Jim McKeown

Host, Likely Stories

Life-long voracious reader, Jim McKeown, is an English Instructor at McLennan Community College. His "Likely Stories" book review can be heard every Thursday on KWBU-FM! Reviews include fiction, biographies, poetry and non-fiction. Join us for Likely Stories every Thursday featured during Morning Edition and All Things Considered with encore airings Saturday and Sunday during Weekend Edition.  

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A long time ago, I stumbled on an interesting story by a pair of Ph.D students who gathered up all their worldly belongings, and moved to Botswana to study African Lions and hyenas.  The adventure drew me to them as I read the story of their lives in Africa.  I still have that worn copy, and hardly a year goes by when I am rereading Mark & Delia Owens Cry of the Kalahari.  

I tracked down a signed, hardback, of Cry, and then came upon Secrets of the Savanna.  While not as exciting as Cry, it certainly had loads of interesting stories about Africa, its inhabitants, and above all, the wildlife.

In a prologue by Mark Owens, he wrote: “A heavy fog, thick and white, settled lower over the hills of Masailand in Kenya.  I eased off the power and slowed down but pulled back on the cyclic stick, giving up altitude grudgingly.  Our chopper’s main rotor tore ragged chunks out of the clouds underbelly and

Harry’s Trees by Jon Cohen is a most peculiar story.  It begins with a tragic accident.  Jon is the author of two novels before Harry’s.  He was the recipient of an NEA fellowship for creative writing, and he was a cowriter of a film directed by Steven Spielberg.

Jon begins, “Oriana had lost a book.  It’s very special, Olive Perkins, the ancient librarian at the Pratt Public Library had told her.  Somebody had made it by hand.  When Olive gave it to Oriana, she almost couldn’t let go of it.  There was a look in the old woman’s eyes Oriana had never seen before, a fleeting indescribable expression.  Then Olive suddenly did the opposite, pushed The Grum’s Ledger into the young girl’s hands and moved her briskly toward the oak doors [of the Library].  ‘But there’s no due date,’ Oriana said.  Olive still stamped her books the old fashion way, with a rubber stamp on the Date Due slip pasted on the last page.  She was a tiny, bird-boned woman, but the stamp hit a book like John Henry’s hammer.  ‘It’s due when you’re done with it, child,’ Olive said.  She dropped her voice to a whisper.  ‘And remember.  You are my favorite reader, and now you are my

M. L. Stedman’s first novel, The Light Between Oceans, is a novel I highly recommend.

Stedman begins this luscious and spell-binding novel with a sorrowful sound.  “On the day of the miracle, Isabel was kneeling at the cliff’s edge, tending the small, newly made driftwood cross.  A single fat cloud snailed across the late-April sky, which stretched above the island in a mirror of the ocean below.  Isabel sprinkled more water and patted down the soil around the rosemary bush she had just planted. For just a moment, her mind tricked her into hearing an infant’s cry.  She dismissed the illusion, her eye drawn instead by a pod of whales weaving their way up the coast to calve in the warmer waters, emerging now and again with a fluke of their tails like needles through tapestry.  She heard the cry again, louder this time on the early morning breeze.  Impossible” (3).

The story is then interrupted by a marvelous description of their island home.  Stedman writes, “From this side of the island, there was only vastness, all the way to Africa.  Here, the Indian Ocean washed into the great Southern Ocean and together they stretched like and endless carpet below the cliffs.  On days like this it seemed so solid she had the impression she could walk to Madagascar in a journey of

 I finally got a copy of the third volume of Hillary Mantel’s magnificent trilogy, The Mirror and the Light.  Her first two volumes—Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies—garnered well-deserved Booker Prizes.  Hilary’s incredible story—with nearly 1,700 pages—delves into the minutest details of the lives of the interesting family of Oliver Cromwell.

 

While reading her latest book, I took some notes of interesting passages.  I believe these tidbits will more than whet the appetite for those interested in the period.  Here we go!  Hillary writes, (Page 8) “‘Would that my niece had imitated Katherine [of Aragon] in other particulars’, Norfolk says.  ‘Had she been obedient, chaste and

 

  Tense and absorbing story of a runaway balloon, and several men trying to help.

(Local productions are on hold during the social distance requirements due to Covid-19.  This segment originally aired July 12, 2018.)

 

Best-selling author, Ian McEwan has a knack for stories that slowly build for the reader right up until the precipice.  According to WikiPedia, McEwan is an English novelist and screenwriter.  In 2008, The London Times featured him on their list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945.  Enduring Love is among a few of his early works I have eagerly devoured. 

Joe and Clarissa have what seems to be an ideal marriage.  Clarissa is a therapist, who is dedicated to her profession.  Joe is a successful freelance writer.  Clarissa has been away for some time, and 

In the midst of a terrible war, a Cellist plays every day for each person killed in a bombing.

 

(Local productions are on hold during the social distance requirements due to Covid-19.  This segment originally aired June 7, 2018.)

I am fortunate to coordinate a Book Club made up of a number of erudite and voracious readers.  I come away from every meeting with some new insights, some new authors, and an all-around fun evening.  This past month I was introduced to Steven Galloway, a Canadian novelist and a former professor at the University of British Columbia.  He has won several awards for The Cellist of Sarajevo

This novel, a bit over 230 pages, is packed with an intensity I relish in a good read.  The novel is set at the height of the War in Sarajevo.  The city is in ruins, and mortar shells rain down and snipers 

Interesting selection of stories by a Booker Prize winning author.

(Local productions are on hold during the social distance requirements due to Covid-19.  This segment originally aired April 19, 2018.)

Penelope Lively is an author with a subtle and delightful sense of humor and pathos.  She has written more than 20 novels and short story collections.  Her latest collection, The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories is every bit engrossing as many of the others I have read.  Penelope was born in Cairo, Egypt in 1933.  She is a British Citizen and has been awarded the title of “Dame of the British Empire.”  She won the Booker Prize in 1987 for her acclaimed novel, Moon Tiger.   She is a sure bet for a great read.

The collection begins with the title story, The Purple Swamp Hen.  The story is told by a Purple Swamp Hen, and it is rather humorous.  Penelope begins with a detailed description—including taxonomy—of the hen.  She writes, “Wondering where all this is going?  Have patience.  You know me on the famous garden 

 A small town with “hockey fever” hopes for a national championship.

(Local productions are on hold during the social distance requirements due to Covid-19.  This segment originally aired March 22, 2018.)

 

 I have read nearly all Fredrick Backman’s work, and his latest novel is Beartown.   And I am happy to add it to my collection. 

This is a peculiar story.  Normally, I dislike novels and sports, but ice hockey is a favorite pastime, so I slid into my hockey days.  This story tells of a small town with little to be proud of—except their hockey team—rated as the second best anywhere.  Backman writes, “Beartown isn’t close to anything I’.  Even on a map the place looks unnatural.  ‘As if a drunk giant tried to urinate

Some of the most interesting novels I have read over the years, are those I discovered through a small press publisher.  Edward J. Delaney’s gripping novel, Follow the Sun is a prime example of the many hidden treasures from a small press.  He has also written two other novels—Broken Irish and Warp and Weft.  I am sure I will soon haul in these two exciting novels.

Follow the Sun describes the difficult and dangerous job as lobster men in cold treacherous waters.  Quin Boyle is a lobsterman who is down on his luck.  He has the demons of drugs, alcohol, and with child support he is unable to pay.  One day, he sets sail with Freddy Santoro, with whom he is frequently at odds.  Quin recently was released from jail, and Santoro is also facing jail. 

Delaney writes, “In his recovery from heroin, Quin had been left with an unsettling rime, an infection of self-awareness he had never thought could be harbored by his DNA.  Regret.  Shame.  In his clear-mindedness, his memory had become sharp, and serrated, and unbidden.  He went back to moments that probably only he remembered, things that at age eighteen or twenty-five or thirty were just fleeting moments but had somehow gone dormant in himself, to flare up constantly and  

I could easily name five or six novels that have brought me to tears at the end of my reading.  Today, I am telling a story that drove me to tears from the first two or three paragraphs.  The Library Book by Susan Orlean has done just that.  This review will be different than most.

Let’s begin.  “On the morning of April 29, 1986, a fire alarm sounded in the Los Angeles Public Library.  As one fireman recounted later, ‘Once that first stack got going, it was “Goodbye Charlie”.  The fire was disastrous: it reached 2,000 degrees and burned for more than seven hours.  By the time it was extinguished, it had consumed four hundred thousand books and damaged seven hundred thousand more. 

The Central Library [in downtown Los Angeles] was opened in 1926.  As Susan writes, “My family was big on the library.  We were very much a reading family, but we were a borrow-a-book-from-the-library family more than a bookshelves-full-of-books-family.  My parents valued books, but they grew up in the Depression, aware of the quicksilver nature of money, and they learned the hard way that you shouldn’t buy what you could borrow. […] // When I headed to college, one of the  

I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

Aside from Margaret Attwood, I rarely encounter novels from Canada.  However, when Death and the Seaside by Alison Moore grabbed my attention, I was intrigued.  Then I began the novel, and my intrigue meter went off the charts.  Her first novel was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. And her short fiction has been included in Best Short Stories and Best British Horror anthologies and broadcast on BBC Radio.  My intrigue meter went up another notch.


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

On occasion, I like to dip into some unusual novels referred to as “Chick Lit.”  This popular genre seems to be everywhere I see readers.  Tracey Garvis Graves has written eight novels.  The Girl He Used to Know is her ninth.  Aside from an occasional romp in the bedroom of a pair of students, I found the story amusing with a truly gripping twist.


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

As the companion of two affectionate and smart Labrador Retrievers, I was happy to run across Clive D. L. Wynne’s fascinating story of dogs and their relationship to humans.  Professor Wynne is the founding director of the Canine Science Collaboratory at Arizona State University.  He has published a number of articles, and he has appeared on National Geographic Explorer, PBS, and the BBC.  He lives in Tempe, Arizona.  Dog is Love is his first full length book.

 


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

According to the Penguin notice, Stewart O’Nan is the author of eleven novels and two works of nonfiction.  I first read his work in, Last Night at the Lobster, which became a national bestseller.  He has won a number of awards, and Granta named him one of the twenty Best Young American Novelists.  He lives with his family in Connecticut.   Just finished Songs for the Missing.  This novel is intense.  The story carries the lives of a family through immense trauma, and the heartache rides with them to the end.

 


I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.

Kent Haruf died a few years ago, and I only learned of him when I came across his last novel, Our Souls at Night.  This tender dance between a widow and a widower who—in an effort to ward off loneliness--joined together struck me to the bone.  I immediately sought out the other five.  Where You Once Belonged leaves me with only one more.  And that makes me sad, because this collection of short novels is nothing more than magnificent.  All six of these stories deserve 10 stars as a group.

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