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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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