Saturday, January 10, 2015

Walls Of Books

I live in a town I lovingly refer to as an intellectual black hole. Rife with fast food restaurants, auto supply stores and a dying mall, until today, Zanesville has not had a bookstore since Borders closed down in 2011. The nearest full-service bookstore is an hour’s drive, and for a bibliophile like myself, that is akin to living in one of Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell.

It is two below zero on a sunny Saturday morning when I arrive for opening day. The store has been officially open for ten minutes and already the aisles are packed with potential book buyers.  As I enter, a woman I know from book discussion groups at the library hands me a bookmark and welcomes me. The store smells of fresh paint, press board and books.

There’s a bookstore in Columbus that drives me nuts with its haphazardly shelved titles. If one is looking for a specific authors or titles, good luck trying to sift through their system of disorganization.  Thankfully here at Walls of Books the shelves are alphabetically arranged, and clearly marked by genre.

At the back of the store is an open area where the Children’s section displays books and educational toys, and Melissa and Doug products. (I have no idea what these are, but apparently they are popular.)  There are also a few shelves for middle grade and teen readers.

Walls of Books is a franchise designed to fill the needs of underserved communities, and a “hub for buying and trading used book.” Originated in 2007 by franchiser Shane Gottwals from his community in Georgia, the company has expanded to more than a dozen stores in several states.
On the company web site it states, “Our goal is to consistently offer fair amounts buying and trading used books, create a family-friendly environment, and promote the many benefits of reading.”

Because there is no background music, I easily overhear someone at the counter ask why the store is not open on Sundays. “This is a faith based store,” the proprietor says. “We don’t sell anything inappropriate, and we don’t sell on Sunday.”

I scan the shelves and see multiple copies of books by popular authors such as Barbara Taylor Bradford, John Grisham and Susan Wiggs. There are also several shelves dedicated the Christian fiction and Christian literature. For a literary snob such as myself, I have to dig for a few pieces of gold. On a lower shelf sits a book of Wallace Stevens poems, and scattered throughout the titles I find literary authors Julia Alvarez, Muriel Barbery, and Jeanette Winterson.

While this store is no substitute for the my favorite independent bookshops like Third Place Books in Seattle, it’s nice to know Kroger and Walmart are not the only places in town to buy books.  I managed to find a couple of titles I think suit my taste: A Patchwork Planet by Anne Tyler, and Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand. When I am finished reading them, the proprietor encourages me to sell them back at half price. And he gave me a free book bag!

Walls of Book is open Monday though Saturday, 9:30-6. 

Happy Reading.

Friday, January 2, 2015

I Got Schooled

Recently I was called out for using the word “shrapnel” in the title of my last blog post which discussed the Italo Calvino novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler, and how this book speaks for the reading/writing connection. I entitled the post “Days under Bombardments, watching the shrapnel fly.” I received the following comment: “Shrapnel is not a synonym for submission, splinters or fragments. Do not use it unless you know that it comes from a shrapnel shell, as used to cut barbed wire in the First World War and against aircraft in the Second World War.”

Have I just been scolded online?

The word shrapnel is often used in conjunction to explosive events, and just the other night I heard a reporter describe wreckage from a plane crash as “shrapnel.” According to the American Heritage Dictionary, shrapnel is “an artillery shell containing metal balls fused to explode in the air, the metal balls themselves, or fragments from a high explosive shell, mine, or bomb.” The urban dictionary recognizes these definitions, yet adds it can also mean “loose change of little value.”

How many of you have heard words used in a manner where they sound atonal, like a John Cage concert or off key whistling? A co-worker says, “I have literally been to the moon and back today.” Or you hear a friend describe someone as “the most artistical person I know,” Then there’s my favorite: “I’m writing a fictional novel.” These things screech inside your head as if you’re braking a rusted schoolbus down a steep slope, so I suppose my use of the word shrapnel felt that way to my censurer.

This isn’t my first semantic faux pas. I grew up in a white, Republican household where my father regularly said things like, “see if you can Jew him down on the price.” (Is it any accident his favorite TV character was Archie Bunker?) I am ashamed to reveal I inherited his politically incorrect phrases. While having dinner at a conference one evening, I remarked someone was “very Jewish with his money.” One of my tablemates, who is also a friend, said to me, “I’m Jewish, and what you just said it offensive.”  It never occurred to me a statement like that denigrates an entire culture. It’s a metaphorical phrase I grew up hearing countless times, yet it never occurred to me to consider the literal meaning behind those words.

Because we are human and flawed, each of us has diction preferences. Most of my erudite friends wince at hearing “I have went there,” and “where’you at?” and other bad grammar. A former student says the word ‘snacks’ make her cringe, and a friend of mine can’t stand hearing the word ‘panties’. I hate the word “gals.” When I am referred to as a gal, I picture a woman dressed in buckskin wearing a ten gallon hat. I am not a gal.

The word ‘shrapnel’ does not appear in my essay, only the title, “Days under bombardments, watching the shrapnel fly.” I responded to my critic to clarify this, remarking “It’s a quote from the book. The character is describing his work in the military. I used it because I like the sequence of words.” To avoid confusion, I probably should have explained the quote somewhere in my post, but I thought the quotation marks surrounding the title let readers know this was a quote.  I could have saved myself embarrassment by choosing a different portion of text to quote, or by contriving a bland title, such as “My Feelings About Italo Calvino’s Book.” I chose to use the words for their cadence, not context.

Language is not static. Just as bad now means good, and phat does not refer to weight, the word shrapnel is commonly tossed around out of context. I’ve heard it used in many contexts, such as, “ice was falling like shrapnel,” and “After the tornado, the yard was nothing but shrapnel.”

At the beginning of this post I said I was “called out” by someone. This terminology is a recent addition to our vernacular to describe a scolding. Poets understand the liquidity of language and metaphoric use of words. When poet Naomi Shihab Nye says, “Music lives inside my legs,” she does mean her bones are literally connected to speakers that broadcast songs, yet her readers understand the visceral use of the metaphor.

I apologize ahead of time for any semantic foibles I will commit in the future. As I age, the one thing I know for sure is we are, to steal a title from Anne Lamott, ‘imperfect birds.’

Happy Reading and Writing.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Of is Not a Verb: : “Days under bombardments, watching the shrapnel fl...

Of is Not a Verb: : “Days under bombardments, watching the shrapnel fl...: This is not a review or recommendation of If on a winter’s night a traveler , by Italo Calvino, one of the most surreal novels I've...

Happy Writing.

“Days under bombardments, watching the shrapnel fly.”

This is not a review or recommendation of If on a winter’s night a traveler, by Italo Calvino, one of the most surreal novels I've encountered. Much of it seduces the reader in second person, making the Reader part of the bizarre quest for the ideal book. Like the film Inception, the novel doesn't make literal sense, its plot is not linear, and few people I know would have the patience to slog through it, yet throughout the story lay beautiful tidbits of prose about what it means to be a reader and writer, the dichotomy between writing and publishing, and how reading binds readers together.

Through the novel’s characters, Calvino gently unfurls what may be his own beliefs about story. According to Professor Uzzi-Tuzii, an expert on a dead language, “Reading is …a thing made of writing, a solid material object… through which we measure ourselves against something that is not present, something else that belongs to the immaterial, invisible, world….Reading is going toward something that is about to be, and no one yet knows what it will be…” The professor describes literature as, “The book I would like to read now is a novel in which you sense the story arriving like still-vague thunder…”

Ludmilla, a fellow bibliophile the narrator pursues, qualifies literary novels further by saying “the novel…should have at its driving force only the desire to narrate, to pile stories upon stories, without trying to impose a philosophy of life on you, simply allowing you to observe its own growth…”

These kinds of books such as If on a winter’s night a traveler may frustrate you at the time of reading, and you may have the desire to toss it across the room, yet something revealed in its pages stays with you, and you realize the problem is not with the book itself but you, the Reader.

Those of us who are writers are intimate with the whole writing- is-an-art, publishing-is-a- business blah blah blah. We are encouraged to ‘be original, not derivative,’ yet there is a sameness throughout the fiction section. If you write young adult like I do, you are doomed unless your hero has a superpower or is facing the end of the world. (Thankfully zombies and vampires are on the decline.) The publishing industry decides what we will read because the book business process relies largely on the popular novel, which is parodied in this passage of Calvino’s tale:

“In New York, in the control room, the reader is soldered to the chair at the wrists, with pressure manometers and a stethoscopic belt, her temples beneath their crown of hair held fast by the serpentine wires of the encephalogram that mark the intensity of her concentration and the frequency of stimuli… be subjected to the uninterrupted reading of novels and variants of novels as they are out by the computer. If reading attention reaches certain highs with a certain continuity, the product is viable and can be launched on the market; if attention, on the contrary, relaxes and shifts, the combination is rejected and its elements are broken up and used again in other contexts.”The narrator takes us to the publisher, “an enterprise that perhaps nobody else can understand…” because “there’s a boundary line: on one side are those who make books, on the other those who read them. I want to remain one of those who read them, so I take care always to remain on my side of the line. Otherwise, the unsullied pleasure of reading ends, or at least transformed into something else…” As a writer, I perceive how agents and editors, bombarded with thousands of manuscripts not of their choosing, suffer the loss of “the unsullied pleasure of reading,”  and lose the patience and time to sink into a tale that arrives like a slow moving storm. In our techno-cluttered world, we must “hook” the reader on page one, or face the ubiquitous rejection.  To quote another character, Lotaria, Ludmilla’s sister, “what you want would be a passive way of reading, escapist and regressive…”

Those of us who write fiction aspire to write the kinds of novels we want to read, yet “it would seem those who use books to produce other books are increasing more than those who just like to read books.” Publishing companies love a series. A sequel to story that pulls in good numbers, such as The Hunger Games or Twilight, whether good or bad, guarantees sales because readers crave being able to retreat inside the tale and assess life through someone else’s experiences and thoughts.

My friend Cindy S. says when she dates a man, he may be Harrison Ford handsome or as rich as one of the Shark tank sharks, but “if he doesn’t read, that’s a deal breaker.” For readers, lovers should be able to feed one another’s heads and hearts.

I can be in a room with twenty or thirty people and feel utterly alone unless I find among these relatives, acquaintances  or strangers someone who reads, someone with whom “a language, a code between the two of you, a means of exchange signals and recognizes each other.”

While having coffee with my friend Cindy R, I feel heartened by sharing passages from this novel and watch her face convey recognition. In the cafe, we are two foreigners able to speak our unique language. “We need to get our book discussion group back together,” She says. Our monthly book group devolved a few months back when each of its members had personal tragedies, yet the dissolution of group could also be perceived as tragic. Just as sports fans need to yell at the television together during a game, readers need one another to dissect the fine points of what we’ve read because it “enabled me to master the forces of the universe and recognize an order to it.”

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Fifty Year Silence

Given the precarious state of the book business, publishers appear to be reluctant to take on projects that won’t fit neatly on the shelves, so I am heartened by Crown Publishers for its publication of The Fifty Year Silence: Love, War and a Ruined House in France by Miranda Richmond Mouillot. The CIP on the verso page of the book categorizes it as a memoir, a family story, the grandparents’ story, a biography about Jews in France as Holocaust survivors and  later, in the United States, a guide to France itself, a tale of divorced people, and life in France during World War II. It is all of these, and more.

At the outset, the author reveals the book “is a true story, but it a work of memory, not a work of history.”  Mouillot’s intent behind the tale is to “confront and illuminate a shadow that haunts every family: the past.” In Mouillot’s family the shadow is the fifty-plus year discord between her maternal grandparents. How can they have endured the Holocaust together, but for more than five decades afterwards, not manage to acknowledge one other’s existence?

Reader, I detect an eye roll from you, and the ensuing ‘just what we need, another Holocaust story.’ The book’s uniqueness is in not only how the couple survived, but how they became a couple, and why they ultimately split apart. The saga begins long after Anna Munster, a physician and Armand Jacoubovitch, an interpreter at the Nuremberg Trials, artfully avoid seeing or speaking to one another after producing two children and emigrating to the United States. One of the few things binding them is a love for Mirandali, the author and their granddaughter.

Miranda Mouillot, born long after the war ends, has always sensed the horrors Jews endured during the war, and as a child experiences inexplicable terrors, until years later, a childhood friend explains that Mouillot “comes from a family of holocaust survivors with a lot of bad memories to cope with,” shedding light on the author’s prescience.

As a child the author imagines her mother’s parents as separate entities, not fully comprehending that they had to have been a couple at one time to produce her mother and uncle. She grows up with the mystique of knowing her grandparents’ dislike of one another, yet not knowing why.

The catalyst for the author’s search for answers comes as a result of a disagreement over ownership of a dilapidated family house in France Ms. Mouillot wishes to inhabit as she works on her thesis. She begins a long saga of dealing with French officials, digging through old records, and piecing together the puzzle that links and divides her family.

Like all good tales, the protagonist sets out on a journey, in search of what h/she hopes to find, a simple love story between her kin, only to discover a more intricate, sometimes perilous story. Along the way, Mouillot learns of Anna and Armand’s long, complex relationship, how each separately and together survived the war, and how the horrors of the war prohibited them from staying together. It is also Mouillot’s memoir, and while one love story unravels, a new one forms.

The book lists numerous primary and secondary sources, chief of which are her grandparents.  The title is available from Crown in January, 2015.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Can We Learn to get Along?

I rarely make social commentary on this blog; its purpose is to help writers and readers make literary choices. But given the spate of news coverage from Ferguson, Missouri and other parts of the country, I offer another voice.

What causes these ubiquitous conflicts? What happened in Ferguson joins the long line of civil unrest: the bus boycotts, the assassinations of civil rights leaders, Rodney King, and a litany of black teenagers gunned down by police. It goes back to the Civil War. Are these clashes based on racism? Police brutality? A breakdown of values? They are all of the above and more.

Civil unrest is not limited to race. Granted, our white ancestors created racial issues through claiming and colonizing this country, and later through its inhumane treatment of importing people as slaves to bolster the economy. By not recognizing Native Americans and the imported Africans as human beings with viable cultures, and thrusting a “superior” set of western values on these “savages,” we set ourselves up for conflict.  Yet our history of discord is not limited to race. Consider Suffragists, Kent State riots and more recently, the influx of school shootings.

The evening of the 9/11 attacks, I was teaching a class at the university. Surprisingly, all my students showed up, yet they were uncommonly sedate. One of my students raised her hand, and asked, “Why do they hate us?”

Its human nature to surround ourselves with the familiar. The known commodities, the shared values of those who think and act like us. When we step outside our comfort, the natural reaction is fear.

Officer Darren Wilson and Michael Brown did not know one another, so neither had knowledge of the other man’s intent. A stranger in a uniform carrying a loaded weapon yelling at you on the street , especially when you know you have just committed a misdemeanor, can elicit fear. What is this man’s intent?

Yet the officer also does not know this young man who had the advantage of youth and standing upright rather than being seated. What is this man’s intent?

Had these men known one another, known the others’ backgrounds and merits, this confrontation likely could have been resolved peacefully. Were there community outreach programs for police officers to get to know the youth in the community? Does the community fear the men and women hired to protect and serve?

Many of you will call me naive and idealistic. And you’re right. There are no easy answers, yet we have become increasingly isolated, hiding behind our phones and Facebook postings, avoiding face to face contact.

The economic divide grows wider every day. A lot of people are pissed off, and the frontal lobes of our brains react with road rage, riots and uncharacteristic reactions. The question we need to ask ourselves now is: how can we prevent this from happening again? 

Happy Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How To Be a Good Wife Review and more

How to Be a Good Wife
Emma Chapman

On the surface Marta Bjornstad is a lonely, middle aged woman going through empty nest syndrome. Her attentive husband Hector sees to making sure she takes her pills. “You know what happens when you don’t,” he admonishes. Yet for the past few weeks Marta has faked taking them, and she begins having visions of a blonde girl. The visions are disturbing, yet something drives Marta to refuse to medicate herself so she can solve the mystery of the girl, even at the risk of her own sanity.

Marta and Hector’s son Kylan comes home for a weekend visit with his girlfriend Katya, and the announcement of his engagement accelerates Marta’s illusions toward the sinister truth about her own marriage.

How to Be a Good Wife is a tense, claustrophobic, and ultimately heartbreaking mystery. My details are sketchy because I don’t want to reveal spoilers. If you were intrigued by Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” or Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour,” How to Be a Good Wife will keep you awake for a few nights. Available Nov 4, 2014 in paperback. Picador Books

I recently received two other ARCs in the mail, yet I won’t be reviewing them because, as I said in a previous post, I don’t like writing bad reviews. I know how hard it is to write a novel, even a bad one. One of these I received from Goodreads. It’s a self published mystery that lacks tension. Rather than publicly humiliate the author, I will send it back to her, and perhaps she can find someone who will praise it.

The other one is from a small press. It too, is a mystery, but the writing itself is godawful. I blame the editor not to pare down the wordy sentences and the numerous misplaced similes that make this particular novel an awkward read. The book may appeal to readers who read just for plot, but I’m an unapologetic word snob. Words are like paint on a palette, and if the writer cannot paint the prose with the right words in the right order, the writing is beige.

Note to self: when entering a Goodreads contest, check out who published the book before clicking on enter.

On a positive note, a recent essay of mine got quoted on Cleveland Poetics

Meanwhile, check out the entire essay in Poet's Quarterly:

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why Do We Read Big Books?

Are some novels just too long?

In a previous post I researched one star reviews, and looked for two long books in particular: Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.  The biggest negative criticism lies in their length.  Ian McEwan, a master of short novels such as Atonement, believes “very few long ones earn their length.”

I both agree and disagree. 1Q84 could have ended after Book Two and I would have been satisfied with the tale. Gutting about 150 pages out of the center of Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers would have improved the narrative for me. And yet I was held captive throughout Donna Tarrt’s 771 page The Goldfinch and Larry McMurty’s nearly 900 page Lonesome Dove.

My former student Logan P. recently finished David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, weighing in at 1100 pages. “On the surface level, it's given me the confidence to move onto much more difficult works,” he told me. “Once you've read one of the longest books ever written not much seems too difficult. And the book is absolutely packed with information on everything from higher-math concepts (it actually helped with my calculus class) to linguistics to how Alcoholics Anonymous functions. More than anything else, Wallace has a way with the human condition, from the highs to the lows to everything in between, and he's not afraid to discuss it”.
When I asked Logan if the book could have been shorter, he replied, “Yes and no. There are many parts that don't add anything to the plot or character development and just stagnate the book as a whole, yet the, "pointless", stagnating parts add to the themes and the book's purpose as a whole.” Logan said the book is “stupidly long, but it's an amazing read.” He summed it up in a single sentence; everyone is addicted to something, from their television to drugs to their love for their country, and it all ends up being a self-perpetuating cycle. “To quote DFW”, Logan said, “’Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being,’ and you definitely learn more about what that means after reading Infinite Jest.”
After initially abandoning it, I “finished” One Hundred Years of Solitude by skimming and scanning the last two hundred pages, and I came away with more insight on why this novel ranks among the greats. Yes, the book is long, and the character names are nearly impossible to follow, yet after awhile I stopped trying to “understand” the book and succumbed to some of its wonders. If you are looking for a linear narrative, this is not your book. The tale reminds me of a Salvador Dali painting, where reality and dreams entwine. The book shares elements with Homer’s Odyssey and The Iliad or The Arabian Nights, parables of how history spins its wheel and lands on the same places of love, wonder, discovery, avarice, greed, brutality, and ultimately, death. One Hundred Years of Solitude begins at a time when “the world was so recent that many things lacked names” and evolves to when “science has eliminated distance.” Melquides, the gypsy, has predicted “in a short time, man will be able to see what is happening in any place in the world without leaving his own home.”  Like Ray Bradbury’s post war era Fahrenheit 451, the prescience of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ s 1967 novel has come true.

Other notable quotes from the text are:
“A person doesn't die when he should but when he can.”
“The only difference today between Liberals and Conservatives is that Liberals go to mass at five o’clock and the Conservatives at eight.”

And yet the novel could have been much shorter, because as Aureliano Segundo says, “Cease, because life is short.”

So are long books worth the time and effort? The short answer is depends on the book. On a deeper level each of us brings to a book our past reading and life experiences as well as our present. Sometimes a book find you, much like Julian Carax’s book in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books in Shadow of the Wind, a relatively short book at 528 pages, found Daniel Sempere.

What are some of your favorite long books, and why?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Putting Yourself Out There

I recently entered a contest called The Agent’s Inbox sponsored on the blog Mother.Write. Repeat. ( Occasionally Krista opens her blog up for up to twenty people submit queries and first pages of their completed manuscripts.

"An Agent's Inbox" came about because I felt like the blog needed a lift,” Krista said. “Also, because all the existing blog contests focused on first pages and/or shorter pitches. I hated writing shorter pitches, so I thought it would be cool to see the whole query (and simulate an agent's inbox in the process). I can't schedule them as regularly as I used to, since they do take a significant amount of time and I usually don't know when I'll have the time until the last minute, but I enjoy hosting them.”

Each contestant is asked to critique at least three other entries, and a guest agent awards an opportunity to submit anywhere from the first 250 words to an entire manuscript. Krista said she “knows of two writers who signed with the agent who judged the round of "An Agent's Inbox" they entered. “I would like to make it three.”

I recently entered one where the prizes were a first chapter (3rd place), fifty pages (2nd place), or entire manuscript for review (first place.)  Posts are public, so anyone with an internet connection is free to comment. While Krista asks that people “please keep comments constructive, it’s a little like Shark Tank for writers.

We’re all experts in writing that isn't our own, yet we’re too close to our own work and need another set of eyes. I had already run my book through a group of great first readers who provided enormous feedback. I also hired an editor to smooth out repetition and fix my numerous typos. (My editor also found where I had spelled a character’s name two different ways.) Breakfast with Neruda, which had gone through a litany of terrible titles, was ready to be seen.

Putting your “baby” out there for display is like watching your son walk into Kindergarten the first day. You know he’s not perfect, but he’s perfectly yours. Will he survive? Will he be bullied? Will he bite someone back? Make friends? Learn anything? Have permanent scars? Refuse to go back?

If you do “the agent’s inbox” or any other public critique, boldly go, but wear a suit of armor under your wet suit.

The driving question for criticism is “did you keep reading? If not, why did you stop?”
Most critiques heeded Krista’s request to remain constructive. In my case everyone who commented said they were intrigued by my story and would read on. The big hitches were in the query letter. Queries are hard. I’d rather write another novel.

How many of you have written unintentionally terrible query letters? I see thousands of hands in the air. (Try writing a bad one. It’s cathartic.  If you look up, under the blog posts look for Rachel Kent’s bad query contest. It’s a hoot.)

With the aid of former literary agent Mark Malatesta’s services ( I learned the important steps to crafting a query, how to pick agents, and other components of marketing oneself.  It’s a ton of work. You may spend as much time devising a query and researching agents as you did writing your first draft.

My query covered the following:

Short synopsis of book, 1-2 paragraphs
Word count and genre
Why I contacted this particular agent (even though this was a contest, I still researched her and found an appropriate quote)
My writing background
My platform
My contact information

Some agents ask to acknowledge if submissions are simultaneous

Most comments said my query was too long, and the agent commented “Query: I really like the premise but each paragraph can be trimmed to get to the meat. Get to the point a lot more. Even your bio is a bit long-winded. Keep to facts. Overall: Even though I think the query maybe tells me a lot but not enough in a way, I'm still intrigued. It's a different story. It stands out. I'd read on.

Not all submissions fared so well. Some addressed the agent by her first name only. I can’t stress this enough: UNLESS YOU HAVE MET THE AGENT IN PERSON, DO NOT ADDRESS HIM OR HER BY FIRST NAME ONLY.

Others had typos in the query and/or the 250 word sample. One samples began with a long description of the temperature. There’s sort of an unwritten rule to avoid weather reports. In a 250 word sample, essentially the first page, you have no room to engage the reader if he or she is stuck in cloudy weather.

Overall, most submissions were admirably polished, and most participants were gentle in their comments to one another. I received good suggestions, and revised my query based on the agent’s and others’ minor suggestions.

So how did I do? I won second place, so I sent the agent my revised query and first fifty pages. I’ll keep you and Krista posted on whether this agent and I work together.

Labels, agents, writing contests, query, 

Happy Writing.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Reviews: The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man, Who Is Martha?

Two for One Reviews

Thanks to Shelf Awareness for my review copies of both books.

The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man

W. Bruce Cameron garnered a following with his lively novels A Dog’s Purpose and A Dog’s Journey, and his latest novel, The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man, will appeal to those readers. Ruddy McCann, former Heisman Trophy winning football player, has settled back into his hometown as co-owner of The Black Bear bar and supplementing his income as a Repo man. McCann’s colorful boss Milt tells Ruddy he has the requisite “nerves of stupidity” to legally steal cars back from their owners in default of payment.

McCann faces several challenges: he is hearing a voice in his head of Alan Lottner, a man claiming to have been murdered in a nearby town, an inept nephew of Milt’s who Ruddy is expected to train, a mystery behind checks a series of checks being sent to his foolhardy friend Jimmy, and numerous attempts to reclaim a car from the wily Albert Einstein Croft. While unearthing the truth behind Alan Lottner’s disappearance, Ruddy falls for the late man’s daughter Katie. 

The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man, Tom Doherty Associates, LLC. New York
Available in October, 2014. $24.99

Who is Martha?

96 year old Luka Levadski learns he has terminal cancer, and he is surprised “the intimation of his imminent demise hadn't allowed him to die on the spot, but had instead stirred up a lot of dust was an enigma.” Levadski decides to leave his long term apartment in Ukraine and venture back to Vienna where he lived as a child. Since he is dying, he goes on a shopping spree and stays in a first class hotel, where he befriends his butler Habib and an eighty something gentleman named Mr. Witzturn. Having lived in the same place for nearly his lifetime, working as a professor of ornithology, the reclusive Levadski catches up on social changes in the twenty- first century. In the interim, visual, musical and other sensory cues play tricks on his aging mind, flooding him with skewed memories from his ladder of years.

It is surprising how an author as young as Gaponenko, born in 1981, captures the authentic voice of a man nearly a hundred years old.

Who Is Martha? Marjana Gaponenko (Arabella Spencer, tr.) New Vessel Press. New York. Available October 14, 2014, $15.99

Happy Reading.