Cody's Bookshelf

So many books, so little time

MIDNIGHT AT THE BRIGHT IDEAS BOOKSTORE Review

Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore: A Novel - Matthew J. Sullivan
It begins with a suicide: Joey, a young man in his twenties who is a regular bookstore patron, hangs himself from a shelf in the Bright Ideas Bookstore—which is where this novel's main character, Lydia, is an employee. Joey leaves behind messages meant only for Lydia; it is from there this suspenseful novel unfolds. 

There is so much I want to say about this novel, but I'm finding myself at a loss for words—that's how you know it was good. That, and the fact that I finished this in a single day: something that almost never happens. This novel is populated with some of the most fully drawn characters I've come across in some time: Lydia's friends and families and the bookstore itself are all unique and divine creations and will surely stick with the reader for a long time. 

How would I classify this novel? It is certainly a mystery, and maybe horror, too? Sullivan certainly isn't afraid to go to dark places, and there are several scenes herein that gave me the certifiable creeps. Yeah, a horrific mystery sums it up well! 

Simultaneously a thrill ride and love letter to book lovers, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is not to be missed. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy, which was given in exchange for an honest review.
 
 

 

PERENNIALS Review

Perennials: A Novel - Mandy Berman
I never went to summer camp when I was growing up. I wasn't deprived, or anything like that. My parents would have let me go, had I asked — I simply was (and am) of the antisocial sort. I was the type of kid to haunt the local library during summer break. I wasn't one for physical activity. LOL. 

However, I do like reading about summer camps — through them I experience what is maybe lacking from my own childhood. Truthfully, I don't feel I missed much . . . but still, the topic and setting of summer camp often makes for interesting (albeit cheesy, usually) stories. How does Perennials measure up? Well, it's not interesting or cheesy. It's just lifeless and lame. 

Firstly, this novel has more structural problems than a termite-ridden set of wooden stairs. The first two chapters take place in 2000, at the summer camp that acts as the focal point of this novel, and then randomly switches to 2006. The two characters that are seen in the 2000 chapters are still around, but the reader is suddenly introduced to a ton of new campers, none of them fleshed out whatsoever. I think the main characters were supposed to be... Rachel? and . . . I'm blanking on the other girl's name. Yeah, I just finished this one and can't remember any of the characters' names. That's bad! Bad bad bad. 

So the plot hops from character to character and situation to situation, and almost none of it is necessary to furthering the story, nor does most of it come together by the story's end. Either this one leaves a ton of loose ends hanging, or I was too bored to care. I sorta get what the author was going for: the wide ranging impact summer camp can have on young teens, but the problem is this novel is just too short. There are way too many characters crammed into this story, and all of them want to be the main protagonist. None of them are written well at all, and I just . . . God, I'm boring myself talking about this. 

I honestly didn't have high hopes for Perennials, but I was expecting to at least get a breezy, fun summer read. Nope. This is just bland, flavorless melodrama populated with excessively, offensively boring characters and trite situations. 

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free review copy, which was given in an exchange for an honest review.
 
 

 

AS YOU WISH Review

As You Wish - Chelsea Sedoti

Release date: 01.02.18

DNF at 32% (Though I did skip to the final chapter to see how things ended.) 

Jesus Christ, this was the worst book I've tried to read in a long time. Maybe young adult fiction is not for me anymore? I don't know. This book is set in a small town in the desert, near Area 51. Nothing much goes on in said town, except for the occasional tourist on his or her way to find aliens. Oh, and everyone in town can make one wish that comes true on their eighteenth birthday. Why? "It just happens," one character says. "There isn't a reason." 

This book is so damn lazy. The characters are drawn in the broadest of strokes, and the main character (Eldon? Ellwan? I don't know) is the worst. He's a total brute: insensitive to the point of being cruel for no real reason other than his girlfriend left him for a guy he — said MC — plays with on the football team. That's . . . it, basically. And the fact that he was once the best on the football team but no longer is due to other players' wishes making them better has him down, too. So there's a lot of generic teenage angst and confusion about the future, which is okay . . . if written well. It's not, here. This main character is mean to his friends, his parents, everyone. And yet, he constantly reminds the reader that he's super hot and can have sex with any girl he wants. Yay, character development? 

32% is more than fair, I think. This book is flaming trash and may no one pay full price for this turd when it comes out in January. 

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC, which was given for free in exchange for an honest review. This is it. Sorry your book sucks so much, but at least the cover is cool.

THE CHILD Review

The Child - Fiona Barton

I always give authors at least two chances to impress me. While I did not totally dislike Fiona Barton's debut novel, The Widow, I did feel it dragged substantially in its latter half and didn't really work as a compelling mystery. Its twists and shocks — such as they were — were easy to predict, making for a relatively boring experience. However, Barton has a background in crime reporting and does know her way around a phrase. Her books are, technically, well written. They make sense; they have credible setups and characters' motivations are clear. I felt that way when reading The Widow(which I gave three stars to) and feel that way about this, her newest release: The Child

How does The Child measure up against Barton's previous outing? It is certainly an improvement! Though quite similar in tone and pacing to her other release, in this the author amps up the macabre and intrigue and dread. Though I was able to predict some of the twists in this mystery, I didn't see most of them coming. Fiona Barton seems more comfortable as a novelist here; it makes for a very pleasant reading experience. 

The premise is rather simple: the skeletal remains of a baby are found buried at a construction site. Who buried it there, and why? The Child sees the return of investigative reporter Kate Waters, a main character in The Widow. She is the one digging at this, trying her hardest to find out what happened. The novel is centered on this mystery, and the lives of the people who are entangled in this strange discovery. 

I really enjoyed this. Though I do have a few qualms — the story needlessly drags in places, Barton's male characters aren't fleshed out at all, the ending is a little rushed — I can definitely say I was a little surprised by how much I loved this novel. Part crime drama, part mystery, part thriller, this is certainly one of the more memorable and rewarding books I've read in 2017. Highly recommended.

Reading progress update: I've read 225 out of 384 pages.

The Child - Fiona Barton

This is shaping up to be one of my favorite mystery thrillers of the year. 

Reading progress update: I've read 181 out of 336 pages.

I Sing the Body Electric! & Other Stories - Ray Bradbury

Gotta be honest, this collection is rather uneven thus far. Slightly disappointed. 

Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 384 pages.

The Child - Fiona Barton

I give every author two chances to impress me. Here's hoping this is better than Barton's debut novel...

A TALE OF TWO CITIES Review

A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens

I'd somehow, up to this point, never read A Tale of Two Cities. I know, I can't believe it either. 

Set against the backdrop of the French Revolution and the years leading up to it, this is, at its very core, a romance novel. I was a little shocked by that, but I certainly didn't mind. Dickens's writing is simply breathtaking, and he never allows the characters' actions to become contrived. These people aren't saccharine cutouts, as is typical of romance novels (even from this era). Instead, it's a roomy, elegant story told with magnificent prose and populated with memorable characters. 

Most Dickens novels drag a bit (at least, the few I've read do), but this one doesn't. Not at all. From its iconic opening passage to the final chapter, the plot is pretty quick and doesn't get bogged down in an excessive amount of characters and subplots (looking at you, Our Mutual Friend). Instead, Dickens focuses on only a handful of characters and develops them fully. By the novel's third part I was truly invested in their lives, and wanted to know how everything would turn out. I truly cared! When reading most novels from the Victorian Age, I find myself a little put off by their chilliness, their dust and age. Not here. A Tale of Two Citiesfeels rather progressive and is very emotionally involving. 

If I were to critique this novel, I would say perhaps Dickens sacrificed a full exploration of the time period he was writing about to, instead, focus on his characters. I would've loved to have seen more build-up to the Revolution, though what the reader does get is fine. I could've done with more guillotine scenes myself. 

So far, this is my favorite Dickens novel — though I have many to read yet. This one certainly deserves its classic status, and I can't wait to give it a reread in a few years.

THE REMINDERS Review

The Reminders - Val Emmich

Release Date: 05.30.17

Val Emmich's debut novel, The Reminders, is a Beatles lover's fantasy. This one is filled to the brim with song references and nods to John Lennon's New York City life (where, incidentally, a large chunk of this story takes place), I was almost too distracted by the shout outs to focus on the characters and their goings-on. 

Told in alternating first-person POVs, The Reminders is the story of two people: Joan, a young girl with the rare ability of being able to recall in vivid detail every memory of her life; and Gavin, a family friend currently mourning the loss of his husband, Sydney. Gavin, having grown up with Joan's parents, moves in with the family and soon he and Joan become close. She helps him by sharing with him every memory she has of Sydney (who is another friend of the family); he helps her by co-writing a song with Joan for an upcoming contest. Joan is a lover of music and aspires to be famous. 

Honestly, I wanted to like this novel . . . but just couldn't. The emotions are contrived; there is no "there" there. Toward the beginning of the novel, Joan decides she wants to write a crying song for the contest, because crying songs get remembered most. I feel Emmich tried writing a crying novel but forgot to give these characters enough life for the reader to care about them. A major part of the novel is Gavin's grieving over his late husband, but Sydney is nothing more than a name and a few memories. Their relationship is never shown in the light; Emmich tells the reader he or she should care, but doesn't show much of whythat is. 

Really, that's this novel's largest fault: the novelist falls prey to one of the oldest predators in fiction-writing — telling, not showing. I never got a grasp on these characters; they feel like ciphers and nothing more. Joan's extraordinary memory gift is almost never utilized, except to rattle off dates at random or tell Gavin about Sydney's visits through the years. The rest of the time, Joan is too preoccupied with writing her song and Gavin spends his days wallowing in grief and Joan's parents are basically big nothings. 

I wanted to love this novel, and for a moment I thought I did . . . but I realized I was in love with the Beatles references and not much else. This could have been a big literary experience; instead, it is a flimsy paint-by-the-numbers bore set against the smog and rush of the Big Apple. 

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the ARC, which was given in exchange for an honest review.

THE DINNER Review

The Dinner - Herman Koch, Sam Garrett
The most remarkable, and frustrating, thing about this novel is the fact that it takes place over the span of one dinner — hence the title. Our main players are two married couples, all with worries and dark motives and problems to work through. 

Paul is the main character; The Dinner is narrated by him. He is a sinister fellow, obviously with things to hide. Despite always being in his head, I didn't feel I ever really got to know him . . . same goes for the other characters, too. All of 'em. They intrigued me just enough to keep reading, but I wasn't totally enthralled. Maybe that's why it took me a week to read this 300-page paperback? 

I must award points for Herman Koch's marvelous prose, though! He (and the translator, I suppose) write beautifully, without selling the story out for pretentiousness or oversimplification. The author masterfully pulls the reader in wrong directions. I was often lulled into a false sense of complacency before having the rug pulled out from under me! I'm usually good at seeing twists coming, but a lot of the ones here were subtle and so well done. 

I would call this one a success, though I wasn't totally head over heels for it. The pacing is a bit slow, and the ending was a bit disappointing (not much was resolved? I think? this requires a reread), but I did have fun. I liked it. Hence the three stars. While I vastly preferred Summer House with Swimming PoolThe Dinner is a sinister, tasty meal.
 
 

 

THE PROCESS Review

The Process (is a Process All Its Own) - Peter Straub

I believe my review of Peter Straub's latest novella, The Process (or, as it was originally titled, Hello Jack, which I much preferred!) is the first on Goodreads. I feel so honored!

 

Folks, I spent forty bucks on this book. It's a limited, signed edition and was published by Subterranean Press. They do good work, and this is no exception. This one is beautiful, and so nice to hold! Do I regret spending that much money on a ninety-page novella? Despite my 3-star rating, I would answer that question with an emphatic NO. Peter Straub is one of my favorite authors, and this is his first release of new fiction in seven years. And it's signed! No regrets here.

 

Despite Straub being one of my favorite authors, I must admit I've not read anything of his that was released after Floating Dragon. I haven't read the Blue Rose trilogy, or The Hellfire Club. Nothing. Nada. So reading this — a work released in 2017 — was a bit jarring because, naturally, Straub's voice has changed as he's gotten older. His language seems a bit more concise now, which is great . . . but this novella totally lacked the atmosphere of his earlier stuff. His '70s and '80s novels oozed with mood and feeling; Straub always put his strange and puzzling locations to good use. Here, he doesn't. Bummer.

 

This little story concerns itself with Tillman Hayward (a Straubian character name if there ever was one!), a fictional serial killer from the 1950s. Apparently this guy has appeared in a few other novellas by Straub, but I have not read those. For the most part, this story remains in the head of this guy — often referred to as "Tilly" — and I must say he's pretty darn creepy! I thought his association of words with smells was fitting, creative, and very well written. Unfortunately, at seemingly random moments Straub jerks the reader away from Tilly's first person narration and plunks said reader down into the happenings of other characters. Those moments bored me to tears, and I found myself racing through the pages to get back to what Tilly was up to.

 

Like all Straub stories, this is a bit of a challenge. It's a horrific mystery of the highest literary order. I cannot pretend to have totally gotten everything that was going on, and I'm sure that's the point. But it's a bit of a mess. I finished feeling more confused than anything. I will reread this . . . maybe soon? For now, though, I will give it three stars. I liked it, but it could have been so much more.

DANDELION WINE Review

Dandelion Wine - Ray Bradbury

While no one can top Stephen King (for me), Ray Bradbury is certainly my second favorite author. His writing is so precise — he says neither too much nor too little — with nary a word out of place. He evokes emotions buried deep within me, every damn time.

 

Dandelion Wine is magical realism mixed with coming of age; this story oozes charm and is filled with quotable passages. While the main character is Douglas, a twelve year old boy who is realizing what it means to be 'alive', the narrative does shift focus to several peripheral characters. I must admit I didn't quite know where the plot was going some of the time (I felt it meandered a good deal), but I'm not sure if that was just me not understanding, or the book failing to engage me at certain points. Those times were few and far between, however!

 

This is excellent reading for summer. Bradbury uses the season and locale to his advantage, making it all come alive with his pen. While a little confusing at times, this deeply poetic novel is one to be read and treasured. A definite classic.

FINAL GIRLS Review

Final Girls - Riley Sager

Release Date: 07.11.17

 

I finished this novel in two sittings, over the span of five hours. This debut release from Riley Sager is a story that must be completed once begun — so don't start it on a school or work night!

 

To discuss much of the plot would spoil the story, and that's no good. So, I'll say this: Final Girls is the story of three girls (though we see the story through the perspective of only one, as is necessary), all lone survivors of gruesome massacres. They share a bond with one another, and it is from this bond horrific secrets and ties come to light. I would love to say more, really, but I can't. I don't want to risk spoiling anything.

 

Written in the vein of Gillian Flynn (though this is grittier and scarier than Flynn's stuff, I found) while being its own thing, this is a stunning ride — one on which the brakes stop working just after it begins. This author successfully pulled the rug out from under me no less than six times; every time I thought I knew the direction in which this grisly thriller was going, it galloped somewhere else entirely. I had to give in and give up, and put myself totally at this author's mercy. If it weren't for a dinner break, I would have read this book even faster.

 

A totally original and complex exploration of a hellish scenario, Final Girls might just be the best book I've read this year. I suspect it will become a runaway success upon release, and rightfully so.

 

Thanks to Netgalley and Penguin Group Dutton for the ARC, which was given in exchange for an honest review.

THE MAILMAN review

The Mailman - Bentley Little

This is my first Bentley Little novel, but it certainly won't be my last! A quick, smart, and surprisingly bleak horror tale about a small town under siege, The Mailman is one of the finer horror stories I've read lately.

 

The premise is a simple one: our main characters are Doug, a schoolteacher on summer vacation; his wife, Tritia; and their son, Billy. Peripheral characters are their friends and neighbors, but the focus is on this family — especially Doug . . . and, of course, the titular mailman, a newcomer to town.

 

This one was published in 1991, and certainly shows its age: characters actually receive letters from relatives (*gasp*!) and totally rely on landlines. Yeah, this one is dated, but that adds to the charm. And despite feeling very early '90s, this story still has relevance today. Being a habitual online shopper, I check the mail religiously and have struck up a sort of friendship with my mail-woman. The mail is a big part of my life, so this novel's magic really worked on me. Little makes something so mundane as mail delivery terrifying!

 

I enjoyed this one to pieces, and I cannot wait to read Little's other novels. Highly recommended to anyone looking for a fun and exceptionally scary summer read.

BEARTOWN Review

Beartown: A Novel - Fredrik Backman

What can I say? Fredrik Backman, you've done it again. I am speechless and shocked and in awe etc etc.

 

I had the time of my life reading Beartown: a chilly, honest examination of a small, poor town whose future rests on the shoulders of the local teenage hockey team.

 

Unlike Backman's previous works, which focus on one (sometimes two, but usually) one character, Beartown features a large cast. I was very thrown off by this at first, as I'd become used to Backman's style; he really changes it up here. It took fifty or so pages for me to get a handle on all the characters, but once I did I really enjoyed the ride. All these people are endlessly fascinating to read about--they harbor grudges and secrets and hopes; Backman writes about the powerful, underdogs, and everyone in between with precision and raw skill. Topics such as homosexuality, the alluring power of groupthink, small town politics, rape culture, and parenthood are handled with surprising ease and dignity. Backman is a master of misdirection: he leads his readers in one direction, only to reveal it's all a fake out and, instead, takes them to a much more fulfilling place. Sorry, fanboying here. I just really love this author, okay?

 

Beartown is a fabulous novel. I couldn't find anything to complain about if I tried. I don't even like hockey, but the author made it not only interesting — he actually had me on the edge of my seat during the game scenes. That's a feat in itself!

 

Highly recommended to any and all readers. This is slightly different from his previous work, and I welcome the change. An author has to grow to survive. I cannot wait to see what Backman publishes next!

 

(I'd also like to show my appreciation for Neil Smith, who translated this fine novel from the original Swedish to English. Great job!)

DOLORES CLAIBORNE Review

Dolores Claiborne - Stephen King

Five stars for one of my very favorite Stephen King stories: the enthralling and legendary 1993 novel, Dolores Claiborne.

 

As old as this book is, and considering it was made into a big budget film starring Kathy Bates (my favorite King adaption, by the way), almost everyone knows the plot — so I won't rehash too much. But I will say this is the story of a woman — easily the strongest woman King has ever created, and simply one of the best damn female main characters I've ever come across in fiction. This is her story — her confessional — all told in first-person, in Maine dialect. The writing style is unique, something most authors wouldn't have been able to pull off . . . but King isn't most authors. Novels like this one are why he is my favorite writer, full stop.

 

There is so much I want to say about this book and I find I can't really say much at all. A complex, taut, fast-paced domestic thriller/drama/mystery, this ranks among King's most un-put-downable and intriguing. defy any reader to finish the story and not think of Dolores from time to time.

 

A classic. A must-read. Etc.

 

Favorite Quote

 

"In the fifties... when they had their summer parties - there were always different colored lanterns on the lawn... and I get the funniest chill. In the end the bright colors always go out of life, have you noticed that? In the end, things always look gray, like a dress that's been washed too many times.”

 

King Connections

 

Several references to Shawshank prison are mentioned.

 

On page 226, Dolores is driving home on the day of the eclipse and takes note of the deserted roads — she comments on how hey reminded her of "that small town downstate" where it is rumored "no one lives there anymore." A reference to 'Salem's Lot? I'll say maybe.

 

This is the 'sister' novel of Gerald's Game. Both books' most crucial moments take place on the day of the eclipse.

 

Up Next

 

It's a world of color, a world of darkness . . . It's Insomnia.

Currently reading

I Sing the Body Electric! & Other Stories by Ray Bradbury
Progress: 181/336pages