Archive for the ‘Kat’s books’ Category
Yes, readers, I caved after much encouragement from my dearest Sonika and her magical tales of being able to breastfeed while reading, I took the plunge and bought a Kindle. But I made an error in my first downloaded book, The Summer We Read Gatsby. I went for the easy beach read with the thought that I would be able to better process the story even on little sleep.
What I did not count on was the book making my head hurt with the uneven quality of writing- I was quite surprised, and much less forgiving, once I learned it was not a first novel. This has led to me yelling at the book on the Kindle- like players on a TV screen-”Show, don’t tell!” Certainly don’t end a chapter with things like, “I was falling in love with (insert name)” when the guy hasn’t even appeared for a chapter and a half. Ugh. And definitely don’t end it with that sentence when six chapters earlier you used the last sentence, “I was falling in love with my half-sister” when the only emotion I’ve picked up on is annoyance. Double ugh.
The author’s main problem, aside from apparently not getting any honest feedback from an editor, is that she didn’t know what she wanted the book to be and tried to do too many things. This same problem shows up in movies like The Break-Up and other books, such as Her Fearful Symmetry. The Summer We Read Gatsby tries to be a light summer romance but also family reconnection book while also throwing in some barely developed mystery and literary tributes to Fitzgerald. Ultimately it fails because while beach reads are supposed to be light, an utter lack of substance means the story won’t hold together from chapter to chapter- much like a season of Glee- and the reader has no motivation to care about any of the characters.
As I’ve said, I’ve not yet finished the book, although I am 86% done. I am also 57% unsatisfied. The other 29% of me is just annoyed I can’t take this book to the nearest used bookstore and turn it in. Nope, I’m just out my $9.99.
Next time, I’ll choose more wisely. You win this round, e-reader!
The Hunger Games had been on my list of “to reads” for awhile, and this summer my mom mailed me her box set of the trilogy. She teaches junior high English (heaven is not reward enough for this career), and her students had torn through the three books so quickly she could hardly keep track of who had which one. It took me about fifty pages, but I was absolutely hooked and stayed up reading WHILE THE BABY SLEPT as I could not put these books down. There is no higher praise from a new mom than to willingly give up sleep, and I gave it up in not just minutes but hours for Katniss and Peeta.
Not so much for Gale.
I won’t spend time recapping the story of kids being forced to duel to the death, but I will say these books are as dark as they sound, which has apparently caused some controversy. Oh, to have such time on my hands! I found myself agreeing with a column on NPR, “Seeing Teenagers As We Wish They Were: The Debate over YA Fiction,” as Linda Holmes notes, “… I’m more intrigued by the aspirational nature of the quaint but sad idea that teenagers, if you don’t give them The Hunger Games, can be effectively surrounded by images of joy and beauty.”
Word. I remember a bit too vividly for my own comfort what it is like to be a teenager, and there were not pillows made of cotton candy.
Holmes says: “Honestly, the kids who are reading the scary YA fiction — the dark stuff, the creepy stuff, the adventurous and weird and dirty stuff — are the same kids who, if YA fiction weren’t dark and creepy sometimes, would just read dark and creepy books for adults.”
It’s so true- and I would argue that perhaps more important than what any teenager reads is the fact that they’re reading. On a selfish note, however, I’m just glad there’s a young adult series out there in which one of the main characters is not repeatedly described as “glistening.”
In case anyone was wondering, there’s absolutely no way Bella Swan would survive The Hunger Games.
I keep forgetting I haven’t posted on Faithful Place, even though it’s already in a box waiting to be sent to my dad to read. Let me take you back to the cooler days of July, dear readers, and tell you about my internal debate, which went something like this: “Self, you are broke and trying to save money for multiple vacations. Do you really think that this book will be worth buying in hardback on the day of its release?”
And it was. Matter of fact, Faithful Place might be my favorite of the three loosely-tied-together mysteries. I suddenly had a great deal of understanding for Frank, the main character, who was gruffy and kind of an ass in The Likeness, and even kind of liked him. I was sucked into the gritty side of small Irish town politics, and I tore through this book in less than two days and licked my chops afterward.
Tana French has a wonder quality as a mystery writer in which she’s able to balance character development as well as a quick and engaging plot, and yet, she’s never quite to be trusted in terms of narrator reliability. A writer whom you trust implicitly and yet keeps you on your toes is truly one worth savoring… if only you could stop turning the pages.
And that’s why there’s plenty of time to re-read this book, and why it was so worth the splurge.
Death’s Acre is all about the man, Dr. William Bass, who started the body farm at the University of Tennessee. The Body Farm is nothing new to those who have read Stiff by Mary Roach and other such explorations of the lives of dead bodies, and so I’m surprised it took me as long as it did to read Death’s Acre.
The book traces Dr. Bass’s early career, his near-foray into another academic area, his introduction to consulting on criminal cases, and how the need came about for greater research on the decomposition of bodies if crimes were to be solved. (This happened in no small part because a Civil War soldier was mistakenly identified as a recently deceased body.) Essentially, Bass is the reason that forensic science’s use with regard to solving crimes has taken off so much in the past 50 years, and given rise to TV shows in which it is regularly used.
Dr. Bass, with the help of Jon Jefferson, goes on to detail various cases on which he has consulted and research projects his graduate students have done in areas where more information was clearly needed, such as insects with regard to decomposing bodies. All of this is fairly grisly in the level of detail, but also quite matter of fact and respectful to the dead (despite the fact that Bass excavated a number of Native American cemeteries in the 1950s and as such is not well regarded in some communities).
I found the book fascinating, and raved about it to my husband over brunch one day while he frantically tried to shush me from out of concern for fellow diners. I also found it a book I had to take breaks from because of the devastating crimes Bass recounts. The book reads very easily, is readily accessible to non-scientists (though I doubt it would have the level of technical detail to be of interest to those with a background in the field), and has a sense of humor about it as well as a modesty. Bass is proud of his accomplishments and the crimes he has been able to successful assist with, but he is even more proud of his students. He’s also acutely aware of the limits of his profession, in so much as he can offer explanations or hypotheses, but he cannot ensure juries and judges will convict people. Bass is intriguing as an indirect subject of his own book, and Jon Jefferson is to be given credit for the authentic voice within the writing.
I’m looking forward to reading the follow-up book, Beyond the Body Farm, and taking a second look at crime scenes in future murder mystery reads- especially given how many authors have been to the Body Farm as part of their research. Now if only Sonika and I were writing a book…
Readers, I’m a slacker and have several drafts of reviews that have been in draft form for quite some time. So I’m going to post a few of them together and start with only the mostly completed books to review individually.
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood. I started reading this book and realized I perhaps should have reread Oryx and Crake. The Year of the Flood is the prequel to Atwood’s previous novel, and I was having a bit of trouble remembering just what had and had not been explained in it. But as I’m short on patience, I didn’t want to take the time to do so, and I persevered. At some point, I’ll reread them both close together, and I think that I’ll get more out of them both, but I still really appreciated Year of the Flood even with this gap of memory. It takes time to flesh out, but is well worth it, and as always, Atwood’s writing is captivating. I didn’t get around to reviewing it because I found it nearly impossible to sum up the plot or my emotions to it. Suffice to say, Atwood stirred quite a bit of thought for me.
I Was Told There’d Be Cake by Sloane Crosley. I read the first essay in this book in my friend’s guest room in September of 2009, and the story of her collection of My Little Pony horses from various suitors stayed with me. Eventually, I had to track down my own copy of this book because I wanted more of Sloane Crosley’s witty, self-deprecating essays that I could almost identify with (sometimes more so than others), and after reading it through, there was only one essay I really didn’t like. Apparently Sloane Crosley is a big deal because of her publicist day job for Joan Didion among others (whom I’m also reading now), but I didn’t realize this at the time. As such, people resent her shortcuts in much the same way people resent Jonathan Safran Foer for being discovered by Joyce Carol Oates. C’est la vie. I’m bitter because I don’t have fancy friends too, but if I did, I sure as hell wouldn’t blink before agreeing to have my work published, with the thought being if it is any good, it will stand on its own. And so I Was Told There’d Be Cake does. I’ve put my copy in my guest room now, and I’m excited for Crosley’s new book of essays on traveling, How Did You Get This Number, which will be released in just a few weeks. Perfect vacation reading.
Sonika and I both reading the same book at the same time! Exciting! And no one was more thrilled than I when she posted her review first.
The third book in the Millineum trilogy also made me angry that Stieg Larsson has died, but it was also a confirmation of his talent. Unlike the second book, The Girl Who Played With Fire (link to my review), which picks up after a year has passed since TGWTDT, this book starts on the same night that the previous book ends. I greatly appreciated the continuity and jump into action without any explanation; it shows a great deal of trust in the readers’ intelligence, as well as confidence in the story.
There really is very little that can be told about the plot of this book without spoilers- and without revealing the ending of the past book. I will say I found it both immensely satisfied me and left me longing for more of both these characters and Larsson’s work. It was a solid wrap-up to the main plotline trilogy, though I agree with Sonika that quite a bit more could have been explored. Yet I appreciated that the lives of the characters after this mayhem were not quite clear; it was a nod to their complexity and the just-near-enough-to-the-underbelly world they exist in.
As an additional note, my brother was not so thrilled with The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, in part because it is so plot-driven and he wished the characters were a bit more philosophical about their actions. On this point, I have to agree that the characters act first and think later- if ever- about alternative options, but I would also be surprised if readers wanted their murder mysteries to have less plot and more long, descriptive scenes. Am I wrong about this?
For a succinct overview of the trilogy, plot and characters, I’d recommend the first part of the NYT book review. Otherwise, I’d tell you to hurry up and read the previous two books so you can enjoy The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Net.
After I finished In the Woods and found out Tana French’s follow-up book was about the fascinating and as-yet underdeveloped character of Detective Cassie Maddox, I went to my used bookstore the next day. Readers, I was fully prepared to pay full price for the book in the event that Half Price did not have it. That’s how serious my craving was- I was willing to jettison both a bargain price and Amazon to have it in my hands immediately.
Fortunately, the universe came through for me and there was a lovely unblemished copy of The Likeness in stock AND on the clearance shelf. Never have I felt so taken care of by mystic forces.
The Likeness picks up six months after the end of In the Woods. Cassie has transferred out of the murder department and into domestic violence- until the body of a girl who looked exactly like her AND who was using her former undercover alias (Lexie Madison) is found in an abandoned cottage .
Now comes the part where French tests the reader: exactly how much are you willing to suspend your disbelief? But hey, I watched Iron Man 2 over the weekend, so I was game. A scheme is hatched for Lexie Madison’s roommates to be told she survived the stabbing and is coming home- but for Cassie to be sent in undercover as Lexie to determine possible suspects for her murder.
Still reading? If so, then the rest of the book is quite fascinating, especially as all of the roommates are English majors. Cue the drunk but philosophical talks and the big dreams of not working and just writing for the rest of their lives. I understand; I’ve got the same dream, which is why I have plans to move to a Vermont farmhouse and co-found a commune. But still, it’s quite interesting to watch the group attempt to resist pressures from the “real world” by refusing to engage with their parents or discuss their pasts.
The really dissatisfying part of this book to me was the romance angle between Cassie and another detective Sam. I thought it was unconvincing, underdeveloped, and maybe it’s just because I really liked Rob Ryan, but I was not a fan of their romance at all. I kind of hope that French breaks them up in the future. I also hope I see a lot more of Cassie and Rob Ryan.
In the meantime, I’ll be bidding my time until French’s third book comes out, which focuses on Frank Mackey, the detective who coordinates Cassie’s undercover operation in this book. I might even have to buy it in hardback. Of course, this will mean my copies don’t match and paying full price. We’ll see whether my thrifty Virgo tendencies can hold out, but I’m betting I’ll be beating down the bookstore door on July 13.
A week ago, I did not know who Tana French was. I was wandering through my happy place- a used bookstore after a particularly stressful day at work, and I picked up In the Woods on the clearance rack for two reasons: 1) I liked the cover and 2) I remembered having vaguely heard of this book. I took it home and could not put it down, and then immediately went out and bought French’s second book (also on clearance- win!), and all told, I have read through 900 pages of Irish murder mystery in the past week.
In the Woods opens with the dead body of a teenage girl being found in an archeological dig site. Enter Detective Rob Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox, and throw in an extra complication: this is the same location that Ryan and two of his friends went missing as 12-year-olds. Only Ryan was found, with blood in his shoes and socks, and no idea what had happened to his friends. This event changed the trajectory of his life, especially given his efforts to avoid thinking about the trauma, right up until this case. Enter themes of identity as well, given that very few people know that Ryan was the kid who survived, and it’s a perfect storm for our Irish boy.
French uses the first person, which makes Ryan’s recounting of the case and his not-so-gradual breakdown intensely immediate. In the Woods was not a car wreck that I couldn’t turn away from, but rather a car wreck I couldn’t escape, as I was in the car with Ryan. I wondered what kind of a detective Ryan had been prior to this case, and worried about his liver, and wanted to yell at him when he made his predictable but annoyingly dumb mistakes.
Oh, what a meltdown it was, and still, I liked Ryan at the end of the book, and wanted much more of him and Cassie. And I wanted more of French’s writing, which was surprisingly elegant given that the grisly crime works are not where I go looking to find prose that will move me.
This book is definitely a first novel and was not without its flaws, but I think the fact that I could not put it, or its follow-up down, speaks for itself. Additionally, this was the perfect book to satiate me until The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest comes out later this month. And for anyone to whom I’d like to recommend Larsson but worry about the graphic violence and triggering scenes, I finally have an alternative recommendation: Tana French.
So I was about 10 years late to The Lexus and the Olive Tree party (unsurprising given that it has sat on my shelves unread for about seven years), but I still found it a fascinating and valuable read. Thomas Friedman has long been on my radar for his op-ed column in the New York Times. I find him to be a smart, insightful writer, and look forward to his take on events around the globe.
In The Lexus and the Olive Tree, Friedman addresses the tensions between “the drive for prosperity and development, symbolized by the Lexus, and the desire to retain identity and traditions, symbolized by the olive tree.” He ties together global news stories and interweaves his own experiences, and by midway through the book, I was looking at the international page totally differently. My Google friends probably wondered why I was suddenly sharing items about the Greek debt or accounting procedures in China.
And still, I considered this reading to be only a start, which is why I’m now hip-deep in Hot, Flat, and Crowded, Friedman’s most recent work about the need for a clean energy revolution.
I’m tempted to send every policymaker I know a copy of both books.
During my Mondo Beyondo course at the beginning of 2010, one of the lessons was to listen to an interview of Noelle Oxenhandler by Jen Lemen. Oxenhandler answered questions about her book, The Wishing Year, and a few months later, I found it in a bookstore and couldn’t shake the feeling I should buy it.
The Wishing Year is another addition to the new “A Year of (Insert Project/Journey/Country)” genre that has sprung up- and in my view, that’s not a knock given that I like to make projects and am slightly obsessed with order. I’m a Virgo and won’t apologize for it. But in The Wishing Year, I found the months-as-chapters to be much more natural breaks than I’ve found in other books, and the flow to be nearly uninterrupted.
As a recently divorced and displaced Buddhist, Oxenhandler makes three wishes at the beginning of the year for a house, a man, and spiritual healing. Throughout this year, Oxenhandler muses on mentors in her life and the idea that wishing might not be a selfish act or one deserving of guilt- an idea I myself am trying to come to terms with as well. Her writing is beautiful, insightful and challenging, and will appeal to readers who are looking the authentic and organic in a book. I don’t think that one necessarily has to be a believer in the act of wishing to get a lot out of this book, in the same way that I don’t think a reader needs to be Buddhist to gain interesting knowledge as well.
I loved Oxenhandler’s voice and wish I could read more of her work (outside of her book for adult children of divorce). I found this book to be a deeply calming read, and one I’ll probably be rereading soon as well. After all, who’s to say a wishing year can’t start with the spring rather than in January?