Idaho: A Novel
Wade Mitchell’s past is split brutally into a before and after: one lovely summer day, an ordinary errand–chopping wood in the mountains–left one of his daughters missing and one dead. Years later, Wade’s new wife, Ann, tries in her own quiet way to unravel the mystery of what happened, which is no easy task since Wade has never been willing to discuss it–and, more problematic, his memory is rapidly disappearing. Ann and Wade live more or less contentedly in the knowledge that their daily life is fundamentally different from other people’s and that unlucky genes have fated their happiness to be fleeting. Meanwhile, in a women’s prison, two women flounder into an unexpected friendship that results in the one thing no one in this fractured family web has ever sought: redemption.
With a narrative that skips back and forth in time and across multiple points of view, Idaho plunges into the lifelong fissures left by unfathomable loss and shows how pain can change and recede without necessarily fading. Ruskovich’s prose is poetic and searing, but her spot-on descriptions of nature–both human and environmental–stop short of easy explanations. The horrific act at the center of this novel defies comprehension, but Ruskovich’s beautiful story ultimately shows that accepting even the most terrible mysteries is the only way to carry on.
The After Party
The After Party by Anton DiSclafani is a highly entertaining read that will take readers into an unforgettable journey. A journey of that involves the wealth, beauty, and expectations of women. Anton DiSclafani’s brilliantly well-written novel is a historical read that will forever entice readers to its pages. Friendship is important—but where it may lead us is something that we must discover on our own. Not all friendships are good…
Inside The After Party, readers meet a woman that makes all envious and needy. Glamour, parties, scandals all serve to enlighten readers as they race through the stunning plot. Cece is an intelligent yet beautiful woman. She is also the world’s greatest friend. Throughout the novel she serves as friend, a guide, and a partner in crime to Joan. Joan needs to escape from her mother and Cece wonders if Joan can ever accomplish such a feat. This novel, also gives readers an insight on how and what was expected of women during this time period. The 1950’s seems like so long ago until readers pick up this novel and begin reading it. Zap, and the next moment your back in time…
Anton DiSclafani’s masterpiece will leave readers feeling and experiencing everything that these two women go through, and that’s absolutely amazing. Exciting, complex, and the most compelling women’s historical fiction that I have ever read. I enjoyed reading The After Party. Overall, I highly recommend it to readers worldwide.
Simmer and Smoke: A Southern Tale of Grit and Spice
Growing up in a rural environment, Shelby Preston has had to struggle for everything. But her love for cooking does not stop her from dreaming of someday becoming a great chef. Shelby also carries the hope that she’ll be able to provide a better life for her and Miss Ann, her young daughter. On the contrary, Mallory Lakes, who has had everything handed to her on a silver platter, has a successful career as a food blogger for a popular newspaper. But behind her affluent persona, Mallory struggles with unresolved conflicts from her past. While neither women have crossed over into nor fully understand each other’s world, Shelby and Mallory will meet at crossroads that will change their lives forever.
First time author and food blogger, Peggy Lampman knows the exact ingredients needed to create an appealing story. Written in split narrative format, Lampman’s debut novel features the lives of two women faced with challenges during changing yet turbulent times in Georgia. Alternating between Shelby and Mallory’s narratives, Lampman’s 2011 plot persistently balances opposites. Where there is hopelessness, there is always a ray of hope in some form or fashion. A prime example is how Lampman incorporates the warmth of food. A shared trait between the principal characters, Lampman closes most chapters with a commentary on various recipes that reflect Georgian cuisine.
Another opposite Lampman laces heavily throughout her storyline is dreaming for a better life amid adversity. While it is obviously understandable why Shelby seeks to improve her situation compared to her dead-end rural surroundings, it is difficult to imagine that a person of wealth would need to dream of improvement. Period. But in creating Mallory, what Lampman does is strip away all the posh and zero in on her humanness. That said, Mallory has dreams, too. Included in the lineup of split narratives, though, is Miss Ann, who while only mentioned a few times, plays a minor yet pivoting role. A determined second-grader, Miss Ann has her own set of dreams in the works.
Yet in the midst of all these characters, Lampman utilizes the above-mentioned theme in connection with the plight of Mexican immigrants, who constantly fear deportation while working demeaning jobs for extremely little pay. To add insult to injury, Lampman also meticulously underscores the flip sidethe harsh realities of bigotry prevalent in Georgian society and the legal system toward Mexicans. Undoubtedly, pondering this latter lifestyle leaves both cast members and readers to pause as they realize that their adversities pale in comparison.
Although Lampman’s story closes on a positive note that includes a slew of wonderful recipes, she sends a powerful reminder that bigotry is not dead and that the immigration system still has major problems. With a portion of the book’s revenue going directly to the Southern Poverty Law Centeran American nonprofit legal advocacy organization specializing in civil rights and public interest litigationSimmer and Smoke is an eye opening and thought-provoking must read.
The Last Brazil of Benjamin East
The year is 1980. Seventy-two-year-old Benjamin East returns to America from Brazil after an almost 40 year hiatus. Quite a big dreamer, coupled with his idealistic mindset of the America of yesteryear, Benjamin hopes to become famous by publishing his memoir. En route to New York, Benjamin helps a complete stranger, Amy McCaffrey, escape from her abusive husband. She, too, carries a hope of utilizing her art scholarship. The only problem is that it was issued to her more than seven years ago. After their quests lead to rejection, the odd couple heads out on a month-long bus trip to California. Once again, they hope for their dreams to be fulfilled. But this time, Benjamin and Amy have no idea that they are about to embark on a soul-searching journey.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Jonathan Freedman relays a story inspired by his experiences as a foreign correspondent in Brazil. Although the first draft of The Last Brazil of Benjamin East literally sits in a box for more than thirty years, Freedman finds that he is still fascinated by the “larger-than-life” fictional character, Benjamin East, that he created as a young writer. But, to properly develop Benjamin’s character, Freedman incorporates a variety of helpful literary tools starting off with Amy, Benjamin’s sidekick. Clearly Amy is young enough to be Benjamin’s daughter, and their backgrounds initially appear to be unrelated. The truth is that they have more in common then they realize: they have difficulty facing their marred pasts.
Freedman surrounds his two protagonists with a handful of negative characters. From examples such as the immigration officer and Louie (Benjamin’s brother) to Rosemary (the waitress at Harvey’s) and Joshua (the fledging writer), this foiled cast consistently force Benjamin and Amy to introspection. Benjamin and Amy’s characters are exceptional because they are always running away from their problems, and their reactions are unpredictable. And this unpredictability gives Freedman wide opportunities to create endless un-hackneyed scenes and keeps his plot fresh and always moving. In addition, Freedman alternates scenes throughout his third-person narrative that includes Benjamin’s flashbacks to both happy, as well as unresolved, moments during his time in Brazil.
While all these literary elements are pertinent to the design of this story, what makes Freedman’s recent novel so appealing is that it is purely a human-interest story. Certainly, readers will be able to relate to Benjamin and Amy in one form or other whether from personal experience or familiarity with a family member or acquaintance. Tender-hearted and provocative from beginning to end, The Last Brazil of Benjamin East is an engaging read and destined to be an award winner.
The Rise and Fall of the Yellow House
Two characters move the narrative of The Rise and Fall of the Yellow House forward: Nan and Jeff. Nan is a straight, recent middle-aged divorcee looking for purpose; Jeff is a gay, 30-something professor looking for purpose. Different genders, sexual orientations, and life stages, but similar dilemmashow do you live in a world of uncertainties and purposelessness? Treats subject matter is heavy, but his story is mundane; there is no moral, no point, no ah-ha moment. There is only the bleakness of life.
Nan has sold her family home and fallen in love with a larger house in the Queen Anne section of Seattle. A bit rundown and far too large for just one woman, she decides to offer the Yellow House as a meeting place for the gay mens AA group. Jeff, recently departed from NY at the onset of the AIDS epidemic, arrives in Seattle, ready for a new love and new lifewhich leads him to Henry, a troubled 20-year-old with a dark past. Through Henry, Nan, and Jeff cross pathsmuch happens in between.
The book is well-written with a tight narrative. There are elements of magical realism and glimmers of light here, but there is also an inescapable darkness that makes one wonder how anyone made it out of the 20th Century alive.
The AIDS epidemic, once loud, ugly, and violent, has become quiet as the battle against it has become more successful and the frontlines have receded to the margins. So it is surprising, and perhaps uncomfortable, for this Yellow House to rise as a reminder of a now mostly bygone era. Yet there is a truth here that is recognizable to manyespecially urban dwellers. This novel taps into the underlying fear associated with living. While this book fits comfortably within AIDS literature, the disease takes backseat to the more immediate questions: how do you define your purpose, and how do you go on after tragedy?
The isolation and anonymity of the overpopulated urban jungle becomes denser as time goes onthe small enclaves within more competitive and exclusivepersonal purpose becoming obscured by peer pressures and simple survival. Here, what becomes known as arf, could just as easily be cancer or Alzheimers or PTSD or any number of other ailments that are both physically and mentally debilitating to the individual and community. Treat takes the most feared disease of the modern age to talk about fear itself and the lengths we will go to hide, mask, and run from it.
In this, The Rise and Fall of the Yellow House is evocative and reflective. Yet there is little the reader is left with but the blanket of fear under which all the primary characters huddle. In that, Treat leaves this reader wanting morenot for the sake of a happy ending, but for the sake of balance. There are always survivors, but, here, there is only devastation and loss. These characters, masterfully made flesh and blood, never have the benefit of a laugh, a real connection or any joy. The rise is so short and the fall so permanent.
Claire Bramany is en route to Tulsa, Oklahoma for one reason: to make her partner Jessie Friedman whole again. It is only eight months since Claire lost Jessie to a car crash. Together for over twenty years, Claire is certain that she knows everything that there is about the love of her life. But as she goes through Jessie’s desk drawers, Claire stumbles upon a set of notebooks. It’s not until Claire reads them that she discovers Jessie’s horrific childhood. Certain that she is “the instrument of justice in the world for Jessie,” Claire’s objectives are clear: to search out the man who tainted Jessie’s life, “and to kill him.”
Marilyn Oser’s latest read is an unnerving tale about love, death, and a day of reckoning. A work of love and collaboration, the actual conception for Even You began with Oser’s partner, Mary Lou Kallman, who at the time of her death in 2003 laid the foundation for Jessie’s narrative. It wasn’t until Oser provided a voice for Claire that the elements of the plot finally fell into place. Alternating between the split third and first person narratives respectively, Claire’s portion is set during 1994-95, while Jessie’s goes back fifty years to the time of World War II (WWII).
Oser works her novel much like a tapestry. Tightly interweaving themes of death/life and retribution/redemption, Oser’s descriptions constantly compare the trials and triumphs of two women with various aspects of history. Examples include, WWII, Jim Crow Laws, racism, the Oklahoma bombing, and the Greenwood riots in Tulsato name a few. Amid the comparisons, Jessie’s childhood accounts slowly unfold while Claire’s narrative follows a different format. Oser opens with a scene set in the futureClaire making her way to Oklahomabefore delving into a slew of flashbacks (how Claire meets Jessie and developments in their relationship) and more recent backstories (conversations during Claire’s bereavement support group sessions and her kleptomaniac moments). Both narratives are replete with unexpected twists and turns that slowly build up to the story’s climax.
A wonderful addition to LGBTQ collections, Even You is a profound work of literature. Indeed, a gripping read from beginning to end.