Gouda Buddha Books

Devouring books since 2009.

Posts Tagged ‘fiction

The Summer We Read Gatsby.

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The problem with the Kindle is that when the book you downloaded jumps the literary shark, you cannot throw it at the wall.

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 SymmetryThe 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!


Written by questionsandanchors

July 27, 2011 at 5:32 pm

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest.

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Yep. I did it. I went out and bought it in hardcover the first second I could. I scoured bookstores for the whole month of May (not knowing and being too lazy to look up the actual release date) anxiously awaiting the nanosecond when I could get TGWKTHN into my greedy little hands. I was even stalking TARGET. JUST IN CASE. It was on June 1st (a whole WEEK after its release!) that I found it in my local Borders and snapped it up. It certainly made that day redeemable as having an anxiously awaited book to read on the train makes going on said train up to Boston for a stupid routine doctor’s appointment that will only last ten minutes, yet you are on the train for an hour to get there – half hour on the T, which inevitably makes you motion sick – another half hour on the T back to South Station – and an hour on a rush hour train watching powerful women wielding TWO Blackberries simultaneously – it makes that day worthwhile.

I can’t say much without getting all spoilery, so I will just say that it was awesome. It was awesome and a corollary to its awesomeness is that I am now firmly pissed off that Steig Larsson is dead.

I kind of morbidly wonder if the Millenium trilogy would have been as popular if he’d been around. There’s a certain mystique to “… and then he DROPPED DEAD.” about the books. It’s also really amazing to think of how wildly they’ve been selling (the Borders clerk – one of my former coworkers – commented that they’ve been flying off the shelf) when the author of said books hasn’t been around to do book tours and interviews and shit like that. No one, NO ONE in the world has an autographed copy of these books. Kinda eerie.

And while I wouldn’t mind reading an interview talking about his inspiration for Lisbeth Salander, I’m really pissed off that he’s not writing more books. I expected TGWKTHN to kind of wrap up all lose ends, but it really ends rather ambiguously. The main plot line is resolved, but there’s no real sense of “finality” to the ending. There’s a lot more “And then?!” that could be explored in subsequent books.

Which, of course, could definitely go into the territory of “Should have quit while he was ahead.” But I’m pissed that WE’LL NEVER KNOW because he didn’t “quit.” He bit it. He wrote three amazing books and then had the audacity to die before they were published.

So, there you have it. I loved the book and Stieg Larsson is a jerk. A dead jerk.

(And because I know you want to read them. YOU WANT TO READ THEM, OK? My reviews of The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.)

UPDATE: According to Wikipedia, the Millennium series was supposed to contain up to 10 books!

Larsson left about three quarters of a fourth novel on a notebook computer in Gabrielsson’s possession; synopses or manuscripts of the fifth and sixth in the series, which was intended to contain an eventual total of ten books, may also exist.[12]


Written by Sonja

June 6, 2010 at 5:51 pm

The Girl Who Played With Fire.

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I’ve been waiting for this to come out in paperback since I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in paperback and I like my books to match. (YES HELLO VIRGO TENDENCIES. NICE TO SEE YOU AGAIN.) Problem is, it took so long that it’s been nearly a year since I read TGWtDT… for the first time. Yep. I got two-thirds of the way through The Girl Who Played With Fire and went back, bought a new copy of TGWtDT (because I had “loaned” mine to Nuno’s brother in Portugal, where it still resides) and read it all over again.

I don’t necessarily think that you need to do this. The story of TGWPWF stands up on its own, certainly. There are a lot of references to TGWtDT, but they’re very well explained and there’s absolutely no reason that you need to have read it first – unless you’re a nrrrd like me. I went back because I couldn’t remember the details, which was making me mental. “Oh yes, I remember something about that… but, I don’t remember exactly how that happened…” As mentioned, I’m a Virgo and so there is this tendency towards completism that sometimes borders on neurosis. Certainly this is true with me and books.

My neurosis may have to bend on the “matching books” thing when The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest comes out. It’s either buy the hardback or re-read the first two in the series when the paperback comes out. CONUNDRUM. I could always buy the hardback, and then sell it to the used book store and buy a paperback copy later… IT IS VERY HARD TO BE ME.

… coming back to this draft, having now finished TGWPWF – it is no longer difficult. I will buy that book in hardcover the NANOSECOND that it is released. In fact, I am pre-ordering it on Amazon RIGHT. NOW.

The ending? I have never before read a book that literally got my heart rate up. I usually read at night, before I go to bed, and last night I got to the climax of the book. The perfectly paced book that leaves you a nice little trail of bread crumbs here and there. I figured out the big reveal about fifty pages before it’s unveiled, which is certainly what Larsson is aiming for and I don’t feel like any big genius for figuring it out. It’s not spelled out point blank, but any reasonably clever person who’s read a mystery before can figure out the mystery identity by the time it’s revealed. I honestly couldn’t keep reading as I’d taken a sedative before I started reading (a common occurrence for those of us who otherwise don’t fall asleep until 4AM and yet need to live normal lives), so the second I got up this morning I picked up the book.

Note: I never do this. Ever. I never read in the morning. Maybe in the afternoon, but it’s just not my habit to read first thing in the morning. Even on a Sunday. But I had to. I had to finish the book. And now I’m cursing myself that I finished it before TGWKTHN has been released because AAAHHHH EFFIN’ CLIFFHANGER GAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH…

Which seems an appropriate note to end this post on.

Wolf Hall.

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Oh man, I read Wolf Hall about a million years ago and haven’t written it up because I haven’t really solidified what I want to say about it. But now I’ve (finally) finished another book (in my defense, it’s 800+ pages, and while I’m a speed demon when it comes to reading, I’ve only been reading before bed and so it’s been 800+ pages in 20 minute chunks) and if I don’t write about Wolf Hall now, I never will.

First, I can’t see Thomas Cromwell except played by James Frain. I can picture Henry VIII as more his likeness than as Johnathn Rhys Myers, this isn’t a universal thing, but sometimes even without having seen a filmic adaptation of any kind, my mind just settles on one actor to play the part of a character in a novel and that THAT is the image in my head. Thinking about Thomas Cromwell as played by anyone other than James Frain just doesn’t work for me. I’ve cast entire “movies” in my head in the course of reading. I blame this on the fact that I’m entirely a visual thinker, so the process of reading is reading “the movie” that is the action of the novel. And movies need casts. Anyway, reading Wolf Hall with James Frain as Cromwell works really well. Much better than most of the casting of The Tudors. (Natalie Dormer as Anne Boleyn? Really? I mean, she’s beautiful, but Anne Boleyn was not classically beautiful. I haven’t definitively cast Anne in my mind yet.)

I’m way obsessed with all things Tudor and as a fictional history of the time, Wolf Hall is stunning. Thomas Cromwell is far and away one of the most intriguing characters of the era and his life makes for an incredible story. His point of view navigating the political alliances of the court as a “nobody” was nearly ruined with Cardinal Wolsey’s fall – the only thing saving him being his own innate cunning – gives a clear view of what was at stake in falling out of favor at any given moment. There’s not much point in my recounting the plot of the novel – if you know Tudor history, there aren’t any spoilers. It doesn’t deviate into speculation in the way that The Other Boleyn Girl, for example, does. It pretty much sticks to the story as it played out. If you don’t know Tudor history, this book is a good intro.

My one complaint with Mantel’s writing style is that she continually refers to Cromwell simply as “he” or “He,” which got HELL OF confusing when another male character was referred to in the same sentence. I had to go over some sentences two or three times to tease out which “he” was which (“He told him what he thought.” That sort of thing, only more detailed.), which seriously interrupted the flow of the novel. Just say “Cromwell told him what he thought.” or “He told him what Cromwell thought.” I’m not sure where the stylistic choice came from to use the third person singular pronoun rather than the dude’s NAME when referring to him, but at least she’s consistent. I kind of got the hang of it after a hundred or so pages, but it still tripped me up on occasion all the way up to the end.

And speaking of the end… is there going to be a sequel? This reads a bit like a part one of a larger work, which might just be because I WANT more. Always an endorsement.

Written by Sonja

March 23, 2010 at 12:21 am

Norwegian Wood.

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Norwegian Wood, wow.  This book knocked me on my ass with the intensity of it.  I asked Sonika if she’d read it, and she said it was her first introduction to Murakami, which I find interesting because it’s the least experimental in terms of an alternate reality.  Then of course, my first was The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles at Sonika’s recommendation.  Proof that no one really forgets their first experience with Murakami.

I can certainly see why people think that Norwegian Wood must be the most autobiographical of Murakami’s works.  It’s the most down to earth, for one thing, and a coming to age story of a young man in college in love with two women.  As always with Murakami, providing a plot summary is a bit complicated, so I refer you to Wikipedia.

The novel deals directly with sex, death, suicide and the meaning of love in a world overfilling with loss- literally, for lead character Toru.  To fall in love with your best friend’s former girlfriend (Naoko)  is enough of challenge for many, but when your best friend committed suicide in high school and left the two of you behind with a great deal of questions, such a relationship can only be tangled with grief and doomed to fail from the beginning.  And yet, how could it not happen?

Murakami isn’t given to emotional writing.  Rather, he writes about the characters’ day to day lives so realistically that as a reader, you feel yourself merging with the character and you no longer have to wonder what they are feeling because you are feeling it along with them.  Given that Toru is dealing with the suicide of his best friend continually (by the nature of his very relationship with Naoko), his girlfriend/his best friend’s girlfriend slowly becoming emotionally unstable, and this situation being complicated by another girl-  “intense” is the only word I can think of to describe it, and yet, the story feels perfectly plausible.

The experience of reading Norwegian Wood is feeling what it is to grow up all over again. It’s a wonder that anyone survives.

Written by questionsandanchors

March 19, 2010 at 2:48 pm

The Blackwater Lightship.

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I finished Colm Toibin’s The Master late last year- actually, I’m not sure I ever got a chance to post about it here because it was around the holidays- and was absolutely blown away by the writing.  The Master was a fabulous book with beautiful writing that made me want to read Henry James.  That’s talent, kids.  After throwing the book at my brother, I picked up another of Toibin’s books, The Blackwater Lightship, as I am biding my time until his new book, Brooklyn, comes out in paperback.  Or I get to the library.  You know, whichever comes first.

The Blackwater Lightship is set in Ireland in the 1990s as three generations of women learn that their grandson/son/brother has AIDS, and he’s quite sick.  The mother and grandmother are also learning this at the same time as learning that Declan is gay, so there’s quite a bit of internal and external conflict as each tries to adapt to this knowledge.  For being the calayst of so much consternation, however, the story involves Declan in a fairly minor role, and instead centers around three women- Dora, the grandmother; Lilly, the mother; and Helen, the daughter, who have all been estranged- though they would never quite call it that- for years.

The direness of the Declan’s health forces all three women to stay at Dora’s house, where Helen and Declan were left for months as children while their father battled cancer and ultimately died.  Being forced to return to the house therefore triggers inescapable memories and Helen and Lilly finally discuss their differences.

Although the book focuses quite a bit on Helen and the reader is convinced that she must have been done a terrible wrong by her mother, the characters eventually become full and it’s clear that Helen has been, if not an unreliable, at least an overtly biased narrator.  Perhaps this is part of the reason I had my doubts in the middle of the novel about Helen’s rapidly declining likeability and whether the novel would be able to regain my interest and affections. I think it was able to do so in part because the subject matter is of personal importance to Toibin.   In the end, it was a novel of subtle depth (though that seems to be a contradiction) and symbolism that is well taken but does not beat one over the head.  I can see why it was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, and I can also see why it fell short.  At the same time, Toibin’s abilities are clear, and it’s not surprising The Master came to follow.

I would recommend reading Toibin without a second thought, but would hesitate to tell people to start with this novel for fear they would also stop with it.  But if you’re of a persevering nature, or have already been exposed to Toibin and have a bit of patience, this book is a solid, if slightly underwelming read.

Written by questionsandanchors

February 6, 2010 at 6:04 pm

Oryx and Crake.

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When I was younger and stupider, I eschewed all science-fiction as being for “geeks.” Oh, self. Why did you ever think you were above being a geek? You had no friends and enjoyed crossword puzzles from the age of ten, for the love of G-d. I suppose you have to draw the line somewhere, and for me it was sci-fi. Oh no, I was better than those geeks.

Now that I’m older and less likely to get shoved into a band locker, I’m really reveling in some good sci-fi – not the stuff with wizards and dragons, that is still too geeky for me – but more the stuff that I think is called “spec fic” among the kids these days. Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite writers in this genre, though I got into her via her more realist novels – specifically Cat’s Eye and The Robber Bride. I really hated A Handmaid’s Tale when I read it back in high school – perhaps I should give it another pass now that I’m better in touch with my inner geek.  (And yet, I loved loved loved 1984 when I read it for the first time at age 13. I think it’s because it had sex in it.)

Oryx and Crake deals with a human-created apocalypse in which the surviving species aren’t man… but are rather man-made. The protagonist, the Last Man on Earth, is Snowman – best friend of Crake, the scientist in charge of making the man-like species “The Crakers” who are shaping up to fill the human niche in a post-human world. The story is told Lost style, one linear story punctuated by flashbacks – which are in this case, thankfully, also linear. So, while you’re reading the story of Snowman’s struggle to survive (which if I’m calculating correctly, takes place over one week), you’re also reading the story of Snowman’s life from ages nine onwards. It flows together seamlessly, which is a testament to Atwood’s writing abilities.

There’s not too much I can say about the book that wouldn’t be a spoiler. The book is very obviously designed as the first chapter in a larger story, and I’m excited to read The Year of the Flood soon to see where this is going. Atwood very deftly tackles a lot of issues surrounding synthetic biology in a way that to me, as a layperson, makes the whole thing feel chillingly plausible. There’s a sign of some true postapocalyptic terror right there – imagining a scenario in which humans really do breed pigoons and wolvogs. While the names of the institutions involved are slightly hilarious (AnooYoo, for one), they aren’t at all hard to imagine springing up out of the ashes of current pharmaceutical research companies.  We’re already shooting botulism into our faces and growing ears on mice, why not have pigs raised for organ harvesting and potential full-on skin replacements?

(Really terrifying though: the ChickieNobs. Gives me the howling fantods just thinking about it.)

The only reason that I gave this book four out of five stars on Goodreads is that it was indeed possible to put it down for periods of time. That was the only way I could see it as being in any way deficient – normally it doesn’t take me over a week to read a book of this length, but for some reason, it just dragged out a bit. We’ll see how The Year of the Flood shapes up after I finish my to-read pile, which is itself entirely spec-fic. I sense that 2010 is going to be The Year of The Geek.

Written by Sonja

January 5, 2010 at 5:26 pm