Thursday, April 28, 2016

Blood Med- Jason Webster

Blood Med-Jason Webster

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 368
gender: M
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel

An American girl is found dead and Cámara finds himself embroiled in corruption during his investigations.


Set in Valencia in post-financial meltdown Spain, this is not an optimistic book. Sure, there's some procedural stuff in here, a crime is being investigated and someone died but really this is more of a book detailing the decline of a society. Spain in this book is disintegrating and the characters talk politics almost more than they speak of the murder. Fascism is on the rise and really I almost felt like I was not so much reading a mystery book but rather a book written by the doomsayers. I live in Greece, during financial meltdown (which is nowhere as quick as the meltdown in this book), and there were so many parallels that I must admit I became a bit depressed. I felt the same sense of helplessness as when I talk about Greek politics with the people I know and I finished the book much the same way I finish most of these real-life discussions, helpless and doomed.

Maybe I don't drink enough.

I think Webster's flaws for me are that his book was too timely and too intense.
Strengths for most readers but not for me at this time.

Furthermore, I don't know but something about Cámara was too well-done. None of the dangers he found himself in made him change as a person and none of them really seemed to be truly dangerous-of course he'd survive! No, most of the (life-changing) violence in the novel occurs to the women.
Le Sigh.

I still rank it was three stars on sites like goodreads though since it is intensely written, gritty in the expected ways, and there's a definite affinity for Valencia woven throughout all this doom and gloom.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Visionist-Rachel Urquhart

The Visionist-Rachel Urquhart

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 352
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2014
novel

Set during the era of Mother Ann's work, a young woman finds a place among the Shakers but when the other young girls begin to see visions, things unravel.


I don't actually know that much about the Shakers. Like many others I suspect, I primarily knew of them through their furniture and as an attempt at a model Utopia. Urquhart, however, does know a lot about them and her research is visible through the novel but in a non-showy way. Instead, her research simply sets the stage for the plot. The plot itself seems to explore primarily the concept of 'The Way'. By integrating her outsider, Polly, into this strict society, Urquhart shows how multiple aspects of the community serve both material motives (the cynics amongst us are not surprised) and spiritual motives. But interestingly, through Charity, Urquhart also offers a variety of views within the Shaker community thus adding nuance and depth to the more typical depictions of closed communities. I really enjoyed Urquhart's view of the Shakers-not idealistic but also not entirely cynical. I, however, probably enjoyed even more the outside world of New England with the fire inspector Pryor who is neither villain or hero but something of both. Pryor in his plotline really drives the book forward showing the passing of time that a novel focused on the Shakers probably would have lacked (as it was, sometimes the monotony of the community dragged the book down). I spent my time rooting for Polly but as a character she actually grew the least-I'd say Charity developed more with time. Nevertheless, all of the characters in the novel grew and changed believably which is a major strength.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Stasi Child-David Young

Stasi Child-David Young

the facts
satisfaction: up/side
pages: 416
gender: M
nationality: UK
year: 2015
novel

Thriller set in the GDR involving Karin Müller, a police detective, members of the Stasi, and children.

I wonder sometimes if I'm simply very cynical for thrillers. Oh no! The higher echelon is corrupt the book cries and I am simply unsurprised. I almost feel like if politicians, police (secret or overt), etc so often corrupt in thrillers ended up being innocent, I'd then be totally surprised. But no, likely I'd just decry it as unrealistic and idealistic.
Anyhow, Young has written a fairly straight forward thriller but one set in the GDR which has its own interesting tensions and power dynamics. The lignite smog of the GDR hangs over the novel though the atmosphere is mostly built through the plot and character of Karin herself. I really liked Karin. I liked her unflinching feminism, her missteps are in the right vein, and her position as smack dab in the middle makes her so realistic. She is in the middle and so she is both with power and powerless-like most of us in our jobs. She acts rationally while being driven. Unfortunately, this is so rare for female characters. I was a bit annoyed by the 'lust' angle but I guess it illustrated the air of mutual mistrust so I'll excuse it. I was a bit thrown by the end. It's very open? The motive is less believable than anything that came before it? Then I figured out that this is part of a series. I will be reading the next installment since Young managed to pull off one of my often-disliked plot devices, the split screen, i.e. two plotlines that appear to be unrelated (but an astute reader knows they are) that join. Except Young maintains the split screen without changing narrative voices even as plotlines join and diverge. Challenging and successful.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

House on Cold Hill-Peter James

House on Cold Hill-Peter James

the facts
satisfaction: side/up
pages: 310
gender: M
nationality: UK
year: 2016
novel

A ghost story about a house, its ghosts, and a family who buys the house.

I'm not in the habit of reading ghost stories-I really can't remember the last one I've read. I prefer them in movies where there are certain tropes and shock tactics that a seasoned movie watcher knows are coming that makes them a pleasure. I'm not really easy to properly scare-I was always the person who ended in the front of the group of friends in fright houses at Halloween.
James does use some of these tropes we are all familiar with. It's kind of hard to write about houses and ghosts that do not owe a lot to its predecessors but James does it particularly well. I can't go into detail without ruining them but there were points where I was actually particularly creeped out. No mean feat considering that I'm the sort of person found the 'haunted' levels of the university library to be the best place to work, easily shrugging off the occasional electrical malfunctions, inexplicable sounds, and occasional vibrations. So good job James! I also really enjoyed the more modern intellectualized touches (using physics!) as Ollie tries desperately to understand what on earth is going on.
In the end though, the motive of the ghost was unsatisfactory and really, I was not sold on the horror. I suspect though that I am simply not the correct audience for such a novel is all as it is well-paced, believable and interesting.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Genesis-Eduardo Galeano

Genesis:Memory of Fire-Eduardo Galeano

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 336
gender: M
nationality: Uruguay
year: 1982
non-fiction (narrative)

A collection of the origins of Latin America from the various origin stories of the tribes to the arrival of the Spanish.

This took me well over a year to read. The chapters are short, the language precise, and it starts out innocuously enough. For the first 30-40%, Galeano is retelling the numerous origin stories of numerous tribes and I was really enjoying myself. I would read a few chapters and head to the internet to find out what tribe had which origin myth to read more about them, the myths and the people. I was really enjoying the rich tapestry of worlds and beginnings as well as learning a lot.
And then, with you barely noticing it, that precise language begins to burn. The Spanish show up and the violence, the smoke of worlds burning overwhelms. By the end, I found it nigh unbearable. I was reading it in dribbles of two pages because the emotional impact was far too strong, an interior spring of dread and horror flooding my body, my mind. Galeano does not hold your hand and the voices are no less varied and yet they are all screaming and you can barely distinguish the tribes from one another.
I had to finish the book though. Not out of a stubborn sense of finish-this-book like I usually mean it but rather I felt like I owed it to myself to not flinch, to face it-my history, a subjective but wholly valid version of my birthrights.

I had read Open Veins of Latin America but I was not prepared.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Furiously Happy-Jenny Lawson

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things-Jenny Lawson

the facts
satisfaction: up
pages: 329
gender: F
nationality: USA
year: 2016
memoir

A memoir about mental illness.


I have never heard of Jenny Lawson. I've never read her blog and had no idea that she had multiple books. I was simply intrigued by "an uplifting memoir about depression."
Well, I was unprepared.
Lawson writes like someone who speaks a million words a minute and this energy pretty much bounces out of the page as she discusses lots of taxidermy and recounts lots of dialog and anecdotes that really made me kind of wonder about the true state of her marriage. This does read like a blog-a strong personal voice and irreverent adherence to rules of narrative. I enjoyed it. In the end, I did wonder whether it was all written from the manic side of depression. Though Lawson does confront her depression directly, the taxidermy raccoon got more screen time for a memoir ostensibly about mental illness. I do get it though, Lawson's point is that even though depression does drag you down, that simply means you have to make sure your ups are very up, very full of joy. Zany joy in Lawson's case. The hyperbole got to me sometimes as did the "crazy" and the "disorders have disorders" thing. But that didn't really matter so much because Lawson is so true to herself, she grabs your metaphorical hand and gets you to run along with her.

Even though I'd probably be hanging out with Victor, her too-serious husband, in real life despite my own anxieties.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Little Red Chairs-Edna O'Brien

The Little Red Chairs-Edna O'Brien

the facts
satisfaction: side
pages: 256
gender: F
nationality: Ireland
year: 2016
novel

A woman discovers that the foreigner she thinks will redeem her life is a notorious war criminal.

I really wanted to enjoy this and really wanted to give it a chance but I think it was a bit too heavy handed from the beginning. The title is such a dead giveaway as well as the blurb so the bottom fell out of the trope of 'mysterious stranger shows up in a village' at the very start. You're never really given a chance to see 'Vlad' from the viewpoint of Fidelma because I at once immediately wondered whether this was Karadzic or Mladic. Maybe I simply came into this novel far more informed about the Yugoslav wars than O'Brien gave me credit? I don't know but so there's this kind of immediate disconnect, I wanted to skip this part to what would surely be a more interesting second half but then O'Brien throws in some violence which was abrupt and fairly unnecessary feeling. Okay, I thought-onwards? Finally at the end I was intrigued by Fidelma's confrontation of the banality of evil but it feels superficial...not the least because it was only like ten pages of the novel. There's so much potential in exploring the banality of evil using Karadzic but O'Brien doesn't take the opportunity. Meanwhile, the prose is drifting here and there like it's a little drunk or maybe with the dream sequences, it simply has taken some pills. 
This is a hard review because on the one hand, it was an interestingly crafted novel but in the end I felt it let itself down. Maybe my expectations were simply higher than they ought to have been.