The Paying Guests

paying guests

Riverhead Books, September 2014


By the end of World War I Frances Wray has lost almost everyone in her life she cares about—her two brothers to the war, her father to a heart attack, and the person she loves to the circumstances brought about by so much death and change. She and her mother are left with a grand old house but no money, as her father lost it all in bad investments before his death. It is Frances who decides to rent out part of their house to lodgers, in order to keep from selling it and becoming homeless. The Paying Guests is Sarah Waters’ novel about the changes the Wray’s experience as they open their home to a young couple from a social class far different from their own.

Lilian and Leonard Barber bring an unexpected vitality and a dose of unease to the house as they bump and crowd their way in. For Mrs. Wray, a polite smile and a hasty retreat to her room are as much as she can muster. For Frances, these people, unusual in her genteel world, are intriguing and off-putting. Lilian draws her in with her showy, feminine exuberance while Leonard’s sly humor feels as if he is making fun of her. It is only as time passes that relationships shift and the lines between tenant and landlord blur. What started as a business arrangement becomes something far more inflammatory and unmanageable.

…Frances felt a rush of the abandonment that had overwhelmed her a few nights before. The feeling was like a wailing infant suddenly thrust into her arms: she didn’t want it, couldn’t calm it, had nowhere to set it down.

There is no doubt about Waters’ ability to vividly recreate time and place as well as the intricacies of human emotion but in The Paying Guests this skill leads to a slowing of the plot I found very hard to manage. The difficulty of Frances’ situation and the conflict created by her intense emotions and desires make for rich reading but in a novel over 550 pages long it can be hard to sustain continued attention. However, when the plot does return it is substantial and generates enough momentum to enhance the existing, heightened emotions on all sides. It just may be, that what was scandalous in the 1920s, despite being handled with delicacy and Waters’ thoughtful prose, may fall flat to present day readers.

Sarah Waters will be reading from The Paying Guests at The Elliott Bay Book Company tomorrow night, September 23rd, at 7:00pm.




30 Authors in 30 Days: Lisa O’Donnell on Crooked River by Valerie Geary

30 authors in 30 days

30 Authors in 30 Days is a first of its kind event aimed at connecting readers, bloggers, and authors. Hosted by The Book Wheel, this month-long event takes place during September and features 30 authors discussing their favorite recent reads on 30 different blogs. There are also some great prizes provided by and BookJigs. For the full schedule of participating authors and bloggers, visit The Book Wheel or join the Facebook group. You can also follow along on Twitter with the #30Authors hashtag!

Today I’m thrilled to be hosting Lisa O’Donnell, author of The Death of Bees, which I loved. She shares her thoughts on Crooked River by Valerie Geary.

crooked river

William Morrow, available in October


Author Lisa O’Donnell on Crooked River by Valerie Geary

I was privileged enough recently to read an advanced copy of Crooked River by Valerie Geary due out in October. It is a mesmorizing read and I’m compelled to share.

Set in rural Oregon, Crooked River tells the tale of sisters, Sam McAlister, who is 15 years old and Ollie who is 12 and who sees ghosts or as she calls them “the shimmering” When their mother dies they are sent to live with their beekeeper father Bear, a local eccentric who lives with his two daughters under the stars in a meadow in a tepee, but soon after they arrive the girls find a young woman’s dead body in the river and instead of telling anyone they let it float away. The body is soon discovered and all evidence points at Bear. He is quickly arrested, but Sam believes her father is innocent and embarks on a desperate hunt to keep her family together. Ollie also believes her father is innocent; the spirits who surround her have told her so and are guiding her towards the truth placing both Sam and Ollie in real danger.

Embroidered in immaculate prose, this enchanting supernatural thriller engaged me from the first paragraph when the girls discover the body washed up on the banks of Crooked River. Told in the first person and from each sisters point of view thus vibrant literary debut will reward lovers of psychological mystery and with a pen so tender it will break your heart.

You can find Valerie Geary at:

Author site:
Twitter: @ValerieGeary

30 authors in 30 days


Author Bio

Lisa O’Donnell won the Orange Screenwriting Prize in 2000 for her screenplay The Wedding Gift. Her debut novel, The Death of Bees, was the winner of the 2013 Commonwealth Book Prize. She lives in Scotland.

Twitter: @LisaODonnell72


The books mentioned in this post can be purchased online at:

Crooked River
by Valerie Geary
The Death of Bees
by Lisa O’Donnell

Broken Monsters

broken monsters

Mulholland Books, September 2014


Lauren Beukes covered creepy in her debut The Shining Girls but it doesn’t compare to just how mess-with-your-mind she gets in her latest, Broken Monsters. As if Detroit hasn’t taken enough hits in the last decade it is now the setting for this scary tale of an amorphous monster creating gruesome art out of mixed human and animal body parts…taken from living subjects. Detective Gabriella Versado must find the killer all while trying to manage her teenage daughter who, on the surface is a star student but thinks her brains and street smarts equip her to handle online predators. Other characters caught in the goings-on of Detroit are Jonno Haim, a pseudo-journalist who has crash landed in Detroit after his life in NYC burned out and TK, a street person trying to stay clean and help others. Floating amongst them is an artist who begins with a vision but ends up with dreams he can’t tell from reality.

…all eaten up on the inside by the dreaming thing he let into his head that didn’t mean to get trapped here, drawn out by the raw wound of the man’s mind, blazing like a lamp in one of those border places where the skin of the worlds are permeable…

Broken Monsters takes place over ten days in November, beginning with the discovery of a young boy’s torso attached to the hind legs of a fawn. Beukes crisscrosses the action between Versado’s attempts to control the murder investigation with Haim’s desire to make a name for himself using the ‘public’s need to know’ excuse, Thomas’s unknowing interactions with the possible killer, and Layla’s attempts to grow up and find outlets for her empathy. By flipping between everyday emotional and physical stories and the exaggerated gruesomeness of the killer’s actions the novel maintains a level of tension that induces non-stop reading. Beukes ups the ante by making the killing tool a nail gun which, for me, meant I was reading while waving my hand in front of my eyes to keep me from seeing what was happening.  No logic to that kind of fear.

Ultimately, what makes Broken Monsters the most terrifying is not the grossness of the story but the message that lies beneath. That of the very real horror engulfing our me-me-me society—the growing need of so many to be seen and seen and seen again whether it be selfies, Instagram, or YouTube. At first it’s just lowlife Haim who, when he happens on one of the murder scenes, films it on his phone and puts it on the internet to reclaim the fame he never had. But then, it is the killer who so wants to be seen that when it figures out the game, works relentlessly to make it so. When is it enough?

 This book can be purchase online at:

Broken Monsters
by Lauren Beukes

The Elliott Bay Book Company

The Moor’s Account

moors account

Pantheon Books/Random House, September 2014


And thus it was done. Of all the contracts I had signed, this was perhaps the only one my father could never have imagined me signing, for it traded what should never be traded. It delivered me into the unknown and erased my father’s name. I could not know that this was just the first of many erasures. 

The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami is the story of Mustafa, a young man who lives in Morocco in the early 1500s and sells himself into slavery to save his family from starvation. The first thing that is taken away from him is his name when he is renamed by a Spanish slaver and becomes Estebanico. Soon he is sold to a Castilian conquistador and embarks with him on a voyage to the New World, landing in what is now Florida. What was supposed to be an ocean voyage followed by a quick conquering of a native population, the discovery of copious amounts of gold and a return to Spain as wealthy heroes turns into thirteen years of disease, death, and enslavement by the Indian tribes they encounter. The original 500 passengers of soldiers, clergy and settlers are reduced to four men who wander from Florida all the way to Mexico, known then as New Spain.

The novel is Mustafa’s version of those years, in opposition to the accounts given by the three other men, who as Spaniards and gentlemen are loath to admit the failure of their mission. It is Mustafa who details their lives through the years when they searched first for their ships and gold and then as part of the nomadic tribes of Indians with whom they lived. With his honesty we watch these arrogant men brutalize the natives, lie to them and then call them liars when what they desire (gold) is not to be found. They are the untrustworthy devils and as disease decimates their group as well as the natives they watch in horror and then resignation as they become the slaves, serving chieftains and being abused and starved.

For Mustafa, this is nothing new. He realizes the horror of what he has done early on and that there is no way out.  It is only in their sixth year, when they encounter a tribe in need of a healer, that things change. Mustafa’s black skin already marks him as different from the feared white men and now his knowledge of healing and facility with the various Indian dialects gives him power as a shaman. Suddenly, his master looks to him to save their lives and in doing so, makes promises to him about his freedom when they finally get home. Two years later they find another set of Spaniards and the novel takes on a not unexpected but tragic tone.

Unfolding with the strange and wonderful beauty of a new land and foreign cultures, The Moor’s Account is lushly woven together by Lalami’s prose. She writes with such strength and surety of this long ago time that you expect to look up and see forest from the doorway of your hut. Mustafa is given a quiet dignity even as he suffers. Even though he is the sole narrator there is no question that his account is anything less than the truest truth. And while he has a fierce desire to get home, to recapture what he so thoughtlessly gave away, he accepts that he has no control over his own fate.

The Moor’s Account is beautiful but deeply sad, as a novel of the conquest of the New World must be. Even when the Castilians are assimilated into the Indian tribe and marry their women, they shed this skin as soon as they are able and revert to their previous attitudes and behavior. Lalami has written a novel of profound depth and solemn sadness from a time long ago but the feelings it evokes are fresh and raw.

The Elliott Bay Book Company is partnering with the Seattle Public Library to host Laila Lalami on Tuesday night, September 16th. Event details here.


This book can be purchased online at:

The Elliott Bay Book Company

The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters

harristown sisters

Bloomsbury, August 2014

The Swineys are seven Irish sisters of unknown paternity growing up in a falling-down shack in a small town in Ireland in the late 1800s. They have no electricity, no indoor toilets, and so little food that a piece of bread may suffice for the day. What they do have is hair of extraordinary length in hues from white blond to deepest black. They also have a range of singing voices that gives the eldest sister, Darcy, the idea for their salvation. This is where The True and Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters by Michelle Loveric begins.

 The Harristown Sisters follows the girls from their early beginnings and their first show when, thanks to Darcy’s fertile mind, they close by cascading their copious locks onto the stage boards causing a frenzy of delight and jealousy that launches their careers. From that lowly church stage the girls began to be booked in real local theaters, ultimately making their way to a new life in Dublin. From that point on, the sisters rise and rise, from simply showing off their unbound hair—a provocative act for the times—to performing clever skits and songs, written by the middle sister, Manticory. They sign deals to have dolls made with hair just like theirs and to sell hair growth potions.

 All of this is grand but the only sister with any power is the indomitable Darcy, who controls her sisters with intimidation and verbal threats. They receive an allowance from her but she keeps all contracts and money locked away and she is the only one to communicate with the increasing number of men with whom she does business. As one of them says, “She makes one long for the tender manners of Attila the Hun.” The other sisters are so cowed there is no thought of leaving the group or returning home, much less simply refusing to do an act that is becoming increasingly salacious as the girls become women.

Can all the hurt girls in the world add up to a single happy one?

Lovric does a marvelous job emulating the rhythm and slang of the Irish language, making The Harristown Sisters raucous reading. What begins as plausible fiction moves through operatic highs and lows and a fair bit of magical realism (Darcy’s physicality begins to mirror her black soul) before the novel winds down. Seven sisters and a career spanning decades is a lot of territory to cover but with Lovric’s imaginative touches, The Harristown Sisters is a lively Irish tale.


This book can be purchased online at:

The Elliott Bay Book Company

Station Eleven

station eleven

Alfred A. Knopf, September 9, 2014


I read a fair amount of dystopian fiction this summer- either set in the U.S. or global and I would have saved myself a lot of time if Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel had come out first because it is the best. Big words, I know but, while not garnering the level of publicity of other recent books in the genre, it is a novel that should be noticed for its portrait of an America-to-come that is as recognizable as it is depressing.

There was the flu that exploded like a neutron bomb over the surface of the earth and the shock of the collapse that followed, the first unspeakable years when everyone was traveling, before everyone caught on there was no place they could walk where life continued as it had before…

The big picture is frightening (no Internet, no air travel or cars, even no electricity) but where Mandel excels is in the little things that might not occur to anyone thinking about the apocalypse: no insulin or chemotherapy or anesthesia or, even homier—beds, walls, kitchen appliances—all the things that provide comfort and ease to our lives, gone as the years pass. There is no manufacturing to replace what breaks, no medicine to heal what ails, and no schools to train and educate and it is almost impossible for our coddled minds to imagine. Suddenly, we are pre-Industrial Revolution and completely isolated in our loss and knowledge of what is happening in the rest of the world. A loss all the more painful for those who lived before the end and remember what life was like.

Station Eleven is about life after the apocalypse and yet, it is the life of one man which holds it all together—an actor named Arthur Leander and his connection to every character in the novel. Despite dying of a heart attack while performing King Lear in the novel’s opening pages his impact is still felt decades later as the novel closes. Like a play, the apocalypse is the massive backdrop against which the scenes unfold. It is an immutable structure, but the novel is fluid as it moves among the lives of the people that Arthur touched, possibly without even knowing he did so. Kristen was a little girl when he worked with her in King Lear, and he spoiled her in lieu of Tyler, the son he misses. He gives both children a copy of the science fiction comic book his first wife wrote, Doctor Eleven, Vol. I: Station Eleven. Little does he know how it will impact each and the lives they are about to lead.

Station Eleven is powerful because of its realism. There is no need for zombies, aliens or war lords; even class warfare is dead thanks to the fact that the playing field has been leveled. Instead, Mandel covers the smallness of what is left and the struggle to survive by a diverse cast peopled with those who knew Arthur in some way: his best friend, Clark; his first wife Miranda; Jeevan, the EMT who treated him as he lay dying, to name a few. This is the kind of book that could get bogged down in the back story of so many characters but Mandel’s sense of pace and her taut prose not only render the characters fully alive but endow the reader with a sense of caring about what happens to them. Station Eleven hits all the narrative and descriptive marks found in the kind of brilliant storytelling that goes beyond the plot to hold the reader even after the last page.

p.s. For a book lover, Station Eleven is especially poignant because, for much of our lives, we’ve watched as print has declined and digitization of ancient and modern works has been deemed necessary. What happens to that knowledge when the only thing left is a candle and a chair and everything digital disappears? Books, newspapers, any printed word on a page would be the only way to entertain and educate, but they are gone. It’s all gone.


This book can be purchased online at:

Station Eleven
by Emily St. John Mandel

The Elliott Bay Book Company

The Children Act

children act

Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, September 2014

Ian McEwan is one of those authors who can blend matters of life-and-death with everyday issues and give both equal weight. In his newest novel, The Children Act, he displays his skill with his elegant renderings of the life of Fiona Maye, a High Court judge in London. Maye presides in family court over the type of cases that bring out great emotion but she is widely known for her even-handed, incisive decisions. In the novel’s opening scene she is notified of a case that needs immediate attention as the child in question, who is suffering from a rare form of leukemia, will die without a much needed blood transfusion in the next few days. His parents, Jehovah’s Witnesses, are refusing the transfusion and the boy, who is seventeen, is refusing as well. It is up to Maye to decide if the hospital has the right to override the refusals and save his life.

When Maye gets the call about this case she is in the midst of listening to her husband Jack announce that after 35 years he wants an open marriage and is going to have an affair. Less than five pages in and already the tension is so thick it has a physical presence. We watch as she tries to compartmentalize the intellectual details of her work away from the emotional impact of a betrayal. As her mind whirls over all the details, thoughts, questions, and responses she might have, it returns to the many things she has done for him and given to him.

These offerings represented only a fraction of the happiness she urged on him, and sex was only one part of that fraction, and only latterly a failure, elevated by him into a mighty injustice.

When she tells him this is not a possibility for her, Jack leaves. She knows where he’s gone, knows who the woman is, but when he returns the next day after only one night, full of regret and wanting to save their marriage, her emotions are not necessarily what one would expect.

Then it came to her plainly what she felt about Jack’s return. So simple. It was disappointment that he had not stayed away. Just a little longer. Nothing more than that. Disappointment.

And yet, through McEwan’s portrayal of Maye, they are not completely surprising. She is a woman for whom the mind is paramount over the heart. Not that she is heartless but she has clear expectations of her life and the people in it and cannot understand why they can’t play out their roles. She has loved Jack and taken care of him and if a component of their marriage has fallen away he should accept it. And, if he was going to leave, shouldn’t he have done so for long enough that she could be alone to process her thoughts and get some space from the emotional intensity of the act?

Instead of any big scene, they try and return to their old life albeit with a certain coldness and distance. Maye’s mind is focused on the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ family. She goes to see the boy, as he is almost at the age of consent, to get a better idea of what are his wishes and what are those of his parents. She renders a judgment and has no idea of its impact on her own life until it is too late.

Maye’s marriage and the teenage boy are the focus of The Children Act and McEwan uses them to sift through a number of themes—the personal versus professional life, parental and religious rights, and what marriage means. Each is a complex issue on its own but McEwan lets the narrative find its own level from within the mind of Fiona Maye. It’s not just the understanding of the complex and contradictory emotions these issues evoke that makes McEwan’s writing so intense, it’s the way he writes it. Just as Maye’s decisions are razor sharp so is his prose as, with a surgeon’s skill, he delves into the mind, discovering, in the darkest corners, the thoughts and emotions we do not want to admit, leaving us to recognize ourselves on the page.

This book can be purchased online at:

The Elliott Bay Book Company

Tumbledown: A Novel


Graywolf Press, September 2014


Tumbledown by Robert Boswell largely takes place at the Onyx Springs Rehabilitation and Therapeutic Center, a residential facility where James Candler is a counselor. Through the novel we meet the individual patients James works with, the other counselors, his boss, his sister and his best friend. The novel is an ensemble piece of fiction in that almost every character has an equal voice but Candler is the linchpin and where everything begins. Boswell explores the emotional makeup and backstory of this full and varied cast making for a novel replete with drama.

 Mick, Karly, Alfonso, Rhine, Maura and Vex are patients at the center with varying degrees of emotional and mental disorders. They all come together at a work program that teaches them job skills and at which, once they reach a certain level of proficiency, they can leave and work for the manufacturer fulltime. It’s one of the innovative programs designed by Candler that makes his boss choose him for his replacement as director of the center. Flush with the knowledge of this almost certain promotion, Candler makes some precipitous decisions, namely buying a Porsche and a large new house. He also gets engaged to a woman currently living in London whom he’s known for less than a month. The problem is that not everyone at the Center sees Candler in the same glowing light as his boss. Another counselor, feels

 “…deep down she thought him narcissistic and bland, like some tepid soda that had lost its fizz. Oh, he was okay, but his roots were so shallow that one good breeze would knock him over.” 

 This insight is not far from Candler’s own opinion of himself but instead of pulling back, his judgment becomes even more impaired, extending to racing a Mustang on a morning rush-hour freeway and deciding his unemployed best friend, Billy, would be a good manager of the work group. The Mustang crashes with no injuries, Candler drives on and Billy is good with the group right up until he decides to marry Karly, who happens to be stunningly beautiful but with the mental and emotional levels of a preteen girl.

 Tumbledown is ambitious in its scope and even its format. In the opening chapter the focus switches by paragraph between a birds eye view of Candler’s life and that of Lise Raye—a patient he saw once in another city years ago, who has followed him and is now patterning her life in such a way that they will meet. Basically, a stalker. It also shifts from the present to the past at the same time, making it difficult to get a grip on where the importance lies in the story. After this chapter Tumbledown falls into more traditional lines but then a quarter of the way through in Part Two Boswell changes from chapters to days to cover the narrative for two weeks. The purpose of this device is not clear as it does not apply brevity to the narrative nor is it repeated in the remaining four parts. These narrative changes make the novel one that that needs to be digested carefully but in the final pages Boswell goes even further by intermixing alternate endings that change with the paragraph.

 Unusual formatting choices aside, Tumbledown is a wry look at the challenges of life itself for everyone from the approaching middle-age crowd, to the strivers, the young, and the lonely and foolish. Boswell makes the characters sparkle in their oddities, humor and pain, making the extra layers and flourishes feel extraneous. Their humanity is enough.

This book can be purchased online at:

by Robert Boswell

The Elliott Bay Book Company

The Bone Clocks

bone clocks

Random House, September 2014

David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks begins in 1984 with sixteen-year-old Holly Sykes running away from home in a fit of rage over her mother’s refusal to let her move in with a man she loves and then finding that man in bed with her best friend. While on the road Holly meets a very old woman who asks her if she will give her refuge if she needs it. She says yes and unknowingly makes herself a key player in a century’s old battle between the good Atemporals and the evil Anchorites. The Atemporals are immortal through their ability to transport their spirit into a human’s form without changing or damaging the human and the Anchorites do so by stealing the souls from young children. And so, with the tempestuous emotions of one teenage girl Mitchell eases the reader into a story that will span almost 60 years and cover territory both earthly and supernatural.

The story of the two groups and the violence of their first major battle takes place near the beginning of the book and is witnessed by Holly. Because the Atemporals have the ability to erase certain spans of time or memories, she has no knowledge of what she has seen. For much of The Bone Clocks, the supernatural characters linger on the periphery and it is the wide spread cast of humans that Mitchell uses to ground the novel. We follow Holly as she embraces the psychic powers that make her integral to both the Atemporals and through the ordinariness of her life as a wife and mother. When, in her later years, her part in the drama becomes clear she embarks with them on their final move to eradicate the Anchorites.

There is so much going on in The Bone Clocks that it is inevitable that some pieces of the puzzle will fall away or be forgotten. There is repeated mention of “The Script” but what it is and why it is important remains unexplained. In the same way, Crispin Hershey is a character who enters Holly’s life at a book fair. They form an unlikely friendship throughout the years but even though Hershey’s story is compelling, its part in the larger picture is unclear. There is also a young woman named Soleil  Moon who tries to convince Hershey to read her work. She appears again and again in his life insisting he must read her poems but while the aggression of her belief results in terrible actions her purpose is never really explained. These missing pieces, juxtaposed against the detailed lives of so many of the characters, make The Bone Clocks a lengthy novel at almost 700 pages and cause confusion. It is difficult to know who or what is integral to the plot.

The final battle in the novel combines all the dramatic elements of otherworldly forces but it is Holly Sykes who holds the novel together. Her character fascinates and left me wanting more in a way the immortals and their conflict did not. Mitchell complies with this desire to read more of Holly’s life but it comes in the last 100 pages, a point which feels too late; reader fatigue has already set in. For others the problem will be the exact opposite and the human aspects of the story are too long and not enough attention paid to the supernatural. Both sides lose on this point but The Bone Clocks is still a beautiful, fantastical tale that showcases Mitchell’s extravagant imagination and moves with his graceful prose.

This book can be purchased online at:

The Bone Clocks
by David Mitchell

The Elliott Bay Book Company

Hired Men

Sometimes I end up reading books that are so far out of the genres I usually read it’s refreshing. That’s the case with these two novels about hired men who through their jobs end up in some pretty unusual situations. Both are a quick read and might be good options for the man in your life this Labor Day weekend. Or try them yourself!


hired men

HarperCollins, June 2014

Gibson is a rising star in the world of food in New York until an escalating drug habit costs him his restaurant, his wife and his freedom. When he makes it out of jail and is paroled to a halfway house it is his manager’s girlfriend who suggests to him that he move to L.A. to become the private chef of a world famous rock star known as Monster. And so Gibson goes, in Jervey Tervalons’s new novel Monster’s Chef. He leaves behind his life and moves onto Monster’s massive, isolated compound (known as Monster’s Lair) in the mountains of the Santa Ynez valley in California. Despite the isolation and oddities of his new boss, Gibson adjusts to the life, right up until a young man is found dead on the lawn near his bungalow. Suddenly, privacy and the quiet life are gone as Gibson is confronted by local police as a suspect.

 It is only as Gibson enters Monster’s inner sanctum in the second half of Monster’s Chef that things start coming together in a way that feels more like reality than fiction. As Tervalon fleshes in more of Monster’s details, namely his being a black man who bleaches his skin for whiteness, his penchant for entertaining an ever-changing cast of young blonde boys, his fondness for unusual diets and supposedly life enhancing treatments, a breathy high voice…well, need I go on? The parallels grow to the point one can almost hear the lawyers lining up to get at the author because by the novel’s wild end there is little doubt who this freakish former singer is supposed to be.  When Gibson agrees to help Rita (the artificially inseminated mother of Monster’s baby) rescue her child from Monster, the finale moves beyond reality and even fiction to a fantastical crescendo that will either work or leave you wondering what you just read. For me, it felt like the only conclusion to a tale that, wherever its source originated, can only end badly.

hired men

Harper/HarperCollins, August 2014

Why I wanted it so much I almost couldn’t say. There was a draw to the simplicity and old-fashionedness to the vocation, to being a servant almost. I got to bathe in the reflected glow of their luxury while assuring myself I was not so shallow as actually to want such things. 

Jess is a young man living in Michigan, getting his second college degree and writing music reviews, when an old friend from Portland lets him know that an up-and-coming pro basketball player named Calyph needs a chauffeur. Despite having no real experience he takes the job when it’s offered. Chris Leslie-Hynan’s new novel Ride Around Shining begins with Jess being summoned to a party at his new boss’s house to pick up his wife. While there he brushes into an ice sculpture that crashes on Calyph’s leg. He walks away before anyone notices and takes the wife where she wants to go, which happens to be a small house she’s buying to move into and leave her husband. Jess takes a flyer and leaves it inside another book Calyph has asked him to look at.

 Jess is a slippery character, an odd concoction of obsessive fan, compulsive liar and possibly, a man in love, but, with who? He appears to be one of those people who creates drama in a person’s life in the hopes of swooping in and fixing things. Unfortunately, he only appears to be good at the breaking part and wreaks havoc on Calyph’s life by causing a season-ending injury and his wife’s leaving him. It takes an unfortunate misreading of a social situation to bring Jess’ nearness to the high life to a speedy conclusion.

 Much of Ride Around Shining is spent amongst the Portland Trail Blazers in their off-season, meaning Leslie-Hynan writes of parties and life at a level most of us will never even glimpse. There are palatial houses, parties of Hefneresque proportions, and special favors granted to all the athletes by everyone they come in contact with. As Jess insinuates himself into Calyph’s life as more than just a chauffeur it is Leslie-Hynan’s prose mimicing the patois of urban mega-star athletes that gives the novel the feel of riding in an Escalade, through the night, waiting for whatever might happen.

These books be purchased online at:

Ride Around Shining
by Chris Leslie-Hynan

The Elliott Bay Book Company


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