Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Grave of God's Daughter by Brett Ellen Block

There's a certain joy in reading a book that all your blogger friends love and loving it, too.  I do it with some frequency, and it's always awesome having your faith in all your most trusted blogger brethren affirmed.  There is another joy, however, and that is discovering a great backlist book that it seems that none of your blogger friends, or really any blogger that you can find has reviewed.  It's a bizarre and rare sensation to enjoy a book that seems to have elicited no blogger attention.  I mean, jeez, book bloggers as a collective entity read a ton of books both new and old, so in my insular little world, it seems that there must be at least one blogger out there that has read each worthy book, however incredibly ludicrous that thought might be what with there only being so many bloggers, and book blogging becoming popular only lately.

Fear not, I am coming to a point.  Any moment now.  Wait for it.  Waaiiit for it....

So, I had this book on my shelf that I'm pretty sure I didn't even buy.  I think my well-intentioned parents (yay for well-intentioned parents!) attended a book sale that I couldn't make it to, and plucked this trade paperback from obscurity.  It then landed on my shelf thus re-attaining its obscurity for any number of years, which I hesitate to even surmise.  After which, one February day in 2013, LibraryThing and delivered into my hands a, "I can't choose, oh just surprise me," read, and thus I stumbled (again) upon The Grave of God's Daughter by Brett Ellen Block, which I read and loved and am happy to introduce to the blogosphere.  Ahem, there will be no need to link up your post where you rave about the awesomeness of this book, thus proving me wrong and raining on my parade.  Okay, you can, but I won't know whether to be excited or mad at you, so you might be taking your chances.  Hopefully (?) nobody is now struggling with this quandary, and you're all just like, "Shut it Megan, and start talking about the actual book!"

The Grave of God's Daughter begins with a woman returning to her hometown for her mother's funeral and remembering her girlhood in Hyde Bend, a factory town nestled in the Allegheny mountains.  Most of the town's residents are Polish immigrants who use their language to blockade the town from outsiders.  The families in the town, most of the all the narrator's, live hardscrabble lives, eking out a living working either in the town's steel mill or its chemical plant, and faithfully attending Mass at Saint Ladislaus church.  It's the type of small town where everybody seems to know everyone else's business, but secrets still run deep.

Times are especially hard for the young narrator's family, so hard that her mother has fallen to pawning their meager belongings while her father drinks his paycheck at the town's one tavern.  Determined to buy back one of her mother's most prized possession, the girl secretly gets a job delivering packages for the local butcher.  Through the job and the momentous events of that year, the girl is startled to discover a deep well of secrets lurking beneath the surface of the town, not the least of which involves her own family.

I was actually, for some reason, staggered by how much I enjoyed this book.  Whenever I was forced to put it down, I found myself saying to myself in surprised awe, "I really like this book." The Grave of God's Daughter is a different kind of page-turner.  Usually when I find myself referring to a book as a page-turner it's because it's a very plot-heavy, action packed, thrill-a-minute sort of read, but I'd hesitate to describe The Grave of God's Daughter as such.  Rather, it is so well-crafted and well-paced with such a supremely engaging narrator that it's hard to put down. In fact, I was so caught up in the narrator's tale, in her breathing life into her hometown and the mystery of it as it intertwined with her own life, that it took me nearly two thirds of the book to realize that said narrator is never actually given a name. 

Block expertly brings to life the hardscrabble life of her unnamed narrator. She shares a bed with her brother in a house with three rooms, is frightened of the old lady down the street, discovers a dogfighting operation while posing as a boy to make the butcher's deliveries, has the profoundly guilty conscience of a Catholic schoolgirl, and sincerely believes that when she started lying, she set into motion this momentous time of her life when all the lies of a family and a town are beginning to be revealed to her.  The Grave of God's Daughter is a profound coming of age tale set in a unique place with absolutely vivid characters that I would recommend to anybody who doesn't mind a bit of darker story and discovering a diamond in the rough.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


What a bizarre (almost) two months.  I have been effectively almost unplugged from social media since the end of March, not because I made any special commitment to be, just because it kind of happened that way.  Other than trolling Facebook for e-book deals and arbitrarily "liking" the cute things all my friends' babies keep doing (provided they were cute enough to fend off my irritation that everything in my Facebook feed is either somebody announcing they're pregant or posting a picture or story of their cute freaking baby, whose cuteness is often a subject of debate).  Oh, and Instagram.  I occasionally have the desire to prove by photographs that I do lots of fun and awesome things, so Instagram gets in there once in a great while, because, as it turns out, I, uh, don't do that many fun/awesome/photo-worthy things, but I mean, there was that one time I went to DC....

Anyhow, yeah, I haven't posted anything since Easter.  It's more than likely that I've not commented on your posts, much less read them.  Okay, I might have read some because Feedly is on my phone, and I need a dose of the bookish once in a while, but comments?  Not so much.  I have been traveling and having epic yard sales and cleaning the house and watching The West Wing and eating dinner with friends and driving to far places to eat dinner with other friends and not always making myself feel like I'm choosing to do the wrong thing.  I expect more of the same in the near future.

You see, as soon as the sun came out and springtime came, any desire I had to boot up my laptop after yet another grueling day spent slaving away on the computer at work was totally lost.  I've been addicted to my computer for so long  that the thought that I could pretty much abandon it and not miss it has been astonishing me.  As you might be able to tell by my sudden and probably unexpected reappearance I have, at least in part, started to miss it.  But these last months have been good.  It turns out that when I turn my computer off for a while I have so much more time to do all of the other things I enjoy that I forgot that I enjoyed - like keeping up with friends I get to see in person, hanging out with my family, watching great TV, and, you know, reading books without the looming task of having to always have something to say about them and being chained to my computer for most of every Saturday because weekdays are full of full-time jobs and assorted life responsibilities, not so much writing blog posts. 

I have so very much enjoyed my two months, but at long last, I've found that I've missed being occasionally immersed in the bookish, ergo, this is not a farewell letter, as a few weeks ago it might have been following numerous days of navel-gazing over the wisdom of keeping up with such a demanding hobby that turned out to be so easy to lay aside for weeks and weeks.  As it happens, I've started to miss reviewing books and seeing what my internetty friends are up to and so on and so forth. 

So I am calling forth the latest of many lazy blogging renaissances in which I commit to being a suckier blogger than ever, but while I'm sucking, I will damn well be enjoying it on my own lazy, inconsistent terms.  I'm sure I'll stop by and comment on your blogs in utterly sporadic fashion and will post content here in just as random a manner, and if you still read my ramblings I will be most certainly happy.  I've been a little weary of blogging since it became about creating "an audience" and maintaining a "brand."  I don't want to feel like I need to promote myself on sixteen different social media sites to be worth reading.  When I started doing this, just reading and talking about books was enough, and it was easy and it was fun until things changed and it became hard work to keep up with the blogging hordes who started after me and rapidly surpassed me and blogging began to feel like another exercise in always feeling not quite good enough.  So I'm flipping the off switch on building "my brand" and "my audience."  I'm closing the door on stretching myself too thin throwing myself into all different kinds of social media and creating 650 unique ways for you to follow my blog.  I'm not interested in challenging myself, and I probably won't be reading along, either.  When I comment on your blog, I'm going to do it because I want to comment on your blog, not because I have some unhealthy need to get you to comment on mine or because I feel guilty for disappearing for *insert lengthy period of time here*. 

I'm ready to cut some of the "fat" and the guilt off of my blogging and be more undependable than ever. If I lose readers that I haven't already lost, that's okay, I can learn to like talking to myself, and reviewing books can be its own reward.  That said, I sure hope some people will still stick with me, because it's much more fun (not to mention less crazy) to talk with friends than to talk to myself. 

And that is all, at least until the forthcoming reviews that will indeed be coming forth. 

*takes a bow*