Fiction/Nonfiction Reviews



I recently read Adam Wilson’s short story collection “What’s Important is Feeling: Stories,” and I have mixed emotions about it. But then again, that may well have been the entire point of the book. The stories in this collection are humorous, relatable, raw and heartfelt, so it’s not that Wilson’s writing disappoints. It’s just that that collection may have been too consistent for my taste in relation to it’s theme.

Most of the stories revolve around young men struggling with love, drugs, and transitioning into adulthood. Each story pulls at a separate heart string, plays with a different emotion, but there almost seems to be something missing. One story isn’t entirely different from the other but they aren’t duplicates either. It’s almost like I wanted to cry, wanted to get angry, wanted to laugh, but there was something lacking in the originality of it that was holding me back and I couldn’t break free of whatever it was.

This left me to wonder if this may have been the sole purpose of the book to begin with. It was intended to flirt with my emotions but never actually take them out on a date. Maybe it was up to me to make the first move, break through the plateau, and truly feel something. I didn’t hate a single story in the book but I didn’t love a single story in the book either.

My emotions are as mixed up as a thirteen year old girl with her first real crush. Wilson’s writing is solid and he knows how to capture the character of a twenty-something (I should know, I’m 23) but I wanted something more. If I knew what that something more was I would tell you. I tend  to lean more towards diversity in short story collections than I do cohesiveness but I know that there are readers out there who do just the opposite.

I may not know how I feel about the collection yet, but I know I would recommend it if someone asked me if they should read it. I want to see what others think and feel about Wilson’s writing and if anyone agrees that the possible purpose of the book is to help you get in touch with your emotions in your own way.

If anyone else out there has read “What’s Important is Feeling: Stories” by Adam Wilson, I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on the book. To be honest, I’m baffled that I’m having such a difficult time forming a solid opinion of the collection because that just doesn’t happen to me very often. Most of the time I know pretty quick if I love or dislike a book. There’s just something different about this one that I can’t put my finger on.

For now I’m giving it 3.5 stars out of 5.

Knopf Publishing

Knopf Publishing

Published by Knopf in January, 2014, the short story collection from Ben Marcus’ “Leaving the Sea” is for readers who appreciate the dystopian universes, lapidary prose, caustic irony, and terrifying realism made famous by authors like George Saunders. Many of the sentences that make up the stories are constructed in such a way that they are stories in themselves. Stories within the stories.

The stories in this book are certainly not light or easy reading–but they are well worth the effort. The moral twists, intricacies of relationships, fear of death, survivor-guilt, self-guilt and other emotions that author writes about forces you into contemplating the shared human experience before you even realize what you’re analyzing.

I thoroughly enjoyed the entire collection but there were three stories in particular that really stood out.

Watching Mysteries with My Mother opens with the line “I don’t think my mother will die today.” You have to admire an author who opens a story with such a sneakily crafted inversion Camus’ famous opening to “The Stranger.” This particular story is a meditation of death that somehow manages to come off as almost normal while making Camus’ writing seem almost cheerful. Quite honestly, the way the story is crafted and the range of emotions and alienation you go through while reading it is astounding.

What Have You Done? features the hyper-caustic character Paul Berger returning to his family after a long absence. His family has such low expectations from him (regarding whatever offenses it was he committed in the past) make it impossible for Paul to convince them of the happy and successful life he has created for himself. There is a thread of humor throughout the story that offsets such a tragic human emotion as what we feel when we disappoint the ones we love.

I Can Say Many Nice Things focuses on creative writing teacher Fleming who is trying with pathetic futility to revamp his teaching career by offering a creative writing workshop to students on a cruise. This is one of the most comical of the stories in the collection and it is also one of the most surprising. In most cases, sarcastic humor writing is full of stereotyped characters and flat story lines–this is not the case with masterfully crafted prose of Ben Marcus.

The characters in “Leaving the Sea” are fully developed and well-rounded and the stories resonate with something deep inside you. I have no choice but to give this short story collection five stars and applaud Marcus as one of my new favorite short story authors.

History buffs unite- The story is that of Louie Zamperini, a track and field star during the 1930’s who competed in the Berlin Olympics. He was also part of the US Air Force in World War II, was shot down in the ocean, drifted across the Pacific ocean for over a month, was held as a POW by Japanese forces and finally made it back to his life with the courage to live it to the fullest.

I read this book in two days. If I had the time I know I probably could have finished it in one sitting. “Unbroken” grips you, draws you in, and leaves you feeling like a brand new person after reading it–somehow, it makes you feel slightly better as a person, a human being.

I was never tempted to read “Seabiscuit: An American Legend,” so this was my first experience with Laura Hillenbrand’s work. She is a sensational author. Her writing was gripping, exciting, and vivid throughout the entire story. “Unbroken” (a non fiction story) was well researched and Hillenbrand’s writing portrayed it; nothing was overly embellished. It was simply the facts told in such a way the story never even flirted with being dull.

Hillenbrand moves swiftly, taking the reader through Zamperini’s early beginnings, his quick rise to track star, the Olympics in Berlin, and then into the war. It is here, in the war, that the story truly blooms. We ride B24 bombers on the words of the man who actually flew them and the sequences in which Zamperini is adrift with his comrade Phil in the ocean are vivd and strangely beautiful. The horrors in the prison are not glossed over and Hillenbrand does an excellent job of not dwelling on the gore as some authors are tempted to do. The story of these men is portrayed by an author with the utmost respect for their life and experiences.

Solidly based on statistics and reports from both sides of the war, Hillenbrand paints a clear picture of the hellish conditions POW’S endured. This is a hard story to read as it portrays the decline of a man’s life. But it is also inspiring as that same man pulls himself up by his bootstraps and regains his sense of purpose.

This book will hold a permanent place of honor on my bookshelf. When you reach the end of this incredible journey I’m willing to bet it will a hold a place on your bookshelf as well. An awe inspiring, non fiction story, “Unbroken” will hold you spellbound from the start.

Family Life: A Novel
by Akhil Sharma 

from Google Images

from Google Images


Family Life charts the life of young Ajay Mishra as he struggles to grow up in a family that has been disoriented by a move from India to America and rocked to the core by tragic loss. It is also a story about Ajay’s parents, whose response to the grief they have encountered leaves them unable to care for the child as they should.

Right before you begin reading this book you’ll get the feeling that you’re in for one heck of a ride—similar to that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach before the roller coaster starts moving. Before I even opened the pages of this book I had a feeling that something breathtaking was going to happen. Some people may chalk this up to the publisher tweeting,

The end is going to make your jaw drop

but I like to think it was my keen reader’s intuition.

Akhil Sharma’s semi-autographical book transcends the experience of immigration to America. This is a story of universal tragedy and triumph of the human experience. And Sharma manages to portray all of this with a swaying rhythm and simple, yet carefully detailed prose.

When we first meet the Mishra family they are a young, middle-class bunch living in Dehli. Ajay and his older brother Birju are happy, their mother is content, and their father longs for something more for his family. Under Mr. Mishra’s guidance the family immigrates to America. At the beginning, the young family seems to find good luck and happiness in the new world, but they are soon met with an irreparable tragedy. The fire of this tragedy brings out the impurities of character and morality and each member of the Mishra family is forced to fight their demons and do so alone.

I’m not going to give it away and tell you what happens; I hope you’ll read it instead! But I can tell you that you will be mesmerized by Sharma’s writing skill. You will experience joy, pain, love, heart-break, anger, sadness, and just about any other emotion you can expect to conjure while reading such a powerful book.

Family Life is a masterpiece that has been skillfully created by the hands of a literary artist. It easily obtains five out of five stars and I highly recommend it.

Andrea Reads America

A literary tour of the USA

follow your nose

it always knows

Ryan's Book Review

Book Reviews and Conversations

Nail Your Novel

Nail Your Novel - Writing, publishing and self-publishing advice from a bestselling ghostwriter and book doctor

North American Review

Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry book reviews.

the world in words

a blog and a podcast about language

Daniel David Wallace

Simplifying your writing process, one sentence at a time.

Gimme! Books

Fiction, Nonfiction, and Poetry book reviews.

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

The Blog

The latest news on and the WordPress community.