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Category Archives: Fiction / Literature

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

So, this book has been waiting to be reviewed for ages. And it has nothing to do with the quality of this book. Or, actually, it does. It’s like a negative correlation: the better the book the harder it is for me to review it. Ah, first world problems.

What I’m trying to say is that this book is really good. It’s about these two brothers – Charlie and Eli Sister – who are basically hired guns in the mid-1800s. They are the de facto arm of the law in the western territories where state or federal government hasn’t really been established. I know what you’re thinking: vigilantes? No, fanks! But guys, these brothers don’t only answer to money or their boss. They operate under a higher and more sacred system: honor. You know when honor is involved, things get real. And quick.

So: these Sisters brothers are on their way West (near present-day California) looking for a gentlemen who has wronged their boss. And everywhere they encounter greedy-eyed cut throats in search of gold:

This perhaps was what lay at the very root of the hysteria surrounding what came to be known as the Gold Rush: Men desiring a feeling of fortune; the unlucky masses hoping to skin or borrow the luck of others, or the luck of a destination…To me, luck was something you either earned or invented through strength of character. You had to come by it honestly; you could not trick or bluff your way into it. (115-16)

Because this is the gold rush and money is what it’s all about. And whores. There are plenty of those, too. So, a little something for everyone. Well played, Mr. DeWitt.

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Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

You know how after you read Pride and Prejudice you were like, “I am never going to find a book so well written with such a meaningful love story but I’m still gonna try”? Well, stop looking!

Before I go into reviewing the plot and characters and what have you, can we just talk about this cover. Ugh. So adorable!

Okay, focus. So Major Pettigrew has just found out through a phone call from his insufferable sister-in-law that his brother passed when he hears a knock at his front door. Mrs. Ali – a widow who owns a tea shop Major Pettigrew frequents – immediately recognizes his distress and takes measures to calm him down. And in Britain this means tea.

Thus begins a beautiful relationship. I am not going to go into the minor characters or the subplots except to say they only add to the complexity of the bond Mrs. Ali and Major Pettigrew share. There are so many forces pulling them apart – racism, age, colonialism, religion, family, class, etc. – but somehow their lives keep leading them to each other. And they see in each other what they need to get by in the world.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Okay, first, would you take a look at this title? It’s like Don’t Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood all over again! But it has such purpose you guys!

The book is almost entirely made up of letters: correspondences between various characters in the book. When I saw this, my thoughts went straight to Dear Mr. Henshaw and how much I disliked that book. But it works because 1) there is more than one character writing the letters, 2) each character has dimension, and 3) the characters actually carry conversations instead of writing to someone who never responds (ahem…Mr. Henshaw).

Henyways, the novel is set in post-WWII Britain and centers on Juliet Ashton, a recently-published and successful author in search of a new subject. She is also lightly batting off the attentions of a new beau, approved of only by her best friend but not the friend’s brother. Raised eyebrows,right? In the midst of all this, Ashton receives a letter from a stranger residing in Guernsey, a little known island off the coast of Britain that was occupied by Germany during the war. And this place exists, people. Like, it’s on a map and everything. Who knew?

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What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

When Alice comes to after falling off her exercise bike and hitting her head on the handle bars during her spin class, her first thought is about her unborn child. Is little Sultana (the nickname that Alice and her husband – Nick – came up with for the baby) all right? Her second thought is of Nick. He is going to be so worried about her and the baby. And once he realizes it’s no big D, he’s going to laugh at Alice’s characteristic klutzy-ness.

But it is a big D. And Alice realizes this soon after she gets to the hospital. When her sister – Elizabeth – comes to visit her, Alice can’t help but notice the coldness in her eyes and words. Her mom is also unrecognizable when she comes in. It isn’t until the doctor comes in and begins asking routine questions to check for brain damage that we realize the extent of Alice’s injury. She thinks it’s 1998. It’s really 2008.

Alice forgot everything, ya’ll. This would be bad in the best of circumstances but, you guys! Things. Have. Changed. And Alice realizes this most painfully when she calls her husband, Nick, to explain the ordeal and all she gets back is an angry and profane response accusing her of being a manipulative wretch. A dumbstruck Alice hangs up the phone after the tirade and only then is told by Elizabeth just what she’s forgotten. Alice is not 29, newly married, and expecting her first child. She is 39, has three children, and is in the middle of a divorce and a nasty custody battle.

That sucks.

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The Kid Table by Andrea Seigel

Premise: cousins share a “kid table” at every family occasion (Fourth of July, New Year’s, an adult relative’s bar mitzvah). They enjoy each other’s company – for the most part – but resent the table, scheming of ways to join the adults. This is where we meet our narrator, Ingrid, as she shares the indignity of sitting at the kid table while also resenting the fact that her slightly older cousin – Brianne – somehow managed to make it out.

Ingrid’s relationship with Brianne wasn’t the best to begin with. But when Brianne uses her burgeoning knowledge of Psychology to diagnose Ingrid as psychopath, things go from bad to worse. Now the rest of the family is watching her every move out of the corner of their eyes for confirmation of this diagnosis. Great. And her favorite, Cricket, is looking suspiciously skinny and gets panicky around food. Fantastic. And that really attractive guy (Trevor) who was flirting with her a little earlier? Yea, he’s Brianne’s new college boyfriend. Could get things get any better? Why, of course. Dom is still calling everything “gay” as a way of hinting to his nuclear and extended family that he is same-sex oriented. And Micah can’t seem to keep his clothes on! What is happening?

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Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

I know what you’re thinking: “Middlesex? What is this, 2001?”  And to that I have to say, don’t sass me. I don’t get around to reading all the cool books when they come out. But this one remained in the back of my mind ever since I heard the first sentence: “I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan.” H-wah? How does that…? I don’t even…

And such was the incentive for reading this book. I heard murmurings around the interwebs that it had something to do with hermaphrodites or sex-changes or something, but generally tried to stay away from spoilers. And boy am I kinda glad that I did. But only kind of.

Calliope Stephanides was born twice. But before she tells you the exact circumstance of her births, she gives the most detailed back story since the Bible. No, not the Bible. Since…my high school U.S. History textbook. (Ask me how tall President Polk was. Go ahead.). But there is a reason for all this detail. Jeffrey Eugenides wants this story to be educational, heart-wrenching, and endearing. Eugenides can’t accomplish this by simply throwing the reader into an opening scene similar to The Hangover, where everything is in chaos and lacks explanation. If Eugenides does that, then the story becomes more about entertainment. Eugenides doesn’t want to entertain. He wants to change minds.

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Party Wolves in My Skull by Michael Allen Rose

You probably haven’t heard of Bizarro Fiction. I know I hadn’t.

As an established genre, Bizarro is a relatively new concept, though the form and ideas have been around for a long time. As the official Bizarro website states, ‘Bizarro, simply put, is the genre of the weird.’ Combining logic of the absurd with twisted, occasionally pornographic, and always macabre themes, it brings to mind the writings of Christopher Moore, Franz Kafka, and even Lewis Carroll, just to name a few.

Since it is such a new genre, Bizarro is always looking to further the art form and release new talent on an unsuspecting world. One of the eight books released this year by the New Bizarro Author Series, Party Wolves in My Skull by Michael Allen Rose is a shining example of what it means to be shelved in the Bizarro section.

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