A STUDENT OF WEATHER by Elizabeth Hay

Elizabeth Hay centres her superb, enchanting and deeply moving novel around Norma Joyce and sister Lucinda, her senior by nine years. Set against the beautifully evoked natural environments of Saskatchewan and Ontario, and spanning over more than thirty years, the author explores in sometimes subtle, sometimes defter, ways the sisters’ dissimilar characters. One is an “ugly duckling,” the other a beauty; one is rebellious and lazy, the other kind, efficient and unassuming… I

December 15, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: 2011 Favorites, Canada, Contemporary, Debut Novel, Giller Prize, Reading Guide, y Award Winning Author

BLUEPRINTS FOR BUILDING BETTER GIRLS by Elissa Schappell

Poor Holden Caulfield. In Catcher in the Rye, he muses, “Girls. You never know what they’re going to think.” How right he was! In Elissa Schappell’s new short story collection, the old blueprints for Appropriate Female Behavior — the name of a vintage etiquette manual, 1963 edition — have all been tossed away. And now the girls and women are forced to muddle through with the new rules: Be yourself but also be what your boyfriend, parents, and girlfriends want you to be as well.

October 11, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Humorous, Short Stories

THE BIRD SISTERS by Rebecca Rasmussen

Milly and Twiss are known throughout Spring Green, Wisconsin as “the bird sisters” – two elderly spinsters who minister to broken birds and make them whole again. And, in many ways, the birds are a metaphor for who they are. Early on, Milly reflects, “The smartest birds built their nests high up in the trees. Some birds, namely the wood pigeon, the clumsiest architect of all, began building their nests but never finished them.”

The sisters would fall into that latter grouping. At one point in their lives, they were eager to take wing until the summer of 1947 changed everything. Since the story is told as a flashback, we, the readers, are charged with the task of finding out how – and why.

April 13, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Coming-of-Age, Contemporary, US Midwest

SWAMPLANDIA! by Karen Russell

In her hotly-anticipated debut novel, SWAMPLANDIA!, Karen Russell returns to the mosquito-droves and muggy-haze of the Florida Everglades and the gator-themed amusement park featured in her short story, “Ava Wrestles the Alligator,” that opened her widely-praised 2006 collection, ST. LUCY’S HOME FOR GIRLS RAISED BY WOLVES. It was that collection, with its exuberant mix of satire and fabulism, that secured Russell’s reputation as one of the most exciting up-and-comers around and earned her a coveted spot on The New Yorker’s much buzzed about “20 under 40” list last fall. With her energetic prose, quirky settings, and fantastical plots, Russell is a writer’s whose style forces you to sit up and take notice, sometimes at the cost of emotional involvement with her work. However, Swamplandia!, with all its flashing-neon prose is an insightful (and surprisingly funny) exploration of the loss of innocence that inevitably follows the death of a parent.

February 2, 2011 · Judi Clark · 3 Comments
Tags: , , , , , ,  · Posted in: 2011 Favorites, Coming-of-Age, Contemporary, Family Matters, Florida, Humorous, Unique Narrative

THE WEIRD SISTERS by Eleanor Brown

The thorny relationship between sisters has offered a mother lode of material for writers dating back to the start of time. Shakespeare tackled it in King Lear; in modern times, authors that vary from Louisa May Alcott to Julia Glass and Jane Smiley have put their personal spin on this theme.

Now debut author Eleanor Brown takes her turn. Meet Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia, three sisters named for Shakespearean heroines by their eccentric and professorial father. These are women who look very much alike, maintain a common family bond, but if truth be told, don’t like each other very much.

January 20, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Contemporary, Debut Novel, Unique Narrative

THE BLINDNESS OF THE HEART by Julia Franck

In the original German version, so I’ve been told, the title of this book is Die Mittagsfrau, or “The Noonday Witch.” According to legend, the witch appears in the heat of day to spirit away children from their distracted parents. Those who are able to engage the witch in a short conversation find that her witch-like powers evaporate.

In Julia Franck’s brilliant English version (translated by the very talented Anthea Bell), Helene gradually retreats into silence and passivity, losing her ability to communicate effectively. We meet her in the book’s prologue as the mother of an eight-year-old boy, leading her son towards a packed train in the direction of Berlin. Before the train arrives she tells him a white lie, abandoning him at a bench, never to return. In the succeeding 400 pages, the reader gains a glimpse as to what drove Helene to this most unnatural act.

October 22, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: Germany, Translated, World Lit