I don't want to discourage others from reading this, but 50-odd pages in, it was definitely not working for me. I am not a fan of books with alternati...moreI don't want to discourage others from reading this, but 50-odd pages in, it was definitely not working for me. I am not a fan of books with alternating past/present timelines, where the present-day character uncovers the past character's story: this tends to result in two half-baked storylines, where the present-day one is almost always disposable. As it turns out, while the two threads here aren't separated by more than a decade or so, this is that kind of book. I didn't find Nao's voice quite convincing, and Ruth's story was a very self-conscious narrative of her reading experience with Nao's journal. I didn't need Ruth as a filter through which to read about Nao (or for that matter, Nao as a filter through which to read about Jiko), and felt that the most interesting elements of the story were getting lost behind all the meta discussion about the meaning of reading.(less)
I read Tan's The Hundred Secret Senses years ago and loved it; I quite enjoyed The Bonesetter's Daughter as well. I'm one of the few people on the pla...moreI read Tan's The Hundred Secret Senses years ago and loved it; I quite enjoyed The Bonesetter's Daughter as well. I'm one of the few people on the planet who didn't much like The Joy Luck Club, but it was Tan's first novel and my reaction had more to do with the way she chose to tell the story than her talent as a writer. Also, I love historical fiction and reading about China. All of which is to say, I had high expectations for this book.
Unfortunately, it tanked. The book begins with some moderately interesting information about the protagonist's childhood, before launching into a long and detailed description of the high-class brothel in which she grew up, and that's representative of the following 200 pages. If brothels were an unexplored setting in literature, this might work, but they aren't and Tan isn't doing anything here that hasn't been done before. I've already read Memoirs of a Geisha, and its other (better) imitators, such as The Painter from Shanghai; this novel just feels derivative and flat, its characters more recycled than human, its plot lost in tedious description.
I heard an interview with Tan about this book, in which the primary topic was her extensive research, and she talked about spending a lot of time tracking down small details: for instance, when her characters traveled from Shanghai to San Francisco, would the ship have had rails? I applaud her commitment to accuracy, but that preoccupation shows. The setting is here but the life is missing. I finally yielded at page 215, because the story yet to evoke any interest in me and reading it had become a chore. The topic of early-20th-century Asian courtesans, as imagined by modern American writers, is pretty well exhausted at this point. Or at least, this book lacks the depth and vibrancy to make that ground worth revisiting. I hope for better from Tan's next novel. (less)
Abandoned at page 65. This book is written as if it were literary fiction--slow-paced and character-driven--but it just isn't that good. The writing i...moreAbandoned at page 65. This book is written as if it were literary fiction--slow-paced and character-driven--but it just isn't that good. The writing is definitely nothing special and the characterization is clunky. Interesting premise but nothing about it made me want to read more.(less)
Dropping this memoir, at least for now, as of page 107. The writing isn't at all bad but the book simply hasn't engaged me. It's all events, descripti...moreDropping this memoir, at least for now, as of page 107. The writing isn't at all bad but the book simply hasn't engaged me. It's all events, descriptions of places and animal behavior... but remarkably short on people: personalities, relationships, emotions. Perhaps this is why some suspect the book was ghostwritten by a man, a ridiculously sexist assumption; Beryl Markham was clearly far from a typical woman, so why would her writing seem feminine? But I wasn't getting a great sense of who she was either. If I had, the lack of development of everyone else might not have mattered.
Oh well, I can see why Hemingway was such a fan of this book, but it wasn't doing anything for me.(less)
After 100 pages I was still on the fence about this one. It seemed like it'd be a 3-star book and I'm tired of 3 stars being my most common rating the...moreAfter 100 pages I was still on the fence about this one. It seemed like it'd be a 3-star book and I'm tired of 3 stars being my most common rating these days.(less)
Update 2: Activity Goodreads does not permit me to mention, but does permit to happen, occurs in comment #51 [formerly comment 52] to this review. Che...moreUpdate 2: Activity Goodreads does not permit me to mention, but does permit to happen, occurs in comment #51 [formerly comment 52] to this review. Check it out!
Highlight: Kline thinks pointing out bad writing is "silly," which tells you pretty much all you need to know about the quality of this book. That's it, I'm one-starring this baby.
This is my review space, in which I discuss bad writing in recent releases, including but not limited to this one. If you are offended by criticism of bad writing, criticism of this book, people discussing books they have not read in full, or (gasp!) cursing, feel free to scroll on past and write your own review. If people keep posting whiny comments, I reserve the right to add gifs and make it 5 times longer!
I know better than to request ARCs without a preview. Really, I do.
So I read the first chapter of this, which explains everyone's backstory, personality and motivations. Which, first, show don't tell please, and second, can't we leave something for chapter two? Why would I read on when there's nothing to pique my curiosity?
Also, um, the writing. Check this out: "Black makeup is smeared under her eyes like a football player." Like a football player.... smeared under her eyes?
On the positive side, a preview saved me from ordering another book, beginning with the sentence, "The climb felt almost arduous, the engine juddering and restarting four times during the creaking ascent up." Ascent up, are you fucking kidding me? Also, what's up with this weak-ass "felt almost arduous"? This is the first sentence of a published novel! I mean, it's only like the most important sentence in the entire book!
So, I'd thought getting a job as an editor with a major publishing house was supposed to be difficult, or something. But seriously, ascents up and football players smeared under people's eyes? You can do better than this, publishers. Seriously.(less)
You know when you start reading a book, and you really have nothing good to say about it but for some reason you want to keep going? This was one of t...moreYou know when you start reading a book, and you really have nothing good to say about it but for some reason you want to keep going? This was one of those books for me. Okay, it's entertaining and the setting is fairly vivid, but otherwise it's just bad. Fortunately circumstances caused me to take a few days' hiatus, or there's a good chance I would've finished it.
Really, I knew better as of page 2, where women on the street are described as "hovering around [successful men] like stars around the moon." Um.... the author (and everyone who proofread this manuscript) thinks that stars cluster around the moon? WTF?
And then there are the characters. The 12-year-old narrator, Blessing, is one of those overly precious child characters that's tailor-made to tug at sentimental adult heartstrings. She's young for her age and not believable. It's no wonder that despite the child narrator and simple language that this book is marketed at adults--no actual kid would believe in this character.
Relatedly, the characters' actions frequently ring false. For instance, one night the grandmother announces that her bedtime story is for Blessing alone, and sends all the other kids away. Blessing's 14-year-old brother walks off sniffling. I imagine a teenage boy's crying over losing a bedtime story could be written plausibly, but you'd have to first a) realize that this is not typical and b) lay the groundwork, and here I'm not seeing either.
And finally, there are the very false mechanisms the author uses to try to "show" character emotions or reactions. For instance, here's Blessing waking up for the first time in her grandparents' home, after her family loses their luxurious apartment:
"The following morning I woke at first light. [...] I looked for my dressing table with vanity mirror and clock sent from Mama's school friend in America. I felt for my magazines, books, and windup flashlight. I stretched a foot off the mattress looking for my rug and two pairs of slippers: one warm for when the air-conditioning was on full, and one cool for all other times. Then I remembered. There were no slippers. There was no flashlight. [etc]"
Okay, we get the point--she's lost all her stuff--but who inventories all their belongings before they're even awake enough to remember what's going on?
I read 160 pages of this nonsense, and that was more than enough.(less)
Argh! I need a book from El Salvador, but I just can't do it--the prose is so cliche-ridden and disjointed and all-around awful. Whoever called this "...moreArgh! I need a book from El Salvador, but I just can't do it--the prose is so cliche-ridden and disjointed and all-around awful. Whoever called this "beautifully told" should be fired.(less)
Okay, I got 120 pages into this one and it still wasn't doing much for me: all very weird and acid-trippy and with tons of unexplained fey and magic....moreOkay, I got 120 pages into this one and it still wasn't doing much for me: all very weird and acid-trippy and with tons of unexplained fey and magic. Part of me is still curious to know what happens next, but I don't think it's enough of me to want to read another 300 pages.(less)
Chance that a random male author will deal with the rape of a teenage girl in a sensitive and appropriate fashion: middling. Chance he will do so when...moreChance that a random male author will deal with the rape of a teenage girl in a sensitive and appropriate fashion: middling. Chance he will do so when the book begins by talking about the teen girl's naked body from her own perspective, and within two pages has used the phrases "small breasts" and "rosebud nipples": vanishingly small.(less)
I couldn't get more than a few pages into this one--the voice just wasn't credible to me for a young boy speaking in the present tense. It sounded way...moreI couldn't get more than a few pages into this one--the voice just wasn't credible to me for a young boy speaking in the present tense. It sounded way too much like a middle-aged man sitting down and writing a novel. This sounds like a small thing but it was so jarring that I had no desire to continue.(less)
I got less than 30 pages into this book before giving up, because it has the most pathetic protagonist ever. She's still mooning over the ex who dumpe...moreI got less than 30 pages into this book before giving up, because it has the most pathetic protagonist ever. She's still mooning over the ex who dumped her years ago, and in the meanwhile, she has no friends, no hobbies, no interests outside of work. She never takes her vacation days because she has nothing else to do. It's implied that her lack of a man is the reason for her pathetic life--which is pretty pathetic in itself--but if she needs a man so badly, then really, there's no excuse for her not dating. And it appears that she doesn't do that either.
Sometimes I think it's bizarre that I so want to read about professional women, and yet I tend to avoid books set in the modern-day U.S. (actually, anywhere in the modern-day first world, really). Then I pick up a book like this and decide that I'm not missing much. At least, in settings where it's really hard for a woman to be independent, a character's building up her own career is considered awesome and worthwhile. In settings where it's totally normal for a woman to have a career, her work is Not Enough and tends to become a sidenote in a book that's really about her finding a man.
When her ex showed up at her office, invited her out to dinner (making clear that this was to talk about work, not a date, because he's married) and she stopped to buy and change into a new blouse en route from work to the restaurant, I knew this was not a book for me.
On second thought, that was when I quit, but I knew beforehand--when he invited her to dinner and she decided she might as well go because (she thought self-pityingly) otherwise she'd only be at home with her cat eating takeout. No, Charlotte, your life is not pathetic because you live alone with a cat. Your life is pathetic because you don't put in the effort to build friendships with people whose company you enjoy, you don't engage in activities that matter to you, you don't take responsibility for making your life something you can enjoy and be proud of. I'd like to think she learns that lesson in this book, but from the sound of it she just "solves" her problems by finding a new man. She's probably a clingy, possessive girlfriend too (not to mention a boring one, since she has no life). Wonder how long it takes before he gets tired of her....(less)
40 pages in, the writing was awkward and nothing in the characters or story had yet caught my attention. By my estimate, Moran is a few steps above Ph...more40 pages in, the writing was awkward and nothing in the characters or story had yet caught my attention. By my estimate, Moran is a few steps above Philippa Gregory, but that’s not saying much.
And now I am going to use the rest of this “review” as a soapbox. Ranting ahead.
1st: DECKLE EDGE PAGES. DO NOT WANT. EVEEEER!
2nd: What’s with all the illogical use of first-person present tense these days? This book has a prologue set in 1812. Then it goes back to the main story starting in 1788, and that’s in present tense. How can the character be telling her story in present tense when it’s all already over? Okay, the first-person conceit itself often makes little sense and we overlook that. (And the bookend prologue and epilogue don't actually help that here, because she isn't telling her story in 1812, just being reminded of it.) But dammit, if your story is in the present tense then it’s happening right now. In which case, it isn’t over. Please, authors, think about this.
3rd: This book just has such a bourgeois sensibility (I learned how to spell that word just for this review. I did not learn it from this book because it is not used in the first 40 pages, and I wouldn’t be surprised the characters never use it, even though they actually speak French). And that’s not what I’m looking for when I read a book about the French Revolution. You know, there are literally thousands of wars and conflicts you could write about if you want a “oh, they’re murdering people! How terrible!” sort of book. The French Revolution is different. It came up time and time again in completely unrelated history and literature classes in college, not because people got killed but because it’s rather important in world history: for the ideas, for the effect on social and political structures around the world. And what I learned in class is basically all I know about it--the historical fiction on point just doesn’t seem to be very good. I’ve read A Tale of Two Cities, which is the only Dickens so far that I haven’t liked. But I’m pretty confident that it still did a better job than this book. If I’m going to read a novel about the French Revolution, I want it to really deal with the ideas and the effects and the underlying causes. I want it to care as much about a peasant dying of starvation as it does about a royal being guillotined. I want it to let me make my own moral judgments. I want main characters who are not from the upper classes and revolutionaries who are at least sympathetic, and an aristocracy that is not whitewashed. And I want it to be at least somewhat well-written. And this was not going to be that book.
In fairness, the book does have a picture of a woman in a fancy dress on the cover, so it’s not exactly hiding anything. But she was a career woman*, not a noblewoman, so I thought it might be okay. Then she started saying things like “The king and queen have gifted the city with as much firewood as they can spare from Versailles” and I realized no, no it wouldn’t. A book that thinks a little bit of charity makes systemic abuses okay is not the French Revolution book I’m looking for.
So, if you know of the book I’m looking for, please let me know. This is not it.
* And I was so excited to read historical fiction featuring a career woman who actually existed, which meant I wouldn't have to wade through a bunch of reviews by people who know no more about history than I do but are nevertheless firmly convinced that the character is anachronistic because everybody knows no woman ever made her own way before the 20th century. But Moran's rendering of this character was so bland that it didn't matter.(less)
Blargh, I'd been having such good luck with Goodreads Choice finalists.
I really should have put it down after page two, when the female, working-class...moreBlargh, I'd been having such good luck with Goodreads Choice finalists.
I really should have put it down after page two, when the female, working-class narrator describes her roommate as follows:
"Eve was one of those surprising beauties from the American Midwest. In New York it becomes so easy to assume that the city's most alluring women have flown in from Paris or Milan. But they're just a minority. A much larger covey hails from the stalwart states that begin with the letter I--like Iowa or Indiana or Illinois. Bred with just the right amount of fresh air, roughhousing, and ignorance, these primative blondes set out from the cornfields looking like starlight with limbs. Every morning in the spring one of them skips off her porch with a sandwich wrapped in cellophane ready to flag down the first Greyhound headed to Manhattan--this city where all things beautiful are welcomed and measured if, if not immediately adopted, then at least tried on for size."
You know, maybe you shouldn't write your debut novel in the first person from the POV of a character of the opposite gender from yourself? Let alone a different time period and socioeconomic (and educational) background? Just a thought?
Well, I kept going. For 129 pages. Until I realized there was no plot. Just lots of drinking, and pretentious talk about art and such.
Also, by the time I quit, the main character had coincidentally run into someone while out and about at least 5 times. I thought New York City was a bit bigger than that?
But, I admit, I hated The Great Gatsby, which this has been compared to.
But at least Nick Carraway was convincingly male.(less)
So, having already read Sharon Kay Penman's excellent The Sunne in Splendour, I picked up this book, also about the War of the Roses, because I though...moreSo, having already read Sharon Kay Penman's excellent The Sunne in Splendour, I picked up this book, also about the War of the Roses, because I thought it would be cool to read about the same time period as seen through the eyes of Marguerite of Anjou. By 75 pages in, I realized the characters were all way too bland to hold my interest. Besides, Higginbotham's "rethinking" of Marguerite looked like it was going to boil down to "she did everything to protect the rights of her husband and son" and, well, I gathered that from Penman's version.
Could work as brain candy. But not what I was looking for.(less)
I really like the idea of this book. Strange Horizons has a great review of the trilogy, and also Kate Elliott liked it (if author blurbs can be belie...moreI really like the idea of this book. Strange Horizons has a great review of the trilogy, and also Kate Elliott liked it (if author blurbs can be believed). So it sounded great and, while I was aware that almost nobody has read it, I put this down to the fact that most female fantasy authors are obscure, regardless of the quality of their books. (But maybe not this obscure.)
So I bought the book, since my library doesn't have it, and I've tried reading it a couple times, but the way the characters act and relate to each other is just so bland and stereotypical that I can't see any humanity in it. The best I can put it is to say it feels based on other, mediocre fantasy books rather than on real life. Kind of like the way I used to write about human behavior when I was a young teen and my inspiration came from video games.
So: anybody want to convince me that it's worth continuing to read?(less)
Oh dear. Is it Penman, or is it just my problem with reading too many books by the same author? (I have a much lower tolerance for this than most peop...moreOh dear. Is it Penman, or is it just my problem with reading too many books by the same author? (I have a much lower tolerance for this than most people, but then too it depends on the author.)
My second try with this one, just over 70 pages in, and I don't think I can do it. I used to praise Penman for her character depth, so she can't always have done it the way she does here--explaining all their complexities while showing us these very mundane people that I have no interest in reading 700+ pages about. Right? And then there are all these asides with other random people. And then the signature comma splices everywhere--argh, why does the editor allow this?? And then, seriously, I have never seen an author who is not funny have their characters banter nearly this much. Are there people out there who think Penman is funny? And.... argh. Just argh.
I would like to read a book about Maude, but don't think I can handle the Chadwick version either, after sampling the first few pages. Probably I should go back to avoiding fiction about real historical figures, like I did before discovering Penman.(less)
I've liked other Kay books. But all the rhapsodizing about how awesome his characters are got to be a bit much and I returned it to the library at the...moreI've liked other Kay books. But all the rhapsodizing about how awesome his characters are got to be a bit much and I returned it to the library at the halfway point, after two main characters met and stared at each other for 10 pages.(less)
Trying to read this cemented the fact that I just hate science fiction. Period. Weird for a fantasy reader I know--but this is supposed to be The Clas...moreTrying to read this cemented the fact that I just hate science fiction. Period. Weird for a fantasy reader I know--but this is supposed to be The Classic SF and it made me want to pull out my hair.(less)