Archives for posts with tag: Novel

I moved into this book for the duration of my honeymoon:


AM Homes has a dark and somewhat frantic sensibility, one that may not seem conducive for a relaxing beach-read, but I beg to differ. This novel is at once a page turner and a character study, as one might argue her other novels have been (please see This Book Will Save Your Life and for reference).

I like this style. As a reader I’m kept just enough off balance to be forced to pay attention. I can settle in with the characters but I know the calm won’t last. Reading a Homes book is like walking a tight rope, walking it and never quite falling off. I have just enough balance to keep my grounding. I understand the character’s problem, I am familiar with the world in which they live, but occasionally that rope swings. I’m snapped awake. There is a fight or an unstable child or a tiger on the loose. It’s goddamn brilliant.

Whew, that got a little more theoretical than I intended. Sorry about that.

Let’s make this simple: it’s a good book and you should read it.


One extra joy of being married to a fiction writer is you inherit their bookshelf. That’s how I came upon this gem:

that night

The novel, as the title suggests, is grounded in one summer night . One fight between teenage boys and middle-aged fathers. It’s the story of a neighborhood, of young love and youth, of childhood, of summer. It’s really beautiful, as simple as that. From the sentences to the larger structure, I swooned.

As I sit back and think about this, I’m struggling with how to describe this book without the use of hand gestures. I want to tell you how the narrative wraps around this center, swooping from days before the event to years later but always remaining grounded. You don’t often see a novel’s structure so artfully crafted. Such large swings made with such a deft hand. It’s really a joy to encounter.

Let’s try this – bear with me now. The narrative reminds me of the Army’s tents in Kuwait:


See how the tie-down straps leave circles and arches on the canvas? When a sandstorm rolls in the ties flail in the wind and beat themselves against the canvas. That isn’t just a line in the dust. Those arcs are forever etched into canvas. The ties have left their mark. That’s exactly how I felt the narrative worked. Give it a read and you’ll see what I mean.

I finished this some time ago:


Beautiful work. Somehow the mountains of Oregon are more foreign to me than I would have expected. When I want to picture rolling plains throws a mountain in front of my view. Is that world claustrophobic? Coplin doesn’t describe it as such but I can’t help but think of it that way. Her descriptive ability is reason enough to pick up the book. Then the story steps in and keeps you interested. Some death. Some hardship. A little kidnapping. A little murder plot. A baby. Good stuff all around. At least for the first 350 pages. Maybe it was my own cabin fever as the winter wore on but those last eighty pages got to me.
Still I would recommend it.

My apologies for the delayed and brief review.

I avoided this book for quite a while:


Looking back, I’m not sure why. Despite the slow start, I found myself sucked in. A little historical fiction and a little sci-fi. A little drama and love and mystery and not as much cheesy “interconnected-ness” as I expected. The structure is beautifully daring (half-spoiler alert: it’s a pyramid!). Even during the sections that I cared less about I kept turning the page, wanting to know how we would get to the next section or back to the one we just left. That seemed like a good sign.

If you’ve been avoiding it I would recommend just giving it a try. Don’t mind that page count. Big books can be a gift.

The question is now, should I see the movie?

If you’ve been reading my ramblings all summer, you’ll recall my love for Julie Otsuka’s second novel, The Buddha in the Attic. If not, have a look, it’s brilliant.

I finally got around to reading her first and equally lovely little novel When the Emperor was Divine. The novel follows a Japanese American family as they are shipped to an internment camp in the 1940s. The topic of American internment camp still shocks and intrigues me. We did this? This happened in our country? Inside of our country? Oy, America, just when I want to believe you have the potential to be good.

Much like her second book, Otsuka focuses on personal struggle. History holds on to the edges. Coca-cola and nickel movies. Sugar rations and war bonds. But this is about the family. Beautiful sentences about a tragic time. It’s short too. The kind of book you can tuck in your bag and not feel the weight of it, the guilt of needing to finish a lengthy tome. No, you only feel the joy when your hand finds it buried at the bottom. A light little novel the flew by too quickly.

I waited for this novel to come out in paperback because I’m stubborn but I wasn’t disappointed. Not by the book and not by the new cover art.

Some books without much in the way of plot of end up being wonderful reads and some simply suck. The Marriage Plot fell into the first category. While Eugenides’ other books (The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex) delivered complex plotlines with tragedy and joy and death and love, The Marriage Plot ran a more level course. Yet I loved them all.

Though I didn’t particularly care for two of the three main characters, my only significant sticking point throughout the novel was its setting in the 1980s. I don’t feel like this was justified or sufficiently researched. (Did people really say hipster in the 80s?) Eugenides seems to have taken the easy narrative road by avoiding the age of cellphones and the internet. Then again, maybe that’s the hidden reason I loved this book. Times were a bit simpler but love was not.

Yeah, I’d read about any book with that tag line.

By far the most beautiful book with a murder on the first page:

I’m a sucker for books set in the Midwest. Rural Midwest in the 20s gets even more points. Add a murder and the sweetest little boy memories and I’m done for. This was what I was hoping for when I read the thin Julian Barns novel – beauty and plot. Good sentences will get you far. A good plot can hold up even some questionable writing, but putting them both together is hard to find. In So Long, See You Tomorrow William Maxwell delivers both. It’s a page turner but I didn’t want to turn the page too quickly for fear of missing a beautiful buried sentence.

God, I love a good sentence. If you haven’t read it yet, you won’t regret unearthing this old book.

Back on the beautiful book train. I loved this book and the world McCann created.

Typically, I want a book to teach me how to read it. If it’s going to be jumpy, fine. If it’s going to be slow, fine. Let the Great World Spin will teach you how to read it but it’s not going to do it in the first fifty pages.

I went in knowing nothing more that it is set in New York in the 70s and I think that’s how you ought to go too. Go with it. Trust the book. Sink into the beauty. Turn the next page, you won’t regret it.

My only regret is that I won’t get to spend any more time in their rich, layered world.

After a couple of hefty reads, I picked up The Sense of an Ending in large part for its size (163 pages) and this beautiful cover:

Why I thought the 2011 winner of the Man Booker Prize would be a light read beats the hell out of me. In the novel a sixty year old man – Anthony Webster – looks back at a key event in his life. We see his life before – school, friends, romance. Then we jump ahead forty years. That’s all I can say without giving away the plot.

The prose is lovely, beautiful even, and Barnes’ ruminations on time and memory ring true. Devastatingly true at times. But the life we are led through is intentionally unremarkable. Despite the beautiful sentences I found myself wanting to skim ahead. I just don’t care about dear Tony or his reflections enough.

I’m always glad to have read an award winning book so I am able to discuss it. The good. The bad. The merits of the award. Blah, blah, aren’t we smart literary folk. Now that I’ve read it, however, I see why it hasn’t come up in conversation before.

Castaway stories have always held a special place in my heart and Jill Ciment’s novel The Tattoo Artist is no different.

Our narrator – Sara Ehrenreich, a New York based artist – is stranded on a remote South Seas island on the eve of World War II. As the title suggests, Sara becomes a tattoo artist – and canvas – while on the island. The novel is narrated by Sara thirty years later, as she finally returns to New York. What must one’s home look like after thirty years away?

My love of the castaway narrative was only enhanced by my military service. Each year I spent overseas I returned to a world shifted. Whether it was I who shifted or the world I’m still not sure. A book like Ciment’s gives us this experience on steroids. Thirty years on an island must be far more jarring than one year in the desert. I wasn’t as in love with the characters here as I was with Cutting for Stone but the narrative pulled me forward. When each chapter ended I wanted to know what happened next. Who would rescue this girl? Why did she keep tattooing? Can a person really tattoo her own breast? (yeah, that happens)

This string pulling me forward sells the book for me. You simply can’t overestimate how nice it is to read a novel that makes you wonder, that makes you hope the next page is as good as the last. Thankfully, for the most part, each page delivered on that promise.

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