Archive for the ‘Literary Fiction’ Category

The Casual Vacancy

December 5, 2012

casualvacancycoverAuthor: J.K. Rowling

Title: The Casual Vacancy

Publication Date: 2012

Number of Pages: 512

Geographical Setting: English village of Pagford

Time period: Present day

Genre: Black humor; Satirical fiction

Series: N/A

Plot Summary: In the quiet village of Pagford, chaos ensues after the unexpected death of Barry Fairbrother leaves a vacancy on the parish council. The local election that follows exposes secrets, causes intense battles between families and community members, and leads to unexpected revelations that may change their lives forever.

Subject Headings: City council members – Death – Fiction. Local elections – Fiction. Country life – England—Fiction. England – Fiction. Black humor (Literature).

Appeal: Character-centered, detailed setting, bleak, thought-provoking, engrossing, unsettling, strong language, humorous, multiple points of view, closely observed characters, political

Three appeal terms:  Character-centered, bleak, thought-provoking

Three Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge

Readers who are seeking another bleak read with self-absorbed characters might enjoy An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge. This darkly humorous book also takes place in an English village and involves a bickering town council. The book also centers on young actress Stella, who takes on the job of assistant stage manager at a reparatory theatre company in Liverpool and finds romance with the director of the show.

Lionel Asbo: State of England by Martin Amis

For another darkly humorous, satirical fiction tale that takes place in England, readers should check out Lionel Asbo: State of England by Martin Amis. This satire pokes fun at modern society and culture in this story of thug Lionel Asbo, who looks out for his nephew Desmond Pepperdine. While Desmond just seeks a quiet and simple life without any trouble, his uncle’s criminal lifestyle has always gotten in his way, but Desmond has no idea how much worse it will get once Lionel wins big in the lottery.

Every Day is Mother’s Day by Hilary Mantel

Like The Casual Vacancy, Every Day is Mother’s Day is a character-driven book with a darkly humorous tone. This book focuses on medium Evelyn Axon, her daughter, Muriel, and their social worker, Isabel Field, as they all confront their own problems and dark secrets.

Three Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

J.K. Rowling: A Biography by Sean Smith

Author J.K. Rowling made a huge name for herself with her legendary Harry Potter series, and had fans eagerly awaiting the release of The Casual Vacancy, her first book for adults. These fans might want to check out a biography about Rowling and learn more about the life of their beloved author. J.K. Rowling: A Biography is the full-length story of her life based on research, interviews, and evaluations of her novels by author Sean Smith. Readers will learn about Joanne Rowling before she became the best-selling author she is today, and the experiences that helped lead her to where she is now.

A Treasury of Royal Scandals: The Shocking True Stories of History’s Wickedest, Weirdest, Most Wanton Kings, Queens, Tsars, Popes, and Emperors by Michael Farquhar

Readers who enjoyed the secrets and scandals exposed in fictional work The Casual Vacancy might enjoy reading about actual scandals and true stories of notorious rulers in history. Some of these include Catherine the Great, King George III, and Joanna the Mad.

The Perfect Summer: England 1911, Just Before the Storm by Juliet Nicolson

In The Casual Vacancy, politics and social classes played a big role in the story. Readers might enjoy this book because it discusses English society during a period of time in 1911 and covers milestones such as the crowning a new king and paralyzing strikes in the British industry. Also, this book is told from many points of view, much like readers get several different character’s perspectives in The Casual Vacancy.

Name: Melissa Apple

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich

November 28, 2012

The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse book coverTitle: The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse

Author: Erdrich, Louise

Publication Date: 2001

Pages: 361

Geographical Setting: Ojibwe Reservation, North Dakota

Time Period: Present Day

Genre: Literary Fiction, Native American Fiction

Series: N/A

Plot Summary:  In the last days of his life, Father Damien Modeste sets out to make a final confession to the Holy Father, the Pope in Rome.  The least of these confessions is that Father Damien is actually Agnes DeWitt, a woman.  When a young priest comes to the remote Ojibwe reservation of Little No Horse to interview him about the possible sainthood of a nun from the reservation convent, Fr. Damien sees an opportunity to lay bare the truth about his past, the woman in question, and the people whom he has shepherded and loved for the better part of eighty years.  Told through multiple perspectives and dipping into different moments in time, the story unfolds slowly and poetically, the first pages building links to the later scenes of Fr. Damien’s life.  The people of Little No Horse may be familiar to readers of Erdrich’s other works, as this novel is one in a sequence of tales about the Kashpaws, Nanpushes, Pillagers, Morrisseys, and Lazarres who make up this Ojibwe tribe.  But the perspective of Agnes/Fr. Damien, the outsider who layers Catholic dogma with the old spirituality, pushes this story beyond the reservation and across cultural barriers.

Appeal Characteristics: Intricately plotted, moving, stylistically complex, lyrical, mystical, leisurely paced, haunting, spiritual, details of Catholicism, details of reservation life, elegantly written, poignant, reflective, reverent, elegiac, vivid characterization, poetic

Subject Headings: Ojibwe Indians, North Dakota, Indians of North America, Reservations, Priests, Male Impersonators, Miracles, Women Saints

Three Terms Best Describing this Book: Moving, lyrical, spiritual

Similar Non-fiction:

Rez Life by David Treuer

Written by a member of the Minnesota Ojibwe tribe, this book offers a part memoir, part cultural history look at life on a reservation.  Treuer explores the life of present-day Native Americans as it has been shaped by decisions made long ago.  Politics, alcoholism, casinos, and tragedy are balanced by lesser known facets of Native American culture—walleye fishing, wild rice harvesting, Ojibwe language lessons—creating a narrative of sadness and beauty that characterizes contemporary rez life.

The American Jesuits: A History by Raymond A. Schroth

Schroth offers a comprehensive historical account of the order of priests who, more than anyone else, have brought America to Christ.  Beginning with the first, unfortunately murdered, Jesuit to touch the New World, Schroth details a 450 year history of serving the disenfranchised and the poor, building schools and universities, and making very public stands for social justice.  They are not always perfect, but for those who admire Father Damien in spite of his flaws may find more of the same here.

Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Journey into Manhood and Back Again by Norah Vincent

Agnes’s transformation to Father Damien is an integral part of Erdrich’s novel.  The reservation’s remoteness and the acceptance of the Native people made this easier.  In this book Norah Vincent makes her transformation in the thick of society.  In the guise of Ned, a somewhat nerdy salesman complete with crewcut and ever-present five o’clock shadow, Vincent lived for more than a year as a man, infiltrating and living every aspect of male-ness from the sacred to the profane providing an in-depth look at what is expected of male behavior and how women and men are truly different.

Similar Fiction:

The House of Spirits by Isabelle Allende

Similar to Erdrich, Allende writes a generational saga of a family and a people who suffer from the decisions made far in the past.  The Trueba family live in an unnamed Latin American country crippled by political upheaval.  Though less overtly spiritual than Erdrich, readers will find mystical undercurrents and cultural conflicts that color the portrait of this family.

Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros

Another sweeping family portrait, this time of a Mexican American family, Caramelo is the story of Lala Reyes as she grows through the revelations of family stories and histories.  The interconnectedness of seemingly different narratives is reminiscent of Erdrich’s storytelling, as are the shared tragedies and raptures that have brought the family, and specifically Lala, to the place they are today.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

A set of short stories told from the inhabitants of the Spokane Indian Reservation, this is a complex picture of contemporary Native American life that juxtaposes the trappings of modern culture with the traditions of a proud, ancient, and crumbling people.

Name: Jessica

Vlad: A Novel

October 31, 2012

AuthVlad: A Novel by Carlos Fuentesor: Carlos Fuentes

Title: Vlad: A Novel

Genre: Horror; Mexican Fiction

Publication Date: 2012

Number of Pages: 122

Geographical Setting: Mexico City

Time Period: Present Day

Series: Not part of a series, but a reimagining of Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Plot Summary: Yves Navarro, an attorney, is ordered by his boss, the enigmatic Don Eloy Zurinaga, to find and secure a house for an old school friend of his from Europe, a certain Count Vladimir Radu, who tiring of constant unrest in the Balkans has recently decided to move to Mexico City. At first, Navarro is merely puzzled by some of Radu’s eccentric requests: the home must admit no light and a large tunnel is to be excavated beneath the premises. But after an unsettling dinner with the count, a repulsive, pale-skinned and bulbous-headed figure clumsily disguised with a wig, false mustache, and dark glasses, Navarro becomes anxious for his own safety. A sense of foreboding and menace come sharply into focus as the attorney begins to suspect Radu may be a vampire. But when Navarro discovers a photograph of his own wife and daughter taped inside an armoire in the count’s chambers—a sense of panic grips him, as he realizes too late that he has become ensnared in a web, the contours of which he is only dimly aware. Fuentes’ reimagining of the Dracula story is filled with vivid and darkly disturbing scenes, and punctuated by moments of humor, mostly in the form of roman à clef references to the Bram Stoker’s original. Beneath the tragic horror is a philosophical meditation on the meaning of mortality and what it is to be human.

Subject Headings: Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, 1430 or 31-1476 or 7; Stoker, Bram, 1847-1912; Dracula — Sequels; Vampires; Lawyers; Real estate agents; Grief; Aging; Mortality

Appeal: compelling, fast paced, dramatic, eccentric, intriguing secondary characters, quirky, vivid, character centered, layered, some elements of humor, literary references, historical references, mystical, mythic, open-ended, tragic, bleak, dark, foreboding, menacing, philosophical, sensual, suspenseful, classic, concise, elegant, sophisticated

3 appeal terms that best describe this book: character centered, dark, philosophical

Similar Authors and Works:

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead (2010) by J. Gordon Melton

Vlad: A Novel weaves familiar tropes of vampire fiction into its narrative and playfully references Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Readers who want to delve further into the lore and literature of the vampire will enjoy perusing this exhaustively detailed collection of some 500 essays on the subject.

The Philosophy of Horror (2012) by Thomas Fahy

Carlos Fuentes’ characters rhapsodize with philosophical musings about the nature of God, the fear of dying, and grief and loss. Fahy’s thought-provoking and persuasive guide to the philosophical subtexts of horror stories will resonate with readers who responded to the thematic underpinnings of Vlad: A Novel.

The Routledge Companion to Latino/a Literature (2012) edited by Suzanne Bost and Frances R. Aparicio

Carlos Fuentes is a much-admired author and critic in his native Mexico. Readers taken with Fuentes style and subject matter, and who want to learn more about the broader landscape of Latin American Literature, will find here a collection of forty scholarly but accessible essays that describe the most significant Latino and Latina authors and their work.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

Three Messages and a Warning: Contemporary Mexican Short Stories of the Fantastic (2012) edited by Eduardo Jimenez Mayo and Chris Brown

Three Messages and a Warning will appeal to readers who enjoyed Vlad: A Novel and want to read more tales of the supernatural and the macabre told from a uniquely Mexican perspective. Thematically serious, like Fuentes’ work, the short stories found in this anthology similarly offer a sense of the vibrant Mexican literary scene. The creepy but stylistically complex tales include: a pact with the devil, an apocalyptic ghost story, and an encounter with a doppelganger.

Anno Dracula (New Edition; 2011) by Kim Newman

Fans of Bram Stoker’s Dracula who enjoyed seeing the character revisited in Vlad: A Novel may appreciate Newman’s offbeat and compelling spin on the venerable vampire. In the alternate history of Anno Dracula, Count Dracula has not only not been vanquished, but is married to Queen Victoria and rules over England with an iron fist. Fuentes’ story is filled with references to characters and moments from the original Dracula; Newman goes one further and presents a supporting cast of familiar literary and historical characters, including Jack the Ripper, Dr. Jeckyll, and Sherlock Holmes.

The New Annotated Dracula (2008) by Bram Stoker; edited by Leslie S. Klinger

After reading Fuentes’ interpretation of Dracula, those who wish to revisit Bram Stoker’s atmospheric and menacing gothic tale will find a treasure trove of history and lore along with the original story in Klinger’s lushly illustrated and comprehensively annotated edition. Along with Stoker’s original manuscript, this edition also includes an alternate ending penned by the author sure to surprise readers who think they already know the story well.

Name: John Rimer

The Book Thief

October 24, 2012

Author: Zusak, Markus

Title: The Book Thief

Genre: Audio Book, Juvenile Fiction, Literary Fiction

Publication Date: 2006

Number of Pages: 560; number of compact discs: 11 (13 hr., 50 min)

Geographical Setting: Molching (outside of Munich) fictional town outside of Munich in Germany

Time Period: 1933-1945

Series: N/A

Plot Summary: The Book Thief written by an Australian writer, received numerous literary awards, and is one of the most originally written novels of the 2000s. In its audio book version, narrator Allan Corduner, an actor with extensive theatre experience on London’s West End and on Broadway, gives an extraordinary performance by using his voice. The main character, 9 year old Liesel, known as a book thief, is sent by her mother who later on disappears to live with her new foster family. During the journey, her little brother dies on the train; she buries him with her mother and steals her first book, The Grave Digger’s Handbook. However, Liesel cannot read. The most original aspect of the novel is its narrative –Death itself, who tells the story of Liesel. Her adoptive father Hans, who she calls Papa, quickly becomes her friend and teaches her writing and reading. Her stealing adventures with a boy named Rudy, the dark and paranoid living situation of a young Jew, Max, who the family hides in their basement, and a few other strong characters that live in this fictional small town, somewhere outside of Munich, are shown with the philosophical aspects of dehumanization during the World War II. Therefore, there is another side of Germany shown, not the Nazi, fanatic country, but Germans who in spite of the consequences of immediate death, hide in their homes other Germans – Jews and sympathize and help them. And Liesel, a brave and intelligent girl, discovers instantly what a treasure for a human soul a book truly is and learns instantly what  Main Kampf did to one country.

Subject Headings: Books and Reading, Death, Nazi Germany, History 1933-1945, Historical Fiction, Holocaust, Jews Rescue, Juvenile Fiction, Storytelling, World War II.

Appeal: emotional; hopeful; philosophical portray of Germans and Jews during World War II; undeniable proof for power of written word; insightful characters; realistic aspects of human dignity; inspiring acts of courage.

Three Terms for Book:  hopeful, superb and innovative narrative, and important enlightening novel.

Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

  1. Orlev, Uri, The Island on Bird Street – the story of the 11 year old boy      during the Holocaust, in a Warsaw ghetto in      Poland.      His faith for his father comes back, courage, and reading makes the      horrifying conditions inexplicably able to endure. The author is      internationally known for his books focusing on the subjects of the      Holocaust and the lives of Jews throughout WWII.
  2. Pausewang, Gudrun, Traitor – during the last year of WWII, the 15 year old Anna      must decide about hiding a Russian soldier in her native town in Germany,      while risking their  lives and      certain death if being exposed. The book inspires further dialogue about      the difficult choices Germans had to make in these evil times.
  3.  Peet, Mal, Tamar: A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal – available      also as an audio book, narrated by two authors, male and female. Tamar is      15 years old and lives in England.      It is 1995 when his beloved grand-father commits  suicide, and Tamar will learn about his      secret past life during WWII in Netherlands under the Nazi      occupation. It is a compelling and suspenseful book about fear, finding      one’s own identity, and once again strength.

Relevant Nonfiction Works and Authors:

  1. Frank, Anne, The Diary of a Young Girl – an audio book published in 2010 as      a new edition for new generation of young people about the worldwide known      testament of the Holocaust and Jewish people hiding to survive the war’s      atrocities. Anne died in 1945 as a young girl, leaving her diaries as      evidence of her short life-vulnerable but dignified and in spite of      circumstances full of young, rebellious spirit.
  2. Gross, Leonard, The Last Jews in Berlin – based on the real story, the      survival of twelve Jews in the heart of Nazi Berlin. It’s the middle of      the war, 1942, genocide of Jews, concentration camps, and twelve very      brave women and men against the human degradation called extermination of      Jews. The perspective of a people living in constant fear of being exposed      to sure death among good Germans who wished to help. Moving and      informative.
  3. Friedlander, Saul, Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945: The Years of      Extermination – well researched, revisited sensitive subject of lives      of Jewish people in Europe under the      regime and fear of death. The author, an American professor of history,      focuses on subjects, such as anti-Semitism and its motives.

Her Fearful Symmetry

October 17, 2012

her fearful symmetry book cover
Author: Audrey Neffenegger

Title: Her Fearful Symmetry

Genre: Literary Fiction, Ghost stories

Publication Date: 2009

Number of Pages: 401

Geographical Setting: Lake Forest, IL and London, England

Plot Summary: Twin sisters Julia and Valentina Poole reside in the suburbs of Chicago, where they lead rather unexciting lives and have little interest in anything aside from their extremely close attachment to each other. One day, the girls find out that their mother’s twin sister in London has passed away and left her apartment to the twins. Julia and Valentina take up residence in their deceased aunt Elspeth’s London flat, where they are introduced to the other residents in the building. Among them are Elspeth’s lover Robert, who works at the neighboring Highgate Cemetery, and Martin, who suffers from a severe case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Tension mounts as the twins develop new relationships and begin to find separate identities, and an unexpected family member shows up that could tear them apart forever.

Subject Headings: Sisters — Fiction. London (England) — Fiction. Spiritual life – Fiction. Psychological fiction. Ghost stories.

Appeal: Chilling, builds in intensity, compelling, atmospheric, plot twists, descriptive, literary, haunting, character-centered, lyrical, multiple points of view, detailed setting, psychological

Three appeal terms: Haunting, lyrical, atmospheric

Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
Housekeeping shares many of the same appeal terms as Her Fearful Symmetry, including an intricate plot centered on characters and family relationships. It is leisurely paced, lyrical, and includes the haunting ghost story element. The book focuses on two sisters Ruth and Lucille and their relationship with each other and other family members. The girls struggle to grow up amidst memories of a family past that they can’t escape in their small hometown.

A Dark Dividing by Sarah Rayne
Readers who enjoyed the storyline revolving around twins in Her Fearful Symmetry, as well as the London setting, might enjoy A Dark Dividing, another character driven, atmospheric read with an intricate plot. A Dark Dividing features a girl named Simone Anderson, whose twin sister disappeared long ago. Simone has a connection to another pair of twins that were born almost a century earlier, but what is that connection? Journalist Harry Flitzglen is in love with Simone and is determined to solve these mysteries. Curiosity leads him to a ruined mansion known as Mortmain House, where he finds himself immersed in a series of even greater mysteries and a disturbing history he could never have imagined.

Ghost Walk by Heather Graham
Those who are in the mood for a fun ghost story interwoven with suspense and romance would like Ghost Walk by Heather Graham. Nikki DuMonde is having a great time running a New Orleans haunted-tour company when a ghost begins reaching out to her for help. Nikki pairs up with paranormal investigator Brent Blackhawk to find out what this ghost wants…before it’s too late.

Coastliners by Joanne Harris
Like Her Fearful Symmetry, Coastliners also deals with women uncovering family secrets and developing their own identity. Mado returns home to her small island hometown after 10 years in Paris to reconcile with her estranged father. When she comes home, however, she is met with family secrets, village feuds, and the urgent need to save the town’s quickly eroding beach. This book has a strong focus on family relationships with a haunting feel and some paranormal elements thrown into the mix.

Three Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

Highgate Cemetery: Victorian Valhalla by Felix Barker
In Her Fearful Symmetry, readers are exposed to some of the history of London’s Highgate Cemetery, which may leave them wanting to learn more about this fascinating landmark. Highgate Cemetery: Victorian Valhalla is a great resource for information as it provides a rare, illustrated history of the cemetery.

Identical strangers: a memoir of twins separated and reunited by Elyse Schein
Readers who liked the twin storyline in Her Fearful Symmetry may like this true story about a woman named Elyse who goes on a search for her biological mother and ends up discovering that she has an identical twin sister. When she finally connects with her twin, Paula, the two investigate their past and fill in the missing pieces of their lives. The story is interwoven with details on twin studies and statistics to make for both an informative and touching read.

Ghosts among us: uncovering the truth about the other side by James Van Praagh
Those who dig the paranormal ghost elements in Her Fearful Symmetry can find more information about ghosts in this non-fiction book. The author includes true ghost stories and evidence that ghosts are active in our everyday lives. Believers in ghosts will enjoy uncovering the truth about perceptions of spiritual life and how to have a better understanding of what happens on the other side.

Man in the dark

October 17, 2012

Book JacketAuthor: Paul Auster

Title: Man in the Dark

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publication Date: 2008

Number of Pages: 180

Geographical Setting: Vermont

Time Period: 2008

Series (If applicable): N/A

Plot Summary: August Brill spends his days watching movies with his granddaughter, Katya and his nights creating stories when he cannot fall asleep. Man in the dark is a bleak novel about August Brill’s stories of the alternative history of modern day America. The alternative America that August Brill comes up with is that America is in a war with itself and individual states have become their own republic. August Brill envisions this thought provoking story through the eyes of Owen Brick in which he is brought to kill the man in charge of the war. August Brill’s fictional story about the modern day civil war reflects his own life and the family surrounding him. August was never able to fight in the war, he recently lost his own wife, got into a car accident and had to go live with his daughter Miriam. Also, his granddaughter lost her boyfriend Titus in a terrible accident. Man in the dark is a spare, stylistically complex and descriptive written novel in which it has a lot of plot and detail for a shorter book. The main question is how does his story of the modern day civil war relate to his own life?

Subject Headings: Memories; imaginary wars and battles; senior men; imagination; father and adult daughter; married women – death; murder victims; former critics; forgiveness; civil war; violence

Appeal: bleak; contemporary; descriptive; disturbing; experimental; gritty; flawed; intricately plotted; leisurely-paced; melancholy; reflective; spare; stylistically complex; thought provoking

3 appeal terms that best describe this book: bleak; spare; stylistically complex

Similar Authors and Works (why are they similar?):

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

– Butler, Blake, Nothing: a portrait of insomnia (true story of a man who has insomnia and creates stories that based on his past experiences)

– Cowley, Robert, What if?: the world’s foremost military historians imagine what might have been: essays (historians look at how wars could have ended different if something different happened)

– Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: a narrative (describes the real civil war between 1862-1864)

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

– Banville, John, The Sea (stylistically complex, reflective, dealing with family after wife died)

– Evaristo, Bernardine, 1959-, Blonde roots (alternative history about the United States)

– Updike, John, Toward the end of time (creates stories about fictional wars in the U.S. with China, bleak, descriptive)

Name: Samantha Biegel

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

October 17, 2012

Author: Sylvia Plath

Title: The Bell Jar

Genre: Literary Fiction, Women’s Lives and Relationships, Bestsellers

Publication Date: 1963 (England), 1971 (USA)

Number of Pages: 216

Geographical Setting: New York, Massachusetts

Time Period: Six months in 1953

Plot Summary:  This is a semi-autobiographical novel related to the author’s life. She killed herself shortly after it was published. This is a coming-of-age story of a 20-year-old woman as she discovers herself and her desires, just as any college student does. Esther Greenwood was going to college on a scholarship when she got accepted for a special internship with a fashion magazine in New York for the summer. The book describes her relationships with her family, friends, colleagues, and psychologists in a descriptive manner. As this melancholic story progresses, Esther slowly loses her mind to mental illness and eventually attempts to commit suicide. The lyrical and poetic writing is a must read for fans of literary fiction. It is an excellent book to recommend for those interested in studying psychology or going through their own quarter life crisis.

Subject Headings: Depression, Suicidal Behavior, Psychological Fiction, College Students

Appeal terms:  leisurely-paced, introspective, psychological, emotionally charged, melancholy, detailed, realistic, character-centered, timeless, classic, lyrical, literary

Three appeal terms: character-centered, psychological, and literary

Similar Authors and Works:

Fiction-

Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger- A reviewer has compared Sylvia Plath’s book to Salinger’s Franny. Both books are about the experiences of female college students during the same time period.

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen- This book is about an 18 year old that spent two years living in a psychiatric hospital, in 1967, that Sylvia Plath may have spent time in.

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender- This book is a young adult fantasy. It is about a girl that can taste the true emotions of the person who made her food.

Non-Fiction-

Conquering Your Quarterlife Crisis: Advice from Twentysomethings Who Have Been There and Survived by Alexandra Robbins- This is a guide for those that are lost and confused as they become adults in order to help them get through their quarter life crisis.

No Time to Say Goodbye: Surviving the Suicide of a Loved One by Carla Fine- This book offers advice for those who have lost family members due to suicide. The author’s husband was a doctor who committed suicide.

Lying: A Metaphorical Memoir by Lauren Slater- This is the memoir of a woman that had a psychological problem in which she was a compulsive liar. The character, Esther Greenwood, regularly lies in The Bell Jar.

Name: Rachel Fischer

A Single Man

August 13, 2012

Author: Isherwood, Christopher

Title: A Single Man

Genre:  Literary Fiction, GLBTQ Fiction

Publication Date: 1964

Number of Pages: 192

Geographical Setting:  Los Angeles, California

Time Period: Late 1950’s/Early 1960’s

Series (If applicable):  N/A

Plot Summary: Before the book begins, George has lost his partner, Jim, in a car crash, but he has told everyone that Jim has moved home to live with his parents for a while.  The story follows one day in the life of George, a late/middle-aged British man who teaches at a university in LA.  The book is comprised almost entirely of George’s thoughts and dialogue is very sparse.  In an almost stream-of-consciousness style, the reader learns about George’s opinions on almost every aspect of his day.  As a gay man in the 1960’s, his thoughts are often tinged with wariness over what people think about him—who knows he’s gay, who knows about Jim, what they would think if they knew, etc.  George has interactions with a variety of characters, some of whom know about his sexual orientation, and some who do not.    As the day goes on, he begins to reach some fascinating conclusions about his life without Jim.

Subject Headings:  Homosexuality, Middle-aged Men, Grief

Appeal: Builds In Intensity, Measured, Bittersweet, Contemplative, Emotionally-Charged, Stark, Insightful, Introspective, Melancholy, Layered, Character-Centered, Lyrical

3 terms that best describe this book:  Bittersweet, Character-Centered, Introspective

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

Becoming a Man: Half a Life Story by Paul Monette

This book is the autobiography of Paul Monette.  It follows him from childhood to adulthood as he attempts to keep hide the fact that he is gay from himself and from his family.  Monette’s story is similar to A Single Man because both characters feel the need to hide their sexual orientation from the outside world.

Los Angeles: Portrait of a City by David L. Ulin

Photographs of the city from a variety of time periods give readers the opportunity to look at both George’s Los Angeles and the Los Angeles of modern times.  Because the book describes the city in such detail, it would be helpful to see what the city really looks like (for those who have not visited).

A Queer History of the United States by Michael Bronski

Spanning 500 years of American History, this book looks at how homosexuality has evolved.  This book will give readers a greater understanding of the viewpoints of Americans during George’s era.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

Maurice by E. M. Forester

Set in Edwardian England, this book follows Maurice, a brilliant young boy, as he grows up, attends university, and works in his father’s firm.  In many ways, he seems like a stereotypical young man, but he is also gay.  Forester’s book will give readers insight into homosexuality in a different time period.

The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal

A young man, Jim, “experiments” with his male friend, Bob, and finds his life turned upside down.  When he finds himself separated from Bob, he ignores the wishes of his family and decides to find Bob no matter how long it takes.  Jim’s journey takes him all over the country and expands his ideas of homosexuality and how he fits in.  This breakthrough novel in gay literature will help readers see the evolution of the literary genre.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Also following a day in the life of a single character, Mrs. Dalloway focuses on a woman preparing for a party later in the evening. In stream of consciousness, the reader learns about her past, her present, and her thoughts on the future.  With subtle homosexual themes, this book provides readers with a look at the female side of the GLBTQ genre.

Name: Erin Sloan

Swamplandia!

August 8, 2012

Author:  Karen Russell

Title:  Swamplandia!

Genre:  Literary Fiction/Best sellers

Publication Date:  2011

Number of Pages:  416

Geographical Setting:  Florida Everglades

Time Period:  late 20th century (1980’s)

Plot Summary:  Thirteen-year-old Ava loves the alligator-wrestling life at Swamplandia!, her family’s island home and gator-wrestling theme park in the Florida Everglades.  When her mom—the theme park’s main attraction– dies, the family’s way of life is threatened.  The father goes to the mainland on a business venture; her sister falls in love with a ghost and disappears; and her big brother, Kiwi, gets a job at a rival park called The World of Darkness.  Ava sets out with the eccentric bird-man on a mission through the magical swamps to save her sister, but then she has to save herself.

Subject Headings:  Girls-fiction; Motherless families-fiction; Amusement parks-fiction; Alligators-fiction; Everglades (Florida)-fiction.

Appeal: offbeat, witty, mystical, lyrical, quirky characters, vivid, imaginative, detailed setting, strong sense of place, compassionate, uneasy, changing points of view (two).

3 terms that best describe this book:  imaginative, lyrical, strong sense of place.

Similar Authors and Works (why are they similar?):

3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors:

The Florida Everglades by Connie M. Toops

History of the Florida Everglades, which is where Swamplandia takes place.

Crocodiles and Alligators of the World by David Alderton

Information on origins, evolution and distribution, courtship, reproduction, and many individual species paint a thorough portrait, with maps of their habitats.  References and pictures.  Besides wrestling them, Ava has a pet alligator baby.

The Enduring Seminoles:  From Alligator Wrestling to Ecotourism by Patsy West

Seminole Indians (mentioned in Swamplandia) and economic culture; Florida history, culture and tourism.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors:

Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard by Kiran Desai

A young postal worker in a small Indian town, Sampath, climbs into a guava tree and becomes unintentionally famous as a holy man, setting off a series of events that spin increasingly out of control.  Humorous, offbeat and strong sense of place.

Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Similar to Swamplandia, because the teen girl is surviving without help of adults, there are descriptions of nature, and a similar writing style.

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

A zookeeper’s son, Pi Patel, sets sail for America, but when the ship sinks, he escapes on a life boat and is lost at sea with a dwindling number of animals until only he and a hungry Bengal tiger remain.  It’s a journey with animals and literary.

Name:  Sonia Reppe

 

Shopgirl by Steve Martin

August 8, 2012

Author:  Steve Martin

Title:  Shopgirl

Genre:  Literary Fiction, Bestseller, Audio Book

Publication Date:  2000

Number of Pages:  130 (4 CDs, 4 hours)

Geographical Setting:  Beverly Hills, CA

Time Period:  Contemporary

Series (If applicable):  n/a

Plot Summary:  Mirabelle Buttersfield is a sad, lonely, and clinically depressed twenty-eight-year-old Vermont native who sometime ago moved to California with aspirations of becoming an artist but now works in the glove department at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills.  Withdrawn and almost friendless, Mirabelle’s life consists of “selling things nobody buys anymore,” commuting to and from her apartment, feeding her cats, taking antidepressants, drawing pictures of dead and dying things, visiting art galleries, and occasionally meeting up with Jeremy, an unambitious and inept young man she met in a laundromat who stencils logos onto amplifiers for a living.  Her life begins to change when Mr. Ray Porter, an enormously wealthy, handsome, and debonair gentleman nearly twice Mirabelle’s age, buys her a pair of expensive gloves and asks her out for dinner.  Although Ray Porter is charming, suave, and genuinely cares about Mirabelle, he makes it perfectly clear that he does not intend on maintaining an exclusive relationship with her.  Despite this revelation, Mirabelle continues this dead-end relationship for quite some time until Jeremy, who has undergone a dynamic transformation with the help of self-improvement books, reenters her life.  Shopgirl is a brief and bittersweet meditation on loneliness, relationships between men and women, and the human capacity for change, containing a vivid cast of closely-observed characters that are sympathetic, somewhat offbeat, and occasionally amusing.  The author’s style is witty, thoughtful, and concise, and deftly matches the book’s unique tone, which is at times funny, reflective, melancholic, dramatic, and romantic.  On audio book, Steve Martin’s reading accentuates the novella’s melancholy tone, making Mirabelle’s depression affectingly palpable and deemphasizing the book’s more humorous moments.

Subject Headings:  Beverly Hills, CA – Fiction; Clerks (Retail Trade) – Fiction; Department Stores – Fiction; Young Women – Fiction; Coming-of-Age Story – Fiction.

Appeal:  Closely-observed characters, sympathetic characters, dramatic, character-driven, details of department store retail, amusing, bittersweet, reflective, introspective, romantic, funny, melancholy, descriptive, thoughtful, concise, witty

3 terms that best describe this book:  Melancholy, reflective, bittersweet

Similar Authors and Works (why are they similar?):

            3 Relevant Non-Fiction Works and Authors

1)  Minding the Store by Stanley Marcus

Stanley Marcus, son of Neiman Marcus co-founder Herbert Marcus, provides a lively and surprisingly readable history of Neiman Marcus and examines what makes the department store one of the best and most well-known retailers around.  Suggested to Shopgirl readers who want to learn more about Mirabelle’s employer.

2)  Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus: The Classic Guide to Understanding the Opposite Sex by John Gray

One of the most famous and most accessible self-help relationship books that people still read today, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus discusses how men and women are different and offers practical advice on how to transform relationships in clear, easy-to-understand language.  This is one of the books mentioned in Shopgirl that Jeremy read to improve himself.

3)  Made in California: Art, Image, and Identity by Stephanie Barron, Sheri Bernstein, Ilene Susan Fort, Michael Dear, and Howard N. Fox

Published in conjunction with a Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s exhibition that explored the ways in which artistic representations of California affect its identity, this book reproduces 400 pieces and 150 cultural artifacts from the exhibit.  Suggested to readers who, like Mirabelle, are interested in art and California art exhibits.

3 Relevant Fiction Works and Authors

1)   The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank

The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing is a witty, humorous, and insightful collection of seven interlinked stories about Jane Rosenal, her relationships, and her lifelong search for love.  In the title story, Jane memorizes a number of self-help relationship guides and strictly adheres to their advice only to hilarious and disastrous ends.  This book is suggested to readers looking for something funnier than Shopgirl while still addressing men’s and women’s relationships with touching insightfulness and wit.

2)  The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland

It would appear that the only thing that Roger, a middle-aged divorcee and aspiring novelist, and Bethany, a teen goth, is that they both work at Staples.  However, one day, Bethany discovers Roger’s diary, finds that they share similar thoughts about loneliness and mortality, and suggests that they begin writing to each other.  Through these letters, these two characters forge a unique friendship.  Like Shopgirl, this is a darkly humorous, melancholic, and introspective novel about loneliness, featuring characters with failed aspirations trapped in dead-end retail jobs.

3)  The Girl in the Flammable Skirt: Stories by Aimee Bender

This book is a collection of sixteen imaginative, offbeat, and surreal short stories about sexuality, love, and relationships between men and women.  These stories feature a librarian who sleeps with all men who enter the library as a way to fight off grief, a woman whose lover is “experiencing reverse evolution” and now lives in a glass baking pan, a man who comes home from war without his lips, and numerous other odd characters and scenarios.  This unorthodox suggestion would be most appropriate for Shopgirl readers who want to read another book dealing with human relationships but also want to read something less grounded in reality.

Name:  Zach Musil