Off the Library Shelf

Although I tried linking to another writer’s “Library Lust” list, I was not successful, but here are a few books from my library I read in a sitting, so I could get back to the library for more books waiting for me:  The books all seem to come at once sometimes.  Have you ready any of them?

Never Have I Ever by Joshlyn Jackson

A complicated murder mystery drama, reminding me of Finn’s The Woman in the Window, with unreliable characters and a twisting plot.  A page turner full of betrayal, romance, and deception.  Amy Whey has started a new life but is soon battling to keep her past a secret when the devilish Angelica Roux shows up at book club. The two match wits as the drama continues into a surprising ending.

 

The Last Book Party by Karen Dukess

When Eve leaves her job with a publishing company to become an assistant to a prominent and prolific New Yorker writer, summering in Cape Cod, secrets, sex, and the New England literary vibe emerge to create a quickly readable and entertaining story.  Aside from her coming of age journey and her romps in bed, Eve meets a number of literary stars.  She also references a number of books; I had to stop to jot a few down I plan to find: George Eliot’s Middlemarch (with the suggestion to read beyond the first 150 pages to be hooked), Zaleika Dobson by Max Beerbaum, and Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.

 

The Chelsea Girls by Fiona Davis

After a slow start, Davis transitions the story of two young women who met on a USO tour during World War II into a dramatic exploration of the McCarthy hearings targeting stage actors, directors, and producers in the nineteen fifties in the United States.  The Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan is the fulcrum of the story, where the women lodge with an assortment of artistic hopefuls.

The story follows Maxine Mead, the beautiful diva, and Hazel Ripley, the talented writer, as their lives change from their wartime friendship into a competitive challenge of spies and deceit.  In the end, both get their due, but along the way Davis offers a look into how McCarthyism overpowered democracy and ruined lives.

 

Reading Now:  The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

I may take a little longer to read this story of the artist Harriet Burden.  Hustvedt had me believing it was based on a true person in her clever “Editor’s Introduction,” and I stopped to find reviews about this 2014 work of fiction, doubting  the library’s FIC designation.

Using journals and interviews, the author presents the life of Burden, a talented artist ignored in her time, who decides to conduct an experiment she calls “Maskings” in which she presents her own art behind the names of three prominent male artists, masking her female identity.  Of course, the three shows are successful, but when Burden reveals herself to be the artist, critics doubt her.  The novel promises to not only be ambitious in its revelation of prejudice against women in art, but also a clever exploration of a complicated character, who seems real to me.  I plan to savor it.

 

Books Waiting for Me at the Library:

  • Chances Are by Richard Russo
  • The Darwin Affair by Timothy Mason
  • The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal
  • Reasons to be Cheerful by Nina Stibbe
  • The Reckless Oath We Made by Bryn Greenwood
  • This Tender Land by William Kent
  • Why You Like It by Nolan Gasser

 

 

Edinburgh Books and Writers

Off the tourist driven Royal Mile, down a secluded alley – called a Close – the Writers’ Museum in Edinburgh welcomes readers with quiet homage to a few of Scotland’s greatest writers – Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Sir Walter Scott. Steep winding staircases lead to rooms in a restored 17th century house, displaying first editions, writing instruments, even desks used by the authors. Of course, their portraits are everywhere.

A poster in the gift shop advertised the Edinburgh International Book Festival nearby, with some of my favorite authors speaking – Maggie O’Farrell, Sophie Hannah, Haruki Murakami, Martin Amis. Too late to get a ticket to hear even one, but I wandered the grounds, browsed through the books in tents, and, of course, bought some books.

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That Part Was True

9781455573653_p0_v2_s260x420By combining an epistolary with a few recipes and some self reflection, Deborah McKinley’s novel – That Part Was True – offers a romantic tale of two characters who live a sea apart but are confronting similar mid-life doubts. They inadvertently help each other through their letters and a mutual love of food, and possibly live happily ever after – but you will have to decide.

Jack is a 49-year-old American writer of a successful detective series; Eve, a lovely but insecure divorced mother who lives outside of London, writes to comment on one of his books, and the long distance relationship begins. The letters sporadically appear between descriptions of each character’s coping with assorted difficulties: Jack’s writer’s block, Eve’s panic attacks, a wedding, a divorce, midlife introspection and insecurities…

If you enjoy stories by Penelope Lively and Eleanor Lipman (her review in the New York Times motivated me to find this book), you will appreciate McKinley’s nuances and the familiar thoughts that surface in the characters’ relationships.

Curiously, reading their descriptions of how they each prepared favorite foods made me hungry, and the informal recipes sprinkled throughout the narrative were my favorite parts. McKinley includes a recipe for peanut cookies that Jack makes in the middle of the night to cure his insomnia. Worked for me too.

I’m including McKinley’s recipe so I can make them again after I return the book to the library:

Granny Cooper’s Peanut Cookies

3 ounces butter
1 small cup sugar
1 egg
1 good cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 dessert spoon cocoa
1 cup peanuts (She liked to roast them in the oven first.  I do , too.)

Cream the butter and sugar; add the beaten egg; then mix in the sifted flour, baking powder, and cocoa; and last, add the cooled peanuts.
Place spoonfuls on tray(s) and bake at 350 for about 15-20 minutes.

Serve with milk.

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