Tag Archives: fiction

Read: The girls: a novel by Emma Cline

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Wow. What a quirky, quick read. The girls: a novel by Emma Cline captured my attention With its cover and piqued my interest with its praise but I finally picked it up once I read the synopsis. As an enjoyer of true crime shows and dramas, and a love of Capote’s In cold blood, this book was a perfect fun read for me. Since it is also about a young girl growing up fast and becoming more adult sooner than she should have to, it reminiscent of Lullabies for little criminals, although this novel is no where near as bleak or dismal of a life.

Cline’s writing style reminds me of Ernest Hemingway’s short, sparse, tactile sentences. On the page, they look so simple and plain, yet they convey a lot of story within them. For example, this paragraph covers much more in the periphery around the text beyond just what is written:

I imagined Suzanne and the others would be happy with me for bringing this new person. Expanding our ranks, all the old tricks. A pie-faced admirer to raise his voice with ours and contribute to the food pool. But it was something else, too, that I wanted to extend: the taut and pleasant silence in the car, the stale heat raising vapors of leather. The warped image of myself in the side mirrors, so I caught only the quantity of hair, the freckled skin of my shoulder. I took on the shape of a girl. The car crossed the bridge, passing through the shit-stench veil of the landfill. I could see the span of another distant highway, sided by water, and the marshy flats before the sudden drop into the valley, the ranch hidden in its hills.

The type of novel that best describes The girls is a coming-of-age tale about a 14-year-old girl in the late 1960s in California. But that alone doesn’t do the novel justice because the plot of the story is her experience and involvement with a cult that commits a horrific, brutal, multi-casuality murder in the name of their leader Russell. It’s clear that the inspiration for the story is Charles Manson and the Manson murders yet Cline makes this story her own with its unique qualities and characters. Evie, the main character, narrowly avoids committing the murders, unbeknownst to her. This of course affects the rest of her life, always hinging on the worry of “what if” and “would I have” constantly replaying over and over in her mind. There is also an unending fear of harm from others, as she realizes that anyone at anytime can be violent, which leads her to like with another constant fear of being a potential victim. Her morality is clear and yet at the ranch with Russell, her chosen role-model Suzanne, and the others, she stifled it on purpose and put on self-created blinders as she wanted to badly to be a part of their rag-tag, misfit family.

The inner turmoil becomes apparent as the novel progresses. This paired with the no-nonsense writing style gives the novel a sense of honesty as Evie sorts through her past experiences as an adult, trying to understand what happened better. The story itself is written in first person, bringing the reader closer to Evie, and it switches between present day and her past which shows how these memories are triggered and continue to affect her current being and responses to the world. She clearly is not over the fact that her “friends” committed this terrible crime, her guilt of knowing, and her inner struggle of whether she would have joined in or maybe even stopped them from committing the murders.

From the beginning, the murders are key but through the novel they never take center stage. Small details creep in here and there. Sure, there is a few sentence about the gore of the crime and the acts perpetrated but it is never the focus. The sense that the reader gets is that the public know all of the details and so the reader does too, and any facts that Evie recounts are just her memories surfacing as she deals with them.

The girls book cover
Recommended?: Yes. I’m sure that most people would really enjoy it. There are some illegal activities of the underage minors and brief descriptions about few forced sexual acts and murder details but for the most part it is just a story about teenage struggles growing up during a time in which kids had more freedom to roam and less parental monitoring (especially since technology isn’t what it is today). It’s also a pretty quick read and the main character is sympathetic so it is easy to care about her and desire to understand her past along with her.

P.S. I sure am getting use out of my public library! The next few reviews will be from there as well–I had a compulsion of book borrowing recently and need to get through them all before they are due!

Read: Purity: a novel by Jonathan Frazen

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Jonathan Franzen is a favorite of mine. With each consecutive novel, I love his writing and storytelling even more. Purity: a novel delves into a very different family story, which compliments the narratives of Freedom and The corrections, providing yet another take on the makeup and dynamics of the American family. With each of these three novels, Frazen focuses on different life milestones: aging parents, marriage drifting apart, and now all-consuming first love.

One of the main reasons that I enjoy Franzen is his writing style. This novel feels lighter and more easy-going than his other novels, although it is just as serious and thought out. It is more readable, which is a term I like to use because to me it feels really descriptive but perhaps it is not entirely clear to everyone what I mean. His word choice and pacing of the story are so well done that despite its large size it reads very quickly. One sentence pulls you along to the next, and the plot entices you to continue to read on even if it is quite late at night.  There is also a lot of action in the story, including a murder which I believe is new to a friends a novel, although I haven’t read his early ones. Usually his characters are just dealing with life as it comes or recanting the past but there is a lot of present conveyed as each character gets a chance to tell their own piece of the broader story.

Another reason is the depth of his characters. He really considers and conveys multiple, interesting aspects as he writes about his characters in such a way that it truly makes them feel real. Well the main character, who the entire story revolves around her origin, is a young millennial girl who has taken out $130,000 worth of student that could read on the surface as a boring person to write a novel about but the way in which he crafts her personality, quirks, and flaws makes her human instead of a caricature that she could have ended up being from less skilled writer. Throughout the novel, Purity matures with each experience and as she learns about her past, showing how much she has grown as well as her understanding of the world at still such a young age. The same can be said about the rest of the cast of characters. In a way, this reads like a non-fiction account of crazy yet plausible events and family life, with all of the joys and complications.

Franzen always writes amazing stories about family dynamics, but he has truly outdone himself with Purity. The plot itself seems very disparate and yet pieces begin to link up with each passing chapter, slowly but surely and by the very end it has all come together into one integrated tapestry. At first it seemed a little hokey that everything would fit in so neatly but as the story unfolds, the motivations and actions of characters become more clear and understandable. However, it is the ending that is truly moving and like no other that I have read. It is my favorite of all time and will stay with me into the future. What a feat!
Recommended?: Yes! If you have ever wanted to read a Jonathan Franzen novel, this is the one to start with. His other novels, or at least the two previous, are more literary and somewhat more challenging reads. In addition, he offers a lot of commentary on the current workings of the world, the media, and the obtrusiveness of the Internet in our everyday lives. It is a very timely novel, relevant to today on many levels. Even if you don’t want to read a Franzen novel or perhaps weren’t such a big fan of a previous work of his, you should still read this book. It is a great one and such a treat! I most likely will read this one again, which is something I rarely say.

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Read: A game of thrones by George R.R. Martin

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I must admit, I have watched the HBO tv show for years but only recently was I intrigued enough to read A game of thrones, book one of a song of fire and ice, by George R.R. Martin. What finally convinced me was my desire to know how the show differed from the novels, especially since the more recent seasons have taken liberties and are veering further away from the original storylines.

Growing up, fantasy was my favorite genre yet it is not one that I really read these days. A game of thrones certainly fits within that genre, however, it pushes beyond any of the novels that I have read. Martin obsessives over the little details of all parts of the story, including politics, appearances versus reality, and above all represents each main characters perspective within how they see the world and know its history. He isn’t just telling a story, he is crafting a living, breathing world like no other writer than I’ve known (thus far).

While there is a plethora of characters, several in this first book are main characters, with each chapter switching between them, even parents and children which gives the story much more depth than other novels. There are no dichotomies and no one is all good or evil. Each one makes choices and decisions, whether guided by emotions or rationality or a mix, and this allows them to become some of the most complex characters in fantasy. Even though this is his first book of the series, it is obvious that Martin has spent many, many hours dreaming up the world of Westeros, Essos, and Sothoryos, which is to the delight of the reader.

Like most fantasy novels, the plot propels itself through action, making it a compelling quick read, though it may take a while to finish. Now, having seen the tv show, that may certainly affect my view on this novel and its readability. The story and characters are not new to me, as they otherwise would be. Instead, reading the book after watching the show does fill-in gaps that I didn’t realize that I had, such as the fact that Jorah is a Mormont. Yes, I know that they saw he is in the show but it got lost in the wave of everything else so it didn’t click until I read it on the page. Also, there is a lot of plot that I had forgotten over the seasons.

I wish that I have read the novels first although my husband finds that knowing the broader story and characters already help him delve more deeply into the novels and keep everything straight. For me, though, I find myself waiting for the plot points that I do remember to come along, many of which are clearly in the succeeding books. It is interesting to be revisiting the story despite this being my first read, however, it spoils it for me since I know what happens eventually to which characters. Very odd to know their fate way before I should as a reader. Having either always read the story/book a movie/show was based on or never intending to read it (The notebook, etc.), this is a first for me and I am not enjoying the experience. Now I want to complete all of the other books before the next season is released, which my timing works out well because the latest season ended recently. Although, I better get reading if I’m going to accomplish that feat!

 

Recommended?: Yes, especially for fantasy fans. Compared to the to show, it isn’t as graphic with the sex and violence but there is some; visual mediums beg for their full use and these days special effects and CGI are particularly good. Likely best enjoyed by adults, though some high schoolers might enjoy it as well, to better understand the motivations and reasons behind the characters. I feel that being older and reading this lets me reflect on it more fully than I would have growing up.

 

Fun and informative resources:

Interactive map of Westeros, Essos, and Sothoryos that shows where certain main character are and when: http://quartermaester.info 

Fansite for novels and tv show: http://www.westeros.org

Read: 1Q84 : a novel by Haruki Murakami

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What if your world changed ever so slightly but affected every aspect of your life? In Haruki Murakami’s novel 1Q84, Tokyo shifts a couple of degrees but several characters lived are upheaved as they deal with the consequences while everyone else has no idea that the world has changed.

The story is told by two main characters, and towards the end a third. Each chapter alternates from Tengo, a math tutor and an aspiring writer, and Aomame, a personal trainer. The novel is split into three parts and in the final part, the third character that shares his perspective is Ushikawa, a private detective tasked with finding Aomame. The year is 1984 and as the year progress, their two stories become more entwined. Unknowingly, they both take on the mysterious cult Sakigake by their own means and abilities, banding together in the end to try to return to the world of 1984 that they knew before the turn of events.

Having only read one other book by Murakami, The wind-up bird chronicle, it is hard to say if this is like other works of his. 1Q84 was an easier read, many times mystery or adventure carried the story along at a quick pace. Murakami’s charm in describing situations and people in concise and powerful images pervades this novel too, however, it felt like it was written with a more mainstream audience in mind than Wind-up. In addition, sex and sexual relationships play major roles in this novel, which is very different from his other novel. While it is a lengthy, almost 1000-page book, it feels much shorter as the pages turn enjoyably with great ease and delight. Perhaps wonder and curiosity are better descriptors, as the parallel world that Tengo and Aomame find themselves in is full of the unexplained and sometimes unbelievable despite the reality of the situation.

Even though this is a translated work, it’s not something that I thought about (other than wanting to hone my Japanese to read Murakami’s work in his native language at some point). A story is a story, even if it’s translated. However, due to the press and attention that this novel received, paired with the fact that Murakami is becoming ever-more well-know as an author, there’s an interesting article about the translation process. Peter Gabriel and Jay Rubin both translated the novel, with Rubin doing the first two books and Gabriel the third. To me, it read as a coherent translation by one person so they did a great job maintaining style throughout.

Not only did Murakami craft yet another intricately plotted novel with compelling characters, the design of the English translation is stunning. The dust jacket has cut-outs of 1, Q, 8 and 4 so that you can see the photos beneath of a woman on the front and a man on the back cover. The spine has 1 and 8 printed on the jacket while Q and 4 are on the book spine, giving depth and illusion to it. There are also black and white moon and cloud photos printed in the inner front and back cover as well as headers for the three book sections. Most odd/charming of all is the fun his has with page numbers. On one side, they will be printed backwards (reverse) and on the facing page they are normally. Then occasionally the sides swap and then change back, alternating as well throughout the novel. Again, the physical book carries added experiences that an ebook cannot fully capture. Since I went on vacation while reading this book, I checked out the ebook from the public library but as soon as I got home, I switched back to my physical copy to finish it.

 

Recommended?: Yes, for anyone interested in Murakami but doesn’t know what to read of his first. Granted, this is certainly an adult novel, with many sexual scenes. The story and the mystery in the parallel world are hallmarks found in Wind-up as well so if you like this one, you will enjoy that one too if you are up for the challenge. And for those who try 1Q84 and find it’s not for them, then you can at least say that you read a Murakami novel.

Audiobooks: the case of the missing verb

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As part of my goal to read more this year, I have added audiobooks to my list. Podcasts make up a large part of what I listen to, outpacing music a while ago, and it ranges from fiction to news to non-fiction. However, audiobooks never really interested me. Audiobooks on CD were okay for car rides but I always reverted back to podcasts or music.

This year, I have already finished three: two Sherlock short story collections and most recently H.G. Well’s The time machine. Perhaps these titles are best suited for audiobooks as they are engrossing yet fairly short, not more than 200 or so pages which is still a few to several hours. It’s been a habit of mine to blog about the books that I read, mainly as a record for myself but also as a way to take the chance to pause and consider the work and what I meant to me. For audiobooks, they just feel different and I have been unsure about posting review for them.

Part of what has held me back from reviewing is that completing an audiobook does not provide the same closure for me as finishing a book (print or electronic). So using the term “read” seems a little out of place, as to me it still implies a visual component. Yet the term “listened” connotes that it is less than a book when in fact the only difference is that someone is reading it aloud to me. I listen to podcasts and I listen to music. It doesn’t convey the right sense that I want. It’s as if there is a missing verb that is needed to describe completing an audiobook.

Maybe I am getting bogged down on the semantics–it’s my job to be down in the details all day long and it’s a trait that I have had all of my life, noticing and fixing them. Could I review the audiobooks that I completed? Of course! The work is the same, the writing is the same, the only difference from a text copy is that it is spoken word. Why should that change the way I intake and contemplate the story?

Well, the first thing is that I am always doing something else when an audiobook is playing. Whether it’s cooking or knitting or walking, additional attention is elsewhere. When I read a text copy of a book, I always give it my full attention. I’ve tried to multi-task the same way as with audiobooks but it’s impossible. Which is the point–in order to focus on a work, it must have the full attention it deserves. Perhaps that is why audiobooks feel different to me, because I am treating them different and not giving them the complete attention that they deserve. But what then is the point of an audiobook if not to free up my hands and occupy my mind while I do something else? If I were to play an audiobook and do nothing else expect listen to it, I think I’d stop the audio and prefer to pick up a text copy to read it myself.

Second, I love words. I love savoring a story, lingering over a page for a while, reading and re-reading a beautiful passage just to enjoy it all the more. With audiobooks, they rush through the story without pause, one track or disc seamlessly switching to the next. Sure, it can help get through a book more quickly. A couple of my first audiobooks were for the second and third The girl with the dragon tattoo series, which I might not have finished in a text copy; the audiobooks kept me going and I felt that I better understood popular reading culture at the time because of it.

What are your thoughts? Do you have a good verb for audiobooks or prefer to use either “reading” or “listening”? For more pondering on the topic, here are two articles to give you more food for thought: The Guardian and Writer’s Edit.

For now, I will probably not review audiobooks. While I have already finished three so far this year, they are a small part of my reading diet. If that changes, or you all want to have me post review of them, I could be persuaded to review the audiobooks. I just need a better verb for them.

Read: Welcome to Night Vale: a novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

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Based on the podcast of the same name, Welcome to Night Vale: a novel is just as delightfully odd and furthers a couple of plot lines from the podcast while still being self-contained as a story. Now, since I listen to the podcast and was up-to-date when I began the novel, I found it easy to get hooked since I already love the premise and know most of the characters in the book. I cannot say if it would be harder to read without having listened to the podcast first. Welcome to Night Vale is absurd and bizzare, which the book portrays right from the start so it’s apparent to the reader what they are in for. This is part of its charm but it might be too odd for some.

Let’s begin with the obvious difference: the podcast is presented as community radio news by Cecil with occasional guests, so he is the voice of Night Vale, covering all of the current events and oddities of that day. I was concerned about how the novel would be structured but Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, who write the podcast, have kept the feel the same which is an impressive feat. While most of the novel is  a typical linear story, Cecil gets occasional chapters throughout that are written as a script and in a different font to help distinguish them. While some aspects of the podcast aren’t possible in book form, such as the weather (Cecil plays a different song for it in each podcast–another nonsensical feature), it feels similar enough and, for podcast listeners, Cecil’s voice likely narrates those sections as you read them to yourself anyway. It’s a smart format because it ties the audio nature into the book format and likely delights the fans and might encourage new ones to listen.

What I love most about Welcome to Night Vale is the creativity behind it. It is a town with it’s own set of rules, physics, and time (or lack or it). Everything behaves differently from our world, including their society and norms. The public dog park is restricted to citizens and their dogs, as hooded figures roam in it. The library is feared as books are dangerous and forbidden, plus the librarians are monstrous and vengeful (this aspect saddens me since as a librarian myself, we need all of the encouragement and help getting people to read these days–despite it being tongue-in-cheek). A glow cloud moves into town and becomes head of the school board, radio interns always die gruesome deaths while reporting stories, and angels are real and wander the town but not believed in because the government does not recognize them as real. These are the underlying assumptions in the novel, along with other Night Vale facts and precedents, that for readers who have not listened to the podcast will need to suspend their disbelief for and just keep on reading. The absurdness, and creativity, is what makes it so delightful. All hail the glow cloud.

The novel itself follows characters that aren’t main ones in the podcast. We learn more about Jackie who runs the pawnshop, as well as Diane and her son Josh. The story is all about family and what we do for the ones that we love, which in itself is a great tale that happens to take place in Night Vale. It’s easily relatable and enjoyable. Also, the two main characters are female, which is a refreshing change since the Night Vale podcast is narrated by Cecil. Don’t get me wrong, Cecil is an excellent narrator and his voice is wonderful but it was a nice surprise to have the female characters running the novel, as I had assumed that Cecil would also be the point-of-view for the book.

Curious, or compelled, to visit Night Vale? All podcast episodes are available on many podcast apps (iTunes, Stitcher, Overcast) or now on their YouTube channel. Plus, the cast also does live shows worldwide.

Recommended?: Yes, especially for fans of Night Vale since it explains and resolves some questions from the podcast. Plus, Cecil assumes, in recent episodes after the novel’s publication, that the listener has read the book and says no more about certain topics. If this review sounds interesting, then pick up the book or give the podcast a listen. Welcome to Night Vale is a unique taste but for those who enjoy it, they really enjoy it. The podcast and novel aren’t for everyone but are worth a try because they are well-crafted and very professional for being a self-sustaining endeavor, listener-supported, without ads or commercials which is impressive since not many podcasts these days can say that.

I would love to hear other people’s opinion about the novel, for both listeners and non-listerners of the podcast. Please leave comments below.

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Read: Last man in tower : a novel by Aravind Adiga

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Not long ago, in my public library, I noticed that one of the staff picks was The white tiger by Aravind Adiga, which I read in college for fun and fell in love with. Having not thought about him in years, I searched the library catalog and amazingly found that he had written a book of short stories and another novel. After leafing through the short stories, I remembered reading it a while ago but his latest novel Last man in tower was new to me so I checked out the eBook. Loving the first novel, this one had a lot to live up to and, for the most part, did.

What I remember loving about Adiga’s writing is the vibrant, tangible descriptions of India–not just the typical sights and sounds but even food and small details. Last man in tower did not disappoint in this regard. Though I haven’t visited, I feel like he has taken me around India in his writing.

Adiga’s characters are also another feat of his great ability. They are real and complex on the page, which makes it all the more believable and nearly a first-hand experience instead of a work of fiction. While the overall events are fairly mundane, the premise of the story propels it, along with the concern for the characters. As a reader, buy-in is important to me; if I don’t connect with and care about the characters then it’s not an enjoyable.

The plot wasn’t intriguing to begin with but as the novel went on, I was hooked. In a poorer neighborhood in Bombay, a gated community called the Society, is offered an exorbitant amount of money to sell their apartments and the grounds to a famous local builder who want to demolish everything and build new luxury housing. It’s a deal of a lifetime. Who would refuse? Well, it turns out, a few people including a retired science teacher; he will not take the money no matter what. The novel turns into lesson in peer pressure and how far people are willing to go, as no one can get paid unless they all agree. For most of the novel, neighbors, once friendly and generous, turn on each other to get the remaining hold outs to cave and progress to violence in order to get their way and sleep well at night.

While Last man in tower was good, I preferred his first novel since it had more action and adventure. However, this certainly took more work to pull off, with all of its wonderful characters and subtle yet sophisticated story, following various characters trying to achieve the same goal in their own way and mindset.

Recommended?: Yes, especially for fans of Aravind Adiga. If the premise sounds intriguing, then start with this one first and then read the others. Otherwise, try The white tiger if you crave more thrills. For anyone who like short stories, check out his Between the assassinations short sotry collection for a mix of everyday life in India among the common folk with bizarre characters and odd tales interspersed; it’s a fun, easy read and will show off Adiga’s amazing writing ability the quickest. As I write this, I long for his next work of fiction. It’s already been 4 years since his latest novel…I hope it’s not too much longer for whatever he’s working on now. Until then, I might have to start looking for similar Indian authors to keep enjoying my travels via pages.