2017 Reviews

YOUNG ADULT

JULIE BERRY
All the Truth That's In Me

Review by Izabela

Outside the printed (or digitized) pages, we must honor the main character of Julie Berry’s haunting novel, All the Truth That’s In Me, by speaking her name out loud – Judith. Referred to by her own mother as “you,” by her brother as “Worm,” and ignored or scorned by the farming community of the Roswell Station colony, Judith is the victim of a kidnapping and maiming which renders her mute.

Having returned after two mysterious years of absence, Judith is considered cursed by the town folk and often allows herself to wallow in her misfortune. However, when her village and her family are under threat, Judith springs into action at great personal risk and is forced to reveal a secret she was determined to keep. Both Judith’s silence and Berry’s poetic language leave a lot to the imagination.

Although the novel lacks some context – we assume, but never know for certain, that the setting is an early American colony – Berry devotes great care to developing her characters. Even minor characters have depth and history which wind in and out of the brief chapters and prove crucial to solving the novel’s mysteries. Shy of actual accusations of witchcraft, the dark and dramatic story, exploration of human villainy and colonial setting evoke the spirit of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible.

Perhaps most striking, and most appropriate for her audience, is the way Berry juxtaposes masculine and feminine elements of the story and explores the metaphor of silence to gently nudge her young adult audience to take ownership of the power of their own voice. The spare, riveting prose make for a suspenseful and thrilling love story. Because in the end, All the Truth That’s In Me, is just that – a story of a girl in love, in a dark and dangerous world, who sacrifices herself and overcomes obstacles for love. And in the end, love helps Judith to re-discover her voice and saves the day.


JULIE BERRY
The Passion of Dolssa

Review by Izabela

Where Berry’s earlier novel, All the Truth That’s In Me, lacked the context of time and place, The Passion of Dolssa, answers all of those questions up front: southern France; 13th Century; inquisition. In this novel, Berry develops the sense of place with the same care and detail as she does her characters. We get to know the vineyards, villages and la mar of southern France as intimately as we do the three sisters who are the heroines of the novel.

The sisters – Botille, Saize and Plazencia – and the drunkard father figure they inherited from their deceased mother have adopted the sleepy fishing town of Bajas as their new home. Their unique and scrappy talents help the sisters survive and extend their limited means to help their less fortunate neighbors. However the peace and quiet is shattered when Botille rescues a young gentlewoman mystic named Dolssa who is on the run from Dominican inquisitors. The sisters conceal Dolssa and nurse her back to health, but when the inquisitors arrive, they bring with them fire and brimstone and threaten to destroy everything the sisters hold dear.

As in her earlier novel, All the Truth That’s In Me, Berry masterfully sets elements her story in the church and delicately explores the concept of faith in a way that’s both palatable and engaging for her young adult audience. It’s impossible to read a story about a young Frenchwoman mystic without thinking of Joan of Arc and The Passion of Dolssa often brought to mind Nancy Garden’s 1997 novel, Dove and Sword. But Dolssa is no warrior; even at her boldest, Dolssa preaches love and forgiveness with the docility of a dove. However much like the complicated friendship between Jeannette d’Arc and Gabrielle in the Dove and Sword, the relationship between Botille and Dolssa juxtaposes class, character and what motivates us to persevere.

In a style reminiscent of Ian McEwan’s Atonement, the novel’s many layers force the reader to suspect the various narrators, question the concept of truth and mistrust what really happens in the end. Although meticulously researched and a stunning page-turner, The Passion of Dolssa unfortunately does leave the reader scratching their head at the conclusion. Perhaps Berry’s only misstep in creating this luscious story is the overly-complicated ending, a fact the author recognized and amended by creating a tool on her website to help explain the final chapter. It’s undeniable that Berry is determined to make her readers think and for that we must be grateful.


MACKENZI LEE
The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue

Review by Maggie

I was lucky to receive an advanced copy of this YA gem, and I'm so happy to recommend it to readers this summer! Lee's writing hums with life, and she beautifully blends history with the utterly fantastic. Henry "Monty" Montague sets off on his Grand Tour of Europe, determined to be utterly carefree. It's difficult to achieve, though, since he;s in love with his traveling companion and best friend. Add in a paranormal twist and you have an awesome read.

CHILDREN'S PICTURE BOOKS

TERRY BORDER
Happy Birthday, Cupcake!

Review by Leah

It's Cupcake's birthday, and she's trying to figure out the best way to celebrate with her friends. The problem? All her friends are food like her, and some activities won't work for everyone. Ice Cream might get a little melty in the sun, Hamburger doesn't want to get a frosting makeover, the list goes on and on. But with great friends like cupcakes, they're sure to figure something out. A sweet little book with fun photographs of different foods doing party activities, Happy Birthday, Cupcake! is great fun.

FICTION

JULIE BUNTIN
Marlena

Review by Katie

I'm going to put this out there right now—some of you, and you know who you are (I was like you, too) have had trouble enjoying books that are set in Petoskey, Harbor Springs, and areas you know here in Northern Michigan. But Marlena, like a handful that have come before it, is fiction. It took me nearly a year after reading the advanced copy of this book to make peace with that statement. It is much like when the wrong actor is cast as our favorite book character. We don't like to see things that are not as we had envisioned them.

To give Julie Buntin's novel the reading it deserves, please don't worry about where it takes place. (But keep in mind that just because you haven't see that side of things doesn't mean it doesn't exist.) What we can all relate to is the story of a young teenage girl who moves to a new place and becomes enamored with someone who is her opposite. For new girl Cat, the hardened Marlena is enticing. She is street smart and independent. At least on the surface. But not smart and independent enough to keep herself alive beyond her high school career.
Years later, Cat is still haunted by the tableau of Marlena, drowned in a few inches of winter thaw in the woods behind her house. What was it all for? Did Cat do enough for her friend? Has she done enough for herself now that all this time has past?

In the vein of Sweetbitter and The Girls and, most recently, A History of Wolves, here is a story of young women on the brink of what, you might ask? Everything.


KIA CORTHRON
The Castle Cross the Magnet Carter

Review by Katie


The debut novel from one of the writers of television's The Wire, checks in at 800 pages. On. The. Dot. It opens in 1941, as the United States is about to enter WWII. But for two brothers in Alabama, there is a different war still being fought in the South. Moving right into the 21st century, these brothers grow into men alongside another set of brothers. Their pasts and presents will bob and weave in unexpected ways, all the time set against the backdrop of a rapidly changing America.


JOSHILYN JACKSON
The Almost Sisters

Review by Maggie

I began reading The Almost Sisters because the premise sounded too funny to pass up; comic book artist Leia Briggs is pregnant after a one-night stand with Batman at comic con. Initially shocked, this is a welcome surprise for Leia. She returns home to Alabama to deliver the news, and she quickly realizes she isn;t the only one with a bombshell to drop. Her perfect sister Rachel is facing a perfectly horrible divorce, with her young daughter stuck in the middle. Her beloved grandmother Birchie has been concealing her dementia with the help of her lifelong friend and companion, Miss Wattie. After a shocking outburst at a church function, the whole town thinks that the indomitable Briggs matriarch has come undone. And, as the cherry on top, a positively Gothic discovery deep within Birchie's attic makes Leia question who her dear, sweet grandmother really is.

Although lured by the scandal, I stayed for the sincerity. Joshilyn Jackson has the beautiful ability to interweave both laugh-out-loud humor and sincerity in her writing. Leia's child will be biracial; though the Batman costume concealed much of his identity, the baby's father is black. Previously unvoiced questions about race, heritage, and privilege are immediately pertinent to the mother-to-be. In Jackson's capable prose, the small-town South can be both comforting and suffocating. For returning readers of Joshilyn Jackson and newcomers like me, you're in for a solid start to summer reading.


CARMEN MARIA MACHADO
Her Body and Other Parties

Review by Katie


Now brace yourselves, fellow readers, for Carmen Maria Machado's debut collection of short stories. It's exceedingly hard to describe a writer who arrives on the scene as someone wholly original, for we all love a comparison. Yet Machado stands alone in this world of beautiful horrors she has created. Bodies morph into art, into weapons, into husks and fevers. Characters begin as persons recognizable before the mirror is shattered and the reflection becomes frightening, twisted, and somehow still familiar. The real star, of course, is Machado's writing. It is electric, so much so that it will shock right from the page and blast a void deep in your gut. Not an unpleasant ache, but one which will remind readers just how invested they have become in her stories and her worlds. Yes, Machado might stand alone as an indefinable new voice in literature, but she has brought you along as soon as you crack the spine, and what she shares will cost more than a few late-night reading sessions.


BENJAMIN PERCY
Thrill Me: Essays on Fiction   

Review by Leah


Ben Percy knows how to make a story move, how to make a story compelling, how to make a story thrilling, and how to explain it in simple, understandable language. Well written and fun, Thrill Me explains different elements of good fiction, often using very recognizable pop culture, like the baby carriage perilously perched at the top of the stairs in The Untouchables. For anyone who is looking to hone their own craft, or just likes learning about the construction of a good story.

COOKBOOKS

NICOLE GULOTTA
Eat This Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry

Review by Leah


This book is a delight. Twenty five poems, and the seventy five recipes they inspire, it is warm, comforting book. Gulotta includes anecdotes from her own life with many of the recipes, making it feel quite personal as well. For lovers of poetry and food alike (and really, who isn't?), Eat This Poem is a positively lovely read.