Tooth & Claw by T.C. Boyle

24725T.C. Boyle is another one of those author’s I’ve heard a ton about but never explored. To me, he seems sort of like a ‘gentleman’s club’ writer – someone meant specifically for male readers which is probably absurd. But something just felt so nebulously masculine in a way that put me off. Enter the library where you can borrow books for free! Or you can just check out the New Yorker online for the title story!

Tooth and Claw borrows its title from a Tennyson poem wherein nature is described as:

Who trusted God was love indeed

And love Creation’s final law—

Tho’ Nature, red in tooth and claw

With ravine, shriek’d against his creed—

(In Memoriam)

Boyle’s 14 shorts all link to nature in some way – great or small. At times nature is a force to be reckoned with and at others a quiet mention providing background scenery. I think the ‘nature’ even doubles as human nature more often than not. Sometimes the stories work and sometimes they bore you to death.

That’s not to say that the collection isn’t worth reading because I believe it is. A couple of the stories actually won me over enough that I bought a hardcover edition to add to my other short story collections. The first winner was ‘Dogology’ where a woman endeavors to study dog behavior in the most natural of ways, eventually losing her ‘humanness’. The second was ‘Swept Away’ where a love story is put to its conclusion when a violent wind storm literally sweeps away a visiting ornithologist. I’m fairly certain she didn’t end up in Oz.

However, more often than not Boyle’s narratives follow some average joe dude who’s content drinking himself or drugging himself into a sort of oblivion (enter that gentleman’s club theme I mentioned above). These shorts are rarely compelling enough to warrant reading, let alone rereading.

What I particularly appreciate with short stories is that you don’t have to read the ones you don’t enjoy! You can skip whole chunks of blathering nonsense and cherish the brilliance in-between. There’s no doubt that Boyle is talented, but perhaps next time I’ll seek out works that aren’t quite as bogged down in his own past history with the drinking and drugging. For all the time he spends on down and out males, I actually think he writes fairly interesting women. So there will be a next meeting, Mr. Boyle. Perhaps a novel, yes?

Casino Royale by Ian Fleming

15954464Oh, James Bond. How I love thee. At least when you are brought to life by Daniel Craig. Casino Royale and Skyfall are two of my favorite movies of all time so I decided to give the source material a read. I worried the books wouldn’t live up to my love of the films and that the woman-hate would be too hard to overcome.

The first Bond novel, Casino Royale, is at first about a high stakes baccarat game between a British Secret Services operative, our handsome Bond, and the soviet scumbag, Le Chiffre. Le Chiffre has lost millions of dollars that belong to a high terrorist conglomerate, SMERSH, and he needs to win this showdown if he’s to save his own life. But pesky James is always in the way. Interrupting Bond’s game playing is that beguiling minx, Vesper Lynd. She’s been assigned to work with Bond in the field and becomes quite the player in Bond’s work and surprisingly, his heart.

Gotta say – a great overall reading experience. I loved Fleming’s writing. His novel reads like a literary page-turner that manages to feel far less dated than I would have thought. The sexism is there, but I think Vesper’s character is far more interesting than just some piece of meat for Bond to bed. She’s extremely important to this novel and the rest of Bond’s life. I could get annoyed that she ultimately ends up being a boobed villain without much depth, but I like when a woman manages to sneak up on a world renowned master spy – so sue me.

The book is different enough from the movie to be a worthwhile read. I’m also convinced that Bond’s character in the books is far less campy playboy, and much more brooding, clever lone wolf with a sharp tongue and sense of humor. For this reason, I really appreciate the newer films even more and believe Daniel Craig’s Bond to be very faithful to the source material. Reading the novel allows one to get inside James’s mind and see that there’s a lot going on there – at least in this initial offering. He philosophizes ideas of good and evil. He also weighs his role of hired killer in a far more moral and intriguing way than one might expect.  Bond is blunt about the world he sees and how he sees himself.

So I definitely recommend Casino Royale to anyone with even the slightest interest in 007. It’s a great companion to the movie and a wonderful addition to any readathon TBR. I’ll definitely be continuing on with Fleming’s next Bond installment!

The Exiles by Allison Lynn + A Giveaway! (Closed)

THE-EXILES-Final-Cover-Hi-Res-199x300The Exiles intrigued me initially due to the modern day Fitzgerald comparisons. Since most of these comparisons never live up to their promise, I mostly had low expectations when I began Lynn’s newest novel. It felt like I was daring the book to impress me.

The story centers around a thirty-something couple, Nate and Emily, who have been priced out of Manhattan. As a mediocre investment banker, Nate can no longer afford the lavish lifestyle of his more successful friends. With a new mouth to feed, Emily and Nate pack their bags and move their small family to Newport, Rhode Island where a new job awaits and the promise of normalcy beckons. When they arrive in Newport, their jeep and immediately essential possessions are stolen. Over the next three days, they shack up in a hotel they can’t afford and are forced to face the secrets and denials they’ve been keeping from each other and themselves. Also, art theft!

Allison Lynn’s novel quietly sneaked up on me. At first, the story feels fairly humdrum with extremely unlikable characters. But slowly, the secrets Nate and Emily have been keeping start to unfold and the pages begin turning at a tremendous pace. The two never become likable, but they do become completely engaging and compelling. Their web of lies and denials is absolutely astounding at times, but also gritty and realistic.

The Exiles is essentially about two people running from themselves and from each other who collide dramatically over one long weekend. The book progresses through such topics as hereditary disease, art thievery, parenthood, and deception. It’s a world where you’re asked to sympathize with a family that makes $150K+ a year, but due to their environment feel ‘poor’. Allison Lynn has done a superb job of making a mundane story thrive with energy and flow with seamless writing.

Honestly, I can’t believe this book hasn’t gotten more attention. It’s better than a lot of popular novels I’ve read recently and a title I recommended to my bookclub on Sunday. Do yourself a favor and give it a read. To help you out on that front, you can enter to win your very own copy by filling out this form!! Only US/Canada addresses eligible. No P.O. Boxes. Winner will be drawn next Tuesday, July 30. Good luck! (closed – winner selected)

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Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for providing a copy of The Exiles in exchange for my honest review. You can check out other stops on the tour here.

About the Author:

Lynn-cKelley-Jordan-Photography-high-res-220x300Allison Lynn is the author of the novel Now You See It, which won awards from both the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society and the Bronx Council on the Arts. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, People,  and elsewhere. She teaches at Butler University in Indianapolis, where she lives with her husband, the writer Michael Dahlie, and their son.

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Discussion: Ender’s Game and the Film Boycott

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If you haven’t heard by now, people are planning to boycott the film version of Orson Scott Card’s novel, Ender’s Game. The movie comes out in November, and I’m not going to lie – I’ve been excited for this film since I first read the book some 15+ years ago. That being said, I deplore Card’s politics and how he spends his money. The interwebs are currently filled with passionate pleas and some downright virulent opinions about those who pay to watch Ender’s Game. I would hate to fund Card’s beliefs, but I’d also hate not seeing the film version of my favorite novel of ALL TIME. Plus, it would suck for the child actors in this film to be affected by a low grossing box office. My feelings are complicated. In real life, my friends all tell me to stop reading the internet and go see the movie (including all of my gay friends).

So my question this lovely Friday, what are your feelings about the controversy? Are you planning on seeing the movie? If you see the film, are you thinking about making a donation to a particular group or charity that fights against such crazies as OSC? Or perhaps you might even side with OSC and his beliefs? No matter – just let me know in the comments!

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

118944American Born Chinese appealed to me on several levels. One: Pictures. Two: I am married to a Taiwanese immigrant. Three: Pictures. Four: The seriously amazing rave reviews. 5: Boba Tea.

Gene Luen Yang’s story follows Jin, Danny, and the Monkey King. Jin is a Chinese American boy who just wants to fit in with his white, all-American classmates. Danny is the apple pie to Jin’s dim sum whose life gets disturbed once a year when his Chinese cousin Chin Kee comes to visit. And the Monkey King simply wants nothing to do with being a monkey. Yang’s three story lines start out going their separate ways until they brilliantly collide and teach everyone a thing or two about identity, acceptance, and the human condition.

And yes, brilliant is the only word that suits American Born Chinese. Brilliantly clever. Brilliantly heartwarming. Brilliantly honest. Each character is at once charming, lovable, and a total rascal. As a graphic novel, I was super impressed at how each character develops so richly throughout the narrative’s short, yet expressive, pages. Yang deserved all the awards, not just the Printz, in my opinion. A great novel to share with anyone in your life.

The illustrations are gorgeous and do such an excellent job at showing motion. I haven’t read another graphic novel that I can recall where the action really seems to move. Each drawing adds something to the story and often has emotional impact. I really can’t gush enough. American Born Chinese is my new favorite graphic novel. It’s a story worth telling and a story Yang tells expertly.

Your turn! What’s your favorite graphic novel? Any other Printz Award winners you’d recommend?

Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

Where’d You Go Bernadette was swallowed in its enti15790857 (1)rety by the hype monster. For awhile, you couldn’t exist in book world without being inundated with Maria Semple’s latest novel from every corner. Best Book of the YEAR so many bookish types boasted. And I bought into the hype, bought the book, and then proceeded to be mostly disappointed.

Bernadette is mom to Bee and quite the eccentric. She’s mostly a recluse and hates pretty much everyone in the surrounding Seattle area. But when Bee brings home the perfect report card, Bernadette is forced to give in and accept Bee’s reward – a family vacation to Antarctica. Wackiness starts to unfold in the weeks leading up the the trip until Bernadette suddenly goes missing. Semple’s novel is a collection of correspondences put together by Bee in an attempt to locate her mother. Sounded ingenious.

But here’s the thing – I was mostly bored or annoyed. On the surface, I can’t fault Bernadette much. As a lighthearted beach read there’s a lot to enjoy here. I may have even chuckled out loud once or twice. But read any deeper and things start to unravel. Not all that much happens, and Bernadette is unlikable.

Now unlikable characters can have a lot going for them and are often the most interesting characters to read. That’s where Bernadette fails. I didn’t find Bernadette fleshed out enough to be interesting. I felt there was nothing to learn from her and that mostly the reasons presented by Semple for her craziness weren’t very substantial. I was left scratching my head and mostly just wanting to smack Bernadette. What’s even worse is that all of the adult characters are mostly the same – annoying and not in the least bit interesting. The quirkiness of this book worked against the story when it should have enhanced the story.

At many times, the novel mostly felt like a ‘let’s all hate on Seattle and bash the readers over their heads with Seattle stereotypes’. That gets old quickly. What, if anything, saves this book is Bernadette and Bee’s relationship. Their mother-daughter bond felt unique and honest. I enjoyed the scenes they had together and wished there had been more. I think Bernadette tries a little too hard to be quirky and loses its grip on reality.

Have you read Where’d You Go Bernadette? What did you think? Does it deserve to be on ‘best of’ lists?

Audiobook reviews: Shadow and Bone & Stardust

10194157Just a couple of short audiobook reviews for y’all on this marvelous Friday morning. First up, I finished Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo a couple of weeks ago. It’s a YA fantasty novel about a world similar to Imperial Russia where the Shadow Fold and the Black Heretic have incited major fear in the population. The Shadow Fold is this black oceanic void of darkness that separates most of the population from the ability to receive trade goods from the coast. In order to cross the Fold, you have to travel with an army and Grisha to fight the crazy human-hungry birdlike creatures. Grisha are humans who have special powers of sorts – they are able to manipulate matter in various ways. Our heroine, Alina, is a normal girl who turns out to be the most powerful Grisha of all – of course.

The standard YA tropes are all here. Nothing new to write about really. I will say that I enjoyed the Russian setting and thought this book did a decent job being a bit darker and sexier (that’s right, sexier) than other YA. Alina is also not a terrible protagonist, but there’s nothing here to compel me forward. The middle lacked decent pacing and the ending was entirely predictable. Worked fined as an audiobook with a decent narrator – nothing spectacular or terrible, just ‘meh’.

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I also recently finished Stardust by Neil Gaiman which was a superb audio because he narrated it himself. His voice is gorgeous, and I think the listener really gets something extra special from the narration when the author reads his/her own work. Stardust is an adult fairytale about a boy searching for a fallen star to give to the girl he loves. It’s filled with fun, fantastical creatures, haggard witches, and lots of magic. I saw the movie first and enjoy both formats. What impressed me most about the audio was the interview with Gaiman at the end where he described how Stardust came to be – loved hearing how his mind works! I’d definitely recommend Stardust on audio and any other book that Gaiman narrates. A pleasant way to spend any commute. Very tempted to listen to The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

15783514Much like The Illusion of Separateness that I reviewed on Monday, I adored every single thing about this novel and have nothing negative to say about it. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is my first full length Gaiman. My local indie bookstore tweeted me that they had signed copies available, and I ran immediately to pick this delightful little story up. I sat down the next evening and read it in one sitting. Four hours that ran the emotional gamut. READ. THIS. BOOK.

I’m not going to really add a synopsis. The less you know the better. At its most basic level, Ocean is a middle aged man’s memories of the year he turned seven and the Hempstock women he came to know.

Again, such a short book packed with so many great and wonderful things. Gaiman’s themes are deeply explored and his relevant characters so full-bodied. I loved looking at the ideas of memory, aging, childhood, power, imagination, loneliness, and so many more through the eyes of our narrator – a thinly disguised young Gaiman, himself. I also found the reading of this novel deeply personal and much more intense knowing that Gaiman wrote it when he and his wife were navigating a rough patch in their marriage.

Someone on Twitter (so sorry I don’t recall who) said he wasn’t sure if this was Gaiman’s best work, but it cut the deepest. That summation has stayed with me, and I believe might be the best way to describe Ocean.  It leaves the reader feeling slightly raw but all the better for it. Do yourself a favor and read it immediately. Don’t wait to finish your current book – don’t think about reading Gaiman from beginning to end – just go get The Ocean at the End of the Lane and inhale it. You won’t be sorry. Then go share it with someone you love.

The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy

16248119Well, I loved it. So let’s just get that out of the way right up front. He’s a hell of a writer.

The Illusion of Separateness tells the story of how a chance meeting between an American soldier and a German soldier during WWII crisscrosses throughout time and distance to connect people in the present day. The connections are made through short vignettes of six or so characters in many different decades. The language is concise, straightforward, lyrical, and stunning. Van Booy’s words are essentially narrative poetry. The man can destroy you in six words and rebuild whole worlds in just six more. Talent oozes from every single sentence.

What most impressed me was how fleshed out and fully developed the story and its characters are despite the book’s 200-ish pages. You can tell he’s a master short story writer, and I fully intend to read everything the man has ever written. Please feel free to join me. This is the kind of book I’ll be gifting come holiday season. Because it’s perfect for even non-readers.

I don’t want to say anymore. This quiet little story is best read knowing as close to nothing as possible. I truly do hope y’all decide to give The Illusion of Separateness a chance. It’ll more than likely end up on my best of 2013 list and will be something I read for years to come. The absolute best way to spend a couple of hours.

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Thanks to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for a free copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. Check out more tour stops here.

About the Author

Simon Van Booy is the author of two novels and two collections of short stories, including The Secret Lives of People in Love and Love Begins in Winter, which won the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. He is the editor of three philosophy books and has written for The New York TimesThe Guardian, NPR, and the BBC. His work has been translated into fourteen languages. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and daughter.

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson

9736930Before I Go to Sleep had some promise. It really did. But the plot holes…geez.

The idea was a great one…and terrifying. To wake up daily with no knowledge of your adult life. To wake up thinking you’re still in college or even a child every single day of your post-thirty life sounds more horrendous than almost anything. Losing not only a significant portion of not only your long-term, but also your short-term memory is like being a prisoner trapped in the same repeating hell over and over again with no escape. It’s like Groundhog’s Day gone insane.

So Watson’s idea is brilliant and horrifying and all the things a psychological thriller should be. The execution of her idea, however, was extremely disappointing. So many times I found myself outside of the story pondering whether or not something made actual sense or whether I could even remotely believe in a world where this collective story would be plausible. And that should just not have happened. I should have been drawn in and engrossed from beginning to end without worrying over the plot details. Sigh.

What I will say, however, is that the book is page-turning and intriguing. If you’re willing to completely forego logic or looking at this story at all deeply, Before I Go to Sleep could make a great chilling beach read or some thrilling page turning this Halloween. Tons of readers have enjoyed Watson’s story and a  movie is in the works. I’m actually really interested to see the film because I think it might work better in that particular medium. Plus, Colin Firth.

Additional note on the narrator: I listened to the audiobook version narrated by Orlagh Cassidy. She was a great storyteller with a gentle British accent. She sounded almost motherly, but was able to make minute changes in her voice for each of the characters. A good way to pass a boring commute.

So, have you read Before I Go To Sleep? What did you think? Have any other psychological thrillers impressed you lately or let you down?