Confession: I judge books by their covers. I do this thing where I wander around bookstores, libraries, etc, with no particular books in mind, just puConfession: I judge books by their covers. I do this thing where I wander around bookstores, libraries, etc, with no particular books in mind, just pulling out books at random. The more interesting the title, the more likely I am to pull the book out. The more interesting the cover, the more likely I am to read the blurb. This is usually how I decide what books to buy, and it generally works out pretty well. I should note that an uninteresting cover/title won't make me not read a book, but if I'm just browsing, I'll probably never notice it.
I came across this book while killing time in a bookstore one day. The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack. Now that is a fantastic title! And the cover, the cover is just gorgeous. The back cover is presented in sort of faux-newspaper type. It introduces our protagonist, Sir Richard Francis Burton, which is hilarious if you're a History nerd, as I am. Simply said, I was in love before ever even cracking the book open.
I was so worried that it would end up letting me down and so thankful when it did not. I loved this book so much it's kind of ridiculous. Lovely characters, fantastic mysteries, lots of comedy, and just a damn good story.
I don't want to give too much away, but I loved the way the whole steampunk thing was handled. In a lot of the books in the genre, the technologies simply exist and that's fine, but this one gave a really intriguing cause and effect explanation that I loved. I thought the whole divergent path thing was great, and it opens up a lot of really interesting possibilities to be explored.
I also really liked that peoples and places of historical significance were sprinkled throughout and in really interesting and unexpected ways. In other books or if handled differently, I might have rolled my eyes at it, but in this case, it felt like little easter eggs for History buffs, which I loved.
My only real criticism is that Swinburne, while sort of presented as Burton's sidekick and the 2nd lead character, is barely in the book. It took nearly the whole book before he took on a more significant role. I get that this is the beginning of a series and is setting their relationships up and he will, presumably, feature more prominently in future books, but I was surprised that he wasn't around more. It really is a tiny criticism, though, and doesn't take anything away from the book.
In all honesty, this was easily one of my favorite books I've read this year, and I can't wait to read the sequel!...more
I have this fantasy of having a child, and then, when teaching them about the world, teach them everything wrong, effectively distorting their entireI have this fantasy of having a child, and then, when teaching them about the world, teach them everything wrong, effectively distorting their entire reality and perceptions of the world. Tell them blue is called red, cats are dogs, triangles are hexagons, all numbers start at 87, etc, just totally fuck them up, and then let them loose on the world and see what happens. I mean, I would never ever actually do this to a child, but ethics aside, it would make a pretty fascinating psychological/sociological experiment, wouldn't it?
This book is kind of like that. Artists Camille and Caleb Fang create living art pieces--creating chaos out of everyday life--and raise their children to participate in and create those chaotic moments. You could argue that they had the kids for the sole purpose of incorporating them into their art. They refer to them as A and B, as in "Child A and Child B" for example, even as adults. Presumably they named them Annie and Buster to kind of justify that, but it's still awful, like they're some sort of a living art experiment. The majority of the time, the kids didn't even know what the "event" they were creating would be, only that something was going to happen and that they should react accordingly. They said they were creating beautiful random moments for people, stories they'd remember for the rest of their lives. "Hey, remember that time when that guy walked through the mall on fire holding his kid? That was crazy, right?" While they may have been right, they were mostly just totally fucking up their kids.
The book takes place as the kids are adults, the "let them loose on the world" of kids who grew up in that enviroment. Shockingly, things are not going well. They are extroardinarily fucked up, and both of them end up moving back in with Ma and Pa Crazy, both in an effort to get their lives back on track, and to try to undo all of the ways in which their parents screwed them up. This has really unexpected results. About halfway through the book, just about the time you're beginning to think you've got it figured out, the whole thing does a violent left-hand turn into a different but totally understandable direction, and it all ends in this gloriously bizarre way. And it is awesome. It's not the way I thought it would end, but, looking back, it's the only way that it could have. The Fangs are horrible parents, but God, they're fantastic.
I loved this book. It's hilarious and moving and so so weird. It's a messed up little book about messed up little people. It takes a fascinating look at families and the ways in which we all fuck each other up, both intenionally and unintentionally. The kids screwed up the parents as much as the parents screwed up the kids. That's not a justification and they did some really horrible things, but it makes a kind of weird sense if you see it from their point of view.
The book also says some really interesting things about art, artists, and the things people will do for and in the name of art. It takes a certain kind of person, (and this is obviously a comedic, over the top take on it), but artists are nearly all clearly insane. Most of them are deliciously insane, some clinically, but it's a dominant theme. It's hard to decide which category the Fangs fit in to (any of them, frankly). If I met them in real life and saw the things they did to their children (and the way their children turned out...), I don't know how I would feel about them. But as characters in a book? They're rich, gorgeous, fantastic, and uniquely loveable. With characters like these, there was no way I wasn't going to love this book....more
Why yes, I DID read this only because it all takes place on a series of my birthdays (July 15th). No, I am not ashamed.
So..**spoiler alert** 3.5 stars
Why yes, I DID read this only because it all takes place on a series of my birthdays (July 15th). No, I am not ashamed.
So...this book. I really wanted to love this book. I did not. I mean, it was FINE, but I wasn't over-the-moon-devestated over it the way I wanted to be. It's very well written, the story-telling technique is intriguing, and the story is engaging. I think my biggest problem with it was that Dexter, the male lead, was just so damn unlikeable. He wasn't an awful person or anything, but there was nothing very interesting or redeemable about him at all, and yet I was expected to spend 400+ pages (and 20-ish years...) rooting for him to wake up and realize that his BFF Emma was really the ~love of his life~ and had been there all the time blah blah blahbity blah. Instead, I spent the whole thing wishing for Emma to wake the fuck up and realize that she deserved so much better than him, that he took her for granted for TWO DECADES, and he really wasn't that great to begin with. I wanted to shake her and tell her to stop pining for this douchebag and find someone worthwhile. So obviously, when they did finally get together, I was...whelmed. It was pretty much inevitable, but I wasn't exactly jumping for joy.
That being said, I really liked Emma. I liked that she was smart, quirky, and funny, but pretty messed up and flawed, too. Whereas her flaws and messes kind of made her endearing, Dexter's messes (i.e. getting drunk/high at every opportunity to deal with every situation ever, sleeping with any woman he encounters, generally disregarding Emma always) made him unattractive. I actively wanted her to be happy and work her life out, while I really didn't give a damn about him. That's a problem when the whole point of the story is that you're supposed to want them to be happy together.
And this brings me to the ending. I assumed something awful and soul-crushing was bound to happen at some point to separate them. Part of the way through when Dexter got married and had a kid, I thought maybe that was it, and wouldn't that be a GREAT wrench to throw in and mess with people's expectations if they never got together. People really would have hated that ending, obviously, but I think it weirdly would have worked for me if after everything they'd decided that they really just didn't belong together. Of course they did eventually end up together, at which point it was a forgone conclusion that one of them would die a horrible awful death and the other would have to soldier on alone. Or possibly that they'd both die tragically. I think I kind of assumed it would be Dex who died because Emma had been loving him alone for so long anyway, and it'd be sad but ok, because I knew she would be ok. Oh no, it had to be Emma who died, leaving fucked up Dex to continue to be fucked up, forever and always. I mean, why? How is that a better or more emotionally-charged ending? I was sad she died, but that was tempered by the fact that I knew I'd have to read about how messed up he was over it for the next 40 or so remaining pages. That sounds callous, but considering he'd been a selfish, alcoholic, womanizing jerk-off for essentially the entiretly of the book, I didn't want to retread that again after he'd finally gotten himself together (with her help). I mean, of course he fell apart because he can't manage without her and simultaneously could never recognize that fact or appreciate her while she was around. So now he's going to whine about it and get all nostalgic after she's gone? No thank you.
It also kind of pissed me off that he was with someone else so quickly (less than 2 years after she died), but I've seen that kind of thing happen in real life. It's mostly obnoxious because after stringing her along for 20 years, finally realizing he really loves her and making a go of it with her, and then tragically losing her, I didn't expect him to hook up with someone else so easily or quickly. Again, I know it happens, but still. Ugh.
Overall, it was by no means a bad book, but I just wasn't as emotionally invested in it the way I needed to have been for it to have really worked for me. I actually don't think it's ever really happened before, where I just didn't care about one of the lead characters in the couple at all. I couldn't be moved by their story because I just didn't care, and couldn't understand why she wanted him so badly in the first place. ...more
See, now I understand why everyone says that Vonnegut is an aquired taste and that you'll either love hiWhat an odd and kind of wonderful little book.
See, now I understand why everyone says that Vonnegut is an aquired taste and that you'll either love him or hate him. I'm pretty sure I fall into the first category. The book has a plot, but has, essentially, no plot. Or at least not one you can really recognize until the last 40 or so pages. Somehow, that doesn't matter. It's cynical, makes fantastically insightful points, and is hilarious in a dark and twisty kind of way. I loved the Dante-esque narrative, and, being a native of Indiana myself, found the little mentions hilarious. To say that I loved it is an understatement.
This is my introduction to Vonnegut's work, being a recommended good place to start. Hopefully the rest live up to or exceed this one!...more
This book has been on my radar for a while, and I've gone back and forth about whether or not I'd actually read it. I wasn't sure it'd be that interesThis book has been on my radar for a while, and I've gone back and forth about whether or not I'd actually read it. I wasn't sure it'd be that interesting or good, not to mention the hype was a turn-off. There's a window of time where I really want to read/watch/whatever something that everyone's talking about. If I don't look in to it during that slim window of time, though, it becomes a thing and I don't want anything to do with it. There's a tipping point there somewhere where the hype overtakes my interest and I stop caring.
The thing is, I kind of loved it. I really didn't think I would. It's fascinating, probably moreso because this is fairly recent history. My mom was in high school when integration happened. Frankly, if she grew up in Mississippi instead of Indiana, this could well have been her story, as her family certainly had the means and influence to be a part of those circles. I remember one story about her parents being furious when she went over to a black friend's house. She said she was never sure whether they were angrier that she went there or that their car was seen in that neighborhood. In some ways, this book hit scarily close to home.
The characters and their stories were gorgeous, flaws and all. They felt so real, and the whole book was incredibly moving. All of the love and the hate and the mixed emotions wrapped up in the tangles of white families and the help, I mean, hello white privilege, but it just wasn't something I'd ever really thought about before. There's not enough knowledge or thought about the topic, and even though this is fiction, I think it's doing a good thing. Anything that helps us see that we're dramatically more similar than we are different can only benefit us. I'm glad things are different now, to a point, but they could be so much better. I can't help but wish the book really had been published in the 60's.
My only real complaint about the book was the ending. Not so much how it ended, but that it felt...abrupt. Rushed. I'm guessing that has to do with this being the author's first book, but it really didn't take anything away from the impact of the book. Also, the...afterward, I guess you'd call it, was so moving and the perfect ending to the book. It completed it in just the right way and tied the whole thing together. I'm glad she got the chance to put that in there.
Annnnnd now I want to watch the movie, which I really didn't have any interest in before... ...more
This one was hard to rate. I'd say more like 3 1/2. I enjoyed it, despite it's many (and at times really annoying and/or distracting) flaws. As it isThis one was hard to rate. I'd say more like 3 1/2. I enjoyed it, despite it's many (and at times really annoying and/or distracting) flaws. As it is the authors' first book, I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt that the series will improve and the problems will at least lessen. I worry that the dual narrators is a large part of the problem, but maybe they'll work out the kinks in pacing, tone, and voice over time. We shall see.
Also, one of the lead characters is an archivist and a decent portion of the book is set in an archives (of a clandestine organization, at that!), so I'm willing to forgive quite a bit....more
**spoiler alert** This was another tough one to rate. I feel like I'm going to end up downgrading the rating at some point, but this will work for now**spoiler alert** This was another tough one to rate. I feel like I'm going to end up downgrading the rating at some point, but this will work for now.
I think my feelings can be summed up as: "I liked it, but..." But, but, but. I both liked and appreciated the "experimental" approach to the novel's narrative, with each chapter being from a different character's pov, each pov semi-surrounding the lives of Bennie and Sasha, who, I suppose, would be considered the main characters. They don't have much more screen time than the rest of the characters, but there you are. The problem I had with it, however, is that none of the chapters felt...complete. In almost every single instance, the pov was only just getting interesting when it swiftly ended, and then they're either not mentioned again for the rest of the book, or only in passing. Occasionally a character was revisited, but none that I cared to learn more about. I mean, of all the characters in the book that could have been resurrected or had their stories continued, neither Alex, nor Lulu and her African warrior-descended boyfriend were high on my list. What about Bosco and his Suicide Tour? I had to learn that he survived it and took up dairy farming, of all things, from a random mention in another chapter. What about Kitty, who, when last we saw, was being held prisoner and possibly being tortured by a terrorist dictator? That didn't warrant a follow-up? Really? We continually learned about characters' fates from throw-away lines, those that were even addressed. What happened to Chris? Alice? Jocelyn? I saw just enough of a number of characters to begin to care, and then was left completely hanging in several instances, or without proper resolution. You could probably argue that that was the point, but I just ended up feeling vaguely disappointed with the whole thing.
That being said, I did enjoy the book. I liked that the characters were all inter-connected in interesting (if sometimes implausible) ways. I loved the power-point chapter, and I think Alison Blake might have been the most interesting character in the entire thing. I liked the continuing themes of growing up not being what you thought it was going to be, selling out, and veering off your path. I think that's pretty true to life, sad to say, and I was kind of glad to see that they didn't all end up with peachy happy endings.
The last chapter felt sort of out of nowhere, but not really. I certainly wasn't expecting it given the tone and events of the rest of the novel, but it wasn't totally surprising. It was sort of terrifying and mind-fucky, in that I can absolutely see that future coming true. We're half-way there, as it is.
At the end of the day, I feel like there's something about the book, which I can't quite put my finger one, that will stay with me (hence the 4 stars). It was better than I thought it might be, but I wish it was better than it was. Such is life....more