Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
A very unusual teen fantasy novel introduces Seraphina, 16 and very musical, who is assistant to the court music master in the kingdom of Goredd. Seraphina has an enormous secret; her late mother was a dragon and music instructor Orma is her uncle. Seraphina is also plagued by visions of other unusual people, and Orma trains her to organize them in a virtual garden. Dragons are emotionless and fierce, gifted in science and mathematics and can take the shape of a human to interact with them in Goredd, but half-dragons are against their code. Forty years ago, humans and dragons signed a peace treaty, but there now there is unrest. While helping the music master with a state funeral and preparing for the celebration of the treaty, Seraphina draws unwanted attention to herself. She gives harpsichord lessons to Princess Griselda, and is befriended by Griselda’s cousin Kiggs, who is trying to protect the royal family and keep the peace with the dragons. This book is hard to describe, but really caught and held my interest. A sequel, Shadow Scale, is to be published in March.
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
How to describe a book that the author describes as six long, inter-connected novellas? Amazing comes closest. Not a happy book, but not bleak either. I won’t suggest this for a book discussion as it’s 624 pages long, but it’s well worth reading. Our first narrator is Holly Sykes, age 15, getting ready to leave home in southeast England in 1984 after a big argument with her mother. She meets the mysterious Esther Little, is aided by teen Ed Brubeck, and has a horrible scene removed from her memory on her way to picking strawberries on a farm. Other scenes are set in different countries in different decades, with a group of people who are reincarnated and can live for centuries (horologists) battling with those who would steal souls to stay alive. Holly is a recurring character, and she encounters both groups of people throughout her life. The scenes set a few decades in our future are quite fascinating; a look into one possible future. This book reminded me a little in its size and wideranging themes of Neal Stephenson’s Anathem and some of Neil Gaiman’s books.
The Dressmaker by Kate Alcott
Tess gets a job as maid for dress designer Lucile Duff-Gordon right before the Titanic leaves port. Tess and the Duff-Gordons escape the Titanic in different lifeboats and the aftermath of the tragedy affects them very differently. After reaching the United States on the Carpathia, seamstress Tess still works for the demanding Lucile with hopes of designing dresses herself some day. She also makes friends with reporter Pinky, and becomes closer to sailor Jim and wealthy divorce Jack Bremerton, both Titanic survivors. When the hearings on the Titanic disaster begin in New York City and Washington, D.C., Tess is torn between learning the truth and her loyalty to her employer. Unlikeable Lucile gets a little more sympathetic as the hearings go on and her fashion show opens. New York City in 1912 is vividly drawn, as are the characters, but I would have enjoyed the book more if there was less about the Titanic hearings and more about immigrant life in America.
Some Luck by Jane Smiley
Pulitzer prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley begins the Last Hundred Years trilogy with a novel about the Langdons, an Iowa farm family set during the years 1920 to 1953. Walter and Rosanna raise a large family near the farms of their parents, and cope with an amazing amount of change, from the coming of electricity to reluctantly replacing plow horses to a tractor, drought and financial worries during the Great Depression, watching a son go off to World War II, and more. The heart of the story is a scene where the extended family gathers for Thanksgiving dinner after the war. The novel is narrated in turns by most of the Langdons, but the characters are so memorable that the changing point of view enriches rather than confuses. Remarkably, the author can even capture the reader’s attention with the description of a day in the farmhouse from the viewpoint of a toddler. Smart, opportunistic Frank is the eldest and the one who will go off to war. Lillian makes an unexpected escape from the farm, while Joe never wants to leave. Of course, the Langdons experience moments of drama and tragedy, from Rosanna giving birth alone to a revival meeting, the state fair, and sudden death, but most of the scenes are about life on the farm. Readers will welcome Early Warning, the sequel, in May.
On January 13* at 10:00 a.m., the Tuesday Morning Book Group will be discussing The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown. This is narrative non-fiction at its best, featuring the working-class student athletes and rowing coaches at the University of Washington striving to become Olympic champions. The coaches were looking to develop a crew of eight rowers and a coxswain who could learn to work as one unit, while the students were struggling to earn enough money during the Great Depression to stay in school.
On January 20* at 7:00 p.m., the Tuesday Evening Book Group will be discussing Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger, a stand-alone mystery novel that has won three major awards. Death comes in several ways to New Bremen, Minnesota in the summer of 1961. 13-year-old Frank Drum, his father Nathan, a Methodist minister, and the rest of the family try to come to terms with the events of an unforgettable summer, dealing with grief, secrets, betrayal, and looking for a resolution.
The Crime Readers are meeting at Home Run Inn Pizza at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, January 15 to discuss A Beautiful Place to Die by Malla Nunn, set in 1950s South Africa. 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.
Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
Between Shades of Gray is a harrowing story about a young girl, her family and her neighbors being forced from their home in Lithuania and imprisoned in a brutal Siberian encampment under Stalin’s rule. As one would expect, this wartime story is horribly sad and disturbing. However, there are moments in the imprisoned people’s lives where they remind one another that they are indeed compassionate human beings who are capable of empowering themselves and one another by sharing happy and peaceful memories. These moments better enable them to survive–spiritually and physically. On one occasion the “prisoners” free themselves from several months of endless burden and physical wear with the use of what can be called, collective memory. They secretly gather on Christmas Eve and recreate a scene that resembles a traditional Lithuanian Christmas dinner celebration—Kucios. During this commemoration they have only the small stolen rations of stale food from the farming camp that they are temporarily enslaved at. Yet, with these very limited means the group manages to capture the spirit of the holiday celebration, perhaps in a more powerful manner than any Christmas past.
Lina, the protagonist of the story, is a gifted artist and seizes every opportunity to capture, on bark or stolen paper, such moments of beauty. She also uses her artistic abilities to record the destruction and obscenities she has witnessed and experienced. Lina draws with an understanding that her depictions are recorded evidence as well as an act of defiance and freedom of expression. Moreover, she holds onto the hope that her drawings are a conduit through which her separated family can communicate and reunite. The characters in this story, and their small amount of personal belongings, are up-heaved and moved from place to place further away from their homeland and from the peaceful lives they once knew. Lina’s story, and her art, balances a wanting of what once was, with a need to move forward.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (especially for those moments of beauty amidst despair)
A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (which also emphasizes the survival of people’s traditions and culture)
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink (another story that presents complex individuals who are capable of doing good and of creating harm)
A Quilt for Christmas by Sandra Dallas
Eliza Spooner and her two children struggle to run their small Kansas farm after Will joins the Union Army. Eliza and her friends meet once a month to quilt and support each other, and Eliza sends Will a special down-filled quilt for Christmas. Widowed Missouri Ann and her little girl move in, and an escaped slave needs a safe place to stay. Finally, the Christmas quilt is brought home after the war in a most unexpected way. A quick read, this charming, heartwarming novel about life on the homefront during and right after the Civil War is loosely connected with The Persian Pickle Club.