The Stars Are Fire

The Stars Are Fire by Anita Shreve

In 1947, Grace Holland has two children and an unhappy marriage. Gene brings her a wringer washing machine as an apology, but discourages Grace from visiting his mother when she is taken ill. Later, Grace learns that Gene’s mother has a washer and dryer, along with a large jewelry collection and expensive clothes. Grace has her young children, her lively friend Rosie, and walks on the Maine shore. Grace’s mother expects her to make the best of things, which another pregnancy does not help. Fires break out all along the coast, and Grace is saved only by her daughter coughing in the night and her own quick thinking. Gene is away fighting the fires, and the family finds shelter at his mother’s house, which is being occupied by a gifted pianist. The night of the fire is vividly described, as is Grace’s new job at a doctor’s office. Her husband and mother-in-law are sketchily drawn, and some plot twists are rather melodramatic. The reader is meant to worry about Grace’s safety, but we know that the newly self-reliant Grace will dare to do the right thing for her children. Excellent period details and plenty of action make for a fast-paced, compelling read.

Brenda


The Garden of Small Beginnings

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

I was not expecting a novel about a widow with two young girls to be laugh-out-loud funny. Lillian’s husband died suddenly three years ago. She fell apart, but her sister Rachel helped pick up the pieces. Lillian is a textbook illustrator, and her daughters Annabel and Clare are now five and seven. A new work assignment has the whole family taking a gardening class, led by a Dutch master gardener. The class bonds over pizza and gardening, and a couple of romances have potential. Though conversations are very frank, especially when Lillian’s sister-in-law comes to visit, there are no sex scenes. The characterization is top notch and the witty dialogue, both spoken and internal, is great. It will not surprise the reader to learn that the author has three kids and several pets, as Annabel, Clare, and their new friend Bash often steal the scene. This first novel was a delight to read. More, please!

Brenda


The Cuban Affair

The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille

Adventure, treasure, and romance are in store for Daniel MacCormick when he meets Miami lawyer Carlos in a Key West bar. Mac and fellow veteran Jack run a charter fishing boat in the Florida Keys, and Carlos wants to charter the boat for a 10-day fishing tournament. After the destination is revealed as Cuba, Mac is not interested. But when a reward of millions of dollars is mentioned, he’s willing to hear more. Beautiful Cuban American Sara Ortega wants to retrieve her grandfather’s treasure. A banker, he stashed a fortune and property deeds in a remote cave, to which she has the map. The plan is for Sara and Mac to join a tour group of Yale alums in Havana, while Jack captains Mac’s boat in the fishing tournament, later picking them up along with the treasure. Mac and Sara’s tour guide seems suspicious of them, and is jealous when they begin a romance to cover their unexplained absences. The tour group sees all the sights in and around Havana, and hears a version of Cuban history. This part isn’t very exciting, nor is the romance, but the pace really picks up when the pair head out of Havana in an old Buick station wagon, trying to avoid the police as they head for the treasure. The risk of betrayal and arrest keeps increasing and Mac wonders if they’ll make it out of Cuba alive, with or without the treasure. A fun trip through Cuba, and a good readalike for Clive Cussler.

Brenda


The End of the World Running Club

The End of the World Running Club by Adrian Walker

Edgar’s not much of a father or husband. When news of the end-of-the-world crisis comes, he’s drunk. But he’s mentally prepared, and helps Beth and their two little kids survive. Later, the family gets separated and Ed is left behind in Edinburgh with a small group. He needs to get to Cornwall in a hurry to find his family again, but the roads are mostly impassable. Surprisingly, Ed won’t ever give up, and the group starts running southwest through the bleak landscape, where they have encounters alternately charming and malevolent. I found the completely ordinary Ed appealing and memorable, and the story very compelling reading.
Brenda


Behold the Dreamers

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Jende and Neni Jonga, immigrants from Cameroon, pursue the American dream in New York City in 2007. Jende is fortunate to find a good job as chauffeur to Lehman Brothers executive Clark Edwards and his family. Neni is in college, their son Liomi is in elementary school, and they are happy together in their tiny Harlem apartment. Jende hears Clark’s phone calls in the limo, Neni spends time in the Hamptons helping Cindy Edwards with child care, and they both learn the family’s secrets. Neni is pregnant again, and Jende wants her to take time off from work and school, even though their legal status in the United States is uncertain. Then Lehman Brothers collapses, the Great Recession begins, and both families are in turmoil. Jende thinks that with their savings, they may be happier back in Cameroon, but Neni really wants to stay and get her degree. The Edwards, not as resilient as the Jonga family, are even unhappier. They are not as vividly drawn as the Jongas, and I didn’t care about their problems as much. I really enjoyed reading about life in Cameroon, and the Jongas’ interactions with their fellow immigrants. This debut novel is our September book discussion selection, and is also the latest book club selection by Oprah Winfrey. I look forward to hearing what everyone else thought about this compelling novel.
Brenda


The Bedlam Stacks

The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

Beautiful storytelling makes this novel, set mostly in Cornwall and Peru in 1859, compelling reading. Adventure, magical secrets, betrayal, and a different sense of time are all part of the adventure. Readers of Pulley’s first book, The Watchmaker of Filigree Street, may suspect that the large moving statues guarding the salt line of the forest in Peru are clockwork, especially as there are windup lanterns filled with glowing pollen. But Pulley’s imagination takes the story in a very different direction, in a village set on stacks of volcanic glass. Botanist Merrick Tremayne, whose father and grandfather spent time in Peru, is recruited for an expedition to Peru to smuggle cuttings of cinchona trees, the source of quinine, badly needed in India for a malaria epidemic. The risk is high, and Merrick’s leg was badly injured while working for the East India Company. Watchmaker Keita Mori of the first book makes a cameo appearance, but Merrick’s intriguing guide/priest Raphael takes center stage here, bridging the border of the Spanish and Quechua speaking worlds, and with a poignant connection to Merrick’s grandfather. Creative and unpredictable, I look forward to more from this enchanting author. For readers of historical fiction and fantasy.
Brenda


The Salt Line

The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones

A dystopian thriller set in the near future that’s sure to be popular. A group of residents of the southeast zone have paid a large fee to spend a few weeks enjoying nature beyond the salt line. The salt line is a ring of scorched earth and garbage dumps intended to protect the privileged zone residents from ticks carrying deadly diseases. The group’s guide, Andy, makes them practice using a cauterizing stamp that works to prevent disease if used right after a tick bite, and cautions them to stay close to their assigned stamp partner. Somehow the group, which includes tech entrepreneur Wes, middle-aged mom Marta, pop star Jesse and his girlfriend Edie, end up in Ruby City, where June and the other residents, including scarred Violet, no longer live in fear of ticks, though at a price. Adventure and danger follow the group, and they have to decide what kind of life they’ll choose in the future, if they survive. This is another September pick by Library Reads.

Brenda