I just noticed on Goodreads that this series is on track to have at least three more books, which honestly surprised me. The only thing that got killeI just noticed on Goodreads that this series is on track to have at least three more books, which honestly surprised me. The only thing that got killed in this book was time (both in the sense of my time spent reading it, and within the fictive universe of the book itself). Even the way it kicks off with a recap that feels almost Babysitter's Club-esque (you know, how every one of those the second or third chapter is spent explaining how the club works and who all the girls are. "One night, Kristy's mom needed a babysitter, and then Kristy thought, what if you could call one number and reach a bunch of sitters?" ad nauseam.) It felt like when you're on a plane, and you're all ready to go, and then they start giving you the, "Well folks, the tower says we have three planes ahead of us, so it should just be a few more minutes until we're off the ground." I basically gave this book two stars because a) it's a YA series that still exists and (hopefully) does not include anything supernatural, and b) that makes it better than nothing.
UGHHH I just realized that Sutton's ghost narration (how is it that she's always smiling at stuff Emma does even though she doesn't have a body?!?!) means this series DOES sort of have supernatural elements. It's Pretty Little Liars meets The Lovely Bones. Not supernatural enough to put me off I guess. SIGH....more
Full disclosure: I totally bought this book because of the cover. They had them standing, facing outward, on top of a shelf at Half-Price Books, and IFull disclosure: I totally bought this book because of the cover. They had them standing, facing outward, on top of a shelf at Half-Price Books, and I was already on quite the spree so I thought, "Why not?" The design of this whole series is quite attractive, but I think this cover in its simplicity and starkness is the best one (yay Penguin design!).
Story-wise: Lately I am finding myself quite into what I think of as light horror. It's like the soft rock of horror. Minimal suspense, minimal blood, ideally lots of like mysteries, clues, and unintentional hilarity. I think the apex of this for me was my recent viewing of Burn, Witch, Burn! which is about academics and their spouses (in a freakin' sociology department, no less!) jockeying for position with one another. I always knew superstition and black magic were the way to get tenure! (It's streaming on Netflix, seriously, you should watch it.)
M.R. James' world is also full of academics, and I think it's their stories I liked best (in particular, "Casting the Runes," which is basically about the consequences of not accepting a journal article!). Nearly all the stories are "told", sometimes by the author, as if he is telling them to you (and doing all the accents and voices for every Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle). Other times, they are being retold by a character within the story -- sometimes like three or four layers in, which is an unusual way of doing things. Are they as scary as Michael Chabon and H.P. Lovecraft claim in cover blurbs? Um, no. But if you're looking for some light horror (here minus the unintentional hilarity), it's a good read....more
It took me a long time to get a copy of this O. Henry, and while none of it was genuinely bad (in fact, I think they made a lot more unconventional chIt took me a long time to get a copy of this O. Henry, and while none of it was genuinely bad (in fact, I think they made a lot more unconventional choices than usual), I just didn't have a strong feeling for any of these stories. It took me a long, long time to decide where to place my bookmark before placing the book on my shelf (for books I own, I always leave a bookmark -- usually something I've picked up somewhere, like a train ticket or a business card from a cute store -- in the part of the book I liked best, or in this case, the story I liked best). I eventually chose "How to Leave Hialeah" (Jennine Capo Crucet) but I worry a lot of my affinity toward this story comes from its relationship to my research. My other fave was probably "Nightblooming" (Kenneth Calhoun), though I was also very excited to see something new by Susan Minot.
There's definitely a creepy, dystopian vein that runs through many of these stories. I didn't mind it, but it's not my favorite either. I got to be terrified by Helen Simpson's "Diary of an Interesting Year" again (it was from the New Yorker), and "The Black Square" (Chris Adrian) and "Sunshine" are definitely toeing the line between creepy and well written. There are at least two more stories that also fit this theme, but I don't want to name them -- a lot of their creepiness works because you don't see it coming until it's right on you.
I do not give five stars lightly. But WOW. This book amazed me. It destroyed me. It captivated me. I've actually been reading some high quality stuffI do not give five stars lightly. But WOW. This book amazed me. It destroyed me. It captivated me. I've actually been reading some high quality stuff lately, but none of them a) affected me like this while at the same time b) fascinating me with their construction.
Multiple storylines overlap, each with their own timeline. One weekend, forty years prior. Two months, in the present. Forty years of life. And that's just what we can discern with any clarity; other events might be happening or might be imagined. I can't even begin to comprehend how the author accomplished all this and made it make enough sense to be coherent to the reader, but at the same time keeping the overall style somewhat chaotic and jumbled. You can see what's coming, but also you can't, and sometimes it's hard to know what you've seen.
The other thing I loved about this novel -- which I know wouldn't necessarily work as well for other readers -- was how well the time period, and the lifestyle of these characters, was rendered. The main character is around the same age as my beloved maternal grandmother was, and all of the elements of upper-crust New England mid-century life rang absolutely true for me.
I realize this isn't my clearest review, but this is what you write when you finish a book that made you cry, and then made you sob, and then go to the bathroom ostensibly to clean yourself up, but then sob even harder in there, lying on the floor using bathroom tissue as ineffectual Kleenex. So....more
I was really between a two-star (it was okay) and a three-star (liked it) on this one. I wound up tipping the balance toward two because I felt like iI was really between a two-star (it was okay) and a three-star (liked it) on this one. I wound up tipping the balance toward two because I felt like in the end, all the elements didn't come together -- if this was an entry in the Great American Novel race, it didn't work.
It is interesting that Cunningham seems to keep progressing toward genre fiction (and in fact, the science fiction section of this book worked the best for me, with the sort of crime/detective coming in second), and has stuck with the parallel stuff going on at different times format he picked up in The Hours. I think the issue for me here was I didn't understand why any of this was happening. (Okay, so he edited an edition of Leaves of Grass, so at least we know why the constant-Whitman-quoting was included, but not really why it keeps happening.) I kept waiting though for things to make sense -- for the characters to have some deeper significance, for the bowl to be explained, for, well, anything -- but it just didn't happen for me, despite all the cover copy about it being a fabulous meditation on America and beauty and other big, broad, novel-type ideas.
That said, once I'd made it past the first section (which I straight-up hated), this went really quickly. The second section is just a total page-turned, and with the last, I was really impressed with how well Cunningham came up with a believable dystopian future. In the end, it was strong enough to get me to pick up a copy of A Home at the End of the World at Half-Price books, so maybe it was really a three-star book....more
This was a random $1 find at the Japanese bookstore. I had a fuzzy idea that I liked McCorkle's short fiction, and on reading the back my husband didThis was a random $1 find at the Japanese bookstore. I had a fuzzy idea that I liked McCorkle's short fiction, and on reading the back my husband did say it seemed like my "kind of thing." Sadly, not so much. It begins with an interesting enough set-up (though the format gets tiresome pretty quickly), then it just fizzles. The first act is just guns, guns, guns, and we eventually wind up with, well, barely even one of those flags from old Warner Bros. cartoons that says "BANG!". It was unclear why the main character did anything, and even less clear why the reader should be invested in this. ...more
I can't decide if Geraldine Brooks (whose writing I don't know at all) was an outstanding guest editor, if 2010 (since this compiles stories publishedI can't decide if Geraldine Brooks (whose writing I don't know at all) was an outstanding guest editor, if 2010 (since this compiles stories published from Jan 2010 to Jan 2011) was an amazing year for short fiction, or what, but this Best American knocked it out of the park. (It inspired me to pay full retail for BASS 2012, so if you know what a cheapskate thrifty individual I am, that should tell you something.) I was a bit nervous at first, because 7 of the 20 stories are from the New Yorker which meant I'd already read them. But shockingly, none of these stories were actually, genuinely bad -- a few were less interesting for me than others, and yes, I'm kind of giving JCO a pass because of her husband's death, but still. I'm not sure how to talk about these, so I'll just give my top picks:
1) "Housewifely Arts" (Megan Mayhew Bergman): This story devastated me. It made me cry, then really cry, then weep, then get out of bed and go in the bathroom and sob so I wouldn't wake up my husband.
2) "Escape from Spiderhead" (George Saunders): And not just because the title sounds like an episode of Jonny Quest! I totally had read this in the New Yorker, but it surprised me yet again. Genuinely creative science fiction (in the like, it's sort of about science sense). Or maybe it's like a horror story for people who work on Institutional Review Boards. I feel like the only reason this hasn't been optioned for a movie is because no one reads short fiction.
3) "The Sleep" (Caitlin Horrocks): Just reading The Atlantic Fiction for Kindle in the table of contents made my blood curdle. But this is a really beautifully imagined story. First-person plural narration is generally not for me, but this actually does feel like a story told by a town.
4) "Soldier of Fortune" (Bret Anthony Johnston): You know how in creative writing classes/workshops/whatnot a favorite put-down is to say the ending was unearned? This story absolutely earned its ending. Also, Johnston deserves an extra award for writing one of the best sets of Contributor's Notes ever.
5) "Phantoms" (Steven Millhauser): This is from McSweeney's, and I hate doing anything that makes it seem like my hatred of Dave Eggers is losing steam, but this is just spooky. A good old-fashioned ghost story (and again, a story where the town narrates that works). ...more