2015 Summer Book Recommendations
A Head of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay
A chilling thriller that brilliantly blends domestic drama, psychological suspense, and a touch of modern horror, reminiscent of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In, and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House.
The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia.
To her parents’ despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie’s descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help. Father Wanderly suggests an exorcism; he believes the vulnerable teenager is the victim of demonic possession. He also contacts a production company that is eager to document the Barretts’ plight. With John, Marjorie’s father, out of work for more than a year and the medical bills looming, the family agrees to be filmed, and soon find themselves the unwitting stars of The Possession, a hit reality television show. When events in the Barrett household explode in tragedy, the show and the shocking incidents it captures become the stuff of urban legend.
Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie’s younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface—and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil. Summary from Amazon.
Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson
This ambitious hard SF epic shows Robinson (Shaman) at the top of his game. Freya and her parents live aboard a starship that has traveled for generations and will soon reach Tau Ceti, a star about 12 light years from Earth’s solar system. Freya’s mother, Devi, is the de facto chief engineer, struggling to keep the ship’s environment balanced until they reach a new world and, they hope, survive on it. But ecologies are delicate, resources are limited, and the laws of physics are immutable. Over the course of Freya’s life, her community faces genuinely surprising struggles for survival, leading Freya to wonder whether it is too late to reconsider a question initially decided millions of miles away and centuries ago: should this ship have been launched in the first place? As always, Robinson is at his best when dealing with large populations, scientific questions, and logistics, and the very human characters are more than afterthoughts. Even an occasional lapse into preaching about the philosophical problems with space exploration can’t mar this poignant story, which admirably stretches the limits of human imagination. (July) Publishers Weekly (3/30/15)
The Bees by Laline Paull
The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Hunger Games in this brilliantly imagined debut set in an ancient culture where only the queen may breed and deformity means death.
Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive’s survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw but her courage and strength are an asset. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect pollen. She also finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous.
But when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all—daring to challenge the Queen’s fertility—enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses jealously wedded to power. Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are now overshadowed by an even deeper desire, a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, her society—and lead her to unthinkable deeds.
Thrilling, suspenseful and spectacularly imaginative, The Bees gives us a dazzling young heroine and will change forever the way you look at the world outside your window. Summary from Amazon
The Book Of Speculation by Erika Swyler
“Dear Mr. Watson, I came across this book at auction as part of a larger lot I purchased on speculation. The damage renders it useless to me, but a name inside it – Verona Bonn – led me to believe it might be of interest to you or your family….” Simon Watson, a young librarian on the verge of losing his job, lives alone on the Long Island Sound in his family home – a house, perched on the edge of a bluff, that is slowly crumbling toward the sea. His parents are long dead, his mother having drowned in the water his house overlooks. His younger sister, Enola, works for a traveling carnival reading tarot cards, and seldom calls.
On a day in late June, Simon receives a mysterious package from an antiquarian bookseller. The book tells the story of Amos and Evangeline, doomed lovers who lived and worked in a traveling circus more than two hundred years ago. The paper crackles with age as Simon turns the yellowed pages filled with notes, sketches, and whimsical flourishes; and his best friend and fellow librarian, Alice, looks on in increasing alarm. Why does his grandmother’s name, Verona Bonn, appear in this book? Why do so many women in his family drown on July 24? Could there possibly be some kind of curse on his family – and could Enola, who has suddenly turned up at home for the first time in six years, risk the same fate in just a few weeks? In order to save her – and perhaps himself – Simon must try urgently to decode his family history while moving on from the past.
The Book of Speculation is Erika Swyler’s gorgeous and moving debut, a wondrous novel about the power of books and family and magic. Summary by Book Browse
Circling the Sun by Paula Mclain
Paula McLain, author of the phenomenal bestseller The Paris Wife, now returns with her keenly anticipated new novel, transporting readers to colonial Kenya in the 1920s. Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman—Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.
Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.
Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.
Set against the majestic landscape of early-twentieth-century Africa, McLain’s powerful tale reveals the extraordinary adventures of a woman before her time, the exhilaration of freedom and its cost, and the tenacity of the human spirit. Summary by Amazon
Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne
In the tradition of The Girl on the Train comes the UK bestseller THE ICE TWINS, a terrifying psychological thriller with a twisting plot worthy of Gillian Flynn.
One of Sarah’s daughters died. But can she be sure which one?
A year after one of their identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcroft move to the tiny Scottish island Angus inherited from his grandmother, hoping to put together the pieces of their shattered lives.
But when their surviving daughter, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity–that she, in fact, is Lydia–their world comes crashing down once again.
As winter encroaches, Angus is forced to travel away from the island for work, Sarah is feeling isolated, and Kirstie (or is it Lydia?) is growing more disturbed. When a violent storm leaves Sarah and her daughter stranded, they are forced to confront what really happened on that fateful day. Summary from Amazon
In the Country by Mia Alvar
These nine globe-trotting, unforgettable stories from Mia Alvar, a remarkable new literary talent, vividly give voice to the women and men of the Filipino diaspora. Here are exiles, emigrants, and wanderers uprooting their families from the Philippines to begin new lives in the Middle East, the United States, and elsewhere—and, sometimes, turning back again.
A pharmacist living in New York smuggles drugs to his ailing father in Manila, only to discover alarming truths about his family and his past. In Bahrain, a Filipina teacher drawn to a special pupil finds, to her surprise, that she is questioning her own marriage. A college student leans on her brother, a laborer in Saudi Arabia, to support her writing ambitions, without realizing that his is the life truly made for fiction. And in the title story, a journalist and a nurse face an unspeakable trauma amidst the political turmoil of the Philippines in the 1970s and ’80s.
In the Country speaks to the heart of everyone who has ever searched for a place to call home. From teachers to housemaids, from mothers to sons, Alvar’s powerful debut collection explores the universal experiences of loss, displacement, and the longing to connect across borders both real and imagined. Deeply compassionate and richly felt, In the Country marks the emergence of a formidable new writer.
The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock
“Harrison sat very still. On the screen was the surface of the moon.”
Jim Harrison is a test pilot in the United States Air Force, one of the exalted few. He spends his days cheating death in the skies above the Mojave Desert and his nights at his friend Pancho’s bar, often with his wife, Grace. She and Harrison are secretly desperate for a child-and when, against all odds, Grace learns that she is pregnant, the two are overcome with joy.
While America becomes swept up in the fervor of the Space Race, Harrison turns his attention home, passing up the chance to become an astronaut to welcome his daughter, Florence, into the world. Together, he and Grace confront the thrills and challenges of raising a child head-on. Fatherhood is different than flying planes-less controlled, more anxious-however the pleasures of watching Florence grow are incomparable. But when his family is faced with a sudden and inexplicable tragedy, Harrison’s instincts as a father and a pilot are put to test. As a pilot, he feels compelled to lead them through it-and as a father, he fears that he has fallen short.
The aftermath will haunt the Harrisons and strain their marriage as Jim struggles under the weight of his decisions. Beginning when the dust of the Second World War has only just begun to settle and rushing onward into the Sixties, Benjamin Johncock traces the path of this young couple as they are uprooted by events much larger than themselves. The turns the Harrisons take together are at once astonishing and recognizable; their journey, both frightening and full of hope. Set against the backdrop of one of the most emotionally charged periods in American history, The Last Pilot is a mesmerizing debut novel of loss and finding courage in the face of it from an extraordinary Summary by Amazon
The Mapmakers Children by Sarah McCoy
When Sarah Brown, daughter of abolitionist John Brown, realizes that her artistic talents may be able to help save the lives of slaves fleeing north, she becomes one of the Underground Railroad’s leading mapmakers, taking her cues from the slave code quilts and hiding her maps within her paintings. She boldly embraces this calling after being told the shocking news that she can’t bear children, but as the country steers toward bloody civil war, Sarah faces difficult sacrifices that could put all she loves in peril.
Eden, a modern woman desperate to conceive a child with her husband, moves to an old house in the suburbs and discovers a porcelain head hidden in the root cellar—the remains of an Underground Railroad doll with an extraordinary past of secret messages, danger and deliverance.
Ingeniously plotted to a riveting end, Sarah and Eden’s woven lives connect the past to the present, forcing each of them to define courage, family, love, and legacy in a new way. Summary by Amazon
The Mountain Story: A Novel by Lori Hansen
Four lost hikers are about to discover they’re capable of something extraordinary.
Nola has gone up the mountain to commemorate her wedding anniversary, the first since her beloved husband passed. Blonde, stick-thin Bridget is training for a triathlon. Vonn is working out her teenage rebellion at eight thousand feet, driven by family obligation and the urge to escape her mistakes. Still reeling from the tragic accident that robbed him of his best friend, Wolf Truly is the only experienced hiker among them, but he has come to the cliffs on his eighteenth birthday without food or supplies because he plans to take his own life.
When a series of missteps strands this unusual group together in the wilderness, they soon realize that their only defense against the brutality of nature is one another. As one day without rescue spirals dramatically into the next, and misadventure turns to nightmare, these four broken souls begin to form an inextricable bond, pushing themselves and one another further than they ever could have dreamed possible. The three who make it home alive will be forever changed by their harrowing days on the mountain.
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Girls, The Mountain Story is a fast-paced, suspenseful adventure and a gorgeous tribute to the resilience of the human spirit. Braving a landscape both unforgivingly harsh and breathtakingly beautiful, Nola, Bridget, Vonn, and Wolf find themselves faced with an impossible question: How much will they sacrifice for a stranger? Summary by Book Browse
Our Souls at Night: A Novel by Kent Haruf
In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Kent Haruf’s inimitable fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis’s wife. His daughter lives hours away in Colorado Springs, her son even farther away in Grand Junction, and Addie and Louis have long been living alone in houses now empty of family, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with. The neighbors do something together that sets the neighbors of the small town gossip about …but it doesn’t stop their deep conversations and chastely slumber at night. Amazon & Powell’s Books (Mark Ingraham) Portland, OR.
The Rocks by Peter Nichols
Set against dramatic Mediterranean Sea views and lush olive groves, The Rocks opens with a confrontation and a secret: What was the mysterious, catastrophic event that drove two honeymooners apart so suddenly and absolutely in 1948 that they never spoke again despite living on the same island for sixty more years? And how did their history shape the Romeo and Juliet–like romance of their (unrelated) children decades later? Centered around a popular seaside resort club and its community, The Rocks is a double love story that begins with a mystery, then moves backward in time, era by era, to unravel what really happened decades earlier.
Peter Nichols writes with a pervading, soulful wisdom and self-knowing humor, and captures perfectly this world of glamorous, complicated, misbehaving types with all their sophisticated flaws and genuine longing. The result is a bittersweet, intelligent, and romantic novel about how powerful the perceived truth can be—as a bond, and as a barrier—even if it’s not really the whole story; and how one misunderstanding can echo irreparably through decades. Summer reading for sure! Summary from Amazon
The Third Wife by Lisa Jewell
For fans of Liane Moriarty and Jojo Moyes comes a riveting family drama with a dark mystery at its core, from the internationally bestselling author of The House We Grew Up In. In the early hours of a summer morning, a young woman steps into the path of an oncoming bus. A tragic accident? Or suicide?
At the center of this puzzle is Adrian Wolfe, a successful architect and grief-stricken widower, who, a year after his third wife’s death, begins to investigate the cause. As Adrian looks back on their brief but seemingly happy marriage, disturbing secrets begin to surface. The divorces from his two previous wives had been amicable, or so it seemed; his children, all five of them, were resilient as ever, or so he thought. But something, or someone, must have pushed Maya over the edge… With psychological nuance that gets into the heart of its characters, The Third Wife is a gripping story about a man seeking the truth behind his seemingly perfect marriage and the broken pieces left behind. Summary by Book Browse
What doesn’t Kill Her by Carla Norton
Reeve LeClaire is a college student, dammit, not Daryl Wayne Flint’s victim. Not anymore – not when Reeve is finally recovering a life of her own after four years of captivity. Flint is safely locked up in Olshaker Psychiatric Hospital, where he belongs. He is walking the grounds of the forensic unit, performing his strange but apparently harmless rituals. It seems that he is still suffering the effects of the head injury he suffered in the car crash that freed Reeve seven years ago. Post-concussive syndrome, they call it.
For all that Flint seems like a model patient, he has long been planning his next move. When the moment arrives, he gets clean away from the hospital before the alarm even sounds. And Reeve is shocked out of her new life by her worst nightmare: Her kidnapper has escaped. Less than 24 hours later, Flint kills someone from his past – and Reeve’s blocked memories jolt back into consciousness. As much as she would like to forget him, she knows this criminal better than anyone else. When Flint evades capture, baffling authorities and leaving a bloody trail from the psychiatric lock-up to the forests of Washington State, Reeve suddenly realizes that she is the only one who can stop him.
Reeve is an irresistibly brave and believable heroine in Carla Norton’s heart-stopping new thriller about a young woman who learns to fight back. Summary from Book Browse
Daughters of the Samurai by Janice P. Nimura
In 1871, five young girls were sent by the Japanese government to the United States. Their mission: learn Western ways and return to help nurture a new generation of enlightened men to lead Japan.
Raised in traditional samurai households during the turmoil of civil war, three of these unusual ambassadors―Sutematsu Yamakawa, Shige Nagai, and Ume Tsuda―grew up as typical American schoolgirls. Upon their arrival in San Francisco they became celebrities, their travels and traditional clothing exclaimed over by newspapers across the nation. As they learned English and Western customs, their American friends grew to love them for their high spirits and intellectual brilliance.The passionate relationships they formed reveal an intimate world of cross-cultural fascination and connection. Ten years later, they returned to Japan―a land grown foreign to them―determined to revolutionize women’s education.
Based on in-depth archival research in Japan and in the United States, including decades of letters from between the three women and their American host families, Daughters of the Samurai is beautifully, cinematically written, a fascinating lens through which to view an extraordinary historical moment. Summary from Amazon
Joan of Arc by Helen Castor
From the author of the acclaimed She-Wolves, the complex, surprising, and engaging story of one of the most remarkable women of the medieval world – as never told before.
Helen Castor tells afresh the gripping story of the peasant girl from Domremy who hears voices from God, leads the French army to victory, is burned at the stake for heresy, and eventually becomes a saint. But unlike the traditional narrative, a story already shaped by the knowledge of what Joan would become and told in hindsight, Castor’s Joan of Arc: A History takes us back to fifteenth century France and tells the story forwards. Instead of an icon, she gives us a living, breathing woman confronting the challenges of faith and doubt, a roaring girl who, in fighting the English, was also taking sides in a bloody civil war. We meet this extraordinary girl amid the tumultuous events of her extraordinary world where no one – not Joan herself, nor the people around her – princes, bishops, soldiers, or peasants – knew what would happen next.
Adding complexity, depth, and fresh insight into Joan’s life, and placing her actions in the context of the larger political and religious conflicts of fifteenth century France, Joan of Arc: A History is history at its finest and a surprising new portrait of this remarkable woman. Summary from Book Browse
Missoula: Rape and Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
Missoula, Montana, is a typical college town, with a highly regarded state university, bucolic surroundings, a lively social scene, and an excellent football team — the Grizzlies — with a rabid fan base.
The Department of Justice investigated 350 sexual assaults reported to the Missoula police between January 2008 and May 2012. Few of these assaults were properly handled by either the university or local authorities. In this, Missoula is also typical. In Missoula, Krakauer chronicles the searing experiences of several women in Missoula — the nights when they were raped; their fear and self-doubt in the aftermath; the way they were treated by the police, prosecutors, defense attorneys; the public vilification and private anguish; their bravery in pushing forward and what it cost them.
Some of them went to the police. Some declined to go to the police, or to press charges, but sought redress from the university, which has its own, non-criminal judicial process when a student is accused of rape. In two cases the police agreed to press charges and the district attorney agreed to prosecute. One case led to a conviction; one to an acquittal. Those women courageous enough to press charges or to speak publicly about their experiences were attacked in the media, on Grizzly football fan sites, and/or to their faces. The university expelled three of the accused rapists, but one was reinstated by state officials in a secret proceeding. One district attorney testified for an alleged rapist at his university hearing. She later left the prosecutor’s office and successfully defended the Grizzlies’ star quarterback in his rape trial. The horror of being raped, in each woman’s case, was magnified by the mechanics of the justice system and the reaction of the community.
Krakauer’s dispassionate, carefully documented account of what these women endured cuts through the abstract ideological debate about campus rape. College-age women are not raped because they are promiscuous, or drunk, or send mixed signals, or feel guilty about casual sex, or seek attention. They are the victims of a terrible crime and deserving of compassion from society and fairness from a justice system that is clearly broken. Summary from Amazon
Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life by Hermione Lee
The acclaimed biographer of Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf gives us an intimate portrait of one of the most quietly brilliant novelists of the twentieth century. Penelope Fitzgerald was a great English writer whose career didn’t begin until she was nearly sixty. She would go on to win some of the most coveted awards in literature—the Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Now, in an impeccable match of talent between biographer and subject, Hermione Lee, a master biographer and one of Fitzgerald’s greatest champions, gives us this remarkable writer’s story. Lee’s critical expertise is on dazzling display on every page, as it illuminates this extraordinary English life. Fitzgerald, born into an accomplished intellectual family, the granddaughter of two bishops, led a life marked by dramatic twists of fate, moving from a bishop’s palace to a sinking houseboat to a last, late blaze of renown. We see Fitzgerald’s very English childhood in the village of Hampstead; her Oxford years, when she was known as the “blonde bombshell”; her impoverished adulthood as a struggling wife, mother and schoolteacher, raising a family in difficult circumstances; and the long-delayed start to her literary career.
Fitzgerald’s early novels draw on her own experiences—working at the BBC in wartime, at a bookshop in Suffolk, at an eccentric stage school in the 1960s—while her later books open out into historical worlds that she, magically, seems to entirely possess: Russia before the Revolution, postwar Italy, Germany in the time of the Romantic writer Novalis. Fitzgerald’s novels are short, spare masterpieces, and Hermione Lee unfurls them here as works of genius. Expertly researched, written out of love and admiration for this wonderful author’s work, Penelope Fitzgerald is literary biography at its finest—an unforgettable story of lateness, persistence and survival. Amazon
On the Move by Oliver Sachs
When Oliver Sacks was twelve years old, a perceptive schoolmaster wrote in his report: “Sacks will go far, if he does not go too far.” It is now abundantly clear that Sacks has never stopped going. From its opening pages on his youthful obsession with motorcycles and speed, On the Move is infused with his restless energy. As he recounts his experiences as a young neurologist in the early 1960s, first in California, where he struggled with drug addiction, and then in New York, where he discovered a long-forgotten illness in the back wards of a chronic hospital, we see how his engagement with patients comes to define his life.
With unbridled honesty and humor, Sacks shows us that the same energy that drives his physical passions—weight lifting and swimming—also drives his cerebral passions. He writes about his love affairs, both romantic and intellectual; his guilt over leaving his family to come to America; his bond with his schizophrenic brother; and the writers and scientists—Thom Gunn, A. R. Luria, W. H. Auden, Gerald M. Edelman, Francis Crick—who influenced him. On the Move is the story of a brilliantly unconventional physician and writer—and of the man who has illuminated the many ways that the brain makes us human.
The Pirate Hunters by Kurson
Finding and identifying a pirate ship is the hardest thing to do under the sea. But two men – John Chatterton and John Mattera – are willing to risk everything to find the Golden Fleece, the ship of the infamous pirate Joseph Bannister. At large during the Golden Age of Piracy in the seventeenth century, Bannister’s exploits would have been more notorious than Blackbeard’s, more daring than Kidd’s, but his story, and his ship, have been lost to time.
If Chatterton and Mattera succeed, they will make history – it will be just the second time ever that a pirate ship has been discovered and positively identified. Soon, however, they realize that cutting-edge technology and a willingness to lose everything aren’t enough to track down Bannister’s ship. They must travel the globe in search of historic documents and accounts of the great pirate’s exploits, face down dangerous rivals, battle the tides of nations and governments and experts. But it’s only when they learn to think and act like pirates – like Bannister – that they become able to go where no pirate hunters have gone before.
Fast-paced and filled with suspense, fascinating characters, history, and adventure, Pirate Hunters is an unputdownable story that goes deep to discover truths and souls long believed lost. Summary by Book Browse
The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery
In this astonishing book from the author of the bestselling memoir The Good Good Pig, Sy Montgomery explores the emotional and physical world of the octopus—a surprisingly complex, intelligent, and spirited creature—and the remarkable connections it makes with humans.
Sy Montgomery’s popular 2011 Orion magazine piece, “Deep Intellect,” about her friendship with a sensitive, sweet-natured octopus named Athena and the grief she felt at her death, went viral, indicating the widespread fascination with these mysterious, almost alien-like creatures. Since then Sy has practiced true immersion journalism, from New England aquarium tanks to the reefs of French Polynesia and the Gulf of Mexico, pursuing these wild, solitary shape-shifters. Octopuses have varied personalities and intelligence they show in myriad ways: endless trickery to escape enclosures and get food; jetting water playfully to bounce objects like balls; and evading caretakers by using a scoop net as a trampoline and running around the floor on eight arms. But with a beak like a parrot, venom like a snake, and a tongue covered with teeth, how can such a being know anything? And what sort of thoughts could it think?
The intelligence of dogs, birds, and chimpanzees was only recently accepted by scientists, who now are establishing the intelligence of the octopus, watching them solve problems and deciphering the meaning of their color-changing camouflage techniques. Montgomery chronicles this growing appreciation of the octopus, but also tells a love story. By turns funny, entertaining, touching, and profound, The Soul of an Octopus reveals what octopuses can teach us about consciousness and the meeting of two very different minds. Summary from Amazon
Spinster by Kate Bolick
“Whom to marry, and when will it happen – these two questions define every woman’s existence.” So begins Spinster, a revelatory and slyly erudite look at the pleasures and possibilities of remaining single. Using her own experiences as a starting point, journalist and cultural critic Kate Bolick invites us into her carefully considered, passionately lived life, weaving together the past and present to examine why she – along with over 100 million American women, whose ranks keep growing – remains unmarried.
This unprecedented demographic shift, Bolick explains, is the logical outcome of hundreds of years of change that has neither been fully understood, nor appreciated. Spinster introduces a cast of pioneering women from the last century whose genius, tenacity, and flair for drama have emboldened Bolick to fashion her life on her own terms: columnist Neith Boyce, essayist Maeve Brennan, social visionary Charlotte Perkins Gilman, poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, and novelist Edith Wharton. By animating their unconventional ideas and choices, Bolick shows us that contemporary debates about settling down, and having it all, are timeless – the crucible upon which all thoughtful women have tried for centuries to forge a good life.
Intellectually substantial and deeply personal, Spinster is both an unreservedly inquisitive memoir and a broader cultural exploration that asks us to acknowledge the opportunities within ourselves to live authentically. Bolick offers us a way back into our own lives – a chance to see those splendid years when we were young and unencumbered, or middle-aged and finally left to our own devices, for what they really are: unbounded and our own to savor. Summary from Book Browse
Without You There Is No Us by Kim Kovacs
Every day, three times a day, the students march in two straight lines, singing praises to Kim Jong-il and North Korea: Without you, there is no motherland. Without you, there is no us. It is a chilling scene, but gradually Suki Kim, too, learns the tune and, without noticing, begins to hum it. It is 2011, and all universities in North Korea have been shut down for an entire year, the students sent to construction fields – except for the 270 students at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), a walled compound where portraits of Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il look on impassively from the walls of every room, and where Suki has accepted a job teaching English. Over the next six months, she will eat three meals a day with her young charges and struggle to teach them to write, all under the watchful eye of the regime.
Life at PUST is lonely and claustrophobic, especially for Suki, whose letters are read by censors and who must hide her notes and photographs not only from her minders but from her colleagues – evangelical Christian missionaries who don’t know or choose to ignore that Suki doesn’t share their faith. She is mystified by how easily her students lie, unnerved by their obedience to the regime. To them, everything in North Korea is the best, the tallest, the most delicious, the envy of all nations. Still, she cannot help but love them – their boyish enthusiasm, their eagerness to please, the flashes of curiosity that have not yet been extinguished.
As the weeks pass, she begins to hint at the existence of a world beyond their own – at such exotic activities as surfing the Internet or traveling freely and, more dangerously, at electoral democracy and other ideas forbidden in a country where defectors risk torture and execution. The students in turn offer Suki tantalizing glimpses into their lives, from their thoughts on how to impress girls to their disappointment that soccer games are only televised when the North Korean team wins. Then Kim Jong-il dies, leaving the students devastated, and leading Suki to question whether the gulf between her world and theirs can ever be bridged.
Without You, There Is No Us offers a moving and incalculably rare glimpse of life in the world’s most unknowable country, and at the privileged young men she calls “soldiers and slaves. Summary Book Browse
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