4.5 stars

Review Roundup!

I’ve been reading up a storm, but life has been kinda life-y. So I thought a little review roundup was in order.

Zorrie by Laird Hunt. Short, spare, quietly powerful. In just 159 pages, Hunt economically and sparingly tells the entire life story of Zorrie, a tough woman from Indiana farm country. Orphaned young, Zorrie walks the land looking for work. Her curiosity takes her west to a Radium processing plant, her heart brings her back to Indiana. If you are looking for action, adventure, and bright lights, this isn’t it (well, except for the Radium glowing from Zorrie and her friends). It is quiet telling of a quiet life of a strong woman with a connection to her land and her community. If you are a fan of Kent Haruf, I definitely recommend you pick it up. FOUR STARS

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones. I read Jones’ American Marriage a couple of years ago and loved it, knowing I would read more by her. Silver Sparrow is centered around James Witherspoon and his two separate families — his public one and his private one. While you my think this to be a tale of polygamy set in the way way back, you would be wrong. All the secrecy and living-a-double-life shenanigans are happening in Atlanta in the 1980s. More juicy? The story is told in two parts, the first half from the secret daughter, the second from the public-facing daughter. #DANG Two strong narrators make the audio version worth checking out. FOUR STARS

When We Believed In Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal. There’s mystery and secret at the heart of When We Believed in Mermaids, but it’s no thriller. As a book club friend pointed out, the peachy cover with turquoise lettering should have been the giveaway. Kit, a doctor, is watching the news when a tragedy in New Zealand airs and she sees her sister on the screen. Her sister that was supposed to be dead. Trotting the globe, Kit learns that her sister Josie, now living as Mari, has a new semi-charmed life and a lot of explaining to do. This is comfortably couched in the beach read category for me. Good escapist chick lit. THREE STARS

She Come by It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs by Sara Smarsh. This is a collection of essays that were originally published in 2016 as a four-part series for the journal of root music No Depression. While there’s information about Dolly (all of which can be found in other publications), Smarsh aims to bring light to the plight of poor women, the women not benefiting from the strides their middle and upper-middle-class counterparts have benefited from over the years. If this is of interest to you, you might like the collection. If it’s not, you probably won’t. THREE STARS

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro. This book is just on the verge of being outside of my comfort zone. Science fiction is not my jam. Artificial Intelligence hovers on that sci-fi line. If you’re wondering why I chose it? I didn’t. I have one of my book clubs to blame. But that’s also the reason I love book clubs. Klara is an artificial friend, and AF, to Josie (not to be confused with Josie in the mermaid book previously mentioned. Purchased at a place reminiscent of an Apple store, but solely to by AFs (how AF is that?), Klara is teenage Josie’s constant companion and a motive for Klara’s mother to be more. Ishiguro entertains topics of loneliness, climate change, artificial intelligence, human emotions and more. I have the feeling I am going to like talking about this one more than reading it. FOUR AND A HALF STARS

Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour. This book is brilliant. And different. And not like anything I have read before. My thoughts will be shared in greater detail when I talk about it with my Snotty Literati writing partner. So stay tuned, or just trust me.

The Nix

My Snotty Literati column for March is here!

Check out why you won’t want to nix Nathan Hill’s The Nix from your reading list!

Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Me Before You

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie


My Snotty Literati cohort and I finally got to one of the best books of 2013, Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Read our review of Americanah and see what we thought. SPOILER ALERT: We loved it!

Snotty Literati Reviews: The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Hubby SecretI made Jennifer read this book after she bailed on a book she forced me to read. And guess what? We both loved it. I bet you will too.

Check out our review of The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. It’s not just a pretty cover. There’s substance beyond the title.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich and I run hot and cold. Having never met me, she doesn’t realize this. But it’s true.

My first experience with her was with my book club (The Book Babes) in 2007 when we read The Master Butchers Singing Club. It was stunning. It was full of nuggets, rich and hearty, that when consumed warmed your belly. Really.

“Our songs travel the earth. We sing to one another. Not a single note is ever lost and no song is original. They all come from the same place and go back to a time when only the stones howled.”

Lovely, right?

In subsequent years we read The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse and Love Medicine and some of the luster had worn off. All of her stuff is pretty highly acclaimed, but these didn’t have the same impact. I didn’t think they were as good and the Book Babes agreed. Well, except for two of them; there are always dissenters. And despite this, Erdrich’s The Round House popped up again for possible book club selection (and with very mixed emotions from the Babes).

There was a potential saving grace. The Round House actually won the National Book Award (NBA) for Fiction in 2012.

Snap 2013-09-05 at 21.30.02

I love NBA winners (and most finalists, Little No Horse, withstanding). The NBAs are like the fun, tipsy, true-color Golden Globes compared to the stuffy and uptight Academy Awards, or Pulitzers. So my hesitation turned to interest, and my interest turned to complete book club advocation when I realized I had mistakenly purchased The Round House while on my last outing to my favorite indie bookseller. Hmmm. Premonition? Or poor book grabbing habits while wandering the aisles? Regardless, I rallied and campaigned hard. I secured enough votes for it and it wasn’t even my month to host.

Are you riveted yet?

Are you on the edge of your seat dying to know what I thought?

Or are you annoyed and just wanting me to get on with it?


I loved it! I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s deserving of the highest praise, even in a year that had Junot Diaz, Dave Eggers, Ben Fountain, and Kevin Powers. The Round House rocked the house and Louise and I are back on.

So, where to begin? How about with this:

“Small trees had attacked my parents’ house at the foundation. They were just seedlings with one or two healthy leaves. Nevertheless, the stalky shoots had managed to squeeze through knife cracks in the decorative brown shingles covering the cement blocks.That had grown into the unseen wall and it was difficult to pry them loose.”

The opening of Erdich’s thirteenth novel is foreboding, hinting of things to come. It’s 1988 on the Ojibwe reservation in North Dakota where 13-year old Joe Coutts loses his innocence and his mother. Tribal enrollment specialist Geraldine Coutts leaves the house abruptly one Sunday afternoon to get a file from her office. After a disconcerting amount of time has passed, Joe’s father, tribal judge Bazil Coutts, asks Joe where she is. Unable to answer, they both become worried.

“Even if she’d gone to her sister Clemence’s house to visit afterward, Mom would have returned by now to start dinner. We both knew that. Women don’t realize how much store men set on the regularity of their habits. We absorb their comings and goings into our bodies, their rhythms into our bones. Our pulse is set to theirs, and as always on a weekend afternoon, we were waiting for my mother to start ticking away on the evening.

And so, you see, her absence stopped time.”

Joe and his father crack the ice of frozen time and go out to find Geraldine. The good news is that they find her, driving back to their home on from the main road. The bad news is that when they return to the house, they learn she has been brutally attacked and assaulted. And at that moment, as Bazil helps her out of the car, Geraldine collapses; falling swiftly into an impenetrable depression. Unable to share any information about the attack, Joe and his father are  rendered helpless.

But not for long.

Joe’s sole mission becomes to solve this horrible crime against his mother. Seeking support from his three best friends, he makes his way to The Round House, a holy place on the reservation that he believes may be the scene of the crime. He searches for clues, uncovers evidence and presses his father for details as Geraldine is forced to open up. Complications arise. Jurisdiction and criminal oversight become muddied and Joe becomes more focused on understanding how this could happen and who could have done this horrible act.

Joe visits the community’s clergy, Father Travis for guidance.

“The only answer to this, and it isn’t an entire answer, said Father Travis, is that God made human beings free agents. We are able to choose good over evil, but the opposite too. And in order to protect our human freedom, God doesn’t often, very often at least, intervene. God can’t do that without taking away our moral freedom. Do you see?

No. But yeah.

The only thing that God can do, and does all of the time, is to draw good from any evil situation.”

And you know, even early on, that good does come of this. Joe is a grown man telling this story. He’s married and a practicing lawyer. Getting from that horrible day to the present had to mean good was drawn out of evil.

As with her other stories, Erdrich tackles issues faced in Native American communities, and doesn’t shy away from the topics of good, evil, spirituality, and morality. Her narrative construction with Joe as an adult reflecting on this life-altering summer worked. She captured the male voice and perspective of a boy who loves his mother and a man reflecting back on a horrific time. Filling out the story, Erdich has created a cast of characters that extend beyond the Coutts family, and run the gamut of being endearing, appalling, hilarious and frustrating, with the suspect hiding out on the fringes of it all. It’s at times nerve-wracking and in the end wholly satisfying. While the attack on Geraldine was brutal and shocking, the conclusion will take you by surprise as well. But as I closed the book and allowed the story to settle, I found it wrapped up in what might be the only way the Coutts family could move forward, patching up the cracks in the cement foundation of their home and their family.

Rating: 4.5 Stars
Pages: 336
Genre: Fiction