Tag Archives: fiction

The Monsters of Templeton – Lauren Groff

No particular reason for picking this one up – it was just on the shelf and I felt a little light on my library selections that week.

I enjoyed it (NY Times Review). Essentially, the story of a girl who moves back home after some disastrous life choices and tries to figure out the mystery of her paternity.

It had a few things going for it, for me. The girl was an archaeologist (although that barely factors in), the story was peppered with “photographs” of the characters (from the author’s personal collection) and I really liked some of the characters.

What I didn’t love was that while some of the characters were enjoyable, there were sudden changes in personality that I didn’t quite get – or backstory just didn’t add up. Also, and this is more due to my attention span than poor writing – but the author does one of those things, where there is this whole 2nd or 3rd story, told by another generation, sometimes in letters – that just loses me. I admit, I skimmed through entire chapters here. I probably missed something crucial or enjoyable, but I really hate having to entirely switch gears like that. So, I kind of cheated.

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Devilish – Maureen Johnson

Okay, I love Maureen Johnson. Not only have I met her in real life (NAME DROP! she is friends with a friend – who this book is actually dedicated to!) but I just think she is a really fun YA writer.

Maureen describes Devilish:

At St. Teresa’s Preparatory School for Girls in Providence, Rhode Island, rebellious senior class genius Jane Jarvis is worried about her best friend Allison Concord. Ally is lovable, but a little clueless, and badly in need of Jane’s help. She needs to get a freshman “sister” at the school’s annual Big-Little celebration. When Ally blows it (rather literally), Jane knows that they are in for a rough few weeks.

She has no idea just how rough they will be.

Strange things start happening in Providence. Hail storms rip into the city. A strangely polite gourmet in a silver roadster turns up every time Jane turns around. A freshman guy from neighboring St. Sebastian’s starts to stalk her. A lanky, cupcake-loving sophomore transfer steps into their lives to save the day . . .

Then Ally begins to change. She looses the awkwardness that Jane has always known and loved and becomes the model of cool. Things don’t go as well for Jane, and she soon winds up facing the threat of expulsion and ruin.

But these are only the beginnings of much bigger problems. Jane’s life is about to get much worse. Ally claims that she sold her soul, and Jane throws herself on the line to get it back. But this battle is big. A crowd of strangers is about to descend on Providence, and they’re not there to go on a campus tour of Brown.

It’s Jane versus the demons, and nothing is what it seems. There will be perfume bottles, dogs, explosions, dancing, death, badly misused textbooks, ex-boyfriends, very long falls, unusual weaponry, and lots of sugary snacks before it’s all over.

Hey, you do what you have to do. Everyone knows high school is hell.

Not really sure what else to say. I love YA, sassy, brilliant heroines and “Glory” style demons (c’mon, you have to watch Buffy, right?). It was cute, it was well-written and it made me laugh and want a cupcake. Then again, most things make me want a cupcake.

The cutest part, was that this was a library book, and some kid wrote on the cover page “Maureen Roxs! Get her other books!” and (s)he listed them all out. It was cute! Note: Vandalizing library books = not cool.

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The Gravedigger’s Daughter – Joyce Carol Oates

I may have read “Blonde” but I think this is the first Oates book I have read. I don’t want to say too much about it, because I am pretty sure that most of my readership is also in my book club, and this is this month’s pick. But, for posterity’s sake:

At the beginning of Oates’s 36th novel, Rebecca Schwart is mistaken by a seemingly harmless man for another woman, Hazel Jones, on a footpath in 1959 Chatauqua Falls, N.Y. Five hundred pages later, Rebecca will find out that the man who accosted her is a serial killer, and Oates will have exercised, in a manner very difficult to forget, two of her recurring themes: the provisionality of identity and the awful suddenness of male violence. There’s plenty of backstory, told in retrospect. Rebecca’s parents escape from the Nazis with their two sons in 1936; Rebecca is born in the boat crossing over. When Rebecca is 13, her father, Jacob, a sexton in Milburn, N.Y., kills her mother, Anna, and nearly kills Rebecca, before blowing his own head off. At the time of the footpath crossing, Rebecca is just weeks away from being beaten, almost to death, by her husband, Niles Tignor (a shady traveling beer salesman). She and son Niley flee; she takes the name of the woman for whom she has been recently mistaken and becomes Hazel Jones. Niley, a nine-year-old with a musical gift, becomes Zacharias, “a name from the bible,” Rebecca tells people. Rebecca’s Hazel navigates American norms as a waitress, salesperson and finally common-law wife of the heir of the Gallagher media fortune, a man in whom she never confides her past.

I didn’t love this. I found that it was almost a difficult story to follow, because Oates’ language and writing gets in the way of her own story. I think the same themes kept getting hit on, but never really clearly enough for me to feel moved or attached.  The story is told in three (or four?) parts, and I found that I really liked the first and last – but the entire middle (and really, meat) I couldn’t find myself emotionally invested.

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Water Witches – Chris Bohjalian

I think this is the second or third book I have read by this author. The first one I read, I really really liked (Midwives). The second one (Before You Know Kindness), also with an environmental theme, I remember enjoying reading – but had to look up what it was about on BN.com.

I fear that this third one will fall into that same “oh yeah, that was okay” category.

In a moving, life-affirming novel suffused with ecological wisdom, a Vermont ski resort’s plans for expansion collide with environmentalists seeking to preserve a mountainous wildlife habitat and riverine ecosystem. Narrator Scott Winston, a transplanted New York City lawyer who represents the ski resort, switches allegiance after he and his nine-year-old daughter spot three mountain lions in an area targeted for clearing. Complicating matters is the envy that Scott’s pragmatic wife, Laura, a native Vermonter, feels toward her famed sister, Patience Avery, a dowser (water witch) who also opposes the ski resort and whose talent for locating underground springs, missing persons or lost objects with a divining rod figures prominently in the novel’s denouement. The struggle between the developers and their opponents culminates in an environmental board hearing that has all the dramatic excitement of a courtroom trial. With wit, insight and mordant irony, Bohjalian charts Scott’s metamorphosis from rationalistic materialist and skeptic to one who believes in higher powers and the interconnectedness of all life. In a refreshing twist, instead of offering a bucolic idyll, the author takes us through a Vermont beset by drought, a declining ski industry, unemployment and endangered ecosystems.

I don’t know about life-affirming or ecological wisdom, but it was a good book. It’s a little heavy-handed on the “there are two sides to every issue!” and “kids are amazing, innocent beings” but overall – nice. That’s really the best I could do – nice.

One thing I did enjoy about it, and this is the kind of stuff I will remember is the little glimpse into the world of “dowsing.” I knew very little about water-dowsing or this group of practicing diviners (divinators?) and probably won’t investigate further but I feel like I got a little glimpse into something, and somehow, knowing my life, this will probably come in handy one day during an inane conversation.

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Revenge of the Spellmans – Lisa Lutz

I totally forgot to blog about this book. I think I read it last Wednesday or Thursday?

I love this series, and read the second in it almost exactly a year ago. To briefly recap, the premise of the story is that it’s the adventures of a family of private investigators. In this one, Rae is more grown up and it focuses more on Isabel and her figuring out if she wants to take over the family business, or leave altogether.

I really enjoyed it, because I love the characters and the writing – but I am a little worried that this series is running out of steam, a la Stephanie Plum. I think the ongoing love quandry has been resolved in this one, but if it isn’t, its going to peter out and get boring like Morelli and Ranger in the Plum series. And the little sister is written kind of oddly. She was always a strange character, but now we are supposed to believe she is seventeen – and now the weirdness just seems really irritating.

I don’t know if there is going to be a fourth in this series, and if there is – I would read it.  But I almost wish Lutz would end the story here, and start something else that I could fall in love with.

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The Namesake – Jhumpa Lahiri

This was suggested for our office Book Club, and came highly recommended by my friend Jill, but didn’t make the Book Club cut. That never stopped me from reading something!

Originally a novella published in The New Yorker and later expanded to a full length novel. The book explores many of the same emotional and cultural themes as Lahiri’s Pulitzer Prize-winning short story collection Interpreter of Maladies. Moving between events in Calcutta, Boston, and New York City, the novel examines the nuances involved with being caught between two conflicting cultures with their highly distinct religious, social, and ideological differences.

I know this is disappointing to poor Carolann who agrees that my reviews have been somewhat lackluster lately, but I don’t feel like I have a lot to say about this book. I thought it beautiful, and I felt a little like I was reading a classic. The language and imagery all pretty – but I don’t know if the story will stick with me, or if I have any burning desire to see the movie (apparently, that was just released?) I would like to learn more about some Indian or Bengali customs, but that’s really the only thing that I took from this.

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Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman

Since I enjoyed American Gods so much, I put another Gaiman book on the list (and yes, I am following @neilhimself on Twitter).

I liked this one. Not loved it, but liked it. I think he has a very, very specific writing style, that if you aren’t really in the mood for it, can be annoying.

The synopsis from BN.com

Neil Gaiman, the genius behind “The Sandman” graphic novels — which Norman Mailer called “a comic strip for intellectuals” — delves into novel-length fiction with Neverwhere, a wild and mesmerizing story set in a bizarre and chilling underground London. Neverwhere begins innocently enough: It’s the story of Richard Mayhew, a plain man with a good heart. Unhappy in love and in life, Richard is thrust into a dark and evil world when he stops to help a young girl he finds bleeding in the street. Now Richard has much more than work and girlfriend dilemmas on his mind — now he’s wanted by two very evil, powerful, and nasty mercenaries who like to think that they are, in fact, rather gentlemanly.

I think I just have read a lot of dystopian, homeless, otherworld type books – so this kind of lost it’s “wow” factor for me. And speaking of otherworld, I did this weekend-long LARP-type thing a year or so ago, called … Otherworld. And it was awesome and all that jazz, but it’s funny because the more popular sci-fi/fantasy writers I read, the more and more I see references to certain characters in nerd events in my past.  In a way, it’s cool because I can “see” the characters very clearly in my mind’s eye.

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