By Dawn Reno Langley; Reviewed by Carolyn Burns Bass
Perhaps I should begin with a disclaimer. Dawn Reno Langley is a friend of mine and we are critique partners for each other’s work. I read her latest novel, The Mourning Parade, long before anyone else, and in several forms—most recently the audiobook performed by Tavia Gilbert.
Dawn and I had been exchanging pages of our novels for some time when she took a vacation to Thailand and came back exploding with a new story. She set aside the novel she had been working on and plunged into a new book about a woman who retreats to Thailand to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary after losing her two sons in a school shooting.
By Helen Sedgwick;Reviewed by Billie Hinton
Helen Sedgwick’s The Comet Seekers is an absolutely beautiful novel: spare, elegant, and as full of light as the comets that offer its structure. Sedgwick, writer, editor, and a former research physicist, has a gift for language and metaphor. Her prose soars.>The story begins in 2017 and travels back and forth in time, spanning centuries that are marked by comets whose names and characteristics reveal personalities…
By Eowyn Ivey; Reviewed by Mary Vensel White
To the Bright Edge of the World is Eowyn Ivey’s highly-anticipated second novel, another story set in the rugged and breathtaking expanse that is Alaska. Her debut, The Snow Child, was the tale of a pioneering, childless couple who build a little girl from snow and watch her magically come to life. Fans of Ivey’s touching, fairy tale first novel will find much to like in her new one, but it’s another type of story altogether.
By Matthew Neill Null; Reviewed by Billie Hinton
Like the river that rushes through Matthew Neill Null’s prize-winning debut story collection, Allegheny Front is a thing of wild beauty. And while the writing is what won Sarabande Books’ Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, the physical book itself is a delight to hold in the hand: textured cover with big bold imagery, lush creamy pages, the perfect size and weight for ease of reading. Which is all beside the point when the stories inside are riveting and raw, rich and searing, with turns of phrase as clear and sharp as the masterful cracking of a whip….
By Shannon Kirk; Reviewed by Dawn Reno Langley
Vivienne Marshall’s chance to shop for the heaven she will call her own begins the day she is struck down, a victim of texting-while-walking. The 35-year-old relives her life and plans her afterlife during the course of this extraordinary (excuse the pun) novel by award-winning author Shannon Kirk.
The novel imagines a process that dying people embark upon, the last choice they actually make during their lifetime: the choice of what life after life will become. Vivienne’s images of heaven …
By Fiona McFarlane; Reviewed by Mary Vensel White
Fiona McFarlane’s first collection of stories, The High Places, follows the 2013 publication of her well-received novel, The Night Guest. Her debut was hailed as a meditation on isolation, identity and memory. It’s the story of Ruth, a widower living alone in an Australian beach house. She becomes convinced she sees a tiger, both outside and inside her house. Her mental state is questionable and this unpredictable narrator adds to the feeling of suspense as the story unfolds….
By Yann Martel; Reviewed by Mary Vensel White
Fans of Yann Martel’s international bestseller, Life of Pi (2001), will find many familiar elements in his new novel, The High Mountains of Portugal. Once again, Martel plumbs the relationship between storytelling and truth and mixes tragedy with healthy doses of humor. There is another leading character from the animal kingdom; religion and faith are integral themes. But The High Mountains of Portugal is a more difficult, less cohesive read, and will no doubt produce polarized reactions.
The novel is divided into three dissimilar parts….
By Margaret Atwood; Reviewed by Carolyn Burns Bass
The meaning of life and love is central to Margaret Atwood’s latest novel, The Heart Goes Last. Now before you think Atwood has gone soft and written a romance, stop right there. The Heart Goes Last is a brilliant satirical look into modern society with emphasis on the breaking economy, its opportunities for corporate greed, and its impact on the middle class. How far would you go to sleep in a bed every night? Would you kill your husband to preserve your comfort?
In a not-too-distant future the American economy has collapsed to the extent that cars have become real estate, rolling from place to place to protect the inhabitants who live inside from those on the outside who would commandeer the vehicle and abuse the residents ….
By Matthew Neill Null; Reviewed by Billie Hinton
By turns graphic and poetic and sometimes both at once, Matthew Neill Null, in his literary debut, shapes vivid characters, West Virginia history, and a landscape under siege into one finely-hewn novel.
Null meticulously chronicles a community in West Virginia in 1904, as old growth forest is cut by hand using horses to haul the logs. The landscape herself seems to oversee the machinations of men: businessmen, loggers (called timber wolves), union men, a preacher, women. There is union-building going on, conversations in back rooms, and men named Cur and Neversummer, Seldomridge and McBride. The landscape is perfectly rendered, the work of cutting trees is brutal…
By Julianna Baggott; Reviewed by Billie Hinton
Julianna Baggott’s newest novel, Harriet Wolf’s Seventh Book of Wonders, is brilliant and beautiful, quirky and captivating, a multigenerational tale told from four unique points of view: Harriet Wolf’s, her daughter Eleanor’s, and those of her granddaughters, Ruth and Tilton.
Baggott uses the passage of time and very specific individual experiences in a family of women to reveal the ways in which mothers and daughters—and all of us—connect. She embroiders in rich detail…
By Bill Clegg; Reviewed by Mary Vensel White
“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” With this famous first line, Leo Tolstoy begins his classic novel Anna Karenina, a story about allegiances and relationships, social confines and aspirations, and the binds of family and home. These themes are also the purview in Bill Clegg’s wonderful debut novel, Did You Ever Have a Family, and his characters are no strangers to unhappiness in its many forms….
Lori Lansens is guest author in #LitChat on July 20, 2015. Follow #LitChat on Twitter or login directly to our dedicated channel at www.nurph.com/litchat.
By Lori Lansens; Reviewed by Mary Vensel White
On his eighteenth birthday, Wolf Truly boards the tram that takes tourists up the mountain overlooking Palm Springs. He loves the mountain…
By Hanya Yanagihara; Reviewed by Billie Hinton
Hanya Yanagihara’s novel A Little Life introduces the reader to what seems at first an ensemble cast of characters: JB, Willem, Malcolm, and Jude, four students who meet in college and remain friends far beyond that time of their lives. As we read on, however, we learn that the main character is Jude St. Francis. The book as a whole is layered with many points of view and memories that construct his life story. This is a long novel and a big book, and by big I mean that is has a huge impact that builds. It’s only at the end that the impact of the novel is…
By Keija Parssinen. Reviewed by Mary Vensel White
The Unraveling of Mercy LouisThe plot of Keija Parssinen’s debut novel, The Unraveling of Mercy Louis, bears some striking resemblances to a release from last summer, The Fever by Megan Abbott. Both books are set in a smallish town and focus on a coterie of teenage girls afflicted, one by one, with a mysterious illness. In both towns, there is the question of an environmental pollutant and the intense reactions of the town’s inhabitants. Both novels attempt to submerge the reader into the stew of the anxiety… read more here…
By Jill Alexander Essbaum, Book Review By Billie Hinton
The first line of Jill Alexander Essbaum’s stunning novel Hausfrau could describe any number of wives. None of us are perfect. But Anna Benz, Essbaum’s protagonist, spirals a dark trajectory from the first page.
Anna Benz is a 38-year old American expat hausfrau, married to Swiss banker Bruno Benz, mother of three young children, daughter-in-law to Ursula, Bruno’s mother who lives next door. It is clear from the beginning of the book that something has happened from which Anna has not quite recovered, and … read more here…