First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen
First Frost is a pleasant, mostly gentle read that may make you hungry. I didn’t realize at first that it’s a sequel to the author’s first book, Garden Spells, set ten years later in Bascom, North Carolina. Claire is living in the house she inherited from her Waverley grandmother, but now makes candy with edible flowers instead of catering. Her niece Bay enjoys helping out, but Claire is increasingly tense. The Waverley women all have minor magical talents. Elderly cousin Evanelle gives people unusual gifts they may need later, such as a spatula. Claire’s affinity is for flowers and cooking, while her sister Sydney is a wonderful hair stylist. But Claire’s young daughter seems quite ordinary. Bay knows where some people and things belong, making her a great organizer, but when she gives Josh a note telling him that he belongs in her life, he doesn’t know how to respond. When a stranger in town tries to convince Claire that she’s not really a Waverley, it takes the magic of first frost, when their apple tree blooms, to set things to rights. It’s nice to visit with the Waverleys again, and Bay is an appealing narrator, but I wanted more back story to remind me what happened in the first book. Actually, I’d really like a book set earlier than First Frost. Complaints aside, this was a very enjoyable book to read, and I will probably re-read Garden Spells.
Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Food and Longing, by Anya von Bremzen
Anya von Bremzen describes life and food in 20th century Russia, the Soviet Union, and former Soviet republics. Born in Moscow in 1963, Anya and her mother Larisa moved to Philadelphia in 1974. By telling the stories of her grandparents and parents, Anya describes each decade of the 20th century, along with the food popular then. Her Jewish grandmother Liza was from Odessa on the Black Sea, her grandmother Alla was an orphan born in Turkestan and raised by a Bolshevik feminist in Uzbekistan. Her grandfather Naum was an intelligence officer, and her father Sergei helped preserve Lenin’s body through science. Through visits to family with her mother and later travels in the former republics with her boyfriend, Anya immerses the reader in the food and culture of each place and time. Trained as a pianist at Julliard, she became a James Beard award-winning food writer. We learn that standing in lines in Moscow could be a social event, as was the case when her parents met in a line for ballet tickets. The alternating availability and scarcity of various foods, such as bread and corn, could make anyone obsess over food, especially if forced to use a communal kitchen or eat caviar in kindergarten. While I don’t know if I’ll be trying any of the recipes at the end of the book, Anya’s memoir really kept my interest.
After 10 years, The Big Read has become ReDiscover, and the theme for 2015 is Celebrating Home. Instead of focusing on one book, the nine public libraries in Chicago’s southwestern suburbs are focusing on a theme, and reading and discussing a variety of books. The featured books include At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson, Howard’s End by E. M. Forster, Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes, The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai, and Home by Marilynne Robinson. There will be 44 different programs for adults, several book discussions, and programs for teens and kids during March and April. The Woodridge Public Library will be hosting six programs for adults, and we will be discussing At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24. To learn more, visit the ReDiscover website, the library’s website, or visit the library to pick up a ReDiscover brochure and check out a featured book and other related titles. Book discussion sign up has begun; registration for all of the other programs begins on Monday, March 2. As we look forward to spring, it’s time to Celebrate Home. Enjoy!
The Siege Winter by Ariana Franklin
Another notable historical novel from Ariana Franklin, finished after her death by Samantha Norman, her daughter. The story is narrated by a dying abbot to a young monk, which makes a good frame for the book. After 11-year-old Em is attacked in the fen country of Cambridgeshire, archer Gwilherm de Vannes rescues her. Em has amnesia, so Gwil calls the red-headed girl Penda, dresses her as a boy, and teaches her archery. They join a troup of tumblers and travel as entertainers, giving archery exhibitions. Along the way, Gwil is searching for Thancmar, an evil monk who preys on redheads. Then their story joins the larger one of war in 12th century England between Empress Matilda and her cousin King Stephen, fighting for England’s throne. During a blizzard they meet Empress Matilda and two of her knights, and end up at Kenniwick castle, where young Lady Maud is forced to play host to Matilda. The castle is soon under siege by King Stephen, and the archers’ skills are needed. While it is wartime and there is violence, the tone of this book is not dark, as it focuses on the relationships and daily lives of Gwil, Penda, and Lady Maud, all appealing and memorable characters. Readers of medieval fiction will enjoy this book, especially fans of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mysteries.
As Chimney Sweepers Comes to Dust by Alan Bradley
Only Flavia de Luce, amateur detective and chemist, would be happy to have a long dead body fall out of the chimney in her bedroom. Flavia has reluctantly left England to attend boarding school in Toronto, and it’s clear that her sleuthing skills will be needed. Three girls have reportedly gone missing in the last few years, and everyone seems to be keeping secrets. I would have liked more classroom and dining room scenes, and more news from her home in England, but Flavia is as curious and clever as ever. Flavia’s late mother attended Miss Bodycote’s Academy. The teachers remember her mother, and may even induct Flavia into the Nide. a secret society. New to Flavia’s award-winning mysteries? Start with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, set in 1950 at Bishop’s Lacey, England. Read all seven books and can’t wait for the final three books to be published? Visit Media on Demand to read the digital short story The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse.
The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd
Sarah Grimké is shocked when she is given a slave for her 11th birthday. Hetty, or Handful, age 10, must leave her mother Charlotte, a seamstress, to sleep by Sarah’s door in case she is needed during the night. Sarah, though she often stutters, dreams of being a lawyer like her brother, unheard of for a girl from a wealthy family in Charleston, South Carolina. When Sarah teaches Handful to read, both girls are punished. Handful is fascinated by her mother’s story quilt and worries about her association with a former slave. Handful’s spirit stays strong, while Sarah and her younger sister Angelina struggle to make their voices heard. I thought Handful was a very interesting and memorable character, and wanted her to be safe and find a way to become free. A very readable novel, with well-researched insights on Quakers, abolitionists, and the lives of women in the pre-civil war South.
On February 10* at 10:00 a.m., the Tuesday Morning Book Group will be discussing The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard Morais. After tragedy forces the Haji family to close their restaurant in Mumbai, India, they emigrate to London and later settle in a small village in eastern France. The family opens an Indian restaurant directly across the street from a Michelin-starred French restaurant, which enrages the owner, Madame Mallory. Surprisingly, she later offers to take young Hassan Haji as an apprentice in her kitchen.
On February 17* at 7:00 p.m., the Tuesday Evening Book Group will be discussing The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin. Bookseller A.J. Fikry is cranky. He’s lonely, sales are down at his island bookstore, and a rare book goes missing. He doesn’t even enjoy reading new books. An unexpected delivery and an outgoing sale rep give him a new outlook on life. Here is my earlier review.
The Crime Readers are meeting at Home Run Inn Pizza at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, February 19 to discuss The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas, set in Paris. Optional dinner at 6:00 p.m. The Crime Readers are co-sponsored by the Indian Prairie Public Library.
Copies of all three titles are available at the Adult/Young Adult Reference Desk. Sign up online, by phone, or in person.
*Note different weeks. Both groups are meeting one week earlier than usual in January and February.