Tag Archives: NewAuthors

The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse

The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse

Free Press, New York, 2010

Borrowed from the library.

The “Madonnas” are a group of mothers and daughters who gather in front of a market that was featured in Madonna’s video “Borderline”.  They gather there to sing and dance.

..There was something magical about it, a place in our neighborhood worthy of being on TV, and not because someone had been shot or killed.  We agreed it would be fun to bring our daughters there.  Aurora wouldn’t come but Ana’s daughter did.  Two mothers became three, then four….Mothers and daughters chatted together on a street corner in what was considered a dangerous part of town day or night, in loud sassy conversations, both groups wearing acid-washed skirts, see-through mesh tank tops, traffic cone orange spandex tights…from page 47.

A collection of linked chapters  following a group of people, this novel takes place in a part of Los Angeles we rarely see, unless you are Mexican growing up in LA.  Three women, the Esperanzas, struggle with their histories, drift apart and reconnect in a story graced with suspense, dream-like images,  and magic.  I am impressed by Skyhorse’s love of his characters, by his ability to give voice to both Mexicans and Americans, and especially his ability to write the lives of these women and girls.  This is an exceptional first novel.

Other reviews:

A Bookworm’s World

Bermudaonion’s Weblog


Filed under ContemporaryFiction, New Authors 2010, Review

The Singer’s Gun by Emily St. John Mandel

The Singer’s Gun by Hilary St. John Mandel

Unbridled Books, 2010

Borrowed from the library.

I looked forward to this one, both because I had heard great things about St. John Mandel and because it is from Unbridled Books, a small press I admire.

The writing is clean and crisp, the story timely,  but somehow the book never really grabbed me.  It was like looking at something beautiful and realizing that the beauty is fading away right before my eyes.  I never felt much for the characters, even though they are well thought out.

Anton Waker grew up an a family of thieves and, encouraged by his cousin Aria he begins a life of crime at a young age.  When he decides to get out, go straight, have what he considers a real life, he finds it much more difficult than he expected.

The story is very well constructed, told from different points of view and I think St. John Mandel is a fine writer, but there is a chilliness, a edge to this book that just pushed me away, like the same poles of two magnets repelling each other.  Maybe it’s the characters, they seem detached and hollow.  Maybe it’s the times we live in.  Maybe it’s just me, the book left me feeling sad.  I will read The Last Night In Montreal because I want to see if it has a different feel, and I do like this author’s way with words.

Other reviews:


Musings of a Bookish Kitty

S. Krishna’s Books

She is too fond of books

You Gotta Read This


Filed under CanadianBookChallenge4, Fiction, New Authors 2010, Review

Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin

Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin

Delacorte Press, New York, 2009

Borrowed from the library.

I saw this on the display shelf at my library and remember reading a blog post about it.  Of course, I can’t remember who’s blog it was.  Thank you, whoever you are.

Angel Tungaraza, a women from Tanzania now living in Kigali, Rwanda, is building a business.  She and her husband are struggling to raise their five grandchildren and her cakes bring in needed income.   They also allow her the opportunity to ask questions of  and listen to her customers.  Angel is kind and open-hearted.  From her customers and her neighbors she hears stories of pain and survival.  There is HIV, there are the memories of terrible slaughter.

Through Angel’s thoughts we learn of  her history, her own losses.  With her intelligence, generosity and kindness she offers help to others and a clear-sighted vision of the world around her.

When I first started reading this lovely book it reminded me of the series by Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.  Parkin uses the same light touch with Angel as McCall Smith uses with his heroine,  Precious Ramotswe.  Baking Cakes has much of the same tone, it is gentle and funny at times, but it deals with deep emotions and the struggles of  people recovering from tramua and learning to deal honestly with a frightening disease.  Parkin uses Angel, her family, friends and customers to tell the stories of the deadly spread of AIDS in Africa and the effects of the 1994 genocide on Rwanda’s people.  For such an gentle, pleasing book it offers quite a punch.

For those wishing to learn more about the genocide in Rwanda there is an very well written and intense book , We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families by Philip Gourevitch, and a movie called Hotel Rwanda which is based on real life events.  The book is difficult reading and the film is very hard to watch.

Other reviews:



Rebecca Reads

The Book Nest


Filed under 2010 Global Reading Challenge, Fiction, New Authors 2010

Waiting For Columbus by Thomas Trofimuk

Waiting For Columbus by Thomas Trofimuk

Doubleday, New York, 2009

Borrowed from the library.

Consuela is a nurse working at the Sevilla Institute for the Mentally Ill.  Her days are long, her nights somewhat lonely.  One day a man is brought to the Institute.  He was found in the straits of Gibraltar, battered and bruised and clearly delusional.  He believes he is Christopher Columbus. Consuela and those working with her must help this man discover who he really is.

The passage from freedom to incarceration is never an easy one. The passage from an unacknowleged, untested sanity to a diagnosed insanity is equally problematic.  The first time Nurse Consuela Emma Lopez entered his world, it was with nervousness-with the trepidation of a sparrow pecking the ground a few meters in front of a perfectly motionless cat.  He was immobile on a bed in the admitting area, restrained and drugged.  He’d arrived at the institute kicking and screaming. From page 1.

I was hooked from the first paragraph.  Trofimuk has created a character so well drawn that it is easy to forget he is not Christopher Columbus.  Those around him struggle to find the truth, yet fear the truth may cause him to disappear into madness forever.

This novel is about the stories we tell ourselves and each other, sometimes out of a sense of fun or drama, sometimes from necessity.  It is even more about how we listen.

One the morning of the liturigal feast of Saint Pammachius, Columbus is in a lawn chair, overlooking the garden.  He is wearing his standard institute-issue maroon robe and gray socks.  He looks like any number of other patients wandering around the courtyards and gardens surrounding the institute.  He’s speaking to Consuela over his left shoulder.  “I have to tell you, poeple used to roll up on the beach on a regular basis-well, chewed-up bodies anyway.  When I lived in Palos we’d find them all the time-stinking and rotten.  Even the foulest of birds or animals wouldn’t touch them.”

“I’m sorry?” She really was not in the mood for a story.  She was unfocused-half watching the ducks in the pond, half keeping an eye on him.  She’d rather be curled up in bed reading.

“Dead people.  On the beach.  The result of shipwrecks.” From page 55.

It’s hard to tell you more without giving too much away.  There is a deep knowledge of history in the stories Columbus tells but that history is combined with the present day.  The stories are wonderful, but the interweaving of past and present is strangely disconcerting.   Trofimuk uses this device to give the sense of someone running away into the past to avoid the trauma of the present.  How one’s inner world can seem much, much safer then the outer one.  It is a wonderful way to tell the story of Columbus’s madness and  of his recovery.

I want to thank Jill at Fizzy Thoughts for introducing me to Waiting For Columbus.

Other reviews:

Book Addiction

Fizzy Thoughts

ReviewsByLola’s Blog

S. Krishna’s Books

The Book Lady’s Blog


Filed under CanadianBookChallenge4, Fiction, New Authors 2010, Review

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

Translated from Japanese by Megan Backus

Grove Press, New York, 1993

Borrowed from the library.  This is my second book for the Japanese Literature Challenge 4.  Thanks to Bellezza for organizing this wonderful event.

Oh, what a book!  Kitchen is a combination of a novella and a short story.  Simply and beautifully written, they present emotions in a way that is direct and clear, never simpering or overly sweet.   Both tell of loss, love and family and I moved through then easily.  Sometimes the words felt like a  warm breeze, sometimes like a sudden shower.   Yoshimoto’s storytelling is magic, reading this book I did not expect the depth I found there.  So subtle, so simple, it all snuck up on me.

Kitchen is the story of Mikage, a young women who has lost most of her family.  She lives with her Grandmother, but is always aware of the possibility of loss.

The space that cannot be filled, no matter how cheerfully a child and an old person are living together – the deathly silence that, panting in the corner of the room, pushes its way in like a shutter.  I felt it very early, although no one told me about it. From page 21.

When her Grandmother dies she is invited by a friend to join him and his mother in their home.  These kind people help Mikage open herself to memories and emotions.

In the uncertain ebb and flow of time and emotions much of one’s life history is etched in the senses.  And things of no particular importance, or irreplaceable things, can suddenly resurface in a cafe one winter night.  From page 75.

Part of this novella are strangely chilling.  Maybe it is the shadows of Mikage’s past, like ghosts, that create this effect.

The second part of this little book is a short story, Moonlight Shadow, also about love and loss.  It reads like  a fairy tale.

In retrospect I realize that fate was a ladder on which, at the time, I could not afford to miss a single rung.  To skip out on even one scene would have meant never making it to the top, although it would have been by far the easier choice. What motivated me was probably that little light still left in my half-dead heart, glittering in the darkness.  Yet,without it, perhaps, I might have slept better. From page 127.

While reading this book I kept thinking of  the fall of cherry blossoms in Kurosawa’s Dreams. Kitchen is that beautiful.

Other reviews:

A Striped Armchair

Adventures in Reading

An Adventure In Reading

Regular Rumination

The Reading Life


Filed under Fiction, Japanese Literature Challenge 4, New Authors 2010, Review

The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon

The Golden Mean by Annabel Lyon

Vintage Canada, 2010

I own this one.

I have been on a book buying ban for over a year now.  That doesn’t mean I don’t fall off the wagon,  particularly with books published outside the US.  My public library is great, ordering many titles before they are published, but they only purchase books published in this country.  So when I read about great books from Canada or elsewhere I struggle with book lust, and occasionally the book wins.  This book is an example, I just had to have it.

Annabel Lyon has written an extraordinary first novel, taking a crucial time in the history of western civilization and bringing it to life through the voice and thoughts of one of the founders of western philosophy.

Aristotle, along with his wife Pythias and their entourage, travel to the city of Pella. After a separation of many years Aristotle meets up with his old friend Philip,  now the King of Macedonia.

“You refined piece of shit,” the king says. “You’ve spent too much time in the East.  Look at yourself, man.”

We embrace.  As boys we played together, when Philip’s father was king and my father the king’s physician.  I was taller but Philip was tougher: so it remains.  I’m conscious of the fine, light clothing I’ve  changed into for this meeting, of the fashionable short clip of my hair, of my fingers gently splayed with rings.  Philip’s beard is rough, his fingernails are dirty, he wears homespun.  He looks like what he is: a soldier, bored by this great marble throne room.  From page 13.

Philip asks him to tutor his son, Alexander.  Aristotle is torn between the demands of his friend and his own desire to succeed his teacher, Plato, and lead the Academy in Athens.  He ponders his past and his future.  He helps Arrhidaeus, Philip’s elder son,  changed after a severe illness at the age of five.  He teaches Alexander, and his companions.

I gather my father’s scalpels from the boys and wipe them slowly, meticulously, as I was taught.  “I had a master, when I was not much older than you.  He was very interested in what things were.  In what was real, if you like, and what” – I gestured at the remains of the chameleon – “was perishable, what would pass away and be lost.  He believed there were two worlds.  In the world we see and hear and touch, in the world we live in, things are temporary and imperfect.  There are many, many chameleons in the world, for instance, but this one has a lame foot, and this one’s colour is uneven, and so on.  Yet we know they are all chameleons;  there is something they share that makes them all alike.  We might say they have the same form; though they differ in details, they all share the same form,  the form of a chameleon.  It is this form, rather than the chameleon itself, that is ideal, perfect and unchanging.  We might say the same of a dog or a cat, or a horse, or a man.  Or a chair, or a number.  Each of these exists in the world of forms, perfectly, unchangingly.” From pages 91/92.

There are many fine characters in this book and Aristotle has ideas about all of them, from soldier to slave.  Combining daily life, philosophy, politics, sexuality and warfare,  told by a historic  figure at once brilliant and unsure,  The Golden Mean is a novel that is intelligent,  funny and surprisingly relevant to our own daily lives.

It reminds me of a book I read last summer, Lavinia by Ursula K. Le Guin.  Both take a period in the history of western civilization and daringly write literary portraits of daily life.  Both novels feel historically accurate to me, but I am not a classical scholar.  Le Guin uses figures from classical literature, Lyon uses figures from history.  I loved both of these books.  I am in awe of Lyon’s creativity, depth of research,  and willingness to take risks with the western canon.  I have added several books from her bibliography to my to-be-read list, and hope I will actually get around to reading some of them.

Have you read and reviewed this book?  Please leave a comment so I can link to your review.


Filed under CanadianBookChallenge3, Historical Fiction, New Authors 2010, Notable Books

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke

Black Water Rising by Attica Locke

Harper, New York, 2010

Nominated for the 2010 Orange Prize, the 2010 Edgar Award and the NAACP Image Award.

Borrowed from the library,

I love a good mystery but don’t usually review them because there are so many great mystery/thriller review blogs out there.  I am making an exception for this book.

Attica Locke has written a big-town, dirty-politics thriller that combines literary skill with great story-telling, flavored with some of the history of the civil rights movement of the 1960’s.  Her protagonist, Jay Porter, a young and struggling lawyer, played a part within that movement and Locke tells his story brilliantly.  Some readers have trouble with books that combine fiction with politics.  I don’t.  I appreciate it and enjoy it.

Jay used to have break-ins all the time.  His dorm room, the duplex on Scott Street where he stayed sometimes, even his first apartment after his trial, a one room rattrap in the Bottoms in the Third Ward.  The feds and local law enforcement often came and went as they pleased, going through his things, bugging the phones.  But they never left more than a faint trace: a lamp out of place, a phone book moved a few inches to the left of where it had been, or his papers rearranged in a slightly different order than before.  Everything else was exactly the way he had left it, down to the cigarette butts in the ashtrays and the dirty dishes in the sink.  The only firm clues that someone had been in his place were the tiny recording devices he used to pull out of his phone receivers.

He’s already checked the kitchen phone tonight. From page 144.

Jay, and his pregnant wife, Bernie, are celebrating her birthday on Buffalo Bayou when they hear screams and gunshots.  They pull a young woman from the water, starting a rush of events that leads to the highest levels of political and corporate power in the Houston area. I find the way that Locke intertwines the past and the present  very clear, never jarring or confusing.  Her story paints telling portraits, of Huston in the 1980’s, of a young man’s struggle to understand his past and to live in the present.

He can’t help feeling this whole thing is a setup, the money nothing but bait.  But why, he thinks, would anyone want to trap him?  His whole life he’s made no enemies he can think of…save for the U.S. government, of course.
The thought is like a hand grenade tossed under his bathroom door.
He watches it roll across the floor, taking up position at his feet.
The blow, when it comes, takes his breath away.
He has a sudden sharp memory of Charlie Wade Robinson, a Panther out of Detroit, Michigan. Back in ’69, the feds tried to nail him on a charge of conspiracy to commit mayhem and engage in unlawful assembly, which one progressive judge promptly through out of his court.  When the feds couldn’t get Charlie Wade on that, they tried to put him away on an illegal weapons charge.  But he dodged that bullet too.  Two years ago, the way Jay heard it, Charlie Wade Robinson was coming out of a McDonald’s restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia, his six-year-old daughter in tow, when federal officers arrested him on felony tax evasion, right there in the parking lot.  Long out of the politics game by then, Charlie Wade had started an arcade business with an investor he’d met at a party, and the IRS claimed they’d played fast and loose with the accounting.  The feds had finally found a charge that would stick.  He’d been locked up ever since.  From pages 174/175.

Many people where surprised at the fact that this book was included on the short list for the 2010 Orange Prize.  I am not going to get into that discussion.  Black Water Rising is the second book I have read this year that deals with the political and social turmoil surrounding the evolution of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and the history of the Black Panther Party.  Both novels were written by young black women, authors brave enough to begin tackling  this thorny history.  Attica Locke, a former fellow at the Sundance Institute and a Los Angeles screenwriter, has written a great first novel.  I look forward to her second.

Other reviews:

Book Gazing

Farm Lane Books

Reading the Leaves

1 Comment

Filed under Mystery, New Authors 2010

Anna in the Tropics by Nilo Cruz

Anna in the Tropics by Nilo Cruz

Theater Communications Group, New York, 2003

Winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

Borrowed from the library.

Oh, how I would love to see this on stage.  Cruz has written a lush, steamy play that brings to life a time and place in history and is brimming with human need and desire.

Set in Tampa in 1929, the story takes place in a Cuban-American  factory where cigars are still rolled by hand and “lectors” read novels and stories aloud to the workers.  A new “lector” arrives from Cuba and chooses  to read “Anna Karenina.”  His audience approves of this choice but the longer he reads the more the novel becomes entwined in the workers lives.  Tolstoy and the tropics prove to be an unsettling combination.

The words of this play are as rich as the music of Cuba.  Bright, rhythmic, sensual.   I could hear soulful guitar and staccato percussion as I read.  It is fascinating, reading a talented playwright, the words create the scenes, sounds and atmosphere in my head.  Nilo Cruz is a master and I plan on reading more of his work.  And, if at all possible, seeing his work on stage.

I have been considering reading the new translation of Anna Karenina over the summer.  Reading Anna in the Tropics has added weight to this idea.


Filed under New Authors 2010, Plays, Review, Theater

Chef by Jaspreet Singh

Chef by Jaspreet Singh

Bloombury, New York, 2010

Borrowed from the library.

A trip taken at the request of an old commander. A slow train back to a place of struggle and yearning.  A diagnosis of cancer.  All these things  allow the narrator of this timely novel to remember his past.  Most of the story takes place in Kashmir, below the highest battlefield in the world.  India and Pakistan are in a struggle for territory. There is fighting, there are terrorist acts.  Many have died, mostly due to the severe weather conditions.

Kirpal Singh, known as Kip, is not yet twenty when he arrives at the an Indian army camp below the Siachen Glacier.  Kip is apprenticed to the camp chef, Kishen, who lectures him on cooking, politics and women.  He learns to cook  local dishes and, at Kischen’s insistence, unusual foods from around the world.  As a Sikh, Kip could hold himself apart from this struggle for land and power but he is loyal to India.  His father, a military hero who died on the glacier, is a constant presence.  It is not until General Kumar orders Kip to interrogate a prisoner that he begins to question his place and the logic of the ongoing struggle.

The officers, in proper uniforms and black boots, looked at me in relief as if I had just saved them.  The captive lay on the bed.  He was a she.   The first enemy I ever saw was a she, and already I had apologized to her moments ago on two counts.  The first thing I noticed was the unconscious movement of her head.  Rapid breathing.  Terror in the eyes. Peasant feet.  The toe ring gleamed in fluorescent light.  There was a cut on her left foot.

The colonel asked me to occupy the chair next to the enemy’s bed.  I took a deep breath, then the interrogation began.  It was my first time as an interpreter.  I asked the questions slowly, she stammered her responses.  I do not recall the many unintelligible things she brought to her lips.  But the essence has stayed with me. From page 127.

After 14 years Kip is asked to prepare the wedding feast for the commander’s daughter, Rubiya, now a poet and journalist engaged to marry a Pakistani. Upon his return Kip learns the fate of his enemy, the woman he could never forget.

A book at once harsh and lyrical, I found Chef wonderful and frustrating at the same time.   There are parts that are deep and evocative, bringing to life the political struggle taking place in this land of intense cold, between these people, Hindu and Muslim, Indian and Pakistani.  And then there are parts that feel shallow and incomplete.  Perhaps this is simply Kip’s memory, and his illness made manifest.

I enjoyed Chef, I learned about I place I hadn’t known about, and plan on reading Jaspreet Singh’s book of short stories, Seventeen Tomatoes.

Siachen Glacier


Filed under 2010 Global Reading Challenge, CanadianBookChallenge3, Fiction, New Authors 2010, Review

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Penguin Classics, New York, 1996

Borrowed from the library for the 1930s Mini Challenge.

The title of this novel has been floating around in my head for a while but I’m not sure where I first heard of it.  Just one of those English novels I should get around to reading.  I am very glad I did.

Flora Poste, orphaned at twenty, well-educated and left with little inheritance, decides to move in with unknown relatives.  These relatives, the Starkadders, live at Cold Comfort Farm, the name itself calling up images of somewhere dark and dreary.  The Starkadders suffer all sorts of upsets, grief, depression, over active imaginations and budding sexuality.  Flora, ever the modern woman, decides to bring order into this chaos.

If she intended to tidy up life at Cold Comfort Farm, she would find herself opposed at every turn by the influence of Aunt Ada.  Flora was sure this would be so.  Persons of Aunt Ada’s temperament where not fond of a tidy life.  Storms were what they liked: plenty of rows, and doors being slammed, and jaws sticking out, and faces white with fury, and faces brooding in corners, faces making unnecessary fuss at breakfast, and plenty of opportunities for gorgeous emotional wallowings, and parting for ever, and misunderstandings, and interferings, and spyings, and above all, managing and intriguing.  Oh, they did enjoy themselves!  They were the sort that went tramping all over your pet stamp collection, or what ever it was, and then spent the rest of their lives atoning for it.  But you would rather have your stamp collection.  From page 57.

Flora, bright, smart and very direct, observes the Starkadders and manages, seemingly effortlessly, through gentle manipulation, to get them all pointed in the direction of futures filled with happiness and light.  She also find herself dealing with an unwanted suitor.

It can not be said that Flora really enjoyed taking walks with Mr. Mybug.  To begin with he was not really interested in anything but sex.  This was understandable, if deplorable.  After all, many of our best minds have had the same weakness.  The trouble about Mr Mybug was that ordinary subjects, which were not usually associated with sex even by our best minds, did suggest sex to Mr Mybug, and he pointed them out, and made comparisons and asked Flora what she thought about it all,  Flora found it difficult to reply because she was not interested.  She was therefore obliged  merely to be polite, and Mr Mybug mistook her lack of enthusiasm and though it was due to inhibitions.  He remarked how curious it was that most Englishwomen (most young Englishwomen, that was, Englishwomen of about nineteen to twenty-four) were inhibited.  Cold, that was what young Englishwomen from nineteen to twenty-four were.

Gibbons is poking fun at a long line of British literary dramas from Wuthering Heights to the works of Thomas Hardy and D.H. Lawrence.  Her introduction takes great pains to explain her concern with Literature and she even marks what she considers her “finer passages with one, two or three stars”.  Filled with dramatic and over-wrought language,  all perfectly tongue in cheek, Cold Comfort Farm great fun to read.

This is the only book by Gibbons that my library carries, so I am on a search for more of her novels and short stories.


Filed under 1930s Mini Challenge, Classic, New Authors 2010, Review