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.


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.


My rating: 7 zippers.

Teaser Tuesdays: Call Me Home by Megan Kruse

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

call me home

What a beautiful book. I had the added feeling of synchronicity, that it handles a move from Texas to my very region of Washington state. But even without sharing those personal details with this family, I think this is a moving story. And then these lines.

There was a bar for every loneliness, he suspected. A bar for every sad story, and one for every joy. All of those things, contained in the shifting glass, the water rings and fingerprints across old wood, the smell of sweat.

I’m a sucker for writing about bars, as place and atmosphere. Stick around.

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

Of Things Gone Astray by Janina Matthewson

A quirky, memorable debut novel about things we miss, large and small.


Janina Matthewson’s first novel, Of Things Gone Astray, is startlingly beautiful, both ridiculous and poignant. A handful of people in London wake up one morning to find that they have lost things that matter very much to them. Delia can no longer find her way around the neighborhood she has always lived in; Mrs. Featherby’s house suddenly has no front wall; Marcus’s piano is missing its keys; Robert’s place of work is not where it belongs, though no one else seems to be missing it (a whole building!), and his colleagues’ numbers have vanished from his phone. These bizarre, surreal absences make no sense, but must be accepted as fact because they are blatant, physical. Meanwhile, a little boy named Jake finds himself attracted to lost things: he collects the contents of the Lost and Found room at school, labels and organizes objects that will likely never see their owners again.

On its face, this is a fantasy, an otherworld fortunately accessible only through prose. But Matthewson’s sensitive prose helps us to consider what matters, and the means by which we hang on to those things. Through no overt metaphor, this mystical, whimsical, dreamy world of the lost and the retrieved suggests a fresh and heartfelt new way of thinking, as Jake, in his concern for lost things, may lose track of something far more important and intangible.

Of Things Gone Astray is a stunning, heartbreaking, thought-provoking song of love and memory and family and life, with something to offer any reader, bereft or not.

This review originally ran in the February 13, 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: 9 cakes.

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.

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.


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.


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.

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