Thursday, April 16, 2015

Inca's Death Cave-Bradford G. Wheler

Inca’s Death Cave-Bradford G. Wheler
the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 394
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel
A professor jumps at the chance to investigate an Incan mystery.
Ok, so as you may have surmised from my previous reviews, I am an archaeologist. My 'guilty pleasure' is reading novels incorporating archaeology and then scoffing at the lazy archaeology wherein. This is not one of those. The archaeology in this novel is like... dream archaeology. Archaeology without a budget. An archaeologist with so many resources at his fingertips AND the ability to take advantage of them. There's probably no academic for whom this is not a treasured dream but archaeologists in my experience suffer an inordinate number of obstacles. So, that is what this novel feels like in the end-an academic's fantasy with a bit more adventure than reality would allow but also a better budget.

The archaeology is fantastic. I have no quibble with the techniques or archaeological story. It's the characters and how unbelievably perfect they were. The professor is always quick witted. The billionaire is just...unbelievable. His grad student is of course beautiful AND quick witted. The team bickers but works to absurd deadlines by selflessly redirecting their research. So much fantasy.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club-Genevieve Valentine

Girls at the Kingfisher Club-Genevieve Valentine
the facts
satisfaction: up/side
pages: 277
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel
A retelling of the twelve dancing princesses fairy tale set in 1920s Manhattan.

Other than the high number of girls, this novel has no real feel of the fairy tale it comes from. By setting the readers' focus on the girls themselves, Valentine manages to make this story of 'deception' into a wholly different tale and I always welcome more feminist interpretations! With more than twelve major characters, it is actually very impressive that Valentine still packed in some individualized characterization which combined with the prose style made suspension of belief very easy. As a dancer myself, I loved the central role of dancing as an activity that frees the dancer and the various frustrations that come from searching for that magical moment. Those frustrations made the historical setting much more real. The 1920s flapper/Prohibition club scenes tend to be written quite romantically and idealistically but Valentine's club scene is much more timeless. Perhaps what the novel suffers from is its own easy readability. I actually reread this one-a rare departure from my usual habits-but there is something a bit ephemeral about it in the end.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The True Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters-Michelle Louric

True Splendid History of the Harristown Sisters-Michelle Louric
the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 466
gender: F
nationality: UK
year: 2014
novel
Seven sisters escape their poverty through the stage-specifically their long locks of hair.

What a surprise. I didn't really expect to enjoy this as much as I did. I mean, the oldest sister, Darcy, is one of the meanest and most horrible characters I've read in awhile who was not a murderer. The story is the eroticism of long hair (note that I wear my hair long-to my waist-and thus am tired of the eroticism of hair) and the exploitation of young uneducated. And I still enjoyed it? Maybe it was Manticory-the main narrator- and her charm and her own arc of overcoming the obstacles. This story is finely crafted with a turn of phrase that is occasionally outright arresting. Wrapped up in this fine language is a rural Irishness, the mix of the bawdy, crushing poverty, and repressive Catholicism which is a bit like presenting chicken as pheasant but Louric pulls it off.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Miniaturist-Jessie Burton

Miniaturist-Jessie Burton
the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 400
gender: F
nationality: UK
year: 2014
novel
Nella Oortman arrives in 17th century Amsterdam as the wife of a local merchant, Brandt. But nothing is as she expects-the household is an opaque monolith of secrets and the city is more hospitable. But things change when the miniaturist gets involved.

I was pretty primed to like this. I love it when material culture reveals secrets and mysterious craftsmen. Amsterdam is its own character here, an oppressively hypocritical one, for whom one must be perfect on the surface. This is something Nella doesn't understand-she is driven by curiosity, by her idealism to know more. It's hard not to like such spirit even if sometimes it's a little anachronistic. Then the miniaturist comes in. The works are described delightfully and the whole mystery of why the Brandt household, all of its components, are the way they are unfolds in such a well-paced engaging way that this ended up a delight as a journey. The ending is bit...it's hard to describe without giving it away. It's too pat? too anticlimatic? Neither is a good descriptor but both come close.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Meatspace-Nikesh Shukla

Meatspace-Nikesh Shukla
the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 300
gender: M
nationality: UK
year: 2014
novel
Kitab Balasubramanyam is obsessed with the internet. His real life is not going well so he focuses on his cyberself. A doppelganger shows up, another Kitab Balasubramanyam, who insists on being in his life.


Well, the protagonist, Kitab, is like an alien to me. I understood his references, the internet, etc but it was such an extreme that I was incredulous for a good half of this book. This obsession, this disconnection from meatspace he displays seems like a caricature and frustrated me. I guess, I am much more like Mitch, a guy determined to live in meatspace only. And yet, Shukla writes so wittily, and it was so funny I kept going. And I'm ever so glad I did because I grew to really like Kitab. I was rooting for him when Kitab 2 shows up and 'ruins' his internet reputation. I was a little glad because it did force Kitab to grow up away from his obsession and it reveals a much more fascinating facet to his personality which made him less of a caricature in hindsight. Well-written novel.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Into a Raging Blaze-Andreas Norman

Into a Raging Blaze-Andreas Norman
the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 592
gender: M
nationality: Sweden
year: 2013
novel in translation
After being given a document, Carina Dymek, part of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, accidentally leaks a classified document-something that would have long term consequences. Bente Jenson is tasked to find out how the document was leaked and how it is linked to extremist Islamic groups.
I don't know why but I just expected more intrigue. Maybe I'm just too inured by years of American and British espionage and bureaucratic corruption novels that the Scandinavian version was too subtle and civilized. There was just too much backstory. I'm not usually the sort who dislikes developed backstory but there was too much detail and I retained so little of it by the time the action picked up that I no longer remembered what had been explained to me. To write this summary, I had to relook up what the bureau involved was. I mean, yes, it added to the whole trusting the author that this could happen but still there was a lot that could have cut out and the novel would have benefited. And the actions of the characters really didn't improve things because there was such naivety at play within Carina's actions. She seems to not really think anything through.

Beyond my bellyaching, it is Bente who saves the day. The investigator is on top of her game and intelligent. She acts rationally and calmly as she shows a strength of character unmuddled by the blind governmental workermanship of Carina. It is definitely a brief of fresh air to read a novel in which the American and British agencies are the bad guys but the overall pace was far too slow.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Hollow Ground-Natalie S. Harnett

Hollow Ground-Natalie S. Harnett
the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 336
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel
Set in the 1960s during the beginnings of the infamous underground coal fires of Central Pennsylvania, the Howleys struggle with their personal demons, the government, poverty, and a family 'curse'.
One of my favorite moments in my undergraduate science classes was our trip to Centralia. We stood there in the midst of overgrown streets (my archaeologist training meant I could see the town plan clear as day) and loosened our winter coats due to the heat rising from our feet and breathed in shallowly the pervading stink of coal fire watching smoke rise from fissures in the ground. Our professor lectured about coal seams, acidic levels, and mining waste and I stood there thinking about the people who had lived there. This was, then, the perfect book for me. Harnett draws a charming character with her narrator, Brigid. Brigid yanks at your heartstrings as she struggles to grow up fast and understand her dysfunctional family. There is a perverse pride within the family about their misfortune even as it wrecks their lives. Working class issues clash with this family's particular secrets amidst the failure of the government. The novel has its flaws with some plotholes that seem to be there only to irk but at its heart, it is a sincere story.