The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers (And Their Muses), by Terri-Lynne DeFino

Having read fantasy and romance from DeFino, I wondered how a straight up fiction novel of hers would be. I know that DeFino dislikes being pigeon holed into genres since she sees so many books falling into more than one. Which is exactly the case with The Bar Harbor Retirement Home for Famous Writers. In fact, her straight up fiction book has both romance and fantasy neatly inserted within its pages.

Set in, yes, (you guessed it), Bar Harbor at, yes, (you’re right again), a retirement home for aging writers, DeFino quickly introduces a cast of diverse and thoroughly developed characters. Of the writers, there is Alfonse, a sort of elderly Dos Equis man, the most famous of the authors. Then, there is Olivia, his ex-lover and quick-witted marijuana smoker; Judi, the group stenographer who laments the realization of her increasing dementia, and Switch, the taciturn, good hearted spoil sport. On the employee side, there is Dr. Kintz, kind and flustered, as he tries to manage these aging autocrats as well as his trove of damaged employees. And, Cecibel, the physically marred orderly who becomes Alfonse’s muse; Sal, the massive black nurse who moonlights as Wispy Flicker, the drag queen; and, Fin, the convicted murderer. Yep, I have that right.

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Number One Eater Succeeds in "Sourdough", by Robin Sloan - Book Review

Sourdough is Robin Sloan’s second novel, but my first read of his. Before finishing this one, I’d already ordered his first, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Having just returned from my first trip to San Francisco, I was immediately charmed by the setting of Sourdough which is strictly in the Bay Area.

Lois, the main character, is a geeky computer type who works for a robotics company that intends to revolutionize commerce in a way that will likely make humans obsolete. Lois is well paid and unfulfilled. Her apartment is sparse, like her life, until she finds the best take-out food ever. Two brothers deliver to her a daily elixir of dishes with sourdough to die for. The brothers nickname her their “Number One Eater.” She relishes the title.

Then, as quickly as they came into her life, the brothers close up shop and leave the country because of immigration issues. In honor of her best customer status, they pass along their mysterious sourdough “starter” for safe keeping. Unbeknownst to me prior to reading this book, sourdough “starters,” a type of yeast different from the standard used in, say, regular white bread, can be fed, grown and reused for years and years. Lois’ newly inherited starter has a mysterious and not entirely pure history, and, as Lois comes to learn, a dark side.

Lois makes her first loaves of sourdough in her sterile kitchen but realizes for both the sake of quality and quantity, she’ll need something bigger. She constructs a non-code compliant brick oven in her backyard and buys her landlord’s silence through the promise of regular bread delivery. Deciding to expand her bread business, she signs on to be part of the enigmatic Marrow Fair, a new market that hopes to be the underground competitor to the Ferry Market, a long-established mecca of commerce right on the Bay. Intrigue ensues.

Reminiscent of Tom Robbins, Sloan is a master of language and turning phrases. Example: “My face burned hot, but through force of will, I cooled my gaze to absolute zero kelvin.” Similarly, he can make a fantastical story believable. He also takes the complex and reduces it to basic. In the end, Lois finds the answers she’s looking for through simplifying everything: robotic coding, bread making, relationships.

This is a delightful reprieve if you’re weary from the world at large. It reads quick and delivers wit and quirk with a touch of sentimentality. I look forward to reading Sloan’s other published novel and the ones that will hopefully ensue.

Published:  2017
Publisher: MCD

Elizabeth's rating: 4 stars

Offbeat and Fun with “Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits”, by David Wong - Book Review

This has to be the strangest and one of the most fun books I’ve read. And I would never had picked it up had it not been for a youngin’ at work. He was describing the morbidly funny t.v. shows and books he’s into. None sound appealing, but he was pretty passionate about David Wong. I think I probably wanted to be in with the cool kids. Just a little. I bought it, then it sat around for a long time. Okay, finally picked it up. And am so glad I did. 

“Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits” takes place, as the title gives away, sometime in the future. There are references to today’s political landscape that help shape it. There are self driving cars (manual is illegal), video screens everywhere, and bizarre superpowers.  We still have stores like Lane Bryant (I didn’t even think they were around today) and television like National Geographic. Our tale takes place primarily in Tabula Ra$a. Yep, that’s a dollar sign instead of the “s”, which is a clear indication of the city’s decadence. 

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