Teaser Tuesdays: Mislaid by Nell Zink

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

mislaid

Here, I found you an outstanding book! Read this book! First, read this sentence.

When two females vanish from a patriarchy, both of them attached to a homosexual, the ripples can be truly minimal.

Sad, funny, true. That’s my three-syllable review. Seriously, Mislaid has everything in it that is in life, and it’s less than 300 pages. I am impressed.

Stay tuned, as ever, for my longer review.

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

The Unraveling of Mercy Louis by Keija Parssinen

A lovely, thoughtful, disquieting story of the effects of small-town pressures on a remarkable young woman.

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Keija Parssinen’s (The Ruins of Us) The Unraveling of Mercy Louis depicts a young woman’s coming-of-age in small town peopled by complex, conflicted, ultimately sympathetic characters.

Port Sabine is a refinery town on the Texas Gulf Coast, depressed and parochial, built around oil, secrets and religion. Mercy Louis lives with her grandmother Maw Maw, a radical evangelical who prophesies the end of the world will come in Mercy’s senior year. A basketball prodigy, Mercy needs this senior year to show the scouts that she’s worth the investment, so she can go to college if Maw Maw is wrong. A discovery in a dumpster throws the town into upheaval and witch-hunting, even as Mercy begins to explore the secrets of her own past as well as the possibilities of her future.

The cast of characters includes Mercy’s best friend, Annie, riotously rebellious and rich; Mercy’s mother, absent until a mysterious letter arrives; and Illa, the manager of the basketball team and a hopeful sports photographer with troubles of her own, fixated upon Mercy in her camera’s lens. A new boy in Mercy’s life–the first–threatens to upturn her delicate balance: obedience to Maw Maw and the church, and the poetry she makes on the basketball court.

Although this is clearly Mercy’s story, many of these characters captivate and capture the imagination; Parssinen’s gift is in rendering the essences of both people and place. The Unraveling is suspenseful and disturbing, compassionate and tender, a thought-provoking experience for anyone who’s ever been young and wondered about the past, and the future.


This review originally ran in the March 20, 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: 8 points.

Call Me Home by Megan Kruse

A family story, in multiple voices, of pain and love and the journey to safety.

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In her debut novel Call Me Home, Megan Kruse undertakes sprawling topics including guilt, sex, domestic violence and the complicated love of siblings, parents, children and lovers, in settings across the United States. These ambitious themes and clearly wrought characters are gorgeously rendered in feeling prose.

Amy moved from small-town Texas to small-town Washington state as an 18-year-old newlywed, before he began to beat her. The action of Call Me Home begins years later, alternatingly told in the third-person perspectives of Amy and her son Jackson, and first person by Jackson’s little sister Lydia. Amy tries to leave with her children, repeatedly, but to permanently escape her abusive husband she has to choose just one child to save. Eighteen-year-old Jackson finds himself on the streets of Portland, Oregon before taking work on a construction crew in Idaho. Amy and Lydia hide out at a shelter in New Mexico, then find their way to Amy’s hometown, where 13-year-old Lydia meets her grandmother for the first time. Flashbacks throughout the narrative also portray Amy’s marriage and abuse and the children’s early lives.

Call Me Home offers lovely descriptions of natural settings in Washington, Idaho and Texas, but central are the powerful themes and ugly realities of domestic violence, Jackson’s challenges as a gay teen navigating unfamiliar streets and country, and the shared and unique traumas of Amy, Lydia and Jackson. Kruse’s evocative, often lyrical language serves her subjects well, so that what results is not unleavened pain but painful beauty, even hope.


This review originally ran in the March 10, 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: 8 garbage bags.

Teaser Tuesdays: Martin Marten by Brian Doyle

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

This is one of those I fear to even say much about, because I might ruin its perfection. Best book of 2015 so far, for sure.

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I have one sentence for you today:

You could, as Dave many times had, just sit there in the sun with your back against a tree and watch and listen to the river sprint and thurble and trip and thumble; you had to invent words for the ways it raced and boiled and dashed and crashed, and indeed Dave had once spent an afternoon trying to write one long word that would catch something of the river’s song and story when it was full of itself like this, not yet the shy trickle it would be in summer and fall, before the Rains came on All Souls’ Day, and then the dim chamber of winter, when snow fell slowly all day every day for weeks at a time, and the woods were filled with soft slumps and sighs as trees shed their loads.

I love so much about this sentence: how it acknowledges what words cannot do, and then uses words to do so much; how its length mirrors the length of the failed word of the river’s song and story; how it encompasses four seasons; the lovely sounds of it. Are you convinced?

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

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

A companion to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and every bit as affecting, sweet and sad.

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Rachel Joyce’s The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry won many fans with its bumbling but likable protagonist and his improbable journey across England and through his own troubled life. Harold appears off-screen in The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey, in which Queenie replies to the postcards he sent her in Pilgrimage. Readers will be delighted to rediscover the action of the first book, from a very different perspective and with considerable added detail on Queenie’s side. Those considering Pilgrimage should definitely start there, as Love Song comprises one big spoiler. However, it’s not necessary to have read the first to enjoy this second novel.

Love Song begins when Queenie receives Harold’s first postcard. She has written to him from hospice care, sharing the news of her impending death. Harold sets out to visit, asking her to await his arrival. Queenie is startled and alarmed. She has kept an old secret from Harold that she had intended to take with her; she now decides she needs to come clean.

Joyce alternates among three timelines: in real time, as Queenie waits for Harold while composing a long letter of explanation; their separation 20 years ago, when she fled life’s complications; and their original meeting and developing friendship. While the present-day setting is inarguably dour, the action in all three stories is fresh, compelling and deeply emotional, and Queenie’s fellow residents create a charming little world of their own. Just as in Pilgrimage, a major revelation at the end amplifies the impact of an already powerful book.


This review originally ran in the March 10, 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: 8 painted nails.

Her Own Vietnam by Lynn Kanter

A woman’s story of wartime PTSD gathers complex characters to shed light on a little-discussed point of view.

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Her Own Vietnam, by Lynn Kanter, is the story of Della Brown, who served as an army nurse in Vietnam but only begins to address her trauma decades later, when an old friend who shared that experience contacts her out of the blue. Kanter portrays Della’s painful chronicle with sensitivity and surrounds her with a family that is imperfect but, for the most part, making an effort. The resulting novel is insightful in telling of the little-known struggles of women “in that green and poisoned country.”

…Click here to read the full review.


This review was published on February 27, 2015 by ForeWord Reviews.

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My rating: 8 flowers.

Death Comes for the Deconstructionist by Daniel Taylor

Weighty subjects and introspection never bog down Taylor’s quirky characters as they rush toward a surprising finish.

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Death Comes for the Deconstructionist, by Daniel Taylor, is a slim, funny, thoughtful novel about mental illness, academia, self-knowledge, and philosophy, with a murder mystery thrown in.

Jon Mote, a failed husband and failed graduate student, lives with his sister on a houseboat in St. Paul, Minnesota. When the widow of a murdered professor calls, asking him to look into the death of his former dissertation director, Mote is reluctant—his usual part-time research work involves, for example, the history of popcorn or insurance rates—but he needs the money. Alongside his incessantly sunny but unwell sister, Judy, Mote will have to revisit his own past, as well as that of the highly accomplished Doctor Pratt, who turns out to have a surprising number of enemies. The voices in Mote’s head grow more insistent as the case stresses his fragile grip on reality. Despite her own handicaps, Judy may have to hold things together.

…Click here to read the full review.


This review was published on February 27, 2015 by ForeWord Reviews.

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My rating: 7 zippers.
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