Adult Book Reviews by Genre: Other Fiction

Land Mammals and Sea Creatures
Neale, Jen
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

I believe there are many factors that will determine whether or not a reader enjoys this book. It is a first novel by this author and the reader's age may impact their willingness to immerse themselves in an environment, however fictional, that is, from the outset, purposefully created to be offensive to one's sensory organs. This is, and continues to be, crucial to both the plot of the book and an underlying message.

The characters are realistic and set in what is generally considered to be a gorgeous part of Canada's Pacific Coast, British Columbia. But the events of the book usually overwhelm one's ability to bask in that beauty for long. While the sadness of the characters' lives and the ugliness of their relationships with their environment are not without purpose, it is a tough read.

Including motherlessness, PTSD, isolation, human destruction of the environment and suicide in one book rarely makes for light reading. But it would be helpful to the reader to envelope those topics in a book that provides some wisdom or hope for progress on more than one front.

The author seems to be presenting some positive rationales for suicide, but these characters are all so far gone by the time the story begins that it is just another false glimmer to think that the outcome is anything more than part of the death all around them.

Reviewer's Name: Catherine
Awards:
The Stranger
Camus, Albert
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Albert Camus was a French philosopher and author who gave rise to the idea known as absurdism, the idea that humans live in a meaningless, chaotic universe. His novel, The Stranger, reflects this idea quite well. The novel is about a man named Mersault who, after his mother's death, murders an Arabic man on a beach and is sentenced to death.

Throughout the novel, Mersault is quite passive to the things around him; to his mother's death, to him shooting the Arab, and to his death sentence. This suggests the idea of absurdism: why should he protest to what is happening when he will one day die? While I like the message and the ideas the book puts forward, the writing can be a big lackluster. For example, the first half of the the novel is quite boring and moves at a snail's pace, which made it hard for me to remain interested. Thankfully, the book is quite short so it's not that big of an issue. I would recommend this novel to fans of philosophy or like novels about existentialism.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C
Awards:
Fangirl
Rowell, Rainbow
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

"Fangirl" of Rainbow Rowell, a beautiful story of love and finding yourself, shows that often times things are not always as they seem. This book is a page-turner; the way Rowell writes flows easily and you can tell her words hold meaning. This book is told from the perspective of an anxious college freshman, making many readers (like myself) connect due to relating to the feeling of new surroundings and people. However, I not only liked this book because of the instant connection, but the way the plot was so interesting and engaging. This book does include some older topics, so it may be inappropriate for younger audiences. If you like happy endings, "Eleanor and Park" or more by this author, or a well written and attention-grabbing read, then this book is for you!

Reviewer's Name: Siena G
One Hundred Years of Solitude
García Márquez, Gabriel
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

I’ll admit: I didn’t really “get” this book. I had seen a TED-Ed YouTube video that told me how great it was, and I decided to give it a try. While there were parts that were entertaining, most of this book went over my head. I suppose if I understood Columbian history and the culture of Central and South America, I might have had a better grasp of what was going on. As it was, I felt lost most of the time and kind of wonder what makes it so highly-recommended.

Perhaps my biggest qualm with this book is how its narrative structure is laid out. There’s practically no dialogue, and it’s basically told in the form of a parable or fairy tale. There are a lot of characters, but their names were so similar that I had trouble keeping track of them all. I get they’re all part of the same family, but having to remember so many individuals and the familial connections to each other was a struggle. I also felt a little lost because there wasn’t a strong narrative thread tying everything together other than the fact that it all took place in the same small town.

This is not to say One Hundred Years of Solitude has no merit, though. Some of the elements of “magical realism” were interesting and could have been the solid base of their own stories instead of being jammed together in this book. The pacing of this book was also pretty peppy, as it didn’t seem to linger too long with one character, realizing that it had many generations to cover. Even though it’s considered a classic (much like Ulysses ), I’m not sure if I agree, and I am certainly welcome to my opinion as you are welcome to yours.

A much better book for those who are “in the know,” I give One Hundred Years of Solitude 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin W.
Awards:
Sourdough
Sloan, Robin
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Much like Armada to Ready Player One or Artemis to The Martian , I looked forward to reading Robin Sloan's follow-up to Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore . Unfortunately, much like the follow-up books by Ernest Cline and Andy Weir, respectively, I wasn’t entirely satisfied with Sloan’s Sourdough. I will give credit that Sloan’s quirky and charming style is still in high form here, it’s more that there wasn’t much of a central conflict that would have led to a satisfying ending. It’s almost like too many plotlines got into the mix, and it muddled everything up to the point where it would be too difficult to follow each to their logical conclusion.

Cline has video game references. Weir has accurate, hard sci-fi. If there’s one thing Sloan does well, it’s the fusion of analog and digital. From Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore, it was the appreciation of the printed book in the era of Google searches. In Sourdough, Sloan explores the future of food—which is perhaps the most analog of topics—by including some realistic and relatively soon-to-be-realized technological advances like nutrient gels, robotic cooking, and alternative growing environments. If this was the primary focus of the book, there could have been a great conflict between old and new instead of what felt like a rushed, gulping ending to a book I’d want to sip like great wine.

Sourdough was my “vacation book,” meaning that I was truly looking forward to reading it. I love the style Sloan uses, which is both humorous and light. This book was quite the quick read, but that was helped by the fact that I hardly put it down. It’s a little disappointing that some of the “mysteries” weren’t played up more (I never really did care who Mr. Marrow was), and that the ending felt a little out of left field, but I’m sure I’ll pick up Sloan’s next book, regardless. After all, I was still entertained with this one, even if it didn’t live up to the “Mr. Penumbra” expectation.

Another semi-adequate follow-up from one of my newer, favorite authors, I give Sourdough 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin
The Old Man and the Sea
Hemingway, Ernest
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

I did not enjoy reading The Old Man and the Sea mostly due to the format it was written in. The Old Man and the Sea is a book that focuses on one of an old man’s most memorable fishing trips where he attempts to kill massive a fish larger than his very ship. One of the main reasons why I did not enjoy reading this book is because of the fact that all of the main characters have names that are revealed throughout the story, but they are never used by the narrator figure. For example, throughout the entire book, Santiago is only referred to as “the old man” by the narrator, even though his real name is known early on in the novel. I also found the book to have a dull plot, focusing on descriptive writing rather than events that occur within the story. Even though I did not particularly enjoy reading this book, there is a lot of symbolism and descriptive writing throughout the novel, which some people may enjoy.
Reviwer Grade= 9

Reviewer's Name: Hanna N
Room
Donoghue, Emma
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Room is from the point of view of a five year old boy named Jack whose mother was kidnapped seven years ago by a man he only knows only as "Old Nick". They've been imprisoned in a shed in his backyard ever since. To spare Jack from the horror of the situation, his mother doesn't tell him Old Nick is actually his father and that some things he sees on the TV, his only link to the outside world, are real. As a result, Jack believes that the only true reality is Room. Their tried-and-true daily routine starts to change as Jack becomes more curious about the outside world and his mother starts to hope again. This book is an incredible and moving read that will make you rethink parenting and your perspective on the world and I would highly recommend.

Reviewer's Name: Mckenna R.
Watership Down
Adams, Richard
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

In an ever-increasing list of books I failed to read as a child, I finally managed to get to Watership Down. While I am aware that many people speculate the true meaning of the book to be an allegory for Nazis or Communism, or whatever, the prologue provided by the author in this edition stated that it was merely a bedtime story for his children. With this in mind, I’m sure many subconscious influences led to some of the themes in Watership Down.
Either way, the story seemed to be a rambling series of events that didn’t have much of a point or purpose.

Let’s be clear: I like rabbits. I think they’re cute, and I even own two of them. Therefore, I appreciate the little details of lagomorph mannerisms sprinkled throughout. And yet, there were a few confusing choices made in this book, like giving a somewhat-confusing “rabbit language” that rarely had context, and was mostly abandoned by the end of the book. I also couldn’t buy into the idea of a “rabbit army” since most of the rabbits I’ve seen in the wild have been mostly solitary animals, and hardly in the numbers described in Watership Down.

When it comes right down to it, the thing that perhaps disturbed me the most about this book was the anthropomorphism of the rabbits. Sure, the “side stories” about El-Ahrairah were distracting and often unnecessary, and I couldn’t honestly tell you the character traits or attributes of any of the numerous rabbits, but the fact that they could talk to each other made them seem somewhat human. Consequently, this then introduces ideas like war and sex trafficking via the “innocent” covering of rabbits. I feel these tend to be mostly human traits, so it pulled me from the story when I had to remind myself, “Wait, these are rabbits.”

A meandering story that puts humans in rabbit bodies, I give Watership Down
2.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
A Dog's Purpose
Cameron, W. Bruce
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

I choose to read this book because of the movie coming out with it. The book is about a Dog's everyday life. This specific dog is trying to find his purpose in life but continues to be reborn until he can figure it out. After finding his best friend, Ethan, he believes his life is over and he has fulfilled his purpose until he is reborn again and more confused than ever. He is now on a journey to figure out life's real meaning. The book is told from a hilarious dog's point of view and is both uplifting and heartbreaking. Throughout his life he encounters many different animals and different kinds of people, both good and bad. The dog never breaks his character and is completely confused by the everyday activities that we would never think about in our daily life. The book gives the reader a new perspective on how their dog thinks and what is going on in their head while they walk around cluelessly. The only part about the story that was disappointed was that it was geared towards a younger audience. While anyone of age can still enjoy the book I bought it thinking it was going to be at a higher reading level than middle school. Though the book was aimed at a younger crowd it was still funny and interesting to read. The movie and book were both good but completely different, if you have watched the movie but not read the book I would recommend it because they are not very similar and both funny. I would recommend this book to anyone around the middle school age or anyone who is in love with dogs and loves a fairytale happy ending.
Reviewer Grade:11

Reviewer's Name: Madison G.
Sourdough
Sloan, Robin
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This book is.... very hard to categorize. I read it because I LOVED Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore, which was also kind of quirky. Lois, an engineer at a robotics company, is given a special sourdough starter by the odd owners of a small restaurant which closes unexpectedly and without much explanation. The starter has some unique properties, and Lois ends up becoming quite obsessed with its care and development, joining a very unusual and exclusive farmer's market to sell the bread she makes. An interesting tale of the melding of traditional skills and technology.

Reviewer's Name: Krista
Awards:
Fish Tails
Tepper, Sheri S.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

I decided to choose the book because it looked like it would tell a great story and it did. I liked the book due to its great lessons inside about the imperfections of our minds, but the greatness of them too. The part I enjoyed most was the journey f the main characters and how they didn't change their personalities and stayed focused on the topic. The part I didn't really enjoy was that the story went kinda slow. The book was pretty predictable, but the lessons and thoughts behind you need to think more about to get, so it was still entertaining to read. It was an amazing book to read and I definitely recommend it.
Reviewer Grade: 10

Reviewer's Name: Inayah V.
A Horse Walks into a Bar: A Novel
Grossman, David
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Somewhere along the line, I saw that this book won the Man Booker International Prize this year and put it on my “to read” list on Overdrive. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, other than perhaps a little bit of comedy, considering the title is a basic setup for a joke’s punchline. In that sense, the book delivered on that premise by being about a stand-up comedian in a nightclub giving his routine to the audience. I did not expect, however, the deeper subtext about the character and his relation to the narrator. It’s in this subtext where we find the meat of this story.

It has often been said that “Sometimes all you can do is laugh to keep yourself from crying.” A Horse Walks into a Bar epitomizes this statement by blending serious subjects like cancer, death, and the Holocaust with a smattering of jokes, physical comedy, and anecdotal monologues. It’s in this contrast where we find how uncomfortable society is when dealing with the difficult subjects of life. I know I usually use comedy to cope with challenging situations, often in an inappropriate accommodation to the dour mood. In the end, we’d rather not address these facts of life because they don’t bring any joy into the world.

Partly due to a lack of explanation, as well as a somewhat jolting and meandering storytelling method, the plot of this book felt a little light, if not downright confusing. I’m sure if I had paid more attention to the words spoken by the ill comedian (who himself was kind of weird) I would have pulled more out of it and understood it better. Unfortunately, my mind always clings to the jokes, of which there a few good ones, and tends to ignore anything else that might be significant.

A bit uncomfortable, but poignant nonetheless, I give A Horse Walks into a Bar 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
The Wind-up Bird Chronicle
Murakami, Haruki
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

A coworker of mine suggested this book to me a few months back. The title sounded interesting, so I put it on my Overdrive wish list and waited for it to become available. Both he and I have a somewhat thorough understanding of Japanese culture, so once I got into this book, I found myself imagining it as an anime. Of course, because The Wind-up Bird Chronicle was originally written in Japanese, there are plenty of cultural idiosyncrasies that might be hard to understand from a different cultural viewpoint. At times, the content is a bit weird, the sex awkward, and the violence strangely surgical.

What was quite refreshing with the narrative in The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, was its timelessness. Written in the early 1990’s and set in the mid-1980’s, only a few technological items (i.e. a land line, an early computer, etc.) haven’t held up well over time. Everything else about the story is so character-driven that it could probably happen at any time. These characters are odd, to say the least. From psychic sisters named after Mediterranean islands to a wealthy perfectionist mother and her mute son, many of their sub-plots do end up tying together in the not-so-surprising ending.

As a “chronicle,” the book does feel episodic at times, hence why I imagined it as an anime. Because I have seen a lot of anime, the content of this book didn’t surprise me. There’s some weird stuff out there, and Japan seems to create quite a bit of it. While the sex and violence might be off-putting to some, it’s not necessarily erotic or graphic in its presentation; it is merely a fact of life. A strange life, to say the least, but a life nonetheless. Parts “slice of life,” “harem,” and “psychological thriller,” in terms of genre, The Wind-up Bird Chronicle is an excellent book for anyone already accustomed to Japanese storytelling.

A prime example of an almost “standard” Japanese plot, I give The Wind-up Bird Chronicle 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Awards:
The Snow Child
Ivey, Eowyn
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Set in the 1920’s, this is the story of Jack and Mabel, a childless couple homesteading on the Alaskan frontier. The workload is never-ending, and without children to help with plowing, planting and harvest, they struggle not only to survive, but to avoid losing themselves to despair and disappointment. It is a story not only of survival and grit, but also of the kindness found in a community of like-minded individuals and families. This theme is typical of much historical fiction about western expansion and pioneer life, but this story holds an unexpected and delightful twist, where magic, reality and fairytales intersect. The first snow of the year is met with a playfulness that is not typical of Mabel and Jack. They end their snowball fight by building a snow-child near their cabin, complete with mittens, a hat, and arms made from twigs. The next day, they discover that their snow child was destroyed during the night – likely by wild animals. Their journey from that point is full of hope and expectation. The story has a dream-like, ethereal quality, yet the author maintains the sense of solidity that is required for historical fiction to work. The pace is slow, but fits well with the time and place. I sincerely enjoyed this author’s first novel. It made me think about the importance of accepting others as they are – always an important consideration. I have Eowyn Ivey’s second book in my “to read” stack right now, and will eagerly read her future offerings.

Reviewer's Name: Laura F.
The Vegetarian
Kang, Han
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

In this inventive South Korean novel (based on an earlier short story by the author), a woman decides to become a vegetarian after a disturbing, blood-soaked dream leaves her convinced that she needs to purify herself. Yeong-hye remains largely a mystery to us throughout the novel -- we hear about the situation mainly from her husband, brother-in-law, and sister, and they're often more interested in what they want from her (passivity, "normal" behavior, sexual gratification) than in understanding what's happening inside her mind. It's interesting to watch the escalation of behavior that's considered inappropriate; even the most mild changes to her routine provoke violent reactions and eventually lead her family members to cross lines of their own. At first, not eating meat alone is shocking and indicative of disrespect for her husband, then a refusal to wear a bra, then a discomfort with speaking -- and the gap widens more and more between Yeong-hye and the people around her as she withdraws from the world in her obsession with becoming more plant than animal.

Still, despite the oddity of the premise, it reads more like horror than comedy, and there was some real emotional weight to Yeong-hye's problems and to the exploration of the internal lives of her family as they react to her rebellion in increasingly bizarre ways. I liked the first section (dealing with the destruction of Yeong-hye's marriage) more than others, but they were all fascinating, and the sister's perspective helped bring things to a satisfying conclusion. Some parts were a bit too on the nose for my taste, but it was an engrossing read overall. There was a lot of reflection on the position and treatment of women in modern-day South Korea, which may interest some readers, as well as a more general look at the everyday violence around us, people's inner desires, and the pressure to conform. (I'd give this 3.5 stars if I could, but I rounded up because the writing deserved it.)

Reviewer's Name: Lauren
Awards:
The Dogs of Christmas
Cameron, W. Bruce
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

A must read for dog lovers.

Reviewer's Name: Jeannette
A Dog's Journey
Cameron, W. Bruce
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

I could not put this book down. If you believe that either a person who passes might come back as a dog or whatever, in this case this dog keeps on coming back over the course of 70 years. Every time he is put down, he comes back as either a female or male dog and his journey is to take care of one girl.

Reviewer's Name: Jeannette
The Bourbon Thief
Reisz, Tiffany
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

The main characters in the story are Paris Christie, Cooper McQueen, Tamara Maddox (the Maddox family is the family who owns the Red Thread Bourbon company), and Levi Shelby.

The Bourbon Thief is a must read! It's simply captivating and different from many other thrillers I have read. The story focuses on the past and ties it with the present. The author did a spectacular job in making sure we were blown away in everything she wrote. It felt original and the plot was mysterious and romantic. It was mysterious because the Maddox family's bourbon company shut down suddenly and no one knows why. Paris wants the bourbon, but why? What does Paris want to hide? I love the third person narrative because I saw each character's view points and the fact that I could read that was already amazing to me.

Reviewer's Name: Jade
Bach, Richard
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Back in my younger days I may have given this book 4 or 5 stars. Now I'm older and know better. A lot of the wise and enlightened sayings were really just a bunch of hooey. But I did get two things out of it. The first was the story in the beginning about the creature in the river letting go of the bottom and rising up to be carried along by the current. The second was the comparison of death with jumping into a cold, deep lake. It is scary because you don't know what's down there along with the initial shock of the cold water. But once you're in it's okay, even refreshing.

Reviewer's Name: vfranklyn
Palahniuk, Chuck
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

This is one of Chuck Palahniuk's best novels. It's everything you love about any of his other books, but it's nothing you'd expect. It's written in an interview-esque style, detailing the life of Buster "Rant" Casey, one of the most notorious and mysterious serial killers. It's funny, it's shocking, it's utterly mind-blowing. One of those novels you'd hate to ever put down.

Reviewer's Name: Cassie

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