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Prairie Fever by Michael Parker
Published: May 21, 2019 – Algonquin Books
Book provided by the publisher and NetGalley
Description: When Gus arrives in Lone Wolf, Oklahoma, as a first time teacher, his inexperience is challenged by the wit and ingenuity of the Stewart sisters. Then one impulsive decision and a cataclysmic blizzard trap Elise and her horse on the prairie and forever change the balance of everything between the sisters, and with Gus McQueen. With honesty and poetic intensity and the deadpan humor of Paulette Jiles and Charles Portis, Parker reminds us of the consequences of our choices. Expansive and intimate, this novel tells the story of characters tested as much by life on the prairie as they are by their own churning hearts. (publisher)
My take: During the harsh winter of 1916 the Stewart sisters (Elise, 15, and Lorena, 17) ride their faithful horse to school no matter the weather. Their young teacher, Mr. McQueen, meets them and helps them off the horse and into the school room every day. The three are the central characters of the novel and we’ll see how their lives intertwine and go off in different directions according to the choices they make. I was drawn in by Michael Parker’s storytelling – the humor he injected in the day-to-day as well as the brutality of life on the prairie that many didn’t survive. I laughed when the sisters recited stories from the local newspaper. It reminded me of my own small, hometown newspaper that often had a younger me rolling my eyes at the headlines and articles considered newsworthy. Overall, an enjoyable read. Recommended to fans of the author and historical fiction.
About the author:
Michael Parker’s work has appeared in the Washington Post, the New York Times Magazine, the Oxford American, Runner’s World, Men’s Journal, and elsewhere. His work has been anthologized in The O. Henry Prize Stories and The Pushcart Prize. He is the Nicholas and Nancy Vacc Distinguished Professor in the MFA Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and divides his time between Saxapahaw, North Carolina, and Austin, Texas.
Photo credit: Tasha Thomas
Praise for Prairie Fever:
“Parker’s chimerical slipstream of a novel asks, Is it better to hew to that which is, or to see the world as you wish? Readers will surely be pulled deep into the strange and wild river of Elise’s fanciful peregrinations.”
— Booklist starred review
“In the tradition of Katherine Ann Porter, Parker’s exceptional tale explores the power and strength of kinship on the harsh American frontier.”
“Let me just say that Prairie Fever—concerning the lives of the Stewart sisters of Lone Wolf, Oklahoma, in the early years of the twentieth century—is the most beautiful novel I have read in quite some time. Taking a cue from the irrepressibly inventive younger sister, Elise, I soon began reading it aloud to someone I love, and the novel more than rewards such a shared experience. The language is that graceful and original, the events and characters (horses included) that spellbinding and funny and moving; and always the melancholy beauty and mysterious power of the open prairie shine through. To borrow a phrase from Mr. McQueen—first encountered as a young teacher in a one-room schoolhouse—one comes away from the novel with a keener sense of ‘how one ought to go about living one’s life.’”
—Tom Drury, author of Pacific
“That a love story of this strangeness and rightness can come out of the event of a girl nearly dead in a storm is a testament to the wonder that is Michael Parker’s talent. Not least, he’s invented a language, a formal way of speaking that is perfectly suited to his people and to this dreamy novel.”
—Jane Hamilton, author of The Excellent Lombards
“Prairie Fever is an exceptionally charming novel about the wonders and troubles of love, land, and language. Witty and poignant, the novel is as elegantly constructed as a poem, and it features the best dialogue this side—or any side—of the Natchez Trace. Yet another wonderful book from Michael Parker.”
—Chris Bachelder, author of The Throwback Special
“What a terrific book this is, wonderful and strange . . . a whole family acting out what can and can’t be forgotten, against the backdrops of prairie and range—characters so magnificently and sometimes comically stubborn I really couldn’t put the book down. And what other novel has a character writing letters to a dead horse? I was completely taken by this book.”
—Joan Silber, author of Improvement
“Michael Parker has captured a time, place, and sisterhood so perfectly it hurts to turn the last page. Prairie Fever is a riveting, atmospheric dream of a novel.”
—Dominic Smith, author of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos
The Scent Keeper by Erica Bauermeister
Published: May 21, 2019 – St. Martin’s Press
Review galley from the publisher and NetGalley
Description: Emmeline lives an enchanted childhood on a remote island with her father, who teaches her about the natural world through her senses. What he won’t explain are the mysterious scents stored in the drawers that line the walls of their cabin, or the origin of the machine that creates them. As Emmeline grows, however, so too does her curiosity, until one day the unforeseen happens, and Emmeline is vaulted out into the real world–a place of love, betrayal, ambition, and revenge. To understand her past, Emmeline must unlock the clues to her identity, a quest that challenges the limits of her heart and imagination.
Lyrical and immersive, The Scent Keeper explores the provocative beauty of scent, the way it can reveal hidden truths, lead us to the person we seek, and even help us find our way back home. (publisher)
My take: Erica Bauermeister’s novels are sensual journeys. The Scent Keeper is about scent, memory and what they tell us about our past and the people in our lives. It is the story of Emmeline. We meet her as a young girl living on an island with her father. It’s an idyllic life until things change. She finds herself thrust into world so different and yet she tries to adapt. She’ll learn who to trust and find a way to survive in this new life. That will serve her well for what lies ahead on her journey of discovery.
Will Emmeline be able to hang onto the important aspects of her early years as the world opens in ways she never expected? During all those years of living with her father on the island – where was her mother? Will her magical relationship with scent feel the effect of all the changes? As Emmeline discovers answers to her questions she’ll come to understand what’s truly important. As I read The Scent Keeper I would occasionally pause to think about the important scents of my life and what they mean to me now. That made for a very personal and enjoyable reading experience.
About the author:
Erica Bauermeister is the author of the bestselling novel The School of Essential Ingredients, Joy for Beginners, and The Lost Art of Mixing. She is also the co-author of the non-fiction works, 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader’s Guide and Let’s Hear It For the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. She has a PhD in literature from the University of Washington, and has taught there and at Antioch University. She is a founding member of the Seattle7Writers and currently lives in Port Townsend, Washington.
The Summer I Met Jack by Michelle Gable
Trade Paperback published by St. Martin’s Griffin – May 21, 2019
Book provided by the publisher
“[The Summer I Met Jack] offers an alternate Kennedy family history that will leave readers wondering whether America knew the real JFK at all.” —Kirkus Reviews
New York Times bestselling author imagines the affair between John F. Kennedy and Alicia Corning Clark – and the child they may have had.
Based on a real story – in 1950, a young, beautiful Polish refugee arrives in Hyannisport, Massachusetts to work as a maid for one of the wealthiest families in America. Alicia is at once dazzled by the large and charismatic family, in particular the oldest son, a rising politician named Jack.
Alicia and Jack are soon engaged, but his domineering father forbids the marriage. And so, Alicia trades Hyannisport for Hollywood, and eventually Rome. She dates famous actors and athletes and royalty, including Gary Cooper, Kirk Douglas, and Katharine Hepburn, all the while staying close with Jack. A decade after they meet, on the eve of Jack’s inauguration as the thirty-fifth President of the United States, the two must confront what they mean to each other.
The Summer I Met Jack by Michelle Gable is based on the fascinating real life of Alicia Corning Clark, a woman who J. Edgar Hoover insisted was paid by the Kennedys to keep quiet, not only about her romance with Jack Kennedy, but also a baby they may have had together. (publisher)
Praise for THE SUMMER I MET JACK
“Gable brings her flair for multigenerational stories rooted in New England summers to this inspired-by-a-true-story tale that will appeal to Kennedy watchers, seasonal romantics, and fans of old Hollywood.” – Booklist
“This novel is based on the real story of Alice Darr, a postwar refugee who worked in the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port, Mass. From there some imagination takes over as Gable recounts this unlikely love story of a future president’s romance with the European maid.” – New York Times Book Review, New & Noteworthy
“Compassionate and intelligent…[THE SUMMER I MET JACK] offers massive cross-genre appeal.” – Library Journal, Starred review
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Have You Seen Luis Velez? by Catherine Ryan Hyde
Published: May 21, 2019 – Lake Union Publishing
Review copy from the publisher and Little Bird Publicity
Description: Raymond Jaffe feels like he doesn’t belong. Not with his mother’s new family. Not as a weekend guest with his father and his father’s wife. Not at school, where he’s an outcast. After his best friend moves away, Raymond has only two real connections: to the feral cat he’s tamed and to a blind ninety-two-year-old woman in his building who’s introduced herself with a curious question: Have you seen Luis Velez?
Mildred Gutermann, a German Jew who narrowly escaped the Holocaust, has been alone since her caretaker disappeared. She turns to Raymond for help, and as he tries to track Luis down, a deep and unexpected friendship blossoms between the two.
Despondent at the loss of Luis, Mildred isolates herself further from a neighborhood devolving into bigotry and fear. Determined not to let her give up, Raymond helps her see that for every terrible act the world delivers, there is a mirror image of deep kindness, and Mildred helps Raymond see that there’s hope if you have someone to hold on to. (publisher)
My take: On the day that seventeen-year-old Raymond’s closest (and only) friend moves to California he meets Mrs. Gutermann in the hallway of their New York apartment building. She’s in her nineties and is blind. She’s been waiting for the man who helps her with errands, etc. for several weeks. He doesn’t answer his phone and she’s worried. She asks anyone who passes her in the building if they’ve seen Luis Velez. One thing leads to another and Raymond finds himself on a quest to find out what happened to Luis. Along the way he’ll find a new friend or two – especially in Mrs. G. I loved their relationship – how it grew and the impact it had on both of them. Truly special. They have things to learn from each other. On a larger scale I liked how the novel (and all of the books I’ve read by this author) makes the point that if people would act out of kindness and empathy the world would be a better place. I’m so glad I had the chance to read this book.
There are discussion questions included.
About the author:
Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of more than thirty published and forthcoming books. An avid hiker, traveler, equestrian, and amateur photographer, she has released her first book of photos, 365 Days of Gratitude: Photos from a Beautiful World. Her novel Pay It Forward was adapted into a major motion picture, chosen by the American Library Association for its Best Books for Young Adults list, and translated into more than twenty-three languages for distribution in more than thirty countries. Both Becoming Chloe and Jumpstart the World were included on the ALA’s Rainbow Book List, and Jumpstart the World was a finalist for two Lambda Literary Awards. Where We Belong won two Rainbow Awards in 2013, and The Language of Hoofbeats won a Rainbow Award in 2015. More than fifty of her short stories have been published in the Antioch Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, Glimmer Train, and many other journals and in the anthologies Santa Barbara Stories, California Shorts, and New York Times bestseller Dog Is My Co-Pilot. Her stories have been honored in the Raymond Carver Short Story Contest and the Tobias Wolff Award and nominated for the O. Henry Award and the Pushcart Prize. Three have been cited in Best American Short Stories. She is the founder and former president (2000–2009) of the Pay It Forward Foundation and still serves on its board of directors. As a professional public speaker, she has addressed the National Conference on Education, spoken at Cornell University twice, met with AmeriCorps members at the White House, and shared a dais with Bill Clinton. For more information and book club questions, please visit the author at http://www.catherineryanhyde.com.
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