Galore by Michael Crummey – Book Review

Galore by Michael Crummey
Published by Other Press

Paradise Deep are Gut are insular, isolated Newfoundland communities. Theirs is a hardscrabble life where nothing much changes, in many of the families one generation seems largely interchangeable with another, a constant cycle of birth and death, and birth again. But then, a whale washes ashore. A beached whale represents a bounty for a community that does not have the resources to catch more than cod, but when they slice open the whale’s stomach, a strangely pale man tumbles out. Named Judah due to a disagreement about whether it was Judas or Jonah who was swallowed by the whale in the Bible, the mute man is s subject of fear and wonder for the community by turns.

It is a bit difficult to say what Galore is about, because, at its heart, it is simply about the people of Gut and Paradise Deep. Even Jonah’s odd appearance – both in how he comes to the community and in how he looks – is not truly at the heart of this novel. Instead it is the people, the community as a whole, even.

What is particularly amazing about Galore is just how meaningful and riveting it is, given the number of people and the length of time covered. Although the Devine family – who shelter Jonah to the point of marrying him to a daughter of the family – and the Sellers family are certainly the major players, Crummey has created a rich cast of characters, each with their own particular foibles. The drama of the communities spans more than a century, the majority of that time passing in the second half of the book. This seems like it should be a recipe for a shallow and confusing story, but this is not the case. Certainly, I had to flip back and forth to the family tree at the front of the book more than once to remind myself of how certain people were related, but the characters have surprising depth and are surprisingly compelling given how many of them there are.

Galore is a masterfully written book with beautiful language and fabulous character development. The mixture of day-to-day life and fantastical happenings is particularly well done. Highly recommended.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound.*

Source, Publisher for BOOK CLUB.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry – Book Review

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry
Published by Gallery, an imprint of Simon & Schuster

Ginny needs routine in her life, preferably routine that involves cooking. When her parents both die in a freak carbon monoxide accident on their first trip in years, her schedule is disrupted, to say the least. A panicked episode during the wake convinces her sister Amanda that Ginny can’t possibly stay by herself. Things are going very, very wrong for Ginny, who can’t stand the thought of losing the only home she has ever known, until something strange happens in her kitchen. While cooking from her grandmother’s handwritten recipe, Ginny suddenly realizes that her long-dead grandmother is in the kitchen with her, apparently brought back temporarily by Ginny’s cooking. Rather than being a way for her Ginny to redirect her life, however, bringing back people’s ghosts through her cooking seems to raise more questions for Ginny than it answers.

Okay, first of all, I love this cover. Love, adore, etc. I love the way the net hangs like a dress, how the weight of the peppers give it just the slightest hint of femininity. It is simple, but gorgeous.

I’m not sure if foodie fiction has just recently come onto my radar, or if it has had a huge uptick in popularity, but there is a lot of it out there, it is a trend I have noticed ever since Erica Bauermeister’s The School of Essential Ingredients, although of course it wasn’t new then, by any means. In so many of these books, food or cooking plays a somewhat magical role, bringing people together, healing broken hearts, or just providing people with a satisfying outlet for life. So even though I was excited for The Kitchen Daughter, I must admit that I was expecting something that was mostly more of the same. Bringing back the ghosts of loved ones by cooking their recipes? Of course, definitely the next logical progression for foodie fiction.

Except The Kitchen Daughter was much more than just a ‘food is magic’ rehash, mostly because of the depth McHenry brought to her main character, Ginny. Ginny is undiagnosed, but is likely living with Aspergers. Losing her mother is devastating for Ginny not only because it interrupts her routine, but because her mother is the one who put all of Ginny’s routines in place, and made them all possible. Ginny’s mother sheltered her from the world, so Ginny could avoid being upset. This does position the death of her parents as the perfect catalyst for Ginny’s growth, however, it is perhaps even necessary for any growth to occur. McHenry writes Ginny beautifully, certainly she has personality traits that many would find odd, but she is still wonderfully human and relate-able, she is not an Other with Aspergers. This is something that Ginny must try to make her controlling sister, Amanda, understand, and it is something that she must continually remind herself of as well, with her incredibly moving Book of Normal.

Those who love foodie fiction will love this book – the descriptions of cooking are mouth-watering, and the requisite recipes are included – but if you’re worried that you’ve burnt out on foodie fiction, The Kitchen Daughter still deserves your attention. It is a lovely book with characters who will be just as real as you read McHenry’s words as Ginny’s ghosts were when she cooked from their recipes.

Buy this book from:
Powells | Indiebound*

Source: Publisher.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.
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Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush by Luis Alberto Urrea – Book Review

Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush by Luis Alberto Urrea, illustrated by Christopher Cardinale
Published by Cinco Puntos Press

The small town of Rosario, Mexico is like so many other towns and cities across the world. Although most of the citizens are more or less good people, Rosario suffers from the hypocrisy and poor judgment that so often afflicts people living in close proximity to one another. Luckily – depending on your point of view – Rosario is also the home of Mr. Mendoza, the self-proclaimed Graffiti King of Mexico. Mr. Mendoza’s graffiti is not the normal, destructive kind that you might think, but instead he uses his paintbrush to attempt to goad the town into behaving more morally. When Mr. Mendoza finds the unnamed narrator, a young man, and his friend spying on a group of girls bathing in the river, he forces the boys to strip and run through the town, with messages about their perversity written on their bodies.

I found “Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush” to be a lovely tale of a small town in Mexico, made special by the edge of magical realism which Urrea brings to the work. The story was simple, but all the more powerful as a tale of human nature for its simplicity.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the lovely illustrations provided by Christopher Cardinale. I tend to have a problem actually paying attention to the illustrations in graphic novels, since when I am reading I tend to be so focused on the words. Not this time. Page after page I simply lost myself in Cardinale’s illustrations, spending minutes on end taking in the gorgeous detail in each picture.

I’m so happy that I broke from my usual routine and picked up “Mr. Mendoza’s Paintbrush.” Highly recommended for fans for magical realism or graphic novels.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

Luis Alberto Urrea’s website

Other Books by Luis Alberto Urrea:
The Devil’s Highway
“The Hummingbird’s Daughter”
“Into the Beautiful North”
“By the Lake of Sleeping Children”
“Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border”
“Nobody’s Son: Notes from an American Life”
“In Search of Snow”
“Six Kinds of Sky”
“Wandering Time: Western Notebooks”
“Vatos”
“Ghost Sickness”

This review was done with a book I purchased myself.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

The Language of Trees by Ilie Ruby – Book Review

The Language of Trees by Ilie Ruby
Published by Avon A, an imprint of Harper Collins

Twelve years ago, three siblings were out rowing on the lake late at night, trying to escape the raging fight their parents were having. When Melanie, the oldest, thinks she sees something on the far bank and stands to see it, the boat rocks and Luke, the youngest drowns in the rough water. Grant’s father was devastated, having saved Luke’s life during multiple asthma attacks, to lose his patient. Now Grant is in his back at Canandaigua Lake, recovering from his failed marriage. Without really meaning to, he becomes involved in the lives of Melanie’s family, who are desperate to find her as she has been mysteriously missing for the past few days.

It is difficult to give you much sense of the plot, really. Partly because this is a very character-driven novel, although there is a zenith to the action, and partly because I felt that the plotting of “The Language of Trees” was not as tight as it needed to be. There were too many characters given narration privileges and too many plot lines to follow for a novel clocking in under 350 pages. Ruby’s prose is lovely, but when some of the more minor characters reappeared now and then, I found myself thinking “who is that again?”

I also had a mini-rant in the middle of reading “The Language of Trees” about the way that authors name characters. One of the characters who initially seemed to be secondary but gained in importance throughout the story was named Echo. There was no back story given to the name – and not very much given to her in general – and it did not seem to me to highlight anything unique about her character. Since I couldn’t see a specific purpose for naming the character Echo and have never met, or indeed even read about before, a woman named Echo, it distracted me and pulled me out of the story every time.

It may sound from the couple of specific problems I had with “The Language of Trees” that I did not enjoy it, which is not true in the least. I think that Ruby is a very talented writer. I enjoyed her prose and the story she was telling, but I do think that for her next book the plot needs to be tightened up a bit and character names need to be given careful consideration. It would make me even happier if her next novel could be in past tense as well. Regardless, I think that Ruby shows great promise as a novelist and I will be eagerly awaiting her next book.

Buy this book from:
Powells.*
A local independent bookstore via Indiebound.*
Amazon.*

This review was done with a book received from Ruby’s publicist.
* These links are all affiliate links. If you buy your book here I’ll make a very small amount of money that goes towards hosting, giveaways, etc.

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