Review of Gabrielle Zevin’s “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry”

91hvgvo-tlNo avid reader can resist a charming cast of characters who are cleverly named after classic novels. Gabrielle Zevin’s New York Times Bestseller, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, is a light and humorous novel that pulls at the readers’ heartstrings, especially those of us who are involved in the writing, publishing, and bookselling industries. The novel creates connections and raises interesting questions that avid readers would thoroughly enjoy. For example, the main character, A.J. Fikry, asks his date the question, “In what restaurant based on a novel would you have preferred to dine?” after taking her to a Moby Dick themed restaurant. I personally would enjoy eating at a restaurant modeled after Gatsby’s residence, as much as Fikry would have enjoyed a Narnia-based restaurant that served Turkish delight. Nevertheless, Zevin’s novel allows readers to imagine, laugh, and feel. Continue reading

Review of Charles Baxter’s “There’s Something I Want You to Do”

somethingThere’s Something I Want You to Do:

It involves diving deep into the interior of others’ lives, for the sake of discovery; Charles Baxter, the author of five novels, numerous short story collections and three poetry collections (for which he has received various honors and awards) published his newest collection in February from Pantheon Books. The ten stories are organized by virtues and vices: Bravery, Loyalty, Chastity, Charity, Forbearance; Lust, Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony and Vanity. At first, one might assume from the titling of these stories that there will be a rigid, overarching moral lesson.  As the reader begins to make their way from one story to the next, they might also believe that each story is a separate entity from the others in the collection, yet neither of these assumptions are true.

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Interview with Mary Helen Specht: author of Migratory Animals

Mary_HelenFor those of you who read our first issue, you know that one of our book reviews was on Mary Helen Specht’s debut novel, Migratory Animals. For our second issue, I had the pleasure of interviewing Specht about her novel, and about her journey as a writer.

Q: Perhaps the most compelling part of Migratory Animals for me personally, was that each of the characters in this book have some sort of unique secret or flaw that humanizes them. What was most difficult about the process of fleshing out these different characters to give them each their very own life? Did you know from the beginning what the fate of each character would be, or how each relationship would end up? Continue reading

Review of Rabih Alameddine’s “An Unnecessary Woman”

Rabih Alameddine photoFollowing on the success of his prior works Koolaids, I, the DivineThe Hakawati, and The Perv, author Rabih Alameddine’s most recent novel, An Unnecessary Woman has been met with acclaim and praise from readers and critics alike.

The novel begins with 72-year-old Aaliya Saleh looking into her obscured reflection, warning the reader: “I begin this tale with a badly lit reflection.” While cooped up in the security of her Beirut apartment, the aged narrator, a widowed recluse with slightly misanthropic tendencies, surrounds herself with stacks of books and memories of decades past, and makes it a point to avoid her aged reflection in mirrors. Continue reading

Review of Dinaw Mengestu’s “All Our Names”

“There was so much emptiness in life that had to be filled, and I was just seeing it.”

All our namesDinaw Mengestu’s latest novel, All Our Names, calls into question ideas of freedom, identity, and the meaning of home. It is both political and deeply personal. Permeated by the conflicting terrors of violence and love, the story builds with quiet power, alternating between the intimate narrations of two characters: Isaac, a would-be writer and revolutionary, and Helen, a small-town social worker. Isaac’s tale progresses forward and we follow his struggles first-hand, while Helen’s tale works backwards as she seeks to uncover the mystery behind her newest client. Continue reading

Review of Rivka Galchen’s “American Innovations”

American Daydreams

“I would advise you to seriously consider avoiding it–Life, I mean–altogether.”

rivka galchen american innovationsSafe advice, perhaps, from one of Rivka Galchen’s more eccentric characters in her new collection, American Innovations. And from the mouth of Jacob, the esteemed philosopher and self-proclaimed genius, nonetheless. However, safety through avoidance does not necessarily make for a fulfilling life, nor for a functioning nation.

Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances, has published a collection of ten short stories that deal with issues that perplex the country today–the privilege of excessive individual autonomy and the failure to commit to anything constructive.The title toys ironically with old ideals of American exceptionalism. While Galchen refrains from any overt political commentary, she succeeds in challenging America as a source of fresh, innovative ideas by depicting characters embroiled in their own mundane personal turmoil.

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Review of Mary Helen Specht’s “Migratory Animals”

What is it that binds us to one another as sentient beings?  Is it love, the need for acceptance and belonging, our shared suffering, or a combination of all of these? Mary Helen Specht’s debut novel, Migratory Animals, published January 20, 2015, invites us to dive into these questions head first as she paints the portrait of eight close college friends whose lives have changed immensely since their college years at a “nerd school” in Texas, which the characters liken to the Harvard of the South. Helen Specht invites us into the minds of scientists, architects, engineers and artists. We experience the stories of sisters Flannery and Molly; their best friends, lovers and old flames are figuratively and literally woven together in this novel. The novel is structured by narrations of five different main characters’ perspectives, which provides the reader with slices of each individual’s inner world, and reveals how each character relates to the others.

“Some type of pain ran like a thread between all of them.”

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Review of Margaret Atwood’s “Stone Mattress”

The Inner Darkness in Everyone

22642472Margaret Atwood is known for her extensive list of literary works, including poems, small publication pieces, and classic novels. Her tales, as she likes to call them, focus on relatable feelings that may not be presented in the most realistic situations, but still cause her readers to stir with emotion. I remember reading The Handmaid’s Tale in high school and even then, I was struck by the way Atwood told the story of woman’s struggle with a lack of freedom. Oryx and Crake is also known to be a great dystopian novel that disturbed readers emotionally, but also piqued interests that are usually kept a secret. So, it was safe to say that I expected a strong, emotional resonance with Stone Mattress: Nine Tales. Continue reading

Review of Anthony Doerr’s “All the Light We Cannot See”

All the Light We Cannot See is a novel that reminds you of what reading is all about.

Anthony Doerr PhotoAuthor of Memory Wall, The Shell Collector, About Grace, and the memoir Four Seasons in Rome, Anthony Doerr’s newest novel has already won a host of awards and accolades, including being a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award, a #1 New York Times bestseller, and the 2014 Book of the Year at Hudson Booksellers.

With short chapters guiding the reader through fast-paced storytelling, the drama of World War II and the years leading up to it are portrayed almost entirely through the perspectives of two characters: Werner Pfennig, a young orphaned German boy who has an incredible talent for circuitry; and Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind girl who lives in France with her adoring locksmith father.

Werner’s talents allow him to escape the poverty of his orphanage, and he is placed in an elite military academy for Hitler Youth, where he helps create a triangulating device to locate enemies based on radio transmissions. Seemingly worlds away, Marie-Laure’s voracious curiosity and tenacity keep her family’s spirits up as Nazi-occupied France looms.

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