Book Review: Lark Ascending by Silas House

In a future where fires ravage a North America that is run by extreme right-wing fundamentalists, 20-year-old Lark and his family have hidden away in the mountains of Maine for several years undisturbed. When ecological disasters begin to threaten their safety, their group secures passage on a boat headed to Ireland. After a terrible voyage they land, but only Lark has survived. Alone, he begins a harrowing journey by foot in search of Glendalough, a camp rumored to provide asylum. Along the way, Lark gains two companions – a dog named Seamus and Helen, a local woman who is familiar with the roads and the dangers of traveling them.

Lark Ascending by Silas House is a post-apocalyptic novel that is gorgeously written. Told by Lark at age 90, this novel about climate change, human behavior, resilience, survival and love will break your heart a few times on the way to its ultimately hopeful conclusion. Fans of Station Eleven and The Road should put this at the top of their to-read lists.

-Carol

A Page-Turner to Pick Up

Sleepwalk
by Dan Chaon

Will Bear lives off the grid and travels across the country with his 60-pound Pitbull named Flip. Will works as a ‘fixer’ in order to clear his and his terrible mother’s debts, and his jobs are most often illegal ones, like assisting with black-market adoptions and cleaning up murder sites and sometimes worse. Will goes by at least six other aliases and carries multiple burner phone in order to stay untraceable, and he micro-doses LSD daily in order to cope with his PTSD – which makes the line between the reality and imaginary more than a little fuzzy for him.

It is between gigs when Will receives a call from a young woman named Cammie, who claims to be his daughter. Will, a one-time prolific sperm donor, wants to believe that Cammie is the real deal, but also thinks that his boss, a shadowy organization that he distrusts, might be trying to lure him to his demise. And how would Cammie, a stranger, have access to one of his burner phone numbers anyway?

Set in a near future where implants monitor the country’s population and an ecological disaster has left New York City underwater, this unconventional buddy road trip and adventure novel makes for a dangerous and rough ride. Though not for every reader, Sleepwalk by Dan Chaon is a mix of dystopian, crime and literary fiction that stars a big-hearted contract killer who is desperate to make a real connection. Don’t miss this unusual, compelling and unforgettable read by one of my favorite Ohio authors.

-Carol

Stay In…With a Laugh Out Loud Read

Ms. Demeanor
by Elinor Lipman

Jane Morgan, a 39-year-old attorney, is caught having sex on the roof of her high-rise Manhattan apartment at midnight by a nosy neighbor with binoculars. Jane is charged with indecent exposure and is both fired from her firm and sentenced to six months of home confinement.

Jane’s perpetual cheerleader and current bill payer, her identical twin sister Jackleen, encourages Jane to use this down time to embrace her love of cooking by demonstrating old fashioned recipes on TikTok. When Jane discovers and introduces herself to (coincidentally) a neighbor who is also under house arrest, Jackleen prompts Jane to charge him for three home cooked meals a week.

Perry, who wears a less-than-fashionable location-monitoring ankle bracelet of his own, is intrigued by Jane as they spend time together over her meals. Eventually, the two begin to share in other evening activities —making things awkward when Jackleen decides she wants to date Perry, too.

Cabin fever gets the best of Jane, and she takes things a bit too far when she learns that her peeping tom (aka the witness to nudity on the rooftop and reason for Jane’s home incarceration) has died. Jane is curious if there was foul play and gets her parents to attend the woman’s wake —resulting in Jane inadvertently orchestrating a “green card” wedding for a Polish expatriate whose Visa has expired.

If this all sounds a bit mad-cap, it is! This novel is equal parts romance, mystery, comedy, and sibling rivalry story. Pick up Ms. Demeanor by the always witty Elinor Lipman. This quick read with its snarky lead character, breezy banter and hilarious hi-jinx will leave you laughing out loud.

-Carol

A Fashionably, Old-Fashioned Feeling Film

If you are looking for a movie to warm your heart this new year, watch Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris, starring Lesley Manville.

Mrs. Ada Harris has lived alone in London since her husband went missing in WWII. Working tirelessly as a house-cleaner to make her living, Mrs. Harris hasn’t allowed herself to want much. But in 1957, when her husband is finally declared deceased and she stumbles into some unexpected money, she decides to treat herself –to a couture Christian Dior dress after spotting one in an apartment she cleans.

Mrs. Harris jets off to Paris and is almost laughed out of the designer’s storefront for being far too ordinary for such a fancy dress. It is only the cash in her hand that gets her dress ordered from the famous design house, which is coincidentally having a hard time making financial ends meet.

As Mrs. Harris patiently waits for her dress to be fitted and sewn, her generosity, honesty, wholesomeness and hopeful outlook can’t help but change all who she encounters and will unwittingly make a lasting mark on the future of the House of Dior’s business plan.

This charming film, which is based on the 1958 novel Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris by Paul Gallico, is like a breath of fresh air that will transport you to 1950s England and Paris with impeccable acting, lush sets, and gorgeous period costuming. Watch this old-fashioned story about self-love, hope and not letting life pass you by. In the end, Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris will leave you feeling that everything will be just fine.

-Carol

Carol’s Top Ten of 2022

Here are my favorite books from this past year, listed alphabetically by author. Click on the titles to place holds on the ones you’d like to read, and maybe they’ll become your favorites, too.

Hester by Laurie Lico Albanese

Shrines of Gaiety by Kate Atkinson

Horse by Geraldine Brooks

Lark Ascending by Silas House

Nettle & Bone by T. Kingfisher

The Matchmaker’s Gift by Linda Cohen Loigman

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles

The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters

Wishing you a happy holiday season and a happy new year filled with many great books!

-Carol

Time to Try Something Different

I read If, Then by Kate Hope Day this weekend and cannot stop thinking about this debut work of speculative fiction.

In present-day Oregon, several neighbors who live in the shadow of Broken Mountain, a long-dormant volcano, begin having visions of themselves living alternate realities. These vision worlds are ‘could have been’s for some and ‘still could be’s to others, leaving the affected characters to wonder if they still have time to make better choices in their lives.

Among those with visions is Mark, a dad and scientist who is studying the effects of geothermal activity on animal behavior. Mark has visions of himself living in a tent in the wilderness. Convinced by this other Mark that a life changing environmental event is about to occur, he begins to build an underground shelter for his family. Meanwhile, his surgeon wife Ginny sees a different, happier version of herself, one in which she has left Mark to be with a coworker.

While not much action occurs in this well-written novel, I was swept up the possibility of what was to come with every page I turned. Pick up If, Then for an engrossing read with themes of regret, choice, and consequences. It’s good domestic drama that just happens to ask you to question the possibility of alternative universes along the way.

-Carol

A Read You’ll Race Through

Geraldine Brook’s new novel Horse weaves together real and imagined history to tell the story of Lexington, one of the most famous racehorses of the 19th-Century.

In Georgetown in 2019, Theo, an art history grad student, discovers an abandoned painting of a racehorse in his neighbor’s trash. Intrigued, he visits the nearby Smithsonian to research pre-Civil War horse paintings. There, he crosses paths with Jess, an Australian osteopath who oversees the animal bones in the Smithsonian’s collections, including, coincidentally, those of Lexington’s. The two work together to uncover the stories behind Theo’s found painting.

Moving back and forth in time and told through the eyes of multiple characters, this novel is about more than the mystery of a painting of a famous horse. It also tells the imagined story of Lexington’s Black groom, an enslaved man named Jarrett, whose dedication to Lexington costs him everything.

By the end of this riveting read about art, race, slavery, and antebellum South, readers are left wondering how little life has changed through the decades. A great choice for book clubs, Horse is a fascinating blend of historical and literary fiction that is well-researched, imaginative, and unforgettable.

-Carol

Want to Watch Something?

I’m the first to admit when I’m in a reading slump. Like right now. Good thing there are so many leaves in my yard to rake. And, good thing that I have been keeping myself busy by binging a couple of awesome TV series that are based on books.

Based on musician sisters Tegan and Sara Quin’s best-selling memoir of the same name, High School tells the coming-of-age story of identical twins who are struggling to find themselves amidst the backdrop of ‘90s grunge culture. This honest, sometimes raw and moving show is about queer adolescence and explores themes of family, love and friendship. It has a killer soundtrack that sparks all the nostalgic feels. Fans of My So-Called Life, the band Tegan and Sara, or anyone looking for a story about discovering one’s self should check out High School, which is free to stream on Freevee. Oh, and if you want to read the memoir or listen to Tegan and Sara’s music, we’ve got those at the library for you to check out, too.

In other TV news, Masterpiece Mystery! has adapted Anthony Horowitz’s 2017 mystery novel Magpie Murders into a satisfying series that will soon be available on DVD from the library. The plot revolves around Susan Ryeland, a British book editor who is has been handed best-selling author Alan Conway’s latest novel. The day Susan finishes reading the manuscript and realizes that it is missing its last chapter – the part where readers learn “whodunit,” is the same day she learns that Conway has been found dead. When Susan goes in search of the book’s final pages, she unknowingly involves herself in a murder investigation. Both the book and TV show feature a story within the story and the action moves seamlessly between the historical novel and present day, despite multiple characters playing dual roles. If you enjoy British mysteries (à la Agatha Christie), a clever twisty plot, engaging characters and a satisfying conclusion, I recommend reading the book first. Then, tune into PBS Sunday evenings or place a hold on the DVD to catch Magpie Murders on the small screen. And, as a second season is in the works, prepare to become obsessed.

-Carol

Fall into a Steamy Romance

In Jasmine Guillory’s latest romance, 34-year-old Margot Noble has been too busy proving herself to her brother by running her family’s Napa winery to worry about her love life. The night Margot meets Luke Williams, a younger man who has recently moved back to town, sparks fly. Margot’s bestie encourages her to have a one-night stand with him, and Margot goes out of her comfort zone and does it, literally. She and Luke have an incredible and unforgettable evening and Margot is sure she will never see Luke again–only to discover the following day that her brother has hired him to work at their winery. Now, Margot is Luke’s boss, and though seeing him daily is torture, she knows that he is forbidden fruit.

Meanwhile, Luke has been lying to his mother about why he left his high-powered tech job to return home. To complicate matters further, he’s told his mom that he’s dating his high school girlfriend, even though they are just the best of friends. While Luke doesn’t plan to stay in Napa long, he can’t stop thinking about Margot. The more time he spends working for her, his attraction and respect for her grows. Could this be the start of a beautiful relationship? Or is their attraction doomed to die on the vine?

Pick up this super-steamy, quick read of a romantic comedy that has engaging and well-rounded characters, and prepare to get Drunk On Love.

-Carol

This Book is Your Perfect Match

Sara Glickman made waves in her New York Lower East Side neighborhood as a female matchmaker in a Jewish community where devout men traditionally played that role. Sara discovered her talent as a young girl in 1910, and despite having to keep it secret, she used her gift to bring couples together for decades.

When Sara dies, her granddaughter Abby, a high-powered Manhattan divorce attorney, inherits Sara’s collection of handwritten journals. At the same time, Abby begins to have notions that a couple she is helping to divorce shouldn’t untie the knot. Despite her jaded outlook on love, Abby realizes that she has inherited her grandmother’s gift. With her eyes newly opened, Abby begins to think that love at first sight might truly exists. But, is she willing to sacrifice her career in order to fulfill her destiny?

The Matchmaker’s Gift by Lynda Cohen Loigman is a charming novel that is filled with fascinating details about Jewish history and culture. Part historical fiction, part contemporary fiction and with a sprinkling of magic realism, this funny and poignant read is about people finding each other. This book is sure to delight.

-Carol