Lauri’s #CBR5 Review #7: The Martian by Andrew Weir

I “borromartianwed” the Kindle edition of this techy sci-fi novel from my dad — who reads a lot of cheap books on his Kindle. While I think he makes up for quality with quantity, he raved enough about this book that I thought I’d give it a try.

Andrew Weir’s novel about an astronaut left for dead on Mars attempting to survive everything thrown at him is a fun, though sometimes tedious, read. It’s hard sci-fi with lots of technical explanations that I generally just let roll over me as I waited for the protagonist, with the help of mission control back on Earth, to overcome the immense alien world around him. This book is the ultimate Man vs. Nature and while the prose is nothing to write home about, the book moves along at a decently-paced clip.

I would recommend this to anyone who likes sci-fi and wants some light reading for the beach or pool.

Lauri’s #CBR5 Review #6: The Dinner by Herman Koch

The Dinner, as the title would suggest, takes place over the course of a meal between two brothers and their wives at a chic Dutch restaurant. The narrator Paul is as unreliable as narrators come — a fact that comeImages out slowly over the course of the book. Paul has a wife, a teenage son…and some disturbing rage issues. Serge, his brother, is set to become the next Prime Minister, though he’s shown to be (from his brother’s pov) t a boorish oaf. Serge and his wife also have two teenage sons (one adopted). It is these sons, who have gotten themselves into some serious trouble, that the two couples are dining together to discuss.

First, the novel’s strengths. The pacing is tight and the novel is suspenseful, at least through the first 2/3’s of the story as we get deeper into Paul’s mind regarding the current events as well as his past breakdowns that shed light on the present. It’s a quick read and I did feel compelled to keep going, to find out just what happens to this family.

But the weaknesses. I love a good unreliable narrator and Paul is just that. This novel is being compared to the recent Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and the comparison is valid. But like that book, there is not one character in The Dinner that is likable. In fact, as more is revealed, I found all of the characters despicable. As the horrific nature of just what those teenage boys have been doing (think Clockwork Orange) is revealed, my ability to empathize with any of the characters became obsolete. You have to suspend some serious disbelief to buy in to the actions and reactions of their parents as they discover what atrocities their sons are committing.

Every person in the novel comes off as a sociopath and it is clear that the apples don’t fall far from the trees.

Lauri’s #CBR5 Review #3: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

I founImaged this book for a $1 at last year’s library book sale and it has sat in on my “to-be-read” list ever since. In the meantime, I read last year’s captivating State of Wonder, by the author and finally last month it was time to taste another of Patchett’s unique flavor of magical realism.

Bel Canto is set in an unnamed South American country and begins the night of a Japanese businessman’s birthday bash at the Vice-Presidential mansion. The star of the night is Roxanne Coss, a famous American opera singer with whom Mr. Hosokawa, the businessman being wooed by the government of said country, is well, a bit obsessed. When revolutionaries storm the mansion and take the crowd hostage, the story turns into a tragicomic story of love found in the oddest of places.

Like State of Wonder, the novel requires a certain suspension of disbelief. The characters, from the youngest, lowliest guerrilla fighter to the vice-president, to an international array of businessmen, to the generals who have gotten themselves and their people into this mess, without an exception they are captivated by the American singer. But what captivated me, more, was the way the novel unexpectedly turned into a love story between the Japanese polyglot interpreter and a smart but quiet female guerrilla.

Patchett has a way of humanizing every character, giving them a detailed and fleshed-out history in just a page or two. We sympathize and empathize with all of the characters caught in an obvious no-win situation. Like the novels players, I wished that the book continued on and on as they loved and learned from each other. And though little attention is actually given in the novel to flesh out the desperation of the terrorists, that they would commit such acts as kidnapping, we know that in the end the government will always win.

Now to that ending. Without spoiling, I will say that there is an epilogue that feels tacked on and completely out of place with the rest of the novel. Unfortunately, once read you know it is there. I would like, however, to think of the novel ending before this. Even before the last few pages in the final chapter. That these characters still live in that limbo, dream-state where music, sport, learning and love reign free.