Thursday, December 18, 2014

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands-Chris Bohjalin

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands- Chris Bohjalin

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 288
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel

After a nuclear disaster in the NorthEast Kingdom (VT) that may have been caused by her parents, Emily is forced to fend for herself on the streets.

Wow, this was the perfect antidote to the flood of gimicky YA novels based in dystopia. This may be more accurately described as an apocryphal novel but it takes the typical formula-world in crisis, plucky heroine- and turns it into something much more. Emily is such a great teenaged protagonist. She finds reserves in her that she was not aware of but remains, at her core, a teenage girl who just wants to become a poet. The setting of the scene and build up makes it clear that Emily would always have had to deal with some tough stuff but then setting her coming-of-age amongst the all-too-realistic chaos of a massive disaster was gripping. She’s self-destructive and so you can find yourself sometimes frustrated by her life choices but she is also resilient in a way that comes from rising to the responsibilities she is confronted with along the way.

So really the real star of the novel is how skillfully Bohjalin writes emotional pain-conveying the agony of confronting things outside of your control through carefully chosen prose that never comes across as constructed. The tone and pacing is disjointed because Emily’s life is chaotic and disjointed but the prose drags you in with her.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Good Children-Roopa Farooki

The Good Children-Roopa Farooki

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 403
gender: F
nationality: Pakistan
year: 2014
novel

A family epic. 2 sisters and 2 brothers had a childhood utterly tied to their autocratic mother who browbeat/oppressed her sons and spoiled/oppressed her daughters.


A very good handling of the various concepts of pain and the overcoming of it. The four siblings really have mother issues but each conceived the others’ pain differently and acted accordingly. There’s a heavy burden of guilt and disappointment that each holds differently in their approach to duty. Their widely disparate adulthoods all hold a germ of indecision, this pain, and a drive to be themselves as much as they could. There is such a complexity given to each sibling that it makes for hard reading sometimes because you genuinely learn to like each one and their missteps, neuroticism, and frustrating behaviors feel like you’re watching them in person. The tone is maintained throughout the shifting narrative voices-a solid choice. You never forget the overarching influence in these peoples’ lives-the tyrantical mother-even as they search, the hard way, to their own version to success. Though, the downside is that the narrative voices are distinct more in the burden of duty/guilt than in voice. However, Farooki’s pose carries the day as she explores how painful it can to return home. 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Boy in the Book-Nathan Penlington

The Boy in the Book-Nathan Penlington

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 320
gender: M
nationality: UK
year: 2014
narrative non fiction

Nathan Penlington is an obsessive collector. After he purchased a 506 book set of Choose-your-own-adventure books that he loved as a child, he set out to find the original owner, Terence Penderghast, of the collection based upon a few annotations and a ripped out page from a diary.


It took me a ridiculously long time to realize this book was non fiction so take that as you will. This was such a familiar literary trope of obsession that leads to slightly creepy behavior over the smallest detail that I spent half the book marveling at how real this book had made it and the last half astounded that it was actually a real story. Be prepared, obsession always seems a bit creepy to those who do not go the distance on their own obsessions. But there is a universality to this story, we all wonder why and what if about people we don’t know. That’s what people watching is, isn’t it? And so, the adventure of reaching/searching for a connection with people in whom you can genuinely see similarities to yourself is almost normal curiosity. Penlington gets caught up in his curiosity and writes in a very self-aware way about his behaviors and uses them as a jumping point to muse engagingly about the meaning of life and how adventure can be found in the smallest things. He is also exploring how our childhoods influence our adult lives and ends up talking to a very diverse set of experts and people along the way. In a way, the book functions as an ode to how life becomes interesting when you follow every path into an unknown. 

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Removers-Andrew Meredith

The Removers-Andrew Meredith

the facts
satisfaction: up/side
pages: 192
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2014
memoir

After his father’s disgrace, the family moves to Northeast Philadelphia and becomes involved in the undertaking/removing business. This is Andrew’s memoir about how handling dead bodies allowed him to understand the living.

There’s two main threads in this book. The often absurd but also tragic undertaking business whose macabre aspects are treated with a lively humor and the author’s own driftlessness and attempts to reconcile the unhappiness of his parents. I have to admit, I didn’t really understand Andrew’s problems. He is haunted by father’s unhappiness in a way that I could not relate to. I felt like anyone could foresee that you’d drop out of the same college that your father was suspended from-pretty much slow moving self destruction-and I don’t know, he sometimes felt melodramatic about the dissolution of his parents’ marriage.

But that’s not really the strength of the memoir-instead its strength lies in how by helping others during the worst moments of their lives, he was able to come to a peace. This is a redemptive kind of memoir in which the grim details of the business of death are mused over to discuss life. Meredith writes well evoking his images well and manages to balance the tones of his subjects well even if they were in the same paragraph. I was kept reading effortlessly and it was mostly Meredith’s writing and the removing business.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Theft of Life-Imogen Robertson

Theft of Life-Imogen Robertson

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 342
gender: F
nationality: UK
year: 2004
novel

Set in 1875, the body of a West Indies planter is found pegged out much like the ways planters punished their slaves.

I was always frustrated, living in England, by the holier-than-thou attitude many would adopt about British early abolition of slavery versus American timelines. I can recount countless pub debates at unconscionable hours of the night in which it was explained to me, quite earnestly, that it’s been illegal for so long that it no longer affects society. I’d be so overwhelmed with how that was so far from the truth and anyway COLONIALISM that my tongue would be paralyzed.


So I infinitely enjoyed this novel about the effects of slavery on British society because as the author says in her prologue, it's not discussed enough. Robertson writes in a sympathetic evocative prose delicately tracing her way through the classicism, sexism , and racism of the time to deliver a good murder mystery in with the social commentary and amazing setting of the scene. The investigators-Westerman and Crowley- are excellent drawn characters, one being an unusual kind of woman and the other an eccentric man. And while the beginning might be a little slow with the multiple narrative threads, the plot really picks up with non-sensational twists. Really, just a stand out mystery with an amazingly done setting.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Black Lake-Johanna Lane

Black Lake-Johanna Lane

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 224
gender: female
nationality: UK
year: 2014
novel

The story of an Irish family forced to take drastic steps so as to not lose the family estate/legacy.


A beautifully contemplative novel about what slips between the cracks of a family when exposed to the slow stress of loss. The pacing is slow and thus it becomes atmospheric-like my memories of my own trip to Co. Donegal. The tragedy has occurred in the beginning of the book so this is more of an exploration of the various stories and responses of the family members. There are rich flashbacks explaining how the family got to this point but it’s not really tell-not-show prose, rather it’s more like the reader gains a 360 degree perspective on the various ways the estate has affected the family’s lives. And it’s infinitely interesting since the various points of view vary drastically in terms of responses and unhappiness. Their surroundings influence every thing as well-the gardens, the weather, the ocean, etc. This is a bit of a sad novel but Lane’s prose style carries you on because she packs such layers of meaning on every page. The current family’s stories are interwoven with the stories of the previous owners of the estate which makes for interesting reading for the sort of person who likes visiting historical houses but has always found the presented history a bit sterile. This is actually the type of book I’d reread.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Snow in May-Kseniya Melnik

Snow in May-Kseniya Melnik

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 272
gender: female
nationality: Russia
year: 2013
short story collection

Set in Magadan, Siberia-a short story collection focused upon people.

I got chilly reading this book. The prose is so well done and evocative-pared down much like I imagine the tundra does to your dreams. You learn a lot about Magadan, this former work camp, Melnik’s hometown in a way that feels natural-like getting to know someone and hearing about their hometown. You hear the great things, the annoying things, and the things that make you want to leave. The stories blend together and interplay-the struggles of communism, the struggle to survive in such a harsh climate, and the social changes all collide and integrate story by story. The stories vary in length but all of them give you a character. The details are Soviet/Russian but the themes of trying to follow your dreams no matter what are universal.


Absolutely delightful. I usually end short story collections not sure what I will write (some stand outs, many that...blend together) but this one-I recommend wholeheartedly.