Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Serpent King by Jeff Zentner

The Serpent King
Jeff Zentner
3/5 stars

The Serpent King follows the senior year of three friends, Dill, Travis, and Lydia, who are outcasts in their small town.   As they prepare for life after high school, Travis and Lydia have some plans for their future, but Dill sees himself stuck in the same rut forever. Furthermore, the changes that are coming sometimes seem more than Dill can bear.

The story is told in chapters that alternate between the perspective--and voice--of the three friends.  Back story is filled in gradually and skillfully, and the character voices are distinctive.  The plot is interesting, though not always gripping, and the conclusion was satisfying.

I have mixed feelings about this book, though.  On one hand, it is a well-written book with a positive message for young adult readers: "and if you're going to live, you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things."

On the other hand, The Serpent King was filled with (mostly negative) stereotypes:  small towns, the Southern USA, fantasy readers, Pentecostal Christians, Prius drivers. . .    I was truly appalled.  I nearly quit the book about half-way through, overwhelmed by them all.

Zentner had a great novel, and he nearly ruined it.  As it stands, I can only rate it as "okay".  I hope he takes his obvious talent and writes his second novel without such stereotypes.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Classics Club: The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

(about the Classics Club)


This is another book that I've intended to read for some time.  I'm not sure how I missed reading it or being assigned to read it in high school, but somehow I did.  I've seen a lot of references to it lately on Instagram, so I thought now was a good time to read it.

I compared it to both Breakfast at Tiffany's  (which I disliked) and to Catcher in the Rye.  The beginning, when Esther is in New York, is what Breakfast at Tiffany's should have been.

As for comparing it to Catcher in the Rye. . . there is no comparison.  Salinger is a much better writer than Plath, with a better ability to draw the reader into the narrative.  Both are written from the first person point of view, but I found the Bell Jar to be boring at times, and yet Catcher in the Rye kept me riveted (during a reread).

I expected to be wowed by this book.  I expected to feel connected to Esther and to take her journey personally--after all, I do have some experiences in common with her.  I didn't though.  She did not appeal to me as a character; I barely sympathized with her.  I felt blase about her and her bell jar.  I certainly didn't react to her the way I did to Holden Caulfield.

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Classics Club: Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

(about the Classics Club)

This classic has been on my to-read radar for many, many years.  I bought Everland, a steampunk retelling of Peter Pan, and felt that it would behoove me to read the original first.

Thinking and feeling went hand in hand for this book.  The only thing I thought or felt was: what am I missing?

This book has a such a loyal, devoted fanbase over the course of more than 100 years--so much so that there is a statue of Peter in Kensington Gardens.  And yet. . . and yet. . . I don't see the appeal.

It was an okay fairy story; were I to review it I'd probably give it three stars.  The plot wasn't as adventurous as I'd expected, nor as engaging or even interesting.  I certainly wasn't enamored of Peter, nor is he a hero to be emulated.  The other characters were okay, but not special in any way. Hook was the only one that seemed fleshed out.  Neverland--this fantasy island I'd heard so much about--wasn't very impressive.  Sure, there are "Redskins" and mermaids and pirates, but, the adventures were just not very exciting.

I fully realize that this was a play first, then it was made into a novel.  I expected that Barrie might not be as adept at description as conversation, but I can't even imagine how this would be enthralling as a play.  Is it because they fly on stage?

Truly, I'm flummoxed.  Fans of Peter Pan, shout me down and share all the magic that I am just not finding.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Black Curl by Constance and Gwenyth Little

The Black Curl
Constance and Gwenyth Little
4/5 stars

The Black Curl is the final mystery written by the Little sisters.  Like their other mysteries, it is a funny,  complex, lighthearted tale with a strongly-plotted mystery at the center.  The inspector has quite the job finding out who cut off Bill's curl in the middle of the night; why the hair lotion been replaced with water; and, most important of all, who put the housekeeper in the refrigerator?

Unlike most of their novels, the Black Curl is told from the point of view of the hero, rather than the heroine, and the heroine isn't a sassy, back-talking strong female, either.  While still being amusing, it also lacks the screwball zaniness of their previous stories.

Despite the deviation from their usual formula, the Black Curl is an enjoyable read that will keep the reader guessing until the very end.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Ayesha: The Return of She by H. Rider Haggard

Ayesha: The Return of She
H. Rider Haggard
3/5 stars
H. Rider Haggard

She, the first volume of the "She" stories, ends with a thrilling conclusion.  Ayesha begins shortly after that, with Leo seeing a vision of where he can find Ayesha now.  He and Horace spend 16 years hunting for the place of the vision.  Leo faces a great trial, a fantastic battle occurs, and Haggard gives another of his excellent endings.

Ayesha is not as well-plotted, nor as exciting, as She.  At times, it seemed to lag, and I even found my attention roaming a bit in the middle.  The divinity and mortality of Ayesha , to my disappointment, was not resolved.  What I would really have liked was more of the 16 years of travel, and less of the daily life in the College of Hess.

The battle was excellent though, and the supernatural elements were just creepy enough to satisfy.  I also enjoyed the uncertainty of just where this story was going, of what Ayesha would do, and the tension this created.

I like Haggard's novels, and while this wasn't his best, it was still a good yarn.  I highly recommend She, and only then should Ayesha be read--with the understanding that it's just not as good.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Love That Split the World by Emily Henry

The Love That Split the World
Emily Henry
5/5 stars

Natalie has spent most of her life with visions, nightmares, and a mysterious, ghostly visitor she calls "Grandmother".  As her high school career comes to a close, she begins to see quick glimpses of the "wrong things": her house looks different, the neighborhood has changed, she sees friends that don't recognize her.  Then she meets Beau, and her experiences become even more inexplicable.

The Love That Split the World is a novel that is hard to explain, especially without giving away any of the surprises.  It's about learning who you are, the power of story, making sacrifices, and, most of all, about love.  Henry has taken a modern tale of two high school students and woven in strains of Native American mythology, science fiction, and fantasy.

The main characters, Natalie and Beau, are well-rounded and believable; it was easy to care about them, their decisions, and their future.  The plot was intriguing, at times spellbinding.  I found myself thinking about it when I wasn't reading it.   The novel itself is beautifully written, sprinkled with the occasional profound thought to make it even more powerful.  The ending. . . oh that ending.

This book is not going to be for everyone; the various elements that make up the story will be dull, or even confusing, for some.  For the right people, though, this book will be magical.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Doll: The Lost Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier

The Doll: The Lost Short Stories
Daphne du Maurier
4/5 stars

This set of short stories are early works by the master story writer, Daphne du Maurier.  They are by turns grotesque, funny, sad, eerie.  Her grasp of human nature is apparent even in these stories.  They are not, by any means, equal to her more mature short stories and novels.  However, one can see du Maurier's potential and begin to see signs of her signature style.

I wouldn't recommend this collection to a reader new to du Maurier.  I would instead recommend beginning with her most famous novel, Rebecca, or the story collection Don't Look Now.  Longtime fans of du Maurier, though, will enjoy seeing her early talent and noticing the strains of works to come.