The Outsiders

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Blurb:

No one ever said life was easy. But Ponyboy is pretty sure that he’s got things figured out. He knows that he can count on his brothers, Darry and Sodapop. And he knows that he can count on his friends—true friends who would do anything for him, like Johnny and Two-Bit. But not on much else besides trouble with the Socs, a vicious gang of rich kids whose idea of a good time is beating up on “greasers” like Ponyboy. At least he knows what to expect—until the night someone takes things too far.

The Outsiders is a dramatic and enduring work of fiction that laid the groundwork for the YA genre. S. E. Hinton’s classic story of a boy who finds himself on the outskirts of regular society remains as powerful today as it was the day it was first published.

My Take:

This is the first novel I ever read more than once. To date, I think I’ve read The Outsiders four times. Unlike many others, I found the movie to be a disappointment. I read the book multiple times before the film adaptation made it to the big screen. The story remained in tact, sure, but the actors portraying the characters resembled little of the images my mind conjured. These were young Hollywood pretty boys up on the screen. In my mind, these were boys with scars on their faces, the rough life etched into their pores.

The book itself is a fantastic story. Sure, this is a YA novel, but anybody can enjoy the tale S. E. Hinton has woven. If all you know of this book is the movie, you really need to grab a copy and discover one of the great stories that transcends generations and eras. At 180 pages, it’s a great way to kill a few hours.

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Exposure

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Blurb:

Ann Rogers appears to be a happily married, successful young woman. A talented photographer, she creates happy memories for others, videotaping weddings, splicing together scenes of smiling faces, editing out awkward moments. But she cannot edit her own memories so easily–images of a childhood spent as her father’s model and muse, the subject of his celebrated series of controversial photographs. To cope, Ann slips into a secret life of shame and vice. But when the Museum of Modern Art announces a retrospective of her father’s shocking portraits, Ann finds herself teetering on the edge of self-destruction, desperately trying to escape the psychological maelstrom that threatens to consume her.

My Take:

This story follows Ann Rogers from childhood to dysfunctional adulthood and what might have been a promising career following in her late father’s footsteps as a known photographer.

Ann began her introduction into the photographic arts as her father’s young model, posing in various states of undress that stirred controversy while garnering her father with notoriety in the art world.

However, there are secrets that creep into her adult life that lead her to drugs, kleptomania, and other disastrous choices. The ending left me a little disappointed, but this is an intriguing story.

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The Almost Moon

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Blurb:

A woman steps over the line into the unthinkable in this brilliant, powerful, and unforgettable new novel by the author of The Lovely Bones and Lucky.

For years Helen Knightly has given her life to others: to her haunted mother, to her enigmatic father, to her husband and now grown children. When she finally crosses a terrible boundary, her life comes rushing in at her in a way she never could have imagined. Unfolding over the next twenty-four hours, this searing, fast-paced novel explores the complex ties between mothers and daughters, wives and lovers, the meaning of devotion, and the line between love and hate. It is a challenging, moving, gripping story, written with the fluidity and strength of voice that only Alice Sebold can bring to the page.

My Take:

The opening pages of Alice Sebold’s follow-up to The Lovely Bones catches a woman killing her Alzheimer’s-stricken mother. This scene sets the pace for the rest of the story, as the curtain is yanked back, exposing severe dysfunction within the family unit. Our POV character attempts to convince herself — and thus convince the reader — that she committed the horrible deed out of love and sympathy for her debilitated mother. We see through this falsehood, recognizing the fact that this character hated her mother.

Sebold has a knack for writing strong stories inhabited by interesting characters. And it’s these very characters that drive her stories. If you haven’t tapped into the beauty of Ms. Sebold’s work, get with the program.

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Slivers of Life

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Blurb:

These twenty short stories are a peek into individual lives caught up in spectacular moments in time. Children, teens, mothers, and the elderly each have stories to share. Readers witness tragedy and fulfillment, love and hate, loss and renewal. Historical events become backdrops in the lives of ordinary people, those souls forgotten with the passage of time. Beem Weeks tackles diverse issues running the gamut from Alzheimer’s disease to civil rights, abandonment to abuse, from young love to the death of a child. Long-hidden secrets and notions of revenge unfold at the promptings of rich and realistic characters; plot lines often lead readers into strange and dark corners. Within Slivers of Life, Weeks proves that everybody has a story to tell-and no two are ever exactly alike.

My Take:

This book is a nice sample platter of what a gifted artist can do with words and situations. There are twenty short stories in this collection, and each one offers a voyeuristic gaze into various lives and moments in time. These are mostly normal people caught in not-so-normal situations. There always seems to be a little twist at the end of each story. I love the way this author’s mind works. I am a huge fan. Get this one NOW!

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I Know This Much Is True

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Blurb:

On the afternoon of October 12, 1990, my twin brother, Thomas, entered the Three Rivers, Connecticut, public library, retreated to one of the rear study carrels, and prayed to God the sacrifice he was about to commit would be deemed acceptable. . . .

One of the most acclaimed novels of our time, Wally Lamb’s I Know This Much Is True is a story of alienation and connection, devastation and renewal, at once joyous, heartbreaking, poignant, mystical, and powerfully, profoundly human.

My Take:

Wally Lamb is a great American author telling amazing stories. I’ve been privileged to read a few of his works over the years. This one caught my attention because of the Oprah’s Book Club label. While I’m not a big fan of her former program, Oprah Winfrey sure can pick winners when it comes to books. I Know This Much Is True is one of a dozen or so I’ve read with the OBC designation attached. I’ve not been disappointed.

With this tale, Lamb takes on mental illness and twin brothers. His carefully constructed story is tight, deep, and fully developed. This story touches on alienation, religion, family, and reproduction. At 900+ pages, this book is long. But take my word, the journey is worth the time. I recommend pretty much anything from this author.

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Mother of Pearl

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Blurb:

Capturing all the rueful irony and racial ambivalence of small-town Mississippi in the late 1950s, Melinda Haynes’ celebrated novel is a wholly unforgettable exploration of family, identity, and redemption. Mother of Pearl revolves around twenty-eight-year-old Even Grade, a black man who grew up an orphan, and Valuable Korner, the fifteen-year-old white daughter of the town whore and an unknown father. Both are passionately determined to discover the precious things neither experienced as children: human connection, enduring commitment, and, above all, unconditional love. A startlingly accomplished mixture of beauty, mystery, and tragedy, Mother of Pearl marks the debut of an extraordinary literary talent.

My Take:

I’m not a big Oprah Winfrey fan, but I will say this: The Oprah Book Club sure picked a lot of great novels. Mother of Pearl is one of those reads. I chose it based solely on the Oprah seal of approval on the cover.

What Melinda Haynes accomplished with her debut novel is nothing short of brilliance. There is a subtle undertone of sadness running through this story set in the deep south during the 1950s. Lives are never going to be what those who live them hope they’d be; expectations—unless negative—are usually unmet. Valuable Korner, a white girl and 15-year-old daughter of the town whore, finds her life intersecting with that of Even Grade, a black man just trying to live the life handed to him. Family secrets are unearthed, leaving young Valuable struggling against awful truths from the generations that came before.

This is a story of redemption. Love leads to commitment after tragedy, and empty lives find fulfillment. Haynes manages to pull this off without that sappy feeling. This is one of those books I have kept on my shelf long after reading. It is worth your time.

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The Kite Runner

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Blurb:

The unforgettable, heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between a wealthy boy and the son of his father’s servant, The Kite Runner is a beautifully crafted novel set in a country that is in the process of being destroyed. It is about the power of reading, the price of betrayal, and the possibility of redemption; and an exploration of the power of fathers over sons—their love, their sacrifices, their lies.

A sweeping story of family, love, and friendship told against the devastating backdrop of the history of Afghanistan over the last thirty years, The Kite Runner is an unusual and powerful novel that has become a beloved, one-of-a-kind classic.

My Take:

Another fantastic read steeped in darkness and quiet hope. Two young boys from different stations in Afghani caste society become close friends. A terrible incident pulls them apart. Years later, one of those boys—now a man—seeks to make amends for his lack of action. But is it too late? Can he really find absolution for what he sees as his own act of betrayal? A return to the country of his birth, now under Taliban rule, just might lead to his own end. Is this a chance he’s willing to take in an effort to make things right?

The storytelling here is superb. The author writes from a cultural point of view few have ever captured within the realms of a novel. If you’ve seen the film but never read the book, get this one and forget the film. A case of the-book-is-better-than-the-film!

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Jazz Baby

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Blurb:

While all of Mississippi bakes in the scorching summer of 1925, sudden orphanhood wraps its icy embrace around pretty Emily Ann “Baby” Teegarten, a young teen.

Taken in by an aunt bent on ridding herself of this unexpected burden, Baby Teegarten plots her escape using the only means at her disposal: a voice that brings church ladies to righteous tears, and makes both angels and devils take notice. “I’m going to New York City to sing jazz,” she brags to anybody who’ll listen. But the Big Apple—well, it’s an awful long way from that dry patch of earth she’d always called home.

So when the smoky stages of New Orleans speakeasies give a whistle, offering all sorts of shortcuts, Emily Ann soon learns it’s the whorehouses and opium dens that can sidetrack a girl and dim a spotlight…and knowing the wrong people can snuff it out.

Jazz Baby just wants to sing—not fight to stay alive.

My Take:

Okay. So I’ll admit to being a bit of a book snob. I rarely ever give non-traditionally published books a chance. Then along comes Jazz Baby, a stunningly beautiful indie novel, and the rules are out the window. This book is solely responsible for my new and growing affection toward independently published novels.

The story is set in 1925 Mississippi—with forays into New Orleans—where Emily “Baby” Teegarten, our young teenage protagonist, seeks her fame and fortune singing jazz upon the stages of various speakeasies scattered throughout that part of the deep south. But New York is her ultimate destination. New York is where people go to become stars. The problem is, our girl is poor, orphaned, and naive to all those nefarious characters lining up with their own agendas for Baby.

There are some dark moments in this story—a rape, a couple of murders, and drug use—but there are also some very touching moments. Our girl is young, pretty, talented, bisexual, and curious about all those appetites in life she feels she’s been kept away from for too long. There are sex scenes—though they are not gratuitous.

To claim the characters here are vividly real is a major understatement. This writer really took his time in developing even the minor players. I’ve read this one three times already—at just 224 pages, it can be finished in a day or two. I’ve also returned to various scenes numerous times just to feel those delicious words against my tongue once again. I highly recommend this one to those who enjoy great storytellers. How this novel isn’t a worldwide best seller is mind boggling.

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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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