Monday, October 05, 2015

Know Your Beholder by Adam Rapp

Everyone knows the age-old adage that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. But sometimes a cover is so quirky or intriguing that I just have to find out if the story is as well thought out as the cover. This is exactly what happened with Know Your Beholder. Something about the cover, an old house sprouting out of a big bushy beard, was so intriguing that I picked it up without even reading the synopsis on the inside flap. And I’m so glad I did.

Know Your Beholder tells the story of Francis Falbo, a down-on-his-luck 30-something in south central Illinois. In the past few years, his once promising music career has ended, his mother has died, and his wife ran off to New York City with another man. After his father left for Florida with his new wife, Francis converted his childhood home into apartments, moved into the attic, and now spends his days working on the house and endlessly ruminating on his wife’s new marriage. When the reader first meets Francis he hasn’t left his house in over a month or even changed out of his uniform of long johns, bathrobe, and slippers in nine days.

Francis’s story, though it sounds overly gloomy, is full of quiet beauty and more laugh-out-loud moments than one would expect. His internal dialogue feels both inordinately beautiful and surprisingly natural whether he is contemplating his growing agoraphobia, thinking about his failed band and/or marriage, or spying on his tenants. Rapp is especially good at creating an interesting turn of phrase, such as when Francis describes his drug dealer, Haggis, talking about fitness “as far away from the concept of the word as a shipwrecked man from a fax machine.”

Fans of Nick Hornby’s odd but loveable characters will enjoy Know Your Beholder, but be warned: this is not a story of redemption and there is no real happy ending for our hapless hero. At the end of the story, a lot of things have changed in Francis’s life, but very little has really improved for him. Luckily, there is at least the possibility of a light at the end of the long, dark tunnel he has dug for himself.

-Portia Kapraun

Monday, September 28, 2015

Purity: A Novel

I don’t always let out a squeal of delight when the new-books cart rolls out of the staff room, but when I do, you can be assured that one of my favorite novelists has finally released something new (I seem to be drawn to authors who frustratingly eke out only about one book every four years).  Such was the case with Johnathan Franzen’s (National Book Award Winner for The Corrections) newest novel Purity.  The novel starts out a little slow, with the first-person, present-day account of its nominal character.  Young Purity, a college debt-laden idealist, squatting in a foreclosed house, working for a seedy company, and in love with a married man; hardly comes across sympathetically.  But the real beauty of a Franzen novel is its open invitation to the reader: the characters seem to encourage scorn and judgement in much the same way that Evanovich’s court the approbation of the middle-classed and middle-aged.  It isn’t until about 100 pages in that Franzen’s true genius becomes apparent. It happens in that moment where you find yourself rooting for this poor schmuck whom you’ve spent the better part of the early chapters disdaining.  Purity, who goes by Pip, fortuitously meets up with a German tourist, who inexplicably recommends her for an exclusive internship with the world-famous Sunlight Project. The project (a global whistle-blowing affair), developed and overseen by the enigmatic Andreas Wolf, begins to seem evermore an attractive escape as Pip’s prospects at home, the dead-end job, self-destructive romances, and a needy and secretive mother, turn ever more disappointing.  The added incentive of regular student loan payments (frankly, that alone would be enough to entice me to risk a bit of typhoid), and the promise to help Pip discover the identity of her father, finally lure her to the Sunlight Project’s gorgeous South American headquarters.  Once there, Pip finds it increasingly difficult to buy into the hero-worship of Andreas and at the same time, perversely, finds herself oddly attracted to him.  The novel’s cast then seamlessly expands to include the first-person reflective of Andreas and a handful of additional characters; all of whom contribute to make the novel absorbing and smart; such that twists in the tale actually caught me off-guard because I wasn’t looking for them. I was simply content to spend time with a group of people I had become fond of.  Par for the course, Jonathan Franzen has once again provided us with the anachronistic literary page-turner.

Jennifer Wilson

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Dust that Falls from Dreams

The latest novel from Louis de Bernieres takes us to Edwardian England. We meet the Pendennis, McCosh, and Pitt families when their children are young and carefree, with the four girls and five boys playing together in the idyllic setting of their upper-class neighborhood in Kent. Soon, however,World War I ushers in a dark period of time for all of England, and these three families are not spared their sorrow and heartbreak. Some of the boys do not return home from the war, and it affects all the families deeply. The "dust that falls from dreams" is Sophie's description of all the shining dust motes that you see flying around your house on a sunny day. It is the perfect title for the book, as on these pages we see some of the characters' dreams dashed and others lifted into reality. This is a beautiful glimpse into a lost era, peopled with characters that may be ordinary--but are extraordinary all the same. If you enjoy historical family epics, this book is for you.
posted by Kelly

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Ragged Breath is the latest in Julia Keller's mysteries based in the Appalachian community of Acker's Gap which is located in West Virginia.  Bell Elkins is the prosecuting attorney in a town hit hard by drugs and lack of jobs especially mining jobs.  There have been some big changes in her personal and work life which have left her feeling lonely..  Sheriff Nick Fogelsong  has retired and his deputy Pam Harrison is the new sheriff.  At home, Bell's daughter has gone to live with her father also Bell's ex-husband to finish high school.
This case is based on a true event which happened in West Virginia 's Buffalo Creek Hollow in 1972.  After a long hard rain, water rose over the dam and mining officials did not notify the Hollow residents.  132 million gallons of black water rushed through the narrow Buffalo creek killing 125 residents and leaving 4,000 homeless.  Royce Dillard was left an orphan after the disaster and now is accused of murder 30 years later.  Since his aunt died, Royce has been living off the grid away from town with his dogs.  Unfortunately this is near the site where the body of  Ed Hackel was found.  Ed was the salesman for the Magic Mountain resort which was welcomed into the community by some who saw it as bringing in jobs.  Royce Dillard did not want to sell his land.  He planned to turn it into a dog sanctuary.  Ed Hackel was stalking him offering him more money and pushing him to sell.  Finally he tried blackmailing Royce.  So is this why Royce killed him or were there others with more to lose?  Bell misses discussing the case with Nick Fogelsong and does not yet feel comfortable with the new sheriff.  This seems to prolong the solving of the crime. 
Julia Keller's books show the beauty of West Virginia but also the despair.  She shows the beauty of the coal mines, but also the damage they do to the mountains and the health problems of those who live there.  Bell Elkins' character grows with each book as she more fully understands how the past influences the future which is also shown in the character of Royce.  I would recommend that new readers start with the first book, A Killing in the Hills.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Drawing Fire by Janice Cantore

If your parents were murdered in a restaurant fire when you were a young child, would you spend the rest of your life looking for the killer?  That is what Abby Hart/Morgan did.

Promising herself to become the best homicide cop around.  After 27 years, she has a chance to talk to the governor, who at the time of the murder, was co-owner of a restaurant named "Triple Seven".   At the same time she meets a PI, Luke Murphy, who is also looking for the killer, as his uncle, Cookie, was also killed in the fire, after saving Abby.  Abby is banned from any forward investigation when it is found out by the Chief of LBPD that it was her parents that were killed  Abby and Luke put their files and heads together to do their investigating.  They are both warned to stop before they or their family get hurt or even killed.
Too many people know too much of what isn't being said.  In the end it always come out.

This is a good mystery and I can't wait till the next book in this series comes out in 2016.