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Blog: Staff Picks

staff picks

Enchanted Islands by Allison Amend

AmendThe focus of this intriguing novel is relationships, friendship, and survival – what it takes to maintain an enduring relationship and what is required to survive in difficult times and places. 

The book begins when octogenarians Frances Frankowski and Rosalie Mendler are residents ina care facility for seniors in California.Then the novel gives the backstories of their lives. Theygrew up as members of the small Jewish community in Duluth, Minnesota. Together, as teenagers, theyrunaway from home to work and live in Chicago. The pair remainedbest friends throughout their lives in spite of major disagreements, differences in lifestyle, and years in which they were separated. 

During the years she spent apart from Rosalie, and in her late 40’s, Frances meets Ainslie Conway. Ainslie is an intelligence operator, and Frances is a secretary of the Office of Naval Intelligence and11 years older. She becomes his wife so that they may go to the Galapagosas a married couple. Their secret mission, pre-WorldWar II, is as spies.

Enchanted Islands detailstheir relationship and their life on the islands. We read of all they must take with them and all they must do when living on the Galapagos to survive. The unique atmosphere and animals of the islands are a part of the book, although it is more about the relationships of the few people who live there. Survival is more than physical, as we learn of the intricacies of the married relationship of the Conways and the others with whom they interact. 

Relationships  Jewish Fiction  Historical Fiction  Gail's Picks  Friendships  Destination Fiction


Fredrik Backman's Britt-Marie Was Here

Backman BMWHHappily, here is the newest book (published May 3, 2016) from Fredrik Backman, author of <i>A Man Called Ove</i>.

The main character, Britt-Marie, was a minor character in Backman’s previous book <i>My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry</i>, and you don’t need to read them in any order. As the book opens, Britt-Marie finds herself at an unexpected turning point in her otherwise orderly and clean life.

When her husband Kent has a heart attack in his young mistress’s bed, Britt-Marie decides it’s time to move on.

She turns to the Swedish social services agency that helps people find work, and secures a temporary job at the community center in the tiny town of Borg. What exactly she is supposed to be doing there is unclear, so, when in doubt, Britt-Marie brings order by cleaning.

Swedish Literature  Relationships  Nancy's Picks  Literary Fiction  Humor  Fiction  European Literature  Drama  Contemporary


Version Control by Dexter Palmer

PalmerThe author earned his doctorate from Princeton with a thesis on the works of James Joyce, Thomas Pynchon, and William Gaddis. The complexity and depth of those writers is mirrored in Palmer’s 500-page novel, Version Control.

On the surface, Version Control is a time travel saga built around the lives of its two principal characters, physicist Philip Steiner and his wife, Rebecca Wright. Rebecca works for Lovability, a computer dating service. Much of the book’s social commentary and humor come from passages that deal with computer dating. By contrast, Richard is a physicist who heads a team of scientists tasked with building a time machine. No one on this team seriously believes the goal will be achieved but hopes their research will lead to developments in the future. All are single minded in their dedication to the project. Unlike her genius husband and his brilliant associates, Rebecca is a somewhat average young woman who meets Philip through Lovability. He falls in love with her, and finding his emotions a distraction to his work, proposes marriage. This does not bode well for Rebecca.

In the December 8, 2015 issue of Kirkus, the reviewer notes the book “offers some of the same pleasures as one of those state-of-the-union (domestic and national) epics by Jonathan Franzen, yet its speculative nature becomes increasingly apparent as the novel progresses (while its characters apparently don’t).” The concept of time appears to be circular with different realities existing simultaneously. In different versions Palmer offers of a fatal car crash, Rebecca dies; in another, Richard does; in yet a third, their son, Sean, is killed. The plot weaves different possibilities with different outcomes.

Only at the end does the reader fully understand Palmer’s main themes. When Philip muses, “Ulysses is not a story, as much as a system of the world” (cited in Kirkus, December 8, 2015) he is speaking for the author. Palmer’s journey motif is brought to a new dimension and the depersonalization of society by social media, online dating, and the pursuit of pure science come to a spectacular end.

Time Travel  SciFy  Science Fiction  Sara's Picks  Fantasy