Saturday, August 19, 2017

Beatty, Paul (The Sellout)

The first chapter of this humorous take on race relations threw me for a loop. The author writes almost stream-of-consciousness about a situation that we are not privy to, brings in real-life personalities, and devotes huge sections of the chapter to toking up inside the Supreme Court chambers (again, with no rhyme or reason). My advice to you is to read this, laugh a little at the obvious references, and then forget it. The rest of the book is far more straightforward.

I honestly think the remainder of the book is brilliant. Beatty transcends the serious theme by making almost every scenario amusing in some way. I honestly can't tell if he believes the "separate but equal" theme in any way shape or form, but he is obviously describing this thesis to see if there is any merit to at least proposing the idea. How do you do that? By making it something you can laugh out loud at, because it's being described as a farce.

Saying much more about his creation is not productive, since it's a ride you have to take yourself. It may make you feel queasy - that's a definite possibility because you never forget the weighty concepts - but along the way you're bound to recognize and discover eye-opening situations and ideas. Well worth the ride for that reason alone.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Atkinson, Kate (Started Early, Took My Dog)

To continue the Kate Atkinson saga, right after getting back from vacation, the remaining Jackson Brodie book popped up on my ebook lending site as available, so I scarfed it up immediately.

What to say about this last book? First, is it really the last book? Because it sure as hell better not be. Reading what Atkinson said after the 3rd book, and how she felt she didn't like where she left the Louise-Jackson story, and wanted to return to make it better - well, it's one of the reasons I was so geeked about reading this final one! So, safe to say, you're going to be disappointed if you go into this book with the same expectations. Dial those expectations down to nil.

Which is not to say that I didn't enjoy the book. Atkinson brings us a new character again - which seems to be her M.O. - and because of the strength of the writing, we get sucked in almost immediately to this new story, and its somewhat tangential relationship to Mr. Brodie himself. Atkinson is really messing with any sense of a happy ending for that man - in this installment, making him a wanderer between haphazard places in Britain (which sounded a little like a "where I took my summer vacation the last few years", strangely). However, she continues to move the story forward, even as she provides such little resolution. I'm beginning to think any kind of resolution is anathema to her.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Corey, James S.A. (Caliban's War)

It's rather fun to have finished the book right before you finish watching the season that it connects to (well, mostly). But it means it'll be difficult for me to write this review without bringing in elements of the season!

I read the first book in the series last year, and don't really remember much about its style or focus. I do remember that the first season of the TV series followed it pretty darn closely, plot-wise. That is emphatically not the case for this second book in the series... It's difficult for me to remember that for those only reading the books, Avarasala is a brand-new character. Well, they're writing her as spicily as they're portraying her, thank goodness. Holden is still idealistic, but the flavor of that has changed (as well as for his crew). Miller is gone (well, I doubt that long-term), and the book provides a lot of nods to his brand of heroism (as in, it was a very good thing). There's also a new character, whom I sort of appreciated in writing - Prax, the botanist - in that he brought a specific human element to the story. But the plot twisted in favor of that human element, and I'm not sure it works wonders for the crew of the Rocinante (too much neat tying up of bows).

All together, these books are still slow. They take their time to get you from point A to point B, but I don't mind that. It's what sci-fi space opera is all about, right?

Friday, August 4, 2017

Backman, Frederik (A Man Called Ove)

I'd heard from various folks that this book was a laugh-out-loud kind of ride, and I was very definitely not feeling that from the get-go. It's really pretty darn sad! And gives us excellent insight into what happens to people when they lose a close loved one (the specific aspects of grief and longing).

Sure, how Ove treats other humans and animals can be seen as amusing on the surface. But the level of anger and frustration made it seem very real to me, and I didn't want to laugh at Ove's pain. He may be a fictional character, but it should be obvious to all who've read this that there are plenty of real, live humans going through this and not knowing how to act or survive at all. Instead of being an amusing tale, it felt like a lesson (although it didn't read like one, thankfully) in how we can recognize the stages of grief in others, and help them through that process.

I did love the ending, but I think it was because it was all so neatly tied up in a bow. That's something I don't usually appreciate, but for this novel, it was necessary.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Mulgrew, Kate (Born with Teeth)

As many of you know, I've been in love with Kate Mulgrew since the first time I saw her captain a starship. She was just the kind of tough cookie you want being the first female captain of one of the hugest franchises in history. (And look, they've never done it again. That's a legacy for you.)

So I badgered my local library to get an ebook (well, badgered, I recommended they get it, and then waited until they finally  did). And then I hoovered it up as fast as I could. Mulgrew is a born artist - and that means she actually knows how to write as well. That is, if you can get past a bit of drama as well as a number of incomplete thoughts.

She draws you in because her life has been amazing! Energetic! Crazy! Tragic! And spectacular! It helps that she also has a healthy ego, because it's clear she's never doubted her acting chops, and went for anything she wanted with gusto, both professionally and privately. There is plenty of tragedy that she dishes up, but it's never dishy. Hence... the incomplete thoughts. I think Mulgrew knew that if she wrote about her tragedy in a normal dramatic way it would sound campy and trite and just like every other celebrity autobiography. So, she just fades paragraphs out and leaves you to figure out what happened. It's strange, but also somewhat charming.

If you like Mulgrew, you'll like this book a lot. If you have no patience for old-school actresses in general, you can give it a miss.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Atkinson, Kate (Not the End of the World)

So, there I am, in Australia, having finished the 3rd Jackson Brodie book, and not able to get the 4th (and last? hard to tell). Sure, sure, I had backup books. But I wanted to read more Atkinson at that very moment. She fits with Australia, in some vague, ill-defined way, in my head. Atkinson, herself, recommends her short-story collection, which she is her favorite of what she's written. I can definitely see why.

It has a strange beginning, which you will not recognize as a framing device for the "plot" until the end, so I'm telling you here. Better to know in advance, in my opinion. It gets even stranger as the stories continue - and the entire loosely-connected set of them morphs into something with a heavy fantasy element. But. If that weirds you out, I encourage you to keep reading. Because this slim volume is not based on fantasy she's creating out of whole-cloth, it is based on tried-n-true classical mythology. There, now I've told you more than you could assume from reading a few stories. Why? Because I had to return to the start and read each beginning and end of every short story to piece together what she was crafting. I'm saving you the bother. It's worth understanding this from the get-go. Why?

Because she's a phenomenal short story writer. Knowing what inspired her gives you a ton of insight into how and why her craft works. These characters that only live on the page for a few minutes - those minutes merit your time. You may find that you want to re-read the collection simply because of how well it's written.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Atkinson, Kate (When Will There Be Good News?)

Lesson learned: always write your reviews the minute you finish a book. Because I sorta remember this one, but it's mixed up with all the vacation travel and whatnot, and it's hard to remember what kind of feeling it left me with.

As with all Atkinson novels, you have to roll with the punches - or tangents - when you're reading. A sentence or two will shift the entire story, but then Atkinson will go off for pages and pages about something else - not entirely irrelevant, usually - and it's frustrating not to learn RIGHT THEN what that shift does to the characters and plot. Well, it's a good exercise in patience.

I did like that she muddled with Louise's and Jackson's lives a bunch more. Especially Jackson's at the end - wow! and ha! and also ack! - although I do get a bit tired of Atkinson not putting them together. Sheesh, they don't have to get married, just put 'em together already. It's not as if she's not going to find ways to mess them up when they ARE together.

Some specifics... I see that other folks have lots of questions about the relationship between Decker and Jackson (weren't they on the train together??), but my questions are all around Dr. Hunter and Reggie's brother. How did they ever learn of each other, if Reggie never talked about him?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Brown, Daniel James (The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics)

A delightful read, all around. If I had any issues with it, they were at the beginning.

If you ignore the blather about rowing being the most difficult sport ever, the beginning is palatable. For goodness sake, there are tons of sports that involve folks pushing past the limits of their endurance to just. go. one. more. little. bit. further. Just ask any runner, for instance.

So, that was ridiculous, but after that it is beautifully written. At its core, it's showcasing the personal growth of one specific member of the boat, while simultaneously telling the tale of their journey to the Olympics (hey, if you don't know they won, you're not paying close enough attention) and the sheer horror of Hitler's administration. Because Brown got to speak directly with that crew member and his daughter, there is a consistently strong element of veracity that really shapes and brings meaning to the story he's telling.

There were several times in this book when he brought tears to my eyes - especially at the end when he describes how life treated each "boy" after the Olympics, but also during the lead-up to the games when you realize how many false starts occurred, how often chance intervened in their favor, and how difficult it was to become the team they wanted to be.

Read this book if you want to remember the value of cooperation and what it can do for the human spirit.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

King, Laurie R. (The Art of Detection)

This one tickled my fancy more than others she's written. What King did here was put ALL her feelings about the LGBT community into one smartly delivered package (although it's certainly true that her previous books have provided plenty of her thoughts in that area).

And, of course, she takes this opportunity to start merging her series together - in this case her Sherlock Holmes series and her lesbian detective series - by writing a short story a la Holmes inside a contemporary detective novel. At first, I was surprised that she was going to have Martinelli read the entire story, but when I had finished that part, I understood why she followed that course of action.

The short story is integral to the completion of the novel, mostly because they mirror each other but also because they contain precisely the same themes. There are all the hallmarks of the Martinelli stories - lesbian families, supportive cops and friends, descriptions of some of the best places in the San Francisco area (hello, Marin Headlands!), life-threatening situations only Kate can handle - but it is missing one common theme, which is religion. One of the things I have always liked about King stories is that they often contain theological themes. In this novel, she has supplanted that with something equally important.

The book also feels like it's wrapping up a lot of history (aka 5 novels in the same series) and I don't expect to see another one for Kate Martinelli for a long time, if ever. I think I'm okay with that, because of how she finished this one.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Towles, Amor (A Gentleman in Moscow)

This was a total delight to read, and mostly because it holds to its title throughout the entire book. Towles must be a gentleman in his own right, because he certainly does know how to write like one.

What I appreciated most about this book was its intent to tell a side of the communist revolution in Russia that we may not often hear about, i.e., from the aristocrat's point of view. Our protagonist learns how to live under house arrest in the new Russia, and almost the entire book is written inside the hotel he must never step foot outside. It's part cultural history lesson (but not preachy), part comedic adventure, and part "day in the life". It also ties everything up nicely, but I had rooted for the protagonist for so long, this did not bother me.

One thing surprised me: the book does skip across years, as needed for such a long tale, but there is nothing about the battle/siege of Moscow during WWII. In truth, there are some sentences around how the battle started and what it meant to both the Russians and the Germans, but there is no description of life inside the hotel during that time. I can't fathom why Towles would have left it out, unless it was simply too difficult to address how the effects of the battle would have impinged upon the hotel and those living there (there is very little "outside effect" in the rest of the novel).