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Brian Plunkett

Joined 5 months ago

I got back into reading at the end of 2021, and it has been really fun. Once again, books are a big part of my life. Historical fiction, science fiction, etc., etc. Interested in politics, feminism, climate change, antiracism, TV, movies, birding, biking, music, forest preserves, art museums, travel. UC Davis law grad, now in Chicago suburbs.

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crops (Paperback, 2021, OHM editions, a project of Rain Taxi, Inc.) 5 stars

My review of crops by Grzegorz Kwiatkowski

5 stars

I found these poems to hit extra hard in the current context of Russia invading Ukraine. Thanks to Rolling Stone (here) for making me aware of this poetry book and to Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune for introducing me to Kwiatkowski's great band Trupa Trupa (fifth review down in this article). Powerful. (PS you can get a copy from Rain Taxi at )

Train Dreams (Paperback, 2012, Picador) 4 stars

Review of 'Train Dreams' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

I first saw a reference to this book in Louise Erdrich's The Sentence (on Tookie's list of Short Perfect Novels); I wouldn't say it was perfect, but I thought it was very good.

Early in the story, it's clear that Robert Grainier realizes his wife is sharper than he is. However, as is often the case with stories told from the perspective of a white man, I felt that the women and people of color were treated more as props than as interesting, even partially-developed characters.

Nevertheless, the book is haunting, funny, poetic, and beautifully written, with a great sense of setting. It is amazing how a character's life can be presented so vividly in about 100 pages. Excellent audiobook narration by Will Patton.

Review of 'Marigold and Rose' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

I've never read anything quite like this before, and I really enjoyed getting a glimpse of things from the twin babies' perspectives. Interesting (and often funny) observations about each other, their parents, and other aspects of life (creativity, learning, socializing, etc.). I liked this Guardian review of the book.

Shrines of Gaiety (2022, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group) 4 stars

Review of 'Shrines of Gaiety' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

Great story, great characters and, of course, great writing. I was enjoying this one so much, I'm sorry it had to end. I remember reading that this novel was in a good spot somewhere between Jackson Brodie and Life After Life (or maybe more a mixture of the two, in terms of tone, scope, etc.), and I think that was a good description. The audiobook, narrated by Jason Watkins, is fantastic (for me, it was about 50-50 between listening to and reading the book).

Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow (2022, Knopf Incorporated, Alfred A.) 5 stars

In this exhilarating novel by the best-selling author of The Storied Life of A. J. …

Review of 'Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

4.5 stars. I had a few doubts at points along the way, but in the end this lived up to the hype. It was just as good as everyone said (NYT, NPR, Kirkus). This great Bob Lefsetz post convinced me that I needed to read it. I was seriously hooked by the third chapter. Engaging, entertaining, thought-provoking and funny. I cared a lot about the characters.

Murder Book (2021, Andrews McMeel Publishing) 3 stars

Review of 'Murder Book' on 'Goodreads'

3 stars

3.5 stars. I read this after seeing it mentioned in Lyz Lenz's newsletter. Interesting, although I did find myself wondering what survivors or victims' families would think about how the crimes are treated. But the focus really is on the obsession with true crime, and in that regard it is thought-provoking and often funny. It was a bit repetitive. I appreciated its examination of sexism and racism (e.g., in media coverage of crime).

Small Things Like These (2021, Grove/Atlantic, Incorporated) 5 stars

Shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize

"A hypnotic and electrifying Irish tale that transcends country, …

Review of 'Small Things Like These' on 'Goodreads'

5 stars

Powerful little book. A compelling view of things through the eyes (and heart and mind) of Bill Furlong, a surprisingly sensitive man fighting against complicity. I enjoyed the descriptions of the crows at several points in the story. I both read and listened to the book (about 50-50) and thought the audiobook narration by Aidan Kelly was good.

"Vulnerable, tender, acute, these are serious poems, brave poems, exploring with honesty the ambiguous moment …

Review of 'The carrying' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

My favorite poem in the book was "Dandelion Insomnia." I appreciate it when she observes something in nature and then relates it back to herself and the human experience, suggesting that there are things we can learn (from the dandelion, for example) about how to approach life. I also particularly liked several of the poems toward the end of the book, dealing with grief/people slipping away (two of these were "Losing" and "The Last Drop"). I enjoyed all of the references to birds, trees, and gardening. It occurred to me that there isn't much humor in the book, which is probably not surprising considering that it focuses a lot on painful experiences, both physical and emotional.

The Glass Hotel (2020, Knopf) 5 stars

Vincent is a bartender at the Hotel Caiette, a five-star lodging on the northernmost tip …

Review of 'The Glass Hotel' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

Great story, characters, settings & writing. Among other things, I really enjoyed the exploration of liminal spaces, of haunting/being haunted, and of life vs counterlife ... and characters imagining alternate paths unfolding if they had done something different. Also interesting ideas about the different "countries" we inhabit - money, sickness, misfortune, shadow, etc. Now I'm really looking forward to reading Sea of Tranquility.

French Braid (2022, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group) 4 stars

Review of 'French Braid' on 'Goodreads'

4 stars

I read this right after finishing Harlem Shuffle and at first thought it seemed kind of slight, with its focus on a somewhat disconnected family, but it's really very good. Bittersweet, but lots of humor. Each chapter told from a different family member's perspective, covering multiple generations. Insightful observations about the complexities of people's lives - disappointments, troubled relationships, bad communication, delusions, regrets, ambitions and affection. I thought this review by Jennifer Haigh was interesting, pointing out that it's also a subversive novel that examines the "consequences of stifled female ambition — to the woman herself, and to those in her orbit."