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.

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.


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.


Two Women-Centered Crime Novels, Two Approaches

Both Jane Haselidine and Heather Graham are three novels in when they reach Duplicity and A Dangerous Game, respectively. The stories and characters are entertaining and well-told.

The Jane Haseldine novel, “Duplicity,” centers on Julia Gooden whose life now and in the past is surrounded by crime stories. While the main character is fully drawn, the crime stories take center stage. The characters are used at the behest of telling the detailed and gripping story. This one takes about 30 pages to be drawn in but it is worth the ride.

On the other hand, Heather Graham’s A Dangerous Game grabs you from page one and keeps you following the story of Kieran Finnegan. The character of Kieran is palpable and she is what holds your attention throughout as you learn of the gripping story.

I received Duplicity through a LibraryThing Giveaway and A Dangerous Game through a Goodreads Giveaway. Both books have been placed or sent to little free libraries. These reviews are available on Amazon, Goodreads, and LibraryThing.


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.

The Freedom to Be Trapped

After dropping off my littlest at one of his weekend activities, I found myself in the hallway where all the parents wait. Settling into the next hour, I look around at all the other parents giving each other the look of “yeah, we’re trapped.” It’s a feeling we’re not used to. We all moved to this metropolitan city to give ourselves the freedom to pursue the heights of our ambition. Yet here we sit providing our children whatever brilliant opportunity we can that we didn’t have at their age. As everyone pulls out their phones, I count myself lucky to have picked up a copy of Margo Orlando Littell’s Each Vagabond by Name.

It’s easy to immediately immerse myself in Littell’s literary style. She draws fully formed characters without drowning the reader in every detail of the moment. Here’s a taste of the types of passages you’ll find. This one was a personal favorite. (Don’t worry, there’s no spoilers.):

“When the sun lightened the rooms, he stopped cleaning. He opened the front door to let in the fresh, cold air, and made coffee. He sat at his table and sipped it while it was near-boiling. The heat burned his tongue. His eye watered, and he sipped again. The pale pre-morning light lapping at the sky made him feel old and even more alone. There were no night-sounds now, just the slam of someone’s car door. It was that slam that did it, that slam that sounded like every other slamming door he’d ever heard in his life. Maybe Liza was right – maybe it was time he left. He could do exactly this – sitting and sipping – anywhere in the world.”

The main characters tackle issues of a changing local landscape and fear of newcomers. Yet, the real genius of the novel is that it captures the zeitgeist of our current times without any of the details you’d find in reality to mire the story in politics.

This review may be found online at Amazon, Goodreads, and LibraryThing. A paperback copy of the book was also placed in a Little Free Library for others to enjoy.