I have been following Jennifer Munro's writing career for quite some time and have known since I first heard her read in public that she was a talente...moreI have been following Jennifer Munro's writing career for quite some time and have known since I first heard her read in public that she was a talented writer. Her first collection of short fiction The Erotica Writer's Husband is not only chock full of bawdy wit, it exemplifies Munro's gift with words.
THE STRANGLER FIG took me by surprise. I was expecting more of Murno's typical cleverness and craft, but this short story collection reaches a whole new level. More sophisticated, more literary, it demonstrates that Munro continues to grow and stretch herself as a writer.
I was riveted by the title piece about a voyeuristic photographer's obsession with a pop star who dabbles in magical craftwork to keep herself young. I was appropriately worried through "Reduction," a dark story, told through journal entries, about a new mother spiraling into depression after the reduction of one of her triplets.
My favourite, however, was the lighter "Immobile." It features an estranged elderly woman getting caught in the 100th annual International Harley Davidson rally during her mobile home pilgrimage to the Crazy Horse monument. It reminded me of that song "The Way" by Fastball [...]. I loved the character Madge and her encounter with rally participant Darwin.
The only story that seemed out of place was "Hina, the Hawaiian Helen." Not that I didn't enjoy it, it just seemed misplaced within this collection. My only other critique is that the final story "Telltale" was too short (it felt tagged on like, well, a tail). I really loved the idea and wanted to hear more, but perhaps Munro felt like she had milked it as far as she could.
STRANGLER FIG a short, diverse collection that makes me wonder where Munro will take us next.(less)
I'm trying to decide if I should keep reading this one or not. Barker is certainly clever, and the premise is unique (the story is told through a seri...moreI'm trying to decide if I should keep reading this one or not. Barker is certainly clever, and the premise is unique (the story is told through a series of letters stolen from a Postbox - each from a different character in the small town of Burley Cross - would make a fun movie).
But, I'm on page 68 and I don't feel like I'm going anywhere... the letters are a bit too tangential.
It’s getting more challenging to give books star ratings on GoodReads. Especially since I run the gamut: middle grade through...more3.5 stars (I rounded up)
It’s getting more challenging to give books star ratings on GoodReads. Especially since I run the gamut: middle grade through adult, literary fiction, non-fiction, speculative fiction, poetry, you name it. How does one compare Charlotte’s Web to Cloud Atlas?
I also couldn’t decide whether to compare MYSTERIES OF PITTSBURGH with every other book I’ve read or rate it against what Chabon has proven to be capable of. I decided to do the latter, because really, over 13,000 people have rated this book so who cares.
MYSTERIES is Chabon’s debut novel, his master’s thesis, he was 25 years old when he wrote it so it’s not going to be his pièce de résistance. I kind of wish I had started with his debut and read all his books chronologically, observing and appreciating his growth as a writer. Instead, I began with Kavalier and Clay and Yiddish Policemen’s Union (my personal favourite so far), so he set his bar high for me. Really, it's his own fault.
No doubt he is a naturally talented writer. One of my favourite things about him is his ability describe a motion or look or aspect of something so perfectly it makes my brain purr. His characters are fully-developed, messy humans with complicated relationships (hey, just like real life!). His dialogue has a natural cadence and every scene has humour, conflict, and love.
However, Chabon himself says plot is his weakness and in general I think well-written literature can wander in its plot. Not every story has to be a Hero’s Journey. But the pacing was off in this one, a lot of character development for half the book and then a rushed second half, and (for me at least) all the set up with Arthur’s relationship with his father never paid off. It opens with the fact that his father works for the mob, and this does feed into the final dramatic climax and Art’s general anxiety, but there was something more I wanted between Art and his dad other than Dad-comes-to-town-and-makes-Art-cry-during-an-expensive-dinner. I also thought his father’s character was inconsistent. I couldn’t get a real handle on him. I was left not knowing what he actually thought about his son.
The hardest thing for me, though, was that I just couldn’t sympathize with Arthur (Art) Bechstein, the main character. From what I know of Chabon and have heard in interviews, there are some auto-biographic aspects to this book (exaggerated for drama, obviously), and of course when you’re 25 you’re going to write what you know. But Chabon has himself said that at that age he was an asshole and it wasn’t until after graduate school that he was straightened out (humbled by the women around him apparently). Here’s something else – he drew all the supporting characters so well I thought I would recognize them walking down the street (and actually know a few people like Phlox and Arthur – yes, Art's friend’s name is the same as his), but I could never picture Art himself. I just threw in a younger-looking Chabon so my mind could play the movie in my head.
His friends are shallow, he’s shallow, and nobody grows. I couldn’t understand what Art saw in his catty friends, nor what they saw in him. He came across as wimpy and never redeemed himself. I can understand sexual confusion, identity confusion, wanting to gain purchase on life somehow. But confused is one thing and flaky is another.
I will absolutely continue to read Chabon's work, because even though I had a tougher time connecting with this one, it didn't hinder my appreciation of his admirable word-crafting. (less)
I was completely unprepared for how much this book would affect me. I suspected Obama to be an intelligent, thoughtful writer, I just didn't expect th...moreI was completely unprepared for how much this book would affect me. I suspected Obama to be an intelligent, thoughtful writer, I just didn't expect the story to be such a personal one. Probably because he's the President and there's a certain distance from the President to the rest of us. But, since he wrote this before he was even a senator, he opened himself up wide. I'm guessing he'd write a much different, slightly less revealing book now.
If I had read it when he first wrote it, I don't know that I would have predicted he'd become President, but knowing him to be President, when I read it I could see how someone like him would get there. He's humble, hard-working, and always evaluating himself and his beliefs. He's stubborn and persistent and, in his early life at least, naive in a way that makes him optimistic. And, most admirable, when he comes up against hatred and fear, his default mode is to try understand that hatred and fear.
Yes, it's a bit over-written, he's been allowed a freedom to roam the language of story-telling and someone should have reigned him in a bit (he lays on the similes a bit thick sometimes). But he has broad vocabulary and is a natural story-teller. He may have a future, this Obama guy.
I appreciated the way the book is divided up, culminating in his first trip to Kenya to meet his extended family on his father's side. I appreciated the way he dedicated his life to raising up those around him, seeking justice, and uniting communities. But most of all I appreciated how well he communicated his struggles with race identity to someone like me - who can never truly understand, having been raised a middle-class white girl - and how economics, religion, culture, and politics plays into it all. (less)
The ending of a story can make it or break it for me. Just when I thought I had this book figured out, Stead slips in sideways and turns up the bitter...moreThe ending of a story can make it or break it for me. Just when I thought I had this book figured out, Stead slips in sideways and turns up the bittersweet.
Here's the way I want to describe this book:
It's like standing at the window of a beach house, looking out at the sailboats and green islands in the distance, thinking this is a lovely view. This is nice. This is quiet. I like sitting here, just like this.
And then someone you really like tip-toes up from behind and sneaks his arms around you and pulls you close.
Take Michael Chabon and Douglas Adams and mix them up in a blender and you'll get something like this. A quirky story living inside an alternate histo...moreTake Michael Chabon and Douglas Adams and mix them up in a blender and you'll get something like this. A quirky story living inside an alternate history that defies the laws of physics and still manages to contain characters I care about. There's a bit of deus ex machina, but for the most part, completely enjoyable. (less)
I first read Phantom Tollbooth when I was 10. I loved my copy so much over the years that it fell apart. I bought a new one and shared it with so many...moreI first read Phantom Tollbooth when I was 10. I loved my copy so much over the years that it fell apart. I bought a new one and shared it with so many kids, that copy was loved to pieces, too. I was fortunate to be at the SCBWI conference in Los Angeles last year when Norton Juster was there. I bought a brand new copy and had him sign it. I'll have to buy a second one or risk having my signed copy loved to death as well.
This is a classic so marvelously quirky, so magical the way it plays in language, and with a believable character arc to boot. (less)
I'm so behind on my book reviews on GoodReads that I'm going to keep this short. I don't like just putting STARS on a page, they've lost their meaning...moreI'm so behind on my book reviews on GoodReads that I'm going to keep this short. I don't like just putting STARS on a page, they've lost their meaning to me, so I want to say a few words at least about each book I read.
This book is epic. Ambitious. If nothing else I appreciate the scope of it. When I was done with it I felt as if I had personally been on an expedition to the future and back again. I felt cosmically insignificant.
I almost sent it back to the library after the first chapter, which drags a bit. I couldn't tell where it was going. But I'm very glad I stuck with it. By the time I got to the 3rd chapter, I couldn't put it down. Some books are there for the challenge.
I loved the movie as well. I was clasping at my heart as we exited the theatre. I thought it complemented the book. Yes, it takes liberties, as film must, being a separate entity, but none of that bothered me (well, okay, the ending with Zachry/Tom Hanks and his new home away from home - that's all I'm going to say so I don't spoil it)
I just realized this is a vague review, but it's a tough book to review because there are so many storylines and there's so much to say about each one. I'll just leave it at I'm very glad I got to live in Mitchell's worlds for a while. (less)
DiCamillo is a consistently terrific middle grade author. Every story I've read by her is about loneliness and loss, but each is a unique story. My fa...moreDiCamillo is a consistently terrific middle grade author. Every story I've read by her is about loneliness and loss, but each is a unique story. My favourite continues to be The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.
This one is sweet and not as dark as Tulane. Kids will love it. Who didn't love a good dog story when growing up? (less)
I adore this book for many reasons. I don't believe i've ever cried so much reading a middle grade novel. Yes, I'm a big softie, but I dare you to get...moreI adore this book for many reasons. I don't believe i've ever cried so much reading a middle grade novel. Yes, I'm a big softie, but I dare you to get through this thing without at least two tissues.
When I first heard about this book, I was wondering how the author was going to pull it off without making the story too "After School Special." She manages beautifully.
Told in multiple perspectives that bring a depth and authenticity to the work, it's still completely accessible and family-friendly, with no violence or vulgarity. If I were an elementary school teacher, I'd use this book in the classroom to discuss everything from feeling like an outcast to bullying.
It's not Augie's extreme facial deformity that kept him out of school. In his 10 years, he's had 24 reconstructive surgeries, and for the first time there's a long break from them, allowing him to attend a public school. He is small for his age as well and was not expected to live.
We start from Augie's POV as he's about to enter 5th grade. We then get pieces of the story told by his sister, two of his school friends (one who breaks his heart), his sister's boyfriend, and his sister's best friend. I love the chapters by Augie's sister Olivia ("Via") because she had to understand at an early age, that Augie's needs come first. She says she's not being noble, but that once you've seen your baby brother with his jaw wired shut and IV tubes poking out all over his body, it seems kinda dumb to get upset about not getting that new toy.
As August is entering public school for the first time, Via is entering high school and dealing with her best friends' shunning. She has always been protective of August, but now she feels guilty because she doesn't want her new high school peers to know about him. She wants an independence separate from him and doesn't want to be known as "the girl with the deformed brother."
The premise is simple, and the characters drawn fairly complex for a middle grade novel. The bully and his mom may be a bit one-dimensional, but that's also because we never get their POV. As a class exercise, I think I'd have my students write a chapter based on the bully's POV.
This is such a feel-good story at the end that you'll be crying all over again, but it's not schlocky or too bubblegum. It's both heart-wrenching and heart-warming. (less)
Okay, giving my own book 5 stars seems kind of self-indulgent. But I truly do love this book, and I didn't for a long time. This was a challenging boo...moreOkay, giving my own book 5 stars seems kind of self-indulgent. But I truly do love this book, and I didn't for a long time. This was a challenging book to write.
In combination with the great story editing, cover art, and new map art I think it deserves five stars.
I wasn't sure I would at first. I've mentioned before that MG books that have a "cartoonish" feel to them usually don't appeal to me....more I love this book.
I wasn't sure I would at first. I've mentioned before that MG books that have a "cartoonish" feel to them usually don't appeal to me. (Lightning Thief, Mysterious Benedict Society)
But this book is FUNNY. laugh-out-loud-fall-on-the-floor-hold-your-stomach funny. At least it was for me. Adam Rex and I apparently have the same sense of humour.
Once, while reading, I came to a page so funny I dropped the book and started laughing so hard I started crying. I was holding my stomach and my husband asked me what was up. Since we have the same sense of humour, I read (barely able to at one point) the page to him. He started laughing so hard he couldn't breathe.
But intermixed with the funny are these wonderfully poignant moments between Gratuity and her new Boov travelmate J.Lo. You can see their friendship developing from a mile away, but it still feels warm, fuzzy, and genuine. When Gratuity finally reunites with her mom, I had real tears in my eyes. And at the very very end, well, you'll just have to read it. Let's say that it was actually surprisingly moving.
In addition (yes, there's more!) there's quite a bit of social commentary. Not in a preachy manner. Quite the opposite. It pokes fun at the foibles of the human race. I especially loved the history (drawn in comic book form) of the Boov and how it reflected our own planet's history.
If you have trouble finding books for middle grade boys, this is a good choice. I think girls will love it, too. And adults. And Boov. (if a Gorg read it, he'd probably punch you in the face, though).
"What DID you send?"
"It was just a little song. I singed a little song to see if the antennas were able to be sending it back to my scooter."
"What kind of a song?"
"A children's play song."
"How did it go?"
"Hm. It will not to rhyme in humanspeak."
J.Lo thought for a moment. "It goes . . . Gorg are dumb, dumb like soap, their wives are wider than they should be."
"Uh-oh," I said, looking ahead at the big purple ball.
"The funny part," said J.Lo, "is that the Gorg do not even have wives." (less)