Category Archives: Literary

A Guest Review of Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Go Set a Watchman: A Novel

by Harper Lee

A Guest Review by Douglas Green

Have just finished Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman. For the first 3/4 of this book, I found myself fully in agreement with those folks at Businessweek with their article on it. This was actually written 3 years before Mockingbird, though never published. Harper then set Mockingbird 20 years earlier with the same cast of characters, and told that tale through the eyes of a 14-year-old girl. What she wrote is a timeless classic, well deserving of the Pulitzer and any other award they can find to honor it with. The problem comes, in that in the last two parts of this book, Harper Lee writes some of the most compelling, vivid, attention riveting piece of prose I’ve had the privileged to read. For me, it rivals some of the best passages of Tolkien, Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea, or the best writings of Maugham.

The book DESERVED to be published, and in no way detracts from Mockingbird. This book too, can stand on its own, though it can never be the equal of Mockingbird.

Book Description

Go Set a WatchmanFrom Harper Lee comes a landmark new novel set two decades after her beloved Pulitzer Prize–winning masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird.

Maycomb, Alabama. Twenty-six-year-old Jean Louise Finch—”Scout”—returns home from New York City to visit her aging father, Atticus. Set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South, Jean Louise’s homecoming turns bittersweet when she learns disturbing truths about her close-knit family, the town, and the people dearest to her. Memories from her childhood flood back, and her values and assumptions are thrown into doubt. Featuring many of the iconic characters from To Kill a Mockingbird, Go Set a Watchman perfectly captures a young woman, and a world, in painful yet necessary transition out of the illusions of the past—a journey that can only be guided by one’s own conscience.

Written in the mid-1950s, Go Set a Watchman imparts a fuller, richer understanding and appreciation of Harper Lee. Here is an unforgettable novel of wisdom, humanity, passion, humor, and effortless precision—a profoundly affecting work of art that is both wonderfully evocative of another era and relevant to our own times. It not only confirms the enduring brilliance of To Kill a Mockingbird, but also serves as its essential companion, adding depth, context, and new meaning to an American classic.

Book Details

Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Harper; 1 edition (July 14, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0062409859
ISBN-13: 978-0062409850
Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds

About the Author

Nelle Harper Lee is known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird, her only major work. In 1999, it was voted “Best Novel of the Century” in a poll by Library Journal. Ms. Lee was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to literature in 2007. Her father was a lawyer who served in the Alabama state legislature from 1926 to 1938. As a child, Lee was a tomboy and enjoyed the friendship of her schoolmate, Truman Capote. After completing To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee accompanied Capote to Holcomb, Kansas, to assist him in researching his bestselling book, In Cold Blood. Since publication of To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee has granted very few requests for interviews or public appearances. Her second novel, Go Set a Watchman, is scheduled to be released in July, 2015.

 

A Review of Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets by Jacob M. Appel

Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets

by Jacob M. Appel

This is the second collection of short fiction by Mr. Appel that I have had the privilege of reading. He has blown me away once again. His stories make you think. They lay out the idea, and then it’s your job to ponder them and see what they are really saying about your life. This is a small book. It has 155 pages and 8 stories, but don’t rush though them. Take your time. Sit there and think about the story before plunging into the next one. It will ripen and develop new ideas as you let it float around inside your mind. When you have spent enough time integrating the ideas that the story has prompted, then you will be ready for the next surprise, the next set of thoughts, the next new story.

Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets is a must read if you like short stories. Mr. Appel will entertain you, but at the same time he will challenge you. He will make you reexamine some ideas that you may have taken for granted. This isn’t science fiction, but some of these stories have that Twilight Zone feel to them. Do you remember the best episodes of Twilight Zone, where you came away with a feeling that wouldn’t leave, an idea that haunted you, something that just wouldn’t go away? That is the experience that you will have reading these stories. They will push you to think about life and death in a new way.

I’m not going to give you little capsule summaries of these stories. I’m just going to tell you that you will love these quirky, wonderful characters in these surprisingly delightful stories.

I give Miracles and Conundrums of the Secondary Planets 4 1/2 Stars out of 5 and a Big Thumbs Up! Read it, if you have a chance, I think you will be won over to Mr. Appel’s camp.

I received a paperback copy of this book from the author.

Book Description

Miracles and ConundrumsA visitor from a distant planet opens a Latvian restaurant next to an abortion clinic; a magician learns that true love will cost him a kidney; a blind barber cuts hair for tourists in a gentrifying Harlem…. Enter the mad, moving university of Jacob M. Appel’s short fiction.

 

 

 

Book Details

Paperback: 155 pages
Publisher: Black Lawrence Press (June 30, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1625579330
ISBN-13: 978-1625579331
Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.5 inches
Shipping Weight: 8 ounces

About the Author

Jacob-M-Appel-Photograph-7-29-10Jacob M. Appel is a physician, attorney and bioethicist based in New York City. He is the author of more than two hundred published short stories and is a past winner of the Boston Review Short Fiction Competition, the William Faulkner – William Wisdom Award for the Short Story, the Dana Award, the Arts & Letters Prize for Fiction, the North American Review’s Kurt Vonnegut Prize, the Missouri Review‘s Editor’s Prize, the Sycamore Review‘s Wabash Prize, the Briar Cliff Review‘s Short Fiction Prize, the H. E. Francis Prize, the New Millennium Writings Fiction Award in four different years, an Elizabeth George Fellowship and a Sherwood Anderson Foundation Writers Grant. His stories have been short-listed for the O. Henry Award, Best American Short Stories, Best American Nonrequired Reading, Best American Mystery Stories, and the Pushcart Prize anthology on numerous occasions. His first novel, The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up, won the Dundee International Book Prize in 2012. His second novel, second novel, The Biology of Luck, was short-listed for the Hoffer Society’s Montaigne Medal. Jacob holds graduate degrees from Brown University, Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, Harvard Law School, New York University’s MFA program in fiction and Albany Medical College’s Alden March Institute of Bioethics. He taught for many years at Brown University and currently teaches at the Gotham Writers’ Workshop and the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

 

A Review of You Don’t Have to Live Like This by Benjamin Markovits

You Don’t Have to Live Like This

by Benjamin Markovits

This book intrigued me because it was set in present day Detroit. Since I have lived my whole life in the Detroit Metro area, I figured that it was a must-read. The story mirrors what is going on it Detroit. It tells a story of a group of investors who want to buy up the abandoned, burned out, run-down or torn down properties in a section of Detroit. They want to purchase all the homes, even the ones that people are living in. They want to rebuild 5 square miles of Detroit and make a large profit doing it.

Mr. Markovits tells this story from the point of view of Greg Marnier. He grew up as a fairly intelligent, but not very motivated child. He did what was expected of him, and kind of just went along with everything. He graduated from Yale and then went to Oxford, because he didn’t really have any desires of his own. He ended up as an untenured, part-time history professor at a small college in Wales.

Marny, what his friends call him, flys back to the States for a reunion of sorts. Some of his buddies from Yale are getting together. They talk about what they are doing with their lives, and Marny decides that his life is crap. He wants a change, so he decides to quit teaching and go home to Baton Rouge. That’s not working either, so when one of the Yalies, Robert James, asks him if he would be willing to be part of his scheme to rebuild Detroit and possibly make a fortune doing it, he says why not.

Since this is really Marny’s story, many of the events surrounding the Detroit plan happen behind the scenes. The story isn’t really a mystery, but Marny does try to figure out some things that are going on, but most of the story is what happens to Marny. It’s about how he grows close to some of his neighbors and especially how he meets and falls in love with a black women, who is a teacher in a Detroit high school. You get to see, though his eyes, what this project is doing to the city and its residents. You also get to ask the question “Is this the right way to rebuild a city?”

I liked this book, but what worked for me might not mean much to someone who doesn’t have a connection with Detroit. All of the references were quite accurate, but those details might get in the way for someone not familiar with the area, or maybe not, I don’t know. Mr. Markovits does a very good job of telling a believable story, using authentic details, and characters that you care about. The story moves a little slowly, but that may not be a bad thing.

I give You Don’t Have to Live Like This 4 Stars out of 5 and a Thumbs Up. If you are ready for a well written first-person novel with an interesting ethical quandary, then give You Don’t Have to Live Like This a read.

I received a Digital Reader’s Copy from the publisher.

Book Description

You Don't Have to Live Like This by Benjamin MarkovitsA frighteningly prescient novel of today’s America—one man’s story of a racially charged real estate experiment in Detroit, Michigan.

“You get in the habit of living a certain kind of life, you keep going in a certain direction, but most of the pressure on you is just momentum. As soon as you stop the momentum goes away. It’s easier than people think to walk out on things, I mean things like cities, leases, relationships and jobs.”

Greg Marnier, Marny to his friends, leaves a job he doesn’t much like and moves to Detroit, Michigan in 2009, where an old friend has a big idea about real estate and the revitalization of a once great American city. Once there, he gets involved in a fist-fight between two of his friends, a racially charged trial, an act of vigilante justice, a love affair with a local high school teacher, and a game of three-on-three basketball with the President—not to mention the money-soaked real estate project itself, cut out of 600 acres of emaciated Detroit. Marny’s billionaire buddy from Yale, Robert James, calls his project “the Groupon model for gentrification,” others call it “New Jamestown,” and Marny calls it home— until Robert James asks him to leave. This is the story of what went wrong.

You Don’t Have to Live Like This is the breakout novel from the “fabulously real” (Guardian) voice of the only American included in Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. Using the framework of our present reality, Benjamin Markovits blurs the line between the fictional and the fact-based, and captures an invisible current threaded throughout American politics, economics, and society that is waiting to explode.

Book Details

Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Harper (July 7, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0062376608
ISBN-13: 978-0062376602
Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds

About the Author

photo: Caroline Maclean
photo: Caroline Maclean

Benjamin Markovits grew up in Texas, London, Oxford and Berlin. He left an unpromising career as a professional basketball player to study the Romantics—an experience he wrote about in Playing Days, a fictional memoir forthcoming in the U.S. from Harper Perennial. He has written essays, stories and reviews for, among other publications, The New York TimesGrantaThe GuardianLondon Review of Books and The Paris Review. The author of six novels, including a trilogy on the life of Lord Byron, he was a fellow of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard and won a Pushcart Prize in 2009. Granta selected him as one of the Best of Young British Novelists in 2013. Markovits lives in London and is married, with a daughter and a son.

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A Review of Einstein’s Beach House by Jacob M Appel

Einstein’s Beach House

by Jacob M Appel

Each of these stories give you something to think about. The people in the stories have something odd happen, and they have to figure out what it means to them, and what they can do about it. Then you have to think about what their plight means to them, and what it means to you. They make you think.

But, oddly enough, what this book made me think about was, “Why do people write books?” I started to wonder why Mr. Appel wanted to compile this book of stories and find a publisher who would publish it. Did he think that this book would become a New York Times Bestseller, and therefore he would become a rich and famous author? I don’t think so. I think that these stories are more an introduction to the way Mr. Appel thinks. I like the way he thinks. I would be interested to read something else that he wrote. A novel or  novelette, would be good; but I might read some more of his stories. These stories are small glimpses into the lives of some people who you could meet, and I’d like to see a little more of their lives.

I give Einstein’s Beach House 3 1/2 Stars out of 5. This is an interesting writing experiment, but I would have like to have seen more. More stories, and more length to some of his works, so that I could get to know Mr. Appel better. He has talent, and can tell a story, so I know I will see more from him.

I received a paperback copy of this book from the author.

Book Description

Einstein's Beach House 2A couple adopts a depressed hedgehog; a stranger shows up, claiming to be the father of a girl’s imaginary friend; a woman kidnaps her ex-husband’s turtle; a family is evicted from their home, but was it ever really theirs? Heartbreaking and hilarious, the eight stories of Einstein’s Beach House examine how we deceive ourselves and others, all to arrive at something far more real.

Book Details

Paperback: 188 pages
Publisher: Pressgang (December 5, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0984940588
ISBN-13: 978-0984940585
Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
Shipping Weight: 8 ounces

About the Author

Jacob-M-Appel-Photograph-7-29-10Jacob M. Appel’s first novel, The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up, won the Dundee International Book Award in 2012. His short story collection, Scouting for the Reaper, won the 2012 Hudson Prize. He has published short fiction in more than two hundred literary journals including Agni, Conjunctions, Gettysburg Review, Southwest Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and West Branch. His work has been short listed for the O. Henry Award (2001), Best American Short Stories (2007, 2008), Best American Essays (2011, 2012), and received “special mention” for the Pushcart Prize in 2006, 2007, 2011 and 2013.

Jacob holds a B.A. and an M.A. from Brown University, an M.A. and an M.Phil. from Columbia University, an M.S. in bioethics from the Alden March Bioethics Institute of Albany Medical College, an M.D. from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, an M.F.A. in creative writing from New York University, an M.F.A. in playwriting from Queens College, an M.P.H. from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He currently practices psychiatry in New York City.

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A Review of The Truth According to Us: A Novel by Annie Barrows

The Truth According to Us: A Novel

by Annie Barrows

I enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought that I would. I don’t normally read books like this. When I read the blurb, I thought that The Truth According to Us might be worthwhile reading, and I was right.

Ms. Barrows takes us back to Depression era West Virginia. She tells a story of Layla Beck, the daughter of a U.S. Senator, who won’t do as her father demands, and is therefore cut off and forced onto welfare. She has never had to work a day in her life, but her uncle gets her a job working as a writer for the Federal Writers’ Project. Layla is assigned the task of writing the history of Macedonia, West Virginia in honor of their sesquicentennial. She moves into a boarding house run by Jottie Romeyn.

The Romeyn family play a large role in this book. The Truth According to Us is told from the points of view of Layla and some of the Romeyn family, mainly Jottie and Willa (the twelve-year-old daughter of Felix Romeyn).

Layla is finding out that history isn’t just black and white facts, but depends upon the point of view of the teller. She discovers that everybody remembers things differently, and a lot of people lie. They lie to themselves as well as to everyone else.

Layla falls for Felix Romeyn, which starts to color her view of the town’s history. Jottie longs for a proper life for her and Felix’s two daughters, but she still pines for her high school sweetheart, who died in a fire under suspicious circumstances. Willa is growing up and trying to discover what life is all about. She is on a mission to find out the truth about her father and to protect him and her Aunt Jottie from that truth. Everything is intertwined.

The Truth According to Us is a book that grew on me as I read it. The author developed the characters and the story together in a twisted web of truth and lies, love and love lost, told in a setting of a real life struggle during The Great Depression. Ms. Barrows knows how make her characters come alive.

I give The Truth According to Us 4 1/2 Stars out of 5, and A Big Thumbs Up! If you are ready to take a break form a constant diet of Thrillers and Mysteries, I highly recommend this book. I quite enjoyed it, much more than I had expected.

I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy from the publisher.

Book Description

The Truth According to UsFrom the co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society comes a wise, witty, and exuberant novel, perfect for fans of Lee Smith, that illuminates the power of loyalty and forgiveness, memory and truth, and the courage it takes to do what’s right. 

Annie Barrows once again evokes the charm and eccentricity of a small town filled with extraordinary characters. Her new novel, The Truth According to Us, brings to life an inquisitive young girl, her beloved aunt, and the alluring visitor who changes the course of their destiny forever.

In the summer of 1938, Layla Beck’s father, a United States senator, cuts off her allowance and demands that she find employment on the Federal Writers’ Project, a New Deal jobs program. Within days, Layla finds herself far from her accustomed social whirl, assigned to cover the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia, and destined, in her opinion, to go completely mad with boredom. But once she secures a room in the home of the unconventional Romeyn family, she is drawn into their complex world and soon discovers that the truth of the town is entangled in the thorny past of the Romeyn dynasty.

At the Romeyn house, twelve-year-old Willa is desperate to learn everything in her quest to acquire her favorite virtues of ferocity and devotion—a search that leads her into a thicket of mysteries, including the questionable business that occupies her charismatic father and the reason her adored aunt Jottie remains unmarried. Layla’s arrival strikes a match to the family veneer, bringing to light buried secrets that will tell a new tale about the Romeyns. As Willa peels back the layers of her family’s past, and Layla delves deeper into town legend, everyone involved is transformed—and their personal histories completely rewritten.

Book Details

Hardcover: 512 pages
Publisher: The Dial Press (June 9, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0385342942
ISBN-13: 978-0385342940
Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds

About the Author

Photo: © Amy Perl Photography
Photo: © Amy Perl Photography

Annie Barrows was born in 1962 in San Diego, California, but quickly moved to a small town called San Anselmo in the San Francisco Bay Area. She spent most of her childhood at the library. She wouldn’t leave, so they hired her to shelve books at the age of twelve.

Annie attended UC Berkeley and received a B. A. in Medieval History. She knows more than the average person about 3rd century saints. Under the impression that a career in publishing meant she’d get to read a lot, Annie became a proofreader at an art magazine and later an editor at a textbook publishing company. In 1988, Chronicle Books hired Annie as an editorial assistant, from which platform she became successively assistant editor, managing editor, Editor, and Senior Editor. Somewhere in this trajectory, she acquired Griffin & Sabine, Chronicle’s first New York Times best seller.

In 1996, Annie received her Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Mills College and had a baby, a confluence of events that persuaded her to leave editorial work and move into writing. She wrote several non-fiction books on topics ranging from fortune-telling to opera before turning her attention to children’s books. In 2006, the first book in her children’s series, Ivy + Bean was published. This title, an ALA Notable Book for 2007, was followed by nine others. The Ivy + Bean series appears with some regularity on the New York Times best-seller list and a number of other national best-seller lists. The Ivy + Bean books have been translated into fourteen languages; in 2013 Ivy + Bean: The Musical premiered in the San Francisco Bay Area. A novel for older children, The Magic Half, was published by BloomsburyUSA in 2008. Its sequel, Magic in the Mix, came out in 2014.

In addition to her children’s books, Annie is the co-author, with her aunt Mary Ann Shaffer, of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which was published by The Dial Press in 2008. A New York Times best-seller, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society has been published in thirty-seven countries and thirty-two languages.

Annie lives in Northern California with her husband and two daughters.

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A Review of At the Water’s Edge: A Novel by Sara Gruen

At the Water’s Edge: A Novel

by Sara Gruen

I don’t usually read a book like At the Water’s Edge. I lean more toward action thrillers and mysteries, but I thought that a change of pace might do me good. I’m glad that I went out on a limb and read this. I don’t know exactly how to describe At the Water’s Edge. It takes place in Scotland near the end of World War II, so that would give it a historic label. The story involves a trio of wealthy twenty somethings from the states who are spoiled rich kids on a quest to find the Loch Ness monster, while staying  well lubricated from morning ’till night; so I guess that At the Water’s Edge might be called a buddy film if it was a movie. But then Maddie starts to realize that this party life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and begins to discover the real side of life and love, so maybe it could be called a coming of age novel, or maybe a romance. And then there are some mystical elements and even the possibility that the Loch Ness monster is real. So what can we call it? Amazon gives it two main labels, Historical, and Literary. While edelweiss.com adds Contemporary Women, so I guess that you will have to figure it out for yourself.

Ms. Gruen brings this story to life. It felt like a peek into a lifestyle that I only know from film and fiction. Hank and Ellis (Maddie’s husband) think that the world is divided into two groups, the wealthy and everyone else, whose sole purpose is to serve their privileged class. When Maddie sees that everything isn’t quite the way she always thought; she starts to doubt that she can continue live that way. She connects with the common people, and that threatens her relationship with Ellis. He can’t have his wife becoming a commoner.

Is this a great book? Not quite, but it was very enjoyable. It gives you a lot to think about. I imagine that At the Water’s Edge would make a great book club selection. It would have a plenty of ideas to discuss.

I give At the Water’s Edge 4 1/2 Stars out of 5 and a Big Thumbs Up! If you liked the movie Water for Elephants, then I’m sure you will be captured by At the Water’s Edge.

I received a Digital Review Copy from Netgalley.

Book Description

At-the-Waters-EdgeIn this thrilling new novel from the author of Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen again demonstrates her talent for creating spellbinding period pieces. At the Water’s Edge is a gripping and poignant love story about a privileged young woman’s awakening as she experiences the devastation of World War II in a tiny village in the Scottish Highlands.

After disgracing themselves at a high society New Year’s Eve party in Philadelphia in 1944, Madeline Hyde and her husband, Ellis, are cut off financially by his father, a former army colonel who is already ashamed of his son’s inability to serve in the war. When Ellis and his best friend, Hank, decide that the only way to regain the Colonel’s favor is to succeed where the Colonel very publicly failed—by hunting down the famous Loch Ness monster—Maddie reluctantly follows them across the Atlantic, leaving her sheltered world behind.

The trio find themselves in a remote village in the Scottish Highlands, where the locals have nothing but contempt for the privileged interlopers. Maddie is left on her own at the isolated inn, where food is rationed, fuel is scarce, and a knock from the postman can bring tragic news. Yet she finds herself falling in love with the stark beauty and subtle magic of the Scottish countryside. Gradually she comes to know the villagers, and the friendships she forms with two young women open her up to a larger world than she knew existed. Maddie begins to see that nothing is as it first appears: the values she holds dear prove unsustainable, and monsters lurk where they are least expected.

As she embraces a fuller sense of who she might be, Maddie becomes aware not only of the dark forces around her, but of life’s beauty and surprising possibilities.

Book Details

Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau (March 31, 2015)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0385523238
ISBN-13: 978-0385523233
Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
Shipping Weight: 1 pound

About the Author

Photo credit: Tasha Thomas
Photo credit: Tasha Thomas

Sara Gruen is the #1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Water for Elephants, Ape House, Riding Lessons, and Flying Changes. Her works have been translated into forty-three languages, and have sold more than ten million copies worldwide. Water for Elephants was adapted into a major motion picture starring Reese Witherspoon, Rob Pattinson, and Christoph Waltz in 2011.

She lives in Western North Carolina with her husband and three sons, along with their dogs, cats, horses, birds, and the world’s fussiest goat.