American Fiction

The Wedding Gift – Marlen Suyapa Bodden

Posted in American Fiction, Historical Fiction on June 2nd, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

The Wedding Gift

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Century (9 May 2013
  • Source: Publisher
  • My Rating – 4 stars

I enjoy historical fiction but have a restricted range, preferring British Tudor and Medieval settings or, as in this case, the antebellum Southern States.

The Wedding Gift is set in Alabama and the focus is on two women who come from very different social classes but who share a common bond of powerlessness when faced with domineering men.  Sarah is a half-white slave, the off-spring of Emmeline, a house slave,  and the boorish plantation owner.  Theodora is the plantation owner’s long suffering wife, the target of his alcohol fuelled mood swings and she is expected to toe the line at all times.  Both women are victims of slavery yet they strive to escape their bondage – Sarah with her plans to escape and Theodora with little acts of rebellion such as teaching Sarah to read and write even though it is considered illegal.

Yes, there is a lot of dialogue and it can seem, at times, a little forced but you’re carried along by the compelling storyline.  This is an impressive debut and one for fans of Kathleen Grissom’s The Kitchen House and Gone With the Wind.

You can discover more about the author on her website here.

Marlen Bodden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr Marlen Suyapa Bodden

 

 

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Calling Me Home – Julie Kibler

Posted in American Fiction, Historical Fiction on May 29th, 2013 by admin – 9 Comments

Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler

Publisher
Pan Books an imprint of Pan Macmillan

Publication date
20th June 2013

Source
www.lovereading.co.uk

My Rating
4.5 stars

 

Calling Me Home is a remarkable debut novel, a story which will draw you in and lead you on an emotionally fraught journey from a racially divided 1930s Kentucky to the “supposedly” more liberal present day.   There is also a physical journey, a road trip across the states, as black hairdresser, Dorrie Curtis escorts her elderly white client, Miss Isabelle,  to a funeral.  As they draw closer to their destination, Isabelle gradually reveals a secret, forbidden love, one which has haunted her since she was sixteen.

The journey is therapeutic for both ladies, especially for Dorrie who learns from Isabelle’s experience that you must seize whatever happiness life offers you no matter how fleeting the opportunity.  I was engrossed by their stories and I was impressed with the author’s control of such emotional themes, never straying into mawkishness or over-sentimentality.

A compelling read, dare I say as good as The Help, if not better…and it would make a beautiful movie too!

You can read more about the author here including excerpts from the novel to whet your appetite even more :-)

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The Round House – Louise Erdrich

Posted in American Fiction on May 3rd, 2013 by admin – Be the first to comment

The Round House

Published
16/05/2013

Publisher
Corsair

ISBN
9781472108166

Published
16/05/2013

Publisher
Corsair

ISBN
9781472108166

Source
www.lovereading.co.uk

My Rating
4 stars

This was my first encounter with Louise Erdrich’s writing and it was, for the most part, an extremely rewarding experience. It can be read on many different levels as, on  the surface, it’s a coming of age story but look a little deeper and there are insights into the nature of justice, cultural identity and family relationships.

Our narrator, Joe, has had to grow up very quickly after the horrific rape of his mother.  Following this brutal attack she retreats into her own world and Joe thinks finding the attacker is the only way he can bring her back from this limbo.  It will be difficult to bring her assailant to justice due to the legislative difficulty in prosecuting crimes committed by non-Natives on Native American territory.  Erdrich highlights the plight of Native American female rape victims, 86% of whom have non-Native assailants and very few are prosecuted.

Yes, there is a political agenda but the story of Joe and his gang of friends has great charm and warmth.  You get a glimpse of Native American culture via a cast of vibrant, engaging characters.   Admittedly the narrative has its meandering moments but stick with it and your attentive reading will be rewarded. Looking forward to catching up on many other gems from this author.

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The Kitchen House – Kathleen Grissom

Posted in American Fiction, Historical Fiction on February 27th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (14 Mar 2013)
  • Source: Amazon Vine
  • My Rating – 4 stars

Kathleen Grissom’s debut novel, The Kitchen House, is a New York Times bestseller and a firm favourite with book clubs in the United States. Despite stiff competition from many other novels set in the antebellum Deep South, this story has captured the imagination of contemporary America.

Perhaps it is the twist of placing a white female in the midst of black slaves which makes it stand out and gives it a spark of originality. Lavinia, a seven year old Irish orphan, finds herself indentured to a white plantation family and eventually discovers a new family amongst the black slaves in the kitchen house. As the years pass, she ends up in a limbo-like situation unsure of her status in society, not quite fitting in anywhere.

Yes, there are some stereotypical characters including evil overseers, drunken, power-crazed plantation owners, swooning ladies but there are also some strong female characters ironically more so among the slave population than amid the white genteel ladies who seem imprisoned by the shackles of marriage and the constraints of society. With chapters alternately narrated by either Lavinia or Belle (her guardian at the kitchen house), the reader gets a broad, balanced view of events.

There is quite a lot of misery but nevertheless this is an extremely readable, compelling story. I’m not sure if I would put it on a par with The Help as that was a more character-driven novel and there were moments of humour to alleviate the gloom but it is an impressive debut and a definite page-turner.

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Z – A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

Posted in American Fiction on January 25th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Two Roads (11 April 2013)
  • Source – Amazon Vine
  • My Rating – 4.5 stars

My Fitzgerald fascination began almost 30 years ago as a student when I read The Great Gatsby, This Side of Paradise and Tender is the Night swiftly followed up by Nancy Milford’s excellent biography of Zelda. This new novelisation of Zelda’s life is perfectly timed to coincide with the latest movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby and will hopefully stir more interest in this flawed but fascinating couple.

On the surface Zelda seems like a spoiled Southern gal with a taste for the finer things in life but she isn’t a celebrity bimbo and underneath that sparkling flapper exterior lurks a razor sharp intellect. Her struggle to reconcile playing the dutiful wife whilst suppressing her creative urges is documented in this meticulously researched novel. The author does an excellent job of capturing Zelda’s voice as she narrates the tortuous story of her life with Fitzgerald, the good times and the bad, her stays in asylums, his battle with the bottle, their scintillating social life with the rich and famous including Hemmingway who never clicked with Zelda.

As well as being Zelda’s personal story this is an excellent representation of the highs and lows of the Jazz Age – it was such an exhilirating time for writers, especially those of the Lost Generation – Zelda regularly socialised with Hemmingway, TS Eliot, Dos Passos, Ezra Pound as well as Picasso and Jean Cocteau. In this novel you get a real feel for the life of those ex-pats in France and their hedonism after the spectre of the Great War.

If you think Paris Hilton is the archetypal modern Flapper, then perhaps you should read this novel and learn from the original and the best.

Zelda

The Fitzgerald Family

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600 Hours of Edward – Craig Lancaster

Posted in American Fiction, Contemporary Fiction on August 8th, 2012 by admin – 9 Comments
600 Hours of Edward
Paperback, 334 pages
Expected publication: August 14th 2012 by Amazon Encore
 
Source – Amazon Vine
My Rating – 5 stars
I was initially attracted to this novel as Edward, the narrator, has Aspergers (like my son). Maybe I’m a sucker for punishment but I like to know how ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) is presented in fiction – sometimes authors hit the nail on the head e.g. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time which was equally enjoyed by my son and I, whilst others really miss the mark and one can’t help suspecting they’re using it in an effort to make their novel quirky, to give it a twist. Edward passed our stringent authenticity test and I think he will endear himself to many, many readers.

Aspergers does not define Edward but it’s part of who he is and it explains his love of facts and avoidance of ambiguity. Yes, he can be blunt, lacking diplomacy but it’s his OCD which dominates his life. He lives apart from his family and communicates with his father through a solicitor – he’d love to have a better relationship with his father but it takes two to tango. His days are structured around various “data collection” – recording his waking time, the daily weather statistics, compelled to watch old videos of the 50s/60s US police drama, Dragnet, at 10.00pm each evening without fail. He has a vast collection of letters of complaint, letters which he composes to various individuals who have slighted/offended him in some way but which remain unsent, on the advice of his therapist!

However, life is about to change for Edward who, at 39, has led a reclusive existence with very little human contact. His first experience of internet dating is an education. A new neighbour brings new opportunities for interaction. It’s not an easy transition but Edward starts to emerge from his cocoon and stamp his personality on the world.

600 Hours of Edward is an excellent debut novel with a narrator whose personality will immediately engage the reader. It made me laugh out loud at times and even sniffle a little but ultimately it left me feeling positive and optimistic.  I felt I got to know Edward and his hometown, Billings, Montana which exists in real life, including Edward’s local convenience store, Albertsons and his actual street!  If you enjoyed Heft by Liz Moore I think you will be equally enthralled by 600 Hours of Edward.

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Heft – Liz Moore

Posted in American Fiction, Contemporary Fiction on June 18th, 2012 by admin – 8 Comments

Heft

Published
03/05/2012

Publisher
Hutchinson

ISBN
9780091944209

Heft is Liz Moore’s debut novel and what a promising start to a writing career!   Told by two very different narrators, their stories meander with the reader desperately hoping that their narratives will eventually converge and reach a common goal.  In Brooklyn we have former academic, the reclusve Arthur Opp, weighing 550 pounds and confined to his home for ten years.  Not too far away, in Yonkers, 17 year old Kel Keller has similar difficulties fitting in with his peers, the odd one out in a school for rich kids.  Kel’s mother, Charlene, is the catalyst connecting their stories, hoping that Arthur (or the Arthur she remembers from long ago) can help Kel where she has failed.

Heft is a heartwarming tale which steers a clear path through an emotional minefield, never veering into over-sentimentality.  Arthur is quite matter-of-fact about his obesity and his candour is mirrored in the clear, unpretentious prose in which his tale unfolds.  There is sadness, life is never seen through rose coloured glasses yet the overall tone is one of quiet optimism, a hope that all will turn out well in the end.  Reading this novel made me think about what family means to different people, how friends and even acquaintances can make you feel much better about yourself than your blood relations.  It’s definitely a book which will provoke a wide variety of emotions and will appeal to a wide range of readers – definitely one to pass on.

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The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

Posted in American Fiction, Dystopian Fiction, Proofs, YA Fiction on June 1st, 2012 by admin – 3 Comments

The Age of Miracles

Published
21/06/2012

Publisher
Simon & Schuster Ltd

My Rating – 3 Stars

With apologies to TS Eliot, is this how the world ends then, not with a bang but a whimper, with the slowing of the earth’s rotation?  Karen Thompson Walker’s novel certainly stands out from the glut of post-apocalyptic novels currently crowding bookshop shelves with its quiet, reflective style and gentle tone but does this debut have enough oomph to grab the reader and keep him transfixed until the bitter end?

I don’t require a lot of action in my reading, sometimes the quiet ones are the ones which draw me in the most.  I also don’t need everything tied up neatly at the end but for several reasons this novel didn’t quite work for me and left me feeling rather unsatisfied.  Firstly, I am not sure what type of story it’s trying  to be – Young Adult or perhaps crossover, coming of age tale, stark dystopian drama? 

Told from the perspective of 11 year old,  Julia, we hear a lot about her trials and tribulations as a young adolescent – falling out with friends, exploring first romantic feelings, lack of communication with parents BUT considering the earth has shifted on its axis and days are sometimes 48 hours long we have little in-depth analysis of a global catastrophe.  Divisions are caused when the “Real-Timers” go against government advice and decide to live their lives according  to whatever naturally occurs, sleeping during the dark time and remaining awake during daylight hours – I couldn’t quite fathom how they could do this during “48 hour” days!  Everyone else goes by the clock even if  it means trying to sleep in broad daylight and going to and from school in the dark. 

All in all, this is a promising debut but the intriguing premise was let down by a rather pedestrian story – one of those kitchen-sink books where everything gets thrown in but somehow it doesn’t quite blend to form a palatable whole.   Some beautiful writing but just not in this format…perhaps it would have worked better with an older narrator?

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Wonder – R J Palacio

Posted in American Fiction, Children's Books on May 21st, 2012 by admin – 9 Comments

Wonder

Published
01/03/2012

Publisher
Bodley Head Children’s Books

My Rating – 5 stars

I read quite a few children’s and Young Adult novels and it’s only rarely that one of them truly fits into the “crossover” category where I can truthfully say anyone of any age will enjoy this novel.  Wonder fits that niche perfectly, its deceptively simple narrative veiling a myriad of depths and insights.

Wonder is mostly about August (Auggie) Pullman, a 10 year old boy with severe facial disfigurement.  Auggie has already been through a multitude of painful operations but his latest experience could well be the most challenging – going to school.  He’s been home-schooled up until now and sheltered from the curious and insensitive eyes of society at large but hopefully the three mentors chosen by Mr Tushman, the principal, will ease his transition.

What follows, in a series of short chapters, is an account of Auggie’s experiences at Beecher Prep, narrated by Auggie himself and, in other sections, by his sister Olivia, his friend Summer, Olivia’s boyfriend Justin, her friend Miranda and Jack who was chosen to be a guide/mentor for Auggie.  The language is simple but the feelings examined are complex – what does it feel like to be different in a world which has such a limited view of beauty/attractiveness?  What is it like for the siblings of someone who doesn’t fit the norm?  Isn’t it really difficult to tread the “middle ground” and neither ignore nor stare?   Auggie represents anyone who doesn’t fit in and all our associated hang-ups when we strive to be politically correct but fail miserably.

There will be those who avoid this book as it sounds like some preachy manifesto and I fully understand their reticence.  Yes, there is a moral message, basically,  ”When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind” and yes, I know it sounds didactic but this isn’t Mitch Albom territory and there is no deliberate pulling on the heartstrings or straying into schmaltz.   Having said that,  we could all learn something by having this little peek into Auggie’s life, and perhaps adult readers have the most to learn from it.

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I Hunt Killers – Barry Lyga

Posted in American Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Thriller, YA Fiction on May 7th, 2012 by admin – 5 Comments

I Hunt Killers

Published
12/04/2012

Publisher
Bantam Books (Transworld Publishers a division of the Random House Group)

My Rating – 4 Stars

Not for the faint-hearted, I Hunt Killers is a multi-layered, rollercoaster ride of a tale filled with characters who you would be well advised to cross the road to avoid.  I thought I’d left serial killers far behind me, in the dim and distant past, when I devoured anything written by Thomas Harris and Patricia Cornwell…before she went off the boil.  It came as a big surprise to me when I was so quickly sucked into the story of seventeen year old Jasper (Jazz) Kent and his “dear old dad” who just happens to be one of the  world’s most prolific serial killers.  Daddy is safely tucked up in high security prison but the sins of the father might very well be visited on the son  as Jazz faces a daily struggle wondering if he has inherited the “killer” gene. 

Jazz’s internal struggle is compounded by the discovery of a dead body in his small home-town.  Getting into the mind of a serial killer is a sure-fire way of tracking down another killer but much as Jazz wants to assist the local sheriff in his investigation, he is terrified that by doing so he will unleash his own demons and destroy any chance he has of a “normal” life.  It’s the classic nature versus nurture debate although the odds are stacked against Jazz on both sides given his inauspicious roots and his education in “How to be a Sociopath” thanks to Dear Old Dad again.

Yes, there is blood and gore but this is counterbalanced by comic moments coming from Jazz’s interactions with his goofy haemophiliac sidekick, Howie.  His remarkably understanding girlfriend Connie manages to keep him steady but there’s this constant underlying tension throughout the novel both within Jazz himself and within this quiet community – surely lightning couldn’t strike twice and they can have a break from that serial killer tag?

A gripping psychological thriller which will hook those at the older end of the YA range, I would hazard a guess that it will appeal mostly to 15+ boys.  Serial killers are not renowned for their pleasanteries so be prepared for upsetting scenes and be warned that there is extreme cruelty to animals.  If  you can get past all that…you are in for a treat and it looks like this is the first in a series with television rights sold to Warner Bros so Mr Lyga seems to have struck the right chord.

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