Review: Dept. of Speculation

Dept of Speculation

Dept. of Speculation
By Jenny Offill
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780385350815, January 2014, 192pp.)

The Short of It:

Dept. of Speculation is a glittery, moving entity that grabs the reader quickly with its sharp and lovely prose.

The Rest of It:

This novel is quite different from anything I’ve read before. Reading it, was like gazing into a prism. It dazzled me with its simplicity and had me rereading passages every time I turned a page.

The story is told by the Narrator, who later becomes The Wife. She marries, has a child and then when the marriage begins to fall apart, she quietly observes the destruction almost as if she is a stranger on the outside, looking in. Infidelity plays a large role, as does the exhaustion that comes with raising a child. But in the midst of the not-so-good, is the good. The smell of her baby’s head, the way her husband used to look at her, the fact that they’ve come this far, even with all of the angst. There is something to be said for working through your problems, and that is what The Wife does, in her own head, as she carefully weighs what’s important to her.

Before getting married, we possess a sense of self. We know who we are and most often, what we hope to be. But once married, that plan or that sense of self often doesn’t pan out or changes into something else. That is the case here. With marriage, comes experience and life lessons and when we have children, we learn from that experience as well and it changes us. It would be impossible for it not to.

This book captures that moment of when Me, becomes We and then back again. Don’t let the book’s length fool you either. It’s short but packed with meaning. There’s plenty to reflect on here and although it certainly deals with the struggle that lots of married couples experience, it’s hopeful and tinged with the promise of something better.

Dept. of Speculation is a lovely read. I highly recommend it. Oh, and if you don’t read it, I may have to stop talking to you. I just threw that in to see who’s paying attention.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park

Eleanor & Park
By Rainbow Rowell
(St. Martin’s Griffin, Hardcover, 9781250012579, February 2013, 336pp.)

The Short of It:

You know when you were in school and drew hearts all over everything to express your love for a particular thing or person? Well, if I could actually bring myself to write in a book, there would be hearts all over this one.

The Rest of It:

Eleanor, an awkward, “big girl” with crazy red hair, lives at home with her numerous siblings, her mother and her abusive stepfather. She’s poor. Poor enough to learn how to make do with what she has, and often, what she has is very little. Her crazy outfits make her the butt of everyone’s jokes and the morning bus ride to school is made worse by the fact that no one wants to sit next to her.

However, none of this goes unnoticed by Park. Park observes Eleanor from afar, before offering up the seat next to him. Half-Korean and in a circle of his own, Park is not popular, but not unpopular either. He’s able to blend, mostly because he grew up with these kids. There is a degree of respect for him, so once Eleanor accepts the next to him, the atmosphere changes ever so slightly. Hesitant to talk at first, the two bond over comic books. When Park notices that she’s reading his comic books as they lay open in his lap, he begins to bring them just for her. What happens next is nothing short of magic. These two unlikely characters forge a friendship, which eventually becomes love. Through music and comic books, they come together and once Park gets close enough to know Eleanor’s true story, he does everything in his power to save her.

Sometimes, I think the success of a book comes down to how well an author captures a feeling. Reading this book was like living my high school years all over again and I mean that in a good way. Even with all of the teen angst, the high school years are the ones that stick with you. Am I right? Good, bad, ugly. It’s the stuff of memories and that is why I enjoyed this book so much. Rowell’s ability to strip the characters down to their most vulnerable state is what makes this book so readable and probably why the characters felt so real to me.

I loved Eleanor’s awkwardness but I think I loved Park’s pragmatic approach to life even more. And his parents? So awesome. Loving, supportive parents who aren’t perfect. Sure, there was a heavy dose of sap when it came to the romance itself, but that’s how it is when you are young. You can’t wait to see each other and you do nothing but obsess about it until you do. Rowell captures it all beautifully.

One bonus to reading this book is that it’s set in the 80′s and the musical references are like whipped cream added to a sundae. Delightful! I grew up in the 80′s so that entire decade is near and dear to my heart but this book has a little something for everyone. I highly recommend it.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Mr. Lynch’s Holiday

Mr. Lynch's Holiday

Mr. Lynch’s Holiday
By Catherine O’Flynn
(Henry Holt and Co., Hardcover, 9780805091816, October 2013, 272pp.)

The Short of It:

Things don’t always happen as planned. Sometimes, you need to be rescued.

The Rest of It:

After his wife’s death, Dermot Lynch leaves his home in England to visit his estranged son, Eamonn, who’s made a new life for himself in Spain. When Dermot arrives unannounced, what he finds is that Lomaverde is not the ideal neighborhood that Eamonn had described. Its dilapidated appearance, its empty pools and the feral cats are just a few of the tip-offs that things are not going well for Eamonn.

Also hard to ignore, is the fact that Eamonn’s wife Laura,  is nowhere to be found. Shortly before Dermot’s arrival, Laura left him and returned to England. This is not something he wants to discuss with his father, or anyone really, so he tells Dermot that she’s taken a trip. With his father standing before him, Eamonn is forced to play host, when all he wants to do is crawl into bed and sleep the day away.

This is one of those great, sleeper reads that you come across every now and then. The book came and went without any fanfare and that’s a shame, because it’s really very good. There is a closeness between Eamonn and his father, but it’s not one that is easily seen on the surface. Dermot, is basically a happy guy. He’s at peace with who he is and what he’s done whereas Eamonn is not satisfied with life. His decision to leave a good life, for a better life, blew up in his face and he’s not able to admit it. With the economy the way it is, he can’t sell, so he’s reminded daily of what a failure he is.

What Dermot does, is what any caring father would do. He picks Eamonn up, brushes him off and gets him on his feet, even if that means going to the crazy neighbor’s house for dinner or walking around the compound that has become his prison. It’s all too exhausting for Eamonn but at the same time, he seems to realize that something has to give and that he can’t go on living this way forever. Through these daily interactions, Eamonn begins to realize that perhaps, all is not lost.

Mr. Lynch’s Holiday is a quiet, feel-good book. It’s about appreciating what you have, when you have it and finding happiness in the simple things. It’s a lovely story that is both well-written and entertaining. I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to read her other books.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Library Thing.
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Big Brother

Big Brother

Big Brother
By Lionel Shriver
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780061458576, June 2013, 373pp.)

The Short of It:

While reading, I couldn’t help but think of an animal thrown upon the cutting board and flayed open for all to see. Raw, viscerally charged and unflinching in its delivery.

The Rest of It:

As the stepmother to two teens, Pandora walks a fine line between happiness and acceptance. Constantly aware that she is not their “real mother” she does what she can to maintain her dignity while asserting herself in a non-judgmental way. Difficult to do since her husband Fletcher, self-prescribed health-nut and maker of custom furniture is as uptight as they come. It helps that Pandora is quite successful. Her novelty doll business has taken off which gives her a sense of independence, even though Fletcher doesn’t really see the point to any of it. To him, the only thing of importance is treating your body like a temple. Constant exercise and a strict diet is the answer to whatever ails you. At least, it is in his eyes.

Enter Edison. Edison is Pandora’s brother. A jazz musician who’s been living with a friend for the past year. Pandora’s gotten word that Edison needs a place to stay before a big jazz tour so she offers up her place even though she knows it will drive Fletcher batty to have another body in the house. She’s been tipped off that things aren’t going all that well for Edison, but when she picks him up from the airport she realizes she’s grossly underestimated the situation at hand. Edison, once a sexy, virile guy weighs in at well over 380 lbs.

What happens next is unthinkable and I fought to accept it the entire time I was reading but Pandora in essence, chooses Edison over her marriage and embarks on a liquid diet to end all diets, makes a home for Edison and becomes his roommate and partner in weight loss.


You heard right and this is not a spoiler in any way, as it’s right on the inside flap of the book but it surprised me. Surprised me in a way that felt unrealistic. Yes, yes, there’s the whole blood is thicker than water thing but Pandora’s decision to leave her home not only affects her marriage, but the relationship she has with the kids. I found myself asking the obvious question. Could I ever do such a thing myself? Not sure. But to Pandora, the situation is a matter of life or death because in her eyes, Edison is clearly on a path to destruction. His eating is out of control in the way that a drug addict can’t live without his next hit. The addiction is front and center and a constant reminder of how fragile and precarious the situation is.

It’s frustrating to read about. The push/pull of addiction wears you down, and even as an outsider looking in, you find yourself exhausted. The effort taken to “fix” it is admirable, but at the same time, in the back of your mind you feel this sense of indescribable doom. But Pandora is not likable, nor is Edison or Fletcher which makes the dynamic that much more challenging. Who do you root for in a story like this? That is the question I asked myself up until the very last pages.

In the characteristic Shriver way, she delivers a one-two punch that forces you to consider other points of view. The writing is fluid but every word is carefully considered, or at least it seems so. She has a very deliberate way of writing which takes a little bit of getting used to but it’s a style I’ve come to appreciate over time. When I turned the last page, I sat there contemplating the lives of these characters  and wishing it had gone a different way, but that’s life and Shriver captures it beautifully along with all of its imperfections.

Big Brother is not a happy story. It won’t make you warm and fuzzy inside and I would be hard-pressed to call it a beach read (far from it!) but it’s a book to be read and appreciated for the questions that it raises.

Source: Sent to me by the publisher via Edelweiss
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.

Review: Benediction


By Kent Haruf
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307959881, Feb 2013, 272pp.)

The Short of It:

A large, yet quiet novel on life and death.

The Rest of It:

This is probably one of the hardest reviews I’ve ever written for this blog because this book was both huge (on many levels) but at the same time almost too quiet for me to even remark on.

The story takes place in the fictional town of Holt, Colorado. Dad Lewis is 77-years-old and has just been diagnosed with cancer. He hasn’t much time left, so his wife Mary is tasked with keeping him comfortable. On the surface, she handles this news the way any good wife would but when she faints from stress and ends up in the hospital for a few days, Dad Lewis is left to fend for himself. During this time, he is looked in on by the neighbor across the way and her young granddaughter. The girl, only 6-years-old is curious about him but also scared of someone as old at him. Especially someone who is dying. But Dad Lewis takes a liking to her. Perhaps it’s her wide-eyed innocence or that she reminds him of his own kids. Nevertheless, he welcomes her visits.

Once Mary is released from the hospital, their daughter Lorraine comes to help but the absence of the estranged son Frank, is felt by everyone, most notably Dad Lewis. Frank’s homosexuality proved to be too much for Dad Lewis to accept but as his days dwindle, Dad Lewis regrets his past actions, only to realize that it’s too late to do anything about them. His emotional pain is most evident during his quiet conversations with the young girl.

There are other players in this story but I was most interested in Dad Lewis and his immediate family. A man coming to terms with his own death is a pretty heavy topic. It’s both sad and enlightening, heartfelt but lonely. As a reader, it’s easy to get caught-up in the day-to-day aspects of pain management, the intake of food, etc. But in between the minutiae, is the fact that this man is spending his last hours appreciating what he has but also regretting what he lost. The loss of time is tragic and it leaves you with a heavy heart, to say the least.

I recommend this book to anyone who has ever questioned their past actions. It’s definitely a book that will make you think and the writing, is at times, breathtakingly beautiful.

Source: Borrowed
Disclosure: This post contains Indiebound affiliate links.


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