Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review: The Fever by Megan Abbott

The Fever

The Fever
Megan Abbott
Little, Brown and Company

First lines:
"The first time, you can't believe how much it hurts."
[[No, they're not talking about that, although they could have been!!]]

Quick, nonspoilery summary:
One day, during class, Deenie Nash's best friend Lise has a seizure. The next day another girl experiences a strange episode, and suddenly the rumors and speculation are flying. The novel is told from the perspective of the Nash family: Deenie, her older brother Eli (also in high school), and her father Tom (a teacher at the high school). It was inspired in part by a real outbreak in an upstate New York high school. You can find a link to that story on Megan Abbott's website.

My thoughts:
I didn't love this book, but I thought it was very interesting. The shifting viewpoint was hard to follow at times. I read an advance e-galley, so I don't know if the actual book is set up the same way, but I imagine it is pretty close.
The town and the characters and the hysteria that ensues (or hysterias really even if that's not a word) are captured well. I could believe that I was reading about real teens and a real parent. Their inner lives felt authentic to me. I even thought the town name was perfect, and the lake with its strange water was a great addition.
When I try to think about this book, there is just so much content packed in here: vaccination concerns, environmental issues, teens, sex, and attitudes towards teens and sex and girls who have sex versus boys who have sex (hello, slut-shaming!), group mind, hysteria.
There were things I didn't like. I had a hard time with Gabby's character in particular. I can't really say why, but she just felt less authentic to me, like a device in the story more than a person. Skye too.
But Deenie and Eli in particular just nailed it for me. The teen experience.
I think this would make a great book club book, especially if your book group is good at using a book discussion for launching a wider discussion about society and social issues. Plus, you all would have read the book (in theory), so you wouldn't have to tiptoe around spoilers!

Rating: Read.

If you like The Fever by Megan Abbott, you might also like Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA) or Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld (not YA). I am strongly tempted to also recommend a couple classics here, The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorne or "The Yellow Wallpaper" by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, or even a book by the hugely popular John Green, Looking for Alaska.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch
Donna Tartt
Little, Brown and Company
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

First lines:
While I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years. I'd been shut up in my hotel for more than a week, afraid to telephone anybody or go out; and my heart scrambled and floundered at even the most innocent noises: elevator bell, rattle of the minibar cart, even church clocks tolling the hour, de Westertoren, Krijtberg, a dark edge to the clangor, an inwrought fairy-tale sense of doom.

Quick nonspoilery summary:
When he was thirteen, Theo Decker survives an explosion that kills his mother. Afterward, he is cast adrift. I remember in the Tournament of Books forums, coming across the term WMFUN (white male f&ck up novel) to describe books about white males that are struggling to get their sh*t together. That is Theo. Even when he appears to have it together somewhat, he doesn't.

My thoughts:
So, The Goldfinch is not a short novel. It might make a nice doorstop, if the mistreatment of books were your thing. And Tartt's writing style does not lend itself to quick reading. It is long and meandering. The first lines are a good example of this. The first sentence is relatively straightforward. The second sentence is not. Also, Theo is not exactly the everyman hero of your dreams. In fact he is pretty unlikable. Sure, I felt badly for him, but when life gave him lemons, he didn't make lemonade. He sprayed the juice in someone else's eye, then rubbed the leftover fruit on his own wounds. But yet I still found myself rooting for him. I wanted him to get the girl and hang the painting over their bed and live happily ever after even as I knew this was a fantasy.
This was my second Tartt novel, so I knew sort of what to expect. I think that The Secret History feels tighter, but I enjoyed The Goldfinch more. It was a long, slow read, however. I think that I easily could have set it aside and not picked it up again at almost any point.

Rating: Read

If you liked The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, you might also like The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert or you could check out any of these other examples of the WMFUN: I feel I would be remiss of me not to mention a man that I consider a master of this genre and whose public persona is almost as unlikable as his characters: Jonathan Franzen. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - Top 10 Books on My Summer TBR

Every Tuesday, The Broke and the Bookish host a popular meme called Top Ten Tuesday. Here is my entry for this week:

Of course I want to read all the books, but sadly that's impossible. (And untrue because of course there are books that I don't want to read.) When I first sat down to make this list, I cross-checked it with summer releases and looked at my shelves, and hemmed, and hawed. And what I have settled on is a list of all the books that I have started recently and not finished, but that I want to finish. I will try to come back throughout the summer and cross off any titles that I have finished or abandoned for good.

The Orphan Master's SonOld Filth (Old Filth, #1)The Blind Assassin
Then We Came to the EndSuite Fran├žaise Things Fall Apart
Fun Home: A Family TragicomicThe Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in HeavenCasebook
The English Patient

1. The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
2. Old Filth by Jane Gardam
3. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
4. Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris
5. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
6. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
7. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
8. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
9. Casebook by Mona Simpson
10. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

What is on your list? Do you see any titles I should dump? (There were actually 3 that I have started that I took off the list to make room for these 10!)

First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday Intro - The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by Sea.  

The Orphan Master's Son

Citizens, gather 'round your loudspeakers, for we bring you important updates! In your kitchens, in your offices, on your factory floors--wherever your loudspeaker is located, turn up the volume!

In local news, our Dear Leader Kim Jong Il was seen offering on-the-spot guidance to the engineers deepening the Taedong River channel. While the Dear Leader lectured to the dredge operators, many doves were seen to spontaneously flock above him, hovering to provide our Reverend General some much needed shade on a hot day. Also to report is a request from Pyongyang's Minister of Public Safety, who asks that while pigeon-snaring season is in full swing, trip wires and snatch loops be placed out of the reach of our youngest comrades. And don't forget, citizens: the ban on stargazing is still in effect.


Winner of the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (and the Rooster in the Morning News Tournament of Books), The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson is a fictional rendering of North Korea. The novel tells the story of Pak Jun Do and the perils of everyday life in North Korea.


What do you think? Would you read it? Have you read it?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Review: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller (audio)

The Dog Stars

The Dog Stars
Peter Heller
Read by Mark Deakins

First lines:
I keep the Beast running, I keep the 100 low lead on tap, I foresee attacks. I am young enough, I am old enough. I used to love to fish for trout more than almost anything.
My name is Hig, one name. Big Hig if you need another.

Quick nonspoilery summary:
Hig is one of the last people left after a major flu epidemic that killed everyone he knew. Nine years later, he lives at an small airport with his dog, Jasper, and a man named Bangley, whose distrust for others is matched only by his gun collection. Hig and Bangley need each other to survive. Hig hunts, fishes, farms, and patrols the perimeter in his airplane, and Bangley provides needed defense and weaponry. It is not much of a life, but it's a life. Until one day it is not enough anymore.

My thoughts:
I listened to the audio production of this title, and I really enjoyed it. The story is easy enough to follow without being boring.
I chose to listen to this book because it was available from the library at a time when the other audio titles I was interested in were not. For this, I am thankful. I did not find the dust jacket description particularly compelling. Another post-apocalyptic novel? And the main characters are a couple of men and a dog? Well, I was wrong. It is compelling. The characterizations in particular were great. I really grew to care about them. The writing was wonderful. Plain, but poetic. The landscape was well-described.
I appreciated also that there was very little of the before. Not a lot of time was spent on describing what happened, because ultimately that is not important. What is important is how you survive and at what cost to yourself and others. What is the price of your survival and is it a price worth paying?

Rating: Read+.

If you liked The Dog Stars by Peter Heller,  maybe try City of Thieves by David Benioff, which is set during the Siege of Leningrad during WWII. With D. B. Weiss, Benioff is the executive producer, showrunner, and writer for Game of Thrones on HBO, which makes it a timely choice if you have not read it yet.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Review: Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Dept. of Speculation
Dept. of Speculation 
Jenny Offill
Alfred A. Knopf

First lines:
Antelopes have 10x vision, you said. It was the beginning or close to it. That means that on a clear night they can see the rings of Saturn.

Quick non-spoilery summary:
Dept. of Speculation tells the story of a marriage from the perspective of the wife in short scenes, some barely longer than a tweet. They are single, they meet, they fall in love, they move in together, they move, they have a child. All of their married life is encapsulated in the book in condensed form. Life in vignette.

My thoughts:
I loved this book. It was smart and witty and full of real feeling. In the beginning I kept texting my friend pictures of some of my favorite passages. The part of about new parenthood in particular is very funny. Then my texts tapered off, as I got to some less funny parts, but no less real. Sometimes I wondered how Offill had gotten in my head. The main character's struggles with the everyday-ness of life felt like mine.  
It is interesting how Offill weaves little bits of trivia throughout the text. On the surface they seem like non sequiturs, but yet they fit the narrative. The trivia becomes less frequent as the story progresses. 
In the end, it felt depressing, and it lost a little of its luster for me because of that.
"People keep telling me to do yoga, I tried it once at the place down the street. The only part I liked was the part at the end when the teacher covered you with a blanket and you got to pretend you were dead for ten minutes." (37) [on new parenthood]
If you like Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill, also try The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey. If you have an elementary-age child, Offill's picture books are also worth a look. We particularly enjoyed 11 Experiments That Failed.

Just a little business to take care of...

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

I am trying to claim my blog on Bloglovin. I will post a review shortly... With feedly down this morning, I had to get my morning blog fix somehow. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday - Top Ten Books that I've Read This Year...So Far

I couldn't resist this week's Top Ten Tuesday topic from The Broke and the Bookish: Top Ten Books that You've Read So Far This Year.

Fortunately, the MilkA Tale for the Time BeingThe Good Lord Bird

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman - Fun for the whole family. In fact, it is my kids' enthusiasm for this book that made it impossible not to include it on the list.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

LexiconFlight BehaviorThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly

Lexicon by Max Barry
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver - Favorite audio so far this year
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

Dept. of SpeculationThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar WaoThe Dog Stars

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill - Look for review later this week
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

And my favorite book of the year so far:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

First Chapter, First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Old Filth by Jane Gardam

Every Tuesday Bibliophile by the Sea hosts First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros. I am currently between books as I finished both the book and e-book that I was reading yesterday. I think I am going to read Old Filth by Jane Gardam next because M. L. Stedman told me to.

Old Filth (Old Filth, #1)

The Benchers' luncheon-room of the Inner Temple. Light pours through the long windows upon polished table, silver, glass. A number of Judges and Benchers finishing lunch. One chair has recently been vacated and the Benchers are looking at it.

The Queen's Remembrancer: I suppose we all know who that was?
Junior judge: I've no idea.
Senior judge: It seemed to be a famous face.
The Common Sergeant: It was Old Filth.


This book was recommended by M. L. Stedman (author of The Light Between Oceans) in a talk she gave in Kansas City last year. Well, she recommended the whole series really. I cannot say that a book about an old British colonial lawyer reminiscing about his past appeals to me, but I feel like I have to give it a shot.

As an aside, I liked the cover at first, but what is going on with that guy? Is that his skeleton?

What do you think? Have you read it? What are you reading this week?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

First 50 (Friday) - The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The First 50 Project is something that I made for myself to help me get through my backlog of books. I own over 200 books that I have not read, not including ebooks, but my first love is new books. In order to help reconcile my warring book lust and guilt, I came up with the First 50 Project. My goal is to read at least the first 50 pages of all 200+ books. Here is my latest First 50 Book:

The Blind Assassin

5. The Blind Assassin
Margaret Atwood
Nan A. Talese
Winner of the Man Booker Prize and Time Book of the Year.
*My paperback edition by Anchor Books was purchased from Borders.

First lines:
Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge. The bridge was being repaired: she went right through the Danger sign. The car fell a hundred feet into the ravine, smashing through the treetops feathery with new leaves, then burst into flames and rolled down into the shallow creek at the bottom. 

Tragedy seems to follow Iris Griffin in the opening pages of Atwood's novel. A series of newspaper clippings chronicle the deaths of first her sister, then her husband a couple years later, then her niece in 1975. Interwoven with the clippings are excerpts from Laura's novel, published posthumously by her sister. Laura's novel, The Blind Assassin, seems to be the story of a man who is wooing a woman in secret through another story. It doesn't pick up Iris's story until 1998. She is an old woman, living alone, her writing shaky as she tries to put pen to paper to tell her story.

The first 50 pages are a bit of an enigma. We don't see enough of anything to get a real sense of it. Iris herself tells us she doesn't know why she has decided to sit down and write. But yet I didn't want to stop when I reached page 50, and I'm not sure why. The Iris storyline is just getting started. The world of the novel within the novel (within the novel?) is weird and somewhat off-putting with its science fiction landscape, buried cities, and vestal virgins, and the lovers have not been introduced enough to have personalities. 

It has been several weeks since I read the first 50 pages, and looking back I'm not sure why it was so compelling, but it was. I don't have a good sense yet of what the novel is like, and I know that I will have to read more to figure it out, and because it is Atwood, I am sure I will finish.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Review: The Farm by Tom Rob Smith

The Farm

Tom Rob Smith
Grand Central Publishing
Advanced copy received from NetGalley in exchange for a review

First lines: 
Until that phone call it had been an ordinary day. Laden with groceries, I was walking home through Bermondsey, a neighborhood of London, just south of the river. It was a stifling August evening and when the phone rang I considered ignoring it, keen to hurry home and shower.

Quick non-spoilery summary:
Last spring Daniel's parents sold their home and business in England and purchased a farm in a remote part of Sweden for their retirement. His contact with them since then has been minimal, owing in large part to his reluctance to come out to them. But now his father is calling and telling him that his mom has been committed to a mental hospital. Before Daniel can rush to her side, he finds out that she is on her way to him in London. When she arrives she is acting strangely. Paranoid. She asks him to listen to her story before he makes any judgments. The bulk of the novel is her story. It is told almost as a monologue.

My thoughts:
This is my first Tom Rob Smith novel. I have wanted to read Child 44, but never got around to it, so when the opportunity to read an advanced copy of The Farm presented itself, I jumped on it. It was not what I expected. I knew that Child 44 was a spy novel, and I expected The Farm to be something similar. It is not. It sort of starts out that way, with some intrigue and misdirection, but it is a different sort of thing. I don't want to say too much about it because a large part of the novel is trying to decide what is going on and who to believe. I like that moment when a book that has been a puzzle comes together, and I don't want to take away from that in any way.  
My biggest problem with the novel was that I just wasn't invested in the action and characters. Too much of the story is telling, and it takes away from the character and relationship building. The unreliable narrator coupled with the style kept me at a remove. The novel didn't really come together for me until the end. 
So, did it work for me? Sort of. I find this one really hard to write about without giving anything away. Part of what didn't work for me may have been intentional. This is one where I could see reading it again to see if the pieces become more obvious and watch it all come together. Will I read another Tom Rob Smith novel? Probably.

Rating: Read

If you like The Farm by Tom Rob Smith, try Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd. Like The Farm, it has an unreliable narrator and a European sensibility.