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Posts Tagged ‘literary fiction’

Mini-Reviews: Still Life by Louise Penny, Arcadia by Lauren Groff, and The Constant Princess by Philippa Gregory

Posted by Caitie F on November 12, 2014

I am SO behind on reviews, so I am going to do some mini reviews or some of the adult fiction books I have read in the last couple months.

Title: Still Lifestill
Author: Louise Penny
Hardcover: 312 pages
Pub Date: Jan 1, 2005
Publisher: St Martin’s Minotaur
Rating: ++++

Summary from pub:

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec and his team of investigators are called in to the scene of a suspicious death in a rural village south of Montreal. Jane Neal, a local fixture in the tiny hamlet of Three Pines, just north of the U.S. border, has been found dead in the woods. The locals are certain it’s a tragic hunting accident and nothing more, but Gamache smells something foul in these remote woods, and is soon certain that Jane Neal died at the hands of someone much more sinister than a careless bowhunter.

Review:

I am always looking for more mystery authors and great detectives, so when someone recommended this book to me, I got it right away. The mystery had some interesting twists and the characterization was excellent. The book also had so much charm. I need to read more books in this series

Title: Arcadia arcadia
Author: Lauren Groff
Paperback: 291 pages
Pub Date: March 13, 2012
Publisher: Hyperion
Rating: +++++

Summary from pub:

In the fields and forests of western New York State in the late 1960s, several dozen idealists set out to live off the land, founding what becomes a famous commune centered on the grounds of a decaying mansion called Arcadia House. Arcadia follows this lyrical, rollicking, tragic, and exquisite utopian dream from its hopeful start through its heyday and after. The story is told from the point of view of Bit, a fascinating character and the first child born in Arcadia.

Review:

I love a good commune story, and this is a great one. The writing is stunning. The characters just jumped off the page and stayed in my brain for weeks after I read it. I thought I would be less interested after they left, but it was just as strong. If you are looking for great literary fiction, look no further.

Title: The Constant Princess constant
Author: Philippa Gregory
Hardcover: 393 pages
Pub Date: Dec 6, 2005
Publisher: Touchstone
Rating: ++++

Summary from pub:

Daughter of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain, Katherine has been fated her whole life to marry Prince Arthur of England. When they meet and are married, the match becomes as passionate as it is politically expedient. The young lovers revel in each other’s company and plan the England they will make together. But tragically, aged only fifteen, Arthur falls ill and extracts from his sixteen-year-old bride a deathbed promise to marry his brother, Henry; become Queen; and fulfill their dreams and her destiny.

Widowed and alone in the avaricious world of the Tudor court, Katherine has to sidestep her father-in-law’s desire for her and convince him, and an incredulous Europe, that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated, that there is no obstacle to marriage with Henry. For seven years, she endures the treachery of spies, the humiliation of poverty, and intense loneliness and despair while she waits for the inevitable moment when she will step into the role she has prepared for all her life. Then, like her warrior mother, Katherine must take to the battlefield and save England when its old enemies the Scots come over the border and there is no one to stand against them but the new Queen.

Review:

Somehow, I missed the first book in this series, so I finally had to read it. It is VERY different from the other Boelyn books, but is still really good. Katherine is brilliant and passionate. She knows what she needs to do and does it well. If you also skipped this one, you should go get it as soon as you can. It is a delight to read.

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Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Posted by Caitie F on August 21, 2014

Title: Goldfinch17333223
Author: Donna Tartt
Hardcover: 771 pages
Pub Date: Oct 22, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Rating: ++++

Summary from pub:

It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle

Review:

I finally finished this monster of a book a month ago, and it has taken me that long to figure out how I feel enough to write a review.

I liked that book, and I liked it a lot. The writing had me reading sentences several times because they were just that good. The language was beautiful, while still moving the story and being clear.

Theo was a strong character, often really unlikable, but still interesting. Unlikable characters can be some of the most fascinating characters and I would put Theo in that group. There were plenty of times it became too much and I was just super frustrated with him and wanted him to just get his shit together, but it always made sense in the bigger picture.

It wasn’t a perfect book though. There were sections where it really dragged, especially in Vegas. Yes, he needed to befriend Boris for things to move forward, but I really hated Boris. He was not unlikable but interesting, he was just so unlikable. It took me over three weeks to get through the middle section that featured Boris.

This book is not one of my favorites of all time, but I did like it and think it is worth a read. You may often be frustrated. You may want to give up. The writing made it worth it, which is not something I often say.

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Alys, Always by Harriet Lane

Posted by Caitie F on May 22, 2014

13259653Title: Alys, Always
Author: Harriet Lane
Hardcover: 209 pages
Pub Date: Feb 9 ,2012
Publisher: George Weidenfeld & Nicholson
Rating: +++

Summary from pub:

Frances is a thirty-something sub-editor, an invisible production, drone on the books pages of the Questioner. Her routine and colourless existence is disrupted one winter evening when she happens upon the aftermath of a car crash and hears the last words of the driver, Alys Kyte. When Alys’s family makes contact in an attempt to find closure, Frances is given a tantalising glimpse of a very different world: one of privilege and possibility. The relationships she builds with the Kytes will have an impact on her own life, both professionally and personally, as Frances dares to wonder whether she might now become a player in her own right

Review:

I had been looking forward to this book for quite some time – the whole idea of it sounded fascinating and I had heard some wonderful things about the book.

In the end, I was underwhelmed. It was a very quiet book, but lacking the beauty that can make a  quiet book really good. Saying it is a psychological suspense is really pushing the definition of that term.

There were aspects i liked. I was always interested when Frances was at work/ Watching her relationship with Polly was fascinating because Polly was so interesting. Frances was just fine. She wasn’t very interesting or cunning. It felt like she thought she was being so clever so often when she wasn’t.

Overall, it was a fine quick read, but nothing I would really recommend to others.

 

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The Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph

Posted by Caitie F on January 27, 2013

Title: The Illicit Happiness of Other PeopleIllicitHappiness_Mech_9.6.indd
Author: Manu Joseph
Softcover: 336 pages
Pub Date: Jan 7, 2013
Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company
Rating: ++++

Summary from goodreads:

Ousep Chacko, journalist and failed novelist, prides himself on being “the last of the real men.” This includes waking neighbors upon returning late from the pub. His wife Mariamma stretches their money, raises their two boys, and, in her spare time, gleefully fantasizes about Ousep dying. One day, their seemingly happy seventeen-year-old son Unni—an obsessed comic-book artist—falls from the balcony, leaving them to wonder whether it was an accident. Three years later, Ousep receives a package that sends him searching for the answer, hounding his son’s former friends, attending a cartoonists’ meeting, and even accosting a famous neurosurgeon. Meanwhile, younger son Thoma, missing his brother, falls head over heels for the much older girl who befriended them both. Haughty and beautiful, she has her own secrets.

Review:

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

I am always looking for literary fiction that takes place in other countries, so when I was contacted about this book I jumped at the chance to read it. I have enjoyed a lot of the world literature I have read and I really love learning about other parts of the world and books are the easy way to do that from my own home.

I am SO glad I read this book. Reading about the Chacko family not only let me see a small piece of Indian culture, but was also an amazing story. All of the characters reacted in different ways to Unni’s suicide and still deal with it daily three years later. It did a wonderful job of showing how suicide can change a family and even a community. The reader gets to learn about Unni from Ousep’s search for the truth. I really love books that tell the story in a different way and all of these flashbacks let that happen. There is always suspicion to the accuracy of these stories since people remember things they want to remember and omit things that make them look bad. That is not to say you don’t learn what actually happened, because you do, it just lets the story unfold in a unique way.

I was shocked with the pressure that the young men and women are under in this area of India. They are all supposed to become engineers and everything relies on tests to see if they can go straight to the US on scholarship. They got beaten in classes and at home. They are berated for missing only a few questions. It also shows how women are treated and that was hard to read, especially with everything that has been in the news about women in India. I know that this snapshot is only a small area and is not true for everyone, but it really opened my eyes and made me excited to read more books that take place in India.

My one complaint with the book is there is a lot of philosophy. It is not an interest of mine and I think when there is too much in a work of fiction it takes away from the story, which happened in this book. Unni’s philosophy may have contributed to his suicide, but it stopped the momentum of the book and got to be too much. But there isn’t so much that it would make me say to skip this book, because it is fantastic.

Have you read any good books lately that take place in countries other than the United States? Let me know in the comments!

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A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

Posted by Caitie F on December 11, 2012

Title: A Land More Kind Than Home12408149
Author: Wiley Cash
Hardcover: 320 pages
Pub Date: April 17, 2012
Publisher: William Morrow
Rating: ++

Summary from goodreads:

For a curious boy like Jess Hall, growing up in Marshall means trouble when your mother catches you spying on grown-ups. Adventurous and precocious, Jess is enormously protective of his older brother, Christopher, a mute whom everyone calls Stump. Though their mother has warned them not to snoop, Stump can’t help sneaking a look at something he’s not supposed to—an act that will have catastrophic repercussions, shattering both his world and Jess’s. It’s a wrenching event that thrusts Jess into an adulthood for which he’s not prepared. While there is much about the world that still confuses him, he now knows that a new understanding can bring not only a growing danger and evil—but also the possibility of freedom and deliverance as well.

Review:

When this book came out I was really excited to read it. The story sounded interesting and it was getting some good buzz. I am always looking for great debut authors, so I wanted to read it.

There were some aspects in the novel that made it very hard for me to like it. The church in it is one of those churches with the snakes, smothering to heal and speaking in tongues. Their methods are dangerous (two people died during a service) and while i am respectful of people practicing their religions, I think when people are in danger it is irresponsible and I cannot sympathize with any adults who have chosen to expose themselves and their families to it.

I also don’t think the book went in depth enough with why. Why did all of these people put themselves in danger since this wasn’t what their church used to do? Why would anyone, especially these relatively normal people, follow such a horrible person as their preacher? Why didn’t the the most rational character report the preacher when he threatened her? This all made the mystery a little weaker.

I also usually like flashbacks in books, but i feel like they weren’t done as well as it could have been. They felt random and it was sometimes hard to tell when it came back to the present.

If you really like southern fiction, this still might be for you, it just wasn’t a book for me. Though I have to say, I think the cover is gorgeous! I love the colors and it really stands out.

Have you been disappointed in any books you thought you would really like lately?

 

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The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller

Posted by Caitie F on December 5, 2012

Title: The Year of the GadflyImage
Author: Jennifer Miller
Hardcover: 374 pages
Pub Date: May 8, 2012
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Rating: +++++

Summary from goodreads:

Storied, fiercely competitive Mariana Academy was founded with a serious honor code; its reputation has been unsullied for decades. Now a long-dormant secret society, Prisom’s Party, threatens its placid halls with vigilante justice, exposing students and teachers alike for even the most minor infraction.

Iris Dupont, a budding journalist whose only confidant is the chain-smoking specter of Edward R. Murrow, feels sure she can break into the ranks of The Devil’s Advocate, the Party’s underground newspaper, and there uncover the source of its blackmail schemes and vilifying rumors. Some involve the school’s new science teacher, who also seems to be investigating the Party. Others point to an albino student who left school abruptly ten years before, never to return. And everything connects to a rare book called Marvelous Species. But the truth comes with its own dangers, and Iris is torn between her allegiances, her reporter’s instinct, and her own troubled past.

Review:

Once this book got moving, it became one of those books that is so hard to put down. Luckily, I know that I need to sleep, so I didn’t stay up all night earlier this week to finish it. But I really wanted to.

I had a feeling I would really like this book. It has all the ingredients for a really good book: a prep school with over-achieving rich kids that is in the middle of a mystery that is over a decade old, a teacher trying to make things better while both hiding and reconnecting with his past, and a troubled young woman thrown into the middle of a huge mystery and trying to do the right thing while also being true to herself and her life goals.

The story is told from three different perspectives, which makes the mystery element more intriguing. Once you think you may have figured out something from one perspective, there is something from another that shows how you were completely wrong. This is especially true with everything in Lily’s perspective. I so wanted Iris to find out how it really was for Lily and to understand her more. Did she do some things wrong? Yes, she was a teenager. But she was also the ultimate victim of peer pressure and cruelty.

The various perspectives also make things obvious to the reader that the characters cannot know since they only see things from one side. It worked very well in this case as the reader knows that a character is getting themselves into a bad situation. It made me want to yell out “No! Don’t go in there!”.

This is a wonderful book with so many great qualities. If you like mysteries and coming-of-age stories, this is a book for you!

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Albert of Adelaide by Howard Anderson

Posted by Caitie F on July 10, 2012

Title: Albert of Adelaide
Author: Howard Anderson
Hardcover: 240 pages
Publisher: Twelve (Hachette Book Group)
Pub Date: July 12, 2012
Rating: +++++

Summary from publisher

ALBERT OF ADELAIDE follows the story of a duck-billed platypus who escapes from Australia’s Adelaide Zoo and embarks on a journey through the outback in search of ‘Old Australia,’ a land of liberty, promise and peace. Encountering a motley assortment of characters–a pyromaniac wombat, a pair of invariably drunk (and vaguely gay) bandicoots, some dingoes, a group of kangaroos and a wrestling Tasmanian devil–this unlikely hero discovers a strength and skill for survival he could not have known he possessed. At once an old-fashioned-buddy-novel-shoot-em-up and a work of deliciously imagined fantasy, ALBERT OF ADELAIDEis a haunting story of a world where something has gone horribly awry.:

Review:

I am writing this review in February, right after I finished reading it for work (note, I do not work for the publisher that put this book out. I work for another company that just got the chance to read this early)  . I didn’t want to forget about this wonderful book, so I made sure I wrote it right away.

I am not surprised that i thought it was a masterpiece. If you don’t know, the imprint Twelve only publishes twelve books a year, which is way less than any imprint at a major publisher. The thing is that those twelve books tend to be phenomenal. This was no different. I really should read every book they publish.

The premise of Albert sounds strange. It is about an Australian platypus trying to find a special place in the world where animals live in peace. But what results is a funny, exciting, and heart-warming adventure that you will not soon forget.

The writing is especially beautiful. I can get annoyed and distracted by too much imagery and scenery, but I felt like I could actually see the Australian Outback and all of the animal characters. I really felt like I was not sitting at my desk and was inside the story instead (so glad I got this on a slow day, I usually don’t get to read at work!).

And while this book was about animals, it also wasn’t. There was racial  tension, dictatorship allegory, among other ideas and situations that paralleled our past and present. It could have easily been humans in the story, but I just think it would have been less effective, creative, and beautiful if it was a more “normal” novel.

More than all of that is that it was just a fun book to read. I was completely engaged and hated putting it down. It made me laugh, smile, and think, just like all the best books I have read. I immediately wanted to give it to friends and family, but had to live with just passing it around at work. It is a book that we are all buzzing about and I am excited to see the public’s opinion.

This was one of the best books I have read all year. I enjoyed every moment and hope you will pick it up and join Albert on his journey for self and utopia.

And you have to love that cover!

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A Partial History of Lost Causes by Jennifer Dubois

Posted by Caitie F on March 10, 2012

Title: A Partial History of Lost Causes
Author: Jennifer Dubois
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publication date:  March 20, 2012
Publisher:  Random House
Rating: +++

Summary from goodreads:

In St. Petersburg, Russia, world chess champion Aleksandr Bezetov begins a quixotic quest. With his renowned Cold War–era tournaments behind him, Aleksandr has turned to politics, launching a dissident presidential campaign against Vladimir Putin. He knows he will not win—and that he is risking his life in the process—but a deeper conviction propels him forward. And in the same way that he cannot abandon his aims, he cannot erase the memory of a mysterious woman he loved in his youth.

In Cambridge, Massachusetts, thirty-year-old English lecturer Irina Ellison is on an improbable quest of her own. Certain she has inherited Huntington’s disease—the same cruel illness that ended her father’s life—she struggles with a sense of purpose. When Irina finds an old, photocopied letter her father had written to the young Aleksandr Bezetov, she makes a fateful decision. Her father had asked the Soviet chess prodigy a profound question—How does one proceed against a lost cause?—but never received an adequate reply. Leaving everything behind, Irina travels to Russia to find Bezetov and get an answer for her father, and for herself.

Review:

It is always hard to talk about a book that was just okay. To be honest, if the writing had not been as spectacular as it was (and it was absolutely spectacular) the book probably would have gotten only a rating of two.

I never really cared about any characters in this book. I loved that they were so well-defined, but  was never drawn to them. It didn’t help that Aleksandr’s early life was not very interesting. Once he started being political, he was suddenly more interesting because it felt like he actually believed in something, where before, he just felt bored. It was also hard to get interested in Cold War Russia. There were points that the horrors the government was behind were horrific, but most of the time it just wasn’t engaging.

Irina was a much more engaging character. How would you react if you knew you were going to start to die in the next few years? She is faced with that and getting into her head was very moving and thought-provoking. Yet she just got repetitive. I would feel sorry for her and her struggle, then say “Ok, get on with it, you said that ten times before”.

It was also jarring going between first and third person every chapter. I had to get used to it every time the chapter changed and it pulled me away from the book.

I am not saying it is a bad book at all. It just wasn’t the kind of book for me. If the summary makes it sound like something you would like, give it a try!


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The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

Posted by Caitie F on January 8, 2012

Title: The Art of Fielding 
Author: Chad Harbach
Hardcover: 512 pages
Pub Date:  Sept 7, 2011
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Rating: ++++

Summary from goodreads:

At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended.

Henry’s fight against self-doubt threatens to ruin his future. College president Guert Affenlight, a longtime bachelor, has fallen unexpectedly and helplessly in love. Owen Dunne, Henry’s gay roommate and teammate, becomes caught up in a dangerous affair. Mike Schwartz, the Harpooners’ team captain and Henry’s best friend, realizes he has guided Henry’s career at the expense of his own. And Pella Affenlight, Guert’s daughter, returns to Westish after escaping an ill-fated marriage, determined to start a new life.

As the season counts down to its climactic final game, these five are forced to confront their deepest hopes, anxieties, and secrets. In the process they forge new bonds, and help one another find their true paths. Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment–to oneself and to others.

Review:

I have been seeing this book for months, yet it was still under the radar until I really looked at the title and realized it was about baseball. Now I love baseball. I went to my first professional game when I was very young and grew up going to at least four or five games a year and watching the rest on TV. So I picked up the book. But don’t ignore this book if you don’t like baseball.

Because it really isn’t just about baseball. Baseball is actually a very small part of what this book is about. It is about becoming an adult, about learning your limits and how to put yourself first. It is about finding what you want, working hard, and sometimes still not getting it. It is about addiction and mistakes. So basically, it is about life.

Harbach masterfully writes characters that feel real, even though they are a little larger than life. He lets the reader learn things about the characters before they even know it about themselves, whic makes the reader care about the character even more.

Yet what impressed me most about his storytelling is what made me most irked at the story. Some of the character don’t change. They don’t get better, they don’t get what they want or need, and they aren’t truly happy in the end, yet there are some that do, but not without some loss or in-completion.

Last night after I finished reading the book, I really had t o think how I would rate it since the ending disappointed me. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to really look at it as a bad thing because it wasn’t the ending the reader wanted, but how often in life does everything work out? Sometimes it does and those times are great. But a lot of the time there are bumps along the way no matter how hard we try to do the right thing.

If you are looking for a great read, even if the ending isn’t entirely happy, I highly recommend you read this book!

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We the Animals by Justin Torres

Posted by Caitie F on October 10, 2011

Title: We the Animals
Author: Justin Torres
Hardcover: 128 pages
Publication Date: Sept, 1 2011
Publisher:  Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Rating: +++

Summary from goodreads:

Three brothers tear their way through childhood— smashing tomatoes all over each other, building kites from trash, hiding out when their parents do battle, tiptoeing around the house as their mother sleeps off her graveyard shift. Paps and Ma are from Brooklyn—he’s Puerto Rican, she’s white—and their love is a serious, dangerous thing that makes and unmakes a family many times.

Life in this family is fierce and absorbing, full of chaos and heartbreak and the euphoria of belonging completely to one another. From the intense familial unity felt by a child to the profound alienation he endures as he begins to see the world, this beautiful novel reinvents the coming-of-age story in a way that is sly and punch-in-the-stomach powerful.

Review:

I picked up this novella at BEA. The people at Harcourt were raving about it and I was intrigued.  The thing they raved about the most was the writing. And on that count they were 100% correct. This was a beautifully written book. Torres’ grasp of language far exceeds most writers, including writes I love.

This is called a novel, but to me it felt more like a series of short stories all about the same five people. Each chapter wasn’t really connected to the next. It was never they next day or month, it was just later. I actually really enjoyed that. It felt like I was glimpsing into the life of this family and getting to see the incidents that were important. Was it always pretty? No, but that made it feel real.

My major problem was with the ending. It jumped quite randomly to late teenaged years and went in an unexpected direction. That in itself isn’t bad, but the purpose was not clear. It felt like I was missing a hundred pages. How the character got there and what happened to him after were not disclosed and it made the novella feel incomplete and confusing.

That said, I will pick up the next work by Justin Torres because he is a fantastic writer.

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