August 2016 LibraryReads List

Today the August 2016 LibraryReads list was released. I think I’ve written briefly about this list before, but I’ll explain a bit further. Every month this handy list of librarian favorites is shared with public libraries across the US. The titles on the list are read and nominated by library staff across the country and the title with the most nominations makes the top of the list (this month it is A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny).

My library system actively promotes the list – we  have it available for patrons to take home, we have a permanent LibraryReads display at each of our branches, we write about it each month on our blog and we tweet about each title throughout the month.

My own personal efforts include reading lots of galleys, nominating titles I think are worthy and writing blurbs for the books I nominate. Four of my blurbs have been included on earlier LibraryReads lists (none this year, though I’m still trying!).

I have only read one title from this month’s list: Arrowood by Laura McHugh (release date is August 9). It is a gothic-tinged mystery set in a small Mississippi River town in Iowa and tells the story of a young woman, Arden, who returns to town after her father dies. She has some pretty bad memories of the town, though – because when she was 8 her 2-year-old twin sisters were kidnapped and have never been seen again. There’s long been a suspect but not enough evidence to arrest him. Arden’s mostly given up hope that her sisters will ever be found, but when strange things start happening in the house she decides to pursue any leads that will help her find out what happened to them – even if it challenges her memories of that day or puts her in danger. And when the truth is discovered it is more bone-chilling than anything she could ever have imagined. This mystery is a haunting story that gradually reveals its secrets – perfect for fans of moody mysteries like Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn.

I usually try to read a few more titles from each list as the books are released, but, to be honest, I tried a few already and didn’t like them. I think Arrowood will remain the only one I read from the list this August.

Do any of August’s LibraryReads picks appeal to you?

Cover Collection: Mansfield Park

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Yesterday I bought a Jane Austen themed coloring book and I’ve been having so much fun coloring scenes from all of her novels, choosing colors for Elizabeth Bennet’s dresses, Miss Bates’s ribbons, and Fanny Price’s wallpaper. This diversion reminded me that Mansfield Park is the last of Austen’s novels I have left to read. Though I’ve started it many times I seem to always stall out somewhere around page 80 and never go on. I was so inspired by my coloring, so wrapped up in Austen’s world, that I resolved to start and finally finish Mansfield Park. So last night I found my copy and began reading it before bed – and it is a lovely bedtime companion.

I own the Penguin copy in the upper left, which I think is my favorite out of this collection, though I also like the cover in the upper right.

Have you read Mansfield Park? Which of these covers do you prefer?

Paris in July 2016

Paris in July-16 official

It’s almost time for Paris in July! Beginning Friday it’s all things French all the time (because despite the name you can read books set outside of Paris) for those of us who’ve signed up at Thyme for Tea. This event is now in its seventh year which is an amazing run for a blogging event. I haven’t participated in a few years, but I have enjoyed the France-themed books I’ve read in the past so I decided to give it a go again this July. My hope is to read at least 4 books set in France – two non-fiction and two fiction.

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One of the novels I’m going to read is The Chateau by William Maxwell. The other novel is still up in the air, but I think it will be The Blessing by Nancy Mitford. As for the two non-fiction titles, I’m awaiting the arrival of two galleys I’ve requested from publishers that are both France-related –  I can kill two birds with one stone by reading for this event and reading ahead for work. I know I should probably read a book by an actual French author so I may ditch The Blessing and choose a translated novel instead – or I can try to add a translated novel to the stack. We’ll see!

Are you participating in Paris in July? Can you recommend any French novels for me to try?

The Girls by Emma Cline

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“I looked up because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls.”

I had quite a struggle within myself when deciding whether I wanted to read The Girls or not. On the one hand I love reading about the sixties, the Manson murders are such a defining moment of that era and I always like to read hot debuts, especially by female authors. On the other hand, I heard a really negative opinion of the novel from a colleague, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read a book inspired by such a dark event and I was afraid the hype would let me down. In the end, I gambled on reading the novel – and won.

The Girls takes place over several months during the summer of 1969 when Evie Boyd, a fourteen year old, gets involved with a Charles Manson-like family in Northern California. Evie’s parents are divorced and neglect her quite a bit, her best friend has dropped her and she is bored, lonely and vulnerable. Then she sees a group of ragtag, dirty, unkempt girls picking through dumpsters behind a restaurant and is fascinated. Especially with the girl who seems to be their leader. When this girl, Suzanne, eventually invites her out to The Ranch Evie becomes embroiled in their drug fueled, seedy, criminal lifestyle which is all overseen by Russell, a manipulative sociopath. Then her mother finally catches on and sends her to live with her father. Running away she spends one last night with Suzanne before the girls carry out an act of revenge for Russell that seals their fate forever.

Cline’s writing is mesmerizing and her ability to create atmosphere is impressive. Her short, strong yet hazy sentences and carefully chosen historical details really evoke the whole California in the sixties vibe. Most impressive, though, is the way she inhabits the head of a teen girl, a girl who is intelligent and observant but still prone to being influenced by those whom she admires and finds attractive – which is why she cares more about what Suzanne thinks of her than of what Russell does. I liked that the focus of the novel is not on Russell but on the young women who choose to follow him.

My only whine about this novel is that it is unrelentingly dark. It takes you on a very grim trip that was hard to stomach at times. I’m not afraid of dark novels so I carried on – and there really isn’t anything else this book can be. I just had to take a breather from time to time.

I found The Girls pretty much as great as all the hype has cracked it up to be – and I think Emma Cline is a fabulous writer.  She’ll be on my list of “writers whose books I will always read – or at least try” from now on.

Have you read or plan on reading The Girls?

Margaret Kennedy Day: Together and Apart

together and apart

FIrst off, I have to say that I’m very proud of myself for remembering that Jane was holding her Margaret Kennedy Day and for having a Margaret Kennedy book on my shelves and for making the time to read it! With all of the reading I’d been doing for the presentation I gave a few weeks ago I thought that I’d never have time to join in any reading challenges again – but here we are and I actually completed one. So, I’m just happy for that.

And I’m even happier that the book I happened to read is an absolutely wonderful novel. Published in 1936 (and dedicated to Rose Macaulay) it is essentially the story of a divorce and how it subsequently affects each member of the Canning family. As the novel begins they’re at their summer home in Wales where relations between the parents, Alec and Betsy, are tense and strained. Betsy wants a divorce, but Alec doesn’t. The children know nothing of the negotiations between their parents until Alec suddenly leaves one Sunday morning – for good.

The oldest boy Kenneth passionately sides with his mother, refusing to speak with his father ever again. Eliza, the middle child, secretly prefers to go with her father. And the youngest girl, Daphne, doesn’t really care. As the next year passes all of the children are changed by the breakup of their family especially when their parents find other spouses and seem to move on with their lives. And of course Alec and Betsy are changed too.

It’s a heartbreaking depiction of how awful divorce can be, even when it may the best thing to do. The characters are intensely real, faulted and, at times, not very likeable. But always believable and worthy of our sympathy – even when they’re being appallingly stupid.

One of the amazing things about the book is that it hardly feels dated. I felt I could have been reading about a modern family – the same struggles, fears, financial concerns, and child custody and neglect issues as written about in contemporary family dramas appear in this novel.

Kennedy is very observant of human nature which is one of my favorite traits in a writer. I love books that tell the same story from each character’s different viewpoint and she is so good at getting into the mind of every member of the Canning family (except for Daphne – she’s a bit of a shadow).

In a way, this reminded me somewhat of Noel Streatfeild’s Saplings, with a similar look at how trauma shatters the lives of an entire family.

All in all, I really enjoyed Together and Apart and am glad to have finally read Margaret Kennedy.