Reviews

The River // Peter Heller

“They got hot. They paddled hard. Almost thirty miles on a flat-water current was a long way even for them. Because the river slowed and expended itself in unexpected wide coves. From which loons called as they passed – the rising wail that cracked the afternoon with irrepressible longing and seemed to darken the sky. The ululant laughter that followed. Mirthless and sad. And from across the slough or from far downstream the cry that answered.”

Jack and Wynn meet during their freshman orientation at Dartmouth. Brought together by their mutual love of literature and the outdoors, a deep friendship develops. A few years into university, they take a semester off and pursue their dream of taking an extended canoe trip down the Maskwa River in Northern Canada. What begins as a leisurely trip takes on a sense of urgency when they see a wildfire bearing down on them from a distance. Things intensify when they meet two drunk rednecks and try to warn them, and get even worse when they begin to search for a man’s missing wife. Soon their idyllic paddle through the wilderness becomes a painful lesson in the perils of both man and nature.

Full of elegance and foreboding, Peter Heller has written an outstanding novel that’s part love letter, part warning label for the natural world. From pragmatic Jack to the introspective Wynn to mercurial mother nature, the character development is excellent. As the boys move from the calm lake waters to the swift whitewater of the Maskwa River, the pace of the story moves with them. Heller, a former contributing editor to Outdoor magazine and National Outdoor Book Award Winner, is adept at describing the terrifying beauty of the world around us and, for me, it’s where the novel really shines.

“Across the river and downstream, high up, somewhere over where the fire should be there was a pale cloud that drifted and elongated and accordioned into a high curtain of softest light, and as he watched, it spread silently across the northern sky. It pulsed with inner radiance as if alive and then poured itself like a cascade to the horizon and shimmered with green. A pale green cataract of something scintillant that spread across an entire quadrant and sang as it fell with total absence: of sound, of substance, of water or air… It was like a portent–more: a preview–and it was an if every cantlet and breath of the night was filled with song–and silent. It was terrifying and unutterably beautiful.”

As the novel unfolds, it becomes many things: a heart-pounding mystery of a missing woman, a tale two boys taking an adventurous trip downriver, a story of deep friendship in the face of adversity. It’s a wonderfully written story of desperation, of danger, of nature, and of tragedy. It will be one of the best books I read in 2019. Nearly flawless.

Miscellanea

Lately

Making: I would figuratively kill for some homemade macaroni and cheese on real pasta, but I am making this roasted red pepper chickpea pasta recipe instead.
Drinking: Water, today. I finished an entire bottle of rose last night (not entirely by myself).
Reading: Wicked Saints by Emily A. Duncan
Listening: Sudden Prey by John Sandford
Organizing: Everything!
Coveting: Babaa knitwear. I don’t need another cardigan, but I also do.
Watching: I’ve been wanting to catch up on American Gods, after finishing the audio.
Wishing: That I was still young enough that I could eat and drink what I want, when I want.
Planning: We have a trip to Asia coming up. I’m trying to plan how to pack for the whole thing. It feels overwhelming.
Fearing: I’ve probably mentioned I hate air travel. It would be better if someone would just sedate me before I got on the plane.
Accomplishing: Not this blog. I’m still here. I still want to write. I’m just so TIRED. It’s all those kids, I tell you.
Needing: One of my biggest failing as an adult, from a health perspective, is my inability to establish healthy sleep habits.
Considering: What to wear to an ’80s fundraiser this weekend. I’m thinking there will be tulle.
Wondering: I didn’t publish this post before my trip as planned, so this is slightly out of date: This upcoming trip to Texas is our first backpack only trip. Everyone gets on small backpack to pack their week’s worth of stuff in. The real question is can everyone do it?
Feeling: Cheap. The backpack idea came from my unwillingness to pay airline baggage fees for everyone.
Thinking: About eBags. Are they worth it?
Celebrating: My oldest just turned 11!

Image found here.

Like This, Read That

What To Read if You Love Stranger Things

It’s probably no surprise that I love Stranger Things. I love it enough that I’ve watched it twice, once with my husband and once with my son (because I thought he would love it too (he did)). With season three not releasing until July 4th, 2019, I thought a list of books that are reminiscent of Stranger Things** was in order*. A few of these will be of no surprise to anyone even remotely acquainted with the show (IT, anyone?), but I hope there will be a few new books to tide you over – if, like me, you’re impatiently waiting for July.

IT // Stephen King. Possibly the most obvious of the bunch, IT follows a group of boys and one girl as they are terrorized by, and later fight against, an evil entity living (essentially) underground.

American Elsewhere // Robert Jackson Bennett. One the surface, Wink, New Mexico is a normal town and the residents are normal people. A government building sits outside and above the town, and their work has influenced the town in…unique ways.

Christine // Stephen King. Christine may be a less obvious choice, but if you’ve seen season two, I think it’s a good, very applicable one in regard to Will. Because sometimes, even when you’re trying to do the right thing, you’re taken over by someone else entirely.

Summer of Night // Dan Simmons. Goodreads sums it up better than I could: ”
It’s the summer of 1960 in Elm Haven, Illinois, and five 12-year old boys are forming the bonds that a lifetime of changes will never erase. But then a dark cloud threatens the bright promise of summer vacation: on the last day of school, their classmate Tubby Cooke vanishes. Soon, the group discovers stories of other children who once disappeared from Elm Haven. And there are other strange things happening in town: unexplained holes in the ground, a stranger dressed as a World War I soldier, and a rendering-plant truck that seems to be following the five boys. The friends realize that there is a terrible evil lurking in Elm Haven…and they must be the ones to stop it.”

Beast of Extraordinary Circumstance // Ruth Emmie Lang. This one is the most heartwarming selection on the list, but I couldn’t resist including Weylyn’s story. Weylyn is different. Raised by wolves, eccentric by nature, and possessing unique abilities, he is quite the curiosity. From stopping storm in its tracks to living in a decrepit house filled with spiders, he always has good intentions, even when he’s not quite brave enough to execute them.

When the Sky Fell on Splendor // Emily Henry. Franny and her friends – The Ordinary – investigate paranormal activity and legends near their small Ohio town. One night, a bright light comes hurtling from the same, and after that, things aren’t quite the same. Much like Stranger Things, this isn’t a book just about the unique abilities that develop, but much more about the meaning of friendship and family.

The Boys of Summer // Richard Cox. In 1979, a tornado strikes a small town in Texas. In 1983, Todd finally wakes from his coma, only he’s not quite the same. Struggling to separate fact from fiction, Todd and group of friends come of age in a mysterious summer, discovering a secret so terrible they can’t speak of it. But secrets can’t stay hidden.

The Disappearance at Devil’s Rock // Paul Tremblay. “But Tommy isn’t a ghost. He can’t be, because right now Tommy is the opposite of a ghost. He is nowhere.” Out with his friends one night, Tommy disappears without a trace. But he’s not really gone, is he? And what it the town’s history hiding?

*I am not the first, and likely not the last, to make a list like this. I do hope to offer a unique suggestion or two though.
**I am not a fan of tv shows turned book, so you won’t find those on this list.

Lists

Coming Soon // Spring 2019 Edition.

Coming soon to a library/bookstore/ereader near you! These are some of the books that have caught my eye. The hardest part is choosing which ones to read. Even admitting I won’t get to them all is a difficult step for me.

Clayton Burroughs is a small-town Georgia sheriff, a new father, and, improbably, the heir apparent of Bull Mountain’s most notorious criminal family.

Like Lions // Brian Panowich. April 30. “Brian Panowich burst onto the crime fiction scene in 2015, winning awards and accolades from readers and critics alike for his smoldering debut, Bull Mountain. Now with Like Lions, he cements his place as one of the outstanding new voices in crime fiction.

As he tries to juggle fatherhood, his job and his recovery from being shot in the confrontation that killed his two criminally-inclined brothers last year, he’s doing all he can just to survive. Yet after years of carefully toeing the line between his life in law enforcement and his family, he finally has to make a choice.

When a rival organization makes a first foray into Burroughs territory, leaving a trail of bodies and a whiff of fear in its wake, Clayton is pulled back into the life he so desperately wants to leave behind. Revenge is a powerful force, and the vacuum left by his brothers’ deaths has left them all vulnerable. With his wife and child in danger, and the way of life in Bull Mountain under siege for everyone, Clayton will need to find a way to bury the bloody legacy of his past once and for all.”

The Van Apfel Girls are Gone // Felicity McLean. June 25. So begins Tikka Molloy’s recounting of the summer of 1992 – the summer the Van Apfel sisters, Hannah, the beautiful Cordelia and Ruth – disappear.

Eleven and one-sixth years old, Tikka is the precocious narrator of this fabulously endearing coming-of-age story, set in an eerie Australian river valley suburb with an unexplained stench. The Van Apfel girls vanish from the valley during the school’s ‘Showstopper’ concert, held at the outdoor amphitheatre by the river. While the search for the sisters unites the small community on Sydney’s urban fringe, the mystery of their disappearance remains unsolved forever.

Brilliantly observed, sharp, lively, funny and entirely endearing, this novel is part mystery, part coming-of-age story – and quintessentially Australian. Think The Virgin Suicides meets Jasper Jones meets Picnic at Hanging Rock

Into the Jungle // Erica Ferencik. May 28. Lily Bushwold thought she’d found the antidote to endless foster care and group homes: a teaching job in Cochabamba, Bolivia. As soon as she could steal enough cash for the plane, she was on it.

When the gig falls through and Lily stays in Bolivia, she finds bonding with other broke, rudderless girls at the local hostel isn’t the life she wants either. Tired of hustling and already world-weary, crazy love finds her in the form she least expected: Omar, a savvy, handsome local man who’d abandoned his life as a hunter in Ayachero—a remote jungle village—to try his hand at city life.

When Omar learns that a jaguar has killed his four-year-old nephew in Ayachero, he gives Lily a choice: Stay alone in the unforgiving city, or travel to the last in a string of ever-more-isolated river towns in the jungles of Bolivia. Thirty-foot anaconda? Puppy-sized spiders? Vengeful shamans with unspeakable powers? Love-struck Lily is oblivious. She follows Omar to this ruthless new world of lawless poachers, bullheaded missionaries, and desperate indigenous tribes driven to the brink of extinction. To survive, Lily must navigate the jungle–its wonders as well as its terrors—using only her wits and resilience.

Primal, gripping, and terrifying, Into the Jungle features Erica Ferencik’s signature “visceral, white-knuckle” (Entertainment Weekly) prose that will sink its fangs into you and not let go.

The Farm // Joanne Ramos. May 7. Nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley is a luxury retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, personal fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you’re paid big money to stay here—more than you’ve ever dreamed of. The catch? For nine months, you cannot leave the grounds, your movements are monitored, and you are cut off from your former life while you dedicate yourself to the task of producing the perfect baby. For someone else.

Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a “Host” at Golden Oaks—or the Farm, as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on the delivery of her child.

Gripping, provocative, heartbreaking, The Farm pushes to the extremes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.

A Wonderful Stroke of Luck // Ann Beattie

Biloxi // Mary Miller. May 21. Mary Miller seizes the mantle of southern literature with this wry tale of middle age and the unexpected turns a life can take.

Like her predecessors Ann Beattie and Raymond Carver, Mary Miller brings an essential voice to her generation. Building on her critically acclaimed novel, The Last Days of California, and her biting collection, Always Happy Hour, Miller slyly transports readers to her unapologetic corner of the South—this time, Biloxi, Mississippi, home to sixty-three-year-old Louis McDonald Jr. His wife of thirty-seven years left him, his father has passed—and he has impulsively retired from his job in anticipation of an inheritance check that may not come. In the meantime, he watches reality television, sips beer, and avoids his ex-wife and daughter. One day, he stops at a house advertising free dogs and meets overweight mixed-breed Layla. Unexpectedly, Louis takes her, and, newly invigorated, begins investigating local dog parks and buying extra bologna. Mining the absurdities of life with her signature “droll minimalist’s-eye view of America” (Joyce Carol Oates), Mary Miller’s Biloxiaffirms her place in contemporary literature.

The Invited // Jennifer McMahon. April 30. A chilling ghost story with a twist: the New York Times bestselling author of The Winter People returns to the woods of Vermont to tell the story of a husband and wife who don’t simply move into a haunted house–they build one . . .

In a quest for a simpler life, Helen and Nate have abandoned the comforts of suburbia to take up residence on forty-four acres of rural land where they will begin the ultimate, aspirational do-it-yourself project: building the house of their dreams. When they discover that this beautiful property has a dark and violent past, Helen, a former history teacher, becomes consumed by the local legend of Hattie Breckenridge, a woman who lived and died there a century ago. With her passion for artifacts, Helen finds special materials to incorporate into the house–a beam from an old schoolroom, bricks from a mill, a mantel from a farmhouse–objects that draw her deeper into the story of Hattie and her descendants, three generations of Breckenridge women, each of whom died suspiciously. As the building project progresses, the house will become a place of menace and unfinished business: a new home, now haunted, that beckons its owners and their neighbors toward unimaginable danger.

The Ash Family // Molly Dektar. April 9. When a young woman leaves her family—and the civilized world—to join an off-the-grid community headed by an enigmatic leader, she discovers that belonging comes with a deadly cost, in this lush and searing debut novel.

At nineteen, Berie encounters a seductive and mysterious man at a bus station near her home in North Carolina. Shut off from the people around her, she finds herself compelled by his promise of a new life. He ferries her into a place of order and chaos: the Ash Family farm. There, she joins an intentional community living off the fertile land of the mountains, bound together by high ideals and through relationships she can’t untangle. Berie—now renamed Harmony—renounces her old life and settles into her new one on the farm. She begins to make friends. And then they start to disappear.

Thrilling and profound, The Ash Family explores what we will sacrifice in the search for happiness, and the beautiful and grotesque power of the human spirit as it seeks its ultimate place of belonging.

The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs // Katherine Howe. June 25. Connie Goodwin is an expert on America’s fractured past with witchcraft. A young, tenure-track professor in Boston, she’s earned career success by studying the history of magic in colonial America—especially women’s home recipes and medicines—and by exposing society’s threats against women fluent in those skills. But beyond her studies, Connie harbors a secret: She is the direct descendant of a woman tried as a witch in Salem, an ancestor whose abilities were far more magical than the historical record shows.

When a hint from her mother and clues from her research lead Connie to the shocking realization that her partner’s life is in danger, she must race to solve the mystery behind a hundreds’-years-long deadly curse.

Flashing back through American history to the lives of certain supernaturally gifted women, The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs affectingly reveals not only the special bond that unites one particular matriarchal line, but also explores the many challenges to women’s survival across the decades—and the risks some women are forced to take to protect what they love most.

Wicked Saints // Emily A. Duncan. April 2. A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself. A prince in danger must decide who to trust. A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings. Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war. In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light. Wicked Saints is the thrilling start to Emily A. Duncan’s devastatingly Gothic Something Dark and Holy trilogy.

Orange World and Other Stories // Karen Russell. May 14. Karen Russell’s comedic genius and mesmerizing talent for creating outlandish predicaments that uncannily mirror our inner in lives is on full display in these eight exuberant, arrestingly vivid, unforgettable stories.  In“Bog Girl”, a revelatory story about first love, a young man falls in love with a two thousand year old girl that he’s extracted from a mass of peat in a Northern European bog.  In “The Prospectors,” two opportunistic young women fleeing the depression strike out for new territory, and find themselves fighting for their lives.  In the brilliant, hilarious title story, a new mother desperate to ensure her infant’s safety strikes a diabolical deal, agreeing to breastfeed the devil in exchange for his protection. The landscape in which these stories unfold is a feral, slippery, purgatorial space, bracketed by the void—yet within it Russell captures the exquisite beauty and tenderness of ordinary life. Orange World is a miracle of storytelling from a true modern master.

Boat on the beach of Cape May, New Jersey.

Cape May // Chip Cheek. April 30. Late September 1957. “Henry and Effie, very young newlyweds from Georgia, arrive in Cape May, New Jersey, for their honeymoon only to find the town is deserted. Feeling shy of each other and isolated, they decide to cut the trip short. But before they leave, they meet a glamorous set of people who sweep them up into their drama. Clara, a beautiful socialite who feels her youth slipping away; Max, a wealthy playboy and Clara’s lover; and Alma, Max’s aloof and mysterious half-sister, to whom Henry is irresistibly drawn. The empty beach town becomes their playground, and as they sneak into abandoned summer homes, go sailing, walk naked under the stars, make love, and drink a great deal of gin, Henry and Effie slip from innocence into betrayal, with irrevocable consequences.”

What do you want to read this spring? See what everyone else is reading here.

Reviews

Come West and See // Maxim Loskutoff

Short story collections are my jam. They’re typically readable, I can sit down, read a story, and get back up without worrying about losing my place in the larger narrative arc. You can encounter a fantastically weird story alongside a quiet family drama, sci-fi mixed in with historical fiction. A good collection can have all (or some, or none) of these things.

I’ve mentioned I love quirky. And fantastical. Bizarre. Unique. Come West and See has a little bit of everything good, including lust, politics, and the American West. Most of the stories are linked, set in the American West (Montana, Idaho, and Oregon), and perfectly capture the aggressive individualism found more often in these rural outposts. An armed occupation of a wildlife refuge – think the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge standoff – is the primary link between the stories, but loneliness, frustration, and rage also run throughout.

“Ways to Kill a Tree”, “Stay Here”, and “We’re in this Together You Know, God” are highlights, but the collection is solid and worth your time, especially if your interested in the (fictional) exploration of the chasm that divides the nation, especially regarding land politics, in the American West. 

P.S. How amazing is that cover?

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