Other People’s Houses by Abbi Waxman
Frances Bloom is the neighborhood carpool mom, and fits seven kids in her van every weekday morning. Then she has a couple of hours before picking up two preschoolers, usually spent running errands or doing laundry. Michael and Frances have three kids, ages 4 to 14, along with two dogs and a cat, and don’t get much alone time. Retrieving craft supplies for first-grader Kate, she learns that her neighbor Anne is having an affair. Anne ends the affair, but her husband finds out and causes a scene that has the whole neighborhood on edge. Different points of view introduce the neighbors, and even Ava, at 14 the oldest kid on the block, gets her turn, as does her brother Milo. Witty dialogue and some humor, especially at soccer games, make for a quick read, but I found this book not quite as enjoyable as her first book, The Garden of Small Beginnings.
The Milk Lady of Bangalore: An Unexpected Adventure by Shoba Narayan
When Shoba, a journalist, and her husband Ram move from New York City to the southern Indian city of Bangalore, she is intrigued by the cows in her neighborhood. Shoba makes the acquaintance of Serala, the local milk lady. When her family, including two daughters, aren’t interested in drinking raw milk, Shoba boils the milk and makes yogurt and ghee. Gradually, she gets interested in the role of cows in south Indian culture, and decides to write some articles. Serala and her family guide Shoba, especially when Shoba and Ram decide to buy a cow in honor of their fathers for upcoming birthday celebrations. While I was only expecting to read about cows and dairy products, Shoba also relates the uses of cow urine and dung. A touching chapter explores the difficulty of placing a male calf in mostly vegetarian south India. In this vivid, heartwarming memoir and travelogue, Shoba, Serala and the cows are very good company.
On May 15 at 10 a.m., the Tuesday Morning Book Group will discuss The Other Alcott, by Elise Hooper. This is a biographical novel about May Alcott, the youngest sister of the author of Little Women, who travels to Europe in her quest to be a painter. Here is my earlier review.
At 7 p.m. on May 22, The Tuesday Evening Book Group will discuss Caroline: Little House, Revisited by Sarah Miller. This historical novel is another look at The Little House on the Prairie book from Ma’s point of view. A Library Reads pick, here’s my review.
The Crime Readers will meet at 7 p.m. at Home Run Inn Pizza in Darien on May 17 to discuss The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley. The first Flavia de Luce mystery, it’s set in an English village in the 1950s. The Crime Readers are co-sponsored by the Indian Prairie Public Library. Optional dinner is at 6 p.m.
Copies of the books are available at the Adult & Teen Services Reference Desk.
Circe by Madeline Miller
In her follow-up to her 2012 novel The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller revisits the world of Greek myths, this time with the witch-goddess Circe. Circe, the daughter of Helios, a Titan, and a water nymph, never feels at home in her father’s halls. She is mocked for her strange voice and lacks the beauty and power of her parents and siblings. Instead, she finds herself drawn to mortals and prefers them to the vain and petty gods around her. When her latent powers are made known, she is considered a threat by Zeus and is exiled to the island Aiaia. On the island, she begins to practice pharmakeia, witchcraft using herbs and other elements to create powerful spells. She is particularly adept at transfiguration.
Circe briefly leaves Aiaia when she is summoned to Crete by her sister, Pasiphae. While at Knossos, she meets her niece, Ariadne, the inventor Daedalus, and has a memorable encounter with the Minotaur. After returning to exile, Circe is more keenly aware of her loneliness than before and throws herself into working her magic. Despite her isolation, Circe does have the odd visitor. Sometime lover Hermes comes to tell tales of the outside world. Circe’s other niece, the witch Medea, seeks her out after fleeing her kingdom with Jason. Ships of men also find their way to her island and, at first, she welcomes their company. After a sailor’s brutal betrayal, Circe transforms him and his crew into pigs. Thereafter, most men who find her island meet the same fate. One day, as foretold by prophecy, Odysseus makes his way to Circe’s shores. If you know your mythology, you already know how the story plays out. However, in Miller’s hands, the story feels fresh and utterly compelling.
Circe is a complex and sympathetic heroine. Her struggles to find her voice and wield her power are both ancient and completely of the moment. Circe may be about a goddess, but it has a lot to say about being not only a woman, but a woman with power. A particularly potent theme throughout Circe’s story is how men fear powerful women and attempt to suppress them. Miller’s vivid, evocative writing brings the Greek gods and monsters to life in a unique and fantastic way. Readers who enjoy stories about women’s lives, and those who read literary, historical, and fantasy fiction will all find something worthwhile here.
I’m in the middle of so many books that I’m not sure what to review next.
I’ve just finished reading Lake Silence, by Anne Bishop. This is a paranormal novel set in the world of the Others, but with a new setting and characters. Vicki DeVine has just reopened a rustic resort in the Finger Lakes, and her first tenant is Aggie Crowe, one of the shapeshifting Crowguard. Vicki has some anxiety issues and is learning to stand up for herself, with help from some very unusual characters.
I’ve also read Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, by David Grann, a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award. Excellent investigative reporting about a series of murders in the 1920s of Osage who owned mineral rights on land where oil was discovered. The pacing was leisurely, and it’s an important but very sad true story.
I recently listened to the audiobook of Raspberry Danish Murder, by Joanne Fluke, featuring Minnesota cookie baker and amateur sleuth Hannah Swenson, whose family and friends are helping her solve a murder and find a missing person who’s very important to Hannah. If you need to find a new cozy mystery series with recipes, start with Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder.
I’m currently reading four books I’m considering for future book discussions:
Anatomy of a Miracle, by Jonathan Miles is about a Cameron Harris, a paraplegic vet living with his sister in Biloxi, Mississippi, when he suddenly stands up and walks.
Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng is a contemporary novel set in Shaker Heights, Ohio that’s been getting lots of good reviews.
The Milk Lady of Bangalore: an Unexpected Adventure, by Shoba Narayan, is a memoir by a writer who moves back to southern India with her husband and two daughters after years in New York City, and Sarala, their milk lady, and her cows.
I’ve just started reading Rocket Men : the Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man’s First Journey to the Moon, by Robert Kurson, and I think I’m going to enjoy it.
For fun, I’m reading Other People’s Houses, by Abbi Waxman, a novel about a carpool mom and her neighbors. I read her first novel, The Garden of Small Beginnings.
Also, I’ve been slowly reading and savoring Craeft: An Inquiry into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts, by Alexander Langlands, an English archaeologist and historian who’s worked on several British television series, including Victorian Farm and Tudor Monastery Farm.
On my e-reader, I have digital review copies of two forthcoming books:
The Shipwreck Hunter, by David Mearns, and Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy by Anne Boyd Rioux. These books will be published in June and August.
What are you reading and enjoying, and what should I read next?
Happy Spring Reading, Brenda
The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea
A big, messy novel about a Mexican American family coming together to celebrate and to mourn. Big Angel de la Cruz, ill with cancer, wants one last birthday party, and then his mother America dies at 100. Angel’s younger half brother, Little Angel, a literature professor in Seattle, reluctantly shows up, and the brothers resolve some issues and relive memories of their father Antonio, a motorcycle cop. Set on the southern border of California, the family doesn’t worry too much about legal status, as their history goes back before California was a state. Exuberant, intimate, funny, sad, and occasionally violent, the story of the de la Cruz family makes compelling reading. Big Angel’s wife Perla and her two sisters also tell their stories, and there is cake, a surprise mariachi band, and even a party crasher with a gun. Inspired by events in the Naperville author’s family, this is a moving and memorable story.
Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist
Artist Zoe makes a long overdue visit to her friend Camille in France, and impulsively decides to hike the Camino de Santiago from central France to the Spanish border. Her budget is small and she is hiking because of a recent death in her family. Martin, a British engineer working in France, decides to test his design for a one-wheeled cart by hiking with it from Cluny to Santiago. Better equipped and organized, Martin often stays in inns and enjoys gourmet meals while Zoe’s budget barely covers hostel dormitories. However, the trail keeps bringing the unlikely pair together, especially when they are both dealing with upsetting news from home. The scenery is dramatic, the other hikers a quirky bunch, and the dialogue is witty and funny. I enjoyed this charming romantic comedy inspired by a three-month hike of the Camino in 2011 by Rosie Project author Graeme Simsion and his wife, writer Anne Buist. Film rights have been sold.