Thursday, September 18, 2014

Introducing... The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith

Introducing books through the first chapter or so...

On days in August when sea storms bite into the North Carolina coast, he drags a tick mattress into the hall and tells his daughter stories, true and false, about her mother. The wooden shutters clatter, and Tabitha folds blankets around them to build a softness for the storm. He always tells of their courting days, of her mother's shyness. She looked like a straight tall pine from a distance; only when he got close could he see her trembling.

-- The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

ON MY RADAR (9/17/14 edition): Books that have hit my radar

Here are some books that have recently hit my radar and set off my alarm bells...

Perfidia by James Ellroy

The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. The United States teeters on the edge of war. The roundup of allegedly treasonous Japanese Americans is about to begin. And in L.A., a Japanese family is found dead. Murder or ritual suicide? The investigation will draw four people into a totally Ellroy-ian tangle: a brilliant Japanese American forensic chemist; an unsatisfiably adventurous young woman; one police officer based in fact (William H. "Whiskey Bill" Parker, later to become the groundbreaking chief of the LAPD), the other the product of Ellroy's inimitable imagination (Dudley Smith, arch villain of The Big Nowhere, L.A. Confidential, White Jazz). As their lives intertwine, we are given a story of war and of consuming romance, a searing exposé of the Japanese internment, and an astonishingly detailed homicide investigation. In Perfidia, Ellroy delves more deeply than ever before into his characters' intellectual and emotional lives. But it has the full-strength, unbridled story-telling audacity that has marked all the acclaimed work of the "Demon Dog of American Crime Fiction."

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz

The first history of the United States told from the perspective of indigenous peoples

Today in the United States, there are more than five hundred federally recognized Indigenous nations comprising nearly three million people, descendants of the fifteen million Native people who once inhabited this land. The centuries-long genocidal program of the US settler-colonial regimen has largely been omitted from history. Now, for the first time, acclaimed historian and activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz offers a history of the United States told from the perspective of Indigenous peoples and reveals how Native Americans, for centuries, actively resisted expansion of the US empire.

In An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States, Dunbar-Ortiz adroitly challenges the founding myth of the United States and shows how policy against the Indigenous peoples was colonialist and designed to seize the territories of the original inhabitants, displacing or eliminating them. And as Dunbar-Ortiz reveals, this policy was praised in popular culture, through writers like James Fenimore Cooper and Walt Whitman, and in the highest offices of government and the military. Shockingly, as the genocidal policy reached its zenith under President Andrew Jackson, its ruthlessness was best articulated by US Army general Thomas S. Jesup, who, in 1836, wrote of the Seminoles: “The country can be rid of them only by exterminating them.”

Spanning more than four hundred years, this classic bottom-up peoples’ history radically reframes US history and explodes the silences that have haunted our national narrative.

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Terribly unhappy in his family's crowded New York City apartment, Sam Gribley runs away to the solitude and danger of the mountains, where he finds a side of himself he never knew.

 Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

 Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

QUICK REVIEW: Neverhome by Laird Hunt


An extraordinary novel about a wife who disguises herself as a man and goes off to fight in the Civil War.

She calls herself Ash, but that's not her real name. She is a farmer's faithful wife, but she has left her husband to don the uniform of a Union soldier in the Civil War. Neverhome tells the harrowing story of Ash Thompson during the battle for the South. Through bloodshed and hysteria and heartbreak, she becomes a hero, a folk legend, a madwoman and a traitor to the American cause.

Laird Hunt's dazzling new novel throws a light on the adventurous women who chose to fight instead of stay behind. It is also a mystery story: why did Ash leave and her husband stay? Why can she not return? What will she have to go through to make it back home?

In gorgeous prose, Hunt's rebellious young heroine fights her way through history, and back home to her husband, and finally into our hearts.

Hardcover, 256 pages
Expected publication: September 9th 2014 by Little, Brown and Company (first published September 1st 2014)
ISBN  0316370134 (ISBN13: 9780316370134)

About the Author

Laird Hunt is the award-winning author of a book of short stories, mock parables and histories, The Paris Stories (2000), originally from Smokeproof Press, though now re-released by Marick Press, and five novels from Coffee House Press: The Impossibly (2001), Indiana, Indiana (2003), The Exquisite (2006) Ray of the Star (2009) and Kind One (2012), which was a finalist for both the 2013 Pen/Faulkner award and the 2013 Pen USA Literary Award in Fiction and the winner of a 2013 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Fiction. A new novel, Neverhome, will be published in the United States by Little, Brown and by Chatto in the UK. His translation of Oliver Rohe’s Vacant Lot was published by Counterpath Press, who also published his co-translation with Anne-Laure Tissut of Arno Bertina’s Brando, My Solitude. He is published in France by Actes Sud, and has novels either published or forthcoming in Japan, Italy, Spain, Germany and Turkey. His writings, reviews and translations have appeared in the United States and abroad in, among other places, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, McSweeney’s, Ploughshares, Bomb, Bookforum, Grand Street, The Believer, Fence, Conjunctions, Brick, Mentor, Inculte, and Zoum Zoum. Currently on faculty in the University of Denver’s Creative Writing Program, where he edits the Denver Quarterly, he has had residencies at the MacDowell Colony and the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France, and was in residence at Marfa (Lannan Foundation) this past summer. He and his wife, the poet Eleni Sikelianos, live in Boulder, Colorado, with their daughter, Eva Grace.

Check out the author's website
Follow the author on Twitter 

My Thoughts
I think we both of us knew from the start where the conversation was wending but we talked on it, took it every angle, sewed at it until the stitch stayed shut. I was to go and he was to stay.
During the heat of the Civil War, young Constance changes her name to Ash, and dressed as a man she leaves her husband Bartholomew and their home in Indiana to join the fight.

I'm a little conflicted with this book. On the one hand, it was a bit slow and meandering. I noted early on that the writing could be a bit boring at times.

However on the other hand it was an intriguing story line, with little bits of human observations that were spot on. I loved little things like the time she talks about when she was preparing to disguise herself as a man, she would put on pants at night and run until it felt natural. You see, women don't run or wear pants, and if she was going to portray herself as a man, running and wearing pants would have to be natural. Besides it was just plain fun, running with abandon and without self-consciousness!

Sometimes I would get the feeling that there was a deeper meaning to life hidden within the words...
The rain came down hard through the lilac bush. I don't know why I was sitting under it. There is shelter and then there is the idea of shelter. Shore up under the second all you want. You still get wet.
Unfortunately I found that this book was sort of like TV with me-- I found that I missed a lot. I would read mention of something later in the story that I didn't even remember happening to begin with.

My final word: This was a pretty good story, but it felt a bit disjointed and superficial. For a first person narrative, I felt surprisingly detached from Constance/Ash, and much of the story felt like flashes of images and small glimpses into the person that Constance truly is, preventing me from feeling as if I really knew her. And I was especially not fond of the ending of the book. But overall it was a pretty good story. It just fell short of my expectations is all, and I think it's a book that won't linger with me for the long haul.

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble
Hachette Book Group

My Rating:


I received a copy of this book to review through Netgalley, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The book that I received was an uncorrected proof, and quotes could differ from the final release.

Monday, September 8, 2014

TLC BOOK TOURS and REVIEW: The Bully of Order by Brian Hart


Set in a logging town on the lawless Pacific coast of Washington State at the turn of the twentieth century, a spellbinding novel of fate and redemption—told with a muscular lyricism and filled with a cast of characters Shakespearean in scope—in which the lives of an ill-fated family are at the mercy of violent social and historical forces that tear them apart.

Keen to make his fortune, Jacob Ellstrom, armed with his medical kit and new wife, Nell, lands in The Harbor—a mud-filled, raucous coastal town teeming with rough trade pioneers, sawmill laborers, sailors, and prostitutes. But Jacob is not a doctor, and a botched delivery exposes his ruse, driving him onto the streets in a plunge toward alcoholism. Alone, Nell scrambles to keep herself and their young son, Duncan, safe in this dangerous world. When a tentative reunion between the couple—in the company of Duncan and Jacob’s malicious brother, Matius—results in tragedy, Jacob must flee town to elude being charged with murder.

Years later, the wild and reckless Duncan seems to be yet another of The Harbor’s hoodlums. His only salvation is his overwhelming love for Teresa Boyerton, the daughter of the town’s largest mill owner. But disaster will befall the lovers with heartbreaking consequences.

And across town, Bellhouse, a union boss and criminal rabble-rouser, sits at the helm of The Harbor’s seedy underbelly, perpetuating a cycle of greed and violence. His thug Tartan directs his pack of thieves, pimps, and murderers, and conceals an incendiary secret involving Duncan’s mother. As time passes, a string of calamitous events sends these characters hurtling towards each other in an epic collision that will shake the town to its core.

Hardcover, 400 pages
Expected publication: September 2nd 2014 by Harper
ISBN 0062297740 (ISBN13: 9780062297747)

About the Author 

A native of Idaho, Brian Hart won the Keene Prize for Literature from the University of Texas at Austin and received an MFA from the Michener Center for Writers there. He is the author of the novel Then Came the Evening. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife and young daughter.

Check out the author's website

My Thoughts
After the incident at the storehouse, Chief Manager Baranov called the men to the beachhead.
This story takes place on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. Below is a picture of the Chehalis River from 1912, which is about  ten years after the climax of this story.
Chehalis River at Aberdeen, Washington, apparently looking northwards.(1912) Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website at

This book follows the lives of the Ellstrom family in a logging town on the rough and tumble Olympic Peninsula  in Washington State during the late 1800s (it starts around 1886 and runs until about 1902). Starting with "Doctor" Jacob Ellstrom and his wife Nell and their toddler Duncan, just before Jacob is exposed as a fraud. Once exposed, he abandons his family and things just go downhill from there.

The story later picks up when Duncan is older and has grown into a troubled young man, not having anyone to properly guide him, and he finds himself in quite a bit of trouble.

There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and I actually wound up being okay with that (sometimes I can find myself lost). The problem I had was the rambling though processes of most of the characters. I felt like I was dealing with a room full of ADD riddled characters, with their thoughts always straying this way and that. I felt like yelling, "Please, just focus!" It really made it hard for me to maintain my own focus at times.

The author is actually a very good writer, but as with Cormac McCarthy, I find his writing somewhat stilted and scattered, and it really took some getting used to. I wound up having a lot of respect for the author's talent, even while I found myself sometimes skimming over paragraphs of text that were too laborious for me to read.

I had to chuckle when I read about Bernice Travois, the town midwife, whose home was painted to the height of a man, because they didn’t have a ladder, as I heard the same story about my Mom’s childhood home. When we were visiting Michigan, she pointed out a home she had lived in as a kid and told me that once her Dad (my Grandpa) had told the boys to go out and paint the house. The boys all proceeded to paint the house as high as they could reach-- and no more was ever done!

The characters in the book would make very insightful statements that kept me going through the story, seeking out the next gem of wisdom.

Half the bones in your body are in your hands and feet. If nothing else, that should tell a person to stand and hang on.
Winter makes a person pick sides.
All the rooms of the world are the same once the door is shut.
If you're wondering about the origin of the title of the book, it was shared in the very beginning, via the journal of Timofei Osipovich Tarakanov of 1808:
I stopped what I was doing and asked what was so amusing and the old man surprised me and replied in English, what he called the Boston tongue, that I needed to beware of the bully of order… The old hunter carried forth in his own language and soon he’d referenced the sea and the land, hunter and prey, husband and wife, father and son, mother and child, even slave and master...
One thing I missed was a map of the area. I used to live in Washington, and looked out at the Olympic Mountains every day, but I had a hard time envisioning in my head the location. I wanted to see the Hoaquim and Chehalis and Hoh, although there is a very good description of the area right at the beginning, and the book's cover does have an old photo of the harbor.

I would like to thank TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. Check out the website for the full tour schedule:

Tuesday, September 2nd: M. Denise C.
Wednesday, September 3rd: missris
Thursday, September 4th: Reading Reality
Monday, September 8th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, September 18th: Mom in Love With Fiction
Friday, September 19th: Broken Teepee
Monday, September 22nd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Friday, September 26th: Sun Mountain Reviews
Thursday, October 2nd: Jo-Jo Love to Read!
Tuesday, October 7th: Book Addiction
TBD: Book Loving Hippo

My final word: This is really a story about failure. Everyone fails everyone else, and themselves most of all. Some eventually realize their failures, and some just don’t care.This story is not for the faint of heart, as it is very crass and abrasive, and many will find the language and certain situations offensive, but it is also a fairly realistic portrayal of life in the newly settled northwest. The story is not sensitive and sentimental. It is gritty and unromantic and provocative. Interesting characters abound. The writing sometimes made me work a little harder than I like (I generally prefer literary fiction that is a rambling stroll through a flowery meadow rather than a taxing and arduous climb through mud and muck), but this story is well done. This author knows what he's doing, and he has crafted an interesting story with colorful characters to make all of the hard work worthwhile.

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble

My Rating: B+


I received a copy of this book to review through the publisher and TLC Book Tours, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel. The book that I received was an uncorrected proof, and quotes could differ from the final release.