Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

Book Review: Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

Author: John Irving
TitleLast Night in Twisted River
Narrator: Arthur Morey
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2009)
Previously read by the same author:

Another sprawling, epic novel by John Irving.  I haven’t read one in a long time.  This one tells the story of Dominic, the cook at a logging camp, and his son Daniel, who grows up to be an author.  Irving frequently refers to them as the Cook and the Writer.  After an accidental murder at the camp, the father and son are forced to flee and the novel follows them throughout their lives from Boston’s North End to Iowa City to Brattleboro, VT and finally to Toronto.  All through this time they keep in touch with the gruff logger Ketchum, who looks out for their pursuer. Along the way there are common Irving themes of coming of age, sexuality, unhappy relationships, and unpleasant people. Daniel’s life as an author strongly parallels Irvings, and Irving seems to be trolling his readers to make one think that this is autobiographical.  But there’s also a lot of insight into creativity and the writing process as well.  Despite being the putative central character, Daniel isn’t particularly interesting or well-defined (perhaps purposefully).  Dominic and Ketchum and various minor characters  provide a number of entertaining scenes and tangents.  Overall this is an enjoyable novel, but like many of Irving’s works could deal with some heavy pruning and more of a sense of purpose.
Rating: ***

Book Review: The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann

Around the World for a Good Book Selection for Norway
Author: Linn Ullmann
Title:The Cold Song
Translator: Barbara Haveland
Publication Info: New York : Other Press, c2011

This novel is a story about a family at seaside summer home and the young woman Milla who comes to work as their nanny, but goes missing and is later found murdered.  This is not a spoiler as Milla’s remains are discovered in the first pages of the book, but the manner of Milla’s demise is revealed over the extended flashback that makes up the bulk of the novel.  The rest of the cast includes Siri, the A-type restaurateur who hires Milla; Siri’s philandering husband Jon, a novelist struggling with writer’s block; their non-conforming 12-year-old daughter Alma; and Jenny, Siri’s 75-year-old mother who resents the massive birthday party that Siri forces upon her.  There’s a lot of tension in this novel as the characters navigate around one another, and while not a crime novel, the imminent crimes against Milla hang there over the whole story.

Favorite Passages:

Besides: Jon would never have used the expression “sell like hotcakes”—not only was it a cliché, it was also inaccurate. Hotcakes no longer sold like hotcakes. He had no statistics to back this up, but he was pretty sure that hotcakes fared poorly compared to smartphones or drafty houses in overpriced areas (like his own, for example) or antiaging creams.

Recommended booksMaine by J. Courtney Sullivan, The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen, and Saturday by Ian McEwan
Rating: **1/2

Book Reviews: Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Author: Ruta Sepetys
TitleBetween Shades of Gray
Narrator:Emily Klein
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2011)

This novel set in the World War II-era depicts the oppression of Lithuanian partisans through the eyes of 15-year-old Lina.  A promising young artists, Lina and her mother and brother are rounded up by the NKVD with other women, children, the elderly, and disabled and transported to a labor camp in Siberia.  The narrative depicts the hardscrabble life as Lina and her community in the labor camp as they struggle to survive.  But there are also moments of joy and unexpected solace.  It’s a decent novel and an introduction to the Stalinist persecution of Lithuania.

Recommended booksStalemate by Icchokas Meras, The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years by Chingiz Aitmatov, and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Airman by Eoin Colfer

AuthorEoin Colfer
Narrator: John Keating
Publication Info: [New York] : Listening Library, 2007.
Books I’ve Previously Read by the Same Author:


Irish author Eoin Colfer, creator of the Artemis Fowl series, spins a classic adventure story set in the fin de siècle era on the Saltee Islands off the coast of Ireland.  In this story, the Saltees are home to a fictional sovereign kingdom which bases its economy on diamond mining.  The protagonist of the story is Conor Broekhart who is friend of the daughter of the island’s progressive, American-born king.  Conor shows an early proclivity towards science and engineering and when he is 14 he is framed for the murder of the king and sent to prison/mining colony.  It’s up to young Conor to escape from prison and save the kingdom through his knowledge of flying machines.  The outcome is never in doubt but Colfer spins an entertaining yarn with a lot of action and many memorable characters.  John Keating does a magnificent job of narrating this escapist story.

Recommended books: The Land That Isn’t There, An Irish Adventure by Leonard Wibberley, The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois
Rating: ****

Book Review: The Happiest People in the World by Brock Clarke

Author: Brock Clarke
TitleThe Happiest People in the World
Publication Info: Chapel Hill, North Carolina : Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2014.
ISBN: 9781616201111
Books previously read by same author: An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England by Brock Clarke

A Danish cartoonist, at risk for drawing cartons offensive to Muslims, is moved by the CIA to a small town in rural New York, given a position as a guidance councilor, and finds himself in the middle of the family drama of the high school principal and his wife the bartender of the local tavern.  To further complicate things, the CIA agent who assigned him to this town is the former mistress of the principal.  And to further make things wacky, pretty much everyone in the city is involved in the CIA or a secret agent of some time.  I suppose this book is supposed to be a farce and a satire, but I found it a chore to read.  I probably would not have finished it if I hadn’t been an award from the Library Things Early Reviewer program.  There are some funny bits, but after a while it’s just one reticent character avoiding communicating with another character who hates them over and over.

Recommended books: The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

Rating: **

Book Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Author: Robin Sloan
TitleMr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore
Narrator: Ari Fliakos
Publication Info: Macmillan Audio (2012)


A young man named Clay is out-of-work in San Francisco and ends up taking a job at a bizarre book store with an eccentric owner.  It turns out to be a front of a shadowy organization and Clay’s favorite fantasy book series is a key to its mysteries..  With the help of a girlfriend who works at Google, and a nerdy childhood friend who’s become wealthy as a game developer, Clay is able to advance well into the organization.  I found this book moderately interesting, with a bit of mystery, some book lore, and a lot of product placement for Google.

Favorite Passages:

“The suburban mind cannot comprehend the emergent complexity of a New York sidewalk.”

Recommended booksThe Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Rating: **1/2

Book Review: Jerusalem by Gonçalo Tavares

Around the World for a Good Book Selection for Portugal
Author: Gonçalo Tavares
Translator: Anna Kushner
Publication Info: Champaign [Ill.] : Dalkey Archive Press, c2009
ISBN: 9781564785558

This novel brings together several characters in one place for one event and then jumps back to show vignettes of each character’s life, building up to what all brought them there.  It is a well-written and structured work, but also very complex, and I admit that I don’t totally “get” it.  Themes of troubled relationships, mental illness, and the nature of evil.  If you’re interested in provocative fiction, you may like this.

Recommended booksThe Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder.
Rating: ***


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