Category Archives: book reviews

The Monday Book: SUITE FRANCAISE by Irene Nemirovsky

The Monday Book falls on a Tuesday this week due to Celtic Festivals and kitten spays.

suiteIrene Nemirovsky was a Ukranian-born Jewish woman who lived in Paris and enjoyed a successful writing  career. She planned five short novels to be part of a book titled Suite Francaise, but she had only written two and drafted the third when she was rounded up, deported, and murdered.

What’s amazing about the first novel “Storm in June” is how accurately it describes something ongoing. Nemirovsky never got the luxury of time to contemplate what she saw, so her characterizations of the upper class family, the pompous writer, the sweet middle-class couple, and the nasty antiques dealer fleeing (or trying to flee) Paris sprang almost fully formed as she watched it unfold in front of her. I wonder who (or how many) of her colleagues she skewered in the darkly hysterical portrait of the famous author and his mistress as they flee, first in pomp and style, then with whatever diminishing wits they can gather about them.

Then there’s “Dolce,” from which a film is/has been made. It’s more of an expected war story: women whose husbands are prisoners in Germany house German officers as occupiers; add community sentiment and stir. It’s fairly predictable. But “Storm in June” is amazing in its details of what human hearts turn into when combined with fear, breakdown of social order, and a few sudden chances to change everything. Nemirovsky saw through a lot of veneers.

The manuscripts were finally published in this century, when her daughter opened the suitcase and read them, realized they were novels rather than journals, and sent them to Denoel, a large publishing house. “Storm in June” is pretty much genius, making you laugh and sob at the same time.

How many people did we lose in that storm, who would have made us laugh or cry today?


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Filed under book reviews, Downton Abbey, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, out of things to read, publishing, reading, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, writing

The Monday Book: THE FRIENDLY PERSUASION by Jessamyn West

You know how you start thinking about an old friend, and then look them up, and find they were thinking of you? This book is like that.

west-persuasionWest wrote it (and its companion volume Except for Me and Thee) more than 75 years ago, but it’s still just as funny and sweet, mostly because it’s about humans. Just humans, and how they interact, living on a farm in the Midwest as Quakers.

Well, there’s that Civil War bit, and their brush with the Underground Railroad, which is somehow more intense now reading it in these troubled years. So much should have changed by now…..

Not much has changed in human courtship, either, and the stories around love affairs (would be or actual) are as hysterical as they are accurate. If you want to just escape into a world that pre-dates Jan Karon but echoes our own modern troubles, this is a good one.

The author was a woman ahead of her time. She wrote two of my all-time favorite quotes about writing: “Talent is helpful in writing but guts are absolutely essential” and “Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures.”

That kinda sums up The Friendly Persuasion. One of the reasons people will still be reading it years from now is its poignant accuracy in describing human interactions.




Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing, YA fiction

Wesley Tells His Tail – Er, Tale

Today’s guest blog is from Wesley and his foster mom Willie Dalton. Willie is the author of THREE WITCHES IN A SMALL TOWN, from which the “dumpster six” take their names: Wesley, Steven, Cerulean, Agatha, Mabry, and Maeve. (Maeve is now of blessed memory). You’d love the book as much as the names. It’s available from Mountain Girl Press.

Take it away, Wesley!!!

wesleyHi, I’m Wesley. My five siblings and I had a rough start. Someone taped us up inside a box and dropped us in a dumpster when we were only a few weeks old. Can you believe it? We didn’t do nothin’ to nobody.

Luckily, a nice lady found us and helped us get the food and medicine we really needed. One of my sisters didn’t make it, and we all miss her. But the rest of us are happy and healthy now. I’m getting bigger and stronger every day!

And I sure am happy I can eat on my own now without having to wait for my foster mom to bring me a bottle and feed all my siblings too. I’m not very patient when I’m hungry. But who is, am I right?

My foster mom is great but I think I’m ready for a furever home. There’s a lot of other cats here and I’d appreciate a little more personal attention. Every time I find a nice warm lap to curl up in, my sister Cerulean comes along and hogs all the cuddles. She’s a bit of a diva.

ceruleanI guess I wouldn’t mind another cat or two to play with if the right family comes along but one I thing I definitely need is toys with feathers, lots of feathers, they’re really great.

Everyone who sees me says how handsome I am with my little white face and pink nose but so far no one has taken me home. Maybe it’s because I snore sometimes. I don’t know what else it could be! I’m cute, playful, cuddly and I have have very tidy litter box habits. I’m a real catch.

Mom says the right family will find me soon and fall in love with me, that sounds really nice. But until then I’ll just be napping on the softy blanket on the couch, ya know, until Cerulean tries to steal it from me.

To adopt Wesley, Cerulean, or any of the “dumpster six,” message Appalachian Feline Friends via Facebook.

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The Monday Book: TOGETHER TEA by Marjan Kamali

together-teaWhen this book came into the shop, I knew it would hit my reading list. I like books about Eastern culture, particularly latte lit. (Novels that have female protagonists dealing with general life, are smart, and don’t devolve into cooking lessons, is the best definition of latte lit I’ve heard.)

Kamali’s book has a couple of clunky bits where she just wants you to believe certain things about her characters without developing them. However. her sharp, sassy writing style makes up for it. She’s like a sweet cynic when she gets hold of words. The novel’s premise is that the mother and daughter in an Iranian family that fled after the Revolution decide to go back for a visit. They go because of love interests – Mom has picked up one she doesn’t one, and the daughter has rejected one Mom picked out for her.

At one point Mina (the daughter) describes herself as balanced on the hyphen between Iranian-American. It’s a lovely passage. In the course of the visit, the depiction of one mom dealing with her family’s everyday pressures compounded by a country flipping itself upside down in a near-civil-war is fascinating. This isn’t an intense political book; it’s one family’s experiences. And its power lies in the way Kamali writes more than the plot or characters.

Here are some examples of the little gems Kamali drops in her writing:

Explaining to her ten-year-old daughter why she now has to wear a hijab to school when a month ago the Shah’s guard were snatching scarves off women’s heads if they wore them:

It’s always through the women that the men express their agenda. Cover up so they can feel like they’re in power.

Iranian hospitality (which is Southern hospitality to the power of 10) requires you to beg the guest to eat and the guest swears it will kill them to do inconvenience you. On round three of one such exchange, Mina, returned to Iran after 15 years in the states, loses it in this gloriously subtle way:

Mina: Would you like some nuts.

Guests: Oh thank you, no, may your hands not ache.

Mina: Please take a nut.

Guests: No, No.

Mina: In God’s name, take a nut.

Her humor is understated like that.

When the family arrives in America, the mom, a quiet, sweet, simple woman by American standards, buys a box of red hair dye and colors herself. When  she comes out of the bathroom, her husband claps and then goes in and cleans up what looks like the scene of an ax murder. The mother turns to her daughter and says they’re going for a walk. Which they do, the daughter much cowed by Mom’s new hair. And Kamali writes this:

Was freedom just tiny movements like this? Simply knowing that no one cared if the sun shone on your hair? …. But dominating all the new colors was the jarring red of Darya’s hair, an unfamiliar defiance that screamed silently at the start of their American life.

And as the book comes to its predictable wedding conclusion, Darya (Mom) looks at the chaos of Iranian-American wedding traditions and messiness around her and reflects:

Real life was messy. It would never add up. It wasn’t perfect. It didn’t need to be.

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The Monday Book: THE LAST MORTAL MAN by Syne Mitchell

deathlessSo I’m not the world’s biggest SF fan these days, but when THE LAST MORTAL MAN came into our shop, I was in a mood and needed a book in a hurry. I packed it in my bag and raced for my plane, train, or car pool, whatever it was.

Ironically, I soon discovered that I had picked up a novel that was one long futuristic chase scene. This book never stops, people running hither thither and yon getting disintegrated despite being immortal (which hardly seems fair) and willing their no-longer-human flesh into weapons and dropping buildings on each other while operating a mind-melding Facebook equivalent called Gaia-Net.

It is HBO’s animated wet dream, this book.

THE LAST MORTAL MAN is driven by violence and nano-science rather than characters. That said, Mitchell has a great imagination. (Well, hey, she’s a weaver. You can check our her fiber art stuff by googling her name.) She can find ways to kill people who have made themselves immortal and create landscapes with their brain. Also, underneath the VERY fast-paced killing and tech-willing, you find pieces of humanity-and-social-justice-oriented plot that could have been something special had they been developed. (Her series was cancelled after the first book. Which might explain why so many things obviously being set up were left unfinished; she expected to have more time later.)

The premise of the book is that the world is so full of tech, when you create tech that destroys tech, the only people left will be little kids and the Amish. Yep, there are Amish people in this book, and – wait for it – one of the girls is the love interest. Yeah, I about died laughing. All those Christian Amish romances, and it comes to this?

That sounds like I’m making fun of Mitchell’s work. No, just that it had a lot of potential that seemed to fall apart in the urge to write ever-faster hard-rock chase scenes where Immortal Girl in black rubber body suit wills her arm into a blade and defends little kids from big bad assassins sent by the Deathless Cartel because they’re mad at the Godfather of Immortality – whose henchman came up with the tech that kills tech.

It all runs faster from there, mostly downhill.

I wanted to like this book, and finished reading it because it was so…. silly. All plot and no people. No one you wanted to root for, and when it comes down to the finale the world is saved or doomed by a Siamese kitten and her girl, who are paired to be the perfect killers/saviors by releasing tech each of them holds half of. I like Siamese cats. I really do. But….

Normally I don’t review books I didn’t like, so you’re wondering why I did this one? Well, truth is, I did like it. It was so bizarre it amused me. Like every once in awhile, instead of getting chocolate cake, you choose Jello, just because.

This book is Jello. Flavorful, rainbow jello with sprinkles. And killer kittens.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, humor, Hunger Games, Life reflections, post-apocalypse fiction, publishing, reading, writing, YA fiction

The Monday Book: AMERICAN DERVISH by Ayad Akhtar

american-dervishI like character-driven books, and I like books that explore culture clashes, so this was a win-win. Hyat Shah, a teen in the pre-9-11 world of American Islam, is discovering himself through a combination of religion and lust that feels pretty authentic.

Told through his eyes is the story of his mother’s best friend Mina, who falls in love with a Jewish man. Hyat is directly involved with how this does (or doesn’t) go and all through the book you get no sense of agenda, just skilled descriptions of real people trying to live their lives one non-surefooted step at a time.

Hyat himself is a fascinating character, a Muslim Holden Caulfield trying to step with care through the world, but usually putting his foot right into the middle of the muck. Perhaps deliberately, sometimes. His mother and father don’t much like each other. Hyat’s got the hots for his mother’s best friend but can’t admit it. He also thinks her son is a spoiled brat but as a teenager has to share everything with this six-year-old.

It’s a typical American family, these Shahs.

The ultimate (not really a spoiler here) inevitable break-up of Mina and Nathan isn’t really the point or climax of the book; it’s the building action of these wondrously drawn characters, people who are just people, that makes 375 pages fly by in minutes. You can’t put this down, even if it is a little voyeuristic – akin to watching people you like board the Titanic.

Lose yourself in some excellent writing that asks many more questions of its reader than it answers. Pick up AMERICAN DERVISH at your local bookshop or library.

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The Monday Book

Jack’s guest Monday review (on Tuesday – just) –

Ian Rankin – The Rebus Series

Not so much a book review, as an author review this week –

I’m not usually one for novels, preferring biographies and memoirs for the most part. But I do have just a few novelists I like and one of those is Rankin. I hasten to add that it’s not that I like every book he’s written, but the Rebus series do stand out, in my opinion.

It’s probably because both Rankin and his character have their roots in West Fife (my home territory) but are resident in Edinburgh (a place I know well). In the series Rebus frequently revisits Fife and the Edinburgh that forms the backdrop to most of the books is very lovingly and accurately portrayed.

The books are well written, full of believable characters and with plots that grip you to the last page. This is noir detective with a Scots accent and firmly in the world of Philip Marlowe.

The Edinburgh he describes is a mixture of the historic center after dark and the run-down housing schemes on the outskirts. His plots are always relevant to the times and clearly involve  a lot of careful research.

Rebus is a complex guy with a troubled personal life, who is looked on with suspicion by most of his colleagues and especially by his superiors. During the course of the series he moves from being a regular working cop to the branch that deals with internal matters such as bribery and collusion with criminals and gangs.

All the books except the last one have been made into TV dramas, with half being done by the BBC and the other half by ITV. The casts were different for each series and, although presenting contrasting interpretations, both were excellent.

I have read other novels by Rankin that were not part of the Rebus series and didn’t find them as compelling I’m afraid.


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