I'm very conflicted about The Queen of the Night. I devoured the first half - the prose is gorgeous, and the story it's setting up has lots of promiseI'm very conflicted about The Queen of the Night. I devoured the first half - the prose is gorgeous, and the story it's setting up has lots of promise. But right around the midpoint of the book, everything started feeling like a slog. It took me several days of halfheartedly chipping away at it before I found myself invested in the story again. I raced through the final sections, but my enthusiasm never climbed up to the level it had held during the first half.
The main character of The Queen of the Night is a beloved and highly successful opera singer who learns that a composer and novelist are working together to write an opera with her in mind for the lead part. When she starts reading the novel, though, she finds it based far too closely on her own young life to be chance - someone who knows her past intimately is trying to make it public. She begins to look back over her life - from orphan to circus performer to servant to courtesan to opera student - trying to figure out who could be behind the novel. She recounts her history and in turn meets up with different key figures from her past to try to feel out whether they are responsible.
The book tries so much to follow the structure and ideas of opera that it sometimes feels too melodramatic, its characters too wooden. My biggest complaint with the book is that the main character has almost no agency. This is Paris in the late 1800s and women certainly didn't have the freedoms men did, but for most of the book she seemed so resigned to the things that were happening to her. Furthermore, I found the central romance unconvincing and didn't understand her obsession with this man she had never properly met and hardly knew anything about.
One thing I did particularly like about The Queen of the Night is that nearly all the secondary characters in the book are real people, making the book quite informative about the arts and politics of the years leading up to and following the Franco-Prussian War. I really enjoyed the setting and the cast of characters, and the writing really is lovely. It's just so very long, and after a while everything feels too abstracted - I stopped caring about the characters or believing in their romances and conflicts. I really wish this had held up the momentum it built in the first half, but eventually The Queen of the Night felt like it was trying too hard to be an opera in novel form and fell apart a bit as a novel....more
I read and enjoyed And Then There Were None recently, but the casual racism throughout the book made it hard for me to get too enthusiastic. I knew II read and enjoyed And Then There Were None recently, but the casual racism throughout the book made it hard for me to get too enthusiastic. I knew I wanted to give Agatha Christie another shot, so I borrowed Murder on the Orient Express from the library and found it a more enjoyable book to be reading in the twenty-first century. It still suffers from some sweeping generalizations about different groups, though it's mostly Europeans stereotyping people from other European countries and from America, without getting race or religion involved.
The plot of Murder on the Orient Express is pretty well known (there's a murder! on a train!) and if you haven't had the ending spoiled for you at some point in your life - which I hadn't - it's a fun read. Poirot leaps to some pretty tenuous conclusions (I'm still not sure how he felt so entirely convinced that he had correctly identified the dead man), but it's fun to watch the puzzle pieces snap together and finally to understand the situation that had led to a murder on a cross-continental train trip. ...more
I really like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's writing, and I found Half of a Yellow Sun completely gripping. It's set in the 1960s in Nigeria and Biafra anI really like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's writing, and I found Half of a Yellow Sun completely gripping. It's set in the 1960s in Nigeria and Biafra and focuses on two sisters and their households during periods of peacetime and war. Parts of the book are set in the early 60s as Kainene and Olanna begin relationships with their partners, neither of whom are in any way satisfactory choices as far as their wealthy parents are concerned - Kainene's partner Richard is a white writer from England who has moved permanently to Nigeria, and Olanna's partner Odenigbo is a professor with a strong revolutionary streak. Other parts are set later in the 60s, when Biafra secedes from Nigeria and enters a three-year period of war and starvation as Nigeria attempts to quash the secession.
Toward the end, the book has some pretty difficult and gruesome scenes, particularly after Odenigbo's houseboy Ugwu is forcibly conscripted and has to serve as a soldier. However, what Half of a Yellow Sun does beautifully is ease the reader slowly from scenes of normal everyday life into more and more difficult situations. For much of the book, the main characters are leading vibrant, relaxed lives, and the focus of the book is on relationships and human drama. Then there's talk about faraway atrocities, and excitement over the new state of Biafra. Even after the new country is living in an obvious state of war, there's a long period where the characters experience it only intellectually, discussing faraway cities where the war is actually playing out. Kainene and Olanna's parents flee to London and are horrified that their children refuse to join them, but the family's wealth makes it easier for both Kainene and Olanna to relocate several times to safer cities in Biafra - though particularly for Olanna, we see the increasing squalor as she begins to have to move into whatever house or shared living situation becomes available. The reader hardly notices the point when the book stops being primarily about the relationships between the characters and instead becomes focused on each character's survival, but the effects of war and starvation become increasingly obvious until the book is entirely about struggling to find any food at all, hiding from air raids, dodging soldiers in the streets, and burying people on a daily basis.
I didn't love that the book wasn't entirely chronological - it's instead told in four parts that alternate between early and late 60s. I know Adichie did this to create some mystery (why have Olanna and Kainene stopped talking? why doesn't Olanna's daughter have a name?), but I think the book would have just as much punch if we came on those details sequentially. Other than a bit of confusion that came from jumping forward and backward in time, though, I really loved Half of a Yellow Sun and think it is very much worth reading in spite of its length and difficult subject matter....more
Oh, this book is so good! I'd been hearing a lot of buzz about it before it was published, and I hope people keep talking about it and reading it.
If IOh, this book is so good! I'd been hearing a lot of buzz about it before it was published, and I hope people keep talking about it and reading it.
If I Was Your Girl is about high-school friendship, romance, and the secrets people keep from each other. Amanda has just moved from the Atlanta suburbs to a rural area several hours away. She's surprised at how quickly she makes friends in her new town, and soon she finds herself the recipient of several quiet confessions. She shares some secrets of her own: she's a virgin, she's never been drunk or high, she attempted suicide in her old town. She keeps her biggest secret closely guarded, though: For most of her life, she was called Andrew. She had been badly beaten up in her old town and knows that her secret is more dangerous than most.
I thought Meredith Russo did a beautiful job of portraying both typical teenage concern about how much of oneself to reveal to others and the very specific fears that come with whether to admit to being trans. Many of Amanda's friends fear their secrets will make them pariahs; Amanda fears her secret will get her killed - but nevertheless she longs for the radical honesty of being able to reveal every detail about herself and still be loved.
I particularly appreciated the author's note at the end, which addressed my biggest hesitations about the content of the book - Amanda is able to have surgery at a young age that her mother most certainly couldn't have afforded, and after her transition she's stereotypically beautiful and passes perfectly as female. Russo admits that she made a lot of things as easy as possible for Amanda so that there would be no barriers for her readers accepting Amanda as being fully a teenage girl. There is very little young adult fiction with trans main characters, and Russo addresses many ways that trans experiences can be very different from Amanda's but I think makes a compelling argument for why she gave Amanda the life and experiences she did. Russo's words at the very end about loving yourself and seeking help if you're suicidal completely choked me up. ...more
The Martian is a gripping story, one I didn't want to put down because I wanted to make sure Mark Watney made it home safely. With the recent movie anThe Martian is a gripping story, one I didn't want to put down because I wanted to make sure Mark Watney made it home safely. With the recent movie and all the hype around this book, I think everyone knows the plot already: Astronaut Mark Watney gets stranded on Mars because his team had to leave the planet in a hurry and all signs indicated that he had died in the freak storm that was forcing them off the planet. He's badly injured and needs to figure out how to survive alone on a hostile planet without any means of communicating with Earth.
Watney is a joker who can find the humor in almost any situation, though this is a dual-edged sword for the book. It keeps the pace of the book fast and lighthearted, and it's obvious that one of the main reasons Mark is able to survive on his own for so long is because he can find ways to make himself laugh. However, the book loses some of its punch and horror by filling every situation with one-liners - until quite late in the book, most of the bad things that happen feel pretty minor because we're hearing the whole thing in Mark's voice and he so consistently downplays any reason to worry about what's going on. And worse, Mark's jokes are usually innocuous but sometimes fall squarely into "tone-deaf white dude" land, like when he briefly makes contact with NASA and tries to express his frustration with them by telling them their wives and sisters are prostitutes.
I definitely enjoyed reading The Martian, and it's a great choice if you want something light and compelling. It's not especially well written and it's definitely flawed in a lot of ways, but the story is so engaging that I think most people will enjoy it....more
I decided recently that I should read an Agatha Christie novel. I'd never read one before! So when one with a title I recognized turned up as an AmazoI decided recently that I should read an Agatha Christie novel. I'd never read one before! So when one with a title I recognized turned up as an Amazon $1.99 deal, I decided that would be the one I started with.
I knew that And Then There Were None was not the original title and that it had previously been published as Ten Little Indians. I didn't realize until after reading the book that even Ten Little Indians was a huge attempt at sanitizing the original title of the book. Oof!
The story is compelling and I read the whole thing in an afternoon. I loved the mystery it was setting up and couldn't wait to find out how the author was going to tie everything up at the end. However, it turns out the reason I didn't have even the faintest idea of how the mystery would be resolved was because the ending is so convoluted that it takes two different epilogues to explain it all. I would have still given the book four stars in spite of that, but the casual racism that pops up in different points throughout the book was another stumbling block for me and is the reason I ended up only giving this book three stars.
I'm definitely going to read some more Agatha Christie - I really enjoyed And Then There Were None in spite of some significant flaws....more
This was such a delightful book to read. Juliet is a college student from the Bronx. She's Puerto Rican, chubby, asthmatic, and has finally decided toThis was such a delightful book to read. Juliet is a college student from the Bronx. She's Puerto Rican, chubby, asthmatic, and has finally decided to come out to her family as gay on the same evening she's flying across the country to Portland for an internship doing research for a famous white lesbian writer.
I loved Juliet's personality and how sincerely she wanted to get her head around who she is as a person and how she fits into all the different communities she encounters. This is great as a Queer 101 book since Juliet is learning so many things for the first time, but it also holds up really well as a coming-of-age story even if all the things she's learning are old hat for the reader.
Honestly, the only thing that kept me from giving this book its last star is that it is in desperate need of some basic copy editing (at least in the Kindle edition). It was bad enough that I kept getting pulled out of the story trying to navigate the weird comma placements. I hope those issues get fixed in future editions because this is such a fun story to read....more
I was so conflicted about this book! It's really beautifully written, but the characters didn't feel real enough for me to understand their motivationI was so conflicted about this book! It's really beautifully written, but the characters didn't feel real enough for me to understand their motivations - we get a lot of surface about Carol and Therese but not enough glimpses of their inner workings to figure out what they saw in each other. Carol is repeatedly cruel and dismissive of Therese. Therese's interest in Carol feels obsessive. The Price of Salt is supposed to be significant for being one of the first same-sex romances to have a happy ending, but I had a hard time reading the ending as happy when their relationship felt so completely dysfunctional to me.
The story itself is so interesting, though! It's a proto-Lolita without all the consent issues. Carol is significantly older as well as more experienced than Therese, and this is the source of a lot of the imbalance in their relationship, but they're both adults, mutually entering into a decision to take a road trip across 1950s America. The scenes on the road are the best parts of this book, and Carol and Therese have certain moments where they really feel like they're in a balanced relationship, but Carol is still so secretive, which results in a lot of cruel behavior that made me wish Therese would stand up for herself and get the hell out of there. I had to keep reminding myself of how young Therese was - she often felt older than her years, but it's really not that surprising that a 19-year-old would be obsessive about their extremely attractive, older love interest and fail to realize how awful that person is being toward them.
I really liked the experience of reading The Price of Salt, but it didn't work for me as a romance and so the "happy ending" felt ambivalent at best for me. Carol needs to deal with her divorce first and figure out how to treat another person like a human being! Therese needs someone who will care about her as much as she cares about them! Augh!...more
There isn't a separate Goodreads listing for the short story/novella "Black Dog," so I'm marking this book read but not giving it a star rating sinceThere isn't a separate Goodreads listing for the short story/novella "Black Dog," so I'm marking this book read but not giving it a star rating since I have no plans to read anything else in the collection.
Neil Gaiman's books are all either immediately available or have really short wait lists through my library's digital collection, so it would appear that I will be reading the whole extended American Gods universe before my book club meets this weekend.
"Black Dog" is set shortly after The Monarch of the Glen, while Shadow is still wandering around Scotland. (It makes a passing reference to "The Monarch of the Glen," which is the only reason I feel confident it comes after that story - they're each self-contained enough that otherwise they could have happened in either order.) While still suffering from having a protagonist who just stands there while things happen to him, "Black Dog" has an interesting premise and plot, and I really enjoyed reading it. It's about the black dog myth in the UK, which holds that people may see a large black dog following them shortly before their death. Shadow finds himself caught in a small Scottish town when a particularly nasty storm hits, and the black dog turns up, and then Shadow has a mystery on his hands (which he actually figures out on his own, so he does show a little bit of initiative and thought here for once). I really enjoyed this story, which was a relief after how much I hated "The Monarch of the Glen."...more
Anansi Boys is a "sequel" to American Gods only in that it's set in the same world and shares a minor character with its predecessor. Mr. Nancy/AnansiAnansi Boys is a "sequel" to American Gods only in that it's set in the same world and shares a minor character with its predecessor. Mr. Nancy/Anansi the Spider is a sidekick in American Gods and a mostly absent father in Anansi Boys; the books are self-contained stories that don't need to be read together or in any particular order.
I didn't find the overall concept of Anansi Boys as interesting as I found the ideas at the root of American Gods, though at least Charlie Nancy is a more complex character than Shadow is. Charlie is still a pushover who mostly allows things to happen to him, but he has an inner life that gives reason to his actions and inactions. The plot of Anansi Boys relies on a pretty farfetched string of coincidences, and too many situations are resolved with far too much ease, but it was still a fun and compelling story that I read quickly and don't regret spending time with....more
This novella is everything that's wrong with American Gods without any of the things that made American Gods work for me. It takes place sometime afteThis novella is everything that's wrong with American Gods without any of the things that made American Gods work for me. It takes place sometime after the end of American Gods, almost like an epilogue or lost final chapter. Shadow has been drifting around Europe and is currently in the north of Scotland. Like in American Gods, things happen to him and he just goes along with everything, this time in spite of pretty heavy warnings that he's letting himself be put into a bad situation. However, "The Monarch of the Glen" doesn't have characters or story interesting enough to make up for Shadow's lack of curiosity. It's boring and didn't tell me anything new about Shadow or the world of American Gods....more
I read American Gods a few years ago for a book club, and I read it again now for a different book club, this time in the 10th Anniversary Edition, whI read American Gods a few years ago for a book club, and I read it again now for a different book club, this time in the 10th Anniversary Edition, which has about 12,000 words of additional text and is meant to be the author's definitive edition.
American Gods is not a particularly well written story, but I like the world enough that I can forgive a lot of its clunkiness. The idea is that as various people groups moved to America, they brought their old gods with them, but in contemporary society those gods have been mostly forgotten and have had to find new ways of getting by on the fringes of society as con men, prostitutes, or in other similarly unsavory roles. At the same time there are also new gods, gods of airplanes and technology and the media, who want the old gods out of the way so they can enjoy people's full attention.
The new gods are shallow and unlikeable. The old gods are frequently unlikeable too, but they're far more interesting and complex. Part of the fun of the book is trying to figure out which character maps to which god before the book reveals that god's most commonly used name.
Shadow, the main character, doesn't have a lot of depth to him; this makes some degree of sense as his life was recently turned so completely upside-down that he's too stunned to be able to react well to the unusual situations he suddenly keeps finding himself in. That said, it's not generally a hallmark of great writing to have a main character who just lets things happen to him and does whatever he's told for most of the book's trajectory. The book succeeds in spite of Shadow more than it does because of him.
My overall reaction to American Gods is a lot like my reaction to re-reading Dragonflight and the other Dragonriders of Pern books, though not with the same level of embarrassment as American Gods is not nearly as badly written: the world-building is so clever that the book itself can coast along on its fascinating premise. It's far from perfect, but it's still a lot of fun to read. I wouldn't ever tell anyone to go out and read American Gods (and I definitely wouldn't ever tell anyone to seek out the Pern books), but if anyone asked me whether they should read the book, I'd tell them yes, it's a fun and interesting book in spite of its flaws....more
I had a lot of concerns going into The Invention of Wings, because it's a book by a white author set in antebellum South Carolina and told alternatelyI had a lot of concerns going into The Invention of Wings, because it's a book by a white author set in antebellum South Carolina and told alternately through the viewpoints of a white woman and her black slave. The white woman (a young girl at the start of the novel) is somehow fully enlightened to the horrors of slavery; her slave is strong-willed and intelligent. It felt all too easy for this book to fall into cliches.
I didn't realize that Sarah Grimké was a real person and that a lot of the things that seemed too forward-thinking and too good to be true about her were actually based on her real life. She and her sister Nina were were among the first women to speak and write publicly about abolitionism and feminism. The book had mostly won me over before I got to the author's note at the end and learned that the story was based on real people's lives, but I felt much better about it after learning that fact.
My biggest complaint about The Invention of Wings is that it tends a little bit too much toward fantasy - both in terms of romance and in terms of the stories about the slaves (which the author admits are made up; the real Handful actually died quite young and her entire adult life was invented to give a counterpoint to Sarah's story). I learned about the Grimké sisters from this book, and I'm grateful for that, but the book ultimately felt like more fiction than fact. I enjoyed the book a lot more than I expected to, but for me it falls into the camp of being worth reading if it falls into your lap, but not necessarily worth seeking out....more
Loving Day is engaging and funny, but a little too goofy for my tastes. It's about a pale-skinned man with a black mother and a white father who grewLoving Day is engaging and funny, but a little too goofy for my tastes. It's about a pale-skinned man with a black mother and a white father who grew up always having to defend and fight for his blackness. After his divorce, he comes home to Philadelphia, where he almost immediately learns about a teenage daughter he never knew he had. Suddenly thrust into fatherhood, he decides to educate his daughter on blackness, and the two discover a group called the Melange Center that wants to help mixed-race people learn to embrace both sides of their heritage. The group begins to look more and more like a cult, and Warren finds himself seriously contemplating burning down his house as a way to escape his financial and situational woes.
The book is clever and makes a lot of good points about race in America, but it veers off into absurdity quite a bit - and Warren is a very deeply flawed character with some pretty terrible ideas about women as well as about race. It's worth reading, but I was definitely conflicted about it....more
This gets three stars because it's not a book I'm able to process on one read, and I really can't tell whether it's brilliant and worth a re-read or jThis gets three stars because it's not a book I'm able to process on one read, and I really can't tell whether it's brilliant and worth a re-read or just a fun nonlinear romp that doesn't quite hang together.
Set in the first half of the twentieth century in an alternate world where humans have colonized every planet in the solar system but where movies are still made without sound, Radiance tells the story of an eccentric filmmaker father and the bizarre disappearance of his daughter while she was filming a documentary on Venus. The book is structured like various revisions of a movie script - first we read through the original draft (which even by itself is not told in linear order), and then we read through various iterations of edited and additional scenes. The overall effect is that the book jumps around in time, tells stories through many characters' eyes, mixes different genres (including a noir detective tale, a radio play, and pages from a gossip column), and sometimes describes the same scene more than once in very different or even contradictory ways.
The writing is, on the whole, very enjoyable, and the book certainly feels very smart with all its mythological references, but it takes a turn for the deeply absurd toward the end and left me wondering whether there really was a deeper meaning to the book or whether it's trying to come across as more serious than it actually is. Catherynne Valente is definitely doing something interesting and ambitious in Radiance, but I'm not sure I liked it enough to want to re-read all 400+ pages to decide whether there is actually a deep and coherent story in there somewhere....more
The Sisters Are Alright confronts many of the common racist and sexist stereotypes about black women through a series of personal narratives. Tamara WThe Sisters Are Alright confronts many of the common racist and sexist stereotypes about black women through a series of personal narratives. Tamara Winfrey Harris begins by outlining some of these stereotypes - angry, oversexed, servile - and then allows black women to tell their own stories, illustrating again and again that these stereotypes not only fail to capture the realities of most black women but also make it difficult and dangerous for black women to express their full personalities.
By "alright," Winfrey Harris specifically does not mean "all right" (in the sense of having nothing wrong) but that "black women are neither innately damaged nor fundamentally flawed." This short book serves a simple but incredibly important purpose in letting a wide range of black women tell their own stories about the many different ways they live their lives. We don't get a very deep look at any specific woman's life - the main purpose of this book is to wear away at dangerous stereotypes by letting each voice take a little chip off of the mountain. And The Sisters Are Alright certainly shows how big the mountain of discrimination is for people who are both black and female, while also showing how dangerously wrong those stereotypes are....more
The Argonauts is a really lovely book, a mix of memoir, philosophy, and meditation, focused on gender, sexuality, and motherhood. It flows between aneThe Argonauts is a really lovely book, a mix of memoir, philosophy, and meditation, focused on gender, sexuality, and motherhood. It flows between anecdotes and introspection from Maggie Nelson's own life and quotes from and summaries of philosophers, child psychologists, and poets. Most of these elements, if turned into a book of their own, would have felt exhausting or overwhelming, but Nelson's dance from thought to thought and topic to topic worked perfectly for keeping me engaged.
The memoir at the core of this book traces Nelson's early relationship with the genderfluid Harry, their decisions to cohabit and to coparent Harry's son, Harry's decision to go on T and have top surgery, and their decision to have a child together. She wrestles with what it means to be queer when in many ways her external life looks more and more heteronormative to the people around her.
It's true that Nelson doesn't always examine her privilege thoroughly in the text and can sometimes seem smug about what does seem to be a pretty charmed life. There were some passages that didn't sit totally well with me (especially the awkward way she tried to justify choosing a Native American name for their child) but on the whole I really loved her writing style and the format she chose to use for this book....more
Destiny of the Republic is one of those books that makes me glad for being in a book club - I never would have picked it up on my own, let alone stuckDestiny of the Republic is one of those books that makes me glad for being in a book club - I never would have picked it up on my own, let alone stuck it out to the end, but I'm so glad I did. The writing is fabulous, and while ostensibly a book about James A. Garfield it also weaves in mini-biographies of a number of other key figures of the time.
Garfield was only president of the United States for about six months, so in the world of presidential biographies his would probably not be considered a high-priority one to seek out. Candice Millard argues, though, that even in his short term he helped heal a divided nation and begin the process of reconciling North and South. She presents Garfield as a studious and cerebral man who never wanted the presidential nomination and took it only because it was forced upon him; it seems some of his main strengths were making incredibly compelling speeches - and caring deeply about everyone around him, especially as seen in his outspoken abolitionism.
Alongside Garfield we're also introduced to Charles Guiteau, self-declared lawyer and follower of a utopian religious sect, who feels God is telling him that he has a future for him in politics - and when Garfield seems to be preventing him from being appointed to a prime position, Guiteau becomes convinced that he has been called to assassinate Garfield.
Where this book really succeeds, though, is further weaving in information about Alexander Graham Bell and Joseph Lister, whose inventions and innovations could have saved Garfield if they'd been given the chance. Lister's work with antiseptics was revolutionizing medicine in Europe at the time, but American doctors were on the whole deeply skeptical of his ideas. Bell, on the heels of his success with the telephone, worked tirelessly to invent a device that could locate the position of a bullet inside a person's body in hopes that the bullet lodged somewhere in Garfield's back could be removed and the president saved.
This book presents Garfield as a fascinating man and one that the country lost far too soon, but it also does a wonderful job of giving a sense of the time and of other contemporary figures whose lives sometimes intersected with Garfield's. I really enjoyed it and am now planning to seek out some other presidential biographies to read in the future!...more
Even though I was pretty grumpy about reading Gone Girl for book club a few years ago, I ended up being glad I'd read it just because people bring itEven though I was pretty grumpy about reading Gone Girl for book club a few years ago, I ended up being glad I'd read it just because people bring it up as a conversation topic a lot. The Girl on the Train seems to be blowing up in a similar way, so I decided to read it too. (Sidebar conversation: What's up with all these popular books about adult women that have "Girl" in their title? It grates on me in the same way as the "The ____'s Daughter," "The ____'s Wife" trend.)
Rachel, the titular "girl" on the train, is an interesting take on the unreliable narrator - she's an alcoholic who sometimes drinks to the point of blacking out, so her unreliability comes from holes in her memory and not any specific intent to omit details or deceive. She's had a rough past few years and is just likable and pitiable enough to be a sympathetic character to the reader, but she frequently makes hasty, poor decisions that make it hard to be too fully on her side - there's always the possibility that Rachel may have been responsible in some way she can't remember for the Bad Thing that is central to the plot of this book.
As with most thrillers, this is the sort of book where it's best to go into it knowing as little as possible about the plot, so all I'll say is that Rachel witnesses something through a window while riding the train, and has a memory of having blacked out in a time and place that put her very close to where the central Bad Thing happened. She spends most of the book playing amateur detective, trying to figure out both whodunit and what happened while she blacked out.
This is a gripping book - the writing isn't perfect and Rachel makes so many poor decisions that she can be infuriating, but I still stayed up late a few nights wanting to read just a little bit more. The author does a good job of keeping you guessing, and I didn't see the ending coming, though I do think the actual climactic scene felt really hasty and awkward. It's far from a perfect book but I can see why it's getting the same kind of buzz that Gone Girl did, and I think of the two The Girl on the Train is the stronger book....more
I read something that promised that The Knockoff would be the big beach read of 2015, a retelling of All About Eve set in the world of The Devil WearsI read something that promised that The Knockoff would be the big beach read of 2015, a retelling of All About Eve set in the world of The Devil Wears Prada. It sounded interesting enough, and I needed a palate cleanser, so I read it over the space of a few hours one night and the next morning.
In The Knockoff, 42-year-old cancer survivor Imogen Tate returns to her job as editor-in-chief of renowned fashion magazine Glossy after six months of sick leave to find that her former assistant Eve has convinced the company to replace the paper magazine with a website and app. Everyone Imogen worked with has been fired and replaced with 20-something techies willing to work around the clock for minimal pay. Eve refers to Imogen as a "dinosaur" and clearly wants to drive her out as well, but she needs access to all of Imogen's contacts in the fashion world first, so she settles for being publicly and privately cruel to Imogen while forcing Imogen to take her along to meetings with key designers and photographers. Eve is obsessed with technology and start-up culture and uses Imogen's technology ineptitude to humiliate and exclude her.
I was initially unimpressed with The Knockoff, for several reasons. The characters' speech is stilted and unnatural, mostly because this dialogue-heavy novel seems afraid to use contractions. I kept getting distracted from the story itself by thinking about how unconvincing the voices were.
On top of this, the premise of the book is hard to swallow. We are led to believe that Imogen is an extremely smart, put-together 42-year-old who is so confused and unaware about technology that she can barely access her own email and unironically talks about "the Twitter." Her level of discomfort with technology was pretty consistent with what I've seen from some (but certainly not all) of the people age 60+ I have worked with over the years, but I found it completely unconvincing that a 42-year-old editor-in-chief of what is apparently one of the world's most respected fashion magazines would be so completely clueless about technology.
Eve is also completely unrelatable. We're supposed to believe that she was charming and wonderful as Imogen's assistant and then somehow turned into a sociopathic robot after going away to business school for a couple of years. The story would have had more power for me if it really was just about the disconnect between the techy new guard and the face-to-face, people-focused old guard, without adding in the layer of the maniacally cruel boss figure.
In spite of all these things, though, The Knockoff won me over. Imogen's character develops as the story goes on, and I enjoyed getting to see her reinvent herself and her career. The story is fast-paced, and even though I guessed a lot of the twists before they were revealed, I wanted to keep reading to find out how everything would come together. In that sense, it's an excellent book for the beach or a plane. It could have been a lot better, but I still enjoyed reading it and would recommend it to anyone looking for something lightweight and engaging....more
A Long Way Gone is a hard book to critique because it's an important story to tell, but it could have been told a lot better than it was. It's the memA Long Way Gone is a hard book to critique because it's an important story to tell, but it could have been told a lot better than it was. It's the memoir of a young teenager who was forcibly recruited to join the army in Sierra Leone; it was published more than a decade after the events described, but I think the author was still too close to the events to be able to tell the story in all the detail it needed. For this book to resonate with and affect the reader, it needed a lot of details and some sense of the author's emotions, but what should have been the most poignant parts of the book - the time he actually spent as a soldier - were hazy, like he still wasn't ready to tell the whole story or open up fully about what had happened during that time. Other parts of the book, especially the time he spent in a reformatory camp after leaving the army, were told in much more detail - in contrast, it really felt like Beah was unable or unwilling to describe his time as a soldier.
It also doesn't help that the book is written at a pretty low reading level. It's not advertised as being a book written for children, and the subject matter is obviously very dark, but just in terms of reading comprehension I would guess the reading level for this book is probably late elementary. This means that the book is a fast read, but again, the reader just can't connect very deeply; it feels like everything is being told too simplistically.
The book is also frustrating in that it ends before the story is over. Beah mentions at various points that he ended up in the US with an adoptive mother, but he ends the story while he's still trying to get out of Africa. He's made it out of Sierra Leone and into Guinea, but still seems to have many hurdles before him if he's ever going to make it to the US. I really don't know whether he left off so abruptly because he plans to publish a second memoir that picks up where this one ends, or if somehow he really felt that this was the best place to end things, but it feels abrupt and unfinished.
There has been a lot of controversy about the accuracy of Beah's story - not about whether it happened at all, but there have been arguments that his timeline is off and that he spent only a couple of months, not a couple of years, as a soldier. Honestly, the parts about him being a soldier were so hazy that I'm not sure if it matters if his timeline is off - this is still a tale worth telling, and I just wish he'd been able to do a better job of telling it well. Maybe someday he'll publish another memoir when he's had more time to come to terms with what happened to him and be able to allow himself to go into more detail about his experiences....more