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The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter
Published in 2009
General Fiction
304 pages

* * * * * Best Book of 2009 According to Time Magazine * * * * *


Perhaps a spoiler or two about general plot...


Unfortunately, many people across the country find themselves in the same position as suburban husband and wife Matt and Lisa. The money is running out, the couple is about to lose their home, Lisa may or may not be cheating on Matt with a lumber expert, Matt decides to begin dealing drugs to make extra money, and the senile grandfather proclaims his love of chipped beef and "The Rockford Files" on a regular basis from the living room.

Okay, so maybe some of us can identify with the money component and the sense of desperation and exasperation...hopefully not much more beyond that.

I absolutely loved the first 2/3 of the book, but then slowly found myself losing interest in the story. Matt has a fantastic sense of humor - a mixture of cynicism and sarcasm sprinkled with wit that made him very likable for me, and that is ultimately what kept me reading. Yes, I did want to know the fate of this young couple and their sons, but it just felt like the last act was detached from the rest of the book.

The poems were quirky and fun; I love when novelists go outside the box a little.

 
 
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Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower
Published 2009
General Fiction - Short Stories
240 pages

* * * * * Best of 2009 According to Time Magazine * * * * *

The stories were written well enough to make me feel uneasy as a reader (which is Tower's goal, I presume) but completely forgettable. The only story I could even summarize for you would be the first one, and I don't even remember its title. Move on to another 2009 book.

 
 
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Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan
Published 2009
General Fiction
320 pages

* * Best of 2009 According to Bookmarks Magazine * * 
* * * * * Recommended Reading! A Great Weekend Book! * * * * *

With the "friend-drama" I think there are two directions an author can go: the trade-paperback-beach read, or a more highbrow stylized story such as the gripping and twisted The Secret History by Donna Tartt. This book was definitely the latter. although not nearly as intense as TSH. The reader should easily identify with one or more of the characters, and the plot of each woman's life (five years since Smith with flashbacks) is interesting. It slightly felt like a guilty pleasure read, but one I would highly recommend to others. I had a hard time putting it down, although I found the last 60 pages or so to go in a very strange direction that didn't seem to align with the story to that point. I would be curious to hear what others think of the TWIST.

 
 
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Eternal on the Water by Joseph Monninger
Published 2010
General Fiction
336 pages

* * * * * Recommended Reading! * * * * *

I have never been a fan of romance novels, or anything resembling romance novels, because the plot and characters always seem to be flat and I quickly lose interest and find myself mocking the book and the author and wondering why I didn't come up with the nonsense myself. (I have some book-snob tendencies.)

HOWEVER, once in awhile an incredible story comes along that happens to have a love story at its center that leaves you thinking once you have turned the last page. Eternal on the Water, set against the backdrop of nature in some of America's most beautiful locales, tells the story of Mary and Cobb, who meet while setting out to kayak on the same river. Woven with fables, stories about nature, and an array of likable and well-written characters, this is a book that I had a hard time putting down. Mary, obsessed with knock-knock jokes and crows (not in that order) is one of my favorite characters in contemporary fiction. You will fall in love with her just like Cobb did because you just can't help yourself. Monninger wrote her (and them, and the story) so pitch-perfect. I don't want to tell you any more...just go read this one!

Sigh.

I can't wait to read more by Monninger.

 
 
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The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly
Published 2009
YA fiction - Newbery Honor Book 2009
352 pages

* * * * * Recommended Reading! * * * * *

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that this wonderfully written coming-of-age tale at the turn of the century was written for the 9-12 year-old crowd. A Newbery Honor Book well worthy of its praise (only to be topped in this category by the incredible "When You Reach Me" by Rebecca Stead), the story follows Calpurnia Tate, the only daughter in a family full of boys and a mother determined to see her develop into the young lady Callie so wants to avoid becoming. Perhaps most touching about this book is the relationship between Callie and her semi-reclusive grandfather who introduces her to the world of science and discovery at the end of the 19th century. 

The writing is flawless and written at a higher level than most of the intended audience probably normally reads which makes is perfect for reading aloud. Adults, don't let this deter you from this book: I have yet to meet one that has not fallen in love with this book and this fantastic child.

 
 
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Exiles in the Garden by Ward S. Just
2009
General Fiction
288 pages

* * * * * Best of 2009 According to Bookmarks Magazine * * * * *

This was my first novel by Ward S. Just, and I feel as though I have been missing out on one of America's great writers. While I only rated the book three stars, I found his writing style to be poetic, contemplative, and similar to Steinbeck (one of my favorite authors). I think I will enjoy some of his other works more.

This is not a book to read if you are looking for a plot-driven novel; read it for the meandering look at politics in Washington D.C. and slow character development. Alec and Lucia are at the center of the story as a married couple that becomes entranced by the neighbors' nightly gatherings of emigres, with politics constantly affecting the way in which they see the world and one another.

Not a quotation mark in sight. 

 
 
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The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
2009
General Fiction with Historical Aspects
466 pages

* * * * * Recommended Reading! * * * * *
* * * * * Best of 2009 According to Bookmarks Magazine * * * * *

SPOILER ALERT!
I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful prose Waters uses to describe not only the interesting cast of characters, but also Hundreds Hall (which seems to be a character on its own.) I think I would compare it to The Haunting of Hill House, The Turn of the Screw, Rebecca, and the movie The Others. The character development was outstanding, and I loved that I gradually disliked every single character in the book, particularly Dr. Faraday. He became increasingly pathetic as the end of the story neared, ...more I thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful prose Waters uses to describe not only the interesting cast of characters, but also Hundreds Hall, which seems to be a character on its own. I think I would compare it to The Haunting of Hill House, The Turn of the Screw, Rebecca, and the movie The Others. The character development was outstanding, and I loved that I gradually disliked every single character in the book, particularly Dr. Faraday. He became increasingly pathetic as the end of the story neared, particularly after he was slighted by Caroline. I like that as the reader, we do not have any difinitive answers about what happened in the house, so I would love to hear opinions. Do you think Faraday only THOUGHT he loved Caroline b/c he also became consumed by the house? Was there really a spirit? If so, was it the spirit of Susan? Caroline's final word was "YOU." Who do you think she saw? Do you think her death was of her own accord or do you suspect foul play?

Oh, one other thing. Even though the book was set in the 1940s, I found myself constantly thinking that the setting seemed much more 19th century. Did anyone else have that feeling? Perhaps it was the language, perhaps it was the state of Hundreds Hall, perhaps it was the lifestyle of the Ayers family.

 
 
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Have you ever read a book and wondered at the end if you liked it or not? The first 300 pages or so of Niffenegger's latest novel were fantastic; the characters, the setting, and the plot all carried a gothic feel that I love in fiction tales. The air of mystery provided by family relationships made the book even more intriguing, and I powered through most of the novel in one sitting.

Then I came to the final 100 pages or so of the book, and I feel like everything just started to unr...more
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
2009
General Fiction
406 pages

* * * * * Best of 2009 According to Books on the Nightstand Podcast/Blog Followers * * * * *

Have you ever read a book and wondered at the end if you liked it or not? The first 300 pages or so of Niffenegger's latest novel were fantastic; the characters, the setting, and the plot all carried a gothic feel that I love in fiction tales. The air of mystery provided by family relationships made the book even more intriguing, and I powered through most of the novel in one sitting.

Then I came to the final 100 pages or so of the book, and I feel like everything just started to unravel. Things got a little too bizarre for me, but without the charm she created in The Time Traveler's Wife. I began to dislike all of the characters and the plot itself. which became weird and twisted with elements of the macabre, but not in a good way that I have seen executed in other novels. I am a huge fan of magical realism and use of the supernatural in books (Garden Spells, Like Water for Chocolate, A Certain Slant of Light) but I don't think it was effective in this story. I found myself cringing and sad that the book was spiraling downward after 300 pages of invested time.

When I finished the last page, I literally thought, "Hmm." Sometimes I feel like an author's control over our emotions can make the book even more powerful and a better read. I like when an author can make me turn on characters and whatnot, but I just don't think it worked for me in this book that I so wanted to love.

The first 300 or so pages I was thinking "5 stars" and the ending has dropped it to 3.

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