Immediately, this book had three things going for it – a great first sentence, the fact that it is a road trip narrative, and that Greyhound bus thatImmediately, this book had three things going for it – a great first sentence, the fact that it is a road trip narrative, and that Greyhound bus that the protagonist is sitting atop on the front cover is taking her to Cleveland, Ohio (my hometown). The first sentence is – “I am Mary Iris Malone, and I am not okay”. In fact, that single sentence the only one in the first chapter titled A Thing’s Not a Thing Until You Say It Out Loud. Mim Malone is 17 years old, she lives with her father and new step-mother in Jackson, Mississippi (aka Mosquitoland), and her mother is very sick in Cleveland. During her happier “Young Fun” days, she lived with her mother and dad in Ashland, Ohio, so when she decides to get on the Greyhound for Cleveland, 947 miles away, she is sort of going home. Of course, often the theme of YA novels that deal with divorce teaches you can’t revisit the past, even if you make it to Cleveland in time for Labor Day, a day Mim and mom made special together when times were good.
The sections of the novel are marked by cities and miles to go. Passages of Mim’s cheeky first person narration are interspersed with letters she write to Aunt Isabel, in which she refers to herself as Our Heroine and signs off Mary Iris Malone _ Mother-effing Mother-Saver. Of course she meets a cast of cleverly drawn characters, of course she has scrapes with good and terrible luck. Of course her father and step-mom are worried sick and intervene. Those details are pretty predictable. What isn’t so predicable is Mim’s wisdom and raw honesty. As she says, “Opening scenes are funny, because you never know which elements will change over time and which will stay the same. The world was, and is, mad.”
I loved Mim, and although this book is recommended for 12 and up, I loved this book. David Arnold had made a brilliant debut! He is also a musician and his book trailer offers a great sneak peak at the story and his musical talents.
I close too many book reviews “If I was still teaching” but I would truly put this on a short list of books to preview for Book Circles and class reads. I want to meet Mim and sit next to her on the bus. Even if I’m already in Cleveland....more
Just before Christmas, I was having a nostalgic craving for a good old-fashioned Christmas shopping experience at a local book store. Problem is – theJust before Christmas, I was having a nostalgic craving for a good old-fashioned Christmas shopping experience at a local book store. Problem is – there aren’t any anymore. So we ventured to Mac’s Backs Books on Coventry , which is a little out of the way, but one of the only authentic bookstores of miles around. We milled around, lingered, lifted books off the shelf and read a few pages. That is how I found The Story Hour by local author Thrity Umrigar. Turns out Umrigar received an M.A. From Ohio State University, and a Ph.D. in English from Kent State University. I read the cover flap and decided to continue my abstinence from book buying and get it from the library – digital loan.
The Story Hour is a novel in two voices. The narration alternates between an Maggie, an African-American psychologist married to a professor and her client Lakshimi, a younger Indian woman from a small village who helps her husband run his Indian grocery. Laksmimi has attempted suicide, which precipitates her relationship with Maggie, who she meets in the hospital following her botched attempt. A relationship develops between the two woman and, through various plot twists and turns, their lives become irrevocably intertwined.
I enjoyed the book enough to say I would recommend it. Both women are terribly flawed and vulnerable, which is why their stories seem so true....more
I was really excited to pick up this new foodie novel from the library. I enjoy reading fiction and watching movies set in restaurants, and with MicheI was really excited to pick up this new foodie novel from the library. I enjoy reading fiction and watching movies set in restaurants, and with Michelle Wildgen's background in food writing, I thought it would be a great book. Instead, I found myself skimming chapters and skipping ahead. On the positive side, the food writing is pretty great. Her descriptions of dishes are mouthwateringly delicious and I could picture the inside of the restaurants from her visual descriptions. But the plot is luke warm. Two brothers who are restaurant partners are challenged when the third brother decides to open a new restaurant across town. There is an undercurrent of sibling rivalry, a few forbidden romance scenes, and day-to-day patter of restaurant business stress. I kept waiting for something big to happen, and it did not. I would say Bread and Butter is an appropriate title. It was certainly no Lamb's neck with Jerulasem artichokes, broccoli rate and gremolata, even if that is the new restaurant's signature dish. ...more
Rarely do a close a book I just finished and begin my review, but this dystopian account of the Word Flu that sweeps American in 2016 infected me wit Rarely do a close a book I just finished and begin my review, but this dystopian account of the Word Flu that sweeps American in 2016 infected me with a (hopefully false) sense that my time to write this may be short. I put my iPad and iPhone down. I must write and let the words speak for themselves.
In some obvious ways, Alena Graedon's premise is not unique. Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story and recently Egger's The Circle, have carried variations of the same warning - words and the stories we use them to tell - make us human. Mostly, it brought to mind Chris Van Allsburg's The Wretched Stone. Graedon wraps her narrative in an entirely fresh and mildly gimmicky format. Following epigraphs by Samuel Johnson, Lewis Carrol and Jorge Luis Borges, the table of contents show chapters titled every letter of the alphabet and divided into three sections - Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis. The main narrator, Anana Johnson daughter of Douglas Johnson, is given the coded nickname Alice (think Through the Looking Glass) before her father disappears from his job while racing to finish NADEL (North American Dictionary of the English Language). The secondary narrator, Bart, (think Melville's Bartleby) tells his portion of the story through journal entries he writes as he tries to stave off the infection.
The first two or three chapters had me doubting the infectious pull of the narrative, but I was quickly hooked. The pace is fast, the characters and the devices on which they depend are contemporary, and the suggested techniques for reversing their damage are music to any English teacher's ears - Cessation of contact with meaningless data, Reading, Conversation and Composition Therapy. Part mystery, part love letter to language, the back flap of the cover describes it as "a cautionary tale that is at once a technological thriller and a meditation on the high cultural costs of digital technology". I would suggest this as the perfect summer read - preferably on a beach with no cell service....more
A funny title for a just-plain-fun in the sun summer read. When I started reading this light hearted romantic comedy, I wasn’t sure I would finish it.A funny title for a just-plain-fun in the sun summer read. When I started reading this light hearted romantic comedy, I wasn’t sure I would finish it. Richard, an English artist, has cheated on his perfect French lawyer wife. He has sold the only painting that has the power to keep them together. I didn’t see myself developing sympathy for either of them.
And then the book got funny! And I had some time on the beach with this, my only beach book. Courtney Maum is ablogger and humor columnist. She lived in France, where half of the novel takes place. This is her first novel, and it follows a pretty predictable story arch. I can see it being a beautifully funny film, and I would go see it in a heartbeat, because I did end up feeling for Richard. His foibles made for a perfectly funny summer beach read – and an especially ironic beach photo....more
I am a bit of a sucker for any book with an Emily Dickinson epigraph. The title of McBride’s debut novel comes from these lines, We never know how highI am a bit of a sucker for any book with an Emily Dickinson epigraph. The title of McBride’s debut novel comes from these lines, We never know how high we are Till we are called to rise; And then, if we are true to plan, Our statures touch the skies – which aptly introduce this novel in four voices. Set in Las Vegas, the story is narrated by Avis, Luis, Bashkim and Roberta. They all have separate and complicated lives that converge when an act of violence propels them into the same conflict arena. According to the author’s note, the plot was reimagined from an unbelievably sad headline news story. I’m not a fan of this sort of literary conceit. However, McBride’s theme is genuine and is summed up by Avis in one of her later sections with these lines – “It all matters. . . . What is most beautiful is least acknowledged. What is worth dying for is barely noticed.”...more
This is not the book review I am supposed to be writing. I am four book reviews behind, but I just finished reading The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry thThis is not the book review I am supposed to be writing. I am four book reviews behind, but I just finished reading The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry this morning and I feel compelled to share it right away as an offering of advice to all my reader friends – and especially my English teacher friends – who know at this point in the summer, you can’t waste your beach/hammock/porch swing time with a bad book. In other words, this is the last good book you may have time for before you have to surrender yourself to the damnable “summer reading” you should be doing.
The book is a love song to reading – especially short stories – and book stores. It is also a literal love story and a bit of a mystery. I am not going to spoil anything, beyond saying the baby in a basket reading a book on the cover is already a spoiler that I didn’t even notice until well into my digital IBook edition. A. J. Fikry owns and operates Island Books on fictitious Alice Island, where a sign hangs over the door that says “No Man is an Island; Every Book is a World.” And he is the sort of red wine drinking curmudgeon I fall in love with inside of the first chapter.
The gimmick of the novel that may have annoyed me much more if it wasn’t so darned literary is that each chapter is introduced with Fikry’s brief review of a well known short story that will figure into that chapter somehow. You learn that Fikry has the highest respect for the short story as a genre. At one point in the novel he slips a list of short stories to read under the door of his daughter who is having trouble writing a short story for a school contest. (This list would be a good course syllabus for any high school writing class.) In a later chapter you get to read her short story! None of this bookish “product placement” bothered me because I was so charmed by the story itself.
And it is an Ice Cream Cone of a summer story, perfect for a day like today, when I have allowed myself a sort of vacation day in Athens, Ohio. Because I want to have this book in hand to share with friends, I broke my No New Books promise and bought a copy at Little Professor, in part to celebrate the fact that Athens still has a reliable bookstore! And I am writing this review outside of The Donkey with David, drinking an iced coffee that I am not even mad dripped all over my best white shorts. Because I wanted you to read this review and then this book, I am typing frantically with 23% charge on my Ipad. Summer is short! Life is long, but not long enough to waste on the wrong books. Read this one – you deserve a treat....more
Dave Eggers’ jacket blurb drew me to this gem of a book sitting on the shelf of our local library. Jonathan Miles’ literary dumpster dive into the worDave Eggers’ jacket blurb drew me to this gem of a book sitting on the shelf of our local library. Jonathan Miles’ literary dumpster dive into the world of anti-materialist, anti-capitalist, post-consumer dystopia reads like the third installment following Eggers Hologram for a King and The Circle, both not so thinly veiled critiques of the consequences of living in a semi-virtual, techno-saturated society. The characters in Want Not inhabit literal and metaphorical dumpsters overflowing with debris from Hologram’s failed capitalism and live beyond the reach of the Google/Amazon/Facebook virtual world of The Circle.
Want Not follows a handful of separate characters whose stories do not intersect until the last section. Each chapter reads like an independent short story. Talmadge and Micah are squatters in Manhattan who dumpster dive for food. Elwin Cross, Jr. is an overweight linguistics professor who is attempting to cope with his failed marriage and failing father who lives at an Alzheimer’s facility. Suburbanite Sarah, who became a widow on September 11th, has recently remarried, complicating the life of her daughter, Alexis. Each character regards waste differently.
I enjoyed the book so much, I convinced David to read it. I responded to the satiric humor and David its semi-tragic grotesqueness. Miles crafts long, detailed sentences and paragraphs which mimic Craigslist Yardsale ads, while at the same time imagining the lives of those who post them. We both agree, it makes you think for a second about what happens after you toss that black Hefty bag to the curb....more
My favorite book of the year! Amazon's Book of the Year! One of the New York Times five top works of fiction for 2013! What else to I have to say to g My favorite book of the year! Amazon's Book of the Year! One of the New York Times five top works of fiction for 2013! What else to I have to say to get you to put this book at the top of your Christmas list.
Thirteen year old Theo Decker and his mother have just finished admiring The Goldfinch, a legendary painting by Carel Fabritius, in a New York art museum when a bomb blast rocks the building. Theo's mother is killed, and although Theo escapes, he does so with two items that will change his life forever - an heirloom ring given to him by the dying grandfather of a girl who had caught Theo's eye AND the Fabritius painting. The rest of the novel follows Theo through repeated moves and losses, friendships and relationships, adventures and drug-induced skirmishes. There is something in this book for everyone.
I agree with Stephen King, who likened the scope of the narrative to Dickens when he reviewed the book for the New York Times . He also called it the sort of book that comes along only a few times per decade. Such is the pattern of Donna Tartt. I first read The Little Friend in 2002, when I received it as a Christmas gift from my, then, new husband David. He gave me the book and an Amish rocker that Christmas, and I sat in the rocker and rarely left it until I finished the book. I went back and read her earlier novel, The Secret History, so I guess that puts me among the Tartt fans who have been waiting over a decade for her next work. Tartt labors over her story telling, immersing herself in writing, rarely granting interviews and never apologizing for the time that passes between masterpieces.
I decided not to wait for the book from the library, and downloaded the Kindle version to my iPad and also ordered the Audible audio book so could enjoy listening to the book while I walked and while I worked in the sewing room. It helped to get me through the nearly 800 pages more quickly, because once I got in to the narrative, I wanted to stay in. In fact, although it is one of those rare books that I didn't want to finish reading, I pressed through til the end, staying up late on the night before Thanksgiving. And as soon as I finished the book, I wanted to start re-reading. The last several pages struck me as a love song to art, in all its forms, and were so lovely that it would do a disservice to the whole book to quote anything out of context.
I LOVED THIS BOOK! Final comment. You be the judge....more
How to Read the Air was reviewed as one of several recommended summer “road trip” novels, but I remember becoming interested in Dinaw Mengestu back whHow to Read the Air was reviewed as one of several recommended summer “road trip” novels, but I remember becoming interested in Dinaw Mengestu back when he was chosen by the New Yorker in 2010 as one of the 20 Under 40 authors to read. This is no ordinary road trip novel and Mengestu is an extraordinary storyteller. The book traces two trips – one taken by Ethiopian immigrants Yosef and Mariam to Nashville and one taken by their adult son, Josef who is anxious to retrace his parents’s tragic travel so that he might learn what truth it can shed on his own his own trouble marriage. Alternating between chapters set in the past and the present, the reader is gradually given a glimpse of the strife of acclimation – to a new land, a new language, a new job, a new relationship, and even the promise of a new life. Lush with contemplative passages about how to read the signs of life, I found myself wanting to take the journey of this novel slow....more
I love it when my reading prescience is spot on! Instructions for a Heatwave showed up in the New York Times Book Review as I was reading it. Gretta RI love it when my reading prescience is spot on! Instructions for a Heatwave showed up in the New York Times Book Review as I was reading it. Gretta Riordan’s husband, Robert, has walked off – gone missing – in the midst of the English drought and heatwave of 1976. In the opening section of the novel she calls each of her three children home – two from England and one from New York City – to help her deal with the disappearance. The novel is a character study of sibling rivalry and buried secrets. I thoroughly enjoyed O’Farrell’s storytelling. That the novel ends in Ireland with the family sitting down to eat freshly baked soda bread makes it even more appealing to me. Back when I was teaching AP English, we used to talk about novels with central characters who appeared only briefly or not at all. Robert Riordan is one such character who appears (spoiler) just when I expected him to – on the last page....more
Hardly a spoiler, Noa P. Singleton is awaiting her execution for the murder she committed ten years earlier as this crime novel opens. In sections labHardly a spoiler, Noa P. Singleton is awaiting her execution for the murder she committed ten years earlier as this crime novel opens. In sections labeled Six Months Before Execution, Five Months Before Execution, and so on, the circumstances leading up to Noa’s incarceration are revealed. Her crime has suddenly become of interest to a young lawyer who, working with the mother of her victim, thinks he can build a case to prevent her execution. Her victim’s mother has aligned herself with an organization called MAD, Mothers Against Death. Little by little the reader learns about Noa’s past and her tortured relationship all of the individuals involved in her case. Little by little, this reader tired of her as a protagonist and was secretly hoping the ending would match the title – Sorry!...more
I have stuck with Meg Wolitzer through several novels, although I did not care for her last one, The Uncoupling. But my AP grading comrade and trustedI have stuck with Meg Wolitzer through several novels, although I did not care for her last one, The Uncoupling. But my AP grading comrade and trusted reading friend, Paris, recommended it recently, so I dove in. The novel is a sweeping book covering four decades in 468 pages, and it deals with large issues of life - friendship and family, marriage and fidelity, money and success. It opens with a scene that suggested I was entering a Wes Anderson-style-Moonrise-Kingdom of a novel, set in a summer arts camp in Massachusetts called Spirit-in-the-Woods, where lifelong friendships are forged during an eight week season in a humid tepee full of teens who deem themselves, The Interestings. Here protagonist Julie Jacobson becomes Jules, a far more interesting name, and meets Ash and Goodman Wolf, Ethan Figman and Jonah Bay - four characters whose lives will knit and unravel in the decades to come, against the backdrop of Vietnam, the sexual revolution, AIDS, off-shore manufacturing, 9/11 and TED talks. I ended up liking the book very much in the way that I enjoy Jonathan Franzen or Tom Perrota who grapple with essential questions in their fiction. The essential question of this book seems to be "What does it take to live an interesting life?" The answer is summed up near the end of the book, when Ethan Figman, creator of a highly successful network cartoon, claims, "Everyone basically has one aria to sing over their entire life." The book reminded me of my guarded wariness for the futures of all of the "interesting" teenagers I taught over the years - kids right out of the fictitious camp bible The Drama of the Gifted Child - who graduated from high school certain they were destined for greatness....more
I completely swore off my no purchasing of new hardcover books promise to get my hands on a copy of Khaled Hosseini’s new novel. Of course, I have beeI completely swore off my no purchasing of new hardcover books promise to get my hands on a copy of Khaled Hosseini’s new novel. Of course, I have been a huge fan of The Kite Runner – teaching it for the last 6 years or so of AP English – and its sister novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns. Of course, when your expectations are that high, you run the risk of being disappointed. As soon as I finished the lovely, spell-binding opening parable, a presumed bedtime story told by a father to his son and daughter, Abdullah and Pari, I knew the author’s poetic style would still hold me in rapture. I read the whole book in a few days, and hesitated to see it end, although the first half of the book is the best, by far. Each chapter reads like a novella. I found it hard to put a chapter down once I started, partly because the chapters jump so drastically in time and setting – Afghanistan, San Francisco, Paris and Greece. Although the brother and sister of the opening chapter knit the whole book together, there are almost too many peripheral characters and I sometimes had a difficult time remembering who was who or how they figured into the whole. Without criticizing the mechanics of the novel, which were sometimes clunkier than Hosseini’s previous two, I would highlight the positives. This book has little of the violence and heart-break of the other novels. Yes – it is sad and I had tears in my eyes more than once, but this is a redemptive sibling story. It is about loss and separation – and of course the ravishing effects of war. But is isn’t the gut wrenching sort of story that was Amir’s or Mariam and Laila’s. The book encompasses a long stretch of time, generations of tragedy and recovery, and in the end, it sang of hope....more