Overall, this seems like a nod to Frankenstein: Be careful of the forces you tangle with. The dedication page lists Mary Shelley as one of the writersOverall, this seems like a nod to Frankenstein: Be careful of the forces you tangle with. The dedication page lists Mary Shelley as one of the writers who 'built his [King's] house.' Frankenstein being one of my favoritest books, there's a lot to enjoy here.
The bulk of this book is Jamie Morton Growing Up. It begins with Jamie at six years old, playing soldier. It ends 55 years later, when Jamie is 61. So, just keep in mind there's a lot of growing up to do in fifty years. Annnnd some of the growing Jamie doesn't effectively do.
All in all, there are interesting bits and less interesting bits. But what keeps this at three stars for me is that there doesn't seem to be a whole lot driving the story.
The whole mess between Pastor Charles Jacobs, the Frankenstein of this particular story, and our hero, Jamie, begins when Jacobs loses his wife and child in a tragic accident. Jacobs freaks out, tells his congregation God doesn't exist, and then heads out into the world cursing God.
While this is an understandable reaction, and a great premise for a horror novel, I had a hard time buying into it for a very simple reason: I, as the reader, didn't love or care about Jacobs' wife or child. Patricia Jacobs is blonde and perfect and can play the piano really well. The narrator says that all the little boys had a crush on her -- but there's no real, actionable evidence of that in the text. No one offers to stay after to help her clean up the church, or is caught spying on her through keyholes. Ditto the little girls crushing on the pastor himself. But all I really get is blonde, perfect, piano player, dead.
I also didn't fall in love with the little toddler -- who was cute but could be just about any toddler.
It may sound cold, but if the death of these two people is the fuel driving the story it leaves me a little, well, cold.
(An aside -- at one point the narrator, Jamie, explains that the pastor has blue eyes and his wife has green eyes but the little boy has brown eyes...I'm not a geneticist, but I kept expecting Patricia Jacobs to turn out to be a cheating, drinking whore, who had the little boy with another man. That would've been a twist on the pastor's twisted twistedness. Strangely enough, I might've liked Mrs. Jacobs better.) ...more
I wanted to like this one so much more than I did. The premise is wonderful -- a tag-team narrative between Handful, a slave who is given to the histoI wanted to like this one so much more than I did. The premise is wonderful -- a tag-team narrative between Handful, a slave who is given to the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, one of the first women abolitionists. I love the idea of drawing parallels between the two women's stories. However, I found myself struggling with this one because it seemed like, forgive me, a whitewashing of history combined with some elements that felt very forced.
Slight spoilers ahead:
Slavery's evil, as a whole, seemed strangely watered down in this book. I know there are many readers who disagree with this assessment after reading about the Work House and punishments. And those were definitely horrible, and there were some truly horrific things that happen (a one-legged punishment, whipping, etc.). No argument here. But the day-to-day struggles and the inherent dangers of the actions taken by several of the slaves didn't feel threatening. When Charlotte, Handful's mother, sneaks out and sometimes steals things she's taking her life in her hands, and there never seemed to be a real mortal threat to her. She is punished but at no moment did I ever believe, as a reader, that she would be killed. Even when she escapes another owner and returns to life at the Grimkes there are no consequences.
One of my largest frustrations was with the presentation of Sarah. Historically, Sarah Grimke is an outspoken woman dedicated to women's rights and abolition. Even as a child, she tries to free Handful via the law and then via teaching Handful to read. Yet, and this is where a large portion of the book begins to feel false and forced to me, Sarah sells Handful back to her mother just as Sarah reaches legal age, guaranteeing Handful will remain in slavery. WTF? Why on earth would she do that after spending so many years trying to free her? The answer: it must happen because the plot insists that it does. If Sarah can just head north and free her own personal slave, the story is cut in half.
It turns out that what felt false, was false. When the historical Sarah and Handful (Hetty) were caught during a reading lesson, Handful was whipped. She died shortly thereafter from an unspecified illness. Therefore, the historical Sarah never had to make the decision to sell Handful back that reads so awkwardly, and so out of character, in the novel.
But, despite the awkward motivations, it is easy to get behind Sarah and Handful -- partly because they so clearly represent the fighting spirit we all wish we could have in these situations. In these circumstances, we all want to come down on the side of good and justice, and despite some small lapses, both of the main characters act bravely and try as hard as they can against situations they cannot control. ...more
Now, I don't like to psychoanalyze writers based on their novels -- but this one strikes me as Galbraith/Rowling going "I'm gonna kill someone so violNow, I don't like to psychoanalyze writers based on their novels -- but this one strikes me as Galbraith/Rowling going "I'm gonna kill someone so violently that no one could possibly remember I wrote the bestsellingest children's series of all time."
Because the murder in this one -- it's gruesome. Wonderfully so. And grossly so.
There are only two things keeping me from rating this a full-out five stars:
1. I kept falling asleep. And it has nothing to do with anything being boring or off-pace. I think it has everything to do with Cormoran being so exhausted in the early chapters. He's barely slept. He talks about how achy he is and now he's got this gory murder to solve. He wants to sleep so badly that I think it made me tired. So I didn't read this as quickly as I've read the others.
2. For about the last eighth of the book, Cormoran knows whodunit -- he even tells his intrepid sidekick/assistant Robin who it is -- but not the reader. There's about twenty pages of obnoxious card-holding. And there aren't really any extra clues after that, so you kinda want to go back and re-read what you've read to see if you can make an educated guess before the big reveal -- which you know will be coming any minute because the narrative practically screams "You'll know who it is any minute now! Just not now! But in a minute!" Which is no fun.
But it's still awesome. There's a lot of novelist talk, which is fun coming from the bestsellingest novelist ever. ...more
3.5 Stars -- Throughout I kept thinking 'this book is a whole lot of okay.' I wasn't blown away, but neither did I feel an overwhelming urge to put it3.5 Stars -- Throughout I kept thinking 'this book is a whole lot of okay.' I wasn't blown away, but neither did I feel an overwhelming urge to put it down.
There are some great characters here: particularly David, the boy whose prayers are answered and Johnny, the egotisticial-but-somehow-likeable National Book Award Winner. Then King throws them into some incredibly difficult, dangerous, gross, and ethical dilemmas.
The menagerie of Southwestern critter-monsters are the kind that creep you out or freak you out in real life. Venomous spiders come in droves. Rattlesnakes. Packs of coyotes. Mountain lions and wolves. These are things you never want to see in your house, let alone wandering around with a kind of conscienceness.
I think mostly what made it kinda 'meh' was the bad guy. While it is big and monstrous and in control of an army of creatures I do not want to meet on the street, I was perhaps a little to fuzzy on the motivation and it seemed like it disappeared somewhere near the climax of the book...which is strange.
In all, it left me interested enough to check out Regulators. So we'll see! ...more
I'm probably forgiving of this novel because I've loved everything I've read of Sophie Kinsella. In general, I've found her heroines spunky, somewhatI'm probably forgiving of this novel because I've loved everything I've read of Sophie Kinsella. In general, I've found her heroines spunky, somewhat flighty, but really lovable.
And Rebecca Bloomwood, the heroine of the Shopaholic series, reads like the prototype of Kinsella's later characters. She's spunky but that comes out a little late in the story. She's flighty - waaaay more flighty than what I'm used to with Kinsella's gals. And she's lovable, but only because she's kind of pitiable as well. So, in this book, it seems like the balance of spunky/flighty/lovable hasn't quite been developed.
While I found the amount of shopping exhausting (really, I was sympathetically physically tired), I appreciated the energy that Rebecca had. I also liked that she had friends who were tolerant - and shared - her love of things...it actually made her less superficial (to me) that she had loving friends who were also a little crazed about labels.
Probably what saved this book for me was the fact that it's the beginning of a series and I've read Kinsella's other work. This is a great start-of-series because the character has so much room to grow. She started a *tiny* bit in this story and you can just bet that her charm will grow throughout the series. Rather than putting the book down and being satisfied with the ending presented, I was hopeful and wanted to read the rest of the series just to see what happened to Rebecca.
"If there's a better book than this, I haven't written it." ~Stephen Colbert, quoted on the back of American Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never"If there's a better book than this, I haven't written it." ~Stephen Colbert, quoted on the back of American Again: Re-Becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't
I think the first book review of the year should set the tone for the rest of the year. And what better way to start the year 2013 than reading and reviewing the book that has everything? In fact, it has so much of everything that I used every single one of my shelves to label it. I'm pretty sure that I'm still short a couple subjects.
Sure, I could've been reading Anna Karenina and learning about Imperial Russia with the rest of my book group instead of learning about the present American stuff I already know. But since my reading goal this year is 100 books - which is like reading everything - I should start my odyssey with the book that has everything. Everything American, that is. Anna Karenina just has affairs and trains and Keira Knightly and other stuff.
Tolstoy's book doesn't have anything that Colbert's book doesn't have.
Anna Karenina has extramarital affairs: America Again has illicit relations between politicians and food.
Anna Karenina has people who hate their jobs: America Again has resume how-tos.
Anna Karenina has 2-D: America Again has 3-D.
Anna Karenina has Siberia: America Again has North Dakota.
Anna Karenina was translated into English: America Again was written in American.
It's probably this last one where Tolstoy has managed to one-up Colbert. America Again has no, count them: none, award winning translators. We're just expected to understand paragraphs like: "But the Real Question is: are America's best days behind us? Of course they are, and always have been. We have the greatest history in the history of History. But never forget, our best days are also ahead of us, and always will be. Because America also has the Greatest Future in the history of the Future. It's our Present that's the problem...and always is be."
I mean, Colbert began two sentences in that paragraph with But. And fragments. You just don't do that. A good translator would've saved him some face-saving. ...more
So this book was pretty awesome. I read it quick and dirty -- and not just because the library was demanding it back for the hordes of other readers tSo this book was pretty awesome. I read it quick and dirty -- and not just because the library was demanding it back for the hordes of other readers trying to get to it. This one is a lot of fun.
First and foremost, I must say that these characters are some of the best drawn characters I've read in a long time. Each one of them has a fantasy "surface" and then Abercrombie throws a wrench in your prejudices.
You've got Logen Ninefingers -- the Bloody Nine. And he's pretty much what you expect when you read "fantasy barbarian." He's a thug. He's killed lots of people. Then you start to feel the weight of his past battles. You start to feel his scars. The opening scene of the novel is a fight scene. Pretty typical, yes? Immediately after, you learn that Logen's whole family has been killed. He's alone. The paragraph that breaks the Death of the Family news to the reader was heartbreaking (Logen already knew it).
Then there's another layer added: Logen can speak to spirits.
After that, as a reader you learn to expect the unexpected.
But the best character award goes to Glokta. The tortured torturer. That's all I'll say on that. He's awesome. And evil. And not evil. And good. But not good.
Really, my only issue with this book is that it's a first book. So there's a lot of introduction and intrigue...and I'm not 100% convinced the intrigue is going anywhere. Maybe it is. But nothing was tied up at all in this. You read and read and read. You love it love it love it. Annnnnnd the journey starts. The End.
Which is kinda funny, since the first chapter is call The End.
For me, I would've been happier with the story if some thread, somewhere had been tied off. As it is I was left with a wide open set of possibilities that can only be answered by the next book...
...which I'm going to go hunt down right now. ...more
It took me a while to get to this book - it's been on my to-read shelf for years and years. And when I opened up to the first scene, I almost had to pIt took me a while to get to this book - it's been on my to-read shelf for years and years. And when I opened up to the first scene, I almost had to put it back down. Not because it was badly written...oh no...this is a fabulously realized story with a powerful voice...but because the opening scene was almost unbearably painful.
This made me read the rest of the book with a good degree of trepidation. Anything good or loving that came into these characters' lives I was terrified would be ripped away. Any moment I expected a child to die, a house to burn to the ground, or any number of other horrific events. While some readers or critics may call this suspense, somehow it translated to 'stress' for me. Perhaps upon rereading it I'll be able to enjoy the story's subtleties more than I do at present. Because I just know I missed stuff.
One of the subtleties that isn't actually very subtle but serves a subtle purpose (I hope that makes sense!) was the way in which Celie and Nettie's stories are told: via letter. For the first half of the book it was frustrating for me. I couldn't see why we had to be 'Dear God'-ing everything. Why couldn't Celie just theoretically be telling the story? Call me slow (I know I am) but by the time I got to the end I realized that it had to be told that way.
The letters - while they tell the reader the whole story - are never actually exchanged between the sisters. The only ones holding all the pieces are Celie and the reader. Nettie, who has been working with all her heart and soul in Africa sends her letters hoping to heaven that they reach Celie. Eventually, the letters get to where they're going...but if you pull back from the overall book, you realize how much silence, how much information is in the space. All because of the epistolary format.
(Ha! It occurs to me that even epistolary - from 'epistle' - is a Biblical style. So there's a lot of emphasis on the crises of faith that the characters suffer.)
In some ways, this book requires a reader very much like Adam, Celie's son: "He [Adam] is a very sensitive soul who hears what isn't said as clearly as what is."
What I really, really liked about Walker's characters is that they are far from perfect, but they generally figure out how to move through this world with grace and dignity. Even the low-down dirtiest characters somehow manage to accomplish something graceful by the end of the story. That doesn't forgive what they did in the past, of course, but it just goes to show that pure evil is a rarer thing than we give it credit for. ...more
There are a couple things you need before you jump into this book:
1. A love of reading or writing. If you're not interested in either of those things,There are a couple things you need before you jump into this book:
1. A love of reading or writing. If you're not interested in either of those things, you will not find fascinating what I found fascinating.
2. You need to have read at least half of the books Hall discusses (Gone With the Wind, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Godfather, The Exorcist, Peyton Place, Valley of the Dolls, The Dead Zone, Bridges of Madison County, Jaws, The Da Vinci Code, The Hunt for Red October, and The Firm) AND/OR be willing to have a few of those endings totally spoiled for you. Otherwise what he's talking about won't make sense and it'll irritate you that gave away so much.
After you have those two things, there's nothing that's not interesting in his presentation of the Twelve Features that all of these title possess.
There are a couple things that seem "duh" about a couple of the Features: of course a mega-bestseller would have characters that you can latch onto - but what I appreciated about Hall's discussion was that he attempted to define why these characters were latch-onto-able. It's a really clear, concise argument that he makes.
Another aspect I liked was the focus placed on the American mega-bestseller. All of the books explored in Hit Lit have something intrinsically American about them and were wildly successful in the USA. So there's some sociological probing going on at the same time - the way Americans view race, religion, and S-E-X are front and center because there's no denying that all three of these issues are present in the mega-bestsellers here. Really fascinating.
Because of Hall's summaries and analyses, I have a greater respect for the authors' authenticity and the level of skill that writing a mega-bestseller takes. He presents the popularity of sentimentality, overt tugs at heartstrings, and the gratuitous calls-to-action for which bestsellers are critically minimalized as a gauge for what's really important to the reading public. Hall gives the bestseller a respect that's not seen often in academic or critical circles - and I think he does a good job of expressing the impact of these books. (Plus, Hall seems to know what he's talking about in general - two of his former students: Barbara Parker and Dennis Lehane.)
Hall sums up that knowing what makes these novels tick isn't enough to create one of your own. You can know the recipe all day long, but that doesn't make you Gordon Ramsay now does it? Write with passion, write what you're interested in, and remember that if there are no tears for the writer, there are no tears for the reader. (per Robert Frost)
I've read exactly half of the books on this list, and with the exception of Jaws, I loved all of those.This book has inspired me to read the others on the list, so that can't be a bad thing, right? ...more