Tag Archives: fiction

Review: The Talented Ribkins by Ladee Hubbard

the-talented-ribkinsLength: 304 pages

Publication: August 8th 2017 by Melville House

Source: TLC Book Tours

What it’s about:
At seventy-two, Johnny Ribkins shouldn’t have such problems: He’s got one week to come up with the money he stole from his mobster boss or it’s curtains for Johnny.

What may or may not be useful to Johnny as he flees is that he comes from an African-American family that has been gifted with rather super powers that are rather sad, but superpowers nonetheless. For example, Johnny’s father could see colors no one else could see. His brother could scale perfectly flat walls. His cousin belches fire. And Johnny himself can make precise maps of any space you name, whether he’s been there or not.

In the old days, the Ribkins family tried to apply their gifts to the civil rights effort, calling themselves The Justice Committee. But when their, eh, superpowers proved insufficient, the group fell apart. Out of frustration Johnny and his brother used their talents to stage a series of burglaries, each more daring than the last.

Fast forward a couple decades and Johnny’s on a race against the clock to dig up loot he’s stashed all over Florida. His brother is gone, but he has an unexpected sidekick: his brother’s daughter, Eloise, who has a special superpower of her own.

Inspired by W.E.B. Du Bois’s famous essay “The Talented Tenth” and fuelled by Ladee Hubbard’s marvelously original imagination, The Talented Ribkins is a big-hearted debut novel about race, class, politics, and the unique gifts that, while they may cause some problems from time to time, bind a family together.

What I thought:

I enjoy writers that are inspired by other writers, and so I took the time to read the W. E. B. Du Bois essay that The Talented Ribkins is based on before reading the book. I think having that fresh in my mind made the story more meaningful for me and helped me to overlook some of the aspects of the book that I didn’t appreciate as much. The Ribkins family members are engaging and the symbolism of the characters and their “talents” gives the story resonance. Recommended.

About the author:
ladee-hubbardLaddee Hubbard is the winner of the 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition for the Short Story. She holds a BA from Princeton University, an MFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University, an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin, and a PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles. She lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Talented Ribkins is her first novel.

GIVEAWAY:
I’m giving away one copy of The Talented Ribkins to a lucky reader (U.S. or Canada only, sorry). To enter, just leave a comment with your name and email address. Good luck!

Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this book and giving me a chance to be part of this tour.

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Review: The Unseen World by Liz Moore

the_unseen_worldLength: 452 pages

Publication: July 26th 2016 by W. W. Norton & Company

Source: Library

What it’s about:

The moving story of a daughter’s quest to discover the truth about her beloved father’s hidden past.

Ada Sibelius is raised by David, her brilliant, eccentric, socially inept single father, who directs a computer science lab in 1980s-era Boston. Home-schooled, Ada accompanies David to work every day; by twelve, she is a painfully shy prodigy. The lab begins to gain acclaim at the same time that David’s mysterious history comes into question. When his mind begins to falter, leaving Ada virtually an orphan, she is taken in by one of David’s colleagues. Soon she embarks on a mission to uncover her father’s secrets: a process that carries her from childhood to adulthood. What Ada discovers on her journey into a virtual universe will keep the reader riveted until The Unseen World’s heart-stopping, fascinating conclusion.

What I thought:

I should say from the start that Liz Moore’s previous novel, Heft, is one of my favorites books of all time. I fell in love with it while listening to the audiobook a few years ago, and so I came to her latest work with high expectations. While I ended up appreciating the book a lot, it was a slow starter and I might not have finished it if I didn’t have such faith in her writing. I’m glad I did.

The story is told from the point of view of Ada, and for the first half of the book the action takes place in Boston in the 1980’s when Ada is in her early teenage years. The pace at which the novel establishes Ada’s life and situation is slow…to say the least. Like her father, Ada is a very cerebral person,  and nothing really happens in the first half with the exception of what is going on in Ada’s mind.

Because she has been rather sheltered in her quiet life alone with her father, Ada has a hard time interacting with the outside world of her teenage peers. Instead, her true peers are the colleagues who work in her father’s computer lab, which has served as the only school she has known up until this point. When David, Ada’s father, begins to experience health problems, Ada is forced to move outside her comfort zone and learn to live in the “real” world of high school and beyond.

Once Ada’s circumstances change, things start to pick up. She learns that there are secrets in her father’s past and this shakes the foundations of her quiet life. The second half of the novel switches back and forth between the perspectives of young Ada and an older Ada, all while gradually revealing David’s story. There is enough action to keep the reader interested and it moves along quickly to a conclusion which resonates with the truth of who both Ada and David are as people.

I particularly enjoyed the technical aspects of the book, including the descriptions of David’s lab and work and the parallels between what he and Ada value and try to achieve. The ending wraps things up in a way that is complete and satisfying, even going beyond Ada and David’s stories to reveal a larger truth about the world–as all truly great novels do.

As I think back over the novel, I wish that the first half could have been written in a way that established the story without dragging it down. The change in perspective in the second half made for a much more interesting reading experience, and if there had been a way to do that from the beginning without giving too much away, I think the novel would have benefited from it. Still, all in all I enjoyed the book and will look forward to reading more from Liz Moore in the future.