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Brian Plunkett

Joined 1 year, 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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Brian Plunkett's books

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Foster (2010, Faber and Faber) 5 stars

A small girl is sent to live with foster parents on a farm in rural …

Foster by Claire Keegan

5 stars

Another powerful and touching story from Keegan, beautifully written and with striking attention to emotional detail. I saw someone describe it as a triumph of narration from a child's perspective, and I have to agree. I was really looking forward to reading this, after recently finishing Small Things Like These, and it did not disappoint. I wouldn't look at these until after reading it, but there's an informative review from NPR here, and some very interesting thoughts from Keegan about the story specifically and fiction/writing/reading in general here (in response to students' questions about the book).

Dr. No (2022, Graywolf Press) 4 stars

The protagonist of Percival Everett’s puckish new novel is a brilliant professor of mathematics who …

Dr. No

4 stars

This was a lot of fun, although at times I did feel a bit like I was watching someone show off with a clever wordplay performance. Quite a few laugh-out-loud moments. I mostly listened to the audiobook, and Amir Abdullah did a great job. His characterizations helped me appreciate the hilarious writing and conversations. This was the first of Everett's books that I've read. Next I think I'll try The Trees.

Emergency skin (2019, Amazon Original Stories) 4 stars

Emergency Skin

4 stars

Wow, hopeful and eye-opening (and short!) science fiction. I read this after seeing it recommended in the New York Times Climate Forward newsletter. If you can't find the standalone version, it's also contained in The Year's Best Science Fiction, Vol. 1 (2020), which I was able to pick up at the library. Now I need to track down the audio version, which is read by Jason Isaacs.

Our Missing Hearts (2022, Penguin Publishing Group) 4 stars

Our Missing Hearts

4 stars

I was not fully hooked until Part 2, but then it really took off and I became completely engaged. It's a harrowing story about some of the extreme effects of racism on the country in general and on one family specifically.

I was going to say that it was too easy to imagine some of the things depicted in the book happening in the U.S. - but then, of course (as addressed in the book), many of the awful things have already been part of our country's history for a long time.

The book is also a rumination on the power of art, e.g. exploring the ways in which some of Margaret's poetry takes on a life of its own and a meaning beyond what she initially intended when writing it. Further, it's an exciting adventure story, from the perspective of a 12-year-old boy.

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.

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.) 4 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).