Tag: fiction


Faulkner-esque Friday: Lincoln in the Bardo

Posted 17 February, 2017 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Faulkner-esque Friday: Lincoln in the BardoLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Published by Random House on February 14th 2017
Pages: 368
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.

The captivating first novel by the best-selling, National Book Award nominee George Saunders, about Abraham Lincoln and the death of his eleven year old son, Willie, at the dawn of the Civil War
On February 22, 1862, two days after his death, Willie Lincoln was laid to rest in a marble crypt in a Georgetown cemetery. That very night, shattered by grief, Abraham Lincoln arrives at the cemetery under cover of darkness and visits the crypt, alone, to spend time with his son’s body. Set over the course of that one night and populated by ghosts of the recently passed and the long dead, Lincoln in the Bardo is a thrilling exploration of death, grief, the powers of good and evil, a novel - in its form and voice - completely unlike anything you have read before. It is also, in the end, an exploration of the deeper meaning and possibilities of life, written as only George Saunders can: with humor, pathos, and grace.

Oh my goodness, you guys. Saunders has completely blown me away with Lincoln in the Bardo. I described it repeatedly to an illiterate co-worker (love you B!) as The Sound and the Fury with ghosts. Saunders creates a beautifully atmospheric novel without sacrificing character development – though – it doesn’t happen the way you’d expect.

This novel is incredibly, well, novel. Saunders creates a world where we are able to see the main players reflected through the eyes of the dead who are obsessed with petty (and not so petty) wrongs that happened to them in life. Thus, they are stuck in ‘the bardo’. When Willie Lincoln dies, we get to see the confusion of a dead child along with the reflections of his father’s grief. What’s so interesting about the form of Lincoln in the Bardo, is that it’s written more like a Greek chorus, with other ‘characters’ explaining the action – rather than us seeing the action.

There are intermittent background chapters that appear to be excerpts from memoirs or history books about what is happening in the world outside the graveyard. Explaining the pressure of the Civil War on President Lincoln, the party that happened prior to Willie’s death, and other general historical snippets to give the rest of the novel context.

The concept of the bardo is fascinating enough it ran me down a brief wormhole of Tibetan death rituals and the such. I may have some future reading about that.

Overall, this is an excellent novel by an author who I believe will be considered one of the great authors of our lifetimes. It has a fresh form, an interesting story, atmosphere, and just generally fantastic writing. This is a book that literary fiction lovers absolutely must check out.

Does this sound too weird for you, Reader? Too hard? It’s definitely not a beach read, but it’s hard reading that I think is totally worth it.

April @ The Steadfast Reader

8 Comments/ : , , , , , ,

Divider

Whatever Wednesday: Before the Fall

Posted 13 July, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Whatever Wednesday: Before the FallBefore the Fall by Noah Hawley
Published by Grand Central Publishing on May 31st 2016
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback ARC
Goodreads
three-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.

On a foggy summer night, eleven people—ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter—depart Martha's Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs—the painter—and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul's family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members—including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot—the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers' intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.

I’m going to dub 2016 “The Year of the ‘You Could Do Worse on a Plane’ Book” because seriously, that’s pretty much the rating I’ve given to everything this year.

Before the Fall is by no means a bad novel, but it’s not a particularly good novel either. It’s kind of fun the reconstruction of the accident, the push and pull of the suspense, and loving to hate the Fox News-esque anchor Bill Cunningham for exploiting the death of his boss and whipping up the public into a totally unnecessary frenzy. Actually, Bill Cunnigham’s role in the novel is perhaps the most interesting thing about it. He’s so repulsive and the way he behaves (both on and off the air) is so repugnant that it really leaves the reader to question the motivations behind cable news and info-tainment anchors on both sides of the aisle.

I also enjoyed the portions about the extreme swimmer and fitness guru from the fifties. The imagery of a man swimming from Alcatraz with his wrists chained, pulling a boat was just fabulous. Come to think of it, the stronger visual parts of Before the Fall all involved swimming.

The rest of the novel is a decent enough cross between a character study and a suspense novel. Before the Fall is not a great novel for book clubs because there’s not a whole lot to talk about. Once you’ve finished the book it’s pretty cut and dry. I only mention this because it was featured at BEA’s book club speed dating event and I tried to book club it myself.

Does this kind of action, suspense, character study type novel appeal to you, Reader? Has anyone else read this? Enjoy it? Not enjoy it? Thoughts and feelings?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

7 Comments/ : , , ,

Divider

Mmmmkay Monday: The Only Ones

Posted 1 February, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Mmmmkay Monday: The Only OnesThe Only Ones by Carola Dibbell
Published by Two Dollar Radio on March 10th 2015
Genres: Dystopian, Fiction, Literary, Science Fiction
Pages: 344
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Inez wanders a post-pandemic world, strangely immune to disease, making her living by volunteering as a test subject. She is hired to provide genetic material to a grief-stricken, affluent mother, who lost all four of her daughters within four short weeks. This experimental genetic work is policed by a hazy network of governmental ethics committees, and threatened by the Knights of Life, religious zealots who raze the rural farms where much of this experimentation is done.When the mother backs out at the last minute, Inez is left responsible for the product, which in this case is a baby girl, Ani. Inez must protect Ani, who is a scientific breakthrough, keeping her alive, dodging authorities and religious fanatics, and trying to provide Ani with the childhood that Inez never had, which means a stable home and an education.

The Only Ones for Carrolla Dibbells’ first novel is actually quite good. I want you to think of a cross of The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night meets clones and dystopia.

Inez’s first person prose reminds me very much of what I have come to expect from authors attempting to recreate voices from the autism spectrum. The way that The Only Ones is unique is that it takes that sub-genre of mental health literature and catapults it into a near future scenario where  pandemic flus and diseases are common and ‘dome’ communities are typical.

Quite frankly, I found The Only Ones is an interesting commentary on parenting, the way Inez refers to herself as ‘I.’ feels highly symbolic (maybe as parents we’re all struggling to do the best we can and should stop judging the way each one of us does it?)

On motherhood and other mothers:

So that’s it. They just wanted to watch what I do and tell me what is wrong with it.

C’mon, who among us with kids hasn’t felt that way in the presence of ‘superior’ moms?

The Only Ones is very different from your standard dystopian/epidemic/apocalypse novel. It’s about a society that is functioning, if barely and the grit, determination, and sacrifices that it takes for one poverty stricken woman to subsist in it, with a child no less.

Science minded readers might also be interested… or infuriated. I don’t know enough about genetics or cloning to know how viable (ha! get it?) the science behind it is.

Surprisingly, I found that I really enjoyed this book, Readers. There were points where it lulled just a bit but for the most part it is extremely readable. Has anyone else read it? Anyone else interested?

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

8 Comments/ : , , , , , , , , ,

Divider

Friday Fail: The Children’s Home

Posted 29 January, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Friday Fail: The Children’s HomeThe Children's Home by Charles Lambert
Published by Simon and Schuster on January 5th 2016
Genres: Fiction, Literary, Psychological, Suspense, Thrillers
Pages: 224
Goodreads
two-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.

For fans of Shirley Jackson, Neil Gaiman, Roald Dahl, and Edward Gorey, a beguiling and disarming debut novel from an award-winning British author about a mysterious group of children who appear to a disfigured recluse and his country doctor—and the startling revelations their behavior evokes.In a sprawling estate, willfully secluded, lives Morgan Fletcher, the disfigured heir to a fortune of mysterious origins. Morgan spends his days in quiet study, avoiding his reflection in mirrors and the lake at the end of his garden. One day, two children, Moira and David, appear. Morgan takes them in, giving them free reign of the mansion he shares with his housekeeper Engel. Then more children begin to show up. Dr. Crane, the town physician and Morgan’s lone tether to the outside world, is as taken with the children as Morgan, and begins to spend more time in Morgan’s library. But the children behave strangely. They show a prescient understanding of Morgan’s past, and their bizarre discoveries in the mansion attics grow increasingly disturbing. Every day the children seem to disappear into the hidden rooms of the estate, and perhaps, into the hidden corners of Morgan’s mind. The Children’s Home is a genre-defying, utterly bewitching masterwork, an inversion of modern fairy tales like The Chronicles of Narnia and The Golden Compass, in which children visit faraway lands to accomplish elusive tasks. Lambert writes from the perspective of the visited, weaving elements of psychological suspense, Jamesian stream of consciousness, and neo-gothic horror, to reveal the inescapable effects of abandonment, isolation, and the grotesque—as well as the glimmers of goodness—buried deep within the soul.

My first mistake was falling prey to the horrifically classic, “…for fans of…” when will I learn that this is always a bad idea? I am completely unable to find the resemblance to Dahl, Gaiman, or Jackson — all three authors which I have read extensively.

This is another one of those books with a compelling premise and an excellent description that just fell on its face for me. I mean:

…a mysterious group of children who appear to a disfigured recluse and his country doctor, and the startling revelations their behavior evokes.

Sounds great right? I wanted it to be, I did… the writing isn’t awful, but it is unremarkable. The story itself fails to make much sense at all and the ending itself is unsatisfactory in the extreme. I’m okay with an ambivalent ending, in fact most times I find that type of ending more satisfying but here… I don’t know.

“Maybe I’m not smart enough to understand The Children’s Home” was the first thought that I had, but legions of reviewers on Goodreads assure me that this isn’t the case.

The good news, if you decide to read it, is that The Children’s Home is a fairly quick and compact read. I can’t really think who I would recommend this novel to, it just made too little sense for me to get a feel on who might like it.

Sorry I didn’t have more to say about The Children’s Home, Readers. I almost didn’t post this review for lack of things to say but felt like I got far enough that maybe this could be useful to someone. Anyone else read it? Thoughts? Feelings?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

9 Comments/ : , , , , ,

Divider

Whatever Wednesday: The New World (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 27 January, 2016 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Whatever Wednesday: The New World (A Tournament of Books Selection)The New World by Chris Adrian, Eli Horowitz
Published by Atavist Books on August 12th 2014
Genres: Fiction, Psychological, Technological, Thrillers
Pages: 158
Goodreads
two-half-stars

What is the purpose of life? If you could send a message to the future what would it be? Why do you deserve, not desire, to live forever?

Acclaimed author Chris Adrian (The Children’s Hospital, The Great Night) joins the award-winning creators of The Silent History – Eli Horowitz and Russell Quinn to create an innovative digital novel about memory, grief and love. The New World is the story of a marriage. Dr. Jane Cotton is a pediatric surgeon: her husband, Jim, is a humanist chaplain. They are about to celebrate their eighth wedding anniversary when Jim suddenly collapses and dies. When Jane arrives at the hospital she is horrified to find that her husband’s head has been removed from his body. Only then does she discover that he has secretly enrolled with a shadowy cryogenics company called Polaris.Furious and grieving, Jane fights to reclaim Jim from Polaris. Revived, in the future, Jim learns he must sacrifice every memory of Jane if he wants to stay alive in the new world. Separated by centuries, each of them is challenged to choose between love and fear, intimacy and solitude, life and grief, and each will find an answer to the challenge that is surprising, harrowing, and ultimately beautiful.

I wanted The New World to be so much better than it was. For the first half I was absolutely entranced by the idea. It was complex and beautifully written. I liked the alternating viewpoints between Jim in the future and Jane grieving in the past. The world building was done well and the idea of cryogenics as something real and sustainable – eventually to the point where people are able to be ‘resurrected’ was even believable to a point.

The anger that Jane felt towards the Polaris Corporation was palpable and extraordinarily well done. I loved the attempt she made at suing the company and the subsequent consequences. I enjoyed Jim as a ‘humanist chaplain’, this naturally appealed to my atheist side – seeing how Jim handled people grieving with faith as an atheist and how he handled grieving in the future in the same way.

About …. ‘eh … 60 to 70 percent of the way through the novel it seems like something gets lost. All the interesting and compelling plot points kind of fall to the floor and the authors of The New World just seem to lose interest. It meanders for awhile before ultimately taking a nosedive and leaving me wondering what the hell just happened to what was such a gorgeous little novel to begin with.

I felt the way that many Goodreads reviewers seemed to feel that this novel(la) would have been better off as a short story because it was only towards the end that things got bad. Sometimes a quick and mysterious ending is better for me.

Anyone out there read this one? It’s a contender for Tournament of Books 2016, how do you think it’s going to do?

April @ The Steadfast Reader

8 Comments/ : , , , , , , , , , ,

Divider

Maggie Monday: The Heart Goes Last

Posted 23 November, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Maggie Monday: The Heart Goes LastThe Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on September 29th 2015
Genres: Action & Adventure, Dystopian, Fiction, Humorous, Science Fiction
Pages: 320
Goodreads
three-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.

Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around—and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in . . . for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their "civilian" homes.     At first, this doesn't seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one's head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan's life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.

So I know that Atwood’s latest, The Heart Goes Last was disappointing to some people. While I’ll agree it’s not her finest novel, it’s far from twaddle either. The story of Stan and Charmaine escaping an economic collapse by signing on to the Consilience project was compelling to me, though I’ll readily admit it was because I was already invested in the characters as this book was originally started as a serial novel by the defunct Byliner publisher. The most intriguing parts of The Heart Goes Last were those that she had already written in serial format and incorporated into this finished novel. NPR reviewer, Tasha Robinson might put it best:

The Heart Goes Last is packed with the kind of morally and socially complicated ideas that usually intrigue Atwood, and it’s impossible not to wonder what she would have done with these ideas in a more heartfelt book, or one that used the serial-installment model to stretch out and explore more of this lightly sketched world. (Full Review)

This is so apt for this book. Atwood sketches out some excellent ideas and important concepts but by the end of the book there’s a little bit of a failure to launch.

We discussed all the spoilers over at The Socratic Salon, come talk with us!

Other reviews of The Heart Goes Last

Monika at A Lovely Bookshelf

Shannon at River City Reading

What about you, Reader? Did you love this Atwood or love to hate it?

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

3 Comments/ : , , ,

Divider

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

5 Comments/ : , , , , , ,

Divider

Wanted More Wednesday: The Jesus Cow

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

Wanted More Wednesday: The Jesus CowThe Jesus Cow by Michael Perry
Published by HarperCollins on May 19th 2015
Genres: Fiction, Humorous, Literary, Satire
Pages: 304
Goodreads
two-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.

Life is suddenly full of drama for low-key Harley Jackson: A woman in a big red pickup has stolen his bachelor's heart; a Hummer- driving developer hooked on self-improvement audiobooks is threatening to pave the last vestiges of his family farm; and inside his barn lies a calf bearing the image of Jesus Christ. Harley's best friend, Billy, a giant of a man who shares his trailer house with a herd of cats and tries to pass off country music lyrics as philosophy, urges him to sidestep the woman, fight the developer, and get rich off the calf. But Harley takes the opposite tack, hoping to avoid what his devout, dearly departed mother would have called "a scene."Then the secret gets out—right through the barn door—and Harley's "miracle" goes viral. Within hours, pilgrims, grifters, and the media have descended on his quiet patch of Swivel, Wisconsin, looking for a glimpse (and a per- centage) of the calf. Does Harley hide the famous, possibly holy, calf and risk a riot, or give the people what they want—and in the process raise enough money to keep his land and, just maybe, win the woman in the big red pickup?Harley goes all in, cutting a deal with a major Hollywood agent that transforms his little farm into an international spiritual theme park—think Lourdes, only with cheese curds and souvenir snow globes. Soon, Harley has lots of money . . . and more trouble than he ever dreamed.

Maybe my lesson is to stay away from satire on Christianity here. I DNFed Christopher Moore’s Lamb, and I almost DNFed The Jesus Cow. This book has its moments here and there, mostly some clever plays on words, that made me smile to myself but for the most part this book is just… not good.

Okay, why? While this is an excellent premise that could have been hysterical, or at least populated with memorable, lovable characters, Perry does neither for his readers. The characters – all of them – are flat and completely two dimensional, acting exactly as expected with little to no growth. Rather than characters, they are caricatures. I couldn’t come to care for any of them, especially not Harley with his dithering and worrying. Get ahold of yourself man.

The ending. Oh Jesus Cow, the ending. It was one of those unfortunate times where it seemed as if the author just ran out of steam and wanted to tie a nice little bow on things. Where the six main characters ended up made little to no sense based on the rest of the novel, but I suppose if you’re looking for a feel good ending then it might be acceptable.

Also, the marketing of this book? The catalyst for action happens on Christmas Eve, so why is it being released in May?

Okay, Reader. I hated this book. Give me something good to read? Would this premise have pulled you in? Does it pull you in still? I won’t judge.

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

10 Comments/ : , , , , ,

Divider