I grew up in the Ozarks. I lived in a small town, as opposed to the particular sort of rural extended-family hereditary community portrayed in Winter’...moreI grew up in the Ozarks. I lived in a small town, as opposed to the particular sort of rural extended-family hereditary community portrayed in Winter’s Bone, and I had grown and gone before the meth epidemic (which plays an important part in this story) rolled over the region, but I've seen enough of rural Ozark culture to say Daniel Woodrell's vision rings true. The author draws you right in to this harsh, visceral world with his mastery of description and his authentic characterization.
16-year-old Ree Dolly is a fighter, a survivor; she's tough as old boot leather, intuitive, and loyal. She may be rough around the edges, but she's terrifically competent, courageous, and wise beyond her years. Ree's father has jumped bail, and her family - two young siblings and a mother whose mind is permanently hazed by psychiatric medications - stands to lose their meager home and acreage to the bail-bondsman if he doesn't show for his court date. So Ree determines to hunt him down and to protect her family at all costs. Trouble is, Ree's kin are notoriously tight-lipped and clannish and none too eager to help, and Ree has a long row to hoe if she is to make things right. It's a simple story at the core, but life in rural Ozark country can be surprisingly complicated. Braving both the elements and her own fears, Ree untangles the web of tradition confining her to find the truth.
This book could have been ultimately bleak, and I went into it expecting a real downer. But Ree's spirit rises up from the page and lifts her story to another level. She becomes an archetypal heroine in a modern quest story. Daniel Woodrell has written a whopper of a book with a young Titaness of a protagonist, a brisk and believable read, and I heartily recommend it. (less)
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the alt-Victorian/Steampunk world of Gail Carriger's Soulless. I awarded the book 4 stars, but that rating reflects a...moreI thoroughly enjoyed my time in the alt-Victorian/Steampunk world of Gail Carriger's Soulless. I awarded the book 4 stars, but that rating reflects a bit of confliction on my part. I loved most aspects of the story, with a few personal reservations. In the spirit of keeping my review largely free of spoilers, I will not be discussing details of the plot, but will focus mostly on general aspects of the book.
If I could, I would give 5 stars specifically for the Victoriana - the language, atmosphere, social customs, fashion, food, etc. All were skillfully drawn, highlighting the author's knowledge and understanding of the era, as well as her facility with pulling the reader in and making the world come alive. I was an avid reader of Victorian- and Regency-set books when I was a teenager, some 20-odd years ago, but until the literary engines of Steampunk fairly recently began birthing intriguing, atypical neo-Victoriana with roots in the traditions of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, and friends, I had found myself largely disinterested in the time period - at least as it is generally presented in prose. But as I have found my interest piqued by the proliferation of niftiness afforded by the Steampunk genre, I've become quite fussy about authors getting the ambiance right. Gail Carriger has both the setting and the details down pat, which allowed me to relax my inner editor and let her story sweep me along.
Other aspects of the book were similarly sterling. I would again grant 5 stars to Gail Carriger's "voice", as I adored both the characterization of Miss Alexia Tarabotti and the style of the author's humor. Miss Tarabotti is a cracking good protagonist, whip-smart, snarky, stubborn, unconventional, independant...all the while maintaining propriety and grace. (Well...usually. But her little "lapses" are part of her charm.) I could well relate to Alexia, as we both do not suffer fools gladly, and we share a feeling of alienation from the shallowness of mainstream society. There are sorely few sensible, level-headed, grumpy, yet still passionate and vibrant, heroines out there. I adored this feisty curmudgeon through-and-through. Huzzah! for firey-brained spinsters! (Other characters were also well-sketched, my personal favorites being the outrageous and surprisingly-likeable Lord Akeldama, and the long-suffering, competent Professor Lyall.)
I would likewise give 5 stars to the additions of science (and scientific speculation) peppered around the book. The author's real-life scientific background is displayed to good effect here, although it is never used heavy-handedly. (According to an interview on Tor.com, in her other-than-literary life, Ms. Carriger is an archeologist with a Masters of Science in "analysis of inorganic artifacts" - glass, metal, ceramics, etc. - a fact I found most happily unexpected and refreshing.) I fully relished this addition to the stew of daily decorum and supernatural goings-on (which is where the "alt-" in alt-Victoriana comes in, of course). It added a nice counterbalance to the descriptions of finery and social ritual, as well as to the suspension of disbelief required to enjoy a tale ripe with vampires, werewolves, and their ilk.
I mentioned above that I was a bit conflicted about Soulless, and as positive as my review has been to this point, one might wonder what is left for me to less than love. My internal division comes due to the several scenes of a sexual nature. Please don't mistake my comments for prudishness! I enjoy quite a lot of risqué writing - much of it of a level that disconcerts many so-called libertines I've known. I am extraordinarily open-minded on such matters. But these scenes, while well-crafted, often very funny, and certainly titilating, felt a bit out-of-place to me in the narrative. I realize this is fantasy, not historically-accurate fiction. I realize that expectations of some strict code of Victorian authenticity should be checked the moment one signs on to read a story involving supernaturals, preternaturals, alternate history, and the tongue-in-cheek. I appreciate all of that; truly I do. But I kept finding myself pulled out of the story by these scenes. I found them jarring, almost as if someone had slipped pages from a second novel into the book I was reading. This is not so much a critique on the author or the story she relates as it is a reflection on my subjective experience of reading said story. My reservations are reactive not to content or execution, but to context. In context, these scenes felt over-the-top to me. Several times, I found myself thinking along the lines of, "Hold up there a minute, madam! What sort of tomfoolery is this? I'm having an episode of literary cognitive dissonance! You're getting peanut butter in my chocolate! These two clearly share a conflagration of chemistry, but methinks this is a bit over-the-line for the time period...and in the middle of the street, no less! And don't get me started on the ill-advisory of dry-humping on the floor of a jail cell the gentleman who just a moment ago tried to eviscerate you and could at any moment feasibly feel the burning need to try again." Harumph.
Please don't allow my indignation regarding the more physical aspects of the love story within the larger story lead you to believe I didn't enjoy the book! (In fact, the quirky nature of the courtship therein was quite charming, indeed. I simply felt nettled - in light of so many other details of the time period being spot-on - by the seeming incongruity of all that heaving and nethers-grasping. I enjoyed Soulless as a whole very much, and I fully intend to read the sequel, as well as the third book in the trilogy upon its release. I will simply have to loosen my anti-chicklit valve a smidge on this one aspect of the books and focus on relishing the other nine-tenths of the story.