Book review: The Sound of Us by Sarah Willis

Sound of Us book coverIn The Sound of Us (by Sarah Willis), Alice Marlowe, an interpreter for the deaf, receives a phone call in the middle of the night that is clearly a wrong number. On the other end of the line is a six-year-old girl who is all alone and trying to reach her aunt. Alice knows she shouldn’t get involved, but she does anyway, and eventually she applies to be a foster parent for the little girl. It’s typical of Alice to insert herself in people’s lives this way, an inclination she struggles with in her daily work as an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter. I really liked this novel for the way it looks at how we communicate and connect with people. The little girl, who is not deaf, learns to finger spell and also learns a few special signs that are both a self-comforting tool and a way to talk with Alice. I also like the way that the assumptions we make about people’s levels of responsibility or parenting skills are often short sighted, and how Alice’s world changes through her relationship with this little girl and the young mother who is struggling to get on her feet. The author also gives us a glimpse into deaf culture and ASL, which is a complete language with its own syntax that is quite different from spoken or written English. Another book I enjoyed is Between, Georgia, by Joshilyn Jackson, for the way the author wove ASL and deaf culture into the story.

Both of these books come to mind now that it’s March, which is officially Disability Awareness Month. Individuals’ disabilities aren’t the focus of either book, but the characters’ stories have an added layer. Sort of like life. I also really enjoyed these four suggestions (two fiction and two nonfiction) mentioned earlier this month, right here on Shelf Talk, when my colleague Anne talked about Disability Awareness Month.

Book review: Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell

dreamers-of-the-day.jpgMary Doria Russell visits The Seattle Public Library this Thursday (March 20) to introduce her new book, Dreamers of the Day, to the delight of her many Seattle fans. Mary’s first book, The Sparrow, won the James Tiptree award in 1996 and the Arthur C. Clarke award in 1998, and still is in constant demand by book groups and library patrons who are discovering her talent for the first time. The sequel, Children of God, continues this literary philosophical science fiction story, though it has not received due acclaim. A Thread of Grace (2005) captured the hearts of readers with a masterfully conceived historical novel set in World War II Italy.

Lit lovers have come to expect great things from Russell’s creative mind, and Dreamers of the Day delivers. We loved Father Emilio in The Sparrow and Renzo in A Thread of Grace, and we cannot help but be enchanted by Agnes Shanklin in this fourth novel by the virtuoso of characterization and surprising plot nuance. The only surviving member of her family after the Great Influenza, Agnes shakes off grief in an uncharacteristic visit to Cleveland’s shopping district. Hair bobbed and stylishly attired, the shy and unattractive 40-year-old spinster ignores her ghostly “mumma’s” cautionary Continue reading “Book review: Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell”

Wisconsin on my mind

Maybe it’s the dark cold winters and the subsequently long hours spent indoors but a whole lot of writing is going on in the state of Wisconsin. And a lot of it is quality fiction. Two authors new to me live in Wisconsin − Jesse Lee Kercheval author of The Alice Stories, (connected stories poignantly written about the domestic life of one young family through the years); Space: A Memoir and the novel Museum of Happiness, lives in Madison; and Lauren Fox, author of Still Life with Husband, a humorous novel of marriage, lives in Milwaukee.

Lady of the Snakes book coverWisconsin is the locale for three additional novels by authors who have obviously spent considerable time there. The Dive from Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer acutely describes one young woman’s dilemma over her impending marriage to a suddenly gravely injured fiancé. In You’re Not You by Michelle Wildgen, a young college student cares and becomes emotionally drawn to a young married woman with ALS. In Lady of the Snakes, author Rachel Pastan describes a scholarly new mother who struggles with her subject – 19th century Russian literature, specifically the diaries of the wife of novelist Grigory Karkov – and the demands of family life including a toddler daughter.

I invite you to come inside and visit Wisconsin and its fertile literary landscape. ~ Susan

The New Gothics: less romance, more horror

the-keep-by-jennifer-egan.jpgPopular in the 1970s, gothic romance was defined by Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca: dark and stormy night, castle or manor house with frightened fleeing maiden in a nightgown on the book cover. Other popular authors in this genre included Anya Seton, Phyllis Whitney, Dorothy Eden and Victoria Holt. For the past two decades, fewer gothics have been written —until now. The new gothics are similar to the old ones — with less romance and more horror.

The River Wife by Jonis Agee
In 1930, when she arrives in the remote Missouri boot heel, the newest DuCharme wife, young Hedi, discovers a legacy of piracy, illicit love, murder and deceit and faces her own trials when it seems her new husband is carrying on the family tradition. Continue reading “The New Gothics: less romance, more horror”

What are your sure-fire hits when it comes to books?

If you’re looking in on Shelf Talk, chances are good you are a “book person,” and as such, are probably the go-to person for friends and family when it comes to what books they should read. This task requires much thought. What do they normally like to read? What mood have they been in recently? Are they hoping for a surprise, or books similar to what they usually read?
corellis-mandolin-book-cover.jpg Sometimes, however, it is just a matter of putting a title out there so they have something to read. This is the wonderful moment where I pull out my “sure-fire hits” (SFH). SFH are those books that satisfy such a wide variety of readers that they can be suggested to any friend, loved-one or library patron with a high likelihood that they will be enjoyed. These are books that somehow seem to be all things literary in one package. They are intelligent, yet approachable; thoughtful, yet exciting; and wise, yet current and novel.
My number one SFH is Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis De Bernieres. This novel has a war story, love story, historical tale, and comedy all rolled into one. It is the engrossing story of life on a small Greek island during WWII and the ways in which the citizens coped with life under Italian, then German occupation.
confederacy-of-dunces book cover.jpg The other title that has worked as a standby for an any-situation read is the hilarious A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Toole’s tale follows Ignatius J. Reilly, an ever-indignant and deluded man-child, as he single-handedly wreaks havoc on 1960s New Orleans. The book, like all great satire, is filled with moments of outrageous and nearly ridiculous hilarity while remaining intelligent and insightful.
Now that the secret of my SFH’s are out, what books do you rely on for the on-the-spot recommendation? ~ Erik