Tag Archives: spotlight book

All Things Rank and Foul–Spotlight on Andrew Miller’s “Pure”

Andrew Miller’s “Pure” was up for this year’s Booker Prize but lost out to Julian Barnes’s novel “The Sense of an Ending.”  What were the judges thinking?!

My spotlight book is “Pure” because it is rank, foul, and so beautiful.

In the novel, Jean-Baptiste Barrate has been given the enormous task of clearing out the les Innocents cemetery in Paris.  The year is 1785.  The breaths of those he lodges with smell of decay, much like the cemetery.  Miller is skillful with metaphor.  The rankness of the cemetery symbolizes the foulness of the entire country at the time.  France needs a good cleaning, and is not long before it gets just that.

There is a wonderful Gothic feel to this novel.  It definitely deserves attention here in the US.


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Spotlight on Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

I began reading Ben Fountain’s novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk on Memorial Day.  I would say it was an apt time to read this book. 

Fountain sets the story on Thanksgiving when the surviving heroes of Bravo company participate in the halftime show of a Cowboys game.  Billy Lynn is in the center of it all.  Think of him as the quarterback of this game.

There is lots of comedy here.  Fountain also manages to give us some sober truths, too, about war, coming of age, and life.

The novel satirizes the Iraq War as well as our culture of war.  Fountain even compares our culture of war to the culture of football.  And he’s right.  Fountain’s brilliance really shines here.

But I have mixed feelings about this book.  Is he also satirizing our soldiers?  Because, at times, it seems he is.  I will delve deeper into this in my review.  But, as the daughter of a veteran, granddaughter of a veteran, cousin of someone who served in Iraq, I cannot help but wonder what our soldiers and their families think of this novel.

Great literature should push our limits.  For me, that is what Fountain does.  I love it, but, at times, I’m disturbed.  If you have read this book, did any of you feel this way?


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Spotlight on The Green Shore

I am reading an ARC of Natalie Bakopoulos’ The Green Shore.  This novel is the first book this so-called “bookmagnet” ever won on Goodreads, and what a great novel to win!


Bakopoulos is the sister of Dean Bakopoulos, author of Please Don’t Come Back from the Moon.  Good writing, then, must run in the Bakopoulos family.

In The Green Shore, Natalie Bakopoulos takes on an event in 20th-century Greek history that was, quite honestly, Greek to me: the military dictatorship that began in 1967.  Bakopoulos writes about one family and its role as citizens and sometimes revolutionaries.  She shows what it means for a family when the personal becomes political and when the political becomes personal.  I love her use of symbolism with the red Easter eggs and how each family member takes an egg and bumps another’s egg with it.  They go around the table until only one egg is left intact.  Great foreshadowing.

Lush and stimulating, The Green Shore is one of those rare novels that transport you from your chaise lounge or armchair to the beauty and uncertainty of Greece.  Makes me want to eat some spanakopita!

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Spotlight on A Land More Kind Than Home

I’m currently reading Wiley Cash’s debut novel A Land More Kind Than Home.  If you’ve read this story or are currently reading it, then you know how taut and powerful it really is.  I can’t believe this is Cash’s first book!  It does not feel like a first novel; it reads like it was written by a pro.  Cash is a master at giving his characters an authenticity.  He fills their language with “reckons,” “ain’ts,” and “fixin’ tos” with ease.  I am hooked!

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Never heard of Kathy Hepinstall?

My spotlight book is Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall.  Never heard of her? Well, that’s okay.

Up until one year ago, I had not either.

I happened upon a signed copy The Absence of Nectar.  The novel accompanied me to the beach.  I am shamed to say that I actually allowed a signed first edition first printing book of mine to get a little wet.  But it was that good!  And now the book has a little story attached to it that I will always remember when I pick it up.

The Absence of Nectar (2001) is intriguing.  A brother and sister decide to poison their mother’s new husband.  He is an awful man who takes pleasure in his cruelty.  Hepinstall adds to the story by introducing Percy Snow, a young girl who may or may not be crazy.

Hepinstall also wrote The House of Gentle Men (2000) and sets the novel in rural Louisiana during and after World War II.  The title refers to men who have committed sins.  To atone for them they must spend time with women who have been damaged.

Blue Asylum (2012) is Hepinstall’s newest novel.  Iris Dunleavy committed a terrible crime.  A judge deemed her insane, despite Iris’s protests.  She is put in an asylum on Sanibel Island.  Is she crazy?  Or is this her husband’s punishment?  Just what did she do?  This may be my favorite so far of Hepinstall’s, and that is really saying something for me, especially considering how much I adored and devoured The Absence of Nectar.

I will be reviewing Blue Asylum this week.  Be sure to watch for it.

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Spotlight Book: The Year of the Gadfly

I am on page 158 of one of the best novels I have read this year.  Make that any year.  It’s smart, engrossing, well-written, mysterious, and it hooked me on the first page.  It’s Jennifer Miller’s The Year of the Gadfly

So far, I’ve taken five pages worth of notes on my advanced reading copy.  It’s that good.  Miller previously wrote Inheriting the Holy Land: An American’s Search for Hope in the Middle East.  This is her first novel and will be published May 8.  Her website is byjennifermiller.com and you can follow her on Twitter @propjen and tweet about the novel using #Gadfly.

Her novel is set primarily inside the hallowed halls of Mariana Academy, in which a secret society wreaks havoc.  Ms. Miller tells the story from the varying viewpoints of Iris, Jonah, and Lily; for me, Iris and Edward R. Murrow steal the show.  Edward R. Murrow?  Well, you just have to read it! 

I recommend it for fans of Amber Dermont’s The Starboard Sea, Carol Goodman’s The Lake of Dead Languages, and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.

I now have to go back to reading.  Hope to interview Ms. Miller on my blog.  Have lots of questions to ask!


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