Downriver by Jeanne Leiby is a collection of hard-edged stories placed in the setting of downriver Detroit, Michigan. Each of the 15 stories gives a glimpse into industrial-gray neighborhoods filled with hardworking people struggling to survive. The true-to-life characters all hold onto a hope of something better in their future while striving to make sense of their imperfect present.
One thing I appreciate about Leiby's style is her ability to allow the characters to be flawed. There's no powdered makeup and extra lip gloss on them. They are what they are, and we see the sides to them they'd probably rather hide, and this is what gives her stories a unique voice. Secrets are exposed, secrets I doubt the characters even admit to themselves. Despite their flaws, or maybe because of them, the characters are likable, and one can relate to their views of a difficult world. Like Detroit itself, they struggle to be something better and oftentimes fail.
There is no better time for a book like Downriver, since the city of Detroit often finds itself in the news, trying to stay afloat while it wrestles with a tough economic situation. Leiby's stories put a human face to the articles we see in the evening paper and will change the way we read the headlines.
If you'd like to win a free copy of Downriver, please leave a comment on this post telling me what intrigues you about the book. Subscribers to carp(e) libris are automatically entered to win this and every book given away at this site. Leaving a comment here gives subscribers a second entry. A winner will be randomly drawn on Friday, February 1, 2008, at 12:00 p.m. EST and announced as soon as I have contacted the winner.
Downriver is published by Carolina Wren Press.
Tuesday, January 29, 2008
Sunday, January 27, 2008
When I first started reading The Writing Circle by Rozena Maart (TSAR Publications), I immediately began wondering about the character Isabel. Why did she need someone to follow her home from work? Why did her house have large security gates around it, and why was someone supposed to watch for her at the window? Was she so important? But as I read further, I realized all the female characters were living the same way. No woman was leaving her house after dark without a male chaperon, and to do so meant admonishments from family and friends. Everyone had cell phones and checked in with each other constantly. Why? The answer was simple: They're women living in Cape Town, South Africa.
With a little research online, I was to learn The Writing Circle was not a strange and dark fairy tale, but a story based on the scary truth: South Africa has one of the highest levels of reported rape in the world. And when you consider a large percentage of rapes are never even reported, you have an even bigger problem that cannot be ignored.
Rozena Maart handles her characters with compassion and sensitivity, revealing the fear they live with daily and the memories they have to face when their writing group friend, Isabel, is raped in the driveway as they await her arrival. Each chapter gives a character a chance to speak in her own voice, every voice unique and richly layered. Their stories and how they deal with their friend's mental breakdown after the rape make this more than a book - it should be used as a tool to help loved ones of rape victims to understand the tragedy that continues to occur even after the rape has been committed.
The Writing Circle is a beautifully written, heartbreaking piece that will open your eyes to not only the issues of sexual assault, but to racism and biased viewpoints as well. Maart has written a novel with a greater purpose, one that will educate and enrich. If your book club is looking for a book to spark meaningful conversation and bring awareness to the group, no matter where you live, The Writing Circle will deliver that and more.
Friday, January 25, 2008
If you look to the left of this post, you'll see a cute little Book Sense logo. That logo will direct you to a website where you can buy books - locally! When you input your zip code, Book Sense will take you to the independent bookseller nearest you where you can purchase all those books you've had a hanker for, including the ones I review here! In fact, anywhere you see the name of a book mentioned on carp(e) libris, I've got it linked for you to purchase locally. And when you buy your books through the links on this site, you can help support carp(e) libris. That will make me ever so grateful, as it will keep me in postage for the book giveaways.
I must give a big special thanks to Di of Di's Book Blog etc. for helping me through numerous emails! I'm not the technically savvy person I wish to someday be, and she helped me figure out how to set up my links. She's the one who told me about Book Sense to begin with! So give her blog a visit because she's a friendly blogger with an interesting site!
Don't forget to support your local bookseller (and carp(e) libris!) through the Book Sense links!
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Ever wonder what it was like to live on a commune back in the days of "Make Love, Not War"? Sandra Eugster takes you on a journey to such a place in her honest and revealing memoir Notes from Nethers. Sandra grew up on a West Virginia commune founded by her mother in 1969. Sometimes funny, sometimes brutally honest, always interesting, Sandra shares her life openly, telling of the heartaches, culture shocks, and a diverse and unconventional "family" of commune members. Some of her three-dimensional characters flow in and out of the story as transient hippies, and others stay with the commune throughout the book.
Notes from Nethers (published by Academy Chicago Publishers) is a well-written memoir that, despite the many trials of growing up in a commune, is never self-pitying. The story line is easy to surround yourself in and flows seamlessly, weaving back and forth through past and present. The writing style is engaging and entertaining, giving the reader a chance to travel back in time and observe a curious world that most of us would otherwise hear only rumors and tall tales. Without her honesty, Sandra Eugster would have sacrificed a great story - a good lesson for any writer who wants to share their life in the pages of a book.
Yalo, written by Elias Khoury and published by Archipelago Books, takes place in war-torn Beirut of the 1980's where the main character (Yalo) is accused of rape and is imprisoned and tortured. Forced to write his confession, he starts to sort through his twisted memories of childhood, life as a soldier, and the crimes he did or did not commit.
His confusing and painful life distorts his reality, and seeing through his eyes, the reader must sort out truth from delusion. I found myself initially disliking Yalo, then beginning to sympathize with him. Highly psychological, the story of Yalo explores the making of a social deviant and the price of growing up surrounded by war and violence. I'll have to admit Yalo was a difficult read for me - not because of the writing style, which is superior in its execution of the craft, but because of the dark and disturbing subject matter. It wasn't written to make you comfortable, and there is no sugar coating here. If you want to delve into the psychological effects of war, and if you wonder what goes through the mind of a tormented soul whose perception of reality has been greatly altered, you will find much worth and fascination in Yalo.
Thursday, January 17, 2008
I've read some great books lately, and this next novel is certainly no exception. A Highly Placed Source by Michelle Dally was a fantastic read. John Irving-esque in style, it handles some pretty sensitive subject matter and pulls it off brilliantly. The story line is laugh-out-loud humor blended with sarcasm.
When I say this book is John Irving-esque, it is a high compliment indeed. I'm a longtime fan of all things Irving, and I think if he ever gets ahold of this book, he'll be jealous he didn't come up with the plot first. But don't be mistaken - Dally has her own unique voice, and it's very well developed. The characters are quirky and addictive, and the dialogue has great rhythm.
Here's the story line: Peter, a 12-year-old boy, asks God a question. A controversial question. Is it okay to - ahem - "wash the bird"? (If you don't know what that means, you'll have to read the book to find out. I am not going there.) God answers. When Peter's principal finds out, he suspends him for lying. In come the media, the politicians, the religious leaders. "A boy suspended for praying?" "A boy that hears directly from God?" And this, my friends, occurs in the first pages. The rest of the book gets even better, conquering the difficult topic of the difference between religion and spirituality.
Written in the omnipresent viewpoint (interesting, when one considers God is a major character), Dally pulls this trick off without a hitch. I've read omnipresent books that have you feeling like you're jumping all over, bounding in and out of the characters' heads. As a reader, I find it hard to attach to any one person in a book written in this style. But Dally does it so well, you might not even notice it's omnipresent. I personally can't imagine the book being written any other way.
Overall, I loved reading A Highly Placed Source. It's got humor, edge, controversy - and it makes you feel good. I finished the book wishing there were more, and I must say this is one reviewer who needed a tissue at the close. I'll be on the lookout for anything else coming from Michelle Dally, and I suggest you do the same.
I've decided to add a new twist to carp(e) libris, because I know some of you build lists of books to be read, and I'd like to help you out. For the books I review that really stand out, I'll be giving them the carp(e) libris Goldfish Award. You'll notice it under the picture of the book on the right. So here's to my first Goldfish Award! A Highly Placed Source, written by Michelle Dally and published by Ghost Road Press.
Monday, January 14, 2008
The winner of The Meat and Spirit Plan is Sheri of ...And Finley Makes 3. Congratulations to you!
Also, I must mention the winner of Delta Pearls because even though she already knows she won, I forgot to list it here. That winner is Paige of Superpaige's Pad. So Paige, congratulations to you as well!
Thursday, January 10, 2008
The Meat and Spirit Plan is an abstract novel brilliantly written by Selah Saterstrom, author of The Pink Institution. The nameless main character gives her story in edgy snapshots, which catches you up in the rhythm of an often disturbing and bumpy ride. The style reminds one of the free flowing way our deepest thoughts run when residing somewhere between wakefulness and sleep.
The Meat and Spirit Plan shows one girl's entry into womanhood through a series of damaging relationships and her eventual reliance on drugs. The main character struggles to surface in this fiercely written story, and whether you've lived similar experiences or not, you'll find yourself identifying with her over and over again.
Coffee House Press went to great lengths to produce a book that has a look and feel equal to the one-of-a-kind writing style of Saterstrom, and I have one of these books to give away. There are three ways to win. Leave a comment telling me what intrigues you about this book, subscribe to carp(e) libris in the left-hand column of this page, or do both to double your chances. Once you're subscribed, you're automatically entered into all the book giveaways here at carp(e) libris. One winner will be chosen at random on Monday, January 14th 2007, at noon EST.
Tuesday, January 8, 2008
When I recently started carp(e) libris, I had a vision. I wanted to bring books to readers, unique pieces of literature hunted like gold from small presses who publish works as labors of love. I have found one of those books. Boxing for Cuba by Guillermo Vincente Vidal is exactly the kind of book I wanted to share when I began this blog. It's written courageously, from the heart, and in such an honest, strong style that I won't soon forget it.
Boxing for Cuba, published by Ghost Road Press, is the memoir of a man who left Cuba as a boy with Operation Peter Pan in 1961. Operation Peter Pan carried more than 14,000 Cuban children between the ages of 6 and 16 to America to save them from Fidel's regime. Unfortunately, with too few homes to accept all these children until their parents could hopefully someday join them, many, like Guillermo and his two brothers, ended up in orphanages. Through the pain and struggle of feeling abandoned when his parents sent him and his brothers away, to the reunion of his family only to find his mother and father fight just as viciously as before, Boxing for Cuba brings you an amazing memoir you won't be able to put down. The journey starts and ends with Cuba, taking you from the tropical home of Vidal and his family, to the U.S. where he grew to adulthood in Colorado, and finally circles back to an emotional visit to his homeland. It's a story of family history and of learning to be proud of who you are and where you come from. There's so much to be gleaned from this book, and anyone who reads it is sure to put it down feeling they've grown from it.
If ever a book gives the perfect example of why I adore the memoir, this is it.
Saturday, January 5, 2008
The Silence of Parents is the story of what happens when families keep secrets, in particular those of the holocaust. Ilona, the only child of holocaust survivors, struggles to grow up as part of the second generation, or "Second Gen". She finds her whole life shifted when her father makes a secret decision based on fears her parents hold but won't explain to her. In their love for her and an attempt to protect her from the evil they know exists in the world, their interference drastically changes the path of her life.
Published by Fithian Press, The Silence of Parents covers a side of the holocaust you rarely hear about. What happens to the children of holocaust survivors? How did they grow up in the hideous shadow of the past? What are their lives like as adults? Geroe's story tells it with an intricate plot that will pull you into the lives of Ilona's family and the love of her life, with whom she has been forced to separate.
I asked Susan Simpson Geroe a few questions about her book. Here is what she had to say:
carp(e) libris: You're a Second Gen just like your main character Ilona. How much of this book would you say is autobiographical?
Susan: Indeed, I am a Second Gen just like the main character in the book. Although not an autobiography, the way Ilona reacts to the world around her mirrors mine at various times in my life. The parts of the book that relate to living in post war Romania and the immigration process in the mid 1960s reflect reality. The love story and the characters are fiction, created to provide the backbone to the way I, as a Second Gen, feel about the world around me.
cl: One portion of the book shows interviews with some Second Gens who share their stories. Were these from real interviews?
Susan: The interviews were not conducted with separate individuals, although I've used some information that friends, or cousins shared with me. Again, the interviews provided means to express how I, as an adult today, came to terms with my feelings as a child, a teenager, a wife and mother while reflecting upon and accepting my life as a child of Holocaust survivors.
cl: If someone is a Second Gen, how would you suggest they find a support group?
Susan: In our days, I think the easiest way to find a support group for Second Gens is to search the Internet with key words such as Holocaust Survivors, Second Generation Survivors, or inquire at local synagogues, or Jewish institutions.
Thanks so much to Susan and Fithian Press! For more information, visit Fithian Press's website.
Wednesday, January 2, 2008
One of the most interesting things about a collection of short stories by the same author is following the progression of skill and tone. Since most of these collections are written over a greater period of time, I often find myself reading a short story and wondering what was happening in the author's life to inspire a plot, a character, a voice. This is certainly the case in Delta Pearls, a book by Judith Bader Jones, published by Sweetgum Press.
Winner of the 2007 William Rockhill Nelson Award in fiction, Delta Pearls is a book of shorts set in the Missouri Delta. The stories are written in a variety of time periods, and every one shares the spirit of the South. If Hallmark commercials get you teary, then several of these tales will have you reaching for the box of tissues also. Most of the stories have a positive heartwarming feel, but my favorites were more bittersweet. In fact, I daresay my favorites were most likely those which were gleaned from the author's personal experience; there were several that stood out above and beyond the others, with extra heart and soul woven in.
My favorite story of all? A Family Gathering. If Bader Jones chooses to write a full novel, she could expand on the characters in this book and easily keep the readers' attention.
The great news is I have an extra copy here to give away! If you're subscribed to carp(e) libris, you're already entered to win. If you haven't yet subscribed, please do so in the bar on the left for your chance at a copy of Delta Pearls. As long as you're subscribed, you're automatically entered into all my book giveaways. For a second entry, please leave me a comment at this post telling me what intrigues you about Delta Pearls. If you post a link to this drawing on your blog, I'll even throw in a third entry! Just be sure to let me know in the comments, or email me at themommyspot(at)gmail(dot)com. A winner will be chosen Monday, January 7th, 12:00 noon EST. I'll notify the winner by email, so please make sure themommyspot(at)gmail(dot)com is in your address book.