Blog Archives

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.

Read more ›

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Literary Fiction

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.

Read more ›

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Literary Fiction

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.

Read more ›

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Literary Fiction

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.

Read more ›

Tagged with: ,
Posted in Literary Fiction

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..

Read more ›

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Literary Fiction

The Yellow Birds (Kevin Powers)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:

The Yellow Birds is the debut novel of Kevin Powers, a veteran of the Iraq War with an MFA in Poetry. The book enjoyed billing this past season as the first great literary fiction to emerge from this war, but it seems many reviewers graded it on a curve (presumably) because of its subject matter and source. Politics aside, The Yellow Birds is not this generation’s war classic. It is, however, a new author’s formidable display of talent and potential – a tight, lyrical first chapter followed by a fractured narrative of 10 more chapters, much of it beautifully written, some of it problematic. Powers proves his enviable ear for language, and applies it well in many places, but overall the work lacks cohesion, and the lovely lyricism can be overwrought, especially when it stands in place of clear plot points and authentic characterization.

Read more ›

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Literary Fiction

Willful Creatures (Aimee Bender)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Bender’s writing is heavily stylized, and her situations make up a large part of the story’s effect – often they are metaphors for some more overriding emotion or experience, and sometimes it’ll click, sometimes it won’t. In general, I’m a fan: I think her prose is crisp and clear, and I can buy into the mystical universes because her characters are often, partially because they are featureless and nameless, more fully characterized and realized by their actions and what limited background we get.This collection however, is kind of hit and miss. It’s enjoyable at times, but nothing really stood out (unlike some of her other works) and nothing was grab-my-attention memorable.
Read more ›

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Literary Fiction

The Casual Vacancy (JK Rowling)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
As others have pointed out, this is not Rowling’s first book for adults (she’s written seven others previously, and their titles all begin with Harry Potter and the), but it IS the first book she’s written that requires multiple trigger warnings (see spoilers below).  This is definitely not the Potterverse, but fans of Rowlings will find her humor, her large cast of different, believable characters, and her deftly interwoven storylines have carried through.  The book begins with the sudden death of Barry Fairbrother, who holds a seat on the Pagford Parish Council, and follows the inhabitants of the small town of Pagford through the aftermath of his passing, which has created the titular casual vacancy on the council.  While this sounds rather dull compared to wizards fighting epic battles, the magic here is in Rowling’s ability to bring characters to life and have them interact with each other in fascinating and believable ways.  She has answered the question of whether she can write non-Potter books with a resounding “Yes!”
Read more ›

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Literary Fiction

Noah’s Wife (TK Thorne)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This book is a wonderfully plotted, concisely written, enthralling blend of adventure, romance, fantasy and (lots-of-creative-license-taken) history. It begins a bit slowly: our heroine Na’amah is a young, innocent girl who takes a bit of patience to get used to initially (she’s just that green and naive). But… and this is a big but… like a classical concerto, it really builds, and though the anticipated flood (the title does after all refer to Noah’s wife) is one of the climaxes, it is not the only highpoint — there are several, very well plotted twists throughout the novel. I thought it began fairly well (like I said, a little slow, but still very readable), built up rather quickly, and by the middle, I was thoroughly entranced. The characters Thorne has created here are wonderfully complex, layered, and memorable, and this is absolutely one of the best books I’ve read this past year.

Read more ›

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Literary Fiction

Referred Pain and Other Stories (Lynne Sharon Schwartz)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Referred Pain introduces us to an eclectic group of protagonists and situations; some are surreal and fable-like. “Twisted Tales” and “The Stone Master” have unnamed protagonists trying to shift their way through imagined and imaginary fears and foes and have traces of Aimee Bender’s fantastical fiction.  The stronger works in this collection, however, focus on the everyday domestic situations and dramas which, often against the will of the readily recognized and empathy-inducing protagonists, are shaped by everyday crises. Like any collection, there are ups and downs, but overall, I laughed and empathized with many of the characters here, making it a worthwhile read.
Read more ›

Tagged with: , ,
Posted in Literary Fiction