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Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Five Books That Will Make You Glad You Never Went to Boarding School

Add a gifted but lonely outsider to a circle of privileged, eccentric students and you have the formula for a wicked good read. These five novelists shine a fictional light on decadent deeds taking place in the shadows of expensive, elite academic institutions. Read just one –  you’ll never be happier not to have been born with a trust fund.

A young American student and a poor British student at Oxford convince four of their friends to join in an escalating game of pranks and dares for a coveted cash prize. A tragic mishap delays the game, but in the end, a winner must be found in Christopher Yates’ thriller Black Chalk.

Andrei, a talented outsider who studies at an elite Moscow school, becomes involved with a secret club devoted to the poet Pushkin. After two students from the club are killed, the secret police investigation extends all the way into Stalin’s inner circle in One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore.

When a young Trinity College graduate student who looks just like Detective Cassie Maddox is stabbed, Maddox agrees to pose as the student as part of an undercover investigation. Maddox soon feels herself drawn to the main suspects in the case, the charismatic, reclusive students who live at Whitethorn House in The Likeness by Tana French.


An insecure scholarship student, Richard Papen, becomes fascinated with an aloof group of classics students at a prestigious New England college. His desire to join their exclusive circle entangles him in the more sinister aspects of their studies in Donna Tartt’s debut novel, The Secret History.

Troubled American teenager Andrew Taylor is suspected of causing the death of a fellow student his first semester at an exclusive British boarding school. Uncanny visions and ghostly confrontations link Taylor to a centuries-old scandal involving a lonely charity student and the infamous poet Lord Byron in Justin Evan’s gothic fiction The White Devil.

-Rebecca Wolff, Centreville Regional Library

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

If You Like Me Before You...

Since its publication in 2012, JoJo Moyes’s Me Before You has been a story enjoyed by many. Perhaps you read it when it first came out or perhaps you’ve read it recently as part of one of the many book groups in FCPL’s system – both George Mason’s book discussion group and Kings Park’s afternoon book discussion group focused on the book this past February, and Chantilly’s group read and discussed it just last month. Perhaps you came to the story as a result of seeing the trailer for its movie adaptation, slotted to hit theaters in June. Whatever originally drew you to it, if you fell in love with the story and are looking for something similar to read and enjoy while you wait for June – we suggest you try these titles:

After You, JoJo Moyes [FIC MOY]

          It is undoubtedly cheating to list this title, published last fall, as many lovers of Me Before You have probably already jumped on it. The current holds list for this sequel is not long at all compared to the holds list for Me Before You though, so if you haven’t read it yet and want to know what happens to Louisa – now would be a good time to add yourself to the list! (Fun fact: Moyes herself wasn’t expecting to write a sequel to Me Before You – check out her blog announcement for After You, late last February.)

The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, Jonathan Evison [FIC EVI]

          If you appreciated the caregiving theme and the changes in perspective that can come from the interaction between caregiver and patient, try this novel, which explores both without the romantic angle. Ben becomes a caregiver after a traumatic series of events which leads him to Trev, a young adult with Duchenne muscular dystrophy, and a journey to redemption and renewal.

A Walk to Remember, Nicholas Sparks [FIC SPA]

          As in Me Before You, reflecting on love in the face of illness, possible death and the momentous changes that that love can make in a person’s life is central to this title. Landon, a high school troublemaker, surprises both himself and his friends when he falls in love with the last person he would expect: Jamie, a minister’s daughter whose personality and outlook on life is very different from his own. What he learns from her lasts a lifetime. A bittersweet love story.

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green [YFIC GRE]

          Whether you're an avid reader of young adult fiction or haven’t tried reading young adult fiction in years, this title is not to be missed. Hazel Grace has barely had the opportunity to do the kinds of things Will was known for pre-accident in Me Before You, having been diagnosed with stage IV thyroid cancer at the age of 13. She’s barely even lived! That begins to change when she meets Augustus and finds herself experiencing things she never dreamed were possible.

Starlight on Willow Lake,  Susan Wiggs [FIC WIG]

          Like Me Before You, this novel explores the dynamics of caregiving for a paraplegic used to a much more active lifestyle, though the specifics are reversed. Mason has been able to rely on his brother and sister to care for his mother, who lost her husband at the same time she lost her mobility. His contribution is financing anything she could possibly need to adapt to her new life. But her care falls firmly on his shoulders when long term commitments require the absence of both his siblings. Luckily, he has Faith - a single mother trying to raise her two daughters years after the death of their father - who he hires on as a new caregiver to help. This novel is a testament to the power of love and family in the face of illness and death.

The Royal We, Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan [FIC COC]

          For those who enjoyed the setting and writing style, you may also like this title, which takes place primarily in England and handles similar relationship themes – both romantic and familial, though it ruminates less on illness and death. Nick and Bex are an unlikely couple trying to make their relationship last despite the influence of very different upbringings and family pressures, with a potential for both happily ever after and not-so-happily ever after hanging in the balance.

Have other recommendations for others who love Me Before You? Don’t forget to leave them, along with any suggestions for future “If You Like…” posts, in the comments.

-Denise Dolan, George Mason Regional Library

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Book Club Pick: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

“There was a time, and it was many years ago now, when I had to stay in a hospital for almost nine weeks. This was in New York City, and at night a view of the Chrysler Building, with its geometric brilliance of lights, was directly visible from my bed.”
And so begins the story of Lucy Barton, a young wife and mother who is recovering from an unnamed illness in a New York City hospital. Although the story centers on Lucy’s time in the hospital, the book meshes three stories—Lucy’s childhood, the hospital stay and her life as a writer.

Told in snippets of memory; we know that she is married and has two beloved children, but we don’t see much of her husband or the children. Instead, her long-estranged mother shows up at the hospital from Amgash, Illinois, and sits at Lucy’s bedside for five days, never leaving even to sleep. 

In the haze of her recovery, Lucy listens to her mother talk, mostly about people from her hometown, gossip about their marriages, but never about what is most on Lucy’s mind—the extreme poverty of her childhood, her father’s alcoholism, her mother’s abuse. Her mother never asks about Lucy’s own marriage or her two beloved girls. Instead, Lucy and her mother talk around these issues, and it is what is left unsaid that paints this story.

The story goes back and forth in time, and Lucy reflects on many aspects of her life—her childhood, of course, but also the influence of a writing mentor, the kindness of her doctor, a beloved sixth grade teacher. It almost doesn’t matter what her mother says; it’s the mere comfort of her mother’s voice that helps Lucy to heal and to piece together the many bits of her life. This is a brief, but thoughtful novel about the fragile bonds of family, the comfort of a mother’s voice and the imperfection of love.

--Ellen Bottiny, Tysons-Pimmit Regional Library