Posts Tagged ‘earthy’


October 17, 2012

Author:  Sara Paretsky

Title:  Breakdown

Genre:  Mystery

Publication Date:  2012

Number of Pages:  431

Geographical Setting:  Chicago, Illinois

Time Period:  Contemporary

Series:  The V.I. Warshawski Series (#16)

Plot Summary:  Chicago private detective V.I. Warshawski investigates the potential involvement of a group of preteen girls interested in the Supernatural in the grisly vampire-style murder of a local private detective.  Meanwhile, a polarizing cable TV news host ratchets up his attempts to smear a candidate for the U.S. Senate by digging up dirt on wealthy businessman Chaim Salanter, an elderly Jewish supporter of the candidate and the grandfather of one of the girls discovered at the scene of the murder.  Plotlines converge at breakneck speed when Salanter’s granddaughter is kidnapped.  With the girl’s life hanging in the balance, Warshawski races to determine how the original murder and Salanter’s well-kept secrets are related to the kidnapping, a vicious attack on an old friend, and the death of an orderly at a state mental facility.  As the plot twists and turns, it seems clear that someone is willing to go to great lengths to make sure events of the past stay buried. 

Subject Headings:  Warshawski, V.I. (Ficticious Character)—Fiction; Women Private Investigators—Illinois—Chicago—Fiction;  Murder—Investigation—Fiction; Rich People—Fiction; Political Campaigns—Fiction;  Chicago (Ill.)—Fiction

Appeal:  fast-paced, compelling, suspenseful, dangerous, dark, gritty, sarcastic, engaging, series characters, intricately plotted, multiple plotlines, plot twists, investigative, rich and famous, contemporary, urban, political, details of Chicago, candid, earthy, straight-forward

Three Appeal Terms that Best Describe Book:  fast-paced, intricately plotted, suspenseful

Fiction Read-alikes:

A Trouble of Fools by Linda Barnes

Fans of Sara Paretsky’s tough, female private investigator V.I. Warshawski may also enjoy getting to know Carlotta Carlyle, the smart, hard-nosed female P.I. at the heart of Linda Barnes’ fast-paced mysteries, which are set against the gritty urban landscape of Boston. In this first title of the series, Carlotta’s investigation into the disappearance of a missing cab driver soon draws her into intrigue involving the IRA, a major drug ring, the FBI, and a member of the Mob.

The Other Woman by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Readers who enjoyed following the nasty political campaign and related media tie-ins at the heart of Breakdown may also enjoy this suspenseful and intricately plotted mystery involving murder and sleazy politicians.  Plotlines converge as Detective Jake Brogan investigates a series of murders of young women in Boston, while disgraced reporter Jane Ryland covers a seemingly-unrelated sex scandal involving a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

The Chicago Way by Michael T. Harvey

Readers of the V.I. Warshawski series who enjoy its gritty Chicago setting may also enjoy this first title in Harvey’s series about ex-Chicago cop and private detective, Michael Kelly.  At the request of his former partner, Kelly agrees to investigate a cold case involving a violent rape committed 8 years ago.  After his partner is found dead the next day, Kelly’s investigation soon points to the possibility that a serial killer/rapist is currently on the loose.  In this fast-paced mystery, the body count mounts as Kelly races to expose a cover-up related to the original crime.

Related Non-Fiction:

Politics on Demand: The Effects of 24-Hour News on American Politics by Alison Dagnes

A major plotline in Breakdown revolves around the efforts of a popular, politically polarizing host of a major cable TV news program to influence the outcome of a campaign for the U.S. Senate.  This book examines the proliferation of the 24-hour news cycle perpetuated by cable news stations, and the resulting shift in coverage away from substantive treatment of political issues to opinion-based reporting.   Also discussed is the impact this type of coverage has had on Americans’ understanding of politics and government, changes in the ways in which news organizations use politicians, and vice versa.

The Last Days of the Jerusalem of Lithuania: Chronicles from the Vilna Ghetto and the Camps, 1939-1944 by Herman Kruk

A significant plotline in Breakdown involves an investigation into a major character’s experience as a youth living in the Jewish Ghetto of Vilna, Lithuania during WWII.  This book is a translation of a diary kept by Herman Kruk, a Polish Jew who lived in the Vilna Ghetto, who ultimately perished in a labor camp in Estonia.  The diary provides a heartbreaking account of the conditions, violence, and cruelty that marked everyday life in the Ghetto.

Vampires, Zombies, and Shape-shifters (Secrets of the Supernatural)  by Rebecca Stefoff

Secret rituals surrounding membership in a book club for a (fictitious) popular series of books about vampires and shape-shifters inadvertently connects a group of preteen girls to a dangerous murder plot in Breakdown.  This book provides a review of the legend and folklore surrounding the enduring myth of vampires, zombies, and shape-shifters (e.g., werewolves).

Becky King

The Kingdom of Childhood

August 1, 2012

Kingdomofchildhood Author: Rebecca Coleman

Title: The Kingdom of Childhood

Genre: Women’s Lives and Relationships

Publication Date: Sep 2011

Number of Pages: 338

Geographical Setting: A new-age community in Maryland

Time Period: 1998

Plot Summary: Judy is a teacher at a small private school. At forty-three, her marriage is falling apart and she begins an affair with a sexually-frustrated 16 year-old student, Zach. When Judy starts to get demanding and possessive, Zach wants out of the relationship, but Judy keeps pressuring him. Flashbacks to Judy’s childhood reveal a lonely, unstable home-life; and then questions arise as to what really happened to Judy’s ex-boyfriend who died in an accident. Meanwhile, Judy wishes her husband dead.

Subject Headings: Teachers-fiction; Students-fiction; Love stories; sex crimes.

Appeal: Thought-provoking, issue-oriented, suspenseful, compelling, earthy, builds in intensity, emotionally-charged, flashbacks, controversial, sexually explicit, dark mood, flawed characters.

3 terms that best describe this book: Issue-oriented, flawed characters, builds in intensity.

Similar Authors and Works (why are they similar?):
3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:
One Scandalous Story: Clinton, Lewinsky, and Thirteen Days That Tarnished American Journalism by Marvin L. Kalb.
Veteran journalist gives an insider’s look to the many factors that went into revealing the scandal. This news item was the backdrop for Kingdom of Childhood.

If Loving You is Wrong by Gregg Olsen
This is about the Mary Kay Letourneau affair, which was a highly publicized teacher/student scandal in the late 90’s but is not mentioned in KOC.
Rudolf Steiner: An Introduction to His Life and Work by Gary Latchman
Steiner’s education philosophy is the foundation for the Waldorf schools which is the type of school in KOC.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors
What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller
This novel deals with the same issue of a female teacher and male student affair, but this is told by another teacher at the school who is a friend. It also builds in intensity.

Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult
A former teacher is just released from prison after being wrongly convicted of statuatory rape. Then new false allegations threaten him in his new town. Suspenseful and issue-oriented.

The Adults by Alison Espach
This 2011 release centers on a teenage girl, Emily, who has a love affair with a young male teacher. It is lighter in tone than Kingdom of Childhood and is more romantic and poignant in parts, but is also wickedly funny and witty. It follows Emily into her twenties when she reunites with the teacher-lover.
Name: Sonia Reppe

Black Hole by Charles Burns

April 13, 2011

Author: Burns, Charles

Title: Black Hole

Genre: Graphic Novel

Publication Date: 2005

Number of Pages: 368 Pages.

Geographical Setting: Seattle, Washington

Time Period: 1970s

Series: Collection of separately issued comic books

Plot Summary: High school students in Seattle in the 1970s have normal lives, except for the “bug.” This sexually transmitted disease begins to spread among many of the teens, resulting in disfiguring mutations appearing on the affected teens’ bodies. Though not all are visible, the infected teens that begin to show mutations they cannot cover up are treated as outcasts and resort to living in the wilderness and depending on each other for survival. Unfortunately for them, the recluses begin to disappear, and the teens’ concern for their acceptance by society turns into the necessity to survive.

The frightening black-on-white drawings of the graphics further emphasize the foreboding tone of the book, and aid the fast-paced plot.

Subject Headings: Teenagers — Sexuality; Hallucinations and illusions; Sexually transmitted diseases; Homeless teenagers; Disfigured teenagers; Alienation (Social psychology); Sick persons;
Misfits (Persons); Plague; Dreams; Mutants; Mutation (Biology); The Seventies (20th century).

Appeal: Engrossing, fast-paced, evocative, introspective, multiple points of view, vivid, flashbacks, issue-oriented, layered, plot twists, racy, sexually explicit, strong language, thought-provoking, tragic, stark, bleak, dramatic, intimate, uneasy, earthy, unusual.

3 Terms that Best Describe this Book: Character-centered, haunting, chilling.

Similar Fiction Authors and Works:

Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese: Introspective, multiple points of view, character-centered; an examination of identity, race, and social acceptance.

Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World: Urban, evocative, raunchy; an interconnected story of eight teens and their sexual actions.

Dash Shaw’s BodyWorld: Dystopic, comedic, emotional; a small-town group of teenagers discover a mysterious plant with telepathic results.

Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

David Small’s Stitches: Introspective, haunting, intimate; Small’s memoir of growing up, a story of true self-discovery.

David B.’s Epileptic: Introspective, hallucinatory, shady; a memoir of B.’s youth, focusing on his epileptic brother and the family relationships.

Art Spiegelman’s Maus: Haunting, layered, bleak; a personal look into the horrors of the Holocaust and its effects.

Annotation by Carlen

The Hungry Ocean

May 26, 2010

Author:  Linda Greenlaw

Title:  The Hungry Ocean: A Swordboat Captain’s Journey

Genre: Adventure/Non-fiction

Publication Date: 1999

Number of pages:  265

Geographical Setting:  Gloucester, MA and Northern Atlantic Ocean

Time Period: 1996

Series: N/A

Plot Summary:  This book is an autobiographical account of a 30 day commercial swordfishing trip in the North Atlantic Ocean by Captain Linda Greenlaw of the Hannah Boden, sister ship of the Andrea Gail which was immortalized in Sebastian Junger’s novel The Perfect Storm.  With humor and simplicity, Greenlaw, at the time the only female swordboat captain in the US, takes the reader through the entire journey from preparing for the voyage (groceries $3,500) to the selling of the swordfish ($2.61 per lb.) to the net pay made by the crew ($5,484.84).  This is not a tragic story, like The Perfect Storm, but the journey is filled with adventure and peril such as violent squalls and gales, sick crew members, subterfuge and politics between sea captains, and sharks.  In her story, Greenlaw, in great detail, portrays her crew and their relationship with each other and her.  Another topic visited many times throughout the book is Greenlaw’s gender and the impact it has on her career as a “fisherman” and captain.  After every chapter, a “mug-ups” or a short chapter with fishing information, biographies, or anecdotal fishing stories is included.  She ends with an epilogue which follows up on her crew members, an itemize account of the Hannah Boden’s expense, and a map of their journey.

Subject Headings: Non-fiction, Adventure, Autobiographies, Deep Sea Fishing, Female Fishing Captains, Gender Roles and Identity, Interpersonal Relationships, Fishing Laws, the Culture of Fishing and Fishermen,

Appeal:  Compelling, Candid, Informative, Violent, Details of Deep Sea Fishing, Colorful, Earthy, Exciting, Character Oriented, Action Oriented, Layered, Vivid

3 terms that best describes this book:  Informative, Engrossing, Entertaining,

Similar Authors and Works


The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea by Sebastian Junger  – A biography of the Andrea Gail and her crew on a commercial swordfishing trip in the North Atlantic Ocean during a violent and “perfect” storm.  Along with sharing the setting and premise, the book also is rich with detail and well researched.

The Blue Planet: A Natural History of the Ocean by Andrew Byatt – A reference resource for information on the ocean environment.  Special focus is given to the animal life found in the various different climates in the ocean.

Seafaring Women: An Untold Maritime History by David Cordingly – This title looks at 300 years of female maritime history.  The author uncovers women pirates, captains, seafarers, and explorers in this male dominate area.


Moby Dick by Herman Melville – Based off of actual events, Moby Dick is an adventure story of a whaling captain obsessed with killing the white whale which attack his ship and bit off his leg.

Crazy in the Cockpit by Randy Blume – This is a story of a woman in the male dominated field of aviation.  A story of fiction, author Blume is also a female pilot who tells of the discrimination and harassment women suffered from men in this career.

Atlantis Found by Clive Cussler – Book 15 of the Dirk Pitts Adventure, an adventure series frequently involving the sea.  U.S. National Underwater and Marine Agency (NUMA) Special Projects Director Dirk Pitts must save the world from an army of evil who are attempting to flood the world.

Name:  Summer

Mama by Terry McMillan

April 21, 2010

Mama by Terry McMillan

Genre: African American fiction
Publication Date: 1987
Pages: 260 pages
Setting: Detroit, Michigan; Los Angeles, CA; New York City
Series: n/a
Plot Summary: Mama (Mildred Peacock) is a single mother raising 5 children in an impoverished area outside Detroit after she divorces her abusive, alcoholic husband.  Her focus is on raising her children as she struggles with money issues – sometimes working, sometimes on welfare; with drinking – her ex-husbands, her daughter’s and her own.  She moves between men and between cities looking for a better life.  As her children grow and find their own paths, Mildred is alternately satisfied and despondent.
Subject headings: single parent family – Michigan; single mothers; African-American families – Michigan; African-American women; motherhood; The Sixties (20th century); The Seventies (20th Century); Detroit, Michigan; African-American fiction – 20th century; domestic fiction; women’s lives and relationships.
Appeal: compelling, steady, evocative, insightful, lifelike, realistic, strong secondary (characters), vivid, authentic, character-centered, domestic, family-centered, contemporary, details of poverty; bittersweet, candid, edgy, emotionally-charged, gritty, haunting, hopeful, optimistic, philosophical, cadenced, earthy, frank, natural.
Three terms that best describe this book: gritty, powerful, moving.

Similar works/authors
Rattlebone by Maxine Claire
This book is a collection of stories about the citizens of Rattlebone, a black community in the Midwest in the 1950s.  Chosen because it features a variety of characters before the civil rights movement much like the early years of Mildred Peacock’s family.

If I Could by Donna Hill
This novel features a strong black woman who tries to rebuild her life and raise her children alone, after she divorces her husband.  She does what she thinks is best for her, despite the advice of her family and friends.  Chosen to illustrate another woman who must make tough choices to keep her family intact.

Taming it down: a novel by Kim McLarin
In this novel, Hope Robinson is a young black journalist who is struggling to define her life amid complicated personal and family issues.  She is also trying to overcome self-destructive behaviors.  Chosen because it is so similar to the story of Freda, the oldest daughter in Mama.
Shifting through neutral by Bridgett M. Davis
The main character in this novel is trying to find her place as a young African American woman in the 1970s while she deals with other family issues involving her mother, her sick father, and her older sister’s return to the family.  Chosen because it parallels many of the issues found in Mama.
Dear self: a year in the life of a welfare mom by Richelene Mitchell
The author wrote this journal as she struggled to raise seven children while fighting poverty, racism and the humiliation of the welfare system.  She moved to Philadelphia from the south to get an education and wrote this journal during a year of living in public housing projects in Connecticut.  Chosen because it is a real life chronicle of the types of struggles Mildred Peacock faced in Mama.
Children of the movement: the sons and daughters of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, George Wallace, Andrew Young, Julian Bond, Stokely Carmichael, Bob Moses, James Chaney, Elaine Brown, and others reveal how the civil rights movement tested and transformed their families by John Blake.
This book of essays features the children of civil rights leaders reflecting on the changes the movement made in their families. Chosen because Freda was learning about the civil rights movement and educating her family, particularly her mother.
Sugar’s life in the hood: the story of a former welfare mother by Sugar Turner
A first person chronicle of the struggle of a welfare mother trying to raise a family, make ends meet with welfare and low paying jobs, find a relationship and avoid the pitfalls of substance abuse.  Chosen because it mirrors the struggles in Mama.
Unsung heroines: single mothers and the American dream by Ruth Sidel examines the lives of singles mothers and their needs for comprehensive healthcare, adequate childcare, and jobs at a living wage to succeed.  Chosen because these topics were relevant in the struggles Mildred Peacock faced in Mama.
Dreams to reality: help for young moms: education, career, and life choices by Laura Haskins-Bookser.
This book draws upon the real life experiences of a young teenage mother and offers advice on setting goals, and well as information on relationships, finances, college, paternity issues, job training, and travel.

Getting ghost: two young lives and the struggle for the soul of an American city by Luke Bermann
This author describes the effects of discrimination, combined with the loss of major industrial employers, focusing on the illegal drug trade and the lives of two young black drug dealers in Detroit.  Chosen because similar events happened in Mama – factories closing, difficulties finding jobs, and drug use.


November 18, 2009


Author: Octavia E. Butler
Publication Date:
1979 (original), 2003 (anniversary edition)
Number of Pages:
Science Fiction, African-American Literature
Geographical Setting:
Los Angeles, California in 1976 and the Eastern Shore of Maryland in 1810-1835
Time Period:
June-July 1976 simultaneous with 1810-1835

Plot Summary: Dana Franklin is a modern Black woman in the Civil Rights Era, married to a white man, who is inexplicably pulled back through time to the antebellum South to save the life of Rufus Weylin, an ancestor of hers who also happens to be a white slaveowner.  Dana is pulled back time after time, and must ensure that her family line can happen, no matter what the cost.

Subject Headings: AncestorsRescuesInterracial couplesTime travel (Past)African-American womenSlavery — MarylandSlaveholdersMaryland — History — 19th centuryMaryland — History — 20th centuryAfrican-American fiction — 20th centuryScience fiction, African-American

Appeal: compelling, densely written, steady, closely observed, strong secondary characters, lifelike, description of slave life in antebellum time period, vivid, episodic, issue-oriented, time travel, nonlinear, detailed setting, rural, evocative, chilling, moody, emotionally-charged, earnest, dramatic, earthy, direct

Three terms that best describe this book: Mind-teasing, Involving, Heartfelt

Similar Authors and Works (Fiction): The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin (similar to Butler’s last novel, good segue between authors)
He, She and It by Marge Piercy (set in post-apocalyptic future, like Butler’s Parable books, similar tone)
Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus by Orson Scott Card (themes of slavery and redemption, affecting one person’s life to affect a timeline)

Similar Authors and Works (Nonfiction): Slaves in the Family by Edward Ball (nonfiction about slavery and the American South, from a family point of view)
Doers of the Word: African American Women Speakers and Writers in the North (1830-1880) by Carla L. Peterson (African-American women willing to speak out, like Dana, only not fictionalized)
The Women who Raised Me: A Memoir by Victoria Rowell (a look at the matriarchal society of African-Americans, could have grown out of the split families slavery caused)

Name: Anne


March 18, 2009

Author: Louis L’Amour

Title: Lando

Genre: Western

Publication Date: 1962

Number of Pages: 222

Geographical Setting: Tennessee, Texas, Mexico

Time Period: c.1868-1876

Series: The Sacketts

Plot Summary: Orlando “Lando” Sackett sets out for the West on his own after the money for his education and inheritance was squandered by the man his father paid to take care of him. He quickly meets up with the Tinker, a man who can fix anything, who teaches him how to fight. However, traveling with the Tinker only raises more questions about his missing father and the truth about his mysterious fortune. After meeting up with another of his father’s old acquaintances, the three set out to try and find the source of his wealth, while being pursued by those who would try to steal it from them. On the way, Lando is captured and sent to a Mexican prison after being betrayed by his mother’s family. Hardened by six years in jail, Lando escapes and sets out to find his father and get his revenge.

Subject Headings: Sackett family (Fictitious characters) – Fiction; Americans – Mexico – Fiction; Prisoners – Fiction; Revenge – Fiction; Mexico – Fiction; Western stories

Appeal: easy, measured, steady, distant, eccentric, faithful, inspiring, recognizable, series, vivid, action, cinematic, conclusive, flashbacks, coming of age, resolved ending, detailed setting, historical details, historical figures, rural, gritty, unpretentious, accessible, cadenced, dialect, earthy, bildungsroman, authentic

Red Flags: violence, fighting, shootings, stabbing, murder

Similar Authors and Works (Fiction):

Riders of the Silences by Max Brand. Those who enjoy books about characters skilled in multiple fighting techniques might try this title. This story of revenge also includes details of long journeys across the American (and Canadian) West.

Tonto Basin by Zane Grey. This coming-of-age tale centers on a conflict between family members and those who would steal their livelihood. Strong back story and setting lend authenticity to the book.

Six Bits a Day by Elmer Kelton. Two brothers endure conflicts with competing ranches in this action-filled story. Also includes details of cattle drives.

Similar Authors and Works (Non-Fiction):

The Oregon Trail by David Dary. This history of the Oregon Trail focuses on the individual stories of the various types of people who used the trail such as fur traders, missionaries, farmers, gold hunters, and more.

Children of the West: Family Life on the Frontier by Cathy Luchetti. The author combines primary sources to paint a picture of pioneer life in the American West.

Boone: A Biography by Robert Morgan. This biography of pioneer and frontiersman, Daniel Boone, separates the man from the myth and shows him to be all the more interesting for it.

Name: Tori