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My column ran today in the Concord Monitor.  Here it is:

September 2014 Mindful Reader

by Deb Baker

Northeast Kingdom author Garret Keizer writes about his return, after 14 years, to teaching high school English in a small town in Vermont  in Getting Schooled: the Reeducation of an American Teacher.  Part memoir, part examination of recent trends in American education, Getting Schooled  is as beautifully written, carefully observed, and delightfully smart as Keizer’s previous book, Privacy. If you have ever wondered why things happen the way they do in a school, Keizer provides a behind the scenes – and sharply perceptive — view of both teaching and administration.

Noting contemporary educators’ (especially administrators) enthusiasm for the latest “methods” presented by consultants, Keizer admits he is doubtful himself but admires the source of his colleagues’ optimism. “The best teacher has already fallen for something  much more outlandish: the potential for magnificence in every human being.”  Rather than being cynical about this, Keizer embraces it, and his students notice.  In an essay one student reveals, “I learned that a good class with manners, respect and kindness to one another, you learn more and respect the subject more.”

Indeed, Keizer seems to spend a lot of his classroom time encouraging that kind of caring, cooperative atmosphere.  I found it telling that a junior in high school would only just be discovering that such an environment enhances learning. Keizer’s cultural observations are also fascinating; his explanation for the presence of Confederate flags in unlikely places like the Northeast Kingdom is particularly elucidating.

Keizer is thoughtful, curious, intelligent, and respectful, which is what every child deserves in a teacher. In Getting Schooled he teaches us what education, and small town life, is like in America today. He’s also one of the best nonfiction writers around, and I hope this large-hearted, clear-eyed, and thoroughly enjoyable read finds a large audience.

Accidents of Marriage, Randy Susan Meyers’ new novel, is about Maddy, a social worker, mother of three, and wife who suffers a brain injury in a car accident. Caused by her husband Ben, a public defender, driving like a maniac because he was angry.  Meyers uses this dramatic trigger to examine the details of a passionate marriage gone wrong , magnifying the many ways Maddy dealt with Ben’s anger over the years, her family and friends explained it away, and Ben himself justified it as the natural frustrations of a busy man with a disorganized wife. It’s a painful book, a bit like watching the coverage of a tragedy on the news. Meyers writes compellingly; Maddy’s recovery is detailed and wrenching, as are vivid portraits of the children’s reactions to their family’s turmoil. Maddy’s frustration, though, is the most vivid: “She looked out the window and watched the sun fall into the water, the airport, and the tiny distant skyline. Everything and nothing seemed familiar.” Accidents of Marriage ends on only a semi-hopeful note, with the suggestion that healing may be in store, but it won’t be easy for any of the characters.

Vermont author Sarah Healy’s novel House of Wonder is told from the point of view of Jenna, a single mom whose twin brother Warren is “more strange than quirky” and whose mother Silla’s house is full of  stuff she’s bought to counter the losses in her life. Jenna’s story alternates with Silla’s, a former Miss Texas whose own mother was “gone” when she was a very young child. Healy weaves together what happened then with why the neighbors are suspicious of Warren now, adding a love interest for Jenna and some drama surrounding Rose, her daughter. It’s a satisfying mix. Warren, who Jenna’s friend Maggie dryly notes is likely “on the spectrum,” is an interesting character, and I would have enjoyed hearing more of the story from his perspective.  Healy has a knack for realistic dialogue such as this exchange between Jenna and Maggie, “So . . . tell me more about Gabby’s daddy.” . . .”He’s just this guy I grew up with. . . . Stop staring at me with your shrink smile.” . . .”I think it’s great.” . . . “Maggie, it is so not like that. . . .” House of Wonder kept me reading late into the night, wondering how things would work out for these endearing characters. For fans of contemporary fiction and anyone who enjoys well-drawn characters who are much like people you know.

Randy Susan Meyers will be at Gibson’s Bookstore on Sept. 24 at 7pm. and Bishop O’Connell  author of The Stolen, featured in August’s column, will be at Gibson’s on Tuesday, Sept. 23, at 6pm.

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My column ran in today’s Concord Monitor. I enjoyed reviewing Jessica Lander‘s Driving Backwards, Toby Ball‘s Invisible Streets, Sarah Payne Stuart’s Perfectly Miserable and Stonlea: a Timeworn, Gilded Age Survivor Transformed by Peter W. Clement and Victoria Chave Clement, with an introduction by Stonlea‘s owner, Polly Guth.

Mindful Reader: Gilmanton, noir and ‘Perfectly Miserable’

Jessica Lander, author of Driving Backwards, was eight when her family bought a “two-century old house” on Stage Road in Gilmanton, a place to spend their summers. Their neighbors, David and Lizzie Bickford, kept them well-supplied with pies and stories. Lander writes, “It was not until I was a young woman that I began to listen more closely. . . . David’s stories drew me in.” Lander is 26 and David 99 when her book opens.

With David’s “humble recounting of a hundred years of life in small-town America” as a starting point, Lander tells stories of her own as well. She clearly delights in sharing the lives and work of the people who make Gilmanton a thriving rural community today, including a goat-cheese maker, blueberry and dairy farmers, volunteer librarians, and the woman who orchestrates the preparation of “Gilmanton Old Home Day Beanhole Beans.”

Lander also explores Gilmanton’s “great egg-carton landscape,” and the remains of a once thriving mill community along the Suncook. In sussing out the curious existence of the town’s dual villages – Gilmanton Iron Works and Gilmanton Four Corners – she writes of “Enmities . . . tilled into the soil so deeply that when David was a kid, teens of the two villages were forbidden to date one another.” And yes, she takes note of Gilmanton’s notorious former residents, serial killer Herman Webster Mudgett, aka H.H. Holmes, and Peyton Place author Grace Metalious. But mostly, Lander celebrates small-town New Hampshire.

Driving Backwards is a delightful read. Lander’s obvious pleasure in storytelling is sprinkled with history, both human and natural, and her curiosity and affection for her subjects is contagious. It’s a great book to read on a warm afternoon, as Lander lovingly describes bike rides and July Fourth parades, Old Home Days and abundant gardens, swimming holes and stargazing, when “the night sky is limitless, and by association, so too summer.” I’ll be keeping an eye out for more work from this talented young writer.

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I don’t usually read noir, but I’d heard a lot of good things about New Hampshire author Toby Ball’s dystopian crime novels. The latest, Invisible Streets, is set in the mid-1960s. Ball’s imagined city is grim, ripe for planner Nathan Canada’s New City Project, which will tear down decaying neighborhoods to create a massive business zone and Crosstown Expressway. A truckload of dynamite is missing from one of the project’s construction sites. Detective Torsten Grip, journalist Frank Frings and Canada’s right-hand man, Phil Dorman, all want to know who took it and why. Frings is also looking for a friend’s grandson, Sol Elia, who was a subject in secret hallucinogen studies as a student and may be part of a shadowy radical group, Kollectiv 61. Both a mystery and an examination of power and influence, Invisible Streets is an atmospheric, slow-burning book that illuminates the dehumanizing effects of uncompromising ideology and corruption. Frings is a thinking man’s hero whose patience pays, even when he wonders, “whether there was anyone left on his side – and what that side even was.”

Grip and Dorman are less admirable, but in Ball’s capable hands, they’re sympathetic characters. He takes you inside these men’s minds, out into the streets, and up on the girders of the City. If you’re looking for a smart, provocative crime novel, try Invisible Streets.

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 Sarah Payne Stuart is Perfectly Miserable. In her latest memoir, the Concord, Mass., native reflects on Guilt, God and Real Estate in her hometown. She has a love-hate relationship with her WASP family, with the formidable matrons of Concord, and with the 19th-century authors who put the town on the map. Stuart looks back not with nostalgia, but with her eyes open to the fact that she and her siblings could not wait to leave Concord, and yet she could not imagine raising her children anywhere else. Her self-depracating observations about parenting, being the daughter of aging parents, and being a grown-up in the place you were a child are funny, smart and thought-provoking. Even when she recalls painful incidents or patterns, Stuart’s tone is affectionate, even wistful: “And still I wish I could relive it all again.” With Perfectly Miserable, she and her readers do.

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Stonlea: a Timeworn, Gilded Age Survivor Transformed by Peter W. Clement and Victoria Chave Clement is, as Stonlea’s owner Polly Guth, says in the introduction, “the story of taking a Gilded Age grande dame of a summer house . . . and making it into a comfortable, year-round family house.” Guth felt the restoration was “a matter of stewardship,” and “continuity” – she wanted Stonlea to welcome her family and friends to Dublin to enjoy the beauty of lake and mountain just as its original owners did. She also set a very contemporary goal: net-zero energy, meaning that the home produces the energy it needs, through geothermal and solar technology. This gorgeous book, lavishly illustrated, shows Stonlea from start to finish. Even if you’re not an architecture buff or don’t own an old house yourself, the grand old summer houses in the Monadnack region are an interesting part of New Hampshire history, and this book is a vicarious entry into one such home.

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This month’s column ran today in the Concord Monitor. Here it is:

University of New Hampshire psychology professor John D. Mayer co-wrote an article in 1990 called “Emotional Intelligence.” Journalist Daniel Goleman wrote a book about Mayer’s ideas that popularized his work. Mayer’s new book, Personal Intelligence: The Power of Personality and How it Shapes Our Lives, explains his continuing work in personality psychology. Mayer outlines the ways human beings learn to assess each other’s personalities and character, and how this information influences us.

He posits that the intelligence required to take in and process observations about ourselves as well as the people around us is key to our success and happiness. Mayer writes, “Personal intelligence speaks to both our human potential and to our capacity for well-being.” He notes it “contributes to our growth as individuals and to our skills at engaging with society,” and “also speaks to the value of knowing our boundaries and limits.” He explains that people have been examining personality differences since antiquity, and he believes this “previously undervalued human skill . . . contributes to the accomplishments of our civilization by allowing us to function better with one another than we could otherwise.”

Although the tone is somewhat academic for a popular science book, I find Mayer’s optimism heartening and his theory convincing: Strengthening personal intelligence could certainly improve communication and understanding in professional and personal relationships. As I considered the other two books for this column, I realized personal intelligence – though I’ve never called it that before – is key to reading about both fictional characters and real people.

Taking stock

Seacoast author Kristin Waterfield Duisberg’s second novel, After, tells the story of a few years of Nina Baldwin’s life after finding a lump in her breast, from her point of view and that of her young autistic daughter Audrey and her much older husband, Martin, who escaped from occupied Germany after World War II as a boy.

 Martin’s vivid childhood memories shed light on his emotional reticence. Duisberg helps readers understand why Nina fell for Martin and why, now that she faces her own mortality, they have trouble turning to each other.

Audrey is a fascinating character, one I would have liked to hear more from. My favorite scene in the book describes Audrey and Nina shining flashlights into the summer night sky. “ ‘Why are we doing this?’ Nina finally asked. ‘Because the light will keep on traveling forever. Then, when I miss you, I can look up at the sky and know your light is still out there.’ ”

Parts of this quiet, thoughtful novel are very moving, and many readers will find something to identify with.

The subplots, while somewhat distracting, didn’t dissuade me from wanting to learn what would happen to Nina.

Shining light on love

Daniel Jones, who lives in Western Massachusetts and edits the “Modern Love” column in the New York Times, has gathered a decade’s worth of insight in Love Illuminated: Exploring Life’s Most Mystifying Subject (With the Help of 50,000 Strangers).

He examines contemporary relationships from the first glimmers of attraction to the nitty gritty of who does which chores and other inevitable challenges partners face.

Jones uses examples from the thousands of stories submitted to his column to shed light on issues like trust, vulnerability, infidelity, and the mystery of the feeling – or is it a decision? – we call love.

Jones approaches the loves laid bare in his inbox with open heart and mind: “Whether you’re a scientist investigating the chemicals of lust, a mathematician devising match-making algorithms, a jilted lover attempting to come to terms with how your last relationship unraveled, or a writer like me trying to make sense of it all, you’ve got my deepest sympathies.”

His curiosity and admiration for his subjects’ efforts, along with stories about his relationship with his wife, author Cathi Hanauer, make Jones a pleasant guide.

As he puts it, “In my mind I have not been mastering love all these years so much as marinating in it.

Asking me what I have learned about love is like asking a pickle what it has learned about vinegar.” You won’t find definitive answers in this book, but it does just what the title promises: illuminates.

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The Concord Monitor ran my column today:

The Mindful Reader: A thriller and a tour of the universe’s inside story

Saturday, January 11, 2014
(Published in print: Sunday, January 12, 2014)

Boston-area author Elisabeth Elo’s North of Boston kept me turning pages between tasks on my holiday to-do lists. I’m not a huge thriller fan, but I enjoyed this one because of Pirio Kasparov, the smart, loyal, strong main character with a penchant for cigars and Russian novels.

Pirio works for her family’s perfume company and tries to keep her oldest friend, Thomasina, out of trouble and to be a good godmother to Thomasina’s son, Noah. She’s helping Noah’s father, Ned, on his new lobster boat when it’s hit by a freighter. Pirio survives the frigid ocean, Ned doesn’t. Pirio’s physiological resilience lands her in a U.S. Navy study. Her fierce love for Noah and deeply ingrained sense of justice land her in trouble as she tries to discover who rammed the boat and whether it was an accident or murder.

While sleuthing, she meets Russell Alejandro Parnell, a writer who becomes her partner. After saving him from a bunch of bad guys, Pirio examines his bookcase for clues about whose side he’s on: “The environmental books are persuasive, but the book that makes the case for his non-evil character is The Elements of Style. What bad guy would give a s— about the difference between which and that?” I admit, I swooned over this line (and lamented Elo’s occasional reliance on adverbs).

With a twisty story line, truly rotten villains, intriguing supporting characters and interesting subplots that shed light on Pirio’s character, North of Boston was a pleasure.

Toward the end of the book, Pirio’s father, Milosa, tells her, “It takes so little to satisfy you Americans. . . . You put a few facts together, and congratulate yourselves that you’ve uncovered the truth and told your story right up to the end. But the truth doesn’t have an end. It just keeps going, and if you don’t have the guts to follow it, you start to die.”

 A good thriller or mystery leaves the reader with closure and also curiosity about where the truth might lead the hero next. Elo definitely accomplished that in her winning debut.

Learn something new

When she was 15, Amanda Gefter and her father discussed the origins of the universe over cashew chicken at their local Chinese restaurant, and whether “something and nothing aren’t really opposites, they’re just different patterns of the same thing.” They decided to find out, together. If your New Year’s resolutions include learning something new, I highly recommend Gefter’s science memoir, Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn, which tells the story of her journey from a self-described underachiever who skipped high school physics to a highly respected science journalist, who, along with her father, took on one of the greatest mysteries of all: “Why existence?”

Gefter became an intellectual adventurer. She and her father taught themselves physics, amassing a library of books and papers as they worked together for years to prove that everything is nothing. Their quest influenced her life decisions: While working for a bridal magazine she got press passes to a conference at Princeton honoring physics legend John Wheeler, and from that day – when she and her father visited the street where Einstein lived and trespassed on the lawn – she decided to give up her day job to search for the answers they sought. That meant pitching a story to Scientific American in order to start a freelancing career that eventually led to an editor’s position at New Scientist. And contacting Nobel laureates and other top scientists to ask them about something and nothing.

Gefter moved to London to pursue her doctorate in the philosophy and history of science, and asked the agent who represents all the biggest names in physics to take on her book. Her story is as much about becoming somebody as it is about discovering “something.”

Gefter’s wit, audacity, intelligence and irreverence, her wonderful relationship with her father, and fan photos of the two of them with famous physicists give the book heart. What gives it heft is Gefter’s gift for reducing mind-blowing concepts (non-Boolean logic, strings and particles, M-theory, quantum mechanics, Hawking radiation, de Sitter space, Gödelian self-reference, etc.) into plain English. Don’t take my word for it. After Gefter sent Stephen Hawking and his research partner Thomas Hertog the draft of a piece she wrote about their work, Hawking emailed: “The article is remarkably good and clear.”

Gefter and her dad reached their goal. “We had found the universe’s secret: Physics isn’t the machinery behind the workings of the world; physics is the machinery behind the illusion that there is a world. . . . How come existence? Because existence is what nothing looks like from the inside.” If that confuses you, or if you were an underachiever who skipped physics, try Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn. Gefter will take you on an outsider’s tour of the universe’s inside story, and you’ll learn – and understand – more than you imagined you could.

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The column appeared in today’s Concord Monitor and is online as well. I’ve pasted it below for those who face technical issues with accessing it at their website:

Sunday, December 8, 2013
(Published in print: Sunday, December 8, 2013)
Richard Blanco’s quiet life in Bethel, Maine, changed forever when he learned he’d been chosen inaugural poet. For All of Us, One Today: an Inaugural Poet’s Journey is both his personal story – Latino immigrant, gay man, engineer who felt called to study creative writing – and also the story of his public role. Blanco invites readers into his process as he considers the meaning of being American, writes three poems, “One Today,” “Mother Country” and “What We Know of Country,” revises them, consults family and colleagues, and prepares for the big day. We share Blanco’s awe and wonder as he goes to the podium to read “One Today,” and as he receives an outpouring of public and professional responses to his work, including invitations to write other occasional poems.

It’s a lovely memoir, melodic and rich in imagery. For example, he describes sitting in the airport after the inauguration when everything felt “like those few minutes some mornings in bed with half my life still in a dream and the other half of me being born anew into the miracle of yet another morning.”

The book is not only a poignant look at Blanco’s experiences over the past year but also at America’s, from Sandy Hook to the Boston Marathon, from the inauguration to historic advances in marriage equality. And it’s a meditation on loving one’s country, through good times and bad.

In “What We Know of Country,” Blanco describes this kind of mature patriotism, beyond the flag-waving admiration we’re taught as children. It’s like a relationship, one in which we forgive mistakes and stay together through disagreements, because “to know a country takes all we know of love.” The line is powerful because it’s true in a deeply humane way.

Blanco sees poetry as “a great big mirror, for all of us to look into, together.” Reading For All of Us, One Today, I was filled with a renewed hope that what binds us is greater than what separates us, and a profound admiration for Blanco as a champion of poetry. When he goes into classrooms, he teaches kids “the beauty, power, and purpose of poetry,” which for Blanco is “connecting to people – and having them connect emotionally to their own lives.” Poetry is relevant, Blanco believes, because a shared emotional experience – like hearing a moving poem – breaks down barriers and helps people relate to each other. His memoir is a tribute to all that inspires him to write and share poetry.

Sheep, goats, llamas and bears

If you or someone you know dreams of owning a small farm, knits or loves the New England countryside, Barbara Parry’s Adventures in Yarn Farming: Four Seasons on a New England Fiber Farm will be a treat. Parry explains the intricacies and hard work of raising sheep for their wool in detail. “The barn is my vessel; we set a course for a new year. Shearing, skirting fleeces, and lambing are now visible points on the horizon. The yearly rituals are the same, but no two years are alike.” This book is part memoir, part farm journal, part how-to manual, with recipes, instructions for dying and spinning, and patterns for knitting and weaving.

Photographer Ben Barnhart captures each season in all its glory and many of the farm’s sheep, goats and llamas. I would have preferred less farming jargon and a slightly more streamlined narrative, but Parry provides a window into small farming and skilled craftsmanship, which are part of New England’s heritage, and does so beautifully.

Ben Kilham’s work studying black bears and his pioneering methods of raising orphaned bears and successfully releasing them into the wild are well known in New Hampshire. Out On a Limb: What Black Bears Have Taught Me About Intelligence and Intuition reveals how his unique studies have influenced bear science worldwide.

Kilham never imagined this would happen, nor that he’d be invited to translate his years of experience into a Ph.D. As he writes: “Being self-taught, it was difficult not to be intimidated by the extensive literature in the behavioral sciences that clearly states that none of the behavior I had been witnessing actually existed in animals. . . . I’m over that now.”

Kilham himself is as interesting as his research, and passages in which he describes his life and studies are delightful. The last part of the book, in which Kilham lays out his hypotheses that “a close look at the primitive social systems of black bears provide(s) an alternative explanation for the development of human cooperative behavior, altruism, and morality,” is especially intriguing.

Kilham’s work may affect science in ways not yet fully understood, which makes his autodidactic methods even more remarkable. His book is thoroughly engaging, accessible and practical, too – he ends with an appendix outlining how humans and black bears can coexist peacefully, and how to behave with a bear if you inadvertently attract one to food sources in your yard.

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I nearly forgot to post — this coming Sunday, 12/15, my column will run in the Concord Monitor. I’m reviewing three books, each beautiful in its own way: Richard Blanco‘s For All of Us, One Today: An Inaugural Poet’s JourneyBen Kilham‘s Out on a Limb: What Black Bears Have Taught Me About Intelligence and Intuitionand Barbara Parry‘s Adventures in Yarn Farming: Four Seasons of a New England Yarn Farm.

 

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My column ran in the Concord Monitor today; I’ve pasted it below. Before I get to that, a few words about the book I most recently finished, The Pure Gold Baby by Margaret Drabble.

I got into a discussion a few days ago with a fellow avid reader about the fact that there are books you have to read slowly and thoughtfully (frequently called literary, but that word is freighted with snobbery for some folks), and those you can tear through quickly. Drabble writes the kind one reads deliberately and carefully — and the kind that leaves you thinking for days. Bookconscious regulars may recall after I read The Peppered Moth I declared my intent to read all of Drabble’s work.

I found The Pure Gold Baby very beautiful and also very thought-provoking. The child of the title is Anna, a “special needs” girl, and the book is about her and her mother Jess and their friends and family in North London. Drabble makes their world deeply interesting even in its ordinary every-dayness, and through her narrator, Eleanor, a lawyer for a nonprofit social justice organization in London and longtime friend of Jess and Anna, she explores mental difference (both that which is evident from birth and that which develops later in life) and the care of the mentally ill or disabled. And even of the “regularly-abled” if you will — much of Eleanor’s reflection touches on the way parenting and childhood as well as mental healthcare has changed over the decades.

This of course opens the book up to related subjects – the old nature versus nurture debate, responsibility and accountability, whether inclusion and mainstreaming or institutionalizing and providing group care works better, etc. It’s a challenging read because Eleanor tells the story through her recollections, which are not always linear and chronological, and sometimes ramble or repeat, as memories do. But it’s a good read.

I’d say like much of the best literature, The Pure Gold Baby is about love — the highest value in most human transactions, the thing that makes us heroes or cowards, that causes our best intentions to go astray, and that sometimes makes us grow beyond our perceived potential. It’s a lovely meditation on friendship — between women but also between the sexes — and family, and how little our human constructs really matter when true affinity exists. And it’s a story, fitting for Jess, who is an anthropologist, of kinship, and the way our connections to each other shape our lives beyond anything else.

In this month’s Mindful Reader, three reviews:

The Mindful Reader: A wonderful read about Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening

By DEB BAKER

For the Monitor

Sunday, November 10, 2013
(Published in print: Sunday, November 10, 2013) 

Massachusetts author Susan Stinson’s Spider in a Tree: a Novel of the First Great Awakeningsurprised me. I knew the basic history of the period, including a bit about Jonathan Edwards, and frankly, thought it dull. But Stinson takes readers into Edwards’s home, into the lives of his family, their slaves, neighbors, relatives, and yes, even the spiders and insects of colonial Northampton, Mass. Suffering and joy, religious ecstasy and secular sorrow, the conflict between formal theology and individual conscience all make vivid fodder for Stinson’s story, which follows Edwards’s trajectory from 1731, during the religious revival that gripped New England, to 1750, when his congregation dismissed him.

She opens with Edwards sitting in “the big elm in front of his house. . . . People peered up at him through leaves that sifted light, which, he had taught them, was akin to sifting God. . . . Jonathan Edwards ate from pewter plates, not wooden trenchers, which did not go unnoticed in the town. He was useless with an auger, and his wife was better than he was on one end of a two-man saw, but most people who passed by the house on King Street had felt his sermons hammering at their souls.”

Stinson’s writing is clear, dynamic and full of vivid details that evoke early American life. Supporting characters add richness and depth to the story. Through them, we see Jonathan Edwards not only as a minister, but a man. Joseph and Elisha, Edwards’s young cousins, grow up in the shadow of their father’s suicide, which their mother believes Edwards caused with his fervent preaching. Sarah, Edwards’s wife, is a skilled herbalist, has ecstatic spiritual visions, bears 11 children and tries to smooth townspeople’s feelings when her husband stirs them up. Leah, the Edwards’s slave, experiences a personal religious awakening and wonders how people of faith can justify owning other people.

As these stories and others weave through Jonathan Edwards’s accomplishments and setbacks, readers explore the ideas and ideals, conflicts and controversies the characters face. And the big questions Edwards’s preaching raised in a world both very different and very similar to our own, where people’s emotions, resentments, secrets and aspirations color their actions. A fascinating trip back in time and through the human spirit, a story of longing, seeking, loving and struggling that seemed to me as engaging and fresh as anything you might read about a contemporary small town.

For fans of true crime

“The lies you wanted to hear were the easiest ones to tell,” says Lucy to Matt in Lies You Wanted to Hear, Massachusetts author James Whitfield Thomson’s debut novel. In this scene, Lucy and Matt are seeing each other again for the first time 17 years after Matt disappeared with their children. The novel opens with Lucy reflecting on nearly seven years without her family, and then explains what happened. Matt and Lucy are not terribly likeable characters, but Thomson makes them very real. It’s interesting to consider how far people will go in the name of love, and what an enormous claim parenthood makes on the human psyche. Inspired by a newspaper article about a Boston man whose daughters were glad he’d kidnapped them 20 years earlier, this novel should appeal to fans of true crime as well as fiction.

A non-adult book for adults

Monitor Board of Contributors writer Justine “Mel” Graykin wrote her novel Archimedes Nesselrode “for adults who are weary of adult books.” When working at the Philbrick-James Library in Deerfield, Graykin notes, patrons ask her for “something uplifting, in between all the heavy, literary, adult fare.” Her playful title character is an artist whose “creations” appear to be alive, and who shares his home with a basilisk guard, a matronly heron, mischievous marmosets, a bishop who lives in a teapot and many other whimsical creatures. When Nesselrode’s manager, Frank Shekle, interviews housekeepers, he warns them about his client’s eccentricity. Ms. Vivian Mare is undaunted. The household runs smoothly in her capable hands until the full moon, when Nesselrode’s behavior prompts a change in their relationship. By the end of the book, readers learn why Archimedes Nesselrode hasn’t left his house in 10 years, how he creates, what the downsides of his mysterious talents are, and what the future holds for Ms. Mare and her employer.

 

 

 

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