Eclectic Closet Litblog, Book Reviews & Knitting Designs

A litblog dedicated to book reviews/recommendations, as well as literary and publishing news. Now enhanced with knitting designs.

BOOK REVIEW: Lydia by Tim Sandlin


Lydia Cover Image
Sam Callahan had an unusual life growing up in GroVont, Wyoming. The only child of feminist, single mother Lydia; to call Sam’s upbringing eccentric would be kind. These days his daughter from his first relationship (Shannon) is grown, his relationship with her mother Maurey is fairly stable, his marriage with Gilia is a blessing and his work at the Virgin Birth Home for Unwed Mothers fills his life with meaning. All of that is about to change however; for Lydia is coming home from jail, and she won’t settle for anything less than a triumphal return. However, when her parole officer assigns her the task of recording 99 year-old Oly Pedersen’s life story, the winds of change sweep in for many residents of GroVont.

Fifteen years after publishing Social Blunders, the final volume in the GroVont Trilogy (begun in Skipped Parts and Sorrow Floats), Tim Sandlin rewards “Sandlinistas” (die-hard fans) everywhere with Lydia. As anyone who has read the first three novels knows, Lydia is everything loud, obnoxious and self-indulgent. Sandlin reminds readers of this early in the novel: “She’d gone into prison as a force to be reckoned with and come out as a tiny shred of aged mass…Hatred, she could fight; being dismissed was intolerable.”

Lydia is so blatant with her anger and hostility that readers will soon want to swat her away like an annoying fly buzzing around their ear. Her son Sam has spent much of his life wondering why his mother treats those she loves so horribly: “Lydia would starve before not tipping a waitress. She’d go back home if the alternative was parking in a handicapped slot, yet she lied to and browbeat the family she loved.” Even if you’ve read all of the previous novels, the amount of rage within Lydia can be difficult to understand, often rendering her motivations positively incomprehensible.

Yet her family continues to try for some sort of a relationship with this woman who could have written the manual on emotional abuse. And thus we reach the crux of the problem – readers simply must trust Sandlin’s plans for the novel and hop on for the ride. For “Sandlinistas” this is no problem; we’ve been committed to the ride since Skipped Parts but anyone beginning the journey with Lydia may find it impossible.

Truly unlikable characters are easy for readers to dismiss and therefore can be an effective distraction from the subtler messages writers wish to share. I believe that Sandlin uses Lydia as the pivot point for his novel the same way a magician uses a pretty assistant and wand twirling – look over here so you don’t see what I’m doing around back. Lydia distracts from the message Sandlin’s secreted within Oly’s story, providing time it to unfurl (even though its importance is announced from the beginning by both the quieter narrative and the use of a distinct font for his sections).

If you haven’t read anything by Tim Sandlin, don’t start with Lydia. Do yourself a favour; grab a copy of Skipped Parts and start the journey to GroVont, Wyoming at the beginning. It’s worth the trip!

ISBN: 140224181X
ISBN13: 9781402241819

464 Pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark
Publication Date: April 12, 2011
Author Website:

(Disclosure: A review copy of this novel was provided by the publisher.)

posted under fiction | No Comments »

BOOK REVIEW: One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni


In an unnamed American city, seven people wait to apply for visas to visit India. When an earthquake rips through the city, two workers from the Indian visa office are trapped along with the strangers: a Chinese teenager and her grandmother who speaks no English; an older Caucasian couple who have little to say to once another; a young Muslim-American man who trusts no one; an Indian graduate student facing family conflicts over her love life; and an ex-military African-American with breathing problems, with only a few puffs left on his inhaler.

As time passes, the smell of gas begins to permeate the office, conflicts arise and supplies of food and fresh water dwindle. Their situation becomes increasingly dire and these nine individuals must overcome their prejudices and fears if they wish to survive. And so they take it in turns to share a story from their life – showing the power of story to transform, heal and sustain a group of strangers.

I should admit right from the start that I have long been a fan of Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, ever since I read Mistress of Spices and Sisters of My Heart. Each new novel is a treasure to be savoured, requiring restraint to make it last. So it was with eager anticipation that I began her newest, One Amazing Thing.

Unlike her earlier works, I was not immediately carried away by her words. It required perseverance to carry on reading and my initial reaction was one of avoidance. I was shocked, because Divakaruni’s evocative language still carries power and the ability to transport readers: “The dark was full of women’s voices, keening in a language he did not know, so that at first he thought he was back in the war. The thought sucked the air from his lungs and left him chocking.”

As I read these words I could feel the claustrophobia and fear the characters were feeling and I realized – the “real” world has carried so many images recently of the terrible devastation caused by earthquakes; first Indonesia, then Haiti and now Chile that One Amazing Thing strikes too close to home for me to give an honest review.

I finished the novel in a fairly short period, roughly a week. Some of the stories engaged more than others and her choice to write the novel as a set of connected stories, similar to The Canterbury Tales or The Decameron has great possibilities. I suspect that in six months or a year this will be a novel I read again and find much to exclaim about. For now, I have news footage from Haiti playing in my head.

ISBN10: 1401340997
ISBN13: 9781401340995

240 Pages
Publisher: Voice
Publication Date: February 2, 2010
Author Website:

BOOK REVIEW: Sounds Like Crazy by Shana Mahaffey


n314823Holly Miller is stuck in a dead-end job and lives in a run-down apartment in New York City. While she seems to live alone in reality Holly lives with “The Committee,” the five different personalities that make up her Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). Residing in the Holly’s head are the faceless Boy in the red Converse; the ancient meditating Silent One; Sarge, who keeps her safe; whale-size Ruffles, the chip eater, and Betty Jane, the Southern belle. When flirtatious Betty Jane lands Holly a job as a cartoon voice-over artist, her life appears to stabilize and she is finally able to support herself. However, when the directors want to make Ruffles the star of the show, all hell breaks loose.

The first half of Sounds Like Crazy, the debut novel from Shana Mahaffey, reads like a farcical play on fast forward. Personalities rapidly appear/disappear, bizarre events happen and Betty Jane’s Southern drawl quickly feels “like a bad hang-over pounding against [one’s] temples.”

The second half of Sounds Like Crazy is the stronger, as Holly focuses on her therapy and layer after layer is pulled away to reveal the events that led to Holly’s development of DID. The pace of the novel slows, Mahaffey’s writing style becomes clear and concise as she delves into a subject that clearly fascinates her, how the human mind works. While her narration is evocative (“…the familiar rattle of a Volkswagen Beetle…that sounded like a bag of rocks and sand shaking…”), the character of Holly remains quite undefined for a novel of this length (400 pages).

The comedic tone in the first section of Sounds Like Crazy stands in complete opposite to the rest of the book, so much so that one is led to suggest the book has multiple personalities. This attempt at levity and slapstick detracts from the strong voice that resounds from the second section. Like many debut novelist, Mahaffey tries to do too much in one novel and ultimately this detracts from the power of Holly’s story. If Mahaffey focuses her writing on other topics that interest her as much as the human mind, she should enjoy success as a novelist.

ISBN-10: 0451227913
ISBN13: 9780451227911

Trade Paperback
400 Pages
Publisher: NAL Trade
Publication Date: October 6, 2009
Author Website:

posted under debut, fiction | 1 Comment »

BOOK REVIEW: A Bridge Back by Patrick M. Garry


bridgeNate Morrissey has spent the past eighteen years trying to forget the tragic events of a stormy night in Mount Kelven. The decisions he and his Mormon girlfriend Laura made that night, set off a tragic train of events which culminated in their parents’ cars going off a bridge and landing on a boat full of children.

Nate, now a lawyer for a high price firm in New York City, has been sent by his boss to Mount Kelven to undertake some delicate investigations. His firm’s client, a prominent government official, was involved in the case Nate’s father was prosecuting at the time of his death and is now under investigation by CBS’s “60 Minutes” and new evidence may have been uncovered casting new light on the events of eighteen years ago.

“All he wanted, for now, was to feel the presence of some vague and undefined possibility.” p. 76, A Bridge Back

Patrick M. Garry’s new novel, A Bridge Back, is a novel about remorse and redemption. For the past eighteen years, Nate has floated along where life took him. Rather than being an active participant in his life, his focus was on achieving professional success and the rest of his life just happened. The result was predictable; even though he has achieved professional acclaim, emotionally he has remained frozen at the day of the accident.

Garry has crafted an emotionally stunted character who, despite blustering bravado, is an appealing, optimistic child. A naïf swept up in events he would prefer to remain buried, Nate realizes that “the tasks of repairing the past [are] unlimited.” Now that he has returned to Mount Kelven, the past has resurfaced and he is emotionally thawing. Readers will be caught up in this story of redemption and will struggle along with him to untangle the affairs of eighteen years ago.

Tragedy, especially when it involves children, can destroy both people and a town. Garry provides insight into the various ways human deal with traumatic events and the long-term ramifications. As an exploration of guilt, redemption and regret, A Bridge Back provides an engaging read, even though this reader wishes that some secondary characters were more fully realized.

ISBN10: 159299332X
ISBN13: 9781592993321

Trade Paperback
232 Pages
Publisher: Inkwater Press
Publication Date: February 18, 2008

posted under small press | 1 Comment »

BOOK REVIEW: The Late, Lamented Molly Marx by Sally Koslow


The Late, Lamented Molly MarxMolly Marx’s death happened suddenly and police are trying to determine the cause of death. Last seen riding her bike through Riverside Park, her body is found on the bank of the Hudson River and it is uncertain if her death was accidental, suicide or murder. While Detective Hicks tries to uncover the truth about her death, Molly tries to adjust to life in Duration and learn the rules governing the recently deceased.

When Molly learns that she can watch those she’s left behind and that she’s been gifted with a preternatural bullshit detector, she is delighted. Her observations of her four-year-old daughter Annabel, her twin sister Lucy, her husband Barry and her best friend Brie lead Molly down memory lane and, as readers learn more about Molly’s past, the mist begins to clear on her present and her death.

Sally Koslow’s new book The Late, Lamented Molly Marx is an exploration of marriage, family life and friendship. Molly and Barry’s marriage was far from perfect. Despite the fact that he never ceased his infidelities, there was love within their marriage. As Molly reflects on her life and the months prior to her death, readers learn that marriage and fidelity are never black and white issues.

The Late, Lamented Molly Marx could easily have slid off the rails into a morass of self-pity but Koslow imbued Molly with strength of character. Instead of wailing “why me,” Molly reviews her choices, accepts responsibility for them and slowly finds peace in the Duration (Koslow’s concept of the afterlife).

While Molly rightly occupies centre-stage in Koslow’s novel, the secondary characters’ (her friends and family) growth, presented through Molly’s evolving perception and omniscient narration, is fascinating. Detective Hicks is dogged in his pursuit of the truth and what started as a standard template characterization becomes fully-fledged and commanding of reader’s empathy.

The only serious complaint that could be made about The Late, Lamented Molly Marx is Molly’s twin sister Lucy. The incident at Annabel’s day-care felt awkward and Lucy felt flat. Koslow could have explored the twin connection more, instead of keep Lucy as sharp angles that appeared to fight the narrative.

ISBN10: 0345506200
ISBN13: 9780345506207

320 Pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Publication Date: May 19, 2009
Author Website:

posted under fiction | No Comments »

BOOK REVIEW: The Fixer Upper by Mary Kay Andrews


fixerDempsey Jo Killebrew has had a very bad day. Her employer, a high-powered Washington public relations firm has been caught up in an explosive scandal, her computer has been seized by the FBI, her boss has fled and she’s suddenly the scapegoat. Desperate to find a way to rebuild her life, Dempsey reluctantly accepts her father’s offer to help restore Birdsong, the family home he’s inherited in Georgia. If she slaps on some paint and gives the place some minor renovations so they can flip the property, he’ll split the profits with her.

When Dempsey arrives in Guthrie, she finds a house more in need of a bulldozer than a paintbrush – and a firmly entrenched squatter who meets her at the door with a shotgun. With no options left to her she rolls up her sleeves and tackles the massive renovation project, and faces Guthrie’s residents who have learned more than she wanted them to know from the endless newspaper reports. What she didn’t expect was that, in the process, she’d learn so much.

Bestselling author Mary Kay Andrews’ latest offering, The Fixer Upper is perfect beach reading. Dempsey is a delightful heroine whose naiveté may strike some readers improbable, while others will simply find it charming. No matter which opinion you adopt, her head-on approach in dealing with the situation in Georgia makes for wonderful reading. The title obviously refers to both the house and Dempsey, whose need for direction and growth drive the plot. The light romantic interludes add depth to the coming of age story and readers will be rooting for Dempsey to triumph in her confrontations with her shady boss.

This lighthearted romp never loses its breezy tone, even when dealing the fairly serious subjects of fraud, political shenanigans and influence peddling. Readers may find it difficult to accept the level of blindness Dempsey has for what’s really happening in the lobbying firm, those who suspend belief and simply enjoy The Fixer Upper are in for a treat.

ISBN10: 0060837381
ISBN13: 9780060837389

432 Pages
Publisher: Bantam
Publication Date: June 23, 2009
Author Website:

posted under fiction, romance | 1 Comment »

BOOK REVIEW: The Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen


sq_us_paperbackJosey Cirrini’s life has been one of atonement and servitude; atonement for misdeeds as a child and servitude to her unhappy, domineering, widowed mother.  Mrs. Cirrini ensures that her daughter possesses no thoughts of independence; instructing her on what to wear (and what not to wear), when and how to do things.  However, Josey’s life is full of secrets.  She secretly has kept the red sweater her mother forbids her to wear, her closet is a stockpile of romance novels and candy, and she has a secret crush on her postman.

Everything changes when Della Lee Baker, a down-on-her luck, tough waitress, sets up camp in Josey’s closet and refuses to leave.  Slowly Della Lee encourages Josey to reevaluate her life and expand it beyond her mother’s limitations.  In the process Josey meets Chloe Finley, a young woman with a peculiar affinity for books and a close friendship with Josey’s postman.  As Josey’s life changes, her relationship with her mother fractures, revealing long buried secrets and unexpected possibilities for the future.

Sarah Addison Allen’s second novel The Sugar Queen is pure delight, a magical work that immediately captivates readers and should come with a warning label: “Do not begin this book just before bed.”  Readers who do may soon find themselves wondering “how could it possibly be 4 a.m.?”  Once you’re captured by The Sugar Queen, there is no chance of reading only a few chapters.

The characters in The Sugar Queen are strongly drawn and fairly sparkle with life.  In fact, the entire novel vibrates with constrained energy and vitality.  In Allen’s world, books appear when needed and will remain as not so subtle reminders of what needs to happen.  Passion causes water to boil and eggs to fry in their cartons.  And here, fairy godmothers can appear in the most unlikely guises.

Not much can be said about The Sugar Queen without revealing spoilers, suffice it to say that this is a book you’ll read in one sitting and like Chloe’s books, will follow you around until you understand its hidden meanings.

ISBN10: 0553384848
ISBN13: 9780553384840

Trade Paperback
294 pages
Publisher: Bantam
Publication Date: April 15, 2009
Author Website:

BOOK REVIEW: Wonderful World by Javier Calvo


“There’re always kneecaps that are screaming out, begging for us to shoot them, of course.” – Wonderful World

Thirty years ago, Lorenzo Girault was imprisoned for questionable activities in his antiques business. An undiagnosed pathology, referred to by his family as his “window problem,” led Lorenzo to live in rooms without windows and to membership in the “Down with the Sun Society.” After Lorenzo’s death, his son Lucas struggles to become the man he is sure his father wished him to be. Compelled by a need to understand the legacy left by his father, and determine exactly who was responsible for his father’s downfall, Lucas searches for clues in his Lorenzo’s secret apartment.

Lucas’s quest places him at odds with his mother and in the midst of two gangs in Barcelona’s seedy underworld. His best friend is Valentina, a 12-year-old girl who has fashioned herself as Europe’s top expert on Stephen King and who indulges in violent fantasies of retribution against her school chums. As Lucas sorts through the detritus of his father’s life, Valentina struggles with growing up, while all around them swirls a surreal cast: a giant, comic book obsessed gang enforcer; a strip club owner with a fondness for women’s coats; a dreadlock-sporting Russian underling with Rastafarian leanings; and an uptight art dealer for whom thoroughness is next to godliness.

Wonderful World, Javier Calvo’s first novel translated into English, if a film would be David Lynch and Quentin Tarantino’s love child; Lynch for the indescribable plot and Tarantino for the surreal, shocking violence. A feverish verbal joyride, Wonderful World pulls no punches. The quote at the beginning of this review is a typical line of dialogue; rapid-fire and edgy.

At times family drama, mob story, mystery and Hero’s journey, Wonderful World is a dizzying, multilayered construction that even includes excerpts from a fictitious Stephen King novel. Calvo’s cast is massive and the numerous plot lines almost requires story mapping to keep straight. Yet the quirky characters and chaotic plots are adeptly controlled by this talented author. Not for everyone, Calvo’s “open conception of narration” owes much to the Free Cinema movement, developed in the late 1950s and characterized by a deliberate lack of box office appeal.

ISBN10: 0061557684
ISBN13: 9780061557682

480 pages
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: March 17, 2009


BOOK REVIEW: Haunting Bombay by Shilpa Agarwal


Pinky Mittal grew up in the home of her maternal grandmother Maji, after the death of her mother Yamuna during the violence surrounding the partition of India. Shortly before infant Pinky’s joined the Mittal household, her Aunt Savita lost her infant daughter in a freak accident. The arrival of Pinky is a constant reminder to Savita of what she lost, and she falls more and more into a world of superstitions and secret charms, convinced her daughter’s death was not an accidental drowning but due to wicked spirits. She demands that the children’s bathroom be bolted at dusk in case the evil still lurks within.

Thirteen years later, Pinky knows she’s despised by her aunt but idolizes her older cousin Nimish, longing for him as young women long for pop or film stars. Everything changes one stifling summer evening when Pinky awakes and discovers Nimish’s secret relationship with Lovely, the beautiful next-door neighbour. In a fit of despair, Pinky unbolts the bathroom door and unleashes the ghosts within. As monsoons batter Bombay, the ghosts unleash chaos on the family and long held secrets are exposed.

Shilpa Agarwal’s debut novel Haunting Bombay is the richly detailed story of a family in crisis. Three generations of the Mittal family live together in a bungalow in 1960s Bombay. Maji, the matriarch, lives by the daily rituals which have governed her life for decades. Savita, slave to her superstitions, is in constant competition with her friends for the “Most-Number-One-First-Class-Life.” Jaginder, Maji’s son, has retreated into an alcoholic stupor rather than face the loss of his daughter.

Agarwal’s ghosts are vengeful spirits, violently exacting payment for the wrongs perpetrated upon them in life. The Mittal family, by refusing to face the tragedy in their midst, have kept Chakori’s sprit from the afterlife and have existed in a purgatory of their own making. And hidden within Haunting Bombay are deeper secrets, ones which Agarwal slowly unfurls one by one and ones that help readers understand the mysteries of this ancient culture.

ISBN10: 156947558X
ISBN13: 9781569475584

368 Pages
Publisher: Soho Press
Publication Date: April 1, 2009
Author Website:


posted under fiction | 1 Comment »

BOOK REVIEW: Foreign Tongue: A Novel of Life and Love in Paris by Vanina Marsot


Anna recently suffered a horrendous break-up and is eager to leave Los Angeles. Unlike most exes who disappear into the woodwork, Timothy has the audacity to make it big after the split. Now his face is on the cover of People and he’s being featured on Entertainment Tonight and Anna must – leave – town – now! Luckily she’s is possession of a French passport and keys to a fabulous apartment in the Eleventh Arrondissement so running away is easy.

It’s the arriving part that isn’t straightforward, exes have a way of stowing away and traveling with you. Determined to exorcise him from her mind, Anna decides to stay in Paris for a while and puts her bilingual skills to use and picks up work translating an erotic French novel by an anonymous author.

Vanina Marsot’s debut novel Foreign Tongue immerses readers in the sights and sounds of Paris within the first few pages. Whether she’s describing the delectable food served at a restaurant in the Marais (preserved-lemon tagine), shopping trips, or the verlan (slang) spoken by small boys playing soccer, Marsot’s familiarity with and love of the city radiates from the pages.

Yet although Foreign Tongue is, in part, an homage to the city of lights, mainly it is a novel about Anna’s discovery of herself. Unfortunately it is here that the novel fails to deliver. Much of Anna’s exploration is of a sexual nature and Marsot’s description of Anna’s translation work often carries more passion than many of the steamier scenes. However, Marsot includes some fascinating information on French slang and vocabulary usage and these lessons could be quite useful on future trips to France.

Readers should be aware that the novel Anna is translating is quite explicit and many passages are included in the text and more sensitive readers may be offended by the graphic nature of some.

ISBN10: 0061673668
ISBN13: 9780061673665

Trade Paperback
384 Pages
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: April 14, 2009


posted under fiction | 1 Comment »
« Older Entries

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Email Preference *
Email Format

Visit my Ravelry Shop

My Knitting Patterns

Audrey II

Angular Path Scarf

Cartouche Stole

Fossetta Cowl

Fossetta Hat

Sargaço Shawl

Whitman Hat

Every Which Way Cowl

Every Which Way Hat

Every Which Way Fingerless Mitts

Gothic Forest Scarf

Valencia Scarf

Branching Path Cowl

Flower Bell Stole

Whitman Cowl

New Tech Cowl

Vieux Carré Stole

Stacks Socks

Anna Perenna Shawlette

Taming of the Fox

Don't Ask Y

Cantilevering Leaves

Amplification Stole

Combs Cowl

Mindfulness Cowl

Tipsy Scarf

Gridwork Scarf
Ravelry Free Download