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Monday, January 28, 2013

THE WANDERERS by Edward Belfar: Read This If


It seems I have succumbed to one of the many viruses plaguing the country, my throat and nasal passages having swollen themselves into a gooey network of mini-tortures (I'm not being overly dramatic or anything, no no no), hence the lateness of my post and my apologies. I must say, these stories were not quite the cure for feeling ill, but they were definitely acute glimpses into the ordinary lives of ordinary men (many of whom disdained women in short white shorts). I must note that the women in these stories are not particularly fleshed out, but they are mostly stories about men, and men not at the best of times. All, as the title suggests, find themselves at some aimless point in their lives, some with hope of finding their way, some who haven't yet found that hope when the story ends. (I particularly liked "Matters of the Heart" - the priest was fantastic.)

I have a sneaking suspicion that these might be better savored than gobbled - reading them back to back highlighted similarities in names and phrase that could at times be confusing.

You should read this if:
  • You are looking for unique, realistic glimpses of ordinary life.
  • You are interested in portraits of life in Kenya (particularly Nairobi). 
  • You can relate to being down on your luck, sometimes at rock bottom. 
  • Reading about experiences that are likely worse than your own has an uncanny way of lifting your spirits. 
  • You currently can't stand your ex (the exes in these stories will make you appreciate them more, in one way or another). 
  • Tragedy is your middle name.
Don't read this if: 
  • You're looking for a little levity. 
  • You're currently on a fluffy bunny kick.
  • Stories about those at their worst or during their worst might just be the thing that pushes you over the edge into a dark, gloomy depression for the rest of the winter.
  • You're going through a divorce. Wait until later. 
  • You're lounging on the beach in the sun. 
*I received this from TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review. See what others thought here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

THE THIRTEENTH TALE by Diane Setterfield: Read This If


I finished The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield at the very end of last year, and, like so many other novels I've read recently, I haven't gotten around to offering my thoughts. I listened to the audio version, which I definitely recommend, though it is a moody, atmospheric listen, entirely appropriate for these frigid winter months. It is told through both the voice of a young(ish) happenstance biographer, and the elderly, sickly author that she is "interviewing" on the author's terms. I never did piece together where, exactly, in time this novel took place, but that could be because I missed a key detail in the audio that I would have caught in the text.

You should consider reading this if:
  • You enjoy stories that leave you feeling as if you're wandering on an English moor through a dense fog. 
  • You don't mind a bit of gothic moodiness and the occasional appearance of unexplained apparitions. 
  • You like novels full of rich, descriptive language and fully developed characters.
  • You're looking for the perfect book with which to curl up with under a thick blanket with a cup of hot tea (or coffee or cocoa) on a gloomy, winter day.
  • You are looking for a non-romance, non-chick-lit novel with female primary characters.
  • You loved The Secret Garden as a child.
Don't bother with this if:
  • You prefer novels that are straight-forward and fast-paced. 
  • The strange bond between twins is far less than fascinating to you. 
  • You prefer your stories illuminated by sun beams as opposed to moonlight. 
  • You find stories with no male primary characters intolerable.
  • Just reading about cold and dampness gives you an unstoppably runny nose.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Fake Bookish Neurosis: Novelimmersionosis

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This morning, I walked into work completely anxious about having to appear in court to take the stand and testify about a case I knew nothing about. This, of course, lasted for only a flash of a second, until I realized that I am not, in fact, an Irish detective named Rob Ryan, but the same self I've always been. Rob Ryan resides in Dublin, in In The Woods by Tana French. I have never been to Dublin. Not physically, anyway. But it seems that when I am deeply immersed in a story, the lines between fiction and reality blur a bit, if only for fractioned moments.

This sort of thing, this novelimmersionosis, if you will, is not entirely uncommon, especially lately, since I've been listening to more audiobooks, and as the long winter sets in. The same thing happened while listening to the eerie The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (impressions forthcoming) though I actually never had a hold on where in time much of that novel took place. (I miss little things like that, sometimes, that I might otherwise have caught, had I been reading the text, since I'm listening while driving or walking most of the time.) 

I have nothing particularly clever or insightful to remark upon this clumsy phenomenon, but I do wonder how many of the rest of you occasionally confuse your lives with the lives of the characters you're reading about. Anyone care to admit to such a thing?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

THE DARLINGS by Cristina Alger: Read this if

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Miss me? Well, either way, I'm back, for the moment, after a ridiculously busy open enrollment/holiday season, fresh with impressions of The Darlings by Cristina Alger, a novel that is a rough equivalent of (Gossip Girl + Edith Wharton - romantic drama) x Bernie Madoff + Bonfire of the Vanities + (Damages - murder schemes).

With the elite of the 1% and the financial tailspin of 2008 as subject matter, it would be easy to dismiss this novel as something to avoid, but you really shouldn't. It's a compelling read, driven by the interplay of characters not only from inside the upper echelons of Manhattan "royalty," but also by those lingering on the outside, less mired in glittery facades. Though I was put off by some of the characters in the beginning, many managed to grow on me. None perfect, but none completely villainous either. All human.

The novel reminded me of exactly why I loved New York and exactly why I left, with passages like:
Manhattan was a Darwinian environment: only the strongest survived. The weak, the nice, the naive, the ones who smiled at passersby on the sidewalk, all got weeded out. They would come to New York for a few years after college, rent shoebox apartments in Hell's Kitchen or Murray Hill, work at a bank or wait tables or audition for bit parts in off-off-Broadway productions. They would meet other twentysomethings over after-work drinks at soulless bars in midtown; get laid; get their hearts broken. They would feel themselves becoming impatient, jaded, cynical, rude, anxious, neurotic. They would give up. They would opt out. They would scurry back to their hometowns or to the suburbs or secondary cities like Boston or D.C. or Atlanta, before they had a chance to breed.

The ones who stayed long enough to raise children were the tough ones, the tenacious ones, the goal-oriented ones, the gold-digging ones, the deal-closing ones, the "kill or be killed" ones, the ones who subscribed to the philosophy "whatever it takes." They looked out for themselves and slept with one eye open. Being born in New York wasn't enough to make someone a true New Yorker; it was in the blood, like a hormone, or a virus.
The passage carries some truth - NYC is definitely not the center of the universe, but it is not for the laid-back or the realistic - there comes a point that the chaos crosses the line between energizing and exhausting. The novel shows that even the uber-privileged and the driven are not immune to finding themselves on the exhausted side of the line.

To summarize, you should read this novel if:
  • You love New York.
  • You hate New York.
  • You love to hate New York.
  • You hate to love New York.
  • You are secretly addicted to Gossip Girl and reruns of all iterations of Law & Order.
  • Most of your friends are lawyers, bankers or journalists. You might be one as well. Or you might as well be one.
  • You like fast-paced novels that take place over a very short period of time (in this case, less than a week).
Don't read this if:
  • You think the very privileged are cluelessly inhuman, and could not possibly be swayed otherwise.
  • You are easily confused by novels told from many points of view.
  • You don't like the pace of a novel interrupted with back-story.
  • You couldn't possibly relate to someone that considered clothes from Brooks Brothers as ill-fitting, off-the-rack attire.
  • You are secretly addicted to Little House on the Prairie and The Brady Bunch reruns. (I know. I'm dated. Apparently I need to watch more TV.)
  • You are looking for something light-hearted and humorous.


*I received this book from the publisher (Penguin Books) in exchange for my honest review.
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