“Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn

“This is the hardest part,” confides one of the untrustworthy narrators in Gone Girl, the latest novel to disappointment me in a string of summer blahs this summer, “is waiting for stupid people to figure things out.” There’s no need to rub it in, because Gillian Flynn’s latest novel of psychological suspense will confound anyone trying to keep up with her and her diabolical rules of play. That would be a great trait of the thriller- if I cared.  The problem was I could not care less. The longer I read the harder it was for me too keep blundering through the chapters and feign off resistance to picking up something else- as I would gaze longingly at my bedside table at “Beautiful Ruins” by Jess Walter.  (I am reading it now. It’s marvelous.)  

Not that there’s anything underhanded about her intentions: she promises to deliver an account of the troubled marriage of Nick and Amy Dunne, who alternate as narrators, and so she does.  But it’s not a novel about marriage, like many critics say, it is about two people with sociopath tendencies that make each miserable- including the reader, little old me.

It begins with Nick’s description of his morning on the day of his fifth wedding anniversary. Nick and Amy were once bon vivant magazine writers in New York, but the print media implosion put an end to their posh Manhattan life, and for a variety of reasons (“Blame the economy, blame bad luck, blame my parents, blame your parents, blame the Internet, blame people who use the Internet”) they end up in Carthage, Missouri with Nick running a dive bar (using the remainder of Amy’s recently obliterated trust fund) with his sister Margo. Later that day, Amy disappears from their house, leaving behind signs of a bloody struggle. Oh my!  The police, and eventually the TV viewers around the country, come to suspect Nick as his wife’s murderer.

The second chapter is from Amy’s diary, seven years before her disappearance, in which she giddily describes meeting the handsome and funny Nick at a party in Brooklyn. And so the chapters go, alternating between Nick’s account of his life after Amy’s disappearance, and Amy’s diaries entries leading up to the “event”.  This is a suspense novel and things aren’t necessarily what they seem (or are they?) and there are major twists and surprises along the way. Blah. Blah. Blah.

Even as a straight-ahead thriller, Gillian Flynn’s novel succeeds with a tight plot that’s easy to follow but far from rich. However, I will concede to enjoying Flynn’s dark sense of humor and cultural observations.  I especially enjoyed and related too Amy’s rant about “cool girls.” Here’s an excerpt:

“Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer, loves threesomes and anal sex, and jams hot dogs and hamburgers into her mouth like she’s hosting the world’s biggest culinary gang bang while somehow maintaining a size 2, because Cool Girls are above all hot. Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl. Men actually think this girl exists. Maybe they’re fooled because so many women are willing to pretend to be this girl. For a long time Cool Girl offended me. I used to see men — friends, coworkers, strangers — giddy over these awful pretender women, and I’d want to sit these men down and calmly say: You are not dating a woman, you are dating a woman who has watched too many movies written by socially awkward men who’d like to believe that this kind of woman exists and might kiss them”.

 However, as messed up as Flynn’s characters are, they are still not believable, or unpredictable (even to themselves) or complex, and that doesn’t keep things interesting. They feel like freakish caricatures.  Unlike Tony Soprano (a thug murderer), or Mad Men’s Don Draper (a manipulative jerk) who still reveal a shred of humanity often enough so that you can relate to them, Amy and Nick float on the surface and even in their darkest moments they’re still too shallow.  Hey I like dark, I like reading unlikable characters, the problem is- you have to like to unlike them. Does anyone know what I mean?  Yes, we all have some element of a dark side in us and relating your darkest bits to macabre characters can be extremely illuminating to oneself- but this is not the case in Flynn’s Gone Girl.  Why am I using T.V. characters as an analogy? The novel reads like some teleplay from a bad Lifetime movie.  Oooo ouch.  FYI: Reese Witherspoon just bought the movie rights!

As much I enjoyed being inside a psychopath’s head (sorry no spoiler’s here) I am still befuddled by its popularity.  Instead I recommend reading Adam Ross’s Mr. Peanut– a true thriller about a dysfunctional marriage, that makes the reader squirm, unlike Flynn’s where it is just the characters squirming) because the darkness he presents is possible in all of us and frighteningly relatable.

I am willing, however, to pull my reviewer lens back and pontificate on this book’s vision of romantic love briefly. In most romance novels, intimacy is the treasured goal. No matter what the era, men and women find their bliss when they know and are known for who they truly are. But, in the “real” world, intimacy is more fraught. As lovers grow closer, they become less the people they want to seem and more the people they actually are. Sometimes this is marvelous. Sometimes it creates utter ruination. Many times, it’s just hard and couples get through it. We are a flexible species–always adapting to meet our needs–and we recalibrate our views and expectations of that someone we’ve chosen to love. In Gone Girl, Amy’s and Nick’s ultimate goal is to show the reader the real person the other is.  I wish that were the case here, but unfortunately I believe you’ve all been tricked- it doesn’t come close to revealing a darn thing.  But then again who am I? I despised The Paris Wife and I put Fifty Shades of Grey in the store bathroom.


Stephen King’s 11/22/63

If you were ever a reader of Stephen King novels, you’ll probably remember his earlier works as being quite different from writings that came later in his career. I loved his early novels, but stopped reading him a while back—sometime after It I think. He just got weird. There was no more of the psychological thriller stuff that made the hair on the back of your neck stand up, no more of the “who IS this guy” kind of characters. Things started coming out of sinks and clowns were doing despicable things and it just got too weird and creepy and bloody. So I stopped reading his books.

Then in 2009, Under the Dome was published and I started hearing talk that this book was more like his earlier works, more like The Stand and The Shining. People who, like me, had given up on King were reading him again and liking what they were reading. I didn’t read it…I wasn’t convinced enough to plow through 1,074 pages just to discover it was more weird stuff.

Fast forward two years to 2011 and along came King’s latest novel, 11/22/63.  Like Under the Dome this book was getting very positive reviews. As soon as I saw the book and read the premise behind the story, I wanted to read it. But at 842 pages I put it on my to-read list and looked longingly at it from time to time, thinking “When will I ever find time to read THIS?” Fast forward another year to spring of 2012, when my neighborhood book club chose 11/22/63 to be our September selection. I had found my opening! Thank you book club! It was a great read and I was through it in no time-I didn’t want to put it down. 
The story centers around time travel which is a difficult concept to wrap my head around. This time travel is even stranger to comprehend because when the protagonist, Jake Epping, steps through a time portal into 1958, he always steps into the same place and it’s always exactly the same time. And no matter how long he stays in the past, when he returns to the present, only 2 minutes have gone by. Lastly, each time Jake returns to 1958, the past has reset itself!
Of course the reason for his trip back in time is the real story. Jake is going back to prevent the assassination of President John F. Kennedy on 11/22/63. It’s also a wonderful tale showing how life can change in a split second….how one short moment in time, one small change, can alter a whole lifetime.

Jake returns to 1958 in Derry, Maine and begins his life there as George Amberson. Before beginning the long involved journey that will eventually lead him to Dallas, George decides to prevent the murder of an entire family he had learned about from one of his GED students in 2010. He only manages to accomplish part of his task and begins to discover that the obdurate past is going to resist change in very dramatic ways. George must make a hasty retreat “back to the future”. When he once again steps through the portal into 1958, he begins to notice very slight differences—and the reader begins to wonder what affect George’s changes to history will have.

Because time resets itself when he returns to 2010, George can go back and this time successfully complete the job he set out to do in Derry. He is now able to begin his preparation for stopping the event on 11/22/63 that he knows will change the world. His planning involves following the activities and life of Lee Harvey Oswald, his family, and his acquaintances. Paramount to his plan is making sure that Oswald acted alone that day. So a lot of actual history is revisited in this novel.

George insinuates himself into life in a small suburb of Dallas. He begins to really become a part of the community and the time and therein lies a mess of really big problems. 

Without spoiling things and revealing how the story ends, I will say that King’s vision of time travel does take into account the fact that changing something in one reality will certainly bring change to another reality. The changes may or may not be for the better.

So readers, if you were a Stephen King fan go back and give him another chance. If you’ve never read his work, this is a good one to start with. King actually started this book back in the 70’s so you’ll be treated to a thriller very similar in style to those early works—the ones that made the hair on our neck stand up. And I promise….it doesn’t feel like 842 pages!! 


Happy Labor Day – Rebroadcast of Interview with Adam Johnson

Today at 5:00pm on WCHE 1520am Sam will interview Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master’s Son.

An epic novel and a thrilling literary discovery, The Orphan Master’s Son follows a young man’s journey through the icy waters, dark tunnels, and eerie spy chambers of the world’s most mysterious dictatorship, North Korea.

Pak Jun Do is the haunted son of a lost mother—a singer “stolen” to Pyongyang—and an influential father who runs Long Tomorrows, a work camp for orphans. There the boy is given his first taste of power, picking which orphans eat first and which will be lent out for manual labor. Recognized for his loyalty and keen instincts, Jun Do comes to the attention of superiors in the state, rises in the ranks, and starts on a road from which there will be no return.

Part breathless thriller, part story of innocence lost, part story of romantic love, The Orphan Master’s Son is also a riveting portrait of a world heretofore hidden from view: a North Korea rife with hunger, corruption, and casual cruelty but also camaraderie, stolen moments of beauty, and love. A towering literary achievement, The Orphan Master’s Son ushers Adam Johnson into the small group of today’s greatest writers.

Adam Johnson teaches creative writing at Stanford University. His fiction has appeared in Esquire, The Paris Review, Harper’s, Tin House, Granta, and Playboy, as well as The Best American Short Stories. His other works include Emporium, a short-story collection, and the novel Parasites Like Us. He lives in San Francisco.

Listen to Sam’s interview with Alexis on Podomatic or you can download the podcast on iTunes.

Interview with Charles Yu author of “Sorry Please Thank You Stories”

Today at 5:00pm on WCHE 1520am, Sam interviews Charles Yu author of Sorry Please Thank You Stories.

The author of the widely praised debut novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe returns with a hilarious, heartbreaking, and utterly original collection of short stories.

A big-box store employee is confronted by a zombie during the graveyard shift, a problem that pales in comparison to his inability to ask a coworker out on a date … A fighter leads his band of virtual warriors, thieves, and wizards across a deadly computer-generated landscape … A company outsources grief for profit, their tagline: “Don’t feel like having a bad day? Let someone else have it for you.” Drawing from both pop culture and science, Charles Yu is a brilliant observer of contemporary society, filling his stories with equal parts laugh-out-loud humor and piercing insight into the human condition. He has already garnered comparisons to such masters as Kurt Vonnegut and Douglas Adams, and in Sorry Please Thank You, we have resounding proof of a major new voice in American fiction.

Charles Yu is  is the author of the novel How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe and the short story collections Third Class Superhero and his latest Sorry Please Thank You.

How to Live Safely was ranked the year’s second best science fiction novel by the Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas — runner up for the Campbell Memorial Award.

His fiction has been published in a number of magazines and literary journals, including Oxford American, The Gettysburg Review, Harvard Review, Mid-American Review, Mississippi Review, and Alaska Quarterly Review, and cited for special mention in the Pushcart Prize Anthology XXVIII. He received the 2004 Sherwood Anderson Fiction Award for his story, “Class Three Superhero.

If you miss an interview you can always catch it at Wellington Square Books or on the Avid Reader at iTunes.

“G is for Googol: A Math Alphabet Book” by David M. Schwartz

The quote on the dust jacket of this book describes it perfectly:  “This isn’t your everyday, ho-hum math book”.  G is for Googol is a fabulous little gem of a children’s book.  A children’s book?  Could be…but it may also intrigue adults.  It intrigues me every time I pick it up- and every time I pass it in the Bookshop, I must pick it up. 

David Schwartz has written over 50 children’s books that bring math and science alive.  G is for Googol is no exception.  Except that…I’m still not sure it is a children’s book.  It looks like a children’s book.  It has a lot of cute, colorful pictures.   At a mere 54 pages, it certainly could pass for a children’s book, but how many children’s books include terms like Fibonacci, googolplex and tessellate?  As far as I know, just this one.

This book would be a perfect pick for a middle schooler who likes math.  It could just as easily interest the parent of said middle schooler, who finds learning much more interesting now that it is no longer forced.  It might even find its way into the hands of the older brother of the middle schooler and possibly the precocious little sister of the same kid.  As a fun, light book that takes on some heavy concepts, this book has wide appeal.  It’s the kind of book I like just having around. 

It’s impossible to pick a favorite entry, but a choice one is definitely “W”, which asks “When are we ever gonna use this stuff, anyway?”  I wonder how many parents of Algebra students have had to come up with an answer to that one?  The author lends a capable hand in answering.

Lest you think a book with only 26 components is too short, completing the book is a glossary covering many more terms, some familiar and some downright perplexing. (Triskaidekaphobia anyone?) 

The next time you wander into the bookshop, check out G is for Googol in the Summer reading room.  There’s a high probability you’ll like it.


What’s Cooking? – Moosewood Style

I just returned from the Fingerlakes of New York where I was delighted to be able to eat at one of my favorite places, The Moosewood Restaurant.  The Mooswood is located in Ithica and they have made a name for themselves in this college town by being a place to go if you want locally sourced, mostly vegetarian meals.  The lunch and dinner menu are different every day of the year and always filled with interesting and delicious options.

The Moosewood has also made a name for themselves around the world with their cookbook collection comprising over 12 cookbooks.  They have won a number of James Beard book awards.  I can personally speak for 8 of their books because I have them in my collection at home and cook from them frequently.

While the cookbooks are mostly vegetarian they do offer chapters on fish and seafood recipes.  If you are a new vegetarian or a carnivore wanting to make a veggie meal and wondering how to put a complete meal together, all of the recipes in the cookbooks give you menu suggestions.  If you are wanting to make the Greek Scampi (one of my all time favorites from theMoosewood Restaurant Cooks At Homecookbook) they suggest serving the scampi over rice, couscous or orzo with a side of steamed broccoli or asparagus.  They take all of the work out of planning complete meals!

If you are looking for a great cookbook to introduce you to vegetarian (or pesce-tarian) cooking or expand your current repertoire then stop by the Bookshop and pick up a Moosewoodcookbook.

“V for Vendetta” by Alan Moore

V for Vendetta has been a favorite movie of mine ever since it came out. I had to watch the movie three times before I actually understand it, but once I did, it blew my mind. It was so crazy insane that, as a viewer, I could grow to love a terrorist, hidden behind a mask, just based solely on his thoughts and ideas. I eventually found out it was a comic book and I swore I’d eventually read it. It arrived at the bookshop a couple weeks ago for the Downingtown summer reading list (thanks guys!) so I had no excuses now; I had to read it.

“Remember, remember the fifth of November, the gunpowder, treason and plot, I see of no reason why gunpowder treason should ever be forgot.” The story opens up on the fifth of November of 1997 when Evey Hammond (one of the main characters) gets rescued by our terrorist, V, from fingermen (a gang of secret police officers) who intended to kill her. V is cloaked head to toe and wearing a Guy Fawkes mask (FYI…Guy Fawkes was the man who attempted to blow up parliament in 1605) V manages to successfully blow up parliament that night sending a very strong message to the corrupt government of the United Kingdom.

During the chaos of the aftermath of the bombing, V goes on to kill three more people, Lewis Prothero, (the voice of fate- basically a propaganda broadcaster) Bishop Anthony Lilliman, (a pedophile priest) and Delia Surridge (the medical examiner). What the head director slowly starts to figure out is that these three people were all employed at the same death camp during the war. The camp was burned to the ground by the patient in room number five or V.

A few months later, V breaks into the main broadcasting center and delivers a speech to the citizens of London. He tells them to take charge of their own lives, and the government should fear the people and not the other way around.

I can’t write much more about the plot without giving it away, but the book is great. I really enjoyed reading it, but I feel like I still don’t really get it. I may sound like an idiot and I’m sorry, but its almost as if something is missing in the story in my head; like that “wow” moment. I’m hoping if I read it a couple more times I’ll understand it a little better. Besides that, it was a great book. The comics looked exactly how I imagined they would and the dialogue was perfect with different accents for different characters. I highly recommend this book so read it and let me know what you think!


Interview with Karen Thompson Walker, author of “The Age of Miracles”

Today at 5:00pm on WCHE 1520am, Sam interviews Karen Thompson Walker, author of “The Age of Miracles”.

On a seemingly ordinary Saturday in a California suburb, Julia and her family awake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow. The days and nights grow longer and longer, gravity is affected, the environment is thrown into disarray. Yet as she struggles to navigate an ever-shifting landscape, Julia is also coping with the normal disasters of everyday life—the fissures in her parents’ marriage, the loss of old friends, the hopeful anguish of first love, the bizarre behavior of her grandfather who, convinced of a government conspiracy, spends his days obsessively cataloging his possessions. As Julia adjusts to the new normal, the slowing inexorably continues.

“[A] gripping debut … . A triumph of vision, language, and terrifying momentum, the story also feels eerily plausible, as if the problems we’ve been worrying about all along pale in comparison to what might actually bring our end.”
Publishers Weekly

“Beautiful and frightening … Karen Thompson Walker takes a fantastic premise and makes it feel thrillingly real.”
—Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia!

Karen Thompson Walker was born and raised in San Diego, California, where The Age of Miracles is set. She studied English and creative writing at UCLA, where she wrote for the UCLA Daily Bruin. After college, she worked as a newspaper reporter in the San Diego area before moving to New York City to attend the Columbia University MFA program.

A former book editor at Simon & Schuster, she wrote The Age of Miracles in the mornings before work—sometimes while riding the subway.

She is the recipient of the 2011 Sirenland Fellowship as well as a Bomb Magazine fiction prize. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

If you miss an interview you can always catch it at Wellington Square Books or on the Avid Reader at iTunes.

Kids Corner – “Lion Library” by Michelle Knudsen and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes

In this New York Times bestseller Miss Merriweather, the head librarian, is very particular about rules in the library. No running allowed. And you must be quiet. But when a lion comes to the library one day, no one is sure what to do. There aren’t any rules about lions in the library. And, as it turns out, this lion seems very well suited to library visiting. His big feet are quiet on the library floor. He makes a comfy backrest for the children at story hour. And he never roars in the library, at least not anymore. But when something terrible happens, the lion quickly comes to the rescue in the only way he knows how.

This is a heartwarming story about being nice, following the rules and helping others.  It also teaches kids about why it is okay to break the rules, sometimes.  With beautiful illustrations this book is sure to be a favorite among kids.  Who wouldn’t want to go to the library and curl up with a good book and a lion? 

This Week in the Bookshop – The First Edition Club

Did you know that we have a number of first and limited edition club books?  Once a month the members of the First Editions Book Club receive a signed first edition of a new work of fiction by an emerging author who shows exceptional talent and promise.  June’s signed first edition is Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins.

Sam recently interviewed Jess Walter for his weekly radio broadcast, The Avid Reader.  You can listen to the podcast of his interview on iTunes.

Here is what Sam has to say about the book:

Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter, is literally one of those few books that you can’t put down.  It is April of 1962.  The catastrophic set of “Cleopatra” sets the opening of this novel.  A dying American actress, an extra in the film, arrives in a town so small that it exists primarily as a rumor.  Dee Moray, one of the book’s numerous protagonists, a beautiful blond, enters Porto Vergona and immediately smites young Pasquale Tursi, the  proprietor of the adequately named “Hotel Adequate View”.  A shared moment between the two creates the link that unites them and the book itself, together for a lifetime.  Reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera”, the book’s magical narrative leads us deeper and deeper into the realization that the moments of our life, combine, or stand alone, to shape our very existence, our personalities and our fates.
Suffice it to say that this book enthralled me, and will you.  Listen to my interview with Jess Walter and hear him explain the nuances of his work and the muse that led him to write this, which, along with A Visit From the Goon Squad are my picks as the two best books of the year.