Tag Archives: fiction

Read: Go set a watchman by Harper Lee

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Due to the controversy of whether or not this book should have been publisher and if it was despite Harper Lee’s previous wishes, I decided not to read it when it first came out. However, the copy at the public library recently intrigued me enough that I figured it was time. Another initial reason for not picking it up soon was the fact that it received mediocre to poor reviews as a novel. To be fair, while Go set a watchman is technically a sequel, it is no To kill a mockingbird which it seems many people expected.

First, there is some history that needs to be addressed for this novel. Go set a watchman was written before To kill a mockingbird, even though it is set after her famous novel. The story focuses on Jean Louise Finch (a.k.a. Scout) still but she is 26 and returning to Maycomb on her annual visit, having moved to New York. It is written in third person, unlike the famous first person of To kill a mockingbird. Also, most of the characters that we know and love are already present in this novel but some are very different, namely Atticus. As a person who dabbles in writing, I can tell you that characters change and grow (or morph) from the first writing to their final incarnation. So, since Lee wrote this novel in the 1950s and likely did little to no editing before it was published in 2015 means that it should surprise no one that it isn’t the same Maycomb nor the same exact characters. To me, this feels like a precursor exercise to her later written To kill a mockingbird that was never meant for publication. So it shouldn’t be described as a sequel; it’s a standalone work that happens to have somewhat the same setting and similar characters. It always breaks my heart when an unfinished or unintended work is published usually after the author dies but it is fairly common.

Putting all of that aside, let’s focus on just Go set a watchman as a single novel. The topic itself is oddly quite timely in America right now. Jean Louise returns home to be shocked by the level of racism in her hometown and is upset that her good friend and presumed sweetheart Henry along with her father Atticus aren’t opposing it more. She disagrees with their approach to toe the line just enough so that they can stay aware of what heinous acts active racists might do so that they can stop or prosecute them. After a black man accidentally runs over a drunk white man and kills him, Atticus gets into a fight with Jean Louise and it’s at that point that she realizes he views blacks as less-than-human who need to slowly be integrated into white society so that they don’t fail and so she throughly disagrees with him. Part of his reasoning is that it is just his generation as well as trying to live civilly in small, racist community without being alienated. With the current racial violence plaguing the country and such a divisive presidential election recently, the topic itself surely struck a chord with me while reading it. Also the n-word is used about 10-15 at least, especially towards the end, which only further emphasizes the tension and hated of that Maycomb. As Jean Louise references the case that her father tried when she was little, the main focus in To kill a mockingbird, she believes that the town and her father have drastically changed on her but as she comes to realize that perhaps she just never saw it before and now it’s just coming to the forefront which is what truly bothers her.

While the topic is racism is addressed, the novel is truly about Jean Louise and her reckoning with the fact that she sees her father for the first time as a flawed person with whom she utterly disagrees with when it comes to blacks and their treatment. For the first two-thirds, the story describes Jean Louise’s homecoming interspersed with memories from her childhood, especially of Jem her brother. Not long into the novel, it’s revealed that Jem died young and suddenly due to a heart attack–like their mother. While there are many reasons for this plot decision, it mainly adds another emotional struggle for her returning home and makes it even more difficult for her to have her idyllic image of her father smashed. Jean Louise is a strong, opinionated woman yet falls back into the childhood mindset and attitude. Due to this, the overall plot is slower-paced as we mainly follow her around Maycomb and interacting with family, friends, and townspeople of the past. The last third picks up with the struggle of her dealing with the town’s and her family’s varying degrees of racist views. In the end, she comes to some semblance of terms with it, due to her uncle ‘s harsh reasoning with her. However, it is unclear whether she will move back and marry Henry or return to New York and only continue to visit annually.

Recommended?: It depends. If you are hoping for a direct sequel of To kill a mockingbird, then you will likely be disappointed. If you can think of this work as separate from it and are curious about the original characters and backstory then you may appreciate this novel. Overall, I didn’t find it compelling and since I disagree with it being published since it seems unfinished, it wasn’t as enjoyable for me. For anyone who has read it, I’d like to know what you think.

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Read: Sharp objects by Gillian Flynn

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Known for Gone girl which now has a movie of the same name, Gillian Flynn‘s Sharp objects is just as clever and shocking of a tale. While having only seen the movie of the other, the novel Sharp objects was more integuing of an idea and story.

Caveat: the novel reads like true crime and the murders are of little girls with vivid sometimes gory details and descriptions of the main character’s family abuse and self-harm. These passage run throughout the novel and might turn some readers off from it. 
Told in first person by second-rate journalist Camille Preaker, the book opens with a murder assignment from her editor that forces her to return to her long-left home in rural Missouri. Wind Gap is so small and with other more important news in bigger cities around the world that she is the only one of the scene writing, or rather struggling to write, about the horrific murders of little girls. Part of the novel centers around her reluctance to return and enummerating the many reasons of why she moved away to Chicago years ago. Flynn’s insights on small-town life are eerily accurate and her crafting of Camille’s loneliness and unhappiness are fascinating as well. The characterizations of Camille and Wind Gap create realistic portrayals in the novel. 

More specifically, Flynn hones the details but makes them her own. For example, Camille is a cutter (self-inflected harm) who carved words all over herself during her teenage years and got professional help for it recently. Now she writes on herself in pen, sometimes mindlessly. Due to this, she’s forced to wear long sleeves and pants or skirts to prevent anyone from seeing as only a couple of people know. Instead of the generic stereotypical acting out of a teen girl, it becomes a wholly unique endeavor especially as Camille refers to certain words flaring up throughout the novel when triggered by particular emotions, people, or situations.

True to form, the reader is led to believe varying things as the story progresses, usually kept in the dark alongside the main character. Deeper and deeper into the story, more is revealed and the mystery seems to become crystal clear until the final plot twist, in Flynn’s true nature. Stunningly chilling. 

Recommended?: For those who like a twisting murder mystery but don’t mind the brutal gruesomeness of the murder details for the young girls and other abuse and self-harm described. The plot itself was well-crafted and kept me in the dark until the final twist was revealed. Maybe diehard fans would have seen it coming but I certainly enjoyed the plot itself. More Gilliam Flynn, please!

Sharp objects book cover

Read: The girl on the train: a novel by Paula Hawkins

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The girl on the train by Paula Hawkins is another of the recent novels to garner public attention from the Huffington Post, The New York Times, and NPR among others. After a personal recommendation, I had to get a copy. It’s easy to read so you have until October 7th if you want to read it before seeing the movie! There are a couple of trailers out for it although there’s so much more to the story and they don’t give much away.

This story is the most realistic that I have read in a while. It is set in England, frequently on trains and a suburb just outside of London called Witney. Rachel takes the train twice a day past the house that she and her now ex-husband used to live. He kept living there with his mistress-turned-wife-and-mother. Due to Rachel’s infertility, depression, and blind drunkenness helped lead to the end of their marriage despite her still loving him. From the train, though, Rachel watches the next door neighbors whom she never knew, giving them an ideal backstory. However, the neighbors lives weren’t perfect and the wife goes missing which drives most of the plot. Questions surrounding the story are how do people live with the choices that they make and how well can people ever really know their loved ones?

The format itself is told in first person in journal-like entires broken up into morning and evening portions. The main and majority narrator is Rachel with Meghan the neighbor who goes missing and Anna the mistress-turned-wife. It’s an odd format as a psychological thriller, especially as at a cliff-hanger it usually jumps to a different character. Though with the pacing of the plot and the odd mystery, it’s easy to keep turning to pages to find out what happens next. One I was about a third of the way through, I became hooked and then about halfway I began hurtling towards the last page almost in a sprint to finish.

The writing itself is journalistic, with sparse yet detailed sentences that focus on action. This make sense since the author Paula Hawkins was herself a journalist. For this type of a mystery thriller, it works well. Some also have equated her writing to Alfred Hitchcock and I agree that there are similarities. She works for the small yet long build up, with unexpected story progression and honing in on certain details in a way that Hitchcock does with his films; instead of being an abrasive action-packed thriller, the pieces begin to come together over the entire duration and only come into clear focus right at the end, like a Hitchcock film.

The tone of the novel is quite eerie since it’s hard to know who to believe or how much to trust anyone. Plus Rachel makes so many bad decisions that are “cringe-worthy” (as my personal recommender told me) but it’s impossible to put the book down so as I reader I follower her along in her misguided actions, mainly due to her alcoholism. In a way, the story is a perfect storm that coalesces into a fantastically odd, enthralling thriller. As this is Hawkins first novel, I can wait for more from her!

Recommended?: For suspense and mystery lovers as well as readers who enjoy a fact-paced thriller. There’s a fair amount of violence, abuse, and of course adultry. That aside, the violence itself is low-key, although we will see if the movie ups it and adds in any gore.  If any of this doesn’t sound appealing to you as a reader, then you can go ahead and it this one since it isn’t going to become a classic that everyone should read, although it’s a fun fairly quick one.

The girl on the train book cover

Read: The night circus: a novel by Erin Morgenstern

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Curiosity finally got the better of me, well that and praise for this novel. I have known about it for years, hearing about its start as a NaNoWriMo story that met great success; author Erin Morgenstern even gave a NaNoWriMo pep-talk about her experience along with advice. However, the little that I knew about the premise of The night circus turned me off from reading it, since it reminded me of Something wicked this way comes by Ray Bradbury about a mysterious circus. Recently, I looked up the novel again and decided to give it a try. I’m glad that I did because it truly is a remarkable work, unique all on its own.

The night circus as a title does not do this novel justice. It is so much more, although the Circus of Dreams (Le Cirque des Reves) purports to be just a night circus and most visitors blindly believe that the only difference between this one and others is the fact that it only opens at nightfall and closes at dawn. In reality, the circus is a playing field for two competing magicians to showcase their very best talents with magic until one is declared the winner. Unlike a typical circus, the night circus contains a multitude of tents, each with its own exhibit or performances. Tents filled with frozen gardens, origami animals that move, an ever-changing labyrinth, and a cloud maze, just to name a few. Bound together by the game, Celia and Marco grow then circus by adding on new tents, rooms, and enhancements, trying to out due each other. However, because of this challenge, the circus requires care and attention as if it were alive so there are many people involved who keep it going as well. This twist on the classic circus setting is captivating and Moregenstern pulls it off beautifully, just like a well-practiced slight of hand. 

In stark constrast to The girls, Morgenstern’s sentences are long, lush, and buoyant. The novel itself feels like a fantastical floating dream. The characters and details are so vibrant and extravagant that there is a pervasive richness throughout, adding to the wonder and glamour. It is a relaxing, enchanting, and delightful read.

The novel itself is comprised of dated entries from different characters’ perspective although always in third person. These entries jump from different times and places, moving forward and backward without a clear pattern. This makes for a somewhat disjointed experiences, especially as a few are the same date but a year apart. It’s easy to follow otherwise but the story did jump around quite a bit which gets a little confusing. I love following characters so it’s tough as a reader when I get pulled away to be shown something else before catching back up with the previous character. That being said, I like how Moregenstern reexamines an event or period of time from multiple people, giving a richer experience to the reader by providing more perspectives. While here are two main characters, there is a large cast of supporting ones who the reader comes to care for just as much. I appreciate her letting them speak for themselves and expanding the novel to include many of them as well. 

Recommended?: Yes, definitely. It’s a charming novel that envelopes the reader the way a magician entrances an audience. The story might not be for everyone, with its magical elements and dreamy prose. However, if it sounds intriguing and you want something different, then step right up and enter this circus. 

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