Book Box Review: Powell’s Indiespensable#64: History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

I  was very excited to learn that History of Wolves would be the featured book of Indiespensable #64. The book came up as a Goodreads suggestion a while back, and it sounds utterly fascinating.

From the Goodreads description:

Linda has an idiosyncratic home life: her parents live in abandoned commune cabins in northern Minnesota and are hanging on to the last vestiges of a faded counter-culture world. The kids at school call her ‘Freak’, or ‘Commie’. She is an outsider in all things. Her understanding of the world comes from her observations at school, where her teacher is accused of possessing child pornography, and from watching the seemingly ordinary life of a family she babysits for. Yet while the accusation against the teacher is perhaps more innocent than it seemed at first, the ordinary family turns out to be more complicated. As Linda insinuates her way into the family’s orbit, she realises they are hiding something. If she tells the truth, she will lose the normal family life she is beginning to enjoy with them; but if she doesn’t, their son may die.
Superbly-paced and beautifully written, HISTORY OF WOLVES is an extraordinary debut novel about guilt, innocence, negligence, well-meaning belief and the death of a child.

Tying in with the cabin life of Linda’s family, the box also includes a container of Bogg’s Trail Butter. I’m not sure if all boxes came with the same flavor, or different flavors were included in other boxes, but I got their Mountaineer Maple variety, and it was amazingly good (and, at the time of this writing, completely gone).

As always, the book itself comes in a custom slipcase and is signed by the author.

You can find more information, and sign up for Powell’s Indiespensable by clicking here. But be warned, subscriptions sell out VERY quickly!

 Book Review: Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

This book was included in Powell’s Indiespensable #61, and the description was so intriguing that I sat down and started reading it then and there.

The book primarily follows Jeremy Heldt, high school grad and video store employee in Nevada, Iowa in the mid 1990s. Life is fairly normal for Jeremy, he lives with his father, the two carrying on quietly after the death of his mother several years ago in a car crash. 

The peace and quiet is slowly broken apart when a customer comes into the store, saying that her rental “has another movie on it.” When a second customer comes in complaning of te same thing, Jeremy investigates. Playing the movie through, a black and white film, barely a minute long, has been inserted into the middle of the movie. Though there’s nothing concrete in the short film, it is vaguely unsettling. When other films begin appearing in other movies at the store, the creep factor goes up exponentially. Moreover, there are familiar landmarks in the background of these strange, vaguely threatening films . . .

I really enjoyed this book. Darnielle has a writing style that manages to be descriptive and stark at the same time. In addition, the book is told from the point of view of a smugly omniscient narrator who seems to delight in keeping bits an pieces back from the reader. We are instead forced to circle around the mystery behind the tapes like a vulture, seeing only the smallest parts at a time. The whole thing reminds me of  House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. With that book, it was hard to pin down what exactly was so creepy, but it kept you up at night.

Fans of psychological suspense will like this book. It’s a finely creepy sophomore work from an up-and-coming author.

Book Review: Night of Fire by Colin Thubron

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Night of Fire by Colin Thubron

This poetic book is told in a series of interconnected vignettes. As an apartment building succumbs to fire, the reader visits each resident in turn, from a neurosurgeon to a priest, a young boy to a naturalist. With each chapter, we learn a little bit about each tenant, their pasts, futures, hopes, and dreams.

The interconnectedness of each vignette is not immediately obvious, but as you read further and further on, you begin to experience small niggles at the back of your brain, a sense of deja vu. Each chapter teases out a little bit more about the nature of memory and the fragility of the self.

This synopsis is a bit vague, and I apologize. But the nature of the book makes it hard to summarize succinctly without spoiling the book. Let me tell you instead that the book is extraordinarily well crafted. Layers of meaning underlie each chapter, and the nuance of words and names are well done. The writing style is on the poetic side, but not dense.

This book is not at all what I typically read, but it was a lovely trip outside of my comfort zone. I really had no idea what to expect when I opened the cover, but I’m incredibly glad that I took the time. I think most people who enjoy books that require some extra thought will enjoy this book.

An advance copy of this book was provided via a Powell’s Indiespensable book box (seriously, you need to subscribe). Night of Fire will be available for purchase on January 17th, 2017.

Book Box Review/Unboxing: Powell’s Indiespensable #63: Moonglow by Michael Chabon

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So first off, yay! I love getting that simple white box in the mail! It certainly helps that this book has been on my TBR for a bit!

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Opening up the box on a cool late-fall afternoon, I actually did a little dance when hot chocolate packets were the first things to meet my eye.

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I mean, come on, just look at those! (I also happen to be drinking the “Original” dark chocolate while I’m writing this review! Delicious!)

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The bonus book for this go-round is Night of Fire: A Novel by Colin Thubron, which releases on January 17th, 2017. I hadn’t heard of the book before receiving it, but having read the blurb, I’m excited to give it a read (my poor, poor, TBR).

And then we get to the meat of the box: Moonglow by Michael Chabon. And, this being an Indiespensable book, it’s signed and comes in its own slipcase! Like I said earlier, I’d been looking forward to reading this book, and I was so excited when it came up as part of the Indiespensable program!

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So if you aren’t signed up for Powell’s subscription box yet, you should really get on it! Books ship every 6-8 weeks, and thus far (after about a year into the subscription) I have yet to be disappointed in their picks! You can checkout the next offer here. At the time of this writing, there were still a few slots open, but these tend to go very, very fast (I had to stalk the website for a month or two before I was able to sign up).

Book Box Review/Unboxing: Powell`s Indiespensable #61: Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer

I adore Powell`s quarterly book box. I’ve been a subscriber for well/over a year. The box is a bit pricey, $39.95, but ships every 6-8 weeks, so you’re not shelling that much out every mont, which helps.

Each box includes a signed, hardcover first edition of a new release book, and I understand many of these editions (which come with a custom, exclusive slipcover) have gone on to be quite valuable.

The box also includes goodies, such as snacks, water bottles, ARCs, and other bonus books. This box included an ARC of Universal Harvester by John Darnielle. The bonus book was cleverly packaged as a VHS rental (if you’re not sure what that is, go ask your parents).

The book looked so intriguing, I started reading right then and there. Expect a review to come out a bit closer to publishing time. Suffice it to say it was a creepy and original story, and I liked it quite a bit.

The focus of the box was Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer. I haven’t read any of Foer’s other works, but the description of this book sounds great!

Above are pics of the book with and without the slipcover.

All told, I feel that Powell’s Indiespensable is a good deal for the money. Their picks are consistently great, even when the books are outside my comfort zone. Be warned: this box tends to sell out fast (the next box, due out in October, is already sold out), so be prepared for some hovering in order to secure your place.

You can check out the Indiespensable box info for yourself here.

Book Review: A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin

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A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin

 

“Genius is a true degenerative psychosis.” These words, a quote by Cesare Lombroso and spoken by a character in “A Doubters’ Almanac” sums up this book quite efficiently. In this character study by Ethan Canin, we see how the pressures of genius can turn ambition upon itself in self-destructive fury.

As the story begins, we meet young Milo Andret, a bright young man being raised by indifferent parents. Milo skips grades, is socially indifferent, and spends his free time by himself in the woods. As Milo begins high school, he realizes his potential as a mathematician (heretofore unrecognized by himself or his parents). Milo heads to college at no less an institution than UC Berkeley, where he is brought under the tutelage of brilliant mathematician Dr. Borland. Borland is determined to rope Milo into his preferred field of topology. Pressure mounts as Milo’s genius is taken as a given, and we hear the repeated refrain that mathematicians either make their mark early or they fizzle out. Milo decides to focus his intellect on the Malosz Problem, which has baffled the greatest minds in mathematics.

And it is here that we begin to see the self-destructiveness of Milo’s vast intelligence. He becomes obsessed with solving the Malosz Problem, and it becomes the pivotal point of his college career. Milo’s obsession with solving the unsolvable continues to haunt his choices later, when he has achieved a professorship at Princeton University. Throughout the book, we see how the pressures of genius coupled with substance abuse combine to form a toxicity that will damage Milo and his family for decades to come.

This book is certainly not my normal fare. I tend to read things of a more escapist bent. I received this book as part of Powell’s Indiespensable (Vol.58), and this is one of the reasons I value the program so highly: it introduces me to books outside of my comfort zone. This book was well-written, the characters very vivid, and the plot skips backwards, forwards, and sideways in time. And while it’s certainly a far cry from my usual historical-sci-fi-mystery choices, I found myself enjoying it quite a bit. I will say I had to stop midway through and take a break to read a historical-sci-fi-mystery fun book (A Perilous Undertaking if you must know) to keep my spirits up.

The slog through the destruction of a family becomes disheartening at points, but with some well-earned escapism out of the way I can say that I’m quite glad to have read this book.Even the high math references going (way, way, way) over my head didn’t detract from the plot

If you’re generally a fan of soul-searching family and personal drama, or a math nut (which I am not) then you’ll most likely enjoy this book. Ethan Canin is a fine craftsman with words and his story is quite compelling. I definitely recommend this as a heavy read.

Powells Indiespensable #60: Barkskins by Annie Proulx

I love seeing this white box on my front step! Powell’s City of Books, based out of Portland, Oregon, releases a quarterly book box filled to bursting with a signed first edition novel and themed goodies.

Edition number 60 features Barkskins by Annie Proulx, a historical epic depicting the lives of the descendants of two woodcutters in 18th century Canada. Also included in this edition of Powell’s Indiespensable is Ninety-Nine Stories of God by Julie Williams. This is a book of short stories, most only a page or two long. Flipping through I can see stories about dead mothers, German Shepherds, the Aztecs, jail, and mazes, among others. Most of the stories are short enough they almost seem to be poems. I look forward to reading more.

It’s too bad these editions are way too pretty to bring to the beach. But you should expect a review (hopefully of both books) from me within a month (my to-read list gets longer by the day). And if you haven’t checked out Powell’s fantastic book box please do so at:

https://www.powells.com/indiespensable

It’s here! It’s here!

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You’ll definitely be hearing about this regularly. I adore this subscription! Indiespensable is run through Powell’s Books (which is a bucket list visit in and of itself),  and is a quarterly subscription box. Each box contains a signed first edition hardcover of a newly released book, along with extras. (Powell’s pays me nothing to say this,  though I wouldn’t say no if they offered, hint hint)

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This month is Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (which I’m looking forward to), along with a sketchbook and drawing pens!

And if you’re so inclined, you should absolutely check out the Indiespensable website.

https://www.powells.com/indiespensable

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty

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The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty By: Vendela Vida

5 out of 5 Stars

 

I loved this book. It’s a tiny thing, only about 200 pages or so, and as such can be consumed in a day (and once you start reading this, you’ll likely not stop. I discovered this book through Powell’s Books Indiespensible subscription service (which, if you haven’t heard of it, you may need to look into it. Now. I’ll wait), which has provided me with a multitude of wonderful books I probably never would have found otherwise (expect to see several of these books coming up in future reviews).

Overly parenthetical ramblings aside, I truly enjoyed this book. It’s an unconventional mystery, set in modern day Morocco, Casablanca to be exact. The book is written in the second person, a bold–and polarizing–choice; everyone seems to either love it or hate it. Personally, I think the use of second person works well for this book. We are meant to relate more closely with the nameless heroine than a third person story may allow, but she is allowed some mystery to her thoughts, which cannot be found in a first person story.

The heroine (so to speak) begins the book enroute to Casablanca from Florida, but we don’t know why she is traveling. Shortly after arriving in the ancient city, she is robbed; her passport, credit cards, and computer all disappear into the labyrinthine streets, and with them goes all connection to her past life. In time the authorities find “her” bag, but in reality it belongs to another woman.

So begins the adventure and the mystery. Deciding that as she is now no one, she can be anyone, Our nameless heroine begins to build a new life around the belongings of the other woman whose bag she now holds. Naturally (as tends to happen), things go sideways, and the heroine finds herself falling deeper and deeper into her assumed identity.

As the book progresses, we find, in bits and snippets, the reason for the heroine’s flight (as in flee) to Morocco, and why she is so quick to turn herself into someone else. The mystery here isn’t so much in what happens to her once she sets foot in Casablanca, but in the events that drove her there in the first place.

Like I said, I read this book in a single sitting, literally unable to put it down. The writing is lyrical and elegant, the second person point of view surprisingly easy to get used to. Though we know next to nothing about the central character in this book, you find yourself cheering for her, and sympathizing with her, and desperately turning the pages to find another small piece of her past.  It’s been quite a while since I’ve come across something so unusual and yet so engaging.