Cody's Bookshelf

So many books, so little time

4321 Review

4 3 2 1 - Paul Auster

I am a big fan of this book, but I don’t know if I can recommend it to anyone.

Coming in at just under 900 pages, this novel is a brick. The book itself feels heavy, the font is small, the chapters are long, and paragraphs sometimes go on for pages at a time. And Paul Auster doesn’t use quotation marks. If these things sound like a hinderance, go on your way. There is nothing for you here. Auster’s writing style is pleasurable and relatively easy to read (once one gets used to his rhythm, I suppose), but this mofo is dense.


This is the coming of age of Archie Ferguson . . . told four times. In alternating chapters, Auster tells the growing up of this book in mid-20th century America as it happens in alternate universes. Across the four versions of this guy, his family dynamics change, where he chooses to go to University change, his girlfriend(s) change, his motives change, his successes and failures change . . . And, somehow, Auster never loses the plot. He spins an intricate web that is equally enthralling and challenging. I related most to Archie 3, though I enjoyed each narrative. Once I was able to get a feel for all versions of this guy, I really enjoyed myself and the wide canvas that is <i>4321</i>.


A story filled with melancholy and politics l, revolution and the frustrations of the teenage years, this is right up my alley. The fractured and despondent 1960s is my favorite era to read about in literary fiction, and Auster’s latest largely lingers on that era. Though it isn’t as successful as <i>The Nix</i> in that regard, it is a memorable and intoxicating rendering of what it was to grow up in the time of Vietnam and Nixon and the Sexual Revolution.


Though this book isn’t perfect (at times, t made John Irving look like a minimalist) and I did find myself occasionally skimming, those flaws are made up for by the author’s sheer ingenuity and capable, daring plotting. I don’t know if I can recommend this one, but if you’re willing to go into this giving it all you’ve got, I say take the dive.


The Couple Next Door - Shari Lapena

The chief job of a psychological thriller author is to keep his or her reader invested to the end of the tale. Mysteries don’t require exquisite character work. They don’t have to be challenging. But books like The Couple Next Door — short books obviously meant for beach and airport reading — should engage. On that level, this book fails. At least in its final forty perfect.


This is the story of a kidnapping. While gone to a dinner party, a young couple’s baby girl is kidnapped from their home. The search and investigation is immediately on. One of the few things this book does have going for it is its pace: it is hard to put this one down once begun, despite its putrid latter half.


I was invested for a while. I didn’t like any of the characters (a failure on the author’s part, as it is obvious these people are supposed to be sympathetic) but I did want to find out what happened to baby Cora. And . . . the reader is told some hundred pages before the ending. Yet the story carries on as if this information hasn’t been given, and I was forced to trudge through leads I knew were a dead end. This book clocks in at only 308 pages, but man, it dragged after a point. A few minor twists are revealed after the fact, but they are rather inconsequential and silly. The ending made me roll my eyes and curse my impulses, for I bought this MF’er new at Barnes and Noble.


This tries to be a psychological thriller, and for a while it almost works . . . until it doesn’t. The mystery at the center of this story is compelling — what happened to the baby? — but the characters are borderline unbearable, the resolution is flimsy, and numerous foundational issues are present. Beware.


By the Light of the Moon - Dean Koontz

Jilly and Dylan are strangers who are both knocked unconscious and injected with a strange substance by a scientist they refer to as Doctor Frankenstein. This chance encounter brings the two together, and they (with Dylan’s autistic brother Shep in tow) are off for a high-stakes adventure as they discover the depths of the supernatural powers they have been granted, and just why this happened to them of all people.


Look, this book is cheesy as hell. It’s Dean Koontz in full-on goofy mode. The prose is as purple as a corpse in rigor; Jilly and Dylan are pious pissholes who spend most of the book bemoaning the fact that they are so pure, so moralistic, in a world gone to hell. And Jilly is a take-no-crap comedian: the reader is reminded of this on every other page.


So why the four stars? Well . . . I had fun. I had a lot of fun. The mystery at the core of this story is one of Koontz’s most intriguing — who is the strange man with the needle, what is it he created, and why does it alter its victims so drastically? The narrative takes place over twenty-four hours, and the pace never lets up. Koontz doesn’t ramble too much here, but when it does it isn’t as much of a chore to read as it is in some of his latter day releases. I didn’t want to put this book down once I’d begun it, if that says anything.


This is a Koontz novel. You know what you’re getting. If you’re looking for a bit of brainless, cheesy fun with lots of gun action and wonky science, you could do much worse.


What We Lose: A Novel - Zinzi Clemmons

This is the coming of age of Thandi, a woman who was raised in Pennsylvania with roots in South Africa. Never quite feeling like she belongs, Thandi is in search of love. Not in the romantic comedy sense; she is desperate to belong. She is a light-skinned black woman, therefore she doesn’t feel at home with black or white people. Having been raised in the States but born in Africa, she feels she doesn’t belong anywhere.


A brutally honest rumination on race, sex, grief, and family, this short novel is written in searing, white hot language. Zinzi Clemmons’s prose is divine. Emotionally honest at its core, this debut novel hit me unexpectedly hard—it is exceptionally courageous. For example, one of my favorite passages:


<i>”When my lover and I fuck, we fuck with the fear of the world in us. We are fucking on the edge of a cliff. We are fucking death right in the ass, and death loves it. We are fucking our own deaths, and our mothers’ deaths, and the deaths of our friends and the deaths of our rights.”</i>


Wise and tender and achingly real, this examination of death and motherhood, country and brotherhood, is one not to be missed. A high-class literary treat. My highest recommendation.


Exit West - Mohsin Hamid

I was expecting to enjoy this, my first novel by Mohsin Hamid: a short(ish) tale about two lovers escaping a war torn country and desperately finding solace in London. And this one has been hyped up — hyped like almost no other books released this year. I don’t get it. I really don’t.


The writing is . . . fine. And by that, I mean Hamid is able to string pleasant sentences together, occasionally resulting in passages beautiful enough to be worthy of this novel’s gorgeous cover. But for the most part, the prose is pedestrian. And not to mention the cast! The focus is on Nadia and Saeed, two of the blandest characters I’ve come across in literary fiction as of late. They were big nothings. I felt nothing for them throughout. They never really changed, or grew . . . . their arc felt so static and predictable. I never felt myself become involved in their journey.


I feel like perhaps Hamid was reaching for literary acclaim when writing this, resulting in a bland, one-size-fits-all novel that, while pleasant enough, isn’t particularly challenging or even engaging.


The Getaway (Diary of a Wimpy Kid Book 12) - Jeff Kinney

The latest entry in this long-running kid’s fiction series sees the Heffley family vacationing at a tropical island resort during Christmastime. As is expected from Kinney’s bestselling books, things go horribly — and are narrated by middle son Greg, i.e. the “Wimpy Kid.”


It’s really no secret this series has declined in quality in recent years, but I did enjoy The Getaway. As far as Heffley vacations go, it’s certainly no The Long Haul, but it does yield several laugh out loud moments. This series now seems to be at its best when it sees the family going somewhere. Kinney seems to have exhausted all plot ideas involving these characters hanging out at home.


A perfectly fine addition to the Wimpy Kid series, this doesn’t quite reach the heights of the early entries but it’s an enjoyable ride all the same.


Greener Pastures - Michael Bukowski, Michael Wehunt, John Boden, K. Allen Wood

This year I’ve been lucky enough to come across several noteworthy short story collections. Greener Pastures is one of those. Comprised of eleven quiet tales that take on the genre “weird horror,” these stories seep into the skin and take root in the marrow.


This is not a collection which yields its fruits easily. One must work for it. I found myself skimming a bit last night as I grew tired and I realized things were going over my head. I had to reread a few passages. That wasn’t the book’s fault; it was mine. As Stephen King once said, good books don’t give up their secrets all at once. Quite often these stories went in directions I wasn’t expecting. This author is daring and unafraid, and it shows.


I think my personal favorite is “The Inconsolable,” or maybe the title story. Heck, they’re all winners! A worthy addition to the collection of anyone who enjoys tales of quiet and cosmic horror, this is a collection literary tales not to be missed.


All the Names They Used for God: Stories - Anjali Sachdeva

Release Date:02.20.18


All the Names They Used for God, Anjali Sachdeva’s debut release, is a stellar collection of short stories that explores the strangeness that is the human experience and our small stature in the vastness of the cosmos. Rewards abound for the short story lover: science gone awry in “Pleiades”; abandonment and love gone wrong in “Anything You Might Want”; man versus wild (and the call of suicide) in “Logging Lake.” These are intricate, spinning tales that took me off guard.


Does this collection have a theme? I don’t know. Perhaps spirituality is the link (and there is the title to be considered); these stories do ponder the concept of a God and how much say he — or it — has over our lives . . . and how much of what happens to us is pure chance. Bits of magical realism abound (see mermaid tale “Robert Greenman and the Mermaid”), but overall these tales are unwavering, realistic looks at the human condition.


I was pleasantly surprised by these stories. I suspected I would like this collection, but I was knocked for a loop. Compelling and challenging in equal measure, this author is one to watch. I await her next release with baited breath.


Thanks to Netgalley and Spiegal & Grau for the advanced reader’s copy!


Little Fires Everywhere - Celeste Ng

Unless I read something world-shattering between now and December 31, this will be my book of the year. A high-octane literary tale of the highest order, Celeste Ng tackles heady topics like racism and classism and morality and societal rebellion in smart, tactful strikes.


Like the best literary fiction, this one unfurls slowly while keeping the reader totally engaged. I read this one in two sittings, my mouth agape and my hair on fire. More than once Ng pulled the rug out from under me; the characters she has created are ones the reader can root and mourn for. Several revelations here have the power to delight, shock, and upset.


A beautifully told tale about a wandering artist, her daughter, and the upscale family they become close with, this is an honest, heartbreaking look at motherhood and identity and suburbia. I am in awe of Celeste Ng — it’s that simple. And I will be picking up her debut novel posthaste. Highly recommended to all readers.


By Ronald Malfi December Park [Paperback] - Ronald Malfi

In 1993, children in Harting Farms begin to go missing. The police start investigating — and a curfew for kids under eighteen is implemented — but no answers are found. The crimes go on. Five teenage friends band together to solve the crime for themselves, going to places in town adults aren’t aware of, the places kids frequent. Their investigation goes on for quite a while, and in that time they’ll discover more than they expected.


This was my second Ronald Malfi novel. Call me a bonafide Malfi fan, because this guy is 2/2 with me. Though this one didn’t quite reach the heights of Bone White, I feel, it was still a lot of fun. It’s a quick, enthralling read, and I would have finished it much sooner had I not also had David Copperfield on the docket.


I must admit a few things about this book felt rather derivative. The main character and narrator, Angelo, is a horror-loving kid with a penchant for storytelling. This sort of character has become a trope in horror-tinged coming of age fiction, though it is understandable. It’s a case of writers writing about what they know. Still, it just smacked of unoriginality. Other elements such as a massive storm and a creepy house the kids refer to as “The Werewolf House” felt like they’d been ripped straight from Stephen King’s IT. That’s not to say this is a case of plagiarism; most certainly not. It’s just these things have been done so often before.


This is a fun and emotional mystery/thriller starring five very likable (albeit somewhat unmemorable) kids. Whatever problems are present are made up for with Malfi’s sheer writing talent.


David Copperfield - Charles Dickens

Wow! What a book.


This one was on my TBR for years, but I was intimidated by its size. Well, I’ve done it. I’ve finally completed Dickens’s masterpiece (well, one of them) — the book he famously declared was his favorite. The quintessential coming of age tale, this 750-page novel explores in depth David Copperfield, who narrates in first-person, as well as the various friends and lovers and coworkers he comes to know over the years. It’s a dense, challenging journey, but one so worth taking.


Though I have read and enjoyed other Dickens novels before, this was the first time I truly couldn’t wait to get back to the story. I thought this would take me at least two weeks to finish; I finished in one. I just couldn’t put this brick down!


A masterclass in character development, this long novel is one I am sure I will revisit again and again. David, Little Emily, Peggotty, Agnes, Traddles, and all the rest: you will forever have a place in my heart.

Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 690 pages.

Desperation - Stephen King

The chronological Stephen King reread continues...


The Rooster Bar - John Grisham

I finished this book in two sittings: on my lunch break and on my bed the moment I got home. I didn’t get up to eat dinner, use the bathroom, anything. The Rooster Bar is one of those books.


Like almost every Grisham novel, this is a high-stakes crime thriller . . . but the stakes here feel so much higher than in his other books — at least the ones I’ve read, which I admit isn’t a large number. Three laws students mired in debt without any job prospectives on the horizon decide to drop out of sight, change their identity . . . and become faux street lawyers. They know the ropes (well, some of them) and they put up a front. And they’re successful. At least for a while. Then the phony partnership go after bigger fish, more money . . . and from there unfolds one of Grisham’s most captivating plots to date.


Does that sound hokey? Silly? Yes, maybe it does. But this book really spoke to me: the frustration with college, the fears of the future, the desire (and, in these characters’ cases, success) to start all over and go on an adventure — an adventure with quite the cash prize, if all goes well. That spoke to where I am at right now. And Grisham writes this story with the reverence, skill, and knowledge that is present in all his works.


Surely one of my picks for favorite new release of the year, this was a book I just could not put down. Check it out — but not with any pressing plans.


Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury

Where I live it is still warm, and the leaves on the trees have yet to turn. Because of that, reading books like this is how I get into the Halloween spirit. There is a certain chill in the air here, yes, but it is not quite autumnal — yet. But while I was reading this classic novel about an evil carnival that has rolled into a small town a week before Halloween, and the two young boys who must fight the darkest fears they’ve ever faced, I felt the embrace of fall. And it was magical.


Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite writers, and perhaps my biggest inspiration. He was not just a wordsmith; he was a magician, dealing in whimsy and wonder and nostalgia and fear. In none of his works are his skills more evident than in this, one of his most notable releases. I don’t know of any author (aside from Stephen King, maybe) who writes about childhood with such accurate precision — and in such minimalistic language. In Bradbury’s writing is a certain economy of language that, I am sure, is much harder to pull off than it appears. Not a word is wasted here.


Perfect for the Halloween season (or any time of year, really), this is a landmark coming-of-age tale about friendship, fear, magic, and the strange alluring wonder that comes with small town carnivals. I am so glad I capped off my Halloween Bingo reading with this!


Read for ‘Classic Horror’ in Halloween Bingo.



Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 293 pages.

Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury

Final read of the Halloween season! Let’s go. 



We Are Always Watching - Hunter Shea

After having read so much excellent horror in the last few days, this book just did not measure up. Perhaps I would have liked it more had I not binged on classics like Burnt Offerings and The Girl Next Door. Who knows. What I do know is I was intrigued for the first thirty percent or so of this book, but feel it quickly devolved into silliness. I found myself skimming, and so happy when I was finished.


I guess I just couldn’t buy into this one’s premise. A family hard on their luck must move in with Grandpa Abraham, a grumpy old man who lives in a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, PA. The family, used to the city life in NYC, just adjust. From the start strange written warnings and notes are left everywhere: “We are watching you.” “We are the guardians.” Etc. Naturally, mother and son are upset but Dad (who grew up in this house and has dealt with this his whole life) just writes it off. And . . . they just kinda go along with it, let it keep happening? They don’t call the police, or anything. It just did not feel believable to me.


And I saw the ending coming from a mile away. It’s frustrating being able to predict a book’s ending.


I just don’t really have much to say about this one. The synopsis made it sound creepier than it is. And I don’t know if this really classified as a ‘ghost story’ but I’m using it for ghosts in Halloween Bingo because that sort of plot was promised to me. I am very disappointed. I’m still shaken by Burnt Offerings (a far, far, far superior scary house story!) and this just didn’t measure up. At all. And, sadly, I don’t think it’s good on its own merits either.



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Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng