Tag Archives: Kimberly Caldwell

Miles From Nowhere

Sliding on the Edge: A Novel by C. Lee McKenzie (WestSide Books, $16.95, 268 pages)

The rent is overdue and Jackie, a compulsive gambler, has skipped town with the latest in a long line of bad boyfriends.   She leaves a hundred dollars, a bus ticket to Sacramento, California, and a note telling her daughter to look up the grandmother she’s never met.   So when sixteen-year-old Shawna wakes up to find herself alone in their seedy rental, we expect a coming-of-age story set against the bright lights and gritty underbelly of Las Vegas.

But Sliding on the Edge by first-time novelist C. Lee McKenzie delivers something quite different.   It’s an interesting look at the lives of two women – grandmother Kay’s and Shawna’s – linked by blood and stained by tragedy.   They are each others’ last chance for happiness, as impossible as that seems to both when they first set eyes on each other.

McKenzie tells the story of their uneasy first months together, alternating chapters in Shawna’s words and in Kay’s and sometimes recounting the same scene from each character’s perspective.   It’s a technique that deftly lets the reader in on Kay’s past and on Shawna’s self-destructive present.   But it falls short of making Shawna a likeable character.   When Kay’s teenaged stable hand develops a crush on Shawna; and Marta, a classmate, pursues her friendship, this reader wondered why?

Kay is a far more sympathetic character, which is brilliant:  It lets the reader, likely a teen, see that authority figures are people, too.   At times, however, it seemed to have been edited too tightly at the expense of details that might have developed the characters further.   Who is the redhead with the ice cream about whom Shawna thinks?

Sliding on the Edge tackles the difficult issues of depression, cutting, and attempted suicide in an unflinching manner and ends on a hopeful note.   Recommended.

By Kimberly Caldwell

A review copy was provided by the author.   “Sliding on the Edge is the compelling, courageous chronicle of one girl – destined to be a no-one – who fights back against her secret grief and pain and finds her life.”   Judy Gregerson, author of Bad Girls Club.

C. Lee McKenzie has released her second novel, The Princess of Las Pulgas.

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You Belong to Me

Matched by Ally Condie (Dutton Books, November 2010)

Matched, by Ally Condie, presents a world in which Society prescribes a life for each member and Officials stand in for God, evaluating strengths and weaknesses with scientific precision to enable optimal career paths and “matches.”   Although Condie never states it directly in this young adult novel, a match is a precursor to a breeding, which, presumably, will result in future generations of ever more perfect human products.

The story takes place in the not-too-distant future and opens on the eve of two milestone events in the life of the heroine: Cassia’s match on her seventeenth birthday and her beloved grandfather’s death on his eightieth.   Both events are planned and orchestrated by Officials to maximize the efficiency of their respective lives.   But grandfather is a bit of a rebel, and he either sees or hopes he sees a kindred spirit in Cassia.  His last gifts to her are an illicit poem that did not survive Society’s literature purge and the advice, “Do not go gentle into that good night.”

The premise is wonderful.   The setting is satisfyingly dystopian – humans wear plainclothes in colors designating their work status; the Officials manage people as though they were livestock; and prescribed recreation sometimes takes the form of walking in the woods, a pasttime as obsolete as typing on a manual typewriter or looking up a word in a hardbound dictionary.

Condie keeps us at arm’s length from the characters, however – Cassia cries, but we don’t cry with her.   That may be an intentional reflection of the sanitized Society in which they live.   Or it may be due to the fact that Matched is the first book in a trilogy and the author is growing the characters slowly.   Regardless, the cliffhanger on which Matched ends is more than enough reason to seek out the sequel in November of this year.   (Dutton will publish the third book in the series in November of 2012.)

Recommended.

Kimberly Caldwell

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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On the Way Home

Pictures of You: A Novel by Caroline Leavitt

Caroline Leavitt has built a reputation for insightful probing of motives, desires, and the emotional gears that mesh, don’t mesh, or can be worn to mesh as lives intersect.   Pictures of You (Algonquin Books) demonstrates that human gears, unlike their mechanical counterparts, have the ability to regrow and change shape, like calluses that evolve in response to physical exertion.

The synopsis on the back cover of Pictures of You does not do the book justice.   It sets up the bleak scenario of two thirty-something women, both married, one with a child and the other unable to conceive, whose paths cross in a violent collision on a foggy highway as they both flee unhappy marriages.   Isabelle survives the crash.   April, the mother of nine-year-old Sam, who is hobbled by severe asthma, does not.   Potential readers with an aversion to made-for-TV melodrama might hesitate to wade into an emotional journey so fraught with tragedy.   But that would be a mistake.   The story, alternately told from the viewpoints of Isabelle, Sam, and his grief-stricken father, Charlie, is an examination of assumptions and the actions that spring from them.   It’s not a book that leaves one with a happy glow of contentment.   Rather, it is a wake-up call to talk, ask questions, challenge operating principles and decisions, to dive below the surface and know the people you love, or think you might be able to love.

Sam witnesses the collision from the side of the road, and in the fog, he sees Isabelle, whom he assumes is an angel.   It is that childish impression – like a photograph without a caption – that drives the plot forward, prompting the intersections of Charlie and Isabelle’s lives.   And Sam ultimately provides the closure that eludes Charlie and Isabelle, as well as a note of hopefulness.   Ironically, however, Sam’s viewpoint is the only one of the three that sometimes rings false, his thoughts seeming too adult for a nine-year-old, or too precious.   “He didn’t care that people might say it was impossible.   Lots of things were impossible.   At school, Mr. Moto, his science teacher told them how light could be both a wave and a particle, which was supposed to be impossible.   You could go to a distant planet and somehow come back younger than you were when you left because the laws of time were all screwy.”

But the way Isabelle’s feelings develop – the clash of grief and guilt with the thrill of new love – and Charlie’s struggles to solve the mystery of April’s desertion and to balance his needs and his son’s are beautifully drawn.   Leavitt’s prose is luminous and her characters are layered.   Charlie, a house builder, takes bold steps, and then reverses himself; Isabelle, a photographer, watches, reacts, questions her own impulses.   Pictures of You is compelling, not so much because of the tragic intersection of paths chosen, but because of the characters’ failure to know each other as they envision their lives together.   It’s not the portrait of Charlie, Isabelle and Sam that will haunt you long after you finish the book, but its negative.   Recommended.

Kimberly Caldwell

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   Pictures of You was released by Algonquin Books in January of 2011.

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About Our Reviewers

Ruta Arellano – Ruta received her B.A. from the University of California, the one in Berkeley.   She served as the Associate Director of the California Self-Esteem Task Force and later worked as a research specialist with multiple state agencies.   She tends to read and review crime mysteries, popular fiction, survey books, books on art and interior design, business books and those books that are hard to classify.   Ruta also writes reviews for the New York Journal of Books, Sacramento Book Review and San Francisco Book Review.

Joseph Arellano – Joseph received his B.A. in Communication Arts from the University of the Pacific, where he wrote music and entertainment reviews for The Pacifican and the campus radio station, KUOP-FM.   He then received his J.D. (law degree) from the University of Southern California, which is why he’s pretty good at writing legal disclaimers.   He has served as a Public Information Officer for a state agency, which involved a lot of writing and editing work under heavy pressure and deadlines, and he was an adjunct professor at California State University, Sacramento (CSUS).   Joseph has done pre-publication editing and review work for a publisher based in England.   He also writes – or has written – reviews for New York Journal of Books, Sacramento Book Review, San Francisco Book Review, Portland Book Review and Tulsa Book Review.

Munchy – Munchy is a senior Norwegian Forest Cat of the brown tabby variety.   He only writes reviews of children’s books and only when he absolutely feels like it.   (His children’s book reviews have appeared in San Francisco Book Review and Sacramento Book Review.)   He intends to become the furry Publisher and Chief Feline Officer (CFO) of Brown Cat Books.

Dave Moyer – Dave is the author of the novel Life and Life Only and of several published short stories and essays.   He regularly reviews books for this site and for the New York Journal of Books.   Moyer is a former college baseball coach.   A music lover and Bob Dylan junkie, Moyer has played drums in various ensembles over the years (but not with the Rolling Stones).   He majored in English at the University of Wisconsin and earned a doctorate from Northern Illinois University.   Moyer is a school superintendent in Southeastern Wisconsin and is an instructor for Aurora University.   He currently resides in the greater Chicago area.

Kimberly Caldwell – Kimberly is a freelance writer and editor in Connecticut.   She earned a B.A. in Journalism and Business at Lehigh University, and earned her chops as a reporter and copy editor at a daily newspaper, an editor of electronic display industry news, neurology studies and romance novels, and as the general manager of an independent fine-dining restaurant.

Kelly Monson – Kelly is a former school principal and special education teacher who earned her Doctorate, Educational Specialist Degree, Master’s Degree and Bachelor’s Degree from Northern Illinois University and a second Master’s in Educational Leadership from Aurora University.   She is an avid reader and writer and travels extensively (with and without her three children).   She currently resides in the greater Chicago area.

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