novel.

Shelf Life by Nadia Wassef

Blame it on naivete or my newbie bookseller status, but I did not realize that, culturally, bookselling can vary drastically from country to country, but it can and it does, and thanks to Nadia Wassef, we get to hear first hand how three women got a wildly successful independent bookstore off the ground in Cairo, Egypt, when societal norms suggested that women weren’t meant to open small businesses. A remarkable story!

Shelf Life by Nadia Wassef, (List Price: $27, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374600181, October 2021)

Reviewed by Jill Naylor, Novel. in Memphis, Tennessee


 Share:

On Animals by Susan Orlean

On Animals is absolutely hilarious at times and a little heartbreaking at times, but it is mainly filled with love for animals of all kinds. It’s a collection of several of Orlean’s articles that were written for The New Yorker and Smithsonian magazine over the last few decades. She covers backyard chickens, racing pigeons, Moroccan donkeys, and even a real-life Lion Whisperer. If you enjoy animals and conservation, you’ll highly enjoy this love letter to the natural world.

On Animals by Susan Orlean, (List Price: $28, Avid Reader Press, Simon & Schuster, 9781982181536, October 2021)

Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, Novel. in Memphis, Tennessee


 Share:

The War for Gloria by Atticus Lish

The War For Gloria is a haunting follow-up to Lish’s last award-winning novel. Set in the Boston area, Corey is in high school when his mother is diagnosed with ALS. As he struggles to cope and take care of his mother Gloria, his previously absent father comes back into their lives and upends everything. Corey initially admires his father’s intellect and seeks a connection with him through his mother’s situation. It doesn’t take long for Corey to realize his father is a leech that is absent of empathy and any kind of emotional connection. Corey goes through several stages of growth throughout the novel and he fights (quite literally) for his mother & his sanity… as he’s also fighting an internal war on how to best become a man. Every character’s actions in this story leads to a consequence. Even the most minor of things that they say or do come back to haunt them in some way, shape, or form. I was stuck processing everything about it by the end… and though this book is traumatic at times, it’s a hell of a story.

The War for Gloria by Atticus Lish, (List Price: 28, Knopf, 9781524732325, September 2021)

Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, novel. in Memphis, Tennessee

 Share:

The Show Girl by Nicola Harrison

OH how I loved this book. I am a (proud!!) member of the Slow Readers Club and when I devour a book as fast as I did The Show Girl, it’s a good sign. And this was a GREAT book. I loved City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert, and the minute I saw this cover & tagline I knew I had to read this book too. The Show Girl was phenomenal, and I had NO idea where it was going to go, which I liked. If I have one complaint, it would be that the tagline is a little misleading to what ultimately becomes the central conflict of the book. She ultimately knows what she wants in the decision of performing vs marriage to Archie (granted this ultimatum is a source of some conflict but in my opinion is not the ultimate breaking point), the issue becomes whether or not to tell him about something about her past that will affect their marriage and plans for the future. Now, granted, the tagline is what got me to read the book, so I understand why it is what it is, but it just felt a tad misleading. Outside of that, this book was the most wonderful trip to a New York on the cusp of the Great Depression, an exploration of the Broadway of Ziegfeld, a story full of rich imagery and stellar characters. And best of all, it has a real, true, genuine happy ending that wasn’t predictable. I loved it.

The Show Girl by Nicola Harrison, (List Price: 27.99, St. Martin’s Press, 9781250200150, August, 2021)

Reviewed by Olivia Gacka, Novel. in Memphis, Tennessee

 Share:

Edge Case by YZ Chin

A thoughtful, incisive, sometimes upsetting look into marriage, immigration, and layered trauma. As Edwina faces the sudden absence of her husband, she also carries the fears of her years-long immigration process, not to mention sexual harassment at work, a mother whose obsession with Edwina’s weight has marked E permanently, and the question of her cultural identity. Chin weaves the complexities of these realities together seamlessly. Edwina moves from meditating on her husband’s strangeness before his departure, to the past-life stories her mom tells, to the mole on her cheek within paragraphs, but it all feels natural. It feels as though we are truly processing, grieving, seeking to understand with Edwina. A unique voice, clear-eyed and honest, while remaining soft to human pain, Chin has written a book somehow chilling and heart-warming at once.

Edge Case by YZ Chin, (List Price: 26.99, Ecco, 9780063030688, August 2021)

Reviewed by Becca Sloan, Novel. in Memphis, Tennessee

 Share:

Trejo by Danny Trejo

Having been slightly familiar with Danny Trejo as an actor and enjoying some of his films, I picked this book up as a lark and I ended up being utterly fascinated. His personal story is heart-wrenching at times, but it is filled with redemption at the highest level. Composed in a conversational tone by fellow actor Donal Logue, Trejo recounts growing up in LA during the 50’s/60’s and doing several stints in notorious prisons like Soledad, San Quentin, and Folsom. He is brutally honest about his faults, regrets, and crimes…but he also explains how it led to him being a fixture in the drug & alcohol rehabilitation community after he became sober. The actor’s newfound vocation of helping other addicts stay clean eventually led to his film career through an unforeseeable stroke of luck. Now a cultural icon for the city of LA and the Mexican American community, this book shows the reader it’s never too late to make a positive change in one’s life.

Trejo by Danny Trejo, (List Price: 27, Atria Books, 9781982150822, July 2021)

Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, Novel. in Memphis, Tennessee

 Share:

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy

Migrations is for the lovers, the wanderers, and those who are drawn to the beauty of the earth. The main character, Franny Stone, might be the focus of the novel…but the ocean, the birds in the sky, and the arctic are all equally important. Franny convinces a fishing crew to let her hitch a ride on their ship in the North Atlantic so that she can conduct an individual study on Arctic Terns and their migration. The fish are in short supply, the crew is a band of misfits, and Franny has an ulterior motive stemming from a troubled past. Little by little, all of the truths revealed are colored by the settings of Galway, Ireland and Scotland, Newfoundland/Greenland and ultimately the Antarctic continent. For me, there are two stories in this book: 1) The wanderlust that exists in many of us looking for a place (or a person) to call home. And though we may find it, the need for exploration never ceases. And 2) The conservation of the natural world and all of it occupants should not be discarded by humanity. All in all, the writing was excellent; the settings were majestic; the epilogue was magnificent.

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy (List price: $26.99, Flatiron Books), recommended by novel., Memphis, TN.

 Share:

Walking with Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne

Walking With Ghosts is unlike any other memoir I’ve read. All of the typical biographical points are in there: place of birth, parental history, childhood experiences, and anything/everything you need to know about Gabriel Byrne’s origin. However, the exceptional writing style and the language he uses makes this book stand out from the standard celebrity tell-all. Byrne uses a stream of consciousness to connect his adult experiences to growing up in Ireland. And no one is left out: his first childhood crush, the town alcoholics, the prevalence of organized religion, and even the local artists/musicians who struggle with anxiety and depression (long before those things were discussed openly or understood on a social level). He writes as if you’re with him experiencing everything in real time. Extreme traumas are revealed, but he expresses sentimentality in several of his memories. Aside from his personal life, his career is a highway that starts with stage theatre and moves to working with the actors of the “Golden Age” of Hollywood before it arrives to the modern era of filmmaking. The mark of a good memoir is that it’s a great book even if you have no idea of the author’s work or fame. This is that book. I recommend this as an incredible piece of nonfiction…it’s not just another celebrity bio.

Walking with Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne (List Price: $26, Grove Press, 9780802157126, 1/12/2021)

Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, novel. in Memphis, Tennessee

 Share:

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Leave The World Behind is an interesting take on how people react in the case of an emergency surrounded by unknown causes. Amanda and Clay leave Manhattan with their children to escape to a secluded Airbnb on Long Island for vacation. Late in the evening of their first night, an elderly couple claiming to be the owners of the house knock on the door and ask to stay because of a blackout in the city. And more weird things continue to happen…thousands of deer trek pass the house… a sonic boom of sorts cracks all the windows…live flamingos start showing up in the backyard pool…and Amanda and Clay’s son becomes violently ill with no explanation. This book took me a while to get into because the first few chapters are incredibly dense with metaphors and adjectives. I’m glad I stuck with it though, because once you start getting the internal dialogue of the characters…tension and suspicion abound due to the differences of race/social class between the two families. And the scariest part of the novel isn’t necessarily all the natural phenomena, it’s the fear of not knowing why things happen as they do and what kind of darkness that ignorance might bring out of our human nature.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam (List Price: $27.99, Ecco, 9780062667632, 10/6/2020)

Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, novel. in Memphis, TN.

 Share:

Walking with Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne

Walking With Ghosts is unlike any other memoir I’ve read. All of the typical biographical points are in there: place of birth, parental history, childhood experiences, and anything/everything you need to know about Gabriel Byrne’s origin. However, the exceptional writing style and the language he uses makes this book stand out from the standard celebrity tell-all. Byrne uses a stream of consciousness to connect his adult experiences to growing up in Ireland. And no one is left out: his first childhood crush, the town alcoholics, the prevalence of organized religion, and even the local artists/musicians who struggle with anxiety and depression (long before those things were discussed openly or understood on a social level).

He writes as if you’re with him experiencing everything in real-time. Extreme traumas are revealed, but he expresses sentimentality in several of his memories. Aside from his personal life, his career is a highway that starts with stage theatre and moves to working with the actors of the “Golden Age” of Hollywood before it arrives to the modern era of filmmaking. The mark of a good memoir is that it’s a great book even if you have no idea of the author’s work or fame. This is that book. I recommend this as an incredible piece of nonfiction… it’s not just another celebrity bio.

Walking with Ghosts by Gabriel Byrne (List Price: $26, Grove Press, 9780802157126, January, 2021).

Reviewed by Stuart McCommon, novel. in Memphis, TN

 Share:

Luster by Raven Leilani

Painter Edie–black, twenty-something, and precariously employed as an editorial coordinator for a children’s imprint–is in a new relationship with Eric, an archivist whose wife has recently issued guidelines for how to appropriately open their marriage. Emotionally enfeebled by a toxic and lonely childhood and anchored only by her art, Edie veers frequently between genius levels of self-awareness and a stubborn tendency to make the optimally self-destructive choice in spite of that. Luster is sad, sexy, and hypnotically paced, better binged than nibbled. There’s a stream-of-consciousness quality to Edie’s narration that made me linger too long in a no-longer-warm bath, turning page after page, not to outpace cliffhanging chapters, but to absorb her complete thoughts, scrape up every last bit of observational savvy, to go back and check one more time to be sure I didn’t overlook any emotional clues in Edie’s self-portrait. Luster is a best-of-show caliber debut.

Luster by Raven Leilani (List price: $26.00, Farrar, Straus and Giroux), recommended by novel., Memphis, TN.

 Share:

Then the Fish Swallowed Him by Amir Ahmadi Arian

Then The Fish Swallowed him is an amazing debut for Iranian author, Amir Ahmadi Arian. The novel is set in modern Tehran and follows bus-driver Yunus from a weekly book club, to a bus-drivers’ union strike, to an unexpected arrest, and finally to solitary confinement in prison, peppered with days of brutal interrogation. Yunus replays his life in his mind while imprisoned to figure out how he ended up in this position, and even develops a mild version of Stockholm-syndrome as he ends up wanting to please his interrogator, Hajj Saeed. This book is blistering and unforgiving, but it’s also incredibly beautiful in describing the struggle of an everyday citizen in Tehran. It’s a great read to spur discussion for those looking for book-club picks.

Then the Fish Swallowed Him by Amir Ahmadi Arian (List price: $25.99, HarperVia), recommended by .novel, Memphis, TN.

 Share:
Scroll to Top