Saturday, March 23, 2013

'The Silver Star'

Of all the memoirs I've read in recent times, the one that affected me the most has to be 'The Glass Castle' by Jeannette Walls.  I ran the gamut of emotions while reading it; amusement, sadness.  But most of all, anger.  Anger that two parents were more childish than their own children.  While the parents were selfish and stupid and empty, their children assumed the adult roles.  I couldn't believe that Jeannette and her siblings lived through such a life, but they listened and learned, and found success in their adult lives.  That she was even able to admit to such a childhood astounded me...and she earned my respect.  'The Glass Castle' flew up the bestseller lists and stayed there for what seems like forever, and rightly so.  

Her next book was not a continuation of her memoir.  Instead, she gave to us the wonderful novel, 'Half Broke Horses', a fictional account of her maternal grandmother's life.   

And now, we have been graced with another novel by the brilliant Ms. Walls.  Set in 1970, 'The Silver Star' is the story of Bean and Liz, two sisters living with their delusional mother, a woman who leaves her daughters alone for days at a time so she can find success in the music business.  But when one of her hiatuses stretches out for too long a time, the sisters begin to worry about being found alone and decide to travel to their mother's former childhood home in a small town in Virginia.  They meet their uncle and he takes them in, providing a somewhat stable home life.

Bean Holladay is twelve and the narrator of the story.  She is a feisty, optimistic girl, and because of her inquisitive nature, soon finds out who her father was when she meets his sister and her family.  Her older sister, Liz, brilliant, studious, and a fierce nonconformist, is Bean's best friend.  Deciding that they don't want their uncle to support them, they secretly take jobs as assistants to the mill's foreman, Jerry Maddox, a bully and a braggart.  But when something happens to Liz, Bean takes it upon herself to help her sister.

And that's just the beginning of this well-told tale.  I found hints of 'The Glass Castle' on almost every page, and 'To Kill a Mockingbird' certainly came to mind.  'The Silver Star' is a simply told story full of incredible insight and impact.

I'm counting down the months until I see it on the bestseller lists...and rightly so.

Thursday, March 21, 2013


Visit any library or bookstore and venture into the Young Adult section, where you'll find shelves full of dystopian/post-apocalyptic books.  

But this particular genre-within-a-genre isn't one to be dismissed so lightly.  Out of this came the spectacular 'Hunger Games', 'Mazerunner', and many, many others.  They are books so well-written and fast-paced that I hungered for more once I finished them.  Unlike adult fantasy, YA fantasy novels are written in a simpler manner in order to engage young minds, but, and not surprisingly, adults have latched onto them.  I have read so many of them that they are too numerous to count.

And I loved them.  They took me out of myself and into a world full of desperation, young love (and sometimes delicately-written lust), and the sense that right will always win out over wrong.  Isn't that what fairy tales tend to demonstrate?

Having just finished reading 'Wasteland', a new YA novel from the writing team of Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan, I couldn't wait to pop onto Book Hog and let everyone know about this story.  

The teenage residents of Prin, a decaying city, don't have the typical problems that plague other teens.  Their lives are full of desperation, hopelessness, and constant hunger.  At 15, they marry.  At 17, they reproduce.  At 19, they die.  There is also the looming threat of disease, acid rain, starvation, and attacks by the local tribe they have called the 'variants', people who are similar to the early Native American people.  With every city comes one who leads, and not always with the citizens' best interests at heart.  Levi lives in an old office supply building, which the citizenry have named 'The Source', and it is there where Levi stores the town's essential food and water, and only giving out that sustenance when the work crews bring him the results of their scavenging.

Esther is tired of the forced labor under a relentless sun, and longs to live with her best friend, a variant named Skar.  When a mysterious stranger named Caleb bicycles his way into town, life unravels, and he and Esther must convince the town to fight for their lives and the freedom of Prin.

Kim and Klavan have given us a story that is fast-paced with great character development.  I found the chapters dealing with Levi to be darker and more dangerous than those scenes set within the town itself.  Although the plot is simply written, the surprises are many, and the authors will soon present us with the second in this trilogy.

I, for one, can't wait.

'Wasteland' will be published on March 26, 2013 by Harper Teen.  Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan previously collaborated on the graphic novels 'City of Spies', and 'Brain Camp'.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

'Astor Place Vintage'

Lately, I've been devoting most of my reading time to historical novels.  The stories are well-written, and the research has led me to investigate particular eras.  I've learned a lot about perfumery (thanks, M.J. Rose!), Middle Ages abbeys (thanks, Nancy Bilyeau!), and other assorted time periods.  The reading can be exhausting, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

A particular favorite time period for me is early 20th century New York, a time of conflict, innovation, and the fight for women's rights.  It was a rough-and-tumble period in American history.  And the architecture!  What seems dated now is, in my opinion, majestic and timeless.  When I was a little kid, visiting downtown Portland with my mom and/or grandmother, I was in awe when I looked up and saw the beauty of the buildings.  But now that I'm older, most of those same buildings are gone, and the ones that do remain are fighting the good fight in order to survive.  Why must we replace such beautiful edifices with structures made of chrome, glass, and concrete?  There is no imagination, no interesting embellishments.  No gargoyles.  Le sigh...

But instead of lamenting, I did some reading, and what I found was wonderful!  'Astor Place Vintage', by Stephanie Lehmann, was just what I needed.  Ms. Lehmann did a fantastic amount of research in chronicling this story about a contemporary woman who has found a journal written by a woman who lived in New York in 1907.

Amanda Rosenbloom is the owner of Astor Place Vintage, a vintage clothing store in Manhattan.  While she is appraising clothing from an elderly wealthy woman, Amanda discovers a journal sewn into a fur muff.  Written by Olive Westcott, a young woman who had recently moved to Manhattan, Amanda learns about Olive's life and her job as a counterwoman at a department store.  She also learns about Olive's friendships, and her attraction to Joe, the brother of her friend, Angelina.  Although Victorian ideas held women back from pursuing their dreams of freedom, Olive slowly realizes her self-worth.  As Amanda reads the journal, her life unravels as the coincidences pile up.  

'Astor Place Vintage' is a slow, delightful read at the beginning, but as I kept my nose in the book, I appreciated its darker tones and subtle shift in character perspective.  The author's research into early Manhattan was deep and very well presented.  And the vintage photographs made the story even more meaningful.

But most of all, it made me glad to be a woman right now, when I can vote, and pursue my dreams without being held back.  When I'm not afraid to talk about menopause and childbirth.

This story, dear reader, is more than 'chick lit'.  It's a story that speaks to all of us. 

'Astor Place Vintage' will be released in June 2013, by Touchstone Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

'The Second Greatest Story Ever Told'

Today, Catholic cardinals have elected a pope.  Although the 'election' of a new pope is newsworthy, this one is a bit special, as the new guy takes the place of a pope who retired, the first one to leave his post in hundreds of years.

I wonder what Jesus thinks about this?  Is He happy that the new pope takes his papal name in honor of St. Francis of Assisi?  Or because the new pope is a humble man?  Or because he's the first non-European man elevated to the papacy?

Well, they had to find someone...

Too bad it wasn't a woman.  In Christianity's infancy, women (that's right:  Women) led the secret services.  If caught, they, along with their entire congregation, were murdered by the Romans.  

But, as much as I'd love to see a woman become Pope, I've had to settle for the dream that perhaps the next holy messenger will be a...woman.  God's daughter.

'The Second Greatest Story Ever Told', by Gorman Bechard, is a cross between Christopher Moore (his novel, 'Lamb', is my favorite of all his books) and Douglas Adams.  Set in contemporary time, the story concerns the Second Coming.  Only this time, God decides to send his daughter, Ilona Ann Coggswater.  Born in Cooperstown, New York in 1970, Ilona reveals herself to the world in 1988 (one of my favorite scenes in the whole story).  Her most important passions in life are the Mets (they never lose while she's watching them play), Charlie Chaplin, Elvis Costello, and drinking Tab (remember Tab?).

Her message to the world is quite simple:  Be kind.  Be kind to the environment, be kind to each other, be kind to all living things.  But when certain someones don't heed her message, all hell breaks loose.

This novel pokes fun at fundamentalists (lots of irony here, folks!), the NRA, and celebrity.  But scattered throughout this little gem of a story are tender passages that will, perhaps, bring a tear to your eye.

But it's mostly funny.  And timely.

Perhaps there's hope for us yet.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

'Three Graves Full'

Some stories come and go; easily digested, easily forgotten.

But there are some stories which tend to linger; such is the case with 'Three Graves Full', the debut novel by Jamie Mason. 

And what a first novel!  Very original, very daring, and darkly amusing, Ms. Mason has brought to us a cast of characters (including one sharp dog) that are fully developed and unforgettable.  And the premise, dear reader?  Oh, my...

Jason Getty is a young, mild-mannered widower who has killed a man and buried him in his backyard.  But just as the stress of what he's done is beginning to dissipate, the landscapers he has hired to work on his yard have uncovered a body...but not the body Jason buried at the far end of his property.  When the police come to investigate, they find yet another body.  Jason tries to stay a step ahead of the investigators, but everything he's trying so hard to hide is almost uncovered by the least likely person.

While reading Ms. Mason's unique story, I was almost biting my fingernails in suspense.  There was never a thought in my head as to how this story would end.  I had no desire to 'read ahead'.  I just wanted to know! 

And that's a good thing.  The Coen Brothers would have a field day making a film from this book.

So, the lesson learned is do not, under any circumstances, bury a body in your backyard.  You just never know if you'll retain your sanity.

Lose it in this wonderful story, instead.

'Three Graves Full', author Jamie Mason's debut novel, is published by Gallery Books (a division of Simon & Schuster).