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Posts tagged 'Nancy Picks'

We Own the Sky by Luke Allnutt

We Own the Sky by Luke Allnutt

I am absolutely surprised by how much I liked this debut novel. Surprised because We Own the Sky is about a child who dies, and whose father who drowns his sorrows in alcohol. Not my usual cup of tea, but I literally could not put this book down, can’t stop thinking about it, and would be glad to read it again.

The setting is contemporary London, and the main characters are Rob Coates, his wife Anna, and their son Jack. Rob is a talented computer programmer who has sold his business to a large company, and he no longer has to work very much. He met his wife Anna, an accountant, when they were at Cambridge together. After a great deal of difficulty, they have a son, Jack, who is the light of their lives. When Jack is just five years old, he begins having health problems, and tragically he is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Surgery only offers a temporary respite to his symptoms, and when problems return, Jack and Anna are told that there is nothing else that can be done for Jack.

Rob turns to an on line support forum called “Hope’s Place” to learn more from other families in similar situations. On the site, parents gather to talk about their children’s illnesses and their frustration at ineffective treatments. Through Hope’s Place, Rob reads about a controversial clinic in Prague that might offer a cure. Anna, the rational, data driven accountant, is dead set against anything that has not been proven, researched, and documented.

Nancy Picks  Fiction

04/19/18
 

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

 

Tangerine by Christine Mangan

The location is Tangiers, Morocco, and the time period is the early 1950’s. Our two main characters, Lucy Mason and Alice Shipley, met as roommates at prestigious Bennington College in Vermont. They were very close, living together all four years.  Alice came from a long line of blue bloods, and always had lovely clothes and jewelry. In contrast, Lucy was a scholarship girl, from the wrong side of the tracks, had there been tracks in the tiny town where she grew up. Really the only thing they had in common was that they were both orphans.  

Their senior year, a tragic accident occurred in a car in which Alice was riding. Alice and Lucy barely spoke after that.

Nancy Picks  Historical Fiction  Fiction

03/15/18
 

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

 

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

Can you imagine being with your family for an entire seven-day week?  Mom, Dad, adult siblings? What if you all were confined to an isolated, crumbling, family house in rural England, a home which no one could leave or enter for a full week?  Why? Because the family is in quarantine! Groceries have to be dropped at the gate, letters pushed in to the letter slot. . .

The Birch family is at the center of this Brit-authored novel. Daughter Olivia, a medical doctor, has been in Liberia, tending to the country’s underserved population under primitive circumstances.  She and her work partner, Sean, were campaigning for basic sanitation standards when a deadly disease, the Haag Virus, broke out among the native people. Aid workers were sent home as quickly as possible, with the admonition to stay away from everyone for an entire week in case they had been exposed to the virus. It’s Christmas, and the Birches, so happy that Olivia is home for a change, agree to suffer Olivia’s quarantine together as a family. 

Nancy Picks  Fiction

12/05/17
 

The Trust by Ronald Balson

 

The Trust by Ronald Balson

An urgent phone call for Liam Taggert from his cousin Annie in Ireland begins the novel, the latest from the Chicago attorney who authored Once We Were Brothers, Saving Sophie, and Karolina’s Twins.

Annie tells Liam his Uncle Fergus has died. The funeral is in Ireland in three days, and Annie says Liam must be there, even though he’s been estranged from his Irish family for 16 years, after they discovered that he was a CIA spy.  Stranger still is that when the will is read in Ireland, Liam is named the executor and trustee, chosen over Fergus’s children and longtime love Deirdre. Furthermore, the trust specifies that if there is any suspicion about Fergus’s cause of death (a fatal gunshot to the head does sound suspicious), none of Fergus’s assets (and they are considerable) can be distributed to any of the heirs until the cause of death is resolved and the people responsible for it have been identified and brought to justice.  The Taggart family does have its political enemies, though who would kill Uncle Fergus? And why would Uncle Fergus write such instructions into his will – did he know he was at risk for murder?

Suspense  Nancy Picks  Mystery  Fiction  Family

12/05/17
 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

I read this book in two days, but now I almost wish I had taken more time because I really miss Eleanor! She is delightful, and the book is a well written, page turning novel.

Main character Eleanor is a lonely, single 29-year-old Scottish woman who insists that she is completely fine. She observes strict routines of week days at work (same clothes, same job, no interaction with anyone) and weekends alone with large quantities of vodka and pizza. She speaks formally, with an antiquated speech pattern and vocabulary that keep regular people at arm’s length. And she is fine. Until she develops a school girl crush on a rock’n’roller whom she dreams of meeting. A necessary work interaction with Raymond, the grubby new geek in IT, begins to thaw her icy heart, and leads her to consider that maybe, just maybe, she could begin to allow some tiny change, even some people, into her life.  To the author’s credit, the Raymond-inspired character development is not based on “the knight in shining armor riding up on a white horse” scenario, but rather, a unique friendship that leads Eleanor to look into her very unhappy childhood and see how it has restricted her. Issues with her “Mummy” are alluded to in their weekly Wednesday night phone call, but not elucidated (through the skill of a patient therapist) until the very end of the book, creating a pleasant suspense.

Nancy Picks  Humor  Fiction  Contemporary  British Fiction

09/21/17
 

The Burning Girl by Claire Messud

The Burning Girl, by Claire Messud

Described by Publishers’ Weekly magazine as “haunting and emotionally gripping,” this short book follows the author’s highly regarded 2006 novel Emperor’s Children, short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, as well as her other dazzling novels.

The Burning Girl, narrated in the teenage voice of Julia, is at heart a coming of age novel set in a small town in Massachusetts. Julia and Cassie have been best friends since nursery school, but their friendship flounders in seventh grade.

Nancy Picks

08/25/17
 

Quiet Until the Thaw by Alexandra Fuller

FullerQuietFuller, born in Britain, and raised in Zimbabwe, has previously written several very well-received memoirs about living in Africa; among them are Leaving Before the Rains Came and Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight.

After the author moved to Wyoming, she attended the annual commemoration of the 1877 murder of Crazy Horse on a nearby reservation. As Fuller said in an interview, she arrived to participate in the commemorative ride of 400 men and women mounted on horseback. She felt instantly at home on the reservation, and she stayed for three months. She lived with the Lakota Indians and participated in all aspects of their daily life, including tribal ceremonies.

Quiet Until the Thaw, her first fiction novel, is set on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in the southwest corner of South Dakota, home to the Lakota Oglala Sioux Nation. Fuller’s story spans generations and geography, writing frankly about the effect of the federal government’s continuous interference in Indian affairs. Two main characters, cousins Rick Overlooking Horse, and You Choose Watson, born within a month of each other, serve as the reader’s window into tribal divisions and infighting. The men could not be more different. Rick, a seriously injured Vietnam War veteran, chooses a peaceful l existence at the edge of the desert. He refuses government disability and military pension payments, instead living off the land, selling herbal medicines, breaking horses, and becoming a wise man. You Choose Watson takes a completely different path, becoming a thoroughly corrupt tribal business leader.

Fuller’s story telling is nothing short of fabulous, entrancing me as I read about a subject I didn’t know I would be interested in. The chapters are short, only one or two pages each, and every word needs to be read carefully.

Westerns  Nancy Picks  Historical Fiction  Contemporary

06/23/17
 

The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

WaxmanGardenJust in time for summer reading, this paperback was published May 2, 2017

An uplifting story about a garden; planted, nourished, and enjoyed by a broad cast of varied, likeable, realistic quirky characters. Young widow Lilian, an illustrator, has been asked to take a 6 week gardening class at The Los Angeles Botanic Garden, in preparation for illustrating a series of boutique vegetable guides for the venerable Bloem Garden Company. Not a gardener, Lilian reluctantly arrives at the first Saturday morning session class with her two daughters, and Lilian’s very supportive sister Rachel in tow. Also in the class are some of the most enjoyable characters I’ve read about in a long time. At the head of the garden project is attractive in every way Edward Bloem, head of his family garden supply company, and commissioner of Lilian’s illustrations.

At the heart of the book is the theme of change, and each of the gardeners experience change in their own way. The new beginnings of the title refer not only to newly planted and growing vegetables, but change that comes over everyone in the group, and new directions that their lives will take.

Each chapter begins with a short and interesting little tutorial on how to plant the fruits or vegetables for the week’s project (disclaimer: I am not a gardener, and enjoyed these lessons!). The author writes with such quirky dry humor, that I really did laugh out loud reading this book.

Nancy Picks  Humor  Contemporary

06/21/17
 

The Chilbury Ladies Choir by Jennifer Ryan

RyanChilburyI am frequently asked to suggest a book that’s “light but good,” and here is my latest recommendation: The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir. Written by a first-time author, the novel is a good, escapist read.

The story is set in the small English town of Chilbury, over a few months in 1940. As the men have left to fight in World War II, the church’s Vicar declares that the church choir must be abandoned – lacking male voices, it can’t exist. The ladies of the town, who had taken on many of the absent men’s responsibilities, respectfully disagree. “Just because the men have gone off to war, why do we have to close the choir? And precisely when we need it most!” they ask. The Vicar reluctantly agrees to let them try, although he is quite sure that a ladies’ chorus would be lacking. 

Organized by Professor Primrose Trent, of London, the women in town band together to “carry on singing.” The all-female choir becomes a new family. Working together, they create beautiful music for christenings, funerals, and other events. They even win a choral competition. They share their joys and losses, finding the music and companionship important parts of their lives.

The author tells the tale through a series of journal entries and also letters shared among five main characters. It’s a very effective device for story-telling (the book does remind me of the very popular The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society!). The story, inspired by the author’s grandmother, contains elements of romance and domestic issues, as well as themes of drama and intrigue, espionage and trickery, life and death. A young refugee girl from Czechoslovakia adds an especially humanizing element to the war story.

World War II  War  Nancy Picks  Historical Fiction  Epistolary  British History  British Fiction

04/14/17
 

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

KlinePieceI really enjoyed this novel, as I did Kline’s last book, the wildly popular Orphan Train. As she did with Orphan Train, the author pays meticulous attention to historic detail, and she writes in an engaging writing style that makes her new book hard to put down.

The book focuses on the famous Andrew Wyeth painting, Christina’s World, one of the best known works of the 20th century and part of the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The inspiration for the painting was Christina Olson, who was born in 1893. She was Wyeth’s neighbor, and she was his muse. In fact, he claimed an upstairs room in her family’s farmhouse to do sketches for the painting, completing most of the final work there. In the painting, Christina’s face is turned away, inviting the viewer to wonder who she was.

Olson grew up on her family’s farm in the remote coastal town of Cushing, Maine. It was a bleak existence; the land had been in the family since 1743, and adjoining acreage had been sold off over the years as family fortunes dwindled. At the age of 3, Christina developed a high fever that left her legs damaged. A brilliant student, she was asked to continue her education so that she could take over as the school’s head teacher, but her father refused to let her. He forced his daughter to stay on the farm and do arduous farm chores despite her physical limitations. As a young woman, Christina was courted by a college man who ultimately broke her heart. But she fought her way through life, refusing to be a victim of her circumstances.

Nancy Picks  Historical Fiction  Artwork  Art

04/12/17