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WAMC Reviews November 21st, 2017

Young Jane Young
Gabrielle Zevin
Reviewed by Linda

 

Zevin’s earlier novel, The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, is a bookshop favorite. It’s a staff pick, and we continue to sell several copies a month. So, we looked forward to Zevin’s latest book. It doesn’t disappoint.

Young Jane Young is a smart, funny, feminist tale about power and shame. Aviva Grossman is a twenty-something woman who has an affair with a Florida congressman in 2001. The affair is discovered after a car accident and Aviva becomes a headline that will not die; she is publicly shamed and cannot get a job due to the availability of information about the affair on the Internet.

Aviva eventually takes control of the situation -- she changes her name and moves to Maine. Fast forward to the present, and Aviva becomes Jane Young, an event planner. She builds a quiet life with her daughter, Ruby. When Jane decides to run for mayor in her small town, the information from her past threatens her campaign and her relationship with Ruby.

The story is told from the perspectives of three generations of women.  It tackles universal themes of power, politics and sex, but the real story is about a woman finding strength and resilience -- and framing her own narrative as she grapples with and moves on from choices and mistakes of her younger self.


A Column of Fire
Ken Follett
Reviewed by Phil

A Column of Fire is the latest novel in Follet's Kingsbridge series - the earlier books being The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. A Column of Fire begins in England in 1858 - a time of great religious conflict, when Protestants and Catholics jostle for power. With the coronation of Queen Elizabeth, Protestants momentarily have the upper hand, but the rest of Europe turns against the island nation. The book follows the life of Ned Willard, a spy in Queen Elizabeth's employ. Ned is a Protestant who falls in love with Margery Fitzgerald, daughter of a wealthy Catholic businessman. There are spies and plots to overthrow the queen, international intrigue, assassinations and petty rivalries.

This is a rich and complex story which brings 16th-century England to life. I was fascinated by the way the book reveals the history of that era, prompting me to look up details from history lessons long forgotten.

 

Circe
Madeline Miller
Released April 2018
Reviewed by Phil

Madeline Miller studied the classics at Brown University. Her previous book, The Song of Achilles, was awarded the Orange Prize for Fiction.

Circe is a captivating novel which retells the ancient Greek myths and legends from the prospective of Circe, daughter of Helios, the sun god, and Perse, a nymph. As a child, Circe discovers she has the power of witchcraft and can transform her enemies into monsters. As the result of a deal with Zeus in an effort to avoid warfare, Helios banishes Circe to the island of Aiaia. Here, she develops her witchcraft, taming the wild beasts that live on the island. Through the course of the story, we meet Odysseus, who arrives at Aiaia and fathers a child with Circe. We also encounter the Minotaur, and Daedalus and his son Icarus.

This is a fantastic read. As I said, it is way out of my normal reading genre, but it's so well written that I was drawn in totally to the intrigues of ancient Greece. For me, the book clarified the muddle that had been my vague understanding of the ancient stories. But the book stands alone, too, as a compelling and interesting story.

 

Points North
Howard Frank Mosher
Released January 2018
Reviewed by Linda

Points North is a collection of short stories about the Northeast Kingdom in Vermont - the people and places that inhabited the writing of Howard Frank Mosher for decades. Written a few weeks before his death in January of 2017, the collection centers around the Kinneson family and their public and private struggles in a small New England town. After learning of his lung cancer diagnosis, Mosher wrote, "I am happy to leave you all with the gift of what may be my best book in Points North." This book is beautifully-written with humor, compassion and heart - a gift for us all.
 

The Names of Dead Girls
Eric Rickstad
Reviewed by Phil
 
From the cover:

In a remote northern Vermont town, college student Rachel Rath is being watched. She can feel the stranger's eyes on her, relentless and possessive. And she's sure the man watching her is the same man who killed her mother and father years ago: Ned Preacher, a serial rapist and murderer who gamed the system to get a light sentence. Now, he's free...

The Names of Dead Girls is a cleverly plotted and suspenseful crime novel. I really liked the book’s gritty main character, Frank Rath, and the detective who helps him, Sonya Test. Both characters are well-developed and realistic, and their relationship with one another genuine. The story slowly unfolds as tension builds to a dramatic resolution. This is crime-writing at its best.

Note: Although The Names of Dead Girls opens just where Rickstad's earlier novel, The Silent Girls, ends, it can be read as a stand-alone thriller.


If I Die Tonight
Alison Gaylin’s
Released in March 2018
Reviewed by Phil

Gaylin has been nominated for the Edgar award for a number of her previous novels. This is the first one I have read.

The story begins with a late night hit and run as a thief makes off with a stolen car, but who was driving, and who else was at the scene, and why? The story unfolds from a variety of viewpoints: There’s Aimee En, the owner of the car, an aging 80s pop star trying to make a come back; and Jackie, the mother of Wade, the boy accused of stealing the car; and Connor, Wade’s younger brother; and police officer Pearl Maze, still coming to terms with violence in her own past.

This is a powerful read. I liked the way Gaylin exposes the dirty little secrets, the guilt and the shame of the different townspeople, and how she depicts the finger-pointing and blame as the town turns on Wade, and what the effect this has on Wade’s family. This is a story of betrayal and trust, of privilege and need – a great read for the Whodunnits out there.

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