Light Between Oceans has been on my ‘To Read’ list for some time and has
recently been made into a film. I was looking for titles with a stormy feel
that would be good to read tucked up warm at home, and this one won the vote.
Backman is fast become a popular author. The group was a little divided over
his title A Man Called Ove, but unanimous in its enjoyment of Beartown. Us
Against You is a sequel to Beartown and we anticipate another wonderful read.
The Light Between
Oceans by M.L. Stedman
1926. After four harrowing years fighting on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne
returns home to take a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half
a day's journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat
comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom
brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two
miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby's cries on
the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.
whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles
have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately.
But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom's judgment, they
claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel
return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the
world. Their choice has devastated one of them.
Us Against You by
everything that the citizens of Beartown have gone through, they are struck yet
another blow when they hear that their beloved local hockey team will soon be
disbanded. What makes it worse is the obvious satisfaction that all the former
Beartown players, who now play for a rival team in Hed, take in that fact.
Amidst the mounting tension between the two rivals, a surprising newcomer is
handpicked to be Beartown’s new hockey coach.
a new team starts to take shape around Amat, the fastest player you’ll ever
see; Benji, the intense lone wolf; and Vidar, a born-to-be-bad troublemaker.
But bringing this team together proves to be a challenge as old bonds are
broken, new ones are formed, and the enmity with Hed grows more and more acute.
the big match approaches, the not-so-innocent pranks and incidents between the
communities pile up and their mutual contempt grows deeper. By the time the
last game is finally played, a resident of Beartown will be dead, and the
people of both towns will be forced to wonder if, after all they’ve been
through, the game they love can ever return to something simple and innocent.
It was good
to meet up again after the summer and we mostly remembered what we had read!
For the next
meeting we will be reading Redshirts by John Scalzi and Uprooted by Naomi Novik.
They are both now available on the Nooks.
I do not normally suggest music to accompany your reading, but this month I
feel that this song
would be very appropriate whilst reading Redshirts.
Redshirts by John Scalzi
Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid.
It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to
the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.
couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that:
every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces
the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant
Kerensky always survive these confrontations
at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.
surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at
all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on
information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of
what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance
to save their own lives.
Uprooted by Naomi Novik
loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining
river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power,
and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard
known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible
price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a
fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood.
next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone
knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all
the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is
no way to save her.
fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will
we head into the summer break, we have again chosen 3 titles to read over the
summer. It was a difficult decision, requiring a lot of discussion, but we
finally chose 2 fairly short titles: Borne by Jeff VanderMeer and The Library
at the Edge of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy.
third choice is about twice the length: Mistborn (The Final Empire) by Brandon
are all now available on the Nooks.
a great summer!
Borne by Jeff VanderMeer
a ruined, nameless city of the future, Rachel, who makes her living as a
scavenger, finds a creature she names “Borne” entangled in the fur of Mord, a
gigantic, despotic bear created and tortured by the Company. At first, Borne
looks like nothing at all—just a green lump that might be a Company discard. It
somehow reminds Rachel of the island nation of her birth, now long lost to
rising seas. She feels an attachment she resents; attachments are traps, and in
this world any weakness can kill you. Yet when she takes Borne to her
subterranean sanctuary, the Balcony Cliffs, Rachel convinces her lover, Wick,
not to render Borne down to raw genetic material for the drugs he sells—she
cannot break that bond.
is a special kind of supplier, selling tiny creatures that can be swallowed or
stuck in the ear, and that release powerful memories of other people’s happier
times or pull out forgotten memories from the user’s own mind. But what is he
hiding? Why won’t he tell her about what happened when he worked for the
Company? And why does he have a journal titled ‘Mord’?
The Library at the Edge
of the World by Felicity Hayes-McCoy
librarian Hanna Casey is wondering where it all went wrong ... Driving her
mobile library van through Finfarran's farms and villages, she tries not to
think of the sophisticated London life she abandoned when she left her cheating
husband. Or that she's now stuck in her crotchety mum's spare bedroom.
her daughter Jazz travelling the world and her relationship with her mother
growing increasingly fraught, Hanna decides to reclaim her independence. Then,
when the threatened closure of her library puts her plans in jeopardy, she
finds herself leading a battle to restore the heart and soul of the fragmented
community. Will she also find the new life she's been searching for?
Mistborn by Brandon
a hero rose to save the world. He failed. For a thousand years since, the world
has been a wasteland of ash and mist ruled by the immortal emperor known as the
Lord Ruler. Every revolt has failed miserably.
somehow, hope survives. Hope that dares to dream of ending the empire and
defeating the Lord Ruler. A new kind of uprising is being planned—one that
depends on the cunning of a brilliant criminal mastermind and the determination
of an unlikely heroine: a teenage street urchin named Vin. Once, a hero rose to
save the world and failed. This time, can a young heroine succeed?
we have our final choices courtesy of the patrons who voted for their Favorite
Read of 2017. The One-in-a-Million Boy is written by a Maine author and is set
in Portland, which makes it doubly interesting.
are both available for download onto the Nooks.
The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica
years, guitarist Quinn Porter has been on the road, chasing gig after gig,
largely absent to his twice-ex-wife Belle and their odd, Guinness
records–obsessed son. When the boy dies suddenly, Quinn seeks forgiveness for
his paternal shortcomings by completing the requirements for his son's
unfinished Boy Scout badge.
seven Saturdays, Quinn does yard work for Ona Vitkus, the wily 104-year-old
Lithuanian immigrant the boy had visited weekly. Quinn soon discovers that the
boy had talked Ona into gunning for the world record for Oldest Licensed Driver
— and that's the least of her secrets. Despite himself, Quinn picks up where
the boy left off, forging a friendship with Ona that allows him to know the son
he never understood, a boy who was always listening, always learning.
The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke
orphaned brothers, Prosper and Bo, have run away to Venice, where crumbling
canals and misty alleyways shelter a secret community of street urchins. Leader
of this motley crew of lost children is a clever, charming boy with a dark
history of his own: He calls himself the Thief Lord.
and Bo relish their new "family" and life of petty crime. But their
cruel aunt and a bumbling detective are on their trail. And posing an even
greater threat to the boys' freedom is something from a forgotten past: a
beautiful magical treasure with the power to spin time itself.
Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four
younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River
shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one
stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched
from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society
orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to
their parents—but they quickly realize that the truth is much darker. At the
mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and
brother together—in a world of danger and uncertainty.
Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and
privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a
federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But
when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance
encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions—and compels her to take a
journey through her family's long-hidden history, on a path that will
ultimately lead either to devastation or redemption.
* * *
A few years ago we read Orphan Train by Christina Baker
Kline, which follows the story of a young girl sent from New York to the
Midwest on one of the infamous trains. It was hard hitting, revealing some very
unpleasant truths about the experiences of the orphans being shipped to
supposedly better lives. If anything, Before We Were Yours was even more shocking,
because of the motivations of the person responsible for the Foss children’s
plight: Georgia Tann. In Orphan Train, the basic reason for the relocation of
the children was to provide them with homes and families when overcrowded
cities were overwhelmed by poverty and disease. Whilst this was also Georgia
Tann’s stated motivation, she was much more interested in profit and
Looking at the cover, it seems that the Foss children will
be a little sad to pack up their things and leave home. This could not be
further from the truth. Their mother is struggling to deliver twins and their
father rushes her away to a hospital, leaving Rill in charge of her younger
siblings. Next morning they are forcibly removed from their home by a group of
policemen and placed in a children’s home that is run with all the care and
attention of a Nazi concentration camp. They are given new names and told that
they will be returned to their parents in a few days. However, it soon becomes
clear that they will never go home and that they are to be sold to whomever
wants them, assuming that they even survive their time in the home.
Rill desperately tries to keep her family together and safe,
whilst planning a way for them to escape. Unfortunately, although Rill and three of her siblings
are blonde, blue-eyed and fairly placid, Camellia is dark-haired, dark-eyed and
violently uncooperative. In Georgia Tann’s eyes, this makes Camellia virtually
impossible to place and it is little surprise that she is not shown to
prospective parents. It may also be the reason why she is targeted by the
grounds man, who repeatedly tries to bribe the children with candy and attempts
to get into their locked room at night. Rill is warned to keep away from him,
but Camellia refuses to be cautious and one day she is assaulted by him. The
trauma causes her to become violent when bath time comes around and she is sent
to be tied up in the ‘closet’ for punishment. We never see or hear from her
again. As Rill’s other siblings are sold off one by one, she despairs of ever seeing
any of them again. Eventually, she is homed with one of her younger sisters,
who creates too much trouble for her new parents and refuses to cooperate until
reunited with Rill. She is handed over to the father in a hotel room, where he
is assured that she is a virgin and biddable and that he can now do whatever he
wants with her.
Yes, that is correct: the children’s home turns a blind eye
to a pedophile grounds man and uses extreme physical punishment on children
that have been stolen from their parents. Some of the children even die in
their custody with no consequences. The children routinely have their names
changed, are separated from their siblings and may be sold to pedophiles, no
questions asked. One might think that the author is doing a massive disservice
to the people at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society by portraying them as
such uncaring and abusive guardians. However, it is clear from reading The Baby
Thief by Barbara Bisantz Raymond that Ms Wingate actually toned down some of
the abuse reported by Georgia Tann’s victims.
It seems that Georgia Tann saw an opportunity to create a
new business supplying children, particularly babies, to couples seeking to
adopt. At the time, this was done on a local level, with most unwanted or
orphaned children being raised by friends, family members or church
organizations. However, increasing urbanization brought massive epidemics and
such ad hoc welfare provision was quickly overwhelmed, providing a source of
potential adoptees. At the same time it became more acceptable for childless
couples to adopt unrelated children, thus providing a demand. Unfortunately, Ms
Tann’s actions did not match her stated aims. She used threats, blackmail and
‘gifts’ of children to buy influence with city and state officials, even
earning the protection of the local crime leaders. Thus she could operate without fear of interference.
Ms Tann employed a large group of ‘spotters’ amongst the
city’s police, teaching and medical professions. They would identify possible
adoptees and she would move swiftly to take them to one of the numerous homes
that kept her ‘stock’ before sale. Children were stolen from their homes or the
streets, parents were tricked or coerced into signing away their rights and healthy
babies were declared dead by corrupt nurses. Once in her ‘care’ these children
were routinely given new identities, complete with different birth dates to
make them appear younger and, therefore, more advanced for their supposed age. They
were often given false histories, making them the illegitimate children of wealthy,
highly educated parents or unfortunate orphans from good families that had no
family remaining to raise them.
But, I hear you say; surely she was doing a good thing in
providing good homes for underprivileged children. If only that was true. She
had no interest in vetting prospective parents as long as they could pay her
fees. Children were regularly placed with abusive families or used as child
slaves on farms and many were sent out of state. Once adopted, Ms Tann’s only
interest in the adoptees would be if she thought that she could extort extra
cash from the parents, some of whom were very rich and famous.
Of course, as we see in this book, some of the adoptees were
lucky enough to find wonderful parents who were loving and supportive. However,
even these children suffered at the hands of Georgia Tann because she stole
their pasts from them. Even if they were not stolen or given up by unwilling
parents, her habits of changing identities and then destroying her records
meant that many of the children could never uncover their true identities.
Some, like the stolen babies, had no memory of their previous lives, but others
could remember parents and siblings lost because of Ms Tann. Many have spent
their whole lives trying to reconnect with that past or have been driven to
depression and suicide by the trauma of what was done to them.
There is no doubt that adoption has serious implications for
the psychological well-being of the adoptee, but to make it almost impossible
for them to gather important information about their family’s identity or
medical history must make it even worse. The families destroyed for Georgia
Tann’s greed are rightfully furious about her actions. She did suffer a little
for her behavior before she died, as she was being investigated for tax evasion at the time of
her death, but her victims never saw her brought to justice. It is also very
sad that, as a founder of the adoption ‘business’, her practices influenced the
way in which adoptions were conducted for the next fifty years or more, and it
is only now that adoptee-rights groups are forcing the states to open their
records to adult adoptees.
As you can see, this book is a sad and depressing read in
some ways, but in others it is massively life affirming. Whilst not all of
Rill’s siblings have known or happy endings, some of them do and we see them
trying to reestablish the connections that they lost at the hands of a greedy
person who treated them like commodities. We enjoyed this exploration of a
subject that needs to be aired much more publicly and thoroughly recommend it.
say Beartown is finished. A tiny community nestled deep in the forest, it is
slowly losing ground to the ever encroaching trees. But down by the lake stands
an old ice rink, built generations ago by the working men who founded this
town. And in that ice rink is the reason people in Beartown believe tomorrow
will be better than today. Their junior ice hockey team is about to compete in
the national semi-finals, and they actually have a shot at winning. All the
hopes and dreams of this place now rest on the shoulders of a handful of
responsible for the hopes of an entire town is a heavy burden, and the
semi-final match is the catalyst for a violent act that will leave a young girl
traumatized and a town in turmoil. Accusations are made and, like ripples on a
pond, they travel through all of Beartown, leaving no resident unaffected.
almost unanimously loved A Man Called Ove, so it seemed likely that Mr
Backman’s next offering would be just as good. Dare I say that I think it is
better? Certainly, the group members had a much higher opinion of this book,
although that could have been because we found the central theme, of a small
town obsessed with hockey, a little bit more relatable than the struggles of a
“Late one evening towards the end of March, a
teenager picked up a double-barreled shotgun, walked into the forest, put the
gun to someone else's forehead and pulled the trigger.
This is the story of how we got there.”
a cliché of episodic television to show a shocking event and then go back and
show the steps leading up to it. While this is a familiar structure, it is also
a good way of imposing a sense of tension and doom over events that could otherwise
seem relatively innocuous. It also creates not only a ‘why done it?’ but also a
‘who done it?’ that constantly undermines our ability to trust the characters
that we encounter. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to talk about the book
without revealing the exact nature of the event that precipitates the ‘shotgun
to the head’ scenario, so please note:
Spoilers below ***
are introduced to Beartown, which is actually in Sweden, but could easily be in
Maine. The local forestry industry is dying and taking the town with it. The
only thing left for the townspeople to rally around are their hockey teams.
There is a ‘professional’ team, although it seems to be of a very low standard,
and the promising junior team, which is having a particularly good year. It
should be noted that nobody has any interest at all in ladies hockey, which
seems to be an attitude that also mirrors the situation here in Maine. The town
has a shared delusion that if the kids’ team wins their championship then
everything will be fine again: the town will attract investment and jobs,
regaining its sense of pride. Whilst this could be a good focal point for local
activities, it has become more of a blind obsession, which is placing
unbearable amounts of pressure on the team, especially its star player: Kevin.
has its benefits, such as unwavering support that the team receives from their
fan base. We also see that players with financial problems are helped by the
wealthy in the town, but often in a sensitive, anonymous way that does not
damage their pride. However, placing so much responsibility on the shoulders of
teenage boys creates an awful lot of anxiety, which threatens to overwhelm some
of them. It also leads to them being held to very different standards than the
other students. They have come to believe themselves above the normal rules of
society because they are allowed to be insolent, rude and inconsiderate of
other people without rebuke: as long as they play well, they can do no wrong. We
see this in an appalling incident told from the perspective of a class teacher
at the school, where the team is sexist and disrespectful to her and the head
teacher refuses to ‘upset’ them before the big game. This has been happening
for a long time for Kevin: we are told that he spends endless hours shooting
goals in his backyard, which produces a noise that can be heard by all his
neighbors, but none of them complain about it, even when he does it at night or
in the early morning.
can understand that the boys’ parents and supporters see this laxity as a way
of compensating the teenagers for the huge amounts of time and energy they
spend on their hockey: they give their all to the game from a very early age
and seem to have very little other than it in their lives.However, such a lack of accountability is a
dangerous thing and can lead to highly entitled behavior. So, when the team
wins their semi-final game and have a party afterwards to celebrate, it is not
much of a surprise that they choose to blow off steam with the help of lots
alcohol and zero adult supervision. Riding on a high of achievement and
unrestrained by self-discipline, Kevin takes advantage of the situation to ply
a younger girl, Maya, with alcohol and then invites her to his bedroom. They
begin kissing, but when he tries to take it further she tries to make him stop.
Even though she repeatedly screams “No!” and fights with him, he holds her down
and rapes her. A younger teammate hears her shouts and walks in on them, so she
does have a witness to the event and her lack of consent.
I find this behavior totally abhorrent, I am sad to report that I was not
surprised that it occurred. Not one tiny bit. Nor was I surprised that the
overwhelming response is to excuse the boy’s behavior and blame the victim,
mainly because she did not report the crime straight away.
reminded me very much of the conviction of Brock Turner
for sexual assault and the appallingly lenient sentence that he received and
the pleas of his family that the incident “shouldn’t ruin his life”. We see
exactly the same victim-blaming and attempts to excuse or condone the
attacker’s actions in Beartown. “She must have wanted it because she went to
his room.” “She shouldn’t have got drunk.” “She waited until the day of the
final to tell the police because she wanted to ruin his chance to play.” Whilst
some people are willing to believe Maya’s ‘version’ of events, many more want
to persecute her because she ‘ruined’ their chance at winning the title and
that is the only important thing to consider.
to say: this made me very, very angry. Also, it made me unutterably depressed
because this happens all the time and it seems like we should be better than
this. Why is this sexist behavior still alive and kicking in our modern,
Mr Backman gives us a little catharsis in a happyish ending. The male witness
steps forward to do the right thing even though he risks losing his place on
the team and ostracizing the entire community. He bravely stands in front of
everyone and speaks the truth. Ultimately, this has no impact on the legal
outcome of the accusations leveled at Kevin, but it shows us that not all
people will blame the victim: there are still some decent people out there who
will hold people to account for their transgressions, regardless of the
will not reveal who the characters are in the ‘shotgun scene’, but I will say
that the incident is massively powerful and brings a sense of justice to the
end of the book. This is supposed to be the first installment of a trilogy, but
we are given brief glimpse into the futures of some of the characters. However,
some of these are far from the happy ending that we would like to see for all
of them, retaining the more realistic tone of the novel. At no point does Mr
Backman give us a syrupy, fairy tale resolution to the conflicts that litter
should add that there are plenty of other themes explored in this marvelous
book and often by looking at their effects on different age groups. We see
grief at the loss of a child, but also of a long term spouse; we follow the
struggles of people coming to the end of their careers and near the beginning.
Obviously, many of the themes are related to the adolescent experience,
especially those of parenting styles, gender identity and peer acceptance.
However, we also explore the immigrant experience, both for an adult and a
teen, and the diverse experiences afforded by the different social classes in
the town. This is a book with a lot in it and it is a most satisfying read. I
recommend it very highly.
It seems that the recommendations from BPL patrons continue
to be excellent, so here we have two more, and there will be another pair next
They are both now on the Nooks and available to download.
A Fall of Marigolds by
September 1911. On Ellis Island in New York Harbor, nurse
Clara Wood cannot face returning to Manhattan, where the man she loved fell to
his death in the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. Then, while caring for a fevered
immigrant whose own loss mirrors hers, she becomes intrigued by a name
embroidered onto the scarf he carries …and finds herself caught in a dilemma
that compels her to confront the truth about the assumptions she’s made. Will
what she learns devastate her or free her?
September 2011. On Manhattan’s Upper West Side, widow Taryn
Michaels has convinced herself that she is living fully, working in a charming
specialty fabric store and raising her daughter alone. Then a long-lost
photograph appears in a national magazine, and she is forced to relive the
terrible day her husband died in the collapse of the World Trade Towers …the
same day a stranger reached out and saved her. Will a chance reconnection and a
century-old scarf open Taryn’s eyes to the larger forces at work in her life?
Thirteen Reasons Why
by Jay Asher
You can’t stop the future.
You can’t rewind the past.
The only way to learn the secret . . . is to press play.
Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange
package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several
cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush–who committed
suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen
reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens,
he’ll find out why.
Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as
his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows
Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life
After the intensity of the reads for last month I hope that
these two are a little lighter, although I doubt that The Hate U Give will be a
They are both now available on the Nooks.
Eleanor Oliphant is
Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Meet Eleanor Oliphant: She struggles with appropriate social
skills and tends to say exactly what she’s thinking. Nothing is missing in her
carefully timetabled life of avoiding social interactions, where weekends are
punctuated by frozen pizza, vodka, and phone chats with Mummy. All this means
that Eleanor has become a creature of habit (to say the least) and a bit of a
But everything changes when Eleanor meets Raymond, the
bumbling and deeply unhygienic IT guy from her office. When she and Raymond
save Sammy, an elderly man who has fallen on the sidewalk, the three become the
kinds of friends who rescue one another from the lives of isolation they have
each been living. And it is Raymond’s big heart that will ultimately help Eleanor
find the way to repair her own profoundly damaged one.
The Hate U Give by Angie
Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter moves between two worlds: the
poor neighborhood where she lives and the fancy suburban prep school she
attends. The uneasy balance between these worlds is shattered when Starr
witnesses the fatal shooting of her childhood best friend Khalil at the hands
of a police officer. Khalil was unarmed.
Soon afterward, his death is a national headline. Some are
calling him a thug, maybe even a drug dealer and a gangbanger. Protesters are
taking to the streets in Khalil's name. Some cops and the local drug lord try
to intimidate Starr and her family. What everyone wants to know is: what really
went down that night? And the only person alive who can answer that is Starr. But
what Starr does or does not say could upend her community. It could also
endanger her life.