Category Archives: Book Reviews

SHINE SHINE SHINE and Self

St. Martin’s Press 2012

“Own it,” she said to herself. “Own the bald. Own the braided honey loaf. Own it. Your husband is Maxon Mann. Nobel Prize winner. Your mother is Emma Butcher. Fucking awesome lady. Own it.”

I have been reading glowing reviews on Shine Shine Shine from twitter for the past few months. Those lucky enough to get an ARC have been singing its praises. It sounded like a book I would really enjoy as well. It was. I fell in love with each of the characters with all their flaws and wished I could read more of them after I closed the book. That is the mark of a great book for me- characters must linger. I must be so engaged with the characters that the last page fills me with dread. I loved the turn around for Sunny Mann. I started off being upset with her but Netzer slowly unveils the depths of Sunny and you connect with her as a woman on so many levels. I understood her frustration and anger once I understood her whole story. I think that is a lesson that we could all remember sometimes: you don’t really know anyone’s motivations so stop judging them. I think I forget that occasionally. Here you are forced to face that fact when you realize what a struggle her whole life had been. Also, you forgive her when it becomes apparent that her anger comes from fear and ultimately from love. She does not mean to rage against Maxon but she is so afraid.

The love story between these two is wonderful as well. They are made for one another from the moment they meet. She has the patience to deal with his Asperger’s and he just loves her with the innocence of a child. After all, acceptance is really what Sunny needs. I fell in love with both of them. It was so nice to read a love story that made sense in the real world. I hate when a love story springs from nothing and is fueled by even less. This particular story did no such thing. You could easily see why they were so perfectly suited for each other right away.

In the end, I think this book dealt a lot with self realization. They all have struggles of where they fit in and who they fit with. Eventually they are lucky enough to figure it out before it is too late. What did you think the main point of the book was? Did you love the characters in the same way that I did? Or were you unable to forgive Sunny for being so angry?

If you would like to get into the mind of Maxon…

Mark Haddon

If the life of a person dealing with an Autistic related disease was intriguing try The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeThe narrator is a young man dealing with Autism and he witnesses an “incident” that his brain doesn’t quite understand so he goes on a journey to discover what really happened. It so imaginative and you’ll just love Christopher as much as Maxon. He’s so innocent and kind but yet a genius who can name all the countries in the world along with their capitals. A really brilliant novel that helps to humanize people that deal with Autism.

See you later, see you soon.

HERZOG and Neurosis

Fawcett Crest 1964

I have had several of Saul Bellow‘s books on my shelf for some time now. I finally got around to reading one this week. I decided to go with Herzog which seems to be the one that is most beloved by critics and fans alike. It seemed like a good place to start. I have been a great fan of Philip Roth and so many articles that I read have referenced Saul Bellow as his predecessor. So, I had high expectations for this novel and he certainly delivered. It was nervous and rambling and so funny! Exactly what I imagining. The main character was annoying but lovable, horny but romantic, masculine but needy. He was interesting and fully rounded. For me, I must have a strong reaction to the main character if I am going to enjoy a book and I was moved by Herzog often. He was struggling in a way that is not necessarily what I have gone through at times; but, he reacted in the same way I do when dealing with uncertainty. He just delves into the depths of his mind. I loved the idea of writing non-stop letters. Basically saying everything you have ever wanted to say to people who have had even a small impact on your life.

Since you spend most of the book inside of Herzog’s scattered mind the writing does get pretty dense in many places. A few times I skipped a paragraph just to get to the point. Admittedly, I’m a pretty impatient reader. But there were plenty of surprises to keep me glued to the book. In the end, I was satisfied by a ending that felt simultaneously open-ended and finished. The anger and confusion seem to have subsided for him but what actaully happens with his family is still unknown. Some people feel jilted when the story ends without a full wrap-up but I don’t mind terribly especially with this particular story. In fact, you’ve been inside of his head for the whole book so you have all the information you need to finish out the book in your own imagination. 

If you liked this neurotic writer, you may like…

Philip Roth

I’m going with the easy suggestion on this one. I think The Counterlife is one of the greatest books ever written but it also makes sense to read it along with some Bellow. I think Roth is all that Bellow wished he could be but was too afraid to be in the 1960s. There was only so much you could say without someone censoring you in those days. Today, Roth can be as dirty and raunchy as he wishes. Trust me, he takes full advantage of that. But he’s so fucking brilliant and funny that you won’t feel insulted in the least. This particular novel is so original that it will take a while for it to wear off and allow you to enjoy other novels. Everything will seem like trash for a bit. Don’t worry, it eventually fades.

If you only have read one author, which book is your favorite? If you have read both, which writer do you prefer?  Do you agree that Roth is far dirtier than Bellow?

See you later, see you soon.

DEWEY and Storytelling

Grand Central Publishing 2008

There is something wonderful about a great audio book. While I read Dewey: The Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World in actual print first, I really fell in love with the story after listening to it on audio. Susan McInerney does the narrating for it but it sounds just how I imagined Vicki Myron’s voice. In other words, it sounds like your mother quietly telling you a story. It’s so familiar and soothing. And here’s the thing, it came to me at the perfect time. You see, I am a cat lady without a cat for the first time in more than 15 years. So, being able to share this story made me feel comforted. I believe a lot of that had to do with how well the story was written but also how well the story was read.  I don’t often listen to audio books. It seems I gravitate to non fiction stuff over a fiction tale. The first I ever bought was a lecture on Walt Whitman. I have listen to that one 3 times fully and numerous times just one or two lectures. But Dewey is by far my favorite.

If you have never read this lovely little book and you are a fan of any one of these: cats, libraries, small towns, farms, or stories of survival, this is a perfect book for you. Even if you only are interested in just one of those you will be surprised at how much you care about the others by the end of this tale. Vicki does such a seamless job of blending not only her personal life but also the life of a small town- a town that could exist anywhere in the States- with the story of a very special cat. The story takes place in the mid-80s for the most part and during the farming crisis in the middle of our country. Now I was born in 1986 so I don’t really remember it but she reveals how it affected people and I was moved. Then she stirs in her own crushing story of love, loss and serious illness. She battles breast cancer so valiantly all while being a single mom with a deadbeat drunkard ex-husband. In the end, she has a beautiful daughter and a fabulous job at her local library. Unless you have no heart this story will make you cry at some point.

What about you? Do you ever listen to audio books? Or would you like to and just haven’t known where to start? They can get pretty expensive but do you think it’s worth it if it makes the book even better? If you read Dewey, what were you most moved by? Dewey’s story? Vicki’s story? Or the story of the struggling small town?

If you liked this you may also like…

Sarah Vowell

I love this writer. She’s so funny and smart and just cool. I picked up Assassination Vacation used at Bogart’s because I loved her stuff and the list of guests seemed really cool. Truth be told if I see Jon Stewart’s name attached I pretty much buy it on the spot. But this is another case of blending in her own life along with the deaths of presidents. It sounds morbid and it is but it’s also brilliantly funny. She gives you little tidbits about each president that I never knew. And even some small coincidences that they had in common with their assassins. So, you come out smarter than you were before. Plus, she has a way of delivering her own lines that I think I would have missed had I read it in print.

See you later, see you soon.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and Acceptance

“You aren’t really a nigger-lover, then, are you?”

“I certainly am. I do my best to love everybody…”

And that is exactly what this book is about- trying to love everybody in equal parts. I haven’t had the pleasure of reading this classic since it was assigned in the ninth grade. I remember enjoying it then even if I forgot most of the details and I was still moved by it more than a decade later. I was totally jarred the first time she used “nigger” in the narrative but I understood why. I understood that the children were presented as ignorant and we were meant to be clicking our tongues at them. I also understood that in 1960 people were more than likely not as offended by the use of the word as I was and I took some comfort in that idea. I would like to think that there has been progress in the fight against racial prejudice even if it does not always feel that way.

The book itself is wonderful. Harper Lee never published anything else but this book stands as one of the greatest books in all of literature. Each character is interesting and fully developed, even if some are only touched upon briefly. I absolutely think that Atticus Finch is one of the greatest fictional characters of all time as well as the trio of Jem, Scout and Dill. They made mistakes in a way that was realistic but they were able to learn from them in a believable manner. Each grow from the beginning to the end of the narrative- even Atticus. The writing itself is smooth and infinitely enjoyable as it is both warm and funny. I forgot how funny it was, or maybe I didn’t get the jokes when I was 13. I have to admit that a lot of the message is very subtle. The separation of black and white culture is not always pointed out but must be picked up on by the reader if they choose to do so. Otherwise it is just a tale of an exciting trial in a sleepy southern town. The further message is deciphered by the reader or not.

Furthermore, the movie (the 50th anniversary is this year) is equally as engaging as the book which is often not the case. I had the pleasure of catching a showing on TCM the day that I finished the book in a bit of serendipitous luck. Gregory Peck is nearly flawless as Atticus and the Oscar is well deserved but I must admit that the cast of children are also wonderful. They are sensitive and charming just as the book describes them. And the one actor who plays Dill looks just how I imagine a young Truman Capote, who is famously the inspiration for the precocious youth. I highly recommend watching the film as a companion to the novel. Though my only complaint is that in Hollywood’s constant search for perfection the gentleman playing Boo Radley is far more handsome that the book describes. But it can be overlooked given the accuracy of the rest of the film.

If you want to read more on race relations in America…

Charles W. Chestnutt

The Marrow of Tradition is a fictionalization of the race riots that occurred in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898. It is fascinating as a discussion on race relations in America even if it is centralized in the south. The book does include commentary on the entirety of the human race and not only coming down on the idea that whites are bad or blacks are good but that we are all individuals who are capable of a broad spectrum of actions. I knew nothing about the riots which made the cultural edition that I read indispensable as it has other documents to help understand both the causes of as well as the impact on the society that the riots had. I believe it comes with the same message as To Kill A Mockingbird- love your fellow man despite any perceptible differences. 

See you later, see you soon.

AMONG OTHERS and Curses

“There are some awful things in the world, it’s true, but there are also some great books.” (pg.52)

I have been wanting to read more science fiction for quite some time now but I never knew where-or I guess with whom- to start. It has been a genre that interested me but I always found kind of intimidating. There are authors that some people discuss in hushed tones. These are authors that have a cult following that few other genres could rival. A lot of these writers have been doing so for many years and have giant catalogues to show for their years of work. But I am conflicted since I have read the back of many titles but none have jumped out at me as something that I would like to read. Yet, I still have the desire to read at least one. Just to see what all the hype is about. Well, this book gave me a great list to work from. She talks about dozens of sci-fi (and some fantasy writers too) that all sounded like things that I would like to read very much. I even thought about taking a cue from Morwenna and begin from the letter A and just see what happens. It would not be unwise to start with Poul Anderson and slowly make my way down to Roger Zelazny.

However many sci-fi books are discussed does not make this a sci-fi novel though. It is far closer to a fantasy with all the fairies and magic that happens. Or does any magic actually happen? As Morwenna says herself, “You can almost always find chains of coincidence to disprove magic.” (pg.40) Since Morwenna is such an unreliable narrator we can’t even be sure that any of the fairies or ghosts that she claims to see actually exist either. Which I think is the best part of this book. It allows you to decide if you want to believe in the magic or not. You have to dig deep and really examine how you feel about the mystery of the world around us. I just really love the idea of fairies but I certainly don’t really believe that they exist. Jo Walton makes you feel comfortable giving in to the fantasy of seeing fairies or being able to say good bye to our loved ones one more time without forcing you to actually believe them in real life. Just relax and enjoy the journey with Morwenna who is infinitely interesting.

The book is worth a read just for all the wonderful things that Walton has to say about the book culture. Certainly most of us have nothing in common with Morwenna on a personal level. We don’t have a witch mother or a twin that died because of said witch mother. We aren’t in a boarding school being paid for by our rich but crazy aunts. We can’t make that connection but we all feel the same way she does about books. And as a future librarian I especially loved what she had to say about them:

Libraries really are wonderful. They’re better than bookshops, even. I mean bookshops make a profit on selling you books, but libraries just sit there lending you books out of the goodness of their hearts. (pg.59)

Is that not that best thing ever said on libraries? Well, it’s the best thing I ever read in a book about them. And how true it is too! As a bookseller I try to be honest and give the best advice and price to my customers. But I have to make money to keep the place running. Libraries have a big advantage with outside funding and they just let you browse and borrow until your heart is content. They’re good like that.

If you enjoy a good curse then you might like… 

Junot Díaz

I read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in college and totally enjoyed every character. It is set in New Jersey which is always good for me. There are places that I know of in it. I recently gave the book away to 20 lucky strangers for World Book Night back on April 23. Read about it here in The Press of Atlantic City. It was a lot of fun and a lot of people have come back and said that they really enjoyed the book. Even some people who aren’t big readers. This book mentions a lot of sci-fi and fantasy writers as well. And is about outcasts from society dealing with major tragedies. But that’s about as far as the commonalities go. The curse in this instance is from the Dominican Republic and is associated with luck more than fairies. The references also seem more current. The book is seriously good as well though.

THE BERMUDEZ TRIANGLE and Identity

I just finished my first taste of Maureen Johnson in a matter of hours. I was captivated from beginning to end. No lie. I have been a fan of Maureen Johnson on Twitter for many months now. She is the QUEEN OF TWITTER. Seriously. She is funny and smart and makes the rest of us Twits feel very amateur. So, I was very excited to actually read some of her fiction. I was impressed. The story is written from 3 different perspectives with no clear delineation but it never got confusing. That is no easy task. Some writers (like Jodi Picoult) have mastered the multiple perspective storytelling but usually employ different chapters, and even different fonts, to represent the varying voices. Not here. Yet, I could identify each speaker with ease. I tip my hat to you, Maureen.

The story deals with three best friends that have a difficult time regrouping after a summer of new experiences. The crux is that their friend Melanie has discovered that she is a lesbian and has done so with another member of the trio- Avery. The third, Nina, has been away a leadership camp held at Stanford University and was not privy to this information all summer long. This is not a spoiler since it says as much on the back cover. But how each girl deals with all the consequences from this revelation– along with a variety of other teenage dramas– is what is most intriguing; in that it is totally realistic and believable at every moment. I remember some of the struggles that they deal with. And while I am a heterosexual I can still relate to being so confused by my body and my feelings towards significant others. She does a great job of showing how gay teens deal with the world but maintaining a universality to allow for everyone to connect with these girls.

I highly recommend picking up this book no matter what age you are. It will take you through exploring who you are and what is the most important in your life. Absolutely wonderful!

If you still need to read more about identity crises…

Zadie Smith

I read On Beauty in college and have been giving it as a gift ever since. While it’s not an uplifting read, it’s an honest one. She dwells on how the world has preconceived notions of nearly everyone, from the overweight black woman to the white male professor at a prestigious university to the troubled but brilliant black teenager. You need not be any of these particular descriptions to feel the emotions of these characters. It is so well written that everyone, even a young white college student, can totally relate to feeling like an outsider. Also, that feeling of fulfilling a certain stereotype. There is a great scene with Kiki, the overweight black woman, who upon meeting with some white people goes into a head shaking finger wagging cocky black woman “routine”. As she is doing it, her inner monologue is appalled that she is conforming to this portrayal of a strong black female instead of being herself.  It is a situation that a lot of us have had to deal with at some point. We often give into stereotypes to be more pleasing to those around us.

See you later, see you soon.

THE SHADOW OF THE WIND and Sexuality

“Why are books burned? Through stupidity, ignorance, hatred… goodness only know.”

I had a tough time choosing what quote to start this post off with because I had underlined and dogeared so many. Though, towards the end, I was so caught up in the mystery that I stopped all together. Every word was poetry. I noted the comparison to Gabriel García Márquez, one of my all time favorite authors, on the back of my edition and I was skeptical, but Zafón delivered. It was as beautiful and sensual as anything that Márquez had written. The sexual tension throughout was taut and believable. No awkward fumbling. I actually believed that Zafón has had sex at some point. There are books (I won’t name names) that I could swear the author was a virgin. Not here. I felt myself blush but I was never offended. Romance writers should take a lesson from Zafón in the art of writing a sex scene that would send a whole nunnery into a titter. In a time when bawdy yet poorly written novels top the bestseller lists this novel stands apart with very graphic but beautifully handled sex scenes. Add in a truly romantic love story and you have the perfect novel to fill up those hot summer days.

Add in a fascinating mystery and you have a novel that you just can’t put down. I finished this book in only a few days. I read the entire final half while at the beach with my friends. I did not look up very many times. They finally gave up with trying to include me in the conversation. They will feel the same when I give them this book to read. Like I said, I was furiously underlining every sentence that caught my eye but as the mystery began to unravel my pen fell silent. While the solution was not anything groundbreaking, the way in which it unfolded was magical. Nothing was left unknown and all my questions were answered but not all at once. Just slowly the resolution leaked out as the novel concluded. I won’t spoil it here but we can talk more in the comments below.

There was not much I didn’t like about this book. In fact, I found some inspiration for my next tattoo within these pages. Among the many beautiful quotes rose this perfect description of books:  “Books are mirrors: you only see in them what you already have inside you,” answered Julián(pg.209). This rings so true for me. My favorite books are those that I can relate to in a very deep way. I had never thought to describe this sensation as looking into a mirror before but now I know. I use the word “sensation” here because when I really connect with a book I feel in a a very visceral way. My heart flutters and I feel my blood pumping through every inch of my  body. Reading a great book is a total body experience. This book did all that and more. I hope to have this tattoo over xmas so I’ll post a picture as soon as it is made permanent.

If you liked this then try…

Diane Setterfield

If you loved the mystery of this story then please pick up The Thirteenth Tale immediately. It is the only book by this author which is very depressing but it is fabulous. Once again the mystery unfolds slowly and the characters are unforgettable. I honestly read it in one sitting. I just could not put it down once I started. It deals with a bookstore owner and a beloved writer just like in The Shadow of the Wind so if you really liked the bookseller hero- this is great. This is another book that I have recommended time after time at Bogart’s and most people come back just gushing over it. Even a customer that I had my doubts about came back in love with the book.

See you later, see you soon.