Category Archives: Prize Winning Books

Good Kings Bad Kings – Book Review

GoodKingsBadKingsI got a plan to run away. I’m gonna go right before they’re set to ship me out of here. I been figuring it out but there’s still a few details that need a little work. I know how I’m gonna sneak out, that’s easy, but I’m not sure where I’m gonna stay at. The plan has to be perfect so I don’t end up in a place even worse than this place. – Teddy Dobbs, from Good Kings Bad Kings, page 37 –

Teddy Dobbs is only one character who speaks to the reader in Susan Nussbaum’s novel about a group of teenagers living in an institution for juveniles with disabilities. There is also Yessenia Lopez who is still reeling from the loss of her tia Nene, and the tragic Mia Oviedo who is hiding a secret. Staff members also narrate this novel: Michelle Volkmann,a recruiter for the institution; the compassionate Joanne Madsen who is herself disabled, and the concerned Ricky Hernandez to name a few. Nussbaum alternates her characters’ voices chapter by chapter, revealing a community bound by necessity and challenged to survive in a world where they have little to no control.

I requested this book from the Library Thing Early Reviewers program because I thought it would resonate with me. I have worked as a physical therapist consultant for adults and kids with developmental delays. I love my clients. I appreciate their spirit and courage, their ability to live in the moment, and their open personalities. I have seen some of the sadness as well – the individuals who have been raped, or institutionalized in facilities that are no more than holding pens for people unable to care for themselves. I chose to work for a company that provides consistently excellent care in a clean, family-oriented setting (a home, not an institution) and so many of my clients who came for bad environments are now enjoying life in a much more independent and caring setting.

That said, I found myself feeling so sad as I read this novel. I do think Nussbaum is doing a service to the disabled community who are still living in institutions and finding their lives completely controlled by outside forces – some which are destructive. But I really had a hard time getting through this novel. It was painful for me despite some humorous voices. I ached for these characters.

Those readers who enjoy literary fiction will appreciate the honesty of the prose, and the careful development of the characters. But it is also a heartbreaking read, one that found me taking many breaks just to regroup.

This book was awarded the Pen/Bellwether Prize for fiction.


FTC Disclosure: I received this book through the Library Thing Early Review program.

The Master Butchers Singing Club – Book Review

MastersButcherSince she had known Eva Waldvogel, and also traveled here and there with Cyprian, she had started to understand how a woman’s attention could succeed in making sense of man’s blind chaos, and yet women needed their own wildness. It was here. All ran riot. The garden and weedy yard would wax fuller until it turned into a jungle of unhitched vines and rusty birdbaths made of ham tins. Eva’s dog, the white shepherd, Schatzie, dug up old bones the former dog had buried and refused to rebury them. It would be awful, Delphine felt, when the leaves withered in the fall, to see the litter of femurs and clavicles, the knobs and knuckles. As if the scattered dead, rising to meet the Judgment, had to change and swap their parts to fit. -from The Master Butchers Singing Club, page 109-

Fidelis Waldvogel manages to survive the horrors of World War I, then returns to his German village and marries Eva – the pregnant widow of his best friend who was killed in action. The newly married couple set out for America and end up in Argus, North Dakota, where Fidelis opens his butcher business.

Delphine Watzka returns home to Argus, North Dakota with her boyfriend, Cyprian after years of performing as a traveling act. There she discovers her alcoholic father and the bodies of a man, woman and child in his basement.

The lives of these two characters merge when Delphine and Eva meet. The two forge an instant friendship and become inseparable.

Louise Erdrich’s rich novel about a German immigrant and his family is tender, thoughtful, funny, and deeply emotional. As with all Erdrich novels, there are many sharply developed, often quirky, characters. Erdrich never rushes the tempo of her story, carefully setting her scenes and building the relationships between the characters.

Fidelis is a complex man with simple needs. Delphine mourns the mother she has never known and longs for a deeper relationship with a man. Both characters take center stage without diminishing the impact of the other, more secondary characters.

This book is, at its heart, a family saga with a bit of a mystery at its center. Erdrich is exceptionally talented and able to make all the pieces fit, integrating the characters into the community they inhabit and providing a deep understanding of life in twentieth century, small town America.

I have yet to read an Erdrich novel I have not loved and The Master Butcher’s Singing Club is no exception. Erdrich writes with a mix of poignancy and humor, meticulous detail, and vivid imagery. I did not want this book to ever end.

Readers who love historical family sagas and literary novels will embrace this book.

Highly recommended.


The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Book Review

NarrowRoadIn this way, thought Nakamura, the Japanese spirit is now itself the railway, and the railway the Japanese spirit, our narrow road to the deep north, helping to take the beauty and wisdom of Basho to the larger world. – from The Narrow Road to the Deep North, page 94 –

It is August of 1943 along the Thai-Burma Death Railway. Australian doctor Dorrigo Evans and his comrades are struggling each and every day to survive as POWs in a Japanese camp. They face starvation, daily beatings, illness, monsoons, mud…and the never-ending toil to complete the great railroad which the Japanese Emperor desires. Dorrigo lives for his men, he fights for their survival, and mourns their deaths. He tries to banish his memories of his uncle’s wife – a woman who enchanted him, loved him, and changed his world.

How does anyone survive the tortures of being a prisoner of war? That question kept repeating itself to me as I read and tried to find the meaning hidden behind the transcendent prose of Richard Flannagan.

They are survivors of grim, pinched decades who have been left with this irreducible minimum: a belief in each other, a belief that they cleave to only more strongly when death comes. For if the living let go of the dead, their own life ceases to matter. The fact of their own survival somehow demands that they are one, now and forever. – from The Narrow Road to the Deep North, page 155 –

This nonlinear novel takes the reader from the hot, wet jungle of Burma to Australia years after the war. It explores death, the connection between humans in the face of adversity, evil, goodness, guilt and remorse…and the power of love.

Without love, what was the world? Just objects, things, light, darkness. – from The Narrow Road to the Deep North, page 291 –

This is a brutal novel and one that is not for the faint of heart. Flannagan’s prose is searing, devastating, and measured. There is a good deal of brutality and violence. The suffering of the POWs is revealed in affecting language that made it hard for me to fall asleep at night.

The main character – Dorrigo – at first seems unlikeable, but by the end of the book, it is clear his heart is wholly human: flawed, proud, loving, resentful. He is a complex man who is forever changed by his experiences. In fact, the Japanese guards are also portrayed as not all evil – they have families, they love, they fear. If it were Flannagan’s desire to develop humanity within his characters, even those who commit unspeakable acts, he has succeeded.

One message that the novel seems to impart is that of the pointlessness of war. The Thai-Burma Death Railway was constructed in 1942-43 as a means for the Japanese to supply forces in Burma while bypassing the sea routes that made them vulnerable to attack. More than 12,000 allied troops being held captive, died during the railway’s construction…including 2700 Australians. Flannagan reflects on the railway post-war:

And of that colossal ruin, boundless and buried, the lone and level jungle stretched far away. Of imperial dreams and dead men, all that remained was long grass. – from The Narrow Road to the Deep North, page 227 –

The Narrow Road to the Deep North captured the 2014 Man Booker Prize and I believe it was worthy of this award. While it is difficult reading on an emotional level, the prose is deeply moving and offers a look into the human spirit. Basho’s literary classic, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, suggests: “every day is a journey, and the journey itself home.” Flannagan’s novel, which borrowed Basho’s title, is about the journey of one man…and his search for “home.” Readers who are not squeamish and who enjoy literary fiction, will want to put this one on their reading list.

Highly recommended.


All The Light We Cannot See – Book Review

AllTheLightOpen your eyes, concludes the man, and see what you can with them before they close forever, and then a piano comes on, playing a lonely song that sounds to Werner like a golden boat traveling a dark river, a progression of harmonies that transfigures Zollverein: the houses turned to mist, the mines filled in, the smokestacks fallen, an ancient sea spilling through the streets, and the air streaming with possibility. – from All The Light We Cannot See, page 49 –

Hitler is marching in the streets and the Nazis move ever closer to France. Marie-Laure, age twelve, lives in Paris with her father who works as a lock keeper at the Museum of Natural History. Marie’s eyesight is lost to her at the age of six, but she is able to navigate the streets like a sighted person with help from her father’s intricate miniature reproduction of their neighborhood. Inside the walls of the museum is a valuable jewel which is linked to a story of immortality and death. Just before the city falls to the Germans, Marie and her father flee Paris…with them is the jewel, or its replicate.

Werner is a young German boy being raised behind the doors of an orphanage in a small mining town. Werner and his sister, Jutta, become fascinated by a broken radio which Werner fixes. They listen late at night to voices from far away. With his talent for electronics, Werner is soon sent to an academy for Hitler Youth – a brutal, terrifying place that prepares him to use his skills to track down enemies of Hitler’s Riech.

In the walled city of Saint-Malo, Marie and Werner’s stories converge as Allied bombs fall. Written in magnificent prose, almost poetic in its narration, All The Light We Cannot See is a magical, searing novel about war, fear, radio, and the resilience of the human heart.

Author Anthony Doerr, who has won numerous literary prizes for his short stories, has written one of the best novels of 2014. He was inspired by the true story of Saint-Malo, a city on the edge of the sea in Brittany, France. In August of 1944, this historic jewel was almost completely destroyed by fire after the United States bombed it. Doerr captures the horror of the attack in his novel, placing the reader in the midst of the inferno.

Doors soar away from their frames. Bricks transmute into powder. Great distending clouds of chalk and earth and granite spout into the sky. All twelve bombers have already turned and climbed and realigned high above the Channel before roof slates blown into the air finish falling into the streets. -from All The Light We Cannot See, page 95 –

But, this book is less about the war and more about its impact on its main characters: Marie and Werner. Both characters are children who grow up against the backdrop of World War II – one a blind, French girl…the other a German youth whose promising future is threatened by the will of the State.

It was enough when Werner was a boy, wasn’t it? A world of wildflowers blooming up through the shapes of rusty cast-off parts. A world of berries and carrot peels and Frau Elena’s fairy tales. Of the sharp smell of tar, and the trains passing, and bees humming in the window boxes. String and spit and wire and a voice on the radio offering a loom on which to spin his dreams. – from All The Light We Cannot See, page 389 –

Doerr’s narrative moves back and forth in time and switches points of view from chapter to chapter. Skillfully crafted, the story unwinds with a slow tension that keeps the pages turning. I loved the beautiful writing, the loving character development, and Doerr’s ability to show his characters not as enemies, but as humans who desire the same things even though War separates them.

All The Light We Cannot See is a masterpiece of historical and literary fiction…and certainly one of the best books of the year. Readers should not be intimidated by the page count – the book is superbly edited and every page is worth the read.

Highly recommended.



Still Life with Breadcrumbs – Book Review

StillLifeThe problem was that she’d thought that at a certain point she would be a finished product. ow she wasn’t sure what that might be, especially when she considered how sure she had been about it at various times in the past, and how wrong she’d been. – from Still Life with Breadcrumbs, page 223 –

Rebecca Winter made her mark as a photographer with one photograph – a domestic scene of crumbs and dirty dishes. Her name became synonymous with women’s rights and the anger of housewives. But that was then.

Now she finds herself at age sixty, divorced, struggling financially, tasked with caring for her aging parents, and alone. She is forced to rent out her home in New York City (a home she loves) and moves out to the country to a rambling, tumbledown cabin in the woods. Rebecca has no idea how she is going to support herself. She feels creatively stagnant and anxious. And then one day, walking in the woods, she discovers a white cross placed haphazardly on the forest floor and she snaps a photo.

As Still Life with Breadcrumbs unfolds, Rebecca meets a roofer named Jim and adopts a mangy dog.. She continues to find the strange white crosses in the woods and begins to think her life may be on the upswing. But life does not always follow the path one thinks it will…and Rebecca begins to wonder if the images behind her lens may not be all there is to life.

Anna Quindlen is one of my favorite authors after having read her brilliant, albeit disturbing, novel Every Last One (read my review). I was excited to pick up this latest book, and I am glad I did. Although I do not think it rises to the level of achievement of Every Last One, it is full of beautifully written characters and unexpected turns of events. Rebecca’s growth – from a woman seeking acclaim to a woman recognizing the more important things in life – drives the narrative. I loved how although she does not consider herself a dog person, Rebecca finds a bond with a homeless, neglected dog who steals her heart.

Quindlen explores the themes of aging, rediscovery, love and friendship in her new novel. I was glad to read a novel with a sixty year old protagonist who was still vital, funny, and interesting (too often older characters are portrayed negatively in fiction).

Quindlen’s prose compels the reader to keep turning the pages…and Still Life With Breadcrumbs will certainly appeal to those who love women’s fiction and well constructed characters.

This book was long listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.



Chasing the King of Hearts – Book Review

ChasingKingofHeartsIf she hadn’t visited Mateusz (she wanted to warn him that the vice squad would be enquiring about her), she wouldn’t have learnt that the postman had been there. That he had delivered a letter. That her husband was asking for food. And that he had sent a new address. Mauthausen, Block AKZ. In short, everything in life is interwoven in enigmatic ways. – from Chasing the King of Hearts, page 78 –

Izolda is Jewish and living in Poland at a time when being Jewish is dangerous. Her husband, Shayek, has been arrested by the Nazis. And Izolda is left to fend for herself. She is nothing if not determined – determined to escape the Ghetto, determined to evade arrest herself, determined to survive, determined to find her husband who she loves. Even when she finds herself in Auschwitz, she clings to hope and trusts she will survive the war and be reunited with Shayek.

Based on a true story, Hanna Krall’s novella, Chasing the King of Hearts, is a poignant story of love and survival. Written in a surprisingly off-hand style, the book exposes the horror of the Holocaust. Krall has a way of showing just how arbitrary life and death were within the Warsaw ghetto, the concentration camps, and elsewhere in Poland during this horrible time in history. There are moments of humor mixed in with unimaginable images of torture and suffering. Izolda is a captivating character who comes alive on the page. To survive she must use her finely honed sense of what is safe and what is not, she must keep moving, she must accept help where she can and risk everything.

Krall includes real black and white photos in her short book which reminds the reader that this is not wholly fiction, but something between fiction and reality. I found myself moved by these simple photos, faces looking out at a camera that reminded me that yes, there were these people…real people…who lived through something we can only vaguely imagine.

Peirene Press is known for their short, literary works and this one is particularly good. Krall’s writing is poetic with a simplicity that transforms her story into something amazing. This is a book which will appeal to readers who love literary and historical fiction.

Chasing the King of Hearts is a translated work and is only now available for the first time in English. The book won the 2013 English Pen Award, and was shortlisted for the Angelus Central European Literary Award.

Highly recommended.



Hanna Krall was born in 1935 in Poland and survived WWII hiding in a cupboard. She began her writing career as a prize-winning journalist. Since the early ’80s she has worked as a novelist. For her books, Hanna Krall has received numerous Polish and international awards, such as the underground Solidarity Prize, Polish PEN Club Prize and the German Wuerth-Preis for European Literature 2012. Translated into 17 languages, her work has gained widespread international recognition.

River Thieves – Book Review

RiverThievesHe said, “It’s sometimes the simplest explanation is closest to the truth.” – from River Thieves

The Beothuk “Red” Indians were the aboriginal people of the island of Newfoundland. With the introduction of both French and English settlements, the Beothuk found themselves isolated and being squeezed out of their land, especially their access to fishing and hunting grounds. They were eventually reduced to a small refugee population living along the Exploits River and ultimately the Beothuk became extinct, with the last known Indian dying in St. John’s, Newfoundland in 1829. It is this little known story of an aboriginal people which is the backbone of Michael Crummey’s novel, River Thieves. Inspired by the Beothuks and a well known English fisherman and hunter by the name of John Peyton (who was reputed to be brutal in his persecution of the Beothuk), Crummey has crafted a novel rich in the history of Newfoundland.

Set in the early part of the nineteenth century, River Thieves opens with naval officer David Buchan arriving in the Bay of Exploits on orders to establish friendly contact with the “Red Indians.” But he cannot do so without the assistance of the locals – a rough, independent group of trappers and fisherman who live in small cabins along the coast and the Exploits River. John Peyton Sr. is living with his son, John Jr., and a young woman named Cassie Jure who he has employed as a house servant and tutor for his son. He is a surly man who has a strong reputation for not tolerating the ongoing thefts perpetrated by the aboriginal peoples…and it is he who David Buchan approaches for help. But there are many secrets in this small community – allegiances and alliances, old recriminations, buried crimes, and relationships which are not always as they seem.

Crummey advances his novel through the eyes of the characters who include both Peytons, the shadowed Cassie, an Irishman with a questionable past and his native wife, and a captured Indian woman by the name of Mary. The harsh environs of Newfoundland feels like another character in this novel about love, loss, and regret.

The theme of regret is strong … all the characters make decisions at some point which cause them to regret their actions. Even John Peyton Sr., who is perhaps the character who is hardest to like, finds himself regretting his behavior toward the Indians. It is this theme of regret which makes this novel a bit melancholy. And perhaps that is appropriate since it is a book which explores the historical atrocity of an extermination of a people.

Crummey uses language and the naming of things as a way of defining the contrast between the native culture and that of the English colonists. And ultimately to symbolize the loss of an entire people. Perhaps the most poignant and poetic part of the book is in the prelude:

Whashwitt, bear; Kosweet, caribou; Dogajavick, fox. Shabothoobet, trap. The vocabularies a kind of taxidermy, words that were once muscle and sinew preserved in these single wooden postures. Three hundred nouns, a handful of unconjugated verbs, to kiss, to run, to fall, to kill. At the edge of a story that circles and circles their own death, they stand dumbly pointing. Only the land is still there. – from River Thieves.

I read Crummey’s amazing novel, Galore, in 2011 and it made my short list of best books read that year (read my review). Although I liked that novel a bit more than this one, River Thieves did not disappoint me. Crummey’s eye to detail, his terrific characters, and his ability to tell a story that captures place and history had me engrossed in this novel. Readers who love historical fiction will want to pick up a copy of this book.

Highly recommended.


River Thieves (2001) became a Canadian bestseller, winning the Thomas Head Raddall Award, the Winterset Award for Excellence in Newfoundland Writing, and the Atlantic Independent Booksellers’ Choice Award. It was also shortlisted for the Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Books in Canada First Novel Award, and was long-listed for the IMPAC Award.

Life After Life – Book Review

lifeafterlifeMiss Woolf was very fond of children, her only regret in life was not having had any. “If Richard had lived, perhaps…but one cannot look backward, only forward. What has passed has passed forever. What is it Heraclitus says? One cannot step in the same river twice?”

“More or less. I suppose a more accurate way of putting it would be ‘You can step in the same river but the water will always be new.”

“You’re such a bright young woman,” Miss Woolf said. “Don’t waste your life, will you? If you’re spared.” – from Life After Life

Ursula Todd is born on a snowy night in 1910. And dies. And is born again. And begins her life. And dies. And is born again. And again. And again. It seems that Ursula has been gifted with the ability to relive her life, correct past mistakes, and potentially save the world from its ultimate fate.

Sounds odd? Well, yes. And no. Life After Life is the newest novel by Kate Atkinson and it is original, mind-numbing, and brilliantly conceived. The book begins in 1910 and spirals out through the twentieth century, encompassing the horror of WWI and the devastation of WWII. Set in England, the landscape is starkly defined by the impact of war. Ursula grows up in the country, surrounded by her siblings, and watched over by her parents who suspect that Ursula is a bit unusual. As Ursula meets her demise and gets to start over again, she at first seems only vaguely aware of her chance to live her life anew. But as the novel unspools, Ursula, as well as the reader, begins to recognize the advantages of this kind of life.

Life After Life is filled with wonderfully constructed characters such as Ursula’s Aunt Izzie whose personality clashes humorously with that of Ursula’s mother Sylvie; and Ursula’s sister Pamela who keeps birthing boys, but wishing for girls; and the incorrigible Maurice (one of Ursula’s brothers), as well as loveable Teddy (another brother). There are quirky townspeople, a number of “love interests” for Ursula, and even a serial killer. And as the Germans march across Europe and drop bombs on London, there is Hitler himself along with his girlfriend, Eva – two historical characters who Ursula meets in person.

Atkinson’s writing is flawless, darkly comic, and filled with a poignant insight into what makes us human.

Who among us has not wondered about the small choices we have made which steer us down a path we might otherwise not have found ourselves traveling? For Ursula, those choices can be modified and her destiny changed (maybe). Her journey is one of joy and despair, filled with laughter and tears, and confounding and profound.

Life After Life is one of those rare novels which becomes stronger after the reader has turned the final page: questions form, insights develop, character motivations become more clear. It is one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Readers who want to be dazzled and surprised and who appreciate originality will want to read this novel.

Highly recommended.


Life After Life by Kate Atkinson was short listed for the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction.


2013 Armchair BEA – Literary Fiction and 3 Book Giveaway


May 30, 2013

Today is an exciting day for the Armchair BEA. There are giveaways of fantastic books all over blogland today – check out this post to get the links. I’m also pretty stoked to talk about Literary Fiction today – I have three great titles up for grabs (go to the bottom of this post to get information and enter to win), and I am going to be sharing some of my favorite literary authors and books with you. Grab a cup of coffee (or your favorite drink), sit back and enjoy!

What is literary fiction?

I am sure every reader has their own definition of literary fiction. In general, it has been well accepted to define it as a work which is “critically acclaimed” and “serious.” Traditionally, literary fiction focuses more on character than plot (which is not to say that literary fiction is not well plotted!). Most books falling into this category are slower paced, with prose that is often described as “lyrical” or “beautiful” or “poetic.” It is these types of books which most often find themselves being recognized for literary awards.

I have found that most of the literary fiction books I have loved, also fall into other categories like historical fiction. Today I want to share some of my favorite literary novels and introduce you to the authors who write them.

The “Big” Names:

Readers who gravitate to literary fiction can usually point to several “big names” within the genre. For me, three names immediately come to mind: Margaret Atwood, Louise Erdrich and John Irving. I have read multiple books by these three authors and have (mostly) loved them all.

When I think of Margaret Atwood, I think: brilliant, contemporary themes, women’s rights, amazing characters, futuristic. Visit the author’s website.

Atwood has been awarded many literary prizes for her work including the Governor General’s Award, the Commonwealth Literary Prize, The Giller Prize, and the Booker Prize (See all her awards here). Below are the works I have read by Atwood (click on each graphic to read my review of each book – the only book I have not reviewed is Oryx and Crake). Are you new to this author? If so, I suggest you start with The Robber Bride – my hands down favorite – OR The Handmaid’s Tale which is now considered a bit of a classic.

AliasGrace CatsEye HandmaidsTale BlindAssassin

  • Alias Grace (1996)
  • Cat’s Eye (1988)
  • The Handmaid’s Tale (1985)
  • The Blind Assassin (2000)

robberbride OryxandCrake YearOfTheFlood Penelopiad

  • The Robber Bride (1993)
  • Oryx and Crake (2003)
  • The Year of the Flood (2009)
  • The Penelopiad (2005)

Louise Erdrich is a relatively “new” favorite of mine. When I think of her work I think: Native American themes, multi-generational, sardonic humor, civil rights. Learn more about this author.

This accomplished writer is considered one of the most significant writers of the second wave of the Native American Renaissance. In 2009, her novel The Plague of Doves was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. This past November, she received the National Book Award for Fiction for her novel The Round HouseBelow are the works I have read by Erdrich (click on each graphic to read my review of each book). Are you new to this author? If so, I suggest you start with The Plague of Doves or Shadow Tag.

LoveMedicine ShadowTag PlagueOfDoves RoundHouse

  • Love Medicine (1984)
  • Shadow Tag (2010)
  • The Plague of Doves (2008)
  • The Round House (2012)

John Irving has been one of my favorite literary fiction writers since I first read his amazing The World According to Garp way back in high school. When I think about John Irving’s work I think: convoluted plots, fathers and sons, quirky characters, New England fiction. Visit the author’s website.

Irving’s work has not only been nominated for the fiction prizes, but has also been made into cinematic films. The movie The World According to Garp garnered several Academy Award nominations. Are you new to this author? If so, I suggest you start with The World According to Garp, A Prayer for Owen Meany OR Cider House Rules. Because I’ve been reading works by this author for a long, long time, many of those books are not reviewed here on my blog. Below are the works I’ve read which have been reviewed here (click on each graphic to read my review of each book):

APrayerForOwenMeany LastNightInTwistedRiver InOnePerson

  • A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989)
  • Last Night in Twisted River (2009)
  • In One Person (2012)

I have also read these books by John Irving:

  • The World According to Garp (1978)
  • The Hotel New Hampshire (1981)
  • The Cider House Rules (1985)
  • Trying to Save Piggy Sneed (collection, 1996)
  • A Widow for One Year (1998)
  • Until I Find You (2005)

The “Newcomers”:

One of the things I love about literature is that there are always new names to add to the ranks of my favorite authors. When it comes to literary fiction, it seems that there are more and more amazing writers publishing every year. I went through the last few years of reading and thought I would mention four writers who have caught my eye and who I see as the new wave of literary fiction writers.

Joyce Hinnefeld won my heart with her novel In Hovering Flight (Unbridled Books, 2008). Last year she published her second book with Unbridled Books titled Stranger Here Below. When I think of this author I think: poetic, sensitive, evocative, strong sense of place. Visit the author’s website. Below are Hinnefeld’s books with links to my reviews. I hope Joyce Hinnefeld has a long career because I want to keep reading her amazing books.

InHoveringFlight StrangerHereBelow

Peter Geye is a shining star in literature these days. I keep pushing his books into the hands of readers because when I think of his work, I think: Minnesota wilderness, redemption and forgiveness, love of family, and profound sense of place. Geye’s debut novel, Safe From the Sea (Unbridled Books, 2010) grabbed the 2010 Northeast Minnesota Book Award for Fiction and the 2010 Indie Lit Award for Fiction. His second book (The Lighthouse Road, 2012) was also published by Unbridled Books and has gotten universally sterling reviews. Visit the author’s website. Below are Geye’s books with links to my reviews.

SafeFromTheSea LighthouseRoad

Jesmyn Ward caught my attention with her National Book Award winning novel Salvage the Bones (Bloomsbury, 2011). This was not Ward’s first book, but it is the one which catapulted her into the literary spotlight. When I think about this author’s work, I think: original, strong characters, the South, honest. I really hope that Ward is working on her next novel, because I intend to read it. My review is linked from the graphic below.


Bruce Machart first reeled me in with a short story. When I learned he had written a novel, I could not wait to read it. His debut novel, The Wake of Forgiveness, blew me away. When I think of Bruce Machart, I think: believable dialogue, wide open spaces, unforgettable characters, and rich prose. Visit the author’s website. I hope you’ll get a chance to experience this author’s fabulous writing. Below are the books of his I have read (click on each graphic to read my reviews).

WakeOfForgiveness MenInMaking

If you have not yet tried literary fiction, I hope you will. I could have listed at least 30 more authors on this post who thrill me with their prose and touch my heart with their characters. There is a big world of literature out there! If you’ve read literary fiction, who are the authors YOU would recommend?

The Giveaways

All giveaways on this post are open for FIVE DAYS from May 30 – June 3, 2013 at 5:00 pm PST. Winners will be chosen randomly and announced here on my blog on June 4th. Book giveaways here on Caribousmom are NOT paid promos. Although books for giveaway have been supplied by the publisher, I do not accept payment to host these special events.

I am offering up three interesting titles for giveaway today. Each of these books fall within the literary fiction category. Below I’ve given a short description of the book, a link to my review of the book, and a link to enter to win it. One title is open internationally, the other two are open for addresses in the US or Canada (I also have another giveaway open for US addresses: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent – go to this post to enter).

ConstellationA Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra (Hogarth, May 2013) – read my review

I loved this book. And I am predicting that it will be nominated for some literary awards this year. Set in Chechnya, the novel  is a powerful, poignant, and deeply moving story that unfolds over five days. The characters who drive the narrative reveal their stories which happen in a war torn, violent part of the world between 1994 and 2004.

  • Copy of the book is hardcover, new.
  • This giveaway is open INTERNATIONALLY.

To enter: Click here to take survey

BurgessBoysThe Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout (Random House, March 2013) – read my review

Elizabeth Strout’s novel, Olive Kitteridge, won her the Pulitzer Prize for literature. In her latest novel, she once again takes readers to Maine where she examines the cracks that develop within families and communities and the often difficult road to healing and forgiveness after loss and misunderstanding. Strout’s character development is exceptional in this book.

  • Copy of the book is an Advance Readers Edition, gently used.
  • This giveaway is open for US and CANADA mailing addresses.

To enter: Click here to take survey

GardenOfStoneIn The Garden of Stone by Susan Tekulve (Hub City Press, May 2013) – read my review

Susan Tekulve has had many short stories published, and her first novel feels a bit like short stories woven together. This quiet novel about several generations of one family living in Virginia and West Virginia captured the South Carolina First Novel Prize. In The Garden of Stone is deeply rooted in a sense of place and examines the lives of Italian immigrants who came to the United States to stake their roots, raise their families and find work in and around Virginia. Tekulve’s prose includes beautiful descriptions of landscape and celebrates the lives of her characters.

  • Copy of the book is soft cover, gently used.
  • This giveaway is open for US and Canada mailing addresses.

To enter: Click here to take survey


The Plague of Doves – Book Review

In 1911, five members of a family – parents, a teenage girl, and an eight- and a four-year-old boy – were murdered. In the heat of things, a group of men ran down a party of Indians and what occurred was a shameful piece of what was called at the time “rough justice.” – from The Plague of Doves, page 297 –

An unsolved murder from the early part of the twentieth century is the center of Louise Erdrich’s stunning novel The Plague of Doves. Set in the white town of Pluto, on the edge of a reservation in North Dakota, the book introduces multiple characters with blood ties to each other. Many of the characters are of mixed blood: Ojibwe and white. There is the young Evelina Harp and her brother Joseph who grow up on the reservation capturing lizards and listening to the exaggerated stories of their grandfather and his brother. There is Judge Antone Bazil Coutts whose affair with a married woman shadows his life. There is Corwin Peace, a handsome boy with a penchant for illegal activities and a gift for music. Evelina’s grandfather, Mooshum, holds the stories of the past and resists the pull of the Catholic Church; his brother, Shamengwa, is his comedic sidekick whose fiddle playing captivates the community.

Louise Erdrich’s novel unfolds over decades and through the multiple narratives of her complex characters, linking their lives and gradually revealing the mystery of who murdered the family in 1911. Over the course of the story, Erdrich explores forbidden love, family ties and dark secrets. As with all her novels, there is a deep sense of Native American culture, the importance of land, and the convoluted and sorrowful history of native people.

I saw that the loss of their land was lodged inside of them forever. This loss would enter me, too. Over time, I came to know that the sorrow was a thing that each of them covered up according to their character – my old uncle through his passionate discipline, my mother through strict kindness and cleanly order. As for my grandfather he used the patient art of ridicule. – from The Plague of Doves, page 84 –

Erdrich’s writing is lyrical and evokes vibrant imagery. She is a patient writer, one who carefully lays out the story and builds her characters. Spending time in her novels is like taking a journey to another place and time. I have mentioned in other reviews of Erdrich’s work that she is the consummate storyteller – and in The Plague of Doves this is once again apparent. Erdrich’s Pulitzer-nominated novel opens with the murder, then branches off into what at first seems like disparate stories…character studies, if you will. Eventually, Erdrich connects all these threads and returns to the question of who committed the murder of a family all those years before. It is a thrilling, “aha” moment in the novel.

Despite the dark focus of the novel, Erdrich’s sardonic sense of humor which is informed with irony, provides the reader with some lightness. Some of the funniest parts of the book are those which involve the local priest’s visit to Evelina’s grandfather and great uncle who throw back shots of whiskey and tell outrageous stories which inflame the priest.

The Plague of Doves is the third novel I have read by this amazing author. It is a challenging read in many ways with its interwoven stories, and movement back and forth in time. But as with all Erdrich novels, it is intensely satisfying. Patient readers who love symbolism and complexity in their books, will find themselves consumed by The Plague of Doves which has been nominated for such prestigious prizes as the 2009 Pulitzer, the 2010 International IMPAC Dublin Literary award, and the 2009 Dayton Literary Peace Prize.

This is a literary novel not to be missed. Highly recommended.