August 7, 2017

Paula Bonnell’s New Book of Poetry, Reviewed by Simran P. Gupta

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Paula Bonnell’s New Book of Poetry, Reviewed by Simran P. Gupta

Editor’s Note: Paula Bonnell enthralled us with her poetry two years ago here at the Café. Now Paula has written and published a new chapbook of her poetry entitled “Tales Retold,” which Simran, our poetry barista, reviews here. Paula Bonnell’s chapbook, “Tales Retold,” can be summed up as a masterpiece of words. Bonnell’s poetry demanded (and received) my full attention, with varying tone, emotion, and clever word choice. With each re-read, a new level of understanding was achieved and a new connection was made. This is not to make the poems in “Tales Retold” out to be puzzles waiting to be solved; that depends on the reader’s interpretation. It does, however, mean that anyone reading Bonnell’s poetry will never be bored, as something new awaits at each level of engagement. Before writing this review, I read…

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July 25, 2017

Understanding Reading Biases and My Mission to Fix Them

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Understanding Reading Biases and My Mission to Fix Them

I still have all my summer reading lists from high school. The eternal optimist in me thought that someday I’d run down that list and read each one. Years later, I still haven’t read more than a few of those books, but that collection spawned a very important way of thinking for me. As a student, I treated these reading lists like they were the word of God – that to be a writer or English major in college, these were the texts I should be reading. Still, there was a quietly blasphemous part of me that questioned that belief and as I grew older, I realized that even these holy lists were imperfect. Fast forward to last year, when I was studying my Goodreads “to read” and “previously read” lists. I noticed biases reflected…

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December 20, 2016

Book Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

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Book Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

My feelings about this novel were like the swells of the sea. At times, I loved the magical realism and the character interweaving, while at other times it was disjointed and irreverent, as the biographical information dragged on for pages with nothing really happening, like a the conversation you wish you hadn’t started with the stranger at the bus stop. The last 30 pages or so are where this book earned its rating for me. This was the ultimate “wait for it…” book. The culmination of everything that happened, the justification of the need for so many frustratingly confusing characters and the symbolic meaning of so much of the book all came together at the end. I didn’t truly *get* the novel until then and when I did, it had a big pay off. I…

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November 28, 2016

Book Review: “Barkskins” by Annie Proulx

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Book Review: “Barkskins” by Annie Proulx

From The Shipping News to Accordion Crimes to “Brokeback Mountain,” Annie Proulx hasn’t written a novel or short story I didn’t enjoy. Proulx is a storyteller with a great depth of understanding for not just people, but environments both physical and emotional. One of my particular favorites is “On the Antler” from Heart Songs and Other Stories. It’s the story of a feud between two emotionally primitive men who live in the woods and have few means of expression, but seek revenge upon each other for crimes both real and imagined. A novel which lingers in my thoughts for its engaging thematic thread is Accordion Crimes. The musical instrument travels from hand to hand, place to place over a century, sometimes in danger and sometimes cherished, but never revealing its secret. Although Proulx’s works linger…

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October 26, 2016

Is “The Death of Books” Eminent? Nope!

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Is “The Death of Books” Eminent? Nope!

We often hear that people aren’t reading much these days. Is the death of books eminent? New research by the Pew Center points out that people are still reading paperback and even hardcover books – in fact, often preferring them to e-books. It startled me into recalling a conference I attended while still a book editor in publishing – I seem to recall 1981 as the year – entitled “The Death of Books.” Hah. People read books and e-books. More people are listening to audiobooks. We have many more choices in how we consume the stories between book covers, even as we discover more and more sophisticated ways to acquire information. Here’s an interesting article about how reading real books is still pervasive. And here’s another about the growing interest in audiobooks, which is why we podcast for…

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October 18, 2016

When Trouble Is Truly Worth It: Two YA Book Reviews

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When Trouble Is Truly Worth It: Two YA Book Reviews

Note: We welcome contributor Simran P. Gupta back to the Café with reviews of two new young adult [YA] novels. She’s not only a thoughtful literary critic and skilled essayist, but she’s opening an avenue into a literary genre which we haven’t given the attention it deserves. When Trouble Is Truly Worth It: Two Essential YA Novels To Help Ring in the School Year By Simran P. Gupta             The title of YA novelist Tony Wallach’s second book, Thanks for the Trouble, may have a sarcastic echo to it upon a first read. Upon reading the book, however, a wry and heartfelt tone emerges. The “trouble,” after all, is what forces the development of protagonist Parker Santé. Wallach’s story starts out as an enigma, through sullen, introverted Parker’s POV. A mute who prefers to spend…

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September 16, 2016

Podcast: “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis, Episode 2

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Podcast: “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis, Episode 2

Here we continue our September podcast of the Amazon/Audible audiobook, “It Can’t Happen Here,” with thanks to Amazon, Blackstone Audio, Inc. and the excellent narration by Grover Gardner. In this segment we see how Senator “Buzz” Windrip insidiously works toward becoming president from the perspective of Doremus Jessup, editor of a small-town Vermont newspaper. In case you missed last Friday’s first episode, it’s here. If you have any concerns about the sentiment of the American people or their feelings about the current presidential candidates, you owe it to yourself to listen to, or read, this novel. The Audiobooks version is available here on Amazon for a very reasonable price, or free if you take a one-month subscription.

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September 14, 2016

When Ghosts of the City’s Past Linger: A Review of “The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen,” by Simran P. Gupta

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When Ghosts of the City’s Past Linger: A Review of “The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen,” by Simran P. Gupta

Editor’s Note: With this book review, we take great pleasure in introducing Simran P. Gupta, a new and talented contributor to Fictional Café. Learn more about Simran at the end of her review. We hope to be seeing a lot more of her writing here at the Café! When Ghosts of the City’s Past Linger: A Review of “The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen,” by Simran P. Gupta Katherine Howe’s YA novel, The Appearance of Annie Van Sinderen, is a perfect combination of spooky and romantic. The result is an equally enthralling and chilling story. Perhaps most impressive is the fact that Howe has written a love story in which one half of the equation is a ghost– yet she never says the word. As summer eases into autumn, this is a perfect book to…

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September 9, 2016

Podcast: “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis, First Episode

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Podcast: “It Can’t Happen Here” by Sinclair Lewis, First Episode

In 1935, a well regarded novelist named Sinclair Lewis published a book entitled It Can’t Happen Here.  The story concerns a senator who is perceived as a man of, for and by the people. But when elected president, he reveals himself as a dictator and turns the United States into a totalitarian police state. This is a story which, 81 years later, still makes Americans cringe. Yet as we look toward the 2016 presidential elections, it’s hard to escape the fact that the Republican candidate frequently rings this bell. For further evidence of this view, read this op-ed from the Boston Globe by Joan Wickersham, “An eerily familiar fiction.” Once a stage play, the novel was never made into a movie. Fortunately, it was made into an Audible Audiobook, which we are excerpting here with…

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August 11, 2016

Book Review: “Secrets Can’t Be Kept Forever” by Stephen Seitz

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Book Review: “Secrets Can’t Be Kept Forever” by Stephen Seitz

I recently attended “Bookstock 2016,” the Woodstock, Vermont, annual book festival. Many of us authors had our published works on display, for sale, and it was there I met author Stephen Seitz and his wife Susan. He’s written quite a few novels in the mystery genre and as we talked I became more interested in reading his work. I bought this one, Secrets Can’t Be Kept Forever, in paperback. The story begins innocently enough, focusing on the trials and tribulations of Ace Herron, the crime reporter for a small local newspaper that’s been bought by a media conglomerate. In the course of his work he learns of a father who has embezzled a large sum from his employer, kidnapped his son, and taken off for parts unknown. Ace pursues the story, which takes many surprising twists…

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