Monday, January 18, 2010

Reading Lists - Gentle Fiction

Whether or not they are written for the Christian audience, Gentle Reads have an old-fashioned, unhurried feel to them. Frequently humorous and filled with colorful characters, these tales are quite charming and leave the reader with positive feelings. They generally contain no graphic material.

Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler
Rebecca is a fifty-three-year-old grandmother who discovers that she has turned into the wrong person, and she begins an exploration to find out who she really is. Elements common to Tyler's work are present here: a Baltimore setting, eccentric characters, and thoughtful themes related to marriage, aging, and making difficult choices.

Blessings by Anna Quindlen
When a baby is left on their doorstep, the lives of Lydia , the elderly town matriarch, and Skip, her down-and-out caretaker, are transformed. Skip wants to keep the baby and raise it himself. To his surprise, Lydia wants to help. Quindlen's realistic dialogue complements the narrative, which is old-fashioned in a positive way. This is a dramatic story told through changing, developing characters.

By the Lake by John McGahern
A year in the lives of the unforgettable inhabitants of a modern-day Irish village--the Ruttledges, Londoners seeking a new way of life; the womanizing John Quinn; Jimmy Joe McKiernan, local head of the IRA; locals Jamesie and his wife Mary; and "the Shah," the wealthiest man in town--unfolds through a cylce of work, play, religious festivals, and the changing seasons.

Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven by Fannie Flagg
Strange things begin to happen when Mrs. Shimfissle, an eighty-year-old woman, falls out of a fig tree in her own front yard, in a tale of one woman's offbeat experiences in the hereafter. Combining southern warmth with unabashed emotion and side-splitting hilarity, Flagg takes readers back to Elmwood Springs, Missouri and asks, “Why are we here?”

Civil and Strange by Cláir Ní Aonghusa
Three very different people are confronting a crossroad in life--Ellen, escaping a failed marriage and Dublin to recapture her magical youth in Ballindoon; her uncle Matt, a local farmer; and Beatrice, a widow recovering from the suicide of her son. This is a nice portrait of small-town Irish life studded with characters worth caring about.

A Country Affair by Rebecca Shaw
The first in a series of enchanting novels set in a veterinary practice on the outskirts of a Yorkshire town introduces Kate, the receptionist in a busy veterinary practice; Scott, the flirty Australian vet; her faithful boyfriend, Adam; and the entertaining animal patients. Shaw’s humorous novel is populated with fun, eccentric characters.

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
Berry’s celebration of life in a Kentucky town continues with the stories of Port William matriarch Hannah Coulter, an 80-year-old woman who has been widowed twice and has watched the town's sense of community deteriorate. Berry writes an impassioned, literary vision of American rural life and values.

Hens Dancing by Raffaella Barker
Abandoned by her husband, former urbanite Venetia Summers finds herself marooned in the country, surrounded by her three children, a dilapidated house and garden, a houseful of animals, and an abiding family love. This amusing novel is perfect for grownups who like their women quick-witted and their fairy tales fractured.

Home to Harmony by Philip Gulley
The new pastor in a small Indiana town experiences one hilarious adventure after another as he acclimates to his new congregation and lifestyle. Gulley blends humor with nostalgia effortlessly in the anecdotal sermons of his alter ego, Quaker minister Sam Gardner. Quakers, non-Quakers, and even non-religious readers will love the characters of this simple, heart-warming book.

Miss Julia Paints the Town by Ann B. Ross
When developers threaten to bulldoze the old courthouse to make way for condominiums, Miss Julia hatches a plot to scare off the money by exposing the town's many eccentric characters. The memorably droll Ross elevates such everyday matters as marital strife and the hazards of middle age to high comedy, while painting her beautifully drawn characters with wit and sympathy.

Twenty Wishes by Debbie Macomber
Thirty-eight-year-old widow Anne Marie Roche, the owner of a Seattle bookstore, creates a list of twenty wishes. While acting upon her wishes, she encounters an 8-year-old named Ellen who helps her complete her list--with unexpected results. Readers will find themselves rooting for the women in this hopeful story while surreptitiously wiping away tears and making their own lists of wishes.

Waltzing at the Piggly Wiggly by Rob Dalby
With her favorite market, the Piggly Wiggly, on the verge of closing, Laurie Lepanto launches a campaign to save the store, enlisting the town's influential widows to help. The Nitwitts of Second Creek, Mississippi are feisty and opinionated widows, with all the eccentricities that come with age and life in a quirky Southern town.

The Winding Ways Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini
Change is afoot for the quilting circle of Elm Creek, PA. The arrival of newcomers into the circle of quilters heralds unexpected journeys in this often powerful and poignant novel. Pieced together more like a quilt than a driving narrative, this installment is an easy starting place for readers new to the series who aren’t starting with the first book.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Staff Selections - Nicki, Director

What is your favorite genre? I like to read non-fiction books on travel and gardening.

What are you reading now? Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl for the January 20th book club meeting. I’m also reading Making More Plants: The Science, Art, and Joy of Propagation by Ken Druse.

What have you read recently? Mostly non-fiction books on gardening and travel. I enjoy listening to books on tape as I travel. Jodi Picoult and Dean Koontz are recent authors that were great to listen to.

What is your favorite classic? John Muir’s writings, Edgar Allen Poe’s poetry, and My Antonia by Willa Cather.

What is your all time favorite book/series? Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley. All of John McPhee’s books, especially The Pine Barrens, Table of  Contents, and The John McPhee Reader.

What are your favorite recommendations? Over the last year I have read and would recommend these books: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Marc Haddon, The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Wall, A Thousand Splendid Suns and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer, Little Bee by Chris Cleave, and Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen.