Once again, Ashton Lee takes readers back to Cherico, Mississippi where a small-town library is
threatened for "the greater good". Lee's Cherry Cola Book Club novels symbolize the threats to public libraries throughout the country. Details may vary city to city, but the underlying theme for the books remains the same: libraries are threatened in a battle that often pits infrastructure against libraries. Lee's The Reading Circle puts Maura Beth Mayhew, a library director, right in the middle of the battle for libraries.
If it had been up to Councilman Durden Sparks, the Cherico Public Library would have been closed long ago so he could use the budget to build an industrial park. Sparks considered the library "a luxury the City Council could no longer afford", but Maura Beth won the first round of the battle. Her Cherry Cola book club and a petition provided a little breathing room. She had a year to prove the library was needed, and deserved to stay open.
Maura Beth knows the library needs more than a book club. It needs computers, money for books, more staff, better parking. But, her first hurdle had been to build support using the book club. Suddenly, even her beloved book club seems to be a problem. As more people attend, they have opinions as to what should be read. And, the book selections divide the people Maura Beth has grown to consider family. Even the teacher she was interested in seems to put his own interests before the library's. And, a house divided can easily fall. Councilman Sparks is counting on that.
Ashton Lee brings back the charming residents of Cherico in a novel that once again stresses the importance of libraries while also emphasizing personal relationships. Lee is skilled at introducing characters who leap from the page with all their eccentricities and habits. Maura Beth Mayhew continues to grow, changing from an insecure young woman into a library director more comfortable with fighting a political war. Lee knows the value of libraries, and he uses his storytelling skills to emphasize their importance.
Whether you see The Reading Circle as a battle cry for libraries, a story of strained relationships, a novel featuring tasty recipes, or a charming story of the South, Ashton Lee's latest novel is entertaining and thought-provoking.
Ashton Lee will be appearing at the Red Bank Branch Library of the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library on Wed., May 14 at 6:30 p.m. Details are available here, http://www.evpl.org/events/search/event.aspx?id=37685. And if you would like to know him better, check out the five questions we asked him at that site.
Ashton Lee can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ashtonlee.net
The Reading Circle by Ashton Lee. Kensington Books. 2014. ISBN 9780758273420 (paperback), 242p.
FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.