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review 2017-11-22 12:43
Ordinary People ★★★★★
Ordinary People - Judith Guest

I wish I had the skill to truly analyze what makes the difference between a book where the author tries to manipulate the reader’s emotions and only gets an “hmm how sad” from me, or worse, eyerolls, and a book that has me glued to the pages and leaking tears. All I know is that this is one of the latter.

 

In spite of a story that is almost all character, with almost all events taking place within those characters’ thoughts and emotions and in their interactions with one another, and in spite of a present-tense, stream of consciousness writing style that might have annoyed me in another author’s hands, this story of a family fragmenting and reforming in the aftermath of tragedy absorbed me completely and wrung my emotions inside out. It’s been a while since I had a good cry over a book, and it was deeply satisfying.

 

Vintage paperback, picked up from my public library’s gimme shelves, where they make unusable donated books and culled books available to the public in return for a suggested monetary donation.

 

I read this for The 16 Tasks of the Festive Season, square 4: Book themes for Penance Day: Read a book that has a monk, nun, pastor / preacher or priest as a protagonist, or where someone is struggling with feelings of guilt or with their conscience (regardless over what). In this book, members of a family are struggling with their sense of guilt or failed responsibility in the aftermath of tragedy

(Con over surviving when his stronger brother drowned and Cal over somehow failing his son when he attempted suicide).

(spoiler show)

 

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review 2017-11-11 14:33
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere ★★★☆☆
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere - Z.Z. Packer

I was enchanted with this book of short stories at first, but gradually lost enthusiasm as I progressed through the short stories. I love the author’s ability to draw characters through their actions and interactions with each other and their environment. I love her ability to create a sense of place and how her characters fit in that setting. I love the little thought-provoking moments in each story. But there was an unrelenting sameness to the stories. She likes Shirley Jackson-ish main characters: young people who live too much in their own heads, socially-awkward, alternating between remaining passively and resentfully where they are and impulsively jumping into situations that they then don’t know how to extricate themselves from. She also doesn’t seem to know how to wrap a story up. Most of them just end abruptly, like the author just ran out of things to say. Of the eight short stories, the best were “Brownies” and “Drinking Coffee Elsewhere”

 

Paperback copy, which I will donate to the library as I don’t keep paperbacks that I rated fewer than 4 stars. Although this book has been on my physical TBR for two years, I don’t remember what prompted me to buy it. It was probably something I read when I was looking for TBR recs when I started the Book Riot challenge for We Need Diverse Books.

 

I read it for The 16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 16 December 26th-31st: Book themes for Kwanzaa: Read a book written by an author of African descent or a book set in Africa, or whose cover is primarily red, green or black. The author, ZZ Packer, is African-American.

 

Previous Updates:

11/9/17 82/265pg

11/10/17 210/265pg

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review 2017-11-10 20:47
DECEMBER PARK Review
By Ronald Malfi December Park [Paperback] - Ronald Malfi

In 1993, children in Harting Farms begin to go missing. The police start investigating — and a curfew for kids under eighteen is implemented — but no answers are found. The crimes go on. Five teenage friends band together to solve the crime for themselves, going to places in town adults aren’t aware of, the places kids frequent. Their investigation goes on for quite a while, and in that time they’ll discover more than they expected.

 

This was my second Ronald Malfi novel. Call me a bonafide Malfi fan, because this guy is 2/2 with me. Though this one didn’t quite reach the heights of Bone White, I feel, it was still a lot of fun. It’s a quick, enthralling read, and I would have finished it much sooner had I not also had David Copperfield on the docket.

 

I must admit a few things about this book felt rather derivative. The main character and narrator, Angelo, is a horror-loving kid with a penchant for storytelling. This sort of character has become a trope in horror-tinged coming of age fiction, though it is understandable. It’s a case of writers writing about what they know. Still, it just smacked of unoriginality. Other elements such as a massive storm and a creepy house the kids refer to as “The Werewolf House” felt like they’d been ripped straight from Stephen King’s IT. That’s not to say this is a case of plagiarism; most certainly not. It’s just these things have been done so often before.

 

This is a fun and emotional mystery/thriller starring five very likable (albeit somewhat unmemorable) kids. Whatever problems are present are made up for with Malfi’s sheer writing talent.

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text 2017-11-10 14:42
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere - 210/265 pg
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere - Z.Z. Packer

This author apparently has no use for happy endings to her stories. They're not unrelentingly grim, but it's close.

 

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text 2017-11-09 18:39
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere - 82/265 pg
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere - Z.Z. Packer

Although the stories themselves are of varying quality so far, the writing is wonderfully evocative. This author can do more in less than 2 dozen pages to create a world, people it with real characters, and provoke my emotions than many authors can accomplish in a novel-length story. 

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