A Review of Anusha of Prospect Corner (Our #Ownvoices Novel Inspired By Anne of Green Gables)!

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Via Sinead at The Huntress of Diverse Books, a book blogger with Sri Lankan roots:

I had such a weird feeling while reading this book, as I was actually able to relate to some of the experiences that Anusha and Pramila had. I’ve never been represented like this before, so it took me a long time to get used to it. People not knowing where Sri Lanka is; people asking where I’m originally from; and the mispronunciation of my name (even though my name is Irish) – these are all things that have actually happened to me.

One of my goals when I was writing Anusha of Prospect Corner with my twins was to create a character with whom they could identify, and it’s wonderful to know that others identify with Anusha too. Sinead is a quarter Sinhalese Malaysian, and Anusha, like my daughters/co-authors, is a quarter Sri Lankan. The experiences Anusha and her mother have come from experiences I and my family members have had as multiracial Americans of Sri Lankan ancestry.

Sinead’s full review of our middle grade novel is available here. I shared her thoughts with my twins, and they were thrilled. Thank you, Sinead, for reading and reviewing our book!

To learn more about Anusha of Prospect Corner, find it on:

Here’s the description:

For Anusha Smyth, four-leaf clovers pop out of the grass like 3D optical illusions, practically begging her to pick them. She hopes they’ll bring her luck. She has big plans for 7th grade, but first she needs to convince her mom to move back to the United States. Unfortunately, a nosy neighbor keeps getting in the way. With Mrs. Lowry on the prowl — and she isn’t the only obstacle — Anusha’s going to need more than luck to make her dreams come true.

PS. Anusha’s “superpower” is something I share. I don’t look for four-leaf clovers. They find me. Over the summer, I even came across a six-leaf clover.

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Two Lovely Berries (New Adult Fiction): “A lovely, intelligent, and honest novel”

Two Lovely Berries by AM BlairWhen I started this blog, I hoped it would make me more comfortable sharing my writing with others. At the time, my perfectionism and self-consciousness always stopped me from completing my creative projects.* Four years later, I’ve published two novels, and I’m thrilled and thankful whenever I learn that someone has read them.

For my 400th blog post, I am delighted to share Stephanie’s review of Two Lovely Berries on Eclectic Scribe (recommended to her by Monika of Lovely Bookshelf):

This is a lovely, intelligent, and honest novel about coming of age, family relationships, and the truths — and lies — that hold families together. It also illuminates how easy it is to slip into disturbingly familiar family patterns and the moment one chooses to take a different path. I enjoyed living in Nora’s head, and it kept me up late at night, wanting to read one page… or one more chapter.

Click here for the entire review on Eclectic Scribe.

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*See Perfectionism and Publishing.

**For more background on Two Lovely Berries, see Freshly Pressed & Freshly Published.

On Book Bloggers Who Don’t Recognize That They Are Self-Published Authors Too

Every now and then, I come across a post in which a book blogger explains why they do not review self-published novels. They are entitled to limit their reading material in any way they choose, and I can’t deny that there are reasons to avoid some self-published books.

However, I find it hypocritical when book bloggers have a categorical rule against reading self-published books. Don’t they realize that they are also self-published authors? As one traditionally published author and book reviewer said, books bloggers are “leeches” for whom “the Net has given … a bog to wiggle around in.” That traditionally published book snob bemoaned the proliferation of self-published book blogs, saying that attempting to read a review on one is “identical to seeking relationship advice on the wall of a public restroom.”

If self-published book reviews are so bad, then of course those of us looking for our next read should only consider the opinions of reviewers for the New York Times and other traditional outlets.

That type of unconditional rule would be ridiculous, though. Why would any reasonable person look down on a book reviewer for having the entrepreneurial spirit to set up their own blog through WordPress or Blogspot?

Sure, some self-published book reviews are of poor quality, but many are not. It doesn’t take much effort to figure out which ones are good, and their opinions might better reflect the public’s taste. As I wrote in Do Book Bloggers Need Credentials, linked above, “Book reviewers should be like most readers—normal people who may have a better idea of what the public wants to read than someone who uses words like ‘palaver’ and ‘vulgate’ (as that critic did).”

Personally, I often find the reviews on traditionally published outlets to be unreadable. Remember when Mr. AMB critiqued the traditionally published reviews of Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies?  He felt the New York Times review looked “more like the product of a quick skim of the book than an actual reading.” I have read more than a few reviews in traditionally published outlets that were far less helpful to me as a potential reader than the reviews I found online.

There’s no reason to believe a traditionally published book review is inherently better than a self-published one, and the same is true of books. It isn’t so hard to figure out which self-published books are good when many of those authors write blogs and offer excerpts of their novels for free.

The publishing establishment is a small, elitist set of gatekeepers that promote only a tiny portion of the interesting literary ideas out there. Their preferences tend to be white, male, and heteronormative, and those of us who want to read more diversely should look elsewhere for reading material. Those with an implacable rule against self-published books are missing out.

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Disclosure: I write this post from the perspective of a self-published author. So far, I’ve never written a query letter, but I might do so at some point (never say never, right?).

A Man Called Ove: A Journey That Began When Mr. AMB Asked His Wife For Help (As He Should!)

OveVia Mr. AMB:

I didn’t like the books I was reading and so, like the curmudgeon I can be, I complained about it to AMB. She handed me her Kindle, which contained Fredrik Backman’s debut novel, A Man Called Ove.

Ove is the quintessential strong, silent type, the sort of man who can “take responsibility for things and fix a water heater if necessary.” However, with the loss of his wife and his job, he has lost his purpose. As a result, he sets about using his practical skills to engineer his exit from life. Whenever he’s about to go through with it, though, his pesky neighbors intrude upon his abode, forcing him to take responsibility for their problems.

If viewed solely through a plot summary, A Man Called Ove is predictable and sentimental. But dwelling on how the plot of A Man Called Ove is predictable is like dwelling on how the plot of A Confederacy of Dunces is implausible: it shows the reader has missed the point of the story.

As I was reading A Man Called Ove, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to A Confederacy of Dunces. Ove is, most assuredly, a “genius” in the sense of Jonathan Swift’s quote that inspired the title of John Kennedy Toole’s work: “When a true genius appears, you can know him by this sign: that all the dunces are in a confederacy against him.” Both novels deftly and hilariously demonstrate the sheer absurdity that assails us continually in the course of human interaction. The difference, however, is that Toole’s Ignatius Reilly is utterly useless whereas Ove is just the man for the job, whatever the job may be. Correspondingly, Ignatius finds his solace in The Consolations of Philosophy, whereas Ove finds his by doing handiwork.

In the end, Ove gets much closer than Ignatius in actually applying Boethius’ lesson in The Consolations of Philosophy: “Nothing is miserable unless you think it so; and on the other hand, nothing brings happiness unless you are content with it.” The path that Ove takes from misery to contentment may be predictable, but it is a worthy, fulfilling journey.

For more on A Man Called Ove, see these reviews (the ones that encouraged AMB to buy the book, which she still hasn’t read for some bizarre reason):

 

Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary!

Sam In the Sky With Diamonds

In honor of Beverly Cleary’s 100th birthday, my 8-year-old has reviewed the Ramona Quimby series:

I love the Ramona Quimby books by Beverly Cleary. I’ve read 8 books in all. I hope you like them too.      

I like them because Beezus (which is short for Beatrice!) and Ramona are sisters who always get into trouble.

And they always find a funny solution. One time Beezus thought that Ramona was dead because she couldn’t find Ramona anywhere. When she finally found Ramona, the good news was that Ramona wasn’t dead. The bad news was Ramona was still in big trouble and not for just disappearing.

My favorite book in the series is Ramona and Her Father. I like it because Beezus and Ramona try to stop their father from smoking before he almost…

Well you can read it and find out.

-S

Sam devoured all eight of the Ramona Quimby books on her Kindle, a very modern way to read a series that is more than half a century old. The first story in the series landed on bookshelves in the mid-1950s, when the United States was a different place from what it is now. For example:

  • More women are working outside of the home, comprising about half of the workforce today versus 30% in 1950;
  • The American population has more than doubled, becoming more racially and ethnically diverse; and
  • Thanks to the proliferation of indoor entertainment and the rise of so-called “helicopter parenting,” among other reasons, the average American child spends far less time outside today than they did in 1950.

Cleary’s series is certainly a product of its time with references to such places as the radio-and-phonograph store, its portrayal of highly independent young children, and its reliance on traditional gender norms. At one point, for example, Ramona’s mother and her friend wonder why a little boy would ever want to play with a ribbon, a “girly” item.

Though Ramona’s world is quite different from ours, my daughter identifies with the Quimby girls. Beezus’s uptight nature, Ramona’s penchant for mischief, and the sororal bond between them are timeless. I have no doubt that generations to come will enjoy reading about Ramona’s antics and Beezus’s frustrations just as much as my children do.

Little S*The picture at the top of this post is what happens when my twins get their hands on Photoshop. (Sam’s response, which she typed herself after reading this post over my shoulder: But mommy let us!)

 

The Past: It Sounds Beautiful, Whatever It Means

The Past ThumbnailTessa Hadley’s The Past is an exploration of family tensions that intensify when a group of relatives gather in their grandparents’ country home, possibly for the last time. The gathering includes the Crane family’s four adult siblings, a secretive new wife, two small children with a penchant for voyeurism, a dreamy teenager, and a lustful college student whose sexual history is neither disastrous nor successful.

This is not a book to read for its plot, which is too subtle for my taste, or for its characters, who aren’t particularly likeable or deep. Instead, the beauty of this novel lies in Hadley’s lengthy descriptions of the house and the English countryside:

The house and the church stood together on the rim of a bowl of air scooped deep between the surrounding hills, and buzzards floated on thermals in the air below them. The ancient stubby tower of the church, blind without windows, seemed sunk in the red earth… In the churchyard the earth was upheaved as turbulently as a sea by all the burials in it, and overgrown at one end with tall hogweed and rusty dock.

This place sounds stunning, even though I can’t exactly picture “hogweed” or “rusty dock” without the help of the Internet. Unfortunately, though, the first Google hit for “rusty dock” is an Urban Dictionary entry for a sexual act, which can’t possibly be what Hadley had in mind.

Here’s another snippet:

She advanced across the grass into her dream: the old house dozed in the sunshine, and its French windows under their little canopy of dun lead, burdened with clematis montana, might have opened onto any scene of royalty or poetry or tragic forbearance.

It’s another lovely description, not that I know what “dun lead” looks like. I am familiar with clematis, but I had to google it to determine how clematis montana differs from the varieties I typically picture.

Interestingly, the publisher billed this novel as Hadley’s “most accessible, commercial novel yet.” While it may well be “accessible” in comparison to her other novels, none of which I’ve read, I wouldn’t say this foray into the Crane family’s past and present experience is easy to read. If it were truly “accessible,” I probably wouldn’t need Google to figure out what the descriptions mean.

Which brings me back to “rusty dock” and “dun lead.” Are these Britishisms? I don’t have the patience to skim through thousands of Google results to figure it out.

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*I added this novel to my TBR pile after seeing it mentioned on River City Reading (thanks, Shannon!).

Fates and Furies (What On Earth Is Going On With Its Reviews?)

Fates and Furies

In this post, Mr. A.M.B. critiques long book reviews and Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies:

I typically skip long reviews of books before reading the book. I assume they’re more geared towards criticism and interpretation than towards actually telling me if I should read the book or not.

I thus didn’t read much about Fates and Furies before reading it, because most of the reviews I saw were quite lengthy. Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies is a story about the marriage of Lotto and Mathilde, told first from Lotto’s perspective (“Fates”) and then again from Mathilde’s (“Furies”). Lotto’s tale is told primarily in chronological order. Mathilde picks up the tale at the end of “Fates” and then fills in details about the past via flashbacks and the like.

Now, having read the book and then the reviews, I wonder what on earth is going on at the major publishing outlets. For example:

  • The New Yorker justifies dumping all of the major turning points of the book with the excuse: “a novel that can be truly ‘spoiled’ by the summary of its plot is a novel that was already spoiled by that plot.” It’s a cute turn of phrase, but one that is just as meaningless as the lyrics to a pop song. The prolonged review ends with an equally meaningless admonition: “Narrative secrets are not the same as human mysteries, a lesson that novelists seem fated to forget, again and again; the former quickly confess themselves, and fall silent, while the true mysteries go on speaking.”
  • The New York Times’ review looks more like the product of a quick skim of the book than an actual reading. They conclude that the husband’s instant transformation from a privileged and libidinous playboy into an ascetic and monogamous artist was “fairly plausible, a life that might transpire in the world the rest of us inhabit.” They similarly argue that, “In later years, while [the wife] is capable of love … she isn’t notably softened by that emotion in any essential way,” which suggests to me that they wholly missed one of the key plot turnings in the book.
  • The Washington Post’s review struck me as the most reasonable one, even if they embarrassingly said the characters went to Yale instead of Vassar. I searched the book: “Yale” appears nowhere in it. A minor mistake, but the type of plain error that makes it difficult to take the rest of the review seriously.
  • NPR frames the story as, “The voice that tells Lotto’s half of the tale is dreamy. Mathilde’s is rougher, crueler. … Do we close the book believing in the purity and genius of the fated son, or with nothing but a cold and lingering fury?” I’d answer: neither. Lotto’s “purity” comes more from his extraordinarily self-absorption than from any real strength of character, and Mathilde’s “coldness” is revealed to be a facade by her devotion to Lotto and her truly generous act in helping two people who had shown her nothing but malice and manipulation.

I liked Fates and Furies, not least because the pacing is indeed “propulsive,” as the book’s back cover says, but I’d recommend it with the caveat that “people who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.” It’s not for everybody. The prose is highfalutin, the main characters are so deep in the rarefied world of the arts that they’re not relatable, and the book over-reaches with the abundant references to classical tragedies and comedies, the parenthetical comments presumably from the Greek choir, and the excerpts from Lotto’s plays. In a word, the book is pretentious, but at least the author runs with it.