Fiction, Non-Fiction

You Can’t Wrap Fire in Paper

You Can’t Wrap Fire in Paper by Heather Corbally Bryant from Ardent Writer Press is a genuine genre-twisting novel. While technically, “creative non-fiction,” there’s a bit of history, screenwriting, crime fiction, spy novel, journalism, and literary fiction. Bryant’s eloquent, efficient, and effective hand feels like the necessary tool to tell the story of her grandmother, Irene Corbally Kuhn.

Bryant writes the character of her grandmother as a high-witted woman of the 1920-40s Shanghai Bund. The dialogue between Irene, her husband, and the close knit group of Western journalists in a transitioning Shanghai sound straight out of early 20th century film. It’s not until the end (don’t worry, no spoilers) where we see long passages of actual letters sent by the characters within the story that we see she stayed ever so true to their distinctly fluent style.

Students of modern Chinese history will appreciate the historical accuracy of this very personal tale of love, international intrigue, and loss in an esoteric time and place in China. The story is determinedly and appropriately written from the vantage points of an elite group of western journalists in a part of China that catered to creating a western dream in an Asian country. Due to this specific perspective of the characters, a reader will not find an awareness outside of the western life of the international concession present in the text. This element can be a bit jarring and possibly could have been avoided with a few fictional digressions into the lives of the Chinese that in the existing text briefly enter view.

But the tale is a beautiful ode to her grandmother told based on the correspondences she received and other historical records. Wrestling with a fast paced job, a husband that is loved and loving but visibly complicated, and starting a family, Irene approaches them all with journalistic eye.

You Can’t Wrap Fire in Paper is a moving read for fans of historical fiction focused on the Anglo-American and European experience in Asia or those with an interest stories of strong women working within the times they were handed.

Fiction

Einstein’s Beach House and other well-told stories

Einstein’s Beach House” is a collection of short stories by Jacob M. Appel. This is the second work I’ve reviewed for Appel. The first was a novel, “Millard Salter’s Last Day” which I reviewed for this site in December 2017. Now having read two of his works, I can say Appel is definitely in the running for becoming one of my favorite authors. One of the most endearing qualities of his writing appears to be taking the morbid, depressingly confusing, or otherwise awful experiences in human life and making them some of the most mundane background elements of the stories he tells.

Appel’s style takes an even hand between events and dialogue throughout. But each story is heavy with internal musings. The short stories in this volume display the same expert hand at bringing a reader into the narrators mind as in the Millard novel. The difference here is that Appel draws you in, let’s you feel comfortable there and then delivers with adroit brevity an entire novel of experiences in 1-2 ending sentences. These closing lines don’t leave you with questions as to how this life or lives come to fruition or end. They are complete endings in and of themselves. Some are more open ended than others but they still provide the necessary closure to allow a reader to feel comfortable having read the whole story.

I received my copy through a LibrayThing giveaway and have donated it to a little free library. This review is also available on Amazon, Goodreads, LibraryThing, and Instagram @reviewsbymarie.

advice, business

Pacing for Growth

Pacing for Growth: Why Intelligent Restraint Drives Long-Term Success is a business leadership advice book from a woman with 3 decades of business consulting experience. It presents the benefits of and provides learning strategies for, what it terms, the “intelligent restraint” model. The well-written, easily consumed prose of Alison Eyring makes it worth a read, whether you run a team, business, or are just curious about your own personal growth.

Her advice model is based on evidence-driven methods culled from years long studies with a variety of companies. But it shines most in readability through the use of Eyring’s own endurance running journey as a metaphor throughout. It excels over similar business and leadership books in its clear use of a strong research design and execution for developing the strategies it presents.

The model of “intelligent restraint” is built on an understanding of one’s own capacity and capabilities and leveraging both through exertion and restraint. This particular delivery of the model is laid out with a combination of personal experience, relevant company stories, bullet summaries, and self-reflection questions and exercises. It is ideal for both a corporate or organizational training. It could also be perfect for a book club focused on leadership or self-help books.

The model described is clearly one that could be fleshed out even more beautifully in a longer, more novel-like approach. However, this 180 page version works well.

I received my copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Fiction, Young Adult Fiction

Italian American YA (yes, that is a thing)

The YA novel, Beyond the Wicked Willow, by M.J. Rocissono and illustrated by Joe Rocissono is a story that traverses modern day United States and historical Italy. Curses and witching are connecting the two. It brings together times from late BC, AD1200s, and 2012. The story is full of detailed Italian lore and appropriate for both adults and children from about age 10+.

I picture an Italian-American teen, who has had experience with great grandparents or grandparents mentioning some of the old superstitions or traditions from Italy, finding real joy in this book. That said, it is an ideal read for anyone who enjoys historical YA and a surprisingly good read for an independently published piece.

Fiction

So much promise falls flat

To start with…I wanted to love Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday. The amount of acclaim placed on this book implied that there was largely no way I wouldn’t. Moreover, I appreciate stories with some gimmicky elements. The gimmick in Asymmetry includes three ostensibly disparate stories connected at an unexpected moment in the storyline and in tone. It accomplishes this while also including the female anti-hero. That it manages to accomplish all this in a relatively stylistic fashion merits it four out of five stars. However, it is more of a “take it or leave it” read. Halliday’s style is too bare to entrance a reader and also at the detriment of drawing the Alice character fully as an anti-hero.

I finished this novel in March, but thought with time I would grow to appreciate its finer points. I did not and for that I’m forced to mark it as a worthy read, but not a necessary one.

children's

Two children’s books for your consideration

Many apologies…I have been out of pocket for quite sometime and am just coming out of that lull. I have a slate of YA and adult fiction and non-fiction coming up in June and July. In the meantime, I offer you two children’s books I received for review and believe are worthy of an audience.

I’ll have to admit at the outset that I am pretty partial to Polly Diamond and the Magic Book. It is written in the same way my daughter talks. She is a bit younger than the target age for this, which I’d say is around 3rd grade. But it captures the energy of lower elementary graders.

As for the book itself, the story is delightful and just kooky enough to hold the attention of its key demographic. Adults will likely find it scattered though.

Length on books aimed at early elementary can often be tricky since that is the age that kids’ reading levels are most divergent. But this one works for a solid reader who is ready for their first longer books.

A book that covers all ages, though without the stories is Prayers for young children. By Martina Steinkuhler, it contains many beautifully written, touchingly warm prayers/poems. They are perfect to read to an infant and yet wonderfully fleshed out to share with an older child.

What makes this book one to keep out in the child’s room though are the wonderful illustrations by Nascimbeni. They are bright, clear, solid, block style colored prints and they adorn every page.

This is a wonderful keepsake printed on high quality, thick paper with a sturdy hardback book binding.

Both have been placed in a Little Free Library and reviewed on Amazon and LibraryThing.

Fiction

A Feminist Love Story with Strong Roots

Louisiana Catch by Sweta Srivastana Vikram is a fast-paced read with relevant characters for our contemporary moment here in 2018. The main character works on women’s empowerment while still struggling with the demons that led her to see how important that cause is. Vikram’s writing is a similar perfect balance. The novel has almost the fast past feel of a dialogue heavy book ready for a screenplay. Yet, is filled with the necessary detail to make the reading endeavor that much more worthwhile.

Beyond the quality of writing, the main reason I love this story is the strong character serving as a woman’s rights advocate on which the story is centered. Vikram doesn’t shy away from including the abusive or emotionally wasteful experiences of her past, but rather than exploiting them shows the day in, day out mental work that goes into rising above and learning from those experiences from her perspective.

The main character, Ahana, takes us through her life in New Delhi, New York, and New Orleans. She has strong relationships with her family, who’s characters are richly drawn through her lens. Ahana’s professional life is both inspired by and made vulnerable (at least in her own mind) by an abusive past. She, like many of us, tries to get away from this past and yet is still working to make different decisions, not always successfully. Striving toward a realty that understands what true partnership and support looks like.

This story could be one written about any woman with an extended family that keeps her grounded. Yet, the beautiful details of the Indian family that it centers on feel like your own. Vikram has written the exact woman centered novel needed in our current times. The movie style writing would translate into a screenplay easily, and I would love to see that movie.

I received my copy in exchange for an honest review. This review is also available on Goodreads and LibraryThing. The copy I reviewed has been lent to a friend to read on my recommendation. She has agreed to place it in a little free library once she’s done to continue to spread this high quality novel.