Category Archives: Coming of Age / Bildungsromans

What to Read after The Goldfinch: The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis @HarperPerennial

cover imageI’m deep into a severe blogging slump right now, but have to tell you about The Orphans of Race Point by Patry Francis. It’s the book you’re going to want to read this summer – in case you haven’t heard.

I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of The Orphans of Race Point, the second novel by Patry Francis (after The Liar’s Diary), and have been raving about it to anyone who will listen ever since. If you recently finished reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and wondered what sprawling, Dickensian novel everyone would be reading next…this is it.

Instead of London, Las Vegas, or New York City, the tangled lives of two motherless children Gus and Hallie, and their friend Neil, unfold mostly on the beaches and narrow streets of Provincetown – on the outermost tip of Cape Cod – and in the seacoast city of New Bedford, Massachusetts, where there is also a large Portuguese-American community. Tragedies, misunderstandings, and missed opportunities pile up for the three young friends, after a violent act by Gus’ father brings them together, setting them on their course for life. Fate lies heavily on the characters, as the book explores true love, fatherhood, human behavior, the human spirit, and what about ourselves can be changed.

I think the cover design makes it clear that The Orphans of Race Point isn’t a thriller (although some of the promotion seems to me to make it sound that way.) It’s literary fiction with a strong story line that touches on big ideas but focuses on the personal. In The Orphans of Race Point, the characters and the story share center stage, giving it the heft you want in a long novel (over 500 pages) and events and action that keep you turning pages. The perfect summer read for the beach or the cottage! (Or for wintertime. Or anytime, really. But why wait, and risk hearing spoilers?)

It would also make a great book club book, and has a reading group guide included.

For anyone in the area of the Brockton Public Library, the author is going to be speaking and reading from The Orphans of Race Point this Saturday, June 14, at 2 p.m. Hope to see you there!

The Orphans of Race Point
Francis, Patry
Harper Perennial
May 6, 2014
$15.99, softcover

Disclosure: I received an advanced reading copy of this book from Library Journal for review and gave it a starred review. I also met the author at a book signing in Brockton after the publication of her first novel, The Liar’s Diary, which is pretty different from The Orphans of Race Point, but also excellent!

Other opinions (all very good to excellent):
Bookalicious Mama
The Book Wheel

Doing Dewey
TLC Tours (for other blog tour reviews)


Heroes of a Golden Age: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (Audio)

cover image of audiobookEven though it’s about the golden age of superhero comics and comic book artists (the ’30s and ’40s) in New York City, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (pronounced SHAY-bawn), won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for fiction, so you know that  it’s also about a lot more.

Plunging readers deep into the mash-up of art and commerce that was the pulp fiction and the comic book world at the time, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay has stories that take place in pre-World War II Prague, where the book’s hero, Josef (“Joe”) Kavalier, was born before he is shipped across the sea to his cousin Sammy Klayman’s mother’s house in Brooklyn, and also in far-flung U.S. Army outposts during the war.

Joe Kavalier can draw; his cousin Sammy has ideas. Together they become an almost unstoppable comic book force, tapping their own unrealized longings to create superheroes who can do amazing things – except fly, because Superman already had a lock on that particular superpower – starting with the Escapist. Joe wants to make money to save his family from Hitler and persuade Americans that it’s time to enter the war, as news filters in about the German army taking over Europe and what is happening to the Jews in Czechoslovakia and other countries. Sammy – in awe of his older cousin’s talents (Joe is also a trained magician and escape artist.) – does all he can to help, hustling for work for them both and working nights and weekends, setting his private, non-commercial work aside year after year. When Rosa, a talented artist in her own right, enters the picture, the two cousins, who are already pretty conflicted and extremely busy with work, have a third person’s thoughts and feelings to be concerned about.

This story contains countless references to comic-book history and legends (I didn’t know which were real and which fictional, and it didn’t seem to matter), Jewish legends, stage magic, actual historical events, and the places and neighborhoods of New York City. Short, pulp-style stories are interspersed to interrupt and supplement the main story, and also humor. So much humor, permeated with sadness. It’s a hard book to describe…

Here’s a review quote from the back of an early paperback edition that says it all:

“The depth of Chabon’s thought, his sharp language, his inventiveness, and his ambition make this a novel of towering achievement.” — The New York Times Book Review

At 27 hours long, the audiobook edition – narrated by David Colacci – is truly spectacular, and deserves a prize of its own. (Here’s one it did receive: a Listen Up Award from Publishers’ Weekly.) Joe’s broken English improves over time, but his deeply Czech inflection never goes away. Sammy’s swaggering Brooklyn accent sounds natural and just right for Sammy. Rosa’s voice also hits the right note of sharpness and softness blended together. Watch out you don’t accidentally pick up the abridged version. Somehow, for the abridged version, the book was cut down by two-thirds – making it only nine hours long!

Listen to an excerpt here.

If you’ve already listened to The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and liked the time period and the stories of the Jewish families in the book, you might like the audiobook The Plot Against America by Philip Roth, an alternative history of WWII America – read to perfection by Ron Silver.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
Chabon, Michael, author
Colacci, David, narrator
Brilliance Audio
27 hours, unabridged

Disclosure: I borrowed the audiobook edition of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay from the public library.

Other opinions of the audiobook (all excellent):
The Audiobookaneers
The Indiscriminate Critic

badge for 2014 TBR Pile ChallengeThis book is the first one on my TBR Pile Challenge 2014 list that I’ve read and reviewed.

Saving Your Family: The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls @SimonAudio (Audio)

cover image of The Silver Star audiobookThe Silver Star by Jeannette Walls is the author’s third book and sort-of second novel. Her first book, The Glass Castle, was a masterful memoir of family dysfunction; her second, Half Broke Horses, was subtitled “A True-Life Novel” because it is her maternal grandmother’s life story in the form of a novel, based mostly on her mother’s memories. (I haven’t read it.)

According to a New York Times article, after The Glass Castle was published in 2005, whenever the author was questioned about the veracity of the startling memoir of her dysfunctional parents, she would say it was all true and protest that she couldn’t write fiction. “I’ve got to do some serious backpedaling now,” she says in the New York Times interview promoting her new work of fiction, The Silver Star, “I’ve got no more wacky relatives left to exploit!”

The audiobook of The Silver Star is narrated by the author, who has a slightly Southern accent, maybe, and describes the experience in this brief promotional video as “a hoot”. She identifies with Bean, the 12-year-old narrator of the story, who she says is a “linear thinker” – unlike her imaginative 15-year-old sister Liz and their wacky, careless mother, Charlotte – “she doesn’t make things up.” The author is an experienced media personality and she narrates the book very well, in a straightforward way, with sincerity, as if she actually remembers some of the events. And many times over the course of listening I thought how similar some of it was to The Glass Castle. Charlotte – living her dream and “finding the magic”, trying to make it big as a singer/songwriter – is temperamentally a lot like the author’s mother was described to be in The Glass Castle. There is no feckless, drunken father in The Silver Star, but when the girls are abandoned too long by their mother (whose absences they loyally try to hide from authorities for as long as they can), they run to their loving but ineffectual Uncle Tinsley living in the old family home in Virginia.

The author acknowledges the similarities in her books in that same promotional video about narrating The Silver Star:

I think fans of The Glass Castle and Half Broke Horses will recognize…a lot. I think people write about what they know about and The Silver Star does draw on a number of childhood experiences. Sometimes they’re experiences that I didn’t cover for some reason or another and they continue to haunt me so I wanted to revisit them.” In addition to a number of events, a number of the themes from The Glass Castle also reemerge in The Silver Star, such as children taking on adult roles, taking on responsibilities that their parents maybe should have taken on.”

Writing a novel rather than a memoir, the author has more freedom to embellish, change events around, and add an entire plot line to build the story on. But knowing the author’s background from The Glass Castle, I felt like I was constantly filling in blanks when imagining the characters of Bean, Liz, and Charlotte. It’s hard for me to decide how successfully the author has made the transition to novelist because of that. I don’t know how well this novel would have done if it had been published first, as a work of fiction. I enjoyed listening to it and highly recommend the audiobook edition. I think the author’s narration helped a lot to sell me on the story and the characters as seen through the eyes of Bean.

The Silver Star will be a good choice for many book clubs because of its themes of family dysfunction, coming of age, and socioeconomic inequality. Also because (despite the disappointing failings of many of the main characters) there is a clear villain of the story (Jerry Maddox, evil mill foreman and enemy of Uncle Tinsley) and a true heroine (Bean herself.)

The Silver Star
Walls, Jeannette
Simon & Schuster Audio
June 2013
8 hrs on 7 CDs

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this audiobook from the publisher for review.

Sound Bytes badgeThis review is linked up to Sound Bytes, a weekly link-up of audiobook reviews at Devourer of Books.