Book news

Best Friends Forever

Posted by SusanM on Wednesday, Sep 9, 2009 - 2:03 PM

girl friends.jpgA few weeks ago an old friend who now lives in California was in town for a few days and we got together for a girl’s night out with a group of our friends. Although we hadn’t seen each other in a few years, it seemed like it was just yesterday. It was hard to say goodbye at the end of the evening, having caught up on all the little things we miss talking about on a daily basis. Over the years we’ve shared a lot together –both the good times and the bad. Good friends have always played an important part in women’s lives. Women’s friendships have also figured prominently in many of our favorite books.

Songs Without Words by Ann Packer is the story of a lifelong friendship between two women. Beautifully written, Ms. Packer shows how life events can challenge and strain the bonds of friendship. In Truth and Beauty, Ann Patchett delves into the true story of her relationship with fellow author Lucy Grealy. They met in college and shared their writing experiences as well as Grealy’s struggle with drugs and addiction. Patchett’s devotion and love for her friend will resonate with many who have tried to help a friend through troubled times.

The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton follows the lives of five women who are going through many personal changes as the world around them is also undergoing change. Set in 1968 at the beginning of the women’s movement, they form a weekly writing group sharing their lives, hopes and dreams through their writing. In Commencement, by J. Courtney Sullivan, four college friends struggle to find their place in the world after graduating from a woman’s college where the ideals of feminism have been strongly embraced. Set in 2007, they have many opportunities available to them, but the choices they make are not always easy. The strength of their friendship is a source of comfort as they each follow their own path to adulthood.

The enduring nature of female friendships is the subject of The Girls from Ames by Jeffrey Zaslow. This true story follows eleven childhood friends from Ames, Iowa and the bonds that still connect them forty years later. Over the years they have been a support system for each other and a source of strength in times of need.

Do you have a close friend that you may have lost touch with recently? Technology has made it pretty easy for us to keep in touch if we are willing to make the effort. Perhaps one of these books will inspire you to reconnect with some of those friends. You may find that there’s something very special about those relationships that you don’t want to lose.

Book news

Surrounded by books, what would you read??

Posted by on Friday, Aug 28, 2009 - 5:18 PM

Library staff meetings include lots of “book talk.” Here are some recent recommendations.

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay – occupied France in 1942, 10-year-old Sarah locks her brother in a cupboard for safekeeping.
Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant – convent life in 1570 Italy with politically savvy nuns and a rebellious novice.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett – Jackson MS in 1962 with the white ladies who lunch & the black women who serve them.
The Declaration by Gemma Malley –a dystopian tale set in 2140 when children are outlawed.
Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier- Native American history in one man’s life & love.
In the Heart of the Canyon by Elisabeth Hyde- a rafting trip through the Grand Canyon changes lives.
Dune Road by Jane Green- cheeky “chic lit” set in familiar surroundings.
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See- sisters leave bustling 1937 Shanghai for a new life in LA.
Lamb: the Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore-think smart-mouthed middle school buddy.
19th Wife by David Ebershoff- history (Mormons), murder mystery & questions about faith in a literary novel.
Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein- love & family explained by a loyal dog.
Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa- WestportREADS selection for January 2010.
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley- clever 11-year-old girl investigates murder.
Good Thief by Hannah Tinti- Dickensian story set in old New England.
Short History of Women by Kate Walbert- past generations resonate in the present, as 20th century feminist priorities evolve.
***Come to the Library to discuss this book with Ms. Walbert on September 30 at noon.***

The Noticer: Sometimes, All a Person Needs is a Little Perspective by Andy Andrews-inspiration in a blend of fiction & allegory
Columbine by Dave Cullen – careful investigation, psychological assessment & media criticism fill in the details.
Red Scarf Girl by Ji-Li Jiang- forced to choose between love of family & loyalty to the Communist party- a story of courage
Madness under the Royal Palms by Laurence Leamer- close-up look at the culture of excess in Palm Beach
Year of Living Biblically by A J Jacobs – funny & profound attempt to take the Bible literally.
Finding the Quiet by Paul Wilson- suggestions to enhance your meditation practice.
How God Changes your Brain by Andrew Newberg- scientific theory & practical advice for improving life.
Cherokee Nation and the Trail of Tears by Theda Perdue- a tragic & heroic episode in American history.

Book news

New for Book Clubs ...

Posted by SusanM on Wednesday, Aug 19, 2009 - 1:44 PM

books.jpgI just got back from vacation and found a growing stack of book club requests on my desk. Although many book clubs take a break over the summer months, many others get together to plan their reading choices for the fall and winter months. If your club is putting together a list of future selections, I just wanted to let you know about the most recent additions we’ve made to the Speaking of Books collection at the library.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, has quickly become a favorite of book clubs. This charming story takes place in 1946 near the end of World War II. Writer Juliet Ashton, looking for a topic to write her next book about, finds herself in an unusual correspondence with the members of the ‘society’ in the referenced title. Written as a series of letters, Juliet finds herself drawn into the lives of the inhabitants of Guernsey Island. Their stories, their tastes in literature, and the impact the German occupation had on the residents of Guernsey will give book clubs lots to discuss. Voted one of the top books of 2008 by Westport Library patrons, it is still one of the most requested books in our catalog.

I am so pleased that we were able to add Olive Kitteridge to our Speaking of Books collection. This 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner by Elizabeth Strout was one of my personal favorites of last year. Strout has written a series of short stories all connected by the title character, Olive Kitteridge. Life in small town Maine is vividly depicted through the stories of the local residents. Ms. Strout’s beautiful writing has made her characters truly believable. You will recognize many of them and there’s much in this little novel for book clubs to talk about. Be sure to put it on your list this year.

The latest addition to Speaking of Books is Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay. Written in 2007, this is a novel about ten year old Sarah, a young Jewish girl from Paris captured by the Nazis during World War II,and American journalist Julia Jarmond. Sixty years after the war, Jarmond is working on a magazine story about the incident when she discovers a connection between her French husband’s family and young Sarah. Part history, part thriller, this book is most definitely a page turner that book clubs should enjoy.

So send me your lists and be sure to add one from our Speaking of Books collection. We can always provide a discussion guide for these books or for any of your book club choices. Contact smadeo [at] westportlibrary [dot] org (me) if you have any questions or need help with your book club. read more

Book news

Unseen Powers

Posted by on Tuesday, Aug 11, 2009 - 11:57 AM

Incantations, herbal cures & curses, mysterious unseen powers for good & evil…centuries of fascination with witchcraft have led to disturbing history and intriguing stories. An evergreen topic is central to two recent fiction books.

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe takes a Harvard graduate student to the Salem area to clean out and sell her grandmother’s house. She finds an old “receipt book” and follows the clues to a supernatural puzzle in which her ancestors played a part. The author is completing her PhD in American Studies: she expresses her gratitude for the “witchiness” bequeathed to her by her ancestors and its contribution to her ”being the kind of person (she is.)”

In The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent, a mother and daughter stand together against the escalating hysteria in Salem. The mother’s defiance leads to her death. The story is told by her daughter whose family’s love and mutual support sustain them through a time of fear and persecution. Kent is a tenth generation descendent of the mother who was one of the first women to be accused, tried and hanged in Salem.

If the power of the supernatural interests you, be sure to read Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches series. The Witching Hour traces four centuries of witchcraft and the occult and paints indelible scenes of New Orleans. Joanne Harris weaves supernatural spells throughout her books; who can forget the sudden mysterious happenings in Chocolat?
In her books, Alice Hoffman connects the events of the story with unseen forces generated by some of the characters. The powers of the natural world are ever present in her blends of magic and realism. The Story Sisters is her latest.

For more on the history of witchcraft.

Book news

World's most famous pack rats

Posted by on Thursday, Jul 30, 2009 - 4:32 PM

Do you collect anything? Everything?

A cautionary tale is the history of the Collyers- two American brothers who became famous in mid-20th-century because of their compulsive hoarding. Sons of a doctor whose ancestors were some of the first settlers in America, Homer and Langley Collyer were snobs, whose Manhattan brownstone was filthy and full of rubbish. Cited as examples of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), the Collyers have had many mentions through the years in books, movies and on television. Both were found dead in their Harlem brownstone surrounded by over 100 tons of rubbish. More details of the strange lives of the Collyers.

Now, E.L. Doctorow has written a novel about the obsessions and the filial love of the Collyers. In Homer & Langley, Doctorow builds from the facts…bizarre enough to strain credulity… the rubbish included 14 pianos and an intact Model T…to paint one of the darker stories of American lore. Written in the voices of the brothers, the novel provides back story and seems normal enough until the world outside the mansion intrudes. Homer who is blind relies on the furtive Langley for food and care. Langley goes out only at night and though the brothers have money, food often is found in garbage cans or from restaurant leftovers. Doctorow is adept at basing his novels on history; in Homer & Langley the story seems almost mythical.

E.L. Doctorow, recipient of the Westport Library Award in 2000, has also been awarded the National Book Award, three National Book Critics Circle Awards, two PEN/Faulkner awards, the Edith Wharton Citation for Fiction, the William Dean Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the National Humanities Medal.

One of my favorite Doctorow books is Waterworks which I read many years ago. Its scenes of 19th century New York are still vivid in my mind. There are many Doctorow novels to choose from and if the strange Collyers pique your interest, place a hold on the newest book.

Firemen & rescue personnel refer to a “Collyer situation” as a house so full of junk it’s dangerous to get inside or back out. The site of the original “Collyer situation” is now a park named for the two brothers. (Fifth Avenue & 128th Street)

Book news

Ten Good Books for Summer Reading

Posted by on Tuesday, Jul 21, 2009 - 5:16 PM

Summer weather has finally arrived and readers are looking for that perfect book. Fiction is the popular choice – to fill your sun-bake hours or to spice up your “staycation.” Can you identify these top ten most popular books? (books with the greatest number of holds at the Library.)

Scroll down for the answers and click to place your hold.

1.A long-awaited thriller from the author of a previous religious thriller blockbuster, this book has 46 holds before publication date! Don’t worry; we will have many copies.

2.Published in 2007, this collection of connected short stories describes life in a small New England town. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

3.Travel to 1960s Jackson Mississippi and get to know the women- black and white- who live together.

4.Chinese-American sisters sent to 1930s Los Angeles cope with marriages arranged by their father.

5.Feminist view of the 20th-century told through the lives of several generations of one activist family. Come and discuss the book with the author at the Library on September 30 at noon.

6.The life and loves of 1990s Smith college girls as their friendships endure.

7.“Set in the beach community of a tony Connecticut town…” by a Westport author.

8.An historical novel in letters set in German-occupied Britain tells of a special book club.

9.Intelligent Swedish thriller- the second of a trilogy- by a deceased author.

10.A kidnapping at Camp David propels this national security thriller.


1.Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
2.Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
3. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
4. Shanghai Girls by Lisa See
5. Short History of Women by Kate Walbert
6.Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan
7. Dune Road by Jane Green
8. Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Sheffer
9. Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson
10. First Family by David Baldacci

Book news

Literary Holidays

Posted by SusanM on Wednesday, Jul 8, 2009 - 4:07 PM

novel destinations.jpgSchool’s out and vacation time is here. “Staycations” (vacations spent at home or close by) are in fashion for many of us this summer. For lots of reasons an exotic vacation to far off places may be out of the question this year. Last spring when I was able to get away to Key West, legendary adopted home of Ernest Hemingway, I came across an interesting book from our collection entitled Novel Destinations. This is a fun travel guide that is filled with great suggestions for a literary vacation, many of them inexpensive and not too far from Westport. Written by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon, these travel writers combined a passion for travel with a love of reading and, as a result, their book has filled a niche for all book lovers who would like to see and experience a little more about their favorite authors and the places that inspired them.

The Monte Cristo Cottage in New London is close enough for a daytrip. It was the childhood home of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Eugene O’Neill. The Eugene O’Neill Theater Center nearby has a great selection of programs and plays to enjoy throughout the summer. If you head up north to Hartford, there are several literary landmarks. The Harriet Beecher Stowe Center is the last home of the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Ms. Stowe’s best selling novel is credited with arousing public opinion against slavery. Nearby of course, is the Mark Twain House. Twain lived here from 1874 to 1891 and there’s always a lot going on here including activities for children as well as adults.

Children and adults alike will also love Washington Irving’s Sunnyside in Tarrytown, NY, a short drive away in Westchester County. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow will come alive as you tour the house and surrounding gardens. If you can manage an overnight trip, then I highly recommend a drive to Concord, Massachusetts. There are numerous literary destinations there that will capture your interest. Home of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Nathaniel Hawthorne, my favorite place of all is Orchard House, home of Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women. This is the home where she was inspired to write her semi-autobiographical novel and a visit here is a must if you’re a fan.

These are just a few of the many destinations highlighted in the highly entertaining Novel Destinations. The authors also cover many places in Europe and in addition, they have a great blog that they often update. If you’ve been to any literary places recently, I’d love to hear about them. I’m always planning ahead for my next trip – any suggestions?

Book news

El Dorado

Posted by on Wednesday, Jul 1, 2009 - 12:48 PM

Do you savor a good adventure/quest yarn? Full of danger, secrets, unfriendly natives, natural predators and mystery? Imagine a middle-aged New Yorker, laptop in hand, plunked down in the Amazon jungle looking for the legendary El Dorado. That New Yorker is David Grann, who wrote about his adventure in The Lost City of Z: a Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon.

It’s the story of British explorer Percy Fawcett who ventured into the Amazon in 1925 determined to find the ancient civilization, rumors of which have inspired so many novels, including Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World. Fawcett, his son and his entire party vanished. Grann says, “I had to remind myself that everything in this story is true: a movie star really was abducted by Indians; there were cannibals, ruins, secret maps and spies, explorers died from starvation, disease, attacks by wild animals and poisonous arrows….” Other expeditions followed Fawcett’s and many attempts to repeat his path have failed. Legend, biography, travel/adventure and history blend in this tale of obsession based on Fawcett’s diaries. Grann’s polished writing makes it a compelling read.

Westport native David Grann will speak at the Library on Monday July 13 at 7:30 pm. His talk will include photographs. Don’t miss it!

(The Lost City of Z is being developed into a movie by Brad Pitt's Plan B production company and Paramount Pictures.)

Book news

A Short History of Women

Posted by SusanM on Thursday, Jun 25, 2009 - 4:00 PM

short history.jpgIn case you missed it, last Sunday’s NY Times book review cover article was a glowing review of Kate Walbert’s new book, A Short History of Women. Just out last week and already generating a lengthy wait list at the library, this one is sure to be a favorite with book clubs this summer and well into the fall. Ms. Walbert was a National Book Award finalist in 2004 for Our Kind, and the winner of the Connecticut Book Award in 2002 for The Gardens of Kyoto. In addition to her novels, Ms. Walbert is a playwright and a writing teacher at Yale. I am so excited that Kate Walbert will be here at the Westport Library on September 30th at noon to speak about her new book. This will be a discussion not to miss.

A Short History of Women follows the ‘history’ of women as seen through the story of the Townsend family. It begins in England in 1914 as Dorothy Townsend, a suffragette, dies as a result of a hunger strike for women’s rights. The story then follows five generations of Dorothy’s ancestors, both in Europe and in the United States, as they struggle with turbulent times and complicated lives. By following the conflicted Townsend family through the 20th century, Walbert has given us a very personal view of history and the way the lives of our ancestors continue to influence us.

Ms. Walbert’s book is beautifully written, intelligent, and sure to be a hit with book clubs. In anticipation of her visit, the library has ordered a number of copies of A Short History of Women so that you can come to her talk prepared to have a real dialogue with the author. Her publisher has also provided an excellent discussion guide and interview with Ms. Walbert. Also, be sure to listen to the podcast with the author in the NY Times review. Mark your calendar now and make arrangements to be at the library on September 30th. You won’t be disappointed.

Book news

Brotherly Love

Posted by SusanM on Wednesday, Jun 17, 2009 - 12:50 PM

even-gonetomorrow.jpgLast week Lee Child’s latest book, Gone Tomorrow, entered the NY Times bestseller list in the number one position. The most recent in the Jack Reacher series of thrillers will not disappoint Child’s fans. Lee Child is known for his intelligent, plot filled suspense stories. Jack Reacher is a former US army military policeman and Child has made him the centerpiece of thirteen action packed novels. The creator of this very American character was born and raised in England, but is currently living in New York and married to an American. But did you know that Child has a younger brother, Andrew Grant, who has just published his own first novel, Even?

Lee (his real name is Jim Grant) and baby brother Andrew have been showing up together recently at book signings and other appearances across the country. The brothers are separated by fourteen years and as a result grew up apart from each other. But there seems to be a tremendous similarity in their writing styles. Even follows Royal Navy intelligence officer David Trevellyan in a fast paced thriller which also takes place in New York City. Some have compared Trevellyan to Reacher, but Jim Grant has created a character that is intelligent, witty and intriguing, similar to the English spy James Bond, although some reviewers have likened him to the American character Jason Bourne. Although both books are set in New York, Jack Reacher is comfortable and knowledgeable in his surroundings, while Trevallyan acts more like a tourist. Grant claims that when he decided he wanted to be a writer he stopped reading his brother’s work because he didn’t want to be influenced by his style. But the brothers acknowledge that they have done similar things in their lives and as a result you may notice parallels in their work. They both wrote their first books after having been laid off from their corporate jobs.

So if you’re a fan of Lee Child, put your name on the hold list for Gone Tomorrow. But while you’re waiting, try Even, the wait list is a lot shorter, and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. The many fans of sophisticated thrillers will be anxiously awaiting the next books from both these siblings, and for those of you new to Mr. Child, try one of the earlier Jack Reacher novels - The Hard Way or The Enemy, and you'll be hooked.

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