Carmel Valley Library

Book Reviews

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“Covenant of Water” by Abraham Verghese

It is almost 15 years since Stanford Professor of Medicine Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone hit the NYT bestseller list and it has been well worth the wait!! 

This epic multigeneration saga set in Kerala from the 1900s to 1977 is full of the sights, smells, sounds, history and culture, of the region with the story centering around Big Ammachi, the matriarch of a family, whom we first meet as a 12 year old bride to be. Without giving anything away, Big Ammachi’s family is afflicted with a peculiar condition relating to water. There were shocks, surprises and lots of medical references and while the book is long (over 700 pages) the beautiful writing just takes you from page to page and generation to generation effortlessly. It kept me intrigued right to the last page. Loved it!

Get in line to check out this book here, and be sure to look into these similar books available from MCFL:

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“The Four Letters of Love” by Niall Williams

I can’t believe I have only just discovered Niall Williams and feel I should apologize for picking yet another Irish author but I simply cannot help myself. This debut novel was first published in 1997. The writing is beautiful, and the story mind-blowing. And what’s more I have just learnt that it is being made into a movie this year! The setting is Southern Ireland and the story centers on two young characters Nicholas Coughlan and Isabel Gore who live on opposite sides of the country. The plot twists are totally unpredictable, both heartbreaking and heartwarming right to the very end. If I say anymore I will get carried away and ruin your enjoyment. I LOVED this book!

Here’s a couple of other books by Niall Williams that you can borrow from MCFL:

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“The Gospel of Orla” by Eoghan Walls

This debut novel by Northern Irish poet Eoghan Walls is simply wonderful! Unusual, funny, tragic and totally convincing despite some strange goings on. Orla McDevitt is a grieving teenager who, while cycling across England to visit her aunt in Ireland, meets an unusual man called Jesus with a particularly unique ability. A hilarious coming of age story that also encompasses the tragedy and mystery of faith and loss.

“Eoghan Walls manages to make every single emotion Orla feels—every thought, response and action—utterly convincing and fresh and original” –COLM TOIBIN

This book isn’t available in the MCFL catalog today, but there are very similar, popular books available today that you can check out. Check out the following list:

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“Still Life” by Sarah Winman

There is nothing more satisfying and uplifting than reading a book that is not just beautifully written, full of unforgettable and loveable characters, and tells a captivating story, but one that also encompasses so much about art, life, love and family. You will be transported back in time to the East End of London and the Tuscan countryside after the Second World War and follow the life of Ulysses Temper for four wonderful decades. A truly fabulous novel!

Want to read this book? You can borrow the ebook from MCFL here!

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“A Dangerous Business” by Jane Smiley

Carmel Valley’s very own Pulitzer-winning Jane Smiley has a rollicking brand new mystery out – and it is set in 1850s Monterey. The protagonists are two young prostitutes – best friends Eliza and Jean – who investigate the murders of several young women in town. There are lots of wonderful historical details and familiar streets and landmarks, and like all good historical fiction forces you to compare life to the present day. Fun references to Edgar Allan Poe too!

You can borrow “A Dangerous Business” from MCFL here! You’ll have to get on the wait list since this new book is so popular, but while you wait, you can borrow other Jane Smiley books from MCFL here while you wait.

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“The Wind Rises” by Timotheè de Fombelle

From Europe to Africa to the Caribbean, this first installment in the Alma trilogy (for ages 8-12) tells a gripping story of hope, perseverance, and love.
1786. Isolated from the rest of the world, thirteen-year-old Alma lives with her family in a lush African valley. She spends her days exploring their blissful homeland. But everything changes when her little brother finds a secret way out of the valley.

Alma sets out to find him, but she soon must face terrible dangers in a continent ravaged by the slave trade. The journey to bring her brother home becomes a harrowing adventure to save herself, her family, and the memory of her people.

Meanwhile, in Lisbon, Joseph Mars, an orphan turned petty thief devises a great plan to land himself aboard a slave ship, The Sweet Amelie, on the ultimate quest—to find a pirate’s treasure in the far reaches of the Caribbean. But as time passes, he learns he is not alone in his hunger for the treasure, which forces Joseph to rethink the true purpose of his presence aboard The Sweet Amelie.

The destinies of a large cast of characters, including Alma and Joseph, become intertwined both on land and at sea in this unforgettable adventure of resilience and compassion as de Fombelle quietly elucidates the slave trade and the infamous Middle Passage for middle grade and YA readers.

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“The Martins” by David Foenkinos

Go out into the street and the first person you see will be the subject of your next book.

This is the challenge a struggling Parisian writer sets himself, imagining his next heroine might be the mysterious young woman who often stands smoking near his apartment … instead it’s octogenarian Madeleine. She’s happy to become the subject of his book – but first she needs to put away her shopping.

Is it really true, the writer wonders, that every life is the stuff of novels, or is his story doomed to be hopelessly banal? As he gets to know Madeleine and her family, he’ll be privy to their secrets: lost loves, marital problems and workplace worries. And he’ll soon realize he is not the impartial bystander he intended to be, but a catalyst for major changes in the lives of his characters.

The Martins is such a great read. A clever take on the blurred edges between truth and fiction.

(translated from the French by Sam Taylor)

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“Heritage” by Miguel Bonnefoy

Heritage is a fabulous family saga, brimming with poetry and passion, that skillfully weaves together the private lives of individuals and major historical events in South America and Europe.

The house on Calle Santo Domingo in Santiago de Chile, with its lush lemon trees, has sheltered three generations of the Lonsonier family. Having arrived from the harsh hills of France’s Jura region with a single grape vine in one pocket and a handful of change in the other, the patriarch put down roots there in the late nineteenth century. His son, Lazare, back from World War I’s hellish trenches, would live there with his wife and build in their garden the most beautiful aviary in the Andes. That’s where their daughter Margot, a pioneering aviator, would first dream of flying, and where she would raise her son, the revolutionary Ilario Da. Like Lazare before them, they will bravely face the conflicts of their day, fighting against dictatorship on both sides of the Atlantic. In this captivating and surprisingly short novel, Miguel Bonnefoy paints the portrait of an endearing, uprooted family whose terrible dilemmas, caused by the blows of history, reveal their deep humanity.

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‘Three’ by Valérie Perrin

From the international bestselling author of Fresh Water for Flowers, a masterly crafted and suspenseful story about the ties between friends and the choices that make us who we are.

1986: Adrien, Etienne and Nina are 10 years old when they meet at school and become inseparable. They promise each other they will one day leave their provincial backwater, move to Paris, and never part.

2017: A car is pulled up from the bottom of the lake and a body discovered inside. Virginie, a local journalist with an enigmatic past, follows the case. Step by step she reveals the extraordinary bonds that unite the three childhood friends. How is the car wreck connected to their story? Why did their friendship fall apart?

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‘Love and Saffron’ by Kim Fay

In the vein of the classic 84, Charing Cross Road, this witty and tender novel follows two women in 1960s America as they discover that food really does connect us all, and that friendship and laughter are the best medicine.

When twenty-seven-year-old Joan Bergstrom sends a fan letter–as well as a gift of saffron–to fifty-nine-year-old Imogen Fortier, a life-changing friendship begins. Joan lives in Los Angeles and is just starting out as a writer for the newspaper food pages. Imogen lives on Camano Island outside Seattle, writing a monthly column for a Pacific Northwest magazine, and while she can hunt elk and dig for clams, she’s never tasted fresh garlic–exotic fare in the Northwest of the sixties. As the two women commune through their letters, they build a closeness that sustains them through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassination of President Kennedy, and the unexpected in their own lives.

This charming novel provides a brief respite from our chaotic and troubling world, a reminder that food and friendship are the antidote to most any heartache and that human connection will always be worth creating.

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‘The Lost Daughter’ By Elena Ferrante

Read it …before you see the movie.. and before you watch the Oscars! In this edgy tale of mixed feelings and motherhood we meet Leda, a middle-aged divorcée and mother of two alone at a coastal resort in southern Italy. She soon becomes intrigued by a Neapolitan family, and in particular by Nina, a young mother with whom she strikes up a conversation. After Nina confides a dark secret, one seemingly trivial occurrence leads to events that could destroy Nina’s family.
“Ferrante can do a woman’s interior dialogue like no one else, with a ferocity that is shockingly honest, unnervingly blunt.” – Booklist

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‘Small Things Like These’ by Claire Keegan

This short beautifully written novel stays with you long after you have finished. One to pick up and re-read… and pass on. It is 1985 in a small Irish town. During the weeks leading up to Christmas, Bill Furlong, a coal merchant and family man, faces into his busiest season. Early one morning, while delivering an order to the local convent, Bill makes a discovery which forces him to confront both his past and the complicit silences of a town controlled by the church. “Powerful and affecting and very timely.”-Hilary Mantel

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‘The Promise’ by Damon Galgut

The Promise is a modern family saga starring the Swart family, descendants of Dutch settlers who are desperately holding onto their farm and status in post-apartheid South Africa. It is written in gorgeous prose with a sometimes surprising narrative voice.

Haunted by an unmet promise, the Swart family loses touch after the death of their matriarch. Adrift, the lives of the three siblings move separately through the uncharted waters of South Africa; Anton, the golden boy who bitterly resents his life’s unfulfilled potential; Astrid, whose beauty is her power; and the youngest, Amor, whose life is shaped by a nebulous feeling of guilt.

Reunited by four funerals over three decades, the dwindling family reflects the atmosphere of its country—an atmosphere of resentment, renewal, and, ultimately, hope.

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‘Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss’ by Margaret Renkl

Growing up in Alabama, Renkl was a devoted reader, an explorer of riverbeds and red-dirt roads, and a fiercely loved daughter. Here, in brief essays, she traces a tender and honest portrait of her complicated parents—her exuberant, creative mother; her steady, supportive father—and of the bittersweet moments that accompany a child’s transition to caregiver. Braided into this collection of essays are beautiful observations of the world around her suburban Nashville home. The book is also illustrated by her brother Billy Renkl. A gorgeous book for the end of summer.

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‘The Summer Book’ by Tove Jansson

Finnish author and artist Tove Jansson (1914 – 2001) is perhaps most famous for her series of children’s books featuring the Moomintrolls which published in English over sixty years ago and have remained in print ever since. In later life she turned her attention to writing for adults and produced several novels and short story collections. The Summer Book became a classic bestseller and tells the story of Sophia, a six-year-old girl awakening to existence, and Sophia’s grandmother, nearing the end of hers, as they spend the summer on a tiny unspoiled island in the Gulf of Finland. It is a beautiful, gentle book with no plot, just twenty or so poignant, and sometimes funny, vignettes of their time together.

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‘The Nickel Boys’ by Colson Whitehead

This Pulitzer Prize-winning follow up to The Underground Railroad is based on the real story of the Dozier reform school that operated for 111 years and damaged the lives of thousands of children in Jim Crow-era Florida. The novel dramatizes a shocking piece of recent American history (the school was still operating until 2011) through the story of Ellwood Curtis, unjustly sentenced to the Nickel Academy in 1960 where systematic abuse was the norm. The book would never have been written if Whitehead had not come across the story of the real Dozier school in 2014 when the State of Florida was exhuming the official graveyard prior to selling the property and many unmarked graves were uncovered. This is a powerful and beautifully written novel.

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‘The Secret Scripture’ by Sebastian Barry

When she was a young woman, Roseanne McNulty was one of the most beautiful and beguiling girls in County Sligo, Ireland. Now, she is a patient at Roscommon Regional Mental Hospital, and nearing her hundredth year. As the story of Roseanne’s life unfolds, so does the life of her caregiver, Dr Grene, who has been asked to evaluate the patients to decide if they can return to society when the hospital closes down. But as Dr Grene researches her case, de discovers a document that tells a very different version of Roseanne’s life from what she can recall. Sebastian Barry writes so beautifully, and braids together two stories in a delightfully surprising way, whilst also depicting the horrors and hypocrisies of rural Ireland, the cruelties of civil war and the pernicious influence of the priesthood.

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‘The Red Notebook’ by Antoine Laurain

I suddenly remembered this wonderful little mystery and love story (not mushy!) while looking through my bookshelves. It’s a quick read but uplifting, and beautifully written. Laurent is a middle-aged bookseller in Paris who finds an abandoned handbag on the street one morning on his way to get coffee. There is nothing inside to say who it belongs to but a red notebook and some photographs. He becomes fascinated by this mysterious woman and so begins the search. His girlfriend is not surprisingly hurt, while his teenage daughter positively encourages him. If you are looking for something light and entertaining this is it!

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‘The Midnight Library’ by Matt Haig

Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets? That’s the question confronted in this number one bestseller both here and in the UK. The Midnight Library is a touching, funny and heartwarming novel from Matt Haig, author of How to Stop Time and Reasons to Stay Alive. It is an uplifting, poignant novel about regret, hope and second chances.

Nora’s life has been going from bad to worse. Then at the stroke of midnight on her last day on earth she finds herself transported to a library somewhere beyond the edge of the universe. There she is given the chance to undo her regrets and try out each of the other lives she might have lived. Which raises the ultimate question: with infinite choices, what is the best way to live?

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‘Wintering’ by Katherine May

A beautifully written, poignant book for the times we are in. Katherine May combines memoir with fascinating research on how the dark times – times marked by grief, loss of a job, breakup of a relationship, or sudden illness – are an opportunity to slow down and look around and learn. The book recognizes the need for wintering and embracing the cyclical, not linear, journey in life. May references the natural, mythical and spiritual world in relation to winter and ties this in to people’s personal phases of wintering. “Those darkest moments are where the true learning of winter happens, and they’re often where we can begin to imagine our next steps.”

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‘Freshwater for Flowers’ by Valerie Perrin

(Translated from the French by Hildegarde Serle) This is a beautifully written book, full of tender storylines… and unexpected revelations. The book was a massive hit in France where Perrin won numerous awards for her first novel Les Oubliés du Dimanche. This is her English debut. Violette Toussaint is a caretaker in a cemetery in a small town in Burgundy. Despite the unusual location this is by no means a morbid book. Violette’s husband has vanished and her days are taken up with tending graves, the comings and goings of mourners and grave diggers, visits from the local priest, and various cats and dogs. One day a local police chief arrives on the scene insisting on scattering his mother’s ashes on the gravesite of a complete stranger…. totally heartwarming, sometimes heartbreaking, and hard to put down.

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‘Where We Go from Here: Two Years in the Resistance’ by Bernie Sanders

I always wondered about Bernie Sanders so I read his book Where Do We Go From Here. This is what he said in his own words. “These are painful and frightening times,…but despair is not an option. …We must create a vibrant democracy…which leads the world in the struggle for peace, for economic, social, racial and environmental justice. …We must unite…while repairing the damage (that) Trump has done trying to divide us.” Want to learn more about the progressive movement ? Bernie is the one to teach you.

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‘The Umbrian Thursday Night Supper Club’ by Marlena de Blasi

These are not cozy, warm times. We all are suffering. If you read ‘The Umbrian Thursday Night Supper Club’ by Marlena de Blasi you will find some reprieve. A group of women gather to cook and eat and in the process the reader discovers their intimate stories. The women become fast and loyal friends who trust and grow with each other. This is a real treat to read. Enjoy!

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‘A Gentleman In Moscow’ by Amor Towles

The author is unique and interesting on his own merit, but his novel (recommended and lead by Joyce) broke all rating records from our group. Set during the Bolshevik revolution around 1920, our hero, the Count, is under house arrest in the finest hotel in Russia at that time- the Metropol. He is truly a genius, very well educated and extremely well read. He has many trials and tribulations to conquer but never falls from his gentlemanly demeanor. Written with beautiful language and great philosophic passages this book can easily be read more than once. (Linda’s comment) Jam-packed with many facts and trivia all woven into a tense adventure, with even some romance thrown in. There you have the recipe for our book group to be thrilled.

At the end of our very animated discussion we always rate our reads from one to ten. Wow! This book went off the charts. Three of us gave a rating of twelve and the rest gave a ten plus. This was record breaking for us.

Now most future books will have a hard time measuring up to our standards.

The 2nd Monday Book Club meets on the second Monday each month. Members make book recommendations, and for each book selected by the group, the recommending member will research the author and lead the discussion of the book. “We take turns hosting in our homes and have limited our membership in recent years in order to make sure all can participate. We often get our books from the library, sometimes using the Book Club to Go.”

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For information on Book Clubs and Book Club to Go Click Here.