Book Reviews

Review
  • Sourdough is a delectable read!

    Sourdough by Robin Sloan is a high-stakes story about baking sourdough bread. While definitely strange-sounding, it actually isn’t too far from the truth. Within a short novel, Sloan managed to create a fast-paced story that skillfully kneads magical realism, actual science, and a heart-warming story into a filling meal.

    The story follows Lois Clary, a software engineer, who gets into the habit of baking sourdough bread after the owners of her favorite restaurant are deported.  The restaurant’s owners, Beoreg and Chaiman, left Lois with a sourdough starter that has been in their family for generations. For those of you who aren’t bread connoisseurs (I know I’m not), a sourdough starter is a mix of wild yeast, flour, and water that won’t die as long as you continue to feed it; essentially it’s what makes sourdough sour. But unlike normal starters, Lois’ starter is rather moody and otherworldly. It needs to listen to unidentifiable foreign music, can’t be treated roughly, and emits glowing lights when in a good mood. Strange.

    That’s about as far as the magical realism in the story goes, and honestly, it didn’t need to go any farther. The rest of the magic comes from the science that appears throughout the novel. Like I said earlier, Lois is a software engineer at a robotics company in San Francisco. When her bread becomes a huge hit at work and she’s recommended to try out for one of the city’s many farmers markets, she ends up at the Marrow Fair. There, science and food collide with LED grown produce, laser-roasted coffee beans, honey made from radioactive bees, and bacteria-produced Lembas bread (yes, like the kind from The Lord of the Rings).

    Sloan has the ability to combine science with fiction in a way that seems totally plausible. You could tell me that all the science and history in both of his novels are completely fiction and a part of me would honestly be sad. His ability to make the reader believe in his words that is perhaps the most incredible part of his work. As readers, there’s a certain level of suspended disbelief that we will always carry. But with Sourdough, no matter how impossible the science might seem, there never seems to be a reason to suspend it in the first place.

    While the main story of this novel focuses on Lois and the Marrow Fair, one of my favorite aspects are the little emails sent to Lois by Beoreg, the restaurant owner. In those emails, we learn more about the mysterious Mazg people he and his brother hail from and his own family history, the tone of which remind me of bedtime stories told to me as a child. And with just one side of the conversation, Sloan managed to create a naturally progressing relationship between Beoreg and Lois that doesn’t feel forced or rushed.

    Sourdough is a beautifully written book that appeals to the child-like wonder we all still hold as adults. If you’re a fan of tech, food, and strong female characters, this is the book for you. If you’re a fan of books that leave you quietly smiling as you turn the last page, then it’s definitely the book for you. But just a warning, this book will definitely leave you a bit hungry!

     

    Reviewed by Celeste Paed

    MCD Farrar, Straus and Giroux

    Published on September 5th 2017

    ISBN: 978-0374203108

    272 pages

     

  • Conspiracy, Betrayal, Murder—'House of Names' Is Rife With Greek Drama

    Relatability – it’s the one thing that makes a good book great and meaningful to an individual. So, have I ever sacrificed my daughter, kidnapped children en masse, or murdered my husband or mother? Well, no. No, I have not. But, I’ll forgive Colm Tóibín in this instance. His latest novel, House of Names, retells the classic story of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon in the aftermath of the Trojan War. I found that this novel was a very fast read – I probably could have read it in one sitting if I had a few hours available consecutively. Although the plot occurred over several years, Tóibín moves quickly through the major events leading up to and following Agamemnon’s assassination by carefully balancing the political events with the personal perspectives of his three main protagonists: Clytemnestra, Orestes, and Electra. I only know the basic premise of the story, so I can’t speak to how true Tóibín held to the original tale. Having familiarity with other classic epics, though, I can appreciate his adaptation of language, relationships, and mannerisms of the time to be more accessible to the modern reader while still maintaining a degree of authenticity. Overall, I enjoyed House of Names. It was an easy way to pass the time, and entertaining for what it was. However, it was largely unmemorable, and, I think, underwhelming in the light of its source material.

     

    Reviewed by: Kristin Rawlings

    Scribner (Simon & Schuster imprint)

    ISBN: 1501140213

    278 pages

     

  • An Artful And Unique Telling by author Julie Buntin.

    Marlena is Julie Buntin’s debut novel about two teenage girls growing up on the edges of a forest in rural Michigan. It’s the raw coming-of-age story of Cat, a girl from the suburbs of Detroit and her growth as a character when she’s unwillingly thrown into a little nothing of a town where she meets Marlena, her “manic, beautiful, pill-popping” neighbor. Throughout the novel Cat conforms herself to Marlena, no longer wanting to be “Catherine," the private school girl who coughs at the smell of cigarette smoke, but Cat. Marlena’s friend. Marlena is entertaining, Cat is interesting, this is very much a character driven story, and I really enjoyed every moment of it.

    The novel is told through a distanced and mature retelling of Cat’s young teen years with chapters flipping from her life in Silver Lake and her current adult life in New York. Buntin artfully uses anchoring points throughout the “younger” chapters of the novel that keeps reminding the reader that this is a memory. I’ll admit that the first couple times that happened I was a bit thrown off. A voice would suddenly break into the telling that didn’t match the already established voice of fifteen-year-old Cat but once I realized who that voice was and what it was doing for the story, it really strengthened the moment.

    This is Cat’s story, from the first time she sets foot in Silver Lake to her being an adult with a career in New York, but she’s oftentimes overshadowed by Marlena. Marlena is a wild child from the very first time the reader sees her in the passenger seat of her boyfriend’s pickup. Her personality is bright and eccentric yet tainted with a darkness that Cat couldn’t really grasp until she was older. Cat was just along for the ride, moulded by Marlena’s unique allure. It would have been easy for Cat to become a background character; she's quiet and often times unsure of herself, but Buntin kept her at the forefront of the story. The voice of the character kept her interesting even if, seemingly at first, the character herself wasn’t. The first person narrator was a perfect choice and Buntin did a great job with it.

    This is a story of more than just sex, drugs, and lost childhood. It’s about friendship, family, and self-discovery. It’s about loss and growth and everything in between. I think this is a story worth listening to and the artful and unique telling kept me reading even when I knew that I should go to bed.

     

    Reviewed by Cali Luisa Lemus

    Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

    Publication Year: 2017

    ISBN-10: 1627797645

    Number of Pages: 274