The Fire Kimono

fire Our book for February 22nd, 2016 is

The Fire Kimono by Laura Joh Rowland.

Set in 1700, Rowland’s outstanding 13th Sano Ichiro mystery (after 2007’s The Snow Empress) finds Sano, whom the shogun raised to the rank of chamberlain several books back, waging a fierce struggle with his chief rival, Lord Matsudaira. The stakes are raised at the outset when Matsudaira’s forces almost succeed in killing Sano’s wife and occasional sleuthing partner, Reiko. The chamberlain soon suspects that someone else may have been behind the attack, but soon he faces a more daunting task—proving his mother innocent of the murder of one of the shogun’s cousins, who vanished during the great fire that destroyed much of Edo and whose skeletal remains were just uncovered by chance. Sano must now question everything he thought he knew about his mother, with his own family facing execution should she be found guilty. Rowland has given her hero his greatest challenge yet in this suspenseful look at feudal Japan. (from Publisher’s Weekly)

All the Light We Cannot See

Our book for January 25th, 2016 is allthelightAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, winner of the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. A novel to live in, learn from, and feel bereft over when the last page is turned, Doerr’s magnificently drawn story seems at once spacious and tightly composed. It rests, historically, during the occupation of France during WWII, but brief chapters told in alternating voices give the overall and long ­narrative a swift movement through time and events. We have two main characters, each one on opposite sides in the conflagration that is destroying Europe. Marie-Louise is a sightless girl who lived with her father in Paris before the occupation; he was a master locksmith for the Museum of Natural History. When German forces necessitate abandonment of the city, Marie-Louise’s father, taking with him the museum’s greatest treasure, removes himself and his daughter and eventually arrives at his uncle’s house in the coastal city of Saint-Malo. Young German soldier Werner is sent to Saint-Malo to track Resistance activity there, and eventually, and inevitably, Marie-Louise’s and Werner’s paths cross. It is through their individual and intertwined tales that Doerr masterfully and knowledgeably re-creates the deprived civilian conditions of war-torn France and the strictly controlled lives of the military occupiers.(from Booklist)

The Telling Room

tellingroomOur book for Monday, November 30th is the Telling Room by Michael Paterniti.

In the picturesque village of Guzman, Spain, in a cave on the edge of town, there is a cramped limestone chamber known as “the telling room.” This is where villagers have gathered for centuries to share their stories and secrets–usually accompanied by copious amounts of wine. It was here, in the summer of 2000, that Michael Paterniti found himself listening to a Spanish cheesemaker, as he spun an odd and compelling tale about a piece of cheese. Made from an old family recipe, Ambrosio’s cheese was reputed to be among the finest in the world, and was said to hold mystical qualities. But then, Ambrosio said, things had gone horribly wrong. Paterniti was hooked. Soon he was fully embroiled, relocating his young family to Guzmaǹ in order to chase the truth about this fairy tale-like place. What he ultimately discovers is nothing like the idyllic fable he first imagined. Instead, he’s sucked into the heart of an unfolding mystery, a blood feud that includes accusations of betrayal and theft, death threats, and a murder plot.–(from the publisher)

The Sandcastle Girls

sandcastlegirlsOur book for October 26th is The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian.

Over the years, bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian has taken readers on a spectacular array of journeys, ranging from the Vermont farmhouse inMidwives, where a homebirth goes tragically wrong on an icy winter’s night, to the precarious world of Poland and Germany at the close of World War II in Skeletons at the Feast. In his fifteenth book, The Sandcastle Girls, Bohjalian takes us to a time and place—Syria, 1915—that left haunting legacies for his Armenian heritage, making this his most personal novel to date.

A sweeping historical love story, The Sandcastle Girls introduces us to Elizabeth Endicott, an adventure-seeking graduate of Mount Holyoke College who travels to Syria just as the Great War has begun to spread across Europe. With only a crash course in nursing, Elizabeth has volunteered on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to deliver food and medical aid to refugees of the genocide. She soon befriends a striking Armenian engineer. He is young, but he has already lost his wife and infant daughter to Turkish brutality. When Armen leaves Aleppo to join the British army in Egypt, he and Elizabeth begin a daring correspondence, bridging their very different worlds with words of love and hope.

Interwoven with their tale is the story of Laura Petrosian, a contemporary novelist living in suburban New York. Although her grandparents’ ornate Pelham home was affectionately nicknamed “The Ottoman Annex,” Laura has never really given her Armenian heritage much thought.  But when an old friend calls, claiming to have seen a newspaper photo of Laura’s grandmother promoting an exhibit at a Boston museum, Laura embarks on a journey back through her family’s history that reveals love, loss—and a wrenching secret that has been buried for generations. (from the publisher)

The Innovators

Our book519KsxAU05L._AA160_ for September 28th, 2015 is The innovators : how a group of inventors, hackers, geniuses, and geeks created the digital revolution by Walter Isaacson.

In 1843, Ada Lovelace, the daughter of Lord Byron, wrote in a letter to Charles Babbage that mathematical calculating machines would one day become general-purpose devices that link the operations of matter and the abstract mental processes, correctly predicting the rise of modern computers. Thus begins a remarkable overview of the history of computers from the man who brought us biographies of Steve Jobs, Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, and Henry Kissinger. The story is above all one of collaboration and incremental progress, which lies in contrast to our fascination with the lone inventor. Here we find that in a world dominated by men with their propensity for hardware, the first contributions to software were made by women. While we have those storied partnerships of the digital age Noyce and Moore, Hewlett and Packard, Allen and Gates, and Jobs and Wozniak all of their contributions were built upon the advances of lesser-known pioneers, who are heralded in these pages. Although full biographies of the individuals profiled here have been written in spades, Isaacson manages to bring together the entire universe of computing, from the first digitized loom to the web, presented in a very accessible manner that often reads like a thriller.–Siegfried, David Copyright 2014 Booklist

Light of the World

51P8yXbjIIL__SX325_BO1,204,203,200_Our book for August 24 is Light of the World by James Lee Burke.Louisiana Sherriff’s Detective Dave Robicheaux and his longtime friend and partner Clete Purcel are vacationing in Montana’s spectacular Big Sky country when a series of suspicious events leads them to believe their lives—and the lives of their families—are in danger. In contrast to the tranquil beauty of Flathead Lake and the colorful summertime larch and fir unspooling across unblemished ranchland, a venomous presence lurks in the caves and hills, intent on destroying innocent lives. First, Alafair Robicheaux is nearly killed by an arrow while hiking alone on a trail. Then Clete’s daughter, Gretchen Horowitz, whom readers met in Burke’s previous bestseller Creole Belle, runs afoul of a local cop, with dire consequences. Next, Alafair thinks she sees a familiar face following her around town—but how could convicted sadist and serial killer Asa Surette be loose on the streets of Montana? Surrette committed a string of heinous murders while capital punishment was outlawed in his home state of Kansas. Years ago, Alafair, a lawyer and novelist, interviewed Surette in prison, aiming to prove him guilty of other crimes and eligible for the death penalty. Recently, a prison transport van carrying Surette crashed and he is believed dead, but Alafair isn’t so sure. Says The Plain Dealer (Cleveland), “Already designated a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America, Burke should get another title, say, for sustained literary brilliance in his Dave Robicheaux series.” Light of the World is a harrowing novel that examines the nature of evil and pits Dave Robicheaux against the most diabolical villain he has ever faced.

Beautiful Ruins

beautifulruinsOur book for July 27th is Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter.

The story begins in 1962. On a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline, a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and spies an apparition: a tall, thin woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an actress, he soon learns, an American starlet, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio’s back lot searching for the mysterious woman he last saw at his hotel decades earlier.

What unfolds is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel, spanning fifty years and nearly as many lives. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Walter introduces us to the tangled lives of a dozen unforgettable characters: the star struck Italian innkeeper and his long-lost love; the heroically preserved producer who once brought them together and his idealistic young assistant; the army veteran turned fledgling novelist and the rakish Richard Burton himself, whose appetites set the whole story in motion along with the husbands and wives, lovers and dreamers, superstars and losers, who populate their world in the decades that follow. Gloriously inventive, constantly surprising, Beautiful Ruins is a story of flawed yet fascinating people, navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.