Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Cline, Ernest (Armada)

Oh, terrible, truly terrible. It's like he forgot how to write (dude, way to telegraph at least two major parts of your ending, ugh) and just remembered that he was supposed to speak geek to his particular audience. I don't have much else to say - I mean, if you enjoy figuring out what geek he's referencing, you'll have fun, but otherwise, just stay far, far away.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Rowell, Rainbow (Landline)

I haven't read any of Rowell's other books, so I don't know if it's common for her to play with time the way she does here.

In this instance, Rowell places the book in a particular time period but through the device noted in the title, adds in the ability to talk to others (or one particular other) in another time period. I'd be surprised if the majority of folks reading this book weren't immediately taken by the idea of being able to contact someone in your past (or future, I suppose). Who would you want to speak to? I'd definitely talk to my Dad when he was still at the beginning of his career (70s & 80s).

At heart, the book is about family, and both families described are definitely "modern families". Rowell has a bit of a pop/hip style, so these descriptions are fun, funny and engaging, and only feel slightly unrealistic (the main character's mom's family has one too many elements of weird). In fact, Rowell's descriptions are by far the best part of this book, from the drawing of a cartoon squirrel, to a child's voicemail to her mom, to what it's like to sit next to an ultra-tense person on an airplane. For that reason alone, I'd read her other novels.

Stiefvater, Maggie (The Scorpio Races)

It's no surprise to me that this book has garnered a number of honors, including a Printz Honor Award and being part of the YALSA contingent. It's solidly written fantasy with just the right amount of real life thrown in to be appealing to those who may be thrown off by the idea of horses from the sea that ride up onto the beach and eat you.

That's a terrible description. At heart, this is probably a love story. Between a boy and a girl, but much more importantly, between horses and people. Including those horses that want to eat you. It's about loyalty as much as it is about love. It's about caring for something other than yourself, and in that, it's also about the place you live and the neighbors you have and the family that you have around you.

What I loved the most about this book was its ability to place me inside of a young girl's head, showing me what she felt about a variety of different things. This made it possible for me to learn/know/assume what she'd be thinking about any particular thing, thus avoiding the need for this kind of description and allowing the story to progress. It's really quite a perfect example of story progression.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Benioff, David (City of Thieves)

I wholeheartedly endorse this novel.

With the caveat that there are a few parts that are pretty darn difficult to read. This being a book about WWII, the Germans vs. the Russians, the siege of St. Petersburg, and a whole lot of hunger, it's not too surprising that there are sections that detail how horrible human beings can be, especially brainwashed human beings. (Or evil at heart. I cannot decide, in the end.)

The remainder of my endorsement is valid because while you wince and cry and gnash your teeth at the horrors of war, a page later you are actually laughing at the interaction between these two very, very different youths. And loving how their differences are championed by the author. I mean, if this isn't a showcase for diversity, I don't know what is.

And it's another of those books that has a well-considered last line, and I do always love well-considered last lines (and the plot structuring that goes with it).

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Christie, Agatha (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd)

A review of this feels unnecessary. It's known as one of Christie's classic tales. And it's the one with the unexpected twist. I feel that I had heard of the ending of this novel before I started it, and when I was halfway through I realized that the person I was pinning it on was the most surprising character of them all and that perhaps this was the book with that wacky ending. Yup, it is. You'll likely figure out there is only one kind of ending, and you'll raise your eyebrows and you'll say "well, huh" and then you'll want to finish because you wonder in what manner Christie will end this book. To say more is to give everything away, sorry!

Reynolds, Sheri (The Rapture of Canaan)

I'm not often a fan of religious novels - those that are designed to offer some insight into the religious life. They feel so alien to me. I'm not much interested in details about living such a restrictive life, regardless of whether aspects of that life are well-meant or healthy. I figured from the title that this book would be providing that insight, and I was not wrong. I'd heard enough about it as a classic that I wanted to find out what made it a classic. (I'm going to ignore that it was ever an Oprah Book Club book.)

I wonder if it was one of the first of its kind to try to explain what it's like to be part of a fundamentalist sect, particularly from the viewpoint of a child. Ninah follows the rules in this restrictive cult, but does not believe them in her mind and heart. She sees what happens outside the cult and wonders why her life needs to be the way it is. And then even more crud happens to her and regardless of whether it was her fault or not (tough to think anything is her fault since almost nothing is allowed), her life takes a turn for the worse.

Reynolds is certainly a good writer, leading you down the path of hopelessness in more ways than one. But the ending? Nope, I didn't like that. In at least a couple of ways it felt forced. I didn't mind that there were many things left unresolved (as befits reality), but I was confused as to why certain actions begot others when any action would have done the trick. In the end, the last 1/4 of the novel felt strung out and then abruptly came to an end. 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

French, Tana (Faithful Place)

I'm only on book 3 of the series, but this one had the strongest flavor to it. Initially, I thought maybe this one would be more "standardized". In the sense of it being more like a regular murder mystery. A gritty setting and a time-honored plot device and a fun dialect. But wait! There's more!

This book is all about love. Now, you could say it's all about family. And sure, I would get that. But what she does so well is thematic descriptions. She describes first love in a way that makes you want to back pedal 30 years and live it all over again for reals. And of course, because there's a murder involved, it's heartbreaking at the same time as it's beautiful.

Fortunately, I had read some reviews in advance of reading this book so I knew it was going to leave a huge hole in my heart if I didn't take care. So, take care! Harden your heart a tiny bit so you can read this one without dissolving onto the floor.

Since I'm now walking around saying "Jaysus, Mary and Joseph, I'm after buying that at the shops" (oh, the Brits and their mangled English), I think I should stop with the series for a bit, and give myself a breather. It's only going to break my heart more if I fly through all these and there's nothing left to read for a whole year...

Saturday, August 29, 2015

French, Tana (The Likeness)

I have to give French her utterly ludicrous core concept: two people who are almost exact doppelgängers, not related. Yea, pull my other leg. And, I couldn't care less in the end. It did bother me in the beginning, and made me worry that the sophomore effort was not going to live up the freshman effort (and what an effort that was). There is nothing to fear here.

Once again, she pulls all your emotions out of your stomach, tosses them around like soccer balls for 500 pages, and then lets them fly away like little birdies on the last page  That's how spent you feel when you're done. I don't really know how she does her magic - action that flows from page to page and from one plot device to the next, seamlessly. And especially at the end, never telling you the whole story so that you absolutely must read between the lines, and absolutely must remember plot devices from 200 pages back. When you "get it", you literally gasp. That is stellar writing.

And there's more. In between all the plot devices are little descriptive passages that take your breath away. In this book, descriptions of tiny country lanes in the dark, of long and sweet hot summer afternoons, of the kind of house that isn't lived in anymore and can only be seen in a museum setting. I'm convinced she's had some experience writing poetry (and I'd like to read some of it).

After reading two of her books, I think it's safe to say that I'm considering her the best mystery series writer I've ever read. Yup.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Hornby, Nick (High Fidelity)

At first, I was irritated by this book. I enjoyed the movie, like most people, but in the book you see way, way more of the protagonist's noodling and over-thinking and pointless ruminations and it just gets so tiresome. Especially if you're a woman reading this. And a woman way too late in her game to care about these kinds of ruminations. You can't help shouting at the page: get over yourself and bite the bullet, dude!

However, the novel redeemed itself in two ways:

- It's funny as all get out. It's unfortunate that I can see Jack Black in my mind every time they riff on a top-5 list in the store. I'd like to know if those scenes would "play" as well in my mind without the movie version there in advance. Regardless, and obviously, the discussions of music are integral for both the main character's growth and to provide a lot more than a thought-provoking essay on the state of being a man in the modern era.

- The girlfriend is really well written. She's a mess, but she's a thoughtful, brave, heartfelt mess. You can see why he likes her and you can see why he should be with her. She may teeter a bit on the "fantasy-woman" edge because no one is quite that put together, but this kind of woman is believable.

I doubt I'll be reading his other books. In the end, they're too "male" and I just find that boring.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

McCall Smith, Alexander (The Miracle at Speedy Motors)

Short and sweet, since these are all pretty much the same, and I'm trying to blow through the rest (what are there, 7 more?) this year, if possible. Not surprisingly, they are usually available on Kindle loan from my public library...

I found this one slightly more poignant than usual. I loved the bit about what you can talk about with old friends and what you can't. And, I wasn't surprised by how McCall Smith finished this one. The end.