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Logical Family by Armistead Maupin

Logical FamilyLogical Family follows the life of Armistead Maupin, who first made his mark in the literary world as the writer of a daily serial that began in the 1970s for the San Francisco Chronicle.  This serial would evolve into the long-lived and much-loved Tales of the City series, nine in all, that recount the juicy backstories of the residents of 28 Barbary Lane.

Maupin has quite a backstory – originally from Raleigh, he grew up with a conservative southern father and somewhat more tolerant mother.  In his young adulthood, Maupin was politically conservative himself (he even pulled a stint working for Jesse Helms), served in the navy during the Vietnam War, then spent his post- military life writing for several jobs and generally finding himself, and his sexuality.

Maupin’s move to San Francisco in the early 1970s provided him with a much needed community; he found there his “logical family” that he lacked earlier in life.  And in writing the serial that became Tales of the City, he tackled a number of issues that pertained to gay life in San Francisco at the time – the shooting of Harvey Milk, the AIDs epidemic, etc.

Although he’s written a few standalone novels (The Night Listener comes to mind) and now this memoir, The Tales of the City series remains Maupin’s best known batch of work.  I can’t attest to the series as a whole, but I did read the first four books years ago, and then the final (The Days of Anna Madrigal) much more recently and enjoyed them all very much.

In Logical Family, I liked how Maupin chronicled his changing relationships with his family.  Even when he had differences with them (especially his father), he managed to maintain a sense of civility with his parents that was touching, and everyone involved grew with the years – there was way more endearment here than bitterness.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

 

 

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The Inside Out Man by Fred Strydom

A hapless jazz pianist gets a lucrative offer that at first seems too easy and asinside out man time passes, drives him to extreme measures.

Bent has fended for himself since his mother’s death when he was still in his teens.  A gifted musician, he ekes out a half-life playing a few gigs a week.  Bent has no family, no girlfriend – really no connections, other than the handful of establishments that will let him tickle the ivories for the door.

The worldly and mysterious Leonard Fry appears at a club where Bent plays and offers him an insane amount of money to play piano at his country estate for a weekend party.  Bent goes for it – and then with some trepidations, he accepts another offer from Leonard after the party.  The deal?  Bent has to lock Leonard in a room in the mansion for one year and feed him three times a day through a slot in the door.  In return, Bent gets free run of the house and cars and a huge cash settlement at the end of a year’s time.

It sounds simple enough, but Bent quickly gets cabin fever, or as much as one can get in an enormous country house.  His dreams become stranger and more vivid.  He has an unfortunate accident while driving one of Leonard’s cars, emerging unscathed but with a great deal of guilt.  From an uncanny start, he soon meets an assumed ex-lover of Leonard’s, and begins a relationship with her.

From his self-imposed exile, Leonard appears to know way more of Bent’s daily activities than is humanly possible.  He knows about Bent’s accident, and is fully aware of his affair.  Leonard starts to taunt Bent, and Bent gets back at him.

Then Bent gets truly unhinged.

The Inside Out Man tracks one man’s breakdown of sanity and identity as he trades drudgery for luxury and finds out the hard way that it was never worth it.  The book is a page-turner (or page-burner, as a review excerpt puts it on the cover) that ratchets up finely but left me confused at the end.  Who is Bent, exactly?

(William Hicks, Information Services)

 

 

Down The Wild Cape Fear by Philip Gerard

Cape FearDown The Wild Cape Fear is an admiring look at the river that has historically defined geography and commerce in the eastern central part of North Carolina.  The book is part canoe/boat lark and part intensive study of the river’s characteristics, which have been modified over the past two centuries by dams, lock systems, channel dredging, and industry.

The author, a professor of creative writing at UNC Wilmington, wanted to travel the entire length of the Cape Fear from its beginning at the confluence of the Haw and the Deep Rivers.  Although he has to do his journey in stages, he manages it well, and not only becomes better acquainted with the Cape Fear River, but meets numerous souls who share his love of this distinctive waterway.

Along the way, Gerard learns a quick respect of the river and its unpredictable strength.  Although the Cape Fear is no rushing mountain stream, it has plenty of dangerous spots, and is no place to be during an onslaught of rain.

His book is also enlightening for the savage and tragic histories that tell the river’s story.  The past two hundred or so years of the Cape Fear’s course read like a microcosm of the South.  We visit again the horrors of slavery, segregation, and greed that still haunt the area, and the strong-arming of big business that today threaten the Cape Fear’s many ecosystems.

On a happier and more latter-day note, you’ll meet a number of individuals who are working to keep the river environmentally sound and viable for a long time to come, whether it is used for commerce or recreation.

The author on more than one occasion goes off on a tangent, but I really didn’t mind this – Gerard writes well and personably.  As with other books about river journeys (two that come to mind are Far Appalachia by Noah Adams and My Paddle to the Sea by John Lane) part of the trek is the meander.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

Hello to all the avid readers of this blog!

If it isn’t apparent, I am a loyal fan of Rainbow Rowell.  Her work, titled Attachments, Attachmentsdoes not disappoint with the familiar aspect of Rowell’s writing style.  Attachments is written for an older audience, which varies from her previous novels such as Fangirl and Eleanor and Park, that cater to young adult readers.

In Attachments, we meet Lincoln, a 28-year old Internet security officer who works third shift at a newspaper called the Courier.  His job is basically sending out warnings to employees who use the Internet or email program inappropriately.  He is the type of guy who loves learning, considering he has three separate degrees, and enjoys a night in playing Dungeons and Dragons with old friends.  He lives at home with his mother after suffering from heartbreak over his high school sweetheart with whom he traveled across the country to go to college with years before.

While observing the WebFence program that pulls flagged emails into a special folder, Lincoln stumbles across the daily conversations of Beth and Jennifer.  He becomes infatuated with the lives of these two through their personal emails to each other.  He eventually develops feelings for Beth without even knowing what she looks like.  At the same time, Beth becomes interested in Lincoln after seeing him around the office at night, without realizing who he is, but knows she cannot pursue because of her existing relationship with too-cool-for-relationships boyfriend Chris.

Over time, thanks to the confidence inspired by Beth, and urging from his sister Eve, Lincoln starts to form a social life that isn’t in a computer screen or in a game.  His midnight dinners with the mom-like Doris, the break room vending machine operator, inspire him to become more independent.  Luckily, Doris moving into a care facility allows Lincoln to move into an apartment partially made for him, with high ceilings and just enough space.  His mother comes to terms with his leaving while he comes to terms with how he feels about relationships.

Rowell takes the reader through the twists and turns of Lincoln’s life, allowing the reader to place themselves in his shoes.  Attachments is an amazing read and highly recommended for those awkward book lovers.

(Amanda Sanson, Central Library)

Blame by Jeff Abbott

BlameJane Norton is a damaged soul who almost died two years ago in a car wreck that killed her close friend and next-door neighbor David.  After awakening from a coma, Jane has no memories from the three years prior to the accident.

She is soon to become an outcast in her neighborhood due to a suicide note in her own handwriting, found at the wreck site, which implicates her intent to kill them both.  David’s mother Perri, who was close to Jane for years, now hates her.

After flunking out of her first semester of college, Jane is now living illegally in a friend’s college dorm room and avoiding her mother when she can.  Most of her few former close friends are distant now, although her friend Kamala made the best attempts to help Jane acculturate socially after the accident.  To put it bluntly, Jane is a mess – until she gets a message through her social media account from an entity named Liv Danger, who threatens her and all involved with the wreck, and gets into a tussle with Perri at David’s gravesite.

From then on, the book becomes an intense page turner, as Jane, trusting nobody, finds she has to take chances – with old relationships, neighbors, her mother, and a graduate student who takes an unusual interest in Jane’s situation, not to mention a persistent down-on-his-luck journalist who wants to continue her story in a series he had begun right after the accident.

It soon seems that Liv Danger has a bone to pick with lots of people, and that Jane and Perri have more in common than mutual loathing.

My lone excursion into Jeff Abbott territory was his earlier book Adrenaline (the first in the Sam Capra series, and a cracking good thriller).  Blame is a standalone novel.  To be honest, the book started out as domestic melodrama for me, but this didn’t last long.  Abbott kicked it in overdrive soon enough, and provided plenty of juicy turns throughout.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

 

 

Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen

Someone Like You deviates from many of Sarah Dessen’s works.  She typically focusessomeone like you on adolescent romances and coming of age stories.

In Someone Like You, the coming of age portion leaves the romance in the shadows.  The book concerns the friendship of Halley and Scarlett, two best friends – better yet, soul sisters.  Scarlett moved into Halley’s neighborhood when they were still young and they have never left each other alone since.

Scarlett, bold and beautiful, has a summer romance with Michael Sherwood, a wild boy with mystery.  However, Michael meets an untimely death, leaving Scarlett hurt and with a surprise.  Halley, shy and beautiful, while battling with breaking away from her mother’s overbearing ways, has to help Scarlett get through the most challenging events a sixteen-year-old girl should face.  In addition, Halley falls for Macon Faulkner, a boy with a reputation.  She tries to keep up with his bad boy ways until he asks for something she may never be ready to give him.

This endearing tale focuses on the strengths of both girls individually, making choices that will make or break them. I highly recommend Someone Like You for anyone trying to find their voice and personal niche in today’s society.

(Amanda Sanson, Central Library)

The Devil’s Wedding Ring by Vidar Sundstøl

devil's wedding ringWith news of his former friend Knut’s death, Max Fjellanger returns to his native Norway to attend the funeral, and remains much longer then he’d intended.

Knut Abrahamsen killed himself, or so the police have decided, after they dredge his body from a river, his pockets stuffed with rocks.

Max, who is a private investigator, doesn’t accept the finality of the case, and decides to look further into his friend’s alleged suicide.  He joins up with Tirill Vesterli, a librarian who has a theory of her own about a previous murder in the area – one concerning a college student writing her thesis about an ongoing ritual of the residents of Eidsborg.

The medieval stave church in this village in Telemark is the center of interest.  Parishioners there have revived a yearly ritual in which they immerse the wooden statue of a local saint in a nearby lake to insure good fortune.

As Max and Tirill pick at the meager clues, others in the community begin to show their displeasure and the danger ratchets up, especially as Midsummer Eve, the time of the ritual, approaches.  It would appear that something older and more sinister is afoot than a yearly immersion of a saint’s effigy.

The Devil’s Wedding Ring brings together strands of folklore and paganism into a satisfying industrial-strength thriller that fans of Nordic Noir will probably enjoy.

Although the book is fiction, the Eidsborg Stave Church still exists today – read the Author’s Note at the book’s end to find out more.

(William Hicks, Information Services)