Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Every now and then I pick up a book just because of how it feels in my hands. Stephen Chbosky’s book is oddly shaped and a slender 213 pages. The cover is a bright, limey green and it fit so nicely in my hand I couldn’t think of returning it to the shelf. I know this makes me superficial, but the back promised it was “unique, hilarious and devastating” in the tradition of The Catcher in the Rye or A Separate Peace. How could I not read it?

The Perks of Being a Wallflower is written as a series of letters by a fifteen year-old boy named Charlie. They’re conversational, intimate letters, though the person receiving them does not know Charlie. He begins each letter “Dear friend” and closes with “Love always.” It would be easy to dismiss his style as simplistic, but he’s so earnest and honest I found his voice endearing. His writing is not forced, but it may take a few pages before you get into the flow of it. The plot meanders as Charlie narrates his freshman year of high school, but it gets huge points for not building up to an overhyped prom and prom-related activities for its conclusion. read more

Review: Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Swamplandia! is an enviable attempt at a first novel. The New York Times Book Review proclaims: “Vividly worded, exuberant in characterization, the novel is a wild ride…This family, wrestling with their desires and demons…will lodge in the memories of anyone lucky enough to read Swamplandia!” True.¬† The writing is vivid, the characterizations are exuberant, and it is memorable; but the last quarter is so terrible, that I can’t recommend the book as a whole. read more

Review: Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande

This book is fantastic. I find myself working harder than I should to convince others to read it. The full title is “Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science;” it seems people are wary of reading medical non-fiction for the potential gross-out factor, the fear of learning that doctors aren’t perfect, and the suspicion that it will be technical and boring. I’ll address these, but the main thrust of this review is to say Atul Gawande has written an engaging work with striking sincerity and compassion. He contrasts stories of failed attempts with wondrous success cases, tackles the difficult subject of how a good doctor can become dangerous, and speaks for patient education. It is presented as a series of essays that can be picked up for a quick read, but will likely¬†pull you from one to the next. read more

Review: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind

Perfume is heavy in detail and light in terms of plot points, so here, to minimize spoilers, is the description from the dust jacket:

“In the slums of 18th-century Paris a baby is born. Jean-Baptiste Grenouille clings to life with an iron will, growing into a dark and sinister young man who, although he has no scent of his own, possesses an incomparable sense of smell. He apprentices himself to a perfumer and quickly masters the ancient art of mixing flowers, herbs, and oils. But his quest to create the ‘ultimate perfume’ leads him to commit a series of brutal murders until no woman can feel safe as his final horrifying secret is revealed.”

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Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

I’ve been reading a book a day this week to start chipping away at my queue. Room, by Emma Donoghue, was next and there are two things you should know before reading: 1) It is written from the perspective of a five year old; 2) The woman (Ma) is being held in the room as a sexual prisoner. I mention the first caveat because the incessant voice of a five year old can become tiresome long before the 321st page; the second, because this is understandably a disturbing issue for some readers and something you should know before going in. Also, block out a nice chunk of time—it’s a fast read and difficult to put down. read more