Tag: literary fiction


WWII Wednesday: All the Light We Cannot See (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 2 July, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

WWII Wednesday: All the Light We Cannot See (A Tournament of Books Selection)All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Published by Scribner on May 6th 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 371
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.

Marie Laure lives with her father in Paris within walking distance of the Museum of Natural History where he works as the master of the locks (there are thousands of locks in the museum). When she is six, she goes blind, and her father builds her a model of their neighborhood, every house, every manhole, so she can memorize it with her fingers and navigate the real streets with her feet and cane. When the Germans occupy Paris, father and daughter flee to Saint-Malo on the Brittany coast, where Marie-Laure's agoraphobic great uncle lives in a tall, narrow house by the sea wall.

In another world in Germany, an orphan boy, Werner, grows up with his younger sister, Jutta, both enchanted by a crude radio Werner finds. He becomes a master at building and fixing radios, a talent that wins him a place at an elite and brutal military academy and, ultimately, makes him a highly specialized tracker of the Resistance. Werner travels through the heart of Hitler Youth to the far-flung outskirts of Russia, and finally into Saint-Malo, where his path converges with Marie-Laure.

Let’s start with the obvious. That cover. Is it gorgeous or what? I could see this cover on my wall and weirdly, when the reading got slow – I just looked at that cover and thought, this has to pick up, I mean, look at that cover


That’s a nice segue into talking about the story. This book took me months to read, which is very unusual for me. I think that part of me was a little intimidated by it (for reasons I cannot fathom, maybe that cover). So this book was an extremely slow start. It was evident from the outset that Doerr is incredibly talented, his writing is beautiful. That’s apparent from the title and the premise, Marie-Laure is blind and Werner has an affinity for radio – how brilliant is that?

However, I felt like the whole element of the myth behind the ‘Sea of Flames’ diamond was extraneous and kind of took away from the main narrative. That being said, I did find Werner’s time with the Hitler youth and then consequentially his time on the front lines of the war to be absolutely fascinating. 

The chapters are short and told mainly from alternating perspectives of Marie-Laure and Werner, in addition to Hitler youth training we get some perspective of the French resistance in Saint-Malo, I would have also liked to hear more from Jutta’s perspective – she’s a huge part of Werner’s thoughts and I often found myself wondering what she was up to, all alone at the orphanage. 

By the end of the book I became more involved with the characters and fascinated by what was going on in the world. I generally prefer my history to be in non-fiction format, so perhaps that’s why this was a bit of a slow start for me. 

Overall, highly recommended to historical fiction lovers – especially those with an interest in WWII. People who have a strong interest in literary fiction will enjoy this book as well as it is extremely well written. 

Have you read this one yet, Reader? I know there was tons of love for it. What was the last book that you almost DNFed, but powered through and ended up glad you did?

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Best Books of 2013

Posted 30 June, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in

Remember back in December when everyone else was doing their ‘best of’ posts? Remember how I told you that there was too much of that going around so I was going to hold off until June? Okay. Well, maybe I didn’t actually tell anyone you that but I definitely thought it. So, here we are. There are some sleepers here and also some unsung heroes. I decided on eight because… why not eight? Without further ado, in no particular order, here’s my list of the best books (that I read) published in 2013.

  • MaddAddam by: Margaret Atwood – Admittedly this book probably makes the list because it was the thrilling conclusion to quite possibly one of the finest dystopian trilogies ever crafted. MaddAddam doesn’t quite hold up to Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood but it’s still extraordinary storytelling and a fitting end.
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane by: Neil Gaiman – I think that I hailed this book as an ‘instant classic’. I notice that this book is getting some love from TLC Tours and my question is, what took so long?! 
  • Guns** by: Stephen King – This is a short essay by King written in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy. No matter what side of the gun debate that you fall on, there’s something for everyone here.
  • Pastrix by: Nadia Bolz-Weber – A spiritual memoir from an unlikely source and an unlikely book to end up on my ‘best of’ list. But it does! This memoir is beautifully written, compelling, and absolutely touches the heart.
  • The Dinner by: Herman Koch (first published in English in 2013) – I’m a new convert to the Dutch writer Herman Koch. I love his delightfully unlikable characters, the slow burn of his narrative style and most every other technique that he uses.
  • Silk Armor by: Claire Sydenham – I first heard of this book over on Guiltless Reading and the concept struck me immediately. When the publisher sent me a copy I knew that I had to read it. I’m a little ashamed to say that it took me awhile to pick it up because, well, I hate that cover. But it’s a fantastic book detailing what it means to be a woman, veiled or unveiled in modern Turkey. Well written, fascinating characters and a great read overall. I’m going to write a review soon.
  • Hyperbole and a Half by: Allie Brosh – Laugh like a maniac funny, Allie Brosh has a rare talent to be able to speak of the struggles of depression in a way that is authentic, meaningful, and also hysterical. 
  • Deer Hunting in Paris by: Paula Young Lee – Another memoir. There were a lot of good ones that I ran across this year. This book is beautifully written. It’s smart, funny, and importantly different than many other memoirs on the market these days.
**Somewhere in my addled brain I missed the fact that Guns was published in 2012. This is a last minute edit and I’m too lazy it’s too late to change the graphic, so enjoy seven of the best books of 2013 and one fantastic essay from 2012.
So there it is Readers. What were your best books of 2013? Best books so far of 2014? I’ll have that list for you next June. (Spoiler: Go ahead and assume that The Word Exchange is going to be on there.) 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Troubling Tuesday: Summer House with Swimming Pool

Posted 24 June, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Troubling Tuesday: Summer House with Swimming PoolSummer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
Published by Crown/Archetype on June 3rd 2014
Genres: Family Life, Fiction, Literary, Psychological
Pages: 304
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 a medical procedure goes horribly wrong and famous actor Ralph Meier winds up dead, Dr. Marc Schlosser needs to come up with some answers. After all, reputation is everything in this business. Personally, he’s not exactly upset that Ralph is gone, but as a high profile doctor to the stars, Marc can't hide from the truth forever.

Can I strongly recommend that you do not read that full synopsis? I’ll give you a trigger warning that is included in the synopsis though, some of this book does deal with sexual assault, but that portion of the book is not especially graphic – so maybe look at the full synopsis if this is a trigger for you. 

I did not read the synopsis before I read the book, I picked the book up because I so thoroughly enjoyed The Dinner that it was going to be pretty hard for Herman Koch to unimpress me. Summer House did not disappoint. I thought that it was paced well and the narrator (Dr. Marc Schlosser) is just as delightfully unreliable, completely demented, and totally unlikable as the narrator in The Dinner

I liked the meandering pace and tone that slipped in and out of present time, past events, and other recollections. Koch is a master at keeping the line just taunt enough to propel the story forward while at the same time leaving the reader wondering where the hell he’s going with all of this. At the end, I’m still not completely sure – but I know I had a good time.

That being said, Marc is disturbed. His thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are all colored by how disturbed he was and that is – well – disturbing. But I don’t think that we’re meant to like Marc, I think that we’re meant to think about him. Just like The Dinner, I think that there’s something more deep and important to ponder about Summer House that’s lurking just below the surface. This could be a GREAT book club book. There’s LOTS to talk about. Just make sure your book club doesn’t mind deranged.

I can’t wait to see what Herman Koch comes up with next.

We’re back to talking about unreliable narrators, Reader. Can you like a book when you dislike all the characters, what if you really dislike them? 



April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Wishful Wednesday: Bel Canto

Posted 18 June, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Wishful Wednesday: Bel CantoBel Canto by Ann Patchett
Published by Harper Collins on February 17th 2009
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 512
Goodreads
three-stars

Somewhere in South America, at the home of the country's vice president, a lavish birthday party is being held in honor of the powerful businessman Mr. Hosokawa. Roxanne Coss, opera's most revered soprano, has mesmerized the international guests with her singing. It is a perfect evening -- until a band of gunwielding terrorists takes the entire party hostage. But what begins as a panicked, life-threatening scenario slowly evolves into something quite different, a moment of great beauty, as terrorists and hostages forge unexpected bonds and people from different continents become compatriots, intimate friends, and lovers.

The first Ann Patchett that I read was Run and I wasn’t crazy about it. But I kept hearing people rave about Bel Canto so I thought I would give it a spin.

“It seemed to Gen […] that never had a more uncultured group of men been taken hostage. What had they been doing all these years that no one had bothered with such an important instrument?”

I think that it goes without saying that Ann Patchett is a master at her craft. Bel Canto is beautifully written. Patchett weaves together different cultures and countries through music. There’s just a touch of magical realism in the way that Patchett brings the narrative together  by slipping in and out of the perspective of different characters. But she manages to write that slippery perspective without it becoming too intimidating.

All that being said, despite the fact that this is about people being taken hostage, this book has the tendency to drag at times. Those who are not familiar with classical music or opera will probably be able to navigate the waters of musical terminology, but those who are fans will enjoy this book more for it. 

For me, this book was just okay. As I said before it was well written and my previous-life interest in classical music was a pull as well, but unless you just love Ann Patchett, it wouldn’t be my first pick at a bookstore.

I put it in the book club category because I think this would appeal to a certain type of reader and there are definitely heavy themes and a lot to talk about.

What about you, Reader? Do you have a better Ann Patchett to recommend to me?

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Magical Realism Monday: Alias Hook

Posted 16 June, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Magical Realism Monday: Alias HookAlias Hook by Lisa Jensen
Published by Macmillan on July 8th 2014
Genres: Fairy Tales, Folk Tales, Legends & Mythology, Fantasy, Fiction, Historical
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.

"Every child knows how the story ends. The wicked pirate captain is flung overboard, caught in the jaws of the monster crocodile who drags him down to a watery grave. But it was not yet my time to die. It's my fate to be trapped here forever, in a nightmare of childhood fancy, with that infernal, eternal boy."Meet Captain James Benjamin Hook, a witty, educated Restoration-era privateer cursed to play villain to a pack of malicious little boys in a pointless war that never ends. But everything changes when Stella Parrish, a forbidden grown woman, dreams her way to the Neverland in defiance of Pan's rules. From the glamour of the Fairy Revels, to the secret ceremonies of the First Tribes, to the mysterious underwater temple beneath the Mermaid Lagoon, the magical forces of the Neverland open up for Stella as they never have for Hook. And in the pirate captain himself, she begins to see someone far more complex than the storybook villain. With Stella's knowledge of folk and fairy tales, she might be Hook's last chance for redemption and release if they can break his curse before Pan and his warrior boys hunt her down and drag Hook back to their neverending game. Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen is a beautifully and romantically written adult fairy tale.

This book was excellent. I should start by saying that even as a kid I always thought that Peter Pan was obnoxious. Re-watching the Disney film as an adult made me realize that not only was the Pan obnoxious, he was misogynistic and borderline racist. In other words, he was a little shit. 

So I guess you could say that I was a prime candidate for someone willing to sympathize with the notorious Captain Hook. It’s true that Hook’s back story is distasteful and there’s enough in his past that would probably land him on death row in any number of countries still practicing such things. But this story is not ultimately about Hook’s past, it’s about his future. 

I’d love to see this book become a modern classic in the vein of Gregory Maguire’s Wicked. It’s well constructed and the characters are fleshed out and the writing is surprisingly literary. Peter Pan is a little one dimensional, but aren’t all eleven year olds? I think that this is part of the point. Hook’s bull-headedness at the beginning of the book concerning Stella Parrish (definitely a candidate for ‘strong female characters’ lists!) was a bit irritating. I wanted to shake him and say “Come ON, Hook! Can’t you see what’s right in front of you?” Again, the evolution of Hook in this novel is a part of what makes it so enjoyable. English teachers will slap the table and say, “Yes! THIS is what a dynamic character looks like!” (If nothing else, is growing up not an evolution of ourselves?) 

Much like Wicked this is not a novel for children. There are dark themes at play in this book and an undercurrent of despair.

However, this is a book about magic and redemption, the loss of innocence and what it truly means to grow up. 

Highly recommended to those who enjoy the Peter Pan tale, fairy tale retellings, or even people who enjoy magical realism. Fantastic read. 

So Readers, how do you feel about Peter Pan in general? Have you ever though of Capt. Hook as being sympathetic? Romantic? Capable of love? 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Feminist Friday: Good Bones and Simple Murders

Posted 9 May, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Feminist Friday: Good Bones and Simple MurdersGood Bones and Simple Murders by Margaret Atwood
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on June 8th 2011
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, General
Pages: 176
Goodreads
four-half-stars

In this collection of short works that defy easy  categorization, Margaret Atwood displays, in  condensed and crystallized form, the trademark wit and  viruosity of her best-selling novels, brilliant  stories, and insightful poetry. Among the jewels  gathered here are Gertrude offering Hamlet a piece  of her mind, the real truth about the Little Red  Hen, a reincarnated bat explaining how Bram Stoker  got Dracula all wrong, and the  five methods of making a man (such as the  "Traditional Method": "Take some dust off  the ground. Form. Breathe into the nostrils the  breath of life. Simple, but effective!")  There are parables, monologues, prose poems, condensed  science fiction, reconfigured fairy tales, and  other miniature masterpieces--punctuated with  charming illustrations by the author. A must for her  fans, and a wonderful gift for all who savor the art  of exquisite prose, Good Bones And Simple  Murders marks the first time these  writings have been available in a trade edition in the  United States.From the Hardcover edition.

Can I just use all the adjectives to describe this collection? It’s brilliant, funny, surprising, troubling, sad, witty, and amazing all at once. Like all short story collections there are good stories and bad stories. 

The first story that made me sit up and go ‘huh.’ was called ‘Unpopular Gals’ – it was a few vignettes written from the perspective of female fairy tale villains. The evil queen in Snow White, the wicked stepmother in Cinderella – it was delightful in the way that Gregory McGuire’s Wicked is delightful with reimagining these one dimensional women, giving them depth, and making them sympathetic.

‘Simmering’ was flat out funny, creating an alternate universe where the kitchen is solely and completely in the realm of men. It’s a fantastic piece that embodies what the feminist movement is about – and that’s choice. To stay at home, to have a family, to be single, to work. 

‘Liking Men’ is a difficult piece about the struggle of rape survivors to feel some normalcy in intimacy after their attack – and just how long that can take. 

‘Hardball’ is a dystopian story – that if I ever talk to Hugh Howey, I’m going to ask him if it was a starting point of inspiration for his Silo series (You might know the first one as Wool) because it felt very familiar to that. Except, cannibals. 

I took notes on a few more stories that really stuck out for me, if you’re just leafing through the collection I’d recommend that you check out ‘The Female Body’ and ‘Cold-Blooded’ as well. Fantastic collection.

What about you, Reader? Have you read any great collections of short stories recently? How about the short story as a form, do you like it? 

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Monday Marriage Musings: Dept. of Speculation (A Tournament of Books Selection)

Posted 28 April, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Monday Marriage Musings: Dept. of Speculation (A Tournament of Books Selection)Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on January 28th 2014
Genres: Family Life, Fiction, Literary, Psychological
Pages: 192
Goodreads
four-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.

Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all. Jenny Offill’s heroine, referred to in these pages as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophes—a colicky baby, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions—the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art.

I found this book to be extremely enjoyable. It’s compact, but that doesn’t stop Offill from filling the pages with sentiments and themes that could (and have) fill untold volumes. The brevity of this book is perhaps the most remarkable part of it. Offill’s prose is effective and interesting – I’d like to re-read this book in a few months because I know that there must have been deep and important things that I have missed. This little novella almost feels like poetry in the sense that every word Offill used was packed with meaning and every word was necessary. 

What stops this book from being truly extraordinary for me might be chalked up to my own deficiencies as a reader. I should have read this book in a single sitting, but I didn’t. It actually took me three sittings. Perhaps because of this, despite the short chapters, I found myself a little lost. There are a lot of pronouns used and very few proper names. If it’s not a pronoun then it’s a descriptive name, like ‘the almost astronaut’. Because of this, I there were times that I had difficulty trying to figure out who she was talking about and what exactly was going on. (Side note: this is how I sometimes speak of people in real life. When talking to my husband about blogging I’ll often start with, “The book bloggers say…”) I think that a closer reading on my part may solve that issue. 

What about you, Reader? Have you read a novella or short story lately that has moved you? 

 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Tasty Tuesday: The Dinner

Posted 15 April, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Tasty Tuesday: The DinnerThe Dinner by Herman Koch
Published by Crown/Archetype on February 12th 2013
Genres: Family Life, Fiction, Literary, Psychological
Pages: 304
Goodreads
five-stars

It's a summer's evening in Amsterdam, and two couples meet at a fashionable restaurant for dinner. Between mouthfuls of food and over the polite scrapings of cutlery, the conversation remains a gentle hum of polite discourse -- the banality of work, the triviality of the holidays. But behind the empty words, terrible things need to be said, and with every forced smile and every new course, the knives are being sharpened.     Each couple has a fifteen-year-old son. The two boys are united by their accountability for a single horrific act; an act that has triggered a police investigation and shattered the comfortable, insulated worlds of their families. As the dinner reaches its culinary climax, the conversation finally touches on their children. As civility and friendship disintegrate, each couple show just how far they are prepared to go to protect those they love.     Tautly written, incredibly gripping, and told by an unforgettable narrator, The Dinner promises to be the topic of countless dinner party debates. Skewering everything from parenting values to pretentious menus to political convictions, this novel reveals the dark side of genteel society and asks what each of us would do in the face of unimaginable tragedy.

I picked this book up because it was one of the slimmer volumes that was in the Tournament of Books for 2014. I didn’t know a whole lot about it, except it was originally in Dutch. 

I really liked it. I thought it was delightful how the book was broken down into sections such as Apertif, Main Course, etc. Since I’m a foodie going through the motions of an expensive meal is always thrilling in a book. 

But what was really interesting about this novel was how skillfully Koch unravelled his story and the characters behind them. Told in the first person by Paul Lohman, the reader not only gets a play by play of every minute detail of the dinner, we are treated to the innermost workings, desires, and fantasies of someone who seems (over the course of a single meal) to become increasingly unhinged. 

 I’m reading Lolita right now, so unreliable narrators are on my mind. I think Paul Lohman can definitely be categorized as an unreliable narrator.  This book is suspenseful but it’s very subtle about the suspense. The action is fairly limited so it could almost be described as a suspenseful character study – two genres that would seem to be at odds with one another. 

I’ve seen criticisms of this book being too pretentious, I didn’t get that feeling at all. True, none of the characters were overly warm or relatable, which may have hindered the impact that the author was going for – but despite that I was still interested in the characters and wanted to find out what was going to happen to them, and more importantly, who they really were. 

The Dinner was, in a word, delicious.

In my opinion this book was robbed during the Tournament of Books, it probably shouldn’t have won, but I don’t think it should have been eliminated in the first round! 

Have you read The Dinner, Reader? Has anyone read it in the original Dutch? Do you have an unreliable narrator that you love to hate? Or just feel confused about? 
 

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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Fabulous Friday: The Word Exchange

Posted 4 April, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

Fabulous Friday: The Word ExchangeThe Word Exchange by Alena Graedon
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on April 8th 2014
Genres: Dystopian, Fiction, Literary, Technological, Thrillers
Pages: 384
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.

A dystopian novel for the digital age, The Word Exchange offers an inventive, suspenseful, and decidedly original vision of the dangers of technology and of the enduring power of the printed word. In the not-so-distant future, the forecasted “death of print” has become a reality. Bookstores, libraries, newspapers, and magazines are things of the past, and we spend our time glued to handheld devices called Memes that not only keep us in constant communication but also have become so intuitive that they hail us cabs before we leave our offices, order takeout at the first growl of a hungry stomach, and even create and sell language itself in a marketplace called the Word Exchange.

Anana Johnson works with her father, Doug, at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL), where Doug is hard at work on the last edition that will ever be printed. Doug is a staunchly anti-Meme, anti-tech intellectual who fondly remembers the days when people used email (everything now is text or videoconference) to communicate—or even actually spoke to one another, for that matter. One evening, Doug disappears from the NADEL offices, leaving a single written clue: ALICE. It’s a code word he devised to signal if he ever fell into harm’s way. And thus begins Anana’s journey down the proverbial rabbit hole . . .     Joined by Bart, her bookish NADEL colleague, Anana’s search for Doug will take her into dark  basements and subterranean passageways; the stacks and reading rooms of the Mercantile Library; and secret meetings of the underground resistance, the Diachronic Society. As Anana penetrates the mystery of her father’s disappearance and a pandemic of decaying language called “word flu” spreads, The Word Exchange becomes a cautionary tale that is at once a technological thriller and a meditation on the high cultural costs of digital technology.

Guys, GUYS! If you read one new frontlist book this spring let this be it.

Graedon does magical things with words. This book is both beautiful and terrifying all at once. I can hardly believe that this is a debut novel. For a very serious bibliophile and someone with a casual interest in linguistics I found this book to be nearly flawless. The writing is lyrical and the vocabulary used throughout was challenging. (Yes, I realize there was irony in me looking up unfamiliar words on my Kindle version of the OED … though I feel like I navigated the word flu pretty well.)

“The end of words would mean the end of memory and thought. In other words, our past and future.”

The premise is brilliant, but more importantly it’s wonderfully executed. Graedon’s world building is believable and complete. She unfolds the story with expert pacing the reader is held at arms length for just long enough to get acclimated into a world where technology can predict what you want almost before you know you want it. It’s easy to envision Doug as your crazy tin-hat wearing neighbor who won’t get on ‘The Google’ because they’re afraid of technology. (Except Doug is right. It leads you to reconsider the neighbor.) My one minor complaint is that I couldn’t completely buy into the physical transmission of the word flu.

For lovers of print books, journals, and all things analogue, this book is for you. You will feel vindicated. For people think that our technology is outpacing our morality and corporations are exploiting this, this book is for you. For those that feel our privacy has been sacrificed at the altar of convenience and that the world is a bit too connected these days, this book is for you.

When I got my first iPod I hated having to click through songs that I wasn’t in the mood for, in my youth I used to dream about the days that technology would just know what I wanted. The Word Exchange turns that dream into a very frightening reality.

“It was only when I finally gave it up for good that I realized just how much I’d ceded to the Meme: of course people’s names and Life information (numbers, embarrassing stories, social connections) but also instructions for virtually everything […] Getting rid of it was like cutting off a hand or breaking up with myself. Only later did I feel truly horrified that for years I’d invited something to eavesdrop on me. And not just my gainful breathing apparatus but the careful, quiet thicket of my thoughts.”

God. Does that sound like social media or what?

This book epitomizes why I hate (and the imminent danger of) expressions like “totes adorbs”. Seriously folks, are the extra syllables really that taxing on you? Western society is increasingly lazy, allowing machines to think for us, and if we fail to inoculate ourselves against the rising tide of internet acronyms, ‘easy speech’, and emoticons – something close to the world laid out in The Word Exchange will inevitably fall upon us. (Super guilty here on excessive smiley faces in casual text and online conversation.)

“How could we miss words? We were drowning in a sea of text. A new one arrived, chiming, every minute.”

Now it’s no secret that I do like my tech gadgets – especially when it comes to reading (most days I’d rather read an eBook than a real one…) but I do still read books.

True story: My ability to spell has declined embarrassingly since I bought a MacBook that underlines every spelling mistake that I make – I just right click that misspelled word and have the computer correct it for me… if I’ve come close enough for the computer to even recognize it. While I don’t have aphasia yet … let’s not even go there, it’s too scary.

I want this on all the Best of 2014 lists. This might be the best book I’ve read in years. This is the kind of book that I want to hand out on street corners. Go try it. Don’t be afraid of footnotes, they’re really not that copious. Don’t be afraid of the vocabulary – that’s part of the point. Just read it, then come back and tell me what you think.

Have you read The Word Exchange? I’m interested in other thoughts, even if you don’t agree with me! 


 


P.S. Dear Doubleday: My birthday is very close to your release date. A signed first edition would not hurt my feelings. 🙂

April @ The Steadfast Reader

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WASP-y Wednesday: The Divorce Papers

Posted 19 March, 2014 by April @ The Steadfast Reader in Reviews

WASP-y Wednesday: The Divorce PapersThe Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger
Published by Crown/Archetype on March 18th 2014
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, Humorous, Literary
Pages: 496
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.

Twenty-nine-year-old Sophie Diehl is happy toiling away as a criminal law associate at an old-line New England firm, where she very much appreciates that most of her clients are trapped behind bars. Everyone at Traynor, Hand knows she abhors face-to-face contact, but one week, with all the big partners out of town, Sophie is stuck handling the intake interview for the daughter of the firm’s most important client.   After eighteen years of marriage, Mayflower descendant Mia Meiklejohn Durkheim has just been served divorce papers in a humiliating scene at the popular local restaurant, Golightly’s. Mia is now locked and loaded to fight her eminent and ambitious husband, Dr. Daniel Durkheim, Chief of the Department of Pediatric Oncology at Mather Medical School, for custody of their ten-year-old daughter Jane. Mia also burns to take him down a peg. Sophie warns Mia that she’s never handled a divorce case before, but Mia can’t be put off. The way she sees it, it’s her first divorce, too. For Sophie, the whole affair will spark a hard look at her own relationships—with her parents, colleagues, friends, lovers, and, most important, herself.

So, personally, I enjoyed most of this book. It’s stylistically unique in that it’s written solely in legal memoranda, e-mail, statutes, and other legal documents. (I think there’s even some faux case-law in there.) The primary story – the divorce between the upper middle class Durkheim’s is interesting enough but some of the secondary stories seem extraneous and don’t add a whole lot to the narrative. Mainly, the love-life of Sophie just feels contrived and maybe something put in there to appeal to the ‘chick-lit’ crowd.

The story of Sophie’s parent’s divorce added to the book, it’s easy to see the author was drawing parallels between the Durkheim divorce and the impact that Sophie’s own parent’s divorce had on her as a child. That sub-plot was thoughtful and interesting.

My other concern with this book was that at points it felt like lazy writing. Since most readers who are not trained or employed in the legal field have very little experience reading case law and statutes I think that this could be a bit off-putting. Most readers aren’t going to take the statutes in the book and then actively apply them to letters from the client to try and guess how Sophie will structure the divorce negotiations – it seemed like filler. Personally, I just skimmed these sections they didn’t add anything to the narrative. I felt the same way about the divorce worksheets that appear several times throughout the novel. Lists of assets, requests for alimony, it’s snooze-ville for a ‘regular’ reader… give the reader (the same way you would a client) the big picture.

It’s difficult to figure out who to recommend this book to. Legal professionals may not want to come home from reading legal-ese all day to read a novel filled with it, people outside the legal profession might find it too full of jargon to follow easily.

I enjoyed it well enough… maybe you will too?
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April @ The Steadfast Reader

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