Sunday, October 16, 2016

Catching Up

I've finished six books so far this month, and only just posted my first review.  I don't want to start feeling under pressure to review, so I'm just going to sum up October to this point.

1. Idaho by Emily Ruskovich
I just posted the review for this ARC.  Excellent, haunting book.

2. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
This is a memoir written by a man with locked-in syndrome.  He dictated it, letter by letter, by blinking his one eye when his helper reached the correct letter.  This is just not a book that can be reviewed or rated.

3.  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. R. Rowling
Bryan and I are rereading the Harry Potter series by listening to the audio books.  It's Steven Fry's narration, and is excellent.  There is no need to be one of the million to review these novels.  Besides, the simple fact that we're rereading them is enough.

4. Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo
This is the sequel to Six of Crows (review) and oh my goodness was it great!  A 5 star adventure.  I loved it, and I might give it a real review later.

5. Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Contemporary fiction/romance is not my usual genre, but Rowell added a phone that could dial the past, and I was hooked.  Her writing is excellent; her characters are so believable.  I decided to read this after reading Eleanor and Park (review), one of her YA books.

6. Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell
I have become a massive Thirkell fan this year.  Her books are gentle stories, with a bit of light romance, that are funny and thoroughly enjoyable.  This one had me laughing out loud several times.

Idaho by Emily Ruskovich

Emily Ruskovich
publication date: 1/2017
5/5 stars

Idaho is a difficult book to summarize.  It begins with Ann.  She is Wade's second wife, and wants desperately to understand more of the tragedy that occurred in his recent past.  The focus then moves to various characters that are involved in some aspect of the tragedy, sharing small slices of their lives.  The state of Idaho, itself, as well as Nature, feature as important characters throughout the book.  The main theme is memory, both fallible and infallible, with atonement, love, human needs, and, finally, hope, as other themes.  To tell any more than this would, I think, spoil the experience of reading this book.

The story is told in a nonlinear fashion, so that the past is told side by side with the present, and then even with the future.   Ruskovich's prose is haunting, unsettling, poetic.   There is no real climax, and no real conclusion, and yet it is a compelling read.  I was left swimming in emotions that took days to sort through before I could review it.

 Idaho raises so many questions and invokes so many feelings, that it would be a great book for discussion; I would especially recommend it for pairs of readers or for a book club.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Mosquitoland by David Arnold

David Arnold
4/5 stars

In a quick-moving chain of events, Mim's parents divorce, her father remarries, and Mim is moved nearly 1000 miles south from her mother.  After overhearing that her mother is ill, and being convinced that her step-mother is keeping them apart, Mim makes a snap decision to take a Greyhound to Cleveland and help her mom. Mosquitoland follows Mim's journey, both physically and emotionally, as she makes friends, faces tough decisions, and learns a good deal about herself.

Arnold's debut novel is smooth and polished, with a plot that flows well and nicely defined characters.  It is also funny, and heartbreaking.  With a few exceptions, Mim finds herself in situations that are realistic, and the choices she makes are also believable--even the bad ones.

On a side note, as a former special educator, I am in awe with Arnold's beautiful treatment of , and discussions about, atypical children.   I hope this lesson will be embraced by all who read it.

Mosquitoland is memorable, touching, and an overall good novel.

(I previously read Arnold's Kids of Appetite and found it amazing.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows
Leigh Bardugo
4/5 stars

In the fictional town of Ketterdam, a team of misfit miscreants is hired to do an impossible heist.  These five teenagers, under the leadership of the equally young "DirtyHands" Kaz Brekker set out to make a fortune, if they can keep from killing each other in the meantime.

Six of Crows, the first of a duology,  is an adventure novel with a bit of fantasy thrown in.  It has an exciting, bold plot that reminds me of a Mission: Impossible story line.  The outrageous plans Kaz makes sometimes work, and sometimes have to improvised while lives are on the line, leaving the reader wondering just what could possibly happen next.  Several times I gasped, seeing no way out of the situation.

The writing is solid and vivid, flowing quickly from one escapade to the next.  The chapters are told in first-person from the point of view of one of the characters.  Kaz's team of a magician, a demo expert, a sharpshooter, a Wraith, a prisoner forced to work against his country, and himself, an expert pickpocket, have distinctive personalities and voices, making this work excellently.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book; enough so that I immediately purchased the finale.  I'll admit that I did find the ages of the characters to be too young for their experiences, but that didn't diminish the pleasure of the book.  Overall, it is a great yarn, and I recommend it to any reader looking for an epic undertaking against the odds.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Three Dark Crowns
Kendare Blake
5/5 stars

On the island of Fennbrin, queens are always born as triplets.  These queens are endowed with magical gifts and are trained from children to use them.  Only one can be made THE queen, though, and at the age of 16 they begin a ritual that will end with only one survivor.

Three Dark Crowns is a fantastic book. Blake skillfully goes from the perspective of one queen to another, with each queen having a distinctive personality.  The world-building is excellent, with customs and religion being explained as the story goes along.  The prose is engaging and Blake writes well.  The plot is exciting; I was left guessing through the entire novel, never able to know for certain where the story would go.  This is the first of a series, and Blake ended on a cliffhanger that took my breath away.  I highly recommend this for all fantasy lovers.

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.