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
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
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....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....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....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'll get this out of the way first: the burry man is a real thing and, to my eyes, looks terrifying.
This was a slow-moving mystery, but the atmosphereI'll get this out of the way first: the burry man is a real thing and, to my eyes, looks terrifying.
This was a slow-moving mystery, but the atmosphere was a delectable mix of spooky (pagan traditions, talk of ghosts in gloomy woods), sad (family feuds, the legacy of destroying an entire generation in WWI), and funny (Dandy, who clearly prefers dogs to children, is charged with judging a Bonniest Baby competition, and she--despite her friends very clearly instructing her to simply choose the plumpest baby there--forgets and instead picks a scrawny newborn, much to the dismay of the locals). I missed the meditations on crime-solving that the first book of the series featured, but I appreciated that Dandy was very level-headed about truth-seeking--particularly in comparing it to justice-seeking....more
A dark page-turner, but the ending was a letdown. Like the ending to The Mirage, it worked and seemed inevitable enough and I couldn't read fast enougA dark page-turner, but the ending was a letdown. Like the ending to The Mirage, it worked and seemed inevitable enough and I couldn't read fast enough, but it did nothing for me on an emotional level....more
Condescending about disability, and the hero's a jerk to the heroine for most of the book. I really, really, really loved the heroine Tessa's interactCondescending about disability, and the hero's a jerk to the heroine for most of the book. I really, really, really loved the heroine Tessa's interactions with Oscar and Anthea, though, and would have loved this as a coming-of-age and opera-awesomeness tale, had the romance not been dreadful....more
"A secret is always accompanied by more or less of fear, and produces more or less of cowardice. But it can no more be avoided than a sore on the fles
"A secret is always accompanied by more or less of fear, and produces more or less of cowardice. But it can no more be avoided than a sore on the flesh or a broken bone. Who would not go about, with all his affairs such as the world might know, if it were possible? But there come gangrenes in the heart, or perhaps in the pocket. Wounds come, undeserved wounds, as those did to you, my darling; but wounds which may not be laid bare to all eyes. Who has a secret because he chooses it?"
This book circles around some of the familiar themes and set-pieces of the Chronicles of Barsetshire, but for the enjoyable length of a short novel. Neither the plot nor the characters are particularly complex, but I enjoyed most of all the happily argumentative, stubbornly moral Dr. Wortle. He nearly combusts from exposure to such hypocrisy and the trial-by-gossip/newspaper, but he does so on his own terms, even calling out his wife for being judgmental in the sake of protecting herself from scrutiny: "Sin! I despise the fear of sin which makes us think that its contact will soil us." He also stunned her into silence by stating, in nearly hair-pulling frustration, that "[i]t is often a question to me whether the religion of the world is not more odious than its want of religion."
For such a short book, there too many passages too tedious for me, and as sympathetic as I was, it was hard for me as a modern reader to care so much about Victorian pearl-clutching. The romance in this book, between Dr. Wortle's upright daughter and a young man he tutors, was pleasing (I really like Trollope's romances, okay), but extremely underdeveloped and mostly untethered to the rest of the plot....more