Archive | September, 2014

Not so Nifty.

23 Sep

ArsonistOk, Sue Miller. I don’t know what happened here. Chances are high that I’ve just been reading too much JoJo Moyes and have no patience for literary-love (i.e., love that is not super believable and passionate). I didn’t for one second believe that Frankie and Bud had a romance that was at all romantic. The dialogue was a major weak point for me. When was the last time you fell in love with someone who uses the term “nifty” seriously?

What I did like about The Arsonist was the arson. Such a great premise. And I liked the setting, I could picture clearly the town that was flooded by people during the summer but lived in year round by others. I loved the segregation between the “summer people” and the locals. SO, the story goes that Frankie (a 45ish year old woman) returns from her aid work in Africa to her parent’s home – actually what once was their summer home but now that her parents have retired, it’s their year-round home. She is sort of undecided as to whether or not she wants to return to Africa so stays with her parents long enough to strike up a *romance* with the owner of the local newspaper, Bud. Shortly after Frankie’s arrival, houses belonging to the “summer people” start to burn (hence the title). There were lots of interesting things going on – the arson, the *love* story, her father’s battle with dementia, her mother’s backstory. I’d give it 3.75 stars.

 

National Book Award time!

17 Sep

Just tonight the long-list for fiction was announced. There are some REALLY exciting things on here – two of my five-star reads! Station Eleven and All the Light You Cannot See are both nominated! And also Some Luck (which I just gave a lukewarm review). I will say that my best book rep friend LOVED Some Luck, he describes it as “looking through a family photo album but knowing the story behind each picture.” And I can see that being true. So, definitely don’t discount it based on my review. You can see the other nominees if you follow this link: Long List for the National Book Award

Recent Round-up

14 Sep

As usual, my 5 star read (Station Eleven) is followed by a slew of so-so reads. So this post will be brief.

Good Lord Bird was for my mother/daughter book club. It received mixed reviews; some really loved, the others “didn’t like it, but didn’t dislike it either.” I was in the later group. It won the National Book Award last year and is worth a look at if these things appeal to you: first-person-child narrative, Kansas/Missouri in the 1850s, heavy dialect and interesting colloquialisms, John Brown’s journey to Harpers Ferry. Too heavy on plot for me, and not enough character development (due to the first person narrative). 3.5 stars.

Some Luck by Jane Smiley. The first installment in an upcoming trilogy, I liked Some Luck well enough. I LOVE the premise, but wish it had been just a teeny bit more. The entire trilogy will follow the lives of a farm family in Iowa. Each chapter is a slice of life in consecutive years, starting in 1920 and ending in the future (I can’t remember if it’s 2020s or 2030s). The first third ends in 1953. I loved the family. And that is a pro and a con. A pro because it made me keep reading, a con because it made me want way more than just a slice of each year. I thought One Day did this much better. The problem with Some Luck is that there were too many characters roaming around – much too many to keep straight with just slivers of a year. 3.5 stars.

Lucky Us by Amy Bloom. She is just to strange for me. I felt that way after her last novel, Away, and much the same after this one. I’d describe her writing as a trippy fever dream. I didn’t even care for this one enough to synopsize. 2.5 stars.

The Paying Guests. Boy was I excited for this one! I loved The Little Stranger so much, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this chunker. Whelp, maybe I was too excited. Made it halfway through and set it aside. It starts off so promising; a youngish woman and her mother finds themselves strapped for cash in the Victorian countryside (due to losses in the war) and open up their house to a young couple looking to rent rooms. A love triangle, of course!, ensues. A slow going read. 3 stars.

I know this seems like a lot of mediocre, but fear not. I just read a book I LOVED that is due out this winter called Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper. Get in the library cue for it now, and look for my review to post closer to Christmas!

STOP EVERYTHING and read this!

8 Sep

Seriously, put down what ever you are reading and rush out to get Emily St. John Mandel’s new novel, Station Eleven. She’s written three other novels, all of which were great. The problem with them was that they came from a really small publisher, in really small print runs, with bad covers and in awkward sizes. A lot of people overlooked them. SO, when I heard that Knopf had picked up her new novel and that the early buzz was “This is going to be Big,” I got really excited. It didn’t sound like it’d be my cup of tea fiction-wise; post-apocalyptic and featuring a traveling Shakespeare troupe. Sounds pretty terrible, actually. BUT IT WAS SO GOOD.

Station Eleven

If I had to compare this to other things you might have read, I’d say it is a lot like Michael Chabon’s The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, but also like The Dog Stars by Peter Heller and maybe a smidge like Jose Saramago’s Blindness. It opens with a play – a snowy night in a big city. The main actor dies mid-scene and havoc ensues. And then havoc really ensues – a deadly virus quickly spreads throughout the city, carried over on a flight from Asia. And just like that, civilization changes. Flash forward fifteen years in the future and we pick up the pieces of five lives touched by the death of the actor, survivors of the plague. All of the unexpected tenderness found in The Dog Stars reappears here – the story is not so much about the actual plague or the end of the civilized world, but about memory and love and hope as well as survival. There is really nothing quite like it out there, and I have to agree with the early buzz, this book is going to bring Emily St. John Mandel out from the shadows (and hopefully her older books with get some much-deserved love, too). FIVE stars.