Thursday, July 21, 2011


It's a deceptive little book.  Not too thick; it's compact and fits easily into your bag.  Just pull it out while you wait at the car wash or in the subway.  Something to pass the time.  

But that's what it wants you to think.

Soon you will be swept away into dimensions where a TV set can write an opera, a man and a moose are good friends, and an octopus is named Harley.  Also, Harley likes to drink tea.  Yet it makes sense.  None of it is as fantastical as it sounds.  Author Ben Loory's tone and style are so matter-of-fact that the reader hardly blinks.  The stories are so darn sure of themselves that the reader doesn't bother to question it.  

Author Loory, as enigmatic as his stories.
Loory has a few outings under his belt -- he's already appeared in The New Yorker, The Antioch Review,  Danse Macabre and dozens of others.  But something that sets these tales apart is a sense that they belong together.  Their style is simple and less wordy than previous stories.  Not that his writing is flowery by any means, but Stories... is different.  The characters don't have names (well, except for the octopi, of course). They have little if any physical description.  They are only important as puppets or stick figures in a diorama. 

Author, screenwriter and host Rod Serling. 

They are generally unwitting pawns to a skewed universe. In fact, his stories are more like fables.  And many of them are very short - just a page or two.  But there is a mysterious world packed into those few words.  And like an episode of the classic Twilight Zone, a meaningful change of perspective that gives new context to the story just when it seems you have figured it out.  Yet there is no thin layer of American cheese that seems to appear in many of Serling's episodes.  Loory's tales are clear and simple.  And yet neither simple nor clear-cut.

Did I mention it is deceptive?


Thank you to Lindsay and the folks at Penguin for the review copy.  This book is also a featured title in a series of original fiction called Penguin Makes Paperbacks.

ISBN 9780143119500 | 224 pages | 26 Jul 2011 | Penguin | 8.26 x 5.23in | 18 - AND UP 

Thursday, July 14, 2011


Who says you forget everything you learned in school?  Admittedly, some details are clearer than others.  I graduated from college nearly (gulp) ten years ago already and I still lapse into German when I am tired.  And English is my first language.  For some reason, the language stuck with me -- as did the bizarre fables and fairy tales we translated in class.

To this day, one of the most unnerving and unusual is "Die Wassernixe", or "The Water Sprite."  In short, a brother and a sister are playing near a well (or fountain, depending on the version) and fall in.  They are captured by the lazy-but-not-that-evil nymph who lives there.  She makes them do her chores, which include carrying water in a bucket with a hole in it (it's not clear why, since she lives underwater).  One day, when the Wassernixe goes to church (yes! she goes to church!), the kids try to make their escape.  She goes after them so to slow her down the girl throws a hairbrush over her shoulder, which promptly turns into a mountain of bristles.  This only causes a minor delay so the brother then does the same with his comb, with similar results.  Finally, the sister throws her mirror, which turns into a great mountain of glass, too slippery for the Sprite.  

Don't believe me?  Read it here, in several languages.  The Grimms were normally good about making the moral of the story clear, but even now, and as a literature major, I'm still not sure about this one.  Always carry grooming supplies?  Don't play near fountains?  Wait until your captor goes to church?

The Brothers Grimm

Anyway, the point of my lengthy tangent, is that I was so wonderfully reminded of my German lessons, and of Die Wassernixe with Helen Grant's debut novel.  The story takes place in Bad Munstereifel (a real place) in the mid-1990s.  Told from the first-person point-of-view of a spunky eleven-year-old, Pia, it centers around the strange disappearance of the little Linden girl.  And the connection?  She was last seen playing by the fountain in the town square.  From then on, water, wells, underground rivers and dampness will become a leitmotif for the book. 

As she and her friend Stefan search for clues, avoid stifling adults, and execute daring plans, one is reminded of carefree, adventurous summers -- with a less frightening quest, perhaps.  Still, her narrative is refreshing and raw at the same time.  Childhood convictions are shattered and the reader remembers the pain of losing naivete.  It is as much about growing up as it is about solving a mystery.  The weird world of adulthood is much more mysterious.

Resort and spa town of Bad Munstereifel. ("Bad" means "bath.")
Pia is far from perfect -- she is still learning, after all -- but she is extraordinarily heartfelt and endearing.  She is a reminder to speak up when it is important, and go your own way if no one listens.  They'll catch up.


Thank you to the folks at Bantam / Random House for the review copy.

Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: Bantam (April 26, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 038534418X
ISBN-13: 978-0385344180

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

BOOK PHOTO: THE LANTERN by Deborah Lawrenson

From The Lantern

"At a stone hut, which must once have been a shepherd's borie, I was directed to a field about a kilometer away.  I arrived to find a field of hunched backs, the blue rows reverting to dusty green behind the women curled over like commas, cloth bags slung across their bodies."


"It was an old-fashioned lantern... the kind of lantern that had been used for a hundred years, perhaps by a night watchman dangling it by its loop on a hook at the end of a pole." 

My review will be posted August 2.
This book will be available from HarperCollins on August 9th. 

Thursday, July 7, 2011

BOOK PHOTO: Stories for the Nighttime And Some For the Day

Here is a preview of my next book review.
The review will be posted on July 21. 


From The Tv: "One day the man wakes up and finds that he does not feel like going to work.  He is not sick, exactly; he just doesn’t feel like going to work.  He calls the office and makes an excuse, then he pours himself a bowl of cereal and sits down in front of the television."