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“Underground Airlines” by Ben H. Winters

undergroundairlinesWith current headlines of NFL players kneeling for the national anthem and the continued momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement, we in this country are confronted with old wounds from slavery that are far from healed. In Underground Airlines, Ben Winters paints a picture of modern America the same as it is today, save for one detail: slavery is legal in four states. In the history leading up to his story, Lincoln was shot before his inauguration and the Civil War never happened. To solve the dispute over slavery, a treaty was entered that allowed four Southern states to uphold the institution of forced servitude or, as it is euphemistically called, “People Bound by Labor.” They had the practice baked into the Constitution – forever protected. And, the slaves of the 21st century get an upgrade: they are corporate property, with the logos of the corporations branded onto their skin, marking their ownership.

The main character, Victor, is a bounty hunter who tracks fugitives for the United States Marshals Service. The people he’s chasing are escaped slaves. He has a complicated past: he also was an escaped slave who, when caught, was given the Faustian deal to exchange his soul for his freedom. The book reads like a noir mystery detective thriller. Victor is a cynical, private loner who reports his daily progress by telephone to a shadowy, yet ever-looming Mr. Bridge whom he has never met. Victor, who uses being black and a prior slave to his benefit, turns out to be a pro at his job – he has racked up more than 200 captures. On the current case, he infiltrates an abolitionist movement called the Underground Airlines, but something about the case-file details seem off. The further he delves, the more irregularities he uncovers and the less he can trust the stakeholders around him. The case gets under his skin and starts to chip away at the thin veneer of indifference Victor has built up to shield himself from his conscience. He soon is haunted by visions of his youth in a Carolina slaughterhouse plantation along with the ghosts of the many run-aways he helped the Feds to catch. Mr. Bridge makes it known that his freedom depends on continuing to perform his duties – and a tracking device implanted in his spine makes the idea of escape impossible.

According to Ben Winters, in the Fall of 2013 he was searching for his next project. He kept thinking about Trayvon Martin, the black teenager who was fatally shot in Florida by George Zimmerman and other incidents of police violence against African-Americans. “Our country is still dealing with the legacy of slavery,” Mr. Winters said. “As I researched the subject, I realized I wanted to take this figurative idea that slavery is still with us, and make it literal.”

The novel was a finalist for the 2017 Chautauqua Prize, the 2017 Southern Book Prize, the 2017 International Thriller Award, and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award for Best Science Fiction Novel of the Year. The book won the 2016 Sidewise Award for Alternate History.

Winters has written the pilot script for a television adaptation in the works.
Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, October 2. Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, October 4 to discuss Underground Airlines at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome. The Club meets monthly all year long. Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.

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“The Book That Matters Most” by Ann Hood

bookthatmattersmost

Ava is shocked to discover a text on the phone of her husband of 25 years that leads to his confession that he is in love with his mistress and is leaving. Their two adult children live overseas. A close friend invites Ava to join her book club and out of desperation for human contact and love of reading, Ava accepts. This book club creates a theme each year about which members select a book. The theme for the current year is “The Book That Matters Most” – a book that has had the most profound effect on your life. The members go around the circle and announce their picks: Pride and Prejudice, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Great Gatsby, To Kill a Mockingbird, and others – all well-known, predictable classics. Now its Ava’s turn, she realizes that most of her reading is escapist – she picks books that purposely don’t matter. The only book she could honestly say meant something is a book from her childhood: From Clare to Here. It was a book she read over and over as therapy for the major traumas in her life: the accidental death of her sister Lily and her mother’s suicide a year later.

As a break from the heavy topics of grief and loss, there is some humor – for instance, when Ava, instead of bothering to read Pride and Prejudice, guiltily watches the movie version with Keira Knightley and tries to make weighty comments at the book club and gets caught when the group points out that the what happens in the movie is different from the book. Another instance of levity is her short-lived clumsy affair with a much younger man from the book club.

 

 

The book Ava selected is out of print and unavailable. Ava’s mission to find the book and its enigmatic author takes her on a quest that proves to the be main plot line as it unravels the secrets of her past.

Alternating with Ava’s story is that of her troubled daughter Maggie, who (without telling her parents) drops out of an art history program in Florence and follows a boy to Paris. She develops a taste for drinks and drugs and ends up in a destructive relationship with an older man. The details and desperation depicted by Maggie’s addiction seems excruciatingly true to life. Her will to escape and struggle to start over leads her to find work and create a relationship with a renowned bookstore owner. As promoted in a travel guide to Paris: “Don’t miss Ganymede’s Books, a quirky cluttered bookshop in the hip Marais section. The American owner, who goes simply by Madame, is a mercurial dragon who opens and closes the shop at her whim. Ask her a question and she’s just as likely to bite you as help you. But that’s part of the fun. And her eclectic selection of books is worth the trip.”

The denouement pushes the envelope of plausibility, but would make a great ending to a movie of the “chick flick” genre – just a bit too neatly and spontaneously tied up.

Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 5. Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, September 6 to discuss The Book That Matters Most at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome. The Club meets monthly all year long. Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.

 

 

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“Spill Simmer Falter Wither” by Sara Baume

spillsimmerSpill Simmer Falter Wither, set in a small seaside town in Ireland, is the story of two outcasts: a socially misfit man and a one-eyed dog, who find — and bring comfort to — each other. The title is a descriptive word play on the four seasons during which the story takes place, and it sets the novel’s sad tone.

The book opens with a dog’s perspective: running wild, his left eye dangling from “some gristly tether.” And then we are inside the head of a man, peering in the window of a junk shop, noticing an ad from the local shelter seeking a compassionate and tolerant owner. The narrator, Ray, describes himself as a hulking man who lives alone in his recently deceased father’s house. He proceeds to describe his world and tell his story in first person present to the dog he adopts and names “One Eye.”

Author Sara Baume grew up wanting to be an artist, she studied art in college, and worked in an art gallery.  It was when she started writing about art that she realized that writing came easily to her and was favorably recognized by others.  And “Spill Simmer Falter Wither”, her first novel, is a work of art.  Baume combines literature, music, and art in her writing.     The sentences are meticulously and poetically crafted to evoke a certain lyrical musicality – a rhythm and sustaining cadence.  Ray’s descriptions of his surroundings are like painting a still life in real time.  Here is a simple, yet beautiful description of One Eye’s dish: “[n]ow the food bowl is the epicenter, to which the house is attached and everything beyond radiates from, like sun beams, like stingers of winged and boneless sharks…”

Ray’s outer self is gruff, disheveled, and anti-social, while his inner self is intellectual, compassionate, and sensitive.  His house is full of stacks of books that he has spent his insular life reading.  He notices everything from details about his surroundings to being curious about the motivations and thoughts of his dog and other people.

The story doesn’t have much of a plot, save for a dog fight that forces Ray and One Eye to flee town and embark on an aimless road trip and a slow unraveling of Ray’s history – how he was raised and how that affected him.  The book seems to ask the question – what is a life?  Is it outer focused: your achievements, the length and substance of your obituary, how others perceive you? Or is it inner focused and more existential: what goes on in your head, what you notice and pay attention to?

If you like gripping plot-based page-turners, this book is probably not for you.  However, if you enjoy beautifully crafted sentences, a journey for a while inside someone else’s head and the healing companionship of a dog – I highly recommend this book.

Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, August 7.  Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, August 2 to discuss Spill Simmer Falter Wither at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome. The Club meets monthly all year long.  Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.

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“Fante Bukowski TWO” by Noah Van Sciver

Fante-Bukowski-COVERIndieBound BOOKNOOK Staff Pick

Fante Bukowski TWO by noah van sciver

Review by A.K.

“Success is how high you bounce when you hit bottom.”-George S. Patton

“Fante Bukowski is an up and coming literary star. His work has been featured in the FIRE WATER JOURNAL. You would be blessed to meet him.”-Author Bio Found on Back Of His Zine, 6 Poems

The author of the sequel to FANTE BUKOWSKI ONE has created something special here. An updated pseudo prototype of Charles Bukowski’s fictional character found in his novels such as POST OFFICE and FACTOTUM, has influenced the make-up of the protagonist of Fante. The physical book itself, as a product, looks like it was published by Black Sparrow Press, the publisher of the real Bukowski, with its thick pages and cardboard cover, and could be placed in multiple sections of the bookstore. It’s part graphic novel, literary scene critique, but mostly, it’s simply a comedic (often tragic) story of a writer who’s not very good at writing rubbing-up against other mainstream authors,  and then somehow finding out that they share common interests in the sleazy alleys of downtown Columbus Ohio. Fante Bukowski believes he is the most brilliant American writer of his generation. But he just can’t catch a break. He’s living in a motel after running away from his life in Denver, and to make things worse, his parents have turned off his credit cards. The plot of the graphic novel follows three characters, and eventually brings them together, with some lude twists printed on every single page of this one hundred and twenty-page Moby Dick of a stylized masterpiece. Other Than Fante, you have Noah Van Sciver,“a major cartoonist”, and Audrey Catron, an old fling of Fante’s who recently became a household name with her novel. Audrey is on a national tour, and she’s meeting with agents and Hollywood executives and New York Times literary reporters, and so on. These three have their own narratives in-between the struggle of the hero, Fante Bukowski. Call it whatever you want, But FANTE BUKOWSKI TWO is one of the best books of this or of any year a book has been released. It is a testament to the trials and tribulations of an artist living their life, trying to get their stolen coat back from junkies, all while trying to sell their zine to new age poets who no longer believe in the two eternal friends of the writer, cigarettes and alcohol. It’s a book about finding the best dive bar in town and so much more. Fante Bukowski is truly the second coming. (Please note: Both the book and the review of this book use the same laugh track.)

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“Pond” by Claire Louise Bennett

pondStaff Indiebound pick – A.K. Mini Review:

“Enforced remembrance is, I think, a most stultifying thing.”

Bennett has control over the English language that would make one think this is the work of a much older writer. Her prose style has been described as elegant, ardent, eccentric and obsessive compulsive, which isn’t a bad thing, and in Pond we have a writer who loves to write about the inner thinking of the human mind trapped in a society.  A woman recently removed from the university begins a sorta fresh start in a small village on the coast. She talks about the past but as the narrative develops she’s more concerned with talking about the shadows and the sounds under a tree as she winks and then naps. Whole pages and paragraphs devoted to eating bananas with coffee and the growth of potato plants and a theory of an organized life found in Spanish Oranges. Pond reminds me of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and the confessional narrative found in Albert Camus’s The Fall; throw in some absurd comedy and the fondness of watching plants grow on your windowsill, and you have one of the best books released this year. It’s about the big day and being able to find innocent adventures in adult life in a world covered in signs saying pretty much how everything can kill you. It is a novel about wanting a bike that can go up hills…

“I had a bike but I needed a new one, a different one, one with gears, one that could go up hills, one that could go up hills and carry shopping, one that felt sturdy and safe at night along roads where there is no light, one that could go up hills.”


Andrew H. Kuharevicz

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“The Drummond Girls” by Mardi Jo Link

drummondgirlsA tribute to the power of friendship, The Drummond Girls tells the story of a fiercely tight bond of eight women forged and strengthened over two decades on the wild frontier of Drummond Island in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  What begins as a quick party weekend getaway among four friends and co-workers turns into a solemn pact to return every year, barring only pregnancy or death.  Stripped of the entrapments of life (spouses, partners, housework, kids, jobs), they faced the wild together year after year with resilience and jello shots.

Link writes: “That we ever became friends at all is miraculous.”  Their group was made up of every combination of married, single, divorced; political spectrum from conservative to liberal to “None-of-Your-Damn-Business”; and education levels from high school to post graduate.  Besides Drummond Island, what they all share is a “puritan-esque independence.”  And by that she means that “one Drummond Girl does not ask another Drummond Girl for anything very often.  When one does, no matter what it is, you do not say no.”

There is something magical about the desolate, reckless, and wild beauty of Drummond Island as described by Link: thick woods, rocky shore, bears, and wolves.  While the lives of the women from year to year were subject to the unpredictable winds of chance and change: babies, marriage, divorce, career changes, unemployment, and even death, the island remained constant.  “The island didn’t care about anything that happened on the other side of the bridge.”  Link continues: “Everything in my life that was supposed to be secure, most notably my marriage and my finances, felt unpredictable.  My weekend away with the girls had started out as just a chance to party without interference from anyone, an opportunity to go somewhere to escape our responsibilities for a little while.  But it gave me something to look forward to, and had begun to feel more stable and certain than any other part of my life.”

Link grew up in Detroit, went to MSU for journalism and now lives in Traverse City.  Her memoir, Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass On a Northern Michigan Farm, was an Indie Next pick, received the 2013 Booksellers Choice Award from the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association, an Elle magazine’s Reader’s Prize, the Housatonic Book Award for Nonfiction, and was named a Michigan Notable Book. Film rights have been sold to Academy Award-winning actress, Rachel Weisz.

She has also written the true crime books, When Evil Came to Good HartIsadore’s Secret, and Wicked Takes the Witness Stand, which were each Heartland bestsellers.

Mardi Jo Link will attend The Book Nook & Java Shop’s book club fto discuss “The Drummond Girls” at 6pm Wednesday, July 5.  Immediately following at 7pm, she will give a talk at the Montague Library.

Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Wednesday, July 5.  Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, July 5 to discuss The Drummond Girls at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome. The Club meets monthly all year long.  Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.

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“Spill Simmer Falter Wither” by Sara Baume

spillsimmerSpill Simmer Falter Wither, set in a small seaside town in Ireland, is the story of two outcasts: a socially misfit man and a one-eyed dog, who find — and bring comfort to — each other. The title is a descriptive word play on the four seasons during which the story takes place, and it sets the novel’s sad tone.

The book opens with a dog’s perspective: running wild, his left eye dangling from “some gristly tether.” And then we are inside the head of a man, peering in the window of a junk shop, noticing an ad from the local shelter seeking a compassionate and tolerant owner. The narrator, Ray, describes himself as a hulking man who lives alone in his recently deceased father’s house. He proceeds to describe his world and tell his story in first person present to the dog he adopts and names “One Eye.”

Author Sara Baume grew up wanting to be an artist, she studied art in college, and worked in an art gallery. It was when she started writing about art that she realized that writing came easily to her and was favorably recognized by others. And “Spill Simmer Falter Wither”, her first novel, is a work of art. Baume combines literature, music, and art in her writing. The sentences are meticulously and poetically crafted to evoke a certain lyrical musicality – a rhythm and sustaining cadence. Ray’s descriptions of his surroundings are like painting a still life in real time. Here is a simple, yet beautiful description of One Eye’s dish: “[n]ow the food bowl is the epicenter, to which the house is attached and everything beyond radiates from, like sun beams, like stingers of winged and boneless sharks…”

Ray’s outer self is gruff, disheveled, and anti-social, while his inner self is intellectual, compassionate, and sensitive. His house is full of stacks of books that he has spent his insular life reading. He notices everything from details about his surroundings to being curious about the motivations and thoughts of his dog and other people.

The story doesn’t have much of a plot, save for a dog fight that forces Ray and One Eye to flee town and embark on an aimless road trip and a slow unraveling of Ray’s history – how he was raised and how that affected him. The book seems to ask the question – what is a life? Is it outer focused: your achievements, the length and substance of your obituary, how others perceive you? Or is it inner focused and more existential: what goes on in your head, what you notice and pay attention to?

If you like gripping plot-based page-turners, this book is probably not for you. However, if you enjoy beautifully crafted sentences, a journey for a while inside someone else’s head and the healing companionship of a dog – I highly recommend this book.

Watch Bryan on WZZM Channel 13’s “My West Michigan” morning show at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, August 7. Join The Book Nook’s monthly book club at 6:00 p.m., Wednesday, August 2 to discuss Spill Simmer Falter Wither at the Book Nook & Java Shop in Downtown Montague with refreshments, snacks, beverages, and camaraderie; of course, everyone is welcome. The Club meets monthly all year long. Get 20% off the Book Club’s book selection all month, too.

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