This installment: surrealism in Florida (f); cozy romance with book angle (f); fantasy with library angle (f); Chabon’s latest (f); short stories with a library angle (f); and a many-layered mystery set in Minneapolis.
Nine Island by Jane Alison
A delicious surrealistic novel that works its spell subtly and seductively. The characters are named by initials, the setting is a “Venetian” island off Miami where J lives in what she calls the love boat, a high rise with a swimming pool and lush jungle shrubbery. She’s very much alone except for her aged, incontinent cat Buster, her work translating Ovid, and her memories of three primary loves (some real, some fantasy). She walks, she swims, she observes her neighbors—it’s like living in a fish bowl, and she tries to rescue a stranded duck. All this material floats and weaves, dreamlike yet finely focused, referenced with Ovid’s tales. Intriguing.
The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
A totally cozy romance, but there’s that book angle. Nina’s library job in Birmingham is over and she goes for her dream: a bookstore in a van. Such vehicle happens to be for sale in rural Scotland, and there she somehow makes it work, except for the predictable plot wrinkles: a romantic Latvian train guy vs her grumpy farmer/landlord who’s suffering post-divorce. Nina has the gift of matching up people and books, but her own relationships falter until…Colgan describes the beauties of the countryside, the gruttiness of farming life, and the essential goodness of the villagers once they relax their suspicion towards an outsider. Somewhat idealized but satisfying anyway (I admit).
The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman
Familiar fantasy material with a touch of steam punk, but ahh, there’s that library twist. The eponymous institution is a repository of those volumes at risk that must be preserved. Which means daring forays into alternative worlds to retrieve them, often with derring-do. Irene, born into the profession (unusual because these librarians tend not to breed), is dispatched with a preternaturally handsome apprentice, Kai, and runs into worlds of trouble in a London that’s both anachronistic and full of strange devices, as well as zeppelins. There’s interesting interplay between chaos and order and a very powerful secret language that fulfills commands—most of the time. Intriguing.
Moonglow by Michael Chabon
Mostly I love this author, but sometimes he makes me a little crazy. There’s a mix of love and crazy in his latest. What I loved: the family stories, especially from the grandfather who’s had an obsession with space travel for decades and plays it out small-scale with model-building, larger scale with rocketry—sometimes dangerous. His wife goes in and out of madness. Their daughter, Mike’s mother, is scarred by this. The crazy part: so many tales packed in they were sometimes hard to follow, and I get a little lost in technical discussions. But Chabon is such a vivid storyteller that I’m willing to be befuddled amidst the riveting scenes.
Public Library and Other Stories by Ali Smith
In between the stories are testimonials and jeremiads to and about the perilous state of our beloved institutions, at risk in the UK as well. Smith gathered these from librarians, patrons, and authors who considered libraries as their second homes and childhood’s saving grace. Her short stories are quirky and hard to encapsulate, most in the first person so you feel you’re being let in on someone’s private thought processes. A weird scene glimpsed from a train window and followed up. The scent of roses, a poet’s ashes, songs and dreams appear—just a taste of the range of subjects. Playful, exploratory, sometimes mysterious.
The Heavens May Fall by Allen Eskens
The author was a criminal lawyer for years and here his expertise comes to bear on a fascinating case. Did Ben kill his wife? The detective is sure he did, but his old friend Boady, the lawyer who’s defending Ben, makes a very good case for his innocence. Boady quit practicing under a cloud (unsubstantiated) and become a professor but is drawn back because he and Ben are friends and Ben is desperate. There’s a child involved, hanky-panky, a manipulative sister-in-law and a deliciously dangling ending. Set in Minneapolis. Many-layered.
Back next week.