Staff Picks: Books
Staff-recommended reading from the
The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian is a love story set against the horror of the Armenian genocide in 1915. The novel moves between the present day narrated by Laura Petrosian, and the early years of the war. Laura is researching her family history to learn the story of how her grandparents met and fell in love.
The woman who would become Laura’s grandmother, Elizabeth Endicott, is a recent graduate of Mount Holyoke when she arrives with her father in Aleppo, Syria, in 1915 to help deliver food and medical aid to refugees. Laura’s future grandfather, Armen, is an Armenian engineer who has come to Aleppo in search of information about his wife and infant daughter who have been killed by the Turks. Elizabeth and Armen fall in love but are temporarily separated as Armen leaves to travel to Egypt to join the British Army.
Elizabeth and Armen's story includes other compelling characters. Nevart, a widow who lost her husband during the genocide, has unofficially adopted Hatoun, a young girl who witnessed the decapitations of her mother and sister. And, two German army engineers risk their lives to photographic the savagery of the Armenians' predicament for posterity.
Laura Petrosian’s journey back through her family's history reveals not only love, tremendous loss, and gruesome images of the Armenian genocide, but a wrenching family secret that has been buried for generations.
The Sandcastle Girls : A Novel
Life of Pi is an award winning novel by Canadian author, Yann Martel. It tells the story of Pi Patel, the 16 year old son of a zookeeper in Pondicherry India. Pi is a spiritual seeker at an early age. He is a Hindu but falls in love with the stories of other religions and tells his parents that he wants to also be a Christian and Muslim. His family emigrates from India to Canada aboard a Japanese cargo ship along with their zoo animals. When the ship sinks, Pi ends up alone in a lifeboat with a hyena, an orangutan, a zebra, and Richard Parker, a 450-pound Bengal tiger.
The book describes the experience of how Pi survives 227 days adrift in the ocean with his unlikely companions. When he is finally rescued, Pi tells his extraordinary story to representatives of the Japanese shipping company searching for the cause of the sinking. They express deep disbelief, so he offers them a second, more believable story that parallels the first one. The company reps, and the reader, can choose to believe either one. The book depicts how all people use stories to give meaning to their experiences and process reality around them – some based on faith and religion.
Life of Pi is a readable book with a thought provoking ending and would make a great selection for a book club discussion.
Life of Pi
Dead until Dark is the first novel in the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris. It is a serial killer mystery and an unconventional romance complete with humans, vampires and other intriguing supernatural creatures. The story is set in the fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. Vampires are attempting to coexist with humans because they can survive on newly invented artificial blood. The story is narrated by Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress with the ability to read minds, and begins with the murder of her co-worker Maudette Pickens. Sookie attempts to help solve a subsequent series of murders for which her brother, Jason Stackhouse is a prime suspect. At the same time, Sookie begins a socially unacceptable relationship with a handsome, 173 year old vampire, Bill Compton.
If you, like me, are a fan of the HBO television series True Blood, you will likely enjoy this book. It closely follows the plot of season one but not exactly. The book contains an interesting vampire character “Bubba” that is not included in the TV series and some characters from television are not in the book. Even though I knew the identity of the murderer, it kept me engaged and was a light, fun, end-of-summer read.
Dead until Dark
Stephen King’s latest novel, 11/22/63, is so entertaining from start to finish that even with 850 pages, it can be a quick read. The story is told from the perspective of Jake Epping, a recently divorced high school English teacher. Jake is introduced by his friend to a time portal that leads from Lisbon Falls, Maine in 2011 to September 9, 1958. He also learns the rules of time travel. You can visit the past for as long as you like but when you return to the present it's always exactly two minutes later. Every subsequent visit is a "reset." You can change the past and consequently the present, but as Jake learns, the past is obdurate. It resists.
Jake sets out on a mission to stop the assassination of John F. Kennedy on 11/22/63. Because he enters the past in 1958, much of the story centers on the life he creates for himself while simultaneously preparing for the big day. He is always conscious of the butterfly effect – even his seemingly smallest actions could have major consequences for the future. This is a love story with vivid, unforgettable characters that is often very suspenseful. I enjoyed Stephen King’s creativity and thought provoking concepts. Consider this quote: “For a moment everything was clear, and when that happens you see that the world is barely there at all. Don’t we all secretly know this? It’s a perfectly balanced mechanism of shouts and echoes pretending to be wheels and cogs, a dreamclock chiming beneath a mystery-glass we call life. . . . A universe of horror and loss surrounding a single lighted stage where mortals dance in defiance of the dark.” Hmmm…