The Branch Office by Rook Winters
Self-published on January 15, 2018
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There’s a story in every cubicle.
A novel that is part tribute and part lampoon of office life. You’ll nosedive into absurd behavior, quirky personalities, Silicon Valley excess, 80s nostalgia, personal loss, frustration, unrequited infatuation, company softball, and, of course, doughnuts.
Luke is young and stuck at the bottom of the career ladder but he doesn’t intend to stay there. The grizzled programmer in the next cubicle has been working on the same software for decades and just wants to stay off the radar of the executives.
Unfortunately, the corporate agenda is at odds with their hopes and dreams.
Introducing Working Class Hero: The Novel.
I love a good underdog story, and The Branch Office is a heartwarming tale of everyday heroics in a setting that wouldn’t seem to lend itself to intrigue and revolutions. Rook Winters hides mystery and cutthroat office politics among these cubicles – picture The Office, but with a Michael Scott who’s actually competent. The corporate tension is supplemented by some lovable and genuinely relatable main characters, and I enjoyed seeing them develop throughout the story.
I do have one complaint, though – this book took a good little while to get going. The central conflict didn’t really come in until about halfway through the book, which means the first part of the story was essentially a slice-of-life with a couple of subplots thrown in. Still enjoyable, but not as strong as it could’ve been, in my opinion.
I never thought I’d peg an office drama as a fun bit of escapism, but hey – there’s a first time for everything. 🙂 I loved The Branch Office, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone who loves to root for the little guy.
Mr. Galaxy’s Unfinished Dream by R García Vázquez
Published on October 31, 2017 by Spinning World Press
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When Callie is whisked away to Paris for two weeks by her affluent and subtly contemptuous mother and sister–before the newlyweds have had a chance to settle into their new life together–Lucas Amado, a distracted working class romantic and part-time graduate student, is overwhelmed by doubt and a sense of foreboding.
Into the breach steps Marla Tupo, a cheerful and attractive, though at times mystifying older woman he meets at his new job. What at first appears to be a harmless affinity between a disillusioned and conflicted young man, and a sympathetic middle-aged divorcée, soon deteriorates into a complicated mutual dependence that leads to devastating consequences.
Lucas tells the story of his desperate battle to save his marriage, family and sanity. Unexpected events over the course of three and a half years, between 1977 and 1980, drive him across real and imagined borders, both at home and abroad, where the lines between reality and dream, and belief and unbelief, are often blurred, and where saints, psychopaths, and everyday people invite glimpses into the darkness and light of the human mind and heart.
Throughout his exhausting odyssey the young husband and father faces choices and perils he could never have imagined, and encounters, through the most unlikely of circumstances, his moment of truth and self-discovery.
I’m not sure how to describe this book other than “delicious hipster lit fic fever dream,” which seems to hit all the high points.
I love books like this. Vázquez’s writing is utterly captivating and often closer to poetry than prose. It’s writing to sink into, and I enjoyed the sheer texture of the words about as much as the story itself. Mr. Galaxy’s Unfinished Dream is an exploration of life, death, love, and guilt through the eyes of the main character, Lucas Amado, blurring the borders between reality, imagination, and dreams. Like I said, fever dream: vivid and shiny, familiar yet strange, faintly confusing but so pretty you don’t really care.
The ending, unfortunately, went sailing directly over my head.
I mean, I saw the themes, I understood the character development, but the last couple of chapters really felt like they were leading up to something that the final few pages just didn’t deliver. It’s a case of literary it’s-not-you-it’s-me – maybe on a future reread things will snap into focus and I’ll feel like a dunce for not getting it the first time, but until then, that’s where I’m at.
Regardless, I enjoyed every second of the trip even if the destination left me a little lost, and I still highly recommend this book to lovers of Lauren Groff, Ramona Ausubel, and dreamy literary fiction in general.
Origin of Legends and the Secrets of the North by Adison Runberg
Publishing on March 2, 2018
A beautiful snowy adventure, and a stunning glimpse of the near future in the frozen north.
When their parents died beneath the surface of a frozen lake, brothers Baldr and Thor began new lives as orphans. The loss of their parents gutted them both, but years later, with comfortable homes and good friends, the brothers were thriving.
Their world is upended when they notice green lights flashing like a beacon from a mountaintop that overlooks their sleepy Canadian town. They set out on a thrilling journey with friends Sophia and Nala, to reach the top of the mountain. Along the way, they gain a trusted canine companion, but soon the group is in over its head as they fight the arctic conditions and an ancient power.
I love retellings of Norse mythology. You got a Thor? I’ll take him. Bring me all your Thors. So it’s no surprise that I was excited to pick up this novella. The further I got into it, though, the less I wanted to continue.
First, the cast. The four main characters are basically indistinguishable. None of them had a unique voice or a motivation, and their personalities were limited to a few quick characteristics. Thor eats like a horse. Nala is writing her thesis. That’s about all I’ve got. They didn’t have any flaws or backstories or desires to make me care about them. Sure, the two brothers lost their parents, but that’s only mentioned from time to time in the narrative. The characters themselves don’t seem to be dealing with any grief or loss.
And then there’s the plot. I have a rule – if the central conflict hasn’t appeared by the 30% mark, I’m putting the book down. Sadly, this book was one of the ones I had to put down. Absolutely nothing was at stake for these characters. They were curious about a flashing light on a mountain and went on a trek to find it. There was no tension, no personal stakes in the mystery, no danger – just a casual curiosity, which wasn’t enough to hold my interest.
The near-future world that Runberg sketches is intriguing, but the rest of her novella needs a bit of work. I’d be interested in giving it another try after a thorough rewrite.
The Art of Fully Living by Tal Gur
Self-published on October 8, 2017
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In this stirring book, author, blogger and lifestyle entrepreneur, Tal Gur offers his own transformational journey as an inspiring example and practical guide to implementing the art of fully living to its fullest potential. You’ll learn how to actualize your potential by forging all aspects of your life through the process built into your life goals.
Once you discover “the art of fully living,” there is no going back; it will feel unacceptable to settle for less than your dreams—and what’s more, you’ll dream even more wildly, aspiring to action with greater clarity of purpose, broader horizons of possibility, and holistic vision across all areas of your life.
Tal Gur in two words: intimidatingly cool.
The Art of Fully Living is a blend of memoir and self-improvement manual. Tal gave himself 100 goals and ten years to complete them, and his book not only chronicles his successes, but also shares the techniques he used to overcome the failures. Each chapter focuses on a single year – the Year of Socializing, the Year of Freedom, and so on – and follows his journey from Israel to Australia to New Zealand to South America and just about everywhere in between.
Tal’s a good storyteller (especially considering English is not his first language) and The Art of Fully Living is a super enjoyable read. That said, I think the book itself had a couple too many goals. If you read it with an eye to self-improvement, you’ll find plenty of good advice – immerse yourself in your goal, meditate, give more than you take – but nothing extraordinarily groundbreaking. The self-help scene runs rife with these same pointers, and The Art of Fully Living didn’t add a unique angle or spin.
On the other hand, you could read it as a memoir, but it falls a little flat on that count as well. Tal doesn’t go into a ton of detail about his many and varied exploits (presumably to save word count for the self-improvement stuff) and I found myself wanting more. The full list of 100 goals – the main draw of the book, in my opinion – isn’t even included.
Again – I really enjoyed reading this book and I definitely felt inspired and energized after turning the final page. I just think it’s trying to be too many things at once. Your mileage may vary.