Fairy tale, comedy, drama, mystery. The Little Giant of Aberdeen County is all that and more. Truly Plaice is the giant, the fairy princess, and the witch of the story all at once. Born unbelievably large, she continues to grow even larger than her beautiful sister, two years older than her. Truly’s life is riddled with bad luck and heartbreak, and she sticks out like a sore thumb in small Aberdeen County. The question throughout the book seems to be “Will she find revenge or forgiveness in her giant heart?”
Baker’s style although compared to greats like John Irving and the Brothers Grimm, is no doubt all her own. Although one can certainly draw parallels with other novel-writing greats such as Irving, Baker’s voice feels unique and one of a kind to me. She has the ability to really let loose while still maintaining control of her pen, as in The Little Giant she subtly adds occasional tastes of fairy tales we all know – just to remind you that indeed this is a story of magic like those we loved as children – yet darker and deeper.
I loved the depth of The Little Giant of Aberdeen County from its characters to its setting, but especially the tone. Dark comedy is a longtime favorite of mine, and anyone who can weave a story that keeps me simultaneously smirking and spooked has my rapt attention. And if Tim Burton doesn’t pick this one up for the silver screen I’ll eat my pointy black hat.
Some familial relationships seem easy. Others take every ounce of strength we have to endure them. Whether our relationships with our family members are smooth or jagged, they both require time, energy, and commitment. Anne Koroda Duppstadt of The Love Ceiling knew that all too well. At 64 years old, one might assume time would be opening up for her, now that her family had grown. But with an adult daughter moving back home, her husband going through a retirement crisis, and her father, a famed artist, giving her as much difficulty as ever, she’s beginning to wonder if she’ll ever get the chance to pursue her own artistic dreams.
Author Jean Davies Okimoto’s writing is clean and bright, and she has the ability to relate to her audience and make them feel at home. Her characters will most likely be recognizable in some form as people in anyone’s own family unit. One thing that really struck me with this novel was the recurring sensation that I was joining in on the family conversations and the talk amongst friends over a cup of coffee. Not the frivolous gossippy sort, but the sharing of heartache or the confiding in one another that most women find vital in the navigation through life. I’ve often read books where this sort of writing almost comes across as forced, or an “as the author I can relate to your normal life” tone that stays on the surface and doesn’t ring true. But Okimoto, through realistic and well-written dialogue (she is a playwrite, after all) exhibits the beauty that is part of tight family relationships, and the pain of it too.
Author Jean Davies Okimoto
Another important part of this book that can’t be overlooked is the theme of women and creativity. As caretakers of our families, we often shelve our creative endeavors, put the dreams on the back burner because we’re raising children, building a family, etc. Great and noble things, to be certain! But sometimes it gets too easy to leave things on the shelf when they really need to be dusted off and put to use – for ourselves as well as for those we love. Because our families benefit from seeing us thrive and finding fulfillment too.
The Love Ceiling is an inspiring story of a woman who doesn’t say “it’s too late to start now”. Based on Okimoto’s play “Uncle Hideki and the Empty Nest”, The Love Ceiling is the perfect novel to read when it’s time to remind yourself that it’s never too late to chase your dreams.
When Dorrit Weger enters the Second Reserve Bank Unit, she knows she’s there to stay; not by choice, mind you. She’s hit that magical age where, without children and loved ones in need of her, she’s become what has been considered “dispensable”. While it’s true the dwelling is luxurious beyond what she’s ever obtained for herself, and while she’ll be surrounded by contemporaries who are also without spouses and children on the outside, she and those residing with her are to serve a purpose none of them care to serve. As dispensable people they will be used for things such as drug testing and organ donation until their lives come to an end. And life is short inside The Unit. But somehow Dorrit manages to build relationships unlike any she ever had in the outside world.
The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist, translated from the original Swedish by Marlaine Delargy, is set in the not-so-distant future and told in the voice of a true story weaver, making this author’s first novel eerily plausible. Holmqvist leaves her readers pondering the conditions of modern society, balancing what is truly the value of life, and perhaps questioning whether one person deserves to live more than another. If you have a book club hungry for deep discussion and some serious introspection, as well as a glimpse at the possible future, The Unit is the next book to get your hands on.
While The Unit is Ninni Holmqvist’s debut novel, this Swedish author has previously published three short story collections. The English translation of The Unit is published by Other Press and was released in June of this year.
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He’s a rather thin man, hates it when they call him skinny. But he’s a runner and likes how he is – he finds himself gracile, his own word for his graceful, slender appearance. We don’t know much about him, really. His story may be this book but he keeps himself at a comfortable distance, which for him is a little further than most. We can see him interact with his partner (Wife? Girlfriend?), even hear them speak but it is as if we’re peering through their apartment windows, following him as he runs, spying on him in his office. I doubt he realizes he’s so distant. And it appears that, perhaps due to his distance, he is shrinking still.
Long Slow Distance by Thomas Phillips is what one might call a minimalist story. A mere 115 pages and a character whose name we don’t even know, it’s a very talented Thomas Phillips who pulls off writing in such a manner while still connecting to his audience. “Distance” seems to be the key word to this story, as the main character certainly keeps his. Yet even though we don’t get to know him that well, our desire to do so keeps us reading, piecing together what we can. Perhaps it’s because we’ve all known such people, and as any reader knows, it’s the mysteries of human nature and a bit of a voyeuristic spirit that keeps most of us up to our eyeballs in books. Long Slow Distance gives the voyeur-by-book a good fix, and gives it brilliantly. As our runner all but disappears, leaving little more than fleeting shadows as the book progresses, Phillips’ ability to hold his readers’ rapt attention is nothing short of extraordinary. A fascinating main character and an even more riveting writing style makes Long Slow Distance a worthy piece of literature.
Published by Object Press.
Written in honor of Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, Voice Over is a collection of poetry which serves as a final farewell to Breyten Breytenbach’s dear friend. The series of poems found in Voice Over were created shortly after the death of Darwish, and they were written as the author traveled through Catalonia and Friesland. What results is a moving collection of verse.
This small 41-page collection gives a powerful look at the language of Breyten Breytenbach, a writer and human rights activist from South Africa. He’s taken a lifelong stance against apartheid and was even imprisoned for seven years for high treason after sneaking back into his country illegally. Such a turbulent and strongly humanitarian past is evident in the voice of his prose.
Winner of the Hertzog Prize for Poetry (1999 and 2008), Breytenbach has written numerous books and produces countless paintings and drawings which have been viewed worldwide. He is considered to be one of the greatest of the Afrikaans poets. Still very active in taking a stand, Breytenbach divides his time between the U.S., Europe, and Africa. Definitely a writer worth looking into, this creative powerhouse will give you some real literature to sink your teeth into.
Voice Over is published by Archipelago Books.
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Most people are fascinated by the con job, myself included. Maybe it’s the mystery of the underworld, perhaps it’s the brilliance of schemes most of us are too moral to contemplate. Whatever our motives for finding enjoyment in con jobs, one can look to books and movies like “The Sting”, “Paper Moon”, or “Ocean’s Eleven” to verify the popularity. I’d say Dizzy City fits comfortably into this category.
Dizzy City by Nicholas Griffin is the story of Benedict Cramb, a 1916 English soldier of the Great War. After deserting and running off to America, he hooks up with a master con artist who takes him under his wing. As con artists try to pull one over on con artists, readers will marvel at the complexity of plot. Dizzy City had such brilliant twists and turns that I often grinned or laughed out loud whenever Griffin caught me offguard, which was regularly. It seemed every chapter or two something happened to throw me off the trail of where the story would lead. And I’m not easily fooled. Maybe it’s all the book reviewing I do, but I’m always annoyed that I figure out endings before the book is near completion. I’ve been banned from guessing during movies because my husband tires of me figuring it out. But Dizzy City? No way. I hadn’t a clue where it was going, and I thoroughly enjoyed being fooled. Perhaps being conned.
Dizzy City is Nicholas Griffin’s fourth historical novel. His latest proves to be heavily researched, full of rich living detail, and completely captivating. If you’re in the market for a mystery, a historical novel, or for a con job, Dizzy City is your next fix.
Published by Steerforth Press.
Take an accomplished South African writer nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature three times, add a surprising Hitchcock-like plot with a message and stir. What comes out will be a book you will never, ever forget. Andre Brink’s Other Lives is one of the most creative novels I’ve read in a long time.
Three separate stories merge, crisscross, and get you tangled as they weave through the pages. Imagine a white South African man who, upon entering his studio, suddenly discovers it’s been transformed into a house. In it are a black woman who calls him her husband and two little children thrilled to see their daddy. He’s never seen these people before in his life. Or a white man who wakes up, looks in the mirror, and finds he’s no longer white. Or a famous pianist who is in love with a singer who won’t allow him to get close to her. Even after tragedy strikes. You’ll be hanging onto the edge of your seat throughout the novel, pondering, rethinking what you thought you knew about bigotry and racism, no matter what your color.
Other Lives is a fantastic novel on so many levels. Don’t let your book club miss this one – it’s ripe with discussion material. Once you read it, it will be kept on your “favorites” shelf waiting for the time you’ll pick it up and read it again – and you will. This is a book that would make excellent study material for psychology, sociology, and South African culture courses. The message refuses to get lost in the story line as Brink has a way of putting you in the characters’ heads. What would you do if you discovered you aren’t at all who you thought you were? Want to find out? Read Other Lives. You won’t be able to end the book without discovering the answer to that question.
No surprises here – this book gets the carp(e) libris reviews Goldfish Award. Published by Sourcebooks, Inc.
Like most avid readers, I tend to seek out books with a unique voice. When you read several books a month, it’s easy to find commonalities in books that others might not see. For instance, there are certain themes that tend to crop up in short story collections again and again. But I’m happy to tell you The End Of The Straight And Narrow dispensed with all those similarities that can have many active readers yawning in their shirtsleeves.
The End of the Straight and Narrow manages to be unique without being outlandish or unrelatable. The subject matter of author David McGlynn’s stories often focuses on the lives and difficulties of people who happen to be Christians. I say “happen to be” because it’s nether in-your-face proselytizing, nor is it an exercise in faith-bashing, but a true-to-life look at how people really are, flaws and all. Most of the stories link together having the same characters emerge; new plots, different viewpoints, a different slot of time. But each story can easily stand on its own two feet.
At first I even hesitated to mention the Christian aspect because I didn’t want anyone to view this book as Christian fiction. But I can’t imagine skipping over it. Depth of faith has such a hold on these stories, and in such a fresh way, that any reviewer would be remiss to brush past it. I’ve often wondered why authors incorporating faith into their stories wouldn’t take an approach such as McGlynn did. Too often writers either glamorize or tear apart their faith-filled characters, trying to make either a sainted or an ugly example of them whether they be Christian, Jew, Muslim or other. Personally I find it refreshing to see believing people be believable. So thanks to David McGlynn. My brain, as well as my soul, enjoyed the ride to The End Of The Straight And Narrow.
Published by Southern Methodist University Press.
When a photographer stumbles upon a Kentucky mountaintop homestead and upsetting one of the residents, everything for this small community begins to change and shift. Chain reactions are set into place, and the results in Ziesk’s latest novel The Trespasser will draw you into a world where you will definitely change your mind over and over again about who the trespasser really is. Living in the Appalachians is its own unique challenge, and not for everyone. Sometimes it’s for hermits who never want to leave, other times it becomes a prison to those who don’t want to stay. Whichever one you turn out to be, The Trespasser is a book you’ll stay with to the end.
I loved Ziesk’s style of writing; very visual, beautiful writing with just the right amount of darkness about it. The characters are well-constructed and believable, the scenery plays like a movie in your mind, and the plot took turns I never expected. When you read a lot of books, this is a nice surprise indeed! Overall, her style offers something I always look for in a book: an air of mystery with characters I keep thinking back to long after the book is closed. The Trespasser just has to receive the Goldfish Award, and I happily give it.
Edra Ziesk has written two other novels: Acceptable Losses: A Novel and A Cold Spring. Will I be looking for them? Most definitely.