Posts tagged with "literary fiction"

Posted by Auntie Anne. on 05/27/11
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I looked up the meaning of "goon squad" in the online Urban Dictionary.  There are many definitions, besides the traditional one of hired thugs.  The definition that best describes this book is "a group of slightly sketchy males, who drive fast even in [crumby] cars, wear aviators, blast music and smoke. The difference between these men and bros (besides the smoking) is that inside members of the goon squad have hearts of gold."
 
A Visit From the Goon Squad is, at first glance, a series of short stories about a group of people involved in the music industry.  The first few chapters are difficult reading because the characters are ones you don't feel compelled to care too much about.  They are train wrecks.  Each chapter takes place in a different setting and time - New York City, San Francisco, a safari in Kenya, Naples, the Arizona desert.  Each chapter also has its own style and voice - one spoken like a Bay Area punk rocker, one revealing forward flashes to future tragedies of members on safari, one a PowerPoint Presentation diary of a 12-year-old, one largely comprised of text messages.
 
As confusing as it begins, the author's talent as a writer draws you into the characters, revealing to her readers why some characters are such train wrecks, why others rise above their past.  You begin to see how all the characters are inter-connected in some way, and how each has influenced the lives of others.  You feel compelled to read on . . . until you get to the last chapter, where you realize the book has come full circle, but in the present, not the past where it started out.  As one editorial review from Publisher's Weekly so aptly stated, "This powerful novel chronicles how and why we change, even as the song stays the same."
 
A Visit From the Goon Squad is indeed powerful, written in a creative, unorthodox style.  Worthy of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction?  You decide.

Posted by Ultra Violet on 03/01/12
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A beautiful operatic soprano is set to be the star attraction at a gala event, when terrorists attack the home of a Japanese ambassador and hold the array of wealthy,  priveledged guests as hostages. Patchett writes complex characters and creates interesting relationships between the captives and their captors. Lyric Opera of Chicago just recieived a commision as part of the Renee Flemming Initiative for creating an Opera of Bel Canto. Instead of a well-established composer, Lyric has chosen young, Peruvian-born composer, Jimmy Lopez, to create the score and Sir Andrew Davis will be conducting.  WFMT has the story. December 2015 will be the premier. Certainly looking forward to this one!

Posted by dnapravn on 06/13/13
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I’ve been a fan of Kent Haruf’s novels since Plainsong came out in 1999. His newest novel, Benediction, is written in his sparse, hauntingly beautiful style and does not disappoint.
 
Like his other novels, Benediction is set on the high plains of eastern Colorado in the fictional town of Holt. Seventy-seven year old hardware store owner “Dad” Lewis has just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. As his wife, Mary, and daughter, Lorraine, work to make his last days as comfortable as possible, we become witness to what Dad treasures most in life. We learn of his secrets as well as meet the members of his community who rally around both Dad and his family.
 
This is a beautifully written book about a man’s last days. Beyond that though, it is a book about love and regret and the ties that bind us together. If you have never read a Kent Haruf novel, I urge you to give one a try.
 

Posted by Auntie Anne. on 05/18/12
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In this sequel to Wish You Were Here, Emily Maxwell is adjusting to being a widow, living alone, mourning not only her husband's death but the upsetting changes in her quiet Pittsburgh neighborhood. Like any grandmother, she looks forward to the Christmas visit from her children and grandchildren. But when her best friend and sister-in-law, Arlene, ends up in the hospital, Emily has to face another change in her life.  Since Arlene had driven her everywhere, Emily now had to drive herself.  So she buys a new car and reluctantly becomes a much more independent person. These small events in Emily's life have an unexpected effect, making her a much stronger person, one that looks forward to what life has to offer, even at the age of 80.
 
Stewart O'Nan has a talent for putting life under a microscope, enabling his readers to understand their own lives.  What may seem very ordinary becomes a heartfelt examination of human nature and the milestones of one's life.  O'Nan's sympathetic portrayal of characters such as Emily Maxwell gives them dignity, as he makes readers privy to their thoughts, motivations, and dreams.  If you like literary fiction that is slower paced, written in a lyrical, richly-detailed but spare style, you will enjoy Emily Alone.

Posted by Auntie Anne. on 08/05/12
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"Let me tell you something, son. When you’re young, and you head out to wonderful, everything is fresh and bright as a brand-new penny, but before you get to wonderful you’re going to have to pass through all right. And when you get to all right, stop and take a good, long look, because that may be as far as you’re ever going to go.”  This is the advice given to 5-year-old Sam Haislett, the speaker of which should have heeded his own advice.

Charlie Beale was a handsome, charismatic 39-year-old war veteran in 1948 when he wandered into sleepy Brownsville, Virginia.  He carried with him two suitcases, one full of money, the other full of knives.  Charlie liked what he saw in Brownsville and decided to stay.  He talked the local butcher into giving him a job (hence the suitcase full of knives), and soon he became well-liked by the townspeople, and adored by young Sam, the butcher's son.  The day that beautiful, young Sylvan Glass walked into his life, Charlie Beale was never the same. "She went off in his head and his heart like a firecracker on the 4th of July."

Sylvan Glass was the teenage wife of Boatie Glass, the richest, greediest, and most mean-spirited man around. Sylvan was raised in a backwoods berg to dirt-poor parents who were sadly desperate enough to sell her to Glass.  Although she had no education, Sylvan was wily enough to reinvent herself into a Hollywood starlet wannabe, fashioning her new persona from movie magazines and afternoon matinees.  So when Charlie, along with young Sam always in tow, entered her life, she saw him as a means of playing out her fantasy life.  Unfortunately, Sam was always there as an innocent witness, reading comic books at Sylvan's kitchen table, while she and Charlie were upstairs. It's obvious from the start that this flirtation can come to no good.  And the reader gets a personal accounting from adult Sam Haislett who narrates tragic events of the story.

Heading Out to Wonderful reminded me of a runaway train. It started out nice and calm, even passing some beautiful scenery along the way.  But soon enough you realize that the train is out of control as it picks up speed.  You're hoping that the crash won't be that bad because you have become invested in the book's very well-developed and interesting characters. Then comes the crash, and, wow, you never saw that one coming!

A Booklist reviewer says that Goolrick, in Heading Out to Wonderful, "creates a mesmerizing gothic tale of a good man gone wrong." It is mesmerizing indeed, a book you won't want to put down.  It is implied at the beginning of the book that Charlie Beale had somewhat of a checkered past, and I sure would like to have found out where he got all that money in his suitcase.  The author unfortunately bypasses those key bits of information.  But other than that, I give this book two thumbs up.


Q

Posted by Ultra Violet on 10/22/11
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A New York man is continually visited by future versions of himself each dispensing advice or warnings. Through all of the craziness of being manipulated by himself, the only thing that he can count on is his unrelenting love for one woman. A strange, funny and charming story.


Posted by Pam I am on 07/19/11
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State of Wonder is an epic journey into the remote Amazon jungle filled with mystery, deception, and peril.  Ann Patchett, award-winning author of Bel Canto writes beautifully and her descriptions of the jungle transport the reader right into exotic and terrifying Brazil. 
 
Marina Singh is a 42-year old medical researcher working for a Vogel Pharmaceutical in Minnesota.  Vogel is on the verge of releasing a revolutionary drug that extends a woman's fertility into old age.   The drug is being researched and developed by recluse, Dr. Annick Swenson, in the far reaches of the Brazilian jungle.  Swenson lives among the Lakashi tribe where she studies them eating the bark of an indigenous tree and astonishingly are able to get pregnant well into old age.  The book opens with Marina receiving the devestating news from Dr. Swenson that her colleague, Anders Eckman  has died of a fever.  Eckman had been sent by Vogel to monitor the drug development and to urge Dr. Swenson to ready the drug for release.  Abruptly, Marina is sent to Brazil to find out what happened to Eckman and to bring the drug to market.  At the same time, Eckman's wife believes that her husband is not dead and persuades Marina to find out what happened to him.  Marina then begins her strange odyssey into the Amazon jungle and is faced with insects, snakes, and much more.  The New York Times Sunday Book Review writes, " It’s a task straight out of classical mythology: bring back the head of the Gorgon, the Golden Fleece, or, in Marina’s case, the potion conferring everlasting fertility and the dead husband’s watch. As in the myths, she must be ready to outwit tyrants, behead monsters, charm cannibal tribes"
 
The pacing and descriptive prose make the reader feel like you are living in the jungle and practically swatting away the insects yourself.  This book would be a great book for a book discussion as it brings up issues such ethics of science, personal discovery and redemption.  The writing is rich and vivid and engages the reader on every page. 

Posted by mingh on 03/08/11
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Swamplandia! is the name of a fictional theme park in the Florida Everglades. For many decades, the Bigtree family has run the park offering alligator wrestling and a spectacular finale with the Mother of the Bigtree family high diving into a pool of alligators. The whole family helps out running the concessions, the lights, the snack shop and the museum.
 
When the Mother dies, the family scrambles to keep together and to keep Swamplandia! from dying also. With no spectacular finale and an alternate theme park that just opened, the attendance has fallen to zero. The Father runs off to the mainland presumably to work on some investment deals for the park. The oldest brother, Kiwi, who has always dreamed of living and going to school on the mainland, also leaves to fulfill his dream and make money for the park. That leaves 13 year old Ava and her 17 year old sister Ossie at home to run everything. When Ossie falls in love with a ghost and runs off deeper into the Everglades, Ava sets off with a mysterious man to help find her and bring her back.
 
The book alternates chapters between the sisters story and the brother/father story. So much responsibility falls on little Ava. But a girl raised on surviving alligators has a lot of strength and that is what keeps the reader enthralled in this dark story of a girl trying to keep her family together.

Posted by Ultra Violet on 02/13/11
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I don't think this book could "fall through the stacks", or at least if it did, it would leave a serious dent. The Instructions is the biggest book I have ever seen on our fiction shelves at 1030 pages. More astonishing is that the story only covers a time period of four days.

Posted by Auntie Anne. on 05/30/12
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Betty and Joseph Weissmann had been happily married for nearly 50 years, or so Betty thought, when Joseph announced that he wanted a divorce to be with his girlfriend, Felicity.  Thus dumped and turned out of her luxurious Manhattan apartment she called home, Betty crash lands in a rundown Westport, Ct. beach cottage, relying on the smothering kindness of Uncle Lou.  To make matters worse, both Betty's daughters run into their own streak of bad luck, and move in with Betty.   Literary agent Miranda must file bankruptcy after it's leaked that some of her authors' steamy memoirs were in fact fiction. And Betty's other daughter, Annie, is so deeply in debt she can no longer afford her apartment. Once they move in with Mom, both girls promptly fall in love—Annie rather awkwardly with the brother of Joseph's lover, and Miranda with a lothario actor quite a bit younger than her. In true Jane Austen style, mischief and mayhem runs regretably over these romantic relationships as the three women figure out how to turn their lives around.

The Three Weissmann's of Westport has been labeled a modern-day homage to Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.  It's a very well done read-alike, I might add.  Her characters are engaging, humorous and sad all at the same time.  This book is full of wit and wisdom that will bring a smile to your face and a tear to your eye.