Reading Room Blog

A Painted House by John Grisham

Rural 1950s Arkansas is the setting for John Grisham’s Southern thriller, A Painted House. It’s the beginning of a summer full of sweltering days, acres of cotton to pick, dangerous desire, and deadly secrets to keep. 

This season--at its start the same as every other--finds the Chandler family on the road in their dusty pick-up looking for migrant workers to hire. Young Lucas is certain from what he has observed in his short life that once the season’s work is done, his family will go back to its quiet ways, sitting through another winter, readying for another spring planting with Grandpa, “Pappy” Chandler, heading the household.
 
Lucas’ family has worked the land for generations, and this summer’s batches of migrant help—Mexicans and hill people--will work alongside them to bring in the crop before the weather destroys their chance to make a little profit on the farm or at least get further out of debt. Lucas expects the workers to come stay for a few months, do their assigned work, and then go their way—never leaving a lasting impression on his family and their way of life.

Beachy Reads for Summer Readers

Have your kids picked up their Potomac Nationals coupon yet?  Have they whispered the secret word to the librarian and received a treat?  How about keeping up their reading skills by reading whatever they want all summer long, and earning prizes along the way?


If not, don’t despair!  They can do all this and more when they sign up for the free Summer Reading Club at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library.  Now through the end of the month, stop by any branch or online at Kids.LibraryPoint.org, and your kids can join the thousands of others in our area who are having fun reading this summer.


Even pre-readers are welcome to join.  Start them out with some beachy books just right for the dog days of summer.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

With one voice, the critics have proclaimed Tom Rachman's debut novel, The Imperfectionists, a zinger. Christopher Buckley, in his cover piece in the New York Times Book Review (April 29, 2010) says it was "so good I had to read it twice simply to figure out how [he] pulled it off."

The book's story is essentially the 50-year history of an unnamed small English-language daily newspaper published in Rome. True to where the world of print journalism is headed, there is not a happy ending. The cast of characters --- the journalists, writers, publishers staffing the paper during its final days --- is paraded out in discreet chapters that could work as stand-alone short stories but that are neatly interwoven under often satiric banner headlines emblematic of each subject. (Obit writer Arthur Gopal's chapter heading is "World's Oldest Liar Dies at 126"). The portraits are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, frequently very sad, often ironic and always tightly constructed with description and dialog that bring each character to life. The arc of the newspaper's life is chronicled in chapters separating the staff portraits, functioning as a common backdrop against which the journalists' individual stories are acted out. Each of the stories and, indeed, the overarching tracing of the newspaper's demise touches in some way on death, loss, or grieving for happier days. Each of the staffers' stories is told in the present tense, tellingly  juxtaposed against the newspaper sections - - past tense, history.

Reversible Knitting: 50 Brand-New Groundbreaking Stitch Patterns

Reversible Knitting by Lynne Barr offers 50 new reversible stitch patterns and 20 projects by Lynne Barr and top designers like Norah Gaughan, Pam Allen and Wenlan Chia. Each project creates a garment that can be worn from either side or inside-out, so you get 2 garments for the work of one!

In the first half of the book Lynne illustrates the 50 stitch patterns, which are grouped into six different chapters based on a shared or similar technique. The second half of the book is devoted to reversible patterns for scarves, sweaters, dresses and more.

Although there were only a few patterns that struck me as immediately doable as a beginning knitter, I really enjoyed browsing the stitch patterns and projects, which range from creative and fresh to high-fashion chic to timelessly classic. If you like the idea of creating reversible knits, you should also check out Iris Schreier's Reversible Knits: Creative Techniques for Knitting Both Sides. Happy knitting!

Folly du Jour

The streets of 1920s Paris are teeming with tourists and tramps, fine artists and con artists. Also killers. Knife fights at cafés and corpses floating along the Seine are all part of the daily parade. But now something newly wicked is in the air—murder with style. A day at the Louvre might reveal a fresh body among the dusty corpses of Egyptian nobles. Josephine Baker’s dazzling performance at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées could be the scene of an unexpectedly dramatic tragedy. Passionate Paris is indeed a perilous place in Barbara Cleverly’s recent mystery, Folly du Jour.

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

Tim Farnsworth is a successful lawyer, middle-aged but still good-looking, enjoying his beautiful house, his teenaged daughter and frequent trips abroad with his lovely wife Jane, when he discovers that while he has taken his easy life for granted, everything has changed.  "The Unnamed" opens with the second recurrence of his puzzling disease, an unbearable compulsion to start walking and not stop for hours.

The first time this happened, he and his wife consulted doctors around the world in search of “The One Guy” who understood his unique condition.  Though they tried everything, even strapping Tim to a hospital bed for weeks at a time, nothing worked.  Then one day, for no reason he could discern, he just stopped walking, and life seemed to be back to normal. Now, years later, it’s started again.

Johannes Cabal the Necromancer

If you enjoy dark humor, dry wit, tales of the occult and rooting for the bad guy, then you need to start reading Johannes Cabal the Necromancer by Jonathan L. Howard right away.  Cabal is a "scientist" obsessed with destroying death.  Toward this end, he has traded his soul with the Devil for knowledge of necromancy.  Unfortunately, it turns out that Cabal actually needs his soul to perform his experiments and so returns to the Devil, this time agreeing to collect 100 souls within a year or forfeit his own life for good.  To aid Cabal in his quest is a demonic carnival, his vampire brother Horst (one of Johannes' early experimental whoopsies) and an insane asylum’s-worth of escaped psychotics.  Johannes Cabal has one year in which to trick, bribe, extort, charm, bedazzle, bully, bludgeon or otherwise convince 100 people to sign their souls over to the Devil or he is dead and Hell-bound to boot. 

The Bride's Farewell by Meg Rosoff

This is Week 8 of a 12-Week series of blog posts reviewing new young adult books. Check back each Monday for a new review.

The morning of her wedding day, seventeen-year-old Pell mounts her horse, Jack, scoops up her mute little brother Bean, who insists on joining her, and gallops away from her small English village into a new life.  So begins Meg Rosoff's latest book, "The Bride's Farewell."

Pell has left behind her childhood sweetheart and her fear of ending up like her mother, worn out and drained of joy from giving birth to nine children.  She’s making for the great Salisbury Fair. There she hopes to use her unerring ability to discern a horse’s temperament with just one look to make enough money to pay for food and lodging. Things look up when she and Bean are taken in by a gypsy family at the fair, and Pell is hired to help a horse dealer identify good buys.  But within a day, Pell has lost her money, her horse and, worst of all, her brother.
 

The Weight of Water, by Anita Shreve

Anita Shreve's The Weight of Water has been around for a while [1997], but I'd never read it until a friend suggested that maybe I could find it in the public library, and that it would be the perfect literary accompaniment to a summer vacation planned around Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and the nearby coast of Maine.  How right she was. 

Shreve structures a page-turner around a murder that occured on Appledore Island, one of the tiny rocky components of the Isles of Shoals, located in the Atlantic less than ten miles out from Portsmouth.  The murder occurred in 1873, scandalized and horrified at the time, and resulted in the last hanging in the state of Maine.

The novel is a first-person narrative set in our own time, the protagonist a photographer on assignment to capture images of the island to accompany a magazine article about the murder. As she explores the dramatically isolated harsh and rocky terrain where the crime occurred, the narrator's artistic eye captures and renders surface detail and her mind's eye envisions what life must have been like for the individuals inhabiting that confined space.

Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson

I've been following Heidi Swanson's 101 Cookbooks blog for several years now, and although I doubt I'll ever become a vegetarian, I do turn to her blog often when looking for tasty, healthy recipes.

She started her blog by cooking recipes from her favorite cookbooks, and now she's written several of her own: Cook 1.0: A Fresh Approach to the Vegetarian Kitchen and most recently, Super Natural Cooking, a 2007 James Beard Foundation Book Awards Nominee in the "Healthy Focus" category.

Although many of her recipes use ingredients you might not normally have or be familiar with, most recipes are fairly easy and approachable. Her first chapter, "Build a Natural Food Pantry," helps to break the ice for those of us who might not be familiar with ingredients such as amaranth flour or agave nectar.