Category Archives: Adult Fiction

The Most Beautiful Woman in Town (Charles Bukowski) – Review

The most beautiful woman in town & other storiesThe Most Beautiful Woman in Town & other Stories by Charles Bukowski
Age: Adult
Genre: Short Stories, Dirty Realism
Publisher: City Lights, 1967 -1983
ISBN 0872861562
240 pages

Find this book at your local library 

I read Bukowski’s The Post Office three years ago, and I really enjoyed the honest and gritty writing style. 3 years later…and this collection of short stories really didn’t go over well with me. The stories were pretty formulaic: a man drinks, has sex, gambles, drinks some more, is constantly being put down by “the man”, and has more sex.

Some of the stories were gems and had the potential for some depth. Some of his lines were like poetry; the most beautiful woman in town was like “fluid moving fire.”  That was the first story in the collection, and incidentally my favorite one of the bunch.

For the most part, I felt that the shock factor of the stories wore off halfway through, and the rest of the stories just seemed to ramble and become repetitive.      All of these stories were written over a span of time in various newspapers, serials and magazines. You could really tell, because there was no common thread and some of the stories just felt like Bukowski didn’t have any heart in it. Most of the stories are set in Los Angeles, although even those set in other cities followed the same format.  At best this book should be read in small sections over a large span of time, rather than all at once.

Aftertaste (Meredith Mileti) – Review

Aftertaste : a novel in five coursesAftertaste: A Novel in 5 Courses by Meredith Mileti 
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction / Chick-lit
Publisher: Kensington
ISBN: 9780758259912
373 pages
Source: Publisher / LibraryThing Early Readers

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Mira Rinaldi had it all as co-owner of the popular New York restaurant Grappa,  a spacious apartment, and brand new baby. In one night, she lost everything when she caught her husband having an affair with one of their employees. Between the anger management classes and divorce proceedings, Mira’s emotional outbursts set in motion her loss of her restaurant and her New York lifestyle. Somehow, Mira is left to pick up the pieces and find a new outlet for her passion for cooking and create a new life for herself outside of New York.

I really enjoyed reading this book. I loved the passages on food, and I thought Mira’s character was full of intricacies and emotional issues that didn’t make her just the victim or just the victor. The supporting staff of characters, although somewhat cliché and predictable, did a good job of balancing the crazy that engulfed Mira’s life after she found her husband cheating on her.

The book is divided into 5 sections, each named after an Italian course. One thing I noticed, and I actually sort of want to go back and do an actual count, is that it seemed like there was wine being drunk like it was water. I found it particularly odd that Mira consumed so much wine as she was still nursing baby Chloe. It felt the characters were drinking wine in nearly every chapter, whether with lunch, dinner, or a mid-night snack.

While I don’t think Mira made the best choices in the beginning of the novel, she does take accountability for her decisions and realizes the consequences of her actions. After moving back home to live with her dad, she is aware of how her behavior is hurting those around her, but is unable to stop it because she is so frustrated with her life.

The story is paced very well, its conversational, not rushed but didn’t drag either. This really gave the reader a chance to get to know the characters and see the character development in Mira. An added perk is that Mileti included a number of the recipes mentioned throughout the book.

This book would be a great read for book clubs because of the content, the recipes and the included discussion questions in the back of the book.

  Book 7

The Final Solution (Michael Chabon) – Review

The final solution : a story of detectionThe Final Solution: A Story of Detection by Michael Chabon
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction / Mystery
Publisher: Harper Perennial
ISBN 9780060777104
131 pages

Find this book at your local library 

Having retired  to the English countryside, an eighty-nine-year-old man, rumored to have once been a great detective, spends more time tending to his bees than interacting with the people in his small town. It isn’t until the day that nine-year old Linus Steinman, escaped from Nazi Germany, wanders into his life that the old man is finally pulled out of his shell. Linus is a mute with a sole companion of an African gray parrot who constantly recites a series of numbers in German. Soon after the arrival of Linus and Bruno, the bird, a viscous murder takes places in the small town, and the old man is pulled into the foray of the investigation, lending a hand towards finding the killer.

Although I’ve never read any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works, it didn’t take long for me to figure out that the eighty-nine-year-old man, who remains nameless throughout the entire book, is most likely Sherlock Holmes. The setting, the time frame and the mannerisms, of which I’ve only heard about, all seem about right.

Although only a meager 131 pages, some of which are illustrations of certain scenes and characters, this mini-novel has the typically expected twists in a whodunnit book. Although I was fully engrossed by Chabon’s effortlessly descriptive prose, I felt that many elements were lacking in this book in regards to the plot. At times the story felt jumpy, there would be a series of progressions without any explanation. There wasn’t much character development with any of the characters other than the old man. I didn’t attach or care about any of the characters, except the old man. Even the young boy, with his tragic history, was left dull and dim in the shade of the old man’s glow. Granted, the old man was given the most attention, so maybe this was Chabon’s intention? There is a chapter at the end, told through the perspective of the parrot that I really enjoyed and felt was the best written segment of this book.

I’d say that for anyone curious about Chabon, this would be a good introduction book. Its short enough to not be a big commitment, and its a good way to get a feel for his writing style. Although I felt that this book could and should have been expanded in many ways, I still enjoyed it, particularly the sense humor and wit infused in the dialogue.

Nine Stories (JD Salinger) – Review

Nine StoriesNine Stories by JD Salinger
Age: YA/Adult
Genre: Fiction / Short stories
Publisher: Little Brown Books, 1948
ISBN 0316769509
198 pages

Find this book at your local library 

Nine stories is a collection of short stories written by JD Salinger, author of Catcher in the Rye and Franny and Zooey. It is in this collection where the Glass family, the main constituents of Franny and Zooey, is first introduced. In the next eight stories, we meet and get to know characters with an assortment of mental and physical ailments, and self-discoveries.

I really, really enjoyed this collection of stories. My favorites being To Esme – With Love and Squalor, The Laughing Man and De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period. A common thread through all nine stories is the mood of desperation, of frustration and of muddled identities. The characters felt very real, not idealized. They felt like real people with real issues starting to overflow into their everyday lives.

I found To Esme – With Love and Squalor to be a particularly haunting story about the effects of war on an individual. The ending of that story particularly stayed with me. It is so simply written, but packs so much punch and commentary on the state of war and the mental and physical drain it can take on an individual. From the one line note about a twitch on the face, to a shaky hand, the subtle differences from the first half of the story to the second half create an overall dreadful vision.

This collection of stories, like most of Salinger’s books, can and should be read over and over again. I know that the next time I read one of the stories, I’ll discover something new about one of the characters or catch a new allusion or reference. Although I wasn’t the biggest fan of Franny and Zooey, I did find myself more interested in the Glass family in the story A Perfect Day for Bananafish, which starts off the book.

The stories are fairly short, 20-30 pages tops. The shorter stories were my favorites. So much packed into so few pages always amazes me. Salinger also had a gift of eloquently ending the stories. I felt satisfied at the end, but still wondering what would happen next. The stories weren’t abrupt or jumpy. There was an easy flow from one story to the next, nothing felt out-of-place.

Read the book in one go, or read one story at a time, either way, this book should be read.

Falling Together (Marisa de los Santos) – Review

Falling togetherFalling Together by Marisa de los Santos
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: William Morrow
Source: Publisher
ISBN: 9780061670879
360 pages

Find this book at your local library 

Pen, Cat and Will met on the first day of college and soon became an inseparable trio. Best friends through thick and thin through college. After parting ways in the aftermath of a major fight, Pen and Will each receive an uncharacteristically bland e-mail from Cat asking them to come to the college reunion. When Pen and Will arrive, they find out that there is more to Cat’s e-mail than they thought. Sent by Cat’s husband in hopes of finding out where Cat is, the three unlikely partners set off to find their best friend/wife all while working through the issues of the demise of their friendship.

The book is told mostly through flashbacks with Pen as the dominant focal point. Although I like the use of flashbacks to fill in gaps, I felt that this book was filled to the brim with them. The reasons that the three friends broke-up felt weak, nothing that should have sustained 6 years of silence between the three. I also felt that Pen was very emotionally unstable, but in a way easy to relate to. Having to learn to deal with the grief of her father passing away expectantly, I could readily relate to her. Granted, she is no Cornelia Brown. Maris de los Santos did a good job of creating characters that could be easily approachable by any reader. From emotional Pen, to free-wheeling Cat, and frat boy Jason. I’m not sure what 1-word descriptor to use for Will…any suggestions?

I read the book in one day, I wanted to know what was going to happen next. What was the next clue to finding Cat, would they find her, and where would they find her?

The romance set up in the beginning of the novel between two of the characters was pretty predictable, but in no way less enjoyable to see unfold. I did find that the progression of Pen and Will’s relationship to heavily mirror that of Cornelia Brown and Teo Sandoval from Love Walked In.  I found the ending of the book to be somewhat disappointing though. Mostly in regards to Cat’s character. So much of what we know about her is told through flashbacks, and nostalgic reminiscences for about 90% of the novel. Cat is made to seem larger than life (despite her physically small size). This fell flat for me towards the end of the novel. It felt as if the characters were too reliant on their own views of Cat to really see her for what she is.

There are elements in this book that make it a good read, but there are also elements of the book that make it frustrating and disappointing. Fans of Marisa de los Santos’ previous works, Love Walked In & Belong to Me, will appreciate her unique and wonderful writing style. The plot of the story was what bugged me the most, even though I kept reading to see what would happen next. The story felt unbelievable, although the characters felt real, if that makes any sense.

 

October Reading Recap

October has been an interesting month. My reading tastes have been incredibly sporadic, although memoirs in some form or another have dominated this month.  For the first time I don’t have any pre scheduled reviews.

I’m not really sure where I am with my initial goal of predominately reading the books from my bookshelf. I think that kind of fell to the wayside about 5 months into the year. At least I’m doing a good job of reading all the new books plopping on the bookshelf this year. I’m just not very far reading all the books that were there pre 2011. C’ est la vie.

October Books Read & Reviewed

Wildwood Under the Tuscan sun : [at home in Italy] Heist society

Evil plans : having fun on the road to world domination Blankets L'Amante Anglaise by Marguerite Duras

Franny and Zooey. The night circus : a novel Uncommon criminals

Geek girls unite : how fangirls, bookworms, indie chicks, and Other misfits are taking over the world The flaneur : a stroll through the paradoxes of Paris A year in Provence

Moneyball : the art of winning an unfair game

Reviewed in October

  1. Wildwood by Colin Meloy
  2. Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes
  3. Heist Society by Ally Carter
  4. Evil Plans by Hugh McLeod
  5. Blankets by Craig Thompson
  6. L’amante Anglaise by Marguerite Dumas

Read & Reviewed in October

  1. Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger
  2. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  3. Uncommon Criminals by Ally Carter
  4. Geek Girls Unite by Leslie Simon
  5. The Flaneur by Edmund White
  6. A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle
  7. Moneyball by Michael Lewis

The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern) – Review

The night circus : a novelThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Age: Adult
Genre: Magical Realism / Fiction
Publisher: Doubleday, 2011
ISBN: 9780385534635
387 pages

Find this book at your local library

The circus appears without warning, mysteriously arriving in cities around the world for a span of 13 years starting in 1886. As the circus travels, it grows and develops more tents of illusionary magic to amaze all the viewers. Open from midnight to dawn, the circus is filled with an aura of magic that leaves the reveurs wanting more. At the center of the Cirque de Reves (Circus of Dreams) are Celia and Marco. Bound by a binding spell from their youth, Celia and Marco engage in a challenge, a show-off of skills and talents using the circus as the venue for their feats.

I liked this book, but I didn’t love it as other readers and bloggers have. As her debut novel, I think Erin Morgenstern did an amazing job creating this magical world and I look forward to her future endeavors. She created intricate and detailed characters in a world equally complex. There was a lot of character development over the course of the novel, which I always look for in books. The pacing was fantastic. Although a lot happened in each chapter, I never felt as if the story was rushed. This book was the perfect read for a rainy day, it definitely has that dreary and dark atmosphere throughout the entire novel. Perhaps because almost all the scenes take place in the middle of the night.

The setting was unique, but also reminiscent of Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. I loved the struggle between the magicians, as well as seeing Celia’s and Marco’s relationship develop and evolve over time. I even found the ending to be appropriate, given the restraints and the anticipated outcome of the battle of skills between Celia and Marco. I loved Celia’s character for her strength, her vulnerability and her persona. Marco…I didn’t like as much. I found him manipulative, and not very trustworthy. The twins were a joy to read about, I wish there had been more time spent on them…perhaps in a future sequel to the novel?

What kept me from loving this book? Bailey, for one. I never understood his role in the novel. Why was he so special? Each chapter had a date and time, and the novel jumps back and forth in time before finally meeting together at the end. I found that confusing at times, because it often paused the flow of the novel while I skipped back chapters to check facts and make sure everything was still aligned (which it always was). The last thing that prevented me from loving this book was the vagueness of the rules of the challenge. The whole point of the challenge was revealed slowly over the course of the dozen or so years of the circus. It was frustrating for both Celia and Marco as they were kept in the dark as much as the reader.

I’ve heard rumors of this novel already being optioned for the big screen. I would love to see Edward Norton pick up the role of Marco, although I’m not sure who should play Celia.

Book 56 of 2011

I have a fondness for magical realism books, especially those involving magic and magicians. I’ve put together a list of titles that have a similar mood/theme as the Night Circus for those that want more of this genre:

BOOKS

Water for elephants : a novel  Vaclav & Lena : a novel  Swamplandia!

The autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb  Prospero lost   The man from beyond : a novel

Carter beats the Devil : a novel  Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell  The art of disappearing

  1. Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen
  2. Vaclav & Lena – Haley Tanner
  3. Swamplandia – Karen Russell
  4. The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb – Melanie Benjamin
  5. Prospero Trilogy – L. Jagi Lamplighter
  6. The Man From Beyond – Gabriel Brownstone
  7. Carter Beats the Devil – Glen Gold
  8. Jonathon. Strange & Mr. Norrell – Susanna Clarke
  9. The Art of Disappearing – Ivy Pochoda
  10. The Tempest – William Shakespeare

Franny and Zooey (JD Salinger) – Review

Franny and Zooey.Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger
Age: Adult
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Little Brown Books, 1955
ISBN: 0316769495
202 pages
Find this book at your local library 

College student Franny Glass un-expectantly drops out of college and moves back home with her parents and older brother Zooey in the midst of an emotional and religious breakdown. Under the pressure of his mother, as well as his innate brotherly affection, Zooey steps in and tries to make sense of Franny’s religious upheaval.

I think for people who loved the pomposity in A Confederacy of Dunces, this book will be a welcome addition to the bookshelf. I’m still not quite sure where I stand. This is the first thing of Salinger’s I’ve read sans Catcher in the Rye. From my research, Salinger’s collection of shorts, Nine Stories, primarily centered around the Glass family. The Glass family is a rather large collection of incredibly brainy children who make repeated, if not constant, appearances on a radio show, It’s A Wise Child. Franny and Zooey is a further extraction of those characters from Nine Stories.

Franny has gotten her hands on a religious book, and is seeking to find ultimate spiritual fulfillment, but the road she travels leads her away from her family, her friends, and her interests and hobbies. Zooey steps in to try to help her make sense of the process, and put her transformation in perspective.

I found both Franny and Zooey to be annoying, and pompous in the “I’m better than you and everything and everyone else is below me and far too boring to retain my interest” vein. I could see why Salinger created characters like this. The brainy children who can see through the mundane norms of everyday life. This self-proclaimed elevated status was a drudge to read through, particularly the scene with Zooey and his mother chatting in the bathroom. I was very tempted to just stop reading the book, I was so frustrated with the mother for not getting a hint. I was also frustrated with Zooey for his rude demeanor with his mother. I just found the entire character list to be unlikable, from Franny’s ordinary boyfriend, to Zooey’s child-actor ego, and their father’s obliviousness to anything negative in their lives. For me, there was nothing to balance this skewed view on society. The commentary seemed too one-sided with nothing to counteract the Glass children’s view on society.

Book 55 of 2011

This book was a selection from the Rory Gilmore Reading List

L’amante Anglaise (Marguerite Duras) – Review

L'Amante Anglaise by Marguerite DurasL’amante Anglaise by Marguerite Duras
Age: Adult
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Pantheon Books, 1967
ISBN 0394750225
122 pages

Find this book at your local library 

A grisly murder takes place in a small town in France. A body is dismembered and pieces of the body are dropped off a railway viaduct onto the passing trains below. Told through three individual interrogation sessions, we learn about the murderer, and try to figure out why the murder took place.

I wavered on this book. Despite its small size (only 122 pages), it took me a while to get through this book. Mostly, it took me a while to pick up after I set it back down. The interrogation sessions involved four people: the nameless questioner; the owner of the bar where the arrest/confession took place, Robert Lamy; the husband of the murderer and the murderer herself, Pierre Lasnes and Claire Bousquet.

The format of the book is written more as a play than as an actual novel. The questioner’s lines are written in italics to differentiate the two identities. The characters remain faceless, with no descriptive features. All we know about the characters are what they tell us. This definitely makes for an interesting psychological novel. Claire is the most interesting and complex character, but she meant to be the most mysterious one. Solitary, quiet, introverted, and yet somehow pathological at the same time. What’s scary is the setting of the small town, of the precise measures Claire took to dispose of the body and how easily she could have managed to escape and never be caught had it not been for a slip of the tongue.

I found out after finishing this book that it was based on a true story of a murder that took place in rural France. Duras originally wrote a play based on the story, and then later a book based on the play. Perhaps that’s why this book reads more like a play than an actual novel. It’s a quick read, but definitely calls for a lot of afterthought and retrospection.

Book 54 of 2011

When She Woke (Hilary Jordan) – Review

When she woke : a novelWhen She Woke by Hilary Jordan
Age: Adult
Genre: Dystopia
Source: Algonquin Books
Publisher: Algonquin Books
Publication Date: October 4th, 2011

When Hannah Payne awoke, her skin was colored red. She had been chromed. Her skin was altered with a virus that changed the skin pigment to indicate the nature of her crime. Alone in a cramped cell, televised for 30 days for the public to view, Hannah relives the crime she committed that sentenced her to more than a dozen years of punishment. The crime? Adultery and having an abortion, something illegal in her home state of Texas.

As a retelling of The Scarlet Letter, I found that Jordon did an amazing job with When She Woke. This book also reminded me of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.  I couldn’t put this book down, I wanted to know what was going to happen to Hannah Payne. She goes through many channels of change, internally as well as externally. Hannah questions her faith, her family and all those around her. Set in a not to distant future, Jordan set up an oppressive environment that is actually not to far off the mark at the moment. Women’s rights are in question, or non-existent in the Christian community that Hannah was a part of in her former life.

I loved how well Jordan handled religion and extremists in this book. She balanced the left with the right, and sent Hannah through a search for a faith that best fit her, not a faith that was forced upon her. The only thing that bothered me was Hannah’s sudden deep introspection of the people around her. The author never clearly explained why Hannah all of sudden could guess people’s ulterior motives and see through their lies. The author even makes note of this a few times throughout the book with Hannah wondering where her naive views dissipated to.

I’ve already informed my bookclub that this will be our October book choice. I’m very eager to hear their points of view about the book. There are so many talking points in this novel, it has endless possibilities. Women’s rights, cruel & unusual punishment, abortion, religion, politics, self-awareness, metamorphosis, violence, etc.

Find this book at your local library 

Book 46 of 2011