February 20, 2014

Book Review: The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , , , at 12:48 pm by The Word Jar

The Tragedy Paper CoverYou are your own worst enemy. The Tragedy Paper, Elizabeth LaBan’s novel recently released in paperback, exemplifies how this statement is never more true than when you are a teenager.

Duncan Meade is about to start his senior year at the Irving School, a private school on the East Coast. He arrives on campus anticipating and dreading two important senior traditions—the “gift” that will be in his room, left by the previous occupant, and the Tragedy Paper, a paper all seniors have to complete before graduation. But the gift is not what he expected. Duncan finds a set of CDs promising to reveal the truth behind what happened at the previous year’s Senior Game and, in the process, help him complete his Tragedy Paper.

Tim MacBeth is the previous occupant of Duncan’s room and at the center of last year’s Senior Game accident. He recorded the CDs to describe how he ended up at the Irving School and what he went through once he was there.

Tim, a teenager with albinism, meets Vanessa, the stereotypical pretty and popular girl, on his way to the school. They happily keep each other company when their flight is delayed, and Tim is amazed at his luck. But, Vanessa of course has a boyfriend, and when they arrive at school, said boyfriend intimidates Tim, so he and Vanessa are forced to maintain their budding friendship on the sly. But Vanessa’s boyfriend also makes a point of including Tim in the planning of the Senior Game. Tim believes he’s only recruited as a joke, but he goes along with everything because, for once, he’s enjoying being included.

Tim, dealing with albinism, serves at the ultimate teenage outsider. While most teenagers find some way to fit in with their peers, Tim feels his very appearance, completely unalterable, keeps others away. Or does it? The CDs reveal that much of the distance between Tim and his peers is Tim’s misperception, and this misperception–that no one would possibly accept him–keeps him from befriending others. But others do try to befriend him, and as revealed by Duncan’s narrative, some people hardly noticed Tim at all.

The Tragedy Paper alternates between Tim’s and Duncan’s point of view. Perhaps because Duncan so often plays the part of a passive listener, Tim’s quickly becomes the more engaging narrative.

While The Tragedy Paper culminates by describing the fateful accident, the scope of the accident itself lacks the tragedy built up throughout the story. The accident does have horrible consequences, but weighing it against Tim’s own thoughts and actions as heard on the CDs, the outcome wasn’t that unexpected. It felt that there was much ado about not so much. Much can be attributed to Tim’s lack of self-esteem, which has more to do with him being a typical teenager than it does with his albinism. But the book is full of teenage melodrama and angst, and teens should readily relate to the story.

The Tragedy Paper lacks the emotional depth of fellow YA narrator-on-an-audio-device novel Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher or the intricate boarding school mystery of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. But it illuminates the fragile teenage psyche using an unconventional narrator and explores the notion that everyone just wants to belong and the cost of making that happen. For that, teens should find The Tragedy Paper to be a worthwhile read.

January 17, 2014

Resolved: Read More in 2014

Posted in Book Talk tagged , , , , , at 11:06 am by The Word Jar

Read more. The eternal resolution for book lovers everywhere. But this year I mean it. I’m not a data-crunchin’ kind of gal, but I do keep track of the books I’ve read, and the number for 2013 was embarrassing. I can’t even mention it. I probably started and dropped more books than I actually finished. I probably have more excuses than books finished.  So I won’t mention numbers. Instead, I will focus on the future and all the good titles to come in 2014. Here’s what I’m excited to read (so far) this year!

*     *     *     *     *

Books I Started in 2013 But Stopped for Whatever Reason and Now Plan to Finish in 2014

Cartwheel CoverAmity and Sorrow CoverThe Absent One Cover

Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois

A story loosely based on the Amanda Knox case. I never really paid attention to the details of the Knox case, but this story is riveting.

Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Riley

A mother tries to free herself and her two daughters from a polygamist marriage/cult. Excellent characters.

The Absent One by Jussi Adler-Olsen

I previously reviewed The Keeper of Lost Causes by Adler-Olsen and couldn’t wait to read his other books. The Absent One provides yet another disturbing crime that has to be solved by Detective Carl Morck.

New Books I’m Excited to Read in 2014

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour CoverI Am China CoverLeaving the Sea CoverI'll Be Right There Cover

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

From publisher’s website: “Paul O’Rourke is a Manhattan dentist with a thriving practice leading a quiet, routine-driven life. But behind the smiles and the nice apartment, he’s a man made of contradictions, and his biggest fear is that he may never truly come to understand anybody, including himself.

Then someone begins to impersonate Paul online, and he watches in horror as a website, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account are created in his name. What begins as an outrageous violation of his privacy soon becomes something more soul-frightening: the possibility that the online “Paul” might be a better version of the real thing. As Paul’s quest to learn why his identity has been stolen deepens, he is forced to confront his troubled past and his uncertain future in a life disturbingly split between the real and the virtual.

At once laugh-out-loud funny about the absurdities of the modern world, and indelibly profound about the eternal questions of the meaning of life, love and truth, TO RISE AGAIN AT A DECENT HOUR is a deeply moving and constantly surprising tour de force.”

I Am China by Xiaolu Guo

From author’s website: “In a flat above a noisy north London market, translator Iona Kirkpatrick starts work on a Chinese letter: Dearest Mu, The sun is piercing, old bastard sky. I am feeling empty and bare. Nothing is in my soul, apart from the image of you. I am writing to you from a place I cannot tell you about yet…

In a detention centre in Dover exiled Chinese musician Jian is awaiting an unknown fate. In Beijing his girlfriend Mu sends desperate letters to London to track him down, her last memory of them together a roaring rock concert and Jian the king on stage. Until the police stormed in.

As Iona unravels the story of these Chinese lovers from their first flirtations at Beijing University to Jian’s march in the Jasmine Revolution, Jian and Mu seem to be travelling further and further away from each other while Iona feels more and more alive. Intoxicated by their romance, Iona sets out to bring them back together, but time seems to be running out.”

Leaving the Sea by Ben Marcus

From publisher’s website: “From one of the most innovative and vital writers of his generation, an extraordinary collection of stories that showcases his gifts—and his range—as never before.

In the hilarious, lacerating “I Can Say Many Nice Things,” a washed-up writer toying with infidelity leads a creative writing workshop on board a cruise ship. In the dystopian “Rollingwood,” a divorced father struggles to take care of his ill infant, as his ex-wife and colleagues try to render him irrelevant. In “Watching Mysteries with My Mother,” a son meditates on his mother’s mortality, hoping to stave off her death for as long as he sits by her side. And in the title story, told in a single breathtaking sentence, we watch as the narrator’s marriage and his sanity unravel, drawing him to the brink of suicide.

As the collection progresses, we move from more traditional narratives into the experimental work that has made Ben Marcus a groundbreaking master of the short form. In these otherworldly landscapes, characters resort to extreme survival strategies to navigate the terrors of adulthood, one opting to live in a lightless cave and another methodically setting out to recover total childhood innocence; an automaton discovers love and has to reinvent language to accommodate it; filial loyalty is seen as a dangerous weakness that must be drilled away; and the distance from a cubicle to the office coffee cart is refigured as an existential wasteland, requiring heroic effort.

In these piercing, brilliantly observed investigations into human vulnerability and failure, it is often the most absurd and alien predicaments that capture the deepest truths. Surreal and tender, terrifying and life-affirming, Leaving the Sea is the work of an utterly unique writer at the height of his powers.”

I’ll Be Right There by Kyung-sook Shin

From publisher’s website: “Set in 1980s South Korea amid the tremors of political revolution, I’ll Be Right There follows Jung Yoon, a highly literate, twenty-something woman, as she recounts her tragic personal history as well as those of her three intimate college friends. When Yoon receives a distressing phone call from her ex-boyfriend after eight years of separation, memories of a tumultuous youth begin to resurface, forcing her to re-live the  most intense period of her life. With profound intellectual and emotional insight, she revisits the death of her beloved mother, the strong bond with her now-dying former college professor, the excitement of her first love, and the friendships forged out of a shared sense of isolation and grief.

Yoon’s formative experiences, which highlight both the fragility and force of personal connection in an era of absolute uncertainty, become immediately palpable. Shin makes the foreign and esoteric utterly familiar: her use of European literature as an interpreter of emotion and experience bridges any gaps between East and West. Love, friendship, and solitude are the same everywhere, as this book makes poignantly clear.”

*     *     *     *     *

I’m really looking forward to these books because I’ve loved some previous books by these authors–The Unnamed and Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris; Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth by Xiaolu Guo; The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus; and Please Look After Mom by Kyung-sook Shin. All great books you should look into, in addition to these upcoming titles.

It feels good to be excited about my reading material again. I hope it lasts. Let the good books roll!

How is your 2014 reading shaping up so far? Have you finished anything you’d like to recommend? What books are you looking forward to this year?

January 13, 2014

Book Review: Being Esther by Miriam Karmel

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , , , , , at 2:52 pm by The Word Jar

Being EstherFor Hazel and Wren this month, I reviewed Being Esther by Miriam Karmel. It’s a touching look at what it means, to you and the people around you, to get older. Esther is eighty-five years old, and though she still has her wit and humor, her body is defying her. Her daughter wants to put her in “Bingoville,” and Esther just wants to grow old with dignity. Karmel captures the voice of Esther perfectly. At times it felt like I could have been reading “Being Marjorie,” as before my grandmother passed, she and my mom had several of the same conversations/confrontations that Esther has with her daughter, Ceely. It can be a heartbreaking read at times, especially if you’ve been responsible for caring for an aging parent. But Being Esther is worth the read, not only to get to know Esther, but to find out what it’s like being Esther.

(To read my full review, please stop by Hazel and Wren.)

December 12, 2013

Book Review: A Questionable Shape by Bennett Sims

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , , , at 2:27 pm by The Word Jar

A Questionable Shape CoverI’m pleased to announce that I’m now an Editorial Contributor for the fantastic literary community Hazel & Wren. More about them in a future post, but do go check out their website! My main job will be to write a monthly fiction review for their “What We’re Reading” column, and my debut review went live today.

I reviewed A Questionable Shape by Bennett Sims, a zombie novel that rises above the terror and gore to new philosophical heights (for the zombie genre, anyway). Have you ever wondered what it means to *be* a zombie? Have you ever tried to see the world through their milky white eyes? Vermaelen, the narrator of A Questionable Shape, has done these things and more. Helping his friend Mazoch try to find his missing, and presumably infected, father before hurricane season begins in Baton Rouge allows Vermaelen plenty of opportunity to obsess over the behaviors of the undead, and he shares all of his theories about them in A Questionable Shape.

Head on over to Hazel & Wren to check out the full review.

September 23, 2013

Book Review: The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , at 2:43 pm by The Word Jar

ImageIt takes a certain level of neighborliness to check on the neighbor you secretly admire when disturbing noises are heard in her apartment. It takes a whole other level of devotion to craft for her an infallible alibi when you find out she just murdered her ex-husband.

So begins The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino. Togashi hunts down his ex-wife, Yasuko, when he needs money. But after a tussle between her daughter and Togashi, Yasuko ends up killing him. Ishigami, Yasuko’s neighbor, checks on the mother and daughter after he hears the struggle through their shared wall. A mathematical genius and secretly in love with Yasuko, he offers to construct their alibis and dispose of the body, as long as they promise to follow his precise instructions. “Logical thinking will get us through this,” he assures them.

A mind-twisting crime thriller, The Devotion of Suspect X follows the investigation of Togashi’s murder. As the case unfolds, Detective Kusanagi starts consulting with a former classmate, Yukawa, a physicist and former colleague of Ishigami’s. Together, and for their own reasons, they work to unravel the true precision of Ishigami’s plan. And the level of, and reason for, Ishigami’s devotion becomes clear.

The old colleagues Yukawa and Ishigami meet up a few times throughout the investigation, making for a fascinating intellectual cat-and-mouse game. Each man approaches the issue of the murder through classical problems from their respective fields. Yukawa wants to know “which is harder: devising an unsolvable problem, or solving that problem?” They also discuss “whether or not it is as easy to determine the accuracy of another person’s results as it is to solve the problem yourself.” In other words, which is easier—Ishigami creating the solution to Yasuko’s problem by covering up the murder, or Yukawa trying to figure out Ishigami’s solution?

Although some linguistical nuance is lost in the translation, which can make some passages stilted in the reading, Higashino’s methodical reveal of Ishigami’s plan and motivation is like deconstructing a beautiful piece of origami, pulling back each fold and layer until the reader is exposed to the hidden intricacies of the deceptively simple design. It is this methodical (not to be confused with boring) unfolding of the story that keeps the reader invested in this quick read.

(Review copy source: Library)

May 13, 2013

A Bit of Whimsy for Your Monday

Posted in Fun Stuff tagged , , , at 2:28 pm by The Word Jar

Have you always wanted to learn the history of typography through a quirky animated video but only have a few minutes to spare? You are in luck! Prepare to be dazzled by this little number.

Short, cute, and I learned something! Not bad for a Monday.

“But wait!” you cry. “That seems great and all, but I don’t have time for a five-minute educational, creative video. However, I do love quirky art and typewriters.”

Again, you’ll be glad you stopped by because I have something for you, too! Check out these adorable pictures created with a typewriter. They are incredibly creative and quite endearing, especially given they are composed using a typewriter.

If you’re too young to know what a typewriter is, Google it. (Do the kids still use Google these days?)

May 7, 2013

Ghost Burglar Wins IPPY

Posted in Book Talk tagged , , , , , , , , , at 2:13 pm by The Word Jar

Ghost BurglarWay back last year before my blogging hiatus, I posted about Ghost Burglar: The True Story of Bernard Welch – Master Thief, Ruthless Con Man, and Cold-Blooded Killer by Jack Burch and James King. Well, we just found out that Ghost Burglar has won the bronze medal in the True Crime category of the Independent Publisher Book Awards (or IPPYs, as they are known in the industry).

According to the IPPY website, “[t]he Independent Publisher Book Awards were conceived in 1996 as a broad-based, unaffiliated awards program open to all members of the independent publishing industry. The awards are intended to bring increased recognition to the thousands of exemplary independent, university, and self-published titles produced each year, and reward those who exhibit the courage, innovation, and creativity to bring about change in the world of publishing.”

So, I offer a grand huzzah to the authors. Their hard work paid off. As any writer knows, writing is such a solitary endeavor (even with co-authors), and it’s nice to receive recognition from the outside world for your effort. And now they get to go to NYC for the awards ceremony and cruise around BookExpo America. Color me jealous!

Teaser Tuesday May 7: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Posted in Book Talk tagged , , , , , , at 12:05 am by The Word Jar

Teaser Tuesdays asks you to:

* Grab your current read.
* Let the book fall open to a random page.
* Share with us two “teaser” sentences from that page.

You also need to share the title and author of the book that you’re getting your teaser from…that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

As always, please avoid spoilers!

*   *   *   *   *

I’d have never thought of Yellow 5 again without Ben reminding me. I wanted to tell him to make a list of things to recall, memories I couldn’t pluck out of my brain on my own.

After devouring Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, it seemed imperative to read her earlier works. These lines are from Dark Places, and I feel they may hold the key to figuring everything out. I’d love to meet Gillian Flynn someday, but only in a large crowd. I wonder what kind of person comes up with these kinds of novels. Love them, but not sure I want to be in a room alone with her!

What are you reading this week?

(Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading. Check it out for more teasers!)

June 5, 2012

Armchair BEA: Best of 2012

Posted in Book Talk tagged , , , , , , at 2:51 pm by The Word Jar

I’ll admit it. I cannot keep up with the Literary Joneses. I will never in my lifetime finish my “to read” list, yet I add to it almost daily. I add old books; I add new books. I read old books; I read new books. Yet I can’t seem to get my act together enough to read the “it” books when everyone else does. Case in point: I added The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern to the list when I heard about it during BEA 2011, and I’m just now getting around to reading it. Not that I haven’t been salivating to read it all year, it’s just that other books, equally saliva-inducing, pop up, too. With this disclosure, I offer up my list of the Best of 2012, in no particular order and with no particular guarantee that they will be read anytime soon.

Stay Awake by Dan Chaon–This is the only 2012 book I’ve read so far, and it wouldn’t matter what year it was published in, this would make the list. A collection of ethereal dream-like short stories. Simply entrancing.

The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker by Janet Groth–A tell-all from a receptionist at the New Yorker? I think this sounds better than any Real Housewives of [Fill in the City]. But that’s how this bookworm rolls.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson–A memoir by The Bloggess must be required reading for bloggers, right? I’ve only heard great things about this one, but even if it doesn’t live up to expectations, how can you not love that cover?

What I Did by Christopher Wakling–A story about a little boy who runs into a busy street and the consequences of that action, told from the boy’s POV.

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz–I read part of one of the stories in this collection in the BEA Buzz Books from Publishers Lunch (via NetGalley), and the voice was fantastic. With a line like “she treats me like I ate somebody’s favorite kid,” I’m in.

Be sure to let me know what you’ve loved or what you’re looking forward to this year. I’ll be stopping by other Armchair BEA blogs, but the more suggestions, the merrier.

June 4, 2012

Let the Armchair BEA-ing begin!

Posted in Interviews tagged , , , , at 6:15 pm by The Word Jar

Welcome, fellow Armchair BEA-ers, to The Word Jar!

If you happened to land on my blog and you aren’t an Armchair BEA-er, let me explain. In NYC this week there is a wonderful event called BookExpo America, celebrating (and promoting) all things books. BEA is a convention of publishers, authors, reviewers, book industry gurus, and other book lovers. Alas, not everyone can make it to New York for a week, so Armchair BEA was created to help more people participate and catch up on the industry goings-on this week.

Today, we Armchair BEA-ers are to introduce ourselves to everyone else, so let the games begin! (It really feels like I should add, “May the odds be ever in your favor!” at this point, but perhaps that’s a bit much.)

Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging?
My name is Jessica, and I’ve been blogging since 2009. But I’m horribly inconsistent. I can go months without posting (not that I’m not thinking of and writing posts constantly). My problem is that I’m an editor by trade, so I tend to revise an entry to death before I post it. That process becomes lengthy and disheartening, and then I just end up not posting anything. I got into blogging because I wanted a place to post some book reviews and discuss wordy subjects and publishing trends. But instead of being a good poster on my site, I get caught up in commenting on other blogs. It’s just so much easier to compose a short comment than write up a whole meaningful post.

What are you currently reading, or what is your favorite book you have read so far in 2012?
I’m currently reading The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I’m a bit surprised by how much I’m enjoying The Flame Alphabet. My least favorite English course in college was Contemporary Literature. And I have looked forward to reading The Night Circus since BEA 2011. My reading list is kind of long. As for my favorite book of 2012 so far, that would be Stay Awake by Dan Chaon. Fascinating short stories.

Tell us one non-book-related thing that everyone reading your blog may not know about you.
I’m not only a book nerd, I’m also a golf nerd. I competed in a national junior golf tournament when I was 11. I took sixth place. Please, hold your applause.

Which is your favorite post that you have written that you want everyone to read?
I really should say that it’s my post about Ghost Burglar (the book I’m currently editing and promoting), but I really enjoy my hard-hitting exposé on house centipedes.

If you could eat dinner with any author or character, who would it be and why?
I’d have to choose Ernest Hemingway in Havana. He’d have some interesting tales to tell, and I’d love a good Cuban sandwich right about now. Or we could also rendezvous in Key West. He has a pretty awesome house there, and anything made with a key lime is fine by me.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you’ve learned a little about me, and I look forward to visiting other Armchair BEA-ers and learning more about them. Happy BEA!

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