Three Mini Book Reviews of Authors Apekina, Harris, and Crosley

Here are reviews for three books published last year to catch up on before a busy 2019 year of reading.

The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish, Novel by Katya Apekina

Author Katya Apekina has written an unusual book that spans years and complex characters. It centers on the relationship of two sisters, their mentally ill mother, and distant, self-absorbed father. 

After Edie finds her mother, Marianne, hanging from a rafter, Marianne is put in a hospital to rehabilitate. Edie and her sister, Mae are sent from their home outside New Orleans to live with their estranged father in New York. With differing feelings on the matter, Mae and Edie are quite close, yet the presence of Daniel, their father, opens the door to a history they were not prepared to face. Edie, reluctant and loyal to Marianne wants to return home to resume their old life. Mae, alarmingly similar to Marianne, wants to remain in New York and connect with Daniel. And things get a bit weird.

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Extraordinary and Wholly Entertaining: "Five-Carat Soul", by James McBride - Book Review

Somehow I passed over the hype around James McBride and his highly acclaimed The Good Lord Bird. I’m now completely on board the McBride train.  Five-Carat Soul is one of the most unique and charming books I’ve read. I can’t think of a similar style, and I loved it.

Five Carat-Soul is a compilation of stories, several tied together, all told with a strong depth of character and imagination. McBride’s stories are fun, and his characters are both strong and vulnerable in navigating their curious situations. In one series, we are introduced most delightfully to the kids that make up The Five-Carat Soul Bottom Bone band of Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Without affection, they refer to their town as The Bottom, and in The Bottom we get to know Ray-Ray, Goat, Sissie, Blub, and an ensemble of characters with yarns as told from one of their own. It’s a tough town with small kindnesses its greatest currency.

Five-Carat Soul
By James McBride

Abe Lincoln makes a couple of appearances; first as a young orphaned slave’s imagined father, then later as we witness the president in a quite intimate, vulnerable, and deeply human circumstance. “The Christmas Dance" is incredibly authentic and moving - it will make your heart swell. And my favorite collection of related stories just has to be "Mr. P and the Wind”. Here we better understand the Higher Order - the wild animals, here confined to a life in captivity, as related by the king of the jungle himself.  You’ll learn in the author’s note that McBride created these last stories after a disturbing visit to the zoo with his two nephews - what a creative and compelling way to turn something so appalling to them into something so magical. 

McBride is an incredible storyteller - completely unpredictable and original. McBride cleverly and sharply confronts our callousness; and he recognizes our flaws and dreams alike with wisdom and care. His attention, depth, and wit make this a fantastic read.

Published:    2017
Publisher:    Riverhead

Vickie’s rating:     5 stars

Unforgettable Prose in "Something Rich and Strange", by Ron Rash - Book Review

Ron Rash excels in expression and economy of words. His style is unpretentious, yet evocative. Something Rich and Strange is my first encounter with Rash, and certainly time well spent. It’s a book of short stories that crosses eras, from the civil war to present day. Each story, unique in it’s characters and circumstances, share the working class of North Carolina as its backdrop.

There is humor and tragedy, and sometimes both in the 34 stories. Whether overt or not, the book has a veil of melancholy throughout, providing us with a glimpse into lives hard-lived and sometimes our own condition. Rash’s characters are in the heart of Appalachia - farmers, soldiers, teachers, radio jockeys, janitors, carpenters, meth addicts, and widowers - each with a unique story in which their being  becomes palpable and relatable. Rash almost modestly presents us with heartbreak, and just as austerely, with wit, though it is also tinged with sorrow. 

And though everything seems swathed with this gloom, I could not tear myself away from soul-baring simplicity and stillness of Rash’s stories.  The title seems to sum the quality of this work perfectly, because the book is something rich and strange

Published: 2014
Publisher: Ecco

Vickie’s rating 5 stars

Intensely Intimate With “Thirteen Ways of Looking”, by Colum McCann - Book Review

Colum McCann is truly a master of his craft. This is my first read of McCann’s library of work, but his evocative nature begs further discovery. In the midst of writing Thirteen Ways of Looking, McCann himself was attacked while trying to help a woman who had been assaulted, after which he suffered a broken cheekbone and teeth. He writes in the book’s Author’s Note, “Sometimes it seems to me that we are writing our lives in advance, but at other times we can only look back. In the end, though, every word we write is autobiographical, perhaps most especially when we attempt to avoid the autobiographical”. When you read the book, you’ll understand how poignant this statement is.

Thirteen Ways of Looking includes a novella and three short stories. The title is based upon the poem, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, by Wallace Stevens, of which McCann includes a stanza of the poem at the beginning of each section of the novella. The stories are quite different from one another, but the unifying theme is a strong sense of yearning and loneliness, vividly told.

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Young Skins, by Colin Barrett - Book Review

I hear a lot of people say they don’t care for short stories.  I never quite understood this. Short stories can be as beautifully written as a novel, with the added benefit of feeling accomplished - getting through a story in a short period of time. It’s perfect for those with short attention spans or who read multiple things at once. But that’s just me.

Young Skins is a collection of short stories and one novella. It’s the debut book from Irish writer Colin Barrett, and it’s completely absorbing. Barrett combines edgy and prosaic prose with lyrical descriptions of the stories’ backdrop, placing the reader in clear view. The title, Young Skins, refers to the 20- and 30-something year old lads as the protagonist of each tale. Most of these young men live in the small Irish town of Glanbeigh, rarely hold traditional jobs, and find themselves in and out of conflict - with the law, business dealings, friends, relationships and alcohol. They are gas station attendants, bouncers, fathers and criminals. There is a melancholy tone, and you can feel the gray clouds of Ireland hovering just overhead. Barrett ends each of his stories rather anticlimactically; and none with a fairly tale ending. 

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