Book Review | Mr. Gwyn by Alessandro Baricco

mr gwyn book coverMr. Gwyn is a noteworthy English author who has publicly announced that he will write books no longer. To the dismay of his agent, Gwyn has decided that he wishes to become a copyist – although he is unsure what that entails in the present day. Following a chance meeting with an older woman, Gwyn chooses a unique new venture: he will write portraits. After constructing a studio for his new career, he selects as his first subject Rebecca, his agent’s intern who has a beautiful face, but slightly undesirable body so as not to tempt himself. The task goes well, Rebecca is impressed with her written portrait and accepts a job working for Gwyn. He completes several more portraits, which delight their various subjects, before up and disappearing. Rebecca, hurt by his departure, deems a note left for her to be an unsatisfactory and does not start piecing together what happened until years later.

Critical reception of this novel has been quite positive. I found the writing style to be intriguing and easy to follow, but overall I felt the book was lacking. Character’s emotions are not deeply explored, nor are the characters themselves. The book is not so hard to get into, but I found myself indifferent as to the course it would be taking. Check it out at a library near you

Book Review | What it Was Like by Peter Seth

book cover - what it was like by peter sethThis teenage love story begins at a summer camp in upstate New York when the Columbia bound narrator meets beautiful, wealthy high schooler Rachel. What it Was Like tells the story of how the two got to know each other, fell in love, dealt with obstructions to shakily maintain a distance relationship, and ultimately paid the price for wrongdoing. Seth keeps the secret of what exactly goes wrong between the two for almost the entire book while he writes about their all-consuming love by focusing on concrete events.

Being a fairly long novel at over 450 pages, this book took me a while to get through. The beginning, while something I could relate to having previously been a summer camp counselor, was a bit slow and did not immediately draw my attention. The narration of the book is in first person, chronological and very easy to follow. Physical and situational descriptions are adequate for the reader to draw mental pictures. These positive things said, the book was a let down for me. Overall, the word melodramatic comes to mind. The emphasis was so great on concrete events that I felt character emotions could have used more attention. I was looking for more of a love story that would lead me to feel something. This book could be appealing to those dealing with sociopath partners. Check out the book or ebook from a library near you.

A Summary of the 27 books I read during 2014 – Best & Worst

The titles are listed below and are mostly novels, but also include art and historical fiction, art history, photography and short stories. In an attempt to make this post useful to readers, I’ve created sections to group the books. Not all of the books I read during 2014 were released in 2014. A full list of titles appears at the end of the post.

My four favorite books:

A Marker to Measure Drift – A Liberian refugee in her mid-20’s is starving as she tries to make a new life in the Greek Isles.

Sad Peninsula – A Canadian ESL teacher in South Korea learns about the Japanese occupation during World War II and Korean comfort women.

The Anatomy Lesson – In 1600’s Amsterdam, Rembrandt paints his masterpiece of a human dissection.

Decompression – A German writer and soap star take a vacation to the Canary Islands to learn scuba diving.

After those four, my next five favorite books:

Hikikomori and the Rental Sister – A man has made his room a prison that he will not leave so his wife hires a Japanese rental sister to coax him out.

The Silence of the Wave – An Italian detective has suffered a breakdown after many years undercover, but things look up when he meets a lady.

A Hologram for the King – A failing business man is sent to Saudi Arabia to broker an IT deal with the king.

The Book of You – An English woman is relentlessly stalked by a fellow university employee.

The Year of the Hare – A man quits his job and leaves his wife and life to spend a year wandering Finland with a hare as his companion.

Four books that should have been better:

Shotgun Lovesongs – High school friends are reunited in smalltown Wisconsin for a wedding.

The Last Magazine – An intern watches a journalist’s career being shredded to protect the magazine.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – A Japanese man living a quiet life learns the stories that ripped his high school friends away from him.

October – A South African woman returns home after years abroad to face the trials that have torn her family apart.

Five books that were a waste of my time:

Notes from the Internet Apocalypse – The internet goes out and a man searches for a way to restore it.

Rude Bitches Make Me Tired – A lady rants about habits of others that she considers rude and annoying.

The Transcriptionist – A newspaper transcriptionist becomes obsessed with a story about a blind woman being mauled to death by lions.

Monster’s Chef – An ex-convict is hired as the personal chef for a famous musician.

The Way Inn – A man discovers that his hotel is a gateway to accessing the whole world.

All titles appear in alphabetical order by author’s last name. Title links are to book reviews I’ve written. I’ve placed an asterisk by the names of authors whose work I had previously read. I’m happy to answer any questions about these books or provide suggestions for further reading if there’s a certain title you particularly enjoyed.

Hikikomori and the Rental Sister – Jeff Backhaus
Shotgun Lovesongs – Nickolas Butler
The Silence of the Wave – Gianrico Carofiglio
A Hologram for the King – Dave Eggers*
The Coast & the Sea: Marine and Maritime Art in America at the New-York Historical Society – Linda S. Ferber
Notes from the Internet Apocalypse – Wayne Gladstone
Terms & Conditions – Robert Glancy
The Last Magazine – Michael Hastings
Horrorstör – Grady Hendrix
Fifty Shades trilogy – E.L. James
The Book of You – Claire Kendal
Joyland – Stephen King*
A Marker to Measure Drift – Alexander Maksik
Perimeter : A Contemporary Portrait of Lake Michigan – Kevin J. Miyazaki
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami*
The Strange Library – Haruki Murakami*
An English Ghost Story – Kim Newman
The Year of the Hare – Arto Paasilinna
Rude Bitches Make Me Tired – Celia Rivenbark
The Transcriptionist – Amy Rowder
Sad Peninsula – Mark Sampson
The Anatomy Lesson – Nina Siegal
Monster’s Chef – Jervey Trevalon
October – Zoë Wicomb*
The Way Inn – Will Wiles
Decompression – Juli ZehBooks I tried to read, but quit:
Ripper – Isabelle Allende
Cartwheel – Jennifer Dubois
On Such a Full Sea – Chang-Rae Lee

Book Review | Moving Day : a thriller by Jonathan Stone

Featuring guest author Punit Prakash
cover moving day by jonathan stoneMoving Day connects protagonist Peke’s past to a current problem. Born Jewish in Poland, he escaped World War II and emigrated to the US. Recently retired, he and his wife packed up their New England home prior to a cross country move to Santa Barbara. When a gang posing as movers shows up at his residence a day ahead of schedule, they load all the packed boxes into their trucks and disappear with their bounty, all of Peke’s possessions. As Peke uses his wit to track down the thieves, Stone interweaves scenes from Peke’s childhood. Survival skills learned while escaping the Holocaust come in handy during this cat and mouse chase.

This was a quick paced read that kept interest levels high. The story was mostly linear and easy to follow. Some readers may feel that World War II references are overdone, but others will appreciate the historic approach. Moving Day could work well for readers with short attention spans because it is very plot driven. Critics have given an overall warm reception to the book. Check it out at a library near you.

Book Review | Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk

cover beautiful you

In Beautiful Youaverage 20-something Penny Harrigan stumbles into billionaire C. Linus Maxwell and a strange relationship begins. Penny has failed the bar more than once and her law career is worse than at a standstill. Things look up when Maxwell flies her to Paris to live in his penthouse and wine and dine with who’s who of high society. Penny loses control when Maxwell introduces into their relationship a series of erotic gadgets he’s invented. As the final test subject before they hit the market, Penny feels responsible when women begin losing their lives and careers to new pleasurable addictions.

The novel seems divided into two parts. At times the first half reminded me of Fifty Shades and the second half of Tom Robbins stories, but each of these authors proved more successful. While Palahniuk tells an inventive tale that flows better than most of his recent works, it is no match for his original novels (think Diary, Survivor, Choke, Lullaby…). This book is a quick read with a story that decently holds the reader’s interest and includes a few plot twists. The plot and sexually graphic content may be off-putting to some readers, but as other reviewers have noted, the story is fairly unique. If the jacket description sounds inviting, check it out from a library near you.

Book Review | Perimeter : A Contemporary Portrait of Lake Michigan by Kevin J. Miyazaki

book cover Perimeter by Kevin J. MiyazakiI wish I had been fortunate enough to see the exhibit at Marquette’s Haggerty Museum of Art that is encompassed by Kevin J. Miyazaki’s artistic book Perimeter. As Miyazaki traveled nearly 1800 miles around the shores of Lake Michigan through Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan, he photographed the people he encountered and the Lake along the way. The book is a compilation of the waterscapes, the portraits and the stories behind them. From surfers and scientists to fishermen and families, portraits and prose highlight both the differences and similarities of those who’ve made Lake Michigan a part of their lives.

This was an impressive book, and as I mentioned, it would have been great to see the exhibit. The portable photo booth that Miyazaki constructed from PVC pipe and other supplies provided for exceedingly crisp and clean images. I read a color copy of the ebook and am sure the printed book would prove even more intriguing. Hearing so many different perspectives of the value of the Lake lends the reader increased awareness about what an important resource it is. If you love Lake Michigan or haven’t yet had a chance to visit, or if you’re just a fan of great photos, check out Perimeter from a library near you.

Book Review | An English Ghost Story by Kim Newman

book cover an english ghost story by kim newmanAfter difficult times, Steven and his wife Kirsty decide to leave city life behind for a home in the Somerset countryside and a new start for their family. Both parents, daughter Jordan and son Tim immediately fall in love with The Hollow, a property previously owned by a famed authoress. An English Ghost Story explores the family’s discoveries about their new home being inhabited by spirits and the interaction between the ghosts and the family members. Things heat up as family members are torn apart and turn against each other.

Accessible to all readers, this book started out with an inviting storyline. While there are not regular chapter breaks, there are section breaks that Newman uses to switch focus between characters. Jordan is 17 and interested in her boyfriend Rick who has stayed in London. Little Tim is constantly playing soldier. Steven runs a business where he matches clients with funding. Kirsty is a bit up in the air about her role as Mother, keeping the family together and feeling like she wants to break out on her own. Each character is quirky and forms different relations with the spirits and magical objects in the house. The book is well written and keeps the reader guessing about what is real versus imagined and what will ultimately happen to the family in The Hollow. This novel is recommended for those interested in haunted houses, dysfunctional families or obsessed with a childhood author. Check it out from a library near you.