Thursday, August 28, 2014

Peacemaker-Marianne de Pierres

Peacemaker-Marianne de Pierres

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 416
gender: F
nationality: Australia
year: 2014
novel

A novel set in a mega-city Australia, with a park ranger named Virgin attempting to understand why and someone ended up dead in the park she walks in. Meanwhile, her superiors have sent a Native American cowboy who can also see the eagle that is protecting her from ravens.



I have to say I finished this book immediately thirsting for more! (I’m thrilled this is a series.) I loved its crazy blend of outlandish characters, science fictional elements, and an amazing Australian in the near future. The plot is a bit odd and a bit hard to follow, mainly because Virgin (oh, in the future, people have odd names-I made myself ignore that) also has no idea what is going on. But she has good connections with people who can help her, a spirit guide, and a cowboy who is the first other person she’s ever know to also be able to see her spirit guide. So she’s unsure whether she’s an unreliable narrator and you the reader gets the sense that you should buckle yourself in because something really weird is about to happen in this future where nature requires super-vigilance and everyone lives in megacities (which seems most remarkable thanks to how large the outback is). Anyway, I loved Virgin. She’s emotionally stunted, yes, but she is also hold no prisoners determined which I absolutely loved. She was thrown for a loop in every violent encounter but also somewhat in control in her independence. Her interaction with the ‘cowboy’ is a bit of a buddy cop story archetype but their growing respect for each other feels real and unfeigned. The novel’s overall pacing is really spectacular but there is very little world building. There’s no history given to understand why the world is this way, nature wise or those specialized neighborhoods within the city.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A for Angelica-Iain Broome

A for Angelica-Iain Broome

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 256
gender: M
nationality: UK
year: 2012
novel

Gordon watches and keeps track of his neighbors in a series of folders arranged alphabetically. He takes care of his wife who is suffering from a stroke.


I honestly did not realize this would be a such a heavy book and it is-the main story at its centre is tragic in that slow way that disease often is. Gordon is that creepy busybody you suspect is your next door neighbor (or, at least, I know my grandmother definitely is) who watches and remembers most of the details of the neighborhood’s habits. But he has a wife, suffering from strokes, and he is alone with this. The creepy neighborhood watching is really him watching out for people who could help him. There’s a lot of dark satire encouched in this terse and straight to the point prose that makes an otherwise claustrophobic novel into something entertaining. I learned that this is Broome’s debut novel and I must say I never guessed because this is something masterful. The suburb is anywhere UK (but also maybe USA) and the ending is...the one I wanted all along. I mean, Gordon is an obsessive narrator but it’s hard to say that anyone in a similar situation-hiding/denying the ongoing deterioration of a loved one-would be all that different.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Weight of Blood-Laura McHugh

Weight of Blood-Laura McHugh

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 302
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel

The body of a peer, Cherie, was found displayed which sends Lucy on a quest to understand what happened to her mother-a beautiful outsider who captured her father’s heart and disappeared soon after her birth- as well as why Cherie was killed so graphically.

If previously I had read a book that one might call well written chick lit and ended up ambivalent, this was the perfect antidote. This is also a book focused upon character development and the relationships between people (the things that make up ‘chick lit’) but it is also gritty. The Missouri hills are both gorgeous and dangerous-echoing the tangled social and historical landscape of the town. The characters are strong characters-well written with realistic reactions to some pretty awful situations. The plot is focused upon outsiders and the way they may be treated in a small town. There are allies (a romantic interest that is handled well) as well as villians. This might be overwhelmingly depressing in other hands (especially with a name like Weight of Blood) but there was something optimistic about McHugh’s ending that solidified my enjoyment of the book.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Best of Us-Sarah Pekkanen

The Best of Us-Sarah Pekkanen

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 338
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2013
novel

Four women and their husbands go on an all-paid vacation to Jamaica. The various burdens the women have get exposed and run their course during the week.

I didn’t really read the synopsis thoroughly enough before requesting it because I was expecting a bit of a thriller/mystery. Not this character-driven novel. The characters- trophy wife, woman struggling to handle too many children, etc-are stereotypes. The romance was a bit….also archetypical-the infatuation, the struggling marriage on the cusp of divorce, the superficial ‘affection’ etc. There was also no real setting-it was a bit of a generic beach. I definitely was not the target audience for this sort of plot. I was kept reading by an eye for detail and the characters did grow but in the end I just had to conclude that it was not for me.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Other Side of Paradise-Julia Cooke

Other Side of Paradise-Julia Cooke

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 248
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2014
memoir

Julia Cooke (yes, a non-Cuban) writes about living in Cuba.

There was a definite focus on the youth of Havana but it does expand beyond the typical narrative of stereotypes of Cuban people. There’s a fitting sense of the chaotic and constant turmoil of the city. Cooke has the typical narratives of the noise of the Havana streets and the underground events organized. The prose is show, rather than tell, which I definitely appreciated. The stories and anecdotes are well chosen and told sympathetically. Her perspective is definitely skewed to upper middle class Havana younger than 40 but she does take care not to generalize their experiences to other demographics. My own experience is with the older generations living in the provinces and saw nothing of what Cooke did but I enjoyed this memoir nonetheless.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Last Clinic-Gary Gusick

Last Clinic-Gary Gusick

the facts
satisfaction: side/up
pages: 264
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2012
novel

Part of the Darla Cavannah mystery series, this is set after Cavannah’s husband died. Roused from her mourning, she is partnered with an Elvis impersonator to investigate the death of an anti-abortion reverend.

I have to say this book was like an anti-Jackson ad for me. I despised pretty much every racist, bigoted, misogynistic character Darla met. It was like a parade of people I’d least like to spend time with rendered really well. With the level of hatred I was operating on, I have to admit I finished the novel a bit ambivalent about it all. I have to say though, it takes guts for Gusick to tackle abortion as a central theme of a mystery so I did admire that. I liked Darla herself though-she was competent (especially compared to the Elvis impersonator) and driven. She found clues and followed them. But then there was a bit of insta-love which...probably also contributed to my ambivalence.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

One Night in Winter-Simon Sebag Montefiore

One Night in Winter-Simon Sebag Montefiore


the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 480
gender: M
nationality: UK
year: 2014
novel


Set in the Soviet Union, the children of various top officials are questioned as potential traitors to the ideals of communism.


The oppression of the period came through viscerally. Montefiore’s prose reeks of secrets and intrigue even without the plot of actual secrets and intrigues. The interrogations felt cold and the late nights with Stalin felt tense. I don’t rightly know how Montefiore did it but he nailed atmosphere and setting without ever smothering you with details. And despite employing a vaguely Lynchian beginning, I never felt lost as to what was happening. Indeed, it was sometimes hard to remember that the characters are a mixture of real life and fictional-they all felt alive. You were in their heads flinching when they flinched. I’d describe the characters as strong characters in hard positions. I particularly was impressed by how the entire novel was pure romance without anything stereotypical of a romance. I loved this novel, I’d happily reread it.