Tuesday, July 28, 2015
I didn't take the amount of notes I usually do for this one- so I hope I still have some helpful thoughts. I flew through this quick, literary mystery/thriller. I read this for the #TBRTakedown Read-a-thon created by Shannon from the channel leaninglights on Booktube. This is a novel I'd had on my shelves for a long time. I had received this in a Book Riot Quarterly box over a year ago so it was high time I read it!
We have our main character Adam Langer- yes, the same name as the author even though this is fiction....or partly. The background and writing life of this character is quite similar to the author bio. The fun of this book is the blurred line between fact and fiction. When Langer (in the story) befriends thriller writer Conner Joyce, they both go on a journey neither of them intended. Joyce is struggling to write his next novel and is then approached by a stranger. This mysterious man offers him an unusual proposal which would solve his financial issues. Unsure how to proceed, Joyce enlists the help of his trusty friend Langer, who is experiencing his own money problems in the sleepy college town of Bloomington, Indiana.
Past the setup, the less you know the better. Book lovers will enjoy the literary references...spoiler: Salinger is mentioned...a lot. I liked the discussion on where the book industry is headed, specifically what readers deem worthwhile creative content and how much they are willing to pay for it. The reader is also exposed to some publishing houses "franchise boosting" authors. All large houses have them- and their big name releases provide bonuses for employees and advances for other authors.
Trust and friendship are major themes that Langer explores. I had no idea writing a novel could have such high stakes! This was a fun, average mystery/thriller with a bit of a book-loving twist. Perfect for a one or two sitting read.
Monday, July 27, 2015
With the line "A girl never forgets the first corpse she shaves" I was hooked by this memoir. In her mid-twenties, Caitlin entered the mortuary profession. She had been fascinated/terrified of death as a child and finally decided to study Medieval History in college, with an emphasis on the witch trials and death rituals. Through her research into other cultures and her own experiences working at Westwind Cremation and Burial in San Francisco, we get a behind the scenes glimpse into the gritty, but real, nature of death. Doughty deftly explores burial rituals in other countries, the affect religion plays in death, the machinery and processing necessary for cremation, the options we have for our burial (how to avoid being scammed), some common misconceptions about what happens to our bodies during the process, the history of embalming, and the importance of preparation for the inevitable.
I did struggle in the middle with the infant cremation section. I had to put the book down because it made me shaky as well as teary-eyed. A few deep breaths were necessary here to get my bearings! Some of it initially struck me as callous, but these jobs must be done by someone. I appreciate that there are people who are up to the task. They are made of far tougher stuff than me. Luckily, there was only one instance where I found a phrase tasteless. I realize finding humor when possible would be an absolute must. You'd have to make the job bearable through some morbid jokes, but this one was particularly insensitive since pertaining to infants. As a reader, there was no point in hearing it. Doughty even admits its appalling, so I wish it had just been left off the page.
I found this book even more profoundly affecting than I imagined. Beyond the information on the death process, it made me think about how to live a good life, and the importance of opening discussions with loved ones so we don't unintentionally deny someone (and ourselves) a good death. I interpret "good death" as meaning one with as much choice and dignity as possible. It may seem common sense that talking about things is often better than NOT talking about things, but rarely have I felt the point driven home quite like this.
Doughty is unconventional and fascinating, I urge those who can stomach some graphic details to give this a go. It will open your eyes to the eventual reality we all face, as well as give you a new appreciation for people who endure this type of grueling job.
Sunday, July 26, 2015
As the third book in a trilogy, this will be an abbreviated review to prevent any spoilers. Here are my first two Goodreads reviews (pre-blog days) of the first and second book in Sevenwaters Trilogy.
Daughter of the Forest (Sevenwaters #1)
Son of the Shadows (Sevenwaters #2)
After some quick Wikipedia-ing to refresh the ol' mind on characters and important relationships, I dived into Child of the Prophecy. We open on Fianne, who is learning the art of glamour and disguise from her Father, the druid Ciaran. They live in the seaside town of Kerry in the "Honeycombs". Each book has dealt with different generations of the same family, and a progressive loss of magic within the realm. Prophecies must be fulfilled to prevent the old way of life from slipping away and ensure the future of Sevenwaters. Classic good versus evil stuff.
I really loved how Marillier re-introduced a few important characters from the previous books. I especially appreciated that Janis the cook spans the entire trilogy. While not a main character, she hears and sees everything and provides guidance behind the scenes. Like your trusty hairdresser or bank teller, other common professions that deal with hearing people's confessions.
This book dealt with the Druid lifestyle...which is something I wouldn't be completely adverse to. The appreciation for seclusion, forests, an introspective nature, along with the ability to possess a bit of magical ability, wouldn't be too shabby. However, I would miss having some modern amenities such as a Keurig and computer.
The major drawback to this book was the heavy-handed sense of duty stuff. While Fainne must make a difficult choice, the back and forth between whether she will use her abilities for good or evil was exhausting. She is certainly under extreme stress through the incessant blackmail of her Grandmother, but at some point a choice must be made. Fainne possesses the "wisdom of the druid, the craft of the sorcerer, and the blood of four races." So she's pretty important. Another beautiful line from the author: "Raised in discipline, in the endurance of hardship and the knowledge of the lore. Raised in love of solitude and trained in the craft of magic."
Contrary to my Goodreads rating of the first book as five stars and the second as four stars, I would have to re-evaluate here and say that after completing the books I preferred the second, Son of the Shadows, overall. Liadan was the most decisive and strongest female character (in my humble opinion of course!). She still had flaws and hardships, but I found more empathy with her story because she took more action and didn't stew on one decision. Also, the pacing was better and the plot more intricate . I love the Irish setting and history of Sevenwaters, so I would still highly recommend this series.
Tuesday, July 21, 2015
I've heard mixed reviews of Westerfeld's Uglies and Leviathan series, and have some issues with YA contemporary stories in general. However, I was intrigued because I love books that discuss the publishing industry, and this one has the added component of containing a story within a story. This is semi-paranormal Young Adult and features our main character Darcy Patel, a high school senior who has landed a publishing contract for her teen novel Afterworlds. In lieu of college, she heads to New York City to pursue her dream of becoming a writer.
Told in alternating chapters is Darcy's novel, a suspenseful thriller about Lizzie, a teen who slips into the 'Afterworld' to survive a terrorist attack. But the Afterworld is a place between the living and the dead and as Lizzie drifts between our world and that of the Afterworld, she discovers that many unsolved - and terrifying - stories need to be reconciled. And when a new threat resurfaces, Lizzie learns her special gifts may not be enough to protect those she loves and cares about most.
I enjoyed the NYC component, the agent and editing process, the networking events where Darcy meets fellow debut and seasoned authors alike, and how social media ties into the marketing scheme to promote a novel. I loved the book tour sections. I learned the term "flap monkey"- which is a person who helps move a signing line along by taking books and tucking flaps into title pages for the signature. A media escort from the airport and around town is immensely helpful. I also learned the significance and difference between a full and half title page. I wonder how much of this section was gleaned from Westerfeld's own experiences, and I'd imagine quite a bit. There are also cat references, which I believe should receive bonus points in any book.
I appreciated that Darcy was from India, even though cultural references were a bit sparse except for references to her parent's Hindu religion in aspects of Afterworlds, namely Yamaraj. Darcy felt very real to me with her insecurities- she grappled with feeling like a "real author", and expected to be exposed as a fraud at any moment. She also struggles with the difficulty a lot of writers face when nailing an ending, and how to balance editor and publisher suggestions with your own creative integrity.
As much as I enjoyed the aforementioned, I found a good bit of the book fraught with problems. We have bad romantic dialogue...."I didn't tell him his touch was electric." Of course you didn't sweetheart, because it's dumb. We also have the cliche sparks, heat, and fire from said encounter. These parts are "written" by Darcy who is 18, so perhaps this should be forgiven? Maybe Westerfeld is just trying to explain things from a young girl's perspective. Unfortunately, this is also problematic. Westerfeld's writing of women in this novel just felt a little clunky, particularly in thoughts and descriptions. However, he did have some good one-liners.
Also, Lizzie in Afterworlds has just gone through a traumatizing terror attack where dozens of people die. I realize teenagers are extremely resilient, but she barely seems upset, and certainly doesn't suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. She carries on with life (albeit changed into a psychopomp-you'll have to read the book to find out what that is! Spoiler-free review after all:-). No visions, nightmarish thoughts, troubled internal dialogue. I've never experienced trauma but this seemed highly unrealistic and very strange.
Lastly, Darcy's existence in New York City is highly unrealistic. There is a joke that she will run out of money early but caution is thrown to the wind for an exorbitant rental (this IS definitely realistic), and is supposedly going to subsist on a $17-per-day budget eating ramen noodles. Umm, what?? Since this novel doesn't span three years I suppose this plot point didn't have to be worked out (unless this turns into a series).
While I enjoyed many aspects, the problems brought this down to three stars. I think people will enjoy this as a fast-paced informative read about certain parts of publishing, if they can cast a blind eye to some writing flaws. The book benefited from the story within a story as well, even though I don't think each could have stood alone.
Tuesday, July 14, 2015
This is the first graphic novel I've ever read to completion besides The Arrival by Shaun Tan (which is wordless). I'm not into the superhero genre, but I suppose that's unfair as I've never given it a chance. I always wanted to explore this medium of reading, but never found a topic that interested me enough to take the plunge.
While the artwork style wasn't my favorite, I loved the premise. Katie is a young chef who runs a popular restaurant. Wanting a change of scenery and pace, she sets her sights on opening a new property. However, a series of pitfalls occurs (as is often in these cases), and her once happy new direction is starting to look pretty glum. When a mysterious girl appears on her dresser in the middle of the night and offers a quick fix by means of a drawer filled with magical mushrooms, Katie accepts the opportunity to change her luck for the better.
The rules she must follow:
1. Write down her mistake in a notebook
2. Ingest one mushroom
3. Go to sleep
4. Wake anew
Needless to say, the quickest fix is fraught with issues and the story follows Katie as she tries to navigate all the unintentional revisions she's made to her life.
Previous work experience in restaurants and having a brother-in-law who owns his own, I believe this story realistically explored food service issues, especially pertaining to owners and chefs. There is a level of frustration when forced to rely on a younger and younger workforce, high turnover, and dealing with mundane (but necessary) business details when you just want to be in the kitchen.
I loved the food images when reading the list of menu items. It made me feel like I could step into the pages and order a dish. I usually enjoy forming my own image of a place or character from description, but it was nice to see a visual layout of the restaurant. This helped with the flow of the story, especially to immerse you in the restaurant world.
The concept of life being rewritten every evening was really entertaining. As you can imagine, there were themes of pushing your luck and unintended consequences. Of course, changing the past is fundamentally flawed, even with initial good intentions. I flew through this in a couple hours, which was a bit of a bummer because I wanted more. One day I will take the time to analyze the art a little more carefully, since I'm sure most graphic novels benefit from a closer examination of the illustrations. I would recommend this to any reader 16+. There were a few steamy scenes (no nudity, and they are cartoonish characters, but you know what's going on!). Really happy my library had a copy!
Sunday, July 12, 2015
"It was the mother of forests; ancient beyond language, older than every known species, and, some said, propagator of them all, locked in its own system of evolution and climate." (pg. 34)
I also love this quote on crying: "A liquid without name, it being made of so many emotions and conflicts, each cancelling the other out until only salt and gravity filled the moment and moved down through his expression." (pg 15).
This book was gripping (albeit a bit confusing) from page one. The language is evocative and the location draws you in. A fantasy novel set near the end of the 19th and early 20th century- the action focuses on the African town of Essenwald and the Vorrh, a vast, seemingly endless forest 200 miles to the Southeast. There are all manor of creatures residing here, many not quite human. It is rumored that the Garden of Eden still exists in the depths.
The very nature of the tangled, ethereal forest isolated from the rest of its environs reminded me (for various reasons) of The Southern Reach trilogy by Jeff Vandemeer (who blurbs The Vorrh), the TV series Lost, and State of Wonder by Ann Patchett- amped up 100 times in weirdness.
The story follows an eclectic cast of characters...townspeople, the natives (True People), anthropomorphgi, robots, cyclops, priests, healers, spirits called the Erstwhile, Orm, Kin, workers of the Vorrh (Limbioa), and explorers who enter the Vorrh for various reasons. The main narrative is driven by the timid, fearful relationship between the town and the forest that can maim or kill if precautions aren't followed exactly. We also have foreigners trying to exploit the people and resources for their own agenda, and trying to destroy the native's way of life and God's in the meantime. The economy of Essenwald is also highly dependent on the timber produced from the Vorrh to thrive. The writing takes some getting used to, but Catling succeeded in making the mysterious forest sound hypnotic.
While I appreciated the originality and cryptic disturbing imagery- "Coldness plucked at her optic nerves with a bony nail." (pg 137), this story was a little out there for my readerly tastes. You can tell that Catling has an artistic background as a poet, painter, sculptor, and installation artist. I think this novel will appeal to anyone who loves to be unnerved and wants an original take on a "haunted" forest story. It is also slated to be a trilogy so there will be more if this strikes your fancy.
Final Rating: 3.5 Stars
Thursday, July 9, 2015
This book has one of the best titles I've encountered in literature. I was even more pleased when I heard that the Irish O'Farrell is a gifted storyteller. Praise for her other well-titled work, Instructions for a Heatwave, finally persuaded me to dust this one off from the upstairs shelves and give it a go.
This is a quiet story detailing the story of two couples. One couple's narrative is set in the past, in 1950's and 60's London. Lexie Sinclair has just escaped her stifling small town and come to work as a secretary for the enigmatic Innes Kent, an editor for the magazine Elsewhere. Their tumultuous affair is interspersed with life in the artistic era of post-war Soho. Fast forward to present day London where we meet Elina, a gifted painter and Ted, a movie editor. Their infant son has been born under difficult circumstances and the couple is entering into parenthood with this health struggle in addition to the usual trepidation and fatigue a newborn brings. There is a hidden connection that binds these couples, and this is the journey into their lives and the crossroads where their paths intersect.
I think any female who has experienced childbirth (whether it was a mostly positive or negative experience), will relate to the opening scenes in this book. There is a scene where Elina is disoriented from exhaustion and describes her husband leaving for work with dazed detachment. It brought my post-baby experience to top of mind and put me right back in that anxious state-especially of the first child! However, O'Farrell highlights the incredible bond and positive nature of motherhood to balance the unnerving scenes.
Besides the post-baby scenes, I felt the book was just okay. Ted has flashbacks of his own childhood where there are discrepancies in his memories. This is supposedly triggered by having his own child, but it seemed like a convenient plot device. I would have preferred more of Elina's story to the other couple's journey, but the novel was still good.
I don't want this to sound like an exclusionist review, but I don't think the parenting stories would have nearly the punch-me-in-the-gut feeling if I didn't have kids. I recommend to anyone wanting to explore the power and change of children in our lives, but otherwise I might pass since other elements didn't seem strong enough to make their own entertaining story.
Wednesday, July 1, 2015
This is a massively complex science fiction novel with many characters and locations. The third person narrator focuses on five main characters who have all experienced some kind of loss or trauma-which is mysteriously driving them to search for a golden city they've only glimpsed in dreams. The narrative switches back and forth between the real world and the virtual reality experience.
I was excited to read this book on the recommendation of a wonderful fellow YouTuber, Brock from Let's Read. I was even more interested when I realized this was published in the 90's- I find it fascinating to see what author predictions on society and technology have already come true in today's day and age. The intense gaming culture, Sim creation, and technology "pads" (eerily similar to our I-pads) used in this book struck me as startlingly accurate predictions in how we often live now. Of course there are scary elements in how these have gone too far, but that only makes the book experience more nerve-wracking in realizing it is within the realm of possibility that technology and wealth can be misused.
I found the Sim creation process interesting. By plugging into the net, someone can create an avatar that compensates for what they don't have in the real world- strength, beauty, a different gender, all with the click of a few buttons. VR sims can have animal faces or be simple blobs, making conversations near impossible to decipher due to lack of normal body language- namely facial expressions. The existence of this world brings to light the need humans have for real contact, no matter what technology.
I liked !Xabbu's storyline the best, especially how Williams included some info and stories on the aboriginal peoples of South Africa, the Bushmen. He is a great support to Renie while she is dealing with her home and professional struggles. Paul Jonas's storyline was certainly the most confusing for me- and I ended up Wikipedia-ing the last few chapters of the book to make sure I had understood the cliffhanger ending.
I will be continuing with this series, I'm just not sure when. Williams has a great mind, and the threads he has woven in between all these stories is impressive, but sometimes felt a bit much. I would really sink my teeth into a particular story, then something seemingly random (which I realize won't be as we get more info with the following books) would pull me out of the story and it felt frustrating. Particularly, around page 642 there is a desert scene with an Aghori man, who begins talking about Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva....and I was desperately wanting to get back and hear more about our main character's plight.
However, I must take into account that I was trying to finish this book by a particular time, so the last 100 page effort was perhaps more difficult than usual. Also, science fiction is new to me and I'm not adept at understanding all the science jargon. I can understand the appeal of this series, especially with the emphasis on computer science and it's seemingly limitless applications. I think I would need to read the next installment to put some puzzle pieces together...but a pretty good start. Certainly memorable, and one that would benefit greatly from a reread.