Sunday, June 19, 2016

Doerr, Anthony (All the Light We Cannot See)

This book deserves pretty much every kudo it's received (including winning the Pulitzer). Sweeping, detailed, horrifying, mystical, intimate. It's incredible what Doerr's done here.

I'll admit right off the bat that Werner's story was not as captivating to me as Marie-Laure's. I'm sorry, Werner, but it's difficult to compete with a blind girl who's lost so much, living in such pitiful circumstances. Of course, there's no way Doerr could have written the book without opposing nationalities as main characters. He has to tell two sides or he loses credulity, a compelling narrative, and the ability to spin that aforementioned mystical tale.

I'll also admit that it's surprising to still be reading WWII stories and to be reading good ones at that. Yes, of course, one of the most astonishing tragedies of the world will always be re-told and attempted to be re-told with a different light cast upon it (be it fiction, non-fiction, sculpture, poetry, painting, narrative film, documentary, etc., etc.). But at least in film, it seems rare to see something truly original and moving. Visually, we recognize the impact of the setting, but we are often inured to its meaning in that format.

This tale transcends that with a thoughtful structure (both in terms of brevity of chapters and chronological juxtaposition of major parts), a fascinating rumination on the nature of connections (be they radio waves or more nebulous and fragile interactions among people), a way of pinpointing the horror of the war without dwelling on it (the most horrific for me was meeting the elderly Jewess in the elevator), and the general sensitivity to every character he creates (even Volkheimer). This is pretty much a must-read.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Stiefvater, Maggie (The Raven Boys)

It's pretty rare that I want to read the next book in a series right away, but Stiefvater is clearly a master of series writing. I'm only familiar with her solo book, The Scorpio Races, and I picked up this series on the strength of that writing. Now I better be careful or I'll scarf down all 4 in a row.

Stiefvater answers just enough of the mystery to make the ending of this first book palatable, and leaves just the right kinds of threads dangling. What in the world will happen to Adam? What is this mysterious connection between Gansey and Blue? What really occurs when you "disappear" someone by mistake? As in The Scorpio Races, I adore how she creates something that is magical but completely rooted in our existing world, so that you have to work a little to understand where the magic is occurring in the story and when you get your nose out of the book you still feel like you're in there.

I was surprised that she is also able to write using a different language and style. This world is a current one, in which people act like teenagers, wear usual teenage clothes, and live (mostly) regular teenage lives. It's not rooted in a culture of far away and super traditional. Of course, I loved them both, and I'll be sitting on my hands not to jump into the next book right away.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

King, Laurie R. (Garment of Shadows)

I'm kind of glad this one will take us away from this region of the world, finally. Much as I was intrigued by 1920s Morocco (in much the same way as I was intrigued by Jerusalem and Portugal), I would like to return to Dear Old England. (Not that I'm getting that, in that the next book is set in Japan, but at least the one after that is set in Britain.)

In addition, lots of 1920s colonial politics is just... boring. It should be very interesting reading about a past that has so many ramifications in how the politics of today play themselves out. But King is not able to make that connection as there is no opportunity to make any overt conclusion about the current political climate. (Ms. Russell is not a time traveler, after all.) I'm not greatly bothered by the fact that I am left to my own conclusions, but I would prefer not to read page upon page about the minute interactions between Northern Africa, France, Spain, and ultimately at the core, Britain.

Of course, the actual thrilling bits are quite thrilling, the bad guy is as expected, and there are more layers to the reveal than just him. We end up getting the full flavor of why the title of the book is what it is. Nothing surprising there. Ultimately, satisfying to a far greater degree than her previous book about fake and real pirates. So, onwards to the next one!

Sanderson, Brandon (Calamity)

For some reason, I didn't really care much about this final installment in the Reckoners trilogy. For some reason, where the characters were going and why they were going in particular directions wasn't enough to keep my interest. For some reason, the conclusion seemed foregone, like too much had been revealed already in the previous two books, so we aren't left to wonder about anything.

Maybe there weren't as many silly metaphors in this one. Or maybe the romance wasn't intriguing any longer. Or maybe the Professor's story arc was boring, because why should we care about him, again? The conclusion was both teenage cute and moralistic, as expected. But, I'd rather get the next installment of Stormlight Archive instead. He's doing far more interesting things in that series.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Satrapi, Marjane (Persepolis)

I wanted to re-read this for book club but couldn't find the time to do that outside of lunch time at work today. Panic! Where can I quickly scan this graphic novel so I can recall what I thought when I read it years ago. Oh, right, I work in a library, duh. Yay, libraries!

In many respects, I doubt this story is different from any told during a revolution. Young people's ideals are tossed about like ships in storms - you hear things, learn they are not true, get educated (formally or informally) about things that are more akin to the truth, add all those things together, plus anything you personally experience, and this becomes how you approach the world. In some circumstances, the truths you learn about are either vastly diverse or non-existent. Either way, you build a personal view of how the revolution affects you, your family and your country.

This book is a fascinating mix of all that with the bonus of clarifying and illuminating illustrations. These illustrations are starkly designed and drawn, which brings us closer to the terrifying aspects of this particular revolution(s). They also stop short of telling the whole story - meaning that there is another volume about Satrapi's childhood that completes the tale. The impact of the revolution on Satrapi can't be wholly felt unless both books are read.

Friday, May 6, 2016

McDougall, Christopher (Born to Run)

Not surprisingly, I both loved this book and was irritated by it. (Aren't I always saying things like that? I feel like I'm always saying things like that.)

I loved it because it was engaging, fascinating and seemed well-researched. It also had the funniest real-life characters I've read about in a long, long while. These ultra-marathoners are bonkers crazy! Drinking like a fish the night before and then running an ultra-marathon - reminder: this is anything that is longer than a marathon, so this could be 30 miles or 100 miles or anything in between - and finishing in 3rd or 4th and smiling the whole while. Who are these people?!

Which leads me to my second point. McDougall's premise is that we're all runners, since caveman times, we gave up running as a culture (a world) and ruined our lives, and we should all return to running (barefoot, if possible) because anyone can and should run. Mulefritters. I do running 5Ks and I really, really enjoy the camaraderie of these, but I don't love the running. I love swimming (so now you know why I do 5K races - there's no camaraderie in the water!) and it's absolutely right up my alley physically and mentally. It also happens to be one of the best sports/fitnesses for your body because it works everything in it. Apparently, after this book came out, McDougall developed serious running calf and Achilles problems from running barefoot. Yea, well, you wouldn't get those if you swam instead (you might have other problems, but not problems that will make it impossible to walk, much less run).

So, this is kind of a +1 for swimming as an exercise (sorry, couldn't help myself), but also just a wish that folks who write super-entertaining books about running (or any exercise) should mention somewhere (anywhere) in it that if you're interested in not being sedentary, don't forget there are lots of other activities you can try. They might get less hate mail as a result!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Mankell, Henning (An Event in Autumn)

Having seen this twice, and now read the book, it's like I've lived it myself. Perhaps it's silly to continue to read the remainder of the Kurt Wallander series for that reason, but they are so very well written.

This is a novella, something short and sweet that I think Mankell created as an afterthought, and thus it is in Wallander's world, but doesn't exactly fit the timeline. There are a lot of twists and turns for a short book, which means there's a little less time to hear about how Sweden and the world are all going to pot. Don't get me wrong, this is part of what makes this series so enjoyable - there are no punches pulled, and how the Swedes live as a community is always eye-opening - but in this book there are no wasted words. In fact, the final surprise happens so fast that you barely have time to register who the villain really is. I wish he'd developed this one a bit more fully.

However, I still have the 4 middle books of the series to finish, so there's that to look forward to.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Chandler, Raymond (The Long Goodbye)

Reading one of the first of a genre is something special. (Although in fact this novel is one of the last that Chandler wrote, it's still the first one of his that I've read. And he was at the top of his game in defining the genre by this point.)

We've all seen some version of film noir, whether it's the incomparable Maltese Falcon or the super classic The Big Sleep. The world of film noir - and if the film is based on a novel, the noir detective novel - is essentially grumpy. Everyone in it thinks the world is going to pot, whether it's the gumshoe, the cop, the gangster or the blonde. And the private dick is the one with the moral conscience - others don't ever get to rate as highly as he does - consequently, he is your anti-hero. A grumpy old puss with a heart of gold.

What Chandler does differently in this novel is put himself in it. He adds a victim - of circumstance, of his own making, of both - who is a novelist. One of those novelists who writes really long books because that's what the public wants and who is quite the hack writer, adding sexual innuendos wherever he can. It adds a nice bit of humor to the whole grisly affair, although of course what happens to this victim is not particularly funny.

There is a sequence about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way in where Chandler describes the different kinds of blondes in the world. I started the scene getting my feminist hackles up and ended it in complete amazement of his craft. That's why you read Chandler.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Carriger, Gail (Soulless)

I am faintly disturbed that this book won ALA's Alex award (for books of special interest to 12-18 year olds). That seems a mite too young to be reading a book like this. But what do I know? Life has changed immeasurably since I was a kid.

Obviously, this is pretty fluffy nonsense, but it's fluffy in such a decided manner. Let's build a Victorian England, but make werewolves and vampires a real, recognized, and accepted part of society. And then add a woman who can take all those supernatural powers away. Plus! Let's just make it a romance, while we're at it. The author is deliberate in her world-building, and confident in her ability to make us live inside that world. Consequently, a delightful read.

The one thing I did not enjoy was that the scientists were the bad guys. There are a few nods to these only being the crazy scientists, not the normal ones, but there is still a highly unfortunate undertone to all of it. Especially if this book is designed for a particularly young age group. In the same way that watching Prometheus drove me nuts because scientists would never just reach out and prod something on an alien planet, it drives me nuts when the evil scientist is the only bad thing you read about in a book. Characterize scientists correctly, please!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Kaling, Mindy (Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?)

Oh y'all, Mindy Kaling. Now, I didn't read her first book, and that may make some of what I say seem obvious, but I'm in love with this book. Here is why:

1. She never apologizes for what she is or does. I enjoyed the memoirs by Poehler and Day to varying degrees but they constantly apologized for themselves. For not being there for their families, for their insecurities, for not understanding the zeitgeist well enough. Kaling couldn't be bothered. Her attitude is: here I am! like it? great! hate it? not listening.

2. She accurately uses the term "entitlement". You'll see.

3. She CORRECTLY describes why it's hard for her to lose weight. In other words, she explains that there are those of us who love to eat. Eating is a big thing for us. Passing delicious food by is completely wrong on all counts. Trying to lose weight is torture. So, if you eat right and exercise (I'm not completely convinced she has a handle on this) who the fart cares what you weigh or how you look? Give the folks who body shame you by looking you up and down the same evil eye back. It's all relative, baby. (Also, she talks about how hard this all is to do in this culture, but... onwards and forwards.)

4. She is so freakin' funny. Again, I've laughed out loud in other memoirs, but she's funnier than most. And that mini-TV-pilot about the schoolteacher in Manhattan. MORE, please.

My new outlook on life is to be more like Mindy Kaling. Onwards and forwards!