This installment: sad, funny life on the prairie (f); eccentric British short stories (f); a spine-tingling contemporary ghost story (f); Chinese-Americans in the Gold Rush days (f); and a bonbon book (f).
Editor’s Note: Since our print collection is currently unavailable, the titles and links below all direct you to our digital ebook and eAudiobook collections, either in Overdrive or Hoopla*. You can learn more about using those services on our blog, and contact us if you need assistance.
*Restrictions to using Hoopla apply based on your home address.
The End of Vandalism by Tom Drury
I realized I’d read this back in 2000 but downloaded it anyway for vacation reading and am so glad I did. Grouse County on the prairie, a small town barely hanging on. But the people who live there are firmly planted for the most part. True, “Tiny” Darling needs to seek out his dubious fortune elsewhere after crashing into the middle of the high school dance which bore the theme of the book’s title. Tiny’s crash completed the two-part project prematurely and vividly. The thing that’s so amazing about this book is the constant absurdity of real life but also its pathos amidst the rubble (emotional and actual) and even dignity. Sad Louise and unemotional Dan connect sweetly but a personal tragedy undoes it until… Lots of characters, side-splitting events,and heartbreak too. What else could you ask for?
Also available as an eAudiobook on Hoopla.
The People on Privilege Hill by Jane Gardam
Gardam is an eccentric British treasure, no one quite like her. These short stories introduce you to her varied cast of characters, from ancient relics of the Empire tottering their way to a reception to meet a mysterious monk in the pouring rain (umbrellas play a big role here) to one in which another monk needs overnight accommodation but never appears. Children make strange alliances with curmudgeons. A young recruit is saved from a bombing by a compelling woman who leads him away from what would have been annihilation. The irony in the title: the neighborhood’s name is related to olden-day privies, not upper-class elegance. Prepare for delight.
Also available as an ebook on Hoopla.
The Ghost Notebooks by Ben Dolnick
Hannah gets laid off from her museum job in NYC and is grateful for an immediate opening upstate at the Wright House where an obscure writer toiled and died. Her husband initially resists though he, a wanna-be musician, has been stuck in a stupid job. So off they go and it’s sweet at first but then Hannah, who’s had spells of depression before, starts to get weird. Could it be ghosts? You bet your bootie. Now I often find ghost stories veering into cliche but these felt very real. Hannah meets a bad end, her husband sets off the find out what really happened and has a very rough time of it. Spine-tingling and written with just enough wry understatement that made it quite believable.
How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang
I started this book once before and found it kind of overwhelming but then it turned up as an ebook and I decided to try again. This is what I found (and was glad to do so). A hallucinatory novel taking place in the Central Valley during Gold Rush. Lucy and Sam’s father has died. They need silver coins to cover his eyes but are destitute. He was a coal miner, a gambler, a drunkard, and violent, but family is everything in the Chinese culture. The two set off on a crazy journey with a stolen horse to find the right place to bury him. What a set-up, and it gets more bizarre from there. Like when you discover (early spoiler alert) Sam’s identity. Lucy yearns for civilization, and Sam sets out for the wild again. Lots about the despoliation of the land, the collapse of immigrant dreams, and racist experiences all through the lens of these tough, damaged siblings. Suspend disbelief and rest into the poetic language and rich atmosphere of this very original novel.
Shopaholic Takes Manhattan by Sophie Kinsella
This was my bonbon book and it did the trick: funny and smart and satisfying. A comfort read as it were. Rebecca aka Bex is indeed addicted to shopping. She managed to pay off her huge debt in the first book of the series, but once more she’s on a roll, like when she catches sight of that second pair of sandals with a cunning little clementine on the toe. And now another big overdraft is looming which she manages to look past. Her work-driven boyfriend Luke may relocate to NYC and here’s her chance to start over. But with a wad of funny money (it’s not pounds…) in her purse, she’s unstoppable until it all comes tumbling down. Lots of laughs but self-revelations arrive as well and the denouement is a charming solution (until the next book, of course).
Back next week.