“There was something about him. Something worth knowing. That much was certain.”
In life, there are times when you meet someone and realize "there's“There was something about him. Something worth knowing. That much was certain.”
In life, there are times when you meet someone and realize "there's just something about them". Maybe you know what I mean. Those people who may not be the best-looking, not even your usual type, not the smartest, the funniest or the "best" at anything really... but, for some reason, you're drawn towards them. And it's wonderful. You don't have to be a romantic to think there's something incredible about being pulled towards someone by some strange unseen force - God? Fate? The very chemistry of the universe? How wonderful to think your bond with someone goes beyond the physical and the rational.
I understand that. And yet... it doesn't work for me in books. Or, at least, it never has yet. Perhaps it's because this feeling that warrants a "there's just something about him/her" is very personal to the one experiencing it. That's the beauty of it, right? That no one else really gets it. But, as the reader of a romance novel, I kind of need to get it. If I want to fall in love with a couple, I need to feel the chemistry between them. I need to love them too.
And that's why instalove never works for me. "There's just something about him/her" never works for me. For me, ineffable emotions don't work in novels when all I have are the words before me. I appreciate in real life there are times when you can't describe how you feel with words; but, in books, being unable to describe something with words is kind of a big problem. Or, not even describe, but SHOW. No need to tell me how you feel, it's even better if you show me through character experiences, dialogue and the details between them.
This book has an interesting premise. It's historical with a fantasy aspect and in this story "Love" and "Death" are actual beings who select players in a millennia-old game. In the past, Death has always won, but can Love finally prevail when it comes to Henry and Flora?
The best bits about this book are the 1930s setting and the subtle explorations of race and homosexuality going on in the background. Henry is a wealthy white boy with a college scholarship and little to worry about, even though this is Depression-era America. Flora is a black girl who sings in jazz clubs by night, hoping to one day become the next Amelia Earhart. And then there's Ethan, a boy struggling to come to terms with his sexuality in a society that would never accept him. The little subplots were excellent, though sadly overshadowed by the "Game".
When Henry sees Flora, he is immediately mesmerized by everything about her for no real reason except it is their "destiny". What then follows is pages and pages of him being cheesy every time she appears:
“He’d never heard anything like her voice, which made him wish he had his bass in his hands, just so he could return the sounds, a mix of chocolate and cream, something he wanted to drink through his skin.”
Not only that, but people do an awful lot of "sensing" in this book. I've said in the past that I find this kind of storytelling lazy - when the characters either do or don't do something because they "get a feeling" about it. Like not trusting the bad guy because they "have a bad feeling". It's lazy and I don't buy into it.
All this being said, the author writes some beautiful descriptions of 1930s Seattle and the jazz scene. Plus, the subplots about race and sexuality were handled in a sensitive and engaging way. If the author branches off from destiny-inspired romance in her future books, I might come back to her work.
“That’s the oppressive thing about happiness, the way everything is out on the table like an open book.”
When you look at the "rating details" for e“That’s the oppressive thing about happiness, the way everything is out on the table like an open book.”
When you look at the "rating details" for every widely-read book on Goodreads, you will almost always see most ratings being 5 or 4 stars. Even when it comes to divisive books like Fifty Shades of Grey, 60% of the ratings are for 4 or 5 stars.
Now look at the ratings for The Dinner. There are an overwhelming number of 3 star ratings (more than any other). And I get why. This is the kind of book that you remember as being "clever" and "twisted" but never rush out to recommend. It's a book you find it hard to say isn't "good", but at the same time you weren't blown away. And, though it may be about a dinner, it just isn't that delicious.
The whole story consists of one dinner at one of those overpriced restaurants where you get a tiny morsel of food in the centre of your plate. Two couples are at this meal - the narrator (Paul), his politician brother (Serge Lohman), and their wives (Claire and Babette). Through little flashbacks and side stories, details and vagueness, it becomes clear that there's a dark side to this get together and our narrator might not be so reliable.
It's a book about many things: mental illness, dehumanization, middle class people and the coveted notion of a "happy family". I particularly liked how Koch explored the ways in which subtle language changes can be used to dehumanize someone. Like calling a drunk person an "alcoholic" so that's what they become - defined by their drunken state, no longer human, deserving of everything they get.
It's a book that gets darker and darker. And, despite the scope of the novel being relatively small, it remains compelling. The narrator's disdain for his pretentious brother and the general faff of "posh" restaurants is amusing.
Though I think, most of all, this novel has a severe lack of believability and I found it hard to take seriously. Not because I don't believe people are this morally bankrupt - not that at all - but there's a certain farcical nature to the characters' actions. Would they really go out to eat at a restaurant when having a discussion like this? Would Claire really react the way she did at the end (before leaving the restaurant)?
The Dinner is thought-provoking. It's twisted. It's good. But there are just enough problems with it that I can't rate higher than 3 stars....more
I have only read one other Ishiguro novel and that is Never Let Me Go. Nevertheless, I too was intrigued about what would happen when a highly-acclaimI have only read one other Ishiguro novel and that is Never Let Me Go. Nevertheless, I too was intrigued about what would happen when a highly-acclaimed author of literary fiction transitioned into fantasy. Unfortunately, having read the book, I'm still not even sure.
What happened here? It's one of those novels where I can't help wondering if there's some underlying symbolism or metaphorical brilliance that totally went over my head. It's a simplistic, emotionally-detached and - at times - boring story, so I'm inclined to assume Ishiguro was aiming at smarter people than me who would take something deeper from it.
But I don't think so. I find myself leaning towards Craig's interpretation that Isiguro gives us the information and lets us decide what to do with it. Interpret as you will, I guess. Especially with that ending that Kirkus believes to be "one that will shock you". Well, I would not say I was shocked. I would say I was mildly surprised that Ishiguro had convinced me to keep reading the last 300 pages when all I got was a fizzled out ending and no answers.
Screw subtlety and interpretation! I want answers, dammit.
Credit where it's due: I was very intrigued in the beginning. I'm fascinated by all kinds of stories about memory and memory loss, whether it's a thriller like The Girl on the Train, a sad contemporary like Still Alice or a fantasy like this. My memories define who I am and the thought of losing them is terrifying to me. Considering that this book opens on a premise of an entire village experiencing weird memory loss - forgetting people who have left, sons they haven't seen in a while, or arguments they just had that morning - I was ready to love it.
But the exploration of this memory loss with Axl and Beatrice was unsatisfying and really damn repetitive after a while. I guess people who constantly forget what they have said are likely to keep saying it again but, hell, it makes for a tedious read. I grew tired of hearing about how their son was waiting for them, how Beatrice experienced some pain but, oh, it was nothing really, how maybe they had an argument but neither can remember so let's forget it, and pretty much everything about King Arthur was mind-numbing.
Also, I called this emotionally-detached and I'd like to explain what I mean. I don't think we ever develop an emotional connection with the characters. Axl and Beatrice have no personality (does anyone?) and speak so formally to one another. It's so... strange. This has to be the most polite fantasy I've ever read. I know this is set just after the Roman period in Britain but, come on, I find it difficult to believe an old couple spoke to each other like this. And not just them, there are battles and bloodshed and everything is so weirdly polite.
Person 1: I say, old chap, I'm afraid I'm going to have to slay you! Person 2: Dear me, that is unfortunate. But fight I shall and perhaps I will win!
Yeah, that's not a direct quote, but I swear there are pieces of dialogue like that.
And Axl calls Beatrice "princess" all the time. ALL THE TIME. I know you might be thinking that's sweet, but ALL THE TIME. At the end of every sentence, he addresses her as "princess". When they're afraid for their lives, he manages to find time to slip "princess" into every thing he says.
This book is weird enough that I'm sure it'll inspire many exciting interpretations, but my imagination isn't playing. It's a boring journey with boring characters and a fabulously anticlimactic non-ending.
"The trouble with dying," she'd told Jeannie once, "is that you don't get to see how everything turns out. You won't know the ending."
This book was"The trouble with dying," she'd told Jeannie once, "is that you don't get to see how everything turns out. You won't know the ending."
This book was lovely. That's how I would describe it. I'm not going to sell it as anything it isn't - fans of fast-paced action and fantasy should look elsewhere - because this is a quiet, moving family drama; nothing more or less. And yet, that was more than enough to make this one of my favourite, beautifully-written character studies.
Sometimes there are those rare books that capture pieces of real life in such a way that you look at the ordinary as you have never looked at it before. Very few authors can successfully turn the mundane into art. There are those who try to mimic the successful few but they almost always fail. Anne Tyler is apparently one of those authors who can take such a simplistic story of family life and breathe so much humanity into her characters that the everyday becomes compelling.
This is a book about the Whitshank family - several generations of it. I lost the exact quote but I recall one point when a character is described as being "like most people - insufferable but likable". And that is how most characters are in this book. We are dragged into their lives, forced to care about them, and yet they are complex, annoying, difficult, selfish and lovable.
Tyler takes just pages - perhaps even just paragraphs - to weave dialogue into a dynamic we can understand. From the beginning, we recognise Abby for the caring and smothering mother she is and we see Red as the more critical and skeptical of the two. Then as their children are introduced into the story, we see that Denny is intelligent, selfish, rebellious and constantly running from his own life. We see the overbearing and strong Amanda taking charge of most situations, the kindly Stem who always puts others first, and Jeannie - a personality often forgotten in the chaos of family drama.
As Abby and Red get older, Abby experiences some mental blackouts and Red's hearing gradually declines, so their sons and daughters must come together and decide how to help their aging parents (who adamantly do not want help). The relationships, the rivalries and the love all intertwine in this story that combines insights into the Whitshank family history and their modern lives.
Books such as this one are often called "slow", but I didn't find it slow at all. I think if you pick this book up knowing what to expect and are ready to read a story about people and family, then you should be swept along by these fascinating characters. I, for one, read it in a single day.
“The sun kept on with its slipping away, and I thought how many small good things in the world might be resting on the shoulders of something terribl“The sun kept on with its slipping away, and I thought how many small good things in the world might be resting on the shoulders of something terrible.”
When I was about seven or eight, I was at my friend's house drawing pictures and playing with dolls or whatever we were doing. I don't remember the exact circumstances leading up to what happened, but on this day my friend put her hand underneath my school skirt and touched me. Being older now, I realize it was just childish exploration and that it isn't uncommon, but at the time I pulled back like I'd been burned. I went home shortly after that.
This event is not that remarkable. What is remarkable is that I worried about that day for the next four years. That's right - four whole years. Then one day when I was twelve, my mum looked at me and asked me what was wrong. Well, I burst into tears and told her what had happened four years previously.
However, my mum just looked relieved and told me: "That's not that strange. Young children are curious about bodies and sexuality." And then I said: "But... she's a girl. Does that mean... am I... do I have AIDs?" My mum was shocked. She explained that I couldn't get AIDs unless the other person already had the disease and that I definitely couldn't get it from touching. Or saliva.
I'm lucky enough to have a mother who a) I can talk to about anything, and b) is intelligent and open-minded enough to correct my mistaken assumptions about AIDs. But sometimes I shudder to think of how ignorant I could have been if my situation had been different. I shudder to think of where I must have picked up that false information in the first place and how many other ignorant kids (later ignorant adults) believe that kind of crap.
This book is so relevant, even today. We're still, as a society, so uneducated about AIDs. Very few schoolchildren are provided with substantial information about where it comes from and what causes it. Still, today, many people believe AIDs is something that gay people created. And many people believe you can catch it by holding hands with someone who has the disease.
Tell the Wolves I'm Home deals with an important subject and I'm glad there are books dealing with the subject. But I also think it has many flaws and some things were not handled successfully. Not least of which is that I'm not sure it does anything to challenge the perceived relationship between homosexuality and the disease. There are two main characters who are gay in this book - one dies of AIDs and the other is really creepy.
Some people disliked the relationship between June and her Uncle Finn because it becomes apparent very early that June has some kind of crush on him. This didn't bother me. I saw June as a kid, one without any real friends, whose closest relationship was between her and her beloved uncle. Kids are all kinds of weird and many young girls say they're going to "marry their dad" - I don't believe it's dangerous or long-lasting. Finn, as the adult, never behaved inappropriately towards June and that's all I really cared about.
As someone who grew up very shy, I also liked the exploration of June's shyness. The author captures the feeling very well:
I'm okay with one or two people, but more than that and I turn into a naked mole rat. That's what being shy feels like. Like my skin is too thin, the light too bright. Like the best place I could possibly be is in a tunnel far under the cool, dark earth. Someone asks me a question and I stare at them, empty-faced, my brain jammed up with how hard I'm trying to find something interesting to say.
But, as well as some of the failures regarding the depiction of homosexuality and AIDs, I thought June was incredibly stupid at times. She receives a note from a man she believes to be a murderer, telling her to meet up with him and not tell any of her family about it. Er... this is about the time that major alarm bells should be going off in your head, June! Instead, she meets with him, goes to his apartment and allows him to lead her into the basement (like the idiots in a good old horror B-movie), pausing at one point to consider that he might be a psycho but brushing it off without good reason. Stupid.
Such an important subject matter. Many steps taken in the right direction, but many problems too....more
I admit that there are some books I only read to satisfy my curiosity after I see all the hype. You know the kind - they win a bunch of awards, get aI admit that there are some books I only read to satisfy my curiosity after I see all the hype. You know the kind - they win a bunch of awards, get a kirkus starred review, feature in Goodreads "best books of the month"... and yet, you read the description and you're just not that excited for it. But you're curious enough to pick it up anyway and not expect much. Well, I'm so glad I'm one of those curious readers.
Honestly, this book was really good. It's one of those rare stories that manages to blend sad, moving parts, with action-filled fast-paced parts and laugh-out-loud hilarious parts and get the balance just right. And it's a western! So far from the genres I usually find myself in, but oh so very good.
There are some books I sit down to read a little of and suddenly find myself blinking at the clock, which tells me it's three hours later. This is one of those books. So easily readable, so easy to get caught up in the emotion, the action and the wonderful relationship between the two main characters. The blurb promises a book for fans of Code Name Verity - something which I'm sure appeals to many readers out there - but I found CNV to be much slower than this. Under a Painted Sky was hard to put down; I was so completely invested in the characters and the plot.
The author is one of the founders of #WeNeedDiverseBooks so, not surprisingly, this book was refreshingly diverse. Samantha is a Chinese girl living in Missouri in 1849 (i.e. not an ideal situation); when she finds herself in extremely unfortunate circumstances, she must flee West with the help of Annamae - a runaway slave. Disguised as two cowboys called Sammy and Andy, the two set off on the Oregon Trail and make all kinds of friends and enemies along the way.
This was not what I would call a "book about race" - it's a coming-of-age tale about two young girls and their friendship - and yet, obviously, the issue of race is woven in throughout and handled in a way that was sensitive, informative, sometimes funny and sometimes very sad. Take this:
“When I came early, the doctor turned her away because he had never delivered a Chinese baby. By the time Father found us, Mother was dead.”
It's so disturbing to think how prejudiced and ignorant people were in these times.
And it should be said that only a very small number of authors have that talent for making you care about characters instantly, but Lee makes it seem easy. We see so very little of Samantha's father in this book and yet the author uses the smallest touching details to make him a character we warm to and miss.
But I haven't even started talking about the stars of this show properly. Samantha and Annamae are amazing. No exaggeration. They make Thelma and Louise look totally lame. Annamae is a charming and hilarious badass - so goddamn strong, intelligent and funny. The dialogue in the book is PERFECT; so many great scenes between the two of them (and later between them and the cowboys they meet). This is one early scene I liked:
“Quickly, use the book and help me knock in a hole.” She clasps the Bible to her chest. “You want me to be struck down?” “Oh, sorry. Here, hold the pointy part against the strap, like this.” I show her. Putting down the Bible, she takes the belt, and pokes the prong into the leather where I want it. I take up the Good Book myself, then in one swift movement whack it down over the metal prong, driving it into the leather. I pray that nobody heard. “Sweet Jesus!” Annamae cries out. Her mouth opens in horror. “Thank you, Lord,” I whisper piously.
They crack me up so much. And this that Cay says to Samantha:
“Sorry, kid, I owe you one. You can kick me in the nuts if you want, or I can give you all my money.” “I’d go with the nuts,” says West. “He only has four dollars.”
When I'm reading a book that I enjoy, I mostly refuse to let myself fully accept my opinion of it until the end, just in case it doesn't stay good or something starts to annoy me. But I somehow KNEW this book was going to be good from the very beginning. And it was. Very impressed.