You could have been something, book. You could have been a contender, instead of just a second-rate fantasy, which is what you are. I wanted to like tYou could have been something, book. You could have been a contender, instead of just a second-rate fantasy, which is what you are. I wanted to like this so badly! It has everything I could possibly ask for! Fairy tales! Historical fiction! Take charge leading lady! A decent romance! Smooching!!! DORIS. But it just didn't hold up. Maybe my expectations were too high. The beginning, with its beautiful descriptions, seemed so promising; the rest of the book, unfortunately, just seemed to meander along. A few other reviewers said it best—that while the material was interesting and the book was largely well-written, there was an insurmountable distance between reader and characters that made it difficult, if not impossible, to really empathize with them.
Part of this stems from the main character, Jo. Despite 4/5 of the book being told from her perspective, I really couldn't tell you much about her beyond that she is very good at corralling her sisters, she loves some guy for some reason, and she is sad. That's...about it. Initially I really enjoyed her; I liked how stalwart she was, and I loved the conscious choices she made to be hard and cruel in the interest of safety and expediency. But as the book went on, and particularly as the romance subplot developed, her character just seemed to turn into—mush. Her motives weren't always clear to me, and not in a way of "I'm doubting the character because of really sharp writing" so much as "I don't really understand why she's doing what she's doing and the narrative is super muddy." There was a lot of quavering lips and stern looks away and oh, Tom! Oh, Tom! Oh, oh, oh. Who cares! Dude is boring. Their romance is inexplicable and bland as day-old toast. Date Jake. (I will go down with this ship.) By the end of the book I could not have cared less about Jo. Which probably wasn't the intended effect!
I think the biggest flaw for me, though, was the complete lack of urgency. The book moved at a languid pace. The first fifth was devoted to describing the sisters in pretty, but confusing, detail. I don't remember most of it beyond "the gay one" and "the one who might be gay??" and "one of them is super pretty, I guess." None of this really mattered, though, because immediately after the book switches full time into Jo's POV, and most of the sisters are forgotten for chapters at a time. I continuously forgot Sophie was a character, for instance, and that Rose and Lily were twins. I understood going in this was likely to happen—I mean, there are twelve sisters—but it was still a little disappointing to read. And for a book titled The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, it spends remarkably little time there. Most of their nights are at another place entirely. Further, the big change events--(view spoiler)[the raid at the Kingfisher and the flight from the Hamilton estate (hide spoiler)]are so confusingly written, so hastily done, so sudden and dramatic like a grenade thrown into a garden party, that they were less exciting than simply jarring. I wasn't tearing through those parts to see what happened next, but just to see what was even happening.
Also, can we talk for a second about their comically evil father? I get in the fairy tale he basically has zero motivation for locking his girls away, because fairy tale characters are archetypes etc etc., but BOY. Mr. Hamilton was laughable! I constantly expected him to sneer and twirl his mustache, or maybe wheel around to Jo while petting a white cat. He just made no sense. And the (view spoiler)[grand escape, the threat of sending his girls to the asylum, the beating with a cane(hide spoiler)]--where did that come from? If anything, Mr. Hamilton came across as disinterested and expedient, not some kind of Victorian horror. I was much more interested in him as a character when he was treating his girls as vague pieces of property to moved about like shipping crates on a freight liner, than when he suddenly became this horrible violent tyrant.
There were parts I liked, namely Doris. The few random parts narrated in her perspective injected the book with much-needed verve and liveliness; she was so sharp and humorous, such a refreshing change from white-knuckled Jo. I liked many of the passages; Valentine is a very pretty writer. But there were way too many parentheses, and way, way, way too many single sentence paragraphs. Imo a single sentence paragraph should be used sparingly—it's its own kind of emphasis, after all. This book read like If Every Single Word Was In Uppercase All the Time, Because Everything Is Very Important. (Very Important Asides, Too.) (So important they sometimes need Several Of Their Own Paragraphs In Parentheses To Show How Important They Are). Like, chill. Not everything needs to be that underscored. Not every internal monologue needs to be highlighted! It got to the point where I would see an opening parenthesis and physically roll my eyes before plowing forward. There should not be 10 on a single page, okay. I realize this is probably a personal gripe, but man, don't abuse your methods of emphasis! (!!!!!)
Anyway! There really were parts I liked. I think had there been a smaller cast, and the plot more streamlined, and better paced, this would have been wonderful. Valentine did create some really lovely, if not terribly fleshed out, characters in Jake (JAKE *__*), Lou, Doris, and a few of the other sisters. The settings were lovely; the descriptions of the clubs were lush. I think I'd like to read short fiction by Valentine; she has quirks that I feel would work great in short form, but get on my nerves like crazy in anything more than 5000 words.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
the very end and the very beginning were weak, bookending an otherwise beautiful, haunting fairy tale with just the right mix of supernatural to starkthe very end and the very beginning were weak, bookending an otherwise beautiful, haunting fairy tale with just the right mix of supernatural to stark reality. while part of me appreciates the book not ending neatly with the saving of yael, the final segment of the novella seemed too heavy-handed, too much of the author coming through and tying the story up in a (albeit gruesome, to be sure) bow. that being said, still a wonderful read. the reveal of the llit's true name was great. maybe i wasn't reading as discerningly as i should have, but i didn't expect that at all. the magic, deborah's level-headedness in the face of so much tragedy, the descriptions of the silent streets--oof. what a story....more
The Jane Austen Book Club, or, a bunch of upper middle class white women are bland and insufferable, a novel. I can't believe I made it through this.The Jane Austen Book Club, or, a bunch of upper middle class white women are bland and insufferable, a novel. I can't believe I made it through this. I could only make myself skim the last 30 or so pages. It wasn't badly written, per se (though let's not get into the sexual assault and casual, repeated use of the word "retarded" by characters who are supposed to be fairly considerate and aware, including three who are directly related to someone with special needs, like, this book was written in 2004, are you fucking kidding me?), but it was deeply, deeply boring, in a way that has made me finally come to sympathize with people who think Jane Austen is boring. For the record, I'm a big Austen fan; I saw the movie of this first and thought, while it had some pitfalls and was a bit silly, it was just so charming. So of course I was eager to try out the book. But what a disappointment! The narrative meanders, floats idly from point to point with no discernible through line, moves erratically between characters' perspectives with little explanation, and frequently comes from the bizarre and unexplained third person plural of some nameless, faceless, unidentified narrator, who is evidently a part of the book club, but not so much a part that they actually exist. There's an impression that this is supposed to be an homage or tribute or something to Austen, but it just comes off as boring and pointless. Nothing happens, and when something does, it seems to happen in the same kind of lazy, affectless manner as the characters running to get coffee, or looking over their bills. A character falls from a rock climbing wall; half the cast panics to attend to her; there is zero urgency or sense of danger at all. A character's mother dies; we never find out how or why, any details about the funeral, the character's mourning, beyond seeing her a few weeks later at a benefit dinner being vaguely irritable and thinking of songs her mother liked. No one would accuse Jane Austen of writing novels where very much happened beyond the purview of country lives and arranging marriages, but at least she didn't write it so it was a chore to read. I kept going thinking something, anything, would tie these threads together, would force me to care about these characters, but nothing ever came. It just floated on down its own lazy river to an ending that came out of nowhere and was suddenly, thankfully, over.
So disappointing. I love Austen; the movie was so cute; the writing itself was--fine. I wanted to like this book so badly....more
Oof. What a book. I wavered between four and five stars on this one, ultimately deciding on four, because at times it could be deeply frustrating. I uOof. What a book. I wavered between four and five stars on this one, ultimately deciding on four, because at times it could be deeply frustrating. I understood logically why it was--we're reading solely from Lena's perspective, and she is a flawed, ambitious, jealous, conflicted, passionate character, who constantly feels inferior to (and also inspired by) her best friend Lila, and that is a perspective that can be exhausting to read as an audience. Sometimes I just wanted to hear Lila's thoughts; sometimes I wanted to reach in and shake Lena, or just have any impartial nonbiased input. But of course, the book isn't written to be an impartial, uncritical account. It's one woman recounting her complicated friendship with a complicated girl, simultaneously aware of and unaware of her own flaws and positions and biases. Sometimes you really have to step back after a description of events--particularly those extolling Lila's virtues or desirability or general perfection--and remember this is all coming from Lena's perspective. When she would rail for pages about her own ugliness, her acne, her weight, her plain clothes, it was sometimes difficult not to become irritated with her self-loathing.
Although at the same time, it was kind of refreshing. Every teen girl goes through periods of intense self-scrutiny, and boy, could I relate to having a friend you feel is just so much more brilliant/intelligent/sparkling/interesting than you are, that combination of envy at their talent, drive to surpass them, pride at being their close friend at all. It isn't something you see addressed in literature very often, even ~chick-lit~, in any sort of nuanced way. Ferrante (and the translator, of course) does it just beautifully. The prose is almost frantic, a barrage of commas and incomplete clauses that at first made my inner grammarian want to claw up the walls; but after a few chapters to adjust, I sank into the motion of the words. The simple language, the commas (and almost little else besides periods), the long, long sentences of clauses, the lengthy paragraphs, the sparse dialogue, all came together into an almost frantic pace. Everything was moving forward at once. Lena's narration was simple and frenetic; major events like (view spoiler)[Lena's sexual assault (hide spoiler)] and (view spoiler)[the gunfire on New Year's Eve (hide spoiler)] are written with the same momentum as Lena detailing her study habits, or how Lila moving forward in one area of her life makes her feel left behind and inadequate.
And of course, at the center of everything is Lila and Lena's relationship, how it grows and changes. In particular I was struck with how Ferrante makes it increasingly clear--right up until Lila says it--that despite a decade of viewing Lila as the superior in every way, in constantly trying to surpass her, that Lena has become the superior, the brilliant friend, in Lila's eyes. If you hadn't been paying attention to how the narrative continually questioned Lena's assertions, that might come as a shock, but to me it was a deeply satisfying revelation. Also, there were some serious lesbian undertones in this, (view spoiler)[up to and including Lena bathing Lila and thinking about how she wanted to kiss her, protect her from male defilement, (hide spoiler)] though I'm not surprised they weren't illuminated or acted on in any way, considering the characters are never older than 16, raised in a conservative, Catholic town. I'm eager to pick up the next two books, though, to see if anything comes of it. Not that it would be the whole crux on which I base future opinions of the trilogy, as much as I am 100% here for lady kissing, just that I hope it isn't a thread that gets dropped without any further development.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Not bad. Not great, but not bad. I got the podcast/audiobook version of this, read by the author, because I was looking for some good scary stories toNot bad. Not great, but not bad. I got the podcast/audiobook version of this, read by the author, because I was looking for some good scary stories to listen to over Halloween. I wonder how the experience of it might have differed had I picked up the ebook instead. Just as far as the recording itself (not the story or writing quality) goes: it was okay, erring towards good. More good than bad, really, but suffering under the pitfalls of a, perhaps, too exuberant narrator. The author/narrator does this thing with his voice where it gets needlessly gravelly and gruff to signify something Dramatic or Portentous is happening--and this can carry on for 10, 15, 20 minutes at a time. Entire scenes rendered in a watery approximation of the infamous Bale Batman voice. When he spoke more naturally, without trying to hype up the drama or add in unnecessary dramatic pauses~, the story flowed easily and was much more enjoyable to listen to. I don't mind some drama in a podcast, and it fits sometimes for dialogue or first person narration; but it just was used too liberally here. Maybe that's just the narrator's voice--but I've heard him narrate other stories on other podcasts, without the dramatic reverb, so.
The writing and story itself were--decent. The idea was interesting: multiple disparate characters receive seemingly tailor-made podcasts that then begin giving them instructions, narrating their lives, in order to achieve some unknown goal. The first part of the book interweaves these narratives with flashbacks to the 30s, and a little boy who's life was irrevocably altered after the famous War of the Worlds radio show. Right up until the grand reveal of what happened in Centerville, I was hooked. The story played out like a mystery thriller, laying down clues and wrong turns and potential (and eventually, inevitable) terrible consequences. It had some issues--the beginning was too coy and winking at the reader/listener, there was too much 4th-wall breaking about podcast usage, and it seemed awkwardly self-congratulatory whenever it would talk about how well written or interesting a podcast, i.e. it itself, was--but overall the story was good and progressed, if not quickly, at least with sufficient forward momentum. It was not scary, except for the sudden bursts of audio interference (admittedly, this is #1 on my list of creepy sounds), but did convey a growing sense of dread as the story moved forward. You kept listening because there was something big coming, and the story made you want to know what it was. So that's good.
After the big reveal, that (view spoiler)[the evil creature was some kind of demon, using radio/podcasts to cast a spell to summon itself (hide spoiler)], however, it sort of drifted. I think the real failing of the book, more than anything else, is pacing. Or maybe just a case of mistaken identity--this was a spooky thriller through and through, but seemed to remember it was supposed to be a horror story about 2/3 of the way in and scrambled to fill in the blanks with a lot of violence and mythology and gore. I sort of drifted off the last 2 hours of the podcast, eventually deleting the final chapter, just because I couldn't really keep track of what was going on, who was who or doing what, if people had died, and what even the point of anything happening was anymore. Had the story been shorter, resolved itself in about a third of the time after the big reveal, I think it really would have been stellar. The book doesn't suffer the usual telltale signs of an ebook lacking a proper editor, but it could have used a lot of tightening on the back half. There were honestly too many characters, and what were meant to be meaningful and significant late-in-the-game introductions just became confusing as more perspectives besides the initial five were introduced, only to drop off shortly thereafter. There was just too much happening, particularly in the last third, when everything that ought to have come together harmoniously sounded more like a bunch of forks being thrown at a wall. Again, it's not a bad book; it just could have been better. Maybe it would be different had I read it instead of listened, though I would have then missed out on the audio cues, so who knows.
Either way, I'll probably pick up short stories by this author! He seems more suited to the short form, where he can rein in a tendency to sprawl. Hopefully his next offering is a little more cohesive and quick.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
This book was not good. It was recommended to me as one of the scariest books that person had ever read, which, lol. It had enjoyable momuuugghhhhhhhh
This book was not good. It was recommended to me as one of the scariest books that person had ever read, which, lol. It had enjoyable moments--in the beginning, it seemed like it was going to be a fast-paced supernatural thriller, grounded in the reality of two cops just doing their jobs--but it quickly became very, very boring. Sluggish. Ill-paced. The pacing really was its most damnable trait (though far from its only one). The narrative was bogged down by perspectives from literally every character--the protagonists, their friends, their spouses, their superiors, random cops on the street, pedestrians, murder victims only present for a page and a half, those victims' relatives, this is not an exaggeration--as well as telling the same sequences over and over again. First you'd hear it from Becky's POV with jumps into the heads of people around her; then you'd get the same sequence narrated by the werewolves; then maybe you'd get it again from a third party, ruminating on it; then maybe you'd get it again from Becky as she thought about it for a second time. The story was bloated with unnecessary characters and diversions, subplots that never came to fruition, hysterically misplaced romantic tension, pages upon pages of characters calmly pondering that romantic tension while literally in fear for their lives, throwaway characterizations that served no purpose but to demonize the people you weren't meant to sympathize with or uplift the ones you were, and oh my god, the wolves! The utterly ridiculous, noble savage wolves!
The concept was interesting: rather than a supernatural creature, part man, part wolf~, the wolfen are evolutionary marvels, offshoots of actual wolves some millennia ago that then developed into perfectly engineered apex predators. That's a good take on werewolves I haven't seen before, and one that neatly eliminates the tiresome trope of the pained, cursed man beneath the wolf skin, or the struggle in those hunted of killing another human being. But boy, that did not make up for everything else that was wrong with this book. The two protagonists were just dreadful, two-dimensional, deeply uninteresting cops who never seem to make mistakes, at least by reputation, which is really all we have to go on with everything from their police record to their interpersonal relationships. Apparently Becky and Wilson are the greatest cops on the force, possibly in the entire world; apparently Becky and her husband are happy and satisfied until her partner confesses his sudden and inexplicable obsession with her (that isn't then met with shock and disgust that the gross old man who has literally been treating her like a secretary and chauffeur has been doing so because he really just loves her so very much). But do we ever see that on the page? Nope. Becky and Wilson fuck up and lose their standing in the force almost immediately when they latch onto the werewolf case. Becky and Dick only interact a few times and are cool at best, except the one time they have really vigorous sex for some?? reason??? The entire thread of political corruption and sweeping things under the rug gets dropped about two-thirds of the way through; the Dick-Becky-Wilson love triangle exists almost entirely in Becky's and Wilsons thoughts about the Dick-Becky-Wilson love triangle.
But more than anything else, this book was just flat out boring. The prose was staid and stiff, prosaic and about as interesting to plod through as plain, soggy oatmeal. Constant telling rather than showing. Instead of seeing two characters interact with the tension between them, we are treated to 8 or 12 paragraphs of inner dialogue of them ruminating on the tension between them. Over and over and over again. For a book of less than 300 pages, it would not end, and though a lot seemed to be happening, none of it jumped off the page, none of it grabbed you and held on. Not even the climax, which, I guess, was supposed to be exciting? But was mostly our intrepid heroes standing in the cold, and the werewolves being noble and angry and sad. And then more standing, and then a shootout that didn't make much sense, ended abruptly, and--the book was over. What???...more