Heating & Cooling by Beth Ann Fennelly

Fifteen years ago, all of my work was around writing – I was fortunate to be a paid blogger (long before popular blogs offered writers ‘exposure’ rather than money), and I also did some technical writing. When people discovered what I did, they invariably asked, “So, are you going to write a book?” No, I’d say, stating that although I liked to read books, my attention span was too short to write one.

But when I read Beth Ann Fennelly’s Heating & Cooling, a collection of ‘micro-memoirs’, I thought that a micro-memoir writing project was something I could attempt (not with a view to publish, simply for my own record). Vignettes, with no chronological order, seems doable. Continue reading

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

By all accounts, Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson should not have been my kind of book. Way to much weird magic realism/ paranormal stuff going on. And yet, I absolutely loved it.

The story is focused on Lillian, who is contacted out-of-the-blue by her high-school roommate, Madison, with an unusual job offer – for Lillian to look after her twin 10-year-old stepchildren, Bessie and Roland, for the summer. Before accepting the job, Madison explains to Lillian that the twins spontaneously combust when they get agitated, flames igniting from their skin. Continue reading

A Separation by Katie Kitamura

A Separation by Katie Kitamura is presented as a mystery (woman goes to Greece to locate her husband, despite the fact that they had separated months before), but is actually a story focused on grief, absences, and our expectations around the longevity of love.

I picked up A Separation after reading Kitamura’s Intimacies, which I particularly enjoyed because the main character worked as a translator, and this provided an interesting perspective on the nuance and intention of words. I was pleased to discover that the main character in this book was also a translator –

Translation is not unlike an act of channeling, you write and you do not write the words. Continue reading

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

How had it begun? Like everything: with mothers and fathers.

And it is around mothers and fathers that Celeste Ng weaves the intricate story of a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio, in Everything I Never Told You.

The story begins with the disappearance of Marilyn and James Lee’s ‘favourite’ daughter, Lydia. The family and police begin searching for her immediately.
Continue reading

Inheritance by Dani Shapiro

Dani Shapiro’s memoir, Inheritance, tells of her discovery at age 54, that her devoutly Orthodox Jewish father (many years deceased), was not her biological father. The discovery was made via genealogy testing, done for interest, almost a lark.

It wasn’t so much my future that was being irrevocably altered by this discovery – it was my past.

Apart from my long-held interest in genetics and epigenetics, this book gripped me for other reasons – Continue reading

Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau

Do you remember a time in your childhood when you went to someone else’s house and you realised that their family life was completely different to yours? I have a few such memories. One took place when I visited a friend for the day, and her mother sent us to the shops for bread for lunch. My friend immediately informed me that we would spend the money on things other than bread – we went to the toy shop and bought scratch’n’sniff stickers, and the milk bar for ice creams. On our return, her mother rolled her eyes, as if no bread was expected. My mum would have cracked it (and sent me back out for bread). Seems small in the retelling but the audacity of the stickers and ice cream left an impression.

Mary Jane by Jessica Anya Blau is a coming-of-age novel about fourteen-year-old Mary Jane, who has a summer job babysitting for a local family, the Cones. Mary Jane’s own family is straight-laced – her mother is a homemaker; her father has a portrait of Nixon on the wall, and reads the newspaper during dinner each night; and family outings are to church, where Mary Jane sings in the choir.

In my own house, each day was a perfectly contained lineup of hours where nothing unusual or unsettling was ever said. Continue reading

Empire Falls by Richard Russo

When I started this blog almost ten years ago, I had an idea for a meme (it’s still sitting in draft posts). The idea was to read the books that my friends considered their ‘favourite’. I never progressed the meme, but I did get a nomination from RoryEmpire Falls by Richard Russo. Yes, shameful that it has taken me so, so long to read this book. And Rory commented on Goodreads that she was nervous that I wouldn’t love it as much as she did. Well… Continue reading

Vladimir by Julia May Jonas

Don’t be fooled – or put-off – by the cover of Julia May Jonas’s debut novel, Vladimir. Sure, it looks like something featuring Fabio but it is in fact a twist on campus-lit.

The 58-year-old unnamed narrator is a popular English professor at a small liberal arts college in New England. Her charismatic husband, head of department at the same college, is under investigation for a number of inappropriate relationships with former students, that had taken place decades prior. Although the couple have long had a mutual understanding when it comes to their extra-marital pursuits, the allegations sit uncomfortably in the present day where the #MeToo movement has created a new paradigm.

At one point we would have called these affairs consensual, for they were, and were conducted with my tacit understanding that they were happening. Now, however, young women have apparently lost all agency in romantic entanglements. Now my husband was abusing his power, never mind that power is the reason they desired him in the first place. Continue reading