"Southernmost", by Silas House - Book Review

Southernmost starts with a flood of biblical proportions. And sends its (mostly) protagonist preacher, Asher Sharp, awash in his own doubts. After a gay couple loses their home yet helps Asher and his son, Justin, to safety during the storm, Asher’s wife refuses to allow them to seek shelter with the Sharps because of their homosexuality. Asher begins to question every bit of his faith. As he internally wrestles with his feelings, he implores his congregation to do the same. Unfortunately, the most scalding portion of his otherwise reasonably tempered speech was captured on video by a child. And it went viral.

With the completely expected ouster from his church and demise of his marriage, Asher cannot accept his limited court granted access with his tender-hearted son, Justin, so he kidnaps him. Is it really kidnapping, you think, as you empathize with his desperate love for his child? Well, yes, taking a kid without letting the other parent know you are doing so and disappearing into the night to places unknown is exactly that.

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Brotherhood and Enmity in "We Were Brothers: A Memoir", by Barry Moser - Book Review

Barry Moser grew up the younger of two brothers in small town Chattanooga, Tennessee in the 40’s and 50’s. Barry and Tommy shared a bedroom, friends, and had almost identical experiences growing up. Eventually one did well in business, and the other succeeded in academia. We Were Brothers is Moser’s memoir of growing up in a racist community with a brother he didn’t get along with. In fact, these brothers were adversaries until late in life, and only then, through a series of letters, did they reconcile. But they only had a short time to enjoy their amity, as Tommy died in his 60’s.

We Were Brothers
By Barry Moser

There are no big plot twists and no adventurous journeys. We Were Brothers is simply one man’s story of a dysfunctional family. We are all familiar with them whether in fiction or in our own lives.  However, what stands out here is Moser’s candor, and his publication of actual letters exchanged between the brothers. Neither come out complimentary. Moser is willing to expose not only his brother’s dark underside, but his own. He fully admits that he is telling this version of the story through his eyes, allowing us to consider Tommy’s alternate view. And as with many southern writers, Moser describes the learned prejudices and political sway of white families. The divide with his brother is enhanced when Barry moves north and becomes a “recovering racist”.

Though the book is prosaic throughout, there are moments of grace. It was interesting and a quick read; however, I may stick with Moser’s artwork (which is quite good and for which he is known), instead of his writing in the future.

Published: 2015
Publisher: Algonquin Books

Vickie’s rating: 3 stars 

Loss and Love in the Bookshop of "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry", by Gabrielle Zevin - Book Review

Author Gabrielle Zevin has created her character, A.J. Fikry as an eccentric widower running a bookstore on the fictional Alice Island off the coast of Hyannis, Massachusetts. He is ornery and off-putting to anyone who ventures into Island Books, although somewhat rightfully so after the tragic death of his one true love, his wife Nic.

But then he happens upon a toddler left alone in his store with a note from her mother, which provides a questionable explanation for the abandonment. Her name is Maya, per the note, and shockingly, A.J. decides to take on the role of her caregiver. Once he does, his demeanor changes and his heart expands.  

A.J. and Maya forge an immediate bond – she starts calling him Daddy right off though no one has told her to – and she is as precocious as he is odd. They are a perfect fit. Somehow his lack of knowledge about anything baby doesn’t hinder the reader’s belief that this relationship could actually work.

Other players in the book include A.J.’s good friend Daniel, a dallying professor, and his wife Ismay, A.J.’s sister-in-law. There is Chief Lambaise, who has been on the scene for all of the monumental events in A.J.’s life: the death of his wife, the theft of a treasured book, and the discovery of Maya in the store. Finally, there is Amelia, the book rep that we meet first in the story, who ultimately comes to play an important part in both A.J. and Maya’s lives.

The story is quirky and funny. At the same time it is touching and tender, just like the main character. A.J., for all of his bluster, is really just a softie at heart. The chapters each start with a book review by A.J. giving you a glimpse into his heart and soul. He is also a lover of books, as is this reader, and so many of his lines hit me in my reading heart.

We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone.

A relatively short book in length, it is easy to read in a couple of days. It skips forward years at a time and I found myself wishing Zevin had gone ahead and written about all of those sped through years so it would have lasted longer. But maybe her brevity and snap shot view into her characters’ lives is what gave the book its charm.

Published: 2014
Publisher: Algonquin Books

Elizabeth's rating: 4 stars