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)

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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)

 

 

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)

 

 

 

Quiet Until The Thaw by Alexandra Fuller

quietQuiet Until the Thaw is the first work of fiction by Fuller, who is known more for her memoirs of growing up in southern Africa (Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Leaving Before the Rains Come, etc.).  This book is a multi-generational account of two Lakota Sioux cousins and their differing paths, one conciliatory and nurturing, the other violent.

Life on the rez, or in this case Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, is a grind of poverty, government interference, and other means of miseries.  Into this milieu come two cousins, born within months of each other in the 1940s.

Rick Overlooking Horse is by far the more thoughtful of the two.  A child and then man of few words, he endures both mental and physical injuries during his tenure in Vietnam.  On his return home, Rick rejects the outside, i.e. the white man’s world, for a stripped down teepee-dwelling pastoral life.  He becomes a go-to in the vicinity for spiritual matters.

You Choose What Son is the more difficult of the two even as a child, and this continues into adulthood, when, after evading the draft, he lives a life of crime and then ironically, leadership, when he wins the office of tribal chairman by a campaign of chicanery.  After a short reign of bullying proportions, You Choose is brought down after a bout of violence.

In the long term, You Choose’s destiny ends much more wisely, although it takes a lengthy stint in prison and a tragedy wrought by his own hand.  His cousin’s quiet and steady presence, even after his demise, continues to influence You Choose and others, including a set of twins that Rick adopted under extreme conditions.

I became aware of Quite Until the Thaw earlier this year through articles/reviews about the author.  This was during a period in which other writers were getting criticism for cultural appropriation in their books, and Alexandra Fuller also received some raised eyebrows for writing this novel about the Sioux, and her being an outsider.

My take?  I’d recommend the book.  Fuller paints an empathetic picture of reservation life, and doesn’t fail to criticize factions that have probably made situations worse at these places.  She also places historical events in their context (Wounded Knee in 1973) and this adds to the book.

Quiet Until the Thaw is a quick read.  The chapters are brief (usually just a few pages), but in their brevity pack a wallop.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson

true deceiverKatri Kling and her brother Mats are pariahs of a sort in their village.  He is considered simple and says very little – she says what she thinks, and is fearfully candid about the pettiness of others.  Some of the townspeople, wary of Katri’s sharp tongue and unusual looks, think of her as a witch.  Others have a passing respect of her honesty.  And Mats, in his understated manners, makes his own way, doing odd jobs, particularly at the boathouse.

In an attempt to better their situation, Katri sets her sights on Anna Aemelin, the town’s wealthiest inhabitant, a renowned children’s book illustrator who is reclusive and knows the town’s shopkeeper only by phone calls.

Katri ingratiates herself into Anna’s good graces and her home (a much better place than the attic above the shop) and through hard persuasion is able to control Anna’s finances.  At first, this is of benefit to Anna – she is well-off but woefully unaware of how to focus the use of her money.  Katri is calculating enough to pull this off for a while, if only to give her and Mats a leg up.  It’s not a bad tradeoff for Anna, at least initially.  She gets some needed house repairs done, courtesy of Mats, and due to Katri’s diligence, some hard negotiating with her publishers.

Idyllic as this arrangement seems, it’s not too long before the two women come at odds with each other, and find each other’s vulnerabilities.

I wasn’t quite sure what to make of The True Deceiver.  It’s a quick read (the book clocks in at about 180 pages), and the book evokes the harshness of winter in a small town quite nicely (the author is Finnish, the book originally published in 1982, so get your Scandinavian bearings here).  The ending was not completely clear to me – was it a triumph of will for shut-in Anna, a self-realization of denials?  Was it Katri’s win of sorts, in that she secures shelter and something else very hard to acquire for her brother, at the cost of a personal loss of companion?

I’d better mention the dog, a German Shepherd type who is a constant fixture in the story, but evolves as the women’s relationship evolves.

There’s a distinct fairytale quality about the book.  Maybe it is the eeriness of the never ending winter, or the abruptness of the narrative, or the very oddity of Katri herself.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

 

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Welcome to the wild fictional world of fermented foods, brought to you by the author ofsourdough Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.

Lois Clary, newly graduated from college and working a humdrum coding job in Michigan, gets a shot at employment at General Dexterity, an emerging tech company in San Francisco bent on creating the next new thing in automation.

Her “dream” job leaves Lois with zero free time and her nutritive tastes are limited – that is, until she begins ordering from an obscure neighborhood restaurant, and discovers the joys of homemade sourdough bread and a pungent soup.  This happy arrangement is not meant to last – the brothers that run the restaurant have to exit the country abruptly.  They leave Lois, their “number one eater”, in charge of their precious crock of sourdough starter.

Lois now has a new calling that has nothing to do with programming and everything to do with the fine arts of fermentation and baking.  She makes her first tentative loaves, gets better, wins over the chef at the work cafeteria with her bread, and makes inroads into getting a place at one of the city’s markets.  All the while, she notices that the starter is not something ordinary.

Lois lands a spot at the Marrow Fair, a new-ish market located at, or should we say below, a deserted military airstrip next to Oakland.  Denizens of the Marrow explore technology as it relates to the culinary, and Lois manages to fit in just fine – especially after she gets a refurbished robot arm from General Dexterity and slowly programs it to handle the intricacies of bread making.

Bigger forces take an interest in the starter, and what started out for Lois as a small but successful bread baking business becomes something scarier.

Sourdough succeeds as a fantastical jab at corporate greed and emerging food technologies, and as an exploration into foodie culture.  The book will give you a new appreciation for any type of fermented foods (think bread/beer/cheese/vinegar/ pickles/etc.)

I kind of wonder if the character of Charlotte Clingstone is loosely based on Alice Waters (hah!)

(William Hicks, Information Services)

Radio Free Vermont : A Fable of Resistance by Bill McKibben

radio free vermontIt’s a new era, a new administration, with a cultural mentality where big is better and corporate sameness the norm.  All these factors drive Vern Barclay to distraction.

For many years, Vern has been a radio news personality in his corner of Vermont, extolling the unique qualities that have made his native state what it is.  Local breweries and dairies?  He’s all about them.  New Walmarts and Starbucks?  Not so much.

Dismayed by climate change and the state of the union, not to mention cuts in funding and the aforementioned other problems of today’s society, Vern goes “underground”, working with young computer whiz Perry Alterson to broadcast his views and occasionally, stage certain “mishaps” that others might interpret as crimes.  Ultimately, Vern’s message is for Vermont to secede from the United States.

The powers that be think they are on to Vern, but, helped by Perry and a few other colorful misfits (including a former Olympic biathlon champion), Vern manages to elude the authorities and create more mayhem – maybe more so than he had intended.

Radio Free Vermont is a light-hearted romp that takes on big business, environmental issues, and blustering government officials alike.  The character of Vern Barclay strikes me as a Garrison Keillor type, a droll commentator who oversees the happenings of a place that he loves very much, and a proponent of the “good old days” who is hip enough to accept local artisanal butter but not watery corporate beer.

(William Hicks, Information Services)