I loved Undiscovered Country, Lin Enger’s brilliant, modernized retelling of Hamlet, so I’m excited to begin reading his new novel, The High Divide. Enger again revamps a classic tale into a gritty Western story, this time with a post-Civil War version of The Odyssey.
Rainbow Rowell has quickly become one of my favorite authors. I enjoyed Rowell’s first two novels so much that, upon finishing Fangirl, I immediately dove headfirst into her spectacular third book, Landline.
Star-crossed lovers, love triangles, long distance phone calls, quirky time travel, marital problems, crazy relatives, happy endings, second chances and a plethora of pop culture references….Landline is a love story of Nora Ephron proportions.
Granted, this story of an old yellow rotary phone that literally connects a woman to her past is speckled with plotholes.
Nonetheless, it culls the best elements from classic romantic comedies like Sleepless in Seattle and time travel rom-coms like The Family Man, Big and 13 Going on 30. And it’s all wrapped up in Rowell’s distinctively endearing voice.
If ever a book needed to be made into a movie, it’s Landline.
I just finished reading Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and it’s been a long time since I’ve enjoyed a work of contemporary fiction so much.
Much like Rowell’s widely beloved previous novel, Eleanor & Park, Fangirl is an easy but well written and extraordinarily empathetic YA book. Fangirl tells a lighter story than the emotionally wrought Eleanor & Park, which made for a happier albeit less captivating read. But the strength of both books is their authentic, relatable characters.
Fangirl is a love letter to fanfiction writers, replete with excerpts from its own Harry Potter-inspired fic and frequent Twilight references. Yet more endearing are protagonist Cath’s geeky angst, her dysfunctional family (comprised of a rebellious twin sister, absent mother and bipolar father) and her Felicity-like freshman year of college.
I appreciate that Rowell’s heroines remain uncompromisingly independent despite their glaring insecurities and only fall for good guys who treat them with kindness and respect – a far cry from the unhealthy and often dangerous relationships portrayed in other popular YA series.
Rainbow Rowell’s novels expertly capture the awkwardness and blatantly emotional sincerity of teens in a heartfelt, deceptively simple way reminiscent of John Hughes movies. I hope Hollywood starts making movies based on her books, the world needs more of her kind of fiction.
Ted Galdi’s debut novel, Elixir, is a fast-paced cyber thriller with echoes of Michael Crichton and Outbreak. The protagonist is a mathematical whiz kid who gets caught up in a bizarre tale of international intrigue, cyber terrorism and Ebola.
Plagued by his past as a child genius on Jeopardy, Sean Malone struggles to fit in as an extraordinarily brilliant college student. The character is written like a modern, dysfunctional Doogie Howser…or a more upbeat, immature Jason Bourne.
When Sean innocently creates an algorithm to solve the infamously unsolvable “Traveling Salesman Problem” as a class assignment, he draws the attention of the NSA and eventually the animosity of government agents. As Sean embraces his status as a cyber renegade, it’s not a great leap to compare him to Edward Snowden. But the drama doesn’t stop there.
When his girlfriend becomes infected with Ebola, Sean races to concoct a cure for the deadly disease and subsequently finds himself the target of a powerful pharmaceutical company’s hit man.
Such a plot may have seemed laughably far-fetched just a few months ago, but reading this novel as the worst Ebola outbreak in history unfolded was an eerie experience.
While I usually prefer a more literary writing style and the hit man storyline was one too many jumped sharks for me, Elixir is pleasantly reminiscent of the mass market paperback thrillers I loved to devour in the 1990s. And it’s just waiting to be adapted for the big screen.
For over a decade, Said the Gramophone has been one of the seminal music blogs and the most well written thanks to the distinctively eloquent prose of founder Sean Michaels. Though I’d been sharing music on Muruch a few years before Said the Gramophone was created, its literary presence in the then burgeoning mp3 blog scene certainly influenced my own approach to writing about music. Subsequently, I’ve rarely felt such excitement, sisterly pride and faith-like confidence in a book’s potential to entertain and inspire as I did turning the first page of Sean’s debut novel, Us Conductors.
“The sound of the theremin is simply pure electric current. It is the chanting of lightning as it hides in its cloud. The song never strains or falters; it persists, stays, keeps, lasts, lingers. It will never abandon you.
In that regard, it is better than any of us.”
Us Conductors is an extraordinary work of historical fiction that is equal parts love story and spy novel – and all about the theremin. The tale encompasses the unusual life story of the instrument’s Russian inventor, Léon Theremin, particularly his romance with the theremin’s most famous player, Clara Rockmore, as well as a whole lotta Stalin-era international intrigue.
Sean portrays Léon Theremin as the Steve Jobs of the early 20th century with his innovative inventions, motivational speeches about bringing cutting edge technology to the common man and his ongoing battle to maintain creative control amidst greedy corporations and sinister political agencies, both American and Soviet.
Yes, I imagined a theremin in every home; not just the billions of new songs that would sing out, but the realization of millions of Americans, Englishmen, Spaniards, Siamese: If we can do this, what else can we free people accomplish?”
I read the first half of the book during a recent vacation, happy to discover it was the perfect book for a perfect beach day. I fell into the novel’s poetic description of Léon and Clara’s budding romance with seagulls flying elegant circles in the clear blue sky above me, the sun glistening gold on the sea beside me and Allison Crowe singing “Hallelujah” into my ears.
The sweet, old-fashioned courtship of the protagonist scientist and his beloved muse often brought to my mind one of my favorite poems, “Recuerdo” by Edna St. Vincent Milay.
For dessert you ordered a chocolate parfait. I ordered a cup of coffee. I drank it sweet, with two small spoonfuls of sugar. Someone was playing records, one after another. They all sounded like love songs. You hid your grin as you scraped mousse from the bottom of the parfait glass.”
Unfortunately, my return home was accompanied by the novel’s Kafkaesque second half. It was a drastic change in tone, though the quality of Sean’s writing remained steady throughout. I suppose history left Sean little room for creative license. The sorrow and disillusionment that plagued the novel’s final pages ultimately overshadowed the pure joy of its exquisite beginning. Nevertheless, I hope this was just the first of many Sean Michaels novels to come.
You can hear music, both classic and modern, that inspired the novel at Sean’s Official Site and here’s a video of an aged Clara Rockmore herself playing theremin on Saint-Saëns’ “The Swan,” a piece frequently mentioned in the book…