It's the story of a failed — failing — novelist about to turn fifty. His long-time lover is marrying someone elWhat a soft-hearted bastard of a novel.
It's the story of a failed — failing — novelist about to turn fifty. His long-time lover is marrying someone else, and he's been invited to the wedding. To avoid the whispers and rumors that would abound, he takes the only course of action he can imagine: accepting every literary invitation he's been putting off, a journey that will take him around the globe and well away from the wedding of the man he loved. Loves.
It had me from the first page, and I'm not even precisely sure why. The prose is wonderful, to be sure. Playful, rollicking, sly, observant. The main character, the anxious and vain Arthur Less, is boyish and gentle and smart and I adore him. The narrator (whose identity I guessed with increasing hope and anticipation as the pages went on) guides us skillfully through present events and past ones, uncovering the parts of Less that need to become More in order to find happiness. The settings —San Francisco, New York, France, India, Japan — are wondrously and precisely evoked. Side characters caper in with delicious specificity and purpose, both thematic and human. Is one of those aspects what I loved? Is all of them what I loved?
I actually think I loved it because of what it believes. There's a line in the book — I had to fetch it to quote it exactly — that I think is what the book says on every page:
"Just for the record: happiness is not bullshit."
That belief in happiness and love is what makes this novel a comfort read. Every character is desperately flawed and every setting has a rainy day and every relationship is complicated, but its over-arching naive and wavering pursuit of happiness is what made this book feel like something I wanted to curl up in for a long time.
Although this book tells a story of people being cruel to themselves, it is a book about being gentle with yourself. It seems odd to call this novel kAlthough this book tells a story of people being cruel to themselves, it is a book about being gentle with yourself. It seems odd to call this novel kind, as it was often a savage read (it is unflinching in its portrayal of self-harm, homelessness, addiction, and desperation) but it has such a sweet heart, such a piercing desire for its characters to improve themselves in every way, that hope persists in even the darkest moments. Glasgow's use of adult characters to challenge, support, and mirror the teen characters is genuinely inspired, and the resulting fictional neighborhood dynamic felt intensely real. In general, the characters are wonderfully drawn, and although this novel is nothing like Code Name Verity, I think I might recommend it to folks who enjoyed that one. Girl in Pieces prioritizes characters and their complicated truths in a similar way. I'd probably recommend this one for older teens and adults who read YA, not because I believe in shielding kids from content, but because the characters in this novel make nuanced and morally gray decisions that might render them unlikable to a less experienced soul. I know I would have judged the narrator more harshly at 13 than at 18, and that would have been a shame.
This one earns a place on my keeper shelf. Will instantly pick up whatever Glasgow puts out next....more
This brief horror homage is a bit like one of those unusual appetizers they bring out at froo-froo restaurants. What are they called? Amuse-bouches. IThis brief horror homage is a bit like one of those unusual appetizers they bring out at froo-froo restaurants. What are they called? Amuse-bouches. It is perhaps not anything that you would like to eat as an entire meal, and maybe not even something that, before that moment, you had contemplating even putting in your mouth, but now that the moment is on you, it's sort of interesting-looking and hey, it can only last so long, right? And sometimes it turns out to be an aerosolized shellfish on a weird cracker but other times it is a fun little taste vacation.
Which is all to say that I enjoyed Florence & Giles hugely, and I think you should try it, even if you don't like it, because it really is only a little mouthful and it won't take long to go down. I read it in four hours, which I highly recommend — do it in a stretch, late at night, preferably a good and windy one and if you can rustle up some thunder, please do — and I found it a fun little gothic taste vacation. The jacket copy promises that it is a Poe-like retelling of the Turn of the Screw, but it has been a very long time since I read either, so I can't tell you how accurate that is. I suspect my half-rememberings of the latter made it a more agreeable experience than either a full-remembering or a complete lack of exposure. Spoilers are beyond the point, though. I think Florence & Giles would be spoiled by reading it as a whodunit. It is a howdunit and a whydunit and a black-corset-devil-ladies-walking-on-water-dun-it, and if you're not enjoying the journey, you're not going to like the outcome, either.
Which brings me to the last point of the review, and the real joy of this particular spooky amuse-bouche: Florence's narrative voice. In proper gothic fashion, she is a neglected orphan in a big old house empty of anyone except illiterate housekeepers, occluded memories, and dark photo albums full of plot points, and in that #aesthetic environment, she has taught herself to read. Her peculiar usage of words makes for a wry and distinctive path through the story, and that playfulness often creeps over into actual humor. It offers a nice little patch of sunlight through the dusty motes of the funeral-clad narrative, making even the most dreadful of moments a dark delight.
Wish I would have had this book alongside all my Beverly Cleary books back in middle school. Like Cleary, Jason Reynolds clearly remembers what it wasWish I would have had this book alongside all my Beverly Cleary books back in middle school. Like Cleary, Jason Reynolds clearly remembers what it was to be a kid — the private humiliations, the silliness, the outsized misconceptions, the way the tiniest bit of support can change a day. ...more
Pretty much a perfect teen adventure novel. In a conflict-free world where humans have conquered death, elected Scythes must cull the human populationPretty much a perfect teen adventure novel. In a conflict-free world where humans have conquered death, elected Scythes must cull the human population. Two teens find themselves volunteered as apprentice-Scythes, and discover that of all the things that Scythes can kill, corruption is not one of them.
1. Over the years, I've heard many books touted as the successor to Hunger Games, but SCYTHE is the first one that I would really, truly stand behind, as it offers teens a complementary reading experience to that series rather than a duplicate one. Like Hunger Games, SCYTHE invites readers to both turn pages quickly but also furrow their brows over the ethical questions it asks. Tone-wise, I would place it solidly between M. T. Anderson's FEED and Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series.
2. Over the years, YA has come to encompass a wide age range — one that I feel tends to skew ever older and sometimes forget the folks who are growing out of middle grade, but slowly. SCYTHE strikes me as a true teen novel, one that I will happily thrust into the hands of even reluctant 12-14 year old readers to show them what awaits them in genre fiction. It asks enough difficult questions to stick in the mind, but it never asks them at the expense of pacing or story. Although it's a series-starter and the end is tantalizing, it does feel like it satisfyingly stands alone (as is evidenced by its new Printz Honor sticker — the Printz is very rarely awarded to series books as the novel's merit must be contained entirely within the volume awarded). Moreover, it is very light on the romance, something that younger readers often prefer (and somewhat difficult to find in YA).
3. Over the years, I have grown too lazy to make note of when sequels come out. I've made a note on my calendar for this one, though — November 2017. I look forward to another good time....more
What a splendid and fun supernatural procedural. I read it in its entirety on a cross-country flight, while a weary moFIVE THINGS ABOUT LONDON FALLING
What a splendid and fun supernatural procedural. I read it in its entirety on a cross-country flight, while a weary mother's dictatorial three-year-old loudly terrorized my entire seating section from the seat beside mine. Even with a strange child's feet flailing in my lap and a strange child's popcorn arcing over my field of vision and a strange child's crappy diaper removed and instantly refueled inches away from me, this novel held me. So, without further ado, five things about it:
1. It's the first in a series: the Shadow Police series, book 3 of which came out last year in the UK and is coming here to the U.S. in May. I know that I'm a hypocrite to be saying I'm not a fan of series because I don't like waiting for the next book to arrive, but there it is, it's the truth. London Falling, however, wraps up book one's concern in a satisfying, sprawling climax, and although there is a decidedly open ending, it's better classified as a promise than a cliffhanger.
2. Cornell has writing chops. I knew before starting London Falling this was his debut novel, but I also knew that he wrote comics and had written a few episodes of Dr. Who. He brings that sprightly pacing to this novel, juggling four main characters with ease. It's a procedural at heart, so expect efficient, brisk characterization rather than lavished pages of introspection, but the main characters were nonetheless specific and intriguing.
3. The magic is just wonderful. Sometimes when a book tries to meld grit and magic, one or the other suffers, but London Falling delivered some lovely and toothsome magic that felt essential and old.
4. The first 50 pages are a slog. I'm saying this because I want you to push past it. There are a lot of characters introduced very quickly and a lot of unfamiliar workplace relationships strung across the page, and for me, at least, it meant that I sometimes had to flip back to earlier pages to see if I was remembering last names correctly. This may have been due in part to my airplane seatmate's shouting that she wanted her candy NOW, but I suspect not.
5. There is a very, very rewarding plot element three quarters of the way through the novel that I'd love to tell you about — but I won't. It is the result of a careful building of a plot and character house, and far be it for me to bring it tumbling down before you get a chance to climb the stairs. Suffice to say that I grinned on the plane when I read it. Well done, Cornell, well done.
I'll be checking out Cornell's other work posthaste....more
It's difficult for me to recommend thrillers to non-thriller readers. I grew up reading them and so have a high tolerance for the genre conventions. YIt's difficult for me to recommend thrillers to non-thriller readers. I grew up reading them and so have a high tolerance for the genre conventions. You know, men named Jack or Tom who will later be played by Denzel Washington or Liam Neeson. Shadowy figures from whichever country your grandpa thinks is sketchy. We need YOU, civilian man with no training, to help us with this investigation, or it will all fall apart. Machine guns referred to by brand, in case you were in the market yourself. A certain number of fridged relatives in order to grease the emotional gears of the plot machinations. Titles like DOUBLE-CROSSED and DON'T LOOK BACK and MAN ON THE RUN and TRIGGER HAPPY.
Look, I know.
But I think BEFORE THE FALL is a mystery/thriller I can recommend to non-thriller readers. "This," I will tell them, "is a thriller!" Actually I will mean, "This is what I always want thrillers to be."
The hook is simple: a small plane crashes with two fancy business moguls on it. Also in attendance are their families and a down-on-his-luck painter. Only the painter and a four-year-old boy survive. The narrative winds back and surges forward in order to examine the events leading up to the crash and the consequences after.
It's fast-paced and tightly plotted, which is always on the menu of Genre Thriller Cafe. But BEFORE THE FALL also has a playful turn of the phrase, a decidedly character-driven story, and something to say about the media. It means that while you're devouring this particular menu item, you'll find that you might have to stop to chew, a welcome request in a genre that in both print and film has been overflowing with lump-free puddings since the 80s. I'll be putting this one on the plates of both my thriller-loving friends and those who normally stick with more literary fare.