Fiction

Einstein’s Beach House and other well-told stories

Einstein’s Beach House” is a collection of short stories by Jacob M. Appel. This is the second work I’ve reviewed for Appel. The first was a novel, “Millard Salter’s Last Day” which I reviewed for this site in December 2017. Now having read two of his works, I can say Appel is definitely in the running for becoming one of my favorite authors. One of the most endearing qualities of his writing appears to be taking the morbid, depressingly confusing, or otherwise awful experiences in human life and making them some of the most mundane background elements of the stories he tells.

Appel’s style takes an even hand between events and dialogue throughout. But each story is heavy with internal musings. The short stories in this volume display the same expert hand at bringing a reader into the narrators mind as in the Millard novel. The difference here is that Appel draws you in, let’s you feel comfortable there and then delivers with adroit brevity an entire novel of experiences in 1-2 ending sentences. These closing lines don’t leave you with questions as to how this life or lives come to fruition or end. They are complete endings in and of themselves. Some are more open ended than others but they still provide the necessary closure to allow a reader to feel comfortable having read the whole story.

I received my copy through a LibrayThing giveaway and have donated it to a little free library. This review is also available on Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and Instagram @reviewsbymarie.

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Fiction, Young Adult Fiction

Italian American YA (yes, that is a thing)

The YA novel, Beyond the Wicked Willow, by M.J. Rocissono and illustrated by Joe Rocissono is a story that traverses modern day United States and historical Italy. Curses and witching are connecting the two. It brings together times from late BC, AD1200s, and 2012. The story is full of detailed Italian lore and appropriate for both adults and children from about age 10+.

I picture an Italian-American teen, who has had experience with great grandparents or grandparents mentioning some of the old superstitions or traditions from Italy, finding real joy in this book. That said, it is an ideal read for anyone who enjoys historical YA and a surprisingly good read for an independently published piece.

Fiction

So much promise falls flat

To start with…I wanted to love Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday. The amount of acclaim placed on this book implied that there was largely no way I wouldn’t. Moreover, I appreciate stories with some gimmicky elements. The gimmick in Asymmetry includes three ostensibly disparate stories connected at an unexpected moment in the storyline and in tone. It accomplishes this while also including the female anti-hero. That it manages to accomplish all this in a relatively stylistic fashion merits it four out of five stars. However, it is more of a “take it or leave it” read. Halliday’s style is too bare to entrance a reader and also at the detriment of drawing the Alice character fully as an anti-hero.

I finished this novel in March, but thought with time I would grow to appreciate its finer points. I did not and for that I’m forced to mark it as a worthy read, but not a necessary one.

Fiction

A Feminist Love Story with Strong Roots

Louisiana Catch by Sweta Srivastana Vikram is a fast-paced read with relevant characters for our contemporary moment here in 2018. The main character works on women’s empowerment while still struggling with the demons that led her to see how important that cause is. Vikram’s writing is a similar perfect balance. The novel has almost the fast past feel of a dialogue heavy book ready for a screenplay. Yet, is filled with the necessary detail to make the reading endeavor that much more worthwhile.

Beyond the quality of writing, the main reason I love this story is the strong character serving as a woman’s rights advocate on which the story is centered. Vikram doesn’t shy away from including the abusive or emotionally wasteful experiences of her past, but rather than exploiting them shows the day in, day out mental work that goes into rising above and learning from those experiences from her perspective.

The main character, Ahana, takes us through her life in New Delhi, New York, and New Orleans. She has strong relationships with her family, who’s characters are richly drawn through her lens. Ahana’s professional life is both inspired by and made vulnerable (at least in her own mind) by an abusive past. She, like many of us, tries to get away from this past and yet is still working to make different decisions, not always successfully. Striving toward a realty that understands what true partnership and support looks like.

This story could be one written about any woman with an extended family that keeps her grounded. Yet, the beautiful details of the Indian family that it centers on feel like your own. Vikram has written the exact woman centered novel needed in our current times. The movie style writing would translate into a screenplay easily, and I would love to see that movie.

I received my copy in exchange for an honest review. This review is also available on Goodreads and LibraryThing. The copy I reviewed has been lent to a friend to read on my recommendation. She has agreed to place it in a little free library once she’s done to continue to spread this high quality novel.

Fiction

Amish series

I don’t usually read emotional novels set in Amish enclaves, but when I do it is by Kelly Irvin. Irvin’s “Beneath the Summer Sun” is the second in a seasonal series that includes “Upon a Spring Breeze” and “Through the Autumn Air.”

Irvin’s writing style builds several characters well enough to explain the story that is lavishly told here. The writing style is direct and details daily activities of the characters in the midst of complex relationship choices – both those made and missed. Irvin also includes a glossary for several pennsylvania Dutch terms used by those characters. Though, most if not all are easily discerned through context, so flipping back and forth isn’t necessarily required.

What is not detailed is the Amish cultural mindset, which is necessary context for getting engrossed in the story. If this is a context you are familiar with, then the characters’ choices will make sense with the limited character development used and you will quite likely enjoy this novel. However, if you are not familiar with this context, the characters will fall a bit flat and this probably isn’t a read you will thoroughly enjoy.

I received my copy through a Goodreads giveaway. This review is also on Amazon, Goodreads, and LibraryThing. The copy I reviewed has been placed in a Little Free Library.

Fiction

Understanding Loss in “Raising the Dad”

I once had a friend tell me about a Hallmark Christmas movie that made her cry. Yes, that is the point of Hallmark movies in general and their Christmas movies in particular. But these weren’t tears of joy or pseudo sadness, they were real pain. The movie told the story of a family who’s father had died and then through some Christmas magic the main character gets their dad back. The only problem was that my friend had actually lost her father and being an adult, knew that her father wasn’t going to come back from the dead.
That unsettling feeling is the premise and guiding force for the novel, “Raising the Dad” by Tom Matthews. A son must grapple with the knowledge that a father he’d lost to a stroke 30 years prior wasn’t actually dead yet is still “lost to a stroke.” He must do so even while navigating his own complicated marriage, troubled older brother, and fast fading mother.
Matthews manages to write this complex story in a manner that doesn’t feel convoluted and keeps the reader engaged throughout. His style of moving from present day to stories from the past flow easily from one to another. Each character is developed with enough breadth to maintain an investment in seeing the whole family through the process.
I received an uncorrected proof of the novel through a Goodreads giveaway. This review is posted on Goodreads and LibraryThing. It will be posted on Amazon once published in April. The copy I read has been placed in a Little Free Library for others to enjoy.
children's, Fiction

Let the 5 year old take it from here

Run, Banana, Run!” by Kitria Stewart, Illustrated by Keith Gannon, is a rhyming children’s book with simple illustrations. And had I not read it to my kindergartner, this would be a very short review. In summary, my daughter looooves this book.

It is the story of a banana preparing for a race, being cheered on by fruit bystanders, and ultimately winning. The banana is all one shade of yellow, the apple – all one shade of red, the grass – all one green. But my daughter loves to look at this book. The rhyme is such that all of the lines rhyme with all the other lines – with the same ending sound in each line. But my daughter loves when I read this book to her. Each page or page duo has one line of the story. But my daughter loves to read this story to me.

While so many children’s books today are written with a wink to the parents likely reading the book (some even using the parents as a story line – I’m looking at you B.J. Novak), this story is refreshing in its focus on what children like. Buy it from the store, borrow it from the library. If it’s for a child 3-6, I’m confident they will like it. My 5 year old guarantees it.

This review may be found on Amazon, Goodreads, and LibraryThing. When the kindergartner finally tired of it, it will also be placed in a Little Free Library.