Category: Reviews


Fantastic Friday: Fates and Furies (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 20 November, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Fantastic Friday: Fates and Furies (A Tournament of Books Selection)Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
Published by Random House on September 15th 2015
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 400
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.At age twenty-two, Lotto and Mathilde are tall, glamorous, madly in love and destined for greatness. A decade later, their marriage is still the envy of their friends, but with an electric thrill we understand that things are even more complicated and remarkable than they have seemed. With stunning revelations and multiple threads, and in prose that is vibrantly alive and original, Groff delivers a deeply satisfying novel about love, art, creativity and power that is unlike anything that has come before it. Profound, surprising, propulsive and emotionally riveting, it stirs both the mind and the heart.

So, Fates and Furies is a book that broke one of the slumpiest slumps that I’ve had in a long time. I read it because I’d already told the gals at The Socratic Salon that I would. I steeled myself to be bored out of my mind during Lotto’s section, as I had been forewarned by so many people. But I actually found myself enjoying it.

Sure, as a character Lotto is self absorbed, one dimensional, and really grows… not at all. But he does some charming things and I must admit that I was especially intrigued by his obsession with the opera composer towards the end of the section. However, Mathilde’s section was absolutely stunning and I don’t think that the reveal would have worked the other way around. Unbeknownst to poor Lotto, Mathilde is ‘the fury’.

Mathilde is amazing and dynamic, honestly Groff has produced some of the best writing I’ve seen in a long time in the second half of this novel. I found it to be literary but not inaccessible. I think that if one so desired, this book could be read at strictly a surface level and still be very enjoyable. But the real enjoyment for me came with delving a little deeper and looking underneath the surface of Groff’s prose to find such amazing depth and breadth of characters.

What about you, Reader? Read any excellent literary fiction lately? Have you read Fates and Furies? Don’t be shy, join us over at The Socratic Salon to discuss it! 

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Furiously Happy: A Night With Jenny Lawson

Posted 17 November, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Authors, Reviews

Furiously Happy: A Night With Jenny LawsonFuriously Happy by Jenny Lawson
Published by Pan Macmillan on September 24th 2015
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, General, Humor, Personal Memoirs
Pages: 256
Goodreads
three-half-stars

In Let's Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson regaled readers with uproarious stories of her bizarre childhood. In her new book, Furiously Happy, she explores her lifelong battle with mental illness. A hysterical, ridiculous book about crippling depression and anxiety? That sounds like a terrible idea. And terrible ideas are what Jenny does best.As Jenny says: 'You can't experience pain without also experiencing the baffling and ridiculous moments of being fiercely, unapologetically, intensely and (above all) furiously happy.' It's a philosophy that has - quite literally - saved her life.Jenny's first book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, was ostensibly about family, but deep down it was about celebrating your own weirdness. Furiously Happy is a book about mental illness, but under the surface it's about embracing joy in fantastic and outrageous ways. And who doesn't need a bit more of that?

So, once again, my sister and I had the opportunity to seek out Jenny Lawson and get signed books. This time however, we also got to hear her speak and read. We also encountered some of the weird counter-culture that Lawson seems to attract.

But let’s start with the book. Furiously Happy is not nearly as funny as Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, but I will venture to say that it is infinitely more important. The essays in the book on mental health were so raw, so real, and so incredibly honest it was almost painful to hear her read them in the auditorium. While not as painful to read them on my own – they did have a sense of heartache surrounding them, more so when you consider that one in four Americans is affected by mental illness and there is still such shame and stigma surrounding it.

Furiously Happy starts out strong, but then as the chapters roll on it begins to fizzle out. Interspersed in the book are essays having little or nothing to do with mental illness that feel a bit forced in an attempt at levity, which admittedly, perhaps Furiously Happy needs to be bearable at all, so painful and honest are the essays concerning Lawson’s mental health.

So then there was the question and answer session and the book signing. Lawson’s presentation on stage was engaging and wonderful. The fans she attracts are… devoted, to say the least. Not that it can be blamed on Lawson, but many of the questions weren’t questions at all — they were long personal stories that I can’t imagine much of the audience cared about. However Lawson responded to each anecdote with poise and charm. Despite her anxiety issues, she is a complete pro. A memorable part of the evening was when her husband Victor called and she decided to take the call on speakerphone. Why yes I did take video of it…

 


You may recall last time I had a book signed by Lawson I asked her to sign it as Stephen King. I cursed myself while waiting in line to get Furiously Happy signed that I failed to bring a Stephen King book with me for her to sign as herself. C’est la vie.

Me, Jenny Lawson, and a fabulous inscription.

Me, Jenny Lawson, and a fabulous inscription.

Overall the night was a success and while Furiously Happy does have its weaknesses, I definitely think that it’s important for the normalization of mental illness the way the world stands today.

Monika at A Lovely Bookshelf had a completely different take on things, however.

What about you, Reader? Do you enjoy Lawson’s blog? What’s your take?

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Threesome: Shirley Jackson’s Women

Posted 16 November, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Authors, books and publishing, Genres, Reviews

shirley jackson threesome

So I love me some Shirley Jackson, but it wasn’t until I recently finished A Bird’s Nest that I had perhaps the belated revelation that Shirley Jackson writes primarily about young women who are suffering from some sort of arrested development.

Consider Eleanor Vance, from Jackson’s classic The Haunting of Hill House. One of the first lines in the novel is:

“Eleanor Vance was thirty-two years old when she came to Hill House. The only person in the world she genuinely hated, now that her mother was dead, was her sister. She disliked her brother-in-law and her five-year-old niece, and she had no friends.”

If that’s not a description of someone who is emotionally stunted, I’m not sure what is. Eleanor is consistently unsure of herself and lacks self confidence in the worst of ways. While she is supposed to be thirty-two, her character often feels no older than sixteen or seventeen. Her self consciousness is exacerbated by the stresses of Hill House, makes her teeter even more off balance than she was before.

Looking at Eleanor next to the lively and confident Theodora, one has to stop and wonder what emotional juxtaposition that Jackson was going for. Does Theodora genuinely become irate and hostile towards Eleanor or is this completely happening in Eleanor’s perception?

Next we have both Merricat and Constance Blackwood, from We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Merricat is supposed to be eighteen years old, but her rhetoric and behavior make that incredibly hard to remember. It took several close readings before I realized that she wasn’t supposed to be a thirteen year old adolescent. While Constance does play a central mother figure in the novel, girl hasn’t left the house in six years. At the climax of the story instead of pushing forward and growing into themselves, we see both women retreat farther into themselves, continuing to stunt their emotional growth and we are left wondering how they can possibly survive.

Finally, we have Elizabeth Richmond, from The Bird’s Nest. Meant to be 23, Elizabeth is tormented by three other personalities of varying ages. This is a novel about dissociative identity disorder (not to be confused with schizophrenia, don’t cross Heather on this one). Interestingly, this book also has a mother figure that is less than motherly with Aunt Morgan. I find Aunt Morgan interesting the same way that I find Theodora interesting, she seems to care for Elizabeth, but at times she seems downright hostile. Is she? Ah, the wonder of unreliable narrators and partial information.

I’ve probably read The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle five or six times each, but this was my first go at A Bird’s Nest, and if you look at the publication date, you realize that Jackson pre-dates the modern tropes of multiple narrators and psychological fiction nearly twenty years before Sybil made it popular.

Anyway, Reader. What do you think of women in Shirley Jackson’s novels? Do her other novels conform to these patterns? What does it mean?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Must Read Monday: Falling Man

Posted 28 September, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Must Read Monday: Falling ManFalling Man by Don DeLillo
Published by Pan Macmillan on September 23rd 2011
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 260
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Falling Man begins on September 11, in the smoke and ash of the burning towers. In the days and the years following, we trace the aftermath of this global tremor in the private lives of a few reticulated individuals. Theirs are lives choreographed by loss, by grief and by the enormous force of history. From these intimate portraits, DeLillo shifts to an extrapolated vision: he charts the way the events have reconfigured our emotional landscape, our memory and our perception of the world.

I started Falling Man shortly after the 14th anniversary of 9/11. As a thirty-something American 9/11 was an event that affected me profoundly, perhaps shaped me in ways that I’m still not completely aware of. DeLillo’s Falling Man is brilliant and beautiful. It’s almost less a novel and more long form poetry.

The writing is gorgeous, the main characters are fully fleshed out and relatable. I anticipate a complaint that many readers may have is that there isn’t a whole lot of action. This is true, Falling Man is more of a character study than a plot driven novel, but I find these characters – an estranged husband and wife living in New York City when the towers fall to be fully fleshed out and completely believable and relatable to an extent. The horror, shock, and … to an extent PTSD that they experience in the days, months, and years after 9/11 is something that is familiar to many Americans.

Falling Man is both an everyman novel and a novel about what it means to belong and grieve, what it means to need religion to an extent that it is able to justify the killing of innocents, what it means to harbor unfair stereotypes and how sometimes it is impossible to rid ourselves of these unfair stereotypes.

I guess what I really want to say is that DeLillo is a genius and this slim novel is beautiful and beautifully written. People who need a lot of plot in their lives aren’t going to be a fan of this novel, but I can’t recommend Falling Man highly enough to those of us who love a good character study.

What about you, Reader? Whether you’re an American or international did 9/11 affect you profoundly? Are you a fan of character studies? 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Tuesday ‘Tube: A Booktube Review by Annasaurus Rex

Posted 7 September, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in guest post, Reading, Reviews

Tuesday ‘Tube: A Booktube Review by Annasaurus RexPounded in the Butt by My Own Butt by Chuck Tingle
Published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform on April 29th 2015
Pages: 15
Goodreads

Kirk is a scientific researcher on the leading edge of cloning technology, but his team has reached a standstill. In an effort to stabilize rapid clone growth, researchers have been taking DNA from various parts of their bodies and combining it with small amounts of animal DNA.

But when the scientists combine samples from Kirk’s butt, brain, and a hawk, the resulting effect is a handsome, living ass who immediately sweeps Kirk off of his feet over a candlelit dinner for two.

Kirk has finally found a lover that truly understands him at his very core… his own gay ass!

So personally, I haven’t taken getting on BookTube yet, but AnnaSaurus Rex was STUCK with this book. She told me, “April, I’ve been trying to review this for a month and… and… I can’t even.” So I suggested a BookTube video and here’s what we have! Enjoy!

 

Don’t hate because she couldn’t describe the intricacies of the butt, apparently Mr. Tingle didn’t do such a good job of thinking that part through.

Edit: I just realized this went live on Monday. C’est la vie. In three weeks it won’t matter.

Can this get any weirder, Reader? 

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April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Woeful Wednesday: The Son

Posted 19 August, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Woeful Wednesday: The SonThe Son by Jo Nesbo
Published by Random House Incorporated on 2014
Genres: Crime, Fiction, Hard-Boiled, International Mystery & Crime, Mystery & Detective, Thrillers
Pages: 401
Goodreads
two-half-stars

Sonny Lofthus is a strangely charismatic and complacent young man. Sonny's been in prison for a dozen years, nearly half his life. The inmates who seek out his uncanny abilities to soothe leave his cell feeling absolved. They don't know or care that Sonny has a serious heroin habit--or where or how he gets his uninterrupted supply of the drug. Or that he's serving time for other peoples' crimes.

Sonny took the first steps toward addiction when his father took his own life rather than face exposure as a corrupt cop. Now Sonny is the seemingly malleable center of a whole infrastructure of corruption: prison staff, police, lawyers, a desperate priest--all of them focused on keeping him high and in jail. And all of them under the thumb of the Twin, Oslo's crime overlord. As long as Sonny gets his dope, he's happy to play the criminal and the prison's in-house savior. But when he learns a stunning, long-hidden secret concerning his father, he makes a brilliantly executed escape from prison--and from the person he'd let himself become--and begins hunting down those responsible for the crimes against him . . . The darkly looming question is: Who will get to him first--the criminals or the cops?

So this book had the Scandinavian type presence that you feel in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. Lots of violence, mysterious and deeply flawed main character, a hardboiled cop with serious secrets, etc. etc. It seems like Scandinavian crime drama is becoming a genre unto itself.

Part of my problem with this book definitely can be traced back to the narration. At first I thought that since I was listening to The Son using CDs instead of Audible, which I speed up to at least 1.25x normal speed, that maybe I just wasn’t used to how slowly normal narrators read. But since I’ve finished The Son, I’ve started listening to I Am Pilgrim, also an audio CD – and the narration speed is just fine. I rambled through all that to say that the narrator was reading waaaaayyyy too slowly. Since I listened to this in heavy traffic I found it frustrating.

But even discounting the irritating slowness of the narration, The Son had some additional problems for me as far as storyline went. Some of the so-called twists were visible from a mile away in dense fog. I mean cut me a break Nesbø, if you want to write a thriller – write a thriller.

The other issue with this book that the application of Sonny Lofthus as the Messiah is applied in the most heavy handed manner. I love symbolism and religious undertones, but Nesbø’s attempt to use Christ-like imagery and allegory was way too obvious to be of any interest.

I’m fascinated with Scandinavia and Oslo in particular, but The Son was a failure to launch for me. To be fair, I didn’t particularly care for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, so I’d probably recommend this book to fans of that series.

The old question, Reader, can the performance of an audio book affect your views on the novel and story as a whole? Anyone out there who adores Nesbø or The Son?

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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If This, Then That: Emma and Clueless

Posted 14 August, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

If This, Then That: Emma and CluelessEmma by Jane Austen
Published by Wild Jot Press on 1815
Genres: Classics, Fiction
Pages: 298
Goodreads
four-stars

Arrogant, self-willed and egotistical, Emma is Jane Austen's most unusual heroine. Her interfering ways and inveterate matchmaking are at once shocking and comic. She is 'handsome, clever and rich' and has 'a disposition to think too well of herself'. When she decides to introduce the humble Harriet Smith to the delights of genteel society and to find her a suitable husband, she precipitates herself and her immediate circle into a web of misunderstanding and intrigue, from which no-one emerges unchanged. Juliet Stevenson, an incomparable reader, is for many the voice of Jane Austen.

I’ve long known that Clueless was based on Jane Austen’s Emma, but since I’m not a huge Austen fan it took me a long time to verify for myself. I listened to Emma on audio and actually found it immensely enjoyable. Naturally, I was trying to figure out who was who in Clueless. According to the Wikipedia page, I was pretty on point except that I thought that Dionne and Murray were Ms. Taylor and Mr. Weston, instead of Isabella and John Knightly.

Clueless poster

Despite being set in ’90s Beverly Hills, Clueless is actually a pretty faithful adaptation of Austen’s classic. I loved Emma, even if she was a little shallow and well, rather… clueless. There were times when I pretty much wanted to shank her dad, Mr. Woodhouse. I wanted him to just let the people eat. I mean really. As if!

as if gif

I enjoyed the push and pull of Frank Churchill and Austen’s expert rendering of Emma’s inner dialogue. Her tumultuous feelings about Jane Fairfax that seemed to change at the drop of a hat, the cattiness and youthful irritation she feels towards Miss Bates — I just enjoyed it all.

I love that Emma is both a classic comedy of manners and a cautionary tale to young people who presume to know it all before their time, the dangers of assumptions, and why we should just all be up front and honest.

While when listening to the audio, I didn’t visualize most of the characters from Clueless, George Knightly was the exception I couldn’t envision the character chasing Emma up the hill or socializing in her sitting room without thinking of the adorable Paul Rudd.

prudd

I enjoyed Emma more than I thought I would, based on experiences by similar authors of this time period. It’s definitely worth the read. Clueless is definitely worth the comparison watch.

What about you, Reader? How do you feel about Austen? Clueless? Emma? Let’s chat!

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Library Love: Two Mini Reviews

Posted 12 August, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

mt charThe Library at Mount Char by: Scott Hawkins

Mini Synopsis: Carolyn and her adopted siblings are taken in by a seemingly immortal man who has taught them strange, ancient powers. Now Father has gone missing…

Thoughts and Feelings: I thought this book was tons of fun. There was a twist and turn around every corner. Of course being a serious reader anything with the word ‘library’ in the title or about ‘librarians’ is going to appeal to me. This isn’t an overly literary book, not a whole lot of deep themes for discussion or anything, but I have to say it’s an immensely readable book where it’s nearly impossible to figure out what comes next. Highly recommended.

Who’s Going to Like it? Science fiction/fantasy people are going to like it, the apocalyptic crowd might find parts of it appealing as well. People who stick completely with literary fiction… hard to say. 4.5/5

 

 

strange libraryThe Strange Library by: Haruki Murakami

Mini Synopsis: (Goodreads) A lonely boy, a mysterious girl, and a tormented sheep man plot their escape from the nightmarish library of internationally acclaimed, best-selling Haruki Murakami’s wild imagination.

Thoughts and Feelings: Well clearly I couldn’t write a synopsis better than that. This was my second Murakami after the epic 1Q84, it was so different! I loved this little barely novella. It had the feeling of a fairy tale in both style and substance. It was so delightful and charming while at the same time being creepy and weird. Fantastic!

Who’s Going to Like it? Hard core Murakami fans, obviously. Also anyone looking for a little bit of magical, creepy, weirdness. 5/5 stars

Of course our resident Murakami fangirl over at Lovely Bookshelf has a great review of The Strange Library.

 

Has anyone read either of these? Thoughts? Feelings? Read any good library themed books lately, Reader?

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Must Read Monday: The Beautiful Bureaucrat

Posted 10 August, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Must Read Monday: The Beautiful BureaucratThe Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips
Published by Henry Holt and Company on August 11th 2015
Genres: Fiction, General, Literary, Thrillers
Pages: 192
Goodreads
four-half-stars

I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange honest review consideration. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

In a windowless building in a remote part of town, the newly employed Josephine inputs an endless string of numbers into something known only as The Database. After a long period of joblessness, she's not inclined to question her fortune, but as the days inch by and the files stack up, Josephine feels increasingly anxious in her surroundings-the office's scarred pinkish walls take on a living quality, the drone of keyboards echoes eerily down the long halls. When one evening her husband Joseph disappears and then returns, offering no explanation as to his whereabouts, her creeping unease shifts decidedly to dread.As other strange events build to a crescendo, the haunting truth about Josephine's work begins to take shape in her mind, even as something powerful is gathering its own form within her. She realizes that in order to save those she holds most dear, she must penetrate an institution whose tentacles seem to extend to every corner of the city and beyond.

I just finished this little tome and holy poop on a stick guys – it knocked my socks off. I feel like The Beautiful Bureaucrat has something for everyone. It’s full of intrigue, a dash of magical realism,  and a whole lot of excellent writing.

It felt a little bit like a grown-up Wrinkle in Time, though why exactly it felt that way — I can’t exactly put my finger on it. But I loved the slightly science fiction feel that didn’t necessarily go overboard and take The Beautiful Bureaucrat into the realm of genre fiction. Admittedly, the characters are a bit flat, but because of the slimness and the surreal feeling of the novel, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

I love the wordplay within the novel, which screams of symbolism – perhaps Josephine’s descent into madness working her job. I love how she eventually started referring to her husband by his social security number. I love the Every Place feeling of The City vs. The Hinterlands.

Some reviewers found The Beautiful Bureaucrat to be somewhat Orwellian, I didn’t necessarily have that feeling — though there was definitely the sense that Josephine was being watched.

Anyway, I don’t want to oversell The Beautiful Bureaucrat, but I think that the length of the novel makes it accessible to everyone and to me it was completely delightful.

What do you think, Reader? Does this sound like something that might be up your alley? 

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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1001 Mini Reviews

Posted 24 July, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

So, as you can see from my tabs above I’m attempting the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2010) challenge. I’m not reviewing every book, but when I get low on other things to talk about they make for some good backlist discussion. I have three recent reads turned mini reviews for you.

1001 mini

Zorba the Greek by: Nikos Kazantzakis – #573

Short Synopsis: Two men travel to Crete together. The narrator opens a lignite mine and Zorba talks a lot.

Itty Bitty Review: This book was definitely not my cuppa. I know it was originally published in 1946 but I found Zorba’s attitudes towards and about women to be nearly offensive. The meandering conversations between the narrator and Zorba feel absolutely dated and dull. Maybe something was lost in translation, but this book didn’t work at all for me. 2/5 stars.

Neuromancer by: William Gibson – #233

Short Synopsis: Gritty sci-fi, dystopian future where data thieves and hackers are major players in the criminal underworld and one hacker has to take on an AI for a mysterious employer.

Itty Bitty Review: This book was almost too gritty for me. I have to disagree with comparisons to 1984 and Brave New World, those are way better than Neuromancer. By no means is this book bad, I read it in a matter of days, but it was kind of ‘meh’ for me. I think that people who really enjoy this genre will really enjoy this book. 3/5 stars.

Underworld by: Don DeLillo – #71

Short Synopsis: … I can’t even. Here’s Goodreads:

While Eisenstein documented the forces of totalitarianism and Stalinism upon the faces of the Russian peoples, DeLillo offers a stunning, at times overwhelming, document of the twin forces of the Cold War and American culture, compelling that “swerve from evenness” in which he finds events and people both wondrous and horrifying.

Itty Bitty Review: I know… what? Which is pretty much my reaction to the whole book. Anyone who cares to explain this book to me I would greatly appreciate it. For real. I missed something deep AND important with this book and I love DeLillo’s White Noise. I can’t even rate it because I don’t know what the hell it’s about.

Read any big classic or modern classic novels lately, Reader?Does anyone understand Underworld?

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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