Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin

Having just taken a job at a winery overlooking an orchard, I clicked on a recent advertisement for a new novel called The Orchardist and was surprised to find the high praise of my former student/author Salvatore Scibona
     “Nearly everybody in the book compels your admiration, either for their courage or for the heavy
     work they do, all the time and without complaint, even when wicked men are hunting them.
     Transfixing. I love this book straight through.” (Salvatore Scibona, author of THE END, National
     Book Award Finalist )
The cover art actually presages the panoramic scope of the book.  Based on family history from the author's ancestors in the fruit-rich Wenatchee Valley of Washington state, the novel reads like an old-fashioned story, heavy with description.  The comparisons reviewers have made to Steinbeck seem fitting.  William Talmadge quietly oversees his apple and apricot orchard, always scanning the landscape out of longing for the return of his sister.  One day two pregnant young women appear.  Their lives intertwine with his, setting off a plot of treachery, anguish and, ultimately, reconciliation. I loved the fluidity of this - rather long - novel so much, I didn't want it to end.  I welcome Amanda Coplin as a fresh young voice in fiction.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Shine Shine Shine by Lydia Netzer

This is it!  If I were really returning to the classroom next week, this would have been the panic point of the summer when I asked myself why I hadn't been able to find a great book to rave about to my new classes.  Well no new classes and book found!  Shine Shine Shine is a fresh, other-worldy, tear-jerking romance that illuminates the frailty of humanity.  Sunny Mann is bald from birth, mother of a special needs child named Bubber, pregnant with her second child and married to Maxim, a nerdly NASA astronaut launched into space on a robot colonization mission.  Through flashback, vignette, and symbolic near-poetic narration, Netzer tells how the couple met and fell in love as fragile children and now face the fears of the future as parents.  There were lovely passages I wanted to copy long-hand -
"All life is binary. On and Off. There is no middle setting.  Alive or dead. In love or not in love. Kissing or not kissing. Speaking or not speaking. One choice leads to another with no forks in the road."   For a first novel, it blew my mind, made me cry and wish for that classroom of kids that I could shake this book in front of.  Readers will be talking about this one for a while.
Check out this Snappy robot song and quirky trailer for this book

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Daisy - Innocence, Columbine - Desertion, Yellow Rose - Infidelity.  I knew from teaching Hamlet many times over the Ophelia had been schooled in the language of flowers, but didn't know how extensive the glossary of meaning could be until our book club chose this novel.  Victoria Jones spent her entire young life in the foster-care system and had difficulty loving or trusting anyone.  Once eighteen and out on her own, she sleeps in a public park where she cultivates a tiny flower garden and is befriended by a flower shop owner who discovers Victoria has a gift for choosing flowers based on the emotional needs of individual customers.  Reminiscent of the novel Chocolat, this is a story of an outcast longing for human connection.  Our book club enjoyed this one, even if it is a bit too predictable.

Monday, August 06, 2012

The Red House by Mark Haddon

I am a fan of Mark Haddon's Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, so I was excited to get his new novel from the library even though my husband had downloaded the opening chapter and found it very confusing.  For the first 100 pages I kept thinking he was writing the new Ulysses.  And not exactly in a good way.  The stream-of-consciousness, switching of narrators every paragraph made me crazy.  Then I backed off, considered the challenge and did what I tell my students to do - keep a little chart of character relationships on a bookmark.  Since the plot concerns an estranged brother and sister bringing their families together following the death of their mother to mend on holiday at a remote estate, the relationships are central.  And messy.  I finally let the syncopated rhythm of the book carry me and I learned - once again - that all families are both flawed and essential.