Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

Title: Shotgun Lovesongs
Author: Nickolas Butler
Genre: Fiction

Rating: 2-2.5 / 5


Why I picked it up: I was trying to find something to read to Peter. This was in my school library, I heard good things, so I texted him a picture of the jacket copy and he okayed it to try. We made it through like 10 pages of the first chapter before he wanted to throw the towel in. I didn’t really have anything else lined up for reading for myself so I just continued it.

What it’s about: A small town in Wisconsin. A bunch of dudes, and one chick. One of them (one of the dudes) is a cool famous singer. Other of the dudes are rich pricks, poor farmers, or recovering alcoholic(?) former rodeo stars who are treated like simpletons by their friends.

What I liked: I guess…the drama? That’s kind of what kept me going. Also, you can tell Butler loves Wisconsin, and it kind of made me miss the Midwest a bit, as well as my own dwindling and financially declining small hometown. Small towns are awesome. You kind of get a feel for that in this book, and it was a high point.

What I didn’t like: Kind of contrived and reminded me kind of chick lit. It seemed kind of high on sensationalism and certain specific events and kind of low on real character development and depth. That’s not always a bad thing and it can be fun and make for an enjoyable read. But I wasn’t really in the mood for it, I guess. I think I was just expecting something more.

Overall / recommended: This is a light read with some family/friend drama (it’s pretty good). It’s mainly focused on male friendship and is set in the “heartland” and feels pretty white American. It is good at what it does, and if those things sound appealing to you, you will probably really like it. I think I would have liked it better if I’d been in the mood for that.


My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward by Mark Lukach

Title: My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward
Author: Mark Lukach
Genre: Nonfiction / memoir

Rating: 2-2.5 / 5


Why I picked it up: A friend suggested it and let me borrow it. I’m a sucker for any book I can talk about with someone!

What it’s about: As you could probably guess from the title and the fact that it’s a memoir, this is a book about the author’s wife’s mental illness.

What I liked: I appreciate the author writing about his experience for a few reasons. One is that mental illness, and often bipolar in particular, is stigmatized, misunderstood, and considered scary or whatever. It’s also a little less unusual, in mental health literature, to get the family’s perspective rather than the person with the illness itself (or at least that’s my impression with my limited experience with the knowledge).

What I didn’t like: I think I would have enjoyed this more if Lukach had talked about how relatively lucky the couple’s wealth made them when dealing with this. Yeah, mental illness can affect you just as badly or worse regardless of a high income, but your income plays a huge role in how well you can handle the fall out and recover from it. It was kind of shocking to me how many financial resources were at their disposal and allowed them to come out of the ordeal just fine, which would probably not have been the case if they both couldn’t have taken years off work topped off by a four month international vacation. Also, relatedly, he got a ton of help from both their families, an enviable position as many with those who have had to suffer through this either alone or isolated within their nuclear (rather than with friends and extended) family.

Overall / recommended: It was an easy and quick enough read, so if you have an interest in the subject, you may find it worthwhile. For everyone else, it doesn’t stand out enough / isn’t well written enough / doesn’t contribute enough new insights to really recommend it.

Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss

Title: Forest Dark
Author: Nicole Krauss
Genre: Fiction

Rating: 3 / 5


Why I picked it up: I put it on my to-read list because I liked the cover and someone I follow had wanted to read it. I entered a Goodreads giveaway for it, and lo, it arrived in the mail. Bumped to the top of my reading list!

What it’s about: Jewishness. I think. Right? It’s kind of two separate stories. One follows Jules Epstein, patriarch who has been giving all his worldly possessions away lately before mysteriously disappearing in Israel (this is all covered right off the bat, not a spoiler!). The second story is…I think supposed to be kind of autobiographical or something, since it’s about a Jewish author named Nicole. She’s having a hard time writing a novel so she goes to Israel.

What I liked: I liked that the whole book kind of had a dreamlike quality to it. It kind of seems fantastical, almost like magical realism but not quite. You’re  not quite sure what is ever going on and if the characters are being put on by the people they meet or not, so it kind of lends this foggy uncertain air of possible unreality to it. Which, well, I dig it. I also really liked her writing. Despite the somewhat low-ish rating (though 3 is still “I liked it”), I would definitely give Krauss another shot because of the way she writes her sentences.

What I didn’t like:  The overall execution was, to me, meh. While there were definitely things I thought were interesting, I was often just like “huh.” And not “huh” in a way that’s like “huh…that is really something” but like “well…huh.” She tries to be all meta and maybe a little postmodern here, which is good if you can do it well, but I was, as I say, meh on that. It didn’t feel very cohesive to me, and she gave herself an out here by being meta about writing a novel, but to me it’s just… it’s gotta work. And it didn’t really work so well. And, a lot of the things she ruminates on in the novel, while well written, are just…I don’t want to say “unoriginal” but maybe, you know, been done better before. Only they’re stated in a way like it’s super profound. I don’t know. I feel like I’m being mean. I haven’t really thought about it much since I finished it.

Overall / recommended: I would maybe recommend this, depending on the reader. Like, it’s one of those books where I’d want to know “why do you read?” As I’ve said, I think the writing itself is strong. It’s the story and the characters where it falls apart for me. But, I would definitely give her another shot based on this book. I think it was creative and maybe ambitious and also maybe I didn’t totally understand what she was doing since I’m not Jewish/well versed in Jewish literature/history/cultural touchstones.

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

Title: Sharp Objects
Author: Gillian Flynn
Genre: Fiction / mystery / thriller

Rating: 3.5 / 5


Why I picked it up: Ever since I read Gone Girl some time ago, I wanted to read more of Flynn’s work. This book turned up in a free box on my street. Easy choice!

What it’s about: A newspaper reporter goes back to her hometown for the first time in years after a second girl child is horrifically killed.

What I liked: It kept me engaged. It was for the most part effectively creepy (although I think she could have cranked it up a little). It moved along at a good pace. It did keep me guessing even after I suspected some of the mystery aspect.

What I didn’t like: It definitely didn’t feel as polished as Gone Girl, but that’s totally understandable as it’s her first novel and not everything needs to be compared to Gone Girl amirite. The ending felt a little rushed or like it was wrapped up quickly with little exploration. Also this is probably due to its short length, but I felt like the psychological aspects could have been fleshed out a little more.

Overall / recommended: Sure, if you like thrillers and can stomach self harm. It’s not super gory/graphic or anything, but I can see it bothering some people. It’s short, moves right along, and is satisfying in its way.