Other Fiction

Book Review: The Importance of Being Earnest

Author
Wilde, Oscar
Rating
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review

The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde, is a short play about characters who are indeed NOT earnest. Algernon, a bachelor living in London, has an imaginary friend called Bunbury whose false existence he uses to get himself out of unpleasant social gatherings. Similarly, Jack—who lives in the country with his ward, an orphan named Cecily—has a made up brother named Ernest, whose constant state of “illness” allows him to visit the city when he pleases. From these false identities arises a huge misunderstanding, when Algernon decides to visit Jack’s country home posing as Ernest, the imaginary invalid brother whom Jack had planned to kill off that very day in order to end his pretending once and for all. The two friends must sort out the misunderstanding with their respective fiancées, and end up making an ironic discovery in the process.

This play is highly amusing, with its opinionated characters and witty commentary. It has a satisfying denouement; from start to finish the plot is engaging, and it doesn’t drag on. I would recommend The Importance of Being Earnest to anyone who likes a clever and entertaining comedy, or just a good laugh!

Reviewer's Name
Alexa

Book Review: Mexican Gothic

Author
Moreno-Garcia, Silvia
Rating
4 stars = Really Good
Review

Noemí Taboada is a beautiful socialite who loves wearing opulent purple gowns, riding in a convertible and smoking French cigarettes. A woman of her station, as the novel relates, "was expected to devote her time to the twin pursuits of leisure and husband hunting." Instead, this strong-willed, intelligent and brave woman seizes an opportunity not realizing it could lead to her demise. Neomi’s father receives a disturbing letter from his niece and recent newlywed Catalina. The frenetic message suggests a mysterious doom awaits Catalina, who may need psychiatric help and a divorce, a scandal the businessman wants to avoid in 1950s Mexico City. So Neomi negotiates her way into a chance to attend graduate school – rare in a country when women could not vote – in exchange for heading to the isolated High Place, a distant Victorian mansion once funded by now-depleted silver mines. Once there, she must find out if the letter is nothing more than “female hysteria” as Neomi’s father assumes, or something more sinister.

Moreno-Garcia does a wonderful job sprinkling in the antiquated language of classic Gothic horror to pace this atmospheric creeper while Neomi’s dread about the Doyle family and its hideous patriarch mounts, as does her dueling desires to stay and garner graduate school or flee for her own sanity. The oppressive feel of dead, rotting High Place hints at a history of violence, madness and even darker secrets as the 320-page novel’s protagonist soon finds out. Once there, she meets the drugged Catalina’s menacing and alluring husband, who worms her way into her dreams, which are becoming an evermore disturbing mix of lust and horror. Her only ally is the family’s youngest son, who seems a decent fellow, but hides secrets of his own. Follow along as the amateur sleuth learns more about High Place, its exploitive colonial past and its unique power as the novel – equal parts Daphne du Maurier, Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft –speeds toward a satisfying, albeit gory conclusion.
Awards: 2020 Goodreads Choice Awards Best Horror

Reviewer's Name
Joe P.

Book Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

Author
Foer, Jonathan
Rating
4 stars = Really Good
Review

Was very reluctant to start book because I usually don't lean towards heartbreak stories. After reading it, its so much more than that. Its a book about a boy who thinks different than the most of us. The difficulties that this 9 year old boy faces with social interaction and phobias really keeps you intrigued. Oskar the nine year old boy is probably one of the most interesting protagonist characters I've ever met and you just have to read to find out why.

Reviewer's Name
Adan D.

Book Review: The Crucible

Author
Miller, Arthur
Rating
4 stars = Really Good
Review

I read this book in English class my junior year of high school. I find the Salem Witch Trials interesting, so I was excited to read this book. While this book is based on actual events, there are some added fictional parts. I thought it was interesting how rumors and blame could cause the deaths of so many people who did nothing wrong. Overall if you find the Salem Witch Trials interesting, I would highly recommend this book!

Reviewer's Name
Emani K.

Book Review: Convenience Store Woman

Author
Murata, Sayaka
Rating
4 stars = Really Good
Review

This poignant English-language debut of one of Japan best contemporary writers is the best-selling story of 36-year-old Keiko Furukura, a quirky outsider who struggled to fit in until she found peace and purpose in her life working at Smile Mart. Human interaction and social norms are difficult for her to comprehend but the store manual explains, line by line, how to act. She does her best to copy her fellow employees' mannerisms and dress to better play the part of a "normal" person and remain a "useful tool" for the store. But after 18 years at the same store, her family and coworkers pressure her to make one of two choices -- focus on a career or marry and start a family. These constraints force the self-described "convenience store animal" whose emotions are only stirred by "the store's voice telling me what it wanted, how it wanted to be" to take measures to avoid scrutiny. This deadpan love story about a quirky woman and a store sticks with you long after you've finished thanks to some beautiful writing, a memorable protagonist and the larger questions raised. The short novel (163 pages) touched a nerve in Japan, generating a sustained discussion concerning conformity, especially for women. The book's notoriety garnered Murata, who continues to work at a convenience store after 18 years, Japan Vogue Magazine's 2016 Woman of the Year honor.
Awards: Akutagawa Prize

Reviewer's Name
Joe P.

Book Review: Star

Author
Mishima, Yukio
Rating
4 stars = Really Good
Review

Rikio is a star and he likes the glamor, money and notoriety that comes with that lifestyle. His ears ring with the cheers, screams and exhortations of fans, mostly young women, who would kill for a moment with him. But it also means constant scrutiny, which has the 23-year-old celebrity struggling with his own anxieties and obsessions. What if those fans stop desiring him someday? The self-loathing star would rather be in character on a movie set than be himself.
Written shortly after starring in his first film, the late Yukio Mishima delivers a blunt, rich portrayal of a flawed young man lost between his public persona and private life. The novella, first published in 1961 and translated into English for the first time in 2019, is even more relevant now in today's 24/7 media landscape. Awards: Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature

Reviewer's Name
Joe P.

Book Review: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared

Author
Jonasson, Jonas
Rating
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review

This charmer was a runaway international bestseller and it is easy to see why. The main character, Allan Karlsson, is memorable even as his stories from his wanderings around the world get more and more far-fetched. Karlsson has always done what he wanted and skipping his 100th birthday party at the start is the least surprising thing when looking back upon this Swedish novel. I read this for a book group (book club set available through PPLD) and one participant described Karlsson as Forest Gump with a dangerous affinity for vodka and explosives. This "intelligent, very stupid novel" as the author described it, is enjoyable if a tad long.

Reviewer's Name
Joe P.

Book Review: The Housekeeper and the Professor

Author
Ogawa, Yōko
Rating
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review

This beautiful exploration of living in the moment centers on the relationship between a brilliant math professor, his young housekeeper and her 10-year-old son. The professor suffered a traumatic brain injury decades earlier, limiting his
short-term memory to only 80 minutes. She is hired to care for this unique, challenging client. And every morning, the housekeeper and the professor meet anew, creating this strange, yet lovely relationship that blossoms between them. The damaged yet lively mind of the professor allows him discover connections in everyday items like shoe sizes and the universe at large, an eye-opening experience for mother and child as their lives draw closer together. The short novel focuses on those mathematical equations and the emotional connections that create a unique family. The 2009 English translation is available as a PPLD book club set. The novel's bibliography cites The Man Who Loved Only Numbers, a biography of Paul Erdos, on which the professor character is based. The 2003 novel, original title The Professor's Beloved Equation, won the Hon'ya Taisho award. It was a massive bestseller in the prolific, well-regarded Ogawa's native country.

Reviewer's Name
Joe P.

Book Review: Hollow Kingdom

Author
Buxton, Kira Jane
Rating
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review

This debut novel is a refreshing romp through the Apocalypse narrated by a foul-mouthed domesticated crow whose only knowledge of the world is TV. This mash-up of "The Incredible Journey" and "The Walking Dead" has an environmental message, focusing on humankind's increasing disconnect from the natural world. You may want to reconsider all those hours of screen time. But do read this novel, which while a tad long, chronicles the adventures of S.T. (not a library appropriate name) and his heroic steed, the dim-witted dog Dennis. The crow tries to save humankind, learns about himself and the natural world in a frightening new Seattle featuring an emerging predator.

Reviewer's Name
Joe P.