Tag: contemporary fiction

Sep 21

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Audio Books, Contemporary Fiction 15

Happy Monday, Bookworms!

How was your weekend? Mine was lovely, especially considering I was NOT taken hostage during a swanky birthday party by an ill advised army of teenagers in an unnamed South American country. Obviously, things are going better for me than the characters in my latest read, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. This is one of those books I’ve been hearing about for a long time but took ages to get around to reading (well, listening to, in this case). Just another example of how I’ll never ever get to all the excellent books worth reading in the world. Siiiiigh.

belcantoAs I started saying earlier, this book takes place in an unnamed South American country. In an attempt to bring commerce to the blighted region, the government has arranged an elaborate birthday party for a Japanese business man in order to lure him into building a factory. The government has managed to land Roxane Coss, opera soprano of international acclaim, to perform for Mr. Hosokawa, a noted opera aficianado.

The party is crashed soon after Roxane’s performance by a ragtag army of 18 terrorists consisting largely of impoverished teenagers. Their goal was to kidnap the president, but when it turns out he is not in attendance, they take the entire birthday party full of international dignitaries hostage. Improvisation is not their strong suit. As the relatively simple goal of the terrorists is complicated by unanticipated captives, the group’s quick operation turns into a drawn out standoff.

You guyssssssssss. This book was really good. It sounds like a majorly insane downer, but it was fascinating! As time goes on, the hostages and the terrorists begin to bond in unexpected ways. It’s not Stockholm Syndrome or anything, because nobody’s been brainwashed, but it’s awfully hard to spend a large amount of time with anyone and fail to see them as individuals. I mean, the terrorists aren’t torturing or killing or maiming. They’re just forcibly detaining… With varying levels of enthusiasm. If this has been on your radar in the history of ever, if you like opera, or if you just like excellent messy moral dilemma stories, check out Bel Canto

Talk to me Bookworms! What is the WORST experience you’ve ever had at a party?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Aug 31

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan

Contemporary Fiction, Family 14

Happy Monday, Bookworms!

For those of you back in the office today, I’m pleased to bring you a book about someone who is probably having a crappier day at the office than you are! A few weeks ago I was itching for something new to read when I saw A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan on NetGalley. The cover art was pretty and it was marketed toward fans of Where’d You Go, Bernadette (review) so I decided to give it a whirl. *I received a complimentary copy of this novel for review consideration.*

awindowopensAlice Pearse is a happily married mother of three living in New Jersey. She works part time for a magazine as the books editor and keeps her household running with the help of a crackerjack babysitter. Alice’s life is chugging along at a smooth clip until a major upheaval in her lawyer husband’s career path sends her back into the workforce full-time. She thinks she’s landed the job of her dreams when she is hired by fancy pants startup Scroll, an e-book retailer promising swanky cafe style reading space as well as first edition novels. Of course, things are rarely as miraculous as they seem, especially when it comes to jobs. At the same time her new career is taking flight, Alice’s dad gets sick, her marriage hits some speed bumps, and her world devolves into general chaos. When it seems like “having it all” isn’t working out the way she planned, Alice is forced to take stock and decide what it is she really wants. 

As someone who works full time but does not (yet, hopefully) have children, sometimes this type of novel falls a little flat for me. I suppose I just get frustrated many women’s reality; the fact that a work-life balance seems nearly impossible to achieve. The majority of novels I’ve read in this vein definitely tend toward favoring women scaling back their careers and focusing on their families. While I think focusing on one’s family is awesome, it bugs me that women are always the ones who are expected to scale back, a sentiment I find perpetuated in this type of novel. That’s part of why I found A Window Opens refreshing. It was very honest in its exploration of Alice’s situation and doesn’t present a super clear cut answer. It doesn’t end exactly the way I’d have liked, but at least it doesn’t preach the value of a particular lifestyle. Alice focuses on what Alice wants and what will make Alice happiest. I can get behind a story like that.

What do you think, Bookworms? When you’re reading books about working moms, do you feel that a certain solution is presented as ideal? Do you ever wonder why there are so few books about men’s work-life balance? (Look at me getting all feminist up in here today. Whew.)

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Aug 20

We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Contemporary Fiction 3

Hello My Darling Bookworms,

One of the very first books I ever reviewed on Words for Worms was The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (which you can read HERE if you’re so inclined.) I loved that book. Adored it, even. That’s why I was so extra super excited when I saw that Vanessa Diffenbaugh’s sophomore novel We Never Asked for Wings was available on NetGalley. I snapped that puppy up faster than you can say “Mexican feather art.” Not that that’s a thing you would ordinarily say, but it makes sense within the context of this book so I’m going with it. *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration through NetGalley. I was not compensated in any way and all the opinions expressed are my own. They’re also honest as heck because I have no filter.*

weneveraskedforwingsWe Never Asked for Wings revolves around the Espinosa family. Letty Espinosa has been working three jobs for 14 years in the San Francisco area to help support her family. Her parents are undocumented Mexican immigrants and when Letty found herself pregnant as a teenager, her parents stepped in to raise her son, Alex, and later her daughter, Luna. When her parents decide to move back to Mexico, Letty is left trying to navigate life assuming full responsibility for her children and her role as sole breadwinner.

Alex and Luna are struggling with the implications of their grandparents’ move as well. They are as unaccustomed to Letty as she is to them. Alex funnels his frustration into schoolwork and a budding romance. Luna responds with the sort of clinginess only a 6 year old can offer. When Letty comes up with a plan to improve the family’s situation and get her children out of their dangerous school district, one wrong move could send their whole world spinning out of control.

When your first novel is a showstopper, it can be tough to follow up, but Vanessa Diffenbaugh does it with aplomb. We Never Asked for Wings visited some of the themes and tones that made The Language of Flowers such a great book while still differentiating itself as a great stand alone novel. If you’re in the mood for an emotionally wrenching yet ultimately heartwarming read, you need to check out We Never Asked for Wings!

Let’s chat, Bookworms! What are some of your favorite sophomore novels? What are some that have disappointed you? (Because I always answer myself, my biggest disappointment in a sophomore novel to date was Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield… Review here if you dare.)

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Nov 20

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood

Contemporary Fiction, short stories 10

Greetings Bookworms,

It’s not every day that Margaret Atwood releases a new book, but believe you me, when those days come, they are delightful. I recently had the opportunity to read Atwood’s latest release, a volume of short stories called Stone Mattress: Nine Tales. *I received a complimentary copy of this book through NetGalley for review consideration. Any and all gushing that follows will be the result of unabashed Atwood fandom, and NOT because I got the book for free. I’d totally have paid for it, suckers!*

stonemattressMargaret Atwood is a magical Canadian wordsmith. I like to imagine her traipsing through forests, communing with birds, and being inspired to put words together. She might be part fairy, I’m still trying to figure out her supernatural lineage.

Y’all know short stories aren’t usually my jam, but I make all sorts of exceptions when it comes to Atwood. I went into Stone Mattress: Nine Tales with unreasonably high expectations. Because ATWOOD.

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales presents nine short stories. Some of them are related to one another, some are related to her earlier works (you should have heard me SQUEAL when I saw “I Dream of Zenia With the Bright Red Teeth.” I geeked out over The Robber Bride connection.) I found this collection innovative and refreshing. A number of the stories are told from the perspective of the elderly, which I found fascinating. She’s also got the occasional psychopath and genetic anomaly to round out the set. Darkly humorous, disturbing, and utterly delicious. If you love Atwood but aren’t sure about short stories, take the leap! You’ll be glad you did.

Talk to me Bookworms! Have you ever been so overwhelmed by an author’s talent that you’ve secretly (or not-so-secretly) suspected supernatural influences? I can’t be the only one here. These words couldn’t be created by mere mortals!

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Jul 03

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Contemporary Fiction 11

Greetings Bookworms,

I’m pretty excited today. I get to tell you all about the latest Jojo Moyes novel AND tell a terrible (yet topical) joke. But first, the particulars. I received a complimentary copy of One Plus One from the publisher through Netgalley for review consideration. The fact that I didn’t pay for the book doesn’t compromise my integrity, y’all know I’m seriously lacking a filter. Case in point: A pirate walks into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, “Um, sir? There appears to be a steering wheel in your pants.” The pirate responds, “Arrr, it’s drivin’ me nuts!” (Ba du bum.) A large chunk of this book takes place in a car. A car with a STEERING WHEEL. I promised it would be topical.

oneplusoneOne Plus One is one part social commentary, one part family drama, and one part road trip from hell. (Which equals three, which is problematic considering one of the main characters is a mathematical wizard, but I digress.) Jess spends her days cleaning houses and tending bar in a seaside town trying to make ends meet. Her husband left two years prior leaving Jess to care for her daughter and stepson alone.

Ed’s life was motoring along fairly smoothly (if you discount that gold digging ex-wife of his.) He was part owner of a successful software company until he entered into an ill advised relationship and got caught up in an insider trading scandal. (Apparently breaking up with someone via post-it only happens on Sex and the City, but it would have saved Ed a lot of trouble…)

Jess and Ed’s paths cross when he tries to escape his problems at his seaside vacation home. One thing leads to another, and Ed soon finds himself driving the rag tag clan (including one very large, very stinky dog) cross country to Scotland. (Because we started in England, obviously. Mentally switch the side the driver’s seat is on, okay?) Jess’s daughter is set to compete in an academic competition to earn a scholarship to an elite school. Given that the public school in their neighborhood harbors a family of ne’er-do-wells responsible for tormenting and hospitalizing her stepson, Jess is desperate to provide better for her daughter.

You know what happens next? Pretty much what you’d expect. Feelings. Family dynamics. A little bit of romance. A dash of stinky dog. A whole lot of lovely. I’ve yet to be let down by a Jojo Moyes book, and One Plus One is no exception. It would be a great road trip book, assuming you don’t get car sick and can travel at speeds faster than 40 mph.

Bookworms, I’ve got to know about your worst/craziest road trip. Tell me a story!

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Jun 09

Silver Bay by Jojo Moyes

Contemporary Fiction 24

G’Day Bookworms!

Have I ever told you how I spent my teen years obsessed with Australia? True story. I had not one, not two, but THREE famous Australian “boyfriends.” There was my Australian Rockstar Boyfriend (Daniel Johns, lead singer of Silverchair), my Australian Actor Boyfriend (Heath Ledger, may he rest in peace), my Australian Swimmer Boyfriend (Ian Thorpe, Olympic Gold Medalist. The Sydney Olympics happened at the start of my senior year, I typically don’t watch sports that don’t involve intentional back flips.) Why am I telling you this? My latest read encompassed two of my greatest loves, Australia and Jojo Moyes! When I saw that Jojo Moyes had a new title available on Netgalley, I simply HAD to have it. You’ll recall how much I loved Me Before You (review) and The Girl You Left Behind (review), so really, it was a match made in heaven Australia. *I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from the publisher through Netgalley. My good opinion cannot be bought with a book. It MIGHT be bought with a trip to Australia… Just saying.*

silverbaySilver Bay tells the story of the residents of a sleepy town in Australia, called (shocker) Silver Bay. 76 year old Kathleen runs a ramshackle hotel with her niece Liza and Liza’s daughter Hannah. Their major source of income is eco-tourism, as Silver Bay is famous for whale and dolphin watching expeditions. It’s not a glamorous existence, and everyone has their baggage, but mostly the residents of Silver Bay have been living there uninjured.

Mike Dormer is a high powered real estate developer in London. His company is working on a luxury resort, and he’s sent on a scouting mission to Silver Bay. Mike’s development poses a serious threat to the Silver Bay’s under-the-radar status, to say nothing of its potential disruption of the whale and dolphin watching industry. Drama ensues!

One of my favorite things about Moyes’s writing is the way she draws her characters. She gives them so much depth. The major sympathetic characters are flawed, the less sympathetic characters have glimmers of humanity. I was drawn into Silver Bay and didn’t want to leave. You don’t have to love Australia to enjoy Silver Baybut I challenge you to read Silver Bay and not fall in love with Jojo Moyes.

Tell me, Bookworms. Do any of you have an obsession with an exotic (or not so exotic) locale? I can’t be alone in this, can I?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Jun 05

The Untold by Courtney Collins

Contemporary Fiction 14

G’day Bookworms!

I just finished one of the most unique books I’ve read in a while. It’s set in Australia and narrated by a dead baby. And sometimes they eat kangaroos. Intrigued yet? I thought so. The Untold by Courtney Collins is truly something else. *I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review through Netgalley.*

theuntoldJessie Hickman was a real woman who lived in Australia in the 1920s. Jessie’s life was one tragic adventure after another. By the age of 26, Jessie had lost her beloved father, run away from home, joined the circus, made a career stealing horses and cattle, and served a prison sentence for her wild ways. She was paroled into the arms of an abusive cattleman and dreamed of escape. Eventually, she escapes, but it’s not a straightforward disappear-into-the-night act. Once she’s on the run, Jessie is pursued by her lover… And the law.

I already mentioned that The Untold is told from the point of view of Jessie’s dead baby. I know that sounds really creepy, but it’s less bizarre than it sounds, I promise. After a traumatic premature birth, Jessie buries the baby in the Australian wilderness. The child then takes on the consciousness of the land… Because you don’t know that it couldn’t happen!

This  book was grittier than I expected, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve read American Westerns a time or three, so the idea of horsemen on the run and living off the land isn’t foreign to me. What was a little stranger, I must admit, is the cuisine Jessie and her crew were rustling up in the bush. Sure, they had rabbits and the occasional snake, but also kangaroo and wallaby. I’m sure that endangered species weren’t yet a thing, and survival is important, but kangaroos and wallabies? Sigh. At least nobody ate a penguin.

So. Who would like this book? If you’ve ever read and enjoyed a Western, aren’t creeped out by people eating kangaroo, and/or dig The Decemberists tune “Leslie Anne Levine“, The Untold could be the book for you!

Alright, Bookworms. The Untold has one of the most unique narrators ever. What characters have been your favorite narrators?

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Jun 02

Goodnight June by Sarah Jio

Chick Lit, Contemporary Fiction 14

Goodnight Bookworms,

I don’t have kids, but I love children’s books. Remember that whole Bookish Baby Shower my book club put together for one of our members? It was an incredible stroke of luck that “C” didn’t receive a single double copy of a book for her baby girl’s library, especially since I’ve known people to get two or three copies of Goodnight Moon in a single (non bookish) baby shower. “C” got a copy, but just the one :). But that’s the way of Goodnight Moon. It’s iconic and everyone remembers it fondly. That is part of the reason I was so intrigued when I was offered a review copy of Sarah Jio’s new novel, Goodnight June. Goodnight June imagines an origin story for Margaret Wise Brown’s quintessential nursery tale. It didn’t hurt that I enjoyed one of Sarah Jio’s other books, or that my friend just had a baby girl named June. (I’ve never met a June I didn’t like. True story. I can think of three off the top of my head and each one is a treasure, I tell you!) *I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. I promise in the name of the Junes that I’ll tell it like it is!*

goodnightjuneIn typical Sarah Jio style, Goodnight June is told in a dual narrative. More specifically, it’s told in the present (well, 2005) but employs letters written between the fictional Ruby and her good friend Margaret Wise Brown in the 1940s. Our protagonist is named June. She inherits her beloved aunt’s children’s bookstore in Seattle after she passes away. A high powered banking executive based in New York, June is accustomed to shutting down struggling businesses, not attempting to save them. June begins a journey of self discovery as she explores the history of the store, her aunt’s legacy, and the influence the bookstore had on one of the most famous children’s books of all time.

There’s a bit in Goodnight June where Margaret Wise Brown is concerned that her work as a (ridiculously successful) children’s author gets little respect from her peers. She considers writing an adult novel in order to gain some credibility. Her friend and confidant Ruby tells her that her work as a children’s author may not be as celebrated as writing novels for adult, it is no less important. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I enjoyed this book for what it was. I don’t go into a Sarah Jio novel expecting intense literary prose or to be bamboozled by plot twists. It may not have been the most artfully executed book, and it was, perhaps, a bit melodramatic. In the end, though, it was a very sweet story, and that’s all I really expected and wanted. Goodnight Junwill make you want to hug the story time reader at your local bookstore or library, I can promise you that.

Nostalgia time, Bookworms! What is your favorite children’s book?

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May 08

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Art, Contemporary Fiction 41

Greetings my little Bookworms,

In case you’ve been living under a literary rock, Donna Tartt’s newest offering, The Goldfinch, has gotten a ton of buzz. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, and the book blogosphere has been all a-twitter about its greatness. I couldn’t in good conscience keep going along ignoring this book, but… This mofo is 800 pages.

thegoldfinchEver wonder how becoming a book blogger changes your reading habits? For me, it’s made me acutely aware of the HUGE variety of books out there that I want to read. In the past I’d pick up a chunkster on a whim. Heck, I read Les Misérables just for the heck of it. There was no book too long for me. Now though, not only have I saddled myself with obligations (reviews promised to authors and publishers) but I also want to have something to write about. If I can’t plow through at least two books a week, WHAT am I going to tell y’all? Flimsy excuses, I know.

I’m happy to report that I finally read The Goldfinch! Yay me! So here’s the deal. There’s this kid Theo Decker. He’s 13 years old on the day he and his mother take an unplanned detour to an art museum and into the path of a terrorist attack. In the aftermath of the bombing, Theo meets a dying man who he believes encourages him to take home a painting. A priceless work of art, no less. But Theo is 13. He has a nasty concussion. The poor kid picks through the rubble, arrives home after receiving no medical care, and is unceremoniously informed that his mother was killed in the attack. Through a series of unusual events, Theo and the painting embark on a journey… A journey into a life of antiques, drugs, and the seedy underbelly of the art world.

So. What was my verdict? I thought it was a good book, a solid book. It’s unfortunate I went into this AFTER reading all the rave reviews, because my expectations were sky-high. There were a couple of characters that absolutely embedded themselves in my heart,unfortunately, neither of them were Theo. (Boris and Hobie, though, I loved those guys!) Theo kept getting under my skin, particularly toward the end. He goes on a rather self indulgent rant about the philosophical implications of his actions. Shades of gray, master plans, yadda yadda yadda. It’s all well and good, excellent sentiments, but it felt to me like Theo was giving himself an easy out by over rationalizing things.

All in all, I LIKED The Goldfinch a good deal, but I didn’t love it. I’m a little bummed about that fact. I’m also a little bummed that I never could quite get a mental read on Boris’s accent. I kept TRYING to hear the Australian and Russian accents mingling, but it kept going full Russian in my head. Sigh. Has anybody listened to this in audiobook format? Do they do a good job with Boris’s accent?!

Tell me Bookworms. Have you ever felt let down by a book you were expecting to absolutely adore? Ever been surprised by something you didn’t expect to enjoy? 

*If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.*

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Aug 23

Damn the Man! Save the Empire… Falls! (Empire Falls by Richard Russo)

Blogging, Contemporary Fiction 31

What’s Shaking, Bookworms?

It probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that I get a lot of book recommendations from my awesome readers, other bloggers, and folks I know in real life. It might, however, surprise you to know that SOMETIMES I actually listen! Why, just last week I was reading the newly certified awesome blog, Fourth Street Review, when Rory more or less told me that I absolutely had to read Empire Falls by Richard Russo. (Okay, she may just have listed it in a Top Ten Tuesday post. Whatever. I took it to heart.)

Richard Russo is one of those big name authors that for whatever reason I’d never read. I blame the fact that there are 80 bazillion books in existence. Anywho, after I read Rory’s post, I got a bee in my bonnet and decided to see if it was available on my local library’s digital site. Lo and behold, it was there, and there was NO WAIT LIST (which in itself is a miraculous occurrence.) I took it as a sign and dove in that very evening.

Empirefallsbookcover Empire Falls tells the tale of a small industrial town in Maine. Though it once flourished with textile mills and manufacturing, the town has fallen on hard times. The wealthy family that owned the mills, the Whitings, are still around and pulling the strings of the town’s dwindling population. Miles Roby, our protagonist, runs Empire Falls’s premiere (and only) diner, the Empire Grill. A whole cast of quirky small town characters fills the pages of this book (as well as the tables of the Empire Grill) with their foibles and antics.

I’m quite certain that I’m only making this association because there aren’t a whole lot of books set in Maine, but Empire Falls put me in mind of Stephen King’s Under the Dome in some ways. It was set in Maine, for starters. Then there was the unassuming fry cook main character (Miles in Empire Falls, Barbie in Under the Dome.) Plus, we even had a nasty father son bad apple team going on in Empire Falls in the form of crooked cop Jimmy Minty and his punk of a son Zach, which mirrored Big Jim and Junior… Only in a more realistic and less super villain context. (Mad props to Russo for crafting so many well rounded characters!)

In fact, Empire Falls began as such a slice of New England life tale, I was waiting for the dome to come down… Or really, for anything to happen. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the extended exposition. It was very well done, the characters had dimension, motivation, and feeling. Even Max Roby, Miles’s alcoholic layabout father had a certain charm about him. I found myself trying to figure out where to focus… The mysterious teen boy? The priest with dementia who kept trying to hear confessions? (The Father Tom and Max Roby dynamic duo cracked me up!) Or should I have been paying attention to the goings on of the Whiting family? The potential paternity scandal? How Horace kept kicking Walt’s butt at Gin Rummy?

Source: pixiv.net

Source: pixiv.net

For about 80 percent of the book, I felt like I was waiting and waiting for something to happen. And then? HULK SMASH! Everything kind of blew up and went nuts in Empire Falls. I mean, nobody turned GREEN or anything (though it would have been an amusing touch) but there’d been a long buildup of anger and frustration and whatnot that just had to get out.

I really enjoyed Empire Falls, but it has my emotions all a-twitter. I adored the characterization, and Russo really captured the essence of a once bustling town abandoned by its factories. I do think the ending might have been a touch over-the-top, but in my opinion, it had enough whimsy to counterbalance to the melodrama. All in all? I’d say you should give this one a read.

Have any of you Bookworms read Empire Falls? What did you think? The internet tells me there was also a movie made- anybody seen it? How does it hold up? Does anybody turn green, perchance? No? Well. Probably for the best. Just look at what happened to poor Elphaba. No one mourns the wicked.

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