Tag Archives: Adult Fiction

The Birds of Opulence by Crystal Wilkinson

Crystal Wilkinson, founding member of the Affrilachian Poets and Kentucky’s current Poet Laureate, is an outstanding author even among our state’s especially rich history of lyrical storytellers. Set in the fictional rural, black township of Opulence, Kentucky, this 2016 novel gives voice to the lives of generations of women of the Goode and Brown families in the twentieth century. The reader floats through the hidden lives of these characters, suffering along with them the abuses and losses they experience and the pressure of living up to community moral expectations (or at least avoiding becoming the subject of local gossip and scorn). But there are also the joyful experiences – the public celebrations, family reunions. And above all there is love: the intensity of the romantic loves and the complexity of the love that binds the families.

Wilkinson brings to life for us a much different time when magic was much more real and connections to the land, to family, and to the community were uninterrupted by our current pace of life, industrialization, digitalization, and urbanization.

– Review by Scott, Main Library

Destination Romance: Two Books That Will Scratch Your Itch For Travel And Love

These books by Emily Henry are the perfect way to immerse yourself in your summer feels.

People We Meet on Vacation is a fun story about two college friends that go on vacation together every summer. Alex and Poppy couldn’t be any different from each other but what they have works…until it doesn’t. When one vacation goes completely wrong, Poppy and Alex take a two year break. Poppy is ready to fix their broken relationship and proposes a trip to do just that. Will Poppy and Alex mend their relationship? You have to read People We Meet on Vacation to find out.

This book is great fun for travelers and non-travelers alike. Henry’s descriptions of Poppy and Alex’s vacations will take you back to places you’ve visited or entice you to go to places you haven’t been. Travel the country from New Orleans, LA to Vail, CO with Alex and Poppy as they explore not only their vacation destinations but who they are as people and what they want from life.

Beach Read by Emily Henry is the story of two authors, Augustus Everett and January Andrews. January is trying to cure her writer’s block and write her next best-selling romance novel. What better place than the beach house her father left her? Augustus is writing his next literary best seller, right next door. Imagine January’s surprise when she discovers Augustus, an old college peer, living right out her doorstep. A challenge is issued. Can Augustus write the perfect romance novel? Will January be able to write a dark literary novel?

The two take turns giving lessons and field trips about their genre of expertise. From book clubs to death cult interviews the two run the gambit of experiences and challenge their views of the world. As they open up to each other about their writing experiences they learn even more about themselves and each other. Who will win the challenge and will it bring them together or divide them? Time will tell.

– Review by Catherine, Main Library

Seed by Ania Ahlborn

As we approach “spooky season” I start to crave a good horror novel…one that I can read on the couch in the middle of the day with all the windows wide open and the sun shining, of course. It’s not my usual fare but a coworker recommended Seed to me, Anita Ahlborn’s debut novel set in rural Louisiana, and I was intrigued and in the mood for something supernatural and sinister. I got exactly what I wished for.

Jack Winters has been carrying the burden of something evil and hungry all his life – he’s even gotten the snarling grin that chases him tattooed onto his back – but despite years of silence and his attempts to build a life with his wife Aimee and their two daughters, despite rebuilding his terrified psyche from what he saw as a child and struggling financially in the present to make ends meet for his small family, he’s about to learn he hasn’t outrun anything. On a dark highway traveling home the Winters family experiences a freak accident that brings Jack face to face with his monster…and this time his youngest daughter, Charlie, sees it too. And Charlie begins to change almost immediately, following the Young Child in a Horror Story playbook: her health suffers, she starts acting out, she suddenly knows things she shouldn’t and starts sowing discord, and then violence. Aimee knows something is wrong, but not to what extent, as her youngest starts to stalk the household. And Jack is torn between finally telling Aimee everything about his past and losing her and the girls forever, and realizing that by the time it becomes vital, it’s too late…that it was always too late. Because while Jack remembers the demon that haunts him there’s a lot of details about his flight from his own childhood home that he doesn’t remember, and he is forced to start searching for the truth about his family, his parents and a single, similar escalation of terror they all experienced before in order to have a chance at saving Charlie in the present.

I really liked the Winters family and felt terribly for them, even if you logically know that it’s not always wise to get attached to the characters in horror stories.* Jack worked a tough, physical job for the family he adored and played in a band with his buddies on the side, and he genuinely reminded me of some of the boys that lived in my grandparents’ holler growing up, a little wild and extremely into metal bands and WWE but you knew they were good-hearted. I don’t see a lot of people like that reflected in literature, and I loved it, even if in this case they were being seriously terrorized. We experience some of the more terrifying scenes from Aimee’s perspective while alone with the kids, and I really felt for her as well: in addition to being terrified for/terrorized by her own daughters, we the readers know Jack had been trying hard to conceal his past from her, and so it was obvious to us that she was in no way equipped to deal with Charlie’s sudden, dramatic possession. Ahlborn peppers the book with creepiness, sliding brief scenes and horrifying lines from Charlie into the constant narrative of Jack’s mounting dread, and they’re effective. Her progression from normal little girl to a vessel for unspeakable evil is gradual, until the plot crashes into us – and the Winters family – and you realize along with all of them that there will be no return to innocence.

I’ve read reviews of this book after the fact where readers have surmised that it contains a major theme of how family violence gets passed down in families for one generation after another. As far as I can tell the events of the story happen over the course of a couple of weeks – I found myself assuming Jack had so much more time to figure out how to save his family, right up until the climax of the novel suddenly crashed down on him and us. Additionally, one of the factors that makes the possession and sundering of this family so painful to read is because Jack clearly loved his children, and treated them well, and he and Aimee loved each other and were fighting desperately to hold their family together. There wasn’t a history of violence in Jack’s family as far as we can see and even if there had been, experiencing familial abuse as a child isn’t a guarantee that a person will grow up to be abusive.

So in my opinion, this isn’t a story about the enduring nature of family violence. It’s simply a story about the Devil playing a game wherein he wagers that a parent will murder their possessed child to protect themselves, because even when he loses he wins, and he’s been winning like that for a very long time. And now it’s Jack’s turn to play.

I’d recommend this book to horror fans who appreciate a Southern Gothic set dressing, creepy kids and the slow reveal of a thriller, with a moderate amount of gore and a side of existential dread. As it turns out however, Ania Ahlborn is one of the more prolific horror authors in recent history, and the plots of her books run the gamut of horror tropes from cannibalistic hillbillies to haunted houses to unseen monsters lurking in the woods, so if you’re a horror fan who hasn’t yet heard of Ahlborn, it looks like she writes a little something for everybody…as it were.

*As a side note, I try to flag reviews of books I read where animals experience violence, because that can be a major trigger for a lot of folks. It feels silly in a book where so much haunting and harm comes to humans, including kids, which would theoretically take precedence over animals in a lot of our sympathies, but just in case I’ll put it here anyway: be aware, a dog is hurt during the course of this story.

– Review by SarahMain Library

Survive the Night by Riley Sager

It’s 1991 and Charlie Jordan is having the worst year of her life. Her best friend and college roommate Maddie was murdered by a suspected serial killer and Charlie has retreated into a fantasy world to deal with her grief and guilt. Charlie was with Maddie the night she died, but after a fight Charlie left her friend and went home. Maddie’s body was found a few days later.

Despite the care and attention of a loyal boyfriend, Charlie feels she has to get away from campus to start to heal, so she calls a number on the local ride share board and snags a ride back to Ohio with a man named Josh. Charlie assumes Josh is a fellow student, but as they begin their journey Charlie starts to feel like Josh’s stories don’t add up. Soon Charlie begins to suspect that Josh is the serial killer responsible for the murder of her best friend and she has to figure out a way to survive this night and save herself.

I thoroughly enjoyed Survive the Night and found the premise to be unique. This is a book that could only have taken place in the early nineties, because with the advent of cell phones and GPS a lot of Charlie’s struggles could have been avoided. But Sager knows this and tries to make the most out of setting this thriller in the not-so-distant past. Music and cultural events of the era weave throughout the book, with grunge band Nirvana playing a role in the plot development.

This book has a fast moving story and plenty of twists and turns to keep you engaged. Charlie’s way of dealing with her grief and pain has been to place herself inside a classic film instead of facing the events in front of her. This makes Charlie an unreliable narrator. You’re sometimes not sure if what is happening is really happening, or if it is what’s happening in the movie in Charlie’s head. I didn’t love the side plot about Charlie’s mental disassociations to deal with her pain and grief, but it works to move the story along.

This book is perfect for fans of true crime stories, podcasts like My Favorite Murder, or those who like recent titles like The Guest List, The Girl on the Train, or the works of Ruth Ware.

– Review by Jenny, Middletown Branch

The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates

The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates
A New York Times Notable Book, 2013

Recently, a friend placed before me a request: please read The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates.  You see, she herself had read this novel and was interested in discussing it with someone, a situation with which I can relate.  So I agreed, despite its plot type residing well outside my typical reading boundary.  And I am so glad that I did.

Set in the year 1905 and in Princeton, New Jersey, the story is ostensibly the work of a historian who has acquired new materials related to the terrible happenings of that year, which involved several prominent families of Princeton.

At this time, much is taking place in the normally tame town of Princeton and its famous university.  Woodrow Wilson, university president, is embroiled in a power struggle with an influential dean, the daughter of one of the oldest Princeton families leaves her groom at the altar for a recently arrived visitor of dubious origin, and ghosts have begun to make their presences known.

Following the storylines of several characters, Ms. Oates crafts an incredibly engaging story, which takes twists and turns that constantly pique the interest of the reader.  What is real?  What is imagined?  And will the reader ever learn which is which?  Along the way, historical personages with ties to Princeton, including Grover Cleveland and Upton Sinclair, make their cameos and reveal aspects of the history of Princeton not well known.

And while at a length of six hundred sixty-nine pages this is not what one would consider a short book, the plot pushes the reader along at a remarkable rate.  An exceptionally novel story, Ms. Oates awes the reader with her imaginative characters and wonderful prose.

Reviewed by Rob, Crescent Hill

The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

Do you find yourself looking at your cellphone multiple times a day? Enjoy access to Wi-Fi, GPS, or Bluetooth? Would it surprise you to know that these inventions that we take for granted everyday were made possible by a woman?

This woman didn’t get the recognition that she deserved until the 1990s for something she created during WWII. A woman that the majority of the US wrote off as nothing more than a pretty face. She is the Hollywood actress, Hedy Lamarr. But Hedy was more than just a pretty face, she also had a deep interest in science and a personal history that made her determined to find a way to to defeat Germany in WWII.

The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict, who’s also written Carnegie’s Maid, tends to write historical fiction about lesser known women or women who historically were standing in their husband’s shadows. However, in the case of Hedy Lamarr, you cannot exactly say she’s lesser known or standing in her husband’s shadow. In Hedy’s case it’s simply being overlooked as just a pretty face. Hollywood and history saw her as an actress and a pretty face because, gasp, at the time many believed that a woman couldn’t be both beautiful and smart.

The novel focuses on the years 1933 to 1942. It may only be a brief period of time but Hedy had a heck of life in those nine years. It shows what life in prewar Vienna was like for a Jewish woman hiding in plain sight. We see how Hedy went from the darling of the Vienna stage to the wife of an arms dealer to Hollywood’s it girl.

I do have to say the first few chapters aren’t the most exciting to read, but they do have you turning the page wanting to know what happens next. The book picks up the pace once she marries Friedrich Mandl and Hedy comes into her own. Though trapped in a dangerous marriage she used both her beauty and brains to escape. And once Hedy did escape, she knew she had to speak out, had to do more if possible.

“I had stared the leaders of our enemies in the eyes and turned my ear to their voices, and I knew the terror they meant to wreak upon our world.” (The Only Woman in the Room)

Benedict was able to take this amazing woman off the screen and out of Hollywood legend, highlighting her brains instead of her beauty. I love that Benedict shows readers that these aren’t mutually exclusive qualities. The book made me want to find out more about Hedy so I’ve also picked up a few of the biographies the library has in the system, such as Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, The Most Beautiful Woman in the World by Richard Rhodes, and Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film by Ruth Barton.

– Reviewed by CarissaMain Library


When Setting Matters

We all know that setting is important to every story but in some books it takes on a life of its own. There are books where the setting feels like an extra character, not just an extra character, a vital character. There are proper terms for these sort of settings, integral setting, symbolic setting, and antagonist setting to name some. If you are seeking authors who know how to create a scene, look no further. Check out these books below.

Cover art

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

The Guest List is set on the wild and isolated Cormorant Island off the coast of Ireland. Guests arrive for the wedding of glamour couple, Julia Keegan and Will Slater but things take a dark turn when a storm starts brewing and guests are left stranded. The setting is eerie with a Lord of the Flies vibe. You can almost feel the dread in the air. The guests and the islands secrets start to come to light and emotions run high in this dark and twisted tale.

Mexican Gothic - Wikipedia

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic is set in 1950’s Mexico. Strong-willed, Noemí Taboada travels to the countryside after her father receives a concerning letter from her newly married cousin. Married to a wealthy Englishman, her cousin, Catalina lives in High Place, an estate set high in the hills tucked away from the small village. Catalina’s husband and family are serious and menacing. Noemi works to uncover the cause of her cousin’s illness and strange behavior and in turn exposes deadly family secrets.

The Sun Down Motel

The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James

The Sun Down Motel takes place in upstate New York. The timeline shifts between 2017 and 1982. Carly Kirk arrives in Fell, New York to investigate the disappearance of her Aunt Viv. Viv disappeared in 1982 while working at The Sun Down Motel and Carly is looking for answers. As part of her investigation, Carly begins working at the Sun Down Motel. She retraces her Aunt’s movements and begins to uncover some disturbing events. The hotel seems to be trying to tell her something important. Will she figure it out before it’s too late?

Ghost Wall

Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

Ghost Wall takes place in the northern England countryside. Silvie and her family join some of her father’s fellow professors and their students in an anthropological reenactment. The group must live and work as if they are part of the Iron Age, gathering roots and hunting from the surrounding forest and bog. Things take a turn when the group decides to build a ghost wall like those of their ancient counterparts. The spiritual turn provides a perspective into the role of ritual and lore and it’s consuming power.

Tokyo Ueno Station by Miri Yu

Tokyo Ueno Station takes place at a park in Tokyo, Japan near Ueno Station. It spans from 1964 to 2011 and is the story of Kazu and his life living homeless in the park. In the story Kazu is our ghost guide who leads us through his life, the history of the park and his friends that live in the park with him. Kazu’s story is one of thousands and yet unique to him. The park is both a refuge for those that call it home and a constant upheaval. A National Book Award winner, Miri takes us on a spectral look at the outcast of society.

– Review by Catherine, Main Library

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

Looking for a murder mystery set in Downton Abbey/The Matrix/Groundhog Day?  YEAH, THAT’S A THING. A thing you never even knew you needed.  And it’s bloody fantastic.  It’s The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

You wake up in a house…Blackheath House to be specific, but knowledge of its name will come later.  And you find yourself in a body you don’t recognize as your own. 

There are three rules of Blackheath House:

  1. Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at 11:00 p.m.
  2. There are eight days, and eight witnesses for you to inhabit.
  3. We will only let you escape once you tell us the name of the killer.

I adore a good mystery, it’s my favorite genre and this one takes the cake. It’s a different take on the traditional murder mystery; twisty, cunning and quite ingenious in my opinion. It is so complexly layered there may be times in the book, particularly through the beginning, you feel yourself bewildered and lost. 

But hang on!  Store each little scrap of information in the back of your mind and it all comes brilliantly together. 

— Review by Heather, St. Matthews

Outlander series by Diana Galbadon

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is outlander.jpg

I’m pretty sure that the majority of America knows about the TV show, Outlander. Most people have been introduced to Jamie and Claire through Starz hit show, including me, an avid reader who must read the book before watching adaptations. However, that wasn’t the case with Outlander. I was three episodes in before I discovered that this awesome TV show was a book, and not just one book but an eight-book series! So I stopped watching and picked up the first book from my library.

I was hooked from the very beginning. Claire visits Craigh na Dun, a stone circle near Inverness, with her husband Frank.  She ends up falling through the stones to 18th Century Scotland, arriving on the eve of what would become known as the Rising of 45, the last of the Jacobite rebellions. This set up gave my adult self what my childhood history nerd self could only dream about, traveling back in time to witness first hand a historical event. And it is set during one of my favorite periods of history, the Scottish Highlands before 1745.

The Clans system, still intact, plays a strong role in the storyline and how the characters interact with each other. Claire, a modern woman, is definitely not prepared for the past. Soon after arrival, she is rescued from Black Jack Randall (her husband Frank’s ancestor) by a ragtag group of Highlanders led by Jamie Frasier. Jamie Fraser is pretty much a man of the 18th Century. He’s used to the mild and submissive women of his time, not one as strong-willed and slightly foul-mouthed as Claire.

These two seem the least likely to fall in love. Love, at first sight, it is not; Claire can’t stand his old fashioned views and he calls her “Sassenach,” meaning “outlander” or “outsider” as an insult. Eventually, this turns to a term of endearment. The two become part of a hasty marriage to protect Claire from the English, but it’s not a happily ever after. Claire gets sent back through the stones and the couple ends up being separated by over two centuries.

While Outlander is the love story of Jamie and Claire it is also a family saga of survival. Both Claire and Jamie survive a war and terrible times but still manage to find each other again, as well as expand their family through blood, marriage, and adoption. Outlander was Jamie and Claire’s love story while Dragonfly in Amber is the story of war and how they became separated. The follow-up installment, Voyager, is the story of how they find each other again. Drums of Autumn, my favorite book in the series, is the story of their family, blood or otherwise.

The series has something for everyone – history, time-travel, romance, and adventure – which is what made the series so enjoyable for me. When I read historical fiction I don’t mind romance but I don’t want it to take over the story. I want the history of the time to play a role as well as a nice balance. Gabaldon does that well you can tell that she does her research on the period  before sitting down to write. Each book is filled with rich historical detail that translates well to the screen.

If you’ve read the books and enjoyed them I would recommend watching the show. Keep in mind the show is an adaption of the books, so scenes may differ. If you’ve only seen the show and are experiencing Outlander withdrawal (a.k.a. Droughtlander), I would highly recommend reading the books. The library has copies of the first eight books as well as the DVDs of the first three series.

Reviewed by CarissaMain Library

In the Rearview: The Road Back to Jack

Editor’s Note: The following review contains a quote from Jack Kerouac that may be offensive to some. However, it is used by the reviewer to capture a certain point of view from a certain place and time, not for shock value.

“What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” ― Jack KerouacOn the Road

JACK KEROUAC published his most famous book in 1957. He had been working on it off and on for a few years, when he sat down and typed it all out in 3 weeks in 1951 on a 120-foot-long scroll. It would take him over 6 years to find a publisher. When he did find a publisher, they cut it, changed it, and cleaned it up for the Puritanical society of 1950’s America. On September 5, 1957, The New York Times published a glowing review and Kerouac became famous overnight.  Jack was a shy man and serious writer, and couldn’t handle the pressures of fame and drank himself to death in 12 years.

In 2007, this uncut version was published as it looked when Jack typed it out. No paragraphs or spaces between lines. I started reading this when it came out, but the print threw me off and I only made it through about 30 pages. How can a person who worships Kerouac as the greatest American Writer since Wolfe wait almost a decade to read this?  So now, with GLASSES and a will to move…FAST THIS TIME (the words Jack used to describe how he was going to tell his new novel.), I read this as fast as possible to get the feel of how Jack spewed it out onto paper.

I first read ON THE ROAD in my late 20’s around the same age as Jack was when he wrote it. It became my bible. So, I re-read it several times and through the years every year or two to get different perspectives as I age. Most people that I know who read it, have no desire to read it again. It is considered, much like Thomas Wolfe’s books (Jack’s favorite writer) to be a book for the youth. It is a book of youthful promise and WILD adventure that is sometimes criminal. But the way Jack tells it, it all seems to make sense. So, I’m almost 55, what am I doing reading this book now?

VISIONS AND GIRLS…and more?

“Somewhere along the line I knew there’d be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me.”

When my Great Aunt read OTR about 10 years ago, in her late 70’s, she gave me the one-line review, “it’s nothing but a lot of cross-country drinking, drugging, and screwing.”  On the surface yes. Isn’t that want most guys in their early twenties are seeking? But, Jack’s ramblings have a deeper aim. He knows he is a writer and for him that is a religious duty.

The Scroll version has vulgar language and uses the names of the actual persons instead of a pseudonym. Some of the Characters would go on to become very famous, such as Allen Ginsberg, Williams S. Burroughs, and Alfred Kinsey. Also, this version has a lot about homosexuals that 1950’s America was not ready for, even though Kinsey’s report in 1948 told us that over 1/3 of males had had at least one sexual experience with another male. That stuff, along with anything sexual, was supposed to stay in the closet or at least behind closed doors. Jack and his gang blow those doors off of their hinges.

But The Scroll is a purer text than the cleaned up version. It is what you tell your friend directly, but not the whole world. But because Jack had felt that God wanted him to “Go moan for man,” he is tell us all. The most controversial section of OTR wasn’t in the Scroll at all:

“At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night. I stopped at a little shack where a man sold hot red chili in paper containers; I bought some and ate it, strolling in the dark mysterious streets. I wished I were a Denver Mexican, or even a poor overworked Jap, anything but what I was so drearily, a “white man” disillusioned. All my life I’d had white ambitions.”

And this sums up what Jack is. He is looking for something on the road. Neal’s father? Religious Enlightenment? Girls? It is all there. And being a young, White, healthy male in 1950’s America it was his pearl to find.

But those fun kicks come with a weary price. And in this book you will find Joy and Sadness are but one taste.

MODERN LIBRARY rated On the Road as #55 in its 100 Best Novels. I would rate the Scroll even higher and as great as anything written at that time. It is a book (even more so than OTR) that preaches and practices NON-CONFORMITY, and as I age the more I get outside of society. It is also a book that preaches poverty for art’s sake or adventure’s sake. For better or for worse, this book in both versions, has had the most influence upon my life. I am not disillusioned and have no white ambitions at all.

Reviewed by Tom, Main Library