This installment: art and slavery in the deep south (f); horticulture and friendship (f); the seamy side of the art world (f); bullying and hacking in China (f); and filming penguins in Antartica (nf).
Editor’s Note: Much of our print collection is now available for holds again. The titles and links below will direct you to print when available, with special notes made of digital ebook and eAudiobook availability.
The House Girl by Tara Conklin
The book opens with the master’s slap which signals eponymous Josephine to make a run north. Lu Bell, her missus, is mortally ill. She considers herself an artist but Josephine, extremely talented, is the one who does the most of the paintings. Then we meet present-day Lina, a lawyer, daughter of a painter. Her case: slave reparations, and she needs to come up with a plaintiff. Controversy is building around Lu Bell whose paintings are now celebrated; could they actually have been the work of her slave? Can Lina locate a descendant? An intricate tale with lots of detective work. As she discovers the real story, Lina’s focus shifts. Justice will prevail but it won’t redress all those horrendous historical happenings. Powerful. Note: the author who is white (I had to check) has a background in the law.
Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane
May is a landscape gardener for a college. She lives with her 80-year-old father in the house where she grew up, where her mother retreated from life and died, and from whence her brother decamped to California. Initially her affect feels a bit flat though she has a close affinity for growing things, especially trees. But when she gets a surprise month off from work she decides to visit old friends and explore the nature of friendship. Each trip presents challenges and provides insights and as we travel with her, we gradually get close to this outwardly prickly person and discover a deep core. May is also a dedicated reader, and her observations often include references to myths, legends, and literary quotes. A sleeper of a book, full of hidden treasure.
Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland
The narrator, an artist, is unnamed but everyone else, real and fictional, is identified and what a bunch of confused, ambitious, and eccentric folks they are. When she loses her loft and almost all her work in a fire, she ends up at a fabled enclave where Carey committed suicide. Carey is fabled herself but stopped producing her amazing pieces and did performance art before her death, like that of Abramovic. With an insane deadline ahead, our narrator enlists the help of the fractured denizens via blackmail (things were far from what they seemed) and the seamy underpinnings of the art world are revealed. Lots of painting lore and a bitter intensity suffuse the story. Fascinating.
Second Sister by Chan Ko-Hei
At first Nga-Yee fits a familiar picture of misery, dutiful and burdened. Father and mother dead, 15-year-old sister Siu-Man dependent on her. Siu-Man commits suicide; Nga-Yee had been so busy just keeping afloat she hadn’t noticed how much her sister had shut down. With good reason, it turns out: groped in the subway, then a subject of vicious internet bullying. Nga-Yee connects with the mysterious N to find out who drove Siu-Man to her death and to get revenge. N is a brilliant hacker and a very odd character. Moral tangles galore (I love this in a book—not so much in life). A puzzle, layer upon layer, set in Hong Kong. It really grabbed me.
Also available as an ebook on Hoopla.
My Penguin Year by Lindsay McCrae
Subtitled Life among the Emperors. Watch what you wish for, as McCrae discovered when his life-long dream of filming in Antarctica came true. But a whole year away from his now pregnant wife…He went, of course, and what a challenging journey. Climate change and the vagaries of nature conspired to keep the birds at a remove for the first two months, then conditions made photography very dicey indeed. Extreme physical discomfort, mental megrims when the project seemed to stall, but he managed to capture almost all of their life cycle and returned to meet his now 7-month old son. Bracing and passionate (in that toned down British manner) and a nice armchair balance for our current discomforts.
See you next week.
Editing and formatting: Ana