Archives for posts with tag: literary fiction

bestdayWhile I was reading BEST DAY EVER by KAIRA ROUDA, I made a Facebook post that said “Only 50 pages in and I want to strangle the narrator.” A friend advised that I was “allowed to put it down” and I realized I couldn’t. Just like when I tackled Flynn’s GONE GIRL, I knew I was going to have to finish this book. I needed to know what happens to the characters. I needed to know that Paul Strom was going to be punished for being truly awful.

Everything about Paul is perfect. He has the perfect life: a high-powered job, a beautiful stay-at-home wife, Mia, and two young sons. And he has planned the perfect weekend getaway with Mia at their second home in an exclusive gated community. He even assembled the perfect playlist as the soundtrack the their weekend. (Paul is prone to repetition; maybe it affected me a little.) But if everything is so wonderful, then why does Mia seem so unhappy? Why are Paul’s thoughts so dark? What are they both hiding?

As the day’s events intensify, Mia seems to know more about Paul’s darker half than he realizes. She asks questions about his work life that make him incredibly nervous. Of course, he thinks he’s too smart to be found out. She’s just a silly housewife, no threat to him whatsoever. But Paul’s overconfidence may end up being his downfall.

Written primarily from Paul’s perspective, this book is very character-driven. He is an intense, brooding, and flawed person. In many ways, he reminded me of Patrick Bateman from American Psycho. Is Paul a psychopath or just creepy and controlling? Or both? Or is he just an exaggerated character who is created to tell a story?

I think that Paul, while perhaps a bit embellished, is a very realistic character. He’s overly concerned with status and brand (he mentions a least a dozen times that he drives a Ford Flex). Maintaining a picture-perfect life is what he strives for. And maybe that’s what felt over the top about him. If he’s a psychopath, would he care about creating an illusion? Or would he just try not to get discovered? Regardless of these nitpicks, the story is both disturbing and compelling.

Even though I was angry at the narrator, I think that’s the mark of a successful book. Rouda managed to evoke incredibly strong emotions from me. I was filled with disgust for Paul. I rooted for Mia to confront her controlling husband. I wanted answers to all the questions brought up by Paul’s unsettling internal monologue. For the most part, I got those answers. But can you really trust the answers of someone as suspicious as Paul?

Sometimes, it’s fun to explore the scary things in the world. I think I prefer the more impossible side of scary, though. Give me vampires, werewolves, and Ancient Ones any day. Knowing that there are really people like Paul out there made Rouda’s book more unsettling for me. But, if you don’t mind getting inside the head of someone who is, frankly, unlikeable and unreliable, then BEST DAY EVER might be for you.

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epiphanyTattoos most often have a personal meaning for their recipients. Hours of thought and planning are invested before needle takes to skin. But, in the world of THE EPIPHANY MACHINE by DAVID BURR GERRARD, those who receive tattoos from the mystical machine have only one choice: whether or not to stick their arm into the jaw of the beast-like device.

For me, The Epiphany Machine is not an easy book to write a review of. Mostly, the book follows Venter Lowood from high school through college. His parents were among the first of those to use the mysterious epiphany machine. The tattoo his mother received seemingly foretold her abandoning her family. And Venter’s father’s tattoo may have contributed to his lackluster parenting. Naturally, Venter has been told to avoid the machine. We can all imagine what happens next.

One of the first rules of using the epiphany machine is: “The epiphany machine will not discover anything about you that you do not, in some way, already know.” Venter’s tattoo reads DEPENDENT ON THE OPINION OF OTHERS. While this doesn’t surprise him, he alternates, for the rest of his life, between trying to defy and follow his tattoo’s words. And this is maybe the most frustrating thing about him. I spend a fair amount of time thinking of Holden Caulfield, one of my least favorite literary characters. I have to give David Burr Gerrard credit for writing a character that evoked an emotional response, even if it was frustration.

So, what is the epiphany machine? Who created it? How does it work? What powers the machine? No one knows. But the machine’s owner, Adam Lyons, begins operating it in his New York City apartment in the 1960s. The tattoos are brief and seem to reveal a truth about each person. These truths are somewhat uncomfortable, but at the same time, offer enlightenment. Before long, even John Lennon shows up at Lyons’ apartment, puts his arm into the machine, and receives a mystical tattoo. Generations use the machine with no major incident. After 9/11, the machine takes on a more sinister connotation.

Venter’s best friend, Ismail, is Muslim and has a tattoo that reads WANTS TO BLOW THINGS UP. Unfortunately, one of the pilots who hijacked a plane on 9/11 had the same tattoo. Soon, Venter comes back to his dorm to discover government agents want information. Stuck with an impossible choice — and DEPENDENT ON THE OPINION OF OTHERS — Venter turns his friend. From there, Venter’s life bounces from one bad decision to the next.

The Epiphany Machine is, at its core, a book about choices and how we deal with them. Should we use the machine or not? Once the tattoo is there, how much weight should you give it? Should you work to change yourself, or is there some core part of our personality that cannot be changed? Though Gerrard can’t answer those questions, he does set up a story that invites readers to explore them on our own.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy is a sequel – sort of. In 2012 author Rachel Joyce published the first novel, “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”. To follow Queenie’s tale you need to know Harold’s story.

Recently retired Harold Fry lives a solitary life with his wife of 40 years in the southern English village of Kingsbridge. One morning in mid-April Harold receives a letter from Queenie Hennessy. It has been twenty years since he has heard from Queenie and now she is writing to say good-bye. She is in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed in the northern most part of England.

After penning an awkward reply Harold heads out to post his letter at the nearest box. But when he gets there he is reluctant to send his reply and walks on to the next box then the next.

At a stop for refreshments he tells the young clerk he is posting a letter to a friend who has cancer. She replies her aunt had cancer but you have to believe they will get better. She says “if you have faith, you can do anything”.

As Harold reaches the last box in Kingsbridge he comes to the realization that he wants to have faith, he wants to make a difference. He calls the hospice on a pay phone to leave a message for Queenie – tell her Harold Fry is coming and all she has to do is wait. He will keep walking and she will keep living.

With that Harold begins the 627 mile walk from one end of England to the other in his inappropriate yachting shoes and a windbreaker. He marks his progress with postcards to Queenie, his wife, and the girl who told him to have faith.

Reaching Queenie is the goal in this novel but she is a just a character; Harold and his life is the story. So now Joyce brings us Miss Queenie Hennessy and the rest of the story.

It begins when Queenie receives Harold’s first letter telling her to wait. When the letter arrives Sister Catherine remembers Harold’s phone call. The excitement of a visit is soon tempered by the realization of just how far Harold has to walk and the realities of a life in hospice care.

Surgery and cancer has taken away most of Queenie’s ability to communicate. She laboriously writes notes. Deeply upset by all she has to tell Harold and her inability to communicate, Queenie is visited by a nun new to the hospice, Sister Mary Inconnu. Sister Mary tells Queenie she must write a second letter and she will help. Queenie can write in shorthand and Sister Mary will type up the notes.

Queenie’s letter is as if she is talking directly to Harold. She fills him in on life in the hospice and reflects on her time in Kingsbridge. Unrequited love, friendship, sacrifice and heartache are all covered as well as her life after Kingsbridge in her garden by the sea.

We now view Harold through Queenie’s eyes and heart. We see a Harold very different from how he sees himself. And the tragedy that tore Harold’s life apart and forced Queenie to leave Kingsbridge forever is the final truth she needs Harold to know.

But this is more than a story of two people. The other inhabitants of the hospice get caught up in Harold’s journey. Flinty, Barbara, Mr. Henderson, and the Pearly King are soon anticipating each postcard and are drawn closer together.

Joyce not only completes Harold and Queenie’s story but also explores life with a terminal illness. The emotional path to acceptance has already been taken by some of the characters but not by all. The undertaker’s van comes often. Sometimes the visit is matter of fact and other times it is heartbreaking.

If you read about Harold first – which you should – you know how this ends. However, knowing in no way diminishes the impact of Queenie’s story. I enjoyed both novels and the characters stay with you long after you read the last word.

“The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy” is a sequel – sort of. In 2012 author Rachel Joyce published the first novel, “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry”. To follow Queenie’s tale you need to know Harold’s story.

Recently retired Harold Fry lives a solitary life with his wife of 40 years in the southern English village of Kingsbridge. One morning in mid-April Harold receives a letter from Queenie Hennessy. It has been twenty years since he has heard from Queenie and now she is writing to say good-bye. She is in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed in the northern most part of England.

After penning an awkward reply Harold heads out to post his letter at the nearest box. But when he gets there he is reluctant to send his reply and walks on to the next box then the next.

At a stop for refreshments he tells the young clerk he is posting a letter to a friend who has cancer. She replies her aunt had cancer but you have to believe they will get better. She says “if you have faith, you can do anything”.

As Harold reaches the last box in Kingsbridge he comes to the realization that he wants to have faith, he wants to make a difference. He calls the hospice on a pay phone to leave a message for Queenie – tell her Harold Fry is coming and all she has to do is wait. He will keep walking and she will keep living.

With that Harold begins the 627 mile walk from one end of England to the other in his inappropriate yachting shoes and a windbreaker. He marks his progress with postcards to Queenie, his wife, and the girl who told him to have faith.

Reaching Queenie is the goal in this novel but she is a just a character; Harold and his life is the story. So now Joyce brings us Miss Queenie Hennessy and the rest of the story.

It begins when Queenie receives Harold’s first letter telling her to wait. When the letter arrives Sister Catherine remembers Harold’s phone call. The excitement of a visit is soon tempered by the realization of just how far Harold has to walk and the realities of a life in hospice care.

Surgery and cancer has taken away most of Queenie’s ability to communicate. She laboriously writes notes. Deeply upset by all she has to tell Harold and her inability to communicate, Queenie is visited by a nun new to the hospice, Sister Mary Inconnu. Sister Mary tells Queenie she must write a second letter and she will help. Queenie can write in shorthand and Sister Mary will type up the notes.

Queenie’s letter is as if she is talking directly to Harold. She fills him in on life in the hospice and reflects on her time in Kingsbridge. Unrequited love, friendship, sacrifice and heartache are all covered as well as her life after Kingsbridge in her garden by the sea.

We now view Harold through Queenie’s eyes and heart. We see a Harold very different from how he sees himself. And the tragedy that tore Harold’s life apart and forced Queenie to leave Kingsbridge forever is the final truth she needs Harold to know.

But this is more than a story of two people. The other inhabitants of the hospice get caught up in Harold’s journey. Flinty, Barbara, Mr. Henderson, and the Pearly King are soon anticipating each postcard and are drawn closer together.

Joyce not only completes Harold and Queenie’s story but also explores life with a terminal illness. The emotional path to acceptance has already been taken by some of the characters but not by all. The undertaker’s van comes often. Sometimes the visit is matter of fact and other times it is heartbreaking.

If you read about Harold first – which you should – you know how this ends. However, knowing in no way diminishes the impact of Queenie’s story. I enjoyed both novels and the characters stay with you long after you read the last word.