The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Petronella comes to Amsterdam in 1686 as the young bride of merchant Johannes Brandt, with only her parakeet for company. Johannes’ sister Marin rules the household, frowning on sweets and nagging her brother to find buyers for a recent shipment of sugar from South America. Marriage to Johannes is not at all what Nella had expected, and servant Cornelia is her only friend. A replica of the Brandt’s house in miniature is an extravagant wedding gift, and Nella writes to a miniaturist to furnish the little house. The elusive miniaturist seems to be either a spy or a prophet as the figures and objects delivered mirror people, objects, and tragedy which soon visit the household. Johannes is accused of a serious crime by the owners of the sugar in his warehouse, and many secrets are gradually revealed. The 17th century city of Amsterday is vividly described through Nella’s eyes, with its emphasis on order and cleanliness, prosperous yet rigidly moralistic. The atmosphere is dark and wintry, the pacing picking up speed as Johannes’ trial approaches and Nella struggles to find answers to the family’s dilemmas. While not all questions are answered by the end of the book, this first novel is impressive and memorable. A good read-alike is Tulip Fever, by Deborah Moggach.
Maeve’s Times: In Her Own Words by Maeve Binchy
Maeve Binchy fans rejoice! A new collection of her articles from the Irish Times has just been published. A wide variety of topics are included, most humorous but some serious, and the articles were written over a period of five decades. Maeve, who died in 2012, was a born storyteller who wrote for the paper’s London office, bringing an Irish viewpoint to stories set in England and abroad. Maeve writes about royal weddings, Margaret Thatcher, clothing, travel in Europe and Australia, life as a young teacher, boring airline passengers, daily life, and getting older. In case you missed it, her last collection of connected stories, Chestnut Street, was published earlier this year.
Two novels being published this month feature Jane Austen as a fictional character. Jane Austen and the Twelve Days of Christmas, by Stephanie Barron, is the twelfth book in a mystery series, but this book can be enjoyed without reading the other titles. Jane, her sister Cassandra, and other relatives are guests at a house party at The Vyne over the Christmas holidays in 1814. When Jane isn’t socializing, being a dutiful daughter, or penning her novels, she is a witty and observant amateur sleuth. Spirits are high because Napoleon is in exile and the War of 1812 seems to be over. But when a military courier falls from his horse and dies after visiting The Vyne, Jane suspects murder. Fans of Jane Austen novels or historical mysteries will find this book a real treat, and it’s been selected as a Library Reads pick for November.
First Impressions: a Novel of old books, unexpected love, and Jane Austen, by Charlie Lovett is the author’s second book, following The Bookman’s Tale.
Upset by her uncle’s death and the loss of his personal library, recent Oxford graduate Sophie Collingwood takes a job with an antiquarian bookseller who knew her uncle. Within a week two customers ask for the second edition of an obscure book by Richard Mansfield. One threatens her, the other man, Winston, takes her to dinner. In the past, Jane Austen has made a new friend, the elderly cleric Richard Mansfield, who admires her writing. Jane has not yet published anything, and struggles to find time to write. Sophie’s quest for the book turns into a mystery that questions Jane Austen’s authorship of Pride and Prejudice, in a romantic and suspenseful book. I would have liked more scenes with Jane and less of Sophie trying to decide whom to trust, publisher Winston or book-loving American Eric. Both Sophie and Jane rely on their sisters for advice and friendship, which is a nice touch. I enjoyed this book, but it’s not as absorbing and memorable as Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas.
October is National Reading Group Month! Learn more about it here.
I’ve updated a list of discussible books. These are books that have been discussed at the Woodridge Public Library in the past several years, and which have all led to lively discussions. Some of the titles were not universally liked, but that can make for memorable discussions. Enjoy! Brenda
Benjamin, Melanie. The Aviator’s Wife
Chevalier, Tracy. The Last Runaway
Coomer, Joe. Pocketful of Names
deWitt, Patrick. The Sisters Brothers
Doig, Ivan. The Whistling Season
Donnelly, Jennifer. A Northern Light
Dunant, Sarah. Sacred Hearts
Erdrich, Louise. The Round House
Follett, Ken. Pillars of the Earth
Ford, Jamie. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
Gloss, Molly. The Hearts of Horses
Hill, Lawrence. Someone Knows My Name
James, P.D. Death Comes to Pemberley
Joyce, Rachel. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
King, Laurie. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice
Kingsolver, Barbara. Prodigal Summer
Kline, Christina Baker. Orphan Train
Larsson, Stieg. Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
McLain, Paula. The Paris Wife
Moon, Elizabeth. The Speed of Dark
O’Nan, Stewart. Last Night at the Lobster
Parkin, Gaile. Baking Cakes in Kigali
See, Lisa. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
Semple, Maria. Where’d You Go, Bernadette
Shaffer, Mary Ann and Annie Barrows. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Simonson, Helen. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand
Stockett, Kathryn. The Help
Trigiani, Adriana. The Shoemaker’s Wife
Vreeland, Susan. Clara and Mr. Tiffany; Luncheon of the Boating Party
Walls, Jeannette. Half Broke Horses; Silver Star
Algeo, Matthew. Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure
Beavan, Colin. No Impact Man: The Adventures of a Guilty Liberal Who Attempts to Save the Planet, and the Discoveries he makes about himself and our way of life in the process
Cain, Susan. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
Caputo, Philip. The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America from Key West to the Arctic Ocean
Child, Julia with Alex Prudhomme. My Life in France
Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and in Business
Goodman, Matthew. Eighty days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland’s History-Making Race Around the World
Hillenbrand, Laura. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption
Krist, Gary. City of Scoundrels: The Twelve Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago
Kurson, Robert. Shadow Divers : The True Adventure of Two Americans Who Risked Everything to Solve One of the Last Mysteries of World War II
Millard, Candice. Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President
Salisbury, Laney & Aly Sujo. Provenance: How a Con Man and a Forger Rewrote the History of Modern Art
The Tuesday Morning Book Group is discussing David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell at 10:00 a.m. on October 21. In David and Goliath, Gladwell presents a wide-ranging variety of anecdotes to support his belief that underdogs have certain advantages that may help them to succeed and become overachievers.
The Tuesday Evening Book Group is discussing The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett at 7:00 p.m. on October 28. The Bookman’s Tale is a first novel set in several time periods. The main part of the book is set in North Carolina and England in the 1980s and 1990s. Rare book dealer Peter Byerly is stunned when he finds a Victorian watercolor portrait that looks just like his wife Amanda. The portrait is linked to an Elizabethan novel that was the inspiration for Shakespeare’s play, The Winter’s Tale. A copy of the novel with margin notes and lists of the book’s owners may prove that Shakespeare really was the author of his play; or the novel could be a forgery.
The Crime Readers are meeting on Thursday, October 16 at 7:00 p.m. to discuss River of Darkness, by Rennie Airth. The Crime Readers, co-sponsored by the Indian Prairie Library, meet at Home Run Inn Pizza in Darien. Optional dinner is at 6:00 p.m. River of Darkness is the first mystery featuring Inspector John Madden, who is sent by Scotland Yard to investigate when several people are murdered in a village in Surrey. Haunted by experiences in World War I and the loss of his family, Madden teams up with a beautiful doctor to capture the killer.
Copies of all of the books are available at the Adult/Young Adult Reference Desk.
Home Grown by Ben Hewitt
I wasn’t sure if I was the right audience for this book, as I’m not contemplating homeschooling, or unschooling, children. But I still found it fascinating, as an account of a homesteading family, a unique look at parenting, and a chronicle of the life of a writer.
Ben and his wife Penny buy land in Vermont, surrounded by dairy farms, build a small cabin, later add a basement and an addition, and welcome two boys into their life. Ben writes magazine articles and non-fiction books, and the family runs a small farm. The boys are self-directed learners, not following a set curriculum, and are very creative and productive, more interested in exploring the woods, raising dairy goats, and learning wilderness skills than in sitting down and reading textbooks. Yes, the boys are learning basic academic skills including science and history, but only when it’s connected to one of their interests. Finn and Rye also have daily and weekly chores on the farm, weekly music lessons and occasional tutors to learn particular craft and wilderness skills. Since this book was published in early September and has been publicized on public radio and elsewhere, the Hewitts are getting many questions about how to encourage creativity in children and also comments criticizing the boys’ non-standardized education. This is an absorbing read in how some children learn when they are free to explore their interests. For more about the Hewitts, check out Ben’s blog.
Gutenberg’s Apprentice by Alix Christie
This is a fascinating novel about the birth of printing in 15th century Mainz, Germany. Peter Schoeffer, a young scribe in Paris, is called home by his foster father Johann Fust to apprentice with the man known as Johann Gutenberg. Merchant Fust is the investor, Gutenberg is the creative, difficult boss, and Peter is stuck in the middle. With Peter’s creativity and hard work, a secret workshop is set up to produce the first printed bibles. The Gutenberg Bible is famous so I knew the project must ultimately succeed, but the author manages to make the reader doubt if this workshop will finish the project before the funding runs out or the Church leaders shut them down. Peter falls in love with illustrator Anna, who is not pleased when she learns that Peter is no longer a scribe. This is not a fast-paced book, but is full of details of life and work in mid-15th century Germany, a place of occasional unrest with the merchants in conflict with the church leaders. The characters are vividly drawn, and the descriptions of the first print shop are excellent.