BenML’s #CBR5 Review #9-10: World War Z by Max Brooks; While Mortals Sleep by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

I’ve been reading at fine pace, but reviewing quite leisurely. Here are two that I’ve had on the docket for awhile:

While Mortals Sleep, by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

World War Z, by Max Brooks

I stuck them both in 4 stars, but I’d lean closer to 3 for World War Z. They were both great reads, and I recommend them highly. Click above to read the full reviews.

BenML’s #CBR5 Review #08 The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike

Aside from the occasional short story, I hadn’t read much Updike before this. The Rabbit novels have been on my list for some time, but you know how that goes. I’ll get to them one of these days. I snagged a paperback copy of The Witches of Eastwick cheap at the used bookstore and decided to dive in.

What I liked most about the book is its oddball, imaginative plot. In Eastwick, a sleepy, seaside Rhode Island village, three close female friends, all divorced, spend their days in mostly mundane ways: gardening, walking the dog, gently neglecting their respective children. Thursday afternoons are reserved for drinking, snacking, and gossiping. Though Updike never truly details the extent of their witchy powers, it becomes evident that these three women are not quite normal (and later, it is revealed that any divorced Eastwick woman has similar powers). They mostly use their powers for silly things: conjuring a thunderstorm to clear an obnoxiously crowded beach, turning tennis balls into toads, or casting a spell on an annoying Eastwick woman so that whatever the witches toss into a ceramic jar falls out of her mouth (feathers, hatpins, dust bunnies, etc.).

Read more about this witchy tale over here.

BenML’s #CBR5 Review #07 The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht

It might be obvious by now that lately I’ve been partial to young writers. Karen Russell is a favorite, and Dave Eggers is an obsession (though he’s not that young anymore). I heard about this book a year ago, and put it off for awhile. I’m now kicking myself for that. The Tiger’s Wife is one of the best, most unique, breathtaking books I’ve read in a long time. Téa Obreht brings even more prestige to this seemingly overflowing talent pool of young fiction writers.

Check out the rest of this accidentally long review over here:

BenML’s #CBR5 Review #06 A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

I’ve read this book before. I will read this book again, probably many times. Writing an overly positive review without sounding too schmucky is hard, so I’ll keep this one pretty short. If you haven’t read Eggers before, I highly encourage you too. His style really sticks with you, be it fiction or non. His most recent book (A Hologram for the King) came out last summer and was on plenty 2012 top ten lists. This book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (AHWOSG), is still my favorite. And I admit, I’ve read pretty much everything he’s ever written. I’ve bought books based solely on the fact that he has written the forward. So, recognize my slight obsession, and on the one hand, take this glowing review with a grain of salt. On the other hand, READ THIS NOW.

Check out the rest here,, but be aware, I realllly like Eggers.

BenML’s #CBR5 Review #05, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell

Karen Russell likes kids. She likes them to be lost, hurried, confused, afraid. Have you read Swamplandia!? In that story, our heroine is Ava, proud member of the Bigtree clan, brave alligator wrestler and frightened little girl. Here, Russell offers ten stories that include similar themes. And like Swamplandia!, (a book I really, really loved), Russell deftly and somewhat subtly shimmies between the real world and fantasy. I think a mark of good fantasy is that when you read it, you don’t think “this some good fantasy! what a weird, wacky world we are visiting!” (or, alternately, “what the hell is going on?”). Instead, you think about the characters and the emotions that drive the story, accepting the constructed world appreciatively. Russell hits that nail on the head.

There are ten stories here, and I won’t go into all of them. The first, “Ava Wrestles the Alligator,” is what led to Swamplandia!, though it differs a bit. But we are again treated to a muddy world, filled with ghosts and lizards and a man wearing feathers. In the end, Ava has to wrestle a lot more than a silly alligator. The book’s title comes from the final story. Here we find young girls, pulled away from their werewolf parents (that affliction skips a generation) and put in reform school. They must learn to be bipedal, to stop urinating everywhere, to stop chewing. Can they truly adapt? You know what they say—home is where the heart is.  The second story is my favorite. Two brothers, mourning the loss of their little sister, find a pair of swimming goggles that allow them to see all the ghosts under the sea. It’s heart-wrenching and magical, full of glorious images.

Curious for more? Check it out:

BenML’s #CBR5 Review #4 number9dream by David Mitchell

I’ll preface this by saying I read Cloud Atlas last fall, avoided the movie, and am pretty enamored with David Mitchell. I’m already fiending to read more of his work. Cloud Atlas unreels its nested narratives artfully, and Mitchell’s transitions between very diverse voices is unbelievable to witness. number9dream offers much of the same literary craftiness.

Unlike Cloud Atlas, this story has one central narrative told through the eyes of our hero, Eiji Miyake. He has come to Tokyo from his rural island home to find his father, whom he has never met. The book is divided into 9 parts, which unspool chronologically. We follow Eiji from his early days in Tokyo, broke and distracted, living above a video rental store, to his two odd jobs in a city he can’t quite understand, and onward into frightening adventures and travels back to his birthplace. Each section has a sort of sub-plot (if you can call it that) that arises from something Eiji reads or interacts with in the chapter (e.g. an author’s fantasy manuscript, his great uncle’s journal from WWII). These intertwine with the immediate events and lend a fantastic element to what could have a been a very straightforward story. The story benefits hugely from these apt side stories.

Check out the rest at my site:

BenML’s #CBR5 Review #3 A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Ignatius J. Reilly is a madman. His hat is green, his stomach is bulging, and his mustache is black and often crumb-filled. He makes me laugh really, really hard. A Confederacy of Dunces is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read. So funny in fact, that, while I was always eager to read it, I usually had to put it down after a while because of abdominal exhaustion.

Check out the full review over at my bloggo,

BenML’s #CBR5 Review #02—Americana by Don DeLillo

Most books fit into some basic genres (mystery, historical fiction, self-help (privileged white women eating Indian food and claiming inner peace), etc.). Americana was a tough one for me to classify. Most simply, I could stick it into two genres. The first half is a Henry Miller-esque rant against corporate America and the second half is, somehow, a road trip story evoking Kerouac. I won’t claim that really makes sense, but bear with me and listen up: this book is worth a read.

Read the rest over at my site,

BenML’s #CBR5 Review #01: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Image Pick up this book—it weighs little. At under 200 pages, I suppose novella would be an apt description, but crammed into its pages are endless glowing descriptions, painful moments, and tidbits of perfect clarity. The Sense of an Ending is riveting, cleverly meandering, and pretty damn good.

Told by a terribly unreliable narrator, Tony (or Anthony as his refined new friend Adrian calls him), from the later stages of his life, the story traces Tony’s days at secondary school to his golden years. He and his two best friends are a tight group, but a new student, Adrian, arrives and seamlessly melds into their crew. This group of four, prone to wearing their watches on the insides of their wrists and scoffing “That’s philosophically self-evident” in a half self-mocking, half desperate manner, finish their school year and head of in various directions. Three to university, one to his father’s business.

As time flows by and they drift apart, their lives carry on in mostly unremarkable ways. We stay with Tony through this section, only meeting up with the others during holiday reunions on breaks from school and within optimistically exchanged letters. Why Tony is telling this story becomes evident later. An emotionally devastating event, which Barnes carefully and tactfully leads the reader toward, shocks Tony and his friends and is the axis around which the story spins. This event and those deeply involved in it cause Tony to painfully reminisce and find something with which to anchor his current reality. His memory and observations serve him poorly, compelling him to dredge up past lovers and others.

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