Posts Tagged ‘American’

We Are All Made of Molecules – Susin Nielsen

Posted in American Fiction, Children's Books, Proofs, YA Fiction on July 21st, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

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Jacqueline Wilson’s novels about “jigsaw” families were extremely popular with young teens but she has recently moved from contemporary to more historical settings. Susin Nielsen’s novel fills that gap very nicely with its lighthearted look at serious issues.
Narrated by nerdy, socially challenged Stewart and academically challenged, Queen Bee Ashley in short and snappy alternate chapters this story will appeal to young teens.Thirteen year old Stewart and fourteen year old Ashley are thrown together in a “blended” step family which Stewart imagines will be akin to paradise whereas Ashley expects the worst. It’s a predictable enough story with an unlikely hero saving the day but it has lots of humour and real heart which draws the reader in very quickly. I still giggle when I remember Ashley’s fervent desire to be “unconstipated” – an in-joke, you have to read the book to get it!An easy read which touches on some fairly heavy issues, We are all Made of Molecules will appeal to boys and girls aged 12 and over, especially those who enjoyed Wonder by R J Palacio.

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The Invention of Wings – Sue Monk Kidd

Posted in American Fiction, Historical Fiction on January 9th, 2014 by admin – 4 Comments
  • 18581771
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Tinder Press (7 Jan 2014)
  • Source – Netgalley
  • My Rating – 4 stars

 

Set in early 19th century Charleston, Sue Monk Kidd’s latest novel is the story of two women from very different backgrounds. On her eleventh birthday Sarah Grimke, daughter of a wealthy judge, is gifted ownership of ten year old Hetty “Handful” Grimke, a slave who will act as her handmaid. Both young girls have many dreams and aspirations but these are thwarted by social convention in Sarah’s case and the brutal reality of enslavement for Handful. Indeed, Handful points out that her slavery is that of the body whilst Sarah is held captive by her own mind.
Narrated in turn by Sarah and Handful, the story paints a realistic picture of the deep South where anyone speaking out against slavery is ostracised. Sarah has had a privileged background but she’s an intelligent woman who wants more than needlepoint and a socially acceptable match. As a teenager she sees how her brothers’ horizons expand whilst her prospects become limited. Meanwhile Handful is raised by a strong mother, Charlotte, who advocates quiet rebellion and unlocks the possibility of freedom for her daughter.
Spanning 35 years, this novel is loosely based on the life of Sarah Grimke and her sister Angelina who were the first female abolitionists and feminist thinkers in the United States. The parallel stories of Sarah and Handful provide an intriguing insight into the racism, misogynism and inequality which pervaded the Southern States during this era. The voices of Sarah and Handful are very convincing as is the depiction of the claustrophobic life of the landed gentry and the daily brutality of life for slaves.
This is a very readable, thought-provoking story which packs a slightly stronger punch than the author’s first novel The Secret Life of Bees.

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Indiscretion – Charles Dubow

Posted in American Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction on June 12th, 2013 by admin – 9 Comments

Indiscretion by Charles Dubow

 

Published
04/07/2013

Publisher
Blue Door

Source
www.lovereading.co.uk

My Rating
5 stars, I was gripped throughout!

 

When I saw this novel billed as The Great Gatsby meets The Secret History, I was immediately on the offensive;  surely the publisher is laying this innocent little debut out in the open for the vultures/critics to swoop and attack.   Fortunately I was proven wrong.  This is no timid, halting debut, this is a meaty, powerful read rightfully brimful of confidence and swagger with characters striding off the page and almost taking over your life.

Yes, it’s an age-old tale – long married couple positively aglow with happiness meet their match in the shape of a young, lithe maiden who adores the charismatic author husband.   As in The Great Gatsby, the story is related by a longstanding friend of the glittering couple.   At first I wondered if this would work as how could Walter possibly know all the subtleties of an emerging affair, the clandestine meetings but it works very well as Charles Dubow is in constant control of the characters and plot.  The result is an outstanding read, so compelling you will hesitate to put the book down.

It’s an easy read in terms of the language used but  the simplicity of idiom belies the complexity and emotional turmoil of     these characters.  Sometimes privileged characters irk me with their sense of entitlement but the Wilmslows are likeable, flawed folk and their story will engross you.  My favourite read so far this year and a very strong contender for my book of the year – highly recommended!

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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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The Twelve – Justin Cronin

Posted in Dystopian Fiction on October 1st, 2012 by admin – 6 Comments

The Twelve

Published
25/10/2012

Publisher
Orion (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )

Source
New  Books Magazine http://www.newbooksmag.com/

The Twelve is the second of Justin Cronin’s epic post-apocalyptic trilogy which began in 2010 with The Passage.   I “devoured” the first book and have been anticipating the sequel with equal amounts of dread and delight.  Fear not, this is not a casualty of Second Novel Syndrome but is instead a glowing example of engaging dystopian fiction at its best.

Yes, it’s a story about vampires but as far removed from Twilight as is humanly/virally possible.  Comparisons with Stephen King’s The Stand are more apt.  As in The Passage, there are several converging storylines with different starting points.  At first this can be quite disconcerting as time frames zoom from the beginning of the apocalypse to events mentioned in The Passage to the present day where mankind seems on the verge of eventually destroying the bio-engineered vampires.  If you hang in there, for the first 100 pages or so, you will be rewarded bountifully with an almost 3D cinematic experience with motifs of good versus evil, love, loss and sacrifice. 

This is a book which deserves large chunks of your reading time, an addictive narrative which will take up most of your waking hours.  It is an excellent springboard for reading group discussion especially in an era where medical and scientific advances are juxtaposed with moral and ethical issues.  For those with weak wrists, the kindle version is a less cumbersome alternative!

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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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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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A Land More Kind Than Home – Wiley Cash

Posted in American Fiction on January 23rd, 2012 by admin – 2 Comments

A Land More Kind Than Home

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (29 Mar 2012)
  • Born in North Carolina, raised in an evangelical church, Wiley Cash draws on his own personal experiences to produce this impressive debut novel.  

    One Sunday, in the oppressive Summer heat, the congregation of River Road Church take their religious fervour one step too far with devastating consequences.  This compelling story, set in Madison County in 1986, is narrated from the perspectives of three different characters – Jess Hall, nine year old brother to Christopher “Stump” whose autism hinders any verbal communication,  Clem Barefield, Sheriff of Madison County for 25 years yet still considered an outsider and finally, Adelaide Lyle, elderly spinster who leads the Sunday School yet remains wary of the Pastor, Carson Chambliss.

    Chambliss is a very shady character, one of those larger than life, mesmerizing preachers who rules his ingenuous congregation with a rod of iron as well as traumatising them with snakes, poison and fire – blind faith indeed…  This may be the 80s but this could be the land that time forgot.   There’s a great sense of place as the narrative moves from present to past and back again, evoking the seasons and landscape of this timeless setting.   The author also seems very much in tune with his characters, ordinary, down to earth folk who try to get by the best they can – with perhaps one glaring exception.

    If you enjoy well told stories with that languid, laconic vibe you find in the best Southern fiction, you will relish this gripping, poignant tale.   Looking forward to hearing more from Madison County in Wiley Cash’s future novels.

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    Lone Wolf – Jodi Picoult

    Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Proofs on December 31st, 2011 by admin – 2 Comments
  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (28 Feb 2012)
  • Jodi Picoult applies her tried and trusted formula again in “Lone Wolf” and I think most of her fans will be satisfied with the result. As in her previous novels, multiple narrators become embroiled in a moral dilemma with a bit of courtroom action thrown in for good measure. However, this time there’s a slight twist to the formula.

    Luke Warren, more at home in a wolf pack than with his own family, is comatose following a road accident. His fate will be decided by one of his children – either Cara who hopes he’ll make a miraculous recovery or Edward who is more in favour of pulling the plug, literally… Whilst various characters take turns in this dance of ethics, we also hear Luke’s voice through his recollections of his experiences with wolves. It soon becomes clear that Luke’s priorities lie very firmly with his lupine pals. For me, it was like watching a movie in split screen where you face constant distractions – just as you feel you are getting to know one character, another one pops up or you’re back with the wolves again.

    I found the wolf sections much more compelling than the human interactions even though I felt no empathy whatsoever for Luke, a man who wants to have his cake and eat it. It’s clear that Jodi has done meticulous research and she paints a fascinating portrait of the hierarchy and idiosyncrasies of a wolf pack whilst comparing them to those of a human family.

    I have really enjoyed most of Jodi Picoult’s books but this one slightly missed the mark for me. It was bound to happen sometime! All in all, an enjoyable enough read but not the strongest contender in the Picoult stable – a 3.5 star read for me.

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