Niles-Maine District Library


Judge’s Results: Round 3


Two more tournament judges (Pat A. and Dodie F.) took on the six Round Three books in the Niles Library’s first Tournament of Books.


Judge: Pat A.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini


Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell


And the Mountains Echoed 

Absence and disconnection, separation and reunion, glimmers of memory wrapped around emotion, yearning for a time past and for something not quite named, comprise the major themes of this book. They stand in metaphoric relationship to the people who were ripped from their homeland and those that remain, in Afghanistan.

These themes are personified and developed primarily through the stories of siblings, chiefly Abdullah and his much younger sister, Pari. Along with them are a myriad of other characters who, though scattered throughout the world, have in common, whether directly or indirectly, some relationship to Afghanistan.

Mr. Hosseini’s story-telling is compelling and beautiful and in many passages evokes a visceral response to his themes. He also wants us to think about what it means to be a citizen of a country. How we are affected by mutable existence and uprooting whether from self or otherwise imposed separation?

Too many times though, he also indulges in a sentimentality that I found off-putting because of its too obvious use. I felt manipulated by it as if I was being too purposefully led rather than trusted to derive my own conclusions and interpretations. I would’ve also liked more development of Afghanistan as a specific and unique country. I don’t feel that I know much more about the country after having read the book than before. Of course, that may be Mr. Hosseini’s point after all–that there is a universal commonality to human existence and that our common humanity overrides any consideration of country, whether of origin or not.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove

The velocity, punch and power of a string of short stories tumbling off the pages one after another are wonderfully exemplified in this strange and singular book. These stories about a couple of “married” vampires occupying a lemon grove, a sweatshop of teenaged girls spinning silk from their metamorphosed stomachs, high school boys bullying a mysterious scarecrow version of the actual classmate they do bully, a tattoo that seems to come to life when the physical therapist massages the back of an Iraq war veteran, among others, are arresting, weird and fantastical.

Ms. Russell, in the worlds she conjures, juxtaposes an admixture of naturalism with the eccentrically and supernaturally bizarre. She deals in the transformational and transmutable: teenage girls into silk worms, seagulls with seeming prescient intelligence and presidents who’ve become horses. In this technological epoch that is leading us to the creation of proto-human robots, transmutability and transformation would seem to be crucial things to think about. Art, with its ability to distance us from the hyper-personal, may be the perfect mode in which to do it.

Ms. Russell’s bold contrasts also jar us into thinking about love, hate, belonging, disconnection, sacrifice, desire, the struggle for clarity, purpose, balance and stability in a constantly evolving and transforming world, in new and fresh ways. Her use of metaphor is precise and striking and she doesn’t end her stories per se, she just stops them. She leaves us to catch our breath, startled into wonder and perhaps new insights about our ever-evolving and changing lives.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell is my vote and has my heartiest recommendation.


Judge: Dodie F.

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in A Storm-ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink


The Mourning Hours by Paula Treick DeBoard


Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in A Storm-ravaged Hospital

This true story is a strong work of investigative journalism about Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans in 2005. Sheri Fink has reconstructed five days at the Memorial Medical Center where patients, doctors, and nursing staff are all fighting to survive. Criminal allegations surfaced when staff was accused of deliberately injecting patients with drugs to hasten their deaths. It’s a somber, nightmarish story that illustrates how ill prepared governments are for dealing with large scale disasters. The book is also a study of human nature is a crisis. It was very thought provoking – makes you wonder what you would do under similar circumstances. I found it to be a captivating story but there was too much detail that should have been edited out. Too much information made it long and drawn out, for this reason, I did not pick Five Days at Memorial.

The Mourning Hours

This debut novel by DeBoard is a captivating story that readers will not be able to put down. It takes place in a small town in rural Wisconsin and told through 9 year old Kirsten Hammarstrom’s point of view. After a date on a snowy evening, Kirsten’s older brother and his girlfriend are walking home. Stacey goes missing and is never seen again. Kirsten’s life and that of her family is torn apart because of the accusations. After many years, Kirsten and her siblings return home to face yet another tragedy – one that makes them once again confront this tragic event that changed all of their lives. This is a story of loyalty, betrayal and forgiveness.

The Mourning Hours by Paula Treick DeBoard is highly recommended.


The Final Round

The last two contenders in our Tournament of Books are:

The Mourning Hours by Paula Treick DeBoard


Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell 

Stop by the Library to cast your vote or email your vote to Deadline to vote is Sunday, March 30, 2014.

Click here for the official Tournament of Books webpage!

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