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 talenteI 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....more
I find it difficult to rate books of short stories because my opinions of each story vary. Suffice it to say, if you enjoy science fiction, this is aI find it difficult to rate books of short stories because my opinions of each story vary. Suffice it to say, if you enjoy science fiction, this is a volume to put on your list.
I will never be as talented a science fiction writer as Ted Chiang. Regardless of how much I enjoyed each story, I definitely respect Ted's ideas and his complex and careful development of them. His stories require a mental investment by the reader. Chiang is an idea man.
***** If for no other reason, read this book for "Story of Your Life." There's a movie adaptation being made billed as an "action movie" which is a bit of a head-scratcher, so it must only be loosely based on the story.
Aliens land on earth, and a linguistic specialist is recruited by the government to figure out a way to understand them (they want valuable technological information, of course). During the course of many months learning their completely unfamiliar language, she develops a new perception of reality (and of time in particular). The story leaps from her experiences with the aliens, the development of a romantic relationship, and the memories of her lost child. At first the verb tense shifts may confuse the reader, but the manner in which he reveals information in this story is nothing short of brilliant.
It is so well-crafted and heart-breaking I wanted to cry.
I also enjoyed "The Tower of Babylon" - interesting and extremely vivid remastering of this story - and "Understand" - which is a bit of a modern day "Flowers for Algernon."
My least favourite was "Division by Zero" - but that's probably because I'm not so much of a math geek, so it made my head spin a little. Props, though, for the concept. ...more
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 seriI'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 through3.5 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. ...more
The ONLY reason this review is not a five star review is due to the ending, which for this story weighed heavily for me. See farther down in the textThe ONLY reason this review is not a five star review is due to the ending, which for this story weighed heavily for me. See farther down in the text for more explanation on this.
I have been wanting to write this review for a while, because I adore Jack's energy and his wisdom and his work. He is a writer's writer and his skill with language and rhythm are apparent in this work. It's my favourite work of his I've ever read. Heart-wrenching and beautiful, it is so intimate I almost felt like a voyeur. I use it as a modern example of magical realism in my speculative fiction courses.
The most astounding thing to me is that Jack manages to capture so well the thoughts and feelings of a young, naive Mexican girl whose life is tragically interrupted when her village is destroyed, which sets her on a path to discover who she is. Usually protagonists who are such unfalteringly "good" people would not escape my critical judgement. But Jack manages to create a sympathetic character out of such an innocent (which is one of the reasons the ending did not sit well with me).
Riding the tide of tragedy and fate, young Gabriella winds up caring for a cantankerous widow prone to bouts of dementia. Readers know the end will come, the widow is old and her death is inevitable. But before that time she wants to remember is all, to record every bit on notecards, literally preserving pieces of herself and cataloging them. Gabrielle questions nothings, does as the widow requests, and honours her to the end. She breathes her life experiences into Gabriella through story and dream, demands that she become the woman she is meant to be. Dying, La Viuda gives the power of life to the orphan Gabrielle. She becomes mentor, mother, friend, and practically lover - their relationship is that intimate.
SLIGHT SPOILERISH PART BELOW
Others do not seem to have the same issues I have with the ending of the story. If it had ended one chapter earlier I probably would have given it a full five stars. The violent revenge at the end felt like a broken spell. I thought Gabriella had already won. She had risen above her poverty and victimhood. She had been reborn. I thought it would have been more than enough for her to show all the others what she had become, and more powerful for her to spare them and NOT become like them. I prefer my characters to rise above rather than resort to physical revenge. To me, this seemed counter to Gabriella's entire transformation. Perhaps others saw it as a metaphor for her power. It just didn't work for me at all.
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 thI 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. ...more
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 bitterThe 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 histoTake 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. ...more
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 manyI 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. ...more