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I am really recommending any of Richard Russo’s works. All of them are great and
you can follow a rise in the quality of his writing as you read newer and newer
works. The basic premise seems to be the same in each of his novels (at least the 4
of his 5 which I have read): they’re all set in a small town in the American
Northeast and full of wacky characters -- some in dire situations, some suffering
for caring about those in dire situations, and some suffering at the hands of those
in dire situations. Either way, the characters are what are great about Russo’s
writing. He makes you believe that these unreal folk are real and he makes you
suffer along with them, while at the same time you often want to give them a
smack-in-the-head wake-up call. This title won Russo the Pulitzer Prize in fiction
for 2002. Basically, it is a chilling commentary on Columbine, but the plot, as in
his other works, is almost incidental to how the characters react to what is
occurring. Russo is always funny and often at the same time heart-wrenching. His
books are quick reads and all wonderfully realized.
In beautiful stark prose, Maile Meloy tells the story of the Santerre family,
following the complex relationships among four generations from World War II and the
family's arrival in California to the present. As the story shifts from one
generation to the next and one decade to the next, Meloy competently shifts the tone
of the novel to match the tone of each era and provides insight into the effects of
social change through time on the structure of the family. While it dabbles in the
realm of literary soap opera and has its moment of melodrama, the characters and the
family secrets they share provide an engaging and compelling story of heartbreak,
Catholic guilt, and sexual temptation.
Nina Maria Martínez’s meandering novel is a delight. It follows its two
twenty-something heroines and an assortment of wacky secondary characters through a
sleepy California town, Lava Landing, located at the base of an inactive volcano.
Natalie and Consuelo provide necessary relief for fans of women’s fiction who are
tired of chick lit. The girls sport Payless shoes instead of Manolo Blahniks, wear
K-mart not Versace and there’s not a glamorous media job to be found. The pace of
the novel, like that of its setting is slow. This is no page-turner, but a book to
spend time with. The hardcover version of the book is a work of art. It’s packed
with bonus features such as colored pages, Lava Landing themed Lotería cards and
artifacts such as menus, paper dolls and letters.
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