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.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

teach your children well

Hap & Hazard and the End of the World by Diane DeSanders
Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)
Genre: historical fiction
Review: Hap and Hazard don't really have anything much to do with this story.  They're the family dogs.  The end of the world seem to factor into it much either.  This is the story of an unnamed girl, eldest of three daughters, as she tries to navigate being eight (give or take).  No-one will answer her questions about anything important, and she lives in a world of unexplained things (her father's short temper, her grandparents' various idiosyncrasies, whether there really is a Santa Claus, is there actually something wrong with her, and on and on).  While realistic perhaps, the method of relating a child's experience of the world around her with no explanations about what is really going on is predictably challenging and unfortunately, not very rewarding.

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

Sunday, January 21, 2018

not subtle, but not preachy

The Leavers by Lisa Ko
Rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5)
Genre: fiction
Review: When he is 11 years old, Deming's mother goes to work one day, and never returns.  Deming is soon put into foster care and then adopted.  We meet Deming again 10 years later, and struggling with an identity crisis.  Does he want to try to be the academic his academic adoptive parents want him to be, or does he want to follow his own love of music and try to make it as a musician?  Ko is more than a little heavy-handed in making the reader understand that this is something of a stand-in for his mixed feelings about being an American-born Chinese who spent half of his life in a lily-white upstate New York college town.

This character-driven story will appeal both to readers who enjoy books about immigrants, as well as those about characters searching for their own personal identity.  Told through the point of view of Deming (in the third person) and his mother (in the first person), the full story of what happened to Deming's mother, both how she came to America and what happened the day she disappeared, is gradually revealed.  This is a grim, but ultimately hopeful and redemptive novel that lays out the difficulties of immigration and assimilation without being overly preachy.