The Year We Left Home-Midwest Connections

May 17, 2011

The Year We Left Home 

Jean Thompson has been celebrated by critics as “a writer of extraordinary intelligence and sensitivity” (O: The Oprah Magazine) and “one of our most lucid and insightful writers (San Francisco Chronicle). Now, Thompson brings together all her talents to deliver a career-defining novel. The Year We Left Home is a sweeping and emotionally powerful story of a single American family during the tumultuous final decades of the twentieth century, spanning from small-town Iowa to suburban Chicago to the coast of Italy. In a starred review, Booklist says, “Superb. Finely crafted. Thompson’s pithy humor, redolent details, and knowing compassion have never been sharper or more resounding as her characters’ follies and struggles reveal depthless truths about men and women, families and vocations, the lure of away and the gravitational pull of home.”

Jean Thompson is the author of Who Do You Love: Stories, a 1999 National Book Award finalist for fiction, and the novels City Boy andWide Blue Yonder, a New York Times Notable Book and Chicago Tribune Best Fiction selection. She lives in Urbana, Illinois.

Sparrow Road-Midwest Connections

May 16, 2011

Sparrow Road 

It’s the summer before seventh grade, and twelve-year-old Raine O’Rourke’s mother suddenly takes a job hours from home at mysterious Sparrow Road — a creepy, dilapidated mansion that houses an eccentric group of artists. As Raine tries to make sense of her new surroundings, she forges friendships with a cast of quirky characters. But it’s an unexpected secret from Raine’s own life that changes her forever. Collette Morgan of Wild Rumpus in Minneapolis, MN writes, “Sparrow Road has restored my faith in middle grade fiction. A beautiful ode to creativity, kindness, and the power of forgiveness.”

Sheila O’Connor is the award-winning author of three novels. Her poems, stories, and essays have appeared in various anthologies and magazines and her work has been recognized with foundation grants and fellowships. Sheila teaches fiction for Hamline University MFA Program where she also serves as fiction editor for Water-Stone Review.

The Long-Shining Waters-Midwest Connections

May 9, 2011

The Long-Shining Waters 

Lake Superior, the north country, the great fresh-water expanse. Frigid. Bountiful. Lethal. Wildly beautiful. The Long-Shining Waters gives us the stories of women separated by centuries and circumstance, yet connected across time by the place they inhabit. Haunting, rich in historical detail, and universal in its exploration of the human desire for meaning when faced with uncertainty,The Long-Shining Waters is an unforgettable and singular debut. PW says “Sosin writes sensuously detailed prose and distills the emotions of her characters into a profound and universal need for acceptance and love.”

Danielle Sosin is the author of Garden Primitives, a collection of stories (Coffee House Press, 2000). Her fiction has been featured in the Alaska Quarterly Review, and has been recorded for National Public Radio’s Selected Shorts: A Celebration of the Short Story, and Iowa Public Radio’s Live From Prairie Lights. The Long-Shining Waters, her debut novel, was awarded the Milkweed National Fiction Prize. Born in 1959, she lives in Duluth, Minnesota. 

The Coffins of Little Hope-Midwest Connections

May 6, 2011

The Coffins of Little Hope 

Timothy Schaeffert returns with a novel called “sublime” by Publishers WeeklyThe Coffins of Little Hope features his most vivid and endearing character to date, Essie, otherwise known as “S,” an 83-year-old obituary writer for a struggling, small-town newspaper. Touching on the themes of the fragility of childhood, the strength of family, and the powerful rumor mills of small, rural towns — this is a novel you won’t want to miss. Check out the praise sheet below for numerous great review from independent booksellers. In a starred review,PW writes: “It’s small town, big drama in Schaffert’s sublime latest. Piercing observations and sharp, subtle wit make this a standout.”

Timothy Schaffert grew up on a farm in Nebraska and currently lives in Omaha. He’s the author of three previous critically acclaimed novels, including The Phantom Limbs of the Rollow Sisters and The Singing and Dancing Daughters of God. His novels have been a Book Sense Pick, Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection, and a New York Times Editor’s Choice. His writing has won numerous other awards and honors awards, including the Mary Roberts Rinehart Award, the Henfield/Transatlantic Review Award, and the Nebraska Book Award. He currently teaches creative writing and literature at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

If I Stay-Book Review

May 2, 2011

I’m posting another book review from Liz Anderson today.

For the past few weeks, If I Stay and it’s recently published sequel, Where She Went, have been two of the most hyped books in the blogosphere. Every time I mentioned that I hadn’t picked this one up, someone would yell at me to read it right away. If I Stay brought tears to my eyes and has stuck with me.

The plot of If I Stay is told through Mia’s perspective, and the story Forman has created is heart-wrenching. Hands down, characterization is the strongest aspect of this story. Mia shows the reader everything from childhood memories to the immediate aftermath of the accident and her time in the hospital. Forman identifies and describes the emotions and confusion that Mia is feeling so perfectly that my heart couldn’t help but break for her.

Some of the hardest and most enjoyable parts of this book were when Mia’s family and friends came to visit her. It was never easy to watch what they were going through, but their love and concern for Mia was overwhelmingly beautiful and eye-opening, and it was amazing to see how she responded to what them. The scenes with her grandfather and aunt had me particularly misty eyed.

What bothered me about If I Stay was the ending, more specifically the last page. Some of the details are skimmed over, and the ambiguity bothers me somewhat. However, I also can’t see how Forman could have added more details without making things cheesy. I know some reviewers might see where one option is clearly preferable for Mia over the other, making the ending obvious. However, because of a combination of my world views, sympathy for Mia’s pain and indecisiveness, each choice seemed equally valid to me and I cared about what she wanted for herself. I’ve grown more accepting of the ending after flipping through the discussion guide in my edition and having a long chat with Ashley of Books from Bleh to Basically Amazing.

It’s been a long time since a book has evoked the amount of thought and discussion that If I Stay has for me. While I only spent a few short hours reading it, I have been thinking about this story for days afterwards. If I Stay is worth every emotion that comes with reading it and is an absolute must read.

You can purchase your own copy of If I Stay from Monkey See, Monkey Read today!


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