The Chaperone, Laura Moriarty
This novel was the hit of the summer, and I finally picked it up – and loved it. Cora Carlisle, an outwardly conventional Wichita matron, accompanies 15-year-old Louise Brooks to New York in the summer of 1922. Louise takes dance classes and delights in shocking Cora, but Cora is secretly on another mission: she’s searching for the mother she never knew. This is a richly textured historical novel, and also a profound story of the secrets we keep, the ways we present ourselves to the world, and how much appearances can (and should) matter. Wonderful.
The Last Dragonslayer, Jasper Fforde
Jennifer Strange, nearly 16, is mostly content with her job managing a magicians’ employment agency, even if she does live in a world where wizidrical power is waning. But when rumors begin flying about the impending death of the last dragon (and magical power, oddly, starts surging), Jennifer may play a larger role than she realizes. Fforde’s writing, as always, is zany and clever, and he creates yet another world whose wacky rules make a weird kind of sense. Great fun.
Vaclav & Lena, Haley Tanner
A beautiful, heartbreaking story of two children of Russian immigrants who meet in an ESL class (in modern-day Brooklyn) and become best friends. Vaclav plans to be a magician, with Lena as his lovely assistant, but when they are 10 years old, she disappears. Vaclav knows Lena’s home life is tough, but he doesn’t know where she went or why, until they reconnect on her 17th birthday. Tanner inhabits the voices of both these characters so well, and I also loved Vaclav’s mother, Rasia, who fiercely loves and protects both her son and Lena. The ending felt a bit odd to me, but I still highly recommend this book.
My First New York: Early Adventures in the Big City, ed. David Haskell & Adam Moss
I picked this collection of essays up at Shakespeare & Co. Booksellers on the Upper East Side, during our recent visit to NYC. Contributors include Nora Ephron, Mike Myers, Liz Smith, Thomas Wolfe and about 50 others, both famous and unknown. The essays range from first impressions to war stories to nostalgic moments, but above all they capture the gritty, confusing, dazzling, pulsating magnetism that is New York. Read it during (or after) a visit to the city.
Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers, Anne Lamott
Lamott has famously asserted that there are only two real prayers – “help” and “thanks” – but I think “wow” is a good addition to that list. She begins by exploring what prayer is (a seeking of connection, essentially), and goes on to muse, briefly but powerfully, on each of the three prayers, ending with a few pages on “amen.” This book is Anne Lamott lite – gentler than usual, but still wise, and I appreciate her distilling these prayers to their essences. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 13).
Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages, Ammon Shea
I am a word nerd, and I own a huge dictionary (a relic of my Spelling Bee days). But I’ve never tried to read it, much less tackling the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary. Shea does, though, and his journey is nerdy, fascinating, often hilarious and a wee bit masochistic. Short essays on reading, dictionaries and the OED open each chapter, followed by lists of words he particularly enjoyed discovering. Great fun if you’re a word geek like him – or me.
The Woman Who Died a Lot, Jasper Fforde
Thursday Next, book-jumping heroine, is back for her seventh adventure. She’s recovering from an assassination attempt, so she takes a job as a librarian and continues to fend off her enemies, while also dealing with her teenage children’s issues. As usual, Fforde’s writing is fast-paced, wacky and slyly humorous (as he was in person when I saw him recently). This was an enjoyable ride, but I missed the usual literary zaniness of Thursday’s jumping back and forth to the BookWorld. I hope she gets to go back there in the eighth book. Still great fun.
What are you reading lately?
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