The Magic (or is it stunning skill?) of Geraldine Brooks

Geraldine Brooks is able to miraculously take a few historical facts and weave them into lyrical, beautiful, complex fabrics, stories so well-imagined that it’s truly difficult to believe they are not true.  The facts remain unaltered, but the stories she creates around them are lovely, heartbreaking, fascinating, and surprising.  She is a genius of historical fiction.

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I just finished reading Caleb’s Crossing, based on the seminal fact that in 1665, a young man from (what we now call) Martha’s Vineyard became the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College.   Using only this fragile structure, Brooks tells a story narrated by Bethia Mayfield, the local minister’s daughter, about her life on the small island and the life of her childhood friend, a Wampanoag named Cheeshahteaumauk, or Caleb, as he comes to be known by his English neighbors, and it is as much a lesson in the paternalism and chauvinism of the 17th century as it is the story of Bethia and Caleb’s lives.   $8.10 at The Book Shop.

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Brooks’ novel March won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and is the only one of her novels I have yet to read.  It tells the story of Mr. March, absentee father of the March daughters in Little Women, during the civil war.

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Another tremendous literary victory is The People of the Book, telling the fictional story of Hanna Heath, an Australian book conservator who is responsible for restoring an Illuminated Haggadah (the order of service for a Seder). Told in reverse chronological order, the story follows the Haggadah through time as it travels across Spain, Sarajevo, Vienna, and into Hanna’s purview hundreds of years later.  We learn its origin, its illuminator, its owners and caretakers across centuries, each with his or her own story of trauma, deprivation, and triumph. At the end of the book I felt I had seen grace being granted.

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In Year of Wonders, written from the point of view of young Cornish widow Anna Frith, who, recently having lost her husband in a lead mining accident, agrees to rent a room to an itinerant tailor.  He unknowingly brings with him, and sews into the clothes on which he works, the bubonic plague.  The community agrees to quarantine itself from the outside world, instigating a sure but insidious rise of paranoia, accusations and blame that take as much a toll on the village as does the plague.

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Last but not least, Brooks’ most recent novel The Secret Chord, based on Biblical text, gives a wildly imagined, intriguing biographical account of King David, as told by his fictional seer and advisor, Natan.  If you think it sounds boring to read about the iron-age Middle East, you will be proven pleasantly and stunningly wrong.

New Arrivals: Aqua Blue

 

We’ve noticed a trend of lovely aqua blue cover designs on novels in our new arrivals/bestsellers display lately!

Aqua Blue Novels

The Rocks by Peter Nichols – $13.95
The Book of Unknown Americans by Christina Henriquez – $7.50
The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedman – $8.00
Fifty Mice by Daniel Pyne – $9.45

All of these novels are categorized in our General Fiction.

The Girl On The Train: A review

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I’ve read two books with unreliable narrators lately. The first was Telling the Bees by Peggy Hesketh. We are told this story by a man who has never really set foot outside his yard his entire life.  We don’t know this at the start of the book, and only learn that his point of view is frighteningly narrow after we’re already drawn into his narrative.

In The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins doesn’t make us wait very long to discover our narrator is mentally ill and alcoholic. As the narrative progresses, we see that her judgment is seriously questionable, as is the judgment and stability of the second narrator.

The major characters in The Girl on the Train all seem pretty normal on the surface.  In fact our narrator, imagining the lives of other people who appear more “normal” than she is as she passes their homes on the train, is the foundation of the story. But as we learn more about these seemingly run of the mill characters, we realize that they are all, well,  crazy.   They are lying, manipulative, unethical, cheating sociopaths.  Only the woman who has been generous enough to open her home to our dysfunctional narrator seems like a good person, but is despised by the narrator as being “too nice.”

It’s hard to keep reading, at least for me, when I dislike all the characters.  But by half way through the book the reader is so caught up in trying to figure what is real and what is not, who is correct in their judgments (if anyone) and how it will all be resolved, it’s impossible to stop reading.

All in all, a book I would recommend.  It’s interestingly plotted and keeps the reader wondering uncomfortably what will become of these sorry wretches, although when finished, I was depressed and disheartened in thinking maybe Hawkins is right, and the people we all think are normal are really, underneath, the scum of the earth.

 

Online Shop Launch

 

We are very excited to announce the launch of our new online store! 

e.bookshopsiouxfalls.com

Our inventory of books is now online for your browsing and shopping pleasure. We’re able to ship to you if you’re located in the United States or Canada.

Check it out and let us know what you think!

 

The Perfect Gift Book for Firearms Enthusiasts

Now available, Hatcher’s Notebook, a standard reference book for shooters, gunsmiths, ballisticians, historians, hunters, and collectors.  Bound in green leather, with gilt lettering, decoration, and edges.  $40

If I had it all to do over again . . .

Life After Life (2013) by Kate Atkinson, tells the life stories of Ursula Todd, born in England in 1910. Over and over. You see, she keeps dying. Over and over. Sometimes she dies of illness, sometimes by accident. Once she commits suicide, once she is murdered. Each time she dies her life starts over, and at the critical moment(s) when she has died in the past, death is averted, either by a change in circumstances, or a feeling of panic and doom, or pure chance. At times, Ursula feels as though she knows what’s about to happen, at other times she does not.

Atkinson skillfully sets up the crucial moments in ways that echo the original event, and we are able to see how they are avoided the next time around, sometimes by a hair’s breadth.

It’s a fascinating basis for a story, and I enjoyed the book, after I came to understand that each time Ursula “does it over” she doesn’t really remember her previous lives. So it is not a book about having a chance to “do it over again” knowing what you know now. But the book adeptly examines answers to those questions we all ask ourselves about alternative pasts and futures –if only that hadn’t happened, what would my life be like now? If I’d made a different decision, would I be happier, healthier, in love, less regretful, more determined, less judgmental, would I have made a difference in the world, or would I be dead?

Overall a great read. Give it a try. Life After Life, $9.00 at The Book Shop.

Crammed, jammed, & stuffed–Kids’ Books!

Our booksellers have come through for us and LOADED our Children’s Section with hundreds of bright, clean, like-new kids’ books, pre-school through young adult.

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TEACHERS: We still have funds available in our Teachers Credit account–stock up now!

Doomsday!

IMG_2511In Sam Sheridan’s 2013 The Disaster Diaries: How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love the Apocalypse, Sheridan takes us through one disaster scenario after another hoping to discover how to survive it, for the sake of his little boy.  Each chapter, titled (among others) I’m Not a Doctor (but I Play One During the Apocalypse), Naked into the Wilderness, and The Pursuit of Protein,  sets up a doomsday situation during which Sheridan examines his own reactions, postulates various other possible reactions to the situation,  explains related studies, and forms an opinion about what might help him, and us, survive.  That all sounds much more serious and pessimistic than what the book really delivers — Sheridan is a great writer and speeds the reader through these trials with aplomb and wit.  This book is a RIOT!  $9.45 at The Book Shop.

Scientist, Atheist, Genius

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An Appetite For Wonder is the 2013 memoir of Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion.   An Appetite For Wonder is an intimate personal view of Dawkins’ life from a childhood in Africa through his intellectual development at Oxford to the publication of his first book. Included are stories of his parents, grandparents, and other family members (no less interesting than his own) and a plethora of nostalgic photographs. A fascinating new arrival at The Book Shop.
$9.80.