I loved Allegra Goodman’s Intuition so was excited to read this. Though I found Intuition a notch above, this was a fast-paced and satisfying read.
It’I loved Allegra Goodman’s Intuition so was excited to read this. Though I found Intuition a notch above, this was a fast-paced and satisfying read.
It’s about two sisters, Jess and Emily, at the pinnacle of the internet boom. As is the case for any book involving sisters, these two are opposites with Jess’s free spirit contrasting against Emily’s stern business sense. I found the sisters believable and engaging, so was a little annoyed that there were probably about ten other viewpoints told in this book (coworkers, lovers, lovers’ coworkers, Rabbis, et cetera). Speaking of Rabbis I found the Jewish mysticism part unnecessary and the “coincidence” at the end silly and this knocked the book down to three stars for me.
Still, there is much to like in this book. The writing is sharp and funny. There is one seduction scene that is one of the hottest/sexiest I’ve ever read and it is by no means salacious. I loved the Internet boom and the commentary on the stock market. The sisters are both easy to root for even when you don’t agree with their decisions. All in a good book but not as strong as Intuition. ...more
What a lovely find. I used to travel to Guernsey for work and was totally enchanted by the island from the first time I landed on it. I had a chatty dWhat a lovely find. I used to travel to Guernsey for work and was totally enchanted by the island from the first time I landed on it. I had a chatty driver once who told me the history of the WWII occupation, pointing out historical landmarks along the way, including in charming St. Peter Port. So I am a sucker for any book set in this place at this time. The Soldier’s Wife is one of these books.
This reads slow in a way. The writing is straightforward, almost too simple at times (lots of people have eyes that are blue like summer), yet I was totally entranced by the story. I loved Vivienne’s relationships with her two daughters (I have two myself). The author did an excellent job of exploring the complicated relationships between the occupied and the occupiers. In such a remote place (with the men off to war) it makes sense the young male soldiers and teen girls would hold dances and parties. Of course the whole premise is Vivienne’s relationship with the solider next door but the greater picture is fascinating.
This is not the author’s fault, but the publisher seemed to attempt to capitalize on the “xxx’s daughter/wife” trend in naming books. The Soldier’s Wife feels like a misnomer though it is not untrue. I’d be interested to know what this was originally called.
As I said, the writing is stilted at times, but maybe that’s a reflection of the topic and the characters’ own feelings. Though the writing did not necessarily pull me in the storyline absolutely did. It’s gripping and realistic and bittersweet. Sometimes my heart raced, other time I got teary. Really an excellent read and one I enjoyed immensely. I continued to think about its difficult topics and questions long after I turned the last page....more
After reading, and enjoying, one of the author’s prior novels (On Folly Beach) I wanted to pick up another of hers. Julie is a newly minted guardian oAfter reading, and enjoying, one of the author’s prior novels (On Folly Beach) I wanted to pick up another of hers. Julie is a newly minted guardian of a five year old, unemployed, and still haunted by the disappearance of her sister nearly twenty years before. In addition to being left the boy, she’s left a house on the Gulf Coast, which isn’t so much a house as a strip of land post-Katrina. I thought the concept of rebuilding in a place that has a decent chance of requiring future rebuilding was a poignant and lovely. Why bother when it will probably get knocked down again? An interesting question with (albeit somewhat obvious) applicability to other aspects of life. This really struck me somehow and I thought the author played this theme nicely.
The mystery deepens as Julie finds out more about her deceased friend, including why the woman befriended her in the first place. There are some rather cliché aspects to this, including prickly guy turned love interest but as it did in her previous work, the interweaving of historical storylines with modern day characters is well done. The five year old boy is a rather minor character, especially when you consider the enormity of his situation/Julie’s guardianship. I found this part a bit odd.
Overall an enjoyable read. Nothing earth-shattering or long-lasting but a nice little ride. Not as good as On Folly Beach....more
Not much to say, couldn't really get into this. About a man who thinks his daughter killed his wife so he "confesses" to save her. I didn't really buyNot much to say, couldn't really get into this. About a man who thinks his daughter killed his wife so he "confesses" to save her. I didn't really buy the father-daughter relationship in the first place so had a hard time believing he'd go to bat for her. Overall not bad, just not memorable. ...more
3.5 stars. This is deceptively complex. Yes, it’s “chick lit” but there are some very deep and heart-wrenching topics covered. Alice hits her head in3.5 stars. This is deceptively complex. Yes, it’s “chick lit” but there are some very deep and heart-wrenching topics covered. Alice hits her head in the gym and when she comes to she’s “missing” the last ten years of her life. She’s skinny, getting divorced, and has three kids. A “high concept” book for sure, but read this for the nuances. Forget (har, har) the memory loss but Alice’s relationship with her sister as well as her sister’s struggle with infertility are handled expertly. I related to so many characters in this book; Alice, her sister Elisabeth, and even Nick to some degree.
The RPL/infertility struggles of Elisabeth are gut-wrenching and portrayed in a wholly authentic manner. I had some (relatively minor) struggles in this realm and found Elisabeth’s thoughts and reactions so achingly real. Even as I thought “she’s super boring” Elisabeth acknowledges this dullness. Getting pregnant and staying pregnant is all she can think about. The parallel she draws with old people and their ailments is a unique one, and quite apt. How this ties into a complex sisterly relationship is also brilliantly portrayed. I’m glad this book included Elisabeth’s perspective and this aspect was flawless.
I also loved the relationship between Nick and Alice. How she feels about him is much how I feel about my own husband. When I think of him it’s a physical feeling, down in my gut, like he’s anchored there. That said, I do think the part where Alice realizes the reason for their separation is weak. She was so intent on getting back together with him no matter the cause she just seems very much “aw, f**k it” when she figures it out what went down. This did not ring true. Also the fact Nick would leave their three children with Alice when she clearly hasn’t regained her faculties was laughingly unrealistic. Not sure the Franny part was necessary either.
Overall, though, an enjoyable book. Reads like “chick lit” but with a lot more depth. ...more
Where’d You Go Bernadette? was one of my favorite books of the year so I had to pick up the author’s earlier work. Bernadette was so special my expectWhere’d You Go Bernadette? was one of my favorite books of the year so I had to pick up the author’s earlier work. Bernadette was so special my expectations for this were somewhat tempered because I was afraid of being let down. Solid move as this wasn’t nearly as good.
Like Bernadette, the writing is funny and sharp and the book filled with deeply flawed individuals. Unfortunately there’s no loveable character like Bee, which is what this seems to be missing. A lot of reviewers complain that the characters are unlikeable and originally I thought that was the intent, that this is a satire. These people are really what one would think if you’re trying to drum up visions of quintessential nouveau riche LA people. And when a couple is fighting and the woman shouts, “I’m sorry I’m not a cheese quesadilla!” you can’t take it too seriously. But reading the author Q&A at the end has me thinking otherwise so now I’m not sure. She talks about wanting to explore the dynamic between sister-in-laws, bored wife/powerful husband, etc. I didn’t really feel any dynamics were explored so much as made fun of. Funny as a satire, weird as general fiction. ...more
Thriller featuring a psychologist with Parkinson’s disease, which I thought was an interesting twist. A woman jumps from a bridge and protagonist JoeThriller featuring a psychologist with Parkinson’s disease, which I thought was an interesting twist. A woman jumps from a bridge and protagonist Joe thinks it was a murder, though he witnessed her fall. This is less thriller and more psychological, which could be good or bad depending on your expectations. The who-dun-it and why-did-he is pretty weak and obvious early on. That said, the way the antagonist kills/harms/maims is pretty interesting, believable, and utterly disturbing. It does force the reader to pause and consider what he/she might do in a similar situation.
Beyond the psychological aspect, I thought Joe and his wife’s strained relationship gave this story more depth and I appreciated the not-too-neatly-tied-up ending. Recommended for people who are fans of the genre....more
I don’t know if it’s smart or stupid for someone who travels a lot to read a memoir about the hotel industry. Luckily I wasn’t as grossed out as I expI don’t know if it’s smart or stupid for someone who travels a lot to read a memoir about the hotel industry. Luckily I wasn’t as grossed out as I expected to be but I do feel like a mild jerk for always refusing bellman help. Maybe I’ll be like the one guy who refuses help but tips the bellman anyway. Also I did not realize staff actively watches the security cameras in elevators. No more undergarment adjusting for me!
The author has an engaging writing style and I laughed often. If you’re swear word averse, proceed with caution. There are a lot in here, and this is coming from someone who makes prodigious use of the f-word and I often read reviews lamenting an author’s potty mouth and think, hmmm, I didn’t notice a single one. There are many interesting tidbits in here, especially if you’re a frequent traveler, and it’s fascinating to consider all the activities (untoward and otherwise) that go on in a hotel and the staff’s witness to it all. I found it interesting that although hotel workers are a transient population the bellmen stay in one place forever.
This book purports to offer “tips” and that’s a bit of an incorrect description. There are really only three tips included: 1. Don’t drink from hotel room glasses (best case scenario they were cleaned with furniture polish) 2. Never pay for mini bar stuff 3. Make it rain 20s! Overall an amusing read. ...more
Love, love, loved this charming Young Adult novel about hapless tween Doug and his move to a crappy house (aka The Dump) in a crappy town. It’s somewhLove, love, loved this charming Young Adult novel about hapless tween Doug and his move to a crappy house (aka The Dump) in a crappy town. It’s somewhat of a coming of age tale but so, so much more. It’s funny and heartbreaking and warm. I loved Doug’s personality, not to mention his constant use of the word Chump, and the Audubon bird plate tie-in. Still, as much as I liked Doug some of the ancillary characters are almost as wonderful if not better, including of course the inestimable Lil. His relationship with his brothers is so real I absolutely felt as though I could see and hear them. For the last fifty pages I was pretty much crying throughout, for multiple reasons all up and down the feelings scale. Incredibly touching. I’m actually teary while writing this review. So many amazing moments – so many!
It does start out a touch slow (but, man, wait until it gets rolling) and (in my opinion) the dad gets too much of a pass. Still, though, overall a spectacular book. Vietnam War, Birds of America, Jane Eyre, the New York Yankees, landing on the moon, Broadway productions, horseshoe playing orchid enthusiasts, scrappy girls, gym class awkwardness, so many layers to this book. The last few chapters are as affecting as I’ve read, and I’ve read a lot. Highly recommended, especially for fans of the YA genre.
Side note, I'm totally going to buy some of these Audubon plates to decorate with. I mean I'm looking at the Brown Pelican right now and about to burst into tears. ...more
Wow, alright. A few things are clear after reading Caribou Island and this, the author’s collection of li“I don’t want to just try to survive winter.”
Wow, alright. A few things are clear after reading Caribou Island and this, the author’s collection of linked short stories (though it’s closer to a novel, really, as the stories are all about the same person). One: Vann is a master at evoking the beauty and harshness of Alaska. Two: cheating dentist father is a theme/issue for the author (though I believe it’s the same cheating dentist father as in Caribou Island). Three: the author's mind is darker than dark. Pitch black. Alaska wilderness homesteading at night black.
There are about 5 or 6 stories in this, the middle one is the longest and told in two parts and is by far the most discussion-worthy. It left me with many questions, not the least of which was, “what the f***?” It took me a long time to work through what I read and what it meant to the other items in the collection since they’re all about Roy Fenn, son of cheating dentist father who commits suicide. I’ll spare you my interpretation but this book does leave the reader thinking/contemplative/more than a little haunted. I almost couldn’t sleep last night thinking of some parts of this book.
I love David Vann’s writing, darkness and all. Alas this book is not for everyone. Caribou Island blew me away and though Legend of a Suicide isn’t quite as astounding it left an impression. Proceed with caution, but a great payoff if this type of work is in your wheelhouse. ...more
I considered tagging this as "historical fiction" but resisted. I was obsessed with Sweet Valley High in junior high, positively obsessed. I had everyI considered tagging this as "historical fiction" but resisted. I was obsessed with Sweet Valley High in junior high, positively obsessed. I had every book and eagerly awaited each new one. This series definitely sparked my reading obsession. As such I just had to re-read this, the first in the series. I had a lot of fun revisiting the old characters, Jessica and Elizabeth of course but also the rest of them. Todd Wilkins, Bruce Patman, Enid Rollins, Cara Walker, Lila Fowler (remember her ultimate fate??), the gang's all here. It was so fun. I read a lot of YA and I do think the quality of work has stepped up big time. Alas this was cute for what it was. Fun fun fun. ...more
Detroit as a city fascinates me and I’ve never fully understood why. I’ve not been to Detroit, I’m not involved in the auto industry, or smoking crackDetroit as a city fascinates me and I’ve never fully understood why. I’ve not been to Detroit, I’m not involved in the auto industry, or smoking crack, or setting fires to my hometown, or anything else you might relate to the place. The author explained it to me in the introduction. At one time Detroit was the equivalent of Silicon Valley. As someone who works in this software industry and in private equity, that comparison really stunned me. It’s something I knew inherently but I never related the two. Detroit used to represent innovation. Crazy, but true.
Journalistic assessment of this fallen city is a popular endeavor (indeed it’s an actual thriving industry except when there’s a grisly murder/dismemberment case and not ONE journalist is covering the trial) but I enjoyed this book despite Detroit’s whipping post status. The author is Detroit born and bred and he has a palpable love for the crumbling city.
A few things really stood out to me, including things I already knew such as the 97% decline in property values, the 75% decline in population, etc. From a Detroit-based urban planner: “I teach land and use planning and there’s nothing in there about downsizing.” Fascinating, simply fascinating. Because that’s part of urban planning, isn’t it? Plans don’t just go up, sometimes they go down. It’s like running a company, finding it losing revenue and employees and being like, well shit, I haven’t the faintest. I thought we’d only ever grow! Of course this speaks to a bigger political/governmental problem not strictly applicable to Detroit.
Also, the fires. So you can buy a house for $100 and insure it for $80k. No one has the money or time or wherewithal to investigate arsons (because there are too damned many fires). So why not set your house on fire? It actually makes a load of sense. What a moneymaker.
The author leaves with hope, mostly vague, but with some basis. He does ask, quite rightly, “Would fixing the very real problems faced by Detroiters…mean inevitably robbing Detroit of some part of its essential Detroitness?” Indeed. Side note: I didn’t know that the city had become a tourist destination for foreigners. He runs into tourists from all over the globe, including upscale families from Paris. It’s apparently analogous to visiting the ruins of the coliseum in Rome. People from Paris are paying money to vacation in Detroit! This is unbelievable.
This book is a good blend of facts and human interest. It is narrative non-fiction but really more heavily weighted toward non-fiction. I felt the narrative was a bit disjointed and at times the “story” was altogether lost. The political crap got old at times, as political crap does.
Speaking of political crap, if you want to see a video that was once hopeful and now completely ironic check out this one for Detroit’s bid for the 1968 Olympics:
A new take (at least for me) on a WWII drama. This book occurs after the war, with flashbacks during and before it, when two Polish spouses (and theirA new take (at least for me) on a WWII drama. This book occurs after the war, with flashbacks during and before it, when two Polish spouses (and their child) are reunited in London after not seeing each other for six years. It’s a quiet sort of novel, but real and heartbreaking. There is some lovely writing, one of my favorite lines: “…it is the knowing that as surely as the boy holds her up, he is also pulling her under.” This is very specific to Silvana’s situation but can’t that be said of any parent/child relationship at times? Even ones (comparatively) drama-free. Just simple and lovely.
I did find the characters a little hard to dig into at times, they felt remote, and the little boy could’ve been given more…I don’t know…oomph? I didn’t feel as sympathetic toward him as I should have, or toward Silvana or Janusz for that matter. Still, an overall enjoyable read. I thought the ending was terrific. ...more
A delightful book. Two half-sisters inherit a crumbling Southampton shack from their aunt. Not exactly the most unique premise in the world but thereA delightful book. Two half-sisters inherit a crumbling Southampton shack from their aunt. Not exactly the most unique premise in the world but there are some interesting twists, like the Gatsby homage and the fact the sisters are half-sisters, sharing the same dad, who left one girl’s mother for the other. This was a different take on a sisterly relationship and one that works. I loved Peck in all her haughtiness, she is loveable in her own unique way and thus the author turned someone who could easily be unlikeable into a character to root for.
The writing is quite smart and clever. You might think you know what you’re getting with a book about half-sisters and their inherited beach house. And, yeah, you’re sort of getting that but there is a lot more to it. A fun little read....more
3.5 stars. This is the second literary thriller by Sophie Hannah I’ve read and it certainly won’t be the last. She has an interesting take, especially3.5 stars. This is the second literary thriller by Sophie Hannah I’ve read and it certainly won’t be the last. She has an interesting take, especially for a sometimes-procedural where the detectives themselves don’t feature all that prominently (which I like). This also has a deep psychological element, which is well-played. The basic setup is this: Connie Bowskill is looking at an online Cambridge, UK real estate listing in the middle of the night and sees a dead body in the virtual tour. When she looks again it is gone. There are many twists and turns and it’s well plotted enough I wasn’t even trying to figure out the mystery; always a good sign. It was a little hard to buy that the detectives/police would give this woman’s claim any credence and launch an investigation. The author sort of tries to explain it away but I couldn’t help but think they get umpteen nutjob calls like this a day and would have to worry about actual crimes instead. There are also a lot of characters and it can get a bit confusing at times, something I found with the other book of hers I read (which, incidentally, had some of the same characters, so like a series but not really; the books entirely stand alone). If you’re looking for a smart thriller, this author is one to check out. ...more
You can get me to read your book if you promise a dysfunctional family, difficult matriarch, and sprawling beach house. Interestingly, although this iYou can get me to read your book if you promise a dysfunctional family, difficult matriarch, and sprawling beach house. Interestingly, although this is called “Maine” and there is indeed a bikinied woman on the cover, not much of it takes place in Maine or at a beach house. Not a lot of it takes place in the action of the novel at all. It’s mostly backstory. Loads and loads of backstory. Sometimes this works, other times it doesn’t. If you wonder why the book is 500 pages, this is why.
There are four main characters in “Maine”: matriarch Alice, her daughter Kathleen, daughter in law Ann Marie, and granddaughter Maggie. At first I hated Ann Marie, which I think is the point, but more than that I found her unbelievable, too over the top, too much of a caricature and not an actual person. But somewhere along the way I developed sympathy for her and she seemed a little more complex than I’d pegged her for at first. Which is not to say I liked her. But I found her interesting and ultimately the most multi-dimensional of the group, though she appears the opposite on the surface.
I liked Kathleen a lot, though she is a bit flat. I liked her different lifestyle and the genuine love she found with partner Arlo after a rough start in this department. This/she isn’t a big part of the book but it was nice to have a character in a healthy, loving relationship. Her daughter Maggie, however, is a bit of a pansy. I felt for her situation but she annoyed me.
Alice, the matriarch, is a raging bitch and oftentimes delightfully passive aggressive. She’s quite funny, though not necessarily likeable. I think we’re supposed to feel bad for her because she’s been carrying this Big Secret for so many decades but the details of the Big Secret show she’s always been sort of mean and selfish. She's funny, though. I mean who doesn't love bitchy old ladies?
This is a sit down and read by the fire (or at the beach) kind of book. It’s not going to grab you right away, if ever. It’s a long, slow meander through these peoples’ lives, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I wasn’t blown away but I enjoyed the trip....more
Linked short stories all basically centered around a guy named Yunior. Yunior is a bit of a man-whore and makes prodigious use of swear words and raciLinked short stories all basically centered around a guy named Yunior. Yunior is a bit of a man-whore and makes prodigious use of swear words and racial epithets. This might be Diaz’s writing style. I have not read Oscar Wao so his style is new to me. It’s a different approach to say the least. One story literally ends with “A couple of years later I went away to college and I don't know where the fuck she went.” The end.
This might be a turnoff for some, but I did like his writing style. It’s a bit disjointed and jarring but, for a short and fairly straightforward collection, there are some beautifully simple descriptions, imagery, etc. I thought the last line of the last story was fantastic: "sometimes a start is all we ever get."
The author also uses a lot of Spanish, without translation. Having taken Spanish through college (not to mention having grown up in San Diego), I knew most of the phrases, including the pejorative terms but this is another thing that might turn off some readers. Overall I really enjoyed this collection. I didn’t identify or sympathize with most of the characters but the writing is different, if not excellent. The story about Yunior and his brother coming to the States as children was both heartbreaking and hilarious (and true). Really glad I picked up this quirky collection....more
I like YA but not, apparently, fantasy YA. There's nothing wrong with this book. I just did not care at all. Not even enough to write a review. The fiI like YA but not, apparently, fantasy YA. There's nothing wrong with this book. I just did not care at all. Not even enough to write a review. The first two chapters were awesome though....more
To quote the book’s description, “Is there anything new to say about Thomas Jefferson and slavery?” The answer, apparently, is yes.
Jefferson has forevTo quote the book’s description, “Is there anything new to say about Thomas Jefferson and slavery?” The answer, apparently, is yes.
Jefferson has forever been portrayed as an anti-slavery man somehow caught/stuck in a system he hated. In other words, he had hundreds of slaves but it was the way of the world then. Poor Jefferson, ahead of his time. Alas it is clear early on there were plenty, PLENTY, of people freeing slaves, wanting to free slaves, imploring Jefferson to do exactly that. Many people in Jefferson’s world found the arrangement horrific and wanted to do something about it, including friends, colleagues, foreign dignitaries, and even his own daughter.
Given I went to Jefferson’s alma matter I have been subject to the prettied up version of events but I hadn’t heard of several other William & Mary grads who were actually anti-slavery instead of merely pretending to be. People such as Edward Coles. (“Coles had concluded that slavery had to be eradicated when he was a student at the College of William and Mary…”) The first line of his Wikipedia entry talks about how he was one of Jefferson’s likeminded anti-slavery pals but the two can’t even be put in the same book. Coles was one of the first to manumit his slaves, providing them property and money to make lives for themselves. He begged Jefferson to do the same but was turned down. Jefferson also received an appeal from William Short (another W&M grad, co-founded of Phi Beta Kappa), a man Jefferson considered the son he never had. He also was unable to convince Jefferson to follow his lead. So to call Jefferson a wannabe abolitionist is laughable. He didn’t do one single thing to this end even as others around him did.
Alas, ever the politician TJ “published” or left around in his libraries multiple documents pontificating about the evils of slavery and how it should be abolished, all the while using 600 or so slaves to run Monticello and profit heavily. He took quite a bit of (documented) glee in the fact that not only did this human capital help generate revenue (low COGS!) it actually went up in value. At the time the value of the southern slave population was about three times the combined investment in railroads and manufacturing.
And this is the crux of it. The money. Jefferson could not free the slaves because it was too costly, especially as he mired himself in more and more debt. He used slaves to keep him afloat, cashing them in when he could not pay creditors. Is this a surprise? Not really. As the author says: “The people who created this country built a moral structure around money.” What, as a country, are we going to sell to get ourselves out of our current debt? It’s a scary thought.
So, it seems, politicians have always been politicians. TJ talked a big game about wanting to free the slaves but never did anything to make that happen, not when people asked him to, not when people actually offered money to this end. Upon closing the Louisiana Purchase Jefferson himself made the decision to allow slavery, which was arguable a trigger to the Civil War. Jefferson is universally touted as a revolutionary leader with big, progressive ideas, yet we see he is closer to the everyman (or, rather, everypolitician) than perhaps we wanted to believe. Indeed our desires to believe was shown in the whole Sally Hemings revelation where a forced concubine situation turned into an alleged love story in the media.
One question posed toward the end of the book is a good one: “It is curious that we accept Jefferson as the moral standard of the Founders’ era, not Washington.” George Washington went to great personal expense (and incurred debt) to free his slaves. Yet this is not one of the things generally brought up when we discuss him.
So Jefferson was a capitalist. As the author points out, the United States has been affluent since its founding. And the number one investment in this country, the number one revenue generator and asset growing in value was the slave population. A very troubling thought: United States became a super power because of this “asset” and the continual reinvestment of its profits. Yes it’s been outlawed but we’re still living off the trust fund. It’s incredibly disturbing. ...more
Loved “When You Reach Me” by this author and though this wasn’t quite as magical and perfect I thoroughly enjoyed it. Quirky characters, preteen awkwaLoved “When You Reach Me” by this author and though this wasn’t quite as magical and perfect I thoroughly enjoyed it. Quirky characters, preteen awkwardness, heart, this book has these things and more. I loved Georges, his homeschooled neighbors, and especially his relationship with his parents. Each of these parent-child relationships is sweet, believable, and at times a bit tear-inducing (in a good way). Overall a terrific middle grade novel. ...more
4.5+ stars. I read (and loved) this year’s much-touted Beautiful Ruins and, on a friend’s recommendation, picked up one of Jess Walter’s earlier works4.5+ stars. I read (and loved) this year’s much-touted Beautiful Ruins and, on a friend’s recommendation, picked up one of Jess Walter’s earlier works. How did I miss The Financial Lives of Poets? This is right up my alley and I loved every second. His writing is hysterical and he’s reminiscent of a funnier, less sappy Jonathan Tropper. I like Tropper a ton, but Jess Walter is on another level.
Matt Prior is an unemployed dad on the brink, about to lose his house and his wife. He goes to 7-11 and meets some stoners who send his life in an unexpected direction. This is not as ambitious as Beautiful Ruins, or even close (side note: in the back of my copy was an article about him while he was writing Ruins…he talks about how he’d been basically working on it 10 years – sold it 10 years earlier too). Nevertheless, though the scope is not grand it did not detract from my enjoyment. The Financial Lives of Poets is so, so good. It’s very raw and real but also hilarious, as much hilarity as one can find in an overextended man. Any book that calls children “thankless little shit-heels” is a-okay by me.
I liked the ancillary characters and subplots. Early onset dementia dad is hysterical and I appreciated his penchant for Dan Fouts (go Chargers!) I liked Chuck the lumber king and of course the assorted and sundry stoners. Overall I enjoyed this book start to finish. Why not 5 stars? Felt weird to give something about pot 5 stars but it’s pretty damned close. ...more
“Dark”? “Nightmarish”? “Chilling”? Sounds like a great novel. Sign me up! That is…sign me up if it’s not code for nonstop beating, raping, and pillagi“Dark”? “Nightmarish”? “Chilling”? Sounds like a great novel. Sign me up! That is…sign me up if it’s not code for nonstop beating, raping, and pillaging. There was no point to this book but to put the most horrific children imaginable all in the same village and have them rape and kill each other. No real plot, no redeeming characters, just endless abuse. As it turns out I like my darkness a little more subtle and less gratuitous. ...more
I’ve been a fan of Richard Russo since the late 80s/early 90s, back when I was a teen and read The Risk Pool. I love his hardscrapple blue color charaI’ve been a fan of Richard Russo since the late 80s/early 90s, back when I was a teen and read The Risk Pool. I love his hardscrapple blue color characters and in reading this memoir it’s clear where much of his literary inspiration comes from.
This is mostly about his mother. She’s strong yet incredibly, frustratingly, annoyingly flawed. She had (undiagnosed) OCD but this is not really evident until the very end of the book after she’s already dead (no spoiler here, Russo’s an old guy himself) and the author looks back on many of the “quirks” that were sign of a bigger problem. I suspect he’s trying to have us match his realization, which was also at the end, still it felt like an after-the-fact kind of thing. Many of the (stellar) reviews mention his mother’s ailment and I thought many times while reading “I don’t see the OCD thing.” It wasn’t until she’s dead he basically lists everything that sort of diagnoses the problem, if you will. It made the whole thing read oddly.
And much of the book is like this. It’s on the shorter side, and goes through the years quickly. At one point Richard is a young boy and a few pages later he’s a successful author with teenage daughters. I realize it’s more about their relationship than a memoir of Russo himself but it’s weird when he adds, as yet another side note later in the book (when he’s in his 50s or 60s), that he, back in the day, ended up with a pretty fierce gambling problem like his almost entirely absent father. Wait a minute?! You brushed over that time in your life with “I got some graduate degrees and met my wife” and this gambling problem is a pretty big deal especially when this whole book is about parenting, heritage, etc. What does it further say about parent-child relationships that while protecting, caring for, revolving his entire world around his mother, Russo veered so close to becoming his father? Yet this was all dropped in at the end like an old guy might tell you “I had a cat once, in college.”
Russo’s wife, by the way, is a saint for putting up with the ultimate in mama’s boy relations. If you’re an eighteen you old and your mother quits her (very strong, very steady) job at GE to follow you to college and you don’t bat an eye, perhaps there’s still an umbilical cord involved. He does feel responsible for her for life, which is both sweet and messed up and not entirely his fault. It’s an interesting study in how a mother’s relationship with her child can subtly influence his or her life....more
Kate Morton is the master at big, fat gothic novels set in sprawling, crumbling castles in the English countryside. She can make a 700 page book seemKate Morton is the master at big, fat gothic novels set in sprawling, crumbling castles in the English countryside. She can make a 700 page book seem like a 200 page one. I loved her previous two works and was excited to dive into this. While The Distant Hours is not horrible, indeed it’s a fast read and I was fully dialed in the entire time, it’s not nearly as captivating as her prior two. The mystery isn’t all that compelling, maybe because I figured it out about midway through the book. And the modern day protagonist is a bit, I don’t know, dorky. There also felt like a lot more exposition this time around and much more showing versus telling. Maybe the author needed to figure out a way to match this to her other books page-length-wise? In any case, I recommend this author to many but if you’re going to read Kate Morton pick one of her other books. ...more
I love Gillian Flynn’s brand of thriller – dark and twisted and so much deeper than most in its genre. Though this isn’t as immediately grabby as GoneI love Gillian Flynn’s brand of thriller – dark and twisted and so much deeper than most in its genre. Though this isn’t as immediately grabby as Gone Girl it does get a more twisted and dark. It’s the kind of book where if Gillian Flynn was your daughter you’d be happy for her success but wonder deep down if you’d screwed up. Whose brain goes there?
Camille is a fledgling reporter at a middling Chicago paper who returns to her small hometown in Missouri to cover the murders of two young girls. It felt a little gum-shoey at first, which is why it didn’t immediately enrapture me like Gone Girl or even Dark Places. The writing isn’t quite up to Gone Girl either. At times it’s almost like a parody of some 50s television private investigator show. Also some of the twists are a little obvious and when confronted late in the novel with a major plot point the protagonist says something like this is a hot topic and there are a lot of novels about it. Um, yeah.
Still, though, Flynn really is an expert at writing psychological thrillers, books like this with so many dark corners and new depths of depravity. Her characters are complex and sympathetic but also often quite unlikeable (hate-worthy, really). Camille’s cutting is very well done, the twist with the words is something new. All in a great read if you’re looking for a semi-f’ed up thriller. ...more
1.5 stars. This was a $0.99 Kindle read and as I’ve enjoyed the author’s previous works (for what they are) and because I’m a huge NFL fan I decided t1.5 stars. This was a $0.99 Kindle read and as I’ve enjoyed the author’s previous works (for what they are) and because I’m a huge NFL fan I decided to try this out. To say this book is lame is an understatement. Phoebe Sommerville (Sumerville? Who cares) inherits an NFL franchise from her deceased father. Now the author did lose me pretty early on when one character says to another “the AFC is dominated by the San Diego Chargers.” As a lifelong Chargers fan I just could not suspend my disbelief.
My ongoing Chargers misery notwithstanding there are other things that bothered me about this book, not the least of which is Phoebe herself who states she uses her sexuality to get ahead. I realize she grows from this viewpoint but it was hard to get on board with someone who purposefully portrays herself as a vapid bimbo when she’s not. This book is also extremely dated by its constant AIDS talk. Phoebe has a lot of gay friends and of course has watched so many die of AIDS. She has one instance of unprotected sex and everyone’s freaking out about AIDS like two seconds after it happens. I guess in 1994 this was a major hot button topic and of course it’s a very bad thing but it was so incredibly present in this book when there was exactly zero reason for it. No major character has AIDS, no one dies from AIDS. It was like this weird theme with no purpose.
I had other issues too, like one female character who routinely hits her husband and everyone jokes about it. Uh, still abuse. Also [semi-spoiler alert though for a very, very, very minor part of the book] a major crime is stopped by someone throwing a football a very long distance. Anyway, these are just a few reasons I disliked this book. Upgraded from 1 to 1.5 stars because I did in fact finish it. ...more
The Westing Game was a favorite of mine when I was younger so I was so excited to dive back into this. Filled with quirky characters trying to solve tThe Westing Game was a favorite of mine when I was younger so I was so excited to dive back into this. Filled with quirky characters trying to solve the mystery of Sam Westing’s death ($200 million inheritance goes to the winner). I was glad to find I still love the characters, the humor, all of it. Several times I snorted out loud. One funny moment: the executor reads aloud the names and occupations of all sixteen game participants (this entire scene is hysterical) and where Angela Wexler is listed as “none” for her occupation her fiancée wonders what she means by “nun.” Of course it’s written much funnier than my retelling but just one of the many small delights in this book. Passing this one on to my daughter. Hope she enjoys it at much as I did. ...more
Super creepy book about a middle aged wife and mother (Sonia) who basically takes a teen neighbor kid hostage in her big, rambling house overlooking tSuper creepy book about a middle aged wife and mother (Sonia) who basically takes a teen neighbor kid hostage in her big, rambling house overlooking the Thames. This is very well-written and I was drawn in immediately. The book does kind of lag in the middle but by the end the author really ups the ickiness factor. Very well done but what kept it from more stars is the fact it’s told from Sonia’s viewpoint. This works on some level but it’s hard to love a book when you hate the protagonist. I guess Gillian Flynn did it in “Gone Girl” but this didn’t work quite as well. Still, though, a solid creepy read. ...more
Loved this simple, yet deep, epistolary novel. It was written a dozen years ago and I could not help but think it was at the forefront of the resurgenLoved this simple, yet deep, epistolary novel. It was written a dozen years ago and I could not help but think it was at the forefront of the resurgence/groundswell of YA novels. Charlie is an awkward, brilliant freshman boy and all that might entail. I loved Charlie, absolutely loved him, and he felt like a real character. Minus one area (see below) it’s hard for me to believe he doesn’t really exist though I suppose he does in various ways. I loved his parents, his teacher, his friends, and even his siblings.
There is a lot going on in the relatively short novel. Name an issue a teen could face and it’s included in this book. This didn’t actually bother me because it’s not like all the things happen directly to Charlie. I think most teens have a friend/acquaintance/etc. dealing with each of the “hot button” topics covered in this book. It’s really not that out of the ordinary. What I did not like was the little twist/revelation about Charlie himself at the end. I actually quite hated it and found it completely unnecessary to the book, even though I *think* it’s supposed to be an explanation for his Charlie-ness. Can’t people be quirky/different/”weird” (possibly on the spectrum?) without some reason? I think so.
A lot of reviews complain Charlie sounds younger than his 15 years. As I read he seemed believable but maybe I underestimate male mental maturity. In any case, for people who love Young Adult I think this is a must-read....more
3.5 stars. Well-written memoir by the ghost writer for Andre Agassi's book. In general this is about the author's search for a father, a home, a purpo3.5 stars. Well-written memoir by the ghost writer for Andre Agassi's book. In general this is about the author's search for a father, a home, a purpose, mostly centered around the local bar. The missing of his father is palpable as is the love for his mother. If a person needs to understand just how much a kid looks up to his/her parent read this book. I used to volunteer with the foster system and was always struck by the fact that no matter how shitty the mom, the kid always wanted to be back with the her. JR’s own mother is not shitty, far from it and in fact even the way she “lies” to him is actually quite touching, but it reminded me of this dynamic.
That said, this is also a weakness in the book. About midway through the mother/son storyline is completely lost. This follows their own relationship and is inevitable for someone who will ultimately "make it" on his own but as a result the book lost some heart.
As mentioned above, this is very much about the neighborhood bar. As a result you can feel, see, smell, hear the bar and its patrons. I loved his memory of watching these (drunk) guys play baseball when he was seven years old. Once again the best word to use for this book is palpable. So much is felt.
I did feel it all got a bit meandering at the end, too much detail in some areas, not enough in others. Still, though, for memoir junkies this is a great read....more