Other Fiction

Book Review: Mexican Gothic

Mexican Gothic
Author: 
Moreno-Garcia, Silvia
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Noemí Taboada is a beautiful socialite who loves wearing opulent purple gowns, riding in a convertible and smoking French cigarettes. A woman of her station, as the novel relates, "was expected to devote her time to the twin pursuits of leisure and husband hunting." Instead, this strong-willed, intelligent and brave woman seizes an opportunity not realizing it could lead to her demise. Neomi’s father receives a disturbing letter from his niece and recent newlywed Catalina. The frenetic message suggests a mysterious doom awaits Catalina, who may need psychiatric help and a divorce, a scandal the businessman wants to avoid in 1950s Mexico City. So Neomi negotiates her way into a chance to attend graduate school – rare in a country when women could not vote – in exchange for heading to the isolated High Place, a distant Victorian mansion once funded by now-depleted silver mines. Once there, she must find out if the letter is nothing more than “female hysteria” as Neomi’s father assumes, or something more sinister.

Moreno-Garcia does a wonderful job sprinkling in the antiquated language of classic Gothic horror to pace this atmospheric creeper while Neomi’s dread about the Doyle family and its hideous patriarch mounts, as does her dueling desires to stay and garner graduate school or flee for her own sanity. The oppressive feel of dead, rotting High Place hints at a history of violence, madness and even darker secrets as the 320-page novel’s protagonist soon finds out. Once there, she meets the drugged Catalina’s menacing and alluring husband, who worms her way into her dreams, which are becoming an evermore disturbing mix of lust and horror. Her only ally is the family’s youngest son, who seems a decent fellow, but hides secrets of his own. Follow along as the amateur sleuth learns more about High Place, its exploitive colonial past and its unique power as the novel – equal parts Daphne du Maurier, Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft –speeds toward a satisfying, albeit gory conclusion.
Awards: 2020 Goodreads Choice Awards Best Horror

Reviewer's Name: 
Joe P.

Book Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close
Author: 
Foer, Jonathan
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Was very reluctant to start book because I usually don't lean towards heartbreak stories. After reading it, its so much more than that. Its a book about a boy who thinks different than the most of us. The difficulties that this 9 year old boy faces with social interaction and phobias really keeps you intrigued. Oskar the nine year old boy is probably one of the most interesting protagonist characters I've ever met and you just have to read to find out why.

Reviewer's Name: 
Adan D.

Book Review: The Crucible

The Crucible
Author: 
Miller, Arthur
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

I read this book in English class my junior year of high school. I find the Salem Witch Trials interesting, so I was excited to read this book. While this book is based on actual events, there are some added fictional parts. I thought it was interesting how rumors and blame could cause the deaths of so many people who did nothing wrong. Overall if you find the Salem Witch Trials interesting, I would highly recommend this book!

Reviewer's Name: 
Emani K.

Book Review: Convenience Store Woman

Convenience Store Woman
Author: 
Murata, Sayaka
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

This poignant English-language debut of one of Japan best contemporary writers is the best-selling story of 36-year-old Keiko Furukura, a quirky outsider who struggled to fit in until she found peace and purpose in her life working at Smile Mart. Human interaction and social norms are difficult for her to comprehend but the store manual explains, line by line, how to act. She does her best to copy her fellow employees' mannerisms and dress to better play the part of a "normal" person and remain a "useful tool" for the store. But after 18 years at the same store, her family and coworkers pressure her to make one of two choices -- focus on a career or marry and start a family. These constraints force the self-described "convenience store animal" whose emotions are only stirred by "the store's voice telling me what it wanted, how it wanted to be" to take measures to avoid scrutiny. This deadpan love story about a quirky woman and a store sticks with you long after you've finished thanks to some beautiful writing, a memorable protagonist and the larger questions raised. The short novel (163 pages) touched a nerve in Japan, generating a sustained discussion concerning conformity, especially for women. The book's notoriety garnered Murata, who continues to work at a convenience store after 18 years, Japan Vogue Magazine's 2016 Woman of the Year honor.
Awards: Akutagawa Prize

Reviewer's Name: 
Joe P.

Book Review: Star

Star
Author: 
Mishima, Yukio
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

Rikio is a star and he likes the glamor, money and notoriety that comes with that lifestyle. His ears ring with the cheers, screams and exhortations of fans, mostly young women, who would kill for a moment with him. But it also means constant scrutiny, which has the 23-year-old celebrity struggling with his own anxieties and obsessions. What if those fans stop desiring him someday? The self-loathing star would rather be in character on a movie set than be himself.
Written shortly after starring in his first film, the late Yukio Mishima delivers a blunt, rich portrayal of a flawed young man lost between his public persona and private life. The novella, first published in 1961 and translated into English for the first time in 2019, is even more relevant now in today's 24/7 media landscape. Awards: Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature

Reviewer's Name: 
Joe P.

Book Review: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared
Author: 
Jonasson, Jonas
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

This charmer was a runaway international bestseller and it is easy to see why. The main character, Allan Karlsson, is memorable even as his stories from his wanderings around the world get more and more far-fetched. Karlsson has always done what he wanted and skipping his 100th birthday party at the start is the least surprising thing when looking back upon this Swedish novel. I read this for a book group (book club set available through PPLD) and one participant described Karlsson as Forest Gump with a dangerous affinity for vodka and explosives. This "intelligent, very stupid novel" as the author described it, is enjoyable if a tad long.

Reviewer's Name: 
Joe P.

Book Review: The Housekeeper and the Professor

The Housekeeper and the Professor
Author: 
Ogawa, Yōko
Rating: 
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review: 

This beautiful exploration of living in the moment centers on the relationship between a brilliant math professor, his young housekeeper and her 10-year-old son. The professor suffered a traumatic brain injury decades earlier, limiting his
short-term memory to only 80 minutes. She is hired to care for this unique, challenging client. And every morning, the housekeeper and the professor meet anew, creating this strange, yet lovely relationship that blossoms between them. The damaged yet lively mind of the professor allows him discover connections in everyday items like shoe sizes and the universe at large, an eye-opening experience for mother and child as their lives draw closer together. The short novel focuses on those mathematical equations and the emotional connections that create a unique family. The 2009 English translation is available as a PPLD book club set. The novel's bibliography cites The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, a biography of Paul Erdos, on which the professor character is based. The 2003 novel, original title The Professor's Beloved Equation, won the Hon'ya Taisho award. It was a massive bestseller in the prolific, well-regarded Ogawa's native country.

Reviewer's Name: 
Joe P.

Book Review: Hollow Kingdom

Hollow Kingdom
Author: 
Buxton, Kira Jane
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

This debut novel is a refreshing romp through the Apocalypse narrated by a foul-mouthed domesticated crow whose only knowledge of the world is TV. This mash-up of "The Incredible Journey" and "The Walking Dead" has an environmental message, focusing on humankind's increasing disconnect from the natural world. You may want to reconsider all those hours of screen time. But do read this novel, which while a tad long, chronicles the adventures of S.T. (not a library appropriate name) and his heroic steed, the dim-witted dog Dennis. The crow tries to save humankind, learns about himself and the natural world in a frightening new Seattle featuring an emerging predator.

Reviewer's Name: 
Joe P.

Book Reviews: The Obelisk Gate

The Obelisk Gate
Author: 
Jemisin, N. K.
Rating: 
4 stars = Really Good
Review: 

I’ll admit that reading The Fifth Season had a bit of a learning curve for
the Broken Earth series. Not only did I have to learn about the vastly
powerful magic system based on rocks (and other rock forms), but I had to get
used to a second-person point of view (POV). Jumping between timelines with
similar characters who had different names was a bit confusing, but I was
able to figure it out by the end. Fast forward to the sequel, The Obelisk
Gate, and most of my qualms with the first book were smoothed over or solved
outright.

One of the things I enjoyed about The Obelisk Gate was the increase in the
scale of the magic system. Including the moon in these calculations makes
perfect sense considering the nature of the orogeny magic. I also appreciated
how the story seemed to focus on a single POV, which made for a more intimate
experience as we followed only one or two individuals instead of four. Now
that I was used to the second-person writing style and the character it
described, it didn’t bother me as much as when I read The Fifth Season.

While The Fifth Season set up the world-building for this trilogy, The
Obelisk Gate’s only weakness is that it finally set up the climactic plot
for the third book. Sure, there was plenty of character development and
intriguing twists in the plot in The Obelisk Gate, but they all seemed to be
hinting at something much more significant that wouldn’t take place in this
book. I do appreciate an excellent three-act structure, so this slight
weakness can be seen as merely an artifact of the second book in a trilogy.
In fact, because it was more focused, I liked this book more than its
predecessor. After all, it’s a strong concept with solid execution.

A focusing and foreshadowing of the Broken Earth series, I give The Obelisk
Gate 4.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Book Review: William Shakespeare's The Force Doth Awaken

William Shakespeare's The Force Doth Awaken
Author: 
Doescher, Ian
Rating: 
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review: 

As I’ve been working my way through Ian Doescher’s Shakespearean adaptations of pop culture movies, I think I’ve hit the point where the novelty has worn off. For whatever reason, I didn’t feel like The Force Doth Awaken had the same charm as other entries in this quirky mash-up series. I have a sneaking suspicion that this may be due to one of two factors: 1. The newer movies have more “modern” dialogue that seemed as if it was directly plopped into the Shakespearean format, or 2. The original trilogy had more time to be ingrained in my psyche, and the translation to Shakespearean felt appropriate.

I don’t want to downplay the novelty of this adaptation, though. The voice acting is still superb, and the sound effects add a little something extra that immersed me as I listened to this audiobook. Plus, it’s not like these books are that lengthy anyway. If anything, I’m out a little over an hour of my time to listen to it (since I listen at 2x speed). I did appreciate that Chewie finally received the internal monologue that R2-D2 originally had since these un-translatable individuals still have something to add. I was, however, disappointed that BB-8 didn’t have the same treatment.

One of the other factors with this “translation” that I wasn’t too keen on was the meta aspect that kept winking at the reader and saying, “See? Do you get that reference?” I understand that everything exists in the Star Wars universe, but I think most people who will pick up this book will already know those references anyway and don’t need the coy allusions to other parts of the series. Of course, I’ll still end up listening to the rest of these when I can get them from my library, but The Force Doth Awaken felt like a low point (at least until I get into the prequels).

An almost too modern and meta Shakespearean adaptation, I give The Force Doth Awaken 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: 
Benjamin W.

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Other Fiction