Emily Giffin's Newest Book: "Where We Belong"

Emily Giffin’s newest book, Where We Belong, was just published at the end of July. I am a huge Emily Giffin fan, so I put myself on hold for the book right away. While I really enjoyed this book, I will still say no Emily Giffin book has compared to my favorites, Something Borrowed and Something Blue. To me these books are her best work, but that hasn’t kept me from enjoying her other books. Giffin’s books evaluate the choices people make and look at situations from multiple sides. Where We Belong provides strong characterization, I like Giffin’s characters because they don’t always know the right thing to do and sometimes they make mistakes but they are often given the opportunity to redeem themselves.

In Where We Belong, we meet Marian and Kirby. Marian got pregnant just out of high school and gave the baby up for adoption. Her baby, Kirby, is now eighteen and has access to the adoption records and comes to find her birth mother. What makes this story unusual is the fact that Marian has kept the pregnancy and adoption a secret from everyone except for her mother. And I mean everyone.  Even as Marian made a great life for herself she never disclosed her secret to even her most intimate friends. To me this book is about secrets but also about honesty and the importance of being truthful not just to others but to ourselves. In regards to the end of the book, some people I’ve talked with like it and some are left wanting more.  I personally like it. But don’t worry I’m not going to give any spoilers! You will have to read it for yourself to see if you are content. Added bonus, fans of Giffin’s book Baby Proof will appreciate the character’s cameos in this book.


Book Bomb! Out With The Old, In With The...Old?

Some of the oldest of stories are fairytales, passed on from person to person even before there were books, or even writing.  Fairytales are as prevalent today as they have ever been, providing a framework for storytelling across all genres of literature and media.  And they aren't just for children!
It’s only been in more recent times that people have begun dividing up stories into age-appropriate categories that I think leaves those excluded sadly deprived.  There is a rich culture of story-telling and tradition rooted in fairytales that lends much to more modern re-telling (although none can beat the originals… if you can ever pinpoint which ones those are).  Here are some great contemporary interpretations of familiar (and maybe not-so-familiar) classic fairytales that just might surprise you with their originality (although the parts that aren’t original just might surprise you, too).
Deerskin by Robin McKinley is one of my favorite retold stories, inspired by the Perrault fairytale Donkeyskin.  Lissar, the only child of a king and queen renowned for their beauty and charm, has always lived on the outside of the golden bubble only her parents have ever fit in.  When her mother suffers an untimely death, a promise Lissar’s father made to her before her death, that he only marry someone as beautiful as the queen, begins to change things for Lissar in unsettling ways when it becomes apparent that Lissar’s beauty may well rival that of her deceased mother.  One of the darker fairytales, Deerskin stays true to heart of the original fairytale while spinning out a story that is delightfully tangible, original and engrossing.  Also read McKinley’s excellent reimagining of Sleeping Beauty, Spindle’s End, and Beauty, her version of the ever-popular Beauty and the Beast.

Book of a Thousand DaysBook of a Thousand Days, by Shannon Hale, is inspired by the lesser known Maid Maleen, from the Brothers Grimm.  Hale’s version is set in ancient Mongolia, giving it an exotic and interesting depth.  The story is narrated in journal form by Dashti, a young maidservant, whose mistress, the Lady Saren, is locked in a tower for seven years by her father for refusing to marry the man her father has chosen for her.  Hale’s retelling is poetic, a great endorsement for female empowerment, and (the best part to me) a message on the power of writing, stories and books.  I also really enjoyed Hale’s retelling of The Goose Girl (which became the first in a series of books which while not based on any fairytales are still great reads).

The Perilous GardThe Perilous Gard, by Elizabeth Marie Pope, is actually a favorite of mine from when I was a kid (which was only last year *ahem* in my mind), inspired by the Scottish ballad, Tam Lin, where a girl must save her love enspelled by the Fairy Queen by holding on to him as he progresses through several dangerous transformations.  Pope’s story follows Kate, a lady-in-waiting to the princess who would later become Queen Elizabeth I.  Kate is exiled to a remote castle where she becomes involved with a young noble, Christopher, and the secrets plots of the Old Ones, cruel fairy folk said to inhabit a realm under the hill.  Kate is a strong, independent character, and her exploits amongst the fairy folk are wonderfully imagined and unique.

Briar RoseBriar Rose, by the fabulously unique Jane Yolen, takes the classic tale of Sleeping Beauty and uses it to retell not only this story in an amazing and unexpected way, but also the tale of a survivor of one of history’s darkest events.  Rebecca ‘s grandmother has always told her stories about Briar Rose, but she never thought too deeply of these fantastical tales until the day her grandmother tells her “I am Briar Rose.”  Emotional, at times dark, but sensitive and thoughtful, Briar Rose is a must-read for those who love fairtytales and historical fiction.

Daughter of the Forest  (Sevenwaters, #1)Daughter of the Forest, by Juliet Marillier, is based on different versions of similar fairytales, mainly The Six Swans from the Brothers Grimm, and The Children of Lir, an Irish Legend.  It follows the story of Sorcha, seventh and youngest child of the Lord of Sevenwaters, with six older brothers who love her fiercely, having lost their mother at Sorcha’s birth.  Their father becomes enchanted by a woman with a dark agenda that involves casting a terrible spell on the children of Sevenwaters, trapping them in the shape of swans.  Only Sorcha escapes this fate, but to free her brothers, she is instructed by the fey Lady of the Forest to weave shirts made of nettle-like starwort, one for each brother, a labor that will mean years, and in all that time she must remain completely silent.  The story is dark at times, and addresses issues that some may find uncomfortable, but Marillier does a lovely job of weaving in the dark with the light.  Daughter of the Forest is followed by three other related novels following the various descendants of the Sevenwaters clan.

Click on any of the titles mentioned to visit the OC Public Libraries website and reserve a copy today.  And leave a comment sharing your favorite modern fairytale retelling!
Other fairytale-inspired novels you may like:

Enchantment, by Orson Scott Card (Sleeping Beauty)
Princess of the Midnight Ball, by Jessica Day George (The Twelve Dancing Princesses)

Sirena, by Donna Jo Napoli (Hans Christian Anderson’s lovely but sad The Little Mermaid)

Napoli has also written Zel (Rapunzel), Beast (Beauty and the Beast), Bound (Mulan), The Magic Circle (Hansel and Gretl), and Spinners (Rumpelstiltskin)

Similar novels mentioned in previous posts:

Cinder, by Marissa Meyer (Cinderella)

The Snow Child, by  Eowyn Ivey (The Snow Child)


An End of Summer Hint

[Cover]Sara Pennypacker has proven her mastery of the early chapter book with her fabulous Clementine series. In Summer of the Gypsy Moths, she tackles an older audience and some pretty serious topics with the same humor and sensitivity to the ways of a kid’s world that she displays in the Clementine books.

Stella, named for jazz standard Stella by Starlight by a long absent trombone-playing father, has had to grow up fast. Her mother has never quite been up to the rigors of motherhood, and after she disappears yet again, Stella has been sent to live with her last remaining relative, her great-aunt Louise, who has taken in another foster child to keep Stella company. Stella and Angel are like water and oil, two 11-year-olds that want nothing to do with one another; Angel is moody and resentful, Stella obsessed with the order her collection of Hints from Heloise brings to her messy life. Both girls are convinced that Louise, a stern Yankee through and through, has only taken them in for the $17 a day the state is sending her to house and feed them.

When Louise suddenly dies just before the start of vacation season (she manages a set of vacation cottages for its owner, George), Stella and Angel, afraid of getting back into the system and sent to another, much worse foster home, band together to keep Louise’s passing a secret. Lying to George, they take over care of the cottages while earning money through tips and babysitting to save up for their next steps. In the process, the two girls find common ground and learn more about Louise than they ever knew when she was alive. By learning to lean on each other, they learn more about their own strengths.
[Cover]Here, the happy endings are hard earned and not always the ones expected, and Pennypacker strikes a balance between humor and tenderness along the way. Another good tale of a young girl left to fend for herself is Audrey Couloumbis’ Say Yes,  which features a more serious treatment, but deals with many of the same themes.


A Grand Fictional Slice of Vietnamese Culture

The Reeducation of Cherry Truong by Aimee Phan is a rather epic novel that spans the journeys, physical and emotional, of two related Vietnamese families from the early 1970's to 2001. Cherry is an American born young woman taking time from her college studies to visit her older brother Lum in Saigon. Lum is doing well in a rapidly growing construction business, but the choice to live with distant relatives there was not his. He was sent away in disgrace five years ago by his family in Orange County, CA.

From this opening information begins a narrative of Vietnamese emigration that begins in refugee camps in Malaysia and follows the paths of Cherry and Lum's parents and grandparents after the fall of Saigon. Cherry's family found their way to Westminster, California. Another branch of the family, the Vo's relocated in Paris, France, some later making their way to Tustin, CA. And some of the family remained in Vietnam.

The story is spun out slowly in present times and past, each chapter opening with a family letter that reveals a bit more. Phan offers insight into her culture and the history of families fleeing from war, and making their way in new countries. There are no stereotypes here, but there are images: families in Westminster opening a hair and nail salon to have their own business rather than struggling with menial jobs; grandparents demanding tradition and perfection,  young adult children of immigrants trying ways from obedient to wild, parents striving for a dream of a home and an education for their children and all finding their place balancing two cultures.

For the youngest members of the family who have no memory of the war, learning about their family doing what they did to survive with dark secrets abounding is both difficult and clarifying. For those of us reading the novel, we have a gift of cultural and historical insight.

Aimee Phan is the award winning author of We Should Never Meet, another novel linking stories of Saigon before the fall and "Little Saigon" as we know it now. Her website can be found here. There are currently copies of both books available at the library.


From Luxembourg with Love

“A journey is like marriage.  The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it.”  --John Steinbeck

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to leave your “normal” life behind and become an expatriate in Europe?  In The Expats by Chris Pavone, Kate and her husband, Dexter, do exactly this.  Dexter receives a job offer (that he never fully explains to his wife) and the family moves from DC to Luxembourg.  Here, Kate spends her days setting up the new house, meeting with other expat mothers for coffee and watching her kids play in the park.  However, this is where Kate’s story departs from anything you and I would experience.  We soon find out that Kate is a former CIA assassin and in her new life she is, in a word, bored. 

When another American couple befriends Kate and Dexter, Kate’s previous job skills kick in and she begins to question their motives.  The plot becomes intricate, taking you through twists and turns that keep you wondering just who is after Kate, and why.  Is her husband involved in some shady deals she doesn’t know about, or is her own past with the CIA coming back to haunt her?  This spy thriller will keep you guessing until the end.

I took this book along on my last trip and even after days packed full of exploring foreign cities, I couldn’t help but spend some time reading when we got back to the hotel.  I just had to find out what was happening in Luxembourg.  And you will want to find out, too.


Julia Child

This morning as I was watching the news and drinking my morning coffee I watched a news segment about Pasadena restaurants providing Julia Child inspired entrees and cocktails.Julia Child's would-be 100th birthday celebrated in Pasadena | abc7.com

Why? Well, today marks the day of what would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday and since Julia Child is originally from Pasadena, California it is fitting that local restaurants would honor the city’s most famous chef. Child, famous for her cookbooks and television cooking shows, brought us French cooking in an approachable way.

Julia Child wrote many cookbooks so it is also fitting for the library to honor her too. To celebrate Julia Child I recommend reading My Life in France by Julia Child and her nephew, Alex Prud’homme. This book chronicles how in the 1940s Julia Child went to France with her husband Peter Child and learned to eat and cook delicious French food. Though this book falls into the category of a biography, I consider it a love story. It is a love story between Julia and Peter Child and also the story of how Julia Child fell in love with French cooking. I also recommend this brief article from NPR, in the article Child talks about French cooking and her famous cooking show.


Powerful and Intense Debut

Evan and Davis have been friends since the age of nine; they have shared everything from bonding over the love of Chinese food to suffering from homophobic bullying. With or Without You by Brian Farrey is a gripping novel about self-discovery. The book begins with Evan and Davis being brutally beaten by some members of the wrestling team the day before graduation. These disturbing occurrences have been consistent through their high school years, yet neither turns to an adult after any of these vicious beatings. Evan’s parents ignore him and favor his older sister Shan. Davis’ mother is in a home after a breakdown and his father wants him to move out by his eighteenth birthday. To escape this abuse and make a fresh start, both have plans to go to college in Chicago at the end of summer. However many things happen during the summer that complicate matters. Evan has a secret boyfriend that not even Davis knows about. Even though he is out to all the people that matter to him, Davis is afraid to share Erik and ruin their almost perfect, dreamlike relationship. In addition, Evan and Davis are recruited to join a radical activist group called Chasers. After a meeting Davis wants to join this group, but Evan is reluctant to join because of its reckless leader Sable. The backdrop of the story is the AIDS epidemic which is cleverly intertwined into the story through a character named Mr. Benton who has the AIDS virus. Erik, Evan’s boyfriend, is a nurse and Mr. Benton is one of his patients.
Evan is an artist who paints on glass panels mimicking the styles of various famous artists. Each glass panel is inspired by an important episode in Evan’s life. The panels are verbally described, and the incidents are visited in flashbacks during the course of the book. There is a lot going on in this book and while Farrey addresses coming out of the closet, and the effect of AIDS in the gay community, most of the themes in the book are universal: loyalty to friends, true to oneself, pride in who you are, bullying, vengeance, and monogamy. This book is in the Older Teen section of our library.


The Age of Miracles

The rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow.  The days and nights grow longer and longer.  The shift in gravity causes birds to fall from the sky, and whales beach themselves en mass.  It’s the end of the world as we know it, but I'm feeling pretty good.  That’s because discovering a new book to love always raises my spirits.  And boy did I love this book.

Narrated by 12-year old Julia, The Age of Miracles by Karen Walker, is a coming-of-age novel set in the near future.  Imagine the anguish of adolescence compounded by the turmoil of an altered world.  An altered world that at times appears wondrous and miraculous through the eyes of a young girl.  I was haunted by her visions of beauty and horror.

In an interview with NPR, author Karen Walker says growing up in earthquake-prone Southern California helped shape her book: "that combination of daily life with looming disaster."  It is also that combination of fear of the unknown with the excitement of experiencing something new, a combination I find irresistible.

Written for adult readers, The Age of Miracles has cross-over appeal for older teens.


While You're Waiting

I am one of the many, many, many people on hold for Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild: Lost and Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Strayed’s story appeals to the hiker, camper and nature lover in me, but it also appeals to my desire to read an honest story about a person’s search for self-discovery. This book is number one on the Los Angeles Times Bestseller list and has been for many weeks so it is obviously appealing to other people too. Hiking and outdoor related books have been gaining popularity for a while now, the allure of wanderlust a popular topic, but I think the draw to this book is something more. I’ll know for sure once I actually get a copy in my hands. I’ve been gradually moving up the holds list like everyone else and so since I can’t actually read the book what I can do is give you all some ideas for books to read while you are waiting. If you are interested in reading Strayed's book, you might also like these books. These books are in the library, on the shelf, and ready to be checked out TODAY!

By: Jon Krakauer

By: Dan White

By: John Muir

Desolation Angels
By: Jack Kerouac

By: Mark Twain
By: Aron Ralston

By: Barbara Elaine Singer



For Fans of Histories of Locale...

Title: The New Eldorado: The Story of Colorado's Gold and Silver Rushes
Author: Phyllis Flanders Dorset
Publisher: Fulcrum
Year: 1970
Call Number: 978.802 DOR

For fans of histories of locale, those interested in gold and/or silver rushes, and Civil War buffs who might want to know about what was going on west of the Mississippi River during the Civil War era, Phyllis Flanders Dorset’s The New Eldorado: The Story of Colorado’s Gold and Silver Rushes provides the right mix of the three. This book has been around a while. Although it was published in 1970, the library has obtained new copies of this wonderful somewhat journalistic, somewhat chatty treatment of the wild-and-wooly days of the mining territory in the Colorado Rocky Mountains. The book focuses on the large-scale settlement of Colorado by argonauts hoping to discover precious metal fortunes like the ones being discovered in California’s gold fields in the mid-1800s, and those who came to Colorado in their wake. These settlers entered the lands of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Ute, and the mountain men who were sometimes intermarried into the tribes. It describes the origins of early mining settlements such as Central City, Blackhawk, Georgetown, Telluride, Buckskin Joe, Fairplay, and Cripple Creek. In addition to maps of these early mining settlements, there is a wonderful section of period photos (many courtesy of the Denver Public Library) that contains images including William Jennings Bryan, Margaret Tobin Brown (the Unsinkable Molly Brown of Titanic fame), and what is thought to be Annie Oakley, in addition to other United States and Colorado history notables.  For those of you who like road trips, if you are ever planning a trip through Colorado—especially through the Rockies—this colorful and informative look at the people and history of  Colorado should spark your imagination as you visit the places the book brings to life. The book contains an index and bibliographical references making it a good resource for research.


Something for Your Beach Bag

“I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he or she handles these three things:  a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.”  --Maya Angelou

With over a month left of summer, there’s still plenty of time to go to the beach.  And what’s a trip to the beach without a good beach read?  In the Bag by Kate Klise fits the bill.  The writing is light and breezy, just perfect for a relaxing day in the sun--especially if you want to daydream about jet-setting between Paris, Madrid and Barcelona; eating flaky croissants from the local p√Ętisserie; and looking at inspiring European art.

The novel is a comedy of errors written from the perspectives of the four main characters:  Daisy (a professional chef); her daughter, Coco; Andrew (an art exhibit designer); and his son, Webb.  Andrew sees Daisy on a plane to Paris and leaves (what he thinks is) a charming note in her bag, asking her for a date.  Daisy is less than charmed.  She wants to spend time in Paris with her daughter and is not interested.  At the same time, Coco and Webb’s bags get switched in the baggage claim and they secretly begin scheming to meet up in Paris to trade luggage, without telling their parents. 

In an unexpected change of plans, Daisy is called to Madrid to help her friend, Solange, cater an art opening, which just so happens to be designed by (surprise!) Andrew.  This leaves the door open for Coco and Webb’s carefully-planned meet-up.  When Daisy and Andrew are introduced at the show, they seem to hit it off.  She isn’t aware that he was the man who wrote the note, but he’s afraid that he’ll scare her off, if he tells her.  After all, what kind of weirdo would leave a note, instead of talking to her in person?  Or so Andrew’s logic goes.

Will Andrew finally get his date with Daisy?  Will Webb and Coco pull off a rendezvous in the City of Light?  Get the book here and find out.