Archive for the ‘Popular Fiction’ Category
The Family Fang, by Kevin Wilson, follows the Fang family through their quirky history. It begins with Annie and Buster (Children A and B) as adults struggling to find their place in the world. Annie, an actress who was once nominated for an Oscar, faces a celebrity scandal, and Buster, a novelist, is coping with a series of low-paying freelance jobs and the fact that his books have a rather narrow audience. Early in the novel Buster is disfigured by a potato gun incident and has no choice (or money) but to return home to heal. Annie attempts to solve her problems by running away, also returning home to help her brother, and hoping that in the interim, Hollywood will forget her recent transgressions.
With the family back together Annie and Buster attempt to understand their upbringing, when their parents used them as pawns in performance art pieces, which brought the family notoriety, but also did a solid job of messing up any chance Annie and Buster had at a normal childhood. Chapters in the book oscillate between Annie and Buster as adults and vignettes of their childhood, each portrait being a different performance piece they were forced to take place in. Now, with the children home, Annie and Buster’s parents, Caleb and Camille Fang, realize that their progeny have no desire to pursue the family “art” they were once so dedicated to. What ensues is (SPOILER ALERT!!!!) the mysterious disappearance of Caleb and Camille, where Annie and Buster are left wondering if they should accept their parents’ deaths, or if their absence is another ‘performance’ in the name of art.
The premise behind this novel is wonderfully creative and it’s an enjoyable read throughout. The format of the varying chapters begins to tire, perhaps because Caleb and Camille’s devotion toward art is difficult to understand and thus their varying performances become tiresome as well. At times the book lacks depth and its themes tend to run a little shallow, but overall it’s a great book to keep on your bedside table and is a perfect summertime read. For fans of Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tennenbaums, it’s a wonderful supplement to his eccentric style and loveable, yet flawed families.
Reviewed by: Kim
Author: Kevin Wilson
Read: March 2012
Anne Lamott’s Hard Laughter follows narrator Jessica as she deals with her father’s diagnosis with cancer. The novel encompasses, quite beautifully, Jessica’s tumultuous personal life, her struggles to become a writer, and an apartment and psyche that are in various states of disarray.
This book was given to me by a friend who thought I’d like it and my only complaint was that I thought the voice was too wise for a twenty-something narrator. My friend smiled and said, “But Anne Lamott wrote it when she was in her twenties.” I will forever bow down to Anne Lamott. The prose is fantastic and funny and wise beyond its years. It does an impeccable job of examining how a family deals with the tragedy of cancer and the millions of small victories and losses throughout. Everything about this novel felt real, probably because it’s largely based off her own father’s struggle with cancer. It made me wonder about that ever-elusive line between fiction and nonfiction and left me desperately wondering how much–or how little–of herself Lamott left on the page.
There are writers who are special because of the way they see the world and others who are excellent in how they depict it. Anne Lamott is a true talent of both. Enjoy!
Reviewed by: Kim
Title: Hard Laughter
Read: April 2012
Going into Downton Abbey withdrawals? Here are some books to help you while away the time until season three. Since the miniseries is set at a fictional Yorkshire estate, we’ve chosen novels that feature the same region.
South Riding by Winifred Holtby
Set between World War I and World War II, South Riding follows a cast of characters as they negotiate the Great Depression. The different social background and ideals of ideals of the characters sets up their conflicts, follies, and greatest strengths. The third season of Downton Abbey will most likely coincide with this time period.
Back room land deals, political and moral intrigues, the lives of the struggling, whether they’re landowners brought to the brink of financial ruin by the depression, or working class families struggling to eat, bring this novel to life. Strong characters, like the salty Alderman Mrs. Beddows, passionate headmistress Sarah Burton, and sympathetic landowner Richard Carne might not exactly be Lady Mary, or Anna-the-maid, but they’re easy to like and care for.
We reviewed South Riding on this site, and there was a PBS mini-series as well. Colby’s other novels are being re-released this spring in the United States, and check back here in May for reviews as we’re proud to be part of the blog tour.
The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison
World War II and the evacuation of children from London to a fictional Yorkshire estate create the background for The Very Thought of You. Eight-year old Anna Sands leaves her mother for a good education and careful, but not individual, life on the Ashton estate. Lord Ashton is wheelchair bound due to polio, and his marriage to his high-strung wife is fraying.
The Very Thought of You was nominated for an Orange award, and we reviewed it here.
Shirley by Charlotte Bronte
Shirley might not be the most popular Yorkshire-based novel by any of the Bronte sisters, but it’s always held a special place it my heart. I originally read it during the long, dark, Finnish winter and Caroline, her beau Robert, and Shirley have always seemed like friends.
Shirley is an interesting contrast to South Riding, as it is set from 1811-12 during the industrial depression sparked by the Napoleonic wars and the War of 1812. Mill owner Robert struggles to run a profitable business, and the workers he lays off react violently. His cousin, Caroline, is a bright spot in his life, and he is everything to her. When a wealthy heiress, Shirley, moves to town, she quickly befriends Caroline and Robert sees Shirley as the answer to his financial woes. Shirley, meanwhile, has her own opinion on the matter of love, responsibility, and how to spend her fortune.
Have other suggestions for novels to read while combating Downton Abbey withdrawal? Please recommend them and we’ll add them to the list!
Looking for gift ideas this Christmas? How about giving a book? Here’s some gift recommendations based on books or series we read during 2011.
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
About: Effortless novel from one of our favorites.
Best for: Fans of The Virgin Suicides or Middlesex; people who enjoy character studies; Fans of Jane Austen, and also of Victorian writers.
Also consider: Game of Secrets by Dawn Tripp or The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender.
Short Story Collection
20 Under 40: Stories from the New Yorker
About: Sampling of the hottest short-story authors under 40 years old. Great way to find your favorite new literary author.
Great for: fans of short stories, literary fiction.
Also consider: St Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell, Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman.
Adult Dystopian, Sci-Fi, or Fantasy
Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
About: Game of Thrones is a layered high-fantasy novel with high stakes.
Great for: fans of high fantasy, people who like epic sagas.
Also consider: Greywalker by Cat Richardson
Ghost on Black Mountain by Ann Hite.
Why: Five different female narrators tell the story of Nellie’s unfortunate marriage to Hobbs Pritchard.
Great for: fans of Southern gothic novels, literary ghost stories.
Also consider: Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Soulless by Gail Carriger
About: Victorian steampunk with supernatural creatures. Mixes romance and humor with a mystery. Absolutely brillant fun read.
Best for: readers with a sense of humor.
Also consider: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
Young Adult Dystopian, Sci-Fi, or Fantasy
Feed by M. T. Anderson
About: Ecological and technology issues, sci-fi, and dystopian blend in this YA novel perfect for boys and girls. Also has one of the best first lines ever: “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.”
Best for: fans of dystopian or sci-fi.
Also consider: Divergent by Veronica Roth, Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, Daughter of Smoke and Bones by Laini Taylor, and Witchlanders by Lena Coakley.
Young Adult, Contemporary
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
About: Vera’s journey as grieving high school student with broken family has heart, and her journey rings true.
Best for: YA contemporary fiction.
Also consider: Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan
Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein
About: excellent analysis and insight into the “girly-girl” culture invading US society. Go check out the pink toy aisle at your local Target if you don’t believe me.
Good for: parents of daughters, people who deal with children, anyone concerned with the way girls are taught to value themselves.
Also Consider: The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
On Writing by Stephen King
About: Great advice and insight into King’s journey.
Best for: writers.
Also consider: Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder
The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, is David Wroblewski’s debut novel and one that took him a long time to write. In his interviews on the book, Wroblewski sites working on it all through his MFA, just to end up rewriting large portions of the book later. This book hit stands in 2008 to critical acclaim, giving Wroblewski all the validation in the world for the time he spent on constructing this marvel of a novel.
The story has been labeled a modern-day Hamlet of sorts, following Edgar, a mute, through is childhood and adolescence on his family’s farm, where they raise dogs. The dogs, a few specifically, are as much of a main character as any of the humans in the book and animal lovers—dog lovers especially—will feel a strong connection to large portions of the book.
The book is structured like a five-act play, with impeccable prose and heart wrenching storytelling throughout. Wroblewski offers readers so many poignant passages and incredible observations it’s impossible not to fall in love. One of Wroblewski’s best story-telling techniques is in using chapters told from the perspective of the dogs. This could easily become campy or tacky, but in this case, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. I think it was his writing in these chapters specifically, aside from the intricate plot and layers of perspective in the story, that really won me over. Any and all people should be happy to have such an experience with a book. Five bones from me! And until you hear otherwise, I probably won’t stop talking about it anytime soon.
Read by: Kim
Title: The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
Author: David Wroblewski
Read: February 2011
Source: Powlles Books