That’s what she said

The Branch Office by Rook Winters

312 pages

Self-published on January 15, 2018

Amazon | Goodreads | Author’s Website

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.

Drowning in beautiful prose

Mr. Galaxy’s Unfinished Dream by R GarcĂ­a Vázquez

350 pages

Published on October 31, 2017 by Spinning World Press

Amazon | Goodreads | Author’s Website

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.

You know what they say about multitasking

The Art of Fully Living by Tal Gur

264 pages

Self-published on October 8, 2017

Amazon | Goodreads | Author’s Website

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.

Great takeoff, rough landing

Wingbound by Heather Trim

231 pages

Self-publishing on March 23, 2018

Amazon | Goodreads | Author’s Website

Ledger is supposed to fear and despise the Sky People of Ellery, but then he meets an Ellerian girl, named Alouette and does the wrong thing. With his village at war with the winged people who live on a floating island that circles their world, he befriends her.

In Ledger’s seventeenth harvest, Ellery returns empty. The Sky People are gone, Alouette is missing, and Ledger must make a difficult choice — continue life as usual in the blacksmith workshop or board the island against the elder’s wishes and find her.

Look, I was hooked from the mention of a fantasy world orbited by a mysterious floating island inhabited by winged strangers. Heather Trim has some serious world-building chops – she deftly sketches sprawling castles and desolate oceans in a soft, simplistic fairy-tale writing style, creating an atmosphere that felt like an old fable, or something deserving of watercolor illustrations.

Unfortunately, the people in those settings didn’t enthrall me quite as much. At the beginning, I really liked Ledger. He’s a compassionate, resourceful dreamer that doesn’t fit in, and his struggle between upholding tradition and doing the right thing was super endearing. But as the story progressed, his character development stalled. Instead of facing the new obstacles in front of him and rising above his flaws, he seemed to lose agency as time went on – by the climax, he struck me as rather whiny. I was far more interested in the supporting cast. Hollis, in particular: the wild and sometimes immature spitfire who just wants to be closer to Ledger. I loved Kava, the wise-beyond-her-years healer that takes it upon herself to wrangle the unruly group of adventurers. I would have loved to see the story unfold from their points of view. Ledger did a great job getting them all into trouble, but when it came time to get back out, I don’t think he added all that much.

In addition, there are a few dozen punctuation errors scattered through the book – not terribly many, but enough that I think another pass by a proofreader would be helpful.

To sum this all up, your mileage may vary. Wingbound is a great concept done fairly well, and I still think it’s worth a read if you’re prepared to roll your eyes at the leading man every once in a while.

If Dali wrote about cats…

This Hasn’t Been a Very Magical Journey So Far, by Homeless

~250 pages

Publishing on November 17, 2017 by Vegetarian Alcoholic Press

Vegetarian Alcoholic Press | Goodreads | Author’s Website

VAP’s first novel follows the adventures of Hank Williams, a troubled young man processing the loss of the love of his life, Patsy Cline. He’s greeted with the aid of Sid, a psychopathic cat who takes him on a deranged road trip in search of lost love and new meaning. Surreal obstacles meet them at every pass, leaving Hank Williams to question whether Sid is his savior or captor.

If you’ve been hunting for the perfect anthropomorphic, semi-erotic, off-the-rails, surrealistic feverdream of a book, look no further.

This Hasn’t Been a Very Magical Journey So Far is weird, there’s no doubt about it, but it’s weird on purpose and not by accident, which is an important distinction. It’ll only take a few pages for you to decide whether or not you like the style – if you’re intrigued by the off-kilter storytelling in the first few chapters, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed by the rest of the story.

As for me, while I found the plot to be a touch predictable and occasionally too crass for my taste, the wonderfully strange way in which it was told won me over anyway. It’s very much like those dreams you have in the minutes after whacking the snooze button on your alarm – vivid, bemusing, and enjoyable in its oddness.

Your mileage may vary, but I had fun.