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Domestic Fiction

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

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Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

This is the selection for June's book club at Brentwood Library. I feel that book club books should be their own genre now. If they had their own genre, then this book would fit very neatly in that category. It is serious and beautifully written.

Lydia Lee is missing at the outset of the novel. Her mother expects her 16 year old daughter to come downstairs to breakfast and soon discovers that she is not in the house and her bed looks unslept in. It is only a few pages into the book that her body is found in the center of the small Ohio town. We spend the rest of the novel unraveling the why rather than the what. It's not tidy, it's painful and thorough. Ng explores specifically what it is like to grow up in a blended family in a town where everyone is white. But in this case the family unit that is supposed to provide some protection and insulation from the outside world can sometimes be the place where it all breaks apart.

Hauntingly bleak yet hopeful is my summary sentence on this book.

Number of Pages: 
297

The Hired Girl, by Laura Amy Schlitz

The Hired Girl, by Laura Amy Schlitz

The Hired Girl is the first Young Adult book I've read in a long time--I thought the writing was a good combination of accessible and complex.  When the story begins, our 14 year old heroine, Joan, is barely enduring a harsh life on the farm with her unforgiving father and thankless brothers.  Her mother has passed away, leaving a heavy load on Joan's shoulders and a huge hole in her life.  Due to the demands of farm life, and her father, she has to quit school, which had been her last comfort.  Sound bleak?  Yes, I was wondering when her luck would change for the better, which it certainly does when she flees the only life she's ever known, and strikes out on her own for the big city.  There she is fortunate to come across the right person at the right time, a young Jewish boy who sees (as Joan would describe it) a damsel in distress, and offers to help.  His family not only takes her in for the night, but offers her a job as a hired girl.  There's still an awful lot of drudgery--cleaning, cooking (plus the intricacies of preparing kosher food), and dealing with Malka, the older, temperamental housekeeper.  But there are also new possibilities for her and even occasional fun to be had.  Mr. Rosenbach, the patriarch of the house, allows Joan to use his library, and with her little time off, she is free to go to church or even shopping.  And there's the heartthrob younger brother in the family as well . . .

The book is in journal format, so there's plenty of daydreaming on the part of our romantically inclined main character.  She's a deep thinker though too, and it's fun to follow her as she takes in new points of view, and forms various rivalries and alliances.  Joan writes often and recreates conversations with every member of the household, from philosophical and religious explorations with Mr. Rosenbach, to girlish gossiping with 12 year old Mimi.  Though she is certainly not a member of the family, and often confined to the kitchen, Joan experiences a suprisingly vast new world, emotionally and intellectually.  She goes through many a blunder (as anyone her age will!) but her hard work and courage pay off.  The author does a good job of showing how more opportunities were becoming available for many different people in early twentieth century America.  It's inspiring and satisfying to watch this hired girl's life transform.

Number of Pages: 
387

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

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The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler

This is my first foray into Anne Tyler's fiction. I had been hearing a lot about her latest book, A Spool of Blue Thread and decided that rather than start with that one, I would try one of her "classic" titles. The Accidental Tourist is primarily about Macon Leary. When we meet Macon, he is driving home with his wife, Sarah from a beach vacation and she tells him that she thinks they should separate. Within the last year, their son, Ethan, had been shot in a robbery at a fast food restaurant. This could explain some of the tension in the car, but probably not all of it. Tyler paints a very interesting portrait of a man who is peculiarly set in his ways. The title refers to his series of books that he has authored that are intended to help the traveling business person who is not really interested in trying out new things, but rather wants to recreate his/her home life while on the road. That could sum up all of Macon, but there are other interesting quirks as well that create entertaining reading. Especially the relationship between him and his siblings. That is gold. After Sarah leaves he is going out of town and is in need of a place to board his dog. He chances on the Meow-Bow and meets Muriel, the opposite of Macon in almost every respect. So this is their story. I ate it up. It is a pleasure to see the relationship develop and how it changes Macon. Plus it is funny! And the characters are deliciously quirky but not unreal. They could definitely be our neighbors. I will be picking up more Tyler in the future.

Number of Pages: 
355

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

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The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

Angela Flournoy's first novel, The Turner House, is fantastic. It opens with  fourteen year old Cha-Cha Turner's first encounter with the ghost that will continue to haunt him until the present day (in this novel, 2008.) Cha Cha is the eldest of 13 siblings living in Detroit with their parents, Francis and Viola. The book moves back and forth through time from the present day of Detroit in the housing crisis to the 1940s when Francis moves from Arkansas to find work up north as part of the Great Migration.

Flournoy uses several of the siblings point of view as well as the parents to tell the story of the Turner family and the story of their home. I enjoyed spending time with all of them which is refreshing to find in today's literature which tends to love the despicable. It's not hard to see why Flournoy was a contender for the National Book Award in 2015. Can't wait to read her next book.

Number of Pages: 
340

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

If you feel like you can't remember anything anymore...where you put your keys, what you did over the weekend, then Still Alice will either terrify you or soothe your troubled mind. Alice is a tenured professor at Harvard University. She frequently travels and gives lectures as well as teaching at the University. One day she is out running and finds herself in a familiar neighborhood, one that she frequents often, but she can't remember how to get home. She is in a panic, because her brain won't put the pieces together for her. That is the first sign that something is wrong. She is then diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's Disease.

What follows is Alice's daily struggle with the disease. I liked how Genova used Alice's perspective to tell the story of her illness. It is especially poignant with this kind of disease, that alters you so much. It also gives you a greater sense of empathy for the caregivers and acquaintances and how they treat someone who is suffering from life changing illness. Do you treat them differently? Do you talk about it at all? Do you ignore it because it is too painful to confront?

Number of Pages: 
293

Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary

Ramona Forever by Beverly Cleary

Ramona Forever brings about big changes in Ramona's life and family. Ramona and her sister Beezus are finally allowed to stay home alone after school and they take the responsibility very seriously. Their aunt Beatrice has a mysterious new boyfriend and their mother is pregnant. Beezus and Ramona have their disagreements but they also support each other in a way that feels very authentic for a sibling relationship. This is one of the more touching installments in the Ramona series and I found that I even remembered some of these chapters from when I read them as a young child so they clearly made an impression on me!

Number of Pages: 
182

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary

Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary

The sixth installment of the Ramona series finds eight year old Ramona at a new school and with new responsibilities. Her father has gone back to school and she has to stay with Howie and Willa Jean's grandmother after school. She's not sure about her new teacher but she loves her quiet reading time. There is a "Yard Ape" who she can't decide if she likes or not and a disaster with cracking a raw egg on her head. All in all, even as Ramona gets older and her worries and anxieties become a bit more complex, she is still creative, kind, lovable Ramona.

Number of Pages: 
179

Five Days In Paris by Danielle Steel

Five Days In Paris by Danielle Steel

Peter is the president of a pharmaceutical company that is almost ready to release a new cancer drug.  He is staying in Paris to get the results of some final testing before they go to the FDA to attempt human trial.

That night there is a bomb scare in his hotel and he comes across Oliva, who is the wife of a Senator with eyes on the Presidency, and their chance meeting will affect their lives and possibly the lives of millions.

Number of Pages: 
269

Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe

Man at the Helm by Nina Stibbe

Stibbe's first novel is great fun to read. Stibbe has a sense of humor that is a little dark, but not terrifyingly so. It is told from the perspective of nine year old Lizzie Vogel and takes place in the 1970s in Britain. Essentially, it is the story of how Lizzie and her three siblings cope when their parent's marriage dissolves. Much to their chagrine they are forced to move from a great house in London to a "superior dwelling" in a village. Lizzie and her elder sister create "the man list." A list of eligible men (likes animals, attractive, the usual) to fill the hole their father left. If this doesn't sound humorous, well you will just have to trust me. There are hijinks and shenanigans aplenty in this book. And it gets better the further you get into it too.

Pick this up if you liked Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple.

Number of Pages: 
310

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

This book was off to a great start. Cecilia finds a letter in the attic. It is addressed to her and instructs that she should open it in the event of her husband's death. Hmmm. Being a good woman, she does not immediately open it. But you know that is going to happen eventually. At the same time that this is happening, Tess has just discovered that her husband and cousin (more close than sisters) have fallen in love. She sweeps her son up and goes to stay with her Mom (who lives in Cecilia's town.) So you know that they are going to connect somehow. But when the connection is made, it is not to be believed.

This book is full of connections lost and secrets untold. It is humorous and the characters are enjoyable. I would say this is a good read when you want a suspenseful story but also like romance and domestic fiction mixed in.

Number of Pages: 
396