Tag Archives: fiction

Bohjalian Shoots to Thrill With ‘The Night Strangers’

Cover ImageYes, it’s October, and inevitably with it’s arrival comes the dark urban legends and tales that tingle our spines and goose-up our flesh. Publishers find readers more receptive to the bizarre, and therefore seize the month to release their edgier titles.

I’m not one for the horror genre, so I must say that Chris Bohjalian caught me completely off guard with his latest release, The Night Strangers. I’ve read enough of Bohjalian’s titles to know that when I pick one off the shelf I’m guaranteed a couple hundred pages of laid-back drama that easily entertain.

The Night Strangers, however, is a deviation from typical Chris Bohjalian book fare. Tagged as a psychological thriller, The Night Strangers calls on the supernatural to assist in the graphic retelling of pilot Chip Linton’s crash and his post-traumatic spiral into madness.

According to Bohjalian’s site, The Night Strangers “is a ghost story inspired by a door in his basement and Sully Sullenberger’s successful ditching of an Airbus in the Hudson.” The aforementioned door – and other eerie setting points – are well mapped in Night Strangers and are essential to the story’s creepy-factor. And Sullenberger? He haunts only in his competence and skill as a pilot who was able to stick an incredible landing.

Initially I had a hard time getting into the book. Picking around for strong literary passages and historical depth left me wanting, but I realized, that’s not what this story is about. Rather, it’s a let-yourself-go ghost story written to gun the imagination and scare the hell out of you.

And it does.

I’m a bit of a chicken, but I think The Night Strangers will spook even the hard-core. Once you buy into the exceedingly “super” aspect of Bohjalian’s “supernatural” plot line, you’ll find this book – spurting blood, spirits, and all – a hide-your-eyes, movie theater kind of read.

Chris Bohjalian is the author of fourteen books, most of which take place in his beloved Vermont. While he’s an enthusiastic storyteller, Bohjalian won’t rock your world from a profound literary standpoint. However, if you’re looking for escapism with sound characters and a well-laced storyline, he’s a sure bet. As for The Night Strangers? Toss it on your list for a rainy-day, but you might not want to read it at home all alone…

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

– Review: Miami Herald review of The Night Strangers

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors, Book Reviews, Chris Bohjalian, The Night Strangers

Fallada Lives on in ‘Every Man Dies Alone’

Cover ImageAfter finishing Hans Fallada’s Every Man Dies Alone, I needed some time to sit and really think about the book. In itself, the story is extremely powerful, but the fact that Fallada lived, breathed and navigated the ruthless currents of Nazi Germany brings a frightening credibility to the tension of this novel.

Otto Quangel is considered a simple man by all those around him. He quietly heads to the factory each morning, efficiently runs his lines, and methodically returns to his gray flat in the same manner. His wife Anna awaits, laying low and fretting in spades for the safety of his daily return.

Otto and Anna have lost their Germany. They are quiet people by nature, but speak sparingly due to the invisible eyes that are always watching. Neighbors are turning. People are hiding. Death and corruption are everywhere. Nazi rule has spread, and with it the trepidation and horror of rumored camps and prisons.

The strength of Every Man Dies Alone, however, lies not so much in the depiction of the torturous treatment and silencing at the hands of the Nazis, but rather in Fallada’s shrewd ability to convey the thrill of fear, and the enormity of risk, as the Quangel’s conspire to take a stand.

If you could muster the courage, how would you stand up to such a staunch and brutal regime? Would you mobilize a coup or a riot? Or would it be something more covert like an underground press or subversive leafleting? What if you were just an everyday man who could hide behind an everyday routine like Otto – would you take any action at all?

I would be cheating you of a magnificent read if I provided any plot spoilers. You should know that Every Man Dies Alone is based on the brave, true story of a couple who decided to resist, and in so doing, showed that the smallest of actions often provide incredible, unintended results. Through the deft skills of Hans Fallada, their small story resounds decades later.

Of Note: Hans Fallada (nee Rudolph Ditzen) wrote Every Man Dies Alone in a feverish twenty-four days, soon after the end of World War II and his release from a Nazi insane asylum. He did not live to see its publication.* Informative sections of Fallada and his life among the Nazi system is provided in the Melville House Publishing paperback version.

– Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

*taken from book jacket

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors, Book Reviews, Every Man Dies Alone, Hans Fallada

Author Megan Abbott Brings ‘The End of Everything’ Back to the Burbs

Cover ImageMystery writer Megan Abbott is no stranger to Michigan. The award-winning author grew up in the Detroit area, attended Grosse Pointe North High School and graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English Literature. Though Abbott currently makes her home in Queens, New York, she’ll be bringing her latest novel, The End of Everything, back home this week.

Abbott is the Edgar-winning author of the novels Die a Little, The Song Is You and Queenpin. Abbott was already a favorite among fellow writers when her 2009 novel Bury Me Deep swiftly moved her into the mainstream.

The End of Everything is Abbott’s first work to take place in her hometown of Grosse Pointe, and takes place during the 1980’s of Abbott’s adolescence. The End  is a departure from Abbott’s other books, which draw more from history, film and true-crime.

“It’s definitely the world of my hometown,” Abbott shares. “It seemed like the whole summer world was conducted in backyards, sprinklers, Ernie Harwell on the radio, mosquitoes and peering through window and door screens.”

Abbott originally started writing The End of Everything back in the late 1990’s, and admits that returning to her roots for material feels a little risky.

“We are the least reliable narrators of the places we grew up,” Abbott tells Mulholland Books, “and it’s taken me nearly 20 years to write about my hometown. But now, all these years later, I can finally access Grosse Pointe in a different way. My new novel, The End of Everything, the story of a 13-year-old girl whose best friend disappears, is set in a Grosse Pointe facsimile. Writing it, I came to feel that the stillness I’d once thought of as stasis was precisely the quality that made the big moments of life, when they come, seem larger, bigger, more shocking and more moving. The more I wrote, the more I was able to telescope back, prior to my teen years of bored frustration with the suburbs, back when it was a wooded place of inscrutability and wonder.”

Abbott will be returning to the suburbs for a reading and signing of The End of Everything at Borders in Birmingham on Wednesday, July 20 at 7:00 pm. If you can’t make Abbott’s Birmingham appearance, you can link here for a full schedule of the author’s events.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors, Megan Abbott

Bonnie Jo Campbell’s ‘Once Upon A River’ Sets Sail

Things are looking way up for Kalamzaoo author Bonnie Jo Campbell. This week W.W. Norton & Company released Campbell’s much anticipated new novel, Once Upon A River, to the reading world at large.

Due to early buzz and glowing reviews, Once Upon A River  has managed to position itself onto a number of notable summer reading lists (prior to its release, mind you), and  serve to establish Campbell as one of the nation’s new literary darlings.

I haven’t yet cracked the spine of Campbell’s latest, but with recent favorable features in  publications such as Poets & Writers, the Detroit Free Press, and the Wall Street Journal, Once Upon A River promises good things to come.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Campbell at a National Writers Series event where she eloquently spoke of the integral role that Michigan plays in her writing process. The winsome author has done much for Michigan’s artistic reputation and has no doubt been a key player in prominently situating the state on the larger literary landscape.

No fancy release parties are planned for this author though. Campbell will celebrate the launching of her book with friends and family. Her tribe. “One thing I’ve learned about the writing business is that you can be up and you can be down, but you’re still the same person,” (via Free Press).

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors, Bonnie Jo Campbell

Ann Patchett’s ‘State of Wonder’ Certain to Leave You Wondering

Cover ImageWe’ve come to expect big things from bestselling author Ann Patchett. As winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize for her international beauty Bel Canto back in 2002, Patchett unwittingly raised her literary bar and cleared the way for a large and loyal fan base.

Highlighted by the success of Bel Canto, Patchett has amassed a reliable readership and now publishes to eager, outstretched hands. With five praised novels to her name and one currently situated on several prominent reading lists, Patchett has been slow to disappoint. In her latest novel State of Wonder, however, Patchett just might find devotees a touch disenchanted.

Patchett’s State of Wonder boldly tackles the snarled, cacophonous wilds of the Amazonian jungle. Yet for all of the novel’s shimmering flora, pulsating hues, masticating insects, shrieking monkeys and tribal ululations, why are we left hearing only crickets?

State of Wonder starts out strong despite its floppy premise. The introduction of key characters and plot lines instantly hook and anticipation builds at the first hint of scandal. Like the exhilarating, paced ascent of a roller coaster readying for the ride, readers sense big thrills to come. Alas, as the setting switches from the midwest to Brazil, State of Wonder peters out at the perch and clambers down into a disjointed tale of outlandish proportion.

“It’s not that I don’t have any idea; it’s that I sometimes have too many ideas,” shared Patchett in a recent Tin House interview, and this is no doubt the troubling case in State of Wonder. Bioethics, biracialism, corporate greed and cultural integrity are but a few of the many story threads that still remain slack at the conclusion of Patchett’s work.

Despite the medicinal treasures that potentially abound in the Amazonian underbrush, Patchett overplays the topic in State of Wonder and takes it a bit too far. “Science came in for the first time with Run,” Patchett tells Tin House, “and then it just kind of blew up into something a lot bigger in State of Wonder… .”

Well put. An author can only take their audience so far before they run the risk of losing them in their own imaginative flight. By the time Patchett has Marina eating bark off the trees and the Lakashi tribe swabbing their private parts for the sake of modern science, it’s fairly safe to say that Patchett has left her readers staring into space.

That said, Patchett does have a gift for beautiful prose and her depth of character and relationship are at times palpable. In addition, the lush, layered descriptions of the Amazon and its foreboding tributaries are striking. In all fairness, State of Wonder offers significant literary style if not grace.

It’s possible that I might be in my own camp on this one, though it wouldn’t be the first time. State of Wonder  was just released on June 7th and is steadily climbing the charts and garnering written raves. Not only does State of Wonder grace the current cover of BookPage, but it’s also a June 2011 Indie Next List selection and was recently featured on The Diane Rehm Show. If you’ve read State of Wonder, NLR would love to know what you think.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries and universities. It matters.

– Post by Megan Shaffer

Related Links

New York Times book review

5 Comments

Filed under Ann Patchett, Authors, Book Reviews, State of Wonder

Ellen Airgood’s ‘South of Superior’ Seduces With Rustic Charm

Cover ImageEllen Airgood is an unlikely author. Clocking outrageous hours as a waitress and baker at the small diner she owns with her husband in Grand Marais, Michigan, it’s a wonder she has a second to write up anything other than a customer’s tab.

Airgood, however, is clearly as resourceful as the colorful characters who appear in her lyrical new novel South of Superior (Riverhead).  Released just last week, South of Superior is shaping up to be that perfect summer read. While its charms hold particular appeal for those who reside in Michigan, Airgood’s debut will easily translate to any reader looking for a wise, warm tale of love, life and friendship.

“Celebrating community and a hardscrabble way of life, South of Superior brilliantly captures what it’s like to live in a place that’s remote and lonely, yet enlivening and vital…” states Riverhead. “Filled with people who take great joy in the simple things and who recognize the deep reward in caring for others, it’s the kind of place – and story – that grabs hold of the soul and doesn’t let go.”

Airgood resides in Grand Marais, which sits on the Lake Superior shore of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and provides the setting for South of Superior. Known as the “Yoop” from those south of the Mackinac Bridge, the UP is nothing short of majestic and remains somewhat of a mystery for those who reside outside of its breathtaking borders. In South of Superior, Airgood grants a glimpse into the rustic lives of those who have called the peninsula home for generations and captivates with its rugged beauty.

Airgood will be appearing at several northern Michigan bookstores for signings of South of Superior over the summer. You can link to Airgood’s appearances here but as always, call venues before heading out the door.

* Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Leave a comment

Filed under Authors, Book Reviews, Ellen Airgood, South of Superior

‘The Known World’ Falls Flat for Friends Book Group

DetailsIt had been a while since my last visit it to the Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Alone book group discussion at Zuma Coffee House in Birmingham. The Baldwin Public Library’s monthly group met just last week, so I made it a point to pull up a chair and join the conversation on their latest pick The Known World by Edward P. Jones.

Jones’s Pulitzer Prize winner apparently didn’t have quite the same awe-inspiring effect on the book club as it did on the literary masses. While it was agreed by all that The Known World certainly deserves the nod it received globally for its content, the heavy-hitting work of fiction made a much softer thud among the group at Zuma.

Though the Friends had mixed reviews regarding The Known World, the book decidedly paved the way for interesting paths of digression. Haves versus have-nots, indentured servants, modern day slaves, and racial passing were just a few of the many hot topics that kept the coffee and conversation flowing.

For some readers finishing a book and moving right on to the next title simply isn’t enough. Readers often feel the need to dig a little deeper and hash out the themes and meanings behind different authors and their works; for this the book club is key.

While there are some who equate the idea of a good book discussion with that of a solid snooze, many of us who voraciously read find it nothing but narcotic. Attempting to fit the literary pieces of a written work into the larger puzzle of life is not a thundering headache, but rather a nice pop of head candy in an otherwise “think for you” world.

The Friends group is an easy, ever-changing, laid back bunch. However, if you’re more the solitary type there are a couple of smart book groups online that have caught my eye over the past few months. I haven’t participated in any of them but Algonquin, The New Yorker, and NPR all offer interactive sites where readers can engage.

If you are interested in joining the next Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Alone book group discussion, it will take place at Zuma Coffee House in Birmingham on Tuesday, June 21st at 7:00 pm. Kathryn Bergeron, who hosts the monthly meetings, has announced The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows as the next selection. Copies are available at the Baldwin Public Library.

*Support your local bookstores, libraries, and universities. It matters.

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized