Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Franck, Liana (Passing for Human: A Graphic Memoir)

Well, this'll be short.

Not because it's a graphic memoir (which often takes less time because there's less to actually read versus a lot more to view). But because I only have one lingering impression: whining.

OK, actually a few lingering impressions: whining, overly navel-gazing, art-for-art's-sake (to me, being obtuse is not art). What was my overall impression? Just grow up already. This memoir felt like I did when I was 25. Why would you write a memoir at that age? Also, the art isn't stellar, and while the pacing and design of the pages is intriguing, overall it didn't engage me whatsoever.

At least it was over quickly.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Chambers, Becky (Record of a Spaceborn Few)

What...? That was my overwhelming thought process as I read this book. (Granted, not a deep one, but I was deeply confused, at least.)

I could not figure out where I was or whether I had been here before or whether the people I knew from her previous two novels were here or not. Chambers does give you an overview of the world at the beginning, but at least for me it it was insufficient. Being told what was happening in real time versus the prelude to real time didn't help because I didn't remember the prelude from before! (Was I supposed to remember it? I'm still unsure.) So, I read this as a standalone novel, as a result. I'm not sure it bears up on its own.

The strength of the previous two novels was in explaining how humans fit into an alien system. Yes, there is an undercurrent of that in this novel (in fact, it is an important part of the final analysis) but the story itself is about humans fitting into their human system. It was certainly fun to learn more about how humans developed a society on ships, instead of a planet. But it always felt... scattered. I wanted to focus on the team that I remembered from the beginning.

Will I read the next novel? Probably? It won't be high priority, but I do enjoy her writing style.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Powers, Richard (The Overstory)

I have taken as long as humanly possible to write this review. Because this is one of the most intense novels I've ever read, and deserved rumination.

At its core, this novel is The Great American Tree Novel. What the author tries to do here is write the definitive novel about trees. And I mean that quite literally. The characters he's created, what he has them do over the course of the novel, and how they interact to tell a complete story, describe everything you will ever need to know about trees.

That sounds flippant. And as if it's unnecessary. It isn't. Everyone should know all these things about trees. What it means to plant a new forest. What makes a tree activist. What trees look, smell, feel and taste like. What their history with humans has meant and foretells. And, last but certainly not least, how trees talk to each other over the aeons.

Regarding the structure of the novel, I don't want to give too much away. But be forewarned - he starts the entire tale by setting the scene for each character, almost like a set of short stories. About 1/3 of the way through, he shifts the focus to describe their interactions, and that carries for the rest of the book. Try not to be distracted or upset by that shift in focus. It's deliberate and justifiable.

I will also say that I may have disagreed with the path he took for a couple of the characters - and his reveal on one that was vastly more understated than it should have been - but I still fully understand why he took all those paths. This is a tour de force. My tiny quibbles are barely worth noting.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Smith, Dodie (I Capture the Castle)

I feel deficient because I didn't enjoy this as much as I thought I would. Like, I've been kicked out of the Jane Austen Fan Club because of it.

It was a slog for me. If I try to pin that down, I think it's because I wasn't expecting a re-telling of Pride and Prejudice - which it isn't in many ways but this is obviously the tale that inspires it - especially one set after World War I with vastly different mores and social settings, and an odd interplay between the British and the Americans in the tale.

I kept struggling to pick it up and read more. The castle in question is very romantic - dark and spooky and dank and lacking in furniture... On second thought, I think the castle never seemed romantic, it seemed horrible. Was it supposed to be both?? I remain confused on this subject, and think it's an important point because Americans are likely to think - "Ooh, abandoned castle, sounds like a fun adventure!" - way more than the British will. Americans will be conflicted, as a result, while the British can squarely place this novel in its rightful place - as a discussion of the changing role of women, how family dynamics changed over the decades, and what a successful life looked like in the 1930s vs. in the 1800s.

Also, I didn't like anyone in the book. Except maybe the poor stepmother, but even she exhibits some  behaviors that were... unsettling. And I don't just mean the naked meanderings on the castle grounds.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Hill, Nathan (The Nix)

I think I renewed this book 3 times. It's just so damn... long.

And I don't think it really needed to be. It seemed sort of a slice-of-life tale, but also seemed pretty much ALL the slices of the author's life. He took all the bizarre stuff that's ever happened to him, ramped it up a bit to increase the drama, and then stuffed it all in a novel-shaped package.

It contained at least 4 tales in one. His life having been abandoned by his mother at an early age, his life as a teacher, his life as a failed writer, and his life as a video game addict (oh, yea, I think that was him, not a "friend"). Unfortunately, none of these gel with each other unless you create quite a number of crazy plot devices. Crazy enough that you notice it. A lot.

The writing is pretty damn good, in and of itself. Hill keeps the momentum going and doesn't devolve into a ton of miscellaneous description (which you all know I hate). He does this a bit in the video game sections, but that's some pretty fascinating detail, so I'll give him that one.

Therefore, this novel should have been 4 novels. And I'll put that problem squarely on his publisher.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Leon, Donna (The Golden Egg)

I'll say that this book in the series (goodness, how did Leon get to #22 without me noticing?) is less structured than some of her others.

The usual kerfuffle with Patta is there. The repartee with Signorina Elletra is as delightful as ever. His relationship with his clever, fun, foodie family is there, as amusing as ever. So that structure is certainly there. But the rest seemed more all over the place - probably because of how the murder landed in Brunetti's lap.

The only twists you see are related to Signorina Elletra and an unexpected plot twist regarding the victim and his family. This is actually more horrifying than usual. But not the level of horrifying from the last book, which was stomach-churning. This one is the "ineffable sadness" level of horror.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Harper, Jane (The Lost Man)

I prefer Harper's Aaron Falk series, and likely that's because Falk has continuity (for lack of a better phrase). He is an investigator to begin with and he sits outside the conflict (thereby bringing an external voice). Our protagonist in this story is too embedded in the tale. That can have its benefits, but it makes the reveal strangely disappointing (because it requires his input, and without it there is no ending).

Regardless, you learn vastly more about living in the outback than you did in Harper's previous novels. She absolutely has a penchant and a talent for this (I never expect her to write a novel based in one of Australia's cities). In particular, you learn some of the basic tenets of literally surviving in the Australian wilderness, which are bound to scare the pants off you. (Golly am I pleased we didn't decide to do a road trip to the outback when we were in Australia because it would have been 'Oh, a road trip, what fun, tra la!' Yipes.)

As a personal preference, I didn't enjoy the level of misdirection employed in the novel or the bow-tie ending. Or the reveal, which I sadly saw coming from miles away (not well misdirected, unfortunately). The novel's topic is an important one to keep in the public view, but the novel itself didn't do it the service it deserves.

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Lipman, Eleanor (Good Riddance)

As with all Eleanor Lipman novels, this one takes a particular path. It's a romance, but not a rubbish-y kind of romance, which is usually characterized by poor writing. It has twists and turns that are ridiculous but fun, and with no intention other than to be fun. It usually has likeable characters, although they may often have personality traits that aren't endearing (creating the possibility for growth, of course).

This novel, though, had what felt like an abrupt shift towards the end, in terms of one of the relationships, that didn't gel as well for me as previous novels' relationships. I think that's due to the fact that I was specifically not enamored with the personality traits of one of the people in the relationship. That character seemed strangely greedy or obtuse or a combination of both, and it left me cold. It's not often that Lipman crafts her characters without a safety net of likeable traits, so take that into account when heading into this book.

Friday, April 5, 2019

French, Tana (The Witch Elm)

Oof. What is this?

On the one hand, the book is about a person musing on their own personality and how their interactions with other people are shaped by their personality. On the other hand, it's a deep dive into what it's like to be handicapped or otherwise severely disabled, physically. And on the other other hand, it's a bent-out-of-shape mystery with so many reveals I couldn't keep count.

This novel was utterly exhausting. It was engaging because of the multiple intentions of the author, stated above, but it drags you down with it, and in the end you feel like you're drowning. Also, and I'm not sure if this is a minor point or more important than that, the core bit of information - which is one large reveal in and of itself - is vital, but obscured. I wouldn't say that it's hidden away, as you learn precisely what it was and why it was important. But it is nestled in with so many other reveals that it loses its potency. I actually wonder if French did this on purpose. She's so used to crafting multi-layered mysteries that perhaps she felt it would be useful to the novel to bury this concept.

In addition to that, accompanying that theme are a couple of characters who aren't necessarily bad people but who are so deeply flawed that it's difficult to care about them, especially in their relationship to the protagonist. Unfortunately, I think that what French has set out to achieve in this novel ends up downplaying that vastly important, let's-call-it-central theme.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Hannah, Kristin (The Great Alone)

I have so, so, so many thoughts about this novel.

I adored Hannah's first offering, The Nightingale. It was pitch perfect in terms of the setting, the context, the historical flavor, and the ending. And it was daring! In more ways than one - because it's tough to write something new about World War II any longer, and because it focused on sisters as the main characters (more about Hannah's ability to write strong female-focused narratives below).

I certainly think this novel is daring, but I don't think it is genius writing. There's something to be said for historical accuracy creating a solid base for a novel. You can always return to the "known" if your plot starts to devolve. In this novel, almost everything written seemed unpinned and untethered. As if they were complete flights of fancy, even though Hannah built this on the very real understanding of what it is like to live in Alaska, through all of its seasons (her own childhood background). So although she understood the setting - it was "known" - I think because she didn't precisely know the plot device - as I understand it, none of her childhood was destroyed by physical violence - this does not feel believable.

Of course, Hannah is working hard to craft very strong female characters. The problem isn't that the tragic story of an abused woman often showcases how difficult it is to be strong - that's a necessary part of the story, and I don't fault her for that. It's that the plot machinations of each of the women in the story do not seem realistic. It's hard for me to precisely pin down why, but I felt this throughout the novel.

If you want to learn more about what it's like to live in Alaska, absolutely this is the book for you. But be prepared for a bit of a wild ride, as a result.