Category: Fiction (Page 2 of 45)

Friendship in a Foreign Land: ‘The Confusion of Languages’ by Siobhan Fallon

Maybe if you only understand half of what a person says, you can more readily read the sincerity of their gestures. Maybe language is much less important than I think it is, and therefore much less frightening.

When Margaret Brickshaw and her husband arrive in Jordan, Cassie Hugo thinks she might have finally found a friend. But the two have little in common besides being military wives who have followed their husbands to the Middle East. Cassie is a play-it-safe rule-follower, while Margaret prefers to ignore the cultural norms and explore on her own. When a fender bender sends Margaret to the police station one afternoon, Cassie is left to watch her baby boy. Hours pass without any word from Margaret, and, desperate to figure out what’s wrong, Cassie finds her diary and begins piecing together the person she thought she knew.

confussion of languagesThe Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon (author of  the short story collection You Know When the Men Are Gone) is a novel that absolutely surprised me. This tale of friendship in a foreign land hooked me from page one. Fallon’s writing and amazing sense of voice make each character come alive. The story alternates between Cassie’s narration in the present and Margaret’s diary entries. Each woman is so well-developed and their relationship feels extremely realistic.

Both outcasts in their own way, Cassie and Margaret band together out of survival. However, the women’s friendship is anything but pretty. Cassie resents Margaret’s life—her dutiful husband, the baby she can’t have—and Margaret isn’t fond of Cassie’s paranoid nature. But both have marriages that are straining under the weight of infertility or distrust. Fallon’s portrayal of a military marriage is eye-opening and raw.
One of the best parts of this book is the setting. I thoroughly enjoyed the rich details about Jordan, which made me feel like I was there. Fallon actually lived as a military wife in Jordan, so the descriptions of the people, places, and food feel real. It was fascinating to learn about the Jordanian culture and what is considered acceptable and inappropriate in that society. I think Fallon did a great job of interpreting the experience of an American living in such a different place and trying to fit in.

It was also interesting to learn about what was happening in Jordan and the Middle East in 2011, when the novel takes place. Events that would seem insignificant to Americans are immediate dangers to the characters. The political situation is as much a character in the novel because it often affects the decisions of the protagonists. Cassie and Margaret, opposite in attitude, represent the tension between wanting to enjoy life in a different country and battling the fear of foreign dangers.

Overall, this is a beautiful, well-written story about how kindness, friendship, and otherness translate between cultures. You’ll fall in love with these two women and will want to keep turning the page to see where their story goes.

And the Stars Look Very Different Today: Jaroslav Kalfar’s ‘Spaceman of Bohemia’

I’m not much of a sci-fi guy. Enjoying certain popular films like Interstellar or works like The Martian has never been outside my personal realm of possibility, but am I going to go out and search for the most brilliant and obscure work of sci-fi literature? Probably not. That being said, it might have found me. spaceman of bohemiaJaroslav Kalfar’s Spaceman of Bohemia is a novel that fits just as comfortably on the shelf next to Kafka as it does in the realm of sci-fi and space adventure. This is a novel that perfectly captures the feelings of loneliness and anxiety that can only come through accepting ambition while subsequently affirming the need to ground personal identity outside oneself, whether it be in love or in history. However, in order to feel out how Kalfar’s work stands out among the rest, it helps to understand the world of the author.

Sitting at the edge of Eastern Europe, Prague is the capital city of the Czech Republic and is traditionally considered to be the center of Bohemia. The Prague of the protagonist, Jakub Prochazka begins in 1948 when the Communist Party took power and all other parties became officially deceased.

My name is Jakub Prochazka. This is a common name. My parents wanted a good life for me, a life of good comradeship with my country and my neighbors, a life of service to the world united in socialism.

Jakub’s father is an informant for the Communist regime with a secret affinity for Elvis Presley and a deep love for his family. At an early age, Jakub admires his father for his dedication to the ethos of his nation, but with the fall of the Iron Curtain the success of the Velvet Revolution in Prague, and the mysterious death of his parents, Jakub is launched into a void of personal identity that can only be captured in the grand metaphor of space travel. In an attempt to distinguish itself as an autonomous nation, the Czech Republic chooses Jakub to embark on a potentially dangerous space mission to investigate a mysterious, purple space cloud that no national superpower is willing to risk its citizens to understand. Jakub leaves his comfortable life with his wife Lenka and a prestigious position as a professor of astrophysics to claim fame and purpose for himself and his nation. As days, weeks, then months pass in his voyage, Jakub realizes the gravity (no pun intended) of the voyage itself, and the strain that it would put on his relationships back home. Then he meets a giant space spider.

hanus the spider

To those of you that are completely freaked out by this image, I will say that I was, too. However, I will also say that after finishing the novel I LOVE Hanus the spider. As Jakub struggles with space madness he (and the reader) attempt to deal with the meaning of Hanus’ presence. I don’t want to give away too much but I will say that Hanus is at once at the center of Jakub’s peril and his guide through it.

While this novel takes on weighty themes and attempts at complex insights, it also reads seamlessly. Jaroslav’s voice through Jakub’s first person narration is at once hilarious and impactful. This Czech astronaut’s story, if nothing else, proves that you don’t need to go to space to venture into the balance between madness and sanity that we all experience in everyday life.

Ellen’s Bodacious Beach Reads 2017

So I shall be going to the beach next week, and next week can’t come soon enough. Now, being of the pale skin variety (i.e. I look like I’ve been dead for two weeks because I’m so pale), I tend not to actually sit on the actual beach all that much. I just want to sit on the balcony, smell the ocean, smoke many packs of cigarettes, and read…A LOT OF BOOKS. So, for several weeks, I have been thinking about which books I would be taking to the beach to read. This has been difficult for me, because I have several hundreds of books on my TBR (to be read) list. I have finally narrowed down the list. Hallelujah!!! So let’s do this!

made for loveThe first book on my list is the new novel from Alissa Nutting, Made for Love. People: this book’s cover is of the air-brushed persuasion. If that is not enough to get your engines started, let me break this novel’s story down for you: Hazel has just left her tech billionaire husband, who has also his sights set on world domination. Things have been weird in their marriage for years, but the straw that finally breaks the camel’s back is when Byron wants to insert a chip in his and Hazel’s brain in order to achieve the first mind meld in history. pinky ru ponderingHer only option is to seek refuge in her father’s home that is in a retirement trailer park. Did I mention that her widower father has just purchased a brand new lifelike sex doll named Diane? Hazel’s father’s hope is that in his last years he will die doing something that he loves; obviously, that thing is having sex with Diane. “Hazel began to look at the five-foot four-inch silicone princess a little differently now: Penthouse pet from waist up, Dr. Kevorkian from the waste down.” If this little bit I’ve just shared does not convince you to buy this book, then we do not share the same sick sense of humor…and that is totally your choice. Albeit the wrong one, but I digress.

goodbye vitaminNumber two is Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong. Ruth, freshly disengaged from her fiance, is summoned home to help care for her father Howard, a once prominent history professor has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and has bouts of lucidity. When Ruth arrives home, she finds the situation much more serious than she had anticipated. When the university does finally sack Howard, Ruth and a handsome ex-student of Howard’s go a little too far in the name of justice. Over the course of a year, the comedy in Ruth’s situation becomes apparent and it gently transforms her grief. Honestly, I am eager to read anything about a thirty-something woman who is not exactly where she would like to be in her life. Perhaps I relate. HAHAHAHA.

watch me disappearWatch Me Disappear by Janelle Brown is coming in hot at number three on the list. This novel is about Billie Flanagan, who went missing a year earlier in Desolation Wilderness (which does not sound like an optimal location to go on a solo hike, but that is what she does). Her body is never found, but a shattered cell phone is recovered. Billie left behind a husband and a teenage daughter. Both of the survivors in this story deal with the loss of Billie in equally unhealthy ways. However, things get seemingly extra unhealthy when Olive, the daughter, starts having visions of Billie…alive. Jonathan, Billie’s husband, is very concerned for Olive’s emotional stability when this all begins, but as he uncovers secrets from Billie’s past, he wonders if he ever knew her at all. So, of course Olive and Jonathan unite in a quest to figure out the truth about Billie’s past and her disappearance. The tagline to this book is “Who you want people to be makes you blind to who they really are.” (cue ominous mood music)

white furNumber four is White Fur by Jardine Libaire. The title of this novel is taken from the white rabbit fur coat the female protagonist always wears. Another great novel tagline is coming your way: “A stunning, star-crossed love story set against the glitz and grit of 1980s New York City.” COUNT. ME. IN. I mean, this novel has absolutely all the things I care about: star-crossed lovers? YES. 1980s New York City? OH YOU KNOW IT! And a female protagonist who is from the wrong side of the tracks and falls in love with a WASP? I’M STARTING TO GET SHORT OF BREATH! HELP ME! So, I have already read the first few pages and it opens in a seedy motel room with Elise, our girl, sitting on the bed with a rifle pointed at Jamie, her guy. All I can think of is, how did it get to this point? My book club is actually reading this book for July and I have already heard wonderful things from some of the members.

meddling kidsLast but not least is number five on the list, Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero. Essentially, this book is about the Mystery Inc. gang all grown up, and it ain’t pretty, people. In this novel, the gang is known as “The Blyton Summer Detective Club.” Blyton Hills is a small mining town in Oregon’s Zoinx River Valley. In 1977, the gang solved their last mystery and unmasked the elusive Sleepy Lake monster. So the story itself starts in 1990 after all of the former detectives have grown up and apart. Everyone is haunted by the disturbing memories of their final night on the case. To give you a sense of how everyone’s lives have turned out up to this point, I’ll explain everyone’s current sitch. Andy, who was the intrepid tomboy, is now wanted in two states and is tired of running from her demons. Kerri is the once kid genius who is drinking away her life in New York City with a Weimaraner named Tim who is a descendant of the original canine in the gang. Then there is Nate, who is a horror-loving nerd that is currently residing in an asylum in Arkham, Massachusetts. Nate has not lost contact with Peter, the gang leader, who was a star jock-turned-actor. This would be totally normal…if Peter were not dead, which he has been for years. So everyone is going to get the gang back together and face their fears about what happened all those years ago! I mean honestly I might start my beach trip off with this book because it sounds like too much damn fun.

So that’s what I’ll be doing for a week. I hope everyone’s week next week is as fun as mine!

‘The Great Gatsby’ dust cover has created its own story

In celebration of the release of John Grisham’s Camino Island, whose plot revolves around stolen F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts, Lisa has been tracing Fitzgerald’s career through his novels. You can read her examinations of This Side of Paradise here and The Beautiful and Damned here.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York, NY: Scribner’s, First Edition, April 10, 1925.

gatsby firstThe cover art for The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scribner) is one of the most enduring covers in book publishing history. It also said to be the most expensive piece of paper in book collecting.

Before the publication of The Great Gatsby in 1925, Scribner’s had published two novels by Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise (1920) and The Beautiful and Damned (1922). Both of the dust jackets for these novels displayed rather straight-forward scenes from the novels, a man and a woman in courtship. Color is downplayed with the use of three muted shades of orange, gray, and black.

The art of the Gatsby jacket by Cuban artist Francis Cugat is remarkable for its symbolic nature, its use of color, and its fine details. Two feminine eyes float over a nocturnal Coney Island carnival scene. Two nudes are subtly reclining in the irises. A brush of glare, or perhaps a tear, in the midnight blue sky as well as the explosive light emanating from the carnival scene below suggest tragedy.

While Fitzgerald was in the middle of writing The Great Gatsby in the summer of 1924, he was shown a draft of the jacket. His reaction is famously documented in a letter to Maxwell Perkins: “For Christ’s sake, don’t give anyone that dust jacket you’re saving for me. I’ve written it into the book.”This influence of a dust jacket on the writing of a book is one of the only recorded instances. Cugat never produced another dust jacket, but his art is still beautifully reproduced on the paperback copies that many high school students purchase for required school reading.

The Great Gatsby as a first edition (18,000 copies in the first printing) is not one of the rarest books, but the survival of the dust jacket is key. The jacket, made too tall for the book, easily chipped, which only encouraged the owner to toss the jacket into the waste bin before long. The dust jacket of The Great Gatsby is one of the most outstanding examples of increased value in a first edition. Without the jacket, a first edition may sell for under $10,000. With the jacket, the price can be upwards of $100,000.

‘The Beautiful and Damned’ looks at Fitzgeralds’ marriage

In celebration of the release of John Grisham’s Camino Island, whose plot revolves around stolen F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts, Lisa has been tracing Fitzgerald’s career through his novels. You can read last week’s examination of This Side of Paradise here.

The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York, NY: Scribner’s, First Edition, 1922.

beautiful and damnedAfter the great success of his first novel, This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald enjoyed positive reviews for The Beautiful and Damned. Many critics of the time felt that the writer had matured from the episodic style of Paradiseto a novel with a strong omniscient narrator. The oddest review, however, came from his wife, Zelda, in the New York Tribune under the title “Friend Husband’s Latest.” She wittily encouraged readers to buy her husband’s book because there was an expensive dress and platinum ring she longed for. She also admitted that she had allowed her husband to incorporate pieces of her writing into the novel: “One one page I recognized a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared…[it] seems that plagiarism begins at home.”

The Beautiful and Damned is a thinly veiled look at Fitzgerald’s marriage to Zelda. He admitted that he could not stop writing about his domestic life and count not bring himself to change their excessive alcoholic and spending habits. At one point after the publication of The Beautiful and Damned, the Fitzgeralds were living off $36,000 a year, which was 20 times that of the average American.

Maxwell Perkins, Fitzgerald’s agent and confidant, was a reader of his manuscripts. Unlike some of Fitzgerald’s other readers, Perkins provided constructive criticism on the structure and content of the writing. Unfortunately, he was a terrible speller and copy editor. Apparently, there was no solution to this, and first printings of all the novels and story collections are noted for copious grammatical, spelling, and factual errors. At a speed that pleased his pocket book, Fitzgerald dashed off stories for magazine publication as well. From 1919 to 1929, he increased his earnings from $30 a story to $4000 a story. From 1921 to 1922, The Beautiful and Damned was also serialized in the Metropolitan magazine in an edited form before hitting bookshelves on March 4, 1922.

As the years passed, Fitzgerald continued his excessive lifestyle. (He was known to display hundred dollar bills in his vest pockets at parties.) A moment of clarity emerged out of the chaos: “I’ve realized how much I’ve–well, almost deteriorated in three years since the publication of The Beautiful and Damned…If I’d spent as much time reading or travelling or doing anything–even staying healthy–it’d be different but i spent it uselessly, neither in study nor in contemplation but only in drinking and raising hell generally.”

What followed the tragic Beautiful and Damned was The Great Gatsby, a work that did not realize its full success that did not realize its full success until after Fitzgerald’s death at the age of 44. Unexpectedly, it also was the book that changed the way publishers marketed their books.

‘Camino Island’ and the Book Collector: ‘This Side of Paradise’

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald. New York, NY: Scribner’s, First Edition, March 26, 1920. 

f scott fitzgeraldF. Scott Fitzgerald wrote his first novel, This Side of Paradise, as a semi-autobiographical account of his college years at Princeton University. Three more novels and numerous collections of short stories followed during his lifetime. He experienced limited success during his short life of 44 years, and regard as one of the greatest American writers came after his death. Over time, Fitzgerald’s work became synonymous with the Jazz Age, the lost generation of the 1920s, and the term, “flapper.” In a special insert in This Side of Paradise, Fitzgerald wrote to the American Booksellers Association:

“My whole theory of writing I can sum up in one sentence: An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the schoolmasters ever afterward.”

The young author could not have proved his theory more succinctly. As a debut novel, This Side of Paradise flew off the shelves on a Friday, March 26, 1920. The first printing of 3,000 copies sold out within a week and two more printings were issued within a month. Fitzgerald had written the new modern novel, a sophisticated sequence of episodic scenes, prose, poetry, drama, book lists and quotations revolving around the life of Princeton student Amory Blaine. He wrote for his generation and commented in a 1921 interview: “I’m sick of the sexless animals writers have been giving us.” And “schoolmasters ever afterward” have been assigning The Great Gatsby, almost as a right of passage into adulthood.

John Grisham’s Camino Island (on sale June 6) highlights the high level of collectibility of Fitzgerald’s work in the form of a biblio-caper. When the manuscripts of Fitzgerald’s five novels are stolen from Princeton University, a young writer is solicited to help spy on a bookseller suspected to be involved in the heist. As a reader and collector of books, I had to do some of my own sleuthing into the collector’s world of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

this side of paradise by fitzgeraldThe dust jacket of any Fitzgerald first edition is key to its value. In the 1920s, publishers had only been making dust jackets for a short time. Readers often pulled them off and threw them away. Prior to the advent of the dust jacket, books were stamped with the title and author and often embellished with beautiful designs and gold stamped accents. The new dust jackets promoted the book, protected it, and advertised other books from the publisher. Because of this change in book design, it is very hard to find one of the 3,000 first printings of “This Side of Paradise”—a debut by a relatively unknown author—with the dust jacket present and in good condition. The era before climate control also did nothing to help preserve books.

If one is lucky enough to find a signed first edition—with the elusive dust jacket—and have the funds to call it your own, it would likely run in the six digits. That’s way beyond the budget of most collectors but these rare books and manuscripts of Fitzgerald provide the perfect impetus for one of the country’s favorite writers, John Grisham.

The Past is Never Dead: ‘American War’ by Omar El Akkad

A nation divided between North and South. A generation motivated by regional pride to fight in a civil war that decimates their country. A president assassinated and a fractured government. It’s a story that we’ve heard before. This time, however, it’s not the mid-19th century, but the late 21st.

american warThe story of Omar El Akkad’s American War takes place in the world of the 2070s through the 2090s, in which the states Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina have once again seceded from the union, this time on the basis of federal laws demanding the use of renewable energy sources. It is a work of speculative fiction, one that takes many of the rifts that exist in today’s world and gives us the author’s vision of how these divisions could bring us to war again. Omar El Akkad  likely knows more about division than most, with a journalistic career that spans extremism and violence in the Middle East to the Black Lives Matter movement at Ferguson.

His novel portrays  this second civil war in a way that shows his career in journalism well, highlighting the realities of war by telling the story from two perspectives. The first is from a future figure looking back on the events as history, and the second as a contemporary account from a  young girl named Sarat, whose rural Louisiana family is caught between the two sides and must survive in the dystopia that the war creates. There are no good guys or bad guys in this book, only people who are shaped by their environment and their prejudices, and who make difficult decisions that they fully believe are right, though to our sensibilities they may seem unthinkable. This is a hypothetical war written the way that war really is; there aren’t any villains here.

The book’s narrator is a southern-born historian living in a now no-longer cold Alaska, telling the story of the girl and her family from  further into the future than the book’s setting, allowing for the author to intercut chapters with “historical documents,” e.g., a newspaper article from 2074. One of the first faux documents actually chronicles all of the events of the novel, though not through the eyes of the main characters, allowing readers to anticipate many of the major events that Sarat and her family have to actually face. Because of this, the book almost feels like future-historical fiction and is nearly a genre of its own, giving readers previous insight and prejudices about fictional, future events that the protagonist has yet to encounter.

Because of the future setting, there are science fiction elements in the novel. The skies are filled with unmanned drones that have lost their connection to the military and now fly rogue, like animals. A biological weapon becomes a plague as those who try to harness it lose control. The effects  of pollution are here, too, as much of Louisiana is now underwater. The book also has its own share of southern culture as well. Omar El Akkad writes about the South in such a way that I was surprised to learn that he wasn’t a native.

Omar El Akkad

Omar El Akkad

To be frank, I loved American War. I picked up the book one evening and became so enthralled by the world that I didn’t put it down again until I was finished. It is a war book, a history book, a science fiction novel, a coming-of-age story, and a look at today’s divisive culture.  El Akkad has captured literary lightning in a bottle with his debut, and I personally hope to see  many more works from him in years to come.

Fennelly: Gaitskill’s ‘Somebody with a Little Hammer’ Makes a Big Impression

By Beth Ann Fennelly. Special to the Clarion-Ledger Sunday print edition (May 7).

little hammerThe 31 pieces included in Mary Gaitskill’s new book, Somebody with a Little Hammer, were written over two decades, many of them originally book reviews. That normally makes for a very poor collection. Miscellanies can read as miscellaneous, scattershot assignments written for various editors in various magazine styles, as opposed to having been conceived of and executed through an author’s passion. Such collections often have no centrifugal force binding them. Further, such collections often smell a little past-their-sell-by-date; 20-year-old reviews might disparage books rightly forgotten, or heap early praise on books so heaped with post-publication prizes that the reviewer’s stance fails to enlighten. The earnest charge–“Rush out and buy this book!”–loses force when the book’s 10 years out of print.

Perhaps that’s why Gaitskill’s first book of nonfiction is such an accomplishment. This book shouldn’t be so compelling, but Gaitskill is incapable of writing a bad sentence, and her opinions are original and playful, and she always provides insight on much more than simply the item being reviewed.

The novels (and, less frequently, movies or music) to which she turns her clear and unsentimental judgments are revelatory, a kind of self-portrait through subject matter. She writes on some well-known texts, including the Book of Revelation, Bleak House by Charles Dickens, and Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie.

She also writes on books that most of us haven’t read and probably never will, such as foot fetishist Elmer Batters’ From the Tip of the Toes to the Top of Her Hose, a collection of photographs taken from the mid-1940s to the mid-1980s, which Gaitskill calls “a loving and lewd celebration of female feet and big ol’ legs.” Gaitskill describes a few of these “stylish, energetic, humorous, and dirty” photos, using them to illustrate “the vulnerability and silliness of sexuality as well as its power.” Batters’ photos are not, it turns out, the subject of Gaitskill’s essay, only its catalyst. Those familiar with Gaitskill’s fiction, such as “Secretary,” (in Gaitskill’s words, a “story about a naive young masochist who yearns for emotional contact in an autistic and ridiculous universe and who winds up getting her butt spanked instead”) will recognize her fearless exploration of the less commonly explored aspects of human sexuality.

Mary Gaitskill

Mary Gaitskill

A handful of essays–some of the book’s longest and most developed–don’t approach their subjects through the gaze of the reviewer but through the rear-view, the memoirist’s contemplative backward gaze. Here, too, Gaitskill rejects sweet nostalgia. Her memoir on losing her cat turns surprisingly into a troubled and troubling essay and race and class privilege.

Another memoir opens, “In Saint Petersburg, Russia, I got hit in the head with a bridge.” We don’t know yet that Gaitskill and her husband are on a tourist boat, ducking to avoid the river’s low-clearance bridges, and this sentence feels so abrupt and inexplicable it’s as if we, too, suffer a blow to the head. The narrative reverses from here and explains the unlikely events that brought the couple to Russia. It will be 10 more pages before we pick up with the head-smacking bridge, the blood, and her trip to the hospital, all of the interspersed with Gaitskill’s memories of a young woman she had worked with years before, a stripper who’d fallen and banged her head on a curb, then entered into a coma and died. It’s a meditation on chance and memory, and it’s an immensely lively performance.

The book reviews Gaitskill has collected here can’t urge readers to “rush out and buy this book!” but I can. Rush out, book lovers, especially if you can make Gaitskill’s event at 5 p.m. Thursday at Lemuria Books in Jackson.

Beth Ann Fennelly is the poet laureate of Mississippi. Her Heating & Cooling: 52 Micro-Memoirs will be published in October by W.W. Norton.

The Hunt Will Go On: ‘Celine’ by Peter Heller

What is it we were always told…? Don’t judge a book by it’s cover…? Well, with Celine by Peter Heller (author of The Painter and The Dog Stars), I did judge it. Lemuria got a poster for this book a few weeks before we got the actual book, and I fell in love with it. I immediately looked it up online to see what it was going to be about. It’s about a lady detective that brings broken families back together. I knew right then and there that this book and I were going to have a great relationship.

Celine is about so much more than a lady detective. The titular character is an effortlessly glamorous woman in her 60s who lives in Brooklyn with her second husband Pete. (I’m a little in love with Pete, if I’m being completely honest.) She is whip smart and knows exactly what to say and when to say it. However, Celine is not your average Jessica Fletcher or Miss Marple.bang! Celine specializes in bringing families back together, for example, finding parents that had to give their children up for adoption. She has no interest in looking for cheating spouses or catching white collar criminals. Is it weird to say that I want to be like Celine when I grow up? Not that I want to be a private detective (just kidding, I totally do), but I want to be as calm and collected as she is. Her husband, Pete, is a man of few words and just as smart as Celine. He often accompanies Celine on her cases, and offers great insight on them.

The story opens up to the story of Gabriela, who is five years old. She and her family are playing in the waves of Big Sur when tragedy strikes. Fast forward about 40 years later, and Gabriela contacts Celine to help her find out once and for all what has happened to her father. Celine is captivated by Gabriela’s story and agrees to help. The case takes Celine and Pete to Yellowstone Park, where they quickly find out that not everyone wants closure for what happened to Gabriela’s father. Throughout the book, episodic stories from Celine’s past offer up explanations of why she is the way she is. Her own background was incredibly glamorous, if not a little broken itself.

This is my first experience reading Peter Heller’s work, and I can say that I can’t wait to get my hands on the rest of his books. Heller’s way with words draws me in with the poetry that’s spun through every sentence. When reading about Celine’s past, I feel nostalgic about a life that’s not even my own.

If you’re in Lemuria, come find me and I’ll wax poetic about why I love Celine!

Lone Wolf Learning: ‘History of Wolves’ by Emily Fridlund

Let me begin by saying this…

Emily Fridlund’s novel History of Wolves is not about the history of wolves. Yes, there is some wolf talk in the story, but you will not learn anything about the specific behavior of wolves. So, if wolves are your thing…this book may or may not be for you.

hillary history wolvesLinda is a fourteen-year-old girl who has a perplexing home life with her parents. They live in an abandoned cabin that used to be part of an old commune community in Northern Minnesota. She attends school, where she is an outsider. Her peers tend to either ignore her or make fun of her for being such a peculiar individual, often calling her a “freak”.

She is an only child and seems to be completely oblivious to any form of social skills with other individuals, whether they be students or even teahers. Her understanding of the world seems to come only from her experiences with the people around her. She’s intrigued by a girl named Lily, who often ignores her, and a new history teacher, Mr. Grierson, who takes an interest in her.
Mr. Grierson sets up a “History Odyssey” (a tournament/science fair or sorts) and invites Linda to be a part of it. Linda spends time outside of class with Mr. Grierson and decides to do her speech on “The History of Wolves.”

wolfWe soon find out that the teacher has a past dealing with child pornography and Lily has accused him of behaving inappropriately with her.  The implications of the teacher’s arrest deeply affect Linda and her perspective on human relationships. She retreats to her home and works with the family dogs during the summer months.

During her second year of high school, a new family, the Gardners, moves into a large home across the lake from Linda’s house. At first, it’s just the mother and her son (Patra and Paul)— the father/husband is away for work. Linda becomes close to Patra and Paul, and babysits Paul almost daily. She finds this “normal” family refreshing and innocent. When Leo, Patra’s husband, does come to stay, Linda realizes that the family has a secret that they are hiding. If Linda tells the truth, she may risk losing the only few human relationships that she has been able to make. But, if she doesn’t….something terrible might happen.

Emily Fridlund has a masterful way with words, no doubt, her writing is beautiful.

“Winter collapsed on us that year. It knelt down, exhausted, and stayed.”

From the very beginning I could literally feel the anticipation building. I just knew something was going to happen, yet the shock factor was still there when it did. This is a eloquently written debut novel with a fascinating story.

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