Tag Archives: Fiction

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

Algonguin Books of Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, 1987

Borrowed from the library.  Thanks to Wendy at Caribousmom for introducing me to this book.

I have never read Kaye Gibbons before but after reading this little novel, I will have to remedy that.

Ellen Foster is an 11-year-old orphan with an sharp tongue and a feisty personality.  Her struggle to protect herself from abusive relatives and find a home where she is welcomed and excepted is written with humor and acerbic wit.

All the arrangements are made they said so why bring me in here and do this in front of everybody like Julia who wants to scream she says.  What do you do when the judge talks about the family society’s cornerstone but you know yours was never a Roman pillar but is and always has been crumbly old brick?  I was in my seat frustrated like when my teacher makes a mistake on the chalkboard and it will not do any good to tell her because so quick she can erase it all and on to the next problem.
He had us all mixed up with a different group of folks.  From page 66.

At the mercy of an uncaring system she manages to find a place where she feels she belongs, learns about her own misguided judgments and finds out what is truly important in her life.

Have you ever felt like you could cry because you know you just heard the most important thing anybody in the world could have spoke at that second?  I do not care if the president had just declared war although that is something to think about.  I do not care if a thousand doctors had just said congratulations sir you are the father of a bouncing baby something.  All that mattered in my world at that second was my new mama and the sound of yes in my ears oh yes Starletta is welcome here.  From page 115.

Ellen’s voice seen true to me, even though her situation seems overwhelming for a child her age.  She is full of piss and vinegar, a joy to get to know.

Other reviews:


The Betty and Boo Chronicles


Filed under Fiction, New Authors 2010, Review

Mr. Potter By Jamaica Kincaid

Mr. Potter by Jamaica Kincaid

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2002

A strange and poetic short novel that follows the life of Mr. Potter, an illiterate chauffeur on the island of Antigua. Written by his daughter, the first member of the family to read and write, is is a praise song to his life, his home and the people surrounding him.

Delving into history, belief and suffering,  Mr. Potter is also a celebration of the value of literacy and language.

How each moment is brimming over with the possibility of change, how each moment is brimming over with the new; and yet how each moment the world is seemingly fixed and steadfast and unchanging; how for some of us we are nothing if we are not like the cockle in its shell, the bird in its feathers, the mammal covered with hair and skin; how certain we are that the world will insure  our fixed state of happiness or misery or anything of the vast range in between; how in defeat we see eternity and how so too we see forever and ever and ever again and again in victory; how in some dim and distant way we feel we are nothing and how certain we are that we are everything, all that is to be is present in us and no thing or idea of any kind will replace us.  From page 85.

As I was reading this novel, there were times that I struggled with the density of Kincaid’s prose, as if I couldn’t stop to take a breath.  It was uncomfortable and I wonder if that was her intension.  By sticking with it I found a beautiful rhythm, as if I was in a small boat, sometimes rushing down a swift river, other times rocking on a gentle sea.  It was worth the struggle and I plan on reading more of Jamaica Kincaid’s novels and her book on gardens!


Filed under Fiction, New Authors 2010, PoC, Review

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt

The Children’s Book by A.S.Byatt

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2009

675 pages

Borrowed from the library.

There is no way to read this book quickly, it is just too dense and rich.  I want to read it again, right now, but have had to return it to my library as many people wish to read it.  I will have to have my own copy.

Hiding in the basement of the half-built Victoria and Albert museum is a young ragamuffin so enthralled by the objects he sees in those great halls that he must draw them.  This is Phillip.  Two boys, Julian, who’s father works there, and his friend Tom, see this strange boy.  There is a chase and Phillip is found out.  He is brought before Julian’s father and Tom’s mother, Olive Wellwood, a famous childrens book author.  So begins The Children’s Book.

This  is a magnificent confection, a multi-tiered wedding cake of a novel.  A.S. Byatt writes the densest, most tangled sentences I know of, and I love every one of them.  Taking place at the turn of the Twentieth Century and covering the time through World War One, The Children’s Book is a saga involving multiple families with multiple children, all intertwined.  There are different kinds of family dynamics, many kinds relationships and no way to write a synopsis of what happens.  There is no simple plot line, no single character to love or hate.   The story is a fabulous mingling of fairytales, summer parties, plays, puppets, pottery, politics, sex, the Paris Exposition of 1900, the Arts and Crafts movement,  the Back to Nature movement,  women’s suffrage, anarchists,  socialists,  aristocrats, education, labor and the European Royal families.  There’s more, so much more that some reviewers just can’t make sense of this book.

Mostly,  it’s a novel about the stories families tell each other and about memory, but, oh, there is really no simple way to describe it.  Here’s some bits about family:

Everyone, old and young, now gathered for a kind of sumptuous picnic.  As happens at such gatherings, where those whose lives are shaped, fortunately or unfortunately, are surrounded by those whose lives are almost entirely to come, the elders began asking the young what they meant to do with their lives, and to project futures for them. From page 56.

A family, and a human being inside a family, put together a picture of their past in voluntary and involuntary ways, carefully constructed, arbitrarily dictated.  A mother remembers one particular summer gathering on a lawn, with iced lemonade in a jug, and everyone smiling — as she puts in the album the one photograph where everyone is smiling, and keeps the scowling faces of the unsuccessful snapshots hidden in a box.  A child remembers one scramble over the Downs, or zigzag trot through the woods, one of many, many forgotten ones, and shapes his identity around it.  “I remember when I saw the yaffle.” And the memory changes when he is twelve, and fourteen, and twenty, and forty, and eighty, and prehaps never at any of those points representing precisely anything that really happened.  Odd things persist for inexplicable reasons.  A pair of shoes that never quite fitted.  A party dress in which a girl always felt awkward, though the photographs were pretty enough.  One violent quarrel of many arising from the unjust division of a cake, or the desperately disappointing decision not to go to the seaside.  There are things, also, that are memories as essential and structural  as bones in toes and fingers.  A red leather belt.  A dark pantry full of obscene and lovely jars.  From page 329.

And about puppetry and the theater:

An illusion is a complicated thing, and an audience is a complicated creature.  Both need to be brought from flyaway parts to a smooth, composite whole.  The world inside the box, a world made of silk, satin, china mouldings, wires, hinges, painted backcloths, moving lights and musical notes, must come alive with its own laws of movement, its own rules of story.  And the watchers, wide-eyed and greedy, distracted and supercilious, preoccupied, uncomfortable, tense, must become one, as a shoal of fishes with huge eyes and flickering fins becomes one, wheeling this way and that in response to messages of hunger, fear or delight.  August’s flute was heard, and some were ready to listen and some were not.  The curtains opened on a child’s bedroom.  He sat against his pillows.  His nurse, in comfortable grey, bustled about him, and her shadow loomed over him on the white wall.  From page 80.

And about women’s lives:

“I want to think.  Just as much as Charles does, but no one cares what I want to think about, as they do with him, whether they are for or against what he thinks is important.”

“I want to think, too, ” said Florence, slowly.  “I want a life of my own, that I choose.  I want to be someone, not someone’s wife.  But I don’t know much about the someone I want to be.”

“Nor do I.  Dorothy does.  She’s got a vocation.  She’s got her future all planned out, general science exams, medical exams, surgical exams, a place in a hospital.  It’s like an iron corset, I think, but she seems to need it.  I think she is prepared to give up on the marriage thing.  I don’t know that I would be.  It would seem unnatural.  But surely so does not thinking.

“Some women do both.” From page 495.

And a beautiful bit about walking on the seashore:

You have to think about walking on pebbles.  Every time you put your feet down, the pebble impress themselves, hard and recalcitrant, through the soles of your shoes.  They slide treacherously in front of you, to your side, you bow and recover yourself, you lean your body forward in the wind, which is usually fierce onto the shore, which takes your hair back over your head, which goes in and through the spiralling channels of you ears, feeling for your brain.  Tom like the pebbles.  They were fragments of huge boulders from the cliffs at the edge of England, boulders which had been soft chalk and hard flint, and were now rounded by water throwing them up and grinding them together.  They are all the same and none of them exactly the same, Tom thought, pleased with this idea, like human beings — was it innumerable as stars, or innumerable as sands, and where did it come from?  It didn’t matter… From page 585.

I could just keep quoting.  I am in awe of the amount of research and work A.S. Byatt put into this novel.  I honor her love of the tale.  I have only read her short stories.  Now I must read everything she has written, and wait for the next novel.

Here is a wonderful article about The Children’s Book from the New York Times.

Palissy Pitcher

A Pitcher by Palissy 1520-1590

Other reviews:

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The Indextrious Reader

things mean a lot

Did I miss your review?  Leave a comment.


Filed under Booker, Historical Fiction, Notable Books, Review

Love Begins In Winter by Simon Van Booy

Love Begins in Winter: Five Stories by Simon Van Booy

Harper Perennial, New York, 2009

Borrowed from my library.

Often when I read a story collection I will devour two or three at a time, like some snack i can’t stop eating.  Simon Van Booy’s stories are like a velvety rich Creme Brule.  I could only have one and then savored it over days until I was ready for the next.

These stories are about people finding love in many forms, sometimes when they least expect it.  The writing is dreamy and lyrical, the stories strange and sometimes sad,  perfect for dark rainy afternoons curled up with a hot cup of tea.

I wasn’t sure what to write about this book because it strikes me as very personal,  I’m sure each reader, if they enjoy these stories at all, will be deeply touched at some level.  I was.

In September, 2009, Love Begins in Winter won the Frank O’Connor Award, the world’s richest prize for a short story collection.

Other reviews:

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Filed under Fiction, Orbis Terrarum 2009, Stories

Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall

wallf1668a93d8a47eb597958665567434d414f4541Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn Wall

Delta Trade Paperbacks, Random House,

New York 2009

Borrowed from the library.

This debut novel by Carolyn Wall tells the story of Olivia Harker, her family, surrounding community and the land she loves.  Living in poverty on the land left to her by her ancestors, Olivia is threatened by hunters killing the wolves that live on her property.  She and her grandson struggle to save these wolves and to find the culprits.

At once a mystery and a love story Sweeping Up Glass offers reflections on  madness, racism and family secrets.

I have read reviews comparing Wall to Harper Lee and Flannery O’Connor.  Sweeping Up Glass is a good first novel but it is not that good.  Olivia’s first person voice is strong, her life  full of darkness and light, and  the story immersed in  “southern gothic” but I found the last third of the novel rushed and not as fully developed as the first two-thirds.  It is still an enjoyable read and I look forward to Wall’s next effort.

Other reviews:

As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves

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Musings of a Bookish Kitty


Filed under Fiction, Review, Uncategorized

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn



This week I am posting a review for the Crime Fiction Alphabet.

The letter for this week is F, like in Flynn.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Shaye Arehart Books, New York, 2006

Borrowed from the library.

Camille Preaker is a struggling reporter for a  second-rate  newspaper in Chicago.  In the small town of Wind Gay, following the murder of a young girl, another girl turns up missing. Wind Gap is Camille’s home town and her editor, thinking this opportunity might push her out of a rut, sends her to cover the story.

Camille is on edge, drinking too much and recovering from self-abuse.  She finds herself back in her childhood home, pushed up against her bizarre mother, and a half sister who heads a gang of twelve-year-old girls that reminded me of every mean, bitchy girl I ever knew.  All this brings up  the remnants of her past life, her dysfunctional family relationships (her step dad is a piece of work) and the memories of a long dead sister.  The longer Camille stays in town, the closer she comes to completely losing it, but she manages to hold it together long enough to sleep with the investigator from Kansas City and an eighteen-year-old suspect, and to get good and whacked with her creepy half-sister, Amma.   Eventually she discovers the murderer.

There were times when I almost gave up on this one.  This is Flynn’s first novel, very good in places and wobbly in others.  She is an edgy, creepy writer who invests a lot of twisted energy in her protagonists.  It didn’t take me long to figure out the murderer but I’m glad I stuck with it.  Flynn is very good at diving beneath the surface and exposing human frailty and pain, she knows what drives us. This is a good introduction to a writer who will only get better with time.

I read her second novel, Dark Places and reviewed it here.

Other reviews:

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Filed under Mystery, Review

Still Life by Louise Penny

pen0312541538.01._SX140_SY225_SCLZZZZZZZ_Still Life by Louise Penny

St. Martin’s Minotaur, New York, 2006

I read mysteries and speculative fiction for the sheer enjoyment of good stories.  I appreciate good writing.  I tend to like my mysteries dark and gloomy, think Mankell, Rankin or Pelacanos, and have never been drawn to “cosy” mysteries.  I forget where I first heard about Louise Penny and Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and maybe I decided to read Still Life because of the story’s  location in Quebec.  Whatever drew me to this book I am really glad I read it, it was great fun.

Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday.  It was pretty much a surprise all around.  Miss Neal’s was not a natural death, unless your of the belief that everything happens as it is supposed to.  If so, for her seventy-six years Jane Neal had been walking towards this final moment when death met her in the brilliant maple woods on the verge of the village of Three Pines.  She’s fallen spread-eagled, as though making angels in the bright and brittle leaves.

Still Life is a lovely mystery, well-written and full of a deep understanding of human nature.  It is a typical drawing-room mystery, but one that is layered with complex relationships and human failings. Inspector Gamache leads his crew with clarity and is one of the kindest characters I have met in a novel in a long time.  I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Dead Cold.


Filed under CanadianBookChallenge3, Mystery

Sometimes we’re always real same-same by Mattox Roesch

1932961879.01._SX140_SY225_SCLZZZZZZZ_Sometimes we’re always real same-same by Mattox Roesch

Unbridled Books, Denver, 2009

Borrowed from the library.

I have to thank Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray for turning my attention to this book.  Just so you know from the start, I loved it.  Maybe it’s because I love Alaska, or maybe it’s because I have seen Salmon crowding up a river.  I think  Roesch has produced an amazing first novel, made up of stories previously published and woven together into a fine, fine thing

Seventeen year-old Cesar has ended up half way up the coast of Alaska, on the edge of the Bering Sea, in the tiny town of Unalakleet.  Back in L.A. he was deep into gang life, had been involved in a terrible crime, his brother in jail for murder.  His Mom decides to head back to her home, away from her absent husband, to make a new life for herself and her son.

Cesar figures it won’t be long before he has enough money to catch a plane south, but his cousin Go-Boy is convinced he will stay.  It is Go-Boy who helps brings profound changes to Cesar’s life.

All along my plan in Unalakleet had been simple-pick up a job, a few paychecks, a plane ticket home.  So right after I arrived I started looking around. But jobs weren’t available.  I tried to get on with the company building the new jail, but I didn’t have construction experience, and the crews had already been filled, and something about building a jail seemed wrong.  That left the grocery store and the fish processing plant.  The grocery store only had a few employees and all the positions were taken, and I didn’t want to work ankle deep in fish guts and end each day smelling like seafood waste.  So I turned to Go-Boy.  And just like Go-Boy-supportive and helpful to a fault-he set me up with a job at the North River counting tower just a few week after I arrived, counting fish, making more cash than I would’ve imagined ever being possible in a place like this. From page 33.

Sometimes we’re always real same-same is the story of  two young men, both of them dealing with the past, some of it ugly, and both of them gaining strength and maturity through the connection with each other and with the Unalakleet community.

Roesch doesn’t do anything fancy, his language is clean and direct, the dialogue sounding like you’re standing right there.

We both bobbed along in the water.  We were buoys.  I slapped at a bug on the water’s surface and G0-Boy leaned into the current, scrubbing at a stain the size of a man-hole cover.

Then he asked, “So what did you do in town last night?”

“You know there is nothing to do.”

“Can’t even try-make something up, uh?”

‘Okay,” I said. “Truth? I was looking out for your sister.”

Go laughed, said, “Man. saglu.”


“Kiana’s the last person who needs anyone looking out for her.  Especially you.”

“What’s especially you?”

“Man, she raised herself until she was ten,” he said. From page 44.

And then there are those lines that just jumped out at me, and keep running through my head.

“How we love is our religion.  Not what we believe.”

“Yeah, we had sex,”  Kiana said.  “But it wasn’t anything.”

She could spend silence better than anyone I knew.

I could go on but I would suggest you read the book.  Some reviewers have found that the story jumps around.  That may come from fitting bits and pieces of earlier writing together.  I didn’t find it a problem at all.  This novel has left a lasting impression on me and I will read Roesch’s writing when I can find it.

Mattox Roesch had a web site here.  He lives in Unalakleet, there are pictures.

Other reviews:

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Filed under Fiction, Review, Young Adult

The Bride’s Farewell by Meg Rosoff

0670020990.01._SX140_SY225_SCLZZZZZZZ_The Bride’s Farewell by Meg Rosoff

Viking, New York, 2009

Borrowed from the library.

I read this for Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon.

I first found Meg Rosoff’s work last summer when I read What I Was.  I was captivated by her words.  My review of  that book is here.  This new novel  solidifies my appreciation for Rosoff’s commitment to her stories and the clarity of her writing.

The Bride’s Farewell takes place in and around the cathedral city of Salisbury, near the Salisbury Plain, the location of one of the world’s most famous pre-historic monuments.local_stonehenge

It is the story of Pell Ridley, her need to break free of grinding poverty and of her family’s and her community’s expectations.

On the morning of her wedding day Pell takes her small dowry, her horse Jack, and somewhat unwillingly, her brother Bean and runs away.  She  heads for the Salisbury Fair.  Her plan?  To to find work, escape a marriage she dreads, and start a life for herself.

It was a tangle of a family, for better or worse, a right complexity of children, all knotted up with love and jealousy, and all competing for anything they could get-food, boots, underclothes without holes, a shawl, a piece of bread, a kind word from Mam.   Each acquisition took on the status of treasure in times so tight you thought you might die for the want of a half a spoonful of drippings or a shoe you couldn’t see through. From page 24.

Although Pell has great knowledge of and skill with horses her  journey towards independence is not easy. She is robbed, harassed and threatened.  There is separation and loss but also, eventually, healing and love.  As with What I Was, Rosoff takes great care with place and setting, bringing the Fair, the city, Pell’s travels and the local people to life.  The story feels historically accurate, a bit like reading  Hardy or Dickens, but no where near as dense.   It is beautifully written and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The Bride’s Farewell is being marketed as a young adult novel but, as with many YA titles,  I found it a quick and engaging  read.   I am planning on reading How I Live Now within the next few months.

Other reviews:



Bibliophile By the Sea

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Filed under Review, Young Adult