Peaches for Father Francis

peaches jacketPeaches for Father Francis by Joanne Harris

Do you remember watching the movie Chocolat with Juliette Binoche, Judi Dench, and Johnny Depp or reading the book by Joanne Harris? It’s been more than ten years, but I still remember how much I enjoyed it. I apparently missed the next book set in the French village of Lansquenet, Blackberry Wine, but I eagerly picked up Joanne Harris’ newest book, Peaches for Father Francis.

Vianne, Roux, and her daughters are living on a houseboat in Paris and Vianne still makes chocolates. One day, Vianne gets a letter from an old friend in Lansquenet who has died, and she and the girls travel back to Lansquenet, to find the village much changed. Muslim immigrants have moved to town, and there is some discord between the Catholic and Muslim communities. Father Francis Reynaud, the priest who tried to make Vianne leave town years ago when she opened a chocolate shop during Lent, is now suspected of setting fire to a school for Muslim girls and a younger, more modern priest is temporarily taking over his duties. Vianne uncovers some dark secrets within both communities, and Father Francis is stunned to learn that she has become his friend. Vianne again tries to work her magic with chocolate and reunite the community, while also worrying about Roux, left behind in Paris. Charming and eccentric, as well as suspenseful, I will remember this book for a long time.


Flight Behavior

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

Monarch butterflies amaze the Turnbow family and members of their church when they completely cover the hillside behind their sheep farm. The monarchs’ usual winter resting place in Mexico was flooded, and they migrated to Tennessee where it might get too cold for them to survive, and where Bear Turnbow wants to log the hillside to pay bills. Unhappy Dellarobia, married to Bear’s son Cub, was the first to spot them, and it changes her life, especially when scientists come to study the butterflies. Dellarobia and Cub married young, and have little in common besides their two young children. Kingsolver is really good at dialogue and description, noted in a Christmas shopping trip the couple make to the dollar store and scenes in their mega church. The author is a little preachy on the topic of global warming, but Dellarobia, her son Preston, and the reader become fascinated by the butterflies and really care about their continued survival. This book could only have been written by the author of Prodigal Summer and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.



Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed

Wild describes the real life journey of one woman on a 1,100 mile solitary hike through California, Oregon, and Washington in the ’90s.  After her mother dies suddenly from cancer, twenty-two year old Cheryl Strayed’s (a name the author fittingly chooses for herself) life falls apart. Her once tight-knit family soon scatters away from her, she continually cheats on her seemingly “perfect” husband time and again, and after her marriage dissolves, she jumps into a toxic relationship that results in a dangerous heroin habit.  Thus, four years later and with nothing left to lose, Strayed decides to hike the massive Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) on her own, despite her utter lack of preparedness (or a proper fitting pair of boots). Strayed weaves her past with her present as she tackles the trail, meets eccentric and amiable characters along the way, and not so amiable characters in rattlesnakes, bears, and other critters.  Strayed tells her story with brutal honesty, never sugarcoating her own shortcomings and mistakes, as well as with a skilled storyteller’s voice.  You will find yourself rooting for Strayed as she hitchhikes to and from the PCT, small towns and remote campsites, constantly struggling to get by on $20 or less at a time.  But most of all, you will root for Strayed to find in the PCT what it is she needs to move on with her life.  Wild is an Oprah Book Club 2.0 selection.


A Wrinkle in Time: the Graphic Novel

Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time: the Graphic Novel, Adapted and Illustrated by Hope Larson

A Wrinkle in Time was published 50 years ago, and won the Newbery Medal for children’s literature. I don’t know when I first read it, but probably around 6th grade, as my mother used to read it to her class of 6th graders. Now there is a graphic novel version, adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson. One dark and stormy night ugly duckling freshman Meg Murry and her little brother Charles Wallace meet Mrs. Whatsit, who is staying with Mrs. Which and Mrs. Who in an abandoned house rumored to be haunted. They make friends with Calvin O’Keefe, two years older than Meg. Together they travel through space and time to rescue Mr. Murry, a scientist who is stuck on another planet. Charles Wallace, Meg, and Calvin learn to use their strengths and their faults on their adventure. A classic for all ages, I was pleased to find that the graphic novel is just as interesting as the original. Whether you read the original book as a kid or not, either the book or graphic novel is well worth reading. Now I just need to figure out which version my 6th grade niece would enjoy most.



Immobility by Brian Evenson

Josef Horkai is a new breed of human. He has super human strength and is able to miraculously heal from any sustained injury. Nature, or rather human folly has singled him out in a new and perilous world. The Planet (Earth) has sustained a catastrophic annihilation event. Most ordinary humans didn’t survive and the ones that did live in a post-apocalyptic world. Survivors hole up in small buildings that endure in a ravaged landscape. Because he is able to live in a world where ordinary humans die of exposure in minutes, he is a valuable commodity to the competing factions that fight over what little that is left. I won’t tell you what these factions are or their purpose, but the book A Canticle for Leibowitz by William M. Miller comes to mind.  Another novel also comes to mind: The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which I have not read but I did see the movie. Josef strives to prevail in a world that he has little knowledge of since he has been cryogenically frozen for the past thirty years and sent on a mission that he understands little about.

This is a grim, ultra dark thriller that hooks you from the first page. It is a fast read, but a real nightmare to think about. Other books by Brian Evenson are  Windeye, Fugue State, and The Open Curtain.



Dodger by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett is best known for his humorous fantasy series set in the Discworld. Some of them, with young witch Tiffany Aching and the tiny gnomes known as the MacFeegles are written for teens, as is Dodger, but this book is set in Victorian era London. Dodger, 17, is a tosher who scavenges for coins and other lost treasures in London’s sewers. One night he hears a scream and climbs out of the sewer to rescue a young women from thugs. Newspaperman Charlie Dickens is next on the scene, along with another gentleman and they take Simplicity and Dodger to a safe house. Dodger is smitten, and agrees to look for the thugs. Dodger’s landlord, an elderly Jewish jeweler, takes him to get a suit and recommends a shave. Of course, the barber is the murderous Sweeney Todd, who is caught by Dodger, who later interrupts a robbery at Dickens’ newspaper. The plot just gets more complicated from there, with Dodger and Simplicity having numerous adventures, but it’s definitely fun going along for the ride and enjoying glimpses of life in London from all angles. Even the bits in London’s sewers make for fascinating reading. Funny in parts, sad in others, well worth a look for readers of historical fiction or humor.


November Book Discussions

In November, the library’s book discussion groups are reading two very different award-winning books:

The Tuesday Morning Group will discuss The Swerve: How the World Became Modern, by Stephen Greenblatt on Tuesday, November 20 at 10:00 a.m.

Publisher’s Summary:                                                        

Nearly six hundred years ago, a short, genial, cannily alert man in his late thirties took a very old manuscript off a library shelf, saw with excitement what he had discovered, and ordered that it be copied. That book was the last surviving manuscript of an ancient Roman philosophical epic, On the Nature of Things, by Lucretius-a beautiful poem of the most dangerous ideas: that the universe functioned without the aid of gods, that religious fear was damaging to human life, and that matter was made up of very small particles in eternal motion, colliding and swerving in new directions.

The copying and translation of this ancient book-the greatest discovery of the greatest book-hunter of his age-fueled the Renaissance, inspiring artists such as Botticelli and thinkers such as Giordano Bruno; shaped the thought of Galileo and Freud, Darwin and Einstein; and had a revolutionary influence on writers such as Montaigne and Shakespeare and even Thomas Jefferson.

Here is Brenda’s review, written after listening to the book on compact disc. The Swerve won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

The  Tuesday Evening Group will discuss

To Say Nothing of the Dog, by Connie Willis on Tuesday, November 27 at 7:00 p.m.

Historian Ned Henry, suffering from time-lag, finds himself in Victorian England, boating down the Thames river with Terence and Terence’s professor. Professor Peddick studies rare fish, Ned has unknowingly brought a cat back in time from 2057, and Terence has a bulldog named Cyril. Ned meets fellow historian/time traveler Verity and they try to prevent a time paradox that may affect World War II.

In 2057 the wealthy Lady Shrapnell will endow Oxford’s time travel program if the department helps her to research and rebuild Coventry Cathedral, which was bombed in 1940. She is obsessed with the tiniest of details, which is how Ned became time-lagged. Slightly confusing and quite humorous, To Say Nothing of the Dog, which won the Hugo Award for Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel, is a good introduction to Connie Willis’ humorous short fiction and her other time travel novels, including The Doomsday Book and Blackout/All Clear.

Also, the Crime Readers are discussing  L.A. Confidential by James Ellroy on Thursday, November 15 at 7:00 p.m. at Home Run Inn Pizza in Darien.

Destiny of the Republic

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard

James A Garfield was clearly a brilliant man, and one who had no interest in becoming president. He was a college president, a Civil War general for the Union who became a congressman, and was an advocate for freed slaves as well as an inspiring speaker. In 1880, Garfield gave a speech nominating John Sherman, the brother of General William Tecumseh Sherman, at the chaotic Republican convention, although the most notable candidates were James G. Blaine and Ulysses S. Grant. The convention became deadlocked and took two days to nominate a candidate for president. Remarkably, James Garfield became the nominee, won the election, and took office in March, 1881. He hired the youngest private secretary in history, Joseph Stanley Brown, age 23, who later married the president’s daughter Mollie. Brown was the only one who could turn away the long lines of office seekers who appeared at the White House daily, including Charles Guiteau, a failed lawyer who wanted to be the French Ambassador. On July 2, 1881, he shot the president as he entered a train station. The president died on September 19, and Guiteau was tried for murder. He used an insanity defense, and also stated that while he shot the president, he did not kill him. Guiteau was absolutely correct, as Garfield died of malpractice. Candice Millard relates the fascinating story of Garfield’s life and family, the misguided pride of Dr. D. Willard Bliss, the valiant attempts of Alexander Graham Bell to locate the bullet, and the surprising legacy of one of our most overlooked presidents, the last to be born in a log cabin. I found this book to be fascinating, and at only 260 pages, it’s a very readable look at a time when the election (and protection) of presidents was very different from today.

For more about Garfield and the book, visit the author’s website.



Dead Level

Dead Level by Sarah Graves

The latest book in the Home Repair is Homicide mystery series, this is more suspense than mystery. Dewey Hooper, an escaped murderer, heads toward Eastport, Maine, with revenge in mind. City guy Harold takes a rare vacation, planning to hike in the Maine woods. Jacobia (Jake) and Ellie head out of Eastport to a remote cottage, where Jake plans to spend the week finishing a deck. The reader knows they are all likely to meet up, with possibly dire results. Jake’s son Sam is in Eastport, trying to keep a boat from sinking, hindered rather than helped by its new owner. He thinks about going to check on his mother, but is delayed. Jake’s stepmother, Bella, is uneasy and also wants to go check on Jake. It turns out that they’ve all seen the ghost of Sam’s father on the anniversary of his death, but none of them believe it. The only spooky part of the book is the ghost, but there is the feeling of listening to a ghost story around a fire, waiting for something to jump out of the dark. It turns out that Ellie and Jake are tough and resourceful, and probably up to the challenge of facing Dewey, while Harold and Sam face their own problems, as does Bella. Usually I like to start a series at the beginning, but it’s not necessary with this series. An exciting, suspenseful, satisfying read. For more about the series and Eastport, visit the author’s website.


A Wanted Man

A Wanted Man by Lee Child

I listened to the latest Jack Reacher thriller on a Playaway in the car, which made for a very interesting listening experience. Ex-military policeman Reacher is hitching a ride in Nebraska, and much of the action takes place on long car rides. Reacher has a badly broken nose before the book begins, so it’s harder than usual for the 6’5” man to hitch a ride, and the narrator, Dick Hill, uses a muffled voice for much of the narration. Reacher gets a ride towards Iowa in a car with two men and a woman, all wearing matching shirts. Two roadblocks later, Reacher discovers that the woman, Karen, is being kidnapped in her own car. Back in Nebraska, a county sheriff and FBI agent Julia Sorenson are investigating the killing of an unidentified man at an old pumping station, and the state police have set up the roadblocks looking for a car with two men. When the CIA shows interest in the victim’s fingerprints and more FBI agents show up, things get really interesting. There is layer on layer of secrets, with undercover agents and multiple plot twists. Reacher, a loner who travels around the country finding trouble and helping the innocent, must use his statistical knowledge and insight into human nature to help discover what is really going on, aided by Sorenson. Unlike most books in the series, most of the action and violence occurs later in the book, and there is no romance this time. What is left is a trip into the heartland of America and a thrilling ride that never lets up on the tension. As I was listening on a Playaway, I never knew how close to the end of the book I was. Interested? Start with The Killing Floor, and see Kay’s post describing the rest of the series here.