Staff Picks: Bet You Can’t Read Just One

Posted by Aaron on

Like a bag of potato chips – when you can’t reach for just one – here are a couple of authors with several selections to sample.

Harmony by Carolyn Parkhurst

Carolyn Parkhurst is my new favorite author. Her most recent novel, “Harmony” is about a camp for special needs children. I couldn’t put it down until I found out if the “guru” at the camp offered a real breakthrough in the treatment of the kids and their families, or if he was a “Jim Jones” kind of character. “Harmony” was so good I have gone on to read everything else this author has written. Each novel is well written with an imaginative and gripping storyline, but not at all “formula.”

Her second book is Lost and Found: A Novel which is the name of a “reality show” that combines elements of a scavenger hunt and an international race. The couples chosen to compete are each required to have some underlying drama in their lives which is revealed to the production staff through devious questioning in pre-show interviews.

The contestants chosen are:

Laura and Cassie, a mother and daughter with a fractured relationship and a shared very personal trauma;
Justin and Abbey, a married couple, both “previously” gay, who have been “delivered” by a Christian organization;
Juliet and Dallas, child stars who crave a return to the limelight;
Jeff and Carl, two brothers who enjoy doing everything together;
Riley and Trent, a couple of internet geeks; and
Betsey and Jason, reunited high school sweethearts.

Several couples have secrets in their background that could be devastating if revealed in public, and the real object of the “reality” show is to manipulate contestants into spilling their guts on camera.

The most compelling story is of teenager Cassie, who delivered a baby girl as the result of a one night stand, and her mom Laura who is suffering enormous guilt because she didn’t even realize Cassie was pregnant. Cassie’s sexuality is evolving, and mom Laura is ripe for a long overdue romance.

One of the crazy items in the scavenger hunt is a parrot in a cage, which every couple has to carry with them throughout the race. Fresh parrots are delivered to the contestants at each stop so the birds aren’t too stressed. Barbara, the ice queen presenter, bestows new clues on the couples at the completion of each quest.

Just when you think alliances have come together, each contestant has to choose a new partner. The producers are counting on at least one person in each couple having a meltdown and revealing all on camera. Meltdowns do occur, partners are betrayed, and in some cases new alliances and romances are formed.  There are interesting twists right up to the end.

Parkhurst’s third book, The Nobodies Album, was wonderful. Octavia, an author, rewrites each of her already published novels, creating new outcomes for the characters.  Her first novel The Dogs of Babel was good, but disturbing, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone upset by animal cruelty. The books don’t have to be read in order. They are all stand alone stories.

∼ Gloria Woodson, Circulation, John Marshall  branch library

Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan

Colgan is another author with plenty of extra helpings “Little Beach Street Bakery” is a light and tasty read, like a fresh baked pastry. It’s a delicious journey for the heart and senses as you root for Polly Waterford to rebuild herself. After a failed relationship and business forces her to relocate to a remote English maritime village, she nurses injured puffins to health, chases coastal ghosts, contemplates a long-shot dream-job as a baker and considers new romance. As Polly leaves behind a life of ambition, modern conveniences, and supposed comforts, stress incidentally begins to fade away with a return to basics, pure labors and austere life. Her only complications remain in the area of new love where past obligations, future options, miscommunications and unexpected surprises muddle the way. Will there be a sweet ending for Polly? Read and see if she can knead together all the key ingredients of a recipe for fulfillment!

Then if you need another serving, Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery has been freshly released in the library’s collection of new books. Colgan offers a second helping to readers and more “second chances” to an expanded cast of characters. The levels of adventure increase as Polly continues to rise dough and rise to the challenges of new storms in life. Even her pet puffin is put to the test in this sequel. Still the pure, good and simple things that matter in life remain as true as Polly.

Should the culinary passages leave you hungry for more, Colgan shares recipes at the end of both of these books. If you feel inspired to bake up a batch of simple, authentic goodness, try the “easiest white bread” the author says is foolproof and will hook you on baking. Or there are instructions for cheese straws, sweetcorn fritters, cinnamon rolls, foccacia, bagels and shortbread. Her “kick-ass chocolate cake” is to be made in a really big tin for a really big crowd. After reading a description of this savory indulgence, I’m drawn to the “olive loaf” which calls for the following:

1 packet active dry yeast (or 2 ¼ t)
1 c warm water
500 g bread flour
2 T sugar
2 T salt
1 T olive oil
100 g olives chopped (black or green as you prefer)

Mix the warm water and the yeast and wait until it foams. Knead in the flour, sugar, salt, olive oil, and olives until you have a smooth sticky dough. Cover and leave to proof for one hour, or until it’s doubled in size. Knead once more; leave for 45 minutes or until it’s doubled in size again. Oil a loaf tin. Bake at 425 degrees for 30 minutes or until brown.

Colgan has many other books. My next stop will be The Bookshop on the Corner.  As in “Summer at Little Beach Street Bakery,” this heroine also buys and renovates a van to transport and enrich the lives of others with her particular treasures -books in this case. Besides these two new Colgan releases, the Fauquier County Public Library has many more selections to enjoy from this author. Consider her additional series and titles including: The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris, Meet Me at the Cupcake Café, and Sweetshop of Dreams. Here’s to devouring some delightful reading!

∼ Marti, Circulation, John Marshall branch library

Book listsreviews from our book clubs and favorites from library staff are great resources when searching for your next book. Or stop by the reference desk at your local library.

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