Daily Archives: June 18, 2010

Oprah Summer Picks that Caught My Eye

I like perusing Oprah’s book picks. I don’t always agree with her choices, but usually I find one or two that spark my curiosity. Oprah has picked twenty hot summer books to tempt readers. These are the ones which have made it onto my wish list:

Kings of the Earth by Jon Clinch will be released in July through Random House. The novel revolves around the death of one of three elderly, illiterate brothers living together on an upstate New York farm. Rather than being a straight forward death, evidence of asphyxiation are brought forward. The story is told from multiple points of view to reveal family dynamics and secrets against the backdrop of a mystery. This book was inspired by the true story of the Ward brothers (of the 1992 documentary My Brother’s Keeper). Clinch’s writing has been compared to that of William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy and Edward P. Jones. Read an excerpt from the book.

John Clinch is perhaps best known for his best selling debut novel Finn which centered around the fictional father of Huckleberry Finn. Read more about Clinch and his work by visiting the author’s website.

The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse was released this month, and is available now through Simon & Schuster. The novel explores a variety of characters, both Mexican and American, and the intersection of cultures in Los Angeles. Author Dan Chaon writes about the book: “Brando Skyhorse writes with great compassion and wit (and a touch of magic) about the lives of people who are often treated as if they are invisible. The stories that make up this novel weave together to create a complex and vivid portrait of a Los Angeles we seldom see in literature or film.

Brando Skyhorse was Born and raised in Echo Park, CA, and is a graduate of Stanford University and the MFA Writers’ Workshop program at UC Irvine. For the past ten years he has worked in New York publishing. The Madonnas of Echo Park is his debut novel. Read more about Skyhorse and his work by visiting the author’s website.

What is Left the Daughter by Howard Norman is scheduled to be released in July through Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Set on the Atlantic coast of Canada during WWII, the novel is a tale of love during wartime. Wyatt Hillyer, recently orphaned when both his parents commit suicide on the same day, becomes his uncle’s apprentice in a sled and toboggan business. He soon falls in love with his adopted cousin, Tilda which is complicated when Tilda brings home a German university student.

Howard Norman was born in Ohio, later moved to Toronto Canada and then returned to the United States where he received his Master of Arts degree from the Folklore Institute of Indiana University linguistics and folklore. He currently teaches creative writing in the Masters of Fine Arts program at the University of Maryland, College Park. Norman is an award winning author with numerous published works. Most of his short stories and novels are set in Canada.

Father of the Rain by Lily King is due for publication in July through Atlantic Monthly Press. This novel is narrated by the 11 year old daughter of an alcoholic father. Daley’s love for her father and desire for connection with him, can’t hide the slow deterioration of a father who is socially irresponsible. Despite this toxic relationship, Daley goes on to build a loving, stable relationship with an African-American man, but eventually returns to her father’s side after he is no longer capable of living alone.  Read an excerpt.

Lily King is an award winning author. Her short work has appeared in literary journals including Ploughshares and Glimmer Train. Father of the Rain is Lily King’s third novel.

Have YOU perused Oprah’s summer reading list? Anything there that interests you?

Cool Water – Book Review

He leans his face into the animal’s side, closes his eyes and sucks in the sweet, familiar smell – the blend of dust and grass and warm sweat. The smell of the horse takes him back to when Rip and Tom were there in the pasture, when he was a boy on another hot summer night, when the fences of the farm encompassed his world and he knew every inch of it as well as he knew his own skin. – from Cool Water, page 29 –

I love when a book surprises me; when I open the pages and fall into a story that swallows up time and takes me some place I have not been before; when I meet characters who touch my heart and teach me something about life. Cool Water is one of those books. Set in rural Saskatchewan, the novel brings to life several characters who are interconnected because they share the same small town. Warren is a renowned short story writer, and it is easy to see those roots in Cool Water. The novel has the feel of linked short stories. It reminded me of Elizabeth Strout’s wonderful novel Olive Kitteridge with one big difference: Strout’s book uses the minor characters to give depth to Olive, the protagonist; Warren, on the other hand, fully develops each character in alternating chapters in order to give life to the town of Juliet in which they live.

The novel opens with a one hundred mile horse race (which we later learn is part of the history of the town). We are then introduced to several characters as the story unfolds over the course of one day: Lee, a young man who is seeking to understand his biological roots after he inherits a family farm; Blaine and Vicki Dolson and their six children (including the teenage Shiloh) who are struggling financially; Willard Shoenfeld and his sister-in-law Marian who struggle to communicate their love for each other; Norval, the town’s banker, and his wife Lila and daughter Rachelle who is preparing to marry the father of her unborn baby; and Hank Trass, a retired rodeo cowboy, and his wife Lynn who is still trying to come to terms with Hank’s long ago infidelities.

Each of the characters is flawed and struggles with their own self worth, identity, or relationships with each other. United by the harsh and awesome landscape of the desert, they navigate the pitfalls of life and seek to realize their dreams. Often they are caught off guard by unexpected events, or find themselves detoured by misunderstandings. I was especially drawn to Willard and Marian, an odd couple who find themselves together after Willard’s brother (and Marian’s husband) Ed dies. Nine years have passed since Ed’s death, and Willard and Marian have lived under the same roof, moving forward in their lives side by side, yet apart. Their fumbled communications are poignant and compelling.

He goes back outside and gets in his truck and drives away from the yard. Toward town. The Oasis. He’ll go to the Oasis for supper. They’re used to him there. He can sit at a table and eat his meal and probably no one will talk to him, but if someone does, it will be about the weather, or grain prices, or football. And he won’t have to hear the words, I’m leaving, Willard. I though you’d better know… – from Cool Water, page 242 –

Warren’s writing is subtle, intuitive, and richly rendered. Her characters are real people and part of the tapestry of the setting. Warren understands how where we live reflects who we are – and she seamlessly weaves the landscape through the stories of her characters. She also brings in the connections between people and animals – something which resonated with my own experiences with the animals who have passed through my life. Blaine (a man who is struggling to keep food on the table for his family) finds his horse suffering from colic and must decide whether or not to spend the money on a vet or simply put the animal out of its misery – the decision is not just about whether or not the horse will be saved, but it is a reminder of where Blaine is in his life and the hope (or lack of it) for things to get better.

Blaine knows what he has to do. It’s not that he’s never had to put a horse down before, but this horse – the last one – now represents every ambition that he’s ever had and his last bit of hope, however unreasonable, that things might turn around. – from Cool Water, page 224 –

Cool Water is an exquisite novel of every day life which includes the disappointments, challenges, and small joys we all encounter. At times funny, but always sensitive, Cool Water is a book that tenderly explores the connections between people, and reminds us of the common threads of human experience which join us.

Highly recommended.

*FTC Disclosure: This book was sent to me by the publisher for review on my blog.