Monday, April 17, 2017

Nguyen, Viet Thanh (The Sympathizer)

This is obviously a super important volume in the history of American imperialism and aggression. I completely understand that, and I get that it needed to be written. But... it's bloody tedious.

The novel is written by a professor, and while the writing is absolutely a cut above average, it's once again my least favorite kind of novel. The kind wherein the author chooses an "important subject" and uses the novel to relay all the concerns about that "important subject," creating a plot that sets up the scenarios needed to teach about this "important subject". When you're done reading it, you feel like you've just taken a class and deserve a certificate for having finished it. I think these novels are very hard to write because they take a lot of finesse so that they don't seem like a lecture.

Nguyen gets most of the way there by creating a confused character, a double agent in the post-Vietnam war era, someone with real zeal for doing the right thing but not able to achieve it. However, there's just too much being tried here: the descriptions of the differences between America and Vietnam are overwhelming and repetitive, the objectification of women (especially Vietnamese women) is sadly behind the times, and the necessity of constantly having to remember who "won" that war and thus which side the character is really on is exhausting (and perhaps that was the point).

If the purpose of the book was to teach me about the Vietnamese-American experience, unfortunately, I think it missed its mark.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Hawkins, Scott (The Library at Mount Char)

Such a delightful romp! Enchanting! Heartwarming! Playful!
Nope. Not in the slightest. I still liked it hugely.

This is hands-down the oddest fantasy novel I've ever read. Best one-line description of the plot: a god passing his powers to the next generation, which he built through some of the most awful shenanigans you can imagine, such that this power transfer is not even close to smooth.

It's mostly black comedy, mixed with some truly horrific imagery (you could call it horror, yes), and a bizarro plot that meanders for literally 2/3 of the book, and then solidifies itself during the final pages. All in service to a strange concept that doesn't look like it's going to have an ending that we appreciate. Also, that 2/3 mark? That's when the book seems to strangely... end. Only to start up again.

Yes, I'm recommending this, but with lots of caveats. Bear with it? No, that's not really it. It's engaging from the get-go. Take a chance? There are enough mini-stories being told very well that there's no chance to take. Forget about the plot and just take the journey Hawkins gives to you? Yes, go with that approach and I think you'll enjoy it as much as I did.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Hanagarne, Josh (The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family)

You know I'm going to love a book written by a snarky librarian. What's fascinating here is that it's written by a librarian from the Mormon faith who lifts weights and has Tourette's syndrome.

My favorite part is actually the end of the book, where he showcases more than a remedy for Tourette's (if you can call it that) and instead something we can all get behind, as we move through life. I can't say much or it will give away all that uplifting joy prematurely. (See, now you really want to read the book.)

There were some spots that dragged, chiefly, when he talks a little bit too much about how both weightlifting and libraries are fabulous and wonderful and here's why and did I tell you enough about why yet? You better believe I think libraries are the bee's knees, but don't bore your readers. He works pretty hard not to - keeps it rather engaging - but each of these sections just goes on a bit too long. I enjoyed his childhood memories far more, and was definitely intrigued by his mother's parenting style, his faith and what it meant to him, and what it was like to grow up as a kid with Tourette's.

It isn't until far along into the book that he reveals that his writing started by blogging, which is obviously how he got this book deal. I appreciated that, since other books by bloggers seem to showcase how they got to this point. Writing a real book! I'm real now! Achievement unlocked! So, that was refreshing.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Stiefvater, Maggie (The Raven King)

I had a strange relationship with this final book in the series.

Mostly, I just wanted it to be done. It felt to me that Stiefvater was told to write a full-length novel when she really wanted to write a novella as the last book. There were too many scenes about the same thing. Oh, Cabeswater is in trouble? Golly, I couldn't tell. You already wrote 5 scenes about Cabeswater going through the wringer in this book, and one more isn't telling me anything more. Gosh, is Gansey upset about his approaching death? Holy cats, who wouldn't be?! Didn't you already tell us this at least a dozen times since the book started? It got sort of... dull over time.

Also, did she change up the narrative without a word of warning regarding Ronan and Adam? Have I been oblivious for 3 books? Does this bother anyone else? I like that she went in this direction, but it is not fully fleshed out, and shouldn't be just an add-on to the whole story.

And one last thing - why does Henry come in as a character only in the last book? He's appropriately sarcastically funny and does seem like a "knight" to Gansey's "king", but does he have to be this naive about the storyline? Wouldn't it have been better to include him earlier so that he isn't quite so much of a third wheel? I felt kind of bad for him during the last chapters.

I was, of course, hugely pleased with her intent in the ending, and I enjoyed Stiefvater's words as much as I normally do, but I wish I hadn't left this series with such a feeling of disappointment overall.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Dunn, Katherine (Geek Love)

I... have no idea where to start. Except to give the warning I've been giving to others since I started reading the book. Which is to bear with it. To be explicit, bear with at least the first 25 pages. If you think you can't handle it after that, feel no shame. This book is the definition of something that is not for everyone.

Here, I'll help. This is a book about a family of freaks. Specifically, the parents in this family worked their darnedest to produce children with physical abnormalities. They owned a circus, and needed performers (although I don't think that's the entire reason they wanted a family of freaks). The novel's plot revolves around one of the children, her childhood in the circus, her relationship with her extremely twisted brother, and the life she had many years after the circus.

My problem with the book isn't the plot. That is actually somewhat standard - complex familial relationships, personal growth and understanding, a little bit of a mystery, and some form of closure. It's the strange assumption that what we are reading is normal. Well, not so much normal as "to be expected". That this odd world these people live in is playing out right now in the American heartland, and this book just showcases it. I don't think that's all of it, though, because the ending to the novel does recognize the apparent "wrongness" of it all.

I expect Dunn does this on purpose - hides her own feelings for this world she's created. Except, I am uncertain what kind of take-away she wants me to have at the end. Having read about her life, it feels as if she'd welcome a real-life example of this, and be giggling with glee at the discovery.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Sanderson, Brandon (The Bands of Mourning)

Actually, this was a far better post-original-Mistborn novel than the previous two. Probably because Sanderson is finally getting to the point. Frankly? It's taking way too long.

I mean, I spent all of the last book thinking: "Nope, we can't have Wax and Marasi together, that would upset the balance of things." and "Because Wax and Steris, yup, they really have to starting getting together, and what's the goldang holdup??" and "Wayne is so freakin' annoying and never really funny enough when he needs to be." and "Is there a bloody point to all this hearkening back to yesteryear and where Wax has hailed from??"

So, thankfully, Sanderson manages to answer some of this in this 3rd novel of the post-original-Mistborn novels. Enough so that you're satisfied by the answers, and still looking forward to the next one because it's finally going to finish this off and answer all the questions. It sure as heck better.

More annoyingly, because this novel was better, I really wanted to read post-original-Mistborn novel 3.5 because it apparently answers even more than all the questions - and I can't! It's not a digital download any longer! It's been sucked into a compendium of others of the same ilk and is only available as a print volume! What!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Atkinson, Kate (One Good Turn)

Well, she's still a delight to read, if you can get over the constant spiraling into other aspects of the story. Often you can't determine if she's telling you valuable information, but nearly always she is. As usual with Atkinson, you need to bear with it because it does bear fruit.

I will admit I was more impatient with her writing style this time around than the first time. But the story was more fun in this installment. It's as if she decided that she would throw caution to the wind and instead create something truly bizarro. I think that along with it, she threw some police procedures to the wind as well, which makes it a little more unbelievable than usual. It also didn't have the creep factor that the first one did (the first one's spookiness did a lot to keep me going through all the interrupting prose).

I like Atkinson's writing enough that I'll bear with the next one, but if it is even more crazy, I may move to the TV series instead.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Hawkins, Paula (The Girl on the Train)

In the afterword, Hawkins thanks all the commuters on her London train. My guess is that she's thanking them because she noticed how few folks actually look out the window, and it got her thinking about what might happen if they actually did look out the window...

This is not the best book I've ever read. It was entertaining in a Dan Brown sort of way, replete with thrilling chapter endings and some large leaps in logic for the purpose of the plot. For instance, there were far, far, far too many instances of  Rachel happening to end up near her ex's house, which became both obvious and tedious towards the end.

The book strums a single note throughout - that of the ineffable sadness of a life without children and how that can lead you to do all sorts of awful things including falling into alcoholism - but also seems to be plinking the piano on the theme of men being physically stronger than women and what that can imply. For those of us who don't have kids, that first note can get boring quickly, while the second note seems overwrought. Especially in light of how the book wraps itself up. What I'd really like to bitch about I cannot do without giving away the entire conclusion, but anyone finishing it will wonder why we were led to believe a certain marital bliss when it was apparently not true.

I doubt I'll watch the movie, even though I find Emily Blunt a surprisingly forthright actor with an uncomplicated style. Which would be quite interesting to watch in a portrayal of an alcoholic.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Capote, Truman (Breakfast at Tiffany's)

Who knew that Truman Capote had written Breakfast at Tiffany's? Obviously, lots of people know this, but there were a number in our book club who did not know, including me. It's just that I don't acquaint the person who wrote In Cold Blood with a dashing romp about high society, or at least something playing at being high society.

After finishing, I had to immediately watch the trailer for the movie again, to see how alike they were. They beef up the romance (quite a bit, in fact) but the funniest part is that the movie announcer can't say Capote's last name! You'd think someone in the studio would have noticed that...

I confess to not necessarily understanding all the words in this novella. I would need some education on the time and place to make sense of it all. It also doesn't seem to matter much. It's perfectly clear what kind of a girl our Ms. Holly Golightly is, and what it must have been like to live in her building, meet her friends, go on escapades with her, and then watch as things rather fall apart. I was disappointed at times that the language did not match the times, or at least the times as I think of them (Holly is, after all, a product of her upbringing, but still).

What I appreciate the most about Capote's writing is that he is a premier example of an excellent storyteller: tell us the basics, give us as little description as necessary, build up the mystery with only a few words, and leave us wondering how it all really works out. And if you're lucky enough to get a copy that includes the short story A Christmas Memory, you'll see exactly why Capote is a master.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Corey, James S.A. (Leviathan Wakes)

I'm reading along... and realizing that the book is moving very quickly. Goodness, if we go at this rate the entire first season of the TV series (called "The Expanse") is going to be over before I'm halfway through the book. Yup.

I almost thought about stopping, so that I would watch the new season (premiering in February, I believe) before I read all about it by finishing the book. But, I just couldn't stop reading. This is one engaging writing duo - and it took me a while before I learned it was a duo, not a solo endeavor - and they create this environment and spin you from world to world without nary a concern that you will get confused by the rapid changes of planetoid, space station, or spaceship. In addition, they assume you will immediately understand how Mars, Earth and the Belt (the asteroid belt) could be at each others' throats, without a whole lot of explanation.

That is absolutely the case. It's simple to see how we could end up in a state like this, if we were also inhabiting a couple rings out from the earth. (Heck, aren't we about to see it in action right now?) There's only one part of the book that didn't ring true for me, and that didn't have much to do with the sociopolitical climate of this space opera, but instead the moral stances of our two main characters after one of them makes a quick and disturbing decision. But this is fascinating in its own right - on the one hand, we have the idealistic Earther, and on the other hand, the overly cynical and pragmatic Belter. It's worth watching their stories spin together and then apart.

For those of you who haven't read this first book before watching, the Aghdashloo character does not show up in the TV series at all... yet. I'm fascinated to learn why, when I read the next book.