Ongoing list of completed book Reads
(should have been doing this a long time ago)
Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan*****This is my third Egan novel read and while Goon Squad received the Pulitzer Prize I believe this is my favorite novel by Egan. Linear and traditional yet so well-developed and written. There were moments that I thought I figured out how Egan would resolve this story and she surprised me in how she played her twists. While Goon Squad and The Candy House are worthy feats of genius narrative puzzling…this one delivered strongest with solid characters and storytelling I could really see. There were times as I read this where I imagined someone like Olivia Wilde translating this story to screen with actors and actresses she worked with on Don’t Worry Darling. I also adore the strength of the main character, Anna Kerrigan.
Less Is Lost by Andrew Sean Greer*****He did it again! While I consider Less the stronger of the two ASG successfully delivers a worthy sequel with spot-on stylistic tone, humor, insight, vernacular gifting and yes, even tears in the end (nowhere near my sobbing, laughing, sobbing fit of the first finale but still…). ASG can keep this Less series going as long as he feels inspired as far as I am concerned. Such a refreshing delight and yet shot full of insight. Both Less novels are soul medicine. I look forward to aging with these novels on my bookshelf. I just started a writing project and named my main narrator Archie and realized the accidental alignment so I feel guided to rename my lead so ASG doesn’t mistakenly think I lifted that. I deeply, deeply admire ASG’s talent and very much look forward to reading his highly acclaimed pre-Less novels. In times we are in the hero novelists for me, personally, are the comedic ones and I am so grateful that a strong crop of queer authors are currently carrying this banner.
The Night Singer by Johanna Mo**** Gotta hand it to both Johanna Mo and Richard Osman. They have both renewed my faith in the mystery genre. Both now have me hooked to finish the rest of their series. The Night Singer is well-textured, straight-forward, paced well and interwoven with a kindness and compassion refreshing in the genre. While dealing with dark themes you don’t feel like you are trudging through the doldrums. Mo always manages to keep the light on, per se. She also builds her story on current issues and topics that are being dealt with globally on large scales (to discuss this more would give away the mystery too much). An accomplished mystery and I am eager to read the sequel The Shadow Lily.
The Only Good Indians by Stephen Graham Jones****an effective horror novel. SGJ is particularly excellent at extending tense sequences longer than the reader may expect. One particular moment led me to need fresh air as the situation was rather visceral. There are some really beautiful moments in the final pages, as well. Intense experience. I would like to read more by him when I am able to take on such intensity once again. For now, I need a palette cleansing read.
Night At The Fiestas: Stories by Kirstin Valdez Quade**** a solid collection of short stories set in New Mexico with a range of personality and tensions. The collection starts off strong and sags a little in the middle before delivering three excellent final stories. I love The Manzanos, Canute Commands The Tides, Ordinary Sins, Nemecia and Mojave Rats the most. I started The Five Wounds full novel prior to this and turned it back to library before finishing. I would like to still finish the novel at some point.
Bath Haus by P.J. Vernon***This thriller was gifted my way with strong praise and when I saw C.J. Tudor as one of the advance praise blurbs I felt confident about the read. A very strong domestic thriller with a great deal of final climax chaotic twists. The tension is palpable especially in the final pages. Dealing with a gay man’s account of a sexual assault and the unfolding revelations of getting to the truth through channels that aren’t black and white. Deals with trauma and triggering situations well in the matter of habits and breaking patterns, etc. The final three pages did see a release of tears from this reader. Almost gave this four stars…though I feel like Vernon’s four star book or even five star book has yet to be released. This does make me interested to read his debut, When You Find Me.
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman****Having read a lot of mystery books in my youth I often put this genre on hold. That said, This is a refreshing jolt of fun and verve to the genre (and I do currently have a few more well praised mysteries in line to be read). The characters are interesting, the humor is sharp, witty and LOL. The mystery setup is well crafted and layered. The finale is just the right doses of poignant and satisfactory. All the elements are bundled up for a wonderful story arc of continuous threads that are interesting. I look forward to the second and third installments. This series has so much potential for a quality screen translation if done properly. The humor and dialogue reminded me a bit of the hilarious series, Vicious…though I would not want the series to have a multi-cam in front of studio audience laughter feel like that series did.
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta***The HBO series The Leftovers ranks in my Top 5 of all time best tv series so I had to check out the novel where it all began. While readable and starting off strong, overall the book is a little underwhelming compared to the series. In fact I would say that Season 1 betters the book and then I don’t know how the hell they came up with Season 2 and 3 genius but so so glad they did. Ultimately, it does come down to a love story and both the book and especially the TV series get this part right. This is my first Tom P read…if I do read others they will likely be acclaimed ones written before this one.
The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman****2nd TR read after his phenomenal debut,(Pulitzer Prize worthy if you ask me) The Imperfectionists*looking forward to reading his second novel as well* and definitely still an above average read. While it does not come close to his debut it is an effective and very well crafted read. This time out he gives us the art world and a Dickens/Irving/Tartt-esque family saga focusing on a legendary father and a son attempting to carve out his own path under his father’s shadow. The topics, questions and insights are well done. The book lags a bit in the mid to third quarter, but is generally very readable.
Before The Fall by Noah Hawley*****What an illuminating indictment of current news media and what is cast as “important” for news cycles. Brilliant mystery that is very Agatha Christie-esque in modern style. I really hope this and Anthem are developed for either the small or big screen (Ideal creator involvements: Noah (of course), Ray McKinnon (Rectify), Damon Lindelof (Watchmen/Leftovers/Lost) or Aronofsky. Characters are well developed and you really root for the central survivors. That is all I will say. Excellent. Excellent.
Time Is A Mother by Ocean Vuong*****An incredible collection of profound and powerful poems. I found myself nodding so many times and in awe of more than a handful of phrases or sentiments. Brilliant. Both of my parents are currently living yet I find myself making mental notes of both maternal and paternal art celebrating parents so that I can remember what to visit when grieving their loss in the future. This is certainly a book of poetry I imagine I should own. Highly recommended. I should read Vuong’s winning novel, as well.
How High We Go In The Dark by Sequoia Nagamatsu***Inventive and imaginative. Heartbreaking and at times uncomfortable due to mirroring of modern day pandemic situations with fictional one set in 2030. My favorite section is probably the talking pig section with the spaceship adventure as painters paint murals inside the spaceship is a close second favorite section.
The Candy House by Jennifer Egan***the sibling novel to A Visit From the Goon Squad is good and hits a lot of the right notes that the first did however the first is the most memorable. Some of the sections in this that try to be like the PowerPoint section in Goon Squad don’t work as well as that. Though the email letters section is very well done. This novel lacks the overall impact of Goon Squad yet is immensely readable.
Mickey7 by Edward Ashton**This 293 page sci-fi novel is rooted in exciting, adventurous, futuristic concepts and ideas that are entertaining as well as intellectual. There is a lot to enjoy here and I am excited to see how Parasite’s director, Bong Joon-Ho translates it to screen. So, why only two stars? Because these 293 pages could have been tightened down to a solid five star short story. The ending really delivers and is worth the time to get to; however, there is a lot of meandering space in the lengthy story and rigid dialogue that could have been condensed stronger and more direct to make for a solid read. There were times in the middle where the wheels just felt like they were spinning ridiculously on same topics over and over in regards to food rations and shallow drama instead of building addictive action and so forth. Thankfully, wading through the mediocre middle pays off in the end. It’s a very popcorny read with high concepts and admirable philosophy fused to support what is almost a one star thin unveiling. It’s a weird read in that I feel it is worth reading despite being rather weak getting to the good stuff. Edited down to 50-100 pages would be ideal. I hope the film actually lifts the strong elements of the story and deviates from the more boring elements. There is potential here for the film to be better than the novel. I get whiffs of Arthur C. Clarke level here but needs work getting there.
A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan****Egan writes effortlessly in a fashion that reads smooth whilst layering vignette after vignette with insane precision as intersection after intersection illuminates incredible Rubik’s Cube spins to character arcs and lifestyle trajectories that read real-as-fuck. Nimbly handles behind the scenes supporting characters in life and how sometimes those invisible roles become pivotal and dimensionally integral as foreground impacting main characters in hindsight. Remarkable and brings to mind The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman as far as mini snapshots of a larger whole interconnecting as a means to an impactful finale (The Imperfectionists is stronger in this regards for me as far as memorable reads go). In just a few days we get the Goon Squad sequel, The Candy House, and excited to take the plunge into this character world, once again.
Joan Is Okay by Weike Wang***A deeply observing, sensitive, calming and authentic read anchored in a Chinese-American daughter reckoning with the death of her father, with the co-exsistence of living family and with the state of her self-sufficient built American life all whilst standing at the threshold of CO-VID-19. A smooth read with real confidence.
The Burning Girls by C.J. Tudor ** I am a huge fan of C.J. Tudor. Her previous three novels I would rank 4-5 stars. She is phenomenal. My favorites are:
- The Other People
- The Chalk Man
- The Hiding Place
sadly, while interesting, this 4th book does not deliver as strongly for me. Yes, the first quarter to half is really interesting and yes, there is a fairly solid twist by the end. However, this book lags a lot and loses its thrill and scare. I expected more. That said, I will continue to excitedly read Tudor. Next up we get short stories from her: A Sliver of Darkness…and a brand new read in 2023: The Drift. I hope those reveal her mojo back and stronger than ever.
Anthem by Noah Hawley*****One helluva Black Mirror head trip that defies, even sledgehammers, narrative prisons and sets the Spirit Free! Hawley’s new novel is not shy about the recent, current state of America and presents a cautionary vision set in the very near future. Really hope his vision doesn’t come to pass yet it feels immensely plausible. The fantasy he portrays is so on point that much like 1984 it blurs the lines between the data of reality and illusion we currently find ourselves in. What is refreshing about Hawley’s work here is that at times he breaks the fourth wall to deliver clear messages of a moderate, balanced nature to broil the baffling and self-destructive danger of two party politics brainwashing our country into too much denial, anger and hatred. He has taken 1984, Stephen King and A Prayer For Owen Meany (just to name a few of the literary influences I notice here) and whipped up a whooper of a plausible parallel universe that We Desperately Need To Pay Attention To. I ended up photographing the final pages as paragraphs of dialogue hit home runs of depth perspective and I took a final photograph of the novel under a flag pole at the local library waving both the American and Zia Native American flags as a final Holy Spirit~ual triumph moment upon completion of This Legit novel. I want to read Hawley’s Before the Fall in the near or distant future.
Mouth To Mouth by Antoine Wilson*****Hitchcockian Brilliance. Genius level storytelling. The reader questions the ride at every twist and turn. This is a snappy read that I highly recommend going into without reading the book jacket. Just take the plunge and enjoy. The final landing is smoother than I anticipated with a dodgy afterglow. At just over 170 pages this is another Phenomenal example of less is more; short books that pack a punch are among my favorites. The narrative is addictive as hell from page 1. This will make one helluva 90 minute indie film if translated by the right filmmaker. Definitely on board for reading Antoine’s previous books as a result of this one.
The Editor by Steven Rowley*****Exceptional! Having now completed all three SR novels I am dedicated to anything he (and Byron Lane) publishes. I have enjoyed each read. If I were to rank Rowley’s novels it would be hard because each are quality. The Editor stands as my favorite. As a whole it feels like his strongest complete work. The ending really, really works for me. The Guncle is his funniest and most bouyant. Lily is inventive and heartbreaking. With Steven Rowley reads there are an unprecedented amount of illuminating life parallels that create a feeling of being carved from a similar spark of being (honestly, I feel that from Byron, too, but moreso Steven). These two are a major gift to modern day readers and I am excited to see how these works translate to the screen.
Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya*****Wow! This read is deeeeeply, deeeeeply affecting. Deserving of the praise “Classic” in every regard. Has the power and depth of To Kill A Mockingbird and A Prayer For Owen Meany. Starts off effortlessly beautiful and morphs into intense maturity with incredible insight and wisdom. By the end this reader experienced a rich, cleansing weep session. Profound without any air of pretentiousness. This book stays with you and definitely one I will re-visit. Tony’s father’s response when Tony asks about evil is Gold and a message we need all be reminded of daily. I look forward to more Rudolfo book readings in the near or distant future in addition to more John Nichols, Tony Hellerman, Sherman Alexie, Frank Waters and more associated with NM.
Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke*****This 240 page novel surprisingly took me longer to read than I imagined. It is a wondrous and imaginative sci-fi adventure that feels like a great futuristic bookend to the future George Orwell foresaw in 1984; somehow the two feel right in similar company for such profound, disruptive, troubling visions of the future. In many ways we are currently living in 1984 and could we wake up one day to the Overlords arrival in the sky and a similar purposeful agenda for the Golden Age they bring? This novel asks many intriguing questions and delivers quite an ahead of it’s time message for being written at the time it was. The novel feels quite different to my memory of the SyFy channel mini-series which I considered to be above average. A slow burn read that delivers mind-blowing scenarios, philosophies and takes concepts we have built to fear and craft them into guardian entities with a remaining drop of tainted tremble in the seemingly fine water.
I Loved You More by Tom Spanbauer*****If you have never read this incredible author Do Yourself a favor asap. Both this novel and The Man Who Fell In Love With the Moon are two of the best novels I have ever read. Period. I am dedicated to reading his others, as well. Sacred experiences unlike any other author in my opinion. Masterpieces. Life-changing, raw, real authentic masterpieces.
A Star Is Bored by Byron Lane*****Outstanding read! This debut reads with such gusto, wisdom, literary integrity and chock full of hilarity to boot. There are hysterical -not just funny- scenes here i Will Never Forget and life lessons that shimmer with vitality in their complex, multi-faceted insight from both protagonist leads here. The painful and very real moments of suffering whilst sussing out the labyrinth of healing addictions or familial wounds equal the impact of the funny bone moments. This book finds freedom and courage in authenticity and loyalty. Between Byron and his equally talented husband, Steven, these two are a tour de force of light and laughter in literature which is Greatly Needed in these wild, wild times we live in. Both strike balance in writing with lucidity and joy whilst driving home nuggets of deep reality. This fictitious peak into the life of a personal assistant for a major film star icon is completely unforgettable.
Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley****Another winner from The Guncle author; his debut! A creative tale of a man, his best friend and the dire sea monster that creates havoc in their life. Humourous, real, deeply moving and with a final 5 pages that moistened the eyes in happiness. I love this author; he feels kindred. i have The Editor and his husband’s A Star Is Bored in hand to excitedly read next, as well.
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman*****Absolutely Genius! In awe of this author’s incredible talent and eager to dive into his other works (The Italian Teacher is next in line behind another unfinished read). Rachman’s intertwining vignettes of the lives connected to a small newspaper in Rome are dynamically perceptive with characters that practically exist in 3-D before the reader’s eyes and conversing with dialogue that flies along in humor, insight, spontaneity, contrast, and true realism. The short stories culminate into a gut-punch of a finale that would make the spirits of Steinbeck & Welles proud. Highly, highly recommended! I have a blurb in my recent favorite, Less, to thank for putting this on my radar.
Antiquities by Cynthia Ozick****An exceptional little story packing a lot into only 180 pages. I deeply admire writers who can create dense works in minimal form such as Justin Torres’ We The Animals. Here we have a tale of history, lineages, truth, myth told via a gentleman (a little persnickety, prickly, crusty and egoic) working on a memoir which may actually be a legal document which may actually be an institutional relic. At heart it is also a lamenting love story built on less-is-more information and a mystical red-headed character that echoes the characteristics of John Irving’s lengendary Owen Meany. Takes about 50 pages to really get interesting yet this author is an undeniable pro who is new to me. I shall dig deeper into her back catalogue.
The Midnight Library by Matt Haig*****Outstanding read! Essential and important! The kind of read that can literally save lives of vulnerable and hurting people. The incorporation of such phenomenal philosophical perspectives from classic figures is really well done. i hope this gets translated into a film with an artist like Olivia Rodrigo, Arlo Parks, Lady Gaga or TSwift. This read really inspires the reader to take stock of life. Found myself making lists and questioning my Core Being. Lots of notes taken with this one. Great poetry and lyrics included, as well. i look forward to reading more by Matt; especially his memoir, Reasons To Stay Alive.
100 Years Of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez****Outstanding and addictive first 100-200 pages covering the earliest lineage of Macondo. Once the story shifted to war and the later lineages in the second 200 pages my interest would wax and wane; sometimes waning to the point where i had to force myself to keep going. Intuitively, i knew that since this novel is a classic that the ending must pay off. Fortunately, it most certainly does! I journaled 13 impactful quotes from this novel. One star is shaved off due to the sluggish second half. After reading i couldn’t help asking myself if Alan Moore is our modern day wizard of Macondo? Watchman is Genius. Jerusalem in is Now Reading. 😉
Less by Andrew Sean Greer*****
This book! Wow! Loved every moment and am already promising to myself to read it again at 50 year mark and every ten year bday after that. Remarkably funny and the way the author uses words so effortlessly to seamlessly edit visuals of time shifts from present to flashback left me in awe and feeling hypnotized by a vernacular wizard. I completed the final 100 pages poolside at a local spa and was oscillating between laughing out loud and crying; happily. This book is so full of life and perspective that aging readers may especially appreciate. A book I would gift to anyone and everyone as i have done with other favorite reads in the past. Highest praise.
The Guncle by Steven Rowley **** Highly Recommended Read! I thoroughly enjoyed this read and have not laughed out loud this much whilst reading a book in a while. The first two hundred pages are particularly packed with hilarious dialogue or sitches. By around the 200 page mark the book also starts to generate tears several times due to wonderful simple self-discoveries and keen insight. Heart-felt and tender with a central figure who is loveable and fun to support even while we experience his faults and vulnerabilities along the way. This is an excellent post 2020 read because it deals with the themes of isolation and experiences that pull us out of those periods; new beginnings; never giving up on dreams whilst allowing dreams to evolve in flexible directions. At some point I would love to have this book in a shelf collection where I live for access to elevate any day. Here are a few memorable quotes I jotted down in my diary:
“Self-love for gay people can be an act of survival. When the whole world is designed to point out you’re different, it can be a way to endure.”
“We adopt a safe version of ourselves for the public, for protection, and then as adults we excavate our true selves from the parts we’ve invented to protect ourselves. It’s the most important work of queer lives.”
“Sometimes things come back to life.”
“Every parent has these days. You’re very good with them. Your breakfast is on us.”
Looking forward to reading SR’s other 2 books (Lili & The Octopus is in possession; have to track down The Editor) and SR’s husband, Byron Lane’s novel, A Star Is Bored.
Animal Farm & 1984 by George Orwell (2 books in 1 publication) ***** Somehow I got by without being assigned these in school and thus this is my first time reading both. I am glad I finally did and now I understand why “modern Classic” and “masterpiece” are assigned to both. Riveting reads written with such precise clarity and visionary intuition. Cautionary tales on the tips of tongues due to the current state of where we stand in society.
Four New Messages by Joshua Cohen * overall, a kinda meh read. I doubt much of this will stick with me. The best story, personally, is the fourth called SENT, but even that lost me about halfway through. This is adventurous writing and unique prose which I applaud; however it just never fully grabbed me upon finishing. I never abandon books. This is one I could have although I wouldn’t have gotten to enjoy the solid beginning of SENT.
Hummingbird Salamander by Jeff Vandermeer ** different yet not always captivating enough. Lags in places. The final pages picked up a bit. Great messages about climate change and care of environment and warnings. Unique, at times. Just never fully got so into the story that I couldn’t put it down. Meh, not super memorable.
News of the World by Paulette Jiles ** a little slow for my taste. Decent; if not a memorable read that will stick with me long. Has a noble central character and a good heart at center of story. In this case the film may end up being better; have not yet seen.
The Oracle Year by Charles Soule***Very Good. Enjoyed, Fascinating, Intelligent, Current Event Relevant Depth, Well-written. Follows a simple guy who is a struggling bass player in NYC until he becomes endowed with predictions of the future that come true. He becomes a saint to some and dangerous to others. Asks questions about what we would do with all the power to see the future. Would we protect others or protect ourselves? Help or harm? Enjoyed this one enough that I am going to read Soule’s Star Wars contribution.
The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel***Very Good and Completely Unique Storytelling accompanied with music and graphic novel sequences. Way ahead of its time when it was released. Now I believe the masses are more open to the ideas and concepts in this. Past life regressions, astroanalysts, reincarnation, oneness, spirit guides/guardian angels. The experience is unique and finds purpose in every life on the planet and all the lessons we experience during our life missions whether good or bad. The musical sequences and graphics dealing with characters learning they were raped or the rapist (sometimes both in past lives) really led to deep sobbing as a reader. A lot of powerful emotional release happens during this and the ending is a beautiful, happy one. At times it is a little silly and over-the-top yet i rolled with all the elements and enjoyed it. The grandmother character led to lol’s at times. Overall i would say this book unlocks a lot of deep healing and can awaken readers to the bigger picture if not already aware.
Dune by Frank Herbert *** Very Good. Important themes of water, perseverance, leadership, individual liberty/autonomy, community interdependence, religious extremes, and creating green/sustainable situations out of environments/situations that appear to be dire or impossible. Cautionary themes of religious extremes and hero archetypes. Looking forward to the Denis V. Film. Thus far, have not received immediate enthusiasm for continuing the Dune saga from readers I know. I may pick up another along the way though. We’ll see. Many great Classic memorable quotes within this read to return to again and again. Will always associate the Hugh Jackman HBO film, Bad Education, with Dune as his former student who becomes his lover expresses how much Dune impacted him and Hugh Jackman’s character fondly remembers.