Tag Archives: fiction

Leave of Absence by Tanya J. Peterson

Leave of Absence by Tanya J. Peterson: When Oliver’s suicide attempt is thwarted by a well-meaning police officer, he is sent to a behavior health center where he meets Penelope. Oliver is suffering from PTSD after the death of his wife and son; Penelope and her fiance are struggling with her recent diagnosis of schizophrenia. They form an unexpected friendship. This description makes the story sound kind of dull, but it’s not. I’ve never read such a sympathetic fictional depiction of mental illness. Penelope’s fiance, for example, still loves her deeply and wants to marry her, and she can’t figure out why he hasn’t run screaming. The ending is uplifting but ultimately realistic, a very good introduction to how people cope with loss, grief, and illness.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

If You Were Here by Jen Lancaster

If You Were Here by Jen Lancaster: Thirtysomethings Mia and Mack fall in love with “Jake Ryan’s” house (the character from Sixteen Candles) and buy it, despite it being a disaster in terms of needed repairs. The hyperbole of their experiences, from $45 lightbulbs to toilets falling through the ceiling, are funny enough, but Mia’s own attitude adds to the hilarity. Basically Mia is Lancaster if she were the author of teen Amish zombie romance novels who also makes poor real estate choices, so if you’ve liked any of her memoirs, you’ll get a kick out of this tale.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis (unabridged audiobook read by Pablo Schreiber; 16.5 hrs on 14 discs): Patrick Bateman is a Wall Street yuppie in the late 1980s. He is also a brutal serial killer. There are several recurring themes here (and when I say recurring, I mean it is mentioned at least thirty times): returning video tapes, the Patty Winters Show, deciding where to have dinner, cocaine, all yuppie men are interchangeable and everyone is constantly mistaken for everybody else, women are clueless and needy, tanning, going to the gym, alcohol, decaffeinated espresso (I know – what?), excessive luxury, and brand names, brand names, brand names. I cannot stress that last one enough: Bateman describes every single person’s outfit by brand name and sometimes even the department store where it was purchased. There are scenes of extremely graphic sex, usually followed by scenes of extremely graphic violence. I’m not a very sensitive person, but there were a few times when I was seriously worried about losing my lunch. Now, there are some amusing bits. I kind of liked the overly dramatic business card comparison. The random chapters of musical critique (Whitney Houston, Huey Lewis & the News, and Genesis) were interesting but I haven’t a clue why they were included (though in the movie they are used as lectures while killing people, which is actually kind of funny). My main issue with this book is that absolutely nothing happens. Seriously: the same thing happens chapter after chapter after chapter and there is no progression of plot, no change in any of the characters. This could have been a short story and still gotten its point across. A waste of time.

A note on the audio: Schreiber was excellent. The book, not so much. I’ve never wished I could skim an audiobook more than this one.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day by David Levithan (unabridged audiobook read by Alex McKenna; 8.5 hrs on 7 discs): I have very mixed feelings about this book. It says some very good things about acceptance, sexuality, and gender identity. It also says some very bad things about how to pursue a love interest. Every morning, A wakes up in the body of a different person, able to access their memories but not their emotions or consciousness. (Note: though A has no gender and inhabits both male and female bodies with equal ease, I will use male pronouns to make typing less cumbersome.) The body is always roughly his same age, and he lives in it only until midnight before moving on. (Though the switch happens at midnight, A always wakes up the next morning, implying that these kids never stay up past midnight or something.) He has no control over these switches, and mostly acts in order to make as little impact on the body’s life as possible – until one day when he inhabits the body of Justin, boyfriend of Rhiannon. A falls in love with Rhiannon, becomes convinced that she loves him too, and turns the lives of his subsequent hosts upside-down in his attempts to win her over, pretty much stalking her until she gives in. A few times I wanted to shout at A, “Just leave her alone already!” It was like A was completely incapable of having a conversation with Rhiannon that didn’t focus on his love for her and how Justin wasn’t good enough for her and blah blah blah. Yes, I know that teenagers are obsessive like that, but it got kind of tiresome. I wish the story had done more with Nathan and the Reverend, exploring the science fiction side of A’s existence as a wandering soul, but its narrow focus on the complicated romance rarely wavered. On the bright side, the writing was superb, and A’s experiences in so many different kinds of lives (from drug addict to immigrant house cleaner to transgendered person) were compelling, believable, and memorable. I also did really appreciate A’s views of gender identity and unconditional love, and Rhiannon’s reactions were quite realistic. Yes, there are people out there who could fall in love with someone who looked completely different every single day, but could you? The ending was dissatisfying, though I suppose it was good that A finally appeared to mature a little bit, even if he still couldn’t seem to muster any respect for his host bodies. I kind of hope there’s a sequel, if only to explore the premise a bit more and lay off the teen romance a tad.

A note on the audio: McKenna’s raspy voice took some getting used to, but ultimately it really worked.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki: The diary of a young Japanese girl washes up on the beach in Vancouver and into the hands of a woman of Japanese descent who may or may not be the author of this very novel. The story alternates between Nao’s diary and Ruth’s experiences reading it, complete with footnotes explaining little bits of Japanese language and culture used by Nao. Nao’s unflinching description of her life – from the horrific bullying by her classmates to her father’s suicide attempts – can be hard to take at times, but her clearly affectionate descriptions of her great-grandmother and her quest for meaning make her quite sympathetic. I was especially interested to learn about some of the traditional rituals practiced by Buddhist nuns. The ending left me a bit cold, since I hadn’t expected the story to turn all magical realism on me, but otherwise I really enjoyed it. I guess my issue was that the story leading up to that point felt so literal that it almost felt autobiographical, so the dream sequences and stuff caught me off guard. Sure, I would have liked a little bit more closure (Jiko’s life story, anybody?), but maybe there’s a sequel in store eventually. Even if not, this was still a really interesting novel. I may have to look up some more titles by Ozeki.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie, Jr.

Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie Jr.: If you like navel gazing, then have I got the book for you. Our narrator is living on an island (presumably somewhere in the Caribbean), obsessing over the woman he loves. He also talks a bit about his father who died of cancer, the idea of machines becoming sentient, and then more about the woman he loves and their often violent relationship. In between he does a whole hell of a lot of drinking and driving and fighting and moping. And, to be perfectly honest, it’s just not all that interesting. The plot doesn’t show up until about two thirds of the way through, and even that is disappointing in how little it affects the narrator. He doesn’t change in any meaningful way. The sentient machines bit is pointless and apparently unrelated to much of anything; the description of his father’s illness is painful and also not clearly related to the story of the woman he loves. Which, given the sheer volume of pages dedicated to her, I would assume is the main point of the story. But I don’t know. I do know that there was a whole lot of paper wasted in the printing of this thing, as each “chapter” is extremely short, most well under a single page. Replacing these page breaks with double line breaks would probably cut the page count by more than a third. In short, I’m sure there are plenty of people who would genuinely enjoy this book, but I found it pointless overall, something I would not have finished except for the dwindling hope that eventually the author would have something to say to make it all worth it, a story to tell or even a poignant bit of description. But alas, no.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen (unabridged audiobook read by Chad Lowe; 6.5 hrs on discs): Roy has just moved to Florida, where he is endlessly bullied by the local thug, Dana. One day he sees some kid running barefooted outside during school hours and it sparks his interest. Young adult literature has a number of archetypes associated with it, and two of them are presented here: the “ordinary main character meets weird new kid and has life transformed” story and the “ordinary main character fights corporate baddies for important cause” story. And there’s a kid who makes fart noises. It’s a cute tale, funny in parts and heartwarming in others, but extraordinarily predictable overall. Still, this is definitely the sort of story I’d encourage kids to read. I may have heard the lessons about being different or standing up for what you believe in many times before, but that doesn’t make them less valid. And who doesn’t love owls?

Also posted on BookCrossing.

The Ghosts of Nagasaki by Daniel Clausen

The Ghosts of Nagasaki by Daniel Clausen: Bottom line up front: I have absolutely no idea what this book is about. The American narrator currently works in Tokyo as some kind of business analyst, having originally moved to the country as an English teacher in Nagasaki. The story regularly shifts between present day, where the narrator is writing his memoirs, and the memoirs themselves, but everything is written in present tense, making it tough to tell what happens when. There’s a chatty Welshman, some ghosts who may or may not actually be real people, a few cats, some persecuted Christians, a missing heart, and a whole lot of introspection. This isn’t a bad book, but it is a very difficult one to follow. I imagine there’s quite a bit of symbolism I missed. In short, this book is extremely literary, the sort I would imagine being dissected by college students in essays. If that’s your cup of tea, you’ll enjoy this one, but if you’re just looking for a straightforward piece of storytelling, you might want to give this one a miss.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

“Katherine needs to be stopped.”

Esther Inglis-Arkell on overused character names in fiction:

Katherine, or one of its derivatives, is what you call your main female character when you realize you can’t call her Main Female Character. It has turned, hydra-like, from a name into a multi-headed monster, with Kate, Kay, Kathleen, Caitlin, Cathy, or Cat as its alternatives. I’ve had it pointed out to me that Meg Ryan has played a Katherine-ish name six different times – once she played three Katherines in a row. I’d have to argue that few actresses will have no Katherines on their resume, especially if they play the main character. It’s ubiquitous, and therefore meaningless.

My real first name is Kate, and it is rather refreshing to hear that someone else (especially someone with as refreshingly uncommon a name as Esther) has noticed how often it’s used as a generic everywoman name. If it’s not the main character, it’s the main character’s wife or romantic interest. I mean, I know it’s a common name – one of my best friends is also named Kate, which leads most of our mutual friends to call me Melydia just to differentiate us. (Which is fine by me; I’ve been using that as my primary netname since about 1993.) Still, it’s a touch troubling to find one’s own name to have become a sign of generic, lazy name-choosing. Pick something else, kids. Please.

P.S. – Male names starting with J should be reduced as well. Once I tried reading a book where the first five characters I met were named Johnny, Jack, Jackie, Jerry, and Jimmy. No, I’m not making that up. I had a terrible time keeping track of them.

The Darlings by Cristina Alger

The Darlings by Cristina Alger: This is the story of financial royalty, of insanely wealthy families made up entirely of lawyers, investors, bankers, and their quasi-philanthropic spouses. When a family friend of the Darlings commits suicide, all sorts of dirty laundry is unearthed, turning everyone’s world on its head. This was a fascinating introduction to a world completely foreign to me. I found Merrill and Paul quite sympathetic, and while the ending fell flat, the rest of it was a good time. My only real complaint was how much difficulty I had keeping track of all the characters. I could have used an extra sentence or two at the beginning of each chapter to remind me how this person relates to the other people. But it was a decent piece of fiction all the same.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

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