The Affairs of the Falcons – Melissa Rivera

A compelling story of a Peruvian family displaced to New York as undocumented illegals. This is a relationship book that highlights a well-known fact that all relationships can be complicated, but none more that under the pressure of living illegally – how can Ana provide housing, food and shelter for her family? The displaced South Americans all watch Spanish soap operas on TV, but their own lives are infinitely more complicated than the TV plots. The essential question: what will you do to protect your family? This is an especially topical book given the current immigration chaos in the United States.

Unsheltered – Barbara Kingsolver

Kingsolver previously wrote the marvellous The Poisonwood Bible. Her new book has two story lines, about people who live in the same house in New Jersey: one family in 1874 and a contemporary family in 2012. Both stories involve dealing with hardships. In 2012, the issue is economic instability and insecurity (making me think of some classic Lionel Shriver books). In 1874, a biology teacher is conflicted by the controversy about Darwin versus traditional religion. The way Kingsolver links the alternating family stories is masterful and her knowledge of biology is exceptional. This is a very interesting worthwhile read.

The Mere Wife – Maria Dahvana Headley

The Mere Wife - Maria Dahvana HeadleyA strange story set in a dystopian future. A feminist story for sure – all the strong characters are women. And thus it is a book about motherhood but in a completely novel and somewhat bizarre fashion: two mothers in an American suburb fight to protect those that they love, so a modern retelling of the literary classic Beowulf with suburban monsters. Sorry to offer such cryptic comments but this is a hard book to categorize and characterize, but excellent speculative fiction.

The Library Book – Susan Orlean

The Library Book - Susan OrleanMs. Orlean, a staff writer for The New Yorker, has written some great fiction (The Orchid Thief). This is a non-fiction book about the Los Angeles Pubic library, written by someone who loves libraries. A particular focus is a devastating fire in the Central Library location in 1986 that destroyed and damaged a large number of books. But the book follows a non-linear path covering the library origins in 1872 to the post-fire restoration and recovery to an intelligent and passionate description of the modern role for libraries in a world that demands access to information and knowledge. The vivid descriptions of the idiosyncrasies of many Head Librarians are delightful, with all the gender politics over the ages. Here is a quote from Althea Warren, the Head Librarian in 1935: “librarians should read as a drunkard drinks or as a bird sings or a dog responds to an invitation to go walking, not from conscience or training but because they’d rather read than do anything else in the world” (page 198). Highly recommended for all enthusiastic readers!

Priestdaddy – Patricia Lockwood

Priestdaddy - Patricia LockwoodThe author leaves her Mid-Western home at age 19 to be married but after 12 years, financial constraints forces her and her husband to return to the parental home. This gives her the opportunity to remember an unconventional upbringing: a flamboyant and charismatic guitar-playing father usually (un)dressed in only his underwear, who, by the way, is a Catholic Priest with a wife and 5 children (how can that be, you may ask?); and a long-suffering over-protective mother. There are some eye-popping childhood experiences like attending an anti-abortion rally at a very young age. Ms. Lockwood also takes this opportunity for reflection, producing a memoir that is often comic but also poignant. And for a published poet, her writing is wonderful such as this description of a church space: “The ceiling is low and the lights flicker fluorescently and emit an insect whine. The whole place smells like where coffee goes to die”. Highly recommended; thanks to Sarah’s friend Elizabeth for this recommendation.

Eligible – Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible - Curtis SittenfeldThis delightful novel is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice. The Bennett family lives in Cincinnati and Pemberly is an estate near San Francisco. The descriptions of the Bennett family antics are divine, especially Mrs. Bennett and the two youngest sisters, Lydia and Kitty. To underscore the modern context, a reality TV show plays a prominent role in the plot progression. Ms. Sittenfeld is a very fine writer (American Wife); her ability to construct vivid characters reminds me of Lionel Shriver. The shift from acute antipathy to love for Liz and Darcy is described wonderfully; this book is a real joy to read.

Grief Cottage – Gail Godwin

Grief Cottage - Gail GodwinSometimes a book can provide a perfect reading experience, a confluence of literary merit and also the receptivity of the reader. Godwin’s book was a perfect read for me. Marcus, an 11 year-old boy, has to live with his Great Aunt after the accidental death of his mother. His Great Aunt is a stranger, a painter who lives on a beach in South Carolina. Given the circumstances and his inherent inclinations, Marcus is wildly self-absorbed and introspective despite his young age. His journey through the summer, largely left to his own devices, is remarkable, both compelling and profound. This is a great read, see also Godwin’s previous book Flora.