Thursday, April 5, 2018

leave the past in the past

My Name is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: All is not well in the Miller/Black household.  Mr. Miller is dead, for one thing, at the hands of his thirteen-year-old stepdaughter, Venus, who doesn't deny that she killed him, but blames her mother for not taking action to stop... something.  A few days after Venus is arrested for doing... whatever she did that resulted in her stepfather's death... her little brother Leo, who is intellectually handicapped, goes missing, but Venus, being in juvenile detention, can't do anything to help find him, which seems to be the hardest part about being in jail, as far as she's concerned.

Skip forward 6 years to when Venus is released and sets out to try to restart her life in something resembling a normal fashion.  Possibly the reader is supposed to still care about what actually happened on that fateful night in 1980 (and the events leading up to it), and I did, but I found myself much more interested in Venus as a character than as a sensationalized news story.  Rest assured, we do find out what happened and why Venus is so mad at her mother, but her current story is much more interesting, and that's what kept me turning the pages.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

the nature of grief

We Own the Sky by Luke Allnut
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: Luke Allnut practically wrote my review for me in his letter to Readers at the beginning of the galley: "I have tried to be honest about how people respond to tragedy.  our thoughts are often dark; our actions unsavory.  But I also wanted to show just how resilient people are.  And that kindness sometimes comes from surprising places.  Hope and love and compassion, above all.  I hope that's what you'll get from the novel, as well."  He's done exactly what he set out to do, with grace and imagination.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

ode to feminism

The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
Rating: 4.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review:  There are two aspects of feminism, says Faith Frank, the elder stateswoman of feminism in Meg Wolitzer's new book.  The first concerns individualism, the idea that each woman gets to choose the shape of her own life.  The second she calls "sisterhood" and centers around the idea that individual feminism can't take place unless women act together for advancement.  Similar disquisitions on feminism occur throughout the book, as the characters give speeches, have conversations, and generally try to figure out what feminism even means these days.  After all, as one character says, "I assumed there would always be a little progress and then a little slipping, you know?  And then a little more progress.  But instead the whole idea of progress was taken away, and who knew that could happen, right?"  Although the current political environment is never explicitly discussed, it's clear that by the end of the book the real world and fiction have collided.

This book is much more than a feminist screed, though many gems on the subject can be found within its pages.  We are also given several deep and complex characters and their relationships, through which Wolitzer explores themes of self-discovery, betrayal, and idealism.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

What's the Right Age to Read a Book?

What's the Right Age to Read a Book? a NYT op-ed piece by Jennifer Finney Boylan

I certainly agree that some books only work for a reader when read at a certain time of life, but haven't tried to read both The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye at different ages and still don't like either one.  According to Boylan, though, I'm still too young!

Friday, February 23, 2018

have another drink

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian
Rating: 2.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: thriller
Review: Cassie Bowden is not just an alcoholic, she's obsessed with being an alcoholic.  And with her own propensity to make bad decisions.  And with generally being a screw-up.  And, seriously, did I mention that Cassie drinks?  Because we're told that over and over and over again.  You know what, Cassie drinks.  She drinks a lot.  And she likes it.  Did I mention that Cassie drinks?

Fortunately for the reader, becase following along while a 30-something year-old woman consistently refuses to do anything sensible is just not a lot of fun, there are larger issues of geopolitics at play in this book.  It is those that lead to the dead man in the bed, and that actually drive the story forward as we wonder whether Cassie will live to take her next drink.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

you'll be rooting for Corinne

Family of the Fox by F.M. Isaacs
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fantasy
Review: Corinne's family is keeping secrets from her, and she knows it.  Ordinarily, I hate books where everyone is keeping a secret from the main character, but Isaacs writes Corinne's frustrations so believably that I was able to focus on the story, rather than on my own frustrations with the characters.  Corinne doesn't just sit back and hope that all the answers will spontaneously be revealed to her.  Instead, the pages practically turn themselves as she struggles to find out her family's secrets.  Her perseverance pays off, and she is soon admitted into a world of time travel, shape shifting, and teleportation.  For the most part, her family treats their gifts as fun and games, but of course danger lurks, and soon Corinne and her family must fight for both their past and future.  This fast-paced novel will be perfect for any fan of fantasy, especially of fantasy involving a strong female protagonist.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

the immortal Forrest Gump

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Genre: speculative fiction
Review: Tom has met William Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Captain Cook.  He's over four centuries old (but looks like he's only in his 40s) but of course he can't tell anyone that.  As far as Tom is concerned, being practically immortal (he's not, but he should live well into his ninth century) isn't all it's cracked up to be.  He probably would have done himself in a long time ago, except he has to find his daughter, who's out there somewhere.  He thinks.  But since he hasn't even had a hint of where she might be in about 350 years, he's decided to go back to his roots, which dredge up a lot of memories.  Most of the book alternates between Tom's current life as a history teacher and his reminiscenses as he Forrest Gumps his way through history.

There's not so much plot for most of the book as there is deep, dark philosophical musing on life and time and history.  Until suddenly Haig realizes that he has to actually end the book in some way, and several very dramatic things happen, Tom comes to some startling realizations, and they all live happily ever after.  For a long time.

FTC Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.