Elevate Difference

Reviews tagged novel

Gladdy’s Wake

It took me a while to really sink my teeth into Gladdy’s Wake. The book weaves in and out of three generations, each tying together through family, hints of religion, and the story of Nawal Habib, a devout Muslim. Nawal (once Janie Kelly) is suspected of terrorism, an act that reunites her with her estranged brother, Frank (now a priest) and hospitalized father, Daniel (a once devout Catholic); both of whom she left to eventually reinvent herself as Nawal Habib. The story runs through Nawal’s family tragedy, her rebellion, the birth of her son, and eventual religious transformation, all the while introducing the reader to her grandfather, James Kelly, a womanizing Irish immigrant interested in fast cash with no real ethical principles, lest it regard his passion: Gladdy Sage.

Arcadia Falls

Meg Rosenthal needs a fresh start after the death of her husband. She gave up her career as an artist when her daughter Sally was born, but when she is left with virtually nothing except for a barely functional car, she finds a job teaching folklore and English at a small boarding school for young artists in upstate New York. Sally, now a teenager and a promising artist herself, is admitted to the Arcadia School where her mother will work.

The Girl With The Glass Feet

I am a bit of a daydreamer, as I imagine we all are. When I read, the same rule applies; while the letters unfurl on the page, the images unwind in my mind, doing as they will, relying on my knowledge of the world. I do not like intrusions into that universe. Ali Shaw is a daydreamer as well; however, his dreams have intruded into my own.

Sub Rosa

The story of Sub Rosa is bizarre, surreal, intensely wonderful, and horrible at the same time. You must read this with an open mind and heart. The story focuses on Little, a runaway girl who is lost in the world and herself, who gets rescued by a "daddy" and whisked away to the land of Sub Rosa, a magical street of Glories and their working families. Glories are sex workers with charms—they all have different magical powers.

Love, Honor, and Betray

Before I started to read it, this book held lots of promise; the cover tells of the author’s previous books being on the New York Times bestseller list. Unfortunately, I had not had the pleasure of reading any other of Kimberla Lawson Roby’s books. Since reading Love, Honor, and Betray, I have come to realize that one of its characters, the Reverend Curtis Black, was at the centre of a series of an eight books by the same author.


By the age of nine, Michelle LeBeau has already taken more than a few knocks. Her mom has disappeared—whereabouts unknown—and her dad has unceremoniously dumped her with his aging parents in tiny Deerhorn, Wisconsin and left town. Michelle is Deerhorn's first biracial resident—half Japanese, half white—and she is not allowed to forget it. Her only friends are a loving spaniel and her grandparents, a charismatic retiree named Charlie, and his dutiful wife, Helen.

Dreaming in French

On the surface, Dreaming in French sounds like the type of book I would love. It’s about a strong-willed girl named Charlotte growing up in Paris during the 1970s until she and her mother are forced to move to New York. I love anything about Paris, especially during the 1970s with its yé-yé girl singers that ruled the charts, inventive fashion, and sexual freedom.

The Summer Without Men

The basic storyline of The Summer Without Men, while not startling or original, seemed full of possibility: husband cheats, wife goes to her childhood home for a respite to recover, and along the way makes potentially hopeful discoveries about herself. I anticipated a bitter beginning, full of hurt feelings, with some healing by the end. However, either the moment of redemption never arrived, or it was obscured by the lack of clarity in the narrative.


Initially, it was the synoptic descriptions of Solo that drew me in. I saw phrases like “enigmatic,” “thought-provoking,” and “demanding,” along with geographical settings such as Berlin, Bulgaria, and New York City. The cover artwork interested me as well. It depicts the white silhouette of a man against a seafoam blue background; he has a cane and his upper body is dissolving into birds.

Give Me Liberty

Give Me Liberty, by Valerie Joan Connors, is terrible. The book reads like someone narrating a Lifetime movie: one-dimensional, wooden, and worst of all, boring. You can guess what is going to happen well before it does, no characters are anything but exactly what you expect them to be, and the writing is pedestrian.

The Autobiography of Jenny X

The Autobiography of Jenny X is amazing. Every time you think you know what is going to happen, author Lisa Dierbeck takes the story in a different, exciting direction.

A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear

Set in Kabul in 1979, A Thousand Rooms of Dream and Fear is a surreal and beautiful account of the experiences of a young man who wakes up in the home of a widow following an altercation with checkpoint guards. Almost poetic in its descriptions, one sees the story develop through the cloudy and confused eyes of Farhad.

Luka and the Fire of Life

The world according to Salman Rushdie post-fatwa is a very bad place. If his books from this era are anything to go by, most people are judgmental, small-minded, and intolerant. In this book, and its prequel Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Rushdie is passing that same worldview on to his sons. Buried under verbal twists and turns and puns and slapstick, Luka and the Fire of Life is about a boy undertaking a quest through a mythical world (created, it seems, by his father’s stories) to save his father’s life. He braves great challenges and finds courage he did not know he had. Ostensibly, Luka is on a quest to find his own voice, but the voice he actually finds his father’s.

Old Photographs

Old Photographs by Sherie Posesorski is the story of Phoebe Hecht, a teenage girl who is struggling through most boring summer of her life. Originally from the small town of Barrie, Phoebe moved to Toronto about a year ago when her mother married Greg, a very rich, very serious doctor. While her mother is excited about all the changes in their life, Phoebe is less than thrilled.

Tales from the Yoga Studio

Tales from the Yoga Studio is, in many ways, the typical story of White women who discover Eastern philosophy (in this case, yoga) and learn how to breathe deeply. Though the women weren’t all from White, upper class society (there was a token Latina and some women who couldn’t afford the yoga class), it essentially contains the trials and tribulations of upper class Angelenos: Which yoga studio to go to today? What to wear to yoga class?

The Way It Is

Donalda Reid is gutsy to take on heavy racial undertones in her first novel They Way It Is. The story is historical fiction; although, aside from the creation of the main characters, this young adult book is more history than fiction.

My Sister Chaos

A woman leaves her country at the last minute, as a refugee in a civil war. She and her sister leave together and seek asylum in a new country where they will continue their lives. Laura Fergus’s wonderful first novel takes up the story of this woman (I) and her sister (the sister). We do not learn the sisters’ names. We do learn that they are twins and that they are no longer very young.


Brittany: I’m one of those lit geeks who has long loved Jonathan Franzen. I read How To Be Alone on a solo trip to Japan when I was twenty, and it particularly spoke to me as an introverted writer. The better part of a decade later, I’m still so infatuated with that particular collection—though I’ve also read Franzen’s three previous novels, memoir, numerous pieces in The New Yorker, and his longtime partner Kathryn Chetkovich’s Granta essay “Envy” before it was so publicly associated with Franzen—that it was no stretch to know I’d like Freedom. I’ve also read a lot about Franzen’s process as a writer, and frankly, it seems few people have the commitment to churn out the type of work he produces. That doesn’t mean I think it’s above critique; it’s just that I admire his work ethic and generally, the end result.


Warren Spooner is an underachiever in a remarkable family. As a child, he sneaks around town peeing in people’s shoes and watching things burn in the city incinerator. As an adult, he first becomes a major league baseball player and then a writer, seemingly destined for early demise as he eagerly enters into questionable situations with his boxer pal Stanley Faint. After a string of surgeries, he has enough metal in his body to warrant concern about the weight of his coffin when he eventually dies. There has never been a lovable black sheep quite like Spooner.

The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

Heidi W. Durrow’s novel swirls out from and obsessively around the moment when a mother and her three children fall from the rooftop of a Chicago building. The narration crystalizes around this striking event, with multiple narrators adding their points of view to the interpretation of the mystery surrounding the plunge. Rachel, the sole survivor, struggles to adjust to the losses and changed that characterize her life after the fall.

Queen Hereafter: A Novel of Margaret of Scotland

In days of yore, the bards were a respected and integral part of the English and Scottish courts because of their ability to recount tales of recent and past glories through their gift for musical storytelling. In Queen Hereafter, Susan Fraser King tells the grand and sweeping story of a young English princess who found refuge alongside her family—including her brother the rebel prince Edgar who was fighting for the crown of England—under the protection of Warrior-King Malcolm Canmore of Scotland. Princess Margaret was pious, willful, educated, and raised to be a queen, but wanted nothing more than to become a nun and worship God in a monastery. However, this was not to be her fate.

The Memory of Love

The Memory of Love is a slow and beautiful book. I'm not the biggest fan of art that proceeds at such a deliberate pace, but this is definitely at the top of the heap for such books; the descriptions are lovely and precise, every detail picked out with absolute care. I loved the representations of African life, which felt honest and authentic.

Redemption In Indigo

Karen Lord hails from Barbados, and her novel, Redemption in Indigo, is inspired by African folklore. I was born in Africa, and raised on similar stories—the trickster spider Anansi is only the beginning of this genre.

The Keening

A. LaFaye’s The Keening is one part poem, and one part novel. Though the narrative is strong, it is the layered, considered language, and the dance with fantasy that make this novel something special. Both a modern-day ghost story and young adult novel, the book is complex, something that can’t be tied to just one genre. This book’s protagonist, Lyza, lives with her father on the fringe of a Maine fishing village.


One thing to know about Platinum is that it’s about women in the hip-hop industry—several types of women. To narrow it down, there are four voices compiling the novel, each one narrating a different perspective of the industry, each one fulfilling a particular role. There’s the rapper’s devoted wife who turns a blind eye and tolerates STDs due to his infidelities.

Gay Bar: The Fabulous, True Story of a Daring Woman and Her Boys in the 1950s

Will Fellows has uncovered a gem with Gay Bar, a re-issue of the 1957 novel by Helen Branson. The original memoir, typed up on an old Polish typewriter, tells the tale of the gay establishment she operated in 1950s Los Angeles. The story revolves heavily around her clientele, a group of businessmen and entrepreneurs whom she affectionately refers to as “her boys.”

World and Town

It is really tough to review Gish Jen’s World and Town. The novel is, on the one hand, drawn through an interesting narrative focalizer who often takes on the “wordspeak” of the characters that the narrator observes the representational terrain through. So when the narrative is concentrating on the Cambodian American teenager Sophy, we have the narrator constantly employing words such as like and whatever. Typical teenspeak, we might say. On the other hand, the novel has an exceedingly complex and varied topography in terms of its character webs, where Hattie Kong, one of the ostensible protagonists, is looking after a new family that has moved to the area, a small town in the New England area known as Riverlake (somewhat reminiscent of the continuing movement of ethnic minority populations to such towns as Lowell, MA).

The Singer’s Gun

Emily St. John Mandel’s book The Singer’s Gun sounds like a paperback thriller, but in a pleasant surprise, delights the reader with a still and quiet prose and a keen eye for the details that uncover the interconnectedness of all our lives. Beautiful images of ancient trees and Mediterranean utopias find a home with New York’s summer heat and the sticky lives of its characters.


Sometimes there is so much heavy reading material to get through, that what you really need is a short, light, fun book, and Beachcombers is just that. The novel centers on three sisters and their father and what they learn about themselves and each other in that time. Their mother died when they were young and the oldest sister, Abbie, took some of the burden of raising her younger sisters because her father was dealing with his grief.

Literary Readings: Nicole Krauss and Cynthia Ozick (11/8/2010)

During a recent reading of their works at the 92nd Street Y, Nicole Krauss and Cynthia Ozick proved as charming and witty in person as their words are on the page. Stepping up to the podium to read from their latest works, the authors were self-effacing, deferential, and clever. The event, which featured brief introductions to the authors, readings of excerpts from their latest works, and a short Q&A segment, proved an insightful examination of the writing process.