Angela Amman

Liar’s Bench – A review

Liars Bench

Mudas Summers is on the brink of adulthood — seventeen years old, with a set of car keys in one hand and all sorts of confusion about the truth of her mother’s death in the other. Liar’s Bench by Kim Michele Richardson explores the power of truth, the strength of love, and the ability to move past bad choices to find peace.

Set in 1972, Richardson takes full advantage of the tumultuous history of the time. Civil rights and women’s rights are entwined in Liar’s Bench, and the juxtaposition of past and present are crucial to the storyline and the emotional fabric of the novel.

When Mudas’s mother is found hanging in her home, the authorities are on the verge of considering it a suicide, though Mudas is insistent her mother would never take her own life. Her family’s past haunts her as she grieves, and she lashes out at her father, reminding him of how his actions divided their small family and possibly set her mother’s death in motion. Armed with only her car and on the verge of taking a relationship from friendship to something more, she finds herself searching for the truth about her mother’s death — and her father’s role in it.

As she strides toward evidence that will explain her mother’s actions, she stumbles over another truth, one that has the potential to rewrite the history of the entire town.

Social issues are woven into the plot line, giving Richardson’s novel beautiful depth that extends well beyond the story of Mudas and her family. Mudas is barraged from all sides with issues like trying to navigate her athletic ability — she’s a superb runner — in a world unsure about female athletes while entering a relationship with a classmate of mixed racial background, which is fraught with tension in rural Kentucky.

The setting of Liar’s Bench, a small town straddling the line between the Midwest and the Deep South, is perfect for the story Richardson tells. Like Mudas herself, who’s straddling the line between youth and adulthood, there are many thin lines in Liar’s Bench, and Richardson strives to address each of those while keeping her narrative flowing.

The language of Liar’s Bench is lovely, which makes some of the horrors of the plot even more powerful. Richardson adeptly uses the sense of smell in visceral ways throughout the story to bring the reader more fully into the world she’s crafted. Her characters are authentic, and sometimes raw, in a way that kept me turning the pages well past when I thought I’d put down my book for the night.

I loved the glimpse she gives into the world of the early 1970s, especially because Liar’s Bench provides much opportunity for conversations about how things have changed for minorities since then — if they have at all, or if the prejudices and biases are just more carefully covered in the present day.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Liar’s Bench for consideration for review. I do not automatically review every book I receive for consideration, and all opinions are my own.

This House Needs a Mouse – A review

This House Needs a Mouse

Bedtime stories have become a negotiation lately — and exciting, heart-expanding negotiation, but sometimes a challenge nonetheless. Abbey reads more and more on her own, and she likes to take over the story reading, but there are nights Dylan insists Ryan or I read. We often juggle picture books, chapters in current favorites — we’re loving the Ivy and Bean series — and anything else that strikes a chord each evening.

On nights we read picture books, there are certain ones that hold Abbey’s attention; she enjoys detailed illustrations and stories about animals, and This House Needs a Mouse has both.

C. Jeffrey Nunnally’s children’s book follows a sweet little mouse as he leaves his cage behind and finds a home with a family who needs a mouse to clean up all of the crumbs left behind by a busy family with a young child. We love reading about the crumbs, because it’s something we deal with daily, so there are giggles and finger pointing as the kids banter about which of them leaves the most crumbs on the table or the floor during meals.

But just when the mouse is getting comfortable, everything changes — and we all know how disconcerting that can be. One of my favorite parts of reading with the kids is connecting the stories we’re reading with things happening in their lives, and This House Needs a Mouse offers several opportunities for conversations about what makes a home, what to do when we have to move outside of our comfort zones, and how to adapt to change.

As the mouse maneuvers his way around poison and a mouse-hunting cat, he finds his way to a place he can really feel at home. Each time we read This House Needs a Mouse, Abbey is thrilled by the cute ending — and asks when we’ll get to find out what happens next.

We’ve read The Mouse and the Motorcycle together, and I think This House Needs a Mouse is a perfect segue to revisit the Beverly Cleary trilogy about Ralph the Mouse.

Consider purchasing this charming children’s book this holiday season! You can find This House Needs a Mouse on the book’s websiteAmazonBarnes and Noble, and Big Tent Books.

How long do bedtime stories take at your house?

Disclosure: I received a copy of This House Needs a Mouse for consideration for review. All opinions are my own.

 

Not Without My Father – A review

Not Without My Father I ran gently the day after my half-marathon this fall, testing and stretching sore muscles. The previous day’s thirteen (point one) mile run weighed heavily on my joints, and even as my slow run loosened the kinks, I looked forward to stretching, to resting, and I haven’t come close to that thirteen (point one) mile distance since the sunny Sunday at the end of September.

In March, Andra Watkins published a book, a feat I admire in and of itself. To Live Forever: An Afterlife Journey of Meriwether Lewis is haunting and hopeful, and the Natchez Trace played a huge part in the story. With the novel’s release, Watkins made the decision to walk the entire Natchez Trace — a walk, she’s reminded several times during her undertaking, “no one does.”

I loved To Live Forever, and I was thrilled to hear Watkins would be publishing a memoir about her journey up the Natchez Trace — all 444 miles of a walk that started in Mississippi and ended in Tennessee. Her trek wasn’t something she could do alone. In order to walk the Trace in six weeks, she needed someone to hold down the virtual fort for her — someone to help check in at bed and breakfasts, someone to meet her at mile markers at the end of her walk each day.

That person was her father.

Not Without My Father isn’t simply a tale of Watkins’ walk.

Of course, the trek up the Trace is a central focus of the book. From the unexpected sleet — remember 2013 – 2014 was the winter that never, ever wanted to end — and the perfect beauty of a hopping robin to the ravaged blisters from the repetitive motion of the walk, Watkins’ accomplishment shouldn’t be reduced to the emotional journey of her six-week undertaking. Walking fifteen miles a day, for six straight days, then resting a day and starting again, is a physical feat requiring tenacity and utter obstinance.

Despite the aches and pains of the physical trial, those aren’t the details that will echo through my thoughts when I remember Not Without My Father.

Watkins confronts many things during her walk. Mental, physical, and emotional obstacles are impossible to ignore when you meet them on your own two feet. Family dynamics play an enormous part in the memoir. Roy Watkins is out of shape and ornery, ready to verbally spar with his daughter over everything from climbing stairs to signing books with her swollen fingers. Yet he is the one who sells her book to anyone who will listen to his pitch, the one person who sees her each day, the one who sees in her eyes that she isn’t going to quit.

The book itself is a lovely read, each section named with a song. There’s something about a playlist that makes a road trip all the more appealing, though most of us will make our next 400 plus mile trip in a car and not on our tired, sore legs. Roy Watkins’ own words can be found in sections, and his impressions of the trip — and of his daughter — add depth, perspective, tenderness, and quiet wit to the tale. One of the threads that weaves through Not Without My Father is that Roy Watkins is a storyteller, and his voice is an expected harmony to Andra Watkins’ own storytelling.

I started Not Without My Father while Dylan was getting a haircut, and I knew within pages, that I was reading something I absolutely needed to read right now. I dog-eared many pages while I read, but Watkins’ line, “Because I was where I needed to be,” resonated with me. It resonates with me still.

I will not walk the Natchez Trace. But I hope to channel the strength and spirit Watkins gathers as she makes her way north. I want to recognize the things I fear and face them anyway, on feet that are tired and sore and still walking until they take me where I need to be.

What has inspired you lately?

Not Without My Father will be available on January 15, 2015. Add it to your Goodreads reading list. While you’re waiting, you can read To Live Forever or follow Andra Watkins on her blog, Facebook, or Twitter.

 

NaBloPoMo November 2014

The Virgin Suicides – A review

The Virgin Suicides In 2012, I did a little “Read it, then watch it” post, and — of course — included The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides. The book is one of my favorites, which is simple and so complicated for someone who loves more and more books each year. I’ve been writing more lately, so I’ve been thinking about writing — what I want to do, what it can do for the reader, and my favorite books are always on my mind when I’m juggling those sorts of questions in my head.

The Virgin Suicides is one of those books that settled into my soul the first time I read it. I’d say I wish I would have written it, but I love the Jeffrey Eugenides did. Reading it means it appeared to me whole, without the sweat and editing and tears that belong to the writer during the creation of a novel. I will say that, one day, I hope to have something as luminous in my own catalog. I hope to have the ability to capture beauty and darkness the way Eugenides does — because that combination is the lifeblood of so many of my story ideas.

A few weeks ago, my friend Galit asked me to recommend my favorite book in a single sentence. My brain could barely process the idea, but I came up with one, and I’m thrilled to have it included in an article she wrote — find 7 more amazing book recommendations from readers.

In The Virgin Suicides, Jeffery Eugenides uses evocative, hazy prose to explore the suicides of the Lisbon sisters, outsiders who become the object of brooding, pubescent obsession, morphing into a single entity of feminine mystery.

Could you describe your favorite book in a single sentence? Humor me and try it?

Of course, I have much more to say about The Virgin Suicides, so I thought I’d re-post a review I originally shared with my friend, Katie, at Sluiter Nation

***

Jeffrey Eugenides lyrically weaves the voyeuristic nature of teenage fascination with the adult yearning to make sense of tragic acts in The Virgin Suicides, his first novel.

The demise of the Lisbon sisters is never in doubt.  Their deaths introduce the novel, and the reader is left to follow the narrator through the thirteen months that link the first and seventh suicide attempts of the doomed blonde girls obsessed over by a gaggle of neighborhood boys.

Narrated by an unnamed classmate of the five sisters, The Virgin Suicides probes at an idyllic, lazily complacent suburban neighborhood in the seventies, trying to brush aside the blanket of fallen autumn leaves to find the girls’ motivation, intent on ending their lives.

Fiercely sheltered by their parents, the girls are outsiders, the object of brooding, childish obsession, morphing into a single entity of feminine mystery.

As I fell into Eugenides’ lyrical prose, I searched for understanding alongside the narrator, studying the clues offered, descriptions of photographs and interviews and sparse personal memories that the adult narrator clings to in order to identify what really happened with the girls so many years before.

It’s not a surprise that the only sister to assert an identity separate from her sisters is Lux, the rebellious, promiscuous sister, smoking at school and sneaking out of her house with nameless, faceless one-night stands.

Always watching the girls from a distance, it becomes clear that the narrator has been shaped forever by his infatuation with the Lisbon girls, more affected by his ideas about them than his actual, extremely limited interaction with them.

At the end, I didn’t know much more about the sisters’ reasons for suicide than the narrator, which didn’t detract from my fierce enjoyment of the novel.  The haunting prose, alone, is enough to compel me to read this book time after time.

Dark humor pervades the story, from an aside mention of a cast-iron doorstop that eventually aids one sister’s suicide to worried specialists trying to find a message from the girls in their favorite record albums.  That subtle humor provides texture to the tale, distancing me from the overtly tragic nature of five girls in one family killing themselves in just over one calendar year.

The compelling power of male, teenage desire is at the heart of this story, the girls simply pawns in the fantasies of their neighbors, their death a satirically cautionary tale about believing too deeply in the first stirrings of teenage lust.

NaBloPoMo November 2014

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