Friday, June 27, 2014

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

Reviewed by Jeanne

It’s been a year since Kate’s husband Matthew died suddenly, leaving a bewildered Kate unable to cope with everyday life.  Her mother-in-law, Cricket, has filled the void by making all the necessary decisions—and now, that includes selling Kate’s house and having Kate and granddaughter Devin move in with her.  Maybe it’s the boxes, maybe it’s Devin’s unhappiness, maybe it’s just one set of orders too many from Cricket, but all at once Kate feels the need to do something impulsive.  She remembers an idyllic summer at an old resort run by her Aunt Eby called Lost Lake, so off they go to Suley, Georgia.  Once there, they discover the resort is a shadow of its former self: the cabins desperately need repair, the roster of guests dwindling, and a developer is trying to buy the land. Will this be the last summer for Lost Lake?

As is usual with Allen’s work, the plots are less important than the people and the ambiance.  Her locations are these wonderful southeastern Never-Never Lands, where the peculiar is the norm, the food is succulent and buttery, where love dares all odds to make it to a happy-ever-after ending, and the characters are all slightly off-kilter and gently odd. There’s Lisette, the mute French chef who knows that words have a terrible power; Jack, the shy suitor who has adored Lisette for years but is too afraid to speak up; Bulahdeen, the elderly woman who takes joy in living and Bulahdeen’s friend, Selma, a ferocious husband-hunter; and Wes, who fell in love with Kate when they were children. There’s always a character or two whom I find particularly memorable.  In this case, it’s Selma, the unlikeable divorcee, who goes through husbands like tissue paper. She’s had seven of them, and now she’s looking for number eight.  At the end, she doesn’t change and is as prickly and defensive as ever, but we can accept her just as Bulahdeen does.  That’s another thing I enjoy about these books: for the most part, the unlovable characters don’t suddenly change to sweetness and light.  They remain true to themselves:  we just understand them a bit better.

And then there’s the alligator.

Or maybe there isn’t.  Everyone says there are no alligators in this part of Georgia.  Kate thought she saw an alligator and nearly ran off the road on the way in, but she hasn’t seen it since.  Devin does, though.  What’s more, the alligator talks to Devin.  He has a secret treasure he wants to share with her.

Unless, of course, there is no alligator.

That’s the heart of a Sarah Addison Allen novel.  If you’re not willing to suspend some disbelief, if you’re not going to go along with the flow, then you’re not going to enjoy this book. Also, if you like involved plots, you probably won’t enjoy this book.  SAA books are like a little slice of a childhood summer, languid and dreamy, where the most improbable things are entirely possible.  They’re a sultry summer evening with cool glasses of ice tea with fresh mint and the best banana pudding you’ve had since you last ate it at your grandmother’s, with the lightning bugs flashing, a shooting star to wish on,  and the occasional mosquito just to keep you on your toes.

And yes, I believe in the alligator.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Nevermore: Tami Hoag, Pat Conroy, Sharyn McCrumb and more!

Nevermore opened with praise for Tami Hoag’s novel The 9th Girl, a thriller about a serial killer whose victims are adolescents.   Detectives Nikki Liska and Sam Kovac are faced with trying to identify his latest victim, a girl whose body was found on New Year’s Eve.  Hoag balances the characters’ home lives with the case, and shows a shrewd understanding of high school culture and the role social media plays in the lives of young people—not to mention that this is an extremely well done thriller.  Our reviewer praised the strong characterization and commented that while Hoag isn’t an author that’s usually at the top of the list, this book was very good indeed.  Other reviewers have said that this is one of Hoag’s best.

The next book up was The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy.  Most of Conroy’s fiction is thinly disguised autobiography, but this nonfiction book is very open about its sources: Conroy’s real family.  The book concentrates on the last few years of Conroy’s father, the model for the father of The Great Santini.  Our reviewer said that some sequences bordered on the fantastical, but felt Conroy was trying to tell the story as honestly as he could. He pulls no punches in the telling, either.  All his siblings were strongly influenced by their father, but the reactions to his domineering ways were varied.  The verdict was that this wasn’t a book that she enjoyed as much as some, but it was worth reading.

Innocence by Dean Koontz had been picked up by another reader who felt that parts of it were excellent.  He read a thought-provoking selection but then added that for him the ending fell flat, which was sad in a book that had so much promise.

Two series were recommended without a great deal of in-depth comment.  Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs was praised as a World War I era detective novel series, one that might surprise you with a woman as the private investigator.  The other series applauded was by Oliver P√∂tzsch, set in Germany in the 1600’s about a man who carries on the familial tradition of being an executioner.  In that time, executioners performed a necessary duty but were shunned by society.  The series contains four books, beginning with The Hangman’s Daughter.

Finally, King’s Mountain by Sharyn McCrumb was brought to the table once again.  With a nod to the local history of the North Carolina/Tennessee area, McCrumb writes novels that are a great blend of fiction and history.  Set during the American Revolution, this is a story of the Carolina Overmountain Men and their commander John Sevier.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Unlikely Loves: 43 Heartwarming True Stories from the Animal Kingdom by Jennifer S. Holland

Reviewed by Kristin

With all the sweet and funny animal pictures and stories floating around the internet these days, do we really need a book on the same subject?  Yes, of course we do.  In my family we need all the adorable cat (and maybe dog) pictures we can possibly “awwww” over.

Following on the heels of the New York Times bestseller Unlikely Friendships about inter-species connections, Unlikely Loves shows many other best friends in the animal kingdom.  Some of these pairs look like they would be posing for selfies, if they only had opposable thumbs.

I call this my cat Todd's first attempt at a selfie.

Zoe the dalmatian became extremely fond of a black and white spotted lamb named Lambie.  Indeed, this pair looks like they could really be related.  Spots everywhere!

Sasha the Rottweiler already had eight puppies when her humans brought home a piglet named Apple Sauce who had been rejected by her mother.  Sasha’s motherly instincts kicked in and joined the canine litter as just another one of the kids.  The puppy-pig pictures might just make you “squeal”.

My favorite stories in this book are the ones where an animal takes an orphan or orphans of another species, and cares for the young ones.  When a young woman heard that a litter of one week old kittens needed to be adopted and bottle fed, she brought them home.  Almost immediately, her dog Sydney began to care for the kittens.  Sydney’s hormones even went into overdrive and she began lactating to feed the kittens.

If this has tickled your fancy, be sure to pick up Unlikely Loves at the Main library, or Unlikely Friendships from the Avoca branch.  These are books full of sweet stories that are easy to flip through and enjoy.  As Jeanne said, “I went through and read all the cat ones.  I have my priorities.”

See more pictures and stories at:

Todd certainly wanted to be friends with Tink the hamster!