sonk’s #CBR5 Reviews #59 – #65

I’m finally done!

#59: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (5 stars)

#60: Dirty Love by Andre Dubus III (3 stars)

#61: Lost in Shangri-La: A True Story of Survival, Adventure, and the Most Incredible Rescue Mission of World War II by Mitchell Zuckoff (2 stars)

#62: The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman (4 stars)

#63: Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker (3 stars)

#64: Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness by Erich Schiffman (4 stars)

#65: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (5 stars)

loveallthis’s reviews #1-26: a roundup post!

loveallthis 2013 reads

I read and reviewed 26 books in 2013. Here they all are.

  1. Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner – 2 stars
  2. Freedom by Jonathan Franzen – 4 stars
  3. Among Others by Jo Walton – 4 stars
  4. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling – 2 stars
  5. The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell – 3 stars
  6. Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire – 2 stars
  7. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald – 5 stars
  8. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – 5 stars
  9. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple – 3 stars
  10. Some Things that Meant the World to Me by Joshua Mohr – 2 stars
  11. Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace – 5 stars
  12. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer – 4 stars
  13. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer – 3 stars
  14. Medium Raw by Anthony Bourdain – 3 stars
  15. The Financial Lives of the Poets by Jess Walter – 4 stars
  16. Stonemouth by Iain Banks – 4 stars
  17. Embassytown by China Mieville – 3 stars
  18. The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger – 4 stars
  19. Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld – 3 stars
  20. Shift by Hugh Howey – 4 stars
  21. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell – 5 stars
  22. Railsea by China Mieville – 2 stars
  23. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – 4 stars
  24. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco – 2 stars
  25. Oblivion by David Foster Wallace – 4 stars
  26. The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt – 4 stars

Phew! On to next year. Happy reading, everyone!

ABR’s #CBR5 Review #25: Holidays On Ice by David Sedaris

holidays-iceI typically have trouble ramping up the holiday spirit so this year when I had the decorations up and the shopping done I thought I’d read something to help. I mistakenly chose David Sedaris’ Holidays On Ice. I’ve had the book on my book shelf for many years. I’m familiar with the “SantaLand Diaries,” the story that leads the book, and I would consider myself a David Sedaris fan, but Holidays On Ice was not the book I needed.

I would highly recommend the first essay, “SantaLand Diaries,” in which Sedaris details his experience as a Macy’s elf named Crumpet. In a twisted way, it just might put you in the holiday spirit. At least you’ll be able to laugh at some of the more stressful moments, like waiting in line to see a Santa that terrifies the kids and shopping amongst the masses. It’s funny, sad, pathetic, revealing and unfortunately, honest.

Although I would recommend the book on the strength of “SantaLand Diaries” alone, I also enjoyed “Dinah, the Christmas Whore,” which recounts a Christmas when the Sedaris family rescued a prostitute from her abusive boyfriend and invited her into their home for the holiday.

But do yourself a favor and skip “Season’s Greetings To Our Friends and Family,” the Dunbar family Christmas letter, which goes from sad to awful to sickening, and “Christmas Means Giving” in which two neighbors go to grotesque lengths to outdo each other during the holiday season. Yes, I understand they are sarcastic, but I thought they were just too creepy and outlandish to be funny.

narfna’s #CBR5 Review #102: The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

bone seasonThe next J.K. Rowling? Uh, nice try, Bloomsbury, but no. Extremely false. This isn’t the worst book I’ve read, by far, but it is one of the most frustrating, mostly because Samantha Shannon is clearly very smart, so that makes it all the more aggravating that this turned out the way it did. I have lots of thoughts, as if you couldn’t tell from all my status updates. I will try to parse them out in a concise and entertaining manner, but I make no promises because it is New Year’s Eve and I’m in my party dress.

So let’s start out with that awful marketing plan, since I’ve already brought it up. Comparing their extremely green author to one of the most beloved authors of all time was not a smart move on Bloomsbury’s part. I’m sure they miss all their Harry Potter revenue dearly, but all it did was set up Samantha Shannon for failure. And that was going to happen whether or not the book was any good. This book, which in my opinion is a hot mess, needed to be edited within a half inch of its life. It didn’t need to be praised as “the next Harry Potter.” Honestly, what I think it needed was for its author to incubate a little more. Her fine education and precocious imagination aside, she bit off way too much with this series, and did not have the life experience necessary to pull it off. This book screams AMATEUR to me. As stated above, I’ve certainly read worse books, but I almost think the experience of reading this one was so horrible because I could see the potential hiding in there. This story could have been great given five or so years, and a lot of patient editing.

To sum it up quickly, The Bone Season is the first of seven novels that take place in a dystopian/alternate world that diverged about two hundred years before present time. It’s a world where clairvoyance is real, and those possessing the ability are either persecuted or conscripted for police service, and where others choose to practice their talents in criminal underworlds as an alternative. But just as Shannon begins to describe this world to us, and we’re already feeling lost, our main character, whose name I have now forgotten, is kidnapped by a mysterious race of beings who are also clairvoyant, and then we have to learn about THAT world on top of the other one. Everything has a label, there is a new and confusing terminology for everything Shannon could have possibly thought of, and it is an incredibly trying reading experience. Not that challenging books are a problem, but there’s a way to do it that Shannon didn’t manage.

And then it quickly became clear to me that the plot of the novel was just the standard YA/romance with a super speshul heroine hiding underneath the thin veneer of the very confusing exterior of the world Shannon has created. Our heroine is SO SPECIAL and nobody has ever had powers like hers and the bad guy falls in love with her! And only she can save the day! It was about 1/3 of the way through the novel when I just gave up trying to keep track of everything and just let the crazy wash over me. The cardboard cutout secondary characters, the way the heroine fixated on things for no reason (and Shannon clearly expected us to care about those things as well, only I didn’t want to), the constant info-dumping and violations of Show, Don’t Tell. She uses complicated words to impress when simple ones would do. Last minute plot contrivances to get her story in place. A romance that comes out of nowhere. She basically lifts a character straight from A Clockwork Orange, and probably thought we wouldn’t notice, maybe because her target market won’t have read that book yet:

Look at you with dewdrops in your shiners. Raise your head, O my lovely! What do you want–sympathy? Pity? You won’t find that from him, just like you didn’t find it from me. The world is an abattoir, my mollisher. Raise those barking irons, now. Let me see you give him hell.”

Ugh, shut up.

I might read the second book in this series. But maybe not. Reading this one was torture, if I’m being honest, because a lot of the things I see Shannon doing as an author are things I used to struggle with as well. It’s like looking into a mirror and seeing my past self, and I can see myself thinking the wrong things are good, and being an idiot, and I don’t have the power to stop myself. Anyway, in my case it didn’t matter, because nobody was publishing the shit that I wrote when I was her age, and mistaking complicated worldbuilding for complexity and depth of content, as Bloomsbury seems to have done with this series.

Most of all, I just really wish whatever person accepted her manuscript for publication would have been thinking with their brain instead of their wallets. This book and its author are going to suffer for it.

Owlcat’s CBR V Review #26 of Paradise City by Archer Mayor

Although this is, I believe, Archer Mayor’s 22nd novel, I confess to never having read any of his books prior to this, even though he is a semi-local author (out of Vermont) and has even had book signings here in Greenfield, Mass.  I decided, however, to read this book based entirely on the title, Paradise City, which is the “nickname” for Northampton, Mass., and I knew I’d likely be able to relate to the localities in the book.  That turned out to be both a good idea for me and not-so-good because I did, indeed recognize many of the sites within the book, including parts of Northampton, Brattleboro, Vermont, Boston, and even a brief description in Greenfield.  This was unfortunately a distraction for me as I read (my fault, not his) but nevertheless, I did continue reading and for the most part enjoyed the mystery and characters and plot despite the distractions.

Joe Gunther is the main character, a member of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, which gets invited to assist other local authorities when they are unable or unwilling to deal with crimes within their jurisdictions.  In this case, there are major burglaries throughout Vermont that have stymied local police departments and eventually seem connected to a major home burglary in Boston where an elderly woman’s antique jewelry is stolen and she is beaten so badly that she succumbs to her injuries.  Gunther begins working with the Boston police because of the suspected connection with the Vermont burglaries, and he and the Boston police try working with the old woman’s niece to piece together some of the possibilities for her being the target. The niece is not happy with their pursuit, however, believing they are minimizing her elderly aunt’s situation and begins her own attempt to uncover facts and follow them.

They all end up in Northampton, Mass., “Paradise City,” where they believe the jewelry is being fenced. She endangers her own life by being too obvious when she’s asking various jewelers and artisans questions, and Gunther and the Northampton Police attempt to rein her in.  Gunther has a history that’s alluded to of having lost the love of his life violently (several books back) and is uncomfortable with this woman putting her own life in jeopardy.  He wants to convince her to stop and she placates him but continues with her own research and pursuit nevertheless, which ultimately jeopardizes not only her own life but that of Gunther’s irascible partner who himself is just beginning to develop a new approach to life with a wife and child. This all comes to a climax at the end of the novel and though somewhat contrived, it nevertheless “works.”

My only complaint in the ending is that it’s almost too sudden;  whereas the bulk of the novel involves well-developed characters and a meandering plot that sometimes is a bit too convoluted but plausible, although also at times a little difficulty to follow, the ending is achieved in just a few pages and the tension does not develop the way the rest of the novel would have led the reader to believe it would.  There are a few too many “connect-the-dot” situations and coincidences that the characters’ dialogues reveal, rather than just letting the plot continue to meander slowly toward the end.

Within this novel, too, is the secondary storyline of smuggled immigrants, whom the fencers are using to redesign the stolen jewelry, and that storyline is interesting, albeit a bit of a distraction, too, as Mayor develops one of the immigrant characters a bit more, perhaps, than she needed to be.  It was an interesting aside to have her developed but not necessary to the story;  a more generalized description of the smugglers and their captives would have sufficed.

I did find most of the characters, especially Joe Gunther, as very believable, as well as the other law enforcement officials and the private investigator in Northampton who was skeptical about dealing with someone on her “turf.”  I did wonder as I read the story if some of the artisans and jewelers described were based on real people since the descriptions of Northampton locations were so clear! The interwoven plot made me think, too, that this is probably what “real” crime looks like, with misleading evidence and apparent luck as much as anything working against and/or in favor of the investigators.  One word here, one person there.  Mayor was quite masterful at developing those kinds of realities.

I guess I would recommend this book based on an entertaining mystery.  I might try another of his books that maybe would be less distracting for me;  it was too easy to get caught up in, where is that exactly? or, oh, I know that’s Bill’s Restaurant, etc. Next time, I would choose one of his very early ones – though this book did make me realize that although it’s a part of a series, like any good series, it does not really require that I have read any of the earlier ones.  Past references are alluded to enough so the reader gets the gist of why someone is the way they are but without distracting details, and that was very helpful.  I would be curious to see how a non-local person responds to this book.

Malin’s #CBR5 Review #152: Vampire Science by Jonathan Blum and Kate Orman

2.5 stars

In 1976 a young med student named Carolyn meets the eight Doctor and his teenage companion Sam, while they’re trying to stop Eva, a vampire, from killing a young woman. Having never realised that there was such a thing as vampires, time travel or exciting individuals like the Time Lord and his companion, Carolyn’s word is forever altered, but despite an unspoken invitation to join the Doctor on his continued adventures, Carolyn chooses to take the injured woman to the ER and worry about her upcoming exam instead.

Twenty years later, there are clearly vampires in San Francisco again. Carolyn is a doctor herself now and has made great strides to fulfil her dream of finding a cure for cancer. She has a good life, and a dependable lighting technician boyfriend, but when the Doctor and Sam appear again, barely changed from when she met them two decades ago, she starts to wonder if she made the right choice.

More on my blog.