Thursday, March 31, 2016

Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic (#AWW2016)

Resurrection Bay is Australian writer Emma Viskic's first mystery novel and my first read for the Australian Woman Writer's Challenge 2016.

I purchased the paper copy through and the Kindle version is available on Amazon.
From the publisher:
Caleb Zelic, profoundly deaf since early childhood, has always lived on the outside - watching, picking up telltale signs people hide in a smile, a cough, a kiss. When a childhood friend is murdered, a sense of guilt and a determination to prove his own innocence sends Caleb on a hunt for the killer. But he can’t do it alone. Caleb and his troubled friend Frankie, an ex-cop, start with one clue: Scott, the last word the murder victim texted to Caleb. But Scott is always one step ahead.

This gripping, original and fast-paced crime thriller is set between a big city and a small coastal town, Resurrection Bay, where Caleb is forced to confront painful memories. Caleb is a memorable protagonist who refuses to let his deafness limit his opportunities, or his participation in the investigation. But does his persistence border on stubbornness? And at what cost? As he delves deeper into the investigation Caleb uncovers unwelcome truths about his murdered friend – and himself.

Resurrection Bay is the exciting debut novel by Melbourne-based award-winning crime writer Emma Viskic.
Caleb is the most interesting series sleuth that I've come across in a long time. He's deaf for starters, but it's the way he deals (or doesn't deal) with his condition that adds a fascinating layer to the investigation as well as to Caleb's life and backstory. As the blurb above states, he's been deaf since childhood and relies on lip reading, facial cues, and body language to "get by." He has aids that help him hear tone and noise, but he can't make out words distinctly.

Check out AWW2016 here
I use "get by" intentionally. There's a great scene with his estranged wife who accuses him of "passing." I often roll my eyes over a sleuth's interactions with an ex-spouse/lover, but this broken relationship seemed deeper and a more integral part of the actual story than most. (Note: the novel does not border on romance). His side-kick, Frankie, a former cop and struggling alcoholic, may sound like a stereotypical character, but she is a bit of fresh air, too.

Resurrection Bay is iBook Australia's Best Crime Novel of the Year. More importantly, book two in the series will be out in 2017 and book three in 2019. I hate waiting, but in the mean time I hope a U.S. publisher gets on this series. I don't mind ordering books from Australia, but I think Viskic could find an audience here.

Title: Resurrection Bay
Author: Emma Viskic
Publisher: Echo Publishing, Melbourne, Australia, 2015
Source: Bought it

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Black Deutschland by Darryl Pinckney

Black Deutschland caught my eye in February's Book Page and I immediately requested it from the library. A novel about a gay black guy from Chicago trying to stay sober in 1980s Berlin? Yes, please.

I'm attracted to novels set in Germany and love Chicago, city of my birth. Neighborhoods in both Berlin and Chicago figure prominently in this book, down to the mention of specific buildings. Even my hometown of Cicero, IL is mentioned (as usual, and deservedly, in a negative light), for "keeping out" Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr: "The suburb of Cicero, Illinois, kicked Reverend King so hard it made Mahalia Jackson groan" (153). I'm not sure how to write about this novel, but I feel the need to, so here goes.

The narrator is Jed, a gay middle-class African-American man who grew up in 1960s/70s Chicago. His parents are focused on Negro Achievement and from a young age Jed is pressured to perform, to contribute, to be somebody. As a black boy growing up in racist America he knows the dangers outside of his neighborhood. Yet he's also living the personal struggle of never really fitting in with family. Hence, his search for both a sense of self and a home. Isherwood initially points Jed to Berlin, but other forces keep pulling him back.

Jed's cousin, Cello, acts as his foil. Also from Chicago, Cello's parents were a mess, but the girl showed musical promise, so Jed's mom stepped in and became a sort of combined surrogate mother, music teacher, and career coach for her niece. As a girl Cello was a talented hard-worker, on track to be somebody. Meanwhile, Jed drifts. At the beginning of the novel Cello seems to be a success story. She's living in Germany with her wealthy German husband and their two children, still focused on her music. Jed has lived with them before and was banished back to Chicago due to his alcoholism.

Now sober, Jed it back in Berlin, his adopted home city. The bulk of the novel is Jed reflecting back on his second attempt to start his adult life. It doesn't begin on a promising note. In their first conversation we learn Cello's German is flawless, Jed's is rusty: "Cello would have said that she was making me practice my German, but she was also cancelling out our equality" (18). A brilliant  example of one way a family member attempts to establish dominance, both literally and figuratively, over another.

There is so much packed into this novel. Historical time periods, movements, places, events, writers, artists, politicians -- all are both the backdrop for and the shaping forces of the confusion and beauty that is daily life where humans navigate the pressures of parental expectations, race, class, gender, sexuality, sex, disease, racism, hatred, nationalism, family, and everything else. How do we create a sense of self in this tornado? Why do we create the lives we live? Why are we attracted to places and people? Why is love so often shot through with pain and does it have to be that way? To whom should we be loyal and why?

Overall, this book blew me away. It's a smart novel that draws on and makes so many cultural references it made my head spin. Some of them I got, some of them I knew I didn't get, and I'm sure there's a whole bunch that went whooshing over my head. It energized as it exhausted me and made me want to learn more.

In some ways its curious that I like this novel so much. I tend to like straightforward narratives and this is not that. It's a collection of the narrator's observations of self and others, observations that bounce around in time and space. We might think of our lives as neat chronological narratives, but the reality, when we're present to it, anyway, is that life is messy. It felt real.

Title: Black Deutschland: A Novel
Author: Darryl Pinkney
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, February, 2016
Source: Library copy

Pinckney's earlier works include the novel High Cotton (1992) and two nonfiction works, Out There: Mavericks of Black Literature (2002) and Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy (2014).

Sunday, March 20, 2016

2016 Marathon Reading of Uncle Tom's Cabin (#StoweMarathon)

Yesterday I had the great pleasure of being a reader at the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center's annual 24-hour marathon reading of Uncle Tom's Cabin in Hartford, CT.  The marathon wrapped up minutes after 11 o'clock this morning, but the reading was streamed live and you can watch the recording by clicking here if you're interested.

Each volunteer read for 10 minutes. As you can see in the picture above two podiums stand side by side. While the current reader read, the next reader up would head to the podium about a minute before it was his or her time to read. This made the transition from reader to reader go very smoothly. Readers read primarily in English and also in Greek, Arabic, German, French, Italian, and ASL.

If you've read Uncle Tom's Cabin, you know it's full of some pretty tough dialect, which we all stumbled through as best we could. This was a low-key, yet powerful event. It was both heart-warming to see so many types of people come together to read from such an important novel and heart-wrenching to revisit a painful story, the racist elements of which we're still struggling with today. That is what makes Stowe's writing so powerful 164 years after it was published.

Abe Lincoln in the audience. Image captured from live-stream video.

I watched some of the live-stream video this morning and was surprised to see President Lincoln in the audience! He was the final reader of the marathon. (Portrayed by Howard Wright.) Tradition has it that when President Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1862 he said, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war."

Have you read Uncle Tom's Cabin? Visit the Harriet Beecher Stowe Center's website to learn more about Stowe and the impact her novel had and continues to have.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Found in a Book: Mrs. Avery Coonley's Calling Card

I found this Brentano's envelope and Mrs. Avery Coonley's calling card (?) at a second hand bookstore in Connecticut. The calling card was in the envelope which I found on a shelf behind some books in the religion section where it obviously fell out of a book.

Initially I was more interested in the Brentano's envelope and had no idea who Mrs. Avery Coonley was. After a little research I believe this may have been Queene Ferry Coonley, 1874-1958, born Addie Elizabeth Ferry.

Among her list of achievements and activities Queene was a graduate of Vassar, a suffragist, a philanthropist, an advocate for progressive education, and in 1906 founded a school in Riverside, IL. In 1912 she founded what would become The Avery Coonley School in Downers Grove, IL which is still in operation. She commissioned works by Frank Lloyd Wright and helped get him out of financial ruin in later years. And in 1954 she published a book with Charlotte Krum titled, Great Thoughts: An Anthology of Sayings, Garnered Over the Years.

Born in Detroit, Queene lived for a time in Illinois until moving to Washington D.C. in 1912 after her husband's death. You can read a bit more about her here.

At first I assumed the envelope was from Brentano's bookstore, but I haven't been able to ID this logo. Most of the Brentano's bookstore logos I've come across use a blockier font. Any leads or ideas are welcome.

It's a curious thing that I found Queene's card in a Connecticut bookstore when we both have a connection to Riverside, Illinois. The church I grew up attending was in Riverside and as an adult I lived in an apartment overlooking that church. The first house I owned was in Brookfield, IL, the next town over. I've learned in my research that Brookfield asked Queene to fund their kindergarten and she did so in a big way: she bought the land, commissioned William E. Drummond to build the school, and underwrote the tuition fees.

Queene in 1950 [source; click to view images of the Coonley residence by Wright]
Riverside is a beautiful town. It was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead in the 1860s and is one of the first planned communities in the U.S. If you're interested, click here see my post on the beautiful Riverside Public Library.

I plan on doing more research on this fascinating woman. I'd love to find out how a girl who was given the name Addie Elizabeth at birth ended up going by the name Queene.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Mystery House (Wordless Wednesday)

Do you know whose house this is? 

Hint: she loves a good mystery
Clue: in Mendocino, California

Subtle signs of spring surround this famous house.

I'll list the answer on Friday if no one answers.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Round and Around We Go Again . . . #CCSpin 12

The last Classics Club Spin book was a bummer for me. Catch-22. Blah. It was the third time I tried to read that book and although I could appreciate the content to some extent, I couldn't force myself through the repetitive vibe. It was a big ol' DNF.

On Monday (March 7th) the grand wizards behind the Classics Club will post a number between 1-20 and Clubbers will be challenged to read whatever book falls under that number on our Spin Lists by May 2, 2016.

I'm hoping for #14, which would be The Grapes of Wrath for me, since I recently visited the National Steinbeck Center [post about that visit here].

Here is my list of hopefuls for this spin #12:
  1. The Monk, Lewis, 1796 
  2. Pride and Prejudice, Austen, 1813 
  3. The House of the Seven Gables, Hawthorne, 1851 
  4. Crime and Punishment, Dostoyevsky, 1866 
  5. Anna Karenina, Tolstoy, 1869 
  6. Carmilla, Le Fanu, 1872 
  7. The Bostonians, James, 1886 
  8. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, Twain, 1889 <--- The Chosen One!
  9. Maurice, Forster, 1914 
  10. The Good Soldier, Ford, 1915 
  11. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce, 1916
  12. So Big, Ferber, 1924 
  13. The Magic Mountain, Mann, 1924 
  14. The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck, 1939 
  15. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Smith, 1943 
  16. From Here to Eternity, Jones, 1951 
  17. The Price of Salt, Highsmith, 1952 
  18. Lord of the Flies, Golding, 1954 
  19. Giovanni's Room, Baldwin, 1956 
  20. Ship of Fools, Porter, 1962 
What book are you excited about on your own list?
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