Category: Literary Fiction
Riots I Have Known is a slice-of-prisoner-life novella. An unnamed prisoner, who is hiding alone in the prison’s Media Center during a riot, describes his two year journey within the prison walls and the riot that is occurring around him.
The narrator is the editor of the literary-lauded prison monthly magazine, The Holding Pen. The warden likes the prestige the magazine gives him and so throws money at the project. He also approves the poetry and stories within the magazine including “Mi Corazon en Fuego y Mi Plan de Fuga”. Unfortunately, neither the narrator nor the warden understands Spanish or that the poem details the poet’s escape plan. The escape, and by extension the poem, begin the riot.
The narrator casually mentions the horrors of prison life. He meets his companion McNairy by being violently raped by him. The narrator meets a long-time prisoner who has survived three famous prison riots. The narrator pays him a carton of cigarettes for three rules of surviving prison riots:
- “Stay in your cell and lock yourself in.”
- “Hide your cigarettes under the bed slab.”
- “If you possess the fortitude to knock yourself unconscious, it’s a useful alibi for the exhausting post-riot investigations.”
Unfortunately, the narrator is too short of cigs to pay for the other nine rules…
While not for sensitive readers, I enjoyed Riots I Have Known. It is different from most mockumentary-type books. It is written with a literary voice. Rather than being laugh-out-loud funny, it requires some thought to see the humor, and irony, in the narrator’s situation. The book has an underlying theme that echoes One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Prison has its own culture that doesn’t work to “fix” law breakers. If anything, it encourages violence to prevent victimization by other inmates.
Whether you read it for the prison stories at a purely surface level or drill-down to the weightier themes, Riots I Have Known is an excellent short read. 4 stars!
Thanks to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Literary Fiction, New Books Tagged with: May 21 2019, Prison
In Waisted, Alice and Daphne are in a last ditch attempt to lose their excess weight at a private weight loss retreat.
Alice’s life before fat camp is meticulously recounted. However, I can do it in just one sentence. Alice blames all of her problems, some real and some imaginary, on her weight. I just saved future readers at least a half an hour of time. In the name of Alice, exercise in the extra time, or eat an entire cheesecake or, whatever.
Daphne is a professional makeup artist and owns a makeover store catering to woman with scars or other flaws. Unfortunately, she can’t heal, or hide, her own weight issues.
Both Alice and Daphne have people in their life that are over critical of their weight. Alice’s husband, Clancy, continually reminds her how beautiful she was when they met—only a few years earlier—with an unspoken, though heavily implied, “what happened to you now?” Daphne’s mother, Sunny, is a diet policeman, who has constantly undermined Daphne’s confidence since grade school.
As a larger woman who loves documentaries, I was so excited to read this book. A funny take on Biggest Loser-type shows? Sign me up! However, Waisted spent a lot of time belittling larger size woman even when it didn’t advance the plot. For example, here is the description of the ladies boarding the bus on the way to the weight loss camp, “After the last participant dragged her crazy-wide thighs up the stairs as though this ascension were an Olympic event”. This feeling is not linked to any characters—this appears to be the author talking. This type of emotion is displayed throughout the book. Worse, the book drags in the beginning. As I stated above, using 20% of the book to explain the stereotypical “fat woman” Alice is a waste of time and boring.
While I didn’t like the book at all, it may just be me so I’ll rate it 2.5 stars.
Thanks to Atria Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Literary Fiction, New Books Tagged with: May 21 2019, weight loss
Tears of the Trufflepig is a surrealistic deep dive into where our current cultural road may lead. Tense US/Mexico border relations, genetically modified food, and a further divide between the haves and the have nots are all here.
In the future, worldwide food shortages have decimated the world’s population. Scientists have found a method of generating synthetic food. Drugs are legal in the US so Mexican cartels sell filtered animals to the rich. Filtered animals are genetically modified reincarnations of extinct species. Estaban Bellacosa works as an expeditor for a cartel. Paco is an investigative reporter looking into the filtering trade. When they meet during a dinner of filtered animals, the cartel’s troubles begin.
Tears of the Trufflepig is a hallucinogenic, but believable, trip to a troubled future. The tale reminds me of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, where a certain suspension of belief is required to enjoy the plot. For readers that are looking for something different and are okay with a non-linear plot, this is a good choice. There is one caveat. There are many phrases in Spanish within the text that might be confusing for non-Spanish speakers. 3.5 stars!
Thanks to Farrar, Strauss & Giroux and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Literary Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers, New Books Tagged with: genre mash-up, magical realism, May 14 2019
I started by reading just the first chapter of A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World to see if it was something I would enjoy. I then spent every waking moment where I wasn’t driving, working, or taking a shower, reading it until it was over.
The world is ending with a whimper. Seventy years previously, mankind stopped being fertile and multiplying. Griz is one of the few teenagers left. Living with his family on a remote island off the coast of Scotland, Griz’ friends are his two dogs, who are siblings Jip and Jess. Jess is a rare female dog in a world where dogs were eaten for food.
Griz’s family includes his father, his brain-damaged mother, his older sister and brother. When a stranger, world-traveler Brand, lands on their island, he is welcomed suspiciously for the possibility of trading food for a much needed windmill motor. However, when Brand leaves like a thief in the night, he takes Griz’s beloved dog, Jess, with him. Griz decides that that act is his line in the sand that no one should cross. He takes the family’s boat to give chase to Brand and bring Jess home.
A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World is more Homer and less Walking Dead. There are no zombies in sight (thank goodness). It is a first-person coming of age quest novel. While I mentioned Homer, it can also be compared to several of the superhero movies so popular right now. There are clear heroes and villains. Griz is focused on his goal and is willing to put up with any challenge to achieve it. The ending is excellent too. While this has a rather slow pace, it is never boring. However, it has more of a literary fiction vibe and so may not be a good fit for thriller fans. In addition, the foreshadowing was annoyingly obvious. But it is definitely worth the time invested. 4 stars!
Thanks to Orbit Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Literary Fiction, New Books, Teen & Young Adult Tagged with: apocalypse, Apr 23 2019
Alice’s Island starts out with a mystery that quickly turns into an obsession.
Chris is killed on a road he shouldn’t have been on while traveling home to his very pregnant wife, Alice. Alice obsesses about finding out where Chris was on the night of his death. Once she uncovers his secret life, she spends a healthy chunk of Chris’ $1.5 million insurance on spying on the neighbors in Chris’ hideaway.
In Alice’s Island, Alice goes off the rails and really should have spent her money on therapy. It is painful to watch her continuing downward spiral. Worse, after the first 25% of the book, the constant spying on her new neighbors was just boring. I kept thinking it would tie together in the end. It, or at least most of it, didn’t.
However, the romance was interesting. If you don’t mind having an unsympathetic narrator, you may like Alice’s Island. But for me it was a 3 star read.
Thanks to Atria Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Literary Fiction, New Books Tagged with: Apr 16 2019, women fiction
Mystery, romance, mythology and pathos. It is all here in the Best Microfiction 2019.
In the time taken to watch another catheter ad on daytime tv, you could slip into a fully formed life. It may be the story of a dragon, a protective older brother, or a murder victim. Some of these super-short stories may linger for days while others quickly fade from memory. However, all 87 are worth the reader’s time. My personal favorites are the post-apocalyptic “You’ve Stopped” by Tommy Dean and the heartfelt “Any Body” by Sarah Freligh. The Best Microfiction 2019 deserves 4 stars!
Thanks to Petekinesis and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Posted in Literary Fiction, New Books Tagged with: Apr 17 2018, short stories
An isolated hotel in Switzerland after multiple nuclear bombs are detonated is the setting of The Last.
Jon, an American historian at the hotel for a conference is the book’s narrator. After the bombs drop, the Internet soon fails. Most of the hotel’s guests drive or walk to the city and its airport. By the tenth day, only five staff and fifteen guests remain in the hotel. They are waiting for help that never arrives.
When Jon and two of the staff find a body in the water tank on the roof of the hotel, Jon decides to find the murderer. As their food supplies dwindle and the weather turns colder, the survivors turn on one another. The group must decide how to administer justice and how to run their government.
I was so excited to read this book. The Shining and Agatha Christie in a Walking Dead setting? Yes, please! Those are some of my favorite books. Of course here comes the however, heavy sigh. However, The Last is much closer to The Road.
The Last is a slow-burning philosophical trip into the meaning of life and how a worldwide disaster would force or allow us to act. Would we still care about anything other than our own survival? Would we still have our humanity or would we devolve back into animals? Would we be more religious or fully convinced God had forsaken us?
II you are a thriller or mystery fan, look elsewhere. The mystery here is an afterthought at best. Even with its slow pacing, I felt compelled to read it in one day. I would recommend it only for literary fiction fans. I took one star off for the ending, which I don’t want to spoil, leaving it at 3 stars.
Thanks to Atria Books and NetGalley for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Posted in Literary Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers, New Books Tagged with: apocalypse, Apr 9 2019
The Spectators is literary fiction but the two portions of the plot make strange bedfellows.
Mattie M. is a talk show host (think Jerry Springer) in the late 1990s. When a horrific school shooting is determined to be by hard-core fans of Mattie’s show, it opens a national discussion on the pros and cons of sensational television. It also reveals Mattie’s history as a disgraced NYC politician. In separate chapters, Mattie’s former lover, Semi, tells the story of the carefree 1970s NYC gay culture and how the 1980s’ AIDS crisis effected that culture.
I’m not sure who would be the perfect reader of this clearly divided book. The discussion on the talk show phenomenon appeals to me but not the gay culture portion of the book. Others will feel the other way, I’m sure. The Spectators was not for me but perhaps it will be for you. 3 stars!
Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for my honest review.
Posted in Literary Fiction, New Books Tagged with: Apr 2 2019
Daisy Jones & The Six is the best non-thriller that I have read this year!
Set in the turbulent late 1970s Sunset Boulevard band scene, The Six is a five member middle-of-road rock band who are effectively forced by their label to add a sexy new lead singer, Daisy Jones. Daisy is a free spirit who dresses and acts without worrying about what others think. She is also stunningly beautiful and a drug addict. The Six’ singer, Billy, has recently returned from rehab and is determined to not relapse for his wife and newborn daughter’s sake.
Daisy Jones & The Six is compulsively readable. I was late to work two out of the three days that I read it. I just had to read the next interview. While not a traditional thriller, the book has a mystery: why did the band break up. However, it was the convincing character interactions that heightened my enjoyment of the book. All the characters seemed so real with genuine and frequently conflicting emotions driving their actions. I can’t recommend this Reese’s Book Club pick highly enough. 5 stars!
Thanks to Ballantine Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Posted in Literary Fiction, New Books, Romance Tagged with: 1970s, Mar 5 2019, music
Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with recipes) is the story of small town Minnesota life over the past fifty years seen through the eyes of a local journalist. The title refers to the name one of her readers called her, a “radical hag”, plus she felt that if she added recipes it would encourage people to read her column.
A homespun Minnesotan newspaper columnist (think Garrison Keillor) suffers a stroke and is in a coma. While hospitalized, her newspaper begins to publish reprints of her prior articles along with the audience’s response.
I really wanted to like this story. However, it seemed extremely slow and nothing much happened that you didn’t see pages before it occurred. It is possible that I have just read too many thrillers to appreciate a literary fiction book that so heavily emphasizes characters over plot. Therefore, I’ll give Chronicles of a Radical Hag (with recipes) 3 stars for fans of that genre.
Thanks to University of Minnesota Press and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Posted in Literary Fiction, New Books Tagged with: journalism, Mar 26 2019, small towns
Fascinating story about how the author of The Wizard of Oz went about Finding Dorothy interspersed with the making of the movie in 1938-39.
Maud Baum is the unifying character in the two strands of her life described in the book. It begins with a 77-year-old Maud attempting to get on the MGM lot to ensure that her long-dead husband’s book would be faithful carried to the silver screen. While the bright colors of Technicolor including the bright green of Oz were unfamiliar, Maud sees a vulnerability and talent in Judy Garland when she hears her singing “Over the Rainbow”. After proving her worth to the MGM honchos, Maud covertly takes Judy under her wing with the help of the studio head’s secretary.
In a parallel story, Maud at nineteen is one of the first woman at Cornell. Her mother, a famous suffragette, insists that she become an attorney. However, Maud only has eyes for handsome actor and small theater producer, Frank Baum. Once married, the couple are deeply in love but have ongoing financial problems. When Frank is convinced to publish the book he spends travel time on the train writing, the Wizard of Oz thrusts them both into the spotlight.
I enjoyed both parts of Maud’s story but perhaps the movie one slightly more. Finding Dorothy is an excellent look behind the scenes at the cost of both movie and literary stardom. 4 stars!
Thanks to Random House and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Posted in Literary Fiction, New Books Tagged with: Feb 12 2019, movies
Such Good Work is the inspiring tale of addiction and recovery based on a true story.
Jonas works as an adjunct creative writing teacher in the US. When he isn’t being fired. And if he isn’t high on oxy or another opiate. When Jonas hits rock bottom, he makes the unusual decision to get a Master’s degree, and hopefully teach in, Sweden. He has dual citizenship so the paperwork is simple. Once there, he works with Middle Eastern refugees teaching them Swedish while also going to school.
This is autofiction, or a fictionalized autobiography. It is a story of overcoming addiction and replacing it with Such Good Work. It is recommended to literary fiction readers and those struggling with addiction issues. 3.5 stars.
Thanks to Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Posted in Literary Fiction, New Books Tagged with: addiction, Feb 5 2019
Miraculum is a carnival with a big top, a midway, and freak show in 1922. It is also the setting for a battle of good against evil.
After the suicide of the carnival’s chicken biting geek, a mysterious well-dressed man applies for the job. Despite a lack of experience, he is hired for the job. Ruby, the daughter of the owner of the Miraculum, is a heavily tattooed snake charmer. As soon as she sees the new geek, Daniel, she feels something is off about him. As more tragedy befalls the troupe, Ruby tries to discover if Daniel is behind them.
Miraculum is a great gothic tale of good fighting evil in the picturesque 1920s carnival setting. There is a substantial paranormal aspect to the tale and it isn’t really a mystery or thriller. However, I enjoy magical realism so I relished it. It appears to be a beginning of a series so I am looking forward to another installment of Ruby and Daniel’s story.
This book is an excellent choice for fans of Neil Gaiman. 4 stars!
Thanks to Polis Books and NetGalley for a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Posted in Literary Fiction, New Books, Paranormal Tagged with: circus, Jan 22 2019
Loosely tied together by the theme of food, the sixteen stories contained in Take-Out vary from crime stories to humor.
While I enjoyed reading all the stories, my favorite was “The Gift of the Wiseguy”. It’s the story of a Mafioso’s son who writes a memoir. His father had ratted out his colleagues and entered witness protection twenty years earlier leaving his family behind. This story has crime, twists and pathos. The characters are well-defined with clear motivations. Due to its length, not a word is wasted. Many of the other stories are also great reads.
Take-out is highly recommended to thriller readers. 4 stars!
Thanks to Polis Books for a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Posted in Literary Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers, New Books Tagged with: Jan 25 2019, short stories
You awaken in a cold sweat with a fast-beating heart. Was that just a dream? It takes you several minutes to calm down. Still, the dream’s story continues to haunt you until the next feverish dream occurs. This is the feeling you will have after reading each story in the marvelous Mouthful of Birds.
Twenty surreal stories populate Mouthful of Birds. Translated from Spanish, they have the taste of another country’s mindset, while still being relatable to anyone human. The writing is luxurious as if each word was thoughtfully selected so kudos to the translator, Megan McDowell. The plots vary widely, which is good as that means there is something for all tastes here. The title story is about a young girl who must eat live birds to survive. It is left to the reader to surmise why. In The Test, a man is forced to kill a dog on a job interview.
The author, Samanta Schweblin, was a Man Booker finalist in 2017 for her short novel, Fever Dream. These stories are equally good. For those that like thought-provoking plots, Mouthful of Birds is a delight. 4 stars!
Thanks to Riverhead Books for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Posted in Literary Fiction Tagged with: Jan 8 2019
The unnamed narrator of Looker is having a bad year. After years of unsucessful infertility treatments, her husband has left. Her job as adjunct professor has shrunk to only one poetry class. Despite having a PhD in Literature, she can’t find another job.
The professor falls into an increasing obsession with her famous actress neighbor. She envisions them becoming great friends despite never meeting her formerly. As her fixation grows, the professor watches the actress and her family through their uncovered windows day and night.
Marketing Looker as a thriller is a mistake. For the first half of the book, I kept waiting for a murder or something exciting to occur. It never did. Instead, I realized this a story of woman’s descent into delusion and insanity. Readers who like woman’s fiction will gobble this short novel up in one sitting. However, thriller readers will be bored silly. 3 stars.
Thanks to Scribner Books for an advance copy in exchange for an honest review.
Posted in Literary Fiction Tagged with: Jan 8 2019, women fiction