book beginnings on Friday: The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

love song

A sequel to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: hooray! I’m so excited! Well, let’s not wait around, here’s the beginning:

Your letter arrived this morning. We were in the dayroom for morning activities. Everyone was asleep.

And I think that says quite a lot right there, don’t you? If you recall the original, the book about Harold, you’ll know what letter the narrator is talking about. And that’s a change from the original, which was told in third person: apparently we get to hear Queenie’s own voice here. I am excited, and you should be too.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

The Sweetheart by Angelina Mirabella

The unlikely, humorous, heartrending story of a teenaged female wrestler in the 1950s.

sweetheart
Angelina Mirabella’s debut novel, The Sweetheart, opens with an older woman’s reflections, then quickly flashes back to 1953 Philadelphia. Leonie Putzkammer is an awkward, bookish teen with no self-confidence, despite a figure her peers would kill for and some tumbling skills left over from gymnastics. When she is recruited to attend Joe Pospisil’s School for Lady Grappling in Florida, a star-struck Leonie is sure everything will change. She gains a tag-team partner, Screaming Mimi, and a boyfriend, Spider, as well as an intimidating coach. Soon she is assigned a new name, Gwen Davies–later, Gorgeous Gwen Davies and, finally, the Sweetheart.

Many readers will sympathize with the older protagonist when she addresses her younger self: “What you have wanted more than anything was change… but the idea that the old life would no longer be waiting here for you is hard to accept.” The heart of this story addresses questions of autonomy, self-determination and regret: how to become someone different without entirely losing your past, how to recover from making the wrong choices or even how to tell when you have made wrong choices. Told from an unusual retrospective second-person perspective and perfectly evoking 1950s culture, The Sweetheart is often hilarious but also filled with the wholly realistic yearnings and heartbreak of young-adult reinvention, and is peopled by familiar, sympathetic characters. Mirabella’s impressive debut offers laughter, tears, failure, redemption, striving, success and a sweetheart we can’t help but love.


This review originally ran in the January 30, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 7 MoonPies.

Teaser Tuesdays: The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

unraveling

I’ve only just started this book, so this teaser comes from the early pages, and I am nearly as ignorant as you are about Mercy Louis and her setting.

The whole world falls apart in summer. Murder rates rise with the heat, hurricanes brood off the coast, waiting to batter us.

One thing I do know is that she is an unusual teenager, dreading rather than happily anticipating summer. There is a sense of foreboding from the very first pages.

I fancy myself familiar with her small town, on the Gulf Coast and on the border between Texas and Louisiana, because that’s not far from where I grew up. But the differences between the big city (mine) and the small town can be huge.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (audio)

**AVOID SPOILERS!** (There are none below.) As a commenter pointed out, there may be spoilers even on the dust jacket or other coverings for the book or audiobook itself. Proceed cautiously. Just trust me and read the book itself.


beside

This is one of those with a big reveal to it that *makes* the book. For the love of whatever you love, please, avoid all discussion of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves until you read it. Excepting this review, of course, which promises to be spoiler-free and is therefore safe, and brief.

I’m glad Liz recommended this one to me, on audio specifically, and I shall do the same. Get the audiobook, which is beautifully and feelingly narrated by Orlagh Cassidy. Our young female protagonist/narrator Rosemary is a little troubled, but likeable right from the start. She uses the unusual second-person voice, breaking down the fourth wall to talk directly to her audience: “you may have the impression from what I’ve just said, that… but here’s another thing I’d like you to know…” Her story is compelling from the beginning, and involves a number of different threads and an occasionally disjointed timeline. I don’t know what else I can tell you without giving it all away. It’s about family, self-determination, the nature of memory. Life. You will laugh and be amazed. Go out and get this book now, and don’t let anybody tell you anything about it. Oh – a little bird told me Karen Joy Fowler gave away the big secret in a book talk somewhere. She is an outstanding writer, but apparently a potentially disastrous speaker. Avoid her talks til you’ve read the book. Go read the book. That’s all.


Rating: 8 studies quoted.

Teaser Tuesdays: Her Own Vietnam by Lynn Kanter

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

vietnam

Our protagonist, Della, was an army nurse and is only just beginning to attempt to deal with her experiences there.

Suddenly every conversation was about Vietnam. After all this time, she finally wanted her family to ask her about it, but when they did she didn’t like it, or she didn’t like the questions they asked or the way they squirmed when she answered.

So simple, this concept, despite its self-conflict; and so representative, I think. I love that in a piece of writing.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

book beginnings on Friday: Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

astray

Confession: I had already finished this totally amazing book when I flipped back to the front to offer you a book beginning. And I am excited all over again by the first sentence – which, by the way, I find surprising upon a reread, based on what I now know about the character… but I’ll stop there.

Mrs. Featherby had been having pleasant dreams until she woke to discover the front of her house had vanished overnight.

Clearly I can’t contain myself. Get a copy of this startling debut novel and find out what happens to Mrs. Featherby in her frontless house.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

God Loves Haiti by Dimitry Elias Léger

An inspired and nuanced portrayal of politics and love, with a backdrop of natural disaster.

haiti
Dimitry Elias Léger’s debut novel, God Loves Haiti, takes place in the days just before, during and after the devastating earthquake that struck Port-au-Prince in 2010. Those 35 seconds, coupled with the mayhem and aftershocks that followed, killed hundreds of thousands, but among the survivors are a politically important old man, a vibrant younger one and the woman who has recently chosen between them but still struggles with her choice. Natasha is an artist, deeply passionate about her painting, though she’s also passionate about the poet Dante, her religion and the politics and business that engross her husband and her boyfriend. All three have different relationships to the colorful Haitian community, which is epically short on resources for everyday life, let alone a disaster of these proportions. All three choose and experience different paths after the quake hits.

Asking big questions is part of Léger’s charm, but although subjects like love, religion, sin, redemption and national identity and value seem particularly weighty against this backdrop of human suffering, the novel has thoroughly winning comic moments, too. The narrative jumps around in time to visit each member of the love triangle before and after the earthquake, and to track each character’s development. The atmosphere Léger evokes manages simultaneously to be heartrendingly realistic and dreamlike: the survivors of tragedy and disturbing pain naturally operate with heightened and distorted perceptions. The irregular chronology, quick pacing and lyrical prose combine for an artistic success that is both surprising and satisfying.


This review originally ran in the January 6, 2015 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 7 aerial views.
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