Winter Reads

Lucy By the Sea by Elizabeth Strout—Elizabeth Strout is one of my favorite authors. She writes clearly and her characters are plainly drawn. She writes short sentences often about small towns. Her novels and short stories are frequently interconnected, and one can follow a character’s development from one book to another. Such is the case with Lucy By the Sea. Her first novel about Lucy was My Name is Lucy Barton who grows up desperately poor in Illinois and with the help of a teacher she is able to escape the bonds of poverty and attend college in Chicago, where she begins writing. When she falls ill, her mother visits her in the hospital and they begin to reknit the fabric of their family. Anything is Possible is a book of interrelated short stories set in her hometown but from the point of view of other townspeople. (this is perhaps my favorite book). Oh William, which I wrote about in another blog, explores her relationship with her ex-husband.

So now we are up to date. It is February 2020 in the early days of the pandemic and William, her ex-husband scientist, implores Lucy and their adult children to get out of New York City because, correctly, he fears for their health and possibly their lives. One daughter and husband move to Connecticut and the other stays in NYC with her husband. But Lucy and William journey to a small town in Maine where they will sit out the pandemic. We’ve all been through these last few years, so reading a novel about it is fascinating because their perspective is from the beginning. They don’t yet know the severity or how long it will last, and what measures they should be taking. But it is also about two people who have lived together, had children together, eventually break up, and live together again in a small house, with very few distractions.  It’s about Lucy, moving from Manhattan to a small town, much like the one in which she grew up, and how she slows down her life to fit her new circumstances. And eventually, it’s about family, as it often is with Elizabeth Strout. Read it, savor it, and find people with whom to discuss it…especially me!

Daisy Darker by Alice Feeney—Ever since I read Sometimes I Lie, I have understood Alice Feeney’s writing style. There is a term called “Unreliable Narrators” where you learn not to trust everything or indeed anything that the person narrating the story is saying. The narrator is Daisy Darker.

Daisy Darker was born with a broken heart, literally. Her life was lived from doctor to doctor, in a family so dysfunctional that you wondered how she grew up at all. The only person who loved her unconditionally was her Nana and it is there on Halloween and her Nana’s 80th birthday that the whole family and Connor (a family friend) meet to celebrate, but it turns out there was no celebration, as one by one, each member of the family is murdered, and each in a very personal way. Who did it…and why? Listen carefully to Daisy as she narrates the novel and I’m sure by the end, you will have your own idea. In a nod to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, this is a “locked door mystery”.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig–Nora Seed has come to a dead end in her life and then, to make matters worse, her cat dies. All her dreams have been dashed. She could have been an Olympic swimmer, a glaciologist, a singer in a band and now she was fired from her job in a music store. She sees no future and decides to end it all. But at midnight, she is transported to a library where all the books are about the many alternatives of her life. Nora can “try out” these different lives but must eventually decide on the right one for her. Her favorite librarian, Mrs. Elm is there to guide her through this process. If you have ever wondered what your life would be like if you’ve turned right instead of left, this is the perfect book for you. It’s a quick read and a good book to discuss.

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell—Maggie O’Farrell is an Irish writer but so much more: she’s at heart a feminist, and not afraid to try different genres, even nonfiction. She can weave a story and make her characters shine.

It is 1561 and Lucrezia is 15 years old, an artist and a free thinker when she is married off to a duke from a neighboring duchy after her older sister, who was supposed to marry him, dies. He is handsome and seems to really understand her. But there is another side to him: ruthlessness and he must always be in control.  Her foreboding begins immediately when she is sure he is going to kill her in some fashion, but she later finds out that impregnating her is his most important purpose First, though, she must pose for a portrait. This story is taken from a Robert Browning poem about the life of Lucrezia de Medici, written with some literary license. This is life in 16th century Italy for a young woman. It’s not for the squeamish.

Rebel with a Clause: Talks and Tips from a Roving Grammarian by Ellen Jovin—If grammar is something you think about, argue about, and worry about, then this is a book you will enjoy. I originally thought I would skim a few chapters…how interesting could it be…but when she discusses the Oxford comma, lie vs lay, further vs. farther and the use of contractions, I was hooked. Jovin and her husband traveled the country setting up a grammar table in each city. Hungry grammarians would stop by and ask questions and I loved the exchanges. She is the coolest grammarian I’ve ever met. And the least judgmental. And definitely the funniest! I listened to the entire book. But if you want to read it, there are reference tables that can be quite helpful during those grammar squabbles. Either way, you will enjoy it more than you expect…and learn something as well.

No matter what the temperature is outside, it’s always a good time to read…inside.

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