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July-August Book Marks - Lee Woodruff
This month’s spotlight on an indie is a shout-out to Kepler’s Bookstore, founded in Menlo Park in 1955. With a fiercely groovy Bay Area backstory (The Grateful Dead and Joan Baez performed there) and a goal to democratize reading, the bookstore became the cultural epicenter and social heart of the community until eroding sales in 2005 forced it to close its doors. And then, the community did what communities do to help their indies and the story became a template for other towns and their beloved book stores….. SO….. summer is rapidly disappearing…… The sound of the cicada symphony in the August grass is a primal, hard-wired signal that summer is more than half-way over. It wasn’t much of a book summer for this reader, and I’m OK with that. Reading binges go in cycles for me. And this year an unexpectedly good conversation at the beach often trumped the good book in my bag. In addition to reading the latest offerings, it was a summer to go back to some goodies, (never say “oldies” as books are evergreen) re-reading Wallace Stegner’s short stories, Pearl Buck, a TC Boyle collection and lots of good hikes to audio books, Look Alive Out There by Sloane Crosley, Robin, the biography of Robin Williams, Sapiens, Stephen King’s newest The Outsider (with an appearance by Harlan Coben) Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday and the non-fiction Bad Blood, the story of Elizabeth Homes/Theranos debacle. Hard news junkies don’t miss that one! I kicked the summer off with a winner– a hard back copy of “Calypso” by David Sedaris, one of the few writers who makes me laugh out loud with his ribald, inappropriate humor and take on the world. What I’ve come to realize about summer is that each one is different. I may start out thinking I’m going to accomplish certain things and then go in a completely different direction. That’s the beauty of this season. My good August day is a blue sky, chased by a late afternoon thunderstorm (so I don’t have to water the garden) a BLT with homegrown tomatoes, a walk or a hike somewhere, the sound of the screen door as my kids come in and out of the house, a family dinner where other people do the dishes and… getting in a few pages of a book at night before I fall dead asleep. ( Note- I left out any reference to work.) May you be enjoying your almost-perfect summer too! Historical Fiction: The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams Beatriz William’s latest novel dives into a complex female protagonist visiting a New England coastal island that resembles Fischer’s Island. An 18 year-old newcomer arrives the summer that her mother is about to marry into the established inner circle of this WASPY enclave. During that summer, her youthful actions have tragic consequences and now, two decades later, she returns as a famous actress. Expecting to be welcomed with open arms, she is instead shunned on the island due to her long ago romance with a “local boy” that ended in catastrophe. Examining the power of the wealthy elite in the fading days of post WW2, William’s novel transports readers back and forth across time in ways that enhance and add to the frothy pace of the story. Fiction- Thriller: All These Beautiful Strangers by Elizabeth Klehfoth Seventeen year-old Charlie, from a wealthy Manhattan family, is invited to join a secret society (think Yale’s Skull & Bones) at her father’s boarding school. But some of the high stakes initiation traditions throw open a window into a dark discovery about suicide and her mother’s mysterious disappearance years ago. Charlie, who is far more sophisticated and wise than her years, begins to piece together the truth. An incredibly complex series of generational stories that link the mysteries of the past with the villains and innocents of the present ultimately wind together in this debut novel. Pop it in your beach bag before summer is over. Fiction: America for Beginners by Leah Franqui Part road trip, part reckoning, part tale of family dysfunction and ultimate healing, this debut novel puts a number of themes in a blender and turns it on. When Indian widow Pival Sengupta decides to take a tour of America, her interest is not so much in sightseeing as it is to find the truth about her son. She books a trip with the first Class India USA Destination Vacation Tour Company and travels from Kolkota for what she believes will be the last time. The previous year, her only son told his parents he was gay. And then a call followed soon after that he has died. Widowed now, Pival decides to go to America in hopes that it will allow her to accept this news. During this quest, interesting friendships are forged and the cast of colorful characters, including the tour operators and guides, are forced to come to terms with their own lives in wonderful ways. Think of this as a coming of age story for a mature woman. Memoir: Relentless – How a Massive Stroke Changed my Life for the Better by Ted W Baxter “The trick to getting through the hardest times in life is to remember that there are many roadblocks along the way, but often, when you conquer those obstacles, there is greater happiness waiting for you on the other side.” This is the author’s epilogue observation as he looks back on the experience of losing it all in 2005 and then working to put it back together. At the very top of his game, Baxter, a successful globe-trotting businessman, had a massive stroke at 41 and was not expected to survive. When he comes through the initial trauma, he is unable to form or sometimes understand words (aphasia), to write, recall memories or use his dominant hand. Yet this is not the memoir of an underdog. Baxter’s story of recovery is one of relentless determination, describing the tireless process he undergoes …