Category Archives: Book Review

The Interestings Book Review

interestingsThe Interestings by Meg Wolitzer is a book about life and its endless possibilities.

When the novel begins, a group of six childhood friends are on equal footing; all of them have an artistic talent and the environment to nurture that talent. As we follow the group into adulthood we see those endless possibilities dwindle into a single reality. We see varying degrees of love, money, talent, ambition, and satisfaction and the roles they play in the lives of these six intertwined friends.

Comparing the outcomes of these six fictional lives is a small step away from comparing our own lives to our own peers. This novel, however, can show us that finding the perfect balance to happiness is not always as straightforward as we would like it to be.

Theme

The quote below summarizes this theme of the novel. The funnel however, does not stop after childhood, the funnel continues to narrow and squeeze with every choice we make.

“When you have a child,” [Ash had] recently said to Jules, it’s like right away there’s this grandiose fantasy about who he’ll become. And then time goes on and a fuel appears. And the child gets pushed through t that funnel, and shaped by it, and narrowed a little bit. So now you know he’s not going to be an athlete. and now you know he’s not going to be a painter. Now you know he’s not going to be a linguist. All these difference possibilities fall away.”

Book Cover

The Interestings is in the running for the best book cover. Although not particularly representative of the story, the attention it draws is undeniable.

4 Stars

If you are looking for pure entertainment, this book is not for you. However… if you let this novel plant seeds in your mind, and if you let your wandering thoughts water those seeds, you may find yourself emerged in something much larger and much more rewarding than a novel. 

One more good quote…

“Part of the beauty of love was that you didn’t need to explain it to anyone else. You could refuse to explain. With love, apparently you didn’t necessarily feel the need to explain anything at all.”

Pond Book Review

pondPond by Claire-Louise Bennett is a collection of tumbling thoughts. The first-person narrator is an odd, unnamed woman who the reader follows on a series of linked short stories that weave through the tediousness of her daily life. Although I enjoyed the quality writing as well as the unpredictability, the story could not hold my interest. The lack of plot was the main reason, as the story does not follow an arch, hold mystery, or hold much weight.

My favorite section of the book is below. Interesting on its own, but doubly intriguing as Bennett chose to keep her main character unnamed throughout the entire story.

“Names in books are nearly always names from real life and so already the reader is bound to have some knowledge about a person with a particular name such as Miriam and even if that reader’s mind is robust and adaptable some little thing about Miriam in real life will infiltrate Miriam in the book so that it doesn’t matter how many times her earlobes are referred to as dainty and girlish in the reader’s mind Miriam’s earlobes are forever florid and pendulous. It is very difficult, I should think, to make up a person and have everyone reassemble him or her in just the way intended, without anything intervening, and sometimes, as I read, the pressure exerted by so much emphatic character exposition and plotted human endeavor becomes stifling and I have the horrible encroaching sensation that I’m getting everything all wrong or that I’m absolutely oblivious to something fairly accessible and very profound.”

2 Stars

I would still recommend this book to someone looking for quality writing in a unique format. Although the book did not find my soft spot, it did receive rave reviews, and I have no doubt that to the right reader, in the right mood, this book could be a masterpiece.

A Visit From the Goon Squad

goon imageThere is an argument surrounding A Visit From the Goon Squad whether it is a novel or a collection of linked short stories. This gray area is a main reason I loved the story. It jumps in time, switches character perspective, and at times feels plain messy. Messy in a very tidy way. Just when I thought I was getting lost and confused, Egan would slip in a quick reference to time or character that would ground me again.

In a Nutshell

A Visit From the Goon Squad is not an easy plot to summarize. The main character changes from chapter to chapter. Often, a minor character in one story will become more prominent in the next. The settings range from New York City to Africa, from childhood homes to safari adventures.

Each chapter is a fresh start, a new story, but the thread that connects them makes them much more than if they were standing alone.

Music and Time

music-images-10The array of characters are mostly related to the music industry in some way. We connect with musicians and agents; missed talent and forgotten stars. The variety provides different views of the world and each one draws interest in their own way.

Time kills. I think Egan would agree. Every character is defeated, or at least beaten down, by time. We see hopeful talent that falls flat, golden memories tarnished by reunions, and optimism sours into demise.

5 Stars!

I read A Visit From the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan several months ago and never posted a full book review until now. As it is an exceptional book that made my list of Favorite Books of 2015, I thought late was better than never.

Bird Box: a book of suspense!

Bird Box by Josh Malerman is one of the most suspenseful books I’ve ever read. The intense mystery is set in the very first chapter and does not cease until the very last page.

The only comparable suspense novel I can think of is The Shining, and that is high praise.

A Strange, Strange World

birdboxIn the first chapter we meet Malorie and two four-year-old children who are trying to escape a life of terror to a place they can only get to by rowing blindfolded down a river for several miles. Why is her life filled with terror? Why does she have to be blindfolded? Why are all the windows on their house boarded up and covered? Why has Malorie not seen sunlight for over 5 years? Why does she never refer to the children by name? Where are all the people?

All these questions and more hook the readers’ curiosity and the intense danger Malorie feels is transferred to the reader. With every chapter, more answers are revealed but more questions also arise. Malerman reveals just enough to keep the reader understanding this strange world more all the time, but keeps the door closed on the biggest secrets until the very end.

Great Suspense Stems From Great Writing

Without giving too much away, I will tell you that the characters in this world refuse to open their eyes outside. This had two major effects on the writing: 1) sight was often lost, and the author deepened upon the other senses for description, 2) not knowing what could be right next to you, something dangerous, something deadly, adds a lot of suspense all by itself.

At one point, Malerman integrates counting into a suspenseful scene. Set outside in a world full of unseen dangers, the characters are putting themselves at risk every second they are outside. The counting draws attention to those danger-filled seconds ticking by.

5 Stars!

Without a doubt, Bird Box is the best book I’ve read so far this year. If you love suspense, horror, apocalyptic stories, or simply good writing, you should read this book!

Check out more 5 star books on my list of favorite books of 2015!

 

10 Rules of Writing

A random stroll through the library or bookstore can turn my whole day around. I love the randomness of the books that catch my eye, and trying to figure out why that title or that book cover drew me in.

10rulesElmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing recently caught my eye at the library because 1) we’re a list-loving society and 2) I’m a writer always trying to improve my craft.

The book is small, filled with few words and many illustrations, and can be read completely in 10 minutes. The advice is solid and witty. You may want to take another 10 minutes to read it again.

#3 Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. 

#4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”… 

These are ones I’ve heard many times but a reminder is always nice.

#9 Don’t go into great detail describing places and things   —  I can’t agree more. There are certain authors I love but at the same time, I despise their lengthy paragraphs of description. Get to the point or I’m going to skip a few pages and then be frustrated when I realize later on that I missed an actual plot point!

Which leads us to the tenth rule of writing that can not be argued with…

#10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Obvious, right? But what are those parts and how do we, as writers, know when we’re boring our readers? Check out the book during your next local library stroll to get Leonard’s take on this.

 

Interesting Fact: This book was originally published in the New York Times in July 2001 as “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation  Points and Especially Hooptedoodle”.

My Favorite Books of 2015

Here is my favorite blog post of the year, a list of my favorite books read in 2015. Although the publishing dates range from 2001 to 2014, they all found their way to the top of my reading list last year and I’m very glad they did! 

2002 Yann Martel Life of Pi

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

This novel is inspiring, imaginative, unique, and fulfilling. It’s a story I want so badly to be true that sometimes I ignore the label of fiction it possesses.

Journey. Expedition. Adventure. None of these words quite capture the magic felt while cruising the Pacific’s current with Pi Patel, a zoo-keeper’s son who finds himself stranded on a lifeboat in the middle of an ocean with a murderous bengal tiger.

Without cramming Life of Pi‘s theme into a single word or phrase, it is about… Humanity. Peace. Storytelling. Faith. And how we interprets these things. What we choose to believe and how we push away the improbable as impossible.

I recommend it to anyone who wants to be inspired by imagination. 

dry coverDry by Augusten Burroughs

One of the best pieces of creative nonfiction I have ever read. Burroughs’ brilliant storytelling mixes pure truth with dirty humor in this memoir about his struggle with alcoholism.

I recommend it to lovers of creative nonfiction, people who want to understand what creative nonfiction is all about; and anyone interested in getting a first-person perspective of an alcoholic. 

goon imageA Visit From the Good Squad by Jennifer Egan

There is an argument surrounding A Visit From the Goon Squad whether it is a novel or a collection of linked short stories. That gray area is a main reason I loved this story. It jumps in time, switches character perspective, and leaves you slightly dazed and confused.

I recommend it to readers and writers who want to think about time and those who enjoy blurred boundaries. 

 

RedeploymentRedeployment by Phil Klay

This collection of short stories surrounding political, emotional, and humanity issues of the Iraq War is must-read! Klay’s writing is concise, dense, and relevant to our time. While some stories may draw you to tears, others may outrage you into action.

I recommend it to every American

Kite_runnerThe Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner is one of the most powerful stories I have ever read. Like Redeployment it is a story of our times, portraying an insiders view of Iraq in the years before America declared war. But don’t mistake this novel for a war story, it is a story of human nature through and through. The story is one I will not easily forget.

I recommend it to thoughtful readers who are curious about human nature and why we do the things we do. 

ordinary-graceOrdinary Grace by William Kent Krueger

Set in the Minnesota summer of 1961, Ordinary Grace is an enriching story about real life and untimely death. It is filled with memorable, flawed characters; written in a clear, comforting voice; and set in a world that feels far away yet so close to the heart.

I recommend it to readers looking for an honest, realistic, heart-felt story. Also to anyone looking for an exceptional audio book!

DWCityThe Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

The Devil in the White City is a story about the Chicago World Fair in 1893 and the notorious mass murderer, Dr. H. H. Holmes. While so many historical nonfiction authors are not, Erik Larson is a story teller, making the story very entertaining. The story drops teasers like a suspense novel, builds character like literary fiction, and weaves multiple story lines better than most novels in any genre.

I recommend it to fiction lovers who crave a little history.

elegies of the brokenheartedElegies of the Brokenhearted by Christie Hodgen

Through detailed looks at side characters, we get a gradual picture of the main character’s life. Elegies is a story of unique structure that will make you take a close look at the people in your life and the impact left lingering long after they disappear.

I recommend it to readers and writers who crave something other than the lovable main character in the typical obstacle-based plot. 

Book to Movie Adaptations

Below are a few book-to-movie adaptations I’ve recently read and/or watched.

into the wildInto The Wild – I have not read the book but the movie blew me away. The main character chose a way of life that many of us only dream about.

2002 Yann Martel Life of PiLife of Pi LOVED the book! Disappointed by the movie.

imagesHunger Games Trilogy I love both the books and the movies. I think the film adaptions have done a great job at capturing the world of Panem and the cast is exceptional! I recently reread the Hunger Games series in preparation for the release of the final movie adaptation. **SPOILER**  The only part I didn’t like about the movie adaptation was the prologue at the very end. The characters seemed much too happy. The ending of the book holds much more wonder and darkness.

Kite_runnerThe Kite Runner I fell in love with The Kite Runner novel this year. The characters spoke to me; their actions infuriated and inspired me. Its a novel that will stay with me for a long time. I have been avoiding the movie adaptation because I hold the novel so high, there is no way the movie will meet my expectations. (Or am I being too pessimistic?) If you’ve seen the movie and read the book, please comment with what you thought.

great gatsbyThe Great Gatsby – As one of My Favorite Books of All Time I made sure to see the 2013 movie adaptation in theaters. I thought it was a great adaptation with an excellent cast and superb staging/scenery.

Wayward-PinesPines I watched the ABC TV series, Wayward Pines, this summer and LOVED it! It was one of my favorite TV shows of the year and I’m glad to hear they are coming out with a second season, even though they created the first assuming it would be the one and only.  After watching the show, I read the Blake Crouch novel it was based on and was sourly disappointed. The novel was poorly written and contained large sections that I found irrelevant to the story. See my full review here.

This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff

Tobias Wolff captures his childhood in a pool of childhood adventures written in quick, smooth prose. 

TobiasWolff_ThisBoysLifeBold Writing

Wolff wastes no time with his writing. He knows exactly where he’s going and jumps directly into the scene. Wolff’s opening sentences widen your eyes and narrow your vision. He jumps time swiftly, skipping weeks, months, even years in single sentences without jarring the reader.

First sentences of chapters: 

  • The sheriff came to the house one night and told the Bolgers that Chuck was about to be charged with statutory rape.
  • Our car boiled over again just after my mother and I crossed the Continental Divide.
  • My father took off for Las Vegas with his girlfriend the day after I arrived in California.
  • When I was alone in the house I went through everyone’s private things.
  • I kept outgrowing my shoes, two pairs in the seventh grade alone.

A Memoir Point of View

The distant, introspective nature of memoirs always strikes me as curious. Wolff writes in the first person, but I felt disconnected to the story, as if Wolff is writing the memoir in order to discard the old memories instead of capture their timelessness. His rebellious youth, disjointed family life, and lack of respect seem like a distant life, even for the reader.

Fear

This Boy’s Life leaves a trail of breadcrumbs that seems certain to lead to destruction. If I didn’t know the main character went on to live a long life filled with writing, I would have guessed the book to end with his death or imprisonment. He was surrounded by dangerous people and cared very little for his well being. At times, I felt shivers go up my spine.

A Memorable Quote

“Like anyone else, she must have wanted different things at the same time. The human heart is a dark forest.” 

3.5 Stars

Although Tobias Wolff is one of my favorite short story authors, I didn’t enjoy his memoir as much. He’s certainly a fantastic writer and his childhood was filled with smirking adventures, but the story did not capture me.

6 Authors That Keep Calling Me Back

Sometimes when I read a great book, it feels like the end. I’m thankful for the story, I enjoyed the story, but the experience feels complete and doesn’t keep calling me back. Other times, when I finish a story, I only want more, more, more! When this happens, I pick up another book by the same author and hope they can feed my longing.

Here are 6 authors that are currently calling me back to read more of their work: dry cover1) Augusten Burroughs – After a coworker recommended Burroughs, I asked, “Which of his books do you recommend?” She replied, “All of them.” Thats when I knew it was a recommendation I should listen to. So I purchased Dry at my next visit to the bookstore. It was exceptional.

Photo taken from BarnesandNobles.com2) Neil GaimanThe Graveyard Book was exceptional! One of my favorite books of 2014! I didn’t enjoy American Gods as much but still looking to spend more time in Gaiman’s imagination. devil in the white city3) Erik Larson – I read The Devil in the White City this summer and loved the fictional feel of his nonfiction writing. I love learning new things while I read and Larson certainly educates his reader!

tobias wolff4) Tobias Wolff – I’ve enjoyed every short story I’ve read of Wolff’s and have had his memoir, This Boy’s Life, waiting on my bookshelf for too long.

where-im-calling-from

5) Raymond Carver – Another of my favorite short story authors. I’ll never get enough of his minimalist writing style and I know I can learn so much from his stories.

Photo taken from DeanKoontz.com

6) Dean Koontz – I’ve heard some hype about his new book, Ashley Bell, coming out in December and am excited to pick it up! After reading Koontz’s The City, I believe he will continue pushing himself out of the comfort zone, creating new and exciting works instead of punching out generic, familiar novels like so many best-selling genre writers do.

The Girl on the Train Book Review

trainThe girl on the train is Rachel, an unemployed alcoholic who rides the train into London every morning. Rachel peers out the train window at a particular house where a young couple live. She images the perfect life this young couple must live. Until one day, when the woman that lived at the house disappears and Rachel may have saw something that could help the police find her.

Flawed Characters

You could argue that every major character in this novel is majorly flawed. The main character is an unemployed, alcoholic stalker. And she is just the tip of the iceberg. The cast is polluted with angry, obsessive, violent, lying, cheating characters. Not to mention there is a murderer in the mix.

**SLIGHT SPOILERS** My favorite part of this book was how much of a stalker the main character/narrator was without realizing it. She was oblivious to the strangeness of her obsession with this couple she watched on her daily train ride. Then we learn about her interaction with her ex-husband, then she reaches out to the husband of the missing lady, and to push it really over the top *SPOILER* she goes to the therapist who is also a suspect in the police investigation.

Multiple 1st person POVs

The point of view is always 1st person but different chapters jump into different characters’ heads. I enjoy this style of writing and thought Hawkins distinguished the characters’ voices well. I do wish she would have introduced all the characters’ POV closer to the beginning. I was jarred out of the story when Anna became a third 1st-person POV so late in the novel.

Writing Tip

177232851_8421f4f078“Scott opened the door almost before I finished knocking.”

Its nothing fancy but, as a writer, I saw this quote is a great example of how to add flair to a boring action. There are so many times when our characters have to knock on doors, walk across the street, cook dinner, and endless other actions that are needed to move the plot forward but are thoroughly boring.

Hawkins could have written this like “I knocked and Scott opened the door” or “Scott let me in after I knocked” or she could have skipped the action all together but instead she adds mood to the sentence.

From this sentence, we can deter that Scott was waiting for Rachel to arrive, that he was anxious for her to get there. Hawkins successfully sets the mood of the scene before our narrator even walks in the door.

3.5 Stars

This was a solid story, solid writing, good suspense but it didn’t capture my attention like I thought it should have/could have. The book has received a lot of hype in the media lately so my expectations for the book were very high.

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