Middlesex

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Blurb:

A dazzling triumph from the bestselling author of The Virgin Suicides–the astonishing tale of a gene that passes down through three generations of a Greek-American family and flowers in the body of a teenage girl.

In the spring of 1974, Calliope Stephanides, a student at a girls’ school in Grosse Pointe, finds herself drawn to a chain-smoking, strawberry blond classmate with a gift for acting. The passion that furtively develops between them—along with Callie’s failure to develop—leads Callie to suspect that she is not like other girls. In fact, she is not really a girl at all.

The explanation for this shocking state of affairs takes us out of suburbia—back before the Detroit race riots of 1967, before the rise of the Motor City and Prohibition, to 1922, when the Turks sacked Smyrna and Callie’s grandparents fled for their lives. Back to a tiny village in Asia Minor where two lovers, and one rare genetic mutation, set in motion the metamorphosis that will turn Callie into a being both mythical and perfectly real: a hermaphrodite.

Spanning eight decades—and one unusually awkward adolescence—Jeffrey Eugenides’s long-awaited second novel is a grand, utterly original fable of crossed bloodlines, the intricacies of gender, and the deep, untidy promptings of desire. It marks the fulfillment of a huge talent, named one of America’s best young novelists by both Granta and The New Yorker.

Middlesex is the winner of the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

My Take:

Jeffrey Eugenides possesses a firm grasp of the craft that is storytelling. This story follows three generations of a family built on a dark and disturbing secret. This secret may or may not have contributed to the heart-wrenching journey a third generation family member has to face. This one had me crying at certain points. This is NOT a transgender story—as some may wrongly assume.

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Boy Still Missing

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Blurb:

It is June 1971 and Dominick Pindle, a tenderhearted but aimless Massachusetts teenager, spends his nights driving around with his mother and dragging his wayward father out of bars. Late one evening Dominick’s search puts him face-to-face with his father’s seductive mistress, Edie Kramer. Instantly in lust, he begins a forbidden relationship with this beautiful, mysterious woman. Before long, though, their erotic entanglement leads to a shocking death, and Dominick discovers that the mother he betrayed had secrets as dark and destructive as his own.

Rapt with confusion and guilt as the startling facts about his family begin to emerge, Dominick heads to New York City in search of retribution and the truth about his mother’s disquieting past. He soon finds refuge with Jeanny Garvey, a young, soulful idealist who might save him from his dire fate, but not before he makes a desperate choice that endangers everything he holds clear — and puts both their lives at risk.

Charged with the exhilarating narrative pace of a thriller and set during a complicated and explosive era, “Boy Still Missing” is a stunning debut novel. It renders a deeply affecting portrait of a boy whose passage into adulthood proves as complex and impassioned as the history that unfolds before his eyes.

My Take:

This is one of those stories where the author allows you to believe you have certain parts all figured out, then pulls your house down one card at a time. A complex story involving complex characters. I felt yanked into the story from the first page. A solid read I’d need with me on that island.

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Empire Falls

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Blurb:

With Empire Falls Richard Russo cements his reputation as one of America’s most compelling and compassionate storytellers.

Miles Roby has been slinging burgers at the Empire Grill for 20 years, a job that cost him his college education and much of his self-respect. What keeps him there? It could be his bright, sensitive daughter Tick, who needs all his help surviving the local high school. Or maybe it’s Janine, Miles’ soon-to-be ex-wife, who’s taken up with a noxiously vain health-club proprietor. Or perhaps it’s the imperious Francine Whiting, who owns everything in town–and seems to believe that “everything” includes Miles himself. In Empire Falls Richard Russo delves deep into the blue-collar heart of America in a work that overflows with hilarity, heartache, and grace.

My Take:

Miles Roby lives his miserable life beneath a mountain of failure and secrets. The only thing keeping him tethered to this world is his teenage daughter. There are many twists and turns throughout Richard Russo’s excellent story. These twists and turns lead our protagonist on a wild goose chase of discovery. Watch for the sudden slap-in-the-face attention grabber. Well written and well plotted. This is one that still sits on my shelf—or rather in a box that hold many of my all-time favs.

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The End Of Alice

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Blurb:

From the 2013 Orange Prize–winning author of May We Be Forgiven.

Only a work of such searing, meticulously controlled brilliance could provoke such a wide range of visceral responses. Here is the incredible story of an imprisoned pedophile who is drawn into an erotically charged correspondence with a nineteen-year-old suburban coed. As the two reveal—and revel in—their obsessive desires, Homes creates in The End of Alice a novel that is part romance, part horror story, at once unnerving and seductive.

My Take:

This one is dark and perverse. I almost didn’t bother with it. But I’m glad I did. The darkness doesn’t scare me as much as the idea that characters such as these exist in the real world. If you prefer a good, clean story with a happy ending, The End of Alice is not for you. If, however, you enjoy a deep character study, here’s an ideal read that will leave you feeling filthy and in need of a shower.

We have a nameless repulsive pedophile narrating parts of the story from his cell at Sing Sing prison. The second voice comes from a nineteen-year-old female college student in the depths of an overwhelming obsession with a preteen boy. These two troubled individuals converse via letters; she for advice, he for that sense of living vicariously through her—while awaiting a parole hearing. These characters represent a reality we all would rather keep hidden in the nation’s closet. Read the reviews on this one before you commit to reading it. The reviews run the gamut and are each honest in their own way.

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White Oleander

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Blurb:

Everywhere hailed as a novel of rare beauty and power, White Oleander tells the unforgettable story of Ingrid, a brilliant poet imprisoned for murder, and her daughter, Astrid, whose odyssey through a series of Los Angeles foster homes-each its own universe, with its own laws, its own dangers, its own hard lessons to be learned-becomes a redeeming and surprising journey of self-discovery.

My Take:

Just one of those rare books that comes around and leaves its mark in your memory—even years after you’ve read it. I loved this book from the very first chapter. Janet Fitch has a style that really pulls the reader into the story. You feel for this poor girl Astrid. And even though Ingrid is a bad person, you can’t help but feel a bit of sympathy for her. I intend to read this one again. I keep a copy on my shelf.

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Me & Emma

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Blurb:

In many ways, Carrie Parker is like any other eight-year-old—playing make-believe, going to school, dreaming of faraway places. But even in her imagination, she can’t pretend away the hardships of her impoverished North Carolina home or protect her younger sister, Emma.

As the big sister, Carrie is determined to do anything to keep Emma safe from a life of neglect and abuse at the hands of their drunken stepfather, Richard—abuse their momma can’t seem to see, let alone stop.

But after the sisters’ plan to run away from home unravels, Carrie’s world takes a shocking turn—and one shattering moment ultimately reveals a truth that leaves everyone reeling.

My Take:

There are many secrets woven throughout this beautifully devastating story. Discovering which ones are true and which ones are figments of a little girl’s imagination is just part of the journey on which Elizabeth Flock leads readers. The real selling point of this story comes at the end. It’s one of those oh-my-gosh twists that puts this book among my all-time favorites.

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The Teahouse Fire

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Blurb:

The story of two women whose lives intersect in late-nineteenth-century Japan, The Teahouse Fire is also a portrait of one of the most fascinating places and times in all of history—Japan as it opens its doors to the West. It was a period when wearing a different color kimono could make a political statement, when women stopped blackening their teeth to profess an allegiance to Western ideas, and when Japan’s most mysterious rite—the tea ceremony—became not just a sacramental meal, but a ritual battlefield.

We see it all through the eyes of Aurelia, an American orphan adopted by the Shin family, proprietors of a tea ceremony school, after their daughter, Yukako, finds her hiding on their grounds. Aurelia becomes Yukako’s closest companion, and they, the Shin family, and all of Japan face a time of great challenges and uncertainty. Told in an enchanting and unforgettable voice, The Teahouse Fire is a lively, provocative, and lushly detailed historical novel of epic scope and compulsive readability.

My Take:

This well-told story set in nineteenth century Japan is responsible for my fascination with Japan and its ancient culture. I put this one right up there with Memoirs Of a Geisha—maybe it’s even a little better. An amazing read for fans of historical fiction.

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To Kill A Mockingbird

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Blurb:

The unforgettable novel of a childhood in a sleepy Southern town and the crisis of conscience that rocked it, To Kill A Mockingbird became both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.

Compassionate, dramatic, and deeply moving, To Kill A Mockingbird takes readers to the roots of human behavior – to innocence and experience, kindness and cruelty, love and hatred, humor and pathos. Now with over 18 million copies in print and translated into forty languages, this regional story by a young Alabama woman claims universal appeal. Harper Lee always considered her book to be a simple love story. Today it is regarded as a masterpiece of American literature.

My Take:

A perfect novel that spawned a perfect movie. Perfection is a strong sentiment when applied to pretty much anything in life. But this book and its accompanying film have earned this distinction. I honestly could not handle being on the island without access to this gem. There’s really nothing I can say that hasn’t already been said about Harper Lee’s masterpiece.

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Winter’s Bone

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Blurb:

Ree Dolly’s father has skipped bail on charges that he ran a crystal meth lab, and the Dollys will lose their house if he doesn’t show up for his next court date. With two young brothers depending on her, 16-year-old Ree knows she has to bring her father back, dead or alive. Living in the harsh poverty of the Ozarks, Ree learns quickly that asking questions of the rough Dolly clan can be a fatal mistake. But, as an unsettling revelation lurks, Ree discovers unforeseen depths in herself and in a family network that protects its own at any cost.

My Take:

This is one of those books to which I’ve often returned simply to enjoy the mastery Daniel Woodrell possesses over the written word. Examples:

Megan: What are we ever gonna do with you, baby girl?

Ree: Kill me I guess.

Megan: That idea’s been said already. Got any others?

Ree: Help me. Nobody’s said that idea yet, have they?

And then there’s this:

Sheriff Baskin: I didn’t shoot the other night cuz you were there in the truck. He never backed me down.

Ree: It looked to me like he did.

Sheriff Baskin: Don’t you let me hear that’s a story gettin’ around.

Ree: I don’t talk much about you, man. Ever.

Woodrell’s masterpiece is an exercise is what can be accomplished when one understands the nuances of dialogue. This is a quick read, running just 224 pages, but it’s packed with all sorts of brilliance. Looking to get better at the craft? Here’s one that will light the way.

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The Lovely Bones

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Blurb:

When we first meet 14-year-old Susie Salmon, she is already in heaven. This was before milk carton photos and public service announcements, she tells us; back in 1973, when Susie mysteriously disappeared, people still believed these things didn’t happen. In the sweet, untroubled voice of a precocious teenage girl, Susie relates the awful events of her death and her own adjustment to the strange new place she finds herself. It looks a lot like her school playground, with the good kind of swing sets.

With love, longing, and a growing understanding, Susie watches her family as they cope with their grief, her father embarks on a search for the killer, her sister undertakes a feat of amazing daring, her little brother builds a fort in her honor and begin the difficult process of healing. In the hands of a brilliant novelist, this story of seemingly unbearable tragedy is transformed into a suspenseful and touching story about family, memory, love, heaven, and living.

My Take:

The Lovely Bones is a wonderful example of artistry in words. The story is so vivid in its descriptions that even Hollywood missed the mark when bringing it to the big screen. All those millions of dollars spent on CGI effects couldn’t bring Sebold’s world to proper life. And the movie really isn’t all that bad—unless you’re comparing it to the book. But that’s the nature of book to film. The book—the source—tends to be better. Doesn’t matter. You cannot have DVDs on the island! If you haven’t read this book, treat yourself to an amazing experience.

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