Three stars for the book itself; one bonus star for the audiobook performance by Tom Hiddleston. Actually, if I could I would give that reading all th...moreThree stars for the book itself; one bonus star for the audiobook performance by Tom Hiddleston. Actually, if I could I would give that reading all the stars. ALL THE STARS. IN THE WORLD.
Not that I have strong feelings about it or anything.(less)
**spoiler alert** It is impossible to separate my thoughts on the first volume of this duology from the second—possibly because they never should have...more**spoiler alert** It is impossible to separate my thoughts on the first volume of this duology from the second—possibly because they never should have been separated in the first place. This is a single novel that got way, way out of control, and if Willis (or really, Willis’ editor, who’s supposed to be the responsible one in this case) had had any sense, this monstrosity of a manuscript would have been carefully pared down to one tighter, and much better, book. Where is Max Perkins when you need him?
So I’m not going to discuss the structural problems with these books in much greater detail: said problems are immense, and if you’re going to tackle this story, you have to accept going in that the first volume is entirely setup, and over-long setup at that. Blackout should have probably been the first hundred pages, maybe, of the overall work. All Clear, which contains—finally!—the resolution, is better, but even it took a good 300 pages to start getting anywhere. Willis has a definite style, but it can start to seem like a crutch, especially when there’s not much else going on. It got to the point where I began groaning every time I read “But she didn’t” or “But he didn’t”—just like I grit my teeth through all of Tolkien’s “And lo!” and “And behold!”s in Return of the King.
The characters’ worries and reasoning about whether or not they were screwing up the timeline were frustrating as well. There were far too many instances of them deciding that they had corrupted it—oh wait, no they hadn’t! (See, I swear, it wouldn’t have even been that hard to cut this.) And the actual solution...how was this a surprise? To ANY of them? Am I somehow wrong in thinking that “the time traveler’s actions are and always were part of the timeline” is one of the major theories of how time travel would work? They use it on Doctor Who and Supernatural all the time. Willis’ Oxford books take place in the future, and I’d think that, even if this is a future where time travel has proved possible and this particular theory of time travel has supposedly been disproved, the characters would at least be aware of it. They’ve got a good century of pop culture behind them to make use of, after all! But instead, they’re totally shocked by the possibility, like people in modern zombie films who are totally taken aback by the revelation that a bite means you’re a ticking zombie time bomb. This just makes the characters seem really alarmingly thick.
So far, I’m making it sound like these books totally aren’t worth reading at all, but this isn’t entirely true. They fail on a number of levels, but Willis succeeds on a number of others, too—just to confuse you, I guess. Her depiction of the Blitz is fantastic and brilliantly vivid: as a story of ordinary people pulling together in impossible circumstances, these books are powerful and believable. The characters, once you work through their multiple aliases (very confusing over two books) and get over the fact that they all seem to process information in a startlingly similar way (“But he didn’t”)—they are characters to root for. Both Colin and Sir Godfrey are divine romantic heroes, and Willis, as usual, knows how to tug on your heartstrings, to write sacrifices so they feel painful and fully-realized. Once I got over the 300-page hump, I zipped through the second half of All Clear in an afternoon because I needed to know what happened to everyone. There is something here, to be sure—a spark of a good novel—which in a way makes it even more of a shame that it’s buried under so much excess stuff. Oh, Max, Max: we need to invent time travel for you.(less)
I'm sick of thrillers that burn through female characters like the author is keeping score. None of these women have...moreOkay, so. I'm fucking sick of it.
I'm sick of thrillers that burn through female characters like the author is keeping score. None of these women have any agency: they're clearly there to be fucked and beaten and raped and abandoned and called bitches and be mad drooling hags and be violently killed. Oh, except for the one lucky woman who gets to be the hero's mom.
Hero's totally the wrong word, though, of course. Instead of anyone remotely admirable or interesting, we're forced to suffer through this valley of despair and human indecency with some racist, homophobic, misogynistic schmuck who has no interesting character traits outside of what an asshole he is. Great, let's spend 300 pages watching this charmer bumble around investigating a bunch of little girls' brutal murders that turn out to be part of some sort of giant conspiracy of I don't give a fuck. Like, the police, politicians, and businessman are sometimes corrupt and stuff. I'm positive no one has ever used that plot before!
And, sure: I get this is all supposed to be gritty and real. Whatever. I am so tired of that being used as an excuse for another vile, cynical book that doesn't say anything interesting about humanity other than the fact that the author apparently thinks it fucking sucks. Or at least that the '70s sucked. Except, aside from the protagonist constantly telling us the year (I'm not sure I caught it...is it NINETEEN SEVENTY-FOUR?) and tossing out song references ("Life on Mars" was playing in a pub at one point, and god did it make me wish I was watching that show instead), this book could pretty much take place whenever. It certainly doesn't make any interesting points about how things may or may not have changed in the last 36 years. Just: people are shits, people are shits, people are shits. Thank you, please sexually harass your waitresses.
I can't read any more books like this. These highly-acclaimed thrillers that are blurbed with words like "explosive" and "raw" and that are the equivalent of spending several hours hanging out at the bottom of a cesspit. But how to avoid them? Certainly read fewer thrillers by men; definitely skip anything blurbed by Ian Rankin. And you know what: maybe for a while sidestep thrillers all together.
Anyone got any recommendations for books in which women with swords get to stab a lot of people? For some reason I have a craving.(less)
**spoiler alert** This is one of the worst books I’ve ever read. Not just one of the worst this month or this year—one of the worst ever, full stop. T...more**spoiler alert** This is one of the worst books I’ve ever read. Not just one of the worst this month or this year—one of the worst ever, full stop. This degree of badness is made worse by the fact that the book is a huge bestseller, both at my store and nationally. Of course.
A Reliable Wife performs an unholy act of matrimony between two things that, in my opinion, should never so much as cross paths, let alone wed: a plot of soap opera-level ridiculousness and pure, pretentious literary self-seriousness. I can take the two separately, under the right circumstances, but together, they are insufferable. Catherine Land, a hooker with (supposedly) a heart of ice, responds to sad-sack widower Ralph Truitt’s newspaper advertisement for “a reliable wife,” intending to win Truitt’s trust and then murder him for his money. But they fall in love! But there are complications! Such drama! But all portrayed in a simultaneously florid, yet austere manner—this is a literary novel, doncha know.
Goolrick writes early 20th century Wisconsin as if every single inhabitant of that state was contractually obligated to die tragically young or go tragically mad—which would rather surprise my maternal grandmother’s family, as they were living there at the time. (Five siblings. All survived to adulthood, despite a real life encounter with quicksand, which is rather more interesting than anything that happens in this novel.) He also seems to have taken a page out of Frank “Whores! Whores! Whores!” Miller’s playbook, as that’s what every female character in this book is, either literally or by implication. And then there’s Goolrick’s actual prose. Dear lord, such deathless prose!
He looked ravaged. He looked pure. He shone like a saint. He stood in a red paisley silk dressing gown, the front barely closed. He obviously wore nothing underneath, and he obviously didn't care. (page 138)
It’s like this all the way through. Goolrick has found his own reliable bride in repetition, and feels the need to show her off constantly.
He was safety. He was security. He was more passionate and kind than she had imagined he would be and she felt, somehow, that she was losing her footing, losing her way in the dark room under his hot hands. She must not forget. She fought against forgetfulness. She fought the desire to take his hand and kiss the palm, to skim his flesh with her tongue. (page 110)
And that’s not even touching upon Goolrick’s love affair with choruses: little repeated phrases that I’m sure are meant to seem profound, but in Goolrick’s clumsy hands, merely have an effect comparable to rapping one’s head against a hard object until one is concussed. Such things happened. THUNK. Such things happened. THUNK. Such things happened. THUNK...and blissful unconsciousness!
I know it’s pointless to get mad at a book, but this type of book makes me freakin’ furious. I don’t know whether Goolrick was sincere or cynical in his artistic ambitions, but the success of a piece of poorly-written, sexist, manipulative crap like this is gutting. It’s depressing to me as a writer, and discouraging to me as a bookseller and reader: as someone who would like to try to remain open-minded and sensitive to other people’s tastes. Sorry, though. If you come into my store and tell me that you liked this book, my opinion of you and your reading habits drops immediately. Which makes my job easier in a way—I know I can fob almost anything off on you, and it will be better than this—but it’s sad, because I certainly won’t be working to find you something wonderful, tailored to your particular tastes. This is not a proud thing for me to admit, but the fact of the matter is, it’s hard to put in the effort to produce for someone the most perfect piece of haute cuisine when they’ve told me they love McDonald’s.
We all have our McDonald’s moments, and that’s fine; but Michelin is never going to give McDonald’s a star, and that’s what bestseller status does to a book like this. I read it because everyone was reading it, and now it’s forced me to confront the fact that most people are idiots with bad taste. Thanks for making me into a snob, book.
So you can make up your own minds, I’ll leave you with one last taste—the cold, crinkly, leftover fries, pushed to the side of my plate. Here is Our Heroine, experiencing with such subtlety her Grand Revelation:
Then Catherine watched the angel rise into the dark night sky, his arms empty. Alice lay unredeemed, as inert as an abandoned doll. Catherine knew it was too late; there was an abandonment of hope. Her sister couldn't be saved.
And she knew she couldn't kill Ralph Truitt. She knew she couldn't bring harm to one living soul. Not anymore. (page 179)
One of Marías’ earlier, and from the examples of his work I’ve read so far, more disjointed novels. And yet: still this is sort of irrepressibly charm...moreOne of Marías’ earlier, and from the examples of his work I’ve read so far, more disjointed novels. And yet: still this is sort of irrepressibly charming. I think, like the voyage of the title, Marías’ work tends to be more about the journey and less about the destination.(less)
I love Mystery Science Theater. The clever mocking of ridiculously dumb things is one of my favorite things. I am consistently glad that MST3K lives o...moreI love Mystery Science Theater. The clever mocking of ridiculously dumb things is one of my favorite things. I am consistently glad that MST3K lives on in RiffTrax, and I very much enjoy downloading them and chuckling through those wonderful skewerings of cinematic idiocy. Mostly I download them and watch them right away, eager like a kid with a bag of candy. So when the RiffTrax version of the Star Wars Christmas Special appeared, I pounced on it in the same way. RiffTrax! The infamously terrible Star Wars Christmas Special! What could be better?
I watched about 90 seconds of it and then I had to stop. I still have the damn thing taking up space on my hard drive, but I just can't bring myself to watch it. I know it will make me laugh, perhaps frequently, but I can't. I just can't. The wince-factor is simply too high.
I'm having the same sort of reaction with Pleasuring the Pirate, which I was initially really kinda looking forward to reading. I know it will be bad—at times, perhaps, gloriously, magnificently bad—and that sounds fun to me. But every time I pick it up and look at the cover—the rope suggesting fun bondagey times; the woman's slightly drugged expression; the quintessential phallic sword; the man's odd, migratory nipples—I just— gah, I can't, I can't, I simply can't do this to myself right now. It will drive me crazy.
Part of the problem may be that I already read an excruciatingly bad romance novel this month, and I've reached my quota for a while. Jude Deveraux's An Angel For Emily had the honor of becoming the first book I have ever actually thrown at a wall. In fairness, I must admit that it was not actually hurled in anger: my cat was scratching at the door at a special time I like to call threeo'clockinthegoddamnmorning and the book was merely a convenient object to direct at said door to get him to shut up. But honestly, if I'd rolled over and seen a book I actually liked—or even, did not hate—next to my bed, I would have probably thrown a slipper or something.
Anyway, she said in the voice of one deeply traumatized, I just can't go through that again so soon: I can't read another book I know—or at least strongly suspect—from the outset that I will hate. There are simply too many (potentially) good books for me to read. Right now I have on my nightstand (okay, spread all over my floor. Are you happy?): Tokyo Vice, The Razor's Edge, an upcoming book by Samantha Bee, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, the first volume of Your Face Tomorrow, and some dopey-fun thing about time travel. I want to read those books, and many others besides. And normally I could wait the time it'd take me to read one stupid romance novel, but I just don't feel like it. Also, some of them are due back at the library soon.
So there is the story of my (ig)noble (lack of) effort. For my sake, and for my cat's, I'm sure you'll agree I made the right decision.(less)
Enjoyable Heyer romp, containing neither as much crossdressing fun as The Masqueraders, nor as much dull ickiness as These Old Shades. As seems to fre...moreEnjoyable Heyer romp, containing neither as much crossdressing fun as The Masqueraders, nor as much dull ickiness as These Old Shades. As seems to frequently be the case in Heyer novels, there are two couples, and one is significantly more interesting than the other; as is also often the case, there is a naive young woman who is supposed to seem charming but isn’t, and one or more men whom we are meant to believe are straight, but instead seem really, really gay. One comes away with a rather odd view of the eighteenth century, reading these books.
I think Heyer would be a fun author to find on the shelves of a picturesque lakeside cabin rental, when you have nothing expected of you besides lying out in the sun, swimming, and eating fresh berry pies. Sadly, since my life looks nothing like that, it will probably be a while before I reach for another one of her books.(less)
This book took me by complete surprise. I picked it up simply because Shafak was coming to read at my store; after the first few pages, which contain...moreThis book took me by complete surprise. I picked it up simply because Shafak was coming to read at my store; after the first few pages, which contain some painfully clunky prose, I was not particularly encouraged. However, I continued to give the book a chance, and for once it paid off. There are two parallel stories in this book: that of the relationship between the poet Rumi and the mystic Shams of Tabriz, and a contemporary narrative about a Jewish housewife in a failing marriage who falls in love, through letters, with a modern Sufi. Both, to my shock, ended up moving me considerably.
I don’t generally think of myself a spiritual person, but I was genuinely touched by the lives and beliefs of the characters in this book. Shams, as Shafak presents him, is an irresistible character, both impish and wise, and his relationship with Rumi rang my EPIC FRIENDSHIP bell like crazy. So while the writing in this book, on a nuts-and-bolts level, didn’t always work for me, the characters, general atmosphere, and message definitely did. It’s inspired me to read some of Rumi’s poetry, which is quite beautiful; I’d like to learn more about Sufism as well. Book recommendations, anybody?(less)
If there's more to this book than that, I can't say I re...more"Hey, guess what, Trin—being a lady is HARD!"
"Gee, book—I had NO IDEA. Thanks for telling me!"
If there's more to this book than that, I can't say I really got it. This is a novel about five generations of women and their general dissatisfaction with their lives—a better title might have been A Short History of Wealthy White Women and Their Ennui. Walbert's prose is occasionally stirring, but for the most part I found her style—short chapters that skip from character to character, bouncing from era to era—frustratingly elliptical. Maybe this is just not my feminism? In my feminism it absolutely needs to be acknowledged that things have sucked for women (of ALL races and classes) in the past, and they still often suck now, but instead of wallowing how 'bout try to be awesome? And maybe fight people with swords.(less)
New to the list of things Misha Collins has made me do: read an Anne Rice book. I really never thought I would do that again. Even at the height of my...moreNew to the list of things Misha Collins has made me do: read an Anne Rice book. I really never thought I would do that again. Even at the height of my Buffy-induced vamp craze, I didn't care for Rice; I dragged myself yawning through Interview With the Vampire. Of course, Rice'd probably just tell me that means I was interrogating the text from the wrong perspective. I do have to thank you for that one, Anne: that meme never gets old.
But then Anne Rice found God, and I found Supernatural's Castiel, and suddenly both of us were worshiping things that are at least vaguely angel-shaped. As much as I mocked Rice's new book for its ridiculous title (“Is it Thursday? Oh goody”—brandishes book—“it be angel tiem nao”), I also sort of wanted to read it. The angel in Angel Time, the internet informed me, is described as having dark hair and bright blue eyes—just like Castiel! The human he saves from perdition himself is a self-hating blond assassin—close enough to Dean for government work and/or idle fantasies. Hello, hilarious assassin AU in convenient “I can read it on the bus” book form!
The novel itself is actually not hilarious at all—it may be, in fact, one of the most self-serious books I've ever read. And yet...it's also not bad. Most of the narrative involves not-Cas sending not-Dean to save a medieval Jewish family from being falsely accused of murder. I didn't care about this part, particularly, especially not in contrast to the interesting glimmers of not-Cas and not-Dean's burgeoning relationship: not-Cas watched him grow up, watched all the tragedy in his life unfold, felt what he felt! It's kind of fabulously over the top, and I know that if I slashed it, Anne Rice would bring the whole internet down upon my head. I will not be posting this review on Amazon.com.
Seriously, though: I'm very aware that I am interrogating this text from the wrong perspective. I am not getting what Anne Rice likely wants me to get out of it at all. I'm okay with that, though. Hopefully, given time and the better angels of her nature, Anne herself will come around.(less)
Historical fiction, covering the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during World War II. Those aspects of the story were fascinating to me—I've read ton...moreHistorical fiction, covering the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong during World War II. Those aspects of the story were fascinating to me—I've read tons of WWII stories, but never one that covered this region. Lee's descriptions of life during the occupation are vivid and harrowing; she does a fantastic job realistically portraying the many ways people come together and fall apart under such horrific circumstances.
Unfortunately, as seems to be de rigueur for this sort of book these days, there's also a more modern component, and a *~*mystery*~* to be uncovered. This portion of the book, and even more notably the way the two relate, is much weaker. It doesn't help that, after everything, the BIG SECRET is revealed in such a hum-drum way. It's sort of as if the end of The Empire Strikes Back had gone like this:
Lando Calrissian invites Chewbacca and C-3PO to tea. Lando: So, I heard that Vader is Luke's father. C-3PO: I say! Lando: Hey, just thought you should know. Chewie: Rowarrrk!
But yes! The occupation scenes are seriously great, even if they don't have any Wookies in them. This is Lee's first novel, and it's got a lot to recommend it for a debut. I'll definitely be checking out her next one.(less)