Category Archives: Little, Brown & Company

Review: The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (September 11, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0316219363
  • Source: Publisher

In this wholly unique first-hand experience of the Iraq war, readers follow the path of private John Bartle on his first tour of duty. Told in alternating time-lines from his pre-tour training, his time spent in Iraq, and his homecoming, readers are granted completely unique access to a side of a war authors are just starting to write about.

Powers not only narrates the acts of war, but most importantly, the psychological side-effects of the war, the feelings experienced by the soldiers fighting for our country:

You’re nothing, that’s the secret: a uniform in a sea of numbers, a number in a sea of dust.  And we somehow thought those numbers were a sign of our own insignificance. We thought that if we remained ordinary, we would not die. We confused correlation for cause and saw a special significance in the portraits of the dead, arranged neatly next to the number corresponding to their place on the growing list of the dead.

The soldiers experience a roller coaster ride of emotions, from fear to exhilaration, from pride to depression.

While in basic training, Bartle makes the promise to bring another private, Murphy, safely home. These two young men with vastly different lives, the only thing they had in common was the war for which they were fighting. This promise, made to Murphy’s mother, haunted Bartle during his tour and for the months following. It was a promise he would never forgive himself for making.

Powers vividly portrays the war in a completely honest, almost visceral, manner. A veteran of the war in Iraq himself, Powers is able to accurately portray the impact of the war on those who fought it, an lasting impact that extends far beyond the end of their tour when they return home:

…home, too, was hard to get an image of, harder still to think beyond the last curved enclosure of the desert, where it seemed I had left the greater portion of myself as one among innumerable grains of sand, how in the end the weather-beaten stone is not one stone but only that which has been weathered, as a result, an example, of slow erosion on a thing by wind or waves that break against it, so that the else of anyone involved ends up deposited like silt spilling out into an estuary, or gathered at the bottom of a river in a city that is all you can remember.

As you can see by the passages I’ve quoted above, Powers uses this novel to depict his time spent in Iraq, doing so in a completely artful and almost poetic manner, his words immersing you in a truly tumultuous experience.   What makes this novel so profound is Power’s ability to show how the soldiers, whether they return home from the battle are not, are ultimately casualties of war themselves. They return home battered shells of the individuals they once were. Although technically leaving the battlefield, the battle inside them rages on.

Though short in length, this novel has a lasting, haunting effect on readers. This is a novel that shouldn’t be avoided due to the subject matter or overall tone, but one that must be read so we, as civilians, can understand the impact of war. This understanding will perhaps give us a completely different view of a war we will never see ourselves, a war we only catch glimpses of on television.  War isn’t a subject matter that should be ignored or avoided, but viewed with out filters or edited by the news stations. This novel will grant readers that experience.

Weeks after reading this, this novel continues to haunt me.  When the anniversary of 9/11 came around, I immediately thought of this book and of all the soldiers fighting for our country in the hopes of preventing another terror attack. Now that I’ve seen this small glimpse inside the war from the viewpoint of those serving it, I have an even stronger amount of respect for those that fight for our country.  Pick up this novel. Experience the war from a truly unique viewpoint. You won’t regret it. Highly recommended.

Review: American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (January 9, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0316183318
  • Source: Publisher (BEA)

In 1990, Hayat Shah is in college.  A phone call from his mother announcing the death of his “aunt” Mina draws him back to his youth, how things changed when Mina entered the Shah’s home.

They lived in Milwaukee. Hyat’s father was a neurologist with no interest in keeping touch with Milwaukee’s Muslim community. His mother continues to put up with his father’s infidelity. The family is troubled, to say the least. His mother’s best friend Mina arrives from Pakistan.  She’s been divorced by her husband for having a “fast mouth.”  She fears her son will be taken from her so she escapes to the United States.

Mina is a devout Muslim.  It isn’t long before she convinces Hayat to study the Quran and encourages him to become a hafiz, an individual who knows the holy book by heart. This act influences Hayat to reflect on his life, his family, his upbringing.  It causes tension with his father, a relationship that is already pretty volatile to begin with.

It is when Mina begins dating Hayat’s father’s best friend, Nathan, that the tension truly begins. Not just a tension between family members but a sexual tension of sorts between Hayat and Mina.  This isn’t done in a perverse or abusive manner, it is simply a young man’s feelings toward an attractive woman living in his home. Nathan is not Muslim, but Jewish. As the relationship progresses, he agrees to convert to the Muslim religion if this means a life with Mina. This new relationship Mina shares with Nathan creates a level of jealousy in Hayat. Combined with the readings of the Quran that he occasionally misinterprets, Hayat partakes in an act of betrayal that will forever alter him, but more importantly, will alter the life of his aunt Mina.

American Dervish is unique in that it gives the reader a first hand glance inside the life of a Muslim family.  Hayat is desperately seeeking his own identity. His father doesn’t partake in the religion that other members of his family hold so dear.  He turns to the Quran for answers but ends up with more questions.  When the choices Mina makes based on her religion, his religion, have detrimental effects, Hayat is torn, confused. The results are an awakening of sorts for Hayat, changing the way he looks at his religion, his life, forever.

What impresses me most about American Dervish is the writing itself. Akhtar is able to perform the truly remarkable, to tackle difficult issues without being overly heavy or depressing.  Hayat’s character is one that you can’t help but feel for; he’s struggling to find identity in a family full of misrepresentations of the religion he hopes to devote himself to. A young Muslim man living in a Midwestern town, desperate for his Muslim beliefs to co-exist with the Western culture he is immersed in.

Additionally, Akhtar is able to juxtapose anger and beauty, love and hatred so eloquently.  Living in a post 9/11 world, it is refreshing to read a novel not degrading the Muslim religion, but one that celebrates it for both its beauty and its faults.

American Dervish is a book that will forever have a place in my mind. It is this book that educated me on the Muslim world, introduced me to a young man battling to find his identity.  It is a book that will be discussed in coffee shops and book clubs around the country. A book that will live in the hearts of its readers long after the last pages our turned. Dare I say it? American Dervish is, without a doubt, already one of my favorite books of 2012. Highly recommended.

Review: The End of Everything by Megan Abbott

  • Hardcover:256 pages
  • Publisher:Reagan Arthur Books (July 7, 2011)
  • ISBN-10: 0316097799
  • Source: Publisher

Lizzie Hood & Evie Verner, thirteen years old, are neighbors and best friends, inseparable.  Lizzie adores Evie’s family, including her father & older sister, Dusty. 

One day Evie goes missing; the last Lizzie saw her was at school.  Everyone comes to Evie for answers: Was Lizzie unhappy? Was someone watching her? The only thing Lizzie can recall is a maroon sedan Lizzie saw trailing them a few days prior.

After the police invesigation comes to a stand-still, Lizzie takes things into her own hands.  She begins to investigate her best friend’s life and ultimately wonders just how well she knew Lizzie.

I was inspired to read The End of Everything after Julie (Booking Mama) indicated that I would love it due to the creepy-factor.  When I had the opportunity to meet Meg while in NY for BEA, that sealed the deal. I had to read this book. Little did I know how “creepy” this book would be.

Lizzie & Evie are at an age during which they are discovering themselves: their identity, their sexuality, their individuality.  At this age, they are incredible sensitive to affection or attention from those outside their immediate family.  Unfortunately, Evie’s quest at self-discovery is horribly taken advantage of and distorted.

I wondered about how I would review this book.  It covers some pretty dark subjects, not ones I would often recommend for reading material.  Ultimately, I believe that it was Meg’s writing style, the way she was able to detail the story through the voice of a teenage girl, that really lead to the impact of this story. Lizzie began her story, somewhat naive to the world, ultimately growing & maturing by discovering the secrets her best friend had kept long hidden. These secrets, and their outcome, force Lizzie to deal with scenerios no child should have to deal with, especially at such a sensitive age.

While I wouldn’t recommend this book to the sensitive or weak of heart , this would make quite the book club discussion. Additionally, while the characters are teenagers, I would not recommend that a teen read this alone.  It does cover a topic youth should be cognizant of, but not without the ability to discuss it with an adult. 

The impact of this book is lasting; I continue to feel for the characters days after finishing the book. Highly recommended (with caution).

Frightful Friday: The Ridge by Michael Koryta

Frightful Friday is a weekly meme in which I feature a particularly scary or chilling book that I’ve read that week. Feel free to grab the button & join in!

This week’s Frightful Friday selection is The Ridge by Michael Kortya:

Hardcover: 368 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (June 8, 2011)
ISBN-10: 031605366X
Source: Publisher

In a lone stretch of land lies a lighthouse, owned by the local drunk, Wyatt French.  The lighthouse has never really served a purpose other than to serve as a local landmark.

When French’s dead body is discovered by deputy sheriff Kevin Kimble,  he also uncovers a long hidden town history as well. Dozens of car accidents have occurred on the desolate road near the site of the lighthouse, known as the Ridge.  Countless people have died, deaths that go back generations.  Somehow all these deaths, spanning decades, are tied together.

Audrey Clark owns a big-cat sanctuary and is in the process of moving it to the land across from the lighthouse.  Her husband, the founder, died before the move and Audrey is desperate to follow through with her husband’s dreams.

French’s death is just the beginning of the strange occurrences to take place at the Ridge: the cats grow restless at night, frightened by something out in the darkness.  There’s an evil that exists in the night.  Sheriff Kimble and a former newspaper reporter must find the source of this darkness, digging through decades of the town’s history to find the answers.

Kimble has his own share of secrets; he continues to visit a woman in prison…a woman who shot him.  He’s obsessed with her, can’t get her out of his mind.  She’s tied to all of this strange activity somehow. This connection makes Kimble strive even further to find the truth.

Let me start out by saying Koryta is one talented author: he combines the thriller and supernatural genres into one terrifically written package. It’s got ghost stories, mysteries, love..and somehow he succeeds to get it all to blend together so eloquently!

Since reading his previous “supernatural thrillers” So Cold The River and Cypress House, my appreciation of Koryta’s writing has done nothing but increase.  While So Cold The River is my favorite of the three, The Ridge has something the others don’t: magic.  Not magic in the sense of pulling rabbits out of hats, but the magic found within powerful, majestic creatures.  The amount of research and observation Koryta must have done to be able to detail this power so eloquently has to have been tremendous.  This hard work pays off, however.  The detailed description of the cats, the way they moved, the way they reacted to their new surroundings, literally sent chills down my spine.  Koryta made them seem as though they were mythical beings, themselves.  All in all, this unique characteristic really added to the supernatural feel of the book.

Another difference, in my opinion, is the spook factor.  Koryta’s previous two books were pretty spooky.  While The Ridge definitely has a supernatural flavor, in my opinion the spook factor has decreased.  This isn’t a flaw; I actually think more readers would be apt to read this book for that reason.

So, if tend to scare easy (you know who you are!) don’t be afraid to pick up this book.  There are a few scenes of an “other worldly” nature, but definitely nothing excessive.

Highly recommended!

Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

 

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (September 13, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 0316098337
  • Source: BEA
  • Jack is a five-year-old boy who enjoys doing everything a boy of that age does: color, watch his favorite shows on TV and play games. The difference with Jack? He and his mother, affectionately known as Ma, have been prisoners in a small 11×11′ shed, referred to as ROOM.  Ma was abducted when she was a teen and impregnated by the man who captured her.  Jack sleeps, closed up in a wardrobe, hidden from the eyes of the man who keeps them locked away. This man, who Jack refers to as Old Nick, provides them with the basics: food, water, & occasional “Sundaytreats.”

    Ma does her best to provide for her son.  She arranges games for him to play in their small confines. Empty egg shells become a snake when strung together.  Jack gets his exercise by running around the bed. However, she knows that this isn’t the life for a little boy, who knows nothing of the outside world.  They plan an escape; Ma is desperate to provide Jack with a chance to breathe fresh air, experience a “real” life.  She remembers what life is like outside and is desperate to have that life once again.

    However, once they make it outside, life isn’t necessarily any easier. Jack, never in contact with germs, is required to wear a mask to prevent him from becoming ill.  The two are temporarily assigned to a psychiatric hospital to help them “assimilate” to life in the real world. Jack doesn’t deal with this transition well; the only person he’s ever known is his mother.  The hustle & bustle of every day life is a shock to him.  He’s never experienced the feeling of grass on his bare feet.  He doesn’t know how to walk up and down stairs. 

    The transition is quite difficult for Ma as well.  In ROOM, she has control over what happens to Jack. Keeping him safe was her utmost concern. She can protect him, but in the outside world she loses this control and loses a bit of what she had become as well. Ultimately, I began to wonder if life was better for Jack & Ma in ROOM?

    Room is a fantastic, yet devastating, novel told through the eyes of a young boy.  Jack is so naive to the real world it is heartbreaking. He refers to “creaking” in his mother’s bed, not realizing that he is describing the nightly rapes she endures when Old Nick pays his nightly visit.

    This book, without a doubt, is one of my favorite of the year.  As author Audrey Niffeneger put it “Room is a book to read in one sitting.  When it’s over you look up: the world looks the same but you are somehow different and that feeling lasts for days.”  For me, that feeling has lasted for months.  I first read Room in September and recently did a reread for a book club meeting.  This book has permanently made a mark on my very soul.  When I finished reading it for the first time, I instantly wrapped my arms around my own five-year old son and thanked God that he would never have to face an experience like this.

    The novel’s web site provides a whole host of additional resources, including a floor plan of ROOM.  Seeing the space they were forced to live in literally brought tears to my eyes.  

    This will be the first time I ever utter this phrase, but I beg you go to out and buy a copy of this book.  Read it.  Talk about it.  You won’t forget it.

    Room was inspired by the true story account of Josef Fritzl, a man who kept his daughter prisoner in the basement of their home in Austria for 24 years.  He raped her repeatedly, resulting in seven children & one miscarriage.

    ROOM, by Emma Donoghue from era404 creative on Vimeo.

    Review: So Cold the River by Michael Kortya

     

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; First Edition edition (June 9, 2010)
  • ISBN-10: 0316053635
  • Source: Received at BEA
  • Eric Shaw is a failed filmmaker who, rather than making the films in LA as he’d hoped and dreamed, is now making a living making family videos for the families of those who have passed. When he is approached by Alyssa Bradford, a wealthy young woman and promised a substantial amount of money to travel to French Lick, IN to research her father-in-law’s history, Shaw cannot refuse.  She describes her father-in-law, Campbell Bradford, as an extraordinary man who was extremely financially successful in his youth, despite the Depression.

    Alyssa presents Shaw with a small bottle of water, the only evidence she has of her father-in-law’s past.  The bottle is full of Pluto Water, spring water from the famous mineral springs that flow around the West Baden Springs Resort. Eighty years ago, the water contained in that bottle was considered a cure-all for all life’s ailments. That water alone brought people from all over to the West Baden Hotel and surrounding area.

    The moment he arrives Shaw realizes something is amiss.  When he mentions the name Campbell Bradford, the residents of French Lick insist the man is long dead.  How is this possible, when Shaw himself met the man just days before his departure? He’s also described as a horrible man, who ran away from the town, leaving a wife and child behind. “People were terrified of the man…thought he was evil.” 

    When Shaw meets Kellen, a young college student researching the African-American history in the area, he learns of the murder of Shadrach Hunter, a black casino owner who was murdered shortly before Campbell’s disappearance.  Campbell was believed to be the killer.  Kellen agrees to help Shaw in his hunt for the “true” Campbell Bradford.

    Shaw, largely out of curiosity, takes a drink of the eighty year old spring water presented to him by Alyssa Bradford.  He is instantly sickened by it’s foul taste. After drinking the water, he begins to have visions, ominous and haunting snapshots of Campbell Bradford. He also begins to succumb to horrible headaches, the only way to alleviate them is to drink more of the ancient spring water, which now tastes sweet.

    Anne, an elderly woman who has lived her entire life in that area, is key to Shaw’s “investigation.”  Anne has quite the collection of Pluto Water and is able to provide Shaw with a bit of history that no one else can.  Another vital part of the story: Anne’s an expert on weather and storms; she keeps a daily record of barometric activity in the area. She begins to notice a significant change in the weather since Shaw’s arrival;  perhaps “the” storm she’s been predicting will finally make an appearance.  Anne has always been aware of something “different” in the area:

    “I’ve always connected it more to the weather myself…there’s something different in this valley…You can feel it in the wind now and again, and on the edge of a summer storm, or maybe just before ice comes down in the wintertime.  There’s something different.  And charge is the best word for it.  There’s a charge, all right.”

    Shaw & Kellen soon realize that evil has returned to West Baden, evil buried decades ago. Rather than leave, Shaw feels he must get to the cause of this evil and find out more about the illusive Campbell Bradford.

    Let me just start out with this: Koryta’s writting is stunning!  The pacing of this thrilling chiller is perfect, it starts out slow, slowly building with momentum, until it explodes at the end.  I can’t help but compare this to the storm that builds and builds and then unleashes it’s wrath throughout the book.  This storm is like a character itself…it slowly builds and progresses along with the storyline.  The way Koryta describes it makes it appear humanlike:

    The mass above it was black and purple but the funnel cloud was stark white. It eased to the ground almost peacefully, as if settling down for a rest, and then its color began to change, the wite turning gray as it blew through the fields and gathered dirt, sucking soil and debris into its vortex.”

    The other characters, particularly Shaw himself, are very well laid out and organized.  As the book progresses, we learn more about Shaw, his life, his history. Anne’s character is an important one; she ties the present to the past.

    One of the things that really interested me in this book was the setting.  I was lucky enough to visit the West Baden Springs Hotel while it was undergoing renovation. To state it is breathtaking would be an understatement.  Here are just a few pictures:

    The exterior of the hotel. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to walk along the dome. Despite my fear of heights, I stepped outside, knowing I’d never have the opportunity again.

    Inside the atrium…the tilework, the detail, simply magnificent!

    All in all, I highly recommend this unique, chilling thriller!  Check back later today for a giveaway: a autographed ARC of the book!