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Interviews | April 8, 2014

Shawn Donley: IMG Gabrielle Zevin: The Powells.com Interview



Gabrielle ZevinThe American Booksellers Association collects nominations from bookstores all over the country for favorite forthcoming titles. The Storied Life of... Continue »
  1. $17.47 Sale Hardcover add to wish list

    The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry

    Gabrielle Zevin 9781616203214

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Customer Comments

Melinda Ott has commented on (87) products.

West of the Moon by Margi Preus
West of the Moon

Melinda Ott, April 22, 2014

I first heard about this book from a publication at our library and I thought it might be a good read aloud book for my 5 year old daughter. To be sure, I decided to read it myself first--which is a good thing, because it is definitely in the "middle grades" and up age range and not a book my daughter is ready for! However, in reading it for myself, I was completely enchanted.

Think of it as magic realism, Scandinavian style (if they can have a princess who can shoot winter out of her hands, they can have magic realism). Preus tells the story of Astri and her sister Greta by relaying it back to Norwegian folktales. Most of these stories were ones I had never heard, so that was an added treat.

Astri quickly became one of my favorite characters in fiction aimed at girls. She's scrappy and feisty, but still vulnerable. From the first page--which is about when she gets the first blow--you root for her. Many of the other characters are little more one-dimensional, but that really doesn't matter as this book is squarely about Astri.

I will admit that I went into the book already interested in the topic--as an American of Norwegian descent, I read whatever I can on the immigrant experience. However, this is probably one of the most unique books I've read in a long time and I'm sure my daughter will enjoy it as much as I did when she reads it in a few years.
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One Thousand Porches by Julie Dewey

Melinda Ott, April 21, 2014

Julie Dewey generously sent me an electronic copy of this book after I reviewed her previous novel, Forgetting Tabitha. In that review, I had expressed my concern about the editing of the book--that there were so many grammatical and historical errors. While these do still appear in One Thousand Porches, there are far fewer of them.

However, I had other issues with this book. The book has several different narrators and, frankly, I'm not sure why that is. I felt that this constantly switching voice was keeping me from really getting into this book. I wish she had streamlined things more and stuck to one or two story lines. If she wanted to use multiple points of view, I wish she had chosen fewer characters--such as just Christine and Colette. As it was, it was sometimes confusing to switch between the characters and I had to continually remind myself who was speaking. I also felt that some of the characters didn't need their own sections. Lena, for example, only really appears in the chapters she tells and then disappears. Big Joe really only needed to be a character in Christine's narration as his chapters felt superfluous.

Dewey includes a great deal of medical information, which I appreciated. I know very little about tuberculosis or how it was treated in the 19th century. However, I wish she had massaged these sections more into the book. As it is written, it seems like all of a sudden the book turns into a medical text for a few pages and then reverts back to being a novel.

There were parts of the story that I found hard to believe--most notably Christine's relationship with her first husband and Amy's relationship with Daniel. While I don't question either relationship, I do believe how they unfolded were unrealistic, especially in the former case. As for Amy and Daniel, it just seemed too quick and easy.

While this book was not for me, I appreciate Dewey's efforts to write about this chapter in our history--and I did learn quite a bit. I think that Dewey is developing into a good writer and I do plan to read any future book that she writes.
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One Thousand Porches by Julie Dewey

Melinda Ott, April 21, 2014

Julie Dewey generously sent me an electronic copy of this book after I reviewed her previous novel, Forgetting Tabitha. In that review, I had expressed my concern about the editing of the book--that there were so many grammatical and historical errors. While these do still appear in One Thousand Porches, there are far fewer of them.

However, I had other issues with this book. The book has several different narrators and, frankly, I'm not sure why that is. I felt that this constantly switching voice was keeping me from really getting into this book. I wish she had streamlined things more and stuck to one or two story lines. If she wanted to use multiple points of view, I wish she had chosen fewer characters--such as just Christine and Colette. As it was, it was sometimes confusing to switch between the characters and I had to continually remind myself who was speaking. I also felt that some of the characters didn't need their own sections. Lena, for example, only really appears in the chapters she tells and then disappears. Big Joe really only needed to be a character in Christine's narration as his chapters felt superfluous.

Dewey includes a great deal of medical information, which I appreciated. I know very little about tuberculosis or how it was treated in the 19th century. However, I wish she had massaged these sections more into the book. As it is written, it seems like all of a sudden the book turns into a medical text for a few pages and then reverts back to being a novel.

There were parts of the story that I found hard to believe--most notably Christine's relationship with her first husband and Amy's relationship with Daniel. While I don't question either relationship, I do believe how they unfolded were unrealistic, especially in the former case. As for Amy and Daniel, it just seemed too quick and easy.

While this book was not for me, I appreciate Dewey's efforts to write about this chapter in our history--and I did learn quite a bit. I think that Dewey is developing into a good writer and I do plan to read any future book that she writes.
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Sinners and the Sea: The Untold Story of Noah's Wife by Rebecca Kanner
Sinners and the Sea: The Untold Story of Noah's Wife

Melinda Ott, April 14, 2014

Sinners and the Sea is touted to be in the same vein as Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, which made me a bit nervous--such comparisons are usually unfair and incorrect. While I wouldn't say that this book brought The Red Tent to mind, I did greatly enjoy this book.

The story is told from the point of view of Noah's wife (traditionally named Naamah, but she is unnamed in this work). I felt rather stupid while reading this book--I never thought about the role of Noah's wife in this whole story but, really, she is practically a second Eve--the mother of all--if you take a strict interpretation of the story.

What I like best about the character of Noah's wife is that she is very dynamic--she grows during the course of the book and she does in a natural way. Many times, when a book is sort of centered around a character's growth, it doesn't come across realistically--but that is not the case here.

I also really enjoyed reading the character of Noah. He started out not being at all the way I've always imagined Noah. I always pictured Noah as being sort of hermit, living away from all the sinners. Instead, here he is living among them and trying to "save" them. There is more than a bit of fire and brimstone about his tactics, but that begins to make sense as we get to know more about his character.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, but I did have a few quibbles. There were a couple--literally only 2 or 3--times in the book where the narrative of the action got a little muddy and I had to read the passage more than once to be sure I knew what was going on. There was also a minor plot point, in fact it may have been more of a detail, near the end of the book that was just too much for me and I found it a bit ridiculous. However, in the grand scheme of things, I found this to be an entertaining book that I will be recommending to others.
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Hidden by Catherine Mckenzie
Hidden

Melinda Ott, April 2, 2014

Honestly, I'm torn about this book. There are things I really liked about it, and things I really did not. When I read a book like that, I'm left with a lingering frustration about the whole thing--not a way you want to finish a story.

On the plus side, McKenzie has a very readable style. It is almost as if someone is sitting there telling you a story rather than you reading it. That isn't to say that her prose is fluffy--but, rather, down to earth. I also found her ability to craft characters to be mostly admirable. While I had reservations about the motivations of some of the characters, I did find them to be believable.

McKenzie also has success with the three-person narrative in this book. Using multiple narrators can be tricky, and it is especially so when one of the narrators is, well, dead. I was a little apprehensive with her use of Jeff as one of the narrators, but she makes it work--as longs as you don't question it too much.

For me, though, here is the problem with this book. I didn't like the subject matter. Adultery--phsyical, emotional, or even just implied--is a hard sell for me and, on this count, McKenzie did not succeed. While I found the three main characters to be mostly believable, I never really believed that any of them had the motivation or reason to contemplate any adulterous act. Unfortunately, just this subject matter was enough to leave me frustrated at the end of this book.

I don't think I would recommend this book to others, but I would not write off Catherine McKenzie. I think, with different subject material, her books could be quite enjoyable.
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