Monthly Archives: March 2012

What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

By Nathan Englander

(Knopf Doubleday, $24.95, 224 pages)

Who is this author?

When your work gets reviewed by Three Jonathans:  Franzen, Lethem and Safran Foer, not to mention Dave Eggars, Michiko Kakutani, Tea Obrecht and just about every major player known to American letters, you can be sure you are among the most talented writers in America, and in fact,  the world over.

That’s the pinnacle Nathan Englander has attained, and his latest story collection, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank,” shows us why.

Englander, who lives in Brooklyn, N.Y., (of course), won major plaudits for his novel, “The Ministry of Special Cases” and the story collection “For the Relief of Unbearable Urges,” and has been favorably compared with the immortal Jewish author, I.B. Singer. Englander’s home territory is the world of Ultra-Orthodox Jews, that stubbornly (and some would say insanely) devout remnant in a much wider world of secular Jews and non-Jews of every kind.

His work often attempts to answer this question, asked by a character in his story, “Peep Show,”: “What is a boy raised in a world of absolutes to do when he is faced with contradictions?”

It’s a question with particular resonance in this odd year of religion-infused politics.

You can learn more at

What is this book about?

The eight stories in this collection range from the factual to the fanciful. The title story, a play on the famous “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” by Raymond Carver, also features two couples, but what they are talking about is the Holocaust, smoking pot, survival and betrayal. The ending is one you will not easily forget.

“Peep Show” is a comic horror story, in which a man drops tokens at an X-rated girlie show and besides the requisite sexy dancer, gets up close and personal with his rabbi – and even more scary, his mother. “How We Avenged the Blums” is also funny/not funny: a tale about anti-Semitism and bullies who get bullied. “Sister Hills,” biblical in cadence and content, is a parable about the bloody history of Israel and its continuing costs. And there are four more, equally as impressive.

Why you’ll like it:

Englander is a craftsman with words and also possesses a masterful sense of irony and the ability – not uncommon in Jewish thought – to explore multiple sides of even the most-thought-to-be settled question.  His skill at delineating a character through descriptive detail gives ballast to his philosophical flights.

There are books you read for pure enjoyment and others because they are a challenge. Englander gives you both. He’s what we talk about when we talk about talent.

What others are saying:

Says Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times: “…Mr. Englander’s tales use allegory and folkloric techniques (reminiscent of Isaac Bashevis Singer) to tackle the largest questions of morality and history…At his best, Mr. Englander manages to delineate…extreme behavior with a combination of psychological insight, allegorical gravity and sometimes uproarious comedy. He can be as funny and outrageous as Philip Roth in describing the incongruities of modern life.”

“Englander knows where to hold back, a particular gift when writing about and around the martyr of his title, the locked up and locked in. A kind of hard-won wisdom spills out on every page,” says Stacy Schiff in The New York Times Book Review

“It takes an exceptional combination of moral humility and moral assurance to integrate fine-grained comedy and large-scale tragedy as daringly as Nathan Englander does,” says Jonathan Franzen.

“For now — no American storyteller writes more beautifully about Jewish identity, and “What We Talk About when We Talk About Anne Frank” is an indelible confirmation of Englander’s observant integrity, one more attestation to the promise of his greatness,” says William Giraldi for the Barnes & Noble Review.

When is it available?

It’s waiting for you 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 Lost Daughter

By Lucy Ferriss

(Berkley, $15, 400 pages)

Who is this author?

Lucy Ferriss, who is about to leave for Pakistan to research a new book, is writer-in-residence at Trinity College and has homes in West Hartford and the Berkshires. But her roots are mid-Western, specifically in St. Louis, as those who read her fascinating memoir, “Unveiling the Prophet: The Misadventures of a Reluctant Debutante,” know.

Ferriss has written nine books, including novels and short–story collections. She also writes literary criticism, poetry and essays, as well as contributing to such publications as The New York Times, Shenandoah and the Georgia Review. In 2000, she won the Mid-List First Series Award for “Leaving the Neighborhood and Other Stories.”

“The Lost Daughter” has just been published, and next in line is a historical novel, “The Woman Who Bought the Sky,” to be followed by the novel she will be researching in Pakistan.

 You can learn more about her at You also can hear her give a free talk about the book on Thursday, April 5, at 7 p.m. at the West Hartford Public Library, 20 S. Main St., West Hartford. Information: 860-561-6990.

What is this book about?

Flash backward: Two teens, Brooke and Alex, hiding a secret pregnancy, rent a motel room to deliver a baby they expect to be born dead, if the special teas the girl has been drinking have done their job. Flash forward: Brooke is now a woman, married, with a daughter – and a marriage foundering under financial and emotional strains. Re-enter Alex, now divorced, grieving a son who has died and bearing a secret that will shock Brooke, who has worked hard to maintain a happy façade, to her core.

Ferriss uses this highly dramatic plot to explore issues of marriage, fidelity, parenthood and sometimes inconvenient but always necessary truth-telling. Told by various narrators, including the lost daughter herself, this novel presents flawed people (as we all are) who battle their emotions at great cost, but eventually reach a comforting conclusion.

Why you’ll like it:

While Ferriss gives her novel a highly dramatic plot, she gives her characters very believable characteristics. Brooke is a woman deeply invested in making her family life appear smooth and happy; her husband, Sean, whose job is shaky, is understandably suspicious when Alex re-enters Brooke’s life. And there is another character (hard to describe without giving too much away), whose perspective is sharp, poignant and perhaps the most astute, some reviewers are saying.

This is a compelling story of connections that refuse to remain hidden, and the cleansing power of truth.

What others are saying:

“Ferriss moves the plot along at a fast clip, deftly weaving together recollections of the past and, as the disturbing truth of Brooke’s secret slowly emerges, the present. All the while, Ferriss infuses the story with a heady dose of realism. Financial crisis looms as businesses close, workers get laid off, and consultants are brought in to “streamline.” “Lost Daughter” manages to be a romantic family novel with a palpable atmosphere of impending calamity. Sure, there’s a happy ending, but that doesn’t mean everything’s right in the world,” says Booklist.

“An unflinching study of parenthood . . . convincing, Franzen-style realism . . . a powerful domestic novel,” says Kirkus Reviews

Says Wally Lamb: “The Lost Daughter” delivers the goods: flawed but sympathetic characters and a plot that will keep readers turning the pages voraciously

When is it available?

“The Lost Daughter” can be found on the new books shelf 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!

Contents May Have Shifted: A Novel

By Pam Houston

(Norton, $25.95, 320 pages)

Who is this author?

Pam Houston likes to keep moving. The author of the best-selling “Cowboys Are My Weakness”  and other books, directs the Creative Writing Program at  the University of California at Davis but frequently flies to her ranch in Creed, Colorado.  (Flights, both routine and harrowing, play a large role in her latest novel.) Houston often writes for O, The Oprah Magazine, as well as for More and other publications.

What is this book about?

Pam the author has written a novel featuring Pam the character, a woman of about the same age who also is a writing teacher and ranch owner and is looking for love, spiritual sustenance and adventure in far-away (and some nearer) places. Think “Eat, Pray, Love” with a sharper eye and tongue.

This novel’s Pam could use a little more luck in the love department, first disentangling from the rather annoying Ethan and finally getting all wrapped up in Rick, who’d be perfect if it weren’t for the inconvenient truth of his ongoing emotional connection to his ex-wife and adorable little daughter, a girl whom Pam also comes to love. In between, we are treated to vividly described near-crashes in planes large and small, a fabulous armchair-travelogue to such places as Bhutan, Laos and Turkey and a revealing look at both Pams’ inner lives and childhood traumas, all told in 130 or so personal vignettes.

Why you’ll like it:

The short vignettes make this book feel as intimate as if you were reading someone’s personal journal, and the briefness of these scenes makes them easily digestible in a literary kind of way. The travel material is lively and insightful, and the romantic material, conveyed by a sadder-but-wiser narrator who has been around long enough to understand herself, but not so long as to have become too cynical to reach out, also has great appeal.

What others are saying:

“Unapologetic and empowering, Houston’s book hammers home the idea that if you don’t have problems, you probably aren’t living. Or, to use her metaphor, we all have baggage, so we might as well get used to traveling with it,” says Booklist in a starred review.

“…[Houston] has…concocted a tale so vivid, intricate, and intimate that it puts high-def TV to shame,” says Elle Magazine.

“Pam travels from Davis, California, where she teaches, to Creed, Colorado, where she owns a small piece of property, and then fans out to various locations around the world – to Alaska, to South Asia, to North Africa, to New Mexico and Wisconsin and Texas. She’s got an adventurous mind and soul. She loves to explore the exotic with a couple of guys with whom she’s having fairly disastrous love affairs. And she’s, like most modern folks, got a hole in her soul that she’s trying to fill with all this travel.

“If this sounds a lot like the storyline of the hugely popular book “Eat, Pray, Love,” that’s because it is. The difference is that Pam never seems to settle anywhere. But if she’s unlucky in love, she’s certainly lucky in prose. She makes everyday accidental details of nature fly vividly off the page…” says Alan Cheuse on NPR.

“The fragmented pattern of “Contents May Have Shifted,’’ much as it mimics our frenetic lives, is not for everyone. But there are rewards: a gradual unfolding of the knots of pain beneath Pam’s troubled back and emotional life; the artful ways in which the sections reflect each other; the steady revelation of multiple layers of wonder; the fragile connection that grows between Pam and Rick’s young daughter. And the near magical sense of completion in the final pages — the feeling you get each time a kaleidoscope clicks momentarily into place, revealing yet another beautiful form,” says the Boston Globe.

When is it available?

The book is available at the Downtown, Ropkins and Park branches of 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!







Watergate: A Novel

By Thomas Mallon

(Pantheon, $26.95, 448 pages) 

Who is this author?

Thomas Mallon, who has contributed to such powerhouse publications as The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, Harper’s and The Atlantic Monthly, knows his way around fiction and nonfiction…and politics. He has eight novels to his credit, among them “Dewey Defeats Truman,” and “Henry and Clara,” and eight nonfiction books as well.

A graduate of Brown and Harvard universities, and a former literary editor for GQ, he lives in Washington, ground zero for his latest novel.

What is this book about?

If you are finding the current Republican presidential nomination race to have too close a resemblance to a car full of circus clowns, Thomas Mallon would like to remind you of a previous political gang that couldn’t shoot straight: the hapless perpetrators of the infamous Watergate break-in, a bunch of fools who took chances, took a fall and took President Richard M. Nixon down with them.

In “Watergate,” Mallon takes a novelist’s approach to this classic “you can’t make this stuff up” event, and by all accounts his doing so has resulted in a terrific read that illuminates the psychological and political roots of the imbroglio in ways that no mere non-fiction account could do.

Mallon puts himself inside the feverish heads of the Watergate burglars, that inept quintet who broke into the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate Hotel in July 1972 and eventually broke into the headlines as well. For a nation already shaken by the unpopular Vietnam War, the unfolding involvement of all the President’s men and Nixon himself in the Watergate break-in created profound doubts about the fairness of our politics, doubts that still fester today.

Many readers may think that, having lived through the Watergate events, they know all there is to know about it. Mallon’s clever and penetrating version of it, augmented by using the novelistic form, further illuminates the story in a most engrossing and perversely entertaining fashion. 

Why you’ll like it:

Mallon immersed himself in the Watergate history, and that research solidly underpins his fictional treatment of what went on, and why. Though the subject is serious, he has written a great comic novel here.

The characters, high and low, who were involved in it were colorful enough in real life, but he makes those colors brighter and more fascinating. The book is being praised for its wit and wisdom about what happened, and Mallon brings the perspective of a cultural and political historian to his brilliant re-telling of America’s worst political scandal…that is, so far.

Even the very conservative Washington Times has this to say about the book:

“Fiction of a remarkably high order…Fiction, to be sure. But just as acceptable as any of the factual explanations history has left us with.”

What others are saying:

“In [Mallon’s] practiced hands — this is not his first fling at historical fiction — the festering mess of 1972-74 becomes almost fun, actually funny, and instructive about how history can be knocked sideways by small mediocrities…Mallon uses his literary sensibility and mordant wit to give humanity to characters who in their confusions and delusions staggered across the national stage…let Mallon be your archaeologist, excavating a now distant past that reminds us that things could be very much worse. They once were.” –George Will,

“It is sufficiently faithful to the facts to offer a compelling introduction for those who missed this astounding story as it unfolded in the early 1970s, and a fresh view for those who haven’t thought about it in years…”Watergate” is the sort of book that will ensnare you in its web of intrigue…Mallon manages to deftly capture the peculiar mix of unbridled ambition, bumbling ineptitude, hubris, cluelessness and dishonesty that sparked such an all-consuming crisis in American government,”  says

Says Newsday: “Mesmerizing …While clarifying the maze of connections among elected officials, political advisers, cronies and assorted power-mad or ideologically driven Nixonites, Mallon keeps the narrative moving at thriller-novel pace. Yet his writing always soars far above that genre’s cliches…Like the best historical novelists, Mallon uses great public events as superstructure for classic themes of ambition and power, rivalry and envy, love lost and yearned for.”

“A clever comic novel…Imaginative fiction can tell a deeper truth than writing that sticks to demonstrable fact,” says Slate.

“If ever a historical event was worthy of a comic novel, it’s “Watergate,” and Mallon, with several outstanding historical novels to his credit (most recently, “Fellow Travelers”), has the skills to write it. What a cast of characters we meet!…Mallon writes with such swagger that it all seems new again. A sure winner, for its subject and Mallon’s proven track record as a historical novelist, and because it’s good,” says Library Journal.

When is it available?

“Watergate” is on the shelves at the Mark Twain and Ropkins branches of the Hartford Public Library and can be requested for pickup at the Downtown branch.

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 Technologists

By Matthew Pearl

(Random House, $26, 496 pages)

Who is this author?

Matthew Pearl, who lives in Cambridge, Mass., is known for writing best-sellers that mix real and fictional characters in literary-historical thrillers. He did that in “The Dante Club,” “The Poe Shadow,” and “The Last Dickens,” with great success.

He also is editor of the Modern Library editions of “Dante’s Inferno” (as translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow) and Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue: The Dupin Tales.”

His educational background has served him well in his work. He has earned degrees at Harvard University and Yale Law School and has taught literature at Harvard and at Emerson College. 

What is this book about?

“The Technologists” is set in 19th century Boston just after the Civil War. An intellectual rival to hoary old Harvard has just been founded, and the new school will become that sanctuary for budding scientists we know as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). When weird, mysterious calamities afflict the city, such as ships going out of control in the harbor and glass of all kind turning dangerously liquid, Bostonians are stunned and scared. Four students at the new college – Marcus Mansfield, a war veteran and former machinist; Robert Richards, rich kid par excellence; Edwin Hoyt, a genius geek; and lone female student Ellen Swallow – who call themselves the Technologists, set about to pool their talents and solve the mystery.  

Why you’ll like it:

Pearl takes a steam-punk slant in his books, mixing Victorian culture with futuristic science and intertwining made-up characters with folks we know from our history books. Here he combines a satisfying mystery with the history of science and the way new technology challenged the old ways of manufacturing, which threatened the trade unionists of those times. (That’s a battle still going on today.) He also has fun tweaking the stuffiness – and in some cases, downright evil – emanating from his alma mater, dear old Harvard. Pearl’s books follow a formula, but it’s one that entrances a host of readers.

What others are saying:

“Pearl’s faultless fourth historical mystery centers on Boston in the late 1860s and the newly founded college that will become the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) …. Pearl has a special talent for making likable detectives out of historical figures (“The Dante Club”) and for pulling compelling plotlines from biographies (“The Poe Shadow;” “The Last Dickens”). Here, MIT and Harvard are brought to the foreground and so well depicted that they become historical characters in their own right. This thriller won’t disappoint Pearl’s many fans,” says Library Journal.

“…Pearl again blends detective fiction with historical characters (such as pioneering feminist and MIT-trained scientist Ellen Swallow), and his cast reads like a who’s who of 19th-century Boston. The novel is lighter than some of Pearl’s previous work, but still great fun to read,” says Publishers Weekly.

Brains and technology battle evil in Pearl’s … latest, an improbable but entertaining yarn of weird science. … It’s up to [Marcus] Mansfield and a team of proto-geeks at MIT to figure out what sort of devious soul would want to make like a whale and wreak Moby-Dick’s vengeance on the good Brahmins of Beacon Hill — and while the answer, which takes a good long time in coming, isn’t in the least bit predictable, it also makes sense once it comes into focus. Marcus’ enthusiasm for the chase is delightful –”We’ll need Tech’s best physicist on hand, of course!”– as is Pearl’s appreciation for both 19th-century science and technology and affection for Beantown and its history,” says Kirkus Reviews.

When is it available?

You can find this book now at the Downtown and Ropkins branches of 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!

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity

By Katherine Boo

(Random House, $27, 254 pages)

Who is this author?

Few authors have a pedigree as outstanding as Katherine Boo’s. She is a staff writer at The New Yorker, perhaps America’s best magazine. She was a reporter and editor at The Washington Post, where she won a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service journalism. She also has won a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing and a highly coveted MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, better known as a “genius” grant. So when Boo writes, it behooves us to read it. Now she has published her first book, and a tsunami of praise is rolling in.

What is this book about?

If I were to tell you that the book is about the struggles of the very poor in a slum in Mumbai, India, where Boo spent three years researching their lives, you might well say, “I’ll pass on that one.”

But if I were to say it is a book about indomitable spirit, hope for change and betterment, the ability to find humor in the face of despair and the tenderness of human connections, you’d be likely to give it a look.

In fact, it is both. It is a close look at the inhabitants of Annawadi, a makeshift neighborhood of some 300 shacks near the Mumbai Inernational Airport, and their difficult climb to reach what they call “the full enjoy,” made even more challenging by a local tragedy and the global recession. It’s non-fiction, but reads like a novel filled with unforgettable characters.

Why you’ll like it:

Boo, who is married to an Indian citizen, has spent much time there since 2001. In her book, she does several things to draw readers in. Her research is deep and dogged, giving her writing the power of authenticity. Her subject is important: India is an increasingly important player in the world and its innate contradictions of rich and poor need to be understood by readers everywhere. Her writing style is compelling, mixing humor and penetrating insights.

Here is a portion of the book’s opening:

“It was about as hopeful a season as there had ever been in the years since a bitty slum popped up in the biggest city of a country that holds one-third of the planet’s poor. A country dizzy now with development and circulating money.

“Dawn came gusty, as it often did in January, the month of treed kites and head colds. Because his family lacked the floor space for all of its members to lie down, Abdul was asleep on the gritty maidan, which for years had passed as his bed. His mother stepped carefully over one of his younger brothers, and then another, bending low to Abdul’s ear. “Wake up, fool!” she said exuberantly. “You think your work is dreaming?”

Don’t you want to read more? 

What others are saying:

“[An] exquisitely accomplished first book. Novelists dream of defining characters this swiftly and beautifully, but Ms. Boo is not a novelist. She is one of those rare, deep-digging journalists who can make truth surpass fiction, a documentarian with a superb sense of human drama. She makes it very easy to forget that this book is the work of a reporter. …. Comparison to Dickens is not unwarranted,” says Janet Maslin, The New York Times.

Says Elle: ““A jaw-dropping achievement, an instant classic of narrative nonfiction…With a cinematic intensity…Boo transcends and subverts every cliché, cynical or earnest, that we harbor about Indian destitution and gazes directly into the hearts, hopes, and human promise of vibrant people whom you’ll not soon forget.”

“Riveting, fearlessly reported….[“Beautiful Forevers”] plays out like a swift, richly plotted novel. That’s partly because Boo writes so damn well. But it’s also because over the course of three years in India she got extraordinary access to the lives and minds of the Annawadi slum, a settlement nestled jarringly close to a shiny international airport and a row of luxury hotels. Grade: A,” says Entertainment Weekly.

 “A tough-minded, inspiring, and irresistible book … Boo’s extraordinary achievement is twofold. She shows us how people in the most desperate circumstances can find the resilience to hang on to their humanity. Just as importantly, she makes us care,” says People, which gives the book four stars. 

When is it available?

“Behind the Beautiful Forevers” is waiting for you 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 Alexis M. Smith

(Tin House, $10.95, 112 pages)

Who is this author?

One of the joys of writing a books blog is having the opportunity to introduce readers to writers of what are called “mid-list” books: works of literary merit that don’t get the full star treatment from publishers, yet often offer a wonderful reading experience. Alexis Smith, a bi-coastal writer who grew up in Alaska and Seattle and attended Mount Holyoke College and the MFA in Writing program at Goddard College, is that kind of author.

“Glaciers” is her first novel. Here’s what she told a Barnes & Noble interviewer about why she chose that title:

“My generation came of age at the same time as the idea of global warming…For me, having grown up in spitting distance of actual glaciers, the idea of glaciers disappearing was shocking. Glaciers seemed like living things, to me: they grow each year, or at least did for millennia; they move and have their own inertia; they are record keepers, time capsules; and they have shaped the earth’s surface over time.

“All of those things can also be said for human beings. Human populations moving over the planet, over centuries, have shaped the earth with cities and infrastructure, mining, etc. We move where the resources and food are, carrying things with us, leaving other things behind. The glaciers had their day in shaping the planet, and now we are having ours. It just so happens that all of these cycles eventually come to an end, and ours is of our own making. Isabel is reckoning with the intersection of those stories: the smaller human stories (loves, losses, change), and the bigger historical and environmental stories (wars, natural disasters).

“I was worried for a long time that the title was too oblique, that it would come off as pretentious — or worse, too sober — for a story about a girl who really just wants to find the perfect dress and win the love of her work crush. But, somehow, it always felt like the only title that would do.”

What is this book about?

It’s a one-day-in-the-life-of story, in this case, of Isabel, a woman in her 20s who repairs old books for a living and haunts vintage clothing and memorabilia shops, looking for wonderful old dresses and postcards from faraway cities, such as Amsterdam, which she idealizes. Isabel makes up romantic stories to go with those postcards, but in real life, she is smitten with a solider home from Iraq who fixes her computer at work. Isabel is shy and tentative about asserting herself and the book presents her on the cusp of moving from her delicate fantasies into a life more grounded in reality.

Why you’ll like it:

“Glaciers” is written in a simple yet lyrical style, with the text surrounded by plenty of white space on the page, appropriately reminiscent of the way poetry is printed. The short time frame – just one day – compresses the story of Isabel’s life and gives it a powerful immediacy. You can think of this book as functioning as vintage postcards do: fascinating images coupled with intriguing messages that suggest a much longer and deeper story than their relatively few words convey.

What others are saying:

“A delicate and piercing first novel. “Glaciers” is like a vintage dress: charming, understated and glinting with memories of loneliness and love,” says Jane Mendelsohn, author of “I was Amelia Earhart” and “American Music.”

“The story ostensibly covers a single day, but Isabel’s recorded memories reach back to childhood, with incidents in between like a camping trip, an interaction with an astrologer, and a consequential encounter with an immense glacier… This slim book’s lovely design respects and enhances Smith’s voice… Lyrical and luminous,” says Publishers Weekly.

“How appropriate that on the last page of this spare, beautifully written first novel, one character asks another, “Tell us a story—about longing.” For longing defines the life of Isabel … Not for those who like big, splashy reads, this book is just the thing for more meditative readers who savor language and quiet reflection,” says Barbara Hoffert in Library Journal.

When is it available?

It is on the shelf in the new books section of the Downtown branch of 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 Last Storyteller

By Frank Delaney

(Random House, $26, 400 pages)

Who is this author?

Born in Tipperary and now dividing his time between homes in New York and Kent, CT, Frank Delaney has a large following of readers entranced by his best-selling historical novels set in Ireland. He often appears at the Hickory Stick Bookshop in Washington Depot, where he will speak Saturday, March 11, at 2 p.m., and he frequently takes part in programs presented by the Litchfield County Writers Project.

But he’s more than simply a novelist. Delaney has had a successful career as a broadcaster in the United Kingdom and created “The Celts,” a BBC TV series on Celtic history that first brought attention to the Irish musician and singer Enya. He immigrated to the United States in 2002. On his website,, he currently is writing a podcast series called Re:Joyce that explains and expounds on James Joyce’s classic and challenging novel, “Ulysses,” examining its text line by line.

How much has Ireland inspired his writing? Here’s what he told a Barnes & Noble interviewer a while back:

“For a startling period of my life I reported the Troubles in Ireland for the BBC. I lived in Dublin and was called out to all sorts of incidents that, if taken together, add up to a war — bombings, assassinations, riots, shootings, robberies, jailbreaks, kidnappings, and sieges. It was a 24/7 life, lived on the road, or so it felt, with never a still moment, never knowing what was going to happen next. I’ve touched on it in a novel called “Desire & Pursuit,” but the vast portion of the experience is still in there, somewhere in my unconscious mind; and I expect it will emerge one day.”

Emerge it did, in such novels as “Ireland,” “Shannon,” “Tipperary,” “Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show,”  “The Matchmaker of Kenmare” and now, “The Last Storyteller.”

What is this book about?

“The Last Storyteller” is about two subjects that reliably make a novel riveting: love and war. It is the mid-1950s, and the book’s main character, Ben MacCarthy, has unwittingly gotten caught up in gun-running for the Irish Republican Army in its bitter battles with England. But what really motivates Ben is his fierce desire to be reunited with his former wife, an actress named Venetia Kelly, who is now married to another man. This novel is the last in the Ben and Venetia trilogy, giving readers the answers as to whether these star-crossed lovers finally achieve happiness together.

Why you’ll like it:

Delaney, if not the last storyteller, is certainly a born storyteller. NPR has called him “the most eloquent man in the world,” which is hardly faint praise. Having been a judge of the prestigious Booker Prize competition in England and having interviewed some 3,500 other writers for the BBC, Delaney knows what makes a compelling book: lyrical writing, romance, intrigue, dangerous pursuits. You will find all of those things in this book.

What others are saying:

“Frank Delaney…returns to his beloved Emerald Isles in this absorbing tale about a man who attempts to overcome a troubled past to win back the only woman he has ever really loved. An epic story about romance, reform, and the IRA,” says the Barnes & Noble review.

“Ben learns how his employment gathering folktales for the Irish state’s archives prepares him for his calling. Late in this saga, he hears from his mentor: “Mythology is the emotional history of a society, the historical record.” Delaney, a skilled teller of tales (“Legends of the Celts” is a fine collection), brings a few ancient ones into this novel’s pages. Ben finds how the stories of Malachy McCool and Emer the blacksmith’s daughter and then Finn, Diarmuid, and Grainne foreshadow his own encounters and predicaments,” say the website Blogtrotter.

When is it available?

Copies are now on the shelves at the Downtown, Campfield and Ropkins branches of 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 Julianna Baggott

(Grand Central, $25.99, 448 pages)

Who is this author?

I first read Julianna Baggott when she collaborated with Steve Almond to write the terrific novel-in-letters, “Which Brings Me to You.” It’s one of 18 books she has published during the past dozen years – some under her name and others under the pen names Bridget Asher and N.E. Bode (yes, that is pronounced “anybody.”) She is a poet, novelist and essayist who writes for adults and children, and she is an associate professor at Florida State University’s Creative Writing Program.

Her latest, “Pure,” is a dystopian Young Adult horror novel with crossover appeal to older readers and to readers of any age who are fans of the “Hunger Games” trilogy. Fox 2000 has already acquired the film rights to “Pure,” which is the first of a planned trilogy.l

What is this book about?

It’s about a world you wouldn’t want to live in, but will be hooked to read about.

Civilization worldwide has nearly been stamped out by nuclear blasts known as “the Detonations,” and people are largely divided between the “pures,” healthy survivors living under protective Domes, such as a young man named Partridge, and “wretches,” scarred and deformed by the blasts, such as a teenage girl named Pressia, who has a doll’s head fused to her arm where her hand once was, just as others were fused to objects they were holding when the world melted down. When Partridge, who believed his mother died a hero during the Detonations, hears that she may be alive, he ventures outside the Dome, into a world where teens must become soldiers – or live targets. Then he meets Pressia, and the novel takes off.

Why you’ll like it:

Baggott is a skilfull writer, and this novel shows off her imagination and ability to create memorable characters. It’s not easy to write solid science fiction – whose unbelievable aspects must, in fact, be quite believable – but she handles that hurdle with ease. Stories about teens coming of age, overcoming obstacles and finding a moral center are always compelling, and the critics are saying this one is very much so.

What others are saying:

 “Baggott’s highly anticipated post-apocalyptic horror novel … is a fascinating mix of stark, oppressive authoritarianism and grotesque anarchy. Baggott mixes brutality, occasional wry humor, and strong dialogue into an exemplar of the subgenre,” says Publisher’s Weekly in a starred review.

“As fantasy novels tend to do, Baggott’s tome labors under heavy influences — not just Tolkien, the lord of the genre, but also Rowling, comparisons with whom are inevitable. William Golding’s and George Orwell’s and even H.G. Wells’ spirits hove into view from time to time, too. Yet Baggott is no mimic, and she successfully imagines and populates a whole world, which is the most rigorous test of a fantasy’s success,” says Kirkus Reviews.

“From the first page to the last I was hooked by “Pure”’s vivid and visually stunning world. If you’re a fan of books like “The Hunger Games,” “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “1984,” you’ll get a kick out of “Pure.” Not only is it imaginative and clever, it’s filled with frightening possibilities. “Pure” is science fiction at its finest,” says Julie A. Carlson for The Huffington Post.

When is it available?

It’s in the stacks now at the Downtown, Blue Hills, Dwight and Mark Twain branches of the Hartford Public Library.

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