The Cartographer of No Man’s Land

The Cartographer of No Man's Land by P. S. DuffyTitle: The Cartographer of No Man’s Land

Author: P. S. Duffy. This is her first novel, she is a science writer for the Mayo Clinic.

Genre: Historical Fiction.

Readers: Consultant Alila, bookkeeper Tykira, teacher Ninian and research assistant Rosie T.

Summary: When adventurous Ebbin goes missing at the front in 1916, Angus defies his pacifist upbringing to join the war and search for his beloved brother-in-law. With his navigation experience, Angus is assured a position as a cartographer in London. But upon arriving overseas he is instead sent directly into the trenches, where he experiences the visceral shock of battle. Meanwhile, at home, his perceptive son Simon Peter must navigate escalating hostility in a fishing village torn by grief and a rising suspicion of anyone expressing less than patriotic enthusiasm for the war.

Our Take: Straight A’s for this historical novel. Whether you’re a WWI buff or just someone who likes historical fiction or enjoys novels of family our readers heartily recommend this book.

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Approaching the Speed of Light

Approaching the Speed of Light by Victoria LustbaderTitle: Approaching the Speed of Light

Author: Victoria Lustbader. She is the author of two previous novels, including Stone Creek. Before becoming a writer she was an editor of science-fiction novels.

Genre: Commercial Fiction

Readers: Professor Michal,  prosecutor Rochelle, project manager Andrea and stay-at-home moms Dana and Megan V.

Summary: Jody is a likable young man getting by in New York City at the turn of the millennium. On the surface, he seems to have it together, with friends, family, a decent job, and a steady string of girlfriends. But a secret history has left Jody scarred and broken inside, lacking faith in the future or himself. Like the ceaseless pull of a black hole, his buried secrets hold him back, defining him, until his trajectory crosses the path of three very different women, who, in their own ways, hold out the tantalizing possibility of healing, connection . . . or self-destruction.

Our Take: A strong and resonant novel with complex characters that explores real emotional depth. Not a terribly light or happy read, but most of our readers found it worth their while.

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Lookaway, Lookaway

Title: Lookaway, Lookaway

Author: Wilton Barnhardt

Genre: Commercial Fiction

Readers: Blogger From Grind to Whine Stacey, lawyer Abby R., research assistant Rosie T., stay-at-home mom Emry and small business owner Samantha.

Summary: Jerene Jarvis Johnston and her husband Duke are exemplars of Charlotte, North Carolina’s high society, where old Southern money—and older Southern secrets—meet the new wealth of bankers, boom-era speculators, and carpetbagging social climbers. Steely and implacable, Jerene presides over her family’s legacy of paintings at the Mint Museum; Duke, the one-time college golden boy and descendant of a Confederate general, whose promising political career was mysteriously short-circuited, has settled into a comfortable semi-senescence as a Civil War re-enactor.  Jerene’s brother Gaston is an infamously dissolute bestselling historical novelist who has never managed to begin his long-dreamed-of literary masterpiece, while their sister Dillard is a prisoner of unfortunate life decisions that have made her a near-recluse.

As the four Johnston children wander perpetually toward scandal and mishap. Annie, the smart but matrimonially reckless real estate maven; Bo, a minister at war with his congregation; Joshua, prone to a series of gay misadventures, and Jerilyn, damaged but dutiful to her expected role as debutante and eventual society bride. Jerene must prove tireless in preserving the family’s legacy, Duke’s fragile honor, and what’s left of the dwindling family fortune. She will stop at nothing to keep what she has—but is it too much to ask for one ounce of cooperation from her heedless family?

Our Take: This is one of those books that depends a lot on the reader. Either you connect with the characters and enjoy the book, or you find them insufferable and you don’t like the book. It’s a bit of a crap shoot, but if a novel about a dysfunctional Southern family sounds up your alley you may want to give it a try.

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The Panopticon

TitleThe Panopticon

Author: Jenni Fagan

Genre: Commercial Fiction, Sci-Fi, we don’t really have a good answer for this one.

Readers: Policy wonk BakingSuit, copyeditor Lori, librarian Pam, day care teacher EMarie and nonprofit director Kimberly.

Summary: Anais Hendricks, fifteen, is in the back of a police car, headed for the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. She can’t remember the events that led her here, but across town a policewoman lies in a coma and there is blood on Anais’s school uniform. Smart, funny and fierce, Anais is a counter-culture outlaw, a bohemian philosopher in sailor shorts and a pillbox hat. She is also a child who has been let down, or worse, by just about every adult she has ever met. The residents of the Panopticon form intense bonds, heightened by their place on the periphery, and Anais finds herself part of an ad hoc family there. Much more suspicious are the social workers, especially Helen, who is about to leave her job for an elephant sanctuary in India but is determined to force Anais to confront the circumstances of her birth before she goes. Looking up at the watchtower that looms over the residents, Anais knows her fate: she is part of an experiment, she always was, it’s a given, a liberty – a fact. And the experiment is closing in.

Our Take: A split decision. Everyone found it challenging and thought-provoking. Very dark and troubling. Lori and EMarie thought it worked while Pam, Kimberly and BakingSuit thought it didn’t quite come together. Definitely not light reading, but perhaps a good pick for those who like a challenge.

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Courting Greta

Title: Courting Greta

Author: Ramsey Hootman. This is her first novel.

Genre: Commercial Fiction

Readers: Stay-at-home moms Katie and Colleen B., professor JoLee, nonprofit director Kimberly and victim advocate MJ.

Summary: Samuel Cooke knows most women wouldn’t give him a second glance even if he were the last man on earth. He’s the cripple with the crutches, the nerdy computer genius every female past puberty feels compelled to mother. So when he leaves his lucrative career to teach programming to high schoolers, romance definitely isn’t on his radar.

Perhaps that’s why Greta Cassamajor catches him off guard. The sarcastic gym coach with zero sense of humor is no beauty – not even on the inside. But an inexplicably kind act toward Samuel makes him realize she is interesting.

Samuel is certain she won’t accept his invitation to dinner – so when she does, he’s out of his depth. All he knows is that he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her as long as he can. Pretending he’s got his class under control? Easy. Being vulnerable enough to admit why he ditched his programming career for teaching? Um, no. That would require honesty. And if there’s one thing Samuel can’t live without, it’s the lies he tells himself.

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