Author Archives: Rosemary Wolfe, NoChargeBookbunch

About Rosemary Wolfe, NoChargeBookbunch

Avid reader; published writer; itinerant walker; experimental cook...

Another List of Winners – National Book Awards

nbf_logoWorking my way through the Man Booker Prize longlist is going well, but several will not be published in the United States until later in the year.

Turning to award winners closer to home, I found the site of winners from the National Book Award with commentary on every winner since 1950 –  a great resource for books I have missed reading and a reminder of some great ones I remember reading.

79 National Book Awards Fiction Winners

And for nonfiction – from one of my favorite bookstores:

National Book Awards for Nonfiction

 

The longlist of finalists for 2016 will be announced soon in September.

Related Reviews of Former Winners:

 

 

 

The After Party

9781594633164_p0_v2_s192x300  At first, I thought I was on the posh set of the old television series Dallas with its rich spoiled young matrons prancing about the country club and gossiping, but Anton DiSclafani’s The After Party is set in Houston and the lives of two friends reveals more than garden party chitchat.

The story is set in the nineteen fifties, neatly using the stereotype of the woman’s role at home and in society to underline the structured lives of the two wealthy main characters – both named Joan.  Friends since their first day of school, Joan Fortier and Joan Cecelia (Cece) Buchanan grow up together in Houston’s debutante society.   Cece willingly gives up her first name and her independence to follow in the shadow of the more beautiful and daring Joan.

Just as she did in her first book, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, DiSclafani simmers her tale for many pages before bringing the plot to a boil with the big reveal of a devastating secret.  The girls’ lives seem shallow and insulated as they meander through parties and bars, more concerned about the latest fashion than the news.  Chapters alternated between the lives of the young girls as they grow into teenagers and their lives as twenty-five year women in Houston society.  Some secrets are revealed – the cause of Cece’s mother’s death; others are tantalizingly dangled until the end.

Throughout the story, Cece, the narrator, assumes the role of protector and savior for her best friend Joan, obsessed with wanting to be with her, even after Cece is married and has her own child.  Cece becomes consumed with wanting to know everything Joan is about, yet she never really succeeds.   After a while, you will want to shake her and tell her to get her own life.  Joan, on the other hand, is the mystery – publicly the most popular girl, attracting the gossip columnists by her prominent place in society and also by her antics, and privately unhappy with her superficial life.  Her periodic disappearances may give a clue to her attitude, but the big reveal affecting her life is not until the end of the book.

Somewhere around the middle of the book, I got caught up in the characters’ lives and realized the substance of the plot was deeper than an historical commentary on big-haired Texans over sixty years ago.  The relationships were the key to understanding the times, not only from the ladies who met weekly over cocktails to the husbands who worked or inherited money in the oil industry, but also to the trusted servants – chauffeurs who saw everything but kept silent and housekeepers who raised the children.  

Family relationships are strained through the generations, especially mother and child.  Joan’s mother fits neatly into the controlling authority who tries to manage her daughter’s life – her public persona anyway – and magnanimously takes in Cece to live in the Fortier mansion after her mother dies.  Cece never has a close relationship to her mother, who dies when Cece is fifteen,  but inherits millions from her and spends it all on fashionable clothes.  But the most curious is Cece’s mothering of her preschool son, Tommy, who does not speak nor look anyone in the eye.  His tendency to autism is ignored by both parents as they concentrate on Joan instead.

After Joan reveals her secret, the books drags on for a few more chapters to tie up lose ends and neatly assign the women’s lives to their proper place in the universe – Joan finally free of the shackles of society, Cece firmly planted in it.  I wondered if the story would have had more impact if it had ended pages earlier, but, overall, the focus on friendship was an excellent vehicle to a time and place in history when money and superficiality reigned for some. And Ray’s summation may have targeted DeSclafani’s view of real intimacy – ” You can’t know someone who doesn’t want to be known.”

Related Review:   The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

Updating the Nonfiction List

Unknown-1Although I tend to read more fiction – often to escape into another place and time, or just to meet new characters – nonfiction has an important place in my reading.  Recently, in a conversation with a new friend, I realized I had been ignoring my balanced diet.  His recommendation for J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is now on my library wish list, along with a few nonfiction National Book Award winners.

Our conversation prompted me to look back on nonfiction I have read, and motivated me to update my nonfiction list.  If you are looking for a little salt with the sweet in your reading diet, check it out:

Nonfiction Books

What nonfiction books do you recommend?

 

A City Baker’s Guide to Country Living

9781101981207_p0_v2_s192x300  With a dash of Sarah Addison Allen (The Peach Keeper) and a drizzle of Ruth Reichl (Delicious!), Louise Miller creates a charming story about food, relationships, and finding a home in  The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living.  

After pastry chef Olivia Rawlings drops the flaming baked Alaska in the posh Boston restaurant and sets the whole place on fire, she retreats with her dog to a bucolic Vermont Inn.  Her changes of hair color from purple to orange reflect her moods and her talent, as her backstory unravels.  Not only a talented baker but also a banjo player, Livvy connects with her new surroundings, despite the small town gossip and her initial ostracism as an outsider.

Some tension between Margaret, Livvy’s boss, an upstanding New Englander who owns the inn, and Jane, an old stalwart rich matron who owns half the town, and seems to be bidding to buy the inn, creates a mysterious rivalry running throughout the story.  Although they both grew up together, a dark secret floats around the main plot.

Other characters fill the expected round of friends and family.  Livvy’s love interest is a tall dark handsome rebel, who has returned to the fold to help run the family farm when his father, Henry, becomes ill.  Henry may be one of the more likable characters, along with Chef Alfred, the behind the scenes admirer.

Miller provides romance, mystery,  and some angst but the best is the description of food:

”  And then dessert, Pumpkin creme brûlée baked in hollowed out miniature pumpkins.  Apple galettes with frangipane in puff pastry.  Pears stuffed with cognac-soaked figs and wrapped in phyllo, baked to a crispy golden brown, the fruit inside tender and succulent.  Ant then chocolate shells, filled with a thick amber caramel, studded with toasted pecans and a layer of dark chocolate ganache just barely sweetened.”

Is your mouth watering yet?

Overall, the story is easy and captivating – a lovely summer read with a bonus – the recipe (with tips for success) for the award-winning apple pie.

Related Reviews:

 

Summer Thrills

A Ghost at the Door – cousin to The House of Cards

9781471111549_p0_v3_s192x300   Having become a fan of the Netflix series House of Cards, changed from the British version to the American political system, I was delighted to discover its creator, Michael Dobbs, is the author of mystery thrillers.  When I met Harry Jones, former Special Forces operative and Member of Parliament, in Dobbs’ sixth book in the series, he had has recently lost his millions in an accounting mistake and is looking for clues about his father’s death.

Our hero travels from London to Bermuda, through the cloisters of Christ Church College and into the Lake District with exciting twists to the plot. Although I had not read the first five, I relished submerging in the world of intrigue and politics in Dobbs’s sixth book – A Ghost at the Door.

Two More Spy/Thrillers I Am Looking Forward to Reading:

images    The Other Side of Silence by Philip Kerr

” Bernie Gunther, former Berlin homicide detective and unwilling SS officer,  is living on the French Riviera in 1956.  A local writer needs someone to fill the fourth seat in a bridge game that is the usual evening diversion at the Villa Mauresque. Not just any writer: W. Somerset Maugham. And it turns out it is not just a bridge partner that he needs; it’s some professional advice. Maugham is being blackmailed.  Maugham once worked for the British secret service, and the people now blackmailing him are spies.” Penguin Random House

9781250077349_p0_v3_s192x300 Into Oblivion: An Icelandic Thriller by Arnaldur Indridason

“Many years before, a schoolgirl went missing, and the world has forgotten her. But Erlendur has not. Erlendur is a newly promoted detective, and he is contending with a battered dead body, a rogue CIA operative, and America’s troublesome presence in Iceland. In his spare time he investigates a cold case. He is only starting out, but he is already deeply involved in his work.”   Macmillan