Jonathan Tropper's The Book of Joe reminds me a lot of Michael Chabon's early work stirred up with a bit of Nick Hornby. Echoing so much of two of my...moreJonathan Tropper's The Book of Joe reminds me a lot of Michael Chabon's early work stirred up with a bit of Nick Hornby. Echoing so much of two of my favorite contemporary male authors, it's no surprise that, by the end, I really fell in love with this book and can't wait to read more from the author who wrote it.
Joe Goffman is a lapsed Jew from a small town in Connecticut. After leaving home as a bitter and estranged teenager, he wrote a scathing (and bestselling) novel about his experiences growing up in Bush Falls, brimming with caricatures of the people he encountered there. Seventeen years later, he finds himself back in the town, face to face with the ghosts of his past.
Tropper could have easily written a book full of caricatures, himself. Certainly, a small town setting lends itself to that. Instead, he endows every character, from Joe's shark of an agent, to the town's celebrity basketball coach, with a soft underbelly. Everyone in Bush Falls is undeniably complex and human. By the end, I knew these people as if I'd grown up with them, myself.
In the end, it's a book about coming to terms with the past, about rediscovering one's self, and about re-evaluating truths we once thought to be self-evident. The solid story and fleshed-out characters are woven together with some amazingly beautiful writing. At one point, Tropper writes, "The rain beats manically against the window and I feel the urge to run outside and dissolve." I feel it too. The Book of Joe absolutely swept me away.(less)
I started out loving this book. I mean, seriously, an unapologetic, 1940s, hard-boiled, ghost detective haunting a thirty-something bookstore owner? I...moreI started out loving this book. I mean, seriously, an unapologetic, 1940s, hard-boiled, ghost detective haunting a thirty-something bookstore owner? I'll take Jack Shepard in my head commenting on my gams any day. I'm probably a huge discredit to my women's studies minor, but there's just something about a guy in a fedora calling you a "doll" that gets me every time.
Sadly, the editing on The Ghost and Mrs. McClure was verging on horrible. The book is told in first person with occasional forays into limited third, from the ghost's point of view. At least once, a third person sentence slipped through in a first-person chapter. Very distracting. There was also a long dream section where the protagonist recounted a conversation she'd just heard to the ghost, who hadn't accompanied her. It was unnecessary and a classic newbie writer's mistake. I'd expect more from Alice Kimberly, who is actually a pen name for Alice Alfonsi and her husband, Marc Cerasini, who also write the Coffeehouse Mystery series as Cleo Coyle. I'm also astonished that these sorts of mistakes made it through to publication in a book that, at the very minimum, has been through the hands of two authors, an agent, and an editor. Disappointing!
I could tell, right from the start, that this was the kind of book that would end with me bawling. And I was right.
It's a beautiful love story that, d...moreI could tell, right from the start, that this was the kind of book that would end with me bawling. And I was right.
It's a beautiful love story that, despite being about a time traveler, felt very anchored in time and place. More than any other book I've read, it seems to me to be a story of my generation. Given the dates in the book, Clare is two years older than me. Alba is six months younger than my son. It was also nice, after reading so very many books set in New York or London, to read one set in Chicago. The Time Traveler's Wife was emotionally wrenching, but reading it felt like coming home.(less)
This edition of Hardboiled & Hard Luck, which is actually two novellas (some would even call them long short stories) rather than a single novel,...moreThis edition of Hardboiled & Hard Luck, which is actually two novellas (some would even call them long short stories) rather than a single novel, is adorable. It's smaller and thinner than your average trade paperback, with a matte pastel cover. Holding it feels like holding a kitten or a newborn, something very special and delicate.
That's a good metaphor for the book, as well. Everything Banana Yoshimoto writes is delicate. She holds human emotion in the palm of her hand and is so very careful with it, so loving. The characters in Hardboiled & Hard Luck are both unmistakably modern young Japanese women, both dealing with loss, a recurring theme in Banana's work. The subject matter could get heavy and depressing, but the stories are so carefully written that, instead, they come out touching and hopeful.
I adore Banana Yoshimoto and this book, the first I've read in years, had made me remember why. I think I'll be pulling her novels off my shelf and re-reading them soon, just to be back in her world, listening to her voice.(less)
Such a beautiful book, but there was an odd distance from the characters... as if they were figures in a snow globe. I might have loved it were it not...moreSuch a beautiful book, but there was an odd distance from the characters... as if they were figures in a snow globe. I might have loved it were it not for that wall.(less)
The forces that led me to The Name of the Star are a good example of social media marketing in action. On Twitter, I followed a guy I knew vaguely fro...moreThe forces that led me to The Name of the Star are a good example of social media marketing in action. On Twitter, I followed a guy I knew vaguely from the Denver gaming scene. Turned out, his wife was a literary agent, so I followed her too. Said agent led me to her friend and client, Maureen Johnson, who is charming and engaging and hilarious in her Twitter stream.
I finally picked up this book, solely because the author seemed so great, and I wasn't disappointed. It's wonderful to start a new YA paranormal series with not just one, but multiple strong female leads and real, believable teenage characters. I'm anxiously awaiting the next entry.(less)
"For me," Nabokov writes, in the afterword to Lolita, "a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic blis...more"For me," Nabokov writes, in the afterword to Lolita, "a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss..."
That is Lolita in a nutshell. Everyone even passingly familiar with the name knows what it's about--the relationship between a pedophile and the child of his obsession. What a passing knowledge of Lolita doesn't include is how, sprinkled amidst the disgust and the horror and the farce... no, not sprinkled, interwoven with it in such a way as to be inextricable... is moment after moment of the most perfect, crystalline beauty.
I've noticed that with many books acknowledged to be masterworks of the English language, it takes me quite a while to warm up to them, as if for the first hundred pages or so, I'm reserving judgement, unwilling to sign my contract with the author and fully enter into their literary world. Lolita was definitely like that for me and I suspect if I were to turn right back to the first page now, I'd find myself transported immediately into the story and not have to endure the long slog I felt the first time through. Nevertheless, I'm giving it four stars for making me wait so long to fully engage. It probably deserves five.(less)
An absolute gem of a novella. Last Night at the Lobster is a bittersweet meditation of a book about the nature of endings. While snow blankets the wor...moreAn absolute gem of a novella. Last Night at the Lobster is a bittersweet meditation of a book about the nature of endings. While snow blankets the world outside, Manny holds on instinctively to the insular world he's created as general manager of the Red Lobster, even as that world comes to an end and he follows his daily routines for the last time.
It's a quiet story, almost as if the book itself is muffled by the snow softly falling outside the Lobster's windows, but in his tale of one night at the Lobster, Stewart O'Nan manages to perfectly encapsulate Manny's past, present, and future. It's sad and funny and infuriating and hopeful all at the same time. Beautiful in the way that every ordinary life is.(less)
The three novellas in Good Women were each short enough that the book read rather like a short story collection. And from story to story, they just ke...moreThe three novellas in Good Women were each short enough that the book read rather like a short story collection. And from story to story, they just kept getting better. the three "good" women were all incredibly different, from different generations, backgrounds, and economic groups, but each story came down to a fundamental issue of defining oneself within the social and legal strictures of marital property.
By far, my favorite novella was the last one, Garden Guerillas, about a widow who finds herself being forced out of her home by a legal structure set in place by her late husband to protect their son from inheritance taxes. While her actions in retaliation aren't exactly noble, she was easily the most relatable of the three heroines and, by the end, I didn't blame her one bit. This is what good women are driven to.(less)
An attempt to add some science fiction to my reading diet.
Halting State was, like most of the limited sci fi I've read, a book about Ideas. I got the...moreAn attempt to add some science fiction to my reading diet.
Halting State was, like most of the limited sci fi I've read, a book about Ideas. I got the feeling that Stross's plot was there mostly as a curtain rod on which to hang his Ideas about the role of virtual reality and the dangers of hyper-connectivity in the near future. I'll give him this much credit: he definitely didn't put a gun on the wall in Act I that he didn't intend to fire in Act III. Unfortunately, it took way too long to place all those carefully-crafted guns and that meant there were a whole lot of randomly-firing weapons in Act III, enough that it required a whole chapter at the end to sort everything out and explain it for us.
The book is narrated in second-person, alternating between the perspectives of three different characters. I understand the intent of this device--it is, after all, a book about virtual reality gaming, a world that hinges on the "you" perspective. I found it frustrating, though, because two of the POV characters, Jack (the game developer) and Elaine (the accountant/LARPer), spent the vast majority of the book in parallel and the third, Sue (the cop), seemed largely irrelevant with her limited understanding of the plot.
That being said, I liked Jack and Elaine a lot. I enjoyed seeing Stross' strange, yet not implausible, 2018 through their eyes and I thought the Ideas were mostly well-presented. Maybe it's my inexperience with sci fi that left me disenchanted with this book. I thought the pacing was off, the plot needlessly complex and poorly-paced, the secondary and tertiary characters poorly-developed, and the prologue and epilogue entirely unnecessary.
While I thought the structure was weak, the writing was strong and I kept turning the pages, so 3 stars it is. I won't be running out to buy this book (I read a library copy) but I don't think Stross is a hack, either and I suspect someone other than me might enjoy Halting State quite a bit.(less)
The stories in this book appeared to have been chosen more for their ethnic diversity than any other virtue. That's not to say that they aren't well-w...moreThe stories in this book appeared to have been chosen more for their ethnic diversity than any other virtue. That's not to say that they aren't well-written stories, but I'm sure there are more compelling stories coming out of US writing programs. If the purpose was to create a tapestry of American voices, the book succeeded, but I was hoping for more great writing and fewer meandering literary stories where nothing much happens.
I did enjoy "The Freddies," by M.O. Walsh, the story of a family's black sheep returning for his grandfather's funeral. Caimeen Garrett's "The Temperate Family" was also compelling in its epistolatory format, anchored with the haunting image of a family commemorated in wax. And finally, Kevin A. Gonzalez' "The Wake" was a subtle look at men and mourning that caught me just at the right point in my life to appreciate it.
I enjoyed this more than the first book in the series, but I found the brand-consciousness of the main (yoga teacher) character annoying. At one point...moreI enjoyed this more than the first book in the series, but I found the brand-consciousness of the main (yoga teacher) character annoying. At one point, she's described as wearing "a pair of Prada jeans and a D&G yellow silk crepe camisole with lace trim."
I understand that she's a recovering marketing consultant and a multi-millionaire (don't let my eye-rolling bother you) and that, perhaps, the author is leaving room for some character development further on in the series, but it reads like a lame attempt at appealing to Shopaholic readers and it feels wrong for a series about a yoga studio.(less)
I don't normally give a book two stars unless it has obvious editing errors or just plain bad writing, but What the Lady Wants really feels like a reh...moreI don't normally give a book two stars unless it has obvious editing errors or just plain bad writing, but What the Lady Wants really feels like a rehearsal for Crusie's later private investigator novel, Fast Women which, unfortunately, I read immediately before this one. This is another early Crusie novel and, though you can still find hints of her magic, it's not all there yet. The sex scenes, especially, are worth skimming over, and the dialogue isn't as snappy as I'm used to with Crusie. If you're not on a quest to read every one of her books, I'd skip this one.(less)
I felt a little misled by the marketing of this book. It is what is, but everything about its cover design, its flap copy, and even its chick-litty vo...moreI felt a little misled by the marketing of this book. It is what is, but everything about its cover design, its flap copy, and even its chick-litty voice screams that it's something different. If you're okay with spoilers, read Trin's review.
I found the juxtaposition of the chick-lit elements with what turned out to be a much more profound and disturbing story to be jarring, at best. It's something that I think could have worked (Marisa de los Santos does a great job of this, for example) but, in this case, it didn't. At least, not for me.(less)