Tag: Staff Blog (Page 1 of 10)

Halloween Double Feature: ‘Burntown’ & ‘Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore’

Halloween. It’s almost here!

pumpkin thumbs up

I am proud to present my second annual pair of Halloween reading recommendations. Both novels are are just fantastic, creepy mysteries. Both of these are a little light on supernatural mischief, but no less spooky for it. Truly, the scariest thing to confront is the possibility that the monster is actually inside any one of us.

burntownThe first book I would like to recommend is Burntown by Jennifer McMahon. This mystery tells the story of Necco, a teenage street urchin once known as Eva Sandeski. Necco used to have a picturesque home life, with a brother and two loving parents, but one night, ‘the Great Flood’ (as she remembers it) changes all that. She lives on the streets of Ashford, Vermont, with her half-deranged mother, who has taken in with a local cult of four mysterious women called the Fire Eaters who ingest the Devil’s Snuff for visions from the Great Mother. I know this book sounds a little out there, but that sentence contains some of the book’s most outrageous elements. Well, that and the telephone that can speak to the dead, whose plans have been passed down the Sandeski family, and may be at the root of all their misfortune.

What I really loved about Burntown, besides the crackerjack, page-turning momentum, were the characters. Besides Necco, the novel follows the intertwined stories of Theo, a local, lone wolf overachiever for whom a chance love affair draws her into a drug-dealing operation; and Pru, the gargantuan lunch lady at the local Catholic school who dreams of being the star of the circus—and then paramour of local delivery man and part-time detective Mr. Marcelle. All three characters have fantastically defined motivations, which make their characters seem real and dynamic. The setting of Ashford (and its alter ego Burntown) is almost a character itself. It has an uncanny, unstuck-in-time quality that seems to reinforce that the main characters must figure their own problems out, because the cavalry is not coming to save them.

midnight at the bright ideasThe second recommendation I have for you is Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan. Sullivan is a former bookseller at the Tattered Cover Book Store, an esteemed indie in Denver. The action in this thriller begins where and when as described in the title, at a fictional bookstore in the Lower Downtown section of Denver. Out protagonist, Lydia, is a regular bookseller recovering from a long-ago dark past. She looks after the local vagabond BookFrogs (so named for their resemblance in her mind to Mr. Jeremy Fisher) that populate Bright Ideas during business hours. One of the youngest, and most mysterious, of these BookFrogs in Joey Molina, barely out of his teens but already irreparably damaged in some way. When Lydia finds Joey has hanged himself in the Western History alcove, she is saddened and disturbed. And when she finds a childhood picture of herself in his pocket, she is also frightened, for she is about to be thrust back into her traumatic past.

Lydia was the lone escapee of a crime that was particularly grisly and remains locally infamous. Lydia has to solve the mystery of why Joey killed himself, helped along by his odd, bibliographic clues, but also finds herself pondering the events of her childhood and the night of the Hammer Man, who murdered an entire family when Lydia was staying at their house at history’s worst sleepover. She has to revisit both her past and explore Joey’s, confront her estranged father, and keep her current life together in the process before she finds any peace.

James Joyce said it best: history is a nightmare from which we struggle to awake. That can be either cultural or personal. But these gripping mysteries remind us that we don’t have to go looking for terror this Halloween, because there is often something within our own memory that lives with us always.

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A Season of Subtle Scandinavian Scrutiny: Knausgaard’s ‘Autumn’

Karl Ove Knausgaard

Karl Ove Knausgaard

Karl Ove Knausgaard has become an infamous contemporary writer by his beautiful prose and raw portrayal of human experience. His massive soon-to-be six volume, autobiographical series dubbed My Struggle has made an irrefutable mark by vividly cataloguing Knausgaard’s ordinary Swedish life and the challenges that come along with it. Essentially, My Struggle is the 3,600-page memoir to end all memoirs. While readers are still awaiting the release of My Struggle’s sixth volume, Knausgaard has begun a new project. Autumn begins another deeply personal adventure for the Norwegian writer as he begins to explain the world to one who has yet to enter it, Karl Ove’s unborn daughter.

I want to show you our world as it is now: the door, the floor, the water tap and the sink, the garden chair close to the wall beneath the kitchen window, the sun, the water, the trees. You will come to see it in your own way, you will experience things for yourself and live a life of your own, so of course it is primarily for my own sake that I am doing this: showing you the world little one, makes my life worth living.

autumnNow, at first glance, you may think that this is a heavy book and by “heavy,” I mean emotionally heavy. I won’t lie to you and say that isn’t in there, but amidst the rawness of Karl Ove’s descriptions there lies a certain beauty that is just as much frightening as it is entrancing. As Knausgaard begins to describe the world to his daughter, he engages in deep reflections on everything from cars to war, Flaubert to twilight, and bottles to beekeeping. What follows is a refreshing view of ordinary life as it is explained to one who has not yet experienced anything outside of a mother’s womb. In essays like “Lightning,” the author delves into the odd relationship between horror and beauty as he and his family watch a gigantic bolt of lightning hit the street outside their home. In “Flaubert,” the author reflects upon his favorite novel and the distinction between literary enjoyment and study. The heart of each meditation is the urge of the author to find what exactly it is that makes life worth living. As Knausgaard takes on each new topic, describing it as though it has never been seen, the reader is brought into the depths of the real and at times the philosophical. “Labia,” as an example, explores the complexity of male sexuality and the shame that often follows closely behind it. “Vomit” takes opportunity to explore the plethora of bodily fluids that we are all familiar with, but puts inquiry into the generally hatred that human beings have for that which is “usually yellowish” and still contains “chunks of pizza” and other remnants of the “undigested.”

At the heart of Knausgaard’s project is the desire to get back at the reality of life and to leave behind the routine prejudices that we allow to filter our view of the world. Through explaining the world to his daughter, the author as well as the reader is confronted with the raw beauty and the absurdity of life. Each time I finished a sitting with these essays, I somehow walked away feeling more real. Like my perception of the world had been sharpened and I had the tools necessary to appreciate the nuts and bolts that make up the world around us.

Addicted to Her Words: ‘Little Fires Everywhere’ by Celeste Ng

Hello, my name is Dorian. And I am addicted to literary fiction that delves into the complexity of the human experience.

little fires everywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng continues my binge on all things well-conceived and thoughtfully written. Whether on my couch, in my bedroom, or sitting at the park, reading this book reminded me of the power of perspective, understanding the intersectionality of being, and how we weigh our own experiences against someone else’s. I’d love to give you some lame pun about smoke and fire, but I’m not Katniss Everdeen and this isn’t Dante’s Inferno. It’s a story of two disparate families bound by two scandals in late 90s Shaker Heights, Ohio.

The novel opens with the Richardson family home destroyed by fire. Elena Richardson (mostly referred to in the book as Mrs. Richardson) considers how her “perfect” life has literally gone up in flames as she and her family watch firefighters extinguish the last of the little fires everywhere. Only someone is missing. Resident trouble maker Izzy, who is believed to have started the fire, can’t be found. Neither can the unwed artist Mia and her daughter Pearl, who have rented a small home from the Richardsons. The story continues to unfold with how the two shake up the comfortable life of a conventional family. When Mrs. Richardson interviews nomadic Mia for the rental, she is immediately beguiled by Mia and her daughter’s bond and simultaneously intrigued by people so unlike her. The Richardson teenagers, particularly Izzy, and Pearl practically swap families as these two units become engulfed in each other’s separate existences. Mrs. Richardson’s idyllic world is flipped on its head when a portrait of Mia is found in the local art museum and Mia isn’t too keen to share. Then, a young Chinese immigrant (and friend of Mia’s) fights to get her baby back from a white couple (Richardson family friends), which swallows the town in debate, and provides a grand opportunity for Mrs. Richardson to dig into Mia’s past. Whew! That’s a lot going on for a little hamlet in middle America.

The strength of Ng’s work is her ability to compose a kind of literary music out of the most ordinary things in ordinary life, from Mrs. Richardson’s first encounter with Mia and Pearl to the opening paragraph with Richardson home set ablaze. These aren’t just mere occurrences but intricately woven commentaries on the romanticization of motherhood and the false permanence of the American Dream. Ng presents all this with balanced weight of lyricism, wit, and a dash of melancholy, making for a recipe that is just right. While the differing perspectives were sometimes overcrowded, this gem is a compelling examination of mothers’ relationships with their children, their relationships with other mothers, and their vast cultural and class experiences.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go sit in a broom closet, think about my life, and contemplate my next fix.

Signed first editions of Little Fires Everywhere are still available in Lemuria’s online store.

‘Neighborhood Girls’ both sweet and substantive

neighborhood girlsWhen people ask me about Neighborhood Girls by Jessie Ann Foley, I say that along with being funny and sweet, it had substance. Which, in my opinion, is always a good thing.

I tend to shy away from young adult novels. Although I love them as “literary junk food” (hey, we all gotta have it), books in this genre often seem to either only hint at emotional trauma and brokenness, or completely wallow in it. It is difficult to find a book in any genre that balances the two extremes, and for some reason YA is a particular challenge. But for me, Neighborhood Girls had it all. Lighthearted entertainment and teenage drama with unexpected insights of blatant truth, this novel kept me turning pages, laughing, and nearly crying the entire way through.

The story opens with a high school girl, Wendy, finding out the Catholic school she has attended all her life is about to close. Although this seems like momentum enough for the story-line of a novel, we soon find out that this impending change is only the backdrop to a more profound hurt. A few years earlier, Wendy’s policeman father was accused of torturing prisoners during interrogations. This accusation spiraled into a prison sentence, lawyer fees that forced the family to move, and complete alienation in their hometown of Chicago.  In order to deal with her fear and isolation, Wendy attempts to protect herself by becoming part of the most popular clique at school. But deep down she knows that these girls don’t care about her at all.

Through the book, Wendy tries to prepare herself for leaving Academy of the Sacred Heart. She realizes that life as she has always known it is about to end, and there is nothing she can do about it. In the process, she finds herself dealing with the trauma of all that has happened to her family. Although she cannot change the past, she realizes that she dealt with everything poorly. She hurt her family and the friends who tried to be there for her, and she resolves to attempt to make things better. The story is about much more than the brokenness, moving from one funny situation with charming characters to another. It is lighthearted entertainment in true YA fashion. But every so often, Wendy has a moment of truth that resonates beyond the page. She asks difficult questions. She allows herself to fully experience her emotions. And she makes thoughtful decisions, allowing us to follow her inner monologue.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which I expected. But I was completely surprised by the level to which it resonated with me. I truly admire authors who are unafraid to place teenage fears and drama alongside pure human emotion and existential questions. Although this is the only one of her books I have read, Jessie Ann Foley has proven herself to be such an author with Neighborhood Girls. Can we move past family brokenness and find ourselves? Can we cope with trauma in positive ways? Can we find the beauty fractured, un-ordinary lives? This novel assures us that we can.

Be Hair Now: ‘Norma’ by Sofi Oksanen

normaYou might think that having magic hair that’s attuned to your emotions would be a blessing, but the titular character in Norma (by Finnish-Estonian writer Sofi Oksanen) would disagree. Norma is an ordinary woman whose hair corkscrews and kinks when she feels strong emotions, such as danger or guilt. It also happens to grow about a meter a day, causing Norma to have to constantly cut it off so that no one notices. The only person that knows Norma’s secret is her mother, Anita.

As it happens, Norma opens up on the day of Anita’s funeral. Anita has committed suicide by throwing herself in front of train, or so we’re led to believe. The first inkling Norma has that something is off is when her hair starts to corkscrew when meeting a stranger at the funeral.

While it is Norma’s name who’s on the cover, I think it’s safe to say that this book actually has three main characters. Norma, obviously, is the focus of book, but alternating chapters are in a woman named Marion’s point of view. Marion is the daughter of Anita’s best friend. Marion works for her father in the seedy underworld of the hair extension business. The third main character is Anita herself. Through video diaries that Anita has left for Norma to find, Norma finds out the history of why her hair is the way it is.

There are lots of little kinks and turns in that lead you down paths you hadn’t fathomed would happen. The sub-chapters are short so it feels as if you’re flying through; I read the first half of the book in a span of about two and a half hours. Normally, I don’t like alternating points of view, but I think it’s masterfully done in Norma. I’m invested in both Norma and Marion, so I didn’t feel impatient while reading through one or the other. On the surface this may seem like a book about hair, but it’s so much more. It’s an artful look into what would happen if your best asset was also your worst, if your blessing was also your curse.

Jamie sings the praises of ‘Sing, Unburied, Sing’

Since I’ve been working at Lemuria, I’ve self-imposed a  rule of not writing about a book till I’ve finished it.

I am currently breaking that rule. Demolishing it. Splintering it without a shadow of hesitation or guilt.

sing unburied singJesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing is lots of things:  brilliant, gorgeous, haunting, raw, tender, honest. Much like her National Book Award winner Salvage the Bones (a personal favorite of mine­), Sing takes place in an impoverished area of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Both books’ characters find themselves in a mix of relationships—familial, internal, romantic—yet Sing is in no way a cookie-cutter redux of SalvageSing shifts through various first-person narrators, and does so in a way that’s easy to follow.  If you’re having nightmarish flashbacks of Faulkner, don’t: these leaps between characters (mostly the 13-year-old, endearing Jojo and his difficult mother Leonie) aren’t pretentious displays of cleverness for its own sake. One of Ward’s gifts as a writer is a conspicuous wedge of human empathy. By getting into the mind of Jojo, we see his desire for toughness and tenderness, his need to be protector for his younger sister Kayla, and his longing to be a surrogate father for Kayla the way his own grandfather is for him. While Jojo lends us his frustration at his absent mother, the chapters from Leonie’s perspective help round her character. Her drug use isn’t entirely selfish—it’s her way of self-medicating the hurt of the violent death of her older brother. We see her doubting her own abilities as a mother, cursing herself, but trapped in her own self-doubt so as to prevent her from risking connection with her kids. Ward isn’t necessarily excusing Leonie’s behavior so much as she is explaining it, and showing us the complexity of the human heart in conflict with itself, to steal a phrase from Faulkner.

Ward’s fiction and nonfiction shows us the importance of personal, familial history, and how things from previous generations aren’t really all that previous. Her memoir Men We Reaped illustrates the struggle of generational poverty and quiet, systemic racism perfectly. The notion of inheritance manifests itself in Sing in a fascinating way: ghosts. I would never classify this novel as a fantasy/supernatural genre piece, nor do I think that is Ward’s intent. Leonie sees her dead brother, Given, but can’t hear him speak; Jojo meets his grandfather’s dead friend Richie, who tells him about their days in Parchman. The past isn’t past—another Faulkner phrase I’ll paraphrase—and the ghosts in Sing show us that.  The myriad difficulties of poverty, compounded with the burdens of racism, are hard to get away from.  They haunt their victims, float constantly over their shoulders, peek in-and-out of their vision, or sometimes present themselves in full view.

There’s probably more about the novel that this piece is missing. I’m halfway through the book, and as soon as I finish this post, I’ll open Sing, Unburied, Sing back up and skip sleep.  The book’s that good.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to it.

Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough: ‘Resurrection of Joan Ashby’

A couple of months ago the store got advanced copies of The Resurrection of Joan Ashby, this new novel from Flatiron Books that was touted to be a HUGE debut. Upon first seeing the book, I decided it certainly appeared to be huge in size, but whether or not it was a great debut was yet to be seen. I will be the first to tell you that I tend to steer away from physically large books, because I think they will take a lifetime to read (even though they never actually do). So, my first thought was that I would never actually read this book.

But then Kelly, our manager, said that she had started the book, and it was absolutely amazing. This was a large vote in the positive, because Kelly is a tough critic, guys, and if she says something is amazing I am quick to take notice. I lugged this tome home and vowed to start that night. To say the next week and a half of my life was just me trying to plot out when I could get back to reading this book is an accurate assessment. I became devoted to Joan Ashby and the story of her life, and I have yet to stop talking about this book. So let’s get down to me actually telling you about this story:

Joan Ashby became a wildly successful and award-winning author as a young woman. This could be attributed to the fact that she has been dedicated to her craft all of her life. An article in Literature magazine (Fall Issue)) at the start of the book prints something from her journal that she wrote when she was just 13 years old. It is a list of commitments to herself and requirements to becoming a great author. The list goes like this:

1) Do not waste time
2) Ignore Eleanor when she tells me I need friends [she is referring to her mother]
3) Read great literature every day
4) Write every day
5) Rewrite every day
6) Avoid crushes and love
7) Do not entertain any offer of marriage
8) Never ever have children

9) Never allow anyone to get in my way

As you can see, Joan was a very intense and dedicated little girl. She knew what she wanted, come hell or high water! But of course love will find a way, won’t it? And it certainly does for Joan when she meets Martin. Joan is upfront with Martin from the very start when she tells him that her writing will always come first and children are completely off the table. No exceptions. Clear enough, right?

Haha, wrong again

Before long, Joan will end up unexpectedly pregnant. When Martin is visibly delighted by this development, Joan can’t help but feel betrayed by his quickness to break their vow. So a child is born…and then another child. All during this time, Joan is trying to complete her highly anticipated first novel. Being a wife and a mother comes with many demands, as many of you women out there know. Just reading a book in its entirety is a struggle, much less actually writing one. All through this telling of Joan’s life, snippets of her own incredible short story are sprinkled throughout the book. It is easy to see how she became such an acclaimed short story writer so early in her career.

I don’t want to give too much about the story away, but I will tell you that she does complete her novel and there is a betrayal of Shakespearean proportions. I was reading this book on a plane and when the big event occurred, the woman sitting beside me must surely have been worried about my mental stability. I was breathing heavily and grinding my teeth. I feel sure I made her very uncomfortable, but oh well!

I truly cannot say enough about how much I loved this book. I found Joan incredibly relatable, aside from her obvious genius. She is a woman who says the thing you are not supposed to say about motherhood and being a wife: it is not enough for her. She is not completely fulfilled by the triumphs of her family; she needs something of her own. Of course she loves her family, but she has creative goals and needs. Being creative also, I relate to this. I loved Joan Ashby and I found myself cheering for her this entire book. I literally could have read this forever and been completely satisfied.

Signed first editions of The Resurrection of Joan Ashby by Cherise Wolas are still available.

‘Genuine Fraud’ by E. Lockhart is a genuine gem

genuine fraudI was first turned on to E. Lockhart when my best friend and trusted book consultant recommended Lockhart’s We Were Liars. She couldn’t put it down. She loved it. She hated it. It wrecked her. All she could do after was take a nap. She couldn’t stop talking about it. This got me interested and when I saw she was coming out with a new book called Genuine Fraud and we had an advanced copy I knew I just had to read it.

Knowing what I did about We Were Liars, I was hesitant to believe or trust anything in her new novel Genuine Fraud. I knew nothing and no one  would be as simple as they seemed.

Imogen is a runaway heiress, an orphan, a cook, and a cheat.
Jule is a fighter, a social chameleon, and an athlete.
An intense friendship. A disappearance. A murder, or maybe two.
A bad romance, or maybe three.
Blunt objects, disguises, blood, and chocolate. The American dream, superheroes, spies, and villains.
A girl who refuses to give people what they want from her.
A girl who refuses to be the person she once was.

Lockhart introduces a new and captivating suspense and psychological horror novel with Genuine Fraud. The book starts off with chapter 18, in June 2017. Hint: you should pay attention to the dates. The story is mainly told in flashbacks over the course of the past few years. The story is about Imogen and Jule and their friendship and time together. It’s a story of those who lack morals. It is a story about those that lack ambition and others who will do whatever it takes to get what they want. It’s a story about liars and cheaters (in more ways than one). It’s about accidents and premeditation and telling more would give too much away.

If you have read We Were Liars, be warned the only similarity is that they both take you by surprise. Genuine Fraud is very straight forward and, in some ways, this makes the mystery even harder to figure out. It seems like things are one way, and because they are presented as fact, I was always questioning what was real and what wasn’t. It is a very fast and short read, perfect for a weekend binge read. It has just enough ambiguity in the plot to keep you flipping the pages until the very end.

Lovers Defying Doubt in ‘White Fur’ by Jardine Libaire

white furWhite Fur by Jardine Libaire is a gritty, uncommon love story set in New York in the 80s between two very uncommon people.

Elise Perez is a girl from a broken home, a bad situation, a girl from the wrong side of town, whatever you want to say….she didn’t grow up easy. Her life has been filled with taking care of siblings when no one else was around to feed them, working dead end jobs just to pay the rent, and dropping out of high school to get away from it all. She’s made some bad decisions, cleaned herself up, fallen back down, but ultimately knows what she wants out of life.

Jamey Hyde is a junior at Yale, who grew up in a privileged family. He’s the heir to a family fortune, drives a fancy car, and has all intentions to graduate and follow in his father’s footsteps as an investment banker. Although it seems like it, he doesn’t have the “perfect” life everyone thinks.

The two come from very different worlds, yet you immediately feel the raw, desperate love between them when they meet one another. They’ve both been let down by so many others throughout their lives that when they’re together there’s a connection that’s hard to break. But, oh…others definitely try to break it. Jamey’s family desperately want things to end, while Elise has no family to really turn to. Relationships are ruined, bridges are burned, and love is pushed to its limits…several times.

I couldn’t stop reading about each character that Libaire introduced. Every time she established a new detail of Jamey or Elise, I could see it so clearly in my mind. She’s a great writer, and the attention that she shows with her characters and their personal relationships really shines through.

With Her Little Eye: ‘Olivia the Spy’ by Ian Falconer

This blog is in honor of my little sister, Olivia. She grew up on Olivia the Pig books and I got the joy of reading them along with her. Olivia is a classic and has made many families fall in love with her over the years. My family even started a collection of pig stuffed animals. We can’t see a pig without thinking of Olivia the Pig. She is a most beloved children’s book character and, after many years, she is back.

Olivia is sassy, bold, and refuses not to be seen. She has been any- and everything from a fairy princess to a circus performer–and now she is a spy!

In Olivia the Spy, Olivia overhears her mom talking with her dad about her, and she must know what they were discussing. She decides to do some investigating herself. She becomes a spy! She is sneaky and quiet. She must blend in with her surroundings. This is not something Olivia is good at, but she never gives up. Don’t worry; Olivia always finds a way.

“Olivia, Who had always stood out, now needed to blend in. She might be anywhere. Anywhere. Seriously, Anywhere.”

“Olivia, who had always stood out, now needed to blend in. She might be anywhere. Anywhere. Seriously, anywhere.”

What will Olivia discover through her investigation? Is it the truth? Olivia will learn whether or not she can trust what she overhears as the whole story.

Ian Falconer brings Olivia alive once again in this hilarious new book. Lovers of the classic Olivia books or those who have not even met Olivia yet will thoroughly enjoy Olivia the Spy. Falconer’s comical illustrations are very funny, a combination of drawings, painting and photos that bring even more life to his stories. They are quirky and will brighten anyone’s day.

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