As Dr. Mihm was fond of saying, I think I need to ruminate on this a bit more before attempting a review. I enjoyed it, but it's not without its issue...moreAs Dr. Mihm was fond of saying, I think I need to ruminate on this a bit more before attempting a review. I enjoyed it, but it's not without its issues. ---------- Damn! Two weeks later I realize I never actually sat down and reviewed this. And of course I've since had to return it to the library (late, because school started and ate up my free time), so I can't fact-check! Bother.
I enjoyed pieces of this (kind of like The Magician's Land, which I read right after). I am a total sucker for Victorian settings, although reading quite a bit of steampunk lately, I kept waiting for those elements to make an appearance. It's a good thing they didn't, however, because this novel had plenty of metaphorical balls in the air without trying to dabble in steampunk too. When the novel opens, James and Charlotte are young, barely pre-teens, and their life in an isolated country house has a decidedly Turn of the Screw vibe about it (especially given their predilection for locking one another in a closet behind the library shelves!). Then their father dies, and we're catapulted several years into the future, when James is a student living in London. He's trying to become a playwright (are they rich? He doesn't seem to do any work, and he's not selling any scripts, so where is the money coming from?), and making friends and finding himself and all of that stuff you do in your 20s. He falls in with a charismatic young man, who introduces him to high society, (view spoiler)[ and also falls in love, which, is that supposed to be a twist? Because it was pretty strongly telegraphed. (hide spoiler)] Then James suddenly disappears and Charlotte comes to London to try to find out what happened to him. The actual action of the novel, once we get to London, takes place over a comparatively short period of time.
We also jump around and follow a whole crazy cast of characters, who are varying degrees of interesting. I found Mould's journals interesting, but I was less invested in Liza and that whole crew. (view spoiler)[ Apparently the BIG twist is that this novel is about vampires. But one of the first articles I read about it referred to it as a historical twist on the vampire novel, so...I guess we need to have a discussion about what constitutes a true "twist"? I mean, the vampire reveal is made around 100 pages into a 500-page book. Can you really call it a twist when it occurs so early in the narrative? It's a swerve, certainly, but I feel like you can't call it a plot twist when it happens so comparatively early, and when the bulk of the novel is about that event. I agree with some of the reviews lamenting the "hush hush" hype surrounding the book -- if you aren't interested in the supernatural, you're going to be pretty disappointed pretty early on. The set-up does feel very much like a "traditional," as it were, historical fiction story, so the unexpected (for some) swerve into the supernatural, is probably an unwelcome surprise for a few readers. But at the same time, calling it a vampire novel brings up an unfortunate array of expectations, so I kind of can't blame the marketing department or whoever decided not to brand it as such. (hide spoiler)] There are some great characters here, and some less compelling ones -- I'd have gladly read much more about Mould's work. Although Charlotte ends up being the protagonist, we're set up in the beginning to assume the story will be about James, and sadly he's kind of a drip. I also wasn't terribly interested in the backstory of...their names escape me (view spoiler)[the woman whose fiance became a vampire, and she tried to keep him calm and then helped him die? And then she and his father live together and hunt vampires? WTF were all of their names? I want to say her name was Adeline? (hide spoiler)] Sure, it was tragic and all, but it had fuck-all to do with Charlotte's search for James (view spoiler)[and then they both die kind of anticlimactically and that's when you realize that this has all taken place over the course of like 3 days (hide spoiler)].
All of the historical aspects of this story fascinated me, but there are definite issues with characterization and pacing. We follow James's adventures in high society with Christopher at a fairly leisurely pace, but once he disappears and Charlotte shows up, suddenly it's like a frenzy of new characters and new information and it makes your head spin. Everything comes to a head in more than one climactic fight scene, then the last few chapters (chapter?) cover decades in the span of about 20 pages. It's this weird stop-start feeling (there are also several chapters that delve into the epistolary vein, with pages from characters' journals, with varying degrees of success). (view spoiler)[ I had the same problem here that I did in The Twelve -- are there different species of vampire? Or are the Aegolius vampires just snobby and consider Agnes's crew to be "low class"? And Liza makes it seem like there are maybe other other vampires running around besides their group and the Aegolius dudes... are they all the same fundamental creature, just of different classes? In some ways, the vampire mythology is extremely well-developed, thanks to Mould's journals about his experiments. But there are also so many holes, because the characters themselves don't fully understand how vampires work. (hide spoiler)]
In spite of not enjoying the pacing of the conclusion, (view spoiler)[ I did enjoy the final line -- "The vampire was gone." It's one of the few times the word vampire is used in the book, and it works. I hate that the current mentality is that everything must be a series, or at least a trilogy, so I am hoping that this is simply an ambiguous ending, rather than set-up for a franchise. There really isn't much story left to tell. Although I wish we'd spent more time on Charlotte and...what's-his-name's search for vampire lore. They traveled all over the world! Doing research! That's my dream! And it's dealt with in what amounts to a montage. To be honest I don't give a damn about what James was doing after he escaped, or when he escaped. Like I said, drip (hide spoiler)]. I'd say overall, 3 stars for plot, but a solid 4.5 for setting.
**spoiler alert** I'm unsure how to rate this. Like I said in an update, these people are all pretty terrible. On the plus side, they are at least not...more**spoiler alert** I'm unsure how to rate this. Like I said in an update, these people are all pretty terrible. On the plus side, they are at least not rage-inducingly terrible, a la Nora in The Woman Upstairs or Kate in The Engagements. But they're also not fascinatingly, trainwreckishly terrible a la anyone in a Gillian Flynn novel. Which means they just aren't that interesting. And also not much happens -- I had first pegged it as a cross between Maine and We Were Liars (what with all of the secrets), but it's not quite like that. I do appreciate that it isn't trying to be some sweeping epic saga or some nonsense, like Maine, but without the intrigue of a true mystery (We Were Liars), there's simply not much there there.
This is a book about a semi-dysfunctional family who go on vacation together. The Posts really aren't as dysfunctional as they perhaps want you to think: dad Jim had an affair with a young intern, which got him fired when she went to the board. Mom Franny is still seething from his betrayal, and in spite of the fact that the affair seems long over and done with, she spends an excruciating amount of time "deciding" if she wants to forgive him. It's all terribly dull, because the actual conflict has already happened before the novel began. Either forgive or don't. Decide you want to make things work or don't. It's not a terribly difficult decision, especially since it's hinted that the two haven't had a picture-perfect marriage to begin with. Franny's not quite enough of a bitch for me to find her interesting. To be fair, she's not a doormat either, she's just a fundamentally boring person, and this is probably the most exciting thing that's ever happened to her, so she's damn well going to milk the drama for all it's worth. For the record, Jim has about as much personality as a box of hair.
Daughter Sylvia, who I kept aging 10 years in my head because her name sounds like a 75 year old, has just graduated from high school and can't wait to go off to Brown, where she won't have to deal with people from high school. Also she wants to have sex in Mallorca. Just cause. Spoiler alert: she has sex with her Spanish tutor and then he won't speak to her and it's awkward. Yawn.
Son Bobby, an ostensible grown up, is a realtor in Miami with a decade-older girlfriend that no one seems to like. He's in debt because he got talked into some kind of protein-powder pyramid scheme and is hoping to use the vacation as an opportunity to ask for a loan. And Carmen feels awkward and does lots of burpees. Spoiler alert: Bobby is a manchild and they break up (but he says it's because he wants kids but she doesn't? Which, whatever). Again: meh. Jim and Franny discuss lending him the money, and he goes back to New York with the family, but nothing is ever resolved. It's also not that interesting because again, the major conflict--quitting real estate, getting involved in a pyramid scheme -- happened off page.
The most interesting characters here are Charles and Lawrence, Franny's best friend and his husband. The dynamics between the 3 of them are probably the most interesting part. Charles and Franny have been friends since college, and Lawrence, even as Charles's husband, feels like he can't compete with that level of history. They're also trying to adopt a child, and Lawrence works in the movie industry...the little hints we get about their lives make me wish the book were solely about them instead. Maybe with a cameo appearance from their bitchy friend Gemma, who owns the house in Mallorca where this band of idiots is staying for the duration. She makes an 11th hour appearance and I would have gladly followed her around instead of listening to Franny and Sylvia and everyone else whine for 290 pages. But again, I had a hard time caring about them too, since they're minor supporting characters at best, and yes it's wonderful that they get a baby, but by that point I was jealous that they got to leave early!
On the plus side, it's a short book, and it does make me want to visit Mallorca, or really anywhere tropical. There's some decent foodporn and scene setting, at least. And there are hints at better stories, but what's here is just not that impressive. It's a book about people on vacation...I'm not sure what the takeaway is supposed to be. It's a decent way to kill and afternoon, since it's not a story that requires much brainpower. But it strikes me as one of those books that, as I said last summer about These Girls, you forget you've read, because there's really nothing memorable about it.(less)
I ended up plowing through most of this in one sitting today. Despite a slow start, and some bring about the style that irked me (I can't quite put my...moreI ended up plowing through most of this in one sitting today. Despite a slow start, and some bring about the style that irked me (I can't quite put my finger on it...not quite the trying-too-hard pretentious style of We Were Liars, just...something I didn't respond to), I ended up enjoying this. There's enough of a mystery that it's hard to put down, and I liked the rotating perspectives between the three members of the Nash family. It's an interesting psychological thriller, not quite horror, but still pretty freaky.
I have a vague memory of the events upon which this story is based. The gist, as I understand it, is that there was a small town in New York, and several girls at the high school started having unexplained seizures and bizarre "attacks." There was never an underlying cause identified, from what I remember, and the symptoms eventually went away as inexplicably as they began. I remember thinking it was all sort of Salem-esque at the time. Back in my witch trial obsession days, I read an article theorizing that the afflicted girls were actually suffering from ergot poisoning, as the symptoms are similar. And while the events that inspired the story weren't solved, my best guess is something along those lines.
Here, we see the town descend into panic as they search for a cause, and more and more girls begin to fall victim to the...attacks? episodes? symptoms? I'm not sure what to call it, exactly. It starts when Deenie's (strange name, and no discussion of whether or not it's a nickname...) best friend Lise suffers a grand mal seizure during class. With no history of epilepsy, it's a pretty big deal, especially when she apparently suffers a second attack at home the same afternoon. She obviously ends up in the hospital, and the school descends into panicked gossip. It gets worse the next day, when Deenie's other best friend Gabby has some kind of seizure while performing with the school band during and assembly. Cue full scale pandemonium. There's a general feeling of "who's next?" among the students, and Deenie worries that people will connect the dots to her, that she's some sort of unwitting Typhoid Mary carrier of...whatever this is.
What's interesting to me, is that Abbott is very clear on the timeline: this all occurs in the span of less than two weeks. On the one hand, you want to roll your eyes at how quickly everyone jumps to conclusions, but on the other, having worked in a school for the last 8 years, one tiny incident is all it takes to start the gossip mills churning. A few serious incidents in the course of a couple of days? Forget about getting ANYTHING done for a while. You will be speculating, quelling speculation, begging them to talk about something else...Abbott does a great job of characterizing the town and its response to the seeming epidemic. Is it the lake, full of glowing algae and inhospitable to fish? (While I was running today, I noticed a chunk of the duck pond in Washington Park was covered in bright green algae and I got a little freaked out!) Is it the HPV vaccinations the school suddenly decided everyone needs to have? Is it an STD? Or is it simply mass hysteria?
I like the way Abbott explores each of these angles, through our three main characters: Deenie and her father and older brother. Her father is a teacher at the school, and I liked that Abbott included his perspective. Deenie's brother Eli is kind of a waste of space, but (view spoiler)[ since it turns out he's basically the catalyst for everything, I get why he needed to be included. As it turns out, Lise's seizure was a reaction to ingesting Jimson weed, which Gabby snuck into her smoothie because their friend Skye apparently caught Lise and Eli fooling around in the bushes. See, Gabby's been in love with Eli for years, and she couldn't stand the idea of Lise taking him away from her. So in typical mean girl fashion, she acts on impulse, with little thought to the consequences. But here's the thing: Lise wasn't with Eli, just some guy who looks a lot like him. She's confessed this only to Deenie, who actually gets jealous enough to clumsily seduce the guy and sleep with him herself, leading to some huge feelings of guilt on her part, that are explored but never really resolved. Deenie had avoided Lise the day of the seizure because she was sure Lise would be able to tell she'd had sex. She hides this secret the entire time, and it's clearly eating away at her, as Gabby's involvement in Lise's episode is probably what causes her own attack. (hide spoiler)] It was fascinating to see the interplay of all these secrets, watching the town very quickly unravel in the face of a problem it couldn't explain. There are several instances when Deenie's phone just won't stop buzzing with messages (and probably twitter/FB notifications), many of them accusations, but she can't bring herself to turn it off, because Lise might be on the mend, or Gabby might call. It's such a believably teenaged reaction.
Overall, I thought this was a great read. I think a lot of it rings true for anyone who's worked in the school system, or even anyone familiar with the particular dynamics of a small town. I'm not sure if this can be called YA or not...yes most of the characters are in high school, but the age of the characters doesn't necessarily mirror the intended audience. I think it's definitely better suited for high school than middle school students, but it's one I would not hesitate to recommend to adults. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
I think I may have enjoyed this more than Rowling's first foray into detective fiction. It's entertaining and twisty, and I've come around on the two...moreI think I may have enjoyed this more than Rowling's first foray into detective fiction. It's entertaining and twisty, and I've come around on the two main characters. When I read Cuckoo's Calling, I wasn't sold on the necessity of knowing much about Strike or Robin, as I found their respective relationship dramas rather tiresome. Here, we get to see a larger cast of characters beyond just those involved with the investigation. As Robin herself says, Strike has some interesting friends.
The story centers around a controversial novel, in which author Owen Quine seemingly skewers everyone who's ever wronged him (either in reality or in his own head). Quine dropped the final draft with his agent,who seemed to love it at first, sending out advance copies to a publisher, and then suddenly recanted and refused to publish it. After a rather public row between the two, Quine disappeared, an unfortunately common occurrence. Strike gets involved when Quine's wife, having reached her limit with her husband's supposed temper tantrum, contracts him to find the erstwhile author and bring him home. Strike's search brings him into contact with a whole cast of characters, who quickly become suspects when Quine's mutilated body is found in a grisly murder scene eerily reminiscent of his own book's climax.
The book itself (Bombyx Mori, apparently the Latin for Silkworm) reminded me a LOT of something that could have appeared in Marisha Pessl's Night Film. The sheer grotesque nature of the story, and subsequent murder scene all felt very...Cordovian. Add that to the fact that for a while a strange figure in a cloak seems to be stalking both Strike and Quine's widow, it all felt sort of familiar, to the point where I was convinced the daughter was the key to everything (as was the case in Night Film). Then there's the investigating officer who refuses to look more deeply than his easy theory --the wife did it -- and it's reminding me of the Fargo miniseries.
Overall this was a great read. It's an interesting look at the publishing world (something Rowling has just a little experience in...I find it oddly fascinating that she's decided to continue publishing this series under a pseudonym). The epigraphs at the start of Every. Single. Chapter. were a bit much. We get that Quine is influenced by Jacobean revenge tragedies. We don't need 40-odd quotes to drive the point home. It feels pretentious: "look how well read I am! This isn't your typical detective story, it's literary!" To which I say: meh. Nothing wrong with a typical detective story! Why try to make it out to be more than it is? It's a fun, entertaining story with an interesting protagonist, whose continued adventures I look forward to following. (less)
I made it not quite a quarter of the way through this before I had to call it quits. It's your typical series-starter: lots of walking and talking wit...moreI made it not quite a quarter of the way through this before I had to call it quits. It's your typical series-starter: lots of walking and talking with almost no action. I do want to like it, so I may give it another try in the future; like the book to which it is often compared, this seems more like winter reading. (less)
This is NOT your typical survival story! And yet, I'm not sure how to categorize it. I mean, the subject is a mission to Mars, so it should clearly be...moreThis is NOT your typical survival story! And yet, I'm not sure how to categorize it. I mean, the subject is a mission to Mars, so it should clearly be in the realm of science fiction. But if anything, it's almost like realistic sci fi, if that's a thing. After reading 172 Hours on the Moon earlier this summer, for the first 60 pages or so, I kept expecting monsters. But Weir's novel has no (actual) Martians, or doppelgängers, or lizard vampires (who else remembers that Christopher Pike classic A Season of Passage? Holla!). But if you think about it, the odds of a single human surviving on Mars, after being abandoned by the rest of his crew, with no way to contact earth, are pretty slim. That's really all the suspense you need.
We open on Sol 6 (a Martian Sol is about 40ish minutes longer than an Earth day, evidently), with astronaut Mark Watney. He's just made his way back to the Hab (the mission home base of sorts) after being injured in a sandstorm. The entire crew had evacuated the Hab on NASA's orders -- the storm was too strong to wait out so the mission was aborted -- but en route to the launch pad, the crew are separated when Watney gets hit (and impaled) with some flying debris. It knocks him out and off course, leaving the crew no choice but to continue without him. When Watney comes to, he's injured but alive...then he realizes he's stranded. He has the Hab, with all of its food and life support systems, but no way to contact Earth, and no way to get home.
The first few chapters consist solely of Watney's journal entries as he comes to terms with the situation and tries to figure out how to survive. As it turns out, assuming NASA doesn't cancel it, there's another mission coming to Mars...in three years. Still, it gives Watney something to shoot for, and a reason to work out how to survive. If the novel had been only the journal, I think it may have become tedious, but eventually we pick up with NASA on the ground, and that's when this novel became impossible to put down. It's all a race against various clocks. At first it's frustrating, because NASA can see Watney via satellite, but he doesn't realize they can see him, and without any means of communication, there's no way to help. Meanwhile, the dejected crew are making their way back to Earth, thinking they left one of their own behind to die.
This is a great plot-driven narrative. There isn't a ton of character development (even Watney isn't super-fleshed out), but it didn't bother me because I just wanted to find out what would happen next. Both Watney and the earthbound NASA scientists experience a series of near-catastrophic setbacks, and there were quite a few times when I wondered if Weir actually meant to kill off his protagonist. Yes, we're reading from the diary Watney typed while on Mars, but any subsequent mission could have recovered it after his death. The actions have actual stakes here, unlike quite a few "action" stories I've read recently.
Weir definitely did his research here. Watney is a botanist and engineer, so he's trained to fix shit and figure out how to ghetto-rig other shit, and damn does he go into detail about it. There's a lot of math and chemistry and probably some physics involved in many of Watney's entries, which didn't really do much for me personally. However, I much prefer actual explanations (which I can skim) to "it's science! Or something!" which is kind of what you get in 172 Hours on the Moon. Like I said, even though it's science fiction, everything felt realistic.
I've read this in a couple of other reviews and I agree wholeheartedly: this would make a kick ass movie. And admittedly, at times it does feel a bit like a movie treatment (I think it's the lack of character development). Watney's voice is entertaining and sarcastic, and with the right sort of charismatic actor, you'd have blockbuster gold. I kept picturing Jack Black for some reason, but I think he'd be too old. Who's the 25 year old equivalent of Jack Black? Josh Gad?
All in all, this is a highly entertaining thrill ride of a novel. It's one that you want to keep reading, and read as fast as possible, just to find what disaster is coming next (actually this might make an even better miniseries...think of the cliffhangers!). It's sort of the book equivalent of a summer popcorn movie. Engaging, entertaining, not too mentally taxing (if you skim the science stuff), and ultimately satisfying. Kind of a perfect summer read!(less)
Ug. This one was tough. Honestly if it had been the FIRST book of a series, I probably would have given up. But my love of Libba Bray made me push thr...moreUg. This one was tough. Honestly if it had been the FIRST book of a series, I probably would have given up. But my love of Libba Bray made me push through, although I have to say I'm not much in love with this series as a whole. I liked the first book fine, but I feel like it worked better as a stand alone. I finished it without a burning desire to know what happened next, and I only read Rebel Angels because I happened to see it on the library shelf (they don't have this one for some reason). I really didn't enjoy it, and again, only read this because I saw it on the digital library site. And also because I'm not sure Lair of Dreams is ever going to come out (and having read this series, am now worried about the progression there. The bright side is that Evie isn't the sole narrator as Gemma is here, and there are tons of great characters besides her, and we get to see their stories as well, rather than being tethered to Evie).
Set in London at the end of the 19th century, the whole series has been rife with feminist allegory. Of course Gemma et al prefer the Realms over London: they get to be free and do whatever they want and have power. I said in my review of the first book that I liked the fact that Bray wasn't beating us over the head with that theme. Well, I take that back, because in 800 pages I was assaulted by theme anvils over and over again. God, I get it! The Realms are where women can do whatever they want, but sometimes power is dangerous, and also you can't play forever (it's interesting that we see so few men in the Realms; nearly all of the major players on that side are female).
Part of the problem is the narration. First person has its limitations, obviously, and the more I read, the more I became convinced that it was the wrong tactic for this series. Gemma is a lovely and interesting character, but I started getting kind of sick of her. She has all the power, and at the end of the last book, she refused to just give it over to the Order, no questions asked. It's unclear what her endgame was at that point...was she hoping to keep it for herself? Broker some sort of utopian magical peace accord? Give it to the other 3 girls? She gives McCleethy a sort of "I choose me" speech at the end of Rebel Angels, but the thing is, she can't. It's clear that the magic is corrupting her, and the longer she holds onto all of it, the worse it gets. But she can't decide who to give it to, because basically all groups want it for their own selfish reasons. Plus they've all tried to kill her at some point, so you can't exactly blame Gemma for taking some time to make her decision. However, it takes an excruciatingly long time for her to arrive at anything resembling a conclusion. And since we aren't privy to anyone else's thoughts or motivations, it's difficult to understand what any of these various groups have to gain by having magic (or lose by NOT having it), other than this vague concept of *power*.
Tying in with that, the other problem here lies in the pacing. Again, we're tied to Gemma and her inability to decide (she even says her greatest desire is simply to know what she wants...which reminds me why Cinderella is not the only character in Into the Woods...). So we get a lot of playing around in the Realms, which I found tedious in the first two books already, and some nonsense involving Ann wishing she could escape her position as a governess and become an actress. And while the theatre in Victorian England is certainly interesting, it had fuck-all to do with the rest of the story. And since Gemma's in charge, we only hear how sorry she feels for Ann, and her projected emotions and guesswork. If I'm going to have to sit through Ann's story, I'd prefer she narrate it herself. There's also an intriguing dynamic between Pippa and Felicity that Gemma is too dense to pick up on (they're totally in love with one another, but that is so many levels of taboo in this era), so it gets lost in the shuffle. And I suppose it might be interesting to know where Kartik keeps disappearing to, though frankly I could give a shit. I've never understood what Gemma's supposed to see in him, or he in her, and I find him pretty dull to boot. I guess he's the forbidden bad boy, being Indian and all? Meh. (view spoiler)[So the whole "noble sacrifice" ending didn't do much for me, obviously. (hide spoiler)] Although he was written so inconsistently, I thought he was going to turn out to be possessed. And Gemma spends SO much time mooning over him, especially in later chapters, at the expense of any other plot point. Romance is fine, but I've never been invested in this particular romance, because I've seen nothing to convince me that these are two people who should be together.
I powered through the rest of this yesterday afternoon/evening, employing some hardcore skimming. The endgame all comes together rather hastily, and in keeping with the pattern for the first two books, it turns out that *gasp* the true villain isn't who you'd expect! Sigh. First we have the Circe reveal (it's Miss Moore, the nice teacher!), now we have the truth about (view spoiler)[ Eugenia Spence: yes, she sacrificed herself to ostensibly close the door to the Realms, but she became the tree? And demanded sacrifices? And used the mute drug addict to deliver her messages because she knew no one would believe her? Eh. I guess we're supposed to suspect McCleethy, or Circe again, since it turns out she's not actually dead. (hide spoiler)]That's the other problem here: there's not really an antagonist until the last 150 pages or so. Oh sure, there are various menacing groups and individuals (and Pippa's pretty freaky too), but again, nothing really happens. (view spoiler)[ The fairy creatures want to enter the human world! That's interesting! Why do we hear so little about it? This is where those multiple narrators could have improved things, since Gemma would rather moon over Kartik or have parties in the Realms than try to solve mysteries until they're nearly out of time. And I'm unclear: did she "have the power to share the magic" all along? Or was it just Kartik's death that allowed her to do it? And what happens if people start bringing him sacrifices? Won't the cycle just start over again? (hide spoiler)]
Overall, I'm sad to say this series is a disappointment. A Great & Terrible Beauty is fine as a stand alone novel, and really, you aren't missing much if you stop there. This conclusion feels like Bray couldn't make up her mind about an ending, and waffled back and forth, and at no point did an editor suggest perhaps cutting 200 pages or so. I feel like Bray is also so enamored with the Realms that she wanted the characters to spend far more time there than strictly necessary. Once it becomes clear that shit isn't right, Gemma and co need to DO something. Instead, Ann and Felicity have parties and Gemma mopes. For hundreds and hundreds of pages! It's tedious. There's a great message at the heart of this series, and in the beginning, Bray lets the characters make some excellent points about women's rights, and draws some great parallels between the Realms and what's happening in the real world. However, by the time you've slogged through this final volume, that message has been bogged down by on-the-nose repetition (we're free in the Realms! Because we have power! Do you get it? Power in the Realms! No power in the real world! Get it? Get it? Do ya?). I'd still consider Bray one of my favorite authors, so I'm hoping The Diviners doesn't go down this same path as this series. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
Wow. This was fascinating and sad and still ultimately uplifting. Perhaps I can manage a full review once I've dried my tears! ------------------------...moreWow. This was fascinating and sad and still ultimately uplifting. Perhaps I can manage a full review once I've dried my tears! ----------------------------------------------------- It's hard to write a good review for this book! It's a tragic story and it's beautifully written. I know next to nothing about the history of Afghanistan, and since I've read two of Hosseini's books, I'm both fascinated and...mind-boggled? is that a thing? by the history and the conflicts. This delves more into those than And the Mountains Echoed. We see the country under different rulers and it's interesting to see how that seemed to affect the women so much more than the men (it's also interesting that at first Miriam likes wearing the burqa because no one can stare at her). I certainly can't pretend to be an expert, but I love that Hosseini is able to incorporate this culture so flawlessly into the narrative, without it feeling like he's pandering to the audience, or just dumping a bunch of exposition. I don't know everything about Afghan culture, but I know enough to appreciate the narrative.
We begin the novel with Miriam, the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy man. Though her father visits and dotes on her, Miriam lives a simple life with her mother. When her mother commits suicide, however, Miriam finds that her father is too cowardly (afraid of the reaction from his actual wives and children) to take her in and she ends up married to Rasheed, a widower at least 20 years her senior. After spending the first fifteen years of her life in the veritable middle of nowhere, Miriam is terrified of Kabul, terrified of her neighbors, and most of all, terrified of her new husband. (He's the one who insists she wear a burqa, even though at the start of their marriage, many women simply wore scarves)
In Part Two, we meet Laila, the daughter of one of Miriam's neighbors: her father was a teacher and her mother one of those "forward thinking" neighbors whom Miriam found so intimidating. Laila is a late in life baby for her parents, and by the time she is old enough to narrate, her mother Fariba is a far cry from the woman Miriam first met. Laila's brothers went off to war, and their departure seems to have broken Fariba, who rarely leaves the house. After Laila's brothers are killed in battle, her mother gets worse, spending most of her time in bed, lamenting what was lost. Her only solace is the time she spends with her best friend Tariq. Until tragedy strikes once again and brings these two women together.
The narrative converges when (view spoiler)[ Laila's house is hit by a rocket that kills both of her parents. Laila is spared because she happens to be outside at the time, loading boxes to take the the pawnshop, in preparation for the family's move to a safer part of the country. Suddenly orphaned, Laila doesn't have many options, and so she moves in with Miriam and Rasheed. Miriam resents the younger girl at first, especially when it becomes clear that Rasheed is courting her for wife #2 (she's young and Miriam was never able to carry a pregnancy to term...which is generally easier when your husband refrains from beating you with a belt). But Laila is desperate: she's pregnant with Tariq's child (he left to fight), and she can't be an unwed mother. So she agrees to the marriage in time to pretend the baby is Rasheed's. After a stranger comes to the house with news of Tariq's death (he conveniently happened to be in the next bed over at a hospital...spoiler alert! Tariq's totally alive and Rasheed just hired the guy in hopes it would keep Laila from running away), Laila resigns herself to her fate, and she and Miriam form an uneasy friendship. (hide spoiler)]
I loved the eventual friendship between Miriam and Laila. They came from two very different worlds, but they're basically each other's rock when their stories converge. (view spoiler)[ It's no real surprise that Rasheed is cruel to both women, but it's unsettling to read. The amount they have to put up with, and the lengths to which Miriam ultimately goes to save her friend and the children...heartbreaking. It's not even cliché that totally-not-dead Tariq and Laila eventually find and marry each other, because dear God, someone in this book deserves to be happy! (hide spoiler)]
Overall, I loved this book. I can't decide if I liked it more than And the Mountains Echoed...I feel like Hosseini is one of those writers where whatever book you happen to read first is your favorite. I just really love his writing style: talk about effortless! After the trying-WAY-too hard "lyrical" prose of We Were Liars, it's lovely to read some actually effortless prose. For example: Laila knew her future was no match for her brothers' past. They had overshadowed her in life. They would obliterate her in death. Mammy was now the curator of their lives' museum and she, Laila, a mere visitor. A receptacle for their myths. The parchment on which Mammy meant to ink their legends. That, MF-ers, is how you write a metaphor!
Meh. Summer is too short to read books I can't get into! If I'm 40 pages in and I can't keep track of the characters, because there are approximately...moreMeh. Summer is too short to read books I can't get into! If I'm 40 pages in and I can't keep track of the characters, because there are approximately 27 of them and they all sound alike? I'm done. Beach reads should not require a flow chart. (less)
This came on the recommendation of a student, whose opinion I pretty much trust (her older sister also had good taste!), so I knew a bit more about wh...moreThis came on the recommendation of a student, whose opinion I pretty much trust (her older sister also had good taste!), so I knew a bit more about what to expect going in, having helped her edit down her book trailer. The opening chapters were tough to get through, because I knew what was coming, and Jennifer Brown does a great job creating this pervasive sense of dread during the storm and its immediate aftermath. And sadly for our protagonist, things mostly go downhill from here.
Backing up, the novel was apparently inspired by the events in Joplin, Missouri, when that massive tornado basically tore the town apart in 2012. I remember reading at the time that many of the casualties were caused by people not taking the storm seriously. And I can totally relate: living in the Midwest, you really do become sort of inured to these kinds of storms. If we all panicked every time there was a tornado watch, no one would get anything done from March to July! So there's this general feeling of "oh geez, the sirens are going off again," and you know you should go to the basement, but you've got stuff to do, so you convince yourself it's another false alarm. Our own news channel and weather service have been gunny ever since we had a pretty destructive tornado in 2006, so I can completely relate to Jersey's irritation at having to pause making dinner because the damn sirens are going off. Of course this time it turns out to be the real deal, and she's home alone, riding out the storm in the basement, and it's hella freaky, because for most of us Midwesterners, that scenario is our worst nightmare come to life (I'm not sure if people in less tornado-y parts of the country feel the same way...I had an RA from Florida who was terrified of tornados because, in her words "at least hurricanes give you time to evacuate"). Anyway, given the jacket summary, I'm pretty sure it's not a spoiler to say that, while she doesn't find out right away, Jersey's mom and younger sister don't survive.
It seems like "older sibling loses younger sibling in tragic accident, feels responsible" has become a common plot trope lately: Revolution, The Archived, The Edge of Falling, and now Torn Away. It's interesting to me that it's always the older sibling who survives (or is indirectly responsible). This and Revolution are the best examples, although I'd kind of like to hear this sort of story from the younger sibling's perspective. When Jersey's mom and sister Marin left (for dance class), Jersey was acting like a typical sullen teenager, rolling her eyes at mom, telling Marin to go away, basically setting the stage for a whole metric fuckton of guilt later on.
Even though Jersey's stepfather, Ronnie, made it through the storm, he is thoroughly ill equipped to raise a teenager. I like that Brown lets us see that yes, Ronnie's choice to send Jersey away is selfish, but he is just...broken. And even though Jersey villainizes him in her own mind, Brown doesn't paint him as the bad guy. So Jersey ends up a few hours away with her biological father and his awful family, whom she's never met, and who make no secret about not wanting her around. They're all painted in pretty broad strokes, not a lot of nuance to be had with these characters. Like I said in an update, it's like if Eleanor never met Park, never had music, never had reading material, and had siblings who hated her. Bleak, is what I'm getting at. It's incredibly hard to read, and you can't fault Jersey for being as angry as she is at the world. She's not a character I'd want to befriend so much as protect (and perhaps give her some Real Talk, because that whole "angry at the world" thing gets old fast).
Ultimately, Jersey learns that the stories her mother told about her past aren't necessarily accurate: did her father truly abandon her? Did her grandparents actually disown her mother? And she eventually learns to forgive both herself (for surviving) and her mother (for keeping secrets), and I may have cried a few tears by the end. This is a FAR better exploration of grief and guilt than Edge of Falling. And there is (almost) zero romance! Because Jennifer Brown gets that sometimes real life shit gets in the way of the apparently required love triangle. I borrowed my copy from the library, but I will absolutely be putting this on my wish list for next year. It's interesting, thought-provoking YA that doesn't suck. (less)
**spoiler alert** Well, this was certainly less rage-inducing than When You Were Mine, but it's just...blah. There's so much potential here for a real...more**spoiler alert** Well, this was certainly less rage-inducing than When You Were Mine, but it's just...blah. There's so much potential here for a real exploration of grief and mourning and guilt, and instead we focus primarily on a love triangle. Snore. I'm not sure I even want to spend the time it would take to write a full review.
Sigh. Here we go.
When the novel opens, McCallister "Caggie" Caulfield is dealing with the aftermath of a couple of traumatic situations: at a classmate's end of the year party, she saved a girl who had gone up to the roof to jump, earning her some unwanted notoriety. Unwanted because she's still recovering from the incident that occurred in January: her younger sister Hayley drowned while Caggie was supposed to be watching her. Everything in Caggie's life pretty much went south after Hayley's death: she and her boyfriend broke up, her parents busied themselves in work (dad) and redecorating (mom), and her best friend moved to a different borough, leaving her all alone at the fancy pants private school where she doesn't feel like she belongs (of course).
Here's the problem: both of these traumatic events are, of course, not what they appear. There's the story Caggie told everyone, and then there's what actually happened. And let me tell you, if you thought either tragedy was meant to be taken at face value, Serle drops enough hints (well, anvils really) in the first few chapters that there's more to the story, that you'd have to be pretty dense not to pick up on the "foreshadowing". It bugs me that we have to deal with Caggie being weird and secretive about BOTH events. She really was responsible for Hayley's death: she snuck off to her family's beach house to see her boyfriend Trevor, didn't tell her parents, and at the last minute decided to take Hayley along. And while Caggie was inside, worrying about her boyfriend, Hayley was outside by the pool (which still has water in it in January because...why?), dropped Caggie's bracelet into the water, and drowned trying to retrieve it. By the time Caggie found her, it was too late. That's terrible, unquestionably. It's not so much the kind of trauma you recover from as the kind you simply learn to live with. And it's understandable that she starts to push people away after it happens. But the whole nonsense with her boyfriend just made me want to shake her, because all of the "problems" are borne out of Caggie's own inability to talk about what happened....but she blames them on Trevor. I'm not sure what she told people about Hayley's death, but evidently she downplayed her own responsibility in it (I think it's that Hayley was trying to save the bracelet, which was a present from Trevor, but the bracelet didn't really mean that much to Caggie). Anyway, she keeps acting like he's blaming her, or acting weird around her, or really just looking for any excuse to get him to leave her. Which he eventually does, and then she can feel justified in her misery.
So I'm sure it comes as no surprise to anyone that Caggie was the one who needed saving on the roof that night. Her classmate, Kristin, actually found HER about to jump, and slipped trying to talk her into coming back over the ledge. Acting purely on instinct and adrenaline, Caggie pulled her back into the roof. All of this earns Caggie some extremely unwanted popularity among her classmates, who of course are all vapid idiots incapable of intelligent thought. It bugs me that her classmates are painted in such broad strokes, while Caggie herself is annoying superior about it all. At one point she actually comments on the fact that "children are starving in Africa," but all Abigail cares about are her shoes. Um, what, exactly are YOU doing to help those starving children, great humanitarian? You don't seem too worried about them when you're enjoying fancy restaurants with private seating and your family's beach house. Newsflash: it is possible to have money, enjoy having money, and still be an intelligent, caring member of society. Arg.
Anyway, the book quickly goes from what could be an interesting exploration of grief and forgiveness into a damn love triangle when "bad boy" Astor shows up. Like Caggie, he too is hiding a deep dark secret (note to Rebecca Serle: if ALL of your characters are hiding something, it loses its effect). And she quickly tumbles into this awful co-dependent relationship with him that is SO unhealthy and frustrating to read. It would seem all they do is make out, because that apparently quiets Caggie's feelings of guilt? I mean...grief is grief, but I have a hard time buying into that one. Like any good controlling boyfriend, Astor wastes no time isolating Caggie from all of her friends by convincing her that they "just don't understand." Seeing as that's what Caggie's been telling herself to justify pushing everyone away for a year, it doesn't take much work on Astor's part.
The problem with this is that it is all so very dull. I know YA is romance heavy, and I know that's one of the appeals of YA for a lot of people. But the premise of this story just starts out so promising, and devolves so quickly. It really is just your standard "bad boy/safe boy" love triangle. There's nothing new or exciting being done here, which is sad because this could have been SUCH a good story (look at that cover! I defy you not to at least pick it up and gaze at it). Jennifer Donnelly's Revolutionis a far better exploration of a very similar topic, sans love triangle. (less)
It pains me to mark this as abandoned, but after giving it around 60 pages, I just don't see myself liking it any better. I loved The Scorpio Races. I...moreIt pains me to mark this as abandoned, but after giving it around 60 pages, I just don't see myself liking it any better. I loved The Scorpio Races. I am obsessed with The Raven Cycle. But this is just....ick. I think I need to return it before it sullied my love of Maggie Stiefvater forever. (less)