Tag: literary fiction


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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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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Best Books: 2014

Posted 30 June, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in books and publishing

best books 2014

It’s that time of year y’all! If you were here ’round this time last year, you know that I don’t do my best of list until the end of June, mostly because everyone is so sick of best of lists in December that they want to throw up. So, here’s my best twelve books of 2014 list while you’re fresh and ready!

  • The Word Exchange by: Alena Graedon – Mostly this list is in no particular order, but The Word Exchange blew my socks off so early in the year that very little else came close to me. I love dystopia, I especially love a near future dystopia where words are at stake. I loved this book.
  • Pro by: Katha Pollitt – This might have been the most important book published in 2014. It’s a call to stop shaming women who choose abortion and how access to abortion for all is not only something that women should never feel guilty about — it’s actually a morally righteous decision. Anyone who is on the fence about abortion or who thinks that exceptions for abortion are okay in rape and incest situations need to read this book.
  • The Magician’s Trilogy by: Lev Grossman – Okay, so only The Magician’s Land was actually published in 2014, but I gobbled up the whole 1,200 page trilogy in a matter of two weeks. I hate that I had the opportunity to see Lev Grossman speak (and did!) at The Decatur Book Festival last year but did not secure myself a signed copy of The Magician’s Land. Hailed as a ‘grown up Harry Potter’, I absolutely must agree. Except maybe it’s all the best parts of Harry Potter and all the best parts of the Narnia series. Go forth, read them all. Immediately.
  • Revival by: Stephen King – I loved the slow burn of this novel and the feeling of creepiness slowly coming up on you, along with the balls to the walls scareded-ness that come at the end. Yes. Absolutely a must read for Stephen King fans young and old.
  • Bellweather Rhapsody by: Kate Racculia – If you’re a band nerd, former or current, or if you love some crazy, quirky, mysteries this is a fabulous book for you. There was so much about this book that rang true to me — from being a former band nerd to the fact that it had almost a Stephen King-eqsue feel with the hotel (The Shining is what I’m thinking of) this book is unique and wonderful.
  • Dear Committee Members by: Julie Schumacher – Are you sick of the rash of epistolatory novels? DON’T BE! Dear Committee Members is delightful and laugh out loud funny at times. Anyone who has worked in an office setting or especially  in higher education in an underfunded department will find plenty of delight and fabulousness in this novel.
  • Station Eleven by: Emily St. John Mandel – Won the Rooster in this year’s Tournament of Books. It was a fantastic and beautiful literary dystopian novel that was absolutely enchanting.
  • How to Build a Girl by: Caitlin Moran – The most important coming-of-age novel since Judy Blume. I adored this novel. I laughed, I teared up, I was always team Johanna.
  • The Bone Clocks by: David Mitchell – Yes. Just do it.
  • An Untamed State by: Roxane Gay – I was completely entrenched into this novel, the most important part of it wasn’t, for me, the rape of a woman of color, but it was dealing with the aftermath of that rape and finding hope and understanding in the most unlikely places. A fabulous debut novel by Gay.
  • Yes Please by: Amy Poehler – YES PLEASE! A fabulous feminist manifesto full of positivity and laughter. Poehler’s memoir was everything I wanted to to be, and more.
  • All the Birds, Singing by: Evie Wyld – Another book that I read thanks to the Tournament of Books. I found this book to be so beautifully complex and such a great puzzle. So much for discussion in a book club, so much symbolism and such great writing.

So, Reader, what were your favorite books of 2014? 

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Thrilling Thursday: The Shore

Posted 28 May, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in books and publishing, Reviews

Thrilling Thursday: The ShoreThe Shore by Sara Taylor
Published by Crown/Archetype on May 26th 2015
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Literary, Sagas
Pages: 320
Goodreads
five-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 Shore: a group of small islands in the Chesapeake Bay, just off the coast of Virginia. The Shore is clumps of evergreens, wild ponies, oyster-shell roads, tumble-down houses, unwanted pregnancies, murder, and dark magic in the marshes. Sanctuary to some but nightmare to others, it's a place that generations of families both wealthy and destitute have inhabited, fled, and returned to for hundreds of years. From a half-Shawnee Indian's bold choice to escape an abusive home only to find herself with a man who will one day try to kill her, to a brave young girl's determination to protect her younger sister as methamphetamine ravages their family, the characters in this remarkable novel have deep connections to the land, and a resilience that only the place they call home could create.

The Shore is a remarkable piece of fiction. I love finding debuts that are so compelling and readable. Told in a series of interwoven narratives, many of the pieces can stand alone as short stories, but when you put them all together there is something truly special to be found in the novel as a whole. It fills a hole that has been gaping in southern gothic fiction and even more delightfully it’s filled by a young woman with much promise.

This book reads a little like Rebecca Makkai’s The Hundred Year House, in the sense that it is a family saga that isn’t necessarily told in a linear order. But The Shore is something more than that as well, it’s about the deep bonds and petty hatreds that can build in a small community throughout time and the way just one resentment can destroy an entire community.

I know in the finished edition there is a family tree (or a series of family trees) but I enjoyed sketching out who was related to whom on my own. It was a fun exercise in puzzle solving, so if that’s your bag, maybe ignore those family trees and then check your work at the end.

Absolutely a must read.

What about you, Reader? Have you been needing some southern gothic in your life? Have you read The Shore? Does it sound like something you might need to get to soon? Don’t forget we’re going to have an EPIC conversation about this one on The Socratic Salon next month!

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Must Read Monday: Girl at War

Posted 18 May, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reading, Reviews

Must Read Monday: Girl at WarGirl at War by Sara Novic
Published by Random House Publishing Group on May 12th 2015
Genres: Coming of Age, Cultural Heritage, Fiction, Literary, War & Military
Pages: 336
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.

Zagreb, 1991. Ana Jurić is a carefree ten-year-old, living with her family in a small apartment in Croatia’s capital. But that year, civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, splintering Ana’s idyllic childhood. Daily life is altered by food rations and air raid drills, and soccer matches are replaced by sniper fire. Neighbors grow suspicious of one another, and Ana’s sense of safety starts to fray. When the war arrives at her doorstep, Ana must find her way in a dangerous world.   New York, 2001. Ana is now a college student in Manhattan. Though she’s tried to move on from her past, she can’t escape her memories of war—secrets she keeps even from those closest to her. Haunted by the events that forever changed her family, Ana returns to Croatia after a decade away, hoping to make peace with the place she once called home. As she faces her ghosts, she must come to terms with her country’s difficult history and the events that interrupted her childhood years before.

This is another one of those books that I will forever be indebted for other people pushing me to read (specifially – at least- Monika and Shannon). I’m in a funky place right now with my reading and my blogging but Girl at War pierced through that place, quite easily, and took me away from my own difficulties.

The first thing that I really appreciated and liked about this book is that the Yugoslavian civil war, which for Americans, even in collegiate level world history courses is glossed over like it’s no big deal. This book made me feel small as an American — in a good way. I want to know more now about the massacres that took place. Because honestly, there were scenes in Girl at War that felt like they were straight out of a WWII novel/non-fiction book. This was a lesson for me, something that I knew, but that this novel really pounded home for me — that even in a post Nazi world, there are still atrocities taking place. The Yugoslavian civil war happened in Europe, in my lifetime. Why don’t I know more about it?

Another thing that I really enjoyed about this novel was Ana’s desperation and journey to fit in to American society as a refugee, along with the juxtaposition of her sister, who had been sent to America as an infant with no memories of the horrors that happened at home.

The writing in this novel is excellent, like I said I’m in a slump caused by reasons I can pinpoint, and this still was able to awaken me out of my slumpiness and propel me through it in a mere few days. It leaves me to consider what other genocidal atrocities do I know about only for passing conversation.

Compelling, well written, and absolutely readable. This is your must read book for the summer.

Do you feel uneducated about wars that your country hasn’t been affected by, Reader? I also think of all the genocide and civil wars in Africa when I speak of this. Have you read Girl at War yet? Does it sound like your bag?

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Must Read Monday: Boo

Posted 11 May, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Must Read Monday: BooBoo by Neil Smith
on May 19, 2015
five-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.

It is the first week of school in 1979, and Oliver "Boo" Dalrymple—ghostly pale eighth-grader, aspiring scientist, social pariah—is standing next to his locker, reciting the periodic table. The next thing he knows, he is finds himself lying in a strange bed in a strange land. He is a new resident of Town—an afterlife exclusively for thirteen-year-olds. Soon Boo is joined by Johnny Henzel, a fellow classmate, who brings with him a piece of surprising news about the circumstances of the boys' death.

In Town, there are no trees or animals, just endless rows of redbrick dormitories surrounded by unscalable walls. No one grows or ages, but everyone arrives just slightly altered from who he or she was before. To Boo's great surprise, the qualities that made him an outcast at home win him friends, and he finds himself capable of a joy he has never experienced. But there is a darker side to life after death—and as Boo and Johnny attempt to learn what happened that fateful day, they discover and disturbing truth that will have profound repercussions for both of them.

Every part of this book just charmed the pants off of me. From the unique idea that there is a heaven that is populated completely of 13 year-old Americans. To the characters of Boo and Johnny and the repercussions that their quest to find their killer has on them – and the Town itself. While no one ever physically ages in the town, for the fifty years in which they are allowed to stay there the characters age emotionally. It was a stroke of genius for Smith to call ‘heaven’ The Town rather than heaven – because clearly in the novel it’s not.

I know that a book full of dead kids doesn’t exactly sound charming or appealing, but you’re going to have to trust me that as weird as this premise sounds, Smith makes it work. There are many twists in this book that I saw coming, there were a few that I didn’t. The surprising tenderness of the prose along with the affability and friendship of the main characters leaves the reader thinking about this book long after finishing it. 

Despite being about a ‘heaven’ populated by thirteen year olds – this novel is on no level a YA book. Perhaps it could be an appropriate read for kids of upper ages, but I really feel like the tone, style, and themes make this a book that easily fits into the literary fiction category. 

Smith should feel proud of his debut novel, it’s unique, funny, tender, and absolutely enthralling. Go read it, trust me.

Does this book sound too weird for you, Reader? (It’s not, just trust me and go get it.) What do you have this lovely Monday that I must read?

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Woeful Wednesday: A Little Life (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 6 May, 2015 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Woeful Wednesday: A Little Life (A Tournament of Books Selection)A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on March 10th 2015
Genres: Asian American, Coming of Age, Fiction, Literary, Sagas
Pages: 736
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.

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he'll not only be unable to overcome--but that will define his life forever.

It’s inarguable that A Little Life is beautifully written and takes the reader to dark places that most of us would rather not go, which is normally a plus for me, but unlike many readers I wasn’t totally swept away by the this tale.

Not only was A Little Life an incredibly slow start for me (mostly because I didn’t care about most of the early details the characters experienced) but even as I went on I found the book to be increasingly unbelievable. Not so much the horrors that Jude went through, but the incredible good fortune that he kept finding in spite of his past. I’ll save most of that type of discussion for The Socratic Salon.

A Little Life could have probably benefited from some extreme editing, I think it’s about 200 pages too long and has at least three characters that could have been combined into other characters or cut. I love long cradle to grave character study sagas most of the time, but this one just felt… I don’t know, forced? I don’t have a proper adjective.

Have you read this A Little Life, Reader? What did you think? How do you think it will fare in Tournament of Books 2016?

April

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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