Monthly Archives: February 2012

Going Solo: The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone

By Eric Klinenberg

(Penguin, $27.95, 288 pages)

Who is this author?

You may have heard Eric Klinenberg on “This American Life” or read his work in The New York Times Magazine. Rolling Stone , The Nation, The Washington Post, Mother Jones and other magazines. A professor of sociology at New York University and the editor of the journal Public Culture, he is also the author of the prize-winning book, “Heat Wave,” about the deadly hot weather that killed residents of Chicago in 1995, and “Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America’s Media.”

Here, Klinenberg takes on what he calls the biggest demographic shift in American since the emergence of the Baby Boom: our growing tendency to live alone …  and like it.

What is this book about?

Most Americans are used to thinking that everyone wants to pair up and marry. Klinenberg has done the math and begs to differ. In this fascinating sociological study, which is backed up by solid research, he points out that more than 50 percent of American adults are single, and 31 million adults — about one out of every seven  — live alone and comprise 28 percent of U.S. households, making them more common than any other, including the nuclear family.

Furthermore, Klinenberg says they tend to be more engaged with the world than married people, and generally are not suffering from loneliness and isolation.

He bases his startling conclusions on more than 300 interviews, statistical information and other data and concludes that “going solo” is the wave of the future and not something to be feared.

Why you’ll like it:

Having your preconceptions up-ended can be an eye-opening and mind-challenging experience. Keeping up with cultural trends can be valuable personally and professionally, and this book is sure to be talked about.

The Economist magazine asked Klinenberg about his own experience in living alone. He said:

“I now live with my wife and two young children. But I lived alone in graduate school and really enjoyed the experience. I enjoyed the freedom to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it, whether that meant going out late at night or leaving the country on a whim. I enjoyed the solitude. It allowed me to be productive in my work and in my own personal life. I look back on it as a key experience. For me, it was a pivotal point. It was how I grew up. Now that we delay marriage as long as we do, living alone is a vital part of becoming an adult.”

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says: [W]ith divorce rates soaring and employment stability at a low, Westerners have gotten used to moving fluidly among cities, jobs, and partners, putting off marriage. At the same time, young people have reframed solo dwelling as a first step into adult independence, shaking some of its old stigma. Klinenberg portrays a number of young urban professionals who enjoy the good life and stay hyperconnected through social media; middle-aged divorcés with little faith in marriage and a fierce desire to protect their independence; widows and widowers forging new networks in assisted living facilities. … Klinenberg takes an optimist’s look at how society could make sure singles—young and old, rich and poor—can make the connections that support them in their living spaces and beyond.”

“Klinenberg identifies four circumstances that have allowed this to happen: recognition of women’s rights; vastly improved communication systems; the growth of cities; and longer life spans. Where solitary time and exile were once considered punishments, people on their own today enjoy the personal and intellectual satisfactions that come from being self-reliant—something Emerson and Thoreau recognized centuries ago,” says Ellen Gilbert in Library Journal.

“[M]odern conditions make it possible to combine an active social and romantic life with the option to retreat to a solitary haven. When you can step outside your door and find three cafes, five bars, and streets teeming with acquaintances and intriguing strangers, living alone is no sentence to solitude. Still less so when, from your kitchen table, you can chat, text, email, or Skype with remote confidants. Meanwhile, women are no longer barred by custom or financial dependence from setting up house on their own. What’s more, sex is not contingent on marriage—and Americans face less pressure both to enter and to remain in wedlock. Klinenberg convincingly argues that the convergence of mass urbanization, communications technology and liberalized attitudes has driven this trend,” says Slate.

“An optimistic look at shifting social priorities that need not threaten our fundamental values,” says Kirkus Reviews. 

When is it available?

It’s in the stacks – but far from alone – at the Downtown and Ropkins branches of the The Hartford Public Library.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Taft 2012: A Novel

By Jason Heller

(Quirk, $14.95, 246 pages)

Who is this author?

President’s Day (perhaps our least-celebrated national holiday, unless you count the car sales) has come and gone, but this being an election year, presidents and presidential wannabes are still very much on our minds. They were on Jason Heller’s mind, too, resulting in his new novel, a clever and highly satirical “what-if” that asks: What if 27th U.S. President William Howard Taft, the Republican who preceded Woodrow Wilson, were alive and well this year and pressured to run again? How would he do in this year of wild political mood swings?

The imaginative Mr. Heller is a journalist who specializes in pop culture and edits for various hipster, sci-fi and alternative print and online journals such as the A.V. Club, Weird Tales, and papers in the Village Voice press chain. He also writes fiction/fantasy/horror stories, which have been published in such venues as Sybil’s Garage and Farrago’s Wainscot. (OK, I had never before heard of them either, but aren’t they terrific titles?) “Taft 2012” is his debut novel.

What is this book about?

To appreciate “Taft 2012,” first you must willingly suspend your disbelief. Altogether now, lift!  

The premise here is that Taft – that 300-pound-plus dude who was president from 1909 to 1913 and, it is rumored, once had to be pried out of the White House bathtub – falls asleep just before leaving office and Rip Van Winkles his way through a 100-year-long snooze. He finds himself dazed and confused in 2012 America, where Republicans and Democrats alike see in the Big Guy a worthy candidate: tough but peaceful, practical but progressive, hard-working and honest. What’s not to like? Soon he’s caught up in the mad, mad world of political media coverage and has to learn to do 21st Century things like tweet. He also makes friends with a 106-year-old nursing home resident who remembers what life was like when handlebar-mustachioed men like Taft bestrode the world.

Why you’ll like it:

In a year that many are finding politically absurd, Heller hilariously pushes absurdity to new heights and in the process, has plenty to say that is not crazy at all.

“The book isn’t so much about [Taft] being an actual alternative; it’s about people seeing him as a symbol, as an ideal, as something to strive toward,” Heller told NPR. “You know, having that kind of hope is something that I hope people never lose. The moment that’s completely gone, then we’re in even more trouble than we might already be.”

Besides the political philosophizing, Heller deftly employs such devices as Twitter tweets and TV transcripts, which liven up the prose. He ends the book with a long speech by Taft that carries a thought-provoking message for our times.

What others are saying:

“Debut novelist Heller sets up his satire so well that one might doubt one’s grasp of presidential history!…[a] strong and thoughtful political exploration,” says Library Journal.

Says Publishers Weekly in a starred review: “This surprisingly poignant novel will find an eager audience in the months leading up to the 2012 presidential election, but it deserves a longer shelf life. Heller’s numerous historical insights and observations regarding Taft as president, husband, American, and human being will have more than a few readers wishing Taft really could be a third-party candidate in 2012, to be a rational voice in the “din of all this twenty-first century madness.”…a stellar debut.”

When is it available?

You can pry it off the shelves now at the Hartford Public Library.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

The Translation of the Bones

By Francesca Kay

(Scribner, $24, 240 pages)

Who is this author?

Francesca Kay, an author who lives in England, has an interesting background. She grew up in Southeast Asia and India and also has lived in Jamaica, the United States and Germany. She won the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers, a British honor, for her debut novel, “An Equal Stillness.” She sets “The Translation of the Bones” in Battersea, outside London, and its publication here marks her American debut as a novelist.

 What is this book about?

It’s about religion and faith (not necessarily the same thing), love and longing (about which the same can be said), the bonds that tie mothers and children and the deep human need for connection.

The novel is peopled largely by troubled women, and also by a priest who needs to refresh his beliefs. Among them are Mary-Margaret, an awkward and simple soul  who believes she has witnessed a miracle at the church; her once-beautiful but now grossly overweight and unhappy mother, Fidelma, with whom she lives; unhappily married Stella, who dotes on her 10-year-old son; and Alice, who longs for her son to return safely from Afghanistan. As Easter approaches, Mary-Margaret waits for a sign from above that she has been given a special mission, and what she does to carry it out will affect all of them.

Why you’ll like it:

The story is rich with characters that Kay makes sympathetic even though they are flawed – and therefore come across as very real. And she uses them to explore the complex intricacies of faith.

Kay told an interviewer that the wish to understand faith inspired her novel:

“…I did want to look at the distance we have traveled, from a time when religious belief was culturally normal to where we are today. Sometimes it seems that we have forgotten the middle ground, where there was complexity and metaphor and room for shades of meaning, and given in to literalism, to fundamentalism, of both the believing and the atheist sort. But even more interesting than faith in modern times, is the timeless relationship of the human to the divine. My novel is not so much about faith in the abstract, as about the different ways in which individuals believe –- or don’t believe —  and therefore how they relate to this world -– a world of interconnected beings -– and to a world beyond.

“The book is not a manifesto, a religious tract or a polemic, and the forms of faith that it explores are not necessarily mine. For my own part, I’d echo the man in Mark’s gospel who said: ‘Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.’

“I think true faith is a gift to envy, for the certainty and consolation it provides.”

What others are saying:

“The Translation of the Bones is a well-tempered exploration of the haphazard, the religious and the mad…in beautifully musical sentences,” says The Daily Telegraph.

“If Francesca Kay’s second novel were a piece of music, it would be a requiem, finding the poetry, perhaps even the glory, in loss and despair. Which is not to say that her novel is depressing or gloomy – far from it. In its depiction of a community grappling with the pain of what it means to be human, it is a novel which manages to be both poignant and uplifting….You don’t have to be religious to be moved by Kay’s elegantly calibrated writing,” says The Telegraph.

“What begins as the small mystery of one woman’s vision (or delusion) explodes into a deeper story about how people cope with grief and loss,” says The Washington Post.

“By imbuing these troubled souls with transcendent innocence and memorable backstories, Kay brings depth to characters that could easily become stereotypes, all while spinning an extraordinary plot,” says Publishers Weekly.

When is it available?

It’s at the Hartford Public Library now.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

When All That’s Left of Me Is Love

A Daughter’s Story of Letting Go

by Linda Campanella

(Tate Publishing, $17.99, 232 pages) 

Who is this author?

Linda Campanella lives in West Hartford and is  a management consultant to nonprofit organizations. She also has been a corporate executive, a college administrator, and a trade negotiator.

Now, she says, you can add “ accidental author” to her resume.

Devastated when her mother, Nancy Sachsse of Enfield, was diagnosed with terminal cancer (and died almost exactly one year later at age 74 in 2009), Campanella began writing this memoir.

“Chapters poured out of me at all hours of the day and night, flowing directly from a broken heart to a blank page,” she has said about how the book came to be.

What is this book about?

It is a loving daughter’s tribute to her mother that recounts the last year of her life, but also tells about happier times, and it is also a celebration of the bond that lucky mothers and daughters share. It makes the case that it is possible to enjoy and celebrate life even in the face of certain and imminent death.

Why you’ll like it:

Here is what Campanella says about her book, which should appeal to anyone who has lost a beloved family member. And that, sadly, is just about all of us.

“Ultimately, despite the sad topic and the heavy heart with which I wrote, “When All That’s Left of Me Is Love” is an uplifting, hopeful, affirming book.  It is about anguish, death, tears, and grief, but more than that the story is about love, faith, family, courage and gratitude. It’s about coming home to live rather than coming home to die, learning to cry, letting go, holding on, connecting, believing in what is possible, resolving to stay in the moment, making magic.  It is not a how-to guide but rather is a loving tribute and an intensely personal memoir that may contain insights and inspirations that prove helpful to others who face death – either their own or their mother’s or that of any loved one.   It also is an affirmation of the special bond between mothers and daughters, a touching love story, a spiritual journey, a poetry lesson, even a case for happy hour.  It will, I hope and believe, move and inspire not only those who face or fear death but also those who love and embrace life.”

What others are saying:

“This book is truly a testament of love, as the title suggests. It is about love refined and deepened by grief and gratitude. It is a tribute to a mother who loved with her last breath and beyond. It is the story of a daughter who gives herself away through the gift of her pen,” says  Sharon G. Thornton, professor of Pastoral Theology at Andover Newton Theological School.

“A story of tragedy and what value we can extract from it,” When All That’s Left of Me is Love” is an excellent pick, very much recommended for anyone facing their own life’s tragedies.” says Midwest Book Review

“Sentimental, but not soppy, sad, yet incredibly filled with joy, and above all filled with dignity and strength, “When All That’s Left of Me Is Love is an unforgettable book.” says Olivera Baumgartner-Jackson in Reader Views.

When is it available?

This book is now available at the Hartford Public Library.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!


By Elmore Leonard

(HarperCollins, $26.99, 263 pages)

Who is this author?

First, let me wish everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day. And since I have a crush on Raylan Givens, the main character on the FX network TV show “Justified” (actually, I love everything about the show), it seems appropriate to give a shout-out today to the man whose writing inspired it:  the amazingly prolific, delightfully clever, 86-year-old author, Elmore Leonard.

Leonard, who hails from suburban Detroit, began as writer of Westerns and then profitably switched to crime novels and thrillers. He’s published more than 40 books and a host of short stories, some of which were adapted as movies, such as “Get Shorty” with John Travolta, “Hombre” with Paul Newman and “Mr. Majestyk” with Charles Bronson, to name but a few.

For a guy who started out writing pulp fiction, he’s won some impressive honors, among them the Grand Master Edgar award from the Mystery Writers of America, a Lifetime Achievement Award from PEN USA and an F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Award for outstanding achievement in American literature.

What is this book about?

“Justified,” the TV series starring a Stetson-wearing, conflict-weary Timothy Olyphant, is about a U.S. Marshal in Harlan County, Kentucky, fighting crime both organized and deeply disorganized, from the Miami mob to the Dixie Mafia. The show mainly grew out of a Leonard novella called “Fire In the Hole.” It has become such a hit that it inspired Leonard to write this  novel featuring Raylan Givens, who also appeared in his novels “Pronto” and “Riding the Rap.”

“Raylan,” which like the TV show is kind of a Western crossed with a crime novel, gives us the laid-back, lanky, laconic lawman in a fight to shut down a ring of Kentucky-fried dealers: not of dope, a huge cash crop there, but of body parts such as kidneys, which also command quite a price…especially if yours have been taken against your will and you, understandably, want them back. Raylan finds that the main malefactors this time around are women: a poker-playing college student, a nurse who knows how to remove kidneys from unwilling donors and a heartless coal mine executive.

Why you’ll like it:

Here’s how Leonard does what he does, taken from the recent review of “Raylan” in The New York Times:

“In an essay that appeared in The New York Times in 2001, “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle,” Elmore Leonard listed his 10 rules of writing. The final one — No. 11, actually — the “most important rule . . . that sums up the 10,” is “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.” It’s a terrific rule…“ Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.”

Leonard is known for creating wacky and compelling characters and also for writing dialogue that zings and zigzags like the bullets in the firefights that frequently occur in his tales. In Raylan the character, he’s given us a marshal adept at handling a rifle and recognizing the ironies of life. Raylan always seems personally insulted when some lowlife or lunkhead behaves badly. So if he needs to go after that bad guy (or gal), Leonard makes sure we know it’s, well, justified. In “Raylan” the novel, Leonard gives us lots more of the cool guy we’ve come to know from TV. Be still, my heart.

What others are saying

“ [A] fast-paced, darkly humorous third crime novel starring straight-shooting, supercool U.S. marshal Raylan Givens. …The author’s trademark witty dialogue and adeptness at developing quirky, memorable characters overshadows the novel’s plot, which reads like a series of interconnected short stories. ..Readers will want to see more of the endearing Givens…” says Publishers Weekly.

“ …you notice that the three primary antagonists are female. This might be what “Raylan” is really about. Not gambling, mining or organ trafficking: It’s about women, and one marshal’s relationship to them. Whether they’re the puppet masters or the innocents, the killers or the victims, the women are often the smartest characters in the room, despite the fact that each of Raylan Givens’s three antagonists is more than a little hung up on him. But who wouldn’t be? A morally astute sharpshooter with nice Southern manners, a sense of humor and a clean cowboy hat — you don’t find men like him every day,” says Olen Steinhauer in The New York Times.

“The kidney-theft caper sets a darkly comic tone, and the mining murder does not add much cheer to these pages, though, as in the final section, the alacrity and buoyancy of Leonard’s narrative, which rushes along fueled by the dramatic edge of his brilliant dialogue and brings every bad guy (and girl) to justice, makes a reader want to stand up and shout: “Mission accomplished!” says Alan Cheuse in The San Francisco Examiner.

When is it available?

“Raylan” is on the shelves at the Dwight, Goodwin and Ropkins branches of the Hartford Public Library and can be requested for pick-up at the downtown branch as well.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Wayward Saints

By Suzzy Roche

(Hyperion, $24.99, 272 pages)

Who is this author?

Yes, she’s that Suzzy Roche – how many could there be? One of the three sisters who comprise The Roches, a great folk-rock singing trio, has written a novel, and it’s earning good reviews.

Suzzy and her sisters’ debut recording was named Album of the Year by the New York Times, and she has been performing live, making recordings and writing songs for more than 30 years. “Wayward Saints” is her first novel.

How did this book come about? Here’s what Suzzy told the Barnes & Noble website:

“Honestly, the Roches were not touring and I had no job and no prospects, but I did write a children’s book for Random House (due out in 2013) and I figured I had enough money to live for six months. It was one of those now or never moments. I had to depend entirely on myself, sit down and create something out of absolutely nothing, and hope that it would mean something to someone, including myself.

“Maybe because I was trained as an actress, I’ve always loved working with characters and realized how, through them, you can express ideas. Even when I perform music onstage, I think of myself as a character. I had been writing stories for years, but didn’t really have the nerve to try to write a novel. I took a short story I had written and set about expanding it. I spent the summer in my pajamas working on the book every day as if it were my job. I kept it to myself because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it. But I figured if I put in the hours, something would happen. It turned out to be a magical experience. I started to live and dream the book, and once I finished a first draft, it was a joy to spend the next year revising. I probably could have worked on it forever.”

What is this book about?

The main character, once the lead singer in an “almost-famous” band with the great name Sliced Ham, discovers that, pace Thomas Wolfe, you can indeed go home again, but you never know what you’ll be getting into when you do. When Mary Saint, the singer-turned-barista who hardly lives up to her last name, heads from San Francisco to Swallow, N.Y. to perform at her old high school, her mom, Jean, is excited but a little nervous, and with good reason. Soon people from Mary’s past – pretty much the whole town – begin to play roles in the story and we learn a lot about family matters, friends and frenemies, and the weirdness of the music biz.

Why you’ll like it:

This novel is peopled by piquant characters and the plot is driven by the urge to re-connect with the past and come to terms with those who helped to form your life, an experience to which many readers can relate.

They also may assume that Suzzy is basing “Wayward Saints” on her own life, but she told her interviewer that is not the case.

“…Though there are little snippets of reality woven throughout the book, the story is by no means autobiographical. But I have experienced the music world from many angles, and I wanted to show as many of them as I could,” she says.

But she does believe valid comparisons can be made of her musical and writing styles.

“For me, one important similarity between writing music and writing a novel is the way time slows down in the process,” she says. “When you catch that creative wave, there’s nothing like it, you become super aware of everything that’s happening around you. Maybe it’s a bit like meditating. Of course, the wave ebbs and flows, so when it ebbs, you feel lost. But constructing a sentence is very similar to constructing a melody. It’s trial and error, attention to detail, a good deal of luck, and some whimsy. I consider myself a beginner as both a novelist and a musician. These are lifelong pursuits. There is no end to what I have to learn, and practice is the only way I know how.”

What others are saying:

Says Grammy-winning songwriter Loudon Wainwright: “Wayward Saints” is full of wonderful observations about family, fame, guilt, aging, the stupid music business, and the power and glory of performing and creating. Most importantly, Suzzy Roche has written a book about love and redemption. And it’s funny! I loved the little details and the big surprises.”

“If you’ve ever had the privilege of hearing Suzzy Roche sing, you know all about her perfect pitch, her angel’s voice, her subtle wit. Her masterful debut novel Wayward Saints (Voice) mines these same prodigious gifts. When Mary Saint, a once-promising indie rocker, is invited to perform in her hometown, where her mother Jean still holds court, the two are forced into a long-deferred reckoning: with each other and with the demons of their past. This is a golden-threaded tale of redemption, of the transformative powers of art, and of the mysteries, pains and sacrifices of love,” says Deborah Copaken Kogan, author of “Hell Is Other Parents.”

“In her debut, Roche—one of three sisters who make up the folk-rock group, the Roches—shows that her narrative skills aren’t just limited to lyrics….Jean hasn’t seen her daughter in years, and the two remain wrapped in their own lives until an English teacher (who has idolized Mary) contacts Jean with an invitation for Mary to perform at her old high school. Jean worries that the locals may not appreciate songs like “Feet and Knuckles” and “Sewer Flower.” Meanwhile, people from Mary’s past are working on projects that will affect her future. Roche’s empathy for these broken souls allows readers to feel the depth of their pain and savor the novel’s happier twists,” says Publishers Weekly.

When is it available?

You can borrow it now from the Hartford Public Library.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Stay Awake

By Dan Chaon

(Random House, $25, 272 pages)

Who is this author?

Dan Chaon’s first story collection, “Among the Missing,” was nominated for a National Book Award. His novel, “You Remind Me of Me,” made “best book of the year” lists at The Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly and the San Francisco Chronicle, among others. His novel “Await Your Reply” also was named to those lists and was a New York Times notable book. He lives in Cleveland and is a professor of creative writing at Oberlin College. And, in case you are wondering, his last name is pronounced “Shawn.”

Here’s what he told an interviewer about this new collection:

“Short stories are a glimpse into a larger world – they give you that thrill of peeping through a keyhole… as a reader, you’re an active participant in creating the world that exists beyond that brief glimpse.”

“I knew that I wanted to create a collection that paid tribute to the idea of the “ghost story” while at the same time adapting that form to my own purposes, so that not all the stories are necessarily exactly “supernatural.”

What is this book about?

This collection of a dozen stories presents characters haunted by their past actions or mysterious occurrences in the present, living in a twilight world where their heads buzz as though bees were beating against their foreheads – from the inside – or their family home has turned malevolent. A scene in one story, in which a musty old box containing a Scrabble set suddenly disgorges a flood of cockroaches, will, I shudder to say, remain in my memory for far too long.

Chaon’s people are striving to make sense of the inexplicable situations in which they find themselves and often must confront experiences best left unrecalled. They have plenty to shove down the memory hole, but you, the reader, won’t easily forget these stories.

Why you’ll like it:

If you like stories that upset your emotional balance, Dan is your man. Chaon is a master of the creepy, the skeevy, the deeply unsettling. Reading the stories in “Stay Awake” is like stepping into a peaceful-looking lake and suddenly finding weeds snagging your ankles and a steep drop-off where you least expect it. Stories begin in what feels like a normal world, but soon the characters begin revealing dark traits. These tales are all the more powerful thanks to Chaon’s gift for descriptive, disturbing language. For example:

“In the treetops, a cicada makes its trembly, pressure cooker hiss”.

“Something bad has been looking for him for a long time, he thinks, and now, at last, it is growing near.”


“…his mind is tickling with small, scuttling images: his former wife and son, flashes of the photographs he doesn’t own, hasn’t kept.”

Or even a backyard apple tree:

“—even that behaved strangely. Its leaves would get a white powdery substance on them and then they curled up and fell off, and the apples themselves were tiny and wrinkled and deformed in a way that made them look like little ugly heads…”

What others are saying:

“Chaon’s protagonists are plagued by common traumas and struggle to rectify their decisions with the external forces of fate. More often than not, characters are stuck in an eddy that seems inescapable, yet which is also a moment’s isolation from the surrounding flow. Chaon (Await Your Reply) brings readers fantastically close, slowly drawing them into the anxiety or loneliness or remorse of his characters, and building great anticipation for the twists to come.” Says Publishers Weekly.

“National Book Award finalist Chaon follows up his critically acclaimed novel Await Your Reply with this disquieting collection of 12 stories. His characters are everyday people experiencing extreme emotional situations that pull them into a strange, shadowy otherworld…  The powerful writing in this intense and suspenseful collection draws us into the emotional maelstroms experienced by the characters. A highly recommended work, not to be missed,” says Donna Bettencourt in Library Journal.

When is it available?

It is available now at the Hartford Public Library.

A note: Chaon will speak tonight, Feb. 7,  at 7 p.m. at R.J. Julia Booksellers, 768 Boston Post Road, Madison. Tickets are $5, which can be used towards purchasing his book. Reservations are required: 203-245-3959 or

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

The Flight of Gemma Hardy

By Margot Livesey

(HarperCollins, $25.99, 464 pages)

Who is this author?

Margot Livesey is a Scottish transplant to Boston, where she is a Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at Emerson College. “The Flight of Gemma Hardy” is her eighth book, many of which, such as “The House on Fortune Street,” “Banishing Verona” and “Eva Moves the Furniture,” won plaudits from literary critics. She has been published in The New Yorker, Vogue and The Atlantic, and she won the 2009 L. L. Winship/PEN New England Award for “The House on Fortune Street.”

Livesey told Barnes & Noble a bit about her life before becoming a novelist:

“My worst job was a very brief stint at a Hare Krishna factory in Toronto, packing incense. The combination of compulsory prayers and of having my friends get out their handkerchiefs whenever I entered a room soon made me give notice. My favorite job was working as a cleaner at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London. We managed to do the work in half the time we were paid for and I loved pushing my broom around the galleries, getting to look at the art day after day.”

What is this book about?

It’s based on the classic “Jane Eyre,” by Charlotte Brontë, transplanted to the 1950s and ‘60s in Scotland. And it just so happens to parallel some of  Livesey’s childhood experiences. In it, a 10-year-old orphan named Emma, treated badly by her boorish relatives, is sent to a forbidding boarding school where she must earn her keep. When the nasty place shuts down, she, now nearly 18, finds work as an au pair caring for the niece of a rich banker at Blackbird Hall in the remote Orkney Islands and….well, you know how the story goes. This is “chick lit” at its very best, what with a brave young heroine making her way in the world, a passionate love affair and many, many secrets to be revealed.

Why you’ll like it:

Livesey says in an introduction what her intent was in writing this book:

“I made my heroine a little older than myself because I wanted her to come of age just slightly before the rising tide of feminism – the pill, equal pay, discrimination – broke over both Britain and the States. “The Flight of Gemma Hardy” is, in my mind, neither my autobiography nor a retelling of “Jane Eyre.” Rather I am writing back to Charlotte Brontë, recasting Jane’s journey to fit my own courageous heroine and the possibilities of her time and place. And like Bronte I am, of course, stealing from my own life.”

So it’s a classic coming of age story set in the present and contrasted with the past, showing how women have come a long way, but perhaps, still not far enough.

What others are saying:

“Appealing…Livesey is drawn to literary gambles, and there’s no question that modeling her new book on a classic is a risky move….It’s a delight to follow the careful dovetailing of the two novels….Livesey is a lovely, fluid writer,” says Sarah Towers in the New York Times Book Review.

“[An] original slant on a classic story…. Within the classic framework, Livesey molds a thoroughly modern character who learns to expect the best of herself and to forgive the missteps of others. The author has a gift for creating atmosphere,” says Library Journal.

Says author Amy Bloom: “In The Flight of Gemma Hardy, Margot Livesey offers a new telling of Jane Eyre, for which no contemporary writer is better suited. As always, Livesey’s prose is a garden of pleasures: precision here, lyricism there, wit and compassionate insight throughout.”

Booklist says: “The talented Livesey updates Jane Eyre…taking care to home in on the elements of this classic story that so resonate with readers…. Despite readers’ familiarity with the story line, they will be held rapt…. A sure bet for both book clubs and Bronte fans.”

When is it available?

It’s on the shelves now at the Hartford Public Library.

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