“A Gentleman in Moscow” by Amor Towles

3 stars

I thought this book was repetitive and boring. The main character’s relationship with Nina was interesting but his 30 years in captivity just wasn’t intriguing for me. The stories about his past added a little more excitement, though, and the ending was good.

–Karen H.

Call No.:  FIC Towles

“Camino Island” by John Grisham

5 stars

I couldn’t put the book down. I was nervous that mercer would be caught as an undercover plant and that her relationship with Bruce would be compromised. The ending was interesting as is Grisham’s writing.

–Karen H.

Call No.: FIC Grisham

“The Night the Lights Went Out” by Karen White

5 stars

The meeting of two generations is the central theme of this novel that takes place in the Southern part of the United States. The main character, a young woman with two children, rents an apartment from an older woman and the reader sees how the two women are similar, despite their age difference. In their past lives and relationships.

Marilyn L.
Call No.: FIC White

“One Perfect Lie” by Lisa Scottoline

4 stars

First time reader of author Lisa Scottoline, and this definitely won’t be the last book of hers I read. This novel starts off simple but then goes another way and get suspenseful. I liked the characters, the suburban setting, and the author’s style of writing.

–Marilyn L.
Call No.: FIC Scottoline

“The Shadow Land” by Elizabeth Kostova

4 stars

Things go awry from the start when Alexandra, a young American, arrives at the wrong hotel in Bulgaria, and then mistakenly grabs someone else’s bag that contains a wooden box of ashes. The suspenseful plot, and well-drawn characters (including a loveable dog) kept me turning the pages. I also now feel like I have traveled through the mountains and history of Bulgaria, a country that is far more beautiful and also uglier than I expected.

–Ellen G.
Call No.: FIC Koskova

“Lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders

5 stars

For a story that takes place in a haunted cemetery, this novel, more like a very imaginative play, is really quite funny at times. Using a full cast of restless, ghostly characters, Saunders imagines the night that, according to legend, Abraham Lincoln, in his grief, visited the crypt of his son Willie. The book also includes interesting historical details, and I gained some insight into what Lincoln was struggling with, both publicly and privately, at the beginning of the Civil War. I probably wouldn’t recommend this book for the summer–save it for the fall and winter.

–Ellen G.
Call No.: FIC Saunders

“Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis” by J.D. Vance

5 stars

The author writes about his rise out of a family and culture (Appalachian poor whites of Scots-Irish, Protestant descent) of poverty, violence, addiction, and divorce to a successful life that included graduation from high school; four years in the Marines; graduation from Ohio State; Yale Law School; and a successful career and marriage. The reader is exposed to the positive and negative social forces that helped shape him: a mother who taught him to love reading and praised his academic accomplishments, but who nevertheless was erratic, violent, threatening, drug-addicted, and married five times; an older sister who helped protect him; a mamaw and papaw (maternal grandparents) who gave him unconditional love and support despite his mamaw being a gun-toting, foul-mouthed former murderer and his papaw being a reformed alcoholic, who in his drinking days was violent and disrespectful of his wife. Vance struggles with the notion of how much societal forces vs. the individual’s own decisions play in determining the outcome of a person’s life. He points to the idea that his mother’s unstable family life of violence and alcoholism contributed to her failures as an adult, but he puts equal responsibility on her given decisions to leave his father, uproot him and his sister, and indulge in recurrent drug addiction. He further blames his mother’s choices by pointing out that her two siblings with the same childhood influences wound up leading stable lives in adulthood. Vance indicates that “hillbillies” blame societal influences on their plight, rather than blaming their own choices. He also states that the government policies of welfare aid contribute to the poor class’s “learned helplessness.” Yet he points out that just as that class should not blame everything on their history and family life, so too the upper class cannot attribute success only to their individual choices and perseverance since their money and privilege have significant influence on their success. Vance remains questioning, and the reader becomes aware that there may not be a binary issue of societal influence vs. individual choices, but rather more complex issues at play and there are more questions to be tackled. As important, Vance elicits the reader’s empathy as he gives a face and reality to the “poor whites” of Appalachia and the Rust Belt–people about whom many Americans (including this one) have had limited knowledge and less understanding.

— Lynn H.

Call No.: B Vance

“Exit West” by Mohsin Hamid

5 stars

Hamid writes softly, poetically about the harshness of forced migration resulting from the realities of ethnic wars and terrorism in our time. By virtue of his stylistic choices, including “magical realism” (refugees desperate to leave their embattled homeland enter and exit through black doors without any knowledge of what awaits them on the other side: for the main characters, these doors lead first to a Greek island, later to London and finally to Marin, California) and his focus on the intimate relationship between two main characters, Saeed and Nadia (young, urban, education, smart-phoned professionals) as well as his intermittent placement of a brief light on various unnamed migrant characters scattered in different parts of the world, the author elicits the reader’s empathy and identity with refugees. Hamid captures the reader’s communion and compassion for the characters in his arresting line: “When we migrate we murder from our lives those we leave behind.” Further, when describing dependence on prayer as a response to his displacement, Hamid expresses that he prays “as a gesture of love for what had gone and would go and could be loved in no other way.” Finally, Hamid contrasts the wanderings of the main characters with an elderly woman in California who “lived in the same house her entire life.” Even so, her home becomes unrecognizable to her, leading her to conclude that migration is unavoidable: “Everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same house our whole lives.” “We are all migrants through time.”

–Lynn H.

Call No.: FIC Hamid

“The Bridge Ladies” by Betsy Lerner

4 stars

Disclaimer:  I am an avid bridge player, therefore any book using this best of all card games, just can’t be bad! (in my estimation).

The narrator/author Betsy Lerner is the daughter of one of five women who have met for 50 years to play bridge. Each week one of them hosts the game, and either takes everyone out for lunch or caters the lunch herself. (Note: Only four can play each hand, but there is often someone who can’t make it, so they play with one additional player.) As a teenager, watching her mother, Betsy had no interest in learning the game at all. One aspect of this book shows her evolution from a somewhat “wild child” of the 60s and 70s, fighting her mother at every opportunity, to a productive wife, mother, and loving daughter.

These five bridge ladies have an extraordinary bond, and their story is told with wit and charm. This is a wonderful read and you don’t have to be a bridge player to enjoy it.

–Joan C.

Call no.: B Lerner