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Sophie Kinsella has a talent for writing perfectly flawed characters: endearing, smart and funny people who muddle through life's crises. Her newest story, SURPRISE ME, isn't much of a surprise in that regard. Which is a good thing!
It is an intriguing story about family, and how a marriage survives despite all. Sylvie and Dan, a couple attempting to keep the spark alive, fail to acknowledge that society's idea of perfectly thoughtful and romantic gestures are not at all suited to them.
Disasters ensue, some hilarious and others heartbreaking. Individual longings simmer to the surface, and family secrets are revealed at the worst possible moments.
But, as with all Kinsella novels, the reader closes the book fondly on an absorbing and entertaining story. --Laura
The year is 1960. Tacker Hart returns home to Winston-Salem from Africa in disgrace, after having been fired from his first professional job post-college. He'd fallen in love with Nigeria and his boss accused him of "going native" and shipped him home in a straightjacket. While running his father's grocery store, Tacker becomes a reluctant yet important player in the burgeoning sit-in movement. The story of Tacker's transformation in Nigeria is spread out over the course of the book so that we get to know him gradually. He runs into a former high school classmate and strikes up a romance that is halting and sweet. Both Laura and I loved this book. It's beautifully written and a joy to read while delving into serious subjects. Locals will recognize many of the landmarks in the book. Author Elaine Neil Orr grew up mostly in Africa, the daughter of missionaries, and spent time in Winston-Salem as a child. She currently teaches at NC State and lives in Raleigh. --Angel
The last chapter of this book is the most perfect thing I've read in awhile, which is saying something. It captures the role of race in the South as well as anything I've ever read. I feel that, as a white woman born in upstate South Carolina, I'm just beginning even to ask the right questions about race. I'm not sure I will ever get to the answers, but Grooms' novel provides rich context for the essential work of being better human beings in relationship with each other. It is easier to think of race relations as a struggle between good people and bad people. But, as Grooms tells the story, it is an entire worldview that is at fault, a worldview as old as the Georgia mud. Progress is so much more difficult than just converting or erasing the "bad people."
Authors visit June 19th.
I've been obsessed with killing off the myth of the Lost Cause lately, and this scholarly yet readable book does so quite nicely. I can't wait to welcome Ethan Kytle and Blain Roberts to the store in June. - Angel
If you think there is nothing new or even useful left to be said about the Civil War, you need to read Varina. Frazier uses the real First Lady of the Confederacy, Varina Davis, to tell the story of the war and its sad denouement. The broad outlines of the story are true: Mississippi-born Varina Howell married much-older Jefferson Davis after having been educated in Philadelphia. She never thought the South could win and secretly considered the war folly from the outset. In a scandalous show of indifference, she went home before the end of Davis’ inauguration ceremony. Once installed as the First Lady in what was known as the Grey House in Richmond, Varina rose to the occasion, helping with the war effort in various ways. As Richmond fell, she and her children fled, but were captured, along with Jefferson Davis. She spent time with the children in Savannah under house arrest, then at Fort Monroe in Maryland with her husband. She lived alone abroad, then with her husband near Biloxi, Mississippi until his death, then moved to New York City and wrote a regular column for the New York Times.
Varina, as Frazier conceives her, is smart and bold, often using morphine to soften her edges. She was never quite what the South wanted her to be, nor was she keen to become so. After she loses her best friend, Mary Chestnut, she muses that you don’t get to choose who you outlive. And, indeed, she outlived all but one of her seven children, as well as her husband and, of course, the Confederacy itself. It is true that she took in a mulatto child during her time in Richmond, raising him alongside her own children for a time. “Jimmie” was one of the children who fled with her after the fall of Richmond. History doesn’t record what happened to him after he was separated from Varina in her capture and taken North. In Frazier’s re-telling, however, the adult Jimmie reads an account of Varina and her mulatto ward in a (very real) book called “First Days Among the Contrabands,” published in 1893. Based on hazy memories, he believes himself to be the Jimmie in the book. He visits Varina at a spa in Saratoga Springs, NY, where they are reunited. Their series of meetings grounds the book, which is told in flashback.
If you enjoyed Cold Mountain, you must read Varina. Frazier’s virtuoso prose is infused with melancholy, but his Varina is surprisingly relatable, recognizable to anyone who’s felt powerless over a situation. The real Varina is said to have admitted that the South deserved to lose, and of course she was right. But this book asks us to understand, if not to forgive, and to move on. Faulkner famously wrote that “the past is never dead.” Varina attempts to put a stake through the heart of the Lost Cause.
This book does so many things right. The characters are well-developed and authentic, the plot is engaging and perfectly paced, and the message of acceptance and love is so perfect for right now.
God bless him, Asher does so many things wrong. He even has questionable intentions sometimes. His growth and redemption are just a joy to read. And Justin! He is his father's heart, the best of Asher incarnate. Can you tell I completely adored him?
The secondary characters are also lovely, especially Bell. Besides just filling out the plot, they are genuine and likable. And I've never been to Key West, but I sincerely hope it's just the way House writes it. The landscape became a character that helped keep the plot's momentum going.
A note: I think that this would be a great read for young adults as well, perhaps even high-achieving middle grades readers. - Angel
Mike Munoz is striving for his piece of "The American Dream." But America is pushing back! How is a poor man, like Mike, supposed to get ahead whithout having to give in to the dishonest offerings placed before him?
Mike is a wonderful character; honest (to a fault), yearning, and ANGRY!
Alice wants a new start; a new husband, a new country (Morocco), and hopes to find a new confidence. However, her past seems to have followed (stalked?) her to this far away place...Lucy is here! Lucy - her college roommate, her best frind, and the person that Alice is convinced killed her last college boyfriend.
Twists & Turns Abound - Things are NOT as they appear...and no one will listen to Alice's warnings.
You do not want to cross Granny May. She is physically tough, fiercely loyal, and wicked smart. While I don't share her particular brand of morality, I certainly admire her integrity. Her grandson, Rory, is a more likable character, and the core of the plot is his story, a tragedy if ever there was one. To top it all off, "Gods" has one of the best endings I've read all year--unexpected but perfectly believable.
Fast cars, revenuers, a whorehouse, and a snake-handling preacher are somehow not cliche in Brown's hands. Although it has a terrific plot, it's the characters--their history, their struggles, their desires--that drive the narrative. It doesn't hurt that Brown's descriptive prose reads like poetry. Oh, and the length is just right, too. I can't think of anyone who would not enjoy this book! - Angel
Local author Frank Morelli has written a genuine novel about loyalty, self-reliance and love. Young adults will find a lot to identify with, though this book will appeal to older generations, too. It's wryly funny and so, so well-written.
A sense of authenticity in the aftermath of tragedy is the heartbeat of this wonderful, fresh Young Adult novel. Frank Morelli infuses honesty into each of the characters, most notably Gabe LoScuda, the protagonist, who is strong-willed and stubborn, yet painfully aware that he's in over his head.
The sudden death of his parents made him the default caregiver for his vulnerable grandfather, whom he has sworn to protect. Gabe has the extra burden of looking out for his hapless uncle, who is supposed to be looking out for Gabe. On top of all that, Gabe is--at eighteen--both an adult and an unpopular high school senior. --Laura