Review: Leading Men

Leading Men by Christopher Castellani

Genre: Historical Fiction
Maturity Level: 5-
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Rating: ⋆⋆

In July of 1953, at a glittering party thrown by Truman Capote in Portofino, Italy, Tennessee Williams and his longtime lover Frank Merlo meet Anja Blomgren, a mysteriously taciturn young Swedish beauty and aspiring actress. Their encounter will go on to alter all of their lives.

Ten years later, Frank revisits the tempestuous events of that fateful summer from his deathbed in Manhattan, where he waits anxiously for Tennessee to visit him one final time. Anja, now legendary film icon Anja Bloom, lives as a recluse in the present-day U.S., until a young man connected to the events of 1953 lures her reluctantly back into the spotlight after he discovers she possesses the only surviving copy of Williams’s final play.


This is a classic example of why “literary fiction” isn’t for me. Can we not have a book that isn’t mostly about how we’re all going to die someday, and in the meantime it’s inevitable that we’re miserable? Where is the hope? In all fairness, this book ends on a hopeful note, but the first 420 pages were decidedly philosophically bleak.

If you’re super into the great writers of the mid-20th century (Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and so on), this book will certainly appeal to you. If you are fascinated by LGBT history, this book is probably also for you. If you enjoy novels in which the characters spend more time thinking and reflecting than they do talking, this is DEFINITELY a book you will enjoy. If none of those things are particularly interesting to you, you’ll likely be as bored as I was.

Which I realize sounds like I’m not interested in LGBT history. Let me clarify that that was the one thing I did enjoy.

A big problem for me was that the characters are all unsympathetic. Tennessee is a narcissist, Frank is infuriating, and Anja is cold. I realize that was done on purpose, but for me it was kind of a lot. In particular it really bothered me how Tennessee and Frank would use their fame and charm to sexually take advantage of young boys. Again, I think it’s rather supposed to bother you, and good literature makes you uncomfortable, but there wasn’t really enough to redeem them.

As a love story I also found Frank and Tennessee lacking. They certainly aren’t presented as the ideal relationship. I guess what really bothered me about them was how they cared for each other, but refused to admit it to one another. They were also both really selfish, and thought often of themselves before their partner.

This book was certainly masterfully crafted. Frank and Tennessee leaped off the page as if Castellani personally knew them, and I was 100% convinced that Anja was a real person. The prose are lovely, this philosophizing is intense, and the descriptions are vivid. The time period and setting are captured picture perfectly. There is a nice balance between events that serve to develop characters and events that serve to drive the story forward. Even the multiple POVs and time periods are handled expertly. It was easy to tell who was talking and when.

But as outstanding as this novel was, I personally didn’t connect with it or enjoy it. I appreciated the brilliant writing, the insights in to these real men, and the LGBT history lesson, but I felt like I finished this book out of obligation rather than enjoyment.

Calendar Girls August: Best Book You’ve Read This Year

Well, today I go back to work. Summer is officially over. *cries* On the bright side, today is also my favorite day of the month, Calendar Girls! *cheers* This month we are celebrating Book Lovers Day by sharing our favorite book we’ve read so far this year.

Rather than doing what many of my fellow Calendar Girls participants do and give a list of runners up, I’m going to link to my Top 10 of the year page. I keep a running tally of my favorite books of the year, and boy has it been a good year so far! So if you’re interested, that’s there. Now, my favorite book of the year is…

Continue reading “Calendar Girls August: Best Book You’ve Read This Year”

Review: Convenience Store Woman

Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori
Genre: Fiction, Novella
Maturity Level: 4
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆

Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. For her part, in the convenience store she finds a predictable world mandated by the store manual, which dictates how the workers should act and what they should say, and she copies her coworkers’ style of dress and speech patterns so she can play the part of a normal person. However, eighteen years later, at age 36, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends. She feels comfortable in her life but is aware that she is not living up to society’s expectations and causing her family to worry about her. When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, he will upset Keiko’s contented stasis—but will it be for the better?


I feel as though I should start this review by saying that I know very little about contemporary Japanese culture, and next to nothing about Japanese literature. There is a very good chance that I did not fully understand this book, so I don’t feel I am qualified to write a real “review” or to make a recommendation. I’m just going to reflect on my personal reading experience. Okay then.

Continue reading “Review: Convenience Store Woman”

Maybe I Should be Reading with Cliff’s Notes…

So there I am, reading a classic like Bless Me, Ultima or something. And I’m reading it, and it’s gorgeous, and I can tell that it’s amazing, and I can tell that the author is trying to tell me SOMETHING, but I just. can’t. figure. it out.

I can’t be the only person this happens to, right?

I don’t know what it is about 20th century literature, but I always feel like I’m missing something. I know enough about literature to be able to tell that something is going on, but not enough to tell what it is. Maybe it’s that the literary elements they teach us in school like metaphor and symbolism are more relevant to Romantic literature than Modern and Postmodern. Maybe it’s just that I don’t really know all that much about literature, and I can’t figure it out without a teacher holding my hand.

I really want to like these books. I feel like I almost like them. I just don’t understand them well enough.

Continue reading “Maybe I Should be Reading with Cliff’s Notes…”

Review: Whiskey When We’re Dry

Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison

Genres: Western, Historical Fiction
Maturity Level: 4
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆


In the spring of 1885, seventeen-year-old Jessilyn Harney finds herself orphaned and alone on her family’s homestead. Desperate to fend off starvation and predatory neighbors, she cuts off her hair, binds her chest, saddles her beloved mare, and sets off across the mountains to find her outlaw brother Noah and bring him home. A talented sharpshooter herself, Jess’s quest lands her in the employ of the territory’s violent, capricious Governor, whose militia is also hunting Noah–dead or alive. 

Wrestling with her brother’s outlaw identity, and haunted by questions about her own, Jess must outmaneuver those who underestimate her, ultimately rising to become a hero in her own right.


Let me start off by saying that this was my first western, so this is by no means an especially knowledgeable or well-informed opinion.

I suppose it makes sense to start first with authenticity. Again, bearing in mind that my only context for this novel is Bugs Bunny cartoons, Whiskey When We’re Dry felt to me as authentic as they come. I felt like I was reading some classic like Lonesome Dove, or like I was living in the unsettled California frontier. The dialogue, the scenery, the whiskey, it all rang so true and clear. The Wild West didn’t feel Holleywood-ized, but as bleak and barren and desperate as it must actually have been.

Continue reading “Review: Whiskey When We’re Dry”

Review: An American Marraige

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Genre: Fiction
Maturity Level: 5
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆


Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of both the American Dream and the New South. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. But as they settle into the routine of their life together, they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. In this deft exploration of love, loyalty, race, justice, and both Black masculinity and Black womanhood in 21st century America, Jones achieves that most-elusive of all literary goals: the Great American Novel. 


Wow. What a beautiful book. The writing was so lush, and lovely, and lyrical. I was expecting this to be a powerful book, but I was completely taken by surprise by how incredible the writing was.

Continue reading “Review: An American Marraige”

Review: The Wizard of Earthsea

The Wizard of Earthsea by Urula Le Guin

16029682Series: Earthsea Cycle
Genre: Fantasy
Maturity Level: 1
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆


Ged, the greatest sorcerer in all Earthsea, was called Sparrowhawk in his reckless youth. 

Hungry for power and knowledge, Sparrowhawk tampered with long-held secrets and loosed a terrible shadow upon the world. This is the tale of his testing, how he mastered the mighty words of power, tamed an ancient dragon, and crossed death’s threshold to restore the balance.


The Wizard of Earthsea is a beautiful book that just isn’t for me. Continue reading “Review: The Wizard of Earthsea”

Review: The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

41zqDXuSQEL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_Genre: Fiction
Maturity Level: 5
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Rating: ⋆⋆⋆⋆


It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.

As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.


5-stars for quality. 3-stars for personal enjoyment.

The Goldfinch is everything that people either love or hate about literary fiction. Gorgeous prose. Absolutely stunning. But so much of it. And the details! So many people compare The Goldfinch to Great Expectations (a comparison I think it’s safe to say Tartt was going for…), but it reminded me more of Moby Dick. If Melville had been writing about art and antique furniture rather than whaling… It was philosophical and gritty and stream-of-consciousness and everything that epitomizes 21st century literary fiction.

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Review: Ninefox Gambit

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

26118426Series: The Machineries of Empire
Genre: Science Fiction
Maturity Level: 5
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Rating: ⋆⋆


Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics. Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics. Cheris’s career isn’t the only thing at stake. If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.

Cheris’s best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress.

The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own. As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao–because she might be his next victim.


Reading Ninefox Gambit was like watching a bunch of people I don’t know play a strategy board game I’m unfamiliar with in a language I don’t speak. Continue reading “Review: Ninefox Gambit”

Review: American Gods

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

30165203Genre: Fantasy
Maturity Level: 5
View on Goodreads
Rating: ⋆⋆⋆


Days before his release from prison, Shadow’s wife, Laura, dies in a mysterious car crash. Numbly, he makes his way back home. On the plane, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a refugee from a distant war, a former god and the king of America.

Together they embark on a profoundly strange journey across the heart of the USA, whilst all around them a storm of preternatural and epic proportions threatens to break.


I am really struggling to come up with a rating for this book because I’m not really sure whether I liked it or not. Maybe the process of writing this review will help me figure it out. Continue reading “Review: American Gods”