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LisaBirk

(Lisa) Birk's Book Blog

Reader, writer, chocolate-lover.

Also blogging at www.deaddarlings.com, the site for everything novel, and author site, www.lisabirk.com

Currently reading

The Sympathizer
Viet Thanh Nguyen
A Little Life: A Novel
Hanya Yanagihara
Harriet Wolf's Seventh Book of Wonders: A Novel
Julianna Baggott
Fates and Furies: A Novel
Lauren Groff
Bad Feminist: Essays
Roxane Gay

Dreamy, Haunting YA Thriller

Reblogged from (Lisa) Birk's Book Blog:
Half In Love With Death - Emily Ross

 

 

At the center of Emily Ross’s YA thriller HALF IN LOVE WITH DEATH is Caroline. Caroline is the dreamy middle child, younger sister of brash Jess. And last night Jess snuck out the bedroom window. She has not come home.

 

The perfect choice for narrator, Caroline is the only character with access to everyone—their parents, Jess’s friends, and to Jess herself. And she’s a sweetie. New in town with few friends, she longs for white go-go boots, for the cool fashion of Courrèges and for Tony, Jess’s boyfriend, to hold her hand.

 

The book is set in Tucson, Arizona the year the Beatles broke open America. A naïf, Caroline’s innocence mirrors America’s circa 1964. Post Vietnam, Watergate, 9/11, Gulf Wars I and II, Black Lives Matter, San Bernadino, Paris and Brussels, it is hard to imagine such a trusting fifteen-year-old today. And that’s part of the allure of HALF IN LOVE WITH DEATH, to visit (or re-visit) that time in our history.

 

Caroline believes she is partially to blame for her sister’s disappearance and she is disgusted with her parents, who argue and drink but fail to find Jess. So Caroline investigates. She teams up with charismatic Tony, Jess’s boyfriend, and asks questions of him and his friends. The answers she hears are hazy, confusing, even contradictory. Did Jess really go off to California in a red car with a strange boy? When kids said they saw her in the car, was she screaming or laughing? Is she really living in Redondo Beach?

 

Perhaps because Caroline is “drawn to things that were not what they appeared to be” she willingly suspends disbelief and is drawn deeper and deeper into danger.

 

Ross grew up in the Sixties and she based her novel on a real serial killer from that era, “The Pied Piper of Tucson.” (Joyce Carol Oates based her story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” on the same serial killer.) In Ross’s post for Dead Darlings, How the Pied Piper of Tucson Led Me to My Story, she writes that “[a]s an adult…I wondered if the feelings that drew Tucson teens to [the murderer] weren’t all that different from those ‘magical’ feelings of connection that drew me to my friends in the Sixties.”

 

Thankfully for readers, Ross stepped through that “small dark door” and wrote this haunting, suspenseful tale that won’t let you stop reading until the very last sentence.

 

 

 

 

Dreamy, Haunting YA Thriller

Half In Love With Death - Emily Ross

 

 

At the center of Emily Ross’s YA thriller HALF IN LOVE WITH DEATH is Caroline. Caroline is the dreamy middle child, younger sister of brash Jess. And last night Jess snuck out the bedroom window. She has not come home.

 

The perfect choice for narrator, Caroline is the only character with access to everyone—their parents, Jess’s friends, and to Jess herself. And she’s a sweetie. New in town with few friends, she longs for white go-go boots, for the cool fashion of Courrèges and for Tony, Jess’s boyfriend, to hold her hand.

 

The book is set in Tucson, Arizona the year the Beatles broke open America. A naïf, Caroline’s innocence mirrors America’s circa 1964. Post Vietnam, Watergate, 9/11, Gulf Wars I and II, Black Lives Matter, San Bernadino, Paris and Brussels, it is hard to imagine such a trusting fifteen-year-old today. And that’s part of the allure of HALF IN LOVE WITH DEATH, to visit (or re-visit) that time in our history.

 

Caroline believes she is partially to blame for her sister’s disappearance and she is disgusted with her parents, who argue and drink but fail to find Jess. So Caroline investigates. She teams up with charismatic Tony, Jess’s boyfriend, and asks questions of him and his friends. The answers she hears are hazy, confusing, even contradictory. Did Jess really go off to California in a red car with a strange boy? When kids said they saw her in the car, was she screaming or laughing? Is she really living in Redondo Beach?

 

Perhaps because Caroline is “drawn to things that were not what they appeared to be” she willingly suspends disbelief and is drawn deeper and deeper into danger.

 

Ross grew up in the Sixties and she based her novel on a real serial killer from that era, “The Pied Piper of Tucson.” (Joyce Carol Oates based her story “Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?” on the same serial killer.) In Ross’s post for Dead Darlings, How the Pied Piper of Tucson Led Me to My Story, she writes that “[a]s an adult…I wondered if the feelings that drew Tucson teens to [the murderer] weren’t all that different from those ‘magical’ feelings of connection that drew me to my friends in the Sixties.”

 

Thankfully for readers, Ross stepped through that “small dark door” and wrote this haunting, suspenseful tale that won’t let you stop reading until the very last sentence.

 

 

 

 

Big-hearted Novel, Sweetie of a Protagonist

A Boy Like Me - Jennie Wood

The day Peyton Honeycutt gets his first period it’s a near calamity. Peyton was born female but is a boy. He holes up in the girls’ bathroom, too ashamed to come out. There he meets new girl, Tara Parks. And Tara becomes the object of his desire.

 

Early on Peyton and Tara meet resistance. When the skating teacher insists that Peyton get in the girls line and skate with a boy for pairs skating, Peyton at first refuses. And then finally, knuckles under to the tyranny of rigid gender lines. But Peyton can’t keep from longing for Tara.

 

“My eyes rarely left Tara and the broad-shouldered guy she skated with. He wasn’t able to lift her. He didn’t even try. Would he do not one but two-hundred push ups every night before bed for the sole purpose of one day being to lift her like I had? Doubtful.”

 

And then there is Tara’s small-minded mother and Peyton’s own mother who more than anything wants for Peyton, born Katherine, to be a girl. Eventually, Peyton takes them all on in his quest to be true to himself.

 

Author Jennie Wood draws on her own experience as a girl drawn to girls growing up in a small town in North Carolina. As a teenager she worked at the local theater. She served popcorn to her boy cousins and their dates, and then watched them make out from her perch in the projection booth.

 

That sense of isolation and yearning infuses A Boy Like Me as we follow Peyton’s difficult passage through middle and high school, until Peyton finally discovers who loves a boy like him.

 

 

There's a New (Gay Police) Chief in Town

Idyll Threats: A Thomas Lynch Novel - Stephanie Gayle

For a couple decades, starting with Nancy Drew right on through to Elmore Leonard, mysteries were my constant companion. I was sometimes an anxious child and the effect of a whodunit was cathartic. Paradoxically, terror rinsed anxiety.

 

In my early 20s I worked as a volunteer counselor at a rape crisis center. With real life violence so close, I could no longer stomach mysteries. Still, I longed for a good whodunit as I imagine former smokers long for cigarettes. They were the pause that refreshes.

 

So it was with hope and some trepidation that I read Stephanie Gayle’s police procedural Idyll Threats.

 

I am happy to report that it follows the convention of the procedural with details of interviews and forensic evidence but the details are not so grisly as to incite real world fear.

 

But what I liked most about Idyll Threats, was the protagonist, Chief Thomas Lynch. He is sharply observant, sardonic, and underneath it all, tender. He is also an ex-New York cop, drummed out of Gotham after a drug bust went wrong and the perp murdered his coke-addicted partner.

 

Lynch is a fish out of water in Idyll, Connecticut, where murders can be counted on one hand and the Laundromat doubles as the bar, called, wait for it, “Suds.”

 

So when a girl turns up dead on the Idyll golf course, Chief, ex-big-city cop, should solve the crime in five-minutes and thus win the love and trust of the department, the mayor and the whole town, right?

 

But the Chief is also gay and closeted in 1997 when being gay and a police chief were not just oxymoronic but a likely career ender. As it happens he met the murder victim hours before her death, but to exploit that lead he’d have to admit he was gay. And he can’t do that. Chief’s greatest love—his job—is in direct conflict with his core self.

 

As Chief battles inner demons, homophobia and his secretary, the ineffable Mrs. Dunsmore, Gayle grants us rare access to the man and the Chief.

 

Word is that Gayle is nearly finished with the second in the Thomas Lynch series. I can’t wait.

Re Jane: Smart Fun

Re Jane: A Novel - Patricia Park

The danger in reviewing Patricia Park's book is that in listing her many accolades & accomplishments, you’ll miss out on the smart fun of her debut novel, Re Jane.

 

She’s not only a Fulbright scholar, but a first-time novelist who earned the author trifecta:

  •   The New York Times Sunday Book Review named Re Jane as Editor’s Choice.
  •   NPR’s Fresh Air called Re Jane, “a wickedly inventive updating of Jane Eyre…”
  •   And O, Oprah’s magazine!!, writes, “Reader, you’ll love her.”

In Re Jane, Park has dared to re-make beloved heroine Jane Eyre into a Korean-American orphan growing up in the ‘00s in Queens, New York.  She works at her uncle’s grocery called simply, “Food.”

 

Jane is desperate to escape the outer boroughs to Manhattan, that core borough which “blazed in its own violet light and threw scraps of shadows on the rest of us,” Park writes. But when Jane's post-college promised dot.com job goes bust, she travels through Manhattan to work in hipster Brooklyn. As a nanny. To another adoptee, a Chinese-American girl, Devon.

 

Ironies abound, and Park skewers them all. Devon’s mom—the crazy woman in the attic--is recast as a feminist, very meta professor. And Devon’s dad, Rochester, is an ABD, All-But-Dissertation, English prof, languishing at a community college.

 

As Jane shuttles between worlds--from Korean-American Queens to Brooklyn academe to nanny-on-the-playground, to Seoul, Korea, to her return to New York—I won’t say to which borough—we root for her to find her own path to that violet light.

 

Jane—and Park—travel the complete range of culture from high to low and back with verve and wit and tenderness.

Jesus' Son: Heartstopping Fiction

Jesus' Son - Denis Johnson

Like Philip Seymour Hoffman in the movie Before the Devil Knows You're Dead but better. Writing in what some reviewers have called "hallucinatory" prose, Johnson loves these tender, broken men (and their women) beyond reasoning.

 

Tell Ethan Canin Anything and He Will Forgive You

Emperor of the Air - Ethan Canin

Ethan Canin writes like the most compassionate of rabbis. Tell him anything and he will still forgive you. This does not mean he leaves out spiky, willful or tyrannizing characters. Just the reverse, but he writes so that we understand them.

An impressive to-do list! I'll never check off every item, but good reminders.
Reblogged from GreyWarden:
Book Blogging Checklist InfoGraphic
Book Blogging Checklist InfoGraphic

Infographic by parajunkee.com

Stones in the Road: Gripping Historical Fiction

The last time Joshua’s father beats Joshua in the woodshed, they accidentally set the woodshed on fire. Joshua’s father is not just Amish, but a revered church deacon. Both father and son are badly burned. Eleven-year-old Joshua escapes, leaving behind his mom, his maimed dad and four sisters. For ten years, 1867 to 1877, Joshua is on the run.  To survive, Joshua has to turn to the hated and feared “English.”

 

Stones in the Road alternates between Joshua’s point of view and his mother’s, Miriam’s. When Miriam is not tending to the farm, the “littles,” and her now disabled husband, Abraham, she searches for Joshua. Abraham tries to dissuade her. He claims Joshua died in the fire. Miriam is undeterred. She goes far afield in her search. She finds refuge not with her community of Amish, but with the enemy, the English, in the form of a kindly neighbor.

 

Both Joshua’s and Miriam’s narrow worlds crack open as they are abandoned by their own people and forced on journeys they never wanted to take. Not until Joshua is a grown man does he finally return home to New Eden and confront his father with the truth. 

 

Before E.B. Moore was a novelist, she was a poet and a sculptor. The discipline of these twin arts shows in her prose: her sentences are plain, vivid, elemental--perfect for this tale of a plain people. And she has done her homework. I won’t soon forget her harrowing account of Joshua’s trip west as he joins a group of Conestoga wagons on the trail west.

 

The plots of both E. B. Moore’s novels, An Unseemly Wife and Stones in the Road, are drawn from family stories from two branches of Amish ancestors who left the fold. She grants rare insight into the ways, values and fears of the Amish. 

Re Jane: Smart Fun

 

 

The danger in reviewing Patricia Park's book, is that in listing her many accolades & accomplishments, you’ll miss out on the smart fun of her debut novel, Re Jane. Park is not only a Fulbright scholar, but a first-time novelist who earned the author trifecta:

 

1. The New York Times Sunday Book Review named Re Jane as Editor’s Choice.

2. NPR’s Fresh Air called Re Jane, “a wickedly inventive updating of Jane Eyre…”

3. And O, Oprah’s magazine!!, writes, “Reader, you’ll love her.”

 

In Re Jane, Park has dared to re-make beloved heroine Jane Eyre into a Korean-American orphan growing up in the ‘00s in Queens, New York.  She works at her uncle’s grocery called simply, “Food.”

 

Jane is desperate to escape the outer boroughs to Manhattan, that core borough which “blazed in its own violet light and threw scraps of shadows on the rest of us,” Park writes. But when Jane's post-college promised dot.com job goes bust, she travels through Manhattan to work in hipster Brooklyn. As a nanny. To another adoptee, a Chinese-American girl, Devon.

 

Ironies abound, and Park skewers them all. Devon’s mom—the crazy woman in the attic--is recast as a feminist, very meta professor. And Devon’s dad, Rochester, is an ABD, All-But-Dissertation, English prof, languishing at a community college.

 

As Jane shuttles between worlds--from Korean-American Queens to Brooklyn academe to nanny-on-the-playground, to Seoul, Korea, to her return to New York—I won’t say to which borough—we root for her to find her own path to that violet light.

 

Jane—and Park—travel the complete range of culture from high to low and back with verve and wit and tenderness.