July-August Book Marks
This month’s spotlight on an indie is a shout-out to Kepler’s Bookstore, founded in Menlo Park in 1955. With a fiercely groovy Bay Area backstory (The Grateful Dead and Joan Baez performed there) and a goal to democratize reading, the bookstore became the cultural epicenter and social heart of the community until eroding sales in 2005 forced it to close its doors. And then, the community did what communities do to help their indies and the story became a template for other towns and their beloved book stores…..
SO….. summer is rapidly disappearing……
The sound of the cicada symphony in the August grass is a primal, hard-wired signal that summer is more than half-way over. It wasn’t much of a book summer for this reader, and I’m OK with that. Reading binges go in cycles for me. And this year an unexpectedly good conversation at the beach often trumped the good book in my bag.
In addition to reading the latest offerings, it was a summer to go back to some goodies, (never say “oldies” as books are evergreen) re-reading Wallace Stegner’s short stories, Pearl Buck, a TC Boyle collection and lots of good hikes to audio books, Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley, Robin, the biography of Robin Williams, Sapiens, Stephen King’s newest The Outsider (with an appearance by Harlan Coben) Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday and the non-fiction Bad Blood, the story of Elizabeth Homes/Theranos debacle. Hard news junkies don’t miss that one!
I kicked the summer off with a winner– a hard back copy of “Calypso” by David Sedaris, one of the few writers who makes me laugh out loud with his ribald, inappropriate humor and take on the world.
What I’ve come to realize about summer is that each one is different. I may start out thinking I’m going to accomplish certain things and then go in a completely different direction. That’s the beauty of this season.
My good August day is a blue sky, chased by a late afternoon thunderstorm (so I don’t have to water the garden) a BLT with homegrown tomatoes, a walk or a hike somewhere, the sound of the screen door as my kids come in and out of the house, a family dinner where other people do the dishes and… getting in a few pages of a book at night before I fall dead asleep. ( Note- I left out any reference to work.)
May you be enjoying your almost-perfect summer too!
The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams
Beatriz William’s latest novel dives into a complex female protagonist visiting a New England coastal island that resembles Fischer’s Island. An 18 year-old newcomer arrives the summer that her mother is about to marry into the established inner circle of this WASPY enclave. During that summer, her youthful actions have tragic consequences and now, two decades later, she returns as a famous actress.
Expecting to be welcomed with open arms, she is instead shunned on the island due to her long ago romance with a “local boy” that ended in catastrophe. Examining the power of the wealthy elite in the fading days of post WW2, William’s novel transports readers back and forth across time in ways that enhance and add to the frothy pace of the story.
All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth
Seventeen year-old Charlie, from a wealthy Manhattan family, is invited to join a secret society (think Yale’s Skull & Bones) at her father’s boarding school. But some of the high stakes initiation traditions throw open a window into a dark discovery about suicide and her mother’s mysterious disappearance years ago. Charlie, who is far more sophisticated and wise than her years, begins to piece together the truth.
An incredibly complex series of generational stories that link the mysteries of the past with the villains and innocents of the present ultimately wind together in this debut novel. Pop it in your beach bag before summer is over.
America for Beginners by Leah Franqui
Part road trip, part reckoning, part tale of family dysfunction and ultimate healing, this debut novel puts a number of themes in a blender and turns it on. When Indian widow Pival Sengupta decides to take a tour of America, her interest is not so much in sightseeing as it is to find the truth about her son. She books a trip with the first Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company and travels from Kolkota for what she believes will be the last time. The previous year, her only son told his parents he was gay. And then a call followed soon after that he has died.
Widowed now, Pival decides to go to America in hopes that it will allow her to accept this news. During this quest, interesting friendships are forged and the cast of colorful characters, including the tour operators and guides, are forced to come to terms with their own lives in wonderful ways. Think of this as a coming of age story for a mature woman.
Relentless – How a Massive Stroke Changed my Life for the Better by Ted W Baxter
“The trick to getting through the hardest times in life is to remember that there are many roadblocks along the way, but often, when you conquer those obstacles, there is greater happiness waiting for you on the other side.”
This is the author’s epilogue observation as he looks back on the experience of losing it all in 2005 and then working to put it back together. At the very top of his game, Baxter, a successful globe-trotting businessman, had a massive stroke at 41 and was not expected to survive.
When he comes through the initial trauma, he is unable to form or sometimes understand words (aphasia), to write, recall memories or use his dominant hand. Yet this is not the memoir of an underdog. Baxter’s story of recovery is one of relentless determination, describing the tireless process he undergoes to get his life back.
As with any brain injury, no recovery is 100% and no one is left unchanged by the experience. Writing with unflinching honesty the author finds new gifts in giving back, a sense of humor, and an appreciation for life that had eluded his former hard-charging self. This book is a wonderful story, told at times from other family members perspectives, but also a resource for stroke survivors, caregivers, loved ones and a level-set for anyone facing their own struggles.
Another Woman’s Husband by Gill Paul
I must admit, I judged this book by its cover – the ubiquitous women, face obscured, silhouetted in a window. Imagine my delight when this book sucked me in like a Dyson vacuum in the opening chapter in which the protagonist and her fiancé are in a taxi just behind Princess Diana as her car crashes in the Paris tunnel.
The woman retrieves a small charm from the crash site, which leads her on a hunt to make a connection between the people’s princess and the woman who caused the Prince of Wales to abdicate the throne. The book flips back to the story of Wallis Simpson, the infamous “American divorcee” starting in 1911 when young Wallis enters boarding school and befriends Mary Kirk. The two remain friends for decades, visiting one another and surviving marriages, alcoholic husbands, and all while Wallis shamelessly flirts with every man. Despite her family’s dislike of Wallis, Mary sticks by her side until she herself puts their friendship to the ultimate test. I loved this book because I learned some things, it was easy to read and is a tale told well.
Chesapeake Requiem – A year With the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island by Earl Swift
On this slim spit of land, dead center in the Chesapeake and 12 miles from the Virginia mainland, the rhythms of life follow the calendar set by the blue crab. Most residents can trace their lineage back to one man. The island is so isolated it has its own style of speech, incubated for generations. But the entire way of life is eroding as global warming and storms gradually erase this 1.3 square mile plot where no ground is more than five feet above the tide.
Cemeteries are disgorging the dead and whole sections of the land lie under water. The author, a veteran journalist, spent a period of years visiting the island, befriending townspeople and doing research to describe a place that is now literally being threatened by the very tides that once brought it life and livelihood. Its an epic and cautionary tale, beautifully told in a cross sectional view of American life.
The Mystery of Three Quarters by Sophie Hannah
Agatha Christie fans rejoice. Sophie Hannah has brought back Hercule Poirot in a clever little mystery set in London 1930. A letter has been sent to a number of people in the city accusing them of murdering a man named Barnabas Pandy. For mystery fans who love to watch the story uncoil, this book will take you back in time to the deep enjoyment you felt holding an Agatha in your hands.