Christi R. Suzanne's Blog

April 27, 2015

Broken Homes & Gardens

Broken Homes & Gardens Broken Homes & Gardens by Rebecca Kelley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Can a man and woman be friends? Harry asked Sally this in the popular 80’s flick, and one of my favorite movies of all time, When Harry Met Sally. This assumes that the man and the woman we are speaking of are interested in the opposite sex. Rebecca Kelley’s debut novel, Broken Homes & Gardens, also attempts to answer this question for the modern reader.

Malcolm and Joanna meet at a party and subsequently end up in bed and then write letters to each other while he goes overseas for a year. They were never really friends, were they? Of course they were. Kelley does a beautiful job of pulling together their friendship and the attraction for the length of the novel. We see how they complement each other. Joanna is a little boxed in and must follow her self-imposed rules and teaches Malcolm to answer for his actions. Malcolm is more open and free and teaches Joanna to let go.

Joanna is convinced that she only wants to be friends with Malcolm in order to remain in his life forever. If they were to get into a romantic entanglement it would end sooner rather than continue on into infinity. Joanna struggles wholeheartedly to deny herself her feelings for Malcolm that we wonder if they will ever end up together, or if they even should.

Malcom on the other hand is a strong character who knows what he wants, but isn’t sure if he can win over the part of Joanna that struggles to push him away. Malcolm is just the type of level-headed, laid back, and good-with-his-hands type of guy that a lot women would love to have vying for their attention. Yet, Joanna struggles with the concept of getting into a long-term relationship with him.

The passion portrayed on the pages lends to the overall authenticity created within the lives of these characters. We are driven to root for these two to somehow make it through their own self-imposed restrictions and hope they end up together.

Kelley answers the question I posed at the beginning of this review with: men and women can be friends and lovers if they listen to their hearts.

Interview with the author on Propeller Magazine's website

Disclaimer: I am friends with the author and received a review copy.

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Published on April 27, 2015 12:33 Tags: better-homes-and-gardens, kelley, rebecca-kelley

July 24, 2014

The Tiger's Wife

The Tiger's Wife The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I admired the quality of writing throughout this book. I loved much of the story told. My favorite thread was The Deathless Man. I kind of forgot about the thread about Natalia (the main character) and how she was a doctor looking for her grandfather's clothes, so that one wasn't very memorable.

Overall, I do wish that I would have gotten to know the character's a bit more. I think I just like to know who is telling the story and why we need to care about the main characters. There were a few parts that went into far too much mundane detail (toward the end with the apothecary). Once I took a breath and read for the quality of writing I was fine. I felt like one of the family members sitting around on a porch listening to stories about different people we knew. I loved that about the book. I could imagine my grandmother telling me about her sister's hair dresser etc. and how one time there was a tiger who crept into the salon etc. I enjoyed that meandering storytelling because of the way I've been told my own family stories. I thought that was a beautiful and delicate touch that wasn't too heavy handed.

In the end, I was a little confused. I was wondering about the actual ending and how that fit into the overall story. I felt like it wasn't quite there, but I liked what it was trying to do (which I'm not 100% sure I got). I was trying to connect it to the overall story and it left me a little baffled. I felt like the story of the Deathless Man was a little stronger than the Tiger's Wife part (or maybe I just liked it better) so I wondered why the book was called this. To me, it didn't give the book any extra meaning, which isn't necessary, but I think I wanted a little more.

I think this is a talented writer and I'm waiting to see what her next book will be like.

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Published on July 24, 2014 09:05 Tags: deathless-man, fiction, literary, tea-obreht, tigers, tigers-wife

July 11, 2014

Death in Venice, California by Vinton Rafe McCabe

Death in Venice, California Death in Venice, California by Vinton Rafe McCabe

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"I was genuinely interested in Frame’s purported aimless vacationing and was happy to go along for the ride."

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Published on July 11, 2014 10:10 Tags: book, california, death-in-venice, lbgtq, review, tattoos, venice, vinton-rafe-mccabe

June 8, 2014

A Trip to the Library

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up Heidi Durrow’s, The Girl Who Fell from the Sky (2010), while browsing the fiction section at the local branch of my neighborhood library. Generally I put books that I know I want to read on hold there and then go pick them up. It has become exceptionally rare for me to simply browse the bookshelves at the library and try something based on the cover or inside flaps.

Honestly, I don’t know what made me pick it up. Was it the cover that boasted “winner of The Bellwether Prize in Fiction?” I don’t even know what the Bellwether prize is or what criterion is used to determine the winner. Or was it the favorable blurbs on the back of the book that includes a quote from a fiction teacher that I recently took a class with? Or was it the simple description on the inside cover about a bi-racial girl of Danish and Black heritage that gripped me? Probably all of those things. I also liked that it was a debut novel about society’s idea of race, class and beauty as the back cover pointed out. Of course, it was much more than that.

Since I live in Portland (I’m going on fourteen years) I felt a kinship with the story in a way that I didn’t expect to. Durrow paints a picture of familiar places around town in a way that I hadn’t seen them before. Since I didn’t group up here, it gave me a glimpse at what it would have been like to be a teenager here. We are taken to the Salvation Army where one of the characters works and then to a familiar park I’ve visited many times. It surprised me to feel such a close connection to the setting of a novel. I felt that it gave me more insight than the average reader because I already knew the setting and the type of culture that the narrator was surrounded by.

Another surprise was the slow and eventual realization that the main character, Rachel, a young girl and the most central character of the novel, had arrived in Portland from Chicago because of a tragic accident. Durrow does an expert job of slowly revealing what those events were and how they left her without a mother or a father to care for her. I’m not giving anything away by saying this. The haunting tale of a past that follows her throughout her life, in both tangible and intangible ways, carries the reader through this novel. Durrow shows us Rachel’s growth over time with all types of growing pains. She meets a boy and he reminds her of the Danish heritage her mother gave her. She speaks Dutch with his mother at a dinner she is invited to. But the boy also reminds her that she is black and that he has never slept with a “black girl” before. She’s a smart girl trying to figure out her complicated place in the world. There is a lot going on in this book. It has a layered effect that is only enhanced by the multiple points of view this story is told from. Each point of view reveals more and more layers of the story.

Durrow is precise when it comes to shifting character perspectives and voices. I was worried that I would eventually feel lost, but I didn’t. Not once. I wanted the novel to go on a bit longer, but it was mainly because I liked the characters so much, not because she didn’t do a good job of letting us figure out the rest of the story. I can’t say enough good things about this wonderful debut novel. I think she balanced plot (the action in the book), story (the emotional lives of the characters), and characterization perfectly.

I’ve always loved learning about people and their experiences⎯different ways of doing things, of being in the world and coping. This story made me want to sit down and talk with every single one of her characters and hear more of their stories. That’s a good sign from a book I randomly picked up at the library. An unexpected gem. A fantastic book.

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May 4, 2014

Technology in Our Cultural Landscape

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan is a story takes place in a technology-laden environment (San Francisco), and uses Mr. Penumbra’s bookstore to contrast that environment. This is an adventure story and a mystery where Clay Jannon (the main character) is our guide. Anyone who takes an interest in role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons or in technology will find something in this story for them.

Why was this book so popular in 2012 when it came out? Sloan’s book talks a lot about our cultural relationship to technology. In broad terms: some of us have an awkward relationship to technology, some of us embrace it and hope that it will solve every possible problem or puzzle and are disappointed when it doesn’t, and some of us know how to manipulate technology and use it for our benefit, not expecting too little or too much from something that exists in a different plane of interaction from what we’re used to. It reminded me of the way Gary Shteyngart treated technology in his book, Super Sad True Love Story. Shteyngart was over the top with his technology-obsessed characters, but I think it’s an important topic to address. Technology is now part of or cultural landscape and it will continue to be. I liked that this was the backdrop of Sloan’s story.

Technology is infused in most aspects of this novel from characterization to plotting. I appreciated that. The book is filled with lots of semi-nerdy male characters. They make up more than half of the cast. I get that it reflects the current state of technological geekdom but I guess I wanted more than a neat cast of characters that filled in when a problem needed solving.

Penumbra, for which the book is named is a slight character. I don’t know much about him and I wanted to know more. He owns the bookshop, but I wanted more specifics about how he became the owner. I would have liked to see him in action more often, I’m not afraid of flashbacks. Overall, I felt like the characters could have been a bit more fleshed out.

There is one strong-ish smarty-pants female character, Kat Potente who proves that technology can be understood and revered too much. Through her we get s stronger understanding of what it’s like to be in the tech world. She works at Google in the visualization department, believes in what technology can do and generally is our conduit to knowledge about some super technical stuff that our narrator, Clay Jannon, sort of knows, but doesn’t have a strong grasp on until Kat explains it to him. It just so happens that Jannon is doing a 3D visualization of Penumbra’s shop when she walks in the store. Instant connection!

Ultimately, it’s the main character, Jannon, who figures out the puzzle of Penumbra’s shop. He is the true hero of the story. Through perseverance and genuine curiosity he pulls through in the end and takes us on a journey where the end is wrapped up, no questions asked. I won’t tell you what he finds out.

After I posted my Goodreads status on Facebook a friend commented. She said, “I read this when it first came out and I wonder if you found it already dated?” To answer the question: a little. I still think the overall technology piece is still fairly accurate if it is looked at it in broad terms.

Though this novel has a lot of heart it isn’t a deep story about the human condition and doesn’t provide much insight into the characters and their emotional depth or their motivations for why they want what they want. I kept thinking I was reading a Young Adult (YA) novel. I even checked multiple times online and inside the book to make sure it wasn’t YA. I think it was the tone of the novel and the fact that any problems that came up were resolved too easily.

I liked this book and enjoyed reading it. I wanted more depth. Period. This book wasn’t meant to do that. I accept that. I will move on with a soft fuzzy feeling inside my head.

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Published on May 04, 2014 10:41 Tags: 24-hour-bookstore, book-review, mr-penumbra, robin-sloan, technology

April 10, 2014

Review - An Impenetrable Screen of Purest Sky by Dan Beachy-Quick

An Impenetrable Screen of Purest Sky An Impenetrable Screen of Purest Sky by Dan Beachy-Quick

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dan Beachy-Quick’s An Impenetrable Screen of Purest Sky is an impressionistic take on the complexities of being more than one thing to more than one person and trying to understand it. And I’ll admit it, I picked it because I loved the title. It sounded so poetic and like it must have been an allusion to something I didn’t understand. Another thing I liked was Beachy-Quick’s name. It’s rhythmic and sounds like it should be the beginning of a poem or the refrain in a song or a chant at the very least.

Initially, I have to admit that I had a difficult time getting into the book. It isn’t what most would call plot-driven or even character-driven. It’s driven, sure, but not in the typical fashion that most readers are used to. At first that made me feel uncomfortable, like I didn’t know what to do with myself, but the more I started reading, the more I got into the rhythm and the motion of the book. I let it do what it was doing and when I could reach out and grab onto something that looked like a plot point or a character foible, I did, but I held on loosely. I didn’t want to be dragged down by plot or character because inevitably the story would move in a different direction.

One of the more grounding sections of the book is when we meet Daniel, a teacher who loves Melville and the novel, Moby Dick. In fact, he’s obsessed with it, much like Melville’s narrator is obsessed with finding the big white whale. He slowly starts to back away and feel less engaged with the class he is teaching. After the narrator cancels his class one day a section that echos Melville’s Moby Dick reads:

“Call me Daniel. I have a gift I keep to myself, the gift of self-abandon. It is the orphan’s lesson if he can learn it--not to feel abandoned, but to continue his abandonment past the bounds of where the loss should end, parent’s death that prefigures one’s own. Fate is everywhere speaking; it does not call you by name; it tells you to name yourself. Call me Daniel.”

This use of intertextuality only lends to Beachy-Quick’s multi-dimensional fairytale-like story, though it is unnecessary for the reader to have read Moby Dick to understand the feeling of exile and alienation that our narrator, Daniel, is feeling. Its strength lies in the call to action and reaches far beyond the bounds of the book into another one to give a layered meaning. The theme of alienation, self-afflicted or otherwise, is a strong thread that runs through the book.

Beachy-Quick also uses images to weave stories and connect the reader to what is being read. Images like water, whales, volcanoes, a fairytale book from his childhood conjure up visual cues that trigger memories from different times in the narrator’s life. The abandonment theme comes in again when the narrator remembers the time when he wanted to show Lydia (his lover) his book, but when he goes to grab it, it is gone. Vanished. “I could not say it, but it was true. Everyone vanishes.” The young narrator remembers this scene with nostalgia and abandon. I couldn’t help but feel the weight of that thought.

Strangely, this book was hard to pin down, but I liked that. I liked the way its meaning floated above and around me. This didn’t make it easy to read, but it made it interesting and different from the more linear stories I am used to. I think the best words to describe this book are layered and complex. It entangles itself with a variety of texts that use intersections of imagination, memories, and fairytales. Not a fast read, but a thought-provoking one.

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Published on April 10, 2014 09:49 Tags: beachy-quick, book-review, dan-beachy-quick, moby-dick, review

April 22, 2013

Review - The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington

The Hearing Trumpet The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Such a strange and wonderful book! It's strangely wonderful.

Check out my recommendation on The Lit Pub Blog:

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Published on April 22, 2013 13:39 Tags: leonora-carrington, review, surreal, surrealist, the-hearing-trumpet, the-lit-pub