Fall’s here and the nice weather is winding down toward winter. But, the reading progresses apace. I’m starting to make a dent in the piles of books I’ve accumulated from paperbackswap.com and from recent family gifts.
Below are a couple of late summer reads I enjoyed and those worth sharing from the last few weeks.
“Nightwoods” (2011) by Charles Frazier. I enjoyed “Cold Mountain” and picked up this, Frazier’s third book. It has the same lyrical way of describing the scenery and catching the cadence of life in the woods of the Appalachians. But, this one is a bit of a thriller, too. Luce lives a quiet life as the caretaker of an old, dilapidated lodge isolated across a lake from the nearest town. When her sister, Lily, is murdered, the state sends Lily’s psychologically damaged twins to live with Luce, changing her life in ways she could never imagine.
“Ruby” (1998) by Ann Hood. I’m not sure why I’ve never come across one of Ann Hood’s books before. The Rhode Island author sets “Ruby” in New York and Rhode Island. Olivia’s husband is killed in an accident and she is having trouble moving on with her life. She goes to Rhode Island to sell their beach house, and ends up taking in Ruby, a pregnant, immature 15-year-old, while hoping to adopt her baby. At times, I wanted to give Olivia a good shake, but the story is a touching one and I enjoyed it.
“The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox” (2006) by Maggie O’Farrell, an author I discovered last year, is part family drama, part thriller, part mystery. Iris Lockhart owns a vintage clothing shop in Edinburgh when she gets a phone call asking if she can take in her great-aunt Esme, who is being released from a mental hospital after 60 years. The only problem? Iris has never heard of Esme and thought her grandmother was an only child. O’Farrell is a gifted writer. “We are all, Esme decides, just vessels through which identities pass: we are lent features, gestures, habits, then we hand them on. Nothing is our own. We begin in the world as anagrams of our antecedents.” Just a marvelous book.
“Thirteen Moons” (2006) by Charles Frazier. I went searching for his third book and it’s another beauty. When 12-year-old Will Cooper is sent off on his own to be an indentured servant running a trading post on the border of the Cherokee Nation, it sets him on a lifelong search for his place in the world and somewhere to call home. He is adopted by a Cherokee chief, Bear, falls in love, wins and loses fortunes, endures the Civil War and meets the likes of Davy Crockett and Andrew Jackson. Frazier’s books are so beautifully rendered that the images of the places he writes about stay with you long after the book is ended.
“The Rebellion of Jane Clarke” (2010) by Sally Gunning is a delight. Historical fiction with a Jane Austen-type plot set amid the colonists’ bid for freedom. Jane is a young woman who lives on Cape Cod in 1769. When she refuses to marry her father’s choice of husband, he packs her off to live with her sick aunt in Boston. There, Jane is drawn into the growing conflict between the Sons of Liberty and the British occupiers. Gunning meticulously researched the period and it’s a perspicacious look at an exciting time in our history. I have ancestors who lived through this period and it’s clearer now how much more complicated a time it was than a history book outline.
“Candy Freak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America” (2004) by Steve Almond. Yes, that’s his real name, but he doesn’t like coconut, so not an Almond Joy fan. Steve is a self-described candy freak since childhood and decides to combat life’s stresses by writing a book about his love/obsession. It’s a funny, illuminating peek into an industry you would think is fun and creative – and it is – but, it’s also a struggle as small candy companies close because they can’t compete with the big two (Mars and Hershey’s). His tours of the smaller companies around the country and the inside story of how candy is made and sold is a bittersweet treat.
“The Peach Keeper” (2012) by Sarah Addison Allen. I read this book in one afternoon. Her stories are an amalgam of magic, family relationships and romance set in small towns in North Carolina. Willa Jackson is descended from the premiere family in Walls of Water in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but their fortunes took a nose-dive generations ago. She returned to town when her father died and now an old classmate from one of the best families is renovating the Jackson family’s ancestral home into a high class inn. When a skeleton is discovered buried under an old peach tree, it will dredge up the history of their grandmothers and bring the two women together to solve its mystery. Allen’s delightful books remind me of early Alice Hoffman.
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