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megan s has commented on (12) products.

After You'd Gone by Maggie Ofarrell
After You'd Gone

megan s, January 8, 2010

The novel proceeds in various tenses, voices, and points of view, peeling off layer after layer of Alice's story, showing us that things are never quite as simple as they seem. After You'd Gone is many things: a story about true love, about family, about loss, about grief, and about healing. All of these things are beautifully rendered in a style that deceives readers into thinking that maybe they aren't all that involved in the story only to find that they've been so wrapped up in the web of Alice's life, that the core of the story is all the more gripping and heart-wrenching.

It's hard to make me cry, especially for a book. This one did make me cry - not once but twice - despite my best efforts not to. Maggie O'Farrell has an astonishing grasp of emotions and the human condition. This novel is beautiful, heart-breaking, and not to be missed.
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Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
Fever 1793

megan s, June 14, 2009

Fever 1793 features Matilda Cook a 14 year old girl in Philadelphia in (you guessed it) 1793. Mattie's widowed mother owns and runs the Cook Coffeehouse where important men of the city come to talk politics and enjoy coffee and the fare prepared by Eliza, a free black and friend of the family. At the beginning, Mattie is a typical young girl - more eager to have fun and disobey her mother than to pull her weight at the coffeehouse. As summer is very slowly drawing to a close, disaster strikes as a deadly yellow fever epidemic sweeps the city. The city devolves into chaos and Mattie's life is torn asunder when her mother takes ill. The epidemic forces Mattie to grow up fast as she is left almost alone in a city that seems to be slowly dying. As the first frost comes, effectively ending the fever, and Mattie has still not heard from her mother, Mattie is forced to make some difficult decisions about her future and the future of the coffeehouse.

Mattie is an engaging narrator. It's easy to relate to her desire to leave behind the backbreaking work of the coffeehouse and enjoy her life. Halse Anderson does a fine job of portraying how Mattie changes during the epidemic and gains a new inner strength that she is able to draw upon to pick up her life once the epidemic has ended. Philadelphia in 1793 is realistically portrayed both in health and in sickness. Halse Anderson has obviously gone to great pains to maintain the historical accuracy of her story and succeeds admirably. Included at the end is a very interesting appendix that elaborates on the factual elements of the story. Fever 1793 is great historical novel about a girl transcending her very dire circumstances and finding out who she is in the process.
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A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father by Augusten Burroughs
A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father

megan s, June 14, 2009

Honestly, my initial reaction to A Wolf at the Table is too depressing to be enjoyed. Why would any happiness seeking human being ever want to read something so utterly dispiriting?

On second look, though, it occurred to me that, whenever I could seperate myself from the unfortunate happenings inherent in this book, Augusten Burroughs is really a great writer. Despite its more depressing properties, I never once thought that I wanted to lay this book down and not finish it. From the very start, this book has a touch of brilliance. Burroughs brings to life his early childhood memories in a perfectly clear and surreal manner in which those memories tend to linger. They're filled with smells, textures, in almost photographic glimpses in which memories from such a young age seem to manifest themselves. Burroughs puts into words the essence of his childish enthusiasm for loving his father and the crushing and shameful disappointment he felt when he realized his advances never seemed to penetrate his father's, at best, indifference toward him. He pinpoints the exact moments when he began to understand, and in some measure accept, the most difficult truths about his father. He captures that tension between desperately wanting to be loved and fiercely hating the same person he can't help hoping will love him unconditionally. He insightfully contemplates what a father should be and whether he did or did not turn out to posess the worst qualities of his own father.

Now that I think about it, it may be because Burroughs' writing is so skillful that this book is so hard to read. We see and feel exactly what Burroughs intends for us to see and feel through his narrative. We come to know the youngster Burroughs was, to understand his deepest desires and to be just as disappointed, angry, and fearful as he once was. A Wolf at the Table is a painful, difficult read, but it is also a sort of cathartic masterwork of a very talented writer.
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Sweetsmoke by David Fuller

megan s, June 14, 2009

In Sweetsmoke, Fuller spares no detail in his depiction of the Civil War era south. Though obviously carefully constructed with extreme care shown even down to the punctuation of the dialogue (quotation marks for the free, none for the slaves), the writing never feels forced or contrived. Instead, Fuller's Civil War south leaps off the page exposing a world populated with fragile southern gentility perched precariously on their clever, if oppressed, chattel. Through Cassius's eyes and Fuller's evocative writing, we can feel the heat of mid-summer in Virginia, smell the sweet scent of tobacco on the air, and even hear the sounds of a raging Civil War battle as if we were experiencing them first-hand.
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The Stolen Child: A Novel by Keith Donohue
The Stolen Child: A Novel

megan s, June 14, 2009

The Stolen Child is a fascinating book. It's beautifully executed literary fantasy that grapples intriguingly with ideas of art, memory, and humanity while at the same time causing us to think, "What if?" Donohue works the angles of this story with ease never allowing us for a second to lose our sympathies for each and every one of the characters despite the fact that their mere existence and their potential to steal away children is the stuff of parents' worst nightmares. Donohue makes it easy to comprehend the desperation to regain a human life that drives the changelings to steal a child after decades of ageless boredom in the forest, but then he doesn't let us forget the real Henry Day, unwittingly robbed of his life, either. I was totally caught up in Donohue's tale. Each and every character is totally fleshed out and so engrossing that readers will desperately want to know them even more. Donohue's prose is stunning, bringing to surreal life the ultimately ordinary forest dwelling of the changelings in all seasons and bringing to the surface the clouded memories of the changelings.

Despite their less than human existence, this story about faeries is ultimately about being human. It's about how music and the written word and the act of creation in itself are what preserve and renew our lives in our memory. It's about the wonders of an endless childhood but also about the need to grow old. It's a story with so many characters and layers that I can't hope to enumerate them all here. It's book that will intrigue you and leave you thinking about it long after you've turned the last page.
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(2 of 4 readers found this comment helpful)

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