This is one of the most captivating books I've read in a while. I started it within a few days of receiving it and had finished it within a few more. If you understand how many books I read at once (seven, right now) you might then understand that this was a remarkable change from my typical pace. It can take me months to read a book, especially if it's dense or requires research but, the right novel will make me plow heedlessly forward, forgetting all other novels, responsibilities, and people around me. This book was the right novel. I read before work, while eating lunch, and all evening after work. Finally, when it ended, I was so furious I didn't know what to do with myself. Once I calmed down, I realized that I loved the book. Sometimes it's hard to love something when it makes you angry.
If Southern Gothic is a fully recognizable genre, after this book, I would argue that Midwestern Gothic ought to be one as well (like this reviewer). Rich's characters are fully realized, even the ones in the background, which make it incredibly easy to get sucked into the novel. You feel like these are people that you know, or maybe have met somewhere before. You want to find out more about them and how they interact with the world. In particular, for this novel, you want them to interact with the world even more so you can get your bearings, figure out what about this specific iteration of Midwestern America isn't quite right.
Stanza is our main character, returning home to Kansas after five years away and the death of her fiance. Many things have changed and America now resembles something out of a modern Shirley Jackson story--dark, angry, and scared. Her community is covertly but deeply oppressive in almost every imaginable way. The open discussion of religion is not welcome nor, for that matter, is anything that falls outside of the conservative framework. Think Gilead from The Handmaid's Tale. It's a bleak society.
Stanza doesn't quite fit into this network of people and lives simply in a fishing cabin on her father's property. She is kept company by her dog and the ghosts of her loved ones. Once she begins to heal and starts teaching at the local college, she begins to draw attention to herself by simply being an independent woman with strong ideas. Most especially, she draws the attention of a former classmate, now her boss, who has carried a torch for her all these years. When their encounters escalate to the breaking point, the resulting storm breaks over her.
Sara Rich takes you on an emotional journey through one family's history and brings it to a stark, angry boiling point in a world that could be our own, that mimic our own in terrifying ways. Her writing is beautiful and her thoughts are precisely wrought. I devoured it and it moved me deeply.
I recommend this book for lovers of Margaret Atwood, Flannery O'Conner, Shirley Jackson, or Charles Frazier. Grab your copy at Foggy Pine for $8.99 (seriously, the best deal on a book this month).
I give this book 5 out of 5 stars!
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Michael Jasper's Finders, Inc. is a charming and thoroughly enjoyable read. Set in our very own Watauga County, the novel follows a team of detectives through their most recent case. Hank and Bim have been friends since childhood. They work with husband and wife team, Juan and Marly, to investigate a variety of cases but their specialty is missing persons. When retired Appalachian State University professors start going missing, the Finders team are the perfect choice of investigators.
Jasper does a wonderful job creating characters that you fall in love with, root for, and want to follow through the book. Bim was my favorite character but Marly is probably my second, with her husband as a close third. I found myself wishing I could find the characters walking around town and sit down with them for a chat. Plus, Jasper does such a great job integrating local businesses and land marks that it makes you feel like you're hearing a story from a friend. All the relationships are fully fledged too, though they have room for growth, something I find promising in the first of a series. The author really knows his characters and does a wonderful job bringing the little town of Boone to the page.
If you're looking for a fun fall read, something to curl up with by the fire and spend more time with than you meant to, I highly recommend this cozy mystery. Grab your copy from the store for just $16.99!
I give this book 5 out of 5 stars!
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Lisa Muir’s debut collection of short stories, Taking Down the Moon, is something you definitely don’t want to miss. With characters that feel so real they could step off the page to locations she vividly paints for your imagination to latch onto, these stories will grab you from the start. The women and men in her stories are weak and strong, pathetic and admirable, intelligent and willfully ignorant. They make you cringe with embarrassment, gape in horror, and shiver with anticipation. Truly, you’ll run the gamut of emotions reading this collection. It feels as if Muir orchestrated an emotional symphony, for you to dip into over and over again. It’s hard to say which story was my favorite but I will highlight a few that really spoke to me.
“The Louche Watermelon Queen”--I will preface this by saying that I am a huge fan of extremely short fictions, or flash fiction. This story is one page long and exquisite. As the first story in the series, it sets the tone for the rest of the stories perfectly. Even if you don’t read short story collections in order, you should still start with this one. A one-time beauty queen has grown older and gained weight. We all yearn for younger or better versions of ourselves but just how much would you wish for to acquire your desires? The Watermelon Queen speaks to the desperation you can feel when you don’t think you measure up and the darkness of mind that can follow.
“Albatross”--Hillary and Ben are young, intelligent, and in love. They have opportunities to travel, to explore, to reach for more and more. At least, that’s how Ben looks at it, as he begins seeking out yet another position with yet another university. They’d already moved across the world, from Virginia to New Zealand to appease his flightiness. And then from one island to another. It was only for a short time but the house the university provided was too cold, too damp, too small, too dark. Yet, Ben could never be happy, so he moves on again. Hillary must decide whether her movement depends on his and if her relationship with Ben is a happy one. And Ben must decide if his losses are worth the gains. Impeccably written, these characters feel so close to the reader, like you’re hearing the story through the phone, over miles of wires and satellite connections, as Hillary reveals the secrets of her New Zealand adventure.
“Essa”--This story felt like the beginning of a much longer one but was entirely stand alone. I think this one stuck out the most to me from the entire collection. Essa is a foundling, and a mixed race girl, in a small town of Ethan mostly made up of white people. She’s taken in by a local woman,30 years old, unmarried, and childless--Nadine. Nadine loves and cares for Essa but watches with despair as she grows up and begins to become a person completely unto herself. Who will Nadine be when she’s no longer taking care of Essa? Essa is barreling toward the future, youth and excitement fueling her desire to leave the small town she grew up in. Who will Essa become and who will she leave behind on her way there? The two women, mother and daughter, must move forward and find a way to maintain the bond that shaped their past.
There are many more great stories in this collection and we can’t wait to share it with you. Grab your copy at the store today for only $9.99! And don’t forget to attend Ms. Muir’s reading & talk at the Watauga County Public Library on Wednesday, August 3rd at 5:30pm. It will be a great opportunity to get some insight into the stories and to share your favorite passages with other literature aficionados. Recommended for people who enjoy Alice Munro and Flannery O'Connor.
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Rated 5 out of 5 stars
Mary Ruthless: Owner & Ruthless Reader