Monday, January 19, 2015

Amos, Kim (A Kiss to Build a Dream On)

As you all know, I rarely read romances, however, in the last 6 months I've read two. The first was a recommendation from this very author, and the second is the first foray of this very author in the genre. I feel fortunate to have read the ARC!

Admittedly, I wished the title of the novel was "Interior Design to Build a Dream On" if only because it was more interesting to me than the sex scenes. Granted, those are quite well done! It seems that at my age I'd rather read a great description of a beautifully-created room (recessed lighting! ooh! blue tables with bowls of lemons on them! aah!) than a great description of how folks are getting their rocks off. Hmm.

But that's really the great charm of these books - because I am looking forward to reading the series - that you can enjoy super fun descriptions of all kinds of relationships (friendship being key among them), interesting and heartfelt introspection from the main characters, solid and intriguing plotlines, the aforementioned romantic scenes, and bonus thrills and spills at the end. It's the best of all worlds.

Plus, so you're aware - cheese jokes. Knowing the author, she couldn't write the novel without them.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Tartt, Donna (The Goldfinch)

I'd heard from multiple sources that this was one of those books you either loved or hated. I'd also heard that it was either a tough slog (it is rather lengthy) or that you get to a certain part about 2/3 in and throw up your hands. I also had the experience of not enjoying her previous debut novel (The Secret History). This is what I started with.

I agree with all the sentiments. It was definitely a tough slog in places. It's not giving much away to say that there is a lot, lot, lot of druggie and alcoholic and general bad behavior all around in this novel. I don't live my life this way, so it got exasperating. While we understand the reasons why, for the most part, it's hard not to want to reach into the pages, grasp Theo by the shoulders (or the neck!) and try to shake some sense into him. Because it just goes on too lengthily. Or so it feels at the time. When you're done, you understand how all the pieces come together. But that doesn't excuse the deadly dull parts.

I did also get to a certain part and throw up my hands. I was invested enough in the story to not also throw the book across the room and not retrieve it. However, I can see how some would. To them I would say that if you just give it another 75 pages it will pay off for you, and that the final 50 pages are some of the best writing - and the best summary (for lack of a better word) of an entire story - that I've ever read.

Therefore, to everyone I say: stick with it, it will pay off with all sorts of dividends.

Friday, December 19, 2014

King, Laurie R. (The Moor)

I'd been warned that this wasn't King's best. But they're all some degree of fascinating, and the interaction between Mary and Sherlock is always stellar, and I have to read them all, right? Right.

I think the reason this one is not as great as the rest is for two reasons. First, because she's rehashing the old Hound story. It's dangerous territory, since she's already rehashing Holmes to begin with.

But second, and chiefly, she's set this in a locale that sounds simply... boring. If Mary isn't cold or wet, she's exhausted or irritated. The love the inhabitants of the moor have for it does not shine through. And it should! It may be a dangerous place, filled with slippery bogs, but its windswept majesty and haunting beauty should be extolled by the author, not denigrated at every turn.

In the end, there's just too much tramping around and not enough real action.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Mitchell, David (The Bone Clocks)

It's almost impossible to review a David Mitchell book. They're so full of... everything! This is my third novel of his, and definitely the most enjoyable.

However, I'm not sure it's the most transparent. (Hahaha, that's a joke, David Mitchell books are never transparent, hahaha). What I mean by that is, it's harder to find the theme in this one. Several reviewers have said that it's about how we view death (and consequently life) and what we do with our lives to prepare for it. I agree, in that our main character's life is told to us both directly and indirectly (through other characters), in relation to how she learns to accept and understand things that are completely beyond her ken but relate to the journey towards death. I refuse to give anything away here (I'll explain why in a moment), suffice it to say that the "supernatural brigade certainly seems to be out in force."

But I find it hard to believe that living Holly's life through the other characters' lives is all there is to those parts of the novel. There are three main men in her life, and they are extraordinarily different. In a way, it felt like what Patrick Rothfuss did in The Wise Man's Fear, just string really interesting stories together. Because I didn't find a theme across the three men (other than that they loved Holly).

One thing you must do as you read this book is... believe. When you reach about page 100 and everything goes to hell in a handbasket - in fact, you may think that Mitchell just ran his text through a random word generator - just, trust the author. He'll make it all make sense in the end.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Moyes, Jojo (Me Before You)

This is a prime example of a well-written and well-researched genre novel.

I was going to say well-written and well-researched trashy novel, but I thought that might be a little too harsh. It isn't trashy per se so much as having an obvious outcome, so a genre novel is a better description. Although I'm not certain what genre this could fit under: mystery? suspense?

The best thing about it was its honesty in describing living with disability, from both the disabled person's and the caregiver's point of view. If nothing else, you will learn tons about how not to treat the disabled (ie, geez, don't stare, okay?).

The worst thing about it was how laboriously the rift between upper-class and lower-class was set up, with a painfully adhered-to need to describe the benefits of both - my family has a lovely garden, but my family laughs a lot, but my family can afford vacations for the disabled, but my family cleans all the time... It got stupid after a while.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Baker, Jo (Longbourn)

If you're a Jane Austen fan, you'll love this bit of downstairs dish.

IOW, instead of focusing on the gentry, Baker focuses on the servants - how difficult their lives are, what they can and cannot have, how they have to behave. I appreciated the author's research into exactly how you make soap, what chilblains are, how disgusting those dresses were and why. It really brought home to me the reasons why we created the middle class! And what the innovations in technology were for.

As per her writing, Baker creates the English countryside particularly well and gives ample opportunity to describing its charms (well, she lives there herself, why wouldn't she?).

Three things I didn't care for:
  • The carefree manner in which Sarah visits James whenever, plants kisses on him whereever, etc. If I've read my upstairs/downstairs appropriately, this never happened willy-nilly. And having a relationship or (god forbid) marrying another servant in the household was looked down upon or was grounds for dismissal.
  • The effort Baker goes to to make sure we understand that James is a good guy. Despite some pretty obvious missteps and foibles! Also, why does he leave the Spanish seaside town again? No good reason given at all.
  • Oh, and Sarah tramping all over the countryside as a woman on her own? Oops, my book is running long, better not give any details of that. That's a book in and of itself, I would bet. But the lack of details here is patently absurd.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Hirsi Ali, Ayaan (Infidel)

I found this book a struggle. Not because it wasn't written clearly (and at times quite succinctly) but because the subject matter is so gruesome that I wanted not to go to bed, or to work, or to wash the dishes, or out for the night with its facts and ideas in my head.

Ali quotes a statistic at the end - 6,000 young girls are genitally excised every DAY around the world. Even after reading this entire book, understanding her history and what led her to repudiate her faith in Islam, that statistic still shocked me. And, trust me, you'll read worse than that earlier in the book. (So, you'll likely be shocked a lot.)

Her right-wing position took longer for me to come around to. She, more than any of us white Westerners, has good reason to believe what she believes. But how her stance contradicts, or at least counteracts, the history of Western civilization - in particular how hard it is for a European liberal society to agree to any form of suppression after Nazi Germany's realm - well, I can't see both sides. Or perhaps, I can see both sides and have no idea which side to be on.

I am, however, well persuaded by her writing, and if nothing else her words have opened my eyes to some things I knew nothing about, and many arguments I hadn't thought to have with myself.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Milan, Courtney (A Kiss for Midwinter)

I gave up reading romance novels in college. But my fave Goodreads reviewer waxed poetic about this one, so I thought I'd give it a try. Being a novella, it couldn't be too painful, I assumed.

It's definitely different and a load of fun to read. It suffers from the Shakespearean idiot plot problem, as do all romance novels to varying degrees, but Milan does such a nice job busting up stereotypes that it didn't matter too much to me.

Case in point, she has her Victorian-era protagonists speak to each other about penises and vaginas and French letters and Dutch caps. This sounds ridiculous as I write it, but it completely works in the novella. In fact, the frank exchange of thoughts and ideas and past problems almost made it seem that I was reading a psychoanalytic rendering of the times, but that makes the volume sound far duller than it was.

I may continue to read on in the series when I need something fluffy but different.

[Also, pet peeve. For those who borrow books through their local library for their Kindles. When it takes you only a few hours to read a book (or only a few days), please do the nice thing and return it! Just go to your Manage Your Content & Devices. It's so easy and the rest of us don't have to wait 3 weeks to read it when you've been done for ages! Thanks!]

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Leckie, Ann (Ancillary Justice)

It's rare that I'll write a review directly after finishing a book. However, in this case, I know that rumination is not going to help me.

As all the other reviews say, it takes a long, long time to "get into" this book. This particular act of worldbuilding is more obtuse than most, in that it obscures the facts in order to get at the... well, the strangeness of it all. And I can't say much more because saying more will give away that discovery period that Leckie expects you endure (about 100 pages or so) to grasp how very odd her world is.

I understand that Leckie is making subtle references to the best and worst of humankind - how we make our political and social choices, how we interact with each other, what is humane and just. But every time I picked the book up I had to remember the entire structure of world yet again. I would read a sentence and say "I understand that sentence empirically" and then I'd read the next one and say "I understand that sentence empirically" immediately followed by "These two sentences make no sense together." It was exhausting.

On the other hand, the use of "she" instead of "he" globally didn't really bother me. Probably because I'm a she.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Morton, Kate (The Forgotten Garden)

I stayed up late to finish this, so it has that going for it. It's a great little (well, it's actually rather long) tale, and for the most part well-told. My main pet peeves were with obvious plot twists and obvious structural analogies.

First, it's a mystery, and Morton does a great job stringing out that mystery by flipping between three different timelines, so you get ever closer to the answers as you progress.

Second, it's about women, and pretty much only women. Mothers, daughters, grandaughters, cousins, you name it. There's usually a pairing of women - a cousin with a cousin, a mother with a daughter, etc. - throughout the novel. This is where her structure tended to annoy me - oh, look, another set of women who work well or don't work well together. We get it.

Third, unfortunately, what she bases her entire story on is a few extremely tried-n-true plot devices. You see them coming a mile off - and while the story is still entertaining (she is a decent descriptive writer, after all) - there's little to no impact when they are revealed.

Fourth, I loved the setting. I want a cottage on an English seaside cliff with a hidden garden. As if I didn't want one before. But her flowery description of this one made the idea even more enticing.