Wednesday, July 20, 2016
This far exceeded my expectations. A whip-smart police procedural that hits all the right notes with character development, mystery, setting, and intelligent writing. If it weren't for Book of the Month, I might never have read this- and that's exactly why I'm a subscriber. I make it a point to read each month's selection in the same month so they don't pile up- and it keeps my reading fresh and varied. I'm not sponsored by them, but love gabbing about subscription services that have actually benefited my reading life instead of adding useless clutter. Ad over.
Thank you Susie Steiner for the clearly labeled sections with the narrator's name. I love multi-perspective yarns, and while I occasionally appreciate a clever play on this style, I find it easier to focus on the story when I'm not trying to suss out who's speaking through context clues.
There are many heartfelt and funny quotes that doubly make this worth your time. Here are a couple smashing writing samples:
"Married love has been a revelation....not the lurching outer edges of feeling, no, but the sheer depth and texture of it. All her memories involve him. He is the only person on earth who can talk about the children with the same exhaustive gusto that she does....And she is wrong to be quite so consumed with feminist rage. It's not as if he does nothing: the cup of tea, for example, he brings her in bed each morning; his final checks on the house at night; the way he'll run upstairs to find her slippers....These are small, repetitive acts of love."
Also, here's a funny snippet from one of Manon's forays into the perils of internet dating:
Educated:to an intimidating degree. Willing to hide this. Prone to tears. Can be needy. Often found googling "having a baby at 40".
Looking for:book-reading philanthropist with psychotherapy training who can put up shelves. Can wear glasses (relaxed about this).
Dislikes: most of the F*cktards I meet on the Internet.
It was refreshing to take a break from real-life American police drama and learn the terminology and differences in British law enforcement (not that things are all sunshine and roses by any stretch!) Detective Davy was one of my favorite sidekicks, bustling with sincerity and optimism in the midst of depressing precinct updates and jaded officers. Manon's flawed personality made me root for her, and sad when she got in her own way.
Comparisons can be tricky, but I second that if you are an avid Tana French fan, this would be an excellent novel for you! The dynamics of the police station and characters reminded me of Rob and Cassie from the Dublin Murder Squad (sans romantic vibes, which was honestly nicer). It's still wholly it's own, but mirrored my engagement with French's books. Give it a shot. I'm crossing my fingers that Steiner will go the series route with this one, because I want so much more from these characters. I will miss them.
Monday, July 18, 2016
This is easily one of the most heartbreaking family novels I've read, but it is a stunning story. While the subject matter is brutal, the style is simple and unpretentious. I usually fail to offer trigger warnings, but this has them for all kinds of violence- so be adequately warned.
This will impact any empathetic adult who has aging parents. While this particular relationship isn't what most of us experience (at least I hope), there are kernels of personality quirks you might notice in yourself or your own parents. I nodded along to certain emotions Kyung was experiencing as ones I've felt about my own parents, while simultaneously loathing him for it. Thought provoking is a phrase used often when reviewing, but it's rarely been more apt for me than with this story.
I've had irrational reactions to a family member for losing their filter in public and embarrassing me and my children. Taking a step back, it's obvious that said person is frustrated at their own inability to accomplish a certain task, so projecting the blame and resentment to passersby as "their fault" is how the aggression presents itself. While embarrassing, I know that I can't control this person, and most of the time can manage the situation so this doesn't happen. Then again, there are bad days where the anger and sadness are overwhelming. Families can be messy, complicated things indeed. Even the loving ones. Also, this is not about my husband- he's a gem:-)
Yun explores how we place value on relationships, our obligations to family, our varied defense mechanisms, the role of religion in tragedy, and throws in some financial stress for good measure! The cherry on top of the Sundae. She also manages to eloquently educate the reader on cultural differences between Americans and Koreans, and how this can affect upbringing.
While categorized as literary fiction, Shelter sweeps you along quicker than most of these character based stories. There is a unique quality in the writing that is hard to describe, and it's evident that Yun spent years tweaking this story. I can understand the praise for this debut, and predict some award nominations in short order.
Saturday, July 16, 2016
This was fun. The family drama wasn't anything new, but rang true. A cheating spouse, a couple anxiously awaiting a child, kids navigating the post high school and college worlds, a woman who takes comfort in food....all there and explored tenderly. I liked that some of the situations highlight how we tend to hide the truth to cover our shame- even more as we dip into adulthood, and the catastrophic damage that ultimately causes.
Straub writes the location of New York City and it's people like a true native. This book has good, realistic small talk. This makes the novel feel authentic- because that's the conversation that happens when we don't know what to say, or wish we were saying something of more importance. Family vacations are an altogether different type of getaway from other vacations, and Straub deftly wove these fraught dynamics together in one vacation house. I'm not sure it will be particularly memorable for me, but it's a fine summer read.
Sunday, July 10, 2016
I marathoned Hobb's Farseer Trilogy, but wanted to savor the last one in this series. I also needed a bit of a Fantasy break. Even though Hobb is my favorite Fantasy writer, my mood has trended towards literary and contemporary women's fiction lately- and I didn't want that to negatively affect my reading.
I rate Hobb's books the same because her writing doesn't falter for me from story to story. This conclusion was rich in description, and finally explained the wizardwood, serpent, and Rain Wild mysteries.
These poor downtrodden females. The struggle is REAL. Hobb deftly writes the plights of her female characters with empathy and realism. Serilla, Althea, and Ronica are prime examples. Serilla wants to wield control over Bingtown despite a weak document recognizing her as Satrap's delegate, Althea is struggling to regain her liveship (while ignoring feelings for Brashen), and Ronica is manipulating Bingtown politics in hopes of swaying the council to rebuild the devastated city. The constant fight for power and frustration at thwarted efforts makes for compelling reading.
I'm also disappointed about a major event that transformed Althea in the last half of the story. It was a bold move on Hobb's part, but selfishly wish it hadn't been included due to it's brutality and the fact that she'd already been through many ordeals. I wish it could have been skipped as a plot point. However, it doesn't detract from the strength of the series as a whole.
The dragons were an outlet for Hobb to philosophize on how we interact with different groups of people, and how a human life is a blip on the radar. Our short time should be spent trying to find contentment, working hard, and living life to it's fullest potential.
I found the dialogue of the Satrap a bit strange. While he behaved like a petulent, lazy child, he sprouted dialogue that seemed too intellectual for his tantrums. Perhaps his intelligence was hidden beneath his spoiled nature, but I was surprised that he didn't have simpler dialogue, especially in the boat scenes from Trehaug. The development of his voice would be a question I'd have for Hobb if I were ever fortunate enough to go to an author event (or possible Goodreads forum...one can hope!)
Whether it be places or people, Hobb slips in bits of social commentary in our intensity to mold circumstances to our will, regardless of whether that is beneficial to the object in question or society as a whole. Ambition can be blinding. Guy Gavriel Kay also does this skillfully, highlighting many moral gray areas.
This is the best type of Fantasy, where we learn something about real life in a less-threatening way because it's a few steps removed from our reality. She also shows what happens when dreams don't match up with reality and we are forced to change course. Her impressive streak continues with the end of this trilogy, and I can't wait to continue my Hobb journey with the Rain Wild Chronicles. I would recommend Hobb to anyone who loves Fantasy, and doesn't mind characters who have a long road to redemption.
I had high hopes! I put this on my Book Expo America agenda very early when I heard the description. I love that Reilly used her environmental experience working for the Obama administration to shape the idea for this novel. The reality of climate change and superstorms are eerily plausible, making this topic a seemingly compelling read.
Eh. The concept was fantastic, but the execution with the characters and writing were problematic. The relationship between Pia and Ash felt one-dimensional and forced. In the opening..."So, what are we going to do, love?" Pia asked, more excited than scared. "These storms are just terrifying! We need a plan." Umm, obviously. Both the main characters were self-centered and shallow, which unfortunately lowered my interest in what became of them. The romantic elements were distracting. There is also an instalove situation that felt particularly unnecessary. One of the characters is repeatedly referred to as "Bev The Social Worker". I'm not sure why her profession wasn't dropped after the first 50 pages, but perhaps that will be corrected in later copies? (I hope!). I did enjoy the inclusion of the little boy August.
Northeast Vermont was a beautiful setting. While Isole was a fictional location, real places were also referenced. The connection to nature could be nicely highlighted, but in lots of instances felt browbeaten "Pia and I drank coffee with sweet local cream while we watched old men on network TV discuss how this might influence....." The way Pia and Ash were gathering food for the storm was pertinent, but having to hear little organic details detracted from the focus of the chapters.
The strengths were the meteorological details and the behavior of people who have different survival methods. Reilly was good at exploring how fear can transform a community into something unrecognizable, and the perils of being unwilling to compromise.
I finished because I wanted to know the outcome of the storm rather than the character fates. Reilly has an interesting afterword, and I liked the thoughtful Questions for Discussion. While I was somewhat letdown, the themes were intriguing and would make for a good book club chat.
Saturday, July 2, 2016
This is why I read. I adored this story in so many ways, and spent almost a month with it. I might reinstate my Audible account so I can have more of Moriarty's books on audio, as Caroline Lee brought these characters to life. I literally teared up when I realized my time with Jane, Celeste, and Madeline was about to end. She covers so much ground in this story. The lies we tell people for myriads of reasons, cycles of abuse, making erroneous snap judgements (with devastating consequences), hard-fought forgiveness, female friendships, and navigating the treacherous waters of parenthood to name just a very few!
I underestimated this book from the description. I didn't imagine that the average family/relationship drama with kids at school could contain so many layers. Silly me. I felt incredible amounts of empathy for these women, and desperately wanted the best outcome for them. They each screwed up royally, but tried to forge ahead the best way they could.
The story being told leading up to the tragic "Trivia Night" was a brilliant narrative choice that added just the right amount of mystery to an already excellent story. For the last quarter of the book, I almost forgot I was reading fiction. While the trivia night was an exaggerated account of events that could take place with too much alcohol/late food arrival, most of the occurrences seemed feasible.....with an odd blend of frightening and funny.
Most importantly, it opened my eyes to areas of people's private lives that I have been privileged enough not to experience. This is a grand statement, but I came away with an understanding of abuse that I had never achieved with any other book. Do we mean to look away? Do we pay enough attention to the people in our lives? We can also learn a lot about kindness through childhood innocence. It's adults that often muddle situations with our interference (sometimes!).
I think there is something in this for every female who has had ANY kind of relationship, which is all of us. It was deeply heartfelt and intensely resonated with me. I'd particularly recommend it to anyone working in the school system, as there are some funny insights from poor Ms. Barnes, the kindergarten teacher. She was a hoot.
The only tiny negative I must mention is it drags a bit at the beginning. The plot is secondary to Moriarty forming our connection to the people and relationships. Caroline Lee's narration bumped this up several notches, especially with her emotive exclamations of "Oh Calamity!" and "For God Sakes!" The Australian charm in her accent added to the ambience of the water-front community location. I'm hoping Moriarty's other works are as wonderful as this one... she'll be well on her way to becoming a favorite author. I'm sure I will re-listen to this one day.