Tag Archives: first novel

A Pale View of the Hills: What a weird little novel

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This is one weird little novel. I read it for book club and I’m so glad because hopefully one of my friends can explain what in the what. Continue reading

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Filed under Book Club, Fiction, Prize Winner

The Last Town on Earth: A Lengthy Post Worth Reading Because Trump Isn’t Mentioned

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Thomas Mullen’s The Last Town on Earth opens 1918 in Washington state as the Spanish flu outbreak begins. Historical fiction, the novel imagines the lives of the citizens in the fictious Commonwealth after the town votes to ‘reverse’ quarantine: as no one in the town is yet sick, they vote to forbid entry or exit from the town and post guards to ensure the quarantine is followed. It closely follows the Worthy family, the patriarch of whom, Charles, is the mill owner and unelected leader of the town; the (adopted) son, Philip, is our protagonist. Continue reading

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Filed under American literature, Book Club, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Prize Winner

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender: This Book is Wildly Overrated

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The internet loves Lesley Walton and The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender. They love the love story. The magic. The mystery of the ending. They love love love this YA novel. It’s enough to fill this reader with despair. How can so many people love a book that is so completely and totally average?

Maybe it’s like every time I’ve ever had a glass of wine with C. and R. I get super excited about the $15 bottle and its smooth taste, because really I can barely tell the difference between red and white. You get me – I’m accusing readers of The Strange and Beautiful as having unrefined tastes. Even though the readers are meant to be young adults who haven’t tasted enough to know what’s good or not. Ohmygoshdidshejustwritethat. Yes. Yes I did. Sometimes you need a trusted sommeli (*cough* let me, like Walton, make my analogy clear: a librarian. a teacher. a well-read friend) to steer you in the right direction. To correct your gushes of enthusiasm for the overly sweet – the gewurztraminer you can’t get enough of, the wine spritzer you claim as life changing.

On the surface this book should be good. It uses magic realism to explore… oh wait, nothing. Babies born with wings and mothers with a magical sense of smell, aunties that turn into canaries. All to suggest – get this – those who are different are sometimes mistreated by the rest of society that doesn’t quite understand difference. An overly pious man who brutalizes a young woman lets us know sometimes religion is hateful. It offers up some beautiful writing and then includes sentences like “death smelled like sadness” and images of women wearing *actual* wedding dresses to signal virginity. And then *actual* dirty wedding dresses to signal sexual awakening.  You could defend these trite and surface elements as a consequence of the novels intended young adult audience, but then you’d run up against the inclusion of sexually graphic scenes and vivid moments of violence  that – while certainly not to be forbidden the young adult, nevertheless read as intentionally provocative inclusions at best. Add in the underdeveloped and internally inconsistent characters, the absence of any plot conflict worth describing and a thematic depth better described as evaporation and you get… a wildly overrated novel.

Am I being overly arrogant in claiming to know what’s good or not in books? What makes for good value in reading? Sure. But it’s not a matter of taste. Books are not simply neutral objects awaiting the individual preferences of readers (*bracing for onslaught of outrage*). I appreciate different readers will enjoy different things – your Merlot for your Cab Sav – but there are qualitative differences and popularity is not one of them. Trust me?

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Filed under Bestseller, Book I'll Forget I Read, Fiction, Young Adult Fiction

Fourth of July Creek: The Unexpected Delight of Rural Montana

Rural Montana Storm Clouds

With a name like Smith Henderson, you’re probably thinking, this author is mixed up. He has a last name for a first name. How could he possibly write a compelling, gripping and fascinating novel about rural Montana in 1980? Probably he made up the name Smith Henderson to sound more rugged. Whatever. It works. Fourth of July Creek is a brilliant novel.

The novel opens with Pete Snow, a social worker, arriving at the home of one of his clients. Pete’s initial characterization as a man who cares deeply about the welfare of children remains consistent throughout the novel. What changes is the initial impression of him as a wholesome, got-his-shit-together-even-if-no-one-else does man. As the novel unfolds we explore the complexities of Pete’s past, his fraught relationship with his ex-wife and daughter, the degree to which we are all in need of some kind of support, even (and perhaps especially) those in care-giving roles.

You’re thinking *yawn* we don’t care about another fascinating character study, E. Well, fine. Fourth of July Creek just happens to also have a fascinating plot delivered through detailed, show-don’t-tell description in a realist fashion that somehow leaves room for experiment and play (thinking specifically here of the chapters with Rachel and… discuss). So what do we have? A libertarian/fundamentalist family living in the mountains. Threats on the president. Crime. The chance to save them all. The slow and steady build to a climax of sweeping proportions. A deep care for the characters involved.

Arg. It’s just so unexpectedly good. I really thought setting out that I wasn’t interested. But heck but if this isn’t why we read fiction I don’t know what is: I don’t have to have (or think I have) any relationship to the plot/character/setting/ideas of the novel in order to be utterly absorbed and enriched. So for what it’s worth, Smith Henderson, you have a silly name, but an incredible first novel.

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Filed under American literature, Bestseller, Fiction, Prize Winner