Review: Glow, by Jessica Maria Tuccelli

by Jessica Maria Tuccelli
Viking Adult
March 15, 2012
336 pgs
$25.95 Hardcover / $12.99 Ebook
New last week from Viking, Glow is a stunner; there’s absolutely no pun or irony intended in my giving it a glowing review.

Jessica Maria Tuccelli’s debut novel, a sentimental ghost story about mothers and daughters, spans six generations, one hundred years, and is told from multiple distinct and original perspectives; it is the stuff that a fiction-lover’s dreams are made of.

The narrative begins in Washington D.C. in 1941. A young woman, caught in the midst of raciopolitical tensions and threatened by the opposition, is left alone with her young daughter after her husband is drafted into World War II. Out of fear, she puts her daughter Ella on a bus for her childhood home in Appalachian Hopewell, Georgia. But when Ella’s bus breaks down, and two drifters attack her and leave her for dead, the story of her roots is revealed with expansive force.

As the story jumps back several generations, dipping into the shared youth of Ella’s parents, and into the lives of those that came before them, Tuccelli’s narrative forms a splendidly gnarled family tree, reaching back to antebellum. And what begins as a modern historical narrative shows its roots to be that of a ghostly tale of injustice and lost love.

This is an exquisitely crafted novel that reveals itself slowly and carefully by peeling away the generational layers; it divulges the depth of Ella’s heritage in a style reminiscent of Ian McEwan’s Atonement, or of the short stories of Ambrose Bierce. Tuccelli is clearly a gifted writer with a knack for the untamed terrain of familial drama. I think we might reasonably expect even greater things from this author in the future. And I even love the cover.


Monday Mailbox: 2nd March Giveaway!

Monday Mailbox is hosted this month by Anna at Diary of an Eccentric.

Two ARCs, and one to giveaway!

Every fall, the men of Loyalty Island sail from the Olympic Peninsula up to the Bering Sea to spend the winter catching king crab. Their dangerous occupation keeps food on the table but constantly threatens to leave empty seats around it. To Cal, Alaska remains as mythical and mysterious as Treasure Island, and the stories his father returns with are as mesmerizing as those he once invented about Captain Flint before he turned pirate. But while Cal is too young to accompany his father, he is old enough to know that everything depends on the fate of those few boats thousands of miles to the north. He is also old enough to feel the tension between his parents over whether he will follow in his father's footsteps. And old enough to wonder about his mother's relationship with John Gaunt, owner of the fleet. Then Gaunt dies suddenly, leaving the business in the hands of his son, who seems intent on selling away the fishermen's livelihood. Soon Cal stumbles on evidence that his father may have taken extreme measures to salvage their way of life. As winter comes on, his suspicions deepening and his moral compass shattered, he is forced to make a terrible choice.

Got this one through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program. It's due out April 12th from Riverhead Hardcover. 

The Truth of All Things, by Kieran Shields

When newly appointed Deputy Marshal Archie Lean is called in to investigate a prostitute's murder in Portland, Maine, he's surprised to find the body laid out like a pentagram and pinned to the earth with a pitchfork. He's even more surprised to learn that this death by "sticking" is a traditional method of killing a witch. Baffled by the ritualized murder scene, Lean secretly enlists the help of historian Helen Prescott and brilliant criminalist Perceval Grey. Distrusted by officials because of his mixed Abenaki Indian ancestry, Grey is even more notorious for combining modern investigative techniques with an almost eerie perceptiveness. Although skeptical of each other's methods, together the detectives pursue the killer's trail through postmortems and opium dens, into the spiritualist societies and lunatic asylums of gothic New England. Before the killer closes in on his final victim, Lean and Grey must decipher the secret pattern to these murders--a pattern hidden within the dark history of the Salem witch trials.

This was an unsolicited ARC from Random House. Love love love the cover. The book comes out tomorrow (3/27). I'll post the review next week.

The Literary Gothamite and Random House are giving away a copy of Kieran Shields' The Truth of All Things. Fill in the contest form to be entered. The contest is open to US residents until 11:59PM on Saturday March 31st. You may only enter one time, but you can get an extra entry by linking the giveaway on Twitter (just make sure you mention @lalalalaurs)! 


Monday Mailbox: Giveaway Winner Announcement

Monday Mailbox is hosted this month by Anna at Diary of an Eccentric.

I received one book this week care of some happy soul who generously left a bag of books for the taking. It's nothing highbrow, it doesn't even have too many words in it. It was

Stuff on my Cat: The Book

There were some others in the bag as well, but I dispersed those to co-workers as necessary, an there wasn't really anything that I absolutely wanted to read.

But speaking of things that I do want to read, thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway for Jessica Maria Tuccelli's GLOW which I'll be reviewing this week. 

Thanks to the folks at Penguin we had a giveaway for a new copy of this novel. I'm happy to announce that the winner is:

Tanya P.

Congratulations! Make sure you check your email...your copy will be on it's way to you shortly.


Review: The Gods of Gotham, by Lyndsay Faye

The Gods of Gotham
by Lyndsay Faye
Amy Einhorn Books
$25.95 Hardcover / $12.99 Ebook
The Gods of Gotham, new from Amy Einhorn Books this week, marks a quick-paced, beautifully-styled debut for author Lyndsay Faye. Narrator Timothy Wilde is a member of the newly minted NYPD (or Copper Stars), New York City's first official police force. Beset with tragedy at an early age, Tim is all too aware of the irony of his most recent misfortunes in the fire of 1845, but his own troubles (though not his lyrically relatable heartsickness that runs like a river through the novel from beginning to end) are set aside when the copper stars discover a mass grave west of the city. 

Gothamites and non-gothamites alike are often keen on romanticizing Manhattan's foundations. But that's one thing that Faye refuses to do. The pages are covered with the dirt and dust and muck of the period and, like any good heroic detective novel, there's a coat of naturalism gives the work the texture of authenticity. 

The narrative begins and ends as a police ledger account of a particular crime. Somewhere, however, about a third of the way in, the structure unravels and reveals a kind of pulsing lyricism. This sway in tone is a reflection of what could be considered Faye's cleverest stylistic choice: by making Mercy Underhill (writer, charity worker, Timothy's childhood friend and love interest) integral to the story,  we are allowed to witness her influence on Tim in the narrative, giving Faye (and Tim) the freedom to tell the story free from police ledger stoicism. It spares us that sticky, glossy sheen too-oft found in historical fiction.

At it's heart, The Gods of Gotham is a Sherlockian detective story where the protagonist has an exceptional gift for observation but, whereas other Holmesian character imitations can come across as somewhat condescending, Faye's Timothy Wilde is unassuming and relatable, with just enough panache (or, in this case, flash) to make her freshman novel a ceaselessly enjoyable read. 

In addition to being a solid crime novel, its religious and historical instructiveness are not lost on this reader. In a time where religion seems on the forefront of every political discourse, a world where specific belief systems are meant to be optional but seem mandatory, Faye has tapped into a dark spot in the spiritual history of this country. This nation was not built by one people or one religion, and to suggest otherwise by propagating a system wherein any race or creed is purged or expunged is morally despicable and historically irresponsible. And if you're to take anything from this book aside from the clarity of the writing and the moral reprehensibility of murder, let it be that. 

 A note on the text: check out the lexicon that appears before the story in this edition--you needn't memorize it, but a quick glance will prove endlessly useful.


A sort-of review: Danse Macabre, by Stephen King

I scare easily. There's no question of this. I've never been a huge fan of scary movies. When I was not yet thirteen, a girl in my class had a sleepover birthday party. I don't recall if she was first generation American, or if she had actually been born prior to her family coming over from China, but her parents were...I'd like to say open-minded, but I think really they may have just been a little oblivious. They allowed her to rent Scream for the sleepover.

A bunch of twelve-year-olds (plus the birthday girl's younger sisters--10 and 7, I think) watching Scream late at night. It may have scarred me for life. Prior to that, I think the scariest thing I'd ever seen was the ghost of Mary Meredith in The Uninvited (1944). Unless you want to count Tony Pierce's haunting craziness in The Bodyguard. God, I love that movie. Okay, and some of the classic "Twilight Zone" episodes are really freaky.

In recent years, I've tried to be a little braver. A little. My best friend and I went to see the remake of The Amityville Horror in 2005. I'm sure Ryan Reynolds was really hot in it, but I wouldn't know because Ali and I spent the entire time watching the top two feet of the movie screen, my sweater blocking out the rest, out of fear. I've seen the second and third installments in the Scream series...through my fingers. I went back and watched every episode of Snick's "Are You Afraid of the Dark"...while at work, in the daytime, and only if I fast-forwarded through the opening because swings moving by themselves freak me the hell out.

I've seen both Perfect Getaway (2009) and The Orphan (2009), both of which are really thrillers....and both during the day...at work. Actually, the biggest jump in my horror/thriller education (until very recently) was watching each and every episode of CBS's "Harper's Island" back in 2009...in the comfort of my home, after dark, and not screaming every time something remotely scary happened.

In the last year, I've started watching some good old classic horror films (see: The Creature from the Black Lagoon or The House on Haunted Hill). And then I got turned on to "The Walking Dead" on AMC. This led to more of the....less classic horror films (see: Dead & Buried or Return of the Killer Tomatoes). I don't count the Jaws series (or any of those shark attack/megalodon films) in my education, partly because that (to me) has always been a different type of scary, and also because most of them are just awful and inadvertently hilarious. And finally, this led to seeing The Woman in Black last month. I was really good up until a bit with a rocking chair, at which point I started letting the sleeve of my sweater hover in front of my eyes now and then.

I didn't plan to do an actual review of this book, and this is not really a review. The copy I had belongs to a friend of mine (with whom I saw The Woman in Black) who lent it to me while he was on vacation, and I read it (mostly) to gain an understanding of a genre that I didn't really understand very well at all.

Danse Macabre is a work of non-fiction, by Stephen King, about the genre he knows best: horror. It was first published in 1981 and, as a result, only concerns stories (novels, short stories, radio plays, and films) up to that point. The bulk of the focus is on the works written during King's lifetime (he was thirty-three in 1981).

But the brilliant thing about King's insight into this subject is that the genre really doesn't change. He bases his analysis on the idea that horror can be boiled down to three archetypes: the vampire (see: Dracula), the werewolf (see: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde) and "The Thing Without a Name" (see: Frankenstein). And over thirty years later, the method of the madness has not changed. I often found myself classifying and re-classifying more modern pictures and novels as the book went on. But this was not just a lesson in classification. Rather, it was a dual lesson in anthropology and literature, one that--when applied to my affinity for fantasy novels--was truly illuminating.

I just want to say three very brief things about this book, and then I'll let you all be:

1. I can't imagine being not only settled with a family and published, but so incredibly intelligent at thirty-three years old. The man amazes me.

2. King's voice in the book is exceedingly casual and, therefore, the reading of it is very comfortable. There's no high-handed alienating jargon. It's quite down to earth.

3. I can now go forward in my reading with a better understanding of why fantasy and horror exist, and to what extent they are useful in allowing modern readers of fiction to live and imagine and create. The world may be very different than it was in 1981, but some things - like fear - never really change.

Review: The Deification, by Jack Remick

The Deification
by Jack Remick
358 pgs / $16.95
“All artists—poets, writers, composers, painters, sculptors—have screwed up childhoods when they come to me.” This is what psy(chadel)ic Estelle reveals to Eddie Iturbi, who has spent the previous two hundred or so pages escaping his own hellish youth.

Remick’s novel begins as any homage to Kerouac should: with a journey. But what initiates as a tight spool of plot and character suddenly and rapidly unravels into a tangled mess of energy and words that seems to be the product of an acid trip, or a fever dream, or both, but which is really a masterfully crafted (though sometimes confusing and nauseating) interpretation of poetry-as-religion. And though the story starts and ends in Kerouac-like tradition, (and Remick’s best writing is there) it devolves in the middle into a muddle of Proustian nonsense that will make a reader either wretch or go mad.

The story’s Christian symbolism is overwhelming, but it’s the mythic Greek overtones in the novel’s final chapters that are the most interesting, and the most fully fleshed-out. This is a kind of reflection of the plot’s roots: while Christianity inherently seems tied up in a bow, so too is the story, and it falls flat.

The reader revels in the loose ends, the what-ifs. Having all the answers borders on boring. There is one great what-if left. Eddie, our immortal guide through this rollercoaster of a book, should have died several times over. There’s a possibility that his existence at the point of unraveling (which is less than seventy pages into the 345-page novel) ends, and what remains is no fever dream, but a kind of pugatory he must endure (with some new found synethesia to boot) until he does find all of his answers. It’s just a theory - it’s possible, but I don’t have a whole lot of evidence to support it.

The true problem with this homage to Kerouac is that there is no real introspection. There’s a meditative quality that seems missing. Instead, Remick (like Eddie) is just writing everything down, without truly finding the meaning of any of it.


Monday Mailbox

This month's Monday Mailbox is hosted by Anna at Diary of an Eccentric.
This week I received one ARC:

Glow, by Jessica Maria Tuccelli

From the press release: "Glow spans the years 1836 to 1941 and follows the female descendants of pioneer Solomon Bounds, whose family tree consists of slave owners and slaves, Native Americans and the soldiers who drove them from their lands. A tale of resilience, rebellion, and the fiercest of all bonds—mother love—Glow is a complex, atmospheric look at race relations in Appalachia’s history and offers a riveting new perspective on America’s past."

Glow will be published by Viking on March 19th. 

The Literary Gothamite and Viking are giving away a copy of Jessica Maria Tuccelli's Glow. Fill in the contest form to be entered. The contest is open to US residents until 11:59PM on March 18th. You can only enter one time, but you can get an extra entry by linking the giveaway on Twitter (just make sure you mention @lalalalaurs)! ENTER HERE