You can’t have too many friends! That could be the motto of the Friends of Washington Public Library, a group established to support our city library. From hosting a book sale, to providing abundant volunteer hours, planning fascinating monthly programs offered free to the public and more, these book lovers have our city library’s best interest at heart.
This month they took to the stacks to suggest some hot off the press “Novel Ideas” reads. Sure you’ll find something here to tantalize your literary taste.
“And the Mountains Echoed,” by Khaled Hosseini
Reviewed by Diane Lick
“I must admit up-front that Hosseini’s first two novels, ‘The Kite Runner,’ and ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns,’ are among my favorite reads. Therefore, I was thrilled to have the chance to read an advance copy and review his most recent.
“ ‘And the Mountains Echoed’ begins with a father telling a folktale to his children, and what a foreshadowing of the theme for the book this tale is — love and loss and the ties that bind families together or tear them apart.
“The story is set in Afghanistan in 1952 when Abdullah and his sister Pari are separated because Pari (age 3) is sold to a wealthy Kabul merchant and his wife who desire a child. The novel spans almost 60 years, moves through several countries, and has so many characters that one needs a graph to keep track of it all.
“Each chapter is told from a different character’s perspective, jumping back and forth from year to year and often even decades. The reader is given glimpses into these characters’ lives and their connections to Abdullah and Pari, all of whom are dealing with their own aspects of love and loss shaped by the history of chaos in Afghanistan.
“The ‘echoes of the mountains’ are evident in the repeated stories of love and separation. In the end the characters do survive and find a way to endure and live, with what for many of us, would be unimaginable.
“There are many good vignettes that are only loosely tied to the main characters and could easily stand alone as short stories. One revolves around Afghan brothers who now live in America but go back to Kabul to ‘recover their property’ and how they are both changed by this visit, for when they return home one begins to help his fellow countryman and the other soon forgets his promise of aid.
“Then there is Parwana and her terrible secret about her twin sister. And yet another tale concerning a young boy discovering his father is not a war hero, but rather a corrupt drug lord. However, my favorite narrative is the story of Markos (a Greek doctor), his relationship with a terribly disfigured childhood friend that ultimately places him in Kabul working with other foreign aid workers helping Afghan children.
“I could go on and on about the writing style, character development, etc. but in the end this work will not become one of my favorite reads. I found the book overly long, meandering and difficult to ‘get into’; yet, like Hosseini’s previous novels it is not one that is easily forgotten in its message of love, and the importance of family and how fragile life is.”
“The Innocence Game,” by Michael Harvey
Reviewed by Traci Siebert
“From Michael Harvey, Chicago’s best known crime writer, comes a new novel loaded with suspense and surprises.
“Three graduate students enter a dark world where the lines between innocence and guilt disappear. After the students enroll in an exclusive innocence seminar that requires them to investigate wrongly convicted felons, they become the hunted, through a world of deceit and corruption.
“Their assignment is to review a cold case that is reopened when new evidence is discovered. Are they smart enough, and trusting enough, to find the real killer and stay alive?
“Strong characterizations and vivid Chicago settings make for a thrilling read that will keep you guessing until the end.
“It’s always exciting to find a new author. I have never read anything by Michael Harvey before, but I will certainly add him to my summer reading list.”
“Trains and Lovers, A Novel” by Alexander McCall Smith
Reviewed by Aneeta Brown
“Fans of author Alexander McCall Smith, whose series ‘The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ has sold 20 million copies, can move with ease from the southern hemisphere (Detective Agency is based in Botswana, Africa) to the northern hemisphere with Smith’s newest book.
“I read ‘Trains and Lovers’ on an airplane (actually four airplanes). A train trip, with its rhythmic rumble, would have enhanced my reading experience, but if you can muffle the background noise where you read, ‘Trains and Lovers’ it is an absorbing and charming very short novel.
“Three men and one woman — from Scotland, England, the United States and Australia — are traveling by train from Edinburgh to London. Each shares part of his or her life story, and all of them involve a train, either prominently or insignificantly.
“The four characters, however, do not get ‘equal time.’ Andrew speaks for more than half of the book about a brief intern job at an art gallery, falling in love, and being intimidated by his girlfriend’s surly, egotistical father. Passenger David reflects about a teenage crush he had on a boy during a summer vacation; Kay describes her parents’ early years in the remote Australian Outback; and Hugh elaborates about the pleasure and risk of loving a woman whose background is troubling.
“Alexander McCall Smith’s mastery of dialogue is the best reason to read ‘Trains and Lovers’ (and one reason why some of his books have been translated into 45 languages). As a retired professor of medical law, he carefully chooses his words and has embraced the wisdom of Mark Twain: ‘The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.’ ”
“The Astronaut’s Wives Club: A True Story,” by Lily Koppel
Reviewed by Patti Frick
“The first seven astronauts were announced in April 1959 in Washington, D.C. So began the tie that bound those seven men, their wives and families. Looking back at that time, it was a far different world than we experience now. Communications were much slower. There were no phones or Internet, communications that we now take for granted.
“As the Mercury astronauts prepared for their training and competition, their wives stood behind them with a sense of pride and terror.
“This book deals with insights into the NASA world at that time, as well as some parts of military protocol. There were no instructions provided to the wives. As they were stalked by reporters, they learned to protect their families and be gracious as well as tough. They ended up living close to each other, but they still held onto some secrets.
“They looked after each other’s children, supported each other, rallied together, and became friends. They ended up with Life magazine assigning a reporter to them, just to cover their stories. As the program grew, so did the number of people involved.
“The book was at times confusing, trying to keep track of a cast of characters including husbands’ and wives’ names, as well as additional names. It does, however, offer a glimpse into the lives of heroes and their families in American history.”
“The Other Child,” by Charlotte Link
Reviewed by Diane Schatte
“The author of this book is known as the Agatha Christie of Germany. This book will appeal to anyone interested in mysteries. I was hooked by what is being called ‘a massive No. 1 bestseller in Germany greeted by rave reviews.’
“December 1970: an old isolated farm, a young woman in a place where she shouldn’t be, a racist comment . . . we are off and running, or she is.
“July 2008: A man and woman meet. He is handsome, charming, worldly — an adult education teacher of French and Spanish. She is plain, shy, an old-fashioned daddy’s girl still dressing and acting like a girl from the ’50s. They make an odd couple with a future that isn’t very bright.
“A young college student returns home late at night through an empty park, her usual path blocked. She is forced to take an unlit path where closely planted bushes swallow her up. She disappears into the night.
“October 2008: A strong willed, outspoken older woman with a horrific story from long ago. A story carelessly sent via the Internet to the only person she could tell because he already knows.
“And so the mystery begins in the tranquil northern seaside town of Scarborough where a student is found cruelly murdered. For months the investigators are in the dark, until they are faced with a copycat crime. The investigation continues as they struggle to establish a connection between the two victims. Ambitious detective Valerie Almond clings to the obvious: a rift within the family of the second victim.
“But there is far more to the case than first appears, and Valerie is led toward a dark secret inextricably linked to the evacuation of children to Scarborough during World War II. Horrified at her last-minute discovery, Valerie realizes she may be too late to save the next victim.
“This novel leads you back and forth from the present to the past, showing you how one person’s decisions can change many lives. Although I would not call this a fast-paced book, it does have well-developed characters. It’s a mystery for those who like to study the psychology of people’s behavior.
“There are many suspects, all acting in a way that suggests they might have committed murder. Just when you think you have your man, you’re thrown a curve. I didn’t see it coming; right up to the very end you are kept guessing. ‘The Other Child’ fulfills its promise — it is a suspenseful atmospheric crime novel.”
“The Execution of Noa P. Singleton,” by Elizabeth L. Silver
Reviewed by Mary Tinsley
“Elizabeth L. Silver’s debut novel is the story of a woman on death row. It begins six months before her execution date when she is visited by two lawyers — Marlene Dixon, the mother of the woman Noa was imprisoned for killing, and Oliver Stansted, who works for Marlene. They come to her saying they want to convince the governor to commute her sentence to life in prison.
“The book moves between two points of view — that of Noa’s, as she narrates the events of her life, almost dispassionately, and Marlene, who writes letters to her deceased daughter. This style presents different perspectives, the truth as each of the characters sees it. This keeps you wondering when more will be revealed that will explain what happened.
“Even though Noa states that she committed the crime at the beginning, as you meet the other people in her life, her mother and father, Marlene and Oliver, there is the feeling that there is more to the story. But Noa does nothing to defend or help herself, and seems to be only a victim of life. Oliver works to find out why, while Marlene has secrets of her own.
“My attention was grabbed in the opening sentences, ‘In this world, you are either evil or good. If not, then a court or a teacher or a parent is bound to tag your identity before you’ve had a chance to figure it out on your own.’
“At first it seemed that this novel was going to be a courtroom drama, which I enjoy. I liked the writing style that weaved people’s lives together, slowly allowing more pieces of the puzzle to be revealed. But at the end there were some questions that didn’t seem to be answered.”
“Dear Mark Twain: Letters From His Readers,” Edited by R. Kent Rasmussen
Reviewed by Pam Kruse
“The (mostly) beloved humorist Mark Twain kept thousands of letters sent to him. They are in a collection at the University of California Bancroft Library in Berkeley. R. Kent Rasmussen has condensed them down to 200 for this book.
“Arranged chronologically from 1863 until Twain’s death in 1910, the letters give us a glimpse of what it was like to be a celebrity during that era. Many letters are amusing and delightful; several are critical. Some, especially so many requesting his autograph or money, he must have found annoying. One might wonder what, if any, influence some of them may have had on Twain.
“Twain’s early books were sold door-to-door and by subscription, and so were quite available beyond libraries and stores. Letters came from all over the United States and abroad. They are from children, teens, farmers, ministers and business folks who never suspected that they might be read by anyone but Twain. Whenever possible, Rasmussen relates personal information about the letter writers.
“Of particular interest is a letter from a woman in a mental institution. She sent him a long, rambling letter discussing religion, Abe Lincoln and her desire for Twain to come to dinner. His respectful and sincere reply is a work of great kindness.
“Many fans sent condolence notes on the death of his daughters Susan and Jean, and his wife Olivia. His books and magazine articles obviously endeared him to many.
“This hardcover book is 269 pages of very small print. While there is much to enjoy, there are many letters requesting financial or publishing assistance that a reader may find rather dull. But a devoted Samuel Clemons/Mark Twain fan will want to pick up this book and will appreciate Rasmussen’s research.”