Pagford is a picturesque English village, the sort of place where you might set a cozy BBC show, and the last place you might imagine the unfolding of political drama. However, when a sudden vacancy appears on the town council, the election process soon reveals fractures beneath the town’s idyllic veneer. Rowling’s authorial voice, humor, and compassion shine through but “Casual Vacancy” has a tone very different from her most well-known work. What comes to the fore, then, is the value of small mercies – the heroism of the relief found in moments of silence while holding someone’s hand, or cracking the most inappropriate joke to install bravery in your friends. “The Casual Vacancy” is about the unexpected impact of all the things that ‘don’t-ever-seem-to’ by ‘always-really’ matter.'
I have a fondness for fiction that has a sense of humor and place – and if it says something old-as-time in a new way, even better. These stories meet all the marks. The title piece absolutely blindsided me. The characters are not exactly likeable (often, unlikable) yet for all their privilege and obliviousness they are still relatable. They might be friends of yours. Heiny captures women’s worlds, their friendships, indiscretions, and interior lives, with quiet accuracy. Her style is fresh, “slice of life” and sneak attack clever. For me this is THE breakout read for 2015.
Recommended by Sarah
If you enjoyed her others (“Don’t Lets Go to the Dogs Tonight”, “Cocktail House under the Tree of Forgetfulness”) you don’t need to bother reading the rest of this review. Buy the book, it’s that good. Alexandra Fuller, of the “Africa Fullers”, is a terrifically clear and funny storyteller who believes that doing memoir properly requires the willingness to ‘court exile from your tribe.’ Be that as it may, she’s done a remarkable job of disclosing her history in a manner that reads as a contextual and never exploitative. Our head book buyer describes her as being “in total command” on the page and fair to her people,” and I agree with that assessment entirely. Her work continues to feature the antics of her charming, insane-in-a-good-way, family and the many ways her wildness shaped her. Here, she shares the dissolution of her marriage, but this isn’t really a “divorce memoir” even if divorce is part of it. It’s a story about how your sense of belonging can shift before you see that it’s happened and about what is left once it has.
Recommended by Sarah
From what I can tell, this novel was not intended as some larger metaphor for dysfunctional families; but for how specifically dysfunctional they are, this particular (fictional) family could be many---could be your very own! (...Though for your sake, I hope that it isn’t.) “The Family Fang” is as compelling as the characters are destructive, as tender as they are shocking. Somehow the absurdity of their behavior only heightens the humanity of this cast of characters are destructive, as tender as they are shocking. Somehow the absurdity of their behavior only heightens the humanity of this cast of oddballs, and so the result is something refreshingly different from anything that I have read in awhile and nowhere near as goofy as the description may sound.
Recommended by Sarah
Not quite an easy book to read, but quite worthy of the time that you invest in doing so. The difficulty has less to do with the writing and more to do with the plight of the characters – and the ready self-examination which their troubles inspire. In this story you will find “knotted tension” and “anguish”, to be sure. You will also find mystery, adventure, and true heart. It is rare to meet fictional people that you will care about so deeply that your life will seem bigger for reading their story.
Recommended by Sarah
Your first introduction to this book may have been as “required reading” for a high school English class with a teacher who – try as he/she might – failed to convey the humor and poignancy of the story. The language may be a bit dated (all slang goes the way of the dodo, eventually) but the relevance of the subject matter endures. My vote is that you give it a[nother] chance, it may surprise you! Because...
“Among other things, you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior. You’re by no means alone on that score, you’ll be excited and stimulated to know” – J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye
Whether you are vegetarian or not this cookbook should be considered a kitchen essential. I have never seen so many compelling dishes listed in one new volume with vegan AND vegetarian variations, all of them tantalizing enough to entice me into ignoring meat for a while - if only until I've gotten through all of the recipes!
La Perdida is a perfect graphic novel. In fact, the interplay of illustrations with story arc and dialogue create such a tangible environment that I’m not sure the voice and setting would have translated as keenly if Jessica Abel had written “La Perdida” in the traditional novel format. I found Carla’s romantic (NOT “romance”, romantic) quest to “find herself” and all of the accompanying UNromantic follies and foibles to be entertaining, thought-provoking, and familiar. We all, to a lesser extent, know or have been Carla.
Written with clarity and scientific rigor as well as a healthy dose of humor, this is probably one of the most responsibly researched and well-presented books on goal achievement that you will ever read. You will learn: What has gotten in the way of achievement; how you set goals that you’re not conscious of; tools for assessing future goals; and why the “think positive” motto doesn’t ensure success. For fans of John Medina and Mary Roach.
I read this book in ONE sitting. I tried to put it down, but I couldn’t – which, I think, is a bit unheard of for books with an “advice-giving” tone. Well, now you’re heard [read] it! DO YOU HAVE A PERSONAL ‘MT. EVEREST’? (It’s likely that you do.) Even if you don’t know where/what it is, this book is sure to help you set about locating it. Like a conversation with a good friend, MacLeod’s insights are provided in the clearest and cleanest style possible. Bonus points to the author for all the wee illustrations!