Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Long Way Home

Title: The Long Way Home
Author: Louise Penny
Series: Inspector Gamache, book 10
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2014
Rating: 7/10

Review: The Long Way Home is the only novel I managed to finish in the last month. I've been busy and stressed, and this is the only book I found sufficiently compelling to pick up. I enjoyed returning to the village of Three Pines and the series' characters.

Armand Gamache has retired and moved to Three Pines with his wife to mend after the events of the previous books. Things are comfortable and quiet. However, Gamache takes on a task of looking for Peter, Clara's husband, who hasn't returned home on the arranged date and that leads them far into Canadian wilderness.

The beginning of this novel was downright slow. I like the cozy aspect of Penny's novels and her focus on characterization and the characters' inner lives, but she went a bit overboard here and spent way too much time on the description of Gamache's life in Three Pines. Very little happens in the first half of the book and quite a bit happens in the last two chapters, so it all feels a bit rushed at the end.

The resolution was not at all what I was expecting, though I have figured out the villain in this book ahead of time. It also left me wondering where Penny is planning to take the series, the book didn't really seem like the start of a bigger arch, the way previous books were. Feeling slightly underwhelmed, even though I've enjoyed reading the book.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Eleanor & Park

Title: Eleanor and Park
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2013
Rating: 8.5/10

Review: I read a very positive review of Eleanor and Park, so when I needed to pick up something to read on a flight, I decided to give it a try. I was very glad I did, because the flight went by so fast and I didn't even realize we were about to touch the ground until the plane hit the tarmac. That might be attributed to good piloting too, but regardless.

Reading this book made me think about all the trigger warning discussions that were happening recently. Not because there's anything graphic in the book, but because it just jolted me into my high school years so hard that I was shocked. There's just this mentality that I could relate to so well that I felt transported back in time. And I think it'll resonate with people who don't think that high schools years were the best time of their lives.

Park is taking a bus to school every morning. He is not unpopular, but he's also not one of the really popular kids. He is the only Asian kid in school and he's smart, but he mostly keeps to himself. Eleanor is new to the school and sits down next to him on the bus. She is chubby and dresses weirdly and hence she is immediately picked on. Slowly, but steadily, Eleanor and Park get to know each other, fall in love, and start dating.

This is a short book and I finished most of it on the plane, but it was cute and heartfelt and fun while it lasted. Not a particularly action-oriented book, but its magic was in how well it brought forth the idea of falling in love for the first time. I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

What We Lost

Title: What We Lost
Author: Sara Zarr
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2013
Rating: 7.5/10

Review: Sam is a teenager living in a small town of Pineview and her life is defined by the fact that she is the daughter of the local pastor, Charlie. It's a hot summer and Sam's life is complicated by her alcoholic mother heading into a rehab and her father being too busy to connect with her. A 13-year old girl, Jody, goes missing and Charlie is in the midst of police and media frenzy as he helps the grieving family and becomes their spokesperson.

It's interesting to see the book take a tragedy like a kidnapped girl and make it part of the scene, but not really focus on it. The focus stays on Sam's inner life, even though she takes part in trying to recover Jody, support Jody's family -- especially her older brother Nick with whom she feels a connection.

At first, Sam's inner narration feels overly dramatic. Her emphasis on how she is treated differently by being a pastor's kid seems blown out of proportion. But, eventually, I started to emphasize with her and and her problems start to feel much more real. The book is very character driven, rather than plot driven. The plot is mostly there to give insight into everyone, this is by no means a mystery type book.

I liked watching Sam figure out how to deal with her conflicts and get her life back on track. I thought the ending was much more positive than would be expected, but not so positive that it felt unrealistic. This is a nice, easy novel to read with some interesting character development, but not much plot. I enjoyed it.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Everybody Has Everything

Title: Everybody Has Everything (Amazon)
Author: Katrina Onstad
Genre: Fiction
Published: 2012
Rating: 7/10

Review: I received a copy of this novel as a present and the author is completely new to me, so I started out without any particular expectations. The novel is set in Toronto. Ana and James unexpectedly find themselves in charge of two-year-old Finn when Finn's parents are in an accident. His father dies and his mother is in a coma and their will stipulates that Ana and James would be the guardians for the child. They take on the child and in the process learn a lot about themselves.

Everybody Has Everything is one of those novels where nothing really happens. Half the plot is described in the paragraph above and the rest could be told in four more sentences. This is not action-packed to say the least. But that's not to say it isn't engrossing, because I finished reading the book in pretty much one sitting.

It is one of those narratives that is all about getting into someone's head. And in order to do so, the author is showing the reader their lives, their daily decisions, their reactions, their interactions. I am a bit ambivalent on whether I actually enjoyed getting into the characters' heads. They are both interesting, but at the same time a bit off-putting. All the tiptoeing around each other, all the inner drama, all the indecision were both very realistic and exasperating at the same time.

Onstad did a pretty good job capturing the details, it all felt very natural, but at the same time it made me feel a bit frustrated with the whole thing. The novel wasn't moving anywhere for quite awhile and even in retrospect I don't know why some of the scenes needed to be there at all.

Much of the novel revolves around the decision to have kids or to be judged for not having them. Ana and James are not able to conceive, so they are quite familiar with the latter. However, after taking guardianship of Finn, what's involved in the first decision is quite a shock on their marriage despite the fact that the kid is generally impressively well-behaved in the book. Things fall apart pretty quickly with both parties at fault. There's much in that process that anyone could relate to, but it's a bit agonizing to watch it happening so slowly and obviously.

The ending is actually a bit better than I expected and I was rather satisfied with the wrap-up. The final scene is a bit too literary high-brow for me, but oh well. Altogether, it is an interesting character study, parts of it left me cold and I am not entirely sure this is an author I would pick up again.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Title: Written in My Own Heart's Blood (Amazon)
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Series: Outlander, book 8
Genre: Historical Fiction
Published: 2014
Rating: 7/10

Review: I've read the very first Outlander book over 5 years ago. It was not a genre I read much of, but it came highly recommended and I gave it a try and enjoyed it immensely. Each book is quite meaty and it can be a journey to finish one, but it's a pleasant journey with familiar faces at your side.

It took me a fairly long time to finish Written in My Own Heart's Blood -- over a month. It was quite strange, really, because I was reading this novel late into the night when I started it, but then at some point I've put it away and had very little compunction to get back to it. The plot felt more like an ebb and flow of a river than the typical arch of a novel. It would pick up pace in places and then just drift off leisurely. I was shocked when the book ended because I really didn't expect it to just end there (and it's not as obvious on Kindle as with the paper books). Towards the end, I also had to do a double take to check that they've really moved on from one location to the other so quickly.

I enjoyed the return of many familiar faces in the book. I enjoyed the descriptions of the Americas during the revolution and the depiction of George Washington, who actually meets the main characters in person in this novel. There are some good dramatic parts. But altogether, the book just didn't feel very cohesive. It felt very much like a "middle" book of a long series, slowly lumbering somewhere. Some plotlines which were carried over from previous books were tied up, new ones got created, but in the grand scheme of things there really wasn't a standalone theme to the book. I still enjoyed it as a historical piece and good character drama, but I am really hoping there will be a bit more direction to the next one.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Half Way There!

Happy 4th! I just got back from watching some very nice fireworks. While waiting for the fireworks to start, I've been reading Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon. I've been waiting for a few years for that book to come out and I am not disappointed. However, I am taking my sweet time getting through the 900-page novel, so it'll probably be a while longer before I post the review.

Half a year is already over, which is hard to believe, time is moving just so fast. I thought we just celebrated Christmas a short while ago. So it's time to take stock of my reading so far. In the past half a year, I finished 19 books and 1 novella. That's pretty much on track for 40 books that I am aiming to read. I also read one non-fiction book, though not a very good one. That leaves me with about 20 more books to read. I am hoping to get to some more non-fiction. And also to some awesome novels I've received for my birthday.

I am quite satisfied with the quality of fiction I've read this year so far. My favorite discovery so far is Love Minus Eighty (Amazon) by Will McIntosh. Some of the best sci-fi I've read in some time. But we are only half-way through the year, so who knows what the next half will bring! Looking forward to some more reading this long weekend.


Sunday, June 8, 2014

Gone Girl

Title: Gone Girl
Author: Gillian Flynn
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2012
Rating: 9/10

Review: I've seen many mentions of Gone Girl in the media in the past year and since the movie is supposed to come out this year, I finally decided to pick up the novel. I read the first quarter of the novel on a plane and it certainly made the time pass faster.

The first part of the book is told from Nick Dunne's perspective. He comes home on the day of his 5th anniversary to find his living room overturned and his wife gone. What follows is the investigation by the police as they search for Amy Dunne. However, the husband is acting weird, he has no alibi, he is hiding things from the police. There are alternating viewpoints from Amy inserted in the form of her diary entries.

About half way through the book, it takes quite a bit of a turn. I actually expected this particular twist, but the tension is masterfully built up, so that just guessing the twist doesn't spoil the book in any way. I stayed up till 5am finishing the novel, which resembles horror more than mystery at certain points. The ending is very interesting and fitting, though not what I expected it to be.

I hope they do a good job of the movie -- I think it'll make an excellent psychological thriller if they pull it off. It's hard to imagine how they will adapt all the inner monologues by Nick to the screenplay, but I guess it can be done. Looks like there's a pretty good cast too.

There are two reasons I think the book was top notch: the first one is a great suspense build-up in the second half of the novel. The second reason is that the book really gets into your head. The characters are so clearly expressed and relatable -- the types of people with the sort of thinking that you would meet all the time. Except everything tends to turn around and show up under a different lens at some point and I think this transformation was very well executed, believable, and horrifying.

The book is an exploration on theme of how well do you know the people around you. Can you really tell what they think, how they feel, what they would do? There are many really interesting relationships -- especially between Nick and his family. Nick's lovable mother contrasted with his hateful father, and his mind-reading twin, Go. They all come alive, and they have their stories to tell. I thought it was very well done. Definitely recommended.