A generally charming novel about the eccentric residents of a pair of Maine islands inhabited mostly by lobstermen. This book benefits from well-drawn...moreA generally charming novel about the eccentric residents of a pair of Maine islands inhabited mostly by lobstermen. This book benefits from well-drawn characters and frequently fantastic dialogue, but is hampered by some pretty major pacing issues. Gilbert does a wonderful job creating Ruth Thomas and her world; Ruth is just the kind of heroine I like—tough and funny, far from perfect, clever but vulnerable—and I identified strongly with both her love for her small community, and her feelings of not quite fitting in there. However—the pacing. The book is slow to start and the end is incredibly rushed, to the point where Ruth’s arguably most important acts occur off-stage, between the last chapter and the epilogue. I was really thrown: why, instead of getting to see Ruth rise above a series of hard knocks and maneuver both herself and her island into a better life, are we just quickly told about these events in a few summary paragraphs? That almost felt like it should be the real meat of the novel, but it’s just glossed over. I was also disappointed that we didn’t get a resolution to Ruth’s mother’s story, and that Ruth’s love interest remained so lightly sketched (though there it may just be that taciturn guys are not my type). Like The Pursuit of Alice Thrift (and the more I think about it, the more this book reminds me of some of Elinor Lipman’s work), I loved the heroine and enjoyed the book, but was disappointed that it stopped just when things really started to get interesting.(less)
I didn't really know what to expect with this novel; I'm not particularly interested in Superman and I'm actually rather suspicious of novels based on...moreI didn't really know what to expect with this novel; I'm not particularly interested in Superman and I'm actually rather suspicious of novels based on others' works (which is rather bizarre for a fanfic writer, I must say). I guess I was sucked in by the fantastic Chris Ware cover. And hey, for once judging a book by its cover turned out to be a good thing: It's Superman! is immensely enjoyable, sweeping, and highly visual even without the aid of comic illustrations. De Haven reexamines Superman's origin story, bringing the setting back to the era of the character's creation, the 1930s and the Great Depression. Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and Lex Luthor are all compellingly presented, and seem like real people—Clark's self-doubt does a lot to make Superman more interesting, and more human. (No offense to the people of Krypton intended.) De Haven's OCs (oh, and now watch me slip into fanfic parlance) are fun and interesting too. The book is a good 425 pages long and when I reached the end all I wanted was for it to keep going.(less)
I'm always eager to read books about L.A., but they almost always disappoint me. (None of them really capture my L.A.—though oddly, I feel that Raymon...moreI'm always eager to read books about L.A., but they almost always disappoint me. (None of them really capture my L.A.—though oddly, I feel that Raymond Chandler's world occasionally intersects with mine. Also, the movie Blade Runner.) See's latest novel unfortunately continued the trend. It takes place is a universe that's supposed to be only slightly different from ours, in which national security after 9/11 has been amped up even more than it really was. Unfortunately, the difference feels if anything too slight—I'm not sure I would have realized it was an AU at all if I hadn't been told by the cover copy. None of the rest of the novel really comes together, either; it follows several interconnected characters, all of whom have reason to spend time at the UCLA medical center. Edith is a hospital volunteer whose husband died of a prolonged illness the day before the World Trade Center attacks; her son Phil is a dermatologist; Andrea and OmgGuyWhoseNameI'veAlreadyForgotten both have family members who are ill. All of these characters are fairly unpleasant, and they all resolve their worries about family and death in ways that feel oddly unrealistic. I finished this novel feeling like I must have missed something, but I talked to my mom about it this weekend, and though she loves See's Golden Days, she felt much the same way. Okay, so back to my original assessment: This doesn't really work. Wherever it was going, it didn't get there.(less)
Sequel to Changing Places, this book follows the same characters—and many, many more—as they travel the world for a series of academic conferences. T...moreSequel to Changing Places, this book follows the same characters—and many, many more—as they travel the world for a series of academic conferences. There is much amusement to be had in tracking the ways the various characters meet up (and often, hook up), and the whole thing is zany and hilarious and lots of fun, if a little less satisfying than Places. Note: the cover of the 1984 British Penguin edition has an illustration of a bare-breasted woman bound by chains to the 'W' in World; this will make you incredibly popular with strange men who sit down next to you on the bus. (less)
An English widow decides to open up a bookshop in her small town. That was all I knew of this book (well, and that my mom has a dozen of Fitzgerald's...moreAn English widow decides to open up a bookshop in her small town. That was all I knew of this book (well, and that my mom has a dozen of Fitzgerald's slim paperbacks strewn around her house) and that was what made me pick it up. So my reaction here is kind of a case of thwarted expectations: I was expecting something much more light and comic and—okay, I don't want to say life-affirming, because my vanity wants me to think I am not the sort of person who ever desires to read anything that could be described as "life-affirming" or "uplifting." But yeah: I wanted to read something that made me go, "Books and reading FTW!"
This is not that book. Really, it's a tiny, tightly-written tragedy, a story about how people can be really, truly awful to one another, with all the good people getting punished and bad people rewarded. It's very well-written and perfectly, plainly presented, and damn, does it hurt. I finished it just after midnight and went to bed whimpering. (less)
Sequel to 44 Scotland Street. This book is actually kind of amazing: it's 345 pages long, and practically nothing happens in it. Which I suppose you...moreSequel to 44 Scotland Street. This book is actually kind of amazing: it's 345 pages long, and practically nothing happens in it. Which I suppose you could claim is like real life, but since the tone of the series is supposed to be soap opera-like (in part aping Tales of the City), the mixture of WACKINESS! and 'eh, idleness' makes for a bizarre combination indeed. Potential storylines about a Glasgow gangster and a nudist colony fizzle out like defective firecrackers. Then the whole thing is wrapped up with startling abruptness. What was the point? I have no idea.(less)
Vida Winter is a bestselling author—a modern day Charles Dickens—but her past is entirely unknown; she gives one interview per year and always lies....moreVida Winter is a bestselling author—a modern day Charles Dickens—but her past is entirely unknown; she gives one interview per year and always lies. Then, out of the blue, she hires bookstore clerk and amateur biographer Margaret Lea to take down her life story. The majority of the novel comprises Winter's history as transcribed by Margaret, and Margaret's own life and investigations. The mood of the piece intentionally harkens back to various gothic novels, particularly Jane Eyre; the plot involves a family in a mouldering manner house, plagued by madness, a ghost, and unworldly twins who are possibly the product of incest. This is all dynamically presented, and the twist, when it arrives, is quite clever, exactly the type of narrative trick I admire; if I weren't so lazy, I would check back and do things like track pronouns, see how the book could be reread in light of new knowledge, and I'm sure it would all work perfectly. However, despite the novel's excellent atmosphere and underlying cleverness, it failed to emotionally engage me. The ending both goes on forever and seems too pat, and I was simply never...moved? Stirred? The sweeping emotions that a good gothic novel can evoke—the kind that make you want to take a wander on the moors even if you yourself live in sunny California—were unfortunately absent. This book never moved beyond the intellectual for me; it never affected my heart. (less)
Sequel to Bloodsucking Fiends; I've been looking forward to reading it for months. There were some things I really enjoyed about it, especially a new...moreSequel to Bloodsucking Fiends; I've been looking forward to reading it for months. There were some things I really enjoyed about it, especially a new character, a hilarious teenage goth girl called Abby Normal. But the rest of the book is kind of bleh; most of the plot revolves around a Vegas hooker named Blue, and is, well, kind of dumb. Which would not necessarily be a problem, as you can totally get away with dumb in a book like this, but only if the book is consistently funny. Which, aside from the Abby Normal bits (she quotes The Smiths in her diary entries; it's cliché but awesome, I tell you!), this book really isn't.
Also, I didn't like the ending. Suckage indeed.(less)
I was absolutely blown away by this novel. What initially attracted me was the premise: two young doctors involved in high-stakes cancer research come...moreI was absolutely blown away by this novel. What initially attracted me was the premise: two young doctors involved in high-stakes cancer research come in conflict when one produces a new, potentially life-saving drug, causing the other to doubt the veracity of his results. What eventually impressed me so much was how incredibly well-drawn all of Goodman's characters are. When moving between POVs—from Cliff, the discoverer of the potential cure; to Robin, his colleague (and—uh-oh—ex-girlfriend) who fears he's lying about the effectiveness of his drug; to Sandy, the press-savvy lab director; to Marion, his much more tentative but also more ethically-minded partner—Goodman manages the incredible feat of making every point of view convincing, and making each set of motivations seem logical when you're inside the head of the person they belong to. It's not so much that she manages to keep the reader unable to choose who to believe; she makes you change your mind about who you think is right based on whose head you're currently in. It's a really fascinating look at human psychology and ethics, and about both inter-personal and societal responsibility. The one place the book falters, I think, is in depicting Cliff and Robin's romantic relationship; they fall apart as a couple before you can get any idea what (if anything) was good about them together, so later, when you're meant to feel a frisson of regret at that loss, it doesn't really work. However, everything else about this book does. It even has a note-perfect ending.(less)
Book about a real-life serial killer Trin: I think I'll read this my first night in a strange, new apartment, in an u...moreOkay, here's how this breaks down:
Book about a real-life serial killer Trin: I think I'll read this my first night in a strange, new apartment, in an unfamiliar neighborhood, when I'm all alone, and almost all the lights are off! La la la!
Book featuring one plot thread about a man's slow descent into madness, including a scene of botched self-surgery Trin: *hides under the bed* *whimpers*
Yeah. I found this novel very hard to get through—which, if anything, should I suppose be a compliment to Haddon. As he demonstrated with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, he has amazing skill when it comes to POV: while in the head of any given character (even an autistic boy, as in Incident, or a man slowly losing it, as in Bother), the reader is fully aware not only of how that character perceives the world, but of how that perception is subtly (or not-so-subtly) off. It's an incredible balancing act, and Haddon never stumbles. Just, if you're planning to read this book, know what you're getting into. It may be a light comic novel, but it is a light comic novel that will freak you the fuck out. (less)
Ahh, how times have changed. I used to consider these books a good guilty pleasure; now I find there's a lot less pleasure and a lot more guilt. Kinse...moreAhh, how times have changed. I used to consider these books a good guilty pleasure; now I find there's a lot less pleasure and a lot more guilt. Kinsella is still an amusing, energetic writer, but Becky really grated on my nerves this time around. She's just so shallow and so frivolous, and while in the first few books she was also just a regular working girl, now that she's rich (thanks entirely to her husband), her insane overspending and materialism swiftly loses its charm and becomes...icky. It can be difficult to read a whole book about someone you would probably feel uncomfortable having lunch with.
So, while I still think there's a...certain charm to these books, and that they're in many ways better than a lot of chick lit, I also just don't think they're for me anymore. I've become too old and cranky to enjoy them. They belong to a part of my life that no longer exists (in which, for example, I also secretly owned an Avril Lavigne CD).(less)
Like Thomas' PopCo, I found this both fascinating and frustrating. Thomas definitely achieves something really special with her ability to make her w...moreLike Thomas' PopCo, I found this both fascinating and frustrating. Thomas definitely achieves something really special with her ability to make her writing intensely cerebral (some of my favorite parts of Mr. Y were the digressions into quantum physics and other brain-stretching topics) while at the same time creating very human, flawed characters. Still, there's a quality of...coldness that prevents me from becoming emotionally involved. Perhaps the whole thing seems too clever, too orchestrated? I don't know. Anyway: the plot of this novel is nominally about a cursed book, but is really much more like an alternate take on Being John Malkovich with an ending that feels like the close of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the part that's supposed to be best if watched stoned. As with PopCo, the experience of reading the novel was very pleasurable and interesting, but the final impact just isn't there; it's oddly unsatisfying.(less)
To everyone who was telling me I should read this: you were right, you were right, you were so so right. One of my favorite books is Kingsley Amis' ...moreTo everyone who was telling me I should read this: you were right, you were right, you were so so right. One of my favorite books is Kingsley Amis' Lucky Jim, so of course I would love Lodge's academic comedy—especially since it comes with the bonus of being set in Birmingham and Berkeley. They're not called Birmingham and Berkeley, of course, but if you have any familiarity with either locale, it becomes even more amusing to "decode" the various place names (i.e., Silver Span, Cable Avenue, etc.). Further, the way Lodge plays with format (epistolary, newspaper clippings, film script) is both fun and effective, and there's a delightful amount of meta-humor. In short, I enjoyed this immensely.(less)
This is a really funny clever book, written by a biologist, and what he does is use the mating habits of all these different species of animals to ref...moreThis is a really funny clever book, written by a biologist, and what he does is use the mating habits of all these different species of animals to reflect on the ridiculousness, the tragedy, the beauty, and the futility of the human animal's mating games. Viskovitz, in the various interconnected stories in this book, is at times a shark, a rat, a lion, a praying mantis, a pig, an ant, a bee...and his fumblings in all these forms to find love-and-sex, sex-and-love, are both hilarious and tragic. It's a really terrific, creative book, guaranteed to both delight and horrify. Watch out for self-impregnating, hermaphroditic snails!(less)
" Microserfs for the age of Google" is how this is oft-described. That's pretty accurate, really. Stylistically, it's much the same—which was nice, be...more" Microserfs for the age of Google" is how this is oft-described. That's pretty accurate, really. Stylistically, it's much the same—which was nice, because Microserfs is pretty much my favorite Douglas Coupland book. (I have now read ALL of them! *sob* Well, except for the one written in Japanese and released only in Japan.) What surprised me is how much more cynical this book is. I mean, not that Microserfs is without cynicism, but there's an innocence to it, a wonder. I don't think anyone would have any trouble figuring out that jPod is the book written by the older man (and that's even without the authorial self-insertion stuff—which I alternate between finding funny and being made deeply uncomfortable by). jPod is like Microserfs but without the hope for reinvention and redemption. I still enjoyed the book a lot—it's really funny, and the parts that are just Ethan and his fellow jPodders goofing off and being geeky were great. But unlike Microserfs, the world of jPod is not one I would want to live in. It's cold there.(less)
I didn't like this as much as I hoped I would. There was a lot I really DID like—the novel's a quiet, contemplative look at a man after the death of h...moreI didn't like this as much as I hoped I would. There was a lot I really DID like—the novel's a quiet, contemplative look at a man after the death of his wife, and there were passages (especially the one about the women who raise silkworms) that really touched me with their beauty. But like most works of magical realism, I walked away feeling like I just...wasn't getting something. This has been for a while a great frustration for me, because in theory magical realism would be just the kind of thing I'd like to read—and even write. But in practice, every time I've tried to read Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Angela Carter or Salman Rushdie, I've put the book down feeling confused and, frankly, kind of stupid. (The exception being Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet, which works for me in its own crazy rock 'n' roll, alternate universe, apocalyptic way.) I do feel like I'm somehow to blame, but eventually I'm going to just have to stop beating myself up and accept that magical realism may just not be for me.(less)
From what I've read, this seems to be the least popular of Coupland's novels. (Although Coupland fans are weird: among his devotees, there's the least...moreFrom what I've read, this seems to be the least popular of Coupland's novels. (Although Coupland fans are weird: among his devotees, there's the least amount of agreement about what constitutes a good Coupland book that I've ever seen.) I can definitely see why, although there were things I enjoyed about it. The problem, I think, is that it feels like several books mushed together: there's the Jared-the-ghost plot (similar but less effective than dead!Cheryl's narration in Hey Nostradamus!), the late '70s vs. '90s plot, the actual girlfriend-in-a-coma plot...and just when you're adjusting to all of that, there's the post-apocalyptic plot. It's too much, and it really fails to come together, not just logically (not something I'm looking for in a Coupland novel) but emotionally—and that is something at which he normally excels. So, yeah: it's a mess. Not a "I regret reading this" mess, but as all of the really good bits are pretty much replicated in his other works, it does feel kind of extraneous. I mean, Coupland's written something like ten novels and a bunch of non-fiction, so unless you're a completist (which I am) there's really no reason to read this particular book.(less)
Keenan, a former writer/producer of Fraiser (which I don't believe I have ever actually seen a full episode of), does an impressive job with this come...moreKeenan, a former writer/producer of Fraiser (which I don't believe I have ever actually seen a full episode of), does an impressive job with this comedic novel about a trio of screenwriters, an old Hollywood family with a whole heap of skeletons in its Bel-Air closets, and a newly opened spa/gay brothel. Much of the plot—which is actually incredibly tightly-woven, with many seemly insignificant details having surprising payoffs—revolves around the efforts of starstruck Philip to help protect movie star Stephen Donato from being outed as gay by his memoir-writing aunt; however, as one would expect, nothing goes quite as planned. This book is very funny (choice line: "Here was no brainless Hollywood hunk. Here was a man of vision, a passionate and sensitive idealist, and I prayed with all my heart that he might someday instill these noble qualities in me, preferably via fellatio." Hee!), and sufficiently sharp-edged if never too nasty. I think what Keenan was aiming for was something like Jeeves and Wooster Do Hollywood, and he's not far off.(less)
While sharing several plot points (not to mention a title word!) with My Lucky Star, this book is much more serious—and much less enjoyable. Converse...moreWhile sharing several plot points (not to mention a title word!) with My Lucky Star, this book is much more serious—and much less enjoyable. Conversely, it would seem, Byrnes' novel's best parts are some of the more serious ones—toward the beginning, there's some interesting discussion about the politics of coming out, mostly based around the book protagonist Noah Abraham is trying (and failing) to write about closeted congressional staffers. Noah abandons this project, however, when he meets Bart, personal assistant to former movie star Quinn Scott, who Bart reveals is not only gay, but has been secretly living in Long Island with his partner for thirty-six years. Noah must then try to convince Quinn to let him ghostwrite a tell-all, even if it invokes the wrath of Quinn's ex-wife, the Hollywood heavyweight Kitty Randolph.
There are several problems with this book. First, it's too long; everything—Noah meeting Bart, Noah convincing Quinn, Kitty's machinations—takes much too long to occur. Second, none of the characters are really done any justice; Noah is barely in the last third of the book, and Bart remains as flat as a backlot prop. Why do he and Noah fall in love? 'Cause they're there? How very romantic.
And that's the male characters. The female ones, well. Noah's mom is out of the picture. (After several mentions of the fact that she eats her salad in an annoying way. Clearly, she deserves to die! Or, well, move to Florida.) Noah's dad's third wife is a dopey fag-hag lush. Then there are some other bitchy women, and of course Kitty, who is an absolute monster. Which might fly if the rest of the novel were a bit broader, but it can't really seem to decide if it's a wacky comedy or a serious issues piece. To be both requires a delicate balancing act, and whoops, I think Byrnes just got egg on himself.(less)
Huh. This book has almost exactly the same plot as PopCo, which is odd, because I didn’t pick up either book because I was interested in the subject—...moreHuh. This book has almost exactly the same plot as PopCo, which is odd, because I didn’t pick up either book because I was interested in the subject—secret societies banding together to sabotage large corporations and dilute the evil brainwashing of marketing campaigns—I was curious about the authors. Anyway, So Yesterday focuses on teenagers in New York as opposed to twentysomethings in England, and it’s about shoes (specifically Nike, although it’s always referred to as ‘The Client’) rather than toys. And really, it works its subject better than PopCo did, because it’s much more focused (and doesn’t do so much info dumping at the end). Westerfeld is really good at creating interesting characters and putting them in exciting situations, and this works very well as a one-off.(less)
This is a novel, written by a physicist, about two early 20th century mathematicians, Kurt Gödel—most famous for his incompleteness theorems—and Alan...moreThis is a novel, written by a physicist, about two early 20th century mathematicians, Kurt Gödel—most famous for his incompleteness theorems—and Alan Turing—best known for his World War II cryptology work and for the Turing Test. Both Gödel and Turing led fascinating and tragic lives, and Levin seizes on some of the interesting parallels between them (they never actually met—they kept just missing each other). Levin presents the main instances from their lives in a highly compelling way, and with a sort of dreamy madness, fitting to both men (Gödel went insane; Turing never really excelled at the basics of human interaction and was thought to have maybe been a high-functioning autistic). The stories themselves have a lot of power, with Gödel starving himself to death and Turing being basically tortured by his own government—even though he was a war hero!—because he was gay; he finally poisoned himself with a cyanide-laced apple. However, Levin never really draws any larger conclusion or brings the two threads of the story together in any way. She herself is something of a third shadow character in the story, and she says that she doesn’t know how to start or end the tale without being a liar—a sentiment I relate to, especially when I try to construct in my head ways to do a Muybridge novel, for example. But while I recognize that real life—that truth—doesn’t always make for the most satisfying narratives…well, this is a novel, and one in which other creative licenses are taken (Levin lists the major ones at the back of the book), and I can’t help but wish for it to be more satisfying. More cohesive. It’s still a fascinating, well-written book, but I think it would have made a better nonfiction work.(less)
This book actually contains very little in terms of plot—or anyway, what pieces of plot it has are only loosely connected. It’s divided into four sect...moreThis book actually contains very little in terms of plot—or anyway, what pieces of plot it has are only loosely connected. It’s divided into four sections, each narrated by a different character: a teenage girl who’s the victim of a school shooting, her boyfriend ten years after her death, his new girlfriend a few years after that, and his estranged father a few years after that. In a way, I guess you could say that it’s about how this one horrible event—which has already occurred when the narrative starts—continues to touch all these people years later, but really, that doesn’t seem to be it, either. Like most Coupland novels (especially the later ones) it’s really about family (those you find and those you’re stuck with) and loneliness (the universal condition, it seems). As usual, I’m impressed with Coupland’s ability to craft interesting characters and convincing narrators, and to find empathetic qualities in everyone—even Reg, the obsessively religious and cruel father, is not made to be wholly inhuman, and in fact seems real and tragic and almost beautiful by the end. So the plot, which is really the weakest part of this book, doesn’t really matter so much. As four portraits of four lives, it’s fantastic.(less)
Ho, boy. This is the most depressing, bleakest post-apocalyptic novel I’ve ever read. I know that sounds redundant almost, but it’s really not: most o...moreHo, boy. This is the most depressing, bleakest post-apocalyptic novel I’ve ever read. I know that sounds redundant almost, but it’s really not: most of the other bits of apocalyptic fiction I’ve read contain some kind of hope, some chance that civilization will rebuild, that humanity will continue, that there’s something worth fighting for. This book has cannibals. And no hope, not really—which McCarthy actually deals with really well. The man and his son go on because they go on, they keep surviving for as long as they can and hope that there’s meaning even in that (though there may not be). McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic setting is beautifully described—his prose is incredible, and by itself enough to tempt me to read more of his work. He does the Terry Pratchett thing (yes, I just compared Cormac McCarthy to Terry Pratchett—how awesome is that?) of no chapter breaks, but this story is easily swallowable in one sitting (with a couple of bathroom breaks)—and I suspect it may even be better like that. There’s a wonderful flow to it, almost lulling despite the horror of much of what father and son encounter. It’s like a long, slow slide into that final sleep.
Part of me wanted something more climatic to happen at the end, but I can see a million ways that that wouldn’t have worked, so I’m all right with the conclusion. Anyway, this book is more about the experience as a whole than any one piece of it, I think.
There are a couple of interesting—although mostly irrelevant—things I’d like to mention about McCarthy’s style. I like and understand why he chooses not to use dialogue tags—I’ve done that myself, and think that it makes sense in terms of the narrative here; it preserves the horrible, frightening feeling of quiet. What I don’t get, however, is whatever argument he seems to have with apostrophes. He doesn’t use them in words like “doesnt” or “cant,” but does for things like “he’d.” I don’t understand this as a stylistic choice—I don’t see how it works with anything else at all, or has any effect but to be stubborn and confusing. (Which is obviously why the apostrophe is kept in for “he’d”—because otherwise you’d look at the word and go, “Bwah?” WHICH IS WHY WE USE APOSTROPHES IN THE FIRST PLACE.) I’m all for manipulating language if it has a narrative purpose (I kind of like the conclusion of Ulysses). But I don’t get the sort of Gertrude Steinian theory that we should shorten everything as much as possible. It doesn’t make writing easier to understand; it makes it harder. And kind of ugly. AND, if you don’t respect your friend the apostrophe, you end up with a book full of weird typos (though that may have just been bad copy editing).
However, none of that affected my enjoyment of the book at all. (Well, the grammatical mistakes kind of did, but I don’t want to blame McCarthy for that.) It was creepy and tragic and beautifully written. I’m not sure why this is considered OMG LITERATURE when it’s ground sci-fi has been covering for years, but that’s a whole other “poor abused genre fiction” rant right there. Hi, I’m tangent girl today.(less)
I’d heard good things about Thomas’ The End of Mr. Y, so when I saw PopCo at the library I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m glad I did, although I fo...moreI’d heard good things about Thomas’ The End of Mr. Y, so when I saw PopCo at the library I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m glad I did, although I found a lot about this book unsatisfactory. The story combines two narratives, the first about Alice, an “idea” person for a British toy company, going to a company-sponsored retreat/brainstorming session, and the second about Alice growing up with her cryptoanalyst grandfather and mathematician grandmother. There’s a lot of stuff about code breaking and making, and coolness with prime numbers, and that’s all a lot of fun. Alice’s attempts to fit in with her peers as a teen and how that relates to her obstinate uncoolness in her adult life are also explored in a really interesting way. But the underlying mystery(ies) of the book—who is sending Alice secret messages at the PopCo retreat, and why? Does it have anything to do with the famous code her grandfather claimed to have cracked but never told anyone the solution to?—have sadly dull conclusions, which also involve rather too much preaching about the virtues of vegetarianism. This was still, for the most part, a really engaging read, but the build-up was better than the follow-through.(less)
Another one I feel very conflicted about. The writing style is fantastic—vivid and engaging. Pessl does two incredible things, one specific to these c...moreAnother one I feel very conflicted about. The writing style is fantastic—vivid and engaging. Pessl does two incredible things, one specific to these characters, with narrator Blue van Meer repeatedly inserting the titles of related works—real and invented—into the descriptions of her life (see Special Topics in Calamity Physics, 2006), and one which I hope is simply inherent in Pessl: constructing elaborate, beautiful similes and metaphors. Pessl really does have a unique way with language, so it’s in some ways even more disappointing that the plot of this novel feels like The Secret HistoryLite (see Donna Tartt, 1992). Still, the book is Pessl’s first—I’m really curious and excited to see what she does next.(less)
Like Kluger’s Last Days of Summer, this is entirely froth—but it’s cute and funny, and dude, sometimes you need that. This has the additional draw of...moreLike Kluger’s Last Days of Summer, this is entirely froth—but it’s cute and funny, and dude, sometimes you need that. This has the additional draw of being an all-too-rare gay romance, wherein our couple, Craig and Travis, meet in high school, fall in love, get separated by college, and then try to reunite 20 years later. The characters and situations are all suitably wacky, but Kluger does add a touch of seriousness here and there—Craig is a human rights lawyer who’s thinking of running for office. Further, Craig’s partner of 12 years is incredibly likeable, and Kluger doesn’t take the easy way out by villainizing him so he and Craig can break up and Craig and Travis can rush back into each other’s arms. (Actually, I kind of wanted the opposite to happen—for Travis to get over Craig and find somebody else; possibly Julian the librarian who plays a part early on in the book, and who yes, I kept picturing as Julian Lodge.) The ending is unfortunately a little rushed, with too many events happening “off-screen,” as it were, but hey: published fluffy gay romance! Good for what ails ya!(less)
A novel about the rise and fall of a Scottish rock bank, told from the perspective of its bass player, Daniel Weir (nickname: Weird). Nothing revelato...moreA novel about the rise and fall of a Scottish rock bank, told from the perspective of its bass player, Daniel Weir (nickname: Weird). Nothing revelatory, but since, as some of you may know, I’m fascinated by band dynamics and performance personas, there was a lot for me to enjoy in this. Especially since Banks’ opening description of Danny states that he’s tall, with lank, greasy black hair, and a hooked nose—it’s Snape in a band! (Seriously, I could not shake this image for the entire rest of the book.) But oddly, what I think I enjoyed most was the descriptions of Danny (once he’s retired and gone into hiding, pretending to be somebody else) getting drunk and wandering around Glasgow with his buddies. The aimless drunk Scottish banter—that’s what I loved. Perhaps because it seemed the most real?(less)
An epistolary novel about a 12-year-old Jewish kid from Brooklyn who becomes best friends with a star baseball player in the early 1940s. This is utte...moreAn epistolary novel about a 12-year-old Jewish kid from Brooklyn who becomes best friends with a star baseball player in the early 1940s. This is utter pap, but…well, okay, I’m embarrassed to admit that I quite liked it. Joey is one of those impossibly clever and erudite 12-year-olds, and the premise is ridiculous—not just the becoming-best-friends-with-a-ballplayer part, but the fact that Joey and Charlie, the New York Giants’ 3rd baseman, also go on to meet President Roosevelt, Humphrey Bogart, etc. Like I said: ridiculous, and there are shades of Forrest Gump that make me gag. Yet…it’s sweet, and very funny, and Charlie is just the type of character I tend to fall for: someone who puts a lot of effort into appearing brash and tough but is a secret softie. And I have to admit that the all-too-inevitable ending made me cry.(less)