Mercy Sais

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson

Cover to Life after Life

I love a book with an inventive narrative structure and, like Scheherazade, Kate Atkinson has 1,001 plots in her novel, Life after Life. Ursula Todd, born on a snowy night in 1910 to banker Hugh Todd and his aristocratic wife Sylvie dies and lives--over and over again.  But this is a novel not just about reincarnation but also about how a writer writes and makes choices. The chapters reveal the choices a writer--or a human being--makes and how it changes the path a life takes.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

As children, Rosemary Cooke, her brother Lowell, and sister Fern are so excited by rolling and jumping in the snow that they look like powdered doughnuts. Their mom says they are all completely beside themselves! It’s a happy memory Rosemary has of her childhood. Author Karen Joy Fowler ponders what we really remember about our pasts. How much of our lives are repressed, forgotten, reordered, retold, and sometimes totally changed or even made up? Do you remember your third birthday, the first day of school, or even what happened last Thanksgiving? I have this lovely photograph of my sister and me on the beach in floaters and have no memory of the event. In Rosemary’s family, a traumatic event changes everything. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves explores the meaning of family and the memories that hold it together.

The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway

River of No Return by Bee Ridgway

What better way to start my summer reading than by immersing myself in The River of No Return, a fantasy/romance/adventure/mystery in which Time is a river where humans can move up and down its path to the future and the past. The author, Bee Ridgway—a historian at Bryn Mawr, has meticulously researched the Regency Period. It is a love story and a time-travel adventure with well-developed characters, but part of the fun of reading this novel is in its unique historical details of the Regency period.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Summer is almost here and many children will be heading to camp. Most parents try to find a camp that will speak to their children’s interests or talents. In the year of the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation, six campers at an arts camp called Spirit-in-the-Woods decide to call themselves, with typical teenaged self-absorption, The Interestings. At camp, everybody gets a trophy for participation, but once they pass through the door into adulthood, who will be ones to keep up with their talents and who may be the one to show it to the world?

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Which is cooler: Finding the answer to life’s most important question using brain power or Google? Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is optimistic about the future of technology and people working together as it looks at the question of immortality. In the novel, friends care about each other. A multi-generational fellowship forms. Two young couples get together. Read deeply and follow the clues to solve the mystery of the Unbroken Spine left by the fifteenth-century printer Griffo Gerritszoon. This novel is a mystery, but it is also about the love of books, whether you find them in the Central Rappahannock Regional Library; a big-box store like Barnes & Noble; a local, independent bookstore like The Griffin; or the quiet little stores built into our Kindles and Nooks.

The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns by Margaret Dilloway

The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns by Margaret Dilloway

The bare, forlorn branches and thorny sticks of her rose bushes give Galilee Garner something to look forward to all winter in The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns: “Something to hang my daydreams on like the ornaments on a Christmas tree. In the spring, they will bloom again.”

Roses have long been used in metaphors for love in literature, and Margaret Dilloway continues the tradition in her charming novel. Dig right in with Gal Garner as she grows and breeds her difficult and obstinate Hulthemia roses, which thrive under a set of specific and limited conditions.  The roses she breeds pretty much describe Gal, who was born with kidney problems, has gone through two kidney transplants, and has been on dialysis for eight long years waiting for another donor. Learn about love, roses and thriving under difficult conditions as you read this sweet, beautifully-written story.

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Rules of Civility

How would George Washington behave in New York society in the 1930s? The ladies and gentlemen of post-Depression-Era New York have had to reinvent the old rules of order in Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility. The women are experimenting with new freedoms where they don’t want to figure out how to marry the man with the power and money—they want to be him.

In this story, partly a Sex in the City romp, Katey Kontent, daughter of Russian immigrants, and her friend Eve Ross, who is trying to escape her Midwestern small city blues, make a brand new start of it on New Year’s Eve 1937 in the greatest city in the world. They meet banker Tinker Grey that night. They think he is the “King of the heap/top of the list,” and he has a well-studied copy of Young George Washington’s 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation to guide him. The three form a friendship/love triangle, but Tinker’s secrets will test their loyalty. Katey and Eve are not afraid to meet their futures, but Tinker is stuck in the past.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

In its first chapters, Sweet Tooth begins like Dickens’ David Copperfield.  Serena Frome (rhymes with Plume) tells of her unremarkable childhood and how she ends up working as a spy for Britain’s MI5. With her blonde and beautiful looks, she is a bit of a Bond Girl and wreaks havoc on the men around her.

A good all-around student, Serena devours novels and wants to do an English degree in a small university, but her housewife mother, in an uncharacteristic fit of feminism, tells her she has a chance of making something of herself by going to Cambridge and doing “maths.” 

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

This is a love story. This is a story about what makes us human. This is a story about reaching for the stars. Lydia Netzer’s poetic narration in Shine Shine Shine transports us to the Moon.

We meet Sunny Mann living in an immaculate Georgian house in a perfectly geometrically gridded neighborhood in Norfolk, Virginia and hosting a get-together with her girlfriends. She is perfectly manicured and coiffed and dressed in cute maternity wear, as she is pregnant with her second child. The ladies gossip about Les Weathers, the perfect news anchor, who lives nearby.  The girls chat about Sunny’s brilliant and rich but odd astronaut husband, Maxon, who is on a rocket on the way to colonize the moon. Sunny is embodiment of the well-off suburban stay-at-home mom, including the silver minivan.

Happy Stitch by Jodie Rackley

Happy Stitch by Jodie Rackley

Local Fredericksburg author and crafter Jodie Rackley helps you stitch up a smile with her book,  Happy Stitch. She stitches her fun designs in her home studio in Fredericksburg, which she shares with her pets, Captain Nibbles and Sleepy Kitty.  The 30 charming and colorful felt and fabric projects in her book are uber cute.

Take some time this summer and stitch up a Monster Face Computer Cover or doodle on a denim skirt.  If your older children are complaining of boredom, try one of the projects with them; for example, the Anytime Ornaments have simple cutting and stitching instructions that an older child can follow with a little guidance. Her instructions are clear, and she uses simple techniques.