Review by E. Kirshe
After spending 18 years in prison, Jodi returns to her home in West Virginia’s mountains. Dealing overwhelmingly with redemption, as well as home and maybe more importantly, place, this well-paced novel also beautifully tells a story of imperfect people trying to stitch together their broken lives.
“Until a week and a half ago she had thought she would not return until her death- a body shipped back to a family that barely rmemebered it, a body to be laid back into the mountains to rest- but now here she was not just a body but a jumble of wild thoughts and emotions, coming home.”
Sentenced to life in prison at age seventeen, Jodi didn’t leave behind much of a life to re-build, but she does have dreams of creating one- settling down on her grandmother’s beautiful and wild stretch of land in the mountains where she was raised. Jodi does, however, have one piece of unfinished business, fulfilling a pact she made with Paula, her dead girlfriend, to rescue her brother from their abusive family home.
Just a few pages in you’ll know that Maren is an incredibly skilled, poetic writer. After a beautifully detailed greyhound bus ride (literally every detail in this book is beautifully written), Jodi’s first stop is in a small town to pick up Paula’s brother Ricky, who is now a troubled grown man. In the same span of just a few days (all of this happening before Jodi has to be home to make her first parole meeting) she also meets and quickly falls for Miranda Golden, wife of a faded country star and, though still in her twenties, mother of three. This cobbled together group heads off to Jodi’s land all with the insane hope of creating a new run at life. Continue reading
Review by E. Kirshe
Mandela and The General focuses on one stitch in Nelson Mandela’s legacy. In 1994, as the first post-Apartheid elections approach, and black South Africans are ready to take power with Mandela as their president, a militant faction of white South Africans – the Freedom Front – are ready to riot and fight to the death if need be. Attempting to avert a massacre Mandela held a series of secret meetings with Constand Viljoen- a former general of the South African army and later leader of the right-wing Freedom Front party.
“We must strive to find a political solution that reconciled White fears with black aspirations.”
As leaders of opposing factions they have the pull to keep their people from becoming violent and through reason, Mandela convinces Viljoen to reel his people in, to create true peace and not “the peace of graveyards.”
The book is told mainly through Viljoen’s recollections pulled from an interview author John Carlin conducted with him. The focus is on Viljoen, how he agreed to head the “white resistance”, how his twin brother helped broker the talks, and how Viljoen ultimately came to think of Mandela as “the greatest of men”. The story also serves to underpin what made Mandela capable of fostering this respect even from an enemy.
By Hilde Ostby & Ylva Ostby
Review by E. Kirshe
Diving for Seahorses is a collaboration between sisters: the writer and editor Hilde Ostby and the clinical neuropsychologist Dr. Ylva Ostby; a necessary team, as this book artfully explores the history of human knowledge regarding memory.
The book takes its name from the hippocampus. As explained in the first pages, an Italian doctor named it the hippocampus (Latin for horse sea monster) back in 1564. This is the seahorse we’re diving for. This metaphor is stretched throughout the book (sometimes a little too thin, but it works).
This was an overall fascinating read. Anyone who has ever had an interest in learning more about the human brain, and of course specifically memory, will enjoy this book.
Review by E. Kirshe
In Idyll Hands, police investigate two unrelated cold cases involving missing girls. Set in 1999, a body is found in the woods of Idyll, Connecticut. The murder is thought to be connected to a cold case from years earlier. Idyll Chief of Police Thomas Lynch agrees to put part-time cop Michael Finnegan on the case– if he allows the bored Lynch to look into the disappearance of Finnegan’s sister, missing since 1972.
The book is something of a slow burn. Stephanie Gayle really makes the reader appreciate the work that goes into solving a crime with little information- especially in a 1999 police station where typewriters are still used. Tracking down witnesses who haven’t thought about these crimes in decades and suspects who may no longer be recognizable makes for some engaging long-form police work.
Review by Tess Tabak
I have a confession to make: even though I’m not trying to lose weight, I’m somewhat obsessed with books about diet. My Life With(Out) Ranch by Heather Wyatt is a fairly fun, uplifting read. She writes about how to be kind to yourself while also working towards making healthier decisions.
Born out of a blog of the same title, My Life With(Out) Ranch is told in a bloggy, conversational style. The book is structured through chapters which each focus on a different aspect of the weight-loss journey such as self-worth, romance, exercise, and dealing with the judgement of others. Wyatt includes a few tangentially-related recipes at the end of every chapter, ranging from the healthy (zucchini noodle pad thai) to lower cal versions of junk food, like ranch dressing cut with buttermilk.
Though this book is about Wyatt’s weight loss journey, anyone who’s trying to change their eating and exercise habits for health can use her motivational and relatable advice. In the chapter on exercise, for example, she shares the story about how she went from never having run at all to completing a half marathon. She wrote about the training with humor, including her train of thought on her very first run: Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
In You are the Everything, a new YA novel by Karen Rivers, a high school student struggles to piece together her life following a horrific event.
Elyse Schmidt has always wanted to date Josh Harris, but he’s never noticed her. However, now that they’re the sole survivors of a plane crash, they begin to bond. Elyse finally has everything she wanted. All it took was the death of her best friend, everyone in her marching band class, and some 200-odd strangers.
If you’re looking for a YA novel as some kind of escape/fantasy, you’re in the wrong place.You are the Everything deals with some tough stuff: grief, PTSD, and survivor’s guilt. However, even though I generally fall into the “escapism/pleasure” YA camp, I sort of enjoyed reading this book.
Enjoy is the wrong word. This book is a bit like a plane crash: it’s bright, shiny, impossible to look away. I read the whole thing fairly quickly (though this may have something to do with the fact that I was on an airplane at the time). (On that note – Do not read this book on a plane. In about 5 minutes I went from “Oh cute! They’re on an plane too!” to “Oh no! I’m on a plane too.”) Continue reading
Review by Dan Tarnowski
See All The Stars is a debut work of YA fiction by Kit Frick. It is billed as “part love story, part suspenseful thriller.” The blurb describes an intense and complex coming-of-age story involving four teenage women. “What happened then to make Ellory so broken now?” The plot follows headstrong Ellory’s life between “then” and “now.”
The chapters of the 305-page young adult fiction novel alternate back and forth between “then” and “now”, past and present. The “then” chapters recap Ellory’s junior year of high school in bits and pieces, and the “now” chapters depict her subsequent senior year, showing the aftermath of “then.”
The fractured plot makes the book somewhat slow to build steam, especially as most of the story is told through Ellory’s thoughts, thus turning fiction’s “show rather than tell” convention upside down. As the groundwork for the “then and now” plot is laid, we learn about Ellory’s group of friends, her high school routine, and her unique relationship with her best friend, Ret. Kit Frick’s poetic language is displayed from the get go, and this voice, part image-heavy, part wittily penetrating observer, becomes a compelling layer in the world of See All The Stars (“The green flecks in his eyes flashing like marble glass signaling yes, yes, yes”). Continue reading
Review by E. Kirshe
Scribe by Alyson Hagy is a fascinating and quick read yet at just under 160 pages this novel packs a lot of story. Hagy’s writing is beautiful, stylistically as the whole book comes off as poetic as well as having that practicality that lets the reader feel like they are really in the landscape of the novel.
“Outside, the air was layered with the scents of cooling bark and leaves. The sun flared behind the hill where the Hopkins house lay in ruins, nothing left to scratch the sky but its four stout chimneys. Persimmons. The sunset was the color of persimmons.”
And what a strange location it is- set in a harsh dystopian landscape of a post-war, post-pandemic Appalachia the decimated population relies on bartering and brute force to survive.
The unnamed main character trades in words, writing letters for people who seem to think the act can vindicate or more importantly offer them absolution. She’s been living in peace on her family’s lands for years; alliances are kept in place both with the local overseer Billy Kingery and with the group of migrants she allows to live on her land, the Uninvited, a group which seems to almost worship her late sister. When she agrees to write and deliver a letter, something of a confession, for a mysterious man named Hendricks a devastating series of events unfold. Continue reading