EILEEN by Ottessa Moshfegh

August 18, 2015
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Eileen is the narrator of this dark look back at her life during a 1960’s Christmas week. Eileen has to be one of the most damaged characters in fiction. She lost her mother when she was in high school, her sister is the pride of the family but they have no relationship, and her father is an alcoholic, a cop forced into retirement and now heading towards dementia, who has mentally abused Eileen her whole life.

Her life is a horror; living in squalor, taking care of her abusive father, driving an old car with an exhaust problem that forces her to drive with the windows open, even during those frigid New England winters. She works as a secretary at a boy’s prison, a discouraging job at best. She obsesses about her bodily functions, has strange sexual fantasies, (although at 24, she is still a virgin,) and she is stalking one of the prison guards.

There is no respite from the darkness here until Rebecca shows up at the prison, ostensibly to create an education program for the boys. Eileen is enamored of the beautiful Harvard graduate and desperate for a friend. That friendship turns into something truly ugly that leads to a shocking ending. This is literary psychological suspense at its best.

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8/15 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

EILEEN by Ottessa Moshfegh.  Penguin Press (August 18, 2015).  ISBN 978-1594206627. 272p.

ORDINARY GRACE by William Kent Kruger

December 4, 2014

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Okay, so I’m late to the party. It happens; not often, but it happens. Ordinary Grace is anything but ordinary; in fact it would not be an exaggeration to say it is extraordinary. A New York Times bestseller, School Library Journal Best Book of 2013, and as you probably know (or should know, especially if you follow me on Twitter) winner of the “EBAM” – Edgar, Barry, Anthony & Macavity awards for best novel, plus the Dilys Award and well, you get the idea. I did a little digging and could not find another mystery that had won this many awards. Closest I could find was Val McDermid, A Place of Execution (4 awards) & Dennis Lehane, Mystic River (4 awards) according to The Mystery Bookshelf.

That said, I hadn’t read it so this book had a lot to live up to, and I’m thrilled to say it did and then some. So what’s all the fuss about?

A series of deaths in a small Minnesota town are at the center of this literary mystery, but it is the characters that are at the heart of this novel, and the setting, really another character, is just the icing on the cake.

Our protagonist is 13 year old Frank Drum, who forty years later is telling us about his last summer in 1961 New Breman, Minnesota.  The book opens with a friend of Frank’s found dead, and quickly other deaths occur.

Frank’s father is a minister, attending to the flocks of three small area churches. His mother struggles with being a pastor’s wife, and finds solace in music and leading the church choir. His eldest sister Ariel is a brilliant musician with a slight deformity from a harelip surgery who is slated to go to Julliard in the fall. Jake is Frank’s younger brother who suffers from stuttering, and is often tortured as children are about his affliction.

This family deals with death, with God and faith, with community and the long term repercussions of war in this beautifully written, soul searing novel. If I had to sum it up in one word it would be – unforgettable. Don’t miss it.

12/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

ORDINARY GRACE by William Kent Kruger. Atria Books; Reprint edition (March 4, 2014). ISBN 978-1451645859. 336p.


September 30, 2014

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This is another small book and a quick read from one of my favorite authors, Ian McEwan. Most of his books are short and powerful, and this is no exception.

High Court judge Fiona Maye rules over family court matters. She is very successful and enjoys a good reputation, making decisions on child custody, divorce settlements, etc. Long married but childless, she is shocked when her husband comes home one night and tells her he wants to have a fling before he is too old to enjoy it, and wants her permission.

Fiona throws him out and doesn’t tell a soul, keeping busy with work gets her through the long days and nights. She is presented with a case that is generating a lot of media attention. Adam. a seventeen year old boy has leukemia, and his oncologists want to transfuse him as part of his treatment. But the boy, and his parents, are Jehovah’s Witnesses, and their religion forbids blood transfusions.

Adam is just a few months shy of 18, the age of majority when he alone will have a say about his course of treatment. So Fiona decides to visit him in the hospital, to get a better idea of how to handle the case. The doctors are demanding immediate treatment, or fear the boy will die in a few days, or worse, go blind or other devastating endings.

The story revolves around Fiona dealing with everything on her plate, until the shocking ending. Not one of my favorites from this author, but definitely a worthwhile read.

9/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

THE CHILDREN ACT by Ian McEwan.Nan A. Talese (September 9, 2014). ISBN 978-0385539708. 240p.