Book Review- The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones

I recently finished Stephen Graham Jones’ latest novel, The Only Good Indians, and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. The book is amazing, and unlike anything I’ve read. Teetering along a fine line between literary horror (yes, there is some disagreement as to whether that exists but I strongly support the notion that it does), a straight-up revenge story, and multi-faceted narratives of various Native American experiences, it delivers some serious gore alongside real emotional pain. It’s wildly atmospheric and to put it plainly, weird. Weird in the very best way, of course.

The revenge plot centers on four Native American men getting their just deserts after disrespecting the sacredness of an elk herd while hunting on elder tribal lands. The group’s excessive spray of bullets decimates an elk herd that includes a pregnant elk, who struggles with every thing she has to survive for her calf. She succumbs to her wounds and the Blackfeet reservation’s game warden discovers their trespass which results in them being forced to leave all the elk meat behind, except for the cow who fought so hard. The four pals are banned from hunting on the reservation for ten years as further punishment, but their real punishment arrives years later.

Without spoiling too much of the story, because there are indeed some surprising twists and turns, I can say this moment of carelessness and disregard results in very serious repercussions for the four men, their friends and family, and even their pets. In the beginning readers increasingly question what is real and what is being told to us by an unreliable narrator. Eventually, through a very clever shift in perspective, readers see the truth of what is happening and the story really picks up speed as we hurtle towards a conclusion.

The Only Good Indians is a stellar example of how horror can also be literary, as Jones has crafted a deeply felt look at cycles of violence, identity and the price of breaking away from tradition, and perhaps most surprisingly, the power of forgiveness and hope. I can’t promise it will all make sense in a neat, tidy way in the end but it doesn’t really need to honestly. A #ownvoices title that is highly recommended reading for fans of horror, literary fiction, strong character writing, and twisty plots.

Trigger warning: When I say there is gore in this, I am not exaggerating. It does include some brutal ends for specifically dogs. I assure you, the book overall is worth reading and you can breeze past some of the grisly paragraphs if need be.

Check out the ebook here or request the print copy here.

The Only Good Indians is the November selection for Novel Scares book club, my book club devoted to all things horror. Please join us for a lively discussion on Zoom November 12th @ 7 pm! Registration for fall programs begins September 1st and you can register for Novel Scares here. This program is also part of the county wide One Community Reads, taking place now through September, inviting you to read and reflect about race, injustice, history, and a better future.

Happy reading and stay safe!

Favorite Books of 2020 (So Far)

Can you believe that we are more than halfway through 2020?! I know I surely cannot. Little did we know in January how very different this year would look compared to years past, and really March to now have been a bit of a foggy blur. Not only does my handy dandy planner help me with my to-do lists now more than ever, it also helps me remember what day it is (which was not so much of an issue pre-2020).

One thing that remains constant though is the joy of reading. Despite whatever madness might be occurring, I can always find a comfy perch somewhere and escape into a book for a few hours. Books have been a reassuring friend to me these past five months and I hope you have been able to curl up with a fabulous book as well.

Below you’ll find some of my most favorite books I’ve read so far this year!

Circe by Madeline Miller

Miller’s novel is absolutely amazing. Circe is a beautifully written, smart, feminist tale that takes readers into the world of Greek mythology but with an entirely new vantage point. Circe is the daughter of Helios, god of sun and mightiest of the Titans. She is strange, empathetic, and viewed as weak by her family and peers, turning to mortals for friendship and comfort. Eventually she discovers she holds the power of witchcraft, particularly the power of transformation, and is subsequently banished to live in exile on a remote island. Here is where she truly finds herself and her power. This complex story has it all- complicated heroines, magic, monsters, romance, tragedy, and adventure. It is also very much a story about families and finding our own paths independent of our familial bonds. I wept at the ending not only because of how perfect it was, but because I could have easily read another 300 pages of this masterpiece.

The Strange Bird by Jeff VanderMeer

I’ve written about my fangirl love for Jeff VanderMeer’s work on this blog before, but this is perhaps my most favorite book of his to date. It is also the one that ripped my heart out. It is an exploration of the beauty of humanity, conversely also about the cruelty humanity is capable of, and the endurance of love- all packed into under 100 pages. Readers will be mostly lost if they haven’t read any of the other Borne stories (Borne; Dead Astronauts) so I would highly recommend picking up at least one of those before diving into The Strange Bird. Here we follow a new character- a biotech bird mixed of human, avian, and other creature’s genetic material, known only as the Strange Bird. Following her escape from the lab that made her, she is plagued by mysterious dreams, drawn by some invisible beacon inside her to a faraway location. A difficult and gorgeous story that will stay with you long after you close the cover.

In the House in the Dark of the Woods by Laird Hunt

Perhaps my favorite spooky book so far this year (and you know I love spooky books!). An eerie and atmospheric horror story of women and witchcraft, that also reads as a psychological thriller. The story is set in colonial New England and follows a young woman who is lost in the woods while picking berries for her family- or did she leave her family on purpose? Much is unclear about her circumstances. Eventually she runs into a helpful older woman in the woods, who leads her to yet another mysterious and generous woman with a cozy cabin and plenty of food. Quickly it is made clear that all is not what it seems in this forest and these women may not truly be trying to help her return home. Elements of classic fairy tales and folklore, combined with an unreliable narrator and surreal, dreamlike moments unfold into a disturbing story that I could not put down.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

I wasn’t sure I liked this book until I was more than halfway through it, but I’m glad I kept reading, because it turned out that I actually loved it. The writing is extraordinary and what kept me turning the pages, but I wasn’t confident this tale of wealth, white-collar financial crimes, and ghosts would all come together and hit me with the emotional impact I expect of a book. Well, The Glass Hotel delivers and in many unexpected ways. The story looks at multiple characters, but begins and ends with Vincent, a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star glass palace on a remote island in British Columbia. Readers travel to Manhattan, a container ship, the wilderness of northern Vancouver Island, and back, as we follow the connecting threads of one devastating Ponzi scheme and the various people it’s long tendrils dragged down with it.

White Tears by Hari Kunzru

This book is tricky- it wants you to think it is one story, but it twists and turns into another story and then yet another story. It is difficult to share why it is so captivating and amazing without spoiling too much of the plot, but I can say the early parts of the book introduce you to two particularly irritating white hipster men. They have an obsession with “real” music which essentially means any music that is from black culture and eventually this morphs into a hyper-focused interest in blues from the pre-war era for one of them. There are some seriously funny but bothersome passages discussing audiophile interests, vinyl collecting, and expectations of “real” musicians. I assure you, it is worth it to keep reading through the annoying narrator. The story really goes off the rails maybe halfway through and takes readers on a a new narrative that shifts our sense of reality and time, eventually ending with a note of satisfying and thought-provoking vengeance. Alternatively, this is also a story about white privilege, appropriation of black culture (especially music) in America, white wealth created from the exploitation of black bodies, the industrial prison system, and many more deep seated themes.

Have you read any of my favorites? What are some of your favorites that you have read in the past six months? Share with me in the comments!

All the Big Words (are in Literary Fiction!)

That’s right, we discussed literary fiction this time! Literary fiction is defined by a multi-layered, experimental, or technical virtuosity writing style. The focus is more on character than plot and will prompt a high degree of interaction between reader and book. When you read what people had to say about their books, you might just find something to suggest to your own book discussion group!

Megan: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood is a deeply moving yet disturbing love story. Wavy, the daughter of a meth dealer father and a mentally ill mother, is taught from an early age to not trust anyone. When one of her father’s thugs wrecks his motorcycle eight-year old Wavy is the only one who sees the accident. Her decision to help Kellen will forever change both their lives. Kellen becomes her friend and protector and she is his constant companion. No one takes notice of the relationship between the strange, silent child and the enormous ex-con with a heart of gold until Wavy becomes a teen. Wavy and Kellen’s story is heartbreaking and engrossing and at times even uncomfortable to read about. No matter what you believe about their relationship, their story will stick with you long after the book is done.

Chris: Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. It’s 1991 and Lotto and Mathilde have just married a few months after falling madly in love with each other at first sight. Theirs is romance friends envy because it seems so perfect in every respect. But a decade later, it’s revealed that things are not always as they seem. Yes, there are two sides to every story and this novel is written with Lotto telling his side first followed by Mathilde’s side which is the more interesting. It reveals the secrets that they kept from each other, and it’s these secrets that ultimately kept the marriage together. A fascinating read–A New York Times Best Seller, Finalist for the 2015 Book Award and named Best Book of the Year by many publications.

Beth: Lynda Cohen Loigman’s introduces us to two sisters by marriage and their families as they cohabitate in a two-family home in Brooklyn, NY. The story unravels the complexity of family relationships as it shares their story over 30 years, through the different family members’ perspectives. The Two-Family House leaves the reader pondering on relationships and choices over a short lifetime.

Gina: In J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the story is told by main character Holden; reminiscing on the time in his life that could be considered to be his lowest point. After be expelled from his fourth prep school, Holden went on a journey to New York to find himself. Holden battles with the understanding of innocence, sexuality, and the meaning of life; but through this journey, he finds hope in his sister’s youthfulness. This is a true American coming of age book for everyone to enjoy.

Carol: In The Wonder by Emma Donoghue, Lib Wright is a former “Nightingale” nurse in 1850s London who is sent to a small Irish village in order to investigate the locals’ claim that eleven-year-old Anna O’Donnell hasn’t eaten anything in months, but instead is surviving on manna from heaven. Lib is obviously skeptical and when Anna’s health declines during the observation period, Lib finds a hard time avoiding emotional involvement. Is she witnessing a miracle or is Anna in dire need of help? The Wonder is an atmosphere novel with a slow-building suspense that left me completely enthralled from start to finish.

Steve: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad is a tense page turner that finds Georgia plantation slaves Cora and Caesar on the run as they escape their horrible lives via a vast physical underground railroad. The two at first find their way to South Carolina and settle into a seemingly progressive town with caring citizens, only to find out that the town is doing experiments with disease and birth control on runaway slaves. The two continue seeking freedom elsewhere, while desperately trying to outrun the brutal slave catcher Ridgeway.

Emma: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway was written in 1952. For 80+ day’s Cuban fisherman Santiago has had a run of bad luck. He’s caught no fish. So Santiago finally travels far beyond the other fishing boats and eventually catches a giant marlin. It takes him two days and nights to bring the fish back to shore strapped to the side of his boat. He loses most of it to sharks on his return trip. The marlin would have fed him for many months or it could have been sold at a good price. This is a rather sad but beautiful long short story.

Dori: In Joan London’s award-winning book The Golden Age, 12-year-old Frank Gold is convalescing at a home for victims of polio after World War II. The child of Hungarian refugees who have unwillingly been resettled in Perth, Australia, he’s an observant, dreamy boy who yearns to be a poet. When we first meet him, he’s wheeling around the hospital with one goal: to glimpse Elsa, the only other child his age and the object of his affections. The book doesn’t just limit itself to Frank and Elsa, though; London is attentive to all her characters and their inner lives. Her writing has a lovely radiance and she’s able to evoke the feelings of displacement, growing up, finding hope and safety and, of course, love.

Sarah: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout is about a young mother, Lucy Barton, who is recovering from a minor operation that became complicated and and kept her in the hospital for months. She and her mother haven’t spoken for years, having become estranged after Lucy’s harsh upbringing in a poverty-stricken small town. Yet Lucy is touched and grateful when her mother comes to visit for five days. She tells Lucy about the town and people of her youth, about their marriages, lives and deaths, as she and Lucy begin to reconnect. However there is an underlying tension as memories of Lucy’s troubled childhood surface, and we are given a glimpse into how complicated family relationships can be. This was a fascinating and engaging story that left me wanting to get to know Lucy Barton and her mother better.

Lauren: The Girls is Emma Cline’s debut novel. We meet Edie Boyd, a shy and lonely teenager living in California during the late-1960s. She meets a group of girls—mysterious and magnetic Suzanne stands out—and is slowly drawn into their isolated world of counter-culture, freedom, sex, and drugs. At the helm is their leader, Russell, whom the girls all seem to worship. Split between the present-day and Edie’s remembrance of the past, a frightening picture is slowly painted as the girls approach a horrific point-of-no-return.

Stacey: Open the cover on To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey and you’ll find yourself spirited away to a different time and place. Multiple storylines are told concurrently with subtle shifts in tone and style to reflect each character, descriptions of the natural world mix easily with mystical elements, and the use of images enhance a reader’s experience. Recording the past as journal entries but calling certain aspects into question through a contemporary correspondence builds one complex story full of subtle, surprising moments. A beautifully crafted book, from the wildly adventurous story to the presentation on the pages, this is a reading experience you won’t soon forget.

Next time we’ll cover the dangerous world of horror fiction! Horror books are written to frighten the reader (obvs?) and are distinguished by supernatural or occult elements, often featuring the power of the natural world gone awry. Turn on all the lights and -enjoy!


Lots of Wordy Books (aka Literary Fiction!)

We’re starting off the year with the Literary fiction challenge -were you able to find something that was characterized by a distinctive writing style, focused more on character than plot, or prompted a high degree of interaction between reader and book? If so, then you were a successful participant in our first genre discussion! If not, don’t worry -we still have eleven more genre challenges to come. You’ll get ‘em next time!
Are you wondering what everyone had to say about the books they chose? Here we go…

Maureen: In Dostoyevsky’s final and epic novel, The Brothers Karamazov, he weaves an intricate story surrounding the lives of three brothers who each have a reason to want their philandering father, Fyodor, dead. One brother is not given the inheritance he feels he is due from his deceased mother, one begrudgingly leaves his beloved monastery work at the command of his father, and one is just disgusted with the total lack of morals displayed by his father. When Fyodor is murdered one fateful evening and brother Dmitry is implicated, the secrets, motivations, love affairs, scandals, and crimes of all of the brothers are slowly revealed to build the story to its conclusion. The Brothers Karamazov is considered one of the greatest works of Russian fiction. While not a quick or easy read (it took several months!!) it was an interesting look into Russian society of the time. If you find yourself looking for another great Russian work from a bit later time period, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is another fantastic, though far-fetched, literary Russian read that is worth a look.

Chris: Snobs by Julian Fellowes is Julian’s first novel and it gives us an insider’s look at England’s upper class in the 1990s and those who aspire to become part of it. Like Edith, who marries the Earl Broughton one of the most eligible aristocrats around. From the very beginning his mother, Lady Uckfield, knows why Edith has chosen her son. Will the marriage last? Many of their friends and so-called friends play a part in the outcome. So many characters, so much drama. Much like the beloved PBS series Fellowes went on to write, Downton Abbey. With one difference for this reader: He seems to not much care for the Broughton Hall characters (perhaps he was finding his way back then) whereas he loves his Downton Abbey people. Me, too.

Megan: A Northern Light by Jennifer Donnelly is a fictional account of a real life murder. The year is 1906 and sixteen-year old Mattie has big dreams. Desperate to earn money and escape her small-town life, she gets a job at the Glenmore Hotel. There she meets Grace Brown, a young guest who asks Mattie to burn a packet of secret letters. When Grace’s body is found in the lake, Mattie realizes that the letters may prove that Grace’s drowning was not a tragic accident but a premeditated murder. Mattie is the product of Donnelly’s imagination, but Grace Brown and her murder are true crimes. Fans of historical fiction and true crime will enjoy this story set in the Anirondaks.

Lauren: Vendela Vida’s The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty is set in exotic Casablanca, Morocco and lures the reader in with elements of mystery/thriller. A woman—you, as the story is told in second person—travels to Morocco on her own and almost immediately her money, passport, and identification are stolen. She is at first panicked and desperate to go to the police and seek to recover her belongings only to run up against bureaucracy and corruption on top of the challenges of navigating a foreign country. Gradually she comes to see her situation—a woman without an identity—as an chance to become someone else entirely and find true liberation.

Beth: Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins takes place in a very plausible distant future semi-relinquished, dried out California landscape. The main characters, Luz and Ray are contently squatting in an abandoned mansion until they cross paths with a child who they bring into their fold. With new found responsibility, they pursue a more sustainable home and discover the ambiguous power of their most treasured relationships.

Dori: In Like Family, a spare, slender novel by Paolo Giordano, a married couple hires a childless widow to care for the wife when she has some problems in her pregnancy. After the baby is born, Mrs. A stays on as a nanny for the baby and as housekeeper for the family. After eight years, however, one day she announces that she’s not feeling well and will not be coming back. Sixteen months later, she has passed away from cancer. The husband, a physicist, narrates, telling us all this within the first few pages of the book. The remainder of the book are his memories of conversations he’s had with Mrs. A, what he learned about her and her life and most importantly, he relays the importance of her to his family. Mrs. A helped them all, smoothing over differences between husband and wife, wholly loving their child, and appreciating and encouraging all of them. Without her, they are all bereft and feeling a hole where she once had been. She had an intimate role within their family, at least from their perspective, even though she was employee; she wasn’t family, but was she? Giordano contemplates the variety of love, the definition of family and the value of relationships, however fleeting, in this melancholy but sweet book.

Emma: In Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf, Addie Moore has lost her husband. One day she invites neighbor widower Louis Waters to spend nights with her. Nights are especially lonely. Nosy neighbors quickly find out what’s going on, but Addie and Louis don’t care. Gene, Addie’s son, leaves his son Jamie with her for the summer. He does not approve of the relationship between Addie and Louis, and eventually forbids Addie to have contact with her grandson unless she breaks contact with Louis. A beautiful story even with Addie’s bullying son’s interference.

Carol: In My name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout, the title character is a married New York City writer who reflects on her upbringing by chronicling a few days in the 80s, when as a grown woman, she ends up in the hospital for an extended stay. Lucy’s estranged mother comes to visit during that time, and readers learn about their strange and sad family dynamic from what the two reminisce about and the topics they avoid. This short novel about forgiveness and the bonds of family and love is eloquently written and will be remembered long after its last page has been read.

Steve: The Road by Cormac McCarthy is an excellent but bleak work. In a horrible post-apocalyptic world an unnamed man and his young son are striving to make it to the coast against awful odds. Along the way they elude gangs of violent thugs and scavenge for what little food they can find, all in hopes of finding other good guys.

Stacey: One of my favorite fiction titles to make the list of Notable Books for Adults for 2016 was This Is the Life: A Novel by Alex Shearer. Two brothers, who haven’t always had the easiest of relationships, are brought together again when Louis is diagnosed with a brain tumor and his younger brother provides whatever support he can. A small book with a big impact, there really is something in this book that is likely to make readers laugh, cry, and maybe even pick up the phone to call a loved one…

If you want to keep reading with us, you’ll want to go looking for the first novel of an author you’ve never read before! Finding the debut work of a new author can be pretty exciting, so you might want to start your search …now!


Literary Fiction is Fine!

Did you find yourself a prize winning, distinctive writing style, focused on characters more than plot book? Would you say your book was experimental, technically challenging, and/or full of subtle details? If you’ve said, “Yes” to either or both of these questions then you too could have come to our most recent genre book discussion featuring literary fiction!

Maureen: It’s Fine By Me by Per Petterson tells the story of Audun Sletten, a 13 year-old teenager growing up in a working-class village near Oslo, Norway in the 1970s. Audun does not have the easiest life – his abusive and often drunk father has left the family, his younger brother died in an auto accident, his sister married poorly and moved away, and he is being raised alone by his mother in a new town – but he tries to get through each day with determination and hope for a better tomorrow. The book chronicles Audun’s current journey through 7th grade in a new school; his important friendship with schoolmate Arvid (an up-and-coming socialist) and his relationship with his father, who, unfortunately, keeps re-appearing. Though often dark, this book is superbly written, with details that make you feel as though you are growing up right alongside Audun as he finds himself. Translated from Norwegian by Don Bartlett.

Megan: The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis follows the life of Hattie Shepard and her children. In 1923 Hattie, a young African-American teen, flees Georgia in search of a better life in Philadelphia. Instead of a wealth of opportunities, she finds nothing but disappointment. Her first heartbreak is the death of her firstborn twins. Nine more children follow and she is determined to prepare them for the hardships of life. Hattie’s story slowly unfolds through the experiences of each of her children. This powerful debut novel reads more like a collection of short stories. It is beautifully written, often heart-breaking, but essentially an uplifting testament to a mother’s strength and resilience.

Chris: The Buddha in the Attic tells the story of Japanese picture brides—their journey of sailing the Pacific in the 1920s in hopes of new lives, dream lives, in the States, with nothing more to go on than pictures and letters of their future husbands; almost all deceiving from the very beginning. Their real new lives are revealed as you see them assimilate into the culture in San Francisco, have families who reject their heritage and history, and experience the arrival of World War II and the internment camps. Julie Otsuka’s writing is extraordinary. The refrains make you feel the sway of the ship; that important telling detail covers personalities in a single word, and the images are arresting. Because it’s written in collective first person, it’s everyone’s story. Mesmerizing.

Carol: The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty opens in 1922 when 36-year-old Cora Carlisle, wife to a prominent lawyer and mother of college-bound boys, learns that 15-year-old neighbor; the yet-undiscovered future silent film star Louise Brooks needs a chaperone to attend modern dance school in New York City. Cora jumps at the chance to leave Wichita, Kansas behind for a couple of months to assist the rebellious but talented and beautiful teenager, who shamelessly flirts with every man who looks her way and ignores most of Cora’s motherly advice. Through together for just the one summer, it’s a life changer for both of them—Louise gets her ticket to silver screen fame and Cora’s eyes are opened by the answers that she has found on her own secret mission, her real reasons for volunteering as chaperone. When Cora returns home, she is forever changed, but as an upper-class society woman, she must continue to play that role and hide her many secrets. This page-turner is not afraid to take on hot topics of the era, like women’s rights, prohibition, racism and homophobia, and the need for upstanding citizens to keep their true selves hidden. Make sure to clear your schedule; this novel captivates from page one.

Ann: In Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver, Dellarobia Turnbow’s narrow and often unhappy life on a farm in Tennessee is broadened with the discovery of millions of monarch butterflies on the mountainside of the family farm. Are the butterflies a miracle, a sign, or a warning? When a professor of biology and his students come to the farm to investigate the butterflies, before she knows it, Dellarobia is caught up in the scientific research. Her young son, Preston is besotted by the professor. Dellarobia has always known there was more to life than her failing farm, but never saw a path away. The butterflies become the path. Kingsolver always writes novels of strong women characters, and this one is no different. As she describes modern rural life, family and religious entanglements, she also brings us a convincing and grounded novel about the effects of climate change and global warming.

Steve: Life of Pi, by Yann Martel, is the story of Piscine “Pi” Patel, a 16 year old Indian boy, who is stranded at sea while relocating to Canada after the ship he is in sinks. He is separated from his family and is left sharing a lifeboat with various animals, ultimately ending up with a 450 pound Bengal tiger as a shipmate. At first he thinks his best option is to simply outlive the tiger, and let the elements take their toll, but soon Pi changes his thinking. The pace is slow and descriptive, but very thought provoking. At times funny and sad, the story is filled with philosophical, zoological and religious elements. I will caution that it can take awhile to get into, as the story does not grip you from the beginning, but it is worth hanging in there.

Emma: Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka is the story of several Japanese mail-order (picture) brides arriving in San Francisco to meet their husbands for the first time. The women had been married by proxy in Japan while their husbands were in the United States. Life was often difficult for these women for many reasons. The book follows their arrival in America; their first nights with their husbands; their interactions with white people; their children; and their experience of World War II. Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor all people of Japanese descent were eventually moved to Relocation Centers until the end of the war.

Rosemary: A Place in Time: Twenty Stories of the Port William Membership by Wendell Berry is the author’s first work of fiction since 2006. Through 50 years of award-winning writing, Berry has enchanted readers with his stories of the Port William community. The 78-year-old Berry is a farmer and has lovingly tended his 125 acres of land near Louisville for most of his adult life. He knows firsthand the importance of neighbors, country life, community, and sustainability. A Place in Time draws on his intimate knowledge of this way of life. The stories range in time from 1864 to 2008. Many characters from his previous novels appear for a cameo role. We become reacquainted with Burley Coulter, Danny and Kate Helen Branch, and Elton Penn to name just a few. It is a welcome and heartfelt reunion to say the least.

Julie: Ok, I am totally cheating, but after talking with my co-worker Chris about Julie Otsuka’s novel , The Buddha in the Attic, I am jumping on her bandwagon! Otsuka writes about the picture brides who came from Japan before WWII expecting a wonderful new life with the husband they have only met in photographs. A beautiful and heart wrenching novel (thank you Chris!).

Dori: The Yellow Birds, a debut novel by Kevin Powers. Two soldiers, bound together in basic training when Private Bartle promises to watch after Private Murphy, encounter the physical and psychological trauma of the Iraq War. When Murphy is killed, Bartle tries to come to terms with what happened, to figure out what he could have done differently, while trying to heal from his own anguish. Poetically written, this stirring novel captures the experience of war with honesty and compassion.

Stacey: It might be a small book in the number of pages, but there’s a big story inside the covers of Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx. Jack and Ennis haven’t hit twenty when they’re both hired by the Forest Service to watch sheep on Brokeback Mountain. And so begins the best, and most difficult, relationship that either man will ever experience.

Next time? Join us as we discuss suspense and thrillers! If you want to play along this time, you’ll want to find a book that has fast pacing, surprising plot twists, and appeal to your emotions. Suspense books have compressed a lot of action into a short period of time and emphasize danger to a character’s mental and/or physical well-being. Thrillers have a more specific setting like a courtroom, medical laboratory, or government agency, with a focus of a hero defeating the villain. Already I can see the next discussion should be pretty … explosive!?

— Stacey

2011 Top Ten (Plus One)

My Top Ten List is succinct and sweet
With a one word description as short as a tweet.

In the Woods- Tana French  “Seductive”
The Likeness- Tana French “Imaginative”
State of Wonder- Ann Patchett “Wonderful”
Before I Go to Sleep- S.J. Watson  “Memorable”
The Devil She Knows- Bill Loehfelm “Gritty”
Unlikely Friendships- Jennifer S. Holland “Heartwarming”
Started Early, Took My Dog- Kate Atkinson “Multi-layered”
White Heat- M.J. McGrath “Chilling”
Caleb’s Crossing- Geraldine Brooks “Vivid”
The Help- Kathryn Stockett “Inspiring”
And for the Bonus Title
The Art of Racing in the Rain- Garth Stein “Bittersweet”

Books That Win Prizes are Called Literary Fiction!

Just about everything in life is subjective, right? What someone might think is a pretty color or what weather is most enjoyable or even what makes a book worthy of winning a “prize,” are all more personal opinion than fact. Does that stop anyone from passing out an award -or being excited to win an award- of course not! It’s always nice to receive recognition for a job well done! Plus it makes for a super easy way to select a book for discussion if one of the key criteria is “award winning!” Now can you guess what genre we discussed? Right! It was literary fiction! Other criteria to look for would be a focus on characters, intellectually interesting and encourage a high degree of interaction between the book and the reader. Now are you ready to know what everyone choose to read?

Emma: Amandine: A Novel by Marlena de Blasi is the story of an illegitimate baby born to the daughter of Polish royalty. The countess wants the baby to disappear and tells her daughter the little girl died. In reality the unnamed child is dropped off at a convent in Montpellier, France. Grandma provides financially for her care. Solange is named caregiver who names the baby Amandine. Solange and the sisters at the convent adore Amandine, but the Abbess despises her, making life unbearable. Eventually Solange and Amandine leave the convent to reunite with Solange’s family, but a two day train trip turns into a several year hike across occupied France. Solange is killed by Nazis along the way and Amandine relies on the kindness of strangers to survive. Amandine is a remarkable story of survival, persistence, and unexpected love.

Julie: Hillary Jordan’s debut novel, Mudbound, won the Bellwether prize for fiction. Set in the post-WWII South, the story follows two families trying to eke out a living in the muddy Mississippi Delta as they are confronted with racism and the effects of war on those who fought.

Rosemary: Taste of Salt by Martha Southgate is a sensitive exploration of substance and sexual addictions. Josie Henderson has worked extremely hard to earn her position as a scientist for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute. She is the only African-American researcher there. Daniel, her white husband, is also a scientist there. Because of her painful past in Cleveland, Josie has very little contact with her family back home. When Tick, Josie’s younger brother, finishes his second trip to rehab for alcoholism, he starts to slip almost immediately and flees to Josie for help. Josie’s carefully constructed world crashes down upon her when her new African-American lover spurns her, and Tick spirals out of control.

Carol: The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto is the story of two Japanese twenty-somethings, both damaged by loss. Chihiro, a mural artist, has just lost her mother after a long illness, and although grieving, she feels strangely liberated. From her new apartment in Toyko, she can see into the window of Nakajima, a student who is quiet, handsome and somehow different. Drawn to each other, they soon begin a romantic relationship. As Chihiro begins to fall in love with Nakajima, she wants to learn his terrible secrets—even as she knows that sometimes the truth can change how you view another person.

Ann: Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. When she is twelve years old, headstrong Bethia Mayfield encounters a young boy her own age on one of her island ramblings. Bethia and Caleb form a bond and a friendship that will last a lifetime. The time is the 1660’s, and Bethia is the daughter of a Puritan minister on the island of Great Harbor (later named Martha’s Vineyard). Caleb is the son of a Wampanoag chieftain. Circumstances lead to Caleb living with the Mayfield family, where Bethia’s father undertakes the formal education of Caleb. Both Caleb and Bethia then move to Cambridge, and Caleb becomes the first Native American to graduate from Harvard College. He’s successfully crossed over into the English culture but at what price? This literary novel is based on the actual historical figure of Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk and is a treat for readers of both serious fiction and historical fiction alike.

Chris: Chango’s Beads and Two-Tone Shoes by William Kennedy begins in Albany 1936, travels to Havana 1957 and ends in Albany 1968. Hang with journalist Daniel Quinn and you’ll hear Bing Crosby croon, befriend Hemingway, interview Castro, see Bobby Kennedy killed. And in the midst of the adventures, Quinn meets and falls passionately in love with the unpredictable, debutante revolutionary, Renata.

Janet: Nightwoods by Charles Frazier. Suddenly finding herself in the role of mother to her sister’s troubled twins, Dolores and Frank, Luce’s simple life at the base of an Appalachian Mountain is gone. Now everything is about the children. Luce must learn about her two young charges through trial and error. Unbeknownst to this fledgling family, Bud, Luce’s brother –in-law and the father of the twins has arrived in town to find her, the twins and the money he believes they have. Although found “not guilty” of his wife’s murder, Bud would like to give himself a fresh start by erasing the past even if it means killing his own children. Beautifully written, Nightwoods is and absorbing, suspenseful and satisfying read.

Megan: The Paris Wife by Paula McLain is the story of Hadley Richardson, the first wife of Ernest Hemingway. Following her mother’s death in 1920, a 29-year-old Hadley was ready for a change in her life. To that end, she traveled to Chicago to visit friends. During this visit she met a young man named Ernest Hemingway. Their attraction to each other was immediate and they were married less than a year later. In 1922 the newlyweds head to Paris, where they fall into a circle of famous artists and expatriates. Set against the backdrop of Paris during the Roaring 20’s, this intimate look at a young Hemingway and his first marriage is full of all the beauty, glamour, and heartbreak of that age. Fans of Hemingway, historical fiction, and epic romances will not want to miss this one.

Dori: The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje, a quiet but stirring novel narrated by Michael who, as a young boy, sailed aboard a ship from his home in Ceylon to England in the 1950’s. Traveling alone, Michael is seated, along with a motley crew of dinner companions, at the “Cat’s Table”, the table farthest from the prestigious “Captain’s Table”. There, he meets two other boys and they explore the wondrous ship and its fascinating passengers. As he tells his story, Michael flashes between past and present, looking back on his life changing adventure while exploring he and his friends’ responses to the new world they then grow up in. This is a beautifully written, moving novel about journeys: to a new country and to adulthood.

Steve: After Dark, by Haruki Murakami, is a short novel that mixes some very odd characters and situations together with both wonderful success and disappointing failure. The story centers around trombone player Takahashi and an old acquaintance he runs into, 19 year old Mari, at an all-night Denny’s. There is also a backstory about her gorgeous sister Eri, who announces one day that she is going to sleep, and proceeds to do just that, for two months! We find that she is in some weird dreamlike world and might be in danger from an ambiguous bad guy who seems to watch over her. There is also a cast of characters from a “love hotel” who enter the picture after a Chinese prostitute is beaten. The dialogue between Mari and Takahashi is engaging, and they are surprisingly well developed for such a short work (191 pages). There is a nice sense of mystery surrounding a businessman, Shirakawa, who beat the prostitute. We find out through late night phone calls that he has a loving wife and kids. Throw in a gang that may be out for vengeance against Shirakawa, and a cell phone that makes its way through many of the characters hands, and you have some intriguing scenarios. Unfortunately the story simply ends with no resolution, or sense of what is real and not real for that matter. In a nutshell, imaginative, but not for anyone looking for an ending or sense of satisfaction.

Stacey: When She Woke by Hiliary Jordan is the best kind of literary fiction you could hope to read, combining equal parts thought-provoking, discussable issues and edge-of-your-seat action! In the near future, The United States of America has become a nation in which the Government dictates both moral and legal issues. Hannah is a young woman who’s been chromed, or had her skin chemically altered to red, indicating she’s guilty of murder. Hannah had an abortion. Now she’s left without any real support system, either personal or governmental, and her life is at risk whenever she’s in public. What kind of life can Hannah live, if she lives at all?

The next time we get together we’ll be discussing … Holiday Stories! Are you ready for some holly jolly happenings? Me too!

— Stacey

Clever Books for Clever Folks…

Hmm, what good timing… The same week we’re celebrating National Library Week we’re sharing our latest genre book discussion, which just happens to be literary fiction! Sometimes you want to read a book that focuses on an author’s inventive writing technique or get to know a character’s personality through their thoughts rather than their actions or maybe something that’s been declared an award winner once or twice. If any of those descriptions sound appealing then you might be interested on our literary fiction picks!

Carol: The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi Durrow. In Durrow’s debut, set in the 1980s, young Rachel is the only survivor after a Danish woman and her biracial children fall from their Chicago apartment’s rooftop. The whereabouts of Rachel’s father, an African-American G.I., are unknown. Rachel, who has lived overseas in Germany for much of her life, now travels to Portland, Oregon to live with her African-American grandmother, and there, she finds herself in a new role as a “black” girl. Rachel also must come to terms with events that led to the death of her mother and siblings, and as she struggles with her identity and grief, the truth of that horrible day is slowly revealed. This is at times a heart-breaking read but Rachel’s story makes for a hard-to-put-down coming-of-age debut novel. Through the wise-beyond-her-years character Rachel, Durrow eloquently explores issues of identity and race. This poignant novel won Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize for best fiction manuscript that addresses issues of social justice. I highly recommend this novel and eagerly await Durrow’s next effort.

Emma: A Lesson before Dying was written by Ernest J. Gaines in 1993. The story takes place in Bayonne, Louisiana in the late 1940’s. Jefferson is at the wrong place at the wrong time. He witnesses a robbery and killings at a local convenience store. Two young black thieves are dead and so is the white store owner. Someone has to pay for the death of the owner. Poor, black Jefferson is arrested, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to death. Jefferson’s godmother Miss Emma recruits teacher Grant Wiggins to spend time with Jefferson and help him to prepare to die with dignity. This is a powerful story with an inevitable ending.

Evelyn: Hester: The Missing Years of The Scarlet Letter: A Novel by Paula Reed. At the end of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, the reader is told that Hester and her daughter Pearl travel to England, which is where this book begins. Pearl inherits a large sum of money from Roger Chillingworth and Hester wants to use it to find Pearl a proper match for a husband. Consequently, Hester reunites with a friend who is a close ally of Oliver Cromwell and she becomes deeply involved in the political intrigue of the times. Cromwell, the ultimate Puritan, is fascinated by Hester’s ability to see the sins of others and uses her talents to find those plotting against him. This is an interesting and imaginative historical novel giving us a glimpse into Reed’s vision of what life was like for Hester and Pearl after The Scarlet Letter. Although the book can stand-alone, knowing at least the basic facts of the original makes it much more entertaining.

Ann: Come Sunday by Isla Morley is a beautifully written book although hard to read at times. Abbe Deighton’s life is ripped apart by grief, and she struggles to stay afloat in the present while reflecting on her South African childhood. A multi-layered novel: a family saga; the story of a mother’s grief; and a book tuned to the rhythms of the religious year.

Megan: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The horrors of World War II are recounted by Death as he tells the story of Liesel, the young book thief. Death first meets the young girl at her brother’s graveside, where her book stealing career begins. Death has many more opportunities to see the young foster girl as she and her new family tries to survive the war. The books that Liesel steals, and eventually learns to read with the help of her accordionist father, offer comfort and hope to her neighbors during bomb raids and to the young Jew the family has hidden in their basement. Liesel’s story is touching and Death’s perspective and opinions of human life make this award-winning book unique.

Janet: Tinkers, the debut novel by Paul Harding, focuses on George Washington Crosby’s final hours of life as he lies in a hospital bed in the middle of his living room. Crosby’s memories and thoughts take center stage. As the reader we go along for the ride which slowly unfolds. The descriptions of nature, George’s childhood and many random experiences are all exquisitely brought to life by the language of the author.

Stacey: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelley is one of the Newbery Honor books for this year. It’s one of those magical books that can accurately transport a reader back in time to 1899 Fentress, TX but is equally engaging on a personal level. Callie, her many brothers, her Mom and Dad, and especially her Grandfather, are unique characters with lovable quirks, but this is really Callie’s story of exploring Mr. Charles Darwin’s ideas of science and evolution with the help of her Grandfather. Will Callie be able to break free of what society expects from a young woman of her day or will her spark be stifled by having to conform? Plus there a plenty of scenes to make you laugh-out-loud!

Chris: The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris. The “unnamed” is an unknown illness that plagues the protagonist, Tim Farnsworth. It’s an illness that compels him to stop whatever he’s doing and to start walking. He will leave in the middle of the night, the middle of a court case, the middle of his marriage to do what he must—walk. And when he can’t take another step, sometimes months later (allowing for a few naps along the way), he’ll call home for help. As unusual as this illness is, I believed it was real, because everyone in the book did. Throughout the story you see the love and commitment Tim and his wife, Jane, share as well as the love and understanding his daughter, Becka, provides, but you worry about how long it can be sustained. Early on, you lose hope that Tim will ever be cured and that the family will ever be able to return to the charmed life they led before page one. I loved the author’s first book, Then We Came to the End, so I’m going to write this off as the second-novel-syndrome and look forward to Ferris’ third.

Julie: Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson is another look by the award-winning author at a difficult topic. Being 18 is tough enough – school, fitting in, parents who don’t understand – but Lia must also contend with her (former) best friend being found alone in a hotel room, dead. All of this while trying to convince everyone she is recovering from anorexia (she’s not) and no longer cutting herself (she is). Lia’s voice is believable and lyrical, her story is heartbreaking but not without hope.

Dori: The Informers by Juan Gabriel Vásquez . When Gabriel Santoro publishes a book about Jewish refugees to Columbia during the 1930s, his father’s angry reaction shocks him. After his father becomes ill and dies in a car accident, he digs deeper into the past, uncovering facts that will destroy his father’s reputation. Questions of the sins of the past, silence vs. truth-telling and the effects of war and exile dominate this beautifully written novel.

A lovely list of literary fiction all for you! And the next time? We’ll be happy to provide you with a lovely list of … graphic novels! According to the American Heritage Dictionary a graphic novel is defined as: a novel whose narrative is related through a combination of text and art, often in comic-strip form. They do say a picture is worth a thousand words and now we’ll be able to judge for ourselves!

— Stacey

P.S: Would you like to enjoy another special celebration of the literary kind? Ocoee Middle School and Full Sails Education Media Design & Technology program made this super entertaining YouTube video I can’t stop watching. You go kids! Readers of the future unite!!