"At this point, I had no idea where the text would go. My sense of the narrative direction had been twisted too many times — I was being conned, and I was delighted. Everything depended on the characters' choices at this point: there was no one story shape (reunion story, Presents romance, redemption arc) that was controlling the narrative's direction..."
I've been struggling with some romance reads recently, needing not to see the well-worn tracks the story was running on, and Rulebreaker was a refreshing change. The plot and character arcs weren't fleshed out enough to make this a five-star read for me, but the first-person POV was well-done (and not employed as a purposeful untrustworthy gotcha!...I'm still ugh-ing over a recent read that used first-person POV for that) and the characters were engaging and unpredictable enough to keep me turning pages. The use of science fiction is about on par with J.D. Robb's In Death series, so not terribly much, but I hope the other books set in this universe expand on those interesting sci-fi aspects....more
A strong, confidently executed procedural. There are a lot of standard-issue genre elements here, but what's interesting (and what I loved) about theA strong, confidently executed procedural. There are a lot of standard-issue genre elements here, but what's interesting (and what I loved) about the book is that DS Aector McAvoy, the lead character, is emotionally vulnerable. This emotional vulnerability is demonstrated in the text fairly frequently, other characters recognize (and often respect) this emotional vulnerability, McAvoy recognizes it in other people as well, and his emotional vulnerability is treated as a strength--a personal strength, and a strength as a detective--by the narrative.
The writing style relies pretty heavily on sentence fragments, of which I turned out to have a surprisingly high tolerance....more
Incredibly tedious, especially if you can guess what the twist is by the end of the first part. This wasn't a "knowing the twists adds an extra layerIncredibly tedious, especially if you can guess what the twist is by the end of the first part. This wasn't a "knowing the twists adds an extra layer of enjoyment to the book" kind of story*, either, at least not for me, because a) the first-level story, without the twist, was dull, and b) there was so little depth to the characters, especially in the early parts, that there was little sincere emotional resonance for me. It all felt very frustratingly contrived.
And while I really wanted to love a story that played around with King Lear, with my limited ability to care about the problems of one-dimensional rich WASPs with private islands by Martha's Vineyard, I was bored. The book's grappling with low-level privilege awareness (and its one-dimensional use of a POC as someone raging against it) was shallow and not complicated or engaging enough to make the book worthwhile for me. I wasn't interested in a "privileged white girl learns her privilege both helps and hurts her, and there is TRAGEDY" narrative, so.
I'm 100% positive my opinion is a minority opinion, though.
* Some YA books where "knowing the twists adds an extra layer of enjoyment to the book" at least according to ME: Code Name Verity, The Westing Game, The Thief, The Basic Eight. I'm not opposed to plot twists or to unreliable narrators. But oh gosh, make it a coherent and interesting story for readers who don't know the twist AND for (re-)readers who do know the twist....more
So God's an irresponsible teenage layabout named Bob, and unfortunately for all of Earth, he's fallen headfirst into a combo of lust & love for yoSo God's an irresponsible teenage layabout named Bob, and unfortunately for all of Earth, he's fallen headfirst into a combo of lust & love for young zookeeper named Lucy. Chaos ensues.
The premise sounds full of landmines of unenjoyability, but Meg Rosoff's earned my trust with two other books, How I Live Now and Picture Me Gone. This comic romp is a very different story, something that Vonnegut or Adams might appreciate, but it's also quite thoughtful about issues of faith, mortality, and the relationship between humans and God. There's even a strand of sweetness, particularly anytime Eck (a penguin-esque creature, the last of his kind, and under extreme threat of being eaten very shortly) was on page and ruminating about death and life. There is approximately zero theological coherence, and I wasn't happy with the way some of the story strands turned out, but overall, it was an interesting read....more
A good book, and I'm glad it's a classic, and I'd happily pay dues to belong to a Miss Climpson Appreciation Society, but mostly I'm obsessing over hoA good book, and I'm glad it's a classic, and I'd happily pay dues to belong to a Miss Climpson Appreciation Society, but mostly I'm obsessing over how I never knew that omelettes can be sweet rather than savory. I HAD NO IDEA....more
Enjoyable mostly because I loved reading about life downstairs. I watched some episodes of You Rang, M'Lord? a few months ago, and I was reminded of tEnjoyable mostly because I loved reading about life downstairs. I watched some episodes of You Rang, M'Lord? a few months ago, and I was reminded of that while reading about Dandy's cluelessness whilst undercover as a lady's maid.
I skipped the third and fourth books in this series (the third kept putting me to sleep, and I avoided the fourth because I can't stand circuses), but as far as I can tell, this fifth book is an odd duck in comparison because it's actually fast-paced! The previous books were slower than molasses. Perhaps correspondingly, the prose wasn't as consistently sharp as in the previous books. I also don't know if this would be a good place to the start in the series, because Dandy going undercover means her actual character and life aren't depicted.
The mystery itself was engaging for the majority of the book. Dandy is employed by the lady of the household, whose husband is engaging in gaslighting and planning to murder her. On Dandy's first night on the job, however, someone else is murdered while she and her client safely sleep, and while a strike hampers official investigations, Dandy is drafted to assist--all while maintaining her cover as a shouldn't-be-so-nosy lady's maid. There are interesting complications--a baffling last will and testament chief among them--and I was reading with great interest, enjoying various twists and mental puzzles, until the resolution hit. Some suspension of disbelief was required on my part to swallow it. (view spoiler)[Is hypnosis something I'm expected to belief in? Not just hypnosis, but to that extent? REALLY? (hide spoiler)]
So. The book had its flaws and I probably wouldn't recommend it indiscriminately, but it was still an enjoyable reading experience for me on balance.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I enjoyed the characters and liked a lot about their relationship, but I was misled by the cover copy. I love, love, love that trapped-alone-together-I enjoyed the characters and liked a lot about their relationship, but I was misled by the cover copy. I love, love, love that trapped-alone-together-with-increasing-sexual-tension story that the blurb promises, but that took up only a TINY part of the book. The situation had barely any emotional or sexual traction. I know complaining about incorrect Harlequin summaries is the very definition of quixotic, but I LOVE that trope, and the book didn't deliver. :(
The depiction of the relationship was uneven to me; the book seemed to focus on the times the characters had doubts and didn't get along easily, rather than when the characters were connecting with one another. Melissa states that their sexual connection was when they got along best, but the book didn't linger for a moment on that connection. I don't mind closed-door or no-sex romances AT ALL. But my objection here is that we're told that this was the best part of their relationship (according to Melissa), but this is basically how the book depicts that sexual relationship: "But he did remember carrying her to bed and undressing her. And drinking in the sight of her near perfect body spread out on the bed before making wild, passionate love to her all night long." i.e. in blink-and-you'll-miss-it bland-and-sometimes-bad prose....more
A strong erotic romance. It's a tricky subgenre, but Taking Him is a terrific example of how it can be done well: the sex is full of character developA strong erotic romance. It's a tricky subgenre, but Taking Him is a terrific example of how it can be done well: the sex is full of character development, and the romance is still emotionally engaging. Of course, I read the book's summary and recognized that it had my name written alllll over it, and I was still surprised to find just how good it was.
I could have done without the overprotective-older-brother trope, and I wished for a stronger sense of the main characters' lives outside their relationship and for the secondary characters to have some depth, but the book certainly focused on its more interesting aspects in its limited space.
The book does deal with teenage sexual assault (by a family member) and depicts self-harm (kindly, though I was sometimes twitching about how unhygienic the character's clean-up process was--don't just grab a rag that's nearby omg)....more
It's no good trying to relate the details of a Wodehouse novel's plot, so I'll summarize by saying this: impostors! Ridiculous fun and a top-tier WodeIt's no good trying to relate the details of a Wodehouse novel's plot, so I'll summarize by saying this: impostors! Ridiculous fun and a top-tier Wodehouse, though it would have benefited from more Empress (and by including/resolving more of the romances, but I am just That Sort Of Reader, ymmv). This is the first Uncle Fred story I've read, and he proved delightfully terrifying in his schemes.
Advisory note: one of the editions--not the one I read, or else I might have skipped this book entirely--has on its cover a character in blackface. The depicted scene is brief and doesn't have a directly significant impact on the plot, but it was still rotten to read....more
This is one of those books where I struggle to judge it on its own merits. It's a good enough book, but not only is it not Code Name Verity and not trThis is one of those books where I struggle to judge it on its own merits. It's a good enough book, but not only is it not Code Name Verity and not trying to be Code Name Verity, it also has a lot of glaring weaknesses and not really a book I'd recommend to non-YA readers (whereas Code Name Verity, I shove at everyone). I mean, ffs, the character's name is Rose Justice, and she's a plucky American teenage pilot/poet who naively doesn't know what she's getting into when she signs up to ferry planes in England. It's a bit too on-the-nose and I'm-a-stand-in-for-modern-privileged-readers for me. The majority of the book is a straightforward story about a concentration camp, and I think memoirs and non-fiction are far stronger reading experiences than this was.
The book's focus on the Ravensbrück Rabbits, 74 Polish women brought to the camp as political prisoners and subjected to terrifyingly inhumane experiments on their legs, was one of its strengths, even if it the story was filtered through Rose. The book actively acknowledged this problem, the problems of telling someone else's story, and how telling your own story can be a hard enough challenge, and how these things are intertwined. There are also a lot of complications about the narrative of survival and the fetishized survivorhood narrative and how that's just not how it is or how it feels and how survivors struggle against it and with it, and these were areas where the book excelled....more
Getting the most important thing out of the way, namely because I went searching for it midway through reading the book but couldn't find anything conGetting the most important thing out of the way, namely because I went searching for it midway through reading the book but couldn't find anything conclusive! If anyone is looking for "Does the dog survive?"-esque spoilers, here they are: (view spoiler)[Popchyk is a happy, elderly dog at the book's end. While he does get put in a couple unpleasant situations, he's never directly threatened on the page, and Theo and Boris look out for him. It's mentioned in passing that Pippa/Welty's dog passes away of old age. (hide spoiler)] THERE. That is what I cared most about. I think I may have had different concerns from the Pulitzer committee, though.
I'm glad I read it, and I found the ending very moving, even if neither the sentiments nor the time-spent-philosophizing were completely earned by the preceding text. As much as I often loved the prose and wanted to linger in those overlong sentences, a whole lot of it was unnecessary and/or repetitive, and I didn't find this much of a page-turner: though Tartt seemed intent on having the reader vividly experience Theo's anxiety and depression, it didn't make for a very enjoyable narrative for me. And I'm not much for stories that make me feel as if I'm stuck watching a Wes Anderson movie or don't do anything interesting, nuanced, or good with its female characters, soooo. I can appreciate some of the ways that this book really soared, though, even if the story itself wasn't my thing.["br"]>["br"]>...more
A beautiful book about ugly things. I really liked a lot about it, but I found the treatment of a particular issue near the ending (discussed under spA beautiful book about ugly things. I really liked a lot about it, but I found the treatment of a particular issue near the ending (discussed under spoiler tags below) to be too brief and too superficial, and it took away from the book's strengths.
Boy Novak is a girl with a smart mouth, a crazy-making beauty, and a motherless, grim childhood that sends her fleeing from her New York City home. She winds up in tiny Flax Hill, Massachusetts, an idyllic town known for its legions of artisans, a place that values beauty and that trades in beautiful things. Its most idyllic and beautiful resident (y'know, the fairest of them all) is Snow Whitman, a dreamy princess of a little girl who eventually becomes Boy's stepdaughter. Boy never assumed that marrying into the Whitmans--flinty, upright, hard-nosed, and still haunted by the loss of Snow's gorgeous mother--would be easy, but she finds her family relationships growing more complicated with the birth of her dark-skinned daughter, Bird. It's 1953, and while race relations are treacherous even in a fairy tale town, the most central pain here is centered on, and passed down by, the same source that often centers and passes down the color of own's skin: family.
I really like how Helen Oyeyemi uses fairy tales in her work. There are no straight re-tellings or tedious modern day "updates"; instead, she breaks a tale apart and uses some of the shiniest pieces in a mosaic that draws attention to the narrative patterns that become literal forces in our lives. In Mr. Fox, she kept rearranging elements of the Bluebeard story to examine the consequences of how we tell stories about violence against women, and here in Boy, Snow, Bird, she's looking at how race and identity and selfhood are invented and interpreted, all by fracturing the familiar Snow White mythos of beauty and purity and, quite interestingly, motherhood.
Boy, Snow, Bird is a story about passing, and overlaying a magical-realist fairy tale of deceitful mirrors and doubles makes perfect sense. W. E. B. Du Bois's concept of double consciousness ("this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity") gets to the heart of what kind of work and what kind of pain is involved in passing, and the mirrors--literal and metaphorical--at work within the world of BSB are not neutral, passive objects. This story is set in the 1950s and 1960s, but the work being done here about identity is still severely relevant, even if contemporary racism doesn't always take the same form as it did then. While the principal character in this story is white Boy, this isn't a white person's white-savior story in which racism is the backdrop for the story of a white person's coming of age. There is not enough vomit in the world to express my reaction to seeing The Help and To Kill a Mockingbird and similar books being recommended as better stories about racism than this one; Ron Charles's Washington Post review expresses more elegantly how I feel about this: "This isn't one more earnest novel to reward white liberals for their enlightenment. (Insert your favorite bookclub title here.) Boy, Snow, Bird wants to draw us into the dark woods of America's racial consciousness, where fantasies of purity and contamination still lurk." Yep. Oyeyemi brings into multiple points of view as to what is gained and what is lost by those who choose to pass and those who don't, and even if Boy and whiteness are at the heart of the story, Oyeyemi continually complicates Boy's role there.
The writing is magnetic--I'd point to the book's opening sentence and the opening paragraph as good representatives of Oyeyemi's style--and I was engaged by both Boy's and Bird's sections. I also loved the letters exchanged by Bird and Snow, and while I wished for a section narrated by Snow, I think her voice still came through, and the fact that it was filtered by other character's experiences of her was part of the POINT.
However, there was an aspect to this book that I found problematic, and that I don't know how to digest, primarily because it occurs in the final pages of the book. (view spoiler)[Boy's journalist friend Mia goes searching for the truth about Boy's long absent mother and in doing so uncovers evidence for a story that she wants to write: the story of Boy's abusive father, Frank Novak "the rat catcher," a figure who looms menacingly throughout the book. Frank Novak had been born Frances Novak; an assertive academic and a radical lesbian, Frances was raped by an acquaintance, and as a result, Boy was born and Frances's identity was overtaken by the villainous Frank, her new, cruel self-image in the mirror. Mia gave Frank an opportunity to tell Boy this information herself, but now Mia outs him to Boy herself--and plans to publish this story. As Mia puts it, "I want to describe what someone goes through when they refuse to be a mother, or when they realize they just can't do it." Mia has her own story in relation to this theme, as does Boy and as do other characters, but Mia plans to write about Frank and Frances.
There were three things about this that made me uncomfortable.
2) Frank's gender identity is described by Boy as a spell that needs to be broken. I was uncomfortable with this, because even if passing is the focus of the book, racial and gender passing are two different concepts with different implications, and jumping to the conclusion that Frances needed to be rescued from Frank, without considering that Frank could be who Frances wanted to be, kind of alarmed me. In pretty generalized terms, my understanding of racial passing is that it focuses on a person's means of assuming social mobility and social power, whereas gender passing involves aligning one's public identity and one's gender identity. I'd interpret the book as suggesting that Frank's gender passing IS about how he related/relates to social structures (naming his child Boy and abusing her in situations where her womanhood is most evident also suggest this) and may not have to do with how he felt about his own gender, BUT Frank's voice throughout the story is filtered secondhand, and so it was difficult for me to interpret his personal identity.
3) I want to be careful not to conflate gender passing in the context of this book with the identities of trans people, but as the only explicit example of someone engaged in gender passing, it troubled me that Frank's character--violent, abusive, predatory, mentally ill, identifies as a man as a result of severe trauma--coheres with a lot of negative stereotypes & representations of trans people. When compared to the book's richness and depth in how various characters related to racial passing, the weakness and superficial treatment of one surprise! example of gender passing at the end of the book stood out as unfortunate.
The book ends with Boy, her daughters, and Mia leaving to go to NYC and confront Frank, so there is no resolution on this front, but as Boy's relationship to her daughters (and Snow and Bird's relationships to one another) drove the book for me, I didn't mind the lack of Frank-related resolution per se. I don't think it served the book very well, however. (hide spoiler)]
FTC Disclosure: I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
"The military officially ran the town in one way, and our husbands in practice ran the town in some ways, and we ran the town clandestinely in others.
"The military officially ran the town in one way, and our husbands in practice ran the town in some ways, and we ran the town clandestinely in others."
I love the headspace that the use of first-person plural requires me to inhabit: the continuous shifting of stories and perspectives, the complicated pushback between individual and community, and a subtle undercurrent of fate and destiny suggested by how many disparate paths converge, momentarily, into one before diverging again. I enjoyed the gorgeous use of first-person plural in Julie Otsuka's The Buddha in the Attic, so when I heard about the use of the same style in this book, I was totally game. Proooobably shouldn't have tried to hold up any other book to the high standards of Otsuka's prose. Nesbit's prose was clunky in comparison, and even if the style wasn't always executed gracefully, I still thought she mostly justified the POV choice she made.
This book is about, and narrated by, the wives of scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project, and at the start of the book, I was eagerly consuming all the details, mundane and extraordinary, about life in Los Alamos. The vignettes were sometimes too heavy-handed, and sometimes repetitive and dull. I greatly preferred the end of the book when the ethical aspects and ethical legacy were grappled with, and that's when the book really had power....more
I was reminded of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak. No matter which way you turn, you encounter metaphor after metaphor that echoes the violence that hasI was reminded of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak. No matter which way you turn, you encounter metaphor after metaphor that echoes the violence that has happened to you--only it's not just metaphors, and it's not just echoes. That continual violence is real. But you and your experiences? Not real, or just unimportant to the systems with the power to define reality. Same thing. And so, you choke. You don't speak, you don't eat.
The violence under the microscope in The Edible Woman is the squeeze of being a woman in a patriarchal consumerist society. The book isn't entirely angsty, even if the cutting metaphors are pretty close to the surface--something I don't mind, not when the characters are as interesting as these. The satire gets wildly funny at times--like, I should have been more empathetic about a certain character's situation (view spoiler)[(Len's unraveling after being seduced by Ainsley) (hide spoiler)], but omg, I was too entertained by the heights Atwood was aiming for in reality-flipped ridiculousness. The wandering tribes of "office virgins" and "graduate students" and "soap-men" were recognizable archetypes and successfully milked for their humor. I have to admit I kind of gawked a lot at the depiction of the 1960s setting and the state-of-women then, but I think the story as a whole held together well.["br"]>["br"]>...more
The solar system that Catton puts into motion here felt complete, from the beginning of the book to the end. I was ridiculously delighted by the narraThe solar system that Catton puts into motion here felt complete, from the beginning of the book to the end. I was ridiculously delighted by the narration; omniscient POV works so well when authors are explicit that destiny is a force at work in their novel's universe, and Catton didn't disappoint. The character descriptions were gorgeous and purposeful, and the plot was gleefully twisty and Victorian.
"Yes," the boy cried, "because I must! True feeling is always circular--either circular, or paradoxical--simply because its cause and its expression are two halves of the very same thing! Love cannot be reduced to a catalogue of reasons why, and a catalogue of reasons cannot be put together into love. Any man who disagrees with me has never been in love--not truly."