Category: Literary Fiction
An interesting character study of a lonely police detective forced to retire. The Darkness is another character as is the beautiful isolation of Iceland.
Hulda is 64. She is dreading retiring to her lonely apartment when her superior tells she has been replaced effectively in two weeks. He allows her to investigate one cold case. She selects a drowned Russian girl who was awaiting asylum in a remote hostel. Was her death an accident, suicide or murder?
Telling three alternating stories of an unwed mother forced to give up her daughter in the 1940s, Hulda’s investigation and a mysterious woman’s adventure in the Icelandic winter. The Darkness is a slow-simmering tale rather than a thriller. The mystery was extremely easy to solve. However, Hulda’s story is an interesting one. Plus the exceptional conclusion has to be read to be believed.
The Darkness is recommended for literary fiction fans rather than those readers looking for an exciting thriller or challenging mystery. This is a tale within a tale within a tale. 4 stars!
Thanks to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for an advance copy.
Posted in Literary Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers, New Books Tagged with: aging, Oct 16 2018, Police procedural
The Witch Elm was an acceptable family drama but not much of a thriller.
Toby is a lucky privileged jerk. His girlfriend, Melissa, is a sweet bubblehead. After celebrating his ability to talk his way out of a possibly career-ending mistake at work, Toby goes home. There he surprises two burglars, who promptly beat the tar out of him. While his broken ribs and tailbone will heal, his facial scars and head injury possibly will not fade with time. Toby’s lucky days are over.
While recuperating, Toby stays with his Uncle Hugo, who is dying of brain cancer at Ivy House. When a skull is discovered in the Witch Elm, Toby decides to investigate. Toby is literally the worst detective ever. However, he does stumble over some secrets.
Overall, I didn’t like the pacing of the Witch Elm. It seemed overlong with an extremely slow build to the mystery. While the conclusion was shocking, I’m not convinced that it was worth the six hours of my time to get there. If this had been marketed more as literary fiction rather than a thriller, the pacing would have made more sense. However, it is hard not to rate this based on the author’s previous excellent Dublin Murder Squad series. The Witch Elm is recommended only for fans of family drama and literary fiction rather than mystery or thriller fans. 3 stars.
Thanks to the publisher, Viking Books, and Edelweiss+ for an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Literary Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers, New Books Tagged with: family drama, Oct 9 2018
Marvelous psychological thriller that totally got Under My Skin.
Poppy, a former travel photojournalist, now owns a boutique agency representing other photojournalists. Her husband, Jack, died a year earlier—attacked early one morning while running in a local park. After his death, Poppy had a nervous breakdown with a two-day blackout. Still seeing a therapist, Poppy realizes a mysterious man is following her. She is also having dreams of what happened during her blackout. She is downing both legal and illegal pills with alcohol. Is the person following her only in her fevered imagination? Is she going crazy again?
The soporific mood of Under My Skin is addicting. It feels like the reader is dreaming rather than reading the story. There is also a strong feeling of apprehension of what the denouement will bring. It feels like finally discovering the reason for Jack’s murder will blow Poppy’s entire life apart.
I’ve read a multitude of family thrillers. This is the best of the bunch. By the end, you are no longer reading about Poppy—you are Poppy struggling to maintain your sanity among increasingly untenable facts.
Under My Skin is an excellent micro-thriller. Nothing much happens on the surface but oh so much occurs in Poppy’s mind. If you have given up on sleep one night, this creepy little thriller is a perfect midnight read. 5 stars!
Thanks to Hanover Square Press and NetGalley for an advance copy.
Posted in Literary Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers Tagged with: family drama, Oct 2 2018
It’s a familar party game. Put your five favorite people, living or dead, on your Dinner List. This book speculates on what would happen if the dinner actually occurred.
Sabrina arrives at her thirtieth birthday dinner at a trendy restaurant. Seated at the table are the five guests she named. Audrey Hepburn, her college philosophy Professor Conrad, her ex-boyfriend Tobias, her estranged father Robert, and her college best friend Jessica are all relaxed and not surprised to be at dinner together. Sabrina is worried that she is either insane or dreaming.
During dinner, flashbacks show the history Sabrina has with these people and why they were added to her dinner list. However, the focus is Sabrina and Tobias’ relationship and why it ended.
I love the magical realism genre (I’m looking at you Haruki Murakami). This book has a magical atmosphere in a more realistic setting. It was innovative of the author to use an old party game as a plot driver. The conclusion is heartfelt and felt organic to the characters. Be aware that the Dinner List is sad in parts. Several of the dinner guests are dead so any revelations will be ultimately bittersweet with the knowledge unusable after the dinner ends. The Dinner List is highly recommended for fans of Me Before You and the Fault in our Stars. 5 stars!
Thanks to Flatiron Books and NetGalley for an advance copy.
Posted in Literary Fiction Tagged with: magical realism, Sep 11 2018
The rich and obnoxious American is alive and well in Lake Success.
Barry is an uber rich hedge fund manager. He has a just diagnosed autistic 3-year old son. He has split from his wife, Seema, a first-generation Indian immigrant. And he wants to recapture his youth by taking a Greyhound bus trip to visit his college girlfriend, Layla, who he hasn’t spoken to in more than a decade. Unfortunately, Barry doesn’t have much real life experience. He has to ask his chief of staff to pull strings to get him a bus ticket after the depot is closed.
Barry is the most unlikeable main character I have ever encountered. Seema isn’t much better—having an affair less than two days after their split. It took me about a quarter of the book to see that Barry is intended to be a Trump parody (or possibly satire) even while Trump himself serves as a background to the story. Generally, parodies/satires are humorous. This one wasn’t. While Barry eventually has a human feeling, it was a long time coming.
I think Lake Success will probably be a hit with critics and win some literary awards. It’s recommended for literary fiction fans but decidedly not for Trump supporters. While I loved the author’s Super Sad True Love Story, Lake Success just didn’t resonate with me. 3 stars.
Thanks to the publisher, Random House, and NetGalley for an advance copy.
Posted in Literary Fiction Tagged with: Sep 4 2018
A literary take on a post-apocalyptic novel sure to be nominated for a literary award or two. Severance is the story of Candace, a Chinese immigrant and millennial, who is trying to just live her dull life when a real apocalypse hits.
At first, Candace is in denial and continues to live in an eerily empty NYC. Eventually, she leaves in an old NYC taxi and collapses by the side of the road. A group of other NYC survivors take her on a trip to the Facility, where the nerdy leader, Bob, says he has a crash pad perfectly suited to the apocalypse he knew was coming thanks to gaming and Internet conspiracy sites.
I enjoyed the beautiful evocative prose of this novel the most. The plot works but some of its satirical aspects seem forced. I get that Candace’s life is an endless repetition of the same tasks with no knowledge gained from them. Why does the epidemic have the same symptom? It is like getting hit over the head with her point. Also, I would have liked characters other than Candace to be more fully fleshed out. Most seem like stereotypes like Bob the nerd. It is hard to care if something bad happens to a stereotype.
While I don’t think this will appeal to most Walking Dead or World War Z fans because it is too slow as literary fiction often is, it will be a fine change in setting for literary fiction fans. Since I am more the first choice, I give Severance 3 stars. I wanted more horror or more satire. However, your star rating may vary depending on your genre preference.
Thanks to the publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
Posted in Humor, Literary Fiction, Science Fiction Tagged with: apocalypse, Aug 14 2018, satire
I adore epistolary novels. I feel like I am the “fly on the wall” in the writers’ life. Meet Me at the Museum is one of the best of that style of novel that I have read.
Tina has recently lost her best friend. She is past 60 and thinking that her opportunity for fulfilling her life goals is fast escaping her. She decides to see the prehistoric Tollund man (a real object located in the Silkeborg Museum in Denmark) so she writes to her old pen pal who works at the museum. Unfortunately, he has died but the current museum’s curator, Anders, responds. Thus begins the short and romantic tale Meet Me at the Museum.
In the first letter Tina writes,
“it must have occurred to you that what you thought would happen when you were young, never did.”
Who of us over a certain age hasn’t had that feeling of regret at roads not taken? The love story and tale of second chances regardless of your circumstances is beautifully written with just the right tone. This book has many asides that discuss archeology, knitting, farming, and opera among many more subjects. But ultimately it is a fictional memoir of two strangers’ lives made closer by their impersonal method of communicating by letter. Using such a slow and detached medium allowed both Tina and Anders to talk about their true feeling without embarrassment much like Americans talk to a therapist.
I enjoyed both of their stories though they veered from sorrowful to joyful to resigned and back. It is definitely a compelling read. I stayed up past midnight and read it in one sitting. Meet Me at the Museum is perfect for fans of Nicholas Sparks’ The Notebook. 4 stars!
Thanks to Flatiron Books and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
Posted in Literary Fiction, Romance Tagged with: Aug 7 2018
Claire desperately wants to find her missing father to discover his reasons for living A Double Life.
Claire was only eight when her father bludgened her live-in babysitter Emma to death and attempted to do the same to her mother. After her mother escaped the house, her father disappeared. When she is told he may have been found, Claire reminisciences about her mother and father’s romance and life before the crime. Claire’s father is the first British Lord accused of murder in the 20th century. He and her mother were separated and planning to divorce before the incident. Could her mother have set up the crime to keep her father’s wealth?
A Double Life begins slowly with a very long flashback about how Claire’s parents relationship began. If I hadn’t been reading this book to review it, I probably would have stopped reading as it was boring and seemingly pointless. The book does have an eventful conclusion. However, the overall melancholy feel and depressingly dark inevitability was just not for me. A Double Life is recommended to those readers of literary fiction who enjoy escaping into someone else’s, so much worse, life. 3 stars.
Thanks to the publisher, Viking Books, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
Posted in Literary Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers Tagged with: family drama, Jul 31 2018
“For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo.”
Shakespeare’s words are the best part of his plays. However, I look to Manga Classics to shorten classic literature to manageable lengths. By including the entire play using Shakespeare’s original words, this book is just as difficult to read as the original.
Recommended for students who have to read the original anyway and would prefer to do it with really beautiful pictures. If you are a cheater like me, look to the Cliff Notes version. 3 stars!
Thanks to Udon Entertainment and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
Posted in Graphic Novel, Literary Fiction Tagged with: Manga, May 15 2018, Shakespeare
Girls Burn Brighter is a thick flavorful soup of a novel full of the spices of India. It is also a heart wrenching tale of two poor young Indian women’s hopes, dreams and grim realities.
Young Poornima is the oldest of two sisters with a younger brother when her mother dies from cancer. Needing someone to run the other sari fabric loom, her father hires Savitha, another young woman from an even poorer family. Poornima and Savitha become best friends. When tradition and violence divides them onto separate life paths, the novel alternates their stories.
Growing up poor is harsh anywhere, but in India in 2001, female baby’s names aren’t even recorded in the village records. Within this novel, females are useless except for three things: housekeeping, sex and babies. It is an unrelentingly dark viewpoint that permeates this book. However, parts of the book show an excitement for the physical details of life: the smells, sounds and colors of India.
Girls Burn Brighter had some great pre-release reviews so I picked it up. I didn’t even know the basic plot when I began reading this book and I believe that is best. It is highly recommended literary women’s fiction. While reading its heroines’ horrifying stories, it does make your relatively insignificant problems seem petty at best. I just pray that this story is not in any way based on fact. 4 stars!
Be aware that this novel has some adult content and themes and so should be read only by adults.
Thanks to the publisher, Flatiron, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
Posted in Literary Fiction Tagged with: India, Mar 6 2018, wormen's fiction
“In Alaska you can make one mistake. One. The second one will kill you.”
It’s 1974 and the world is imploding. Watergate. Vietnam. Black panthers. Gas shortages. Protests. Revolutionaries. Kidnappings. Serial Killers. After receiving an unexpected inheritance, thirteen year old Leni and her parents, Cora and Ernt, move to rural Alaska. With no running water or electricity, the family work hard to make their house a home before winter sets in. As their friendly neighbor Large Marge says, winter “will cull the herd, and fast.”
Ernt has dark moods and nightmares since returning from Vietnam. The moods get darker in the long and frigid Alaskan winters. Cora takes the brunt of it. Leni dreams of a life for herself and her mom away from Ernt.
Seeing a family spiraling downwards into death and madness, The Great Alone puts the reader into an untenable situation along with Leni. Run away alone leaving her mother to her fate or fight the monster who used to be her loving father. This gripping thriller grabs the reader by the throat and causes their real life to be put on hold as they rush to read the conclusion. The Great Alone is highly recommended. Be warned! Starting this compelling novel at bedtime may reduce sleep time significantly. 5 stars!
Thanks to the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for an advanced copy.
Posted in Literary Fiction, Romance Tagged with: Feb 6 2018
Have you ever thought, “Every plot has already been used so what’s the point in reading (or writing) another”? If so, Smoke City is going to surprise you. No book or movie is anywhere near its plot for imagination and creativity.
Smoke City is a captivating genre-smashing novel. Here are the major genres that are colliding like atoms within this novel:
- Historical fiction (Joan of Arc’s death)
- Horror (ghost story)
- Tragedy (predestination during reincarnation)
- Adventure (adult male bonding during a road trip)
- Literary fiction (famous artist hits the skids)
- Magical realism (see above)
It sounds like it would be a huge mess. But somehow it works!
Half-visible wraiths nicknamed smokes are appearing in Southern California and northern Mexico. Mike Vale, a washed up previously famous artist is desperately trying to get to a funeral in Los Angeles.
Mike picks up Marvin Deitz after Marvin is unceremoniously kicked out of his record store’s lease by his shady, possibly mob-connected, landlord. Marvin is convinced that he will die violently before his 57th birthday in a few days. Why? Throughout his multitude of reincarnations, he never lives to 57. Marvin is convinced he is being punished for executing Joan of Arc in 1431. His therapist thinks it is just a delusion. Convinced he has seen the current incarnation of Joan of Arc on a talk show, Marvin is going to Los Angeles in the hopes of finding forgiveness from a woman he has never met–at least in this lifetime.
On the way to LA, the pair pick up a stowaway, Casper. The plot continues to get curiouser and curiouser from there.
Deciding to read this book takes a leap of faith. There is no comparable book or movie to say it resembles. Smoke City was written by a relatively unknown writer and published by a small press. However, take this reviewer’s advice and read this book. It is truly fantastic and totally different from any other book you will read this year! Kirkus Reviews gushed (for them) that it was “strangely satisfying”. It is worth 5+ stars!
Posted in Diane's Favorites, Fantasy, Horror, Literary Fiction, Paranormal Tagged with: Historical fiction, Jan 23 2018, magical realism
A Hundred Small Lessons is a haunting discourse about life wrapped around two families’ stories within a single house.
Elsie and Clem buy a newly built house soon after World War II is over. They have eight-year-old twins and Elsie finds the reason for her existence in motherhood. Sixty-one years later, the twins are almost seventy themselves and Clem is dead. After a bad fall at home, Elsie is shuttled quickly into a nursing home and the house is sold to a new family.
Lucy and Ben are just starting out with their young son. After finding the former owner’s overlooked family photos, Lucy begins to imagine Elsie’s life within the house.
A Hundred Small Lessons alternates between Elsie’s and Lucy’s stories. The language is languorous practically poetic. It feels as if the reader is dreaming, rather than reading, the story. The setting of Brisbane Australia, with its unbridled nature encroaching into everyone’s attempt at order, is a perfect and subtle metaphor for how life can never be controlled.
The holidays and the start of a new year are the time for reflection about the meaning of life and our place within it. Elsie and Clem’s life juxtaposed with Lucy and Ben’s depict one such meaning. Sometimes a book’s plot is just a starting point for thinking about one’s own life. While there is melancholia here, there is also something rather sweet about how life moves through its cycle regardless of our petty triumphs and struggles. As Clem so eloquently says,
All these moments, he thought as the boat edged away from the riverbank. They added up to something, but he could never quite see to what.
A Hundred Small Things is a book to slowly savor. Its evocative setting and thought-provoking plot are perfect starting points for deeper self-reflection. 5 stars!
Thanks to the publisher, Atria Books, for sponsoring the Goodreads giveaway that gave me this wonderful book.
Posted in Diane's Favorites, Literary Fiction Tagged with: Dec 12 2017, Family
Stream-of-Consciousness Literary Short Novella (or long short story)
When telling an anecdote at a cocktail party, it is natural to embellish it to increase the entertainment value. The narrator of this short story is trying to determine why he is not entertaining and further, why he is not believed. He decides to go a quest to find out what really happened during the incident described in his anecdote.
I liked the narrator especially his insecurities. However, it takes a while to get used to his stream of consciousness style of thinking. It reminded me of James Joyce, where you have to spend some time unraveling the meaning in each sentence. Here is an example from the beginning of the book.
I had always known one fact of the incident to be 100% true—a ball of some sort collided with my crotch and I experienced some of the most excruciating pain I would encounter until a basketball collided with my crotch in secondary school (an anecdote that can’t be told due to the unfounded accusation that the thrower—a ginger tomboy—was doing so out of spite, and the distinct possibility she remembers me, and the less plausible one that she might ever read this story and recognize a slanderous portrait of herself), and that my sister was in hysterics.
When the narrator is speaking to someone, as he does throughout the second part of the story, he thankfully speaks in normal length sentences.
Overall, I liked the plot of the story especially the resolution. If the length of the sentence shown above doesn’t disturb, then this short story would be good for those people who enjoy literary fiction with a sense of humor about life.
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway but that has not impacted my review.
Posted in Literary Fiction
Literary Horror (but not simultaneously)
This book was promoted as literary horror. I loved the literary first half of this book but was disappointed with the horror aspect of the remaining portion. It’s hard to say why without being a spoiler so I won’t. However, if I had known what type of horror was coming, I probably would not have chosen to read it. I finished the book in the hope that the literary bent would return but it didn’t.
I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway but that did not impact my review.
Posted in Horror, Literary Fiction
Literary Fiction Disguised as a Thriller.
Stephen King wrote in his latest book, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, that he likes short stories because it prevents him from going off on tangents. Vienna is a book full of tangents on European history and art. While some do relate to the main mystery, most do not. However, I actually enjoyed the asides better than the main plot. The main plot is a mystery and a treasure hunt, which is why it is sometimes compared to the DaVinci Code. However, it is not fast moving enough to be labelled a thriller and I found the ending to be both obvious and anticlimactic. I also really disliked the two main characters due to one’s annoying mental disorder and the other’s conceit. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this book to thriller or mystery readers like me as it would be better suited for literary fiction readers. I think it deserves 2.5 stars but I rounded up to 3 because I really liked the obscure history and art facts within the story.
I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway but that has not impacted my review.
Posted in Literary Fiction