Showing posts with label literary fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label literary fiction. Show all posts

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Brady Bunch Gone Bad in Commonwealth by Ann Patchett


Title: Commonwealth
Author: Ann Patchett
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: September 13, 2016
Source: copy received from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.


My Review:

Add it to the "best of 2016" list!  Commonwealth left me enthralled from page 1.  If you've enjoyed Ann Patchett's books in the past (Bel Canto left an impression on me, making her newest novel sound all the more attractive), or if you just love a good family saga, this is your next read.

The family structure here is a bit more complex than "Brady Bunch gone bad," but I couldn't help thinking of America's favorite blended family as I read about the Keating/Cousins kids, who are pretty much the antithesis of the beloved Bradys.  The fateful christening party mentioned in the book's description is the dynamite that blows this family in so many different directions.  Patchett shows you this initial explosion, and then gives you a glimpse of how this affected each member of the family over the subsequent decades.  The story is rich with regrets and guilt that will leave you wondering--what would have happened if Bert and Beverly never met on that first day?  Would it have been for the better, or the worse?

If I had to pick one thing that makes this novel stand out, it's the fluidity as Patchett transitions between characters.  There are SO many family members in the Keating/Cousins clan that it does, admittedly, get confusing at times.  However, this made it all the more impressive that the narrative was able to move from one person to the next without requiring a designated chapter for each character (or even a page break, in many cases).  The story lasts just long enough with each family member that your interest never falters, and you end up with a captivating drama that spans generations.

I can't express enough goodness about this book!  Five stars, must read, go go go.

As always, much thanks to Trish at TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!

Monday, April 11, 2016

3 Minis: A New Release, an Old(ish) Release, and More Zombies!

Hola, readers!  Most of my reviews lately have been for TLC Book Tours (which means they are a bit longer), but I finally have another set of mini reviews here for you today.  I hope you like reading them as much as I like writing them...sometimes it's nice to keep it short & concise!

Alice & Oliver by Charles Bock
Random House, 2016
received from publisher for an honest review

I read this book and now I am broken inside.  /review

Okay, I'll add a little more, but really, this book is heart-wrenchingly amazing.  I requested it via NetGalley and quickly realized that the online description of the novel does not do it justice.  Quickie synopsis: Alice and Oliver are happily married with a baby daughter, Doe, when Alice is diagnosed with cancer.  Alice & Oliver is not only the tale of their physical battle with the disease, but also a penetrating look at what happens when relationships are pushed to the brink.  It takes much more than physical strength and fierce mental fortitude to survive such suffering, and Bock's novel illustrates this better than any other that I've read on the subject.  I loved Alice.  I didn't love Oliver, but did come to understand him a bit more by the end.  Together, they have a connection that is uncommon, but is still illustrative of the myriad ways that couples muck their way through difficult, seemingly impossible problems.

There are parts of this book are funny, unique, and thought-provoking.  There are also parts that are harrowing, sorrowful, and difficult to read.  Read it anyway.  You'll likely be seeing this on my best-of lists at the end of the year.

All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld
Pantheon, 2014
borrowed from the library

This is the latest pick for my MOMS Club book club.  I'm interested to see how our discussion goes in a few weeks, because this novel left me feeling half in awe, and half totally scratching my head.  Jake Whyte is the female protagonist, currently a sheep farmer on an island off the coast of the UK.  However, she has a shady backstory that goes back several years and thousands of miles.  As present-day Jake tries to find out what is killing the sheep on her farm, the chapters also alternate back to her past, slowly opening the story of what brought her to the sheep farm, and what demons may still be lying in wait.

I was half in awe because this book is BEAUTIFULLY written.  It's a fairly quick read, but there is not one wasted word on these pages.  And I love how the chapters alternate between Jake past and present--the structure was perfect, as the action peaked in both timelines right at the end.  Jake is a fantastic character, terrifically complicated--watching her develop is amazing.

BUT (my one "but"): the ending.  Like really, what WAS that ending?  I am all for not tying up the loose ends and giving the reader something to chew on, but this was too much.  I could have used a little less symbolism and a little more closure.  Still--I'm happy I spent the time on this one, because it's a stellar read, the final pages notwithstanding.

The Walking Dead: Compendium Two by Robert Kirkman & co.
Image Comics, 2012
borrowed from the library

I've already discussed with you my recent love affair with The Walking Dead comics (here).  The affair has only grown as I finished the second compendium of the series.  It has been awesome to watch the major characters grow and change, and to see how well many of the comic scenes were translated to TV.  (And on the flip side, how many of them never even made it to TV.)  Gotta say that one of my favorite characters so far is Andrea--what a bad ass!  And that's hilarious, given how much I despised her TV persona.  I'd say the one downside is that I think Rick's character waxes philosophical on the same topics a bit too much--it gets repetitive after a while.  But beyond that, I'm loving this view of the Walking Dead world.

(And, for those who follow the show--this compendium ends just after Rick's group starts interacting with Hilltop.  Um, I NEED to get Compendium Three before Season 7 starts!!!  EEEEEKKK.)

What are your current reads?  Do you have any 2016 reads so far that you think will be on your end-of-year favorites list?

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Mendocino Fire by Elizabeth Tallent


Title: Mendocino Fire
Author: Elizabeth Tallent
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: October 20, 2015
Source: copy received for honest review through TLC Book Tours

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

The son of an aging fisherman becomes ensnared in a violent incident that forces him to confront his broken relationship with his father. A woman travels halfway across the country to look for her ex-husband, only to find her attention drawn in a surprising direction. A millworker gives safe harbor to his son's pregnant girlfriend, until an ambiguous gesture upsets their uneasy equilibrium. These and other stories—of yearning, loss, and tentative new connections—come together in Mendocino Fire, the first new collection in two decades from the widely admired Elizabeth Tallent.

Diverse in character and setting, rendered in an exhilarating, exacting prose, these stories confirm Tallent's enduring gift for capturing relationships in moments of transformation: marriages breaking apart, people haunted by memories of old love and reaching haltingly toward new futures. The result is a book that reminds us how our lives are shaped by moments of fracture and fragmentation, by expectations met and thwarted, and by our never-ending quest to be genuinely seen.


My Review:

I am so impressed by this collection of short fiction.  While some short story collections show a great deal of variety in tone, in Mendocino Fire, Tallent has put together a cohesive group of tales with such similarity in atmosphere that the transition from one to the next is incredibly smooth.  However, just because the overall feel of each story is similar, does not mean that they all don't have unique subjects and merits.  While many themes recur throughout the book (marital strife, loss, familial discontent), each story has a perspective that's all its own.

I enjoyed the subtleties in Tallent's writing style.  I found myself re-reading passages at times in order to make sure they could fully sink in.  While the primary 'moral' of each story is made quite clear by the time you reach the end, there are always several smaller, less obvious lessons for your brain to chew on as well.  I never object to a book that makes me think!  Each story explores a different aspect of romantic and family relationships--often aspects that are uncomfortable, or difficult to admit to.  Even so, Tallent approaches each one with an impressive level of thoughtfulness and depth.

If I had to pick a favorite (because don't we always have to pick a favorite in a short story collection)?  I'd have to go with "Mystery Caller".  A woman (divorced, but now remarried with kids) occasionally calls her ex-husband, but never says anything when he answers.  The result is surprising, sad, but a little bit comforting as well.

Fans of short stories need to put this one on the radar.  It's certainly not an uplifting read (that atmosphere I talked about before?  Pretty heavy.), but if you don't mind that, this is an excellent collection to devour.

As always, much thanks to Trish and TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour!
Want to find out more?  Check out the other blogs on this book tour HERE.
Elizabeth Tallent

Thursday, September 10, 2015

#30Authors Giveaway with Into The Valley by Ruth Galm!

Hello there, reader friends!  If you've not yet heard, Allison at The Book Wheel has once again organized a fantastic reader/author/blogger event for the month of September called #30Authors.  I will be talking more about it in 2 days (as the official host for Sept 12th's #30Authors post!), but the general gist is this:

30 authors each choose a book to read/review (by a different author), and their reviews are posted, one a day, on a different book blog throughout the month of September.  So during this month, you're getting 30 different authors reviewing 30 different books, one on each day of the month.  And you get to visit some terrifically fun book blogs along the way.  Kudos to Allison for that brain child, right?

I have the privilege of pairing up with Ruth Galm, author of Into the Valley, for this event (she has dubbed us a #30Authors "dynamic duo," and I can't disagree).  Even though it is not required for me to read/review Ruth's book, I thought it would be fun to do so before her post goes live here on the 12th, especially since her debut novel sounds so darn intriguing (summary from Goodreads):

Into the Valley opens on the day in July 1967 when B. decides to pass her first counterfeit check and flee San Francisco for the Central Valley. Unmarried at 30, B. doesn't understand the youth counterculture but doesn't fit into her mother's world of dresses and kid gloves.

B. is beset by a disintegrative anxiety she calls “the carsickness,” and the only relief comes in handling illicit checks and driving endlessly through the valley. As she travels the bare, anonymous landscape, meeting an array of other characters—an alcoholic professor, a bohemian teenage girl, a criminal admirer—B.’s flight becomes that of a woman unraveling, a person lost between who she is and who she cannot yet be.


Into the Valley came at a perfect time for me, because I've read a lot of fast-paced thrillers/psychological dramas this year, and while I do love those genres, I've been yearning for something a little less...overt.  A novel that relies more on atmosphere and subtlety rather than shocking twists and suspense (though this book does have suspense, in its own way).  Plus, it's got a pretty cover.  I'm a serious sucker for a pretty cover.

The novel's Central Valley setting infuses itself into Galm's writing style.  The searing heat, the unforgiving landscape, the unsettling isolation: these background elements are felt so intensely as you read that they eventually take on their own life within the story.  After a while, B. is the valley and the valley is B.  I've never even been to this part of California, but every time I picked up this book, it felt familiar.

B.'s journey is not a typical soul-searching mission.  I loved trying to figure out what makes her tick: what is it that is missing in her life, that could make her "carsickness" disappear?  (Does she want the carsickness to disappear?)  After a while, her exploration turns into more of an unraveling, leaving you with an increasingly uneasy feeling as you read on.  The conclusion was both not at all what I expected, while also being exactly what I wanted.

Sound like a good read?  I thought so, too!  If you want your very own copy to enjoy, Ruth and her team at Soho Press are kindly offering a copy to one of my lucky readers.  Enter the giveaway in the Rafflecopter below (US/Canada only, ends Sept 16th).  There is also a separate MEGA book giveaway going on with #30Authors, which you can enter here on the 12th, so stay tuned!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Shore by Sara Taylor


Title: The Shore
Author: Sara Taylor
Publisher: Hogarth
Publication Date: May 26, 2015
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Summary from Goodreads

Welcome to The Shore: a collection of small islands sticking out from the coast of Virginia into the Atlantic Ocean. Where clumps of evergreens meet wild ponies, oyster-shell roads, tumble-down houses, unwanted pregnancies, murder, storm-making and dark magic in the marshes. . . 

Situated off the coast of Virginia's Chesapeake Bay, the group of islands known as the Shore has been home to generations of fierce and resilient women. Sanctuary to some but nightmare to others, it's a place they've inhabited, fled, and returned to for hundreds of years. From a half-Shawnee Indian's bold choice to flee an abusive home only to find herself with a man who will one day try to kill her to a brave young girl's determination to protect her younger sister as methamphetamine ravages their family, to a lesson in summoning storm clouds to help end a drought, these women struggle against domestic violence, savage wilderness, and the corrosive effects of poverty and addiction to secure a sense of well-being for themselves and for those they love.

Together their stories form a deeply affecting legacy of two barrier island families, illuminating 150 years of their many freedoms and constraints, heartbreaks, and pleasures.


My Review:

I fell victim to total book blogger peer pressure here, people!  Err-body was reading The Shore a few weeks ago.  It was all over my blog reader and the Instagram and the Twitters.  So when I saw a copy just hanging out on my library's New Releases shelf, I had to go for it.  Unlike that time when your mom asked if you would jump off a bridge if all your friends did it to, this was actually a GREAT time to do what all my friends were doing.  Because this is a fantastic novel.

The Shore is wonderfully, unapologetically, vigorously unique.  I saw it categorized as a "short story" collection by some Goodreads reviewers, but I don't think that's entirely accurate.  While most of the chapters are narrated by different characters, and in many cases the time period is completely different between them, the overlapping details between all of these stories are essential to your overall impression of the book.  Do yourself a favor and DO NOT read this on an e-reader, because I had to flip back to the (sizable) family tree at the front of the book every 5 pages or so.  It would have driven me crazy to have to do that on a Kindle.

Even though many of the narrators in this novel are (genetically) related, they've often never met each other.  In that way, each chapter does have an exclusivity to it that leaves readers with that "short story" feel.  However, Taylor has woven all of their narratives together in a way that leaves you with a strong ribbon of similar themes: melancholy. Persistence.  Isolation.  Brutality.  And many, many powerful female characters.  This is what gives the book a tight cohesiveness that I find astounding for a piece of literature with so many different stories to tell.

On top of that, a few of the chapters threw in some genre twists that I was not expecting at all, particularly in magical realism and dystopia.  But it worked.  They caught me off guard at first, but in the end, I was appreciative of how they changed the direction of the novel and managed to carry the previously-established themes even deeper into the story.

I'm not sure if this review gives you anything concrete about The Shore to hold on to, but that is the nature of this book.  Don't let the cover and title fool you--this is much more than a walk on the beach.  If you're ready for something completely different, immersive, and impressively well-crafted, The Shore is an excellent pick!

What was the last book you read because "all the cool kids were doing it"??  :)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt


Title: The Goldfinch
Author: Donna Tartt
Publisher: Little, Brown, and Company
Publication Date: October 22, 2013
Source: personal purchase

Summary from Goodreads

A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and determined to avoid being taken in by the city as an orphan, Theo scrambles between nights in friends’ apartments and on the city streets. He becomes entranced by the one thing that reminds him of his mother, a small, mysteriously captivating painting that soon draws Theo into the art underworld. 


My Review:

Okay, wow Goodreads, way to provide the most underwhelming summary EVER of this nearly-800-page novel-monster.  Kinda hoping my review can do it justice a bit more than that.

Where to begin with The Goldfinch?  So much hype has been generated already, my piddly little review matters very little in the grand scheme of things.  But I will generously provide my two cents anyway!  Let me summarize this way: I often have a tough time with really (REALLY) long novels, and movies too.  My husband and I recently went to see The Wolf of Wall Street, which in typical Scorsese form, is 3 hours long.  At the end, I turned to him and said, "I know that was a good long movie, because I didn't start checking my watch after the first 2 hours went by."  That's how I feel about long novels too.  If I get about 2/3 of the way through, and start obsessively watching the percentage counter on my Kindle, praying and hoping that it will move JUST A LITTLE FASTER, I know me and that book are probably not going to be friends for life.  (Here's looking at you, 1Q84.)

Did The Goldfinch take a long time to read?  Yes.  But was it an enjoyable long time?  YES.  By the end, I was amazed at the amount of ground that Tartt had covered in 800 pages.  The main character (Theo) experiences the devastating loss of his mother at the very beginning of the novel, and during that incident, comes into possession of a painting of said goldfinch.  And pretty much every other major thing that happens to Theo for the next 700 pages, good and bad, happens because of this painting...sometimes in very odd and unexpected ways.

Major kudos to Tartt for the crazy chain of events that she manages to create.  It's funny...I'm currently reading a novel that is about 1/3 the size of The Goldfinch, but the author has managed to make the plot too complex and character-heavy (in terms of number of characters), to the point where it's just hard to follow.  But Tartt has created a novel that is epic in scope, without being overwhelming in plot detail or character complexity.  Plus, Theo is one of the most convincingly depressing characters I've ever encountered.  This guy can wax poetic on the pointlessness of life like no other...it's really rather impressive.  Some of the best passages, in my opinion, came from the times he pondered whether his life was worth living.  Which probably says nothing good about me, but I stand by my claim.

The only potentially weak point for me was the ending.  If you've ever read War and Peace, you know that after the "action" of the plot ends, Tolstoy tacked on 2 epilogues that were all philosophical and whatnot.  (Wow, best review of War and Peace ever, award goes to me.)  They were disappointing for me, mostly because I thought the ACTUAL ending itself was pretty good, and I could have thought about the philosophical stuff on my own if I wanted to.  Didn't need to read a long-arse epilogue to get to the crux of it.  I felt the same way about this book.  The plot action ends (and that ending is really, really good), but then there's all this deep, insightful brouhaha after that that I didn't love.  Some of it was great, don't get me wrong, but a lot of it just felt like "blah blah blah" to me, full of deep thoughts that I would have rather discovered on my own in a book club discussion or some such.

That is probably just me though, given the fact that this book is like, critically-acclaimed and stuff.  (Not to mention...War and Peace...yeah, my esteemed literary opinion probably doesn't change the general consensus on that one either.)

Bottom line: this book is worth the hype, and I promise the journey is worth every single one of its many pages.

What was your last good chunkster, friends?
 
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