Popcultureboy’s #CBR5 Review #96: The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

15995144

 

My Booker Longlist Challenge continues apace (though will spill over into next year’s Cannonball). This is the 2nd shortest entry of the longlisted books, an unusually narrated story of how a small town in Ireland was affected by the economic downturn. Doesn’t sound great, does it? Well, it is. Full review is on my blog here.

Advertisements

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 55: Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Goodreads summary: “1987. There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

At Finn’s funeral, June notices a strange man lingering just beyond the crowd. A few days later, she receives a package in the mail. Inside is a beautiful teapot she recognizes from Finn’s apartment, and a note from Toby, the stranger, asking for an opportunity to meet. As the two begin to spend time together, June realizes she’s not the only one who misses Finn, and if she can bring herself to trust this unexpected friend, he just might be the one she needs the most.”

I am so grossly behind on reviews that it hurts. Ah, post-Cannonball lethargy! Anyway, this was a very good story: bittersweet with poignant glimpses into close family relationships strained by death, jealousy, prejudice, and alienation. June, the protagonist, feels lost in the world following the death of her uncle. She’s born very much from the Loner Girl mold, an introvert who sees herself as irredeemably weird but who nonetheless manages to get along with people around her (and even attract attention from boys) when she puts the effort in. The relationship between her and her older sister — two girls feeling a chasm between them, trying to bridge it but not trying too hard for fear of getting hurt — was heartbreaking and felt all too real. This and other fragmented relationships in the novel were just a few of several reasons why this book felt very painful to read at times.

I was alive but not really cognizant of the emergence of HIV/AIDS (the epidemic central to the foundation of the novel,) but I have long been curious about both the pathology of the virus and about the curious intersection of paranoia and bigotry that made AIDS such a controversial, willfully misunderstood disease. Reading Tell the Wolves I’m Home didn’t, therefore, stir up any painful memories for me, but it did offer a really powerful and unflinching look at how those living with AIDS, and even those who died of the disease, like Finn, were demonized rather than comforted and loved.

Anyway, I read this over a month ago, so I have forgotten a lot of the details I might otherwise mention in a review, but I can say for certain that I really liked the book and would definitely recommend it.

Popcultureboy’s #CBR5 Review #86: The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

11291819

 

There isn’t really anything I can say about this seriously fantastic book that hasn’t been said either at the time or in the months following Banks’s cruelly premature death. But don’t let that stop you reading the full review. You can find it here.

Popcultureboy’s #CBR5 Review #80: Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

17873748

 

Insert jokes about “weighty tome” <here>. Shriver draws from the ever more pressing obesity crisis to create this beautifully written but ultimately slightly unedifying story of one man’s sudden huge weight gain and the effect it has on him and his family. The full review is on my blog here.

Popcultureboy’s #CBR5 Review #79: Nineteen Seventy Four by David Peace

11329940

 

A grim and gripping read, the first instalment of a quartet, this is a really great book. Harsh, unrelenting, unforgiving but hugely rewarding, if you like your crime novels gritty and downbeat, this is the book for you. The great news is, there’s three more where this came from. Full review on my blog here

alwaysanswerb’s #CBR5 Review 43: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

The_Fault_in_Our_StarsGoodreads: “Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel’s story is about to be completely rewritten.”

TFIOS is a touching, funny, sad, poignant, and somewhat dreamlike story that is well-loved and has been reviewed to death here and elsewhere. I don’t want to re-invent the wheel on this one, so I’ll just quickly share some of my general thoughts. Overall, I found this to be a wonderful novel, but for some reason I can’t put a finger on it didn’t become an instant favorite of mine.

John Green’s teens are, across all of his novels, generally wise beyond their years, and so it is the case here: Hazel and Augustus at times come across more like idealized versions of themselves than actual living people. Even their faults are perfectly expressed in metaphor, their emotions precisely defined. It was that precision, though, and that heightened realism that helped ground the “cancer story” and prevented TFIOS from becoming too maudlin. Where other tragedy-porn authors steer into verbose, florid language and hyperbole to create the verbal equivalent of that token string swell, Green’s incredible ability to put a point on the exact situational qualities that define a moment draws out more honest empathy from the reader. In other words: this may still have been emotional manipulation, but when the tears came, I felt more like they came from actual understanding than from a heavy mallet to the back of the head.