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Buddha in the Attic and Narrative Mode

BuddhaAttic"On the boat we were mostly virgins" begins Julie Otsuka's gem of a book, The Buddha in the Attic.  One of the noticeable things from that first sentence is the unique narrative mode.  The whole book is written in the first person plural style.  This type of narration can be awkward -- most fiction is written in either first person or third person.  Convention can be comforting, we know immediately how to read the story and relate to those characters.  In first person plural, the story is told from the group's perspective, and with no main character, the rules are different.

Otsuka said in an interview that she wanted to tell the story of Japanese picture brides -- not just one bride, but that as a group.  And in this case, the narrative mode makes perfect sense.  Between 1908 and the 1920s, thousands of young Japanese women came over to the United States after an arranged marriage agreement.  Instead of focusing on one story, this book introduces the reader to many stories, some devastatingly sad, some happier, but all of them are sympathetic.  And by not focusing on just one story, we read the book with a fuller picture and are moved by their collective experiences and struggles.  The stories begin on the boat, and follow them through marriage, manual labor, child raising and the heart wrenching internment following the attacks on Pearl Harbor.  I can imagine that this book might appeal to a wide range of fiction readers -- fans of historical fiction, women's fiction, immigrant stories, Asian-American experiences, World War II home front, and readers of fiction set in California and the West.

The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Henry Skrimshander is a slight shortstop with a love and strong appreciation for baseball.  Henry isn't a great player, and not very strong at bat but he does have potential.  When his sister writes the message "Call Mike Shorts!" by the phone, Henry's life changes forever.

Mike Schwartz is the captain of the baseball team at Westish College in Wisconsin.  Mike is addicted to painkillers (also the captain of the football team, he has bad knees), hardworking and spends a lot of his time helping his teammates become the best players they can be.  He is hard on them, pushing them through more squats, more lifts, and more runs than seemingly possible. 

Just as Henry is about to break the NCAA record for most error free games, an errant ball slips out of his hands and flies into the face of his roommate Owen Dunne who is sitting in the dugout reading a book.  This seemingly innocuous error sets into motion a series of events that become life changing not only for Henry, Mike, and Owen but also the President of Westish, Guert Affenlight, and his daughter Pella who has just returned to Wisconsin after some personal problems of her own.   

Promising New Fall Fiction

TelegraphAvenueWorking in a library, I try to read a wide variety of books -- romance books, graphic novels, memoirs, young adult fiction, fantasy and popular non-fiction titles.  But my one true love is contemporary literary fiction.  A coworker once remarked to me that I didn't like reading novels by authors who weren't alive.  Yep.  Give me Jhumpa Lahiri over Jane Austen any day. 

But I assume like a lot of readers I get stuck in a rut and go long periods of time without being excited about the fiction I am reading.  This fall might be the answer to all my book desires.  Four of my top ten favorite authors have new books coming out!

Michael Chabon wrote one of my all-time favorites and former One Book One Bloomington title, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  His newest, Telegraph Avenue is out this week.  It tells the tale of a used record shop and the two friends who are co-owners.  Spouses and children complicate the story as well as a mega-store moving in down the street.  Set in Northern California in 2004, Chabon explores parenthood, family, music, and the American Dream.  

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter

When enthusiastic home cook, Jennifer Reese lost her job she wondered if making homemade staples would be more cost effective.  Is homemade mayonnaise cheaper than the tub you buy in the store?  And just as important, does it taste better?  Her book, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter has over 120 recipes for the from-scratch cook - looking for both cost savings and taste improvements. 

Reese's journey to make and taste homemade versions of cupboard regulars like peanut butter and bread and the more exotic like camembert and prosciutto includes helpful input from her family. She makes it sound like making your own ginger ale isn't crazy -- but actually fairly easy, cheaper than store bought, and delicious.  Her voice throughout the book is casual and often really funny.  The best part of the book is her interest in the highly practical and includes a 'hassle factor' for each item.  Every recipe has a realistic cost comparison with store bought and an indication of how difficult each item is to make.  Right there is bold print is a verdict on each item: Make it or Buy it.  A few items get a warning.  Make or buy cream cheese?  Reese says to make it once and then decide.  Make or buy English muffins?  Depends on whether you are eating them plain or as a base for eggs benedict.

The Sisters Brothers: A Most (Un)usual Western?

I've worked in libraries for years including a few in Texas, so it is a wonder that I've never read a western.  Part of the problem then with reading your first book in a genre is that you lack the language to properly describe it or make comparisons.  Now I wonder if I shall ever read another for the fear that the next one won't hold up to The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt.

It is the gold rush years and the infamous Charlie and Eli Sisters are riding from Oregon City to San Francisco on orders from the Commodore to kill Hermann Kermit Warm.  There is trouble with horses, whores, a red bear pelt, excessive brandy drinking, a man named Mayfield, a witch and a mysterious magical formula. Large sums of money come and go. The characters are unique, but without a lot of overall development.  Is this usual for a western? Is the level of violence similar to other westerns?  Is this a parody of the genre, a homage or both?

Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith

Ida Mae Jones is a young African-American woman living with her family in Louisiana.  Her father who taught her to fly a small crop duster has passed away, and her brother has signed up to serve in World War II.  It is not surprising that Ida Mae feels caught between her family obligations and her love of flying.  She learns about the Women Airforce Service Pilots -- a civilian organization that served to fly airplanes under the military with the goal of freeing up qualified men to serve in combat.  The WASP pilots transferred planes and equipment from assembly plants to military bases and often trailed targets in the air for anti-aircraft artillery practice. 

Not only was the WASP a highly selective group that underwent rigorous training, but Ida Mae faces even more difficulty because she knows she can't sign up as a black woman.  Her fair skin allows her to pass for white, but the stress of this combined with the training proves difficult.  On the positive side, the friends Ida Mae makes in WASP training are fantastic and provide support for Ida Mae even if they don't know her secret for sure. 

True Crime + Graphic Novels

A graphic novel about Jeffrey Dahmer? I am not a true crime reader. I am not even a fake crime reader, so I didn't think I would be interested. Boy, was I wrong. Last week I took My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf home based on a few coworker recommendations. I started reading fairly late one night and didn't put this book down until I was finished.

This book is sad, surprising and gross. But there is more than just morbid entertainment here. Backderf went to high school with Jeffrey Dahmer in Ohio in the 70s. His personal insight combined with meticulous research and interviews create a story that isn't really sympathetic, but does feel complete and informative. Backderf is a career comic artist, so the black and white illustrations feel like a natural way for this story to be told. He also includes some original drawings of Dahmer that he had done in high school. This isn't an easy read, but it is more than just shock value.

The Red House by Mark Haddon

Like many readers, I loved loved loved The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.  And I had high hopes for Mark Haddon's follow up, A Spot of Bother but was generally let down. That was years ago, and Haddon had sort of fallen off my radar when I recently came across his newest, The Red House

The premise is simple. Wealthy doctor, Richard invites his estranged sister, Angela, her unemployed husband and their three children to share a vacation house in the Welsh countryside knowing she cannot pay for a trip on their own.  Joining Richard is his new wife and her willful teenage daughter.  Their trip initially brims with the hope of forgiveness and family bonding, all nicely tucked away in a cozy modern pastoral setting.  But secrets, resentments, pain and confusion -- both old and new -- follow everyone. The complicated dynamics of this family and their often awkward attempts to set things right are at the crux of this novel.  Can't we all relate?  Being in a family is hard. 

Snobs

Whether you're inside enjoying the cool air or outside braving the weather at pool-side, consider that small country across the pond. Yes, England, and we're not talking about the Olympics but a Downton-Abbey type novel set in contemporary times. Are the rich really different from you and me? Screenwriter, novelist, and actor, Julian Fellowes tackles this subject in Snobs, a novel about a middle-class woman named Edith who would love the wealth and title of the Earl, Charles Broughton, whom she'd love to marry. 

Fellowes knows about castles and big estates. He's the son of a diplomat, and he visited many of the estates he writes about. He's also known struggling actors who aren't sure how they will pay next month's rent. As New York Times reviewer, Jonathan Ames said, Snobs is a "field guide to the behavior of the English aristocracy."  Ames also wrote, "When you read a book, you're lost in time. All the more reason to read Snobs.  It will distract you pleasantly. It's like a visit to an English country estate: breezy, beautiful and charming."

Michael Koryta's The Prophet

Local author Michael Koryta's new book isn't coming out until August 7 but you can already place a hold in our catalog.  The Prophet is a straight up thriller that stars two brothers, one as an upstanding high school football coach and the other as a fringe bail bondsman.  The brothers are estranged after the devastating fallout resulting from the kidnapping and brutal murder of their sister many years earlier.  When a similar murder happens, the brothers must learn to work together before the murderer strikes again. 

Master thriller author Dennis Lehane says, "The Prophet is a relentless, heart-in-your-throat thriller about ordinary people caught in the middle of an extraordinary nightmare."  And Kirkus reviews praises Koryta's newest as  "a brilliantly paced thriller that keeps its villains at a tantalizing distance, a compelling family portrait, a study in morality that goes beyond the usual black-and-white judgments, and an entertaining spin on classic football fiction. A flawless performance."

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