Sunday, October 23, 2016

Butcher, Jim (Grave Peril)

Butcher is back at it. Unfortunately, since it takes me so long to get through an audiobook, I find it a little difficult to remember the premise of where he started from. (There's a character at the end of this novel that I will never, in a thousand years, recall the origins of.)

We are treated to the same schtick, including Marsters intoning "this was the worst day of my life" several times and "I'd never been this bone weary" another half dozen times. I kid, but Butcher is prone to exaggeration, and although he's starting to tie things together better (now that he's on book 3), it's overly descriptive stuff. Perfect for audiobooks, really.

This book has less Murphy and more Susan. Less werewolf and more vampire (plus more ghosts). More Michael and less actual wizardry (weirdly). Less Bob, which is really too damn bad.

I have a lot of catching up to do to get to book 15, but never fear, I'll take it at the same excruciatingly slow pace, simply because I cannot do without Marsters doing the honors and I simply have little time for audiobooks.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Conley, Garrard (Boy Erased: A Memoir)

This book was such a slog for me that I finished it on the way to work, the morning of book club. I waited until the very last second, obviously.

It's not that the subject matter isn't fascinating and horrific. The ex-gay movement was a special torture device for those unlucky enough to have lived through their workshops and events. For that alone, it's worth reading... a bit of it. You certainly get the flavor after 20 or so pages. The remaining 320 pages? They had little to no impact on me. I've been struggling to figure out why.

I believe what it boils down to is, first, his lack of a consistent internal narrative. He'll tell us that his parents made him come home from college on the weekends after he was out-ed. A few pages later he'll say that he and his college pals had nothing to do tomorrow (Saturday) morning so they could hang out all night. Eh? That's only one example, and it's a small one, but these built up over time and I ended up losing faith in what he was telling us. I'm certain memoirs are difficult - that there is much that you recall but can't place in the correct context. All the same, it's certainly possible to fit all of that into a consistent framework so that the reader is not confused by what's happening and why.

And second, I had great difficulty with his leaps of logic. In particular, when he's describing the most startling events, he muddles the narrative so that it's difficult to tell what piece of it he's describing. Especially during the rape - which I do understand must be so hard to recall and write about - he starts talking about pedophilia between his attacker and another victim. Pedophilia between a 14-year-old and an 18-year-old? That's not even close to fitting the standard definition. Regardless, it threw me out of the description of the event, and I really wondered if he did that on purpose.

I do wish the epilogue had been a book in and of itself. Tell me more about your years since this abortive therapy, your interactions with your family, and especially how you lost your faith!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Galbraith, Robert (The Cuckoo's Calling)

Controversy notwithstanding, Rowling just isn't that fabulous a writer.

It's difficult to say that because I enjoyed the Harry Potter series just as much as the next person, however, there was clearly more to HP than a bunch of well-written characters. Because Rowling does know how to create characters we care a great deal for. It's the plot part that seems not well thought out.

Or, perhaps, it's too well thought out. I got bogged down so often in the incredibly complex details of who was where when and why. At times, I felt that the book was an exercise in memorization, and perhaps there would be a test at the end ("Please list three names in the book that began with R".) In some ways, I wondered if Rowling was obscuring through detail. As if she was thinking: "Hey, I'll make you forget why I created that character with dyslexia because I've just thrown a zillion names and places and dates at you. You're bound to forget!" This seems a disingenuous way to move a plot forward, and especially to get to the end of a plot.

Part of me does want to find out what happens to Cormoran and Robin, but most of me does not. If you absolutely loved the next two books, make me a case for reading them.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Novik, Naomi (Throne of Jade)

As second books often are, this one was not quite as good as the first. I forgive Novik for this because I love the world she has built. I do worry a bit that the series is 9 volumes long, and a friend who also loves sci-fi/fantasy said she got bored after about three of them. I think I should probably drag out my reading of them so I don't get bored too fast!

It's easy to see why that can happen - if only because the language of the period (the time of the Napoleonic Wars) is formal and seems quite stilted when you read it for a long while. Obviously, that's also part of the appeal. If only I could have been born in these times, when insulting someone involved long, drawn-out paragraphs said ever-so-politely, with which you had to tease the insult out of the words. It seems like an amazing thing to learn how to do (and it would slow us down a whole bunch if we did it today, which is a good thing).

In this volume, we move away from the dreaded French to the unfathomable Chinese. There's a deep mystery at the core of the book - which when revealed is not as mysterious as it seemed at first - and along the way we enjoy an extended sea journey with huge storms, sea serpents, other dragons, pretty much everything you can think of. I do, however, hope that we are not subjected to a sea journey on the return because there's only so much I want to read about a man and his dragon sailing halfway around the world.

I did actually get tetchy with Temeraire this time around! Although all his actions are explainable, I was pretty damn sure I wanted a dragon at the end of the first book. Now I'm very much less sure.

Brundage, Elizabeth (All Things Cease to Appear)

It's not even a love-hate relationship with this book. It's a hate-confused-more-confused relationship with the book.

I'm not a big fan of reading about people and relationships that are simply awful. I see and read about plenty of that in real life, and if you're not going to make these folks sympathetic then I just don't see why I should be reading about them. Especially if one of them is borderline sociopathic! I wouldn't have a problem with a book that tries to provide several sides to the development and continued existence of a sociopath - if done delicately - but this book is not that.

In fact, this book is all over the place. At its core, it's attempting to use Swedenborg (philosopher) and Innes (painter) as a backdrop to understanding a situation that seems to involve both ghosts and pretty damn bad marriages. You figure out how that backdrop works; I had enough trouble with it that I'm not going to try and explain it here. It's not that the book didn't keep my interest (for the most part), but it's the kind of interest that is all about waiting to see what happens next in the train wreck. I'd stop reading and want to shake myself physically to get all the bad juju off me.

The ending was both confusing and understandable at the same time, and I don't even want to finish this review. I just want to forget I ever read the book.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

King, Laurie R. (The Murder of Mary Russell)

Well, that one was a doozy. What does one think one's getting into with a title like that?

The insinuation in the title is decidedly reflected in the writing, and don't worry, I won't give anything away. But the plot essentially shivers with confusion around not knowing what is true and what is not, especially as it flips the dialogue and action between three of our tried-n-true characters.

Surprisingly, for the first time, King makes Holmes look the ittiest bittiest bit of a dolt. It's minimal, but it stretches the credulity of her series to suggest that Holmes did not "figure out" a huge turning point in the plot. Not that the readers necessarily did either, but she makes it go on far too long, and we get tired of what Holmes is clearing not perceiving and definitely should be. Is she trying to actually age Holmes? If she's heralding an end to her writing of the series, I will start hyperventilating.

This volume contains a lot of Mrs. Hudson. I've barely thought twice about that character, which is probably why King chose her, as someone whose backstory she can easily mess with. Boy howdy, does she give her a whopper of one. Gotta love King's panache here.

The book also has one of the best endings I've ever seen King write, and that's saying a lot. Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater! Did I just see an entire legion of Sherlock scholars gasp in horror and permanently avert their eyes? I await the next book in the series with great anticipation.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Stiefvater, Maggie (The Dream Thieves)

A gratifying, but odd, second book to the series.

I think Stiefvater wanted to pump up the action a bit, since this book revolves around the one character from the previous novel that you ended up hating by the close of the book - Ronan. And what's clear in book 2 is that she's trying to take typical teenage boy activity, i.e., Ronan front and center, and suss it into something that works within her magical realism.

And it mostly works. In that Ronan is a fascinating character once wholly explained by allowing him to speak on the page. You get a better sense of why his home life is beyond bonkers and why what happened to his father matters so much in the worldview of the series. But the teenage boy activity - while also explained in those terms - was too over the top.

In addition, the creation of the Gray Man, and how his storyline comes to a close at the end of this book was utterly unsatisfying to me. Did we really need him? Did we need him just for Maura? If so, what was the ulterior motive to that? Is it only leading to something that's necessary in book 3? Because he was, well, gray, and therefore unknowable, Stiefvater can't paint him in any sort of detail. That's ultimately aggravating and nothing else.

But, yea, you can't drag me away from book 3. On the hold list right now.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Hannah, Kristin (The Nightingale)

While I didn't think this was as stellar as All the Light You Cannot See, it's not really a fair comparison. These are novels with vastly different approaches.

All the Light You Cannot See is mostly about the similarity of experiences of citizens and soldiers on both the German and French sides. The Nightingale relies on true-life stories of French resistance fighters, those in it from the beginning and those who had resistance thrust upon them. I will completely agree with anyone who says that Hannah knows how to weave stories, because she kept me reading late at night, wondering what the next heart-stopping or unthinkable circumstance would be. I admire how she told parallel stories - both sisters in distinctly different circumstances and how they survived - and brought them together and apart as it befitted the storyline. She has built something wonderfully complex as well as mostly recognizable, and that is worth some kudos (for bravery, if nothing else).

I did wonder at her choice to include the concentration camps towards the end of one of the sister's storylines. This was barely 15 pages long, and that kind of short shrift is surprising in a WWII novel, if it's being told at all. I felt a little like Hannah had run out of steam but that she felt she had to add this in or it wasn't close enough to the truth of WWII, in general.

I also thought it was a bit of a cheat not to let on to which sister was telling the tale from old age, because I don't think that layer of mystery was necessary or added to the plot in any way. It also made me snort that a dying woman would insist on walking around Paris in high heels. But I did live in Italy, and that does seem to be the case on the continent. Nothing would keep you off heels on cobblestones, not even if you were dying!

Friday, August 19, 2016

King, Laurie R. (Dreaming Spies)

It's fair to say I liked this round better because it involved books, libraries and the Bodleian itself. Including whether it's at all possible to break into the Bodleian to swap out a reproduction for an original (ie, doing the right thing) which made my palms sweat (ie, feels very, very much like the wrong thing).

I also enjoyed King's take on Japan, especially the world of Japan when Hirohito was still Crown Prince. King sprinkles small reminders throughout of what US policy towards Japan at the time implied for the upcoming World Wars. As well as providing a lot of cultural information, to explain to a novice why Japan's customs may seem so odd to us Westerners.

The mystery itself was a bit too standard. It was clear who the real "bad guy" was almost right away, and the reveal of where the mystery book was hidden was truly blasé. But things got a little bit more twisty towards the end, also not completely unforeseen, but complex enough to be satisfactory.

Also, I'm nearly caught up! One book to go... until King writes her next one.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Novik, Naomi (His Majesty's Dragon)

Wow, it's been a long time since a fantasy book affected me that much. Especially a fantasy book about dragons.

It's because Novik knows how to create good characters. Strangely, her main human character is deeply loyal and empathetic to his fellow humans and dragons, but he lacks... enjoyment in things. In other words, he's a little bit too austere to be completely likable. I believe Novik has done this on purpose, to create weakness in her main character, but I'm not wholly convinced it has worked the way she wants it to. It's true that she's created that as well in her main dragon, who's just a touch too bloodthirsty and doesn't quite get the concept of loyalty to king and country right off the bat.

Novik worldbuilds well - the Napoleonic Wars with "aviators," that is, teams of men and women who ride dragons - and provides just the right amount of tension between the good aviators and the bad aviators (on both sides of the Channel). When the person you end up hating the most gets a bit of what's coming to them, you want to fist pump the air. That's surprising because I've read a lot of stories like this and not been as moved by these moments as in this book. This could be the effect of the book's voice - posh, and definitely 1800s, and building the plot slowly in layers - which belies its power in terms of storytelling.

I keep forgetting I finished the book, and get excited that I'll be able to sit down and read more of it, followed by deep disappointment. Fortunately, there are 8 more till the conclusion!