Reviews

Coming Soon // Autumn 2019

Denver is not on board with autumn. Not at all. I feel like I’m melting, and I’m now pretty sure I’m only cut out for life in, say, Alaska. The silver lining of heading into September*, even if the thermometer doesn’t agree, is a whole host of new books to devour. What are you excited about? I, too, and excited about the new Atwood, but I feel like it’s been on every upcoming list, so I’ll try to keep it to books that may be flying under the radar.

False Bingo // Jac Jemc. MCD x FSG Originals, October 8. “In Jac Jemc’s dislocating second story collection, False Bingo, we watch as sinister forces―some supernatural, some of this earth, some real and some not―work their ways into the mundanity of everyday life. Fueled by paranoia and visceral suspense, and crafted with masterful restraint, these seventeen stories explore what happens when our fears cross over into the real, if only for a fleeting moment. Identities are stolen, alternate universes are revealed, and innocence is lost as the consequences of minor, seemingly harmless decisions erupt to sabotage a false sense of stability. “This is not a morality tale about the goodness of one character triumphing over the bad of another,” the sadistic narrator of “Pastoral” announces. Rather, False Bingo is a collection of realist fables exploring how conflicting moralities can coexist: the good, the bad, the indecipherable.”

The Dead Girls Club // Damien Angelica Walters. Crooked Lane Books, December 10. A supernatural thriller in the vein of A Head Full of Ghosts about two young girls, a scary story that becomes far too real, and the tragic–and terrifying–consequences that follow one of them into adulthood.

Red Lady, Red Lady, show us your face…

In 1991, Heather Cole and her friends were members of the Dead Girls Club. Obsessed with the macabre, the girls exchanged stories about serial killers and imaginary monsters, like the Red Lady, the spirit of a vengeful witch killed centuries before. Heather knew the stories were just that, until her best friend Becca began insisting the Red Lady was real–and she could prove it.

That belief got Becca killed.

It’s been nearly thirty years, but Heather has never told anyone what really happened that night–that Becca was right and the Red Lady was real. She’s done her best to put that fateful summer, Becca, and the Red Lady, behind her. Until a familiar necklace arrives in the mail, a necklace Heather hasn’t seen since the night Becca died. 

The night Heather killed her.

Now, someone else knows what she did…and they’re determined to make Heather pay.

The Widow of Pale Harbor // Hester Fox. Graydon House, September 17. A town gripped by fear. A woman accused of witchcraft. Who can save Pale Harbor from itself?

Maine, 1846. Gabriel Stone is desperate to escape the ghosts that haunt him in Massachusetts after his wife’s death, so he moves to Maine, taking a position as a minister in the remote village of Pale Harbor.

But not all is as it seems in the sleepy town. Strange, unsettling things have been happening, and the townspeople claim that only one person can be responsible: Sophronia Carver, a reclusive widow who lives with a spinster maid in the eerie Castle Carver. Sophronia must be a witch, and she almost certainly killed her husband.

As the incidents escalate, one thing becomes clear: they are the work of a twisted person inspired by the wildly popular stories of Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. And Gabriel must find answers, or Pale Harbor will suffer a fate worthy of Poe’s darkest tales.

Last Ones Left Alive // Sarah Davis-Goff. Flatiron Books, August 27.Last Ones Left Alive is the story of Orpen, a young woman who must walk on foot across a ravaged Ireland in the desperate hope of saving herself, and her guardian Maeve, from the zombie-like menace known as the skrake. Sarah Davis-Goff’s strikingly original debut will appeal to readers of dystopian literary fiction such as STATION 11 or THE END WE START FROM.

Wyoming // JP Gritton. Tin House Books, November 19. A cross between Daniel Woodrell and Annie Proulx, Wyoming is about the stubborn grip of inertia and whether or not it is possible to live without accepting oneself. 

It’s 1988 and Shelley Cooper is in trouble. He’s broke, he’s been fired from his construction job, and his ex-wife has left him for their next door neighbor and a new life in Kansas City. The only opportunity on his horizon is fifty pounds of his brother’s high-grade marijuana, which needs to be driven from Colorado to Houston and exchanged for a lockbox full of cash. The delivery goes off without a hitch, but getting home with the money proves to be a different challenge altogether.

Fueled by a grab bag of resentments and self punishment, Shelley becomes a case study in the question of whether it’s possible to live without accepting yourself, and the dope money is the key to a lock he might never find.

JP Gritton’s portrait of a hapless aspirant at odds with himself and everyone around him is both tender and ruthless, and Wyoming considers the possibility of redemption in a world that grants forgiveness grudgingly, if at all.

Red at the Bone // Jacqueline Woodson. Riverhead, September 17. Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson’s taut and powerful new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child.

As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony– a celebration that ultimately never took place.

Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives—even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.

What Red Was // Rosie Price. Hogarth, August 27th. When Kate Quaile meets Max Rippon in the first week of university, a life-changing friendship begins. Over the next four years, the two become inseparable. For him, she breaks her solitude; for her, he leaves his busy circles behind. But knowing Max means knowing his family: the wealthy Rippons, all generosity, social ease, and quiet repression. Theirs is a very different world from Kate’s own upbringing, and yet she finds herself quickly drawn into their gilded lives, and the secrets that lie beneath. Until one evening, at the Rippons home, just after graduation, her life is shattered apart in a bedroom while a party goes on downstairs.

What Red Was is an incisive and mesmerizing novel about power, privilege, and consent–one that fearlessly explores the effects of trauma on the mind and body of a young woman, the tyrannies of memory, the sacrifices involved in staying silent, and the courage in speaking out. And when Kate does, it raises this urgent question: whose story is it now?

Olive, Again // Elizabeth Strout. Random House, October 15. Olive struggles to understand not only herself and her own life but the lives of those around her in the town of Crosby, Maine. Whether with a teenager coming to terms with the loss of her father, a young woman about to give birth during a hilariously inopportune moment, a nurse who confesses a secret high school crush, or a lawyer who struggles with an inheritance she does not want to accept, the unforgettable Olive will continue to startle us, to move us, and to inspire moments of transcendent grace.

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts // Kate Racculia. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. October 8. Tuesday Mooney is a loner. She keeps to herself, begrudgingly socializes, and spends much of her time watching old Twin Peaks and X-Files DVDs. But when Vincent Pryce, Boston’s most eccentric billionaire, dies—leaving behind an epic treasure hunt through the city, with clues inspired by his hero, Edgar Allan Poe—Tuesday’s adventure finally begins.

Puzzle-loving Tuesday searches for clue after clue, joined by a ragtag crew: a wisecracking friend, an adoring teen neighbor, and a handsome, cagey young heir. The hunt tests their mettle, and with other teams from around the city also vying for the promised prize—a share of Pryce’s immense wealth—they must move quickly. Pryce’s clues can’t be cracked with sharp wit alone; the searchers must summon the courage to face painful ghosts from their pasts (some more vivid than others) and discover their most guarded desires and dreams.

A deliciously funny ode to imagination, overflowing with love letters to art, from The Westing Game to Madonna to the Knights of the Round Table, Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts is the perfect read for thrill seekers, wanderers, word lovers, and anyone looking for an escape to the extraordinary. Catherine at The Gilmore Guide to Books put this one on my radar.

Happy reading, fellow bookworms!

*It also means we’er approaching the best month of the year – October! Also, I genuinely sat on this post for 3+ weeks because I did not have time to grab all the book covers. In the end, I gave up.

Source of image unknown. If someone knows, please tell me!

Mixtapes

Literary Mixtape | Wanderers

As an alternative for a review, synopsis, or anything of the like, I decided to create a soundtrack for the book. Please note that quite a bit of this is intended to be playful and irreverent. I’m rarely serious and this post is no exception.

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig is a timely, apocalyptic novel. It primarily follows teenage sisters, scientists, and a religious radio host as the world as they know it begins to dissolve around them and political tensions rise. It’s a character and science driven novel, and all of the events are plausible, which separates it from a novel like The Stand (though, yes, they are similar). Engaging, relevant, and humane, Wanderers shines an uncomfortable light on human nature in the face of the unknown.

All My Life // Foo Fighters.

I know I know I know I am only a teenager, Dad reminds me, like, every day, and my sister reminds me that I’m still young, and I don’t care. I have so many things I want to do, so many boys I want to kiss and so many places to go and so many ways to change the world. I’m ready to get started. Because everything and everyone has to start somewhere, right? I’m starting now. Mom, if you’re out there, and if you ever read this, I’m sorry you won’t get to see what I do. Maybe you’ll come back to us again. Maybe I’ll find you, who knows? Maybe that’s what this is all about. Me finding you.

Shiny Happy People // REM

“Hell, nobody’s okay. Maybe we never were, and we damn sure aren’t now. But we’re here. Until we’re not. And that’s all I find it fair to ask for.” 

Generator, Second Floor // Freelance Whales.

As she walked, she felt out of sync, receiving strange flashes of sound and sight and sensation that did not line up with this place. The girl did not know if these were memories, or if they were something else: She heard the crush of the ocean, saw sidewinders of desert sand sliding across the open highway. She saw mile markers and speed limit signs. She saw a dead man in a car, a gun stuck in his mouth, fixed there by bulging threads and struts of white fungus. She smelled blood. And mold. Crushed juniper, hot tar, seabrine. She heard murmurs of voices, saw smeary faces walking alongside her like ghosts – sometimes they were there, most times they were not, but even when they weren’t, she could feel them still.

Sympathy for the Devil // Rolling Stones.

“Humankind was a disease. The earth was the body. Climate change was the fever.” 

Subterranean Homesick Blues // Bob Dylan.

“Talking about coal was never about coal, though: It was always code for making promises to blue-collar America about their blue-collar ways of life.” 

Thunder Road // Bruce Springsteen.

“Nothing except the desire between them, the ground below them, the night above.”

Out of the Woods // Taylor Swift.

His anger at her dissipated suddenly… If she’d lied to him, it was because she knew no other way. He reached out and touched her hand. A small gesture. But he saw her smile – a sad smile, to be sure, but a smile – in return.

Dancing in the Dark // Bruce Springsteen.

Moon in the sky, stars out, the wide-open expanse of nothing: it made him feel free and alive as the daytime never did.” 

Panic Attack // The Glorious Sons.

It was like watching a fog roll out to sea, once more revealing the shoreline, and the moon, and the stars. Clarity came to Arav. He looked suddenly to the shotgun in his hand and quickly lifted the barrel to the sky, his other hand letting go of the stock and also raising in surrender. Benji moved toward him with an urgency to his step, quickly moving to disarm Arav. The young man, his friend, let him. It was over.

Except really, it wasn’t over. Not for any of them.

Little Vessels // The Lighthouse and the Whaler. I am not including a quote with this one, it could give away a bit of the plot.

Reviews

It’s Not You…

It’s me.

Sometimes books just don’t work for me, but that doesn’t mean they’re bad. Maybe I’m having a bad day, or not in the mood for a particular genre, or whatever the reason may be, I end up not enjoying a perfectly decent book. That is the case with the following…*

The Last Book Party // Karen Dukess. New York + Cape Cod + The ’80s + Writers should = brilliance. It does not.

This one may be a good option for a beach read for some folks, but it didn’t work for me.

The Orphan of Salt Winds // Elizabeth Brooks. The cover has a blurb from Eowyn Ivey! That was why I picked it up, and while it’s a chilly, atmospheric novel, it didn’t hold my attention. Released as Call of the Curlew in England, Brooks’ work of historical fiction tries to balance mystery with coming of age, but in the end, it just didn’t work for me. Fans of historical fiction may want to give this a try.

Mary B. // Katherine J. Chen. When it says a “new perspective on the classic”, I just need to walk away. I love Jane Austen, I want more Jane Austen, but I just have to admit it’s not possible, no matter how many takes on Pride and Prejudice I try to read. The charm and candor of the original was missing in this one.

All the Little Lights // Jamie McGuire. This one is a good book for the right reader. That read, obviously, is not me. I’ve read a couple of Jamie McGuire books and could read another, so I picked up All the Little Lights. Catherine and Elliot meet and form a life-changing friendship, but as life changes, that bond is tested. The premise is interesting – I don’t want to give anything away – but it’s a young adult novel and I did not realize it (it was definitely marketed as adult fiction).

We Went to the Woods // Caite Dolan-Leach. This is a premise I can totally relate to, at least my younger self. Disillusioned (and burned by a reality tv show mishap), Mack throws caution to the wind and joins four friends to live of the grid in the Finger Lakes region. Given the region’s backstory in the novel, there was quite a bit to explore, but perhaps too much? The novel got bogged down and moved slowly for me. I also read this one on the heels of The Ash Family, so perhaps it was just too much of a particular plot line. If eschewing modern life is your jam, check this one out, as the writing itself is good.

*It’s RARE that I cover books that I don’t enjoy. This may be the first time! I also received all of these books courtesy of the publisher via Netgalley.

Lists, Reviews

Gone Camping: Novels That Take You Right Back To Summer Camp

Perennials // Mandy Berman. Is there a better way to welcome summer than with a debut novel about summer camp? I don’t think so.

I never went to summer camp, but I always, always wanted to, so perhaps a bit of my appreciation of Mandy Berman’s Perennials is rooted in envy. Regardless, it’s good.

Rachel and Fiona are campers—and later camp counselors—at Camp Marigold. They come from vastly different backgrounds but are best camp friends.

Told from multiple perspectives over the course of multiple summers, resembling linked short stories more than a novel, Fiona’s and especially Rachel’s stories are fleshed out in this coming-of-age novel. It’s heartfelt and melancholy, awkward and bittersweet. It’s not about action-packed summer hijinks, but rather a meditation on the benefits and burdens of friendship.

Berman is a talented writer, and I look forward to seeing what she writes next. In the meantime, Perennials is the perfect literary kickoff to summer.

The Summer is Ended and We Are Not Yet Saved // Joey Comeau.

As I mentioned, I’ve always wanted to go to summer camp, but – and call me picky if you will – I want to go to a happy summer camp. That’s all eleven year old Martin wants too. He’s going to learn archery, go swimming, and make new friends. Maybe he’ll even meet a girl – nothing too serious, it is bible camp after all. He never really intended to go to camp, but when his mother needs to go out town for several weeks for a job – she’s a horror movie make-up artist – he’s willing to take one for the team.  It may even be…fun.

But that’s because no one showed him the cover of this book.

That’s right. Martin’s bible camp is a horror movie. He just doesn’t know it yet, but he’ll find out soon enough. The Summer is Ended and We Are Not Yet Saved by Joey Comeau is a solid, charming take on the camp slasher film subgenre, in book form. This novel is the reworking of Comeau’s novella Bible Camp Bloodbath. It’s still a rather slim novel, but it’s fitting. Having never done it myself, it seems like it would be tough to write a horror novel. After all, it’s not an easy task to make (most) people want to read about decapitation, scalping, and blood spatter. It’s even harder to imbue such a novel with a sense of family, nostalgia, and humor.

The characters are exactly who they are supposed to be. There’s naïve Martin who understands how horror movies are supposed to work, the unstable, but loving mother, clueless (but horny) camp counselors, a sadistic, yet seemingly affable head priest, and hordes of know it all campers. The killer is exactly who you think it is, the over the top killings happen as you might imagine, and there’s blood – lots of it. Yet it works. Comeau has created a novel that’s thematically equal parts coming of age story and campy ‘80s slasher movie. If you know this going in, and the idea sounds appealing, you’ll like this odd little novel. If not, skip this one, the sort of gleeful mayhem found in this book is not for everyone.

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls // Anton DiSclafani. If the genre ‘provocative summer camp literature’ existed, Anton DiSclafani’s debut novel ‘The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls’* would be the poster child for it.

In 1930, she simply does not fit in, but she soon learns the social hierarchy of the camp. The chapters alternate between Thea’s idyllic life in Florida and her new life in North Carolina. Each chapter reveals a little bit more of the event that changed Thea’s life. It quickly becomes clear that my obvious assumption was right – Thea had been involved with a boy, intimately. In her new life, Thea is just as helpless as she was with her family, simply because she is female. She quickly learns that the only power she holds is her sexuality and this realization will have repercussions for the rest of her life.

While this coming of age tale is not perfect, it’s as lush, evocative, and yes, provocative as the storyline sounds. Thea Atwell is a young girl learning what her body is capable of – love, lust, desire, control – at the same time that women are encouraged to suppress such urges. It is no wonder she feels like a ‘wrong girl’. I think this is a sentiment that most teenage girls can relate to at one time or another. While this novel is not written for or marketed to young adults, I would’ve loved it as a teenager. The sexual undertones and innuendos leap of the page (many having to do with horseback riding). However it’s the mysterious, near-southern-Gothic handling of the revelation that keep the pages turning.

The Interestings // Meg Wolitzer. Full disclosure, I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s the number one recommendation I get when I say summer camp book. So it doesn’t have my official stamp of approval, but it has everyone else’s!

“The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.

The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.”

Say You Still Love Me // K. A. Turner. Piper Calloway is privileged, and she knows it. So when she has to spend her summer working at a “rustic” summer camp, she’s not exactly excited, but she appreciates what her parents are trying to do. Camp Wawa introduces her to friendship, first love, and tragedy. From her bond with troubled Kyle, to her friendship with Ashley, the summer is one that proves pivotal. Turner uses the duel timeline to her advantage, giving the reader hardworking, single adult Piper, and naive, privileged young Piper, connecting Piper A to Piper B in a nostalgic, coming of age manner. You’ll relive all your firsts and wish you’d been to summer camp yourself. Say You Still Love Me is a cute second chance love story, and if you’re a sucker for summer camps the way I am, I’d recommend it.

The Optimistic Decade // Heather Abel. Heather Abel’s The Optimistic Decade is a memorable coming of age story set just before the Gulf War. David, lonesome and mediocre in his “real life,” comes out of his shell only at summer camp. Rebecca, his childhood friend, struggles with the fact the no one cares, not really, as her parents ship her off to be a counselor at some weird camp. And Caleb, the owner of the isolated summer camp, is both insecure and egocentric. Their lives converge during one hot summer spent in the mountains of Colorado.

I always love a good novel set in my home state and Abel does a fantastic job of describing the hot, dry Colorado summers. She also nails the intricacies of teenagers (at summer camp, and everywhere else), the need to be liked balanced with the desire to not give a fuck. Her prose is compelling, her characters can be both sympathetic and abrasive, and her depiction of the fraught inner monologue of young adults – trying to differentiate the person they are from the person they were raised to be – is awkward perfection. Overall, The Optimistic Decade is a wonderful debut novel. A must read is you love the ‘80s, summer camp, and the doomed confidence of youth.

Fun Camp // Gabe Durham. It’s the odd duck on the list, but it’s pretty fun. I read it because of this review.

Image found here.

Miscellanea

Where the Wild Things Are // Six Degrees of Separation

The idea behind this exercise is to connect books in any way that’s meaningful to you, from the profound to the inane. Although Kevin Bacon is typically behind the six degrees game, books are just a bit more fun. 

This month we’re starting with the children’s classic Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. So brace yourselves, we’re about to get wild. This particular book was not a classic I read as a child, I’m more familiar with it now as a parent. One I did read when I was younger is – and its yet another classic – The Call of the Wild by Jack London. I always wanted to go on a grand adventure, and still dream of living in Alaska, both of which are likely attributable to that book.

Another adventure gone both right and wrong is Cheryl Strayed’s memoir Wild. While the Pacific Crest Trail wasn’t on my radar, it is now! Though perhaps not the part in the desert. I don’t love the heat, unless there’s a pool. And I’d want two working, well-fitted boots… I’m picky like that.

Perhaps my Alaskan dream would fade if writer’s didn’t make it sound so damn good, but K.A. Turner did just that in The Simple Wild. This sweet, touching story of a father and daughter reuniting, mixed with a hot bush pilot, had me yearning for that kind of…

Wilderness. See what I did there? Wilderness by Lance Weller is an excellent historical fiction novel, set just after the Civil War. It takes places in the largely uninhabited Pacific Northwest, the kind of wilderness that’s now often found preserved in National Parks.

Like Glacier National Park, for example, as depicted in The Wild Inside by Christine Carbo. Here, a Department of the Interior special agent is trying to solve a murder (one that would cause anyone to think twice about the woods), only he finds the locals wary of outsiders and less than forthcoming.

The isolation and lack of information is (vaguely, I’ll admit) similar to Wilder Girls by Rory Power. Described as a feminist Lord of the Flies, the novel is about “three best friends living in quarantine at their island boarding school, and the lengths they go to uncover the truth of their confinement when one disappears.”

Care to join in? It’s quite a bit of fun.

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