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 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 7, 2013

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!)

May 7, 2012

Book Review: The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , , , , , at 2:48 pm by The Word Jar

Nothing is hotter than Scandinavian thrillers right now, and Denmark is throwing its hat in the ring with The Keeper of Lost Causes by award-winning author Jussi Adler-Olsen. Adler-Olsen does what most recent Scandinavian imports do best—serves up a compelling, dark story with enough cruel twists to leave the reader thinking, “What is in that coffee over there?”

The Keeper of Lost Causes follows Copenhagen detective Carl Morck a few months after he has been shot on the job. When Carl returns to the force and refuses to play nicely with his fellow detectives, he is unexpectedly promoted to head up the new cold cases division, Department Q. Given only a stack of case files and Assad, a jack-of-all-trades assistant, Carl begins to investigate the disappearance of Merete Lyngaard, a rising politician.

The narrative alternates between Carl’s investigation and the real circumstances of Merete’s disappearance. The investigation bumbles along at times, with a few lucky breaks and a lot of help from unassuming Assad. But the chapters that follow Merete are tight, twisted, and intensely pressure-packed, leaving the reader wanting more but afraid to admit it (and more than a little worried that Adler-Olsen might gladly give it to them).

Adler-Olsen excels at weaving in the secondary characters and plots. While Carl comes across as a first-rate jerk and second-rate detective at times, Assad, with his secretive past and sundry talents, puts the clues together and makes a mean curry. The Keeper of Lost Causes spins an interesting investigation tale, but Adler-Olsen’s true talent is creating horrific crime scenarios. The Keeper of Lost Causes is the first* in the new Department Q series from Adler-Olsen, and he would do readers a favor by revealing more about Assad in future books, as well as keeping the terrifically twisted narratives coming.

* According to Amazon, The Absent One, the second Department Q case, is scheduled to be released August 21, 2012.

(Review copy source: Dutton via NetGalley)

January 24, 2012

Teaser Tuesday January 24: Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman

Posted in Book Talk tagged , , , , at 10:29 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 sit down and am prepared to feel the appropriate amount of anxiety, but I’m interrupted by a knock on my door–my open door. In my career, I’ve found that only annoying people knock on open doors.

Take one man stuck in a mind-numbing career as a copywriter for a soulless corporation. Mix with his dream of being a novelist. Stir in the fact that his father has just won the Pulitzer Prize. Add a dollop of marital strife, a spoonful of an office crush, a spot of Daddy issues, and one neurotic dog. Blend well and you have Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman, a fun read with an unapologetically witty and clever male protagonist. (That’s a good thing!)

What are you reading this week?

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

November 15, 2011

Teaser Tuesday November 15: The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

Posted in Book Talk tagged , , , , at 10:53 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!

*   *   *   *   *

As he sat in the airport bar and drank glass after glass of lemon-lime soda and ate handfuls of peanuts and pretzels, he had decided that, should someone ask, he was not a real child but a robot built and designed by a scientific genius. A childless couple had ordered him and he was now being delivered to them in Florida. Beep-bop-boop.

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson is about a family with performance artist parents, Caleb and Camille Fang, who insist on including their reluctant children, Annie and Buster, in their very public performances. So far their performances have included Annie snitching on a woman (Camille) who is stealing candy from a candy store and Annie and Buster horrifically singing while trying to earn money, street-performer-style, for “their dog’s” operation, with Camille and Caleb in the surrounding crowd shouting about the kids being horrible performers. The scene I’ve taken my teaser from shows the family’s preparations before they all separately board a plane, with fake IDs, for an in-flight performance. As noted in the book, the date is July 1988–well, before our current airline security measures were implemented. These performances are interspersed between chapters about adult Annie, an actress, and Buster, a down-on-his-luck writer, and how their lives were affected by these performances.

An interesting read so far. Oh, and the boy’s name is Buster? Who doesn’t love a boy named Buster? (Fans of Arrested Development, anyone??)

What are you reading this week?

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

November 14, 2011

Book Review: Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , , , , , at 9:53 am by The Word Jar

Fairy tales provide the backdrop for Arcadia Falls by Carol Goodman. But these fairy tales bleed from the dark, gothic vein of the Brothers Grimm, not that of technicolor Disney. They are filled with difficult choices and moral repercussions reflective of the tumultuous life of their author and indicative of the mysteries and struggles facing the characters of Arcadia Falls.

Centered around the mysterious death of a student at Arcadia School, a secluded upstate New York boarding school, Arcadia Falls follows two threads—the life of Meg Rosenthal, a recent widow and new teacher at the academy, and the lives of the academy’s two founders, Vera Beecher and Lily Eberhardt, through a diary that Meg finds in her cottage. Meg accepts a teaching position at the school because she needs a source of income, but the position also allows her to return to her passion of fairy tales. Her college thesis focused on fairy tales, particularly The Changeling Girl, written by Lily Eberhardt, and coming to Arcadia School allows Meg to delve into the mysteries of Lily and Vera firsthand and walk in their footsteps.

Goodman uses this book to examine the many roles of women—mother, daughter, lover, teacher. The most interesting angle Goodman examines is the notion of woman as artist. The characters of Arcadia Falls, primarily women, serve as subjects to test the theory of whether or not women can be both successful artists and mothers, or if one profession ultimately suffers because of the other. Although both sides are argued throughout, the story provides a definitive final verdict.

While Arcadia Falls wraps up quite quickly and a bit too neatly, the journey through the upstate New York woods is well worth the time. A good gothic read for the autumn season.

(Review copy source: Ballantine Books via LibraryThing)

July 12, 2011

Teaser Tuesday July 12: Dominance by Will Lavender

Posted in Book Talk tagged , , , , at 2:19 pm 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!

*   *   *   *   *

Richard Aldiss’s eyes remained open, that permanent smile etched on his face. He appeared to be waiting for something. An answer, perhaps. A solution to the puzzles of the dead.

I cheated a little this week, but that means you get a four-sentence teaser for the price of a two-sentence teaser! Dominance looks to be a promising summer thriller. Two students murdered at a college in the early 1980s; the convicted literature professor teaching a special class (from his prison cell) in an attempt to clear his name in 1994; and a copycat crime taking place in the present day. A little lighter (perhaps not the best word) than the fare I’ve been reading lately, so it will be a nice change of pace.

What are you reading this week?

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

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