Posts filed under 'Literary Fiction'
McDonald’s collection of stories, most of which are interrelated in one way or another, defy simple description. “Improbable” is a good word, but does not fully convey the sense of wonder, hope, and simple humanity with which the collection as a whole leaves the reader. Set in a world much like our own, the stories weave together the lives and experiences of a motley cast of characters, Diana Comet herself foremost among them. Many of the characters, Diana Comet included, are gay or transgender in a world not much more friendly to such than our own, and struggling to find love and acceptance. In various stories, other improbable elements—from talking statuary longing for release to ghost stories come horribly to life to alien invaders seeking to control humanity’s morality—make themselves known, and always, McDonald’s vibrant protagonists fight to make things right.
Find Diana Comet and Other Improbable Stories in our catalog.
April 8th, 2011
In this slight novella, popular Scottish author McCall Smith retells the Celtic myth of the god of dreams, Angus. Angus, the child of chief god Dagda, was raised by Dagda’s other son, Midir. Upon coming of age, the mischievous and handsome young Angus turned the tables on his overweaning father, playing a trick on him and gaining the throne. McCall Smith alternates between retelling scenes from the myth itself and contemporary vignettes that in some way recall the myth or show the benign influence of the dream-god on the lives of modern-day Scots.
This entry in the Canongates Myth series (which also includes titles by such notable authors as Margaret Atwood and Chinua Achebe) is elegant and polished. All of his contemporary vignettes stand nicely on their own, they are deepened and filled out by the myth that informs the volume. Enjoyable.
Find Dream Angus in our catalog.
March 19th, 2011
Stella is the bored wife of an ambitious young psychiatrist, Max. Max, hoping to become the director of the insane asylum at which he works, unwisely neglects his wife in favor of his career. Stella, left almost entirely to her own devices with only her 10-year-old son for company most days, soon forms a most unhealthy obsession with a patient at the asylum. Edgar Stark, a charismatic and turbulent artist, was institutionalized after brutally murdering and mutilating his wife in a fit of insane jealousy. Now he is considered a trustworthy patient and allowed to work relatively unsupervised on a project renovating the grounds. It isn’t hard for the two to sneak off for their trysts, and it isn’t hard for Edgar to sneak into Stella’s home, steal Max’s clothing and keys, and make his escape. Stella soon joins him in London, where the two live a bohemian, but secretive and hidden, lifestyle until Edgar’s insane and murderous jealousy begin to show itself Again. Stella returns to Max, who has lost his job but refuses, for the sake of their son, to abandon his wife. Taking a new job in a remote hospital in Wales, he moves the family into a small, run-down home where Stella has nothing to do but mull and brood and drink herself into oblivion. Eventually, she ends up back in the original asylum, but as a patient this time; her situation has gone from bad to much, much worse.
Narrated by one of Max’s colleagues at the asylum, a man who has his own designs and whose affection for Stella may prove the downfall of them all, the story is dark, mesmerizing, and just as twisty as the minds of its characters. The final act may prove a let-down for some, but most will be satisfied.
Find Asylum in our catalog.
February 20th, 2011
When Queen Elizabeth’s personal playwright and spy, Christopher (Kit) Marlowe is murdered by a rival faction, the relatively unknown young playwright William Shakespeare is recruited to take his place. Will is tasked with writing plays whose enthralling magic will help bolster the strength of Queen and country, while at the same time he is forced to play at politics and espionage and must attempt to avoid the knives that murdered his friend Kit. Kit Marlowe, however, is not truly dead. He was spirited away to the land of Faerie, his wounds healed, and a magic construct left behind in place of his body. Awakening in Faerie in the rooms of Morgan le Fay, Kit, an old hand at playing politics, finds himself embroiled in the dangerous yet familiar politics of the Faerie Court. Magically bound to Morgan, Kit must also renounce his loyalty to Queen Elizabeth and swear oaths to Queen Mebd, the ruler of the Faeries of the Seelie Court. The strength of Faerie and the strength of the “iron world” of humans are linked, and if Queen Elizabeth were to fall, Queen Mebd would as well, and vice verse. So both Kit and Will are fighting the same battles in both worlds, weaving magic with their words to preserve the linked realms and the sister Queens.
Intelligently weaving together the literature of the Elizabethan playwrights, the history and language of the era, and British folklore, the two books of the Stratford Man duology are masterful. Highly recommended.
Find the Stratford Man duology in our catalog:
Ink and Steel
Hell and Earth
December 26th, 2010
Seven interconnected stories muse on race, family, art, and addiction in Chuculate’s debut. The protagonist of most of these stories is Jordan, a young Native American boy raised on a farm by his impoverished grandparents. In subsequent stories, we meet several of Jordan’s relatives, including his uncle, Johnson Freebird, a famous Indian artist who falls prey to alcoholism. In another story Jordan, now a famous Indian artist in his own right, tries desperately to reconnect with his father, Shorty, a down-an-out alcoholic always one step away from homelessness and two away from the grave. Ironically, their main connection is the addiction they both share—an addiction that may end Jordan’s career the way it ended Johnson Freebird’s. The drama of living a creative life while struggling with one’s own personal and familial demons is powerfully displayed here by Chuculate’s straightforward and unsentimental prose.
Find Cheyenne Madonna in our catalog.
December 13th, 2010
Six people’s lives intersect in surprising and sometimes explosive ways over the course of a week in the Hotel Miraflor, located in the capitol city of an unnamed Central American country. The hotel’s most famous and controversial guest is the strong, unattainable Suki Palacios, a matador in town for a tournament. A woman in a man’s violent world, Suki uses her beauty as a weapon as sharp as her sword. Another strong woman, the lawyer Gertrudis Stuber, uses the hotel as a base for her black-market adoption operation. Cuban exile and poet Ricardo and his wife, Gertrudis’s clients, are staying at the hotel while attempting to finalize the details of their adoption. Former guerrilla revolutionary Aura works at the hotel as a waitress in the restaurant but begins planning revenge when the Colonel responsible for her brother’s death becomes one of the hotel’s guests. And Won Kim, a moderately successful Korean businessman who is nevertheless miserable, has installed his pregnant teenage mistress in a suite of the hotel while plotting a murder-suicide that he knows himself to be too weak to ever accomplish.
The internal and external battles of these characters take place against the turbulent political backdrop of the unspecified country. The former dictator of the country is now running in an election and has strong support from one segment of the population even as another commits acts of terrorism against him and his supporters. One by one, other hotels in the country explode, leading up to an explosive conclusion of sorts for the temporary inhabitants of Hotel Miraflor.
Vibrant, rich, and detailed, the characters are well-developed and the atmosphere is sultry and immersive. A dash of magical realism enlivens what is otherwise an incisive portrait of modern life in Central America. Highly recommended.
Find The Lady Matador’s Hotel in our catalog.
December 7th, 2010
Do you ever get in the mood to read something quiet and soothing–sort of a palate cleanser of a book? Tara Road is one of these. I am in no way demeaning Ms. Binchy, who writes lovely stories of Irish people and their friends and extended families. I find her work very undemanding to read, yet so enjoyable that I sometimes pick her books up for the sheer relaxation of them.
Tara Road is an older title, published in 1998 and it features one particular family living on Tara Road in Dublin. Ria Lynch has it all. She’s got a beautiful house she and her husband lovingly restored, a successful and devoted husband who makes good money in real estate, two charming children, and a world of friends who come and go through Ria’s busy kitchen. In a way, she is the center of their small world, and in another, she’s not really part of it at all. Ria is deceived by many along the way including those she trusts the most. When she has an opportunity to exchange houses for the summer with a woman from the U.S., Ria jumps at the chance and even though she’s never met Marilyn, who will be living in her home, she finds a true friend in her.
Binchy writes charming stories and though they’re lengthy, you’ll find yourself wanting her books to go on and on. If you read Binchy and enjoy her, you may also enjoy Adriana Trigiani who writes similar stories featuring Italian-American families.
Find Tara Road in our catalog.
November 23rd, 2010
Journalist and former poet Marguerita Black—Maggie to her friends—has inherited the estate of eccentric, drunken, and irascible poet Davis Cooper. She had corresponded with Cooper for many years after he rejected her request to write his biography, but the two never met in person before Cooper’s mysterious death by drowning—in the desert. She heads from her home in cosmpolitan, glittering LA to Cooper’s remote rural home outside of Tucson, intending both to put his things to rights and to do research for her long-delayed biography of the famed poet. What she finds in the arid land, so different from either LA or her childhood home in the Appalachian mountains, is far from what she could have expected. Magic and creatures out of myth and folklore haunt the desert around her, playing with the lives of the other artists and writers living on or near Cooper’s land. Somehow, a true artist—like Cooper, or his long-dead wife, the mad painter Anna Naverra—can influence and shape those spirits. But nothing can control them, and, though many of them are picturesque and even lovely, none of them share anything resembling a human sense of morality. Maggie herself must find her own long-denied creative side and learn to walk the spiral path in order to save herself and her new friends from the spirits’ games and machinations.
Poetic, rich, and evocative, Windling’s award-winning first novel is insightful and captivating. A delightful blend of magic, nature, and art.
Find The Wood Wife in our catalog.
November 8th, 2010
It is the 1930s and the town of Threestep, Georgia, has a new teacher in their one-room schoolhouse, and 11-year-old Gladys Cailiff thinks she’s the best thing ever to happen to their town. Not everyone agrees, however, Miss Spivey being a somewhat unconventional woman in that time and place. She smokes, wears hiking boots, has traveled all over the world, and knows how to drive. But her true passion is the Middle East and all its culture, language, and literature. Slowly but surely, she begins to introduce her students to Baghdad and the Thousand and One Nights. When she hits on the idea of transforming Threestep into Baghdad and throwing a “Baghdad Bazaar,” she begins to get into some real trouble. One other way that Miss Spivey is unconventional is that she believes wholeheartedly in desegregation and she enlists the assistance of a brilliant polymath neighbor of Gladys—who happens to be a young African American boy named Theo—in building her sets and contraptions for a performance from the Thousand and One Nights during the Baghdad Bazaar. For some of the more conservative townsfolk, that is the last straw and they make their own, darker, plans for the night of the Bazaar.
Rich with historical detail—both of a small town in the American South and of the ancient Middle East—this novel is wide-ranging and charming. Some of the best portions deal with the complicated backstory of a camel driver enlisted for the Bazaar and are told in a very Scheherazade-style nested format, with one story leading into another until finally the readers are swept miles and centuries away. Though set in a slightly different time and place, this should also appeal to fans of Kathryn Stockett’s “The Help.”
Find The Cailiffs of Baghdad, Georgia in our catalog.
November 5th, 2010
Fifteenth century Venice is almost a character in its own right in this lush and vibrant historical which weaves together the lives and experiences of several characters as they struggle to introduce books printed on Gutenberg’s revolutionary press to a city only excited by beauty and novelty. The von Speyer brothers, German-born printers, move to Venice to peddle their books and are granted a temporary monopoly on the market. When the eldest brother takes ill and dies, taking the monopoly with him into the grave, it falls to Wendelin, the younger and less imaginative of the two, to continue the business. Wendelin is completely in love with his young, vibrant, superstitious Venetian wife, Lussièta—and she with him, until the day he brings home a cabinet that once stood in a house she is convinced to be haunted and cursed.
Wendelin’s young protégé, Bruno, has love problems of his own. He is obsessed with Sosia Simeon, a Serbian Jew married to a local doctor. Married or not, however, Sosia herself is obsessed with bedding as many Venetian-born men as possible, perhaps to prove her own worth to herself, perhaps for an earthier reason. Her exploits form a backdrop to the struggles of the rest of the characters as she makes her conquests from the ranks of Venetians of all social classes and professions.
Also informing the story are the earthy and overtly sensual poems of the Roman Catullus. Letters written to his brother are interspersed, in which Catullus discusses his own obsessional romance with Clodia, a woman much like Sosia. Wendelin, meanwhile, debates the merits of publishing an edition of Catullus’s poetry. Possessing all the qualities Venetians love, such an edition could save his struggling printing house. But being controversial, it could, instead, prove his ruin.
Rich and enchanting, rife with historical detail and yet mixed with flights of pure authorial fantasy, “The Floating Book” is a delight.
Find The Floating Book in our catalog.
October 17th, 2010
Aslaug was raised in relative isolation by her intense, severe, intelligent mother Maren. Home schooled, unknown to any family she might still possess, unacquainted with anyone other than a secretive neighbor, Aslaug is naïve and innocent about the workings of the greater world. Raised in a mirror-less home, she barely even knows the shape of her own face. What she does know, however, is plants. Herb-lore, herb-craft, which plants are good to eat, which plants are poison, which are medicine…all of this colors Aslaug’s view of the world, informing her understanding of events unfolding around her. When her mother dies, therefore, Aslaug reacts in a way appropriate to her upbringing, but not so very appropriate in the eyes of the law. When finally released into the custody of a social services professional, Aslaug manages not only to escape, but to find her way to a place she’d only been once before…the evangelical Christian church run by a woman Aslaug soon discovers to be her aunt. There she discovers something else shocking: her mother Maren claimed to have been a virgin when she became pregnant, and her cousins Susanne and Rune believe that Aslaug herself is a blessed child destined to birth the next Messiah. Soon, swept up by their fervor…so similar and yet so different from that of her mother…Aslaug herself is uncertain what she believes or who she really is.
Told partially in flash-backs, and interspersed with testimony from Aslaug’s eventual trial for suspected murder, this enthralling and deftly suspenseful story is also beautiful and poignant. Meldrum manages to give a delightful new twist to the old coming-of-age story.
Find Madapple in our catalog.
September 30th, 2010
Young Pia Kolvenbach is tired of being the girl whose grandmother exploded. Ostracized by most of the other children in her school, she finds herself saddled with the unwelcome friendship of “StinkStefan,” another outcast. Her only other friend is an elderly man, Otto Schiller, who delights in telling the children frightening stories about their town’s history and folklore. When young girls start vanishing from the town, starting with Katharina Linden, Pia and Stefan fear that Otto’s tales of horror are beginning to come true all over again. Seeking to redeem their reputations as outsiders and to find the missing girls, the unlikely duo begins their own investigation into the disappearances.
Set in a vividly drawn German village and enriched with hearty doses of German phrases and culture (all of which are explained in a glossary in the back!), The Vanishing of Katharina Linden is part coming-of-age tale and part mystery. Engrossing, if slow in places.
Find The Vanishing of Katharina Linden in our catalog.
September 23rd, 2010