Days by Moonlight – Andre Alexis

daysbymoonlightA most unusual book!

Two men, one younger and grieving, one older and passionate, are taking a road trip through small Canadian towns in search of information about the elusive poet, John Skennen.

But this sojourn is really through the Underworld, a tangential re-telling of the Orpheus/Eurydice myth . . . perhaps.

Along the way the men visit a town re-creating “Pioneer Days” with callous consequences, a town populated by the descendants of escaped slaves where everyone communicates in sign language, and a town where the religiously devout explore a magical field to talk to god. And there’s also a visit to the Canadian Sex Museum, with uncomfortable results for Alfie. The story gets stranger but more insightful as the men go on their journey. Throughout the trip the two men learn about how they feel about love, poetry, and their life’s purpose.

I liked it, and it gave me food for thought. I was sometimes bewildered but often charmed by the experiences of Alfie and Dr. Bruno. I don’t believe this is a book for a wide audience, but will hit the mark for readers that like a dose of philosophy and introspection with their reading.

Days by Moonlight explores racial inequalities, grief and mourning, and the agony of unrequited love with folktales, mythology, and magical realism. It’s a blend of harsh reality and stunning imagination and there are many surprises and observations that keep you turning the pages.

Many thanks to LibraryThing and Coach House Books for the advance copy.

 

The Binding – Bridget Collins

thebindingIn an alternative reality, there’s a way to get rid of bad memories . . . A binder can take anything you wish to forget out of your mind and bind it in a book, where it’s kept forever.

What a cool concept! I was ready to dive right in! And I was fully immersed ─ until the story ended up not being about binding at all. The idea of binding plays a role in the background, but the main plot is actually a romance.

This book is arranged into three parts:  Emmett Farmer’s apprenticeship to a binder, his backstory with his sister, Alta, and their mutual friend Lucian Darney, and finally the denouement with Lucian’s complicated involvement in the lives of both Alta and Emmett. Parts of the story drag on with little development, and the achronological presentation is somewhat perplexing at times.

At first I was a little miffed and felt misled, but everything comes together and the binding is relevant eventually. Even though I went in expecting a different story, The Binding was still quite entertaining and original, and I enjoyed it.

Many thanks to Goodreads and to William Morrow for the advance copy.

The Frolic of the Beasts – Yukio Mishima

mishimaThis book is described as a love triangle between a student, his mentor, and the mentor’s wife, but that’s not completely accurate. The writing is very Mishima (not that I’m any kind of expert), in that the descriptions are beautiful, the surroundings serene and delicate. And like many Japanese stories I’ve read, the violence erupts unexpectedly amid mundane dialogue. The behavior of the characters is confusing and often unpredictable, which made me re-read paragraphs to confirm what I understood to be happening. The writing evokes scenes of peacefulness and aching desperation, and the ending makes the entire book worthwhile.

Recommended for fans of Mishima or Murakami, or those who are looking to explore Japanese literature.

Many thanks to Knopf Doubleday and Netgalley for the copy in exchange for my review.

 

The Water Cure – Sophie Mackintosh

watercurejpgAlone on an island with their parents, three girls live a life of poverty and abuse. They are taught that men are toxic, and their family must help the sick women who come to the island recover from the violence inflicted on them by men. The girls are psychologically tortured, given “love tests” to prove how much they care for one another.

Early in the book their father dies, and soon after two men and a boy arrive on the island, claiming they were lost at sea. Things escalate when the girls are left alone with the men.

This story was unusual and disturbing. It reads like an allegory or a Greek myth, with a dystopian feel. There is an ethereal quality with undercurrents of constant violence. I would not recommend it for the sensitive reader, but I found the story riveting. The Water Cure is gritty and original, and not something I’m soon to forget.

Many thanks to Read it Forward for the advance copy.

A Middling Sort – Jud Widing

Original, smart, delightful!

A Middling Sort is as if Christopher Moore grabbed a thesaurus and started writing historical fiction.

middlingsortIt’s 1767, and Denton Hedges, a talented but insecure lawyer, heads to Fidget’s Mill, a small hamlet near Boston, to convince the three reigning wealthy families, who’ve made their money on importation, to refuse goods from England. The problem is, no one wants to listen to Denton, and he needs a way in to their inner circle. He’s also naive and unsure of himself.

Enter Miss Carsis, resident witch with her own aims for the town; her Familiar, No-Good Bulstrode (a turkey-demon with a British accent and his own motivations); her co-conspirator and underestimated side-kick, Mr. Increase; and members of these wealthy families, some of whom want Denton dead and some who just want to hang out and be friends.

This book made me laugh out loud. The story is original, the writing above par with droll intelligence, and just all-around entertaining. The ending, however, I found somewhat unexpected, but not in a good way.

Recommended for the reader who appreciates smart writing and tomfoolery balanced with tender insight.

Evergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners – Gretchen Anthony

evergreenEvergreen Tidings from the Baumgartners has a family of cracked characters just trying to do their best for one another, and often failing.

Violet Baumgartner is the quintessential formidable matriarch. She loves her family fiercely, but sometimes that fierceness can be smothering. She is a busybody and a perfectionist who is obsessed with tradition, but every annoying thing she does is done out of love. Her husband, Ed, is just trying to endure her frenetic antics while he’s stuck at home adjusting to retirement. And their daughter, Cerise, has a secret she’s been waiting to share that just erupted unexpectedly at her father’s retirement party. Throughout the story are Violet’s annual Christmas letters that are often as earnest as they are snarky.

Throw in Violet’s best friend whose marriage is crumbling and the other child, a son, who’s being investigated by the feds, and you have a cocktail of crazy for the holidays.

The crisis in Evergreen Tidings leads to some hilarious family blow-ups worthy of “Arrested Development”. I couldn’t stop reading even though the book was shaking in my hands from laughter. Underneath it all, however, are some tender insights about how familial roles change with time.

Definitely pick this up in time for Christmas. It’s one you’ll want to re-read every year.

Many thanks to Netgalley and Harlequin Hanover Square Press for the review copy.

White Elephant – Julie Langsdorf

whiteelephantPerfect for fans of Tom Perrotta and Jonathan Tropper, White Elephant is an impressive debut that I binge-read in a couple of days. These neighbors are so dysfunctional, and yet, so relatable. I wanted to simultaneously hug and yell at every character in this book.

Charming 100-year-old Sears homes, a children’s library, the local coffee shop where everyone has their own mug . . . an idyllic bedroom community for upper-middle class families. All is perfect in Willard Park, until newcomer architect Nick Cox moves in and begins building massive mansions that loom over the cozy smaller houses. His neighbor Ted is at first moved to peaceful protest, but Willard Park is a crucible, boiling everyone’s fears and insecurities into an explosion.

White Elephant is packed with flawed characters that are entertaining and sympathetic (well, most of them anyway). There’s Ted, the do-gooder who just wants his small town back; his wife, Allison, stifled in her sexless marriage and tempted by other options; their daughter Jillian, who just wants to be noticed; their neighbors, the volatile Nick and his trophy wife, Kaye, who is not as vapid as she appears; and new to the neighborhood, the pothead lawyer Grant and his wife Suzanne, who is coming to realize her marriage is going up in smoke.

Animosity simmers until Nick Cox cuts down the maple tree that Ted planted when his daughter was born. The vitriol escalates exponentially, and the residents of Willard Park start behaving in ways they never deemed possible.

This book is quite a page-turner, and each chapter introduces more conflict. It’s hilarious and heartbreaking.  Highly recommended.

Many thanks to HarperCollins and Ecco Press for the advance copy in exchange for my review.