I have liked all of the many books by Ward Just I have read. His most recent, American Romantic, centers on Harry Sanders, who grew up in a family of Connecticut liberals and is now a promising young foreign service officer in Vietnam just before troops arrive en masse.
Henry is asked to undertake a not-quite-official mission. He becomes stranded in the jungle, injured, and “damaged goods”, but is owed a lifetime of State Dept postings in return.
This is a well-written story of a young, naïve foreign service officer and the two women who love him, beginning at a restless time in our history.
Another satisfying book from Ward Just.
Ander Monson is the most bizarre, versatile, prize-winningest writer who hails from Michigan that you have never heard about. He won the John C. Zacharis First Book Award for Other Electricities, the Tupelo Press Editor’s Prize for his poetry collection Vacationland, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for his book of criticism called Vanishing Point. If not for that last one, I would have had to add that the prizes he has won are just as unheard of as he is.
I read Other Electricities several years ago which left me with a vivid impression of the mix of tenacious survivalism and self-destructiveness of the residents of the Upper Peninsula and the image of snowmobiles jumping snow banks out on to frozen Lake Superior; occasionally breaking through the ice and disappearing.
His newest book, a collection of essays titled Letter to a Future Lover: Marginalia, Errata, Secrets, Inscriptions, and Other Ephemera Found in Libraries, comes out on February 3rd. Check it out and see what you think of Ander Monson and if you can resist writing in a library book about people writing in library books.
C. Roger Mader has done it again! He’s the author of Lost Cat, a children’s picture book I had
previously blogged about. Supposedly, this newest work Tiptop Cat is based on reality as it mimics the adventures of his
niece’s cat living in Paris
...“who roamed the rooftops of her neighborhood and survived a six story fall”.
As the story and pictures describe, a young girl gets a
black and white cat for her birthday, who becomes her most favorite gift. Although
the cat enjoys his indoor life, he also especially likes the outside balcony.
This cat is no slouch – so he roams and jumps from one rooftop to another and then
another, and then one more until he finally reaches “Le Grand Prix”; a prime
sitting spot on a chimney that happens to have the best view of the Eiffel
Tower in all of Paris.
However, one day he submits to his baser animal instincts
and pounces upon a pigeon intruding on his balcony domain. Unfortunately, it’s
a misjudged jump. As a consequence, he falls many floors down, right through a café
canopy and into the arms of a man who just happens to be in the right spot, at
the right time! Luckily, the cat doesn’t
break anything except maybe his spirit for hunting. For a while, he shies away
from the balcony and rooftops until one day he once more spots someone landing
on his domain; this time an irritating crow. And then he can’t help but give
The author states that he himself lives in the Normandy countryside of France with his wife and a petite
cat named Pete, who is not allowed to hop on rooftops in search of excitement. That’s
very good to know. Because you should never, ever let your cat wander over
balconies, rooftops or anything else located high off the ground! The depth
perception of domestic cats is not as keen as their agility, so accidents
happen much more often than is commonly known. And in the end, the danger of
losing your feline friend for a lifetime is just not worth their temporary
A wonderfully spirited book with many bright, evocative
illustrations. Just remember one thing: Unless you’re a stunt cat, don’t try
this at home!
Julie Schumacher’s funny and inventive novel Dear Committee Members hysterically skewers the world of academia from a perspective that feels intimately familiar with the absurdity of the world it depicts. Structured entirely in a series of satirical recommendation letters from Jason Fitger, a beleaguered, immensely egotistical, and more than a little unhinged professor in the English department of a small Midwestern liberal arts college, written to a variety of colleagues (including multiple to his ex-wife), HR departments, academic muckety-mucks, etc. The letters which drip with sarcasm and aggressiveness, both passive and not so much, work to slowly illuminate the very sad state of Fitger’s life and position. Dear Committee Member is laugh-out-loud funny, insightful, touching at times, and has a mischievousness about it that I found a joy to read.
Are you tired of vampires and zombies, but still want some fantastical realism? How about Bigfoot, lake monsters, half-human puppies and bird-women? You will find all of these in Sharma Shields’ debut novel The Sasquatch Hunter’s Almanac.
After Eli Roebuck’s mom runs off with a sasquatch when he is nine years old, he spends the rest of his life in pursuit of the creature. Could this book possibly be compared to Moby-Dick? Yes, and not just once.
Booklist says, “Eli's quest is not unlike Ahab's, and Shields writes with piercing insight about the monsters that keep us from connecting with one another in this funny and wise first novel.”
A reviewer in Kirkus wrote, “ Imagine a mashup of Moby-Dick and Kakfa's Metamorphosis (with a hearty dash of Twin Peaks thrown in), and you'll begin to get an idea of what Shields' ambitious tale of disenchantment sets out to do.”
It comes out January 27th, but we have already ordered it so you can place a hold right now.
I always look forward to the New York Times Book Review that reveals their editors’ picks for the top 10 books of the year. I have rarely read any of them, because I have spent that year trying to catch up on the best books from previous years. So I add some more to my list.
For 2014, I had read one of them – On Immunity by Eula Biss. That one caught my eye early because I loved her book Notes From No Man’s Land about race in America.
One of them, The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, was considered as a possible Reading Together selection for 2015.
Here’s the list:
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
Euphoria by Lily King
Family Life by Akhil Sharma
Redeployment by Phil Klay
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
On Immunity by Eula Biss
Penelope Fitzgerald: a Life by Hermione Lee
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert
Thirteen Days in September by Lawrence Wright
May your reading lists prove fruitful in 2015.
Happy New Year!
As I look back over the list of books I read in 2014, I am surprised how many of them have a European, World War I or II setting both fiction and nonfiction. That was not intentional. Many of the books I read are relatively new so I can only assume there has been many books with this setting and time published in the last year or so.
Fiction favorites include:
The Wind is Not a River by Brian Payton
Lovers at the Chameleon Club 1932 by Francine Prose
The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure
Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldman
The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes
My nonfiction favorites of this setting and time include:
The Hotel on Place Vendôme by Tilar J. Mazzeo
The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance that Changed the World by Greg King
The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel Brown
The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit and An Epic Quest to Arm an American at War by Albert J. Baime (Not a European setting but WW II)
Do you have any of this time and setting to recommend to me? Contact me.
Natchez Burning is not my usual kind of book, but once I started reading, I couldn’t put down.
The story is centered in Natchez, Mississippi, and shifts between the 1960’s and the present. The respected town doctor is accused of murdering his former nurse, an African-American woman who returned to Natchez after many years of living up north.
As one reviewer has written, there are racial politics, family secrets, corruption, racism, almost unbelievable brutality, and fear, much centering on a fringe KKK sect.
In spite of its length, it is a real page-turner. I have seen it listed on several “best of the year” lists. Although it won’t make my best-of list, it is good read, a book in which a reader can get totally lost.
Jane Smiley’s new novel, Some Luck, follows the Langdon family of Denby, Iowa, for thirty years. Each year is a chapter: 1920 – 1953. The family endures the depression, trading the horses for a tractor, a son in World War II, the cold war, births and deaths.
Much of the focus is on first born, Frank, who was “born with an eye for opportunity,” but all family members are developed. Luck is never to be relied on, but it plays a role.
Smiley plans a trilogy that will follow the Langdon family well into the 21st century. Their story is off to a strong start.
This is likely to be one of my favorite books of the year, although there are still two months of good reading left.
It's 1975 and Beatles-obsessed Lewis Blake is entering 7th grade, expecting it to be mostly the same as last year—invisible to his classmates, even though he's the only Native American in a class of white kids. His life begins to improve when he meets George Haddonfield, a student from an Air Force family, who's equally enthusiastic about the Beatles. George takes a quick interest in Lewis, and invites him to his family's home on base. But Lewis doesn't want to return the invitation—his family lives in stark poverty on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation, and he's afraid that if George witnesses these circumstances he'll end their friendship. Author Eric Gansworth skillfully renders how it feels to be a young person on the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder, with little hope of moving up. But Lewis' isn't a story of despair. If I Ever Get Out of Here follows the progression of Lewis and George's friendship, showing how the friendship expands their understanding of the world and themselves.
Fans of Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian will find much to appreciate in If I Ever Get Out of Here. In addition to a similar plot and setting, Gansworth imbues his novel with a comparable sense of warmth and humor. If you're looking for more stories about characters finding their place in the world, try Mexican WhiteBoy by Matt de la Peña or Luna by Julie Anne Peters.