Monday, February 8, 2016

King, Laurie R. (Pirate King)

I would never, never accuse King of overreaching. No one who creates a successful mystery series with a 20-something wife for Sherlock Holmes is overreaching. However, in this volume in the series, the apt word is "misapplied".

Fflyttes of Fancy - just saying that phrase again makes me wince. It's as if King thought of a really good set of puns and decided to build a story around them. A ridiculous story with "real" pirates set against the "fictional" universe of Pirates of Penzance, drifting from England to Portugal to Morocco and thankfully not back again (although England would have been a welcome respite to the more "exotic" locations described). Also, it's as if she wasn't re-reading her own story, because she tells us over and over in the beginning why the actresses have been given names other their own. By the third time, I was feeling decidedly alarmed about the rest of the book.

And, yes, Mr. Pessoa may, in fact, have been a real person, but I could not have cared less about his peculiar personal outlook on life and his own "flights of fancy". In fact, that really sums up the entire novel for me - I just didn't care. The more ludicrous it became, the more offputting it was to finish.

I notice that it does get some of the lower reviews on Goodreads than her other novels, and that the next one has a slightly better average rating, so here's hoping.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Albee, Edward (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?)

I can still recall how visceral the movie felt to me. How could it not: two stellar actors, both with oodles of history between them, aging themselves appropriately, working their butts off? It's way more than that, of course, since it's dependent on the strength of this writing. But I couldn't read the play without seeing Taylor and Burton every step of the way.

I do wonder what it was like to see on the stage (veteran actor Uta Hagen said she would play Martha twelve times a week, if given the chance). It must have been unbelievably vital, raw, scarring and despondent when seen in the flesh. Pure gold for theatre actors, and usually very hard to translate to the screen (one-room plays lose vitality as moving pictures).

But the written play! Well, obviously I wouldn't still remember the movie or want to see it on stage if I didn't think the writing was stellar. But it's a hard read - a knock-down dragged-out fight that will have you so uncomfortable you want to go look at unicorns and rainbows for a while. The perfect illusory antidote to a play that rips illusions aside.

A final note... my book club recently got me into reading plays. Almost kicking and screaming, but not quite - I think I expected them to be more like poetry, which I find even more difficult (another friend is working on me in that regard as well). In each case, I've read a play that I've already seen as a movie, and the stage directions in particular are fun to contrast and compare. As are any potential changes I might notice between the two, which are usually surprisingly few.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Mankell, Henning (The Pyramid: And Four Other Kurt Wallander Mysteries)

Sadly, this is not as great as his novels. Which is weird, as I thought his short stories would be more thematically to the point.

It's clear to me that in order for him to discuss the state of Sweden in the 90s, he needed more time. This could be because his novels have always been procedurals (and then this, and then that, and let me show you all the details), and you need many pages to get a procedural right. It could be because instead of being able to show all the pieces needed to comment on his main theme, he could only show some pieces and then had to blatantly comment on the theme at the end of the story. In essence, "I didn't have time, so here it is spelled out for you, sorry about that".

I did enjoy how these 5 stories tell the tale of Wallander's past life, before Ystad, before Mona left him, before almost everything we know about him from the novels. I think Mankell may have forgotten about his prior characterization of Linda, though - he calls her chatty, and in subsequent novels she is absolutely nothing like chatty (same in the TV series).

Monday, January 11, 2016

Campbell, Bonnie Jo (Once Upon a River)

I grew to like this book more as I went along. In the beginning, I wanted to smack our heroine a lot, but by the end, I understood more of the point of the novel.

This young girl moves from strange circumstance to stranger circumstance after a number of tragic events. By the time she gets to the state park and "The Indian" I was getting pretty darn tired of the author placing her in a particular situation just to bring the story to closure. The plot devices were just not subtle enough for my taste, and it wasn't like I couldn't see where we were going to end up.

But I did appreciate the tone of Campbell's storytelling. Her writing is particularly good at giving you a visceral understanding of the river environment and the people who feel innately wedded to the river and its life, and who couldn't live apart from it. This is a world I know nothing about, and she made it completely real to me.

I have a feeling that this tale might be best read by someone younger than me who has a hankering to live off-grid. In some ways, it provides a roadmap for those folks, and I can imagine it'd be darn lonely to feel so very different from everyone else. It also might offer some consolation, especially to girls, for having confusing teenager-y feelings and not knowing the right way to turn or the right person to rely on. I wouldn't call this a young-adult novel, but it's likely best read by those in that age group.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Mitchell, David (Slade House)

For perhaps the first time ever after reading a Mitchell book, I wished he hadn't set it in the same fantastical world as a previous novel (i.e., The Bone Clocks). Mitchell is such a good writer, and I don't really want to read a series by him, I want to read unique and diverse offerings.

It's not that I wasn't intrigued by where he was going here. You feel the angst and the horror and the thrill and, above all, the oddness of this story. Plus he gets to give a fabulous speech on the deficiencies of humans who can't remember their own history, which, if it wasn't hugely depressing would have had me smiling. But the story became, well, repetitive, and when the final solution reveals itself, it's rather deflating.

I'll give him a bit of a break in that this book feels more like a novella than a true novel. It's possible he wrote it as a short story and then developed it into a short novel? I don't fault him that, but I do hope he writes something wholly different next time around.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Stein, Garth (The Art of Racing in the Rain)

It's quite possible that the author wanted us to enjoy learning what it takes to be a great race car driver more than he wanted us to enjoy the other aspects of the story. It takes a certain amount of panache to make the telling of this family's story come from a dog's mouth (okay, a dog's thoughts). Because that can be incredibly cheesy. He didn't escape the cheesiness entirely. But he did convince me that race car driving is even more cool than I thought it was.

Telling the tale from a dog's point of view is the ultimate in anthropomorphization. Since it's obviously artificial, you have to hope your reader will accept the artificiality and go along for the ride. And, for the most part, I did. But when he had the dog expound on philosophical questions regarding life and family and what matters the most - it simply would not gel for me. IT'S A DOG. I completely understand that Stein is doing this to allow a wholly third party voice to speak about the human condition and thus bring some outside perspective to it but it was just too absurd. 

I way preferred learning about race car driving. His writing brought a whole different perspective to the sport (and I wouldn't have called it a sport before this, even having seen the Indy 500 myself). If Stein isn't a race car driver, he did a whole ton of interviews of race car drivers and a lot of research into racing and races themselves. I imagine if that's the case, it must have been worthwhile if only to write off that trip to Italy...

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Butler, Octavia E. (Kindred)

Instead of bemoaning the fact that I hadn't gotten around to reading Butler until this month, I'll just say that there are a lot of books I have never gotten around to reading. It's not about winning some game by reading ALL THE BOOKS. It's about discovering good avenues for finding good books and having a method for getting those in the queue. Butler was just the next one!

On the other hand, damn, Butler is good. I have a love/hate relationship with this book, which I'll detail below.

1. The second our protagonist goes back in time (I'm not giving anything away here, it happens within a few pages of the beginning), I knew what I was in for as a reader. My mind shied away from that, because I knew it would be brutal.
2. I also knew that it was damn important to read it and recognize how a black female writer would portray her ancestors' history. I knew that I couldn't put myself in her shoes, ever, and that she needed to describe what slavery felt like in words that would sink in.
3. And, jeepers, she sure does that. Again, it's brutal. It's also gentle and scared and conflicted and sad. It's definitely not one-note, and that speaks to its power.
4. But because I knew what I was getting into, it was very hard for me to always stay in the story, and not kick myself out and realize the teaching moments. I would not call the novel didactic in any sense, but as a white reader, it is difficult not to realize, constantly, that it is teaching me something. That's very likely not a bad thing.
5. But it can slow down the progress of a novel. I found that happening to me at times, but because Butler's writing is so good, it didn't truly bother me. As if being aware of it made it all okay.

Folks told me to start with this novel of hers, and now that I know a little bit more about her and her writing, that seems smart. This novel delves into the past, while her other novels showcase different futures. Now I can't wait to see what she does with that.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Day, Felicia (You're Never Weird on the Internet (Mostly))

 Felicia Day. Not that I didn't before I read this book, but now more than ever.

I found it so funny to learn what an overachiever she is. I'm not sure why I'm ever surprised to hear that about a celebrity at this point. But her overachievement is WAY out there. It's like ultra-overachieving. She should have majored in overachieving and got a 4.0 in it!! (Remember: , and humor is hard, but I'm trying.)

It was less funny to read about her struggles with anxiety, and all the conundrums that come from becoming successful. I think it's safe to say that her struggles are relevant to anyone, not just folks working in Hollywood. Even overachievers struggle a lot - take  all of you who want to do anything with your lives!!

What I really didn't get was her eventual embroilment in Gamergate. Specifically, nothing about that "movement" makes sense to me. I looked it up on wikipedia, gawker, everywhere, and all explanations fail to get me from "Zoe Quinn" to "concern with ethics in video game journalism". I'm glad she took action, and she should definitely continue to create adorable pictures of her pets that will melt the  of any mean-spirited person. RIGHT? Definitely.

[P.S. Day embodies everything I love about the Internet, especially how we can write in all caps for KICKS and add weird emojis and use multiple exclamation points!!!]

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Sendker, Jan-Philipp (The Art of Hearing Heartbeats)

I didn't really expect a clone of a Nicholas Sparks novel. Albeit one set in an exotic locale.

It was clear from the get-go that this author has spent a lot of time in Burma (Myanmar) and treats this novel as a way to say what he likes and doesn't like about the country. To do that, he wraps up descriptions of the people, culture, landscape and (apparently terrible) food in a completely unrealistic love story. 

I'm really, really okay with the "two people fall in love and struggle with some obstacles to stay together" trope. Because it's mostly realistic, it happens to a lot of us, and putting some good literary chops behind that can make for the best of all novels. But, this guy wants us to believe that his particular love story is the most special of them all, frankly, because it involves one blind person and one crippled person. And that these two have a love that transcends everything and anything. Horsepucky. No one's love is like that. I expect I could have treated this book like a fairy tale, but I live in the real world, and fairy tales only work for me in Fantasy fiction.

And the secret ending that he's hiding from us all along? Might as well yell it from the rooftops at the beginning, it's so obvious.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

French, Tana (The Secret Place)

Oh, dear, the last in the series. What will I do until she writes her next one? Mourn the complete dearth of poetically-inclined mystery writers? So be it.

This one is really different. At first, I was not enchanted. (Hey, you must give me your tried and true formula. Silly reader thoughts!) But it very, very much grew on me. I wanted to hug it to me constantly because of its subject matter as well - teenage girls, albeit a heck of a lot smarter and less sensitive than I ever was or will be - but still, teenage girls. Dealing with everything they do, chief among them, boys. I think what I like the most about this novel is that it tries very hard not to disparage teenage boys (or even adult boys) fully. As usual, she provides a wide range of thoughts, emotions, ideas, issues of the day and time. Consequently - not a feminist diatribe. And more power to it because of that.

There are some really odd bits that had me raising my eyebrows. Almost as if I can see her gears working... "Huh, now that I'm established, I'm going to take some liberties and see if anyone notices." Heck yea we noticed! What to feel about this? You'll know what I mean when you get there.

I do wonder if she's about to take off in a new direction. She ends with a little description of careers other than police detective work, and the ending of this novel has more completion to it (at least in my mind) than the previous 4 novels. So, it's possible? If so, I know who her new protagonist will be for book 6.