite intrepid schoolteacher, and her fellow villagers, are worried by rumors that Fairacre School might close. While waiting for a decision, Miss Read deals with the usual village drama, including a flighty cleaning lady, a staff shortage at school and the well-meaning but absent-minded members of the school committee. I love her dry wit, and it’s good to see the cast of familiar Fairacre characters again.
Jasmine and Fire: A Bittersweet Year in Beirut, Salma Abdelnour
What makes a place “home”? Abdelnour explores this question as she moves back to Beirut (her childhood home) from New York (where she has friends, a boyfriend, an adult life). This memoir started off a bit slow and disorganized, but gained momentum as Abdelnour threw herself into exploring Beirut, making new friends, reconnecting with family members and thinking deeply about her own identity as a displaced Lebanese person. She writes particularly well about food and about her solo walks around the city – reminding me viscerally of my own solo walks around Oxford. Lovely and thought-provoking.
Staying Put: Making a Home in a Restless World, Scott Russell Sanders
I heard Sanders speak at the Glen Workshop and savored these essays about home, place, family and life in the Midwest. Sanders’ writing is slow and thoughtful, sometimes meandering like the rivers he writes about, but always circling around the same questions: how can we live well on this earth? What does it mean to know a place deeply? How can we take care of our land, when so many forces are at work to destroy it? He evokes the Midwest landscape so well I could see the fireflies and feel the humidity on my skin.
Trail of the Spellmans, Lisa Lutz
The Spellmans are back for a fifth adventure – though this one has a slightly melancholy tone. Little sister Rae may be burned out on PI work; Mom suddenly has a slew of new hobbies; Dad is withholding intelligence; and Isabel, as usual, can’t figure out how to navigate a relationship. The family dynamics are as hilarious as ever, but the Spellman kids might finally be growing up. I’m curious about where Lutz will take the series from here.