Thursday, October 28, 2010

Someone To Blame by CS Lakin

I don't normally read Christian fiction but I received this novel as part of an early reviewer program, so I'm reviewing it here.  When you hear about Christian fiction, or at least when I do, I think about people that are self righteous and preach-y and I assumed that this book would be the same thing.  But I was completely wrong. This is a novel that combines Christian themes with mystery, somewhat successfully; however in general, it wasn't that great a first attempt.

Irene and Matt Moore are married and opt to escape their previous lives by moving themselves and their fourteen year old daughter Casey to the small town of Breakers. Breakers is literally on the edge of the country on the Pacific Northwest and is cold and unforgiving. The family moves there in the hopes of escaping family tragedy. While there, the family meets Billy Thurber, a young man that is battling his own demons, including an alcoholic father and being judged by the local town folk. Irene, Matt and Casey are walking on eggshells around each other and the introduction of Billy to the family seems to make things worse.

I didn't particularly enjoy this novel because the writing style was just so blech. It was overly simple and I didn't enjoy reading it - it was choppy - and it pained me to read it at times. I also didn't like the characters - they were too shallow and predictable. They weren't complex at all.  The whole plotline was actually pretty predictable and this was frustrating too. I mean, if I am going to read any book, i want it to be good and this just wasn't it.  I did appreciate how the author attempted to take on complex topics - death of family members among other topics. However, in general, this wasn't a particularly enjoyable novel.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

This is Franzen's fourth novel, but only the second that I have read. I read The Corrections quite some time ago; however I picked up this novel not because of The Corrections (because, quite frankly, I don't remember too much about that novel) but because I've heard about this novel all over the place, from NPR to the Times.

Franzen begins by introducing us to his main characters - Walter and Patty Berglund - who are living in St. Paul, Minnesota in a run down part of town. They have purchased a home that can only be called a fixer upper. They seem to be a perfect couple - Walter works and is a sensitive husband to Patty, who stays at home, raises her children and makes staying at home her profession. And she does it well. The novel takes place in the years just following the September 11 attacks. Walter's son, Joey, is Patty's favorite and she becomes the classic helicopter parent to such an extent that she literally drives Joey away - he begins to sleep with the neighbor girl (Connie) and ends up living with her family because he can't stand to be in the same home as Patty.  Jessica is his sister. The story focusses on the questionable choices that each of Franzen's characters make.

I really enjoyed this book - it was a pleasure to read, even in my currently sleep deprived state. Franzen's prose makes it so easy to enjoy this book and to strive to read the entire 500 pages in one sitting.  The characters were well drawn and in depth.  It was a wonderful book to read.

Must add to your collection. I have an extra copy if anyone wants.  Please email me at mkowalewski[at]gmail[dot]com if you would like it. First one to respond gets it. Please include mailing address.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire

This is the third installment in the books about the "Wicked" years - the series that began with the ever popular book, Wicked. Both were written by Gregory Maguire, whose poularity seemingly hinges on re-writing fairy tales from a different perspective. Where Wicked was witty, unfortunately Maguire's subsequent books tend to lack the wittiness and the uniqueness that made Wicked so wonderful to read.

A Lion Among Men begins with the Cowardly Lion, whose name is actually Brrr, meeting with Sister Yackle, an ancient oracle who is living in the same convent that Elphaba lived in before starting off on her tryst as the Wicked Witch of the West. Brr, who is employed by the new Emperor of OZ, has been sent to meet with Yackle in the hopes of getting information about Elphaba, Liir (her son), the Thropp family and the Grimmerie (the witch's book). Sister Yackle is a pretty good adversary for Brr because she sets up a system of give and take: for each piece of information that she gives him about Elphaba and the Grimmerie, he must give her some information about himself, leading him to recall repressed memories of his childhood through the present and which includes his interactions with Elphaba, Dorothy and the current administration of Oz.

The book starts off quite slowly - I had trouble getting into it mostly because Maguire uses winding prose and similarly winding plotlines that don't always make sense until the end of the novel. For instance, we learn about a young woman who life is intertwined with the infamous clock dragon; however these interludes don't make full sense until the end of the novel and are pretty confusing. I didn't like this novel nearly as much as Wicked because i didn't think it was as creatively written and there were no interesting revelations about the Lion or the other characters, as there were in Wicked.  It was slow and sometimes boring.

I'd pass on this one.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

In The Woods by Tana French

This is Tana French's first mystery novel and it was merely all right.  There were some things that I really enjoyed and some things that I really didn't like.

Ms. French's first novel follows a snapshot in the career and life of a detective on Dublin's murder squad. It specifically follows him on one case - the murder of a 12 year old girl that occurred in the town that he grew up in and how it draws him back into the tragedy that led to him becoming a detective in the first place. Because when he was 12, Detective Ryan's two friends - Jamie and Peter - went into the woods in the town of Knocknaree and never came out, although Detective Ryan did. He was found in a catatonic state, against a tree, with Jamie's blood in his shoes but with no memory of anything that had happened to them while they were in the woods. The mystery of what had happened to the youngsters was never resolved. Since this has happened, Detective Ryan has changed his name from Adam to Rob, has adopted the British accent that was so popular at the boarding school that he was sent to and is a murder detective with a cool partner named Cassie.

Cassie and Rob catch the recent murder case, which also occurs in Knockaree and appears to have a very tenuous link to Detective Ryan's past.

I really enjoyed the characters that French has developed - they are so vivid and three dimensional and human. They aren't heroes in the sense that Superman and Wonder Woman are heroes are and their flaws make them that much more easily related to. For instance, Rob struggles with whether to tell his boss that he in fact has this case in his past that may impact his ability to work on the case that he just got put on with Cassie.  This is something that people may have their own struggles with - it's easy to see people in the same position professionally.  I *hated* the ending and the loose ends that were left. I have no idea if French did that intentionally because she was planning on writing a sequel but it really, really irked me when things that had been built up during the course of the novel weren't resolved in any way - whether by closing it out or letting the reader know that another book was forthcoming.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman

The Imperfectionists is Tom Rachman's first novel. It's about a group of journalists that work for a daily in Rome. This daily was founded about 50 years or so before the stories in this novel take place by a millionaire for reasons that are never really clear. Each chapter is about one of the employees from the publisher down to a copyeditor and even a reader.  There are also a few short pages at the end of each paragraph about the history of the paper from when it was founded to its modern day. The stories reference the characters in the other, but aren't interlaced in the sense that they tell the same story from differen perspectives.  They each tell different stories that are supposed to tell us something about the person that Rachman is narrating about.

This book was just delightful. I really enjoyed Rachman's writing style - it was quick, witty, intelligent and fun. And his characters! I loved them because they were imperfect. They aren't romantic heroes, like you sometimes find in other books - they are flawed, just like normal human beings are and that's why I loved them. They have the same insecurities and joys that we all do. Absolutely wonderful.

My Education by Susan Choi

I admit it: I have a thing about academic novels.  And by that, I  mean novels that occur on campuses and are about characters that are ent...