Tag Archives: reader

“From the Corner of His Eye” by Dean Koontz

eye

After starting a full-time job, I don’t have as much time for reading.  Thus I sneak in as much as I can through audio books, which allow me to read during my biking commute and on my lunch hour (so I can eat and read at the same time).  The interesting thing about audio books, I’ve found, is that there are some stories that are best heard out loud, and some you’d rather read a print version.  Dean Koontz is one such author that writes stories that are best listened to out loud.  Anyone who knows me well is aware that Dean Koontz is my go-to author when I’m stuck in a book rut, or want to listen to something entertaining that doesn’t require a lot of brain power.  Koontz is often criticized because his characters tend to be almost cartoonish–there is almost always characters that are pure, good, and almost angel-like, and they must battle against an evil man/corporation/mystical force.  For a summer, read I am fine with characters and a plot like that.

A fellow Koontz fan recommended this book to me, claiming it was one of her favorite Koontz novels.  Right away, I realized that the book description on Amazon or Goodreads is misleading.  My short synopsis: What does a little boy named Bartholomew, a young girl who delivered a baby after being raped, and a psychopath all have in common?  In this novel of good versus evil, metaphysics, and science fiction, three stories come together in a climax that makes you question the nature of the world.  If I say any more than this, I’m afraid I might give away some spoilers. Suffice to say, this book was enjoyable in that the characters were well-developed, there were a lot of twists and turns, and I thought the ending was satisfying and tied together everything well.  It is a Koontz book however, meaning that the characters are not complex (either they are good or bad people), there is a dog (Koontz loves dogs), and the romance(s) are all very innocent.

If I had to rate this book in terms of other Koontz novels, this one would be in my top ten.   What Koontz does well is creating villains.  The villain character in this book was creepy and believable.  Also, although his characters aren’t complex, they are well-developed.  Part of the pleasure of reading this book is seeing how the characters all come together and connect at the very end.  Part thriller, part family sagas, part mediation on the nature of life/death and multiple universes, this book is all around an entertaining summer read you can sink your teeth into.

 

Thanks for stopping by my blog!  Be sure to subscribe to get the latest updates on what I’m reading this summer.  As always, I’d love to hear from you in the comments about the books I discuss, and your recommendations.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under horror, Thriller

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” By Lionel Shriver

kevin.jpg

 

These past few weeks have been busy with getting settled into my new full-time position.  However, that’s not the only reason why it has taken me so long to write about “We Need to Talk About Kevin.”  This book has been haunting me since finishing it a few weeks ago. It has taken me some time to gather all my thoughts on it and articulate what I’d like to say.

I’ll start with a basic, spoiler-free, synopsis before going into my review.

“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is a series of letters written by Eva to her estranged husband Franklin about their son, Kevin, who at the age of 15 went on a brutal shooting spree at his high school.  Naturally, it is a sad, heavy book that is twisted, horrifying, and will mess with your emotions.  Before you read this book, I think there are several important things to note:

  1. The big climax in this book is not the fact that Kevin committed this horrible act.  From the very beginning, Eva talks about her son’s crime.
  2. Although the title makes it seem that this book is all about Kevin, it is actually more about Eva, her relationship with her husband, how she went from a career woman to a mother, and a reflection on her sense of guilt in the aftermath of Kevin’s deed.
  3. Shriver is an excellent writer.  However, a lot of negative reviews on this book focus on the fact that Eva writes letters to her husband that are too formal and don’t read the way you’d expect letters between two people who know each other so well.  For example, some people were annoyed that she’d write things to her husband that he already knew.  Why write in detail about their relationship when he knows what he said/did?  POTENTIAL SPOILER ALERT: Well, if you think about it too much, the writing style gives away the huge plot twist. I guessed it within the first few chapters, and after having the plot twist confirmed at the end, the way Eva wrote to her husband made perfect sense.  

 

My advice to anyone starting this book, is don’t be put off by the writing style and the slow build up.  Every anecdote Eva reveals slowly leads up to the fated day of Kevin’s massacre and the aftermath.  It is worth it, trust me, to mull through the beginning and wonder where it’s going to end up, considering we already know Kevin is guilty and what he did.  I promise you though, towards the end, all the little pieces fall in place, leaving you shocked, and shocked at how shocked you are.

As heavy as this book is, there are many important themes weaved throughout.  Of course, the main question in the book is of nature versus nurture: Was Kevin born evil or did the fact that Eva was (as shown many times throughout the book) a bad mom reason for him snapping?  You will find yourself on an emotional rollercoaster in this book.  Sometimes you are on Eva’s side and are terrified of things Kevin (allegedly) does.  But then, you wonder if he ever really did anything bad, or is Eva remembering innocuous incidences and trying to find some sort of warning for what her son ended up doing?  Growing up, Kevin never actually does (or is caught) doing anything bad.  Maybe Eva’s skewed perception of him makes him look guilty.  Then you think that Eva might be a terrible mom because she never bonded with Kevin, yells at him, and denies him a normal mother’s love.  But Eva clearly had post-pardem depression so how much blame can you really put on her?  My feelings towards all the characters was complicated and mercurial.

Another theme is of motherhood and feminism.  Eva really did not want a child, but felt pressured by her husband to have one.  She gave up her career, her opportunities to travel, and some of her husband’s love for Kevin.  And she is expected to feel nothing but love and sacrifice for him. However, Eva never warms to her son and feels like a failure of a mother for that.  I’ve never had children so I would really be interested to hear the perspective of a mother on this book and Eva’s relationship with Kevin.

Lastly, this book is about violence in schools, and societies’ twisted obsession with covering people who commit violent crimes.  A quote from the book summarizes Eva’s views on this: “In a country that doesn’t discriminate between fame and infamy, the latter presents itself as plainly more achievable.”  Written in 2003, this book has a lot of eerie predictions about the world we live in now, where school shootings are a common occurrence for troubled people to get their minutes of TV fame before going out in a violent last hurrah.

Why should you read this book?  Looking back on how I described it, why would anyone want to subject themselves to somethings that seems really depressing?  Do it for the last few pages.  With all the disturbing content in this book, the ending is so heartbreakingly human and raw.  I listened to this book on my phone (which by the way–if you read this book I highly recommend listening to it versus reading it in print) while riding my bike and had to pull over at the end to let myself have a good cry.  It wasn’t a sad cry, just an overwhelmed-with-emotions cry.  I also think you should read this book because it opens your mind up to important questions about the themes I mentioned above.

After you read this, you’ll want to give your mom a hug.  And seriously question if you ever want to be a parent.

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, horror

“The Circle” By Dave Eggers

circle

“SECRETS ARE LIES

SHARING IS CARING

PRIVACY IS THEFT”-pp. 305

 

Technology can make our lives seemingly more simple while at the same time complicating them in unforeseeable ways.  The Circle by Dave Eggers is best summarized by the age old question popular in science/technology based dystopias: “How far is too far?”  Unlike other dystopian novels however, that question is never answered explicitly, and is ultimately up to the reader to decide.

Let me take a step back:

The Circle chronicles the evolution of Mae Holland, a 20-something post-grad that is stuck in an all-too-familiar-to-millenials rut.  She is working a crappy job, has student loan officers harassing her daily, and is living with her parents.

Her life suddenly changes when her best friend from college, Annie, helps her secure a job at “The Circle,” a fancy new tech company that is eerily reminiscent of Epic Systems (a software company in Madison, WI. The author also happens to be from Chicago, so I’m further convinced this place might have inspired him).  Compared to her previous job, The Circle is a utopia.  She has a living wage and supervisors who support her.  There are fancy themed department buildings, cafeterias where famous chefs offer succulent dishes, parties on campus at night, sports facilities, and even dormitories where you can sleep if you work late.  She can’t believe her fortune to work for a company like this.

While Mae finds herself more drawn in to life in The Circle, she finds life outside to be less exciting and grim.  What starts as a blissful fairy tale of a promising career starts to take a darker turn as The Circle expands its influence and power.  Suddenly people who openly express worry that The Circle is becoming a monopoly start to have their metaphorical dirty laundry once protected online exposed to the media.  Workers at The Circle develop technology that raises questions of what should be considered private versus publicly accessed information.

A lot of reviews of this book equate The Circle to 1984.  While I would agree that both illustrate a dystopia (one in development in The Circle) that rests on the value that personal privacy is a threat to national security, this book is much more complicated than that.  This novel is timely in that a lot of the young characters grew up hearing about terrorist attacks, school shootings, and corrupt politicians.  Not only that, their desire to be connected to others and validated on social media contributes to the paranoia and anxiety that fuels The Circle’s  power.  The Circle’s mantra quoted above expresses the shared values of these young characters who want to hold people accountable for atrocious actions and share their lives and find instant (yet ironically meaningful) connections on social media.

Eggers manages to handle these modern issues, questions, and controversies without lecturing the reader.  Unlike 1984, most characters in The Circle eagerly give up their rights to privacy for the sake of professional transparency and security (all for different reasons that are explored in the book).  What’s chilling is that in this novel, it doesn’t take government force to make people give up their rights; it’s the pressure to follow the example of their peers and “get with the times.” Concerns expressed by people who are wary of The Circle are dismissed by Mae and her colleagues with a pitying and condescending eye-roll.  They are, after all, pioneers of the new wave of technology. Resistance is futile…in fact resistance is blasé and a sign of moral flaws. 

Overall, The Circle isn’t solely a dire warning or a lecture on the potential harms of unchecked technological advancement.  Its power lies in its ability to creep into your subconscious and find yourself pondering “What if..?” when you next find yourself at a social gathering surrounding by peers tapping away at their I-phones.  Without giving away the ending, I’ll just say that the last lines of the book sent a shiver down my spine and have since made me contemplate the roles social media and technology play in our lives, as well as the effects lack of privacy and unrestricted access to information can have on society and the human psyche.  Another question The Circle raises is: Do we really want to know everything about ourselves, our friends, our family, or our history? 

The other big theme in this book was about human connection, which I would struggle to discuss without revealing major spoiler alerts.  In a nutshell, I would agree with the author’s suggestion that technology has, and will continue, to change how humans interact and relate to each other on personal and professional levels. Suffice to say that this book will make you think about a lot of aspects of human society and struggle with questions that don’t have an easy or apparent answer.

As I read over what I’ve typed so far, I realize that this book is very intricate in its layers of meaning.  There are many themes that I could have discussed here, but I chose to focus on the ones that resonated the most with me.

A final note on Eggers as a writer: this is the first book I’ve read by him and I was very impressed.  Part of what makes this novel so effective is his writing style, especially his insertion of metaphorical scenes that give you goosebumps without really knowing why at first.  I still shudder when I think about the symbolic scene with the company shark, who greedily eats every other sea creature in its tank.  Such visceral moments as these add to the foreboding undertone lurking parallel to the dialogue.

Have any of you read The Circle?  Let me know what you thought in the comments!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, Sci-fi/Fantasy, Thriller

“The Perfect Girl” by Gilly Macmillan

perfect girl

Summer is perfect to not only catch up on your reading list, but give yourself time to stumble upon something unexpected.  My favorite part about this time of year is going to the down-town Madison Public Library (MPL) and leisurely browsing their “Too Good to Miss” section.  From best-sellers, to adaptations, to obscure picks, the dear MPL librarians never fail to maintain a revolving collection of books that includes something that will appeal to any literary appetite.  The reason why I seem to always leave the library with more books than I came to return is because the “Too Good to Miss” section lives up to its namesake.

It was at this section where I stumbled upon The Perfect Girl.  As someone who likes to brag that I read Gone Girl and Girl on the Train (by the way, what is it with thrillers using the word “girl” in their titles?) before they became super ultra best-sellers, I am always hunting for the newest thriller sensation.  My guilty pleasure are books that include: mystery, unreliable characters, murder, messed up families with secrets, and plot twists.  This title initially caught my eye with it’s dark cover and that at first glance I thought the author was Gillian Flynn (which begs the question: When will she bless us with another book?).  Then I read the back and saw it was about: mystery, unreliable characters, murder, messed up families with secrets, and plot twists.  Say no more.

With the sudden surge of books like Gone Girl, I can imagine that before long this sort of genre will become cliche and tired.  For now though, I am one of many who are hooked on this type of novel.  However, it presents a challenge to authors: it’s hard to take a troupe that sells but avoid your book being lost in the noise.  The Perfect Girl didn’t seem to get great reviews on Goodreads, but I think it is the perfect summer book.

Very short summary: Music prodigy Zoe was involved in an unfortunate accident a year ago that broke her family and sent her to juvenile detention.  Tonight she’s performing a concert with her new brother in law to try to get her life back on track.  Little does she know by the end of the night, her mother will be dead.

Dum dum dum!!

Mystery/thriller lovers will see that this book takes a lot of strategies from Gone Girl.  It is told in multiple perspectives, you aren’t sure who is a reliable character or not, there are a lot of family secrets, and everything is revealed in spurts.  The paperback version is about 430 pages, but it took me only 3 days to read.  It’s fast paced and has decent character development.  My only critiques would be that the ending is somewhat predictable, and the character Sam (a police officer) didn’t really seem necessary to the overall plot.

While we wait for Gillian Flynn (hint hint Gillian!) to crank out her new book (right now would be great!), The Perfect Girl is a satisfactory thriller that will provide you with a few days of literary entertainment.  Take it with you on a trip this summer, or as you sit by the pool.

What books are you reading this summer?  Let me know in the comments!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Mystery, Thriller

“The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” By Carson McCullers

heart

“Maybe when people longed for a thing that bad the longing made them trust in anything that might give it to them.”

I was pulled out of my “book rut” when I opened a copy of this novel.  By book rut, I meant that it’s been (in my opinion) too long since I read a book that grabbed my attention, transported me, and left me breathless and overwhelmed with emotion.  Being in a book rut is quite disappointing for bookworms such as myself. I thus scoured the Internet looking for ideas of well-written books that would captivate me.  The Heart is a Lonely Hunter came up on a few lists so I took that as a sign.

It’s funny how loved, popular, and timeless the book To Kill a Mockingbird is, yet I’ve never heard of  The Heart is a Lonely Hunter before.  In many ways, they are very similar.  Both take place in the Southern US, both have a tomboy as a main character, both tackle issues of racism and growing up.  I was actually astounded at the similarities.  However, while To Kill a Mockingbird is centered around white people and the experiences of blacks through a white lens, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter has prominent black characters that are richly developed, and complex.

This book was written in the 1940s by a 23-year-old white woman, yet had I not known that before reading this book, I would never have guessed that.  What makes this book so brilliant is the fact that a young Southern and white woman could write about complex issues of racism, grief, and sexuality with empathy and a deep insight that is beyond her years.

The cast of characters is a rag tag melee of misfits in the South who are united by their friendship with a mute named John Singer.  There’s Biff, a recently widowed store owner who is exploring his gender identity; Dr. Copeland, a black man who is frustrated with the plight of African Americans in the US; Jake Blount, an alcoholic who is obsessed with leading a revolution; and Mick, a young teen girl whose high hopes for life are slowly crushed by her family’s descent into poverty.  Singer has his own issues: his best friend/ soul mate (probably lover) is in a mental institution and so he has no one to lay his own burdens and love onto.

The most interesting part about this book was the deep biblical undertones.  Singer is like Jesus: the main characters are constantly coming to talk to him and tell him about their life, their burdens, their hopes and their fears.  Being a mute symbolizes that while people pray to Jesus or God, they don’t get a direct answer.  His character also represents how humans project their own ideas of who God should be.  For Singer, he means something different to each of the characters.  A significant moment in the novel is when all the main characters are together in the same room, and no one can talk to each other.  They all want to talk to the mute instead.  This scene is one example of how brilliant, metaphorical, and powerful this book is.

I could go on and on about the symbolism and meanings in this book, but I don’t want to spoil anything.  Do yourself a literary favor, and read this book. Be warned though: there are a lot of emotional parts.

Have you read The Heart is a Lonely Hunter? If so, I’d love to hear what you thought about it.  Let me know in the comments your opinions!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction

“A Walk in the Woods” by Bill Bryson

walk in the woods

Besides commencement on Saturday, I am officially done with my Master’s Degree Program!  It is a very exciting time in my life as I transition from being a student to settling into my new job as a grant writer.  This new chapter in my life also means that I have more time to dedicate to things that bring me joy; the number one being reading, and number two writing about what I’ve read.

I’ve managed to read a book every now and then in grad school, but my priorities were on classes and teaching.  As soon as my last class got out however, I perused my bookshelves and pulled out all the books I’ve been meaning to read forever but haven’t gotten around to.  The first one was A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson.

Bryson is a well-known and prolific writer.  I remember when I worked at bookstores, he was an author that could be found in many sections: travel writing, history, science, and outdoors.  In college I read his travel memoir The Lost Continent.  While I found some of his snide remarks about people in small towns borderline stereotypical and insulting, I nevertheless appreciated his humor and writing style.  Then a few years later, A Walk in the Woods became a movie and I thought “Oh yeah, I should read that book by him next.”  My dad had a copy of this book in his nightstand, which stuck in my mind because I can count on my right hand how many books I’ve seen my dad read since I could count.  I bought a copy at the Half Price Books I was working at two years ago, and then the book sat in my shelf until this year.

That’s the long story of how I finally came to read this book.  Now onto the book itself.

Anyone who has read a Bryson book before this one will recognize his unique sense of humor.  Bryson does like to make fun of people a lot, but he makes up for his snarky comments by adding in plenty of self-deprecation.  He begins by deciding (seemingly out off the blue) to walk the Appalachian Trail.  Once he is set upon this adventure, he chronicles finding a partner to join him; an old friend and recovering alcoholic named Katz.

This memoir follows the “broken line narrative” structure.  Interspersed with Bryson’s anecdotes of preparing for the trail, interactions with Katz and other hikers, and his experiences, he gives background on the history of the Appalachian Trail and side notes about bear attacks and ecology.  As someone who had a very basic background on the Appalachian Trail, I appreciated his mix  of facts with personal experience, and a large dollop of humor for entertainment purposes.  Here is one example that had me spit out my coffee in laughter:

“Up to that moment it had not occurred to me that bears might prowl in parties. What on earth would I do if fourbears came into my camp? Why, I would die, of course. Literally shit myself lifeless. I would blow my sphincter out my backside like one of those unrolling paper streamers you get at children’s parties–I daresay it would even give a merry toot–and bleed to a messy death in my sleeping bag.”

The best part of this memoir was the interaction between Bryson and Katz.  They were old friends, but hadn’t spoken in years.  Throughout the book, I had so many questions about Katz: why he had decided to join Bryson, why they had lost touch, and what was his background.  Bryson manages to keep the suspense and doesn’t fully reveal all of Katz’s nature until the end.  My one critique of this book is that in the middle section, Katz is absent.  To me, he was my favorite character and his interactions with Bryson and the other hikers they encountered were the strongest parts.

It’s a great time of year to read a book about nature.  If you’re looking for something funny or informative to read, A Walk in the Woods is a great choice.  Just don’t expect it to inspire you to trek the Appalachian Trail yourself.  Instead, live vicariously through Bryson’s adventure and be thankful you don’t have to eat dried noodles every day for weeks on end.

What’s on your summer reading bucket list?  Tell me in the comments!

Leave a comment

Filed under Humor, Memoir, travel writing

The Butterfly Garden by Dot Hutchinson

butterfly-garden

Where do I even begin?

I’ve read my fair share of books that scared me, scarred me, haunted me.

But until now, I had never encountered a book that managed to do all of that while also being mesmerizing and surprisingly readable.

This book is a young woman’s (Maya) confession in a police station.  All we know at the beginning is that she and many other girls were kidnapped and endured unspeakable horrors at the hands of a man referred to as “The Gardener.”  Though reluctant at first to open up to the cops, Maya slowly shares her heartbreaking account of her childhood and life as a prisoner with the other women.

Soon we learn that the gardener tattoos each woman with large butterfly wings (each woman’s unique) on their backs and refers to them as his “butterflies.”  As Maya confesses to the cops, the reader is taken with her on the same twisted, terrifying path of discovery as to what being a “butterfly” for the Gardener entails.

We know from the beginning that Maya and other women ultimately escape.  The purpose of the story and the impending climax is how Maya eventually became free and why she seems to hesitate at incriminating her captor.  As the novel builds up to this, the author develops through Maya’s account the characters of the butterflies and the gardener, giving them a raw humanity that sparks conflicting emotions.  It’s not a victim versus villain scenario.  It’s a complicated exploration of the dichotomy of the human condition.

This book with scare you, scar you, haunt you.  Its superior writing and storytelling are worth every emotion.

Have you read this book?  Let me know in the comments what you thought!

Leave a comment

Filed under Fiction, horror, Mystery