Forest Dark by Nicole Krauss

Title: Forest Dark
Author: Nicole Krauss
Genre: Fiction

Rating: 3 / 5

Goodreads

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.

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Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Goodreads

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.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Title: News of the World
Author: Paulette Jiles
Genre: Fiction / historical fiction

Rating: 4 / 5

Goodreads

Why I picked it up: I put it on my to-read list when I saw a Goodreads friend had rated it highly, and when it was time to read something new to Peter, I read out synopses of books and he picked this one.

What it’s about: A girl taken captive by Kiowa as a small child is then turned in by them; the Captain, an old veteran who makes his living by reading newspapers to packed halls in rural Texas, agrees to take her hundreds of miles south to be reunited with her family.

What I liked: The book is short and quiet. I liked that aspect of it, because especially in Westerns it often seems like the author wants to make sure that a lot of stuff happens. This book was more reflective and slow. Peter also like what he called the “anticlimactic structure” of the book and it having its focus be on children, women, Indians, and the elderly. He also liked the battle scene.

What I didn’t like: Peter didn’t like the “obscure references” that the author made to the time period that he felt was just her proving that the story was well-researched. I’m kind of hard pressed to come up with any single thing I “didn’t like,” but at the same time, I didn’t love the book.

Overall / recommended: Peter is a strong yes. I also would recommend this sweet story to most readers.

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle

Title: Universal Harvester
Author: John Darnielle
Genre: Fiction / mystery

Rating: 4 / 5

Goodreads

Why I picked it up: I had heard about it on Goodreads, I think, and put it on my to-read list. Then it showed up in the university library so I snagged it!

What it’s about: At a video rental store in rural Iowa, tapes start turning up with disturbing scenes on them…

What I liked: I knew the book was going to be a little creepy, and especially in first part, it’s really well done. I was like, oh no, am I going to have to read this only when it’s light outside or someone’s at home with me? But it wasn’t all that creepy, as it turns out, which is something else I liked. I liked the writing style and the stories we get of the characters. I thought it was interesting and it reminded me of “weird fiction” that I’ve read (and liked).

What I didn’t like: It’s been a couple months now since I finished this book and nothing is really ringing any bells as to what I didn’t like about it. It was short but there are several story lines; I thought it did them all justice but I could understand others feeling like it wasn’t “enough.”

Overall / recommended: Yes. I liked the book enough to probably read it again some day.