Blog Archives

Room (Emma Donoghue)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The parts of this book that are good are flat 0ut amazing. The first half of the book in particular is riveting. Told entirely from the perspective of a 5-year-old boy (Jack) who is trapped in an 11ft by 11ft room with his mother, both of them held captive by a kidnapper/rapist Jack refers to as Old Nick, their daily routines, discovering what their world entails (and what it doesn’t), is just mesmerizing. However, the second half (spoilers ahead), from the escape attempt to everything that comes after becomes, quite often, frustrating. It feels like what our narrator understands (and doesn’t) isn’t growing so much as shifting/jumping back and forth (and it’s completely unclear how much of this is intentional versus meant to shown the narrator’s confused state). The pacing necessarily feels slower, and though I still finished it, it was far less compelling. Still a very well written, creative, emotional read, just ended on more of a whimper (especially compared to the fantastic opening).

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Posted in Literary Fiction

Unwell

Unwell is a literary novel, self-published by a friend of ours, edited by friends of ours. While we would definitely recommend it, we cannot do so without first admitting our bias!

Still, if you’d like to check it out, the link is here.

Also, her author site is mariechow.com

Check it out!

Posted in Literary Fiction

The Sun Also Rises (Ernest Hemingway)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
If you haven’t read this perennial Hemingway before, and are wondering if you should… well… I’m not sure what to tell you. I recently had an excuse to reread it, and I can totally see why high school English teachers are always assigning it. It has a lot of subtext, and a lot of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments. The dialogue is crisp, the writing clear. But… if I were reading it without knowing it were Hemingway, would I give it a rave review? Probably not. Are there modern books that are just as good (if not better) that were influenced by this? Almost certainly. Worth reading on its own merit? Maybe.

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Without (Donald Hall)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
I don’t read much poetry… but what poetry I do read tends to be by Donald Hall and a handful of others. This is without a doubt my favorite single work by Hall, though it is lean, sparse, and an emotional roller coaster.  Scratch that, roller coasters have ups and downs, this is a more of an emotional spiral into all of the edges and dimensions of love, death, and grief at its rawest. It is one of my favorite all time collections.

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The Painted Bed (Donald Hall)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is a relatively short collection by a poetry master. Though I don’t often read poetry, when I do pick up a collection, it almost always has Donald Hall’s name on it. This is not my favorite by him, but it’s very, very well-written. Detailing the years directly after his wife, Jane, passed away, this is his second collection dealing with the emotional desolation of losing his mate. I prefer Without, and feel like this is almost its ugly stepsister… but still, if I hadn’t been comparing it to Without, I’m sure I would have rated it (even more) highly.

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The Whore’s Child and Other Stories (Richard Russo)

1.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
On the one hand, Russo is a talented writer (a Pulitzer winner) who has a melodic style that I never regret reading… on the other, I feel fairly strongly that Russo’s far more suited towards long novels than the short story format. (In fact, I think that’s a direct correlation between the length of his work and my enjoyment of it). Though there are interesting characters here (a Belgian nun who’s the titular character of the collection, a photographer who learns more about his wife after she’s dead, and so on), there just isn’t enough depth developed in the characters or plot lines to really move me. As a whole, the collection feels a bit like something that was published to capitalize on his Pulitzer, as opposed to a work that would have stood up on its own.

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Different Seasons (Stephen King)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is a collection of four different novellas, and I don’t think that they all deserve 5 out of 5 star ratings, but I think that the first, Hope Springs Eternal, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, is worthy of that rating, and makes the entire collection worth buying. Overall, this is a superbly written tome, with different subject matters and storytelling styles… the characters are thoroughly compelling (three of these have been turned into movies, some of which were Oscar-nominated), and the writing is somehow both crisp and evocative.

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Empire Falls (Richard Russo)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is one of my favorite books — frighteningly believable characters who are flawed, layered, and so easy to relate to. These are characters who are middle aged and older, trying to live with the mistakes they made years ago: dropping out of college because of a crush, affairs, unrequited love in many forms… and also trying to reason through a variety of parenting decisions. The town that serves as the setting for this book has its own story to tell — a blue-collar town that is on its last legs.

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The Piano Teacher (Elfriede Jelinek)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
In 2004, the controversial Austrian author Elfriede Jelinek won the Nobel Prize for Literature for her novels and plays addressing violence against women, sexuality, and politics. I first read her work in 2008. I went on a feminist rant and whined that I wanted to read something gutsy written by a girl. A friend recommended Jelinek’s The Piano Teacher, translated from the German. I read the book and then I bought the movie on DVD.

Given the Nobel, I went into both the book and the film expecting to be impressed. (Whether that was a correct or incorrect expectation is a topic for another day.) But after all, a Nobel is a daunting achievement. Well, rest assured, this writer is daunting. She has no mercy. She’s not just gutsy – she’s all guts. And she is decidedly not for everyone, maybe not even for most. If you crave an inspiring, empowering girl-meets-world book – run away. If you want a feel-good movie, run away faster. This is a dark story. If you don’t have an agenda, stick around – it does get interesting.

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You Are Not a Stranger Here (Adam Haslett)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is a beautifully written collection of short stories that explore mental illness, death, depression, homosexuality, and how we experience our own pain, as well as the pain of others. The descriptions are sparse yet powerfully compelling, and the stories that work will stay with you, pulling you in and forcing you to feel the turmoil the characters are experiencing. Though there are some weak stories here and there, the powerful stories are more than worth the purchase price of the collection as a whole. One of my favorites… though it is a bit of an exercise in misery, with all of the stories being tragic, tragic, tragic..

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