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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

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Seconds


Bryan Lee O’Malley
Ballantine Books (2014)
ISBN 978-0345529374
336p

If you know Scott Pilgrim, then you know then you’ve already been introduced to Bryan Lee O’Malley, however, when someone recommended Seconds to me, I was curious. In many ways, this standalone comic is a stunning, complex, and contemporary graphic novel that is woven with great storytelling and a graphic style that appeals to a wide range of readers.

Friday, April 6, 2018

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Entangled Lives

Imran Omer
Release Date: July 27, 2018
Roundfire Books
ISBN: 978-1785357848

Jane Smiley (author of Private Life and Some Luck) said that “in our dangerous world, the freedom and empathy that fiction develops in its remains essential.” She was defining how fiction has the power to show us not only human truth, but to make us feel the power of that truth. And she goes on to explain that “reading fiction is and always was about learning to see the world through often quite alien perspectives.” And that brings us to Omer’s Entangled Lives. A novel that shows the interconnections between a journalist, a Taliban fighter in Afghanistan, and the lives that are tangled between these two main protagonists.

In the slums of Pakistan, Rasa is a poor orphan who grows up in a strict and confining madrassah. There he meets and falls in love with Perveen. In their desperation for change and a life together, they decide to flee the madrassah and the city. When their dreams of escape fail, a pregnant Perveen is sent home while Raza is sent to Afghanistan to fight as a Taliban solider.  Just before he leaves to fight across the border, he learns who his mother is, and why she had to give him up. Knowing his past, he has to survive his life in Afghanistan and return to Perveen and his child.

On the other side of the world, a journalist named Rachael Brown travels to Afghanistan to to report on the political unrest and the coming civil war. She meets Raza for a brief interview and realizes that the Taliban has filled its ranks with poor, desperate young men with no future. Through the unfolding war, these two unlikely strangers meet in an epic meeting of fate. The result is how two people from the most unlikely places can change the course of life. In a time of labels, stereotypes, and socio-politic polarization, this novel brings to focus the complexity and dynamics watching your life change in the currents of political and social change.

Novels are meant to connect more than just a telling of events, they are designed to immerse the reader into something more, to draw out empathy, character, and truth in terms of universal qualities. Jane Smiley explains it as the “reading fiction is and always was a practice in empathy” which cuts down those stereotypes, that changes are vision of the world, and shows us the universal struggles that is so easy to cast off, turn into a sound byte, or shape into political divisions. Entangled Lives is a connective novel that shifts views and shows the intersection of two worlds in face of the darkest moments in our lives. Set in the Middle East and focused about two unlikely people in the face of great odds, this novel compares to The Kite Runner and Girls of Riyadh.

Monday, March 5, 2018

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Losing the Girl: Life on Earth Book 1

Mari Naomi 
Graphic Universe 
Pub Date: Jan 1, 2018 (Available Now) 
ISBN 978-1541510449
280 Pages 


Claudia is missing. While they wait to find out what happened (runaway, hiding, alien abduction), her friends from Blithedale High are carrying on with their teenage lives. While they struggle with love, belonging, failure, and complicated family life, these four teenagers constantly wonder why their lives are so confusing. Eisner-nominated MariNaomi has created earnest characters who face the reality of the teenage years. Emily is trying to handle surprising changes in her life, Paula is looking

The Storm

Arif Anwar
Release Date: May 2018
Atria Books
ISBN 978-1501174506

In this stunning debut novel, Arif Anwar weaves a complex threaded story that weaves mystery, difficult choices, and the fate of history into an epic story of three generations of Bangladeshi history. The book opens with Shahryar, a graduate student earning his Ph.D faces deportation as his visa is soon to expire leaving his daughter and ex-wife behind. He begins to ruminate on his childhood on the shores of the Bay of Bengal and begins to weave his woven fate with a historical storm and flood. This novel moves and shifts along historical moments and connections with the past and the future where honor, sacrifice, and betrayal fight history as it rushes forward. The stories include a British field physician, a Japanese pilot, and an upper-class couple caught in the midst of the Partition of India. All these characters make decisions based on making the life better for the next generation, the survivors, the future. It is a humbling vision of our personal histories - past, present, and future. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

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Roses, Wine & Murder - In the City of Steeples

Rose Young
Release: November 2018
ASIN: B0779LZPBX
316p

If you’ve heard the term “cozy mystery” you know the subgenre of crime fiction downplays some of the graphic elements in crime storytelling, leaving the main story to the local hometown detectives in the story. In Roses, Wine & Murder, it wraps gardening, wine, history, and tourism into the mix in a satisfying cozy mystery that puts the vineyards of southern New England into the spotlight. This debut novel is a fast-paced mystery that connects gardening, wine, and suspense into a book that would intrigue a mystery reader, but also draws in someone who has traveled through the wine tours of the North Fork of Long Island and the eastern coast of Connecticut.

Roxanne Samson is a sensible protagonist who stumbles across a dead body as she works on one of her community gardening sites. This wealthy, dead, wine connoisseur is not only connected to the local wine bistro nearby, but also to some sinister plot. 

As Roxanne shadows the police, she meets some of the locals and tries to help draw out the killer. Everyone is a suspect, from the local bistro owner to the grieving North Folk window. Each turn and twist uncovers a small piece of the complex and dark plot. The cunning manipulator is always one step ahead of the local detectives. Finally, it is up to Roxanne and her friends to close in on him once and for all. Filled with gardening insight, wine pairings, and history, this mystery carries our sanguine protagonist, the wine bistro owner and the rest of the cast on the hunt for the mystery man and his purpose in the otherwise quiet City of Steeples. Rose Young’s debut novel is inspired by her love of history and professional work in her own landscape and garden design firm.






Monday, February 12, 2018

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The Bridge: How the Roeblings Connected Brooklyn to New York

Peter Tomasi (author) Sara DuVall (Illustrator)
Abrams ComicArts
Pub Date: April 2018
ISBN: 978-1419728525
208 Pages

At a glance, we can look at buildings, memorials, and landmarks and immediately sense their place in the world. In this stunning graphic novel, The Bridge tells the story of the iconic Brooklyn Bridge through the family that made it all possible. Originally designed by John Augustus Roeblings, the Brooklyn Bridge became more than just one man’s obsession, but a family quest to see it through in a monumental vision of the impossible. In fact, it was John Roeblings son Washington who came back from the Civil War to take up this colossal municipal project. After working on the caissons and suffering from what would eventually be termed “Caisson Disease”, Washington Roeblings was bedridden with his chronic condition. Not to be defeated, he explained everything to his wife Emily who went to the site, supervised the construction, contractors, shifty politicians, and carried the weight of all those naysayers as they pushed to finish the project.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

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Gods of Howl Mountain

Taylor Brown
St. Martin's Press
Pub Date: March 20, 2018
ISBN 978-1250111777
p304

When it comes to protagonists, Taylor Brown has changed that paradigm in his novel Gods of Howl Mountain. Rory Docherty is a wounded Korean veteran, back home to bootleg liquor, clash with local factions, evade the law, and appease all his family. He is a gritty car guy who knows the long history of the mountain and the mill town at the bottom of the valley. While Rory is a cut-throat stock car racer and bootlegger, he also knows the mountain and people. A novel as much about place and time as it is story and conflict. 

Rory has returned with a missing leg. Living with his grandmother, in the mountains, they live among the herbal remedies and folklore that haunts the misty mountains. When Rory falls in love with the daughter of a snake-handling preacher, their world is pulled apart by violence, rivalries, love, and ghosts from the past.

Thinking that some evil has invaded Rory's heart, Granny May keeps her shotgun close and her distrust closer. She is mystical in her mountain herbal remedies and her shotgun judgments of the world. Her life as a matriarch and medicine woman draws people to her who want different cures for what ails their lives in town. She also is the link between Rory and the mother he never knew. 

Taylor Brown's prose is as mystical and lyrical as the ghosts high in the mountains. It is not always a beautiful place, but the mountain, the people, and the hard lives all resonant with a profound beauty that shifts from grace and wisdom to deceit and violence. Brown has masterfully crafted this world, grounding in the reader a sense of place and time in America, now long gone. 

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

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Paris in the Present Tense

Mark Helprin
Overlook Press / 2017
  • ISBN: 978-1468314762
400 Pages

It has been awhile since a novel has changed the way I think about the novel. But Paris in the Present Tense is a lyrical novel that has empowered my faith in the contemporary novel. Let's face it, it has been awhile since A Winter's Tale, when we first fell into the world of Helprin's prose and imagination, and while this book isn't as mystical, it is formidable in his prose and his storytelling.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

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ActivAmerica


Meagan Cass
University of North Texas Press / 2017
Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction
ISBN 978-1574416947 / Paper / 192 Pages

ActivAmerica is a collection of short stories drawn from America's obsession with fitness, sports, and how we re-envision ourselves through sports. If this doesn't sound like your cup of tea, you are probably wrong. This book is a dynamic, funny, ironic, brilliant, and often biting commentary on how we live our lives through the perception of sports. This collection tackles more than just the concept of sports but reframes the American dream in tangents and connections that often feels at once hilarious and so ironic 

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

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The Mezzogiorno Social Club


Ercole Gaudioso
Guernica Editions / 2017
ISBN 978-1-77183-165-9 
Paperback/ 290 Pages

It should be said, right off the bat that this is a story of cops and mobsters. Crafted with characters that wear the dust and the crime on their clothes, The Mezzogiorno Social Club is a sweeping novel that carries the weight of tradition, generations, and a code of living divided by a thin line between crime and the cops who keep the peace. 


Thursday, October 12, 2017

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The Old Man and the Sand Eel

Will Millard 
Penguin Books / 2018
ASIN: B06Y62BYKZ
336 Pages

Fishing in simplest terms is an obsession. It is a complicated and often fluid set of skills that depend on season, weather, location, bait, technique and hundreds of other possibilities. Then there is the adrenaline rush of hooking into a fish and the battle that ensues. It is all here in Will Millard's The Old Man and the Sand Eel. Yet, this book is about something more complicated and visionary. It is about what drives and shapes this obsession to fish. And while his adventures hooking fish are exciting to follow, there is more to this book than a guided tour.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

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Black Obelisk - Classic (1923)

Erich Maria Remarque
Ballantine Books (1998)
448p. / Paperback
ISBN 0449912442

This classic by the author of All Quiet on the Western Front follows the post-World War I life of a returning soldier, poet, and monument seller who sees his country on the edge of change. And while inflation and a country slipping into uncertainty, it is the writing of the local people, the conversations, and the disconnect of modernism that creates this often beautiful, sad, and complex novel.

When you think of modernism in literature, it comes with a sense of change and disconnection. Think of books like Kafka's The Metamorphosis, T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land, Virginia Woolf's stream of consciousness writing, and the social and political uncertainty that came with devastating war, an economic depression. It is from these roots that this book carries the ideas of war and loss into a life still waiting to happen.

At times, The Black Obelisk is very pertinent and funny. At times, it feels like an old song that makes you feel sad. While managing the office at the tombstone office, this twenty-something veteran soldier also makes some extra money playing the organ at the chapel in the insane asylum. There he has fallen for one of the patients, a woman that he can't define in conventional terms. This shifting and the changing relationship is often delicate and beautiful while being frustrating and desperate all at the same time. This story thread is one of the most striking modernist ideas, showing the uncertainty of the times.

This book has been criticized for not having a defined plot, but this isn't a story of what happened next, but a story of immersion. Through this sense of moving around his social circles, we see the emergence of nationalism (that would eventually draw in Hitler), we see an economic system on the brink of failure. And men who continue to game the system and try to get out ahead. 

There is no better novel that fits the ideals of modernism than The Black Obelisk, giving the reader a sense of desperation, beauty, and humor in the face of a crushing history that we all know well. Read this book and then share with someone who likes reading novels. They will also fall headlong into this town, and fall into the desperation that life is merely what we make it, even when it changes before it turns into something tangible. Remarque writes, "But probably that's the way of the world -when we finally learned something we're too old to apply it - and so it goes, wave after wave, generation after generation. No one learns anything at all from anyone else." 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

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Body Politic

Rich Murphy 
Prolific Press Inc. / 2016 
ISBN: 978-1632750846


Language and politics have a symbiotic relationship in strange and creative ways. George Orwell knew this when he wrote about the language of politics and what that language does for our society. In Orwell's Politics and the English Language, he spoke about dead metaphors, pretentious diction, and meaningless words. The obfuscation of the real meaning and intention of politic actions are deliberately intertwined in language meant to confuse or misdirect. There was a time when I thought George W. Bush had an issue with language, and then came the Trump leadership with Tweets and strange jargon that means nothing from the leadership. Orwell mentions in his treatise that meaningless words are confusing and dangerous and "words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows the hearer to think it means something quite different." And he goes on to give the example of, "Marshal Petain was true patriot." Sounds like rhetoric I heard last month.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

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A Field Guide to Murder & Fly Fishing

Tim Weed
Green Writers Press. 2017. 
978-0-9974528-7-7 ($24.95) 
Hardcover. 

Diving into this collection of short stories by writer and travel expert Tim Weed, you might want to pack your bags and roam the continent in search of great harrowing adventures. And in some ways, this collection delivers on that. But embedded in these narratives, is a deeper longing, a desperate, and sometimes frustrating relationship, between his protagonist’s fraught desires, fears, and dreams. The depth of emotions reveal subtle, dynamic, and often stunning revelations.  

In stories like “Tower Eight,” “Mouth of the Tropics,” “Diamondback Mountain,” and “Keepers,” Weed moves the physical world to the forefront where nature, mountains, fish, weather conditions, and the reality of nature itself become antagonistic. These stories echo the Hemingway tradition of fronting raw power and natural uncertainty as a means to test a character's fate. This can end in a lesson learned or life lost. But his complexity is not limited to this “surviving nature” theme.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Kindred

Octavia Butler 
Damian Duffy (illustrator)
Abrams ComicArts (1/17) 
ASIN: B01IDGS7BQ
pp. 248


Creating a graphic novel experience is often a balance between images (graphic) and the novel (the story) and how they work together. Adapted to the graphic novel by John Jennings (illustrator) and Damien Duffy (editor), this complex piece of speculative history is constantly serving uncertainty and twists on every page. The story takes a writer from the 1970's who is inexplicably pulled back in time to save a child. The white child named Rufus is somehow connected to her. When she returns to the 1970's she realizes that she has only been gone a short time. As she continues to be pulled back to Rufus and his life, she realizes that she is being drawn back to a southern plantation where slaves are used to managing the house and tend the crops. Dana (and eventually her husband Kevin, a white man) must find their way in this oppressive and complicated past.