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.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Lynch, Scott (The Lies of Locke Lamora)

Checking the Goodreads record for this book, I noticed that Pat Rothfuss had given it 5 stars. He further explained in his review that since his first book came out at the same time as Lynch's, folks were noticing the similarities between the two authors. There's no comparison. Other than the fact they can each write 500-page-plus fantasy novels.

Rothfuss can tell a better story - that is, a discrete story that may have little to do with the book in hand. He puts a huge amount of feeling into his stories, and it really shows. But he's not a great plotter. Lynch, on the other hand, plots extraordinarily well but may not have quite the talent for knocking our socks off with the story.

I really liked this plot - of a poor orphan boy who learns the meaning of friendship and honor while thieving merrily along the way - and I really like the stories he weaves throughout - how he learned everything he needed to from his mentor, how his friend Jean becomes the best fighter around, how he navigates stealing what he can from the Salvaras - so I thoroughly enjoyed the book. Enough that I'm definitely getting the next one to read, soon.

But Lynch needs to work on the background. Oh, the Camorrans live in a city in the south with many watery canals and all Latin-based names? And the Valerans (sp?) speak a harsh language and come from the north? World building is harder work than it may seem, obviously.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Thomas, Rob and Graham, Jennifer (Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line)

If you were a fan of the Veronica Mars TV series, you'll enjoy this better-than-average entrée into the now-official book series. (P.S. You don't have to have loved the movie to like this book, in case that's helpful.)

I say better-than-average because it is actually better than the average mystery. By average mystery, I mean something by Janet Evanovich or Lilian Jackson Braun. (Then again, they both started their respective series strongly, and this being the first book in the VM series, there's plenty of time to go downhill.) Weighed against those giants of American pop-culture mystery, Thomas and Graham's is most definitely heavier.

We start right after the events of the movie (again, you don't have to have seen or loved the movie to enjoy the book), and VM is getting the hang of her new life. There's much more Mac and Wallace and Keith than in the movie. There's very little of everyone else, including Logan. (Those of you who saw the movie know why.)

I enjoyed every twist and turn - and would understand if folks thought it too twisty - and being able to read about the ambience of Neptune as opposed to seeing it onscreen. The only thing I thought fell a little flat was the continual explanation of VM's inner thoughts - all her worries, concerns, emotional issues. And only because in the TV series we saw a way tougher character. I don't want to know that VM feels conflicted! I want her to remain tough as nails.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Weir, Andy (The Martian)

This book is officially for science geeks. If you're not a science geek, you're going to nod off and think it's terrible. If you are a science geek, you'll be playing along.

This is the story of an astronaut stranded on Mars and everything he has to do - mechanically, electrically, botanically - to get back home. It's an intriguing concept, and there's no way to write it without giving numbers, equations and hard physical facts. Fortunately, Weir also manages to make it funny by having his astronaut be kind of a dweeb. A dweeb who can last that long by seeing the humor in his situation. I would bet that astronauts are like this - both insane and heroic - but you'd have to be a very special kind of astronaut to survive for a year and a half on Mars (even future Mars with all the bells and whistles and radiation shielding).

I inhaled it. The MacGyver aspect of this man's struggle with the elements was really fun - what will he come up with next in order to save his potato crop? create a bedroom for his rover? save himself from an airlock disaster? I'm not giving anything away. Weir throws everything he can at the man - because that's what you do in this kind of a novel!