Author Archive

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

April 21, 2010

Author:  Junot Diaz

Title:  The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Genre:  Literary Fiction, Latino

Publication Date:  2007

Number of Pages:  335

Geographical Setting:  New Jersey, Dominican Republic

Time Period:  Mid to Late 20th Century

Series:  N/A

Plot Summary:  Oscar’s Dominican line can be traced back to an affluent Trujillo-era family, a surgeon and nurse that existed in social circles adjacent to that of the the savage dictator.  Oscar’s lack of love (and lack of culo) may also be attributed to his quasi-royal grandparents.  By jumping back and forth through time, Junot Diaz presents the genesis and implementation of the fuku (“the Curse and the Doom of the New World”) that has plagued Oscar’s family since the middle of the 20th century.

With a casual, anecdotal narrative littered with comic book, Science Fiction, and Fantasy references, Yunior, a family friend, regales us with this searing family history that details the trials of Oscar, a hopeless romantic and obese SciFi/ Fantasy aficionado who wants desperately for a girlfriend (and to be the Dominican Tolkien), and places them in the context of the tragic family legacy that held sway over The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Subject Headings: Misfits (Persons), Social acceptance; Eccentrics and eccentricities; Interpersonal relationships; Men/women relations; Ghettoes; Ghettoes, Hispanic-American – New Jersey; Family relationships; Curses; Loss (Psychology); Persistence; Dominican-Americans; Hispanic-Americans; New Jersey; Folklore; Hispanic-American fiction

Appeal:  contemporary, character-centered, episodic, vivid, savage, sweeping, unflinching, anecdotal, affecting, explicit, harrowing, witty

3 terms that best describe this book:  funny, engaging, powerful

Similar Works and Authors:


Trujillo is examined in Eric Paul Roodra’s The Dictator Next Door:  The Good Neighbor Policy and the Trujillo Regime in the Dominican Republic, 1930-1945.

Fukued?  Who needs zafa when you have Lady Suzanne Miller’s Omens, Curses & Superstitions:  How to Remove and Reverse Them?

Did Oscar need to focus a little less on his Lovecraft and a little more on his love craft?  Try Ron Louis and David Copeland’s How to Succeed with Women.


Jessica Abel offers a story of self-discovery and personal growth in the graphic novel, La Perdida.  Carla explores her Mexican roots through misguided endeavors.  Personal and tense, Carla struggles to connect and her naivete ultimately lands her in the center of a violent plot.  Although simple, the artwork is evocative.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon is an effervescent tale of Jewish cousins/friends/collaborators that find themselves as pop-culture frontiersmen during the Golden Age of comics.  Another Pulitzer Prize winner.

In The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem tells a story of a boy trying to find his place, being caught between two worlds and not quite fitting either.  Music, magic rings, super heroes and comic books figure into the story.  Oscar would approve.




March 17, 2010

Finn: A Novel

Author: Jon Clinch

Title: Finn

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publication Date: 2007

Number of Pages: 283

Geographical Setting: Mississippi River; Lasseter, IL (Adams County); St. Petersburg, MO; Alton, IL

Time Period: Pre-Civil War

Series: N/A

Plot Summary: Pap Finn is a drunk.  Pap Finn is also a murderer, kidnapper and thief.   Jon Clinch offers a realization of Pap Finn from Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Finn is his story.   This volatile character is measured by crisscrossing the span of his life to reveal twisted endeavors and tender motives.  Clinch meticulously dovetails Finn into the tapestry of Twain’s enduring yarn while providing something whole and discrete:  a study of a vicious riverman caught is a swirl of misdeeds that conspire to ruin and extinguish him.

Subject Headings: Finn, Huckleberry, father and son, brothers, runaway children, fugitive slaves, women slaves, men—friendship, race relations, boys, paternity, dead, murder, Mississippi River, Missouri, adventure stories—American, coming of age stories

Appeal: character centered, violent, crude, compelling, measured, rhythmic, engrossing, visceral, evocative, graphic, picturesque, raw

Three terms that best describe the book: dark, lyrical, affecting

Similar authors and works:

Was Huck Black?:  Mark Twain and African-American Voices by Shelley Fisher Fishkin examines the genesis of Mark Twain’s iconic character, Huckleberry Finn.

Inspired by Huckleberry Finn, Jonathon Raban satisfies a lifelong dream in the travelogue Old Glory:  A Voyage Down the Mississippi.

Borrow from the Pap Finn diet plan, eat like a bona fide Mississippi riverman with the help of Stan Warren and his The World’s Best Catfish Cookbook.

More father-son dynamics are on display in Cormac McCarthy’s bleak and haunting The Road.

Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen brings new perspective to Matthiessen’s Watson trilogy in this single volume re-envisioning of the everglade epic about a sugarcane farmer and alleged murderer that was famously gunned down in the swamps of southwest Florida.  Another portrait of a deadman.

David Boring by Daniel Clowes approaches the everyday tedium of a character with a larger-than-life story.


The Road

March 17, 2010

Author: Cormac McCarthy

Title: The Road

Genre: Science Fiction

Publication Date: 2006

Number of Pages: Audio book

Geographical Setting: United States

Time Period: Present

Series: N/A

Plot Summary: The man and the boy are good guys.  They carry the fire.  Ash hangs in the air over a post-apocalyptic landscape.  Without knowing what they’ll find when they get there, father and son trudge to the sea.  Along the way, they encounter other survivors on the road both benign and vile.  What they survived remains a mystery, as does how they will continue on a dead planet.  The boy is too young to remember a time before the earth scorching event, relying upon the man for details and context among the ruin.  And the man relies upon the boy for a moral compass, an anchor of humanity in this barren stage fit for cannibals and thieves.  As father and son rely upon one another for survival, they learn what is necessary to endure and what must be left behind.

Subject Headings: Father and son, survival (after nuclear warfare), familial love, hunger, cannibalism, futurism, disasters, catastrophism, ethics, personal conduct, United States, apocalyptic fiction, literary fiction

Appeal: arresting, brutal, apocalyptic, character centered, engrossing, evocative, frightening, haunting, compelling, provocative, tender, dark

Three terms that best describe the book: hypnotic, heart-breaking, focused

Similar authors and works:

Succeed in a post-apocalyptic world (and entertain the boy) by mastering essential skills from Conn and Hal Iggulden’s The Dangerous Book For Boys.

The easiest way to survive the apocalypse is avoiding it altogether with Apocalyse Never:  Forging a Path to a Nuclear Weapon-Free World by Tad Daley.

Publisher’s Weekly credits Lawrence E. Joseph’s Apocalypse 2012 as being reasonably light on the “kookery”.  Lawrence examines, with a scientific sensibility, the end that Mayan astronomers calculated as taking place December 2012.

Margaret Atwood provides a chilling vision of a near-future society in The Handmaid’s Tale.

Good guys are in short supply in Richard Matheson’s influential end-of-the-world tale in I Am Legend.

A man attempts to steer his family away from a poison cloud that resulted from a “toxic event” in Don Delillo’s White Noise.  Family dynamics and consumer comforts are explored.



February 24, 2010

Author: Steve Alten

Title: Meg

Genre: Adrenaline, Thriller

Publication Date: 1997

Number of Pages: 278

Geographical Setting: Pacific Ocean (Guam, Mariana Trench, Hawaii, Coastal California)

Time Period: Present

Series: Shark series 1

Plot Summary: One-time ace submersible pilot and current crackpot paleontologist, Jonas Taylor is an authority on Carcharodon megalodon.  Jonas’ unpopular theory that the Megalodon (or “Meg”)  never followed its prehistoric ilk into extinction was born from a face-to-face encounter with the beast while on a top secret mission for the Navy– a mission that went horribly awry, killing everyone but Jonas.  Racked with guilt, haunted by memories, betrayed by an adulterous wife, Jonas finds himself back in the pilot’s seat, diving for an old friend.  This favor brings twisted validation to the battered Jonas Taylor:  a live Megalodon.  Released from the Mariana Trench during a salvage mission, Meg ravages the Pacific Ocean.  Professionally redeemed, Jonas must now assume the charge of protecting the ecosystem from this perfect predator.

Subject Headings: Paleontologists, sharks, prehistoric animals, Carcharocles megalodon, Carcharodon megalodon, sea monsters, deep diving, suspense stories—American

Appeal: graphic, cinematic, action oriented, unrelenting, tense, fast paced, pop science

Three terms that best describe the book: rip-roaring, pulpy, outrageous

Similar authors and works:


Equal parts gorgeous coffee-table book and academic text, Discovering Fossil Fishes by John G. Maisey will certainly satisfy curiosities concerning how “Meg” fits in the world of fishes.  Caveat:  although Carcharodon megalodon is mentioned in this work, it is not the focus.

Fans of Meg will recognize the Farallon Island setting of The Devil’s Teeth:  A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks by Susan Casey, a suspenseful account of pioneering biologists studying shark behavior off the coast of San Francisco.

Descent:  The Heroic Discovery of the Abyss by Bradford Matsen handles the birth of deep-sea exploration in this accessible account of revolutionary adventurers (and depression-era celebrities) Otis Barton and William Beebe.


Surprise!  A prehistoric monster eats your head!  Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park provides another raucous fling that bends the rules of science for thrills.

“Demonrays” rule the sea and the sky in Natural Selection by Dave Freedman.  This terrifying tale of giant rays that have learned to fly bridges the gap between Meg and Jurassic Park.

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne is an essential underwater adventure.

The Colour of Magic

February 17, 2010

Author:  Terry Pratchett

Title:  The Colour of Magic

Genre:  Fantasy

Publication Date:  1983

Number of Pages:  183

Geographical Setting:  Discworld

Time Period:  Interdimensional Present

Series:  Discworld 1; Rincewind series 1

Plot Summary:  The Colour of Magic introduces us to the fantastic Discworld, a Frisbee planet balanced on the backs of four mighty elephants riding on the shell of a colossal turtle swimming through the cosmos.  Failed wizard, renowned coward, and exquisite linguist, Rincewind, is hired to guide tourist, Twoflower, through the quaint and exciting (read:  squalid and lethal) Morpork.  As cultures (and luggage) clash, and cities burn to the ground, the two embark on an adventure peppered with barbarians, trolls, imps, demons, and dragons.  The journey reveals the champion hiding within a reluctant hero and the magic resting within an actuary on holiday.

Subject Headings:  Discworld (Imaginary place); magic; voyages and travels; monsters; dragons; heroes and heroines; adventurers; wizards; Rincewind; fantasy fiction, English; humorous stories, English.

Appeal:  witty, fast-paced, imaginative, detailed, humorous, cinematic, high-adventure

Three terms that best describe this book:  funny, adventurous, rich

Relevant Non-fiction

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking.  As physics (or pseudo-scientific jargon) plays a notable role in conveying how Discworld space-time behaves, Stephen Hawking visits such topics as elementary particles, the expanding universe, wormholes, and time travel.

Magic for Dummies by David Pogue.  Failed wizards, tourists, anyone can learn magic with this resource that provides a deconstruction of “tricks” as well as a background in the world of magic.

Dragons, Unicorns, and Sea Serpents:  A Classic Study of the Evidence for their Existence by Charles Gould.  A Darwin-era geologist makes a case for the existence of mythical creatures.

Relevant Fiction

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams.  This classic sci-fi satire features Earth’s sole survivor exploring the universe with a galactic travel writer (and others).

Snow White and the Seven Samurai by Tom Holt.  Fairy tales are skewered in this fantasy.

Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett.  Comic errors abound in this fast-paced apocalyptic novel about an angel and demon working to prevent Armageddon.  Tag-teaming authors deliver a fantastic, irreverent romp.