I am excited to share my first edition of noteworthy fiction with everyone. In a past blog comment I said I would share five titles of fiction and five titles of nonfiction every month. Scratch that. I don’t want to exhaust my list and really only want to share books that I feel are truly worth noting, so I am switching it up to four titles of fiction and another four for nonfiction every month. Since I was inspired a tad late for March, March only has two titles of each. March’s noteworthy nonfiction will be posted in the next few days. April’s lists (both fiction and nonfiction) will be posted at the end of this month.
When I do these lists they may not be the most current books. My own tastes are usually more contemporary, but I am about eight weeks behind (on average) in reading my subscriptions or magazines, which is where a lot of the books I read come from (reviews are wonderful things). I also intend to include past favorites or books that have stuck with me. (I like to mix it up.) So, without further ado, here is this bookaholic’s very first list of noteworthy fiction!
NOTE I had my husband read this to make sure I didn’t give anything away. If my insinuations lead you to the proper conclusions, spoiling any of the following books’ twists and turns, however, I profusely apologize. Just do what I do and blame my husband.
“The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao”
by Junot Diaz (published September 6, 2007)
“The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao” is Junot Diaz’s first novel (he is currently working on his second) published back in 2007. The story follows Oscar, an overweight and lovesick Dominican nerd. Oscar takes us through the human experience, dreaming of being the Dominican equivalent of J.R.R. Tolkien while dealing with heartache (love of the unrequited variety), and desperately trying to fit in. Enter his family’s curse – marking their history with prison, torture, fatal accidents and tragic love… will Oscar merely be the curse’s newest victim? (I can say no more, for fear of spoilers.)
When I first thought of the idea of reviewing (is that was this is?) books I knew that the first work of fiction I had to cover was this book. When I read this novel for the first time (as soon as it came out) it resonated more than almost anything else ever had before. I have to admit that I have a bit of a writer’s crush on Junot Diaz. (Don’t worry, my husband knows.) The man can write! In fact, simply calling it writing seems to fall short of what he creates (expect more of his books on future lists).
Diaz uses English, Spanish and his own version of Spanglish throughout the novel and it not only works, but adds to the overall effect. (He also uses his own nerd code, which if you are a nerd or have a thing for nerds, you will surely appreciate.) Another unique aspect of this novel is Diaz’s use of footnotes. It struck me as funny when I first saw them. When I think of footnotes I think of boring or stuffy references to sources on various (and often boring) topics, but not these footnotes! Just like his blend of languages, they only enhance the story, offering cultural and historical asides that give the reader a greater appreciation of Oscar’s experiences.
I believe in praising greatness and Diaz’s debut novel certainly fits the bill. Beautiful, engaging, sincere, moving and tragic are all words that come to mind when I think of this literary feat. With this, Diaz proves he is masterful storyteller, both in the complex layers he weaves and the characters he creates. His voice is engaging, funny and so authentic you will forget you are reading a book and not talking to Oscar himself. I do not read the words in this book, but instead I live the story.
I am proud to say that when I was in graduate school and this book was first released I pushed for it to be an official required reading and facilitated the discussion on it. I knew it would be amazing, and I was happy that it was recognized for what it was. Junot Diaz received a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2007 for this novel. This is a must read for anyone who appreciates a good book!
“The 5th Wave”
by Rick Yancey (published May 7, 2013)
“The 5th Wave” by Rick Yancey (a People Magazine find) is a book about what matters, but not about what is worth living for, rather what is worth dying for. Meet Cassie Sullivan, the snarky, sarcastic, tough-as-nails teenager protagonist whose best friend is her M-16. This is not the world as we know it, but a world that has been invaded. Rule one is to trust no one.
Yancey has created a gripping world of action, paranoia and weighing complex moral choices such as, is it better to become hard and inhuman to save the human race or is it better to cling to your humanity and burn? The survivors are children, ages sixteen and under. Their reality is war against an unseen threat that has annihilated billions of people already.
While alien invasion is not a new concept, Yancey has made it his own. This book is a real who’s who because the unseen enemy looks just like everyone else. I strongly suspected what was happening about a third of the way in, but I read too many mysteries and my grandfather was a famous PI, so it’s genetic or something. Most people never see it coming (so I am told) and I wasn’t sure I was right until three quarters of the way through it – and it did not make it any less interesting. I have never read anything with similar plot twists. This is considered a YA novel, but is a fast and entertaining read for adults as well.
What stood out for me was that this is not a book about alien invasion. Instead, it is a story about what happens after said invasion. It is also a book about what it means to be human, the price of said humanity as well as the price of losing it to save your skin. This book is full of action and the pace is so fast that you shouldn’t be surprised if it takes little time to finish such a long novel.
I debated for a long time about giving this book five stars, and I almost did. Rather than go on and on about how much I love the book, here is why it didn’t receive a perfect score.
- Cassie is the first narrator of this novel, and I think she is also the primary narrator, but a boy called “Zombie” (code name) and The Silencer and Cassie’s kid brother Sammy also have their say. I appreciate multiple narrators (seriously, many of my favorite books use multiple narrators) and I understand why Yancey did it. How else could the reader experience everything they needed to through a single person’s eyes? What bothers me, however, is that Cassie made this book. It isn’t because we meet her first, but because her voice is quite possibly more compelling than Yancey’s voice is. Her character was powerful and had that rare authenticity that even the best novelists wish their characters possessed. While everyone else was interesting, she was mesmerizing. The only way around this would have been to capture the same magic with the other narrators. If only…
- I was engrossed in this book while I was reading it, I didn’t think about other things or want to put it down, but I was able to. I was able to put it down or take a break between chapters to work or do something for the house or for my husband or write or even (gasp) watch a program. Books that are my top picks are books that I cannot put down. In fact, a thriller that is next month’s top fiction pick (it was going to be in this first noteworthy fiction edition, but deserved top pick status, so I bumped it for next month) was the perfect counterexample. I could not put it down. It physically pained me to stop reading or to take a break until I was finished. My thoughts constantly went back to the novel and what would happen next rather than focusing on what I was doing at the time. I had to keep reading. With this novel, I wanted to keep reading, but I didn’t need to.
Finally, this book is the first part of a planned trilogy. The second book is expected in May 2014, (yay!) and I point this out because I did not realize when I read it that there was an expected sequel. The ending is not abrupt, but it leaves so many questions I felt utterly conflicted. I like open endings that leave me thinking, but I felt like there was little to no closure. Now I understand why. If you’re not good at waiting, you should still read this book, but perhaps wait until next month or even May to do so. Otherwise, you might get a tad miffed because this book leaves you hungry for more.
There you have them! I love when people leave me comment so don’t be shy and be sure to look for this month’s nonfiction titles. Expect magick (both historical and fantastical) and the kind of thriller that you are afraid to put down and more on next month’s fiction list!
Do you have a book you want me to consider? Leave me a comment. As long as my reading list is, I am always looking to add to it!
See the blog that started this series – “Confessions of a Bookaholic”.