Despite the temporary closure at the Walla Walla Public Library, there are many online digital services, such as eBooks and Audiobooks, online access to newspapers and research databases. See this week’s Washington Anytime Library selection at anytime.overdrive.com.
“Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand,” by Helen Simonson
In her charming debut novel, Simonson tells the tale of Maj. Ernest Pettigrew, an honor-bound Englishman and widower, and the very embodiment of duty and pride. As the novel opens, the major is mourning the loss of his younger brother, Bertie, and attempting to get his hands on Bertie’s antique Churchill shotgun — part of a set the boys’ father split between them, but which Bertie’s widow doesn’t want to hand over. While the major is eager to reunite the pair for tradition’s sake, his son, Roger, has plans to sell the heirloom set to a collector for a tidy sum. As he frets over the guns, the major’s friendship with Jasmina Ali — the Pakistani widow of the local food shop owner — takes a turn unexpected by the major. The author’s dense, descriptive prose wraps around the reader like a comforting cloak, eventually taking on true page-turner urgency as Simonson nudges the major and Jasmina further along and dangles possibilities about the fate of the major’s beloved firearms. This is a vastly enjoyable traipse through the English countryside and the long-held traditions of the British aristocracy.
“Velva Jean Learns to Drive: A Novel,” by Jennifer Niven
Niven makes some memorable moonspun magic in her rich fiction debut (after two nonfiction books) about 10-year-old Velva Jean Hart, a North Carolina kid determined to drive and sing at the Grand Ole Opry. After Velva Jean is born again, her daddy leaves and her mother falls ill, and not even Velva’s bargaining with God can save her. Her brother, Johnny Clay, is some comfort, but Velva Jean grows up fast after promising her dying mother to heal people with her singing. At 16, Velva marries charismatic Rev. Harley Bright. But Velva Jean’s independent streak (she wants to learn to drive), her singing (which sounds sinful to Harley’s ear) and her friendship with a half-Choctaw, half-Creole blues musician fire up Harley’s controlling jealousy. It’s a touching read, funny and wise, like a crazy blend of Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, a less morose Flannery O’Connor and maybe a shot of Hank Williams.
“Ten Restaurants That Changed America,” by Paul Freedman
Freedman (“Food: The History of Taste”), a history professor at Yale, highlights 10 restaurants that influenced a culture of eating. Some of the landmark eateries featured in this volume no longer exist but they still claim a cherished and notable spot in culinary history. The edifice of Delmonico’s in New York graces the cover; it’s given American palates a taste for fine dining since 1827. Freedman also prominently features Schrafft’s, the East Coast institution that catered to “ladies who lunch” and served dainty, middle-class fare without the grease-laden platters enjoyed by working men. Freedman believes the Howard Johnson restaurants carved out a niche for the on-the-road, market that grew exponentially in the auto-crazed period of the 1920s. Freedman discusses Sylvia’s, a Harlem restaurant that has welcomed a spectrum of eaters from locals to heads of state; and supplies wonderful details of the Four Seasons, the Mandarin, and Chez Panisse in Berkeley; Antoine’s in New Orleans; and Mamma Leone’s and Le Pavillon in New York.
“The Lady in the Van,” by Alan Bennett
When British playwright Alan Bennett (“The Madness of King George”) allowed an eccentric street person to park her broken-down camper in his upper-class London driveway, he thought he was performing a temporary good turn. Instead, she stayed 15 years (1974-1989) and provided him with the grist for this marvelous, touching autobiographical gem. Adapted from the stage, this BBC Radio production has everything a listener could ask for in an audio drama: superb acting; wry, truthful dialogue; and a realistic, film-like soundscape. Whether demanding help with the dishes or composing a letter to the queen, Dame Maggie Smith (Harry Potter’s Professor McGonagall) is an absolute force of nature as the beguiling, exasperating and always indomitable Miss Mary Shepherd. Yes, art does imitate life. A listening joy.
- “The Hum and the Shiver,” by Alex Bledsoe (fiction)
- “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” by Patricia Highsmith (fiction)
- “The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World,” by Simon Winchester (nonfiction)
- “Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think,” by Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, and Ola Rosling (nonfiction)