Carmel Valley Library

Book Reviews

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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.

‘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!

‘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.”

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