What They’re Reading

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The Mamaroneck Public Library staff reviews and recommends a handful of special books.

Cutting for Stone

by Abraham Verghese, reviewed by Linda Bhandari

This is one of the more memorable books I have read in a while, probably because of the large variety of characters and locale.  The political turmoil in Ethiopia in the 1960’s is the background of the story.  The book is about the lives of a set of twins and the people and circumstances that make them who they are, especially their parents who are Indian doctors working in a hospital in Addis Ababa.  The book has some elements of mystery and very detailed medical descriptions. One of my favorite quotes in the book is ‘put your courage in the sticking place.’

The author is a doctor although he also went to the Iowa Writers workshop at the University of Iowa and has an MFA in creative writing.  He is presently a Professor at Stanford University Medical School.

The Grimm Legacy

by Polly Schulman, reviewed by Hilary Hertzoff

When Elizabeth takes a job at the New York Circulating Material Repository, she doesn’t know what she’s got herself into. It isn’t long before she discovers that the lending library holds some very strange (and powerful) objects: tables of plenty, seven league boots and even Snow White’s stepmother’s mirror. But there is trouble in the Repository, when objects go missing and one of Elizabeth’s coworker’s is blamed, she and her friends find themselves trying to solve the mystery and save the collection. The romance in the book was somewhat predictable, but didn’t detract from the rest of the story. The concept has been done before (Warehouse 13, The Librarian movies) but this is a wonderfully fresh take on it and Elizabeth and her friends come up with creative ways to use the items at their disposal.

Recommended for grades 6 and up, including adults who love fantasy.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand

by Helen Simonson, reviewed by Marianne Pei

Helen Simonson’s debut novel, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, has been described as “charming” and “an enjoyable traipse through the English countryside.”  The story, which takes place in the small village of Edgecombe St. Mary in Sussex, England, concerns retired Major Ernest Pettigrew, recently widowed, and a somewhat younger Pakistani widow, Jasmina Ali, owner of the small shop where the Major buys his tea.  Despite the charm and humor of the writing, the friendship that grows between the Major and Mrs. Ali raises a number of issues in the village and in their respective families, including racial prejudice, cultural differences, and greed.  Deceptively light in style, the book will leave you laughing, thinking, and waiting for Simonson’s next novel.

The Notorious Benedict Arnold: A True Story of Adventure, Heroism & Treachery

by Steve Sheinkin, reviewed by Ellen McTyre

Many people know that Benedict Arnold is the most notorious traitor in all of American history; they may even know that he has something to do with the Revolutionary War, but many probably don’t know that he was once one of George Washington’s most beloved friends and comrades.  This biography is a fascinating book packed with thrills, history and espionage all rolled into one great read. The book reads more like an adventure novel than a history lesson and all it takes is the opening line of the first chapter, Clearing the Woods, October 2, 1780 to get you hooked: It was a beautiful place to die.

Recommended for Grades 7 thru adult & for anyone that is looking for an exciting understanding of the past.

The Poker Bride : the First Chinese in the Wild West

by Christopher Corbett, reviewed by Carolyn Taylor

The Poker Bride is a scholarly yet readable account of what life was like for Chinese immigrants, particularly Chinese women, in the American West from the time of the Gold Rush in the mid-1800s to early 1900s. Using what could be learned about Polly Bemis, the “poker bride”, who became somewhat of a legend in her own time, the author creates a portrait of life in the gold mining camps and back high country of the Northwest. Readers learn about a social, political, and biographical history which could otherwise remain unknown. The book introduces some memorable characters and conveys the flavor of the places and times.

On the whole, I found this non-fiction book very interesting and enlightening. The documentation in the first few chapters make the reading a bit dense for my taste, but when the author begins relating the more personal story of Charles and Polly Bemis in subsequent chapters, it is more readable. It would be worthwhile having a map of the Northwest and of Idaho in particular available when reading this book. I recommend The Poker Bride for readers interested in this topic who appreciate a readable and well-researched approach to the subject.

13 Rue Thérèse

by Elena Mauli Shapiro, reviewed by Lori Friedli

13 Rue Thérèse is a sweet afternoon read, with a “techie” twist.  I picked up this book initially because I was attracted to its cover that displays a sepia photo portrait of a woman with a somewhat lovelorn look in her eyes.  Opening the book, I was surprised to find graphics throughout: little pictures, notes, representations of postcards and letters, coins and other everyday and “not so everyday” objects.  How curious!  The objects tell a tale, a mystery, a love story (actually two) that the reader discovers through the course of the novel.  And, oh yes, the “techie” twist… Got a QR code app?

Tinkers

by Paul Harding, reviewed by Maureen McGowen

This small volume is a first novel.  Published in 2009, it won the Pulitzer Prize and has been praised as an “outstanding debut…” and “a work of great power and originality…” Its “real star” according to Publishers Weekly is Harding’s language.
The writing compares to that of Colm Toibin which in turn compares to the spare, every-word-matters prose of Henry James. At first the reader might become discouraged, lost in a lengthy description of the workings of clocks and dismayed at the opening theme, which seems to focus on the ruminations of an old man as he lies dying.  Read on, however, and you will suddenly be lifted up by an elegiac, even rapturous departure from the somber realities of poverty and death into rarified air, and led to consider human nobility.

The tale involves three generations of fathers, the second of whom, an epileptic, drives away from his family just before suppertime, never to return, upon learning that his wife of many years secretly plans to have him committed to a state asylum.  He had believed that their shared life had been “one of kindness offered and accepted…he could not [accept] the simultaneity of his wife passing him a plate of chicken…as she worked out her plans to have him taken away.”  This is Dante’s “personal betrayal”, that worst of sins for which the 9th circle of hell is reserved.  Tinkers is a rare reading experience, one that will repay a reader’s perseverance by lingering in the soul as well as memory.

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